The Value of My Work

I took a big leap this week, and it feels weird. For months now, I’ve been meeting regularly with my writing group, an amazing bunch of women writers who are all exceptionally talented. Though they aren’t all published, they all have the chops to be, and we support each other by giving critical feedback on each other’s work, sharing resources, and encouragement. They have helped me feel more committed to my writing and they’ve helped me understand the value of my work.

Not one, but two of my writing colleagues recently took a week to themselves to head to their cottages and spend the time writing. They were able to accomplish so much without the distractions of every day life. I’ve been fantasizing about this for a long while now, and my writing friends nudged me to take action.

Yesterday I launched an IndieGoGo campaign to help fund a self-directed writing retreat. My hope is to take a week in April and work through the end of my novel revisions, so that the manuscript is ready for an editor. It’s a great plan, so why does it feel strange? It feels strange because there’s so much going on in the world right now. I look at Facebook and my news feed is filled with real struggles and sorrows all over the world. It feels a bit shallow asking people to donate to help me publish a novel when so many other people need help.

Yet my work, my writing, is the way I make the world better. It has been since I started blogging over a decade ago about my life, about my struggles. I write to give people hope, to help them feel like they aren’t so alone in a difficult and confusing world. With my novel, my first foray into fiction, I write to help them escape for a little while, to imagine other possibilities. I write to make people feel joy and laughter, and when I’m writing, I feel like I’m helping the world in the best way I can.

And so, humbly and vulnerably I’m asking you to have a look at this video, and the campaign below (you can also click right here) and consider making a contribution to help me publish this novel. If my writing has ever touched you, made you smile, helped you feel connected, or lifted your spirits, I know you’ll enjoy my novel. Even $5 will help me reach my goals.

All the Balls

I’ve been a bad writer. Any of you who have taken on writing know that sometimes it just doesn’t happen. The words go away, and your computer screen or blank page seems to mock you. In my case, it’s never for a lack of ideas, it’s not writer’s block in the traditional sense. I literally block myself, stepping into the path of my own writing and grinding it to a halt.

Until I’m clear on why I do this, I’m not sure how to break this cycle. My momentum will be going strong and then, bam! Something happens and I derail myself. In this case it’s been months away from the page, as evidenced by my disappearance here.

My issues with writing are attached to value, guilt, worth. All ugly stuff really, and the kind of stuff that I speak so passionately against where everyone else is concerned. Why are we all so bad at following our own great advice?

Life without writing isn’t awful. I have enough meaningful work, volunteer gigs, beautiful moments with friends and family to keep my days filled with good feelings and a sense of purpose. Life without writing does feel a lot like the difference between eating well and laying into foods that just don’t agree with you. Or skipping vitamins for too long. Something wasn’t working quite right underneath all of the good stuff. Something felt off.

So, on Monday I dusted off my novel and got back to re-writes. I entered a contest. I decided I’d do NANWRIMO (national novel writing month) and write a Christmas present for my daughters. Can you hear my writer’s knuckles cracking?

I’d like to say that I motivated myself. That the feeling of not writing was worse than the struggle and uncertainty of a daily practice. I’d love to tell you that I gave myself a pep talk and decided my passion for words and stories was worth the time investment, even if I never made a living off my writing. I’d be thrilled to say that I’ve decided to take myself more seriously as an artist. But those would all be lies.

Last week my four-year-old son came home from junior kindergarten with a package. It contained a very simple book about colored balls. We sat on the couch and he read each page to me, clear and sure, and my heart exploded out of my chest. It was the first book he’s ever read to me.

I remembered how as a child, books saved me from loneliness and filled my soul to the brim with possibility. I saw his own potential for reading his way through endless adventures open up right there in our cozy living room. I felt an ache so deep and strong pushing me to make sure my kids get to read one of my books someday. A book that I’ve written.

“This is me in all the balls.” That was the last line of the book my son was reading. I may have to juggle a whole bunch of them, but I can’t drop this one again because it’s just too important.

Tasting My Own Medicine

You know how I’m always saying how important our passions are, and how we all deserve to make more time for them in our lives? Well, I’ve kind of been a jerk about this in my own world. It’s a kind of ‘do as I say’ situation around here right now, but I think I may have had a break through this weekend in tasting my own medicine.
Tasting My Own Medicine PIN

On Friday I packed up my computer, my huge printed copy of my manuscript, and very little else and drove about four hours north of where I live for my first ever writing retreat experience. It was a a small gathering of totally inspiring, encouraging super women and I felt so very lucky that this opportunity kind of fell in my lap.

You’ll notice I haven’t written much lately. I did that thing again, where I decide that money-earning work is more important than soul-satisfying work, and while sometimes they are the same, the two don’t always co-exist. My writing found its way onto the chopping block again. No blog posts. No novel revisions.

At this retreat, I had a LOT of silent time to work on my revisions, and I ate it all up. I skipped out on swimming in the lake despite the gorgeous weather. I only indulged in one short walk. If you tried to find me, I would nearly always be on the screened porch, overlooking the water and the trees, typing FURIOUSLY. It just didn’t feel like enough time.

We broke the day up with delicious meals we prepared for each other and with thoughtful and beautifully facilitated writing workshops. These were amazing, but I found there was an angry beast inside me that just wanted to keep pounding away at the novel, so painfully aware that there was a real risk it would start collecting dust again as soon as I made it back to the city. I felt guilty, because I wasn’t totally present for the other stuff, even though it was important, and fun. I was a bit singular in my focus and I fear that I came off disinterested and detached. Maybe the other stuff helped feed the monster inside me who just couldn’t stop writing? The beautiful little sign beside my bed let me know every night that ‘there is no wrong way to do this’.

Never mind that guilt business. I don’t want that feeling to be my takeaway, not when there were so many other feels: inspiration, admiration, love, peace, purpose, excitement, wonder, fear. My goal was accomplished. I got to revise about nine chapters, which feels good. I also created two new scenes. And, most importantly, I woke up an hour early this morning to keep the momentum going. I need to write. Every day. Or else all of the other ducks in my life start to quack out of their rows. Or else I’m not living the life I want myself to live.

Beyond the still silence of the lake, the chilling morning call of the loons and the musky/damp riches of the trees, one of the stand out impressions from my weekend were the forget-me-nots. Their cheery little periwinkle heads popped up everywhere, lining every path, arranged with little fern fronds for dinner table decor. It was a constant reminder to myself of how important this kind of space is.

Here’s a little sample of my workshop writing. It’s not from my novel, just a little poetry exercise. It’s rough, but I wanted to share a little bit from the weekend.

 

I wanted love.

I got more than I could ever imagine.

I wanted a family.

I found one ready-made, and made just for me.

I wanted to experience the heights and depths of life.

Then I looked at death as many times as it takes

to touch the finger tips on both of my hands.

 

I wanted to create life.

First I created worlds,

then I created an institution.

Now I’m creating a tiny legacy with words.

 

I wanted a child,

And three humbling wonders reached

for my unworthy hands with sticky digits

They showed me that I knew exactly nothing about myself.

 

Now all I want is to deserve it all.

To show up for it over and over again.

Open, unafraid of my newly discovered softness,

Yielding to the splendor of just simply being here

With my heart in my sometimes steady hands.

How to Call Yourself An Artist

One of the hardest struggles I’ve faced in my professional life was having the courage to call myself an artist. I spent many years surrounding myself with artists, working for artists, and pursuing romantic relationships with artists, yet all the while, I felt like I was too scared to claim the title for myself. When I finally took the first tentative steps towards standing tall in my own artsy shoes, I realized that all along, I was looking to others for the very thing I needed to embrace in myself.

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This One’s For You, Robbie M.

 

A visit from good friends had me in tears in my kitchen last night, but let me back up a little.

In the fashion of all great deadbeats, I’ve vanished from your lives again. Maybe you didn’t notice. Maybe you’re rolling your eyes at the suggestion that you would notice my complete and utter lack of writing. I’ve noticed, and as usual, I’ve been hurting from the absence of words to share. I’m a deadbeat. I’m owning it, and it’s hurting me more than it’s hurting you.

My excuses are almost always good. I went through a huge and cathartic reckoning where I had to account for some pretty heavy-duty shortcomings, and make amends with some pretty important people. That shit ain’t easy. It’s humbling, and painful, and it’s private, so I couldn’t really share the details. It took the piss out of me, and left with this raw combo of self-hatred, and newly acquired self-love. The latter is so weird and unfamiliar, that I had to constantly work at it to scrape through the few weeks leading up to the next big thing.

We moved. We’re still in the country, far away from city life, but now my nuclear family has a home of our own. There were bountiful blessings living with our in-laws, but it was most definitely time to find our own home, and it’s the perfect home for our unique family. What a gift from the Universe! Our pre-teen daughters get their own bedrooms and bathrooms (Hallelujah!) our little boy gets his own room and mommy has a private grown up bed again, and we all have a beautiful pool to enjoy. Hosting friends in our own space is a healing that I didn’t even know I needed. The house is wonderful, but this big change is not without some growing pains. For example:

I haven’t really slept well since mid May. Life stress leading up to the move, and trying to transition Noodle into his own bed has taken it’s toll. I need some great strategies to help transition this little guy so that he can sleep on his own, and I need a full night’s rest.

The dog is making us crazy. She’s SUPER high energy, very mouthy, not yet housebroken, and deaf. The children are somewhat terrified of her, because she’s drawn blood from all of us. I ┬ábit off way more than I can chew here, I realize. It’s in my nature to throw my hands up from this frustration and walk away before I can reap the benefits of a mature relationship that has weathered the shit storm, in this case of puppy hood. I will fight that nature, because I really hate my ‘run for cover’ impulses, and I’ve committed to giving this dog a better life. She’s so beautiful, and when she looks at me with those hazel eyes…well, I’m keenly aware that neither of us are going anywhere. Sorry daddy, you’re just going to have to deal with this unruly fur baby of ours.

We’ve radically changed our diet and lifestyle. Our whole family has given up carbs of all kinds and sugars of all kinds. The adults stay below 30 net carbs per day, and our kids only get sugar from berries. No more wheat, grains, rice, etc. All gone. For just over two months now. A huge change, and I’ll tell you more about it in future posts. Why such radical change? Basically because the excessive amount of sugar in our diets is killing us, the information we are fed about ‘proper nutrition’ is a lie created by big agricultural corporations, and because I want to live as long as I can, in the very best shape I can be in. Reading, listening to podcasts and finding and cooking new recipes has eaten up so much time, but it’s been so very worth it.

But all of this is bullshit, isn’t it? There will always be excuses for why I don’t write, and I’ll never realize my dreams if I continue to cower behind life. Something else is always going on, but in the midst of this, there will always be time to write. If I don’t write it’s because I’m afraid. It’s because I’m succumbing to that external voice that tells me I have no right, that I have nothing to say.

I’m sorry that I fell into that well again. I’m sorry I haven’t been a better blogger. I’m sorry my novel is gathering dust, and that I judged all of those women in my last writing class for continuing to hammer away at the manuscripts they’d been working on for years. This writing business is unbelievably hard when I’m not doing it, and effortlessly easy when I am. It’s not easy to be a great writer, let’s be clear, it’s easy to find the words. They flow like honey, and I can barely type fast enough to catch this.

And so, in my kitchen last night, when my friend shared how much his brother enjoyed my writing, and was missing my posts, his brother who I never would have pegged in a million years as the kind of person who would like my style, I was moved to tears. My writer’s ego is huge and fragile. I realized in that moment that this guy is exactly the kind of guy I want to get to with my words. The kind of girl he would marry is the kind of girl I want to reach with my fiction. I felt like I was getting just the kick in the ass that I needed to pick up where I left off here.

So Robbie, this one’s for you. Thanks for reading, I appreciate it more than you can ever know.