ROW80: Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

Glorious, glorious weather!

Glorious, glorious weather!

Happy Labor Day Weekend, friends! Here in San Francisco we are enjoying surprisingly lovely weather. The sun is shining, the sky is cloudless, and we’re all running around in shorts and tanks. It’s the perfect way to celebrate the end of summer, and while I’ll be sad to see it go, I’m starting to dream about the 1960s vintage wool coat I’m dying to buy for the inevitable cool-down.

I’m grateful for friends and family and good health this weekend, especially because this time last year I was nursing my boyfriend through a fever of 103 F, and because all of my coworkers have been ill. But I’ve had a chance to catch up with two of my oldest friends–always a joy–and time to take naps and relax. This afternoon I’m aiming to spend a few hours with my dissertation, but my motto right now is to move slowly. 

 

Blog

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’d like to revamp my blog. Over the past three years I’ve toyed with different theme days, but moving forward I think I’d like to do something that includes Guilty PleasuresBook Reviews, and maybe Midweek Poetry. I’ve got an ongoing list with ideas for over 15 posts, and I now have incomplete drafts of 4 different posts. I’m adding onto those drafts little by little, when I have a new idea and a spare moment, so hopefully I’ll have a few finished by my deadline.

For this week: I’ve been wanting to write about Penned, the new writing app for the iPhone, for a few weeks now. The goal is to get that finished and posted by Friday.

Dissertation

Dissertation writing is in progress, and proceeding slowly but surely. I am still trying to think less and write more, but that is hard work. I’ve added something like 500 words this week. Not terrible, but if I want to get these chapters written, I need to do more.

For this week: My realistic goal is to finish the section on the founders of religious communities. My epic dream goal is get this whole darn chapter finished (but that’s probably a huge reach). Sigh… We’ll see.

Fiction

I haven’t written anything new in the fiction department, but I have been toying with new ideas. My favorite so far? A character named The Peddler, who is loosely based on one of the vendors I see at the flea market each month. The first time I saw him he was standing on a table, dressed in a full-length fur coat, cowboy hat, and Ray-Bans. In TELL ME NO LIES, I think The Peddler will be one of the many unsavory sorts who hang out in the Barbary Coast, selling illicit (and, obviously, overpriced) items to the rich dandies who wander into “Hell’s Half-Acre” looking for debauchery.

For this week: I think it’d be nice to start typing up the snippets I’ve been writing by hand. I flipped through my notebook the other day and found a draft of the ending (!!!!) that I totally forgot I had written, so putting everything in a spot that’s easy to organize and find would be nice. Scrivener, here I come!

-oOo-

So that’s about it for me! Tomorrow I’m looking forward to checking out the Kings Mountain Art Fair, which is held in the lush, forested area of Woodside, about 20 miles south of San Francisco. It should be a nice way to close out a long weekend.

ROW80: Change Is The Constant

Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix.”
– Christina Baldwin

 

Friends, it’s been way too long. But those of you who hang out with me on Facebook and Twitter know that it’s been a helluva year. Every time I feel as though I’ve gained a semblance of control in my life, it slips away and I’m left scrambling all over again. Solid ground turns out to be nothing more than an illusion, and “control” is all but impossible.

sinkhole01

That moment when “solid ground” isn’t as solid as it looks.

So I’ve reached the conclusion that, for the time being, this is the new normal. My day job is still the kind of place where anything and everything can, and will, happen–inevitable when there are involves 100 screaming kids, constantly ringing phones, demanding parents, and way too many surprises. I still have a dissertation looming in front of me, and an anticipated graduation date of June 2015. And I’ve still got those three novels sitting on my hard drive and taking up residence in my head, unfinished and gathering dust. Add in conflicting demands from family and friends, a boyfriend who’s going through his own share of massive transition and change, and the result is that “somewhat managed chaos” is really the best I can hope for.

It would be easy, I guess, I just do the bare minimum and try to get by. But I want to live, in ways that go beyond just moving through the motions. I want to be creative; I want to blog, to interact, to engage within a community. I don’t want to have to wait until I’ve finally got that PhD in hand in order to write, and speak, and exercise my imagination in all the ways I’ve been dreaming for years.

The trick, as I see it, is going to be mastering tools, tricks, and strategies to get things done. Over the last few weeks I’ve started to identify the ways that I can work smarter instead of harder, ways that I can make the most of my limited free time. I’ve also started identifying some of my habits that have been preventing me from accomplishing the goals that mean the most to me. My top 3 fatal flaws:

  • Trying to do things at the last minute. It’s been my MO since I was in elementary school. Once upon a time I was able to churn out brilliant work in a single night, motivated by panic and stress and a lot of caffeine. This isn’t an option anymore. I can’t write chapters, or blog posts, or an entire dissertation in one sitting. Hell, I can’t even pull together a newsletter for the Day Job in a 2 hour stint. My new goal? Spacing things out. Giving myself enough time to get things done. Which kinda goes along with the next point…
  • Trying to work for extended periods of time. Gone are my grad school days of having multiple days in a row to just sit in my house, grade papers, and write. Now my mornings are filled with exercise classes (Zumba FTW), my afternoons and evenings with the Day Job, and my nights with trying to stay awake past 9 pm. My attention span for writing has all but evaporated; I can barely manage 15 minutes before I start to go a little nuts. So I’m aiming for short sprints, 15-30 minutes of focused, sustained work where I’m not multi-tasking or daydreaming or Googling that random (but brilliant!) idea that popped up out of nowhere. Lauralynn Elliot talked about this in Monday’s ROW80 sponsor post, which I have printed out and tacked up next to my desk.
  • Being scared of success. I always scoffed at the idea of being scared of success. After all, don’t we all want to be successful? But I started thinking about the fact that I’ve abandoned tons of projects midway through, projects that I was super excited about at the start, and ones that showed a lot of promise. And when I really dig deep, it starts to become clear that I am terrified of what will happen when I’m finished. I don’t know what’s worse: the outcome being either (1) terrible, (2) mediocre, or (3) brilliant. The thing that sucks about #3? The fact that people might notice me, and that I will get attention. It’s horribly irrational, because there’s a part of me that loves the spotlight and enjoys having a somewhat public voice. But there is a part of me that is 12 years old, painfully awkward, and terrified of being seen. The key, at least for the moment? Reminding myself that I have important stories to share. Pushing past that niggling voice of doubt. Locking up my inner editor until I have something finished and complete to polish. Thinking less and doing more because, sweet Jesus, I have been overthinking everything lately.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m trying to be honest with myself, and trying to retool things that just haven’t been working. And not everything in this last year has been a total disaster. I’ve made some important strides at the day job, drafted the introduction to my dissertation, and had a successful conference presentation at this year’s American Sociological Association meeting. I’ve also had some awesome experiences that I’m looking forward to sharing in the weeks to come: visits to cool historical spots around San Francisco, meeting a couple of amazing NYT-bestselling authors, and getting started with Penned, an awesome writing app currently building steam on iPhone.

I’m jumping back into ROW80 in the hopes that I can use this momentum to stay accountable and bloody finish something for once. Here’s what I’ve got on my agenda:

DISSERTATION

  • Finish at least 2 chapters by September 20th.
  • Continue data analysis between September 20th and October 10th.
  • Read at least one dissertation-related book by September 20th.

BLOG

  • Write at least one ROW80 check-in each week until the end of Round 3.
  • Draft 4-6 blog posts by the end of Round 3, to be posted on the blog starting in late September/early October.

FICTION

  • Continue to jot down ideas, by hand, for the last remaining chapters in Act One of TELL ME NO LIES.
  • Outline the first few chapters of Act Two for TMNL.

This doesn’t seem like a lot, but honestly, it’s more than I’ve been able to accomplish for the last year. So we’ll see! In the meantime, I wave a hearty hello to all of you. I can’t wait to take a peek and see what everyone else is working on at the moment.

How’s the end of summer shaping up? Any fun plans lined up for Labor Day weekend?

#NaPoWriMo Day 9: “That Fragile Moment”

we’ve done it:
survived that awkward first date–
coffee in a crowded cafe, to be sure
that you weren’t a crazed psycho.
things went well enough in that
this-could-be-lovely kind of way
no room for a guarantee,
just an abundance of what-if and maybe, perhaps
and so we met again for something
slightly more real–
creatures and cocktails and science,
a chance to exercise conversation and wit,
to search for spark and possibility.

we’ve weathered strained smiles
stuttered stumbling
stilted silence
and shared those first secrets
hardly blackmail material
but truths that move just beyond
polite small talk
ones that scratch beneath the epidermis and
graze flesh, sensitive and living and warm.

and now we stand on the brink
of something tenuous and cautious, fragile
as a dewdrop on spun silk,
ripe with disaster and glory alike,
a portal to a new beginning
or, perhaps, yet another ending.

— —a breath— —

—a touch—

if you take my hand
will i ever want to let you go?
or will i be impossibly tethered,
wings clipped, bound and chained
to a future interminable?

could we be a pair?
or will this flame sputter out
and die
too weak to withstand the breeze?

one false move
one tiny mistake
could cost us everything:
a sacrifice of mornings not yet lived
the death of kisses never exchanged
the loss of a million dreams and wishes
uttered into the empty night
present yet not, hovering
just beyond reach.

if love is a leap
then i have never
been inspired to jump

until this moment, with this ache
in my heart
growing ever deeper.

to leave you now would be
betrayal and cowardice both
so i stand with you
listen to the echo of your heart beat
with mine
and wait for the knowledge that this is
love
strong enough to endure.

NaPoWriMo Day 8: “Pure Inspiration”

I wait each day for the
spark
the moment when words will
trip and twist,
collide, collapse, congeal
transform from Mundane–

“I need change for a twenty”

to Profound–

“If I could change like this twenty,

shed my skin from a single bill,

wrinkled, crinkled, rumpled and worn,

into the many, the fresh, the new!,

then this life would be worth

the price.”

I search the ever-present noise
that fills the day-to-day,
scrying through the screams and the shouts
like the old fortune teller and her glass,
reading between the lines
of shrilly ringing phones,
blindly groping through Chaos so profound
tangible
it is like walking through molasses floors
an avalanche of puzzle pieces and lego bits
a sonic wasteland that destroys all thought
a minefield with no escape.

Exhaustion dogs my steps
sometimes suffocates with a hand inescapable
and if it doesn’t succeed, the litany of should-do-and-failed
will finish the job.

And still I search for words
listen with ears deafened to the glorious music
that comes from a phrase well-turned
a passage that is unflinching in its truth.
I long for the sweet kiss of a single sentence
try to wring them from my soul like blood from a stone.

There is nothing

—-yet—-

Nothing is never the Absence of Something
but the Beginning of Everything
Pregnant with Possibility
Rich with Could-Be
Inexhaustible with Chance.

So I wait
listen
grasp at words with greedy hands
cram them into my mouth
swallow without chewing
and pray for a moment
of pure inspiration.

Mixing It Up: #ROW80 Goals & #NaPoWriMo Day 7

ROW80LogocopyAnother Round of A Round of Words in 80 Days is upon us, and I am delighted to participate. For those who have never heard of this wonderful writing community, ROW80 is the writing challenge “that knows you have a life,” and allows we over-worked, over-scheduled creative folk to build our own goals.

After a rough and tumble year (or two… or three?), I’m all about treating myself with flexibility and care. I gave myself permission to take the weekend off from NaPoWriMo, because I’ve learned that placing pressure on myself is counter-intuitive. When I tell myself that I’m a failure, or that I’m lazy, or that I’m useless because I couldn’t wrest a few minutes out of my life to write, I ruin any chances I have to be creative for days, and sometimes weeks, to come. So Round 2 of ROW80 is all about being kind to myself (like fearless leader Kait Nolan writes in this awesome post), about allowing myself to make mistakes and to stumble without self-flagellation, and about actually remembering how to enjoy the act of writing, both academic and creative.

Before I get to my Round 2 goals, have a bit of a poem. I’m trying out a “lune,” a modified haiku form written with 3 words in the first line, 5 words in the second, and 3 in the third. And based on the subject matter, I’ll bet you can all guess what I was dealing with today…

“Migraine”

brain throbs incessantly

senses stunted, tongue silenced, thought completely eliminated

migraine strikes again

—-

And with that, here are my goals for Round 2:

Dissertation:

  • Finish 2 chapters by the end of Round 2.
  • Start coding data sources.
  • Hammer out an inventory of data sources.

Creative Writing:

  • Read 1 piece of fiction each week.
  • Figure out how to move forward with TELL ME NO LIES.
  • Write at least 20 poems for #NaPoWriMo.
  • Start blogging in May–maybe with weekly book reviews? The jury is still out on this one.

-oOo-

I’m still trying to keep things simple, as you can probably tell, but with the way things are going at the moment, simple is most definitely best.

I’m looking forward to rocking the ROW with the rest of y’all! Anyone else participating in NaPoWriMo this year? Any big goals slated for this Round? Can’t wait to see how everyone is doing!

 

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#NaPoWrimo Day 3: “But Even Under These Conditions Man Can Reveal”

For today’s poem, I used one of Kelli Russell Agodon’s NaPoWriMo prompts:

Open the closest book to you to page 46. Count down 7 lines. That is the first line or the title of your poem.

The closest book to me was a copy of Emily Post’s ETIQUETTE; the line in question contained the wonderful fragment that I’ve used for the title, and as one of the lines in the poem itself. It opened up an interesting way to explore the question of male privilege, and how that privilege harms not only women, but men themselves.

aWZOyZ6_700b

boys don’t cry

because emotion

is

foreign

sissy-stuff

only girls–

irrational and

silly

sweet, with sugar

and spice smiles,

countless neuroses

bubbling over

feelings that

explode–

ever experience.

 
boys become men

tough

strong

softness has

no place with them.

 

and these are the lies that we are fed

the falsehoods that

entrap

ensnare

justify a world where

women cannot lead

and men cannot feel

two different species

perpetually estranged

 
but even under these conditions man can reveal

sinew and bone

muscle and tissue

a heart that

squeezes

flexes

contracts

trembles with the enormity of

love

and desire that

is more than

skin-deep

 
because we are stronger

when we can be whole

when we can

transcend

the myths that

hamper

constrain

damage

and we are more powerful

when the old dualities

male/female

rational/irrational

mind/body

dark/light

are dashed to dust

for then only

love

will remain.