First accessory

Wind-up watch.

 

In second–maybe third–grade, I had a Strawberry Shortcake watch with a red leather strap. It was the first accessory I ever coveted.

It was a wind-up watch, not a digital, and I wore it everywhere I went. And, I went. Though I lived in a city famous for rainfall, my friends and I lived outdoors where we were free. We would roam and there would always be some dinner time we were supposed to be back by five or six, or seven. We were always running late and winding that coveted watch back by fifteen minutes, a half hour, to prove that we weren’t really late at all.

 Ah, I sometimes miss the days when I could be not really late at all. 

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Misplaced

This morning I misplaced an entire folder of work. Here’s what I realized.

If you told me one day I’d be looking for a file on my computer I’d misplaced–a novel draft–and, unable to find it, I would shrug and think well I guess I have to start over without despair, with optimism even, I would have laughed, disbelieving. And yet, that just happened.
Here’s where I am in my writing at the moment. I surprised myself by making my way through a first draft of a second novel in a trilogy of books with somewhat interconnecting characters that all take place in Olympia (setting is key) and deal with the different character’s different anxieties that keep them from being fully present and alive. Huh, it felt good to write that sentence. I haven’t crystalized what the books are about on the page until this moment. I’ve kept the ideas, the connections rattling around in my brain. Writing it just now was like scratching an itch you didn’t know was there. I’m planning to write the first draft of book #3 for NaNoWriMo this November. I’ve written a partial draft of this book before, but it’s become a new thing since then. I can’t decide whether to even look at the old draft before I begin.
That’s the file I was looking for. It’s actually a folder containing seven chapters and an outline. I found it, but I didn’t panic. I would have been okay without it. What am I to make of this strange shift? My former self would have wailed and moaned, spent an entire day moping for the death of all of those precious words.
Here’s what I figure. Now that I’ve been putting down words regularly for more than twenty years and have folders and folders of false starts, flat stories, poems for no one’s eyes but me, I don’t value every single word effort as if each sentence is a thread of my worth and any loss could unravel the whole garment. Much of what I’ve written in my life was practice and that’s not just okay, it’s the way it should be.
You’ve got to be willing to lose whole books and still return to the page. You return because that page is Home and the click of the keys is your dance while no one is watching.

 

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summer days

Dear Summer Days, (Letter Series)

If you click on Letters under categories of past blogs, you’ll see the whole series. This series is a nod to the idea of letter writing, which I love with a burning nostalgia that makes me long for the days of slow communication, letters written by candlelight. Well, until I remember they didn’t have mobile phones or the Internet…

Happy Monday to you. Happy new writing week! Enjoy this new installment in my Letters series.

 

Dear Summer Days,

You trick me every time. The way I can walk across town reading a book under your forget-me-not sky and then forget the day of the week entirely. They way you inspire nostalgia, what have I got to lose, and might as well live.

I can remember a time when summer really did last what seemed like forever. Long enough to get bored and grow out of my favorite shoes. Long enough for a love affair to begin and end.

When I became a teacher I imagined I would get these summers back. Don’t laugh–it’s an easy trap to fall into. While it may be true you can’t repeat the past, is there any harm in trying? Summer days, you are for wandering, for wonder, for making art, for learning ten ways to tie a scarf and more ways to say, yes, I do.

Looking forward to your impending visit,

Liz

 

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capable weirdo

I am a capable weirdo.

I’ve managed to contain my PTSD into a neat little container. I can’t drive on the freeway. If I do, I panic. Panic of the sort that in my teens and early twenties could hit me while brushing my teeth or standing in line at the store, irrational fears that all the worst things that can happen will happen in the worst way and there is nothing I can do about it.
This past couple of weeks I had a situation come up where I had to face the shame of the fact that I do not drive on the freeway in a way that really got under my skin. It became clear to me as I communicated with several people about my plans for a trip that did not involve me driving a rental car, but instead involved careful planned taxis, public transport, and ride sharing, that no one else did those things in this situation. I kept getting met with pushback. This stirred my thinking about how intolerant most of us are for personality differences and quirks. Worse? I’ve bought into that crap all my life.
Our bigotry is evident everywhere. We use words like “issues”, “illness”, and “strange” to describe people who think and act differently than we do. We try to hide our quirks and differences, spend time and money trying to fix them. We are all so afraid of crazy, we leave no room for eccentricities. We live in shame of our every strangeness.
Now I know that there are some pockets of society where we accept strangeness and eccentricity, but as a whole, we do not.
I’m tired of pretending.
I am a nutcase at times. I battle anxiety, sometimes depression. I have shades of OCD in my obsession with organization and keeping things in their place. At times of highest stress, I get eczema on my hands and then I run scalding water them to relieve the itch and give temporary relief because the pain stops the itching. When there is pain, there is only pain. I am extremely reticent around strangers. I battle insecurity and feel inferior on a daily basis.
I am a capable weirdo and I wouldn’t want me any other way. My weirdness pervades every aspect of who I am. What needs fixing is our obsession with fixing everyone to make them the same. Perhaps if we embraced our own strangeness we could find a way to embrace the strangeness of those people who are truly mentally ill and in need of our love and support, not our fear.

 

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procrastinating mind

Dear Procrastination, (Part 2)

Dear Procrastination,

I’ve written to you before, but you didn’t reply. You look at me the way my grandmother used to when I asked a stupid question. I get it, you are necessary, and if I spend too much time with you, well, that’s my fault, isn’t it?
You are necessary. You are where the sketch before the painting happens, the outline before the outline. I know I said I would write and now I’m walking the dogs, stringing a beaded necklace, knitting a hat, cleaning the gutters, alphabetizing my books, dusting the cobwebs from the corners. Can you believe these things are part of the process too? Not always, but sometimes, when I’m meditating on story.
I’m sorry I came off adversarial before. I was trying to gather my courage to write. I did not trust you. I lashed out. I get it. I get it, you are part of the process. Can I possibly welcome you? Even find joy in you? Trust myself to know when to close the door on you and get to work, when to open the door again and go out to play?
I will try, dear friend, I will try.

 

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flying clocks

What are you doing this week to make time? Me? I’m willing to change.

Most weekday mornings I wake at four AM and get to work. I’ve even gotten better at writing on weekends, which I explained in an earlier post–to my surprise–proves harder to make time than they days I work a full day. Yet, I still crave more time, feel it’s too little. My days, once I set off for work in the morning, lately don’t slow down until bed time. It’s hard for me to imagine that I used to write in the afternoons. Whatever time I had then, life and other interests have filled to brimming.
Last week–Tuesday, I think–I was feeling pretty whiny about how quickly my writing time passed, how soon I had to jump up and start getting ready for work. 6:00 AM to be out the door by 6:30, to Capital by 7:15. You see I walk to work most days, have walked to work most days for the last eleven years. I refused to change this habit even when we moved and my three-minute walk became a 45-minute walk two and a half years ago. It’s not just work. I have a thing about walking everywhere I can. I walk to yoga from work. I walk downtown often. When the weather is nice, you’re likely to see me walking just about anywhere. This walking is a life-long habit that started when I was young, maybe even as young as 11–certainly by 13.
Walking calms my anxiety. My thoughts unwind and reconfigure. Walking is my idea space. So many poems, story ideas, understandings about myself and the world occur when I’m out walking. Just as Tuesday while walking to work this idea occurred to me:
If I rode to work with Chris on the days he doesn’t leave early to take his boy to zero hour (1-2 days per week), I would extend my morning writing time by 45 minutes. I could double my word count in 45 minutes. And who says I can’t take a 45-minute walk in the evenings instead?

The idea is obviously good, yet I struggled with is pretty hard.
Why?
Habit is a powerful part of identity. Would I still be me if I no longer walked to work every day? No longer set out each morning, sometimes in the dark and pouring rain, sometimes with a too-heavy book bag, a yoga mat, and a lunch sack too?
Routine is the backbone of a healthy writing practice. Just read a few writers on the subject and you’ll hear the advice reverberate. But a routine that is too rigid can make us stagnate, keep ourselves and probably our writing too confined.
Be willing to change. Change the time of day you write. Change your word count goal. Change another habit (like walking to work) that frees up space to create.
When people hear what time I wake up to write, they say I could never do that.
That’s a lie.
You can.
If you want to make time badly enough, you will.
What habit can you change right now to make time?
I am writing this just after coming in from evening walk. Tomorrow morning I look forward to double the writing time.

 

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making of harry potter common room

Staring is necessary.

My IB students are reading The Things They Carried now and just finished The Great Gatsby. The order in which you teach books brings to light different aspects of them. I don’t believe I’ve ever juxtaposed these two titles before. So, as we read each vignette of The Things They Carried, the burden of being an observer in war is the thread I keep being drawn to. Both Nick and O’Brien seem to exist as a lens through which to view the story, take little part in the action, only rarely turn that lens on themselves. They are both writers. Go figure, I’m drawn to this persona, the observer. I know just what I’d do if I ever stumbled upon an invisibility cloak as Harry Potter did.
“Stare hard, retard,” people used to say when they caught me staring. And sometimes on my walks to work, I get so caught up in the physical details of the world around us that I just want to keep walking right past work, spend the day collecting images. I did this when I was in high school quite a lot. I’d walk to school, reach the building, decide to keep walking. I grew up in sister cities and I’d walk to the edges of them both, walk between them.
This is at least a part of why I prefer to walk to school even though Chris drives and works at the same place. This is why I prefer spring and summer days, because I can walk and walk without the extra weight of an umbrella or the inconvenience of getting cold or wet. I used to at least try to keep a journal collecting some of my impressions from the day. It’s been difficult to find time lately, but I’d like to try to get back to that practice, just a little writing before bed. *moves journal to night stand
I’ve sometimes felt ashamed of my observer personality (“Stare hard, retard”), but reading O’Brien I’m embracing that part of myself, feeling part of a tribe of storytellers. So, dear writer peeps, if this sounds like you, I have a challenge for you this week:

Spend 10-20 minutes sitting in public just observing everything you can.
Observe and record a conversation between two people you eavesdrop on.
Stare at an object. Stare again. Keep staring until you’ve written a two paragraph description of the thing.

 

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cell phone that says "my phone is my castle" on the screen

It is called a mobile, after all.

We had an unexpected dumping of snow in Olympia that afforded me a Monday snow day yesterday. This allowed me to easily and leisurely meet my word count for the day and also to reflect on the week, writing, the sheer size of the flakes floating down out the window. And that’s not even the whole of the day. I also read some of The Circle, which is turning out to be a page-turner and two chapters of A Moveable Feast which Chris and I are reading out loud to each other in preparation for the Book-It performance in March. It felt decadent to have the day, since the weekend had been so satisfying, and that, or at least the reason for the satisfaction is what I want to write about here.
As I’ve mentioned in past posts, weekends are the hardest times for me to get my word count in. This is counter-intuitive since I teach high school Monday through Friday and have weekends off. Shouldn’t I have more time on weekends and therefore write more? One would think so, but the opposite is true. I write less on weekends.
What made the difference this weekend? I turned off my cell Friday before bed and didn’t turn it on again until Sunday at noon. Lo and behold, I wrote double my goal and broke through two barriers in my story.
How can I explain this?
On weekdays I do my writing early in the morning while the house is still asleep, before picking up my phone or checking my email. It’s this sweet little pocket of solitude and leisure before I am standing in front of a classroom of sometimes reluctant always skeptical students. Always skeptical because they are high school age and they should be. (It’s the unskeptical ones I worry about. What innocence shaking novel should I slip them to shake them up and get them on track? Back to the point–) The weekend; however, is an unstructured free-for-all time wise and it’s easier to passively gawk on social media than struggle with creating fiction. So, I cave to my impulse to check in with the world of digital interactions and eye candy my phone has to offer off and on all weekend which makes it difficult to focus and relax, two things we need to write.

What will I do with this new-found self-knowledge?
It is called a mobile, after all, and I’d like to start treating it like one. A great device to connect outside of home. At home, I want to keep it turned off more often. Like from Friday nights to Sundays at noon, except when I’m out on the town. Also weekday mornings before eight and as soon as I get home on weekday evenings. This not only feels like a good tweak to my writing life, but a tweak that is consistent with how I’ve been feeling for a long while about how we come home and sink into our social media threads when we should be interacting with our families, cooking a good meal, reading a book, or just sitting and letting the day sink in. Resonates with how I feel about how we bring our phones to bed, to the table, to the easy chair. This feels like a right tweak, like an I should have thought of this long ago tweak, and I’m excited to see the effects.
I know that after a day and a half break, my shoulders were more relaxed. I was breathing more freely. I wrote with more ease and without distraction.

What habits are working for you to keep you focused?
What are your writing goals for the week? the month? the year?

Sneak peak: Next month I’m kicking off the daily writing warm-ups a little early. You know we’ve got poetry in April and scenes in May, so what’s in store for March?
In March, we will travel to a new place each day with a prompt to describe a place in 200 words or less. Stay tuned!

 

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yoga frog

Don’t push it. That’s my advice this week. Happy writing!

Much better this week. Not perfect, but better. I wrote six of seven days. Slowly, but that’s my pace right now. I mostly got to bed by nine on the weekdays, save one or two restless nights. I hope do the same or better this week, but I’m not attached to that result. It doesn’t equal success or failure. Those are long-term, future-focused words that when you break down get pretty muddy in their true meaning. I gave this advice to another writer in my weekly critique group last Monday. I asked her what her goal was for her work and she said to finish it and get published.
Seems like the obvious goal, right?
In my experience, that goal will leave you hamstrung and miserable.
I choose joy.
Each day I sit down to write for all the time I have to offer the work. I am working on a first draft of a second novel in a trilogy of books that take place in Olympia and all feature a central character who is struggling to find his/her path. Around that main character is a cast of quirky characters who sometimes recur between books.
Of course, I want to finish them and publish them.
But I’ve learned not to think of that when I am drafting and revising. I try to take each chunk of writing time as it comes. I try not to set deadlines for when I should be done, because what I’ve found is that I will reach those deadlines. Even when I shouldn’t. Even when the work isn’t ready to be done, I will finish on time. And then after a couple of weeks away, of maybe sending the work out to the world, I’ll read it and see what I didn’t see before, face the truth. And sometimes my forcing the work to completion will have created more problems to fix than before.
I’m learning to trust the work to tell me when it’s done, to not push it with imposed deadlines. I am working on a first draft of a second book, trying to write every day, getting feedback on the first book in my critique group, and when I finish this first draft, I’ll set it aside and start in on draft two of the first book. Then I’ll write the first draft of the third book. I have no idea when any of this will be done.

Happy writing week to you, my friends. May your words flow freely and your heart be light.

 

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Imagination

An invitation to let go and burn, baby, burn.

Getting to sleep earlier proved harder than I thought for a few reasons this week. I’ve got a lot crammed into my weekdays and last week was an especially bloated example of that. I went to two critique groups, one Monday, one Thursday, attended three yoga classes and coached Debate until four Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I tried to cook real meals when I could, which is especially important now that I’m vegan. There’s more, but you get the idea. Getting to sleep by nine was hard and the fact that I was so focused on it made it even harder. That is the way our minds play tricks on us. Oh, you need to get to bed early, do you? Let me throw some random fears your way and see how you do. Did you leave the oven on? Did you send that email? Does someone need you and you weren’t there?
But I tried every day. I shut down early, put a sleep mask on and committed to tossing and turning. And I will try again this week and the next until I’ve retrained my body and mind to be asleep by nine.
My second goal for the week was to get my word count in on weekends and weekdays. I did not even try to do that. Saturday I spent sleep-deprived judging Debate. Sunday I went to yoga and to a movie with Chris, and now here I am writing this blog, the first words I’ve penned all weekend. I blame this in part on the fact that I back-tracked in my writing week and so need to push myself forward again. I rewrote the outline for my novel and rewrote some beginning sections. It’s a first draft and I’m supposed to be writing forward. You know as well as I do though that these re-grouping moments are a crucial part of the writing process for any draft. I’ve got a new outline and am ready for another go at my goals this week. How about you?
My goals: 1. Write 500 words each day, including weekends. 2. In bed, eyes closed by nine on weekdays. 3. Do the Wednesday prompt (Red Dress Press) for fun and practice.
What are your goals?
The movie Chris and I went to see was La La Land. There’s this moment toward the end of the movie where the aspiring actress played by Emma Stone suffers a crisis of confidence familiar to anyone who has ever gone out on a creative limb. It hurts too much she says when she finally gets to the heart of why she wants to throw in the towel. She means the rejection and the not feeling good enough. It does hurt to put your best work out there and have it rejected or torn down in critique, even to attempt to create something and never have it come together as you envisioned it would. The movie is a boon to artists if you haven’t seen it. An invitation to follow your dreams, however difficult or impractical they might seem.
It’s the heart of winter and here in Olympia the coldest days of the year so far. We’ve had over a week of temps in the low to mid-twenties. We are all in need of an invitation to keep our fires burning, our imaginations moving. I hope this post might be one for you. Set some goals for the week and do your best to get there. That is all. Let go of attachment to a particular result. Simply show up and do the work.

 

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