This was one of the initial questions the writing Mastermind teacher asked us on our first Zoom encounter in early January. I looked at the squares of women, twenty-eight of us in all, embarking on this six month quest to devlop a non-fiction project we hoped to publish. I felt overwhelmed and wondered who I thought I was to embark on such a quest.
Why do I write? It started after my brother Jeff’s suicide when I was a freshman in college. A glorious new world of freedom was at my feet and I was now facing the biggest stumble of my life. Grief. Loss. Hopelessness. The only thing I could think to do was to write about it. My mom brought me to a therapist shortly after Jeff died but I was all clogged up, didn’t know how to speak out loud the things I was feeling, the dark thoughts rolling around in my head. Pen and notebook saved me. Denial did too.
Before my accident last week, I had a faithful morning routine and had been writing daily since late October. This came after months of not writing, at least not regularly and it was almost like I had hit rock bottom as far as self-motivation goes. Maybe I can blame it on the pandemic. The rock bottom part was triggered by an incident that will go unnamed to protect my people but it was heartwrenching. During this same time I was working on a jigsaw puzzle and listening to the audiobook Atomic Habits by James Clear. It was almost as if God knew what I needed by sending me this book which I had never intended to read.
But as the puzzle pieces of my Italian landscape came together, so did the idea of starting small with putting new habits in place. The first thing I took away from Atomic Habits was to start each new habit with the tiniest of practices – 2 minutes on the treadmill, 2 minutes meditating, 2 minutes writing. The other idea was to stack habits so that it becomes a routine and this is how I worked up to my new two hour routine.
Since I am a morning person and work best with no one around me, I changed my wakeup time to 5:00 a.m. That made all the difference in keeping the comittment to myself to do this every day. Within a couple of weeks, I was in my daily rhythm working out (listening to an audiobook), making tea or coffee to bring to my office in the loft, sitting for meditation, reading books about writing and then finally doing the writing. It wasn’t easy to do at first but over time, I began to look forward to every part of the routine. I’ve listened to several wonderful memoirs and non-fiction books during my morning exercise, read many books about writing and have written well over 100,000 words since I started. The website 750words.com was pivitol in maintaining my daily writing practice.
So now what? Time to put in place a new routine. I will no longer be able to do key parts of the morning routine and my office will be dark for the next nine weeks or so as I’m unable to climb the spiral stairs that lead to it. I have been giving myself a break (haha) this week and am going with the flow. If I don’t write as much, so be it. I’m starting to think about what my new routine will be and I will have a little more freedom as far as time of day as I’m unable to work right now.
Tuesdays have not been good for me lately. A couple of Tuesdays ago we had a snowstorm to clean up and unfortunately, one of my very expensive hearing aid got lost in the snow. The next days were a flury of phone calls to see if I could get it replaced and who would pay. There were representatives from Cochlear, my insurance, my audiologist, back to insurance, back to Cochlear, making and canceling appointments with an ENT (I don’t currently have one!). There was a brief moment of joy when my insurance said they’d cover it but when the dust settled, it was determined we have to pay a hefty co-pay (a bit over two thousand). So much for the rainy day fund! Anyway, I learned not to put my hearing aids in my pocket during a snowstorm.
You are only as happy as your saddest child. This is a phrase I’ve heard before but have never felt the sharp punch of, until now. As we move further into the teen years, life as a parent seems to get a little harder at each turn. There are the things I am anticipating after feeding my curiosity and need with parenting books about what to expect in these turbulent years. It’s a long way off from What to Expect When You’re Expecting and I sometimes think back, if I only knew then… But what would I have changed? Absolutely nothing. From the moment I first saw the amoeba-like sac that was to become our son in April 2006, after months and months of infertility treatment, heard the steady th-thunk of his beating heart, I was a goner, I was his mom. Maybe it started the moment I saw the word pregnant on the blue and white stick from Walgreens. Yes, that was it. It was love. Immediate and immeasurable.
By the time you hit a wall with your child, that wall where you are no longer the one they want to confide in, the thing that is weighing heavily on them, it is too late to flip through the pages of one of those books for a magical remedy. Here is a foolproof way to get them to talk. I gave him space. Offered him food. Cajoled him into watching a couple episodes of our favorite sitcom which never fails to make us laugh. But when the credits rolled his face slammed shut again, he retreated to his room, needing space. How is this not working anymore?
This morning in a moment of inspiration, as I was beginning my slog on the treadmill at 5:00 a.m., a fresh blanket of snow outside the window, I said to myself, suit up and go get your exercise outside. Surprise your husband by shoveling the walk, clearing the cars, get a start on the snow blowing. The idea built up and a half mile into my workout, I did just that. As I work out, I listen to an engrossing audiobook (Know My Name by Chanel Miller) and I don’t want to stop and so I figure I can continue to listen as I clear the snow.
Bundled up, I start on the sidewalk, continuing to listen to my book. I pause at a particularly good description of what the author is feeling in that moment. Then I move to the cars, clearing the snow bit by bit until the shape of them is visible, clean. Now the snow blower, a thing I have wrestled with in the past and have figured out through Google and YouTube videos, a hulk of a machine I have rarely used. The memory of how to work it is still somewhere within in me and I finally get it going, a sputter, a cough and then a constant heavy whir. I won’t be able to listen to my book after all.
Behind both ears are the devices that transmit the sound to my brain through bone conduction hearing aids held in place by titanium plates and the magnetic ends of the processors. No need for them now as I pluck them and pull open the battery doors to shut them down, fold them into my pockets along with the keys to our cars which I plan on moving as soon as I clear a path so I can complete the entire driveway. I continue on, marching up and down the driveway, clearing a path like magic. It’s a beautiful morning, still dark and nearly peaceful save the loud chugging of the machine in front of me. The exercise is good. My heartrate is raised, a thin film of sweat is developing beneath my clothes. My husband will be so surprised and happy when he sees what I’ve done!
In the middle of the night I woke as I often do lately and as I lay still in bed, wondering why I can’t sleep through the night, a poem fully formed, a thing of beauty came to me all at once. It made me glad to be awake to experience this moment of unvarnished inspiration. Of course I said I’d remember, don’t we always do that, say it will still be there when we wake for the day, when we reach for a notepad, a receipt, any scrap of something to jot it down? Ha! This is the one thing you can count on, it will be gone in the morning, vanished as though it never existed.
You will try to summon it, call it back so you can write it down and share it with everyone else because it is the truest thing you had ever known and witnessed by the dull glow of the bedside clock. It was alive and full of beauty and breathe and the last thing anyone will ever have to read to know what insomnia really is. But it is only your experience, witnessed by one person, you, in the middle of a vacant night. Gone.
“What is your project about?” is the question that often comes up in the non-fiction writing Mastermind I signed up for last month which goes from early January to late June. Good question, I say. I’m hoping to write about my brother’s suicide and how it changed the course of my life, how I turned to alcohol, how life went on and how it turned out to be actually OK. Tears usually well up in my eyes when I start talking about my brother Jeff as I get choked up explaining what he meant to me, how I feel it’s important to talk about suicide, out in the open. Let’s talk about all the crap. But I don’t want it to be a downer of a book either for there is so much hope in surviving and coming through to the other side. The others nod, understanding what I mean about hope. It’s really a story of resilience, overcoming the shit life throws at you, surviving and even thriving.
Envy: A painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage. ~Merriam Webster
We were getting a tour of a home in progress belonging to an acquaintance from school. Our kids were in class together and they were new to the neighborhood having moved from one beautiful home to another just months before. The first floor space was in disarray with couches pushed into a corner, other rooms were empty where work was still in progress. She invited me upstairs to take a look at the one room that had been completed, her closet. The closet where she stores her clothes and bags and shoes. I wondered how this could possibly be a feature to highlight in a house tour.
Today I am testing out a new (to me) writing tool called Ulysses. The why behind this is that I am attempting my first draft of a non-fiction book and I have a lot of miscellaneous writing for it scattered in various places and want to corral it into one spot. Ulysses was an option that was mentioned in the writing class I started earlier this month, the class that is supposed to help me tame the wild beast of my ideas and harness them into something possibly publishable, possibly not which is what the critical voice inside my head is telling me.
There are three areas on this version of Ulysses I find appealing because I use all three to write: My Novel, My Blog and My Diary. For the past year my online diary, or journal as I prefer to call it, has been contained using the website 750words.com and it has worked well for me, especially these last three months as I have committed to daily writing. It keeps track of my word count, makes sure I stick around for at least 750 words, and encourages me with a visual clue to track my days in a row streak. It also gives me the ability to look at my writing analytically (which I rarely use anymore). It tells me if I’m happy, sad, optimistic, looking toward the future or stuck in the past. It tells me if I’ve stayed in PG level words or if I’ve strayed to R rated material (as if!), whether I am obsessed with death, money or food. Pretty cool, right?
Considering it is 25 degrees here in upstate New York, that is an amazing feat! It dawned on me as I was doing my morning writing, reflecting on a writing retreat I took part in yesterday (more on that to come), that I hadn’t completed the assignment she had left us with yesterday afternoon in the minutes just before this country became chaotic and unimaginable. I could not believe the things that were happening on the screen I had tuned into as I was seeking to get an update on the fate of the Senate races in Georgia. Instead, what started out as a normal rite of passage, the certification of the votes for the next President, soon turned into anarchy and violence. So glued was I to the unfolding news that it took a text from my son reminding me he was done with school to rattle me back into my world.
The rest of the day went along, I moved away from the screen, into a book, into conversation with my son, back to my email where a teacher had responded to a note I had sent the day before. The school year hasn’t been without struggles and this teacher and my son have not had an easy relationship this year. She wants him to act a certain way (understandable), but he is bored and unchallenged and there is more stress than ever due to Covid so other options aren’t readily available. Feeling her response was terse, I tamped down the urge to respond in kind, something regretful, and so I put it away. The first response is not always the best, I have found. I decided to sleep on it.