Sunday, January 27, 2013

Blogging as a Warm Up

Sometimes, when faced with the task of writing (and yes, it often feels like a task), I first delay, but then often settle upon writing a blog. It's low stakes--sort of. I don't seem to edit as much as I'm writing, leaving that task for a second or third read. Instead, I am somehow able to let my brain, the word-tick machine, simply dictate to the page. I begin with a particular thought, but that thought usually gets interrupted with ideas, with that click that happens when I settle into writing, when I stop fighting what I can't avoid, when I allow myself the time to do that which makes me smile deep inside. I never, well hardly ever, second guess the words that I put upon a page when blogging.

That doesn't mean I don't revise, question some language, attempt to craft to the best of my ability at the time. But I don't linger for hours, days, weeks, months, years with a piece on my blog. It is fluid. And it's something I can begin and end, usually in one sitting. Rarely, do I begin a blog and not finish it, abandoning it because I couldn't find enough to say, because I lost interest, because I was afraid of rejection.

It is instantly publishable, guaranteed an audience, even if that audience are only a few, even if that audience I can predict. Low stakes--sort of.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Writing Goals

I hate to admit it, but I actually sat down and composed some very specific writing goals for the coming year. While this admittedly might have begun as a delay tactic, having set aside the entire weekend to spend chunks of time doing some writing and arriving at day two still wandering in my mind, composing the goals did spur me to eventually write.

In the list of goals, I aimed to be concrete, accomplish specific things rather than achieve a certain behavior. Almost two years ago, when I needed to compose a set of writing goals in preparation to work with a writing coach, my goals were less tangible and included:

  • Build confidence in my sense of myself as a writer
  • Understand who I am as a writer
  • Understand craft more from a writer's perspective
  • Learn to embrace revision
Over these past years, I've learned that these goals will always remain a shifting constant. They are not something to achieve directly, but rather guiding principles in my work as a writer. I needed them as a starting point to reclaim myself as a writer, to be willing to do more than silently whisper the word writer. I need them now to keep me anchored in the writing, in the present, in my desire to keep refining my craft.

Today, I constructed a list of nine very specific writing tasks, a to do list blueprint to hold myself accountable throughout the coming months. They include:
And then, when I finished committing an accountability list to the page, I did work on a new piece that has been swirling in my mind and stirring in my memory for the past several months. Forcing myself to begin drafting about my rock 'n roll days, I spit words to the page, happy to have an 800 word start, even if very rough. 

While mining bits of my NYC days is a long-term project, I have folders of writing produced over the past two years of taking workshops at Lighthouse Writers. Thankful for all the pieces of writing that are worthy of my attention and revision, I feel mostly centered in my decision to see what I might do on my own, without the structure of a workshop, without the feedback and encouragement of a writing coach. Even though this feels a bit precarious, downright scary to have myself as the guide of discipline since I usually defy any type of schedule/structure, I am ready.

I have begun to do more than whisper writer. Recently, on a plane flight returning home, the woman next to me overheard a bit of my conversation I was having with Nan about bits of George's memoir draft I was reading. My plane neighbor turned to me at one point and asked, "Are you a writer?" I choked at first, and then answered, yes. It wasn't a loud yes, but more of a tentative yes. Although wavering, I had moved beyond silence. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year Thoughts

On New Year's Day, it's difficult to avoid some bit of contemplation about what is forward, about the possibilities when looking out at the new year. In his essay "New Year's Eve," Charles Lamb nails it when he describes the significance of the day: "No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left." Similarly, in George William Curtis' essay "The New Year," he notes that the coming of the year is done so with "relentless punctuality...old Time, who turns his hour-glass with such a sonorous ring on New-Year's Day...." I am not indifferent to the beginning of 2013, reflecting back a bit on what has recently passed and what I desire in the coming of new.

I also am very aware of what the beginning of the year holds for many. A friend welcomes in a baby, her first-born, an intentional act of love with her partner, making me smile to know that she and him are showered in love as the year kicks into a new beginning for them. I spoke to my uncle on the telephone on this first of the year, and for him, 2013 holds a definite end, more of a saying goodbye and letting go rather than a looking forward. When I awkwardly tried to make conversation, not really knowing how to essentially say, "it sucks that you have cancer and are dying," he understood my stumble of words. Never being a very talkative uncle, he interrupted one of the silences during our brief call with, "I know it's hard to find the words." We ended with an exchange of "I love you," knowing that we might not speak them again to each other. Today, I also spent a fair amount of time on the telephone with my great uncle who is 96 and writing a memoir about his life as a publisher. For him, the writing is what he lives for, what keeps him going into the new year. "I wouldn't know what to do without this writing," he told me today as we talked about pieces of the memoir draft he sent me in the mail.

As I turn into the new year, I am reminded of my responsibility to be as present and grateful as I can for this fortunate life I live. While I can be a bit pollyannish at times, I wouldn't trade that trait, happy to see forward most of the time, even when darkest days hover. This past year felt very blissful. I am thankful for so many things, but here are some that stand out:

  • Being more present in my teaching. After a couple of years of breezing through my job because I am skilled, because I needed distance from the politics of where I work, I challenged myself with an entire new class (all new prep/material/assignments), new approaches in classes, and doing more than just showing up. Connections with students brought more joy, and I found myself again looking forward to teaching.
  • Finishing several pieces of writing, feeling good enough about my craft to send them forth into the world of publications. I also finally felt strong enough to open myself up to the rejection process of submitting. And while I did receive a few rejections, I also had two pieces published and one recently accepted, shortly to be published. I am so very very grateful that my writing is being read. 
  • I am surrounded by lots of love. It's the steadiness of Sasha who hasn't stopped following me around the house all day after 12 days of separation due to my vacation. It's the 12 days of vacation shared with two of my closest friends. It's my partner who is so happily much a part of my world and reminds me of how grateful I am to "measure a year in [my] life" with love. 
On the new year, I'm not much for resolutions, always knowing that I want to exercise more, read more, be present more. I am, though, heading forward with some intentions.
  • Be more active so that I can stop obsessing over a menopausal middle that is taking over my body.
  • Finish more writing pieces and send them out into the world for possible publication.
  • Embark on a 90 day promise (inspired when attending a Junot Diaz talk this past fall) to write for an hour daily. What makes this a real intention is that Diaz framed it in such a way that it's easy if you simply look at it as reading for an hour a day, with a pen and paper nearby, jotting things down when inspired (which always happens) by the reading. For today, I have spent more than an hour writing this blog.
  • Keep challenging myself at work. It's a good thing. 
And for everyone, as the year begins, I hope that you find New Year's Day as Edith Lovejoy Pierce did: "We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves."