Structure

I know I’m not the only one struggling to build my own routine right now. I envy disciplined people who can set up calendars and stick to them: a time for meditation, a time for exercise, a time for enjoying nature while constantly being aware of how close the nearest person (vector‽) is.

I can’t do the calendar thing, at least not all in one leap. I have a weekly entry for these blog posts, and whatever zoom meeting is coming next. I have added regular times for exercise in the past, but too often I ignore the recurring events and after a couple of weeks, I delete them.

It feels prudent to examine why I have failed before I attempt the same strategy once more.

My trouble with isolation has been that there is rarely an obligation which requires me to set an alarm. Consequently, my waking time has varied dramatically. I know from experience that I feel best when I sleep around 2:00 or 3:00am and wake about eight hours later, but in April I had great difficulty waking up before three in the afternoon.

May has been better, and I’ve been going to bed at more reasonable hours (it was not uncommon to see dawn last month). I’ve even set a recurring alarm Monday through Friday for 11:00am. I have settled into a morning routine of texting, reading news and checking out social media, then preparing coffee and breakfast.

On good days, breakfast takes place at my desk with my calendar and to-do list open so that I am aware of my goals. Drafting or editing blog posts is easy, and I’ve been very good at keeping my desktop organized so my projects are within reach. My desk has become a space where I come to work, which makes it easy to open a notebook or document and get to it.

Then there are days where I float to the living room with my coffee and get pulled into my phone again. I am trying to train myself to put it facedown more often, so that I can’t see the silent notifications appear on the screen. (But what’s the covid case count, will business opening increase it, is it safe to go outside… there are so many reasons why my brain wants me to check my phone at all times, including “Did that cute boy reply to my text?”)

I am going to put more energy into having my days be good. That might mean adopting a morning stretch routine where I drop out of bed onto a yoga mat and start my day feeling my body, or going from breakfast into the shower. Apparently I crave a physical warm-up, and I know better than to dismiss the link between the mind and the body.

I’ve done things backwards today. I’m going to click “schedule” and have a steamy shower. I’m staying indoors again today, I already had an encounter with heat exhaustion Monday and I am taking care not to repeat the experience. A jog can wait for a drop in temperature. Stay cool, and stay safe.

The importance of being kind

Of course, generally I mean in a large and societal sense, but today I’m focusing on right here in my home office. Which is half of my bedroom.

My free writing has been very angry lately. I don’t feel as if the people around me are behaving appropriately, I feel like the government is rushing things, and I have started thinking about when I get sick instead of if because hey, people need coffee for their selfies, right? The economy must go on.

It is difficult to find value in personal productivity without hearing that word in the voice of corporate culture. I cannot think of being productive without guilt being nearby (not productive enough, not efficient enough, not working hard enough even when it’s for my own benefit). It’s been like a dog chasing its tail in my head for the past week, and everything seems to take so much more energy than before.

I have been able to get some small things done. That list does not include a weekly blog post. I have to literally give myself permission to lower the bar and post this random confession, that’s how deeply ingrained the desire to produce is. (Note to self: waste some time and feel good about it.)

So here I am to say there’s nothing new to show this week. Things are moving behind the scenes and I hope to be able to make “untouched” available next week as a free download. If I cannot complete the zine, I will at least post a bit of it here to give you a taste.

Please be kind with yourselves as well. Listen to your bodies, make time and space to meditate, breathe in some fresh air if you can. I have never appreciated my balcony as much as I do now.

The Bardo, the Bridge, and the Shadow from Kim Krans Wild Unknown Archetypes

Inspiration

Daily writing practice is great, but what happens when you don’t have an idea? Or there are too many ideas competing to get on the page and your brain locks up? A lot of writers turn to prompts: a word, a phrase, sometimes an entire scenario that can help you get started. This makes it easy to jump on that early momentum and keep going.

I like cards. I don’t know where the obsession started, but the ritual of mixing and drawing and turning over cards is powerful for me. I have several tarot decks, a set of moon cards, and round archetype cards; each provides a set of images, stories in their own right, that can be used for inspiration.

One card can be sufficient for a writing prompt, but on days where I have a little more time and energy it can be fun to take several cards and weave their meanings together into a larger story. The images are rich enough that we can leave the guidebooks aside and focus instead on what is happening in each picture. If you can’t see anything coherent, try moving cards around. Be as simple or complex as you like. As soon as you feel any sort of idea moving in your mind, start writing and see where it takes you.

If you are a seasoned card reader, use the meanings you have learned to your advantage. Lean into any personal connections you have with individual cards, let associations carry you away, and get as much of it onto the page as you can. Practice is allowed to be messy! I have to fight my overwhelming urge to scratch neat lines of cursive into my notebook, but my scratches and misspellings tell me where I had the most energy, where my ideas outpaced my pen.

No cards? No problem! There are endless prompts available online, and communities on social media that offer regular writing challenges, so you can practice while fostering connections and friendships. I’ve also found another great bit of advice in Writing Down the Bones: Goldberg suggests taking down any interesting ideas you have for prompts and keeping them in your writing notebook, to give yourself a jumping-off point if you find yourself blanking down the road.

Another good idea is to commit to a specific time limit. It doesn’t have to be much, you can start with a few minutes to put yourself at ease. This encourages you to put a bit of effort into it; without a time limit, we might get out a few sentences, decide it’s too hard, and go make a cup of tea. Better yet, bring the cup of tea to your writing space, set a timer (on your phone, web browser, or get a cheap one to keep on your desk), and don’t stop until it goes off. When it does, you can stop to consider the writing, or you can take a short break and set another timer for yourself. Repeat as long as you have time and energy, find out what time limit you can commit to and how frequently.

The important thing is to write and see what comes out. A lot of my notebook lately has musings on the past (I am working on autobiographical fiction), complaints of boredom, and one interesting daydream about a plum. That might become something later. If you write nothing but FUCKFUCKFUCK or I don’t know what I’m doing, there is still value in it! You have conquered the blank page and transferred words from your mind to the physical world, and there is magic in that.

Distance

Is anyone else feeling very Lady of Shalott these days? Locked in a tower, cursed to see the real world only through a magic mirror? I appreciate that it’s for our collective safety, and I feel fortunate to be in a position where I can stay home. Still, it’s fair to be half sick of shadows.

Luckily, it has never been easier to reach out to people I care about. That is, when I have the energy to spare. A lot of my efforts go into keeping myself clean and fed, quieting the onslaught of information and shifting opinions based on new evidence, and responding to messages I receive. I have had moments of total shutdown, I have experienced the curious phenomenon of March lasting a hundred days and April only three, and I have come to the month of May with a stronger sense of purpose.

Let’s call it a mourning period for the Old Normal.

In the New Normal, at least the one we have created so far, many things are still carrying on. I have been continuing meetings with my mentor, April Ford. Her first novel Carousel is out May 14 and available for preorder where books are found! (Please consider purchasing directly from the publisher or your local bookseller.)

Work on Project Claire continues! For the first half of the mentorship, we focused on getting the first three chapters presentation-ready for a pitch. The book is pitched. I am waiting for good news or my very first rejection letter, and either one is an important milestone in the life of an author. Either way, I’m happy about where the beginning of the novel stands.

It also has a title, but I’m choosing to be superstitious about it.

Revisiting erotic scenes in the novel has me thinking about physical contact, and those thoughts are finding their home in a new zine. I feel very good about the story and essay so far. The goal is to have it available for free here as a PDF, with physical copies available for $5 PWYC (an internet search says coronavirus can live on paper for up to five days, please handle mail with caution). I will also carry them around with me once it’s safe to be out among the people.

Speaking of smut, if you’ve been curious about “pumpkin smut latte,” I’ve posted the story “welcome to parc ex” and it is not safe for work. I read it Monday evening at my mentor’s sex and intimacy workshop, then we had a nice conversation about writing process and inspiration and other sexy stories.

What’s the word for the feeling of reading erotic material in your bedroom for an audience?

I’ve signed up for a distance version of Shut Up & Write taking place Saturday, same day as the Violet Hour Book Club. (I had really better be further along in the book by the time this goes live; at the moment, I’ve read the introduction.)

Having something in my agenda not only gives me events to look forward to, it sort of grounds me in time. I’ve printed out a calendar so I can tick off the days, I’m turning the pages of my day calendar with calming quotes, I am trying to prevent that feeling of drifting though the hours with no real sense of which direction I want to go in. It’s okay if I can’t be productive right now, I’ve given myself that permission.

But if I can be, that’s where I’d like to put my energy. There is work I want to do.

Practice

Perhaps one of the reasons I’ve struggled so much with my identity as a writer is I don’t practice. I write to complete a project, a blog post, or a story. When Inspiration bubbles up, I’ll often do a freewrite, but that’s about it. No consistent practice.

I was talking with my dear friend Kat (who has started a tarot blog, please have a look!), who asked if I had ever read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. I am a thousand percent sure someone has quoted her or this book before, but I haven’t read it myself, so I bought a copy and eagerly awaited its arrival.

(We hear a lot about thanking people in healthcare, grocery and pharmacy employees, and cleaners and sanitation workers; let’s please not forget our mail carriers who are working harder than ever during this unprecedented time of staying at home.)

In her introduction, Goldberg invites readers to pick up anywhere, read the book start to finish, whatever works for them. The book is a collection of essays on writing, not only the putting of words on paper but the entire mental process in which we reflect on ideas. I’ve known for a while that a lot of my “writing” takes place in my head, and I need to sleep on major edits; now I’m working my way through this book putting language to concepts I am only beginning to touch.

She also insists on practice, which is a thing I knew writers did, but I never understood how I might do the same. Goldberg provides a variety of ideas for a writer seeking to practice, and though I’m still making my way through her book, I have made time (almost) every day to sit down and put my thoughts down.

In doing so, I quickly ran into a barrier.

I like to write at a desk, because otherwise I’m pretzeled in my bed or on a sofa and cricks begin to develop and I groan and crack and feel like I’m falling apart. However, my desk is the tiny thing I bought for my studio apartment in Parc Ex and can barely fit my laptop, monitor, and a notebook to scribble in. I felt entirely too cramped.

I spent a good three hours assembling and arranging most of what you see here: a larger desk surface, actual organizational space, and the printer out of the way. Right now, I’m enjoying birdsong and natural light (on both sides, I got mirrors!) and a home office space that is really pleasant to be in. My writing practice has never been so smooth, and I have some interesting phrases to look at later.

I will continue to practice, which will help me to work, which will give me something to come here and write about. I say that as if I don’t have news to catch up on, but that has to be another post. I’ll be back Thursday at 5:00pm EDT.