Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Love My Writing Class!

"Otherwise, this is simply excellent, Marie. Definitely ranks high in the group for this week. Always a real pleasure reading your work."

Weekly Summary

I've been blessed lately with such a large helping of work as well as having so much family time that I haven't had much focus for anything else.

It was a weird vacation so far, but a good one overall. The first act was a week where my husband was home but the girls had school. That was lovely. We got to have brunches and go on dates and work together in the short hours of the school day.

Then they all got on break, and that was a bit challenging. I think having such weird weather shifts and no routine schedule made it harder for me to keep up with my work. We bounced from ice to rain to heat back to stormy, freezing rain. Everybody got sick -- all of us on different days -- so we didn't have a typical sunny week of going places. But overall it was good. We hung out, and we finished some major home cleaning projects. And I worked a lot. And finally, at the end of the week, we combined a work task with fun and went to Hollywood. After I met with my client, we explored Griffith Park and had a blast at the observatory and having a perfect LA bistro romantic dinner.

And the next day we went out again and tried a cutting edge restaurant nearby, one that even has a Bocce court, which the girls were thrilled to play.

Then Sunday we ventured out through frigid storms to pick out a new guinea pig. We adopted him from a rescue organization so that ours won't be traumatized by being alone. Now they're in a complicated courtship process that will hopefully go well.

And this is the third act of vacation. My husband back to work, and me with the girls. Through it all, I keep working when I can. This week I have a full load, almost 30 hours to squeeze in here and there. Plus I'm determined to do some things with my daughters. Yesterday they went with me to yoga, and then we hit the mall, lunch, and saw The Lorax. (Their pick, not mine, but it was okay. They were happy.) Today, we're going for lunch, antique shopping, the museum and the library - just like we used to when they were small and spent the whole month of March on vacation. Tomorrow and Thursday I have to work, but I may take both them and their friends with me Thursday to meet my client and do sponsor solicitation. Blend work and fun. Why not? I can with my job.

Also, my main boss called last week. Not only does she love the partnership we have evolved over this past year, but she is taking on more clients based on my performance. From now on, I will be the main writer, and she will handle all the other administrative stuff. She's awesome at finding clients so it means my hours per week will bump up again. So I'm feeling much more positive and spring-like than I was two weeks ago, when time changed and darkness descended.

And then next week, the postlog. Everyone back to their schools and me to my own schedule. Yoga every day. Working where I want. I think that will be a different kind of vacation for me, the vacation of predictability and self-determination.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ordinary Day

Work today is more of the usual.

I am juggling back and forth between four jobs, with multiple proposals, programs, and funders to keep track of for each one. It's an overwhelming amount of info except that I have developed really good notetaking and organization systems so that I don't have to remember very much at all. I just go to the next list, or the next file, or the next fact sheet and get whatever information I need.

Because I'm at home, with my family all here, I am juggling interaction with them in as well. When one of my daughters interrupts me for something, I pause and throw in a chore before coming back to my computer.

I just finished washing dishes. Whenever I do that, I try to make time to be mindful and appreciate it. I read a really, really good meditation once about the joy of washing dishes. Taking the time to feel each dish in your hand, and really noticing the warmth of the water and the foamy suds. That piece made a huge impact on me. I have washed dishes with a certain amount of contentment and pleasure ever since.

Whatever ordinary chore your day brings, see if you can treat yourself well by bringing a measure of contentment and joy to it.

Monday on Wednesday

Even though my week has been going for a few days now, I am only today starting to feel like it is truly underway.

I'm busy today, but in a nice calm way. Everyone in my family is just hanging out, literally in separate rooms, so it is calm and quiet. The tv is off, the windows are open and fresh air and birdsong are pouring in along with the new spring sunshine.

We had huge storms last weekend, and I loved every second of it. Just as my dog Emily is meant to be herding sheep, I am meant to be hiking across misty moors, perched at the edge of the sea. Rain poured down, temperatures dipped to the 30s whipped along by a bracing wind, and I insisted that my whole family take a walk up the hill behind our house. What better time to explore the area than when sleeting rain is blowing horizontally along the streets? They stuck it out until the hail became peanut-sized, then outvoted me and returned to the shelter of the house. Wimps.

Now it's sunny again. It's nice and it is cheery. But there will always be that part of me that craves the whipping, icy rain.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

And Even More Memoir

I labored through my third memoir assignment last night. I left this one to the last minute, and so the night hours found me at my desk, shivering in the dark and the cold that reflects off its plate glass top as I raced to beat my midnight deadline.

The first assignment was about a memory, the second about a place. This week we wrote about a significant person. As usual, the assignment to write about someone significant in my life wiped my mind completely blank of all the people I know. Obviously my closest family were still there, and perhaps one or two other very significant people. But writing about them seemed too easy, too obvious. I remember best the people I have interacted with most in the most recent past, but that seemed like time was simply prejudicing them as more important.

Finally, I made some lists. I started in toddlerhood and made lists of the most major and the minor people who clearly came to mind and who seemed to have made a lasting impact on me in a quickly recalled way. They are fairly tight lists and obviously there are literally hundreds or thousands more people with whom I've interacted in my life who matter in some way. But I liked the results. I came away with a clearer view of my life's story. And I had the insight that actually the people I've interacted with in the last ten years have had the most profound impact on me.

I ended up writing about my friend T, who started out giving me my first post-teaching job, as her private tutor, and became one of my closest friends through many ups and downs in our lives.

I like this memoir stuff. I like it a lot. It's fascinating and simultaneously super-easy and complexly challenging. I'd love to read some more memoirs and look more carefully at how their authors have made these choices I've been making.
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot...reading is the creative center of a writer's life...you cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you. -- Stephen King

Monday, March 19, 2012

I've Been Living...

...so long with these pictures of you... that I almost believe that they're real.

Phrase courtesy of The Cure, via my friendly CBTL workspace sound system. Makes me think though.

Don't we all tend to live with the pictures of others that we build in our heads? We tell ourselves stories, over and over, and soon we come to believe that they are true. In my own case, I know that I carry a certain set of pictures around within the wallet of my self. They are creased and folded, worn at the edges from being slipped out of their secure carrying place to be sighed or smiled over, and then carefully tucked back away for safekeeping.

Are the pictures all I can feel?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

All Mixed Up

Ugh. I've been in a weird, timeless slump lately.

Everything in my normal routine has been thrown off just a bit. Some things this last week have been great, like my husband had vacation and we got to spend a lot of extra time together. It was very cozy and romantic and companionable. But it also meant that I didn't get much solitary work time during the week.

But then I did wind up doing a lot of work. Hours and hours on Wednesday and Thursday when I had a huge client meeting and tons of follow-up writing. And since then I haven't been able to pull myself together and do much at all. So now I'm sitting here and trying to get my brain primed to write early tomorrow morning, because two proposals are due by then.

This weekend has been fairly nice actually. I've consciously tried not to do much, just to take it easy. We had a huge storm yesterday and today, and I've been unusually content to just stay home and stay calm. I guess it would have been a good start to vacation. But I'm just sad and dazed.

On Thursday evening, we lost one of our little guinea pigs. I went to clean out their cage and Ginger looked terrible. She was thin and shivering and breathing hard. It was incredibly shocking. We'd had a busy week, so hadn't spent that much time with them, but I do feed them every day, usually a few times. And they run around and chirp.

It just ate me up to think that she had somehow gotten so sick and I hadn't known right away. We called up an emergency vet. But in the time it took to throw some jeans on and grab my keys, she stopped breathing. Just like that.

It freaked me out. So sudden. But so definite.

One moment there is life and the next moment just the shell with all the energy gone. I know death is inevitable. I know it.

But I hated it. It made me question every iota of comfort and security I feel I have. It was a small loss, but it made me aware of how quickly loss can come.

The main thought I have now is this. I know we all have to die, but please, let's try to make it not happen for a long, long time. I don't think I'm up to any more loss.

As for Ginger, I miss her greatly. I didn't realize how much a part of my day she and Nutmeg are. I watch them run when I write. I talk to them all the time; they squeak at me whenever I go to get something out of the refrigerator. Now Nutmeg is all alone. Soon we'll have to get her a new friend. Guinea pigs are not meant to live alone. Like people, they are social animals who need to chat and interact. But for now, it's just a sad loss.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Very, very sleepy today.

It is day four of the dreadful spring time change. "Spring Forward" - Tra la la. Indeed.

Every part of my being resists suddenly moving our arbitrary yet enforced measure of time one hour out of sync with the sun's movement over the land. I'm one of those people with strong biorhythms and habitual patterns, and to suddenly put those one hour different wrenches me into chaos for a few days.

Oh, the middle of the day is fine. I'm up, active, and engaged in normal tasks. But falling asleep at night has been all wrong. Weirdly, the shift is pushing my natural sleepiness BACK even further, so instead of falling asleep around 10 pm or a bit after, I find myself still awake not only at the new time of 11 pm but at midnight, one am and even later. I wake up at what I feel is 3 am, only to find that my alarm is about to ring.

Bleah. Today I just laid there, stunned and half-conscious for like thirty minutes, trying to summon the will to arise. Monday, I didn't make it at all. I staggered to the kitchen at 6:20, rubbed my eyes blearily, pronounced "This is crazy. And wrong!" and went back to bed, leaving the girls blissfully asleep. When we all awoke a decent couple of hours later, then I took them to school for the rest of the day.

Time is a weird construct to begin with, and screwing around with it just because we can doesn't help its validity.

But now it's- what - 9 am. I'm up, kids are at school (barely- literally seconds before the gates closed), had cereal, washed dishes, laundry, and sat at my computer trying to pull my thoughts together and get coherent for the day. It helps to go over all my clients' needs and make a list of my top priority assignments. So now I have a simple list of about six hours work for the day, plus the main life chores that will have to be done. As long as I just stick to it, I won't have to think too much, and I should be fine.

Only one more dreadful day of school-time awakening before spring vacation starts. If I can just make it to that goal, time will ease up considerably. And I will be able to sleep whenever I want!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

He He He... Validation

Straight from the comments of my writing teacher about yesterday's assignment:

"Your narrative voice continues to be strong, and your personality comes through well. Very likable. That’s important. And you tell your story with some good detail and emotion, so readers (in a sense) get to live these events with you. You’re a good writer, Marie—fiction or nonfiction."

God. I just love this guy. I have learned so much from his lessons, AND I am just a sucker for anyone telling me that I am doing my work well.

I know. I know. I shouldn't put such attachment into receiving external validation.

But it is really, really nice to know that at least SOMEONE is appreciating my words.

I enjoy these classes so much because they push me a little (mostly with the arbitrary deadlines) and I receive such quick feedback. I've appreciated a quick response on my work ever since my waitressing days when the tip on the table was an instant job review, received by the dozens each shift.

I feel the way I do each time I take a writing class, or a positive step towards a future possibility - just the energy of commiting to even a small act brings rewards back to me. In this case, I feel closer than ever to a healthy friendship with a writing friend. And my work life keeps getting better and more lucrative too. Small steps can yield big rewards.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ha - I'm Done

985 words about my life.

For whatever that's worth.

What to Write, What to Write?

It's Monday. You know what that means.

Well, yeah. The start of a week. Getting off to school. Books, lunches, shoes, homework. Teaching yoga. Getting back into the work files for the week. Tidying. Weekend laundry.

But besides all of that.

That's right.

It's Monday-Online-Writing-Class-Assignment-Due-by-Midnight-Deadline-Day. Otherwise known as the one day per week when I am guaranteed to be writing something that is not descriptive of either a mission or a program funding request. And I write it on Monday as opposed to Tuesday or Friday or Sunday because, duh, Monday is obviously the LAST day of the full week that I have the assignment. I just pat myself on the back that I do my writing around 5 pm instead of waiting til 10 pm or so. (Which for the record is when I usually was writing my fiction assignments for the first few classes I took this way.) So I have shown tremendous growth and I have moved my work spurt up by a whole five hours.

So (it's come to this!!) here I sit, thinking that indeed, it would be a very good idea to write something and send it on over. Indeed it would. My problem, again, is that the assignment is so very open. Pick a memory and write two paragraphs of description to set the stage for it and ground it in a place. Then write up to three pages of what happened. Easy-peasy, huh?

Pick a memory, any memory. I'll fan them before you for your selection. This is where my newness to this whole Memoir business just knocks me off my feet. The sheer ENORMITY of sifting back through my life and choosing, of deciding which memory merits three pages while I leave the rest to languish is just daunting. Sort of freezes me up.

I do think I have my memory actually. I have one from about eight years ago. It will certainly work. It's about my daughter and the setting is Palm Springs. And it's about my life too.

But geez. Not that I ever looked down on Memoir as a genre, or thought it was simple. But this needing to choose and shape so much material into some sort of coherent narrative, well, it has given me a new-found respect for those who work in this area.

Wha Ha Ha Ha Ha - My Ongoing Journal


It Has Come to THIS...

(This always makes me laugh hysterically. It's just always funny. My husband read it at XKCD - here- and now everyone in our family is saying it if there's a pause. Sigh. I get my amusements where I can!)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday at Work

I'm sitting at my calm green desk. It is huge, sea-foam green, covered with a thick layer of glass that catches the light and plays with reflections. I cleaned it off recently and spend some time each day now working here as well as the kitchen table and various cafes.

An upside-down world of tree branches and sky unfurls at my left elbow. Gazing down into it, I remember the feeling I had as a child, that other mysterious, magical worlds were lurking all around us if we could only enter them. The clouded sky at twilight, the deeps of winter puddles, the rain-slicked street reflecting red and green stoplights -- I thought they were all magically Other places.

So I am greatly enjoying being here. My backyard is lovely and calm. The leaves are filled with fresh and hopefully young green leaves; there are tiny brown birds, and gentle sunshine.

I am happy to be here. I am mostly happy in my life these days, mostly filled with occupation and contentment, with love and with hope. I feel like my own life is getting better month by month, and I like to think that my friends' lives are as well. The deep and lasting feelings of friendship that I've discovered as an adult are one of the best facets of my life now, how steadily I rely on the affection from me to my friends and from them to me, whether seeing them daily or hardly at all.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Random Friday Thoughts

Okay, well that’s about as long as I can cut and paste before I get both overwhelmed and bored. Besides there is SO much more interesting stuff going on all around me in this sandwich shop. There are literally people all over, some very intriguing ones too. Although maybe most people are equally appealing – or equally unappealing – when it comes down to it!

A stained glass window hangs above the door. Wood-framed like a small painting and suspended by chains 18 inches long, it captures the light coming through the large lintel window. The light almost seems to glow within it. The effect is very green, accentuated by the green boughs of the trees behind it outside. On the left, a man in green and white flowing robes cradles a sheaf of wheat. On the right, a woman lifts her purple tunic and slings a basket of fruit upon her shoulder. In the center, a pale, almost naked figure rests his foot triumphantly on a rock in a verdant field. Above him a platter overflows with harvest and below a Biblical quote unfurls: In the sweat of thy brow shall thou eat thy bread.

I don’t know why but I like the look of it. It seems mystical, lovely. Hopeful. There is so much beauty around me in my daily life, amid the busyness and the small and large pangs of wistful loss or longing or striving. It is somebody’s art. Somebody’s effort. It deserves to be appreciated. Seeing this, noticing this kind of thing, is only one aspect of what I have gained.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wa Ha Ha Ha Ha - My Ongoing Journal

The sidewalk stretches away from my view towards the horizon point. From the cafe window, I have an open view of the street before me. Parts of memories are stirring within me, and things that want to be poems - playing with the words long and longing, with long longing - and the long sidewalk before me reminds me of many sidewalks I have walked upon in my life. Some alone, some accompanied. In a wide variety of moods.

Long longing is stamped within
and those of us who
are sympathetic to the struggles
of others
recognizing within them
that same hunger for peace for joy
for something other
than what they currently have
the something other almost
always being the trap
that dilutes their focus from the
within their grasp

Yeah, well. Something like that.

My friend is being forced to choose between her two boyfriends tonight. At least, that's what I've heard - from several sources. We'll see if she actually does or if they continue to hang around in the spiraling chaos that they have all managed to create within their lives. It's been going on for a long, long time (no pun there) so I've pretty much given up on being able to help her to any kind of resolution. I try to stay supportive but detached. And just focus on my own work/life.

My memoir class is going well. There are eight others in the class with me. Got to read their assignments today. There's a lot more to this memoir stuff than it would seem at first glance. Sorting through the wealth of material and memories seems almost impossible to me. We have the second assignment and again, I have no idea where to even start.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Perfectionism is certainly a mistake.

If writers pay too much attention to their inner critics they will generate very little work.

Move on; get it done. Stop “perfecting.”

Let the next book (or story) be the perfect one.

-- Peter Selgin

Monday, March 5, 2012

Hmm... Need to Write SOMETHING

I'm taking an online writing class. The first assignment is due by tonight and I am already stuck.

The focus of the class is writing Memoir. I don't know that I ever want to write about my own life in any consumable way (other than here, obviously) but I was totally in the mood for another writing class so I grabbed it. A bit of instruction, some constructive feedback, and the requirement to write about something other than nonprofit work sounded like a vacation.

The assignment for tonight is easy. Too easy. Write two pages about a memory. Use description to provide a setting and interesting detail that gives specificity.

My problem is that I cannot come up with a single memory that I feel like writing about. I keep waiting for my subconscious to suggest something... and I keep coming up with blank. Of course, I've thought of many memories. But they all seem either too personal, or not personal enough, or pointless in a bigger picture.

I'm sure I'll churn something out between now and midnight. Can't wait to see what it will be.

Of course, I'm busy as always today. Both girls are sick, and that means they both have to go and sit in my yoga class in another hour because I don't have any other thing to do with them. I'm on my third week of feeling congested and bleah myself. I have two proposals to finish by tonight, and two more to do every day this week. And I should call one of my clients and chat with him about our newest possible funder.

So, yeah this memoir class is a bright spot. It's good to know a little bit about a lot of different types of writing. Just in case I ever find myself needing it.