I wish I knew what this thought meant, but I have no way to articulate it, except to repeat it over and over again. I want something new. Am I thinking clothes? Or house decor? Or a new design for my blog? Or a new haircut? Or... (_fill in the blank?_) No, it's deeper than material things. I wish I knew what it meant. And why. Maybe it's an emerging pattern of nostalgia? Every year at this time I remember that I spent a Fall in Europe wandering and reading and writing and learning to my heart's content. You can take the phrase 'travel bug' literally. It's an itch that must be scratched and when you don't it gnaws away at your thoughts, convincing you that if you could just go someplace new, everything would be better. But am I now incapable of being happy where I am? I am happy. I have a wonderful husband and a good job doing something I actually like, and I have a great group of friends and family. I just have this restless feeling. Like I'm waiting on an elusive "new", an elusive "better," an elusive "different", and I don't know when or where or how I may find it. A lot of people my age feel this way. A lot of people who were once my age felt this way, and they either did something great or resigned themselves to the waiting and the wanting. How will I deal with it? How will my friends deal with it? Our days aren't meant for biding our time or waiting for something to come to us. We're meant to reach out and grab hold of what we want. But what if we don't know what that is? How do we find out what it is? What is the "great" that we might do? I've just asked a lot of big questions, many of which may not be answerable. It's better than not asking, though. It's better than not contemplating what it is we're doing. I found this quote the other day, and I really hope that I can find a way to live up to it, and that my peers do, too. I have a feeling that this is what we want, and what we are most afraid of. "What we are is God's gift to us. What we become is our gift to God."-Eleanor Powell
Today is my ritual Writing Saturday. I'm at Starbucks, all by my writing self and a goooood cup of coffee. And I'm enjoying it... sort of. I have a lot of thoughts rolling around and none of them are very helpful. After a long, busy, roller-coaster week, I have nothing to show for it - at least not in terms of my writing. Last Saturday I felt the same way. I wrote a solid 1,500 words, but none of what I wrote is anything that I would inflict on others. Now I sit, coffee in hand, listening to the friendly but distracting sounds of the cafe and I question, Did I come here this morning for the coffee or the writing? I might have just pulled myself into a bad writing habit by coming here instead of sitting at home in the quiet. I know that's not the only thing bothering me, though. I feel stumped. Uninspired. Frustrated. Displaced. Like something I once had is now gone; I feel the void, but what is it exactly that I've lost? I'm just wondering, for you writers and bloggers out there, When you feel like something is missing in your writing, how do you find it? I have a feeling that many of you will say, "I keep writing." Thank you. That was very helpful. But how do you subdue the anxiety that accompanies the sense of aimlessness? Truth be told, I feel bored with my writing self. Possibly, I am bored with my self self, and it's infringing on my writing self. (Am I helping or hurting my writing by separating my writing self from my whole self?) When I become restless with my writing, it often feels like I'm talking my writing self down from the ledge. Don't be so over-dramatic. The thing you're missing? It will come back to you. Just be patient. Wait it out. Write it out. And then, my self self gets frustrated. I am talking to myself. I am insane. I'm the crazy writer girl that's going to start wearing all white and never leave my house. Or I'll wind up sticking rocks in my trench coat pockets and wander into the river. Or stick my head in an oven and inhale deeply until the unhelpful thoughts go away.... See what I mean? It would be great if I could actually be satisfied with my writing self before the end of my life. (Disclaimer: I'm not actually suicidal. I just find it sad and amusing that so many great writers never knew their own potential.) I know I'm not alone in this, so tell me, how do I talk my writing self back from the ledge? How do I break the cycle of unhelpful thoughts? Advice, please. For now, I'm going to keep working on an unfinished writing project from a few weeks ago and hope that it yields something reader-worthy....
I've written before about making time in our schedules to write. Recently, I've developed a habit of using my Saturday mornings (the one and only time each week when I am alone with no obligations) to write. Most times, I wake up, make myself a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee, and I sit on my porch for awhile and think. I then pick up my pen and journal and start writing whatever comes to mind. Last Saturday, I decided to do something a little different. I enjoy going to coffee shops and of course I'm a sucker for Starbucks, which just happens to be closest to me. I gathered my notebook, my laptop, and a few other writings in a bag and went there to spend a few hours writing. My goals? 1. Drink a good cup of coffee since there was none to be had in our apartment. 2. Test myself : can I write when I have a flurry of activity going on around me? 3. Observe others going about their day and write what I see. More specifically, focus on visualizing and showing the moment with descriptive language. Don't be a slave to a theme. Don't spoon-feed readers and tell them what to think about it. (I do this a lot.) I've written in coffee shops before, but mostly it was when I was working on class assignments or work; never for the purpose of writing what I saw. Many writers encourage writing in places where we can observe others, or simply putting ourselves in a setting out of the norm. The idea behind this is that a new setting makes for new ideas and inspirations; writing in the same place can lead to stale writing and for me, it can leave me feeling lonely or restless. I'm supremely glad I tried it. I realized: people do so many things inside a day that go unrecorded. They may remember small moments, but they're more likely to forget them. I'm glad that for one Saturday, the things they said and did that they have by now probably forgotten were an inspiration to me, and so will not be lost forever. Here is one of my favorite moments...
There's a dad sitting a few feet away playing with his daughter. She's young- maybe four. She's wearing a black leotard with the light pink tights and sparkly tennis-shoes; she's just come from ballet. Her eyes are a mirror of his: big, bright silver saucers. She giggles again and again as they play their game. He pretends she's not there and then, after what seems like an eternity, he suddenly turns and looks at her with wide, googly-eyes and a contorted face. After a few rounds of their goofing, he grabs their drinks and now he's walking to the door, drinks in hand, trying to coax her to come with him. She wants to keep playing the game, so she doesn't move from the couch. He stops. I dread, for a split second, the part where he will ruin a perfectly good moment with his young daughter. He'll grow impatient and yell. He'll drag her out as she wails in confusion and hurt. He turns his head away, and then back. He gives her one more silly face. She giggles wildly, and the people around us pause to look and smile. He pretends to walk out, and she whimpers as he passes from her view. Suddenly, he hops back into the doorway, drinks still in hand. She smiles, a little relief lingering at the corners of her mouth. "Ready?" he asks again. She crosses her arms and closes her eyes, nose in the air. "Come on, Miss Sophisticated. You don't want to stay here in the cafe and drink this by yourself. We have to go give one to Mom." She hesitates. The cogs begin to turn, and she hops down from her chair. "Okay. Let's go see Mommy," she decides, and skips out the door and toward the car.
I wake up confused from a dream about another time and place in my life and it felt. so. real.
I rush to get ready for work, walk out the door and I'm met with a torrential downpour.
I hit my head on the door as I scurry to climb inside the car and simultaneously spill coffee on myself.
I read things from people that reaffirm my belief that life is not fair.
I take a deep breath and attack my pile of to-do lists again.
I say a prayer of thanksgiving for my superhuman coworkers that make this office function.
I take a sip of my coffee and realize that my mug is half-full, not half-empty.
I look out the window and I'm reminded that downpours nourish the earth and everything in it, and by extension, me.
I remember that memories and dreams reaffirm the moments that mean the most to us.
I realize that even if I don't see a loved one's face, hearing their voice is a life-affirming, God-filled moment I have to look forward to every morning.
I think of everything on my plate and I'm reminded that if we're doing what we should, then a lot of our tasks have nothing to do with our own personal gain.
I notice the time, and go back to repeating my mantra...... This day will end eventually and another one will begin, and I'll stumble and hit my head and spill my coffee and get caught in the rain and get frustrated and realize that it's a good thing that life isn't fair, because that is why His grace is real.
Labels: writing ·
The best conversations happen like this:
Friend 1 : Would everything and everyone stop being a pain in the ass so I can stop freaking out?!
Friend 2 : Hey! Want me to get drunk on my lunch hour or eat a whole wheel of cheese...?
Friend 1 : I'm sorry? What?
Friend 2 : I was trying to be funny and cheer you up...
Friend 1 : Oh! [laughs.] Well then, please by all means get drunk on your lunch hour or eat a whole wheel of cheese. But can you swing by and pick me up first so we can do it together?* [laughs, then falls into silence again.] I'm sorry, I'm just upset about everything going on.
Friend 2 : I know. I'm here for you. What's up?
Friend 1 : Well, you know, between all the different people in my life who are in trouble and sick and hurting, plus the fact that I'm flat broke most of the time, I feel like I'm constantly fighting to keep my head above water. One minute I feel fine, the next, I feel like crying in a corner.
Friend 2 : Aww, my love! It's going to be okay. Deep breaths. And if you need to cry, do it. It helps sometimes. I love you and I know things will lighten up.
Friend 1 : Anyway, I know half this stuff is out of my control. I just hate that people don't make better decisions and that I am the one who worries about it. Thank you for being supportive. I love you.
Friend 2 : It's my pleasure, love.
Friend 1 : Thanks for cheering me up! Everything okay with you?
Friend 2 : Same old stuff, different day.
Friend 1 : True that. Well, you know I'm here whenever you're ready for a freak out session. Because, you know, sometimes that happens as we both know all too well...
Friend 2 : Heck yes we do. Lovelovelove!
And the really best part? Depending on the day, you may be either Friend 1 or Friend 2, but it's still the same conversation, the same amount of love. Thank you.
*Sidenote: I do not advocate drinking on the lunch hour.... or eating a whole wheel of cheese, for that matter. Just in case you were wondering.
Inspired this weekend, I've made a list of love for my family and for our Labor Day weekend tradition. Cold and rainy or hot and sunny, it was wonderful.
I love :
Waking up and eating breakfast with our giant brood.
Eating with my family, period. SO. MUCH. FOOD. And ALL of it is good!
Laying in the hammock with my brother.
Thinking about past Labor Days on the lake and realizing how much we've all grown up.
Finding moments with each person to laugh and tell them I love them.
The peaceful, exclusive scenery of northern Michigan:
Hearing Sufjan Stevens' lyrics from "Say Yes! To M!ch!gan!" and remembering my roots :
"I was raisedIn the place.Still I often think of going backTo the farms,Golden arms.Tried to change the Made in MichiganBut I was raisedIn the place,Part to remind me..."
I don't love the fact that living away from my family is hard. There are moments when I wonder how exactly life led me here, away from them. The truth is, that as much as I love them, Chicago is where I belong. This is where my dreams flourish and grow and connect. This is where my other family is: my husband, his family that has made me their own, the family I made with the people I met at college - my friends who have become my sisters and brothers in another sense.
Will I be here forever? I don't know. Will I ever go back to my small hometown in Michigan? I don't know.
But home is where my heart is, truly. And my heart, although I would not say it is divided, has many roots in many different places all over the globe.
Ultimately, my heart resides in me, with my memories and my thoughts and my endless gratitude for the people that have raised me. So they're in my heart, even when they're not here with me.
And my heart is with them, even when I'm not.
A few posts ago I mentioned that I would be working on assignments in a writing book I had. The book I chose, The Right to Write by Julia Cameron, was used as a textbook in one of my college classes. It has sat on my shelf untouched for 3 years, but I decided to give it another chance. Albeit cheesy and dramatic - Cameron is a playwright - the book has some good advice and interesting writing exercises to get my thoughts flowing on the page.
The exercise I chose asked that I write down a list of things that I'm thankful for, that make me happy, that are inspiring. So I wrote down 25. I shared them with my writing partner at last week's meeting, and we both liked the idea so much that we decided to make it our assignment for our next meeting. I came back with 25 more, she with 50.
We chose random numbers without looking, and then took turns reading our answers. Each of them different, but surprisingly complimentary.
At first, I thought it was just an easy way out - a good way to jot thoughts down that are floating in our heads while emphasizing the positive, but easy - is this "real" writing?
The list is easy, but it is also hard. And it encourages more than just jotting down random thoughts. It spurs discussions about things that we might otherwise have deemed trivial, but do in fact matter to us. And of course, each item begs an explanation, an articulation of WHY it matters. Suddenly, we're pinpointing specific things that make up our moments of joy, the very things that inspire us and motivate us to write.
The whole drive home I was finding things to add to the list. When I walked in my door, I immediately sat down and wrote as many as I could remember and wound up with a whole new list of 60 more! This time, I was able to articulate things more specifically, with more detail.
And then as I went to bed I was reminded of another list I had made several months ago. It was a late night, and I was frustrated. I felt lonely, even with my husband asleep at my side. I felt disrespected in an argument with a loved one earlier that day. I felt restless with my two part-time jobs that weren't giving me enough professional experience or enough money. I felt trapped without a consistent creative outlet. So I opened my journal, my pen point resting slightly on the page.
Without thinking, my journal entry became a list. An inventory. A long line of things that were following me, haunting me. As I wrote, the list became a string of words that expressed my thoughts, but didn't bother with the burden of forming full sentences.
Four pages later, I was exhausted and empty. I closed the journal and dropped it in my bedside drawer.
Weeks later I read through that journal entry and could see a pattern weaving itself through the string of words. To my surprise, the flow of consciousness through the list was clearer than some of the entries when I toiled over correct, complete thoughts.
So lists. Turns out, they're good for the writing process. Sometimes we can't allow ourselves to labor over forming "whole" arguments or ideas. We stumble over phrases and words and emotions, and we lose things along the way that might have been valuable. Our thoughts are often so fleeting that they come and go before we can wrap a sentence around them.
Sometimes we just have to go with the flow, letting all the words that come to our minds -
- pour out of us.