Monday, June 24, 2019

Building the Building Blocks

Hello Invisible Audience,

I am using my 30 minutes of writing this morning to write to you. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks, giving myself this new writing time. It sometimes feels like I’m trying to smash it in between two rocks and a hard place, but here I am.

I’ve been thinking about all the advice I’ve heard about how to start a writing practice; about all the habits I’ve tried to pick up that will stick and won’t stick. I’ve realized that giving myself this half hour in the morning to write has taken many more steps than I would have thought. 

It seems I have a specific way that I would ideally like to do things. I yearn for large swaths of time: hours and days to dedicate to a specific task. In the past, I have given myself that time and yet somehow it never feels quite as productive as I would have hoped. Life gets in the way, money runs out, but also I find I am intimidated by those large blocks. I pace and flutter and cook and make other plans. 

I’ve been feeling that way lately, but about other things. I have started swimming at the local pool in the mornings, but I also want to ride my bike to work downtown, but I also want to write in the morning, but I also need enough sleep, but I also want to make my lunch before I go…you see? Are you already intimidated by my day? Because I am.

At the end of each week, I print out next week’s calendar and write out all the things I need to get done for work during that week in a list on the side. When I reach any particular day, I write down two or three things I want to get done. If I don’t finish them, they move to the next day.

The system works best when I schedule things an hour or two at a time. When I try to block out a whole day for one task – balancing my books, for example – I get overwhelmed and don’t end up doing it at all.

The lesson seems pretty obvious at this point: small chunks of time build up to finished tasks and projects. Small chunks of time don’t seem as intimidating and require less extended concentration.

It’s true with the writing, too. What’s also true is that many pieces had to come first before 30 minutes of writing felt ok. 

1)   I had to establish a journaling habit that is separate from my writing habit, where I empty out all my worries and fears and to dos.
2)   I had to go to 12 sessions with a rolfing specialist to help me realign my bone structure and fascia so I wasn’t in pain sitting or writing
3)   I had to create a morning exercise routine at home that included building strength in my neck and shoulder to prevent the sitting/writing pain from coming back
4)   I had to spend several years working with my doctor to figure out what foods I was allergic to and stop eating them so the inflammation would diminish so I could sleep better and wouldn’t have an overpowering need to sleep during the day
5)   I had to change a lot of relationships and let go of some toxic ones to make room mentally and emotionally 
6)   I had to start going to bed earlier
7)   I’ve had to teach myself that 30 minutes of time for this in the morning is not going to lead to homelessness just because I’m not spending that time working for money

Now, this goes directly against all the things I hear, Invisible Audience. Even some of my favorite writers would scoff at the list of “excuses” I have for not writing. Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) wrote in a book that engineers don’t get caught up in their heads about their work, so why should writers? Then again, she also said the first step to writing any book is to organize the spice drawer.

I don’t know why it takes so much for me to write. It trips on some DANGER – CLIFF AHEAD wire in my brain and makes me want to veer away, even as I yearn for it. Maybe it’s precisely because it’s a cliff that I’m scared – because it will lead me off the edge of what I’m sure is the only way and into an entirely different world.

So here’s to anyone who is seeking their path and beating themselves up for not yet accomplishing what they think should be easy or straightforward. I’ve personally found that few things in life actually are. 

Love and block by block kisses,


Sunday, June 16, 2019

Moving Beyond Black and White

Hello, Invisible Audience,

At the end of last week, I got home from a 10-day vacation in Northern California. It was a much-needed rest after a year of building my Spanish teaching business in Leavenworth. I have to admit, I’ve been absolutely fried. I spent a lot of time reading books, cooking for pleasure, wandering along rivers and near waterfalls and eating in new places where no one knew me. It was blissful.

In case you don’t know, Invisible Audience, emotional growth is not for the weak. I have found it difficult to both try to grow a business and also give myself the space I need to deal with the ever-peeling layers of the onion of – what would you call it? I used to think it was something like, “healing,” but I actually think it’s something more like “living.” Certainly there are people out there who are don’t feel constantly bombarded by the need to look at what’s not working in their lives and try to dig up the courage to face it and perhaps change it, but I am not one of those people. For better or for worse, I am incapable of sitting in discomfort for long – something that has led me in the past to leave jobs, people and situations the way some people change their wardrobes for the season. 

I’ve lived in Leavenworth for four years now, Invisible Audience. This is a personal record. I’ve lived in the same house for two years in August, something I have not done since I went to college when I was 18. That in itself is a major feat for me: to keep myself stationary while my mind, my heart and my ideas grow and stretch and change and sometimes howl at me in discomfort. Before, this discomfort would prompt me to seek a new landscape to drown in: new people to meet; new restaurants; adventures; and tiny fun little roadblocks that would keep me occupied and challenged so I wouldn’t have to address the pain I was feeling.

Of course, that’s not a completely true statement. My travel was not all escapism – I have a genuine need to see new things to be reminded that there are other options than living the so-called elusive American Dream. And just as the world is not black and white in terms of my desire to travel, neither is my life black and white. The difference now is that I am seeking ways to lean into the gray area instead of trying to hold everything to the simpler black and white picture I had subscribed to for so long.

Maybe I’m new to a concept that others have had forever, I don’t know. I certainly feel like the world has been trying to make itself more decidedly divisive in recent years. But despite the pull I feel, I am actually becoming much more of a centrist than previously. I have stopped looking for friends that can play all roles and enjoy more friends who only play one role that they play well. I have started to see how sometimes disagreeable situations can teach me something helpful, even if I never want to have that situation occur again. I have gained wisdom from those whose teachings I don’t agree with, and leaned into discomfort instead of shying away from it.

I think there’s a specific reason this is working, Invisible Audience: it’s because I get to pick.It’s because I’m starting to trust myself that Iam the one who knows best when to lean in and when to back away; whose disagreeableness I am willing to put up with and listen past and whose I prefer to let go of. I can sit with some discomfort if Iam in charge of what that means and how deep it goes. 

The day after I got back from my trip, I sat down to write for 30 minutes. This is different from other writing I already do on a regular basis. This was the kind of writing that was both honest and vulnerable but also has an intention of perhaps being publishable one day. The feeling about it is different. 

Each time I’ve done it now, I have finished the half hour I set for myself freezing cold – so cold I’ve had to immediately get into a hot shower. There’s something that feels so dangerous about it that it’s literally pulling the blood from my extremities and into my core to keep me alive. 

It doesn’t feel good, Invisible Audience, but it feels necessary. I can’t say I’m going to be able to keep it up forever, but I no longer think in those kinds of black and white terms: that either I’m writing every day or not writing at all. Instead, I think in terms of one day at a time. I wake up and say, “Today, I will write.” And that’s what I do. The goal now is to continue to say that every day; to do it as many days as I can; to continue to do it even after a missing a day, or two, or a week, or a month, or years.

I am lucky that I have writing. I have always known that I am here on earth to write; it has never been a question. What they don’t tell you in the American dream narrative or in most other narratives I’ve heard is that it does not matter how much you love a thing. It does not matter how many days you have committed to love a thing. To do it again today, you must commit to it again today. 

I have written and published several books. I have written in a journal daily for probably 7 years now. I write food blogs and articles and for websites and for many other things. I make money off my writing. But the writing that counts, the writing that I love, that shows me, that completes me and heals me, that scares me: that I have picked up and dropped, run away from and yearned for, over and over and over again. If I were looking at this in the same black and white landscape I used to operate in, I would see this as a failure, but it’s not true, Invisible Audience. I have not failed myself or my writing just because I have not been able to commit every day to it. Life is much more nuanced than that. And always there will be something new that I could not have written previously because I didn’t know then what I know now. So the goal is not to beat myself up for all the time I have lost, but to be grateful for all the lessons I have gained while my pen was idle. 

Love and gray kisses