I have become enamored with the possibilities that come from having photo apps a filters on my phone. Now that my son can drive, I can view some well worn paths in a new and very present way. I snapped this photo of a structure I have passed many times in my life and have always loved.
We hear so much about how people make resolutions and then consequently fail at keeping them. We are inching ourselves further way from the start of the New Year, but I wanted to write a little success story. Each year I declare either that I am never making another resolution again or that I am resolving to start running, to get back in shape and any number of other things related to health. Last year, I made a resolution to go deeper than that, to start from further outside myself.
Authors of the book Life at Home in the 21st Century note that ”For more than 40,000 years, intellectually modern humans have peopled the planet, but never before has any society accumulated so many personal possessions.”
I would have to say that in my life this was indeed true. I looked all around and there was stuff. I felt its heaviness. Even before I saw statistics, I felt overwhelmed by it all, so last year I resolved to lose the excess weight caused by accumulating stuff. In fact I put it like this on my Facebook status, “New Year’s resolution: Lose weight, but not body weight, material goods weight. In essence, I just want to purge all the junk and open up some peaceful space for family togetherness and writing.”
I actually did it, or a good chunk of it anyway. Here is how I did it. I let go of the emotional attachment to things. I thought about what would ultimate serve my dreams of becoming a writer and what would hinder them. I thought about how I have grown and don’t need to hold on to too many keepsakes from a time when I was someone I no longer really know. In essence, I am letting go of yesterday and not getting caught up in what I think I might need tomorrow.
Along with letting things go, I understand that this kind of transformation is a process. It can’t all be done at once, though in my case I get focused and before I know it I have gutted the basement. By making it a resolution at the start of last year, I understood that it would take a year or more to do this. Throughout the year, piles formed at my front door. Piles I would take to the nearby Goodwill store. I have one now consisting of bags of cookbooks, not the good ones my chef husband has collected, but the ones that I thought I would look at and never have. Now, I have an iPhone with millions or recipes at my fingretips, so there is not need for cookbooks I never looked at in the first place. So, off to Goodwill these books go.
I have succeeded in keeping with my resolution. I have purged load after load of stuff. Goodwill and Freecycle are my friends. It’s amazing how much more there is to get rid of. I have another Goodwill pile growing in my front room. What I learned from the experience and continue to learn is to make peace with the small space I live in. Part of making peace with it is to rid myself of things to open up the small spaces and make them peacful. As part of all this I have been rearranging things and dusting corners that have not been dusted in years. In fact, I discovered a little book in my bookshelf called “Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life: How to Use Feng Shui to Get Love, Money, Respect and Happiness.” I figured decorating my home with the guide could do me some good. Essentially, the idea is to clearn things up and place things in order to increase the chi, or the universal energy. I will admit a few good things have happened since I began moving things. Whether that’s because I’ve moved my stuff or just because they happened, I do believe that the new placement and the purging has opened the flow of energy, a peaceful energy that allows the the creativity to flow and allows the space for good things.
The resolution, however, does not end. There is more work to do. I have conquered a good chunk of my house. The major projects are done. The year ended with the basement purge. Now, it’s the smaller areas–drawers and cubbies. Things seem less overwhelming. There is space. There is chi. Now, it’s time to honor my creativity.
I have recently been conversing with writing friends on the topic of rejection. There is no way to get around it as a writer. If you send work out, you are bound to get rejection letters. Most are of the form letter variety, but once in a while an editor will write a nice note about your work or add helpful suggestions (that might be sugar coating it a bit) for editing the piece. While rejections in any form sting, there are positive ways of looking at the experience.
1. The more rejections you have, the more work you are sending out there. I attended a workshop with author and University of Michigan MFA faculty member Peter Ho Davies many years ago. He said his stories were rejected on average about 12 times before they were accepted. The more stories, poems, essays you get out there, the more you increase your chances that they will be accepted for publication.
2. I always like to evaluate a story after it is returned. If I receive critique from an editor, I try to look at it as a gift. Gifts can be taken or thrown away. If you don’t agree with the gift, or don’t like it, throw it away. It is your work after all. If there is a nugget of truth to the gift, don’t take it personal, play with what is being suggested. I like the word “play,” because that is what it feels like when I am working on stories.
3. I recently discovered that gardening and weeding and cleaning the yard are nice ways to work off any bad feelings associated with rejections and life, for that matter. It’s always good to step away and keep things in perspective. I could reiterate the stories of all kinds of famous writers who received harsh critique and rejection, but all you have to do is type something like “rejected authors” in Google and you’ll find plenty on your own. I figure they are like anyone else making a go at a writer’s life. They too must have felt the pangs of doubt creep in when those notes came in. What did they do about it? They kept going and going and going. They still keep going.
My mother used to tell me when I was running races, you are only as good as your last race. In other words, you keep going, keep trying, keep working to get better. That is really the best way to fight the doubt that comes with rejection.
The other night I dreamt of a home that I could easily see as my dream house. Even now, I keep mulling the floor plan over in my head. The front door opened into a family room furnished with antiques in the gold and maroon shades I like so much. That sitting area was to the right of the door with a big picture window adjacent to the door. The room opened to the left, too, where a fully stocked bar sat. Beyond the family room on the right was another living/dining room area. The family room and bar area had a log-cabin interior. The living room was dry-walled and painted a toned down yellow. The kitchen sat at the back of the house and was much bigger than the tiny galley kitchen we have now. I could enter the kitchen from the living room/dining room area or through the back hallway where the bedrooms were. In the dream, my house was so beloved that random groups of people would meet there or have photos taken there, even though I lived there.
Yes, I could see myself there, maybe not with all the random people, however.
Why am I going into detail about this? Well, the house felt like home. It felt like a dream home on so many levels. It got me thinking about my dreams and aspirations. So often I get caught up in the “should do” mentality, i.e. I should be substitute teaching today because that will put some cash in the bank. That is when I lose sight, first, or what I have already done, and, second, of what I really want to do.
I already have been happily teaching quite a few classes. I already have been picking up a few regular freelance writing assignments. In essence, I left my full-time job to teach, to freelance, and to help build our food business. All of it was meant to get me closer to home and to get me closer to doing what I want to do the way I want to do it. That’s what I am doing. I am essentially in my dream home, not the one in my dream, but the one I am creating for me. In creating that dream home/life I realized that I always wanted to freelance, but feared the uncertainty of it. I am often one to try to see the signposts along the road. Lately, I have been doing some freelance work that I have been fortunate to get with little effort. To me, that’s a sign. That’s the universe telling me to keep doing what I want to do, giving me a little taste of that so I’ll get down to business and begin seeking more of that. That is why I have foregone the subbing for today. That is why, starting today, I am committing to my goal of building my freelance life, building my dream life, building my dream house. Essentially, I am living it already. I am realizing that building the dream life means living the dream life not sitting in some distant setting imagining what that life might be.
I have these Schoolhouse Rock song lyrics repeating over and over in my head, “Mother necessity, where would we be?” It resurfaced from my childhood as I fed my big dog Maynard while waiting for my morning coffee to percolate. I have been thinking about the meaning of necessity lately as I have systematically held to my New Year’s Resolution of purging. I look at certain things and question more and more whether they are really needed. The lesson I am learning through all of this is that less really is more, is that what we think is making our lives simpler might just be making it more of a hassle.
Take my computer, for instance. This week, it died. Kid Two got a virus on it. It was an old computer that should have been replaced a year ago and would have, were it not for my husband being a technical guru. My computer, it turns out is a necessity, a necessary evil is more like it. I need it to do things like write on this blog, or compose the six freelance articles I’m working on or organize materials for the three college classes that I teach. Still, it is a time sucker. The fact that my husband can make a six-year-old laptop still run means he spends countless hour debugging and reformatting and cussing up a storm in the process because he had better things to do.
Moving on. I drink coffee. I love coffee. I can’t be without coffee for very long. I’ve tried and I always go back. Still, coffee makers, the ones made to make life easier, have only given me headaches. I once received one of those coffee makers with a built in grinder, which was indeed a really nice gift. Still, the grinder only held so many beans and would get wet from the steam and clog and stick so that I would have to take a knife to it. Eventually, I killed it trying to get the parts to work right. I also killed at least one expensive coffee maker at my old job, and the hand me down I had been using at home overflowed every once in a while, making a huge mess all over the counter. None of the coffee makers ever made coffee the way I like it, so I went into the garage and fished out the percolator I used once or twice while camping. Best coffee I’ve ever had. No mess, no fuss and surprisingly it doesn’t really take that much longer to make.
This week we also lost our dryer. We didn’t physically lose it. It’s a big appliance. It’s kind of hard to miss. We lost the use of it. That’s when it dawned on me that the thing took too much energy anyway. It ran too often. I thought of when I visited my sister in the Netherlands and how she, a full-time working mom, managed to hang dry her clothes even with an infant who messed up a whole lot of clothes. I decided to do the same. Hang clothes, that is. I am in no way shape or form going through the infant thing again. What strikes me as odd and refreshing all the same is that hanging clothes to dry has somehow made doing laundry less of a chore, which seems counterintuitive. Sure, I have a rack of drying clothes standing in my front room, but I don’t have three baskets of dry clothes that need folding staring at me on a daily basis. I no longer do a bunch of laundry at once. I do a load a day and pull the pieces off the rack throughout the day.
With each step, I feel like I am becoming strangely more efficient and at the same time reducing my impact on the environment where I can. So, I guess the question to ask is, does “easier” necessarily make things “simpler”? I am finding the reverse. Simpler is easier.
As it happens, Popeye had something in that little old saying of his. What I love about the statement, “I am what I am,” is that it’s not fear based. It’s a simple declaration of love, love for being who he is when others don’t quite get him.
That is kind of how I see being a writer. I have heard other writers say they won’t tell people they are writers. I understand the reason. I know that it all comes down to that dreaded question, “Oh yeah, well do you have anything published?” As if that is somehow supposed to validate what I feel inside. As if it somehow deminishes what I am doing because a few people on the outside may or may not think my words are worthy.
What I realized, as I am journeying through this thing called life, is that what others say or believe doesn’t really matter. I am what I am. I am so many things, a writer is one of them and I am not afraid to say it. But, I also am a mother to two great kids. I am a wife and partner. I am someone who loves to bake. I am someone who loves to bead. I am an educator. I am also the things I am not. In other words, I am not the sum-total of my publications or awards, as perhaps I’ve been led to believe at times. I am not a workaholic, though I love my work as a writer and an educator, but none of it feels like work. I am not nearly as good a cook as my husband, though I give cooking a try.
If we give voice to who we are, then we validate it. If we shout it from the rooftops, then we validate it, even when others might be laughing or doubting that we can create the life we want.
I am reminded of a Sunday Morning on CBS interview with Dolly Parton I saw a while back. In the interview, she spoke of her high school graduation. She spoke of declaring then that she was going to be a super star. She said everyone laughed at her, but look at her now. It wasn’t that she knew it so much as she said it and kept saying it until she manifested it.
So, go ahead and say it. I will. I am a writer, among so many other things. I am what I am.
P.S. Rather than have a bio associated with this blog, I have changed it to an Artist’s Statement, because that is what I am, too, and I rather like the idea of an artist’s statement versus a list of all that I have accomplished, which really doesn’t say anything about me.
So, I set it all out there in the last post. It felt good to just say what I was feeling at the time. It also shows that nothing is an easy ride. This life, this writer’s life, is full of ups and downs and days of unexpected calamity. It has been a difficult couple of weeks.
First, my Dear Partner J got sick, really sick, which put him out of commission for the last week of food cart season. He has been running the show pretty much on his own since I went back to work. I help here and there, but he is Debajo del Sol. So, that final week there was no Debajo del Sol. He couldn’t get out of bed. We got through that only to have a dog crisis on Tuesday.
I am to blame for that. I thought the day started out well, even if it started out at the doctor’s office with my daughter. That was a planned, routine thing. I dropped her off at school after that and stopped at grocery store number one. I made a quick stop home and went to grocery store number two. I had this grand plan of making all this stuff and gathering lessons for my classes. In the interim, between my two grocery store runs, I failed to secure the pantry doors. That meant our dog, Maynard, had full access. Of course, the two things that were in his reach were chocolate chips and raisins, the two worst possible things a dog could get. That tripped the switch on an afternoon of chaos. I made repeated failed attempts to induce vomiting with peroxide, per the vet’s recommendation. The dog just burped and lollygagged playfully around the backyard. I ended up taking him to the emergency clinic where they had much better luck inducing vomiting, and sure enough he had eaten raisins and chocolate. I understand that was irresponsible of me. That was why I had such a rough day. The lesson I learned from this is that all canned goods go on the lower shelves and all chocolate chips and raisins go on the top shelf of the pantry where Maynard can’t reach them even if he gains full access to the pantry.
In our defense, we are not used to a chow hound like Maynard. With his predecessor, Maggie, we could leave a whole Thanksgiving dinner out on the counter and she would never have touched it. Maynard, however, will find a way to get the Thanksgiving scraps, do or die. Thankfully, I realized what he had done fairly quickly, so he seems to be doing well. We are still keeping a close eye on him.
I, too, am feeling a whole lot better. I am back on track, not with NaNoWriMo numbers, but I have some off time next week to get caught up. I can’t wait to bake a pumpkin pie. I can’t wait to have the unfettered time with my family. It will be the first time ever that my holiday week isn’t packed with deadlines and work.
A long time ago, I did a couple posts on the glamorous life of a writer. That, of course, was the irony. There is not glamor. There is toil, rejection, small victories, rejection, a kind rejection for an editor or agent, just plain rejection, and the more than occasional day of complete chaos. It’s up to us to continue to gather roses, even when it’s not a rosy day or a rosy week. That means gathering the gumption to write as much as you can in those times. I did that. It wasn’t much. It was zero on the day of chaos, but I put a few words down yesterday. I’ll put some more down in the days to come. Really, that’s what pulls me back up, back out of the chaos. Folks, this is the glamor–the sticky, messy, chaotic glamor. There’s nothing shiny, new or rosy about it.
NaNoWriMo Count: just over 19,000 words.
I know I tend mostly to be upbeat. I tend mostly to be a cheerleader for writing and the writing life. Still, my life is far from perfect. I don’t even know what the perfect life would look like. I have chosen to be candid here, because I have been inspired by a fellow writer, a fabulous blogger, and a friend–Linda Cassidy Lewis. She writes about her successes as well as her frustrations. I write about writing, the good stuff, and then have long periods where I fail to post. I give the excuse that I have been busy, but what I really mean is that I have been struggling.
I sat in a hospital waiting room today. I sat there and waited for X-rays with my daughter. It’s part of our routine. It’s been part of our routine since she was only weeks old. Every six months we visit the orthopedic. Still, we are fortunate. We live near one of the best pediatric hospitals in the world. Today, it was made clear how fortunate we were as we watched two young boys from somewhere in Asia (I didn’t ask where) who were flown here for surgery. I know I am lucky on so many levels. I know this. I know.
Still, there is only so much pulling up of bootstraps one can do before, ya know, the arms start wearing out. I don’t know where to begin really. I have been putting on a good face for a long time. I put the face on to hide the shame I felt about being a single mother. I put the face on to show I can handle my daughter’s disability or the horrors of my own cancer. I put the face on to get me through college, yet again, because I blew it the first time. I can feel the throbbing muscles in my cheeks. They throb because my real face can’t hold those facades up much longer. This is not a pity party. This is the real me, the real tired me. Part of carrying all those faces, part of looking like it’s all going perfectly is the act of doing way too much and forgetting to be in the moment. So, in this moment I am going through a decompression. It happens when I pile it all on, and I work and work and work, but things go in reverse instead of going forward. Bills pile up, disasters happen, and the crap just keeps coming. My whole adult life has felt like a race to nowhere. I don’t know what the game is or how to play it or what to do anyway. I write. That’s the only game I know, whether I am good at it or not. I just write, except for today. I didn’t write today because I was dowsing fires all day. Perhaps I’ll get into that in a future post, but today I’m tired and have accomplished nothing except to say in this post that I am tired and that’s the the truth.
NaNoWriMo word count for the day: 0
NaNoWriMo word count to date: somewhere over 18,000 (the site was down)
On Thursday, it all came together. No, I am not talking about the 50,000 words I am supposed have done by the end of November. No, I am talking about the idea that I am a writer and where it all began. I never really admitted to myself that I even wanted to write until after I graduated college with a degree that now seems hilariously ill-suited.
Until yesterday, though, I didn’t believe wholeheartedly that I was any good at it. Or, I believed that because I came later to writing that I somehow wasn’t really a writer because I wasn’t one of those people who talks about having been born with a pencil in her hand. Yesterday, I saw it all so clearly. I was always a writer. I just grew up with this notion that anything I wanted was out of reach, so I should just settle for what’s in front of me. I have lived by this for a long, long time–too long. Mostly, I believe the notion was based in fear.
I clearly recall sitting in one of my favorite professor’s office. This was when I dared to go back to school after my first misguided effort and finally began doing what I wanted to do. Still, I wouldn’t admit back then that I could be a writer. I was going to be a teacher. That too was somewhat misguided at the time. At one point, I dropped out of the education program. That’s when I found myself in Professor Richard Sax’s office. He asked me what I wanted to do if I wasn’t going to be a teacher. I wanted to tell him that I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I still lived with that fear, that notion that because I wanted to be a writer so bad that there was no way I would be allowed to be a writer. I didn’t believe in my ability back then. I never told my professor that was what I wanted. I thought he would tell me I couldn’t, that I didn’t have the ability to make it.
Yesterday, I looked a lot of those old papers. I looked at the notes from professors. I don’t know why I didn’t see it really until yesterday, but I could write back then and I don’t think my professor would have told me I couldn’t. Tucked in with the college papers were little stories I wrote in fourth grade that had hints of imagination and imagery. In high school, I was one of those kids who did well enough, but I wouldn’t say any one of my teachers would remember me. There were two times, however, that teachers called me out on my writing after I put a lot of effort into creative assignments. One of the assignments was a story I had written in French. My teacher suggested I translate it back to English and send it somewhere. I never listened. I brushed it off. I thought successful writing happens to other people, not me. But, I see now that those were all clear signs.
In all those moments, what I failed to see was that the universe was throwing my destiny at my feet. I was walking over it, failing to recognize it as mine, most likely fearing the act of claiming it, know if I did I might be seen as presumptuous. I was trying to do something else, anything else that wasn’t so frightening. The thing is, and my family can attest to this, I am not good at lying. I could be practical for a while, but I wasn’t going to be successful at being practical for very long. And, it just made for a miserable me.
Yesterday, it all came together like when you are tuning a guitar string and suddenly the vibrations disappear and the note rings clear and smooth. This is my life. This is what I am supposed to be doing. As crazy and uncertain as it may be, I am a writer.
NaNoWriMo word count: 12,083
This is my first attempt at NaNoWriMo. The day began with me getting up an hour before everyone to see what I could get on the page. I had one hour and by no means met my goal in that time, though I have been working on the novel in snippets throughout the day. After getting the kids off to school, I helped my husband set up the food cart and get through lunch. My days of food carting as a full-time gig are long gone. I am teaching now, so I help out when I can and use the rest of the time to write and plan my classes.
Already, I feel NaNoWriMo working its magic. This book is finally in my head. These characters are becoming real. I had been thinking about it for a while and had some fits and starts. I took one of the fits and starts to a writing group but learned that it really was not ready for that. That experience nearly killed the project, but I can be stubborn and not let things go that easily. Thankfully I held on, and even if I don’t meet the daily goals, which I am guessing could be difficult, I feel like I am getting somewhere. I am moving forward.
Day 1 word count = 1,712