Take a Break


When I first took over the editorship of a small newspaper for a period of six years, a freelance graphic designer noticed that I never ate lunch sitting down. Or even ate lunch at all. I was on a coffee-Coke diet (two to three cups in the morning and then a Coke at about 3 o’clock) and proceeded to drop about 10 pounds, which proves that you can lose weight with any weird combination if you eat only one square meal, dinner, a day. (My face also became very pasty-colored, not very attractive at all, so this weight loss program–which was not intentional–is definitely discouraged. And I’m happy to also report that I’ve gained the weight back and then some!)

The point is, I was and am still a bit intense. Driven. Maybe even neurotic. When I’m in the rhythm of work, everything else fades away. Papers remain unfiled. Clothing unfolded. Bills unpaid. As you can imagine, this is not good, especially when you live with other people and are in charge of the finances.

Somehow the promotional work of a writer gets to me more than the writing does. There are e-mails to answer, ARCs and books to send, interviews to respond to, bookstores to visit. (This for no pay!) And since I was a journalist and a p.r. specialist, I know that timing is everything. So after a book comes out, the running begins and doesn’t quite end until two months later.

This past Friday was my birthday. So how did I decide to celebrate? By working at events from 7:30 a.m. to about 9 p.m. The night before, a library event from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. (I’m factoring travel time here, too.) And on Saturday, a panel in Westwood and then an event in Arcadia, a total of 80 miles and nine hours. All of this activity took its toll. By Saturday night, I was like a piece of raw flank steak, beaten to a pulp. I couldn’t enjoy my supposed birthday dinner and the play that followed.

So on Sunday, after celebrating Mother’s Day with the family, my husband and I decided to escape. We drove down 60 miles to San Juan Capistrano, stayed the night, and then went to San Clemente to sit on the beach. I didn’t visit one bookstore or write one word. My husband and I sat across from each other and shared three meals together. We talked about what was going on in our lives in between the signings and event mailings.

Writer Alice Walker talks about the importance of "fallow" time, allowing your creative mind to rest as ideas take root down below. While we writers are all on that hamster wheel, attempting to keep our careers alive with new books and new promotional strategies, the "work" can extinguish the light that drew us to writing in the first place.

I’m a slow and stubborn learner, but I am learning. I’m off tomorrow to San Francisco and Las Vegas for four book related events. While I’ve added drive-by signings on the itinerary, somewhere on the calendar needs to be some "do-nothing" time. As much as writing deadlines need to be met and books promoted, there’s also a time to sit down, rest, and just eat.

SPAM AND FOOTBALL: Hirahara Central received this from Lois Reibach from Blue Bell, Pennsylvania: "My mother made sandwiches called Touchdowners that had ground Spam, grated cheese, and pickle relish mixed together, then put on a hamburger bun, wrapped in foil and the packet was heated. She got the recipe out of some magazine or newspaper for things to eat while watching football on TV. This was over 40 years ago and I still remember them fondly." Lois has since lost the recipe, so if you have it, e-mail it or any other of your Spam memories to nhirahara@juno.com. For more information about the inaugural Mas Arai Spam Contest, see http://www.naomihirahara.com/contest.html.

02350003_19A SPECIAL THANKS TO ISHIHARA-SAN AND COMPANY: The SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN book event at the Japanese American National Museum on May 6 was made all the more special by a performance by Hiroshi Ishihara and members of his musical troupe. I’m posing with a snakeskin shamisen, but it’s all for show! (The only stringed instruments I learned to play badly, very badly, are the guitar and the cello.)

News Flash! MAS ARAI GOES BIG PRINT: The Mas Arai mystery series got its first license this week–a large-print deal with Thorndike Press. The first title, SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, may come out as early as this fall. FYI, dear librarians!

AND FINALLY, A LOSS OF A CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: Sweet Sue, rest in peace and may your work live on.

9 thoughts on “Take a Break

  1. Pari

    Yeah, Naomi, “Intense” is a word I’d use for you. I’m glad you’re ever more aware of it and are taking time to remember to breathe, love, and live outside of writing.

    The “fallow” time will only enhance your magnificent prose and plots.

  2. JT Ellison

    It’s a good reminder for us newbies. I know I get so caught up in “things” that I sometimes forget to eat, clean, go to the gym, etc. A healthy balance is good to achieve. Great post as always, Naomi!

  3. Brett Battles

    First off…Happy belated Birthday!

    And, yeah, the intensity thing hits me pretty hard when I’m really in the groove. But, perhaps unfortunately, not eating has never been an issue.

  4. Naomi


    Not eating has become a non-issue for me, too. For that one year at the newspaper, I was under so much pressure that I felt that there was no time.

    And Pari–

    I’m all 4’10” of pure intensity (well, maybe not pure, pure intensity–unless you can also be intensely goofy, too). I’m always surprised when other people notice it, however. I try to keep it under wraps, but as usual, your keen therapist eye has found me out. Dang.

  5. Pari

    There’s a certain glint to your eyes, Naomi — and when your voice gets kind of quiet, well, watch out.

    That grad degree in social work had to be good for something . . .

  6. Elaine

    I’m late today – Belated Happy Birthday Naomi! Have a terrific tour, but just try to slow down so you’ll be around for scores more,okay? Birthdays, that is.

  7. Rob Gregory Browne

    Now, you see, I’m the exact opposite. I need to take breaks in order to have quality “intense” time. Most of the time I’m lazing around, thinking I should probably get to work…


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