Daily Blog Challenge: Three Things I Learned

This is the final post of my October daily blog challenge.

Writing a blog post each day for a month was harder than I expected, but easier than I imagined. I missed one day but I gave myself a deserved pass after energy well and fully spent selling jelly. On at least fifteen other days, I clicked “New Post” feeling doubtful. I can’t do this today. But I did, mostly because it was easier than I imagined.

The Daily Blog Calendar Challenge

I expected this to be the most challenging of my challenges so far, but it easily lags behind healthy daily movement. The goal was to make writing for myself like muscle memory, a good daily habit, a practiced craft. Although I write boat loads of words every day, I was not taking time to write for myself.

In general, the calendar challenges have made me more mindful of how I spend my time, what I make time for. The challenge to make time for and be mindful about writing drove home some specific, unexpected lessons. These are not new thoughts, but the process helped me embrace and trust them.

  • Small things can be profound. Woven into the minutia of our days are subtly rich threads of wisdom and emotion. When we reflect on our rainbow dances, frustrations, or walks through the field, we wrap ourselves in them.
  • It’s a crooked path. Nearly every post I wrote was retitled once if not a half-dozen times. The observations I led with unfailingly took me somewhere else. Seizures might end up being a post about embracing strength in the face of vulnerability, working through the frustration of a botched appointment might become about the culture of blame.
  • Trust myself. If not myself, at least trust my words or thought patterns. This is in part authenticity: being myself. It’s also mindfulness, which is seminal to the calendar challenge I took on. A chunk of it, maybe the most important for writing, is letting go and allowing, letting words lead me, trusting them, even through the crooked jaunts along the way.

Tomorrow I’ll start a new calendar challenge. I haven’t decided on it yet, but I may make it a little less up hill. Especially since tomorrow is also the kick-off of NaNoWritMo. But I’m ready! I have this writing habit!

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Nanowrimo: Stop Thinking and Write

Next month I’ll participate in Nanowrimo for a second time. Last year was touch-and-go, especially since I was only home for eleven of the thirty days of November. My biggest challenge, however, was not the writing days I lost to the road, but rather shutting myself up. I’m an editor by trade, so it’s not surprising that I have trouble turning that off. Maybe the best way to shut up the editor is to stop thinking.

I’ll stop thinking . . . soon.

In nine more days, I’ll stop thinking for a few roaring writing minutes a day. In the meantime, I’ll obsess! What to write? A tortured love story?

Just before Terry and Pat forked paths to their cars, they turned to each other, as they had done for 935 days on their way to work: peck on the lips, Have a great day! / You, too! I love you. / Love you too! Today, Pat’s eyes lingered on Terry a little longer, realizing, I don’t, really. I don’t love you. That was the last kiss, the last time they would see each other.

Or maybe a child in a suspense/horror story?

Ophera sat quietly in the back, the mumble of her parents’ conversation indistinguishably mingled with the roar of the engine. Ophera wasn’t sure how she knew, but she knew. She didn’t feel sad. It was the textbook knowing. The first element on the periodic table is hydrogen. Hydrogen and oxygen are the two elements that make water. Her mother’s heart beat 113,889 times a day, but her dad’s 100,352 (on average). The car would veer as it entered the bridge. Moments after plunging into the icy water of the roaring river, her parents’ hearts would stop. Ophera knew hers wouldn’t.

Maybe I should go with SciFi?

Darian shut down thoughts as she pushed her ship to warp speed. No one ever said it, but they all understood. She wouldn’t be back. Even if she managed to find her way back, she wouldn’t find anything or anyone she knew at this station. She closed her eyes through the hum of the changing pressure. Darian knew it was an impossible mission. No one believed she could find the crew that shot through this hole twenty years ago. Darian’s proposal and plea were strong and compelling, finally convincing the commissioners to grant her this last-ditch mission.

Nine more days until Nanowrimo and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe I’ll write about that!

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

I know nothing.

The stories I want to tell are inevitably intermingled with other lives, lives I don’t truly understand. Honestly, I know nothing I need to know to tell the story well.

The more I know the more I know I know nothing.

I’ve been reading. I’ve been listening. But the more I know, the more I realize I know nothing. Nothing about black lives. Nothing about brown lives. And honestly, not enough about white lives economically, religiously, and politically removed from my experience. The little bit I almost had right is just enough off center to be misleading at best, but mostly, just wrong.

I want to be an advocate and an ally. I want to tell a story. But how to do it well? How do I do it in a way that honors my experience and their truth?

I felt dismay then just as quickly hope when I listened to Justina Ireland weigh in on the controversy surrounding the young adult novel American Heart

Dismay because at first her words seemed to convey that I could never tell a story that included color. But then that nugget of hope:

“If your good intentions fall short of the reality the first time and that just kind of puts you off the sauce, then why were you here in the first place? I mean, if I’m trying to run a marathon, I’m not going to stop because I had one bad run day. It’s a lifetime.”

I’m here in the first place because I want to stand up and use my privilege and voice to connect and encourage empathy. I’m here for the lifetime, for the marathon. I’ll listen harder, lean in deeper. I’ll see myself. I’ll see you. I want to tell our story well.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

 

Prep Work

—I have to do what first?
—The prep work.
—Ugh.

Why is prep work important?

When I finally decide to do something, I just want to jump in and get down to . . .

painting the bedroom.
tiling the floor.
planting the garden.

Yet, almost always, just jumping in is not prudent. Sometimes it’s not possible.

prep work

Before painting, clear and wash down the walls, fill the holes, tape the edges and windows, and, unless you’re also replacing the it, protect the floor.
Before tiling, remove the old flooring (even if the last owners didn’t!), then clean, clean, and clean. Over there, clean a little more.
Before planting the garden, pull the weeds, turn the soil, make the rows, and feed the soil.

In school, prep work is attending class, studying for the test, reading before writing a research paper. At work, similar.

But what’s the prep work for creative work?

Sometimes it’s just staring into the space before you. Sometimes it’s getting a good night’s sleep.

Just do it. It nourishes the work you’re about to take on.

Good night! I have prep work to do.

prep work

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Choked

I haven’t written much since the 2017 election. I don’t have writer’s block, really. I just feel choked.

I miss writing, because writing is where I figure things out. Writing is introspection, meditation, screaming therapy, and prayer in one painful and joyful process. My self-inflicted October one-blog-a day challenge is my effort to loosen the strangle hold from my pen. The late nights are exhausting. Loosening the restraints is a struggle. Yet I’m grateful to be writing again.

From Choked to Conversation

So, what’s choking you?

If you’re guessing political climate, you’re getting warm.

Why is that choking you?

If you’re guessing I’m a chicken for not raising my voice or a snowflake because I’m an aghast liberal, you’re getting colder now.

This obstruction in my esophagus has nothing to do with chickens and snowflakes. This stricture is about my anxiousness to find the path to conversation and common ground, in spite of and because of the political climate.

After nearly a year of searching for it, I realize that if I’m not writing, I’ll never find that path.

This is me, coming unchoked, looking for the path to conversation and common ground.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

On finding my público

In spring of 1985, I was wrapping up my masters’ thesis on Federico García Lorca’s not-quite-finished play El público. Two moments between me and my thesis director struck me and have stuck with me to this day.

You’re the expert.

The first moment was when I asked him a question about my topic. I don’t remember the question. But I remember the answer: I don’t know, Pennie. You’re the expert on this now.

What?!

How did that happen? How did I suddenly go from student struggling to know enough —anything!— to support a thesis, to expert?

He was —alarmingly— correct. I had joined the ranks of a very few who had obsessed over this tiny little unfinished play. Hence: expert. I experienced a similar alarm after having my first child. Weeks after giving birth, questions and comments suggested that I had taken a mysterious leap from floundering finder-outer to expert. But I was nowhere near having faith in myself.

You can’t write.

The second thesis moment between me and my director stuck in my craw for years. It’s still jammed in there a bit, but I’m slowly pulling it out. I shared with him my dream of writing my own plays, even my own novels and poems. I imagined beautiful, engaging words. What he told me felt like one of those Oh, honey (bless your little heart) moments. Paraphrasing roughly from his Spanish: There are those who do, and those who teach. In other words, Pennie, you won’t write. You’ll teach about writers.

This was heartbreaking and maddening to hear.

Every writer lives with that doubter that nags: You can’t write. You’re not that. My director’s comment gave my writer-doubter a juicy dose of vitamin B and adrenaline, and I have spent half of my life (literally), smothering that you-can’t-do-that voice and building up enough faith in myself to complete my own sentences.

My público

This weekend I took time to touch up a screenplay I wrote last January and re-read the first thirty pages of a novel I started last November. I had enough distance from both to read them like they weren’t mine, and damn! I want to read more. I don’t care if I’m my one and only público. I’m glad I wrote these things.

As often happens with students and teachers, my director and I became friends. We’ve managed to stay in touch, so I plan to send him a copy of my screenplay. And maybe that snippet of the novel-in-the making. There’s a bit of a snarky hrrmph! in the gesture, but I suspect he’ll be happy to read it, and happy to be part of my writer journey.

So here’s to my fellow writers who contend with resident doubters: trust yourself. You can eat your cake and have it too (that’s the correct way to say that, by the way). You can be a teacher (or editor!) and writer too. Keep writing. Keep reaching for your público.

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2017.

Deadlines Are Real

I missed a self-imposed deadline on Saturday.

Recurring: publish a post on Saturday.

Self-imposed: my effort to draw myself back to writing for real versus writing for rent.

I blew it.

I had my reasons.

But a deadline is a deadline. Or is it?

What does deadline even mean anymore?

With an etymological history that twists all the way back to civil war prisons and 19th century printing presses, the “line” was often imaginary. Yet, the word probably provoked terror among civil war POWs. Crossing the often unmarked imaginary line in a civil war prison could be lethal.

Today we wrap deadlines around our clocks and calendars, then toss them about with nonchalance. We start at a tender age, disguising the deadly words as “due dates” and end of term projects.

As our minds grow callous from rubbing against the calendars and clocks, we link our deadlines. Chains: The test is Tuesday. The term paper is due Friday. You’ll get your grade on Monday. If the chain is broken, Monday might be blue day.

Deadlines are the modern day ball and chain.

They’re often impossible. We toss about our calendars and clocks, and create a fabulously heavy ball. Everyone knows it will be a miracle to roll that ball up the mountain to that deadline. Yet, that is the deadline. When the weight of ball overtakes every effort and it rolls back down, smashing all the other little deadlines leading up to the big one, we regroup and reboot our calendars and clocks to start the deadline chain game again. Or we lose everything.

Deadlines are real.

I missed my deadline on Saturday. I didn’t lose my job over it. No company lost millions. Yet I was dismayed.

IMG_3491

Sunflowers towering over my garden

We learn mundane urgencies that we don’t always call deadlines, yet they are. “Tend to the garden or the plants will die.” They cross the dead line.

Plants have one. Pets have one. People have one. They all eventually die.

If they matter to us, we must nurture and enjoy them while we can. We don’t think of these things in terms of deadlines, but there is a deadline, an ending.

 

 

Sometimes our mundane deadlines are the most significant and real parts of our lives. I missed most of my daughter’s senior-year events because I was scrambling to meet “important” deadlines for a textbook. I don’t remember what I had to do for those deadlines nor why I chose them over senior-year events. I will always remember, however, that my daughter attended the senior breakfast without a parent. I missed the more significant and real deadline.

Even in the 19th century, “deadline” evoked dismay. Printers would dismay when their words spilled past the deadline on their printing press.

I dismayed when my words didn’t make it to the deadline.

I’ll do better. I’ve made tiny and big promises to myself over the last few years to be present. That means being present with an open ear and heart for family and friends. It also means honoring the imaginary and insignificant deadlines I impose on myself.

So does this post make up for the deadline I blew on Saturday? No, silly wabbit! I’m not a time-traveler and Saturday is gone. But today I chose to take a few minutes for myself and meet my Tuesday deadline to share something I wrote for real.

Do something real for yourself today. It matters.

Copyright © 2015 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.

Click here for more information on the origin of the word “Deadline”.

It’s time for a word.

I needed a word.

I wanted to write more, so I explored WordPress. I must have accidentally created an account, because before I knew I had one, I had a follower. It was time to write.

We all struggle with something or many things. Some things are a steeper climb than others. My steep climb, my Everest, is writing, really writing, for myself. I write. I write a lot. I write every day. But what I write is the equivalent of paying rent for a pad instead of paying mortgage for a home.

The year I accidentally WordPressed, I made a resolution to “write for real” vs. “write for rent.” Since then, I’ve been “writing” my ship and steering it towards my intention of 30 plus years.

Write for real.

I hope you find a truth here and there, a reason to come back, a little inspiration to follow your own dream. This blog is my acknowledgment of taking control.  I’m harnessing the power of my word for me.

This is my lexical gymnasium. My wordsmith shop. My lingual studio.

It’s time for a word.

Won’t you join me?

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2015
Updated 2016
@ Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016