Cleaning Today’s Slate | Recovering from Input Overload

Cleaning Today’s Slate | Recovering from Input Overload

Last night, I had about 450 minutes of respite from Input, and I slept well.

Deep sleep visited me, unlike the night before—a night of restlessness born from a bubbling slough of unconscious anxieties. The battles I fight right now are mere skirmishes, practices even. In that sense, I have no right to become anxious or sleepless, and yet it happens more often than I like when I allow Input to balloon out of control.

Sleepwalking days follow wakeful nights. I’ve dubbed them “Lost Days” because though I move and function and take care of vital tasks, I’m not one hundred percent. The lack of sleep puts stress on my immune system like a hot day taxing a freezer sitting out in the full sun. I feel physically ill. Sometimes I even run a slight temperature. I am mentally fogged. Taking a long afternoon nap in bed perpetuates the problem of night-time insomnia for me, so I fight through the long, Lost Day, catching a cat nap on the couch when necessary, and then go to bed at a reasonable hour, surrendering to sleep and the comfort of blank sheets.

When I awoke at 5:30 a.m. this morning, I tried to return to the bliss of sleep’s respite, but I could not. Instead, I realized the previous day had been spent recovering from an Input-binge hangover. The last couple of weeks have been full of information and social media and reading and researching ideas for projects in progress. Not only was my desk cluttered, but my mind felt cluttered.

This morning after my night’s reboot, it was time to create a blank slate in my work space as well. So, between 5:30 and 6:04 a.m. I did just that.

  • I cleared my desk.
  • I pulled all of the sticky notes off the wall in front of my desk except for one, “…the blank page is a magic box.” (J. J. Abrams, TED Talk)
  • I thought about writing on paper, but instead I chose to clear my computer—metaphorically. I shut down all programs except my word processor. I did not check email. I did not check social media. I went straight to my no-distractions blank page mode in Scrivener (the writing software I use), and I began to write.

It was a clean start to a new day.

How will you reduce your Input load today?


 

Email Exclusives!

If you subscribe to my Weekly Email Update (which will go out at 5:00 P.M. EDT on August 7, 2015), you’ll find out who might be In Need of  a New Name and the current status of my WIP (Work in Progress) of the Week. The writing life can be quite riveting (Yes, really! ;-)), so you won’t want to miss an issue. Sign up today!

 

Who Are You? | Having the Guts to Tell Your Story

Who Are You? | Having the Guts to Tell Your Story

I started meeting with some younger writers about three weeks ago. (And yes, younger refers to their ages not their writing abilities.) We’re getting together to share what we’re writing, help each other with writing problems, and encourage one another. Sounds simple enough, right?

Sure, if you don’t mind being vulnerable and turning yourself inside out for the world to see. Readers who have never written something intended for an audience beyond an English teacher may not have experienced the odd combination of terror and excitement that comes when you first read your own work to people you don’t know well. I imagine, however, that most can identify with this sentiment pulled from my About Page:

Sometimes it feels like our story isn’t worth sharing. It’s not as perfect, polished, or awe-inspiring as the person next door…we feel like our lives are just a trickle in the grand scheme of life.

Have you ever compared yourself and felt that way? I do this more often that I like to admit, but now, whenever those feelings rear up inside me, I remind myself how ugly it is when my eyes roll back into my head and stare at myself rather than looking outward as they should. It may seem that keeping focused on others means we shouldn’t talk about ourselves, but that can’t be the answer. We’d become a planet of mutes, which is difficult to imagine. And what about exhibitionism, tattle telling, slander, gossip, soap operas, and the like? We all know people who have no filter or can’t stop talking about themselves or use story as a weapon to hurt others. Do I really want to encourage that kind of behavior? The answer is, of course, no. So what am I saying?

Have the guts to own who you are and know your story. Be ready to share your story* when it can redeem the moment and encourage others.

I’m working on owning my story. I still stumble over my words when I am put on the spot and must reveal I’m a writer. On the other hand, I’m becoming less afraid to share other parts of my story—scenes and chapters that in the past were too painful to even think about much less verbalize. Think about your life. When have you experienced pain, failure, or embarrassment? Now, think again. When have you experienced good, beauty, and redemption? Think on those things. Share them when prompted. What’s your story?   *When I say “story,” I don’t mean that you tell the 15-volume, one-million-word version every time you share it. In life, abridged versions are usually desirable.

Photo Credit: L. Yost

A Picture’s Worth 1000 Words But May Hide 10,000 More

A Picture’s Worth 1000 Words But May Hide 10,000 More

If your house caught fire, your loved ones (including pets) were safe, and you had time to save one thing, what would it be?

Before off-site digital storage existed, photographs would have been the top answer for many because they are irreplaceable. We can’t go back in time and capture those moments again.

And yet, within a generation or two, many of those priceless images become worthless and meaningless. Printed photographs find their way into flea market bins anonymous and mute regarding their history. Their unclaimed digital cousins may simply be erased or eventually released onto public domain sites where they will become meme fodder for coming generations. How can something priceless become worthless in such a short time?

Family photos are priceless to us because they are story triggers, no matter their aesthetic quality. They help us remember who we are, where we started, and how far we’ve come. No matter how well a photograph is composed, however, it is unable to speak beyond its proverbial one thousand words. We need words written, spoken, or acted out in relationship to know the full story behind the image. A picture detached from its story becomes meaningless to all but those rare, curious souls compelled to solve the mysteries the image is incapable of revealing on its own.

So where are all of these thoughts coming from? This week, I’m excited to say I’ve taken on a new writing project. I’m helping my dad write down his stories with the goal of turning them into a memoir that can be shared.

Spending so much time delving into my past and the past beyond my past has been a bit like taking a vacation from the present. It’s not where I want to live long-term, but it has been enjoyable to revisit the familiar, best-loved family stories and to hear new stories that my dad has never told me before. It has been an exercise in remembering and discovering the deeper stories behind my mind’s “pictures” of our family’s history. I’ve gotten to know my parents better, and it has been both humbling and instructive to look back at our journeys so far.

I’d like to encourage you to take some time this week to consider which stories in your life help you to remember who you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. Take time to share your stories and listen to others’ stories so we can  remember our lives are not meaningless. Focus on the ones that reveal the priceless truths and mysteries behind the image you present to the world. Though we, like our photographs, may be forgotten, let us not allow the important stories that reveal life’s truths end up forgotten on a flea market table.

A picture may be worth 1000 words, but its story may be worth 10,000 more.

Photo: From my family’s photo archives.

Owning Your Age | Bonus: How to Age Ten Years in Three Months

Owning Your Age | Bonus: How to Age Ten Years in Three Months

Around seven or eight years ago, when my daughter was in high school, a cashier thought I was my daughter’s sister. (Either that or she was well-versed in the art of flattery and customer manipulation.)  Yesterday, a different cashier (not so well-versed in the art of flattery) assumed I was the grandmother of an eleven-year-old. I felt like I’d aged ten years in five seconds as I silently assured myself that grandmothers are much older than I am and the cashier needed her vision checked.

Though the eleven-year-old’s mother was also standing with us and it was not totally clear who the cashier had dubbed “grandma,” I’m sure it was me. Not only is my friend younger than me, but three months ago, I stopped coloring my hair.

People have noticed. Some have asked if I’m frosting my hair. Two people have said I’m “rocking” the look. Others who have chosen the natural route have given me a high five. Those who are disturbed by this rapid transformation from middle-aged mother to potential grandmother are thankfully keeping their thoughts to themselves.

After yesterday’s shocking experience jolted me out of my blissful denial that I am within spitting distance of fifty years old, I’ve asked myself if I can own my age.

First, I did the math. I needed to prove to myself that even though I don’t feel old enough to be a grandmother I could technically be the biological grandmother of an eleven-year-old. Unfortunately, the numbers do not lie. I could if both my daughter and I had a child when we were 17.5 years old. This is not the case, but it is biologically possible and has been for longer than I want to admit.

Then, I considered going back to the coloring bottle. I’ve done it before. I found my first gray hair in college. For a few years I pulled the gray hairs out until I began to fear going bald. In my early thirties I started coloring my hair to hide the gray because I didn’t want to look older than I was. I quit for a few years after what may have been an allergic reaction, but then one day I looked in the mirror and couldn’t own the age that looked back at me. I began coloring again with no ill effects but the inconvenience. Three months ago, I stopped because I was tired of trying to mask the truth—I’m going gray. But I reserved the right to start coloring again, if my ego couldn’t handle it.

Last night, I had a “Come to Jesus” meeting with my ego. My ego said, “You’re letting yourself go!” and “Gray hair makes you look older than you are!” But my ego can’t argue with the facts—I am old enough to be a grandmother and I was blessed with early graying hair. My looks have changed as a result of my decision, but that doesn’t mean I’m not taking care of myself. If people want to assume gray hair means I’m as old or even older than I am, so be it. And as Proverbs  16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.”

Ultimately, this experience has challenged me to rethink my own assumptions about age and ask myself if I truly own my age.

  • When I was a child, I often thought I wanted to be five years older and my focus was on the future, so I didn’t own my age.
  • Since my mid twenties, I’ve often wanted to be five or more years younger which kept me focused on my near past. I rarely owned my age.
  • As I approach my fifties, I find myself more and more focused on Today. Maybe I’m getting closer to owning my age?

When it comes down to it, an age is simply a mile marker, not a sum of who we are. Each stage of the journey has its joys and challenges. If we always think the best of life is behind us or ahead, we’ll never experience it. So here’s to owning your age (and your hair color)—whatever it may be.

Do you own your age?


 

FREE BONUS!

For those who are tired of coloring their hair to hide the gray

Go natural. It’s free, and you can age yourself 10 years in 3 months, guaranteed. If for any reason you are not satisfied, you can always give your money back to your hairdresser or favorite retailer and start coloring again.

Serving the Gift of Work

Serving the Gift of Work

In the past two weeks, I’ve had at least two conversations where I said, “Since I’m not working anymore…,” and the person I was talking to responded, “But you are working. You’re a writer.”

Oh yeah. That work.

I needed the reminder that writing is my work because I don’t always feel like it is legitimate work for a number of reasons:

  • Creative writing doesn’t include a regular paycheck.
  • I work from home.
  • I’m still developing the discipline to write daily. Sometimes I do well. Other times, I don’t.
  • I have more unfinished writing than published writing, partly because I write slowly, but mainly because I’m a perfectionist who knows my writing will never be “good enough.”
  • At this point, all deadlines are self-imposed.
  • I hired myself, and I’m my own boss. Sometimes I wonder if I picked the right person for the job.
  • The opportunity to write full time is an undeserved gift.

The last reason fills me with gratitude, but it’s sometimes accompanied by a paralyzing guilt and sense of responsibility. What if I don’t succeed? Why have I been given this gift?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but the second reveals something fundamental about work. Seeing the opportunity and ability to work as a gift, whether we’re self-employed or an employee, shifts the focus off our personal success or failure to the fact that work requires us to serve. Not only do we need to serve others—our customers and co-workers and family—but we need to serve the gifts we’ve been given.

This is a truth that Madeleine L’Engle came back to many times when talking about her work as a storyteller and writer. So, to wrap up this small offering, I’ll leave you with a few of her words from The Rock That Is Higher:

I listen to my stories; they are given to me, but they don’t come without a price. We do have to pay, with hours of work that ends up in the wastepaper basket, with intense loneliness, with a vulnerability that often causes us to be hurt. And I’m not sure that it’s a choice. If we’re given a gift—and the size of the gift, small or great, does not matter—then we are required to serve it, like it or not, ready or not. Most of us, that is, because I have seen people of great talent who have done nothing with their talent who mutter about “When there’s time…,” or who bury their talent because it’s too risky to use.

Yes, it is risky. We may not hear the story well. We may be like faulty radios, transmitting only static and words out of context. But I believe that it is a risk we have to take. And it is worth it, because the story knows more than the artist knows.

Whatever gift of work you’ve been given, I hope you’re encouraged to serve that gift today.

Photo Credit: singhajay at morguefile.com

A Letter to the Fearful Who Lie Awake at Night

A Letter to the Fearful Who Lie Awake at Night

I see you there in the darkness–eyes wide open searching for any scrap of light to illuminate the dark corners of your mind. You dare not go to sleep because then you will be alone with your fears. Even loved ones become mere mannequins in your dream worlds, impotent and unable to save you from your darkest imaginings.

So  you lie awake hoping that if you don’t look under the bed or in the closet or in the darkest dungeons of your mind, you can think your way out of your dread.

Logic does not  know fear. Right?

You calculate and plot and plan ways to escape and eradicate the realities of the day that haunt and hunt you in the night.

If I work harder…

If I can convince someone…

If I eliminate this…

If I add that…

In those shrouded moments between wakefulness and sleep, “ifs” allow you to become the hero who confronts the monster and saves the day.

Yet in this theatre of the mind, fears have infiltrated the audience, and they boo, hiss, and throw refuse at your attempts to learn what courage is. They demand you rehearse the scene again and again, and laugh as they tell you that you’ll never get it right.

Not when it counts—in the real world.

Logic cannot save you because you are also an emotional creature. They convince you that in their presence, you are weak, ineffective, and a failure. Fear is your kryptonite—the one element of the universe that you cannot overcome and that saps you of life.

BUT.

(And yes, that is a big but.)

Fears may seem omnipresent and omnipotent, always lurking in the corners of your life and exerting powers you cannot overcome, but they are not omniscient.

  • Fear does not know that because God made you an emotional creature, it is just one of the many emotions you are capable of experiencing. It is not the greatest or most powerful and can be trumped by faith, hope, love, kindness, perseverance, self-control, and so many more.
  • Fear does not know that you can break the fourth wall in the theatre of your mind, allowing you, the hero, to confront the audience members who are ruining the experience for everyone else.
  • Fear does not know how to live in the light of truth.

So as you lie awake at night…

  • Remember what fear does not know.
  • Write down your worries and cares and place them far from the spot where you lay your head, knowing tomorrow’s light (and a night’s rest) will help you overcome challenges in ways that fear’s darkness never can.
  • Know that fear can make you stronger if you keep it in its proper place.
  • Pray, because though you may feel alone, you are not alone.

Yours truly,

A fellow seeker of light who often lies awake at night.

Photo Credit: greyerbaby at MorgueFile