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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

ass backwards

I went to a conference on Wednesday and the final speaker spent an hour teaching us how to be happier. In truth, because of the type of work I do, he was actually teaching us how to teach other people how to be happier because happy people make happier workplaces. But whatever. 

You may have heard of him – Neil Pasricha. He’s written a couple of books including the Book of Awesome. 

There was actually a lot of great stuff in the session. Most of it, as is often the case with these things, was common sense. 

Of course I feel happier after I’ve taken a walk outside. Of course I know I should journal and focus on gratitude and make time for things I enjoy. 

I get it. 

I know. 

But then he actually got to the crux of the issue for me – the motivation part. He pointed out that so many people think they have to be motivated to do the thing, before they can do the thing. That the “want to do” comes before the “do.”

If I buy the right Moleskin notebook, I’ll want to write the book, and then I will write the book. 

Ouch. 

That one hit a little close to home for me.  

I have a dozen “right” notebooks…and just the right pens to go with them. All the right tools but no closer to having actually written anything. 

Then he explained the way it works. 

Do the thing. Do it badly and wrong and one word, day, action at a time, but do it.

When you do it – you realize you can do it and then an amazing thing happens. 

You want to keep doing it.

So you keep doing it. 

Apparently I’ve had it ass backwards the whole time. 

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‎Finish the thought: “the blank page…”

What words to you add? Which way did you take it?

The blank page is scary.

That’s the first thought that came to my mind.

Scary.

Like monsters in the closet and thunder and the unknown.

Scary.

And then I stopped myself.

Scary? Really?

What’s scary about it? The fact that there’s nothing there and I’m expected to fill it up with words?

Seriously. Enough already.

It’s not scary.

Cancer is scary and growing old is scary and watching those around you fade away is scary.

Losing people is scary and not knowing why is scary and being powerless to do anything about it is scary.

The blank page?

The blank page is none of those things and maybe it’s time to see it for what it is.

It’s just a thing, an empty bucket waiting to be filled up with my thoughts. They don’t have to be good thoughts or smart thoughts or witty thoughts. They just have to be mine. And I just have to put them down and fill up the blank page.

And then it won’t be a blank page anymore.

The blank page is only scary if I believe it to be.

No more.

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‎It’s been so long that I almost forget how this used to go. I vaguely remember a time when it was part of me, something I didn’t really have to think about, kind of like breathing or crying or laughing. And perhaps just like those other things, I stopped paying attention to it and so it was soon forgotten.

‎And then today, out of nowhere, a comment from someone who used to read the words saying they were missed. A person on the other side of the world who stumbled across my words in the same random way that these things often happen, who wondered where the words had gone.

It was only then that I realized I was wondering the same thing.

In the beginning the words were so heavy, they mattered so much, that I feared putting them out into the world. I told myself over and over and over that they were just words, that they didn’t, in fact, matter at all and slowly I started to listen. The words found a home, they found a voice and a sound and a rhythmn.

And then they stopped being heavy, and instead became so light that they floated, unable to be pinned down. They went from mattering so much that I couldn’t write them to mattering so little that they weren’t worth the effort.

So I forgot.

I forgot how good it felt to pull them out, one by one, and see what happens when I get them just right. I forgot the weight that lifts from my chest and my heart and my soul when they release from inside me and become part of the world. I forgot that finding the words and turning them into something is a part of me.

I forgot all of that until someone I have never met, someone who I will probably never meet, said they missed them.

And then I realized I miss them too.

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I was away for a little bit; off on a vacation on which I made the conscious decision to disconnect from all of the technology I normally drag around with me.  I didn’t take a phone, I didn’t take a laptop, I didn’t even take a little piece of paper with my passwords jotted down on it in case the desire struck me to log in, check up or connect.  I did cave and take a notebook and a pen with me, on the off chance that brilliance and genius would strike while I was sitting on the beach or lounging on our veranda, watching the sea go by.

I didn’t even take the notebook out of my suitcase.

I’ve been back for a few weeks now.  I’m now officially back into the routine of packing lunches and checking backpacks, going to work and coming home again, checking and filling up the calendar with places to go and things to do.  That whole “being away” thing now seems like a distant memory, something that happened to someone else that I heard about once.  And I’m okay with that.  Some people may like to be on vacation all the time but I think the only way I can actually appreciate being away, or alternately, being “here” is to only do it once in a while.  Which is good because that’s about all my bank account will allow.

So I was away and completely disconnected and now I’m back and almost fully plugged back in, except for one thing.

Writing.

It’s like I came back and got about 95% back into my “here” life but I just can’t seem to get back into the writing.  When I was away it was like a switch was flicked and I just stopped contemplating.  I stopped thinking about “what if” and “why” and “why me” and “why not me” and as those are what make up almost all of what I write about, it just didn’t even occur to me to pick up the pen.  And now that I’m back, I can’t seem to flick the switch back on.

I told my bestie I was waiting for inspiration to hit, as it always seemed to do in the past.  I’ve mentioned before that so much of what I write comes at me in an instant, like someone whispering in my ear “write about this” and so I do.

I’m not sure if the whispers have stopped or if I just can’t hear them.

I always thought I write because I need an outlet for all of the reflecting that I do; that the only way to clear up space inside my head is to get the thoughts out on paper so I can make room for more.  But these past few weeks I’ve begun to wonder if maybe it’s the other way around.

Maybe the reflecting doesn’t cause me to write; maybe the writing encourages me to reflect.

And I hope now that I’ve broken the barrier and put something, anything, out into the world that the flow will come, the reflecting will come, and I can once again feel connected to me, and to the words that make up such a big part of my world.

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When I write, I pick the title first.

I know people who do it the other way around, they write what they want to write and then look back through it and decide on a title that would best describe what they’ve just written and that’s obviously a valid way to do it as well.  I’ve tried but can’t seem to get it to work for me.  Rather I come up with a title, very often just one or two words, and then I just start writing.  Every once in awhile I check back in with the title I’ve written at the top of the page and make sure I’m still on the right track.  I find having the title is like a route marker keeping me on the right path, making sure I’m not straying too far from the thought I was trying to express.

But, that being said, lately all I’ve been able to come up with are titles.

It used to be that once I found the title, the rest just came into focus.  My thoughts would all line up neatly underneath and while I can’t guarantee they made sense to anyone else, they provided some clarity for me, at least.  Now I write the title down at the top of the page and there it sits, alone, unaccompanied by any other words that may actually flush it out into something resembling a clear and cohesive thought.

When I write, it has a way of emptying my head of all of the random, often useless thoughts that I have floating around in my head.  Putting them down on paper, all neat and lined up in a somewhat intelligent way stops them from floating any longer.  They are pinned down, immovable, stuck, which is a good thing because then my head is a less crazy place, at least for a few moments.

But lately, because I can’t come up with anything but a bunch of titles, the thoughts continue to float and dance around in my head.  And now it’s getting crowded in there.  There’s not really much room for floating so they’re all bumping into each other and banging around, making it harder and harder to concentrate and function.  They keep me from sleeping and reading and wasting time staring out the window.  I find myself in the middle of conversations and I’m not sure if I spoke the words out loud or just thought them in my head.

I have tried, really I have.  I’ve started writing a dozen things and all of them seem jumbled, all over the place, meandering from one thing to another, just like the thoughts in my head.  Rather than keeping me on track, the titles I now come up with seem to mock me.  Like ‘good luck writing something about this.’

But I know I have to get out of the rut.  I have to slap the titles back into line and show them who is boss.  I have to force the thoughts to make sense again, before they drive me crazy and I, in turn, drive everyone else crazy around me.  So, in the hopes of jump-starting some kind of inspiration, or at the very least ridding my brain of these random words, I’m going to list all of the titles I’ve come up with over the last week and a half, the ones that have proven to be less inspiration and more hinderance.  And in writing them down here I’m giving myself permission to let them go and start fresh, to stop being bogged down by the things I can’t write and perhaps make room for things that I can.

 

rememberings

uncomfortable

not caring

thinking your thoughts

in the corner

hiding

 

There they are, stuck on the page, at the very least these ones won’t be floating around anymore.

Now we’ll just wait and see if it helps.

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I like to think I know what’s going on.  I like to think that, generally speaking, I’m up on what’s in and what’s out and what it’s all about.  Sure, I realize there are things that fly over my head on a regular basis but I tell myself that those are the things that I don’t need to know about so I’m really not missing out on anything.  Lumped in that category would be things like: the newest cell phones, what’s going on in the world of soccer, jazz music and foreign films, just to name a few.  And I’ve come to peace with the fact that I don’t know anything about those things and if they should come up in conversation at a dinner party I will casually excuse myself and spend ten minutes washing my hands in the bathroom in the hopes that the subject will have changed in my absence, or I will casually change the subject to something about which I am more well versed, like Scandal or the newest nail polish colours for spring.

But, once in a while I am caught completely unaware about something that I should know something about.

This happened to me today.

I read about this book in a magazine a little while ago and it sounded funny.  And heh, it’s a book with cartoons in it so I’m up for that.

Hyperbole and a Half

Not to mention that I liked the name and the cover.  Apparently I’m not supposed to judge books by their covers but I totally do, pretty much all the time, and I think if you were being honest you would admit that you do as well.

So I put it on hold at my library and it came in the other day.  To be honest, when I got the email notification and I saw the title I couldn’t remember in the slightest which book it was or why I would have put it on hold but I was ready to be surprised.

Initially the biggest surprise was that it was heavy.  Man, it was like carrying around a brick.  This didn’t bode well because I do most of my reading on the train which means I have to carry the book around with me most of the day.  I have to REALLY like a heavy book to drag it around with me but I decide to give this one a try.  Again, the cartoons were proving to be a big selling feature.

And within five minutes of cracking it open this morning I almost peed my pants.

This book is hilarious, and touching, and brutally honest and witty and sarcastic and everything I wish my writing could be, but it never will.  I want to be friends with Allie Brosh.  Not let’s go hang out at the mall friends but let’s sit on the couch in our fuzzy pants and shoot the shit and realize that the world is often a place where we don’t quite fit.  The book includes stories about her dogs which, I’m definitely not a dog person but it almost made me want to go out and get a dog on the off chance that maybe it would inspire me to write hilarious stories about it like she does.  It also includes a story about getting lost in the woods as a child with her mother and sister that almost had me laughing out loud, in public, and not caring who stared at me.

But the ones that got me the most were the two chapters she wrote about depression.  Incredibly insightful and brilliant and so unflinchingly honest that I want to rip them out and carry them around in my pocket and show them to everyone I meet.  I can’t even imagine the courage it would take to be that honest about something so personal but she did, and in such a way as to make it seem like the simplest thing in the world to share.  I’m not one third the writer that she is and even I know that one of the hardest things about writing is to take something so difficult and make it look easy.

Of course, upon discovering what I thought was a hidden gem, I messaged my bestie to see if she had heard of it and tell her she absolutely HAD to read the book immediately.  She promptly wrote back that of course she’d heard of it, she’d been reading the blog forever and how had I not heard of it?

In response I immediately did what any rational person would do and I looked it up on Wikipedia to see if it really was something everyone else already knew about.  And yes, at least I’ve heard of Wikipedia.  Of course from there I learned that I apparently totally missed the boat on this.  One of the blog posts (one of the ones about depression) apparently got 1.5 million views in a single day.  How did I miss out on something that 1.5 million people managed to know about, all in a single day?  What rock must I have been living under on that particular day for this to have gone completely unnoticed by me?

It’s kind of like the day I “discovered” Post Secret only to figure out that it had already been discovered, about two years before I “discovered” it.

So I feel kind of lame and I admit it.  But I also feel mostly kind of great because I finally found it and it’s amazing and I just might have to run out and buy my own copy.  My own copy so I can put it under my pillow and hope that some of Allie Brosh’s writing greatness seeps into my brain while I sleep.

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a gift

For a couple of years when I was a kid I wanted to be a big animal vet, horses specifically. There was just something about them I loved, not to mention the whole draw of living on a farm and wearing jeans and boots all the time, which I somehow assumed went with the job. Then I wanted to be a travel agent. Flying off to distant lands, helping people plan their dream vacations; I couldn’t really see a downside. Then I wanted to be a journalist. Not a journalist in front of the camera but rather one behind the scenes, doing the research, putting together the pieces and then writing the words to bring it all to life. But no matter what form my life was going to end up taking, I knew one thing for certain: I was not going to settle until I found my calling.

I was, and still am, a big believer in the idea that there is something I’m meant to do.  There is something out there that will just click with me and I will love it and be good at it and be successful at it and it will not feel like work.  I grew up with two parents who worked extremely hard at their jobs and each achieved success in their fields but every day when they walked in the door, I could tell by the looks on their faces that it felt like work.

I ended up pursuing journalism and got halfway through the program at school before discovering I didn’t love it.  I stuck with it though, at the very least so I would have some letters after my name to fall back on until I found what it was I was searching for.  Then I met a guy and started dreaming very different dreams.  I started thinking that perhaps my calling had nothing to do with a career but rather that being a mother was what I was actually on the Earth to do.

Um, not exactly.

Two kids and ten years later and I have discovered that although I love my kids with a strength and conviction ‎that I can’t express or explain, motherhood is not my calling. I see mothers who truly love being mothers and I know, definitively, that I am not one of them. I love my kids with every ounce of who I am but, to be honest, being their mother almost always feels like work.

It took me a long time to get to a place where I could say that out loud (or at least out loud on paper) and not feel bad about it. It took me a long time to feel like I could share that part of me without also feeling like I had to apologize for even thinking it. I’m glad I finally got there; so relieved that after the days, weeks, months and years of feeling ashamed of the feelings that I wasn’t feeling, I can now accept myself and stop hiding it. I totally agree that motherhood is a gift, one that I will always be grateful that I was given but, as with some gifts, it has never felt like it fit quite right.

As they grow older, my kids need me in a much different way than when they were babies and toddlers and pre-schoolers. They need me in a much less physical way and although there is no doubt they still need me, their growing independence has left gaps in my days that I only used to fantasize about. When I spent hours in a rocking chair with one or the other attached to my body I used to dream of the gaps; of times when I could once again think thoughts of me and make plans for me and be inspired by the possibilities of what I could do.

Don’t get me wrong, most of my days are still filled to the brim with the kids, their activities and homework and friend problems and the constant search for missing library books, missing hair clips and whatever else manages to disappear on a regular basis, but now my mind has time to relax, even if my body doesn’t. I have time when I’m sitting on a hard wooden bench in a gymnasium watching my daughter chase after a soccer ball. I have time when I’m sitting on a hard wooden bench in a freezing cold arena watching my son stop hockey pucks. I have time when I’m sitting in front of a computer waiting to be inspired. I spend a lot of time sitting, and thinking, thinking and sitting and yet I’m no closer to finding any answers.

When I was a mother to babies I was filled with so many wishes and had no time to make them come true; as a mother to older kids I have all the time in the world but I seem to have forgotten what it means to wish wishes just for me.

I thought I had a plan for my life. I planned on school and I planned on a husband and I planned on the kids and the house with the two car garage but I guess that’s when I stopped planning. I wrote it all down on the pages of my life, hoping it would all eventually come true and I am so lucky that most of it has, but now I’m lost because I never planned what happens after.

And on the dark days I’m frustrated and disheartened to think that maybe I don’t have a gift to give, that I don’t have a role to fill beyond the one I play within these four walls. I get down on myself, I start to believe the negative thoughts in my head that tell me I have nothing left to offer, nothing to give that is worth anything.  On those days I feel like I’m trapped in a rut, a trench so deep and so wide and so long that I can’t see over the top of it.

But I’m not ready to give up just yet.  I’m not ready to pack away my perhaps childish idea that somewhere out there is the thing I’m meant to do and if I find it, when I find it, something inside will click into place like a key fitting inside a lock.

I have to believe it’s out there.  I have no choice but to teach myself how to once again start wishing wishes for me and finally start filling up the pages of the rest of my life.

 

messy-beautiful-450b

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project.  Click HERE to learn more and if you don’t know about Glennon Melton’s amazing memoir, Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, now’s your chance – it’s now out in paperback so pick up a copy!  It will have you laughing and crying, all in the same breath!

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