Thursday, October 29, 2009

Because it's not there.

On the brink of October ending, I have more on my mind than just Halloween. Once again I find myself pondering - and foolishly committing to - National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is a writing challenge to take the month of November and, by writing around 1700 words each day, write a 50,000 word novel. I've participated and "won" for the past two years (winning involves completing 50,000 words before midnight on November 30th) but I'm hesitant to participate again.

My first reason for stalling is that I don't have too many ideas. This is the first year that I've struggled to develop a title and though I've been working through some outlining and pre-writing, I just don't know if my ideas are any good. Secondly, I feel a bit like I've already completed two 50,000+ projects that are for the most part unreadable and in desperate need of editing. I've yet to take the steps of revisiting my work and polishing it so I feel a little senseless persuing another draft when my first two have gone nowhere.

But when I think about the fun involved of seeing a story come to life... when I take a day and write a character that I never even planned to create... there's a thrill to it. Yes, there are the frustrating days when I want to dropkick my laptop out the train door. Yes, there are the writer's block moments when I seem to plug out nothing but cheesy dialog. But when each day brings me closer to a novel - even a largely unreadable first draft of a novel - it's exciting. And completion is pure elation.

Funny thing is, as much as I like to write and to write about writing, I don't like to talk about my novel. I think it's near impossible to say the words "my novel" outloud without sounding a bit pretentious. Go ahead try it, "The other day I was working on my novel..." - don't you instantly sound a bit more full of yourself? Maybe it's just me. My writer identity (I still can't use the word *author*) isn't one I'm completely comfortable with. A sure fire way to make me blush is to bring up my writing in public.

I'm giving it another go, though. I came across a quote the other day that read, "Why do writers write? Because it isn't there." For me, that's what NaNoWriMo is about. I'm not pursuing publication. I don't even write for an audience. It's just about me creating something new. Because it isn't there.

Friday, October 23, 2009

About to Break

I cannot take this anymore, I'm saying everything I've said before,
All these words they make no sense, I found bliss in ignorance,
Less I hear the less you'll say, but you'll find that out anyway!
Just like before…
Everything you say to me, takes me one step closer to the edge,
And I'm about to break!
I need a little room to breathe, 'cause I'm one step closer to the edge,
And I'm about to break!
I find the answers aren't so clear, wish I could find a way to disappear,
All these thoughts they make no sense, I found bliss in ignorance,
Nothing seems to go away, Over and over again,
Just like before…
~Linkin Park
I don't always listen to angry punk rock music, but I actually really like Linkin Park. This song got me thinking though. What do you do when you feel like you're about to break? I know we've all been there at one point or another. And if you're lucky enough to have a long enough fuse that you've never been in a spot where the powder keg of your mind was about to blow from the pressures around you, share your secrets because I'm sure the rest of us are quite curious.

For me, I just get stressed sometimes. I let little things worry me more than they should. I let expectations from others take a greater priority than God's image of me. And I get to thinking that I'm way more important than I am - that the world can't go on without me running at a frantic pace. This week has been one such stress-fest. Work would be infinitely easier if I could be in two places at once - or at least manage to grow an extra pair of arms. I started to think I could stand being the world's first octopus-human hybrid just to improve my ability to multitask. That's when I realized I needed some perspective.

I took the day off on Thursday. My awesome husband Tony was at home (he starts a new job on Monday) and I decided nothing at work was more important than spending some free time with him - and regaining my sanity with much needed rest. I cleared my schedule by working my butt off on Wednesday and spent Thursday relaxing. Seriously, I did next to nothing. I slept til nine, stayed in my pj's until noon, caught up on the previous two episodes of Top Chef, did some reading, and worked on a blanket I'm crocheting. It was awesome.

I realized I've only had three non-sick days off work this whole year so far and my longest "vacation" was July's bout with Poison Ivy. (I was on way to many drugs to actually enjoy that time off.) But overworking was not me getting more done. It was me burning myself out. Pushing myself to get more done until I was wound up so tight that the smallest things set me snapping unfairly at others. I needed rest. True rest.

I realized that this is why God created a Sabbath. It sounds corny because I know I've heard it preached in church multiple times, but I haven't seen that scary work-a-holic side of myself in a long time. It struck me though as truly awesome that He recognized, way back then, our need for rest. I don't treat my weekends as very Holy - more often they are days to catch up on dishes, laundry, groceries, and family affairs. It's something I need to change.

Before I break, I need to break - break from my routine of stress, overwork, and pressure. As I mentioned in my last post, I need to set aside times of reflection in my life.
I need times of peace.
I need breaks.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cold Tangerines

My friend Ellen recommended a book to me called Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. I didn't admit to her (until now) that I cringe a little at book recommendations. There's a certain amount of pressure that comes with reading a book that someone else really likes. Maybe the book spoke to them in a way that it just won't talk to you; perhaps something in a person's life resonates with the book and they only imagine that you share that sonorous quality. Whenever someone recommends a book I find myself reflecting on the quote that, "In literature, as in love, we are often astonished at what is chosen by others."

However, Ellen is someone that I trust and admire so her recommendation didn't dare go into the "perhaps, maybe before I die" pile of books on my mental shelf. Instead, Cold Tangerines showed up on my library hold queue and jumped quickly to the top. I started it this week, and (as of my train ride home today) I have just a few chapters remaining. It's the kind of book that speaks to a reader - I suppose I mean female readers - and I almost wish I could Xerox off different chapters and press them into the hands of family and friends and say "You need to read this!" or "This is SO what you are going through!"

And, of course, with a book that relevant to my loved ones, there were to be found several passages that seemed to be written directly at me. In a chapter called "Prayer and Yoga" she laments that both are decidedly good for her yet she doesn't stick to either as often as she should. (Sound like anyone you know??) I also really liked her thoughts on writing. As I contemplate another looming November with NaNoWriMo, I find myself pondering if I want to embrace - unleash - my identity as a writer once again. I've wavered and flip-flopped about taking on the chaotic novel-in-a-month challenge this year and then, this afternoon, I read this:

"Sometimes when I'm writing, if I try really hard, I can move more slowly, like a dancer or a mime, and taste things more vividly, and see not just the trees and the grass, but the individual leaves and blades. Things are richer and brighter than I thought, now that I have slowed down enough to see them."

~Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines p. 137

I don't think NaNoWriMo is quite the atmosphere for slowed down perception that Niequist is speaking of, but I understand her need for the reflective introspection that comes from times of writing. It's where I spent a lot of time in the days when I was a prolific journaler - heck, even when I was a more prolific blogger. I look with some shame on my sparse posting of this year. I see it not as sad because I missed sharing inane thoughts with friends and family but rather, sad that I was living my life without reflection.

There's a famous quote that says "We must live life forward and define it backward," but I think most of us fall into the trap of too much forward motion on that one. Not that it would be good to over-define life to the point of not spending one's time living it. When we can find the place between rushing out to live each day and poignantly reflecting on our journey as a whole, that's where a well paced life will be. Neither hurried nor bored, that will be a balanced life indeed.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Can't they just call it fancy-single-cup-of-coffe-thing-a-ma-jig?

This week at the train station they've been giving out free coffee as a promotion for Keurig coffee brewers. Well, actually they're not giving out the cups of coffee themselves, but rather they have been passing out a cup with an insert containing the thing that you put in the machine to brew the coffee and then sending commuters to the Great Hall area of Union Station where all of the fancy brew machines are set up.

It's actually something of a brilliant invention. Basically you place the coffee or tea insert (what looks like an over-sized single serve half and half container) into the machine, put your cup under the spout, press a button, and in less than a minute you have fresh brewed coffee or tea. I can see the draw of them for corporations - Tony said they had one at his previous job - but I'm not rushing out to get one in my own home any time soon. In part, because I have no clue how to pronounce the things. Even the volunteers passing out the samples varied from "Free coffee from cure-ig" to "Coffee compliments of coo-rig today" and "Brew your own cor-ig coffee". If it were me I would call it the Coffee-in-a-Minute Machine or something else equally less cool and European but simple to say.

I did like the coffee though. I tried the Caribou rainforest blend and it was really good. The strangest thing was that as I was adding cream and sugar to it there was a man next to me that put five creamers and eight packets of sugar in his drink. The cups were comparable to a small from most coffee shops and my jaw must have hit the floor when I saw him empty creamers two at a time twice into his cup; reach for the sugar, count out four packets, tear them open, dump them into his cup, and repeat; followed by a quick stir and then one more Coffeemate creamer! He didn't even taste it before adding everything! I'm all for sweet beverages (one cream, one sugar for me) but I had to wonder if his drink even resembled coffee when he was done with it.

Friday, October 09, 2009

On Science...

They wouldn't call it re-search if we found the answer the first time.
-L. J. Guerrero