I don’t love November.
Traditionally, it’s a busy month for me, one laden with stress and anxiety. 2011’s version is proving to be no different.
This year’s November started off with a freak Halloween snowstorm, which left us without power for five days and nineteen hours. Let me tell you, no suburban plight brings you closer to moral collapse than sitting in the dark for six days with nothing but your thoughts, particularly when those thoughts center on the fact that you broke up with your girlfriend a week before your one-year anniversary. That sucks no matter who you are.
November also happens to be NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, in which participants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I’ve completed NaNoWriMo twice, but this year I find myself languishing with little time, energy, or motivation to produce anything other than emotional brain vomit: a nonsensical stream-of-consciousness rant largely concerning the aforementioned romance issue. At this point, I’m many thousands of words behind schedule, and there’s a good chance it’s not going to get done, which disappoints me. I’m not one to half-ass something.
I also haven’t felt like much of a writer lately regarding this website, which has resulted in increased link posting and far fewer long-form articles than I’d like. This is my fourth month writing QLE, so I guess a little slump is inevitable once the initial novelty wears off, but it still disappoints me that the site isn’t operating at a level I’m happy with.
November is also the month of our annual tournament in Old Sturbridge, Massachusetts, which attracts over 500 competitors every year. I’ve never loved competing. It stresses out my shy and introverted side, and my heart rate increases just thinking about it. I’m much more used to competing now than when I was younger, and I have to do it to set a good example for the students, but it remains a source of dread nevertheless.
And of course, underlying these issues are the usual drags: student loans are looming, the days are growing shorter and colder, and my thesis has taken a back seat to the above grievances.
Times like these are when our perspective becomes most important. We may not be able to control the things that happen to us, or the obligations we have to go through, but we can control how our mind deals with them. Making it through to the other side comes down to two things: focusing on the positive, and reframing the negative so it doesn’t seem so bad.
For every stressor, annoyance, and bummer November throws at me, there are many, if not more, things to be thankful for and happy about. It is the month of Thanksgiving, after all.
For example, I love my Kindle. Thanks to this little $79 guy (and said power outage), I was able to rip through all 656 pages of the Steve Jobs biography in about two weeks. Finishing a big book like that was tremendously satisfying and gave me a feeling of accomplishment I haven’t had in a long time. I’ve now moved on to Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, and I’m really enjoying it. The Kindle makes me want to find time to read. I do, and that feels fantastic.
I also love my yoga class. My dad had been going to our local yoga center for a while, so to get my mind off things, I decided to stop in and try it out. I had taken a men’s yoga class while working on my master’s degree and loved it, but it only lasted eight weeks. I tried doing P90X’s yoga video once a week at home, but at ninety minutes, Tony Horton quickly fell out of favor with me. Taking a class is so much more satisfying and rewarding. Yoga people tend to be very warm, calm, and inviting, so meeting them is a pleasure. You get to sweat like hell and forget about everything else bouncing around in your head for a while. Plus, the strength and flexibility training has been an invaluable asset to my martial arts ability. I’m going three times a week now, and I absolutely love it. Having something to look forward to on your schedule is always great for lifting your spirits.
As a nerd, I’m psyched that Apple finally released iTunes Match, which enables you to upload your entire music collection iCloud and access it on all of your devices. It took more than 24 hours for iTunes to match and/or upload my 13,000 song library, but now all of my music is only a tap away wherever I go. I don’t have to haul my dinosauric iPod Classic around anymore or deal with picking only 32GB worth of music for my iPhone. That makes my life easier and simpler, so of course I’m all about it.
My friend Rich has also been teaching me how to play chess. I’m terrible, but I still find the game very enjoyable, and it’s a good brain workout. A new hobby is a great distraction from what ails you.
Despite all these new sources of joy, the negative things can still find a way to overwhelm and get you down. The only way to overcome these pains in the ass is to reframe the way your mind thinks about them. I could stress out about not finishing my NaNoWriMo novel this month, or I could simply tell myself that it’s just for fun anyway. Whether I write 50,000 words or 5,000, that’s still more than I would have written otherwise. Something that’s supposed to be a fun creative endeavor shouldn’t stress me out.
As much as I can already feel the nervousness and anxiety of this weekend’s tournament, I can just as easily envision the feeling of relief when it’s all over. It’s just one day. One day of nerves and excitement, and it will inevitably come to an end. Those feelings aren’t going to last forever. When I wake up Saturday morning, every minute that goes by brings me closer to the end of the day, when I can finally breathe a sigh of relief and relax, win or lose. It’s going to be a big day, but when it’s over I can enjoy a long drive home listening to my favorite music, and then it’s smooth sailing to the holidays.
As for the breakup, I can’t have any regrets about my performance or the person I was for the past year. When you look at the big picture, it was really, really great. My expectations were a little mismanaged, but what can you do other than remember that for next time? If something doesn’t work out, something else will.
Sometimes there’s so much going on in our heads that it can be impossible to think straight, and that’s when we get overwhelmed. As I’ve said here before, there’s only a finite amount of space between our ears; keeping everything locked up and bouncing around in there is a recipe for a mental breakdown. That’s where the brain dump comes in: writing down every single thing on your mind in one huge list. Every phone call you have to make, assignment you have to do, errand you have to run, person you have to talk to, thought you need to capture, anything and everything. Once it’s down on paper, you can stop worrying about it. You don’t have to think about it, and you won’t forget it because it’s written down. It’s out of your head. Emptying your brain frees and calms your mind, which makes it much easier to breathe.
I still don’t love November, but emptying my mind out here helps me put things in perspective. The good things will last forever; the bad feelings are temporary. November is just a bump in a very long road, and it’s only a matter of time before December 1.