My triathlon experience taught me many things last year, but the biggest lesson remains this: Persistence, dedication and hard work can take you anywhere. You just have to have the courage and will to keep going, no matter what perceived obstacles litter your path. The body may be limited in its physicality, but the spirit’s strength is infinite. Discipline is channeling that strength, and perseverance is believing in its power.
Even though waking up early can be a struggle, I’m glad I have somewhere to go to every morning. I’m glad that I’m needed, that people are expecting me, waiting for me, and happy to see me when I arrive.
Sure, I could opt to live a life of sleeping in. Of dreaming for just a little bit longer as I clutch my dog and smell her ears for just a little bit longer. I could opt to wake when I please, without urgency, and I could make showering optional (imagine the gallons of water I’d save).
But what kind of life would that be? A cyclical drudgery. An eventual restless wandering. Even larvae live with purpose.
We are creatures of habit. Some of us thrive on routine, some of us thrive on the thrill of not knowing what’s next (though really, nobody knows what’s next). But we are all creatures of habit. So I will make my new habit this:
To rise each morning purposefully and gratefully, a willing recipient to the day’s embrace, which is in no way owed to me. To recognize the miracle of mornings. The way they kiss my cheek each day, without fail, without judgement, never wanting anything in return save for gladness, as I flutter my eyes awake.
I’m thinking about becoming a vegetarian… possibly, maybe. I love eating chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, bison, goat, and seafood. So if I do become a vegetarian, it would be purely an act of mind over matter.
I was privileged to be raised in a household where we could afford to include these meats in our diet. And I was fortunate to have an excellent cook for a mother (from whom I draw so much of my cooking inspiration).
My mother was so good about keeping our diet balanced with plenty of vegetables, many times making veggie-only dishes for the occasional break from meat. I guess my mother was pretty fortunate too to have non-picky eaters for kids. (My brother doesn’t like onions but I’ll give him a pass…)
I’ve never questioned eating meat because… eating meat is something I’ve done all my life. I love food. How can you question something that smells and tastes so good? Besides, meat is deeply integrated in the cuisines of my heritages, so it’s a cultural experience too. Plus there are nutritional benefits.
But… now that I’ve experienced and been exposed to more of the world and lived through some pivotal years of my life, I’ve decided it’s time to reevaluate my values and ideologies on matters that I’ve always accepted as is. I think it’s good practice to reevaluate your way of life at various intervals, in an effort to live consciously. A sort of “Are you good?” “I’m good” “Okay, let’s carry on then” check-in with yourself.
The winds of life inevitably bend us, break us, or make us determined to stand our ground. So where am I determined to stand my ground? And where would I rather adapt, change, grow… based on what I know now that I may have not known before?
Deciding to become vegetarian is definitely not something I would do overnight, for a New Years resolution, or off an emotional whim. This isn’t an announcement that I’m moving in that direction (a- I’m not one for announcements and b- I have turkey chili waiting for me at home). This is merely an exercise in reflection… me sharing a topic I’ve been ruminating over recently for a number of reasons. So I welcome your thoughts… meat-eaters and non-meat-eaters alike.
More to come in an upcoming blog post.
When there is no writing,
I find myself in the middle of a road,
as alone as one feels without a phone,
night draping my shoulders — a long,
heavy cloak dragging behind my heels.
Trees so tall they morph into darkness
bulge beside me — grand, continuous
borders blocking all muses from my mind.
A half-moon follows me, casting a grey
gaze on this place of no words, and
all I see are shadows.
I miss sneaking
on my parents’ porch;
those silent moments,
anxious in bed,
waiting for family
to fall sleep.
I miss whispering
my pretend sleeping,
the soft night light,
the crack of my door,
me creeping through,
holding my breath
My bare feet
tiptoeing on carpet,
shoes dangling in hand,
mind wrapped up in plan,
passing sleeping sounds,
to the front door locked,
loud heart pound,
the echo of the key
I miss the cold
air that greets my face,
my slow motion exit, a
cigarette in a sweaty palm;
the no regret.
I miss —
alone but all right,
city lights like
my current life
staring out in wonder —
the moon’s sad face.
Before dusting this book off my shelf, the only dystopian novels I’d read were Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and the YA trilogy, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, both of which I’d enjoyed thoroughly. Though they’re both thought-provoking and impactful in their own ways, nothing compares to the chilling power that is 1984.
If you’ve ever heard the terms Big Brother, Double Think, Newspeak… these were all coined from this haunting dystopian novel written in 1949.
This book wasn’t meant to be a prophecy of the then near-future, but a warning on how our world could — or would — transform if we continue on our path of destruction and lose our humanity. If the world ceases to be a place of thought and wonder and imagination, and sinks into a dark realm in which freedom is no longer a concept understood by the masses, let alone a word in the dictionary.
And it makes sense that Orwell, whose real name was Eric Blair (George Orwell was a pen name), would write such a book. Not only was he a political essayist and novelist living during a war-torn era, he despised totalitarianism, which makes 1984 then a hyperbole of government domination. The heavy, dark tone of the book was most likely a reflection of attitudes and moods after World War II.
“It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same — everywhere, all over the world, hundreds or thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another’s existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same — people who had never learned to think but were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world.” George Orwell, 1984
This is a book that creeps up on you. It starts at the micro level and widens with each chapter, before jolting you into a wave of emotion. Orwell takes his time setting up the stage, intimately introducing us to his protagonist, Winston Smith, and the world in which he… exists.
I was disturbed, yet very much intrigued, by the eerie world that Orwell gradually reveals. From the very first line it’s clear that the world of the book is unlike ours (a great thing to note for writers; crafting time and place is not always easy). The details of Orwell’s world in the year 1984 dance right out of the page.
Orwell covers the type of food and drink that’s consumed, the clothing, the living quarters, the buildings, the streets, the expressions or lack-thereof on people’s faces, people’s mannerisms and moods, the lyrics of songs that are sung, even the language that’s used, and its direct translations. Leaving barely any specifics to the imagination, his precision serves a very keen purpose.
Towards the end I felt like I had been immersed in a nightmare, and that’s exactly what 1984 sets out to portray.
The third-person narrative follows the story of middle-aged Winston Smith. We learn about Orwell’s vision of 1984 through Smith’s eyes and internal monologues. He is our guide through this unfamiliar world that ends up resembling certain aspects of our current day: the feeling of being constantly watched, monitored, and contained — the struggle between wanting to fit in and wanting to be free from that pressure. (And indeed with each year that goes by, 1984 becomes more and more relevant.)
Orwell’s precise prose make Winston’s desires our own; his fear, distrust, and desperation we come to understand as though we were born in his world. As a writer, I appreciated this accomplishment because it’s so hard to create the circumstances by which your reader can completely understand the high stakes of a world they’ve never experienced. This begs for the book to be read again as a writer.
One of my favorite aspects of 1984 is that it tackles the essence of Truth. Orwell challenges us to question what Truth is — if it’s a figment of our own making that can be altered and erased, or an eternally rooted reality. He makes you think about how society may be brainwashing you, or striving to mold you, your thoughts and ideals, in ways you were previously unaware, simply because you perceive what’s around you as the norm. You are made to question the norm and your role in perpetuating certain perceptions.
As applied to our world today, this case in Saudi Arabia where a blogger was prosecuted for speaking his mind, for speaking out against what is deemed as definitive truth in that society, came to mind. This article too made me think about some of the concepts that Orwell dissects in his book.
“It was as though some huge force were pressing down upon you — something that penetrated inside your skull, battering against your brain, frightening you out of your beliefs, persuading you, almost, to deny the evidence of your senses.” George Orwell, 1984
1984 is a struggle between the individual and the larger entity that is government and society. It’s about power, oppression, and control — and the role technology can play in all of these. It challenges us to think about what makes us human, what can happen if we don’t live our lives, and rule our world, in accordance with those values. And it presents to us two important questions:
Can human beings lose their humanity to the point of no return?
Can we handle the enormous responsibility that comes from achieving great power, without shattering the moral compass?
In short, this is a book that stays with you. You begin to find traces of its allusions all around as you go about your day. It’s a book you could read over and over and discover new meanings and symbols each time… no wonder its significance has endured throughout the decades.
So if you’re in the mood for a fun, light read, I’d encourage you to look elsewhere. But if you’re interested in a psychological horror story, one that will analyze human thought, society, and behavior, that will nudge you into asking philosophical questions about man’s innate nature and the structure of our world, then this book will take you on a memorable ride. One that will inevitably tilt the lens through which you view the world, if only slightly.
Have you read 1984?
It’s spring on my side of the world! And the season for yard sales is here. Or is steadily approaching at least. Spring cleaning and purging is underway, and the people in my neighborhood are readying their sidewalk signs and organizing potential sale items into bins and baskets (or so I imagine). I love yard and garage sales… the treasures that can be found amidst the random rubble of years gone by. I love random. And of course, I love a bargain. As well as the feeling of reusing and re-purposing… of giving away and letting go.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve picked up from a yard sale?
My Mother’s Yard Sale
Laid out on the lawn on folding tables, all no-longer needed items are listed at a fair price. Cotton dresses with faded polka dots hang limply on hangers; the long sleeves of blouses long gone out of style wave in the breeze, sweeping through the neatly organized memories.
Brown boxes with torn corners hold stacks of used books and bent magazines. Mother’s old toaster might be of use to someone who collects simple but respectable antiques from the fifties. Buckets filled with old but sparkling silverware sit and wait, continuously
overlooked by passing faces. Kenny Rogers cassette tapes with scratched off labels border the gray surface of the yard sale tables. Shoes once squashed in the bottom of a box in a basement finally smell the outside air, the pair’s not-as-striking color desperate
to shine one last time in the sun. Wooden picture frames that once held my family’s faces stare at eyes that don’t give them much notice. My mother sits in her folding chair, sipping tea, checking off the number of items she has left to part with. I watch her from inside
the house, through the window, wondering who would possibly want a poster of David Bowie, a poster creased with folding lines. Solid-colored t-shirts flap like flags, calling to neighbors, dog walkers, anyone interested in place mats with a few unnoticeable stains.
Finding time to write is one of those struggles that really gets under my skin. It’s like there’s a tiny porcupine who lives in the slimy space between my skull and my brain who rolls around like a tumbleweed on the days that I’m not writing. This tiny porcupine causes me great discomfort as you can imagine, and the only way to make him stop rolling about like a menace is to sit myself down to write, because writing lulls him to sleep… and gives me relief.
When I think about what I’m so busy doing that keeps me from writing, a definitive answer never comes. Instead, my mind mulls over the generic I’m just so busy. And yet, we’re always going to be busy. There’s always going to be something that needs our attention right now. Do we revel in this energy of feeling needed? It’s hard to say. But I don’t want to be busy in the sense that I’m caught up in the rush of the weekday cycle, going through the motions of must-dos, and losing myself along the way.
“How’ve you been?”
“Good. Just busy.”
“Busy doing what?”
Something will always need our attention, be it work, family, personal hygiene, or the tedious chores of cleaning and laundry that — will never come to an end. When I analyze it in this way I recognize how easy it is to put writing on the back burner. And since not writing doesn’t offer any immediately visible dire consequences in the short-sighted view of our world, we continue to put it off. And our tetras game of priorities thus continues to blur our desire to write further and further into the background.
Not writing does not equal having no clothes to wear the next day. Not writing won’t cause ants to parade around your kitchen counter or flies to invade your garbage can. Not writing will not get you fired from your job (unless of course, writing is your job) — nor will it result in your kids going hungry or your dog peeing all over the floor. (At this very moment my dog puked on the couch, so I had to interrupt my writing just now to deal with that wonderful mess — seriously!)
So yes, it’s very easy to put off writing; there are so many excuses to choose from! Too many times have I been in bed at end of the day agonizing over another day of not having written, whispering to myself meekly and ever so hopefully, I’ll try again tomorrow. This cycle of busy is a death trap. It’s killed many would-be writers.
This is my warning to you.
And to myself.
The reason not writing doesn’t cause any immediate ramifications is because its effects are, well, not immediate. Not writing is the surest way to kill a writer… but it’s a slow, steady, crumbling death, peppered with phrases of procrastination, excuses, overwhelmed sighs, and denial.
Not writing is a poison IV drip — every drip representing a single day of not writing.
A recurring nightmare I have is a moment in which I admit to myself — from the deepest, most tucked away chambers of my heart — that I can’t truthfully call myself a writer anymore. I’m staring at my old, dusty, long-forgotten drafts and don’t recognize the words as my own, and suddenly at dinner parties I’m standing around with a wine glass in hand, and with that awkward dinner-party half-laugh, I recount to the semi-circle around me that I used to be a writer. And when I go home later, pop my heels off my feet, think about how I maybe should’ve stayed home to write instead of go to that party — I realize I don’t feel the tiny porcupine anymore. He dissolved into my brain a long time ago because of how numb I’d become to the treacherous feeling of not writing.
It’s a dark thought, I know. That’s why it’s a nightmare. But it’s a thought every writer struggling with time management should reflect on — if a writer is who you are and who you truly want to be. Are you dedicated enough? The title of Writer must be earned.
“Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance.” – J.K. Rowling
It’s so frustrating trying to carve out the time I need to write, like I’m trying to steal pennies from a piggy bank before somebody notices and calls my name. But the solution is truly simple. Writers write — we must write. In the same way we nourish our bodies with food and water, we must nourish the writers that we are and can fully become by making writing more of a priority in our lives.
Writing is hard; we mustn’t forget that. Not just the process of writing and what comes after, but the process of getting to the writing desk in the first place. Everything about writing is hard. And only real writers are up for the challenge — are obsessed with it. Love it regardless.
For me my solution comes down to time management. Clearly my lifestyle hasn’t been nurturing my writing routine, so I’ve begun to rise an hour earlier each day to use that extra time slot to write. Anyone who knows me will know just how much of an effort this is… I’m a night owl by nature. But I’ve decided that writing is too important to me, more important than my self-proclaimed love for the night, and that I’m willing to do anything I need to do to put writing in the forefront. Leaving it for the end of the day has kept my unfinished drafts at just that.
Because I think part of the problem is that I shouldn’t be trying to find time to write, I should be trying to make time to write. (Yes, for me at this point it’s still a matter of try, but at least I’ll be trying in the right direction.) I’ve realized I need to actively shape my schedule around writing, not just let my writing fall wherever it may.
What it boils down to is priority. You make time for what’s important to you.
Being a writer may not be a choice, but the writing life — the writing life is very much a choice. It’s a choice you have to make every day, every time you sit down to it amidst the million other things that are shouting for attention as you’re typing away.
Being a writer is not about writing when it’s convenient, it’s about making sure you’re writing no matter what — because if you don’t, you’ll live out the rest of your life feeling incomplete and resentful of everything and everyone around you. And your unwritten stories will haunt you.
Not writing may not keep your life from falling apart in the immediate sense, but it sure will cause the writer in you to die a slow and untimely death.
And I don’t want to go out like that.
What strategies do you use to maintain an active and consistent writing routine? What sacrifices or adjustments have you made in the name of writing?
It’s easy to get lost in the folds of everyday. The countdown to the weekend seems to rule our lives. It’s a vicious cycle that blurs together days and weeks and months, until you forget how old you are on your birthday, and you no longer want to celebrate.
To-do lists are endless highways, as though life were a road trip, and you stay up all night just to get to where you want to be, and by day you’re too exhausted to enjoy the views. Attempts to workout or eat right or quit that habit or say the right words or commit to that perfect routine seem to follow you like a recurring daydream (or nightmare). Then you wake up one morning and realize six months have gone by (or worse — years), and you still haven’t taken the steps to accomplish all that your heart wants to do. Your passions are hanging on a hook behind your bedroom door. I’ll get to it tomorrow, you say as you make your usual exit, walk down the path of your usual routine. Because first things first: bills need to be paid, and your boss is expecting you to be somewhere on time — on their behalf.
And all the while your dog is getting older as he waits for you on the couch each day. You are getting older. The days continue to dissolve and you continue to put off calling up that friend or family member whom you haven’t seen in ages. You don’t remember what you did last weekend because every weekend looks the same, and it doesn’t matter anyway. You seem to be constantly saving for something and constantly broke. Not because you don’t have money, but because you’re worried that like time, you’ll never get back what you spend, so you tuck it away hoping something worthwhile will come along, something that will give you a good return on investment. And you’re constantly searching for that one thing that’s certain. Because better safe than sorry, right?
When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I remember having what was probably my very first moment of clarity. I was sitting at the dining room table eating alone, looking across the room to the wall that held a round-faced clock. I remember staring at the second hand, focusing every thread of my being on its incessant ticking, its endless quest to move forward, to keep going. And for some reason, I remember feeling an immense sadness at the sudden, stark awareness that seconds were falling away from me. Falling away as I sat there on that table with a spoon in my hand, into a place I could never visit. It was the first time I realized that time is irretrievable.
We all have things that we want to do and things that we must do — sometimes those things align, sometimes they conflict. But no matter where those things fit in your life, I’ve learned that it’s important to prioritize what makes your heart catch fire. To do what makes you feel alive. Too many of us walk around drugged by coffee and obligations — utterly subdued into mindless routines that undo the threads of the heart by night and numb the passions of the soul by day.
Until you wake up and your skin is stale, and the pages of the novel you’d never written are sitting on your bedside table, yellowed by years of neglect. And your boss doesn’t exist in your life anymore, and you don’t remember how old you are, and it doesn’t matter anyway. Suddenly your life’s priorities involve getting to the bathroom before you let yourself go, and making your doctor’s appointments on time (they’re very busy so it’s important to be on time) because those shiny-eyed doctors with their sympathetic nods hold the answers to elongating your life (at least that’s what your mind has you believe) — though you’re unsure what you would do with your time if you did live longer. Because by that point, your best years are gone anyway (at least that’s what your mind has you believe). And dreams are for sissies anyway. Dreams are for street musicians and artist hippies and young inventors and college students who think they can change the world. Who are you to dream? Who are you?
I’m a writer, an aspiring fiction author, an occasional poet, a fairly new blogger, and I don’t know many others like me. I’m talking about others who share my passion for putting words together and watching them come alive. Not necessarily accomplished authors, but regular people in everyday circles who, like me, feel as desperately about writing as I do. Who understand the strange, torturous, tantalizing magnetism of the writing life.
The writing life is a struggle against the self — against silence or too much noise. One aspect that I struggle with most is self-discipline: sticking to a writing routine. Ideas are never a problem. Putting them to paper and not giving up on them once I’ve doused them with ink, that’s when I need the most encouragement. I’m fortunate to have a significant other whose support and faith in my writing never falters when I’m wading in self-doubt, but only writers truly understand the writing frames of mind — the writing life.
I went to grad school for creative writing, to really hone my craft and give myself a chance to evolve as a writer, which I did. When graduation day arrived, my heart was swollen with hope and excitement and motivation and readiness to go out there and be the writer I know I can be. Not only did the program I was in validate the fact that yes, I could sit at the writing table with other writers, it also helped me beyond measure in the accountability department. Structure and deadlines are what I need to keep me from slacking.
But as the years passed (I graduated in 2011), I began to realize that my grad program had provided me with something even more valuable: a community of writers, of other people on the same squiggly path as me. People with whom I could learn from and grow… and connect. I missed the writing workshops.
I think no matter what your field, no matter what your passion, you need to surround yourself with people who are on your similar journey. It’s not vital to your success, but it helps. Writing especially is such a solitary activity, and although our characters keep us company and our obsession with our writing topics distract us from loneliness, sometimes you just need someone to talk to about your progress or lack-thereof. Someone who understands the craft to give you feedback with a writer’s eye. I think this is especially important for aspiring authors like myself, who yes, write for themselves, but who also dream of their work being read one day, and dare I say, enjoyed. (More on this dream later.) Mentors are important no matter what your pursuit, but I’m more so talking about a community that can help you thrive. Communities provide context and nourishment.
Something interesting happened to me last year. I had finished a short story draft and was feeling rather ecstatic about it. But I needed a reader… I needed… feedback. I don’t have any writer friends, as I mentioned, but I do have reader friends. So I called the one friend I thought could give me the best critical feedback because we both share a similar appreciation for good language and literature.
I gave her my awkward little infant of a story and waited. When she finally responded, it was so interesting to see the kind of feedback she had given. I realized she had basically written a literary analysis on my story — which was wonderful to read! — but it didn’t give me specific feedback I could use to improve my draft. It certainly gave me insight into how a reader would perceive my story, which was enlightening, but there’s an art to reading as a writer — to giving feedback as writer, which I hadn’t realized completely until that moment. That’s not to say I won’t ask this friend to be my reader again; the experience simply gave me some interesting perspective.
Whether it’s an online community (WordPress bloggers, you are amazing!) or a writer’s workshop or writer’s group or just one single writing friend — writers need other writers.
We need each other because only we can understand one another. Only we can give the craft-specific feedback that non-writers aren’t as apt in giving. We need each other because writing is hard, and sometimes (a lot of times) we need to commiserate — or celebrate! — with someone who understands. We need each other because we can encourage each other in ways non-writers can’t.
Writers, after all, inspire other writers. That’s why I’m a writer to begin with. I fell in love very early on with reading, with the written words of writers. And when you have a writer friend in your life, or a group of writers, the mere fact that they’re writing is encouraging to you because you don’t want to be left behind. Their writing becomes inspiration for you to write. Their writing tells you… hey, you’re a writer too… so get to writing.
Also last year, my aunt connected me with a writer friend of hers on Facebook. She said hey, this person is a writer too, and she blogs, so I thought you two should add each other because you seem to have a lot in common. So through that virtual introduction we became virtual friends. And every time I saw this new virtual writer friend of mine share her latest blog post, it lit a flame — a small flame — but a flame, to my fingers. It inspired me to see another writer, just like me, writing. Every time she shared a new post it put up a mirror to my own journey as a writer.
Now, I know that comparison is the thief of joy. I know that the writing world is overwhelmingly competitive, that reading a peer’s marvelous work can make your confidence cripple, that jealousy is a very real thing in writing circles (there’s a whole chapter on jealousy in Anne Lamott’s wonderful book Bird by Bird), but I also know that it takes tough skin to survive the writing life, and that only great writing can inspire great writing. And hey, as ugly as it can be, jealousy is a part of life, not the end of it.
I suppose this post was inspired by the fact that I recently made a writing friend. We’ve been getting together to share each other’s works-in-progress, and holding one another accountable as a result. We both struggle with self-discipline, we’re both desperately in love with writing, and we both just needed another writer in our lives to gently nudge us with encouragement and inspiration to not give up on our many drafts.
When I gave my writer friend the same story I had given my reader friend, she said something so simple that I wanted to get up and hug her (but that would have been weird because, I mean, our friendship is still new). I have a vision to expand this story of mine into a longer work, so as we discussed where and how I could revise my draft, she said: don’t revise what you have, just keep writing; write what comes next. Don’t write backward, write forward.
But just keep writing, is what she told me. Because as a writer, she knows the struggle well. She knows that the number one rule to succeeding as a writer is to just keep writing. I have plenty of those just keep writing quotes plastered around my room and on my computer’s desktop. But the fact that it came from her, another writer, somehow made all the difference to me. Somehow fueled me with the motivation and courage that… she’s a writer, she knows… and if she can do it, I can do it too.
There are many things we need as writers. Coffee. Good conversations. Overheard conversations. Snacks. Long walks. Long nights. Plenty of books and reading time. No interruptions. Readers. The perfect writing nook or desk or pocket book. Sharpened pencils. A favorite pen. Every writer needs something different.
But for me, other writers, it seems, are what have been missing in my writing life; other writers, I’ve found, add much fuel to my writing fire. Joining WordPress and following other writer’s blogs has given me so much inspiration, as well as a platform and community.
So thank you for being a part of my journey, WordPress bloggers! You have truly helped me become better and more accountable to my blog and to my commitment to the writing life. Do you have any writer friends? Does it help you to have a writing community? Do you wish you had one? Or do you disagree with this notion? And how do you feel about receiving feedback from writers vs. non-writers?
And while I’m on the topic of community and inspiring one another, I highly recommend this fantastic blog as a resource for aspiring authors.