Turning A Page

Our trip to Paraguay was relentless, hot and wonderful.  We were able to accomplish more than we’d hoped, thank God, and our flights and connections remained smooth (no small thing considering we flew over the Amazon Basin twice and there are, let’s just say, bumps in that ride).  The whole experience was life-altering, as trips like these often are.

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In our Paraguayan hotel room.  It was 99 degrees and humid outside but at night our AC wall unit worked overtime.  It reminded us of the good old days in India. 

Predictably, I arrived home with a sore throat and fluid packed ears, so I spent last week trying to recover and getting the kids back on track in their regular routines while hoping my exhausted husband was somehow making it at work.  My work in progress (affectionately known in writer world as WIP) remained mostly untouched, save for a little fiddling here, a few hundred words there.  I kept telling myself that it’s insane to spend a grueling, love-filled week in South America and then expect for things to immediately fall back into place just because the plane touched back down at home.  Still, I fretted.

And now it’s Monday again, come what may.  Things are slowly coming together.  I signed up for the ACFW conference last week, which is in August this year.  It’s terrifying to have a real deadline by which I should have my manuscript ready (or ready-ish) in order to receive helpful feedback.

It’s also clarifying–meaning I will, once again, have to trim the fat from my life in order to meet my goal.

For the next several weeks I’ll have my head down in an attempt to finish and polish the manuscript I’m working on while also helping my kids wrap up their school year and keep the home fires burning in my marriage.  If all of that seems reasonable to you, I’d love to take your productivity course.

So I’ll be scarce on the old blog. I won’t even be writing much poetry, for heaven’s sake.  I’ll miss you all.  In the meantime, feel free to drop in here and comment, look around, or email me if the mood strikes you.

Until I emerge on the other side,

Hannah

 

 

Leaving

I’m heading overseas again in T-minus five hours–this time with my husband.  The rest of the world doesn’t think that’s any reason to stop blogging or e-communicating.  But I’m stuck in a time warp, I guess, and I never keep up my writing responsibilities when I’m Somewhere Else.  Any writing I do happens in a notebook during those times, and then, too, after full days of immersion in another language and culture I do a lot of evening staring off into space instead of stringing together sentences in the ol’ mother tongue.

So until next week, Adios.  If you’re Spring-breaking, I hope wherever you are is warm and peaceful.  If you’re doing normal things, may you have a steaming cup of quality something while you do them.

 

The Routine God

 

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I love the liturgies of daily life.  I scramble to bring order to my days and I sometimes think I’m nothing without my routine.  So when things come along to throw off my groove (and they do, routinely–see what I did there?), I feel lost.

I could lie and say this love of habit blossomed after I finally woke from a compressed and super-intense baby-producing phase in which I trust I was present but only have scrapbooks and stretch marks to prove it.  But, no.  I was making workable life plans for myself in second grade.

The thing is, I have seen daily disciplines work.  I have, in fact, used them to lose weight, to read through the entire Bible in a year, to play certain difficult pieces on the cello, to learn to speak Hindi, to write a novel.  I also know that the slapdash, open-ended ways of a creative often hinder her from getting actual stuff done.  The Muse visits the writer whose bum is already in the chair, etc, etc, etc.

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But the workable routine always wants to become my god.  It promises to save me from sloth and chaos and irrelevance.  Or that’s what I hear it say, anyway.  And then the real God, the One who helps us even when we didn’t ask him to, castrates the fake god by letting mess happen, instead.  Not because routines are bad–they’re helpful–but because they aren’t more important than life, or God himself.

All of that is to say that I haven’t written in a week and I feel crazy.  I’m working on a project with a deadline I made up because it helps me accomplish more when I pretend disaster is looming.  But, like I said, life happened this week and I ended up thinking instead of doing.  My teenagers needed me and so did some friends.  And after that I just wanted to watch Netflix and read books that have nothing to do with the one I’m writing.  I wanted to go limp.

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So now I’m trying to get back to my former routine (again!) without loving it too much. Oh,  how I hate getting back into something instead of already being in the middle of it.  I also hate confronting the fear that fills the vacuum my ruined routine leaves in my psyche.  On the other hand, I want to grow trusting and flexible enough that I can ride these longterm contractions with quiet confidence that God knows what’s best for me, that I can trust him with all the things–including my writing habits and my time.  That I can get back to work eventually.

I should be working on my novel.  But I’m blogging instead.  Baby steps.

The Easy Way Out

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Once in a while I write about things that help get me through difficult seasons, that remind me easier days are (most likely) coming.  Today I realized that I don’t often write about tools that make educating my kids easier, and this is weird because helping them learn is such a huge part of my life.  I’m correcting that now.

Books/reading material we love:

Solid Joys daily devotional (online);  I love these thought-provoking snippets.  They’re easy to access and take about 10 minutes to read through.  They help the kids and me focus our minds and hearts on God and have become an essential part of our day.

101 Famous Poems, by Roy J. Cook;  Anyone who knows us well can tell you that we’re all a little crazy for poetry–yes, even the boys.  This book is a one-stop shop for many of the great poems and it’s helping us to sample words widely and well before starting more formal studies in the morning.

The Chronicles of Narnia;  You know how sometimes you just need to reread books that bring back good memories and make you feel safe?  We know that feeling.  This winter I’ve been rereading the entire Narnia series aloud, book by book, to my giant teenaged kids, not because they can’t read for themselves, but because doing so both reinforces positive feelings in all of us and doesn’t take much effort on my part.  We need these good vibrations because Algebra.

Educational tools that are transforming everything:

Pimsleur Spanish CD’s;  I’ve mentioned before that I was a German major in college and lived in Vienna, Austria for a time.  Later I moved to India and learned to speak Hindi both through hours in a classroom and with informal conversation practice.  But nothing has helped me or my kids learn to speak a language faster or more easily than this set of audio CD’s.  By following the program’s (somewhat intense) thirty-minutes-a-day speaking practice we’re netting huge language gains in this house.

Code Academy;  My middle son wanted to learn to code.  My idea of awesome computer skills was learning how to insert links in my blog posts.  This free website is serving both of us well.  He can teach himself (easy!), and I can remain a semi-Luddite.  Win/win.

Pandora Radio;  I talk about Pandora a lot, I just realized.  Whatever.  I’m a cellist so, naturally, music is important to me.  But I want my kids to learn to appreciate a wide variety of musical styles and artists without my having to work hard at it.  Almost nothing is easier than creating a variety of genre stations on Pandora and playing them while we go about our day.  I don’t have to create big “music appreciation” moments.  If my kids have questions about a piece, they look at the TV (where we play our stations) and read the provided information.  If they want to know more, I help them find it.  They know so much about music these days–and I haven’t broken a sweat.

The longer I homeschool my kids, the more convinced I am that not everything has to be so darn hard.  Sometimes easier is better.

 

So You Call Yourself a Professional?

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about the difference between being a dilettante and a professional in a given field.  I’m not convinced that what separates the two is primarily whether a person’s making money or not, but that it has to do with a state of mind.

I started writing regularly when I lived overseas.  During those years it was a sanity saver, a way to let some emotional air out of a too-tight balloon.  When I came back to the U.S. it was a way to make sense of a painful re-entry into a life that no longer seemed to fit.  Writing was a means to achieving emotional health.

But something happened along the way.  I starting feeling better.  I began mapping out my days, automatically protecting blocks of time for writing not because I was battling another stout cycle of depression, but because I wanted to.  And then, eventually, I wrote because I couldn’t imagine not doing it.

That led to the blind creation of a confused, bleeding novel I couldn’t bear to re-read or throw away.

So I locked it up and wrote another one.

In the meantime, I consumed all I could about the craft of writing.  I checked out books from the library on plot and structure.  I read agent blogs and followed publishing houses on Twitter.  I explained character arcs to my desperately bored children at the dinner table, and polled my husband on whether certain plot points seemed believable.

I got published and got my first paycheck.  But the majority of my time is still spent in my bedroom with the laptop, writing words I don’t know if anyone will ever read.  And yet I’ve left behind the idea that I’m writing as a dilettante or for the sake of therapy.

I now consider myself a professional, though I haven’t quit my day job.  I think of myself that way because I’ve put myself on a trajectory–albeit a difficult one–and I’m living now the way I hope to be living when.  Which is to say, I’m educating and disciplining myself as if I’ve already arrived at my writing destination, though I haven’t yet.

This is the heart of professionalism, I think, this idea that we work with diligence and excellence when no one is looking because we’re deeply dedicated to the thing we’re doing.  And we continue to move toward attainable goals, one at a time, even if the money isn’t rolling in and no one is patting us on the back.

I write these words to remind myself because it’s easy to forget.