(How's that for a long title? Just wait until you see the length of the post. I'm getting heavy today guys. High fives and fist pumps in advance to those of you who take the time to read it all.)
Recently, my husband (who, as I've mentioned many times before, works for a band and is on the road, away from home, for half of the year) had two and a half weeks off. This was the most he'd been home in 2015, and it was pretty great. He met Essley and me in Arizona where we spent a few days relaxing, and then we all flew back to Chicago and had a week and a half at home together. Our situation is a little unusual in that my work schedule almost completely revolves around his (so that one of us is always able to care for our daughter while the other ones works), so I spent the majority of weekdays that he was here cramming in as much work as possible. But the rest of the time, we really took advantage of our time together to just enjoy life as a family. We ate dinner together, went for walks together, ran errands together, took Essley to the library and the park, dyed Easter eggs together, cleaned our house together, and just hung out. We dropped Essley off at her grandparents' house and spent a couple of evenings together as a couple as well. Again, it was pretty great. Robbie's time at home, especially in the first half of the year, is very sporadic and can sometimes feel more like visits than us all actually living together as a family. It's not easy, but there are good things that result from it. Mainly, the fact that our time together is sometimes so little almost forces us to be intentional in finding ways to enjoy every moment of it. And for that, I'm actually really grateful.
All of this said, even in this genuinely appreciated, preciously limited time together, I sometimes find myself elsewhere. I'll start thinking ahead to when Robbie leaves again, and worrying about how I'm going to meet important work deadlines and schedule phone meetings and get housework and errands done and appointments made, etc., while taking care of Essley by myself over the week or two he'll be gone. Suddenly my mind is in a different place, and it's not always easy to pull it back into the moment. I sometimes find myself doing something similar with my weekends too - where on a sunny Saturday afternoon, in the middle of having a great time with friends or family, I catch myself transported to the future, to Monday morning and all of the stress that accompanies that dreadful day of the week when you make the harsh shift back to a work state of a mind from a leisure one. It's not just negative or stressful stuff though. Sometimes it's just thinking ahead. I've gotten a zillion times better about not obsessively planning in general, but if I'm going to be taking a trip, the entire week before I find myself excitedly making mental lists that involve getting ready for the trip and/or what will happen while we're there. Over time, I've gotten really good at not living in the past, but pulling myself into the future is still a work in progress. I'm aware of it though, and that has really helped in terms of being able to pull myself back and be mindful.
Living in the future, however, is only a very small part of my struggles to be present. My biggest challenge involves something that strips the 'now moments' away from a lot of us - and that is the false reality of the internet. Like many (most?) of us, I always have my phone on me, and I'll catch myself checking my work email or checking into Instagram or Facebook in the middle of us watching a movie, or on a car ride together with my family, or even when we're out to dinner. Technology - and more specifically, blogging and social media - is, my far, my biggest obstacle when it comes to existing in the now.
The topic of being present certainly isn't a new one for a blogger to explore. You see posts all the time on blogs and social media about struggles with creating separations between the online world and real life. How many times have you read bloggers say that they're taking a break to focus on their lives aways from their computers? How many Instagram captions underneath a pretty picture of a sunlit tree or a sweetly playing baby or an outstretched hand holding an ice cream cone in front of a colorful brick mural have you read that say something along the lines of, "I'm taking some time to unplug. See you in a couple of weeks." How many times have you seen blogs come to an end completely, or social media accounts be deleted, for these same reasons? So really, it makes sense that this would be a topic of discussion in these circles. I think that for those of us who blog regularly, and/or blog as part of our careers, or really, for anyone who works online in a field where they're constantly devoting time to social media or branding, this is a legitimate issue. Even those who just blog or connect via social media for fun can easily get drawn into this world and away from actually living life if they're spending enough time at their laptops or with phones or iPads in hand. Blogging and being active on social media are wonderful, incredibly powerful ways to connect. Clearly I find them enjoyable and interesting, or I wouldn't devote so much of my work/life to them. But there's no doubt that they can strongly and negatively affect what is a essentially a very important gift - the ability to live in and enjoy the moment.
What happens when I don't have my phone near me: I play with my daughter.
I'm going to be completely transparent here and tell you straight up that I have an ongoing dialogue in my mind about whether to continue down the blogger path or walk away from it. And truthfully, the main reason for this is the ability of blogging (and all that comes along with it) to so easily distract me from being present. Going back to the beginning of this post and my discussion of my appreciation of Robbie's limited time at home with our family, I can't tell you how many times, at the end of his longer periods off work, that I find myself questioning what I'm presently doing for a living. I so enjoy our time just living together, experiencing the everyday with our friends and each other, that after longer periods of getting to do this, I often want to lock my laptop in a closet, delete my social media accounts, and just (yep, you guessed it) be present in my life. And although this goes back to before I started blogging as part of my career (because there was a massive amount of online marketing, and social media presence in its later years, involved with my eco-fashion brand as well), it really is more recently that I've had strong thoughts about just how much my time spent online for work affects my daily life.
It's not only about spending time on a computer or device though - it's also about the blurred lines between work and pleasure when it comes to blogging. (Example: my IG account is called @bubbyandbean, and it's an extension of this blog, but almost all of the pictures I post there are from my personal life. The shots are filtered and cropped and just tiny, edited pieces of reality, but they're still from my actual life and rarely content from the blog or other aspects of my work.) Like most of us who blog professionally (I feel so weird using the term "professionally" when it comes to blogging, but I can't think of a more accurate term; "career blogger" sounds even weirder), I never intended for my blog to turn into a way to pay my bills and help support my family. Bubby & Bean was just a side project that accompanied my art/card shop and clothing line, and somehow, it organically grew, and I began to focus more and more time on it, and it became something bigger - and eventually, something on which my family relied for part of its income. So maybe, because I wasn't expecting it to get to this point, I just wasn't prepared for how it would create a challenge in terms of being present. Maybe because it wasn't intentional, like many hobbies that become careers, it came as sort of a surprise when it began to run over into my personal life (and thus, as a result, began to drain it at times as well).
Expanding on these blurred lines - when you run a lifestyle blog and you're constantly talking about, well, life (decorating, making food, what you're wearing), it can, in a sense, take away from your, well, life. This is so silly and so not a real problem, but sometimes I genuinely struggle with stuff like, "I really love this project I just made, and I kind of want to just enjoy it, but man, it's great blog content, so I better post it." Or "wow, this lighting is so gorgeous, I just want to close my eyes and feel the sun on my face, but I should probably interrupt this perfect moment in nature to pull out my phone and snap a picture to post to Instagram, or technically, it's a wasted moment, right?" RIDICULOUS. Embarrassing. But it happens. And I allow it to happen. Not all the time, but enough.
I think that in the end, it's all of this (the blurred lines between work and personal life, the false reality into which we all get sucked where an online life full of followers and likes and numbers becomes important in our minds, the constant, additive-in-nature checking of social media accounts) that prevents us from truly being present. But even when you're aware of this, if you rely on pieces of this online "reality" (like blogging and social media) to help support yourself and your family, it's not always an option to just give it all up. At the bittersweet end of these wonderful periods of my husband being at home and our family being together, when I reflect on both the blissful times we spent just being and the times that I allowed myself to get sucked out of the present and waste these precious minutes we have together - that's when I really start to question my work as a blogger. Then a bill comes in the mail, and, as with any job, I remember that it's not as simple as just walking away. (Side note: As I'll explain in a minute, I do enjoy blogging and I'm grateful for getting to work at home, etc. So please know that I'm not complaining - I'm just digging deep, dudes.)
I don't claim to have all of the answers about living in the now (clearly, or I wouldn't be writing this post), and I'm not saying that quitting the online world is the only way to be present. But I do know that a big part of the solution is actually something I've gotten better about attaining in other aspects of my life: healthy balance. I've talked here before about how I finally made the decision a couple of years ago to take weekends off and to work more realistic hours. This has been part of my learning process in how to achieve balance, and I'm thinking it's something I can apply more to separating my actual life from my online life as well. I also want to clearly state that I don't dislike blogging. Do I think I'll be blogging for the rest of my career? Absolutely not. But really, for now, I do love it. It's a satisfying creative outlet for me that I never dreamed would produce income, and it allows me to work from home so that I can care for my daughter - so even when I question it, I'm grateful for it. I just need to continue to learn ways to create balance and focus on (let's say it again, together) being present. Maybe talking it out here on the blog, old school journal style, is a step in the right direction as far as that goes, huh?
Are you still here? If so, I want to hug you. Hard. I didn't plan on sitting down and essentially vomiting all of my thoughts onto the blog today (I actually had something completely different scheduled in the editorial calendar), but I haven't been able to get this off my mind for days now and I decided that it actually made sense to share it here. A decent percentage of my readers are bloggers themselves, and/or work in creative fields that require a lot of time online/on social media, so I figured many of you could relate. Even if you don't do any of this stuff for a living, chances are you spend time online (you're reading this, right?!) or on your devices, and have probably struggled with how to be more present. I'd love to get a discussion going on this, so please, let me know in the comments (or email me, if you're more comfortable doing that) your thoughts on it all. I'd love to hear the things that work for you to stay in the present as well. (This was actually going to be the topic of this post - how things like meditation and yoga, turning off my phone for the day, applying things I've learned about balance from other aspects of my life - are helping me to slowly get into the habit of being present, but my rambling got so extensive that I had to cut myself off before I even got to it.)
So that's it for now. Thank you for reading! I very rarely do wordy, introspective type posts like these on the blog, but on occasion, I think it's good to step out of the design and style focused pieces and into real life, beyond just the curated, pretty stuff. I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
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