Life is funny. It throws you a lot of curve balls.
For the duration of the winter, which is now finally gasping its last dying breath, my life has been one curve ball after another. I have let writing slip to the back burner, then to the counter next to the stove, then into the kitchen cabinets. It’s not that I don’t want to write, it’s just that I’m not ready to share everything that I have going on in my life, and I haven’t really had the mental focus to string sentences together in a worthwhile way.
A week or so ago, I finally wrote an eleven page, heartfelt, hand-written, old-fashioned letter to a close friend of mine. Putting my thoughts down on paper like that stirred up some of the stagnation in my brain, and got me a step closer to returning to this blog. I updated my facebook page, and tried to work up the will power to just get on with it.
My recent problem is that writing, especially blogging, has been occupying this gray area between “want to” and “should.” I can churn out the ‘shoulds’ every day, and then I move onto the ‘want tos’ (or sometimes the other way around), but the stuff in between often doesn’t happen.
The things I’ve been wanting to do (and thus doing) lately have all been visual. I’ve been creating, just not the way I normally do.
Maybe a month or so ago, I bought some supplies at a nearby Staples to organize my writing better, based on an index-card filing system I’d read about in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing.
I had a lot of nerdy fun that evening, labeling index card boxes using the little index card tab dividers, then writing various things onto cards and putting them into their proper sections. I bought two fine-point Sharpie pens for the purpose, and quickly became smitten with them.
The next thing that popped into my head was the desire to draw something in pencil and then go over the lines with my new Sharpie pens. I really just wanted an excuse to use the pens. So, I drew an abstract little design with swoopy, paisley-like shapes, and darkened the outlines with the delightfully smooth, velvety black ink.
Then I began to fill in the shapes with my favorite media, Berol colored pencils. My wonderful Aunt Dodie gave me a generous gift of a big set of them back when I was a kid, when I used to do a lot of drawing. (Mostly fairies and mermaids, if you must know.) They are outstanding quality (the pencils, not the fairy drawings), and I’ve used them a great deal, but they have lasted.
To add to this sudden artistic fixation, a new Michael’s store opened down the road from me, and I initially went in to pick up some more yarn for a blanket I was knitting. Once inside, though, there was no getting me out of there. (Chris should be thanking his lucky stars that I went while he was at work.)
I wandered up and down the aisles of drawing tools, paints, and different types of paper. I gathered up plastic organizing containers from the scrapbooking section, and bought some colored pencils to add to my collection – lovely pastel colors that I didn’t already have. I went home and reorganized my craft drawers, and suddenly wanted to use everything.
I’ve since been drawing, coloring, tracing, and painting. I finished coloring my first picture, and used tracing paper to transfer a reverse image of it onto another piece of paper, which I finished using contrasting colors, to make companion pieces. I was really happy with how they came out, so I just kept going.
I traced a photo of a cardinal from a greeting card that I had, transferred it to water color paper, and then painted it with acrylics, cut it out, and put it onto another sheet that I had painted with watercolors. I was so excited with how that turned out, that I just couldn’t get enough.
Every day, I’ve been working on my various art creations. It’s been so relaxing and enjoyable, that I just haven’t been able to tear myself away to try to write.
Today, however, I was inspired. Sometimes inspiration comes from unlikely sources, and that’s exactly what happened today. A few weeks ago, I reserved a book at the library that I had been looking forward to reading (The Lost Art of Mixing, by Erica Bauermeister – the sequel to her glorious debut novel, The School of Essential Ingredients, which I’ve reviewed on my other blog). When someone called to tell me it was available, I rushed over to pick it up, only to find that there were two books waiting for me.
The second was a book on writing, which the library director had slyly rubber-banded to The Lost Art of Mixing. He and I talk about writing a great deal, as he is a playwright, and he has been hugely supportive of my efforts (even without reading them). He ordered the book for the library’s collection, and when it came in, he wanted to make sure I was the first to get it, so he just added it to my held book. He’s pretty awesome like that. He wasn’t there when I picked up the Erica Bauermeister book, so I was left to just suspect that the second book was his doing (which he later confirmed), and I gamely checked it out.
The book he wanted me to read, which I was reading this morning, is Natalie Goldberg‘s The True Secret of Writing. I’d never read anything of hers before, so I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was something a little too New Age for my taste. I’ve been pushing myself to get through it for the sake of my friendly local librarian, but I haven’t been enjoying it much or getting a lot out of it. Then, something I read this morning, 101 pages into the book, just clicked in my brain.
Suddenly, I had something I wanted to write about. I had to get it out. I logged onto 750words.com, and let loose. It felt great. I petered out with my idea after about 800 words, but I wanted to keep writing, so the next natural thing to do was to come here.
I don’t know if it will last, if I will come back again tomorrow and continue to write, if my idea will hold up, if I’ll try something else, or if I’ll just lapse back into indifference. I do know that I have a date with my colored pencils to work on my current project, a drawing of a treble clef.
Thanks for sticking with me through my ramble. Hopefully it will inspire you to jump into something creative, whatever it may be.
Ah, technology. Gadgets. The internet. How do I love them? I’ll spare you, and forgo counting the ways.
For all that they are amazing and convenient, however, sometimes they take over my life a little bit (or a lot). As time goes by, I get into bad electronics habits. One thing I do, which has been happening more and more frequently, is to have the tv constantly playing Hulu or Netflix. I barely even listen to Pandora anymore. I apparently have gotten to a point at which I need constant source of entertainment while I do housework, update Mint.com with my receipts, or whatever I happen to be doing.
I used to be pretty bad about being on my laptop all the time, even when I should have been talking with Chris or doing something more productive. It’s a slippery slope, that ol’ internet. There are many, many ways to waste time on a computer. Now that I have my iPad, it requires even less effort. It’s remarkably easy to get lost for hours without realizing it, with all the games and apps available. I even play with my iPad while I watch tv.
“Stimulate me!” my brain screams. ”I need to do more than one thing at a time!!”
I can spend half my morning getting caught up with my four (yep, count ‘em, four) Gmail accounts, the almighty Facebook, Draw Something, SongPop, Words with Friends, Scramble with Friends, Letterpress, and maybe a little Triple Town or Sudoku just for kicks – and before I’ve gone through them all, someone else has played their turn again or I have some other notification. I don’t even look at Twitter anymore. It’s too much for me.
Really, though, this is ridiculous. All day long, my iPad makes little “ba-bing,” ”doodle-oop,” “TING TING,” and “burrrr-ing” noises at me, and I consider it a personal victory every time I manage to avoid picking it up to see what caused the noise.
“Oh, a new email!” I think to myself. ”It could be super important, so I should check it right now, just in case.”
Usually, however, it’s a cat picture from my sister, an “is this your stuffed animal, and do you want it?” question from my currently de-cluttering mom, or a Hulu queue alert. Shocking as it may seem, these things can wait.
Before I get too off-track, let me tell you what this is all leading up to. A long, long time ago, I had another wordpress site in which I blogged anonymously. I wrote a post at one point about something I had read about, the Secular Sabbath. I don’t even remember all the details right now. I could look it up, but knowing me, it would be a while before I got back to writing this, so I’m just going to go with what I recall.
The idea is to observe some sort of break from your normal routine, one day a week, and sort of ‘unplug.’ For some orthodox followers of a Judeo-Christian faith, a Sabbath means no work at all on that one day, usually Saturday or Sunday. This is one way to do a secular Sabbath. Another way is to distance yourself from all electronic nonsense for the day, excepting emergency phone calls and such.
Chris and I tried this out for a little while, but I think I took it to an extreme that was difficult to maintain. I insisted on no electricity and no work, so I didn’t cook, but we used our gas stove to make hot water for tea, and just ate leftovers from the fridge (which I did keep plugged in, for the record). I forget if I allowed use of the microwave. I did not allow lights, so we played games, read, or whatever I deemed acceptable during daylight hours, then managed the best we could with candles until we got frustrated and went to bed early.
It was kind of nice, but like I said, too extreme, and ultimately not satisfying or successful. With that in mind, this past Sunday, I mentioned to Chris that I thought I had gotten too wrapped up in the world of electronic communication and entertainment, and I proposed a break from that for the day, at least until it got dark out. He was all for it. We closed the laptops, turned off the tv, kept the stereo off, and I silenced my iPad. We kept our phones on, but didn’t make any calls.
Then we had to decide what to do. First order of business was to stay in pajamas all day, so that was good. We decided we felt crafty, and got ourselves involved in various artsy-craftsy projects that kept us happily occupied for the entire afternoon.
I washed some dishes after I got sick of Mod Podging things, and sang show tunes and jazz standards while Chris played with his technical drawing tools. Later on, I gave him a haircut, and after the sun was totally down, we watched one episode of Deadwood and went to bed.
It was exactly what we needed. We didn’t even talk for a lot of the time, because we were focused on what we were doing, but we were at the table together and quietly enjoying each other’s presence. It was, in a word, refreshing. As it turns out, my brain does not need to multitask in order to be happy.
There were times when I yearned to pick up the iPad and look something up, but ended up taking one of my many useful reference books off the shelf and looking it up. It was a good reminder of why I actually have those books.
Chris explained to me, with diagrams, exactly how a photovoltaic panel generates electric current. If we hadn’t had such a mental break all day, away from the constant stimulation of our various devices, I might never have asked him, and the explanation he gave me might not have been as in-depth. (As long as I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I might have lost patience and walked away before I understood the concept fully.) The respite was very good for us.
I know not everyone has the time to dedicate a whole day to this. Chris and I probably couldn’t do this every weekend. I think it’s important to do once in a while, though – maybe once a month, whatever works – just as a kind of technological detox. I felt much more focused and relaxed by the end of the day. If 12 hours could do that, I’d like to see what a solid 48 hours of no gadgets would do for me. It’s an interesting thought.
So, the long and short of it (mostly long) is that I recommend everyone try some form of this on their own, sometime in the near future, even if it’s just for a few hours. Distance from the chaos of smart phones, tablets, televisions, and computers provides clarity. This isn’t groundbreaking news, but I think it’s something we all need to remember periodically, and to practice. I plan on suggesting another electronics-free day very soon, and I feel certain that Chris will be on board, as well.
I’ve gone on quite enough for one day, so I’ll leave you with that. Thanks for reading!