Day 6…Ebb and Flow

Today there was a flow. Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

There has been a lot of back and forth with my writing lists, ideas, project attempts, and revisions over the past week or so, but today was a good day. I felt that I was in the zone for a good span of time twice today.

Once was outside in the backyard with a slight breeze for about 45 minutes without interruption, the umbrella was up, the sun was providing just enough warmth and the hum of the neighbors lawn equipment was just enough to muffle out the sound of route 1 & 9. It was flowing beautifully until I noticed that breeze was coming from the brief impending rain shower that soiled my writing party for only a few moments of rain and then a slight drizzle. Whomp, whomp.

My writing party moved inside and came to a halt for lunch and a much needed screen break. I started writing again at about 12 o’clock and looked up and it was 2PM. What a beautiful feeling. The writing waves are coming a bit more naturally right now so I will probably dip my feet in the water again this evening.

This first project is work related so it lacks the vulnerability that my next writing project will hopefully have. The Write into the Day prompts once again had me thinking for longer than the allotted amount of time.

I think my current project can be used in the professional field as a mentor teacher, RTI teaching coach, and also just a friendly colleague. I think this work is something that I could give a new teacher or possibly a student teacher that would allow them to understand the teaching experience from my POV. 

This experience has also shown me that I have a strong desire to work on a personal project. Maybe a work of self-discovery or self-acceptance of who I am and where I am right now. I feel like the work some of my peers are wrestling with now are similar to a project that I would like to explore next; a body of poetry, memoir, self-help book, or collection of personal narratives. Who knows! It seems aligned with who I am right now and who I want to be in the future.

I have done a lot of personal training and nutrition workshops, and even have a life coaching certificate from a program I completed during quarantine. I have always been the coach or the mentor or the ear or shoulder, but this time I would like to lend that ear to myself. Referring back to my blog from yesterday and the use of the word selfish. The connotation here was positive. A work of passion and release from social pressures to be at a certain point in life “by your age” (insert the voice of a nagging woman asking me why I am not married with children by now).

I am discovering that there is a lot about me I love, as well as a lot of things that I can work on as a person to feel even better. I feel like that is a common area for women my age to be in and a common feeling imposed upon women by other women (and men too – let us all share the blame) . I have a small group of friends who are my age and struggling to be okay with where they are and what they have or have not accomplished “by now”(insert the voice of a nagging woman asking us why we am not married with children by now)… I know I am. This isn’t where I thought I would be at this age when I was 17… Would I be happier if I was where I wanted to be now when I was younger? I think a self-helpish work will be my next project. 

Going back to the idea of selfishness – I want to do something for me. My first project falls in line with selflessness and giving to others my 13 years of teaching tricks. So, the next project will be for me. 

Day 6: Writer’s Reflection

So, I started the day off thinking about Dr. Zamora’s metaphor of a seed, sowing a seed of a thought, something to tuck beneath the surface, and then wait for it to grow, to hopefully blossom into something later on.   I like planting seeds, figuratively, but also literally.   And I also like planting bulbs.  With seeds, sometimes you plant them so far in advance that you may forget about them. Don’t water them enough, and they fail. Some seeds bloom for a season, then die, never to return again. A bulb, though, is perennial.  It returns every year.  A bulb is reliable.  (Unless, of course, you have some ravenous critter in your yard who decides that the pink hyacinth you planted the Easter your daughter was three is a snack, or the poppy-red tulip with the tiny yellow spot in the center your sister bought for your first Mother’s Day is delicious…)  Anyway, I like to think of inspiration as a seed sometimes, but also as a bulb, something that continues giving, growing.  Something you have to plan ahead for, deposit into the dirt the fall before, and then patiently wait months, not weeks, to see.  And I like that bulbs can be transported, taken with you somewhere else. 

I’m in the process of moving right now (during a pandemic, I know! Not the best timing!).  One of my summer projects is to dig up my bulbs and take them with me to the new house.  I’m not abandoning my flowers, nor are they staying here for the new owners to enjoy.  They are mine.  They are my memories, and I’m taking them with me when I go.  I’m digging up my blueberry bush, too, the one I planted from a pathetic little twig in K-Mart’s garden center.  (It amazes me that place is still in business.  Stepping in there is like transporting through time back to 1985!)  I planted it eight years ago, the summer my husband and I got married.  It finally gave me three, yes, three blueberries last year, the first time it ever produced fruit. I ate one, and gave one to each kid. And this year, it’s finally reached maturity.   We were able to collect some yesterday morning, and I cooked them into blueberry pancakes, which were delicious! (Although I’m not sure if they were actually better than ones I make with store-bought blueberries, or if it was just the knowing that made them better in my mind.)

Here it is:  

It is carefully guarded by a chickenwire cage, because these blueberries are mine!  They are not for birds who will peck the branches bare before the berries are even ripe! They have not waited years for these blueberries!  I have!

Greediness aside, I’ve also put a little pre-planning into this endeavor by propagating my lilac bush.  It’s the one in the background of every Easter picture of my kids, and I want to be able to keep the tradition alive by bringing it with me. I planted two growths, just in case one dies, “hedging my bets” to use a corny pun!  So, I think, in a roundabout way, I can appreciate today’s activity of planning, of making lists, of setting small but achievable goals when something is important to you.  It’s something I do as a mom and wife, as the person who goes food shopping with a mental menu of the week’s dinners, of which ingredients are needed, which can do double duty, etc.  To that end, I’ve planned out where I want my project to go, and I outlined roughly the entire work, so I have a frame within which to work.

I also have to say thank you to my awesome group!  You are such a bunch of talented writers, and I appreciate the feedback you gave me, and gave each other.  I enjoyed reading and listening to the variety of writing this group produced, and I’m honored to be in your presence! I think I took something away from each of your works, and I’m excited to see them continue to grow and bear fruit.

Day 6

Goals & Priorities are basically both of my middle names. I am the list maker, the goal oriented woman, the chalk & white board full of what’s important and what I need to make happen.

But, a goal without a timeline is just a dream. Dreams are cool and all, but they will remain just that unless there is an actual plan in place.

This blog is a message to myself, I have tons of goals, I don’t have many timelines. I have plenty of priorities, I don’t have too much order on what is top and what is bottom.

I have to remind myself day after day, to go at my own pace. This life here of mine is a marathon not a race. However it is important for me to put my priorities in place.

Writing is such a tough thing to schedule out. its almost like you just have to write when you feel it.

Most things in life are on a schedule, the garage man when he picks up your trash, pay day, school. Why is it so hard to keep your writing on a consistent schedule Kelsey ? I ask myself this at least twice a week.

Sometimes I feel like writing and sometimes I don’t. When I do it flows, when I don’t I am stuck.

My goals for the next 3 days are to buckle down and create a timeline for my book, I have a due date for myself, now I need a realistic timeline.

I am writing this down to hold myself accountable.

Day 5

As the days go by, and the more and more I am tapped in to listening and reading other writers material, the more I am realizing how different everyones writing style is.

However today more than ever I see that what we all have in common is pouring our emotions into our personal pieces. reading Kefah’s poem was, not to sound so cliché but it was very poetic, in a sense of comparing her emotions of writing to things going on in her life. “I am pulling up a chair to my thoughts and doubts” to me is how I approach writing AND life. Especially when it is something new, I usually will catch myself having doubts and overthinking.

That line was what made me tap in, I feel like when I read or listen to anything by someone else there is always that one liner that makes me say, OK I get it now. I am not sure about anyone else but reading has become a form of meditation for me.

Reading is probably one of the only times I am able to some what relax and shut my brain off and focus ( if the story is good of course) I love getting deep into stories because it sparks my imagination which I think after a certain age, and life experience people tend to lose.

I can appreciate a story that reads beyond the surface, because it is parallel to the type of writing I am in the process of exploring more.

Today was also the first day I ever shared a piece of my book to ANYONE, so to hear that my story is interesting and pulls you in reassures me that I need to keep going, and get out of my own way.

Day Five… Give to Yourself

Gift yourself the gift of time spent on yourself. Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Today’s write into the day prompts were a reminder to be selfish with my writing space and time. I am often too generous with my time whether it be giving it to someone else or to doing a kind deed, or even budgeting time for miscellaneous or fruitless tasks. I am far too generous with my time on Netflix binging. Queen of the South is a good show to binge if you’re looking for a show to watch – figured I would throw that out there.

Last week and even through this weekend, I noticed that I spend too much time on tasks that are not selfish in terms of my own personal gains or growth. So when asked the questions, “What did you learn last week?” and “What is important to you and your writing process as you begin with week two of the retreat?”, I spent a good time focusing on my writing process. I am someone who needs structure, deadlines, and organization. I am learning that distractors need to be removed from my writing space and that my writing space is a quiet place of solitude. 

I need to be in a space that is free from people, music, sounds, and virtually anything that could need or call my attention away from my task. My writing space is a space of mindfulness, paying attention to the small details of what I am doing or even the feeling of the keys or the sound of rhythmic tapping of keys when I get into a good stream of thought. My writing space is also timed. I have started to devote a set amount of time for tasks. Saturday morning I woke up with writing in mind and said, “Okay. I am going to spend an hour in the yard for distraction free writing.” And I did just that. I wrote more in that one designated hour of peace and quiet than I did in the writing time on Wednesday and Thursday last week. My brain was also dusting out the cobwebs last week which made it easier to write.

My process is also reflective. Before I can start a new task I must revisit the previous tasks to revise and remind myself of what I am doing. I like to think that this routine or revision ritual is helpful in allowing me to catch small errors and save time later.

Despite having a writing space that is static, my thinking space, involves people. My thinking space occurs with my peers. I enjoy listening to my peers about their projects, their suggestions, their thoughts, their own trivial pursuits, etc. My favorite part of the Writer’s Retreat is the small group time with my ladies and Dr. Zamora. I could listen to these women talk about their work for way more than 45 minutes. The community vibe is strong in the short session and it is where I take most of my project notes. The notes for my own project often come from thinking about someone else’s project or a suggestion about another person’s work. It’s a little odd to find ideas from another person’s work that has nothing to do with your own, other than we have a shared purpose, our one common value – the writing process.

Thanks again for a great start to the week. I think the writing bug is going to bite again later.

Day 5: Writer’s Reflection

I think that last week, I learned that I can still be productive and work towards a goal, even when the forces in my life seem to be working against me.  I teach my students that “conflict is the engine of plot,” and it’s what drives characters forward in fiction.  I think it also works that way in non-fiction, real life.  Without conflict, without villains to oppose the heroes, without those antagonistic forces, there would be no struggle.  And without struggle, without any effort, is the thing I’m trying to accomplish really worthwhile? Will it be an achievement at the end, if it was too easy to achieve?  I think not.  I think it underscores the idea that nothing worth having comes easy. 

I think of the most precious gifts in my life, my two children, and realize that idea is true. My daughter was born via emergency C-section, because she was in fetal distress. The recovery was grueling for me; I was bruised hip to hip from the procedure in which my medical wellbeing was secondary to hers. And my son was five weeks premature.  He spent 8 days in the NICU, and I had to come home from the hospital with no baby in my arms. That drive home, and walk up the front stairs, and into my home, without him, was the singular time in my life when I felt “empty.” Neither of their births were easy (I don’t think any birth is!).  But the labor, the pain, the recovery that goes into creating new life, the sacrifice on one’s time, one’s body, and one’s freedom, makes the experience of motherhood that much more valuable.

And I guess, in a way, that creative spirit necessary to motherhood is the same creative spirit necessary to create any art, such as writing. And the process is never going to be easy, never going to be linear, but always going to be worth it in the end, not despite the setbacks, but because of them. Trying, even when you think you’ll fail, is part of the journey- perhaps the most important part. And when it comes to writing, I think that our “shared purpose,” our common value, is to produce truth.  That quest, I think, unites all people. Some people may use humor, write memoir or fiction or poetry, conduct research, or maybe some other form of writing, all with the common purpose of uncovering, exposing, and sharing truth.  And it’s the purpose of every academic discipline: truth. Science seeks to uncover truth about the natural world and its processes; History strives to preserve the truth about the past; Mathematics quantifies truths in every equation and formula, and the arts are no different.  I think sometimes, the arts get a bad rap for being “less than” serious subjects.  (Maybe it’s that self-doubt creeping in, making us think that the arts are inferior to the sciences in some way.) But it’s the search for truth, the expression of truth, even through fiction, that unites us. It’s our common goal, our sometimes quixotic journey on the path of self-discovery, that fills our sails and urges us forward.

Either way, it’s the trying that counts, not the result. It’s the journey, not the destination. It’s having the courage to attempt an undertaking, when others do not, that makes an experience worthwhile. If success were guaranteed, I don’t think it would be very meaningful. It’s the possibility of failure that creates value in an endeavour, and offers the satisfaction of success.

On my lunch break, I went to ShopRite, and on the way in passed some flowers that were marked down to .50 apiece. They were wave petunias, in hot pink plastic containers denoting breast cancer awareness. At Home Depot, each pot of this type usually goes for $5.99, but here they were, .50 apiece. It wasn’t hard to see why. “Leggy” is the gardening term for them- all stalk, with pitifully small flowers at their farthest reaches, and pods that had already gone to seed, their tiny brown beaks dry and burst open. The blossoms were pale pink, with purply veins throughout their petals, looking to me like the back of an old woman’s hand, thin skinned so that one could see the life flowing beneath the surface, persistent despite age. They were lost causes, botanically speaking. But I decided to rescue them, or at least try to. I brought them home, and pruned them down, inspected each stalk for a node, so I could identify the place where new growth would most likely occur. And I planted them next to my pansies, which are dying fast in the summer heat. I don’t know if they’ll take, but I do know they would certainly have died if I didn’t bring them home, and give it a shot.

Day 4.

Clarity.

Feedback; is it wanted, or needed? I always tread lightly when it comes to giving my opinion to someone else’s work, only because its theirs. Since I know how it feels to hear unwarranted opinions about my own work, I try to take it easy when it comes to others.

Let’s start off with meditation, something that has been on my to do list but never knew how to Namaste, let alone relax. What a great way to begin our afternoon session, coming right from lunch.

Then we follow up with anxiety and panic attacks, something I feel is more so often discussed about children, and not enough about adults. Anxiety is something that I have self diagnosed myself with when I first learned about it.

Even though I am assuming it’s all in my head, considering there has been so much going on up there lately. No better time than right now to fully concentrate on my breathing and connecting my mind with my body.

Staying focused since we have been quarantined has been very hard for me personally. I am actually wondering if that will be something discussed once we have fully entered our ‘new normal’ stage.

Next we get into the thesis and it feels like I am so behind, even though that’s not my journey, I am not there yet, just take note on what is to come. Is what I say to myself. I guess I didn’t do a great job at meditation. I am grateful to be early in my graduate journey to be able to sit and listen to what I have to look forward to. I guess looking back, and ahead, this is exactly where I am suppose to be.

For more peer support, we decided to start a group chat with my group. I got to learn more about their writing journey, where they are, and where they want to be. It felt like a moment I needed. Women I can relate to on a level where I haven’t connected with many people yet.

Today felt good, it felt good to listen, it felt good to hear what others have been working on while quarantined. It felt good to hear how productive people have been. It felt good to connect with other writers.

Day Four… Listening and Learning

Today was a day for listening and thinking. Photo by Erik Mclean on Pexels.com

Day four was a great day to listen and think. There wasn’t much time for me to write in terms of my project, but there was plenty of time to listen.

This morning began with the reading of blogs and hearing voices of success, struggle, and relatability. There is much to learn from the lovely women and our lone gentleman in this group.

I spent time with the Write into the Day assignment and thinking about how the retreat is helping me learn about learning and learn about myself. The retreat is an eye and ear opening experience. I decided that today would be a day of reflection and to quote Dr. Zamora, “let the writing bug bite me” this weekend. I think I need time to digest my thoughts and be freed from the restraints I have put on myself in terms of due dates and deadlines.

Some of the thought provoking moments from the day were:

  • How can I incorporate some of these ideas into my own classroom?
  • How can I work on being more flexible?
  • Can I allow myself to be creative?
  • Is it okay to write in a narrative style when I am so prone to use analysis?
  • Can I use Jen’s listing method in writing? (Sure can!)
  • Can I find my voice like Medea’s characters?
  • After looking at Linda’s project, will I use Grammarly in the classroom or teach grammar lessons directly?
  • Will my next project be one of self-reflection like Meagan’s?
  • Do I provide enough support to my English language learners? Cheryl has made me reflect upon this population of students in my classroom and school.

In other words, thank you retreat friends! I have been all ears today.

Day 4: Writer’s Reflection

So, of course, being a total “Jersey Girl,” I can’t help but hear Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” in my head at this halfway mark (“Whoa, we’re halfway there!”).  I also wanted to use some of Patricia’s tips from the WordPress tutorial (thanks, P!) to incorporate media into my blog post for today.  That led me down a hilarious rabbit-hole of memes, and finally this video, which made me laughcry! 

Seriously, though, I think there’s something great about being at a half-way point.  Like Anna Nalick says in the song “Breathe”- “You’re just as far in as you’ll ever be out.”

You have to let a deep breath out, and realize that you’re just as far from the end as you are to the beginning.  Even turning back at this point means you have just as far to go as if you simply push ahead.  What a liberating thought!  What encouragement to proceed fearlessly forward!

In anticipating the Writer’s Chair I wasn’t really sure how it was going to go. I struggle with peer learning and peer editing because I naturally want to be the “teacher,” to give the right answer, and correct the bad grammar, point out the misplaced punctuation. But I also struggle with helping students with ideas, which, for me, is the challenge. I find it hard to separate between “editor” in the technical sense, and helping students refine the flow of their ideas, and their voice.  I think I’m always afraid that if I stray too far from the “technical editor” path, I can usurp their writing, and imbue it with too much of my own voice, my own vision.  But this retreat is definitely helping me to see my own process as a writer, so hopefully I can teach the process better to my own students. 

It also got me thinking about giving and receiving criticism as akin to giving and receiving gifts. There are some people (I like to think of myself as one of them) who just have a “knack” for giving gifts. “How did you find this?” “Oh my God, you remembered!” “Wow, this is perfect!” And as important as I think it is to be a good gift-giver, it’s equally, if not more important, to be a good gift-getter. For example, my mother. Oh boy! My sister and I used to AGONIZE over what to get her for her birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas. Everything we chose, no matter how thoughtful, how creative, how expensive, was rejected by her. She was the queen of, “Oh, that’s nice. (Translation: I hate it.) Do you still have the receipt?”

I’m talking everything from the macaroni necklace I made her in kindergarten, all the way up until her final Christmas present, the straw that broke our gift-giving backs: the London Blue topaz pendant, 8 carats, set in 18k white gold, with a small diamond-trio accent crowning its gorgeous, sparking, Asscher-cut angles, which were haloed by a pave of tiny round diamonds. It was a wow-er! Truly, it was. She had just gotten this London Blue topaz ring from my stepfather, a gift for her 50th birthday at the end of November. She insisted on its being a blue topaz, rather than a yellow topaz, because “yellow doesn’t look good in white gold.” Okay. So he got her this ring, which, honestly, was too large for her petite fingers, but she wore it every day, posturing her hand like a newly engaged bride-to-be, making a point to show The Ring off at every possible opportunity. Eyeroll. She also started to drop some not-so-subtle hints to me and my sister, that a ring this beautiful needs a matching necklace.

And so we spend the next two weeks scouring every jewelry store, online website, everywhere, to find the perfect pendant to match her ring. And there it was, on Overstock. It literally looked like it was the perfect match. Same cut, same prong shape in the setting, same pave halo and beautiful teal hue. It was stunning. And it was expensive. My sister and I figured, what the heck? It’s her 50th, after all. Might as well make this Christmas special. So we ordered it, and it came in the mail. I brought it over to my sister’s, and we inspected it in person, making sure it would be right. This would be the one! This would be the present she actually liked, no loved. That she actually kept!

Our anticipation mounted, and we were both almost giddy when she opened her lone Christmas present, the tiny box with the bow that was ridiculously wider than its dimensions, perfectly wrapped with crisp corners and seams lining up perfectly (I’m also a wrapping paper snob!). And when she opened it, our joy was immediately dashed, extinguished by her pursed lips. She held the pendant up, still in its box, to The Ring. She examined them side by side and decided, disappointed, “Aw, it’s not exactly the same shade of blue” (Yes, it was!) and casually asked, as she’d done for last forty Christmas I can remember, “Do you still have the receipt?”

My sister and I vowed to, and so far have stuck to, getting her the only things she wants and needs: gift cards and wrinkle cream. That’s it. That’s all I’ve gotten her for the last fifteen years. Birthday? Gift card and wrinkle cream. Mother’s Day? Gift card and wrinkle cream. Christmas? Gift card and wrinkle cream. Some people are just terrible gift-getters. And it makes people feel awful when their best and most sincere, most well intentioned acts are so poorly received. So, the point of the story is, I think I should be mindful that, just like with gifts, there is a wrong way to give critique, and there’s also a wrong way to receive it. And while I’m usually really gracious at receiving gifts (even ones I hate, and will certainly be re-gifting!), it’s hard for me to receive criticism, even when I know it’s helpful. Maybe I’m a little defensive by nature. I’m really happy, though, that today’s Writer’s Chair was a safe place to share such a wonderful variety of writing types! I was on the fence about sharing, but I can safely say that this class is a great environment to share ideas in!

So this brought me to my Tweet, which reminded me of Linda’s previous post about not wanting to end up like your own mother. Unlike my mother, I love everything my daughter makes for me. Not because it’s “good,” necessarily, but because she made it. So I love it, because I love her. And that’s what loving is about, and it’s also a point of separation I pride myself on, a small reassurance that I’m not like my own mother.

Looking ahead: Today, as a personal goal, I’d like to finish out the chapter I’m in.  I took a Writer’s Walk this morning, and it was so peaceful, and mild. There was nothing “too much” about it. My pace wasn’t too brisk, the air wasn’t too hot or too humid, the breeze wasn’t too stiff, the sun didn’t feel too strong on my face.  I passed a neighbor shoveling red mulch he’d wheelbarrowed over from a huge mound in the driveway onto his landscape.  Even the mulch lacked its usual pungent and overpowering odor.  His music was on, not too loud, so that I only heard it when I was a house away from him, and the song faded away one house past.  And I was allowed to think about some images I want to incorporate into this chapter. The mildness of my surroundings, I think, didn’t overwhelm my senses, so it allowed things in, and allowed me to see and hear and feel what I wanted to remember, and what I wanted to put into the writing.  And I think that it’s teaching me something that I’ve been touching on throughout this process, which is that I need space alone, and quiet, with myself and my own thoughts, in order to be in a place where I can create.

Day 3… 50 pounds of thoughts in a 5 pound bag

One of many bags. Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

Day 3 started as usual with praise and wisdom from Dr. Zamora. She expressed the need for self-care, space and time, faith, hope, identity, and honoring the gift of writing. Despite all of this sage advice and reassurance, I find myself with an overflowing bag.

This is the first writing project I have attempted since graduating from Kean with a BA in English in 2008. Since graduation, I have only written for professional reasons. My writing has been in the form of lesson plans, recommendation letters, SGOs, PDPs, PLEPs, and any other acronym form that needed to be completed as part of my teaching job. There is no surprise that my writing project falls in line with the field of education and teaching.

With roughly 13 years of teaching under my belt, I find myself struggling with narrowing down my focus and staying on one topic. I have suppressed the writer in myself for so long that I have too much to say at once and need to give myself time and space to understand that this is one of many projects I will complete during my graduate experience. I have revised my topic(s) and outline(s) several times and I think I may have my project down to a series of essays that will be helpful for a novice or struggling teacher.

This project is not confined to this two week period and I know that – I just have to convince myself that this project can grow and extend beyond that two week period and that I can have many bags that serve different purposes. I agree with my peers in wishing that this retreat was a bit longer to allow for a greater body of work to develop, but I think this is a good starting point.

I was not as productive as I had hoped to be today. Let’s see what day four brings.

@walkerkatelynn