U is for…Unraveling

Over the past decades of my life, I have constructed quite a sense of self identity: I am a Buddhist. I am an introvert. I like to wear jammies and visit cemeteries. I tend to get obsessive about certain people (hello there, Bruce Springsteen). I am reflective. I have a short temper when I’m stressed. I am a hard worker (except when I’m not). I like to take walks and be near the water.

The list goes on and on. We didn’t even get close to my love of water bugs or my irrational fear of Animal from the Muppets.

I am also a writer. I’ve constructed an identity around this concept, too: I write best with a pot of tea and a comfy chair. I have to have huge blocks of time in order to write well. I like to edit with purple pens. Deep down I think I’m not good enough to be a writer.

I do not pretend to grasp even a fraction of the Buddhist teachings on anatta, or non-self (but follow the link for an excellent teaching by Gil Fronsdal on the topic). I do know that a part of the teachings relate to the ways in which we cling to certain beliefs about ourselves and say, “This is who I am and it won’t change.”

Can I write without a pot of tea? Sure. I’m doing it right now, in fact. Can I write without big blocks of time? I prefer the blocks but when life gets hectic, I can write bits and pieces here and there. What happens if the world runs out of purple pens? Gah. Say it ain’t so! But I’ll cope.

How about this one – Am I really not good enough to be a writer?

No. That’s just the voice of doubt speaking. It’s a powerful, seductive voice. It’s one that I believe far too often. But it’s not a fixed, permanent feature of myself. I can explore the voice, investigate what’s behind the doubt (mainly a lot of fear), but I don’t have to listen to it or believe it.

The point of all of this is the importance of unraveling our sense of self, especially the times when we get rigid and cling to certain patterns or false beliefs about ourselves. If I didn’t unravel the voice that says, “You’re not good enough,” then I might actually believe it. And then where would I be? Probably awash in regrets. It’s hard to unravel some of those deep patterns but it is worth the work.




T is for…Tea

I will always remain convinced that London is the best place in the world. Here’s why.

Picture a Bloomsbury row house that’s been converted into a B&B. Two weary travelers settle into their chairs at a dark wood table, mouths already watering at the thought of a full English breakfast. The host comes over and asks if we’d like tea or coffee.

“Tea,” I say, and am met with a solemn nod. I already know the tea will be a heady black blend. It will be loose leaf, served in a pot and there will be an infuser, a place to put the infuser when I’m done with it and a creamer filled with milk. When it arrives, it will be perfect.

“Coffee,” says my traveling companion. He’s given a bored glance and dismissed with a flick of the wrist.

“Coffee is over there,” the woman says, gesturing to the sideboard where all the tourists huddle around a tiny pot of instant Folgers.

Now, I’m sure there are plenty of Brits who enjoy good coffee. But the whole country is just so good at tea. In the US, I’m lucky if I get an extra plastic lid where I can put my Lipton tea bag when I’ve leeched all the flavor out of it. And don’t even talk to me about proper water temperature (I’m looking at you, Starbucks).

So, I’m a tea addict. I couldn’t write without it. Every morning I brew a pot – usually something black from Tea Source. (My current favorites are Scottish Breakfast, English Breakfast and Ceylon Burning Sun. Also Monk’s Blend.) If I’m heading to work, I bring a thermos. If I’m home to write, I put the pot on a tea tray (along with all the accessories – these are the best part) and carry the tray to a favorite writing spot. Once the tea wakes me up, I write!


S is for…Spouse!

I’ve been looking forward to writing this post all month. When I made a list of the things that support my writing, my spouse jumped to the top. Finding the appropriate letter proved to be the only challenge. (C for Chris? H for husband? P for partner?) So almost-last but certainly not least, I’m writing about my spouse today.

In his excellent book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about his Ideal Reader, the person whom he pictures when he’s writing, the person he shares his work with first. His Ideal Reader is his wife, Tabitha. Mine is my husband.

The actual act of writing is a curious experience. Most of the time I’m stumbling in a half-trance, piecing plot twists together, transcribing dialog, wondering if the evocative sensory details I added to a scene are really all that evocative after all. I’m often not thinking about my husband directly when I write, not like when I email or text him. But when I reach the sloppy end of a third or fourth draft, it goes to Chris. Immediately. He is the one who will read it, ponder it, and – without fail –  get what I’m trying to say even when I don’t.

Showing your work to someone else can be terrifying, especially when the work is new. Even when I hand materials to close friends, a teensy part of me worries that they’ll read it and think, “Well, this is dumb. Why am I still friends with you?” (No one’s ever said that, by the way – but what can I say? This writer has a fragile ego.) I’ve never had that worry with Chris.  There’s a safety and a trust between us (one of the many benefits of 15 years of marriage) and I know he will take my work seriously, even if it’s still a mess on the page.

Then comes the fun part – all the conversations about the work! My Ideal Reader is not only ideal at reading – he is ideal at brainstorming and talking through all the issues and questions raised by those early drafts. (He is also remarkably patient at listening to me blather on and on about made up worlds and people.) We’ve hashed out plot lines and characters on road trips through Nevada deserts, hikes along Lake Superior, and once over pasta at a cozy inn in Nova Scotia. And this doesn’t even count all the conversations at the dining room table.

My spouse is awesome. He knows lots about military history, regular history, politics, land disputes and nuclear physics, all of which – to my great surprise –  have appeared in my work. He’s also really good at doing math in his head. (This hasn’t been useful for a book yet but it’s great for calculating tips when we go out to eat.)

Chris has always believed in me and my writing, even when I have been awash in doubt. He shoulders single parenting duties so I can go to conferences and writing retreats. He encourages me to apply for grants and fellowships. He reminds me that life is about much more than our paying jobs. It’s about following our true passions and dreams.

Words will always fall short in expressing my gratitude. All I can say is that it’s a privilege sharing this writing adventure with you, Chris.