It’s a given that entrepreneurs are supposed to invest in their business, accumulate assets, and build something bigger than themselves. Writing is what I do, it’s my business. When I started teaching, mentoring, and designing online courses I quickly realized that my mind and body just so happened to be my biggest assets and that I had to protect them by any means necessary. Yes, by any means necessary. I’m supposed to invest in myself, right?
Writing, touring, doing events. It can exhaust your mind and your body. Fear of the temporary opportunity was my biggest nemesis. I began taking on every project out of fear of never being asked again. This is something that I know to be especially troublesome for some of the other marginalized writers in my literary circle. In the past I have said yes to more than I could handle. I cut my sleep in half, skipped meals, patched together various writing projects without truly putting my whole self into them. I end up doing events without ever taking a moment before or after to reflect and absorb (which to me, is actually an important part of speaking on panels). What went well? What didn’t go well? What can I do next time to improve? I need time to think about this. Reflection is connected to growth.
I don’t know if it’s the travel, the having to dig deep down into the depths of your soul to find the right words to talk about your book over and over and over and over, or the not having time to sit and reflect on everything you’ve learned, said, and heard. But it really makes you realize how important it is to take care of yourself and to listen to your body now. The key word being, now.
For most of 2018 I felt nothing but exhaustion. Everyone else I knew was powering through their tours. They seemed fine. Because of this I let myself believe I was also fine and this being tired thing was all in my head, or that maybe I had to be and give that little bit extra. But I got a little bit scared when I stopped sleeping properly, started missing appointments, and canceling events because the thought of getting on another bus was unfathomable — I didn’t recognize this person. I knew (if I wanted to keep writing and teaching) I’d better do something about it before it got out of hand. But what? What could I do that wouldn’t make me even more tired? Everyone suggested physical activity. Great.
I don’t do sports. I’m completely uncoordinated. I can’t throw a ball to save my life (just ask my brother about all the times I followed him to the basketball court, or how many times he had to lunge-dive to catch one of my embarrassingly awkward attempts at a throw). But people always say sports are a great way to take your mind off the everyday grind, a way to force your brain to think differently. But, I don’t do sports.
This past summer I literally fell into heated fitness classes. I was walking and emailing while eating what I like to call “walkable food”, which is basically anything hand-held and perfect for multitasking, when I tripped over an Oxygen Fitness sandwich board sign. The rest is history. I went in already expecting to hate it, but I was pleasantly surprised by how all the stress seemed to melt from my body as soon as I walked into the studio. Being in that heated room, sweating, my phone locked away, I was forced to be alone with the activity at hand and I took that as a good sign. Why was this different? I don’t really know for sure because it’s not just one thing, but what I do know is I was made to feel welcome immediately. The folks who worked at the studio knew my name on my second day there.
After an hour in the heat I feel completely detoxified. It’s almost as if I am given a blank canvas every day, or a restart button. What I truly love is the encouragement and time given to reflect during the last few minutes of class. I get to lay down in the dark, on the floor and just close my eyes. I get to breathe and reflect (wow I finally get time to reflect?) It’s the absolute best feeling in the world. With my eyes closed, I tell myself I am worthy of every opportunity, and remind myself to give my body time to catch up with the mind and that it’s ok to take back my time. It’s ok to give the mind a rest. The mind is a tricky thing. I have a lot of trouble disconnecting from social media, emails, and everyday tasks because I am worried that if I don’t remind folks that I am here, they just might forget.
I’ve invested in myself which is really what this whole thing is about, and the return on my investment is completely surpassing my expectations. Not only am I challenging myself physically, but I am motivated to continue to better myself mentally through weekly mantras, body positivity, and reflection. How has this helped my writing life? I’ve been able to stop, slow down and really think before reacting which in turn has allowed me to do the same in my writing. I unintentionally created a world of my own outside of the literary community that I love so much, and created a mindful space to create and reflect.
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Chelene Knight is the author of the poetry collection Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant, winner of the 2018 Vancouver Book Award. Her essays have appeared in multiple Canadian and American literary journals, plus the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. Her work is anthologized in Making Room, Love Me True, Sustenance, The Summer Book, and Black Writers Matter.
The Toronto Star called Knight, “one of the storytellers we need most right now.” In addition to her work as a writer, Knight is managing editor at Room, programming director for the Growing Room Festival, and CEO of #LearnWritingEssentials. She often gives talks about home, belonging and belief, inclusivity, and community building through authentic storytelling.
Knight is currently working on Junie, a novel set in Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley, forthcoming in 2020.