In Real Life

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On Sunday a bit of magic happened. For the first time since we were introduced about a year ago, I got to meet author/writer Rachel Federman. Rachel and I met virtually via our blog spaces through our mutual writer friend, Amie. I feel so fortunate to have these two writers in my life, and it was a dream to get to spend the day together.

I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the fact that Rachel was on the train from New York and our paths would finally have a chance to cross in real life. I’d begun to think there was some glitch in the universe that would keep us in close proximity, never granting us the opportunity to actually connect. But then Amie pulled into my driveway with Rachel and her daughter, and there I was, hugging this person whose generosity and insight sustained me through 365 of days of blogging.

The five of us walked down to the beach, the little girls both in purple galoshes, taking turns on the red tricycle, stopping frequently to inspect sidewalk cracks and splash in puddles. The weather was spectacularly Spring-like, warm enough for short sleeves, the last of the snow melting into the muddy earth.

We marveled at the weather–it was impossible not to–and Rachel observed the eeriness of it too. The thin winter light of February and the warm, windless air of early summer just didn’t match up. Our daughters built sandcastles while the three of us talked about the beach and writing and politics and life.

Later in the evening, Amie hosted dinner and, as we stood in the kitchen talking about writing retreats, Rachel insisted on chopping the vegetables for the salad noting this was her favorite time of the evening, that first glass of wine while chopping carrots and chatting, before anyone has eaten and the energy is still high. She was so perfectly right, and her words preserved the highlight of the evening in my memory.

The night melted away faster than the last of the snow in the too-warm February sun, and I found myself saying a rushed goodbye when I realized it was so far past my bleary-eyed toddler’s bedtime. I left behind loose threads of conversation, ones I hope to pick up again soon.

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Reflections

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This morning a gentle snow fell. Chris brewed coffee. And the brain fog from this cold began to lift.

It’s been one of those weeks when this 365 project has felt challenging. Challenging, but not impossible. Life never fails to get in the way. But if you carve a path for yourself, you’ll eventually create a smooth groove, one that allows you to stay the course even when other forces attempt to push you in a different direction.

Committing to this year-long daily practice has been life-altering in big and small ways. One of the things I learned very quickly was that fear will rise up again and again, and there is no choice but to walk through it. I had to contend with my fear of being seen, my imposter syndrome, and my self-doubt with every step, from writing to submitting to publishing to promoting. Every step was an act of courage. Until courage became habit. And the fear piped down.

I began the project with no real idea where it would go. I had planned nothing beyond putting words on the page and hitting publish every day. That alone felt daunting enough. I hadn’t planned to take writing classes or give a reading or attend a professional conference. I didn’t know I would spend those first months writing and revising one essay, a strange process that came out like a prose puzzle. I spent so many nights at the library trying to figure out how to piece it together. When an editor asked to publish it, I was beyond thrilled. My secret goal was to get a piece published before my birthday, and somehow that little dream came true. But I hadn’t anticipated how publishing a personal essay would make me feel exposed and raw, how it would make me want to tuck myself into a dark closet for a couple of weeks. Nor was I able to anticipate how moving it would be to receive emails from women struggling with the same challenge. Women who shared their stories with me. Women who told me I’d given them hope. Looking back, there was so much contained within the experience of a single essay.

2016 was a year of learning and growth and connection. I feel rooted in myself. I feel strong.

A few of the highlights: I turned 40! (Holy wow, still getting used to that number.) Brain,Child Magazine named me New Voice of the Year and invited me to become a contributing blogger, a dream come true. I saw Roxane Gay speak in NYC. I grew my first garden in our new backyard (and wrote and published an essay about it). I attended my first professional writers conference. I weaned my toddler. I voted for our first female president with my mother and my daughter by my side. I had my first poem published.

This year was big. How do I top it? How do I keep up the momentum? My mind spiraled toward a hundred different goals and dreams. I couldn’t focus. Then on New Year’s Day, a nasty cold virus took the wind right out of my sails. I had no choice but to pause. Be still. Let my mind drift. The word that came to me was tethered, a word that’s come up a lot over the course of this year. Daily practice has kept me tethered to myself, to my art, to consciousness. This project will end, but I want to stay tethered in the new year. Shortly after, I received an email saying I’d been accepted into a writing course I’d forgotten I had applied to during the holiday mayhem. And there it was, an opportunity tying me from one year to the next.

For writers involved in a daily practice or considering one, there’s a terrific article up at Brevity today, The Power of Listening to What Your Practice Demands. I’m also thrilled to announce that my writer/author-friend Rachel‘s newest book Writer’s Boot Camp, A 30-Day Crash Course to Total Writing Fitness has just hit bookstores. I ordered my copy today. I can’t think of a better way to kick off a new year of writing!

(Post 353 of 365)

 

Truth-Bomb

We’re coming up on a month since the election. So, where are we right now, today, right this minute? PEOTUS tweeting about Saturday Night Live’s parody about PEOTUS tweeting. ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson now in the running for Secretary of State. HRC now up 2.6 million votes and 2%. Everyday I ask, what is this unreality we’re living in?

I need truth-bombs like this one from the brilliant mind of Rachel Federman at Last American Childhood. It’s an essay that beats like a drum, that rises off the page like a warrior cry. It is the necessary, urgent art of our time.

(Post 319 of 365)

 

Turning Down the Volume: 79/365

I read this essay yesterday that really made me think. Rachel’s beautifully crafted essays always make me think. This one felt especially timely because I’d just finished taking stock, assessing the changes and discoveries that have evolved over the course of this project so far.

My anxiety has been up and I’ve had brain-drain from too much digital consumption. I’d had a sneaking suspicion social media scrolling was at least partly to blame, but Rachel’s essay brought it into stark relief. We can’t escape the distracting noise that is technology, but is there a way to turn down the volume?

Today I conducted an experiment. I dropped off Facebook and Instagram for the entire day. Actually, I had to click on Facebook to wish a dear friend happy birthday, and just as my finger was about to hit the notifications, I shut it down. There’s no way any of it was urgent; I refused to click. Later in the day, as text messages were popping up, I read the texts and then found myself unconsciously clicking on Instagram. What is wrong with me? I deleted the app from my phone, eliminated the temptation.

Today I operated in real time. I did not feel like I was being pulled in as many directions. I was more connected to my daughter. I was less irritable. Less anxious. I stayed on task. I got a few hours of writing in. At our friend’s birthday dinner tonight, I was immersed in conversation, connected to the people around me.

I’m wondering, should I schedule my social media check-ins? There are reasons to stay engaged there; I don’t want to disappear completely. But if I don’t limit my use, the habitual scrolling takes over. Everyone does it. We drift into our phones for a moment that becomes many moments, eventually looking up, glassy-eyed, irritated to have been interrupted from the mind-numbing scroll click scroll. Should/could social media check-ins be limited to a few times a week? Has anyone tried this?