Be Kind, Work Hard, Give Thanks

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I saw this bag at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) conference… which I managed to attend sporadically last week despite also driving back and forth to Olympia to see my mother four times (five times!). PNWA where, incidentally, I came in second (!) in two of the fiction categories (short story and mainstream), and met several agents and editors who invited me to show them some pages.

Up and down. That was my week. Mom was better, then she was worse. Then, a little progress in physical therapy gave us hope. Seeing her grandkids from out of state gave us hope. Learning to accept a new reality gave me more hope than I expected.

Last week I felt really really brave. When my literary  agent suggested I find “fresh eyes,” I gave her up without the slightest angst (very unlike me).  The bag, by the way, belongs to an editor at Sourcebooks, who would like to see the novel. I met lots and lots of very cool writers who, like me, are throwing their hearts into the ring…

I also met some really wonderful nurses and CNAs who definitely know how to be be kind, work hard, and give thanks.

At this point, on all fronts, I am simply waiting to see what happens next.  And I’m taking notes.

 

Why I Write

Our Pabu, who does not bite.

I often get my ideas for blog posts from conversations with friends. Last night my daughter Annie and I visited my good friend who is going to California next week and needs a dog sitter. As things turned out, the adorable mutt bit the heck out of my hand (I tried to be a good farm-girl and act like it was nothing), with the result that he is going to a kennel for the week.

What does this have to do with writing?

I’ve known this young man (the dog, I mean) for four years, since he was an even more adorable puppy. His owners dote on him, but they work and he is at home alone for long hours. He has never had any training. He bites. He acts like he’s warmed up to you and then he grabs your hand and sinks his teeth in and won’t let go!

And what does this have to do with writing?

My friend happens to be the woman to whom I passed along my copy of Writing Down Your Soul by Janet Conner. Here’s a list of questions that Conner suggests exploring (page 148):

  • I think there’s a pattern in my life, and I don’t want to perpetuate it. What is the pattern? Why does it keep appearing?
  • When did it start? How has it evolved?
  • In what ways am I passing it on to the people around me?
  • Why do I want to break it–or why not? What price am I willing to pay?
  • What needs to happen for me to end this pattern?

After I cleaned up my hand and found the anti-biotic ointment, the three of us (the dog was in his crate) reflected on what has to happen next. Well, a professional kennel where the dog can stay next week, safely. My friend speculated on what she will do after that. Annie cried. I hope training will be explored, but if you know your dog bites, can you just keep doing what you’re doing? Our lovely dog has introduced us to a trainer who has rescued at least two impossible dogs and turned them into model citizens. So maybe training can help. Maybe dog training is a reflective activity akin to journal writing. All I know is that it’s easy to go on–for years–perpetuating a pattern and feeling stuck and helpless. Helpless and hopeless. But writing in my journal, and rereading and taking my reflections deeper, is a way of recognizing those patterns and…one hopes…beginning to change them.

It occurs to me that when I’m stuck it’s often because I’m blaming another person or circumstances. It can’t be helped! It’s his fault! There’s nothing I can do!

But there is always something we can do. Finding out what that is, waking up to the possibility of it, becoming willing to see it differently, that’s what reflective journal writing does for me.

What price am I willing to pay to change? Will it be a lesser or greater price than what staying the same will exact?

Digging deeper…the journaling process

Here’s more about what I’ve been up to lately. I’m writing a novel, set in a logging town in southwest Washington state in 1925. The main focus is marriage and I’m experimenting with multiple points of view (literally and figuratively, as it seems). The main character is a woman who, after the death of her first husband (and father of her two children) in the Great War, remarried for all the wrong reasons. Husband number 2 was a close friend of husband number 1, and he is a good provider. He represents financial security. She meets a man, of course, who promises passion (that’s the story). A second “main” character is a man whose wife left him two years earlier. His story is how to make himself a large enough person to win his wife back.

To write this book, I realized early in the process, I was going to have to dig deeper into my own stuff.  

In May I wrote 500-1000 words a day (sometimes more), just drafting and dreaming. In June I determined to get it all typed up and to begin arranging it. I also, prompted by two books on journaling, determined to dig deeper into my…well, my stuff. 

The first book was Writing the Mind Alive: The Proprioceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice by Linda Trichter Metcalf and Tobin Simon.  The second was Writing Down Your Soul by Janet Connor.

I have been writing every morning in a journal for years and years and years. If you read my blog regularly, you already know this. So why would I need any guide to journaling? Why would I recommend one to you?

One reason is that I have been recognizing how shallow my journal habit is. Okay, not always. But sometimes it’s quite shallow.  When I read back through old journals they often sound like chronicles of what I’ve been up to with my family. Old journal entries are often to-do lists. Especially annoying, I find that I have griped about the same things, over and over and over. For years. This, however, 2014, is my breakout year. I’ve left full-time teaching. My main excuse for procrastination, for not finishing writing projects is gone. My main excuse for not doing the kind of teaching I would really like to do–that’s gone, too.

Now, how do I dig down below the surface and write into the heart of my deepest desires and dreams? That’s why I read these books, and that’s why I’m recommending them to you.

Light a candle, put on the music, and write for 20 minutes. Ask yourself–your deeper self (your soul, God, spirit, or whatever you wish to call it) what your assignment is. Then, as Janet Conner elegantly points out, once it tells you what your assignment is, then you have to do that assignment.

Writing this blog post was my assignment today.

The message in my in-box this morning…