Don’t Think. Just Write.

“Just write.”
I was sitting in my advanced composition class, my last semester of my senior year of high school. Our teacher, Mr. Z., bore a stark resemblance in appearance and character to Mr. Forrester, which I loved. Sometimes I wondered, was it intentional? He never implied it. Years later, I think it was his best attempt at invoking a passion for writing in his students without making himself vulnerable by saying so. Mostly stoic, slightly sentimental in subtle ways, he never embellished praise over our work in the classroom, but we could see the hundreds of photos of past students he had taped to his cabinet year after year. Yet he was revered in ways that made the slackers straighten up, and made introverted writers like myself believe that even if my classmates hated my essays, his opinion was the only one that mattered.
His snow white mustache twitched in amusement as he stood before us and  repeated the phrase.
“Just write.” 
I looked around the room. Every eye was fixed.
“Don’t think; just write.” 
The cogs collectively turned. Is he telling us that we don’t have to try? That he appreciates a lack of thought? That the grades don’t matter? Or better yet, he won’t grade us? Please elaborate before I screw up the assignment, I begged silently.
Thankfully, he explained himself. The rest of his speech I don’t remember word for word, but that moment is forever echoing in my memory.
Except for weeks like this when I’m caught up in a frenzy of checking my blog stats and reading from writers that are way better than myself and drafting post after disappointing post that quickly coagulate into rotten, useless garbage as soon as I have written them. It all stinks. 
I’ve read several posts this week that have given me pause for writer’s reflection: What am I doing here and why? The posts I read, while convicting, while true, while inspiring, exposed my deeply rooted insecurities, making me even less sure that I wanted to answer the question. I don’t want to admit that I’m doing it wrong.
With the world at our finger tips online, it’s too easy to get caught up in being creative for the purpose of gaining readership and reaction – affirmation – especially through blogging. So much so that I rarely write just to write, but more often write about writing to gain readership and response from other writers.
When the blog stats tick up and then down and then dwindle there in that sickening flat line, I wonder where the vitality in my writing was lost. And then my insecurity spins wildly out of control and I question who I am and why and how I’m trying to do this thing called writing.
There, I admitted it. Step one is done.
Step two: How do I get myself out of this mess?
I tried to write it out all week long, battling against the part of me that says, if you blog about this, aren’t you bringing yourself back into the cycle of writing to be read? Nothing I wrote felt real to me when I went back and read it.
Looking through my arsenal of half-written posts that have never been published, I found the beginning of this draft that I abandoned a couple of months ago, with only his words,
“Just write.”
And I am that seventeen-year-old girl again, standing in front of my peers, essay in shaking hand, worried that what I’ve written and am about to share is completely worthless. And somehow, six years later, he’s still reminding me, quietly, in few words but in many, many ways, it’s not. With a steadying breath and his words reverberating in my mind, I tell myself,
Don’t think. Just write. 
P.S. I’ll love-link to those helpful posts I mentioned tomorrow.
[Image: Insecurity Photographed. Otherwise known as: A screenshot of what my desktop looks like when I'm dissatisfied with my writing, so I begin yet another untitled draft.]

[Image within the Image: desktop wallpaper found here.]

Must I Write?

“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: 

must I write?  

Dig into yourself for a deep answer.  

And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple ‘I must,’ then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

This is the voice that keeps speaking to me, whether I am busy and distracted, quiet and contemplative, alone or surrounded, coming or going, sleeping or waking. That’s how I know. That’s why I’m still trying, even when another voice in me tells me to quit.
What is it that motivates you? Don’t settle for anything less.

[Image found here.]

Less is More.

The less I watch T.V., the more I read, write, think, create
and do. 
The less takeout I eat, the more I enjoy cooking, eating and
being healthy. 
The less I spend, the more I save. Time, energy, worry, money
and future. 
The less negative tweets and statuses I read or write,
the more positive engagement I consume and share. 
The less I sleep in, the more I get done in a given day. 
The less I dwell and fret, the more grateful and motivated I feel. 
The less I freak, the more I pray. 
The less I scurry, the more I achieve. 
The less I schedule, the more present I am. 
The less I argue, the more I understand. 
The less of me, the more of You. 
I’m just trying to make space. 

Midnight in Paris.

As promised, hubby and I went on a much-needed dinner date Friday night, and went to see Midnight in Paris. Since its rave reviews at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival in May, I’ve been dying to see it. I’m a new fan of Woody Allen’s work since falling in love with his classic Annie Hall a few months ago, so I have been trying to explore his filmography more. Sadly, his last film, You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger, was only mildly amusing in my estimation.
His newest film, though, is brilliant. Midnight in Paris is the story of a dissatisfied but successful screenwriter, Gil (Owen Wilson) who aspires to write his first novel and break away from the manufactured and blockbuster-driven film industry. His fiance, Inez (Rachel McAdams), is less than enthusiastic about the shift in his creative priorities. While vacationing in Paris with Inez’s parents, they run into Inez’s friend Paul (Michael Sheen), a “pseudo-intellectual” that is an “expert” on everything from French sculptures to literature to architecture and wine. Inez is eager to tour Paris with Paul and his wife Carol, but Gil is visibly and annoyed and sometimes threatened by Paul’s arrogant and often argumentative pseudo-intellectualism.
Set against a back-drop of the ever romantic and sentimentally-filmed Paris, the conflicts between Gil and Inez, Gil and Paul, and Gil and Inez’s parents highlight the inner conflict that Gil has with his writing. Gil, however serious he is about completing his novel, is unsure if he has what it takes to be a legitimate writer. Surrounded by people who question the same thing, Gil pines for a golden era, like Paris in the 1920′s, when Earnest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, T.S. Eliot and others graced the city with their creative geniuses.
As he wanders Paris alone after midnight, Gil encounters in surprising and mysteriously tangible ways his belief that if he had born in that golden era, he would be the writer he longs to be.
Aside from being utterly surprised by the unfolding plot, I appreciated that once again Allen’s work addresses the heart of creative and artistic struggle, mocks it and at the same time consoles it. It’s a natural and naive inclination for all artists to believe that the golden ages of creativity have passed and along with them the “greats” who understood and created art in its truest forms, and that we are now left to mimic and recreate their work; nothing is original anymore. We allow our loss of faith in our generation to influence and taint our own work. We ask, how can we be sure that our work is genuine, meaningful, authentic, moving, timeless?
It has left me wondering, what era do I pine for creatively? What author or artist do I wish I could have met and what would I ask them, given the opportunity? And, how did artists before us feel about their contemporaries and the world they lived in? What era did they pine for and attempt to recreate?
What about you, dear readers? Is there an era, time or place that you wish you lived in, or that influences your work? If you could meet your favorite author or artist, who would it be and what would you ask them?

Working for the Weekend…

It’s Friday, my friends. I have a lot on my plate this weekend, but I’m happy to be home (for once!) and working and I plan to embrace productivity in all it’s exhaustive glory so long as I actually accomplish it all. I know, I know. I can do anything, but not everything.
For now, I’m struck by this thought that Shauna shared on her blog the other day,
“I choose to believe that inspiration is my responsibility—I create it in the life I lead…  

It’s my responsibility to live a life that sustains me creatively, so that when it’s “go-time” and I’m staring at a blank screen, I’ve got something to say. The work of inspiration doesn’t happen when you sit down to write—it happens all the rest of time, when you’re reading great writing, when you’re taking walks or taking naps or taking pictures on your phone at the farmer’s market. Pay attention to what inspires you creatively, and work that into your life with the same urgency and intention that you plan writing time.” 

I, like many many artists and creative people before me, struggle with effective inspiration-gathering. What is inspiration and what is wasted time? How do we live life and make time to write about it? How do I write about life if I’m not living it?
This weekend I know I have to dedicate myself to work and life – producing the articles and write-ups and quotes I’ve committed to, paying my bills, cleaning up around the house, scheduling my car repairs, going grocery shopping. It’s not glamorous and it’s not always fun, but I can’t avoid life if I’m going to write about it.
As for inspiration, I plan to make time for that promising 70 degrees and sunny Sunday headed our way and throw a cook-out with my favorite people. Good food and good company are a recipe for the best kind of writing, truly. And for tonight, I’m going on a date with my hubby. We plan to see Midnight in Paris and eat dinner together (a rarity for us right now, unfortunately.)
What will you do with your weekend? I hope it’s a good one.

[Image: Source: via Bethany on Pinterest]

Just be.

It’s the simple moments that make life worth it. We are so preoccupied trying to construct happiness for ourselves that we easily forget that true joy comes when we allow ourselves just to be free.
So I saw as I watched my three year-old niece run in her bathing suit through my in-laws’ sprinkler yesterday afternoon. Timidly at first, she ran around the outer arch of the water, but soon she was running headlong into the middle of it, unheeded by its coldness or the grass that stuck to her as she tumbled across the lawn. Then she was squealing and begging us to join her, and just like that, it was everyone’s turn – mommy, Unca Matt, papa, gramma-mommy, Auntie B – to run fully clothed through the sprinkler as if we were only three, too. In my sodden jean-skirt I sat down in the sun and watched as she ran and flung her slippery little arms around my sister-in-law’s neck. 

These are the days we live for.

Do What Gives You Peace : Write.

I was in the midst of an enthusiastic email today when I realized how rarely I speak to myself in such a way. A very very kind colleague of mine recommended me for a new writing opportunity and as I wrote my email submission, I was saying,

Writing is my life passion, it’s what I live for! 

when I stopped and thought to myself,

If that’s true, then why am I constantly constraining myself whenever I feel the urge to write? 

The urge comes so often and so naturally that my first instinct is to sift through the thought and pick it apart rather than immediately writing it down. I self-edit before the words even reach the page. If my brain were visible by computer screen, the cursor would move back and forth so fast that hardly a sentence or idea would ever reach completion on most days. 
I continued writing the email and submitted it, but the frustration with myself stuck with me. Add it to the list – there is a lot in my life to be frustrated about at the moment. Finances. Family. My grossly unkempt apartment with week old dirty dishes and laundry that’s clean but unfolded and receipts scattered everywhere. Time feels like a farce when it runs faster than your mind can keep up with.
This is the drama that is my life. In the midst of everything that is truly sad and scary and strange that I cannot control, I allow the one thing I have going for me, my true passion, to be to an insecurity, something to fear. And because it has the vast potential to transform my life and I know it, I allow my dream to become entangled with all that I am terrified to hold fast to, and also to let go of.
When I let myself do it, it gives voice to unspeakable peace. Yes, it is a paradox. The things I cannot say, the feelings that I live with and the fears and worries and also the irrepressible, naive, cock-eyed hope and faith that I carry with me can be uncovered and unpacked and analyzed and laid to rest, maybe even with the chance that it will grow and flourish into something new, if I only let it.
In the midst of my frustration, I read a post by one of my favorite writers, Shauna Niequist, this morning about her process of learning through writing. She’s on her third book now, and she says,
“Once again today, I’m reminded that writing is more about learning than telling, more about discovering than reporting, more about revealing than pronouncing. I’m showing up today for the first time in a long time, humble before the page, or the laptop as it were, ready to learn, ready to discover.”

I self-edit because I think I have to have it figured out before I say it. In some cases, that habit works to my advantage, but in writing it squelches my creativity and exposes my self-consciousness.
If the only constant in life is that we are all learning to live, then as I write about living, I am in a process of learning. And I can be at peace with that.
Thanks for reminding me through your reminder, Shauna. 

The Rain.

Driving home from Michigan yesterday I finally found an exit that took me to the lake shore. I’ve tried before and gotten lost in loops of highway exits and side roads as my GPS chirps in the background, “recalculating, recalculating…” This time I muted the thing, took an exit I haven’t taken before and discovered the road I remembered from our honeymoon to St. Joseph, Michigan. In my memory the water gleamed blue with sunshine as husband and I said good-bye to the only vacation we’ve taken since we married nearly two years ago.
I stopped and got out of the car, grateful to stretch my legs and let the breeze air out my shirt, drenched in sweat from a drive with no air-conditioning in 85 degree weather, and to reflect on my trip home and the road ahead of me – what I was returning to and what I was leaving behind.
The aquamarine waves lapped quietly, disappearing into a hazy sky. With the sun shining and calm winds, it was hard to fathom the ominous storm forecasted to strike the midwest. Supposedly I was headed straight into the thick of it, but from where I sat things looked peaceful and incapable of being disturbed. I wanted to sit there forever, the sun and I defiantly waiting for a sign from the darkening sky to prove the weatherman right or wrong. I know that meteorology is a science, but for how often they are wrong I wanted to believe that the storms wouldn’t come.
I sweltered the whole way home, watching the sky grow darker and gray, fraught with clouds. In the distance I could see the slant sheet of rain spill over the southwest.
At long last I pulled into the lot of my apartment, and the sky, heavy with thunder, broke open in a downpour.
I stepped from the car, lifted my hands open-palmed to the sky.
For once it felt good to let the cold drops wash over me, engulf me in its soaking breeze, let the rumble of thunder ripple from my spine to my toes.
What else am I to do but welcome it now?


God Gave Me a Zeppelin Shirt.

I’m not very good at letting myself feel things when I should. At least that’s how I reprimand and rationalize myself when the feelings just won’t stay stuffed down. I’m hard on myself. I think we all are, in different, debilitating ways. We want to function. We want to fulfill expectations with a reality that will make us feel better about the things we just can’t control.
We want to compartmentalize.
Relationships here.
Work there.
Emotions in the corner.
Insecurity somehow slips into each of those tightly bound spaces and unravels everything. The what ifs and the fears and the happy possibilities become tangled into a magnificent twist of confusion and worry.
We understand nothing.
We do nothing.
I do believe, in optimistic and maybe naive moments that we can work our way out of self destructive habits. I want to believe that each of us can learn to live in the moment and see outside of our selves. And I know, like a blind man feels with distinction a tree, a face, a hand of something he cannot see, that God is there, is present in my day-to-day guiding and protecting and providing for me. But I also feel the gravel, the steep hill and rushing currents as I work through the hard, unknowable, incomprehensible things. Each movement forward feels shaky and precarious. I don’t like being unable to see the end of the road and I don’t like not knowing how long it will or won’t take to get there, wherever there is.
It’s these thoughts that catch me when I’m alone and squelch my solitude, my peace. And so last night, there I was, alone in my thoughts, putting away dishes before friends came over for coffee and listening absent-mindedly to Led Zeppelin in the background, when my husband came up behind me to dance – a regular occurrence. He placed his hands on my hips and swayed to the bass beat and for a minute I let him, lost in the song and remembering how exactly we wound up here.
It was my love for Led Zeppelin that made me impulse-purchase a really rad t-shirt right before I went to college. And it was the t-shirt that made Matt notice me from across the classroom way back in the day [2005] when we were just two kids, trying to survive college and find someone whose music taste didn’t make us vomit. And it was those early spring nights when we listened to vinyls and cassette tapes and talked about we had in common that made us realize: there’s no one else that we’d rather rock out with than each other, forever and ever, I Do, amen…
And now here we are, adults, married, dealing with day-to-day life together and wondering, each of us, where we’re headed and how to get there. And it’s not always glamourous and he’s not a famous rockstar [yet] and we’re flat broke, and he sometimes comes home to find me weeping into a couch cushion or zoning out as I stand over a sink of dirty dishes, but we have each other and that’s really good. Because I had no idea that buying a Zeppelin shirt would be the catalyst for changing my life and meeting my future husband. And whatever happens or doesn’t happen – real or in our insecure imaginations – we have that opportunity to stop in the midst of it and see how far we’ve come. God provides, in surprising and subtle ways that we aren’t capable of imagining or orchestrating on our own.
I need to stop, listen, dance in the now, where I’m safe and sound in what He’s already given me.
I am not alone.

[Engagement photo taken by this talented dude.]


Today. It’s just one of those when I wish with every fiber of me to do something – an impossible, unstoppable, heart-in-my-throat, no-turning-back thing that will express the breadth and depth of what I cannot say. I’d dye my hair pink, quit working, move to a foreign country and go sky diving in some breathtakingly beautiful place I’ve never been. Today I would go back to Interlaken, Switzerland and capitalize on the “adventure capital of the world” and go bungee-jumping, without a worry about safety or cents or holding down my lunch. I’m young, right? Let’s do it now before I’m not.
Today I would swim in the ocean even though I’m terrified and not very good at it. I’d reach out and touch things I’ve never seen before and roll around in the waves just so I can feel out of control. Because I am. Everything is. I would do it all if I thought that it would expel the breath I’m holding. Today it is hard for me to breathe.
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