Thursday, March 20, 2014

On List-Making, Butt-wiping, and Other Daily Accomplishments

I was going to sit down and start writing right away today, but instead I started shopping online for a new shower curtain. Similarly, ever since I’ve returned home five days ago from my week-long writing retreat, I’ve only managed to scrawl one harried journal entry (truly, just a glorified to-do list), and to read two short essays from a book.

Harried is the word that best describes the mental state I have returned to, or rather, the usual state that I dwell in. I’m not necessarily stressed out or anxious or worried. But definitely I’m in that constant go-go-go mode, monkey mind jumping from one task to another.

Let’s talk first about email. I barely checked it at all the week I was gone. And you know what? I hardly needed to, because I wasn’t sending stuff out. Although I’d created a ‘vacation responder email’ just in case I missed a query from a potential student or agent, I didn’t receive one technically important email that I would’ve felt bad not responding to right away. I’d pretty much taken care of any pressing worldly business before I left, so I could sink fully into my week alone with no outlying concerns. I know most people who work day jobs outside the home wouldn’t be able to do this. I guess I’m lucky in that way.

But does that mean that my life at home with my child is slow and carefree? No, because I’m trying to squeeze in so much into the few hours I have each week to take care of stuff. And because in the eight or so hours I might have to work each week, I’m trying to prioritize between planning and advertise for an upcoming workshop; editing and querying agents for a manuscript; and also actually writing a few things for this blog and submitting my work to journals again. And that’s just the ‘writerly’ stuff. Let’s not get started on family-related tasks and chores.

Anyway, I’m boring myself already with this litany of “how busy I am,” but I suppose I’m just recovering from a bit of reverse culture shock after coming home from my retreat, thrown back into my normal life, most of which is driven by my own desire and need to plan, to feel productive, and to “make the most of my time.” What this means is: contemplative acts like journaling for journaling’s sake, reading, or going on walks immediately fall by the wayside. (Facebook surfing has also, thankfully, taken a less important seat, which is usually the case after I take a hiatus, but I’m quite certain I’ll gradually warm up to it again in the coming weeks.)

I accomplished a lot during the week I was away. As much as I gave myself permission to just be, open and receptive, to sink back into a contemplative and aware space, I also could not (and did not want to) turn off the part of me that is a tad obsessive about making lists of things to do, and, in turn, keeping tabs on my accomplishments. Because, you see, I need to pat myself on the back regularly, take stock of how much I actually do each day, even if to many it may look like I do nothing but cater to my kid and a few loads of laundry. Or especially if. Yes, making lists is my way of feeling better about myself during weeks where I am not able to accomplish a fraction of the lofty writing goals I set on Monday, because I know this lack of accomplishment isn’t due to laziness. It’s just… the way it is for now. And each approaching year brings the promise of a bit more time and space to do these other jobs, namely writing and teaching, that I have missed and craved and gradually started to inhabit more and more over these last four.

So, in the spirit of my obsessive list-making mind and my present-day reality of too-little time to write beautifully edited essays, I will conclude this post with a few lists.

Things I Accomplished During My Week at Hypatia-in-the-Woods:

  1. Organized files on my computer.
  2. Edited an old flash nonfiction piece.
  3. Journaled every day, a lot.
  4. Wrote a blog post (to be posted when I returned home).
  5. Wrote and edited a full-blown new essay called, Open Receptivity: On Becoming a Mother-Writer.
  6. Read through my old manuscript-in-progress, Artifacts of Longing, written pre-motherhood and abandoned since giving birth. You can get a glimpse of the original seed for the project here.
  7. Made a new outline for said manuscript and for the chapters and sections I’m newly inspired to write. Later in the week, edited that outline, which now includes lots of highlighter and excited scribbles.
  8. Read seven books (!) and several poems to boot.
  9. Made a new collage from National Geographic images. Actually glued it down this time.
  10. Took a short daily walk through the mossy woods.
  11. Wrote a letter to Cedar in his long-abandoned baby book.
  12. Read and transcribed a few letters between Els and Frank for the manuscript.
  13. Wrote a short piece about Cedar skyping with his great-grandmother.
  14. Talked for an hour on the phone to an old friend.
  15. Re-read or skimmed most of my blog posts on motherhood from the last few years, and free-wrote a response. (Also, noted which were my favorites so I could make a ‘favorite posts’ page when I returned to Seattle.)
  16. Slept in every day.
  17. Read late every night.
  18. Listened to lots of old nostalgic music.
  19. Wasn’t drawn to drinking most nights, except my last night whereupon I overdid it and stayed up late dancing to me and Matthew’s old dance party mix that we made for our wedding. (It’s like five hours long. And very good.)
  20. Met some wonderful people from the board who graciously welcomed me into their home, and fed me pizza and sushi.
  21. Cried and gave thanks to the universe for my good fortune, and for the way life has circled around again to give me this opportunity to sink back into my old identity as a writer. And just to be: a woman, writing, alone.

Things I’ve Done Since I’ve Returned:

  1. Sent something like 40 emails.
  2. Planned two, maybe three, summer vacations.
  3. Organized a rotating schedule of summer play dates (after realizing we couldn’t afford camps).
  4. Budgeted money; made various unscientific calculations.
  5. Bought birthday jammies for Cedar, initiated his first week of not wearing diapers at night!
  6. Spent some good quality time with Cedar, including taking him to a rock and gem show, going to preschool together, hanging out with my sister and niece, going to Dick’s, going to Heaven Sent (fried chicken; it was on my bucket list; needed to see if it was going to be as good as my memory of Ezells; it wasn’t); watching three movies (Dumbo, which has an incredibly psychedelic sequence of dancing/mutating pigs, no doubt what the creators were taking there!; Blue Jasmine (in which Cate Blanchett was really good); and Adore (for those of you who might enjoy a young man/older woman fetish, which I swear I don’t!). Note: the latter two movies were note viewed with Cedar).
  7. Posted my blog post on Day Two at Hypatia, in which I also spread the word about their residency openings.
  8. Made that new “Favorite Posts and Writing” page on my blog.
  9. Shared a few calls for submissions on my Heart Radical Facebook page.
  10. Scheduled various other things: dentist appointment, date night, birthday plans, etc.
  11. Started organizing photos to make photo book for preschool.
  12. Decorated a poster of photos with Cedar for his upcoming “special week” at school.
  13. Marveled at how much things had bloomed in one week: the hyacinths, forsythia, quince next door, Indian plum, a couple more daffodils, all opened up while I was away.
  14. Cooked, cleaned, laundry, dishes, staring at piles of unfinished projects and other dirty or misplaced things. Bought cat food and groceries and tampons. And stamps. (File under: chores).
  15. Took a rejection from a coveted literary agent in stride; mostly (sniff).
  16. Submitted an old piece for publication.
  17. Made multiple new to-do lists for the weeks ahead.
  18. Scheduled more childcare to preserve sanity.
  19. Posted this. (Or I plan to anyway, before dashing off to get Cedar soon.)

That’s pretty much it. I’ll spare you the real nitty-gritty, like wiping butts or combing my cat for fleas. No other grand notes to end on. Just my desire to keep writing, in whatever way I can. To actually find (make) the time to keep generating new stuff in the midst of parenting, and all my other teaching and publishing goals. To keep taking things, one day, one list, and one thing crossed off at a time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Week Alone to Write

I just returned home on Saturday from an amazing week spent alone in the 'Holly House' at Hypatia-in-the-Woods in Shelton, WA. They actually have some openings right NOW (now - April 5 and April 13- June 1), for women residents in the arts, as well as women in academia and entrepreneurship to stay for a week or more. Please contact if you are interested in learning more details, for they are no longer the same as what is detailed on the website.

Here is what I wrote on my second day alone, as I started soaking in this gift. I plan to post another post soon, wherein I'll reflect on what I actually accomplished, and my re-entry into my "other life" as a mom and wife at home.

 Day Two at Hypatia

It’s 3:30 on Monday and I am still in my bathrobe. I woke at my usual 6:30, but luxuriously went back to sleep until 9:15. I rose, made coffee, then sat at the table to write, the space all around: silent. Returning to this lost morning ritual of mine felt strange in a way; these days I’m so used to drinking my coffee in the Lazyboy, slowly waking up while checking Facebook on  my i-phone, while Cedar watches cartoons and eats his peanut butter and jelly toast across from me on the couch. Could I really sit down right away and begin writing? And whatever will I work on?

I arrived at the Holly House yesterday shortly after noon. After putting my food in the fridge, my suitcase in the loft, my toiletries in the bathroom, and my writing supplies on the dining room table, I wondered, what should I do? I’m so used to living in the time-space now where one should not ‘waste’ a single precious moment of solitary, potentially writing time. And yet, I knew better than to think I could just start writing right away. I needed to give myself time to settle in. To rearrange the furniture so that the comfortable chair faced out near the window, to make room for my books on the table nearby, and to sit, journal, and read while staring out at the trees.

After an hour or so, I deigned to get out the big folder of writing I brought-- a manuscript, put on hold for the last four years, that I’ve come here to work on. I needed to flip through it, familiarize myself with it again, remember how far into the story I’d once gotten, where I’d left off, what I’d once outlined, and to see if or how any of this still resonated in me. I gave it a quick glance, despaired for a moment at how bad some of the writing was, and wondered if I’d have to start the whole thing over again from scratch. But I knew better than to go down that route of worry or serious inquiry yet. I still needed to just remember how to slow down, how to be quiet, how to be patient, how let my body and heart inhabit this place.

So I decided to start reading one of the 15 (yes) books I brought for my week’s stay, and later to go for a walk around the lovely 12 acres or so of mossy woods that surrounds this cabin, to walk a labyrinth someone built in an orchard, and to familiarize myself with the surroundings. Then, after a bit more sifting through old work and a welcoming dinner with three members of Hypatia’s board (pizza in a couple’s home), I returned home. Yes, home. I fully intend to make myself at home in this cabin and to soak in every moment that I am here.

That brings me to now, to day two. This morning, I was still experiencing a bit of that unsettled feeling: what am I called to work on? How will I utilize my time here? The project that I proposed working on in my application is the one that details the story of my inheritance from my old neighbor: about eight years ago, I inherited a cabin in Seattle, along with the artifacts, slides, journals, and hundreds of letters between the couple, Els and Frank, who lived there for forty-some years. During my pregnancy, I’d read all of the letters, no small feat. Then, two months before giving birth, I spent three amazing weeks at Hedgebrook, working and being fed and nurtured in a community of women writers on Whidbey Island. During those two weeks, I not only re-read and archived many of the letters, but I also completed a first draft of maybe half of the manuscript. I left with the solid form of a real book on my hands, and a clear outline for what remained to be written.

Yet I knew that a baby was soon coming. And although I would write a few essays related to this project in the next few years to come, I mostly just blogged motherhood and worked to finish my first manuscript (SEARCHING FOR THE HEART RADICAL), but otherwise accepted that I would need to put this second book (working title: ARTIFACTS OF LONGING) on hold.

Now, I finally have some breathing space. Enter: this week-long retreat. Hypatia-in-the-woods. I packed my computer, printer, books, both manuscripts, and some collage supplies (for evening art-making, if so inspired), and drove two hours south to Shelton, a town outside of Olympia, my old college stomping grounds and Matthew’s hometown. It felt a homecoming of sorts. Back to the last place I lived before I was married or with a child. Back to a familiar, yet also distant and foreign, immersion in solitude and nature. Back to a span of days before me where my sole goal is to sit at a desk and write. What a luxury! It feels like a circle completing itself from the last time I worked on this project, in a cabin at Hedgebrook, while pregnant. Yet now, as a mom, I understand this luxury in a whole new context. And not just to write for seven whole days, but also to read and make art at night to my heart’s content! It is hard to describe how happy and grateful I am to be here.

Yesterday, it was all I could do but sit in a chair, read, and scribble a few lines of this gratitude. But today, I am warming up to a more productive, humming mode of creativity. I’ve given the old manuscript a thorough reading. I’ve made notes about what pieces (or whole sections) might still be missing or how others might be rearranged. I’ve poured over a few multiple drafts of the same chapter, in order to figure out which to throw out or keep or integrate together. In short, I’m already feeling reinvested in this work. True, it also feels very daunting right now to think about re-immersing myself in a new book when I don’t even have an agent, much less a book deal for the first one. But, that’s precisely what this week is for. To get over the daunting-ness. I knew that it would be hard to make that transition in my normal day-to-day where I’m still lucky to squeeze out a few hours of writing time most weeks, and that the ideal way to “re-enter” would be to spend a few concentrated days with the material, and to give myself the gift of this in between breath, this interlude, this transition.

So now it’s 4:00. The day feels long and spacious, especially without T.V., Internet, or even cell reception. I’ve been listening for hours to an old, mellow world music mix on my I-pod player. The sky is blue. The forest beckons. I’m ready to get dressed, go out, and then come home to my cabin again and eat, read, and sink into the evening hours. Tomorrow, I think I’ll be ready to dive into new writing. And to practice staying open and receptive to the moment and how it calls me to follow one subject or another, and one form or another-- be it list-making, free-writing, editing, or poetry. Yes, poetry! After my walk yesterday I found myself spontaneously writing in verse. This hasn’t happened in a VERY long time, and I’ve always hesitated to call anything I write poetry. That tells me something about the ripe potency of this week to come.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...