All This Space

Every time I finish a book (or bring some other major effort to a close) I find myself with what feels like an overwhelming volume of empty space on my calendar and in my life.

It’s a bit like if you worked a 9-to-5 job, and then suddenly retired or cut your hours down to that of a part-time worker; it’s staggering, suddenly having so many more chronological and energetic resources to spend, and it’s not always clear how to reinvest them now that they’ve been liberated.

I’ve recently put the final touches on my upcoming book about growing older, How To Turn 39, and though there’s still some work to be done in terms of preparing for its release, and though I’ve still got all my normal, rent-paying responsibilities on my plate, the space in my life I carved out for writing, editing, recording the audiobook, designing the cover, and formatting everything so it looks and sounds as it should has become a huge, vacant, echoey space that I wander around like a kindergartener in an empty gymnasium.

Fortunately, this is a familiar feeling, and I have a few go-to exercises that reliably help me recalibrate to a less project-intensive reality.

Mentally categorizing the completion of a big project as a “milestone moment,” like a birthday or New Year’s, helps me shift into a “taking stock” and “making positive changes” mindset, for instance.

I’m spending some of this unfettered time rearranging things at home, making adjustments and iterations to my workout routine, and making plans with my girlfriend that will expend these bonus hours and energy appropriately and healthfully.

There are plenty of little tasks that I’ve set aside during this period of intensive writing (and writing-adjacent work), like updating my other projects, investing in next-step endeavors, and so on, that I can start to tackle, too, knowing I now have the necessary internal resources available to properly address them.

I also find that recommitting myself to seeking out novelty is a good use of these moments, as I tend to retreat inside myself while writing a book (though this can apply to other sorts of extremely focused efforts, as well), and when I come out of that me-sized bubble, I’ve been without the sorts of external influences that typically inform my thinking and experimentation and work for possibly quite a long while.

Thus, right now I’m going out of my way to listen to new (to me) music, looking at and thinking about art, reading a bunch of books, watching some unfamiliar shows and films, and in general just soaking up all manners of qualia and ideas that, ultimately, will help me decide what to do, next.

I also—and this one comes less naturally to me than the others—try to remind myself to just chill the hell out.

Immersing in unfamiliar stimuli can play this role, but I also make a point of integrating purposeless, atelic activities into my day, the point being to relax, unclench, and recover from what was essentially a multi-month marathon.

It’s not healthy to power through these sorts of efforts without allotting ourselves time for recovery, and dawdling around, playing games, and indulging in truly pointless (in the sense that they’re not profitable or outcome-oriented) activities is fundamental to this sort of convalescence, for me.

I’m thrilled with how the book turned out, happy to have it done, and I can’t wait to get it into other peoples’ hands.

But I’m reminding myself that I haven’t yet reached the end of this process, and that this period of usually a few weeks to a few months is just as vital to my well-being and flourishing as the exertion that preceded it.

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