R is for…Regret

I had several possible R posts – R is for reflection, R is for risk, R is for reward, R is for The River – one of Bruce Springsteen’s best albums. I settled on regret.

One of the reasons I visit so many cemeteries is to be in the presence of the dead, those who lived and died before me, who undoubtedly faced some of the same questions I wrestle with:

  • What do I want to do with my life before I die?
  • What does it mean for me to live a good life?
  • If I died today, what would be my biggest regret?

Going to prairie cemeteries and being among all the dead settlers is sobering. I didn’t die of diphtheria or suffer crushing melancholia from the incessant prairie winds. I have a tremendous amount of advantages in my life. So the cemetery visits do remind me to be thankful and cultivate gratitude.

I’ve made peace with the fact that I might die with regrets. I have regrets right now. There are decisions I made, things I said (or didn’t say), opportunities I didn’t pursue or risks not taken that I wish I had. Sometimes I wallow in my regrets, believing that if I’d taken other paths I’d be living a glamorous, exiting life with no hardship or pain. (This says more about my inherent need for control than anything – there is no such thing as a life without some hardship or pain, no matter how many “right” choices we make.)

Then I remind myself that the past is gone and can’t be changed. Perhaps a better response, instead of regretting what I did or didn’t do, is to appreciate how those decisions have shaped who I am right now, healthy, happy, writing. All of the causes and conditions in the universe have led to this moment.

So the question instead is, what are you going to do with this moment? And the one that follows it? And the one that follows that? I’m thankful for the writing I’ve done. I’m grateful for the choice I made to keep writing. I choose to follow this path, at least for the next many moments. I’m sure there are still things I’ll regret, but writing isn’t one of them.

(PS – I haven’t read the book mentioned in this post, but I like a lot of what’s mentioned here about the top 5 regrets of the dying, so I thought I’d share.)

Q is for…Quietude

I wouldn’t be able to write without quietude. In addition to being a lovely word, quietude indicates a state of calmness or stillness. On the surface, this relates to my writing environment. Even though I like to listen to music when I write, sometimes I need to turn off the music to really concentrate. (Or if I’m writing in public I might leave the earbuds in but turn off the sound, but that’s mainly because I’m antisocial like that.)

But the kind of quietude I’m talking about points to a deep, inner silence. When I was working on my New Years Unresolutions a few months ago, I realized that simplicity was important to me and how I write. I prefer to write at home. I can ignore the dirty dishes and piles of laundry no problem. I get caught by the projects that I never quite get around to finishing: the digital photos piling up on the camera, the baby books I always meant to finish, the massive stack of files from my grad school days that could stand to be purged.

I decided to declutter. I asked myself if these projects were worth doing. Some of them were. I finished the baby books over break. I made a schedule for when I’d download pictures from various devices (twice a year). And I decided the grad school files could wait another few decades or so. I got rid of some of the mental and physical barriers that wanted to keep me from writing.

When I’m stuck in my writing (or life, come to think of it), I tend to look for distractions, to make as much noise as possible. Lately I’m remembering to  breathe deeply and sit still instead of rushing off to check Facebook or send that snarky email or worry about work. These habits are harder to break but they are softening and bending. It’s worth it.

Writing is awash with inner voices.  If I cultivate quietude, if I set aside the distractions of environment and circumstance, I hear all of those voices more clearly. Some of the voices are harsh, the voices of self-doubt and judgment. When I am quiet, I am better able to recognize and dismiss them. Then, as I sink further into quietude, I’m able to hear the precious voices of character, setting, plot and story.

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.