Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines

rawpixel via Pixabay
Tonight, I have my writers' group meeting and, this afternoon, I am wondering once again (as I do every month) how and why I managed to wait until the very last minute to prepare for it. As the day ticks away and I check first obligations, and then errands, off my list, I'm becoming acutely aware of that I'm overbooked. Again.

Last month, amid finals and deadlines, I was so overbooked I missed the meeting entirely. I really don't like doing that. Not only does my writing profit from our monthly meetings, but I do as well. Some of my colleagues in this group have been reading my writing -- and I theirs -- for close to two decades. We've become friends, connected by not only the stories we write but the ones we tell as well.

What, you may ask, am I doing with my time? Why the consistent last-minute dash? Well, I'm teaching -- something else I love, and a something that pays the bills. And then there's writing -- blogs, articles and several books in the works. There is, of course, the mundane -- cooking, laundry, keeping the house in something resembling order. Writing and teaching have their mundane facets, too -- invoicing, social media posts, promoting, preparing -- along with professional development, like conferences.

Ah, conferences. I attended the Pennwriters conference last month, and just last night, I signed up for the Catholic Writers Guild Conference -- one I've been looking at for several years and now that it's close to home, decided to (finally) attend.

I was excited about it, too, until I started plotting out the rest of my summer. Finish class. Turn in grades. A few days off. Vacation. A few more days off. Conference. Then...August?

Wait. Wasn't I supposed to be finishing two books this summer? Writing them, that is, not reading them (that's a whole 'nother post, as they say in Central PA).

It was registering for the conference that sent me down this road, or, more accurately, the aftermath of the registration that came when I actually wrote down those dates. Sure, I'd get a lot out of the conference both personally and professionally. But was going worth the lost writing time?

This is a question writers ask themselves ad nauseum. Blogging is a great idea! (But is it worth giving up time spent writing books?) Promoting books is important! (But is it worth the lost writing time?) Critique groups are essential! (But couldn't I use that time to make progress on my book?)

To further complicate matters, writers need a life in order to have something to write about. Forgoing conferences and critique groups and social media connections to closet ourselves in a room to write not only sucks all the joy out of the process (for me, anyway) but robs us of the muse, at least in part. Sure, the ideas and characters we write about are in our heads, but the ideas we get and the characters we meet in real life feed the creativity needed to get those ideas and characters (the first set) out of our heads and onto the page.

So, I'll power through my day, pondering balance and how I managed to squeeze everything but my group preparation into the last week and wondering what I can do better. Aware of the fact that vacation and a conference will swallow up half a month when I'm not teaching and should be writing, I'll block out writing days on my calendar to make sure I don't get to August without making progress.

Will I get my prep done in time for tonight's meeting? Yes (but I might have to outsource dinner). Will I pass up the conference I finally signed up for? No (but I might not attend every session).
Will I stop blogging? No (but I might consider dusting off some old blogs to revise and repost).

Writing, when you're serious about it, is a full-time, multi-faceted job. Luckily, most of its facets are things I like to do, even if I can't always fit them all into a 24-hour period. While there's something freeing about admitting that there's a reason I feel overbooked, that doesn't solve the problem.

But hey. Writers are nothing if not creative.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Figuring Out What to Say

Photo:markusspiske via Pixabay
Some days, I don't know what to say. This isn't such a bad thing when I'm home by myself and there's no need to say anything at all. It's workable when I'm in a group conversation and a personal remark isn't necessary, or when I'm teaching a class and I have visual aids such as PowerPoint slides and a curriculum to fall back on.

It is somewhat problematic, however, when I'm trying to come up with a blog topic.

The thing is, today I do know what I want to say, but it's political. I try to avoid getting too political here as that's not the primary purpose of this space and I don't want to alienate people. But, when the topic is close to my heart, hitting on all the ways I identify myself (writer, parent, educator, family member), it's tough to pretend it's not worth talking about.

As a Jersey girl, I'm usually shamelessly outspoken. As a counselor, however, I learned how to keep my opinions to myself when that was the best choice in a particular situation (odd that I still struggle with this as a wife, however). As a child advocate, I want to pull together all of those roles -- wife, mother, counselor, educator -- and share information on why things matter.

Today, my heart hurts for the families being ripped apart at the border of our country. I recognize that this is a multifaceted issue, but everything I teach in my classes tells me how wrong this practice is, both short-term and long-term -- how the toxic stress we are creating in these little bodies won't simply go away if and when these children are reunited with their parents. I listen to the news on my way into work and need to take a moment to regain my composure before I go into my classroom and teach young adults about child development, trying to keep my views out of the discussion. Most days, I succeed.

But the awful feeling of helplessness persists. Today, I came home and changed into shorts and my "Nevertheless, she persisted" tee shirt and, instead of writing this post or grading papers or doing any of the things on my list, I started calling congressmen (all men, in my case). I was polite, but determined, as I talked to representative after representative -- young people, spending the summer answering phones, hoping to make a difference. I asked the same question each time: "What, if anything, is the Congressman planning to do about the policy of separating parents and children at the border?" Some conversations left me optimistic ("The Congressman is co-sponsoring a bill....") and some left me frustrated ("the Congressman has no official statement").

We are destroying children, but the Congressman has no official statement.

Did I want to leave a message, asked several of these young people, none of whom have any more power than I do.

Why, yes. Yes, I did.

As it turns out, maybe I did know what to say. Or maybe the tee shirt gave me the nudge I needed.

But somehow, I didn't feel better.

Pixabay
I feel a little better now, sharing all of this here. Whether you agree or disagree with me, if you've made it this far, I thank you for listening. The only way we're going to make any progress is if we listen to other people's views and talk to one another.

Even when we're not sure we know what to say.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday Feature: Distractions and Productivity

Yesterday, I had a project to do -- one that defied completion, leaving me to get creative. Other days, I settle in and get on a roll, excited by what I can accomplish with an idea and sufficient time.

Whether distractions come from the inside or the outside, they can be incredibly frustrating. But do they mess with our productivity? This article in The Economist takes a look at that, reaffirming that the few seconds or minutes we lose to distractions can actually take up a lot more of our time than we realize. And, it takes the discussion one step further, considering the effect digital distractions, in particular, have on our happiness.

I know that reading the article made me happier -- it was nice to know that there's a reason I get so cranky when I get interrupted incessantly -- and it was nice to know that maybe, from a productivity perspective, my frustration in those situations is justified.

Now, if you'll excuse me, the house is quiet, so I'm putting my cell phone on mute and getting some work done.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Vacationing with my Characters

Pixabay
I spent last weekend at the beach and, as I sat on the screened-in porch (my favorite writing spot and second favorite inspiration spot), I began to wonder how my characters would spend a weekend at the beach. Charli would, no doubt, hit Grotto Pizza and spend lots of time at the beach on a boogie board. Or maybe she'd be more like my daughter, preferring the pool at the condo complex to the beach, lying out on the chaise lounges there until she got too hot and then jumping in the water to cool off again.

Nah. I see Charli as the beach type -- volleyball, boogie boards and maybe even a run by the ocean.

As for Marita and Bets, their agenda would depend on who was on the trip. Is it a girls' weekend or are they there with Charli? The days would be much the same either way, spent on the beach, preferably close to a lifeguard stand where they could scope out those in charge of keeping them safe -- purely a precautionary measure, of course, especially once Marita realizes the lifeguards are closer to Charli's age than hers. Talk about a reality check!

Bets' swimsuit of choice would be a bikini, of course, accessorized by a big hat and little-to-the-imagination cover-up. She'd skip the cover-up completely if it didn't complete the ensemble with the hat (protecting her fair skin) and all.

Marita
(Nordstrom)
Marita's suit of choice would be a one piece with enough cut-outs to show some skin -- something in black or a bright color (fuchsia, maybe?), just this side of a two-piece (which I now know is called a monokini....)

Angel
(Nordstrom)
Angel would definitely wear a one piece, too modest, especially now that she's a mom, to go any other way. If she'd gone shopping with Marita or even Jim, she might have come home with something like the suit at left. Otherwise, a traditional styling in a floral or a pastel color would most likely be her choice.

It's always fun imagining what my characters are doing outside the pages of the book, especially when I'm at work on another book they populate, as I am with Marita, Angel, Bets and Charli.

Genevieve, a character I'm in the midst of creating now for a book that won't get written for quite some time, is significantly older than Marita and Bets. She would grace the beach only in the early morning if at all, settling under an umbrella with a cup of coffee made from beans she ground herself. In her current incarnation, Genevieve is reclaiming the beach, a place she has assiduously avoided for decades.

Dressed in a classic black one piece.


Monday, June 11, 2018

Beach Inspirations

Yesterday morning, I made time for one final visit to my favorite spot at the beach condo we rent -- the screened-in porch. As I sat out there with my breakfast and my journal, I re-read some earlier entries, which, quite unexpectedly, inspired ideas for a project I've been trying to shape. I jotted down as much as I could, but then, it was time to go.

Frustrating as it is to have to screech to a halt in the middle of a creative session at home, it's perhaps doubly frustrating when this happens away from home. At home, I can always return to the same spot, hoping that the location will inspire me and I can pick up where I left off before other commitments drew my brainstorming to an untimely close. But, when I'm away from home, I don't have that same opportunity.

I really liked the condo we stayed in last weekend, and took lots of pictures because the space unexpectedly inspired new ideas on more than one occasion. At left is a photo of one such inspiration, hanging on the wall outside the kitchen. Puns aside, it has some good advice. Even better, by trying to keep these "Ocean Rules" in mind once I've left the ocean (and the screened-in patio) behind, I get to take a little bit of the beach home with me.

Let's hope the inspirations come along for the ride.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Friday Feature: What the Beach Does to Your Brain

Happy Friday from the beach! My husband is in his happy place (on the sand by the ocean -- that's part 2 of my day) and I'm in mine, on the screened-in porch at the condo. We're staying in a different area of the complex from our usual spot, and I'm thrilled to report that the porch gets morning shade, making it cooler and more conducive to writing. I love coming here; few other places give me the same sense of serenity.

Are there really health benefits to coming to the beach, or is it all in our heads? As it turns out, it is more than a placebo effect and there are are definite benefits to being here. Read on to find out what the beach does to your brain.

As for me, I'm taking advantage of the creativity boost that comes from being right here, in this spot, before I hit the beach.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Long and Winding Road

I suspect that my ideal path looks something like this.
I have a destination, but might not take the direct route --
or the beaten path.
(Photo: jplenio via Pixabay)
I've never really thought of myself as a routine-based person. Last semester, when I took a strengths assessment along with my students, my trait of self-regulation came in so close to the bottom of the list as to be embarrassing.

In my defense, I get things done. A lot of things in fact. And while I'll admit to being a procrastinator, the queen of the snooze button, and skilled at wandering off the beaten path, especially when it involves dropping what I'm doing to do something fun with other people, I like knowing that the path is there. 

My most recent path is one I began crafting when I retired. All my life, a routine had been created for me -- school schedules, later meshed with a work schedule when I was in college and graduate school and then, finally, as an adult, continuing to follow the rhythm of the school year in what became my work schedule. 

When I retired, albeit temporarily, all of that structure was gone. I'd left one professional commitment expecting to forge another path, but lacking a definite destination. Still, wandering aimlessly was not an option. I dared not get too used to having no structure to my days lest I become lazy, unproductive and unprepared to navigate the next path.

Yeah. Be careful what you wish for.

This summer marks six years since the retirement that didn't take and, this fall will mark five years at my second career as educator/author. Now, deadlines and semester schedules outline the path I need to follow in order to achieve success in these new roles, yet the journey is twisty in some places, narrow in others. 

It is in those moments when I come to a smooth, straight stretch with only the horizon in sight that I'm most likely to plunk myself down in the middle of the path with a good book or the television remote, or perhaps seek an exit ramp that leads to new connections. And, while these moments are both lovely and necessary, there's never a guarantee that a hairpin turn, crossroads or detour isn't just a few steps down the road, hidden from sight. This vague awareness of reality makes it hard to truly enjoy those moments when I am sitting still; I'm always afraid there's something I ought to be doing.

This week, the path is smooth, but somewhat curvy. Last weekend, we accompanied our college-aged daughter back to school for a summer fellowship, and on Monday, I started teaching a class. Teaching one summer class, half the size of my usual classes, but with more than twice the volume of material each week, is quite different from teaching three classes in the fall and spring. I keep unexpectedly finding myself on a straightaway, yet I can't shake the feeling that something unexpected lies just ahead. And, during the day, when the house is quiet and I can forge the path I most desire, a part of me feels a little guilty for enjoying it so much.

These days, in my not-really-retired, somewhat empty nest, the path is still unpredictable, leaving me wondering at times why this is the case. As a result, it's me -- the inveterate procrastinator and queen of the snooze button -- who is in charge of imposing order, an order I'm sometimes surprised to discover I crave. As it turns out, I like getting things done almost as much as I like sitting in the middle of a nice, quiet straightaway.

How about you? How much order and routine do you need? Left to your own devices, will you meander along the path, or search out the paved road with mile markers?