Saturday, June 27, 2009

Time and Balance

I’m discouraged today. After a burst of writing energy over the last couple weeks, I’ve hit a block. It’s not Writer’s Block. I’ve had a flurry of ideas which is evident by all the folders and tablets containing various stages of stories and articles on my desk, on the floor, on my diningroom table. What has discouraged me is time—the lack of it and how to balance the time I have. I’m grateful for this unending flow of writing ideas. A lot of writers I know complain about not having enough. But how to manage it all?

This week I think I’ve set unattainable goals and unrealistic deadlines. I have a growing to-do list and not enough time to accomplish it all. That’s only my writing to-do list. I haven’t even mentioned how I’ve been neglecting the housework, neglecting my loved ones, my friends, my cats. I haven’t turned on my phone yet today. I’ve been doing nothing but writing all day, but I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing, that I’ve been spinning my wheels.

I was working on an article I’ve been excited about getting to all week. It started with writing one article about Ernest Hemingway, one of my favorite authors, and before I knew it, I was outlining one topic after another. The thing with Hemingway just snowballed. The more I researched him, the more I wanted to learn about him, the more I wanted to write about him. It’s almost become an obsession. I want to know about his life, his loves, his cats, how he wrote, so I can learn more from him. It has me sidetracked. I haven’t written a word of fiction for I-don’t-know-how-long. My novel-in-progress has sat in the same spot for weeks. Fiction has been my first love when it comes to writing. Someday I’d like to make a living doing nothing but churn out novel after novel. Today I kidded myself thinking I could spend part of my day working on articles and set aside a block of time to work on my novel. It’s hard for me to shift into fiction writing mode once I’ve been in non-fiction mode. How do you switch off one mode to focus on another? How do you find a balance and make enough time?

Normally I can find some encouragement or some writing advice, but today, I’ve dug deep down and came up with nothing. I don’t have an answer for this. I need to hear what works for you. For now, I’m going to walk away from my desk, breathe and call my daughter.

This week your freewriting exercise is to write about “time.” Set your timer for 15 minutes and write whatever comes to mind…

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What My Fathers Taught Me

It’s been a year since my last blog entry, a year of many life-changing events. Being my first entry for my return to the blogosphere, I didn’t want to write about Father’s Day. But maybe this is a good place to start.

In the past year I’ve lost both my fathers. My own father has been in a nursing home since last year. His dementia has progressed rapidly, so much that he only remembers me sometimes. It has affected his ability to walk as well. Two years ago he was still hiking and dancing. Now he shuffles with a walker and needs assistance to carry out the most basic daily activities like feeding himself and bathing. Occasionally he can draw recognizable figures of cats and airplanes on his sketchpad. Those moments have become fewer and far between, as my visits to him have as well. It’s not that I don’t carry a lot of guilt for it.

This past March I lost my other father. He was my ex-father-in-law but the one I called “Dad.” I was blessed to have him a part of my life for almost twenty years. I’m still trying to look at it as a blessing instead of a loss. He would not have wanted me to dwell on the loss.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the things I’ve learned from both my fathers.

From my own father what comes to mind first is to never say anything you may regret…including “I love you.” I was around sixteen when I first got that lesson. He caught me writing “Love, Marie” on a card I was planning to give to my high school sweetheart. Okay, I was sixteen, and what did I know about love then?

My father never told me he loved me. Well, there was one time, which I’ll get to later. I remember more than once during my childhood before my mother left us, my mother asking in sign language, “You don’t love me.” Sometimes she’d ask, “Do you love me?” He’d sign back, “Of course I do.” I can’t remember if he ever said the words, “I love you,” but at five years old, our perceptions can be flawed. Once when I was cleaning out my desk, I found a stack of birthday cards he had given me over the years. They were signed simply, “Daddy.” When I had my own family and my bitterness and resentment toward him had cooled off, I’d end our visits with a hug and “I love you, Daddy.” He always responded with a pat on my shoulder and, “Yup. Okay.” A few months ago, at the end of one of my last visits at the nursing home he did respond, “I love you, too.”

What I learned from my father-in-law, “Dad,” was that love is unconditional, unwavering. It was evident in his devotion to his wife and family. At first it took me a while to learn and understand this. Sometimes at family gatherings the lot of us would get into heated discussions. We’d be shouting over each other our opinions and disagreements. An outsider might have thought we didn’t like each other, maybe even hate each other. But at the end of the day, we’d take turns hugging each other and say, “I love you.” And as I’d get into my car, I knew it.

At the reception after his memorial service, friends and family took turns sharing memories of him. There was one that has stuck with me. Dad and Mom were yelling at each other in the kitchen. She was trying to finish preparations for one of her elaborate meals. Some such argument ensued over place settings or water pitchers. Both were red in the face and their blood pressures were palpable. Mom stormed out of the kitchen. Dad yelled, “Mary! Mary!” She had thrown up her hands and kept walking without looking back. He followed her into the next room, still shouting, “Mary!” Finally, she turned and stopped. He smiled and said, “Give me a kiss.” And they made up.

So these are the things I’ve learned from both my fathers. Now it’s your turn. Think about your own father or father figures. Start your freewrite with “These are the things my father taught me…” or something along those lines. Set your timer for fifteen minutes and write without stopping or censoring. Let go…breathe…write.

I would love to hear what lessons you’ve learned. Please feel free to post them.