A Monday morning

smallkindnessWhen your daughter borrows your expensive earrings without asking, and your hair is a wavy mess, and you get a project dumped on you before you’ve even left the house, and one son almost misses the bus, and the other son generates an email from school for being habitually late to science class, and your parking ramp is full so you have to walk an extra three blocks with something in your shoe, and you can’t find your security badge, and you realize you’ve forgotten to plug in the slow-cooker so dinner is not underway as planned…

And then your dad sends you a note about how much he enjoyed your last blog post and how talented you are and how proud he is.

And all things in the universe around you breathe a collective sigh of relief and the day settles back into place.

Small kindnesses matter.

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Puzzling words together

puzzle pieces

To me, writing something – anything – is like putting together a 1000-piece puzzle. Without the picture on the box.

I start with a table full of tiny images, in a jumble. When I dump them on the table, they don’t look like anything but a pile of individual pieces. It’s not clear how they fit together. And the task looks impossible.

My first step is to scatter them all over so I can see each one. Pick apart the pile. Then I start to sort them. Like color with like color. Like pattern with like pattern. Even though they still don’t look like anything, I start to see images emerging. I start to feel how they might go together.

My second step is obvious: build the framework. It’s easier to find the pieces that fit along the edges, the ones that will house all the others. An outline. A structure for everything else to fall within.

And then I start to assemble the pieces. Individual words become phrases. Phrases become sentences. Sentences become paragraphs. The paragraphs begin to fit together and a picture starts to emerge. After a while, it starts to become more obvious where the loose, individual pieces should go. It starts to look like a whole.

The more you assemble, the more evident the picture is. And eventually, the clarity and beauty of the whole will emerge.

The only difference I can see between putting together a puzzle and putting together a piece of writing is that the writing is never done. Admit it, writers: if you could, you’d just keep taking out a few of those pieces and swapping them around to change the picture. Forever. Even if every piece was in the box and each fit into place.

It’s probably how that original artist felt, too, before someone carved the picture into a 1000 pieces and put it in the box to taunt the rest of us.

The promise of an empty room

empty room

For reasons too long to go into here, my living room is completely empty. To some people that might seem incredibly stark and sad. I’ve seen the faces of the few who’ve happened by, the startled looks as they say, before they can stop themselves, “Oh—you have no furniture in here.”

But I don’t find it sad. When I enter this empty room, I feel a sense of release. And possibility.

This room hasn’t been much used. Why? It’s the central part of the house, a space where I always envision my family gathered on rainy afternoons and winter evenings. Where I want to bring friends together to laugh and celebrate.

I believe the room was not hospitable. It didn’t welcome anyone. Or at least it hasn’t for a very long time.

Well, that’s going to change. But in order to fill your space with only things you love, you have to start with an empty room.

I’ve brought in a little color. There will be more. And then there will be some texture. I want textures that you can’t help but pass your hand across. And light. For years, I’ve been sitting in a dark room when I want lots and lots of light. I want to illuminate the corners. I want to soak it up. So I will.

I want warmth. I want my room to take the chill off its inhabitants. And I believe I can make that happen.

That’s the promise of an empty room. You can see it as a vacancy or you can see it as the biggest opportunity of your life.

Envision it full.

Not a writer’s block

fall leaves

Friends and followers, I’ve been absent from your feeds. Sometimes what life hands you requires your energy and you must divert it from the tasks you love.

One of the heartbreaks of the blogging community – what you can only find out the hard way – is that bloggers disappear. They die. They experience an event so crushing that they lose their voice. Or they just plain lose their enthusiasm and stop writing. One day you have a daily correspondent, a friendly voice on the other side of the world and the next day – poof, just like that – they’re gone. You can’t find them. You can’t reach them. And it leaves you feeling bereft.

And then that blogger was me.

Well, I have the same old voice, but it’s reshaped, perhaps, by the events of the year. Painful personal experiences. Exciting career opportunities. Children growing up and pulling a little farther away. A national recognition for my writing – not for my humor, but for the blog post it nearly broke my heart to write.

Fall feels like an ending for a lot of people, but for me it’s always been a beginning; a chance to retreat back into yourself after the glorious chaos of summer. A time to get serious. If you exercise,  you’ve probably gone through times where, for whatever reason, you can’t get to your run, or your swim, or your yoga class. Then you wake up one day and realize you are a little stiffer, a little angrier, you’re losing your edge – and you put the shoes back on and you run.

Well, I woke up feeling like a run today – and here it is.

 

Writing humor – when you don’t feel funny

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I took this photo from the deck the other morning – doesn’t it look mournful, this January sky?

It captured my mood that morning. While there is a promise of something beautiful, January days come with a price – cold, dark, discomfort, and hassle. There is something ominous in the beauty.

I’ve always tried to blog (and write) with a humorous intent. It is my firm belief that even in the most stressful times, you can find something to laugh about. But these days, the only posts I seem to be able to write are about why I’m not writing, and why I can’t hit the writing goals I’ve set for myself. How do you write humor when you don’t feel funny?

It’s not exactly writer’s block. I could write, just not the way I want to do it. Is it like exercise where you work through the block, “no pain, no gain”? Or do you rest yourself, until the moment when laughter comes more easily? Or do you change it up, and write something completely different? Or all of the above?

Beats me.

I’d love to hear from other writers, writing humor or not, as to how they shake off the gloom and get back to work. How you use writing to work through the stresses and strains, rather than let them block you.

This post is a start, right? At least I’m writing something.

A writer with no thumb

IMG_0094Well, I have a thumb, two actually. One of them isn’t working well, however, and it happens to be the one I need the most.

I write with this thumb. Do everything with it, in fact – open jars, open doors, fold laundry, brush my teeth, chop onions. I never realized how inconvenient a sore thumb could be. It reinforces my belief that if our cats had opposable thumbs, they would be much naughtier. All sorts of bad behavior would be suddenly within their reach.

(And you thought the cat picture was just pandering. See how I worked it in?)

I’m resting my thumb, where I can, although I feel a little foolish asking my hulking 12-year-old son to unscrew lids and carry heavy grocery bags. It makes me feel feeble, despite the fact that I likely injured this thumb weight training or doing a handstand in my yoga class.

My chiropractor is hastening my recovery by prodding, taping, and manipulating my thumb in all sorts of unnatural ways. (She tells me it could be the start of arthritis, not just an overstretched tendon, which I refuse to believe.)

And blessedly, it is better. I can now type without pain. Although since it’s improving, I need to come up with another reason as to why I haven’t been writing.

I’ll probably default to the excuse we all tend to use in this part of the world – the cold, snowy, depressing winter weather.

Home remedies for thumb injuries are welcome – already using lavender oil and turmeric. Any other suggestions?

 

Nope, I didn’t finish

Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResI wrote only 11,000 of my targeted 50,000 words. I didn’t even blog that much. Here’s what I did instead…

  • Voted, even though it was an off-year election.
  • Took four teenagers to the funeral of one of their classmates to offer my love, support, and guidance. It was one of the saddest days of my life.
  • Wrote a post on teen suicide that went viral. It was surprising, and it was humbling because it introduced me to the powerful stories of some who are much closer to this issue than I.
  • Drove the carpool a dozen times.
  • Shoveled the first snow of the season. And the second snow of the season.
  • Cheered my daughter at her first dance team meet, and watched an honorary daughter, who I’ve known since she was a brand new baby, in a high school play.
  • Learned how to sequin a dance costume, a task at which I am marginally skilled. (I paid someone to do the second one.)
  • Watched a doe and her fawn on their daily trek through the yard.
  • Counseled my son on the proper use of social media. And then “counseled” him again two weeks later.
  • Discovered where the mice are entering the basement.
  • Cooked a Thanksgiving feast for just my family of five and let the kids eat in their pajamas which, as it turns out, is their favorite Thanksgiving “tradition”.
  • Retired a favorite pair of yoga pants.
  • Took my oldest and my youngest to a performance of the opera. An appreciation for opera happens to be one of the few things they have in common.
  • Helped my daughter address a knotty scheduling problem, and then let her cry it out  for 15 minutes afterwards, sitting in the car in an unheated garage.
  • Repainted the hearth. It has needed a new coat of paint for twenty years.

So no, I did not write 50,000 words. Are these excuses? Not really – just a partial accounting of my time so I can see where I go from here. Perhaps I’m not an author, but I’d like to think I’m slightly closer to a life well-lived.

And congrats to those who did hit the target, in particular to Cristina at Filling My Prayer Closet and Jennifer at The Deliberate Mom. As we opera goers say, “Brava”!

MeWriNoMo

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Also known, on alternate days, as MeWriSoPo. Let’s just say National Novel Writing Month is not going well for me. It’s a little like training for a marathon I’m never going to run. All effort without satisfaction and bragging rights.

We are past the halfway point and I have only 8,180 of the targeted 50,000 words. I probably should have opted for NaBloPoMo since I have already convinced myself that, given the motivation, I can crank out a post a day for a limited time.

I seem to be at my best writing in short bursts of about 300 words. (If you have math skills equivalent to 5th grade or higher, you may now divide my actual count by the number of days that have passed in November and see how abysmally long this is going to take me. And that’s if I never take a day off. I have “taken off” approximately 14 of the last 17 days.)

Besides 41,820 words, here’s what I’m missing:

  • A plot. OK, that’s an overstatement. What I’m missing is a compelling plot. One someone might actually want to read.
  • A name for the character who is narrating the story. As dumb as this sounds, it is keeping me from writing my synopsis and completing my NaNoWriMo profile. Which has become a writer’s block. Suggestions, anyone?
  • An attention span longer than 20 minutes.

A little planning would’ve helped. Characters keep popping in and out of my story like drive-bys on the highway. I get a quick glimpse of them, and then they’re gone. And it would help if I could keep myself from being derailed as life happens, because life seems to be happening a lot around here lately.

Excuses, excuses.

(This post is exactly 300 words. See what I mean?)

My own worst enemy

IMG_0164Imaginary friend you say? Sure, I see her in the mirror every day. Had coffee with her just this morning. But I’m not sure I’d call her a friend. She’s a harsh critic.

“Looking a little gray,” she’ll say. “And worn out. You look like you could use a nap.”

“No time for a nap,” I snap back. “Too much to do.”

“You wouldn’t have so much to do if you were more organized. You were home half the day yesterday. What, exactly, did you accomplish?”

“Are you kidding? I did a ton. I raced off to an early morning meeting. Did the grocery shopping. Washed and folded three loads of laundry. I checked in on my pending projects. Spent two hours helping H. study for a test. Made dinner. Plus it was my day on the carpool. How is that nothing?”

“Well, it still looks like a cesspool around here. You didn’t get all that laundry put away, did you? And there’s more to do. It’s late October already. Have you thought about cleaning up the yard? Washing the windows? Having the furnace checked? The holidays will be here before you know it. Any plans there?”

I can feel my pulse quicken. My head start to pound. This chick is the worst.

“You said you’d get the house in order before this project kicks off. Clean off your desk. When are you going to do those things? You’re running out of time!”

“It’s not that bad,” I say, not really believing it.

“Well, I don’t see many items checked off that to-do list.”

Silence.

I wish I could see less of this friend. But if it weren’t for her, I’d be alone much of the time. What’s worse, isolation or constant reflection? Is there an in-between? A way to turn this nag into a motivating force? If there is, I can’t see it.

“Alright, I’m done here,” I say. “I’m headed to yoga class.”

“I’ll get my coat,” she says.

“Sorry, you can’t come,” I say, with, I admit, a great deal of satisfaction. “It’s the one place you aren’t welcome.”

I feel myself relax as I shut the door in her face, start the car, head down the driveway. But I know she’ll be there when I get back. Just hope she’s made some more coffee as she awaits my return.

This is a Daily Post #postaday piece. Read other posts here

 

Time bank

0098OPThis morning’s Daily Post writing prompt asks what we would do if we had an extra hour. Well, I’ve got this one down. I’d do what I do every year when we “fall back” from Daylight Savings Time.

One October, we forgot to turn the clocks back. When I realized it, about halfway through the morning, I decided to wait. I figured I didn’t need the hour as I perused the Sunday paper and drank my coffee, but I was pretty sure I’d need it later in the day when the full impact of the week ahead, and my massive list of unfinished chores, started to hit me.

As is typical, I began to fall behind in the early afternoon. Laundry was piling up. There were dishes in the sink. None of the kids had their homework done. I hadn’t planned anything for dinner. I could feel my weekly Sunday panic starting to take hold.

So I set all the clocks back. Voilà! I was once again on schedule. Or at least closer to on schedule. And a new habit blossomed into being.

Even though I don’t accomplish a whole lot more in my extra hour, it gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I’m cheating, somehow, and that’s pretty thrilling for a “rules girl”. If I could, I’d do this about once a week. The bad news? I’d be years in the past by now. The good news? Some of those dated items in my wardrobe would look a whole lot less offensive.

We’re “falling back” in a few weeks. I’d strongly recommend you give it a try…