Chapter 1: A Memoir

Ten months ago, I wrote this pretentious somewhat overwrought blurb for the book that I was going to write. Ten months later, I have a draft with some reasonable heft, and nine chapters. So here goes.

The first assignment of this little writing group I joined was to write an author bio and the blurb for our book. The author bio wasn’t that hard because I’ve had to do that from time to time for the jobby job.

Author Bio, yo.

Alyson Indrunas is an Executive Director at Lumen Learning, an educational technology company based in Portland, Oregon. She holds an M.A. in English Studies and an M.Ed. from Western Washington University. Her scholarly interests are in educational technology, professional development, open education, instructional design, and leadership. When she’s not traveling to speak about affordable courseware, she volunteers to inspire girls and women to get into mountain bike and cyclocross racing. She lives in Bellingham, Washington.

Okay, none of that shizz has really change except for the travel part. I mean, before we started using phrases like “social distancing” and “vectors” on a daily basis, I had already stopped travelling for a living. In fact, before the economy broke and life as we know it, I was going to celebrate the joy of not travelling for work for the first time in over a decade. Everything else is the same. Although the bike advocacy is also paused. And I don’t really live in Bellingham since I don’t leave my ski chalet because I’m sheltering in place. But you know what I mean.

What about the blurb? Hee hee. So cute. Here it is!

Using the framework of a backpacker’s Ten Essentials, Alyson Indrunas explores the inner-landscape of self-discovery in this coming-of-age memoir. She discovered back-packing and hiking as a young adult, and found herself on the trail. Readers who are interested in the joys of backpacking will learn from her life’s mistakes on and off the trail. Using the advice of the Mountaineer’s Ten Essentials, she crafts a story about being a self-contained unit on the trail while trying to live without a map. Written for both avid backpackers and memoir fans alike, Don’t Tell Your Grandmother You’re Living In The Woods: A Memoir guides readers cairn-by-cairn through one woman’s self-discovery of finding her purpose.

Okay, so the only thing that’s different is the title. I’m not sure what the title is, but it’s not the one I made up in my blurbage. The assignment was to also address where your book might sell and who your audience might be, and let me tell you, I am just not sure.

Today I’m going with the title: What The Shoulders Can Bear: A Backpacker’s Memoir and I published chapter one on Medium.

I don’t want to start another blog, and I don’t want to post it here. I joined Medium for some MOOC-like thing awhile back, so I decided to fire it back up. Why not? It’s kind of a weird (wait for it) medium because almost every article starts with a number or the word How. Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover. How I Learn To Love The Bomb, etc. Ten Ways To Ask Yourself: Am I An Alcoholic? How To Be More Productive On A Dog Walk. That kind of thing. (LOL!) But I do love the cleanness of it. I changed the ol’ mugshot and the author bio, and it’s on. Woohoo!

So check it out if you like. Let me know what you think. What sucks? What did I miss? Where are the holes in the story? What left you wanting more? What did you like?

I’m sure there are edits–both conceptual and technical–that I still need to make, and I’m not 100% sure if there is an arc with the appropriate tension, but I loved writing this story. I loved revising it. Everything about the process, I loved. Including clicking publish here.

I’ll publish Chapter 2 next Saturday. Or as time feels right now, five years from today.

I wish you health and happiness, readers. Stay home and get creative. It helps.

Posted in What The Shoulders Can Bear, Writing The Thing | Tagged | Leave a comment

At Capacity With Words

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no room for fear, we speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. ~Toni Morrison

For some reason, I’m feeling incredibly motivated to write ALL THE THINGS. I’ve been working on a tiny project at work that I’m going to finish today, and this weekend I’m going to return to my book. I haven’t had the headspace to return to those words since I watched The Orange Halfwit snark about my governor. Feels like 100 years ago, but it was really just three weeks.

I’m not hopping on the braggy train that I’m so productive here, but I do see this writing of mine as a coping mechanism. I’m having a hard time focusing just like everyone else, and I’ve never felt so exhausted.

Last night during a volunteer meeting, I just didn’t have anything left in the tank. I’m pretty sure I sounded bitchier than I intended, and I know for sure, I looked terrible on the screen. I excused myself early because all I wanted to do was go to sleep, and you know, it was like 7:50pm. We got the things done that I needed to participate in, but I realize now more than ever, I’m at capacity. I need to shed a few things in my personal life to make the space for my work (as in my job that I’m so grateful for), my writing, and my little family. I don’t want to leave anyone hanging, but I’ve been walking–no slack-lining–with a very full glass trying to keep all the liquid from spilling over for quite some time. This feeling of being at capacity–I simply can’t do it anymore.

At capacity.

This phrase we hear so much right now. When I looked it up, this was the definition I needed:

Capacity: an individual’s mental or physical ability APTITUDESKILL

When we combine this word with the preposition “at”–we’re given a location. A place. When you combine the two, you’re at a location of an individual’s mental or physical ability. At capacity. I’m at capacity. And I have been this way for quite some time.

So I’m going to dial it back. At least for the next three days or until I can control what is happening in my life. So much is unknown. Uncertain. Undecided.

At capacity is still a location yet to be seen.

Here are a few solutions that I’m going to work with today and this weekend. First, I’m going to take Queen Toni M’s advice in the epigraph above. Note that she says civilizations in the plural sense. There are many civilizations to heal right now, but I can only work on this little one right now, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to write, I’m going to finish a baby blanket for a friend, and I’m going to write a little publishing plan for my book. I’m going support my Mister with his little project of creating the Perfect Pain Cave (our indoor cycling studio) and his guitar lessons.

I might change my mind, but this morning, while it’s quiet, here’s my plan.

I’m going to publish a chapter of my book each Saturday. I’ll invite folks to comment, I’ll block trolls, and I’ll give myself a little goal to share what I have so far. My little backpacker book is in the developmental edit phase as they say in the business of crafting words. Technically, I need somebody else to help me, but I also feel this need to publish it in some way. So that’s what I’m gonna do. Each Sunday-Friday, I’ll edit it. Saturday morning, I’ll polish and click publish by noon.

When This is all said and done, I’ll try to the book proposal route, but for now, this is the capacity that I have for this book. This is the capacity that I have for these words. I need to click publish and move on to my next book.

Wanna hear a sentence I wrote in 2009 that clangs like a one-ton bell for me, right now? Wanna hear the thing I’m ready to return to? What I feel like I have the capacity for after all these years. What I want to write about next?

Here’s The Thing:

My work journal 2009. PFD is professional faculty development, or pretty fucking dope. Which also works and really makes me laugh. Either way, that’s what’s next. What I’m no longer putting on hold.

Posted in AmWriting, Le Livre PFD | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ending The Remote Work Day While The World Changes and Changes and Changes

The culture depends on the sensitivity of a few, because nothing can be healed if it’s not sensed first. ~Glennon Doyle

Yesterday I spent some energy trying to help a few people because I’m still employed. The inner-service worker in me who likes to tip well feels the pain of many right now. I ordered books from a bookstore and the owner of the store delivered them to my house. I paid for housecleaning that I’ll never use from a writer friend who has suddenly lost her income while people shelter in place. People are living with the reality of no longer being considered “an essential service.” Her tears of gratitude were almost too much for me to bare. I ordered lunch from a restaurant and told them to donate the food to somebody or keep the money. My company’s leadership has been so generous to us that I feel compelled to share what I can.

After work yesterday, my dog scratched at the garage door while I tried a new yoga app, who is offering their courses for free. A gesture by many businesses that will win my business forever if I like the product. Target tho? You’re dead to me. I mean, didn’t we watch the captains of industry tell us they were united with their customers? Such bullshit as they all took turns shaking hands. No words.

Back to my pupper. My little guy woke up from a nap and couldn’t find me. As I tried to do Warrior pose (shit, I’ve lost some flexibility, very alarming), I could hear him sniffing at the door, so I walked over and let him in. He likes my yoga mat, so he laid down on it. Dog down. So I paused the class and I laid on the floor with my little elderly dog. I laid there petting him. We breathed together.

Also during the work hours yesterday, I waved from my office window at my elderly neighbor as she walked to get her mail. My friends sent me funny things from the internet, and my coworkers continued to slay me with their thoughts and Interwebz funnies. I helped write a letter to my mayor and the city council. I stared out the window at a trail I no longer feel is safe to walk because it’s not six feet wide. I learned that somebody I know has a father who has tested positive. I exchanged hilarious jokes with my nurse friend whom I have recently reconnected with after almost a year of not talking. We were once fierce friends. Sisters.

These days are strange yet oddly the same for me. I’m lucky and grateful.

Life indeed goes on even when things are terrifying, unknown, and constantly changing. My Mister reminded me that we’re not built to be in constant fight-or-flight, so it’s no wonder I’m so tired. That I don’t feel that great. And I have to work on forgiving the people who went to bars, the beach, and to the safe illusion that this is life and spring break as usual. That there are assholes in the world who thought a “Corona Party” was a good idea. My anger at them does me no good. My rage at the monstrously inept president who cares more about the stock market and his Twitter statistics than human lives does me no good. My frustration with educators who want to split hairs about whether we are teaching “online” or “remote” or “whatever academic term here” feels meaningless. But they’re academics, and that’s what academics like to do. They name and define things. So I’ve limited my Twitter exposure to twenty minutes a day. It’s helping.

We’re in a crisis moment. This is a crisis where everyone retreats to what is comfortable and safe to take a break from the fight-or-flight. All you can do is your best.

So I’ll do the same here. I’ll give a bit more advice about working from home. A few of you shared that it was helpful to you.

So here goes.

One Hot Tip of Something to Avoid: Don’t fall into “I’ll Just Do X Real Quick” in between meetings. Believe me, it can be so tempting to do dishes, laundry, cut the grass, whatever in between work meetings and deadlines. It can feel good to multi-task, but really what you’re doing is taxing your work brain more than you need to right now. The thing is, you can’t do those things “real quick” and they eat up time in your day. Save those for the after-work-hours. Your before work hours are booked, right? I talked about this in my last post. Again, for those of you with children, I don’t have advice, but I do know many people are struggling with this new reality of the workplace. 

One Hot Tip of Something Nice: Put something on your desk that makes you happy. I bought this little Buddha during a time when I leading faculty through an LMS transition which is like a vacation compared to this new reality we’re living. Good times! I stared at this Buddha when faculty called with their Strong Opinions About Canvas and during acute times of their stress. I like this fat little Buddha. And that’s a tiny purple flower from my yard that the deer didn’t eat. Those bastards. And that Ikea light just hits a nice glow at the corner of my desk.

Create a little work nest shrine.

attribution c’est moi

Question: “How do you separate the end of the workday when you’re at home all day? How do you stop working?”

Most people have a commute that services this space, and that time which provides a buffer between your work life and home life. That space is suddenly gone. And for many of you who are also faced with homeschooling your children while your spouse is at home as well, that space has evaporated and collapsed. I may not have good advice for parents here, but I can address the worker in you. And may all the gods–old and new–bless you.

Here’s how you end the day: Create a ritual.

Something you do at the end of each day to signify that you’re ending work and you’re transitioning to your home life. Which is like every hour these days, but if you’ve gotten dressed for work you can make the transition from hard pants to soft pants as my friend Andrea likes to say. (That always makes me laugh, by the way). Maybe you’re treating yourself by working in soft pants all day, so that’s cool, but do change something you’re wearing. Mr. Rogers had it right. You need a small way to tell your body: Work is done.

Write a short note to yourself: Write what you accomplished, what you need to do tomorrow, and write a list of things you want to accomplish this week. Everyday.

Check your calendar for the next day while you do this, so you can be realistic. One of my colleagues shared that she uses a little white board to make a list. Some people use post-it notes. I use a work journal and I write by hand. There are more digital tools that you can shake a stick at, so you do you, but find something and do it everyday. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes and it shouldn’t feel like work. And you should feel completely okay if you don’t meet any of those goals. This is small-scale change management. Very local.

Move Your Body: Go for a walk, exercise, move. Put some music on and dance. I like to play this song when it’s time to feed my dog. Maybe take a pause and watch this lovely moment of beautiful men in beautiful places. Why not? My dog knows this song means food and treats! Fuck yes!

It might be super tempting to hop into happy hour or start making dinner, but I recommend moving your body in some way first. Then do happy hour and the dinner. Do yoga with your cat. Walk your dog. Try a meditation class. Do something. Clean your bathtub. Run the vacuum. Something for at least 30 minutes. A friend of mine introduced her son to some 90s hiphop and recorded him dancing and then shared it on Instagram. Legend. Be silly with somebody you love. You have to move your body to process all the feelings that are just too much right now. This I know because I failed at this last week.

When To Call It:  Many of you have been on a strict 8-5 schedule for years, and you’re now entering into the world of Flex-time, which I’ve had most of my career. Welcome! It’s amazing, on the one hand, because you can be flexible (see what I did) with how you spend your hours. It’s awful, on the other hand, because you can work all the time. All the time.

And believe me, I know this space. I am the Queen of Work All The Time Land. Especially in moments of trauma, work can be a solace. These are not normal times, so don’t fall into this comfort zone of being productive. Take a moment to connect with a friend. Call them. Post fun photos of times that were merrier in your life. Do something creative.

But you have to call it. You have to call it, friend. You have to call it.

Do you know this reference?

If not, you need to watch No Country for Old Men. And there you go, you have a movie recommendation for tonight too. Ah, but if you want a real treat, read the book first.

Let me leave you with a bit of Cormac McCarthy genius:

I think sometimes people would rather have a bad answer about things than no answer at all.

Posted in All The Things | 2 Comments

Birthday Wishes

Today is my husband’s 50th birthday, and like many of you, we are mourning our big plans. He’s not a let’s-have-a-big-party-kind-of-guy, but we do like small gatherings of people. We like restaurants and coffee shops. We love libraries and bookstores. I had purchased tickets to go see Supercross at Qwest Field in Seattle because he loves dirt bikes, and I love the pure spectacle of hanging out with people who are so different from me. We always play a game to find the drunkest girl and guy at Supercross. We play “Who’s not gonna make it to see the 450 Main?” It’s a blast. I usually find my winner in the ladies bathroom during the last chance qualifier.

I love singing the national anthem and singing “God Bless America” with people I have nothing in common with once a year. I know all the words to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” and the first Supercross where I belted out those lyrics, my Mister looked at me like I had turned into a new person, “How the actual fuck do you know that song?” he asked.

I lived in Georgia for nine years, y’all! I replied in my Southern Girl accent.

I was going to celebrate Seattle, a city I love, because I like to see the good in things. I love a good time. I can hold contradictions. I can hold complicated truths. I can forgive most horrifying things, but this president of mine, I will never forgive. And all the monsters who cling to the evil. And all of the people who are not taking this seriously.

But. Not. This. Now.

One more thing about Supercross.

I once went to Supercross race after an educational leadership workshop where we talked about “Body Wisdom,” authentic assessments, and embodied knowledge. I made a strategic plan to scale faculty professional development system-wide that would be openly-licensed. Two hours later I was howling with the Monster Girls wearing leather mini-skirts aiming flame throwers at the crowd. Wooohoooo!

What can I say? I love a good contradiction. The yin and the yang that make/made this life interesting. This life that has gotten so complicated because of people in leadership who have endangered people’s lives because of political parties, corruption, greed, and ignorance. When David Bowie sang about being afraid of Americans, I had no idea how fearful I could become until now.

But let’s pause from all this. My cup of rage, anxiety, and sadness overfloweths, so let me sip from a little flute of bubbly happiness. Fizzy pop style since I broke up with champagne.

A big birthday is here. For my best friend!

What am I going to do while we shelter-in-place?

I’m going to bake him a cake, put on my wedding dress, and I’m going to read him this list below. I’m going to do my hair (for the first time in two weeks), put on jewelry, and get a little fucking fancy with some bracelets that I don’t wear that often. Put on some bitching shoes because that’s make The Gurl. And I’m going make his fucking special day happy, bitches.

A friend of mine who just celebrated her anniversary and the Persian New Year put on her wedding dress and made a cake for her husband in Morocco. Inspiration and connection that I witnessed via Instagram. She celebrated her fiftieth birthday a few years ago by going on a trip to Morocco and landed a musician love, and he has a smile that makes me think I’d love him. I hope to dance with Idris someday.

I’m going to share the fifty things I love about my Mister because it made me laugh to type this up.

And maybe you need a laugh.

These little bits of humor feel a bit like violins on the Titanic, but I need to find the life rafts. I need hope.

So I’m going to laugh. And I am going to write. And I’m going to have fun wearing that special little black dress.

Here goes.

1. I love that you read books that are way more complicated than the ones I read these days, and that you know more about modern day Feminisms than I do because it all exhausts me. I gave up on Theory with a capital T years ago, and I love it when you say, “What would Baudrillard say?

2. I love the way you say, at least once a day, everyday, “Does the Pope shit in the woods?” when I ask if you want a coffee or more mustard on your sandwich or if you have laundry that I can add to my load or if you want to go on a dog walk (before this).

3. I love the way you say I’m going on adventures and that you’re going walk the Earth when I ask what you’re up to today. So you decided to be a bum? is the reply I’m going to start using. We’ll spice it up.

4. I love that you have written most of my best sentences and titles, and that you always see my success as our success.

5. I love that you helped me see that I really needed to stop drinking by telling me that you loved me and that you were worried about my health. You were so patient with me for so long, friend. [We’ll cheers a glass of fizzy water here].

6. I love how you always one up me with dirty jokes. Always. Your back of the house restaurant humor always slays me. To this day. There have been many times you’ve had to explain some things which makes you laugh harder.

7. I love how you’ll relay all the horrors of America from the things you read online, in academic journals, and blogs. And that you never know most of the Interwebz humor that I swim in each day. I’m the meme-by-the-moment-laptop living with the slow-contemplative-typewriter.

8. I love all your stories of being a young punk rocker where one of your friends spray painted “Eat The Rich” on the Memorial Bridge that spans the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. You asked me to marry you in the park just below this bridge because you knew it would always be there. That place. Prescott Park. Nobody is going to tear it down to build a Starbucks.

Your memoir of that era is something we’ll all need After This. After This. And I want you to write it. I can’t be the only person who knows the story of you talking to a detention officer about your “Suicidal Tendencies.” Other people need to hear how you went to your room, got an album, and tried to show the Reagan Era Tough Love Talker, that it was just a band. Just a band. You were drawing the logo of the band not crying for help.

9. I love how your taste in music is on point, and how you always make fun of mine. And I love our stereo in our dream van. It’s what we’ve always dreamed and loud as fuck. Maybe we can go to the driveway later and sit in it for awhile. Hot date!

10. I love how you handled our trip to see our parents this spring. It was not an easy trip for you to see your family, and en route to see mine, you got to witness my fear of cockroaches as we sat along the Savannah River. Holyshit, you said, you were right. I felt seen at that moment, as the kiddies say. Cockroaches are big part of why I live in northern climates.

11. I love that we debated over the lyrics of “London Calling” for hours while camping off the grid, and two days later, when I had forgotten all about it, you did research and pointed out that we were both right. You cited where in the song you were right, and where I had it right.

12. I love how you handled the DNFs that cost you the CX series overall this past season. Really bad luck, man. Just shitty luck. You’re so unlucky in some ways, but really lucky with finding a great woman, amirite? [I’ll say hashtag-humble-brag and he won’t know what the hell I’m talking about here.]

13. I love how you say dirty inside jokes or heckle the crap out of me while I’m racing cyclocross. More than a few women, who don’t me or you, have said, “What was that guy’s deal?” To which, I have to reply, “Oh, him? That’s my husband.” The race where you cheered at me by yelling “Go Sporty Nuts” was most confusing for a few women. That was a quote that sent us over the edge where we had to stop the movie because we were laughing so hard. Mediocre movie with a brilliant quote.

14. I love how you taught me to mountain bike. Like really mountain bike. Not the double-track, gravel road to single track stuff I knew before you. You’ve probably spent two full months of your life standing and waiting for me to catch up to you. Hours.

15. I love that you encouraged me to race and find lady friends who ride bikes. I was super-intimated by those women, and you kept saying, “Every woman I’ve ever know who rides wants to meet more women who rip.” Yes. You were right. So right. Yes.

16. I love that you were totally down with me as a prospect for the future when I was driving a car with a steak knife as the turn signal handle on my steering wheel. The handle had broken off, and I didn’t have a screw driver or money to fix it, so I used a steak knife that I bought at the Goodwill. It worked! You saw me driving that piece of shit car, and you were like, “Her. Yep. That’s the one.”

17. You didn’t laugh at me when I asked you what kind of bike you were riding on one of our first dates. “Cyclocross,” you said, and you explained how it was different than a road bike. One month later, we drove to Gregg’s Bike Shop in Greenlake to purchase my first road bike.

18. You thought it was a great idea to hide the fact that I was living with you from your landlord to save us $100 a month to pay for that road bike.

19. I love the way you say, “Goddamn, Jimmy! This is some serious gourmet shit.” and you remind me that you would have been fine with some Taster’s Choice every time I make us lattes.

20. I love how you adore dirt bikes, dirt bike racing, and that entire culture. At the race in Washougal, WA when some dude gave me beer for hiking up Horsepower Hill, you were like “Hell yeah! That’s my woman!” when most men might have been jealous and weird.

21. I love how you’ve taught me words like “Fucko” and “Fuckstick” and “Fuckenay” and “Wicked Pissah.” And that you always remind me that you aren’t a Mainer because you weren’t born there. I’m so glad we were born on the same side of tracks, but whoa, your story was so much harder than mine. So much harder.

22. I love how you consistently point out that I don’t know the difference between tires and wheels. When I say, who really gives a shit, you say, “Words mean things.”

22. I love how forgiving you were when my former boss didn’t hire you back as an adjunct when I quit my administrator job. You were an online teacher, for fuck’s sake, and she didn’t even ask you if you wanted/needed to work from Vermont. She just let you go. Without an email. Nothing. Ah, higher education, but I won’t pick that scab right now. I love you for the way you handled it. I would not have been so gracious.

23. I love how you’re always game to go out to restaurants where “somebody else can cook our food and wash our dishes.” Let’s go! (I wish.) And you always pay the tip in cash in solidarity.

24. I love how you always moan like Homer Simpson when certain foods appear on TV and movies. At home. Never at the theatre.

25. I love how you just finished your dissertation. All these years. You’re almost there. Just one more draft? So much is unknown there, but you can look that 18 year old version of yourself and say that you did it. A week before everything fell apart with the world and life as we know it, you had the focus.

26. I love that you always gun it for the holeshot with style and grace. Snappy muscles. Twitch pedal effort for that first turn. It terrifies me every time, but it’s awesome when you get it.

27. I love you for always asking if “I’m upset about the assholes on Twitter again.” And how you never quite seem to understand but you remind me that I’m getting shit done while they write about it. It helps.

28. I love how you aren’t much of a phone talker, but when I travelled for work and I got homesick, I’d call and ask, “What are you up to?” and you’d say, “Well me and The Cheese (our dog) are Bro-ing down before the hookers get here with the cocaine. Gonna be a long night.”

29. I love how pleased  you are with yourself when you post something political on Instagram. It’s your art. 

30. I love that you once came home from teaching, and reported that a student asked you this question about your weekend of snowboarding at Mt. Baker: “Did you totally charge the gnar, Mr. Barr?” That Snowbetty gave us a phrase that we’ve used for over a decade. 

31. I love that you taught me to snowboard at Whistler. That we both love Beautiful British Columbia.

32. I love that you have said, more than a few times, while we were snowboarding, “I didn’t expect that cliff to be such a drop. I was in the air longer than I anticipated.” You know totally normal.

33. I love that you call me Brah. 

34. I love that you call my parents B & B and that my mom writes that on cards now. 

35. I love how you can remind me to dial back my forked tongue and pessimism by purring “Duuuuuude” while simultaneously making your eyes huge. Very effective targeted feedback, as we say at my gig.

36. I love how you remind me at least quarterly that “ever since I found educational technology my commitment to the cinema has been questionable at best.” I’ll commit to more movie watching now.

37. I love how you bond with one of my best friends about The Manson Family. And truly, “No sense makes sense” now. And that we agree that Jeremy Davies made the most convincing menacing Charlie for the screen.

38. I love how when I’ve struggled with my job, you’ve been quick to say, “The life of an Instructional Designer is always intense.” And then we usually divert into talking about the Repo Man. I never get sick of it. I’m sad you’re allergic to shrimp, so you know, we can’t eat a plate shrimp together.

39 I love that you call our dog Brah too.

40. I love how you consistently make fun of me when I read fantasy books by asking me if “there is a working class wizard in it.” You are one of the few people that I know who is not a Harry Potter fan.

41. I love how you deal with the shit I hate to do in our household, and when I say thank you, it’s always an opportunity to remind me that I would’ve half-assed it anyway, so you might as well have done it right. Very true.

42. I love how you spend hours. I mean hours upon hours working on bikes. I have lost count how many bikes you’ve built over the years, and it’s really your yoga. A bike mechanic is about to become an essential skill. Truly fucking extraordinary times these days.

43. I love how you you yell “Weak!” when I don’t ride something. When we’re mountain biking there is usually some random person has said to me on various mountains, “I can’t believe how fast he rode that.” 

44. I love that when I finally met some of your childhood friends they confirmed your stories. Stephan, in particular, looked me in the eye and said, “Scott was just fearless in a way. He just rode shit that the rest of us thought was crazy.”

45. To quote Jay Z, you wuz who you wuz bfore you got here. My favorite example of remixing, this Danger Mouse. And I loved the day we discovered this record on Capital Hill in Seattle. 100 years ago, it’ seems.

Okay, the last five are just for us.

And I hope these stories made you laugh. I put some links if you didn’t get my references. Some are generational. Some are region-specific. Some may be inappropriate, but damn, that was fun to write. I recommend you do the same. I mean, maybe not the part about rocking your wedding dress, but taking the time to tell somebody why you love them. People are facing extraordinary stress and pressures.

I wish something special for you at your house, and please, stay the fuck home. Even if your dots are as big as the dots where I live, stay home until we know more. Start organizing locally if that’s a skillset. I’ve put some helpful links in my Twitter Bio, but I’m leaving Twitter for a bit. I’m also deleting my Facebook account, so connect with me on other channels. I’m easy to find.

I want to celebrate 51 with a group of friends. And don’t worry, he won’t see this before I read it. He doesn’t read my blog or most of what I put out there.

He told somebody once, “I live pretty close to the first draft.”

A Memoir.

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Remote Work Tips While The World Changes

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise. ~Maya Angelou (emphasis mine)

Yesterday I shared some tips on working remotely with a friend who is about to lead a team for the first time where everyone is sheltering in place. Libraryfolk without their house of books. Without their help desk. Without their students. My heart is breaking in so many ways for them, and my bestie was one of the last people on her campus at the fancy R1 down the street from where I live. Girl, when this is said and done, we’re going to hike all the miles. Do all the things. I’m so proud of you. I’m so proud of the people I know.

You know those big red dots you’re seeing on the news of the PNW? That’s south of where I live. Where people I love live. The other big red dot covers a state that I love with all my heart (I’m always ya girl, New York). And the giant state south of me, you know, one of the largest economies in the world? Everyone has been told to stay home. Millions of people.

Yet, I have loved ones in other states who don’t believe this is a problem beyond these red dots. I’ve seen social media posts of friends much younger than me on spring break in Florida. I have people in my life who are not taking this seriously. I can hear the train going by a park in my town, Boulevard Park, and the conductor is laying on the horn hourly in ways that indicate people are near the tracks by the beach. I live in a college town, and it’s been sunny and beautiful. I hear that stressed horn warning people of the train, a sound I usually love.

People are not taking this seriously until they have to it seems. The news, to quote Perry Farrell, is just another show. GenX AF, over here. If you’re missing some live music, speaking of Jane’s, give this live version of “Jane Says” a loud listen. According to the stats on this one, 6.6 million have listen to this. One million are mine.

Okay. Where was I? Shit it’s hard to focus. Right. I promised my friend I’d send some resources, so I’m going to lay them here before I get started on my work. Things I said I’d finish first thing.

Photo by Dustin Lee on Unsplash

Tips For Remote Work As The World Changes

None of this might be relevant by the time I hit publish. Perhaps this will all change in a week. But for now. Here’s some advice.

Start Your Day Selfishly: Don’t start your day with checking email and the news. If you used to sip your coffee and scan your inbox and the newspaper before your commute, you have to stop that. You have to create a new routine. You have to give yourself one hour of peace before you face the day. This might mean you have to get up before your kids. I don’t have children, so my advice may sound tone deaf to those of you with littles. Just showing what I know here. I’m using this time to write and drink coffee. It helps. You now have extra time in your day because you’re not commuting in the fucking horror-show of Seattle traffic. Use that time for yourself. Knit. Pet your dog. Listen to music and dance. Do not try to be productive. You’re going to have all day for that. Be thankful you have a job.

Get dressed in relatively-business-casual attire. It helps to not stay in your jams jams all day. On a snow day, this is perfect to do, but this is different. Wear a favorite sweater. Do your hair if that makes you feel better. Be comfortable but fuck all the dress codes. Nobody is going to remember what you looked like this week on the other side of this. They’ll remember that you showed up for others. To work.

Make a little work nest. Take the time to claim a space where you will work. If you live in a small space like I do, that can be hard, but put yourself near a window, the fireplace, or a corner where you feel happy. Ergonomics are going to be hard for a while, but just find that place. I bought my dog a second bed to encourage him to sleep near me, and every morning I tell him it’s time to go upstairs to work, work, work (said like Rhianna). He’s my therapy dog all day long and, if he could talk, he could help you scale affordable courseware like a boss.

Make a list of important things. I keep a work journal and everyday I write what I hope I will accomplish that day. It’s a joke most days, but it helps me prioritize and then I check my calendar. I just bought some colorful pens, and I sometimes doodle when I need a break.

Check in with your priority people. Maybe this is your boss or direct reports. Scan your email for messages from them (ignore everyone else). Answer them. Accept that things are going to change quickly. The higher up the ladder of leadership you are, the more you’re seeing changes that need to happen. We all are.

Heads Down. This is a phrase that my workfolk use when they need to concentrate. And let me tell you, that’s been hard to do. It does help to do something normal like your work tasks, so schedule that time and stick to it. Don’t answer emails or texts and give yourself an hour to focus. Try. It will help. Let people know, if you need to, that “you’re heads down.” Put it on your calendar. It works.

Remote Collaboration. Sometimes it’s better to just pick up the phone and call somebody, but try to give folks a heads up that you’re going to call. They might need to prepare to talk. They might need to ask a spouse to watch the kids.

Use Google Docs when you can, and just know that everything you’ve been planning has changed. Mourn this. I’ve been working on a project to help teachers “flip the classroom” and I loved this project. It was going rock so hard when me and my team got this shizz together. We were just about to light it up, and now there are no classrooms to flip. I’ve had several moments of despair about all of the things I’ve been looking forward to. You’re not alone. My work team? We’re helping where we can. We’re helping where we can.

Snacky McSnackerson. Don’t eat at your work nest. Schedule time to eat. Whatever your schedule was at work, keep that at home. Give yourself some routine that feels normal. Maybe you took lunch every Monday-Friday at noon. Do that. I have lunch at the same time everyday (before all this) and I used to walk my dog with my husband. We’re facing shelter-in-place, so we’re adjusting too. I’m avoiding our normal walking trails because it isn’t six feet wide. I’ve walked these trails for years, and I’m sorting out what this all means. But take the time to eat. Take care of yourselves.

Take Breaks. Seriously. You have to. On a normal remote workday, I take a break by checking Twitter or reading blogs. I usually try to post something during those breaks just to make a connection. Don’t have any social media open while you’re heads down. If you find the Terror Scroll of Twitter/FB too much, then don’t open it. I’ve only broken this code to listen to our governor in the last 48 hours.

Connect With Co-Workers: I usually try to connect with two folks at work on a normal day just to say what’s up. I send cat vids to two of the leaders in my company usually twice a week. Or some meme that makes us laugh. This is acceptable because think of how much you connect with people in real life. Many of you have seen one another everyday Monday-Friday for more than a decade. So this is hard. I still miss people I used to work with some days. Give people this space. Compassion is our greatest currency.

Email Drafts: I write emails and then I give myself a break to make sure it’s what I really want to say. In normal times, I work with really smart people so I like to make sure I’m not a horror-show of broken thoughts and ideas. Review the email, send it, and feel good that you accomplished something. The eFlood was hard before all this. Remember to scan your inbox for important people. Delete the list-servs that aren’t talking about this emergency.

Remote Meetings: JFC, the talk of Zoom. It’s a disaster, but it’s all we’ve got. Have an agenda and put somebody in charge of running the agenda. Do not expect anything from anyone right now in the synchronous space. People with children at home are especially struggling to create boundaries.

Here’s a hot tip for those of you in academia: If the meeting agenda is done in 20 minutes end the meeting hour. Seriously. You can do this now. This is your chance to rewrite traditions. You don’t have to use the entire hour. Really! The only person in your organization who can approve going over the hour is your CEO/President type person. Everybody else needs to acknowledge the time and stick to it. When I made the giant leap from a massive system–the SBCTC–to a small start-up this was the biggest shock of my life. Use those additional 40 minutes to get shit done. Or stare at the wall. Have a good cry. Sing to your dog. Whatever you need.

Share Something Joyful: My coworkers, may all the gods bless them, have me laugh really hard in these dark times.

Okay, my personal hour of writing time is up. I usually read for 30 minutes and write for 30, but I can’t seem to read right now. I’m not even sure how I’m writing.

Know this, dear one, you have to hold space for the people in your life. One of my heroes, Mary Burgess, said this yesterday, and her team is sharing tips on how they’re working remote. BC Campus, your generosity gives me life in normal times. Friends, I adore you.

To Conclude: This is not business as usual. I listened to a short talk by Liz Gilbert, and before you roll your eyes at all the eating, praying, and loving about her writing, give this talk a chance if you are feeling frightened. Anxious. Scared. Terrified.

You’re not alone. This blog post is a version of her letters to fear.

It helped me last night when I broke down because I feel the rug, the floor, and the ground coming out from underneath my feet, and she said those words in my ear. She reminded me I am the product of survivors. I needed those words. Maybe you do too.

And now like Maya Angelou says in the poem above, I rise. I rise. I rise. To meet my promises of “first thing.” I rise.

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Five Things I Wish I Could Say To Every Teacher

These ideas are half-baked, from the heart, and written from the perspective of a former teacher. My context is higher-education, mainly community colleges and regional publics, but there are some tips, I hope that apply to all educators.

Here goes.

Number One: Congratulations! You just earned a certificate, no let’s call it a masters degree, in Crisis Management. Your professional development for 2020? Done! And it’s only March. Look at you! You’re an expert in contingency planning, strategic communications, and emergency management. Put that on your CV under SKILLS. If you want a certificate, I’ll make one for you and send it to in the mail. Want an endorsement on LinkedIn? I’m your girl. Think that should be a badge somewhere? I’ll have to sew you one because I haven’t seen a space where digital badges mean anything to anyone other than tech people. But really, cheers to you! I wish I could take credit for this idea, but it’s from a bestie who has been on the front lines (and I hate war-speak) at the big R1 down the street from me. I’m so worried about you, girl, but I love this idea. Like we could go Oprah-style with this. You get certificate! And you get an endorsement! Everybody gets a masters degree!

Here’s the credential: Crisis Management, Expert, Higher Education in 2020.

Number Two: Life is coming at us quick. To use a cliché. You are probably the most exhausted that you’ve ever been. And all you can do is your best. It’s been a “roller coaster” is the phrase I hear over and over again. I’m with you. I can’t sleep. I’ve cried everyday for almost three weeks. I had some personal shit go down before All This, and I really struggle with things I can’t solve. Really struggle. I like to find the workaround. The answers. The easiest way. And these past few weeks, I’ve been faced with problems I can’t solve. All I can do is my best. All I can do is my best.

I’ve said this repeatedly to myself, so I’ll say it to you, dear one.

All you can do is your best.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Number Three: It’s okay to mourn the temporary loss of the modality you love. The students you no longer see. The classroom you no longer have. The best medium you might have with your students right now is email or phone, and I think the best you can do is tell those students why you love to teach your course.

Don’t worry about All The Other Things, just tell your students why love to teach them.

Encourage them to tell you what they liked learning.

If they complain, thank them for sharing. They are most likely going through a lot so you might face a rate your professor type rating in your inbox. Don’t take it personally. You’re doing the best you can. Tell them you care about them. Tell them that being a college student is hard. And it’s harder now.

Number Four: Everything that I did well as a teacher completely died when I switched from being a face-to-face teacher to an online teacher. Everything. I once did a webinar on My Decade of Mistakes, and I said in 2015, “Everything I did well was killed by the online environment.” (It’s on the YouTubes if you want to listen. It might be dated, but I remember loving that presentation).

Let me explain because I eventually fell in love with the digital space, but it wasn’t easy.

And it certainly would not have happened over spring break.

As a teacher, I love to tell jokes, facilitate a debate, and tell stories. Loved it. I could read a room full of students and switch my approach based on their furrowed eyebrows and body language. I scrapped more lesson plans than I could count to “meet students where they were” (as we say). I had my students do presentations to teach one another. Group work. All of that was hard to mimic–impossible at first–in an online class. It took me years to figure it out, and I still miss face-to-face teaching to this day, but I believe in different modalities and their potential for some students.

All you can do is your best.

What you are about to do does not have a playbook, a quick start guide, a one-pager, a pamphlet, or any clear directions on what to do. So let me repeat. We can curate all the best advice (and I’ve done that) but really, all you can do is your best.

I work with general education teachers, so I have some solutions for you if you are interested, but I want you to know that this switching of modalities–this pivot–this–we’re going to call it today–will be hard. But you’re smart. You have so much to offer. You know this is unprecedented, and hey, you just got a fancy new degree in Crisis Management, so you’re killing it. I might be able to make it easier on you. All my channels are open to you.

Number Five: Take care of yourself. It’s been deeply troubling to me that none of my peers in higher education have heard this from their leadership. I’m not blaming anyone here, these are hard times in higher education. Every executive person in my organization has said this to their teams. I’m so fortunate, so let me say this to you.

Take care of yourself.

If you have kids, be there for them just as much as you want to be there for your students. Tell your students that you are homeschooling three children while your spouse tries to figure out how to work remotely for the first time.

Here’s an announcement you can have (CC BY 4.0). Customize it for your life:

Dear students, I want you to know that I care about you, and we’re all going to get through this together. I’ll be working with my children from 8:00am-12:00pm today, and I’ll respond to your questions and emails from 1:00pm-5:00pm. Please help one another right now by responding to one another, and I appreciate your understanding and patience with me learning new technologies. You’re all doing amazing.

Did you note I scheduled you a break? Take it. Stare at the wall. Have a good cry. Talk to your dog. Color with your children, and make sure your spouse takes a break too. If you are alone, and I know there are many of you, respond to me. Find a network. Call somebody you love. Forgive yourself for not achieving typical levels of productivity.

“Productivity” is what we make it right now.

Okay, I need to go to work now. The jobby job awaits. And I’ll close with one more thing. A reminder, dear educator/staff/admin/hourly-employee/adjunct who cares about students:

All you can do is your best.

Posted in All The Things | 3 Comments

This Machine Killed My Inner-Fascist

Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple. ~Woody Guthrie

On March 5, which already feels like two months ago, I shared something that surprised me when it came out of my mouth, and I started this blog post.

I said: This year (2019) I dealt with my inner-perfectionist, the side of me that is prone to procrastination, and my saga with drinking excessively. Three traits, it turns out, that never helped me as a writer. Or as a person really.

I’m not sure where this confession came from, but it’s all I can think about this morning. I’ll write a little bit about that here before I log-in to the fresh horrors of the world. Forgive me if you think the time is off to blog. Originally I had a section where I talked about my horror that a young friend didn’t know the reference of “This machine kills fascists” but now doesn’t feel like the time to pick apart generational differences.

I read one of my chapters that I edited down to be a short story aloud a few Sundays ago. A week later the president of my country called my governor “a snake” for trying to save lives. Life has been consistently challenging since then. More so than usual.

But let me tell you a story.

I didn’t invite my friends or my husband to join me at that reading. The Mister had plans all of his own that day, and I’m sure if I had told him that it was important to me that he was there, he would have rearranged his plans. Instead I went alone. I rode my commuter bike, said hello to somebody I knew on the way there, and as the event got started, two of my former colleagues took seats in the row ahead of me. I recognized a half dozen people from around town. Familiar people that I don’t know personally. A knitter sat down next me, and she obsessively checked her phone to look at her pattern. Every row, she’d picked up her phone and set it down to knit and purl. 

After about ten rows, she settled into knit two, purl two, knit two, purl two. Stopped looking at her phone. I watched her hands and her needles. It took everything I had not to pull books off the shelf next to me in the reading gallery and thumb through them as other people read their poems, stories, and essays. Forcing myself to listen took so much willpower when there were a million distractions. Two weeks later, my brain feels like a broken version of Tweetdeck. New phrases like “social distancing” and “panic shopping” and “pivot online” loop in my mind. 

I honestly don’t even know that I’ll have the focus to finish this post, but I need something that feels normal as my bank closes, my friends lose their jobs, my friends with kids face a new challenge of how to work and homeschool, my library closes, and there are too many horrors to list as I think of people who are much less fortunate than I am on a normal work day. 

So I’ll just finish this point. I’ll just finish this. This.

This confession about my wicked inner-perfectionist and the part of me that is a procrastinating daydreamer are really one and the same. A frustrating mix of two forces. What appears to be hindering the other is really a constant reaction. A call and response. Part of this sharing session in my class was a recognition and a reflection to create closure to a time spent with other people. Most of the time was remote. An online class that used several platforms for remote connection. It’s part of the work of this group to honor and respect the stories of others, and I learned a tremendous amount about myself during this time.

The hardest part of making three deadlines a month was showing up to admit when I hadn’t finished something. 

I always put my work first, so there were months, I had to be that student who didn’t complete the assignment. Super hard for me. I care a great deal about the work I do, so I feel like I have my priorities straight, but it’s hard when you feel like you fail at everything. 

Some observations of what I learned during that class:

Weird Generosity: I gave away one of my grandmother’s best sayings because I recognized an uncle in a story as somebody I have known. When I read her description of this character, my skin crawled. Here’s the saying from my paternal grandmother who always spoke her mind. Here are the sentences: “He’s a crook. A son-of-a-bitch. He’d steal Jesus off the cross and go back for the nails.”

Dread: I sat with this feeling every time I had to respond to one writer. I dreaded reading her story each month because I knew the ending. Her suffering weighed a ton and I didn’t have the energy to hold it most days. 

The Emerald City: One story reminded of a Seattle that no longer exists. (Before all of this horror, mind you). The same tentacles of Seattle’s gentrification are (were) finding its way to where I live. But I have to admit, I like the little duck pond and the fountain they built near my condo. A few days ago, I ran away some rage along the new trail around this little fake pond, and I placed in the top ten women on Strava. That made me laugh. I’m two seconds off of one of my bike teammates who was probably running at talking pace. It was probably her warm-up pace (but I’m coming for you).

One Book, Two Book: After completing this course, I realize I have a second or third book. One about teaching and learning. The other about teacher burnout. I can’t seem to tell one story without bringing up another. There have been so many things said about teachers that have sent my fingers to the keyboard this past week, but I can’t share that story. It doesn’t do me any good. Rather than type and respond, I made myself walk up and down our stairs every time I saw something that pissed me off. I logged an extra 15,000k of steps that day, and I kept a lot to myself. 

Resistance Learner: During this class, I revisited some stories that I love thinking about, but I’ve resisted others. One of the readers shared that she sees me as a “resistance learner.” She understood how I thought, she shared, because she’s the same way as a thinker. Apparently I had said, “I’ll have to think about that” quite a bit when people asked me to share more. Though I don’t remember saying this phrase often, but if I’m honest, that is my go-to response, when I think something is a bad idea.

Rejection: I revisited a rejected story, revised it, and people really liked it. They asked a lot of questions. Wanted more details. Became incredibly interested in one of the characters. They laughed at the shenanigans of the narrator (c’est moi) and her hiking partner.

I wrote that story in 2010, I reread the initial rejection from an editor who later apologized to me for the way his response may have sounded. He had been drinking, he said, when he sent that email and it was inappropriate. I didn’t say I accepted his apology nor did I acknowledge that he had sent it. I deleted the email, and I didn’t write anything of worth for almost two years. I now know how to deal with these critics. I know how to deflect asshole comments and move on.

But back then, it broke me.

I’ve thought a lot about the things I should have said to him, but really, all I ever came back is the retort, “You know, I’ve written emails and letters while drunk that I regret too, but I never clicked sent nor did I lick the stamp to the envelope because I try to not be an asshole.” 

In the sober light of day, those words never looked like a good idea. They never help anything. The best thing to do is move. Write more words. Try to essay through it.

Time With My Magic Machine: Making the time to write, I shared with my class, was the biggest accomplishment of these last months. I don’t schedule the time because I don’t want to deal with the shaming notifications of my phone, but I do set an alarm each morning. I have one alarm for when I wake up, and the another to remind me write for at least 30 minutes Monday through Friday (like today).

On the weekends, I’m super-selfish with my mornings and I work for hours before I do whatever it is that is the second highlight of the weekend like riding my bike, running, or whatever. I’ve let go of joining bike rides where people want to start out early in the morning so they can do other things on the weekend. Me and the mister agree on this, so we end up riding together or with others who like a late start.

Two Saturdays ago, we had one of the nicest days we’ve had in awhile, and the route was a bit busy with people walking dogs. It was almost warm. My first bike ride without a neck gaiter in months. On one of the climbs, I took a chance on a wheel lift to get up a bridge. A wheel lift looks effortless and you may not even know that’s a skill of sorts if you don’t ride bikes. It requires a bit of timing with a kick of the pedals while lifting your handle bars to pull your front wheel up. This prevents slamming your front tire into something that might cause a flat. It’s like a mini wheelie, and it’s taken me years to figure out how to do these.

I’m not always that great at them, especially on an uphill trail. This particular wheel lift was onto a wooden bridge where one year ago I crashed. Hard. Wooden bridges are a great idea for tributaries over water, but seven months out of the year they are either treacherous with rain or slippery mold.

North Umpqua Wild and Scenic River
attribution

This past Saturday, I tried a wheel lift again on a smaller bridge than the photo above, and as I felt my front tire sliding, I hit the brakes, unclicked from pedal, and caught myself with my left foot. 

Nice save, lady,” I heard.

I looked up to see a super fit trail runner. She pumped her fist and nodded her appreciation. It was a good save and I didn’t yell FUCK!, I thought. Who dis!

A small victory witnessed by a stranger. Bellingham suddenly has a whole population of trail runners who appear where nobody but cyclists used to go ten years ago. Parts of the woods where I used to never see people, there are now runners. 

“Thanks,” I said to her. We smiled at one another. I kept pedaling thinking it was nice to have somebody witness something I committed to. Something that I finished and kept going. Something that somebody else knew was hard and had the empathy to recognize that. Something that somebody else witnessed as a personal challenge. Something I failed attempted but I succeeded by accomplishing the save.

Something very human.

This is the feeling that I’m taking into my work day today, and I wish you the same.

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Finishing The Thing

Bovary is not exactly racing along: two pages in a week! Sometimes I am so discouraged I could jump out a window. ~Gustav Flaubert

Last weekend, the mister and I went on a hot date to the public library. We went out to brunch, went for a walk in the rain, and then hit the stacks in the downtown branch. As I stood at the computer looking up books to check-out, I overheard a librarian talking to a man who looked really irritated. He looked a bit like Ginsburg who hadn’t trimmed his beard since 1981.

I didn’t catch all the details, but I did hear the librarian say, very calmly: “It seemed like you two were about to fight, so I don’t think you should sit by him today.”

To which the surly bearded man said, “Not my fault he didn’t like what I had to say. Mother Fucker needed to hear that shit tho!”

I couldn’t help myself. I started laughing. Hero! That’s exactly it. When a buddha-like yogi talks about how we can’t control others, we can only control our reaction to them, we see it as gospel. We see it as truth. Wisdom. I prefer the honesty of the Ginsburg truth teller using the free library internet.

Recently, a reader of my work told me she didn’t like the use of “we” in my writing because she “doesn’t feel that way and I shouldn’t impose my worldview on her by using we.” For fuck’s sake. “I don’t feel that way, so I felt excluded,” she wanted to remind me. (Heard it the first time, but okay, continue). We (ha) use to call it the royal “We” but now that we (ha) live in an era where even the royals don’t want to be royal, I think we can agree that this word choice might be annoying to some readers. True. For some purists, one should never use “we” and I get it, but I wasn’t imposing my worldview. K. Thanks. Bye.

I think what’s going on is I’m totally done with this sharing-my-work-for-feedback-thing for a bit. Next week, I graduate from this program I signed up for almost a year ago, and I’m really thrilled to take a break. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so glad I’ve done this program, and I absolutely love the people I’ve met, but I need a break. Ready for it. Here for it. I’ve given up time with my friends to make space for this, and it’s time for holiday from it all. Do I have a book ready to put into the world? No, but it’s shaping up nicely into something I love working on. I now schedule time to write, and I stick to it, so I accomplished one of my goals. What does finished look like? We shall see.

I don’t write a whole lot (nor do I really talk about) my mister’s struggle with his dissertation. His fancy-dancy-R1 program has changed their rules for what qualifies as a “finished” dissertation recently, and I have very strong opinions I will save. Nobody cares. In order to help him get to the finish line, I’ve rented him a sweet little tiny ocean view cabin so he can squirrel away for a week as a present for his birthday. My little cabin experience inspired him, and I do think there is some wisdom in an ascetic solo life away from everyone and everything. I’ll join him for his last night, and if I dig the space, I’ll rent it too.

Photo by Julia Joppien on Unsplash

This week, I read John Acuff’s Finished: Give Yourself the Gift of Done (checked out from the library). It is a snappy little book written with a southerner’s sense of humor with reflections at the end of each chapter to help you sort out how to finish a project. To help you sort out what might be a barrier.

Here’s what I copied in my journal as worthwhile advice:

  1. Find three relationships you need to pause
  2. Lose perfectionism
  3. Dial back your goals
  4. Make the thing fun
  5. Collect data
  6. Figure out where you work best
  7. Decide on a timeline

Okay, while reading this book and discussing dissertations with my mister and my friend/colleague, who has struggled for different reasons with being All But Dissertation, I finished my third course for my project at work. As I described what I had done for a colleague who is presenting on this work as I write (bless you, sweet soul), I realized that I’ve only just begun. To live. White laces and promises. A kiss for luck and we’re on our way. (We’ve only begun). Okay, wait. These are lyrics from The Carpenters.

Quick digression. The made for TV movie about Karen Carpenter’s anorexia destroyed me as a young girl. Shit haunted me. I mean, she had this beautiful voice. Killer hair. Bitchin’ clothes. She could play the drums. A brother to rock out with. She was on The Muppets. I could not understand for the life of me how and why she could let herself die like that.

Years later, when I met women who struggled with this eating disorder, I got it. Shit still haunts me. Makes me sad. Recently I shared my ongoing woes with my teeth, and a woman said, “All of my mom’s friends who are your age are totally losing their teeth from…you know.” She looked empathetic. Sad for me. Pity.

I asked, “What do you mean?” I was still reeling from her loose reference of “my mom’s friends.” When did I become that old?

“Oh, like, when you make yourself throw up. The acid. You know. It hurts your teeth. You’re not the only one your age,” she said.

Whoa, I said. My teeth issues are hereditary. And I should have flossed more. I can trace this back to what my mom struggled with. Possibly her mom. And so on. Genes, not the horrific pressure to look a certain way.

We changed the topic of conversation. Totally awkward. So sad.

Where was I? Right.

Finishing The Thing.

Yes, I’m going to start working on a new course on Monday, but I have decided (with help from others) what I can finish-for-now and what I/we can return to later. And I’m pretty excited about that at the ol’ jobby job these days, so I’m going to bring a bit of that joy into this hobby job project too.

I started to think about the word “finished” and what it means so I looked it up. And according to Merriam Webster’s definition, I’m working in the transitive form of the verb. As in, I’m writing more today about finishing the thing instead of actually working on the thing.

But this is a nice break to think about something else. When I think about the various French terms associated with the word finish (that I remember), we–WE–can think about finish as an action (terminer) or as a thing (le fin) or as an ending (la fin). In my epigraph above, I quoted Flaubert because it made me laugh.

Here’s another Bovary quote that I love, so you know, we can finish this post and move on with our day.

Accustomed to the the calm aspects of things, she turned, instead, toward the more tumultuous. She loved the sea only for its storms, and greenery on when it grew up here and there among ruins.

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Like A Pentimento

It’s like finding that the sky and the sun are always there and that it’s the storms and the clouds that come and go. ~Pema Chödrön

Lately I’ve been reading my old work journals. I keep my writing about work and what I call my writing separate in two notebooks though there are times when the two overlap. Part of what I love about reading these old journals is I can reflect on where I am with where I want to be. These words also allow me to see the long game. As I read I have a conversation with the ideas in my head. “Yes, this will work again. I can use this. No, this is still a bad idea. No. Yes. Maybe. Not this. Never again.” Each sentence feels like painting over the same painting over again. A canvas I can’t seem to finish and say, “Yes. This is done.”

This time three years ago, I was really struggling with the feelings of finally getting what I wanted and learning that it wasn’t what I wanted at all. The palpable disappointment of thinking that I wanted to travel for work for a living. That this would be the thing that would finally make me happy. Being on the road. Traveling for a living. Seeing new places. I got to try on that hat for three years, and I can say that at the end of it, I didn’t thrive the way I thought I would. Sure, if I was asked to do it again, I will. I would. Never say never. Again. This is the first month of February in ten years where I haven’t traveled at all for work. My commute is walking upstairs. It’s magic.

In one of my work journals, I reread my thoughts from when I spent one weekend on the road in between work gigs where I got to spend some time in a town as a tourist. In hindsight, I should have spent more time writing. I should have sat my arse down in the coolest coffee shop and wrote. Instead I walked for miles around a town I had never been to. I wandered for hours during the town’s peak off-season. I decided to stay at a hotel where they were renovating the pool (warned their website), and the hotel clerk asked me if I wanted an ocean view. She said could put me on the top floor. Her manager overheard her offer, and walked over to let me that they were renovating the pool, so maybe I would prefer a suite that looked in the other direction. I’m sure he saw that I was fancy work traveler with gold status. He looked worried.

It’s not a great look for us. We can only do this work, you must understand, when there are no tourists, he said.

No, I said, that’s fine. I’d love an ocean view. I won’t look down. 

When I settled into the suite, I sent my husband a text that this place was bigger than most apartments that I had lived in, including the studio that I shared with him when we first moved in together. I opened the sliding glass door and the sound of the ocean filled the room. It was warm. Humid. Balmy. Not my usual climate. I left the screen door open the entire time I was there just to hear the ocean nonstop. I live four miles from the ocean, technically speaking, but my home is near a calm bay. From a distance it looks like a lake. The sound of the open ocean, the waves, always feel special.  

Now when I look back at those journal entries, I see so many struggles that I still have. Wishes yet to be fulfilled. Some ideas, thankfully, are becoming reality. Some dreams are coming true. 

This past weekend, I sat down with the 40,072 words I have for my book and I scaled it back to 25,000. That’s almost 70 pages my husband reminded me when I shared with him what I had worked on in between cleaning our condo. He gets the hell out of my way when I get into one of these states, and it’s really quite lovely. I think in his mind he enjoys the fruits of my frenetic busyness. A very clean bathtub. A more extravagant dinner than what we might have during the week (though he usually does most of the cooking).

In between letting the cleaner attack the shower grout and waiting for my dough to rise, I cut words and moved them into a document that will serve as holding pen for The Next Thing. Usually this act would have floored me. This act of admitting that these words aren’t working. For some reason, this time, putting words away feels like I’m keeping a secret. A story for another time. A revision that is true in the sense of seeing again. It’s okay.

I decided to scale down a few scenes, and really focus on having an arc for each story. This isn’t going to be a linear memoir (this happened because of this and that happened because of this), and I’m in love with this organization. This framework. This idea. I want to write a collection of essays, and it’s going to be focused on the early years of my love for backpacking. There is a gap between the time that I discovered this thing that I love and the years where I finally went back to college and figured things out a bit. The gap between the years I thought I was one thing but I was really another. This gap of time is another story. Maybe not as interesting.

This week also marks an experience with two editors that has me celebrating how I am handling All The Things these days. This perspective is hard to describe. I can’t take the word “adulting” seriously–it’s a word that the-younger-than-the-millenials use–a word that I just can’t adopt. One of those nouns that I just can’t make a verb. Maybe it’s the latchkey kid in me who does not remember a time when I didn’t think like an adult.

I can’t really describe the feeling but I suppose it’s something like acceptance. Grace. For example, one reader pointed out how many times I used the words “just” and “that,” and how it annoyed the shit out of her. Just like that (hee hee), I used Control+F, and I realized I had used those words a lot. Sometimes, as my New Englander husband likes to point out, I’ve never really lost the way that Southerners speak and write. Being born a Yinzer who then moved to the South created a baseline of confusing vocabulary that I’ve never been able to lose. Slang, poor English (or is it the English of the poor?) and repetition plague my writing. I know this. This reader’s feedback was really good, and rather than feeling like I’m sort of a loser for using those extraneous words so much, I promised myself to find them later and just edit them out. That’s that. 

I’m seeing this process a bit like painting. One brush stroke at a time. The same canvas. Just painted over and over again.

attribution

Another reader edited something I wrote for the jobby job so much, it’s barely mine anymore. It’s amazing to see the transformation of my ideas, really. Ten years ago seeing an edit like this would have paralyzed me for months. Given that I had already turned in a much edited version from my first draft, it was astonishing to see the final cut. That’s a funny phrase–the final cut–a description of an era gone by when a film editor would actually cut the film. In our digital era, there is a point where, in a Google document, say, there can be many red and green letters of edits. In the end, when you click “accept” there are very few original black letters left. What remains is still my idea and my work, but the story sounds so different. Much better really! 

These two experiences made me think a lot about the relationship of the writer and the editor. I once took a class where we read all of Toni Morrison’s and Isabel Allende’s novels, and I read an interview with Morrison, who shared that her books are what they are because of her editor.

What becomes good enough is because of the edit. The final cut. The last stroke of paint on the canvas. Yes. I get this. The words become yours and not yours. In the truest sense, when they are in the hands of the reader, they become ours. 

A collection of words over time that become like a pentimento. Of memory. Of time. Of an era.

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Unreliable Narrator

“When you’re from somewhere else, you think there’s a promise to California. I don’t know if it’s some cellular thing–like your ancestors in the wagon train only made it as far as Ohio and you’re completing the journey–or it’s the Beach Boys or the Beat poets or Baywatch.” from Pretty by Jillian Lauren

This epigraph is my favorite quote from this book I’ve been reading all week. It’s the quote I copied into my journal because it’s something I wished I had written. When I return to my time living in California, I’ll use these sentences. Nothing disappointed me more than California. So true. Gorgeous, that quote.

I discovered this author by listening to a writer’s podcast somebody told me she loved. And that I should consider going to one of the podcaster’s retreats. I looked up the retreats online and they cost 10k. Sans your airfare and lodging. As I listened to this person who was truly trying to give me advice, I thought “Ten grand. Sure. Just like that. For a week. How do I start a business like that?” This is usually how my mind starts to work when I see somebody making a living–a fine living at truly–off of something I think is overpriced and somewhat of a scam. Somehow if you have the phrase “life coach” somewhere in your bio, for instance, you have the keys to the kingdom as an entrepreneur these days it seems. More power to you. I judge you not. I’m jealous.

Reading this book, as well as commenting on the work of a few others, has me thinking about the level of truth in memoir. Pretty is the redemption memoir of a junkie stripper who found her way in the world, and she uses this lovely refrain where she repeats a phrase that seems religious, like a prayer, throughout the book. No spoilers from me. She shares a story of her life through the words of an untrustworthy narrator–my favorite–her memory. Midway through the book, I discovered something I wrote last year is going to be anthologized by our local celebration, Whatcom Reads. It’s my first publication in five years. Five years. Five years. Like the Bowie song. You know you hear it. Well, I suppose I had a short piece in a local bike zine a year ago, but it’s not in digital form and I agreed to not be attributed. Totally love that little story because of the editor’s work.

So you know. Five years ago ferda print. Felt like a big deal I even sent it in, really, I didn’t expect that it would get chosen. I’m honestly quite shocked. Maybe they didn’t get enough submissions. Hard to say.

Part of the whole let’s-read-together-as-a-community is a reading at the local indie bookstore where I used to work, and that feels pretty wonderful. Magic. I was as an employee there in the late 90s and I was a waitress in the adjacent restaurant before that. It’s where I got used to presenting in front of people by introducing authors. I was that person who read the author’s bio, made sure the microphone worked, refilled the toilet paper in the bathroom, and reminded everyone in the audience the author’s books were for sale. This anthology I will read from isn’t for sale, and there will be free copies at the public libraries in town. It’s wonderful. Spectacular. Fully amazing.

It’s pretty truth-y. Not at all the truth.

Here’s the thing. Here’s the hill I die on alone among some writers.

Non-fiction and memoir? They are all fiction.

I think all book genres are the smoke and mirrors created by sales and marketing folks. Where a book belongs on a shelf is decided by the market. Where you can sell a book to people who will buy it. Even libraries aren’t the holy spaces devoid of the market forces of capitalism. Algorithms of the digital market prove my point. Whether you like it or not.

Yes, non-fiction, I know, can have historical references. Sure. Footnotes and citations people can verify. Cross-references. Ideas you can look up. It’s what we have decided to believe is true as writers. What is true to publish. Ask any historian and they will tell you why we tell the stories we tell.

And yes, I know, the word memoir is French in origin. A denotation for the word memory (masculine, mémoire). It’s what we have decided, as writers, to be the story. The narrative. The memory. The thing. In memoir, your only citations and footnotes are the details you choose to remember and put in print. And it’s the thing that is always based on a true story. Look close. The phrase based on is not the same as the verb is. We are all unreliable narrators. Of our own stories.

I’m a little obsessed with memoir for reasons I can’t explain, but I do know that once I tell the story of this book I’m working on, I can let my brain go into the realm of novels. Fiction. Until then, what I’m writing is based on a true story.

This piece that will appear in the local anthology is a scaled down, slightly embellished chapter of my book, and it’s origin is from my darkest place in 2019. I decided to toy with the saddest memories and feelings just to see how awful, brutal, and sad I could sound. Like a game. Some people play video games or fantasy football; I play with the words. I didn’t think about what it would be like for it to get published and what it will be like to read it aloud. What it will be like for strangers and friends who might read it, and think, “Faaaawwwwwk. Whoa. Hole. Lee. Shit. That’s heavy.”

I can’t reprint it here until it’s been published, and then I get the rights back (the licensing I did consider, that’s my jam), so let me write here about what influenced me.

At the time that I wrote this soon-to-be-published (!) piece that’s me/not me, I was reeling from reading Nothing Good Can Come From This by Kristi Coulter. Her epigraph, from the start, made me sit on the floor in Powell’s bookstore and start reading. I turned the page and saw this:

photo attribution: c’est moi

I sat there for an hour. And read. I stayed up most of the night in my hotel and read the rest. Then I looked her up online and read what I could there.

In this book, she contextualizes her problems with drinking and her trials and tribulations with men with details about Paul Westerberg’s life, the lead singer of The Replacements. A band, I believe, that would (should) have been just as big as REM in the 80s had those dudes not struggled with the drink as much as they did. One of my favorite bands. They should have blown INXS, to cite a much lesser successful band of the era, off the fucking charts. A textbook rock-n-roll tragedy.

Coulter’s book slayed me. It’s so brutal. Honest. Funny. Hard to read at times. Sad. I wanted to see if I could do something like that while I was sorting out my own relationship with alcohol. Could I sit with what I was going through with my own questions about drinking–what I’ve nicknamed my Party Girl–and write like Coulter? (tl;dr No.)

So I decided to try. For fun. I wrote the chapter titled “True North.” It’s the chapter that will appear in this local anthology, and it’s written in the saddest voice I could muster. I poured every once of depression I could feel into that submission. Like I channeled every sad version of myself. My selves. As I revised, I thought to myself, How can I make this harder to read? What more can I say to tell the saddest story about breaking up with alcohol? How can I write the saddest love story gone wrong using this topic? Can I scale down 4,000 words into 2,000 and not lose the story? What, inside me, to quote The Replacements, is achin’ to be?

When I clicked submit, I felt like I lost twenty pounds. I have, in fact, lost 23 pounds since I’ve stopped drinking, so you know, there is some literal and figurative truth there. After clicking submit, I listened to Within Your Reach, danced around my office, and promptly went on to the next thing. Felt so light. Fuck it. Why not? That light feeling. The clarity. I remember feeling joyous that I’m back in the game of submitting my work for publication. And now, faced with the reality that this story is going to be out there, I’ll have to own it.

I’ll have to look people in the eye and assure them that I am indeed satisfied. And that writing is just sometimes you being me while I’ll be you.

Can’t hardly wait.

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