Category Archives: Memoir

beach path writing retreat

Learning from a confidence crash: Reflections from a writing retreat.

I started this blog as a way to keep myself writing. It was the same kind of desperate attempt to build good habits that causes people to talk their significants into doing dietary cleanses with them. I needed an audience, some accountability outside my insecure self. It wasn’t enough to just remind myself why I was writing, how I was writing, that I deserved to make time for writing. I needed to shout it out loud.
That’s still true, but over time it has become a creative work of its own. A voice has emerged, a voice I didn’t know I had. A voice strong, confident in the fact that she has something to say that’s worthy of being heard.
I’m in Ocean Shores on a writing retreat now. This is a place I know well. I’ve spent many hours with my cousins on the beach, the adults who brought us sheltered from the wind in the car we’d driven right onto the beach. Yesterday, I drove into town on my own to pick up a few things from the store, get gas, shop for some souvenirs. I went in to pay for the gas, began pumping, sat in the driver’s seat to wait for the tank to fill. That’s when it happened. My self dissipated. What was I doing here? Who was I kidding? What kind of fraud had I perpetrated, masquerading as a writer for over twenty years?
I’m mostly immune to these kinds of identity crises, though as a young writer they plagued me. You see, I’ve built good habits in getting up in the morning to write, keeping this blog, annotating every book I read. I love the work and I’m not so worried about who approves anymore. In the face of this unforeseen confidence crash, I parked my car at the IGA and went for a walk through town, breathing deep and consciously, feeling the straps of my backpack, each stride. I shook it off, remembered I don’t care about that shit anymore. I simply make time and do the work. Beginning my summer vacation with a writing intensive that includes my summer writing schedule (up at 5AM for a run, shower, then pour a cup of coffee and get to work) is likely the cause of the crisis (when you retreat for a week to write the pressure to get work done is great) and now that I’ve recovered, I’m glad I had that moment. Because when I had returned to my body and was breathing freely again, I felt immense gratitude, commitment to do the work, to stay in the room, focused on the goal or two I’ve set for the day.

 

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trail running

Monday, a run through the driving rain, hail, a sweet reminder.

I started running at twenty four. I could not even run a mile before I started to wheeze. But, within two years, I was up to five miles five to six days per week and within two more years I was training for my first marathon. Running helped me through some challenging years, gave me some sweet solitude when solitude was hard to come by. It made me strong enough to make some tough decisions, eventually.

By the time I moved home to Olympia in 2006 from where I’d spent seven years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’d run a dozen half marathons and three marathons. Returned home, I ran a dozen more, joined a running group. I was proud of the fact that I could run a half marathon without training at all, if I wanted to. It wouldn’t be pretty, but I could do it. I took that strength for granted.

No that I’m back to running regularly after two years of minimal to no running due to stress fractures, I am humbled. A three-four mile run is currently my limit, a run I would have called a short run a few years back.

In order to keep myself true to a schedule, I now keep extra clothes and shoes in the closet at work, so I can have accomplished a run before I even get home in the evenings. Going out again for a run after returning to the comfort of home is not easy for me. The moment I walk in the door, responsibility beckons. So, last Monday, a burst of sun broke through a cloudy day at about 3:15 in the afternoon and I hustled to change and get out the door. Being mid-March, I knew that sun could disappear in an instant. And, it did. The rain started in a downpour that turned to little hail pellets bouncing off my skin as I ran at a slow pace, head down up the Garfield Nature Trail with a brain freeze, something I had no idea could happen from getting hailed on.

What did I feel in that moment?

You might be surprised to hear that I felt strong and ecstatically alive. Well, okay, at first, I felt cold and annoyed. But as I propelled my cold, wet, annoyed body forward, I remembered how the struggle we face on a particularly hard run and they way we learn to breathe and move through that struggle makes us stronger for all of life’s struggles, gives us strength, endurance, and trust. Then, I felt strong and ecstatically alive.

I’m glad to be back in my running shoes. Not just glad, but grateful. This shift back to running is part of a larger reconnection with my physical body, a body that saved me from so much, so often. It wasn’t just the injuries, it was also work stress, and life changes. Not only was I not running, but my yoga practice had also dwindled to almost nothing. I’m back on the mat too, beginning with a minimum of thirty minutes per day. I celebrated spring yesterday with 108 sun salutations, something I used to do twice a year, but hadn’t done in…six or seven?

I suppose whether it’s running or yoga or hiking, which I also love, or any other practice that demands movement of the body and breath, doesn’t matter. So long as we go there. I wrote a novella about the role of breath and movement can play in saving a life, yet in the midst of the second draft, I broke, and then other things rushed in to fill the empty spaces where those practices had been. Things have a tendency to do that, which is why we have to MAKE TIME for the practices that fulfill us. We have to run, write, stretch, breathe–move.

 

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selfie

I grow old… I grow old…

How can 42 be the answer to the ultimate question regarding life, the universe, and everything when it’s so damn old? Seriously, my face has actually begun to slide away and I have three witch-like chin hairs that regularly appear there. I usually notice them when I’m already out of the house, which is why I now carry  tweezers in my purse.

I grow old…

I grow old…

I can no longer buy cute cheap bras at the discount store because most of those bras no longer hold me in. I have to go to Macy’s or Penney’s or somewhere and try the damn things on. I hate trying things on. And yet, teasing allusion to Hitchhiker’s Guide aside, I’m finding I rather like this growing old business. The signs are clearer along my path and pulsing with more urgency (perhaps because death is more imminent).

In my ninth grade English class today, I had five different girls show me poems for the poetry anthology they’re putting together. Every single one of them was about the agony of unrequited or undeclared love. One of the girls stayed after class to add (her poem being about undeclared love) that she was sure her friends planned to tell him. She said, “I don’t like that at all,” but her eyes said maybe yes?

The trouble with the romance of youth is you wind up spending a lot of energy trying to get and keep love, the romantic kind and the friendship kind. You’re very insecure and unsteady in it all, which can have all kinds of devastating consequences, because there are vampires out there.

I’ve grown old and continue to grow old. Yet, amazingly and in spite of chin hairs, in this forty third year of my life I’ve wizened up in an important way.

I won’t detail all the little steps it took me to get there (that’d be a book). It’s the shift that matters.

A self-sacrificing woman raised me, taught me to serve. An illustration of that point comes by way of the fact that for my birthday she game me a charm bracelet with my wedding photo inside a silver heart and hand-dyed a beautiful towel set, hand-embroidered the edges. They are beautiful and must have taken her hours. At twenty-one, I had a baby and being a mom filled me with a sense of purpose I had never had. There’s nothing I’ve done in my life that brought me more joy and fulfillment than raising my son.

But that son is raised and I’m in a second marriage with a man whose kids are not yet raised. It’s taken me some time to get a clue as to how to be in this situation. My default is to serve. So, I tried. I tried to serve as if they were my own children. I worried and expressed that worry to my husband, as if we were equal partners. I wanted to be a part of helping them get good grades, so I logged into their online grades and emailed teachers. I tried to forge a friendship with their mom over email. I took charge in finding perfect birthday gifts, and made long mental lists of likes, dislikes so that I could pick up certain things at the store. I behaved as if I too was their parent. This served to create much unhappiness in me, because not one person in the entire situation appreciated my efforts. Most, at times all, resented them. A wise friend of mine had warned me as much in a letter before this chain of disappointments began, but I just couldn’t stop myself. It was so easy to fall into these familiar patterns of concern and sacrifice. Those of you who’ve been there could read this story with all it’s dramatic irony. Stories like these are why fairy tales are rich with evil stepmoms.

Here I am, forty two years old, and my greatest purpose in life has been to serve. While that may be fine for someone–it is not fine for me. This is what I now realize.

I was babysitting my sweet niece Minerva yesterday (3 months old). My stepdaughter had just spent fifteen minutes cuddling little Mini on the couch. I was standing, holding her, rocking from side to side, because movement seems to soothe her. I made a comment about how good babies smell. My stepdaughter is famous for her did-you-knows, which range from truly fascinating to what the fuck is the Internet doing to our children. Did I know, she said that women’s brains actually produce dopamine from the smell of babies’ heads?

Huh.

So, I looked up this study, because something about it didn’t sit quite right with me. What I found is that men were not included in this 2013 study, so the doctors could not be sure that this was not just an innate human response. Still, article after article boasted “women”, showcasing women holding babies. This, folks, is why feminism still matters and how gender inequality is endemic to our culture. My twelve year old stepdaughter is of a generation supposedly enlightened on the politics of gender identity, yet she believes it is a fact that she is biologically programmed to be addicted to babies because she is a girl.

What I’m getting at here is that while babies are awesome and compassionately serving others goes selfiea long way in building up our spirits and our humanity, I have gotten pretty good at these things already. What I am not so good at is not apologizing for every little thing, asking for what I want, and diving deep into my own adventures guilt free. These are the things I’m looking to practice this year.

 

 

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valentine reflection heart

Post-Valentine Reflection: Plans and Vampires

paintbrush heartI’m not entirely sure where I’m headed in this blog, though I do know there’s something I want to say, something that feels urgent. I’ll do what I do in these cases. I’ll begin by cataloging the pieces of this something big and urgent, trust I’ll get there in the end.

 

Doesn’t this typify so much of how writing works? Both Didion and O’Connor agreed. And this understanding lies at the heart of why I dislike structured approaches to teaching writing. But–that’s for another day, another blog. Today?

 

Post-Valentine’s, I find I am surprised how my day actually went versus how I planned it to go. I’ll get to that. But first…

 

Elementary school. Class lists. Those kid-made Valentine envelopes you’d put the coveted cards in. Just like the rules for food on birthdays, you had to bring enough to share with everyone. Of course, there were ways to create inequity. Saving the coolest cards for your besties, your secret crush. Writing an actual note, instead of just signing your name. Tacking on extra or the best candy.  Public school began our training in the economy of romance.

 

No wonder in fifth grade a crowd of girls, including me, circled the perimeter of the playground at recess singing along to the lyrics of Madonna’s Crazy For You as printed on the jacket of the 45. No wonder, so inspired, we wrote a group note to a boy in our class we each admired.

 

Flash-forward to now. Valentine’s Day. I’m walking around Target with my little sister who is nursing her two month old baby under a pashmina scarf while admiring educational toys. We are meandering and wind up in the children’s bedroom section where I see this bank. A savings bank for  little girls shaped like a wedding cake. Are you kidding me?

 

What I planned to do for Valentine’s Day was stay in my pajamas all day writing, maybe eat a bowl of that chocolate malt ice cream I knew was in the freezer.Why, you ask? Don’t I have a husband? Yes, I do, but since that lucky bastard happened to be enjoying an all expense paid trip to Rome, I had to make my own plan.

 

I like to think we love maturely, that we renew that love every day, and so, I decided Valentine’s Day alone afforded a ripe opportunity for some me time. Time to write and maybe take a bath and paint my toenails. Planning such a Valentine’s Day, I felt happy for Chris’s fortune to be in Rome and grateful to be in a relationship safe enough, nurturing enough that we both can flourish. Not always together. Sometimes in delicious solitude.

 

It’s no exaggeration that when that particular gratitude occurred to me I nearly fell to my knees right where I stood. Not so many years ago, I was living life in subjugation and denial. A life where I was running out of creative ways to re-frame emotional abuse. Even I who would settle for very little because that’s how I was raised, praise jesus. It was a strange combination of influences that finally strengthened my resolve to choose a different life: the igniting of a creative fire, a mysterious prowler waiting in the wings to smother my already oxygen-starved heart, and a truth telling friend willing to risk loosing the friendship in telling me truths.

 

The best-laid plans.

 

How I actually spent Valentine’s. Driving over to Lacey with my sweet, sardonic man-child to help my Aunt Sue move to retirement heaven near her grandchildren. We sipped our coffees and chatted on the way. Then, we helped load a Uhaul, had some laughs with family we don’t see often enough, looked at a few funny, old photographs.

Aunt Sue sent us home with a cool antique yard stick that may have been a paddle back in the good old days, two book shelves, and a hyacinth. (Sue, if you’re reading this, it is a perennial.)

 

On the way home, we stopped to deliver one of the bookshelves to my little sister. Her dogs, who I’ve been walking while she recovers from the cesarean, clearly were ready to be walked. So, Winston stayed to visit while I took the dogs on a walk around the block. And this was not a typical walk. Forces of the universe conspired to bring me a swarm of cats, two off leash dogs, and a murder of crows. It’s important to keep in mind that these are not little dogs we’re talking about. Two huge black dogs quite happy to chase a cat, a crow, or an off leash dog. A bit like a water skier careening out of control? I’m sure that’s how I looked.

 

It was now after noon and I was not yet in my pajamas writing, so I figured what the hell, I’ll go with the flow here. My sister, who looked like she could use some time out of the house, had texted me earlier asking if I wanted to go shopping with her. I was going to turn her down to write. It may have been the prospect of spending more time gazing on my niece’s sweet face that sent my heart spinning in a new direction. In any case, I confirmed with her shopping was still a thing, then planned to come back and fetch her as soon as I delivered my ever-patient son back to his computer screen.

 

We shopped for three hours for Valentine’s and baby things, browsing and talking along the way. I marveled at this new sister, vigilant milk-machine. This same sister who once curled up on a bag of rice at Costco because it looked comfy and whose curiosity broke a glass shelf in Macy’s (or Penney’s, or The Bon, I’m not quite sure) I can barely recall, except that she was little, therefore careless, and she broke something. Shame followed.

By the time I got home and settled in to write, it was late evening. The day had not gone as planned. And yet–my son, my sister, my niece, my aunt, my cousin, my cousin’s son, my cousin-in-law, my brother-in-law. I had planned to keep my time to myself, but instead shared it with them. And this time it was the right thing to do. It’s hard to know. Love is a curious balance of giving forth and taking time to replenish the self. This is harder to do when you’re in a vampiric romantic relationship.

The economy of money is tied up in the economy of romance and so many people are out there sniffing for fresh blood. Stay strong, my friends. Eat lots of garlic. Another Valentine’s Day has passed, but the shadow remains.

 

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Where we embrace determinism

In some aspects of popular psychology, we doggedly embrace free will. Those who are not happy are choosing that state of mind. And happiness is the new American Dream. We gain status by posting evidence of our abundant happiness to be liked by “friends”, only some of whom we’ve ever shared a secret, an intimate moment with.

This first part perhaps makes the second part even worse. On my walk to work a couple of days ago, listening to a podcast, I heard an author explain her villain. “Well, she hasn’t had a good life.” Because this issue is personal to me, I bristled, though I wasn’t surprised. This is the most common explanation for evil we have.

We accept this determinism, because it’s an easy explanation for violence and cruelty. And we need an explanation so we can be less afraid. So we create pockets of false safety for those come from “good families”.

But those kids who get beat up by a parental figure, whose parents drown themselves in alcohol or drugs. Those kids with parents in prison, literal or figurative. Their fortunes are read to them early on. They know how their story is expected to go.

This tacit truth caused me so much anxiety as a child. It’s never fully gone away. I didn’t have a good life; everyone agreed. I felt like a ticking time bomb, prayed I might be the exception, not the rule.

One of the favorite parts of my job as a high school teacher is to regard those kids, the ones you know have not had a good life, with the same expectations for success that I do the most nurtured kids. Not in a coddling or condescending way. In the same way. To engage with them often, assume the best of them, and, especially, challenge them.

Class is in part the issue here. Happiness is a choice, but the materials, experience, and education one must have to make that choice supposedly can be bought. At least, is sold every day.

I want more Heroes from bad backgrounds, more privileged villains. I think we’d be much closer to the truth.

 

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What it took.

I woke at four, made coffee, walked the dogs. I sat down to write a little bit later than usual, but only about five minutes. But five minutes turned to fifteen once I followed the impulse to check my email. I felt cold, so I got up to get a sweater.

“Getting dressed?” Chris asked.

Startled, because he usually sleeps another forty-five minutes, I said, “I’m cold. I’m getting a sweater.”

“It’s warm here. You can come back to bed.”

It would have been sweet if it wasn’t so torturous. Shivering, on five and a half hours sleep, going back to bed seemed like a damned good idea.

I sat down and tried to write. Chris groaned in disgust at something in his newsfeed. Don’t ask, I told myself. Don’t do it. I looked at the clock. I had a half hour of writing time left and this space, usually a space where I can easily slip in and out of solitude was alive with distractions. I thought about giving up. I even texted my writing buddy that I was quitting for the day after a paltry, distracted output.

Then, an idea hit. Though I still had a half hour of lounging in my pajamas left on the clock, I got dressed, gathered my things, and left. I walked the two miles to the Starbucks across from the high school where I teach.

I sat down with exactly thirty-five minutes left on the clock before I’d have to cross the street to work, start my day. In half the time I normally would have taken, I wrote 500+ word count (over my daily goal). I’ve had a lot of success lately getting the writing done because of the routine. This morning I was reminded how sometimes the opposite gets the work done. Change the routine and the scenery. Take a walk. Try again.

Here’s a sentence from what I wrote today: “In the light of the full moon, they moved the last of the boxes from the Uhaul into the house which had already begun to change.”

Wishing you a prosperous writing week, however you make it happen.

Namaste.

 

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One day spent chaperoning debate nerds. Two insights about writing fiction.

I say nerds admiringly. After all, I was one of them back in highschool when I regularly skipped other classes to work on my debate cases. Am one of them, really. I no longer geek out on arguing the ethics or efficacy of various philosophical schools, all of which I was  learning solely to build my rhetorical arsenal. All of which were making me more befuddled as to what I really thought and believed. Now, for me, it’s books and the things that make up books. Precious sentences!

For the two judges sitting across from me in the judge’s lounge that day it was crossword puzzles. To be precise, four of them. Another judge they knew, a tall bespectacled man carrying a fresh copy of the New Yorker, noticed they were currently working on the LA Times and proceeded to rib them. How could ladies of their caliber deign to do any crossword puzzle than NY? They laughed. They had that one too, tucked under the LA Times. This was the seed of my first insight of the day into writing fiction. It has to do with character, specifically archetypes and models. As I was sitting there drinking the coffee but trying to avoid the white sugar parading as mini bagels by munching out of my baggie of trail mix, it occurred to me how far one can get in developing a character’s identity by first figuring out what social sub group they belong to. You can sketch a lot about what they wear, what they do in their free time, what topics of conversation they lean toward, what books they might read, even what they value. The danger of course is to stop there. And since I had ten hours of basically just sitting around watching people that day, I did a lot of sneaky staring and character sketching. I eavesdropped on stories and began to see the individuals emerge in this group that at first seemed strikingly aligned. What emerged for me from this exercise was that it’s useful to begin sketching a character by identifying a model. The danger is to stop there. Perhaps a more pervasive danger exists in fearing models that are out of our own social comfort zone We must push past the judgement that emerges when values clash to create human characters who inhabit ways of being that are difficult for us to empathize with. Because, in the end, characters should be individuals, not models.

At one point I grew bored even of people watching and decided to go for a walk around the University of Puget Sound’s campus. I had no idea where I was going, no destination. That became part of the fun. As I walked, I began to build stories in my head, urged on by what I was seeing with my eyes. A persistent yellow rose, a bit weary, but persevering winter. An old style chalkboard on wheels, some unknown equations written across it. A fountain with the head of a fish next to the head of a lion, the leo and the pisces locked in natural conflict. A rooftop fire escape. I even hopped onto an elevator at one point and pushed the button for the floor I thought was the one I started on. The doors closed, but the elevator didn’t move. I almost panicked, then browsed the buttons again, selected my second choice. The elevator lurched, moved. The doors opened right where I began. What had been on the floor it wouldn’t let me out on? My imagination scrolled through story possibilities for what was on floor M. And here’s where the second insight into writing came to me. Be present as you adventure into the world. Collecting images of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Taking photos and writing descriptions in our journals or recording our own voices describing these things on our mobile phones. This builds the muscles of our imagination.

 

Here’s a prompt and a challenge for you. Take one of the images below and turn it into a poem or a short work of prose. If you’re willing, share it.

 

I’m wishing you all another week of flowing words. As for me, I’m just past the half point in the first draft of a novel I’m writing called It May Look Like Disaster, the first in a series of three Olympia novels. I’m waking up at 4 AM on weekdays to write and trying to edit stories and type in handwritten pages in the evenings. I submitted stories to three journals last week and my goal is to submit every week of 2016.
Blessings to you. Make time.

 

 

 

elevator gargoyle fountain yellow rose         escape spider web

 

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new year mantras

New Year Mantras: Love inward, and outward; Speak your mind; Get your work out; Love your gorgeous body.

I can’t resist the call to set intentions for a new year. Call them goals, resolutions, crazy schemes—whatever you like. I love making them. And I don’t fret about failure. I know that I am fantastically imperfect and will fail in some things. I know that I’m already a pretty sleek model of a human being. Reflecting on the past and setting intentions for the year allows me to move forward a bit more assure, see the path ahead more clearly. For 2016, I have four mantras that I will post somewhere where I can see them everyday (wall by desk? lock screen?) Do you mind if I tell you what they are and why? If so, you best click that back arrow on your browser right now. But if you read on…Maybe you will find some inspiration in my sharing? Maybe you can offer me some guidance along the way?
Mantra 1. Love inward, and outward.
Love inward
I’ve been betrayed in love, so I’m a bit guarded. Mostly I’ve been betrayed by me. Whether the tendency was handed down, whether it’s the particular deference of the middle child, whether it’s a byproduct of the legacy of the abused—some combination of all these things?—I’ll never know. It doesn’t matter. The result is that I moved rather desperately through my love life (not just sex, friendships too) for much of my life. It’s taken me a lifetime to realize that I should discriminate. I deserve to be picky.
I have been torn apart by rejection. I have lived in the shadow of enabling addiction. I have stayed quiet when my body, my conscience were violated. I have even excused those violations. Doubted myself. Believed I deserved them. I have done all these things too often, too easily. I have violated my own body, my own conscience in order to gain acceptance, to be liked. I have cared too much about being liked. I allowed this to be a factor in measuring my own self worth. I have allowed doubt of my creative work to stop my writing, even though the act of writing is a lifeline for me. I stuff feelings, nurture anxieties, doing violence to my self. I have tried to outwork and outrun these tendencies. It can’t be done. Time to face them. Squeeze them out with love.
Some affirmations for loving inward in 2016 are:
—I am smart, funny, and adventurous naturally. 
—I am lovable and loved. 
—Guilt and shame do not serve me. I will be the best person I can be in each moment. 
—I am a capable, caring, compassionate woman. 
—Happiness is created, not waited for. 
—Boundaries help everyone. Draw them, kindly. 
, and outward
 
Every single time I open my mouth and let fly words that attack another person, I know I’ve acted poorly, feel guilty . And my “love” for those I care about too often manifests itself as worry. Two things I’m feeling strongly as I head into year 42: 1. Violent speech hurts you and others. 2. Worrying is not helpful to anyone and all those bad vibes might actually hurt more than help.
One practice I started a could of months ago that profoundly diminished my tendencies to criticize and worry is a very simple practice born one morning out the loneliness and desperation of worrying about my son, but feeling powerless to help him. I walk two miles to work most days and often I walk home. During my walks, I practice a sort of meditation where I pray mostly for others, sometimes for myself. I send out hope, courage, strength, conviction, insight, confidence, whatever seems needed. I do this for myself, for friends, for people whose shins I’d like to kick. After one week of doing this, my heart felt full and the son who I had been so worried about had done just fine in all his struggles without me. Instead of spending the week worrying about him, I spent the week sending him hopes for courage and strength.
This will be my walking meditation for 2016.
Mantra 2. Speak your mind. 
For those close to me, this will sound like a strange goal since those people know me as an opinionated person who speaks her mind. But in many ways I am still that shy Liz who struggles in large group discussions, fails miserably at small talk, and deeply considers my words before speaking them. This isn’t all bad and I suppose I will always be somewhat verbally reticent. However, there are some ways I’d like to make 2016 a more vocal year.
I once had a bumper sticker on my car that said, “Speak Your Mind, Even If Your Voice Shakes.” That’s what I want. My affirmation to make this happen is:
Use your voice. You deserve to be heard. 
I’ll need to remind myself of this even when faced with disagreement, apathy, or a voice louder and more confident than my own. This pairs well as a goal with practicing outward love (compassion). Where we often go wrong in our obsession with hearing our own voice is that it does matter what we say, and how.
Mantra 3. Get your work out. 
I’ve made a calendar for 2016 to plan this with care and intention. I want to send my writing out into the world weekly all year. I’ve hoarded my work too long. I even ruined some good pieces by tinkering and tinkering too long. Every week. I’ll keep a log and report back to you all here.
Mantra 4. Love your gorgeous body. 
 
This means get outside, stay active, do more yoga, and eat well. This also means wear only clothes that feel good. Sit and listen to your breath. Take naps when needed. Hug often. Make time for self care. Cook good food. I am done, done, done with the endless suffering over perceptions of beauty.
To recap my intentions, I open my heart in 2016 to:
—Love inward, and outward
—Speak my mind
—Get my work out
—Love my gorgeous body
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want to read 2016

What I Read In 2015/Want To Read in 2016

I’ve been keeping track of what I’ve been reading since 2009 here on this blog. My goal for 2015 was to read 50 books. I came pretty close at 42, which is 8 more books than I read in 2014 and 22 more books than I read in 2013. During our hot, dry summer, I read a few books while walking here and there and really love to read that way. It’s different than reading on the treadmill (which I hate), so it’s not just about moving while reading, though I do think that is a part of the romance for me. Sometimes when I sit and read, my body gets antsy and I close the book to get up and move around. When I walk and read, I can read for longer stretches of time than when sitting still. And I can still take notes while I read. I only need to pause and make a note in the margin before moving on. Theoretically I could do this on the treadmill in any weather, but the treadmill is sooo boring to me and that boredom seeps into my reading. I’m not going to post a list of the particular titles I plan to read in 2016, though I will post a picture of some I have lined up by my desk that I’m interested in reading. I’d like to read a variety of books from different genres and stay open to new books too. I’d like to read a couple of books with Chris and all the books my book group chooses. I’d like to write down all the found sentences I mark when I read this time and look back at them at the end of the year. I always mark them by writing a heart in the margin, but I don’t consistently go back to pull them out later. I want to read more attentively when I’m at home, for longer stretches without checking my phone or getting up to put a load of laundry in. I’d like to spend at least one full hour a few times a week just reading without distractions.  Below is a list of the books I read in 2015 (the first five I absolutely loved, and I can’t wait to see The Brothers K at Book-It in May) and a picture of some I have queued up for 2016.

 

How about you? What did you read? Why? What will you read in 2016? How will you read?

 

  1. The Brothers K/ David James Duncan (novel)
  2. My Year of Meats/ Ruth Ozeki (novel)
  3. Through the Second Skin/ Derek Sheffield (poetry)
  4. Time and Materials/ Robert Hass (poetry)
  5. Song of Solomon/ Toni Morrison (novel)
  6. Fun Home/ Alison Bechdel (graphic novel)
  7. Glitter and Glue/ Kelly Corrigan (memoir)
  8. Ice Haven/ Daniel Clowes (graphic novel)
  9. The Interestings/ Meg Wolizer (novel)
  10. The Blue Flower/ Penelope Fitzgerald (novel)
  11. 10:04/ Ben Lerner (novel)
  12. Queenpin/ Meg Abbot (novel)
  13. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man/ James Joyce (novel)
  14. The Awakening/ Kate Chopin (novel)
  15. The Best American Poetry of 2009 (poetry)
  16. How to Meditate/ Pema Chodron (non-fiction)
  17. The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo (ALSO LOVED! Non-fiction)
  18. Praise/ Robert Hass (poetry)
  19. Maus/ Art Spiegelman (graphic novel)
  20. The Uninvited Guests/ Sadie Jones (novel)
  21. Persepolis 2 (graphic novel)
  22. The Round House/ Louise Erdrich (novel)
  23. Far From the Madding Crowd/ Thomas Hardy (novel)
  24. Making Shapely Fiction/ Jerome Stern (non-fiction)
  25. The Kundalini Yoga Experience/ Dharma Singh Khalsa (non-fiction)
  26. Between You & Me/ Mary Norris (memoir)
  27. Vox/ Nicholson Baker (novel)
  28. The Laughing Monsters/ Denis Johnson (novel)
  29. Slaugherhouse-Five/ Kurt Vonnegut (novel)
  30. My Brilliant Friend/ Elena Ferrante (novel)
  31. Paper Towns/ John Green (novel)
  32. Holy the Firm/ Annie Dillard (Creative Non-Fiction)
  33. Poser/ Claire Dederer (memoir)
  34. The Magician’s Feastletters/ Diane Wakowski (poetry)
  35. The Wisdom of Insecurtiy/ Alan Watts (non-fiction)
  36. Food Matter/ Mark Bittman (non-fiction)
  37. In the Woods/ Tana French (novel)
  38. The Likeness/ Tana French (novel)
  39. And When She Was Good/ Laura Lippman (novel)
  40. Brave Enough/ Cheryl Strayed (non-fiction)
  41. Merry Christmas, Baby/ Donna Kaufman (fiction)
  42. How to Relax/ Thich Nhat Hanh (non-fiction)
books for 2016

Want To Read 2016

 

 

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nanowrimo novel writing

Reflections on Nanowrimo at the midpoint, plus the not-so-sexy-after-all struggle

Yesterday morning I made it to 25,800 words on my Nanowrimo novel. My writing morning went as usual, with one significant difference. My alarm blared Bryan Adams “I’m Gonna Run To You” (Jack FM) at 4 AM and I slammed down the snooze button. Twenty minutes later “Come On Feel The Noize” and I slammed down the snooze button again. I got dressed, made coffee while the dogs ate fresh heaps of kibble, then donned my faux fur lined jacket for a walk which only a few months ago I took wearing shorts and flip-flops. Now it’s dark and cold and even the dogs want to just get down to business.

I pour two cups of coffee with cream, placed a plate over the top of one to keep it warm, because although Chris’s alarm will go off any  minute, he’ll also want some snooze time. I sit at my writing desk, set my electric blanket across my lap (thank you, Carrie), then I start a session of freedom.

What’s freedom, you ask? It’s an internet blocking service I’ve known about for a while, but didn’t use. I choose a sixty minute session. This is my fourth day of freedom and I have seen the light. True, I can’t fact-check as I go, can’t look up synonyms to get the wording just right, can’t check my email “real quick”, can’t find the perfect pop culture reference for the time or browse books published the year my story takes place.

I have no choice to keep writing forward.

I’ve known for a long time that this was a good way to write a first draft, but for me struggle is the sexy dark horse. Meaning, it would be too easy to take that good advice I’ve come up against again and again. I am that person who when the yoga instructor says to pay attention to how it feels in your body, I think it’s a “good stretch” when there is a dull throbbing pain up and down my leg. Because I tend to stubbornly persist through whatever quagmire I find myself in. Because I am a person who works hard and perseveres and is resilient. Why would I take an easier way out? Plus, I can be a bit of perfectionist with my sentences, reading them aloud until they’re just so.

Why has it taken me so long to understand two thing that I teach high school students all the time?

 

  1. Have a process.

 

As I teen I was fascinated by ritual, terrified by the idea of falling into too many patterns, imprisoning myself. I was obsessed with trying to force spontaneity. The paradox I’ve discovered in writing (and perhaps it applies to life too) is that the more ritual I have, the more spontaneous my writing can become. There is a freedom in the space of writing when the creative mind is familiar with that territory, has been there before, when the process is clear. Also, patterns will emerge, with or without your input. Don’t you want to have input? Don’t you know better than your fear? Your laziness? Your self-loathing?

 

Be as specific about your process as you can. Borrow from others. Don’t worry about whether it’s perfect for you. Pick something and try it for a while. Your process can and will change, but you’ve got to have one.

What times and days will you write?

What are the rules for writing your first draft?

What will you look for in your first revision?

At what point will you invite other people into your work? For what purpose?

 

Keep a logbook and/or spreadsheet of each time you write or edit to track your work over time. Include in your logbook notes about struggles that emerge for you in your work.

 

  1. Time, place, manner.

 

Have a process and trust it. Draw boundaries for the steps of your process. What parts of your writer self will you invite in with the first draft? Will you kick the editor out? What will it take for you to do that? What will you focus on for the second draft? The third?

My process for the past 20+ years has been to sit down and write, then go back and revise. It was a miracle when I sat down to write at all, and when I did, it was often a battle with aspects of myself, particularly the one who wants to write the story and the one who wants to pick it apart along the way. While I’m writing the first draft of the novel I’m working on now, I’m making a list of revision consideration for the second draft. Writing them on that list is my way of setting them aside for now. I am learning to hold myself to the idea of a first draft. I’ve heard this advice over and over again. The struggle was too sexy. I couldn’t resist. But I’m getting it now. I no longer think cool boys in leather jackets are enticingly mysterious and I get that writing can be more or less difficult. More difficult if you don’t follow a plan, including to show up every day. There is a time to pick apart your sentences. It isn’t in the first draft. Just like there is a time to talk about your grade in my class. it’s not in front of the whole class, in the middle of explaining a new present moment assignment. Oh, and put your phone away. You should have checked your grades before you came to class.

 

What’s your process? How do you make it happen?

 

 

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