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Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 6.54.41 AM

“Every writer has to craft an everyday life,” says Molly Peacock. I love that verb ‘craft.’ Such intentionality. A block of wood remains a block of wood until you bring your carving tools to it.

When my kids were young, I loved nothing more than having a chunk of time to write a letter. We had several friends who’d gone off to do big things with their lives and that gave me people to write to. If I got dinner going early in the day and the kids went down for naps after lunch, I sat and wrote my heart out, and would write until I heard stirrings from their room.

I always write right up to the last minute I have.
I always wish I had just a few more minutes.

Sure, there’d be weeks no letters went out. There’d be teething. There’d be sickness. Days were turned upside down. But when you know you are right where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to do, it doesn’t matter, the little blip in your routine. You can let it go, knowing it’s all grist, knowing the first line of your next letter will be, “I would’ve written sooner, but….”.

You write in your head, confident ink will hit paper again soon. And it does. It does. You don’t give up altogether.

Set goals. Expect setbacks. Press on. You carve it out as you go.

Do any of your goals for the new year have anything to do with where your heart lies? Do you even know where it lies?

You can tell where your heart lies by what it’s driven to, what you rush to do when you finally have a little block of time. I hope at least one of your goals has something to do with it.

* * *
Check out:
Ann Kroeker’s Play Project for the month of January.
Deidra’s online book club that starts January 15th.
More of my letter writing adventures at Laura Brown’s MakesYouMom.com

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Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 6.54.41 AMLAURA ASKED about the thrice-asked question I mentioned in my previous post. It was “What did you do before this?” I didn’t include that detail because I didn’t think it important, but I’m glad she asked because it made me stop a moment and think more about what had happened there with that question.

Yes, three times this week I was asked. The question arose naturally and sprang from a good thing, that I had done something well and people were curious about my background.

But I hate the question.

Each time I tried to answer quickly and honestly, without letting on how much pain it put me in.

My kitchen listening these days is Brene Brown’s “Rising Strong.” She talks about the importance of being both curious and willing – curious about why we have the reactions we have and willing to pursue the answer. It’s not for the faint-of-heart.

Why does the background question unsettle me? Very likely the answer has something to do with the story I’m trying to find.

While we are at it, I may as well chuck in a discovery I made a few months back: While I’ve been opening up and sharing my story more freely in talks I give and in writing to a few people, there is one part of it I usually hold back. What’s up with that?

I am blogging about these things only because I know a number of you are also on the journey of finding your story and I think the issues that arise, more than the specific details or answers, are worth putting out there.

I think this whole mess is going to turn into something.

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At week’s end, I’m churning, just a little, just ever so slightly, in the manner of all great minimizers when they encounter a negative feeling. Its always “just a tad.”

turning on lightA half-dozen thoughts take turns swirling through my head and there will be no settling down to get anything done unless I tend to them.

I make a list. I think about numbering or adding bullet points when I’m done, in the manner of all great Type A people. We shall have order!

An observation someone made…A question I was asked 3 times this week…The audiobook I just finished and the audiobook I’m currently halfway through, and how they tie together…The first draft of someone’s story, and how it ties together with the audiobooks and with my own story.

A sentence or two for each, just to get them down somewhere, just to acknowledge their existence, just to get them to stop swirling.

Then I come to the last one and start to write, and the one or two sentences turn into ten, then 15, then more. Ahhhhhh, now we’re onto something.

But isn’t it funny how I had to write through all that other stuff before I got to the thing that’s probably THE thing? It happens a lot.

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out the window
A LONG CHAPTER ends
and a tiredness descends like the tiredness after giving birth. And who knows, but maybe that’s an apt metaphor for what has happened?

My computer gives out on the last day, telling me it is time to stop. Just everything. Lay it aside.

So I pack Deidra’s book into my suitcase and head off to tie up the threads of a long weaving, the pattern of which I still cannot make out clearly. I keep stepping back and stepping back, trying to see the whole picture.

A week later, I return home. I unpack. Passing through the living room, I move a few things – a lamp and a table – and a room that’s seemed out-of-kilter since we moved here suddenly seems right. Everything’s in its place now. It was all there, all along.

I fall into a holy collapse.

“We are sleeping until we are ready to get up,” I tell the dog at bedtime, as if we’ve been assigned it as homework.

* * *

I return to ESL class.
I take my computer to the Genius Bar.
I have the electrician over to take care of a long list of things I’ve been procrastinating on.
I make soup.

I start listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Magic Lessons” podcasts, which I learn about from reading the comments section at Michelle’s blog. (There are gems in comment sections.)

Thursday night, I go to group and feel I don’t belong, not because my chapter ended but because it was so short compared to most everyone else’s.

And THIS RIGHT HERE is the kind of thinking that needs to stop, the constant minimizing of my own stuff, like I’m disqualified, like I don’t belong, like I don’t have the right to speak, at least not in the face of what everyone else is going through.

* * *

I have a story to tell. It began the day I reached for that journal. But what exactly the story is, I need to discover.

And that is exactly what I am going to do.

Where the story lies, I’m going to find out. I am boarding the train and riding it, window seat, to see again the ground covered, both to tie up the loose threads in me and to learn whether I have anything worthwhile to share, anything that might help another traveler.

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Jacinda's scrollwork

Kathy O, who lived 5 doors down the street, would, when things weren’t going her way, pack up all the dresses she’d brought for dress-ups and head home, leaving the rest of us sitting there. That’s just how she was.

Why am I thinking about her today? Now?

I’ve been picturing Lewis & Clark, looking west,
about to head off to places they’ve never been,
not knowing in advance the full distance,
how long it might take,
what may be required of them.

I would have been dead weight on that expedition, what with bears and mud and weather and needing to lift boats and supplies and carry the whole shebang around waterfalls. Traveling upstream! And not speaking the language of so many they encounter.

I would not have said yes
(not that I would have been invited).

I’m forced to face this truth about myself. I would not have gone. I’d have hunkered down in my cabin, stayed put and let someone else go.

I shiver, just thinking about that journey, and I think I know why.
That same fear is close to me, not far. Not 2 centuries ago.

I, too, stand on a frontier, like most of us do at least once in our lives. We stand, and what lies ahead is a frontier to us. We don’t know what we’re heading into. We might have ideas about it. We may have heard bits and pieces from what others said they thought they saw when they were out there, or what they heard someone else say, but really we don’t know for sure what’s out there, what we’ll face.

We don’t know about it
and we don’t know about ourselves,
whether we have what it takes.

It becomes clear me, when I visit the Lewis & Clark exhibit and I feel the slug in me resisting, saying, “NO WAY I’d sign up for that” that I see where I truly am, standing on my own frontier, weighing the inconvenience of it all and leaning toward staying home by the fire with a cup of tea.

I see this about myself, that I’m all for someone else making the trip and I’ll come to a museum and learn all about it. But blaze the trail, me?
Would I be willing to be that inconvenienced and discomforted?
Am I willing now, on my own frontier?

Or will I, like Kathy O, choose to pack up my story and take it home?

And if I do, who will I be leaving out there all alone, to shiver in the cold?
I keep thinking about that father at the cookout.

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In their book “On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life that Lasts,” Ann  & Charity remind me to stoke the creative fires by getting out and doing something different, something artful perhaps. Something other than writing. On purpose. I am sometimes big on theory and short on follow-through.

Frazier 1
ALL OVER TOWN, I see billboards for the Lewis & Clark exhibit at the Frazier History Museum. “Walk 7,000 miles in their shoes, without the blisters.”

“I’m definitely going to that!” I say.

I set a reminder for Sunday afternoon. “Go to the Frazier this week?” But when Sunday arrives and I hear the alert, the coming week feels too full. I change the alert to the following Sunday, to be reminded again.

The following Sunday, same thing. I move the reminder forward yet another week.

There’s always so much to do.
There’s always dinner to make, the dog to walk, a Lowe’s return, a call to make, a call to take, packing or unpacking, a letter to write, workmen due, a birthday card to buy.

I keep driving around.
I keep seeing billboards.
I keep meaning to go.
I keep resetting the reminder.

And what about the story I promised to write? Just where am I with that?
Stuck. I have no idea where I am. This is no time for wandering museums.

BUT TODAY I go.
I go to the Frazier.
I’m not there 10 minutes on the frontier with them, facing the enormous challenge, the great distance that must be covered, the dangers that lie ahead, the work, the discomfort, the very real possibility of not surviving, or worse, turning back before reaching the end point,
than I see more clearly than ever
my own frontier,
my own fears.

Now I know where I am, a good thing to know.
But I had to go downtown to learn it.

More details in coming posts.
Frazier 3
Frazier 2

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Mary and Martha cup

Since moving to Kentucky, I’ve gotten involved with teaching English to refugees. They work hard and occasionally despair of ever learning the language well enough to make it here, and there’s no turning back.

But every so often I see a light come on in one of their faces and I know they are starting to get it. They are starting to think maybe they can learn to navigate the waters of their new circumstances.

Nothing beats seeing that light in their faces. It’s the light of hope.

I SAW THAT SAME LIGHT recently on the face of a father who’s sustained a tremendous blow he hasn’t been able to talk about. For two years now, he’s barely been able to talk about it. But then I told some of my story and something happened.

We are at a cookout.
Men stand over the grill, discussing cars.
Children play tag.
I cease playing hide-and-seek and sit on the patio, chatting. When I reference my story, the great wound sustained and my ensuing withdrawal, that father lights up. He sits upright in his chair and says, “That’s what happened to me!”

And there’s that look, the look of someone who, for the first time in a long time, is starting to think that, while there’s no turning back, there’s a lot of life ahead, and maybe, just maybe, the waters can be navigated.

Nothing beats seeing that light, that hope.
I am again reminded: Our stories, when we risk sharing them, have the power to help set captives free. This is important work in this world.

If I hadn’t stopped playing hide-and-seek, I would have missed it.

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The Story You Wish Wasn't True About You

The Story You Wish Wasn’t True About You

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