Paradigm Time

Last week was, in many respects, my first normal week since I retired in May.  The summer had it’s own special dynamic, household changes and travel, just a lot going on.  I was eager to get busy with writing even though I struggled with my innate good sense that was telling me to take it easy and relax a bit.   I tried to do both and it actually worked fairly well, even with a lot going on all around me.   But last week I had my first quiet week, which presented itself as a blank slate awaiting conversion into life.   My head about exploded with the possibilities of writing, reading, cleaning the garage, the basement, the office, working on genealogy, contacting friends, starting exercise, revising our diet, doing craft projects, and these were just for starters!   Yeah, I felt overwhelmed and confused.  I knew deep down that it would all sort itself out in time.  But there seemed a to be a thicket encircling me that I knew I needed to pick my through before getting on the other side.  What I found myself the most concerned with was the method.   At some point each day I would grab a notepad and start lists that quickly regrouped on the page as schedules.  Some days my confidence ran high, I filled out a schedule and commissioned my resolve to work with it.   Mostly these were revised dramatically by 2 pm to something more realistically.  Then again at 3:30 on some days.   Over this past weekend (Labor Day) I was less concerned with schedules for the weekend but with settling on a method for the future.  Should write in the morning or afternoon?  For 2 hours, 3?  4?  Or by word count goals?  What about house projects?  Reading?  Crafts?  People?  Could I design a scheme that would do it all?   I mean, I have 45 hours a week to work with… I should be able to shape that into something I like, right?  But to return to the essential question on my mind last week.  With what do I fill the blank canvas that I call my week?

Last week went fairly well, in spite my mental gymnastics.  I addressed some household projects, mixed in some reading, a bit of journaling and a good smattering of life management.  I’d call it a pretty good week. As I moved through it I found my thoughts turning over several questions and making a few observations. 

First there is the whole topic of expectations.  I now had the time and the freedom to ask myself what expectations do I place on myself and why.  Who am trying to please?  How much does meeting the expectations of others play a role in my choices and efforts?  Expectations are function of society, a healthy part of life, but their role shifts as we move into different stages of life.  And one of the realities of retirement is that the expectations have changed.  This means freedom but it can also be disorienting until one determines where legitimate expectations come from in this new season.   We have to ask ourselves how do we deal with this much freedom.  In fact it’s easy to see how one could slip into depression when faced with the vacancy left by the well defined expectations that were part of work life. Reflection on expectations became a necessary starting point as I thought about organizing my life.

There are two sentiments that appear to be conflicting in my mind, but in actually I think I find that they are complimentary, or maybe beyond complimentary: symbiotic.  Focus and slowness.  Quite and activity.  Direction and relaxation.  As last week started i found the concurrent pull of these two forces annoying, frustrating, and anxiety  producing. How can I do both?  How can I embrace both?  Certainly it made no sense to only embrace one and not the other?  And wasn’t this the whole point of retirement, having enough time so you would feel anxious about things you need to get done?  Wasn’t I suppose to be done with that for good?  (Except holidays or when people would to visit of course).  I could indeed do both, in the same day and in a satisfactory way. I was confident of that, I just didn’t know how.  What I was missing was the method, or the mechanism to strike that balance.

So out came the notepads at some point each day, and the umpteenth schedule would appear. Essentially I was plagued by the same problem that always hounded my weekends when I was working.  Having too many things to do in definite space of time.  I came to realize that I wanted 12 hour days or 60 hour weeks; anything less seemed like a cheat.  And I knew then: I needed to let go of it.  I needed it to be OK with the reality that I would make choices every week and whether those choices were perfect or not, it didn’t matter.  What matter was doing them with a smile on my face.  What mattered was doing them with a thankful spirit.  What mattered was laughing in the course of the day, and finding peace with God and peace with myself.   And the bonus of being retired is the forgiveness that comes in the shape of tomorrow.  I have all those tomorrows ahead, the pressure is off. 

In the course of any day my thoughts run the gamut from anxiety to hope and all land in between. Even when my thoughts regarding retirement were in their most baffled state, I felt certain that over the course of time I would fall into a good rhythm. I was prepared for this process to take most of the coming year, and I still expect it will be an unfolding process that holds surprises and challenges that I can’t foresee. 

I have been retired now for three months and I have thought about who I am beyond my job, and evaluating the expectations I bring to my life.  And while I had a handle on the broad strokes of the picture, I kept wrestling with the details.  Until I started my day today, then it occurred to me that the broad strokes are all the matters.  I wondered, what if I live with a schedule or without lists?  What would that feel like?  As I said, I know that broad strokes, I have categorized tasks both on paper and mentally: the household projects, the writing and reading area, the fun projects, the genealogy projects.  Do I really need to say that at 8 I will read the Bible, 9-12 I will write, 1-3 household projects, etc…?  I spoke this weekend with my newly retired sister in law and we both confessed our mutual loathing of structure.  Depending on the dynamics of your life structure can be a God-send.  But the structure you need when your a mother managing a family is different than the structure you need when your retired.  Or the structure you need when you are writing and holding an outside job is different than they type you need when there’s no competing claim on your time.  I was looking for structure to be the key to having a fulfilling life.  If I could schedule it, it would happen.  This was a total throwback to my professional life even though being that structured has always seemed a bit foreign to me. But in my insecurity I have used it as a crutch. I didn’t trust my instincts and judgement enough to let go of it until now.  So today I will embrace a new kind of scheduling, something on the order this….  On most days I will start with Bible reading, followed by writing.  I will try to read 1-3 hours throughout the day.  I will occasionally give big chunks of my day to household projects or genealogy.  I will go to library so that I have books to read to my grandsons on Skype.  I will see my friends sporadically, as always.  I will keep my bird feeder full.  That’s about as much of schedule as I think I really need at this point.

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Posted by on September 2, 2014 in Uncategorized


Writing reasons revisited

Yesterday I finished reading Bird by Bird. It pushed and pulled at my writing heart. But mostly pulled. I was drawn towards seriously writing like I hadn’t been in years, then in the next paragraph I was totally repelled. I hoped throughout that she was being overly negative in spots, exaggerating the pain and angst of being serious about one’s writing. But my gut and my own past experiences told me that the negative parts were just as valid as everything else she said. But in spite of her stark honesty about writers’ ‘issues’ that will leave a reader fearful of losing whatever mental or emotional balance they possess, the net effect confirmed what I know: I know that I can write, I know that I will write, I know that I must write.
We write to tell the truth, our own personal truth. But why would anyone read it? Because everyone can connect is some singular way to the humanity of another person and if I write the truth that I have known, whether it’s in a story or an essay or a chapter of personal history, the truth will feel real to the reader and they may also  catch a glimpse of their own truth in the process. Lamott reminded me of all this. As a writer I cannot know if and how it might speak to someone else, but I can be confident that if I write it out faithfully from my heart it will reach the reader on some level. And that’s good enough. That’s communication.

I have had a tendency to take that fact a bit too seriously, worrying about constructing a message of cosmic importance.  In fact, it would paralyze my writing, practically sending me into a stupor. Writing is a whole lot of effort if there’s no point to it.  My fallback reason for writing is just to sort our one’s thoughts, but personal journaling, as healthy and helpful as it may be, isn’t going to compel me write in a disciplined, work-on-it-everyday kind of way. My vision needed to be rooted in something deeper than that.  Bird by Bird  reminded me that telling the truth is a gift we can give to ourselves and our readers. It’s a good gift, tracing all these little bits of truth humming around in our heads as they make their way through our fingers and onto a page.  We capture fragments of our humanity and boldly set them out in plain sight. This simple act of telling our truth in our stories and sharing the themes that run through our thoughts is part of our participation in humanity. That’s all the reason we need. I remember now.

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Posted by on July 8, 2014 in Writing


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Writing talent

I had a big thought this morning.  A big light bulb moment.  So if you have read my posts this week you are aware that I have been reading Anne Lamott, in fact I have even achieved the ability to spell her name correctly! [Excuse me while I indulge in some well deserved self derision. I have no idea how the faulty spelling wormed its way into my mind, but it did.  So the bad spelling was not only part of the blog content numerous times in the past two days, but also used as a tag, and even in the post title.  It's like I was on a crusade to get my blog noticed for its shoddiness.]  But back to the big thought.  Writers think funny.  If you are a writer you know this to be true.  One of the things I am loving about Bird by Bird is how strongly I identify with the all the odd little characteristics that she links to writers and writing.  Yes, I totally get her popularity now, she nails it.  She refers to writers possessing a self-image that teeters between the heights of grandiosity and the pits of self-loathing almost simultaneously (or at least that’s my experience). That was the beginning of my aha! moment. I had recognized it before but her description gave it legs.  When you have this push-me-pull-you game going on in your brain it’s hard to settle down and write because you keep thinking, ‘you’re taking yourself too seriously/no one will want to read this junk.’  Which is countered by feeling like this is what you are ‘born’ to do/artistic destiny, or something akin to it, so get busy and give it your best shot.  The schizophrenia can be exhausting.

The other thing that Lamott keeps saying is “just do it,” just get busy and write everyday.  She promises that the initial efforts will be awful, that getting started on any given day may be next to impossible, but the drafts will improve with each revision, and you will wind up with something that passes for a decent piece of writing.  So my very limited brain made a very obvious connection.  Maybe I have read this before, maybe I have had it told to me, but somehow it never struck me like it did today.  Writing doesn’t require talent, it requires perseverance. Yes, some people have more aptitude but unless a person is willing to write a lot, working at in on a daily basis, they aren’t writers.  Because writers write. To be a writer doesn’t require a degree, or a paycheck or a book deal.  It’s not the byproduct of attending a workshop or tossing out an occasional book review.  It’s sitting down everyday, when you have no inspiration, no direction even, it’s reworking sections that aren’t going anywhere, and there’s zero inspiration to be found, and writing anyway.  As I read Lamott talk about the gut wrenching experience of writing it sounded just awful.  Grueling even.  Depressing.  Familiar.  In fact I had been hoping that this time would be different, and I would experience less of the yuckiness of writing.  As she reminded me of the dark side of the process I asked myself, ‘Why would I or why would anyone, want to do this?  Why put myself through that?’  Then I remember the payoff.  For me the payoff comes when I reach the place where the writing starts to flow, and I’m articulating my thoughts clearly, cogently, with the right tone, the right punch; it’s good. It’s a bit of a rush, and it doesn’t often happen without a fair amount of labor to get there, but get there I do. I’ve produced something that I’m happy with. There is something to be said for taking a rough idea and hammering away on it until it becomes a respectable piece of writing.  Sometimes it turns out much better than I had any right to hope that it could and then I feel like some type of alchemy is at work.  So my big thought was this: it’s not about talent or lack of talent or identity or even having something to say (although the latter will sure help you get started).  The big thought is that being a writer is less about whether we feel like we should, could or really ought to, it’s not about any aspect or degree of our so-called talents. The big thought is that the core of being a writer is about owning it and doing the work every day. Like with so much in life, whether it’s in art, music, sports, or cooking, many people have the essential skills, but it’s the discipline that gives them ownership of their expertise. It’s pushing those skills and sticking to a project when one’s brain is muddled.  It’s working on a piece when it’s going nowhere.  It’s being stubborn and throwing our arms around the ugly parts of the creating process because we know we will never get to the good stuff without it.  That’s the big thought, no talent required, just determination.

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Posted by on June 25, 2014 in Indentity, reflection, work, Writing


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The bird is the word

This evening I downloaded Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  I am not sure whether I’ll ever finish it given that after each paragraph I read I want to run to the computer and write something in response.  The first chapter opens with her telling her students to write about their childhoods.  Oh dear God, will that subject never go away?  I have made a mental resignation that I will someday write about my childhood. I don’t particularly want to, but it’s something that I think I need to do.  I suspect that if and when I do, it will be OK, it will be good for me to have done it.  But it feels a bit overwhelming and as projects go, it scares me.  So I read on and Lamott pulls up all these universal childhood images that she gives her class as prompts.  Enough already!  I get it!  I sigh again, I keep reading.  I sense that indeed I may hark her instruction about writing about one’s childhood.  Or not.  I’ll decide that another day.





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Posted by on June 24, 2014 in Childhood, reflection, Writing


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Artistic destiny and a nudge from Anne Lamott

I think the time has come for me to make peace with Anne Lamott.  I am pretty sure that I am the only writing Christian in the 21st century not awestruck by the woman’s writing. Throughout the 90’s I picked up her books and put them down without finishing them.  It could be that those were the days when I was reading very good writers on writing; things like Habit of Being, Mystery and Manners, One Writer’s Beginnings, Alphabet of Grace, or Dakota. I thought Lamont was, I dunno, shallow?  When friends enthusiastically tell me that I need to read her, I shrug and say that I never could get into her writing and the conversation moves on.

I spent yesterday cleaning up my most recent blog posts, changing the theme (I am going on record stating that I will not willy nilly change my theme in 2014 without good cause, however changing color schemes doesn’t count, but I’ll try to keep that to a minimum as well).  I am in the process of owning writing in my life again.  Perhaps in a bigger, truer, more certain way than I ever have been.  And that’s saying something.  But more about that later.

Around 9 last night I looked over my Facebook feed and one of my friends liked a post that one his friends had shared from Anne Lamott’s Facebook page.  She wrote on perfectionism.  It was good.  It was insightful. It was spot-on.  And it was smartly written.  And I hated-loved or loved-hated her in a way that only crazy jealous female writers can feel about talented awesome female writers who have nailed it. It’s a hot mess of inspiration, admiration and annoyance that makes you want to sit down and write until dawn.  It’s the real deal.

So today  I asked my daughter who works in a used book warehouse, to keep her eye open for Bird by Bird.  I’m pretty sure she thought it was bird watching guide until I started spurting incoherently about what had here-to-for been my opinion of Anne Lamott.  My daughter’s allowed to take home unmarketable books (this title would no doubt have to be covered in grease or missing a cover to be be deemed unmarketable, but hey, it could happen). Then I read some of Anne Lamott’s Facebook posts, looking in particular for the post she mentions where she got 500 snarky comments in response, but all I found was the hallelujah chorus.  Checked her street cred:  Kirkus Review, NYTimes, Christianity Today–nothing short of a love feast to be found anywhere.  So Bird by Bird is on my reading list.  I know what she says about perfectionism (the topic of her Facebook post) and I related to it in a way that I probably couldn’t have back in the 90s. It was weirdly apropos to where I’m at.  She puts some store in ‘fulfilling your artistic destiny’.  I groan, inside and out.  O dear Lord, does such a thing exist but in the minds of your totally self-consumed children, of whom I am chief?  And the Spirit says, don’t ask rhetorical questions, ask real ones.  I tend to sniff something of a cliché and freak out because I have struggled (like every other contemporary writer I have ever met) in my quiet thoughts with a core question: “Is this writing thing nuts?”  Normal people don’t do this.  I know, I think by the Spirit perhaps, that the real question is just simply, “Should I write?”  Don’t decorate it with superlatives or grand designs.   I believe this about destiny: destiny isn’t our future, it’s our total. It’s our past, present and future all lumped together.  So when I read the words “fulfilling your artistic destiny” I want to run–in both directions.  It’s sounds so New Agey and me-ful, and yet I want to embrace it.  So the real question for me is, “Should I write?”   I have written in the past, I am writing in the present, I will write in the future.  Because I write, it’s my destiny.  As for using ‘artistic’ as an adverb, sure, why not?  So if from here on I run in only one direction, embracing the work, won’t that be a lot easier?  I think it will.  Lamott doesn’t convince me of destiny, but reminds me of it.  And in reminding she is also confirming what I already know to be true.  And she pairs it with a clear plan of action, telling us to make lots of mistakes, expend all the effort you have and then some so that the real stuff comes out in your work.  She says what every writer knows, but needs to hear on an almost daily basis.


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New chapter

All change is stressful. I was prepared for some degree of stress and emotional upheaval, however for the most part, my entry into retirement has only been slightly troublesome. Leaving my job was different for me than it is for many.  The coworker part is atypical.  While my job was very relational, I worked with a student population in a setting  where change was a constant.  I had colleagues but not people I worked with on a daily basis, year after year.  I was the constant fixture in a fluctuating environment.

So on my last trip up to the office it was my routine tasks such as logging on to my computer, seeing my computer desktop and wallpaper, just sitting in my chair at my desk that gave me a heavy- hearted feeling.  The degree of ownership I felt to my  office space and its accoutrements was about to evaporate.  I knew that when I walked through the door to leave it would be the last time I would be in that office.  Leaving a job has that feeling, a finality that comes out of nowhere, no matter how mentally prepared you are for it.

But it’s only a job.  Really, it is only a job.  I am healthy, my family is healthy.  I’m not moving, at least not any time soon.  I just won’t be going to the office from this time forth.  This is not a bad thing, in any way, shape, or form.

So I am in the first week of being truly campus-free.  I teeter between celebrating and just kicking back to getting antsy and feeling guilty that i didn’t jump into some type of rhythm in my first 72 hours of freedom.  I lean towards the latter.  Part of that is due to my past summer pattern which required both a general plan and a week by week task list.  I would have 11 weeks off, 2 of those might be spent traveling, during the remainder I  had to figure out what items got top priority and get busy with them.  I now can let go of that sense of urgency which seems a bit weird.  I can proceed at a relaxed pace, the question is– do I want to?  I think that I do need some kind of structure and certainly some balance.

I’m realistic enough to know that it will take some time to get used to my new freedom which feels liberating, challenging, and  (largely) stress free.  Because I’m so used to the old pattern of following a game plan for the summer, the biggest shift is just playing it a bit looser and with less worry.   I’ve been looking forward to having more time to work on my writing, and now I have it.  I’ve had to work through some writing anxiety issues but I feel like it’s coming along.

It’s a new season and rather than feeling old, I actually feel younger.  The world looks fresher than it has in ages.  I feel in control of identity, my goals, my relationships in ways that I haven’t in years.  Not sure, what they will look like a year from now, but I’m so happy to have the chance to find out.

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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in reflection, retirement, work, Writing


Sitting on the edge

Sitting. A verb of action, as a fourth grade language arts lesson would instruct us, although inaction is more on target. Its lameness as an action verb clocks in right between squatting and lying.  Sitting implies consciousness, unlike lying, and unless otherwise indicated, inactivity.  It conjures, for me at least, an image of intentional passivity.Again, unless otherwise indicated.

This blog has been a snapshot of someone sitting on the edge. It’s an uncomfortable spot to sit. It’s nothing like the dock of the bay, where the water laps around your ankles. No, sitting in dormancy makes one grow weary and aware that they can’t embrace this inactivity indefinitely. And a person definitely doesn’t do well to sit on the edge of anything too long. You become anxious and keenly aware of your precarious situation.

The last entry marked that awareness, and stated that things were going to change. I can no longer sit on the edge and nor will be follow the path of least resistance if it equaled the least fulfillment.  With the last entry I was making a statement. The Alice Manifesto of 2014 may be a aggrandizement  for the sake of effect, but it is a statement.  If nothing else it is going on record that I have identified a task, or a set of tasks, which will prove a personal manifesto.  The days of sitting on the edge have passed.

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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in reflection


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