Seen on Whenever (and a Little Quality Control)

Last time I blogged, I posted a picture of my half-eaten dinner.  It’s gross.

So why did I do it?  Clearly the beauty of a personal blog is that you are sole content editor.  You chose the subject matter, when to post it, whether to allow comments on it (By the way, it would have been fine to tell me my picture was disgusting.  It was quite polite of you not to mention it).  So why?  In a word: obligation.  The worst kind of obligation, in fact; Self-imposed Obligation.  It has an alias: Perfectionism.

I had this idea to post a picture once a week on Saturdays.  This Seen on Saturday was my way of blogging more than once a week without committing to two longer form posts.  It worked for a while.  Then it started to slip into Seen on Sunday.  Then it totally devolved into “It’s 9:00 on Sunday and I haven’t posted anything.  Hey look, there’s my half-eaten steak and mashed potatoes – perfect!”  And gross.

The crazy thing is I saw lots of great things on Saturday.  The people I usually see at the gym around 5:30am gathered around a table for brunch at the civilized hour of 9:00am.  The Christmas parade.  Pretty jewelry.  My married into family around a birthday table.  A holiday party full of wine and laughter.  It’s just that I never remember to take pictures.  I am in awe of folks who can and do.  The ones who can capture just the right moment, expression or gleam of the eye.

It’s not that I don’t see those moments.  It’s just that I’m more likely to fish around  in my purse for the small writer’s notebook I always carry.  Film is not my medium and therefore the worst thing to impose some crazy non-necessary deadline on.  So I’m changing it.  Because (ah ha!) I can.  Once a week, when I see something (other than my masticated food) I will take a picture and post it here when I have a moment.

Welcome to one small step to keeping my inner perfectionist in check.  Welcome to Seen This Week!

kitten

A couple times a week this little guy greets me on my walk to work.  I love cats, but am allergic to them.  So he’s my cat.  I haven’t named him yet, but trust that I will.

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Thank You.

Last month marked one year of blogging for me.  I can honestly say it is one of the few things in life that I started with a sense of obligation (i.e. “I really should start a blog.  Writers have blogs.  I then, must also have a blog.”) that ended up enriching my life in ways I never imagined.

Sometimes the words come easy.  Sometimes the stories flow so fast I worry my fingers won’t be able to keep up.  Sometimes the ideas keep me up at night.  This year hasn’t been particularly full of these times.  I don’t know why.  I don’t particularly believe in writer’s block, nor do I want to spend copious amounts of time (over) analyzing the situation.  Mostly what I want to do is nurture the part of myself that loves words and sentences and paragraphs and poems and songs and novels.

Blogging has allowed me to do just that; create my own words, read those of others.  But it’s also given me you.  It’s given me readers.  Honestly, I started this and wondered if anyone would ever even visit (it was, after all, just another WordPress.com  site  . . .) I never expected people to follow.  To like posts.  To make comments.  I certainly never imagined that people would tell me in person that they read my blog, but it’s happened countless times in the last year.  Often from those I never imagined were reading, always with kind words.

So I wanted to pause and say thank you.  Thank you for making this an amazing experience.  Thank you for chosing to take your precious time to read my words.  And thank you for encouraging me.  Every comment, every like, every mention has done it’s part to nurture this writer’s soul.

Here’s to another year . . .

 

My Studio

This week in my writing class we talked about the importance of having a space dedicated to writing. It was certainly a concept I was familiar with, the idea of an office or a studio. However for me, creating space to write has always been more about carving out time and less about an actual physical location.

The concept of space or studio seems so much easier to apply to the visual arts. Clearly the painter needs a place for huge canvases and the photographer needs a darkroom. My canvas is a blank document on my laptop and my mind is the darkroom in which ideas develop; neither needs much tangible space.

However, there is another function of the artist’s studio that I had not really considered until recently. Above and beyond storage and pure functionality, there is the idea that entering the space causes a shift in consciousness. It signals to the brain, it is now time to shut out the other noise of life and focus on the painting, sculpture, photograph, story. It is time to create.

And when I began to think of it that way, I realized that I do have just such a space. That space is not the space pictured above. Instead it is this:

That’s right. I have a nice office, with a great desk and even a skylight; but my space is a small couch. I’m not really sure exactly how it happened, but that couch is where I started writing and it’s where I still write today. When I sit there each Sunday night my body, my brain, and my soul know it is time to write.

So in the end, I do have a studio. I still believe that the time I carve out is the most important part; but I can see now that having a space helps me make the most of that time. Maybe it’s a bit unconventional, but isn’t that the beauty of the writer’s craft? We can make our studios in coffee shops and libraries. Anywhere from closets to corners of spare rooms to couches.

The most important thing is just to make room for the story.

Uncomfortable

There’s that quote about fear and change and growth and being uncomfortable. I can never remember it exactly. Perhaps because, per the quick google search I just performed to try to jog my memory, lots of people are talking about the whole fear-growth-uncomfortable-changey thing. So here’s my contribution . . .

I’m taking a writing class, trying to push past a bit of a stuck phase I’m in. I tend to blame this stuck phase on lack of inspiration. Or the fact that I have become less disciplined now that I am no longer trying to squeeze writing in between working and grad school (i.e. Never mind that self-imposed deadline, I have so much free time after work and on the weekends I can always write tomorrow). While these may be a part of it, they aren’t nearly all of it.

The exercise in class was to write about our history as a writer. We were told to write until we had nothing to else to say. I started with memories from childhood. Elaborate stories I acted out with stuffed animals. The book about two cats (literally, cats) that fell in love, which I read a snippet from at a launch party hosted on the playground near my friend’s house (we served gummy bears and swiss cake rolls). The bad pathos-laden high school poetry. I wrote about frequently being told my papers in college were well-written, but not connecting this with writing outside academia until much later. About friends telling me my e-mails made them laugh, but not connecting this with voice until much later.

And then, my tone shifted. I wrote about my decision to really sit down and write; to seriously try to finish that story I started. A decision that was largely motivated by the sudden death of a close friend and a tangible realization about the brevity of life. The story that went on to grab the attention of an agent, who tried her best to sell it. The story that many editors praised as well-written but ultimately passed on for publication; offering tidbits of critique on plot and pace and hook. All of which I tried my hardest to learn from; to use in the writing of the next novel. The perfect publishable novel. With no heart.

So where does the uncomfortable come in. It comes in reading this to the class. Unpolished. Unedited. Raw. I could take the easy road here; claim that I had no idea that we would be sharing our writing. But I knew. Maybe it wasn’t even that I consciously thought about it; but more just that my soul knew this was what I needed; to write the darker, heavier stuff down and say it out loud.

The last words I wrote in class were as follows. Writing a novel was something I did instinctually the first time and something I must make room for. It can’t be learned, just must be given space. And freedom. If the price of that space and freedom is a few minutes of red-faced, shaky voiced discomfort, so be it. I owe it to the stories that still need to be told.

Finding the Gray

Nope, not the fifty shades of it.  And yes, I know that is Grey, not gray; the wordplay was just too good to pass up . . . or maybe just too obvious.  Nonetheless, the gray I’m talking about is that blending of extremes that is neither black nor white, good nor evil, perfect nor imperfect.  I’m talking about the muddled up ambiguity that makes decisions hard.  That makes love risky.  That allows us to be surprised by someone’s actions.  That turns snap judgments upside down and makes life interesting.

It’s also exactly the thing that makes characters come alive in stories.  Creating characters that lack idiosyncrasies, that are completely perfect or imperfect is like a line drawing with no shading: flat.  And yet, for me at least, it seems to be a hard trap to avoid on the first pass through a story.  I’ve got heroes and villains and no in-between.  And let’s be honest, it’s the in-between that makes it believable.  Heroes have flaws and villans have a soft spot for something and most of us have days when we could probably be cast as either.

And so I find myself going back and shading.  Searching for the gray that makes it all less whole, more messy and deeper somehow.  More like life.

*Need an example of awesome gray-ness?  Pick up anything by Emily Giffin. Something Borrowed, for example, is full of beautifully drawn ambiguity.

Well Said

Words.   What can I say?  I’m hopelessly in love with them.  Song lyrics and essays and blog posts and novels and poems.  Thousands and millions and billions of ways to string them together and create beauty.  Inspire deep thought.  Shift the lens through which I see the world just a bit.  Express perfectly and succinctly exactly the things I wasn’t even quite aware I felt.

And sometimes (not unlike the people we fall in love with) these lovely perfect words come from the least expected of places; when we’re not looking for them at all.  I’m not a mother.  I would never have sought out a blog about being one, but today I followed a link from a friend’s Facebook page right into this beautiful bunch of words, which were exactly what I needed.*

A big thank you to Glennon and all the other writers and  bloggers and lyricists and essayists and poets whose words enrich my life daily.

*See especially the second half of her post.

(Also note: my mention of using Facebook in no way means I have abandoned the attempt to disengage a bit referenced in my last post.  I’m working on it, I promise . . . just as soon as I log off . . .)

Stack of Journals: Sketchbook (aka Art is Not my Creative Outlet)


That stack of journals I brought home from my parent’s house included a sketchbook from the Drawing I class that I took my freshman year of college.  Above are two fabulous examples of its contents.  So that you can truly  appreciate them, I will highlight two things: first, please notice the extremely sunken television screen in the first picture (showing Friends); second, please know that the rose in the second picture was not supposed to be an abstract (in my written reflection I lament how unrealistic it looks).

So drawing wasn’t really my thing.  Also not really my thing – jewelry making, stained glass, pottery and crocheting.  Oh, and also acting.  And especially singing.

I don’t say that these things weren’t my thing because I didn’t like them or even really because I was totally devoid of skill in them.  I enjoyed the art, craft and theatre classes I took in college and, in retrospect, was not terrible at any of these things (except the singing, the singing was/is really bad).  The thing is, I lacked the passion for them to push myself to be better than average.

When I talk about my college career, I often say that I have a degree in Psychology with a side of Art, a splash of English Literature and a pinch of Theatre.  I admit this proudly without an ounce of regret.  Sure if I had figured out then that I wanted to be a writer I could have focused on that; maybe majored in journalism or gone on to get a MFA in creative writing.  But here’s the thing, I’m not sure it would have worked.

Without that personal exploration in creativity that began in college and continued until I sat down to really focus on writing at age 29; I’m not sure I would be much of a writer.  I’m not saying you can’t be a writer when you are young.  You absolutely can.  I’ve read and been inspired by some amazing young writers.  I’m just not sure that I could have been a writer when I was younger and I am grateful for the life experience I  have to draw on now.

Just like I’m grateful for sketchbooks full of average drawings and a crate full of lumpy pottery. They are the artifacts of my creative journey.


Independence

Last night my husband was talking brewing with the gentleman next to him at the bar.  After they had been talking for a few minutes the gentleman’s wife asked me, “what do you do while he brews?”  I replied that I write.  We struck up a great conversation about reading/writing/general creative-ness.  This morning, going through some pictures, I ran across the one above and had to smile, because it so accurately sums up the previous evening’s conversation.

I love beer.  I love checking in on the boiling pot of sweet-smelling wort.  I get excited when the resting beer starts to emit tiny bubbles signaling the beginning of fermentation.  And of course, I love all the sampling.  Above all, I love my husband and am proud of each and every beer he makes.  I have no desire to brew beer.

Similarly, my husband gets as excited about views and likes and comments on my blog as I do.  He understands completely when I need to stop in the middle of dinner to jot an idea down in my little writer’s notebook before it escapes me.  He’s helped me with query letters and proofread countless blog posts.  And yet, he has no desire to be a writer.

I love our independent hobbies, because in them we get to celebrate and learn from each other’s uniqueness.  I know more about the brewing process than I ever imagined I would.  Similarly, my husband knows more about the writing and publishing than I’m sure he ever imagined he would.  We are each enriched by the time we spend doing our “own things.”

Obviously shared hobbies are immensely important too, but I think even those are enriched by individual interests.  For example, travelling is one of our shared hobbies.  Our most recent trips were to England where we visited Stratford-upon-Avon and the pub where J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’ writers group met (quite writer-ly) and to Denver, CO for the Great American Beer Festival (quite brewer-ly).

So today we’re celebrating the holiday with a quiet morning of writing and an evening spent raising a pint of craft beer.  Happy Independence Day!

*I’ll also leave you with this, in light of my previous music-inspired post:

Dashing

I have a problem with the dash.  Not the 50 yard kind you run on a track, though I’d probably struggle with that too.  No, the dash I am referring to is this little piece of punctuation:  –

My problem started with over-dashing.  It was as if I forgot all about the comma, semicolon and period.  If I paused, I dashed.  I would catch my right middle finger headed for that sneaky little dash nearly every sentence.  Once I was aware of my bad habit I was eventually able to catch myself and make better choices.  My problems with the dash were over!

Or so I thought . . .until my arch-nemesis of punctuation reared its ugly head from the  top of the synopsis I submitted for critique at the James River Writer’s Writing Show.  It was right there laughing mockingly at me from the most grammatically incorrect of places, as if to say: You used to be my biggest fan.  We hung out all the time.  And now you avoid me, shun me, turn your back on me.  Well I’ll show you . . .

To which I say: bring it on dash, bring it on.   I’m not embarrassed by you.  I’m glad the error was brought to my attention.  And no, it isn’t even particularly bothersome that a whole audience full of people saw you because maybe you helped them too.  So if you’ll kindly excuse me, I have some editing to do . . .

Because I Know You are Dying to Know What’s Up with the $3.00 Tomato

So whatever happened to those spent grain cooking projects and that stack of journals? How is the $3.00 tomato plant doing, anyway? I am sure you are all lying awake at night wondering about these things, so let me help you sleep through the night with a few updates:

The brewer with whom I live was working on a series of beers for a friend’s upcoming party. The cookies, granola and banana bread came from the first three in the series (a porter, English pale ale and an amber). The last brew was a witbier and the grains were sort of a combination of oatmeal and a fine, flour-like powder. Not the best for my chosen project; spent grain veggie burgers. Rest assured, there will be more brewing and therefore more cooking.

The journals are still there and I’m sure there is more awesome-ness inside. I’ve been devoting my reading time to Susan Cain’s, Quiet (which was highly recommended to me in response to this post). I checked it out from the library and in addition to being wonderful it also must be returned by June 4. More from the journals after I meet this deadline!

I am sorry to report that the $3.00 tomato is no longer with us. There was a time in my life when I would have blamed my far-from-green thumb, but I actually haven’t been doing too badly with plants as of late and I had a lot of good advice on this one. I think it was just its time to go. Open to suggestions for what to fill the largish tomato container with now . . .

So now you are all up to speed* and can sleep soundly tonight! You’re welcome!

*Something I just got up to speed on: I have been following Kindness Girl on Twitter for some time now – why it just occurred to me last week that I could also follow her blog on WordPress is beyond me. This post is a perfect example of the amazing-ness contained there! If you are feeling un-saitied after my silly update today I highly recommend reading it.