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 Say the Break Is Over…

Maybe, let’s say the blogging break is over…

Two years are enough time to let the Internet forget you, and that’s okay. I’ve grown tired of the platform building, whatever click bait blogs became, so let’s just forget everything that I am told will grow an online presence. Let’s chat, pour a cup of coffee or three, and not worry about selling who we are.

Hi, I’m Sarah, in case you forgot. IMG_0267

In the past two years, I have been busy. Busy is always the excuse we give. But I started a new job. I’m back in the high school classroom full-time again. Same classroom for two years soon to be three. Teaching literature and writing and every so often some grammar, and I feel like my old knack for teaching has returned. I think teaching is like a muscle, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

In the past two years, I have traveled. There was the cruise to the Bahamas. The spring break trip to Ireland with my mother, aunt, and sister. Two work related trips to Napa (who would have thought that working for a mostly rural school district that I would get to go to Napa for professional development?) and one work trip to Nashville. Camping in Asheville and Boone. Birthdays at Carolina Beach.

In the past two years, I have written. The work is slow going, but I see the progress. The poetry has suffered since I am choosing to focus on my short story collection. I have no idea when it will be done or ready for publication or even the process to get it published. But I’m working on it. And that’s the most important thing.

So, I am here and writing on the blog again. How have the last two years been for you?

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.

 

 

On Being Brave: My 2014 One Word

We’re fourteen days into 2014. rose bud

So, this post is a bit late, a poor omen to how the rest of 2014 will be, I hope not. For the past three years or so that I have been blogging, I have chosen a word, a One Word to guide my choices for the year.(Kinda like Frodo and the One Ring but without the creepy Black Riders following me around).

Last year, I chose the word–IGNITE. For parts of 2013, my word represented my choices: I remembered why I loved teaching, why I loved writing. Looking back over 2013, I see how my one word helped me back better choices like submitting my poetry and fiction for publication and attending a writer’s retreat in Michigan. I published a couple of stories, began writing a novel that I still love, overcame my fear of flying (I have a strong hatred for O’Hare), and adopted a kitten (really the kitten has nothing to do with my One Word just throwing it out there in case you wanted to know).

Even with a strong One Word showing for 2013, I didn’t plan on choosing another word for 2014. Until one chose me.

The word niggled at my brain. It found its way into my new favorite song with the title as my word. Now, my 2014 theme song. This word wouldn’t let me go. Despite wanting to focus goals and checking off boxes next to things that I accomplished, this word, this one word kept hounding until I accepted:

My One Word for 2014

Brave

Brave looks like submitting more writing, consistently putting myself out there for both acceptance and rejection.

Brave looks like being bold with my words, saying what I need and want.

Brave looks like fierce honesty coupled with compassion.

Brave looks like blogging consistently, being more open both online and in person.

Brave looks like embracing imperfection and accepting that I can’t be perfect.

So, here’s to a BRAVE 2014.

Maybe, going to Mordor with Frodo would have been a safer idea.

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.

For the Infinite Collector of Books

Somewhere on my resume, I should have the title: Infinite Collector of Books.

I really also should be in some 12 step program for this literary addiction. 

If you were to visit my home, you couldn’t help notice just how many books I have stacked and double-stacked on sagging bookshelves. I prefer the term collector rather than hoarder, but really there isn’t too much difference. IMG_1009

I set up alerts in my iPhone for the Dollar Days sale at the used book store.

I know what time the nearby Barnes and Noble closes, the aisles and genres in Ed McKay’s, and the fastest way/cheapest way to get the most out of my Amazon Prime membership.

Lest I should forget, the library located down the street from my house and the wonderous thing that is InterLibrary Loan. As if the title of poet/writer didn’t clue you on my love of the written word, let me just spell it out for you:

I’m a bibliophile, and I love books.

But even good things, like books, can turn into a wretched white elephant if we’re not careful. Because I could/always will be able to justify used books or the occasional new book, I accumlated more books faster than I could read the ones that I had already bought. See the problem? Lots of books+ More books= a reader with shelves of lovely short stories, poems, memoirs, novels–ALL UNREAD.If you follow me on GoodReads, I even created a whole shelf for books that I own, and most of them fall under the category of “to read.”

As cliche as it sounds, part of the solution is admitting that I have a problem.

But the other part of the solution is doing something about it! While it will break my heart and help my wallet, I’m giving up buying books for awhile or even checking books for myself at the library.  I need to read what I own before I parade any more writers, novelists, poets into my house to sit upon those tired shelves.

Beginning today, I’m giving myself a bit of a summer reading challenge.

I’ve selected 11 books from my own library that I will read. In order to bring any more books to my loving home, I have to finish all 11 books. Now, I’m not setting a timeline or some due date because I already have a long wish list/library list of books waiting for me. Throughout the summer, I will blog about my progress through these books. How much I love/hate/apathetic toward these books…there could also be some wailing and gnashing of teeth…

IMG_1010

The Read Your Shelves Challenge:

  1. The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
  2. Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin
  3. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
  4. Sinners Welcome: Poems by Mary Karr
  5. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  6. Ariel by Sylvia Plath
  7. The Writing Life by Annie Dilliard
  8. Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty
  9. A Year in the Life of Shakespeare by James Shapiro
  10. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  11. Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro

What books on your shelves need to be read before you get new ones? How many do you have unread?(I can neither confirm or deny that I have A LOT)

Where Fear Has No Home

I thought I knew how to come and go as I pleased.

To load up the car, drive the tree-lined drive to two lane roads toward the behemoth interstates. I don’t. Or at least didn’ until I forced myself to do so this Memorial Day weekend. In March, I bought my ticket to a writing retreat in which I knew only the other attendees by their avatars on Twitter, years of blog posts, and that awkward moment when I friended a few of them on Facebook and hoped that they accepted. They did. IMG_0134

For three months, I scrolled through the #RRforWriters tweets and mapped out travel plans from the safety of my desk surrounded by all of crazy but comforting knick-knacks(doesn’t every writer have a Jane Austen action figure with a mini-poseable Shakespeare kneeling at her feet?).

But then the day before I was to fly out of RDU toward Michigan, I felt the old panic rising upward, fear tingling away whispering this was a bad idea. I’m an introvert. I’m fairly certain if Dante wrote about the circles of Hell for introverts meeting new people that one has only known through the internet would be in there somewhere. My mind grasped for excuses to stay where I was comfortable. Where I could be safely at home.

Home on five acres surrounded by pine trees, towering dead oaks, and blackberry vines. Where I can click the red circle on my browser to get rid of unnecessary blogger drama, to escape to my porch where I notoriously overwater my petunias, to tend my herbs–sage, thyme, lavender, rosemary. Where I feel both trapped and secure, where I have the power to keep all who’ve hurt me away.

Sometimes, we confuse what is supposedly stable, safe, and secure with what lurks beneath in the shadows. Our fear. 

Perhaps, fear doesn’t always look like the bogeyman under our beds. For me, fear wears Sunday dress clothes and carries a Bible, sits in the pew next to me, and waits until I offend to unleash its fury. These emotional scars came from those who claim to love the same Jesus I do, and yet, there are such deep hurts that I’m not sure will ever fully heal. Being around other believers causes me to panic, but the only I way I know to deal with this terror is to silence myself, push others far away. I’ve spent years bouncing from church to church, stayed seated when the old panic bubbled up, kept other believers far away so I could lick my wounds. Now, emotional callouses, hard and numb.

Fear took away my ability to be in community with other believers because I let it.

But I signed up for a Christian writing retreat anyway. Out of sheer bravery, doubtful.  Over-confidence in my own abilities, more likely. How hard could it be to sip some wine, talk about writing, meander about during free time writing poetry, endure the spirituality portion? Again, I tried to keep other believers at distance, walls built up from years of brick laying, plaster the everything’s okay smile on, no one would know the difference. Except for the Holy Spirit. And probably, everyone there.

During Vespers, we sat in silence. Sometimes, we stared at the flicking of the candle flame. In the silence, I felt these simple words–love, peace, and seen. While I had never been to Michigan before or this retreat center, this place became a new kind of home. Where I was loved, where I was seen, where I could break down the emotional walls for a much needed period of rest.