Plans for April Blogging Challenge

I’ve been blogging a lot at work, trying to┬áconnect with our community. It’s been fun, although I realize I’ve been neglecting my own blog. Fortunately, April is right around the corner and with it the A to Z blogging challenge. I’ll be blogging the entire month of April on one half of my blog theme.

As you know, the blog is called Cemeteries and Pajamas, because I like visiting cemeteries and I write in my pajamas. I have a ton of cemetery pictures from various walks over the past few years. Whenever I look at them, I imagine some kind of art exhibit in connection with a book launch – a series of cemetery photos taken on my super high tech cell phone camera – and the book that was inspired by said photos.

Well, it’s a nice dream. In the meantime, I’m opting for an online show. For 26 days in April, I’ll post a picture from a cemetery walk and include a few words about why I found that particular place or photo inspiring. I hope to provide an inspiring, contemplative online space for readers.

See you in April! Hopefully even before!

Lost Dreams and To Do Lists

I recently spent a lot of time by myself in the car, driving to a writing conference. This means I spent a lot of time in my head. And I was reminded that there is a lot of scary stuff in my head. I was reacquainted with my obsessive thoughts about work, especially related to circumstances I really can’t control. I encountered many of my of my deep fears: Do I suck as a writer? Am I terrible at my day job? Does anyone even like me? Will I end my days sad and alone?

And that was all in the first thirty miles outside of town.

The truly scary stuff came later, namely this question: Do I still have dreams, even, or just a to do list?

Since I became a parent, I certainly feel like life is a checklist. I’m responsible for myself and two small people, not to mention tending a marriage, working at my day job and taking care of a house. I am not doing this alone – I have an amazing spouse who splits the “second shift” with me. But I still feel like I’m mediocre at everything at best. (I’m not alone – the New York Times reports findings from a Pew study that many families feel like this.)

This post isn’t about my obligations, which are more than some but much, much less than many. It’s about whether or not I still have time time and space to create and discern dreams. Writing is my dream – so in so many ways, I’m pursuing that dream. But it doesn’t have the lightness or joy that I expected. And I’m not sure I have other dreams on the horizon, but that’s mainly because I never feel like I have the time to ponder those dreams.

Which leads me back to the to do list. I certainly don’t make that time for myself. I have a to do list at work and at home. It’s supposed to go like this: Once I finish the to do list, I will have time to write. (Can you see where this is going?) Yep, since the to do list is never done, this means I never have time to write. Because I never make the time. I prioritize everything else over writing time.

It’s funny to write that now, since I’m still at the writing conference. I’m not at work. I’m not bathing the kids and putting them to bed. But it was also because I prioritized going on this trip that I came to realizations that had eluded me for months.

For the past few months I thought I’d lost my creativity. The answer is much more banal and (fortunately) easy to fix. I have dreams but I never prioritized them. Time for a new to do list, perhaps, one that actually reflects my priorities.

Dispatches from Summer

 I was dropping off the kids at day care a few weeks ago when another parent passed me in the hall. She commented that she envied me because I could leave the kids and then not work all day. A few feeble protests rose in my throat but I squashed them. She’s right. I drop off the kids and instead of going to the office (which is what I do 9 months out of the year), I go home.

So what do I do all day?

Well, I write a bunch. I’m steadily working through rewrites of my YA fantasy novel. I’m sending a draft of the other YA novel to beta readers. I’m taking an online writing class, I meet with my writing group, and I work on some short pieces. I’m tossing a few essay ideas around, as well.

Then I do all the other things people do – I plan meals and go for walks and do yoga and read and clean out the fridge. I pull weeds in the garden, I obsess over the size of the zucchini and I endlessly pick raspberries. I marvel at how I ever get any of this done during my “regular” work year.

And I deal with the tension that arises between having time to write and feeling like every second of time should be spent writing. This is the script my mind repeats: Since I’m not working in the library for three months, I should spend every possible second writing, so that I can make the most of this time.

As you can imagine, this is not a recipe for either good writing or general mental wellbeing. I’ve written about my complex relationship with time before. I never quite feel like I have enough, but then when I have more, I feel crushed by the weight of expectation.

Before this spins into all-out woe-is-me obnoxious navel gazing, I did have a few insights on a walk the other day. Mainly this: more work is not necessarily better work. In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about how the well runs dry when it comes to creative work. A writer can have two or three days of incredible productivity, with ideas bursting from the seams and arranging themselves in perfect order on the page. Then she sits down the next day, expecting to dive right into the work again and…nothing. Crickets. The well has run dry.

Cameron provides several wonderful techniques for filling the well again, usually involving leaving the page for a bit. For me the key is simply noting when my reservoirs of inspiration and creativity have hit a glitch. They need a rest and so do I. So I take some time to not write, even though I have to drag myself kicking and screaming from the keyboard, because I know it will be better in the long run.

Do I love it? Nope. I had a rough writing day yesterday and I’m still mad about it. I was cranky all day because the scene didn’t go well, and even when I had an insight into how to fix the scene, I’m still not sure it’s right. And the reason I’m blogging instead of reworking the scene is that I’m reluctant to face the page again. It seems too hard.

Going back, of course, is the trick. Well, it can’t get any worse (I’m lying, of course it can get worse), so back to the page it is! Cheers.