Packing list for a writer’s weekend

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be washing the last of my dishes, packing up my battered purple carry-on, and heading off into the wild blue yonder for a spring break “gift to me,” a three-day “write-in” retreat.  I’ve rented a cute little cottage with a comfy bed, a fireplace, a little kitchen, and a table that looks out of a big bay window.  (In case you don’t follow the line of thought here, this will be my writing command center for the weekend.)

I cannot wait.  Writing is something I really enjoy, but unlike music (a passion as fundamental to my spirit as breathing,) it is something that often gets put on the back-burner.  Other things–laundry, errands, rehearsal, friends, exhaustion–take precedent over my fictional endeavors.  So those rare times I manage to carve out a few hours to work, I spend the time daydreaming, or paying bills, or whatever.

But not this weekend! I’m going to a place where mobile reception is spotty at best, and there is no one I know for several hundred miles, armed with several projects at different stages and a determination to make progress in something. 

So, because really I am thinking about this, and my mind is a thousand miles from this blog tonight, I thought I’d take you through a little “greatest hits” version of my packing list–it really embodies the essence of what I hope this weekend to be.

  1. Slummy clothes.  I am taking nothing but leggings and old sweatshirts and oversized, old sweaters.  It is all the essence of comfort.  I aspire to change from pajamas into (essentially) other pajamas.
  2. Fuzzy socks.  As I have very few plans to venture into the cruel outside world (save maybe a walk to get the creative juices going, as it were,) socks that are basically slippers are a must.  My poor feet suffer through “work shoes” for most of their existence.  They will be free for these next few days!
  3. My computer.  Obviously.  I have this rocking writer’s program called Scrivener.  If you are a writer and you have not downloaded it, DO IT NOW.  It is such a slick program. It is worth every penny of the $40 or whatever I paid for it!
  4. Pink pocket notebook with gold embossed “Awesome Ideas” on the cover.  This may seem a bit more out there, but I subscribe strongly to pen-and-ink lists.  This little baby has got the running record of different writing projects I can work on if I get frustrated with what I’m on.  Sick of trying to get through that one dialogue? Do a plot map of that new idea!  Totally over trying to think yourself out of that corner you wrote yourself into?  Brainstorm landscapes for that fantasy you’ve been “meaning to get back to!” And so on.  You get the idea.
  5. “The Writer’s Journey,” by Christopher Vogler.  This book was recommended to me by a great writer, and it is the single best thing I have read about how to structure fiction writing.  It is genius.  I love it.  I need it to reference.
  6. Other reading. And by that, I mean real reading.  During the school year, I read, but it’s largely the kind of fluff one reads on a plane when you don’t really have to focus. I want to read other authors who really knew how to write–to inspire and feed the writer’s soul.  There’s no place better to learn than at the foot of the masters.
  7. Walking shoes (and I guess I’d include my puffy vest here, too).  Sometimes, you just need to take a good walk and let yourself think without distraction. (Isn’t that an odd thought?)
  8. Coffee.  Do I even need to explain this one?
  9. A heart that’s ready to write.  This has not been me for ten months, but it is finally me now.  I am hungry to write.  I am hungry to start trying to get things down on paper (er…on the screen?) I want to be creative in the way that writing so uniquely is.

I am so ready for this! I can’t wait to get there and get started and get frustrated and get over it! There is no way to write a novel, I have heard, except to make yourself write.  Well, chalk that one up for me, anyway!

 

 

 

One Day More

Tomorrow is the last day of school before we begin our (well-deserved, in my mind) spring break.  Only one more day of waking up, one more day of kiddos climbing the walls because they, too, know that break is almost here.  Only one day more!

After the kids got on the buses and the hallways were clear, I treated (tormented?) my colleagues with a chorus of One Day More, the Act I finale of the musical Les Misérables, because I am a choir teacher, so this is what I do.

I love the night before the Last Day Before Break.  I love it because I feel like I can stay up later than I should because I’ll have time to catch up on missing sleep.  And even though things come up and it always ends too quickly, the night before, the whole glorious nine days of sweet freedom stretch before you like a pristine, snowy morning.  There is time for everything to get done on the night before.  It’s magical.

On Saturday, I head off for three days in a cabin for my “Light A Fire Under It, Already, Girl” write-in.  I am going incommunicado and it’s going to be marvelous.  Time to focus on things that I’m always “too busy” for.  I am excited for the chance to breath and step away–something I don’t do often enough.  Excited for time to reflect and thing.  Excited for the change of pace.

Half of the joy of things like vacations and breaks and mini-vacays is the anticipation of it.  The final countdown until you board the flight, get in the car, or turn off the alarm.  I love to revel in it, and sometimes I feel like my instant-gratification life robs me of the chance.  But nothing can take away the excitement surrounding a day like tomorrow–

One more dawn! One more day! One Day More! (It’s not exactly the French Revolution, but I teach middle school so it very well could be!  Haha!)

A picture is worth a thousand words

I am not much of a picture-taker, which I guess makes me kind of an oddity as a card-carrying Millenial.  As a generation, we are obsessed with oversharing our lives with family, friends, and That One Guy I Met At That Party Ten Years Ago–and pictures, so much faster than explaining everything in a story, feature strongly into that world.

But even before those days…back, “Once upon a time…” when you still had to shoot pictures on actual film in an actual camera, and you had to wait until you got everything developed (which took actual time) before you could find out if your picture actually came out, I still was not a picture taker.  Time has not changed me much.

I don’t know, I guess I’ve always been too busy being in the moment to remember to record it.  In high school, I was involved in our drama program, and by my senior year, I was playing main roles in most of our shows.  My parents came to every performance (only after I told that was what parents of the leads were supposed to do…) but they just came and watched the show.  No camcorders (remember those!?), no cameras.  Just my mom and dad.  Sitting in the audience.

Somebody once told my father, “Your daughter is so talented and does all these things!  Why don’t you record them?” And my dad said something very wise that I have taken to heart, “I would rather watch it once, and really experience her performance, and have the memory of that to carry with me, than to only ever see it through the lens of a camera.”  So that has been my life–I have lived my experiences, but never through a camera lens.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I think people who take pictures are awesome.  I love the cool photo montages they hang up on their walls and the great moments they capture, but truth be told, I just never remember.  If I’m lucky, I get out my phone for five minutes, snap a few pictures, and figure I’m off the hook.  Usually, I just mooch pictures from the collections of my photo-taking friends who plan and are mindful of things like that.

Nevertheless, as I’m getting older, I’m growing more fond of pictures.  But not the million-pictures-on-my-phone kind, or the Snapchat story kind, but the actual, ink-to-special-paper, hang-on-your-wall kind.  I don’t need a lot of pictures, just a few that remind me of really important seasons and people.  I think I love the history of pictures.  I have a picture collage on my dining room wall.  I have pictures of Baby Me with my parents.  I have pictures of the first time I talked my whole family into running a 5K Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving with me.  I have a picture of Lily, the gentle mutt who helped my grandpa babysit me when I was tiny, and one of Gracie, the even kinder dog who I really consider “mine.”  There is a picture of my grandmother when she was young. My story is there, in birthdays, and Christmases, and my baby brother’s graduation.

To me, photos (like so many things) are more about quality than quantity.  I don’t need a DropBox with fifteen million photos I’ll never look at.  I need fifteen I can look at when I’m eating breakfast and remember those happy times, those important people and places and times.  My wall isn’t the fanciest or chicest photo collection, but it’s mine.  There is history on that wall.  My history.  Evidence of where I come from.  Evidence that I am here. And anchor to the past, and one I can tie the kite of my dreams to so it can soar.

Maybe that’s why pictures are starting to matter–I’m getting older and am starting to feel like I have a history.  (For instance, I clearly remember things that happened twenty-five years ago.  TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO!!!  This is NOT supposed to be a thing!) There is more to me and my story now that you might guess if I don’t tell you.  Maybe the pictures are as much for me–to remind me of that history when I get weighted down in daily grind.  It’s a good way to be.  It’s good to have those memories.

And this is why I know people who like to take pictures when things happen to us…it gives me someone to mooch off of…

Curly hair, don’t care

I think it’s fair to begin by saying that, as I write this, my hair is completely slathered in coconut oil and is currently clipped onto the top of my head and wrapped up in an old t-shirt.  It has been this way for the past two-and-a-half hours, and realistically, will probably be that way for another three.

If your gut reaction was somewhere between “That’s an odd way to spend a Saturday night,” and “That is downright bizarre,” you are probably among the 89% of people in the world that do not have curly hair.  (I can give you this math because I just looked it up.  Google is such a nifty thing…) If you are one of the 11%, and therefore among my curly haired sisters, this sounds perfectly normal to you.  Curly-haired folk fall into two camps: they that spend hours and hours trying to make their hair sleek and smooth like the straight-haired people of the world, and they that spend hours and hours trying to get their curls to behave in a civilized and attractive manner, rather than like an Exorsist-style version of Cousin It.  It’s very time consuming.

What you have to understand about curly hair, if you do not have it, is that curly hair has a life of its own, and nothing you can do will convince it to do anything other than exactly what it wants.  Oh, sure, you catch me on a day when it’s cooperating, it’s amazing.  But you don’t see all the mornings when I wake up and look in the mirror only to think, “Oh, why?!”  Straightening it is an involved, forty-five minute process that only lasts about an hour, until I walk into anything even moderately humid (say, past a drinking fountain…) Keeping it curly involves trying to tempt and cajole it into doing what you want, which is dicey at best.  I can do the exact same thing to my hair three days in a row, and I’ll get “Meh” hair on day one, “Smashing” hair on day two, and “I Just Put My Finger In A Light Socket” on day three.  It’s completely hit-and-miss.

Most of  my hair-care habits have been picked up from one of three sources:

  1. A really smashing book called Curly Girl by Lorraine Massey. This was my first soirée into accepting my curly hair.  (If you have curly hair and have not read this book, you should stop reading this and go read it. Immediately.)
  2. My African-American students who wear their hair the natural way.  They come in from swimming in gym class and we talk about how insane curly hair is if it gets wet and you don’t put in product, and they’re always like, “Miss D., what you really need to do is…” I’ve gotten some good stuff this way.
  3. Pinterest.  (Because whenever do you not have Pinterest on a list like this?)

Pinterest tends to be my favorite lately, mostly because I like trying new stuff, and like every curly-haired girl of my acquaintance, I’m constantly on the quest for a miracle produce that will give me cinema-style perfection on a daily basis.  (This is totally impossible on the level of waking up at 3 a.m. on two hours of sleep with perfect make-up, but a girl can dream…)

Segue into the coconut oil and the t-shirt.  A Pinterest find, in this case.  It’s ridiculous and it might not work.  But it might.  And the article had 4/4 tried-it-and-loved-it hearts, so that’s something.  Of course, after I had this all slathered up, I read about how some people are really allergic to coconut oil and get horrible breakouts–with my luck, that will be me, but it will be an interesting object lesson.

My hair has gotten curlier as I’ve aged, but even in my teens, my hair was voluminous.  I came of age in the final seasons of Friends, where there was nary a curl or wave or even a hint of volume to be found.

While it’s nice that curly hair (along with brunettes, a membership card I also claim…) are finally back in fashion, having hair that could never be “cool” taught me a lot in those formative late-teens and early-twenties years.  I made peace with being me.  I will never be able to pull of all those sleek, polished looking up-dos.  It always looks, well, wrong and anyway, it would only last about ten minutes. But I like my curly hair.  It’s kind of crazy and everywhere and only marginally following the rules, which is kind of who I am as a person, really.  I only marginally believe in patterns and instruction manuals and believe top-down mandate protocol is open to a certain amount of, shall we say, interpreation. I’m kind of like my hair.  So I guess it’s no mistake that it’s growing out of the top of my head.

I have started finding a few gray hairs (a total moment of panic that would have been worth getting on camera…) mixed into my mass of curls lately.  They are a million times more curly than my “regular” tresses.  I hope this is an indication of what kind of old lady I’ll be one day–no Bea Arthur coif for me, no sir-ee.  I’m going to be that crazy old lady who is always coming up with wacky ideas and bending rules and doing all the things she wants to do.  That’s what curly hair says to me.  And I say, sign me up. 

I hate romance (and other truisms)

So, tonight, I was conned into going to see the new, live-action Beauty and the Beast with a couple girlfriends of mine, and I was reminded (for about the fifteen billionth time) about how much I hate romance in fiction.  Hate it.  I will avoid it at all costs.  I will make up excuses not to go over when people are watching these movies.  I turn the channel when they are on T.V.  A friend lends me a book that clearly features a love story as a major plot (or sub plot), I’ll let it sit on my table for a month, then read a synopsis and give it back.  The rom-coms I own sit in a drawer, unwatched for I-don’t-know how many years.  I have a love-hate relationship with my darling Jane Austen.  So, let me state that again, emphatically: I HATE ROMANCE.

I hate it so passionately, because at my core, I am a hopeless romantic.  I read somewhere once that “Within the chest of every jaded cynic beats the heart of a hopeless romantic,” and I reckon that’s pretty much dead on.  I hate romance in books and films because it’s like a drug to my spirit–I get high on the idea that somewhere out there, there are men who are well-read and can quote Shakespeare (who are not my college English professors).  I get completely bombed on the reckless abandon with which love happens in fiction–the idea that someone sees the funny, quirky things about you and sees them not only as gems but encourages them.  (I will cite that moment when Belle gets that exquisite library, in the cartoon, in the stage show, in the new movie.  It doesn’t matter.  It is such a part of her character, that to me that moment is magical.  I confess I brushed away a literal tear of jealousy in the movie theatre tonight.)

Unfortunately, I am now too old and smart for this.  My little girl, princess days are long behind me.  I know what reality is–I pay bills and clean my bathroom and use a CrockPot and spend more hours than I could ever count dedicated to raising the children of other people.  I have learned that (let us be real) things that make heroines really awesome in books and film does not necessarily translate to great success to real life.

I recently celebrated my thirty-third birthday.  I know, those of you among my elders are thinking things like, “Oh, you’re such a baby,” and cognitively, I agree with you.  But for some reason, this birthday hit me hard.  I don’t know why.  It’s not a round age.  Thirty slipped into my life with zero doom-and-gloom.  This year, though, I started looking at my life, and began to panic.  I think it’s because I feel like I’m such a static person.  All around me, friends, family, have gotten married and started families, while I remain good ol’ reliable me, ready to help–the good friend, the good sister.  Though I’ve always wanted those things, I didn’t worry.  I guess it’s because I subscribe strongly to the idea that you should live the life God gives you, not mope around wishing for something different.  So I’ve done lots of cool things with my time.  I guess I (stupidly?) just figured that when it was right it would happen.

But, then tonight, I found myself sitting in the movie theatre, with my two friends who live in the suburbs and have their husbands and houses and three kids, and I felt lost.  I’m not a starry-eyed idealist all the time–I know that life is just hard.  You give up the right to sleep for about six years when you have a child.  Marriages are tough and your spouse will annoy you.  I have been a steady shoulder for each of them in some of those tough times.  I have walked with these two women, my friends, through illnesses and cancer scares and miscarriages and layoffs and broken furnaces.  But I have also walked with them through the new homes and babies and good report cards and anniversaries.  And through their list of important life events, I just…am.  Good ol’ me.  Always there to lend a hand.

I find myself under the  pressure of time, and the reality that, no only am I in a profession where a girl just doesn’t meet single men, but no one I know knows any single men.  (The whole online dating nightmare is a post filled with enough drama and mad comedy to fit in with your average middle school dance…that is for another day.)  I feel the rising fear of complications that accompany “geriatric pregnancies” (the phrase “geriatric” alone fills me with unabashed terror.)  It’s horrifying.  I panic about what will happen to me if I get seriously sick–who will go with me to the doctor?  Who will help me make hard decisions?  Of course, I know people do these things all the time.  I know that I’m not totally alone, that I have God on my side, but it’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re tired and frustrated and lonely.

The only way I know to avoid the irrational desire to get weepy and call my mom is to just…put my nose to the grindstone and get on with the business of my life.  If I don’t think about it, I’m pretty okay.  I do my job, have my social life, have my little stresses and little victories.  Life keeps on keepin’ on.

But movies and books (I mean, it was Beauty and the Beast tonight, for crying out loud.  It’s a ruddy fairy tale!) knock me off my rhythm.  They feed me that narcotic of people finding each other, and ordinary, lonely people who do not have to be alone anymore.  It’s intoxicating.    And as long as the high lasts, I imagine that maybe one day things will change for me.  But then the lights come back on, I get into my car, and the crash comes, because I am smart enough to know that it doesn’t work like that–not for me, anyway.

But (and someone else very smart said this) “Hope springs eternal.”  The most frustrating thing about being a romantic is that you can’t kill hope.  You can’t kill that stubborn little flame of “just maybe.”  I guess it’s a good thing.  It keeps life interesting.  It keeps you guessing.  I suppose it’s why God gave it to us–to keep us from giving up.  But, wow, is it tough.  Tough, but unbreakable–it’s the reason Jane Austen sits in a place of honor on my shelf, and why I can’t just give away those DVDs.  I guess it’s also why I love writing fiction–it may not happen for me, but in my fictional world, I can make it happen for someone else.  And that is a high in and of itself.

Confessions of a Sometimes Hipster

I live in the hipster Mecca of my city.  That may not be a big deal to my West Coast friends, but it’s kind of a thing if you’re in the Midwest–we are into things like snowblowing and tater tot casserole.  I did not move to this area intentionally.  I did it because it’s a really cute apartment with nifty 1920’s period features and cheap rent that included free heat…  But, nonetheless, I live in a place with quirky restaurants that cater to whatever weird diet you may have.  (Vegan? No problem.  Gluten free?  Everything on the menu fits the bill.  Something as blasé as vegetarianism or lactose intolerance doesn’t even warrant an honorable mention.)  We have nary a big box store to be found, but I can think of three different vintage record shops off the top of my head.  We are also known in our city for our hip dive bars where all the cool kids (so cool that we don’t bother with the “usual” party clubs, you see–we are hipsters here, after all…) like to go.  There’s this one bar that is literally open randomly, and only when the owner feels like opening it–there are no posted hours.  So it’s open now, randomly, on a Wednesday night, but there is a real possibility it will be closed when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around this Friday–go figure.  I once saw a guy in a purple leisure suit ride past on his unicycle.  I live in that kind of neighborhood.

My friends (especially the ones who got married in their twenties and now live in the suburbs with their SUV’s and 2.5 kids) have started telling me that I’m kind of a hipster.  I used to deny it, but I’m beginning to think that maybe this would be false advertising.  I wear a lot of leggings and the messy topknot is the my Saturday hair jam.  I’m a big fan of baggy sweaters, scarves, and Converse.  I even own a pair of fake Buddy Holly style glasses that I wear when I want to look smart and get people to take me seriously.  My house is full of secondhand treasures and random retro kitsch that nobody really likes except for me.  I own a picnic basket and use it on the regular in the summer months.

Right now, I am wearing a burnt orange puffy vest, circa 1974.  I like old movies and classic red lipstick.  I like to make stuff from scratch and have at various points tried to make my own: shaving cream, candles, lip balm, and face masks.  I read poems.  I have toyed with the idea of getting an old typewriter because it just sounds so romantic to write letters on a typewriter.  (My mom talked me out of it because she said it hurts your wrists after a while.  That, and I didn’t know where to get tape for one if I bought it…)

I feel like, though, hipster-dom has robbed me of my nerdiness.  I liked all that stuff back before the hipster movement made it cool, and watching black and white movies and Glenn Miller were things only nerds like me did.  I simply refuse to allow some early  20-somethings rob me of my nerd-dom!  In the words of my sister, “Emily, you’re a natural born hipster–you always liked that stuff, so it doesn’t really count.  You’re not being ironic.  You’re just being you.”

Plus, I do have my little passive-aggressive, anti-hipster jibs.  Let the record state that I absolutely despise quinoa.  I think the texture is weird and it tastes like what I imagine prison food must taste like (i.e. like absolutely nothing.)  And while we’re at it, I think kale is gross, too.  (Unless its slathered in olive oil and sea salt and baked into kale chips, thereby completely nullifying any intrinsic health value…)  I can’t get into the heavily made-up eye look.  It’s just way too much work, let’s be real, here.  I also hate beer as a general rule, so something crappy like P.B.R. is definitely not part of my world.

And at the end of the day, I’m just not ironic enough.  And when I say “enough,” I mean, “at all.”  I mean, I’m a child of the 1990’s who still associates the word “ironic” with Alanis Morissette.  And, anyway, I actually really like all the weird hobbies I have and old clothes I wear, and I don’t really have enough cares to be bothered by what other people may think about it.  If that makes me a hipster, well, then I’m in.  I figure it just makes me “Me.”  I’ll still be like that when hipsters go the way of Hammer Pants and The Rachel.  And I’m good with it that way.  And there’s nothing ironic about that…don’t ya think?

Illusion of daylight

Daylight savings always throws me for a loop in the spring.  I’m so used to leaving work at dusk (or worse, the dead of night), that I have a very pressing and urgent sense of time.  I know that I need to get things done so that I can go to bed, because night is a reality.

Daylight savings happens, and suddenly, I feel like I have all the time in the world.  When I left work today at 4:30, it was still mid-day bright.  So I ran a few (non-essential) errands, and then got home, and decided to go and get some yarn for a project which I didn’t really need to get.  Even now, it’s after 6:30, and the sun is finally sinking behind my neighbors’ houses, but I don’t feel any sort of urgency.  I know I need to get dinner made, to finish this, to clean the bathroom, and try to get to bed before 11.00 tonight, because I’m exhausted.

But it’s still daylight outside–I have all the time in the world!  There’s still time to sit and stare out the window and let my mind wander.  There’s still time to mindlessly half-do tasks and fantasize about spring break.  And it’s all an illusion!

So, I’m going to keep this post short, and get to it!  Get things done, because now it is nearly dark, and the reality of how late it is is starting to sink in.  Daylight is gone, and so is the illusion.  Back to reality I go!

 

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