Process

April 7, 2014 § 26 Comments

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You can talk about writing all day, you can think about the book you want to write, imagine what the finished product will feel like in you hands, but until you actually sit down day after day and bleed the thing out of you, you’ll never see a word.  – Claire Bidwell Smith

I was extremely honored and also surprised when my dear friend Lindsey asked me to be part of a blog tour about the writing process. Honored because I love Lindsey’s work and respect her discipline to her craft, both in the precision of her writing and the frequency with which she posts on her blog. I was surprised because I don’t write very often and am not really the go-to person to talk about writing process. At first, I wasn’t sure if I could write about something that doesn’t exist, but the inquiry itself was extremely helpful and provided some much needed motivation.

1) What am I working on?

So this is a really humbling question because I am not working on anything other than mustering the courage to get to my laptop and actually write. There is a great deal of debris in the path – because that is the nature of the path – but mostly I am battling the loud voice booming who do you think you are. (Note: I actually just realized this now, as I wrote it down, so thank you Lindsey for inviting me to answer these daunting questions.)

What I would like to be working on are more blog posts. An idea for a novel simmers always in my mind, but because I am not writing down what the characters do or say on a daily basis, I am not sure that counts. Another goal I have is to write more about my experience as a mother and yoga teacher and military wife. Because these puzzle pieces often feel at odds with each other, I resist writing them down. Often, I resist the stillness needed to sit and write as well as the honest inquiry that’s a necessary part of the process. However, the more people I meet, the more I realize that most of us don’t quite fit together at the seams and that the large pieces that are marriage and motherhood and children and careers and relationships often have complex edges to them.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Again, humbling question. I am not sure my writing does differ from those in my genre, if those in my genre are women striving to appreciate both the dark and glittering moments of our days, to make meaning out of the mundane tasks of being an adult, and to find our place in a world that is wildly different from our expectations and maybe, exactly the way our parents warned us it would be. I definitely have more grammatical errors than most, that is for sure.

On another note, I write about military life from a slightly different vantage point, as I am much older than the typical military wife and I married my husband despite the fact that I used to believe that most people in the military were violent, right-wing, rednecks. Mostly what I write about is how this wildly absurd and ancient belief of mine is proved wrong on a daily basis. I also write about teaching and practicing yoga on a military installation in the South, and while I have tried, I haven’t found a ton of people who write about this.

3) Why do I write what I do?

When I DO write, I write about teaching yoga and living on a military base mostly because I am lonely or I want to make sense of something.  And I am trying to make meaning about this unexpected life of mine. And, there are so many staggering bits of wonder and joy and tenderness observed every day that I want to preserve them somehow. The only way I can get past the who do you think you are demon is to remind myself that my greatest responsibility in this lifetime is not to squander it. Deepak Chopra said that our gifts to the world are usually found in our deepest desires. So I am trying to be faithful to this message that we need to follow our hearts, not just so we will find happiness, but because it is the sole reason we are here on the planet.

4) How does your writing process work?

Okay. This question is just funny. (sigh). My writing process begins with me thinking of something to write about on a run or during a yoga practice or on my mediation cushion. Then, about 2 weeks pass in which I do absolutely nothing and feel lousy about it. Next, I blow the dust away from the keyboard and try to remember my wordpress user name and password. Finally, I spend an evening staying up too late, and writing. Usually the next day, I erase everything and try again. The process continues from anywhere between three to seven days, at which point I give up and hit “publish.” It’s almost a given that I can’t sleep that night as I wonder why I discussed something so dull and really, I actually wrote that and made it available to strangers? Or even worse, to people who know me?

Writing is hard. And if you are even a tiny bit as neurotic as I am, the process will bring you to your knees.

I am so grateful to be a part of this blog tour as – because it always happens this way – I often don’t know what I know until I write it down. Please check back – as I did – to learn about the writing process of successful writers. I took notes!

Next week, the tour continues with Dana Talusani and Betsy Morro, two incredibly gifted writers and friends.

Elizabeth Marro was a journalist and freelance writer before she deserted the field to make money marketing and selling drugs. (The legal kind.) Since 2002, she has been weaning herself from the pharmaceutical industry and returning to her writing roots. Betsy and I used to be in a writing group together in San Diego, and I am eagerly awaiting the publication of her first novel, Casualties, the manuscript of which, I was luckily enough to read and be captivated by. Her freelance work can be found at LiteraryMama.com , San Diego Reader, Peninsula Beacon, Downtown News, among others.

Dana Talusani writes at the popular blog, The Kitchen Witch. She is a former teacher, writer and personal chef and now lives and writes  in Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two girls. Recently, she was chosen to be part of the Boulder – Listen to Your Mother performance. I look forward to meeting Dana this summer, and for now, I have to settle for her heartbreaking and hilarious blog and her text messages, which remind me I am not as alone as I think I am.

 

 

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Procrastination

April 3, 2014 § 34 Comments

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I haven’t banished procrastination forever by writing about it, but the prospect of a public shaming turns out to be an excellent spur to keep going. – Adam Green, April, 2014 Vogue, “Late or Never?”

I was recently honored by Lindsey’s invitation to join the blog tour about The Writing Process, which I will do on Monday. I was also a bit chagrined, as I actually have no writing process (evidenced by how infrequently I post here). For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a writer. But, can you really be a writer if you don’t write?

On Monday, we left North Carolina for Legoland Florida, and I do what I always do at the airport and spend way too much money on fashion magazines (which is totally ludicrous as I live in Gap jeans, tee shirts, and Chuck Taylors). Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Vogue piece by Adam Smith in which he honestly details his experience as a chronic procrastinator. After just narrowly making a deadline, he tries to alleviate some anxiety by surfing, only to come face to face with these questions about his inability to write:

“Did it stem from fear of failure? How about fear of success? Was I crippled by low self-esteem? Or did I withhold my best efforts because I thought that I was special and the world owed me a living?”

Yes to all. And also, None of These.

For me – like many other writers, and of course, Joan Didion who first said this – “I write entirely to find out what I am thinking, what I”m looking at, what I see, and what it means.”

Lately, I haven’t wanted to know what I am thinking. I haven’t wanted to feel much of anything. Lately, all I can think of is Scott’s upcoming deployment, which embarrasses me, because I am Too Old For That. We have been together for eleven years, and I should be a seasoned veteran at this point. This whole deployment business should be Old Hat. I should be like the Marine wives around me, the ones who wave their hands in the air when I ask how they are doing while their husbands are in Afghanistan, the ones who tell me that it’s fine, that they are used to it, that sometimes, its even easier.

This is not my experience. Right now, I watch Scott do the dishes and think that in another six weeks, he won’t be here to help with anything. Today, he replaced the battery in my car, and I thought, Lord help me. On Friday nights, as I sink into the couch with a glass of wine, I remind myself that when Scott leaves, I will need to be Sober At All Times, because I will be the only one in charge.

Rationally, I know that Scott is leaving because his job demands it and I knew this going in. And yet, it feels a lot like being abandoned. Waiting for him to pack his bags and go reminds me of all the other times I have been left, even if now I am grateful that all those people are no longer around. There is something about standing still that feels like falling behind, and some days, it causes me to put a hand on my heart and take a breath.

This leaving that we are all waiting for is affecting the boys too, or at least Oliver. It’s common in the military to be told that if the mother is fine, everyone is fine. Maybe this is true. And maybe, kids have their own feelings about things. I haven’t written much about my children lately, because life at home has been challenging. I haven’t wanted to write about Oliver’s stubbornness, his defiance, his 8-year-old explosions. After a very difficult week, I took Oliver to lunch and to the bookstore and he told me he was sad his dad was leaving and a little mad too. “Why can’t they send someone else?” he asked while crossing his arms over his chest, and I did my best to explain that sometimes we are the Someone Else. At night, Oliver and I have been reading Harry Potter or The Secret Zoo series and as he snuggles against me. I remember that while I may be saying goodbye to a partner, he will be missing his dad.

The first day of Legoland wasn’t much easier than home has been. At the suggestion of going on a ride outside of Chima Land, Oliver shouted “NO!” or sulked, or crossed his arms over his chest. All of these reactions frustrated me immensely. He’s going to grow up thinking he’s entitled, I thought, or He’s spoiled or Here we are in Legoland and he can’t appreciate any of it. Scott and I exchanged many looks that day which said mostly the same thing: Be patient. Yes, I know this is hard. and Don’t lose your shit.

Recently, a dear friend and mentor reminded me that when parenting, the wise choice is to choose love over fear. Sometimes I can remember this and sometimes I can’t. After that first harrowing and hot day, our eyes exhausted by primary colors, we found a small Italian restaurant for dinner where they brought homemade foccacia to the table and bowls of pasta so hot we burned our tongues. Afterwards, we walked to the small lake behind the restaurant where I cautioned the boys to watch for alligators. Undaunted, they ran on, while above us, a large bird circled and cried so loudly we all stopped to watch as it careened on enormous wings over our heads.

“What kind of bird is that?” Gus asked.

“A peregrine falcon?” I wondered.

“It looks almost like some kind of eagle nest,” Scott said.

Finally, Oliver said, “Why don’t you do a search for “raptors” and “Lake Wales, Florida” on your phone?”

The quick iPhone search revealed that the bird was an osprey, which have survived habitat loss by nesting at the tops of dead trees, channel markers and abandoned telephone poles. Before we went back to our hotel, we watched the male circle again, his wings arched and his talons out. While he was circling, the female sat in the middle of their enormous nest, observing it all. Nature is chaotic, I thought. Love over fear.

The second day at Legoland was easier than the first. We picked a few rides to go on as a family and then realized that what the boys really wanted to do was examine the life-like cities and buildings of Miniland and play in the treehouse-like Forestmen’s Hideout. I kept thinking of the female on that nest, watching her mate circle and the people below her come too close. If life is teaching me anything, it is that most of my problems can be solved by just calming down. Being still. Choosing love over fear.

I used to think that “comfort” and “stillness” were wildly different things – comfort being synonymous with decadence while stillness was aligned with a more monastic quality. But now I am wondering if the two intersect. Maybe, comfort is even found most reliably in the act of being still, in not circling around a moment but rather, sitting fully inside it. Perhaps my own procrastination has to do with avoiding my turn being the Someone Else. Maybe not writing is the way I dig in my heels, cross my arms over my chest, and resist. And yet, resistance is cold. There is no comfort in a fight, but I am always heartened at how quickly comfort returns when I stop resisting the way things are. Warm nests. Hot pasta. Fashion magazines. Uncrossing our arms. Being still. Maybe they are just different versions of the same thing.

 

 

 

 

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