The writing skills my daughter, now excelling in ninth grade English Honors, left Vanessa’s class with continue to be an invaluable set of resources.Betsy Leva
Ms. Vanessa has challenged me to stretch my writing and I am excited for what I will do next.Evan, 3rd Grade
Vanessa got my 8-year old son excited and intrigued to dig deeper into his experiences and bring his thoughts to life. Now Evan’s words dance and sing, which makes me want to dance and sing!Sally Micelotta
It's obvious that Vanessa is a wordsmith: "Write. Observe. Revise. Discover...W.O.R.D."  These are the four essential ingredients for becoming a writer; two of them about the work (writing and revising) and two of them about the joy (observing and discovering.) Vanessa accomplishes it all.  Julie Larios, award-winning poet and children’s author
Vanessa Ziff Lasdon possesses the dynamic combination of an incisive intellect and boundless passion when it comes to teaching her craft and sharing skills with her students.MaryLynn Richmond
Vanessa is high-energy smarts and charm, the kind of writer and teacher who captures and captivates readers of all ages.New York Times bestselling author, Cynthia Leitich Smith
All of us remember teachers who inspired us to greater heights and who influenced our lives. Vanessa Ziff Lasdon has played this role in my daughters' lives.Jack Tauber, M.D.
Vanessa’s vast skills, complete dedication, and clear purpose construct a solid core for every student she teaches. Her passionate nature produces both a fun and rewarding learning experience.Michele Noble, Director, Writer, Filmmaker
Ms. Ziff set the foundation for my analytical, constructive, and creative skills. Whether writing a sonnet or writing an essay, I still have her lessons in my mind.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
Ms. Ziff is always organized, resourceful, and ready for anything. She believes in a process, [...] the best of all being the Ms. Ziff approach, which makes her spectacular.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
My son learned more about writing and literary appreciation from Ms. Ziff in fifth grade than in any other year of school. I wish all teachers had Vanessa’s passion for teaching and inspiring!Kim Ford
Vanessa captured the essence of what I wanted to relay on my site without sounding trite, unlike my experience with previous writers.Martin Pugh, Musician
The skills Vanessa taught my son--particularly the value of revising many times […] attention to detail, and high standards—are still with Nico several years later.Liz McNicoll, Attorney, Paramount Pictures
While we continue to be impressed by Vanessa’s many attributes, it is her high energy level, extraordinary patience, and passion for what she does that make her truly unique.Melissa and Rob Weiler
Vanessa’s methods are creative, thorough and innovative. She makes writing fun and has turned our daughter’s “like” of writing into a true “LOVE”.The Altmans
I know that the many fun and challenging lessons I’ve learned from Ms. Ziff will help me achieve my goal of one day being a professional writer and filmmaker.Jaren S. 7th Grade, The Buckley School
Vanessa transformed our son Josh from a decent writer into an excellent writer.  We wholeheartedly recommend Vanessa and her ability to draw out the best in your child’s writing ability.Jill and Larry Krutchik
Vanessa’s greatest ability is to help each student realize his or her own untapped potential. It’s the stuff that changes lives!Jacqueline Frohlich
Having an eight-year old highly gifted boy was not enough to make him put all those brilliant ideas on paper. Daniel feels constantly challenged by Vanessa and that ignites him.Liliana Benitez
What our daughter values most about her time in Vanessa's class is being inspired to become an organized writer who could convey her thoughts in a meaningful manner.Laurie and Chris Harbert
Ms. Ziff always pushed me to do my best, and never let me slack off.  She introduced me to my love of writing and gave me the confidence I needed both academically and in myself.Georgia 9th Grade, The Buckley School
Ms. Ziff is definitely not just my teacher and tutor; she is my mentor.Lexi 7th Grade, Harvard Westlake

Vanessa is an outstanding writer and a joy to work with.

Aimee Trudeau, Web Developer, Kizmato.com
Ms. Ziff maintains a good balance of knowing when to give more help and when to insist that you rise to the challenge of the learning situation. She instills confidence, honors excellence, and respects effort.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
I honestly don’t know what kind of a writer and reader I would be without the tools I learned with Ms. Ziff. She was always a very understanding, rigorous, and involved teacher, and an incredible mentor.Maddie 9th Grade, Marlborough School
I learned as much from teaching with Vanessa as any of her students under her guidance. Where so many others fall back on old tricks, Vanessa taps into her extensive experience to invent new methodologies for each and every one of her clients.Patrick Kieffer, Fifth Grade – English & History, The Packer Collegiate Institute
Vanessa is truly a one-of-a-kind teacher. She’s extremely organized, communicates ideas effectively, helps motivate, and has a lively, engaging teaching style that brings out the best efforts in all of her students.Howard Tager
Vanessa has a gift for inspiring even the most reluctant writer and her passion for writing is infectious. She is a favorite workshop leader at our Young Writers’ Conferences.Julie Moore & Rena Svetic, Young Writers’ Conference Founders
Ms. Ziff’s friendly demeanor and enthusiasm made communicating easy and learning exciting. She taught us to understand and appreciate the material, and have fun in the process.Alivia 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
Vanessa is a true master of her craft. She is a blast to work with, completely trustworthy and utterly authentic. To work with Vanessa is a privilege; you just want to soak up all her talent, and bottle it up for yourself! She is an inspiration.Sarina Fierro, Head of Lower Elementary, Curtis School
Whether it’s teaching a student to become a more vivid creative writer, a more effective analytical writer, or a more selective business writer, Vanessa can do it all.Meli and Stephen Rose

The Responsibility Addiction: Its Origins, Impact & Alternatives

“I’m too busy.”

Do you know how tired I am of iterating that refrain? How I wince at the worn-out words?

It’s been my ball-and-chain, my masochistic modus operandi, for the past twelve years. Yes, I’ve been a slave to responsibility. The calendar is my master. It reminds me to take my vitamins and floss; to get dressed, clean the cat box and water the plants; to see a client, post to Facebook, and go to bed. It even dictates, “Saturday – Free Time: 11:30-3:30.” Worse, that free block inevitably shrinks as extra work spills over from other times in the week when I was too exhausted, too distracted, or too disinterested to complete a “Must Do”; when I defied orders, reshuffled priorities (aren’t they more like suggestions, anyway?), and caught up on Modern Family. I’m surprised I haven’t squeezed in a regular, “Have a good cry, 3:30-5.” Of course, getting a business off the ground is no easy feat, so some allowances need be made when I’m still working through L’s and my Friday Breakfast Night routine. Still, busybodies are boring and I refuse to accept “workaholic” as my permanent middle name.

It’s not only me. All my clients and friends are “completely booked” too. And living in Los Angeles, you factor in drive time with every activity. So half the time, I’m just rushing around in raging traffic. Busy is an Angeleno’s norm, as sure as our Cali-blue sky and insatiable caffeine habit. Some of us cling to the craze with pride; for others, there’s just no way out right now. Many of us haven’t stopped to consider whether there’s an alternative.

I have a love-hate relationship with busyness. On one hand, Mrs. Responsible has done wonders for my reputation. I’m a go-to girl and have gotten more accomplished in my 34 years on Earth than many do in a lifetime. (At what cost, I often wonder.) On the other hand, when fatigue sets in or when I need to think and process, I resent the responsibilities, the emails demanding time-consuming answers. When I’m pressed, I get stressed, tense, and irritable. I’m so filled with Busy that the world may as well disappear. While I’m known as the Energizer Bunny, I relish the idle pace of the snail. Once I unplug from the noise and welcome in the quiet, I can breathe, laugh, loaf, nap, and dream. I can plunge myself into story, like all good writers must. Herein lies the root dilemma. As Tim Kreider, author of the New York Times’ online op-ed piece, “The ‘Busy’ Trap”, explains, “It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again.” I truly believe that idleness is a necessity, not a luxury. It’s the essential ingredient in productivity, happy homes, personal wellbeing, and peace of mind.

So, where does our addiction to responsibility really come from, and how is this affliction truly impacting our lives? Let’s OBSERVE:

Geography?

I’ve already mentioned our problems in L.A., but the busy syndrome here is on par with other big cities around the states, and a cakewalk in comparison to the frenetic (exhilarating!) pace of New York life. I didn’t feel so busy when I lived in Austin, Texas or San Francisco. And it’s a stark contrast from how I spent my lazy days as an undergrad student in Granada, Spain and as a graduate student in lush Montpelier, Vermont. So what’s the big geographical diff? Do we all just need to move to an artists’ enclave in the south of France to get a life?

Social Expectations Within a Geographical Region?  

Maybe our social environment is the driving force behind our lifestyle. Maybe over the centuries we’ve come to collectively impose a certain idyllic way of life on one another, as natural to the DNA of a place as its people’s heritage. So in cities like L.A. and NYC, busy is an ideal to strive toward. Busy = Popular + Successful. It’s a frame of mind inherently understood and encouraged by all who live, or who choose to relocate, to such epicenters of action. Just part of our surrounding air pressure. Kreider, who lives in New York City, writes this about busyness: “I could see why people enjoy this complaint; it makes you feel important, sought-after and put-upon. A boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: ‘That’s a good problem to have,’ or ‘Better than the opposite.’” As though one’s meaning in their big city life must be measured by how in demand they are, where vacations are about finally catching up on emails, forget the family functions.

Socio-Economics?

I work, cook, clean, do laundry, run errands, grow a garden, volunteer, write, teach, blog. There’s always something vying for my time. But while my life may be hectic, I’m not a single mom on food stamps with three minimum wage part-time jobs, just trying to put a meal on the table. That’s “crazy busy” on a survival level, not a voluntary one. When freelancers grumble that their line of work is “feast or famine,” perhaps we ought to watch our hyperboles and gain some gratitude for the position of freedom we’ve already achieved.

Personality Types?

Some people just enjoy being busy. Active = Sense of Purpose. Time = Money.

Others revel in tranquility. Idle = Sense of Purpose. Time = Abundance.

And then there are blends; those (like me) who don’t particularly enjoy being busy, but end up strategizing every second of the day to accommodate our need to be thorough and our penchant for mulling over details. (I believe people affectionately refer to us as perfectionists.)

Clearly we are not all hard-wired the same way, so we shouldn’t expect everyone to fall in line behind us. As one reader posted to Kreider’s article, “We learned the world is not flat and now we need to accept that neither are people.”

Perception of Reality?

Along personality lines our perceptions of reality shift, and so do our choices and priorities.

To the idle person, a day in a daisy field is more productive and fulfilling than one in the cubicle. In other words, busy bodies are addicted to the inconsequential, while the greatest in life is out there, waiting to be experienced!

A busy person wouldn’t spare a minute listening to such philosophical rants. They’d feel anxious about not furthering themselves or their goals in some capacity each day, and probably even feel sorry for the laggers who hadn’t gotten on the bandwagon sooner.

One reader wisely suggested that we stop using the word, ‘busy’ altogether. “Instead, say what you are actually doing–name it. This breaks down ‘busy’ and, if you’re hiding behind it, exposes you (mostly to yourself).”

That’s an exercise I’m game to try.

Where We’re “At” in Life?

Maybe Busy is just a phase and not an inescapable condition of human existence. Maybe we grow out of it; move from more is more’ to ‘less is more,’ loosening the reins as we realize with experience that the world will not collapse if we are not there to hold it up.

A third reader of Tim Kreider’s op-ed article told of a time when her young daughter came up to her, “with an un-urgent demand for attention.” When the reader told her daughter that she was “in the middle of my ‘nothing-time,’” and would handle her request afterward, her daughter disappeared into the house, “and then reappeared a few minutes later with a mug in her hands—to join me in doing nothing. Success.”

Which brings us directly to…

What Are We Teaching Our Kids?  

No matter which way you slice it, we are a product of our upbringing, whether we emulate or categorically reject this experience. Parents (and teachers) are children’s role models.

If we are addicted to responsibility, we should expect to see some semblance of similarity in our children’s behavior. When our kids focus on the end result (GPAs, SATs, college apps) without regard for pure enjoyment and the learning process (ah, the lost arts of reading, writing, teamwork, service, and play), they are perpetuating an addiction to busyness through blind ambition that could easily result in burnout and disenchantment.

Changing Our Own Narrative

Perhaps we can begin to break out of our endless Busy Loop and creative atrophy by changing our own narrative. A few questions may help us reflect and redirect:

  • What is my happiness worth?
  • How much of my happiness depends on my freedom of choice?
  • How do I live today to create the tomorrow I’ve committed to? (What boundaries must I set & what am I willing to sacrifice to achieve my vision of happiness and freedom?)

As I finish this post up, I’m on a family trip in Cambria. It was a struggle for all of us to converge and dodge the curve balls along the way. My mother wondered at first whether getting out of town was even worth the hassle. But life’s a journey, right? It’s a whole experience, not a formula with a set of directions. So here we are, tucked in by the seaside, on to the fun stuff! Taking walks, riding bikes, eating, making, talking, playing, sightseeing, laughing, being together and present. (And, yes, even taking time out to finish this post.) There’s so much more I could have said (heck, I could have broken this post up into a 10-part series!), but at some point we put the work down, knowing it’s the best we can do at the time (or at least before the olallieberry pie is set on the table), and we send it out into the world, in hopes that our truth will spark a flame inside others.

Bottom Line: let’s be kind to ourselves; let’s love and honor personal needs.

Unstructured downtime is essential to our joy and creative souls. Freedom may be a daunting prospect for those of us who are tied to a screen or who must have a plan, but we humans are paradoxical by nature and built for adaptability. What freedom to have your eyes open and looking out onto the world! To remember what opportunities for fulfillment await at catching a sunset or dancing like a fool with your friends. In those moments, your life skills get realigned, and you remember that even when you’re doing nothing, that is doing something. 

 

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