A Writer's Weekend.

Once again, my Twitter friend Friederike has been the exact dose of support and inspiration I needed following my last post. A non-Facebooker, she has some great insight to contribute, so make sure you read it. Friederike, I am learning so much from you!

[Photo taken from another Twitter friend, Wakako, on her ultra-inspiring blog, Baum-Kuchen.]

On a related note, my weekend was good. Saturday, which I have dubbed my creative workspace/time, was somewhat productive although not as much as I had hoped. I made a few decisions, though.

1. My weekends will now be free of social media as much as I can help it. I won't Facebook, Tweet, or email on Saturday or Sunday. The reason being that I have realized how much more positive and creative I am when I leave it alone for a couple of days. So if you need me, truly need me, then you have my cell phone number and you can call or text me. [Translation: if you don't already have my cell phone number, then you don't need me.]

2. Every Saturday morning will be dedicated solely to the act of sleeping in, getting up and eating breakfast on my porch, and writing or art-ing. Just me, myself, and God. ;)

3. Celebration with friends and family is important to me. So my Saturday morning wasn't the most productive, but my Saturday night was a blast with all the friends that came out to support my husband and his band. It made me realize how important interacting with my loved ones is to my creative endeavors.

Where once I thought that scheduling in time to be creative was unnecessary (maybe even contradictory), I now find that it's fundamentally important to being consistent and committed to my art. Surprisingly, it has satisfied a deep need I have to reconnect with myself. I feel like I've said this before, but I'll say it again: making time for our own creativity is one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves.

In fact, I have a theory. My theory is that the more consistently we make time for our art and our selves, the moments when we feel drained and tired and tapped out and frustrated and angry because of work or drama will seem less hopeless. We know it's there waiting, we just have to remove ourselves from distractions and allow it to restore our faith and our confidence.

This weekend I am going home to see family and celebrate Labor Day on the lake. There will Bocce-ball tournaments, hours and hours in the sun and under the stars, planning my cousin's wedding, and eating lots and lots and lots and LOTS of food, and a few quiet moments to write. That's what I call Pure Michigan. [And Pure Joy.]


Will Facebook Let Us Say Goodbye?

A friend of mine deleted her Facebook profile this week. It was rather sudden, although she did message me to ask for my other contact information before doing so, which makes it slightly less of a shock. I don't know why she did it, although I am curious and... sad. Really sad. Surprisingly sad and taken off guard. And silly - am I really mourning the loss of a friend... because she deleted her Facebook? She didn't die. She didn't tell me I would never see or hear from her again. For goodness sakes! She's still online. She still has a phone. She's still in my world... in a sense.

And, to be clear, it's not any of my business why she did it.

But without Facebook to connect us, I won't get to "see" her whenever I want. Or write on her wall to tell her "I love you and I was thinking about you today." Yes, of course I could email that same message. But to me, emailing has always felt like I'm sending something out into a vast void, something like a message in a bottle, and I don't know if it'll ever be opened or even reach the shore. There's no way to know the recipient saw it if they choose not to respond.

But Facebook. Facebook is different, although I can't entirely articulate it. Is it the visual aid of a person's profile picture that gives us that similar sense of direct contact that we feel when we've talked face-to-face? Is it the sense of community that we get from being able to give and receive along with hundreds of other people? Or is it the comfort we find in bearing witness to others' lives on some level, even if we don't converse daily? We still get to see their wedding pictures, their new-baby pictures, or their rant session when something has ticked them off enough to write it in their status, or the inside joke that they write on their best friend/sibling/parent/co-worker's wall... we even get to see where they've gone for dinner if they use Facebook's new Places feature. I'm tempted to leave out the part about witnessing their FarmVille obsessions, but it says a lot about how productive they are with their time.

In one sense, all of these features seem to give us a more direct and inclusive connection than communicating via telephone, email, letters, or other social media like Twitter, MySpace, etc. Even blogs can be more limiting than Facebook depending on the writer's purpose for the blog.
On the other hand, I suspect that Facebook makes us feel closer to a person than we actually are. We think we're keeping tabs on people, but we don't actually bear witness to their daily lives. What often results is a deeply misplaced sense of entitlement, an expectation of obligation and responsibility to participate, and it isn't real. The truth: they don't have to share.

And some don't. I realize that Facebook users are not all equal in the amount of time they spend using it or the quality of their engagement. Some feel it is a colossal waste of time, which I certainly respect. Facebook is indeed a portal for people to escape productivity. I just can't bring myself to pull the plug. I'd miss everyone too much. I'd miss other things, too - invites to events, seeing people celebrate major life experiences, the chance to find inspiring artists, writers, and businesses. I'd even miss major news headlines. And according to my approximations, about 15-20 of my average 25 readers on this blog are friends and family who I am connected with solely on Facebook.

Is that why I was so... uncomfortable with the idea that my friend disconnected? Is that why I'm so uncomfortable with the idea of disconnecting myself?

I stared at her message and thought to myself, "But... you don't want to share your life with us anymore? You just got married! Don't you want to leave those pictures up there for everyone to see and admire? Don't you want to be able to write on my wall and vice-versa whenever we're feeling nostalgic?" I'm saddened when people choose to stop sharing.

And here's another thought: In another era, I might have met this girl and traveled with her just as we did for 3 months, and then when we each went home we might have written letters. Or we might not have written letters. In the time before the internet and social media existed, we would have missed each other, but I might not feel so ill-equipped to accept the fact that I may never see her again, in a real or virtual sense. I wouldn't have been able to miss something that wasn't there: the constant connection we have in the digital era.

Now that I've graduated from college, there are many friends and peers and professors that I still feel connected to, despite the fact that I may go several years or a whole lifetime without seeing them face-to-face. I have the added experience of living states away from my family for the last 5 years. Facebook has been a good way to keep the family together, to allow me to keep my own connections rather than waiting for news to travel through the grapevine.

This is the internet's purpose: to keep us always connected. Through social networks, the once unfortunate reality of leaving people behind or losing touch as we move from one phase of life to the next is no longer inevitable. Up to this point I had regarded this as a good thing. However, I'm questioning it now.

I mean, is it a good thing that I'm still connected with all but one of my ex-boyfriends? Is it a good thing that the curiosity of knowing what's going on with 75% of the people we've met in our lives has almost become what we would articulate as a "need"?

What if what we really need is the ability to let go? What if we need the ability to accept that we may never see or hear from someone again, even if they're not dead? And if we do need that ability to disconnect from one another, then Facebook and social media have most certainly had an impact on us.

So here is what I'm really concerned about:

What if Facebook, social media - the world wide web - have compromised our ability to say goodbye?


Write Your Own Story

Oh how I adore my dear co-worker, Kat. Always the design-savvy eye, she saw a notebook at Michael's the other day and knew I would love it. In the lower right-hand corner of the front cover was a small embossed graphic of a typewriter, with the words inscribed, 

"Write your own story." 

So she bought it for me! How sweet is that?

When she handed it to me, I was reminded once again of what an abundantly creative weekend I had. I had the whole glorious Saturday to myself! It was spent admiring the gorgeous sunshine and everything it touched, writing about it, and... painting it. Yes, painting. Haven't done that in ages, so I was both proud of myself and deeply comforted by the fact that I could do it... I haven't lost it - the need, the ability, or the delight I find in it.

Needless to say, the weekend was everything I needed it to be, including Sunday.

Here's my thought: the act of creating, whether it is writing, painting, music, dancing, or even cooking, is an act of dedication. You are dedicating your creative energy to the miraculous story that is your life.

So, I say, create your own story. 

Write your own story. Paint your own story. Sing your own story. Or as my very wise writing friend insisted: Dance your own story. Cook your own story.

Whatever it is you are good at, doing it is a testament to who you are at your core.

Dedicate. Document. Devote time to it. Delight in it.


Writing Update.

It's been a downer of a week and after last night's meeting with my writing partner, I've decided to get back to the 'task at hand' so to speak, and update you on my writing efforts.

Once again, I'm struck by how influential our surroundings can be on our creative flow. In the month and a half since we moved into our new apartment, I have been writing more here and in my journal than I have in the last 2 years! I can attribute it to the fact that my husband and I currently don't have network OR cable TV, so the only time were tuned-in to the tube is to watch a movie. This has made the act of turning on the TV so much more intentional and less of a "I'll just have it on the background" distraction. I ask myself: do I want to watch a 2-hr movie, or do I want to spend my time doing something productive? Now if only I could convince my husband that we don't need cable, but that will never happen. And I'm sure that once Grey's Anatomy is back on I would definitely miss it.

So with all my TV-free time, last Saturday I spent 3 whole hours working on an assignment for my weekly writer's meeting, and I pulled together a cohesive draft after struggling with it for months. I started the piece before my partner and I agreed to begin meeting, for myself, but I think the lack of direction I felt had everything to do with the lack of accountability and the lack of personal space.

For awhile, I felt so guilty blaming my lack of creative energy on my surroundings, but the more writers I meet the more I realize that to hear the truly creative voice within yourself, you have to find a place where the other distracting, condemning voices fall silent. Living with my in-laws in my husband's bedroom with no space of my own is not what I would call "distraction-free."

This is why I felt so compelled to write during my time studying abroad; having ample time to myself, the changing scenery, kept me in a state of perpetual meditation and inspiration. This is also why I felt compelled to write about meditation earlier in the week; if you take time for yourself, whether you practice faith or not, you will find that you have much more to say than you imagined. The doggedness of running around and fulfilling schedules and appointments can inhibit our connections to our creativity because we haven't made it a priority. We haven't let it speak to us.

So anyway, new apartment + new writing partner = new-found writing motivation!

My new assignment for next week: read a few chapters of one of my writing books, and finish 1 or 2 short writing assignments from it. While some writing books are cheesy, I actually find them helpful when everything I have been working on feels stale. Trying an assignment can help divert your thoughts and help you look at something with a new perspective. Maybe if I think it's good enough I'll post it here next week.... We shall see.

What about the rest of you writers? What are you working on? What kind of "exercises" do you to spice up your writing?


Margin and Meditation.

I set this picture as my desktop today:

This will come as no shock to you, but I've been dwelling on this one thought for the past several days: Americans do not understand margin. We do not make time for time. We may think ourselves disciplined when it comes to prioritizing work, school, family, and finances.

We're not.

In fact, several studies have shown that while Americans are making less time for vacation and more time for work, the rest of the world is working and playing and moving forward at a steady pace. Meanwhile, we're running ourselves into the ground.

This is not a plea to my employers to let me have a couple weeks off. This is just an observation, made more pertinent by the fact that I'm getting nostalgic for my Euro-trip in '08. I long for that time when time was all I had to think and reflect and let go.

Also, I was struck by the realization of how Christians in particular view meditation. While we knock other religions for the beliefs they are founded on, we give no regard to the fact that many other religions are much more disciplined and devoted to the act of meditation, or a time set aside for prayer and reflection. We're encouraged to pray on the go, while we go about our work day or running errands or standing in line at Starbucks. Is that true devotion, though? Is that making your meditation the sole priority and focus of your consciousness at that moment?

Meditation - to think, to ponder, to consider, to deliberate, to reflect.

Margin - leeway, latitude, room, room to maneuver, space, allowance, extra, surplus.

Meditation and margin - two things we don't understand and therefore don't do.

I have a lot on my plate with work and projects and home. Before I let this blog and my life become one big rush towards "making it" in a career, I need to stop and take a moment. I'm past the point in my life where my time is my own and I can wander to my heart's content. But. We become less and less effective the more we accumulate on our to-do list. Getting caught up in the rat-race won't make us successful.

I put this picture on my desktop this morning in part because of my nostalgia for my favorite place on earth (Salzburg, Austria) and in part as a reminder to give myself margin and meditation. I need to give myself that leeway, that allowance of time to reflect and consider my life and the world around me.

This is a reminder for you, dear readers, to take what moments we can each day and walk and wander and reflect and pray. You'll be surprised to see what blessings God lays at your feet when you do it.


A Time for the Bittersweet.

It's been a few days since my last post, mostly because the last two days of work brought me twice as many emails as I've been getting in the last two weeks! But I wanted to take a minute to lasso my thoughts into something tangible, and to get some feedback.

Last night, I finally sat down with two of my very dear friends for the first time in several weeks. We ate dinner, talked, prayed, shared news, and laughed about many things. And then I saw it. Laying on the ottoman next to my feet was Mackenzie's fresh copy of Bittersweet, the newest book by one of our favorite authors, Shauna Niequist. I wound up reading aloud a chapter called "Twenty-five."

The chapter is at once a call to action, a letter to Shauna's twenty-five-year-old self, and a prayer for twenty-somethings everywhere who are desperate to figure out who they are and what they want.

"Now is the time," Shauna says again and again. Now is the time before families, before mortgages, before iron-clad schedules, before "job security" that keeps us from reaching for what it is that we're actually passionate about. Before it gets that far, ask yourself what you want and make sure you do it.

Could there have been a better time for the 3 of us to read this? Now IS the time. So we talked. We talked about what we want and what we know we're good at it and what we're doing now to try and make it happen. No solid conclusions, but I am finding more and more that in this period of time where change is the only constant, we should stop being afraid of change and start using it to our advantage.

And this is the very core of Shauna's book: change itself is bittersweet, but it makes our lives so surprisingly, unexpectedly, and beautifully rich. Like coffee. Like chocolate. Like a good Merlot. Like a deliciously well-written chapter in a book.

What I like about chapter "Twenty-five" is how Shauna examines our tendency to cling to familiarity, to circumstances that keep us from reaching our full potential because we are afraid of change.

Any life-changing moment, any epiphany we have doesn't come when we're walking on cloud nine. It doesn't come from being in our comfort zone. It comes when we've just discovered that what we thought was "good enough" isn't good for us, and so we have to try something different in order to find that thing we "can't live without."

I'm not sure that life is about finding ways to make yourself "happy." Can any of us define what that is? There is no remedy, no choice that can ensure that elusive thing that is often only there to make us dissatisfied with what we've already been blessed with.

"Happiness" only satisfies one facet of our appetites, and eventually we realize it isn't enough to make us whole. And then we realize, we don't like the person we're becoming. What we really need is balance. We need boldness and courage.

Bittersweet is a way of life, one that's more real and true and one that allows us to make decisions with the wisdom that the bitter and the sweet, the good and the bad, are intertwined and equally necessary to becoming selves that we are proud of.

We may hate that we don't have everything figured out right now. We may wish that we had peace of mind, the feeling of being secure, settled. But peace never comes at the cost of settling.

Instead of grabbing desperately for the time when we're so sure we're going to "have everything figured out," let's take our twenty-something years and live them like we know they should be: the years that we will look back on as some of the most poignant, the most teaching, the most changing, the most triumphant, the most bittersweet.