Sunday, December 21, 2014

When All Is Not Calm, When All Is Not Bright

The house is messy.  Piles everywhere, items that have no permanent home: wrapping paper, Christmas cards that should already be sent out, suitcases that, in my idealistic plan of a few weeks ago, should already be filling up with swimsuits and warm weather clothes that I'm digging out of the basement in free moments.

Free moments.

I have huge stacks of books that I wanted to wrap for my students, because just arranging books as gifts for them was not enough.  I have rotting bananas that I promised myself would become banana bread for coworkers and neighbors.  I am trying to honor Ben's birthday, a family Christmas, a Florida Christmas, and stay on top of all the normal stuff like work, exercise, an ever-shrinking social life, writing, reading, and constantly being better.  I'm trying to get it right, and getting annoyed with myself when I fail.

There is nothing new about this list of seasonal "failures." I cannot blame it on having children or working full time or any life circumstance- I would follow this pattern no matter what was happening in my day-to-day. Every single person has felt this way, and 90% of it is brought on by myself.  I set up my own expectations.  I put off my own success.  I tell myself, angrily, hissing under my breath, "Next year, you'll start in July.  You won't be so lazy and unrealistic.  You'll be done before November, your cards addressed for December 1st, and you'll never be scrambling the weekend before Christmas again.

Instead of letting myself get caught up in all this stress, I'm trying to remember that it doesn't matter.  It really doesn't.  It will all be over in a blink, anyway.  Wrap, unwrap, Christmas movie, hot chocolate, drive, fly, visit, love, and then we'll be on the other side of it, slightly out of breath, moving into a season of abstinence and optimism, telling each other in work hallways and banks and the check out line, "It went so fast this year!"

Every year.

I won't condescend.  It's impossible to escape the busy of this season, and it's lovely when it clicks and you're watching The Muppet Christmas Carol for the 13th time and tree lights are on and you're digging into one of the gingerbread cookies you decorated while your kids drank frosting like energy gel during a marathon.  There's also the sweet sadness of crying with your husband after wrapping gifts in two different colors of wrapping paper (Santa and Other), picking tape off the soles of your feet while Harry Bailey toasts "To my big brother George, the richest man in town."  I hope you can find something about this riot that you can love, and try not to let the rest of the noise ruin the good parts.  This was the reminder I needed to write to myself today.

After the storm,  when we're lugging bags of cardboard and ribbons to the curb and eating one last cookie, I swear, I encourage you to take a second to think about 2014 as a whole.  Go back through your Facebook statuses, your journals, the picture files on your phone, the box where you keep your ticket stubs and postcards.  Think about what worked.  What were you proud of?  What do you want to do again in 2015?  What do you want to change?  Christmas is like a huge send off for a 12-month year, but sometimes it takes up so much mind space that we stumble into the next one swearing to lose weight and save money as a knee jerk reaction to treats and presents.  There is more to you than what you did in December.

Let's sum it up: Christmas is busy and crazy for most people.  You're not alone.  Enjoy what you can and don't beat yourself up.  Watch The Muppet Christmas Carol.  When it's all over, take some time to look at your entire year.  Make sure to celebrate at least one thing you're proud of.  Talk yourself up, brag about the wonderful being that you are.  If you feel the need to plan for 2015, do it by taking into account all that you've done in the previous year.  Do not sell yourself short. Do not sell yourself short.

This ends my ranty December PSA for the weary and stress-inclined.  I hope that you have some love to be thankful for and some love to give away.  I hope you're ready to enter 2015 bad ass and beautiful.  I hope we all keep finding the courage to be our own lady. Happy everything.

Some more in this vein: A reflection sheet from Tsh Oxenrider (I used it last year) and a post I wrote last December about self care in this crazy season.  Be well, lovelies! XOXO

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Coffee and Blogs No. 15

I'm strong-arming my way back into my old routines and getting into the Christmas spirit. Wrapping presents with Ben while we watched It's A Wonderful Life helped.  Putting these links together felt right.  Slow steps into an ever-changing world, folks.  Here's some good reads from the past month or so.

Read this very beautiful blessing which expands from the literal meaning of "healer of the Earth" onward.  I'd think "healer of the city" is a noble goal.

Now read this very hilarious take on the self-help articles that I consume like candy and often leave me with a shame hangover.  I can get behind this advice. "Dance because you’re drunk at a big dance party with your friends and Michael Jackson is playing, not because ‘no one is watching.’ Everyone is watching. We’re at a fucking party. That’s how parties work."

Sketch comedy is having a moment in my heart right now.  I absolutely adore Key and Peele, and The Kroll Show is endlessly quotable, which means I can text Ben insane lines in the middle of the day and we can spar back and forth until someone laughs out loud at work.  The Kroll Show is ending after this season, so I need to find a new way to connect with my husband.

Important information about WHAT THAT EMOJI MEANS!

I'm a little disappointed in myself that I wasn't more proactive about putting together a gift guide or two- I always look forward to them!  Here is a little book guide from the lovely gal behind Smart, Pretty, and Awkward.  I'm looking for Amy Poehler's book under the tree.

Molly's blog Hey Eleanor, a record of attempting scary things, is fun and fresh.  Her latest undertaking?  Quitting beer.  Really interesting read about evaluating your relationship with alcohol when you're not an alcoholic. "So if I typically don't like being buzzed and I don't want to use alcohol as a coping mechanism, and overdoing it makes me feel like crap physically and mentally, why am I even drinking at all?"

Am I super late to this party?  I saw this video completely by chance and adore it- I think Mary Lambert is gorgeous and this song might be my new anthem.  I looked her up and this article gave me a little more info- I like this chick.

The NaNoWriMo blog posted some tips about how to beat the post-November blues, and I was relieved that I'm not the only one struggling.  I'm going to steal the idea of writing a favorite passage somewhere and putting it up for inspiration.

Getting pumped to pick a new calendar?  ME TOO!  These are free.

A powerful teacher friend of mine wrote about the discussions in her high school classroom in the days following the grand jury verdicts regarding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.  The discussion was thoughtful and connected to relevant texts and I hope my kids learn from teachers like her.  "I told them that none of us were present during the incidents and so no one really knows. I then had a student with a very concerned tone of voice ask me, 'Why does this keep happening?'"

On a related note, another educator I love shared this article about what white children need to know about race.  It's wordy and important and should probably be printed out and read with a highlighter and pen to take notes.  I care so much about how gender equality is handled in my home and in my classroom, and I want racial equality to be as important a conversation, but I have no idea how to start.

Mara Glatzel is holding a retreat on the winter solstice- it's online and reasonably priced and it helps you work through your intentions for the coming year.  She specifically promises "no bullshit resolutions," which I like.

I did whip up a tiny wishlist of things I would love to have.  I left off books because my book list is as long as my arm right now, but these pretties are quite intriguing.  The tea towels would remind me of my Grandma, and  I'm especially on the hunt for a good bag that can be everything from a plane carry on to a work bag.  Here are the details: phone case, sweater, tea towels, backpack.

That's what I've got right now.  What do you want for Christmas?  Any recommendations for picture books about children who aren't white? Let me know what you're loving.  I'm loving you.

(image credit here, text added by me)


Friday, December 12, 2014


I feel like I'm starting another post by apologizing, and I don't want to do that.  Let's just say, I note my unusually long absence, and I can't put my finger on exactly why.  Getting up and writing here used to be one of my favorite things to do- something I looked forward to.  I fought to buy the time to spend putting together posts.  It was this huge, exciting privilege.  And in November, I fell out of the habit.

In all parts of my life, I'm feeling a little disconnected right now.  I keep using the word "floating" to describe the weird feeling, even though I'm very lucid and not exactly having trouble concentrating.  I'm just untethered. I feel like I have no time to do all of the things I need to do (original, I know) and at the same time, I'm a little bored.  I don't exactly feel Christmasy, but I'm not feeling hectic or annoyed.  It's a gentle funk.

I think it's because all of last month, I had one very clear, very measurable, very large goal.  It was the thing that I was doing, and I arranged the rest of my life neatly to make space for fifty thousand words.  Without that goal, I'm unmoored.  There is time for everything, so I'm doing nothing.  I want to pick at my story, I want to read other people's work, I want to make gift guides and plan out my attack of my birthday list.  I'm not even digging in that deep into the typical chores of this season.

Another thing I'm realizing is I just finished nine long novels by the same author in about a month and a week.  I loved the world she created and I loved always having another book, another chance to find out what would happen.  There are two different series within this world, and they crisscross, and I'm already rereading the one story where they overlap the most to try and make new connections, but in all honesty, I need something new to read.  I hadn't been so hungry for books in a long time, and I definitely redefined my priorities to disappear into an imaginary world more often.  It was wonderful, but it's different.

I'm liking who I am when reading and writing take up most of my free time, but I need some balance.  December is one of my favorite months- I love year-end reflections and imagining what I want the next 12 months to bring.  I'm hoping I can shake this case of the blues and get back into a routine that makes me proud.  

What do you do to break a funk?  Any book recommendations?  I need all the help I can get.  Love you all!

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Monday, December 1, 2014

On the Other Side of November

I missed you.

I didn't know exactly what November would look like.  It's a full month, anyway, and I had this challenge I wanted to try.  It's even on my birthday list: 3. Participate in National Novel Writing Month.  I participated.

I referenced it a few times, but NaNoWriMo totally took over my life.  I did less chores, spent WAY less time watching TV (and consequently had to be more deliberate about spending time with my husband), did minimal blog reading & writing, and generally lived in my story world.  By the end of the month, even my three-year-old knew the drill.  "You going to work on your writing?"  He put a little chair and a cordless keyboard in the office next to me, and we worked together.

There were huge pros and minimal cons that came from a month of needing to write an average of 1667 words a day.  Next year, I will have some posts lined up so the blog doesn't go completely silent for a month.  I will also make sure that all Thank You cards from October birthdays are squared away well in advance...not that a stack of them are still sitting in a lonely pile in the office...never.  I also drank a ton of beer and coffee while sitting at my desk- next year, more water and chopped up fruit, less cookies and candy cane Hershey's kisses.

But I loved working on my story, hunting down weird names for characters, writing scenes just to get them out of my system, picking a word that means 'glare' but isn't 'glare' because I've already said 'glare' four times.  Ben, is great at dialogue and plot from his years of screenwriting, and he took such a flattering interest in the story, helping me hammer out tricky parts and talking me through big ideas.  I made some playlists of sad, mournful, pretty music (Ingrid Michaelson's Ghost featured prominently) to listen to while I created a spookyish world.  I had a freaking blast.

Most days I would get a chunk of writing done in the hour from 5:15-6:15 am, but this time was also eaten up by making coffee and eating breakfast and checking Facebook.  If any kids woke up while I was on a roll, I would lose steam.  I'd come back to writing around 8:30 pm or so, after I went to the gym for a half hour of reading time speed walking on the treadmill.  The website stats say my average was 1,672 words a day, but there would be days where I'd only get a few hundred, or even nothing at all, and then return on a weekend morning or holiday and pound out 3K-5K in one sitting.  On Sunday, November 30th, I woke up at 4 am and started clicking, with plans to stay planted all day.  Around 11:30 am, 4,567 words later, I validated my chunk of text and "won" National Novel Writing Month.

My story isn't finished.  I have about 2/3 of the action down, but I don't write in order, so I need to fill in some gaps.  It's also ROUGH.  One of the hardest things about NaNoWriMo is training yourself to leave it all on the paper, but that means you have to go back later and clean it up, and I need to seriously tweak most of what I wrote.  I'm stepping back from the whole thing in the month of December, but when I come back to it, I'm going to clean up one chapter at a time and I'd like to share it here.  Fiction Fridays, maybe?

Yesterday afternoon, I laid in the living room and read a novel by the light of the Christmas tree while Ben and the boys watched the Polar Express and did gymnastics on the couch cushions- no trying to squeeze 200 words in while the boys were occupied. This morning I woke up, made coffee, and browsed through some of the blogs I've been ignoring for a month- no pulling up my document and forcing myself not to waste time rereading my last chapter.  Tonight, at the gym, I am going to do the weight machines circuit that I really love.  There will be time to read when I get home.

Thank you so much to all you lovelies who have been cheering me on (or even just patiently tolerating my droning about this- I hear your words) for the past month.  It helped me give myself permission to take this silly challenge seriously, and I am grateful.

An excerpt from the beginning of my story, tentatively titled The Family Historian, can be found here.  

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