15 Hours and Counting…

A day or two before I lead a workshop on writing I come to a point where I’m convinced I don’t know anything about teaching writing.  In fact, I work myself into such a frenzy that I’m convinced I don’t know anything about writing or teaching on their own and that I should quit everything and work the checkstand at Safeway.  The crazytalk runs rampant.

NaNoWriMo is a mere 15 hours away and I’m all a jitter, worrying about plot lines, character names, and the word count.  Oh, the word count.  I have to find 1,667 words a day.  And they have to, like, go together and stuff.

I’m not even sure I know 1, 667 words.  My days are pretty much filled with lots of teachery talk and then random grunts I have leftover for Terry because the classroom has vacuumed up any reasonable semblance of thought I had for the day.

1,667 words a day for thirty days straight.  Egads.  So I’m spending today battling the crazytalk, by eliminating anything that might offer itself up as an excuse not to write every single day.

1. I finished report cards so they wouldn’t be lurking about in November.

2. I’m doing massive amounts of laundry so I have at least enough clothes to wear for the next two weeks.  Terry’s wardrobe is not nearly as expansive as mine, so he might be sporting some pretty odd combinations.

3.  I’m hitting Costco and FoodMaxx in one swoop today.  I loathe grocery shopping, but I can just see myself staring at the computer screen, typing nothing, rummaging in the fridge, finding nothing, justifying going out to eat, and then going to bed with a full stomach and empty pages.

4. I made a playlist that I’m hoping will inspire greatness.  If not greatness, then at least length.  If nothing else, it will send a clear message when I’m in public that I’m listening to music and I don’t want strangers talking to me.  Or touching me, as has happened in the past.

5. I’ve notified everyone in my life that I will be no fun in November.  If you didn’t get that call, consider this your warning.  I’m not letting myself go out and play until I’ve met my daily word count.  And chances are when I do come out and play, I’ll still be wandering the halls of my story.  So, forgive me for November and I promise to be fun in December.

6.  I’ve picked up a Safeway application just in case.

This I Believe: 1-100

My husband is the  consummate list maker.  He leaves himself a ‘To Do List’ each day before leaving work.  He delights in listing the best songs, best athletes, best movies, etc.

Me?

I’ve never been a list maker.  I write a grocery list and that’s it.  Even then I always manage to forget to buy at least one thing.

That is until last July when I became aware of a little boy who wrote his 100 beliefs for the 100th day of school.  I don’t agree with all of his beliefs, nor do I expect you to agree with all of mine.  What I do agree with is thinking hard about what I believe.  So I began tapping away at the keyboard, writing my own beliefs one line at a time.

The first thirty or so were easy, jumbling out in a quick rush.  The next thirty took some time, appearing in handfuls and pairs.  The last forty took, well, months.  I’d write one every once in a while, sometimes stopping at the words ‘I believe’ followed by bouts of blank staring.

I found myself deleting beliefs if my actions did not align with the words.  If I wasn’t living something, how could I claim to believe it?  On days when I was the better version of myself, instead of deleting the belief, I’d delete the action that didn’t fit.

I typed and then erased duplicates, relieved to know that I believed something at least enough to think of it on more than one occasion.

I carried this project with me and found my beliefs in the most unexpected places.  In the car, in the shower, on airplanes, on the couch, in my classroom, in the grocery store, in bathrooms, in dreams, in waiting rooms, and even on the playground.  I’d scavenge the depths of my purse for an old receipt and a pen, scratching out my beliefs at stoplights and checkstands.  I’d leave them on my answering machine and scrawl fragments in my bedside notebook.

Four months and 100 beliefs later, I’m surprised and content in the knowledge that there is so much to believe in.

Here is my list.

Read it.  Curse it.  Applaud it.

Whatever your reaction, when you reach the end, sit down and start a list of your own.  Discover yourself in the most unexpected places.  Discover unexpected parts of you in the most regular of places.  It will impact your life in compelling ways.  This I believe.

This I Believe

1) I believe God is good.

2) I believe my husband’s love is real.

3) I believe the written word is a living, powerful thing.

4) I believe truth is truth and it cannot be manipulated or changed.

5) I believe all people have the capacity to love.

6) I believe all people can learn.

7) I believe in the sanctity of marriage.

8. I believe in being a good steward of the planet.

9) I believe people should read every day.

10) I believe riding my bike helps me see beauty.

11) I believe I am responsible for helping the sick.

12) I believe in protecting children.

13) I believe in honesty.

14) I believe that time is my most valuable resource.

15) I believe I am a writer.

16) I believe in actively seeking peace.

17) I believe in thinking before speaking.

18) I believe in healing.

19) I believe people should smile at each other more often.

20) I believe in equality.

21) I believe that each day is precious.

22) I believe people should own fewer things.

23) I believe in buying books.

24) I believe people should go outside more.

25) I believe there are a lot of good books waiting to be written.

26) I believe in miracles.

27) I believe in Heaven and Hell.

28) I believe giving is better than receiving.

29) I believe that a drink of clean water helps almost everything.

30) I believe in saying what I mean and meaning what I say.

31) I believe life is full of humor.

32) I believe in taking naps.

33) I believe in being organized.

34) I believe joy comes in the morning.

35) I believe alcohol and tobacco are drugs.

36) I believe in examining the heart of my desires, instead of examining the desires of my heart.

37) I believe in focusing less on being right and more on doing good.

38) I believe playtime is important.

39) I believe in strength of heart.

40) I believe in eating with friends.

41) I believe age is just a number.

42) I believe God created the universe.

43) I believe home cooked is better than store-bought.

44) I believe in buying produce from the Farmers Market.

45) I believe in the underdog.

46) I believe the taking of life is the responsibility of God, not of man.

47) I believe people should not own guns.

48) I believe the Bible is the Word of God.

49) I believe in living drug free.

50) I believe “Thank you.” is a valid response to “I love you.”

51) I believe everyone has a story.

52) I believe love is a choice.

53) I believe the Holy Spirit lives in me.

54) I believe prayer is a conversation with God.

55) I believe some weeds are more beautiful than flowers.

56) I believe death is not the end.

57) I believe I am called to teach.

58) I believe breast milk is baby’s best first food.

59) I believe in laughing often.

60) I believe the book is usually better than the movie.

61) I believe in right and wrong.

62) I believe yelling never helps reach a resolution.

63) I believe anger can be a catalyst for change.

64) I believe a fetus is a baby and a baby is a life.

65) I believe in singing every day.

66) I believe joy is independent of circumstance.

67) I believe in staying up late and sleeping in during the summer.

68) I believe cuddling under a blanket is better than turning on the heater.

69) I believe in angels.

70) I believe in sharing ideas.

71) I believe I have a lot to learn.

72) I believe people should focus less on looking for the right person and more on being the right person.

73) I believe parenting is the most difficult and most important job.

74) I believe in asking questions.

75) I believe grief has many faces.

76) I believe my actions can help or harm and the choice is mine.

77) I believe ability is the most important part of ‘disability’.

78) I believe I have not been given a spirit of fear,

79) I believe in delegating.

80) I believe I am an important part of my community.

81) I believe in daily quiet time.

82) I believe children should be taught big concepts and big words.

83) I believe in voting.

84) I believe truth is stranger than fiction and also much easier to write!

85) I believe people should travel as often as possible.

86) I believe in gathering stories from previous generations.

87) I believe research is critical in pre-writing.

88) I believe taking a deep breath is good in all circumstances.

89) I believe in writing small.

90) I believe a good cry is necessary sometimes.

91) I believe in tithing.

92) I believe people who are unhappy at work should change jobs or change their attitude.

93) I believe worship is in daily life.

94) I believe my marital vows.

95) I believe healthcare is a basic human right.

96) I believe actions speak louder than words.

97) I believe God still speaks through visions and dreams.

98) I believe depression is an illness.

99) I believe great generosity begets rich blessing.

100) I believe my life is a gift.

Pouring Eyes

This week I started reading “Charlotte’s Web” to my class.  Year after year I marvel at E.B. White’s word choice.  His phrasing leaves me in awe.  It’s so rich that I often stop and read sentences over again, savoring the words like a lump of dark chocolate on my tongue.

From a young age I’ve been a collector of words.  I’m constantly listening for snippets of interesting conversation.  My ears stand at attention for striking word combinations.  A plastic spelling trophy along with stacks of journals brimming with angst filled teenage poetry are evidence of my history as a wordie.

I delight in helping my students collect and add words to their budding writing arsenal.  A couple of days ago, I was discussing Charlotte’s Web with one student in particular.  She was hopping around, sheets of sunset colored hair bouncing, telling me how excited she was to read the book because the movie was so good.  I prepared to launch into my creed on why the book is always better than the movie and how if she liked the movie, then she’ll love the book, etc., when this little pixie left me speechless.

The day before a huge storm had rolled in.  It was the kind of storm with lightning that razors the sky in two, the kind of storm with raindrops that smash against windowpanes, the kind of storm that requires me to turn the lights low and read “Thundercake” by Patricia Polacco.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of reading anything Patricia Polacco’s put on paper, then you know you are in the presence of a magician who turns letters into words into phrases that leave me begging for more.

The storm and the book inspired a torrent of weather poetry in Writers’ Workshop.  Words like poured and rumbled and struck fell out of their mouths onto the pages.  It was delicious.

So as I took a deep breath to deliver my sermon on books vs. movies, this little girl stopped bouncing and from behind her auburn tresses said

I loved the movie because it was such a good story it made my eyes pour.

And there it was.

It made my eyes pour.

My ears pricked up at her poignant pairing of words.

This six-year-old reached back into our weather words, grabbed one out, pitched it into another context, and encapsulated just the right emotion.

She assures me she won’t cry during the book because she already knows it’s sad.  Me?  I make no such claim.  E.B. White’s stunning writing has caused me to brush away more than a tear or two, mostly when his words slowly begin appearing in the writing of my young wordies.

NaNoWriMo

I am a lousy fiction writer.  Each time I’ve tried my hand at it my writing is full of plotless drivel, inane conversation and way too many adjectives.  It’s just plain awful.  You think I’m just being humble.  Number one, humility is not my strong suit.  Number two, it really is that bad.

These last couple of months have been different from what I expected and have left me a bit aimless.  Usually at this time of year, I’m deciding which charity I’m going to ride for.  I start to think about my weekly mileage goals and mull over routes.  As it turns out, having a goal or several smaller goals is something I miss.

So, hmmm, what to do with all this time?  What to do indeed.

I’m going to write a novel.

You’re horrified and, if you’ve read any of my fictional stuff, rightly so.  Well hang on a sec because it gets worse.  I’m going to participate in NaNoWriMo and write a novel in a month.  I’ll wait while you recover from that statement.  Starting November 1st, I’ll start typing with the goal of having 50,000 words or more by November 30th.

A dear friend of mine told me she’d rather gouge her eyes out than write a novel in a month.  I like my eyes, but come the middle of November I might be looking for sharp objects.

The thing is, other than an eyeball or two, I have nothing to lose.  It’s impossible for my fictional prose to worsen.  1667 words a day can only improve my writing or at the very least help me learn about myself as a writer.

Did I mention that writers who reach 50,000 words get to say they won?  I like the sound of being a winner.  Yup, I like it a lot.

The Dream Quilt

Asking for money is hard.  Asking for money for a good cause is only slightly less difficult.

My friend, Marie, has been a consistent supporter of my efforts to cycle and raise money for several worthy causes.  So about a month ago, when Marie told me her mother was doing the 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk, I was quick to donate.  My donation gave me a chance to win a quilt handmade by her mother.  I never win anything, so I didn’t really think about the quilt.

Last Thursday night I felt a cold plugging my head and I slept perched upright on the couch so I could do that whole breathing thing.  In the middle of the night I awoke from a dream, chilled by the crisp fall air brushing in through the windows, turning my exposed toes white.  I scrambled around for another blanket and as I lay waiting for sleep to descend, I thought about the dream.  I dreamt that I’d won the quilt and was sleeping snuggled under its story squares.

The next morning Marie beamed as she told me I’d won the quilt in real life.  I grinned from ear to ear as I recounted my dream.

The quilt arrives at my house later this month.  I can’t wait for frosty winter nights when I’ll pull it tight under my chin and dream some more.

The Same

It’s been almost three years since my dad died.  We were estranged, a choice that was mine.  And yet, grief still sneaks up on me.

Today I was baking peanut butter cookies, a holiday favorite, and my mind snapped back to the Christmas morning my parents gave me a Bianchi my dad had picked out for me.  Moments like that were few and far between and cause a twinge of sorrow.

There are other times when I do expect to feel grief and it’s not any easier.  My best friend and his wife moved into a beautiful house just beyond the cemetery where my dad is buried.  On the way to their house Terry and I were cruising in the Mini with the top down, enjoying a perfect evening.  When we passed by the cemetery, I could barely keep from vomiting.  I sucked in gulps of cool air, blinked back hot tears, and tried in vain to listen to what Terry was saying.

I’m not really sure how to handle grief when it sneaks up on me.  I’m entirely unsure how to handle it even when I know it’s coming.  The truth is, sneaky or not so sneaky, it all hurts the same.