NWB (The Group Formerly Known as NWC) Epistle #1

writing-resources

Resources for writing, including a Webster’s unabridged dictionary from 1937.

Ladies, we have discovered ourselves. We thought we were a club. And we are, but turns out ours is not just your usual club for lost souls, but is in fact a gathering in the bardo. Is this a step forward or backward? I think it’s neither – more like a clarification of purpose.

As an introvert, I have rarely been comfortable in group settings, so this is one of the few clubs I’ve felt at ease being a part of. I don’t want to knock clubs – I have been in a few book clubs and have found them rewarding, a great opportunity to read things I may never have found on my own, and to learn from different perspectives. We ourselves have been a book club, during times when writing took a back seat (mostly my fault I know, during my year-long hiatus), and we’ve read some wonderful books, the most memorable for me being “How to Be Both” by Ali Smith. A book that not only sparked amazing conversation about the story, but about how to approach writing from wildly novel angles. Even when we weren’t writing together, we were talking about writing.

Coinciding with this realization of our dwelling in the bardo, we’ve once again committed ourselves to writing, following the advice of a variety of books and writing friends that recommend you sit down and just write, no matter what it is, every day. We’re holding each other accountable, and after a bit of catching up each week, we write for one solid hour together. We don’t usually discuss what we write, we just write.

Last week, I didn’t have a topic already in mind (well, I could have worked on my sweater story, but was so tired from not sleeping the night before I didn’t have it in me), so my writing meandered aimlessly from things I ate last week (veggies, peanut butter) to the group of nearby firemen (whose hotness later inspired one of us – not saying who – to contemplate heading home to set something on fire), to puzzling over why the old “popcorn” ceilings I grew up with had sparkles in them and how much poison I likely absorbed from that bizarre confection. Not a productive session in many senses, but at least I was writing. And hey, I just used some of that writing…

Of course, we also discuss the art of writing and how we might learn its mysteries. I bring this up because yesterday I unearthed from a neglected corner of my room a book on writing I had picked up not long before my hiatus, whose covers I had never cracked:  “The Writer’s Portable Mentor” by Priscilla Long. I don’t recall where I heard of it, but I remember it was very well reviewed and recommended. Finding it again felt like one of those messages we get from the universe, if we’re paying attention.

After blowing the dust off of it, I started wading into it. Just reading the first chapter, my mind was already starting to race in a million directions, so I’m slowing it down a bit. I’m only going to focus at the moment on her advice to develop your own lexicon. This list can be words you like (“treacly”), words to replace words you use too often (“ruminations” instead of “thoughts”) or words specific to places & times that you inhabit (popcorn ceilings). You can also go out and catalog things you see, like types of plants and birds, or words related to a topic of interest (for example, plant-based dyes). Your lexicon becomes a resource for becoming a better, more descriptive writer.

Oh, and did I mention just plain reading the dictionary? In “The Way of the Writer,” Charles Johnson recommends reading the whole thing, a task he’s completed. Why didn’t I know, in my book-devouring youth, that lexicographer was an actual job? That’s part of how I ended up in this in-between place, I was too afraid to trust my inner voice and deepest passions.

I guess it’s better late than never, right? Abasia: inability to walk properly due to lack of coordination of the leg muscles. Wait, what happened to aardvark? Had they not yet been discovered?

Perhaps having our own lexicon is just one of the pieces we need to come out the other side of the bardo, transformed into our final state. Meanwhile, we can continue to give sustenance to each other, through laughter, ruminations, poetry, bawdy stories, reminiscences (including 70s television shows), grimaces over treacly (ha!) music at the cafe, discussing books we’ve read or have just added to the pile, sharing our writing attempts, and whatever else we can to bolster ourselves during times both good and bad. If that sounds like marriage, well, we’re not neurotic wives for nothing.

Wellness and Self-Care for Writers

River in WashingtonMy planner this year did not list writing as a major priority for me. I also didn’t intend to take last year off from writing, but I did, whether to avoid dealing with tough emotions or just to focus on getting more things done around the house and yard (both, I think).

But then I felt called back to it, literally and figuratively. Literally by Peg Cheng, as noted in the post linked above, and figuratively because it felt right and good again. I’m not trying to escape anything, nor am I trying to solve all my problems, or decipher all of life’s riddles; I’m just seeing where the process takes me. That’s a big step forward for me.

To celebrate this progress and to push myself a bit outside my comfort zone, I signed up for Peg’s Writers Wellness Retreat, which took place a week ago. Getting up early on the first day of daylight savings time to attend a writing workshop – you know I had to be excited. This was my first writing workshop ever, but I knew it would be a rewarding experience with Peg running it, even though I don’t really see myself as a “writer.”

(I actually had a laugh talking about this with my therapist a few days ago, when I described how I introduced myself at the retreat, that I occasionally blogged about being a stroke survivor caregiver as my entry into the writerly club, but that I wasn’t really a blogger, just someone who posts things on a blog. After pointing out the illogic of what I’d said (in a kind way, truly), my therapist said it’s a very common tactic to not see ourselves as [fill in the blank] until we are being paid to do it. Her suggestion was to do what actors in Hollywood do, introduce yourself as an actor who is currently employed as a barista. I’m not quite there yet, but will keep thinking it over.)

During the workshop, Peg read to us from books on creativity, self-care, and writing (it was amazing to sit in a group and be read to, something most of us haven’t experienced since we were kids). After listening, we did 10 minute meditations, followed by writing based on prompts Peg gave us. We only got 2 minutes to write on each prompt, and it was interesting how some of these intervals went by like a flash while others seemed to drag on. The draggy ones tended to raise issues I really didn’t feel like thinking about, like what it means if I focus only on my needs. After writing on four or five prompts, we had the opportunity to share our responses. I typically find this a completely horrifying idea, but there was no feedback involved, we all just listened to one another. There were three cycles following this format throughout the day, with each segment having a different focus:  self-care, fear & creativity, and priorities. Toward the end of the day, we all did qigong together, another first for me, which I really enjoyed.

So it was a wonderful and fulfilling day, and I can’t thank Peg enough for organizing it and doing such a great job of leading it. Oh, and she gave us stickers and chocolate bars with pop-rocks in them, both of which my inner kid just loved.

After reviewing all my responses as a collection later, I realized that having introduced myself as a caregiver, I mostly wrote about my caregiver life and responsibilities. Obviously, this event and its aftermath changed our lives dramatically, but I realized how much I’ve allowed it to define me and our lives. It’s not that I shouldn’t talk about such a momentous part of our lives, but that I need not let it be THE focus, as though it’s the only thing about me and us that matters. Doug’s health and my changed role have created new limitations, but not necessarily boundaries. It’s as though I reached the shore of a river and decided there’s just no way across, so might as well stay on this side forever.

Taking that in was hard. It opened up a lot of emotions that took me several days to process. I found myself missing our dogs in a physical and palpable way – I swear I could close my eyes and smell their doggy smells. Going to work on Tuesday was hard, because I wanted to stay in my shell and not have to engage with others. But part of my promise to myself this year was that I would stay open, be curious and have compassion for myself, try not to allow myself to shut down completely. So I made notes in my planner, found things to be grateful for, went for walks in the very rare moments without rain, emailed friends, and had a relaxing happy hour with some of my colleagues one evening.

One of the greatest takeaways from the retreat was not just how important it is to take care of yourself and nurture your creativity (and put fear in its place), but also that self-care doesn’t only mean getting a massage or taking a bath (both wonderful things, of course), but that self-care can mean paying attention to your emotions and how you handle them. By paying attention to what I wrote last weekend, and how it made me feel, I realized that I want to broaden my definition of myself and what is possible.

Now I just need to figure out if I jump in the river, hop from one boulder to the next, or find a log bridge to balance my way across.

Brought to You By the Letter S

IMG_20170319_132610_1920x1080Sheltered in the south-facing porch, prolonging the lunch break just enjoyed. Slumber tempting but dozing seems a waste of one day’s pause from the ceaseless rain.

Skies a clear cerulean, unbroken by cumulus or cirrus.

Squirrel high in the poplar, scrabbling around the trunk for mysterious squirrel purposes.

Swishing of the breeze through evergreens, and gently swinging chimes.

Sheets swaying on the line, projection screen for leaf-sprout shadows.

Seductive smell of daphne blossoms signaling sleepy insects.

Small shoots poking up through still cold earth.

Shy robins scratching hopefully through semi-rotted leaves, bright eyes on the lookout for telltale squiggles, while companion red-breasts trill  a joyful song from nearby stations.

Emerging from the Bardo

MonteVerde-butterfly

Taken in my previous life while visiting Costa Rica.

This is a meditation on a book I haven’t read yet. You’ll just have to keep reading to find out how that works.

A week or so ago, I went to Town Hall with the NWCs to hear George Saunders talk about and read from his new novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo.” I told M that I felt like a fangurl, I was so excited to hear Saunders, even though I’ve read a total of two of his stories (10th of December and The Falls). Both stories made huge impressions on me – so much humanity is evident in his way of capturing the thoughts of his characters, a rare and often funny empathy on display. In February, I read a New Yorker article about the new book and immediately knew I had to read it. So, when M found out he was coming to town, we all jumped at the chance to go. Our three tickets included two signed copies of the book, which I will be reading as soon as I can, given my usual embroilment in several books at once (slowly digesting Charles Johnson’s “The Way of the Writer,” commuting my way through “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith and just picked up a collection of James Baldwin’s writings yesterday at the library). I am running out of time to achieve my life goal to read all the books!

On the off chance I don’t attain this lofty peak, I will have to hope that my bardo is filled with books and I can stay there for a while. Oh, if you haven’t looked up bardo yet – it’s a space (or place?) in Tibetan Buddhism between death and your next life. A sort of limbo land.

At dinner before the lecture, we spent some time talking about the intriguing concept of the bardo. Even though it’s a post-death phenomenon, metaphorically we felt that it could be about any period of limbo. When you don’t move forward and aren’t sure you ever will. I feel like I spent three years in the bardo, going through the shock, anger and grief of Doug’s stroke. I’d have to learn more and maybe there’s not even an answer to how one leaves the bardo, but I feel like I have emerged from this in-between place. Which isn’t to say I’m “over it” now, it’s not the kind of thing you ever really get over, but I feel I’ve reached a point where I am ready to find out what’s next. This next life has writing, reading, resisting, joining with like-minded people to work for racial equity, working with Doug to make a new plan for the rest of our lives together. So I am now really thinking of the bardo as a chrysalis, because you emerge with your old self still there but in a new form, sipping nectar instead of munching on green leaves.

Getting back to the book, if Lincoln is in the bardo, he must be dead, right? Not really. It’s his son Willy who is dead and in the cemetery, where Lincoln visits him. Lincoln’s actions and thoughts are narrated by a bevy of ghosts, interspersed with historical snippets that provide snapshots of the ongoing Civil War. Given this unusual story telling device, the live reading was unlike anything I’ve seen for a novel before, a bit like watching a scene from a play involving five people (in the section we heard). It was exciting to see a reading as unique and creative as the book itself seems to be. I’m sure I’ll have a lot more things to say once I read it.

Before and after the reading, Saunders talked about this first novel and his life as a writer (and the many odd jobs he did before that). If I was a fangurl before seeing him, I’m now completely enamored. He’s down to earth, funny, creative, just like his writing, which he talks about as this fun thing he gets to do, as play. Even though I love to write, I have a hard time grasping this idea, but he made it seem so possible. What if writing could just be a room full of all your favorite things to tinker with?

Along those lines – and this is going to sound ridiculous, since it is called fiction after all – although I love playing with words, I tend to get very dull and unimaginative when trying to write anything fictional. After reading The Falls, I had this sudden realization that if you want to put unconventional, funny, trippy, even inaccurate words into your characters’ mouths (or minds), you can just DO that. They can say all the wacky stuff you want them to, you aren’t bound by any rules. I’ve always been a rule follower, in life and in grammar, and this was just such a liberating moment. Even the beloved NWCs gave me astonished chortles at that confession, so I won’t hold it against you if you are laughing right now.

Saunders (who wrote for the New Yorker in 2016 while reporting on Trump rallies) wrapped up the evening with a Trump resistance poem he wrote in Seussian style (this link goes to the DC reading, which I think is slightly different from what we heard, but it will give you the idea). It starts out with him answering a question on the importance of art and artists in these politically challenging times. Perhaps this period of our country’s history is another bardo, and we will all emerge from it transformed, for the better one can only hope. More than hope – continue to work toward.

About a Podcast About a Blog About a Poem about Dusting

That’s a mouthful, I know. Let me explain.

20170304_212127323_ios

A book I may never have picked up if not for our many ways of getting information.

When I’m not able to read – while cleaning, gardening, cooking, wedged on the train in a way that prohibits even phone reading – I often turn to podcasts. I have a long list of them I like to listen to, ranging from football (Sea Hawkers) to learning (Stuff You Should Know) to word nerdy (A Way with Words).

I was listening to the podcast “On Being” the other day, when she interviewed poet Marilyn Nelson. I had not heard of her before, but my knowledge of poetry is limited to mostly white guys from the distant past. During the interview, the host mentioned a blog post she’d read by a professor on returning to her university office after a year-long sabbatical. While dusting, the professor was reminded of one of Ms. Nelson’s poems named after that very activity. How dust is made up of so many fragments of things of the earth and of life, through all of time – from “particles of ocean salt” and “winged protozoans” to “algae spores” that create “these eternal seeds of rain” – and it made her feel so appreciative of the dust that she almost wanted to stop dusting. (The reminder that we wouldn’t have rain without dust was a fact I’d forgotten, lost in the dusty corners of my mind.)

I bring this up for a couple of reasons. It made me realize that artists see the world in so many interesting ways and inspiration may come from anywhere. I’ve never looked at dust and thought ‘I’m going to write a beautiful poem about that.’ Perhaps next time I am doing some mundane chore, I’ll be moved to look at it differently. I could even expand on that and think about how we might view events, both good and bad, differently. The perspective of dust (i.e., it exists in a time span we can’t really grasp, as does the Earth and the universe) may serve as a reminder of how short a moment we have in this life. We are, after all, destined to become dust ourselves, contributing to the life cycle in another way.

On a less morbid and more mundane level, I am not a very great housekeeper; my house is usually cleanish but far from immaculate. I don’t hate to clean, but I’d much rather do other things. I often feel like I have to justify reading or writing when the house is a mess. This poem, the professor who blogged about it, and the podcast where I was blessed to learn of them, reminded me that our observations and thoughts (and sharing them) are so much more important than whether the house is clean. I did happen to be cleaning while listening to this podcast, so there’s some irony for you.

These are moments that make me realize how lucky we are to have so much information at our fingertips, how much more there is to discover and how seeking out new things can reward us greatly. Especially if the reward is feeling less guilty about spending time reading and writing in lieu of dusting.

Marilyn Johnson said that when she was 13, she prayed to God to “give me a message I can give the world.” I am grateful for her prayer and for the answer she received, because she is a brilliant poet and thinker. In its own circuitous way, one of her messages found its way to me and it gave me inspiration, comfort and motivation to keep doing the work of the mind. It goes to show you that you never know how your message might help somebody somewhere, if you just believe in yourself and keep going.

Revelations in Unexpected Places

While my writing habit is still (and likely always will be) under construction, reading on the other hand is a part of what makes me who I am, seemingly fully formed within my DNA. Reading is also a way to escape. Sometimes I escape a bit too much, but that’s a story for another day. Most of the time, I manage to strike a good balance.

Cats and books

Cats are good reading companions – until they try to sit on your book.

The only time in my life when I haven’t been able or wanted to read was right after my husband Doug’s stroke. My mind could not latch onto the information and in any case, if I had a rare few spare moments, I spent them sleeping or just sitting. Stories held no interest for me, as nothing in them spoke to me, and any escape felt impossible anyway.

That went on for nearly the whole first year. I slowly but surely started to have the mental and emotional bandwidth to re-enter into words and ideas outside my own lived experience. I realized that it requires empathy and engagement to be a good reader, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. Thankfully, I am back to my old self, the person who wants to read every book I see (my NWC pals and I just went to Third Place Books and two out of three of us walked out with yet another tome for the pile while the third one said he found “$180 worth of books” to desire just on the first display table). Book lust indeed.

These days, I find myself reading two or three books simultaneously, in part due to all the platforms on which you can now read. I still prefer actual pages to feel and flip through (and smell, if it’s an old book), and I like reading non-electronic books at night, but I’m totally happy to read on my phone on the train. Yes, phones are tiny and therefore challenging for us aging folks, but I just bump up the font size to grandma and it works fine. I have to scroll about every second, so my finger (or thumb, depending on how crowded the train is; you CAN read on a phone with one hand if you have to) gets a good workout.

After perusing my writing friend Peg Cheng’s 2016 reading list, I picked up a copy of “Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms” by Katherine Rundell*. The ambiguous, joyful-yet-ominous title grabbed my attention. This is a book for “young readers” but I’ve never let that stop me (and neither have you probably…Harry Potter, Hunger Games, etc.). Books are books, I don’t care who the supposed audience is.

I knew the book had a great story and protagonist (a fiercely independent and happy girl named Will growing up in Africa who, due to some unfortunate events, is sent to London to a girls boarding school). Sounds entertaining, right? Strong female character, right on. So, totally worth reading on those merits alone. Will’s childhood in Africa was a revelation, in how utterly aware she was of her vitality and the joy she found in every moment of her life. Too often, I feel like we don’t appreciate what we have and we can only look back and realize how good it was later. A good reminder to stay present and stay grateful.

Even though the story sounds a bit unconventional, many of the themes are really universal. For example, as kids (and adults, if we’re being honest), most of us have had the experience of being “new” and like a fish out of water, getting made fun of (or outright bullied), and feeling mystified as to why people don’t seem to get, or worse, hate, who you are. To maintain your sense of self when you’re being battered by these forces is a fight, and many of us give up, capitulating to conformity.

For me, the theme that resonated the most was about coping with loss and change. Life can change dramatically at any given moment. We know this, and yet until we’re actually faced with a situation like this – where there’s the “before” and the “after” of your life’s story – we cannot know how we will respond. I won’t say much more since I don’t want to reveal anything, just that I wasn’t expecting to find clues to solving my own life mystery in this wonderful book. That’s what I love about reading, from any and all genres – you might only be trying to escape, but instead you are being found.

* This is an affiliate link; purchases support Peg’s work.

We’re Turning Three

Today is the third anniversary of Doug’s stroke on Oahu and the beginning of a very different phase of our lives. There’s nothing special about the date, I could very easily forget it. Plus I’m not very good at remembering dates, unlike my mother, who still remembers all the Beatles’ birthdays. This particular date in our lives doesn’t feel the same as say, 9/11. Sure, it impacted OUR lives greatly and of course, those of our family and friends. But it doesn’t have that same shock and grief of a national or international tragedy, seared into our collective minds. Personal tragedy is just that, personal.

Still, around this time of year, I feel something’s amiss. Or maybe that’s not the right word. It’s a kind of body  knowledge, an inner discord that I don’t immediately recognize. Feeling spaced out like there’s something I’m forgetting, or that I’ve lost but I don’t know what it is.  A real or phantom pain of unknown origin.

And then I’ll realize – oh, it’s almost that day. And then what to do with that information? Do something life-affirming or stay in bed reading? (Well, to me that IS life-affirming but I mean actually leaving the house, maybe visiting a museum.) Or pretend it is just another day, in which I do chores and run errrands? One could easily spend the day raging, maybe writing “Fuck you, universe” over and over. Or try to do something positive in the world, some tangible reminder that whatever has befallen us we are still more fortunate than many others.

The first anniversary we had a celebration, of sorts. Stayed in a nice hotel downtown, went out to a fancy dinner, did the underground tour the next day. It felt right to mark our achievement of making it through that first year. Then Doug had his first seizure a couple weeks later and because I’m superstitious sometimes, I decided we had given the date too much weight. So last year, we pretty much ignored it.

This year, Doug is up skiing, which is both challenging and rewarding for him. I hope he has the kind of day up there that gives him back a sense of his old self. The change in our identities has been one of the biggest challenges in this whole life-altering event. Obviously, it’s a way bigger change for Doug, both physically and emotionally, but I’ve changed as well – not always willingly. Do I like mowing the lawn? Hell no. Did I mention that Doug also used to cook most of our meals? He covered a lot of ground, that I now valiantly attempt to live up to. I am still and will always be completely hopeless at some things though, like organizing the pantry. Also, our car may or may not have moss growing on it.

So would I like to be my “old self” again? The one who spent hours reading food blogs so I could give Doug a grocery list and his meal plan for the week? That kind of time and freedom feels like such a luxury to me now, one that I didn’t appreciate at the time. I really could have been doing a lot more with it. I use my time much more wisely now, and cherish the spare moments I have for reading, writing, seeing friends, going for a walk…

I know I’m also a stronger person now, I’ve had to be, and I’m learning to be kinder to myself. I have days where I feel like I’ve failed miserably, but I realize I could have given up long ago and haven’t. And, even though I’m not all the way to accepting our new identities and the resulting changes to what we mapped out for our future, I’m making progress. I read that age 3-4 is when children start to develop a sense of humor and empathy. We’re far from being kids at this point, but I feel like maybe this is still a relevant concept, because we have had to start completely over in so many ways, figuring out who we are now and what we want for ourselves. I hope we do continue to grow stronger, laugh more and act more compassionately.

c-bunnies

Chocolate is a mood-enhancing food.

Today though, in honor of turning 3, I had a bowl of cocoa bunnies cereal for breakfast and then we’ll see where the day takes me.

Where in the World I Was

People start blogs, keep at them for a while, then drop them. I swore I wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t be the cliché. But here we are. And I probably should have known it would happen, given my general habit of starting things but not finishing them. Like this bleeping rug that was hatched (can rugs hatch? why not?) in 2014.

Rug in the making

The hundreds of recycled clothing items that are becoming a rug.

I will finish it this year, even if I have to work on it in the sweltering heat of August.

In our post-stroke life, there is no shortage of excuses for not doing the things we should do – exercising, eating well, reading instead of watching TV – but in the end, they’re still just excuses. 2016 was a year I’d rather forget, but like every day of every year, there are consequences for our choices. I chose to focus on our own tiny sphere, or maybe it’s more accurate to say that life threw a bunch more challenges our way and I focused on those in order to maintain my sanity. It was all I felt I had control over, and even then, it wasn’t really in my control. Doug still has epilepsy and takes two meds to keep seizures at bay. Both our dogs still passed away last year.

Meanwhile, our democracy was in the process of driving itself right to the edge of the cliff, and we’re now teetering. Given my inability (or unwillingness) to take action to help prevent that, I’ve pledged to focus on helping us pull back, or at the very least, get the vulnerable passengers out of the damn vehicle. I’ve thought about this a lot, because putting energy into resisting all that’s going on right now is hard – not just for me, but for so many of my family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors, and at times it feels daunting when I have a lot on my plate already.

It would be easy for me to go the victim mentality (which I have done at times, trust me), and just fall right into the trap of believing that Doug and I have paid our dues, so we’re off the hook. But the reality is, we’ve weathered our own personal tragedy so well because of our privilege. Our good jobs and medical insurance. Our families with means to help us. The flexibility in our schedules to focus on therapy and healing. Not everyone has these “luxuries,” which shouldn’t be thought of as luxuries at all. Basic humanity. Something that we should be able to provide in this country. Having this kind of privilege is a gift and shouldn’t be squandered.

So what the hell am I doing writing, NOW? Shouldn’t I be making phone calls to my representatives? Or volunteering time to organizations that help refugees, or protecting the environment? Yes, and.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the role of writers and artists during times like these, as well as on hope and activism. The resounding message is that action and words are both necessary.

Here’s a quote by James Baldwin that I read today (I’m currently obsessed with his writings; items in bold are my emphasis):

The greatest poet in the English language found his poetry where poetry is found: in the lives of the people. He could have done this only through love — by knowing, which is not the same thing as understanding, that whatever was happening to anyone was happening to him. It is said that his time was easier than ours, but I doubt it — no time can be easy if one is living through it. I think it is simply that he walked his streets and saw them, and tried not to lie about what he saw: his public streets and his private streets, which are always so mysteriously and inexorably connected; but he trusted that connection. And, though I, and many of us, have bitterly bewailed (and will again) the lot of an American writer — to be part of a people who have ears to hear and hear not, who have eyes to see and see not — I am sure that Shakespeare did the same. Only, he saw, as I think we must, that the people who produce the poet are not responsible to him: he is responsible to them.

That is why he is called a poet. And his responsibility, which is also his joy and his strength and his life, is to defeat all labels and complicate all battles by insisting on the human riddle, to bear witness, as long as breath is in him, to that mighty, unnameable, transfiguring force which lives in the soul of man, and to aspire to do his work so well that when the breath has left him, the people — all people! — who search in the rubble for a sign or a witness will be able to find him there.

I’ll never be Shakespeare or Baldwin, of course, but while I may write for myself, more importantly, I will try to find the courage to bear witness while I do that. And because you never know what your words might do for someone else. My writing inspiration this week is thanks to the wonderful writer and writing coach Peg Cheng (@pegcheng), whose blog I love and who tweeted me after reading this poor neglected blog. Thank you Peg, for the encouragement and inspiration.

Staycations Are the Best

Photo I took on my walk around the neighborhood

Photo I took on my walk around the neighborhood

My last week off was last October. I also used that for a staycation, and spent most of it doing as many right-brained creative things as I could fit in. I’m a bit busier this week (will be taking our 14-year old Lab to the vet later to hopefully get a clean bill of health from her recent eye surgery), but still have been able to spend quite a bit of time tinkering away on several things, and just poking around the internet, which I never have time for anymore. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve been up to:

  • Fixed up my twitter account and finally did some actual tweets (including one about Doug’s latest post on Feldenkrais)
  • Read posts on introversion, including a cartoonist, INFJoe. Still have aspirations to draw someday!
  • Downloaded 30-day trial of a writing organization tool called Scrivener, finished the tutorial and started throwing pieces from various documents, journal entries, etc. into a template. So far, I really like this tool, it allows you to focus on one scene at a time, so you aren’t just looking at a long document and feeling overwhelmed.
  • Went on a long walk listening to Elliott Smith (good for getting the creative juices flowing)
  • Finished the third chapter of Hindi in Mango Languages – a free tool offered by the library to learn new languages. I’ve learned basic greetings, introductions and how to comment on the weather. Haven’t learned how to say it’s raining yet, so hopefully that’s in the next chapter!
  • Caught up on emails to a bunch of people
  • Almost done reading Wonderbook (guide to help with writing creative fiction) and still working on Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her Daughter Mary Shelley. Also read an interview with the author, Charlotte Gordon. This book is amazing, you should definitely read it. I plan to start reading some Wollstonecraft just as soon as I can.

Of course, there’s the usual stuff like cooking, walking dogs, meditating, helping Doug prep for work, etc. It’s so great to just have time to breathe in between. Oh, shoot, just realized I haven’t fed the chickens yet. Left brain to the rescue!

Feeling Some Falling

Bicycling on Lopez Island

Bicycling on Lopez Island

It’s a blustery day here in the Northwest, a good day to park ourselves in front of the keyboards. Scary proposition going outside anyway, with our massive poplar tree flinging limbs down like leafy spears. One went all the way across the yard and landed on our plum tree. Luckily didn’t hurt it, but a few plums may have gone tumbling. I’ll have my work cut out for me tomorrow picking all the branches up. Rain coming and going as well – though not as much as I hoped for. Maybe it all went east of us, which would be ideal, slow down the fires burning the state up.

Doesn't get much more San Juan-y than this!

Doesn’t get much more San Juan-y than this!

Lots of summer goings-on during August. Spent a weekend on Lopez Island with our good pals Tess & Ed a few weeks back, then went camping last weekend. We have come to the conclusion that we are getting too old to sleep in a tent. Especially the kind that are super light and meant for backpacking. Aside from the usual discomfort of sleeping on the ground, we nearly froze to death the first night. We were at a higher elevation near Mt. Rainier than we realized, and it was really chilly. Doug is now on a mission to have us get some sort of teardrop trailer. Definitely sounds nice, but also gives me a twinge of sadness. I love being outside, but I guess you just have to adapt.

Tess & Doug enjoying the view from Shark Reef Park

Tess & Doug enjoying the view from Shark Reef Park

Lopez Island is wonderful – so unpopulated and flat – absolutely perfect for biking! Quite a trek to get there and back, so if we try to go again, gotta stay longer than a weekend. But we had time to just hang out, eat good food, read, and work on a puzzle.

We’ve now confirmed that Doug can paddle his kayak again! He still has a bit of trouble keeping his left hand in place, even with the “active hand” brace on, so he bought some stuff called Gorilla Snot (seriously) and hopefully that’ll help. We went out in a tandem Thursday with the Outdoors for All folks (they are so great) and had a really relaxing evening. There were about eight people out in all, so a nice size group. We don’t have a tandem, but hopefully we can try taking our boats out soon.

Dogs, cats and chickens are all good – new chicks have been laying eggs now for a few weeks, but haven’t quite gotten the hang of where the nest box is or its function. I keep finding eggs in random places, as though they just fell out while the chicken was doing something else. I don’t remember that issue with our first girls, but this bunch does seem a bit more…bird brained? Chickens aren’t exactly bright, but I guess like people, they can vary in their smarts. However, one of the new girls produced a HUGE egg last week that turned out to be a two-yolker, which is supposedly good luck. A-ha, I knew things were looking up!

And the true sign that fall is upon us  – football is back! I’ll wrap this up to go watch the Seahawks take on the Chargers in pre-season game 3. Let’s hope the o-line can up their game and I sure would love to see some Beast Mode, I miss that dude. Go Hawks!