Let’s Talk About Self Care

Self care has never come naturally for me.

I’m a teacher, and I have become so accustomed to giving of myself that I don’t take some time for me, to do the things that make me feel like a real live person and not some shell of a robot going through life’s motions.

Most summers, I spend a lot of time perusing Pinterest looking for classroom ideas, new ways to teach the 5 paragraph method, or reading books that I am probably going to be teaching the next school year. Sure all of this is good stuff, but it is not self care. It is simply working from home and continuing the pattern of over-working my already exhausted self.

And this pattern needs to stop.

So, this summer, I am taking a break. I’m shelving my teacher hat that I wear 9 months of out of the year, and I am starting to take care of myself. I tweeted earlier that I can’t be a better teacher if I don’t practice self care this summer. Radical thought? No. It is a vital necessity for me to go into the next school year and be my best.

But what does self care look like?

I know everyone is different but self care for me looks like:

  • Reading the books that I have meant to read but haven’t. I have read 7 books since June, and it is amazing how wonderful it feels to read for fun. I know that there is this common misconception that English teacher get to read great literature all the time. We don’t. This is why I need to read books I want during summer break.
  • Spending time playing with my dogs.IMG_3820 They are the best dogs in the world. The End.
  • Cooking. I mean actually making food. This past week, I through together meal of leftovers and re-purposed them for a new dish, and it was amazing. I called it “Cleaning Out the Fridge” which was pretty much what happened.
  • Writing and working on that pesky I novel I want to finish soon. I have been getting some good work done on my novel this July. Sure, it won’t be finished or anywhere close to being done, but I am writing.
  • And on July 28th…my next published story comes out! I am beyond excited!

How do you practice self care?

Let’s Just Make a List of Inspirational THINGS

Let’s be honest. If I am going to waste my time on the Internet, I am probably reading some sort of list.

It doesn’t matter what kind  of list. Book lists, top 7 things every successful teacher does, 25 camping hacks that you wish you knew, and that only scratches the surface. What makes this worse is that despite the well-written explanations, I only read the numbered or bulleted things unless I want an more in-depth description of why “The Nest” is the best summer read in 2016 (I read it, loved it, and do recommend it).

So, let’s just make a list. No explanations (or super short ones) of things that inspire me.

  1. Another trip to Napa, California. Another time to feel like I wIMG_3599as in a Steinbeck novel but without the angst and dead puppies.
  2. Swinging in a hammock reading a novel.
  3. Trying to hold back laughter as I listen to a podcast on a plane.
  4. My dogs.
  5. Listening to all of The Lumineers new album “Cleopatra.”
  6. Bringing home a bottle of wine from Napa that I can’t get in North Carolina.
  7. Discovering a dive bar, Henry’s, sandwiched between two fancier restaurants.
  8. TacosIMG_3575
  9. An entire week when I didn’t get up before 7am and didn’t put on real clothes till noon.
  10. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck is surprisingly uplifting and funny.
  11. I really want to start my own podcast, but I have no idea what I would podcast about…ideas?
  12. There are more photos of my dogs than myself on my phone.
  13. Also more photos of my dogs than my husband.
  14. I have a thing for lists that can be divided by 5.
  15. The anticipation of Camp NaNoWriMo and Shark Week both start next week.

What about you? What’s on our list?

Writing Through the Fog

Writing has been my life for four years now.

I started this blog after I graduated with my Master’s because I needed an outlet–to write out what I think, believe. A verbal map of where I have been, a compass to where I am going. Many times, I write and let the blog fall silent for months. Sometimes, it goes quiet because I’m working feverishly on my fiction, or I allow others to intimidate me into writing nothing. (Note: cyber stalking your ex’s blog says more about you than your ex or his wife).

But most of the time, I am just trying to write myself through the fog. 

Where the storytelling happens
Where the storytelling happens

Two weeks ago, I took the train from Lynchburg to Baltimore to visit my aunts. I had my laptop to write, but I couldn’t. I read a novel and stared out the window as the kudzu passed by. For a writer, travel always inspires me. Going somewhere new or in this case somewhere I haven’t been in 15 years, I soaked up the good food and experiences. But nothing really inspired me to write.

Until we went to the Baltimore Museum of Art. I had been several times before, before I called myself a writer. We walked through the Cone collection first–a large eclectic display of Matisse to Picasso to Monet. But the two Monet paintings struck my writing nerve. Both of the same bridge in London except the light and the fog were different. In one painting, you notice all of the hushed blues and violets as you try to make out the outline of the bridge and factories. The fog obscures everything but the basic shapes. The second painting, the fog has cleared. Greens and light and distinct buildings appear without the fog. Staring at these paintings side-by-side, something hit me about my writing.

We have to write through the fog.

Nothing is ever clear when I sit down to write. I don’t fully know my characters or the plot, and sometimes, I use these as excuses for not writing. Albeit, writing makes me happy, so not writing isn’t the best choice. The fog can discourage us because it can be so thick around us, hiding the essential thing that we are towards, but when we show up and do the work and write through that fog–we see our work more clearly, better even.

Today, I needed to write on this blog because the fog has been more like fear and discouragement. I needed to write past my fears, past the those who want me to be silent or unhappy, past my inner editor who says my writing isn’t very good.

Now, the fog has lifted; let’s write.

On Writing and Going to the Gym

I.

I started going to the gym again. Seriously, going to the gym in April. Not the if I feel like I need to go or to satisfy some girl math so I can eat frozen yogurt or tacos. But really going to work out. I hadn’t been feeling like myself for a long time in that bloated, I don’t like how I look way. I could feel the stress everywhere on my body–the sore ache that clenches tight all of my muscles and exhausts me. So, I started going back to the gym. One Word

II.

Writing became too hard, too emotional to handle. I started a few stories then stopped, too tired to keep my ass in the chair. For awhile, I told myself that watching reruns of the Big Bang Theory would help or another episode of No Reservations. Any lie to help me believe that muse needed to be fed before I could work. Like my physical muscles, I could feel the tension in my writing muscles tightened to a chokehold. Nothing came. I wanted to write but didn’t want to actually sit down and bang words out on the laptop. But my writing self started to wither, and  I couldn’t keep up this self-medicating on television reruns. So, I started to write shitty first drafts again.

III.

For some reason, I entered a Twitter contest to win free personal training sessions or a free water bottle. I was hoping for the water bottle. But of course, I won the personal training sessions. I don’t really know if I had an ideal trainer in mind. Maybe, someone trained in yoga or pilates. Someone graceful and lithe who would help me find a workout routine that wouldn’t hurt so much and perform some type of miracle fat exorcism.

That’s not who I got. My trainer is more drill sergeant less namaste. My gym is fairly small, so I had seen him before. Several times actually. He rules over the free weight section like a king. Every so often, making his rounds, checking on the other more intense weight lifters, all those people who usually ignore those of us more casual gym goers. Those of us who run to the locker room and slink toward the back row of ellipticals, those of us who believe that if we cross too far over the line into the free weight section something bad will happen.

I assumed that we wouldn’t get along. That he was just like all the other overly athletic guys I’ve known. The kind that only talk to me if they needed help on their English homework or if I were leading the literature study group. Sometimes, it becomes too easy to construct a whole back story for someone you don’t know and judge him. Like most assumptions, I was wrong. He was nice, really nice. So, I actually enjoyed going to our personal training sessions even thought I once convinced myself I wouldn’t.

IV.

Going to a real writing conference sounded like a good idea. I had been to one writing retreat last year. A small one and loved it, but a writer’s conference felt too big, too many people, too much to take in. But Saint Anne would be speaking, and I needed to hear her. Of course, Anne Lamott could talk about anything and I would try to save my money to buy a ticket. She’s been the driving force behind my writing for a long time. When I hate what I’ve been writing, I read her book “Bird by Bird.” Always helps my writing and me become closer.

I didn’t realize how empty my creativity tank was until I went to the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids. There just wasn’t anything left to give except a few tired clichés and some whining about being exhausted. My internet friends would be there which helped me decide to go. After the first day, I started to feel the enthusiasm brewing again. My love for writing awakening from its slumber, and I could feel myself refreshed and ready to write again.

And now, a month after the conference, I’m not sure that I want to do a full recap of it. Too personal, too private as my muse and self finally got some much needed R&R. We can’t write on empty forever. Or at least, I can’t.  So, I allowed myself to be filled again in order to write.

V.

Writers tend to be superstitious. When something is going well, we keep doing it, hoping the muse will never leave or at least find us hard at work. Maybe, it is a coincidence that my writing has been so much better, richer since I started going to the gym, working out with my personal trainer. I don’t know. But what I do know is that writing and going to the gym are too similar for me. I know I need to go and I know I need to write, but I don’t. Then, I worry about it, and everything starts to unravel. For me, I have to do the work and show up. I will admit that I am never thrilled to walk through those gym doors, nor excited to stare at the blinking cursor on a blank page. But I do the work. That’s all I can do.

 

7 Things NOT to Say to a Writer

Everyone should have one friend who is a writer. writer pens

In case, you don’t have one, you may consider me your friend via the interwebs because I hate people being left out. But really, everyone needs an in real life writer-friend if for nothing else, you may be immortalized in her work.

Maybe, you are a part of the lucky few who do have real live writers for friends, and you might want to keep them as friends. Because there is nothing worse than a pissed off writer working on a zombie novel–hint, hint, your character isn’t going to make it.

Of course, I digress. 

As a writer, I have a vested interest in bridging the growing chasm between writers and non-writers, simply because non-writers have a tendency to say or ask certain things that make writers crazy.

Here are 7 things NOT to say to a writer:

  1. “I don’t really like to read much.” Well, to borrow the cliche–this puts your relationship with said writer behind the 8 ball made out of C4. I’m not sure what compels sweet, caring people to tell me, a writer, that they don’t like to read. Of course, it is always AFTER I tell them I’m a writer. Even if reading isn’t your thing(I don’t understand why not, but okay), don’t tell me. A safe way to fix this faux pas is to ask me about my writing. I always like people to ask me about my writing.
  2. “When’s your book getting published?” A fair question, but let me be clear–publishing is NOT the end goal of writing. Just like being thinner or prettier or richer won’t make you happier, being published doesn’t make a writer any happier either. Writing is the end and reward.
  3. “Hasn’t somebody already written that?” The answer is probably. In fact, we could go even say that most of the truly “original” ideas for novels, short stories, plays, etc. already exist. The whole point of writing isn’t to say something new, but to say it in a new and creative way. How many riffs of Romeo and Juliet exist? A lot. Also, that idea wasn’t even “original” with Shakespeare either.
  4. “Aren’t there enough books already?” Enough? Are there enough scarves or quilts or crafts that involve mason jars? Yet, we don’t ask people who sew or craft or scrapbook if there is ENOUGH of whatever they make. So, rule of thumb: don’t ask a writer if there are enough books out there already. Just don’t do it.
  5. “What if you run out of ideas?” This is loosely translated in any writer’s mind into: WHAT IF YOU FAIL! We writers always have that worry, the horrible specter of writer’s block hovering in the shadows, so reminding us of it doesn’t really help. For most of us, we sit our bottoms in our chairs and hit those keyboard keys until something starts clicking. Then, thank God that revision exists.
  6. “Oh, well, everyone needs a hobby.” Let me be clear–writing is not a hobby. For me, writing is my life, my obsession, what keeps  me both sane and tipping toward the chasm of insanity. A hobby suggests that I can just leave it when it isn’t fun any more or I find something better. This is not writing. Even when I’m not writing, I’m listening to how people talk, waiting for inspiration–a phrase, an image– anything, composing plot lines in my head. Writing is my life.
  7. “What if no one reads your stuff?” Of all the other 6 things not to say to a writer, this one hurts the most. All writers want someone to read their work. In fact, this writer would love nothing more than if you would subscribe to my blog and read my stuff. We worry that what we write won’t resonate with anyone besides ourselves, and what makes this hurt the most is that a friend is asking this question. If a writer shares her work with you, take a minute to read it.

What else would you add to this list? Share in the comments section.

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When to Let Go

Pull up a chair friends, it’s confession time. Pour a big mug of coffee or tea or whatever happens to be your comforting  beverage of choice. Comfy? Good…

Confession: I’m a perfectionist. One Word

There, I said it. My name is Sarah and I’m a perfectionist.

Now, you would think that being a writer and college English instructor that being a perfectionist would be helpful. Doesn’t every Freshman Comp instructor need to be able to spot a misplaced comma from a mile away? Maybe. Doesn’t a good writer hover over her words to revise, revise, revise because that’s what good writers do? Sure. On the surface, being a perfectionist is really helpful. I get things done right, the first time. No wasting energy re-doing stuff.

The problem with perfectionism isn’t the good things that I can do, but all the great things that it keeps me from doing.

Right now, I’m fighting my perfectionism. I stop, I read, I revise, I question myself. Stuck in this cycle of non-writing because I’m too damn scared to write what I want to say. Maybe, you are one of the lucky few who can just write and not over-think everything., hit publish on your blog post, and walk away. I wish I could be like you. Then, my mind replays who might read this post, what if said person is super mean and nasty and leaves horrible comments or just wants to cyberstalk my blog because said person has nothing better to do than be a cyberbully. Whew, glad I’m not brave enough to hit publish on anything super personal.

Too many times, I confuse bravery with guilt and fear.

This is when perfectionism steals away my creative powers. I stop writing cause it will never be good enough, perfect enough, for goodness sakes, not perfect. But I’m a perfectionist, a habitual over-thinker, make myself feel guilty for doing something that I really love and makes me alive because I haven’t done all the laundry/dishes/mopped the floors/ironed the clothes.

And that’s just what my mind did this morning. 

It brings up all the imperfections, my failings as a writer and creative, and puts it on repeat. All the time. I haven’t been able to turn off the “you’re not perfect and let me show you why” playlist. It’s hard. Right now, I want to delete this whole post because it isn’t focused just a stream of consciousness hot mess. I don’t have a plan for a good call to action, a nice sum up, or even how I beat perfectionism and you can too ending. I can tell you what I do know:

Really, perfectionism is just fear in nice dress.

For me, living out my One Word, Brave, has showed me how I have been living in fear. Fear of what others think of me, of my writing, of whatever the proverbial they feels judgy about…

Maybe, overcoming fear is more about choosing what is good for me in this moment. Like writing a blog post on perfectionism as my laundry needs to be folded and dishes washed and knowing ALL of it will still be there when I’m done writing.

Maybe, I need to learn simply this:

When to let go…

So the dishes are still there, but I’m writing. The laundry will still be there, but I’m creating. The guilt and fear of the imperfect are there, but maybe, I can convince to help out with the dishes and laundry. Or just learn to ignore until after I have chosen what’s best for me.

 

 

When the Morning Comes Too Soon

I usually love mornings. 

Fall mornings. Air crisp with decay. So cold you have to snuggle deeper into the blankets, wear the fuzzy socks. I smell the coffee and listen as the birds sing their last songs before flying farther South. As the only resident morning person, I like the alone, the quiet, the relaxing into my day.

Not this morning. To Autumn

After yesterday’s flurry of grading and writing and planning and doing all the things my little self could–I’ve hit that proverbial cliché wall. I feel the exhaustion running deep in my veins. I feel so tired that I could bite into it like an apple. As I look over my to-do list, I’ve crossed off one thing.Just  one thing. Hell, the list only has 5 things to do. How hard is that? I keep telling myself  while listening to that inner drill sergeant shaming me, guilting me for not being further along.

Perhaps, I’m a bit of a work-a-holic.

For this college English instructor, I’ve been on Fall Break. I had promised myself that I would catch up on all the grading, all the household chores, all the things I’ve pushed to the end of my to do list.  This long weekend, I’ve scrubbed and graded and planned out my library and packed up my books to paint the room for it. I’ve worked and worked, and of course, I wonder why I’m so freakin tired.

Slowly, I have realized that when I truly commit to anything that I hyper-focus and overwork myself. I drain every last store of energy into lesson plans or home improvement projects or writing projects. Until there is nothing left and I can’t run on fumes forever. I feel hollowed out and stretched too thin, and I know I need to disengage and recharge. But the guilt is sometimes worse than the exhaustion.

But I’m at a loss for how to relax and refuel when my mind keeps telling me that any kind of recreation is for WHEN ALL THE WORK IS DONE!

Really, it’s not. I know that I’m a better person when I have written, when I have sipped a bit of wine on the porch and watched the golden hour melt into twilight, when I have read a novel that I’m too embarrassed to admit to reading because it isn’t high brow or literary enough, when I sit down and watch TV that feeds my muse.

Maybe, you’ve got this thing all figured out, how to live balanced and centered. But I don’t. Tomorrow, I will run passionately wild and collapse from exhaustion, but today, I’m ignoring the to do list.

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When the Words Meander By: My Writing Life

I had one amazing night with my muse.

I could feel her presence leaking in from the walls, guiding the clicking of laptop keys, words stringing together into thoughts and sentences. On and on and on. I sipped my wine and tried to keep up with her dictation. Sometimes, I almost heard her whisper: “Write, write, write…turn left here, go straight then double back, and stop”  as if she were just a GPS giving directions. IMG_0434

When I punched out the last period, I felt drained, all spent into the work on the page. The muse packed up her voice, her presence, and shuffled off into the night. But I’m still here in front of the keyboard proud of the story that came so effortlessly that I had forgotten to heat up dinner or move toward the couch for reruns of The Big Bang Theory.  To be quite honest, I knew that it wouldn’t need much editing or revision. I think all writers have that “I just know it’s good” moment and “whatever you do, don’t mess it up.”

But not all of my writing comes this easily.

Three days a week, I teach freshmen college students how to write. Most of them will never pursue careers in the writing life or write another research essay after my class. But the academic system dictates that freshman composition is their rite of passage, so they sit in class attempting to learn to write.

I tell them that writing is hard work, that they will agonize over the blinking cursor not moving because they hit the inevitable writer’s block and can’t go anywhere. They don’t believe me.  I tell them that writing isn’t a formula. There’s no right way to write or get started. They don’t believe me. I tell them that writing takes practice and revision and never fully achieving perfection because something can always be written better. They don’t believe me. But I’ve seen a vision of the muse and her siren song. I have known the  magic when she visits, and together, we write out stories. It is beautiful. The magic does exist, and I promise my students that one day they too can find it in their writing.

Our magic doesn’t happen until we do the work.

I’ve spent hours with my ass in my desk chair. I’ve pounded out labored metaphors and mediocre similes. I’ve worked and worked. I’ve showed up to write when I didn’t want to, didn’t feel like it, thought everything I’ve ever written was complete and utter shit. I’ve threatened to delete everything, but I kept going, kept typing, kept writing. I don’t have a secret formula for making the magic happen. On this blog post, I’ve started and stopped, mostly to refill the coffee mug, paused and got back to work. The words didn’t flow magically. I’m okay with the words coming slowly, meandering by.

The muse will come back, and she will find me here working.

 

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Celebrating Summer’s Good Things

This is my 400th post.

Apparently, I’ve had many, many things to say in these past 3 years of blogging. Probably too much to say, but that could simply be my INFJ showing a bit.

But 400 posts? I will admit that this post gave me writer’s block for a month.

What would be so amazing and special and wonderful to celebrate 400 posts? I really had no idea which is why I waited so long to post anything because I’m super awesome at freaking myself out over something as insignificant as a number. We all know that post 401 won’t be as difficult to write. But I digress…

Today is for celebrating this summer.

Hatteras Beach

Back in May, I decided to take my writing to the next scary level–submitting for publication. I joined Duotrope and scoured the markets and sent my words into the void. And waited and waited…got lots of rejections and waited and waited (Funny, how movies on writer’s lives never really feature this part of the story). In June, it finally happened—

I got my FIRST acceptance!

Believe me, this is when life needs to have a soundtrack playing because I totally heard “We Are the Champions” in my head. My flash fiction piece “Stolen Cake” had been picked up by a great publication called Writing Tomorrow. 

(Click here to go to the current issue with my piece in it)

Even as I went back reread my piece, I still really love it because it represents hours of writing, revisions, second guessing, and just telling my OCD to take a hike. It most certain wasn’t effortless, but so worth it.

I celebrated 7 years with my very own Redneck Romeo.

Wedding

I don’t know where the years have gone. We’ve loved and endured and smiled and laughed and changed and stayed the same. But this is life, my life, and I wouldn’t ask for a different one. Maybe, another trip to Disney World. We headed to Charlotte, NC for a night and explored the downtown or uptown or whatever area near the stadiums. Poolside, fruity drinks, and a good book then fancy appetizers at WoodVine. The braised pork belly in phyllo dough plus triple creme cheese and Spanish wine equals AMAZING! Afterwards, we had Jimmy Johns because tapas will never fill up my Cuddly Bear of a husband. Another lesson learned during these 7 years.

IMG_1087

I got to hang in REAL life with my blogging friend Alise Wright.

During our brief trip to Charlotte, I met up with Alise. While we’ve done the Google Hangout thing a couple of times, countless Twitter conversations, and discussions on our respective blogs, meeting her in real life was a bazillion times better.

Alise and Sarah

We chatted about books and life and blogging and writing. This is one of the great things about the internets–so many awesome people to meet. But it is also one of the sucky parts too because Alise should totally live closer to me along with so many of my internet only for now friends.

So, tell me what you’re celebrating this summer? What kind of posts would you like to see in the next 400 posts?

Celebrating the Small

When I practice silence, I realize how often we over-emphasize the big. These days I’m more interested in the small things. IMG_0070

Epiphanies come to me slowly, in the quiet space between, when I have shut down all excess and choose to be.

I’ve called myself a writer and a poet for a long time now. Well, long in terms of how the internet measures time which means I have probably lost all relevance whatsoever. But I really don’t care. I’m writing my stories and poetry anyway.

The internet likes big victories, big announcements, big anything really, but I’ve grown tired of this constant waiting for that one BIG break to come. I’ve spent too much time on the merry-go-round of I’ll be successful, happy, excited, when… that I have forgotten all those small things that led me to where I am as a writer, a poet. The right now sort of things that sneak past us when we don’t look for them because we have our eyes fixed on a nebulous horizon.

In truth, I want to dance like the happy hippos from Fantasia about my small everyday things rather than some “maybe it might happen…” down the road.

  1. Not killing the petunias in my fancy planters…my home is usually where all plants die except for weeds. And a few rogue sage and oregano plants.
  2. Finishing two books on my 11 Read My Shelves Challenge despite one being so utterly dull I almost gave up…and didn’t.
  3. Writing each day even after receiving all those lovely form rejections…rejection comes with the writing life. Not especially my favorite part, but it makes the excitement of publication even sweeter.
  4. Asking myself–what have I done to make my writing a priority today?  Then, I do something about it.
  5. Learning to place the those little voices of doubt on the shelf and just write.
  6. Totally beasting my To-Do list each day and holding myself to daily word counts.
  7. Allowing  grace when I don’t check off everything on the To-Do list. Life happens. It will be okay.
  8. Being brave and submitting my writing for publication. My natural response is to horde my words, to hide behind my computer screen and just play at being a writer. No more.
  9. Showing up to writing class with pieces that I’m genuinely proud to say I wrote all those words, string images together like beads.
  10. Showing up to writing class with something less than amazing and still being brave enough to read it. Time spent writing isn’t wasted just not always worth pursuing further.
  11. Remembering to eat all of my meals. You would think this would go without saying, but sometimes, I forget that I need to take care of myself too.
  12. Practicing radical self-care. Write, Read, Eat, Cook. Living well despite  life’s shit factory.
  13. Ditching the drama making machine and all those who contribute. If you’re all into drama and being a royal bitch, consider this an eviction notice from my life. I have too much good, too much to do, too much to write to be bothered with petty people.
  14. Not ending my list on a 13 because I’m still a writer who is slightly superstitious  and doesn’t want to anger the fates. Or it could simply be my OCD acting up because I have an affinity for even numbers. I really don’t know…

What small victories are you celebrating today? Share in the comments.