Whiplash

The move is done. Or at least phase one is. We are out of the house, out of the city of Atlanta and currently in the middle of our three week layover at my parents’ home while we wait for the closing on the next house. I can’t register the kids for school until we close. I can’t order new furniture and window treatments until I’m in the house. I can’t unpack. I can’t learn my way around our new community. I can’t start making friends. I can’t do much of anything.

Which should be a relief. We have spent the last few months at warp speed getting the house ready for sale, deftly keeping the house immaculate for showings, wrapping up the school year, managing the physical move and surviving the emotional aspects of leaving all that we have known and loved for the last twelve years. I should be relishing this down time.

But it’s not felt like a relief. I am feeling a bit lost. I now have no routine, no to do list, no impending task requiring my focus. It’s just me and the kids. In a home that is not mine. The hubby’s gone back to work, albeit in a room in my parents’ basement. My parents are back to their work and routines. The kids seem fine playing and going to the pool with the occasional field trip thrown in. I enjoy following along with them. To a point. In the moments where they are occupied with screens or LEGOs or creating new games in the front yard, I am stumped, unsure how to restart the creative engine for the new book or even the freelance project I have awaiting me. It’s like I’m just waiting for the next step so we can start our “real” life.

This is temporary. I realize that. I know we’ll get down to the nitty gritty details of our new lives soon, but for now, it’s all limbo, purgatory, an extended pause in reality. But most days I am bored. And I don’t do bored.

During the months leading up to the move, all I could wish for was a quiet moment to actually have a thought. Now those moments are here and I feel like I’m squandering them. The hubby tells me to take advantage of the lull. And I am trying. But in those moments when the boys aren’t whining or we’re running around town together, I am left listless.

I wonder if the real pieces of me were accidentally packed into a box and loaded on the truck, languishing amidst the cardboard and bubble wrap in our storage facility. I wonder if they were accidentally left in our old house, wandering the echoing spaces looking for the ghost of my old life. I wonder if I’ll ever find them again and how they’ll fit in our new life. The yet to be determined life.

It’s all just a phase. That uncertain time between things. A week from today I’ll be knee deep in unpacking boxes and rearranging furniture in our beautiful new home. And later, after I’ve created space for me to create (did I mention how I’ll have my own office in the new house? A pretty room that’s all mine? With doors on it?!), those pieces of me will all fall into place again.

Until then, I’m nursing the whiplash that came from this move, this process, this massive change. Like whiplash, there is little more I can do than stay still and rest. If only I was better at that.

Steps

Today I will walk down these steps for the last time.

IMG_7749These steps have been the entry and exit point to so many stages of my life. I bounced my roller suitcase against them in the dark on my way to catch early morning flights for work. I waddled up and down them, heavy with growing babies in my belly, then balanced those babies in car seats, carriers and on my hip as I fumbled for my keys at the bottom of the diaper bag. I stood swaying fussy infants on those steps during the witching hour, hoping the change in air temperature would calm them. I sat with toddlers counting cars waiting for the hubby to come home. We took first day of school pictures of each boy every year on these steps as they made their way out into the world. I spent many an afternoon sitting on these steps waiting for the school bus to return the boys home to me. I have put band aids on skinned knees, read books, sipped coffee, written blog posts, eaten ice cream cones and watermelon, hugged, kissed and cried, all on these very steps.

For twelve years they were mine. And they witnessed our lives. The comings, the goings, the stopping and pausing, the friends and the family.

Someone new will soon walk up and down these steps. They will walk their dog and lug their groceries. They will run down them late to work or run up them eager to see a friendly face. They will receive packages that bring them joy and welcome guests that bring them love. They will hopefully stop and sit awhile on them, watching the neighbors go about their days, wave and smile and become a part of that same fabric. I hope they look up and will marvel at the view of a bright blue sky telescoped by the bright green canopy of our gorgeous trees. Maybe they will even come out after a summer storm, searching the patches of sky through those trees for a rainbow like we did.

And I want all these things for the person who is next. A new beginning as they walk up them after we walk down and take new steps of our own. There is a new door coming for me and my family. There will be big adventures that build our next steps and tiny moments that will become the mortar of our lives.

But right now, I am sad. I am quiet and reverent and awestruck at how four simple steps could come to mean so very much in my life. I will cherish the moment when I walk down these steps for the final time and look back up at my front door, a door that has now closed on our time here in this home, but will soon open on someone else’s.

There will be time for me to look ahead to my own new door.

But today I’m taking it one step at a time.

Saying Goodbye Begins

I am in pain today. Tears and heartache. I am raw and vulnerable. My soul feels exposed and uncomfortable as it tries to hide from the harsh light and dry air of the outside. I want to crawl back into my bed and pretend it’s all not happening.

But it is.

We are moving. Away from Atlanta. Back to North Carolina. A choice we made of our own free will and with excitement. As much as we are looking forward to all that this move means for our family, I am sitting here today devastated. For 18 years we have been away from “home.” For 12, we have been here in Atlanta. Building a life. Having babies. Surviving late night feedings and preschool and first days of kindergarten. We have made trips to the emergency room (one trip per person). We have made friends and changed jobs. We have laughed and drank with friends and chased the ice cream truck down the street. We have spent Christmases with neighbors, made casseroles for new babies and illnesses, gossiped on street corners and around fire pits, shared stories and histories and filled our neighbor’s yard with tacky inflatable Christmas decor. We have hiked the banks of the Chattahoochee and plodded down the sidewalks of Peachtree Street. We have seen art and exhibits and eaten in the best restaurants. We have taken our fill of Atlanta, will carry it with us always and be back for it will always be my children’s origination point, their home, their stories’ beginning.

But today there is an end.

Today is the last day of school. The last day the boys will ride bus 752. The last day they will walk the halls of their precious, wonderful, amazing elementary school. The last day they will hang with their friends in the silly goofy way that they do when they are all together on the most euphoric day of the school year. And I am an emotional mess.

In my logical head, I know they will again ride a bus to school. They will make friends. They will have a new wonderful school. They – we – will be fine.

In my heart? Well, there’s no telling my heart anything today. And that’s okay. Today I am taking care of me by wallowing. By allowing all of the emotion to be whatever it needs to be. I will cry when I have a private moment. I will feel joy at the Kindergarten last day of school splash down as the local fire men spray my giggling bundle of six year old boy with the fire hose. I will pass out the popsicles when the afternoon bus brings them home. I will cheer my nine year old on in his league’s AA baseball championship game tonight. I will hug the teachers and the moms and the kids that cross my path. I will not avoid the pain. I will invite it in because it only proves how wonderful this journey has been.

And, Atlanta, it has been wonder-full.

 

 

 

 

Stretching

I have been diligently working away on my second novel for the last two months. I was feeling good about it until the characters in my real life started demanding some emotional and mental time effectively drowning out the fictional voices. It happens. I wasn’t too worried at first. It was more important to focus on the real people issues first.

I began to feel a little panic as the quiet continued, though. These people I’d been building didn’t seem to have much to say anymore. I thought perhaps once the “real” things died down they would open up again. Or maybe I was simply stuck in the dreaded middle where all rough drafts languish and I needed to just listen harder, push through, keep going. Whatever it was, I was feeling nervous. Something wasn’t right. And I knew it.

I went back to some craft books. I brainstormed. I did some exercises. Still no breakthrough. Then I considered that maybe it was really a story about characters B and C, not A and B like I started out with. Perhaps that’s why everyone was so quiet. I spent some time thinking about B and C and plotting out a story that still encompassed most of the existing material, just mixed up a bit. It was better. Truly. But I still felt it was a bit forced. I thought I just needed some time to sit with it. So I sat.

Something still wasn’t right.

Then, in a bolt of lightning moment, I saw Character D. She was waiting patiently with her hands in her lap. She was only supposed to be a tangential character to Character C  when I started with A and B, but when I looked at her, I realized there was something in her eyes. She needed me to ask her a question. She, apparently, had lots to say. Lots to say about her own story before A and B were even alive. Before she had ever met C.  This was turning the book on its head. If I went with D, well, this is something completely different than the existing 30,000 words I have been working on since January 1. This would mean starting over.

After I banged my head against my desk in frustration…

giphy

…I took a deep breath and went back to some earlier research I had done for what was supposed to be this little bit of backstory. As I did so, I felt character D’s voice coming through. She is an extremely strong woman who has so much more to say and share than the poor woman I was forcing onto center stage in those original 30,000 words.

As I dug deeper, I allowed character A to exit stage left. I felt her relief. She smiled and nearly ran out – I think she’s halfway to a margarita and beach towel by now. As I waved goodbye, I ushered in this new person, invited her to sit and now she’s smiling at me, waiting to answer my questions and tell me her story.

I’m irritated that there is all this work that seems wasted, though I know it’s not. There are at least two short stories in those 30,000 words I could tease out.

Mostly, though, I’m scared. I’m scared that this story will be a much harder one to tell. It’s more real and requires a knowledge of a period of time and events I’m not as familiar with. It represents big ideas and complicated cultural and political issues. It’s not at all like the previous book.

I’m still not sure what happens in this book exactly – she hasn’t told me everything. I just know that she holds the story. One I haven’t heard before. One that speaks more honestly to my core. One I’d rather be writing about. And if I’d rather be writing it, I can guarantee you’d rather be reading it.

No one said it would be easy, right?

I may stretch my skills to the limit to tell this story. And I may fail. But I think if I don’t try, I’ll always regret it. And character D? She may never forgive me.

So yet again on this writer’s journey, I find myself taking a leap of faith. Only this time, I feel like I have a partner in crime. She’s just as invested as I am. Together, we have a story to tell. I hope I can do it justice.

Voices Out Loud

Chris Rock was amazing at the Oscars last night. It was a tough if not near impossible job to write and deliver jokes about a very serious issue: diversity in Hollywood specifically, but more broadly, the larger racial divide ingrained in our American culture that limits true opportunity and growth. His performance will have people talking for awhile and with good reason.

Another powerful moment from the evening: Lady Gaga. I had chills and tears and all the uncomfortable reality that was her performance and what it means. Her song, “Til it Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground, a documentary on campus rape in the United States, was a stirring moment giving voice to silent victims, many of whom stood on stage with her last night.

Then Spotlight took the somewhat surprising win for Best Picture. A film about real-life journalists doggedly pursuing a story of the Catholic church’s cover-up of child molestation in Boston. Not only is it a story that lauds real reporting and journalism, but speaks up for the child victims of an unspeakable horror.

Buried in the middle somewhere was the powerful statement from documentary short subject winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy that her film, Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, about honor killings inspired the Pakistani government to take action against this horrific violence.

These are voices that all need to be heard. Desperately. Stories about real deep, dark truths that affect countless people across the globe. Movies, books, music, theater, dance. The arts all seek to illuminate a greater truth, to tell an untold story, to give voice to the voiceless. And we are all better for hearing and seeing these stories.

On this eve to Super Tuesday I was greeted by numerous television ads this morning attempting to sway our votes. These ads all spoke of fear and pointed fingers of blame at their opponents. The touchstones weren’t hope, they were anger and anxiety, name calling and vitriol. What a strange counterpoint to an evening where stories about overcoming, about hope, about joy, about change, about acceptance, about accountability were celebrated. Yes, these stories point out problems. Yes, these stories are not solutions. But no, these stories are not meant to send us cowering into bunkers or heading for borders to escape the decline of the American state. These stories give voice to those unable to speak for themselves. This election? So far, all I can tell is that it’s allowing more loud and angry voices to perpetuate the same rhetoric of fear that keeps the real voices silenced.

The real voices. Our voices.

I, for one, am tired of hearing the same voices over and over again. I stand with those whose voices are whispered in the quiet space. The voices of calm truth often drowned out by the tornadoes of cynicism, misogyny, racism, bigotry and greed. The voices we heard last night were only a few of the small fighting amidst the cacophony. We need artists, writers, movie makers, and playwrights to continue to tell stories. All the stories. The funny ones and the allegorical ones and most especially the hard ones.

But as movie goers or readers or simply citizens moving through our own daily stories, we have an obligation to use our own voice.

Vote.

The voices are shouting at us. But we are part of the conversation. Unfortunately, we aren’t heard unless we use our voice. The out loud one. The one that can be counted.

Be counted. Vote.

Tell your story. Create.

We all have a voice.

Forcing Creativity

Writing a book is not a unique pursuit. There are many of us writers out there going about day jobs, pounding away on keyboards at night, at dawn or at the kid’s baseball practice. The difference between those that succeed in actually becoming a published writer and those that do not – I have been told and cling to as if these words might keep me afloat in a flood – is simply writing. It’s that easy. One verb: write.

I have an E.L. Doctrow quote pinned over my desk that says:

Planning to write is not writing. Outlining a book is not writing. Researching is not writing. Talking to people about what you are doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.

E.L. Doctrow

Or, as the old Yoda adage goes:

Do or do not. There is no try.

Yoda

And yet, for some reason, writers still find this hard. I, for one, now picture myself doing nothing but this job of writing and yet each morning I sit down at my computer and think “Oh, God. Not this again. I suck at this. I should go scrub the shower instead. Or get a “real job.” Or maybe take a nap.”

Instead, I try to start typing. Sometimes it works (yesterday I knocked out 1,300 words in two hours – hooray!). Sometimes it doesn’t (the day I wrote one sentence in two hours- ouch). But even when it isn’t working, I’m working. I’m there, committed, waiting for the muse, the inspiration, the tiny train of thought that will show me where we’re going.

Can you force creativity? Can you demand that inspiration join you on the page? How much of a creative pursuit is in our own control versus the elusive muse? And what happens if she doesn’t show up?

Creating, whether it’s writing or painting or photography or building, takes practice, time and a whole helluva lot of behind the scenes work that you probably don’t want to know about. It takes commitment and stamina. It is not for the feint of heart. It is a soul-wrenching, doubt-whispering, self-flagellating process that leaves the creator empty and beaten until they take a step away. It’s in the step back, when we take a look at that painting or re-read that essay or reconsider a photograph’s lighting, that we realize somewhere in all that work there was magic, muse, inspiration. We then become Michaelangelo and must work to free the sculpture from the morass.

This month, I am working on creating the morass. I have committed to writing 20,000 in the current work in progress for the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association Write-A-Thin. I am no stranger to gimmicks to get me working. Back in 2010, I did NaNoWriMo. I am not the only one. More than 325,000 writers and growing participate in NaNoWriMo each year. Because sometimes you need someone to hold you accountable. Because sometimes you need a kick in the pants. Because most of us don’t have a Yoda whispering in our ears. But mostly because inspiration, magic, muses, whatever you call them, they don’t show up unless you invite them.

I sit at the keyboard again today and wonder will today be the day the words run out (no)? Will I cry (possibly)? Will it work today (maybe)? Will it be worth it (damn straight)? Thankfully, every morning when I drag my feet to the desk and grunt as I open the work in progress, I have a husband who reminds me “it’s not supposed to be easy.” And he’s right. Through all of the struggle, I still love it. I still love seeing that perfect phrase emerge in a string of keystrokes on my screen. I still love when my characters surprise me. I still love when I finally find the answer to what my protagonist does for a living and it fits so absolutely perfectly no matter how small a role it may play in the book. I still love realizing that two hours passed and I had no idea. I still love the potential, the promise, the process. Even when I hate it. Maybe especially when I hate it.

The point? We can’t all wait for inspiration to strike. It’s simply unfeasible. Yes. It happens. And when it does, it’s wonderful and fantastic and pure magic. But more often than not, we have to remember to invite inspiration. And the only way to do that is to start the work and see what happens.

This month, I’m inviting my muse to join me daily as I work towards my 20,000 word goal.

To all of you out there who are struggling with your own creative pursuits, perhaps you need a gimmick, a challenge, a Yoda to keep you accountable. Whatever it is, find it. Promise it. Pin it to your wall. Do it.

Writing is writing.

Do or do not.

I am right here with you.

 

Finding Forty

I just turned forty.

I have a distinct memory of a surprise fortieth birthday party for my father when I was in the fifth grade. We decorated with a myriad of black balloons and over the hill decor. I thought forty was so old.

Now here I am. Forty.

And I don’t feel old. If anything, I feel a little weird to wear the forty badge when most days I still feel as insecure as my seventeen year old self. I wonder if there should be a test to see whether you have truly earned forty. Not just in physical time, but experience and growth. In a novel, a character is supposed to change or learn something about himself. I feel that maybe by forty, I should have learned more, changed more, done more.

Forty.

The first forty were momentous, to say the least. I learned to walk, talk, eat, read, write, add, ride a bike, drive a car, kiss a boy, make friends. I left home and went to college. I fought and won and lost. I got married, moved to DC, bought our first house, met some of the most incredible people I have had the joy of working with not to mention call mentors and friends. I attended showers and weddings and lots of early morning media tours with cold control rooms and bad coffee. I have celebrated weddings and births and said final goodbyes to two grandparents, an uncle, a mentor and a dear friend who was too young to leave us behind. I moved to Atlanta. I had two beautiful baby boys who are the sparkle to my every day. I stepped away from my career. I stood by family and friends as they fought disease, divorce and the occasional abyss of depression and anxiety. My body has made it through three surgeries, two child births, and one horrifying night with a crash cart. I have said yes even when it was scary. I took a leap of faith to honor the career I’ve always wanted. I have written a book.

Forty.

Halfway to 80, which is a life.

I stand on the precipice of this hill. It’s a wonderful view. Behind me I see strength in others and myself that I didn’t realize was there. I see faith and love and courage. I see how far I’ve come and how far I have yet to go. Ahead of me, I see bigger challenges. I see my boys becoming young men. I see the work ahead for securing this new career in writing. I see my forties as being the opportunity to live the life I’ve been building. I see a freedom in taking these lessons and living unapologetically, deliberately, purposefully.

Forty.

I continue moving. Not just because time continues on like a treadmill and I have no choice but to take another step or fall on my face, but because I choose to. I choose to keep walking my path and seeing what is next. The first forty gave me the skills I need for the next forty. What a wonderful place to be: armed and ready and open to receiving the next thing, the thing I can’t predict.

Forty.

So maybe I am over the hill like those old decorations taunted my own father. But I can’t wait to see what’s on the hill behind this one. And the one after that. If the first forty is any indication, it promises to be quite the journey.

Forty.

Forward.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! IMG_6841

I’m not going to lie. I have had a hard time with the start of this new year. I don’t know if it was because of the holiday whirlwind with two boys, our trip home to NC smack in the middle allowing no mental down time or the fact that 40 is staring me down later this month (40? really?), but I was feeling very stuck. I didn’t have a resolution. I didn’t have a goal. I didn’t seem to have much but an “oh crap, it’s January already and there was so much I didn’t do in 2015 and so much I want to do in 2016 and so much I don’t know how to do all the time and every day” feeling and then my brain would shut down.

Thankfully, returning home opened something and thoughts slowly started to bubble. Following the thoughts came a few ideas. They might not be flowing as quickly and consistently as I’d like, but they are tumbling around softly under the bed with the dust bunnies in the hopes that they become true, real and solid soon so that I can take them out and truly understand them.

The boys finally went back to school today and I was both eager and apprehensive about reclaiming my writing time. I am ready to get to work on manuscript two, but am still lacking a direction. I have a bunch of loose threads that someday I know (hope?) will be a beautiful sweater, but right now are simply an intimidating pile of cloth spaghetti. I have characters I can’t completely connect in my mind. I have motivations that aren’t driving anyone anywhere. I have too many and too few ideas all at once. I also have manuscript one that needs to be addressed. There are new agents to query and more business to be done to that end. Add to that my attempts to build up my freelance writing work and I can feel my brain starting to power down in retreat.

Back in November, with a number I didn’t like popping up on the scale, I decided to tackle something else that I fear. Running. I’m not a runner. I have always looked at it with some level of romance. It looks so freeing, liberating, graceful. It’s just you and your feet. The pavement. The path in front of you. But in reality, I always ended up sucking wind and bent over with a stitch in my side.

I did some research and finally downloaded the Couch to 5K app. The first three weeks were great. Not easy, but I liked it. I looked forward to it. I was proud of my accomplishments. I was doing it.

Then week four came. The week of Christmas. With it’s impossibly difficult looking long stretches of running. And it rained. And kept raining. And we were busy. A lot. And the kids were home. All day. And then we were out of town. But I packed my running shoes and one day the rain stopped and I went out. Halfway through, I tripped over a curb and wiped out. Gloriously. I scraped my hip and banged up my elbow and proceeded to sink into a very soggy patch of mud that was pretending to be grass. I limped my way home, wet, disappointed that it had been hard, but even more frustrated that I didn’t have the opportunity to finish. And so I shelved the shoes until today.

Today, with the scrapes and bruises finally fading, I ran. Even though it’s freezing out. And it was hard. And I cheated one of the runs a little because it was uphill, but I stuck with it. I closed out that last running segment even though I was cursing and creeping at a snail’s pace and my lung’s were burning and I was desperate to stop.

I wonder why it is that I can push myself physically, but find it oh so tempting to give up mentally (as it pertains to my writing)? I told myself over and over as I neared the end of my run today that I can do anything for one more minute. And I did. I know that every step I take is another step forward. That eventually my stride will be surer, my pace faster, my legs stronger. I know I don’t have to be perfect today because I’m training. My body is learning. If I keep doing the thing, I get better. Knowing that I finished today has me already looking forward to Friday when I know that I will repeat today’s run and maybe not have to cheat that hill. Because I know I can finish. Because I already did.

This year, I need to look at my writing in the same way. I need to recognize that the first novel is what it is. That it’s training. It might sell and it might not. And that’s okay. Because this next book will be better as a result of the first. Writing this book still won’t be easy, but every word is another word forward. Every scene I scribble now will help me to develop a stronger voice, a more vivid setting, a more solid plot. I don’t have to know all the answers, but all that’s holding me back doesn’t get solved by sitting on the couch/checking social media/avoiding the hard stuff/over-volunteering.

So I’m resolving to making a writing training plan. I will not spend today continuing to stare at the blank page and wait for a sweater to appear (especially if it is actually supposed to be a scarf). I will decide how my days need to be organized to maximize creative time, research time, manuscript one query time and freelance time. I will create a plan to beef up my chops in areas I found particularly difficult in writing the first book. I will set realistic goals – maybe I need to make some kind of Blank Page to 85K Words app? – and not beat myself up over cheating a few hills.

There’s a movement this year for creating your one word theme instead of a list of resolutions you’re bound to break by the end of the month. I like this idea of a theme for the year, a quick mental reminder to keep me on track in all aspects of life, love and parenting. To get to my word, I wrote down a general list of things I wanted to do this year: WRITE, RUN, PLAY, LAUGH, TRY, ACCEPT CHALLENGES, MOVE. All great things. All things that encompass more specific goals I have for the year. But what did they have in common?

What I came up with to sum up these goals for 2016 is my one word: FORWARD.

This year, I will stop mentally beating myself into stagnation. Instead, I will lace up. I will type. I will explore. I will search. I will seek. Whatever it is I need to do to keep moving forward.

Forward for 40. Let’s do this 2016.

After all, I can do anything for one more minute, one more hour, one more day, one more week, one more month, one more year.

What’s your one word for 2016?

Growing Pains

As a tween (although I don’t think we called it that back in the 80s) and teen, I would often suffer from a painful ache in my legs that my parents would chalk up to growing pains. The discomfort was real. The pain acute. I’d lay in my bed at night or the couch during the day and imagine my bones stretching, straining against the ligaments, muscles and skin holding them in, trying to make me taller while the rest of my body reluctantly made room.

I’m in a similar period of discomfort. This time it’s not in my limbs or my hormones or imagined slights in the lunch room like it was in those days. Now it’s related to my writing.

A second project has creeped up on me. An idea that when I first started following it down the rabbit hole was new, invigorating and burst with excitement like champagne bubbles fizzing to the surface. Now, it feels dark and cramped and stinks of damp earth.

Writing has always been easy for me. Essays and term papers, feature articles, press releases. It all came quickly from my fingers. There wasn’t a lot of discomfort once I understood the rules. Scribbling in journals and filling pages with words has always been a source of comfort for me, not discomfort. Writing the first novel was hard. It wasn’t easy. It felt challenging, but not uncomfortable. Putting it out into the world and allowing others eyes on it made me feel vulnerable and displayed, but not inherently uncomfortable.

But the more distance I have to it, the more my discomfort grows. There is the rejection and, even worse, radio silence, from agent queries. There is the distance to the story that makes me wonder if I rushed it and need to rewrite whole sections. There are the second thoughts about process and talent and choices I’ve made to create this writing life.

All distinctly uncomfortable feelings. All making the act of sitting down to focus on this new idea inherently uncomfortable, too. And so I have hesitated. I have buried myself in research and other tasks. I have avoided pen to paper because it suddenly doesn’t feel right, natural, easy, comfortable.

Just when I was beginning to feel the dark walls of serious doubt close in, I finished reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. She talked about how feeling uncomfortable is what leads to growth. It’s where the discomfort is that the growth happens, like my stretching adolescent legs.

Here, where I sit, at my desk, at this keyboard, this is where the growth happens. The discomfort is simply the recognition that I could be doing better. That I need to do better. That better is possible. That better is not only possible, but possible through me. That doing and learning and continuing will lead to growth. It won’t always feel good, and probably shouldn’t, but it will lead to newness and innovation and better writing on the other side.

So I am letting the discomfort stay. I am getting used to the lump it causes in my throat when I sit at the keyboard. I am taking the research more seriously again instead of simply as an excuse. I am looking back at the notes I took during this new idea’s germination and letting that excitement settle back in.

But the discomfort will need to stay. It is pushing me in new and different directions. It is forcing me to grow as a person and as a writer.

And recognizing that discomfort, acknowledging its purpose, I have to say, is actually pretty comforting.

 

 

 

Gifts that Keep Giving

I manage a small creativity circle – a group on Facebook where other creatives get together and share thoughts, ideas, work, questions, whatever. Each month we have a theme to provide some loose guidance and then we see where we end up. For me, it’s provided an opportunity for new thought. When I’m out running errands or cooking or contemplating what’s next with my writing, it gives me a jumping off point, a new perspective, a sense of presence when my thoughts scatter.

This month, the theme is gifts. I posted a question yesterday about what gift would you give your creative self this holiday season. I was surprised, although I probably shouldn’t have been, that many of the answers were chore related. Folks wanted someone to do their laundry, cook and clean so that they would have time to focus on their creativity.

I am so very guilty of this, too. I allow the mundane chores to impede on my creative time. Often. It’s tempting to straighten the kitchen or fold the laundry or run the errands because at the end these are tasks that are completed, that you can see, that are crossed off a list. There is an immense sense of satisfaction and ease when they are completed. They feel socially acceptable.

When I had a work outside the home job, however, if the dishes weren’t done after breakfast and waited in the sink until I got home from my commute in the evening, nobody suffered. I didn’t think about them while I was away at work. I didn’t worry what those dishes in the sink said about me – other than I was a busy working woman who didn’t have time to finish the dishes before hopping the train to the city.

So why are creative tasks less worthy to wait than for the “day job?” Why do we put off our creative tasks? Is the clean house or the folded laundry worth so much more to us? Can’t they wait a bit longer? Won’t they still be there after?

I think we devalue our creative time. As much as we crave it and need it, we feel selfish about it. Or at least I do. I feel selfish that what feeds my soul and brings me the most joy is this solitary pursuit in front of a keyboard or a notebook. I have to remind myself that being selfish isn’t always a negative. I should be selfish about finding time to nurture myself and my creativity. For one thing, it’s the “job” I’ve given myself right now and for another, it makes me happy. It makes me productive. It makes me better at the rest of it. It is what makes me me.

Doing the dishes, while satisfying to complete, will simply need to be done again after the next meal. Taking a few minutes to sketch, journal, paint, photograph or read will nurture me in a way that no chore list can.

What is holding us back? Chances are its an individual answer, but I don’t think it’s really the dishes. The dishes are the distraction or, more likely, an excuse. (More on that in the next few days).

 

 

So I want to challenge my circle friends, and the rest of us, to think outside the to-do list and really contemplate what you would give to your creative self to nurture that piece of you. Would it be a trip to an exotic location to paint strange flowers? A day in the city to photograph architecture? A morning in the art museum to stand in front of your favorite work and find something new in it? A walk through a garden to awaken your senses of touch and smell? A beautiful journal for scribbling out those random bits of epiphany that come in between your daily moments? Season tickets to the local symphony? Signing up for dance classes or singing lessons? A few hours spent in the airport pick-up area people watching?

Use your imagination. You might not be able to spend the money or take the time for some of these gifts. That’s okay. It’s important to know what those big dreams are so we can recognize the smaller opportunities to feed our creativity on a more daily basis. Can’t get to the Galapagos Islands? No worries – maybe see what your local botanical garden or zoo have to offer. Can’t afford season tickets to the symphony? Check your nearby college’s concert and recital schedules. No time to commit to dance lessons? You probably have five minutes for a living room dance party.

And don’t worry. The dishes will wait.