One Writing Life’s Balance

Last week, I wrote about Ash Wednesday and Lent and pancakes. Turns out I didn’t make the pancakes, but I did manage to write drafts of three different poems, work on a collaboration, make decisions about pieces submitted to Gyroscope Review, begin reading a friend’s final novel draft. One of the things I’ve learned by having a blog is that writing weekly blog posts feeds into my other work in a way that unleashes new ideas, supports a steady flow of practice that eventually becomes finished work. The idea of Lent as a practice for self-discipline and weekly blog posts as a practice for the discipline a freelance writer needs is a nice fit.

Another nice fit I’ve created for this writing life is laundry Mondays (don’t laugh – whatever works when trying to balance work and life is worthy). As writers and editors – or anyone else who works online – there is a clear need to get away from the screen every so often so our eyes can get a screen break. On Mondays, which is probably my heaviest work day thanks to my blog schedule and the slush that comes in on weekends, I make sure I get those breaks by getting up to put laundry in the washer, switch it to the dryer, take it out of the dryer, fold. Sounds mundane, and it is, but the point is that a mundane task coupled with work that requires serious focus is a perfect match. I have to get out of my chair, go downstairs, move around.

I’m sometimes amused when I think about how my mom always did laundry on Mondays. She was pretty scheduled that way, even though she didn’t have to be. And here I am, with a packed writing/editing schedule most weeks, putting laundry on Mondays, too, because it suits the writing life rhythm I’ve got going. Does this fit one of the definitions of irony?

There are other things that I’ve put into practice to balance a writing life in which I’m alone much of the time. Going out midday for errands is one of them. People who write, who work online, sometimes forget that human contact and a change of scenery is healthy. Stepping outside is absolutely essential for my sanity and combining that with whatever needs to be done – post office, pharmacy, grocery store, bank – means I have to talk to other people. It shakes off whatever I’ve worked on in the morning and gives me a chance for another perspective to show up.

A writing life does not mean holing up in a room shut away from everyone else. It means full-on engagement with a world that is always changing, always offering something unexpected. And you have to get out of your chair to find it. You just have to be disciplined enough to get back in the chair to make the words appear on the page.

Now pardon me while I go get that first load of laundry into the dryer. Happy Monday.

 

 

It’s Shrove Monday

Ash Wednesday is in two days.

When I was a child, my family never missed going to Mass on Ash Wednesday. “Dust you are and to dust you shall return,” the priest would say before pressing his thumb to our foreheads, smudging ashes into a black mark that let everyone who saw us know we were observant Catholics. I used to watch for other people with the mark of our tribe.

And then Lent would be in full swing. Ash Wednesday and Lenten Fridays were fasting days. (Fasting, in the Catholic tradition, means only one full-sized meal, two smaller meals, no snacks, no meat. Elderly people, the sick, and children are excused.) Sundays were days on which we could relax and partake in whatever we had given up for Lent. My usual Lenten choice was to give up candy. One year, I gave up T.V., a particularly excruciating option for me. Candy was easier;  I looked forward sweets on Sundays. My mom sometimes reminded me that I could be extra-holy and not take a Sunday break. That was a tough call. Candy and my mother both had a strong pull on me.

Although I no longer practice Catholicism, the Lenten ritual of giving something up still  attracts me. I like its aspects of focus, cleansing, atonement for past mistakes. I like the thoughtfulness of choosing what one can do without for 40 days to become a better person. I like thinking about what people we deem holy have given up in service to others. Giving up candy was hard for a kid, but it taught me that I could do without and having those treats later was an amplified pleasure.

That, in particular, is something I think of now when gratification is so easy to obtain. When was the last time I disciplined myself not because I was full or fat or it was convenient, but just because I could? And what are the things that I would let go of for a while to make myself a better person? My list of things to give up now might include wine, television, cheese, red meat, social media, complaining, judging.

There is another aspect to Lent that I’m particularly fond of: almsgiving. Along with becoming a better person through some form of abstinence, Lent encourages giving to others whose needs are not being fulfilled. In this time in our history, when there is so much mean-spirited debate about everything, it’s becoming more important to speak up about how we treat each other, how we help each other, and how we care for each other. No one single person is more important than any other (we are all dust, remember?), but one single person can sometimes make a huge difference in someone’s life. Why wouldn’t we take action to donate food and clothing and money to those who need it? Or to honor the culture of another even if it is unfamiliar to us? To share what we have and celebrate our ability to do so?

These are the questions I will ask myself in this pre-Easter season, even as I admit to being a nonbeliever. Gratitude and compassion do not require a specific church membership; they only require an acknowledgement of what it is to be a decent human being.

Of course, I may still make pancakes tomorrow for Shrove Tuesday. The maple syrup for the pancakes will delight my still-very-much-alive sweet tooth.

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Images courtesy of Pixabay.com

 

What Do You Do On Your Day Off?

Do you have today off in honor of Presidents Day? I do not have the day off. I’ll be reading slush later today, as well as working on a couple of my own things. And that’s fine with me. It’s raining here in February, which is weird and not a particularly good sign, but the sound of the rain on the roof is the perfect accompaniment to working with poetry. My partner didn’t have the day off either, so it’s just me and the dog hanging around. She’s been sticking close to me since December, when we lost our older dog.

Truffles the mini doxy

Truffles, mini dachshund extraordinaire.

 

I have to admit that it’s nice to have a dog around when I’m working. She makes me slow down and go outside, even in the rain. She’s the reason my eyes get screen breaks often. Truffles (named after the chocolate treats, not the horrendously expensive fungi) is the perfect office mate.

She is, however, looking up at me while I type. So, I will get to my questions of the day: what do you do with your day off if you have one? If you are a freelance writer, artist, etc., do you stick to a work week as much as possible for balance? What does that look like? And if you are an essential professional, e.g., nurse, doctor, firefighter, police officer, etc., how did you make peace with the necessity of working when others do not? Was your passion for your work enough?

My curiosity about days off and what makes a work week made me look up the terms workweek and weekend. That so many countries around the world have roughly eight-hour (or less) work days and weekends of some sort that fall either on Saturday-Sunday or Friday-Saturday surprised me. Labor unions and religious traditions have shaped what a weekend looks like, and international business ties have helped shape the general uniformity of work hours; all of this has come into its current form over the past 100 years or so. Thus, a day off for something like Presidents Day that gives us a three-day weekend is truly a modern event.

In my world, work hours are a slippery thing. I try to be in front of the computer during so-called regular work week hours Monday through Friday. But a lot of slush comes in over the weekends at Gyroscope Review since many (and maybe most) writers can’t afford to live without another job. Sometimes I read work on the weekends, sometimes not. Along with that trade-off comes the flexibility to care for my granddaughter on days when her school is closed but her parents need to go to work. When the publication date for our quarterly issue falls near a holiday, time to celebrate has to wait. But I can do my work in my pajamas if I want, so it all works out. I always come back to the fact that I’ve chosen this path and am truly lucky to have done so.

Whether you have today off or you are working away somewhere, I hope you are doing something you’re passionate about or, at least, are heading toward a goal that makes you happy.

my mini dachshund

Why yes, I like to sleep near poetry books, but this in no way means poetry puts me to sleep. Honest.

 

mini dachshund in office

Wait, are you going outside? I’m ready!

 

 

 

Valentines for Everyone

Valentine’s Day is not everyone’s favorite, given that it reminds us of our relationship status no matter what. And so I say to everyone: you deserve a token of love regardless. Single or coupled. Doesn’t matter. You’re important.

heart-1618199_1280I do have the good luck to celebrate with my partner Mick, but it wasn’t always like that. There were several years when I was unattached and a few when I was a single parent. I still liked Valentine’s Day because any excuse to eat little candy hearts works for me. And my parents, who were still around back then, never failed to send me a card, which I thought was sweet.

Speaking of sweet things, I found a post from 2008 at Poets.org  that pairs poem snippets with liquor, sweets, and flowers. I’m not convinced that the pairings all work, but it gave me ideas of my own. Now, if I can just figure out what verse goes with whiskey, dark chocolate, and some sort of big flame-orange flower, I’ll be all set.

And while I’m figuring that out, I’ll be making filet mignon with rich balsamic glaze and steamed broccoli. We’re staying in.

How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day?

cupid

All images courtesy of Pixabay.com

Promptly Speaking

Who watched the Super Bowl last night? Millions of us, including me. I’m not exactly a sports fan, but there is something about this final football game of the season that pulls me in. I used to think I was pulled in by the fun commercials that accompany the game, the spectacular half-time shows (Lady Gaga gets a lot of respect from me for last night’s performance), and the chance to hang out eating stuff that isn’t good for me. But it’s more than that. There’s that sense of so many people coming together to root for their team, of being part of something big and fun. And, last night, it was the wild comeback of the Patriots over the Falcons after they trailed by 25 points.

What does any of that have to do with writing and creative work?

It has to do with not giving up. It has to do with pushing toward your goals even when it feels like your work is getting trounced or your idea is intercepted and taken up by some other player. You never know when there will be a chance to slip your work into the perfect publication and score an acceptance.

And that’s why this Monday after the big game is the perfect time for some new prompts. Let’s wipe the potato chip crumbs from our fingers and get to work.

  1. Driving down a street in southeast Minneapolis this morning, five wild turkey crossed the road in front of me and wandered into someone’s front yard. What wild thing has crossed your path today?
  2. A school bus with its stop sign arm extended and its red light flashing, stopped to pick up kids near my house. A white car came from behind, zoomed around the stopped bus and sped off. Where was that driver going and why did they break the law?
  3. An article about wealthy survivalists was in the January 30 issue of the New Yorker. What makes you lurch into a survivalist mentality?
  4. Valentine’s Day – celebrate it or ignore it?
  5. What stops your heart?

Happy writing.

Current Calls for Submission

Gyroscope Review is accepting submissions for their general submissions category until March 15, 2017. Guidelines here.

Gyroscope Review also has a themed call for submissions open until March 15. Guidelines for that are here.

Good luck!

 

laptop writing

 

Today’s images courtesy of Pixabay.com.

 

 

 

The New Sisyphus

The past week has felt like an ongoing train wreck – news story after news story about Trump’s swift sledgehammer to everything I thought my country stood for. The smashing of the free press, health care options, trade relations, the environment, the idea of sanctuary, and more. Never have I felt so bereft after the inauguration of a new president and never have I felt so alarmed at what is happening to the United States.

This blog has not often been a place where I rant about politics, politicians or policies. It has more often been my creative space, a way to share publishing news and photos and travels and things that make life amazing. But I’m having a lot of trouble shutting off the alarms in my head and focusing on creative work.

I know I’m not alone.

Is the whole idea of Trump’s onslaught of ridiculous executive orders aimed towards just wearing his opponents out? That certainly feels like what is happening around here. It feels like the first week of his presidency is an endurance test for all of us, like a bully throwing out punch after punch without allowing his victim to get up.

And that is why I’m determined to figure out my own balance, to set goals for actions on a regular basis, to find a way to not burn out before the first quarter of 2017 has gone down in flames.

Since last week, when we were fresh from the Women’s March, I’ve signed petitions about the environment, health care, refugees, and net neutrality. I’ve donated to Senator Al Franken and to the Democratic Party. I did a volunteer shift to raise funds for local food shelves. And I know that I can’t keep going at that pace and still edit a poetry journal or create my own work. Nor can I constantly talk about this – my friends, who are as upset as I am, need to have other conversations, too.

What is the answer?

For me, it was taking a breath this weekend to work on sustenance. What does that look like? It looks like throwing yeast in warm water with some sugar, adding it to a flour mixture and kneading the resulting dough on my kitchen counter till it is smooth. It looks like baking oatmeal cookies with butterscotch chips because everyone in my family likes them. It looks like chopping onions, peppers, garlic, and celery to layer on the bottom of a big crockpot, followed by turkey thighs and diced tomatoes and hominy; the resulting turkey chili fed my family Sunday supper. It looks like going out to dinner with friends on Friday night, resolving to not discuss Trump during dinner so we could all catch our breath.  It looks like shutting off the television before the 10 p.m. news comes on so sleep is a little easier to reach. It looks like leaving the yoga mat out all the time so stretching and breathing as a daily habit is always easy to honor.

And it looks like showing up at the slush pile and the blank page in spite of all the awfulness because this is how we who are writers and editors do our work. We have to connect with the world, we have to keep our eyes open to what is happening, and we have to have the chops to reflect what we see through our art, through our words.

I feel better today from having had a weekend of quiet time with family and friends. But I’ll be back at it this week, reading the news, signing petitions, volunteering where it counts, putting my money out there for the good it can do and trying to not have my head explode.

How will you find your balance through this very unbalanced time? And will you allow your voice to be heard?

Speak up. Silence allows awful things to happen.

 

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Images courtesy of Pixabay.com.

 

 

Live from San Diego

There are perks to having a partner who goes to conferences in lovely places. And there are perks to working online from wherever I am. Today that wherever is the Blue Sea Beach Hotel at Pacific Beach in San Diego, where a third-floor room means we can sleep with a patio door cracked open to hear the Pacific toss wave after wave against the sand. It means we can try on a very un-Minnesotan rhythm for a few days.

Not a bad thing for mid-January. A little breath before the inauguration. A great time to think about the dreams we all share.

Crystal Pier at Pacific Beach, San Diego

Back in Action for 2017

Happy New Year! Yes, even though it’s already the ninth of January, the year still has that shiny brand-new feel. I’m always sort of stunned at this time of year to realize how quickly the holidays come and go, how soon we are knee-deep in the new year’s events and tasks.

And while I was on break from One Minnesota Writer, I was knee-deep in something else: the January issue of Gyroscope Review, which you can find here. My co-editor Constance Brewer and I are really proud of this issue and are looking forward to offering print editions of our journal later this year.

Speaking of Gyroscope Review, we do have two calls for submissions out right now. One is our general call for contemporary poetry and the other is for themed submissions in response to the prompt, “planting ourselves”. For further information on either call for submissions and general guidelines, please click here. Submissions accepted from this reading period will appear in our second anniversary issue in April.

As for One Minnesota Writer, I’m not sure what this year will bring. Perhaps a little more travel writing – I have plans to visit San Diego and Dublin so far this year. Perhaps a little more introspection about the writing life. Maybe some ideas about counteracting some of the general unrest and division in our country right now (and the world, for that matter), ways to be useful and outspoken along with a refusal to sit on the couch with the drapes pulled. One of my first actions for 2017 will be to attend the Women’s March on Washington – Minnesota on January 21. If you’re in Minnesota, I’d love to see you there. If you’re going to Washington, then that’s awesome.

Let’s make 2017 a year of action, personal and political, as writers who know how to say things so that others will listen.

 

On the Eve of the Winter Solstice

Yes, my blog this week is a day late. And there is one very important reason for that.

Yesterday, we had to say goodbye to our old friend Ruby. Ruby was our 14-year-old Irish terrier who spent her life in our house, watched our kids grow into amazing adults, stood by us when we each lost our fathers, welcomed our granddaughter, took our second dog Truffles under her wing, and paced the floor around 5:30 every morning in her old age.

It was a bittersweet day, as any pet owner will know. Ruby told us she was done by refusing to eat and drink over the weekend. She was tired. She had lived long enough.

And so we did what we needed to do: took her to our vet, whom she loved, and helped her leave us.

Ruby the Irish terrier

Ruby

Even though I had to get a box of Kleenex to keep in my office yesterday, today I am thinking about how Ruby made us better people by forcing us to slow down once in a while. She had a way of backing up to us wherever we were sitting so that we could pause and pet her. She was good at being insistent. Pay attention, she seemed to say.

Dogs are good at that.

As we move on to the Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the New Year, taking a moment to pay attention to whatever is there in front of us might be a really nice idea. Turn off the news, put away the screens, and pause.

Happy Holidays, everyone. One Minnesota Writer will return in January 2017.

happy holidays from one minnesota writer