Do All The Things One At A Time

Here is a quickblog: I have been entirely absent while trying to Live Life, also known as: having gigs during the week and at the weekend. Since my last post on 31st of May I performed in drag, as Your Polish Boyfriend, twice (at London Improv Theatre and in Dina, Sheffield, during Migration Matters Festival – there are bits on my Instagram, @rita_vision). I also did a poetry gig at Rhymes With Orange and an improv jam at Thursday Nights Live (The Nursery). I had a long break from writing my play and the blog; I haven’t rested much; I have been so tired and so overwhelmed. And now I’m here.

This is not going to be a fully-fledged post. But just to signal: yesterday I had an actual cry about how many things I had to do. I’d hit a wall! There is a point when too much stuff seems important and you end up doing none of it… because you’re too overwhelmed.

Probably doesn’t help that my brain automatically dumps everything into one category of “Important!!!!!1!”. I actually had a pen-and-paper planning session in the end, deciding which things I would have to drop. As my inclination is to Do All The Things, this was painful. Bu necessary.

Have I learnt from this? Not quite. I’m still massively overscheduled for the upcoming week. I tend to feed myself well and sleep decently – am pretty resilient – so I can push those limits a bit. But soon enough I’ll have to have that conversation where I reconcile the list of my creative projects and habits – list that counts upwards of twenty – and make decisions about what fits my energy levels and existing schedule. Painful. Necessary. I am indeed learning to Do All The Things. Learning to do them One At A Time. Next: perhaps learning to finish projects. But that’s a story for another post.

On Motivation: How To Get Yourself To Do Things

Hello, hello, hello! I skipped a week, but fear not, it was for a good cause! It is half term, after all, and after having written here and here about how I struggle to rest, I actually… you know… rested.

Not that the week has been work- and stress-free. But I managed to go out dancing, hang out with friends and watch some stuff, as well as catching up on tasks. So, aside from my suddenly developed habit of going to sleep at 2 am, I would cautiously call this week a win.

One thing that I have achieved that has been brewing for a while is the beautiful token board that you’ll have seen featured in this post. “What is a token board, Rita”, you will ask, “and why are you arts and crafts skills so awesome?”. As for second, natural talent. But about the first.

As some of you know, I work with autistic children. It’s been about a year since I started in this line of work, and challenging though it may be, I also love it. I’ve been learning a lot about attention and motivation, because, quite frankly, to help my students I often have to strive to be the most interesting person around! I have to be fun to hang out with, as well as implement correct methodology while motivating my primary-school-age students to focus and do small bits of work. So it got me to think about the nature of motivation quite a bit.

When I’m motivating a student to do work, I will frequently use tokens – such as stickers, lines on the paper, stars, what-have-you. Anything will do, as long as the pupil and I share an understanding that after a finite amount of tokens – say, five – we can go Do Something Else That Is Not Work. Pupils will complete their work and then choose their own reward, whether it’s playground time, spending time with their favourite toys or playing a computer game. Getting tokens means practicing patience; it helps associate the feeling of achievement and reward with doing work-related things; it allows to track how much work we have done. In fact, when I was in training on the topic, one of the token systems we frequently mentioned was money: a thing that we perform a lot of work for, a reward that most of us are chasing to exchange it for other things. And even though we want the things that money can buy, money itself generates a satisfied feeling… because at some point the token gives you the same feeling as the real thing that it stands for. I digress.

As part of my homework I had to write down an idea of my own token board. Nobody asked me to actually implement it: the goal was to understand the things I was asking my students to do, to engender empathy. But I was intrigued: collecting points and measuring achievements is such a human thing to do – could I leverage this to do tasks that I struggle with? As I have recently done a test that was meant to measure how I form habits, based on my personality type, I knew I was what they call an Obliger: a person mostly reinforced by other people’s company. I tend to do well with outside-the-house employment, accountability, things like that: if I want to exercise, I will sign up to a class rather than try to do it on my own. Every time I try doing things when alone, it takes much more psychic energy and I fail much quicker.

Long story short: I combined the idea of reinforcing good habits, the token board and a bit of pomodorro technique/Unf*ck Your Habitat time management. I perform difficult tasks (often the lonely kind, of “this is so boring, but future Rita will thank me” kind) in chunks of twenty minutes, with roughly ten minute breaks. I reward each twenty minute chunk with a token (or more, if it’s particularly difficult) and every token is worth £1. I am rewarding myself with buying things that I really want to buy – the kind of shopping that I can’t really justify on a budget. I literally earn my own money back from myself at well under a minimum wage and you know what, you can laugh if you like. I don’t care.

It works.

I’ve been trialling this system for a while, but this week I actually created the board and started tracking what I do. I am well over twenty tokens at present. I have done writing (a solitary activity that I love, but struggle to get going), cleaning (something I struggle with, but also a thing that helps my mental health a lot), meditation, exercise (yes, there was a solo trip to the swimming pool for good forty five minutes!). I am trying to be cautious and not do everything at once, but I also can’t deny it. I. AM. SO. EXCITED!!!

This might not always work. I am relatively well, psychologically, and I need to be pretty organised to keep this going. But quite frankly, I’m a bit relieved. I have spent literal years conversing with my brain – trying to convince it to Do Things and being met with a blanket “I DON’T WANNA”. Add to it that often the things you most want to do are the things that terrify and paralyse you the most – also known as the concept of resistance (hugely recommend “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield on the topic) and you have one confused Rita, who really wants to Make Things, but is wondering why she can’t get anything going. Apparently the answers are either “call a friend (and set up some accountability)” or “hack your brain (and set up some sweet, sweet rewards)”. Anyway, I dearly hope this will continue to help me out in keeping my Creative Cave clean and my Creative Brain well exercised.

If you need me, I’ll just be here, associating putting a pin in a cork board with feeling of satisfaction and a fresh Amazon purchase….

Tired Friday With Cake Potential

It’s Friday….! Which means that I made muffins for breakfast (black banana from the fridge finally utilised), had a coffee (I ration the stuff) and got through my swimming class (instructor was very concerned because I was tired – kept asking what was going on. Aside from a busy week at work, and aren’t they all, the answer is simply PMS; should have said so).

Swimming and blogging are the weekly staples of my Friday diet, but I always try to do something more. In fact, I had so many ideas today, that I wound up on Facebook, because it all sounded like so much work! Sample idea:

  • making a cake! lemon loaf again? or that difficult apple pie that I fancied?
  • finish my registration for European elections – that one’s in the calendar!
  • watch RuPaul’s Drag Race – but not before other work!
  • do two-three loads of laundry (okay, one of those even happened)
  • footbath and scrub! ooh, and a facemask (I never do any of these)
  • look up the next slow cooker sensation and plan shopping, so that lunches for next week are done (steady on, got a couple of days yet…!)
  • ….more…

The problem is that Friday is duvet day for me. As in, the one and only rest day I allow myself in the week. I always make plans for Saturday, I work Sunday nights as well as Monday-Thursday – there is literally no part of the week when I’m not DOING SOMETHING. So maybe – just maybe – making a cake that I fancy eating and watching Drag Race is not the end of the world. I mean. Maybe. I can’t quite make myself believe it.

In fact, the one thing that is steadily suffering in my new world order is socialisation. Oh no, make that two things: socialisation and gigs. I all but stopped doing comedy, and while I get lots of human contact from my dayjob (yay kids!) and evening job (yay quizzers!), seeing my friends seems impossible. I did do pilates, yoga AND swimming this week, so maybe I can give myself a break…?

In any case, by writing this down I want to give myself permission to both Want All The Things and Not Achieve All The Things. I’m tired. I’m sitting on the sofa. I really fancy making a cake. Maybe there is nothing wrong with that.

My Favourite Failures (Pithy Post On Perfectionism)

Aside from Brexit failing to materialise last Friday, I have had some failures this past week. I failed to post a blog on either Friday or Saturday (my usual schedule), I failed to achieve creative goals I set for the weekend… and yet, those failures contributed to a pretty good result.

About the goal: I’ve been banging on about Brexit (in blogposts, poems, comedy, podcasts…) for almost three years. And I decided to release all the backlogged content I have about it during the Brexit weekend! On brand, on time, everything done! Go me! I was excited: the idea was pleasing to my perfectionist brain. It had a feeling of achievement paired with the idea of a clean slate: it’s practically perfectionist catnip.

Spoiler alert: I failed. But what does failure mean? It means: I published an episode of Jobstealers podcast that has been languishing on my hard disk for years – an interview of another European human right after Brexit, when we were both despairing and hopeful, unlike the beat-up tiredness of the present. I also figured out how to do audio editing on my shitty cheap laptop (the answer is paid online software, but hey, it worked!), figured out YouTube’s editing software, rewatched my solo show on Brexit (“F*cking European”) and edited my YouTube channel. How is that for “failure”, considering that a lot of these things needed to get done for a while?

I have a tendency to take on too much, but this weekend it has served me. Sure, I fell short of my goal. But I am still working on publishing my videos, the podcast has premiered, another podcast is on the way and I am re-energised in my creative practice, even if a lot of this is essentially admin, and admin long overdue at that.

I’m cosying up to failure. I’m learning to reframe. Frankly, perfection only exists in not-doing (as I keep learning again and again); “perfect is the enemy of the good”. Perfect, pfft! Ain’t nobody got time for that!

What Is A Treat?

It’s the middle of my working week – which starts Sunday evening and finishes Thursday afternoon – and I am pondering this query: what is a treat?

See, I like a treat. I enjoy treats a lot. I like a bit of chocolate, a frothy cappuccino, a drink. Sometimes I discover I don’t enjoy the taste of some of those things (down with milk chocolate!) as much as I enjoy the very idea of a treat.

To discuss treats, I have to mention what I eat; have to mention specific dietary requirements, so if you don’t like reading about any food restriction, maybe stop at this bit. Continue reading “What Is A Treat?”

The Life Equivalent Of Being In Between Haircuts

It’s Saturday before half-term. I am in flux.

2019 is definitely an in-progress year. While that applies to all of them to an extent, I am putting a lot of things in place – new routines, goals, thoughts even – that will look amazing a year from now, but are rather unremarkable at present. Examples?

I’m writing this blog because I miss writing, and I’m unwilling to wait for it until I figure out what exactly the writing should be. I just hope that when I do, this burgeoning writing habit will serve me to achieve it!

I started swimming again, or more precisely realised my dream and signed up for a swimming class. It is absolutely awesome and my delight at being in water is only growing. On the flipside, I’m only three classes in: all the benefits of this habit (except the immediate unbridled joy!) will be visible on the other side of 12 months or so…

I have a job with a pension. What that means, exactly, is something I need to investigate – I always found these things rather overwhelming, but it’s time to bite the bullet and understand them. There are also financial routines being organised. I have binders with invoice print-outs. No, really.

In addition to sorting out my physical health (which, next to swimming, features physiotherapy, blood tests and a fearsome-looking foam roller), I am doggedly pursuing better mental health. I try to rest more (whatever that means), be careful about creating and maintaining mental health routines and manage my news exposure.

I am (kind of) (sort of) (maybe) growing my hair (a bit). It’s a strange, reluctant feeling. I don’t look like me anymore. I’ve changed on some deep level and I feel the need to reflect that in my hairstyle. I am a bit uneasy with it; not yet sure whether I like that brand new me… but exploring this new instinct the way a dog sniffs at an unknown object.

Perhaps the whole summary could be that I’ve changed and I’m trying to keep up with it.

Setting boundaries is a thing – particularly with myself. Sorting out how much I am able to work; how much I am able to own in terms of physical objects before I get overwhelmed; how much I can achieve, especially if I narrow down the amount of the decisions I make on the daily basis… all of this doesn’t happen spontaneously, it is legitimate painstaking work.

For all of that, I feel content with my life. It is small at present, but mine to own, mine to design. I may be an anxious human, prone to distraction and trying to do everything at once, but I’m also capable of learning. I am done with frustration, a feeling that has defined majority of my adult life: I’m finished being unhappy with who I am. The question isn’t what I could have achieved if things were different: it is what can I achieve exactly as I am.

How To Rest: Role Models Wanted

It is another weekend and I’m trying to rest.

It’s not going so well. Weekend is traditionally a work event for me. I do my artistic work, I work as a quizmaster on Sundays… gigs and catching up on admin, not to mention housework, are the name of the game. I also tend to see The Gentleman Caller on weekends (okay, totally borrowing the name off Captain Awkward…. I’ll write about naming confusion another time). Overall, weekends tend to be low on me-time and high on “clean up debris of the week/write some invoices”-time, with a date or a gig thrown in the mix. And I keep realising that this resting thing… I don’t know how.

There are articles on this. How millenials have to manage diverse career portfolios as well as actually survive, which – coupled with a capitalist outlook in which you should be productive at all times, and our constant connectivity (email 24/7!) – cause us to be in work mode basically every second. So that, plus my current model of life and work is a “muggle job” and my creative career and you can tell how that would mean some overtime. And all artistic role models I have ever followed tend to say the same thing, which is: YOU BETTER WORK. WORK HARDER. WORK HARDER THAN ANYBODY HAS EVER WORKED. And oh my god, I want to. But I might need some rest.

Over the years, I have tried several different types of work, creative and not. I feel the need to take some time and figure out what it is that I should be doing to survive and thrive. Has Beyonce ever taken a year off to Find Herself? I don’t actually know. I do know that my body has finally rioted, so I need to prioritise workouts and physio; my mind is not far behind, hence media fasts and getting recommendations for therapy; and every time I try to rest, I default to reading something on the screen, or doing more work (conversely, I often procrastinate when I HAVE to do work, which leads me to believe that I’m tired). I tried to take a nap the other day, it was so unnatural. I used to really enjoy drawing with a friend, but these sessions tapered off, and whenever I try to do anything like that, I get attacked by guilt because I’m Not Being Productive. There seems to be no way out of it.

I don’t mean to sound all that hopeless. But this mythical beast of Work/Life Balance seems exactly that, mythical. How do people do this? Some days I move seamlessly from one kind of work to another and it’s kind of nice that way – I’ll do housework, than admin, then cooking and I feel like I achieved something by the end. Other days, especially when I go to work for 8 hours (well, I leave 7.30 and come back 6 pm or later), it’s very hard to do anything more. I want to instill habits in myself – meditation, exercise, cleaning, frequent writing…. so far all I managed is a weekly blog. Which is a start.

Or maybe I’m just too tired? It’s hard to tell. So far, 2019 has seen me reduce sugar intake and increase exercise (hello, weekly swimming classes, how nice to see you), as well as change my contract from fulltime to 4 days a week. I quit one quiz. I hardly ever gig (and I miss it…). But I still feel the need to take time, to rest. What would it take for this life of mine to actually function? I have no answers yet.

From Borderline Burnout To Something Like Satisfaction

This story begins sometime not now.

I’m not sure when it started or what are its actual ingredients. But the symptoms have persisted through the years. That is, I may be bad at resting. Or maybe: my priorities can be really out of whack. Or maybe: if I can’t summarise it, I can’t tell it fully. But I can tell you the results.

Last two months of 2018 were the hardest ever, workwise (aside from first two months of 2018, but that’s a separate story). I had two shows, two pub quizes per week, an emotionally and physically demanding full-time job with autistic children and my own artistic practice. Rather tellingly, all the work I was doing required being very Out There for other people: whether I’m hosting a pub quiz or working in the school, there is always an audience that I perform for. And I love that; it plays to my strengths. And yet.

Above me in the shows: Behind The Scenes at Studio Mandelbrot (a charming improv sci-fi set in alternative 70s) and Snow Q (a blend of fairy tale, poetry and performance art, in which I was the solo actor). I loved doing both of those!

There are people who routinely work 70-hour weeks. I have the greatest respect for those people and I presume that it takes a unique combination of endurance, determination and balance in creating efficient work routines as well as building in self-care. This is something I understand in abstract, but when it comes to work, I just expect myself to take everything on and excel. To make this more complex, I really do enjoy a demanding, fast-paced environment: I cook lunches and organise myself ruthlessly and – thrive. But in the last months of 2018 things got out of control: my motivation was flickering, I was angry, sad and got sick all the time. I kept trying to rest; I reserved Wednesday evenings for soothing baths; I refused social invitations, because between quizes and rehearsals I was out way too much – but I was also missing my friends and had no time to see them. All of these attempts were too little, too late. I was hoping that I’d rest during Christmas, but despite a wonderful holiday I came back to work with a sense of doom and unhappiness.

And so I had to deal with it.

First week back to school I asked for risk assessment for my injury – something I postponed, because the injury didn’t seem very serious and me being put on risk assessment would put pressure on the rest of my team. I followed this by three days of sickness absence and a decision to go from full-time to four days a week. I quit one of my two pub quizes. I quit the improv team I was heavily involved in. I started quitting things left and right, and saying “no” to more things cropping up. I quit media (as you know if you read my previous posts), I quit reading about politics especially, I quit trying to make all of my art projects at the same time. I quit, I quit, I quit. And then I quit some more.

There is more to it, of course. I have injuries that needs physiotherapy and general dealing with. I’m in my thirties now, which seems like a good time to get some spine muscles and improve my posture: I will likely keep that spine for next 30-50 years, so it’d be nice to maintain a decent user experience. My mental health could also use a tune-up – another thing that I’ve been postponing, but inevitably will need more if I don’t look at it sooner rather than later. All these things require time and effort and I had to make space for them.

And there is British citizenship – something I keep being scared about and need to do research on. Miraculously, my tax return actually affords me the money to pursue it. I hope that’s a sign of some sort.

So what now? Last week was my first week on a 4 day contract. On Friday I slept in, did some admin and went on a date to a museum and to see a show. Saturday was taxes, Sunday – brunch with friends and quiz. I try not to worry about citizenship, if only because it won’t help. I think twice before accepting any invitations, but also have more energy to be social as well as some actual time to enjoy London. Chances are I’ll be earning less: on average this move cost me some serious money that I hope my freelance work will absorb a little. But overall, I am happy: my personal life is thriving, I have plans to finish a play this year and maybe learn how to apply to Arts Council. I found some small satisfaction in things being as they are. I keep reminding myself to enjoy it.

A mostly vegan brunch: large frying pan with chickpeas, a smaller one with tofu, also olives, hummus, tomatoes, guacamole, goat cheese (non-vegan), fruit, tea and several mugs. All set on a table with some feet/legs visible around.
May 2019 include more brunches with nice people!

I’m Going Offline! Well, Kind Of. Mostly.

My name is Rita. I am a solo artist.

There is a chance you knew this about me. I do solo shows: comedy, mostly, often with swear words in the titles, but also theatre and poetry (got something cooking right now!). As a solo artist, the only way to work with others is when I get cast in somebody else’s work, or when I hire someone. So most of the time, I work alone.

I. Can. Not. Get. Stuff. Done. For The Life Of Me. And if you tell me that I do, I’ll rephrase: I get Some Stuff Done, Sometimes. The ideas/creation ratio is deeply, deeply unsatisfactory.

fuck-it-instagram
Me in 2017, swearing in my first show’s title.


Facebook and their compatriots put some serious work into reprogramming my brain. I will humbly admit that I may be on the susceptible end of the spectrum: I like to read, I’m procrastination-prone… I was made for loving you, baby…! (Internet). My intense reading habit – something my family spoke with half-admiration, half-exasperation when I was a child – has shifted online almost completely. I’ve been paying library fines for about 6 months, because I do, in fact, want to read those books about history of hip-hop and British class system (two different books, though that would be a fun read….). Bottom line, I NEED TO STOP BEING ON-LINE, PRONTO.

Am I deleting my Facebook account? No. Not that simple.

As an artist, I need an Online Presence. As a human, I enjoy easy access to my friends and finding out about events I might attend. Overall, I can’t be fully offline – I have work that comes via email, I have things that need to be promoted. Rather than disappearing, I want to show up consciously, when I have someting to say.

So what I’m choosing to do is, from 4 January for about a month, get on Facebook once a week – to publish a blogpost. Twitter and Instagram will also benefit from my blogging, but that will be the extent of it; there will be no Netflix, YouTube or NowTV. I even plan to download albums off Spotify, so that I can remain offline from it, too.

I’m leaving my burgeoning podcasting habit alone. I tend to clean when I listen to podcasts, so that makes them good in my book.

Will it be worth it? Will it, as I hope, shift my focus a bit?

I have a lot of work on my plate this month – completing my tax return for one. It will definitely be interesting to see whether I feel any different or function better. For now, I invite you to hang out with me as I’m trying this thing out. The next post might be all about my favourite YouTube shows, just because I’ll miss them…!

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