If You Could Be Someone Else

If You Could Be Someone Else

The easiest thing to do with today’s prompt is turn it into fiction: “If you could morph into anyone (alive, dead, fictional, etc.), who would it be and why?” But I can’t stop thinking about Elizabeth Strout, one of my favorite authors, and how I haven’t ever cyberstalked her to know anything about her real life, but how I’m so in love with her books/characters/writing style that I want to be her.

It wouldn’t make any sense, of course, precisely because I know nothing about her, and also because I don’t want to be anyone else. I love my life, my family, everything, I wouldn’t give up what I have for anything or to be anyone. It’s funny though, that I’m so enamored by her talent and style that I’d like to be her without being her. Does that even make sense?

So it’s not that I want to be her it’s that I want, in no particular order:

  • her talent
  • to have this amazing town created in my mind that I’m able to then describe in vivid detail to my readers
  • to have these fantastic characters with their idiosyncrasies that come to life on every page
  • to have already published multiple books
  • to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize
  • to be a #1 New York Times Bestselling author
  • to be a Pulitzer Prize winner

No big deal, right?

What I hear myself voicing is that I want to be an established prize winning author today, without doing all the grunt work that would get me there. Ha! But, yeah, I mean, essentially.

Another way of looking at this, perhaps a more constructive way of looking at this, is to say that Elizabeth Strout is at a place in her writing career, where I too would like to be someday. It’s not that I want to be her, but that I look up to her. She’s my professional heroine. She has done the work I want to do but haven’t yet done myself and she’s done it extremely well.

I suppose that means I haven’t actually succeeded in completing today’s writing prompt, but such is life. And now, to go cyberstalk…

If you don’t know who Elizabeth Strout is, you can learn more here (something I will also be doing shortly, because I am now in active cyberstalk mode. My mission: find out everything I can about her and indulge in a little “if we were BFF’s” fantasy).
This #writethirtyminutes session was prompted very loosely from “A Year of Writing Prompts” by Writer’s Digest, available here

What If This is the New Normal

Goals

When COVID was raging and we were all waiting impatiently for it to be over, like watching the Twin Towers get hit by a plane or watching our child hooked up to hospital equipment, this watching and waiting and feeling like it must all be a dream, surely, and when will it be over, when will I wake up…at some point, later, around the end of that first full year, many people began to ask, what if this is the new normal?

I stole it.

I stole the question.

What if this is the new normal?

I apply it to everything.

And it works to keep me going, moving forward.

For example, I had this gnarly rash, a “classic food allergy reaction” but the rash didn’t go away. It didn’t go away with a massively limited diet, it didn’t go away with topical creams, it didn’t go away with oral medication, it didn’t go away with a full dose of antibiotics. It remained undeterred and unchanged. It was there for three months before I broke down.

I asked myself, what if this is the new normal?

I stopped sleeping all the time (a reaction to the massive doses of Benadryl I was taking in order to continue breathing), I stopped sulking, I continued drinking the morning smoothie that didn’t alter the reaction at all but made me feel healthier. If this was the new normal, I wasn’t going to let it derail my life.

I don’t even remember when the rash finally went away. I’d decided it was the new normal and worked around it and then it was gone.

Reactions are what I call time sucks, and they exist everywhere and pup up constantly:

  • the kids want to join soccer
  • my husband wants to start a business
  • we need to buck wood or we won’t make it through winter

And constantly I have to remind myself that this reaction is the new normal.

If the kids being in soccer and needing to go to practice twice a week and games once a week is going to suck a minimum of eight hours of our week away every week forever (yes, soccer has a limited schedule, but let’s follow the bouncing ball) how do I incorporate it into my life without putting my life on hold?

The things we all have to remember when trying to achieve our goals are:

  • our families goals are just as important as our own
  • no ones life should be placed on hold, ever
  • we can all reach our goals, separately and together

There are a million metaphors for how we’re like houseplants, etc. but the bottom line is, the current goal is our new normal, make it work.

Take five minutes, right now, and

  1. close your eyes
  2. take a deep breath
  3. visualize the current reaction, really look at all the ways it causes problems
  4. look at how to work the reaction into your end goal in a daily way
  5. really see how tomorrow will look working the reaction in, now the next day
  6. write it down

I find it helpful at night, right before I fall asleep, to lay there and think of three things I’m grateful for from the current day, then visualize the next day from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. It often starts like this:

“I wake up around 5:30am after getting as much sleep as I need…”

Your current allergic reaction is your new normal. Are you going to sleep all day, or are you going to live your life?

Time

Time

Two years I started this blog post below and had to walk away from it. I re-read it today:

“I’ve been reading this book by Ann Patchett, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, and in it she describes a weekend away. She needed to get some reading and writing done and simply couldn’t do it at home, so off she went to a hotel. No big deal, just up and off to a hotel where she did nothing but read, write, order room service, go down once to the pool. I read this and I’m so jealous I could spit. The idea of having time to read and write…glorious.”

I have to say, the idea still makes me so jealous I could spit. Although spitting is gross.

What’s hilarious, is that I can’t remember exactly what had me so busy…will I look back in two years on this point in my life and wonder what kept me so busy? Of course. Definitely. Without question.

Facebook also gives me these memories to look back on and in them I see my oldest going from a smoosh baby to a toddler and think, oh my gosh he was so little! And then I look over at him now, at six years old, and realize this is going to look little someday too.

Where does it all go?

How do I feel like I have zero time for anything and yet time is so clearly passing, and passing quickly?

And the thing is that I’m not anywhere near where I thought I’d be two years ago, and yet I’m further…or maybe just different.

Two years ago if you told me I’d be living in Montana I’d have laughed. Laughed and laughed and laughed. Because moving to Montana is something crazy people do. Who needs all that winter? Who needs all those prairies and cowboys and endless skies?

Well…me, it turns out. I need them.

Two years ago we were gearing up to live in our trailer for a few months while we purchased a property in Oregon.

One year ago we were moving to Montana, to a property I’d only ever seen pictures of and to a home my husband described as “live-able.”

This year I’m reading a post from two years ago wondering how I could have possibly thought I was busy then, when I’m so obviously much busier now. What a laugh. All of it.

Today has been about breathing. Fears are constantly popping up in my mind:

  • I don’t have time for this
  • I haven’t made time for my #writethirtyminutes yet and won’t have the time
  • How is it possible that I’m constantly making food for two creatures who survive on air
  • My husband is so excited right now, that makes me excited, he’s doing what I have to do, that’s scary
  • I signed up for that webinar but I’m going to be late cause the kids still need to be dressed, brush teeth, take vitamins
  • I don’t have time to eat lunch with these boys because I need to do that thing for my husband and I still have to #writethirtminutes and I need to get that roast in the InstaPot (“Insta” my a$$)

It all comes down to fear and mostly fear around time. So my mantra for today has been:

“I have as much time as I need to do what needs to be done”

It’s been proving itself true, so far. I made it to my webinar just as it was starting, missed nothing. I was able to do a little bit of homeschool prep stuff during the webinar while still digesting the meat of the course. I still need to do that thing for my husband (and for myself once I confront my fears), but I will do that after I get the roast started and the InstaPot insta-ing.

The day is proving that I absolutely have as much time as I need to do what needs to be done. And the thing is, if it doesn’t get done today, it didn’t need to. Remembering to breathe, remembering to focus on the now, remembering to “sit and know I am sitting” as the Ten Percent app guru says, has been tremendous.

The days will always be packed.

The key is to recognize that there is only so much you can do, only so much you can reasonably expect from yourself, or anyone, and that when it comes down to it, I have as much time as I need to do what needs to be done.

Progress Every Day

Progress Every Day

They say that to reach your goals, you just have to make a little progress every day. I suspect there’s truth in that, although it doesn’t feel like it. For example:

Meditation

I’ve been doing a daily meditation on the Ten Percent app after having read the book Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris. I do whatever the daily meditation is, for however long it last. The first one is roughly two minutes and they gradually get slightly longer. I have no idea what I’ll do when the free meditations end…maybe it will be like the Calm app, when the free ones are gone, so am I…but I’d like to think that because I’m making slow and steady progress in daily meditation that I’ll continue on my own when it’s required of me.

Homeschooling

My boys are still young enough that there’s not much involved in homeschooling and I tend to get by with all the Q&A of daily life with an added dose of weekly Outschool classes and daily book reading. Still, I’ve been creating meetups for my local homeschool group and researching ideas and and and…. My daily progress on this end has been reading one chapter a day from the Homeschooling and Loving It! book by Rebecca Kochenderfer and now that I’ve finished it, I’ll be reading a chapter a day from The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer.

Writing

My daily progress is tracked by my #writethirtyminutes, catalogued here on the blog and doesn’t include any behind the scenes writing I do (although to be honest, I haven’t been doing much). I’ve been allowing myself the excuse of keeping up with my inbox which includes emails from Authors Publish and Writer’s Digest as well as reading a chapter a day from whatever writing tomb I’m reading, The Savvy Writer’s Guide to Productivity by Bryan Collins is the current pick.

Life

There’s also this thing called life, which, dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through. Life includes making three meals a day, doing dishes from said meals, laundry, going to/from soccer practices/games as well as karate classes, the weekly running of errands, making kombucha every five days, cleaning the house, doctors appointments, etc. Nothing everybody doesn’t already deal with, but things we tend to ignore or consider unimportant because everyone deals with them. These things, however, are a major time-suck and it behooves us to be honest about just how much of our time and energy they take.

What’s My Point?

I don’t know.

Okay, seriously, the point is that it doesn’t ever really feel like I’m making any progress towards my goals, but I am. The going is slow because the progress is slow because it’s daily. These things aren’t about immediate gratification. It’s not painting the bedroom where one day it’s off-white and boring and the next day you’re surrounded by sumptuous color that immediately makes you recognize just how badly you needed to paint. This is stuff that goes the distance.

I want to make meditation a part of my daily life forever, so the effects of the meditation, less anxiety and longer fuse, are going to be noticeable as early as a week from starting, but the bedroom of my mind isn’t going to be painted overnight. It will take a lifetime.

And the same goes for everything else I’m attempting. There will, hopefully, be small wins all along the way, but the path is long and winding and I’m learning to be okay with that.

Classical Music

Classical Music

I recently read the If I Stay and Where She Went books by Gayle Forman, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And because they were partly about a cellist, I retrieved the names of two cellists to lookup on my iMusic app and I’ve been playing them on occasion (luckily I like classical music to begin with).

There’s all the hype about classical music being good for your brain and studying, which is fantastic, but the thing about classical music, that I love, is how it makes you feel. Any music, really, has the ability to take what you’re already feeling and amplify it or even change it. Have you ever desperately needed to hear a specific song? Have you ever been sad and required sad music or switched it up for something happy to lift you up?

With any song or piece of music the opening notes can completely take us over, send us back in time to a well worn memory or completely gut us with the emotions it brings up. I love that some people see color when they hear music and while I’ve had that happen once, I’d love to have it happen again.

Generally I surround myself with silence when I can get it. With two kids and two dogs, four chickens and five cats, and a husband, there is rarely a moment of silence around here. I cherish the silence.

And yet…

The opening notes of Rachmaninov’s Theme of Paganini can transport me to the book shop where I worked for a year and had to play the same piano CD every.single.day. with this being one of the songs. Despite getting thoroughly sick of the CD, I love to hear the song now and remember how wonderful it was to be surrounded by books all day.

Just about anything by Bach sends me back to college whistling to myself as I biked through campus or walked the arboretum in a moment of stillness and decision making.

Brahm transports me to Budapest where I attended an orchestral concert that played over and over in my brain as I walked the bridges and riverways for days trying different random bits of wild game: bear (not a fan), boar (not bad), and venison (my favorite).

While all music transports us, part of why we love it, there’s something about the sounds of classical music without the interruption of words, the words that pull us out of what our brains and souls are doing as we listen to the music, that’s part of what makes classical music so essential.

In an attempt to get our kiddos to appreciate all forms of music we routinely mix up what we listen to in the car when running errands or driving long distances. They’re mostly exposed to music from the forties on but every now and again we slip them a classical album or a meditative suite. I won’t lie and say these are their favorites, but they also aren’t opposed.

Just now as I was listening to Yo-Yo Ma play cello my oldest came running to let it wash over him as well. The kids are alright.

This post was written as a thirty minute writing exercise, no editing, no stopping and was inspired from a writing prompt in Bryan Collins’ “Yes, You Can Write!” book available here.

Short Story Challenge

Ray Bradbury

I would very much like to believe what Ray Bradbury says is true, “write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” I want so much for this to be true, that I’m taking it as a personal challenge, although I’m sure I’m not the first. I’m not sure exactly when I’m going to start (she hedges quietly from behind the safety of her computer), but I’m doing it.

I’ve been doing these mostly-daily thirty minute writing warm ups and then moving on to other things…other non-writing related things. I’ve got two kids to homeschool, a house to keep clean, chickens and dogs and cats to care for, groceries to shop for, three meals a day to make, a garden, life…and let’s be honest, my husband does at least half of these things for me cause I can never get to them.

All that aside, I’ve got to get back into a rhythm and since all of my major excuses are used up (our lives are a shambles as we figure out where to live, our lives are a shambles as we live in a trailer, our lives are a shambles as we actually move somewhere, our lives are a shambles as we clean the place we moved into, our lives are a shambles as we get settled and acquire the things we need to live…like books), it’s time to get cracking.

My first new habit to practice is meditation which I will begin tomorrow. Once I’ve got a solid week or so under my belt I will begin the short story challenge: one short story a week, every week, for one year.

Has anyone ever done this? I mean, I could Google it, and knowing me I will, cause I’m curious:

  • How does one go about it?
  • Do you write the story in a day or two then spend the remaining five days editing?
  • Do you spend the first day coming up with the characters and idea, the second day writing it all out, the remaining days editing?
  • Are there any days left open for giving the product to someone else to read and comment on leaving time to re-edit afterwards?

The how-to part is what I will work on and determine over the next week as I get my meditation habit going and gear up for taking on this challenge. I’d love any feedback anyone has on doing this.

Horses

Horse

We buy a quart of goat milk every week from a neighbor and today we went to pick it up in person. The kiddos got to meet her goats, adorable, and her chickens and ducks, and then we got to go say hi to the horses.

There’s something magical about the horses. They smell like comfort.

Every summer when I was growing up I’d get to go to my cousins ranch in Arkansas and ride horses (and work in the chicken houses, but we won’t talk about that here). Riding horses was magical for me, a city kid. And even now every horse I meet is Sugar in my head cause that was the horse I rode every summer.

My kids, especially the oldest, have been begging us to get a horse for years. Especially now that we live in Montana where it seems every single property you drive by has at least two horses. We’ve been sticking to our guns, their dad and I, no horses because money, feed, time, manure…but it’s not easy.

I don’t enjoy being a crusher of dreams, but the idea of getting a horse just so I can smell it and my kids don’t have to be told no is a pretty obvious no brainer. Still.

I’ve smelled like horses all day. I have had every opportunity to change, but haven’t because then I wouldn’t smell like horses anymore. I love that smell. I love the idea of heading out to the pasture in the morning, swinging up on a pony’s back, and riding down to the river…but since I can barely make time to exercise in the morning before the boys wake up and I have to schedule in the twenty minutes I need each week to clean the chicken pen (lemme tell ya, it doesn’t always happen), I think it’s pretty clear we don’t have time for horses.

But maybe goats?

Just kidding.

I know our lives don’t have room for any of that right now. And that’s a good thing. Our lives are very full. Our lives are very wonderful. And there’s always time for these grand things in the future. The boys will keep getting older, as much as I don’t want them to, and there will be more time in each day and then one day, there will be more time in a day than I know what to do with.

In the meantime, maybe I can go pick up our goat milk and snuggle up on our friends horses every now and again and revel in the smell of comfort.

The Photograph

Ivy Gordon Photographer

The colors in the photo are simply stunning. The vibrancy of the orange, how sheer on the mother and how thick and comforting on the child. They seem almost out of place until the same lines of orange are caught in the upper left on a skirt or sari hanging out to dry. The orange also seems an odd choice when paired with the purples of skirt underneath.

There’s more to this though. There always is.

This woman appears well off, her clothing isn’t frayed and there are bits of beadwork evident along the edges of her shawl, in a pattern on her skirt, even along the rim of her shoe. Yet the child with her, clearly with her seen gripping her shawl, appears half-naked, hair tussled in a way my own mother would never permit, “you look like a ragamuffin,” she’d say. So too the alleyway they’re walking down appears run down, although clean, large bits of plaster flaking away from the buildings, laundry left out to dry.

The juxtaposition is all quite striking.

The orange alone enough to draw the eye repeatedly.

The child’s jacket appears to be a fleece, warm and comforting on a chilly day, several sizes too large with the sleeves rolled up, the bottom sitting somewhere above the knee but below the seat. Exactly as my youngest’s jackets fit, handed down from his older brother. Despite this warmth above, the child wears nothing below, or at least nothing visible from behind. Beautiful bare toddler legs in sandals, a bracelet around the right ankle. No visible goose bumps, however, so clearly not uncomfortably attired.

My favorite part though, the way the adult and child are in step with one another, the way the child grips the adults shawl in a confident, claiming manner. I’m left to assume this is mother and child, that mother has something in her hands and is thus occupied, unable to hold hands. This gripping of clothing a reasonable alternative for them both, confirmation, yes, I am here.

I look at this picture, with it’s simple white matting and modern black metal frame, which doesn’t “go” in my home in any way, which stands out as an awkward choice, really, and I love it. I see motherhood and childhood and security and comfort and joy. I wonder if this is her first child, her last child, if what she’s holding in front of her out of my view is another baby or a sack of rice for dinner or a pregnant belly.

I didn’t choose this photo, but I would. It was gifted to me, and I’m grateful. I can look at all the separate elements in the photo and see nothing of note, nothing that would draw my attention or emotion a second time, until put together as it is. When looking at the photo as a whole, I see love.

To view all of Ivy Gordon’s incredible works, please visit her gallery and website.

This post was written as a thirty minute writing exercise, no editing, no stopping and was inspired from a writing prompt in Bryan Collins’ “Yes, You Can Write!” book available here.

Meditation

Meditation

Have you ever tried to meditate? Did you enjoy it? Did you create a lasting habit of daily meditation? Were there any specific apps or resources you used and enjoyed?

I’ve tried meditation a couple of times. I was really quite successful with the app Headspace until I ran out of freebie meditations. Then rather than continue the practice on my own or pay for more, I stopped.

My husband is a phenomenal meditator. Meditates every day. He can do it without a guide even! Can you hear how jealous I am?

There are countless stories about how wonderful meditation is not just for your mind and body but for your ability to think clearly, act efficiently, and maintain equilibrium in stressful situations.

In other words, if anyone needs meditation in their life, it’s me.

I started a book last night called Badass Habits by Jen Sincero and as part of internalizing the tools taught by the book, the author wants me to either choose a habit I want to pick up or choose I habit I want to be rid of. There are plenty of both to choose from when I stop and think about it. But I’ve decided that daily meditation is a habit I most sincerely want to pick up sooner rather than later as I already know all the reasons I ought to be doing it.

So today I picked up the book Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris and I downloaded his app Ten Percent.

I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, it’s only noon and I’ve already been triggered to overwhelm several times today by simple things:

  • two people needing my attention at the same time
  • two people yelling and fighting
  • fear that I won’t get to my #writethirtyminutes today
  • fear that I’ll forget to sign the kids up for the dance class they want now that we know their soccer schedule
  • anxiety over being billed $20 for something and not knowing why and when will I have the time to figure out why
  • how is it that no one has any clean shorts when I’ve been doing laundry nearly every day (because all the clean clothes are in the dryer and/or hanging up over drying racks waiting to be folded/put away)

You get it…right? These are common, daily things that crop up and absolutely should not cause overwhelm. They just are. It’s not like I’m in an enormous crowd of people and my hands are full and I can’t find my kids or my husband…but that’s the kind of scenario I want to be prepared for, in addition to the little daily things. I want to soar calmly over the overwhelm. Just breathe.

As I said, I’ll keep you posted….

Epitaph

Gilded

I’m not much for morbidity. Although I suppose some would argue that planning for you death isn’t morbid but smart, forward thinking, another part of the circle of life we all must deal with.

My prompt today, care of Bryan Collins’ Yes, You Can Write!, is to write my epitaph.

No, thank you.

It does bring to mind, however, a book I recently finished that was above and beyond my expectations. I don’t normally read fantasy or young adult books, even though I love them. But this one was recommended to me by several different people multiple times, so I read it.

Gilded by Marissa Meyer.

And as soon as I finished it I looked for the sequel…which won’t be released until November 8, 2022. I’m devastated, because I simply must know what happens next and I need to know now.

But why would I think of this book when tasked with writing my epitaph? And how to tell you why without a massive spoiling of the book? I suppose I can’t. So instead, if you’ve read the book, and you understand what I’m talking about, excellent, send me a note and we can geek-fan-out together. And if you haven’t read it, please do. Even if it’s not your typical read. Especially if it’s not your typical read. Then, please contact me and we can *squee* over it.

In the meantime, I need to write about something for thirty minutes as that’s my current self-imposed writing challenge, and then I need to make lunch for my kiddos, and then do dishes, and then I need to finish the kombucha process so I can bottle again in five days, and then I need to do some one-on-one time with each of them before we rush off to the rest of our day.

An epitaph.

Nope. Can’t do it.

How about this, how about what I hope people remember about me when I’m gone?

  • I love to laugh and be the reason others laugh
  • I love to read and will read anything if I forget to bring something to read and the time presents itself
  • I love to volunteer especially when it comes to anything to do with children or animals
  • I was a floozie (okay, not an actual hooker, but a pseudo-actress in my previous towns annual production of the Melodrama)…and it terrified me to get on stage each and every time, it never got easier
  • I want to write something that makes someone feel something true
  • I went to college because I felt I had no other option and it was four years of exquisite torture but I also did some things I likely would never have been able to do otherwise, so I wouldn’t change it but I also wouldn’t do it again…like being a kid, why do people say it’s the best time and that they wish they were young again? No you don’t you big liar, being a kid is hard! Everyone makes your decisions for you and you’re completely overwhelmed by emotion at all times…but I digress
  • I love to hike and mountain bike and kayak, I loved to snowboard even though I was terrible and don’t know if I’d still love it as it’s been at least twenty years since I’ve done it
  • I say I love dogs and hate cats, but I actually love all animals and the five barn cats on our property have been known to appear sleepily purring in my lap on occasion
  • The most important thing, perhaps more important that anything else, I love my family. My family is everything. I would literally do anything for them. I love them fiercely and fully and without end

That’s as close as we’re going to get to an epitaph. And if there’s one thing I’d want my family to know, the world to know, when I pass it’s that my family was my world. I wanted them with every molecule of my being at every moment they were mine and before, and I’ll still be loving them with everything I have after.

This post was written as a thirty minute writing exercise, no editing, no stopping and was inspired from a writing prompt in Bryan Collins’ “Yes, You Can Write!” book available here.