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.
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 woke up at 4:30 in the morning on October 11, 2005. Something felt different. I sat up and noticed a wet spot on the bed. I wasn’t having contractions, but I was pretty sure my water had broken. By 8:00, we were headed to the doctor who told me that my water hadn’t broken and to go back home. At 9:30, we were turning onto Mexico when the contractions started. The last few months of my pregnancy I always got contractions when I rode in the car, so I thought maybe they would go away. When I got into the house, however, they continued.
I called the doctor again. She said to monitor them and to get some rest. She didn’t think the baby was ready to come. I wasn’t sure why she thought that. I was a day passed my due date, but what did I know? I’d never done this before. My husband and I settled in the living room to watch TV. Every time a contraction started, I would write down the time and my husband would use his watch to measure how long they were. The contractions didn’t last very long, and there was no discernible pattern to them either. I had my guide from the birthing class we had taken, but my contractions didn’t follow the nice chart that was laid out in the pamphlet. My contractions were coming every five minutes or so and lasted for a few minutes at a time.
At 5:30, I called the doctor and told her I had been having contractions all day. Again, she said she didn’t think I was in labor and she told me to take a bath to calm the contractions. The contractions stopped while I was in the tub, so I thought she must have been right. As I was getting out of the bath, I had to use the bathroom. As I sat on the toilet, I felt something give way and all this fluid poured out. For a moment, I thought my bladder had burst, but then I realized my water had broken. Who knew that there could be so much?
My husband rushed me to the hospital. By 6:30, I was installed in my room. I was already 6 cm dilated. I had been in labor all day long! Then, time seemed to stop. Nothing more happened. My contractions slowed down and my son refused to come out. I don’t blame him. The world is a scary place. I also didn’t want to let him go. When I was pregnant, he went everywhere with me. Now I would have to leave him at a daycare.
I slept off and on through the night. At 6:00 the next morning, I was put in the buddha position and Hunter finally dropped down. At 7:00, the nurses laid me on my back and he popped back up, but it was time to start pushing. I pushed for two hours with no success. The doctor finally had to use forceps.
At 9:35 on October 12, Hunter was born. When they laid him on my chest, he grabbed my little finger. He looked so mad. He was shocked to see that his world had changed so much in a few short hours. Both our worlds changed.
In a sense, Hunter and I were both born that day. I had never wanted children, but I cannot imagine my life without my son. To watch him grow and change every day has been amazing. It’s hard to imagine how much difference a single day could make in my life.
For the past several weeks, I have applied for over 20 teaching jobs. I started to get the refection emails last week. I would have been discouraged, but then, out of the blue, I got two inquiries about working as a freelance writer. That started me thinking.
Every Sunday, my husband and son watch Joel Olsteen. I usually watch him too, but I’m not a religious person. Joel is always preaching about signs from God and how God has something greater planned for the future. I’ve gotten really sick of this message as I’ve been turned down for opportunities and nothing in my life seems to get any better, but then these two writing opportunities happened. Maybe, these opportunities are some sort of sign. I’m not saying they’re a sign from God, but maybe they’re a nudge from the universe. Go this way-not that way. Teaching no longer seems to be a viable option for my career, but maybe writing can become one. This also happened the same week, I seriously re-committed myself to writing every day.
My email has also been flooded by messages from other writers who do make their living writing. More signs? I don’t know. What I do know is that I can’t really control what happens with a teaching career. I teach what I am assigned to teach. Someone else makes my schedule and tells me what to teach. But with writing-I am the one who is in control. I am the one who decides what I will write and when. I think it’s worth heeding the signs.
So much for having balance in my life. I got so behind on my work for my teaching that I had to focus exclusively on that for a while. Now, I’m starting to get a handle on it again, and can finally get back to writing. One thing that is still holding me back is procrastination. I waste a lot of time that could be used to work on my teaching or my writing. Last week, I started to work on scaling back on time-wasters and focusing on work that should take a priority. Instead of binge watching shows all week-end, I focused on working for a couple of hours each day. I didn’t work all day on both Saturday and Sunday, but I worked enough so I could maintain the progress on my work last week. I vowed that this week I would get back to writing again.
Over the week-end I received an advanced copy of a book on writing from Martin Meadows, Self-Discipline for Writers. I will be posting a review later this week. In his book, he suggested several time-management tools. One method is called Pomodoro. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. The man who devised the Pomodoro method uses the word pomodoro for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he uses to time himself. The Pomodoro Method is structured in 25 minute increments. You set a timer and work for 25 minutes on a task. Then, you take a short five-minute break. When I read about this method, I thought to myself: I can do anything for 25 minutes. I downloaded a free Pomodoro app and gave it a try this morning. Using the Pomodoro timer, I worked for 50 minutes on revising my novel, and now I’m writing my blog post. It’s only 11:00 in the morning! I haven’t been starting to work until afternoon in previous weeks! (Procrastination again).
Another piece of advice Meadows shares in his book is to focus on one project at a time. I tried to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo this April, but instead of focusing on my novel revision project, I started a new one. I didn’t really make any headway on either project. I’m going to shelve the romance novel I was planning for a while and focus on finishing this first novel.
The past couple of weeks have been hard. We are surviving on one part-time salary. I’ve tried applying for teaching jobs and writing jobs, but have not had any success. I decided to begin treating my writing like a business, another piece of advice from Meadows. I am going to write every day until my novel is finished and then I’m going to focus on self-publishing it and earning some money. While I know I’m not going to get rich, I think I can create a supplemental income if I’m willing to work at it.
It seems like I’m always starting over on my goals, but that’s the point of my blog, Beginning Again. I need to remember that even when I slip up, I can always start anew.
The key to developing a successful writing career is developing the habit of sitting down to write every day even when you don’t feel like it. I have been trying to do that. Some days, my brain feels like wood and I can’t seem to make myself do it. Some days, I have a long day of teaching and I can’t seem to find the time. Every week, though, no matter how I did on my goals the previous week, I vow to begin anew. Last week, I wanted to write four blog posts but only did two. Instead of focusing on what I didn’t do, I need to start focusing on what I did do. I sat down and wrote two blog posts. I also finished my character profiles for my latest novel. Maybe, I didn’t accomplish everything I set out to do, but I did accomplish those things. This is the third Monday in a row that I have written my Coffee Klatch post.
This week, I will continue to squeeze out time to write. I will sit down to write even when I don’t feel like it. I will remember that every day is a new beginning and each day I will begin again.