Sunday, March 17, 2013

Making Your Own Luck

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I'm going to blog about luck.  Luck, if anything, is a state of mind: believing that the best will come to you, believing that you deserve the best, believing that wherever we are right now is the moment we should be enjoying.

I personally am not bellying up to the bar with a green beer, but lying in bed with my legs propped up on a pillow.  My St. Patrick's Day is partially being spent in bed because:

a) I love my bed
b) I may have overdone it a tad too much today

And no, I didn't overdo it with alcohol.  There is no hangover, at least not from alcohol.  Three months ago I had a major back surgery and this morning I opted to go on a very small bike ride with my daughters.  It's the first time I've been on a bicycle since long before the surgery.  It was fun, challenging and scary.  It made me feel like an Olympic heroine.

Now I'm aching.  And I don't care.  I was brave and adventurous, and I created a moment for my daughters and for my myself.  Now I get to lie in bed and read and rest and that's also lovely.

So Happy St. Patrick's Day.  Go out and create some luck of your own today.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Just Leave Me Alone

I know everyone has anti-social tendencies some of the time, but mine border on qualifying for hermit status.  People vehemently disagree when I assure them that I am indeed anti-social because I really am quite good in social situations.  I can work a crowd, make the rounds, sample all the delectable snacks and have a drink or two.  Indeed, I'll make my presence known, toss around some witty repartee, but just when you think you'll take the time to come over and talk to me, you'll find I've already left.  I'm always the first to leave. Always.

When push comes to shove, give me an empty room with a lone book and a lamp (and hopefully a tub as well), or give me a room full of boisterous people throwing back alcohol and hooting and hollering and having the times of their lives, you're going to find me huddled under the tent I've made out of my various pillows and duvets before you'll find me leaning against a bar, shouting over the music to be heard.  Rest assured, even if I were there smiling and nodding my head and looking animated, I wouldn't understand a word you were saying, my dogs would be barking (In Canada speak: my feet would be killing me), and my head would be throbbing.

I think I realized I was a homebody the year I left home after graduating from high school.  I went to live in Germany for the better part of a year; as it was back in my evangelical days, I went to a bible school.  I was in a dormitory sharing a room with nine other women from all over the world, and it was pretty near the end of me.  I'm surprised I didn't just commit my soul to Jesus right then and there that year rather than deal with the exquisite torture of being cooped up with nine other opinionated, smelly young women who ranged from the Texan twang girl who decided she wasn't going to shave her legs or armpits the entire time in Germany so she could "fit in" to the African tribal queen (Literally, I am not kidding.) who was rife with the essence of her cuisine and flamboyant with her perceived royalty status among us innocents abroad who knew nothing of class systems or pecking odors.

I would rise at five in the morning to get the first bath of the day since there was never any hot water past seven and always a long line up.  To this day, I am a gal who needs her daily bathing: it's part of the "Leah Time" routine.  After my soak in the scummy tub that I would always have to spend a good five minutes divesting of pubic hair and big-haired girl clots, I would sit on the hard frigid floor of the hallway wrapped in my sleeping bag reading my bible so I could avoid the snoring, the smelling and the fighting that was going on in my boisterous room pretty much 24 hours a day.

In the afternoons when everyone was pretending to study but was really socializing and going to the local brew houses to drink, I would go for long, solitary walks (even when I had torn a ligament and was in a cast for six weeks) just so I could get some time on my own.  (I would also clandestinely visit the many local bakeries and indulge in big slabs of German torte and giant mugs of coffee that I would pour copious amounts of cream and sugar into.)  Yes, I gained the "freshman 15" and then some.

My family knows I need my "Leah Time" each night.  After the girls are safely tucked snug in their beds, Don finds his sweet spot on the sofa downstairs for a few hours and I cloister myself in our bedroom taking the down time that is so necessary to my sanity.

It's not that I don't love people: I honestly do.  I love being with my family, I love seeing my students each day, I adore sharing lunch with my colleagues, I cherish the time I have with my family and friends: it's just that I need equal amounts of time with just me, myself and I.

If the world ended tomorrow and I found myself the only person left on the planet (isn't there a Twilight Zone episode about that?), so long as there were hot water, something to read, some crossword puzzles and a cupboard full of pre-prepared food, I could carry on quite nicely.  In fact, I might just consider it a vacation.

I sometimes wonder if I am alone in this need for solitude.  I see so many pictures of people on facebook out and about, enjoying themselves, and I sometimes wonder if I should feel jealous of their good times, which I am sure they are having,  I mean, people don't go out and party because they have to on a Friday night, do they?  I assume they are not being held at gunpoint.

The thing is, I just don't feel jealous or wanting.  Like my father, I am a solitary creature.  I have my people time and I have my alone time.  Both of those times are good.  But don't try to take away my Leah Time.

Can't you just let me be?

PS: For those of you who are wondering if I am using this blog to let you know that our friendship is over, I am not.  I love you all!  I just want to thank you for not making me go to every single wonderful affair you plan, dinner date you arrange or for not taking my children to every single one of your children's birthday parties.  But please keep asking me!  I like to be invited: I just can't promise I'll say yes every time.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Permission to Write Rubbish

Why are so many people afraid of so many things, but they’re never afraid of mediocrity?
Alex Bogusky and John Winsor

My students all have writer's notebooks that they carry around with them so whenever they get inspired or hear some juicy conversation, they can quickly jot down their ideas or snatches of talk in their little incubator notebooks, and use their seed ideas to create stories or poems or narratives later on.  They have pages reserved for favorite words, memories, feelings, and list of all sorts that will inspire them to write.

I've been keeping a writer's notebook of one sort or another for the better part of 40 years now and probably have tens of thousands of pages of nonsense, most of which is moldering in my storage locker outside of Seattle, some of tucked in my desk at school and others in safety vaults and storage boxes all around the planet.

Truth be told, most of what I write is inane: my guess would be that at least 80% of it is detritus.  But there's gold in "them thar hills," and the job of a writer is to keep writing no matter what, and then be willing to sift through the sh#@t and find the flecks of gold.

I'm not saying everything I publish is anywhere near the gold standard or even silver: most of it is more like costume jewellry, in fact.   But then again there's nothing wrong with a bit of flashy, cheap jewelry that attracts attention and looks pretty.  I'm not looking to be the best of the best (I'll save that for the likes of John Irving and Alice Munro), but I am looking to entertain and put out some modicum of literature that does not prove distracting by its poor punctuation, prosaic by its overbaked metaphorical allusions or just plain predictable and banal.

Because, yes, I write for myself, but I also write for an audience.  Those 10s of 1000s of pages mostly deserve to be buried under the volcanic ash of unwanted paraphanalia in my storage locker, but some of it also deserves to see the light of day and to be seen by the enlightened reader.

So I tell my students to let go of their monkey minds and let their pencils bleed onto their writer's notebooks or their fingers tap onto their google docs as the case may be, but not to censor, just to write. The hard work is what comes later: the editing, the culling, the finessing. I love that part too.  How gratifying it is to watch a piece evolve from so-so to stellar; how great is it when you can toss out all those tired metaphors and replace them with figurative language that sucker punches you with its vicissitude rather than simply "jumps off the page?"

I'm all about just getting it down, throwing a lot of it out, finding the shiny gems that are sunk in the shite, polishing them up a bit, and getting them out to whatever person who happens to choose to or at least stumble upon my humble attempts at writing.

Because what is writing for if not to share?

PS: One of the most inspiring people I have read as of late is Seth Godin.  His premise is that it's important to not only write something every day, but to share it; that it's not about waiting until perfection finds itself hidden in your product or your writing, but that after a bit of polishing, you actually take the risk and put it out there.  In the age of Internet, you can edit and revise and repost your work, but it's good to step off your jagged cliff and share, even if you've not reached your impossible-to-reach pinnacle of perceived perfection.

Be willing to have an audience, even if it is a critical one.  Godin cites Steve Jobs and how he put out his products, flaws and all, and that later how his team improved on them and put out more and better products based on the earlier ones.  But if he never would have put them out in the first place, Apple would not be the multi-billion corporation that it is today.

Worth considering, right?  For those of you who are writing but not sharing, take the risk and start a blog today.  It just takes a few minutes to set one up.  Cull through some of your old writing, spruce it up a bit, and share it with a few friends to start with.  Who knows where it could go?