Tag Archives: perseverance

A Truce

It had been a strugglesome week at work and I was feeling rushed and dejected when my husband suggested we go outside and have a few practice swings with the clubs. A few days before, I had reluctantly agreed to join an outing of four couples for nine holes of golf. Let me tell you something about golf. I don’t care for it. I find it full of aggravation and without reward. I was dreading spending my first opportunity to relax feeling like a total failure surrounded by people who play regularly. But I am a good sport…sort of. “Fine,” I had said, sounding more like “Why GOLF?”

The last time I had played was four years before and it had ranked among the worst leisure experiences of my life. I don’t know how many years it was before that I had played but it was more than four. Last Friday out in the yard, I picked up my driver with poor grace and assumed the position. Instantly there was a blaring chorus of voices in my head. Some were telling me what a bad experience I was about to have, some were telling me what a lousy golfer I am in general, and others were critiquing every single aspect of my swing (SO many ways to do it wrong). It was both deafening and oddly familiar. They sounded just like the voices that used to hound me when I was writing. I couldn’t believe how awful it felt, and I couldn’t believe I had persevered with writing as long as I had, clinging to a certainty that I had to battle through the noise and the unrelenting negativity. As I said in my last post I eventually did give up, and rebooted my writing in Safe Mode, which for me was to only write when I felt like it and to only write for myself. I chose to share my writing when I wanted to with a supportive group of friends who also write, but I absolutely gave myself permission to not do our writing prompts at all, or to write about something else if I wanted. I gave up overthinking and trying to be perfect, and in doing so had made peace with my writing. The voices quieted to a manageable murmur.

Out there in the yard, facing down a leaf in substitution for a dimpled ball, I decided that If I could do that with writing, when I really, really care about writing, I could also do this with golf. Some of the advice my husband offered made no sense. “Position your club face so it impacts the leaf like this.” “Aim so you hit the leaf right at this point.” Incomprehensible concepts which I rejected. Some of the things he said resonated. “Plant your feet.” Yes, this I had experienced in yoga and Pilates, feeling my feet connected with the earth as though my body was an extension of the planet. “Slow your swing.” That I understood, even if I didn’t like it. I just wanted to get the game OVER, but when I slowed down, my swing felt more controlled. Out on the course with an actual ball and an adjusted attitude (less competitive, more experimental and compassionate toward myself) I had a not-terrible time. I had a few (feet planted, slow tempo) strokes that were pretty decent, and the rest (which were absolutely consistent with my status as a perennial beginner) didn’t bother me. Best of all, my inner critics were silent. Nine holes wore me out, and I ended up with a blister on my thumb and some sore muscles the next day, but I also found I had been able to call a truce with the sport. I would be willing to golf again…you know, once my back loosened up.

I even learned a few things from golf that I can apply to my writing. If my metaphysical feet are planted, I have strength and balance to write from. If I don’t rush my message, it comes at its own pace and makes more sense. More peace, fewer voices seems like a good direction to keep moving toward. Fore!

Lynnette golfing

The Story Awaits

It is 4:18 a.m. Forty-five minutes ago my cat, bored and perhaps a bit underfed, woke me with a leap and a brrrowp! Demanding food and attention, he instead received exile to the basement. Adrenaline from the ambush and thirst kept me up while my mind slowly churned into wakefulness, despite my better sense that cried out “No! Stop it! Sleep now, think later!” Too late, in so many ways. Dark-of-night true confession: my writing is bugging me. My unfinished article for this month judges me from my desktop. The grim grind of begging to get Hollywood University noticed, of laying it out there for rejection is almost harder than I can bear, though with only ten queries down I’ve barely started. My unfinished novel, on the other hand, is past the charming precociousness of youth and is entering awkward adolescence. I want to nurture it to maturity and beauty but it just seems to be glaring at me with that “you don’t get me,” kind of attitude. I think of the grim grind and wonder, what is the point? Maybe the naysayer, the practical one who points out for my own good that my manuscripts will probably never be published is right. I keep telling myself that naysayer is speaking of statistical probability, and not making editorial judgments, but it is impossible to shrug off the suspicion that I suck. Especially at this time of the morning.

But here’s the thing. Stories are powerful. I remember that when I read books like Imaginings of Sand by André Brink. I admit, I had trouble with it at the beginning. Firstly it is an intensely feminine story written by a man, and at the start I was annoyed by how masculine the main character, Kristien Müller, seemed to be. By masculine I mean lacking in emotional intimacy and unconcerned about the feelings of others. Sue me. As the story goes on it becomes clear that these qualities are important facets of Kristien, who returns to South Africa after a self-imposed exile to attend to her dying grandmother, the one person with whom she seems connected. While the country around them is heating up for the first post-apartheid elections, Ouma (grandmother) fills Kristien with shocking, rambling legends of family “herstory.” (I hate that word, but is accurate-tales of the unremembered women ancestors, who are carried forward both in the stories and in the bodies of Ouma, Kristien, and her sister Anna.) There are dichotomies here: male and female, black and white, but the divisions break down as the individuals are revealed in their complexities. Brink strings together flawed characters, the history and culture of South Africa, and gender and racial justice, and if that sounds dry to you, I ask you to trust me, it is far from that. The writing is vivid, the tension builds palpably and most importantly, perceptions of reality and status quo are challenged. After finishing this book today, I am looking at my own past and present with new eyes, and that alters my vision of the future. Like I said, stories are powerful.

So I will carry on. Morning approaches, though the October dawn is still a ways off. Today is another opportunity to get patient Hollywood University into the right hands, to finish my article and to nudge Sleepers a few steps closer to completion. The cat, the naysayer, and the grim grind are all only parts of the whole; the story itself is much bigger and it awaits.

365?! Plus, Hollywood University part 2

My sister Kerin suggested that I write a daily blog for a year, and rather than be incredibly flattered that she would even think such a thing would be desirable I said something like, “You are so demanding!” But it is flattering. I was worried that I would wear out readers by posting even twice a week. It is also an interesting challenge. I have been fond of saying that one sure way for me to give up a good and wholesome activity is to commit to making it part of my life. I buy vitamins but I don’t take them. I exercise, but refuse to put it on my calendar. I clean my entire house, then let it become knee-deep in projects, junk mail, and laundry in all stages before cleaning again rather than apply regular maintenance to keep the clutter to a manageable level. Daily writing has been a goal of mine numerous times and just as often has been abandoned. One of the louder voices in my head (what, you don’t have voices in your head? Weird.) absolutely jeers at me whenever I sit down for a daily writing session. It is off-putting so I stop, because writing daily on my own is just a deal I make with myself. If I break that deal, who cares?. But the idea of committing to writing to you daily puts a different spin on things. More like making a commitment to exercise with a friend which is then harder to cancel because she is expecting you to show up and suffer with her. Yeah, it is a lot like that. So, let’s do this thing! Yikes.  I kind of feel like we are going steady now, but this doesn’t mean you have to give up reading other blogs. If you are subscribing to this blog, you are getting updates every time I post. If you find daily is too much of me (and trust me, I get it–there are days when I feel I get too much of me,) you should be able to adjust your subscription to only notify you once a week if there is something new here to see. Thank you for joining me in this growth experience; I hope you and I both find value in it.

On another note, I am adding a new section to Hollywood University, and you are invited to check it out. (Click on Hollywood University at the top of this page.) For people who have already read the first part, the new section begins with the word Origins, and takes the reader back to where Darlington begins his story. I hope you enjoy it. If you do, tell a friend or two to check it out–and if you know an agent or publisher interested in multi-cultural memoirs, definitely tell them you are a fan and how to find me!

I Bet I Can

I peeled my dining room ceiling like a carrot today. The popcorn finish has been bugging me forever in that room, which has a weird octagonal inset in the middle of the otherwise dropped ceiling. I believe the dropped ceiling is to accommodate the plumbing for the whirlpool tub in the master bath which is directly above. We never use the whirlpool jets because the last time I did, there was a leak in the pump and it rained in the dining room from at least ten places. This interior downpour was very exciting and messy, leaving brownish stains and bubbled paint on the ceiling and giving me cause to use every profane word I know as I tried to save the wooden table, the wooden floor, the computer, the business documents and everything else left laying around. I turned off the whirlpool jets almost immediately, but it took thirty minutes for the storm to diminish to a sprinkle. It took twenty-four more hours to get rid of the nervous tic beneath my right eye.

That was at least six weeks ago, and as I said, the popcorn had been bugging me for much longer than that, but I didn’t do anything about it. Why? I wasn’t sure I could. I thought maybe there was a right way to do it, that I needed a professional with knowledge and skill and maybe some useful products. I didn’t know any professional popcorn removers, so I hesitated and tried not to look at the brown circles and stripes on the gross bumpy ceiling, imagining instead a clean painted surface with maybe some white crown molding. Fancy. Then, today, a thunderstorm derailed our plans to work on our deck and so Mr. Wordtabulous and I started watching Yard Crashers and House Crashers on HGTV. We are highly susceptible to the DIY influence in our home and soon my husband was up and installing the new light fixtures I’d recently purchased in our upstairs bedrooms. (The old ones were deteriorating in a scary and oddly smelly way–I never knew corroded wire covering could smell like decaying mouse, but it does.) And I thought, I bet I could just scrape that popcorn ceiling off by myself. And I did.  I wore a filtered mask and goggles. I spritzed water on the popcorn then scraped it off with a ten inch taping knife (think wide spatula.) The first two-thirds was easy, the last third was a chore, but I did it. I made a huge mess, which was contained to the dining room because I had put plastic drop cloths over the doorways into the kitchen and living room. I was pretty impressed with myself until my husband looked in and all he said was, “You didn’t put down a drop cloth?” Men. That wasn’t even a question. Obviously I had not put down a drop cloth. Which was fine, because dragging a drop cloth loaded with four pounds of ceiling popcorn and dust through the rest of the house wasn’t going to work better than just cleaning up the mess where it was. I then cleaned up, and with a few touch-ups I think we are looking good. I’ve got a nice rustic look with some texture and some flat spots. Now it is time to start thinking about paint colors for the ceiling and the walls.

The point is that I’m moving forward on something I thought I needed help with and was a little afraid of. Self-doubt is a drain on energy, opportunity, fun and momentum. My mom says that when people used to say to my grandma that they didn’t think she could do something, she’d give them a bright and challenging look and say, “I bet I can.” I get messages from the world and my own brain all the time that say, “You can’t.” I have considered this carefully and I am positive that listening to this message has hurt me by limiting possibilities  many, many more times than it has helped me avoid stupid endeavors. It is (way past) time to stop always being a good little girl and to look fate, the odds, my own warped fears or whoever is standing in my way straight in the eye and say, “I bet I can.”

A Life in Revision

I have written a couple of novels. Both are 50,000+ words thanks to the rules of National Novel Writing Month and both are unpublished. One is horrible and will never see the light of day; the other one I like to think of as promising. In writing both of them I found that I came to a point where I had no idea what was happening. I had created the whole scenario and knew how I wanted it to end, but to get from “here” to “there” required something more: some  fancy literary footwork, or acrobatic maneuvering. There has to be tension in reading or it isn’t worth it, but writing? The tension can be a killer. I got through it both times, just more convincingly in the second novel.

I am now back to my “promising” novel and find that revision has the same issue as the initial writing. This first draft has a beginning, middle and an end, some pretty good characters, an intriguing premise, and several action scenes that make it a story I would hate to see just end up in a box but I am at that knot in the string that has to be dealt with to get from promising to good. I am at the hammer and tongs phase where it’s time to revise the draft into a real manuscript, a story worth reading. I have to pare away the stuff that sort of spilled out with everything else, but doesn’t really add to the story. I have to check my timelines; can my heroine really do all that in a day? and why doesn’t she do anything the next day? I need to flesh out other characters or remove them all together. And the big question: who dies in the end? I can still see it going a couple of different ways.

It is time to move from the role of anxious protective writer to patient thoughtful editor. I need to distance myself a titch from what I have already done and look at it with some objectivity. When I am at risk of slipping into self-loathing over the parts that aren’t ready for primetime, I have to pull it back and congratulate myself on the good stuff and keep building on that. Writing a novel can be a little like living a life. It gets messy. Sometimes it flows and other times you have to “put your back into it,” as Dad used to say when he could see the job required more effort than what we kids were applying. Sometimes in life you pick up stuff and it turns out to be not helpful, like an activity that was entertaining or instructive in the process but doesn’t really add to the quality of life and can now be left behind. Sometimes you have to hang onto stuff and make it work even if it is unwieldy and frustrating, because it is worth it. Sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference, but the older I get and the less anxious and protective I am the clearer that seems.

I have less say about how my life develops than I do about the direction my novel takes; life has a lot of extenuating circumstances. I can edit where I am at, though. Less puzzles and TV, more reading and conversation; less worry and more giggles—that sort of thing. The rest has to be left to faith and I can work on that bit, too.

Tour de Cure: The Finish Line

The first forty miles were pure fun, and that was a relief, because I had done a pitiful amount of training on my bicycle. The day of the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure (bicycling fundraiser) was inarguably the finest weather day thus far in 2011. I had raised over $500 (thank you family and friends!) and committed myself to the 62 mile route (a metric century—100km.) The route was beautiful, the volunteers were supportive and the paths were not too crowded to keep a happy pace. I was riding alone in the midst of 1500 other riders, but I’m not shy so I struck up conversations here and there. Over those first forty miles I had several enjoyable encounters on some of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever ridden, through communities including St. Paul, St. Louis Park, and Minneapolis.

It was around mile number forty-two when I suddenly realized that what I was doing felt more like work than fun. The terrain hadn’t really changed—it was mostly flat with occasional hills into and out of river valleys. I was just getting fatigued. By mile forty-three my neck decided it was tired of holding up my head and started complaining. Loudly. Shortly after that I met Colleen, a woman not very much older than I am, who was wearing the distinctive red jersey that signified she was a diabetic. She had the slim strong build that many avid cyclists have and told me that her diabetes was diagnosed forty years ago. Forty years of finger pricks for blood tests and insulin injections. She had obviously taken good care of herself. The next rest stop on the ride, I eschewed the bananas and granola bars for a chance to lay down on the grass and stretch.

Later in the ride I met Amy, whose cousin Kristi died in her mid-thirties from diabetes. Amy told me that in her adolescence Kristi had made some rebellious choices about how to take care of herself, believing she wasn’t likely to survive past her twenties. Other stories I had heard about young people dying from diabetes illustrated that even when they made the best decisions they could, the insidious disorder could still steal a life away.

Miles forty-seven to fifty-seven were okay. I had a thrill zipping down Kellogg through green lights at thirty miles per hour, but otherwise I was just looking forward to the finish line. At the finish line there would be free chair massages, food, music and possibly some familiar faces. A party to celebrate the distance traveled and the accomplished goal of raising awareness and money for the cause. In the meantime, miles fifty-seven plus were starting to be a painful grind. My experience is that once you’ve been in the saddle long enough, the seat pain sort of numbs back to discomfort, which only surges back to pain if you take a break and then get back on (did someone sharpen my saddle?) or have something really unnecessary happen, like your foot slipping off the pedal after a stop and your whole weight crushing one place or another. I find that the neck thing doesn’t numb back. It’s cumulative. Additionally, in endurance rides, you can try to stay hydrated and take in enough calories but it’s tricky even if you don’t have diabetes to keep things level, and when things get out of whack you can start to feel sick. Finally, there’s a mental obstacle, in that the last couple of miles have that nightmarish stretching out quality that makes them seem so much longer. One could get crabby. But the blessed finish line appeared and the music played and the food was good and the massage was better. Mission accomplished, I was tired but back to feeling great. I could pack up my bike and go.

But those Red Riders? They are still on their journey. Day after day they must continue to grind through test strips and insulin injections and carefully consider their diet, exercise, stress levels, and hormone changes because that is life or death to them. In other words, they never get off their bikes. Diabetes is a horrible condition that affects about one in twelve people in the United States, but there is promising research happening. Be part of the cure: raise money, donate, or volunteer at a fundraising event. You know someone affected by this disorder; you can help them close in on diabetes’ finish line.