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Category: introspection

John Cleese on Creativity

A few months ago, I came across a lecture given by John Cleese on the nature of creativity that he gave as a training piece for corporate managers.  I’ve found myself thinking about several aspects of it, so I thought I would share it here.

I was never a Monty Python fan, mostly because their work was so well quoted that by the time I actually saw any of it that all of the surprise was gone, which is just death to comedy.  All the same, I have a huge respect for the originality of their material, which has a distinctive flavor to it.  It is hugely creative, so obviously Cleese knows a thing or two about how to do it.  In his lecture, Cleese discusses how to create a time and space for idea generation, which he believes can only happen when the brain is in what he calls “open” mode.  He has five important factors, which he lists as space, time, time, confidence and humor.  In a nutshell, to be creative, you must give yourself a space, a specific time duration in which to maintain focus — and you must allow yourself enough time to really think out the best solution to the problem rather than the fastest solution — and you must believe that you have the ability to be creative.  Humor feeds into that last concept a lot.

Really, you should go watch it, or if you haven’t time for that, read the annotated transcript at Poetry Genius.

 

In other words, no matter how serious the problem that you are trying to solve, you must allow yourself time and space to play in order to come up with fresh and creative solutions.  This is true, of course, for activities that we already associate with creativity, like art, writing, dance, etc., but it is also true for activities that we don’t associate this way.  It is true for any problem solving that a human mind could possibly want to get involved in.  Kids know this instinctively — if you want to solve a problem, you must give yourself permission to play around and try a few solutions, knowing that some of them are going to be ridiculous.

Human beings need creativity and play.  It is the thing that makes us human.

The part of Cleese’s speech that I have been ruminating on is the second time point– the idea that the most creative solution is unlikely to be the first answer.  I have a very full life, for which I am deeply grateful, but I haven’t left myself much time for just sitting around and mulling over things.  I’m the first person to jump to the page and start writing, instead of sitting over an outline until the path is clear.  In Nanowrimo, this is called seat-of-pantsing and it has led me to write a full novel’s worth of words painting me and my plot right into a corner.  Twice.

After all, the first thought is unlikely to be the most creative thought.  It’s also unlikely to be the best thought, though I’m glad to have had the experience of having done that to myself.  My characters have done so many things in all the pages I’ve thrown away that I know them better than I know myself.  And before I return to the sheep and waterfall covered tundra of my novel, I want to spend time giving myself enough time, because my characters deserve to know where they’re going.

When I was young, I used to spend hours and hours in walking around the neighborhood and telling myself stories.  I’ve found myself thinking about all that time that I used to give myself to solve puzzles and think, about how I used to intentionally miss the bus home so that I would have the long walk to myself.  It’s a habit that I should incorporate into my life again.

I will leave you tonight with an excerpt from a poem that has haunted me, a stanza from Wallace Steven’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.

VIII
I know noble accents   
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;   
But I know, too,   
That the blackbird is involved   
In what I know.
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Winter

Like a good part of the country, we experienced abnormally cold temperatures early this week.  The coldest we felt was about -17F with the wind chill, which doesn’t compare to a good part of the rest of the country, but is cold enough for your breath to get your scarf wet enough that it will freeze to your face.

Ask me how I know.

I struggle in the winter months.  I’ve been in New York long enough that I’ve learned to cope with temperatures of 20F as a normality, but anything below that literally terrifies me.  Each year, I dread January and February, which are the coldest months here, because I spend so much time just trying to survive. There’s very little energy left to do much of anything else.  I am very much a homebody, so you would think that the plummeting outdoors temperatures wouldn’t matter so much, but the house and my office are drafty and I spend two months a year shivering everywhere I go.  I walk two miles each day as part of my commute and figuring out how to survive that involves a lot of strategy and planning in my clothing selection.  That — and my actual fear of the cold — is distracting enough that it’s easy to allow myself to slip into apathy as life becomes a fight with the outdoors.

Me, Trying to Make it to the Train
Me — Trying to Make it to the Train

In yoga class on Saturday morning, my excellent teacher told a story about what we think we can and cannot do and invited us to push the envelope of our definitions of ‘can’t’.  Obviously, she was talking about the more challenging yoga poses; the focus of the class was an arm balance that I did not and have not ever attained.  Certainly, one of the best ways to move along in challenging poses in yoga is to ignore your brain’s laughter at the idea that you might be able to contort your body into that of an acrobat and to just keep on trying them until you can.

Yet I found myself thinking about the weather instead; about how this week’s temperatures had pushed my own definition of what I can and can’t deal with.  In my brain, I think, “oh yes, I can thrive when it’s 20F or warmer outside.  I’ve done that now often enough in the decade since I’ve moved here that I’ve nearly gotten used to it.  No problem.”  20F?  Can.  When we saw the weather reports for -17F, my brain immediately said, “Panic!  Can’t.”  As a result, I was exhausted on Tuesday and Wednesday, not because the weather was so terrible (well, it was really, really awful but never mind that) but because my brain got into this exhausting panic state and put me into fight-or-flight mode.  This is not a useful reaction to have about the weather.  The weather is non-negotiable.  It’s going to happen regardless of my feelings about it.  What I did have a choice about was how much I was going to let the weather affect my spirits. I admit that I lost badly.  I can’t.  I can’t.

My eyelashes did freeze with all the tears from the wind in my face.  That’s got to count for something.

It warmed up and by Friday and Saturday I found myself able to go outside in my favorite uniform of jeans, loafers-without-socks and a cardigan.   My entire being thrilled with the warmer weather.  I got out on my scooter and left the house no fewer than three separate times, which is pretty remarkable for me on a weekend. I danced through the house, throwing open windows and pulling down Christmas decorations.  I was filled with the energy that I find so difficult to find at this time of year and it was glorious.

But I had to wonder — would I have enjoyed the 50F day on Saturday if I hadn’t experienced the -17F day on Tuesday?  Maybe, but probably not.  We learn by contrast, by comparing our experiences with those of others, but mostly with our own experiences.  There was a time where I thought a 20F degree day would be too much to survive, but it’s become normal.  I can’t turned into I can.  And every year I get a little better at still being able to function when it’s freezing outside, but this is definitely still a pretty low time of year for me.  For those of you that thrive in cold temperatures — how do you do it?  How do you keep your energy up when the landscape is bleak and the air is painful and cold?  How do you still find the energy to create?  I want to try your secrets.  I want to turn I can’t into I can.

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The Ghost of New Years Eve Past

fireworks1There are some New Years Eves that I remember distinctly. The turn of the year from 1989 into 1990 is my oldest memory. I was nearly a decade old and it was the first decade turn that I had ever experienced. I spent the evening reading on the fold-out sofa bed in the living room with my mom next to me, who was probably grading papers (she was always grading papers), but I kept glancing at the clock as it inched closer and closer to midnight.  I was finishing up the fourth book of Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet for the first time, reaching that final scene where the earth itself begins to break apart.  I don’t think there has ever been another series of books quite so influential on me as that one and I’m sure that reading that scene at that moment is why I remember that New Year so well.  There is a new generation that sees the characters of Harry Potter that way — that find themselves in Hermione or Ron or Harry — but for me, it was always Alanna of Trebond, who disguised herself as a boy so that she could go off and have adventures.  There’s a pretty close connection to what I did with my own life.  I often wonder if I would have chosen the same path if I hadn’t wanted so badly to be Alanna.

Another New Years Eve — a little over a decade later.  I can’t seem to remember any in between, though there must have been some good times.  I had just moved — or perhaps was just about to move — to New York and couldn’t have been much older than 23.  I was dating a socialite and we hopped from one party to another, all hosted by people I had never met before.  I talked to so many different kinds of people that night and was bedazzled by the New York scene, where everyone knows their focaccia from their semolina and kisses in the European style.  I am not a very touchy person, particularly with strangers, but I liked the casual intimacy.  It smacked of the sophistication that I love so much about this city — the small touches of a different culture that are there to embrace if you want to.

The next one that sticks out in infamy.  It was the first year I was dating my Beloved and he enjoyed going into Manhattan to be near the Times Square Madness.  I am not that type, so I wished him well and invited a few friends over my house instead for a quiet evening of wine and movies.  We were settling down when he showed up on my doorstep like an oversized manic elf in a striped knit hat, carrying a case of champagne and a gallon of orange juice.  Given the total party attendance of five and the six new bottles of champagne, things quickly went downhill, as the Times Square Madness transcended to my living room.  Bonds were forged through alcohol-induced illness, one maybe-not-so-good-friendship ended and my new back yard was christened after my one bathroom was taken over by an overindulger that refused to be parted from the refreshing coolness of the tile floor.  Infamy.  We emerged the next morning like gladiators that had run the gauntlet — exhausted and bruised, but triumphant.  The next summer, my Beloved installed a second bathroom.

The last one that I remember and, perhaps, the most important one of my life, involved a Spanish restaurant in Dublin, tapas, friends, a bridge, a very shiny ring and one Beloved Elf that forgot to get on one knee first.  When the fireworks went off at midnight, five hours before my East Coast, one of my new brothers hugged me and called me his new sister, which I think I will remember forever.  Then we ate white grapes in the Spanish style, quickly as we could, trying not to choke on the sweetness of the night.

Tonight we have plans that involve none of those things  — it is a fresh start, as the end of a year ought to be. I have been talked into staying in Manhattan for the New Year, relatively close to where the Times Square Madness is happening.  (Actually, somehow that didn’t occur to me until I just thought about it now…my Beloved is a trixsy elf.)  One of my Beloved’s many BFFs has a spouse that is playing a show at a bar and we’re going to join them.  Given the general madness of the transit system on New Years Eve, we’ve also treated ourselves to a hotel room within stumbling distance.  This works out well, as one of my BFFs is meeting me in the morning — a rare treat, as she moved to the West Coast a number of years back and I don’t see her often.  I can’t think of a better way to begin the new year than a day spent with one of my oldest and dearest friends.  My bag is packed for our little adventure and I find myself feeling carefree and joyous, which is the whole point, isn’t it?

To all the revelers, the nondrinkers, the stay home wine-and-movie-watchers, the people who find themselves alone on International Party Night, the workers, the bed-by-niners and those that are just drunk-people-phobic — I wish you all a beautiful New Years Evening.  It is one of the few times nearly the whole world comes together to celebrate hope – and that alone is something that is worth celebrating, no matter how you find yourself doing it.

10…9…8…7…

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Yoga: Push and Pull

I joined a yoga studio seven months ago, and I realized earlier this week that yoga has finally become a habit. I am generally not all that motivated about exercise as I have all the natural athleticism of a particularly ungraceful sloth, but yoga has managed to fit a niche for me, because it is physical practice combined with mental challenge and meditation. It is exercise for nerds.  No matter how many years I practice, I keep learning from it.

Me, thanks to fifteen years of yoga practice.
Me, thanks to fifteen years of yoga practice.

I do appreciate the physical changes in my body over the last seven months, during which I’ve committed to going to at least two yoga classes a week. I wear tiny runners shorts to class, which means that I spend an awful lot of time staring at my leg flesh, as half of a yoga class involves having your head significantly further south than it traditionally habituates. When I first started wearing these shorts, there was a lot more cellulite and lot less muscle than there is today. It’s a nice reminder that I have grown stronger, even as practice is still difficult, as I try harder and harder things.

At my studio, many of the teachers are under the mistaken impression that we’re all trying to achieve that ultimate yoga pose, the unsupported handstand.  If you’re thinking that you did handstands as a kid, you probably didn’t do them like this:

The challenge for me isn’t doing a handstand. The challenge for me has always been getting into the room in the first place. Once I’m in the room, anything I do on top of that is really just extra credit. So when I’m in a class that is trying to teach people all the preparatory motions for performing this acrobatic feat, my brain is laughing.  Acrobatics aren’t the reason I’m there.

All the same, I was raised to be polite, so when my teacher on Thursday had us take our mats to the wall and try the hops that are used to help teach a yoga student what the muscles need to feel like in order to reach yogic glory, I obediently put my hands down and hopped as instructed. I hopped again. And again and again and again, getting nowhere and not really caring, because I could die without doing an unsupported handstand and be perfectly happy.

But then I had a revelation. My hops were acheiving very little other than lowering my dignity, as I was going on the presumption that the hopping leg had to provide all the momentum. This is backwards. The hopping leg starts the movement, but it is the straight leg, the leg that appears to be doing nothing, that pulls the body upright. So as
long as I was only asking half of my body to perform the motion, I was getting nowhere. Once I engaged *both* of my legs, my hops got a lot higher.

Yoga is like that. Many of the poses seem difficult because it looks like only one thing is happening.  But yoga never has only one thing happening, because the body doesn’t move in isolation.  Plank looks as though you are holding the body up with the arms supporting your body weight.  And if you do it that way, plank is indeed horrible.  But if you remember to lean your weight back into your feet and have your legs and belly support your weight, plank becomes so much easier.  The trick is engaging the brain and remembering.

So with handstand, of course my one bent leg can’t push up the weight of my entire body! Why should it? It never has to act alone when I’m walking. As it pushes, my other leg has to pull the body upwards. And when both legs are working together, the movement flows and I stop looking so much like a demented frog and more like someone who might actually do a yogic handstand one day.

Once again yoga has smacked me in the face and reminded me of things that are obvious. If a problem is hard, it’s time to step back and approach it from another angle. If something is difficult with the resources on hand, find or develop more resources. And if you’re pushing somewhere, it almost always pays off to pull somewhere else, to make the burden easier to bear. When there is motion forward, something else has to move back. This is how balance is achieved — and nature loves balance.

I’m a writer. I should know this. People say that love is what makes the world go ’round, but I think that it is tension. It is tension that propels a story forward, it is tension that causes people to grow and it is tension that pulls and keeps us upright.  It is only when the tension is working in harmony and balance is achieved that the story is over.  And my story has a long way to go.

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The Room

On Friday night, I invited my Beloved out for dinner at our favorite Japanese restaurant, because I deeply desired sushi.  It has been a hectic few weeks and I like decompressing with a short night out over food that I don’t know how to cook.

We arrived at the restaurant, which is just a few short blocks from home, to discover that the front had changed rather dramatically — most partiularly the name. Our favorite restaurant was clearly under new management.  Upsetting, but we went inside anyway, since I was really in the mood for sushi, but quickly discovered that it had been replaced with the Asian fusion people who ruined our local good Chinese sit-down.  The food was disappointing, but it was the dining room itself that disturbed me most.

Before the restaurant had been a quiet place to go and have dinner and conversation.  The new owners replaced the peaceful green walls with orange, added a wall where before there was open space, and planted TVs around the small room.  I am not a big fan of TV in general, but I loathe them most in restaurants and bedrooms.  A restaurant is a place where I go to talk with the people I am with and escape from the outside world.  By placing TVs on the walls, the outside world is let back in.  The TV becomes a contender for all of our attention spans.  It reduces the depths of our conversations.

Today I am trying out a new coffee shop in a nearby town.  I had been a huge fan of sitting and writing at Sip This in Valley Stream, which is a twenty minute drive for me.  But they recently added TVs to their decor and the last time I went there, they had the sound on, which made it an impossible place for me to sit and write.  Today I am trying Gentle Brew in Long Beach for the first time, which is an independent shop nearly within the shadow of a Starbucks.  There are, above all, no TVs on the wall, so I am listening to people talking to each other and a musician playing Spanish guitar.  The walls are white and covered in prints of the beach.  It is restful, an escape from the world.  It is what a restaurant ought to be — a place for people to relax or connect to one another without constant visual stimulation being blasted at them.  I have a new place for sitting and writing.

Virginia Woolf rather famously wrote about how a writer needed independent finances and a room of her own in which to write.  Certainly that’s an ideal situation, if you happen to be so lucky as to be independently wealthy.  For the rest of us, it is spaces where we can write, as best we can.  Places without distraction, places where our thoughts can flow.  I am sad to lose one such place, but happy to find another.  Environment does matter.  We are so commonly overstimulated by our environments that I’m coming to value more and more the few that give me space and time.

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The Death of Personal Blogging

In 2001, I was a compulsive blog reader. At the time, the Internet had little more content than blogs, some corporate websites and the very beginnings of the information superhighway that it’s become. (Aside – what is a superhighway? Is it extra wide? Extra fast? Is it another one of those words that sound impressive and speedy and mean nothing?) I was blogging before there was blog software, but by then, Livejournal had debuted and begun to change the world. Diary-x soon followed, which I moved my blog to from the manual HTML pages I was creating. When the famous hard drive crash happened, I lost my blog, but I also lost contact with the people that I read and had befriended. We would have been surprised to call it a blog; what we were doing was journaling. We were writing in online journals, an almost direct translation of the paper kind. We, total strangers from different parts of the world, were sharing our lives in a very real and meaningful way.

This was, of course, before anyone had lost their job because of what they put online. The Internet was a more innocent place then. I’ve found myself nostalgic for that time, when personal blogs were the majority of the content. Their heyday has really passed. Facebook and MySpace did it; instead of writing long journal entries, now it is easy to microblog to a private audience, to make tiny updates of whatever passes through your mind. Twitter specializes in this and its popularity is proof that this fills a real human need. With such ease for dropping thoughts, the longer process required for putting together a coherent post seems to have slipped away for most. I’ve certainly struggled with that myself.

If the Internet has given us anything amazing out of science fiction, it is the ability to access a global knowledge base. I remember looking for a map of Scotland in 1998 and being completely unable to find one. No one had put one up yet. Now there are hundreds. It is the book nerd’s dream. But sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the price, for all the paranoia that’s come with it. There was a time when people could be brutally honest and open and anonymous, when there was so much to be learned about how people really thought about how they lived.  I can’t help but miss it every now and again.

Who do you read? Who do you recommend?

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Introversion

I know that it’s a big debate whether people are really extroverts or introverts, even though nearly everyone knows their status on the Meyers-Briggs test. But regardless of the science of it, I’ve always found the idea to be a useful designation for understanding myself. Name it what you will, but I need downtime to recharge. Serious downtime. And that downtime can be filled with all kinds of activity, as long as it doesn’t involve other people.

People love me at parties. FYI.

It’s not that I don’t like people. I do. I like nearly everyone, even people that tend to rub others the wrong way. I was the nerd that everyone picked on for too long to not have a probably unusual amount of compassion. There are not a lot of people that don’t have some good in them somewhere. And yogic philosophy helps.

But this week, I found myself hitting against that energy barrier that I think of as the Introvert Alert. I start to get unreasonably exhausted. I stop being able to concentrate. The only thing that really fixes it is time in a quiet room without people and much background noise. Today I took advantage of a massive sinus headache and worked from home, which got me situated in the lovely new kitchen and the quiet of my house. I got more accomplished today that I probably have all week long.

I do it to myself, over and over again. Work is demanding and social (and with long hours this week), and then I follow it up with a very full life. Piano lessons, writing, knitting circle, yoga classes, my family. But after sitting today in the quiet of my new kitchen, I am feeling so much better. Recharged. Energized. Ready to go out and conquer again tomorrow.

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The Game of Life

When I was little, I used to play this board game with my friends called The Game of Life.  For those not familiar with it, there’s a long wiggly track that your car shaped piece has to travel.  Along the way, you go through life’s milestones in a typically linear fashion; you graduate high school, acquire massive debt, get a college degree, find a job, get married, buy a house (more debt), have kids and retire.  (They left death out; a rather massive oversight.)  Whoever retires with the most cash wins.  Not so different from how many people think, is it?

Of course, being the sort of person who just can’t accept expectations, my strategy for the game generally was to roll the dice (well, a spinner) in such a way that I avoided college debt and getting a job entirely.  Such limitations were just not for me.  I would then careen around the board, making deals where I could, making certain that if I had to get married that it was a same-sex marriage, and avoiding having kids if possible or — if not, making sure that I had so many that they could barely fit in my car.  As a strategy, this worked out well. Unless an opponent managed to become a doctor, I nearly always won.  I was happy (and hilarious) in my Bohemian lifestyle.

Last summer I played the newest edition of the game and I discovered that they’ve now made it impossible to play with my strategy.  You cannot get out of the first section of the game without acquiring a job.  Harrumph. I lost, despite avoiding college debt and my perfectly respectable salary as a policewoman. 

I found myself thinking about The Game of Life the other morning as I was climbing out the subway steps at Wall Street, as I do five days out of seven.  This is the moment in my commute where the upcoming work day really becomes inevitable.  Being a train commuter, my brain is my own until then.  On my more motivated days, I fill it was the artistic stuff that I feel like I never have enough time to do.  I write or knit or read.  The days I write are the most satisfying; it’s what every adult in my childhood told me I should do with my life and a big part of me still feels like a failure for not having made a living from it like I was supposed to.  Shouldn’t I be published by now?  Living in a big house in the middle of nowhere with my car overflowing with kids and no nine-to-five?

And so I sighed and turned the corner, tucking my artistic side inside myself until the commute home.  I put on my business face and walked into that skyscraper, into that office filled almost exclusively with men, and I conquered.  I was good at it.  And yet…and yet, some days I wish I had taken that Bohemian lifestyle, that I had settled for less stuff and less security and insisted on doing more art. Every day feels like a fight to blend the two and some days are just more successful than others.

Perhaps, some day…

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Mother’s Day

My life, rather like most people’s (I suspect), is rather circular in nature. This feeling has been coming up on me in part with the coming of Mother’s Day in the U.S., which translates into one of the bigger marketing campaigns of the year and always throws me into a reflective mind.  My e-mail inbox has been inundated with basically every store that I’ve ever bought anything from (and there are a lot) trying to convince me that buying their stuff would make my mom happy. Only my mother is no longer in a place where material goods will do much for her — and has been for nearly five years, so this makes me rather grumpy.  My mean streak enjoys making reference of this to every cashier who tries to convince me that my mom would really like a cheap bright pink travel mug for Mother’s Day (they never knew *my* mother – obviously), but mostly I’m trying to wait out the holiday with patience.  Still, the constant references keep putting memories that I hadn’t thought of for most of the years she was alive back in my head.  Death is a funny thing.  I had mostly given up on having much of a relationship with her when she was living, which must have made me more angry than I ever let myself consciously know, because I never thought about the good times when she was alive. But now they’re mostly what I remember when I think about her now.

Most of the good memories come from my pre-teen years.  By the time I hit about thirteen, the distance between us was well established.  But there were a lot of years there where my mom was my favorite person.  I didn’t have a lot of friends as a kid, since I always seemed to stick out.  (My utter fondness for the game of Frisbee aside, I just didn’t have a lot of interests in common with kids, since they weren’t into trying to stuff every possible fact they could find into their heads.  I actually had a goal of reading every book in the library at one point…yeah. Nerd.)  We were close, but then something happened.  Maybe it was just that our basic personalities were so disparate that we probably never had a chance. 

But there were good years, years filled with Friday nights on the fold out couch eating popcorn and watching movies, years where she put the piano in my room and let me play the same songs over and over again, years where we spent hours upon hours discussing the cats and playing Tetris.  I remember stealing her ice skates from her closet and walking around on them in the apartment complex grass, wishing that I lived in a place where you could go ice skating, the way she’d grown up doing.  I used to hide in her closet and look through the photographs and put on her dresses from when we lived in Japan.  I used to pass the hours just waiting for her to come home so that we could sit and have our subpar dinner, neither of us being much in the way of cooks. Then there were the nights we spent baking things out of the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, brownies and cookies. Baking we had down.

And then there were the rest of the years, where we were strangers to each other, where I learned not to look for her company or approval.  When I was a teenager, we more or less lived as roommates (I was obviously the freeloading kind).  I was such an independent beast that when I was sixteen, I planned a trip to Scotland to go look at universities on my own, she let me set everything up and took me to the airport.  I was independent just like she was.  Once I moved out two years later, she and I would often go months without any kind of contact.  I made a lot of effort to try and include her in my life when I first moved out, but it wasn’t long before we only got together to introduce each other to our various boyfriends and respond to family emergencies.  I don’t think either of us had any idea how to have a mother-daughter relationship.  When she first died, it was tough for me to sometimes remember that she was dead, because our everyday relationship was so similar to when she was alive.  I think that with time that we probably would have worked it out; there’s nothing like raising a teenager yourself to give you perspective on your own teen years.  We just ran out of time about twenty years sooner than we should have.

Life is funny like that.  No guarantees.

This last year we’ve had the roommate that mattered from my twenties living with us.  He’s going to be moving out at the end of the month, which sweeps me back to when I decided to move to New York and left him behind.  I don’t know how conscious I was of it in my early twenties, but he was a huge part of the replacement family I formed to replace my own when it became clear that mine wasn’t going to be around.  This time he’s only going about fifteen miles away, but I am still a little sad about it all, as it’s been nice to go back to earlier days.  I think part of it is knowing that I’m not really in the carefree roommate phase of my life anymore; that I will be married, which is, I imagine, going to change everything, even though my Beloved and I have agreed that he’ll always have a place in our home if he wants it.  But it’s not us; it’s the way my friends are reacting to us.  Part of his reason for moving out is that I will no longer just be his friend – I will be someone’s *wife*.  This is a time of transition and change, even though we’ve already been operating as a family since the day the Kid showed up three years ago.  The way others treat us is going to change entirely.  Just being engaged has been a lesson in that.

Five years ago, when my mom died, I was in a period of slash and burn.  I’d ended a relationship, just finally finished off my college degree (useless, but satisfying), made the move to switch jobs and had just watched my friend that’s about to move out now move out of the apartment we were living in at the time.  Then my mom died, which turned my whole world upside down.  I started the new job, found my Beloved, bought a house and settled in.  And here we are, five years later, with nothing but change on the horizon.  It’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s just how things are.  It’s also rather deja-vu familiar.

So here’s to my mom and the other moms of the world. Happy mother’s day. I hope you didn’t end up with lots of cheap crap the commercial world tried to foist on your offspring as some way in which to thank you for all the sacrifices that you made.

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Birthday Wishes

It is my birthday this week and I will be turning thirty-two, which depending on how you look at it, is either kind of old or very young.  I’m not typically one to get very excited about birthdays, so I don’t have much planned, but I have taken the day off of work.  This is something that I’ve never done before.

I am looking forward to my day off.  I’ve been very carefully not making plans, but I suspect that I’ll spend most of the day working on some fiction that I’ve been inching out train ride by train ride.  I began writing on the train when I got my Gtab, which was why I bought it, and it has worked out very nicely.  (In fact, these words are being written somewhere between Jamaica and Penn.)  In some ways, the train is a productive way to write in that I get two hours of dedicated time per day to do it, but it’s also a distracting way, because it is only an hour at once.  Inevitably, time is lost in trying to figure out where I left off and what I’m expecting my characters to be doing, though it does lead me to spending my work day daydreaming about what’s going to happen next.  Not all ideas being equal, this frequently leads to indecision, but it’s been good to work through these struggles day after day after day.  As with everything, it’s practice, practice, practice.

Having a birthday does make one reflect on one’s life accomplishments – if you’d told my ten year old self that I’d be turning thirty-two without ever having completed a draft of a novel, I would have stomped out of the room.  If you told my thirty-one year old self that I needed to write one, she would utterly panic at the idea of trying to find the time.  From a writing perspective, I have wasted so many years in not writing, because I have let myself get busy with all the other aspects of my life.  Getting established in a career and earning my college degree while working full time didn’t leave a lot of room for imaginative fiction outside of my creative writing classes, but I don’t think my ten year old self would want to hear it.  These are all very reasonable excuses, but they point out that I am not living the sort of free life that I always imagined that writing would lead to.  After all, everyone around me told me what a talented writer I was, so clearly that was what I was meant to be.

Sometimes I wonder if the drive to keep writing just comes from that expectation that was set on me at that age.  There are so many days where the hours of the days pass without a single word being written and, yet, when the writing goes well, nothing else matters at all.  When I can reach that meditative state of writing and, even more miraculously, stay there, it all makes sense.  That’s my birthday meditation.  I have it every year.  So now that that’s out of the way, I can think about all the other birthday things.

The most glorious, of course, being that my birthday is April 25th, a day that falls in the same week as Earth Day, Pot Day, Shakespeare’s birthday and the blooming of the cherry blossoms.  It almost always rains, which would discomfit most people, but is something that I love.  Today is a gray rainy thing, which just makes me want to sit on a train with my Gtab and work on writing while looking out the window.  It is absolutely perfect, even as pools form against my kitchen floor from the truly epic amount of water that’s come down from the sky and lashes in under the back door.  Rain in the spring brings the promise of bounty and I am still enough of a pagan to appreciate that on a very visceral level.  It just makes me happy.

Spring is productivity.  It is writing.  It is watching the ocean crash in to the shore with the passion that spring storms bring.  it is watching the garden get doused with water and knowing that will make the grass grow longer and the roses bloom better.  It is the beginning of abundance, of fertility, for whatever that means to you.  So that’s my birthday wish to the world; go forth and be creative, in whatever way that means to you.  Maybe it’s scribbling the words of characters who only exist in your head.  Maybe it’s blogging about whatever your interest is.  Maybe it’s planting flowers in a garden, maybe it’s writing code.  Maybe it’s making films, or painting or dancing or just dreaming.  This is the season of promise, where everything is beginning all over again.  Then come tell me all about it, because you are my inspiration.

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