Fear and Pressure

It’s nearly time to write again. By Thursday this week, I will run out of my officially sanctioned excuse, “I don’t have time to write because I’m too busy with my grad coursework.”  The big question is what happens when I get two months of free evenings.

Whenever I stop writing for a period of time, a mysterious pressure chamber appears within me. The pressure keeps building in my “you should be writing” space, until I feel a nearly explosive tension in my ribs. I’m a talented procrastinator, so I am able to ignore a great deal of internal pressure and pretend everything is all right. But when I have the leisure to stop and think about it, I am afraid.

Here I am, on the cusp of free time. It’s a huge opportunity and of course opportunity is a burden of sorts. I desperately want to write, but I don’t know that I will. I’m feeling un-practiced and anxious and I have a zillion fragments of ideas, but no big concepts I want to pursue. Of course, there’s always the option to edit and polish existing pieces. Editing is important, but I would like to write something new. There’s also submitting, and I’ve realized that submitting is hugely important, and I enjoy the process and the volumes of rejection and the occasional sliver of encouragement. I could turn my attention in that direction. However, the insecure part of me wants to know that I can still create from nothing–that I can make a fragment of a new world in my head.

My idealized version of myself would set aside time every day to write or revise. My actual self is an anxious little pony. The page is blank. The page is waiting. The threat of the blank page trumps any passing feeling of accomplishment about wrapping up my first year in my grad program. (Why are feelings of accomplishment always so fleeting? I guess the answer is fear and pressure. They have their uses. They either immobilize me or they push me forward.) Onward with the battle!

The Death of Procrastination

I have finally killed procrastination for good. Allow me to qualify this statement by adding some specificity.

I have finally mastered a student’s enemy: schoolwork-related procrastination. I’m still quite the procrastinator when it comes to several other important life arenas (cleaning, you know who you are and i curse you), but I feel that as a student, I’m making rapid headway.

Here’s my trick. I love being done with assignments ahead of schedule and not having to worry anymore far more than I love goofing off until the last possible second. I rather be calm. I rather feel a bit smug and have a cool summery beverage. I rather watch TV with lovely boyfriend in state of relaxed joy and indulgence.

It’s kind of amazing how different I am as an adult student compared to how I was as an undergrad. I think this is due to several factors. The most important factor being: I know exactly what I’m giving up in order to pursue my studies: All that time with friends and family. All that time at the movies. All those Center City Sips outings I’m not going on. All those story slams I can’t participate in. All the Free Library author events I can’t attend. They have a price. So I’m going to be as responsible to myself as I can be, and I’m going to try to reduce the stress on myself and all those I love as best I can by getting ahead whenever I can. Plus, it’s kind of fun. Yes, I also happen to be a total nerd.

Small Compliments & Small Signs of Progress

One of my coworkers took a look at me today and was like “you’re losing weight.”

I was like, “thanks for noticing.” In fact, I’m not losing weight, but I am losing width–the exercise is making a difference. Sporadic small bits of encouragement keep me motivated, and get me thinking, “Hey, if I actually put more energy into this health initiative of mine, I might get more noticeable results.”

I have been a bit of a slacker since my delicious trip to France, but it’s nice to be reminded that change is possible, incremental, and there will be some results.  Occasionally, the casual bystander will gaze at you and remark upon a change you’ve been trying to enact.

In a similar, not quite success but better than the alternative, vein–I’m getting a lot of semi positive rejection notices. The tone of the rejections is changing, for example this closing: “However, we are intrigued and would be interested in seeing more of your work in the future. Onward with the battle!”

So I’m going to put this development also in my small signs of progress column. And pick up that motto: Onward with the battle!

My Health Initiative

A few years ago during a doctor’s visit a nurse said in passing that you didn’t want to carry a lot of weight into old age, as it would literally weigh you down. I am reminded of that discussion every time I see someone struggle to make it up the subway stairs back to street level. I don’t find three stories of subway stairs particularly easy, but I’m determined to do my best to keep them from getting any harder on me.

Also, being middle-aged, my later years are staring me in the face asking me what I want the future to look like.

I was not raised with a focus on physical health. My parents were not exemplars of exercise. My family members, me included, like to sit or lie down and read books. We also like to watch movies or television. We like narratives.

My life, or put more simply–how I spend my time, is my story. It is a story about  my personality, values, habits, and about inward and outward love.

I’m trying new ways of being loving towards myself. This consists of two changes: 1) move my body more often, frequently by walking, and 2) be more mindful of the foods I eat.

In order to do #1, I need to schedule exercise into my weekly schedule ahead of time, and I need to seize the opportunity to walk whenever it presents itself. To do a decent job of #2, I need to go food shopping at least once a week to make sure I have ample interesting fruits and vegetables on hand so making better choices comes with ease and pleasure.

I’m better at movement than thoughtful eating, though I’m making steady progress in both categories. My health initiative takes effort.

(Concentrating on health while taking 10 hours of class a week is…interesting. I’m giving up certain things for this six-week class-taking period, like writing fiction. It’s a temporary sacrifice. But I am not going to give up on my health.)

And it’s exciting to see the new me slowly unfold, with a small strut, as I gradually feel better, and gradually fit better into my clothes, and into my future.

New Editing Eyes, Old Writing Sins

here’s a quick list of my writing sins (likely incomplete):

  • I say all cool things I think of twice, or more.
  • My narrative pacing requires tuning–I either rush or linger too long
  • My plots (do they exist?)
  • I underwrite certain key points, or bury them
  • I leave awkward phrasing lying around
  • I like ideas and have too many extraneous bits

and here’s a quick list of my fixes (still under development):

  • I have to pick my favorite image (sometimes, I just toss a coin)
  • I’m cutting down that which does not move the story forward
  • I focus on introducing conflict, or at least suspense, and unforeseen developments into the story
  • I try to make evident the central point(s) of the story
  • I read and reread and make others read out loud, each iteration, so I can figure out what language is confusing or awkward
  • By having a storyline, and focusing on momentum in the beginning and end, I can kill the extras

I’ve massively revised three stories in ten days. It’s been a luxurious stretch — I’ve been indulging in a slight, but growing feeling of mastery over my words and storytelling. Ladies and gentlemen, this is as exciting as writing gets.

Here’s a bonsai metaphor–as a writer, you keep trimming and guiding the growing thing and you hope you don’t end up with a horrifying shapeless garbled web of a bush, and you try not to trim down until you have a stick, but both are tempting avenues. The big trick is to somehow visualize the emerging shape before it’s actually there and then encourage its emergence — on paper. [You have to imagine a ghost of a story into being.] (You have to terrify the page into surrender.) I’ll stop my metaphors here, but you get the picture: Gardener, warrior, Voodoo priest, these are the components of authorship. Let’s throw in monastic novice as well, because although this post is lofty, my writing experience is one of extreme humility and short lived aha moments.

The turning point was watching a brilliant editor, in my case Ellen Parker of FRiGG Magazine, edit down my sleeping beauty story–she helped me increase the narrative speed, cleared the brush of unnecessary ideas, and unburied the ending. It was great observing someone else at work on my text. It liberated me to rework my other texts. Her approach to polishing my story gave me insight into my writing sins and how to move beyond them. I’ve been frantically practicing these skills, and now school starts again.

 

A Good Week for Editing

After working for ten years on a piece that was almost, but never quite, satisfactorily finished–I decided, inspired by the Matisse show “Paires et Series” I saw in Paris, that if I couldn’t get my story to behave as I had written it originally, and rewritten it countless times, perhaps it was time for a radical rewriting. I opened the existing word document, then opened a new word document next to it, and got to writing, occasionally re-purposing small amounts of text that still worked in version 2. Aha! Working fast over two nights and two days, I’m pleased with the final result. The narrative finally makes sense, it is cohesive, the images have been pared down to the necessary few. The character’s emotional journey has a beginning and an ending and a melancholy swath of a middle.

It was a good week. I significantly reworked two pieces I’ve always loved but never brought to ripeness. They had hung around, rotting green mangoes of work, and I felt angry for not being able to bring them to their full sweetness. Rotting no longer. My shiny new fruit is off to market. I wish I had more weeks like this.

Dreaming about writing

Right before I woke up this morning, I was dreaming that I was writing poetry. I was organizing a poetry reading and, as a featured reader, I had to work on creating new poems. Poetry intimidates me, but in this dream really good poems were coming out of me, and I had all sorts of poetry prompt ideas for more good poems. That was my dream. So I woke up, grabbed my laptop, and came downstairs to make coffee. Here I am, not feeling particularly poetical, but feeling like I have an obligation to try to write.

Let me mention that I’m not a “dream” person. I don’t recall my dreams, discuss them, assign meaning to them, or keep a dream diary. I generally think dreams are mental flotsam and jetsam, foaming up while the central controls are down. Dreams sometimes make something pretty or interesting, but they are what my brain does while napping. Neither dreams nor snoring are meaningful to me, and they’re of about equivalent value.

There is one exception. A “truth” dream – A dream that reveals something I know to be true but haven’t acknowledged yet. A truth dream will tell me to pay attention because I need to do something important. I’ve had very few of these dreams. In February, I had a series of dreams that drove me into graduate school.

What makes these dreams different is that I wake up with a strong conviction about my course of action. Waking up with a sense of mission is a very exciting change when my greatest morning ambitions tend to be hygiene and caffeination. Waking up feeling decisive is a nice break from waking up feeling sluggish and a little out of sorts at being awake.

Today, I am listening to my dream, even if all I write is one blog post.

May your dreams point the way to something great in your lives.

Merry post-Christmas time: may you enjoy it in good health and good company.

Conflicting feelings/Imaginary Cat Bonding

I would probably feel better about being so lazy today if I had a cat. The cat and I could nap together, in solidarity, and awake and eat together in solidarity, and engage in some light grooming, a few stretches, some prancing about, and finally, more triumphant, self-satisfied napping. This is basically a summary of my cat-less day one of my luxurious two-week vacation. I haven’t been away from work for two weeks in a year. It feels weird and full of potential.

Maybe this imaginary cat idea is a fantastic notion–if I come to terms with my cat-like irresponsibility/laziness, I will be able to enjoy my professional grade goofing off without the typical guilt. Also, as a non cat with catlike tendencies, I get to enjoy great things like reading novels. Cat-like humans really have it all.

Maybe I need to get more structures and schedule my goofing off? Make it an official part of my vacation time. What would a good ratio be? 2/3 goofing off, 1/3 productive use of time/chores/writing/visiting with friends?

I’m entitled to goofing off. I’ve earned it. So why do I feel so guilty? Perhaps it’s because my xmas presents are un-wrapped. Maybe it’s because my final xmas package has not visited the post office yet. It could be that I’m under attack–my dormant, on-hold to-do list has awoken from its slumber and is acting like a starving angry Godzilla in need of attention.

The Godzilla is roaring while I nap. My napping powers are strong, and To-do Godzilla is ambitious, but has a mute button that I’m pushing repeatedly.

Some of the guilt (of course) is writing related. I got excellent feedback from my clever writing group on Monday on my latest iteration of my fairy tale retelling of snow white, and I have a lot to do. So much to do. I’m looking forward to tackling the revision, while being full of apprehension. Nothing fills me with so much excitement and trepidation as the looming revision process. For now, my proactive focus on napping means I’m going to let my trepidation fill me up, like a battery, and then deal with it.

It’s all about the diversion processes (at which I so excel). Good luck to all of us in facing off with the holidaze and our December To-do Godzillas.
Merry merry.

The last five minutes

One of my greatest weaknesses is my chronic, professional grade, Impatience. It’s a family illness, I think. For me, the very hardest part of any journey is the last five minutes I have to spend on the plane, after we’ve landed and pulled up to the gate, while I wait for all the slow moving parties to deplane in the typical inefficient procession. By the time I get off the plane and out the gate, I basically run through the terminal to the nearest taxi, because the journey’s not done until I’m in my home snacking on something delicious.

I feel this exact way in the last five minute, or last 10% of any given effort, before I reach my goal.

This is my least favorite place to be emotionally and mentally–trapped in my labyrinth of eagerness/anxiety/excitement/nausea. I will name it The Corridor of Impatience. Unfortunately for my constitution, I spend a lot of time roaming the length and breadth of the Corridor.

And that’s where I am right now, in The Corridor of Impatience, until 6:45pm Thursday night, when my final paper of the semester will be due. By 9pm that night, I will be released back to civilian status until the second week in January. Oh how I long for the end of this particular journey. I’m the only one deplane-ing, but it’s still an inefficient procession, as I crawl through the final paper writing process. Wish me luck.

(P.S. Meanwhile, blogging is my release valve: forgive the narrow subject area this week.)

75% Freaking Done

As of tonight, I’ve got 21 chapters in my memoir, and I’ve got 5 stories to revisit and improve upon. This means I’m 75% done with this revision. That’s either incredibly close or impossibly far.

Tonight I rewrote my query letter to give some background on what motivated me to write the book. I was able to take a piece of my foreword, which came from a piece of this blog, and tighten it. I love re-purposing.

I also answered some questions readers had about my old darling, Bed Stories. It is easier to answer questions and expand on a topic than it is to restructure a piece from scratch. It was fun to add color.

I feel a bit guilty for going with the easy way out, but I don’t want to do my major rewriting in my Scrivener software manuscript draft. I want to try it in Word, see what happens and go from there.

I know you’re supposed to sacrifice your darlings as a writer, but really, why not indulge them instead?
Bed Stories is admittedly a lackadaisical, sideways piece. A bit shapeless, but a chapter I can’t bear to totally rewrite because I love all its weird bits and pieces. Having read it for a decade now, probably explains why I’m so attached to and slightly immobilized by it. Oh well, old loves die hard.

The best surrender

I (triumphantly) snuck in some writing tonight because I realized that strictly speaking I didn’t have to do my assigned reading because class was a general assembly lecture. It felt naughty. It felt good. Writing soothes a part of my soul that nothing else can get to. Also, it felt really good to give up on something mandated and grab something else more important (and alluring) to me.

I watched the Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement speech last night, as a memorial, and he discussed his philosophy of looking in the mirror each morning and trying to assess the day in the lens of “what if this were my last day?” If this were my last day, I would definitely want to spend part of it writing. I’m going to have to get more creative about finding time.

Also, it felt great to try to tackle some pointed feedback I had gotten about going with more emotion in my writing, and trying to cover less ground. I was scared, but I opened up my document, printed it, edited, and I started expanding my favorite sections. My rewrite process felt good. I felt focused and lucid, I could clearly see and cut the fat. And I’m proud of the final product. My piece about Frenchness is finally starting to work. Huzzah.

Tonight’s reward

Tonight I get to read. What I want: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
I figure I don’t have to be perfectly structured and achieving at all times. (Right?) I’ve got homework covered for the week. I’ve updated my blog site. I’ve submitted memoir chapters to nine literary venues in two days. I’ve done laundry and dishes. I’ve attended class. I’ve napped and tried to take it easy so I can return to work. Tonight, I made miso soup so I could finally drink something other than tea and juice. I’m coughing pretty badly, and feeling sorry for my sick self. So I get to read. There. More interesting blogs to follow in the ripeness of time.
(PS: I’m trying to be Reasonable Girl, because I don’t have a choice. I sound like an old smoker when I hack and cough. I’m all mucus and viscous across multiple facial orifices. It’s pity party and distraction time.)

Buzzing Mind

I’ve been waking up and realizing that I’m mulling over the findings in my readings and how they are altering my world view–for example, the best predictors of decreasing poverty rates for African-Americans? Lifting out of poverty correlates to having more AA’s being employed by the government and their having greater political representation.(That’s tonight’s homework–email me if you want the reference.)

Or I wake up feeling deep guilt about not having written anything other than this blog, and ruminate over all the chapters I need to revisit and improve when I start the memoir revision process in a couple of weeks. Here’s My Big Problem: I don’t have a quick snappy way of explaining how/why I ended up writing my memoir, or what the memoir is about. I guess that’s Two Big Problems.

And with my new schedule I’m constantly negotiating my priorities. Right now, for example. I really wanted to nap between work and my evening lecture. But I decided I couldn’t nap until I finished the class reading, and then I decided that if I finished the reading I was allowed to blog (still no nap in sight.)

I realize these are trivial problems–it’s like complaining about being covered in whipped cream–so messy, so sticky, and so delicious. That’s really what’s happening. My life is overfull with wonderful developments, but I’m not used to all this stimulation and activity. It’s great, but it’s definitely an adjustment.

Hello world!

I have no idea what I’m doing (owning a site, and being responsible for technical things), but here I go doing it. You’ll have to tolerate my learning curve.

I’ve decided to start a new blog on writing. The process of writing my memoir was documented here.

Why write about writing?

I know. You haven’t seen people swim about swimming. Or maybe you have.

I’ll think of this space as a record of my development as an author. I’ll try to keep it entertaining and inspirational as I go. Quotes from favorite authors, links to things that inspire me. You get the idea, just your standard hello world blog.

I know I like blogging. So here goes.