Write Like a Charlie Horse, Not a Charley Horse

Lisa walking the horse named Charlie through a pastureConfession: I’m impatient.

I like things to move and keep moving—quickly. I failed my first driving test at age 16 because of…you guessed it: speeding. (In my defense, test roads vacillated between 45 and 35 mph within a short stretch, and the surrounding traffic was flying.) Awareness of more serious consequences than a failed test has kept my lead foot in check since, but when I walk around lakes near my home, strangers comment on my pace.

Unfortunately, my need for speed includes writing. Like any Type A personality, I chase the satisfaction of completing projects and ticking them off lists, so I’m easily lured into treating the writing process as a means to an end instead of as the revelatory gift it is. My product-versus-process conflict reached its peak when I wrote my first book and discovered that the publishing industry moves like a sloth.

Then I met my patience coach: Charlie.

After my first few horseback riding lessons on Charlie, I dubbed him The World’s Slowest Thoroughbred (a horse breed known for its speed on the racetrack) and grumbled inwardly when assigned to ride him. His lumbering canter felt like riding an oil field pump. His name should be Charley Horse, I groused when my calves ached from the effort required to keep him moving.

“Wait for it. Wait, wait…” my riding instructor cautioned one Sunday morning as Charlie and I cantered toward a fence we aimed to jump.

“Nope,” she said when Charlie landed. “You anticipated, so you leaned forward and knocked Charlie off-balance. If the fence were any higher, you’d have been in trouble. Stop rushing! Wait until Charlie gets to the takeoff spot and go with him, not ahead of him.”

Easier said than done.

I had longed to gallop though jumper courses since I’d started lessons a few years ago. I discovered in the meantime that they are a test of skill, not speed, so they require a controlled canter.

The more I rode Charlie, however, the more I recognized his talent. Whether easing first-time riders’ fears or carrying advanced jumpers through courses in competitions, Charlie does it all well. The key to his success is his patience. He meets each rider where she is and stays with her as she progresses. He also takes courses one fence at a time—exactly the way successful riders approach them.

I’m learning to accept that too much speed can cause injuries in riding. Charlie forces me to practice patience and to appreciate process for its own sake, which I’m working to apply to my writing.

One of the first things Charlie taught me about patience is that allowing time to meander leads to discovering nuggets I would have missed if I had galloped toward a finished product in writing my book. Many of these nuggets grow into blog posts and essays, turning what seems like wasted time into published work.

One such meander led me to suggestions for preventing and treating a charley horse—a list that reads eerily like a manual for writers’ self-care:

Warmup

I’ll admit it, though I warmup when exercising and riding, I rarely do it when writing. I don’t do morning pages, and I dislike journaling. But there are a million things I can do when I’m not ready to leap into a big work-in-progress, like a book: research agents and publishers, follow writers on social media, look for opportunities to submit essays, scan image sites like Pinterest for descriptive details I can use in current projects. These often become the meanders that lead to a new image in my book or content idea for my blog.

Stretch

While I haven’t taken to morning pages, I have experimented with process by trying prompts and exercises found online. They perk me up when I’m feeling depleted.

Start Slowly and Work Toward Small Goals

Big writing projects can overwhelm, so I approach them the way Charlie approaches courses: one fence at a time. If I’m not up to working on my book, I tackle something manageable, like brainstorming for my blog, revisiting unfinished essays, or describing a recent everyday experience in exaggerated detail. Description sparks inspiration; it’s my way into every project.

Track Your Progress and Celebrate Successes

Like many writers, I keep a color-coded submissions spreadsheet to track what I have submitted where and whether it has been accepted, rejected, or ignored. What I’ve come to think of as “Ignored Gray” dominates but seeing bursts of “Accepted Blue” boosts my confidence. Rereading my blog does the same and supplies topics for follow-up essays.

Stop and Rest If You Feel Strain

It’s all grist for the mill, I tell myself when life interferes with writing. I’m still training myself to “walk the walk” when it comes to that saying, but when I succeed, I discover a wealth of grist. My concentration is sharper after time away from writing, too.

Be Patient with Your Body and Yourself

For me, this is the hardest lesson. When I feel rushed or get frustrated with slow progress, I tell myself, You want a Charlie Horse, not a Charley Horse. That means to not become hyper-focused on the finish line or push myself to extremes.

So, I keep plugging along: revising my book, drafting blog posts, submitting to contests, and researching agents. Riding Charlie assures me that I’ll jump publishing’s fences as they come—one at a time, using a moderate pace—and land more successfully for having completed my book’s jumper course at the right pace.

 

Photo Credit: Lisa Whalen

Curiosity Cures the Cat . . . and the Writer

Cats, Bubba and Spaz on Window SeatMy husband and I often joke about our cats’ reverence for routine. The more predictably their days unfold, the straighter their tails stand at attention (a sign of confidence) and the narrower their eyes squint (a sign of affection).

Writers find comfort in routine, too. I see it when I ask the college students I teach to reflect on when, where, and how they write best. And I see it in myself. I drink Caribou Daybreak Blend coffee from the same stainless-steel travel mug every morning. I water our houseplants on Sundays and follow an identical pattern each time I vacuum our house. I begin writing projects—whether creative, academic, or utilitarian—by generating bulleted lists.

But too much routine stifles creativity. Even cats are inherently curious, as their Internet fame can attest. I’ve found that channeling their ability to see fleeing mice in stuffed toys nudged down a staircase and snakes in yarn dragged across a carpet acts like catnip in my hunt for inspiration.

Here are some recent—and unexpected—discoveries:

Books

Kayla Rae Whitaker’s The Animators. This novel puts the creative process under a microscope. Two writer-artists forge a path from obscurity to ubiquity, hitting signposts along the way that nearly every writer will recognize:

  • The discomfort of mining one’s life for material to put on display.
  • The tide of inspiration that drags a lull in its wake.
  • The pendulum of emotion that propels progress.
  • The spinning plates of daily life that interrupt project momentum.
  • The intoxication of creating art that reveals a sum greater than its parts.
  • The excitement of publishing a work that has been a labor of love.
  • The pain of fissures that crack open when relationships are depicted as art.
  • The void of purpose that follows a completed project.

Ultimately, however, Whitaker’s book confirms that no writer toils in isolation.

Joshilyn Jackson’s Almost Sisters. Readers accompany a writer as she untangles her identity from her protagonist’s while also convincing her family to accept her unplanned pregnancy. The novel examines creators’ art-imitates-life-imitates-art conundrum in fascinating detail.

Podcasts

Invisibilia, 99% Invisible, Radiolab and Ear Hustle. All four shows take a familiar concept (anything from parenthood to concrete and memory to lightning bugs) and twist it just enough to make listeners perceive it anew. Radiolab’s Placebo” (season 3, episode 1) is among my favorite episodes because of its relevance for writers: The hosts set out to examine the placebo effect and discover just how integral narrative is to our human brain’s functioning.

Heavyweight and This Is Actually Happening. These podcasts offer listeners a glimpse into one real-life event per episode. Happening serves as a study in voice because individuals describe an experience, such as getting stranded on a mountain or witnessing a mass shooting, in their own words. Their telling is organic but edited flawlessly by the show’s creator to eliminate the linguistic gear-grinding inherent in speech. The result is a sense that I’m inside the speaker’s head, observing as she processes what happened.

Ironically, Happening is the weightier of the two podcasts. Heavyweight garnishes its poignancy with wry humor. The host turns a spotlight on his life, narrating in real time and then reflecting in hindsight.

Both podcasts remind me that moments big and small can produce rich content.

New (or Borrowed) Toys

Last summer, my sister lent me a high-end camera she’d purchased to document her kids’ milestones. Playing with it proved, well . . . eye-opening. Searching for shots drew my attention to things I’d looked past and made me see them. The digital format meant I could experiment without getting stuck developing 100 unwanted photos for every keeper. Looking through a lens changed the way my eyes viewed and my brain processed the world, which sparked ideas I turned into blog posts.

Other Writers

Recently, I’ve met writers who have published a book while parenting and working full-time. One woman composed her memoir solely during lunch breaks. Another wrote his YA novel during his son’s hockey practices. These reminders perk me up when I’m feeling deflated (See? Anything is possible if you stick with it.) and kick me in the butt when I’m lagging (You have no children and a flexible work schedule, so no excuses!).

The most important thing I’ve learned from hunting inspiration is that its sources are endless when I remain open to possibility.

 

Photo courtesy of Lisa Whalen

On the Fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland

The High Street in Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival grew up on the “fringe” of the Edinburgh International Festival, which was launched in 1947 to “provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit” in the wake of World War Two. Eight theatre companies, disgruntled that they had not been invited to participate in the inaugural International Festival, came to Edinburgh anyway and performed in smaller venues around town. Both festivals still thrive. Today, the Fringe Festival is larger than the International Festival. In 2017, there were 53,000 performances of 3,300 shows, by companies from 62 countries. The Fringe offers open access to anyone with an idea who can find a venue. Last year it sold 2.5 million tickets.

Day One Fringe

The first day in Edinburgh is a blur. For the newly arrived, the time difference gives the whole city a gauzy filter—like watching a late-night movie through half-closed eyes. To a fuzzy, jet-lagged brain facing a shiny noon on the High Street, the whole place is impossibly attractive in an old world, fairytale kind of way. Also known as the “Royal Mile,” the street runs from Edinburgh Castle down the hill to the Palace of Holyrood House. Along the way, cobblestone passageways with names like Fleshmarket Close and Marlin’s Wynd lead off to courtyards or ancient market squares. During the Fringe, part of the High Street is closed off to vehicles, allowing performers to stage short snippets of shows and spectators to sample the wide range of performances available.

A Fairytale Come Alive

This makes the fairytale seem all the more plausible. That, and some of the people milling around are dressed in 18th-century costumes. You’ll see clowns, zombies, half-naked men holding up other half-naked men on their shoulders, singers, jugglers, and a decent number of metallic-painted people striking dramatic poses.

When someone approaches with an outstretched hand, holding out a colorful piece of paper, you have just been “flyered.”

“Come and see us, it’s great fun. A little bit romance, a little bit mystery. Bring the flyer, and you can get in for half price,” says a young man with a strong Scottish accent and burnished red hair.

An exiled Iranian playwright describes his one-person show in flawless English. He writes about a country to which he will never return in hopes of building understanding about the similarities of “home” in all cultures.

A smiling, silent Korean woman in traditional dress presents a flyer with two hands and a small bow. She is a member of a large dance troupe.

Holding the flyer, looking from picture to person, you might ask “Is that you?” He or she nods and smiles before moving on to the next pedestrian prospect. There are 3,000 shows in search of an audience. That’s a lot of flyers.

Day Two Fringe

“Excuse me, what are you queuing for?” By day two, you feel more comfortable, with both the vernacular and the process. Lines spill from ornate buildings with multiple shows going on at the same time. The answer sends you either to the end of the line or in search of a new one. There are no assigned seats at Fringe shows. Five hundred venues seat anywhere from 10 people to 600 people. The event spaces range from professional theaters that offer performances year-round to grimy bars and tiny cheese shops that host only one show daily during the three weeks in August when the Fringe Festival is on.

Site-specific performances can take you through the Royal Botanic Gardens, led by flaming torches as you watch Macbeth. Or on a bus ride to an ancient ruined abbey on the Scottish border where white-clad dancers enact an eerie tableau.

Day Three Fringe

By day three, you will have laughed and cried and wondered where this incredible event had been all your life. A show created with only shadows produced from an overhead projector leaves you speechless. A comedian from London has you laugh until you cry. A harrowing monologue from a woman soldier in Syria hits you between the eyes and brings the Mideast conflict into sharper focus.

You will fall asleep during at least one show. You will get a little pickier. A pretty flyer and a persuasive thespian are not objective—they are advertising. You learn about reviews and “stars” that are assigned by the many publications that cover the festival every summer. Some reviewers are seasoned experts; some are ambitious interns. You learn the difference the hard way—a rite of passage for any Fringe-goer. You will see a bad show, a show so bad you want to leave but as one of only five people in the audience, you fear the “fourth wall” could be broken by your departure.

This poor experience will soon be forgotten after a pint and a couple more shows. A word of caution: there is a limit to how many shows you can take in and still remember each one separately. Over-stimulation is common, often cured with whiskey and a late-night kebab.

Beware the 24-Hour Clock

The Fringe runs on a 24-hour clock, causing manic numeric hypnosis and the determination to get to that show with the ominous title “Chaucer in the Graveyard” that starts at 23:30—in a graveyard.

Some shows live brightly for three weeks and are seen no more. Others come to the Fringe because it is a marketplace. A chance to be seen and booked to tour Australia, the US, or other parts of the world.

Familiar faces from television, movies, and plays—Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Flight of the Conchords from HBO, Trevor Noah of The Daily Show—have all spent time at the Fringe. Robin Williams was in a Fringe show while he was studying drama in college.

A sunny morning on the High Street may feel like a fantasy but being at the Fringe is a waking dream for a writer. Inspiring stories spring from the tellers—because they must be told. You leave resolved to keep writing the story you have to tell. And to bring it to the Fringe one day.

Final Time from an Inveterate Fringe-goer:

Organizers estimate that the population of Edinburgh doubles—or even triples—in August. Above all, if you are considering a trip, you should plan ahead. Finally, the most important thing is a place to stay; even if you’re only sleeping a few hours each night. Visit Scotland is a wealth of information with a database of accommodations.

Edinburgh is easy to reach from London, with inexpensive flights from multiple London airports. Edinburgh Airport is only eight miles from the city center. A tram runs between the two as well as regular buses and airport shuttles. No need for a car once in the city. You can walk everywhere or take public transportation to more far-flung venues.

You can book tickets to shows in advance. The full program for this year’s Fringe, which runs from August 3 – 27, will be released June 6. Almost 400 shows have already been announced. You can check them out at the Fringe website. The main venues, with reliably good shows, include the Traverse Theatre, Assembly, Pleasance, Gilded Balloon and the Underbelly.

 

headshot of Andrea MoserAndrea Moser spent 35 years writing for other people and organizations, from elected officials and civic leaders to universities and non-profits. These days, she is animating the characters who inhabit her first novel. She is an avid theater-goer, in San Diego and in Edinburgh, Scotland where she has been attending the annual Fringe festival for 20 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos courtesy of Andrea Moser

What to Do When You Have Too Many Good Ideas

a large lightbulbThere was a pivotal moment in my writing life when suddenly I gained confidence in my words. I went from having one I-don’t-know-maybe-this-is-kind-of-a-good idea to having constant oh-my-gosh-I-think-this-is-the-next-great idea(s). It’s like uncovering buried treasure; most of it is gold coins that are exciting yet equal in merit, and a few of them are shiny, precious gemstones you want to hide for fear everyone will steal them away from you.

Now, of those precious gemstones, you get to covet and nurture just one. At least, that’s what seems to be the consensus from the pros on how to get a good (or great) book written. So what do you do with all those other gems?

If you’ve read Big Magic, you know about Elizabeth Gilbert’s “you snooze, you lose” theory: if you sit on an idea for too long, it’s not going to wait for you. It’s going to float back up into the ether and find someone else worthy of its presence.

Depressing, right?!

But working on two (or more) books at a time is overwhelming, even just to think about.

And then there’s the inevitable pitfall of any writing endeavor: fleeting inspiration. At some point, no matter how much you love your idea, the self-doubt creeps in—or worse, writer’s block.  And then those other gems looks shiny and new compared to your current smudged and scratched gem.

Nurturing More than One Idea

So how do you reconcile all these factors without giving up on your current project, ending up with several uncompleted projects, or biting off more than you can chew?

First, I think it’s important to commit to that first project wholeheartedly. As long as it’s working, as long as you believe in it, as long as it was the project that felt most right to bring forth into the world—even if in this very moment you are having doubts—then you need to finish it.

That being said, the psychology of writing is no walk in the park. At best it’s a long, wandering hike through a mountainous forest whose many paths are overgrown with tree roots and muddy impasses. The point is, there are going to be days or weeks—or even months—where you just can’t work on that main project. Be it writer’s block, lack of inspiration, or a roadblock you need to work through just by thinking instead of putting words on the page, that day will come. And when it does, these other gems get their moment to shine.

I’m not talking about jumping ship.

I’m talking about nurturing.

Your idea can’t go to someone else if you continue to pay it attention once in a while.

Giving Your Ideas Loving Attention

Depending on the project, this could be as simple as research; reading a specific book, doing an interview, or online searches for a topic. This could also mean beginning an outline to work through plot or developing characters. The distinction is that you are not jumping head first into a second endeavor while the first is still trying to make its way into the world. You are simply setting aside some headspace or free time to let that gem know it’s still important to you.

It could be once a week, once a month, or even once a year. But this second (or third, or fourth) idea becomes a security blanket, writer’s block therapy, or a spark of inspiration so that you may continue on your path of getting the first project done. And then, when you do, that next project already has a sprouting seed from which you can work.

And the best part? The cycle can continue indefinitely!

 

Melissa Bloom is a writer, writing coach, and certified yoga instructor who is passionate about exploring the connection between productivity and wellness. As the founder and director of the Mindful Writer, Melissa has developed targeted writing tools and techniques that help people develop a sustainable writing practice to accomplish their writing goals without burning out. Melissa has a background in film, animation, and creative writing. She travels often, learns daily, and attends workshops, trainings, and conferences in a continued effort to hone the crafts of writing and living well.

5 Ways to Balance Your Work Life and Writing Life

a stack of rocks balanced on the beachMost of us find it difficult to find and maintain balance between all the different parts of our lives. I often feel like one of those people spinning plates on every body part, including my nose and forehead. But really, finding the happy place in between everything (along with bourbon on ice) is the best way to stay sane in an increasingly insane world where nothing ever stops and “quiet” is quickly becoming an extinct word. So here are a few things I do to get there, stay there, and be happy:

  1. Think Ahead. I have a general idea of what my schedule is going to look like from one week to the next. So every week, I make a list of things I want to get done, and then look at when I can do them. Yes, people say ‘write every day’. I call bullshit. Sometimes, that’s just not possible. I already get up before 6am to get to work, which means I’m not getting up any earlier, and I have to be in bed at a decent hour in order to get up for said job, so staying up late isn’t an option either. So I work with my awake time. I know that I’ll be at work during certain hours of the day, so really, I’m just looking for the pockets. Maybe during my lunch break I can close my office door and read or write something. Or maybe when I get home. And yes, there are some days, when I’m planning to have dinner with a friend, or see a movie, that there probably won’t be time to write. So I don’t plan to. That way, I don’t have to beat myself up about it when I don’t. I prefer to think ahead, see where my opportunities are, and use them to my advantage.
  1. Go Easy on Myself. I’m a master at self-loathing. If I can find a reason I did something wrong, I’ll obsess about it without end. I’m still obsessing about that time I got in trouble in middle school science class for mumbling that an assignment was stupid and got yelled at by the teacher. She was a bitch, but still. I beat myself up every time I walk past a homeless person and don’t give them a dollar. Whenever I stick my foot in my mouth (which is often). So if I can beat myself up for not writing and being unproductive, you bet I will. But I’ve learned that there is always tomorrow. Writing is kind of like being an alcoholic. Every day is a struggle to do something (or not do something). Some days you succeed, some days you don’t. But the important part is to start each day anew. Don’t worry about yesterday’s failures.
  1. Keep a Time Journal. When I didn’t know where my time was going, I started to keep track of it. I’d just write down hour by hour what I did. if you did this, you may find that it takes a lot longer to pay bills than you would have thought. I found that Facebook, TV, talking on the phone, and other activities that don’t seem to occupy space actually occupy a lot of space. I learned to see how to move those around, cut them down, or just pay better attention. I’m not decreeing that you kill your TV and delete your Facebook account (let’s not get crazy, now). Just understand what you’re doing so you’re aware.
  1. Celebrate. When I have a good day, or a streak of good days, I celebrate it. Maybe that means a nice refreshing cocktail and a few episodes of whatever I’m binge-watching (my favorite ritual). Maybe it means dinner with someone special. For you, maybe it’s a gold star on an amazing and intricate chart that you made when you probably should have been writing. But celebrate wins! (And if you did make that stupid chart, use it!) It feels good to win, and winning makes us work harder. It becomes a beautiful cycle where you have a routine of work, writing, fun, work, writing, fun. The last two are my favorites.
  1. Step Away. Sometimes, it’s not about balance, but about escape. I’m not afraid to get away from everything once in a while. Take a little vacation, be it a week in Bora Bora or a weekend on your couch doing nothing (it’s the latter for me, since I’m a broke schmuck). I take time to forget about work, writing, and anything else that stresses me out. Give my body, brain, and spirit some time to recharge, refresh, and refill, so I can dive back in with new gusto when the time comes.

Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

How To Be A Writer Who Reads

a woman reading while sitting on the year 2018As 2017 drew to a close, the Internet lit up with posts boasting how many books people had read in the year. Some were photos of meticulously written lists, others just a blanket statement: “I read sixty-six books!”

That was the one that got me: sixty-six books—in one year.

Were these children’s books? I wondered.

I turned to a new page in my to-do list and jotted down the books I could remember I’d read in the past year. And then I checked my Audible account—because audio books count, right?

My grand total? Sixteen books. That’s one-six. The age you get your driver’s license.

That other person could have filed for social security with her book count.

I glanced at the stack of books on my bedside table and noted that five of them had makeshift bookmarks sticking out the top. Three of those I had started two or three years previous. And I still wasn’t done.

The next thought that popped into my head was, what’s wrong with me? I love reading! Why am I not reading more?

And then I remembered one little detail: I’ve been writing a book.

Not that that’s an excuse. And yet it’s an important factor to consider. Reading is a vital part of any writer’s life. Be it for inspiration, learning new prose, becoming familiar with why certain grammar techniques sound better on the page, or just for the escapism fare from your own ideas.

And yet when forced to make a choice between spending one hour reading and one hour writing, the decision is simple: spend it writing.

That’s what I’d done all year: set aside time for writing. Excepting the audiobooks, three of the books I’d completed had been for a yoga teacher-training program and the three that had been for “leisure” were actually my attempts at finding a comparison title for my own novel.

Sadness and doubt crept into my mind. I was failing at one of my favorite past times. And I refused to believe that reading and writing had to be mutually exclusive!

By chance, I’d just signed up for an online learning platform called Mindvalley and the next morning in my inbox was a video (http://www.emresanli.com/video/?id=ll2C2J6Q3SY) about reading faster! According to the man in the video, Jim Kwik, the CEO and founder of Kwik Learning, the average number of words in a book is 64,000, and the average person reads 200 words per minute. By his calculation, if you set aside forty-five minutes a day for reading, you could finish one book per week.  

Hallelujah! The answer I was looking for dropped into my lap!

Of course, fifty-two books per year still seemed a bit ambitious, but this tangible breakdown of time was the first step in factoring reading into my schedule.

I decided that I would set aside forty-five minutes just before bed for reading. This would give my mind a way to wind down instead of staring at a computer screen. I could still write a bit before that forty-five minutes, or I could move my writing time to when I woke up.

Within a month, I was able to finish one of my “in-progress” books and get halfway through another. Not quite a book a week, but I was also able to achieve my weekly writing goals.

So let’s break this down:

Let’s say you allot three hours per day to writing. Of those three hours, forty-five minutes—or twenty-five percent of your writing time—would go to reading. By that same calculation, if you allot ten hours per week to writing, two and a half hours would go to reading. While this isn’t getting you to fifty-two books a year, it’s allowing you some time for reading without compromising too much writing time.  

You can apply this math to any amount of writing time that works for your week or month. For me, it’s about making reading just as deliberate as I make writing.

And with that I leave you with a Confucius-style quote to ponder:

“To be a good writer, you have to read; and to be a good reader, you have to read.”

Wouldn’t you agree?

Melissa Bloom is a writer, writing coach, and certified yoga instructor who is passionate about exploring the connection between productivity and wellness. As the founder and director of the Mindful Writer, Melissa has developed targeted writing tools and techniques that help people develop a sustainable writing practice to accomplish their writing goals without burning out. Melissa has a background in film, animation, and creative writing. She travels often, learns daily, and attends workshops, trainings, and conferences in a continued effort to hone the crafts of writing and living well.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/3039802/

Judging the Cat

Orange tabby cat sleepingI’ve been watching the cat lately with a little pissiness. Judgment. It annoys me that he stays so apparently healthy and slender and happy, even when he loafs around so much, rarely doing anything but lick fur (urgh, ginger furballs going down), sleep or eat with one spaz attack between 5 and 7 p.m.

I mean, I’m so freaking busy and look at that indolent scrag! I have small people whining, demanding snacks and scrapping it out over who gets to choose the next play of events with the LOL dolls.

I have a husband who looks nonplussed at my nonexistent delight when he wanders in at 7 p.m. after his long day of work lunches and adult problem-solving that he’s paid decent money to do and gets praised lavishly for. He doesn’t understand why I have nothing nice to say. I don’t have it in me to explain the incomplete paragraph of writing, the clenching in my chest at even the thought of sitting down to write because I have left it so long that my brain thinks I am no longer a writer.

It’s flu season, so there’s the afterthought swipe of Clorox over the toilet seat as I leave and then my displaced anxiety that impels pulling a new wipe for the sinks and handles. My heavy writing heart knows the words are in there but instead takes the kids out of school for shots. That leads to a further hour of mothering and treats, voice memoing story ideas as I drive twenty miles to pick up other peoples’ laundry (OPL), while mine is half on the sofa, half on the ground and is stepped around by every other family member.

I will wash, dry, fold, and return OPL to do my part for our family coffers since nothing else I do has any apparent and immediate monetary value, while I ‘write my book’—A pursuit which, I’m warned by everyone who’s had a flutter in the publishing world, won’t earn me any damned money. But I can’t stop thinking about the words, and I can’t find time to write because I’m too busy keeping other creatures alive.

Like the toffee-striped bunch of cat bones lying in front of me. Look at him, paws stretching a little in his sleep, fifty more white hairs coating my olive suede couch from this action alone. Sloth incarnate. And I’m really annoyed. You know, as much as you can be with a feline moocher.

This life ain’t for sissies, I tell the cat, and I’m leaving for a convent, probably by 2 p.m. He can wrangle another goddamned rat for dinner. Or go hunt that lizard he lost in the office yesterday. The same lizard that freaked me the hell out doing press ups in the doorway when I went to find the stapler. Hell, I’ll just leave the guinea pig cage open. Dinner for all.

Somehow, I get through school pick up with stomach acid pumping, the tightness still in my chest, the disappointment of another day not spent writing. I manage a couple of lines in the school parking lot, and while ignoring my kid’s imperfect cartwheels at gymnastics. “Mummy! You missed my round-off again.”

Dinner is a pastiche of TJ’s frozen delights. Kids are coerced, threatened, screamed at and deposited in bed, and finally, I plop down in front of the computer to write. (Subtract the moments I sit for furtive FB feed glimpses that suck writing time through the giant straw that leads to some other ‘verse.)

Now I’m too tired to write, but I do read, a blog: Being Busy is Killing Our Ability to Think Creatively. I then plop on the couch and lay a hand on his fur. He’s completely out. I mean not even aware I laid a hand on him, except for a flick of an ear. And it hits me: I’m jealous. I have no control over my day, or the amount of creativity I think I want to be part of it.

Why? Cos I can’t get off devices or the busy-busy thang. And I’m being hard on myself, and no one else is going to facilitate this or write for me, not that I want anyone on my words. No one can write like me. That’s not an ‘I’m better than everyone else’ thing, that’s a recognition that this voice only comes from fuck knows where in me. And I have a job to do, goddamnit.

Writing time is not ‘me time’ like getting a pedi. It has me by the jugular. I sleep, shower, eat and drive with story ideas floating through my prefrontal cortex; I didn’t go to the Women’s March because I took a writing course. Which means I’d better bloody make it count. My pen and paper are my foam-core board protest signs. I have work to do.

I can keep making excuses and get fucked off at the cat. Or I can wake up to this life I have carved out to write, and write about the blue-eyed girl graven with her tattoos who I haven’t seen in fifteen years, who won’t leave my brain. And about my stroke victim of a father who is beyond reach in the way I want to communicate, in fact, he always was, and the line-up of men who undid me, and I them, and the endless creative ‘tappability’ of this scene we call earth.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/3080966/

Bring the Lover to the Bedroom

An old-fashioned typewriter sitting on a deskA Buddhist teacher once said, “If you want to make wild passionate love, bring the lover to bed.”

Sounds obvious. But is it? This teacher was pointing out that each of us is comprised of many different sub-personalities and in learning to be compassionate and kind to ourselves, we must allow each of them their time to shine. There can be a tendency for one aspect of the personality to dominate—to demand all our time. When that happens, our life gets out of balance.

Take me, for instance. I have many sub-personalities: nurturing mother, playful little girl, competent program manager, passionate lover, storytelling cook, feisty writer, awareness practitioner . . . I’ve learned it’s important for me to schedule time for each of these aspects of myself because if I don’t, life feels stressful and out of whack.

If the nurturing mother demands too much attention, the passionate lover dries up, leaving life less than juicy. Meanwhile, if too much time is devoted to program managing while home and family still demand attention, the nurturing mother begins to feel overburdened and resentful. And, if the writer never gets a voice and the awareness practitioner never sits in silence, I forget to step back and pay attention to life. I forget to notice the beauty of any particular moment and instead get swept away in the “busyness” of life.

As I become more familiar with the aspects of myself that legitimately require time and attention (note: NOT the voices of self-hate and self-criticism, mind you), I begin to appreciate the importance of scheduling time to work, time to nurture, time to be juicy, time to stop and pay attention, or as I like to think of It now, time to “Listen, Play, Write.” I begin to see this approach as a commitment to my whole self—to supporting each of my sub-personalities.

That being said, it still requires focus. If I have made a date to make love with my husband, then I better be darned sure the passionate lover shows up! I need to intentionally let the “to do” items of program managing and the worries of the nurturing mother recede to the background before climbing into bed. I need to bring the juicy playful lover to the fore. And, coincidentally, when I do it brings plenty of fodder to my writing table later.

I say all this because it is a particularly important reminder for us writers—we must schedule time to write. Our other sub-personalities will be vying for attention: devoted spouse, soccer parent, competent office worker, and we must give them time, too. But, during the writer’s time, give them all a break and bring the writer to the writing table. You’ll be glad you did.

Try this:

The next time you sit down to write, check in with yourself. Did the writer show up? Or, is the “corporate executive” still planning tomorrow’s meeting—the parent still worrying about the child’s homework? If so, then stop. Take a breath. Let everything else go. Turn your attention back to the page and set the writer free.

Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/collections/159602/the-writers-collection