In praise of writing festivals

At the beginning of November, I got in my car and took a solo road trip to Grand Marais, Minnesota, to participate in the North Shore Readers & Writers Festival: A Minnesota Voice. The trip marked the end of the busiest period of library work (September – October), a time when I probably wrote at most 500 words, and they weren’t even good ones.

I was worried I’d get snowed out, but the weather held. (It was unseasonably warm on the shores of Lake Superior.) I carted a bunch of food, some wine, and the hope that the festival would give me a chance to reflect, unwind and focus on my writing.

The festival itself was phenomenal. I met a bunch of super cool Minnesota writers. I learned a lot about craft and author promotion. I had good food, drank good wine and slept soundly. I also thought about the ways in which I do and do not prioritize writing in my life.

It’s a difficult balancing act, pursuing a writing career on top of maintaining a library career and having a family. I’ve blogged about this before – time seems to be one of my issues. Even as I was enjoying the heck out of myself at the festival, I was aware of the work piling up in the office, not to mention the deeper cut of a family who missed me almost as much as I was missing them. And of course, when I’m at the office, I’m aware of the story lines stagnating in my head and the short pieces that aren’t getting submitted. And let’s not even get into the emotional tangles of parenthood.

I don’t have an answer to this. Maybe the first step is for me to acknowledge the messiness. That I might never get to a mental or physical place where there won’t be other priorities requesting/demanding my attention. Maybe acknowledgment comes first and then I can work on how to respond by silencing those other demands for a time in order to focus 100% on the task at hand.

Hm. Any suggestions?

K is for…Kids

“You know how happy you feel when you’re playing legos?” I asked my son the other day as he was begging me to put down my computer and help him build yet another lego ship with him.

“Yeah?” he answered, clearly not sure where this was going.

“Well, that’s how Mommy feels when she’s writing,” I replied. It bought me a few extra minutes, which was a first. Hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Today’s post is about how my kids support my writing. Granted, it seems oxymoronic. At 4 and 6, my kids take up most of my time outside of work. And I’m happy to give it. I worship, love and adore those two little boys with a fierceness that continues to amaze and surprise me. But let’s be honest – little kids and big blocks of uninterrupted writing time do not mix.

While juggling kids and their schedules and their legos impact the amount of time I have to write, my children have expanded my writing in ways I never dreamed possible.

They force me to be intentional about my writing time. Time is a limited commodity (for all of us, really, but it especially feels that way now), so I’m intentional not only about what I do during each writing session, but also about my broader goals for my writing career.

They remind me that there’s a benefit to limited writing time. I can’t just sit and write for 8 hours a day, even if I had the time. I’ve learned that I can do about 1 – 2 hours max of generating new material and maybe 3 – 4 hours tops if I’m editing. Beyond that, my brain goes kaput.

Finally, my kids inspire me in so many countless ways. It shows up on the page all the time. They’ve inspired plots, characters and place names. I write about adoption, identity, race, diversity, loss, hope, life and death in ways that I would never have written if I didn’t know them. Because of them, my life and writing are enriched in ways I never thought possible.

Warning: Grief Ahead

20140208_165606Oh, you guys.  It’s been a rough few weeks.  The kind of weeks where I say, “I’ll just live with this pain for awhile and then write about it later.”  But whenever I sit down to write about it, I realize that OF COURSE the most important thing I must do AT THAT MOMENT is cut my toenails.  Or research wine clubs. Or alphabetize my books.  (Just kidding – my books are already alphabetized, of course.)  My writer’s block probably means a) it’s the end of the semester and I’ve got nothing left to give and b) the pain is too raw and I’d rather keep avoiding it, thank you very much.

Remember that great advice my chiropractor gave me a few months ago when I was coming back to work?  Be gentle with myself.  I’m channeling that during the holiday season, too, spending time “working from home,” usually sitting near the Christmas tree with a pot of tea and a warm cat or two fighting to lie across the keyboard.  But even then I’m impatient, restless, beset by anxieties old and new.  And as I wrote to a friend the other day, even though I’m much better equipped to recognize my anxieties, thanks to a lot of therapy and meditation, simply noting them doesn’t make them go away.

Just like noting the pain doesn’t make it go away. And oh, there’s so much.  I feel like the batting has been ripped away and I’m pressed against the cold reality of racism, bullying, greed, and disrespect.  I live in a world that says again and again that my amazing, talented, funny children are not valued.  I live with the fears that they will be gunned down for the “sin” of being Black in America. I am so choked with fear and grief that I can hardly stand it.  Seriously, how do people stand it?

There’s more.  I went to the funeral last week of a young family member and I watched her parents sob over her casket as it came to its final resting place. I cried for them. I cried for her. I cried for my own children and I wished I could create a world where every single damn person is safe.  I wished I had magical powers just for one day, and I’d go back and undo all the circumstances that led to that moment at the cemetery where we had to say goodbye.

There.  I’ve started writing about the pain.  And it doesn’t make it better or make it go away.  Our lives are such that there is always grief ahead and it rarely comes with a warning label. Maybe this is trite, but there’s no way around pain and grief.  It’s like the refrain from We’re Going on a Bear Hunt:  We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no, we’ve got to go through it.

So I’m working my way through it, mindful of those who are going through much bigger pain than mine: the family of Michael Brown, the family of Eric Garner, the family of Tamir Rice, my aunt and uncle.

The desktop on my work computer cycles through several pictures of cemeteries. I watched the cycle the other day and found odd comfort in the images of the gravestones.  Every grave is a monument to grief, the grief of those left behind.  There’s also the grief of those in the ground, the hardships and struggles of their lives.  It reminds me of the interconnectedness of all things, that if I’m feeling grief, you’ve felt it too.  And if you’ve experienced hope and support, so have I, even if I don’t feel it yet.  Like my son said a year and a half ago when we visited a cemetery: “The dead are underneath us, holding us up.”