I’ve been researching the watermen of the Chesapeake Bay, particularly the residents of Smith Island, one of only two inhabited islands in the Bay. These men toil long hours — 3:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the height of summer — doing backbreaking work for what we in cities might call a subsistence living. They work six days a week and attend church meetings and services on Sunday. Their only time off is the month of April, after the oyster season and before the crabs return. That’s the month when they get to sleep in till dawn, overhaul their boats and swap stories at the general store.
People like this, who work the water or the land, have profound and hard-won knowledge of the cycles of the seasons, of weather, of periods of abundance and of scarcity. They’ve been around long enough to recognize patterns and trends, and also to hold such insights lightly, because nature always surprises you. One thing is certain: these people know what it feels like to do a good day’s work.
Even those of us in creative professions know what a good day’s work feels like. It’s a day when I overcame Resistance, to borrow Steven Pressfield’s term from “The War of Art.” A day that I sat down at the desk, or in the meeting, and showed up fully, focused on the work at hand. I didn’t wait until I felt like writing; I sat down and wrote. There is a reliable effect of taking action, whether you feel like it or not: the action produces the feeling, not the other way around.
I’ve discovered in writing this blog that there is always something to write about. Whether it’s profound or life changing is beside the point. My job is to show up, ready and open to receive. Something reliably comes, and when it does, I write, work it a bit, move things around, edit, post, and move on to other projects. It tends to be a predictor of the kind of day I will have. A good post equals a good day. I stay focused, make progress, and leave my desk satisfied, energized, and upbeat, ready for a break.
When I’ve been busy or my routine is disrupted, if I skip a day or two or try to force something out, everything stops flowing. I get distracted by every little thing, and by the end of the workday, I have little or nothing to show for it. Worse, my dissatisfaction carries into my interactions with my family. I’m stuck thinking I haven’t accomplished anything, so my workday shouldn’t be over. Consequently, I’m impatient and resentful of their intrusion on “my” time.
Each of these scenarios reveals underlying assumptions about abundance or scarcity. Two things are true: the more I invite, the more there is. And, when I neglect tending the flow, it stops. The reality is that the flow is always there, an endless parade of ideas, insights, brilliance, and surprises. The only difference is whether I show up and listen, whether I pay attention to it, invite it to filter through my unique perspective, and trust my worthiness and ability to capture its essence.
It’s not about waiting to be inspired or in the mood. It’s not even about being good enough to do it justice. It’s about being in the chair every morning, ready for whatever comes, and being willing to do the work. Writing every day is a way to experience and live in abundance. As with the Bay watermen, it’s not a guarantee that every day will yield a record haul. But even on days when the catch is sparse, I’m out there on the water, in the glinting sunlight, under the vast dome of sky. And being in a place I love doing a good day’s work is reward enough.