I recently participated in an Oprah and Deepak 21 day meditation. I almost always sign up when they’re available because it’s free, they have a theme, and are generally limited to 20 minutes. Regardless of the topic there’s something within the theme that applies to me and I welcome the opportunity to change up my solitary meditation practice.
A string of a dozen four-year-olds paraded by the front of the coffee shop, chubby little hands grasping the rope connected by a teacher at each end. Some kids waved and smiled, one asked the teacher what we—the folks sitting at the open coffee shop window—were doing, but it was a little girl in the middle that caught my attention. She was in the center of the pack holding onto the rope just like all the other kids, but what made her stand out was that her eyes were closed. She had red, curly hair, and a tiny, knowing smile on her freckled face. She followed along, trusting the rope, trusting the teachers at either end, trusting the kids in front of and behind her. The pack moved slowly enough for me to see that she wasn’t peeking out from squinched eyes, she wasn’t glancing at the ground while trying to maintain the impression of trusting. In fact her eyes weren’t squeezed shut, they were simply closed. She looked…relaxed.
Writers and artists are all around us, y’all. In this case, Wendy Lym is a colleague and neighbor (her office is just down the hall from mine) at the community college where I teach. Since we’re also friends on social media, I learned that she won the Texas Observer’s 2017 short story contest with Muriel, and I knew I had to interview her about her off-campus life as a writer. Enjoy!
I didn’t keep a journal when my first daughter was born four years ago. For the first week, my partner and I kept a notebook recording details of feeds, nappy changes, and the odd piece of commentary: “Day 3: a no good, terrible, horrible, very bad day”; “Day 5: first parental fight, re dates.” Dates the dried fruit, or dates on a calendar? Four years later, I have no idea, and the notebook is no help. Soon after it stops altogether.
Later, I wished I had kept that notebook for longer, or even better, an actual journal recording my thoughts and feelings. Becoming a parent was momentous and life-changing, and not entirely positive. I ended up writing a book about it, and when I did, I had only unreliable memory to go off. I think I did okay at recounting the experience, but I wished I’d kept better records.
Making time to write.
This is difficult. Some days it is impossible.
How do I find time to draft ideas, make outlines, develop characters?
Then I remember: I wrote an entire novel in 15-minute increments. I did it in the car, at the Laundromat, while the kids were in the bath. I am not a drafter. I am not an outliner. I have tried time and again to sit down and PLAN what I am going to write. But I know that the stories are all around me and they come out when I least expect it. I want to scoop them up, I want to see the ideas floating in my everyday life and use those to get better. I’ve stopped working on my novel for a bit so I can focus on smaller pieces, short stories that bring together everything I am trying to do in my giant book. They’re small, manageable slices of the larger ultimate goal.
I’m defective. I can’t figure out if I was born this way or if it was a conscious decision. At five years old, I remember noticing other kids getting super dupes grossed out by spinach and deciding that I would love spinach. Around the time that I reached puberty, I remember deciding that I, absolutely and without a doubt, should not and would not get married (ever) or have children. I remember thinking that I could actually fly before I hit puberty. At 16, I remember astral projecting across my tiny town. I’ve never worked in an office. I’m a female line cook, in a sea of really really male line cooks. I willfully ignore grammar in favor of rhythm. I try to find the “hard way” and I call it the “scenic route.” I don’t know how I got here. I’m 43 and my mind still works this way.
I’m afraid of this defective nature. I don’t understand why I am “other.” My point of view, my poetry, my ideas, my stand up, my art, my love letters are all defective.
I was going to write about self-care this week, and what a racket it is. But then the fires came and destroyed my hometown, and Harvey Weinstein was finally removed from his literal and figurative position on top of all of the women of Hollywood. I started to think about why we need to write.
Last time I wrote about giving ourselves permission to write. Now I find myself thinking about why we need to write in the first place, and why we have to remind ourselves of this every day.
Last month Jessica wrote about her struggle to read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. She never did make it through the whole text—and unless you are the worst kind of nerdy English major, it is a tedious read. Nevertheless, she found that in her middle age she had gained an appreciation for Woolf’s central point:
A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write.
Because I am that worst sort of English major—one who attended a small liberal arts college in the countryside and lazed away the hours in the local cafe reading, drinking black coffee, and smoking cheap cigarettes—Jessica’s post inspired me to try and reread Woolf’s treatise. I wanted to see if my 43 year old writing self would respond to her arguments differently than did my 20 year old self.
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” ― Oscar Wilde
Write about it.
Want to be liked? Get ready to relegate yourself to last place. Get ready to spend your hours studying what pleases people and then more minutes, hours, days to dedicate your life to doing that, the thing everyone likes. Last-place-people work hard. The pathological need for external approval is silencing us.
Write about that pathology.
“There is a ruthlessness to the creative act. It often involves a betrayal of the status quo.” ―Alan Watt
I have a few habits that prepare my thoughts for my writing time. I’m lucky to have two weekday mornings every week that I can write until 10 am. I wake up early and get started before the movement of the house begins. I take advantage of being an early riser on the weekends as well and I use that quiet time the same way: meditation and writing, for a total of four days/week. Sometimes I’m pleased with the work, other times it’s words and words of unused drafts. All part of the learning curve of finding and expressing my voice.
Over the summer I noticed I was becoming a little particular with my ritual. What started out as a cup of coffee and a quick meditation became an indecisive time-consuming mess robbing me of words on the page.