Friday, March 31, 2017

Check In

I am sixty pages from the end of the current book I'm reading (I'll write about that later). If I manage to finish it tonight or tomorrow and return it to the library, it'll be the first book I've read without the required renewal in a long while.  This feels like an accomplishment.

I have been highly unproductive for the past six to eight weeks. I have done little else, but come home from work, change into lounge wear of one sort or another and binge watch Doc Martin on Netflix. It was truly the only thing I had the energy to do. I got caught up in the quirky lives of these Cornish characters and I didn't emerge until I watched through to the most recent season. However, even vegged on a couch, I'm never far from my overthinking tendencies. This is what emerged from my weeks-long siesta:

  • Two years ago, while I worked my way through the 40/40 list, wrote a novel, and got a divorce, I learned about the ebb and flow of energy levels, productivity, and attaining set goals. I was in hyper-activity mode. And it was the right level of high productivity for the season of life. By contrast, last year I rested. I didn't write very much. I took in other forms of art to nourish my weary soul. It was a swing from one end of the pendulum to the other. I practiced these seasons of activity and rest with a lot of rules and record-keeping. Now with a quarter of this year behind me already, I'm figuring out what to do with all that stuff I learned. 
  • Last year I stepped off my yoga mat and instead moved my body through near-daily lunch time walks. Those walks initiated healing in unexpected ways. As I returned to my mat this week, I felt the physical pain of not staying limber and caught myself wishing I hadn't abandoned the daily sun salutations. I am starting very much at the beginning. But I am also appreciating my yoga practice all the more for having been away from it.  What I know about my body now that I didn't two years ago is how strong it is and how with consistent effort, it is capable of wondrous things. I know that four sun salutations a day will be good for my head, heart, and body, and I already feel the effects of daily practice. What's different this time is not feeling like I have to account for when I do and do not practice. How my body feels will be its own reward. I do not need a calendar on the wall marking my daily work as I did two years ago. This feels like progress. I've practiced gentle self-care for the past two years, and it's settling into my bones.
  • The above sentiments also apply to my writing practice. I needed to write for 365 days in a row to prove that a) I could; b) I had something to say; and c) to find the rhythm and desire of regular writing. I proved all of those things to myself, but I don't feel the need for rules and record-keeping as I write. I haven't been writing during the great Doc Martin Binge of 2017, and I have suffered for it. I have felt twitchy and restless. But, I am absolutely convinced that we have to have these distances from the things we love and the things that fill us to know how important they are. 
Our tanks have to run low at times to remember the importance of fueling our lives with the things that light us up and keep us going. I have been drawn to the quiet in all its forms, and it continues to do its work on me. I am so pleased when the right word finds me for the year's meditation and focus.

I've been blogging less because I'm tired of not having any material to submit to publications. I want some more rejections or some dang publication credits! While I cannot control what gets published, I can absolutely control what I write and submit.

So while I've been quiet at 300 rejections, I've been at work on building my portfolio. I repurposed two essays that remained unpublished and submitted them to the Women's National Book Association (a different kind of WNBA, ha!) annual contest and an edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul, and wrote essay number two in a series I am producing. Fingers crossed that I can find homes for those essays (paying gigs would also be AWESOME) otherwise I will post them as a collection here. It feels awesome to have a plan and to execute it. THAT, my friends, is the reward for the seemingly unproductive seasons.

I'll keep on keeping on. You do the same.

New he(art) piece from my friend paired with my grandma's trinket glasses atop my new writing desk

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Renewing Power of Book Fairs and Time Changes

I haven't been writing. I've been being. Hibernating, binge watching Doc Martin. Bracing myself for the next phone call or text that might signal further decline in my grandfather's health.

It's hard work to be human. To feel all the feelings and still pay the bills, sit in traffic, get to Parent Teacher conference, put a meal on the table.

I don't regret the weeks I've vegged on my couch, cozy with a heating pad to ease the tension in my neck and a warm cup of tea to take the nip out of the evening chill.

I've been ministered to by the presence of a quirky cast of characters who are making their way through the ups and downs of life in a seashore village. Their scripts have made me laugh out loud and shed tears--the very best hallmarks of being human.

After tonight's parent teacher conference, my daughter accompanied me to the "learning commons" also known to grown ups as the library to check out the book fair merchandise. I hadn't planned to spend much money. I purchase books from her teachers' wish lists as a way to support the school and sometimes books as gifts for upcoming birthdays or holidays. But I'd just had a conversation with her teacher about how adding more reading for pleasure would be a good thing. This mini-me deviates from the mama mold when it comes to reading. So when she picked up a hardcover copy of Wonder, [read: more than I wanted to spend] I relented. I told her I would buy it if she agreed to read it on our upcoming road trip. [read: I kinda sorta bribed my kid.]

Her dad was waiting for her in the school parking lot, so I walked her out to the car and returned to continue shopping. I reminded myself that money spent on books and travel is never a waste, so I read the synopses of several other titles and chose another title for her birthday.

I was full of wonder as I read the plots of these stories for young readers. I was reminded of the reading adventures I took as a fourth grader. I marveled at the story lines--they were telling the hardships of life. They depicted children in difficult circumstances making their way through. They were covering heavy topics, which reminded me about the power of reading and story and the important way that reading helps us grow in knowledge, empathy, and being human. I was reminded how stories teach readers at every age about grit and resilience, the power to overcome and how to heal.

I felt overcome with gratitude for my literacy and for the love that has brought me to the bookshelves again and again and again and again. I also felt an ache to return to the stories swirling in my head. The hard things waiting for me to be courageous to type on the screen. The messages from my own life that I hope convey to future readers, "You are not alone."

I am certain the extra daylight combined with my brush with books in one of the best places on earth--the elementary school library--are the reasons for a reinvigorated sense of energy and purpose. And why I'm sitting at my kitchen table typing as the sky trades out sunlight for moonlight. I challenged myself to stay away from the comfy place on my sofa until after I'd published this post. I'm on such a roll now, I may put off the TV viewing a little longer.

I don't regret the time I've spent away from the daily writing. With some time away, I always return restored. Packed with fresh energy, insights, and enthusiasm.

Here's to the readers and the writers. And more daylight.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Tale from Blueville

“Julie, do you have a headache today?” asked my coworker. I thought she was inquiring because my office was lit by lamp light only.

I nodded, miserable.

“I'm asking because I woke up with a headache too. It must be the weather.”

I mentioned that I would probably benefit from having a good cry and the next thing I knew, her arms were wrapped around me. She was cooing to me as a loving mother sings to her baby. Her kindness unleashed sobs that shook my achy body.

I don't cry easily when I'm solitary, which means I carry around the weight of needing to cry along with the usual stressers of daily life and as well as the heaviness of not so ordinary concerns. My colleague validated me, honored the sad place I was in, and listened to me as I said the hard things outloud.

Another colleague offered me some Excederin, which I accepted curious if it would help. It did.

I sat in the dim light and forged ahead with my work at a slower, gentler pace than I'm usually capable of.


That's what I'm calling this place I'm currently in.

What's remarkable is that I haven't felt a bout of this sadness for months. It's been really great. I have felt light and happy. But the thing about the past few days is that I'm reminded about the impermanence that is woven into all of life. The bad stuff won't last forever, but neither will the good.

I haven't been writing lately, which contributes to my low moods. But I'm navigating the terrain of being a granddaughter without grandparents. My grandfather's health has quickly declined, and I am pondering what my life will look like when he is no longer physically accessible. He provides me with a unique brand of love and support, and I am mulling over what it will mean to miss it when it is gone.

As I ponder, I have spent most of my free time laying under the warmth of a blanket on my couch binge-watching a British series on Netflix. My to-do list has remained unchecked: wash the dishes, return checked-out items to the library, grocery shop.

I call this relaxation self-care, and I know I have come a long way in being kinder to myself because I haven't chastised myself for the hours I've spent doing nothing.

Embracing brief stays in Blueville helps me lean into the discomfort and disorientation of feeling sad. It reminds me that it's a human thing to be sad, and that I don't need to be fixed. Some problems don't have solutions. They just take up residency in our hearts and minds, and they ease only when we invite them in rather than resist.

I have come so far in understanding my life and my place in it, but this stop over in Blueville also reminds me that I still have a way to go. There is still stuff—hard stuff—I have to learn. And the best way to get from here to there is with patience and kindness. Laying on the couch last night, I realized that while I didn't love how I felt, I wasn't frightened of these strong feelings like I was a year ago.

Another friend messaged me encouragement. I gulped down his comforting words and belief in my abilities to write, to inspire, and to keep growing in the direction I want to go like a thirsty runner.

What I also know now better than a year ago, is that the more I welcome these brief stints in Blueville, the sooner the moment passes.

Twenty-four hours later, I feel the migraine pain receding and my heavy heart feels lighter. Blueville will soon be seen through the rear view mirror of my mind. The beautiful thing about pain is the relief and renewed energy I feel when it eases, as it always does.