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.
I can’t believe that it is one year later and I am embarking on my second novel. I decided this year to write by the seat of my pants instead of writing a detailed outline. We’ll see how it goes. I tried to write in April and July, but school got in the way. This month, I’m going to hold myself accountable by posting my progress every day. I am still editing the first novel I wrote last November and planning the other novel I wanted to write in April, but I wanted to write something completely different to get my creativity going again. I hope it will help me rekindle my passion for my original NaNoWriMo project. Can a person conduct a dissertation study, teach college English and write a novel in a month? We’re about to find out!
“Our new favorite show? Like we have something in common?”
“Sure. We have a lot in common. We both have a son. We like to read the same writers. I’m a serial killer. You’re ….”
“Hold on there.”
“I was going to say, you’re studying serial killers.”
“I’m only studying serial killers so I get you right.”
“We’ve discussed this before. You can’t get me right. I already exist. You’re just channeling my reality from another dimension.”
“Not this again.”
“Anyway, when are we finishing our show?”
“I already finished it.”
“What? Without me?”
“Well, you were busy. I’m surprised you even like the show. You’re the one that said that what they say about serial killers is all bullshit. MindHunters is all about how they came up with the bullshit. The FBI agents who interviewed all those serial killers. They based all their theories on serial killers on those interviews.”
“Not everything is bullshit.”
“Like, how all the serial killers try to control the interviews even though they no longer have any control. That’s spot on. That’s why we do what we do–for control. We control who gets to live and who gets to die. And we’re intelligent. We have to be to do what we do and not get caught. Of course, all those serial killers aren’t that smart after all.”
“They got caught, didn’t they? They’re sitting in prison spilling their guts to FBI agents. That’s not too smart. And they’ll die in prison, too.”
“So you’re smarter than all those guys, huh?”
“Fuck yeah. I haven’t been caught yet, have I?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Never mind. I found a new series. You’re going to love it. It’s called I Am a Killer.”
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.
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!