Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Growing


 I don't usually do back-to-back "Word of the Day" posts, but I wasn't feeling a Way Back Wednesday vibe today. :-)

On Monday, I had a photo session. I first met Kimberlyn (the photographer) when she was still a toddler and we purchased the house next door to her great-grandfather's home. She and my daughter grew up together and, today, Kimberlyn is growing her own business.

I reached out to her when I decided that my head shots should look more like I actually look today, a decision that gave me pause when I saw the photographic evidence. That, however, is a commentary on the subject, not the photographer. After I got over the fact that I no longer look like I did when I was 40 (duh) or even 50 (damn), I was able to step back and take in the entirety of the work she had done and see things a bit more clearly through her lens.

The day was warm and we zigagged across the campus where I teach, landing in several places I'd picked out as good backdrops, and improvising when one was not available because I'd neglected to bring my keys. She made it fun, and insisted on coaxing out the smile I rarely use in photographs because, in her eyes, it fit the person that she knew.

She was right.

Kimberlyn is also helping me with some of the behind-the-scenes tech work necessary to upgrade my website as I give my online presence a necessary facelift (yes, that metaphor was intentional) in what is, I hope, preparation for the release of a new book. When and by whom I don't yet know; those pieces are not entirely within my control, and are still down the road a bit. For now, all I can do is revise and prepare, all the while seeking to accept the things I cannot change, along with the wisdom to realize that some changes, though not as beautiful as I would hope, are not worth losing sleep over.

One change that you might have noticed is the header of this blog. I anticipate more changes ahead as I find the "just right" spot for the beautiful porch swing watercolor Rachel DeMasi created for me. 

Stay tuned. 



Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Pause


 Grading for spring semester bled right into prepping my summer class. Now, even with the summer class up and running, I still feel a sense of “must do” looming over each day. 

And that is something I am trying to both harness and tame.

I’m tempted to power through, to keep productivity high, and to stick to a schedule, ticking off the tasks looming in the back of my mind. Grading. Revising. My summer to-do list.

But the time between semesters is supposed to be a break. In fact, it needs to be a break, not just for my well-being but, ironically, for my productivity as well. 

Flexible schedules are wonderful, but challenging and, for people like me who have seemingly endless pursuits, it can be tempting to confuse doing with living.

That’s where the taming comes in. 

The challenge for this early part of the summer is to not only blend doing with being, but to turn off the voice in the back of my head that keeps nudging me to the next thing, as though the present isn’t sufficient unto itself. 

And that requires me to pause. To assess. To decide what's important now, and what is just noise. 

Oddly enough, it's more difficult than it sounds, but I have no doubt the payoff will be worth it, as I decide what to prize and what to abandon during the gift of these summer months.

What will you focus on this summer? Will it check things off your list, or feed your soul?

Friday, May 17, 2024

Evolving


 When my husband and I moved into our first apartment, we had a lot to sort out. Single throughout our twenties, we'd acquired quite a lot of stuff, much of which was prized by one person more than the other. 

In these situations, I am slow to make decisions. Boxes loomed in our living room longer than either of us wanted them to as I debated the importance of their contents, whether they would stay or go, and, if they were staying, where they would go. 

Clearly, we got that all sorted out as more than thirty years have passed, the boxes are gone, and he and I are still navigating life and stuff together. 

But, when it comes to organizing and decorating, "evolving" is my predominant approach. Take the photo above. The boxes arrived first, providing necessary storage for the sheet music. I purchased the bottom two, and discovered the third one somewhere, but I no longer remember where that was. They lived on a bookshelf until I decided we needed more storage and bought the unit on which they now sit.

The clock has been moved since I took the photo. Originally intended for another space, it was too big, but inexpensive enough that I decided to keep it and find it a home somewhere else in the house. It now lives in the dining room, subject to change.

The cups came last. I saw them on Poshmark and loved them, but didn't need them. I loved the black and white, the polka dots (of course) and the fact that they reminded me of the coffee cups I drank tea from in diners in New Jersey. I bought them, unsure of what I'd do with them, until my eyes lit on those boxes and I knew exactly where the cups belonged. 

Every time I walk past that spot, those cups and that combo (especially without the clock) make me smile. And, to me, that's exactly the point of finding just the right thing for just the right spot.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Writing is Fun, But Editing is Murder


It's the third Wednesday of the month, so it's critique group night. Right now, I have nothing to submit because my writing group has already read my work-in-progress, and it's in the hands of my beta readers. The feedback so far has been positive, but this trusted handful of readers has also found things I missed, ranging from typos, to repeated prose to eight characters whose names began with the letter D! Changing the names of the minor characters was easy enough. But finding choices that rang true for a few of the others was almost akin to renaming the family pet, making this post from 2020 feel like the perfect fit for today's Way Back Wednesday.

Writers are routinely advised to "murder our darlings," those lovely turns of phrase and bits of prose we create and then fawn over. 

But, if they're so lovely, then why should we kill them?

Because beauty is in the eye of the beholder (welcome to cliché day on the porch swing). All kidding (and clichés) aside, we writers are often unable to be objective about our own work. We have favorite pens, favorite words and an affinity for particular combinations in our own work (and sometimes in that of others, too). Often, it takes an objective eye to catch the fact that something's got to go.

This happens for many writers in the revision process but, if we're really lucky, we have critique group members and beta readers who highlight these things before we get to that point. As I was working on the final revisions for Courting Peace, I came across the description below. To put it in context, Angel was sitting in the parking lot of her church, glancing around for a distraction.

"The bell tower was a consistent source of discussion among the congregation. Physically, it was still in good repair, beautifully beckoning potential congregants from miles away. 
But mellifluous it wasn’t. Over time, the bells had fallen out of tune, and the discussion over replacing them had been heated. The bells had been part of the church since it had been built over a century ago, and not everyone viewed their replacement as progress. Pastor after pastor had avoided controversy by ensuring that the bell tower itself was safe, then channeling funds to more popular projects, while the bells’ pitch grew flatter and flatter. Last year, the music ministry had held a raffle to raise money to repair or replace the bells but, even with some money set aside, no plan that pleased everyone was yet in sight."
The writing is okay. Angel being in her head is okay. 

But when one of my critique group colleagues
raised the question of the importance of the bell tower, I had no rationale for these paragraphs. When my colleague said that, in her opinion, the bell tower didn't warrant that much description unless it was going to play a role elsewhere in the book, I couldn't disagree. 

And so, last weekend, when I came to that section, I cut it. Anne's gentle suggestion that the prose might be better without it was right on target.

Killing our darlings is hard (thus the cringe-worthiness of the phrase) but, in the end, doing so makes our work better, tighter, and clearer.

One more reason to love my critique groupThanks, Anne. You were right. 

P.S., May 2024: She still is. :-)



Tuesday, May 14, 2024

The Vibrant Pursuits of Summer Vacation

JillWellington via Pixabay

 With spring semester behind me, I'm settling into a combination of work time and time off. I'll be teaching a class until the end of June, but it's online with no required sessions (and is only a little more than half full), so my schedule is flexible, leaving me time to dig into all the things I want to do.

Here are a few of them, in no particular order. 

1. Reading. Last week, I picked up books I'd reserved at the library and, over the past few days, I tidied the book stacks in my sunroom and in the family room, establishing a pecking order of sorts -- what I really want to read and (roughly) in what order. Now it's time to dig in!

2. Jigsaw puzzles. The one on the table in the sunroom has been sorely neglected over the last few weeks, and I now have two new ones that my daughter got me for Mother’s Day. These pair nicely with  any combination of iced chai and audiobooks (or, on some days, silence). 

3. Writing. I'm within striking distance of being 2/3 of the way through the revisions on my latest novel, making that the first project I'll tackle. I have another novel to revise, and I'm cooking up my next project as well. 

4. Organizing and decluttering. No major projects on tap here -- just whatever catches my eye, along with refreshing some cluttered spaces and making small improvements here and there. This is, believe it or not, something I find both relaxing and enjoyable as it engages my creative side and the part of me that likes bringing order out of chaos.

5. Creative pursuits. After trying my hand at a trash collage and loving it, I began making more collages, something I did a lot when I was in college, but haven't done at all since then. Unlike the scrapbooks I made when my daughter was small, these reveal my love of words, though I'm now playing with balancing them with visual elements. Since words and pictures are more my thing than just drawing, which comes less easily, I'll probably also try to work in some sketchnoting and, although it has nothing to do with words, the crochet projects I started last spring. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even pull out some scrapbooking 

6. Going to the beach (of course). And maybe some day trips.

7. Painting. Sadly, what I mean here has nothing to do with canvases and everything to with walls and (ugh) trim. Okay, this is one I'm not so much looking forward to doing as looking forward to having completed. 

Sound like a lot? Maybe. But I'm not planning on doing it all at once. Instead, I'll sprinkle in a little bit here and there each day, livening up the mundane with the things that truly bring me joy.

What's on your to-do for fun list?

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Procrastination with a Purpose?


 If you're wondering if yesterday's post represented an unusual turn of events for me, you must be new here. 

Welcome.

Ten years ago, I discovered a fun little read called  The Art of Procrastination by John Perry, an emeritus professor of philosophy at Stanford. Yes, I know the two halves of that last sentence don't sound as if they belong together (one of these things is not like the other?), but I'm not making this up. And, as evidence, I submit the subtitle of the book: "A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing."

I wrote about Dr. Perry's book way back then (see the post below) and I've been assigning the essay in Chapter 1 to my freshmen ever since. As I wrote yesterday's post, the essay was echoing in my head, so I thought I'd (re-)share a bit about the book here.

Dr. Perry's first chapter began life as an essay -- one that won the 2011 Ig Nobel Prize in Literature. Before purchasing the book, I stood in Hearts and Minds and read a good chunk of that chapter, and that's what sold me on the book. After I brought it home, I set it aside, picking it up now and then to nibble at it a chapter at a time before finishing it all in one big bite this morning. No, I did not put off reading it; I merely savored it. 

Dr. Perry doesn't extol the virtues of procrastination, except in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. Throughout the book, he points out that lots of procrastinators accomplish quite a bit, much of it while they're doing something else, (a.k.a something besides what they're supposed to be doing). He intertwines his philosophy on the life of a procrastinator with strategies and, true to his education roots, a disclaimer that he's not recommending procrastination as a lifestyle, merely pointing out that we're not all lazy lollygaggers who put things off to the point that we never accomplish anything.

If you're a procrastinator (especially a "structured procrastinator," as Dr. Perry has dubbed himself), you'll laugh out loud at this book. If you know (or live with) a procrastinator, you'll either chuckle, or grow increasingly annoyed (see chapter nine) as you read this book. Or, perhaps you'll do both.

The timing of my reading is a bit ironic. I read two chapters last night before going to sleep, then finished this book this morning -- after spending much of the day yesterday putting off doing a project at the top of my list. I picked up the book last night in part because it related to the project I was working on, which is also part of what compelled me to finish the book this morning. By the time I finished it, I'd mentally written half of this blog and had begun coming up with new ideas for a class I'm proposing.

And my project? I finished it. Before I finished reading the book.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Substitutions Accepted (The Goldilocks To-Do List)

AlexBor via Pixabay

 Some days, I write a to-do list and I stick to it. 

Other days, I take a nap.

Last Monday was an off-kilter day. It started out like any other day, with my husband heading off to work and me heading off to class. Since it was the first day of the last week of classes, I was looking forward to the student-led discussions that would replace my "sage on the stage" instruction. The plan for the afternoon? Catching up on grading.

A somewhat typical Monday.

On the way to class, I called my daughter. 

She had the day off.

Then I called my husband. 

He was under the weather and would be coming home at lunchtime. 

Hmm.

The student discussions went well and I left campus ready to dig into some grading. But, on the way home, I noticed that there were parking spots available in front of the mom-and-pop plant place, so I stopped off to buy flowers to put in the small planter on my front porch. 

When I got home, I had to plant them (naturally). Then I would grade.

Right after lunch. 

But after lunch, I decided to finish my book so I'd meet my "finish two books" goal for the month. And then I decided to close my eyes for just a few minutes. 

Twenty minutes later, I opened my eyes and, about ten minutes after that I...

Did not grade. Instead, I reached for my book journal and another of my notebooks and jotted down all the things that were on my mind.

Eventually, I did grade. But, in keeping with the spirit of the day, I didn't grade quite as much as I had thought I might. The (very warm) afternoon had gotten away from me and, despite my nap, my mental energy was flagging. I turned to email and checked on a few tabs on my computer before I determined that I'd do a better job of grading tomorrow.

Even if it wasn't a work day.

I clicked around on my laptop for a bit before landing on a blog post draft that called out to me, so I finished it.

And then wrote two more.

Some days, we think we know what we're supposed to do. Last Monday, I thought I was supposed to grade -- and I did, for a bit. But, by listening to my instincts and pursuing the tasks that I felt primed for, I got a lot done, even if what I got done was not on that particular day's list.

Obviously, we can't meander every day. If we don't stick to the to-do list at least some of the time, we'll never get anything done. But if, on a warm spring Monday, nothing is going quite according to plan, it's not the end of the world. 

It might, in fact, lead us to the Goldilocks to-list -- the one that's just right for that particular day and time.

And we just might find that sweet spot between rest and productivity.