In light of the last few days and the horrible loss of nine lives in the California mountains, the most well known being Kobe Bryant, many of us have been plunged into thinking, into wondering, into questioning whether we’re living our lives to the fullest and doing the things that matter and make a difference and make us happy.
I’m not an NBA fan, but one can’t deny the impact off the court that Kobe Bryant has had and the light he was for so many, and the countless messages of inspiration he left in his wake through soundbites from interviews, through his books, his documentary about the game he loved.
He did what he loved. More than once. His career as an elite basketball player. Then, as a father who was fully immersed with his family.
Sometimes I wonder if I still do what I love, the thing that makes me happy, the thing that I would miss if I didn’t do it anymore.
I’ve always written. Since I was in Jr High and going through some personal things at home. I’ve written stories, books, flash fiction, poetry. I’ve written to escape reality and to put reality in a form that I could dissect and understand it. I’m almost 49 years old and I’m still writing. It wasn’t the thing I aspired to do when I was growing up or when I graduated high school. I wanted to be part of the music industry. A roadie, to be honest. And a concert flautist. And a composer. And… And… And…
Being married and having children was not on my radar and the things I’d wanted to do and the things I actually did do were so completely different.
I miss music. I miss playing. I can still finger a scale in the air the way a guitar player can finger chords on an air guitar. I can still see the music in my head of pieces I played my junior year of high school which won me medals in competitions. I still have my flute, my music, and so many I wish I had… thoughts.
I wasn’t the best at all times. I was sometimes, but not at all times. But I never gave up. I used to spend hours a day practicing. 6 hours. 8 hours. 10 hours. I loved it. And I never stopped. Not until life changed and I didn’t know how to be one thing and still chase this other thing that meant so much to me.
I miss it so much some days.
I used to write like that, too. I used to write for hours and not stop. I used to write books that meant something to me, to readers. I used to write and write and write. Even while I was raising my kids and homeschooling. And then… I did stop. I did get discouraged. I did lose my nerve.
I keep coming back to it.
But I don’t chase it the way I once did. And I wonder why that is. I have no idea.
Do I miss it when I don’t do it? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no.
There are always ideas in my head. There are always stories that run in circles through my brain, like the bunnies that hop through my backyard. But could I leave it behind and in 25 years still miss it? Or would it just something I did once upon a time? These are the things I wonder when I’m being honest with myself and to be honest with you, I don’t know what the answer is.
Music still flows through my bones. It’s still embedded in my blood. It’s still part of me. It’s something I need in my life that a day without it sets my teeth on edge and I start getting really grumpy.
There’s a song for every emotion. There’s a melody for every mood. There’s a harmony for every memory.
The one thing I will say about writing, about music, is that they go together for me. I have to have the music right before I start writing. And maybe for me that’s where the two meet and mix and mingle and bleed together. Maybe that’s how music is part of my life now. Not in the same way it once was, but in the way that fuels this job that I have chosen to do.
The other thing that goes with writing for me is reading. I do a lot of it. More recently than I did the last few years. And the more I read, the more I start wanting to write. Wanting. Needing isn’t part of that vocabulary. But wanting, is. So, maybe as long as I’m a reader, I’m going to want to be a writer.
There are always stories to tell. There are always my stories to tell. There are always words to express what I’m feeling, what I’m going through, what I’m trying to understand about reality, what I’m trying to heal from the past. And as long as there’s music, I’ll be able to put those words down, I’ll be able to write and in that way… I do love it. I do still love what I do. I do still have passion for it.
And maybe, in this, I will have made my own mark and inspired someone else to find a way to marry their passions enough love what they do, even if it’s not a straight line. I think that would have made Kobe Bryant, a man, an icon, and one who sought to inspire others to follow their dreams, proud.
… Though you’d probably never know because I haven’t talked about it in, well, all of last season and my driver won it all. He’s the current Nascar champion.
I didn’t even watch most of the Nascar races last season.
Why not? Why did I end up taking a nap during most of the races I did watch? Because it’s become…tame. And boring. The leader would get out in front of the pack and runaway more often than not. The rivalry’s that the sport used to have are gone. The tension between drivers is just… Boring. Even when my driver won. Still. I found it boring and lacking any sort of real excitement. I mean, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have grown up and put their issues to bed and it’s been years since we’ve seen a good Kevin Harvick hood walking, jump and land a punch fight because tensions were high and there were wins on the line. Now… it’s just… It’s money driven. Keep the car clean. Keep the sponsors happy. Tow the line.
I’d rather see the knock-down, see the fire, see the spark. But, that’s just me.
I also haven’t been to a race in a couple of years. I didn’t want to pay that much money to people watch when I could go almost anywhere else within a 50 mile radius to find people doing stupid shit. Maybe not belly flopping in the mud after guzzling beer stupid, but ya know, sacrifices.
That’ll change this upcoming season, though. My son’s favorite driver since, oh… ’95, is retiring. Jimmie Johnson. So, we’ll be taking the 7 minute drive to Charlotte Motor Speedway a couple times to see him race in his final season.
The race watching has already begun in our house: Supercross began a couple weeks ago. And the Rolex 24 is this upcoming weekend from Saturday at 1:30pm until Sunday at 1:40pm. I plan to camp out in the living room, get TrackPass from NBC Sports Gold, and indulge. And bonus… Kyle Busch will be taking part in his first Rolex 24 in car #14, GT Daytona.
Plus, I stressed myself so much over the last few years with writing, or the lack thereof, that I didn’t take time for things I enjoyed (I didn’t even watch half the college football that I usually watch). I spun my wheels, did absolute shit to achieve any sort of meaningful progress for all my talk of mindset shifts and insights and whatever… None of it meant anything because I didn’t make any of the changes that needed to be made. I paid lip service, acknowledged some wrongdoing, wrong ways of thinking, but didn’t do the conscious work and it is work, very hard work, beyond journaling, to get through the internal bullshit and make real moves forward into a different mental and emotional place.
This year, though… 2020? Yeah, I’ve started actually doing the work. And it’s included taking some time away from the desk, to do things that make me happy. It’s mostly been reading, but I’m branching out to include other things… This topic is a post for another day, though. For now, just know, I’m taking time to smell the proverbial roses, and that includes bright, shiny cars with high powered engines.
You can take the girl away from Nascar, but you can’t take Nascar away from the girl…or something like that. That was bad, I know. Go on and roll your eyes. I did.
And yes, all this racing inspires other things that I’ll talk to you about at a later date, things like words…
When I was growing up, my grandma and I would visit yard sales and flea markets and the like and she built up this collection of crystal and glass goblets. Most of them have fancy names. There’s a book that you can find the designs and year and maker, etc…
This is one of them.
For years, the goblets were housed or displayed, I suppose, in my grandmother’s china cabinet. I’d look them over every time I’d visit her house. It was always unspoken that when she passes away, that I would be the one who’d get the collection. She’s still alive and well, but I now have the goblets. They’ve been sitting behind closed doors in my cabinets. I had almost forgotten about them. They are items that I love and I was beginning to overlook them, beginning to not remember their existence except in the abstract or in the sense of…they’re taking up space.
That one thought, one day last week, hit me. And hit me hard. This is a connection to my past, to one of my favorite people, to some of the best times in my childhood where I was with my grandparents and I was safe and loved and I was forgetting about it, I was feeling a sort of UGH! about these tangible memories. This bothered me. A lot.
I’ve been slowly, ever so slowly getting rid of things, simplifying possessions, minimizing. And I wanted to start this early last year when I read the ever poplar, The Japanese Art of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, the same as everyone else it seemed. Now, it usually takes a while for something to sink in and I go in fits and spurts when it comes to actually taking action, but I began and felt amazing and empowered and able to breathe a little easier. And that was only by getting rid of, purging, tossing, donating maybe 1% of things. I still have tons more to go. But I was looking through my cabinets and looking for where I could lessen things and maximize with what would be left and these goblets caught me. We’d been talking about getting new drinking glasses for a while, though hadn’t done anything about it. I have a hoard of mason jars and ball jars and use them from time to time, but… I also have all these gorgeous goblets that have a past and a history and I don’t know them, but I know mine with them and that was the important thing, the important part.
I took one out and began using it for coffee and water. I wanted to see how it would feel. And I loved it. My neighbor said it was fancy. Another friend said it was beautiful and look at that detail! And I found that I loved it again. Loved using it and I imagine that maybe there’s some memory in the glass, in the crystal, in the designs that remembers being of use.
As we age, as belongings age, as things we once held near and dear age or outgrow immediate use, as we minimize and downsize… There are things that matter, things from our past that it’s important to preserve. These goblets aren’t worth much money, but it’s not about the money for me. I wouldn’t sell them if they were. The memory of my grandmother and I looking for them is too precious and I think we sometimes forget things like that when we talk about the past. We’re so eager to forget or rewrite or move on from that we don’t stop to take in what happened, what was, what it meant, what it was for, what came from it, what changed because of it…These goblets have given me a different perspective, or perhaps reminded me of a different perspective.
Miranda Lambert has a song called Old Shit. It’s one of my favorite songs because it’s like these goblets to me… Things out of style. Hand-me downs. Memories. Home. There’s something about preservation that if we let everything go and disappear because out of sight out of mind, more than just a connection with those who came before us will be lost.
I think we all have them. Even those who don’t think so, I believe all writers have them. I do. I’ve had several over the years that worked well for me and that at the time, I wasn’t aware of their significance. It was only after a certain point that I realized, hey, this is something, this is necessary for my brain to focus. I had trained my brain to recognize certain things and turn on writing mode.
I won’t lie, either. I needed writing rituals. Sure, I could sit down and crank out words, usually with very little prior thought, but there’s something special and zen-like if the ritual is followed, if the ritual is observed.
For me, it was more than one thing…
Coffee. I needed to have a cup of coffee sitting on the table/desk. And no, water in a coffee mug or anything else in a coffee mug, didn’t work. It had to be coffee, and often it had to be hot coffee. Regular, a latte, a macchiato, a cappuccino… Whatever it was, it needed to be coffee of some sort. I mean, why do y’all think I have such a huge mug collection?
Hoodie. I had a Kyle Busch hoodie that I bought one year after the season had ended and I wore that thing All. The. Time. It was comfy, oversized, and I loved it. It currently has rips and threads and holes and a rather interesting smell to it. However, if I were to wash it, it would likely disintegrate. I no longer use it, but for many years, it was a necessary part of my writing life. No matter the season, I wore it if I was writing.
Music. I need music to write with. I need songs that I know by heart, that I can sing along with. You know, the kind like… Well, for me, it’s 80’s music. I can sing along without giving it any thought whatsoever. I hear the music and the words just come out. It’s that type of mindless mindfulness that I need when I write. Writing in silence doesn’t work for me for the most part. In silence, I struggle with my editor brain, my floundering self-esteem and self confidence as a writer, and I second guess every single word, phrase, fragment, sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, until I’ve second guessed the whole book and figure it’s the worst thing ever written and I hate it. Music in my ears keeps that shit at bay. Music in my ears calms me and allows me to get down to it. But like I said, it has to be music and songs I know by heart. I have to be able to sing along or tune it out while I’ve tuned it in.
Writing movies. It’s no secret that if you’ve followed me for some time now, that you know I have several go-to movies when I’m in a writing slump. When I need to be reminded that writers of other books, and screenplays, and even songs understand that writing is not a straight line from A to B. It’s not something that goes away. It’s not something that always flows or is the best combination of words ever put down on paper or screen. Writing is HARD. Writing may come easier for some at any given time, but every writer feels and experiences the struggle and sometimes I need to be reminded of this by way of Michael Douglas in his pink bathrobe in Wonder Boys or Emma Thompson standing on top of her desk as she’s trying to figure out how to kill Harold Crick in Stranger than Fiction or Diane Keaton trying to write her latest play and struggling with it until she falls in love and gets her heart broken and then the words come pouring out in Something’s Gotta Give. These movies do something for me that help me get through, that help me see how much I love writing…when it’s going well, and how much I love that there are others who know the struggle when it’s not.
Those things were part of what I needed to write all the books I did when I first began writing. After a while, when I began struggling with the words, those rituals… Well, they didn’t help. My issues went far deeper and I’m still trying to claw my way back out of the darkness.
I’ve begun trying to develop better writing habits and honoring writing rituals that help me keep those habits alive and well.
I can now write without coffee on my desk. I prefer to have it rather than not, but a glass of water will often do the trick.
My hoodie has been relegated to the coat rack. I like to be cozy still and sometimes I’ll put on a cardigan or use another hoodie, but mostly I’ll just wear long sleeves and only use something else if I get cold, which is often. But I don’t need anything like it to write anymore. I think I find that rather sad.
Music is still and likely will always be a MUST.
Writing movies… I still love them so much and I always find something new in them. I won’t be giving them up any time soon, either.
I recently read a book called Finish by Jon Acuff. I loved it. And one of the things he talks about is having these little habits or rituals that help trigger the brain, to tell it that it’s time to write and get down to business. I understood this for myself as stated in the previous rituals, but I understand it more now because I struggle more and more with staying focused, and so, I’ve incorporated a few things…
A dedicated workspace. I used to roam the house or wherever to write and no doubt I can still write in coffee shops or in hotels or on the couch or at the kitchen table or even up in the bed… Nope. Scratch that last one. I’m too sleepy all the time to try to write in bed. But I’ve found that having a home office, a desk that I picked out and bought along with a chair, a computer set-up I like and some things on my desk that make me happy or feel productive or just because helps me center and somewhat tap into that focus.
Music. The constant. Always. I have lovely pink over the ear headphones and I have a fantastic JBL speaker. I use them both. Obviously not at the same time. But they pump the music to me and that’s what I need. Also, a subscription to Spotify Premium. I know some think it’s a waste of money, but I have to say, it’s been an amazing tool for me for not only music, but for podcasts, too. And I’ll talk about those another time.
A candle. Jon Acuff says he lights a balsam candle or fir candle and the scent triggers his brain that it’s time to work. I love candles, especially the ones with wood wicks because I love listening to the crackle as they burn. I love a good balsam candle, but a good pumpkin spice one is nice, along with cinnamon. I like strong, warm scented candles that I associate with cozy thoughts and feelings. Seeing that flame flickering helps my brain calm and start to focus, as well.
A timer. One on my phone or on my fitness band or even one I’ve downloaded to the computer. I write best with sprints. I focus better if I do sprints, so I set a timer each time I sit down to write and it helps narrow my focus. I need words during a set amount of time and the shorter the period the better for me. Some do 30min, 60min, even 90min writing sprints. Those are too long for me. I have done as short as 5min and cranked out 200 words. 10min is between 300-400. 20min is between 600-700 (on a good day). But the writing sprints have saved me so many times when it comes to needing words. When I think, ‘ugh, I still need to write’, it’s a feeling that is stressful and daunting. But… when I look at it from the view of 10min. That’s it. I can write for 10min without breaking a sweat and then I don’t think about it. I just write. And before I know it, I’m on my 3rd sprint and nearing 1000-1200 words.
And nature. This is one that is becoming more of a thing for me. I like looking out at the sky, the green of the grass, the magnolia tree, the bushes around the deck. I like looking outside when I write. It’s not necessary for me, but I love it and the more I can do it, the more at peace I feel.
All writers have things that work or don’t work for them. All writers struggle from time to time and the systems that we put in place, either consciously or unconsciously, help us get the words in so that you can have books to read one day. Habits and rituals don’t always remain the same. They shift and change as we shift and change as human beings, as writers. I am constantly learning this.
I’m working to develop writing habits that help me be much more consistent than I’ve been in a number of years and it’s not been as painful as I expected. I’m working with much more love and grace for myself and for whatever process it is that I am working at any given moment. But if I do keep to the things above, I’ve learned that I am more successful in my endeavors than when I try to go off script and free-wheel my way though the fog.
Today is the first time I’ve had my computer on in about a week or so. I took a break from it. I’ve been working on getting the rest of my home office set to rights, figuring out my writing and business plans for the new year, watching some college bowl games, napping. I also wanted to try and find some holiday spirit. I didn’t really find it, but that was more me than anything. I mean, I was in bed at midnight when the year changed over and spent yesterday getting the Christmas put away and tidying and doing some housework so I could go into today ready to get started.
But I wanted to take a moment and say Happy New Year to anyone who is actually reading this post. There are things I am working on, new writing, old writing, ideas for more connection with you. I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and are looking forward to exploring all that 2020 has to offer. I know I am.
Also, even though my computer has been off, I have been seeing what is happening with RWA. I haven’t been a member for years, but what’s going on… Just no. It’s not right. Racism, bigotry, homophobia, discrimination… Nope. I don’t care who you are or who you vote for, this type of behavior shouldn’t be fostered or tolerated or given a pass. It should be called out every single time. If you don’t feel that EVERYONE deserves a chance, deserves a seat at the table, and deserves to have their voice heard, you can go. EVERYONE regardless of color, sexual identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, nationality, religion, political party… All deserve a voice and a place at the table. That’s the only way we’re going to bridge the gaps and finally make some headway toward fixing the rest of the shit going on in the world. Hate is not the answer. Pushing people out is not the answer. Love. Listening. Education. Open minds. Open hearts. That’s the way through to the other side.
And I know I have said or done or written something that has upset or offended and that is never, has never been my intention. I am trying to be better, to pay closer attention, to make sure I’m not continuing to do so, asking the questions, and asking to be held accountable.
Nora Roberts has an excellent post about what’s been going on, so does JR Ward. Both say things far better than I ever could.
I’ll talk to y’all again soon.