Why I don't write

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In re-reading an old interview with Maria Popova of Brain Pickings, I found this:

 

Do you believe in “writer’s block”? If so, how do you avoid it?

I think the operative word here is “believe.” If you fixate on it, it’ll be there. It’s kind of like insomnia – the more you think about not being able to fall asleep, the less able to fall asleep you become.

It’s different for everyone, of course, but I find that you break through that alleged “block” simply by writing. As Tchaikovsky elegantly put it, “A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.”

I’m fixating on my writer’s block. It’s now a friendship that I’ve neglected for so long that it’s awkward to try to reconnect. “Hey, how have you been? I heard about that thing. Sorry I haven’t been in touch.” Like when you accidentally let a phone call or text message go unanswered for too long and then bump into the sender at the store and try to hide behind a box of cereal.

I thought I’d make a list of reasons that I don’t write. And then dismantle them and start writing. Could be fun.

  1. Balancing privacy. It’s no secret that my #1 topic of choice right now is Clark. For writing to be shared publicly, though, I’m trying to figure out what is mine to share. My stories of motherhood versus Clark’s own stories of growing up, stories that he may wish I had kept private. When I take those topics off the table, a large part of what is left is about my work. I haven’t figured out that balance yet, the topics I’m comfortable writing about and the ones that are appropriate to share here. I’m in that strange position of having a sorta, kinda, just a little bit visible professional role and I’m aware of the need for discernment in which bits of my personal life and privately-held opinions to share.

  2. No conclusions. I’m firmly in an era of having very few conclusions to share. No parenting tips, no solutions for work-life balance, no well-researched and -tested perspectives on our current dumpster fire political and cultural climate. I hate the not knowing.

  3. My creative energy, the generative forces and ideas, is mostly directed at my work right now, with only a little bit of energy left over for personal writing.

  4. I don’t want advice, concern or sympathy. Each time I share something even slightly vulnerable, the messages start coming in telling me how I can fix it, reassuring me that I’m great and messages that generally just embody what Brené Brown calls an empathetic miss.

  5. Who am I to write? Why should my voice be heard?

  6. Perfectionism. That gets us all, doesn’t it?

 

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.

[…]

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”

-Anne Lammot in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (via Brain Pickings)

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In honor of this prolonged season of writer’s block, I’ve joined #The100DayProject. I found it through my mom, an artist, and grabbed onto it slightly late and off-schedule, but here I am nonetheless. I’m trying to write a little something every day and sharing about it most days on my Instagram stories. See you there.

A few helpful tips for making your holiday donations

If you’re feeling generous this holiday season and wondering how to make the most of your charitable giving, head on over to my recent post for All Over Albany and learn how to be a great do-gooder. Hint: give from the heart, give with trust and respect, give regularly, give unrestricted donations, give money instead of things (usually) and… ask your chosen nonprofit org what they need. No bizplaining or hysteria about “overhead” necessary :)

Our advent calendar & thoughts on good deeds

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I’d been itching to make an advent calendar ever since seeing a few examples on Reading My Tea Leaves. I appreciate the advent period as a seasonal call to contemplation and anticipation, even without belonging to an organized religion. So I tried to create a simple calendar with some really easy things we could do as a family, or that I could do alone, to savor the season. At first I laid out 25 new exciting Christmas-y activities to do and then realized that sounded miserable and overwhelming. So I swapped some out for things we’d already be doing, like reading The Snowy Day or making donations to causes close to our hearts. We’re halfway through the calendar and I’m happy to report that we also just absolutely bailed on some of these. “Have an indoor picnic” sounded easy because it’s literally just eating dinner on the floor, but nope, it didn’t happen. We read exactly three sentences of The Polar Express before Clark requested a book about dinosaurs. I haven’t send out our Christmas cards yet and we’ve switched some other ones around too. It’s delightfully low-pressure.

Clark is only two, so we have at least another Christmas before he’ll understand what this all is, but I’ve been thinking about the difference between acts of charity and acts of justice. So many of us enter the holiday season with beautiful intentions of “giving back”, but many of us don’t quite get it right. Consider the shift from thinking of a donation to Toys for Tots as a “good deed” to understanding it to be a small step towards a fairer, more just world. A reminder that it’s usually not about a family being “less fortunate” than it is about structural racism or other discrimination along with a broken economy, health care system and government. I’ll admit that I’ve really enjoyed filling the Christmas wish lists of some of our neighbors, but I’m trying to see it not as an exceptional act of generosity but as the only responsible way to move through this gift-giving season. Once I began to see my role in those forces that contribute to “less fortunate” situations, I had to start shifting away from the “good deeds” mentality to one more akin to reparations and justice-building actions. So, all of that to say, this has been on my mind as we move through the holiday giving season.

Back to the list. Here are our advent calendar activities. Family ideas with a toddler can be tough, so some of them are just for Chris and I, some are for all three and some are just for me. I think I’d love an advent calendar with ideas just for me, but I’ll save that for another year.

  1. Go to a holiday market

  2. Dry orange ornaments

  3. Deck the halls

  4. A midweek holiday feast

  5. Have an indoor picnic

  6. Christmas coloring

  7. Make a pot of mulled wine or cider

  8. Buy a Christmas tree

  9. Sunday soup

  10. Buy gifts for neighborhood friends

  11. Read or watch Polar Express in pajamas

  12. Make cards

  13. Mail cards

  14. Watch a Christmas movie

  15. Bake Christmas cookies

  16. Feed the birds

  17. Read Snowy Day

  18. Buy extra fresh veggies and donate

  19. Have a phone-free evening

  20. Donate to provide life-saving medical care around the world, including in Yemen

  21. Celebrate solstice

  22. Wrap presents

  23. Sit by the fire

  24. Nothing yet! Something festive. Something leftover from earlier in the month. Cookies for Santa. Staying up late to look at the Christmas tree.

Do you have any advent calendar ideas or traditions to share? As I mentioned above, this one borrows heavily in both style and substance from the ones that Erin has shared over on Reading My Tea Leaves (an updated clutter-free one, a peace and justice one and her original). I love their simplicity and thoughtfulness.

My two-year-old

Note: I found this essay in my drafts folder and remember now that I didn’t post it because it felt too mushy, too saccharine, too much. Looking back on it several months later (Clark turned two in late July), it feels just right. He already seems much older than he was this summer, but still just as sweet.

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Well, my sweet boy, you are two. I stop myself every time I think, "How can you be two years old already!" because, in fact, you are so obviously and perfectly two. You are our best buddy, our silly trickster, our early morning snuggler, our beautiful, wild two-year-old boy. 

Once again, your birthday has come around and I'm frantically searching my journals, my phone, scraps of paper and feeling the inadequacy of my notes. No amount of words, no number of poems could adequately describe the depth of my love for you, Clark Wilder. I knew we'd love you, I knew it would be hard, but I didn't know I'd love you this much and I certainly didn't know how hard it would sometimes be. These are the longest days and shortest years of our lives. I wrote a note on my phone this year: Everything is harder now, everything is sweeter now. That's how every day feels.

 
Everything is harder now, everything is sweeter now.

You fill us with such love and tenderness; your laugh brings me to my knees with its beauty and the feel of your little juice-covered, sticky little hands in mine is a much-needed salve.

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You wake us up with a kiss, taking my face in your hands and saying "Wake Mommy!" You love hiding and sneaking up on people and playing with your bear, puppy, lion, froggie and ducky. You love that darned Peppa Pig and, of course, Elmo and Curious George. Your new favorite is the Wild Kratts and their creature adventures. I think you fall asleep every night dreaming of popsicles. You know your colors and a lot of numbers and animals. You look up for airplanes and clouds and "hoppy birdies".

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You pick up rocks and sticks and jump in every puddle you see. I don't know if you look like me anymore or just your daddy, but you look damn good. You have friends at school and at night pretend to call them all on the phone, or the remote control or sometimes through a secured line on a calculator. You color and make snakes with Play Dough and climb and jump on everything.

You are the sweetest boy I've ever met. Thank you for being you.

I like to think of the last photo as Clark’s face when he learns to read and eventually finds this sappy love note from his mom :)

Life lately

Early yesterday morning, I took pause to marvel at how deliciously beautiful Clark is. How delightfully snuggly. We were spending an early morning watching cartoons, because I was too bleary eyed to do anything else at that hour. “Mommy, sit here. Mommy, come too.” He absentmindedly played with my rings and snuggled up as PBS Kids rolled in the background and the world started to wake up.

A few hours later, we were both in tears in the back of my car. He wouldn’t sit in his car seat; I was out of tricks and bribes and patience. I lost my cool, regained it and repeated that cycle a few times as I navigated the surprises and monotony of toddler negotiation. When I finally gave up and just sat next to him, upset and defeated, Clark touched my cheek and said, “I’m sorry, Mommy.” My first thought was, “If you were really sorry you would have gotten in your car seat 20 minutes ago ya little punk!” My immediate next thought was, “Oh. So this is parenthood.” Your child breaking your heart and putting it back together again and again.

Drop off at daycare was harder than it had been in months. Clark didn’t want me to leave, didn’t want to let go, wouldn’t calm down. I finally got to work 30 minutes late and right in time to walk into our weekly staff meeting and take my place at the head of the conference table. I was exhausted and scattered and not sure what other emotion to feel.

When I picked Clark up in the afternoon, him and his bestie were each rocking little baby dolls. His teacher said, “Clark is just the sweetest. He’s so kind. When someone is upset, he always goes over and asks “Are you ok?” and pats their back.” My heart swelled. A few minutes later, we started another round of get-in-the-car-seat diplomacy.

That’s it. No conclusion drawn, no life lesson learned. Just a vignette, a blur of the ups and downs of life lately. So much joy, so much frustration. In an effort to beat the writer’s block of the past few years, I thought I’d share a little with you :)