Tag Archives: writing

Stepping Off the Path–and Getting Lost in the Weeds

 

From Pinterest: Mystic path. Sendero místico.  by Zú Sánchez. on Flickr

From Pinterest: Mystic path. Sendero místico. by Zú Sánchez. on Flickr

 

For the past four years, I’ve worked diligently to establish my sense of myself as a writer. Following my own plan and routine, I’ve spent pretty much every waking moment writing or thinking or talking or dreaming about writing. I’ve given myself short breaks, a day or two here and there, but for the most part even during those hours and days of respite, the stories continued to flow through my mind, the voices muted to a whisper but always in the background, patiently waiting.

For the last few months, I feel as though I’ve stepped off my life’s path and have been stumbling around in the weeds that grow beside it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’ve come to realize that the more I ramble about, the more I learn to identify and admire the weeds, the more comfortable I feel meandering away from my path and that is a scary thought.

I had great expectations for the New Year. I decided that 2014 was going to be positive, “The Year of I Want To,” twelve months of doing exactly and only those things that I want to do rather than doing the things I feel like I have to do. Into my routine, I’d insinuate a disciplined hour of journaling every morning (rather than scribbling down my thoughts about the day in a few hurried minutes at night right before bed); I’d burn incense and meditate each and every morning without fail; I’d stretch back into my yoga practice; I’d still get up early but I’d set a more realistic schedule for myself, beginning my work day later (9-ish) and end it earlier (6-ish) so that I could bring walks and fun and balance back into my life. (In retrospect, I’m convinced that the sound I heard outside my window as I sat at my desk and planned my year was not the wind at all but was, in fact, the Universe laughing hysterically.)

January rolled around and my life took a sharp turn. My routines were interrupted, my days were spent focused on everything but writing, everything that had to be done or needed to be done rather than what I wanted to do. I convinced myself that once the work was done, once the house was painted, the garage was emptied and organized, the shed was cleaned out, the yard was fertilized and weeded and pruned, the car was replaced, our money issues were resolved, and my life was turned on its head, I’d get back to writing, that I’d get my plan back in action and the writing would commence in earnest. (Or I’d just abandon all hope and get a real job.)

In my mind, I see this detour as a strange little road trip. I see myself bumping along my path, eyes forward, scanning the horizon for dips and turns, hills and valleys. I swerve to miss a pothole now and then but for the most part I am right on track, aiming for the sweet spot right in the center where the going is easy. Then, out of the blue, a storm kicks up and my little patch of paved road turns to dirt and mud. Lightning strikes up ahead and I find my path is blocked by downed trees and blown debris. But hey, there’s a rest stop right there so I pull off my path and take a breather. Before I know it, the rain’s gone, the sun’s shining, and it’s time to get back on the road. But while I’ve been sitting in the parking lot waiting for the storm to pass, eating Cheetos and watching the road wash away, nagging little thoughts have crept into my mind and they’re not just about the long and winding road ahead but about the vehicle I’m in. When was the last time I changed the oil? When was the last time I bought new tires? Checked the blinkers or the brake lights? When was the last time I looked down at the gas gauge or the odometer reading? And–oh, look! Is that a dandelion? I love dandelions! There’s another one over there! No, that’s a daisy. I love daisies! (Sigh.)

The weeds have grown tall around me. (They’re green and have the sweetest little white and yellow flowers.) I should get a blanket and sit down right here and read for a while, I think. Reading is a good thing, an old passion that makes me happy. But it feels like there’s something I’m missing, something I should be doing. I’ve stepped off my path and gotten lost in the weeds but I can hear a rumble off in the distance. Maybe it’s my path calling me back. Or maybe it’s the Universe laughing hysterically.

When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

Peace, Love and Fluffiness

lambs

My mother was anorexic most of her life. I’m not sure when it started, but in the years before she passed away, she’d look in the mirror and instead of seeing a beautiful woman who had aged with grace, she’d see a fat little girl staring back. I thought anorexia was a plague of teen-aged girls but at 74, my mother was their queen. She was also diabetic which gave her an excuse to count her food: she could eat nine green grapes and eleven French fries at McDonald’s, her favorite, six of this and seven of that. My mother was also a counter–of things and people and ideas. She counted as she walked and talked and talked and talked.

My mother had an affinity for people and sheep. One year around Christmas time, she made stuffed lambs for all of her friends, 27 in all, I believe. She sewed and sewed the sweetest little woolly animals until she was sick of making them. She’d had arthritis, both ostheo and rheumatoid, since her late twenties so her hands were crippled, bent, and swollen. I cannot imagine the pain she suffered to make those little lambs, but I know that she was happy making them right up to the end when the pain in her bones became excruciating and she couldn’t feel her fingers. She never made another one but she poured love (and blood from her pricked fingers) into the ones she made.

My mother’s home was always full of warm and cozy things, sweet things, tiny little things, dolls and clowns and sheep. She had a magnet on her refrigerator, a reminder of her imagined plumpness. It was in the shape of a very woolly sheep and said, “Ewe’s not fat, ewe’s fluffy.”  And she was. My mother was fluffy, like a warm blanket or footy-pajamas right out of the dryer on a cold winter’s night.

So today, while my mother’s on my mind and I’m taking a writing break, I wish you peace, love and fluffiness.

I’m into week two of National Novel Writing Month: 50,000 words in 30 days. I’m about half way there and I’m being diligent. Good luck to all of my fellow NaNoWriMos! If you’re reading this, thanks for taking the time! Now, get back to work!

I’ll be back to normal soon, I hope. In about two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

Letting Go of the Outcome

Into the Vortex by Issi Noho

Into the Vortex by Issi Noho

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned as a human being, regardless of how I identify myself at any given moment–mother, wife, employee, or writer–is learning to let go of outcomes. Any outcome. For me, my passion is always invested in whatever task I tackle, sometimes greatly and in large, blinding quantities and sometimes in a perfunctory way that may seem to carry just a smidge of caring light, a limn around the edges. I put my heart and soul in my work, my blood, sweat, and tears and pray that it is good enough, right enough, or just enough.

And then there’s that little voice in my head that says, “Finish what you start!” which means to me that I must follow through to the bitter end whatever task I begin and the finish has always been tied intimately with the outcome. How did the project turn out? Am I happy with the outcome? Does it fit the model of expectation? More importantly, does the outcome reflect well on me and my efforts and does everybody else like it?

Aha! There it is! My feelings about the outcome are tied directly to everybody else, to their ideas and thoughts and needs and expectations. We learn early on that every action makes an impact, every action must have a consequence, and so we do our thing, whatever our thing is, and wait for the response, for the vibrational impact, for the consequences, good or bad, relating to our action. We wait for the outcome in order to gauge where and how and when to take the next step. We are flummoxed if the response, in any form, never comes.

Writing is one of those endeavors that begs to be tied to an outcome. I am a writer, therefore, I write. The natural outcome should be that people read what I write and then make an informed decision based on a million tiny personal factors as to whether or not they like what I’ve written. This is how our society works. Create, display, sell, and repeat. The outcome comes at the end of the process when we are judged and deemed worthy or lacking by ourselves and others (mostly others) and despite our passion and joy, decide whether or not sales dictate a repeat of the process. Success is judged by the outcome of the effort, not by the joy, experience, education, and passion derived from the process itself.

I used to believe the fairy tale. I used to think that unless I got a book deal the first time around, I was a failure; unless I mimicked the efforts and the process of others that I was doing it wrong. And then one day I woke up and realized that it is the process of writing, of allowing those voices and images in my head to take control and tell their story that is my way of living–without tying myself forever and ever to some superficial gauge of success, to an outcome. I can do what I love to do and let go of the fantasy and expectation of what is supposed to happen next. Like a child, a story is born, shaped by life experience to the best of my ability, and then released into the world to make its own way.

My son at sixteen understood letting go of the outcome. When I expressed disappointment at the choices he was making for his life, he reminded me that it would be impossible for him to live up to the dream of him that I carried in my head. He could never live up to my expectations but he could live up to his own and his own were pretty daunting.

For me, letting go of the outcome means living in the moment–every moment. My life in this moment is full and rich and exciting and calm, peaceful and good and blessed. To continue along this path, I have only to embrace the next moment and the next in its turn, and forget about the outcome because there’s never an end. Moment by moment our lives unfold and we are simply riding the current to our next passionate surprise.

I also believe in Karma. But that’s a discussion for another day.

The Thing Under the Shed

The Girls 02

My dogs have been going crazy the past couple of days. They woke me up at five o’clock yesterday morning, whining and whimpering, anxious and scared. As I opened the back door, I heard thunder far off in the distance, rolling in waves. I laughed as the rain started to come down giving everything, including my dogs, a much-needed and long-awaited soak. 

My girls are trained for hurricane/tornado weather. When the skies turn dark and the wind begins to howl, my dogs head to the guest bathroom–the only room in the house without windows–with or without me. It’s not unusual for me to look up from my computer (usually when the power has flickered or gone out completely) to find I am alone in my office, the dogs having made their way to the bathroom to settle in until the storm passes. By the time I join them, Elektra has usually pulled the mat off the rim of the tub and made a nice little bed for herself and her sister. Bella sits like Snoopy on his doghouse, head hanging, looking sheepish and afraid. I usually light a candle and sit down on the toilet lid to wait out the thunder. It’s not often that I’m afraid, but there is comfort even for me in the sharing of solace and companionship.

Today, the alarm whimpers began again around five o’clock. I haven’t slept well since breaking my foot on Sunday so I listened to the quiet around me and hushed the dogs. By six, there was no sense in trying to sleep. Bella had rattled the blinds on the back door sufficiently to incite a riot in the little ones. I hobbled to the kitchen and began my day, letting the dogs out while I scanned the backyard with a flashlight, looking for nocturnal visitors: armadillos, opossums, or the neighbors’ cats. The girls sniffed every inch of the patio and then made a beeline for the shed.

There is no barking in the morning regardless of what the dogs find lurking in our yard. My girls know the rule: barking = no treat. They quietly nosed around and under the edge of the shed, dancing excitedly. My mind always runs shrieking to the worst possible scenario: python, rattlesnake, or alligator. (It could happen!) My flashlight revealed nothing. I headed back to the house and the girls followed, the little ones jumping through the dewy grass like black-and-tan dolphins. I dried their bellies and feet, gave Bella a quick pat-down with the towel, and filled their food bowls. All three dogs stood nose-to-glass at the back door, watching the shed, ignoring breakfast, ignoring me.

The little ones are napping now, stretched out on their pillows at my feet. Only Bella stands guard at the back door, waiting for the thing under the shed to show its face. I know that at some point today, I’ll have to cram my sore foot into a hiking boot, arm myself with a long stick, and poke around under the shed. There are better and worse things to do on a gray day. Coffee first, though, and maybe a pill for the pain. Then I’ll gird my loins for battle and hope for the best. I wonder how fast a black racer can slither? Wait, don’t tell me! I don’t wanna know!

I hope you have a happy, sunny day today wherever you are!

Merrily Down the Garden Path

Withered Rose 02

Is it just me or is the bloom off the rose of social media? Maybe I’m preaching to the choir here, but it seems to me that as the focus of Facebook and Twitter has changed from, “Look at me and all of the interesting things I’m doing!” to “Buy this!” the social aspect of connecting with friends and family has slowly been leached out of the media.

I’ve never been a big fan of Facebook. I just don’t have enough friends online or off to require a repository to keep up with them. And besides my writing, I don’t have enough interesting happenings going on in my life to require instant status updates. I have to admit, it is much easier to share photos and quick messages with family and my few far-flung friends, but if the news is big enough, we still call each other or text or send an email.

As for Twitter, for me the platform has devolved into 140 character commercials. When I first joined a little over a year ago, the art of the mini conversation–enticing people to connect with you through short bursts of witty banter–was becoming a valid art form. I liked the give and take, matching wits and quotes with like-minded people. The fun of Twitter, however, quickly faded as my posts and follows were greeted with stock replies of, “Thanks for following. Now, please check out my website/blog/author page and buy my book!” I can honestly say that throughout my Twitter adventure, not one long and involved conversation ended without a plea for a book purchase. In some cases, I bought the books; in other cases, I felt manipulated.

Now I know it’s all about the numbers. We’ve been convinced that the more likes and followers we have, the more successful we will be as authors or salespeople or entrepreneurs. (Maybe that’s really one job description: it seems impossible nowadays to be a writer without also being head of sales as well as the leader of our own one-(wo)man band/corporation/organization.) Long gone are the days of hole-ing up to write “The Great American Novel.” Now you have to be “out there” building a presence, developing a fandom with followers. And then you have to write four or five or six more books just like that while you hawk your work on Facebook and Twitter and every new platform that comes along. Forget about writing good books or building relationships or maintaining the ones you have. It’s all about the advertising. Sell, sell, sell! is the new mantra of the upwardly social.

As for me, I’m stepping off the garden path and letting the crowd pass me by. Social interaction makes me uncomfortable hence my comfort in being a cave dweller. As for the internet and life in the social matrix? There has to be a better way.

So, today I’ll leave you with this:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying: And this same flower that smiles today, To-morrow will be dying. Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674)

(I wonder how many will remember this from lit class and how many will think of HBO’s Newsroom?)

 

One Thing Leads to Another

"Make Things"

“Make Things”

My recent trip to Scotland seems to have flipped some strange Ms. Fix-It switch in me that I’m having trouble turning off. In the past two weeks, I’ve renovated my office, built shelves and a desk to create a mini-office space in my old closet, and relocated every book I own; repurposed cabinets and shelving (the cabinets in my old office closet now reside in the master bathroom); rearranged and/or replaced all the photo groupings and pictures in my house (I scanned old photos to create a huge black and white montage); repaired the dishwasher that has sat dormant in my kitchen for the past eight years. I’ve moved furniture, sewn cushions and made three new dog beds from an old, holey comforter that I could not bring myself to throw out; I’ve made several cork boards using old picture frames; spray painted just about everything not nailed down; made tissue paper flowers to keep my hands busy while I’ve planned new projects and compiled lists of things to scavenger hunt at the Habitat for Humanity Thrift Store down the street. I’ve cleaned every closet in the house, rearranged every nook and cranny of storage space, and I’m now in the deep-cleaning phase of my whole-house makeover.

YIKES!

My renovation binge began simply enough. I was anxious to write about my trip, to organize photos, to relive my adventure on paper. My office, however, was left in a disheveled mess as I’d neglected it in the weeks prior to leaving, stacking papers and books and scribblings here and there for future reference. Sitting down at my desk that first day back, I realized that I needed to make some breathing space, to move a few things to de-clutter my work area. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was emptying out the closet, taking down shelves and cabinets, and spackling nail holes. My office is now clear of clutter but I have yet to accomplish what I originally set out to do. (I now believe that tidying, the most harmless of chores, is the gateway to full-scale revamping. Now I know better!)

Who IS This Person?

This person who is bustling about sewing and organizing and remodeling seems unfamiliar to me. Granted, I like to sew. I like to organize. I don’t mind a little remodeling. But this is out of the ordinary for cave-dweller-me.  I’ve been shopping! I’ve been to Home Depot three times in five days! One project leads to another–and another–and another. And although my comfy cave is becoming a little more comfy, I’m finding that the deeper I go in my quest for completion, the more problems crop up.

So, my new goal for the coming weeks is to find balance in my mania to renew and refresh and revitalize both my cave and myself. I will finish the projects I have in process and get back to writing. I’ll give the house one more quick cleaning and then close the door on all of the DIY projects on Pinterest that are calling my name. And while it’s been mostly fun moving book cases and solid oak desks and repairing the dishwasher all by myself, I think I’ll call for backup to fix the new leak under the kitchen sink. Even a cave dweller requires a little professional help once in a while.  Fingers crossed that this is not one thing that leads to another. 🙂

Just for Fun!

Elephant and water

When DIY jobs go bad, there’s only one thing to do: laugh! (And then call a plumber!)

The Art of Being Me

I’ve been spending waaaay too much time on Pinterest lately! Is that a good thing or a bad thing? My sense of what’s okay and what’s not okay seems to be a little skewed when it comes to cruising through the pins. I find myself flipping through the Photography board and the Geek board with joyful abandon, frittering away time that could be better spent writing or editing or (gulp!) cleaning. (But that’s another story!)

My boards are beautiful and relaxing. I find it calming and inspiring to scroll through Abundant Beauty, my collection of pins that range from beautiful flowers to glorious sunrises to majestic moons. Photography has never been my thing but there is a newfound sense of joy welling up in me and I find that I have a serious urge to run out and buy a good camera. Or at least skip on over to Amazon and do a little comparison shopping.

Photography might just be the one thing that would get me out of my cave on a regular basis. Then again, one can take only so many shots of the moon rising over the ocean or dawn breaking through the palms. I’m already feeling the pull of a road trip out west and having a camera in hand might nudge that fantasy into reality. Or I can pull up Pinterest and look at mountain ranges from around the world without ever having to leave my comfy cave.

As I move through the boards and pins, admiring some, laughing at others, I find little pieces of myself scattered here and there. I’ve been told that it’s a great marketing ploy to pin photos as representations of emotional moments in my books. “Look for things that evoke the emotions you want your readers to feel.” So, I have boards for Ripple and A Solitary Life and Martin Vane Says Hello and within those boards are the thoughts and emotions I felt as I wrote and edited and worked to pull my characters into being. Each board is a peek into my soul as well as a hint of what lies between the pages. Each pin is a choice that brings to light a sliver of me.

I’ve discovered that there is an art to being me just as there is an art to being you. Your likes and dislikes don’t define you as a whole being, but I believe there is true insight into what really matters in our lives. I don’t pin every pin that makes me cry but I’m beginning to see a pattern in my pins, a true collage of what it is that inspires me and keeps me whole. There is so much beauty in the world that I will never get to see. But I can see it through the eyes of a photographer, amateur or professional, who like me, yearns to capture the moments of life that define me, inspire me, and make me who I am. There is an art to being me and I’m refining it every day.

Just for Fun!

SONY DSC

I’ll be leaving for Scotland on Monday. As you may know, I’ve been planning this trip for two years as a surprise graduation present for my oldest daughter. The Big Reveal took place a couple of weeks ago to the accompaniment of bagpipes. I guess that’s another thing that can lure me from my cave: bagpipes! (Or maybe it’s the man in the kilt. )