Writing and Little Women

little women

I’m reading Little Women with an online group, and in my excitement I went to dig out my copy only to discover — gasp — that I couldn’t find it.

The novel is one of the foundational books of my childhood, of my life. That I couldn’t find a single copy in our house shocked me. Why, just a few years ago I distinctly remember buying a couple of beautiful copies at a quaint local bookstore. I know I passed one along to my mother for her birthday, but I was convinced I had kept the second, until my search turned up nothing. (I may have inadvertently left the book at my former workplace where I taught. Which is fine if it’s getting some use.)

I started first searching the bookshelves in my and Barry’s bedroom. I was sure I knew just where that book was. Nope. The more I searched, the more frantic I became.  Finally I gave up and asked Barry if he minded if I bought another copy. So I did. Unfortunately, they shipped me a different edition than I ordered. Then they apologized and said they do not have the one I wanted, but they let me keep the one they sent and refunded my money, so I was satisfied, mostly, although I had hoped that the one I ordered would have extra essays and such in it. This one does have a nice introduction, but that’s it.

I can’t say how old I was when I first read it, but I was probably eight or so. The book captivated me! I read it more than once.

While I didn’t have any Barbies as a child, somehow I did have a fashion doll of some sort with dark hair. I decided she was Jo. Because I was so worried that my father, as hers had, would be called away to war (not that a war was going on at the time, but still) I had her sacrifice her hair just as she does in the book. Yes, I cut into a sweet bob and was quite happy with it. I also made her a gray poncho out of a scrap of fabric and had her become the last woman in the world because a nuclear war had occurred. The poor young woman was left to take care of all of the children orphaned by the war on her own, which she did admirably (in Little Men and under the pine trees where I took “her” to tend her family), although I had no Professor Bhaer to give her.

Jo was my favorite character in the book, and I sometimes made life choices based on hers. I decided to become a writer. (That desire comes from several places, actually, but she is certainly one of the reasons.) In Little Men she opens an orphanage. Even as a child I picked out a huge, neglected green house in my hometown that I thought would make the perfect orphanage. (Alas, it was eventually torn down and I subsequently modified my ambition. But my husband and I did adopt two of the twelve children I had originally planned to.) I don’t mind saying that sometimes they felt like twelve!

Perhaps the deepest print she left on me was her struggle to turn from writing “garbage” fiction for money versus writing from a deeper place: she wrote sensationalistic stories to send her dear, dying sister to the seashore. Who couldn’t understand that? And yet when Professor Bhaer gently redirects her, she quickly repents and vows to write only things that are worthy of her.

I’m pretty much a “live and let live” kind of person who truly believes we need to make our own choices, but I am with Professor Bhaer on this one. While perhaps his objections came from a place of moral concern for what she was writing, I do agree that we should only write those things that come from our souls. We should attempt to ignore what others expect or want us to write and create as if we never need a reader, an editor, or a publisher. There’s time to consider whether or not something needs tweaking later…craft is a different issue. But first write from your deepest depths.

Write on!

Save Greeting Cards From Extinction!

I suppose it started when I had my tonsils removed in the third grade, my love of greeting cards. My dear teacher, Ms. Stover, had the class make and send me cards. I was enchanted and I lined them up and read them over and over while I recovered. Especially the ones from two young men who had caught my fancy. But that’s a different story.

Until I did a thorough after Christmas cleaning last week, if you looked around our house you would have found displayed several types of greeting cards that we had (relatively) recently received. My birthday was in late November, so there were those still about. My birthday was followed closely by the annual arrival of Christmas cards. A couple of thank you notes came soon after from well-mannered recipients of gifts from us.

Sadly, mingled among those cards was a cache of sympathy cards and notes: my father passed just before Christmas. I’ve never received sympathy cards before so I didn’t know whether it was gauche to keep those out or not. I liked them (especially the one with the bookmark attached), so I did, and they comforted me.

Those were quickly followed by anniversary cards, since our anniversary is toward the end of December.

When asked by even family members what I want for any occasion, I usually say “a card,” and I really mean it. (Though gifts are graciously accepted as well!) I adore carefully chosen, massed produced greeting cards, and I love it even more when one of my sisters drops a homemade birthday card into my mail slot. Or a card a niece or nephew has made just for me.

In this Internet age we receive fewer cards each year. I used to line our doorway with the Christmas cards we received. This year I contented myself with displaying them on a table with our snow people — they would have made a sad showing affixed only partly about our doorway.

I am delighted to receive dozens of Facebook notifications, texts, and phone calls on my birthday and on Christmas. And I am grateful for every one. But there’s something about a card — the illustration or photo, the words thoughtfully written just for me inside. So allow me to make a plea for greeting cards, and not just cards for me, but for all of us. I fear in the future they will disappear if we aren’t diligent to buy and send them. I do send

A sampling of the Christmas cards we received this year.

A sampling of the Christmas cards we received this year.

them, although not as frequently as I used to. I for one intend to send even more cards this year. What about you?

Life Hack: Of Podcasts and Procrastination — Both Can Be Your Friend

We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Procrastinated, I mean. In the past I’ve felt bad about it. When it comes to writing fiction, I don’t usually procrastinate. I have so much to say that I could pretty much write nonstop. But there are times…

Today began with a fun talk with my husband before he went off to work. Then I took an invigorating run followed by a leisurely breakfast. I was happily on the endorphin express. But.

After breakfast this morning I discovered that didn’t want to get dressed because I didn’t want to pick out clothes because I wasn’t in the mood to make choices. (I did it anyway, of course.)

Then I didn’t want to load my too heavy backpack onto my coat and lug it to the café where I am working. Once there, I didn’t want to unbundle and set up all of my things: computer, books, paper, pens, plug the computer in by crawling in the floor in front of everyone, etc. Things that I do everyday without thought have been more difficult today.

And even though I own probably 50 scarves, I forgot to bring one, which bummed me out. Thankfully I am wearing double layers. (Note to self: tuck a neutral-colored one into your backpack for the future.)

Still, once I got here I made my daily “I will do/the universe will do” lists. Okay, I only wrote the “I will do” list. I know what I want the universe to do and most of it reads like a honey-do list: Shampoo the carpets, replace the caulk in the bathroom, put up the Christmas decorations. Things that don’t have to be done today, but it would be nice if they were done before our eagerly awaited holiday visitors arrive. (I have evolved to the point that I know those things will get finished, and I also realize that they have no deadlines attached, so we are good. In fact, some of those might even prove to be fun.)

And oh yeah, Universe: make my dad well.

So here I sit, proud that I have made as much progress as I have. Except I don’t want to do anything on that list I promptly hid after writing. After tunneling into my fiction for the weekend, I am finding it difficult to make the switch to nonfiction today.

My dad is in the hospital and I’m worried about him. I’ll get to see him tonight, but I wish I could ease his suffering and there’s nothing I can do. Nothing. If you know me, you know I can’t handle feeling helpless. I suspect this is the cause of my unease.

Before you think I am just foisting my ho-hum attitude upon you, read on. Because I just discovered today that procrastination is my friend and it can be yours, too. (Minor bit of required diversionary backstory forthcoming.)

I am a podcast junkie. I listen to them when I run. I listen to them while I cook. I listen to them while I clean. Don’t ask me what kind because it depends on my current taste, which is always changing.

This morning I was listening to one while I was stretching, and I was thrilled to hear someone say that when you procrastinate, what you’re actually doing is keeping yourself from taking action before you should. That is, your mind is not in a place where it’s time to do anything, so don’t make a move until it is. I LOVED hearing that. It was just what I needed today.

Maybe I needed to think about my dad a little today after I called my mom and got the not-great prognosis. Maybe it’s okay that I didn’t jump right into my usual routine and pretend that everything is fine when it’s not.

Maybe that hesitation I feel is because the right people aren’t available to interview today anyway, and if I just wait until tomorrow they will be.

Maybe by writing this today, I am not procrastinating at all, but I am writing it for someone who needs it as much as I do.

For some reason, though, I suddenly feel ready to look at that list again that is tucked snugly into The Paris Wife. Perhaps this time I will see friendly letters looking back at me that inspire me instead of an enemy with a whip (which the list sometimes feels like, no matter how slim I make it). Here’s hoping.

Five Things Freelance Writers Wish Our Sources Knew

Inspired by an “I can’t sleep (in part) because I’m freaked out about these sources who aren’t responding” kinda night. And morning.

In case it’s not clear, I am a freelance writer by day, something I really enjoy most days.

Dear Sources,

First of all, please let me say how grateful we are for you. We freelance writers could not write our articles without you. You give of your time and knowledge to benefit the world, and we thank you, truly.

But here are a few things we wish you knew/would do (or not):

1. If you are not going to respond to emails or phone messages, at least respond saying so. Please don’t totally ignore us. Hey, this is a win/win: if you have a business and we mention you, chances are, you’ll get more business. If you’re just a sweet human being who is willing to share your story, then you’ll feel good about yourself and get (semi)famous.

2. If you say you will reply to our emailed questions by Friday, please do so or let us know when you will — we have deadlines, and if we miss a deadline, either our editors have gaps in their magazines or they have to wait (which means others are put on hold, too). In case you didn’t realize it, that’s a bad thing. If the editor has to wait too long, your piece may be bumped for good. We don’t want that, do we?

3. Please don’t get angry with us if the piece doesn’t run when it’s slated to (or at all), or if you get cut out of the story. We know you worked hard on answering our questions and we are sorry, but we have editors who make those final decisions.

4. If we are doing a phone interview, please speak CLEARLY and distinctly. Please know that if we are quiet on the phone it is because we are scribbling furiously. And maybe because we have been taught to keep quiet so you will say more. But mostly because we are writing as fully as we can so that we don’t have to call you back to fill in the blanks. If we do have to call back, you’re not going to get cranky with us, are you?

5. Please don’t cyberstalk us. It’s creepy. We have provided you with our preferred method of contact in our initial message…let’s leave it at that, please?

After I got going I thought of other things, but five is enough for now.  Freelancers, what would you add to this list?

Wind it Up!

About a month ago I visited a doctor because of a knee injury. “Relax your leg,” he said. “You’re afraid I’m going to hurt you. Release the tension in your leg.” By the end of our exchange I wanted to neigh. I was just waiting for him to say “Take it easy, girl” and pat me. But I really didn’t think I was tense at all.

Then at my Pilates class the instructor kept telling me to relax my hips and tighten my ab muscles. She said this while drawing a cross on my lower ab. I wondered if that sign would banish all of my lower ab issues and pledged to try it privately at home, but again, I didn’t think I WAS tense.

When it comes to your muscles, you don’t generally want unconscious tension. When it comes to your writing, you most certainly do.

There are tons of types of tension. Sexual tension leaps to mind. Not all writing merits that of course, but it is one of the most powerful types of tension. Especially unacknowledged sexual tension.

There is subterranean tension — ancient issues and grudges that are a part of a family — or a relationship’s — DNA. (Did I just horribly mangle a metaphor? Sorry. I stand by it.)

Tension can involve imminent peril. Imagine a car coming straight at yours on a crowded interstate.

It can involve your character having what she wants just out of reach — imagine your character is a cat and you are dangling a string and she is batting it while you cruelly pull it away. Yeah, that’s what you’re striving for as an author. Maybe she wants a job, or a piece of chocolate cake. (Mmm…did I say chocolate?)

No matter what the situation, put the fulfillment of it just beyond your character but leave it within sight. Some men and women do this all of the time you know. It’s called playing hard to get, and it sustains interest, unless it’s taken too far.

Ah, dear author, you have to know when to stop toying with your character and give her what she (and by now what we) wants! Don’t do it too soon or we will cease caring. Don’t wait too long or ditto.

You know when you’re watching a movie and like, the man says “Come here” and pulls the woman into a room and you think, okay, now they’re finally going to kiss but then nope. That’s tension. If he kisses her, bye bye tension. However, if he NEVER kisses her (or, if she never kisses him), you will feel cheated unless there’s a very good reason why.

Readers want that tension. They need it. Without it, they will put your book down. They may like and/or admire your character(s), but if they don’t feel that contrast, they won’t stick around.

So as Gwen Stefani sings, “Wind it Up!”

Easy Steps to a “Quick Write.” (Borrowed from Mary Allen.)

As the title of this post reveals, I am sharing a technique that I have borrowed from memoir writer Mary Allen: the “Quick Write”.

I alluded to this technique in my last post, and it’s both simple and effective. Instead of an old fashioned writers group (I have experienced a couple go sour, for various reasons) she suggests finding a writing partner.

This method is useful when you want a writing accountability partner, when you feel stuck, or when you just want to have a writing jag.

Some commonsense tips for before you write: Get something to drink. Turn off your phone. Eat if you haven’t. Be sure you have everything you usually need when you write.

Here are the quite easy steps:

1. You and your writing partner contact one another via email, phone, or ideally, face to face and agree on how long you will write. While writing beside one another is perhaps the best method, it can also be done at your respective desks and you report back to one another.

2. Set the timer for the allotted amount of time and start writing. NO TALKING!

3. Write until the timer sounds.

4. Contact one another again to (this is the scary part for me) read your work aloud.

Caveats: NO criticism is allowed. These words are newly hatched and fragile; treat them with respect. Praise one another for having made the time and effort to write.

That’s pretty much it. I think she says you can tell one another ahead of time what you want to write about — a scene, an idea, whatever. And that’s usually what I do, just to clear it up in my mind a bit before I write. But otherwise, there are no rules.

As I said in my last post, Barry is my writing partner. We have amended the rules a bit: because we are both on deadlines, we will sometimes ask questions after we read our work: “Is this too long?” “What do you think of the POV?” As long as we are respectful and kind, we allow ourselves to ask and answer these questions.

I’ve used this technique when I have thought I have nothing further to say on a subject, only to discover I have plenty more to say. I enjoy that I can just hit “delete” if I don’t like a scene, though oddly enough I haven’t done that yet.

Writers produce at very different speeds, of course. I find that an hour’s write (and for us, an hour seems right: less is too short, more and I get antsy and want a snack or a stroll) usually yields between eight and nine pages for me. Which is something, because on my MOST productive days I have only ever written 24 pages before.

Maybe I should mention that those quick write scenes tend to be ones long on dialogue, which, of course, means tons of white space, so please don’t get upset if one only gives you two or three pages. Even if there’s a nugget in them that you can use, it’s totally worth the time.

And how precious to have someone write alongside you, and listen when you are finished, knowing you will be praised, even if you have just written drivel. Equally lovely to be able to hear someone’s brand new thoughts.

Should I admit that I don’t spend the whole time writing? I occasionally sneak a look at my partner to enjoyed how engrossed he is or, if we’re writing outdoors to admire how the sun lights his eyes. That’s part of the fun of the writing process.

Inspired? I hope so. I know I am.

P.S.: Since I don’t have a photo of us writing, here’s one of us goofing around at home:
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Honor Your Process: Know When to Write and When Not to!

Saturday Barry and I spent a luxurious two hours eating breakfast…unheard of for us! We drank two pots of tea, sitting and chatting, and finally we decided it was time to get on with our day.

A wonderful benefit to me of Barry becoming a Spalding MFA in Writing student is that he has writing deadlines. Which, of course, encourages me to write when he is writing.

Better yet, I have discovered a writing method called “Quick Write” that I will write a post about later. We have been indulging in them, and we had promised ourselves one this weekend. But.

But, when Barry asked if I was ready to write on Saturday, I said no. Yes, his face looks just the way yours does if you know how much I love to write. We were both afraid we were coming down with colds, and I just didn’t feel well all the way around. Writing was not appealing just then.

Also, the night before we had begun watching a documentary on Vermeer. Those of you who know that one of my life’s goals is to see all of Vermeer’s work will not be surprised that I really wanted to finish watching the documentary that I had fallen asleep trying to watch the night before.

Before we turned the program back on, I asked my dear husband if he minded if I applied my hair treatment so I could let it work its magic while we relaxed. Of course we became so fascinated by the video that my hair “marinated” for probably an hour longer than it was meant to! It took two days to get my hair normal again. Thankfully I am not a priss about my hair. :-)

Watching the Vermeer segment meant we rolled into the next one (hence the prolonged hair marinating), which featured the work not of the artist I am writing my novel about, but that of one of his influences. We were only a few minutes in when my eyes widened. Though I had known of the connection between the painters, it wasn’t until I saw the highlighted painting that I realized my painter HAD to have seen that painting.

In fact, I have been writing extensively about a painting that I now know I haven’t been seeing correctly at all because I didn’t know this new-to-me painting.

NOW I was ready, to write, or so I thought. While Barry did a Spalding assignment to free himself for a Quick Write, I wrote a brief outline of what the painting meant to me, what it meant to the artist’s work, and how I could prove it, if I could.

I should have been ready to write at that point, right? Except I wasn’t. This is where you have to dig down and ask yourself if you really shouldn’t be writing, or if you should press on.

When Barry set the timer I put my fingers to the keys and tried to write. About five minutes in I was fiddling with my phone, trying to pull up a photo of the painting. “Research,” I mumbled while he valiantly wrote on.

I wrote one scene, and then I felt as if I had finished what I had to say. I consulted my outline. I wrote a bit more. It was an effort. But finally, I realized that even though I wasn’t feeling it, what I was writing was important. It expressed some things about the artist that I hadn’t been able to articulate in the over two years I have been writing this novel.

I still wrote slowly, leisurely, compared to my usually feverish style.

The result wasn’t brilliant; it wasn’t polished, but when Barry called “Time,” I wasn’t totally embarrassed.

Honoring my process, allowing myself NOT to write when I didn’t want to, and yet pressing through when I really felt I should, opened a new door in my novel. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

As I always say, creative writing is not widget making. There are not definite steps to take to get out what you want to say. Please, honor your process. Whatever it is.

Care to share what your creative process is? I’d love to hear about it!
Ireland 2013 220

Guilty Secret: I Like Editing!

the skull

Some people hate editing. I don’t. Now I’m not talking about that prissy brand of “You really need a comma here” editing. That’s important, and it can certainly be useful, but people who like that sort of editing tend to be those who are less involved in creative writing and more all about the rules. That’s the sort of person who makes me more than a little cranky to be around.

While there’s nothing like writing twenty-five pages in one fevered sitting (my wrists ached, but I did it), there’s something even better about slowing down and reading and tweaking what you wrote.

It’s the difference between meeting someone at a cocktail party (I prefer them to dinner parties — if you get bored you can wander off and meet someone new) and going on a date with the person. You wouldn’t (at least I wouldn’t) corner someone at a cocktail party and start stripping them.

Ah, but with a rough draft, you have to get just that intimate. You stare at each sentence. You make every word explain itself, sometimes repeatedly. You ask it how it has earned its place. If it hasn’t, out it goes. There’s nowhere for a word to hide, no fig leaf you won’t pull away from it.

Oh and that’s just each word. Now what about POV? If you are using multiple points of view, you have to demand to know why the narrative is shifting. What’s gained? What’s lost? If your text can handle that, move on to:

Scenes. Is every scene necessary? Are any gratuitous? Have you mentioned your pet pig collection just because you like pigs or is the collection integral to the story?

Will summary tell more with less belaboring? Then summarize away!

What about half scenes? If you have half scenes, do you have good reasons that they aren’t full-blown affairs? Why are they hybrids? What’s gained? What’s lost?

Those are the two questions, actually, that you must ask yourself all along the way, no matter what you do to your pages. What’s gained by this choice? What’s lost?

I just finished (another) read through of my manuscript with a pen. Trust me, it is quite marked up. Next up will be to put in the changes and to write the missing scenes…or locate them in a previous draft and reinstate them! (The nice thing about changes are that they don’t have to be permanent. You’re allowed to change your mind.)

In multiple spots I noted “you’ve already said this.” Apparently I wanted to get those points across! I am merciless with myself. I will make fun of myself in the margins while editing. I just today wrote “Zzz…” at a particularly “talky” part. Nothing is allowed to escape the heavily wielded pen. That’s as it should be.

While I may be proud in many areas (just ask my husband), when it comes to my writing, I am egoless. Anyone may say anything about my writing, and I can remain objective. If there is a grain of truth to the criticism, I will know it. I will grasp onto it and not make that mistake again. If the criticism is of the ignorant kind, I will know that too. Careless readers, jealous “friends,” may have agendas. I know how to negotiate around those to find even a kernel of truth.

This is, of course, because I have confidence in my writing abilities. If you don’t have that, keep writing, keep reading, until you do have it. I’m not sure editing tips are going to help you if you don’t believe in yourself. (See Anne Lamott’s “Sh*tty First Drafts” in Bird by Bird if you need permission to not write perfectly. Then come back over here.)

When I was learning how to sing, I had no confidence whatsoever. People I trusted put me down harshly, and it hurt. It stung. While a core of me thought that somewhere inside I could sing, I wasn’t convinced, and because of it, I was unconvincing. It took (finally) gaining some confidence, trusting my own ear, and practicing in a nonjudgmental environment to be able to sing. While I still don’t relish solos, I do know that I won’t totally embarrass myself. But I still can’t sing without being really hard on myself.

When it comes to writing, you’re going to have to be totally convinced that you know how to write to edit as harshly, as lovingly, as you need to. Perhaps “harshly” is the wrong word. Be solidly sure that you know how to write, if not perfectly. Demand of yourself that you keep going until the words say exactly what you want them to say. Don’t allow less.

Here’s what I do: I read through the passage I’m editing until I catch a “ding.” I stole that from someone. My apologies because I don’t remember who said it first, but it’s true. Keep reading until you hit upon a word, a phrase, or an idea that just doesn’t sit right. Then see if you can get rid of what doesn’t work. Unkink the syntax. “Verbify” a draggy sentence.

You do know to use vivid verbs, don’t you? If you have not read Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch by Constance Hale, please stop reading and go order it. Now. (Unless you are my husband who is one of the most vivid “verbers” I know. In everyday speech, no less.) Seek and destroy passive sentences.

By the way, I will not be able to come even close to saying in one post everything there is to know about editing. There are editing checklists out there, some good ones. I’ll let you find the one that speaks most to you.

Now, if you’re writing historical fiction as I am, you also need to fact check. If a fact is unverifiable, or if it is different in multiple sources, choose how to handle it: which source will you follow? In the event that it is unverifiable, make it up. I say that cautiously. Try to make it as close to what probably happened as possible, but you have more leeway. And pray new source material doesn’t come out after you have published your book. :-)

Editing shouldn’t take place until the bones of the piece are there: the basic plot has been settled and you likely have a pretty complete rough draft. If not, you might as well get your beginning, middle and end finished first. That’s another reason I don’t like those schoolmarmish editing types: they always want to edit your work too soon. Don’t do it. Don’t let them, either. Many a fine story or novel has died due to early, undue criticism. A flower just emerging from the ground does not yet bloom. Don’t expect more of your work. Not yet.

Beware plot/logic jumps. Sometimes you mention something in chapter one and contradict yourself in chapter eight. Yeah, I’ve been known to do that. Honestly, I’m not so great at catching that stuff. Perhaps you can guess that I’m a pantser, not an outliner. Although after my tortured reworking of this novel I keep saying I’m going to become an outliner in the future. Uh-huh. And I may also shave my head. Right.

For me, those issues are easiest fixed by asking others to read it for me. Another way to do it is for me to read the work all the way through a couple of times. The problem with that is that I become self conscious and only half pay attention as I read because I feel shy of my own work. It feels immodest to enjoy it. I do note high points, but anything that wobbles at all makes me despair. Just for a moment, but enough so that I honestly can’t keep the whole flow in my head at once. I suspect that is a singular failing of mine.

Don’t confuse quantity with quality. I recently lopped over fifty pages off my WIP. I don’t mind that at all. It’s a stronger story for it. Now, that said, I will likely continue to warp and weave another block of pages back in because I got rid of a character who wasn’t working. She just couldn’t convince me that she lent anything to the party, so O-U-T and out goes she.

When you can read through the book more than once and nothing sticks out, nothing stops you, chances are any changes that you make at that point will be nervous tics. Stop. Hit “print.” And consider your work edited. Then go find an agent, for pete’s sake. You didn’t write it just to stick it in a drawer, did you?

I will be a happy camper when I can do so with this novel. But I am also enjoying the journey, every syllable of it. Because to me, editing is when you get to sit back and enjoy your work, knowing you can still change things that don’t please you. Once your work is in print, it’s no longer just yours. That’s the beauty and the sorrow of it.

Shh…I am reading! Lisette’s List

After waiting ALL DAY, while I was on my walk my husband texted to let me know that UPS had been. So I am happy to report that I am now blissfully reading Susan Vreeland’s newest book, Lisette’s List.

LisettesList1_22cover

Shhh…you may not hear anything from me for quite some time.

Ah, writing about art. Is there anything like it? Reading about art.

I Like the (Non)sound of That! Meditation and Me

clock
I have been (sporadically) trying to learn how to meditate. There are several reasons I’m doing this, but probably the biggest reason is that my mind is a continual whirl of (mostly) fun thoughts and ideas and sometimes it’s hard to be inside my own head and my long suffering husband can only bear so much of my excited chatter (because he’s a talker too!).

I’d like to be able to slow down and focus on one writing idea at a time, actually make use of the notebooks crammed with ideas which I currently have. Enter meditation. Theoretically.

A week ago I was attempting to meditate. I find I do best when I force myself to lie on my exercise mat and stay still. This, also, is difficult for me. My father once said I had more energy than anyone he knew. I think he was saying in a very kind way that I’m hyperactive. It’s a miracle that I am a writer (which requires long bouts of relative stillness), but although I am a fidgeter, I also know how to fully engage with what I’m doing at the moment IF it fully interests me. Which, clearly, meditation does not.

Last week rather than lying on my mat in the dining room I was sitting in a chair in the living room, dressed to substitute teach at LMC and not willing to crumple my clothing. Perhaps it was where I was sitting, but I became aware over top of the meditation music just how LOUD the living room clock was.

Side journey: Barry has acutely sensitive hearing — he can actually hear a dog whistle. Don’t try to whisper a surprise for him from across the room, because he will hear it. And don’t try making snide remarks to his back when he has his headphones on, because even though they are noise canceling, yup, he’s going to hear every word. Trust me. :-)

Barry has been complaining about how loud our clocks are for, well, years. But my mind has never slowed enough to let me hear them (or his complaint) much. Until Tuesday.

A woman of action, I quickly decided that before the day was through I would buy a new living room clock. After teaching I went shopping. Though none of the clocks at the store promised silence on their boxes, I decided that since our kitchen clock has glass on its front and is silent, perhaps getting one with a glass cover was the key to quiet.

Except it wasn’t. When I arrived home I quickly stood in front of the kitchen clock and closed my eyes and focused. Damn! It DID audibly tick. That glass-cover theory was obviously wrong.

No matter. Perhaps there had been major clock advances made in the decade since we bought those clocks. And I liked the elegant scrollwork of the new timepiece. I put a battery in it, only to discovered immediately that It. Ticked. Well I was “ticked” by then as well.

When Barry arrived home from work he immediately praised the pretty new clock.

“It’s going back,” I said.

“Why?”

I told him my theory about the kitchen clock and he laughed. Of course he had noticed the kitchen clock’s ticking, but he doesn’t spend as much time in that room and so he hadn’t mentioned it. Or he maybe had mentioned it and I hadn’t been listening. Oops.

That’s what comes of marrying a musician who can play everything under the sun: every noise, every rhythm catches his attention.

He offered, half heartedly, for us to keep the clock.

“No way,” I said. “If you want a silent clock you shall have one.”

A few internet clicks later I discovered that these non-ticking clocks DO exist, and as my fingers are swift to shop online, we should have one, no, two, posthaste.

And the meditation? Sometimes I have mercy on myself and allow myself to stretch while listening to the shortest guided meditation I can find and I try not to mumble about what a waste of time it is. Because it’s not: if meditation allowed me to hear (and react) to something that has been bothering my husband for years, what other, less concrete, things might meditation bring to me? It was certainly worth seeing the delighted look on my husband’s face that said “You heard me. Finally.”

If you’ll excuse me, I do believe I have a yoga mat to unfurl. Sigh.