The Green Study

Fearless Friday: Renaissance People

It’s been a rough week at The Green Study. Its injured denizen (me) was extremely grumpy. Knee injuries take from 2-4 weeks to heal. I’m in week two and severely out of sorts. I broke my ceramic tea kettle and when trying to repair it, managed to Superglue a couple of fingers together. Limping and lumbering about also caused my Kindle to fall off a shelf and hit me in the head. It was like being taken over by the spirit of Mr. Bean.

I’m shaking it off and this week, the theme is Renaissance people – people who cultivate a wide range of interests and practice skills in multiple areas – people who will never utter the words I’m bored. Welcome to Fearless Friday.

Feacanstockphoto13410470rless Fridays are about lives lived in spite of our fears, living a life that is about curiosity, compassion, and courage. If you just got published, something wonderful happened to you, you witnessed an act of kindness, or you have someone in your life who amazes you, drop your story into my contact page or email it to TheGreenStudy (at) comcast (dot) net and I’ll run it on a Fearless Friday. If you’re a blogger, it’s an opportunity to advertise your blog, but this is open to anyone who would like to share.  These will be 100-300 word stories, subject to editing for clarity and space.

New Readers

When I have time, I go through this blog’s follower list and try to visit as many blogs as possible. I’m giving a shout out to a couple new readers this month who exemplify the theme of Fearless Friday.

canstockphoto1323495Jamison Hill at Jamison Writes. One of the things that will keep me reading a blog is the author’s voice. Jamison has a clear and authentic voice with a compelling personal narrative. I had to make myself stop reading his posts, because I wouldn’t have gotten anything else done today. Check out his Bio and Bylines for articles he’s written for a variety of publications.

canstockphoto46705839Cheryl Capaldo Traylor at Giving Voice to My Astonishment is a writer, yoga teacher, and gardener. She opens her page with an Annie Dillard quote that sets the tone for her blog. Her About page is what you’d expect from someone who cultivates curiosity just as much as she does her garden.

Karen has a concert card!

canstockphoto8525201She’s a neuroscientist, goes geocaching, plays the violin and viola, practices photography, writes, and juggles (I made that one up). K.L. Allendoerfer at A Thousand Finds is the perfect example of a Renaissance person. She writes about her music, geocaching, and neuroscience, as well as posting book reviews and photos she’s taken. You can read her music blog and bio at violinist.com.

Over ten years ago she began to play violin and then viola after many years of not playing. This is something that I connected with, the idea that it’s never too late to learn and to excel. You can see her playing with a quintet here. Despite all of her experiences and education, there was one thing she hadn’t done before – had her face associated with a concert. Congratulations, Karen – wishing you an appreciative audience and a stellar performance!AllendoerferConcertCardFlight of the Dilettante

canstockphoto10628495My resume and personal history reads like the life of someone who is very…confused. It wasn’t until I read Margaret Lobenstine’s The Renaissance Soul that I began to re-frame my aspirations. She defines a Renaissance soul is a person who thrives on a variety of interests and who redefines the accepted meaning of success.

I think that’s a very cool thing to think about. When you’re like me, a jack-of-many-trades, master of none, it’s easy to feel like a failure, because it’s hard to explain at the family holiday gathering that you gave up Chinese painting because now you’re learning Swahili and woodcarving. Flighty. Dilettante. Hobbyist.

Now I just say I’m a writer and call it research. And run away before they ask me about my work.

Have a wonderful weekend!

My Trip to Twitter Land

canstockphoto19233296After deleting my Facebook account, I decided to evaluate Twitter. I’ve tried to look at it over the years, but it never hooked me. A pulled hamstring and twisted knee have made me more stationary these last couple of weeks, so it was a good time to review it again. I followed some people and organizations, read through trending Tweets, and have come to the conclusion that Twitter is not healthy for me. I deactivated my account.

The final straw was reading a Tweet that a woman had posted. Her 4-year-old said she wanted a lady dentist at the dentist’s office. Kids say a lot of strange and funny things. Adults on the other hand, can be complete and utter assholes. Grown humans immediately piled on, railing against feminism, bad parenting, and referring to the 4-year-old in every snide way possible. My child once said she wanted to live in a tree. If I’d said it on Twitter, I’d have been doxxed by arbor lovers and castigated for teaching my child to discriminate against houses – in much creepier and toxic terms.

canstockphoto26171619Part of my experience of Twitter, was the passive-aggressive hobby of muting and blocking people who I found irritating – the MAGAs, the people with full weapon arsenals in their profiles, the religious ranters, the misogynists, the people who had fifteen million emoticons in their user names. Apparently emoticons have evolved to high heel shoes and American flags. And criminy, hashtags render everything into a convoluted mishmash of eye-screwing chaos.

I blocked people who felt the need to advertise that they were patriots or God followers or that they had superior intellect. I find advertisement to be the red flag of self-definition. If you feel the need to advertise your moral high ground, I can only assume you are hiding toxic personality traits and eventually will tell me that I’m a libtard, a feminazi, the grammar police, and a bad parent. Twitter encourages the use of labels and categories and it all seems like the squawking of parrots and derivative categorization. It also encourages judgment.

canstockphoto50409609There is something unhealthy about seeing the worst of humanity’s thoughts on a daily basis and having elaborate, but silent arguments with them. The trick is, I think, to carefully curate who you follow and not to read anything beyond the original comment. I don’t have that kind of self-control or thick skin and if I started to respond to any of the many jerks who populate Twitter, I’d barely manage to feed and clean myself. The grammar corrections alone would render me frozen in front of my computer 24/7.

Perhaps it is my addictive personality. The fact that I have played 3 billion games of Freecell in my lifetime is a tip off. Or that in the six months after I discovered casino poker machines, I never had any money for more than ten minutes. I had to go cold turkey. I’ve spent more time in my life quitting bad things than starting good things. So I know this road and Twitter looks an awful lot like years of my life about to be sucked into the internet.

I assume there are normal people out there, who could take or leave habits, who know when to get offline or put down their phones. I am not one of them. And I can’t really afford to indulge my compulsions. I’m 50 and have a shitload of things I’d still like to do with my life.

canstockphoto52762970I’ve heard that there are positive things about using Twitter. There are writers who seem to handle the whole thing swimmingly – John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig have made it part of their careers. And I admire that particular skill set, but I have to finally admit, I’m not built for it. I move too slowly, think things over until they’re reduced to milquetoast responses. My sense of humor is an acquired taste, I have never been called a “wit” in any social setting, and sometimes I’m fiercely, fiercely angry.

I have to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates who said something to the effect that having an immediate public platform for his thoughts was not good for him. It’s not good for me, either. I could do it, but at what cost to my organic thought processes? There are other writers I enjoy reading who are also not on Twitter, which seems like a career-damning thing to do, although most of them are established writers with high level platforms in the form of big name publishers or national magazines and papers.

canstockphoto10130744Still, I can’t change who I am in response to what may or may not be an eventual writing success. And it will be a success I never have, if I spend my time doing things that are not productive and that extract hours out of my day. Social media is, in capable hands, a useful tool. In my hands, it becomes an unwieldy addiction. That’s a hard-won admission that surely cements me into the category of codger, but I think I’m #okaywiththat.

Fearless Fridays: A New Feature at The Green Study

These days a person can wake up feeling small and anxious. I often do. This morning was a good example. I’ve been nursing a hamstring injury for over a week and the first walking hours are the worst. The sky is dark and cloudy and it is predicted that we’re getting 10-14″ of snow tomorrow. My daughter has been sick the last few days. Those are local issues. Add all the political turmoil and malevolence in the world and it’s a quick spiral to the bottom of the mood barrel.

It’s my nature to go dark. I have to resist it on a pretty regular basis. I am a practiced skeptic and cynic, which has served me well in many ways, but sometimes it shuts out the joy and the gratitude. Now, if you’re like me, gratitude feels like a trigger word, having been beaten to death by the Pollyanna meme-making journalers of the world. I feel gratitude in a hundred small ways, but talking about it feels like bragging. What doesn’t feel like bragging is talking about the great things that other people are doing.

Feacanstockphoto13410470rless Fridays are about what happens when we don’t let anxiety rule our lives, when we stay open to the good things in the world, and take time to recognize them. On Fearless Fridays, I’ll talk about the awesome things other people are doing. If you just got published, or you witnessed an act of kindness, or you have someone in your life who amazes you, drop your story into my contact page or email it to TheGreenStudy (at) comcast (dot) net and I’ll run it on a Fearless Friday. If you’re a blogger, it’s an opportunity to advertise your blog, but this is open to anyone who would like to share.  These will be 100-300 word stories, subject to editing for clarity and space.

To kick off the weekly feature, I’m sharing some good news and giving a shout out to a couple of friends.

Congratulations to Lisa Ciarfella at Ciarfella’s Fiction Corner: Writing Fiction Now

LisaCiarfellaLisa recently earned her MFA from California State University, Long Beach. Her writing slants dark, towards the Noir, crime fiction and hard-boiled, channeling inspiration from greats like Jim Thompson, Paul D. Marks, and Paul Brazill. She’s been featured on PulpMetalmagazine.com, Nowastedink.com, Ashedit/.com, and will be soon at OutoftheGutteronline.com. By day, Lisa shepherds high school kids with their daily grind, and on the weekends, likes throwing Frisbees around the beach with her pups and catching ball games. canstockphoto4927438

Lisa has just published a couple of stories – congratulations!  Check out her blog or one of her published pieces at “Last Night’s Lift” at Near to the Knuckle.

Thanks and Best Travel Wishes to Sandy at A Mind Divided

I met Sandy through blogging. Over the years, we’ve met for coffee and emailed and texted. Sometimes more than others. She is one of those people who I admire for her tenacity of spirit and her persistent dedication to creativity. My favorite thing about her is her laugh – it’s an honest laugh that makes you feel like you earned it.  Several of her gorgeous, quirky handmade cards grace my study.

canstockphoto1542595She decided to take a big step and move to Oklahoma to be near family after living in the Midwest for many years. For most people, this is a life stressor, but for Sandy, who has lived with literal ups and downs of bipolar disorder, this is a leap of faith. Sometimes those journeys that seem so ordinary are really these amazing feats of courage. I wish her the best in her travels and that she finds great joy in her new home.

Sometimes You Just Have to Be Kind

One of my best friends has been having a really tough last week or so. I thought about her today while running errands. I was feeling very grumpy and yelled at least once at no one in particular Get off your goddamned phone and drive! These days I recognize not only how toxic my anger can be, but also how frequently it arrives. I pull myself back and try to imagine the person I’m yelling at – what kind of day are they having?

canstockphoto34597907It’s funny how we’re all sympathy and light for those closest to us and can be so unkind to strangers. I had the weird thought of what it would be like to see that person’s day, to be in their body with all its twitches and pains. What was their work like? Was it backbreaking or soul-crushing or a little bit of both? Was one of their parents or children ill? Is their spouse cruel or indifferent? We become so incurious as to they and them, when they are us and we.

Kindness is not only something we extend to others, but also to ourselves. My friend is a widow with a 14-year-old son who has autism. He is nonverbal. He bites her sometimes and has a laundry list of triggers and compulsions. She knows them by heart. She has built a life for the two of them with a lovely home and routines that comfort her son.

canstockphoto53672507Sometimes she berates herself for not doing more, for not being a better parent. But she doesn’t see what I see. She doesn’t see how amazing she is to get up each day, taking care of his needs while trying to meet some of hers. She doesn’t see how persistent she is – that even after weeks of the flu or one of his meltdowns, she plows forward. She doesn’t see how very capable and loving she is, despite the challenges of the day. I see it and I wish she would, too. It’s the oddest human quirk, how we can easily see in others what we don’t see in ourselves.

So that wraps up Fearless Friday. Share your stories, thank your friends, be kind to strangers. And drop me a line so that I can share your stories here.

Wishing you all a Fearless Weekend!

Good-Bye, First Novel

The beginning and ends of my nights are spent in a semi-conscious dream state where I solve major issues like where my daughter’s spring jacket is and what I’m going to plant in the garden. I have to admit to being slightly bitter about the domestic nature of my mental wanderings. Sometimes, though, I solve a major problem – the kind of problem that had me on the fence for five plus years and had kept me awake for many nights.

It started quite ignominiously right here on this blog, during my first year of blogging. In October 2012, I started to hear murmurings about NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month in November of each year. Writer friends kept asking if I were going to do it.

canstockphoto19927024I was 45 years old. My daughter was 8 and my mother-in-law was needing more help as her Alzheimer’s progressed. I was working from home part-time doing bookkeeping. That was the year I went out of character and got a tattoo. I’d been training in Taekwondo the last year and tried to learn Japanese ink painting. It was easy enough to see I was in the grip of middle-aged curiosity, trying to define myself beyond employee and parent and wife. And I was definitely game to write a novel in a month.

The funny thing is, while I always wanted to be a writer, I hadn’t really thought of myself as being a writer. When I was in 5th grade, horribly shy and out of step, I had a kind teacher named Mr. Dunn. He encouraged me to write and helped me to publish bad poetry in the local paper. I was thrilled when he had my classmates debut my epic play Snow White and the Five Dorks. Spoiler alert: the wicked stepmother gets eaten by toxic Odor Eaters. I had an undeveloped sense of humor at 10. That really hasn’t changed.

I did not take my creative endeavors seriously, always feeling like a jack of many trades, master of none. The dilettante. The hobbyist.

canstockphoto16261737November 2012 would change that. Despite being toasted on Nyquil most of the month as my family enjoyed a round robin flu season, I managed to write a skeletal novel of 50,000 words. It had all the earmarks of a first-time novelist – sketchily autobiographical, great gaping chasms in the plot, characters who had all the charisma of cardboard cutouts. But I had done it and I began to see myself as a writer.

As I struggled through the second and third and fourth revisions, I hemmed and hawed, putting the novel aside for weeks at a time in the hopes I could come at the thing with a new perspective. I finish things, dammit. I don’t give up. I persist. This has been something I’ve prided myself on, something I saw as the only alternative to failure. I am now entering year six. My characters are fully developed, I know every intricacy of the plot by heart, every theme and idea has been unwound and rewoven into the fabric of my story.

And now I’m saying good-bye.

It happened at 3am on Monday morning. The tightness in my chest turned out to be a very fat cat staring me down for breakfast. With a rude shove, I rolled over intending to go back to sleep. My mind drifted. I’d put together my work plan for the week, just as I’ve done every Sunday for months now. Work plans that never quite came to fruition, although I’d made incremental progress. I’d been working on issues of procrastination and perfectionism that I thought were the hurdles. And then it came to me, floating in and settling on my brain. I am done. It’s time to move on.

canstockphoto2884614I spent Monday backing up files and looking at all the versions I’d saved. All that work. All that time. But I’d spent more energy and time avoiding it than writing it. I hadn’t really enjoyed it after that initial buzz of completion. I wasn’t passionate about it and it no longer interested me. Would I truly mourn the fact that it would never be published?

This was a novel I’d pitched to agents and gotten positive responses, so I had learned to talk about my work. I’d learned four or five different ways to come at a novel, from mind mapping to index cards to plotting or letting the story go where it wanted to go. I’d become better at dialogue and characterization. I learned that plot cannot be everything.

I became adept at using Scrivener, which was not intuitive for me, but has become profoundly useful in reorganizing scenes. Because of my hunger to get better at writing, to fix the damned albatross of a novel that I’d been lugging about, I began to read with intent. My writing has improved exponentially because I now read more challenging work.

One of the biggest lessons I learned, in the words of Lorrie Moore, is that writing is more important for me than being a writer; it is very easy to conflate social media platforms and blogging and getting a business card and going to conferences with being productive, when productivity lies in the doing, not the being. Everything else can happen after the doing and it won’t feel like playing dress-up.

The struggle made me look for ways over and around my personal obstacles and bad canstockphoto29382733work habits and distractions. I am learning to write without judging or editing, which has made me more productive many times over. My to-do lists these days no longer start with dishes or laundry. I write before I do anything else. So instead of feeling shame at the failure, I feel gratitude for all the lessons that will eventually get me where I’m going.

I drifted back to sleep on Monday, feeling happier than I have in a long time. I get to write a new story.

The TGS Writers’ Book Club: Become Better Writers, One Book at a Time

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After unsuccessfully searching for an offline book club in my area that was comprised of writers, I decided to create the space online. This is entirely experimental, but I’ve tried to think things through and hopefully, this will be a useful tool for writers who are readers.

The main point of difference between a book club of readers and a book club of writers, is that reading is not only a hobby, but an intentional learning tool. How we read, what we read, and with what intent we read, influences how we write. The voices that captivate us are often the voices we wish to develop. The turns of phrase, the construction of a characters, the shape of our story arcs are all influenced by the writing we love.

It would be impossible to set this up without having my own philosophy and approach influence the book choices and the reader guidelines. I am a writer. I write blog posts, essays, short stories, and I have a novel in various stages of disarray, a dis-novel, if you will. I believe in reading anything that catches my interest, even some things that don’t. There are no limits to genre, gender, nationality, form, or content. If the writing is strong, if the subject is unknown, if there is anything I can learn, I will read it.

canstockphoto7169504That being said, it is sometimes a challenge to read outside one’s experience and genre. I know people who read only science fiction or only nonfiction or only fantasy romance novels. As writers, I feel it is incumbent upon us to read beyond our natural boundaries. This means that we must challenge ourselves or else our skills as writers do not grow. We begin to write in a circular world with the same techniques, phrases, and character types. To read widely is to give ourselves every possible advantage as writers.

My intention is to create an environment where we look at books with a writer’s eye. We’re interested in the mechanics of the writing, not just the content. We look for patterns and motifs and themes. Symbolism does not go unnoticed. Rhythm and pacing matter.

The site is also intended to be a writer’s haven – what challenges us and can we apply some of the techniques we read about? What speaks to us, what do we admire or dislike? It won’t be a place for book reviews. We live in a world that thumbs or stars everything. The only question we need to ask is what can we learn from the work?

It is reminiscent of lit classes without the tuition, unwieldy schedule, and you can do it in canstockphoto22562364your jammies while drinking large vats of wine or coffee. If you’ve already read the selected title or are going through a busy season or would rather stab yourself in the eye with a pen than read a particular selection, just skip the month. Best of all, there’s no signup sheet for treats, everybody else isn’t already besties, and the talker (there’s always one) doesn’t get to dominate with stories of their ingrown toenail surgery.

If you are interested, there is a link on the sidebar, which will take you to the site. Enjoy!

Between Mr. Coates and Me

canstockphoto3093097I enjoy listening to interviews of one of my current favorite writers, Ta-Nehisi Coates. He frequently answers I don’t know to questions. I think the nature of being a writer should be one of perpetual curiosity and not, as some would have us believe, endless fonts of wisdom. This pet theory of mine ran into a wall when Coates said Kevin Williamson can write his ass off and that he’d read him because he’s good.

If a writer like Coates is so curious and willing to read Williamson, why aren’t I? Is it my unwillingness to show deference to the mighty gods of ART? Kevin Williamson has been in the news because The Atlantic just hired him as a writer. It’s a short hop and a skip on a search engine to find this guy’s most egregious public statements, which involve transphobia, racism, and misogyny. While these tags have become nearly ubiquitous and synonymous with politics, they bear the larger mark of being cruel, arrogant, and rather incurious.

Lately I’ve been having conversations with my daughter about writers, artists, and musicians. It’s the old Wagner argument – do you listen to the music of an anti-Semite? Do you separate the art from the artist? How do you separate Salinger from his Roy Moore-like predilections for teenagers? Or Hemingway from the shit father and husband he was? Or Picasso for the way he treated women?

canstockphoto17242096These are difficult, subjective questions. But when the content of your art is your opinion, how much easier does that question get? As I’ve gotten older, read more, and developed an awareness of the vast landscape of art beyond the traditional literary canons, I have begun to draw my own lines in the sand. I have choices. There are skilled writers who don’t advocate for the harm of others. There are eloquent writers who can make their points absent deliberately provocative statements.

Maybe this is my coming of age with writing. I don’t revere art the way I have in the past. I don’t see artists and writers as being above the basic expectations of civility or decency or compassion because of their art. The hyperbolic clarion call of the classics or geniuses or brilliant writers no longer beckons me nor defines my reading list. I don’t feel the pull of must-read blurbs or the anxiety that I might be missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime compilation of words.

My husband often gets annoyed with modern music because of the vocal gymnastics – those long notes that warble on forever, only because they can. I feel something similar about writing. I don’t give a damn if a writer does the verbal equivalent of two quadruple Lutz jumps. If those jumps involve rationalizing their hatred or fear or contempt of others, then they are still a purveyor of dumpster-writing, no matter how eloquent.

canstockphoto8705409I’m sure part of this subjective reckoning in my reading list is due to the era. Provocateurs are a dime a dozen these days – just tarted up versions of reality shows. They might be writers or actors or politicians or that guy in the grocery store with a t-shirt that says No fat chicks. We’re a nation being led by a gold-plated, thin-skinned provocateur. Outrage is addictive. Two sides of a very easy equation. It keeps us off-balance and unfocused.

While exposing oneself to a range of ideas is admirable, the range of ideas seems to be limiting itself to one extreme or the other. It is moderation that has suffered most in this country, while the vendors of extremist one-liners and memes and impulsive Tweets are put on rotation in the media. That some writers need a sledgehammer to make a point, rather than using skilled reasoning, is a reflection of the times, not of literary merit.

I took some time to read a few of Mr. Williamson’s articles, because I am a curious person and I think it would be wrong to dismiss someone out of hand.  This is where Mr. Coates and I part ways. The writing of Kevin Williamson was no better or worse than any other national columnist. That is to say, there was nothing about it that convinced me to look past this writer’s uglier sentiments, nothing that makes me want to provide material support to his career by continuing my subscription.

Perhaps it is that I hunger for the restoration of civility and dignity to the public sphere or that in those magical reading hours, I do not want the tight, angry politics of extremism. It may be that I have the unrealistic expectation that art and writing should endeavor to make the world better, not just angrier.

Update 04.05.18: The Atlantic fired Kevin Williamson when his views on hanging a large percentage of American women for abortions proved to be more than an errant Tweet. Lesson #1: Due diligence should be part of any hiring decision. Lesson #2: Don’t advocate violent shit ideas.

Lions, Lambs, and Fools

March was a wonderful, terrible kind of month, which means more writing material than I could put in one post. While I’m glad to be back, taking the month of March off from blogging was a good plan. I’ve refilled my mental reservoir, wrangled with some writing demons, and have reoriented to continue my mission.

On the Domestic Front

I am celebrating 18 years of wedded bliss today. We’ve survived each other’s foibles and families and now we’re just watching each other deteriorate. But we’re still laughing and that’s not nothing. In a few years, when our daughter sets off on her own, we’ll be shuttling each other to doctor’s appointments and not speaking for hours on end because we’ve already said it fifty times before. We just need to wait a little longer until we’re more forgetful and it will all seem new again. Ah, the ties that bind.

canstockphoto1577266We’ve had another busy month with our in-house band. In addition to playing viola, violin, and piano, my daughter has decided to pick up saxophone. We should get a bulk discount for rental instruments and I should get some parenting points for letting sax happen. When I was 14, I was listening to Rick Springfield and playing Baroque music on my flute. My kid is playing Ellington and Dvorák and songs from Hamilton. I love how the internet has enabled us to experience a wider slice of the world.

Winter returned with a vengeance after a couple of false springs. We’re in for sub-freezing temps for the next week with a chance of middling depression.

Disconnects

In this episode of “free isn’t free”, I closed my Facebook account. I wasn’t using it, didn’t find it interesting, and finally stopped lying to myself about what professional tools I needed. I wasn’t much help to Cambridge Analytica. To make up for it, I just mailed all my critical data to the RNC and the Kremlin. Привет, Господин Путин.

canstockphoto12227677.jpgWhen The Atlantic hired Kevin Williamson last month, I cancelled my subscription. I’ve finally hit a wall with media entities that give platforms to every wingnut on the spectrum lest someone accuse them of being biased or they lose a market share. The defense for the hire is that his writing is great – if great means deliberately provocative. There are a lot of great writers and most of them don’t advocate that women who have abortions be hanged. Skill does not excuse malevolence.

I started digging into Twitter, trying to decide if I need that account out there, collecting dust. What I learned is that people feel very strongly about Roseanne Barr and like to pick on high school kids. I’m not sure that this is useful for me to know. I don’t watch evening television, nor do I care for celebrity fealty, a concept that baffles me on many levels. I’m still not sure if Twitter is particularly useful as anything but a distraction. I dusted it off, took a look, and put it back on the shelf until the next time.

Writing

I wrote more in the last month than I have in the last year. I also forced myself to submit an essay for a contest, only to be overtaken by the worst panic attack I’ve had in years. It led to a lot of soul-searching and I’ve gotten fierce about how I approach writing and my work process.

I finally finished Hillary Rettig’s The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to canstockphoto5169727Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block, spurred on by my disastrous attempt to submit work. There were moments in the book where I was gut-punched, as she accurately described my experiences as a writer. She also gave a lecture worth looking at, if any of these issues are yours. I don’t get writer’s block, but I do drive myself crazy with perfectionism and procrastination (which are blocks of my own design). She provided some very helpful insight.

While I’ve learned that every writer and their process is different, the key word is “process”. What is really happening with the writing? What are the habits and thought patterns that serve as obstacles? And holy shit, lady, can you please just write without editing for once? These are the tough questions I’ve been wrangling with in the quest to be more productive, creative, and successful.

Coming to a Blog Near You

canstockphoto7243840After my futile search for a book club aimed at writers, I’ve decided to set up one of my own online. I’ve been doing a lot of research on what might work and have put together a website, so look for a blog post announcement in the next week or so for the TGS Writers’ Book Club.

Happy April!

A Writing Retreat in The Green Study

The Green Study will return on April 1, 2018.

I’ve made some progress over the last couple of months on both my novel and some essay writing, and I’ve reached that point where I need to do a final push to meet internal and external deadlines. I’ll leave you with some thoughts before I head into Michelle’s Writing Month (MeWriMo).

On Vulnerability and Writing

When I wrote about book reviews earlier this month, I began to think about the nature of being a writer in today’s world. If I’m deep into writing, I have no armor. I find after spending a lot of time writing, even going to the grocery store feels like an assault on the senses. I’m exposed. A hermit crab without a shell. I wince at the overhead speakers and all the beeping noises of the register. People seem too loud, the lights too bright.

canstockphoto17784854I have to harden up a bit again, develop a wind break against the sensory onslaught. And this is only to physical sensation. What about those writers who read a review of something they’d published, something they’d poured themselves into, only to be eviscerated by a careless reviewer? The Amazon hit piece: This sucked. I want my money back.

Writers talk about not reading their reviews and I used to wonder if it was an issue of ego, but now I think it’s necessary protectionism. Reviews serve no purpose for writers. The work is done. Writing to audience specifications will not create better art.

International Relations

I’ve noticed a lot of readers from countries where English is not the main language. With all the available tools we have to translate, I would encourage you to engage, practice your English here or write in your first language, and maybe we can learn a little more about your language and country. You are welcome here at The Green Study.

canstockphoto7037830I just started studying Chinese, but also have some German, Spanish, French, and Russian under my belt. I spend a little time each day studying, using apps like Duolingo and Memrise. Lately, too, I’ve been using Quizlet to improve my geography knowledge. There is something about learning location and language that brings the world closer to home. And it’s excellent exercise for the brain.

At a time when our U.S. leaders seek to sow discontent, we must free our minds and open our hearts. The U.S. is shedding experienced and knowledgeable diplomats, so we must step up to the plate. We must reach out, talk to each other, make connections, learn languages, read internationally, and not allow our leaders to define our relationship with the rest of the world.

Microresolution Update

It works. It really works. Back in December, I did a post series on resolutions with the intent of doing monthly updates. I’m a little late, but I’m sure no one is losing any sleep over it. I ran into trouble when I kept picking the wrong resolutions. I kept modifying until I finally hit on a couple more that worked. The results, like the resolutions, are small, but have shifted me more towards my personal goals than not.

canstockphoto8037195Writing: I have written every single day now for almost three months. As soon as I log into my computer, a blank Word doc comes up, and I am writing. My current resolution is a nightly habit of planning the next day’s writing. I don’t always follow through on the list, but I’ve given myself a map and travel with it as far as I can. As long as I’m still moving, that’s progress.

Fitness: I’ve mixed up my workouts and avoided my usual pitfall, which is to progressively add more weight and distance and time until I burn out for weeks on end or get injured. Whatever I do is fine, as long as I do something. The sun is out today and the sidewalks have finally melted off – it’s a walk for sure.

Nutrition: Forcing myself to eat only at the kitchen table has completely changed how I approach mealtimes and snacks. It is now a ritual and not a dash-and-grab. In the words of Caroline Arnold: small move, big change.

canstockphoto11693411My latest microresolution is eating food that requires me to slow down. Soup or salad and fruit for lunch. Unless I slurp cold soup with a straw, it’s a slow meal. And the time it takes to peel and eat an orange is meditative. I can feel my relationship with food changing, becoming the pleasure it should be.

Lifestyle: For the last couple of months, I made the resolution to always log off my computer by 7pm. This has improved a lot of small, meaningful things for me. I have more conversations with my family, I read more, and when I’m ready to go to bed, I sleep.

What is the most significant thing about taking a long time to make small changes, is that it changes the narrative from one of failed resolutions to that of incremental victories. This has given me a sense of optimism about my ability to make change and the confidence I’d lost in the repeated failures of bigger goals.

I still get a little impatient, but after seeing how consistent I am able to be when I whittle down to the smallest resolution, I’m going to keep at it. Five new habits in three months? That’s 20 new, positive habits a year. Where will I be then? I’m kind of excited to find out.

Gratitude

canstockphoto4839212Thank you to the many readers and commenters who have connected with me here. The blog is now six years old. It has learned to walk, wipe its own butt, and doesn’t drool quite as much – with only an occasional temper tantrum. It would have languished long ago if not for the people who read it and those who take the time to share their thoughts and perspectives. Thank you!

Have a great month of March and I look forward to reconnecting in April!

A Politician, a Journalist, and a Citizen Walk into a Room

canstockphoto11130449My face was hot and red. I began muttering to myself and rolling my eyes. My internal argument grew rancorous: stay or leave, ask a question or angrily scroll notes in my notebook for a pointed email later on. In my efforts to become a better citizen, I attended a political meeting about local issues. I left, bewildered by my sense of rage and ashamed that I could barely contain it. I’m not known for my patience or for suffering fools gladly, but sometimes I can be very foolish of my own accord.

Perhaps it is that for the last two years, we’ve been exposed to the ugly underbelly of American life so relentlessly. The ignorant have bragged about their ignorance. The hateful have openly celebrated their hate. The wealthy have brazenly claimed their gluttony and disregard for the average American. The incompetent have seated themselves at the table of power. A minority of citizens got the spokesperson and president they wished for: crude, insulting, illiterate, impulsive, lacking in any insight that doesn’t benefit him or shine the light on him.

canstockphoto198403With him, came the corporate looters, the big game hunters, the vacuous, pretty women who have deluded themselves into thinking screen time means power, the braggarts who suggest education and reading are elitist, the conspiracy theorists and other-blamers, the couch potatoes who laze about watching television and Twittering themselves. American life as reality TV. It cannot help but infect even the most reasonable among us.

I used to think of myself as a reasonable person, but I just don’t know anymore. My life experiences have put me in the path of a wide range of people. The people who have made me angriest are those who talk down to me. A person could call me every name in the book, but once they impugn my intelligence, they have an enemy for life. This is not to say that my intelligence is any more significant than that of anyone else. It is that, of all the aspects of self one can choose to value, this is the one I value most – my ability to learn, to think things through, to see a broader perspective.

Back to the meeting. There were two speakers. One was a former journalist who had worked for both the metro area’s major newspapers for decades, served on various citizens’ councils and leagues, and worked as a public affairs writer. The other was a career politician who had been a state senator and was now serving as a county commissioner. They were each allowed presentation time to talk about regional and urban governance, each taking a different tack.

I won’t go into the specifics of the issues, because they’re not interesting and not the point of the post. The journalist spoke evenly, presented the information and sat down. He reminded me of an old school union guy I used to know – just laying it out there and hey, if you were on bcanstockphoto6721118oard, cool. I didn’t sense any partisanship and he later described himself as a centrist.

The politician got up and two minutes into his presentation, I began scrawling angrily in my notebook. There are a lot of phallocentric words. I think I used most of them. It was childish, but this rage came over me. He was talking to a group of mostly older people as if they were on a used car lot, needing to be pushed and prodded towards a sale.

It took a little more time than that to figure out that he was a Republican politician. The phrases started creeping in – all very benign out of context, like democracy, but I kept waiting for him to pull a flag out of his ass and start singing his own version of the national anthem, Fergie-style. I was, in today’s vernacular, triggered. I could feel this explosive rage building up inside me, this fierce anger at the emotional manipulations of politicians and being so very tired of the dumbed-down discourse.

Perhaps it is the nature of the beast when one is a politician. Everything is sound bites and bumper stickers. Like teachers who have to focus on the lowest performers, politicians speak to the least-informed among their voters. The other thing is that they talk constantly and repetitively. If there is one thing I believe about talking, it is that the more of it you do, the less time you have to be introspective and thoughtful or adaptive to the reality at hand.

canstockphoto13586258Even with politicians I respect, I always wonder why they spend so much time talking and so little time listening. It seems like it would impair one’s ability to be a good representative. Part of the problem, of course, is that money puts them in constant campaign mode. They become walking bumper stickers for half of whatever term they serve.

This is all to say, that the person who gets screwed in all this is the well-informed centrist voter. If we’re not being condescended to by politicians, we’re being called elitists by those who seem to find education of any ilk an affront to their personal life choices.

I thought about the two styles of presentation. One was low-key, fact-ridden, and unemotional – leaving us the room to decide. The other was pushy, condescending, and in the end, unconvincing. Mostly because I thought he talked like a complete and utter wanker. And therein lies another issue – how to separate the message from the medium.

There’s a lingual patter that originated at the margins but has now infested everyday dialogue, language that quickly indicates liberal or conservative. Through repetition and a lack of imagination, we often parrot language that we associate with “our side”. In two words, one can tell the team you’re playing for. Snowflake or racist. Should it be that easy? Nobody wants to be reduced down by one word to a political chess piece.

It took me off guard, my reflexive, angry reaction. It wasn’t just one politician. It was the language of all politicians. It was all the impulsive Twittering, the constant outrage, and canstockphoto7546080the addiction to hyperbole. It was the intent to masquerade parochialism as patriotism and discrimination as religion. It was the exploitation of fear and the careless use of damning terminology. It was hearing a country redefined by the language of political expediency – a language that should leave me cold under any other circumstances.

Where was that valued intelligence when I angrily scrawled this guy is an utter dick in my notebook? I’m only grateful that I still have the ability to feel shame at a time when shamelessness seems to be a national pastime.

What’s your take on political discourse these days?

Any advice on how not to be perpetually angry about it?

A Writer Walks into a Book Club…

canstockphoto16261737I fumed well into the night after attending an open book club at my local library. At first, I was hopeful. There were discussion worksheets with great analytical questions about the book laid out on the tables. Except they didn’t use the worksheet. Many people hadn’t even finished reading the book.

After an hour of people sharing personal anecdotes about trips to Italy and saying inane things like the book should have been shorter with no supporting reasons, I quietly closed my notebook. A notebook with ten pages of earnest notes about the novel – turns of phrase that really struck me, questions about this character or that, paraphrased ideas that I thought were interesting. I tried at a couple of turns, to bring the conversation back to the actual book, with little success. Defeated, I felt a familiar shroud of isolation and alienation descend over me.

Was it me again? Were my expectations too high? Was I too intellectual, too much the four-eyed pedant that I’ve felt like much of my life? Was it the ugly side of my introversion taking over? It would not be the first time that I felt abnormal or out-of-step. Sometimes people will console themselves with a sense of superiority. For me, it’s more like what the hell is wrong with me?

canstockphoto22317573Growing up an intense reader can put one with odds with the outside world. Especially if that world, as mine was, is a place of drunken brawls and cars on blocks in the front yard (that stereotype really holds up). Mocked for always having one’s nose in a book or being too smart for their own good is a surefire way to make a kid feel like they are not quite right.

It took me a moment or ten, but I shook off my automatic response of feeling like the ugly duckling and realized that I’m a writer now. I read differently. I wonder about things like themes and story arcs and symbolism.  I think about points of view and a writer’s choice to jump characters or time periods. A book is no longer just a story to talk about – it’s a work of art to be dissected and discussed and learned from. I can’t walk into a random book club and expect people to be discussing foreshadowing and metaphor.

Although I did expect them to talk about the actual book. Guess that depends on the club. I tried to readjust my thinking. Just listen. Listen to them as readers. As readers, they were a disappointing lot. One woman even piped up I am not going to finish the book, looking around as if to dare someone to challenge her. I scrabbled about my brain until I came up with a productive way to to turn it around. At what point did you decide not to finish and why? Too late. Someone else was already off on a tangent.

canstockphoto0615677It’s become clear to me that I’m hungry to connect with others about books. Flirting with Goodreads, exchanges here on the blog when I write about books – these tentative attempts are happening more frequently. But I have to come to terms with the fact that I’ve become much more analytical in my reading than I’ve been in the past and that the level of discourse I need goes beyond that of an audience entertained by a storyteller. I am a storyteller who wants to be a better one.

I’m throwing this post up in the hopes of getting some ideas.

Is a book club for writers a thing? Have you started or joined one? What are your positive or negative experiences with a book club?

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