Writing as a Practice

I make writing my spiritual practice. It takes practice.

Winding down my work days at my day job and gearing up for my new small biz, I have let my blogging slide. I want to get back into the practice.

Also, let’s face it, the Olympics are on. I watch these athletes every night. I see effortless skill and human perfection. It looks like magic. But to get into these games, they have spent at least ten thousand hours practicing.

Practice is such a boring word and is such a boring idea. It seems to bear no fruit. It reminds me of those few piano lessons I had in second grade, sitting there in our front room in Skokie, Illinois. No one to hear me or encourage me as I pounded out my drills and scales.

And it all amounted to nothing. I did not seem to get better. I still can’t play the piano. Truth be told, I spent way more time avoiding practice than practicing. I loved kickball better.

But wait, there were a few moments of fun. I remember goofing off on the piano by myself, figuring out how to play Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, not by reading the music, but by hearing the tune I loved in my head and playing it. Just playing around.

I guess if practice requires some kind of play, some kind of goofing around, it is not deadly boring. Practice, then, becomes a discovery and not a rote memory.

Practice becomes a journey, a way to pole vault you from one side of the hurdle to another.

I may never make it to the Olympics of writing, but I will practice any way. For in the art of practice, there is gold.

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This was the back of a tee shirt at the United Methodist Ubuntu Day of Service, working at the Tierra Negra Farm in Durham, NC.

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Starting Anew

Elaeocarpus holopetalus - Mount Imlay Rainforest

Elaeocarpus holopetalus – Mount Imlay Rainforest (Photo credit: Poytr)

I have loved my job for so many reasons for so many years. Just because you love someone or something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let it go. Like parenting. My kids want to go to camp or on school trips. I love them but let them go.

Without going into all the deets, my workplace has offered a voluntary severance package to everyone. And I’m taking it (effective within the next couple of months).

Sometimes work grows around you like a vine in a tropical rain forest, hitting the top layer and you’re still on the forest floor. Or sometimes work’s part of the undergrowth. And you’re reaching for the sky.

According to the internet, (which we all know is NEVER wrong!) there are four layers to the rain forest (and these coincide with where we are on any given day):

  • the emergent layer
  • the canopy
  • the understory
  • the forest floor

I think the point of life is to grow wherever you are. Life is only about growth. Or maybe the pursuit of happiness. That’s all.

And I need to grow. And pursue my happiness. We all do.

To such an end I’m starting some projects such as offering a querying and getting published workshop in New York on August 16 in partnership with Kelly Wallace who’s offering the workshop in Portland on August 18. We’re working on the website. We’re onto something.

We’re on the forest floor or the emergent layer, continuing to grow, starting anew.

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Sibling Rivalry

I have complained about how my kids bicker too much. It is so annoying. They can be so mean to one another and to me. And I know deep down we all love one another.

The other day H. and I were bickering at the bookstore. He needs his summer reading books, 1984 and the God of Small Things. I said the version didn’t matter, he said he must have the exact, specified version. I had a get-it-done attitude; he had a wait-and-see attitude.

I was embarrassed when another mom friend, L., interrupted our disagreement just to say hello.

“Oh, sorry, we were just fighting,” I explained. “We fight a lot.”

“Fighting’s good,” she said. L’s a teacher and I believe her. Respectful disagreement is healthy.

One of my favorite phrases in an argument, and one that I always hope is a closer, is, “Let’s agree to disagree.”

I realized that my desire for my kids to never fight, bicker, or disagree puts undue pressure on them. Maybe even my attempts to squash their sibling rivalry somehow escalates their fighting. As if they unconsciously realize, “Great, now Mom’s in the fight, too. Let’s fully commit to this argument.” And then the yelling escalates.

At times, I do flip out. “Don’t you realize your arguing creates an impact! We are kind, loving parents. You are not being kind and loving!” The kids are too competitive. Or maybe they simply can’t help being mean, like when they point out one another’s pimples. I can’t figure it out.

I show exasperation.

And sometimes having a human and impatient response pays off. Recently after my kids were in a yelling match, my son went to play ball. On his way home, he phoned me. “Mom, I’m passing the grocery store. Do we need anything?”

I was shocked. “Yes, we need juice and milk.” I was totally pleased. And yesterday, the kids did pitch in and tidy up the apartment, even as they fought about how little the other person was doing, and how much they were doing. (See what I mean? Competitive!)

I had set the timer for 10 minutes. I said, “That’s all you have to do! Ten minutes.” But  an hour later, H. was still working, hammering loose cords into the molding.

Small victories. But I’ll take them. And I’ll take the fighting because I have no choice. I do have a choice in my response to their sibling rivalry. I will not let it get to me.

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Workshop on WordPress

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to be viewed as an expert. So I have been teaching a lot since January. Teaching is a great way to find out how much you know and how much you still need to learn.

I’ve been teaching middle school kids comedy and creative writing. Beth Buchanan (on the right) and I’ve taught communicators social media skills at the Religion Communicators Council and at the United Methodist Association of Communicators. (I love team teaching — much less stressful than solo teaching.)

Me and Beth Buchanan. She’s my social media guru. Because of Beth, I got on Facebook and it’s been all downhill from there.

My next (solo) teaching gig is at Word Camp at Baruch College in New York City from June 9 to 10. The title of my workshop is “Social Media and Social Movements.”

My session, one of 80, is hands-on — perfect for beginners, non-techie types, and people devoted to a cause. But there are a lot of workshops that are geared to people who love ideas like digital marketing, shared hosting, HTML5, and hyperlocal. (Attend this conference to find out what those terms mean. What’ve you got to lose? It’s $35.)

I love WordPress for being my landing page — a place to post my resolutions and then achieve them. And along the way, help others to become experts too.

Getting Rid of Stress

Stress has visited you like the devil in days of yore. It has caused your heart to race, your hands to dampen, your throat to dry. So let’s beat back stress with these 11 steps.

1. Do a daily act of kindness. You know you can’t think your way into good action, so you must act your way into good thinking. You must do one act of kindness and service daily. Open a door for a stranger. Donate to the subway musician. Anything.

2. Get up early every day and write in your journal. This private brain drain will add years to your life. Studies show people who write about their stressful moments boost their immune systems.

3. View your life as a hero’s journey. You have read about Joan of Arc and Odysseus. Now there is YOU. You are no less remarkable. You have fought your battles — an abusive spouse as fierce as a dragon? Look at your life as a quest. Your purpose is to complete your mission.

4. Find your mission. Mine is to parent three awesome children, to write, to teach and to make the world a kinder, better place than I found it through my words and actions.

5. Work out three or more times a week. Or just move your body more regularly from the sitting position. Yes, our ancestors were hunters but mostly they were gatherers. Get in touch with your inner gatherer. Get in touch with nature.

6. Pamper yourself. Manicure? Haircut? Massage? Once a month — is this too much to ask? Take care of the vessel you were given.

7. Get to bed early. Get a book. Get several. Get horizontal. Pull the covers up. Go to bed by 10 pm every night.

8. Have sex regularly. Sexuality is a gift from God. Why else does it feel so good? Because it is a beautiful part of the human, adult experience. Do it your own way but do it.

9. Listen without talking so much. You have a lot to say, a lot to share. But you will be remembered on this earth, not by how well you have said what you have to say, but by how well you compassionately listened.

10. Eat healthily. Okay, a bacon cheeseburger and a beer is okay once in a while. But do not use unhealthy food as a way to pamper yourself or indulge. Healthy tastes good.

11. Give seven hugs a day.

Thanks to Alicia Pitterson who provided the prompt at yesterday’s Wednesday Writers lunch time series. She asked us to create an agenda for an event called, “Don’t let stress get the best of you.”  

The School Fundraiser

I was recently at a fundraiser, even though my kids don’t go to that school. I love school auctions. I love the fancy purses, the summer camps, the cabins in the Poconos, the brocade jackets. I can see myself in all of them.

Me and Ang and the centerpiece made of dried fruitUsually, I find myself bidding on the most obscure items. I have bid on the opera lessons for my children – what was I thinking? I paid $100 for something none of my kids wanted.

It is now a running joke. Before I go to the auction, the kids beg, “No opera lessons, please, Mom! Go for the Knicks tickets.” Of course, we never used the opera lessons and I could never bid high enough for the Knicks game. Talk about Lin-sanity!

I root for the underdog, even if my team is in the lead. I feel sorry for the loser. I bet on the longshot. I bid on opera lessons.

I see a trend in fundraising — away from this auction fundraiser and towards a more simple party. We parents are competitive enough already. Why do we have to outbid one another for a psychotherapist’s session or a math tutor? Really?

Couldn’t we all just share a session with the dad who is the shrink or the mom who is the math whiz?

In our present-day culture of Occupy Wall Street and the shift in our workplaces towards more collaborative work styles, there have to be better, friendlier, more cooperatives ways to raise money for our schools.

At my kids’ school now, there is a showcase of the kids’ creative arts. There is no auction. We schmooze and graze, but don’t sit down, like at a wedding. I like that.

These fundraisers are a lot of work and planning. These extravaganzas usually require more delicate and skillful diplomacy than the General Assembly at the United Nations.

So, let’s all thank these hard-working women who make the fundraising benefits happen, (because, yes, the fundraising committee is usually made up of women, except for the bartenders at the fundraisers — they’re usually men.)

While school fundraisers are becoming friendlier, I’m still worried about the the opera lessons? What if no one bids on them?

This Month’s Book Club Picks

For book club we are reading Diane Keaton’s Then Again.

I can’t find the passage but at one point she says we mustn’t blame mothers for all of our adult unhappiness. Mothers do their best. I agree. The book is a collage of memories, a collage like the kind Diane’s mother created –  scrapbooks and journals.

I am having trouble staying focused on my reading. Fortunately, occasionally, the choices from my work book club and my other book club coincide, like when we read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls in both.

At my work book club, we are reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Catch-22 and for Mother-Daughter Book Club, we are reading the Robin Benway’s The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May and June. The girls and I recommended that book; we’ve already read it. Very funny. (But if you don’t like it, don’t blame me, a mother.) Phew. I have one less book to read.

I’d like to blog more on this topic, but yes, you guessed it, I have to get back to the Diane Keaton memoir. Book club is Tuesday night and I have hundreds of pages to go. I might just skip ahead to the Warren Beatty part.

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ughs for UGGS

When C. wanted a pair of boots for winter, I thought a $20 pair of rain boots would be nice. No. She wanted UGGs. Of course, she did. Everyone wants them. So Santa brought her a pair of $165 boots. Yes. That’s right, I spent more on her boots than I did for either of my wedding dresses.

A week or two after Christmas, I was invited to a fancy cocktail party and realized, due to all my dashing around the city, I wouldn’t have time to stop home to change out of my sneakers into my one pair of stylish (Aerosoles) boots, so I ducked into a store and bought myself a pair of boots. The store I went into was K-Mart and those boots cost $18.

What happened to me? I wondered then. And I’m wondering now. How did I get in this rut of spending so much on my children and so little on myself? I think I am not unusual.

All parents want better for their children than they have themselves. Parents sacrifice for their children.

Basically, I realize, too, I’m jealous. My kids are more stylish and have nicer stuff than me. By being aware of this, maybe I can change it.

And I do have one consolation: C. will grow out of those boots and then I can have them. I miss getting those nice sneakers from my son.

Mother Daughter Book Club

The House on Mango Street

This month we met at our house and we discussed the House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. We were five moms and six daughters, in 6th and 7th grades. We had these comments:

  • the language is poetic
  • the daughter feels ashamed of her home
  • all women and girls feel that they are different
  • the women keep the families going
  • every man is suspicious
  • it’s not so great to be pretty
  • names and naming are important

The next book we read is Home for the Holidays: Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick.

I have signed myself and the girls up for Girls Leadership Institute in March. It’s expensive and I have to save some money in the coming months from my writing and teaching to pay for it.

As I was sitting in the circle last night, talking about this book with my book-loving friends, old and young, I felt we are already in a leadership group. Sharing the truths found in books is a way to talk about yourself, your values and girls’ leadership.

Comment, Like, Cheer

I love to like. Do I over-like? I wish there was a love button. Then I could crank my love into overdrive.

I think everyone needs a boost; everyone wants their stuff to be liked. My friend Amy once told me everything we do or say is either one of two messages — “I love you,” or “Please love me.”

On Facebook , there’s the handy-dandy like button, a thumbs up. And on Twitter, you can retweet a tweet to show your favor. On a blog post, you can like or comment.

Best of all is the cheer button at 43 Things. Here are my 43Things.

You get only 5 cheers a day. Once you start complimenting or cheering others, you don’t want to stop, so once you hit your 5 cheer limit, you have to stop cheering people online and start cheering them IRL (in real life). Being a positive person is contagious. And you’ get back as many cheers as you give.

I love making New Year’s resolutions at 43 Things and one of my resolutions will be to admire, to like, to comment, to praise, and to cheer more — online and IRL!