1.29.2012

Daily work.

For someone as goal-oriented as myself, Art (or art) is not the easiest thing to tackle. What have I produced at the end of the day? How many words have I written? How are the chapters gathering, the outline solidifying?

I am having to learn to let go of these sorts of metrics. The truth is that I put myself in a spot for an hour or two each day and I let myself "work" on the project. That is the best I can do. Often this work involves a computer, but sometimes it involves some scratching around in a writing journal and every so often - today, for example- I pulled out a writing book called Naming the World and read through the exercises and guidance that lives there.

(Note: Today I realized that I have a hang-up about actually DOING the writing exercises. Because obviously I'm too good for writing exercises. I should be able to read the instructions and absorb the lessons without doing the work. HELLO, SELF. WHAAA?)

(Note 2: I did one of the exercises.)

The work of writing a book is maddening. It is 1.2 steps forward, 17 steps backwards and a motorboat trip sideways. I have no idea where I am most days.

I have never had more respect for the authors of the books I love. To tell a story? To make something from nothing? Geniuses, these people.

Except no, decidedly not geniuses.

Hard-workers.

1.26.2012

Stories on Stories: The Feast of Love (PLUS CRAZY NEWS)

My family vacationed on Block Island about 12 years ago. I was a sophomore in college and I remember us all feeling young. We talked about how we, the three kids, might return to the island the next year, how I'd take care of Kate and Steve by working at the island's newspaper. I remember worrying vaguely about how we'd make rent.

I was very anxious about my parents, who must have been arguing. In the haze of my memories, I remember almost no details but the vivid, twisted feeling in my gut that results from parental disagreements.

On this vacation, I bought a book that would become legend in my life: The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter. I picked it up because I am often attracted to books about love and because the cover looked calming.

I've read it at least 15 times. At last count, I had three copies on our bookshelves. I acquire copies of this book, never knowing when I might need to give one away. At used bookstores, I make my way to the Bs, looking to see if anyone has marked up a copy and left it for me to snatch up.

One of the copies, the one I am currently rereading, was with me in Paris. When I loaned it out, I asked people to underline their favorite sections and write their names and page numbers in the inside back cover. As I re-read this time, I encounter Blythe's and Corinne's and Evelyn's and Angela's notes. It is like reading with friends.

This is a book about the ways we each see our relationships from different angles. It's a smart book about love, one that allows for break-ups and divorce... but also magic and fate. I once broke up with a guy because he hated the character of Diana and said he saw nothing good in her.

I see tiny parts of myself in Diana.

This time around, I noticed the strong female characters. My favorite lines hummed as I read them. A few:

"When people are staring off into their neighborhood infinity, before they see me, what are they thinking about? That's what I'm trying to grasp. I think they're stupefied, thinking about love, mostly, how they once had it, how they got it, how they lost it, and all the people they loved or didn't love, how they ended up royally hating somebody, like, the weirdness and wetness of it."

"Every relationship has at least one really good day. What I mean is, no matter how sour things go, there's always that day. That day is always in your possession. That's the day you remember. You get old and you think: well, at least I had that day. It happened once. You think all the variables might just line up again. But they don't. Not always. I once talked to a woman who said, 'Yeah, that's the day we had an angel around."


Last weekend I started my re-read. From time to time, I've reached out to Charles Baxter on his website. He always writes back. On Sunday I sent him a new message, the first one in 5 years. I told him how much the book has meant to me. I told him there's an item on my Life List about taking him to lunch. I told him I may be in Minneapolis this spring. I asked him if I could buy him a sandwich.

And you guys? He said yes.

Looks like we're going to Minnesota. Holy, holy crap.

1.23.2012

What happens when you order a hat online and are unclear how to wear it.

You've done it before. Ordered an accessory online. It arrives, you don't know how to wear it, and Banana Republic has taken all photos of humans wearing it offline. 

We got creative.

Fashion nervous.

"You kind of look like a pirate."

Sleeping hat?

Does the seam go in the front?

Better, I think...

This man will rob you.

Or... have the wool pulled over his eyes.

French Ollie.
Oscar the Sultan. Obvs.

1.22.2012

"Don't quit. Don't quit. Don't quit. Don't quit."*

I hesitate to write about writing here. Mostly because it jinxes me. "Hey everyone, I'm writing a book!" I write, and suddenly 3 days later I stop writing a book because I am tired or sick or stressed or busy, and then I feel like an idiot.

No one wants to be the girl who cries "productive book-writer."

Nonetheless, that is what I've been doing since my birthday. Chris and I tried a new schedule last week, one that involves us getting up REALLY early and spending a little more than an hour in a cafe each morning. I write, he codes (or learns or invents or a number of other fun-sounding adjectives). Then we go to work.

For the millionth time, I relearn the lesson that to do something (anything, really), you just have to do it. There are no shortcuts. You cannot run a marathon by talking about it and you can't write a book by thinking about it. You just have to write.

I spend 10-15 minutes every single morning thinking what shit it all is. "This is terrible," I think. "I am ESL. I am not creative. No one will read this. I will never finish it. I should be doing a million other things, things that I am better at."

Finally, I give up. "OK," I say to myself. "It's terrible. But keep going anyway."

And that's where I'm at.


*Charles Baxter's advice for writers

1.14.2012

31


Also captured at 30292827 and 26.

1.12.2012

Approaching.

New Year's Eve.
I bought a blazer last night. I bought a blazer and a pair of jeans and a sweater and a dress that I'm going to wear tomorrow night for Birthday Eve drinks.

I needed to look the part of a 31-year-old.

The day we returned to NYC from Christmas, I stopped by Origins in Grand Central and bought a lipstick called Ruby Slippers. Lipstick had always, always seemed something false that old ladies got stuck on their yellowed teeth. Recently it has seemed like a great idea.

I had been thinking that my last month of being 30 was for digging my nails in. It turns out, I've been subconsciously taking steps towards 31 this whole time.

Now, instead of feeling scared of the vagueness that is 31, I feel empowered to paint it however I wish. At the end of the year, I'll think: 31 was the year I wore blazers with jeans. The year I took a gigantic step in my career and started helping to manage the company I work for. The year I reached out to older and wiser people - not only for advice, but about the ways I was becoming their peer.

For a long time I thought that the best changes were the ones you knew immediately, like a kick in the gut, like a squeeze of the heart. But I am slowly coming around to the notion that the unknown is a space  worth pausing in. I had a phone chat with a fellow Camp Mighty-er today, someone I respect a bunch. "When you're not sure," she said, "stay where you are and open your mind."

I'm still not totally sure about 31. But I'm going to stay where I am, on track for a birthday this weekend. My mind is open. I'm ready to see what this is all going to be about.

1.10.2012

Better.

Tonight when I left work I decided to walk for a while before I got in the subway. I headed down 3rd avenue, crossing busy 42nd Street, and I passed a man who dropped his glove. I noticed it out of the corner of my eye, enough to make me turn my head to see the full drop, but I was walking quickly and listening to a podcast and a few yards further when I fully realized the scene.

I didn't stop to tell him.

There had been a split second when I could have turned back, when he wouldn't have been lost in the sidewalk crowd. But I actively decided not to stop him. I'm not quite sure why.

I then spent the next 30 blocks thinking about this lack of movement on my part. I imagined how much the gloves had cost him, how disappointed he would be when he realized his loss. To tell the truth, I kind of beat myself up about it.

I felt like a bad human being. Like a bad New Yorker. And the worst part was that a part of me didn't care.

*

Yesterday I made a list in my head of all the things I could still end up being. Singer-songwriter. Doctor. Trader Joe's check-out person. Life Coach. Librarian. Director of Fun Programs at a Senior Citizen Center. Florist, farmer, writer, baker, tour guide, cross-stitcher, yoga instructor, B&B owner, actress, historian. Mom. Sommelier. Aunt. Giraffe trainer. 

The freedom to imagine that grand, sweeping changes could still occur in this life is one of my most precious needs. 

*

The part that kills me is that someone pointed out my dropped glove just last week. It was on the sidewalk outside our building when I was shuffling an iPhone, headphones, lunch bag and bag with laptop. I juggled, I dropped. And someone retrieved.

I couldn't be that person today for someone else. I had been a great many things to a great many people all day and I was a little worn out. I feel bad about it. 

But tomorrow is tomorrow and maybe I will aim to save a tiny bit of kindness for my evening. I won't spend it all during the day. I'll let it leak out in a steady stream, cautious of who and how I am when I get home. 

Tomorrow I'll do better.

1.04.2012

12 hours in NYC.

Ricardo photographs tourists while I photograph him.
One of the good things about living in New York City is that everyone passes through it at some point. My friend Ricardo emailed me last week. He had a 12 hour layover in NY on his way from Bogot‪á‬ back to Paris. TOUGH LIFE, RIGHT?

Since he arrived at JFK at 6am, I got to the office uber-early so he could come by and drop off his bag. When he arrived around 9, I gave him the bises and launched into French. How was his flight? And had it taken all this time to get to midtown?!

"J'ai travers‪é‬ le pont," he said. Immediately my mind raced. He crossed the bridge? I had visions of him walking across the Queensboro bridge from the airport. How had my directions gone so wrong?!

Turns out, he arrived, didn't want to bother me at work, and went directly to the Brooklyn Bridge to walk over it on this sunny January morning. Then he came to midtown to drop off his bag. Now this is a man who has his priorities straight!

We had lunch together in Grand Central, where his breath caught when we entered the main hall. "I remember this from movies," he whispered and I smiled. Sometimes I forget how famous New York really is.

1.02.2012

On lameness and 31.

This morning, for the first time in a while, I felt lame. Someone commented on my New Year's plans and I was caught a little off-guard; the tone had been a tad more biting than joking. Wondered if we had managed to stay awake til midnight or not.

Last night I confessed to Chris that I am avoiding the fact that I turn 31 in two weeks. Ug. Unlike other ages, this is the first time in a while that I haven't seen the possibilities for my upcoming age. What's to discern between 31 and 32 and 33 and 34? What's special about this coming year?

The midnight comment, combined with my slight resistance to turning 31, prodded the same underbelly. If you are perfectly happy wearing your new flannel shirt with jeans and Converse sneaks to dinner on New Year's Eve, does that make you lame? If you have a hard time staying awake past midnight, are you a loser?

Does settling down mean losing whatever cool factor you ever had?

On a night when 80% of the Internet was sharing photos of themselves in sequin skirts, I was happy and cozy with my partner. That doesn't make me better or cooler or less cool or lamer than anyone else out there. I guess I just had a New Year's Eve that matched where I felt I needed to be.

I want to allow myself to be the 31 that I feel I need to be. Inexperienced in some areas of my life and masterful in others. Some days proving myself and some days giving myself a break from that constant pressure. Digging deep and finding the value that I bring to whatever table I sit at - and then keeping my head up when it's not enough.

There is substance here inside this nearly-31 year old shell. There are convictions and a deep sense of self. There is an internal barometer for right and wrong and lovely and threatening and falseness and honesty. I'm proud of that.

Now I just need to learn when to tell people to go to hell.

1.01.2012

Values 2012.

Muscoot Farm, 12/24/11.
I found this exercise online last week. I'm doing some research about organization structuring at work and found this one, called Mountains and Valleys. It's built to help you figure out your core values - those of your company or those of self.

Chris and I tweaked it this weekend and I thought I'd post our version here for some of you looking to do some new thinking on this new day of 2012.

1. Identify 2 high satisfaction events of 2011. These are events that would be included in your biography, if it were written. You felt really, really satisfied when these happened.

2. Identify 2 low satisfaction events of 2011. You'd include these in your biography as well. These were events that were challenges, disappointments, set-backs or tragedies.

3. Of the high satisfaction events, ask yourself what value was present during those events? What was in the mix? What was being honored? Why and how?

4. Of the low satisfaction events, ask yourself what value was threatened or absent? Why? How?

Write 'em out. Brainstorm on a paper. Bullet them. Boil them down into a few core values that you feel particularly attached to. And then! Then think about ways you can act or opportunities you should pursue (or not) in 2012 according to those values. The Mountains and Valleys exercise does this same thing, except on a lifetime basis (not just 2011). We found it helpful to focus on the past year to plan for what's ahead.

Isn't it amazing to think back over the year and identify what worked and what didn't? And, perhaps more interestingly... why that was the case?

I'm calling this the year of the value. Values'12. Not because I'm running against Obama on a platform of values (sighhhh), but because I have a hunch that identifying values and honoring them is going to be a good recipe to feeling grounded moving forward.

PS Happy New Year! This is my favorite time of year. So much newness!