In spring of 2019 I quit my nonprofit job to write a book abroad. In Ireland - my first leg - my cottage drowned in greenery: pastures, trees, wild things. For three weeks, my hands labored intensely to write all that could be done, which was the first half of my memoir. Then off I went to Iceland, where this photo was snapped hours after the sun had set; night never darkened during my near-one-month stay because of Iceland's extreme northerly position.

My room at Gulkinstan: Center for Creativity was cramped but suitable for my needs. My window faced a flowery mountain, in which Laugarvatn, a small village, rests at its base. The village had a humble grocery store, a gas station, up to three restaurants, but not much else. A geothermal vent near a lake is where locals baked traditional Icelandic bread by burying dough in hot sand until tourists nibbled samples next day.

My first week I wrote up to six hours a day. The following week, up to ten hours. And by my final two weeks, my fingers were possessed, as I was pushing at sixteen hours each day of writing.

Evening walks along the mountain and through the village offered temporary respite, but writing returned me inside my teeny room.

During my final days in the small village I rented a car and explored purple night which, again, never completely blackened; the sun dipped below the horizon, skimmed the edges for a few hours, maybe up to four, then hurriedly rose from the north.

I'm fond of my Icelandic memories because I've read Annie Dillard's Write Till You Drop this morning after a fitful night of sleep -

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.

- fitful because my writing has stalled. I've lost the urgency to finish my second draft, lost the desire, the drive, my purpose. What's happening in the world isn't helping. Work is hectic, though I'm thankful I am able to teach virtually. Helplessness won't get me out of my spiral. I know it. And reading this -

We still and always want waking.

- reminds me to wake up, and continuously wake, until my fingers fall off from typing. Dillard's essay snapped me out of my whatever-it-is, which I won't name because it doesn't matter. What matters is that I'm awake and today, this morning, is what's new and fresh as Icelandic bread: now.

Read Write Till You Drop by Annie Dillard and get inspired to write and live well(ish).

A few days ago, I came home with this note in my mailbox and the gift of community warmed me up. Seattle is particularly (and stereotypically) known for being standoffish. The Seattle Freeze is both a myth and an excuse to not be engage with strangers, namely neighbors. I've lived in Seattle for nearly a decade and even I catch myself refraining from any effort to say "hi!" while passing someone on the sidewalk.

Yeah, it can be that weird. But only because we make it weird.

Fortunately in the past few years, my engagement in the local literary scene has skyrocketed. Through hard effort, and a little of luck, I've met wonderful friends and acquaintances. And this wonderful note reminded me to continue to strengthen my neighbor and artist bonds, especially now when I need it most.

What a whirlwind week, huh? My in-person classes switched to virtual learning, and I was stuck at my computer for several days transferring my lectures to an online platform.

What snuck in were old habits of stress eating and unnecessary snacking. I'm a grazer, meaning I nibble throughout the day. But when I nibble constantly, including eating full meals, my body stores every single calorie. I haven't trained for my Ultra Marathon, didn't go on walks, nor did I eat balanced meals this week. And I haven't written in weeks. Ughhhhhhh!

Instead of beating myself up, however, I'm calling it what it is: a week of old habits.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg taught me about what triggers (or cues) habits I don't like. For instance, I sit and sit and sit at my computer, then I want coffee or tea. What goes great with a hot beverage while there's a constant Seattle drizzle splattering against my window? Something sweet, of course! So I eat, and eat and eat and eat.

Image Source: The Blogazine

One of my triggers or cues that activates my snacking is coffee or tea. What triggers that is rain. While I obviously can't control the weather, what I can control is my response. And another thing I can control is the reward for changing my response.

Therefore: If I eat an apple or orange instead of a cookie with my hot beverage, I'll reward myself with a 15-minute non-work activity, like walking, reading, or writing.

Of course this is easier said than done, but I highly encourage reading the book and watching the video below.

Food for thought: What are your habit loops? Describe the environment of your habits. What triggers undesirable habits? And how can you break your habit loop?

Video: Here's How to Break Habits

D.A. Navoti

About the Writer

D.A. NAVOTI (@da.navoti) is a creative nonfiction and poetic prose storyteller. He's a 2020 Seattle CityArtist recipient and a former fellow at Hugo House and Jackstraw Cultural Center. Read More... 

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