Sunday Check-in: Taking a Detour

English: Detour in direction indicated

English: Detour in direction indicated (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Hey!” I find myself saying to myself once or twice a day, “What are you planning to do with that ROW80 goal? You know, the one where you said you’d write daily journal entries based on the prompts in The Pen and the Bell? I haven’t noticed you doing much with that lately.”

In response I basically put my fingers in my ears and say, “La, la, la!” Or I try to distract myself by commenting on other people’s blogs or calculating nutritional information for all of my favorite smoothie recipes.

But today I decided to just admit that I’m taking a detour from those goals. I’m not scrapping the whole trip or even changing the destination, just allowing myself to wander about on back roads and take a more roundabout route. I’ve decided to enjoy the scenery a bit instead of trying to power through to the end.

For example, I’ve been exercising six days a week for the past month. Not huge exercise sessions, mostly just 20-30 minutes a day, with an occasional 1-hour lower intensity workout thrown in there when I can find the time. These workouts give me time to let my brain wander while my body is engaged in other things, they help reduce my stress level, and they seem to improve my mood (ie, I seem to be yelling less and I must be swearing less because my three-year-old no longer sounds like a little sailor). All of these things help me feel more confident and playful, two things that I find crucial for writing.

Another example: today I joined the choir at church. I’ve been wanting to join a choir since I was in 6th grade (which was a few years ago now), and I’ve always been too nervous to try it, even though I love to sing. In that sense, I guess I’ve taken a 25-year detour on my journey to joining the choir, so this has been a detour within a detour. I must really like taking alternate routes.

Things shifted last Sunday at church when I sat next to a member of the choir during the service. We shared a hymnal, so I knew that he could hear me sing, and I hoped I sounded okay.

Actually, I hoped I sounded great, and I engaged in a little fantasy in which he would think I sang so well that he would suggest I join the choir, which was, of course, really silly, like those fantasies I had back in elementary school that someone would “discover” me standing in line with my mom at the grocery store and I’d become a famous child model (which for me meant appearing in the JCPenney catalog or—if I were engaging in an especially extravagant fantasy that day—a Jello Pudding Pop commercial).

Like I said, really, really silly.

Then after the service as we were putting on our coats and getting ready to leave, he said, “You know, you should join the choir.”

I don’t put that much stock in signs and omens and manifesting specific things in one’s life, but sometimes fantasy and reality just click in a way that I find impossible to ignore. So I went home and e-mailed the choir director, and she invited me to join them for practice the following week. Which was today. And which was awesome. The group is so friendly and inviting, and no one yelled at me when I hit a wrong note or accidentally sang on a rest. I got to stand there and feel the resonance in my chest as my voice blended with all of those other voices and reverberated through the meeting house. And I came home feeling a sense of love for humankind and a feeling of joyful anticipation for whatever the rest of the month has in store for me.

Neither exercise nor joining the choir has anything to do, really, with writing, but both help clear away some of the defensive procrastination that keeps me from engaging in the type of play that puts words on the page. Lack of energy, fear of sounding silly, fear of feeling lost—exercise and facing my fear of joining the choir help me detour around these road blocks and actually sit down and write.

Wednesday Check-in: Haunts

Something interesting has been happening since Sunday. A commenter left the suggestion on my “Cry Baby” post that I put some of my struggles with vulnerability and other issues onto fictional characters and see how they work through them. I find that idea very interesting, and while I’ve not been writing beyond my daily journaling, I find that a couple of characters seem to be haunting my awareness anyway.

I “won” NaNoWriMo two years ago (in that I completed 50,000 words of a novel), but the novel I was writing was only one-third done when December 1st hit. I just dropped the book and haven’t even looked at what I typed during those thirty days, but there’s one character from that unfinished novel who’s been lurking around the past few days. I wrote around him—about his relationship to the other characters who were more central to the narrative of that first third—but not about him directly, and I just find myself wondering what he’s up to and what he thinks about when he’s drinking his coffee.

Another character that’s been hanging around is a midwestern midwife I wrote about soon after my son was born three years ago.

I like thinking about these characters; they feel like old friends with whom I’d like to reconnect. I wonder if they’re on Facebook, and if they would know me if I tried to friend them (if I had a Facebook profile)? Or maybe they’d rather sit down for tea or a glass of wine and chat in person.

Sunday Check-in: Cry Baby

Fine. I admit it: I’m pretty much not following my ROW80 goals at all.

I’m journaling every night and I’m working in 10-20 minutes of sitting meditation most (many? some?) mornings, but I’m not writing from the prompts in The Pen and the Bell. I’m not even writing about writing. Mostly I’m writing about how much I’m exercising and how annoyed I am that I’m not losing the 14 pounds I’ve gained since we moved to New England more than a year ago (and I how I feel like I can’t talk about it because my friends and family think I’m already thin enough even though it’s not about being thin, it’s about not making any worse the diastasis recti, stress incontinence, and varicosities I earned bearing and birthing two big babies) and about how excited I was to receive our homeschool supplies order last week (and how gratified I felt when my daughter said things like, “Wow! Look at this grammar book! This is going to be SO FUN!” and “Mommy? Can we start learning Latin tomorrow?”).

I’m also writing about these little epiphanies I keep having, like that I don’t need to get all POed at people in the grocery store and that my children have never seen me cry.

That last one came about when we were unpacking the Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving.

“Be careful where you’re stepping,” I cautioned my children. “If you step on one of those Christmas lights, the bulb might break and then I’ll cry.”

My children laughed. Why were they laughing? I wondered.

“Kids, have you ever seen me cry?”

They paused for a moment before they answered: “No, Mommy. Grown-ups don’t cry. Only children cry.”

This has been percolating at the edges of my awareness for the past two days, and then this morning I heard Krista Tippett’s interview with Brené Brown on the radio show “On Being.” Brown spoke about the mid-life crisis—or as she calls it, the mid-life unraveling. This is the time when we realize that, in order to have the closeness and authenticity that we crave in our relationships, we’re going to have to break down all of the defenses we’ve built up throughout our lives and allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

I remember the exact moment in sixth grade when I made the conscious choice never to cry in front of people again. It was when our PE teacher accidentally backed into me while demonstrating some volleyball move and elbowed me in the nose. I stood there holding my nose. My classmates wavered in my vision as my eyes filled with tears, but I willed those tears not to fall. I knew I would be called names if I cried. I knew that because I was already the “new kid” and the “smart kid” and the “short kid”. I didn’t want to be the “cry baby,” too.

“Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry,” I repeated to myself. And I didn’t cry. And, with a handful of exceptions, I haven’t cried in front of anyone since. When I was eleven years old, this would have seemed like a great success, but at nearly thirty-six, it feels like a real liability and something that I want to change but am afraid to change, even if I had a clue how to do it. I only know how not to cry (avoid experiencing or thinking about any situation that’s likely to make me cry, and cut myself off emotionally from other people who are crying), not how to let myself cry. Usually when I feel like I need to cry, I watch Steel Magnolias or Terms of Endearment, but I don’t think it’s practical to do that every day.

I don’t really have a conclusion for this blog post. I just thought I’d explain where I’m at right now and how it relates to my current and future ROW80 goals. My goals for next round had been to write at least one short story and to submit that story (or another, or a couple of others) to at least three publications. But I’m starting to think that this vulnerability piece is going to have to play a really big role in that process, and I’m wondering if I need to address it directly or just let it be in the background of my awareness while I try to do the main work of writing and submitting.

Is it even possible to address vulnerability head-on?

Writing, no. Muffins, yes.

So, my ROW80 goals have gone by the wayside this week. And last week. I’m kind of writing, definitely blogging, but mostly just thinking (although I think my husband would call it, “sulking”).

And baking.

Today I made Pumpkin Pie Muffins from Elana’s Pantry. Read More

More to Come

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I skipped my ROW80 Sunday Check-in.

Here’s the deal. I’ve been writing. Not every night, but frequently enough, and often twice a day. But I’ve not been writing so much from the exercises in The Pen and the Bell. I want to get back to them—I will get back to them—but this past week or so, I’ve been working through something else that’s been percolating for a while, and that’s kind of taking all of my attention.

I’m not being obtuse (or maybe I am but not intentionally). It’s just tough to explain in a small number of words. I’m actually working on a series of three (I think just three) blog posts to explain the insights I’ve gained during this period of reflection. I have a feeling they might also result in my reviving and adding to my Seven Personal Commandments from way back in my Happiness Project days. (Check out the “Happiness Project” category for an idea of what those were. July 2010 is when I wrote about my Seven Personal Commandments, so you can use the Archives drop-down, too. Or you can just wait until tomorrow or Friday when I link to the Commandments from the first blog post in the series.)

I don’t really have a good closing paragraph and need to go read to my daughter so I don’t have time to craft one, so I’m just going to stop here. Thanks for stopping by!

Reading, Writing, ROW80, and Rest

First, the ROW80 Mid-week Check-in: So, I’ve written three times since Sunday, which is the right number of writing sessions for a one-session-a-day routine, but I didn’t write every day. I wrote twice on Monday and skipped Tuesday. I actually skipped Sunday, too, and then wrote early this morning. Although I’m not keeping a daily writing schedule, I am discovering lost bits of time for writing during the day, which will eventually help me to develop a daily writing routine. Or so runs my optimism.

I’ve even found some time to read for pleasure during the day. I’ve started Cheryl Strayed’s Wild about her 1995 solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m about 70 pages in and so far I’m really enjoying it. What I should be doing is copyediting my friend’s novel which she asked me to do weeks ago, but that’s electronic and the kids don’t much like it when I sit in front of the computer. Even now I’m typing with a three-year-old climbing me like a jungle gym and trying to engage me in conversation with his stuffed dragon. Reading a paper book is just easier. That probably means I ought to print out her novel.

As an aside, my children are also really enjoying their reading. My daughter is devouring Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books and Edward Eager’s Half Magic series, and still finds time to read books from her parents’ book shelf. She took Dr. Sears’ The Baby Book to an all-day Girl Scout function on Saturday, continues to plan to increase the food-production possibilities of our yard by reading John Jeavons’ How to Grow More Vegetables, and yesterday I found her curled up with her father’s vertebrate zoology text from college. I asked her about that second one, wondering what she was getting out of it. She said that she saw a picture of a tadpole-like creature whose home was some kind of mucus-filled sac, and she couldn’t figure out how that creature was a vertebrate. Which led to a brief discussion about backbones.

And my son! Not only has he started demanding audiobooks instead of Sesame Street videos, my son this morning sounded out to himself—on his own—the word “ham”! Sure, he already knew what it said because it was on the cover of one of his favorite books (Green Eggs and Ham), but still! He looked at the cover and sounded out, “H! AA! MMM! HAM!” I think I’ll start him on one of my English literature anthologies next. I can hear it now: “Mommy! This says ‘William Black’!”

“No, sweetie…that says ‘William Blake.’ The e at the end makes the a say its own name.”

All this and I’m still holding to my commitment to sleeping. I found that I couldn’t go to bed at 7pm two nights in a row, so I had to modify that plan a little, but I’m confident it will eventually work itself into a reasonable schedule if I keep focussed on a healthy amount of sleep.

One might ask, how is it I’m finding time to read books and to write and also to sleep? Did I stow my kids somewhere? Decide to adopt a laissez-faire approach to homeschooling? Nope.

I gave up Twitter.

I never really understood Twitter anyway, and I was finding that the conversations and connections my friend cited as benefits when she convinced me to join just weren’t happening. On the contrary, I found that people were able to be remarkably rude, hurtful, and judgmental in just 140 characters. Rather than swim about in the cesspool, I chose to hoist myself out of the muck, dry myself off, and re-enter the off-line world.

So, without a Facebook profile (and its attendant news feed) and without Twitter and with ample amounts of sleep, I’m carrying on fairly well.

ROW80 Sunday Check-In: Stepping Back for a Wider View

(My ROW80 Check-in is at the bottom of this post.)

Once a young man—a contemporary of mine and aspiring screenwriter who had moved to Southern California for the purpose of furthering that ambition—delivered to me a sort of writer’s curse.

“CJ, no one cares what you have to say.”

I recognized even at the time, even when I was twenty, that this comment was more about him than it was about me. Even so, it has echoed in my mind since then. It won’t go away because it accurately reflects a real fear—the fear that no one really cares what I have to say.

“We need to be known,” writes Alan Jones. “This knowledge of being known we call love.”

One of the ways that we know we are known is through being listened to. If no one cares what I have to say, how can I be loved?

Now, I can employ reason and see all of the evidence that I’m loved and that others want to hear what I have to say (not everyone, I’m sure, but I don’t need to be loved by everyone anyway). But reason doesn’t magically make the fear disappear.

I’m comfortable, at least somewhat, with that fear attending my writing practice because my primary reason for writing isn’t to be listened to. That’s a major reason, but the primary reason is just that I gain understanding by writing through experiences and issues. I’ve spent years journaling and writing stories that I’ve never submitted for publication, writing letters I had no intention of sending; I’m going to write whether I have an audience or not.

Facebook and Twitter are another matter.

In his chapter about “Technology and Media,” from Doris Janzen Longacre’s Living More with Less, Isaac Villegas writes:

“We are lonely people. So with the click of a mouse we try to convince ourselves that we are not alone…with my computer and smart phone I can constantly update my status on Twitter and Facebook just to convince myself that someone wants to know the minutiae of my life. I want to know that someone cares about my life and wants my companionship—or at least a status update.”

I recognize that my primary reason for being on Twitter and Facebook is a desire for connection. As someone who is fairly shy and socially awkward to begin with and busy at home with my children most of every day and living as a relative newcomer to a geographic area that lacks a central community, I find the draw of online community very strong. It promises me connection without the discomfort of in-person interactions. The trouble is that the (virtual) reality doesn’t live up to the promise. The virtual connection just doesn’t fill the void for me like being face-to-face with someone, or even just hearing their voice on the telephone.

Villegas suggests we ask three questions about our technology use:

1) “How can we make sure technology serves our relationships rather than the other way around?”

2) “What do our media habits reveal about our deepest desires?”

3) “What are we not doing when we are in front of a screen?”

Technology can serve my relationships by facilitating in-person connections and keeping strong those connections I have with friends and family who are geographically distant in between the times we can see each other in person. My media habits reveal that I deeply desire a compassionate community with whom I can explore my values and how best to live them. When I’m in front of a screen, I’m not looking my children in the eye. I’m not discussing my values, hopes, and desires with my husband. I’m not having coffee with my neighbors or taking my children to play with their friends across town. I’m not sleeping or exercising or hiking or reading or calling my mom (actually, I’m embarrassed to admit it but sometimes I am browsing the Internet while I’m on the phone with my mom).

This week, when I found myself disappointed that we only lost electricity for three hours because I was so looking forward to the break from technology, I decided that something had to give.

For the next two weeks, I’m going to try making sleep and in-person connections my priority. I’m going to go to bed at the same time my son does (around 7:00 pm) on the nights I can and no later than 10:00 pm on those nights that I have extra-domiciliary activities. This will eventually be more sleep than I need, but I hope that starting with more-than-enough sleep will help me recover from so many years of not-enough sleep and that I’ll gradually work into some sort of schedule. I’m hoping that with ample sleep, some of these other anxieties and disappointments and unacceptable behaviors (the yelling) will disappear on their own or that I’ll feel more equipped to address them.

I am going to keep writing because I sleep better when I’m writing (provided I’m not writing when I would otherwise be sleeping). I don’t know what I’ll do with blogging. I plan to do my Wednesday and Sunday check-ins for ROW80, but I don’t know if I’ll blog outside of those check-ins. Blogging is a weird limbo for me between writing and social media. It’s writing, but with the commenting and stats, it also includes that anxiety-provoking edge that social media has (especially when the trolls show up). I’ll have to observe myself in the next two weeks and go from there.

I’m not going to avoid online connections entirely, but I’m going to try to be mindful of whether they’re supporting my relationships or not. If they’re not, I hope I can step away and do something that does.

Oh, and the original purpose of this blog post, my ROW80 Sunday Check-In: I’ve written four nights out of seven, meeting my minimum goal for ROW80 for this week.

ROW80: Halloween Check-in, Library Love, and Indigo Girls

I love library days (usually Wednesdays in our house). The kids and I trek to the library, pick up bags of books, and trek home. Used to be, we’d walk to the library every week. Now that it’s gotten rainier and our book bags have gotten too heavy for the under-basket of the stroller, we’ve been driving. The drive home is the best. The kids are too engrossed in their newly acquired books to care that their mother is behind the wheel in tears belting out Indigo Girls lyrics along with the radio (thank heaven for college radio stations, too).

Tidbit about me: Indigo Girls is the only band I’ve ever seen perform live twice. I stopped listening to them for several years because I was belting out their songs 15 years ago  just before I got a stomach bug and female voices harmonizing over acoustic guitars has made me a little queasy ever since. But then “Least Complicated” came on the radio today, and I didn’t feel ill at all, just flooded with pleasant memories of trying to harmonize with my college roommate in our dorm room or screaming out lyrics at choir parties. So, it looks like the kids get to listen to Indigo Girls!

Today is extra special because there’s the promise of an after-dark walk through the neighborhood with a kangaroo and a firefighter to collect junk food from our neighbors. I’m trying not to ruin the excitement by thinking too deeply about the six pounds of non-fair-trade chocolate I bought to hand out to the ghouls and Buzz Lightyears who come to our door tonight.

Of course, today is triply special. Not only is it Library Day and Halloween, it’s ROW80 Midweek Check-in! I am ecstatic to report that I have written every night so far this week, even Hurricane Night. I don’t know if it’s writing every night that’s put me in a fantastic mood or if the positive mood is what’s gotten me to write every night. Whatever it is, I’ll take it. It’s quite possible the fabulous mood is due at least in part to the anxiety that preceded the hurricane and the relief that came after when we were left relatively unscathed. There seems to be a feeling of celebration throughout our little city, but whether that’s just in my head or because of the hurricane or Halloween or two days off school or some combination, I am not sure.

Happy Halloween!

ROW80 Sunday Check-In: Hanging On

Well, I’m still here. I had a cold this week that kind of knocked me off-balance for a couple of days. I probably didn’t need to use it as an excuse not to write, but I did.

I wrote on my project three times this week. Technically, that puts me below my “4 days minimum,” but since I also wrote and published a 1,600-word blog post (that was featured—briefly—on Freshly Pressed…toot, toot (that’s me tooting my own horn)), I’m going to count this week as a “4.”

This week’s writing focus has been on Chapter 4 of The Pen and the Bell, entitled, “Opening the Senses.” The idea of the exercises is to write with the intention of using details from each of the five senses. I’ve written about a couple of memories using this focus. It’s unclear if the sensory vividness I recall is actually what I recorded in my memory in the moment or if I’ve made it up in the process of writing the memories down, but it’s been pretty cool nonetheless, and kind of intense.

The kids and I took the week off from homeschooling, which kind of left things in disarray, too. Then it’s taken me a while to recover from removing a tick from my daughter’s scalp first thing Friday morning. The image of that little creature partially embedded in the skin of her scalp with its legs kicking just doesn’t seem to fade. Nor does the feeling that something is crawling on me.

Ticks are my second-biggest fear (after hypothermia and before blisters) about our plan to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in ten years. Tick checks are tough enough at home where we can strip down and search for the little buggers in ample light and then wash our hair as soon as we’re home from a hike to help ensure none are hiding there. Tick checks on the trail, I’d imagine, would be even more difficult. I’m not quite ready to scrap the thru-hike idea yet, though. The ticks can’t scare me off quite that easily.

Double-Duty Blog Post

I already posted today, but I didn’t do my ROW80 Midweek Check-in nor did I give the run-down of Day 3 of our Homeschool Fall Break. I probably could have put my ROW80 Midweek Check-in in that post, but it really wouldn’t have fit at all.

So…

ROW80: I’ve only written once this week so far and that was on Sunday. I really don’t do well without a routine. Everything kind of falls apart. Which leads me to…

Homeschool Fall Break, Day 3: Everything’s kind of falling apart. I managed to post a 1,600-word blog post about kids in public places, baked popovers and “cupcakes” (actually oatmeal muffins. I tried to trick my kid into thinking they were cupcakes. It didn’t work. Probably because I omitted the sugar), and finished my daughter’s kangaroo costume (except the gloves and spats) while half-watching a History Channel documentary about the American Revolution. (Side-note on that: That would make a great drinking-game film if I ever re-enter the drinking-game stage of my life. If you took a drink every time they said, “rag-tag,” you’d be absolutely wasted before the second segment of the film. Is it a state law or a federal law that films and literature about the American Revolution must always describe the rebel army/militia as “rag-tag”?)

I did not, however, prepare anything remotely resembling a meal today. We ate popovers and cucumber slices and dry cereal. My kids watched a couple of hours of PBSkids.org while I sewed. I did no dishes. I didn’t even get out of my pajamas (but I have a cold, so that’s my excuse). My daughter did do flute practice and a math lesson, though, so there’s that. And we played with Legos. And cleaned up cat vomit. It was a regular party here today, come to think of it.

Will I write tonight? If I had a Magic 8 Ball I could give you an answer to that one. Chances are I’ll just fall asleep with my toddler again. And that’s totally fine by me.

Popovers. Gluten-free and dairy-free, but I didn’t need to modify them for high altitude baking this time!

Oatmeal “cupcakes.”

My blender modeling the hood of the kangaroo costume. It reminds me of the rabbit in the movie Donnie Darko.