A Meditation on the Subject of Whole Assing

Image via Flickr by The Huntington

Image via Flickr by The Huntington

“Don’t half-ass two things, whole ass one thing.” – Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

For the last three years I have split my time, creative energy, and care between writing and yoga instructing. In many ways, these two art forms complement one another. As a yoga instructor I have large stretches of free time during the day in which to write (or avoid writing by manically cleaning the house). As a writer, I’ve honed my ability to tell stories, which I frequently use to elevate my class from a calisthenic mediation to a true lesson. Yet, despite the overlap, I can’t help a niggling worry that I am short-changing each by pursuing the other.

Part of my problem is mental. Sometimes I think of myself as an aspiring writer who teaches yoga to pay the bills until my writing will. Then the next day I will think of myself as a yoga instructor who writes. This distinction may seem trivial, but I am a firm believer in definitions and their power to shape our world.

When I feel like I am primarily a writer, I am more diligent about writing everyday. It’s not always fun. Writing feels like pulling teeth as often as it feels like legos snapping satisfactorily into place. But I do it and my teaching suffers. Not a lot, but it’s noticeable. Maybe I’m teaching the same sequence as last week because I haven’t gotten my own ass to the mat as a student in all that time. I could be using an old playlist or my delivery is just a little off because I’m not quite in the rhythm of the class.

When I feel like I am mostly a yoga instructor it’s much the same, but in reverse. I make it to the studio as a student, study yoga, and teach some phenomenal classes, but I don’t write much. Though, in truth, it’s rarely that binary. It’s a spectrum from fully whole assing one thing, to half-assing both right in the middle and there’s the trouble.

You might justly question my premise by asking, “Why can’t you do both well? Does it really have to be one or the other?”

There have been stretches of time when I felt like I could whole ass two things, where I committed myself to studying and practicing writing and yoga while also teaching yoga professionally. They never last. The truth is: I only have so much time, creative energy, and gumption. If I were to put in enough time and effort into both arts to feel like I was doing the best possible job at both, I would be working somewhere around 60-80 hours per week. That kind of schedule is possible, but it’s hard to sustain, particularly because so much of that work needs to be self-motivated.

So, what’s the solution?

I believe it’s a pivot, in one direction or the other. Choosing to “whole ass one thing,” as Ron would say. But which way? That’s the question.

In a way, I’ve already spun the wheel by applying to several fully funded creative writing MFA programs. If I get accepted to one, and choose to go, I will be committing to honing my craft as a writer and will be paid for doing so…

Yet, I almost hope I don’t get into any of them. Part of me compares the hours I’ve spent grinding out pages to the hours spent teaching and knows which I prefer. Please don’t misunderstand. I do love writing. Like right now, when this question feels so urgent it’s burning the back of my throat. Writing helps me sort things out. I find its precision and craft beautiful.

Yet, I don’t generally stand up from a hard session at the keyboard feeling better than when I sat down. Usually the words either come or they don’t. There are breakthrough moments where I get passed a place where I was stuck, and that feels fantastic, but most of the time it’s more consistent than that. When I teach yoga, on the other hand, I almost always feel better by the end of class than I did at the beginning. In fact, I feel better at the end of the day when I teach four classes than I do on my day off. Exhausted, yes, physically and emotionally, but deeply content.

Again, with the information you now posses, you might question why this is even a struggle. “That sounds like a pretty clear indicator,” you might say. “Why don’t you just devote yourself to yoga for a while? You can still write when the urge strikes, right?”

I might just do that. I can feel the my heart spiraling closer to that conclusion, but there’s another factor. I am afraid.

Right now I make enough money to support myself in what my mother calls “a holding pattern.” I’m not worried about feeding myself or paying my bills, but I’m not putting much aside. Looming household expenses like buying a new furnace, or reroofing the garage, threaten to wipe out my meager savings. Committing to being a yoga instructor feels like committing to that uncertainty.

More than that, however, is learning to value a different type of knowledge. Wisdom and a deep knowing in one’s body might sound laudable, particularly in my circles, but in society’s eyes, it sure doesn’t beat the prestige of a master’s degree. As much as it pains me, I am a creature of society. I am a rule follower. I want to think well of myself and want others – particularly my brilliant, well-educated family – to think well of me. Somehow, trying to make yoga more than just a holding pattern doesn’t feel like it’s as legitimate a pursuit as writing. Part of me knows that my family will value me and think well of me no matter what I decide, but fears of being thought less than I could be blend with my more practical money worries into a potent fearful soup.

So, what am I to do?

Well, today, I submitted my last MFA application for the year. In February I will take a break from writing regularly to see how it feels. If the urge strikes, I’ll write, but I won’t force myself to the keyboard. I will take this time for myself and my yoga practice. We’ll see what happens from there.

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  1. The Ink Slinger says:

    Update: I am still on my break from writing regularly, but I came across this post recently and I think it’s a really nice rebuttal/balance to mine. So, here it is: http://laurenmarieyoga.com/journal/2017/4/27/balance-isnt-a-thing

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