Thursday, October 21, 2010

very productive day...

So I want to write a book.  I have written over 120 articles in the past 6 months.  I have a life story that more people can’t claim and yet, I have no idea what to write.  Somehow I’ve gotten out the habit of writing every morning.  How did that happen? There was the trip to Canada in august and then mold fiascos and then apartment hunting and then packing and moving.  And now? I’ve been living here over a month, and yet, somehow puttering in the garden and painting furniture and searching thrift stores for the right night table and meandering on craigslist’s free listings and the day has slipped away.  What happened? Could this be why I’ve been feeling so crabby, skin is bristling to the world that keeps tossing out barbs? Am I craving writing that I was starting my day with for so many months? Or maybe, am I missing the praise and the feedback and the self-ego boosts about what a great writer I am? It seems like there was a rush of rainbows – articles published, newspaper journalist, websites eager to post my words for payment – first timer’s luck? Random blessings? Too much good news building up a false sense of confidence?

Because now, six months later, I find my words have curled away from inspiration and scatter in gusts of doubt when I run in pursuit.  I wonder how much is simply I have let myself get out of the habit of composing, let myself build new routines of inane errands and superfluous tasks that sweep away creativity and suck time thru a meaningless vortex.  I know that I am uniquely gifted at wasting time until I’m late, filling spaces with dusting and organizing, pruning and the “home” aisles at tj maxx.  I’ve been gardening and going to appointments, painting and reorganizing. There was a visit from my parents and three blind dates.  There was the planning of the parental visit, thanksgiving plans, and a looming future without a steady paycheck.  There’s always something I can distract myself with.

 I would never have said that I procrastinate.  Rather, I’m the opposite – give me a task, an assignment, an essay to write, and I feel anxious until I can get it done – hence the depositing the check the moment I receive it, buying the birthday gift when I notice it at the bottom of my list.  And yet, my wise friend pointed out – that is exactly procrastination masked as productivity.  I can run around all day, home depot, the grocery store, the park, planting, vacuuming, walking the dog, doing laundry...very productive...and not least not in the quantity that I do them.  This is how I put off crafting an introduction, mulling over plot, and avoiding outlines of chapters.  This is how I fritter hours away because there are always library books to return days before they're due, milk to buy without the apples I'll need tomorrow, and towels to launder the moment they soak up a spill.  A vision of “Don’ts” in time management and productivity.  I don’t want the title of procrastinator.  Don’t like it.  And yet, I zip it up snugly as my book remains a plan rather than a work in progress.

It’s easy to talk about writing, plan to write, create space to write, graph budgets and brainstorm titles.  But still there is the blank page and days have passed.

Write what you know – that’s what all of the authors say.  Classes aren’t essential – the best medicine for writing is daily writing and read as much as you can.  Ok – so I’ve got the reading under control and the daily writing – I can get back there.  So I’m supposed to make a plan – a business venture to propose – does it include classes? Is it arrogant to assume that I don’t need education in writing before trying to draft my story? But more than the plan – because I’m good at plans and numbered outlines and excel spreadsheets...more than the plan is the bigger question: what kind of book to write?

I could write fiction; a thinly veiled memoir with artistic freedom to speak for my loved ones, disclose family trauma without splashing ‘nonfiction’ across the cover.  But with fiction, there must be a plot and a climax, a storyline and an ending.  And how to begin the story of my family? Is it a generational saga? No – I’m not really a fan of those.  So I think I’d want it to be written from the different characters perspectives.  Is that overdone? Would I be able to write fiction? I’ve never really tried. And what would be the ending? I have no good ending – but I wouldn’t want a story wrapped up in a bow anyway.  And then I feel like I’d need to do some research – reread some of my favorite novels – but then I’ve read that’s a bad idea – don’t over think, don’t look for inspiration in old dog-eared novels because you’ll end up stuck in their genius and unable to write with your own voice.  Can I tell I story that others would want to read without the support of true-life accounts?

So I could write nonfiction – which is what I at least know, read more of, and have been doing for the past six months, not to mention fifteen years.  But memoirs seem tired – and for sure addiction memoirs are passé –but what is my story without that? More I want to write a compilation of articles, thoughts on life, and various insights like what I’ve blogged on – but what would keep the reader’s attention? There still needs to be a storyline, characters revisited, history explained, albeit slowly, that keeps it from being forever closed after a few chapters.  How would my family react? How do I make it unique? Something undone?

I feel like that’s impossible – I want to make it like Sabrina ward Harrison in “spilling open”, like “encyclopedia of an ordinary life”, like ‘plan b: further thoughts on faith’ by Anne lamott, like ‘bird by bird’.  What is my angle that’s undone? What makes my story worth reading? What’s the catch? The specialness?

And then I know – I’ve fallen into the old trap, prey to the quicksand of silence until I find my talent, my specialness, the one thing that I am the best at. 

There it is – that’s where I start –

“Potential at my heels” – I start writing without a plot fully planned, without an outline, without knowing exactly what the book is about.  

Or is that totally wrong?

Why all of a sudden do I feel lost in the pages of vanishing prose, unsteady balancing atop piles of journals, blindly wandering aisles of novels with a pen as my white cane? I don’t know the best way to write a book.  So I would turn to more advice – more articles and books on writing, but I promise you, I could spend a year doing that and I’m not sure I’d be anymore clear. 

Perhaps if I had a mentor – someone to pile my articles and journals and artwork and musings and say, help! Show me how to string this together. Help me create art from stale tears and thread stories to knit a cloak of prose. Help me figure out how to use all of these writings, what order to put them in, if I need a plot and a neatly outlined direction, or if I just put pen to paper? Help me tease apart my melodies and flesh out the orchestra. Guide me as I lug my words upon my shoulders.

Well, I don’t know if I’ve figured anything out- but at least I wrote. I wrote without a plan, for hours, just a rush of worries laid down and words spilling over the prior days of silence. I just wrote. That’s enough for today. 

a very productive day...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

8 minutes

8 minutes.  8 minutes away and it’s been 9 months since I’ve made the trip.  It’s not polite to broadcast, rude to rub in the fact that I live a hop and a skip away from the ocean, so I’ll murmur it above the breeze and inhale sandy toes.

I used to walk on the beach every morning, one of the ‘regulars’ collecting sand dollars and able to cite exact timings of low tides.  When I lived walking distance away, I couldn’t imagine how anyone California resident would pass up the chance to stroll at the water’s edge.  It was easy and familiar, dug into my safety zone with plastic shovels.

But then I moved, moved, and moved again.  New routines built small boundaries as I shirked the unfamiliar and strayed from the different.  The beach was too far.  There’d be nowhere to park.  It would be too crowded.  I didn’t know how to get there.  All fine lies to keep me stuck inland and falsely safe as the balm of crashing waves ebbed from my memory. This is usually how my trail goes: widening before narrowing, trampled with guests and picnic remnants leading to fallen leaves and missing footsteps.  But always, slowly, the worn path reappears, opening up with laughter and exploration.  New growth rooted in risk.

So it’s been a week of unfurling petals and stretching familiar zones, poking holes in routines and remember the sound of sea gulls.  8 minutes away and I even managed to parallel park for free street parking.  It wasn’t far, crowded, or hard to find – merely new.  New, looming large if enclosed in the dark, turns out to be exciting, added joy to the salty sunshine as I made sand angels by the shore, welcoming the sandy sprinkles I knew I would find later in my scalp.  And just to seal add confirmation to my spontaneity, the moment I sat up, 7 dolphins frolicked by for a free show in playfulness. 

It’s not polite to rub it in, and if it helps, traffic coming home added half an hour.  Of course I have my sore spots and mud holes, but for today I am where I need to be, 8 minutes from sandy toes and a routine with gaping arches. 

For today I’ll whisper out of respect: Waves are my murals and life is good.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

For no good reason

Tucked amidst the ‘wrong side of the bed’ days, gray weeks, and ‘bang your head against the wall’ moments, are those days where minutes flow easily tinged with joy.

It’s one of those days where nothing is particularly good or exciting, no big plans or special celebrations, but simply a morning spent smiling.  I wish I could figure out what makes the difference – wish I were in on the secret, could bottle up my contentedness, and reproduce the simple joy when the world is rubbing me raw. But rather than analyze the whys and hows, rather than squander the day making lists of possible factors: good night sleep, entertaining phone chat with new friend, baby tomatoes beginning to grow...and I’m reigning my obsessiveness in....done.... really.

Rather than make lists, I feel like I should do something. Be out; enjoy the happiness, live life to the fullest. And that’s just a recipe for an abrupt end to my peace of mind, because now there’s pressure to have the ‘best day’ or do something great – like New Year’s Eve plans or Valentine’s Day.

And really, there’s nothing pressing to run off to – no crucial errands or important business to take care. It’s not a beach day or warm enough to frolic in the park.  But even so, I have to train myself to sit still, not to fill the seconds with cleaning and re-cleaning, organizing, errands, and lists – not to be scared of space stretched ahead, and to recognize that perhaps the sweet balance of the day sneaks in only when I’m still long enough for it to catch me.

So I’m just going to enjoy it, without stress to maximize or pressure to achieve.  I’ll write and I’ll work, I’ll putter under fresh mint blooms and curl up with a warm puppy and a book.  I’ll go about my normal day.  And there’s the beauty – sometimes the best days are just the normal, ho-hum days, the blessings that only occur in the absence of crisis. 

Leaving behind the reasons and wishes to capture and save, I wish you all a normal day of smiling over nothing and that sense that it’s “A Good to be Alive” day.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Crashing through polite boundaries

It is entirely possible that I have become the annoying stranger bulldozing polite social boundaries.  Or put another way, I am exuberantly friendly with important gems to share...

Sitting in a waiting room, I catch my seat neighbor pulling out an Anna Quindlen book.  Looking down, I bite my tongue until self-control slips under the chair and I lean over to proclaim my love for said author. And before I know it, I’m jotting down other favorite ‘must-reads’ for her and trading thoughts on past loved pages.  Ah, my job is done.  Reader gold star for Lauren.

Apparently, she missed my inappropriate social behavior, and we continue to chat amidst the much-appreciated ultra air conditioning, covering preciousness of the library, tips on parallel parking, cheaper parking lots, book clubs, and our growing displeasure with doctors who triple book.  By the time my name is called, Roz and I are now well acquainted and on our way to best buds. 

It’s partly a sickness; this welcoming enthusiasm that nabs innocents and displays ‘potential friend’ signs in neon above random strangers’ heads. I’m sure that the guy buying milk doesn’t always want to strike up a philosophical debate.  Or the dog walkers who are just looking for a quick potty trip rather than a budding connection.

However, I would rather live in a world with too many smiles, extra ‘good mornings’ and friendly waves.  I would rather hear the tips and recommendations, the secrets of the city, and get the added bonus of a distance shortened; the isolation ebbing back to reveal kind hearts and gentle footsteps.  Given the choice, I’d opt for occasional annoyances if it meant more bodies without masks and a corner of the world where I feel at home. 

So I pass along the crossroads of the best dog park, and trade gardening tips with my upstairs apartment dweller.  I nestle into my community, and collect compassionate hands to hold and faces that mark the familiar.  And if the friendliness turns sour and boundaries are crushed, I hope that they will remember my face and choose another seat the next time...