What Am I Doing? What Have I Done?!


dog walk in a field

“Healthy comforts soothe you and open a way back to your self; shadow comforts reinforce the idea you suck, can’t be trusted, and you’d better double down on the shoulds.” ~ Jennifer Louden

In an email newsletter I received from Jennifer Louden this week, she wrote about taking a weekend “Desire Retreat” to discover what she really wanted in her life. It didn’t actually go all that well for her. Thus the quote from her newsletter above.

The shadow comforts, as Louden names them, can be things like watching the an entire season of “Sleepy Hollow” in one evening, eating a pint of Java Chip ice cream while watching “Sleepy Hollow,” or surfing the internet during the time you intended to write a story. In other words, whatever guilty pleasure you run to when stressed that leaves you screaming, “What have I done?!” afterwards. (You can read more of what Jennifer Louden says about shadow comforts here.) 

A writing routine I’d been doing pretty well with crashed and burned last week. For a couple weeks, I’d been hiding out in a library near work during my lunch hour to pound out or edit a few pages of my book. It wasn’t much, but enough to get me back into the story, with a clear direction of what I would work on during the weekend.

horse standing by jump

But then it got incredibly hot and humid in Minnesota. Along with the heat, there came a bumper crop of flies that was hard on the horses. Luke ended up with his right eye closed and tears running down his face from a blocked tear duct. I went to the barn daily to spray cool water on him and clean off the face mask I’d put on to keep the flies and dust away from his eyes. Because I left early to run to the barn, I worked through my lunch hour.

But Monday, the heat wave broke and Luke’s eye looked back to normal So I should have returned to my previous writing routine. But like all new habits I’m trying to build, if the effort is interrupted by something, it seems like it’s twice as hard to renew my efforts.  Something at work always seems to break around lunchtime and I think, “I’ll just quick fix it and then go to the library.” But then the fix takes too long, and it gets to be too late to go out.

So then I think, “I worked through lunch, so I’ll leave early.” But then the phone always seems to ring at 3:00 and suddenly I’m working until 4:30 or 5:00, glancing anxiously at the clock as the minutes tick by. I could still run home and write, but I don’t. I’m too frustrated and angry about all the lost time and I end up running for the comfort of that Java Chip ice cream.

Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis
Guthrie Theatre

I have a note I’ve written to myself that reminds me that every repetitive action I take is creating a habit. The note says something like, “Maery, why the hell are you building a habit that makes you crabby, unhappy, and angry with yourself? Why aren’t you practicing the habit you keep promising yourself that you’ll practice?!”

Boundaries, good boundaries… How often have we heard that one?

“There shalt be NO working through lunch. Thou shalt deal with problems when you return from your break. And when it is time to leave work, there shalt be NO ‘one more thing’ before I go.”


Okay, you heard it here. Let’s see how well I stick to the plan next week.

Mill City Museum Minneapolis
Teardown after Mill City Farmer’s Market closed
Mill City Museum boardwalk
Mill City Museum boardwalk

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  1. Thanks for introducing me to shadow comforts. And I love the way you’re going about developing new habits and breaking the old. I learn so much from you.

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