At this point last year, I wanted to write a book. A novel. The amount of words and time and frustration didn’t matter. I wanted to write a novel, and that was all there was to it. I wrote. And I wrote. I signed up for NaNoWriMo and I won. 50,000 words later, I had a “You Have Successfully Won NaNoWriMo” certificate and 50,000 really shitty words. Half of the novel was forced, half of the novel was boring, and I’m pretty sure one or two scenes had been written in twice.
To say I was disappointed was an understatement. I put on my happy face for my friends and family and I told them of my success. “50,000 words? Wow. That’s awesome,” I would hear. I would smile and say thank you, but in my mind all I could think was that I had failed. There really isn’t anything like that kind of disappointment. You win, but you don’t really win.
So, I took a break from writing and threw myself whole-heartedly into teaching. I spent more time than ever planning because I didn’t want to think about all the time I could have been writing. I also began reading a lot more. I’ve always been an avid reader, but I branched out of my Young Adult (YA) and classics comfort zone and read some adult books. I began following my old writing professors on goodreads and reading what they were reading. I don’t think I realized it, but all year the books I was reading were preparing me for this summer.
A little over a week ago, it hit me. I was ready to write again. Fortunately for me though, I learned that I shouldn’t just start out with a novel. I had to find my voice. So I went in search of a book to help me along on this journey; a book that could give me just a little bit of structure. I walked out of the 90 degree weather and into Barnes and Noble, grabbed my tall soy latte, no foam, and sat in the aisle with books on writing. I pulled about twelve books off the shelf and read the introduction to each one of them. I ranked them in order of helpfulness and type. Slowly, I began putting books back on the shelf (where I found them, of course) until only one remained: One Year to a Writing Life by Susan M. Tiberghien.
Her introduction made me think of writing as it should be, without a real end in sight, writing as discovery, as craft. I felt drawn to this book because I believe that a writing life is “a life that slows down to touch each moment, a life that deepens from an inner source” (xvii). That’s the kind of writing life that I want: the kind that is solely about the writing, not the profit to be gained from the writing. Not the novel at the end but the process that takes you there.
It’s been about a week and I have completed all of the activities in Chapter 1. I’m trying to slow down and savor the moments. I’m journaling every morning when I wake up, and I’m trying to journal at night before falling asleep. I’m writing to write, to explore, to learn. I’m writing for myself, not for those around me.
After several months off, I’m definitely rusty. That’s okay because I’m finding my stride as we speak.
I am beginning a journey. It will take time and commitment, and I need all of my people on board. That’s why I’m telling you all. Really, this commitment started a long time ago. It started before college, even before high school. It started when I read that first book that changed my life (I know, you’ve heard this story before, but that’s irrelevant. It’s my story and it’s important darn it).
I have competed with myself two years now by participating in NaNoWriMo, and I have won one of those years. I have told myself time and time again that I am going to be a writer. That I am a writer. But then, I don’t do the very thing that has to be done in order to make me a writer: I don’t write.
At the beginning of this summer, my first real summer in several years, I bought a blue journal from Barnes and Noble. It was on the clearance shelf for 6.97 and the blue spoke of the ocean and cottages and open skies. I picked it up on a whim and said to myself “This summer I’m going to fill up that journal.” HA.
It is June 19, and I have filled up seven pages, four of which I did today. I needed a refresher, a reminder of why I love writing so much, why I feel stronger and more alive when I am putting the pen to the paper, or the fingers to the keyboard, so I did what I always do when that fancy strikes me: I went to the bookstore and bought a book on writing.
This book is meant to be a supplement as one builds a writing life. I have the summer to make the commitment, to build the habit of writing daily and passionately. I am going to complete the book throughout the summer, and I hope to be able to share with you all some of the writing that this books prompts. I’m going to need encouragement. I’m probably going to need a kick in the ass some days. That’s okay. It will be worth it. I’ll keep you posted as I build this writing life, and I’ll give you weekly updates on my journal filling.
Here is something that the book has prompted so far:
My heart pumps blood through my veins, keeping me alive and moving and doing things. The thump-thump of my heart is the music of my body-never skipping a beat, never stumbling on the melody. But I have two hearts, really. The one that pumps blood through my veins and the one that pumps stories into my soul. My first heart helps me get through the day; my second heart helps me remember it .
When I look out into the world, I see stories everywhere. The couple cuddling in the booth, the man and wife walking through the store and I can’t help but wonder if they’ve forgotten how to old hands. The group of kids at the library putting their probably gross hands on all of the books while the ever-patient librarian follows, wiping away finger prints and germs.
There are stories everywhere, and my second heart keeps taking them in, letting them flow through me. This second heart is just as valuable as my first heart. My first heart makes it to where I can breathe, the second makes sure the breathing is worthwhile.
It was a morning just like any other… The sun wasn’t up and my alarm screamed at me a little earlier than I wished. Who am I kidding? The alarm was screaming way before I was ready to start the day. That was normal though. I got ready in my normal and slow process.
Long, hot shower. Check.
Coffee Round Two. Check.
Make Up. Check.
Bags. Not check.
This isn’t completely unusual either. I have been called the bag lady before and that name didn’t end with high school. As a teacher, I have a teacher bag. As a girl, I also have a purse. As a person who goes to the gym, I have a gym bag. Let’s just say I have a lot of bags, so sometimes I bring all the bags in and sometimes I don’t. I’m not consistent. I wander around the house for a few minutes looking for them.
Here is a little taste of what my thought process was: Bags. Bags. Where are my bags? Did I bring them in last night? What did I do last night? Oh yea, I cut hair. I must have left them in the car. *Insert humming as I walk to the car to get my bags that will be where I left them* “Darn, we left the garage door open last night. Oops. *And open the car door*
Hmm. Not here. That’s funny. I really thought I left them in here. Must be in the office. *Walks to office still humming. It’s going to be a good day.* Hmm. Not here either. Where the hell are my bags?!
At this point I’m getting a little frantic, but I’m trying to keep calm. I often freak out long before the freak out is necessary, so I’m trying not to panic. In my not panicking state, I go through the living room like a mad woman, I’m sure my hair is standing up oddly from the many times I’ve run my hands through it. Dining room? Move all the chairs. No. Not here either. Closet? “I can’t find my bags,” I say to Nathan as I storm by him. My voice has taken on that crispness, a certain shortness of words that I get when I’m stressed about something. Not in the closet.
“What do you mean you can’t find your bags?” he asks as I zoom by him again. Checking the office again seems like a good idea, but isn’t a fruitful venture. “Beep. Garage Door,” says the security system as I open every door to my car including the hatchback that I know I didn’t use. Never hurts to check, right?
Here is where the real panic starts. Not the frantic nature of misplacing something, but the full on gut-wrenching, stomach-churning feeling of something that has been taken without permission. “Oh my God,” I repeat over and over.
“What’s wrong?” Nathan asks again.
“My… bags… are gone,” I state, gasping between words.
“Are you sure?” he asks.
“I’ve checked everywhere. They’re not anywhere. I don’t know where they are.”
Nathan proceeded to recheck everywhere that I checked. I sit on the arm of the blue leather couch, clutching my hair with the tears rolling down my cheeks and snot running freely. They took everything out of my car. How could someone do this to me? How could someone do this to anyone? I feel violated, frustrated, and more than anything, lost.
As I sit there, room blurry with my tears, I start mentally listing the things in my bags. My bag had papers I hadn’t graded yet, there were books I had checked out from the library, a movie that wasn’t mine. My favorite house shoes that I had just bought and could wear to work. Then it hit me. Oh. My. God. They took my iPad. It was in my purse. It was in my purse. The expletives were many and creative.
It was the first big gift that Nathan had bought me, aside from my wedding ring, and I used that thing everyday. I was like a drug addict who was going through withdrawals for the next week. People I work with would pull out their iPad during meetings and I would want to cry all over again, or steal it and laugh hysterically as they would then know what I was going through.
I know what you are thinking. A little melodramatic, isn’t she? I know. It’s just an iPad. I lost a lot of other stuff, too, but all that other stuff could be easily replaced. The iPad was something that I wasn’t going to be able to replace anytime soon. We called the police and had to file a report.
I patiently waited for the cop to arrive. By patiently (those of you who know me well probably can guess what I was doing while I was “patiently” waiting), I cleaned the entire house. I cleaned the guest bedroom, made our bed, unloaded the dishwasher, vacuumed a couple of rooms. You know, the works.
When the cop arrived, I was hoping for some serious detective work. You know, fingerprinting and foot print assessments, but that stuff just happens on TV. He was very nice, but he couldn’t undo my own lack of conscientiousness when I left the garage door open. And as much as I hated it, I knew that this was mostly my fault. Garage door open and car unlocked. Any thief could tell you that I was an easy target.
After this kind of morning, I then had to go to work. Red, puffy eyes and everything.
I got my bags back a couple of weeks later, they had dumped them because they weren’t worth money like the iPad and the computer charger. I was happy to get my stuff back, but I was still really frustrated with the loss of my iPad.
A couple of days later I realized that they stole my brand new perfume, too. Just perfume, but still. It’s been almost a month since this has happened, and I’m moving on. I even have some positive experiences to share with you. Those will come in another post, so check back. More on this story to come.
You want to know the best part of writing creative nonfiction? It’s all about what you remember. This is a true story, but some of the details have been fudged. I’m human after all, I can’t remember every detail of everything that happens to me. Hell, I can barely remember my name sometimes, and I always forget how old I am. Hope you like the story.
The pee-wee football team lined up at the forty yard line, preparing for what could be a game changer. “Let’s go Nic!” I shouted from my perch high in the bleachers. He doesn’t know I’m here, but hopefully my surprise visit will be like whipped cream on the top of that victory. Sitting in the very top row of the bleachers (this visit is a surprise after all), the team is far enough away that they look like moving miniatures, almost like watching football on the television.
The boys formed their line and the center snapped the ball, almost recklessly, his whole body moving more swiftly than normal with nerves. The quarterback retreated hastily into the pocket. Fourth down, with time running out, the players ran their routes wildly, all thought of control overpowered by their desire to win. The quarterback handed the ball off and the runner ran his route, at least until he ran into the defensive player.
“That’s gonna be close,” my Aunt Niki said as the ref checked to see if the team had made a first down.
“Too close,” I responded, unconsciously biting my nails. We all waited in rapt attention, until I saw Nic’s coach walk onto the field, having a quiet argument with the referee. Apparently the ball was close enough to a first down that he disagreed with the call. Frustrated, the coach threw his hands up in defeat and walked off the field. The players looked at him expectantly, almost as a child looks to a father, with the anticipation that something might have, must have changed. The kids all shook their heads in defeat.
Sweaty bodies, hair matted into tufts by the helmets that the little boys just pulled off their heads, the coach called his team to the end of the field where they all stood, waiting on their final instructions after they lost the last game of the season. “Take a knee,” the coach said, and a sea of black and gold uniformed boys, frustrated with their loss and furious at their opponent’s victory, knelt in an ameba style circle. When they finished their talk, little boys, heads hanging in disappointment, shuffled their way towards their families.
Nic, head hanging low, tears of frustration trying to escape, walked up to my mom and Aunt Niki; he hadn’t seen me yet. So much for my awesome surprise, I thought to myself. Frustration brimming to the surface, Nic looked up and saw me. “Casey!” he shouted, blue eyes reflective.
“Hey Nic!” I said, scooping him up into a tight hug. “I’ve missed you,” I whispered into his ear. He looked at me, face red from exertion, eyes sad. I grabbed his hand tightly and said, “Let’s go.”
I hadn’t seen Nic in several months. Since I had moved away to college, getting to visit home was becoming more and more difficult. When I was fifteen, Nic was born. We did everything together. He was one of the first passengers that I had when I got my car, and he was the one little boy that I missed the most about my hometown.
As we walked to the car, all sadness was replaced by anger and frustration. With each stomping step he took, he found someone else to blame. He blamed the referees, the other parents, and complained about the other team’s coach. “He was listenin’ to our coach call plays and then changing his defense. That’s cheatin’!” he shouted, his little Southern drawl more exaggerated in his anger.
On the way to the restaurant, Aunt Niki gave Nic the speech. “You can’t win them all, sweetie,” she said.
“I know I can’t win them all,” he complained, “but we should’ve won that one!”
We all unfolded out of Aunt Niki’s red convertible bug when we arrived at the restaurant. Food can take the sting from many pains, and a football loss is one of those pains. As we walked into the restaurant together, I bent down to whisper in his ear “Will it make you feel better to cuss about it?”
He grinned. “Well, yea! But I can’t. Mom’ll get me into trouble,” he said.
“I won’t tell,” I assured him.
“But she’ll hear,” he said.
“Just do it,” I teased him. “Say ‘damn.’”
“I don’ wanna.”
“Yea, you do. I can tell. You can whisper it.”
He used his first finger, gesturing to me to bring my face closer to his. “Damn,” he whispered in a tiny voice, a maniacal grin spreading across his tear-streaked face.
“Told you you would feel better,” I said as we walked, hand-in-hand, into the restaurant.
I have defeated my first two weeks at Rogers High School, and I am now almost halfway done with week three. I love it here. I’m really happy to be teaching ninth graders. They are hilarious. Some of the stories I could tell on them. =)
I know I haven’t posted in a while, I’m still getting into the groove of teaching and exercising and being a wife, and being a mom to puppies, and all the other things that I do. My students have been quick writing every day, and today is the day that I start writing with them. Hopefully I will be able to share more of what we are doing in class that way.
Here is my big announcement. I have decided to participate in Nanowrimo this year. I’m going to do it. I have started planning early enough that I think I will be able to do it. Hopefully by the first of November I will have a rough draft on a novel.
Well, hold me accountable friends, I promise to post more starting now. =)
John Mayer recently put out a new album, and I am kind of in love with it. One of the songs that I find myself most obsessed with is “A Place to Call Home.” At first, this song didn’t appeal to me; I was listening to the beat, not to the lyrics.
“Wanna come outside with me?” I ask Nathan with my hand resting on the door knob. The outside is growing dimmer by the moment, the sun has vanished behind the trees at the back end of the yard, taking with it some of the heat from the day.
“Umm” he starts, without looking up. He’s caught up in his book, some collection of letters from an old politician. I see the look that so often passes my face when I’m forced to return to the present from whatever story I have most recently entered. His blue eyes, the very palest of blues with a light brown rim around the black centers remind me of the ocean. “What are you doing?” he asks, almost suspiciously.
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to work,” I laugh as I say this. “I’m gonna repot the rosemary. I think you’re right, it is too big for the red pot. I’m going to put it in the big green one,” I respond. The big green pot once held a beautiful bunch of lavender that we had recently moved to the front flower bed when I had decided it was strong enough.
He smiles up at me, a little mischievous but mostly curious. “Can I bring my book?” he asks. I know what he means. I love to talk when I’m gardening. I talk to the plants, to the dirt, to the earth. I talk to no one in particular because I’m usually vocalizing secrets that aren’t meant to be shared, at least not with people. He knows this about me.
I respond with a look. “You can, but you know me. I won’t be able to keep quiet.” I smile, and he smiles, showing off his perfectly straight teeth, no orthodontia required.
“Are you going to put something in the red pot?” he asks.
“The basil. It’s not doing very well in the garden, I think it needs more space and shade” I respond. He smiles. I know he’s laughing on the inside with the way that I describe my gardening, like a nurse caring for patients.
“I’ll watch from in here. Have fun,” he says, as I slide through the doors so that the dogs can’t come out with me. It’s not time for them to garden. I start to gather my things: the rosemary, in its old red pot, the new pot, once a terra-cotta orange, now a spray painted shade of spring green, the organic gardening soil, the little shovel, my gloves that I never wear, and the watering can.
The green pot, empty at the moment, but full of possibilities, is much larger than the red pot. “I know this will seem too large, like you won’t ever fit, but I promise, you’ll make it. This time, you won’t be a big fish in a small pond, you’ll have to be a big fish in a big pond. That’s what my mom always told me about college. A big fish…” I pause the one-way conversation there and rip open the bag of new organic soil. When the bag opens, I inhale deeply. The scent of something both dirty and refreshing, new and old, man-made and of the earth, all of those things rolled into one.
I fill the pot about half way up, the gloves that I never wear long forgotten. The soil covers my hands as I break up the little clumps and move it around to make it all even. “I always used to talk to Mom when we were gardening.”
My fingernails are quickly caked up with soil, and I smile because I know what Nathan will say. Something like, “I don’t even know why you bought those gloves in the first place.” He always smiles when he says it, and I know he hasn’t quite given up on me yet.
“She talks to Dallas now, but it’s not the same,” I whisper to the rosemary. “It’s all drama, drama, drama.”
I take the rosemary and wiggle it around in its current pot. He was right, I think to myself, it did need a bigger pot. When I finally get the pot to release its ceramic hold on the roots of the plant, I’m surprised to find that the roots have grown in a circular pattern up from the bottom. What I take out of the pot is less dirt and more roots than anything. “Yeap,” I say. “It’s definitely time for you to try your hand at being a big fish in a big pond.” Oh man, I’m glad I did this now, I think.
“Still, sometimes I’m a little jealous.”
And I keep talking, but as I’m finishing up the planting, I speak directly to the rosemary, a little encouragement to help the rosemary make it in this new pot, this new space. “Nathan really loves you,” I say. “He uses you all the time. Really, it doesn’t much matter what we’re cooking: vegetables, chicken, pork, soup, anything. If it’s edible, it needs rosemary.” I gently place the rosemary into its new home after I try to break up some of the roots. I reach my arm into the bag of soil, shoulder deep, and use my bare hands to dump the fresh earth into the pot, surrounding the constrained roots with warm soil. “You’re going to love this new home.” In that moment, I’m giving the rosemary an option to grow a different direction.
When I was younger we lived in the perfect home. Perfect for an inquisitive tom boy like me. Although the inside of the house was small, the rooms oddly laid out and the windows warped with time, this house was the perfect space for me to grow up in.
My mom has always been something of a neat freak, cleaning constantly. The biggest difference between the two of us is that she prefers cleanliness with clutter, but I have always preferred zero clutter and impeccable cleanliness. This may be a difference in personality, but this difference was nonexistent when it came to hanging clothes out to dry.
When we first moved into this little house in the middle of nowhere, located on five lush acres, one of which we always mowed with a push mower, there were these perfectly spaced trees. While some would have hung a hammock or something similar, my mom and I hung a clothes line. Every week, we would wash all of the sheets and comforters in the house and hang them out to dry, allowing the smells of summer to mix with the fabric softener to make the comforter smell like the outdoors, the good part of the outdoors, had been blown inside.
In Salvador Dahli’s painting, there is a clock hanging on a dead tree that seems to be growing out of a desk. You can see all the numbers on the clock and the waves give it the appearance of something being blown by the wind. It brings back all those memories of living at home and hanging all the bedding out to dry every weekend.
Unfortunately, just like the tree is hollow, so are those memories. We have long since moved from that house into a new one. Even the newness on the current house is wearing off and my mom and stepdad are building a new one. Someone else is hanging clothes out to dry on our old clothesline, or maybe that clothesline doesn’t even exist any more.
Times have changed, and we have moved on. Part of me wonders if that is what this clock, hanging like sheets on the line on a dead, hollow tree is referring to. The times keep going, and we keep wishing for parts of the past.
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