F is for family, friends, freelancing, and fiction

I had an epiphany this morning at 5:00, but I can’t use “epiphany” because E was yesterday. I suppose I could have used “F is for five o’clock,” but the time isn’t as important as the content. I was awakened by the girl fussing (she got herself back to sleep), and I started to complain to myself that I was just barely going to fall back asleep before it would be time to get up and get the kids ready, then start on my day — same old, same old. That’s when it hit me — I chose this life.

Okay, that may be obvious to others. Epiphanies do tend to be personal, after all. Still, I’m going to explore what I mean.

I chose marriage and children. I chose work that I could do anywhere we lived because I didn’t have to look for a new employer. I chose to start telling the stories in my soul. And, if it comes right down to it, I choose to do our taxes because I’m a bit of a control freak.

Every part of the day before me is a direct consequence of something I chose, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m married to a wonderful man whom I love, we have incredible kids, and my work allows me to be who I am.

There are downsides — the only family here is the one my husband and I have made; our closest relatives are several states away. I don’t have any close friends where we live, though certainly part of that is that I’m not good at reaching out. With the Internet, though, I’m in touch with friends and family that I haven’t seen in decades, and I’ve made several excellent new friends through on-line communities (especially Forward Motion).

This is my life, and I’m grateful for it.

B is for blueberries

Blueberries because my kids love them.

Earlier this week, I noticed that I still had some frozen pumpkin to use and decided I’d make pumpkin muffins (with chocolate chips — for the extra antioxidants, of course) today or tomorrow. While I was assembling them this morning, it suddenly occurred to me that I had frozen blueberries, too, so I added a cup of those (dusted with flour to ensure even mixing in the batter). The batter got tinted a rather odd green hue, but when they baked up, the muffins were a normal orange.

And the kids love them, which makes me happy.

DST springs forth

Yes, I’m a couple days behind posting about Daylight Saving Time. Chalk it up to time lag from the change. Or maybe I just didn’t get to the blog recently. Whichever.

The problem with DST is that it hits just as days are getting longer and I’m getting up in the daylight. Having light coming through the windows significantly helps me to wake up. Yes, I know, there are tons of people out there (No, I’m not saying you weigh a ton. Really. Not a pound over 1,000.) who get up in the dark year-round. I ain’t one of them. (Or to quote one of my favorite movies, “People? I ain’t people!”)

Fortunately, this semester, my husband’s first class isn’t quite as early as they have been in the past, so I’m not having to get up at 6 to make sure our daughter’s ready for him to drop at daycare on his way to work. I don’t have to be up until 7, and it’s light already by then. So I’ve adjusted fairly painlessly this year.

Getting kids to adjust is trickier. To adjust, you have to get up and go to bed at the same time as usual. “Go away. I’m sleeping.” “But it’s still light out.” *sigh*

I’ve said those things myself. I suppose it’s only fair that the words come back to haunt me. This morning wasn’t too bad, though. Maybe by the end of the week, the kids will have adjusted. I can hope.

Pointing to art

Justine Musk has blogged a couple of times about Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin. Based on what she had to say, I checked it out from my library, and I’m glad I did. The book is about choosing to be indispensable in your work, whatever it may be. Even without that meta-topic, however, he covers a lot of ground. So far, I’ve hit three important ideas that resonated with me.

Obedience versus art

Would your organization be more successful if your employees were more obedient?
Or, consider for a second: would you be more successful if your employees were more artistic, motivated, connected, aware, passionate, and genuine?
You can’t have both, of course.

This hit home for me not in discussing employees, but in thinking about my children. He summarized the ongoing struggle I have between wanting my kids to listen to me, to their dad, to their teachers and wanting to not stifle their creativity and free spirit because I know they will be much happier later in life if they don’t have to fight to reclaim what they have naturally now.

There aren’t easy answers for this dilemma in Godin’s book. I don’t think obedience is, in and of itself, bad. Without rules and obedience, we get anarchy, as even he admits. (“Yes, we need facts and rigor and systems.”) However, the book is helping me to rethink my approach to parenting, and to cut myself short when something the kids are doing isn’t actually bad, just annoying. (Okay, yes, I have a ways to go with that, but I’m working on it.)

The nature of art

“Art is never defect free.”

“Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient.”

“Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.”

He says an awful lot about art. That’s what the book is about — art, creativity, how to make your work art (whether you’re a designer, a painter, or a coffee shop worker). The way he’s defined art as requiring a change is, I think, what separates the merely competent writing (of which I have done much) from the stories that stand out, get bought, get talked about.

That’s what “needs more cowbell” boils down to: The story didn’t affect the editor or the agent. She might have admired the prose; he might have liked the twist in the plot. When all was said and done, though, the story didn’t touch them. They weren’t changed.

That’s where I need to focus my efforts. Not on merely telling a story. Not on writing impeccable cliffhangers to keep the pages turning. Not on finding a plot that has been miraculously overlooked by every writer since the dawn of time.

On touching people. On changing my readers. On making my art real.

Emotional labor

The next question, of course, is how to do that. I think the key is in putting in the emotional labor. It’s work. It’s hard. I have to put myself into the work.

Don’t I already do that? Sometimes. Sometimes, I write a story just because I have an interesting idea or I have a character and a plot. I need to care about the writing, need to think about what I find important in what I’m doing, and need to see the change in myself that I hope to evoke in others.

To that end, I’m taking some time this week to think about what sort of change or shift I’m trying to achieve in each of my works in progress. Where is the art? Have I taken responsibility for making sure it’s there? Am I changed because of what I’m writing?

Sometimes the change I’m hoping for may be something I’ve already experienced in my life. It may be something as simple (!) as sweeping readers into the story and letting them step away from their own lives for a time. But I think that thinking about what the change is that I’m looking for may help me more in the long run than contemplating themes and character arcs.

****

Linchpin is an excellent book. I’ll blog soon about Godin’s discussion of resistance and how it differs from Stephen Pressfield’s. There may be other topics I blog about, too — I’m only halfway through the book.

Do you have any thoughts on obedience versus art, the nature of art, or emotional labor? Or perhaps you want to recommend another Seth Godin book? Please leave thoughts and questions in the comments.

As always, thanks for reading!

Resolution Q & A

It’s January. Of course, the topic is New Year’s Resolutions. Everyone’s either doing that or a top-10 list from 2010. I don’t have strong enough opinions to have a top-10 list. Either that, or I can’t think of 10 anything I’d put on such a list. You decide.

My dad always had two fall-back resolutions:

  • I resolve not to punch any tigers in the teeth.
  • I resolve not to make any other resolutions.

They worked well for him, but he always thought he didn’t need to improve at all. As it’s true that he excelled at being himself, he may have had a point.

I’ve made resolutions in the past. I’ve also written myself letters to read five years in the future. (I really should find those and read them, since it’s been over fifteen years now — maybe even twenty.) Currently, I tend to create goals, rather than resolutions — it gives me something more concrete to work toward, and a single mis-step isn’t a failure.

On to the questions:

Q: Shouldn’t you have posted this last week, before the new year started?

A: Would it help if I resolve to be more timely at the end of this year?

Q: Should I tell other people what my resolutions are?

A: Only if you’re willing to listen to them mock you.

Q: My friends/family/significant other wouldn’t do that!

A: If that’s a question, you’re not going to like my answer.

Q: Should I make SMART goals and resolutions?

A: Well, that would beat DUMB ones, wouldn’t it?

Q: Are you ever serious?

A: Yes. Second Tuesday of every week. Also, when facing a stack of bills.

Q: Do you have any resolutions this year?

A: Sure. I’ll resolve not to punch any tigers in the teeth.

If you have any questions or thoughts, leave them in the comments. As always, thanks for reading!

chip off the old block party

This past weekend, there was a neighborhood block party.

When the invitation for the block party first showed up, I was of two minds about it. I like our neighbors, don’t get me wrong. Always enjoy talking to them, say “hi” in passing, that sort of thing. On the other paw, I’m not big on socialization. Or more to the point, I’m reluctant to socialize, even though I almost always enjoy it.

So when my husband said it would be fun to go, I agreed, and it was pure mischance that the form to RSVP with disappeared until the last possible minute. I swear. I put it on the refrigerator door. I didn’t know that my daughter would play with the magnet and not notice that the paper hit the floor and slid under the fridge, right?

The instigation for the block party was the number of new people in the neighborhood — four new families this summer, and even those of us who’ve been here half a dozen years are relative newcomers. This was fabulous — I wanted to meet at least one of the families, as I knew they have a daughter close in age to our girl’s age, and whenever I’ve stopped by, they haven’t been home.

At the party, the girls were highly non-impressed with each other at first.

They began bonding over potato chips, as they stood at the side-dish table and helped themselves from the serving bowl. Then my daughter wondered why she was sharing, grabbed the bowl, and went to sit down elsewhere.

Later, they met up again by the drinks table, where they were fishing ice chips out of the tub being used to cool bottles. They were so cute the father of the other girl went over to get their picture — and snapped one just as the girls each grabbed a bottle of wine from the tub. It’s a terribly cute photo, and we all agreed that we’re in so much trouble when they get older.

All in all, I’m glad we went. Now I’ve got names to put to those faces when I say hello. And I didn’t even take any notes on characters to use in future stories.