Welcome 2018! (Or, plans for the new year)

Happy New Year! Happy 2018, dear readers!

Well, can you believe it? We’ve made it to the start of another year. Another 365 days around the sun to do some things. It’s exciting and terrifying. Like a new journal with 365 pages and we have to come up with something awesome to do. That’s a lot of pressure to make something wonderful, important. You know, not to waste the year just by having fun. But I think having fun is part of the point of creating, instead of trying to compete with people’s perfect Instagram or Twitter posts.

So what are you planning to do this year? What do you want to accomplish with your art or work or anything in between?

I always have super-audacious plans. Always. And I don’t accomplish all of it, even if I get a lot done. I seem to think that there are always more hours in the day than 24 and that I’ll never get sick or burned out or tired. But life has a way of bringing a reality check to any plans. However, I try not to let that get me down.

So what am I planning on doing this year?

I’m going to do a lot more calligraphy for the sheer joy of it (and because it’s important to remember that not every hobby has to become a hustle). I received some amazing gifts of new ink, nibs, and a whole ream of practice paper for Christmas and am looking forward to practicing and creating beautiful writing. I’ll probably share some photos, too, but I’m doing it for the joy of it and not for any hustle.

I’m going to continue writing with intention (check out Chuck Wendig’s post on this for inspiration). I’m still writing the first draft of what I started before NaNoWriMo and worked on through November (in between travel and getting a truly awful cold) and I’m hoping it will wrap itself up in the first couple of months of the year so I can let it sit and I can revise it later in the year. It’s the slowest I’ve written a first draft, but I also feel it is probably the most intentional writing I’ve done in fiction, too. It’s been frustrating sometimes to write slowly, but it feels like the words are coming out better, truer, with meaning. I’ll let you know how it looks once I get into the revising.

But I want to continue writing with intention, even if it is slower. I’m going to continue writing Saturday Shorts, which feed my need to play with fiction writing and satisfy my desire to complete a project. I hope you’ll continue reading them and hopefully enjoying them.

I want to read more books this year. I keep track of the books I read throughout the year and books I want to read. I have a healthy list and will hopefully get to read a lot of them in the coming weeks. I may share some thoughts on them from time to time and hope you’ll share books you love with others, too.

I’m looking forward to a year of continued creativity and art, with work and activism knit up into it all, too. Plus many cups of tea, naps in the sun with my husband and cat, talks with dear friends, and some travel for inspiration, too.

I hope you have a wonderful plan for 2018 that brings a smile to your face and keeps you buoyed through the inevitable difficulties of life that lay ahead for us all. I hope you have a supportive community, full of friends and family, that keeps you going. And I hope this year we make the world a better place in anyway we can. As Desmond Tutu wrote, “Each time we choose good, we add to the human treasury of goodness.” And that’s something I think we can resolve to do in our art and life. Let’s increase goodness in the world this year. That’s a plan worth resolving to accomplish.

Happy new year, dear readers. 🙂

Thoughts at the Start of NaNoWriMo

Happy November! Can you believe it is already November? I feel like part of the year has gone missing, like it’s rolled under the couch and now we can’t find it so the year has been ridiculously short (and yet also feels like the longest year ever. Time is weird and wibbly wobbly, too.). So you know what November means. No, not quite turkey time here in the United States, but it is the start of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

I quite love NaNoWriMo. This is my fourth year of participating and it really is a lot of fun. It’s frenetic, too, because how could it not be? It is the start of the holiday season after all. But it is a wonderful month for writing amongst others here, as the days grow too short and the nights grow too long. For me it is hibernation weather, so having an outside impetus to get me out of the house after work is a happiness and getting out of the house to be surrounded by other writers is a joy.

It’s a slightly bonkers and wonderful thing to attempt to write 50,000 words in a month, crammed between life and work or school/work and life or any other combination of things we have on our plates. But it is fun and it is community-building and I love it.

I love the sound of keyboards clicking and pens scratching as we race to get in our world count for the day. The word sprints where our hands might actually get ahead of our thoughts, instead of the other way around. The laughter that only comes when everyone is just on the cusp between elation and despair that only other writers, other creatives, other people trying this mad thing can understand.

For most of the year, I’m a solitary writer. I prefer silence when I write as noise and music distracts me. I like the quiet of morning and evenings to write, when the cat curls up asleep next to me and my tea is still warm in my mug. I set deadlines and goals just for myself and keep them, more or less. But in November it’s my time to break out of that routine, to find comfort writing in a group, and to learn from others even if it is only by diffusion as we all lean over laptops and notebooks scribbling until our hands can’t take any more. But in November the ideas and compassion and encouragement swirl freely and I only have to reach out my hand to grab some to last me through to the next writing session.

So if you’ve never tried NaNoWriMo before, or you are an old-hand, I hope you’ll join us on this journey this month. Find your home region, go to a write-in or two, and be amazed at how much fun writing with your community can be. You never know what inspiration may come only when you are in the final stretch, typing as fast as your fingers can fly. It’s November 1st and anything is possible, dear writer, anything at all.

Saturday Short: The Community Bookstore

photograph of two polaroids of bookstores

It used to be, back when your mother and father were young and there were still such things as penny candy and magic, there was a bookstore in every town and every one was different. Some were so small that you would have sworn it could have fit inside a shoebox.

Yet the proprietor always managed to find the exact book you needed, when you needed it, even if you had no idea that particular book was going to make your heart sing.

Others were so large that you could lose whole gaggles of children amongst the stacks. Some did, only to be found at closing time by the store cat, asleep with picture books open in their laps.

Nowadays, when people live next door to each other for years, yet still can’t rightly tell each other’s name, there are fewer bookstores and less magic, too.

But if you’re lucky enough to find one in the town where you hang your coat at the end of the day, go in and say hi. Put your phone in your pocket and gaze around in wonder as you step over the threshold into a place of joy and welcome.

Find that book you’d forgotten, which made you brave when you were young. Pick up a slim tome, on the recommendation of a handwritten sign stuck precariously between the spines, that may just save your soul. Buy the fat novel with a title that tickles like déjà vu at the base of your neck on the advice of the bookseller whose smile crinkles the corner of her eyes when you say yes and who whispers that the book is one of her favorite friends.

There’s still magic in the world, though it’s hidden more often than not. But you can find it wrapped up in the pages found in bookstores owned by people whose veins flow with prose and poetry. Don’t be shy, come on in, and if you listen closely, you’ll hear the books call your name, too.

~~~

Dedicated to Renee on the occasion of the Grand Opening of Books on B. Thank you for bringing back magic, warmth, and community into our downtown through your bookstore. May all the pages of your days be blessed.

Why I’m a Hobbit (and not an Elf)

I know, I know. I’m not really a hobbit either, I’m simply a human. But of the two, I’m more of a hobbit than an elf (even if I really, really am enamored of the elvish interpretation of Art Nouveau). Why does this even matter? Well, because I was thinking about how what we believe is a good life, a worthwhile life, a life to strive for influences what we create.

Okay, I know that seems like a bit of a stretch, but I can explain. First, I love Tolkien’s writings and his worlds. I love Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Lord of the Rings (I mean, really, who can hear Sam’s speech near the end of The Two Towers and not get misty eyed?). And I really, really love Hobbiton. I grew up in a small farming town and I love villages. I love the countryside and gardening and tea and community and everything about it. I love the idea of having a simple life, a rooted life. I’m definitely a Baggins though because I love to have an adventure or two, too, but then I want to come home to a place that feels like home.

I sometimes wish I were more like an elf, but I’m not. I’m not graceful all the time and I’m sure not wise (yet) and I definitely can’t walk on snow. But perhaps that’s not the point and that thinking I should be like an elf is a way of perpetuating the idea that a life needs to be extraordinary to be a good life, while research tells us that joy is found in the small moments of what can appear from the outside as an ordinary life. (I highly recommend watching Brene Brown’s talk that touches on this idea, which got me thinking about these intersections between life and writing and meaning more deeply, again as her work usually does. Not to mention, having the courage to be vulnerable and keep sharing what I create and write, even when it’s scary.)

So what does any of this have to do with my writing? My love of Hobbiton and a hobbit’s life shows up in my writing even when I’m not conscious of wanting to put themes such as home and belonging and peace and good tilled earth into it. It shows up in my writing worlds that feature great open spaces and rolling countryside and people on reluctant adventures and the belief that people can create a better world, a just world. Thinking about what is meaningful to me allows me to more fully embrace the stories I’m writing, dig deeper and write what’s true (even when it cuts a little more closely than what seems fully comfortable).

I get to choose what’s a good and meaningful life for me and you do, too. And it’s fine for me to be a hobbit and for you to be an elf or a ranger or whatever else floats your boat and gets you home to where you need to be for your writing and creating. So if you need me, you’ll find me in my hobbit hole and I’ll put the kettle on for tea. Until then, watch your feet…(you know the rest). 🙂

Goodness is What We Do

Sometimes words fail. I don’t know about you, but after getting past “Nazis are bad” and “hate is bad” it can be difficult to know what to say or add to the conversation. Sometimes we have to act for good, giving of our time, money, and creativity to make the world a better place in whatever way and space we can, but still can’t find the words to represent or contain our emotions and reactions and all that messy stuff we try to work through in our art, our writing, our living. So I’m rather thankful this week for the quote I found in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide and I wanted to share it with you.

Goodness has a First Amendment right, too. Southern Poverty Law Center

First, go read the guide. It is full of useful tips and actions that we can all take to make the world a better place, a place of goodness and welcome, a place where everyone is valued and safe. That’s a world that I want to help bring about and I want to live in.

Second, remember that goodness has a right to be in the conversation, too. (And, whenever you need it, there is always the PSA from xkcd about free speech, too.) We can spread goodness, at work and at home, in our communities and across the world. One person can only do so much, but together we can do a lot. And while it is really, really difficult to continue creating art in such a time, we need to do that, too. It can sustain us so we can continue fighting and it can be used, as we’ve seen for resistance.

Also, if you’re like me and a lot of your creativity takes the form of writing, it can be helpful to know you are not alone in finding it difficult to write now and good to read other writers who also all about getting art done at the same time as working to better the world through their activism and support of various causes and organizations. For a bit of cheer and something concrete you can do, go read the guest post from Michael Damian Thomas on Terrible Minds then go support Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction. Also, check out the 10 Things for Good from Janine Vangool, the publisher, editor, and designer of Uppercase. 

I hope you find some way to help spread goodness today in the world and whatever kindness you can. I hope you find it in you to create and share your art because we need it, always. And I hope you find some joy in whatever small things you can because we need joy to continue our work, our art, and our lives. Let’s smother the hate of the world with goodness in speech, action, and art. I know together we can do it! 🙂

Ordinary Heros

Well, here we are in the second half of 2017 already. It’s been a year, hasn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely ready for a bit of a break during summer. Some slower days, longer nights, and time to work on some of my non-work projects sounds lovely to me. Life becomes a slog if you can’t find the time to sit back and unplug every once in a while.

But we still have to interact with the world and try to make it a better place, through our work and our art. So in that spirit, I wanted to share this quote:

I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. Christopher Reeve

I think this may be one of my favorite definitions of a hero. It is something I can aspire to do, even if I don’t face overwhelming obstacles. I can continue to persevere and endure and help others to, too, even when it seems like everything is going up in flames.

Plus, if we manage to persevere together, we have the potential of not just enduring but thriving and kicking those obstacles in the butt. And that gives me hope, which gives me the strength to continue to take action. I think we all need that these days.

Also, if you need some inspiration to keep writing (or doing whatever creative acts you do), I still can’t recommend reading Chuck Wendig’s blog enough (sample motivation post found here). It can definitely be NSFW sometimes, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t still a great read. It helped me take the holiday yesterday and start writing fiction again. And to me, that’s a great win.

I hope you find ways of being an ordinary hero (just don’t start calling yourself one, that’s a bit pretentious), of creating your art, and of sharing it with the world. Let’s help each other and let’s make some great art. Be kind and I’ll be back with a Saturday Short this weekend. 🙂

Thoughts at the End of Camp NaNoWriMo

Well, it’s the beginning of May, which means it is the end of Camp NaNoWriMo. Did you go to camp last month? Did you find it to be “an idyllic writers retreat, smack-dab in the middle of your crazy life”? I can’t say I found it to be an idyllic retreat, but it was useful and I wanted to share a few thoughts now that it’s over.

Unlike its better-known cousin, NaNoWriMo, which happens every November, Camp NaNoWriMo happens in April and July. And, unlike NaNoWriMo, during the camp months you get to set your own writing goals. You can still choose to do 50,000 words in a month or set your goal lower or higher depending on what you want to accomplish.

I decided, on a whim, about two days before April started, to do Camp NaNoWriMo this year. I know, not the best way to go about it, especially when I’m not a pantser. But even though I have strong inner motivation to write, I wanted to really make some progress on a work so I could move into revision mode this summer. So how did it go?

I set my goal at 30,000 words as it was ambitious enough that I’d have to write pretty much every day, but not so high that I’d never be able to reach it and get discouraged. With my teaching schedule this term and other assorted projects, etc., I knew that getting to 50,000 words wasn’t going to accomplish anything.

Then I just started writing. I wrote and wrote, scribbling some notes in the margins with comments for rearranging things later. I didn’t have a plan and I didn’t write in sequence, which is really strange for me. But it worked and when you’re trying to get words on the page and it’s working, who am I to question it?

I got to 30,000 words (yay!) and estimate I have around 10,000 more to write to wrap up this drafting to add to what I already had before April started. Then I’ll have a completed first draft with some parts that are wildly out of order, but that will work with revisions I’m thinking. (Besides, I quite like revising. I just need something on the page to revise.)

So Camp NaNoWriMo might not have been a relaxing or idyllic retreat, but it helped me get more words on the page, to have an “excuse” to carve out more time for my writing, and to find more joy in creating, which I really needed in a topsy-turvy month. Plus, I had my “ah-ha!” moment on the last day of writing and a plot point clicked into place that makes the story work so much better than before. And that’s what it’s all about, right?

Finding joy in creating, being surprised by the writing, and coming away smiling at the thought of doing it all over again the next day.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go back to my cabin and write. 🙂

Spending Our Days and Our Lives

We have sunshine where I live for the first time in what seems like weeks. I know it hasn’t been that long, but the rain in California has been intense this year and it is nice (and necessary) to have a break. I always feel more energetic when the sun is out, but I wrote out this week’s quote when it was raining because it reminds me to get on with life even when I feel like just curling up and doing nothing.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. Annie Dillard

This is both profound and oh, so, simple, right? Our days make up our lives so we better spend our days doing what makes us create the life we want. I mean, that shouldn’t be hard, should it? But it seems like too often we let things get in the way of using our days in a way that is meaningful and productive. I know I’m guilty of fixating on work problems and conflicts or the dozen small tasks that I need to do, instead of focusing on whether I’m moving towards my goals and towards helping anyone in what I’m doing with my day.

So I need the reminder that our days create our lives. I need that reminder whenever I feel that time is going by too quickly and I don’t have enough time for those things that make life worth living for me: family and friends, time to create and to share, giving and laughing, listening to the birds, and walking without constantly looking at my watch.

I hope that you life your days the way you want to spend your life. Reframing my days in that way makes what I do have purpose and meaning, even if sometimes it seems futile. If you have any tips on what you do to make your days meaningful, even in the midst of busy work weeks, I’d love to hear them.

Also, if you have a chance, I highly recommend The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams. It is a wonderful read and a reminder of what makes for a good, meaningful life. Plus, who doesn’t want to exist in a place of joy? No one I know. So I wish you a joyful day and a joyful life. Let’s create something wonderful, okay? 🙂

Sharing and Having

Well, it’s February already. Did anyone else feel like January went by in a hazy whirlwind and you’re not quite sure what happened? The world is way too interesting for my taste right now and it is hard to fell like there is time for art when there is so much else to do, so many others to help. So today feels like the right day to share this quote b Leonard Nimoy:

the miracle is this-the more we share, the more we have Leonard Nimoy

It makes me smile and remember that sharing truly does give us more. Not just talking about “stuff” either, but the important things like more compassion, more empathy, more knowledge that we are enough no matter how flawed our attempts to share and to care might be. In doing things to help others, we inevitably help ourselves and that’s a good thing.

The world may seem to be getting harsher and less caring, but there are so many good people in this world sharing and caring and helping. So we need to remember this—I need to remember this—to keep up my energy and to keep caring.

And our art is a part of this sharing. It’s important. I got back to creative writing on my next manuscript a few days ago and it felt wonderful. It felt right. I hope to have more to share soon.

Keep sharing, keep caring, and keep making your art. We need it. We really do.

 

 

So this is easy and fun (not)

Usually on Wednesdays I post one of the quotes I’ve written in calligraphy that has helped or inspired me during the week. But last week I didn’t post anything and this week I’ve not quite found the energy yet to do so. Next week, I’ll probably be back to my calligraphy, but in the words of Stephen Colbert, right now, “this sucks.”

I don’t talk politics on this blog because it is one of my sanctuaries for writing and art and trying to share what makes my world a bit brighter, more beautiful and politics far too often isn’t beautiful and doesn’t make me inspired to create. But I can’t ignore that this last week has been hard, depressingly hard, and that politics is at the front and center. Or, perhaps, more accurately what the last election in my country has made painfully clear is front and center in my mind–and it hurts. And in my case, and in the case of a lot of others who have been writing and sharing, pain and sorrow and grief and anger do not make for easy creating of art no matter what the popular notion of a tortured artist shows us.

So for this post, I wanted to share links to other people’s writings that have helped me in the last week and I hope will help you, too.

Chuck Wendig’s blog posts have been thoughtful, funny, and full of good advice. I highly recommend reading, “Stronger Together, But So Far Apart” and “Mourn, Then Get Mad, Then Get Busy” It is okay to feel however you feel. And, when you’re ready, we need you back to make the art you make and to give the help and support you can give.

This post, “A Letter to My Blog Followers” by The Blabbermouth Blog sums up my feelings so well. Just because I don’t publicly share all my thoughts and actions and donations and such doesn’t mean I’m not involved and still doing what I can to help. All our help is needed, whether or not we choose to give a shout out to what we are doing on social media.

And, as always, there is Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” Speech:

Next week, I’ll be back to sharing calligraphy and Saturday Shorts. Until then, I hope you have people who have your back, who you can talk with, and who can help you find your way back to those things that center you and remind us that there is still joy and meaning in creating art. Also, I hope you are on the side of empathy and understanding and social justice and kindness and you show that through your actions and your art. We need it now more than ever. Take care and, as Neil Gaiman says, “make good art.”