I am a writer, but I am also a teacher. After a long day of professional development and a long evening of working on my syllabus, the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and write. I’m tired and achy and I just want to relax, but I can’t build my students’ identities as writers without building my own. One thing I learned this summer is that to teach writers I need to be a writer — not a once-in-a-while-when-inspiration-strikes writer but a sits-down-and-writes-even-when-she-is-ready-to-drop writer.
A writer shows up and writes. Every day. No matter what, even if it is just for five minutes. To call yourself a writer, you have to write, even when you don’t feel like it — especially when you don’t feel like it. It doesn’t matter if you write brilliant prose or crap as long as you write — every damn day.
So, here’s to writing crap after a long day of teaching. I am a writer, and a teacher of writers.
Start slow to go fast. I forgot this saying when I started my 75-day hard challenge last year. I made it a week and then, suddenly, writing felt a lot like work. My problem was that I tried to tackle too much at once. I had this convoluted writing routine that took me at least an hour to complete. By the eighth day, I was burned out. It didn’t take much to make me quit the challenge. I allowed myself one day where I didn’t complete everything in my writing routine. Then, the next day, I allowed myself to take a break, and then the next day and the next…you get the idea.
Start slow to go fast.
If I had taken on a workout challenge, I would never have tried the 75-day hard challenge. I would have started with a simple workout that fit where I was at physically. I wouldn’t have started with an hour run and then two hours of weightlifting. I would start with a short walk and then slowly build my stamina. If I kept up with the routine of exercise, then eventually I would be able to run for an hour. My progress might be slow but as I got in shape, the speed of my progress would increase.
Start slow to go fast.
I used to teach at a rough middle school. The principal would always tell us to take the time at the beginning of the year to develop classroom norms and routines. By taking the time at the beginning of the year to establish a well-managed classroom, we were able to increase our progress later in the year.
Start slow to go fast.
I am starting a 30-day writing challenge where I write five minutes a day for 30 days. It might not seem like much. What can I write in five minutes? I can write the introduction to a memoir that I would like to develop into a blog post. I can brainstorm new ideas. By the end of the month, I will have established a writing habit. Once the habit is established, I can increase the time I write. I can add other activities like reading until I can successfully complete a 75-day hard writing challenge. Wish me luck. I’m going to start slow and then watch me speed up.
I took a hiatus from my 75 Day Writing Challenge. I made it eight straight days without missing any of the tasks I had set for myself. I wrote every day for 30 minutes. I read a book on writing for 30 minutes. I wrote my blog post, and I read another 30 minutes. Then, Day 9 hit. On Day 9, I had my last formal observation for the year. I spent three hours that morning preparing. By the time my lunch break rolled around, I was spent. As I started to reach for my notebook and journal, my brain rebelled. It just wanted to rest. I thought to myself, What’s the harm in taking a lunch break? I’ll do my writing routine tonight when I get home. When I got home, however, my son needed help with his homework, and, by the time I could sit down to write, it was already after 8:00. I was exhausted, so I thought to myself, What’s the harm in taking an evening off?
Here I am after my 21-day break. I think to myself, What do I do now? Do I give up and just quit? Do I start my challenge again? Do I have to start over at Day 1? What are the rules for this? A soft voice replied, You make the rules. Do whatever the hell you want. So that’s what I am going to do. I decided that five tasks every day maybe too much while I am teaching full time. Yesterday, I sat down and wrote for 30 minutes and then read my book on writing for 30 minutes. I read a novel for another 30 minutes. Today, I am using my lunch break to write this post. Tonight, I will try to write for 30 minutes or read a few more chapters of the novel I am revising, but I also need to help my son build a cross-staff. That may take some time. I’ve decided that yesterday was Day 9 and today is Day 10. It’s my challenge and I don’t want to deny what I did accomplish by starting over. In fact, my little hiatus did me some good. I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to take the novel I’m writing and the hiatus gave me some time to mull it over. I now have a direction that I think is better for my story than the original idea. So, I am not starting over but merely beginning again. Here’s to Day 12.
Eight days and counting. I’m continuing to focus on my 75 Day Writing Challenge. I get a little antsy, though, because there is so much I want to do. In addition to becoming a writer, I want to make art as a regular part of my life. I want to clean and organize my house. And there is the ever-present issue of my health and weight. I know that if I try to work on all of this at once, I won’t have the focus to complete anything.
This 75 Day Writing Challenge is going so well. I thought that when I finish it, I will start a new challenge. I think my next challenge could be a 75 Day Health and Wellness challenge. I still don’t want to do 75 Hard, but I could choose five tasks that fit with my personal goals and fitness level. After that I could do some sort of arts and craft challenge and maybe a home organizing challenge.
I am hoping that completing these challenges will help me to build in the habits I want to establish in my life slowly. At the end of six months or however long it takes me, I will have a more balanced and productive life. When I get tired or discouraged, I remind myself that the time is going to pass anyway whether I’m working on the challenge or not. By the end of the 75 days, at least I will have something to show for my effort.
Today, I completed these tasks…
Wrote for 30 minutes
Read Scrappy Rough Draft for 30 minutes
Read The Scottish Prisoner
Read and took revision notes on Sins of the Father
With the Easter holiday, I wasn’t able to complete all my tasks for today. I had to get up early and do my lesson plans for tomorrow. I didn’t dare write first and then save my lesson plans for the evening, because I didn’t know how long we would be gone. Does that mean I have to start the challenge over? Do I have to call tomorrow Day 1? If I made that a rule, I would probably be doing this challenge forever. As committed as I am to this challenge, I know there may be days like today when I can’t quite finish everything.
One thing I am learning from this challenge is that I don’t have to be perfect to complete it. Sometimes, when I am trying to meet a goal, like writing or losing weight, I succumb to all or nothing thinking. I think that if I can’t complete every aspect of the goal every day, I’ve failed and I give up. Instead of focusing on perfection, I need to focus on progress. Maybe, I don’t perform perfectly every day, but at least I am progressing. I think focusing on what I accomplish instead of on what I don’t accomplish will keep me on the right track.
I seem to be gaining momentum. For the past several months, when I would think about sitting down to write, I would cringe. It’s something I think about all the time but, for some reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’ve also been putting off revising the novel I wrote in 2018. I knew that I needed to read it before I revised it but I plunged in and started to rewrite it. The revisions soon stalled, of course, because I didn’t have a clear picture of the overall scheme of my novel. Yet, thinking about reading my novel also made me cringe. Another thing I wanted to do was study the process of writing. After teaching writing for over 20 years and writing off and on for nearly 50 years, you would think that I wouldn’t have any more to learn. While I’ve kept my academic writing skills honed, my creative writing skills have begun to rust.
Starting this challenge has helped me to gain momentum on all these things. I am writing for at least 30 minutes every day and I have read and taken notes on eight chapters of my novel. One thing I’ve realized is that it’s not as bad as I thought. I dreaded reading my novel because I thought when I read it, I would discover that it was crap. My draft is not perfect, but it’s not crap either. I think with some revision and editing, I can create something that I can publish. I’m not sure why this particular challenge is working when all my other attempts to create a writing habit has failed, but I’m not going to question my progress. I’m committed to keeping increasing my momentum.
The mission statement at the school where I teach reads, “All students, regardless of background or skill level, will have the opportunity to pursue a growth mindset that will allow them to achieve mastery and to demonstrate they can succeed in high school, in college, and in their chosen career. No Exceptions. No Excuses.” The new Head of School and I were talking about the concept of excuses. What does that mean? “No Excuses.” There can never be an excuse? We were talking about our late work policy which is rather strict. Students begin to lose credit on their papers for being one class period late. The example we talked about is a student who turned his paper in late because he is homeless and living in his car. He couldn’t turn his paper in on time because he had no access to internet. Is that a valid excuse? Should he be given full credit for his paper? Another student says she couldn’t turn in her paper because she just didn’t get around to it. Is that a valid excuse? We decided that a distinction must be made between a reason and an excuse. Being homeless and unable to access the internet until a person gets to school is a reason for turning in an assignment late. Not getting around to an assignment is more of an excuse.
I began to think about my writing challenge. What would constitute a reason for not being able to complete my writing challenge on a certain day and what would be an excuse. Yesterday, I woke up with a horrible headache and upset stomach. As the morning progressed, I began to feel worse and worse and ended up taking a sick day. If I’m too sick to go to work, wouldn’t it be reasonable that I would be too sick to write? By evening, I was feeling a lot better, so I decided that if I didn’t write, it would just be an excuse. If I had a 100 degree fever and still felt ill, then perhaps I would have had a reason for not writing.
In the past, I have made a lot of excuses for not writing. I don’t have time. I have to cook dinner. I have to clean the house. I don’t feel like it right now. When I really put my mind to it, I am able to confront all those excuses and write. I made time to write by using my lunch hour to write. I still have to cook dinner but instead of sitting on the couch after dinner, I sit back down at the dining room table and write. I write instead of cleaning the house. I don’t feel like writing, but I do it anyway. The funny thing I’ve found about this challenge is that the words are coming more easily, so I don’t need to find excuses to avoid writing. In the morning, I start to think about my blog post and what else I can say about the writing challenge and my brain obliges with an idea. As I drive to school in the morning, I think about the story I’m writing and my brain tells me what is going to happen next. This writing challenge is actually priming my brain to write. It gives me reasons to write rather than excuses to avoid writing.
Last night, after I ate dinner, I mindlessly went to sit on the couch and pick up my IPad. I had to consciously stop myself and make myself turn around. I realized that sitting on the couch after dinner and playing a game or reading on my IPad has become a habit, an automatic behavior that I no longer question. By consciously making the decision to sit down at the table and work on my writing, I made one small change in my routine.
According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, small changes like the one I made can lead to bigger changes down the road: “The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding. Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. What starts as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more” (p. 15). That’s the benefit of doing a challenge like 75 Hard or my own personalized challenge. Challenges like these call for you to make small changes to your life and follow them long enough to make them stick. I have seen differing estimations for how long it takes to form a habit. Some books I have read say that you can form a new habit in as little as 14 days while others say that forming a habit can take as long as four to six weeks. I think the length of time varies so much, because each person is unique and has their own way of thinking and behaving. Some of us may be able to change our habits in a relatively short amount of time while others may take longer. I am hoping that by the end of my 75 day challenge I will have made writing a habit that sticks.
Today, I completed the following tasks…
Wrote for 30 minutes
Read Scrappy Rough Draft for 30 minutes
Read Chapter 4 of Sins of the Father and completed Revision Notes
Whenever I start something new, there is always a honeymoon period at the beginning. Whether it’s a new diet, exercise routine, or a writing project, I enjoy the novelty of the new activity and give it 100% until, suddenly, after a couple of weeks, it starts to feel more like work than play. I get tired of slogging through the lessons or following the routine. I start to skip a day or two. I think to myself, It’s just one day. I just need a little break. I’ll get back to it in a little while. Before I know it a couple of days become several and a little while turns into never.
One of the reasons I chose to pursue this 75 Day Challenge was to confront this tendency I have to give up on things when they lose their glitter and turn into drudgery. I want to teach myself that I can stick with my goals even when they get hard or I get bored–that it’s worth the effort I put into it. While this challenge is focused on my writing, I am hoping that the discipline I develop from this challenge will help me fulfill other goals in my life, like losing weight and getting into shape or finally organizing my house.
During the pandemic, I’ve heard a lot of messages that I need to be kind to myself and I need to forgive myself for my mistakes. Sometimes, though, being kind to myself really means that I am making excuses for not following through on something I have committed to doing. Today, for example, I got to work at 7:15 and worked until 5:00. I could have told myself that since I had worked so long I didn’t have to go home and work on my writing challenge. It was understandable that I wouldn’t be able to complete all the tasks I had set for myself. I didn’t do that, though. After dinner, I helped my son with his homework and then I got to work. I really wanted to sit on the couch and play a game on my IPad, but instead I sat at the dining room table and worked on revising my novel. Maybe, I was able to fight off my fatigue because this process is still novel and fun. Whatever the reason, I was able to stay committed and finish Day 3 of my challenge.
Today, I completed the following tasks:
I wrote for 30 minutes.
I read Scrappy Rough Draft for 30 minutes.
I began reading the rough draft of my finished novel.
Starting a challenge like this is always daunting to me. In February, I downloaded a workout tracker. The names of the months were spelled out in bubble letters and the letters of the name were divided into segments to represent each day of the month. I was going to work out every day, but only worked out for one day before I gave it up. The tracker is still hanging on the fridge. It mocks me and reminds me of my failure. I worry that this challenge will go the same way. I will stick with it for a few days and then give it up.
The same obstacles that kept me from completing my workout tracker also threaten my writing challenge. I suffer from chronic pain which leads to fatigue. I work full time. When I get home in the evening, I help my son with his homework and have to cook dinner and do chores. This time, however, I am developing some strategies that will help me overcome these challenges.
First, I am looking at time differently. I realized that it is hard to sit down for two hours at a time to work on my challenge, but I can look for small amounts of free time. This semester, during lunch, I have been playing with my phone and streaming shows on my computer. Yesterday, I used that time to write my blog post. Today, I started writing the novel I am going to use for my Camp NaNoWriMo challenge. I also read a book on writing and completed a couple of exercises. On Tuesday evenings, my son attends his youth group so we usually eat out and he doesn’t work on homework. Usually, I sit on the couch and watch a show, but tonight I completed a plan for revising the rough draft of a novel a finished a couple of years ago. Then, I read for 30 minutes. While I wasn’t able to complete all five tasks I’ve set for myself on Day 1, I have to say Day 2 was a success. Here’s to a hopeful beginning.
A couple of days ago, I asked myself, “Will I ever be published?” The answer was a resounding NO! Because I’m not writing–at all. I have a lot of excuses for why I don’t write. I have too much work to do. I’m too tired. I don’t feel like it. But, until I stop finding excuses to avoid writing, I will never publish anything.
A few weeks ago, I heard about a challenge, called 75 Hard. In this challenge, you do five things every day. You follow a meal plan. You work out for 45 minutes twice a day. You drink a gallon of water. You take a five-minute cold shower. You take progress pictures every day. This challenge is not your typical fitness challenge, but is purported to increase mental toughness. For some reason, I keep thinking about this challenge. It’s definitely not a challenge I would undertake. I am not going to drink a gallon of water a day or take a cold shower, but I like the idea of sticking with something for 75 days and keeping track of my progress. What would happen if I stuck with something for 75 days? How much progress would I make?
I have decided to launch my own 75 day challenge. My goal is to write every day for 75 days, without missing a day. Following the 75 Hard tradition, I am going to complete the following tasks every day:
Write for 30 minutes every day
Publish my progress in a blog post every day
Read a book about writing for 30 minutes every day
Make five revisions to my completed novel every day
Read a mentor text for 30 minutes every day
As I review the five things I am committing to completing every day, I realize this challenge is going to be hard, but that’s the point of the 75 Hard challenge. While my tasks aren’t physical, they represent a tremendous mental workout. Wish me luck! I’m counting this as my Day 1.
Since the lockdown began in March, I’ve become obsessed with planners. I’ve purchased four or five different planners hoping to find the one planner that would finally motivate me to achieve my goals and get my life on track. My most recent purchase is called “The Perfect Notebook.” It is customizable and streamlined. Surely, a perfect notebook would be the key to ending my procrastination. When the perfect notebook arrived, it sat in its envelope for three weeks until I finally opened it. Then, it sat on the coffee table until it grew dusty. I decided that I needed stickers to decorate it, so I ordered a bunch of stickers. Then, the notebook and the stickers sat on my coffee table until they grew dusty.
Then, last week, I learned that I was exposed to Covid. That same day, my mother fell and broke her hip. Just like that life changed. I thought to myself, What am I waiting for? I want to write, but I use a lot of excuses to avoid it. I have too much to do with my new teaching job; I have to help my son with his homework; I’m tired and it’s easier to sit on the couch and play video games then to write at the end of a long day. Life is passing me by in a blur of excuses.
I finally dusted off the perfect notebook and the stickers that I purchased. I set up the customizable notebook and began to map my goals. I realized that it doesn’t matter what planner I use: a $100 planner imported from Great Britain, a dot journal that I create myself, or The Perfect Notebook. The only thing that matters is me.
For the past two weeks since my summer school classes started, I have vowed that I would write every day. I found a new app called Routine Meister that helps you arrange the tasks for the day and develop a timeline. It has been helpful in reminding me what I need to do each day and helping me to focus on each task.
What it hasn’t helped me with is balancing all the areas of my life. Every morning, I enter all the tasks I need to complete for my teaching, writing, and other areas. By the time I am finished, I have a 14-hour day ahead of me. Once, I am finished setting up my tasks, I start my day. Inevitably, around my sixth or seventh teaching task, I run out of time and energy. Every day, my writing routine gets transferred to the next day. Every day, I get up and start the whole process again. After two weeks of this, I finally decided that I need to take control of the tasks, rather than having them control me.
Yesterday, I took out my expensive planner imported from Great Britain and began to plan my week. I realized I can’t possibly complete every task I set for myself every day. I need to prioritize. I decided to make a schedule. Certain tasks have to be completed at the beginning of the week, like attendance and grading. On Monday and Wednesdays, I have two Zoom classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I have to make time to do my lesson plans for next week, so I’m not working until midnight on Sunday night. I’d also like to do my nails on Sunday, instead of work! Instead of trying to squeeze everything into each day of the week, I divided up all the tasks I have to complete and scheduled a few for each day of the week. I did the same thing for writing and also scheduled some time for self-care. I want to learn to play the keyboard and have yet to unwrap the keyboard I got a month ago. I also want to pursue some art projects I started months (possibly years) ago.
Once I made my schedule for the week, I made a schedule for today. I wrote only those things I’d decided I was going to do today. I also gave myself permission to not finish everything on my list. When the time I’d allotted for teaching was up, I moved onto the next item on my schedule. Today, after two weeks, I was finally able to write 1400 words on my latest novel and create a post on my blog.
I think the most important thing I need to remember is that it’s okay not to finish everything on my list as long as I’m making progress. I can’t find balance in my life if I continue to work the way I have been working in a rigid routine. I need to start being more flexible and forgive myself for not being perfect. I need to continue striving for balance in my life, and when I fall, remember to get up and begin again.
As I look toward the future and my new job, I need to remember to let go of the past. My last teaching job didn’t end very well, and I need to make sure that I don’t allow that experience to color my new experience. My last school was a very toxic place, and it affected everyone who worked there. The effect lasted even after I left. For months, I had nightmares about that place. Gradually the nightmares faded, but they would return whenever I had lunch with one of my friends who worked there with me. Just talking to her about teaching was enough to trigger the nightmares. Slowly, those nightmares faded as well.
I knew I was truly over that job the last time my friend and I had lunch. She was talking to me about all the changes the school district was making. As I listened to her talk about the new curriculum, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders, and I’m not being figurative here. I literally felt something leave me, and I felt lighter than I had in months. As we talked about her new school, I realized that leaving that district was the best thing that could have happened to me. Instead of hating my former principal, I actually thanked her for getting rid of me. I was so bitter for so long, it felt good to release the anger and to know I was in the right place of my life.
I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know if I will like my new school, but I realized that my attitude will determine my experience. If I go into the position expecting the best, I will likely receive the best.
Three years ago today I started my blog on WordPress. It was the same year I lost my job at the middle school where I worked. After a fruitless job search that spring, I turned to writing. Focused on my teaching, I had pretty much given up writing. I thought about writing a lot and had ideas for novels, but I never followed through. I thought that if I couldn’t be a teacher, maybe it was time to focus on my writing. Since then, I have continued to work on making writing a regular part of my life. I found part-time teaching jobs at two local community colleges. At times, I became so busy that I again gave up my writing, but I have returned to it again and again.
This year, I gave up the search for a full-time teaching job. I let all my applications at the school districts in my area expire. I quit looking at the job postings. I had even decided I would no longer search for a full-time teaching job at the college where I worked. I had applied there several times and never gotten an interview. The last time, I applied I received an email from my department chair expressing his sympathy for me not getting an interview for the latest position that came open. He offered to give me feedback that would make me more likely to be hired at the college. I didn’t take him up on his offer. I work hard for the college. I’ve gone to countless professional development meetings and taken part in academic cohorts and equity training. My grading is up-to-date and my students always say how much they like the way I teach my classes. I’m not sure what else I could do to increase my “hireability.”
Then, last week, out of the blue, I got an email from a school I interviewed with last year. They said they had another opening and they were so impressed with me they wanted me to be part of the candidate pool for their current opening. I thought to myself, if they were so impressed with me why didn’t I get the job last year? I sent my resume and transcripts to the human resources person. The next day, they emailed me for an interview. We interviewed over the internet last Tuesday. I was worried that my interview was impacted, because my virus protection blocked my camera from working and they couldn’t see my face. I thought the interview went well despite my technological gaffe. On Friday, I checked my email. They had said they would give me an update about the hiring process by the end of the week. I was going through my email, thinking to myself, Just as I expected, no email. I kept scrolling. In Thursday’s email, I saw it–Offer letter from CEC Parker. I couldn’t believe it. I had gotten the job.
After three long years of scraping by on part-time wages, I will finally have a full-time job. I didn’t want to admit it to anyone, but I missed being in the same school every day where I was a full part of the staff, not just a part-time employee. I don’t miss my last school, but I missed being a full-time teacher. While I am looking forward to being a full-time teacher again, I don’t want to give up writing. I want to make both parts of my life blend together. The last couple of weeks, I’ve really worked on making time for my writing, and I have found that I can write and teach at the same time.
I like this picture, because it reminds me of the most important part in accomplishing any goal-beginning. One of my constant struggles is procrastination. I have a task that I have to do that is difficult and daunting. The more I think about it the more difficult and daunting it seems to become. If I just force myself to begin, then the task becomes more doable.
Tonight, I sat here contemplating the white screen with the blinking cursor. I had no idea what I wanted to say. The cursor continued to blink at me, daring me to make a move, to begin writing. That’s the hardest part of writing for me–finding an idea. I know I want to post in my blog regularly, but what do I write about? What do I want to say? What is the brand I want to develop for my blog? This is what I struggle with, but I know I need to decide on a focus for my blog, so I can keep posting.
I have established three goals for my blog:
By May 30, I will develop a 90-day editorial calendar.
By May 15, I will develop a new weekly feature that I will publish every week until the end of the year.
By May 30, I will assess my theme and develop a focus for my blog.
A year and a half ago, I started taking a course from WordPress called Everyday Inspiration. It was a 20-day course but it took me a year and a half to complete it. I would work on it every now and then, and then get distracted by work or other things. Today, I finally finished it. I liked the course, because it would give me ideas. Now, that I’ve finished with the course, I am going to work on finding inspiration from my life to keep my blog going.
One thing that helps me post in my blog regularly is to prioritize my writing and finish it first. The first thing I do when I get ready to work is start a blog post. Then, I work on my current novel. Then, I work on the tasks I have to complete for teaching. The biggest challenge for me will be to find ideas that I want to write about. I tend to stop posting when I can’t come up with ideas. One thing I learned from this course is that ideas can come from my everyday life. I just have to remember to pay attention. Hundreds of thoughts pass through my head every day and I need to become more aware of them and keep track of them rather than letting them just come and go.
One of my first memories is laying on my back and watching the sunlight filter through the leaves as I somehow moved along. I was always puzzled by this memory as I couldn’t figure out what was happening. Once I asked my mom about it, and she replied with surprise, “I used to pull you in a red wagon when you were a baby. You would lay in the wagon and I would take you to the library.”
Reading has always been a part of my life. I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. My mom started my love of reading even though I can’t remember the library or the books she read to me. When she told her cousin, Ethel, how much I liked to read, Ethel began sending me books. I think I was about four or five when I received my first set of Dick and Jane books. Ethel was a first-grade teacher and had something to do with the writing of or publication of Dick and Jane, but I don’t remember the details anymore. I used to read those books over and over. I liked them because I could read them on my own.
“Grandma, will you come read to me?” I called from her tiny bedroom in her tiny apartment. Even though I was seven years old and could read, I loved it when my grandma read to me. She came into the room and sat on her twin bed with the sunny yellow bedspread. I jumped up and got our favorite books, Uncle Wiggily’s Library , from her desk. The Uncle Wiggily books came in a bright red box held together with brown packing tape. The books nestled inside the box. When I turned the pages, my nose wrinkled at the dusty smell wafting up from the fragile pages. The Uncle Wiggly books once belonged to my dad and now they were mine.
Grandma and I read the Uncle Wiggily books over and over until we practically memorized them. Every book ended with a funny ending, like “And if the lollipop doesn’t take its sharp stick to make the baby carriage roll down the hill, I’ll tell you the story of Uncle Wiggily and the Canoe.” Each book led to another book. We always tried to guess which book was next in the series, but we never got it right. My grandma swore that Uncle Wiggily changed the ending when we weren’t looking.
My grandma was one of the first people to read to me. She instilled within me the love of reading and taught me to appreciate classic books like Uncle Wiggily. Because of these books, I learned to appreciate books that told about lives that were different from mine. My grandma loved these books because they reminded her of her childhood in the country. Born and raised in the city, I didn’t know what it was like to live in the country. The Uncle Wiggily books gave me a taste of what my grandma’s childhood must have been like and helped me to appreciate where she came from.
Oddly enough, one of the adults I hated the most when I was little also helped develop my love of reading. Mrs. Wheeler had fading red hair that stuck out all over her head. Because she had lost most of her teeth, her cheeks were sunken, and her chin was curling up to meet the tip of her nose–a classic witch face. I always thought she was a witch. Even though she wasn’t the best babysitter in the world, she was the only person my mom could find when my first baby-sitter moved. Mrs. Wheeler’s house was only a couple of blocks from my elementary school. She had a cute little chair that fit into a corner of her living room. My mom paid her extra to let me sit in that chair and read.
Mrs. Wheeler had one other thing that also made my visits there a little more endurable. She had a beautiful set of children’s books from Walt Disney. For whatever reason (maybe, because my mom did pay her so much), she actually let me read those books when she didn’t let her own kids even touch those books. The books were hard-covered and accented with gold, and they were full of stories from Disney. There were your typical stories, like Snow White and Cinderella, but they had stories that I’d never encountered before like Br’er rabbit. My favorite story was “Br-er Rabbit and the Tar Baby.” Br’er rabbit encounters a figure made of tar and gets stuck in it. No matter what he does he keeps getting more and more stuck. Whenever Mrs. Wheeler would get tired of having me in the living room, she would order me into the bedroom with the other kids. I would give her the look over my book, and she would back down. She knew I wasn’t afraid to tell my mom about whatever happened at her house. One time, I brought my own books to her house, and she became offended. “My books ain’t good enough for you no more?” she asked in her gruff voice. Afraid that she would never let me read her books again, I put my books away and went to get one of the Disney books. She seemed to relax then. “That’s what I thought,” she growled, as she turned away to light her cigarette. While I was glad to leave Mrs. Wheeler’s house when my mom finally found a new babysitter, I always regretted not being able to finish all her Disney books.
Along, with my mother and grandmother, my father also encouraged me to read. When I was in the fifth grade, I came down with pneumonia. I missed the last month of school. Back then, we only had five or six channels on the television, and I was too sick to actually play with any of my toys. I could only sleep so much, and I got really bored. Before I got sick, my mom and I had talked about me reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, but, after I got sick, Mom didn’t have time to get me the book. My dad called me to see if I wanted anything, and I asked him to get me the book. It was a thick book, but, since I had nothing else to do, I read all day long. I finished the book in a couple of days and went back to boredom. When he called at the end of the week to see how the book was going, he was surprised to find out that I had already finished it. He told me he would get the next book, Little Men. The day after he brought me Little Men, I called to tell him about the book and request another one. Finally, he just bought me all the books in one trip, so I wouldn’t have to wait. He was so excited that I read so fast and was impressed that I could stick with longer books. The next year when I got sick again, he was prepared. When he heard I had a second round of pneumonia, he went to the store and bought me the complete Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
As I grew up, he would sometimes surprise me with a special book. One time he bought me a first edition collection of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays. Another time he gave me the complete collection of poems by Emily Dickinson.
I continue to be an avid reader. No matter how busy I am from teaching, writing, or working on my dissertation, I always make time for reading. From reading, I have learned about other times and other cultures. I read at least 100 books a year, and I learn something new from every book I read.
Like the adults in my life, I strive to encourage my son, Hunter, to love reading, and I think I have succeeded. The first thing he does when he starts his home school activities for the day is read. Since August, he has read 28 books. As he finishes a series, his question is always “What will I read next?” I hope I can inspire him to become a lifelong reader like the adults in my life did.
Sometimes, I drive back to the neighborhood where I grew up to visit my maple tree. Even though someone else owns it, I still consider it to be mine. I always felt a connection to it. When I was a child, I would lay down in the yard and look up at its leaves. I would whisper my secrets into the air. Its leaves seemed to shiver as it absorbed my words-my secrets forever safe among its boughs. I remember running in circles around its trunk, pretending that it was enjoying our little game of chase, even though it was stationary in the dirt.
The last time I drove down my street, my maple tree was gone. The yard was barren and empty without it. I looked at the spot where the tree used to stand. There wasn’t even a stump to mark that a massive maple tree had once stood there. The yard was just flat grass now. The landmark of my childhood is just a memory now. I realized that I needed that landmark to revisit the home of my childhood. That day I drove down the street, I missed my house, because the tree was gone. I had to circle around the block and start my search again. I found my house the second time I drove down the street, but it doesn’t seem the same now that the tree is gone.
There is an old saying that you can’t go home again. The loss of my tree reminded me of that fact. You really can’t go home again. Even if I bought that little house from my childhood, it wouldn’t be the same as it was when I was little. We grow up and we move on. That is how life is. We are constantly changing. Sometimes, I dream about that little house, but even in my dreams, the house is not the same. Often, my son, Hunter, will be with me, I guess, to remind me that I have important reasons to stay anchored in the present. I might stop now and again to visit the home of my memory but I can never really go back. And, honestly, I wouldn’t want to. I am happy where I am now.
To stay on track while working from home, I have been following the “eat a frog” approach to task management. The “eat a frog” approach is a method for curing procrastination. Procrastination I feel is the biggest challenge I face to my success. The “eat a frog” approach advocates completing your least favorite task first, so that you have the rest of the day to work without worrying about the onerous task. With this approach, I decided I should do my teaching tasks first, then work on my dissertation, and then my writing. Of course, if I am being truthful, my most onerous task right now is my dissertation. I should probably work on that first every day and then get on with things. I’ve noticed a pattern, however with this method of task management. As the week progresses, I lose my motivation and momentum. By the time, I’m finished working on my teaching duties and my dissertation, I don’t have a lot of energy or creativity left for writing. Then, writing becomes the one thing I procrastinate. Writing is the one thing I want to do in my life and it is always last on my to do list. By the end of the week, I am cranky and sapped of energy. I end up avoiding everything and sitting on the couch playing video games all day. While the members of my guild love my dedication to the game during guild challenges, it doesn’t really help me achieve the goals I’ve set for myself.
While reading 52 Small Changes for the Mind, I was reminded of another analogy for time management. In this analogy, important and less important tasks are compared to rocks and sand. The rocks are the important tasks that you need to complete and the sand is the minor tasks. The jar represents the time you have on any given day. If you prioritize the less important tasks and complete them first, you end up running out of time for the important tasks. If, however, you focus on the big rocks first, you can fill in the gaps of time in the jar with the sand and smaller rocks. Using this analogy, I decided that I have three big rocks: my writing, my teaching, and my dissertation. My smaller rocks and sand are all the other less important tasks, like checking my email, making phone calls, and chores. I thought to myself, as long as I put all the big rocks in the jar every day, what does it matter what order I do them in? So, this week, I am trying an experiment. I am writing first and then working on my teaching tasks and dissertation. While proponents of the “eating the frog” approach say doing an enjoyable task first will lead to procrastination, I disagree. By writing first, I am honoring my commitment to becoming a writer. When I write, I lose all sense of time and place. Why would I deny myself this pleasure merely because it’s enjoyable? In the long run, I think I will have more success fulfilling my other obligations, because I will no longer be denying myself the one thing I love to do.
They say that art imitates life, but in our house it’s the other way around. When Hunter was ten years old, he discovered “The Karate Kid.” He would watch the movie over and over and try to replicate the moves he saw Mr. Miyagi teaching Daniel. He perfected his crane technique. I asked him if he wanted to study karate, and he replied, “If I can study with Mr. Miyagi.” Of course, that was not possible, but he wasn’t interested in going to a class. He didn’t want to spar with other people.
That all changed when my husband introduced Hunter to Bruce Lee. When Hunter watched “Enter the Dragon” for the first time he was entranced by the Kung Fu action. He watched Bruce Lee spin and kick and immediately began asking if he could learn Kung Fu. We told him that he would have to take a class and spar with other people. Suddenly, he was all right with that idea. We didn’t have the money to send him at that time, but we did buy him some nunchaku. They were padded, so he couldn’t hurt himself. He promptly began watching Bruce Lee movies over and over and learning how to spin the nunchaku like Bruce Lee does in the movies. He also started practicing the side kick.
After a while, I got tired of watching Bruce Lee movies over and over. Hunter did not appreciate my ironic commentary of the films, even though I thought it was delightful. I decided to introduce him to a martial artist that I thought was even better than Bruce Lee–Jackie Chan. We started with “Rumble in the Bronx.” “Rumble in the Bronx” is an action comedy that was made for English-speaking audiences, so it is not dubbed. Jackie Chan is known for his high-flying Kung Fu moves and for doing his own stunts. In “Rumble in the Bronx,” he performs amazing stunts like jumping between two tall buildings and getting run over by a hover boat. Unlike Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan follows the more traditional style of Kung Fu and combines it with gymnastics. I have yet to see him fight with nunchaku, but in his movies, he uses a variety of every day objects as weapons, like ladders, chairs, benches, clothing, and anything else he happens to find in the area of the fight. He jumps up walls, slides down curtains and awnings, and flips around until his opponents are completely baffled.
After seeing Jackie Chan in action, he began watching all the Jackie Chan movies he could. It turns out that Jackie Chan made tons of movies starting in the 80’s. They are action-packed and full of cheesy humor, just right for an eighth grade boy. Hunter became more determined than ever to learn King Fu. He asked every couple of weeks if he could start learning Kung Fu. Finally, last November, our financial situation changed and we were able to afford to send him to a Kung Fu school. We found a school that follows the teachings of Ip Man, the teacher who trained Bruce Lee called Pai Lum White Dragon Martial Arts. After getting to know Sifu McCuistion and taking three private lessons, Hunter decided he wanted to continue with Kung Fu. My husband, Russell, decided to sign up for classes as well so now they can attend class and practice together.
Since Hunter has begun taking Kung Fu, I have seen tremendous changes. He has grown stronger both physically and mentally. He has developed grace and stamina. He is also proud of the fact that he retains what he learns and can help his father who has trouble remembering the new moves sometimes. He coaches Russell on how to hold his hands and his legs as well as how to complete the complex sequence of movements that Kung Fu requires. He now walks with a quiet confidence. The last time we watched a Jackie Chan movie together, “Drunken Master,” we could actually pinpoint some of the moves Hunter was learning in the action sequences of the movie. While I wouldn’t want Hunter to imitate every movie he sees, I am glad he chose the tradition of Kung Fu. He may have begun by imitating Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, but now he is making the tradition his own.
One of my most favorite songs is “The Light” by Disturbed. Disturbed is a heavy metal band, and, from the name, you wouldn’t think that they could produce a beautiful, uplifting song like “The Light.” You would expect songs like, “Down with the Sickness” and “Another Way to Die,” two songs with shredding guitars and screaming lyrics. I like listening to those two songs when I’m mad or need some energy, but when I’m sad, I listen to “The Light.”
I first discovered this song last summer. Twice a week, I would drive to Littleton to teach my summer classes at Arapahoe Community College. I remember one day, I fell into a pit of despair. Even though the sun was shining, I felt the day grow dark. My husband was out of work and I was trying to support us on an adjunct professor’s salary. I didn’t know how we were going to make it through the summer, let alone the month. I remember the anxiety that was flooding my body as my eyes began to well with tears. Then, “The Light” began to play on my Ipod.
Like an unsung melody
The truth is waiting there for you to find it
It’s not a blight, but a remedy
A clear reminder of how it began
Listening to the David Draiman’s rich and powerful voice, I felt the weight that had settled on me begin to lift. The song reminded me that, even though times were dark right now, I would see light again.
When you think all is forsaken
Listen to me now (all is not forsaken)
You need never feel broken again
Sometimes darkness can show you the light
Many times that summer, I would fast forward though the songs on my Ipod to find “The Light.” I would listen to it over and over to remind myself that, without the darkness, I wouldn’t know the light. Later that summer, my husband found a job and our situation improved. Now, in these current dark times, I often return to this song. I have listened to it so many times I can cue it up in my mind and listen to it without my Ipod. It reminds me to fight through the darkness and strive for the light.
I have been following a diet plan called Noom for the passed 14 weeks. On Saturday, I posted to my support group about my committing again to the program. I berated myself for straying from the program yet again and having to commit myself again, but then I stopped myself. I have made a lot of progress on the program. I have given up a lot of junk food and am making better choices. I have lost 16 pounds so far. Why should I be mad at myself?
I always get mad at myself for failing to follow a program like Noom perfectly. I also get mad at myself for having to restart my writing routine. This weekend, however, I realized that I haven’t given up like I usually do. I continue to re-commit myself to my health and to my writing. One of my friends told me a while ago that she was really impressed by how much I had accomplished with my blog and how I was inspiring her to write. She said this at a time when I was feeling bad that I had quit writing my blog. Again, I had overlooked what I had already accomplished. I was mad at myself for letting my writing slip, but here I am, again, starting to write.
Whenever I think about changing the theme of my blog, “Beginning Again,” I realize that we are always making new beginnings. No one is going to pursue any activity perfectly, never missing a day. The important thing is that we keep coming back to our important pursuits–that we don’t give up. We keep trying.
I read a lot of self-help books. I’m always looking for that magic bullet–that one miracle solution that will end my procrastination, get me in shape, and set me on the road to lifelong success. So far, I haven’t found it. I did, however, find a book that gave me some concrete strategies I could use to get things done. In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen provides a unique strategy for curing procrastination and increasing productivity. Unlike so many other books on goal-setting and productivity, Allen does not recommend creating a vision statement and outlining big picture goals. He asserts that you can’t focus on your overall vision for success until you clear out the tasks that clutter your mind.
He outlines a five-step system for streamlining workflow and prioritizing tasks. The system involves developing a system for capturing and monitoring big ideas and small tasks. His premise is that if you capture everything you need to do in your life in one place, your mind can quit worrying and focus on the moment, no matter what you are doing. He contends that his process will lead to greater peace of mind and increased creativity and productivity. The first step to implementing the process is to clean your work space and buy an in-box. He actually recommends buying two in-boxes, one for work and one for home. He is a strong believer in having a dedicated work area where you keep all items relating to your work. While implementing this process intrigues me and seems to provide an answer to my chronic procrastination, I was stymied by the first step. I have several sets of in-boxes, but I don’t really have a dedicated work area in the house.
My desk is the dining room table. I had a nice desk that I used for my old computer, but my son has taken it over for his own use. I have a small corner with my roll-top desk and a table that sits behind our couch. After procrastinating for several days, I finally took the first step and cleaned off the table. Following Allen’s advice, I handled all the papers that had piled up only once. If something needed to be filed, I filed it. If something needed to be shredded it, I gave it to my husband (a key piece of advice from Allen is to delegate whatever you can). And I recycled the rest. I ended up with a cleaner area where I could store my in-box and other items, such as my daily planner. The next step is to start capturing all the tasks, projects, and ideas I might want to pursue onto pieces of paper and then put them into my in-box. I then go through the in-box and decide which tasks have to be completed, which projects need to be developed, and ideas that could go on a “maybe later” list. The key to this process is the next step-identifying one small action for each task or project that can bring you closer to finishing it. While I have not been able to do a complete capture of everything I need to do, I jumped on this one piece of advice.
One project that has been plaguing me for months is my novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2018. I’ve been trying to revise it, but have made little progress. It seems like a monumental task, but I thought about one small action that I could take to begin moving forward again. The first thing I need to do is sit down and read it. To read it, I need to print it. Thus, my first small action was born. I needed to print my novel. Once I identified that small action, my brain opened up. I thought about other small actions I could take to begin moving forward with my writing career. I can’t afford a book coach right now, but I’ve been reading a book that will help me coach myself. My next action was to read the next chapter. To do that, I had to sit down at the dining room table. Yesterday, for the first time in over a month, I sat down and renewed my writing routine. I carved out an hour to print my novel, read my writing book, Coach Yourself to Success, and work on a freewrite. Today, I carved out another hour and got my novel copied, read another chapter in Coach Yourself to Success, wrote another freewrite, and analyzed a chapter of a novel that is similar to mine. Tonight, I found another hour to write this blog post.
While Getting Things Done may not be a magic bullet, it does provide some key advice for increasing your productivity. It can help you prune the forest of your obligations of all the saplings that keep you from seeing the trees. Once the undergrowth is cleared away, you can make your way through the forest more easily and without losing your way-one step at a time.