Stella Leventoyannis Harvey


My brain used to be a quiet place where I could explore bold ideas while keeping them safe from prying eyes. When the opportunity presented itself, I would bring them out into the light to see what might happen.

Lately though, my brain resembles a spreadsheet: tangled, multi-layered and formulaic. Awake or asleep I see its web. It has all sorts of nifty cells. All I have to do is keep adding more data. I’m good at doing that. More tasks, more dates. More bits and pieces of me. I’m not so good at exiting the quagmires I create.

Tasks multiply, dates are extended. It’s impressive how the boxes interrelate and reference each other, but I’m not sure what exactly is accomplished. Yes, it keeps my brain occupied, but I’m snared in its maze and can’t easily escape.  

The cell I like the best in my spreadsheet is the one with just enough room for a single symbol. Mighty in its tiny stature and flexing what little muscle it has, the checkmark placed in a box means a task is completed. I love the checkmark. It strokes me, tells me clearly that something has been accomplished.

Lately, I haven’t registered many checkmarks in my brain’s spreadsheet. I’ve been too busy adding. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s my way to procrastinate, focus my attention away from the difficult task of writing. I’ve certainly tied myself up in knots and stopped progress on my manuscript. And worse still, there seems to be no time for my brain to rest enough so I can go back to the manuscript refreshed.

If I’m not thinking about the things I have to do, I’m handcuffed to email or wired to the cell phone or locked into a meeting. More distractions. Nowhere to move, and at every turn, frustrated.

I live in the mountains specifically to get the peace and quiet I need to write. Yet, that tranquility has been disturbed, not by others, but by my own need to organize anything and everything. My husband would be more blunt. “She wants to organize the world,” he’d say if given any airtime. Too bad for him. This is my blog, not his.

I can’t help myself. I have found ways to shove squares into round holes ever since I was a kid. I’ve written about this before: my need to fix things and my inability to balance writing with organizing. I’m not sure I can do justice to either pursuit: this becoming more evident with each day.

At the moment, I feel overwhelmed. I’ll get over it, sure, and be back to my old self. But I wonder at what cost. And when will I stop this nonsense? One of these days I’m going to have to face these two sides of my personality and choose.

In the meantime I have to get away in order to rest. A few weeks ago I did just that. It was supposed to be a quiet getaway on a small Gulf island where I could work on my manuscript. Sit. Walk. Think. Walk and think some more.

A snowstorm hit with fury. The power went out. Suddenly, I wasn’t able to use my laptop or electronics. With the wind and snow outside, there was no place to go either. I sat quietly and read a hard copy version of my manuscript. The one I brought with me (there are some benefits to being an organization freak).

I accomplished a great deal in those few days. The sound of the laptop vanished, replaced by the passion of nature. The spreadsheet in my brain faded. Not to black exactly. But just enough so I no longer saw the bars caging me.

It felt like found time. More importantly I rediscovered that place in my brain where I used to store those audacious ideas. More ideas came. They would not allow me to confine them in the compartments of a spreadsheet. Instead, they made it to the pages of my manuscript, where they belonged.

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