One of the best ways to relax between manuscripts: a steady blend of waffle and pastry. And yes: that's a beaker full of liquid chocolate.

One of the best ways to relax between manuscripts: a steady blend of waffle and pastry. And yes: that's a beaker full of liquid chocolate.

I am exhausted.

The last two weeks have been an unending flurry of motion: catching back up from a week of classes and meetings missed due to snow cancellation, the construction of and scheduling (together with a group of my students) a brand new visiting writers series to be launched next month at Brescia University, the logistics and fun of coaching the first indoor track meet of the season (I coach at a local high school, alongside my wife), and of course the excitement of my debut book going on sale, and the promotional magicianship that’s required by such an event.

I’m wiped out. All of my energy feels gone, though plugged into good things.

And it’s made me look back on my Fulbright year in a very different context.

Frequently, I think about the experiences I collected, the connections I made, the places I walked, and the beauty I encountered. I’ve written about these things in previous posts, both from inside Russian and stateside after my return. But there was an unspoken dynamic to the year, one that doesn’t get as much attention or affection.

Perhaps the most powerful offering of my Fulbright grant was time and space.

This was hard to see in the moment. There were mornings when I woke in that Siberian flat, staggered to my desk, and forced myself to write because I was there to write and writing is what I needed to do. There were afternoons when I took time off to visit a restaurant or grab a cup of coffee—with (gasp) no computer in tow. I felt some guilt at this, as though the backing of government funds and the selection by an academic panel meant I must work without cease.

This wasn’t the case.

The deeper I got into my trip, the more comfortable I felt in occasionally relaxing. And the more I relaxed, but better my work became. Let’s be clear: I did plenty of work. My best count is 400,000 words of new work—roughly half the length of the protestant bible—in addition to two book-length revision projects, and my teaching work. This output was possible, though, only because I took more rest, more trips, more deliberate and thoughtful breaks than I’ve ever attempted. When I was resting, it was the art museum or a Georgian restaurant instead of Netflix.

Lots of folks subscribe to the idea of writing each and every day, whether the output feels worthwhile or not. I understand the impulse and tactic, but it doesn't work for me. I tried to make it work, the first couple months of my grant. But as time wore on, I felt freer--freer from a number of standard job requirements. I could write in a more leisurely way than I ever had, and as I bought into this approach, the work got better, less forced. Sure, there were days I labored in front of the computer screen for a dozen hours, but when that happened, it was because I felt I had something to say, not just compulsion to work. Extra time. Extra space. Extra freedom. It all blended into more and better work--and more joyous rest between.

Not every season of life gives ample opportunity for purposeful rest in between and during projects. But my time abroad taught me to incorporate that necessity into work—at least, when I can.

 If the waffles fail to inspire, a stroll on the bank of Lake Baikal won't.

If the waffles fail to inspire, a stroll on the bank of Lake Baikal won't.