Tag Archives: practice

Why am I crying in my car?

Sing

Singing! Image by ktylerconk via Flickr

When I get behind the wheel, I’m a driver who sings along with the radio, or her iTunes playlist. It’s one of my small pleasures in life. It embarrasses my children, I’m not sure what my hubby thinks of it, and my neighborhood awarded me a “most likely to sing in public” award, so it’s hardly a private predilection, though I think of it as so.

But I hide my emotional response to songs. (Unlike my emotional response to some stories. It’s family lore that mom couldn’t finish her up-til-then fabulous out-loud rendition of A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. Or the scene in Kathi Appelt’s book The Underneath where the mother cat dies. I cry just thinking about that.)

“One of Us” by Joan Osborne choked me up last week while I was stopped in traffic on my way to ferry the 13 y.o. to his cello lesson. Good grief, I chided myself. This is hardly a question that should provoke weeping!

The song was released in 1995, placing its rhetorical question (“What if God was one of us?”) well before 9-11, before the Virginia Tech shootings – before all sorts of events that have changed the way we “do business,” at least in my neck of the woods, at least business having to do with how we regard each other as citizens: Are you patriotic enough? God-fearing enough? Where I live, plenty of local government bodies pray before they open their meetings, and the prayers aren’t typically interfaith. They are predominantly Christian. What if God were sitting in the audience, waiting to give her-his two cents worth on the latest zoning ordinance? What if God were Muslim? Jewish? Or … agnostic, uncertain which interpretation of herhimself to endorse?

Singing

Summer songbird! Image by Pam's Pics- via Flickr

Which led me to … which interpretation of my self is “me”? Am I who my extended family thinks I am – keeper of my mother’s  journals & letters? Am I “just” a housewife? I feel like my mother role is non-negotiable, though I know plenty of women ditch it in favor of – well, a myriad of different things. Mostly involving silence and solitude. (See Anjelica Huston’s provocative portrayal of a mother in The Darjeeling Limited.) I choose to be wife and friend, though of course both those roles have dormant seasons and dry spells along with summer songbirds.

I heard an interview on NPR with Gustavo Perez Firmat a Cuban-American poet who feels betwixt and between. While my writer self has the (dis)advantage of mastery over only one language, I still feel alien amongst non-writers. Not friendless, exactly, but – one step removed. And subsequently a bit lonely. I’ve been wishing I were more “normal” so I could  be  . . . more normal.

Plus, I’m done (as in sick-to-death-of and have-revised-enough-times) with my novel and no new short story ideas have whispered in my ear and I’d rather shoot myself in the foot and run ten miles to a hospital than contemplate another novel.

So. I’ve been thinking, enh, maybe now is a time of life when you need to focus on being mom and wife and friend and community member. I caught a virus that laid me low enough to need antibiotics, and then my 10 y.o. got sick and needed allergy testing followed by multiple doctor appointments for a weird rash (idiopathic poison ivy, the cure being prednisone, this boy who can run a sprint triathalon with virtually no training, yeah, put him on steroids and . . . you do the math).

And then …  there was the Trifecta Weekend.

Back in July, when I took myself away for a retreat week , I signed up for the James River Writer Conference in Richmond, Virginia the first weekend of October. I put it on the calendar in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS and I announced to my family that I WOULD attend this conference. I reserved a hotel through Priceline. Nonrefundable albeit affordable.

Then the 13 y.o.’s soccer schedule was announced. Tournament that weekend. In Richmond.

image from Wikipedia

California ... a long way from Virginia.

Then the triathalon the 10 y.o. wanted to run this fall because he was too young last year was … on that weekend. In Richmond.

Then engineer hubby found out his big contract wanted to have a ribbon cutting ceremony that weekend. In California.

I yielded to reality. Even with the help of friends it was going to be, uh, impossible for me to spend a couple of days at a writer’s conference AND get my kids everywhere they needed to be. I didn’t have to go the conference, I told myself. I was focusing on my wifemotherfriendcommunityparticipant roles anyway, right? Besides, my writing excitement had dissipated. I would be better off managing my kids’ schedules. Chauffeuring, making sure everyone had enough water and bananas after their physical exertions.

Then engineer hubby’s trip was delayed. Due in large part to a disheartening explosion in the lab, but he wouldn’t be on the west coast that weekend, a silver lining of sorts. He decided to race in the triathalon as well.

Then the conference organizers re-arranged some things so I could still “pitch” my novel in a one-on-one meeting with the agent of my choice. I couldn’t attend the first day of the conference, but the second was do-able.

And so we went. Two cars, two bikes, tri-shorts and tops, one soccer ball, one set of cleats, two squirmy sons, a gazillion water bottles and bananas, the husband and I, and a printout of directions because “Poodles Hudson” the GPS has been flaky of late.

I had a blast at the conference. I bought ten pounds of books. I soaked up ideas about the sacred and profane from an interview between Joseph Williams and Karl Marlantes. I heard from memoirists about their families’ reactions to their stories. The agent liked my pitch. I walked back to the hotel in the autumn’s warm late afternoon light and didn’t go straight up to the room. I sat in the coffeeshop and laid plans for a return to my writer self. Turns out I do have a few story ideas knocking at the door. But they weren’t coming ’round while I was busy trying to be like everyone else.

from Wikipedia

Franz Kafka

The opening session I attended included this quote, attributed to Franz Kafka: “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”

Not exactly flattering, but accurate.

I’m (re)discovering that I have to recommit myself regularly to writing. I thought I knew enough about “practice” to practice what I preach. Turns out I don’t.

I’ve had to coax myself into resuming the discipline of morning pages. I’m wearing out the buttons on my timer for ten-minute writes. Because it remains, after all these years, scary to sit down in front of a blank page.

Scarier to court insanity, however.

What’s something that fills your creative well, something you don’t do often enough for yourself?

Image via Wikipedia

The monster within ...

Schedule it! Do it! Halloween aside, our communities and our selves — all of them! — don’t need half-dead spirit monsters. Life is too short to dawdle: all of us need to sit up, take notice, and write our stories, be it with literal pen and paper or music or dance or fabulous meals for our families and friends, or telling the Town Council what you really think about the latest zoning ordinance.

‘Cuz there are times when our other roles have to be front and center.

But my writer self is at my core. And when a song – or a book – makes me cry, I need to listen closely and wrestle a bit with the why and wherefore of my tears’ origin. Perhaps we all do.

How a fat beagle relates to creative practice

Image via Wikipedia

Music will change the world ...

Today’s post is about  the why of writing, or painting, or composing or collage-ing or whatever your creative practice is. It harks back to Karl Paulnak’s words about how music is going to change the world. I still believe that.

Fair warning: here comes the “Judging” part of my ISTJ personality. There is some art that doesn’t transform us. That might, in fact, be … not worthwhile.

O, blasphemy. For have I not been preaching the gospel of self-expression, and the self-care necessary for said expression? Expression, even amidst the laundry and cello lessons and ginormous collection of dog and cat fur that accumulates in the corners of the stairs that I’m thinking of carpeting solely for the purpose of camouflaging said fur ‘cuz that stuff is GROSS?

Yes, I have preached that gospel. For lo, I believe it is true.

But.

This past week I allowed myself the huge privilege of a tremendous amount of self-care at the Porches Writing Retreat in Norwood, VA. Both boys were away at camp, the Engineer Husband’s nose was in the process of being shorn off by application to the grindstone and Trudy had an opening, so there I was … struggling in a lovely room with a view of the James River outside.

Image by futileboy via Flickr

Sugar is my drug.

I’ve been in the doldrums with my writing, dissatisfied with my  novel, contemplating the Meaning of It All while trying to escape my sugar addiction blahblahblah an assortment of very “high class” problems.

To shake it up a bit, I fell back on 1000 word writes, longhand, from my tin of “story prompts.” These are phrases and images I’ve saved for kickstarting my muse when I’m … in the doldrums. They are written on scrap paper and folded into teeny tiny squares. They live in an erstwhile “dark chocolate mint” tin (see note above re: sugar addiction).

I opened the tin and closed my eyes and let my hand pick one out. I opened it. “Sadie’s velvety soft floppy ears.”

Sadie was a geriatric beagle we adopted when my boys were much younger. Long story short, we were going to only “try” her but with an eight- and five-year-old, who did I imagine I could fool? Of course we adopted her.

She was HUGE when we first took charge of her. Belly-dragging the ground huge. She couldn’t walk up our front steps.

Image by ailatan via Flickr

Sadie stayed in the doghouse.

She came with a bowl and a dog house. She spent the first three weeks in said dog house, under a tree in our back yard. I called my friend who’s as good as the dog whisperer. She diagnosed doggy PTSD. Give her time, treat her nicely.

Sadie was too PTSD, apparently, to let us know when she needed to go outdoors for an overfull bladder on those occasions she trusted us enough to come inside. She risked additional “T” by peeing on the floors. All of them. Many times over. She smelled bad. She did nothing the boys hoped she would do; fetch, roll over, sit, stay. Cuddle. Though her apparently infinite appetite did lead her to stand on the dishwasher door every time we opened it to put in dishes, snuffling enthusiastically for crumbs, juice, or soup droppings.

Her belly gradually diminished such that she could navigate the front porch steps unassisted. She and I went for walks – not long ones, she wheezed alarmingly after half a mile – and I enjoyed that ritual. She traveled with us to the Engineer’s Husband’s sister’s house for Christmas that year, where my brother-in-law declared her a sweet dog.

Huh? Sweet dog? She was a peeing pain-in-the-tush! But I looked at her anew. She’d emerged from her shell, though I’d not noticed, being too involved with the holiday mayhem. She enjoyed belly rubs from John, glowing up at him with gratitude. When I walked her that afternoon, I noted her lumbering gait was almost a modest trot, and her lovely soft beagle ears flapped in the wind.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/23969325@N03/2617344565

Soft velvety ears in the breeze ...

It became a joy for me to look down and have her return my glance with her brown eyes. She became a mostly-beloved member of the household.

The weekend before the first day of kindergarten for son #2, she seemed a bit wheezier than usual, but it was, again, crazy-time: notebooks, paper, pencils, backpacks to buy; lunch boxes to test with picnics at the playground; etcetera. Engineer Husband was leaving for overseas business travel before school started and we decided the vet visit could wait until the boys were in school.  We bid Engineer Husband/Father farewell and the boys laid out their first-day-of-school clothes.

At two that morning, I heard Sadie struggle up the stairs to the second floor (she’d slimmed down, but not enough to make stairs easy for her and she weighed too much for me to bring her up and down easily), panting. Then suddenly there was a big ker-thump. Sadie, what the hell? I muttered and scrambled out of bed.

She was lying in the upstairs hallway, laboring to breathe.

I grew up with only gerbils and hamsters due to my dad’s allergy to dander. I’d had one cat since leaving home, and lost him suddenly to a late-night encounter with a car. My mom had passed away during my brother’s shift at the hospital. I’d never been with a dying creature before.

I stroked her floppy velvety ears. I whimpered a bit, I think, about oh, no, what now. Finally I leaned over and whispered in one of those soft ears, “You are a good dog, Sadie,” and she stopped breathing. Really. Right after I said those words, she left. My blind attempt at comfort had, apparently, worked to ease her passage. I guess.

I wrapped her in a towel, and put her on the back deck and wracked my brains to figure out whether to tell the boys, and if so, how to tell them, on their first day of school. Given that they’d notice her absence beneath the breakfast table, I told them. They were sad but being in-the-moment kids, their excitement about school overrode their grief, which came later.

Image by gcfairch via Flickr

Mimosas for Moms

I snapped their photo and walked them to the bus stop and I waved them off and I went to my friend’s house, where the Mommy Network was gathering for first-day-of-school mimosas (my friends know how to celebrate).

Mommy S., whose kids are older than mine, inquired about how the First Day departure had gone. I said, well, it was a little bumpy, our dog died last night, and her eyes filled with tears and she grabbed me in a hug and said, I am so, so sorry.

Mommy S. is practical, smart, logical, reasonable, funny and beautiful, but she is not a sentimental mommy. She has had dogs all her life – she’s probably lost more than I’ll ever know, even if I cleared out the pound today – and she knew what our family had lost. But it wasn’t ‘’til she acknowledged the importance of Sadie’s death that I cried a little bit. That I noticed I was sad.

Image by Alexander@Ulm via Flickr

oxeye daisy

In fact, all of the Mommy Network seemed to know better than I how to handle the death of Sadie. They helped me bury her, digging a deeper hole than I’d managed and sharing oxeye daisies from their own gardens to plant atop her grave. My family hosted a dog wake when Engineer Husband returned. The house filled with neighbors and kids and we toasted her spirit and I got a little drunk and weepy.

I have tried to write a short story about this experience, and failed – perhaps this blog post is what I needed to do – but in my memory, this loss took place about the same time that I read a review in the New York Times of a one-woman show where she takes a sh*t in front of the audience.

Logo of The New York Times.

'nuff said.

The review wasn’t very long, maybe 300 words. It was scathing, eviscerating all the show’s components and mocking the artist when she wasn’t able to “move” the show along on time.

Good gawd in heaven, I thought. First, if the show isn’t any good, why write about it in the NYT?

Image via Wikipedia

Spending money on tickets for what?!

Second, since when do we delude ourselves into buying tickets for art that involves literal sh*t?! The emperor has no clothes!

But my reaction has nagged at me for the past five years since then. It didn’t fit with my “everyone should make their art” ethos and experience. My life is  shortening with each day and perhaps that is what has crystallized my thoughts: no matter the number of years we’ve lived on the earth, what we watch and read and listen to shapes us, informs us, moves us. I don’t want to fill my head, aka my artistic well, with crap. I don’t care anymore if I “should” extend others the grace of their own intentions being good and pure. I need those intentions to be manifest, for me, in a language I can understand.

This doesn’t mean I’m not willing to extend myself, learn the words of a new language. Or that I want only sweetness and light. Nope. I love Pulp Fiction, Good Fellas, the Sopranos, Blue Velvet, Ironweed, The Things they Carried – all kinds of movies and books that show bitter and ugly and sad and heartbroken.

And I know aesthetic sensibilities differ. One person’s yuck is another person’s yum. We tell our kids all the time: “don’t yuck someone else’s yum.”

But I think we owe to it ourselves and each other to consider, seriously, what we’re trying to say, and what we hope others will take away from it. Not because we can control others’ reactions —  – see my “Letting your freak flag fly” post  – nor do I think appreciating all art comes equally easily to us. I didn’t love Bach’s cello suites until I was repeatedly exposed to them, and began, slowly, to hear their resonating theme and structure. I doubt I would love Middlemarch as much as I do if it weren’t for the fine teaching of Gordon Thompson at Earlham College.

And if we expose ourselves repeatedly to art with sh*t in it, I believe that we will, perforce, begin to live that out. Day in and day out, it’s important who we’re with and what we see: a geriatric beagle’s loving glance, your friend’s spontaneous gesture, oxeye daisies re-blooming year after year.

Image by premasagar via Flickr

is it a journey without a worthwhile destination?

If my poop has a point and I need to get myself and hopefully an audience to that point via an uncomfortable journey, I go for it. But if the point is merely a graphic image, a shocking combination of ideas for its own sake, I’m not as interested.*

If we think about crap all the time, watch it all the time, listen to it all the time, then I don’t think we can expect to create anything different, to draw anything else out of ourselves. We need old fashioned love stories and we need new-fangled, digitally enhanced images of our hearts to frame and hang on our walls.

Image by Paulo Colacino via Flickr

Imagine our hearts ...

We need to imagine and then practice habits about being nice to our kids pre-coffee and we need to create a world where we stumble upon the right words with which to send each other off into that good night. A world where we can teach each other how to bury our dead and remember them years later.

I’m aiming for that place.

*This mantra expresses it:

thoughts become words # words become actions # actions become habit # habit becomes character # character becomes destiny #

Letting your Freak Flag Flap in the Wind … or not

Image by kendiala via Flickr

Sometimes, you just gotta let your freak flag fly

My college-era friend George Clark, not only has a blog, a fulltime job as a reference librarian, two kids, and a long commute, but a creative heart and soul. He has a respectable and, imo, charming collection of song lyrics. He even bought Robert Ray’s The Weekend Novelist after I shared its effectiveness for me. Although, he said, he wants to rip the cover off it so others – security guards, colleagues – won’t know the full extent of his creative heart and soul.  Nonetheless, he concluded in one of his emails, “Guess I should just let my freak flag fly.”

This line sparked all sorts of thoughts for me, but first and foremost: do we need to let our freak flags fly? YES, part of me roars. Or yells. Or says sort of loudly. Or whispers to my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Surely it is less “freakish” to create than to go through society’s routines without reflection, thought, reaction. But. Society with a capital-S dominates more often than not through its power to squish and homogenize our individual freakiness.

Four years ago, fresh from my first month-away-from-family retreat at Vermont Studio Center, I was working, hard, on my novel. Inspired, passionate, outline in hand, I labored on it at every available moment. In this particular instance, I was in Gillie’s (fabulous vegetarian cuisine, one place my now-husband took me when he wanted to convince me Blacksburg could be home. His clever, ultimately successful strategy included Gillie’s egg-n-cheese biscuits.)

Image by chersland via Flickr

Gillie's specials ... one way to Lesley's heart

I’d enjoyed my two eggs, home fries and toast, and I was nursing a cup of tea. My fingers were fairly flying across the keys due to the residual butter from said toast. “X” had also eaten there, with colleagues, and we’d exchanged a brief, friendly hello. But.

As X’s colleagues left and they rose to pay the check X stopped at my table. “Working on the great American novel? Delete, delete, delete!” These last words accompanied by gestures meant to indicate hitting the delete button repeatedly.

Did I engage in witty repartee, tease that X’s work (bureaucratic paper-pushing for a large commercial institution) was perhaps more worthy of deletion than my own efforts, did I look affronted or offended or reveal any sort of hurt? Nope. I laughed as unpublished authors, un-galleried artists, un-sung lyricists are wont to do, and X moved on, quickly, thank gawd, and my screen blurred with my brimming tears and I went to the restroom right quick and choked on a huge throat-full of sorrow and shame, and flushed the commode.

And became very, very angry.

No one would ever say: “working on a business plan? Deletedeletedelete!” Or, “designing on the curriculum for your freshman English class? Deletedeletedelete!” Or, “campaigning for [insert political candidate of your choice]? Deletedeletedelete.” (Ok, Gingrich’s staff did say that, but that was a rare event.)

While George hasn’t said his colleagues are insulting his copy of Rey’s book and the subsequent implication that he’s exploring the foothills of novel-writing’s mountain, I think it behooves us to be careful about how and with whom we share our tender shoots of creativity. Julia Cameron covered this territory brilliantly in The Artist’s Way, and I encourage folks to use that resource to systematically work through their decisions about how and with whom to share their efforts.

Image by kingmagic via Flickr

Tender ...

But bottom line for me, at this point, is: if it feels tender, it is tender. You are not obligated to share with anyone what you undertake in your private time or what you’re typing on your laptop or dreaming up in your head during those incredibly boring Powerpoint presentations. This includes spouses.

X isn’t someone I socialize with save once or twice a year, and the only way they knew about my novel was through a mutual friend, who supports my writing unequivocally. I’ve hardly sworn anyone to secrecy about my efforts; after all, it’s often the friend-of-a-friend who has productive connections or insights. Ultimately, my friend’s support outweighs the ickiness of X’s poor word choice (and X isn’t a bad person; they’d be sorry to know how their casual words affected me. I certainly have long since forgiven them; we all say things intending to be funny that fall flat. My reaction is mine.)

Image by iluvcocacola via Flickr

Give your babies a nest, tucked away from prying eyes

Nonetheless, I’m more cautious since the deletedeletedelete comment. We need to protect our creative babies. Shelter them until we’re clear that our art is not us. For me, that process looks like this: first the words are all about me, my response to a real or imagined situation. Then something about the story flat-out doesn’t work, and I have to change the structure/theme/rhyme scheme/perspective. That change demands others and this iterative practice, for me, at least, results in a piece that is about my craft, but not about me. Ideally the story will connect with others – in their own way. I’ve been surprised by what others see in my stories, often pleasantly so, sometimes less-pleasantly so – but once the story is done, readers’ reactions are their own, and have nothing to do with me, personally. If someone wants to deletedeletedelete my story, that’s fine.

And if I want the opportunity to practice the iterative tweaking and playing my writing requires, then I have to guard my space – literally and figuratively. Novelist and short story writer Margot Livesey’s strategy to sustain the “energy” of her stories has, upon occasion, involved making up another story to tell her friends and colleagues – a fiction to cover her fiction. Eventually, she notes, you have to tell folks that the fictional fiction didn’t work out but in the meantime it provides great cover! Here’s an excellent interview with Livesey by Valerie Compton.

Image by outlier* via Flickr

o joyous belly rub!

Let your creative self roll around in the warm summer grass, wiggly and grinning like a dog. No one can stop you from frolicking and basking in your mind when you need it. Especially if they have no idea you’re having that much fun.

###

A grab-bag of ideas for “cover stories” to guard the spaces you need: taxes, filing, de-cluttering, sorting family photos, working on your will. Others? Tell us in the comments section.

No Ruler for One Month*

I have a dear friend with whom I share most of the details of my life. A looong time ago, after a good therapist helped me realize I have an unusually ginormous not-in-the-middle-of the-bell-curve need for solitude (hard to come by at the time, with two preschoolers at home), I shared this revelation with my pal.

Image via Wikipedia

Mothers don't get a lot of alone time ...

She chuckled, and asked how on earth I was going to get more alone time than I already did: in her view, the Saturday mornings the Engineer Husband gave me to meet with my writer’s group, plus the hours I hermit-ed while the kids were napping, was a Big Allotment of Alone Time for a Mother. I spent the next two months in a journaling frenzy, trying to figure out if I was nuts for wanting more solitude than what all the other mommies seemed to need, want – and survive on.

Luckily, somewhere in there, I stumbled upon the notebook in which my mom had recorded her observations of me as a young child – an extension of her Montessori training – and one of them relates the first time my parents left me alone in the house. I was about six, and my parents walked with my younger brother to the park. She writes that when they returned, “Lesley twinkled up at us from her seat on the couch, where she was reading, and said, ‘You could have stayed away longer, you know.’”

I still feel like that almost every day. Everyone I know and care for could stay away just a little bit longer. But I love my sons, my husband, my friends, my neighbors. Balance, wherefore art thou?

Our community woods in early spring

In my experience, balance hides out in the woods for 360 days of the year, emerging only under the least-expected of circumstances, eg, when even tho’ the kids are home sick, they both sleep quietly all day and your neighbor’s freezer is too full to hold the extra soup she made and would your family like it?, thereby freeing pretty much the entire day up for whatever your heart desires, plus a wee nap.

So on those 360 days of non-balance, of course it all comes down to butt-in-the-chair-hands-on-keyboard, right? Yes. I believe in this, and I swear by it and … I’ve been using the end-of-the-school-year glut of final projects, potlucks, and parties as an excuse to slack off on my writing practice. The excuses are, good, solid, legitimate ones (the car needs major repairs, the dog needs a heartworm test, the 13 y.o. has outgrown ALL his clothes and we must cover his sweet butt with Something lest social services stop by). I’ve been anticipating how during the summers, I enjoy, at most, only 90 consecutive minutes to myself on any given day – given days that will dwindle from five to two or three, so why bother, anyway? And yes, I’ve been enjoying release from walkthedogcleanthelitterboxesshowerdressmakelunchesandhustleoutthedoor.

But this past weekend our family had a crazy-INSANE argument, and I realize that when I downgrade the importance of my daily practice everything else goes to hell. Fast, and not in some pretty little handbasket, either.

I drank a gin-and-tonic, and re-inspired myself with this great TED video by Elizabeth Gilbert on creative process and transcendence through art, another once-a-year occurrence.

Image by quinn.anya via Flickr

Pit of despair with evacuation plan

Then I approached this particular Pit of Despair by asking myself a “deeply curious question.” The concept of a deeply curious question was introduced to me by Vicki Creed during a grassroots leadership training series. It’s a question that only the person you’re asking knows the answer to: in other words, it has to be something unique to them. Not, “did you try that diet? Did you read that book?” but “has this happened to you before? What did you do then? If not, have you ever known this to happen to anyone else? What did you think about it?” etcetera.

This seems straightforward, doesn’t it? It’s surprisingly not … try it when someone comes to you with a dilemma. Or invite practice by working with a trusted friend or family member; you can each (confidentially) share a dilemma you’re having, and ask each other deep curious questions.

I have found this to be very helpful in dealing with the insanity my family falls victim to. By asking what they think rather than telling them what I think, not only do I learn what’s going on, I’m better able to provide appropriate guidance (for my sons) or support (for my spouse) … and last weekend’s blow-out fight when I didn’t practice this is proof enough of its effectiveness.

But nevermind doing it for others, test it on yourself. What’s your dilemma? Not enough consecutive “free” time? OK. Have you ever confronted this before? What did you about it then? How did that work out? Did you like the result? If so, can you recreate some of those elements? If not, what didn’t work about it for you? Can you imagine another way to have it play out? What do you need to make that difference?

These actions can sound hokey, or like a waste of time, and they might be, But! If we don’t try them, we won’t know. Just like with vegetables when we’re kids (tho’ my children remain unconvinced). A friend of mine was flailing in the reedy pond mid-life can occasionally be (had been fired from a job, wasn’t sure where she was going to live, what church to join) and I said, well, here’s a resource that helped me during a bad year (Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach). She returned it to me, and said, well, that author advised things like bubble baths, and that’s just not me so it didn’t work. I asked if she’d taken a bubble bath? No, was her answer. “I just know that’s not me.”

Why dismiss, out of hand, the possibility? Even if you’re forty-seven and bubble baths don’t appeal to you, get in the water anyway. Pay attention, and see if there’s anything to be gained, or if you’re right, and you loathe baths. So you’ve always written in Word. Try Scrivener (if you have a Mac) and see if its features benefit your writing at all. Or sit down with that notebook of gorgeous paper and a pen that flows and fits your hand just right, and see if different words emerge.

This summer I’m shooting for a thousand words a day tho’ I won’t beat myself up if I don’t generate all new words; I’ll also count toward my thousand reworking the short story I’m wrestling with. But no exceptions. I’m going to write first thing after rising, and the boys will get their own summertime breakfasts.

White chocolate is marketed by confectioners a...

Chocolate ... nothing more need be said

Summer breakfasts should always, IMO, include a chocolate croissant and a coffee drink, iced or not, your choice. Thus we finally arrive at the chocolate! Because I am, at heart, a lazy animal who’d prefer to sit around and read all day while someone scratched behind my ears, I give myself “encouragement” throughout my writing practice time in the form of … chocolate. Good chocolate. Fair Trade chocolate because the human and environmental degradation that occurs to sate the world’s craving for this fabulous serotonin-enhancing food nauseates me. Supplemented-with-flavors chocolate. Chocolate without soy lecithin because even tho’ it’s more expensive, it melts in my mouth more velvetly than those with soy lecithin. And little teeny tiny meltaway mints, the kind shaped like chocolate chips and with white crunchy round things on them. While I’m working on individual sentences, each improved string of words = one mint to dissolve under my tongue while I dance on to the next one. Ridiculous? Yes. But one of the beauties of solitude is that no one can see me, or make disparaging tho’ perhaps accurate remarks about the absurd turns my writing practice takes.

After the writing and the chocolate, I’ll do my chores and make a big ole lunch, since realistically my kids will have barreled out the door without eating quite enough protein to give them sufficient energy.  The noon meal will, however, be PB&J or cheese sandwiches. Nothing too fancy. ‘cuz after they fuel up, I’m pretty sure they’ll need to go outside again. So I can be alone … for just a little bit longer.

*I saw these words in a painter’s studio, a reminder to try a new approach to their art. You don’t have to do anything forever. But to make informed choices that will be most helpful to manifesting your intentions, you do have to try new things!

###

What are your strategies for those times when life chops up your hours into smaller-than-you’d-like bits?

 

No more promises about what the next post will include! Winging it is more effective for me at this point!

My momma done me wrong, but taught me right . . .

Those of you who already know me have most likely heard the sorrowful story of my mom’s early years (abusive, alcoholic father & corresponding Dysfunctional Family; frequent, violent, dead-of-night moves one step ahead of the debt collectors; inadequate nutrition or education; etcetera etcetera etcetera). Her response to that childhood was to become an intellectual woman with bucketfuls of discipline – enough to keep her conscious mind free of memories of molestation for fifty-plus years. This level of control also rendered her frequently unable to respond appropriately to my emotional needs.

image by Anne Pepelko Jacobsen

Delicate flower (passion flower) image by the awesome Anne Pepelko Jacobsen

As I tend to be on the “delicate flower”
end of the emotional spectrum, it took me ‘til I was about thirty-five to see my way clear to peace with my mother’s legacy (complicated by her death when I was 31), and ten years since then to pick out the bits of my Self from the rubble (thanks to the engineer husband and some remarkably sane and forgiving friends. And those therapists and antidepressants and Julia Cameron I referred to in the first post!).

A big part of the rubble- sieving occurred when I became a parent myself and witnessed, to my horror, my (unintentional) mistakes flowing forth freely and profusely every day I interacted with my kids. I witness evidence of those errors every time my older son yells at his brother for a minor infraction, or my younger son storms out of the room in frustration (yep, we are an intense household. Nuclear power plants got nothing on us when we really get going).

My errors have slowed to a (steady) trickle now that I’m not wiping butts and supplying milk 24-7  for small, irrational humans (observed a friend: “watching three year olds play is liking watching tiny inhabitants of an insane asylum.”) But. Mistakes were made and apparently will continue to be made into the foreseeable future. Forgiveness all ‘round is in order.

Now, my mom’s intellectual rigor was not in sync with my uhm, flowery nature. But! One thing she told me has changed my life, and perhaps the world, if I may be so bold.

Farrah Fawcett 1947-2009 RIP

Image by Dallas1200am via Flickr

When I was a shy fifth grader with wretchedly frizzy hair (during the Farrah

Fawcett era!) struggling in math, she said, “Lesley, if you have a question, ask it. Someone else probably has the same question and will be glad you did.”

I have no idea if I asked the multiplication question that troubled me then, but her words echoed in my head during discussions at college (Earlham College, can’t sing its praises loudly enough). I  s l o w l y  gained confidence in asking the questions in my heart and head, the ones that others weren’t voicing. When I was thirtyish, my confidence had grown to the point that I inquired of The Powers That Be in the local land use planning community if anyone ever considered conserving land rather than developing it. The answer (nope) led me to ask if anyone else was horrified by this response. Yes, others were aghast — and we organized ourselves and founded the New River Land Trust. Acres protected with Conservation Easements since then: thirty-three thousand! My mom taught me how to change the world!

So. The point today is … amidst all the crap our literal and figurative “mothers” visit upon us, there are plenty enough precious stones. Whatever your art is, whatever question you wrestle with through intentional practice: Claim it. Ask it. Ain’t none of us mind-readers and the only way we’re gonna figure out our next steps forward —  individually and collectively — is if we speak up. If shy or uncertain, practice in your diary first. When you’re ready to utter it aloud, listen to the answers. Extend forgiveness to yourself and others when you fail to be honest, or clear, or whatever else your personal failing is; or when others fail to listen carefully.

Ah. Let’s all bask in the light of our higher selves for a moment.

OK. Lovely words. Putting them into action? What exactly does that look like? No, no, don’t tell me, I’m too busy. Right?

Right. I’m too busy too.

Here’s what unstuck me: (years ago) I had an odd sensation in my abdomen. I described it to my physician as similar to when a baby does backflips during the seventh month of pregnancy, before said baby becomes too large for anyone to be comfortable. The doctor replied: I’m scheduling a CAT scan for you. Tomorrow.

Turned out there was nothing wrong with me, no ominous lumps or bumps. But the first, and I do mean the FIRST thing that flew through my head when he responded was: dammit, I haven’t finished my short stories.

Not, I haven’t published my stories, but I haven’t finished my stories. I was afire! I read books about how to get organized for writing, I got organized, I practiced writing with a vengeance. Still haven’t gotten published … but I’m a lot closer to finishing my stories.

Big Lesson distilled into soundbite: It takes habit. Habits are small, daily manifestations of our intentions. Most of us manage some form of hygiene every day, right? We brush our teeth, wash our face, take a shower. Some of us even manage a little fancy sumpin’-sumpin on a regular basis: a spritz of perfume, earrings to match our pants, splattered though they may become with garden dirt and little-kid snot by day’s end.

Creative work, be it ever so small, is just as important to our health as clean teeth. Seriously! Who doesn’t have fifteen minutes to read a bit of a book, or write 500 words, or sketch an idea for a painting? Again, seriously! We allow our time be nibbled away by nonessentials, because it is easy, because it provides instant gratification (“I won the third level of Angry Birds!”). We suppress the certain knowledge that there is one, exactly one, conclusion to all our stories. But most of us have a little sumpin’-sumpin’ we hope to have done before our  books’ last pages.

I realize this observation is little more than a variation on the “bucket list,” or the “wear the fancy dress” essay that makes the rounds on the internet every couple of years. Well, there’s a reason so many of us are probably familiar with those references: they’re RIGHT.

Image by CarynNL via Flickr

make a list . . .

Get whatever list-making tools you need, paper and pencil, iPad, cell phone, doesn’t matter. Make your list! Apply some of my mother’s intellectual rigor to the habits of daily life. You will change the world.

Seriously.

###

Comin’ up: Reflections on the double-edged sword of habitual creativity for its own sake, and that required for parenting. Plus resources that have helped me sustain the habit of “intellectual rigor” required for the long haul. This will include my opinion of chocolate.