Trundling

I’ve started walking again. I’m trying to do it every day. And it’s awesome, actually. The animals I’ve seen on my treks around my neighborhood have included:

– A bunny
– Groundhogs — I startled one today as I was walking on the sidewalk, and as I was passing a bush I heard this rustling…I thought it was a cat. Big guy was running off into a meadow. No, not running. Trundling. A wibbly, wobbly badump badump badump, his long body trying to slink along but having such stumpy legs that it can’t happen. Do I look like that, out here?
– Several deer — these are my favorite. Last week I saw a doe with her fawn and I swear I felt like I won the lottery.
– Dogs
– Many cute sparrows

Some days, it doesn’t feel like much. The ritual of getting dressed in clothes you don’t mind sweating in, finding socks that won’t get eaten in your shoe, lacing the shoes so you won’t get blisters…it can feel like eternity just making it to the other side of the front door.

As I’m sure you’ve read I have started my 500 words per day for the Clarion Write-a-thon. I wrote on Twitter a few minutes ago:

Aiming at 500 words per day is like rehab. But it’s something, though, and it feels good. Every night is a little easier.

Walking and writing: they go hand in hand. It’s all a matter of not thinking, not letting those crippling thoughts stop you from just showing up. It’s simple to give in to gravity, to not fight against it, but at the end of that mile, at the end of the night, the feeling of being so alive is worth the baby steps.

It’s not a marathon…yet.

It’s not a book…yet.

But it all adds up.

Writing Tip: Relax Before Everything Explodes

Image

This picture was taken at the lovely Japanese Garden in Washington Park Arboretum, when I visited Seattle, WA.

I know these used to be numbered, but is anyone keeping count really? (This is not a challenge to go back and check the last time I did this or to express that you do, in fact, know how many of these I’ve done. You’ll just make everyone feel BAD.)

Recently, I’ve gotten a few inquiries from fellow writers who have been curious about the process of publishing. I’m always flattered, and as much as I want to say, “I’ll tell you all about it after I use the facilities” and slip surreptitiously out the bathroom window, I do share the knowledge I have. One of my tips is always looked at as extremely counter-intuitive, especially in our culture of ‘keep going, drink coffee, never stop doing what you want AND what will pay you money AND take a spa day with your Blackberry.’

Relax.

Take it easy.

I know, I know. It’s fun to get into that momentum where you’re hurling yourself through every twist and turn like you’re in a foam forest while wearing one of those crazy padded Sumo bodysuits. Look at what a powerful force you are! You can’t stop now! You have to get all of those words out there into the world before they get stale! Every story, article, book or essay is a souffle, and if you let it sit too long, it’s going to sink and nobody is going to want it.

Now, this tip is not to discourage goal-setting – you should definitely set up a GPS when you start out on the wordsmithing roadtrip – but give yourself some space. Take a look and say, “If I really went through this at espresso speed, how fast could I get it done?” Then, multiply that time by two. Slow down. Recognize each step. What’s your rush, cowboy?

When you take your time – when you stop and take a look around the beautiful path you’re on – magic happens. Mindfulness happens. You are more present. You are more aware. It is a peaceful feeling, not going 90 miles-per-hour. Try it.

5 Things I Learned About Writing (And Life) from my Mom

Your mom is the first person who gets to see you at your worst: naked, gross, kind of bloody, screaming. They look at you and for some reason, they don’t run away from that horror show. And they stick around and deal with years of crying and pooping and crying and bleeding and crying and…well, that was my experience anyway. Even though you may not realize it at the time, your mom teaches you things, and those things affect what you choose to do and make with the time you have.

These are just a few of the things my Mom taught me that I have found have impacted my writing. You might learn a thing or two as well.

1. Life is too short to do stuff you hate. Whenever I think that I’ve made the worst decision ever, Mom tends to tell me about how she almost became a nun. We talk about all the steps she took to reach that goal and how, once she was there, all she could think about was leaving. Never be satisfied with misery just because you think you owe it to yourself to wade through the muck. Come at writing and working from a place of joy. If that place can’t be found, time to look elsewhere.

2. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Over the years since I moved to Pittsburgh, I have had to call my Mom and commiserate over bad times. I can call my Mom in tears, and usually before the end of the call, we’re laughing about whatever is going on. Nothing you’re doing – whether it’s a memoir about the worst time of your life or a set of poems about death and despair – is so bad that you can’t take a second, smile and realize that you’re alive.

3. Come at it a little at a time. The other day, I was talking to my Mom about how to organize my home. We are both packrats, and I always marvel at how everything seems to have a nook or home at my mother’s house (“That’s organized?” she asked me, laughing). However, she gave me this advice and it’s made a world of difference. It’s so easy to fall into being completed overwhelmed, but that’s only if you come to the mountain and immediately cry because you’re not at the top. One step at a time. One word. One sentence. That’s all it takes. You’ll get there.

4. You can’t always be in control. This one is always a doozy for me. I’ll be sweating and screaming about something – anything – and after minutes of sound advice, my Mom will finally say, “You have to give it over to God.” And I’ll make some inappropriate noise at that, and she will tolerate it, because she knows she’s right. You can’t always have your ducks in a row (look at Youtube; those things are always falling into holes and grates and getting blown over by fans, etc). Sometimes you have to sit down at the screen and say, “Okay, God/universe/Muse…I don’t know what’s happening, but let’s give it a go, huh?”

5. Live life with joy and spontaneity. Some of my fondest memories are of the random things my mother and I have done together: trips to the beach or to a bookstore or even to a fancy mall. You don’t need a crazy trip to Hawaii to get your creativity going or rejuvenate your energy. All you need is the willingness to step out of the normal day-in-day-out of your existence. Have a little adventure. You’ll be a better writer…hell, you’ll be a better person. I know I am.

Thanks, Mom.

What is Change? or, Fifteen Minute Fiction: Day 1

Yesterday, I went into the office for a team meeting. We have these once a month, and members of our team will present a general business topic. This month, the presentation centered around “change.”

Generally, I’m great when it comes to change. I love getting put into new situations, and I’ll try anything just about once. I really enjoy getting special projects, and I thrive under pressure when I get called to do something out of my norm. As they talked about the ways different people handle variations in their routine and schedule, I felt very comfortable. “I’m just fine with this,” I said to myself. “Throw anything at me. I can handle it. Nooooo problem.”

After the presentation, we were given an exercise to do as a group. We divided up into teams of 3-4 people. Each circle had a notebook and pen. The task was simple: write a story.

Ah, I said to myself. Finally, something I can really do.

So, working with my teammates, we started writing a narrative about two people who lived in a house with a cat. Just as we brought in the narrative hook – the fact that one of these people wanted (dun dun dun!) a dog – one of the facilitators took our notebook away. Then, they split up our team. Then, they gave us another notebook.

This was not what I signed up for.

While I knew it was all in good fun and that it was supposed to be a learning experience, I started getting very tense! When we were talking about change, the idea was supposed to be in relation to easy things — like work. Work is easy. It shouldn’t be about art. Especially my art.

By the second and third point the notebook got taken away, I was getting vocal.

“Loud” might even be a better word for it.

After the exercise was over, though, it really got me to thinking. Sure, it’s easy to look at the terms you hear at a job – time management, change, stress, communication – and feel like you can “master” how they apply in a cubicle, but what about when those things factor into things that are important to you? Like your writing or relationships or family? There may come a time when you can’t just yell about it…

One idea I had to challenge myself as a writer was to start doing 15 Minute Fiction writing. I made up the following rules:

1. I had to use a prompt from a book. I could only use one. No fair skipping around. For tonight, I used today’s date from “A Writer’s Book of Days” by Judy Reeves.

2. 15 minutes. No more, no less. I had to keep typing so long as the clock was ticking.

3. I then had to share it here, with all you lovelies. No matter how bad it might be.

This was a lot of fun, but it definitely embodied the challenge of change. Let me know what you think! If you try it, let me know!

The prompt was just, “Once, when no one was looking…” I went crazy with it.

Wednesday Off

Once, when no one was looking, Wednesday took a vacation.

Tuesday happened. It was very pleasant and breezy, a nice reprieve from the rainy gloom of Monday. Everyone was getting into the swing of the week, committing to their duties, feeling like they had recovered from the weekend. Seats were a bit warmer, more comfortable. It was the way every week should be.

But when the sun was setting, Wednesday decided that maybe the weekend would be nice to see for once. So as everyone went to sleep that night, Wednesday chased the sun around once and they laughed as Thursday blinked into existence.

It’s surprising, what can happen on a Wednesday. It’s the apex of the rollercoaster drop, it’s the main course of the week, it’s the bridge in the song you love. And when Wednesday skipped out on everyone, people felt it.

Wednesday was sitting with Saturday and Sunday, enjoying cocktails, when the complaints started coming in. People felt cheated, like someone had taken the filling out of their cake, the fortune out of their cookie.

“Why should I feel bad?” Wednesday mused. “Everyone’s always talk about how great the weekend is. Nobody says, ‘I can’t wait to make plans for Wednesday!’ Have you ever heard someone say, ‘I love to be out on the town Wednesday night’? Because I haven’t.”

“That’s because you’re reliable,” Saturday replied, checking the agenda book sitting on the table. Every weekend was booked solid. “Folks out there are desparate for the weekend because they feel like their time is going to be stolen from them.”

“Their precious free time,” Sunday added, taking a long pull of a martini.

“And everybody hates Monday. Tuesday and Thursday are just place markers,” Saturday went on. “Don’t tell them I said that.”

“It’s really sad. I wouldn’t want to be either of the T’s,” Sunday said, head shaking at the thought.

“But you, dear,” said Saturday, mojito in hand. “You’re Wednesday. Right in the middle. You fill the world with hope for something better coming, like the worst is behind them.”

Sunday patted Wednesday’s shoulder, nodding sagely in agreement.

“I suppose,” said Wednesday, finishing a Mai Tai. “Well, I guess that’s settled, then. No more vacations for me.”

“Or any of us. Not for a long, long time, I reckon,” Sunday agreed.

And as quickly as the ruckus over the loss of Wednesday had started, it was over. Thursday took its place in line and come the following week, Wednesday walked in, please and content.

For now.

Full of Cheer!

Cat in the Hat

A study revealed that 80% of Americans do not like Christmas. They find it a stressful, difficult time of the year in which they feel pressured to buy gifts, fall into debt and spend time with people they don’t like.

I am the 20%.

I love Christmas. There are rarely days between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day that I am not doing some small thing to stay in the holiday spirit. I love watching Christmas movies. I love baking. I love looking at cards. I love driving around to see lights. I love seeing the decorations in the city. I love good Christmas music.

But this isn’t a post that’s just me gushing about how much I adore the holiday season (though I do – have I established that well enough?). It’s also for you, dear reader. And that is why I offer to you Five Ways to Stay Creatively Sane During the Holidays.

1. Make sure to schedule in time for yourself. I fall prey every year to my own inability to schedule time appropriately. Looking up, I realize suddenly, “I leave for Virginia in three weeks and my weekends are booked – oh god!” And there are gifts to wrap, confections to sugar up, people to see and… Don’t be like me. Give yourself the gift of even twenty minutes a day to recharge and work on something.

2. Forgive yourself. I already know that I’m not going to be terribly productive this month. And you know what? I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I know that come January I will be back at the bag, and I know that I’ll at least tinker with a few things here and there. I’m not setting myself up for failure. Not for the next few weeks anyway.

3. Journal. I don’t jump on the journal wagon nearly as much as I should. This is a super stressful time of the year, and it’s easy to feel like you’re one of those cartoon characters that’s just gotten buried under a comically huge snow drift. When that’s happening, go into a small room with a notebook, close the door and write for five minutes. Get it out. Figure out what’s bothering you. You might find it actually doesn’t have anything to do with Aunt Marge or that guy your mom keeps asking you about over Christmas turkey.

4. Do good for others. Give back to your community during the holidays. Whether monetarily or through the gift of time, do something that benefits the human race. It feels great. You’ll feel like a super hero, and they will appreciate it. Even if you never see their face, someone out there is benefiting from your small donation, your willingness to do what’s in your power to make the world a better place. This always leaves me feeling inspired. Karma creativity – who knew?

5. Avoid negativity traps. I’ve been working on this ever since Thanksgiving, and the Internet makes it really, really hard. The horror stories of Black Friday, the griping about consumerism, the bickering about which new holiday gaming system is best…I’m trying not to take part in it. It’s a waste of time and energy you could be using on Ninjabread cookies. As I find myself having my time drained, I’ve started to stop and ask myself, “Does this contribute to who I want to be during this time of the year? Is this making me happy?” If the answers are ‘no,’ I find something else to do.

Happy Holidays!

Writing Tip #20

(Remember these?? Me too!)

Or, 5 Things I Learned from my First Interview.

From time to time, my memory drifts to when I was writing for my college’s student newspaper. These few years were my first in experiencing editing, finding stories, crafting reviews and seeing my name printed. My background was in English, not Journalism, and I got a lot of “firsts” from my work on the paper. First paid position. First late-nighters. First time working layouts.

And first interview.

The first person I ever interviewed was an Internet personality who had just brought out a book. Now you’re probably thinking, “Okay, so what? Anybody can be famous on the Internet.” But this person was famous for being a jerk. Not my words, here; it’s all over anything this person writes. Did I let this deter me? No. Do I wish I had gone about it a different way? At the point where this person scoffed at my questions and said, “You know, all of this is on my website,” yeah. I kind of wish I had this list.

Do your homework, folks. And you’ll find that these points don’t just apply to interviews, either.

1. If you’re going to write about someone – or talk to them – know everything that anyone could know about them. Read their site. Read their wiki. Watch other interviews.

2. Ask questions no one else has. Make it interesting.

3. Don’t waste your time (or theirs). Ask the questions, get to the point (note: have a point) and be done.

4. Always be polite. Smile through it.

5. Remain flexible at all times. Sometimes people will say things you weren’t expecting. Adapt and move on.

Writing Tip #18

(Remember how I said I’m cross-posting these from my Tumblr? Remember how I never said I was good at it? And remember how I explained that by not being good at it, 19 could potentially come before 18? No?)

Have a good time with what you’re doing.

So I recently got into audiobooks. “Tough Shit” by Kevin Smith is the first audiobook I’ve listened to since the abridged Jurassic Park cassette set that I listened to when I was younger, circa 1995-ish.

I listened to “Tough Shit” within two days. It was amazing. Where had I been, left behind from this new awesome technology that allows me to basically feel like I’m hanging out and shooting the shit with the creator of some of my favorite movies?

Anyway, this is not a tip about falling behind on the interweb zeitgeist and refreshing oneself on new audio stuffs more often than once a decade.

If there is one thing I took away from “Tough Shit,” it’s that the key to all creative endeavors is self-expression. Hippy sentiment, yes, but if you don’t love what you’re doing and if it’s not at the core of it all about you, then it’s just work. And work isn’t fun. You’ll never love work. You’ll love being happy, though.

Make it work for you. If that involves taking on side projects that are just a fun time, go for it, man. It’s easy to get caught up in all the do’s and don’t’s, the laws of craft, the guidance of those who have come before us, experts and naysayers. Find the unbridled joy in just letting it all out and sharing it with the world.

Coming to this realization again has really changed my perspective recently. I have spent so much time wandering through a desert of articles and critiques, reading about what you should and shouldn’t put into your writing, how to maintain your blog, how to just put words on paper…it just all got a bit much. But emptying the sand out of shoes and saying, “You know what? I’m going to do this my way”…well, it’s like breathing again.

How are things going for you guys?

Writing Tip #19

You have time.

No, no. Hush. You do. Believe me.

A while back, my husband and I had a puppy stay with us for a few days. A delightful (read: destructive) bundle (read: beagle) of joy (read: of havoc). “I’m ready,” I had said. I had poured over hours of information on dogs. I had had dogs, years before. We had discussed the breed at length. It was the perfect, serendipitous situation to see how things would go – we had wanted a dog, maybe it would work – and we prepared our home as much as we were able and welcomed the puppy with open, eager arms.

It was not at all what I expected.

Every second belonged to the puppy. The few minutes we had here and there were on loan from the puppy. We had time to do other things because the puppy said it was so. We grabbed at the quiet moments that he was finally asleep because it was what we could steal to do human things, like shower or eat or talk.

Wait, no, there was no talking because you would wake the puppy.

Listen. Listen to me. You have time. If another life isn’t reliant on you, you do have time. And if you are taking care of something, those moments should seem all the more precious, and if you don’t take those sand grains of seconds and make something with them you’re going to regret it.

I took a day off to work on my novel while we had the puppy, and I got 500 words written. I hoarded them like motherfucking gold.

Still don’t believe me? Still talking about, oh, I have a life and work and friends and school and no. Just no. No. Go over to someone’s house and borrow a puppy – if you’re feeling really ungrateful, grab a baby – and try to work on anything.

You’ll see.

Writing Tip #17

Read your stuff out loud.

I’d even go so far as to say that if you can stand the sound of your own voice (I can’t — not yours, dear, but mine) read your work into a recorder. Play it back.

I recommend this because writers don’t change much between 5th grade and 30, I find. When told to read something aloud, a writer starts happily and everything is good until suddenly:

“And he walked down the street with a…fish…in his pocket. A fish in his pocket? That’s not right! What the hell does that even mean? What was I thinking?!”

Or (better yet):

“I can’t even read what I wrote here. Sorry.”

Hide under your desk and do it. Close your door. Catch those little things before your editor does (or worse, your mom). Actually forcing the words out of your mouth gives you an idea what they are going to sound like to others. The practice slows you down, gives you real focus on the ebb and flow of your nouns, verbs, consonants and vowels. You’ll realize that what you thought was a great scene of dialogue sounds like two people trying to have a fight in another language.

Like a symphony, it can look fantastic on paper, but if it isn’t beautiful to hear, you’ve lost.