It’s been a long time again, but it’s not been laziness that’s kept me from posting here. Without exaggeration, and without unnecessary detail, I can say that my world imploded. In the space of two days the life I thought I had, vanished. In the months since, I have started from scratch. New home, new job, new friends, new future.
All of us, I’m sure, have occasionally fantasized about picking up, moving on, and starting over. If only I could go somewhere far away, we think. Then I’d be someone new. As though a change of scenery could allow us to throw off our identity like an old coat.
But as William James so memorably put it, even “The most violent revolutions in an individual’s beliefs leave most of the old order standing.” Bumping up against that realization can be pretty disheartening, especially if you’re committed to self-improvement.
According to some neuroscientists, over 95% of the thoughts we think each day are the same thoughts we had the day before. In other words, our trains of thought go mostly ‘round the same old track, clickity-clack, clickity-clack. We think in habitual patterns, turning over the same fears, the same hurts, the same if-onlys as the day before, all the while imagining ourselves to be living in the present moment.
There’s a lot I like about writing. It’s creatively satisfying, it allows me to play day long games of “What if?” and call it being “productive.” Writing lets me pretend I’m someone else so I can try on different viewpoints and new ways of living: Christmas on Mars is nothing like back on Earth! I even enjoy the challenge of mastering a craft that on many days seems hopelessly beyond my reach. And it’s good for me! Study after study after study shows how good writing is for my brain, keeping it healthy and flexible well into old age (assuming, of course, that all my other writerly bad habits don’t destroy me first).
But another thing I like about writing – and one that doesn’t get discussed so much – is that it is a powerful tool for personal development. Writing teaches me lessons about perseverance and problem solving, about tolerance and interpersonal relationships. In short, it makes me a better person.
Case in point: A few days ago I was thinking about the novel I’m currently working on and found myself getting overwhelmed by the number of themes and scenes I’m developing. Although I have an outline in place, I don’t have all the details sorted yet and holding the whole story in my head felt like an impossible task. I was trying to eat the watermelon in one bite.
Of course the only way to write a novel is word by word, beat by beat, scene by scene. If I can just remember that, then the process of writing a novel shrinks to but one small task: writing a sentence.
I quickly realized that this is not just true of writing – it’s true of many, many things in life. So often I avoid doing certain things because they are BIG and OVERWHELMING and I’m tired and would rather troll for free images on Flickr. But actually there are no big tasks, only small ones:
Last week the amazing Danika Dinsmore invited me to participate in a “blog hop.” After much consideration (.00257 seconds), I said, “Abso*****lutely! What’s a blog hop?”
A blog hop, it turns out, is a themed pass-it-along blog post. The theme for this one is Writing Process and, specifically, these three questions:
Well, gird your loins folks because here are my fascinating and informative answers.
It was a very long Monday this week. I’d been out of town for four days and had come home to a mess of work and household chores. By the time I had supper in the oven and the kids practicing their instruments, I was ready to either a) go to bed, b) get drunk, c) collapse where I was or, d) get drunk. Then I remembered I had some texts I needed to send. Sigh. The idea of coordinating my stubby thumbs with my “smart”phone was exhausting (no, my name is not Chaos Rink Jones). But then I remembered the handy voice dictation feature. Just push the microphone icon and start talking.
I prattled on, composing my thoughts while trying to remember to say “comma” and “period.” After a while I paused to see how my techretary had done. The results were spectacular. If spectacular means not even remotely close. Evidently, my hand had been over the microphone.
I was quickly getting annoyed but as I continued to read the phone’s version of what I’d said, I began laughing. This was fantastic. It was like a whole new language had been invented! Some some sentences were so comprehensively mangled I couldn’t tell what they were supposed to say. “You drunk the help of my long gone stone they have a min interval on a police vehicle thinking of us.”
Another sentence read “Lead skating listen to him so then be on a date for the bold bold for the outlets what is going to be for that is good please put it in a can.”
I most certainly will put it in a can.
I might even put it on a t-shirt.
I joined the 21st Century a few months ago and bought a smart phone. No it wasn’t peer pressure, or my Bejeweled Blitz addiction, or even a yearning to snap photos of my every meal (guess what THIS will look like in 24 hours?). I bought the phone so I could organize my life. With two hyperactive kids and a wife just starting a PhD program, I realized that the time I need to write, work, attend literary functions, hang out with my cronies, and be a somewhat functioning husband and father was about to be seriously curtailed. Coordinating schedules would be essential.
And for the first little while, the phone was pretty cool. I could access my calendars, check the Arsenal scores, the weather, the time in Vladivostok and, best of all, text the important people in my life. It was cool, it was fun, it was liberating. But then, somehow, it became annoying. Incredibly annoying.
I’ve known for ages that I am a natural introvert – as opposed to those sad posers who just want people to think they spend their waking hours brooding over life’s mysteries when in fact they’re simply pondering Jack Harkness’s bizarrely perfect teeth… Er, what was I on about? oh right. Introversion. I like space and quiet and people who tell me straight up what they’re thinking.
None of those things are compatible with texting.
Over the years I’ve had a few blogs, always written under pseudonyms. My thinking was that if I’m writing as someone else I’ll be less likely to censor myself. I’ll tell it like it is, straight from the heart. Sounds good, right? The literary equivalent of a nudist beach. The flipside, of course, is that if the writing stinks I don’t have to take responsibility for it. I can just let it all hang out and to hell with what anyone thinks. Also kind of like a nudist beach.
Of course, blogging isn’t really anything like a nudist beach. But I’m leaving it in because for some reason I’m thinking about nudist beaches and, hey, just imagine the keyword hits! (To you folks who came here looking for stuff about nudist beaches, sorry. Here’s a link to the only bum beach I know: Wreck Beach. I hear it’s good.)
The first rule of blogging is to have a theme. Cooking, for example. Or gluten free cooking – that would be better. And even better would be gluten free breakfasts for kids and fussy teenagers. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I must disappoint again, because this blog isn’t really about anything in particular. It is intentionally random. Hey look, an eagle! That said, I have forced some structure onto the blog, mostly because this theme required me to have categories, but also because these are, broadly speaking, the kind of writing I do: Figments (articles, stories, observations, shit I make up), Fragments (short articles, ideas, and even, gasp, poems) and Wanderings (travel writing mostly, but perhaps other things too). There’s also a Contact page in case you need some sage advice, want to offer me a very large publishing contract (hint, hint) or are looking for a hot date. Oh, and a gallery where, if I ever figure out how to do it, I will post collections of my eccentric photos (which, incidentally, are all by me unless otherwise credited).
So welcome to my blog. It’s the real me. Some posts will be better than others, some will inform and entertain (Did you know that the word “porcelain” is derived from the shape of a sow’s vulva?), others will simply explore things I’m interested in. I don’t promise to update daily, but I do promise to tell the truth (where appropriate) and to stay on topic as well as I can. Nudist beaches, nudist beaches, nudist beaches!