I don’t do balance.

I don’t do balance.

I mean, I wish I did. I’d like to. A balanced life seems appealing, in its own special way—tranquil and well-ordered, like an apartment lovingly curated by Marie Kondo. I’m not being clever or facetious. I’d love to live in a place like that. Life would unfold in shades of delightful Instagram pink, in eustress rather than stress, in coffee mugs on back porches, in variations of “enough” — enough family time, enough writing time, enough time spent with friends.

Right now, though, I call it a good day if I get enough time for a shower.

When I first found out I was going to be a mom, the first thing I did was start talking to published writer-parents about how they did it. Was there some secret to getting it all done? To managing a successful debut while keeping the mortgage paid and making sure your children remember who you are?

Caffeine, one said. The pills are good for days you’re too busy to make coffee.
#5amwritersclub, said another.
I wrote my novel one-handed on my phone, said a third.
The fourth laughed. Couldn’t do it without my mother-in-law volunteering to babysit.

None of it sounds terribly balanced, does it? Let’s be honest, dear reader—I was terrified. Was I ever going to get anything written again? Was having a baby a delightful, cute way of ruining my life? I’d spent my youth working sixty to eighty hours a week on the regular; were things just going to get worse? Was balance just a dream?

I decided I needed to look deeper.

We think of balance as a form of ease, but it’s actually much more stressful than that. Balance is a tightrope performance over a roaring crowd. Balance is a gymnast at the Olympics, getting ready to nail the dismount. Balance can take practice and skill and self-knowledge. Looking at it through that lens, the secret isn’t what is done, but how it’s done.

Balance is basically effective problem-solving.

For example:

— I’m “writing” this blog entry using dictation software while washing baby bottles.
— This morning’s coffee went into a nine-hour thermos instead of a mug so it won’t get cold.
— Since interruptions are now de rigeur, the first thing I do when I sit down to write is dash off a sentence reminding myself of my goals for the session, so I don’t forget when something else comes to claim my attention.
— I’m taking a few months off from photography client work while I finish my sequel. It hurts, but I have to sleep sometime.

They’re all little things, tiny changes that add up to having a lot more time and space to breathe. And if balance is problem-solving, maybe it’s other things, too. Maybe it’s about being brave, and being able to ask people for help. Maybe it’s about growth as a person, learning new skills, and being open to living your life differently. Maybe balance means paring down on things that don’t matter to focus on the things that do. Maybe that’s enough.

Maybe I do do balance.

… just a little.

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Karen Osborne

KAREN OSBORNE is a writer, visual storyteller and violinist. Her short fiction appears in Escape Pod, Robot Dinosaurs, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny and Fireside. She is a member of the DC/MD-based Homespun Ceilidh Band, emcees the Charm City Spec reading series, and once won a major event filmmaking award for taping a Klingon wedding. Her debut novel, Architects of Memory, is forthcoming in 2020 from Tor Books.

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