Crumpled papers

Don’t overthink.

So today I will write on my most recent affirmation, which is “Don’t overthink.”

Which means, I guess, I should end this post right now so I avoid overthinking about why I shouldn’t overthink. Perhaps like many affirmations, success is not guaranteed :).

Why this affirmation? Recently I was second guessing all of my choices as a writer, as well as questioning the wisdom of submitting my writing for publication. There are many good reasons for doubt. There is no perfect choice of what to write or where to submit. Rejection is not much fun, especially because it is often justified yet simultaneously a result of the randomness of the selection process.

Indeed, I have been on enough hiring committees to know that wonderful candidates can be passed over mostly due to the random alchemy of views and biases of the committee members, of the way one quality is sought over another, and a lot of what I might call the quirks of the moment. It is not really a logical process, though we all go through the motions of trying to be logical and fair. We try. The people who reject my writing (and there aren’t many because I don’t submit my writing often) try to make the best judgement based on the moment. It’s not them. But it’s also not necessarily me. So  I stare at this random mix of meaning and meaninglessness, and think, hmm, maybe I shouldn’t play this game?

But then I come back to this. I need to write. Every day is better if at some point I spend even a few minutes with the words. So I can’t choose what to write based on what might be published. Instead, I need to write what I need to write. Don’t overthink it. And now and then, submit into the void, remembering it’s a void. Just because I don’t know what will happen, or that there are risks within both rejection and success, doesn’t mean I should back off. I have to tap into my courage, tinged with humility. I offer my ideas, my hopes, my reflections, my jokes, and even my grief into the void. I don’t have to be in control of what happens after that.

Just write, I whisper to myself, and to anyone else who is listening. Don’t overthink.

Balloon hovering above water

Courage + Humility

Writing about my affirmations must have been helpful because I have found my way back to the words lately, spending more time revising my novel than posting on my blog. Still, I would like to continue to share some affirmations that have aided me in the past and perhaps present.

This one is not a catchphrase as much as a juxtaposition: Combine courage with humility.

Courage makes sense as a value to embrace, especially for a writer. So often, writing involves the effort to capture ideas in print only to be disappointed by how my words fall short of my vision. It can certainly be discouraging, and then the editing process involves hitting my head against flaws in my writing again and again and again and again… I can look a thousand times and still find more to fix. And that doesn’t even touch on the experience of submitting my writing for publication, which involves what feels like endless opportunities for rejection.

Courage is essential. Yet humility is essential, too. I have to keep in mind that whatever vision I bring to my work will always be partial. There will always be something I am missing, either in my understanding or in my efforts to share this understanding. Any amount of success can do more harm than good if I lose the ability to listen and watch for what I don’t know or for where I am falling short. Indeed, the more I come to know, the more I become aware of what I don’t know.

Humility is what brings the greatest insights to me, the greatest opportunities for transformation. Yet humility exists in tension with courage. Courage requires a boldness, a devil-may-care attitude that is the antithesis of humility, which suggests hesitation and observation.

Within that tension, perhaps, is the energy necessary to tackle the many obstacles inherent to writing… and living a meaningful life.

mountains

Where you’re meant to be

Yesterday I set to work editing my novel after leaving it alone for several months, other than a short research trip to study possible locations for the setting. It felt good to revisit the words, even though I know I have my work cut out for me to fix this rough first draft. Blogging about past affirmations has helped me get to this point, even though the doubts I have been experiencing didn’t have much to do with this specific book, but rather the larger project of sharing words with a world that may find good reason to criticize those words and/or me for writing them. It’s not an unreasonable fear.

Today’s affirmation is one that came to me in college when I was second-guessing all of my life’s choices, including being at that particular college. I certainly believe there are times when we need to evaluate our situation and make a change, including moving away or starting over. But this was not that kind of moment, just a more general worry that I was supposed to be doing Something Else Somewhere Else, an existential FOMO (fear of missing out) that the life I was supposed to be living was passing me by.

What helped me was listening to the Beatles’ song, “Love is all you need,” which, dear Millennials, was not my generation’s music because I am an okay Gen Xer :), thank you very much. But the Beatles are worth a listen no matter what generation you are. Love is an essential lens with which to view the world, but the line that helped me the most was this one: “There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.”

Maybe I didn’t have to question every choice. Maybe I didn’t have to have all the right answers or make all the right moves. Maybe I could find my way where I am rather than look for it somewhere else. Maybe the journeys that call to me have nothing to do with my physical location. Maybe I am meant to be here right now doing what I am doing. Maybe I will start to see why and what as I move forward.

It helped then, and it helps now. The risk of criticism and rejection is part of the writing life; whatever happens in this process may be meant to be. Criticisms and rejections can teach me something that I might need to learn, sometimes to revisit what I have written to see how to make it better or to revision what I choose to write in the future. And sometimes what I learn is to grit my teeth, dig in my heels, and write anyway.

Slow Down

Today’s affirmation arrived over a decade ago. I was attending a professional development workshop that included an optional visualization activity in which you identify an obstacle to your success. For me, the obstacle itself was unclear, but my reaction was to whisper to myself, “Slow down.”

Those words made sense to me. In order to achieve goals that matter to me, I need to slow down rather than hurry up. Not stop. Not avoid. Not hide. Keep working but accept that it takes time for the work to unfold. It reminds me of when I took art classes and the goal was to look again and again at the model to see what I was missing in my attempt to draw what was in front of me. It took hours.

I’ve heard and read similar advice in recent years for writers specifically. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard not to feel a bit sulky about this advice. I don’t want to slow down. I want to be some kind of super-writer, soaring across the pages, generating enviable daily word counts that amaze every reader. Every reader! (Ha. I had to rewrite that phrase because it reminds me of another thing that makes me sulky as a writer is the fact that I won’t be able to connect with every reader. In fact, the only way to connect with every reader is to say almost nothing, and that seems, um, pointless.)

This advice also reminds me, at least as a caution, of one of my favorite pieces of advice from Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He describes a man leaning his ladder against a wall and climbing up the ladder as fast as possible. The man appears to be moving quickly, but what good is this effort if the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall? In time management terms, you have to slow down at least long enough to find the right wall. Make sure that your efforts are leading you in the right direction.

I suppose this affirmation relates well for where I am right now. I have been taking stock of my writing and re-assessing next steps. It makes me feel restless and uprooted. I am much happier when I am in the thick of a longer writing project. The direction is set, and I can move forward, sometimes quite rapidly. Even then, though, I reach a point when the work grows unwieldy, and I have to navigate more choices and search for changes to make it better. No matter where I am in the process, I always observe other writers generating a constant flow of polished, published works while I move at what is sometimes a snail’s pace within an endless round of not-yet-finished drafts.

Our culture is not a fan of slowing down. I am a bit amused by the memes of people outraged that someone in front of them in traffic is moving more slowly than necessary. The sight of someone paying by check rather than a card seems to wound the people waiting in line at the grocery store. The assumption is that if we aren’t moving quickly, we are falling behind.

But what if the only way to do something well, to say what you mean to say, to fix a problem rather than put a band-aid on it, is to move slowly, thoughtfully, forward? Of course there will be moments when the best response is a quick response, especially in an emergency. And then there’s the siren song of procrastination, so I guess I need to remember that slowing down is not the same as NOT doing the work. It is okay to be slow. This is not a race, not if “this” is something meaningful.

Let others pelt down paths that might lead nowhere. Find your own path. Take one step forward. Another. Breathe. That one step forward is the destination, no matter how small or gradual the movement.

Fear happens.

I continue to review affirmations from my past and how they might support me in the writing life.

When I was teaching middle school long ago, I often pondered the role of fear in attempting something new or challenging. There is a slogan “Feel the fear and do it anyway” that seemed to describe that point in my life, teaching and writing, both of which included a healthy amount of fear. Fear of failure. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of looking incompetent in public. All of which I nailed, dear reader.

I don’t know where I first heard that phrase, so I googled it just now and discovered a book by that title, which I have not read. I also found an article in Psychology Today discussing pitfalls that can accompany embracing this strategy without nuance. So… let’s leave that slogan aside. I admit I did not find it the most inspiring of affirmations. I like the “Do it anyway” part. I’m all for trying new things and taking calculated risks. But focusing on my fear wasn’t always beneficial.

So looking back on it, I will rename this affirmation to “Fear happens.” It’s not great. It’s not always what we want to feel. But it is neither unusual nor insurmountable. Sure, fear happens. As a police officer in a TV show might say, “Move on. Nothing to see here.”

So when I write, perhaps I can just accept that sometimes there is reason to feel fear. Breathe. Then get back to work.

You are a rock star

Today again I want to blog about one of the affirmations that helped me in the past. I have to admit that this title is actually a G-language version of the actual affirmation.

It might help to explain that I was at a point of transition in my life, shifting from one attempted career/life path to something new that I hadn’t yet fully identified. I didn’t quite articulate it then, but one source of concern was the awareness that I was not meeting the unstated (but well-advertised) standards of success for an adult. I didn’t have a car, let alone a fancy one (I didn’t want one). I didn’t live in an exciting city (I had, but I left). I didn’t go out for cocktails each night or brunch on the weekends with a group of dynamic, articulate, sparkling friends (I had a small circle of wonderful friends, and sometimes we played cards together). When I told people the jobs I had done as well as what I was considering for the future, I received blank or confused looks. My career/life goals didn’t fit their expectations.

I spent some time reflecting on why I had done what I had done, what I valued and what I didn’t value (cars and TV-viewing are actively harming our planet, imho), and how I had taken risks that led me to new and interesting places. Instead of feeling bad about myself for not fitting into other people’s expectations of success, I started to see what was courageous and ethical about my own choices. So I realized I should tell myself every day, girl, you are a rock star.

I have to admit that I’m a bit uneasy with this affirmation right now. I am still happy with what I have done and the choices I have made, but I also know I don’t like to be the source of anyone else’s envy. Indeed, I am always reluctant to go into any kind of competitive situation with an advantage. But maybe I need to remember that this was not about my telling myself I was better than anyone else. We are all rock stars… we all get to define what rock star status is, and we do not have to accept anyone else’s definition.

If I try to lean into this affirmation to aid me in rekindling my faith in myself as a writer, well, maybe that could work. I am a rock star writer because I am bold enough to spend time writing.

Maybe. It is a struggle right now to imagine writing with confidence. Even worse, it seems to me that when I do so, I generate cliches rather than subtle insights. A lack of confidence helps me interrogate my word choices.

Then again, maybe it’s similar to the mindset of drafting versus the mindset of editing. When I write fresh drafts, I am a rock star. When I am editing, I am a rock star’s manager, rolling my eyes a bit and trying to see what we can salvage.

Either way, I am following my dreams.

Why not embrace the metaphor? I picture myself now standing on a stage, thankfully one of my own creation. I am bathed in the lights, energized by the feeling that this moment could last forever. I am lifted aloft by the words, one after another. When I write, there is nothing else I need.

Rock on.

laptop

Relaxed and happy

So one of my oldest affirmations, or perhaps, quasi-affirmation, or well, if I am honest, this was my mission statement in 1994, so I was young, and this sentence is now violating so many grammar rules that I think I will start again. Ahem. One of my oldest affirmations is “Be relaxed and happy like that woman we met in the grocery store.”

Impressive, hmm? Clear as mud. So a mission statement is a statement of what you want to be in the moment, not what you want to accomplish or possess. Around the time I was developing this mission statement, my now-husband and I ran into this woman he knew in a grocery store, and she was super relaxed and laughing as we chatted with her, and I thought, yes, that’s how I would like to be.

It wasn’t all I wanted to accomplish, but there was something admirable about not tackling every activity with a turbo charge but rather taking a breath and appreciating that which brings joy rather than focusing only on that which elicits sorrow, rage, or despair.

As I mentioned, I am revisiting my affirmations to bolster my commitment to writing, so I might explore briefly what this affirmation could mean for me as a writer. Relaxing instead of writing would not be what I want, but relaxing as I tackle my writing projects could be beneficial. What if I allow my writing to be a way to relax and smile, to celebrate the moment?

Can I make progress on anything if I am relaxed and happy as I work? Such an approach defies the Puritan work ethic. Can the act of writing be something positive and fulfilling? Can some of the issues I want to unpack be serious and consequential, at least to me, yet the work itself still allow me to be relaxed and happy? Can I be a caring, engaged part of the greater community and be relaxed and happy? At least, some of the time?

I know that my being stressed and miserable does not help anyone else, and it tends to undermine my ability to support others or create anything worthwhile. Being relaxed and happy does not mean I am not pursuing ongoing growth and improvement. Nor do I have to pretend that it is possible to be relaxed and happy all the time, nor that writing isn’t sometimes a difficult and frustrating activity. Indeed, as I think about it, what I most need is not necessarily to feel relaxed every time I write, but to relax rather than worry about what I am writing or where it is leading. Or how long it takes to get there.

typewriter

#am (almost) writing

Every now and then, I think about trying to be more consistent and predictable in my choice of topics for my blog. A day may come when I succeed, but that day is not this day.

I have been struggling with some doubt and disappointment related to my writing, not to mention skepticism about investing time and energy in the pursuit of publication. One result is that I realize how much I like this blog as a way to share my words among what feels like a supportive and small circle of readers. I like being writer, editor, and publisher on this space, including the chance to go back and edit or even delete as my thinking changes. Traditional publication is like a snapshot of a world that is always in flux, a historical artifact as soon as it is created. Blogging as a form of publication allows for movement.

So I think I will start blogging more often. At the same time, I love writing novels, so I have been journaling lately about how to recommit to this long process that may not, in the end, lead anywhere but still brings my life so much value and meaning.

One thing I have done is reviewed some affirmations that were meaningful for me over the years, and I thought it might make sense to share some of them on the blog. Some make more sense than others, so no telling where this will lead.

America on Trial

First, I want to share Adam Schiff’s closing words from January 24, 2020:

Sometimes I think about how unforgiving history can be of our conduct. We can do a lifetime’s work, draft the most wonderful legislation, help our constituents, and yet we may be remembered for none of that, but for a single decision we may be remembered, affecting the course of our country. I believe this may be one of those moments, a moment we never thought we would see, a moment when our democracy was gravely threatened and not from without but from within. Russia, too, has a constitution. It’s not a bad constitution. It’s just a meaningless one. In Russia, they have trial by telephone. They have the same ostensible rights we do to a trial. They hear evidence and witnesses. But before the verdict is rendered, the judge picks up the telephone and calls the right person to find out how it’s supposed to turn out. Trial by telephone. Is that what we have here? Trial by telephone? Someone on the other end of the phone dictating what this trial should look like. The founders gave us more than words. They gave us inspiration. They may have receded into mythology, but they inspire us still. And more than us, they inspire the rest of the world. They inspire the rest of the world. From their prison cells in Turkey, journalists look to us. From their internment camps in China, they look to us. From their cells in Egypt, those who gathered in Tahrir Square for a better life look to us. From the Philippines, those that were the victims and their families of mass extrajudicial killing. From Elgin prison, they look to us. From all over the world, they look to us. And increasingly, they don’t recognize what they see. It’s a terrible tragedy for them. It’s a worse tragedy for us because there is nowhere else for them to turn. They’re not going to turn to Russia. They’re not going to turn to China. They’re not going to turn to Europe with all of its problems. They look to us because we are still the indispensable nation. They look to us because we have a rule of law. They look to us because no one is above that law. And one of the things that separates us from those people in Elgin prison is the right to a trial. A right to a trial. Americans get a fair trial. And so I ask you, I implore you, give America a fair trial. Give America a fair trial. She’s worth it.

Schiff’s final words are searing. And troubling. I know too well how consistently we have fallen short of what is invoked when he speaks of a fair trial. Justice for all is too often merely justice for the elite. The vote has been suppressed violently, stealthily, and systematically. The structure of our Senate and the electoral college award power based on geography, not population. The brutality of this administration is staggering, but injustice and brutality are not new to our country. What is also not new is that there have been hard-fought victories that we should celebrate and simultaneously losses that exhaust our ability to grieve.

The challenge to live up to the ideals of democracy is not new to this moment. It will always be an ambitious goal that will break our hearts again and again.

In the past, though, when we failed, we could still agree on what we were trying to achieve: democracy, fairness, justice… life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, even if we disagreed on how to achieve these goals. We frequently failed to see what was missing or to include everyone. We must push for a government of the people, by the people, and for the people that actually serves and protects all of its people. Democracy and justice are actions, not outcomes, an endless journey to places we cannot yet imagine.

There are some who claim power due to the absence of perfect outcomes. They say that because promises of democracy and justice were made but not yet attained, we will promise you nothing and you must be content. Since perfect isn’t possible, you have to accept despair and cynicism.

So what is at stake in this impeachment trial is not the question “Are we democratic and just?” That will always be a work in progress.

No, it is something more chilling, dark, and desolate. The question is “Do we still aspire to be democratic and just?”

The defenders of this White House say no.

Next episode?

I rarely binge watch anything. I am more the type to stay up late to finish a good book.

But then Perry Mason showed up on one of our streaming services this winter. This was good news because my mother has lost the ability to operate her TV or to hold a conversation, so when I bring her home for a meal, it helps to find a show she enjoys.

Seems like we watched Perry Mason any chance we got over the years. The joke was that no matter how many times we watched an episode, we never remembered who did it. On the other hand, we knew the killer was usually on the witness stand in the last ten minutes of the episode.

After awhile, I got sucked in and started watching the show on my own. I enjoy mysteries in general, and these stories entertained me. Yes, I roll my eyes, often, at the stereotypes, not to mention the shocking number of affairs between boss and secretary (not Della and Perry, for the record). I also grind my teeth more than once at the sight of Perry or Paul acting as if Della needs their help to walk. In general, these episodes depict a world that never existed, but instead replicate false definitions of gender, race, sexuality, and power. All fair critiques, but I still like the stories, even the cheesiest ones, where Perry intones deep insights like a prophet.

This time, though, I realized watching was a way for me to travel through time. I seem to be climbing into the screen to stare at this city in black and white, the long angular cars, the jazzy street scenes, all depicting a Los Angeles that doesn’t seem quite as endless as what we have now. Not that I know anything about L.A., just my own corner of the world that continues to expand and shift around me.

I took my mother to the eye doctor yesterday. “Hold this over your eye,” she was asked, several times. Eventually, she did.

“Can you tell me what you see?”

No answer.

“What about now?”

Letters changed to pictures.

No response. The questions did not mean anything to her.

It will be her last trip to the eye doctor, at least for an annual check-up. You have to be able to answer questions. You have to read.

Afterwards, I felt gravity pull me down. Maybe if I am smaller. Maybe if I roll myself into a curve so I take up as little space as possible, maybe this won’t hurt so much.

Later I queued up the next episode of Perry Mason. Only five episodes left, the peril of binging. The screen is full of black, white, and gray tones, flickering, fading. There is chaos, but it is predictable. We know at some point, someone will find a body. Usually it’s the defendant, who sometimes gasps and then picks up the murder weapon. It’s hard not to hiss: What are you thinking?

But there will be a trial. Berger will be cranky, but in the end he will be grateful, mostly, that the real criminal is revealed.

There is always a light note at the end of the show. Someone died, someone else will face the death penalty, but there’s always reason to laugh.

Another episode is over, and a small box appears, inviting me to click to watch more. My mouse hovers over the _next_ button. I am running out of episodes.

Whether I click now or later, there are only a few left.