In Praise of Limits

Texas Sunset 2006

Copyright 2015 Kat Kimbriel

In our world today, especially if you live in the United States, it’s easy to be so caught up in the proverbial Rat Race that you forget to take a break. I don’t mean kicking back of an evening, melted in front of the TV, or prowling the Internet reading posts from friends and the latest news brouhaha. I don’t mean a Stay-cation, where you alternate not going to work with hitting a movie theater, getting a massage, or cleaning out your garage. I don’t even mean planning a six nights, seven days cruise that hits eight islands and offers five meals a day.

I mean a real break–one where you try hard to avoid smart phones, computers, and televisions. Where you lay around like a slug and don’t think about doing any kind of work for at least half the time blocked out in your calendar. You try and schedule all Internet work in advance, you turn off the phone, you have no cable or satellite…and you rest. I’ll let you hit town once to check email, but it’s a two hour limit at the library, and you should respect it. Absolutely no driving hours every day from one place to the next, unless driving is the most relaxing thing you have ever done.

Because your body needs to recharge. It has limits.

A break may mean taking time at home, because there is no financial choice. But don’t tell your employers that–as far as they know, you’re in the wilderness at Yellowstone. Unplug the modem, eat food that makes you feel good. Walk, bike, read a book…or sit on a porch and watch hummingbirds fight for that huge flower you hung up.

Along with writing fiction, I’ve been working five part time jobs. None of them pay enough to live on, and none of them are regular enough to drop any of the others. Occasionally I add a sixth job–one that pays more than minimum wage and less than a living wage where I live. I know this isn’t good for me, but I was unlucky enough to become seriously ill, once upon a time. It killed my business, cost half my savings, and happened at the worst time of life–when modern businesses had decided that it didn’t matter if I looked forty. It didn’t matter that I was expert in new forms of social media. The resume required for a state job suggested I was too old to know how to do those new jobs. People my age didn’t become expert in social media. HR at tech companies have their code words, and if you sound like a adult on the phone, you never get past the phone interview.

Welcome to the world of modern contracting. Any decent contract of six months or more could give me an income to live on for several years, so I trained in still more software, project management, researching…and kept the balls in the air. I learned six new software packages in the first two months of the year.

If you are twenty-five, you can do this for decades. If you’re forty, you can do it for perhaps a dozen years. If you’re sixty, you might get away with it for several years. But eventually, you notice that your body is very unhappy, and it’s going to tell you about it. You can’t think, you can’t sleep, inflammation is running rampant–food upsets you, antacids no longer work, people get on your nerves, you’re gaining weight, and what you’ve always called a vacation doesn’t even dent the problem.

Your mind and body can’t catch up. There’s no time.

Guess what? If you don’t take the time, your body will force the issue. I don’t have to list all the modern diseases waiting to pounce. They have found people you know.

They will find you.

In my case, I wasn’t quite done healing, and after four years of this game, I knew I couldn’t go on. My doctor made some curious suggestions based on a test, and I went into full tilt Health mode. My beloved cat had died, and I had a profession I could take anywhere. I had launched more resumes than I knew what to do with, and sometimes the state can take six months to reply. I had a bolthole where the place was basically free, an old family cottage on a lake. I was out of my lease, my car was paid for…and it was time to try something different. I put my possessions into storage, bought a plane ticket, and disappeared.

Not totally. My family could find me; a few good friends knew where I was. But cell phones don’t always work in a place with few towers. No Internet, no cable, no satellite…I had to rely on instinct and a barometer to tell me if a storm was coming over the lake. There was a farmer’s market and a small grocery ten miles south of the highway turnoff, and a library with wifi five miles from the bridge to the peninsula.

I slept. I cleaned a deck chair every once in a while. A friend or two dropped by, and we talked books. After a week or so, I was sleeping better. I ate what my body asked for, and it was a joy to have fresh fruits and corn. I worked on a story, and read nonfiction and mysteries. Mixed in there somewhere was visiting my siblings and parental unit.

Eventually I had to go back. I honestly didn’t know if I wanted to return to my home city of decades. Why? Because it had changed so much I wasn’t sure there was a place left for me. I’m still not sure. A decision has to be made soon.

In truth I feel as if I had to slow down so the right job could catch up to me. I recommend planning an escape. If you’re a long thinker, you need to give your brain time to tell you all about other options, other lives, other yous. The old joke is that doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result is a form of insanity.

Everyone has limits. Make a change. If you slow down and rest for a weekend, a week, perhaps your body and subconscious will have a few things to say to you.

It’s probably a good idea to listen. Otherwise, you may end up like that hummingbird I was watching…so exhausted from guarding his huge flower he forgot to keep eating.



In Praise of Limits — 11 Comments

  1. It’s too bad you can’t work right out of that cottage. That would be a lovely solution. Sigh. Very best wishes that things get easier soon.

    • In many ways it would be ideal, Sheila, except for one thing–it is not winterized. Even with a fantastic fireplace that heats the main room and loft, and a furnace, the insulation will not overcome winter on a great lake. If things get very bad I will try it, living in thermals. But it’s meant for May-October.

      But as a temporary escape? Priceless.

  2. I’m so glad you had this time away at the cabin! All best wishes for finding a healthy, joyful solution that pays the bills and gives you space to write. Why is that so hard for so many of us, especially writers? Hmm, the things our dominant culture values?

    • I learned this game from the beginning, Sara, but I was raised to be someone’s wife. Have never totally been able to catch up from that, as my thinking wasn’t linear enough for the jobs that might have lasted. Now that thinking outside the box is valued, I think I look too self-starter for corporations. Despite their buzz words, they don’t really value it.

  3. Your family cabin is the kind of thing I read about as a young girl and wanted so badly. So many books were set with the family going to their lake house, with swimming and bonfires at night and the cute lifeguards and any kind of story you wanted from mystery to teen romance…

    It sounds to me like you should come up with a winter plan and a lake house plan, and split your year until you find a better situation. Because that lake house sounds like a writer’s dream.

    And I will come visit.