What I Learned and What Next?

I’ve spent this last month writing every day about creativity. Even when I didn’t feel like it (and I knew that would happen), I did it.

The first few days flew by in a flutter of enthusiasm and newness and then, there was the sameness, the place of not having anything new to say or retreading where I had tread before. Looking to hone my message of hope in some new-fangled way? Boring!

Then, I felt my own resentment for taking on something a little too large. And futile — what difference does my writing make any way?

How can I, someone so inconsequential, turn the axis of this country, governed today by the swamp of greed and fear, to shape the narrative into a story — my story, the country’s story — of overcoming hatred with love? Of somehow looking for and, occasionally, finding a pathway to grit. To grace. To forgiveness.

To make compassion the bottom line of life, to be open and vulnerable to others, to make community life the focus, and to let prayer be the breath of your life – that requires a willingness to tear down the countless walls that we have erected between ourselves and others in order to maintain our safe isolation. This is a lifelong and arduous spiritual battle because while tearing down walls with one hand, we build new ones with the other. After I had left the university and chosen a life in the community, I realized that, even in community, there are numerous ways to play the controlling games of individualism. Indeed, true conversion asks for a lot more than a change of place. It asks for a change of heart. – Henri J. Nouwen

I’ve drawn inspiration from the heroes who came before me.

So, this month, I’ve learned to write even when I didn’t feel like writing. To speak even when it would’ve been more judicious to stay quiet. To get quiet and listen to the still, small voice within.

I’ve learned that I don’t have to change the whole world, just myself. And if my writing moves the needle, even a fraction of an inch, towards more compassion, more self-empathy, more kindness, that’s good enough.

Still. I want more. Here are five possible next steps for next month:

More NaNoWriMo — national novel writing month. While I have loved joining this collective writing community and have done so in past years, I hesitate to produce a novel in a month from scratch. I’d love, even more, to revise past efforts at my novel-writing madness. I have many half-baked novels, wedged into the back of an overstuffed file cabinet. I’d like to unearth and revise these more than I’d like to begin something new. (And to clean out my file cabinet.) I am trying to strategize on how I can use the resources of NaNoWriMo for my own dastardly purposes. Rather than writing some new 50,000 words whole cloth, why not rework my old 50,000-word stories? I can still join the meet-ups and the timed writing opportunities, I just might not earn the badge.

More polished essays — I have a dozen, crafted essays about our political climate from my own humorous point of view to submit to places for publication. I would like to be more consistent with sending out my essays and getting them published.

More fitness — since my shoulder surgery, I’ve found I’m not as physically active as I was last spring. I really want to be more consistent with working out. Yes, citibiking to and from work is better than catching a Via, however, it’s still not enough. When I bike, I coast. When I work out at the gym or go for a long walk or short run, I get my heart rate pumping. This reminds me: support me as I undertake the 5K fundraiser for United Methodist Women. And I am probably going to run a 5K Turkey Trot in Chicago as well.

More workshops — I’ve got a little idea cooking on my back burner. A neighbor who’s taken my writing workshop literally stopped me on the street to suggest that I offer a class on writing to overcome and heal from sexual abuse, assault, and harassment. So, this is a goal for the month of November — to get this workshop on the calendar and promote it so we get a healthy enrollment. And we will all begin to heal the rape culture in which we live. I’d also like to plan some spring get-away writing workshop.

More travel — There is nothing like travel to open the mind and fill the heart.

So that’s it — continue to fill your days with creativity and hope. Believe that change for the good is always possible.

bradbury

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Find Meaning Through Writing

I write every day. I write in my journal. Facebook posts and tweets. Blog posts for SPSARV and my own blog and website. I write emails and texts. I write lesson plans and press releases. Magazine articles.

I write very fast. I try to write faster than my inner censor. In NYU grad school, my writing teacher Philip Schultz called the inner editor the “shitbird,” who sits on your shoulder and tells you it’s shit. I’ve heard her chirp. She wants me to give up, stop writing. Watch TV or scan social media. Say nothing. Good girls remain mute.

And the “shitbird” is a term from a friend of mine who killed himself. He was the most talented poet. …And he wrote me a letter saying that he could hear my encouragement, but that there was also a shitbird on his shoulder, whispering that he couldn’t write. Maybe that shitbird is the Superego. Overly cautious. – From an interview with Philip Schultz.

But the bird flew away when I blogged 31 Days of October with a community of writers. Something shifted in me. The daily sharing of my interior life made me stop and notice my world. Maybe a little of my writing was shit. But mostly, the writing was deep and brief and full of wonder and gratitude. I have a tough time with my husband’s Parkinson’s and my three teenagers and wanting everyone to be happy all the time. I want to give these kids an awesome childhood. Still, I want to remain true to myself as an artist and a lover of learning. And always, I am looking for joy. When I write about these conflicts, I find meaning.

daisies mediumMy commitment to writing in October made me a better, more effortless writer. I realized I didn’t have to write one grand oeuvre. I could write a bunch of short meaningful pieces. I don’t know what my writing life will hold in 2015. Especially as I am teaching full time for several months. But I know that my life is deepened because I am a writer. I know that my writing helps me find my purpose and cope with  challenges and joys.