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
I am reminded of Anna Quindlen’s 1999 commencement speech to Mount Holyoke College, not because Pam went to Mount Holyoke—that is merely a delightful coincidence—but because of this:
“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 Attic in 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?