Tag Archives: beherenow

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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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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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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A celebration of the pause.

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I can be an intensely goal-oriented person, and mostly this has served me well. I wrote a semi-autobiographical novella in part about resiliency, or at least that was the seed. You see, directly and indirectly I have heard all my life that for me, success was unlikely, that my success is a particular miracle, unexpected. So I wanted to explore how it is that I don’t feel particularly resilient at all. I wanted to put a character in a situation somewhat like mine and see just how she might come to save herself. It’s true I was a welfare kid, a victim of childhood abuse, an intensely shy child who suffered severe allergies for all of my pre-adult life. It’s also true that genetically I am predisposed to self-destruct through addictive behavior and that I have suffered anxiety as long as I can remember.
My ability to set goals and work toward them has enabled me to manage anxiety without medication, to go from being unable to run at 24 years old to running my first marathon at 30, and to be a now National Boards Certified Teacher, 15 years of teaching experience behind me. I am a compulsive list maker and goal-setter. I can read through old journals and see that this pattern established itself early. But I’m not writing this blog as a celebration of goal-setting. I’m writing in celebration of the absence of moving toward a goal, a celebration of the pause, something I’ve come to appreciate these past few weeks.
Certainly my lists and goals serve my writing. It is this tendency that has inspired me to wake up at 4 and 5 in the morning to write first each day, that allows me to add practices to my work that keep me moving forward, like keeping a writing journal on my desk and writing down short and long term goals. But what I’ve discovered in this early morning writing time is that in the writing itself, I am best served when I can let go of all goals and give myself up to the writing itself. When I try to write fast, when I try to finish a work before it is ready to be done, when I rush editing, I ruin the work. I’ve done this over and over again.
Fortunately, I am a fan of Whitman’s insight about contradictions and I too believe I contain multitudes, thus am capable of writing slow, pausing to take walks or just stare out the window in spite of the anxious, goal-oriented me. Practices that strengthen my ability to pause include the writing itself, yoga and meditation, and time spent in nature. As I write this, I am thinking of this work we do as writers as a kind of dance where we are called to move through many aspects of ourselves to do our best work.

 

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Dear Present Moment,

Dear Present Moment,

The click of keys. The ponderous pause. The long-distance stare. Alert, alive, creating. The problems to solve are diverse, complex, and many and I must be some kind of brainiac because I am solving problems left and right. What is the mood here? What is the consequence? Will this seem real to a strange reader? Will it break his heart? What’s the story? A comma here?
Present moment, the struggle emerges when you elude me, when I focus on the future goal or that time I left critique group with a fresh bruise on my cheek, a deep scratch on my collar bone.

Seeking you,
Liz

 

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