Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's December. Now what?

November is of the past, as is NaNoWriMo. Gone is my excuse to ignore my blog because I need the extra time to bolster my word count.

I did it. I wrote 50,000 words in fewer than 30 days. My final word count was around 54,000. Most of those words are actually correctly spelled and strung together in such a way that I have a good start on a story. Notice that I don't claim to have written a complete novel; in fact, at 54,000 words I am only about halfway through my tale.

Now it's December, and I have to decide if I want to continue adding to that 54,000 words. A part of me (and more than a few books written about writing) says that I should keep on truckin'; after all, I just spent thirty days working on this thing. But there's another part of me that is itching to move on to smaller, greener pastures. In the process of working on a "novel," my brain pinged on some pretty good short story ideas (and more than a few blog topics.) And - let's face it - I have a much better shot at finishing a short story than I do at finishing this novel right now. I'm not saying that I'm abandoning it; in fact, I'm continually jotting down ideas to make what I have already written stronger.

This often happens to me when I am working on a big assignment for my job, or even when I am tackling a complex knitting or crocheting project. No matter how much I enjoy what I am doing, no matter how much I desire to hold the completed item in my hands, I reach a point where I need to step back, breathe, and work on something relatively easy for a while. Something I can finish in a short amount of time. Something that reminds me why I started the larger project in the first place.

Everyone gets bogged down on occasion. I think this is an unintended consequence of the goal-driven society we have created. We have become so focused on "getting there" that we have forgotten that most of the good stuff happens on the way to the destination. Anyone who has little kids or remembers being a little kid knows that long car trips are easier to bear if you plan adequate rest stops. You can only count so many blue cars before you desperately need to look at something different, even if that something is a notice tacked to a Plexiglas-encased bulletin board at a roadside "Welcome Center."

December is my Welcome Center bulletin board. After writing some blog entries and short stories to post on it, I'll climb back into the car and count some more blue cars. Or maybe I'll count red ones instead. Either way, I plan on having as much fun during the drive as I hope to have at the destination.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

NaNo Update

It's day 11 of NaNoWriMo, and I've written just over 26,000 words of my novel.

25,500 of them will be deleted in the rewrite.

And yet, I don't consider this a waste of time.

There could be hope for me yet.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's about time

Ian walked into my office this afternoon and lamented, "I wish there were more hours in the day. There's not enough time for me to do everything I have to do and still be able to do the things I want to do!"

He's ten years old.

While we are busier than I would like to be, I don't think our family has a particularly fast-paced life. True, Ian dances three evenings a week, but that's his only extracurricular activity. He is homeschooled, so - while we do follow a lesson plan - he hasn't been pigeonholed into an academic schedule that is too difficult for him. Consequently, he rarely has homework. I work full time, but two days a week I work from home. Mike is a stay-at-home dad/microfarmer. Lily spends her days learning her ABCs and watching old episodes of Blue's Clues. Overall, I would say that we are much more relaxed than the typical American family.

And yet, at ten years old, Ian is already craving the mythical 25th hour.

I know how he feels. I started my workday today with a massive to-do list. By some miracle, I had it down to six items by lunchtime. I was well on my way to being done by 4pm. But at some point in the afternoon, I lost an hour and a half and wasn't able to shut down my accounting program until 5:30 - a half-hour later than my "official" quitting time. The ninety minutes I was going to spend working on my NaNoWriMo novel outline had trickled away, and I hadn't even noticed there was a hole in the bucket.

Time slips away from us the way calories sneak up on us. One of the (many) times I tried to follow Weight Watchers, I had a group leader who was fond of reminding us to count our "BLTs" - the "bites, licks, and tastes" we indulged in during the day that could easily add up to one of our snack allowances without us realizing it. Maybe I should start keeping a tighter leash on my "PETs" - the phone calls, emails, and text messages that, though individually not significant time-thieves, add up to one of my precious hours.

Or maybe I should change the way I think about time and let my PETs run free. Instead of thinking of time as a series of events with a defined beginning and end to each event, how much more time would I have if I entered each day without a plan as Leo Babauta suggests? Of course, this wouldn't work all the time - there will always be appointments to keep, shifts to work, and deadlines to meet, - but how would minimizing the number of "events" in my day affect the amount of time I have? Or at least my perception about the amount of time I have.

Regardless of our situation in life - whether you are a ten-year-old boy or a 31-year-old working mom who aspires to be a writer, - we are all equal in one thing: time is our most precious commodity. Like a rare jewel, once our time is depleted nothing will create more of it.

Maybe it's about time we stopped wishing for more hours in the day and started doing more with each precious minute we are given.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Recorded for quality assurance purposes

Every word uttered in our house is recorded. Our conversations are stored in a comprehensive database for later review and utilization. No, I do not think the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, or IRS has bugged our house or tapped our phone line. I am not a conspiracy theorist.

I am the mother of a 2-year-old.

Sitcoms, movies, and even commercials are rife with cherubic children creating awkward situations for their parents by revealing intimate family secrets. Remember the commercial in which a little girl in an elevator regales strangers with the details of the Disney cruise she enjoyed with her parents the previous year? The one that culminates with her telling one of the other elevator passengers that her mother refers to her baby brother as "our little souvenir?" I'm pretty sure that commercial was scripted by a mom.

For now at least, Lily doesn't tell embarrassing stories about our family. She does, however, repeat everything she hears us say. Every parent thinks their children are in some way gifted, but it is positively uncanny how well Lily utilizes her ever-expanding lexicon. She takes our words, runs them through the Cutenator 2000, and astounds us and those we know with her loquacity.

What she says is always cute. Often, it is surprising. Sometimes, it is embarrassing.

Occasionally, it makes me stop and think.

Sarcasm is used quite liberally in our family. While my husband and I have never thought anything of it - blame it on too many episodes of Friends and Seinfeld - not even the Cutenator 2000 can dull the edge on everything. In fact, some things seem even harsher when said in Lily's sweet, tiny voice.

Mike and I are products of our society, and I think our society has put too much stock in the wrong kind of wittiness. Somewhere along the way, snarkiness has become synonymous with intelligence. We are ever in search of the "zinger" - that perfect comeback line that is delivered so flawlessly by comedians and actors with a prepared script and no need to worry about the consequences of what they say. We have become desensitized to the impact of words. What might be humorous were our lives a series of 30-minute TV shows is - however unintentionally - cruel in reality, with long-lasting effects on us and those we love. We have forgotten the importance of showing kindness at all times and in all things.

We may be products of our society, but we also have the final word about what our society produces. Lily is still an impressionable little girl, and there is plenty of time to teach her the value of kindness. I think we can retrofit ourselves to produce more kindness, too. It will take time. Commitment. Effort.

And maybe an army of toddlers to record our conversations for quality assurance purposes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In search of unknown geniuses

A few months ago, I attempted to read The Atlantis Blueprint, by Colin Wilson and Rand Flem-Ath. I say "attempted" because it took me four weeks to get 2/3 of the way through the book. My failure to complete the book rests squarely on my shoulders: sadly, I usually only have about a half-hour before going to bed each night to devote to reading, and the material covered in The Atlantis Blueprint requires much more attention than I was able - or willing - to give it. In other words, I was looking for a mindless read, and when I didn't get it I gave up and returned the book to the library.

While much of what is covered in the book is speculative science and therefore does not pertain to this blog, one sentence made it into my "Random Ideas" (now my "Observations on Daily Life") file:

"There are probably millions of human beings in the world today whose intelligence is just as great as the famous scientists, artists and intellectuals in our history books, yet they remain unknown because they fail to make any determined attempt to pull themselves out of their daily routine."

I read this particular statement several times, not because it was late and I had once again lost my place on the page, but because it sparked a "wow moment." I can name at least three people I consider geniuses, and I could easily compile a list of people who think they are geniuses in one respect or another. But how many "unknown geniuses" do I know?

And so I issued a challenge to myself, which I am now going to extend to you. I'm sure you - like me - know a good number of people with very well-defined strengths and abilities. People who have a career and a life plan and have more than enough determination to make themselves known to the world. However, I am also sure that you - again, like me - know at least one person who just seems to bounce along on the waves that carry him across life's ocean, hoping his boat doesn't capsize because he didn't bother to buy a life jacket. My challenge to you is to find out what his deal is. If you don't already know, ask him what his interests are. Then ask him why he doesn't pursue those interests. Encourage him to take some classes, or read some books, or even to apply for an unpaid internship in a related field.

Let's try to find some of those unknown geniuses.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Balancing act

Forgive me, readers, for I have been delinquent in my blogging. It has been almost three weeks since my last entry.

My reason for not blogging is a lack of time. No, that's not completely true. That isn't a reason. It's an excuse.

While it is true that I have been busy recently, I haven't really been any busier than I usually am. What I have been is unwilling to work on balance in my personal life. Yes, I am admitting to - gasp - a bout of laziness.

I have not been idle by any standards. I have consistently worked my customary 40+ hours each week. I have continued to do laundry on Sundays. I have finished knitting a sweater and a hat for Lily, started knitting a sweater for Mike, and made considerable progress on Ian's blanket. I have been hard at work on Ian's English curriculum.

But I haven't written a word outside of work-related email since my last blog entry on September 30. I realized this morning that I feel out of balance. Incomplete. Unfulfilled. And I'm crabby. It seems that now that I have recommitted to writing, I feel empty without it. Even though days often pass without me making measurable progress on any writing project, when I carve out just a few minutes each day to tinker with something I feel...well, better. I've told myself for more than two weeks that I don't have time to write. There's always something else that requires my attention, that needs to be done now so I can spend time with my family later. I realized today that I've been lying to myself to justify laziness.

It's hard to make time to write each day, but I realize now that I have to do it. Otherwise, I am out of balance - a shell of my true self, wandering through each day with too much direction but no real purpose. While taking the time to write may take me away from my family in the short-term, the long-term consequences of living with a writer who doesn't write has to be worse for them.

Balance is not an easy thing to achieve. Remove just one component or add one too many, and the scales tip and everything slides into the floor. Achieving balance requires organization, concentration, and willpower - three things that I have allowed to be absent from my personal life lately. But as difficult as balance is to achieve, living without it is even harder.

So take down that net called "excuses." I'm ready to take this balancing act to the center ring.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The examined life

The top of the chalkboard in my high school Western Civilization class was emblazoned with this quote:

"The unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates

A sophomoric sophomore or an eleventh grader acting like an 11-year-old would sometimes venture to alter the quote, either by erasing part of it or by adding letters here or a word there. Each time this happened, we would snicker and await the reaction of our teacher - Mr. L.R. Smith - when he entered the room.

It was always the same. He simply rewrote the quote and started class as though nothing had happened.

At first glance, it's obvious that Mr. Smith was following classic teaching (and parenting) advice by not reacting to this non-destructive, rebellious behavior from the children he was charged with teaching. I believe there was much more to his lack of a reaction, however. By writing the quote in chalk instead of using a more permanent medium, he was actually encouraging us to alter it. And, by altering it, we were doing exactly what he wanted us to do. We were examining our lives.

I clearly remember the only time I altered the quote. My first serious relationship had just come to an end, and I was devastated. Feeling uncharacteristically rebellious, I walked into the classroom, erased the first two words of the quote, then slouched in my seat and waited for Mr. Smith's reaction. He entered the classroom, paused for just a moment, and then - as always - fixed the quote and started class. But from where I was sitting, I could see his brow furrow just a little.

I spent the next ten minutes avoiding his eyes. In that furrowing of his brow, I could tell Mr. Smith was deeply concerned for whichever student in the class thought that life was not worth living. I'm sure he quickly determined that I was the student in question, but by the end of the class he no longer had cause for concern. The mortifying scenario of being escorted to see my adviser because I was suicidal was enough for me to get my act together. I engaged in class as I never had, and by the end of the hour I felt better than I had since the first weeks of the ill-fated relationship.

Did I truly believe that life was not worth living that day? Not really. But when we are young, we tend to think the smallest misfortune is a devastating calamity. The same is true when we become too self-involved as adults. Invariably, we will all have times when we question why we should bother to keep moving forward. It is during these times when we are given the gift of a moment - be it the furrowed brow of a friend or a vibrant double rainbow after a downpour - to stop and examine our lives. In that examination, I believe we will always find something that makes life worth living.