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How to relax

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When I think about relaxing, my first thought is always, “I think I’ve heard of that, but what is that again? How does that work?”

I know there is a thing where relaxing is something you do for fun. Or no wait — maybe it’s that fun is something you do that’s not productive.

When you’re a writer, though, everything is potentially productive. Every walk, every corner, every time I wash the dishes, I might think of a story. This morning I saw a cat stretch up and fiddle with the back handle on a Kia hatchback. I stood and watched, wondering if the cat would actually manage to get it open. Or if that was even what it was trying to do.

(There is always a “Mom of Bold Action” thought process after a moment like this. “Mr. Muffins Who Wanted to Open the Car? Is that a story?”)

But just because any moment could lead me to think of a story idea doesn’t mean I have to expect it to. If I go for a walk, swim in the ocean, and read a book without coming up with a creative solution, that doesn’t mean I failed. I went for a walk. I swam in the ocean. I read a book.

Photo taken 20 seconds before I experienced the extreme relaxation that is an amusement park ride called The Matterhorn.

Honestly? I’m kind of mad at all these tech moguls who created these platforms that normalized oversharing of ordinary moments of daily activity through the lens of influencing and productivity. Like, suddenly we’re not just having yogurt for breakfast, but it has to be a post about, I don’t know, protein and fuel for our day and how this moment of quiet contemplation with my little artisanal ceramic bowl sets me up for a day of checking everything off my list.

I haven’t been on social media much lately, so I’m not even sure this is an accurate representation of what people are still talking about. I don’t have yogurt for breakfast and I am in fact extremely devoted to my breakfast, but I’m not going to tell you about it because, frankly, it’s not interesting. It’s breakfast. (I do love an artisanal ceramic bowl, however.)


And here I am telling you about my trip to the amusement park, which is maybe the same thing. The internet has thrown off my ability to know what is and is not an interesting thing to talk about.

I know that rest and relaxation are important. I have become more aware of how it feels to be at my computer. Sometimes I realize I’m making a face that would also be the correct face to make if someone pooped on the floor behind me. When I realize I’m making that face, I say, “Ok!” out loud and get up from my desk chair as fast as I can. I sit on the couch in my writing shed and read something. I write in my notebook. I also always feel like sitting there is the wrong thing to do. Like it’s not productive enough.

Which is a lie. Most days, the most productive thing I can do is take a break. I have a sticker stuck to the pen cup on my desk that has a devil cat stick figure thing yelling, “TAKE BREAKS!” One mental adjustment I made to that recently is to read it as “TAKE ANALOG BREAKS!” For me, the internet can get to be just too much. It’s all a bumper car ramming into the back of me.

Here is the orange cone in our street.

We’ve been told it’s unproductive to sit back and stare at clouds. We’re told we should monetize our naps, make our daydreaming into a side hustle, always be posting about our mid-morning yawn. But what if that’s all wrong? What if the secret is that we keep that to ourselves?

(E.B. Goodale) calls it “secret projects” and I’ve been thinking of that for months. What if you didn’t tell anyone anything you’re doing? What if you made all or most of your day secret projects? What if you went on a roller coaster and didn’t tell anyone about it?

My neighbor just told me she turned her phone off for five days. “I really needed to do it,” she said. I am doing my best to not pay attention to my phone, but this is inspiring to me. Why not turn it off for five days? Do I really need it? Probably not. (I currently have no plan to actually do this, but thinking about thinking about it is a first step.)

The Short Story Project began this week with an informational post, and begins in earnest on Tuesday. Each week for four weeks, I’ll post 5-7 short stories. Your job is to read one or more of them, and then write a picture book draft that is inspired by or in response to the story you read. I have found this to be an incredible way to crack open a vein of ideas in my head that I did not previously have access to, and also a great way to get back to a place of play and experimentation that I often miss when I am approaching picture book writing like I need this story to get a book deal and be a best seller and go viral. (See, above, re: relaxing, taking time, finding a hidden stream of productivity by stepping away from any thoughts of being productive.)

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Do the Work
Pep talks about writing and creativity, mostly while I'm walking the dog.
Julie Falatko