The Writing Window

 

Writing Window“Routine” is a slippery term for me these days.  I had gotten used to a fairly predictable pattern of living with our two-year-old. I could plan around her waking, napping, and bed time schedule. With the arrival of her baby brother, routine went out the window. Big sister still sticks to her schedule for the most part, but the baby eats when he wants to eat and wakes up anytime. Even if I only just fell asleep myself.

I tell myself that I’ll get back into exercising and writing and reading and doing all sorts of healthy and creative things once the baby starts having some kind of recognizable rhythm. But who am I kidding? Did I really commit to all of those things before he was born? Nope. So I can’t really blame him. Instead, I blame Opportunity Overdrive.

What’s Opportunity Overdrive? It’s when the stars align and I get a nice pocket of time all to myself to do whatever I want. It’s magical for about two seconds and then crashes into the toxic chemical reaction that happens when a pile of “coulds” meets an even bigger pile of “probably shoulds” and yanks you in fifty different directions until you explode.

I should clean the kitchen. Or maybe the bathroom. I could run an errand without needing to get anyone else in or out of the car. That would be nice. I could listen to some music with less than kid friendly lyrics. Or I could write. A blog post maybe. Or that novel I’m dying to write. Or I could just read a book. But I should shower. I could call my mom. I should sleep though. Gosh woman, this time is precious. Choose quickly before the kids wake up!

BOOM. I could and should do so many things. Most of the time I choose the housework, sleep, or binge watch something on Netflix. And a lot of the time I end the day feeling dissatisfied. It’s as if I didn’t accomplish anything, no matter what I chose to do.

Thanks to my husband’s aunt, I have discovered the Writing Window. We recently got the heartbreaking news that this aunt has breast cancer. She is a brilliantly creative woman and a wonderful writer. I have often been inspired by her artistic prowess and zest for life–a zest that she so enthusiastically spreads even though she had been dealt a tough hand even before her diagnosis. She writes an amazing blog called “Embracing Chaos” that I highly recommend and she has an admirable practice of trying to write every day between 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning. That hour is what I’m calling the Writing Window.

In her honor, I decided to send her positive creative vibes during her favorite writing time by doing some writing of my own between 6:00 and 7:00 every morning in September. I have no word count to reach. No subject I have to adhere to. I just have to write something in that window of time that isn’t a to do list. I can write for 5 minutes or 50. Quality and quantity have no place in the Writing Window. Writing just has to happen. That’s it. This simplicity makes it the perfect combatant for Opportunity Overdrive. At last, I am making space for continual creativity in my life again.

I know we’re already a week into September, but I invite you to join me. Pick a Writing Window for yourself–an hour that works for you–and make sure you write something–anything–within that window for the rest of the month. Maybe you’ll like it enough to continue beyond September. I hope you find this practice as revitalizing as I have. And while you’re add it, send some healing and positive creative vibes into the universe for other artists struggling with all of the craziness that life throws their way. We need to stick together in sickness, health, and everything in between.

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Double the Fun

 

Double the Fun

I’ve talked about children being our masterpieces before. They are our most precious creations. They are living, breathing works of art that we strive to shape into the best versions of themselves that they can be. Of course, they wind up doing most of the work on their own. Like the best artistic endeavors–they lead us more than we lead them, but they always start out needing our guidance. If we weren’t there–if we didn’t take action– our children–artistic and otherwise–would never be born and they certainly wouldn’t survive infancy.

I was already convinced of the artistic beauty and power of raising children when we just had our daughter, but now we have a son too. Two children. Two masterpieces. But wait–how can I develop two foremost works of art at the same time?

I never doubted that my heart would expand to love my second born child as much as my first, but I did fear that my daughter would feel displaced by the arrival of her little sibling. Would I be able to give her enough attention when the new baby came on the scene? Would she suffer when I had to split my focus? Would I be able to handle the responsibility and the strain of being tugged in two directions?

I’ve found myself battling the same concerns in my artistic life. I have stalled writing my novel. I still intend to write it. I still think it’s important and worth writing. I’m just struggling to give it the attention it deserves. I think I psyched myself out by setting the goal of completing a rough draft by the time my second baby was born. That was a bit of a stretch to begin with. On top of that, I’ve rekindled another passion of mine–creating mystery games for parties.

I think I managed to convince myself that I couldn’t love writing my novel and mystery games at the same time–that I wasn’t enough of an artist to handle having two passions vying for my attention. As a result, I didn’t really focus on either project, leaving me artistically unfulfilled and frustrated and about to welcome a new child into our lives.

Then Baby #2 arrived. Two weeks earlier than expected. And my maternal artistic life shifted dramatically in the most beautiful and wild way. I have a daughter and a son. Two masterpieces that I am simultaneously in love with and terrified of ruining. And it is so clear that they are both meant to be in my life. As overwhelming as it is, they are two masterpieces in process that I was meant to help create. Who am I to say that I can’t or shouldn’t do the same with my other creative babies? I can’t and shouldn’t abandon them any more than I could one of my children. Yes, one might take up more time and attention than the other for a while, but the creative process ebbs and flows in deliciously unpredictable stages. There is space for it all.

My creative cup runneth over. It might seem like the parts of my life that spill through my fingers are lost forever, but water has a way of evaporating, only to return in a rain storm not far down the road. I’ll be drenched in the good stuff again, even if I can’t soak it all up or splash in the puddles to my heart’s content right now. The overflow is a blessing. And my vessel is bigger than I think it is.

Double the Fun 3

 

No

My daughter is almost two years old and our second baby could arrive any day now. People often talk about the “terrible twos” and how “no” is every toddlers favorite word. My toddler definitely likes to say “no,” but not as much as I had anticipated.

I, on the other hand, say “no” dozens of times a day.

No climbing on the ottoman to get Mommy and Daddy’s books off the shelf. No running into the road. No wandering into other peoples’ yards. No throwing your cup. No throwing your food. No eating sand. No hitting. No pinching. No tearing pages out of that book you somehow got a hold of. No climbing on the dining room table. No dropping things in the toilet. No unplugging the vacuum cleaner while I’m in the middle of using it. No unplugging anything. No playing the piano before 7:00 AM–we have downstairs neighbors. No pulling the heating grates out of the floor.

It’s exhausting. And it’s depressing how hard it was to stop writing that last paragraph. I could have gone on and on.

But–there’s always a but–I’m pretty sure I say “no” to myself just as often if not more than I do to my toddler. Maybe not out loud, but with plenty of volume.

No talking to your husband about having a little extra help in the mornings so you can write or just stay in bed awhile longer as you wait for this next baby to arrive. No working out because you’re tired and you deserve to watch TV and eat junk and feel guilty about it afterward. No taking a dance class. No singing in the shower–the neighbors will hear you. No, you will never master picking on the ukulele. No, you can’t try a new recipe, you’ll overspend the grocery budget again and will probably botch the recipe anyway. No you’re too old for gold sparkly shoes. No revisiting that story that you started writing so fearlessly and then stalled. No one takes you seriously.

The funny part is–I had a much harder time coming up with my own “no” list, even though I’m pretty sure I deny myself and refuse things incessantly. Ironically, I kept saying, “No–I don’t say ‘no’ to that” at every idea I had for things that I say “no” to, if that makes sense. The fact is, I say “no.” A lot.

It’s important to be able to say “no.” “No” can keep you safe. “No” creates boundaries. My dad always told me that “my ‘yes’ means nothing until I learn to say ‘no.'” And I’ve always loved and struggled with that motto.

Because, the fact is, I say “yes.” A lot.

Yes, I can run a potluck. Yes, I can direct that church event. Yes, I can feed the baby lunch while I fold laundry. Yes, I can talk on the phone now instead of doing that fun craft project I’ve been putting off for weeks. Yes, running errands is the best use of my time. Yes, I will plan the menu for the week. Yes, I will volunteer for that job. Yes, I will Skype with you and make dinner at the same time.

“Yes” is empowering. It is so good to say “yes” to what life throws at us. But “yes” can also be an excuse–a way to keep us from doing the things that we are afraid to want.

So I guess the point of this word vomit isn’t all that novel–in fact, most of my posts keep coming back to this point. We need balance. We need “yes” and “no” and we need “maybe” to remind us that we have a choice and that not all decisions need to be made right now. Decisions can be even be made now and changed later.

Choice is good. Choice is aggravating. It means we are responsible. It means we have to pay attention for the things that need affirming or rejecting in our crazy mixed up lives as artist parents. No I can’t master picking on the ukulele tonight. But yes, I can practice. Corny? Yes. Did that stop me from writing it? No. Will I actually do it? Maybe.

And it just goes on and on.

No

Worth the Pain

Toddlers don’t always handle transition well, especially if they are asked to transition from an activity they particularly enjoy to one that they are less enthusiastic about.

We try to limit screen time, but will let our daughter watch the occasional YouTube video of a favorite animal or song or show her photos of a new baby on our Facebook pages. She is always overjoyed to get to watch a show and I love that beaming face of hers. But then there is the aftermath. Turning off the show usually results in a battle. A loud, teary, battle.

Sometimes I wonder if the moments of contented peace were worth it.

Few things light up my daughter like a snack. And then the snack runs out. Sometimes it’s okay and she will just move on to the next thing. Sometimes it results in a complete meltdown.

And then I wonder was it worth that lit up face if it ends with tears?

There are countless other things that delight my child–playing under the covers of our bed, being chased up and down the hallway, going outside to explore–and they are all so perfectly splendid while we are in the middle of the activity, but as soon as it has to end, we enter tantrum town.

And every time we cross the border into the land of screaming, weeping, and occasionally hitting, I struggle to cling to the joy that we were just sharing together moments before. And I wonder if it was worth it.

Short answer: It was.

Slightly longer answer: It doesn’t always feel like it.

Digging a little deeper: It isn’t just the toddler who reacts this way when good things come to an end.

It dawned on me that I do this same kind of thing all the time in my creative life:

Why bother maintaining a daily writing habit? It’s all going to fall apart when the new baby arrives.

Why take the time to hire a babysitter so I can finally go to that drop-in improv class? I will probably love it and then be miserable that I won’t be able to go regularly.

Writing that murder mystery party was so much fun. I have no idea when or if anyone will ever hire me to create something like that again. This stinks.

Reading over each of those items, I ask myself, was it or will it be worth the seemingly inevitable separation pains? And of course, the answer is yes. Taking the time to flex my creative muscles is and always will be worth it. But it’s incredible how easily the negativity seeps in and sabotages things. Doing these things makes me happy. It shouldn’t matter that the occasional or sometimes frustratingly long absence of some of them will sadden me. The sadness can be my friend, if I let it. It can be a reminder that this stuff matters.

Even if I can’t commit to my creative projects as much as I’d like while balancing my life as a parent, they are still important and I should do whatever I can to embrace pockets of creativity as a part of my crazy existence. If I shrug off the chances to write, to go to a class, or to teach a one-off theatre workshop somewhere–then I’m more miserable than I would be if I had seized those opportunities and then had to lay them to rest for a bit. Good things end and make way for more good things.

I’m a grown woman and it’s not acceptable for me to throw tantrums when something splendid fades into the past tense. Unlike a toddler, I have foresight. I have experience. I know that more splendid somethings will come. I just have to be open to them and seize them when they do. I may even have to go digging for them like buried treasure. Sure, I’ll have to miss some opportunities too. But not all of them. No matter what, no matter how sad I might feel when a creative project is over, I can remind myself that this is not the end. Playtime will always come back.

worth-it

Return of the Writer

November started unexpectedly. On the first of the month, a friend posted on Facebook that she was participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). She wondered if any of her friends were planning to do it too. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a complete draft of a novel (at least 50,000 words) in the month of November. It’s crazy. And thousands of people participate every year.

I wanted to join them. Without any forethought whatsoever, I closed my Facebook tab and signed up for a NaNoWriMo account. Suddenly, November looked very different. I was committed to writing the novel that had been bouncing around my head for over a year.

Now, remember back to my good old days of the Artist’s Way program? One of the most important tenants of that course is to set gentle, manageable goals. My lifestyle didn’t include a habit of daily writing at that point, so jumping from essentially zero words a day to writing 50,000 words in 30 days was too much. Besides, November happened to include two other creative projects that I couldn’t neglect: editing a script for a school production and preparing to direct our church’s Christmas pageant. I knew that if I tried to “win” NaNoWriMo, I would crash, burn, and ultimately lose.

I decided I could manage at least 500 words a day. And friends, that’s exactly what I did. I am pleased to say that even with a long Thanksgiving vacation and getting a jump start on Christmas shopping so we’d have things ready for our international family, I ended November with 21,616 words written on my novel.

Since November, I have continued writing at least 500 words every day (interrupted only by a brief battle with a stomach virus) and, I confess, I may or may not get to working on the novel today because I am committed to finishing this blog entry. But the point is that I successfully established a daily writing habit. One that stuck. One that I am truly excited about. I am committed to writing a novel for the first time since I was twelve. Like magic, I feel like a writer again.

I’ve been kind of stupid actually. What defines a writer is writing. That’s really it. Somehow I managed to discount the poetry challenge I did in 2010-2011. Apparently writing a poem a day for a year didn’t qualify me as a writer. And I guess writing a blog hasn’t counted either. It took spontaneously taking on NaNoWriMo for me to wake up to the fact that I never stopped being a writer. I just stopped believing I was one.

My holiday wish for you is that you find a similar wake up call. I hope you rediscover an artist identity that you’ve had with you all this time, but have perhaps forgotten or discounted. I challenge you, even during this crazy time of year, to reclaim an artistic title you have lost.

Here are the steps that worked for me:

  • Be spontaneous. Don’t overthink. It’s one of the hardest things ever, but you can get there. Open yourself up to the opportunities that arise. Seize them.
  • Set gentle, manageable goals. Don’t set out to write 2,000 words or paint a picture a day. Start small. If it’s right, the quantity will stretch naturally. I knew exactly what I needed to do to “win” my own version of NaNoWriMo. And I won. And winning feels amazing.
  • Use tools to hold you accountable to your goals. What’s great about NaNoWriMo is that they track your word count for you and send you pep talks. Now that November is over, I’ve switched to using Pacemaker to help me track my word count and to chart my progress to my ultimate goal: having a final rough draft by the time Baby #2 arrives in early spring. It also helped me tremendously to have an online writer’s support group of old and new friends who were also doing NaNoWriMo. We started a Google Doc, wrote daily reflections, and helped each other out through the month. Several of us plan to keep the support group going.
  • Focus on quantity over quality. Let go of “good” art. Just make it. I am fully aware that this novel I’m working on is very rough first draft. It was paramount that I let my 500 words a day be messy. I know that I will have to edit the heck out of them down the road. That’s healthy! For once I will actually have something substantial enough to edit. How exciting is that?

So much easier said than done, I know, but I hope this “huzzah” post can inspire you to rekindle a creative fire that has been too long neglected. Happy holidays one and all!

Getting Messy

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Life with a toddler is messy.

She delights in emptying my drawers and wearing my clothes around the house, dropping a bra here, a tank top there. Shoes are scattered all over the place. The area around her high chair is a perpetual landmine of debris and spatters that I will probably never scrub off completely. I could probably cobble together an entire loaf of bread from the crumbs clinging to every inch of my couch. And this kid has figured out how to open closets, so her not-quite-the-right-size-yet clothes that I meticulously sorted and labeled are usually piled on the floor along with my winter gloves and a sampling of wooden blocks.

Of course, the mess extends beyond the home. I recently started taking my daughter to a Tot’s Time class. It’s two hours of educational play and such an wonderful way for her to interact with other toddlers and explore the world using all of her senses. It also provides myriad opportunities for my daughter to make a mess. She has discovered a love of painting with big oozy strokes in the same place on the paper over and over again. And of course the paint brush occasionally finds its way to her mouth. She also loves to play with the soapy water at the water table, but would rather squeeze the drippy sponges over the floor than over the tub.

I’m finding that I need to embrace the messes in my life. I need to let go of the fact that hummus will wind up in my daughter’s hair. That shouldn’t prevent me from feeding it to her. I need to embrace hummus hair. And yogurt hair. And paint on clothes. And wet or sticky floors. And dirty pants and poop in the diaper I literally changed five minutes ago. Am I seriously going to restrict my daughter to neat and tidy activities? Not only is that impossible, we’d both go mad. A kid needs to color! And play in the dirt. And yes, sometimes eat it too. 20160913_135312

I’m realizing more and more that I need to let my artistic life be messy. If I have to disrupt the family routine slightly so I can make it to an improv class once in a while, so be it. If I need to give up the nap that I desperately want (but could live without) so I can instead rework a script, then so be it. If I need to go for a drive and belt out my favorite songs instead of doing the dishes, that’s fine. So long as I really let it be fine.

I am often guilty of half-assed decision making. I’ll decide to leave the kitchen a mess and watch a movie with my husband instead, but then I ruin the experience by letting guilt about the dishes build up while I was supposed to be relaxing. I’m learning to choose, really choose, to sometimes accept the mess. If I really choose it, then I don’t wake up in the morning to a stuffed sink and curse my past self for leaving this chore unfinished. Instead, I feel satisfied knowing that I consciously chose to do something besides dishes last night and am content to do them now.

It might seem obvious, but it’s taken me a while to figure this out. And I still need a lot of practice. So here’s to choosing messes when it comes to my kiddo, to my house, and to my artistic adventures. It’s like Ms. Frizzle always said on The Magic School Bus show, “Take chances. Make mistakes. And get messy!” Words to live by.

ms-frizzle
Image Credit: http://emilyeyring.com/take-chances-make-mistakes-get-messy/

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Say what?

My daughter talks. A lot. We just usually have no clue what on earth she is saying. And what’s great is that it doesn’t really matter right now. She’ll begin to say more recognizable words before we know it. For now, it’s fun trying to get her to repeat words and hearing her attempts to navigate all the different sounds. The latest word is “Shakespeare.” It sounds more like “Shaw-shue,” but hey, the fact that she’s even trying is fantastic and this is one proud theatre mama.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the way it doesn’t matter that my daughter can’t say or mispronounces most words. Or that she still sometimes points to me and says “Daddy” or points to a mirror and says “baby.” Similarly, I wonder if it could matter a little less that I’m sometimes less than clear on what’s what.

My identity as a mom and as an artist is usually fuzzy at best. How am I an artist again? I’m not out there making theatre these days. I haven’t been writing my morning pages. I haven’t performed in ages. How do I justify writing this blog if more than half the time I feel like I have no idea what on earth I’m talking about or who I am?

Then I remember. This blog is part of my art-making right now. I need to keep coming back to it. I recently revamped my meet up group and have gotten four new members in the past week. That’s a huge step forward! And the cherry on top? I am directing a school play this year and I even get to pick it! How is that not making theatre? Why am I comparing myself to other artist parents who are doing more professional or financially lucrative projects than I am? Like my toddler is with speaking, I’m just not there. For now. And while I have oh so many moments of that feeling unspeakably frustrating, it’s also okay. Really and truly okay. And it’s not settling as long as I keep moving forward and try to wrap my brain and lips around this “artist parent” identity and own it, even when the “artist” part feels a little smudgy.

Say What 1