I have to keep reminding myself that I am seeking balance in my life, not perfection. I want a life where I have time to do the things that I love and also finish the tasks that I’m obligated to do. Last week, my goal was to begin building balance into my life so I am not working on one thing all the time. The first thing I did last week was to make time for my writing. I am reading a book called Manage Your Day-to-day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind. So far, I’ve gleaned two pieces of advice that have helped me start on the path to balance. The first thing was to build a routine around my writing and to show up everyday to write, whether I feel like it or not. The second piece of advice was to do my creative work during the time of day when I have the most energy. I put both of these pieces of advice into place last week. I made a time to write every day and I sat down to write whether I felt like it or not. Both these things helped me to write several blog posts, to begin planning my second novel, and to continue revising my first novel. Once my block of writing time was over I was able to take a break and then get to work on the work I needed to do for my classes. Even though I spent the morning writing, I still had energy to work on my lesson plans for my classes.
I was also able to begin developing a content calendar for my blog. I know I want to continue with the “Coffee Klatch” entries on Monday, and I got a couple of ideas for other weekly entries. One day a week, I am going to critique something (last week was romance novels). This week, I am going to review a Netflix series I just finished called MindHunter. Since another goal in my life is to create a healthier lifestyle, I am going to include a weekly entry about health and wellness topics. That will give me some help with developing ideas. I was going to post my new novel, but I am not to the drafting stage. I am still planning and finding out who my characters are, but I may do some entries about the process of writing.
This week, I am going to continue carving out a chunk of time for my writing. My goal this week is to write four blog posts this week. I also want to finish developing the characters for my new novel and finish revising chapter two in the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo.
Yesterday, I wrote a blog post about how detrimental romance novels are to our realistic views of love, relationships, and commitment. Yet here I am embarking on another project for #NaNoWriMo–a 50,000 word romance novel that I will write this April during Camp NaNoWriMo. I could write the sequel to the thriller I wrote in November, but I am currently revising and editing my novel, Sins of the Father, and I am elbow-deep in blood and guts. I need a light-hearted writing project that would remind me that there is more to life than gore and serial killers.
The challenge for myself is to write a romance novel that follows the features of the genre, but that is also well-written and engaging. My working title is Forget Me Not and revolves around a working mother whose son ran away to find the father he has never met. When she and her former lover finally meet, she realizes that he has forgotten all about her. I will begin posting it in May, so romance-haters beware! Or maybe check it out to see if I improve the genre.
At first glance, you may think this post is the beginning of a romance novel. The heroine is pursued by the lost love to whom she can never commit, because he will find out her deep, dark secret–that she reads romance novels. I have to admit that I, too, share the heroine’s deep, dark secret. I read romance novels. Why does reading romance novels count as a deep dark secret? Why can’t readers of romance novels proclaim to the world their secret obsession? The answer lies within the genre itself.
Romance novels have long been maligned for being formulaic and derivative. And I have to admit they are. They start with a heroine who has some sort of secret that she doesn’t want the world to know or she is facing an overwhelming challenge on her own. She is breathtakingly gorgeous, but doesn’t know she is. She often has a deep insecurity. In walks the love interest. Muscular and irresistible, he is the answer to all her problems. He sees her for who she is and looks beyond whatever imperceptible flaws she thinks she has. He oozes self-confidence yet is deeply sensitive and she is drawn to him like a magnet. There is some sort of conflict. A mystery to solve, a life-and-death crisis, maybe even a world to save. No matter what type of twist and turn the writer tries to insert into the story, the reader can rest easy knowing that the guy will get the girl in the end and help her solve her problems.
When I was younger, I read romance novels almost exclusively. I could go home at the end of a long, unfulfilling day at work and escape into an idyllic reality. The formula of the romance had a predictable and comforting rhythm. As I grew older, however, I began to grow tired of the romances I read. The books by writers, like Christine Feehan, whom I had previously loved, began to pall. Romance novels became dull and plodding. I could barely get through them anymore. I soon gave them up for more interesting novels. I discovered Dean Koontz and Thomas Harris, Kate Atkinson and Tana French, Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs. I began to yearn for stories that I couldn’t predict, characters that were dynamic and who sometimes lost their battles. Slowly, the genre of romance lost its hold on me, but every now and then, I find myself yearning for a simpler story. I want to know that, at the end of the novel, the guy will get the girl, and the world will be saved. No one will die unexpectedly and everyone, except the bad guy, will end up happy.
Right now, I am reading another romance series. It was free, so I thought, Why not? The plot is mundane–paranormal shifters looking for their one true mate while they battle an evil villain. The heroine or the hero sometimes rebel against the mystical connection they have with with their mates, but somehow fate pulls them together. As I slog through each book in the series, I ask myself, Why am I still reading this? Of course, the answer is to see what will happen. I am also a stubborn reader. Once I start something, I have to see it through to the end, but, with this latest series, I realized why I have stopped loving romance. The main problem with romance is not its formulaic plot or derivative characters, but its presentation of an idyllic world that can never be achieved by a normal human being. When we read romance novels, we are duped into believing that love is easy. If we find that one perfect person, we will not need to work at creating a relationship. There will be an instant attraction and compatibility. When we come back to the real world and remember what a real relationship is like, we become disillusioned. We ask ourselves, You mean I can’t look someone in the eyes, or smell their scent or hear their voice, and just know they are the one for me? I have to get to know them? I have to find a way to look beyond their flaws to the person who lives inside their imperfect body?
While romance novels give us a brief respite from our lives, they ultimately distort our view of love and relationships. When we immerse ourselves in the romance, we lose touch with what it really means to love–to accept someone, warts and all. To see that commitment is not about a mystical bond or instant connection, but a commitment to stand together against all the disasters and problems that life throws at us. And ultimately, to stay together when life becomes boring and it seems like the spark is lost. Sometimes, it seems that, to stay with our significant other, we have to save the sparks, but sparks are meant to die. They float above the campfire and fade into the night sky. We need to focus on what the spark leaves behind. Maybe, the spark is gone, but a committed romance is sustained by the banked coals of a shared life together. It might not be as flashy as a romance or as predictable, but, in the end, it fulfills us.
Since I finished the 50,000 word challenge in November, I have been having trouble posting on my blog. It was so easy to finish a chapter and post it that I got out of the habit of finding new ideas to write about for my blog. I have been told that I need some sort of content calendar to keep my blog alive and commit me to writing regularly. I discovered that people write blog posts tagged #weekendcoffeeshare. Many of them are posted on Mondays and talk about the writer’s previous week and week-end. While I’m not a coffee-drinker, I wouldn’t mind a little metaphorical coffee and a chance for some conversation. I am working on a couple of goals in my life and need some accountability. The #weekendcoffeeshare would give me a weekly forum to write about my progress and my challenges while creating a laid-back and relaxing vibe of a simple conversation.
For the past couple of months, I realized that I have let myself be consumed by work. When I sit down at my computer, I am not getting ready to write or blog, but am focused solely and lesson planning and grading. I realized that I need to find some sort of balance so that I am not working all the time or avoiding work all the time. I need to give myself time to write and relax as well as to work. One of the first things I am doing to begin building this balance in my life is to put self-care first. I tend to put off exercising and eating right. Today, I got up and exercised first thing. Yesterday, I committed to eating healthy and planned a grocery list that would support this goal. Lately, I have been grabbing whatever is easiest or most convenient and this is taking a toll on my health. I am also focusing on eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Even though I need to lose weight, I am focusing on taking care of myself rather than dieting.
The next goal I have is to resume writing every day and making time for writing. Usually, I sit down at the computer and begin working on my lesson plans and grading right away. When I finally have time to write, I am often too tired. Today, I made time for my writing first. It seems that no matter how long I spend grading I am never caught up. I am caught in a vicious cycle that I need to break out of. By making time for the things I want to do every day, I will have more energy for the things I have to do every day.
Next week, we’ll see how I do. Thanks for having coffee with me. I’ll see you next Monday!
When my husband and I are driving through neighborhoods we wish we could afford to live in, we imagine what kind of rooms we would have in our dream house. He, of course, wants a man-cave where he can display his sports memorabilia and his action figures–excuse me, his rare collectibles. We imagine a giant room where our son’s massive collection of toys (excuse me, his rare collectibles) can be stored away from the living room.
I dream of a place that doesn’t echo with the sounds of Wii tennis or laundry tumbling in the dryer. A place that doesn’t require me to clean up every time a meal is served. A place that isn’t surrounded by bills to be paid or homework to be finished. It doesn’t have to be a large room, just a small room, preferably with a door, where I could retreat every day to write or meditate or reflect. Where I could find a book without crawling through drying laundry or kitty litter. Where things that were valuable only to me
Once when we were looking for a file cabinet at OfficeMax, I found a beautiful desk. It was designed to fit in a corner. It had not one, but two full desk-tops. The kicker for me, however, were the cupboards that ran the length of both desktops. The doors were inlaid with glass so I could see my supplies and find anything I needed. I yearned for that desk with all of my being, and it was on sale, but there was no room in our little house. It seemed that there was room for everything else: two jumbo rat cages, three litter boxes, six giant bins of toys, six book cases, a corner desk and two more book cases for the man-cave, but no room for my writing desk. Perhaps, the message is that there is no room for my writing. So, I make room.
After dinner, the computer comes back out to sit on the dining room table and remind me to write in the morning. It goes away for breakfast, but comes out again before lunch. I carve out time from chores and work and parenting. I don’t need a special room in my house for writing as long as I make room for writing in my life.
The thing I care most about is making sure that my son has a good life. I worry that I’m not a good enough role model for him. I don’t want him to live a life full of regrets, full of half-lived ambitions, and unresolved dreams. I want him to go after what he wants. I want him to be fearless.
To be the role model he needs, I need to start cultivating those qualities in myself. I need to stop sitting back and letting life pass me by. I have to pursue my dreams. If I want to be a writer, then I need to write. If I want to be a teacher, then I need to teach. Whatever it is that I’m meant to do, I need to find that thing and pursue it with my whole heart–for him, so he can see that it is possible to pursue his dreams and, in the pursuit, live a fuller life, rather than pining away, wishing for what might have been.
I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.
From the moment I picked up my first violin, I found it easy to make the instrument do what I wanted. My ear was true, and I could easily hear when my fingering was off and adjust accordingly. I was often dissatisfied with the sound I produced, because I played a beat-up loaner from the school. No matter how well I placed my fingers, the notes I produced were harsh and discordant. That changed when my mother’s foster-uncle loaned me his violin to play. It was a beautiful instrument with mother of pearl inlaid on the back. Its tone was old and mellow and it followed my commands obediently. I soon learned, however, that even my uncle’s beautiful violin was inferior to other instruments. I did not know that until my mom purchased my own violin from a concert violinist. My new violin was a 3/4 instead of a standard violin. Suddenly, everything felt right. I could hit the notes I intended and my violin had a light, delicate tone.
I started writing my own stories the same year I started playing the violin–the third grade. While writing was my passion, it didn’t come as naturally to me as playing the violin. While my violin produced the sounds I intended instantly, my pencil stuttered disobediently across the page. I just couldn’t seem to make the images that danced in my head come to life on the page. My brain felt as wooden as my violin, but did not sing as sweetly. Still, I persisted. After nine years, I gave up the violin. I never played it for enjoyment, but for the fulfillment of my mother’s frustrated childhood dreams. I, however, continued to write. Over the years, I started many projects, but left them unfinished. I grew frustrated with my uncooperative pencil, and let my writing routine lapse.
This fall, I realized that, unless I committed to putting that uncooperative pencil to paper every day, I would never be the writer I wanted to be. I committed to the NaNoWriMo challenge and completed my first novel. Every day, I berated my wooden brain and lackluster pencil for their lack of creativity, but I continued plodding to the end of my novel.
I realized that writing, unlike a violin performance, can be revised. Once I finished a violin solo, it was gone forever–the notes played and heard. I would never have the chance to repeat the performance and improve it. With writing, however, I can continue to work on a piece of writing that dissatisfies me until the words produce the melody that pleases me. I can let go the frustration I feel when I am drafting, because eventually I can make my writing sing. I will never be one of those writers who produces a perfect piece of writing on the first try, but I will eventually produce a masterpiece with dogged persistence and many revisions.
As football season begins anew, we are again focused on the players “taking a knee” during the national anthem. President Trump tweeted this week-end that football players who kneel during the anthem should be thrown off the field. In May, the NFL said all players who did not wish to stand for the anthem could remain in the locker room without consequence.
As I watched this debate last season and last week, it seems to me that everyone, but the NFL players, have forgotten that the First Amendment of the Constitution grants the players freedom of expression and the right to petition their government. By taking a knee, during the anthem, they are petitioning their government to take notice of an issue about which they feel strongly. That is their right as citizens of the United States.
While the NFL and Trump worry about ratings, they have forgotten one of the cornerstones of our country’s values–the right to free speech. When they take a knee, the players are peacefully drawing attention to their issue and asking to be heard. They are not interfering with the game and they are doing the job they are paid to do when they are on the field.
According to the NFL and Trump, football ratings are down. They attribute this to the players taking a knee. If this is true, then the viewers are also exercising their right to express their perspective by turning off the game. Again, this is their right as citizens of the United States. If the NFL decides to institute a policy that limits their players’ right to protest, it would be in violation of the players’ rights–and the Constitution. People might argue that the players are employees and have to follow the policies of their employers. Employers’ policies, however, cannot supersede the rights granted by the Constitution.
No matter the issue, we need to support the rights of other citizens to protest. If we allow the president and the NFL to limit the rights of players, we have opened the door to limiting our rights as well.
At 52 years old, I think a lot about the past. Things that I could have done differently. What if I had pursued psychology instead of teaching? What if I had focused on my writing instead of putting it off?
When I find myself starting to regret the past that is gone, I stop myself and focus on today. The choices I have made for myself have shaped who I am today and the life I have. While I am not always happy with how things are, I have a lot of things in my life for which I am grateful.
Watching my son grow up reminds me of all the possibilities that still await me. In his eyes, all things are new. When I experience things through his perspective, I remember that I still have something to offer the world and the world still holds promise for me.
I have a job teaching community college that I love. When I catch myself dwelling on losing my job teaching middle school or not being able to find another one, I remember that I am valued at the college where I teach. After leaving for a semester, they welcomed me back with open arms. That’s much more than any of the public schools I worked for ever did.
My husband and I don’t always see eye to eye. When I am frustrated with him, I remind myself that he has been my partner for over half my life. We are very different people, but we meet our challenges together.
Sometimes, I beat myself up for not writing. I don’t always blog or work on my novel, but writing is always a part of my life. When I have a problem, I always write about it. It has been the one constant in my life. I have been writing since the third grade. Even if I never get published, I will always be a writer.
Regret can sap my energy and my hope. It’s like a sweet poison. It is so easy to slip into the past and rewrite my life, but when I slip away, I miss the blessings that are right in front of me.