Thursday, September 19, 2019

I Don't Know What to Tell You

This is my fifth week of posting on my blog, and I'll be honest, I don't know what to tell you. I started working on an essay about the lasting lesson yoga has taught me that has enriched life off the mat, but the words came out clunky. So then I bounced over to the idea of telling you about my summer garden surprise, but I wasn't sure what deeper thing there was to tell in that story.

So, I'm opting to tell the truth. I am certain something of meaning will come of this stream of consciousness if I stick at it long enough. I'm feeling fatigued in a way that doesn't feel like it will be remedied with one night's rest. And I can tell that fatigue is weighing down my creative impulses. I am entering the busiest season of my work calendar, and if I'm not careful, it has the potency to knock me flat. I spend a lot of energy working to keep that from happening, but either way, I'm tired.

What I want to say is that I am learning how to pace myself better. I am choosing to write through exhaustion when it would be easier to take a nap in the hour before I pick up a twelve-year-old from youth group. My showing up at this laptop is a declaration of how important my creative life is to me. I know that when I am finished I will feel a rush of mental endorphins for having made the effort.

Which leads me conveniently back to what I wanted to tell you in the first place. Showing up on my mat eight years ago started an internal revolution and revelation. I moved my body in ways I'd never moved before. I might ask my arms to hold all my weight in side plank. Some days my arms felt so shaky, I thought I might collapse. Other days I was solid as steel. What I learned slowly was that any particular day's performance or lack thereof was not a static announcement of my yoga ability. It simply told me where I was that day. It held far less meaning than I was used to applying to it.

In those early years of yoga, not only was I facing new physical challenges, but I was also confronting a lot of inaccuracies about who I was. That I was weak. Indecisive. Too talkative. A bad cook. Wounded beyond repair. Returning to my mat over and over created new mental pathways and opened possibilities I had yet to consider. Maybe I could touch my toes some days, but on the days I couldn't, my practice wasn't “less than” for achieving a straight back with my hands resting on my shins. I heard a lot of judgments. But with practice on the mat, those indictments got quieter. The volume was getting turned down.

And then came the days when I applied that mentality to myself in the workplace, in my motherhood, as a daughter and as a friend. “This is where I am today” felt a lot gentler than “My hamstrings are permanently tight” and more productive than “I always set off the fire alarm when I cook.”

There's a reason yoga is called a practice. We never arrive. We simply get stretchier and stronger, stretchier still and stronger than we thought possible. We show up. We practice over and over and over again. It reminds us that where we are is not where we'll stay for any amount of time. 

I am in a different mood now than I was 30 minutes ago when I started writing. Those few clunky sentences a few days ago weren't false starts. They were simply part of the requisite crappy first draft that Anne Lamott reminds all writers about in more colorful language. Those words helped clear the path for more lucid thoughts to follow. I know this. I trust this. It's why I keep showing up.

Yesterday as I was drifting to sleep another creative burst came to me. I've been working on this idea for months. I opened the drawer in the nightstand, pulled out some paper, and jotted notes convinced that if I didn't capture it then, the seeds of a new thing might get scattered by sleep. 

With this writer's block behind me, I have the space and the energy to get a few more ideas on paper and ready to share with my creative collaborator.

I feel better than I did an hour ago, and I will be a better mama for having spent some time writing. Where you are today is a statement about the present only. It's not a permanent state. Namaste. 

The aforementioned summer garden surprise: mini pumpkins that grew out of my compost.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

What's Bringing Me Joy These Days

As I've compiled this list of things that are currently bringing me joy, I've felt a little bit like Oprah. She finds things she loves and shares them with her readers. My items, some tangible and some not, do not have high price tags, but in my pursuit to live each day fully and not “live for the weekend,” I am finding my life deeply enriched by these few little things. Mostly, I am grateful that I have been paying close enough attention to recognize a joy pattern emerging. Without further ado and in no particular order:

Opening my home to a stranger

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a church friend who had been asked by another church acquaintance to find a point person for a woman moving to town as she embarked on her doctoral studies. I immediately replied that I'd be happy to be a point of contact and that the young woman could stay with us if need be. What happened next has filled my month with so much joy. We don't live near her university, but I work close to a metro station that she can use to get to her campus, so for the past three weeks, I have carpooled with this new friend. We've meal planned together, had wonderful conversation about life, watched season three of The Good Place, worked together to open the stubborn lid of a jar, and sprinted from our car in a rain storm for the city's best frozen custard.

This woman's appearance in our lives has given me the chance to pay forward the kindnesses of my college town parents and the hospitality of the couple who began loving me as their own in my post-college years. In short, she's become a new friend. She's brave, adventurous, thoughtful, and smart. She's a great role model for my daughter and her company has been a blessing to me. Her visit has also encouraged me to finally make progress in my meal planning, grocery shopping, and execution. I am planning ahead, eating out less, and enjoying cooking in new ways.

New Tea Flavor

I have long loved English Breakfast Tea, but with our guest's arrival, I've been introduced to a new flavor. She lived in London before coming here, and found Yorkshire Gold at the British Shop in our historic shopping district. With one cup, I was hooked! 

Music on Shuffle
I love listening to music, but sometimes I don't know what I'm in the mood for, so I've begun playing my music on shuffle. I like being surprised, and with the shuffle feature I am surprised every three to four minutes. It's great! And it also reminds me of all the great music I have amassed over time.


I've always been a daydreamer, but these days my daydreams feel different. They aren't filled with longing as they once might have been. These days they feel full of potential. And not because all of them will come to pass, but because I'm not attached to them. They feel like creative exploration. It was daydreaming that helped make this blog post take shape, and daydreaming that keeps my gardening exploits feeling like adventures rather than more things that have to be done. There's freedom in letting my mind wander and seeing where that takes me.

Daydreaming, Part 2

On a recent lunch time walk with a colleague, I stopped by a park that has a little library and introduced her to it. I look inside regularly, not because I'm in the market for a new book (I've got plenty lined up to read), but because I like seeing proof that people actually use it. I check out the titles and find new ones there all the time. On this particular day, I saw a random magazine. It had a beautiful cover and in large print it read, Enchanting Gardens Around the World. It was the March-April issue of Veranda magazine. Since my 2019 word is enchantment, there was no doubt I would take it with me. I tucked it under my arm and continued with my walk.

I can't tell you how many ideas I got from that one issue. I haven't executed any of the plans, but I have new food for thought and couldn't be more delighted. Besides the beautiful visuals, I was taken by these words: “Flowers always make people better, happier, and more hopeful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine to the soul.” - Luther Burbank, American Botanist and horticulturist

A feature about a couple who bought a rose farm has me curious about expanding my knowledge of roses beyond the five knock-out rose bushes I've been tending this summer. I even learned a new word: rosarian. Whether I become a rosarian or not doesn't matter, what matters is if the pursuit brings me joy.

Speaking of Flowers

A few weeks ago, I was brushing my teeth and peered out the window that overlooks my patio. A pop of pink caught my attention and I gasped! There in the area where I'd planted zinnia seeds, and plants had grown and then stopped budless, was a single flower. Immediately, I heard a message from the garden that applies to all areas of life: Do not give up on the slow stuff of life. While there's a general timeline for things, babies, oil changes, summer vacations; some things happen in their own sweet time.

I, for sure, am an example of a late blooming victory. Why not the zinnia? In that moment, I recalled the thought I'd had as I was spreading mulch around other areas of the patio. Perhaps I should just pull out all those would-be flowers now. And then I looked around and saw that somehow, with those plants in the ground, other weeds had stayed away, and that was enough to convince me to keep them where they were and to mulch at the end of the season. Boy, am I glad I didn't listen to my first impulse. I would have missed the beauty, the message, and the flowers. Since that early Sunday morning, four more blossoms have bloomed with others on their way! 

Signs of Maturity

I have been presented with some new interpersonal challenges lately. Given the circumstances, avoiding the problems has not been an option. It's been exhausting and frustrating, but what has brought me joy is a new level of self-awareness that the skills I've been building in the past few years have taken root. I am growing in competence and confidence to address issues that arise and to do so with calm, wisdom, and kindness. 

Procrastinate No More

The final thing I've found bringing me joy is my ability to take care of things while they are still small tasks rather than choose to do them later, when they're likely to become bigger jobs. I see the value in washing the five dishes I used at our meal now rather than waiting for two more meals' worth of dishware to pile up. I respond to correspondence sooner, and I put things away or file them when there's just a few things. Doing it this way frees up my schedule and my mental space. I do it now, and then I don't have to feel weighed down by stuff that's waiting t
o get done.

Noticing these things and fully appreciating them has really improved my life satisfaction as the aforementioned interpersonal stress has threatened to wear me out. We get to choose our responses to the things that come our way, and I am choosing joy as often as possible.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Three Questions, Part 3

Why so quiet on the blog? Here are the answers to this final set of overarching questions I've been grappling with.

Last fall, I submitted an application for a creative arts grant that supports parents pursuing the arts. It was my second try, and I was motivated by the previous year's process as well as the encouraging feedback by the jurors included in the rejection email. The new rejection email came, and the feedback was less encouraging. I had submitted my first attempt at a short story as an adult. (I'd won a scholarship prize for a short story as a high school senior.)

It wasn't that I couldn't take criticism. It was that the criticism wasn't helpful. I didn't expect to win $5,000 by submitting my first attempt at a new writing endeavor, but it's what had occupied my time within the submission period, it had stretched me, and I saw it as a learning opportunity. The problem was I was presented with ways the plot didn't work without a clear path to correcting it. I wanted it to be better but didn't know how to make it so.

The letdown of this failed application experience sent widening ripples into the waters of my writing life. For the first time in a while, I wondered what in the world I was doing with my focus on rejections. Counting my way to 300 rejections had started as an upbeat way of turning getting rejected on its head. Creating this blog had been a form of self-accountability for finally showing up as the writer I wanted to be. And it had worked. Over the past five years I had amassed a lot of writing.

Now I saw that my focus on rejections was having the opposite effect. By keeping my focus on the rejections, I was manifesting more of the same. This shift felt significant. I wasn't the same writer. Like the power of water, the writing had changed my shape little by little over the past five years. A conversation with a new, wise friend helped me see that the 300 rejections blog had served its purpose, but that it was time to retire it.

With the new year, I opened up a new document “Page A Day 2019” and started writing with no outcome or particular submission in mind. It was time to reignite my daily writing practice. A month in I returned to my novel and quickly stalled out. 

My professor from the Summer Writers Institute six years before emailed me and asked me to consider registering for her class. I did, and then it was canceled for low attendance. But shortly thereafter, I was invited to join a writing group based on a book called Finishing School – The Happy Ending to That Writing Project That Never Seems to Get Done by Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton. Here in this circle of writers and makers, I found a way to work through some of the obstacles slowing my progress in finishing my novel. In the process of a month of meeting, I added another 10,000 words to the body of work. This felt like significant progress.

I remembered an author within another writing network who'd written a book for widows. I bought a copy and found that it was a great resource for adding authenticity to my character's experience as a newlywed-turned-widow. I sent a Facebook message to her and soon we were on the phone talking about my novel and writing in general. I focused on reading the book as research, and then I got overwhelmed with the heaviness of the topic I'd chosen to write about and set the project down. AGAIN.

Much of what I've written about on my blog in recent years has been my experience as a mother. I love sharing the stories about my daughter and the varied ways her little heart and mind are constant sources of learning and inspiration. But now the stories are changing. The lessons are bigger and deeper, but they are more her stories to tell. They feel outside my domain. I haven't felt as comfortable writing about them as I have in the past. How do I write about mothering without writing about my daughter? I didn't have a ready answer and so I hit the pause button on that part of my writing.

During these months, I also found a new creative outlet in collaboration with a fiber artist who designs and makes by hand,modern rag dolls and stuffed animals. My contribution is to take the rough outlines of a character's personality as the artist envisioned and create a story to accompany the doll. On Mother's Day, I took my daughter to the friend's booth at a local art fair. As I admired her inventory, I saw a row of woodland creatures dressed in vests and ties. They were a gentlemanly looking bunch. I stood with my friend and said, “A story about those creatures is taking shape. Would you mind if I ran with it?” My friend beamed and clapped her hands with excitement. Our latest collaboration was afoot and we both felt it. A few days later, the new story hatched. This didn't make it to the blog, but it was fuel to keep my writing fires burning.

Concurrently, I was growing weary of my participation on social media. I noticed that my anxiety levels lowered when I took the Facebook app off my phone. I checked in less frequently and never over the weekends, and found that I didn't miss it. My life felt richer without it. The more I read about the company's business practices, the less I wanted to be a part of it. But there was a snag. My blog isn't a household name. People don't just go to 300 rejections to see what I'm up to. They need a reminder and posting links to my blog on Facebook has been my primary source of traffic. I wondered how I could drive traffic to it without social media. This question sent the next ripple out in my writing waters. What if no one read my blog? Would I still write and post?

The waters calmed and the answers to everything I'd been pondering became clear. The muddiness of my musings over the past months had settled. I knew what my next steps were. I am a writer. It's what I do and whether I get an agent, get published, or have a readership does not change that. Posting my work on my blog is a joy and has been a personal chronicle to mark how far I have come. If others choose to read it, it is a privilege for me to share, but not a prerequisite or a determining factor for if I post or not.

I will continue to write about being a mom, but will be judicious about what I make public, and I will ask my daughter's permission before I hit submit. Motherhood has taught me that I am at my best when I pursue my own interests in tandem with being a mother. I know that by living my life gardening, doing yoga, writing, and whatever else crosses my path demonstrates for my daughter how to live healthfully in adulthood.

Here's what I'm committed to for the foreseeable future: I will post a new essay or reflection once a week. I will phase out posting my links on Facebook. If you are interested in reading, please bookmark my blog, and check in on Thursdays. The consistency and routine will be good for me while no longer feeling beholden to social media. You have been such an important part of my development as I writer, and I cherish the encouragement and cheerleading section you are for me. I hope you'll drop by.

A few short years ago I was gripped with fear about not knowing what the future had in store for me. Now I relish it. I don't have to know what the future holds to know that it will have its ups and downs, heartaches and triumphs. I know that it will all serve as material, and I can't wait to write my way into the unknown. A new season on this writing journey has begun.