I’m over six months into my sabbatical, a good time to reflect.
It didn’t start out as I planned, the pandemic notwithstanding, and it look far longer to decompress than I imagined. In December, I began experiencing symptoms of panic and anxiety (I will, one day, write about this) the echoes of which didn’t subside until the end of June. Looking back, I see how acutely stress affected my health, my relationships, my home life, my writing and my state of mind. The body doesn’t “get over it” overnight.
I took this pause not only to shift the state of my life, but to conduct a series of experiments. I used to wake up at 4:50 a.m., suck down a packet of espresso-flavored Gu (2X the caffeine!) and drag myself, bleary-eyed, to the gym. While zoning out on the elliptical machine, I fantasized what it would be like to wake when my body was ready, and start the day writing rather than rushing through a mindless workout, a frenetic locker room shower, and a mad dash for the last few open parking spaces at the light rail park-and-ride so I could arrive at the office by 7:30 each morning.
Some days, I was so exhausted, I couldn’t get out of bed.
Turns out, I wake naturally between 5:30 and 6 a.m. I enjoy a cup of coffee rather than coffee-flavored sugar gel, and I can get two or three hours of writing, editing and reading in before breakfast, which I now consume at a table rather than shoveling yogurt into my mouth while standing at my desk—or on a conference call or in a meeting. Now, I exercise outside in the daylight nearly every day, which was impossible in my former life. I do Dance Church Go in my studio (I was always too self-conscious to attend in person, plus I would have had to drive downtown) or Buongiorno Core with Alice Gosti, broadcasting from Italy via Instagram. In six months, I’ve lost seventeen pounds and I feel better.
For the first couple months, when M was recovering from surgery and I was recovering from work, a regimented schedule was too much. No rules was fun for a while. In May, I began planning out my time again, finding comfort in light structure to my days and goals to my weeks. I began editing my novel and writing new work—a few poems and short essays with help from Jami Attenberg’s #1000wordsofsummer June write-in and Susan Landgraf’s The Inspired Poet published by Two Sylvias Press. (I recommend both!)
One benefit of the way we live now is online access to education. For years, I’d been wanting to try a Write With Hugo House write-in with Jeanine Walker at Seattle Public Library, but I could never make it to West Seattle by 6 p.m. on a Wednesday night. Now, these write-ins are a monthly ritual. I’ve taken classes at Hugo House that, due to time and location, would have been inconvenient or impossible six months ago. I’m excited for Sierra Nelson’s class this fall where we’ll write alongside Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack and Honey. (A must-read if you haven’t yet.)
In October, I will begin a nine-month certificate program in editing at The University of Washington, made easier by online instruction. That timing has helped me maintain a goal of finishing my second pass at my novel draft by the end of September. I’ll let it rest through the end of the year and take a third pass in January. I consider my newfound brain space, the fact that I can hold the world of this novel in my head, a miracle.
The more I write, the more I read, the more I listen to podcasts about writing, the more “fed” I feel. (Favorite pods include: Between the Covers; The Poet Salon; Thresholds; and OnBeing, whose guests are often writers, including Mary Oliver and the fabulous Ross Gay.) Through Seattle Arts & Lectures, where I volunteer, I’ve conducted my own interviews with writers in our community, a rewarding experience I’m beyond grateful for. I come away from these conversations infused with energy, heady from the opportunity to engage with new people (!!) about writing. I will continue to share these interviews here.
My next experiment is leading a online class at Hugo House called “Get Out to Go In.” Attendees will take walks individually before we come together on Saturday, September 26, to generate new work, using our observations as fuel for creative reflection. If you are interested in taking the class, or know someone who is, please join me and/or pass the link along!
As part of teaching at Hugo House, I had to establish myself as a sole proprietor, a process that marked an unexpected milestone. Applicants must identify areas of service they will provide, so I checked the boxes that applied. In February, I hadn’t imagined setting myself up as a legal entity, but there it was: Gabriela Denise Frank, writer, editor, teacher, artist. It’s a nice identity to pause and hold for a moment.
As fall begins, I am excited to follow these experiments into the next phase.
In addition to rest and reprioritization, this sabbatical started with my hope of seeing our yard in the daylight, since my work schedule had me passing in and out in the dark five days a week. Oh, how that wish has been granted. Fearing a scarcity of fresh vegetables, I planted seeds in our raised beds with unprecedented enthusiasm this spring, and tended my plant babies with care that borders on obsession. (I’m definitely a gardener, not a farmer.)
I’ve never observed plants so closely as I have while harvesting the fruits (so to speak) of my labor. M and I built another raised bed last week, and I seeded it for fall and winter. (Another experiment.) Growing food, and sometimes losing plants to insects or climatic conditions, and appreciating the difference in flavor and texture of vegetables we produced has been a profound learning experience. When I sense something needs adjustment, I plunge my hands into the dirt whose microbes, scientists say, promote health and wellbeing.
I feel it.
Our small-scale urban agriculture experiment has brought me into daily contact with the earth like I’ve never had before. I’ve gotten to know the many pollinators (bees, bugs, butterflies, birds) who call our yard home. Tending to this little ecosystem has taught me to appreciate nature’s ability to weather inclement conditions, adapt to change and challenges, and thrive when allowed space, a solid foundation, nutritious surroundings and plenty of warmth and light. (I wrote about this for Past Ten in August.)
Observing the evolution of these living organisms day by day is a slow practice my garden has taught me, which (I’ve learned) applies to the practices of art and life, too. It also tastes quite delicious.