Posts Tagged ‘life’

When life gets in the way

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

Last week I turned a revision in to my agent – hooray! But sadly, I haven’t written a word since. There’s been a big distraction in my life:

Meet Shuping. She’s forty-eight, from China, and speaks almost no English. And for the next four months, she’ll be living with us.

This isn’t the first time my husband and I have taken in an International student. In fact, we’ve been hosting them for several years through an organization called American Homestay Network. All in all, home stay hosting has been a wonderful experience. We’ve met interesting young people from all over the world who have shared meals, laughter, and even tears with us as they learn to navigate their studies in the U.S.

Living with Shuping, though, has been a bit of a challenge so far. She is a lovely person with an easygoing manner and a ready smile. She loves to laugh and is helpful in the kitchen. But the fact that she only knows a few words of English, combined with the fact that we know absolutely no Chinese, has made communication a trick. Yes, we are using translation software, but for true conversation, it’s cumbersome at best. The sentence structures of our respective languages are so different that some of the translations that come out are nothing short of hilarious.

And then there’s food. According to Shuping (or the translation software), American food is bland and hard on her digestion, so she prefers to stick with her traditional Chinese diet. In the week she’s been with us, this has involved numerous trips to the store for items she wants, lots of bottlenecks in the kitchen with she and I trying to prepare meals at the same time – and some delicious Chinese dishes which she generously shares with everyone in the household.

In short, there’s been a lot of need for adjustment on both sides. The time I would ordinarily spend writing has been taken up with ferrying Shuping to the grocery store, getting her acquainted with the neighborhood and bus routes, and – I’ll admit it – enjoying her exquisite cooking. In a way, it’s like having a new baby in the house; until she gets on her feet in this foreign country, we need to be there for her at all times.

I thrive on structure and routine, so having things so topsy-turvy has been a challenge for me. I feel guilty when I use my writing time for something other than writing, but right now I have very little choice. And in the back of my mind, I know that sometimes it’s okay – and even good – to let life get in the way of productivity. I’m trying to allow myself to embrace this new experience, knowing that when I do get back to writing, my work will be all the richer for the time I spent with Shuping.

Have you ever had to let life get in the way of your writing routine? How did you adjust?

Funeral for a Flip Phone

Monday, October 3rd, 2016


Do you know what this is? It’s called a flip phone or “clamshell,” and was used by our ancestors near the beginning of the digital age. It was also my phone of choice up until this weekend, when I finally purchased my first iPhone.

Don’t laugh. Flip phones have some things to be said for them. They fit neatly into small spaces, and they don’t provide any of the Internet-related distractions that smartphones are so famous for. As a style statement, they’re so retro that they’re almost cool. Almost.

I’ve been putting off getting a smartphone for ages, even though all of my friends and colleagues have them. Even my 80-year-old uncle swears by his iPhone.

There were many reasons that I resisted trading in this baby for a smartphone; some good, some not so good. I’m not a fan of the way so many people seem attached to their smartphones to the point of neurosis. I mean, do you really need to check incoming texts at every red light? So what if the only replies I could text on my clamshell were “yes,” “no,” or “okay?” I feared adding one more distraction to my already cluttered life.

But if I dig a little deeper, I can see that the real reason I resisted trading in (well, okay: trading up) for so long was fear of change. In some ways, I crave the new and different. I’m always looking for ways to add more excitement to my life. How many people, for example, invite a parade of international students into their homes? But when it comes to life’s more mundane routines, I cling to the familiar, even when it no longer serves me. I remember a time, quite a few years ago, when I resisted getting a laptop because it would pull me away from the comfort zone of my home computer.

Now, of course, I swear by my laptop and seldom leave home without it. And once I get used to it, I’m sure I’ll feel the same about my new iPhone 4. (I know, I know, it’s obsolete; there are much more current versions I could buy. What can I tell you? I need to ease into things.) In fact, it has changed my life already. This post represents the first time I’ve used a phone to create an image for this blog.

I guess I’m finally becoming part of the digital age. In my own, tentative way. Small steps, baby. Small steps.

Of hoodoos and galoots

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

I just got back from a long-anticipated trip to the national parks of Utah. As we planned the trip, I dreamed of hiking in sun drenched canyons and marveling at exotic rock formations. But my dreams couldn’t match the incredible beauty that we found in Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and Snow Canyon State Park.

Canyon on Fire Zion

In Zion, I felt a sense of peace I’ve seldom experienced, even though the park was crowded with people. Something about staring up and up – and UP – at those impassive stone walls assured me of a presence beyond myself, solid and stable and impervious to time.

Field of HooDoo Bryce

In Bryce Canyon, I encountered an alien world of exquisite rock formations called “hoodoos.” I could have wandered among them for days, drinking in the eerie beauty of the castles and fortresses they seemed to create. And in Snow Canyon State Park, we climbed on galoots, giant mounds of petrified sandstone that glowed pinkish-orange in the Utah sunset.

I knew this would be a fun vacation, but it turned out to be so much more than that. I came home with a new sense of myself and my life, and I realized that for a writer, or any creative person, travel is not a luxury but a necessity. You don’t have to travel far to be transported, but that transportation – that sense of being swept out of your ruts and routines, your assumptions and even your worldview, is essential. I’m well aware that not everyone can afford to travel, and I’m grateful for this opportunity I had to experience myself and my surroundings in a new way.

How will this journey affect my writing? I truly don’t know. Certainly, multitudes of story ideas raced through my head as I hiked among the hoodoos and climbed the galoots. But it’s not so much the thoughts I had during the trip that mattered; it was stepping into a different world that will allow me to come back my work with a fresh perspective.

Have you ever taken a trip that changed you? How did it affect your writing?


A word to delete

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

I’m a big believer in the power of words – not only the words we write or speak, but the words we think. And this coming year, there’s one word I’d like to delete from my vocabulary: exhausted.

I’ve noticed that even saying the word exhausted makes me feel, well, exhausted. It’s such an overdramatic word, like it’s not enough to just say that I’m a little tired. It’s also vague; it doesn’t specify whether I’m sleepy, experiencing muscle fatigue from hard physical labor or mental fatigue from too much thinking. It’s a word that dumps a big load of “poor me” onto the listener – even if the listener is inside my own head.

I heard a story on the radio the other day about a woman who works tirelessly to heal others. She said that at the end of a long day, she feels “spent.” She went on to  explain that feeling spent was a good thing – that it meant she had given everything she had to give, a fact which brought her great happiness.

So maybe I don’t need to delete the word exhausted  from my internal vocabulary. Maybe it’s just a matter of replacing it with spent. I love the idea of coming home from a long day of teaching and telling my husband that I’m spent because I gave so fully of myself. And I love the idea of feeling spent after a writing session because I’ve laid my heart and soul on the page.

It may seem like a small change to make, but I have a feeling that replacing exhausted with spent is going to make a huge perceptual shift in my energy level, my work, and my attitude in general. I’ll let you know how it goes.

What word would you like to delete from your vocabulary? What would you replace it with?

True perseverance

Monday, August 26th, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to persevere. I think that writers are encouraged to see perseverance as a linear thing, kind of like climbing to the top of a mountain. We’re constantly told that if you attend workshops, join critique groups, practice your craft, suffer through a series of rejections, attend conferences, practice some more, submit and get rejected a few more times, that finally, finally, you will arrive at the top of the mountain. You will be a published author.

View from Stan's Overlook on Rattlesnake Mountain, near North Bend, WA

View from Stan’s Overlook on Rattlesnake Mountain, near North Bend, WA

No one talks much about what will happen after that. It’s just assumed that from there you’ll go on to conquer a series of peaks: your second book, your third, maybe even a movie deal. That persevering won’t just earn you a single published book, but a writing career.

But I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes you do everything you were supposed to, and you make it to the top of the mountain, but then something happens. Maybe there’s a freak snowstorm or an equipment malfunction, or maybe you simply lose your way. Somehow, you slide back down that mountain and end up in the same valley where you started, facing the long, hard climb all over again.

I now know that this when true perseverance begins. It takes more fortitude than most people have to make the ascent once, but facing it a second time? That, my friends, is not for the faint-hearted.

As you’ve probably guessed, as well as gleaned from my earlier posts, this is the situation in which I currently find myself. And one thing this whole experience has taught me is that it’s not how you feel that counts, it’s what you do. Do I sometimes feel like it’s hopeless and I should just give up? You bet. Do I sometimes just want to forget that I ever started on this writing journey in the first place? Absolutely.

But here’s what I do: I stick to my writing schedule. At the appointed time, I power up my laptop, open up my latest document, and write. Even when it’s hard, even when it seems pointless. I post on my Facebook author page, and I keep up with my social media connections. I do this partly just to keep myself from falling apart, but mostly because no matter where I am on the journey, I’m still a writer. And writers write.

And someday, I know, I’m going to make it back to the top of that mountain.