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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.