This morning I walked the lake as I've been doing consistently two days a week since the new year. I suppose that is my resolution. I'm not sure if I knew it was at the time, but apparently that's how resolutions are made and kept at my age: make it small, tangible and achievable.
Today the fog seemed to tell me something similar.
Usually while walking the lake, I have a clear view of the opposite shoreline. It's only about 3 miles around, so it's not difficult to see the whole thing at a glance, but not today.
This morning the fog was so thick--like pea soup, as they say--I couldn't see the water, let alone the other side. It was very striking, beautiful, unusual--other worldly. At certain points it seemed as if I was staring off into the ends of the Earth.
As I walked I wondered what the lesson was because it felt like the fog was telling me something. The Universe was whispering in my ear and it struck me: focus. Focus on what is right in front of you and don't think or worry about the other stuff in the background. Fog forces this to happen.
On a clear day the branch of a tree can be so easily lost among the colors of the water, the distant trees, the bird flying by at that moment, etc, etc. Fog erases all of that from your vision and the branch that never caught your eye before, stands boldly against the backdrop of the muffled grey mist. An ordinary blade of grass pops. The empty boat has never looked so desperately alone.
The Universe pleads, "Slow down. Focus on what is right in front of you."
Don't waste time thinking of the stuff off in the distance. There may come a time when you are there, but currently you are here. Forget "over there" for now.
Appreciate, worry about, tend to, take pleasure in, suffer through, deal with, savor--what is right here right now.
Let everything else fade off behind the fog.
Like many others this past week--a pipe in our basement gave way to an imitation of the great Niagra Falls. Being a light sleeper came in handy this time around when I heard water at 3:30am, but I assumed it was coming from the nearby bathroom. Perhaps one of the kids was up getting a drink or washing their hands. But, then--the water kept flowing. What were they doing in there?
I got up. Nobody was in the bathroom. Nobody else was even awake. Just me. Maybe it was coming from my dish washer. I went downstairs. Nope. Kitchen was dry, but the sound of water was getting louder and I spun around, flicked on the basement lights and opened the door: Water! Cascading over the light at the bottom of the stairs which was now hanging out of the ceiling that had dissolved. Screams to my husband to turn off the main . . .
Everybody was up. My youngest was as frightened as if we were in a sinking ship that was taking on water. My oldest? Being a teenager who values every minute of sleep left her only annoyed by abruptly being woken in the middle of the night. She went back to sleep. The other two took it all in with reactions floating somewhere in the middle of the youngest and the oldest.
I usually work in our basement, so last week was a week filled with working on borrowed time as well as borrowed laptops. While my laptop came out of the ordeal dry, the power chord was immersed in water. So, when the battery ran out, then I lost access to my laptop until a replacement chord could be delivered.
As I attempted to balance the virtual world with the real one, I felt displaced and unproductive trying to figure out new laptops and the parental controls that would kick me off the internet suddenly. A remote meeting I facilitate took extra time and two different borrowed laptops to get up and running.
Papers that hadn't been soaked were shoved away in the rush to clear the basement. I still don't know where everything is as I sit at our dining room table with my own laptop fully powered up again and attempt to catch up on a week's worth of discombobulation. I continue to fall into the "it could be worse" or the "you're lucky" category, but I'd prefer to just fall into the category of "nothing happened" or "none the wiser." But, thinking of how much worse it could have been makes me feel such empathy for those who experience any sort of flood, fire, weather-related or not, event that leaves your things and your thoughts scattered. In this age of online, a seemingly simple power chord was a real problem when it came to getting work done, communicating with others, etc.
So, hopefully you weren't as "lucky" as we were when the latest, "hasn't happened in 150 years" weather event presented itself. But, if you were the recipient of more water than you would have liked last week--hopefully this week is a drier, calmer, better week:)
I'm sure you've heard of the term, "I've got a frog in my throat." 99 times out of 100--the person is not referring to an actual reptile that has hopped down their windpipe unbeknownst, though last summer frogs were beyond reasonable numbers in my backyard. (See July's blog posting: Wild Kingdom or Unexpected Sanctuary for more on the frogs.) The vast majority of "frogs" in throats are actually emotion or nerves. Emotion can make it difficult to get words out.
Emotion is like a cloud floating above us, unnoticed while we buzz about our daily routines, until they gather and rain. Just as clouds can shed water, emotion can become too much to ignore. The frog in my throat presented more like a frog in my pen. I couldn't get words out on paper--aside from the necessary words for correspondence and work-related writing.
When my mother passed away at the beginning of last year my work-in-progress, which is a middle grade novel that focuses on a secret garden, got dropped suddenly from my list of "things to do." For some, grief and creativity work well together. For me, grief is a head space hog. It saunters in, plunks down with elbows boldly claiming what I understood to be a shared armrest. Shoes kick off, cell phone conversation blares--smelly and loud all at once. Grief is the most obnoxious and inconsiderate airplane seat mate imaginable. There will be no relaxing, no focusing, no enjoyment on a flight alongside grief.
Creativity evaporated. I had been really enjoying my work-in-progress, Secret Lives of Leaves, up until my attention was no longer my own and grief took hold of all my senses, sucked out my reserves of energy--insisted on getting my full attention. Clearing my mind became impossible. Time passed. A whole year. Then, a couple weeks ago--I sat down to write the next chapter of that novel. One great thing about middle grade is that it allows for shorter chapters. So, I talked myself into writing a paragraph, then two--then, might as well finish the page . . . as I rounded the corner to the next page, I developed a scene in my head and had to follow it at least until page two. The result was a 6-page chapter.
It felt so good to get a little further on a fun project that had so long lay dormant, just as I had been getting to the good part: the secret garden! One year later, I find myself at the other end of the emotional spectrum. The juxtapositions of life border on comedy--satire, really.
One year after my mother's passing, I am distracted again by emotion. A frog in my pen. But, this time it is excited emotion as I await word from my brother that his first baby has been born. He and his wife are at the hospital, setting out on a journey that will change life as they've known it forever.
Want some more irony?
That chapter I finally wrote after so long is titled, "The Journey." Good luck on your journey as it twists, turns, stops and starts.
Every now and then the universe sends in something that tells me to "slow down!" The world has been moving at warp speed lately and this morning I took some time out to go into my garden and do some deadheading. Snipping or snapping off spent blooms can seem like an onerous task, but often that is the magic of the garden--many of the things you need to do in the garden are not exciting and take time. But, that's sometimes just what we need.
This morning, while looking closely at the various Cosmos scattered in patches within my front and side garden, I saw something move. First it freaked me out and then I looked closer. Yes--nature is wild! A Praying Mantis was sitting on the plant and since their advantage is camouflage, I hadn't noticed it until it moved, perhaps in an effort not to also get snapped off by me.
I once watched a Praying Mantis crawl on the outside of a screen door and they are extremely (painfully!) slow moving creatures. Watching paint dry pales in comparison to watching a Praying Mantis move. From that first sighting onward, I took the sighting of a Praying Mantis as an indication to me that I need to slow down. I hope to do some slowing down this weekend, but until then--it's full speed ahead.
If you find life is moving too fast--go outside, into a garden and try to find a Praying Mantis.
Sometimes weekends away are relaxing. Some are more along the lines of work. Other times they are a hybrid of the two and you come away exhausted but content. But, definitely exhausted:)
Two weekends ago I went on a "retreat" that I had no business going on because life was rather ramped up at the moment with four kids back to school and sports exploding all over the calendar in addition to those not-so-savory things a person has to do--like clean the house, do the laundry, break into the fall wardrobe while still floating the summer shorts.
Don't even get me started on the socks!
Socks. On the floor. A basket of matchless singles growing and growing. Smelly socks stuffed in shoes. Inside out socks in the middle of the stairs. Even socks OUTSIDE! Enough about the socks. On this retreat there wasn't a sock in sight. :)
There I was, on a writer's retreat to Squam Lake. What a beautiful location! So beautiful that it was a challenge to not spend the whole time walking around exploring or jumping in the lake. I was there to focus on my writing, so I soaked all the nature in from a comfortable and semi-productive distance.
What was so exhausting about that?
Well, it was a bit like a mini-conference and anybody who has ever been to a conference knows there's a lot of talking, meeting people, introducing yourself, figuring out what it is you might tell them, wondering more about them, and sharing a room with a stranger. Sure, she'll feel like a friend by the end of the weekend, but there's a process and so sharing a room can add to the lethargy. Throw in a wonderful old cabin that doesn't muffle anything and only amplifies every footstep and shift of weight. A toilet flushing? Sounds like Niagra Falls has just dumped down the walls and onto the floor.
It's all part of the charm, but also the process of allowing yourself to be uncomfortable, a little awkward, and eventually feel a bit like family when it's all said and done. It was a great experience and it felt so good to meet so many wonderful, creative, nerdy minds like myself. People who wrote, researched, animated, edited, agented, revised, read, made dolls and were all interested in each other. It's a great feeling to be surrounded by people committed to creativity!
The weather was perfect. Everything was photogenic, as you'll see below, and the whole experience helped me to grow a little bit more as a writer, a reader, and a member of the big wide creative community I love being a part of.
I can't help but feel like a slacker. The trouble is there's still only the original 24 hours in a day and that just doesn't seem to be enough for me to get the things I need done, followed by the things I want to do done, followed by the things I should do done: you know that resting, relaxing, recovering, and rejuvenating thing we hear is necessary for a healthy and happy life.
Some writers and artists seem to create when the mood strikes them or when they feel something come over them and that used to be my method too, but with life so busy I'm going to have to come up with some other way that forces me to make more time for my personal writing projects, not just the writing I need to do for work or various other commitments, but the novels and poetry and blog posts (ahem!) I really want to be able to do.
Some writers and artists claim that the morning hours are best and I'm sure they are, but I'm not a morning person. Can I try to become one? Sure. Do I want to try to become one? No. I don't want to try, anyway. If I woke up one morning and was suddenly a morning person--sure, I'd love that. But, I don't have the energy to try to become one.
So, what's a gal to do? Well, it's almost summer. Ok--technically it's summer on the calendar and meteorologically it's summer, but according to my children's school summer is has not started yet. Yes, it's nearly July and "summer vacation" is still hours away.
What does summer have to do with anything, you may be wondering?
More time? Hopefully. But, based on historical precedent there seems to be no more time in the summer months than there are in the other nine and anything extra should be devoted to a good amount of resting and relaxing that every body needs in order to carry on for those other hectic, hurry-up-and-go months. One thing July has going for it is sunnier mornings which may be a help toward earlier mornings which may be a help toward writing in the mornings.
Throw in a good, old fashioned one-month challenge! Don't forget to include public accountability so others can see if you are holding to your commitment and have every right to heckle you if you slack off.
So, here goes. I am going to try to challenge myself to produce something creative for one month's time. I suppose I have to figure out what that is first, but I have a week to come up with something and report back.
That's just what I'll do.
Stay tuned. :)
The "to do" list.
That list is absolutely necessary for me to function, to remember, to prioritize, to be productive. But--
It is in so many ways an enemy to my "artist" inside. Yes, I'm sure that is my fault. I should be making time for my art. I've read the books, heard the calls to artist arms, and agreed completely.
Here I am--with a blog explaining, complaining, --
I must break away from this barely started blog entry for a "case in point" moment. Not only does my "to do" list keep me from writing for pleasure because "more important 'dos' shove their way in front of others," but also the impromptu "to dos" pop up on a near-constant basis.
I typed the words above, "Here I am--with a blog explaining, complaining," when it hit me mid-sentence that I had just put an egg in the pot to soft boil--which is a five minute venture--sat down to write and completely forgot about the egg.
No sooner had I settled down to start my blog entry then I was up and out of my seat (one minute behind, but with yolk still pleasantly runny:). Well, it was breakfast now--not time to write after all. I don't always do breakfast, but today is a day when I was finally able to add "write" to my morning schedule and so breakfast seemed like a wonderful indulgence too.
But, that was not all.
I was just finishing my breakfast when a friend came by to drop off books that we had lent her kids.
My kids had been asking about them but, well--you see--the "short on time" situation has been a problem for me.
My friend is in the same, creaky, late boat as I am
But, she amazingly squeezed the errand in.
I grab the books, hand her something and she's off to work. Now I will write.
Not yet. Enter: The Cat!
I love the book Olivia by Ian Falconer. Not only is it adorable, but I always loved it when part of Olivia's day required that she "move the cat" a few times. It's true. Any cat owners or dog owners know that just when you are about to stop rushing around and put pen to paper, brush to canvas, or perhaps do something quiet and contemplative--the cat shows up and wants something from you, but it's not always clear what it is they want.
So you reason with them for a bit: go out? hungry? a quick pat or scratch behind the ear? What!!??
And so, here I am about to get back to the blog I promised I'd write only to be negotiating with a feline who clearly has all the time in the world . . .
Front door? Back? -- then she sits.
Waiting for a cat to determine my schedule. Finally, I take a few photos because all this truly is comedy gold in my head. Of course instead of writing, I am negotiating with a cat.
So far a delicious egg, a good friend doing me a favor and an indecisive cat have elbowed their way into my "to do" list and that's the way it goes. It's those unwritten "to dos" that really do me in.
So, what is a writer "to do"?
Write about it.
And take some photos.
I know that when I started I was going to launch into the "to do" list and all its merits and evils and now--who knows what I was going to say. As you can see there is often no planning even to my day and the course it takes, let alone my writing. I consider it a win if I am able to write anything.
Fortunately I have kept up with this blog at least on a monthly level, which is much more than I can say about my newsletters. Those fell tragically off a cliff somewhere in the twilight between winter and early spring.
But--in keeping with the saying "perfect is the enemy of the good" I will slap together a newsletter and hope to draw you to this blog where you will see what I have been up to or thinking about even when it wasn't delivered to your inbox.
Yes, in that photo above you see little seedlings.
That, truth be told, is the other love that keeps me away: Gardening!
It is my passion in the spring-time and so when I am able to steal an hour or so I have been transforming my garden out front (actually, more than transforming, I have created a brand new one which is a large undertaking). I will post about that in the coming weeks or months, but for now you can imagine those seedlings are just the tiny tip of an iceberg.