I’m starting to notice an unsettling habit amongst the female writers I follow who also happen to be parents of small children. They all seem to get up at ungodly hours in order to practice their craft. I can see, on some levels, how this would be ideal. You would be alone, which would mean not having to field umpteen questions about food, play dates or the location of one particular sock. Where I get stuck is how one puts it into practice. The biggest stumbling block for me is coffee.Read More
I am in a major creative rut. Every time I sit in front of a screen with the intention of writing, the same sequence of events takes place. I open my laptop. I see 29 layers of unfinished musings on my desktop and am immediately stumped. Then I open the various notes where I keep writing ideas and my brain stages a rebellion.
“No way in hell I’m writing any of that crap,” says Muse. Door slams. Silence.
So I go to my default. I plan children’s activities. I plan menus. I make to do lists that include planning children’s activities and menus. Maybe I start the laundry, do the dishes, figure out what’s for dinner because, despite all the posturing, I actually suck at menu planning.
There’s always a new project I can use as an excuse for not putting words on a page. The newest one is Christmas. Christmas, you beautiful cornucopia of manufactured obligations. Photo books, family advent calendars, parties, gingerbread houses! And amidst it all I have someone suggesting I put my kid on a restricted diet. So now there’s research to do, cookbooks to read and oh so much planning.
You know what I mean. All that mental load stuff we’ve been talking about for the last few months. It is never ending but it’s almost like one of those exploding snake fireworks, the one where the black ash keeps frothing out of a tiny capsule. I can keep producing items for my list but if I really want it to stop, I just have to put my foot down.
And here’s where I usually hit a wall. I’ve written a few paragraphs, come to a decent point and am now left with no clue as to where to take this thing. So I send a text. Check email. Make a coffee. Try not to eat chocolate.
This happens to me a lot. I was in a good groove back in the spring, posting twice a week. I have no idea how I made that happen. Judah was only at the day home once a week and I used all his preschool time to workout so I’m not sure when I wrote. More importantly, I’m not sure how I wrote. These days, idea of writing anything at all sends my muse into the fetal position. The thought of writing two things a week, well that’s just crazy talk.
I have figured out one important factor, though. If I ever get back into a groove like that again, I can never take a break. Ever. It’s the same as working out. You miss one day, it’s fine. You miss a week and you think, screw it where’s the remote and that bag of Cool Ranch Doritos? (I just googled to make sure they still make those.)
I fell off both bandwagons as soon as summer rolled around. I missed a self-imposed post deadline. Then the next. Then I let the workouts slide. Next thing I know it’s September, I’m back at the gym and my legs are wondering what the heck I’m trying to prove. Meanwhile my muse is still sitting in the corner pretending there’s something uber important happening on Instagram.
It reminds me of a quote I heard last spring when I started to put some effort into my fitness regime. That is to say, around the time when I decided to actually go to a gym and not assume driving children all over place counted as “moderate activity.” I was doing an online workout and the instructor said, “If you’re tired of starting over, stop giving up.”
That one hit me like an eight pound hand weight. I was used to hearing her spout out the cheesiest of cheesie motivational quotes, ones that would be written in violet cursive overtop a floral background in your Instagram feed.
You get what you give. This is your time. Find the real you. Life is a box of chocolates so don’t eat all the good ones first.
OK, maybe not that last one. The point is I wasn’t expecting to feel compelled to write down anything she said let alone put it on a post-it on the bathroom mirror. Even Luke thought it was good, and he’s not one for violet cursive talk.
Whether it’s working out, eating more consciously, challenging yourself not to yell at your kids or honouring your creative passions, one of the hardest things to do is stay on course. Like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill, each step can seem impossibly hard, but at least we know our rocks can actually reach the top. We aren’t destined to continually start all over again. We have a choice.
I should know. I’ve walked back down that hill a thousand times, only to find my desire to write staring me right in the face when I get to the bottom. Clearly, I need a plan. Because as I stand here dusting my hands, I am certain of one real truth: I don’t want to spend the rest of my life at the bottom of this hill with this bloody rock standing in my way.
I have realized something over the last few days: writing is g.d. hard when your inspiration is out of town. Seriously. I figured if I finally gave myself an outlet, the words would flow. The ideas certainly do. But I don’t want to post crap. No one has time to read crap. Most people don’t even have time to read stuff that isn’t crap.
My need to write is a physiological thing that happens at unpredictable and often inconvenient times. It’s like a fart. If you’re at home alone, you can let it out freely without having to worry about others being around to experience what’s going on. It might stink, but time will fix it and no one will be the wiser. If you’re in public, well… then it’s all about repression of instincts.
I think this is why I’ve become so interested in photography. You don’t need three hours to take a decent photograph, especially if you consider yourself a documentary or “real-life” snapper. Let life happen and hopefully you’ll have your camera ready when something interesting presents itself. Then you can edit when the kids go to sleep or when they’re trying to pull your pants down or, even better, when your husband takes them to the pool — both of them, together, without another adult (my hero).
In my experience, which is very little, you can still dabble with presets when you’re sleep deprived. In fact, I find it relaxing to fiddle around with a photo in post processing. Does it look better in black and white or colour? What if I boost the contrast? Does that look too fake? Is fake okay?
Writing, on the other hand, requires me to have some semblance of mental function. I should mention here that I am in no way saying real photographers can work in their sleep. It’s much more of a honed craft for them. They know what works and what doesn’t and how to manipulate a photo (either before or after they take it) to look just right.
I’m sure if I sent some of my shots off to for some CC, as they call it, my photographer friends would come back with a plethora of suggestions for how to improve the exposure triangle, the lighting, the saturation, the composition or all of the above. They would suggest changes I couldn’t have seen because they never would have occurred to me. It’s similar to when people send me their writing. I suggest changes they couldn’t see because they aren’t used to the puzzle known as structural flow.
I think that’s my favourite part about editing. Often when people send me a piece, it isn’t the writing that needs help, it’s the structure. Move that sentence here, flip that paragraph around and, often, find the lede somewhere in the middle. You’re still getting from point A to point B, but without as many obstacles or switchbacks. There are times, though, when I get carried away and commit the asshole crime of editing for style. I pay penance for that because I know how much it sucks to have someone hijack your mojo.
I suppose that could also happen with photos. The eye is so personal, as we all learned from the black and blue dress. You know, the one that *isn’t* white and gold? I keep asking photographer friends for editing advice, but I’m not respecting the difficulty they must face in separating personal style from direction.
I need a moment here as I feel the enormity of creative possibilities that exist in the world. Can you imagine if we all liked the same music or read the same genre of book or ate the same food? Life would be boring as shit. The interesting thing is that we sometimes fail to see the value in those differences. We look at ourselves and subconsciously ask whether our clothes or cars or even parenting philosophies jive with the concept we want to present to the world. We see outliers and either envy their ability to stray from the norm or flee from the discomfort of something that’s too different.
I met a lady the other night — normal person/mom/wife like me — and she had the most amazingly rad hair. I thought, good god this woman is fantastic! I immediately started imagining myself with this kick-ass hairdo. Then I quickly came back to my own reality. I loved it on her, and it may very well look great on me, but it’s not who I am. I am subtle. I wear run of the mill clothes. I don’t dye my hair, I don’t do my nails and I only wear jewelry when I feel the need to look grown-up.
I am just me. And today I wrote about writing farts and rad hair.
The problem I seem to have with starting a blog, or anything really, is that I want it to be perfectly formed before it ever sees the light of day. I think I get this from my father, although I’m sure I’ve read some parenting thing somewhere that says we discount the concept of individuality by suggesting we inherit traits from our parents or that we pass them onto our children. It implies we are all merely the same person living over and over again just with less ozone and more technology.
I'd argue we're more likely to see the challenging parts of our personality (or label them as such) play themselves out in our little reincarnations than we are to see the good we pass on. The more modest among us are, anyway. In light of that, I will also suggest I get my ability to write from Dad and that I inherited my mother’s desire to help others along with her propensity to worry. A bit from Column A, a bit from Column B.
But here’s what I’m realizing. This little seed that I’m planting here can’t possibly grow into its own thing unless I put it out into the sun and add a little water every now and then. It’s like having children: we fool ourselves into believing we have some semblance of control when really it is they who call the shots, before they even divide into two cells.
I want to control what this may or may not become, which means it isn’t becoming anything. It is a dog on a leash in front of the most amazing off-leash park. There are so many piles of shit to roll in! Why won’t she just let me go!
This is probably where fear in the creative process comes into play. If I never actually launch this site, it can’t possibly fail. If no one knows it exists, no one can’t read it. I can go on living with this lovely notion of having this beautiful thing like so many others I see without actually having to do anything. It’s easier to live with the dream of success than the reality of failure but I’m creatively lonely and tired of having nothing to call my own.
I realize it’s possible to just write for myself, but (shock of the century), I have an ego. I enjoy writing for other people. I enjoy sparking conversation or helping people feel they aren’t alone by expressing what many of us are too socially respectable to say. My truth is real and the filter is thin.
(As for my photography, I really don’t know what I’m doing but I’m enjoying the challenge. Constructive feedback from those who do know what they’re doing is always welcome.)
So here we are on the eve of my not-40-yet birthday and I am finally (mentally) ready to push this thing out of the plane. It’s certainly not perfect. It definitely requires work. But at least it will now have purpose.
Nanoo Nanoo, and all that jazz.