When I was a kid, when the world extended as far as my house and school, when the only people who exist were my family and friends, it was easy to make decisions. As I got older and my world expanded and time weighed down upon me, as conditions altered and people came in and out of my life, priorities necessarily changed.
Things that were hard become easy and vice versa. When problem A was no longer baying for my attention, I had more time to focus my energies on problem B. Or C. Or D…
Constant reassessment of what’s more important, and urgent, is a factor of life. Keeps us on our toes, makes us more adaptable to the winds of change. Sometimes I keep prioritising things lower down than they deserve because I want to artificially increase the priority of other things in order to reach a goal.
For example, health. As a young fella, I took an able body and the ability to walk up stairs for granted. I could eat hamburgers, drink up-sized milkshakes, and sample super-hot peppers and not worry about the consequences. I could take the stairs, or not. I could walk, or not. I had the choices before me and, therefore, had no need to prioritise keeping in shape.
Then bones start clicking. Muscles start hurting. Tight skin becomes flabby. The time invested away from health, and into other activities, started to tell. Things become harder than they should be. I struggled to get up, to keep up. Add a little boy into the mix and it only got worse.
So what’s more important? Family? Work? Leisure? Community? Hobbies? Sanity? Or is it ‘Health’? Ask me about ten years ago and I would have put Health somewhere near the end. Ask me today, and I can safely say I’ll put it up near the top of the pile. Why the shift?
Last year I had a problem in my neck and shoulder. I had a tingling sensation in my fingers. My arm just wasn’t working. I couldn’t lift myself off the ground. That’s bad. I went to an osteopath and she helped lay it all out for me.
It’s actually quite simple – I can’t help with anything if I’m not alive and, to almost the same extent, I can’t help effectively if I’m not well.
How about that? I used to consider focusing on myself a selfish act, something that could only be realised once everyone else was satisfied which, let’s face it, is not going to happen. Now I see, and it has taken a long time, let me tell you, and a lot of introspection, that by neglecting my health I’m also neglecting my family, my career and my community, not to mention my own interests.
In short, over the past year, I’ve been spending a lot more of my time exercising and eating better and that means time for writing, craft, videos and blog posts. Cardio, weights, boxing, running, that kind of thing and I’m feeling a lot better. Like, a LOT. That said, I’ve regained strength in my shoulder and arm, so I’m looking to ease back on exercising and resume some of my other tasks.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep repeating myself until my lungs don’t work any more: indie artists are nut-bags. Day after day they’ll smash their fingers against the keyboards, drag their paint brush over the canvas, feverishly making order out of chaos without any promise of a return on their investment.
And what has been invested? Time, yes, that most precious of resources, that goes without saying. And money, too – materials, supplies, websites, promotions, hardcopies. And sanity, now there’s a big one. What else? What else?
Ah, health – The quiet victim. While time and money are quantifiable. One can budget. One can prioritise. Lack of either is evident. One’s health is less tangible. It’s not like one can purchase a big bag of health on eBay, is it? Is it?
I just went and checked. No, there are no super vitality packs on there.
Ah, if only life were like video games where there are power packs that boost your vitality and repair your damaged limbs in an instant. Where you can go running and leaping and bounding endlessly. That ain’t reality.
The hours worked in a day job get the best part of the brain’s awake time. Creative juices are consumed, necessarily, to get stuff done. Come home and there’s still more work waiting for you. What time is left over needs to be divided up.
The division is fairly straightforward: One can either recuperate, or one can get creative. Recuperation, by which I mean sleeping, or watching TV, or playing a game, or reading a book, or listening to music, is very, very necessary to overall health in the same way that exercising requires recovery.
The problem is that recuperation lets the brain have a bit of a chill, whereas creativity requires the brain to be on the ball. Here we can the contention: The artist wants to get stuff done but they are exhausted. The deadline is rolling around and the galley has to be proofed, no ifs, no buts – sleep has to be discarded in favour of getting stuff done.
Creativity becomes a chore, the artist becomes resentful and, here’s the really nasty bit, any chance of sleep, recreation or recuperation is tainted with a big, double helping of guilt.
“I really should be getting onto that last chapter instead of watching Nadal win the tennis” or “No, I can’t play with you Joey, I’ve got to proof at least sixteen pages tonight”. Can’t sit still at the pub. Can’t watch a movie. Can’t just chill.
Not only that, lack of rest has a terrible effect on the body. From a personal standpoint, I get noticeable more colds and stomach bugs when I’m overworked. Concentration goes out the window. I get utterly irritable, have no patience and find I make more and more mistakes both at work, on the road, and at home.
Food and Exercise
When you’re in a hurry you make sacrifices in order to complete the prioritised task. If this means ordering in a pizza instead of cutting up some veggies and cooking up a decent bolognese, so be it. After all, that front cover won’t design itself! The justifications are plentiful. It’s not a matter of being lazy, and often it’s a factor of the aforementioned exhaustion, “I’m just too damn tired to cook!”
And there’s lunch, too. Spend five minutes making it, or hit the ‘bugger it’ button and buy it when you get to work? Or perhaps grab a can of baked beans and hope its’s enough to keep you going without snacking on junk? By the way, that main picture is a shot of an ESP – Elvis Snack Pack. Peanut Butter, chips, banana, bacon, beef, cheese, sauces every which way. Healthy? Not in the least.
What about breakfast? Breakfast, you know, that most important meal of the day? Pew! Off it goes: I’d rather get twenty minutes more shut-eye and go hungry.
Exercise is the opposite side of the coin. Food (not all of it good) went in, what’s come out? Since the artist is so exhausted, getting into the gym or going for a run is akin to asking a rock for a glass of water – there ain’t nothing left in the tank.
Here the problem is a little more subtle. The mind is exhausted but the body is not. The mind just wants to be turned off for a minute or sixty, please. Stop bugging me. No, I don’t care if you are jittery, legs, I know I’ve been snacking on Jaffas all afternoon but, really, can you just leave me the hell alone?
The body is out of balance with the mind. The mind is in contention with itself. The soul has given up on the whole mess and is quivering in the corner. And that silly artist stands there, puffy eyed, overweight and unhappy, and keeps doing it, day after day after day.
Is there a solution? Yes, but it’s not pretty and it’s not easy. It comes down to three words: Responsibility, Discipline and Acceptance.
Stop with the groaning and listen. Only you, the artist, can fix the situation. It’s a product of your own desires, no one else, and therefore you are responsible. Are you responsible for your works? Yes. Do you believe that you have created them with the gifts that God gave you? Yes. Do you prioritise getting your stuff done above everything else? Yes.
Then, at the very least, understand that the problem (and it is a very real problem) comes from the decisions that you make.
Once you recognise the issue, that your own desires are causing you grief, you can work on a plan and sticking to it. Discipline is your best weapon.
Allocate three days a week to exercise.
Make a point of being with your family when you come home.
Have a food-token jar: Put, say, four tokens in the jar for the week. Each time you buy food rather than making it, take a token from the jar. Whenever you cook, replace that token. When you have no tokens left, you must make your own meal.
Put a TV in the garage so your brain can tune out while your body gets a chance to move.
These are just ideas. The point is to figure out where you’re going wrong and provide a way to encourage yourself, when you’re at your most vulnerable point of “couldn’t give a toss”, to stick to your plan.
Finally there’s the Acceptance. Accept that you simply cannot spend every hour working on your masterpiece. Nod quietly and think, “Yup, I’ve really got to put an effort into my body. This can wait another day.”
No more downing cups of coffee. No more burning that candle at both ends. No more neglecting yourself. You suffer, your work suffers, your family suffers.
Come on Jez, you nut-bag, put this keyboard down, stop writing this post and have a bloody rest already. Nadal is playing tonight.