Time and the Writer

Don’t allow for disruptions, that’s one thing. Give yourself grace too. I tell myself these things and yet still, when I allow distractions to interrupt my train of thought, my time to write, when I allow the everyday existence to interfere, I am not happy with myself. In The War of Art, Steve Pressfield tells us that, “the amateur takes it so seriously, it paralyzes him.” Don’t be an amateur.

HEAD SPACE

To be an artist of any kind, you have got to do the work. To do the work, yes, you have to put the time in, you have to practice, you have to think about it even when you are not “doing the work.” When you put the time in, you absolutely must have the head space for it. There lies the problem for most of us. Head space.

When you are thinking about your “day job,” when you are thinking about your car needing an oil change, your family’s needs, when you are thinking about how long it’s been since you cleaned the toilet—all of that takes up head space. And head space is a pie. All of those things matter, they really do. Your family has to be cared for. By you. The car, you are dependent on it, you’ve got to take care of it too. The toilet might become disgusting, but more importantly, it will become unsanitary, unhygienic. You’ve got to clean the toilet. So, stop thinking about it and do it. If you just do it when it needs to be done, it won’t take up that head space. Get it?

PROCRASTINATION

Easier said than done, I know. No one wants to clean the toilet, so we procrastinate. Hey, procrastination takes up head space. Procrastination is a luxury most of us cannot afford. Procrastination is an excuse and it’s lazy. I get to say that because I just happen to be the queen of it. Time passes so quickly when you have so much to do; try not to become overwhelmed by it or procrastination will be your death. The death of your work, your art, your writing.

BALANCE

I keep coming up with new ways to balance my life—writing, family, home, work, daily maintenance. Yes, I have a planner. And, yes, I use it. I block off time to write, but I don’t always follow through. Stuff comes up. I set the timer. I try to feel in control. Sometimes it works. Lately, not so much. When I get off track, I tweak the plan. (Also, I hate that word, tweak.) I have notebooks and folders, both real and on my computer. My ideas for projects are so well organized that I sometimes lose them or forget them, stored so nicely in their proper place.

TIME

The thing is I want to complete all of my projects at once. Einstein said, “the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” But I feel an urgency for the world to see what is in my head. It’s amazing and beautiful and honest and raw. I think you’ll appreciate it, if I do say so myself. The only way I can get the time to get all these ideas out, is if I slow down and take one step at a time, allow for the head space no matter what and stop procrastinating.

ALL OUR PARTS

I am talking to myself I know. I also know that all writers struggle with this.  The thing is, we cannot wallow in it. We must overcome it while also giving ourselves some grace. After all, we are all more than writers; we are so much more. It takes all our parts, not just our writer part to tell a story, to do it well. We live and interact in the world and that is what makes us good at telling our stories.

Chasing Squirrels

 

Sometimes I think writing this historical book is a trick I am playing on myself, a sleight of hand that isn’t working. It’s a distraction from what I am really supposed to be writing—something close and personal and oh so painful, a raw story that reaches to the very bone of my existence.

In high school speech class, we were asked to choose a poem or speech to recite to the class. Others chose the obvious such as MLK’s dream speech. It was supposed to reflect something about our identity. As painfully shy and insecure as I was, I was terrified to reveal anything about myself—that is what my teacher later told me, and he was right. I chose a poem from my favorite book of all time which, I guess, is revealing in itself, but the poem was literally nonsense. I chose “Jabberwocky” from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. My teacher felt I was hiding behind it and he encouraged me to express myself, to search myself but that is something, even now I tend to avoid.

When I try to write about the events in my life, both my own mistakes as well as things I may have had no control over, I freeze up. I don’t want to face it. Sometimes even the good parts (and there are many) are difficult for me. Why am I still so afraid? Afraid of myself? Afraid of what’s inside of me? I doubt my own goodness, that is why.  I feel deep down that I am not a good person; but why? The crippling effects of self-doubt prevent me from accomplishing what is most important to me—self-expression. That mean voice tells me, “no one wants to hear this self-loathing, self-absorbed blabber. Stop whining.”  But sometimes I think the world needs to hear it, at least some people. Sometimes I think that by sharing what is deeply personal, I might be able to help others get through life more easily.

And then I think that might just be an excuse. I convince myself that I am lazy. That if I worked harder I could get into the minds of my characters and they would guide me through this novel. These characters, like me, refuse to reveal themselves. We all wear masks.

My first memory of writing was the age of seven. I was given a little white and pink diary with a tiny gold key. I loved that thing and I wrote every day. I have been writing ever since. That is not entirely true; I have been writing in fits and starts ever since. The excuse is that life always gets in the way. That, and the fact that I am forever seeing squirrels. I am an idea person. I’ve got lists of amazing ideas for novels, for a memoir, short stories too. Year after year, I flit from one idea to another, never settling on one project to focus on. I have tried, am trying. All my writing will be devoted to this one amazing novel. No, too overwhelming. I will start it as a short story and move on from there. But then I chase rabbits, I see squirrels and I am off on something else.

Then I wonder if perhaps I am meant to blend these personal experiences into my novel. Maybe there is some sort of connection. Perhaps the character is me but in another time? The story is there in my head but the events occur now in the 20th/21st centuries but the setting is in the 19th century on an island in the Mississippi sound.

Hey look, a squirrel!

ChasingSquirrels

Return

Perhaps returning to my blog will create a higher level of commitment, some structure and purpose to my writing.  So many ideas and so little time overwhelm me. The thing is, I have much more time than I am willing to admit. I waste it because I simply never know where to begin. I suffer from attention deficit, this I know. Everything interests me, so I constantly become distracted by the proverbial squirrel.

Also, the writing here does not have to be perfect. I must tell myself this or I will never put anything out there at all. So, apologies in advance for imperfections.

My blog, I have decided, can be that place where I write about anything and everything as it flits through my little mind. My list of novels that need to be written, the memoir that I feel a compulsion to write, my opinions and simple observations—all of these can be placed in this junk drawer blog. Weekly or monthly something can be placed here. Eventually, I will reach out to a larger public and see what happens. People will be interested or not. It doesn’t matter a lot if I am writing. Because, if I am writing in this way, I will write what matters to me which is the above-mentioned novels, short stories and memoir. In addition to writing about them, I will write them. One at a time.

Why would any of this matter to anyone else? Well, because I have been through some stuff and I know others suffer in the ways that I have suffered and maybe what I share will be helpful to someone else.

I am going to keep the name. It’s bad luck to change a boat’s name and this is my little ship of life. Besides, My Little Cabin holds a special place in my heart. I lived there during a very important time in my life. That cabin changed me. I am a better for having lived there. I am myself for having spent so much time alone up on that little hill. Place matters. Places are like people; our relationships with them shapes us and the places we love, we love like the way we love the people we love. They fill our hearts. They complete our souls. So, the name stays.

I will write about writing; the importance of reading and books; bookstores; library adventures; dogs; my writing and research journey; drinking; motherhood; running; gardening; kayaking and paddle boarding; nature; kindness; life; book reviews; geography. In other words, anything goes.

My hope is that this will lead to structure, practice and accomplishments.

On Being Frail and Mowing Grass

March 4, 2012—I started the mower and mowed the grass today. I am empowered.

To mow the grass may not sound like much but it is. For me it is a physical and social triumph. I grew up with older brothers. They mowed the lawn, not me. When I was married to a rancher, I often assisted in heavy physical labor but I was never wholly responsible for it myself. I helped with building fence, or repairing a water gap. I drove the truck while others hauled hay (my petite daughter included).  I helped with the cattle sometimes. If I thought my husband was asking too much of me, I threw a fit and quit.

But the key word is “helped.” Now, it’s just me. If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. It is my responsibility as a renter here to mow the grass. It’s one reason why the rent is so cheap. I’m not good at estimating such things, but I will tell you the yard is very large.  When the yard became tall and weedy, I went into the shed to get the lawn mower, a small and primitive lawn mower with dull blades. I made sure there was gasoline in the little tank and I pulled the cord. I pulled again. And again.  It would not start. I have very little upper arm strength and I’m left-handed. I did the Lucille-Ball-thing. I wrapped one leg around the handle and tried to pull across my body with my left hand. That did not work.  At this point I was dripping with perspiration, breathing heavily and determined not to give up. I cursed. I yelled at God. I begged God. I screamed, “with your help, I can doooooo ittttt!!!” I pulled. The motor began to run and I let out a rebel yell. I mowed.  When the motor stopped I coaxed it sweetly, “come on, baby, you can do it.” I got the job done.

Then it rained and the grass grew. It seemed like the grass was growing faster than I could mow it like a Dr. Seuss character. There is much irony in this considering that we have been suffering from the worst drought in Texas history.  A few weeks later, I pulled the mower out again. Again, it would not start. No matter how hard I tried or cursed or prayed it would not start.  I sat down, covered in dirt and perspiration, and cried. I cried a good cry. I cried loud, and ugly, and childishly. Snot ran down my nose.  I called Vanessa. Rodger asked me about spark plugs. He asked about, I don’t know, other things. He didn’t know and couldn’t fix it over the phone anyway!

A few days later, Maggie and Justin came over. Justin cleaned the spark plugs. He diagnosed the mower as being “a piece of shit.” He started it for me. I mowed the front, leaving the rest since it was a week night and I was tired from the day.

Saturday morning I tried again. It started on the first pull! Don’t ask! It just did. I mowed half of Texas that day (the other half being desert)! I mowed until gasoline started spewing out of the tank like a sprinkler.  Yesterday, Nathan, the landlord showed up with three buddies. Each took a turn trying to start the mower. It wouldn’t start, not even for these big, strong men.  It wasn’t just me being frail and helpless after all. Nathan took it home with him after declaring it a “piece of shit.” I am hoping he returns with a brand new mower so I can mow the world.

Fraudulent Activity

“I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?”

Meryl Streep

 This is a cold, wet Sunday morning in the hill country. As I lingered in bed reading, I came across a new term. While I tend to steer clear and roll my eyes about anything with the word “syndrome,” this one   got my attention.

 Imposter Syndrome

Po Bronson in What Should I Do With My Life? The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question tells us that this is the “unqualified feeling of being an imposter at work.”  It is the feeling that you are fooling people into believing that you are qualified to do whatever it is that you do.  In other words, in spite of the fact that everyone around you has faith in what you are doing, you don’t believe in yourself. I know this feeling. I know it too well.

Years ago, I worked as a paralegal in a very large downtown Chicago law firm. I couldn’t believe they hired me. I couldn’t believe I went to work every day and fooled these smart people. I didn’t know what I was doing and they paid me pretty well.  I was just a little southern girl. I didn’t have much of an education (my grades weren’t great but I did graduate from the University of Texas which isn’t exactly “Podunk Community College!” HELLO!), and I did not consider myself to be a success. My perception of myself was not very positive.

Looking back, I see a very different person. I see a young woman just starting out in the world and trying her best in every way. She is quirky but smart. She is pretty and witty. She is determined and surprisingly strong for such a boney little thing. She never gives up. She burns to make a creative mark on the world.  This is a girl who wants a pat on the back of assurance but she never gets it from herself.  Today I give her the biggest hug! I like that girl. If I could travel back in time, I would tell her so.

Even as a mom I always felt like a fraud. I wanted to be the perfect mom. I wanted to get at least this right. I planned the birthday parties. I decorated the girlie bedroom. I took my daughter to church and to the beach, and the museum. I taught her how to sit properly at the dinner table. All the while I was looking over my shoulder wondering who could tell I was making it all up as I went along.

Well, let me tell you something about parenting: we all make it up as we go along. There is no other way to do it. And while my own life may look like a train wreck sometimes, my daughter is doing pretty damn well. She is amazing! I may have felt like an imposter sometimes but I am her mom and no one else in the world can ever be that.

As an educator, both classroom teacher and teacher-librarian, I feel like an imposter. I’m not good enough to be doing this, I often think. I don’t know enough. I’m not smart enough or patient enough.

It is one thing to suffer from this imposter syndrome in your work life or even as a parent, but when you think you are an imposter in your own life—well, that is pretty severe.

Living on my own and learning how to be by myself I often think, “This isn’t me. I’m not like this.”  I am not the kind of woman who mows the lawn, pays the bills, fixes the bathtub drain, remembers to get the car serviced, eats dinner alone, goes days without seeing another soul, depends on herself for everything, the list goes on and on. But I am that woman. I am. I am doing these things. I am independent and I am strong. I am even stronger than that young girl in Chicago.

I have always looked up to my dear friend, Therese. She is like a big sister to me. She personifies what it is to be a strong and independent woman. It always seemed to come so easy to her.  That’s who she was but I didn’t see myself that way at all. Thinking about it now, I not only see that I am, in fact, much like Therese, but she is much like me too. It is really, really hard to know yourself, to become yourself.  It isn’t easy for her either. She just makes it look easy! “Look Ma, no hands!” In the years I have known Therese, for the first time I am beginning to feel like her equal.

In my life I have accomplished some things. I have high hopes of doing so much more. I hope I can learn to play my new roles with confidence and with the knowledge that I am good at what I am doing, whatever that may be. No one should ever feel like a fraud in their own life story.

Today’s Gift

Eighty something degrees and sunshine. Today I walked. Living all alone on I-don’t-know how many acres of ranch, I can walk for a long time. I see no one. I see no cars. I can hear the traffic in the far off distance but only because I live on a hill. I am the only human being.

The only beings as domesticated as myself (and decidedly more domesticated, I might add) are the cattle.  I see the deer and the squirrels and the multitudes of birds daily. When I walk I see different kinds of droppings. I see the prints of animals in the dusty caliche road. I recognize some. I know a turkey print, deer, raccoons.  I see others too—perhaps porcupine, opossum, rabbits, coyote, maybe even mountain lions. I am surrounded by wildlife.  It is impossible to be unaware that they are here.

The birds especially force notice. They are so noisy! They make the funniest, most beautiful and interesting sounds. When I scatter stale bread in the yard the ground moves like water with every kind bird—quail, mockingbirds, cardinals, and doves.  Lots of them.  

Today I should be studying. I should be writing a paper for school. Instead I am living in my present. I am feeling the warm sunshine and fresh air. I’m listening to the birds and allowing butterflies to flutter by.  I prepared a beautiful meal only for myself and now I am playing with words.  The paper will get written. Work always gets done somehow. This moment, however, this day, will not repeat itself. Unless I take it now, embrace this life as it is at this very moment, I’ll miss it. I want to grab as much of it up as I possibly can.

I saw a mockingbird alight a cactus in a sunbeam.  That’s enough of a gift for one day.

How I Came to be Here and Why it Matters

“Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one’s own.”
– Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

From the time I was a very young girl I had an ideal of living far away from any civilization where I could have solitude and think about things. I had other dreams too; I wanted lots of animals and lots of children. I wanted a man to love who loved me in return.  I wanted family and friends.  I wanted to live in the city and be anonymous. I wanted to live in a small town and be known and loved by everyone.  I wanted it all.

I read Thoreau and Emily Dickinson. I read everything and voraciously. I let the waves of life push me along the beach, sometimes gently, sometimes with more force until I was nearly drowning.

I have been so fortunate in my life to have many experiences. I have attended cocktail parties at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in Chicago, I’ve traveled the locks in Amsterdam on my parents’ boat, I’ve hauled hay and mended fence line. I have inoculated pigs and cows.  I have given birth to a perfect child.  I’ve read the best books and speak several languages. I can sew and knit and can pickles.  I’ve danced the two-step (albeit not well); I’ve attended punk rock concerts in Austin and the symphony and opera in Chicago. I’ve walked the streets of Paris and I’ve walked the trails of the Texas Hill Country.

I’ve been beautiful and young. I’ve been ugly and I’ve said things I regretted. I’ve been happy to the point of elation and so sad that I had to be scraped from the very bottom of humanity and put back together. I have loved people and sometimes not loved them enough. I never loved myself enough.

I never stopped to take care of myself, to know myself. For a long time I have been busy trying to make other people happy.  I never really believed that I could have a “room of my own.” In the homes of my failed marriages, I tried to make a space for myself—a corner or room—but it never felt right. It was never truly mine. I realize now, it wasn’t about the physical space. The space in my heart was far too crowded to allow me the “room” to right down my words. I never imagined that it was really possible for me to have a little place all my own just to write, create, and think about things. I never imagined that I deserved it.

I came about having such a place quite by force. A big wave pushed me there and said, “there you are—you asked for it!” So now I am happy counting my pennies to make ends meet, using my little space heater when I must, going to the Laundromat, and heating my food on the stovetop (no microwave). I also watch the sun rise and set, observe the deer and quail, and listen to the funny birds. I am truly so incredibly happy.

I don’t worry so much about money but I am taking care of it.  I’ve given up the man who is my best friend, the love of my life and I miss him terribly but for the first time in my life I have myself.

When I am not at work or attending classes, I can write, I can heal my relationship with my daughter, I can heal myself, and I can make of this life what I was intended to make of it—something very good.

I have no apologies for sounding very selfish. I am being selfish. I also want other women to know that they don’t have to go through an entire life feeling insecure or insignificant. You can learn about yourself and take care of yourself. You can know that all the things you do hold tremendous value in this world.

This blog is intended to be the story of my time alone in my little cabin.