Following up on Monday’s post regarding perfectionism, this 2010 TEDx talk from Brené Brown on vulnerability and the courage to allow ourselves to be seen—and for our words to be read—seems particularly useful.
Pam Parker, a friend and fellow Wisconsin writer, recently wrote about how “2017 Is Halfway Over” as an exercise in self-reflection:
“June 30th sometimes shakes me up. The year is about halfway done. How am I doing on things I wanted to, hoped to, tried to get done or tried to keep moving along?”
“Over the years, I’ve learned that periodic self-reflection and evaluation is important for me. Otherwise, I can live a very re-active rather than pro-active life. I try to do a little self-check at the end of each month and looking ahead to the following month. I’m not always good about this. I’ve done it four out of the last six months and I expect to do it this weekend. So, that’s not bad. Yes, I’ve also shed the perfectionist-syndrome which in the past would have had me quitting this practice because I hadn’t done it every single month.”Read more
“Most commencement speeches suggest you take up something or other: the challenge of the future, a vision of the twenty-first century. Instead I’d like you to give up. Give up the backpack. Give up the nonsensical and punishing quest for perfection that dogs too many of us through too much of our lives. It is a quest that causes us to doubt and denigrate ourselves, our true selves, our quirks and foibles and great leaps into the unknown, and that is bad enough.
But this is worse: that someday, sometime, you will be somewhere, maybe on a day like today—a berm overlooking a pond in Vermont, the lip of the Grand Canyon at sunset. Maybe something bad will have happened: you will have lost someone you loved, or failed at something you wanted to succeed at very much.
And sitting there, you will fall into the center of yourself. You will look for that core to sustain you. If you have been perfect all your life, and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where your core ought to be.” Read more
As I take a cue from Pam to reflect a bit on the first half of 2017 and the first third of this blog series, it seems to me that real change—the kind of change that matters—is often a process that gets messy before it looks good on the outside. If we truly commit to finding and nurturing our core, to honoring our” true selves, our quirks and foibles,” and to taking “great leaps into the unknown,” we also must commit not only to imperfection but also to uncertainty. My own mid-year assessment certainly reflects that idea.
The first half of the year brought a lot of excitement with the publication by Hidden Timber Books (a micropress I started last year) of Family Stories from the Atticin April, followed by the launch reading event in May. This is the second title from Hidden Timber Books, and the first that was not a children’s book. My co-editor, Christi Craig, and I had the good fortune to work with twenty-two talented, thoughtful writers who contributed to the collection, and I feel as though I’ve gained twenty-two new friends. I also picked up some hard-earned InDesign skills. Hidden Timber Books has acquired two new books for the fall and winter—a short story collection and poetry chapbook—and I am excited work with authors Carol Wobig and Yvonne Stephens, as well as editors Christi Craig and Cristina Norcross.
Freelance back-of-the-book indexing has continued to keep me busy so far in 2017. I began indexing almost thirty years ago, slowly adding to my yearly workload. When I stepped away from adjunct teaching a couple of years ago, I upped the number of titles I indexed to 50-70 per year. This year I’m cutting back to more of a part-time load, for reasons outlined below.
My Own Writing
My frustration with my own writing—mainly in terms of organization, focus, direction, and commitment—was the impetus for this summer’s blog series. Like so much else in my life, my writing has been an outgrowth of my interests and, often, spur-of-the-moment ideas. I started as a journalism major in college after enjoying working on our high school newspaper, but switched to an English major after a couple of years because I love literature. When our son was young and I was interested in vegetarian cooking, I wrote a vegetarian cooking column and articles for such publications as Vegetarian Gourmet, Vegetarian Journal, and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. When we started homeschooling and I couldn’t find the information I was looking for, I wrote the book I wish I had, which led to more writing about education and creativity. Through it all, I wrote fiction and poetry in fits and starts, but the satisfaction of non-fiction deadlines were a powerful draw.
I admit I never took the time to think much about long-term goals or how to shape a writing career, which means that now I feel not only adrift among drafts and half-finished stories and too many ideas to count, but also, at age fifty-three, increasingly pressed for time. Yes, writing is a career that can reward age, but for everyone there comes a time when it really is too late to see what one is made of, to prioritize one’s writing and finally, once and for all, take it seriously.
That’s where this summer comes in.
Blog Series Reflections
Series Name Change
After one month I realize that a more appropriate name for this series is Summer Writing Reset, which contains the idea of a retreat but goes further. So I’m changing the name in medias res. While I’m sure this runs afoul of best blogging practices, as my friend Katherine Wikoff once wrote (and it’s stuck with me ever since) “this is my blog and these are the things I’m thinking about right now.”
I spent a lot of the first month writing here about social media, so it’s not a surprise that this is the area where I feel I made the most progress. I now have a strategy: scheduled and limited social media engagement during the week, fun social media Saturdays, and social media-free Sundays. Also, I’ve removed both Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone.
Yesterday (Sunday) I read an amazingly powerful piece by Roxanne Gay (“My body is a cage of my own making“), and my immediate impulse was to share it on Facebook or Twitter before I’d even finished reading it. Instead, I slowed down my reading, finished the piece with more focus than I would have had if I’d been intent on replying to replies and checking to see for others’ reactions, and went on to read another good Guardian article, “Anne Brontë: the sister who got there first.” I sent the first by email to my husband and the second to my daughter-in-law.
For me, the social media/screen/digital life issue goes beyond time spent on devices or even the ability to focus. It’s also tied up with how we are on social media, the celebrity culture that it emulates, the uncertain social norms, the temptation to confuse hashtags for thought or compassion, and the extent to which we remove ourselves from a creative life to the virtual sitting room (to all of which I admit complicity). By staying aware of these aspects, we can perhaps mitigate their effects.
Scheduling and Routine
I’m in a better place now than at the beginning of summer in terms of regular writing, and part of that is because of a blogging schedule. Yes, blogging can be a distraction from other, more important types of writing, but, for me, the practice of blogging enhances the rest of my writing. Maybe it serves as a reminder. Maybe it is a kind of warm-up exercise. In any case, it works.
For July, I am going to start block scheduling my days (see some examples from Cal Newport), and I’ll be sure to post an update later this month.
Some areas of focus for this series in July will be the role of reading for writers, the nitty gritty of writing every day or at least regularly, goals and whether to make them public, and writing self-care.
What are some of your self-reflections for the first half of 2017?
As we approach the long holiday weekend and Fourth of July, I thought you might enjoy a break from the current blog series. The following is a re-posting of a few excerpted July 4th entries from various years of my great aunt Hattie’s diaries. All of the entries below were written from her farm and ranch in Hidden Timber, South Dakota, on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, andhere is a video version of Hattie’s experience of the Glorious Fourth of July, 1933:
Harriet “Hattie” Whitcher was a writer, although I’m not sure she thought of herself as one. Many of her entries are written in the kind of shorthand one uses when writing only for oneself, but she never failed to notice and record details that most people miss. One of the touching aspects of the following entries is that they show how the active and wide community that she loved in the first years of her marriage slowly changed as she and her husband, Will, aged (they did not raise any children of their own), so that, by the end of Hattie’s life, she often missed the companionship of traveling with neighbors to races and ball games, horse shows and picnics.
All of the photos below and in the video above are from the July 4th, 1933 celebration at O’Kreek, South Dakota, and were most probably taken by Maggie Gehlsen, who was a live-in helper to Hattie at the time.
Happy Fourth of July, everyone. Enjoy.
July 4, 1933: Barbecue, Program, Clowns, Music by Orchestra, Indian dances, ball game, O’Kreek vs. Wood and O’Kreek won, races, Kitten-ball, dance in evening with orchestra (The Four Aces or Bailey’s) and a wonderful crowd. I saw Mrs. Charles Sinclair (Edith Brownfield) and boys of Winner as they were at the Celebration with Carl Anderson’s. We ate only sandwiches from the stand and ice cream and pop in the evening.
July 4, 1939: Bright, hot, and south wind real strong, clouded in S.W. and a regular dust storm for awhile in afternoon. Le Moyne chored and went home horseback on Gold Dust, and came back at 3 p.m., and he said there was a real dust storm here, and Will and I went to Abbotts at 11 a.m. They got ready and filled our car with gas from their barrel, so we all went to White River, via O’Kreek and Mission, and was a real dust storm there, could scarcely see horse racing, calf roping, and no ball game until as we were leaving grounds, Murdo and Wood started to play.
We got home at 6:30 p.m. and all clouds were gone to the east, no rain here, but a beautiful evening. A large crowd of people at White River to a Free Celebration of the 4th of July.
July 4, 1934: This is the Glorious Fourth of July. North wind, dusty but bright until I p.m., was cloudy during Hidden Timber ball-game between part of Longview and Hidden Timber, rest substitutes, and a few sprinkles of rain then clear eve.
After morning work Elmer took Maggie to Armbusters, and she and Rita went in Carl Gehlsen’s Car to Sell’s, and Elmer, Carl, Mary and Josephine Armbuster went to Valentine Celebration. Harry and Louise and family came and the men made ice-cream. We ate dinner and went to Hidden Timber Celebration, back in evening and Ed, Rena and Yvonne were here butchering an E. R. A. calf gotten at Boarding School. Harry got a quarter, also we did, all went home.
July 4, 1942: I put things, quilts, pillows, a stool, some lunch and dishes and clothes in suitcase. Washed all dishes. We left for O’Kreek, got tire fixed that went flat on Will coming from Valentine, went to Gregory S.D., saw the Ft. Meade, S.D. Soldiers Parade, then left for White Horse Ranch, south and east of Naper, Nebraska, about 6 miles southwest of The Point between the rivers, but first we crossed Niobrara Bridge south of Naper.
Folks were eating lunches or had finished, we came in from the west side of the place, was a large pasture and white horses in it, and an arena built northeast of trees, and large trees around the buildings. After trained white horses, cow and bull and dog performed by 5 girls and 4 boys, ages about 9 to 17 years old. They had a rodeo, but we went to the ranch buildings, then to Point, Butte, Spencer, then our old home, 1 mile down railroad track from Spencer.
July 4, 1943: Sun shone bright and nice in general until evening, then there was a real rain at Mission and east to north of Antelope Creek, for we got stuck in Charles Merchen’s yard, and Bob had to pull us out with their tractor to the highway east 1/2 mile, and Wm Van Epps, Floyd and Margie and Dean Totten, Wm Abbott, Mrs. Cora Ann, Billie, Delores and Mrs. Anderson (Rika), Mrs. Abbott’s mother, were behind us. They went off the road towards the ditch, but got out.
We started to have trouble in mud north of Sazamas. A bunch of young men pushed us up the hill. I think it was Sazamas. Then at Carl Andersons, Van Epps, Totten and Abbott pushed, south of River. Need never bothered. We got home from Boarding School Show, Road to Morocco, starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour. Was a good show all in all. [Film clip below from Road to Morocco]
July 4, 1950: Rained and rained this forenoon, and it kind of quit in p.m. Sun was shining brightly when I got up from a nap at 4 p.m. Will lay down also as he has heart pains, so we had to stay home this late p.m. in such a beautiful part of the day, and I had such a lonesome feeling, felt as if we were entirely out of the world.
July 4, 1954: Bright, hot day but cool in Valentine Park. Lunch all fixed and in the car. Got ready, went to Rosebud, no one at Ball Park, so went on to Rosebud and looked around some, on to Valentine to Park to eat dinner, was nice, water from spring so cool. To Rodeo. Had supper at park. Up town to wait for drive-in, first to Fish Hatchery. Never saw anyone we know.
“Perhaps the lesson is this — put aside the notion of an ideal time and place to exercise your craft. Just write wherever you are, whenever you can. If you have a routine, a sacred space or anything else that lends to your writing experience, good. But when you get down to it, writing is about putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, whenever, wherever you can.” ~ Victoria C. Slotto
“In Joan Didion’s essay on why she keeps a notebook, she writes, ‘How it felt to me: that is getting closer to the truth about a notebook…Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.’
Ultimately, a notebook is a portable laboratory where we can record our own unique perspective on the world, jot down the things in our lives that awaken our Muse, and experiment with new ideas.” Read more
“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.” Read more (with video)
“Such a notebook may include observations, ideas, notes about projects, emotions, overheard dialogue, dreams, ‘what-I-did-today’ accounts, notes kept during a trip or to record a particular harrowing experience such as a home renovation. Whereas in our pre-teens we might have written, ‘Today I went to the doctor,” a writer’s notebook may contain a description of the attendant at the parking lot, the medical assistant’s odd questions, the doctor’s attitude, physical details about the office itself, and/or an account of the discomfort of the procedure performed. Read more
“In my ‘official’ writing notebook I jot down ideas for writing projects, make lists for writing projects, and write sketches of writing projects. Often I’ll start writing towards a draft but without any sense of where I’m headed. Writing by hand takes the pressure off: I can’t send ripped-out notebook pages to The New Yorker. But when a piece moves from my notebook to my computer and eventually (sometimes) to publication, I can see that long passages are often exactly the same as when I wrote them by hand the first time.” Read more
This pdf from the National Council of Teachers of English is designed for classroom teachers but offers plenty of inspiration for writers of all ages. The main article is by my hands-down favorite author about encouraging young writers: Ralph Fletcher.
“The first few days of school I model with my own notebook, showing students my pages covered with words, quotes, drawings, and lists. I keep it close by for easy jotting. I also surround my students with wonderful literature —poetry, memoir, and nonfiction. As we do our read-alouds, students might pull out their notebooks to write down a line they love, an idea that’s been triggered, a snip of conversation, or just about anything.” Read more