Tag Archives: Goals

Of Minutiae and Lack of Momentum

Standard

 

RGSrockunicycle

Ethan Currier’s rock art, Bainbridge Island, WA

 

I’ve been waiting for a day when the news isn’t so horrendous that I can blog about frivolous things without feeling superficial, but it’s becoming apparent that I could be waiting a very long time for that day to dawn. In the interest of not letting the terrorists, racists, misogynists and general practitioner haters “win,” I’m just going to write. Just going to go right on as if in the midst of the world ending it’s perfectly reasonable to be talking about things like houseguests and having to pretend the trolley system in Seattle is a viable means of transportation and how my friend Jane nearly ruined my life by forcing me to read The 12-Week Year. Forgive me.

 

Aside from all that ails the world, here is my list of beefs today:

 

  • It’s supposed to be in the 80s next week and you know how much I hate heat.
  • Hudge invited us to an outdoor movie tomorrow night, which sounded like fun, except I pretty much can’t be outside in the evening anymore unless I go in full-on beekeeper garb to ward off mosquitos; I am the sad combination of delicious and allergic.
  • The high-rise across the street from us is putting in new windows. Did you know that installing new windows requires a buzz saw at 8 a.m.? Me neither. Also, at the rate of two-windows-per-day, it’s going to be a loud, peace-less summer here on First Hill.
  • The election. The mean memes. The idiots.
  • People on Twitter are shouting that little Prince George should be sent to jail because in his just-released 3rd birthday photos, he appears to be feeding his dog Lupo some ice cream. He’s 3. His parents aren’t idiots. I’m guessing if it was intentional, then it’s probably a vet-approved iced doggie treat, but even if it wasn’t and Lupo licked that lump of ice cream, dogs eat truly terrible and disgusting things on a daily basis. The likely result will be either nothing or a single puddle of dog crap that someone (who is not the Duke or Duchess) will have to clean up. This is NOT animal cruelty. (What do people get from this online righteous indignation? I imagine them walking around all puffed up and proud of themselves after posting their “wisdom” but they’re really just self-satisfied idiots who can’t read a situation. Kind of like the warriors who “liberate” dogs trapped in cars even though the dog in question is not in distress—because it’s November—and the owner has been gone all of two minutes.)
  • A mouse is trying to move into our apartment.
  • Why DID Seattle try to sell us on the perfection of above-the-traffic monorail travel at the 1963 World’s Fair but then choose in the 2000s to cast their lot not with the monorail—a futuristic and therefore superior mode of travel that shows up in virtually every sci-fi movie ever made—but instead with a nod to yesteryear and a streetcar that holds fewer people than a bus and is stuck in the same rush hour traffic that all the cars and city busses are in, except on a track so it can’t even navigate obstacles? Mind the gap.
  • Someone washed and dried what appears to have been the innards of a hamster cage in the communal machines in our basement and didn’t bother to clean out the woodchips, animal fur, and chocolate chips. (I’m pretending they are chocolate chips. Please don’t tell me they aren’t chocolate chips.)

 

IMG_0636

Graffiti encouragement, Seattle

 

Jane, who is one of my oldest friends from college, suggested that I should read Brian P. Moran’s The 12-Week Year, and it is exhausting me. The principle behind it is good: most of us put off goals and projects until the 11th hour, so instead of giving yourself a long time to get something done, give yourself a short time and impress your friends and neighbors with how much you have accomplished.

 

In theory, it agrees with me. I am a procrastinator by nature and almost anything I’ve ever accomplished in my life—from a master’s thesis to stacks of student papers graded—happened in that magical eleventh hour when suddenly my thoughts, my energy, and my ability to solve problems would somehow work together to get me across the finish line just before the due date arrived.

 

In practice, I’m having to make out goals and lists of tasks, and then do those tasks to accomplish the goals, and then assess my progress on the tasks and the goals both daily and weekly. It is seriously cutting into my relaxing time. I’ve never been particularly good at anything close to a long-range plan, which explains in large part why I forgot to have children and have never really achieved the perfect capsule wardrobe.

 

The fatal flaw in my embracing of the 12-week year, however, was my idea that Z might like it too since he isn’t teaching this summer.

 

Z is much more task oriented than I am. He gravitates toward routine and is a creature of habit. The salad days of our summer are now over because of my stupid suggestion. No longer do we stay up until 3 and sleep until noon. No longer do we lounge on the couch watching episodes of “The New Girl” we’ve already seen twice. No longer do I have graham crackers and beef jerky for breakfast, because he’s got me on an oatmeal and banana system to help with the 12-week goal of “better health.” Do you know how much less fun this breakfast is than Pop-tarts or a bowl of Lucky Charms? (If he were writing this, he would tell you that the oatmeal has to be nuked so I’m basically eating an oatmeal cookie and we’re sharing the banana. Also, he would want you to know that I am very dramatic.)

 

After the banana, when I’m just starting one of my eight-page emails to Jane or a witty Facebook update, he ushers me next door to the writing studio, where he sits down and instantly goes to work.

 

Mac used to have to scratch his bed for five minutes and then turn in circles three times before settling down to sleep, and I’m similar with writing. Only I’ll spend about an hour putzing around online or reorganizing my paper clips and Post-it pads. Often, I have to re-read something I’ve already written years ago and consider its merits and failures, or read something someone else has written to get in the right frame of mind. And then I have to sit and think about what I want to write.

 

I could spend DAYS doing this. It is hard, hard work, the trying to write, and the results are inconsistent. Sometimes, while I’m trying, I actually do write something. But sometimes, at 6 o’clock, Z will slam shut his laptop and say, “I’m done” and he’s accomplished 15 things and I’ve still only written two sentences. Correction: two sentences I hate. Maybe I’ve also doodled a picture of Virginia Woolf in my notebook if it’s a really good day. He’ll ask me what I’ve done with my time, and I have absolutely no idea. No. Idea. I sat down. I started thinking my thoughts and now it’s 6 p.m.

 

Until we started this program, Z had no idea how much time slips through my fingers. He’d come home from work, ask what I’d done all day, I’d say, “I wrote” and because I had no goals written down where he could see whether they had a check next to them or not, he was none the wiser. Possibly he was suspicious since in the three years since I quit teaching and started working for myself he has never come home from work and had me place an entire manuscript into his hands. But now, for sure, he knows he is married to the least productive person in Christendom.

 

Last week I was reading a novel in which two women accidentally killed a man (he wasn’t very nice, so it was no great loss) and they had to clean up the mess and hide his body before the lady of the house returned home. It was set in the 1920s, so there was no Roomba or Dyson sweeper, no Lysol wipes, and I can only assume neither of them were doing Crossfit, so the heavy lifting had to be hell. Yet somehow, through sheer determination and hard work, they moved his carcass out of the parlor and into the alley, cleaned up all evidence of scuffle and bloodshed, and hopped into bed pretending to be asleep when Madame returned an hour later.

 

As I was reading it, I did not think what a tragedy it was. Nor did I feel fearful about what would happen when the cops discovered the body. I didn’t even worry about the bits of bloody apron that got buried in the ash pile, just waiting to be discovered. Instead, all I could think was, I must never kill anyone because I wouldn’t have the energy to clean up the mess.

 

A good life lesson, perhaps, but probably not what the author was going for.

 

And since I’m confessing all of my sins of laziness and haphazard lifestyle choices, let me add that last night I got an email from the Seattle Public Library requesting volunteers for homework help with school-age kids who are speaking English as a second language. As soon as I saw it, I realized that I probably ought to volunteer because I don’t do much of anything for the local community except complain to the parks department when they make bad projected plans for existing green space or steal parking spaces, paint them blue, and pretend it’s a park.

 

rgsparklet

Ridiculous “park” five feet from real park with trees and water fountains.

So it is with great shame that I confess to you now how relieved I was to discover at the bottom of the email that the closest library within walking distance was not participating in the program. It was like the most glorious snow day radio announcement of the 1970s and ‘80s liberating me from a day of school: all the free time I thought I was going to lose was suddenly mine again!

 

Other joys this week: aside from recommending books that are quality-of-life-ruiners, Jane and her family flew cross country and came to my noisy, congested, but sometimes glorious city for a few days. In another life, I should have been a tour guide. I love offering people suggestions about what to do, leaving helpful maps on the coffee table, having some candy bars in a dish waiting for them. I love introducing my people to new places.

 

IMG_1219

Space Needle, Seattle

Mostly though, I just loved having them here. I may be six years deep into this Seattle experiment, but it feels so good to have people around who know me in the context of my natural habitat, where there is no need to explain myself, apologize for my Midwestern-sized butt or Midwestern values or the way I say “pen” and “pin” so they sound like the exact same word.

 

I don’t have to work so hard to hold back my essential self, in other words.

 

It felt good to talk to them. To see their offspring growing and thriving. To take them on the Bainbridge ferry and stand on the bow of the upper deck and look down at a woman with dreadlocks holding her pet duck up so it could enjoy the sea spray. To have mutual friends from college over for a dinner that was nicely cooked and presented by the Great and Talented Z, so the whole lot of us could sit around reminiscing about life when it seemed less violent and ugly. It was violent and ugly then too, but we were young enough to believe that with Bono’s three chords and the truth and our own starry-eyed optimism, things were going to get better.

 

Some things did get better. When I went to college, Apartheid was still a thing. LGBT students on our campus had to keep themselves closeted or could be kicked out and they certainly had little hope of having rights equal to their straight classmates once leaving campus either. AIDS was still a death sentence instead of a chronic condition. When we graduated—we women of Anderson University—we’d be making 65 cents to the dollar that our male classmates were making, and now we’re up another thirteen cents (though we’re spending most of that on waxing). If people are being harassed by anyone because of the color of their skin, gender, the uniform they wear, their accent, etc., we’ve often got access to video coverage, shining a light on injustice and sent out over the internet while it happens. We’ve had our first black president and our first female presidential nominee.

 

We’ve seen the surface of Mars.

 

It’s easier (and sadder) to look back at all the things we were too naïve to know then: that the Challenger wouldn’t be the worst televised national tragedy in our lifetime, that terrorism would become real to us, that we’d get mired in a 15+ year war that shifts geography but shows no signs of stopping, that something as magical as the internet would highlight some of our ugliest human tendencies.

 

We didn’t even know what a Kardashian was or that they’d be trying to weasel their way into our homes on a daily basis.

 

IMG_5794

A girl and her duck.

When asked if the glass is half full or half empty, I’m inclined to recognize that what you have in your hand there is half a glass of something to drink, which is better than nothing but not quite as good as full-to-the-brim. But with the company of Z and good friends, my glass was full this week, even with buzz saws across the street, hamster cage dumpings in the washing machine, and the realization that I’m too lazy and discombobulated to clean up a crime scene.

 

Peace be upon us.

 

RGSthesound

Puget Sound

 

 

 

 

 

Flashback Friday: Little Brownstone on the Prairie

Standard

rgsroom

[Oh, the irony of this post from eight years ago, particularly when bumped against the one from earlier this week.]

 15 July 2006

Last night I was feeling “troubled” about my silly life as I went to sleep, which is a fairly frequent occurrence. Usually the troubledness has to do with my age, my living situation, my marriage/partner/dating and motherhood status. Other things get factored in based on the latest magazine article I’ve read or Dateline exclusive I’ve watched. Last night, after messing with a picture shelf my mother and I were hanging above my desk and trying to figure out which of my 20 works of art I was going to hang on the little hunk of wall that is left in my room, I was feeling particularly freaky. I have friends who are bitter because their houses aren’t brand new and don’t have granite countertops or swimming pools or room for a home office, but all of them have managed to get more than four walls to hang things on.

 

This isn’t about some people being luckier or having more than me. I know if I wanted to make it a priority I could maybe get myself eight walls, so I’m not talking about jealousy here. If I wanted to give up the frequent flying and the handmade furniture and the Sundance catalog jewelry, I could buy a little house and hopefully have enough money left over to pay a boy (preferably a shirtless one) to come and do things for me like hang picture shelves. I could.

Anyhow, I woke up this morning, looked at all my stuffed-full bookshelves and realized, I’m living in a brownstone circa 1945. I always imagined living a writer’s life in a big city where I couldn’t afford anything but a bedsit so all of my worldly possessions would be in the one room, and for reasons that are unclear, I always imagined doing this in the post war era. And now I realize that’s what I’ve got. Only without the city, without radiators (thank you, Jesus), without loud neighbors, and without a book contract. I AM Helene Hanff. I am whatever the bookish sister’s name was in My Sister Eileen. I just can’t go walk my dog in Central Park (partly because I don’t have my own dog), and I still have not developed a taste for coffee and cigarettes, both of which figure prominently into my 1945 brownstone fantasy.

Also, in this fantasy, I have a throaty laugh and I know how to dance.

I really am amazed by people who figure out how to settle into a place. At almost 40, I’m still trying on locations for size. For instance, I now know I do not want to live in Aspen, even if I do become a billionaire. In fact, you can scratch ‘anywhere in Colorado’ and ‘the Rockies’ right off the list of possibilities. It’s gorgeous there. The quality of life is good. I understand the fervor of John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High, but it is not my place in this world. There is too much sun and too many people happy to be outdoors, risking their lives on guardrail-less roads, in treacherous rapids, and while battling wildfires.

While I was at Aspen Summer Words, my friend Heather drove me up Independence Pass so I could see the Continental Divide. On the way up I told her how beautiful the landscape was and she said, “I know. When I see these mountains my heart just opens right up.” My heart wasn’t opening–not for those mountains–but I liked the emotion with which she spoke. It’s how I feel about the West of Ireland, Chicago, East Tennessee, London. There are places you belong and places you don’t belong and I live in fear that I’ll accidentally end up in a place where I don’t belong, where my heart not only won’t open up but instead will seize because of the ugliness or inhospitably of the people or landscape. For instance, the two hours I was waiting for my return flight from Phoenix, I kept thinking, “This is a dead place. People aren’t supposed to live here.” Yet people do. And some people love it. My grandparents loved it. But they sure didn’t pass those genes down to me. (Nor the genes that would make camping seem like a good idea, for that matter. Nor the ones that would make me good with money or able to cook.)

When I figure out how to get myself to 1940s Manhattan, I’ll let you know.

Getting in on the Ground Floor

Standard

 

"Love & Loss," Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle

“Love & Loss,” Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle

On the flight to Indiana, the woman sitting next to me asked me to watch a video about a company she works for because she felt like it could change my life. She was young, friendly, dressed to the nines, and I liked her watch, so I agreed. The product itself was intriguing—it was some sort of natural compound that has been scientifically proven (and even talked about on a network investigative news show) to improve health and longevity—but the point of the video was not to sell me the product so much as to sell me the company. Just as my brain was thinking, This is a pyramid scheme, the video said yes, this could be called a pyramid scheme, but then insisted that all business is a pyramid scheme with a CEO at the top raking in the big money and the peons at the ground floor doing the grunt work, and it was said so enthusiastically that I was momentarily forced to believe it was true and that I should get in on the ground floor. Everything is a pyramid scheme. Pyramids are awesome! Fortunately, my better sense prevailed (around the time Donny Osmond appeared on screen, though he was looking remarkably well-preserved) and I was able to muster up the courage to tell her I wasn’t interested. Pyramid schemes only work if you get in on the ground floor, and it was pretty clear to me that this pyramid was already 3/4 built.

She turned her attention to the guy sitting next to her. I spent the remainder of the flight bouncing between pity for a woman gullible enough to believe she’s going to become independently wealthy shilling snake oil, and pity for myself because I never can wholeheartedly buy in to a cause or a product or a belief system. I might attend services, but I never drink the Kool-Aid, and while some might say this is smart, what it really means is that I’m riddled with doubt on a lot of levels.

 

On the return flight to Seattle, I was relieved not to be sitting next to someone trying to sell me something. My seatmate looked like a high school senior and was expressing annoyance that the fleece she’d ordered hadn’t arrived in time for her trip. She told me she would be spending the next two weekends with friends, hiking around the Pacific Northwest, and during the week she’d be at a conference. She looked like maybe she was a dolphin trainer or something, so I was surprised when she told me she had an MBA from Carnegie-Mellon, lived in D.C., and did something that sounded vaguely important and international. I’d love to tell you what her job was, but I didn’t understand what she was talking about. She was speaking clearly and wasn’t using polysyllabic jargon, but the words that she strung together made no sense to me, and what’s more, I couldn’t get my brain to shut off while she was talking. Instead, inside my head was a roar, This is just a girl and she knows more about the world than you do. This girl is going places. This girl has a plan for her life.

 

She told me about this artist community in Mexico where she’d done an internship and where a lot of Americans emigrate, and my brain roared, This girl knows about a place you should know about but don’t. I asked where she’d done her undergraduate work, and it was a college that I’d considered for about 15 minutes when I was 15 before I knew about things like “out of state tuition”. I asked how she liked it, why she chose it, and she explained that she’d picked it solely because of its excellent intern program in D.C. because she knew she was interested in international business and the nation’s capitol would be a good place to do that. My brain roared, When you were thinking about that college, it was only because you liked the way the campus looked in the brochure photos. What’s wrong with you?

 

 

She wasn’t intimidating. She didn’t seem particularly wise. She asked me if I thought it was crazy that she’d come to Seattle without a raincoat or an umbrella. (Answer: duh, yes.) She was just a person, young enough to be my daughter probably, but full of information about the world that I don’t have. I was relieved when she plugged in her earphones  and started watching the in-flight movie, which was Spiderman, if for no other reason than so my brain would quit roaring at me.

 

It was a weird way to bookend my trip home. I went in feeling smarter than the posh, pyramid sales person, and I left feeling old and dumb (and pessimistic about a stranger’s choice of outerwear for nine days in the Pacific Northwest). As I walk around Seattle, where the average age is something like 30, I’m feeling past my prime and not nearly clever enough. I’m going to have to spend this first week back in the city Googling things like “Gen X” and “generational beliefs” and “multiple intelligences” and figuring out all the ways I’ve still got it going on.

 

Hopefully, after the research is in, I won’t come to the conclusion that I made an error in not signing up for a new career with Donnie Osmond and the anti-aging pyramid sales woman.

Stacked

Standard
My desk (fantasy version)

My desk (fantasy version)

I used to have students who would say to me, “I’m a writer, but I hate to read.” Whenever I’d hear that—and I heard it too much—I’d always want to do one of those obnoxious cough talks, where you hold your hand over your mouth, bark a cough, and simultaneously say something rude. But I was a good teacher, so instead I’d suggest a book I was sure would capture their interest.

You can’t write and not read. I mean, I suppose you can, but I don’t really want to have to read what you write. And frankly, it seems a little rude to me to write something you think other people should read when you refuse to read yourself. I suppose you could be a chef who doesn’t like to eat anyone else’s food, but where would you get your inspiration and style?

I have no idea if I would have thought of myself as a writer if my mother hadn’t made being a reader non-negotiable. Maybe I would have been like those old students of mine, enamored with the idea of having my name on a book or a story or a poem published with my byline without having bothered to study craft or let someone else’s words inspire my own. It’s one of those unanswerable nature vs. nurture debates. I grew up in an apartment that was filled, floor to ceiling, with books crammed into a brick-and-board shelving system. I saw my mother reading and I was read to nightly. I had my own library card the moment I was allowed to have one, and I knew how to use it. (Brief aside: one of the saddest losses to me in this barcode age is the absence of the satisfying “Ka-chunk” sound when you checked out a book.) My childhood was spent at garage sales, used bookstores, and in the book sale section of the musty Salvation Army store, where Mom’s early collection got its start. Though I might have gotten bored during these lengthy browsing sprees at times, I was resigned. Books were holy and when you were in the presence of some that were for sale, you kept quiet and waited for selections to be made and the ting of the cash register that signaled the benediction.

I had my own bookcases before I had my own room. They were full of Little Golden Books, Dr. Seuss, the Little House on the Prairie Series, Trixie Belden mysteries, and all manner young adult books. The shelves grew. First three small ones, and then a desk set with adjoining shelves that were later cut in two, turned sideways, and had boards put across the short ends, giving my own library room to grow. When my  mother and step-father got married and bought a house, it wasn’t long before we’d enlisted him into building floor-to-ceiling shelves in my bedroom. When I was constructing my library, my belief was that it was something I’d carry with me for life, like scars and family photos. You might weed out the baddies, but even if you outgrew a book, you didn’t casually release it into the wilds. You hung on to it because it was part of the literary canon of your life.

* * * * *

When you think of me, I’d like for you to have the above photo in mind: my tidy desk with a row of writing books in front of me at the ready, should I need to find an answer about style or read a line for inspiration. These are all books that I’ve read in total or in part and know to be useful. When I look at my desk, these books bring me joy because this is the sort of person I always imagined I’d be: organized, controlled, and like a good Girl Scout, prepared.

But I’ve got a book problem. They multiply like rabbits. Despite the fact that I culled the herd when I moved here, and left half of my collection back in Indiana at my folks’ house, I’m operating at near maximum capacity here. When I was cleaning out my office this past spring after I resigned from my teaching position, I weeded extensively. There were a lot of books there that I had bought when I was just starting my collection, thinking that my life wouldn’t be complete if I hadn’t read the complete works of  ________________________________, but two decades later I no longer felt compelled. I’m beginning to recognize that I don’t have an infinite amount of reading days ahead of me, and so I’m trying to be choosey. (Which begs the question, why was I up until four a.m. last night finishing the latest Dan Brown novel.) But even with the weeding, every time I’m back home, a few more books leap into my suitcase, desperate to be reunited with their siblings.

rgsofficeshelves

So this is what my writing studio looks like, plus another set of shelves on the opposite wall where the books are double-stacked. Plus, a small set of cubes to go on top of these just as soon as Z and I figure out how to secure the shelves to the wall without wrecking our chances of getting our deposit back.

There wasn’t room for bookshelves in our living room, so for the first year or so that we were married, it was largely book free, give or take a coffee table book. Then I started getting books that I was planning to read “next.” So I put them on the windowsill behind the sofa. At first, it was just a few books and I definitely would be getting to them shortly, but then I went to a bookstore, used up an Elliott Bay Books gift card, went to a reading and felt compelled to buy the author’s latest title, had a birthday, and the next thing I knew, my “next” collection ran the length of the double windowsill. While the books in my studio are arranged in a very specific but intuitive fashion so I can easily find what I need, on the windowsill it is a free-for-all. I put books there as they come to me, so race car driver Janet Guthrie’s biography is right next to National Geographic’s Scenic Highways and Seven Secrets of the Prolific.

Book chaos

Book chaos

Books crept into the weird bar space behind our TV. Some appeared under my little wooden stool. We won’t speak of my nightstand, where the stack is currently so high, it threatens to block out my light. Nor will we speak of Z’s poor books, which I always relegate to hidden corners and alcoves. Any of these books could go live in the studio, where they might be more at home and so I would have more surfaces in my living room on which to set Zimbabwean objet d’art (read: stone hippos and wart hogs made of scrap metal), but I know as soon as I take them there, they’ll be lost to me. I’ll forget about them, find them in ten years and wonder what made me ever think I wanted to read a memoir about a Seattle mom who loves yoga or an American family who lived in Berlin before World War II.

And don’t even get me started on why it is I think I need to own every book about writing that was ever written. I’ve got so many books on how to be a productive writer, that I refuse to buy another unless the first line is: In order to be a more  productive writer, quit reading books about how to be more productive. It’s a sickness I have.

What I'm reading NEXT.

What I’m reading NEXT.

This is my most recent stack of books, compliments of Z and my folks. They came for both Christmas and my birthday. The desk behind them will open. Right now. But as soon as I cash in those holiday gift cards? Forget about it.

I know the world of e-reading makes for tidier living spaces, but I’ve got five books on my iPad and I can’t remember to read them. An iPad, to me, is not a book; it is a place to check my mail, watch Downton Abbey, and play “Ticket to Ride.” My brain doesn’t hear the start-up ping of an electronic device and think, “Oh boy! Time to read!”

So here’s my 2014 challenge to myself. I am going to show up to those books on the windowsill (and my new books, of course!) read as many of them as I am able, and report back to you.

If it were a real challenge, I’d make some outlandish promise about how they’d all be read and removed by December 31st, but I’m not crazy. Some books will probably always need to live there so I have easy access: The Art of the Personal Essay, The One-Minute Organizer, and You Can Heal Your Life (because sometimes I need to know what negative thought pattern I have that might be causing my big toe to hurt). That’s 68 books, plus the top two on my nightstand that I’ve got  to finish, which rounds it off to a solid 70.  And maybe, for good measure, I’ll read all the magazines I’ve been stockpiling since I got married. Joan Didion has been staring at me from the cover of Poets & Writers for two years now.

What are you reading? Oh, don’t tell me. The windowsill is already full.

rgsstool

Please, Can I Have My Gold Star?

Standard

I’ve got this big writing project that should be well under way now that I am over six months from the classroom and more than a few months into  my Year of Writing (YOW). Instead, I’ve been staring at a lot of blank screens and notebooks whose pages look too pristine to sully. I write a blog entry or a to-do list and it feels like an accomplishment some days. I do copious research on whether it is better to journal in long hand or if perhaps I should invest in a journaling ap like Day One, and I get so lost in the research that I fail to get a journal entry written in any format.

I’m convinced that 90% of being a writer is fighting the urge not to write, while simultaneously longing to get your fingers on a keyboard and thoughts out of your head. In fact, if building split rail fences were my passion, I’m kind of curious about all the ways I might try to keep myself from firing up the chain saw. Or, alternatively, firing up the chainsaw and cutting everything in sight but the logs that would make those split rail fences.

Worse yet, people ask how the writing is going and if I am able to resist my immediate inclination (to stab them with a sharp but non-lethal object…say a spork or particularly inflexible bread tie), then I say, “It’s going,” and I quickly redirect by asking them about themselves. Often, they become sidetracked at this point and I am left in peace. Then later, I feel guilty because they were nice enough to ask and sometimes I can’t even remember what their jobs entail.

Z is not so easy to redirect though. He’s got a razor-sharp memory and he can read me too well. Also, he is my champion, and a person should never, ever discourage her champion.

When we parted company at the airport two weeks ago, I told him that my goals for our time apart were fourfold:

1)   writing

2)   exercising

3)   cleaning out some of my stuff from my parents’ house because  no one should have to navigate around the specter of the spelling bee trophy I won in 1978

4)   and most importantly, really enjoying my people and my hometown while I’m in the same zip code.

So today Z and I talked on the phone briefly, and he asked how my daily goals were coming along. I had two choices: lie and tell him I was doing them all religiously and daily so he would heap  praise on my head, which would feel good briefly until I remembered it was undeserved, or I could tell the truth. You know my record on successfully lying, so truth seemed like the best option.

“The writing is so-so,” I said, but then added brightly, “I’ve nailed a couple of the other goals though!” He asked which ones, and I told him that I was definitely enjoying myself every day (managing to maintain calm, appreciate the sunsets, the snow, etc.)

“And the other one?” he asked.

“Reading,” I said.  “I’ve been reading every day, reading myself to sleep every night. It’s nice not to be so addicted to the computer.”

“I don’t remember ‘reading’ on your list,”  he said. “Was that a goal?

We wasted precious long-distance moments trying to figure out whether reading was on the list or not.  What was that fourth goal? Finally, Z says, “I thought you were cleaning out your stuff or something. Wasn’t that the plan?”

Oh. Yeah. Weeding. Not reading. Oops.

But I really do have that “enjoying myself at home” goal mastered now. Maybe it’s better to do one thing well than four things in a mediocre fashion.