The Power of Poetry

I’m over at Simple Homeschool today.  We’re talking about poetry, of all things.  Come over and join us!

“We’re in the living room. Two of the kids are stretched on the couch and they’re tugging a blanket between them, though they know better than to wear it out further.

The middle boy sits on the loveseat. He smiles and flops himself flat, legs off the side.

He knows he has the better seat, the one across from me…”

Read the rest here.

In Search of the Flexible Life

My husband and I are looking after my youngest sister’s three kids this week.  Her oldest is nine, and there are a five and three-year-old in the mix.  Then, of course, we have our own three middle-schoolers.  Add to that #Snowmagedon2015, an emerging flu-like croup among those younger than thirty in the house, and blow-up mattresses that keep leaking air, and you’ll start to get a feel for things.

Actually, in all honesty, it’s been smooth sailing–in spite of a very real potential for madness.  The fact that my husband’s school was cancelled for the entire week was a blessing because it meant that he’s been home helping out.

Also helpful is the fact that most kids like plain, ordinary days and a sense of routine, especially young kids.  We’ve been able to keep things very Netflix, Lego, and peanut butter sandwich around here, and there’s been a serious lack of chaos, all things considered.

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Something that had me (selfishly) worried, though, was the fact that I’ve made goals for myself this year, daily disciplines that require repeated, focused attention.  Any change in routine means that I could derail on them at any point.  And since it’s only February, and the disciplines are still new, I might have a painful time getting back into them whenever normal returns.  I hate pain.

In times past, I would have told myself that a week of six children and snow and sickness meant temporarily forgetting about making any progress in personal disciplines at all–  that to do otherwise would only mean setting myself up for frustration and failure.  But I’ll be 37 this Saturday, and something about being three years away from 40 has made me want to figure out how to be open to serving others while still keeping up with my own stuff.

Easier said than… I know.

However, I figured out that I could exercise on the elliptical for ten minutes while the youngest kids dump dominoes out on the floor in the same room.  I told them that if they stay near me, and share the trains with one another, they can keep on enjoying this extremely special privilege–but only when I’m on my machine.  Happily, it’s working out, and so am I.

Since I can’t wake up early without all the kids joining me in my bed, I have taken to writing in the afternoon when the youngest boy naps.  I sit in the room with him, cross-legged, silver Mac on my lap.  He tries to talk to me for the first ten minutes or so, of course, but eventually fades away to the tapping of the keys.  Unexpectedly, I discovered that I am writing as much this week as I did last week.  And the bonus is that my little nephew is thrilled to have someone with him while he rests.

Finally, I’ve switched to reading my Bible at night instead of in the morning.  I don’t prefer doing it this way, but the thing is, I’m managing to keep it up (I desperately need it) while still giving love and attention to those in my care.  In the end, this is more important than doing it at the “right time.”

What I’ve learned this week is that I can do more than I think I can if only I’ll be flexible and resist an all-or-nothing mentality.  Of course, I’m asking God to sustain me daily, and he graciously is.  One of the ways he’s helping me is by giving me the strength to go with the flow.  Another, though, is by helping me to find pockets in the day when I can practice body and soul care.

The upshot is that, so far, I’ve been able to love my people and take care of myself.  I’m calling it a win-win.

How do you keep going when things get crazy?

Writing for Love

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This morning I read an article by a successful literary agent whose blog I follow, and it really got under my skin.  In it, the author cautioned both published and pre-published writers that they need to find out what readers want from them–and give it to them, end of story.  If they’re unwilling to do this, (I’m paraphrasing here) they should be content to scribble in their private journals and forget about landing contracts.

Oh. Ok.

On the one hand I understand her point.  There are too many people banging away at their laptops, rolling around in their special feelings, having mastered few (or no) writing techniques.  Some of these same folks pound out a manuscript without having done the slightest bit of research on genre or publishing trends, much less on developing character arcs, writing compelling dialog, etc.  They believe they don’t need to lay that kind of groundwork because they’ve just written the next bestseller, and bonus! it came from their hearts.

I get that these people are citizens of Pony Land.

So why did her post bug me so much?  Because, at the end of the day, writing is still an art form, not a cranking out of tube socks on a factory line.  And because while we writers need to aim high, (really, stinking high), we still have to write what we love, or else whatever we produce will be dead on arrival.  We have to have integrity.  We have to be brave.  And, frankly, I don’t see how imagining what some faceless audience might want eighteen months to two years from now helps me do or be any of the above.

My takeaway from the article is that it’s imperative that a writer do her homework.  She should read widely, both contemporary and classic literature.  She should study craft books, visit craft blogs, and go to a writing conference if she can afford it.  But when she sits down to her notebook or laptop she should write what is true for her without worrying about what the masses might think (they might never see her words anyway, let’s be honest).  Otherwise, her chances of producing something real and clear are not very good, and even if she’s fortunate enough to be published, she won’t be satisfied with the words someone else told her to write.

What say you?  Should a writer write for herself first and then others?  Or should it be the other way around?

A Little Yes

It’s February.  I told myself I’d introduce my 2015 goals slowly so that I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed and quit on them.  It’s mostly worked and I feel like I’m making progress,  except with the working out thing.  Somehow I haven’t been able (willing?) to make it happen.

I talked about getting a pedometer so that I could track my steps. As it happens, though, I feel crazy doing laps from one end of the house to the other in order to up a step count.  Then, too, I have no intention of going outside.  That left me wondering whether I needed to splurge and purchase a machine like this.  It’s always been my tried-and-true form of exercise in the past.  I even owned one in India and used it every, single day.

I finally bit the bullet and bought one.  Yesterday I got on it for the first time for ten minutes.  Ten minutes was all it took for my bronchial tube to feel as tight as one of those coffee stirrers in a hospital cafeteria.  When I finished my “workout” (I’d managed to log just over a mile), I was basically doing Lamaze to catch up on oxygen.  My daughter looked at me and said, “Good job, Mom?”  She seemed unsure whether to say more.

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Now, ten minutes is nothing, right?  Really almost not worth putting on my ancient running shoes for.  And it was ten minutes of hurt, adding insult to shortness of breath.  But the thing I’ve come to realize is this:  all worthwhile achievements start out as little yesses that look like nothing much and hurt a little (or a lot).

So today I will get back on my machine.  I will play my radio station on Pandora and set my timer for ten minutes again.  I’ll do this for a week without lengthening the amount of time I work out.  Next week, I’ll make it fifteen minutes, then twenty, until I’ve reached a length of time I think is beneficial.  I’ve learned that the key to establishing better fitness is not to despise these early ten minute sessions, not to try to speed through them to get on the other side of a goal.  They’re necessary to establish habit and endurance.

Maybe, in the end, 2015 is really about my learning to appreciate the wobbly, feeble beginnings of things, to keep saying little yesses, one day at a time. Because without beginnings there’s nowhere to go.

What about you?  Do you find yourself hating the beginnings of new habits?  Do you wish you could skip to the “this is easy” phase?  How do you keep going when you aren’t there yet?

Things That Are Saving My Life This Winter

Over at Modern Mrs. Darcy folks are writing about the things that are saving them this winter–not necessarily in sweeping, existential ways, but in small, everyday ways.  When winter holidays have come and gone, and summer is still months away, many of us struggle to stay motivated in our daily routines, to stay hopeful, even.  This is not because we’re particularly wimpy (though *cough* some of us are).  Usually it’s because it’s dark outside.  Dark and cold, day after day.  What helps to beat back winter gloom is to think about what’s going right in our days, what’s actually working.  To that end, I jotted down my own list of things that are saving me this winter.

Getting up early.  I’ve mentioned this already but I’ll say it again:  I’ve been waking hours before my kids do for a couple of months now, and the effect the quiet is having on my soul is transforming.  This is not only because I’m able to write consistently (and I am, hallelujah), but because I’m able to read my Bible and pray without feeling rushed.  I don’t think I’ll ever go back to sleeping in.

A nightly cup of chamomile tea.  I splurged and bought an expensive kind so that I’d see it as a treat and actually want to drink it.  It’s working.  I brew a cup about an hour before bed and drink it slowly.  It’s become a signal to my brain and body that it’s time to wind down.  Since I sometimes have trouble falling asleep, I’m especially thankful this ritual helps me feel drowsy.  Then, of course, better sleep equals better days–even if they’re overcast and cold.

Pandora radio.  I’ve spent time cultivating a few stations (by pressing ‘like’ and ‘skip’ on various songs) so that now I mostly hear artists and albums that make me happy.  It’s amazing what listening to good music does for my mood.  I usually have it on while I get ready in the morning, and sometimes in the afternoon when I’m taking a break.  It’s free and better than a cup of coffee for perking me up.

Old-fashioned wall calendars–in the kitchen and in my bedroom.  I may one of the last people in America to write appointments down on actual, paper squares, but I’m fine with that.  It’s soothing for me to be able to see a month at a glance on my walls.  I watch the days fill with activities, and then whizz past me.  Having a visual reminder of the time not only helps me to stay organized, but it also shows me that this season is passing quickly (despite how it feels, sometimes).  While I use calendars all year long, I find them especially helpful in the winter because they offer me perspective during the draggy days.

Those are some things that are saving me this winter.  What about you?  What things are saving your life these days?