Back on the Wagon

Forgive me for I have sinned. It has been 13 days since my last morning pages. Instead of practicing what I know is good for me, I willfully refused to do my morning pages. When I had an emotional pain in the middle of my heart, I knew I had, once again, waited too long.

The happiest I have ever been has been this year. Why? Because I was writing every day. First, that every day occurrence took place here. Then, it moved into morning pages. The continuity stood for 10 weeks. 10 weeks! That’s a nice long time to have established a habit, wouldn’t you say? But I stopped for a day or two, and then I was lost.

Writing, communicating, getting what I am feeling down on paper, exploring thoughts and feelings, countering my negative beliefs about my self – all these things are crucial to my life. The thing is, they take time.

I am temporarily not working at a place of employment, so I have the time. The time to write morning pages. To blog. To explore. To write stories. To edit and polish them. To share what I have learned and am learning with you all here as I go along. That’s kind of neat.

This morning I learned, yet again, how an incident in kindergarten continues to haunt me and my ability to work. On a report card, Mrs. Lawson wrote: Wendy is very eager to please other people. On that fateful day, I did an assignment out of order: I worked on a painting I wanted to work on first, and then I worked on the assigned painting. The assigned painting had to have clouds, birds, and a sun on it.

I was so involved in painting what I wanted that I forgot the order. When I realized that I had made a mistake, I went up to my teacher to ask if it was OK. Instead of gently chastising me and telling me to listen more carefully, she told me to go sit on a stool in the corner.

I was mortified, publicly humiliated and terribly ashamed of myself. Everyone could see me! Only the “bad” kids got sent to the corner! I must be a bad kid! Now everyone knows, and they will never forget it. I did my best to hold back the tears that fell down my cheeks. When I got home, I told my mother another student got sent to the corner. I wanted to share it with her, but I couldn’t. I was afraid of what she might say.

And all my life, I have been chased by the fear that, if I don’t do things exactly as instructed, I am going to be punished, called out for it, and humiliated. When I was working on The Artist’s Way, I began to get down on myself for not “pushing my creativity limits” with my artist date each week as Julia Cameron urged the reader to do.

So first, I couldn’t get around to an artist date each week. Then I stopped doing the lessons. Then I stopped morning pages. You see? I wasn’t following things exactly, and I keep forgetting to give myself permission to do things the way I want to do them, that Mrs. Lawson is not going to come out of my past, my bosses aren’t going to make me an example of an errant employee, and that I, as a free adult in this world, can do whatever the fuck I want in whatever way I want.

If something doesn’t work for me or I feel intimidated, my answer has to been to give up instead of accepting what I want to do as being valid. Did it really matter that I did things out of order? I don’t think so. Five year olds are notorious for not listening or following directions exactly. Does that mean we punish them publicly for a mistake? That seems a bit harsh to me now.

Regardless of what I think, my amygdala has latched onto this idea that I will be safe from those terrible feelings if I avoid making mistakes. To avoid making mistakes, I have to avoid doing anything. Now that isn’t much of a life to live, is it?

Well, I took some time to try and dismantle this alarm system that I have been for almost the last forty years. If I can be released from its grasp, I will be truly free to be anything I want.

Advertisements

Risks and Parachutes

This morning, I did one of the scariest (and dumbest) things that I have ever done: I walked over half a mile next to a road with no sidewalk and a tiny to non-existent shoulder alongside fast-moving traffic. I’m not sure whether having my mother and husband with me makes me feel better or worse. Instead of one idiot, there were three.

On our way back, I began to notice all the car crash debris on the side of the road. I thought of drunk drivers who careen off the road and kill people. While working as a NYS trooper in his 20’s, one of my elementary and high school classmates, Rob Ambrose, was killed when a drunk driver careened into the car he had pulled over and was ticketing. I feel beyond blessed to have escaped unharmed on my morning walk despite my own poor decision.

When I was growing up, my mother used to scare the shit out of me because all my plans were greeted with tales and questions about terrible things that were going to happen to me if I dared wanted to go anywhere outside the house except for my backyard. After we returned, I couldn’t believe that my mom didn’t think it was too risky to chance to go for a 2 mile walk yesterday along that same road.

It must be the purview of parents to terrify their children out of doing the things that they themselves wouldn’t think twice about doing. The more time I spend with my mother, the more I understand why she drives my sister M mildly crazy with her poor decisions. God watches over fools and babies (and other idiots).

Taking risks is an interesting subject. Today’s walk opened my eyes to the difficulties that parents must face in trying to teach their children what’s a “good” risk to take and what’s a “bad” risk. This kind of fear/excitement that I felt while walking on the road is like jumping out of an airplane in a parachute. Some might call the risk of dying unacceptable (like me) while others acknowledge it, take precautions (parachutes), and jump anyway (like friends of mine).

Now I have a new perspective on the title of the book What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles. When we choose a path for ourselves, we are moving forward into the unknown, much like jumping out of an airplane. The parachute, aka our professional lives, might take the form of education, training, internships, volunteering, recommendations, and a clean background check. We dye the silk cloths with our interests, best skills, and preferences. With the job application, we leap out of our plane and pull the parachute strings hoping to land safely on a job.

Taking the “bad” risk, making it through, and sitting down to write about it illustrated the book’s meaning in a major way. The mental experience of my breakthrough felt like the pieces of a magnetic puzzle pulling together in perfect form. Afterwards, I have the feeling of having been pulled into a new dimension of understanding. There was the Before, and Now is the After.

In The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, she recommends twice weekly brisk walks for 20 minutes. I am wondering if a pre-breakfast walk each day might make my morning pages a more interesting place to explore things after I explore the outside. I might consider giving this an experiment next week. That might mean I get up earlier (heaven forbid) or end up writing my morning pages. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I guess I will have to experiment.

But I’m pretty sure that this idea is one of those good risks to take.

Three Writing Strategies

As I am spending the first half of 2014 building writing habits that, I hope, will further me along in my writing career, I have learned a few strategies about writing when I think that I have nothing to write. These three strategies are a combination of strategies I have learned from others and from my own learning experience.

Strategy #1: Warm up writing

Trying to dive into a story full blast without doing warm up writing is like trying to run the Boston marathon without training. You can do it, but it’s painful. Even with warming up, you can die running a marathon. While you are considerably less likely to die if you write without warming up, the going will be slow and probably not your best shot.

Instead, give yourself permission to do writing warmups. In The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, she recommends 30 minutes of writing first thing in the morning. This writing should fill up about 3 pages of 8.5″x11″ bound spiral notebook. I like to set a timer because I can be a slow writer on some mornings, but I can get in 2.5 pages in that time period. I feel that’s close enough.

Julia tells you to get up early if you have to work it into your schedule. If getting up earlier is not an option, see if you can switch a few things around: take a shower at night instead of the morning; write for 20 minutes instead of 30 on the days where your time crunch is heaviest; or just plan punt something entirely and replace it with writing.

I hope I don’t need to admonish anyone not to waste their precious morning writing time with ironing clothes instead. No one needs or keeps clothes that are that sharply pressed anyway. The moment you sit down – BOOM! Wrinkles. So forget the ironing (please!) and get to writing. Iron at night, when you come home from work, or not at all. If ironing is that important, get them pressed at the dry cleaners so you can get down to the important work of morning writing warmups.

Strategy #2: write your “less important” stuff first

I bet you are wondering right now where this post lies along my continuum of least to most important writing. I ain’t gonna tell ya! Why? Because less important doesn’t mean unimportant.

So you want to work on your story, but you can’t just dive in right? Doing so would be like trying to dive head down into an empty pool. But you need to write something. Certain types of writing do not count:

  1. To do lists.
  2. Email.
  3. Purchasing lists.
  4. Any kind of work-related list that does not lend itself to creativity.

You can use these kinds of writings to get yourself going:

  1. Morning writing warm ups (see Strategy #1).
  2. Timed writing. Set a timer and write. Anything! Go! Now! Write for 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 90 seconds. How did you do? Was writing longer easier? Harder?
  3. Object writing. Pick an object and write about it in all its sense-bound glory. Include all the senses: sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell, feelings, and kinesthetics.
  4. Combine writing types. For example, #2 and #3 in this list can be combined. You can write sense-bound details about an object for varying amounts of time.
  5. A work- or craft-related blog post.

You may find that creative ideas come forth in these exercises that you can then use in your stories. Great! Add it in. Our brains like to add in things for one project while being completely absorbed in a different tasks. That’s what I find so amazing about all kinds of writing. One type of writing feeds another. Since you’re always “eating”, you end up feeling satisfied.

Strategy #3: stay focused

Remember, writing is enmeshed with your life. Start with your morning pages, progress to timed writing, and then dive right into the story or blog post that you want to work on. Getting your fingers moving across the keyboard, or the pen moving against the paper. Start writing a story that has nothing to do with your deadline-driven writing project. You don’t have to stay at it all day.

If you get stuck on your story, dive off the page and write something else. You do not have to force yourself through it, nor stare at a blank page and wonder what the hell you are going to write. If you write, write, write all the time, you will eventually find out what works right for you when you need to write.

Hello. My name is Wendy, and I’m a write-aholic….

One morning when I was writing my morning pages, I realized that I was writing an idea for a self-help book that had been bouncing around in my mind for some time.

That would make Book idea #3 just this year alone, along with an idea for a short story. Today I had another idea for a premise of a dystopian society short story. I then realized: I have a problem.

A writing problem. Now that I have declared myself a writing and not doing enough of it, the universe is soft-balling me ideas. The problem is that I am not progress on the ideas I have, let alone make time for the new one.

Took me a few days to get back to it. This morning I typed out an idea that was part of the self-help book into Scrivener so I can start a file. I have no excuse now. I have plenty of choices of stories to work on. I just need to work on them.

Failing that, I need to create Writers Anonymous for poor souls like me whose writing ideas outstrip the the pace of their writing. Our meetings would start small in a circle of chairs that face each other. Someone would stand up and read:

THE Twelve STEPS OF Writers ANONYMOUS

  1. We admitted that we were powerless over our writing—that managing our writing ideas has gotten out of control.
  2. Came to believe that a Writer greater than ourselves could restore our plots to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our story ideas over to the care of a damn good Editor as recommended by our Agent.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of our Characters, their Flaws, and how it might bring them to the falling action.
  5. Listen to another Writer, to ourselves, and to an Editor the problems of our Plot.
  6. Were ready to have our Editor remove all these defects of Characters and Plot.
  7. Humbly asked our Editor to remove these defects and return our manuscript to us.
  8. Painstakingly went through the Manuscript and incorporated all Changes noted by our Editor.
  9. Continued to make Edits as required by our Story and not our Egos.
  10. Continued to make as many as Revisions as needed to create a solid final Draft for Publication.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our sales numbers, hustling and marketing our Books to our target Audience.
  12. Having had a completed Book as the result of these Steps, we pick a new Writing project and start the process all over again at step #1.

Disclaimer: My steps are a satiric take on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is Copyright © A.A. World Services, Inc. 

The Artist’s Way: Week 5 Retrospective

Today marks the beginning of Week 6 in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which I am following in order to encourage creativity in my life. Denial of my feelings and desires has been a way of life for me. I am using this book as a way to help me open up to creativity in a way that I have always desired.

For the first three weeks, I was excited, I had ideas, and I found it relatively easy to implement them. Starting in week 4 and through last week, I felt as if my mind were returning to the same dull state I experienced before I embarked on my writing journey through The Artist’s Way. 

This is always the spot where I seem to crash and burn in my dreams. Past the initial honeymoon period, I return to feeling less pumped and less inspired. Creating ideas becomes more difficult. I start to feel sad and then become depressed. I stop doing the things I enjoyed. I become bored and claim that I don’t know what to do.

This is the cycle I have struggled with my whole life and the one that I am trying to break. I think there is a natural settling down after initial enthusiasm, the low that results because of the high. My issue is that I let myself stay there in the lows.

In my morning writing, I realized that I need to raise my awareness when I am in a low period. The solution is to take steps to bring myself back to center like jumping jacks, dancing, a brisk walk – anything! I can read inspirational quotes, call a creative and supportive friend, or play with my cats. That way, I lift myself out of the seriousness of depression and back towards the lighthearted play of creativity and growth.

A sign that should have signaled to me that I need to shake things up was that I did not add anything new to my Pinspiration Board last week. I was so excited in week 4 to think of the board, put it up, add a couple of inspirational quotes to it and around the house, and then have a clear desk in front of me.

So what happened? It became the thing that you sit right in front of every day but yet fail to see. On my Pin Board, I copied two sets of reminders from The Artist’s Way – The Basic Principles and the Rules of the Road. As of week 3, I should be reading them twice a day. I decided to read only once a day, and then I forgot to read them at all this past week.

Raising awareness of things that have moved out of your conscious eye and back into your consciousness is one of the most difficult challenges we face as humans. Often, it is not until much too late that we look back and see that we stopped doing something meaningful, which lead us to stop doing other meaningful activities, until we are in a place of doing nothing.

My parents were born and raised in the Great Depression of the 1930’s. They worked hard on farms, at their jobs or in their home, and in the vegetable garden. The greatest thing that my parents ever aspired for me to do was the freedom to do nothing.

Until recently, I did not understand how their lifestyle has made it difficult for them to understand the physically easier, knowledge- and creativity-oriented lifestyles that they made possible for their own children.

Yesterday I signed up for a Publishing and Creativity Conference to be held in the Lower West Side of NYC on April 11-12. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, is going to be there. When I told my mom about it, she said, “Well, it’s good to have something to keep you occupied.”

With this comment, I started to understand that what I see as an essential life activity, she sees as a hobby. The need for creativity or writing to be fluff to her. Her accomplishments were so much more concrete – raising family, growing vegetable, or cleaning.

But ideas and creativity could not be fluff to me anymore than being able to raise her family was to her. I guess that shows me I will have to be patient and continue to explain to her, as I have been doing lately, what I want to do with my life and why it is important. I am OK with that.

Writing about it in my morning pages and here on my blog seem to help me continue forward in personal growth. Please share how you get yourself back on track when you find yourself derailed.

I Heart Letter Writing

Earlier today, I assisted a friend in writing a letter to a tenant who has been having some difficulty with cleanliness. I offered to start writing it, which I did. About 30 minutes later, I received a letter they wrote but did not send. Since it contained much good information, I offered to assist in paring it down.

I remembered how much I love letter writing. I especially love writing clear, concisely worded letters to tenants have an issue following some term of their lease. I think I missed my calling as a letter writer in a legal office. I am not sure I would run to do that now. I have to pick one damn path and follow that. Since I have already decided my path for this year, I will stay put instead of letting my ENFP/ADD/OOhshiny! disorder lead me astray once again. 

One aspect of this letter writing that I enjoyed so much was the ability to succinctly point to their lease terms and then, in a professional and non-accusatory manner, put them in their place. When I owned a three family, I was trained by a pseudo-legal real estate agent whose entire family, including extended famiily, had been in real estate, went to law school and/or were lawyers, and owned extensive property in the Greater Boston area.

My real estate/legal friend helped me pen many a “Let me break it down for you” letter and gave me extensive schooling on how to handle crazy, erratic tenants. I would have been worse off than the anxious mess I was at that time. The satisfaction and peace of mind I obtained from writing concise, well-documented letters that not even a lawyer could fault were essentially tools for me at the time. The last time I wrote such a letter was at least 13 years ago. 

Good talents never get old, especially if you continue using them in similar ways. There’s something about needing to document extensive, complicated computer problems to a user that gave me a similar experience when I worked in IT. Unfortunately, dealing with computers and the negative people I found that seemed to flock to IT departments sadly outweighed benefits I received from work well done.

Although I do love letter writing such as this, I have a hunch that working in a legal department might very well be worse for me than working in either Information Technology or Real Estate. I continue to be puzzled at the way I am drawn to some things which, in their best contexts, are actually the worst contexts for me to work in. I think it is a remnant from when I made decisions on what was logical and not what I desired to do. 

I am glad those days are over, but I still love letter writing. I wonder if I can work letter writing into my life in a creative way. Writing letter campaigns for causes I am interested in does not fill this bill. Now that I think further about it, I realize that my love with real estate/legal letter writing might be because it lets me take ample time to craft what I want to say in the most positive and/or professional way. 

Does that mean I love to craft an image of myself to the outside world? Does it allow me to impose a kind of order and control over a particular situation? I think it allows me to keep refining what I want to say until I have an impenetrable argument. Does that mean I am looking to be right? Am I looking for a method to prop my confidence up as a defense against another’s argumentative blow? 

As I wrote the above questions, I am getting a kind of inside look at my preferences. This is kind of like open blog therapy. I think that it allows me to do all those things, which is why I felt such a strong pull to edit my friends letter when I saw it. If I can’t do all those things for myself, then the least I can do is help my friend. At least, that’s the excuse my brain came up with. 

Unfortunately, I did it at the expense of my writing. I am writing way too late in the day for my preferences. That is because I failed to make room for writing my morning pages. Instead, they became my “writing at 10:09PM” pages and this became my 11:09PM blog post. I am trying to live and learn. What I cannot do is allow myself to get totally blown off my path, which is what almost happened when one tiny decision to put off my morning pages happened. 

Writing daily has been such a boon to my personal sense of happiness and peace. Not writing every day would have the same affect on me as having “just one hit” would have on a drug addict; it would throw me back into a negative hell-space of life wherein I have lost my way and my peace of mind. It’s simply not worth it. 

Short and Sweet

I have been battling a coffee addiction for years. As of this weekend, I am off again. I don’t always get headaches when I stop drinking coffee. This time, you would think I am depriving myself of food and water and all human happiness. The headaches are incredible, even with taking medication. 

Lately, I have been dealing with a pain on my left side that is out of control with pain. I could barely sit earlier. I have fibromyalgia, but even for that illness, this is too much. A pain level that usually flows between 2-4 is up to 7 today. I took two aspirin and had relief for two hours, did some yoga, but the pain returned.

I think it might have to do something with crooked seated at my L-shaped desk. The floor on one side of the room tilts into the corner, which throws my already misaligned hips into further misalignment. The result is misery.

Thankfully the pain level has receded down to a 5. For now. I am going to try and get my “morning” pages done. I could leave it, but I just don’t want to break a four-week writing streak, even if it doesn’t happen in the mornings. 

Be well!