Friday, July 10, 2015

Ask Frida Pennabook: Harried in Hastings

Sometimes it's helpful to tap into the expertise of a fellow writer or artist. Got a question? Need advice? Just ask Frida.

Dear Frida,

I have a chronic condition that makes it difficult for me to write. It’s not physical. I can sit in a chair for long periods of time (which I do all day at work), my wrists and hands work just fine (I can fold laundry, do dishes, wash dirty little faces), my vision is 20/20 (all the better to read bedtime stories or pay bills online), and my mobility is no problem (which is good because I have to run kids to violin lessons later today and pick up dry cleaning, otherwise I may be going to work in pajamas tomorrow).

As you can see, my chronic condition is called “life.” It interferes with my ability to spend time working on my own projects. I started a picture book about a year ago, but I don’t even remember what it’s about. I think it is buried under two years’ worth of unread Writer’s Digest magazines.  

What can I do to reclaim some of my time and focus on my writing and illustration career? Should I quit my job and do nothing but write and paint all day?

Harried in Hastings

Dear Harried,

I’m here for you. Not in the sense that I will clean your house, run errands for you, or manage your calendar, mind you. I’m helpful, but I’m not crazy.

Instead, let me pass along something that one of my mentors shoved down my, um…shared with me insistently long ago. Are you ready? Get a pen, write this down, and stick it on your laptop, your bathroom mirror, or the dash of your car, anywhere that you will see it many times per day. Here it is: Be selfish.

Every single day, be selfish. Of course you must take care of your other responsibilities, but not everything you do during the day is a true responsibility. How much time do you spend on social media, binge watching Netflix, volunteering in your kids’ school, or “helping out” with a work project that technically belongs to the tool in the cubicle three down from yours who will wind up taking all the credit anyway?

Before you quit your job, quit other stuff. Start with half an hour. We all have at least that much time. Sorry, Lena Dunham. No more Girls. No clean skivvies for work tomorrow? Hello, commando! Take 30 minutes of your lunch break and find a conference room or broom closet that no one knows about. Eat while you write or sketch. I actually found the only lockable bathroom in my building. I got some strange looks every day and some suggestions to try a probiotic. But I was productive.

The point is that we all have extra time in our days that we fritter away without realizing it. By taking an honest inventory of how you spend your time, you will discover those moments where you can dare to be selfish.

Let me leave you with one last thought: you deserve to be true to yourself. This is something that parents, and especially mothers, don’t hear often enough. We live in a society of helicopter parents who are bombarded with the message that if you have not created the perfect Frozen bento box for your child’s lunch, you are a failure. But think about this: if you never allow your children the opportunity to see you working to achieve something for you and you alone, will they ever get the message that they are not the center of the known universe, despite society’s misguided insistence that they are? Will they ever learn that sometimes, their needs must wait? Will they ever see you happy and fulfilled because you took the time to nurture yourself and pursue your passions?

Be selfish.


Frida (who is at this moment writing on the deck with some iced tea while simultaneously ignoring the ginormous dust rhinos in her living room)

Thank you, Frida! Frida's advice reminded me of a poem that I've heard recited at a few writing conferences. You can read and listen to the poem, Advice to Myself by Louise Erdrich at Writer's Almanac. Thanks to Jennifer Whistler for helping me find it.

Happy reading,
Kristin Lenz


  1. That's great advice, Frida. I need to take your advice too. Thanks!

  2. So important to remember! Thanks, Frida.

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  4. Great posting, particularly for all of us who love to fritter (as well as munch on the apple variety)!

  5. Great advice, thanks for this uplifting post. I needed to read this today!