April #DGAF 2017

I’ve spent a lot of time reading about blogging, following the rules, trying to control my content, trying to paint a particular picture of what and who I am.

Why? I don’t know now.

The rules say 500 words. The rules say you gotta do a picture. The rules say keep it approachable. The rules say certain times of day. The rules say tagging, metadata, SEO. Keep a schedule. Don’t post too much. Don’t post too little. LOTS OF WHITE SPACE PEOPLE CAN’T PAY ATTENTION!

The rules are a nag. They are useless to me.

A few months back, I turned 36. So for a few days, I posted on Facebook & Instagram with the tag #DGAFage36.

Here’s an example from Facebook, Nov 2, 2016:

I get real big anxiety about peeing in cups, peeing outdoors, and peeing in portajohns. I have since I was little. When I was pregnant, my biggest worry on a regular basis was whether I’d be able to, and if I could, whether I’d hit or miss. #DGAFage36

At this moment, on Feb 21, 2017, I am a mess. I went from starting the birth year feeling very empowered and content and hopeful to losing my way, spectacularly.

I need to retrieve my confidence. I am afraid in ways that I wasn’t afraid 10 years ago. And not the normal, getting-to-know-my-own-mortality shit, either. Some days, I’m afraid to go out into the world.

I have a few strong, powerful, good women in my life who have helped me realize that I need to DO SOMETHING. So since I still have 2 weeks until I can get into therapy, I’m starting here. With a public declaration that I am actively working to retether. And that part of this work is not giving a f*ck.

This is accountability. This is practice.

So henceforth, this blog won’t be about anything specific or focused, not that it really ever has been. But I used to try.

Trying is good at work, when there is a thing, person, or cause to keep you moored. When trying as part of a team means something in a defined structure.

But in my life, I’m discovering that trying is inextricable from people pleasing, and it will drive me bananas–trying toward my own slave-driver, neurotic standards, or what I guess about others’ standards, or the internet’s copious, contradictory advice about itself, is a surer way to land at the bottom of whatever abyss I’m approaching.

Today, I want to write about writing about whatever the f*ck I want.

Tomorrow, it might be something else, like how much I’m enjoying Anthony Bourdain’s old CNN show Parts Unknown on Netflix. Or how much it makes me want to stab myself when people compare me to Lena Dunham. Or nothing at all.

Or maybe I will never write about either of those things. I don’t have to, you know. And I #DGAF.

Comment if you want. But no pressure. Not closing w/ a question to drive engagement. Not following dem rules. #DGAFage36

Way Cool Women Doing Way Cool Things

We'll Call This Shameless Self-Promotion
We’ll call this shameless self-promotion

During these last lazy days of summer, spend some of your afternoon spinning around in your desk chair looking at these lovely lady entrepreneurs of the interwebs. Some of these would be fantastic bookmarks for holiday gifts.

Goddess Leslie Hall

Leslie Hall is one of my new feminist heroes. Her YouTube channel is a treasure. And if you want to buy some things she made, you can just visit her website.

Vegan Soap

A very strange woman I know recently got serious about selling some of this spectacular soap she and her people make. Check it out.

An annoying vegan told me they might be doing gift packs + wrapping for Xmas at very, very reasonable prices.

Whale Snotbot

So, if you like whales, and I totally do, this thing is happening. It’s a newly funded kickstarter an acquaintance of mine ran to make researching whales a) easier, and b) less stressful for whales by COLLECTING THEIR MUCOUS. USING ROBOTS. Huzzah! Girl Power!

Lady Lucy’s Madness

I really love knowing creative people. Mad Lucy makes the most excellent accessories I have ever seen using doll parts, clay, sequins, eyeballs, and all manner of other fantastic things. Visit her Etsy store for more info.

Sojourn of a Hungry Soul

Laurie Cannady’s memoir is beautiful and powerful and astonishing. I’ll be introducing her at her book launch in November, at Lock Haven University where she teaches. Reserve your copy on Amazon or at etruscanpress.org.

#NaNoWriMo, it’s not just for writing novels anymore.

from Flickr User Monda, used under a Creative Commons attribution license
from Flickr User Monda, used under a Creative Commons attribution license

So, it’s NaNo.

The month that fills every writer I know with a sense of hope and possibility. Or, as likely, dread and insecurity. Whatever the feelings, NaNo inspires a certain type of person to get behind a keyboard.

Whatever the end result, writing is good for a person’s soul.

And as much as I am not prone to loving the hype, I think NaNo is pretty great. I have never successfully participated myself, but I talk about it from time to time, and I like to hear about it, read the posts, enjoy the energy from my every-month-of-the-year-WriMo perch at my little table in my little office.

I get annoyed with all the snobbish woe-is-me posts from seasoned or professional writers saying things like, “better yet, don’t write that novel,” and “to win, you could theoretically write the prhase, ‘nipple sandwich’ 25,000 times and earn yourself a little certificate.”

The second quotation isn’t from a technically hating piece, but it’s from a post that does, at its core, seem to be about de-glamorizing the writing life and explaining that writing is not just this magical thing that happens while you hardly notice then suddenly you’re getting piles of cash and accolades like you’re some kind of Stephen King protege.

And that’s truth. The piece is called “25 Things You Should Know about NaNoWriMo.” It could also be called “25 Things You Should Know About Being a Writer, some of these relate to NaNo.”

Get to the point, already!

I hate hacks.

I would tell anybody. And I am. See? You’re anybody. I maybe don’t know you at all. And now you know a little truth about me. Hacks make me full of ire and nasty words I have no shyness or fear about spewing all over hack backs.

But I don’t hate NaNo.

Call me Pollyanna, but my feelings on the matter are this: People who finish NaNo are people who are, at least in some small way, committed to living the writing life. It is not easy to write every day, least of all 1666 words.

And whatever else happens, the douche fools who query agents and editors Dec 1 with their shitty 50,000 words are people who would do it anyway. Maybe they wouldn’t do it Dec 1, but at least now there is the possibility for an editor/agent to blanket ignore any unsolicited submissions that appear on Dec 1-15 (note to self).

But this year, my writer friend and I have committed to writing-related goals in honor of WriMo. She’s finishing her novel (she’s been working on it for years), and I am submitting my essays to literary journals and querying agents to the tune of 5 each week.

It took me a year and a half to write all these essays, and I still consider the manuscript to be in progress, I am, in fact, revising three new essays for it now.

I’m keeping a spreadsheet which I will show to my friend once a week.

My friend is showing me her pages.

So NaNo is about accountability. About setting and reaching writing goals.

So get yourself a partner and write! Or Submit! Or Query! Or Revise! Or Outline! Or plot! Or whatever you need to do to get wherever There is.

Ethical Quandries In Becoming an Adjunct Prof.

from CC License holder at Flickr, Robert the Noid. Note: search "Professor" in Flickr, pictures of men come up. Seacrh "female professor," and you get tarantulas and Harry Potter stuff.
from CC License holder at Flickr, Robert the Noid. Note: search “Professor” in Flickr, pictures of men come up. Seacrh “female professor,” and you get tarantulas and Harry Potter stuff.

I will not be insinuating any wrongdoing or accusing Universities of being slave masters in this post. I will not be bitching about adjunct wages. I am interacting with my reality, forgetting for a moment that things for adjuncts are in real need of intervention.

Adjunct wages are an improvement over my current wages. Especially during the Spring semester. The second-best (or maybe third or fourth or fifth) money I’ve ever made. But it also means I get to do what I love to do, which is talk, read, and write all day long about reading and writing, which makes small money seem like a big deal.

Here are some important pieces of my reality: my student loans are currently in deferment as I finish up my MFA, and I have the privilege of a domestic partnership with a person who is relatively well-employed, so we can (sort of) afford for me to make $20,000/year. Or less. I am also comfortable with working multiple jobs in order to serve my life as a writer, mother, and reader (in that order).

It is my ardent wish to someday be paid a living wage for talking, reading, and writing all day about reading and writing.  To not have to do anything else.

But none of this is why I sat down to write this post.

This week, I had a massive disappointment.

About a month and a half ago, I accepted an offer to teach one section of a literature course scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at Tiny-Private-University a bit east of here. I got to develop my own syllabus, which was fun, and I get to teach The Book That Changed My Life.

About two weeks ago, I was hired as a part-time lecturer (fancy speak for adjunct) at Large-State-University a bit west of here.

While each university is 1.25 max hours from my house, they are three hours from each other.

I went to an interview, and exchanged a half dozen or more emails with Chair and Assistant at Large-State-University, one of which suggested that someone would be in touch with me soon “about [my] availability.”

A week passed during which time Tiny-Private-University (which pays only a bit more than half what the Large-State-University pays per section) offered me a second section of the same course, later in the day MWF, which I also accepted. Large-State-Univeresity only promised me one section (but insinuated that there would likely be 2).

When my burning need to have a plan for classes and a life that was to start a week from Monday overcame my ability to patiently wait for communique from Large-State-University, I reached out to Assistant to find out about the training sessions, and to give her my availability, now Tuesday/Thursday. Which was answered with “But, but, all first-semester teachers have a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule!”

Which was the first I’d heard of it.

“Didn’t anybody tell you? I can’t believe you didn’t know!”

How could I know? I reviewed all the correspondence. It was not in the job posting. It was not in the offer letter. It didn’t come up in the interview. It was not anywhere. Why would I assume it?

Which meant I had to decide: probably less money at Tiny-Private-University, a job I had accepted first, developed a syllabus for, and ordered books for the book store; OR, Large-State-University which is sexier AND pays more, but I had nothing in hand and would be obliged to drive there every day for the week before the semester began for training sessions.

I wanted to choose Large-State-University because money. Adjuncts do this all the time: better offer elsewhere, go there. Since these offers are almost always made at the last minute, this is not a thing adjuncts should have to worry about, or feel bad about doing.

But after some time and reflection and weeping (for a lost plan, a lost semester of getting paid mainly to read and write and talk about reading and writing), and after making a mental pros-cons list, I decided that the university to which I felt ethically obliged, Tiny-Private-University, is probably a better professional choice, too.

Here are the primary reasons: Tiny-Private-University has a smaller faculty + student body, which means more entrenchment in the culture, more support, and smaller classes. Developing a Western Euro Lit syllabus that spans the Renaissance through Early Modern looks way, way better on the CV of a trained creative writer than teaching a staff syllabus at a bigger school, even if more money looks better in my bank account. And hell, what’s one more semester of 7-day work weeks?

What do you think? Did I make the right choice? Should I have assumed that I would be required to teach MWF? Is this a normal procedure? In my experience + knowledge, it isn’t. Though my experience and knowledge of adjuncting is admittedly limited. Is it even reasonable for any university to require people to whom they’re not offering a living wage to teach on a particular schedule?

I welcome your thoughts.

Snotdrops on Roses and Scissors on Kittens

From Flickr user takomabibelot
From Flickr user takomabibelot

My number 1 favorite thing about residency is that I get to spend a week not explaining myself or enduring weird faces from people because all the other humans there are precisely my sort of weird/neurotic/thinky.

A close second, however, is that a lot of people there call me April Line.

I have a really cool name for a writer. Perfect, even. It’s as if my parents knew. Hell, maybe they did.

And then there’s the pursuant wordplay: April Line, you so fine; April Line, where’s my wine? Of course, I am in a tribe of people who, like me, enjoy the sounds words make when they scrape across tongues. We enjoy rhyme for its own sake. We slide words together in lines because they are fun, because of the sounds, because because words. The words do not have to be true. I am not fine in an objective sense nor do I make a habit of fetching wine.

My favorite thing since I got home? The thing that gives me more joy even than particularly delicious beer, running, or good food?

My Writing Workshop, the first of which happened last night. I met a new student. I had an hour of that lovely thing where I can talk about being a writer like it’s normal. I can explain to people who get it about the weird writer brain thing. I can help them cultivate their own, give them guidance for how to overcome their inner critic, I can talk about all the articles I read about writing and writers to people who are interested.

I am knowledgeable and there’s huge power in knowledge. It’s energizing. I got home feeling excited and light and right.

It is micro-residency. It is how I’m sure I want to be a writing teacher forever. Because to teach writing is to always have a way into that world, the world where I’m not just a loon who has a big vocabulary.

Come join the tribe. The workshops are fun and affordable.

#YesAllWomen: How The Interwebs Blew My Mind + Cracked Me Open w/ Rage

screen shot of quick Twitter Search
screen shot of quick Twitter Search

I’m sure you’ve heard all about Elliot Rodger and his misogynist manifesto followed by an array of violence where seven people + Rodger lost their lives.

In case you didn’t, here’s a recap.

I’m not glad Rodger is dead. I feel badly for his parents. I think the whole thing is awful and probably, in its rawest most elemental parts, not even Rodger’s fault. I feel awful that I live in a world that would foster an Elliot Rodger and his manifesto. I feel yucky that not enough people (including therapists and police) Rodger reached out to in his time of misogyny said, “Dudebro. Chill. Someday, you’ll have sex and it’ll be great. For now, concentrate on being smart and kind. Let me help you. PS, women are awesome + smart people just like you, not property, merchandize, or beasts to be tamed.”

Honest to god, I didn’t get the #YesAllWomen thing the first time I heard it. I was like, wait, what? Yes All Women What? What single experience could possibly read across cultures for all women? Clearly I was not spending (any) time on Twitter.

Then, a dude explained it to me.

Then, OH BOY DID I GET IT.

I began to pay attention in my own life. I wait tables for money in a brew pub. I love my job. I love people. I typically have a great time at work. But sometimes, way more often than it seems I notice, I act to protect myself. This behavior is ROTE. Most of us don’t even think about it, we just act. To be nice. To be ladylike.

Unfortunately, a lot of us are still casualties of bad socializing or psychosis or whatever other code name  for misogyny is applicable to the male rage that ends so many women.

Anecdote: I waited on a table of a big family. A sweet older woman grabbed my arm and read my tattoo. She looked at me quizzically. She said, “You don’t look like a feminist. You look cute.” #YesAllWomen

At the brew pub, I waited on a pair of old guys visiting from a big city. One of them, after most of their second pitcher of beer and about three hours of bossing me around (read, taking up a table through the dinner rush), told my tits that he’d treat me like a queen if I ever visited his city.

Instead of saying what I wanted to say, which is “Stuff it, Perv.” I mustered a phony laugh and a “Sure!”  from my reserve of phony laughs and crazy-agreeable lady speak. Jack ass didn’t even tip 20%.

I asked myself why I did that.

I did it because of fear. Because I was scared that if I told the old guy to go fuck himself, he would wait for me and do something mean and shitty or just stalkery and frightening to me after work.

I started to pay attention to my feelings around men I don’t know all the time: when I’m running, if I’m alone somewhere, if I’m picking up my kid at school, if I’m walking across a parking lot.

I realized, unconsciously, I give all strange men, regardless of their race or age, a wide berth. Yesterday, I was at the park running and there was an old guy sunbathing with his newspaper. I was a little frightened of him because I couldn’t reckon out why the heck he would be hanging out at the park with half his clothes off, reclining like it’s his fucking living room. He coulda been the sweetest dude on the planet, but the alternative was too horrifying to attempt to find out. #YesAllWomen.

In fact, I might even be a little more tentative around white guys because frankly, they have way, way, way less of a reason to strive to understand what it is to be marginalized in any way. Hence, #NotAllMen, a knee-jerk response to the twitter explosion of #YesAllWomen.

Which brings up two things. 1) my personal belief that if we are going to end sexism, racism, and all other bigotry, we must accept that we are complicit and begin to see ourselves as part of the problem (that means, stop saying, “but I’m not a racist,” because it’s just not true); then act, moving forward with empathy, with a conscious desire to change our thinking, our emotional responses, and our unconscious and intentional reactions to the subjects of our bigotry. Here’s a humbling appeal from a woman of color to us white women who do not always provide the empathy we demand. And 2) some men, those who would doubtless put themselves in the #NotAll category, do not see this problem for a number of reasons, but the two main ones are lack of empathy + lack of visibility. Here, give this a think.

Anecdote: YESTERDAY, I drove in my car past a very beautiful young woman who was wearing a pair of short black shorts and a sheer tank top with a black bra underneath. My first thought was, “she looks great, I love her outfit.” My second thought was, “But is she trying to get raped?” My third thought was “Ohmigod I can’t believe I just thought that bullshit. Followed by a long self-hating lecture I’ll spare you all from outlining how she can wear whatever she wants and she is powerful and beautiful it is not her job to act to circumvent rape and rape is not a result of women wearing awesome outfits and so on. WE ARE ALL PART OF THE PROBLEM.

And as a counterpoint to lack of empathy? Of awareness? Some men, young men even, are starting to notice and want to help to affect change. Here’s an appeal for more empathy, for all people to be feminists. Let’s all try to be more like that writer’s son. Like that writer for raising a son who can look at himself unflinchingly and honestly.

I’ve been crabby this week. Short with the people I love + generally feeling full of rage. I have these periods occasionally. Ones where, when I learn things about myself and the world around me, I am pissed off. I don’t think this huge social problem is all that’s making me grumpy: I’m at a transitional period in my life + I’m sorting through stuff in my mind that I don’t always understand until I talk it over with my therapist.

And here’s the bullshit thing about my crabbiness: I’m pretty fucking privileged. I get to feel crabby on nice furniture in a house that has plenty of space and always food in the fridge. The ridiculous and horrifying things that have happened to me at men’s hands are pretty minimal compared to what other women have experienced. I know that where I work, there are at least a dozen people who would have my back if some stalkery nonsense happened. I happen to be heterosexual and white, so I live with a nice, tall white dude which is a fine asset. I have a baller education and the freedom to get more, which is also a huge, huge privilege.

I guess the thing that makes me mad is that it matters I’m white and heterosexual. I just don’t understand why it can’t be the same for all humans, regardless. I mean, I can explain why, I can regurgitate the things I have learned (in college, not in my conservative upbringing), I can even sort of understand the fear that makes some of the bad stuff happen.

But here’s the part that I don’t get: We live in a culture where we can use a device that has enough advanced tech in it, it can tell when it’s laying on a table, in a purse, or check your pulse. It can teach you anything you can ask it about. Why the hell can’t we get our shit together to teach our children, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that differentness is not a cause for oppression. Differentness doesn’t mean that another person’s experience is invalid. All humans have experiences that exist even if we can’t see or understand them. And differentness is a thing to be honored and experienced and edified by. All of us with the same opportunities, working together to make the world awesome? If I could snap my fingers and make one thing happen, I would eliminate hate. We would be so powerful and so. much. happier.

And I’m not the only one trying to make sense of this, weighing in on the Blogosphere. I hope I’m not the only one who’s working hard to abolish her revolting racist, sexist, classist, ageist, internal garbage with which I’ve been acculturated.

One brave journalist spent 8 hours in the chat room Roger Elliot frequented. Another woman tried to make sense of it by writing about her own experiences.

And for some vaguely related historical tidbits, read about the sadly departed Maya Angelou’s history as a sex worker and how uncomfortable book people–the people whom I would wish to be least narrow about acceptable behavior, sexuality, ideas from women–are with her stint as a prostitute. Or about how the Christians are trying to stop Harvey Milk’s Forever Stamp legacy. Because, y’know, he was gay and stuff, and as Westboro Baptist is so fond of reminding us, “God Hates Fags.”

GAAAAHHHHAHAHAAHA!

Scream in the comments if you want. Tell me which link you liked best. Share your #YesAllWomen story. Or tell me how I can be a better ally if you are part of a group my straight, white brethren are so fond of oppressing.

21 Lies I Tell Myself to Avoid Writing

From Flickr user emdot
From Flickr user emdot

1. You really should check in on Facebook.

2. You really, really suck.

3. You need coffee first.

4. You can do it later.

5. Oh my god your ass is smaller! Peer at yourself in the pre-dawn window for a time. Honest to god, it’s smaller than it was yesterday.

6. It is a good day to put a big chunk of something in the crock pot, but first you’ll need a recipe.

7. You don’t have to write today. You wrote yesterday and the day before. It won’t kill you to miss one day. You deserve it.

8. That e-mail cannot wait, you must answer it.

9. Everyone hates you and you should probably just give up.

10. Writing is a waste of time. You should quit now while you’re still young enough to become an expert on something else.

11. Instagram needs an update. You haven’t photographed anything recently, now would be a good time.

12. Have I mentioned how awful you are?

13. The dishes need doing, now.

14. You can still do it later.

15. Writing is boring.

16. You are ugly, you should go contemplate that fact in front of a mirror.

17. You really need to take out the trash.

18. You need to pack Child’s lunch. This second. You will forget to do it later, and she won’t dream of reminding you.

19. You should take a quick second to check your blog stats.

20. You don’t tweet enough, all the best writey people tweet often. You need to go analyze their tweeting and promise yourself you’ll do better.

21. You need to have a sandwich this instant. If you don’t, you’ll get a cramp when you run later.

The Mind of a Feminist Poetry Judge: Tips, Tricks, and a Rape Stanza Ugh

It's fuzzy on purpose
It’s fuzzy on purpose: protecting anonymity.

About twice a year for the last few, I’ve had the privilege of judging poetry contests for NFSPS and its organizations.

One year, I judged the unrequited love category.

I’m not going to lie. A lot of those poems were intensely bad. I believe there were upwards of 400 of them. But finding the few excellent ones makes the whole thing worth it, every year. I get to choose nine. Sometimes, it’s really, really hard. Sometimes I wish I could choose twenty or at least twelve.

Sometimes, I want to write the poets who finally do not win long admiring letters about how much I like the way they paint with language or their rhythm or diction or just the words they choose. I want to encourage them to keep writing, to live and dream and be in the cold, scary ocean of words.

I want to explain that at a certain point, especially when dealing with poems of high literary merit, it becomes only about taste, that their poem was good and worthy and probably would’ve won if the judge were different.

Note 1:  Writing an unrequited love poem in second person is a pervasive impulse, and perhaps one to avoid, at least as an experiment or in early drafts–we always need to dig deeper than our first impulse because the first impulse is usually the easiest one, and the easiest thing is nearly never the best thing.

This year, I’m judging the Social Issues category and though I have made it through less than a quarter of the pile of around 200 poems (pictured above), I have read many about Wall Street, about how kids these days don’t pay any attention to nature because they’re too plugged in, and about war.

Note 2: When writing a poem about Social Issues, or anything really, remember that everyone else has been disturbed or illuminated by the same news as you have, lives in the same world you do. A fresh take is warranted, a new perspective, turning an issue on its head to look at it from the genitals down. If I wanted Fox News, I could just watch it. If I wanted NPR, I would just listen. If I wanted SARK, I would’ve read her.

At the risk of seeming indelicate: this year, I am especially glad that the poets remain anonymous to me.

One of the poems is by a right-wing gun rights person. It imagines a dystopian future wherein all people’s guns have been confiscated by the government. The final stanza closes with a woman’s imminent rape because, you guessed it, her gun is no longer in her bedside table drawer. As if a gun is her only option. As if a gun would absolutely save her. As if she wouldn’t have locked her doors, the feeble minded, wibbly, bad-at-life woman who needs a firey phallus of protection.

If I knew who wrote this poem, I do not think I could possibly keep myself from writing him a rant.

Note 3: If you know or can find out who the judge is for a contest you want to enter, use the Google. Unless you are genius like Billy Collins or Harryette Mullen, you have very little chance of winning with a poem that strips a woman of her agency when the judge is openly feminist. 

I only read all of some of the poems. There has to be something in the first line or stanza to keep me going. A baffling number of poems open with passive voice or with a tired, tired metaphor, or they blow the load in the first line. A lot of poems exit the gate with heavy handedness and some of them read like a person put line breaks into a news story.

In my system, I run through the poems quickly the first time. I make three piles: No, Yes, and Maybe. Marked N, Y, and M. The N pile is always the biggest, then the M pile. The Y pile typically has fewer than five poems, and often, not always, the top three prizes come from these.

In my first read, I’m also looking for poems that don’t follow the guidelines. These are easy to identify, and the upper line limit exists for good reasons. First, it’s fair. Second, if the poem will appear in any sort of publication, the organization running the contest knows its formatting limitations. So if the limit is 34 lines and you send 35, I am afraid you get a N, even if I think your poem warrants something better.

Note 4: More than half the poems get less than a full read. You get one chance. Sometimes, poems have great things going for them, but they are riddled with bad grammar and misspellings that are not intentional. This has been written many times before, but first drafts are almost never good drafts. And a proofread first draft is still a first draft. And poetry contests (and all writing contests) are competitive. You must send your best, most polished work. Even if you are sick of it. Especially if you are sick of it because that means you know it like your own soul and it’s probably as good as you can make it.

Friends who’ve judged writing contests, what is your method? If you select writing for a literary magazine, do you do it differently?

Poets, how closely do you look at the contest guidelines? Is it helpful to know that sometimes even good poems can’t win?

Running Makes Me a Better Writer; I Bet It Would Work For You, Too.

From Flickr user Robin McConnell
From Flickr user Robin McConnell

I used to feel outright hostile toward fitness/body progress shared on social media.*

So I asked myself why.

All I could come up with was dumb fear that:

a) I will be judged when I backslide,

b) I will be judged because I am still chubby, even though I exercise,

c)I will become one of those one-gong bangers and ONLY post about fitness.

Here is why I have decided to change.

a) Fuck people who judge.

b) see letter a.

c) Why would I ever worry about that? I am far too interesting with too many pursuits and obsessions to limit myself to posting about fitness.

In case you are also loathe to mention progress on social media, I encourage you to adopt a self-restricting policy: I allow myself one weekly post (on Facebook only) about fitness, typically after my first running workout of the week, and typically discussing my amazement that I continue to make progress and it ain’t even that ouchy.

This one had twenty-five likes + a half dozen comments
This one had twenty-five likes + a half dozen comments

NOW.

All the exercise bloggers and google searches you can imagine will tell you that exercise helps you sleep better.

That is truth.

I get good rest, and I require fewer hours of it, then I wake up with beautiful, fully-formed thoughts happening in my head, which often, eventually, make it to the page.

Running between 1.5 and 2 hours each week with increasing intensity has, in the first five weeks alone, given me back more energy and a more whole sense of wellness than two years of more Zumba than that (even though I still love Zumba and go when I am not feeling too shin-splinty/muscle achy).

More energy means I do things–even dumb small things like bending over and picking up a sock, or putting shoes in the closet or doing the dishes instead of sitting round thinking about how I’m too bushed to do those things. My body feels better, so I am more efficient which means, you guessed it, more time for writing.

And also more food. I love food.

Running is trusting your body.

Writing is trusting your mind.

This is a symbiotic relationship, and weekly practice helps me extend that self-trust to other areas which is a thing I struggle with.

Getting sweaty reduces stress.

Reducing stress reduces anxiety.

Lower anxiety means fewer excuses about why I am not writing, fewer minutes wasted fighting with my inner critic.

And sharing about it on Facebook means I get support and kudos from friends. I hear their stories about running which helps keep me going. I remember that my friend who runs the NY Marathon told me she didn’t lose a bit of weight for six months after she started running, that another friend started with Couch to 5K three years ago and now runs triathlons. And then, people share with me things like this, to which I shall submit before summer’s end. And this, which gave me laughs and warmed me from my bellybutton to my nose, twice.

Also, the most helpful thing I’ve ever found on reddit is the running subreddit. LOADS of good info and experiences.

What about you? Do you run? Do you post about fitness on Facebook? What do you think of all this?

*I’m still not sure about the weight loss progress bathroom mirror selfies, ugh.

Holding the Disk At Bay: The Power of Clear(er) Self-Perception

From Flickr user Dani P.L.
From Flickr user Dani P.L.

The current working title of my memoir is I Am Coming In From the Other Side: This is Me Finding My Way.

While drafting, which took place over a couple of years, starting in mid 2011, I had to get into sticky, uncomfortable places with myself. I had to think hard and look hard about choices I’ve made and why I’ve made them and whether or not I’m proud of those choices. I had to take a hard, honest look at interactions I’ve had with other people and figure out what was really going on.

I had to think about my parents, a lot.

There were moments of triumph and pride and breakthrough, yes.

But there were also dark moments of crippling self-scrutiny, self-pity, and clear, sharp anger with myself, with situations I put myself in, frustration with myself at all the things I couldn’t possibly have known.

There were moments during the drafting that I felt clearer than I’ve ever felt.

But then, after, about a third of the way through the fifth or sixth round of substantive revisions, and at a fortuitous break in my generally high levels of productivity, I felt like the clarity shattered around me. Like I was standing inside a light bulb that someone BBed.

I understood, beyond intellectually, the titular metaphor in Plath’s The Bell Jar.

I understood the impulse to end it all.

Those two things scared the shit out of me.

I spent too much time on TV and not enough on writing or being a connected mother and partner. I wept what felt like constantly. I couldn’t even think about myself, but I worried about myself unrelentingly. It was like being numb but in deep, un-feelable pain at the same time.

So I started going to therapy, which was a thing I’d been thinking about doing for a years.

I now feel  like I’d been fingering the edges of this great disk of anxiety that was just kind of hanging out inside me, barely holding it at bay while it influenced me in ways I didn’t recognize and couldn’t understand.

I have only just begun to untangle this with my counselor.

But I have reinhabited myself; my self-comfort, self-confidence has started to return. My focus on the important day-to-day stuff sharpens with startling ease and quickness. I found my way into my MFA paper. I have begun to learn how to recognize and stop specious feelings of guilt. I have started to practice, at my counselor’s urging, really looking at what’s happening when I have a stress response or when I get a big feeling, so I understand triggers and can use them for good instead of evil.

Nothing in my life is different except for my understanding of what’s going on in my body. I needed help to figure it out.

I also needed the honest desire to do so.

I feel powerful and alive and hopeful in ways I have not for some time. Getting these back are like re-encountering old, dear friends with whom everything is easy and good.

So you’ll be able to imagine the empathy I felt when watching this documentary trailer: The Brainwashing of my Dad. I wish I could give money to the Kickstarter Campaign, but I missed it.

My dad experienced a similar thing ten years after Jen Senko’s dad. I cannot WAIT to watch that movie, to look at the locus of my dad’s strident, wrong-headed politics, to have affirmation that the religious right (or whatever its most current name is–T-baggers?) are intellectually irresponsible.

The ideological, philosophical, and religious differences between me and my parents, and my personal, persistent inability to shove myself into a box that would please them, are really the root of my desire to write  a memoir at all.

And even though it has been hard and intense, I’m really glad I had the freedom to do it, I’m really glad for the lessons about myself I’ve learned in the process, and I am wildly grateful that I live in a time where even poor people can get health insurance and afford to go to counseling.