In the Room

who I am

 

I’ve experienced this phenomena that King talks about more than once. When the story I’m writing seems to write itself, when the words come fast and the characters seem to jump out of the paper, when they speak with each other and make decisions, when an important detail emerges from the pen when I never would have thought of it beforehand: with these stories, I look up from the page and think, where did all that come from? Who wrote that? These usually turn out to be my best stories.

Natalie Goldberg calls it “wild mind”. Julia Cameron calls it “the Creator” or a higher power, manifesting itself through us. Elizabeth Gilbert calls it “Big Magic”. Whatever it is, it’s this mysterious voice that, when I’m really in the zone, speaks through me and helps me to tell stories.

Lately, that voice has been silent. I can’t get her to talk to me at all. It’s like she took a trip to Tahiti or something, leaving me alone in an empty room. Okay, fine. Because I’ve been taught not to rely on “Inspiration” or the “Muse”, I sit my butt down in the chair and scribble words anyway. And I start a few things, but without her, things just aren’t coming together. I miss her.

Okay, fine, I tell her. I think I know what this is about. I’m too much in the room with you. I’ve been a little bossy, trying to tell you what to do. Okay, a lot bossy. No, no, I say. That’s stupid. Cross that out. Erase, delete, change, you can’t say that, you don’t know what you’re talking about, no one will like that, no one will listen, you don’t have the right to speak, let alone write.

Okay, I guess I understand why you’d rather be drinking margaritas on the beach.

Somewhere along the way I lost faith in you. Or did I just get scared of what you were saying? Either way, I pushed you out of the room and closed the door, because I wanted to be in control. There are reasons for this: other aspects of my life feel a little out of control right now, and I was feeling panicky. But I’m working on that, okay? Just come back, and I promise I’ll listen.

Heck, I’ll just get out of the way altogether. I’m going to open the door, and just humbly sit in the corner of the room, waiting for you to return. I’ll do the busy work until then, lining up the pens, jotting down ideas in the notebook, blogging books and movies, just showing up. I’ll keep the wheels greased; I just need you to turn them. I’ll go where you lead. Take your time, but, you know, hurry up. Sorry–bossy again.

In the meantime, have a drink for me, and don’t forget the sunscreen.

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Compliment

It’s gratifying to hear compliments: “You look nice today,” or “I love your shoes.” A kind word can lift the spirits on days when you really need it. But if I had to pick the best compliment I’ve ever received, I’d have to refer to a conversation I had with one of my coworkers last year.

I work as a cashier at a grocery store, and this particular young man–he’s 17–had just started his job and was asking me some questions about me out of curiosity. I explained how I’d been married for 20 years, started working at that very store at 18 on the register, moved over to the deli, left and waitressed for a while, went back to the store, went to community college and worked for an accountant, met my husband and got married, worked in the beer & wine department, had our daughter and stayed home with her for two years, went back to work at a toy store, then eventually came back to the grocery store–to work on the register.

I’d come full circle, and, I thought, not gotten very far. It’s perhaps one of the nagging regrets of my approaching middle years: I look around me at my young coworkers with bright futures, and think–I didn’t do enough. I didn’t improve myself. I didn’t get far in life at all. I still live in the same town I was born in, never having left it, if that tells you anything.

But this young man, who plans on being a doctor (or a lawyer)–and I have no doubt that he will do just that–this young man, in all sincerity, said to me, “Wow, you’ve had an interesting life.”

I was struck dumb for a minute. No one had ever said that about my life before. I certainly hadn’t believed I’d lived anything but a normal (and slightly dull) existence. In fact, I’d been ashamed at what I hadn’t accomplished in my life. But this young man, with the fresh, undiscriminating eyes of the young, had proclaimed that my experiences had amounted to “an interesting life.” Huh.

That has to rank as one of the best compliments I’d ever received, mostly because it was so surprising, and made me look at my life in a new light. Perhaps it takes someone else’s perspective to achieve this.

Now that I think about it, maybe I do have a pretty interesting life, at least to me. There aren’t a lot of external bells and whistles, but there’s a stack of notebooks and journals suggesting that how I process this life is what makes it interesting.

Thank you, Peter.

be in love with your life
Still trying.

 

I’ll Never Do This

Don't walk

I’m a lover of lists. Whether it’s making a to-do list or grocery list for home, or listing my favorite (fill in the blank) for the blog, there’s something about numbering lines on a piece of paper and filling it that makes me weirdly happy. I feel organized and/or insightful, somehow in control of my world.

While poking around in a book of writing prompts (still not feeling it and needed some help), I came across this one: List 25 Things You Will Never Do. This one appealed to me; it turned the usual list-making idea onto its head. Not what you will do or want to do, but what you’ll never do. It examines the underbelly, the negative space in your life.

Well, here’s a least 10 Things I’ll Never Do:

  1. Jump out of an airplane.
  2. Eat Kale.
  3. Read Ulysses.
  4. Be able to keep a plant alive.
  5. Be fashionable.
  6. Give up chocolate.
  7. Learn to drive stick shift.
  8. Get an iPhone.
  9. Stop biting my fingernails.
  10. Stop writing.

It feels good to at least know what I won’t do.

What will you never do?

 

 

Keep Going

bee on flower

Lately, I feel as if my writing has been a series of snippets here and there, projects started and abandoned, notes taken, a few lines added, dropped again. Scattered leaves blowing in the wind. Like an essay I’ve been mulling about my grandmother. Or a short story about a young man who occasionally goes invisible without warning, beyond his control. Or musings on a possible memoir, focusing on how books shaped my life. And there’s still that unfinished draft of the time-travel novel, waiting in the wings. I desperately want to write and finish all of these things, and yet when I pick any one of them up, I quickly lose interest, or become mentally constipated. What’s going on?

Maybe it’s the restlessness of spring after a long winter, preferring to be out in the warm sunshine rather than holed up with the work of organizing my muddled thoughts. Maybe it’s the deep crisis of confidence I’ve been experiencing lately, the source of which I can’t pinpoint–every word I write screams wrongness, or worse, futility. Maybe it’s the turmoil of pre-menopause: I’m transforming into some mid-life beast that terrifies me, the physical and emotional throes of which keep me from finishing anything. Maybe I’m just really enjoying writing book and movie reviews on my new blog. Maybe that’s simply what I’m supposed to be doing right now, until I can settle down and focus on other writing. But I know I’ll eventually want to do something else, to write my own stories again.

I’ve always tried to wrestle my writing routines into some sort of discipline, because that’s what writers need to do, right? And I do, for the most part–I make sure I sit down with the notebook or in front of the computer screen on a regular basis to write. But I tend to flit from project to project, like a bee gathering pollen, a little here, a little there, with the result of feeling like I never finish anything. It’s a bit depressing.

It’s not true, of course; I have many short stories and countless blog posts that prove otherwise. I also have a lot of unfinished stuff, and ideas floating around like spores. But I think that’s true of most writers. I’m sure there are many out there whose routines are such that they finish the project they’re working on–write, rewrite, edit, polish, seek beta readers, rewrite again, query, send out for publication– before they move onto another. All very orderly. I envy them. But for some, I’m sure, it’s a messier process. We’re creatives, after all; creativity can be messy.

I suppose the point of this post is to remind myself–and maybe some others–to keep going. Just keep writing, no matter where you are in the process (or in your life), no matter what your routine. Keep dipping your toe into that big well of creativity, and something will come to fruition. Or, to stay with my rather clumsy spring metaphor, keep pollinating and something will eventually bloom.

 

 

 

New Venture

key-with-keyboard
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If you’re at all familiar with this blog, you’ll know that I LOVE books, movies, and television. Enjoying other people’s stories is a big part of my life, almost as much as, if not more than, my own writing. I’ve written quite a few book, film and TV reviews for this blog (you can find them under the appropriate categories to the right), and I love doing them.

The problem is, I’ve read in several different places that writing reviews does absolutely nothing for strengthening your writer platform. I get it: you may be drawing readers who also love books and film, but you’re not necessarily drawing in readers for your fiction. The proof is in the numbers: after nearly three years of fairly regular blogging, I’ve snagged a paltry 160 followers. I never dared hope for thousands, but I did hope to get a few more than that. I know it takes time and perseverance for a blog to grow, but I do think there’s room for improvement.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and feel that perhaps the problem is that the blog is too broad–I dump everything in it. Reviews, personal stuff, essays on whatever, as well as my own fiction. I’ve already created another blog for my personal musings on my experiences raising a child with spina bifida (Beautiful Detour )–but I feel I probably need to focus further.

I’ve read various quotes from several different sources claiming that if you want to write, you someday have to stop reading other people’s stories (at least for a time) and write your own. It makes sense. Here’s the thing: I don’t think I can. I’m a bit obsessive about reading books and watching movies and TV. It’s a big part of who I am. I’ve often felt conflicted between the two and pulled in different directions. Am I a writer, or mostly a lover of writing? At this point in my life, with only so much time, I feel I need to choose, and be done with it. The truth is, I can’t.

So I finally come to the point of this post, which is that I’ve created yet another blog, called Page and Screen. In it, I will exclusively write book, film, and TV reviews to my heart’s content, simply because I love to do it. If you care to do so, and are at all interested in my opinions on other people’s stories, please click the link and follow it. If not, that’s okay, too.

Don’t worry, I’ll still write my own stories. I’m far less organized and have no clear plan concerning my fiction, but I can’t imagine giving it up completely. My Writing Journey will remain the home for my musings on the writing life, as well as the occasional personal essay, story or snippet, and other things (things I haven’t quite figured out yet) to increase my fiction writing platform.

So, three blogs? Call me crazy, but yes, I love it, and I’m so grateful for this unique way of exploring my interests and passions.

 

 

Tasty Toxin

sugar

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you may know about my addiction to dark chocolate, and to sugar in general. It was something I just assumed I’d never be able to give up (having tried many, many times), and figured I’d just have to learn to live with the consequences. Said consequences encompassing fatigue, aches and pains, headaches, menstrual cycles from hell, and vicious mood swings.

For awhile I chalked it up to getting older. It was just natural that these things were happening to me. Wasn’t it? In one of my earlier attempts at quitting sugar, I’d read a book (Lick the Sugar Habit, by Nancy Appleton), which had gone into incredible detail about what sugar does to the human body. So I knew it probably wasn’t just about getting older. But there was a part of me (the addict) that didn’t want to accept it. Despite the fact that it was affecting my quality of life, I didn’t want to let go, at least not completely. I’d cut down. That’s reasonable. But that “just one piece of chocolate after dinner” turned into just one candy bar, and then that turned into one after dinner and one before bed, and then that turned into…

But after nearly 47 years of ingesting this sweet poison, I’d come to a place I decided I simply couldn’t tolerate anymore. One of the signs was an increase in headache intensity. My life has been a constant battle with headaches, but the past few months have seen instances of hellish new levels where I’ve felt nauseous and had to lie down in the dark without moving. Was this what a migraine felt like? I had a sneaking suspicion it was.

There’s a long list of physical ailments that make me miserable, but it’s the mood swings that convinced me something needed to be done. Some days I felt so depressed I seriously wondered what the point of getting out of bed was. If my daughter didn’t need me to get her ready for school, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Other days, I seethed with rage for no particular reason. Or rather, everything was a reason to get angry. I hated everyone and everything, but mostly I hated myself, and this monster inside me. Other days, every errand and chore seemed insurmountable, my list of responsibilities endless, and though I wasn’t having complete panic attacks, a low-level anxiety ran through me almost constantly. I couldn’t cope. It was seriously affecting my life, making it difficult for me to take care of my family and my writing.

Perimenopause? Maybe. But could it be lessened somehow? Was something making it a lot, lot worse than it needs to be? I’m pretty sure the answer is yes, and I’m also pretty sure the culprit is sugar.

So, I decided that beginning on March 1 of this year, I’d quit sugar. For good this time, and I mean it. Now, I need to explain just what I mean by “sugar”, because it can get confusing. For now, at least for a few months, I mean mainly desserts–chocolate, yes, but any other kind of candy, pastry, ice cream or sweet confection that I’ve routinely eaten in the course of my life. That seems to be the obvious place to start, because I eat a lot of it (But you’re not fat! people say. Hey, I walk. A lot. But inside, I’m a mess.) I’ll worry later about the hidden sugar in other (processed) foods–it’s there, folks– but mostly I’m trying to incorporate more whole foods: fruits and veggies, nuts, fish and lean meat. You get the idea.

I bought a book called  “Year of No Sugar” by Eve O. Shaub. It’s a memoir chronicling her family’s project of avoiding all added sugar (fructose) for an entire year. There are two young children in this family, so you can imagine the challenge of avoiding not only desserts (it’s amazing how we equate love with offering sugar), but all the insidious sugar added to the American diet that we don’t even think about. I’m not going that far–yet–but I was inspired and got a lot of ideas for reducing sugar in my family’s diet.

year of no sugar

For instance, Lilly has decided she wants to be a baker. A serious baker–forget the box cake and cookies, she wants to get the flour and sugar and baking soda out and make desserts from scratch (thanks, Food Network). Unfortunately for her, her mom is NOT a baker, nor has she ever wanted to be a baker. But I feel, as a mom, I should encourage her in her ambitions and hobbies, and so bake we must. What to do about the enormous amounts of sugar we’ll be making and presumably ingesting? In the book above, the writer discovered a palatable sugar substitute called dextrose, which can be swapped with sugar in most recipes. Dextrose is glucose, a form of energy the body can actually use without harming it in the process. And she pinky swears it tastes pretty good, too. Problem solved!

So it’s Day 14 with no desserts, and I can honestly say I feel better already. Like a sticky, sugary film has been removed and I can see a little more clearly now. I wake up in the morning and feel rested, rather than like a truck hit me. My moods have been fairly stable (the fantasy of beating something with a metal bat hasn’t even entered my head!). Of course, this is my  “good week”. The real test will be in the next couple of weeks, when I usually feel the worst during my cycle. I’m tentatively confident it will at least be less torturous.

Sure, I miss those little brown squares of chocolate. But it hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be. Now, whenever I eat something slightly sweet, like yams, it tastes like candy. A bowl of cinnamon Life cereal is a sugar blast that tastes like dessert (and I do save it for that dessert-y before bed snack).

So the sugar party is over, but that’s okay. Like with any addict, there will always be challenges ahead (our sugar-infested culture being just one of them), but I’m confident I can overcome them. Feeling good is just too sweet to give up.

What are your thoughts on sugar? Is your sweet tooth out of control? Avoid it like the poison it is? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!