What Are You Worrying About?

Flickr Creative Commons photo

This morning, I ran the vacuum over the living room carpet to pick up the leaves the animals have dragged in.  It wasn’t the most thorough job—just a spit-shine because the baby is coming over and I don’t want her putting leaves in her mouth.

For some reason, as I moved the footstool aside, I thought of how much I used to worry about things being messy when my boys were young.  I’m not mis-remembering; they were often really messy—piles of clothes to be washed or to be put away, toys and shoes and coats and books everywhere.  It was a crowded little house, four rooms in a row downstairs, two big rooms upstairs, and four people cozied up in there with various hobbies and interests and friends.

Only I never let my friends come to my house. Ever.  We had a writing critique group and we always met somewhere else.  I was embarrassed about the old carpets, some of which had been salvaged from a hotel renovation; the ancient kitchen (truly, for awhile it was the worst kitchen in the world) and the constant clutter that I could sweep away on Saturday and would reappear on Sunday, exactly as it had been, as if the objects all had souls that animated them and they moved around at will.

This morning, with twenty years between me and the woman who worried about those carpets, it struck me as tragic that I’d been so worried about what my friends would think of my housekeeping that I wouldn’t let them come over.  They lived in newer places, all of them, but my own house was a charming old beauty, full of light and my special quirky loveliness.  Not everyone’s taste, but comfortable, welcoming.  How did I not understand that?

It is the same unfounded worry that makes us all, as teenagers, exaggerate some imaginary or real flaw—a big nose or skinniness or fatness—into some Major Thing That Everyone Is Noticing.  When actually, they are so worried about their own flaws they don’t even see ours.

Which led me to wondering what I worry about now that might be just as tragic.  What impossible standard am I setting?

It’s not so much about appearances these days.  For one thing, there are no armies of seven year old boys racing through the house, and I don’t live in that small, charming old house, but a spacious suburban sweetie that has plenty of space to put things away.  I still have to clear the clutter away regularly, trying to find the kitchen counter or the surface of my desk, but even if my friends come over and see the big mess, I don’t think they won’t love me.  They do.

I feel a certain freedom in my physical appearance, too.  I accept it, flaws and all, even if I don’t like pictures of myself all that much sometimes.

What I do worry about, all the time, is about attaining a certain level of perfection, of No-Flawness, maybe like Snow White or Belle,  that would render me then a Really Wonderful Friend and Human Being, on every single level.  Kind, always.  Never lazy.  Never grumpy. Always well turned out, instead of sometimes running to the grocery store in yoga pants with my hair in a ponytail.   In my imaginary perfectness, I would never drink too much coffee and give myself indigestion, or too much wine and give myself a hangover.  I’d eschew sugar and bad fats and eat clean and green.  I would listen earnestly to someone who wants to talk out a problem and probably be able to balance my granddaughter on my hip while stirring a pot and writing a novel, all at the same time.

But if I were that woman, who would even want to be my friend? I mean, seriously—would you? I wouldn’t!

In Sharon Salzman’s book Real Happiness, she writes about the Buddhist practice of Lovingkindness as a way of loving ourselves and others unconditionally.  Science tells us that it can be learned, she says.

“It is the ability to take risks with our awareness—to look at ourselves and others with kindness instead of reflexive criticism….to care for ourselves unconditionally instead of thinking, “I will love myself as long as I never make a mistake.”

That phrase, “reflexive criticism” caught me.  I recognized the action instantly, that meanness, that monkey-mind judgment that so often shows up with a really nasty undernote and narrowed eyes and passes judgment on something or someone or myself.

Anna Quidlen says we begin the work of authentically becoming ourselves when we let go of being perfect.  That sounds really lovely to me right now, a person who has been worrying about things for decades, only to find most of them weren’t worth a single moment of my precious hours.

So today, I’m just going to go with imperfection.  I’m going with love, that simple answer to every question. Every question. Love. Toward me and my work and the people around me and even the people who irritate me, and maybe in that way, my heart will be more open to the everyday, to my friends and my children and the lady at the grocery store who shoves her cart in front of mine, and even, maybe, myself.

Can you think of a time when you worried a lot about something that ended up not mattering very much? Are there things you worry about now that it might be better to put down?


Seeking motivation to exercise

In fifteen minutes, I am headed over to the gym to meet my trainer, Tabor.  I really like him.  He’s not quite thirty, very even tempered, and madly in love with his wife and hiking.  He’s an all around good guy and I do love how much stronger and fitter I am.

But all day, I’ve been dreading my appointment. I’ve been dreading most of them for the past few weeks. My energy is low–September was a lot of travel and teaching and I’m tired. I have a deadline of November 15 and the book is not at all where I want it to be.  I’m chaining myself to the computer so much that also forcing myself to go to the gym is really hard.

I have been seeing a trainer at least twice a week for more than a year now, since August 2011.  You’d think I’d be super buff and thin.  I’m not.  I have, however, stopped gaining (a gift of midlife) and have even dropped a very small amount of fat.  If I flex, you can see my muscles, my biceps and my quads and the ones that tickle me a lot: my back and chest.  This all makes me stronger.  I get that. It will help keep me from becoming a frail old woman.

I also gave up meat over a year ago, and I’m struggling a bit with that, which will go in another blog.

What I would really like to do is take a week off from everything.  No travel, no exercise, no writing or blogs, no heavy gardening, no major household repairs, nothing.  Just a week of puttering and playing, wandering into a book or a shop or off to lunch with a friend or to a movie.  Sleeping a lot. Reading a lot.  Doing nothing a lot.

Unfortunately, the book must be finished.  To finish it, I have to stay healthy and strong, and that means I go to the gym.  Even if it doesn’t make me thin.  Even if I often do not look forward to it. Even if it strains my willpower in other ways.

Do you have any tips? What do you do to get yourself moving when you don’t want to exercise? 

Putting Summer Away

Before I forget:  Amazon included In the Midnight Rain in an October special, so it’s .99 for the whole month. If you haven’t read it, now is a good time to grab it.

Now…on to the blog….

It’s a slightly overcast morning, and promises to be truly cold and blustery and maybe even snowy tomorrow.  I had the house cleaned thoroughly yesterday—it feels so good to have the house all in order, and the floors cleaned and the bathrooms sparkling.  I love, love, love that.  Once, it would have made me feel guilty.  Now I think about how the young woman who cleans my house has a job and I get a clean house. Good trade.

We had our first freeze on Wednesday night, and all the tomato plants fell over, despite my (half-hearted) attempts to save them with tarps.  I had to collect them all, about 20-25 pounds of green beefsteak and roma tomatoes of many sizes.  I took bags of them to each of my neighbors, and this morning put the rest on the top shelf of the greenhouse window.   They looked so beautiful that I had to run and get my camera to shoot them, finding in me that quiet, that peacefulness that comes to me through the lens of a camera for no reason I can pinpoint.  Maybe it’s the focus, the wordlessness of letting everything go to be in the moment, here, right now.  Maybe it’s the sweetness of beauty, because I do tend to shoot things I think are beautiful.  Some photographers collect gritty or grim or ugly things, but I’ve never been that person.  I love beauty, and flowers and fruits and vegetables, and looking at things closely.

I love the corn in the background, the way the light spills over the silken curves of the tomatoes, the way their shapes are repeated over and over, and the stems add prickliness.

I also like this one:


Garden/kitchen tip: green tomatoes will keep for a long time this way.  Spread a paper towel over a flat window sill and put the tomatoes on top. The last time I did this, I had tomatoes through Christmas.

Now I’ve played long enough and need to turn my focus to writing.  Last night, on the way home from a book club meeting in Woodland Park, I was tangling myself up over the story I’m writing, thinking how to do this and how to do that, and the Girls in the Basement said, “Oh, just stop it!  Just write.  Have some fun, will you?”

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to stop burdening this poor book with more and more and more expectations and weighing it down with lead bricks of time pressure and twisting and turning and all that other business- and expectation-crap and just let the story emerge as it wishes.  I like these characters!  I love them, honestly.  Lavender and Ruby and Ginny and Noah and the little barn cat and the lavender fields and the chickens.   It’s lovely and sweet and I’m just going to go write now.

What are you up to this weekend?  Is it freezing where you are? Do you know any recipes for green tomatoes?  

How Flowers, A Camera, and The Girls Play Together

This morning I awakened feeling crazy hunger to create, which often happens to me on days like this. It’s cool, with a sweet little breeze carrying autumn. It’s overcast, which is the most important thing.  In a place with so much sunlight, cloudy days are a blessing, quieter somehow, thoughtful.  I walked the dog and found words rolling up, and a dozen plot tangles suddenly and easily resolving themselves.  When I got home, I had to check the corn and beans in the garden. It has not been a great vegetable year, but the flowers are lovely.   In one patch, the lavender is in wild bloom (and I neglected to label which lavender plants I have out there, so I have to remember that the border group blooms late, while the others bloom earlier).

Anyway, somewhere in early summer I saw a tiny patch of lavender and small shell-pink roses growing together, so I copied it, as all gardeners do.  All summer, I probably had this moment in mind, this bottle and the minute bouquet of lavender and the fairy pink rose, sitting in a window with quiet light behind.  To get this particular shot, the very one, the only one, I had to shoot 66 photos.  The light is so low the flash kept going off, and at one point, I pulled a chair over to shoot it from above.  The bottle was sitting next to an empty blue wine bottle from a local winery, which I thought I would love and didn’t.

But finally, I headed up stairs to edit the shoot.  Over and over, I tried adjusting light, crops, tones, details. Some of them are lovely, and I might print a trio to put side by side in a frame.  This one, however, didn’t need anything much.  I tweaked the light the teeniest bit, but that’s it.  Just as it was, it was fine.

As I printed it, I realized that Ruby–one of the main characters in the MIP– who is mourning a lost love and wishing for something else, heads out to the lavender fields and finds the little roses.  She cuts them and arranges them in tiny bottles for her friends.

All the details we write come from within us somewhere, memories and images, colors and scents and conversational tics. It’s also true that we weave the everyday into the pages, so much so that when I go back to read my earlier books, I’m overwhelmed by the taste of those particular months I was writing. Some are impossible to read for this reason, but maybe when I’m very old, I’ll like going back and living in them, thinking and remembering.

Or not.

A good lesson for me this morning.  I’ve been so rigidly on producing pages, producing pages, that I forgot this is how I work.  I walk around. I take a picture.  I write a blog, and the book blooms behind me, full and heavily scented.

Do you ever find problems solve themselves when you look away?  Or a worry dissolves if you stop twisting it and twisting it? 

The Off-Season

I’m back in Breckenridge, this time for a Writing Away Retreat, which I agreed to do a couple of years ago. Funny.

It’s again the slow season.  The gondola to the slopes is closed, and mostly the tourists are elderly, stopping to shoot a photo of the river. I walked five miles in the autumn sunshine, feeling all the stress of the past couple of weeks drop away, and last night slept like a five-year-old.

I keep looping back here. It’s a tourist town, plain and simple. The streets rare filled with milling out of towers all the time, winter, summer, spring, even now on this off-midweek in September.  So why do I like it so much? I don’t even (downhill) ski.

We’ve been looking for a long time for the place where we might have a little condo or cabin or something.  Both CR and I love to be in the high mountains. I love to hike, and he loves to run, and I’m just a mountain girl.   I find it healing to be in the thin air, amid the trees and on the lakes.  He just loves altitude. The more the better.  At 10,000 feet, he starts to talk.  At 11,000, he’s positively chatty.

We visited a lot of places.  There are some that are just too glitzy. Some that are too small or far away or backward or ridiculously expensive.  We were enamored for awhile with Buena Vista, which is not far away from Breckenridge.  There are hot springs, and it’s quiet, away from the tourist hordes, and there is a big hiking area that both of us like–he for orienteering, me for, well, hiking.  Also, the views of Mount Princeton are amazing.  It’s one of my favorite mountains in the state.

But Buena Vista is quiet.  REALLY quiet.  I finally nixed it, and that was when CR cast his net another direction.  We ambled into Breckenridge one summer afternoon and there was an art fair. I bought a small painting, and we looked at glass, and ate at decent cafe and walked around with the HORDES of tourists and I thought, “Hmmm.”  I never mind a tourist town. I grew up in one.

The thing is, I love the mountains, but I don’t love really small towns.  I spent a lot of time in Sedalia and CAstle Rock when I was a kid, and it was just….boring.  (For locals, I know it is hard to imagine a Castle Rock that was a small town, but trust me, it was tiny and boring.)  I also don’t want a place that’s as glitzy and monied as Aspen or Vail.  Breck is absolutely nothing but a ski and outdoor-lure town, but that’s kinda what makes it possible to consider actually spending lots of time here.  There is a ton of hiking and running, and in ten minutes, you can be in the serious backwoods. There’s a giant lake not far down the road, where we could kayak in summer.  My kids could come ski (neither of us downhill ski).  There are some good restaurants, and a movie theater down the road in Frisco, and a long, long, long bike path and the mountains are IN YOUR FACE in every direction.

And I can drive here in two hours, on my own.  Maybe not in the wintertime on my own, but that’s not the season I care about.  I like the others.

Let’s see how much work I get done this time.  That’s part of the equation–one reason for a condo is to have a retreat center where I can work without distraction when I need to.  (We’ve been using hotel rooms and time shares, but they don’t allow animals and I need to have the company of critters if I’m working for a week at a time on my own. It’s okay if there are no humans, but I need a snoring dog or a purring cat.)

I have to admit, too, that it’s sort of funny to imagine that we’re actually going to think about buying a vacation condo.  My inner working class kid thinks simultaneously, whoa! and who do you think you are?  My adult self who has worked a long time at a profession she loves thinks it’s just fine.  😉

Happy to find the spot! Even better, CR loves this place.

If you could have a second home or a retreat anywhere you liked, where would you choose? 




I spent a week in the mountains last week, planning to do some catch-up work, maybe read and start rewriting The Mirror Girl, figure out how to structure this complicated puzzle of a new WIP, and block out some other work.   I arrived on a Saturday, alone with my collaging materials and iPad and books.

The first morning, I woke up FULL of plans.  I had eight days to work, alone, without distractions! I could rewrite the whole book! Plan the little series in my head! Collage the WIP and see if that helped shake the structure loose!  I got out of bed at 5 am, rested, and thought how lovely I would feel about myself if I managed to take home ALL THAT WORK!

One of the other things I promised myself was that I would meditate every morning for as long as I wanted. I sometimes rush because I feel the pressure of getting the day started.  So that was my first action: to drink a cup of tea on the balcony and then meditate in the sunshine. A fox came to see if I had tidbits to share.  Birds twittered in the trees. The sun rose over the mountains.

I fell into bliss.  And you know, I didn’t really want to read the pages of TMG, but after breakfast, I sat down to do it.

And I fell asleep.

Then I took a walk and ate lunch and had a second nap and spent the evening reading a book.  Alone, in the quiet. It was a little lonely.  I

my breakfast companion most days

was a little bored without the animals or Christopher Robin to talk to.  I went to bed very early, and again awakened very early.

Rinse and repeat.  Monday, Tuesday.  Except that Tuesday, I skipped the pretending-to-work part and leapt straight to reading a novel written by someone else.  I started it in the morning and read the entire day until I finished, at which point I wandered down to the village and sat by the river, journaling, shooting photos of the melting ski runs with my camera phone because I didn’t want to be bothered to carry my big camera.

By Wednesday, I began to realize I was not interested in working.  I didn’t pick up any pages I’d written.  I didn’t journal or blog. I just read and then took a walk, then had dinner with CR.  Slept long.

Rinse, repeat. Thursday, Friday, we wandered down for breakfast, wandered around town for awhile, wandered back to lie around and read.  When I got bored Thursday, I started collaging the WIP, find enthusiasm for the project and possible glimmerings of a fix for the problem.  Love the characters a LOT.  Love the setup a LOT.  Feel strongly that it has the potential to be really good work.  Optimism restored.

By Friday night, after we’d walked for four or five hours, all over the village, shooting photos, eating Danishes and vegetable sandwiches, shopping for treats for the baby and my d-i-l, I realized that what I’d needed was REST.  Pure, unadulterated rest.  Even boredom.

That night, I worked on the collage some more, drank a couple of beers, fell asleep early reading the third novel of the week. When I awakened, the plot and characters of the WIP were swirling around like a jigsaw puzzle in my head, fitting themselves into various arrangements for my perusal.

If I am to think about the qualities of a wise woman, an elder, then I have to make sure that an examination of rest is on there.  In our hurry, hurry, hurry material world, rest is desperately neglected.   I am very guilty of pushing myself until I crash, like student cramming for finals, and that’s not wise behavior.

Happily, I am refreshed and relaxed, and I have already scheduled a retreat for three months away, so that I don’t get overwhelmed.

Do you find it hard to get enough rest? Do you even recognize when you’re overly tired?


A Return To Blogging

I took a little sabbatical last week, and one thing that came up is that I miss my blog. Not the blogs I write for other sites, about whatever their message is, but my own, inward/outward blogs about walking through my life and my work and my garden.  It is said that blogs are dying, that no one reads them anymore, but I do. So do you or you wouldn’t be here.

I have let myself become distracted by a thousand other tasks, distracted away from a form I genuinely enjoy and feels wise to me.  In fact, the quest for wisdom, the desire to understand what wisdom is, what it means to be wise, to be an elder, a wise woman, has been dogging me lately.   Natural, perhaps when a grandchild arrives and you see the future, a future that will not always contain you in this particular form.

The fast, short updates of Facebook and Twitter have shifted attention away from blogs/columns, but while it can feel good to keep up to date with the day to day happenings of people via those methods, there can be no exploration of ideas in those forms, at least I don’t know how to do it.

spring slopes

What I do know is that this slightly longer form, a column or blog, is perfect for me to mull an idea, think about something, share them with you, my reader.

So I’m going to commit to blogging again here.  I don’t know how often….maybe once a week sometimes, maybe every day.   We’ll see.  There is much afoot in my world.  A baby and books and walking and trips abroad.   I am interested in exploring the idea of wisdom and might come up with a year-long project to see what that looks like.

We’ll see.  For now, I wanted to let you know I’m returning to this form.


The process

Since November, I’ve been writing a serial novel for a blog, The OtherLand Chronicles, which I’ve written about here several times.  After two months, I have some observations.

I began on November 1, for NaNoWriMo, a lark.  Or so I thought.  The truth is, this story has been rattling around in my head for more than three years, gathering bits and pieces to itself.  Every so often, it came to me with a new shiny something, like a child who wants to play, and I would say, “Oh, that really is clever, but I don’t really have time right now to do anything with it.  Hang on to it, okay?”  The book-child wold nod and amble away, admiring her little treasure.

Over and over and over this happened, until I realized that I had a LOT of material.  Like an entire world and backstory and a story arc long enough for a trilogy.  It was all born from my walks in the parkways around Briargate, and that’s a lot of walking.  Every day, year in, year out, me and my dog and the story brewing.

Any writer knows that sooner or later, that work has to be done.  It will force its way into your schedule no matter what else you’ve got going on, and it will make itself so very attractive that you will have no choice. You’ll be seduced.

I was seduced. Now I find myself writing an entire book in public, which is not the most comfortable thing in the world. It forces me to find more time to write than I usually would, and for the first time in years, I’m really a hermit.  I don’t want to go anywhere.  I have work to do. So much work, all of it so different, and so much fun in its own ways.

I also discovered that as much as I’d like to do a “serial draft” where I don’t change anything, that was just not possible.  I had to go back and do some revisions for the sake of the story. I had to rewrite a couple of scenes pretty substantially and move a couple of them around, and until I did it, the book stubbornly wasn’t going to let me move forward.

But here’s the thing: this is my play project, so I get to make the rules.  My promise to the readers of the material is that I will finish.  I will not quit until I have a complete story.  Turns out my promise to the story is that I have to serve it first.  Which is always the way.

For the record, I am having a blast. This is as entertaining as anything I’ve done.

If you haven’t been reading along and wish to begin, start at the beginning.

If you have been reading, I finally got new material up after the long Christmas break.  Start at Chapter Eleven, Scene 4

A frank moment on posting in public

The OtherLand Chronicles experiment continues, posting a new scene (almost) every day as a sort of NaNoWriMo exercise.  I say sort of because you are technically supposed to just blast through and not edit and there are likely other rules I don’t know about, but this is my gig and I’m playing it my way.  My goal was to post new work every day and to be as true as possible to the NaNo idea of moving forward even when things aren’t quite right.

Not that easy!  By the time you see one of my books, I’ve been over it a dozen times (at least!).  My agent and editor have read it, commented, made suggestions.  A line edit and copy edit have been done, weeding out the obnoxious repetitive phrases and clumsy sentences I have missed.  None of that has happened with this book, and it’s both thrilling and dismaying.

There isn’t time to edit much, frankly.  If I’m going to get the new scene written, I can’t spend a lot of time polishing the work from the day before–I just have to GO.  I have been writing the scene one day ahead, and giving myself and a beta reader a chance to catch anything that’s going to mess up the story, a dropped thread or anything like that, but not much more.

And you know what, this is FUN!  I’m more worried about getting the story down, keeping the tension up, balancing what the reader needs to know with what needs to remain hidden.   Planting clues, pacing, staying true to the character’s voice.

I thought I know all about the story, too, but stories have a way of birthing themselves into whatever they like.  I am being surprised and entertained.  I tell my voice students to play, to let themselves go, to take a chance every now and then to give the girls in the basement a chance to play.  That’s what I’m doing.  We are writers.  We are in wild mind, beginner’s mind.  A very good place to be.

Just posted the first scene of Chapter Four.  http://theotherlandchronicles.com/2011/11/chapter-4-scene-1-2/


The Turn of the Wheel–writing season begins

Here it is, arriving suddenly.  On Thursday, it was still Indian summer, sunny and hot.  Today is Saturday and that season has fled.   This is a wet snow, and won’t stick. Next week, it will be warm again—but instead of collecting a few more roses, another couple of squashes, I will put the garden to bed for the winter. Cut down the frozen stalks of corn, compost the wilted squash, the frost killed tomatillo, so prolific that I am secretly glad I won’t have to figure out how to use 10,000 more of them.

When I first looked out this morning, on the wilted, frozen plants that have been my companions all summer, I felt melancholy.  The summer is gone for certain now.  Another swift move of the calendar, this very particular summer, this sweet year of my new garden–gone.

And yet…I knew the freeze was on the way, so I found this little greenhouse at the local big box gardening spot.  (I had planned to buy PVC pipe and build one—this is ever so much better, and only a tiny bit more expensive.)  It’s lightweight, and easy enough to assemble that I did everything but the cover by myself in about 2 hours.  It would have been less, but I mixed up two parts and had to redo them.   It’s not all battened down just yet—I had hoped to do that today, but it will wait until Monday or Tuesday now, when the weather will be warmer again.

Stepping into that protected world last night, where the tomatoes are growing, and some more potatoes, I felt a sense of deep quiet.  Here, I can extend the season, both now and in the spring.  Here, I can have a secret stash of fresh, home-grown tomatoes and herbs. It’s too late this year to do it, but in the future, I can plan what the greenhouse bed will hold and provide myself with more herbs and fresh edibles, and create a place of puttering solace for the winter, at least part of it.

Gazing out at the snug little greenhouse, I felt sweet anticipation creeping beneath the melancholy, edging it out of the way.  After a break of more than two months, the girls in the basement woke up and peered over my shoulders, yawning and scrubbing their eyes.  “Hooray!” they cried. “It’s the writing season! Make some cinnamon tea while we get dressed.  We have lots of stories to tell you.”

Another season begins—fresh and unmarked.  So it is.