Category Archives: writing

Stopping Time

I have finally figured out how to slow down time! Really, I have! And it’s not how I ever thought. It’s a revelation to me, which sounds silly. But it really is. Here is how you stop time:

Slow down.

That’s it. It’s simple, really. And it’s always been out there. I just never realized it, and I never slowed down enough to understand. If you, like me, are someone who would cram each day full and run around frantically trying to get all the day’s tasks completed, you could never even contemplate a time when things would ever slow down or give you space to breathe.

This summer, miraculously, I found that space.

For quite some time, I seem to have been collecting books on mindfulness. I’d read bits and pieces here and there. I’d nod my head and say to myself, “Yes. This is it. I really need to be mindful.” And I’d believe it. I just never really did it. I never took the time. I also found a book on slowing down. Again, I nodded to myself and said, “Yes. This is it. I really need to slow down.” And yet.

And yet.

So, somehow this summer, miraculously, I did it. It was like a happy accident. Once we returned from Kentucky and North Carolina, for some reason (honestly, I think it’s vacation – it really changes my mindset; I feel like a totally different and new person when I am on vacation) I decided to start using the meditation app on my phone. Every day now I start out on the porch and sit still for five minutes. Just five minutes. That doesn’t seem like very long, but clearly it’s long enough for me. Today was day 28, I think.

Then I picked up the book I got at Christmas that’s meant for planning and goal setting to help organize my life. And I started to think, “What goals do I have for myself, personally, right now? How can I reach those goals on a daily or weekly basis?” And then I write them down, get specific with my calendar, and each day I write out my To-do list.

And, perhaps the most important thing, each day I just take time to sit. Just sit. Maybe with coffee, maybe not. But I sit: on the back deck and look at the yard; on the front porch and look at the yard; on my blue Adirondack chair and look at the yard. Wherever. I just sit for a while and literally do nothing. And on each day that I do that, I am stopping time. I fully realized this on a day or two this week when my day was so full of this, that, and the other that I never took my time to just sit. It’s the just sitting that enables me to stop time.

It is wonderful. I now build in time each day to sit. It helps to start the day this way, but at the end is okay, too. It’s a way to find and center myself. It is truly changing my life.

I am also taking time each day to write. Sometimes I do it here, but right now the plan is just to sit each day and write a minimum of 500 words. With the exception of one day, that’s exactly what I’ve done. Sometimes it’s just a glorified journal. Sometimes it’s more. But it’s building the writing habit for me. Because writing is what I love to do, so I need to make sure I’m doing it. It brings joy into my life. And something that can bring joy is something that must be cultivated and tended. So, I’m tending every day.

That brings me here. My overall goal is just to write each day. For now, I’m not too worried about posting here because I’ve always been a little sporadic on the blog anyhow. But I figure once I get the daily writing muscle up to speed, the next step will be to make sure I post once or twice a week. At this point, I’m not sure exactly when that will be, but as school starts in another week, I figure I will need some time to find where some of my new practices will fit into the schedule. But I am glad I have been working on slowing time this summer, because as the new school year starts and things get hopping, it will help me to keep my calm and help me to better deal with the stresses that come with teaching.

So I am excited to start the new year. And I am delighted to have one more week to continue to work on stopping time.

Cheers.

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Taking Up the Big Idea

A year or so ago, I read a book by one of my favorite authors and life gurus, Elizabeth Gilbert. The book was called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. In it, Gilbert talks about the concept that sometimes the universe tosses you a nugget. Something that, if you choose, you can pick it up and look it over and then use it to spur your creativity, whatever path that might take. She says that we may not always be aware that this is what’s happening at the moment, but sometimes we are. There are times when you see something and “Wham!” it smacks you upside the head.

Now you have two choices should this head-smacking occur: pick it up or leave it alone. Should you leave this little catalyst alone, her theory is that is will return to the swirling cosmos and then, later on, smack someone else upside the head. They will have the same options. But if you left it and they picked it up and ran with it, should you see this at some later date on the big stage of the world, you may hang your head, or maybe bang your head, a’la Homer Simpson (“D’oh!”) and think, “That idea came to me first! Why didn’t I do something?”

So, earlier this summer I was visiting a friend, and in her laundry room she had a framed poster of her great-grandmother and sisters who were a Vaudeville act. “Wow!” I said to her. “There’s a book there!”

I took multiple photos of the poster and asked a few questions. And now, today, is the day I start taking that nugget and trying to crack it open and see what I can do with what’s inside. My friend and I have texted a little back and forth and I have gotten more information that leads me to believe I am doing the right thing here. At some point today, I will visit my local library archives and start digging through old newspapers for ads, reviews, stories about Vaudeville. I do know that at some point during the Vaudeville era, Fred Astaire and his sister Adele performed at the Adler Theater in downtown Davenport (although perhaps it was the Capitol Theater – research, research, research).

Okay. I hear some younger folks saying, “Vaudeville? What’s that?”

Well, dear ones, Vaudeville was a time period in the late 19th and early 20th century where acts of all kinds toured theaters across America. Good acts (the Astaires) and bad acts (“Baby Alice the Midget Wonder”) but rarely boring acts. The best way I can help you to understand Vaudeville might be to recommend you watch the movie The Greatest Showman. Even though P.T. Barnum created a circus, the sideshow aspect of his circus (The Bearded Lady, General Tom Thumb, etc.) were some of the things that would become parts of Vaudeville acts.

This could be really amazing. Fiction or non-fiction? To be determined. Either way, I am going to be on the research trail. I love it! I adore doing research! I think it was what I was made to do. Research and write about what I find. I have some other ideas, too, but on other topics. One I’ve been holding onto for nearly 20 years. I really do need to get to that one before someone else does, but I think that one’s a pretty deeply buried topic. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean someone else might accidentally find it as I did.

In any case, I am on the trail and excited for what I will find. Stay tuned! You can get your tickets here, and you’ll get to see the greatest acts ever to cross a stage, Ladies and Gentlemen! Excitement, action, the unusual and the bizarre. All here for your entertainment! Step right up!

Cheers.

A Dull Routine?

I’ve been slow to write lately. Not exactly sure why that is. I love writing. I’ve been journaling daily, but not blogging. Maybe I need to just sit down and see what happens. Kind of like now. But this seems to be more than a little disappointing. I need a good topic to get me started, and I don’t seem to have one. Why? Because life seems to be going pretty smoothly right now, all things considered.

A life without conflict can either be seen as a life of contentment or a dull routine. Personally, I prefer a dull routine. Last summer was hardly routine and it was awful.

To be honest, this summer has actually been pretty far from routine, with auction school, then a trip to Kentucky and North Carolina and, on Thursday, a trip to Wrigley to see a Chicago Cubs game (a win!).

However, Thursday’s trip had a little too much boring to it, with it taking six hours on a bus to get to downtown Chicago. Six! Not three, which is usual. Not even four, which is what it took us to get to Evanston on a prior trip (on the North side of Chicago, for those keeping score and unfamiliar with Chicagoland geography). But six!

We are still not sure what the bus company was thinking in planning the route, but before we even left Davenport (already 20 minutes late), they took a screwy turn and added at least five miles to the trip. When we asked why we were taking this route, as we missed the last possible turn to the interstate that wouldn’t take us another three miles out of town the wrong way, we were told the driver had to go “where the dispatcher told him to.” Despite the fact that we were from town and the Dispatcher was….where, exactly? I get the whole Dispatcher thing. Really, I do. But this was just absurd. We were supposed to arrive at the ballpark at 4:45 for a 6:05 game. When did we enter the park? It was 6:40 on my watch.

So, an inning and a half into the game, we found our way in. And this was after Ed had to surrender his pocket knife at security on the way in (not sure why he even had it, but I suppose it’s a farmer thing). That was where I lost it, temporarily. But I managed to pull myself together and we found our seats.

After a million people settled and got their hotdogs and beer and whatever else was being hawked through the aisles, we got to see a great game. We got to see a Cubs home run and some great plays. And who led us in the seventh inning stretch version of “Take me out to the ballgame?” Harry Caray, of course (via the magic of video tape). Happily, we also got to see them come from behind to win the game, so we got to sing the Cub’s song (Go, Cubs, Go!)

We had beer and hotdogs and popcorn (me) and nachos (Ed). I got myself a Cubs baseball hat. Made some new friends in some girls from Quincy, Illinois, who were part of the trip and a man from Bettendorf who was originally from Durant and a couple years behind my dad in school. And, all in all, it was a great night (the bus ride up notwithstanding). It was so much fun to get to see the Cubs win at Wrigley. And today, as we listened on the radio to the game, Ed decided we ought to try to go see a game once every summer. I agree! It might become part of our summer routine, which really isn’t dull at all, now that I think about it.

Cheers.

Feels Like Home

I finally get that Bonnie Raitt song. Because this morning I woke up feeling changed.

Last night, I attended an evening of faith discussion (the topic was actually faith and wellness), and the keynote was Krista Tippett, host and producer/creator of the program On Being. I had listened to her from time to time, but was never a regular. I think that has now changed. She gave me a lot to think about.

In this world which feels so troubled, and which has made me feel so troubled, she provides an anchor to keep my boat from drifting. An island in a sea of troubles, as it were. It’s hard to explain how her words touched me, but I was scribbling things down like mad.

When she talks about faith, it’s not like some talk about faith. It’s not trying to force things down your throat for you own good (or someone else’s). It’s not in-your-face faith. It’s quiet and earnest and kind. It’s opening your hand and seeing a lovely flower blossom inside. It’s opening a box to find the swirling universe of stars. It’s beauty. It’s hospitality. It’s peace.

It’s home.

Over the years, I church shopped. I was never sure what I was looking for, exactly. I only know I hadn’t found it. I’d been to Trinity Cathedral a few times here and there, but it was never quite the place. Until now. When Ed got recruited for the choir, I became a Sunday regular. I’d always hesitated and held back from weekly church. I felt like I didn’t really need another commitment, another pull on my time. Yet despite church now filling in a spot of my weekend, it feels more like nestling into a place that’s been kept for me. It feels like home.

I am enjoying the people, the sermons, the rite and ritual, but most of all the sense of feeling like I belong. Even as I write this, I feel like weeping at how much I finally feel like I belong somewhere, because, for whatever reason, I don’t know that I have ever felt this so strongly, at least not that I can truly remember. I’ve been at my “job” (I enjoy what I do, so I never really think of it as a job, it’s just “school”) for over 24 years, yet I’ve never truly felt that I belonged there. Yes, I have friends from school, some very close friends, but having friends and feeling a sense of belonging are different things, at least to me.

After listening to Krista’s talk, which was a revelation on many levels, I feel lighter, somehow, even as I also want to plumb more deeply into what faith means for me. I feel like I’ve gotten over a speed bump that has been preventing me from moving forward. I’ve been given something to cut away the ropes that have bound me in a place I really don’t want to be. But it’s also that I have been given the awareness that I had that something to cut those ties for a long time, but never recognized that I had the power to make those cuts.

I know this all may sound a little odd to anyone reading this, but that’s okay. Because I confess this really isn’t for you so much as it is for me. My catharsis. My rebirth. My renaissance.

Even though others, like my dear husband, may not believe in this, I believe I was brought to this moment. Krista mentioned an Irish priest and philosopher John O’Donohue. I jotted his name down because I want to listen to one of her podcasts with him. And this morning, as I work my way through a book loaned to me by a church friend, whose name do I see? John O’Donohue. And now I have something I simply must listen to and someone I must read. He died in 2008, but the website is there and in reading just a little, I am pulled away from my writing to read his.

So, I must leave you now. I’m not sure I said all that I wanted or meant to, but I think this is  a start of more thoughts to come, on faith, on myself, on my life’s journey, on healing myself, which, again, makes me feel those pinpricks behind my eyes as I think about the whole idea of becoming whole, of finally being able to find who I am, which is what I’ve been trying to do all along.

Feels like home to me.

Cheers.

The Writing Life

When last I wrote you, it was the eve of the big interview with Michael Perry, Wisconsin writer. Usually when we do these things, we talk to our interviewee via phone. Much to my surprise and subsequent panic, Mike actually came to the studio. And there I was with my stack of five of his books, acting like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers and looking for all the world like a stalker. Jeesh!

But it was fun to get to actually talk with him live in the studio. Studio shows are always better because there aren’t any phone issues to muddle things up. And Mike is such a pro because he’s done this so often that once  you toss him a question, you just sit back and let him tell great stories.

Turns out his oldest daughter was looking at a college visit here in our fine state, so his wife and both daughters were outside while he spoke with us. I asked after if I could meet his wife and thank her for sharing him with us, but he explained there was a kind of boundary he didn’t like to cross between public and private life. I totally got it and kind of felt embarrassed and a little stalker-like for even asking. But I imagine he gets that a lot, which is why he was able to handle it so gracefully.

Oddly enough, I actually did meet them the next night, rather by accident.

He was doing a reading at Prairie Lights in Iowa City, and Ed and I went up. I even got my mom to go along. I thought she might enjoy it because Mike does such a wonderful job of mixing humor and writing. He is a good speaker and has an easy going manner, just like his writing, so it feels like you are just chatting with a neighbor (although, in this case, he is doing all the chatting and you are being a good listener).

When Ed dropped Mom and me at the door so he could park the car, we walked up the stairs behind a woman and her daughters. I thought, “Hmmmm. I wonder if…” And when we got upstairs, I saw the little girl walk over to Mike, who was standing off by himself, getting himself prepped mentally, I suppose. When she turned around, she looked so like him in miniature. I walked over and gave him our thank you gift from the radio show and then took my seat.

After he began, I looked for Ed and saw him in the back, leaning on a bookcase. Afterward, Mom and I walked back to him and he was sitting there talking with Mike’s wife and daughter (of course). Turns out his younger daughter asked Ed if he’d like her chair. What lovely manners. So they were talking about ducks and chickens. And when we walked up, she said she liked my black cat earrings.

I did not ask anyone’s name, because I didn’t want to cross that anonymity line, but I did learn they were staying with friends from Scattergood, the Quaker boarding school in West Branch, so they wouldn’t have to drive the five hours back that night. I told her that years ago we used to attend some of their Friday night dances which, sadly, are no more. I still miss those dances.

All in all, the two days were a wonderful memory for me. And another inspirational shot in the arm, though, I confess, I have had a hard time trying to find some time to write since then. But hearing an author I so admire brought me such joy that I hope to harness that inspiration and really do something with it. In fact, I’m starting to get an idea for some writing even now. So I guess I’ll sign off here and sign in on my laptop. I’ll keep you posted.

Cheers.

Author Mike Perry on the Radio!

I’m a nervous Nelly today. That’s because this afternoon on the radio show (ROI – Relevant or Irrelevant on KALA, St. Ambrose University, 88.5 FM) I get to help interview one of my favorite authors, Mike Perry from Wisconsin. I’ve read pretty much everything he’s written, I get his e-newsletter, I know about his band, The Longbeds, (though, I confess, I’ve never actually heard them), I know he adapted his book Population 485 for the stage, and I know he hosts Big Tent Radio up in northern Wisconsin. I’ve seen him multiple times at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City (and will do so again tomorrow night). This is the closest I’ve ever been to being a groupie.

My biggest fear: I will not know what to say when I get the chance to talk with him. And that I’ll sound like a moron.

Most of the time on the show, which I don’t get to take part is as much as I used to due to time and distance from school, I can toss out glib little comments and sound sort of clever and witty. But now I have a vested interest: I’m a fan of our guest. You’d think that would be a good thing. I know lots about his work and the projects he’s been a part of. I know I make a connection to him via his writing and he feels like a kindred spirit.

And yet.

As my day rolls on, I’ll try to jot down a few things to mention or ask about. References to his books that I’ve read, some more than once, and ask about the next time he’ll be in Mineral Point at the Opera House (so, hopefully, this time I can actually be there). Maybe I can pull up a YouTube video of the Longbeds and actually hear them. Maybe I can joke and say I thought we were interviewing the mixed martial arts fighter Mike Perry, whom I just found when Googling. Really? The sad thing is, there may be more people who know about him than about our Mike Perry, who is articulate and smart and can write like nobody’s business. Who can write like I’d like to write.

If you check out the link to his website, Sneezing Cow (as in “never stand behind a sneezing cow” – yes, this is the author for whom I own all his books), you’ll find the following: “Home of Michael Perry – New York Times Bestselling Author, Humorist, Singer/Songwriter, Intermittent Pig Farmer.” That’s the kind of smart-ass I tend to be in real life, and here, too, I guess. So that’s why there’s such a connection. Of course, I don’t have the New York Times thing behind my name. Yet.

Midwestern! I guess that’s it. We both grew up on farms, we are about the same age (maybe even the exact same, from what I can glean), we lived through the same eras, both have connections to volunteer fire departments, which is why I bought his first book, Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time. (you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll think; you can buy it on this link – I get no kickbacks for promotion, by the way — just love the guy’s books!). The observations and jokes are so down-to-earth and reach me so much that reading his books feel like having a conversation with a friend (I know – that sounds trite and dorky, but that’s really how it feels for me – like a comfortable pair of old shoes, with warm wool socks and a cup of hot cocoa on a snowy day as I snuggle under a quilt on the porch). Yikes! Sorry about that. I just get carried away sometimes.

“New York Times Bestselling Author.” That’s the one that brings me up short and makes me nervous. Because when I started reading his books, he was just Mike Perry from Wisconsin. Though I daresay that’s probably still how he would describe himself. Just a guy who writes (really well) all kinds of stuff and diversifies in order to make the mortgage and insurance payments, who has a lovely and sage wife and two daughters*, and an awesome ’51 International pickup truck that he and his brother-in-law restored** (making me dream of either restoring Old Yeller, my ’63 Chevy pickup,  or winning the lottery and finding a ’55 Chevy). Yup. Just a regular guy. Who also happens to be a NYTimes Bestselling Author, which makes me giddy.

So, wish me luck. I hope I won’t get too tongue-tied or say anything too idiotic. And, if all goes well, maybe I’ll get to have a real, off-air conversation with Mike tomorrow night after his reading at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City. I’m sure stranger things have happened. Getting the chance to sit down with a New York Times Bestselling Author and have a regular chat would feel pretty surreal but great. I’d buy him a beer, but he doesn’t drink. But maybe I’ll need one.

Cheers.

*read Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting

** read Truck: A Love Story

 

 

Illness and Contemplation

Okay, so to start with I’m not really sick all the time. It may just seem that way because when I am sick, I have more time to sit down and write. Which brings up the dilemma of finding more time to write during those times when I’m not sick. Sigh.

I guess that means that while I am feeling, generally, pretty good about the resolutions I began a month ago, and I do feel like I am making progress in a lot of ways, writing is one area in which I need to do a little reboot, rethink, and reorganization.

Overall, I have been pretty excited with how I have been progressing on the no-sugar/no-alcohol front (and the being very careful with what I eat, measuring and weighing and pre-planning and all). I did make one exception yesterday for the Jilted Kilt keg tapping event at Great River Brewery, but only because: 1) I got to meet up with my friend Brent for a drink and a chat, 2) I got to hear a bagpipe and drum band with the ever-Scottish Derek Grant, and 3) I got to wear my kilt! So how can a girl say “No” to that!

But, I was very steadfast. I had one beer and one beer only. I did not eat the Scotch egg (I did have one bite, and it was good, but I wasn’t going to break all the rules, just one). So I was pretty proud of the fact that I stood my ground. And when I got home last night, I was tempted to finish off the one remaining can of pear cider, but told myself that one meant one. If I want the cider, I can have it at Spring Break. I am determined. I am a Badass! (See my earlier post if this part does not make sense.)

And I am also quite proud of the fact that when I left school on Friday, after a rough last class, I was tempted to have a beer or something sugary. But being mindful, I knew that I really didn’t want that, no matter what my stressed brain seemed to say. I knew I had to stay the course. And I did! Yea, me!

Welcome to my stream of consciousness! Sorry if this is too revealing for you, but I am trying to make myself public so that my friends who read this can hold me accountable, and I can hold myself accountable to them.

And now for something completely different!

If I had to pick a day to be sick, this would have been an excellent choice, aside from the fact that I had to miss coffee with a friend and miss church and miss a Superbowl party (which is not so much watching the Superbowl as it is having pizza, wings, and beer with friends). But I am not missing school, which is better. Plus it is snowing, off and on, so it’s nice to be snug inside with a mug of tea occasionally watching the fluffy white stuff outside, knowing that no matter how cold it is, I don’t have to go out.

I’d love to be able to watch it from my window as I write, but the window is covered in plastic and the shades are closed, so it’s just a white wall or plastic-covered shades. We are hoping to replace a couple windows, including the ones in here, next summer. So a year from now, I ought to be able to look out upon the backyard as I write. But maybe I need to put something on the wall to look at when I am trying to think up a synonym or fix a sentence (believe it or not, I do edit, despite how it might look – really).

My writing desk used to be in the basement, but I never used it there. Instead, it just collected detritus and dust. So I decided to put it in my bedroom and have my laptop set up so that whenever the urge to write hits, I can take advantage of it. And, with it being in a more accessible spot, maybe I can get in more writing time. Perhaps not always on the blog, but more frequent writing in general. Practice, practice, practice and all. I do some writing with a fountain pen in my leather journal, but those bits are usually more just for me and not the general public (believe it or not, there are things that I don’t put in here for you to read!).

My sun lamp is also on my desk, so I can get the much-needed rays to fend off SAD. I find I need it a little less this year, mostly because the classroom I moved to last spring has windows with some natural light. Granted, I cannot actually see outdoors, but the skylights from the hallway make it feel less like I’m buried in a shoe box beneath the ground. That and my classroom now is roughly twice the size of my old one. So even though I may have some kids who give me fits, I feel better equipped to deal with that. Of course, a new therapist and some books that are really striking a chord help as well.

Well, this is likely one of the most aimless posts I have ever written, but it just felt like I had to write something today. When I first sat down at the keyboard, I had all kinds of big ideas and a lot of meat to put on the sandwich. But I had not been on the laptop for so long that downloads ensued (and ensued and ensued). So all the more noble and meaningful ideas flew clean out of my head.

So sorry, but that’s all I’ve got for now. This is one of those days when just writing is something I felt the need to do. And you, poor reader, have been patient for this journey to nowhere. For that, I thank you. I promise that the next time you stop by, I’ll have something with a little more oomph and substance.

Cheers.jilted kilt