OnFaith: Losing God and Discovering Prayer

While I’ve not been blogging much lately, I have been writing. Visit me at OnFaith where I consider prayer in the life of an agnostic with a Christian past. While you’re there, poke around a bit. Regardless of your belief system, there is plenty to read and consider.


Out of the Ruts

IMG_0906Michigan weather and a county with little remaining plowing budget have found me driving in ruts. My street, a narrow slip that, with a car parked at the edge, allows only single-file traffic, is covered with several inches of ice. Two tire-sized ruts provide the only path, and transferring a vehicle from those ruts to a driveway or the other way ’round takes intention and precision if one doesn’t want to skate into another car or simply spin one’s wheels. Those ruts hold the car tight, however, albeit with a fair amount of jostling within them. There’s safety in the ruts, even with the daily morning glaze of ice. The nausea-inducing ride in them is far from pleasant, but while in these ruts, you’re not apt to end up sideswiping a car or ending up in a snow bank.

Driving in these physical ruts led me to think about the metaphorical type, the kind that we say we want out of yet not badly enough to risk the leap; the one that may leave us skidding into the unknown or simply spinning our wheels in frustration. There can be an odd comfort in even our most painful ruts, perhaps because we know the jostling they bring, which can sometimes seem more comforting than whatever road might lay beyond those well-worn grooves.

Six years ago tonight, my rather messy disaster of a marriage turned far more chaotic. Years of worsening arguments and other insanity came to a head, and by the end of March 2, 2008, I lived alone with two children. I’d like to say that I never looked back after that day. The episodes that led to the shrinking of our household should likely never open one’s mind to reconciliation, and I’m still uncertain why, that for almost another year, I fought for that chance to return to healthy married life. It was, as they say, likely desired for the children, although children are always better off away from violence and deception. It took me almost a year for me to realize that the loss on March 2nd was best accepted and better for all.

Every February since, starting somewhere in the middle of the month, I feel the downward pull. It’s a tug towards some wintery mix of sadness and anger, tinged with a bit of guilt and touched with disbelief that the whole nightmare — years of it — was mine. I don’t blink at our anniversary and can’t even recall the date of our divorce, but that Sunday night in March, along with the weeks preceding it, are still hard to bear. While my grief takes different forms different years, at some point, I find myself in the ruts of revisiting that past — the day itself, then the weeks around it, then the years that came before. It’s a nausea-inducing ride of pain and sadness, yet I fall into those grooves each winter.

Last year, happily enjoying the first year of love with the peaceful, honest, and faithful man whom I’ll soon call my husband, I almost missed it. Mid-February found me thinking about the date, but little emotion came. For the first time, I felt some detachment, some ability to not let those memories play over and over, with all the emotions returning during the reruns. The actual date caught me off guard. I’d actually forgotten, until, at some point near the end of the day, I remembered. Into the ruts I fell.  I cried with company, and the sorrow left more quickly. I started to think those ruts had passed for good or at least that their hold on me had loosened.

This year, the heaviness started over a week before the date. I felt the familiar grooves after landing with a thud, and drove along their familiar path. It’s been a long season, and, like many of us who are suffering cabin fever in what is truly the worst winter many of us have ever seen, I’ve had some dip of mood. Perhaps my upcoming nuptials contributed to my mind’s unexpected plunge into the darkness of six years earlier. While I’ve largely concluded I’m capable of being part of a healthy marriage, of loving someone deeply without losing myself (a self only really found in the past dozen years), of being loved deeply and without reservation, I’m prone to worry that at points borders on panic.

I don’t question whether I had a role in my marriage’s slide into disaster. I know myself when I’m anxious — grasping, afraid, demanding of answers to all that confuses and scares me, angry, wordy — and those last years found me anxious beyond what I’d known previously. I also know what most of us know about making relationships better: I could have listened more and talked less. I could have sat with my anxieties before throwing them at another. I could have let go just when I most want to grasp tightly. In a million ways, I  know I could have loved better. Couldn’t we all?  I don’t, however, take all the blame for the nightmare that was the years before that particular March 2nd, nor any for what happened that night. I did many things over many years that didn’t help, but ultimately, we are responsible only for what we choose to do with our hands and hearts. We are sovereign that way.

Somewhere in the past few days, the dread and deafening doubts tiptoed away enough to let me get through some days without crying. The relief, similar to when the ice finally starts to melt, was barely perceptible until I looked back and saw I hadn’t cried that particular day. I scheduled a massage for Saturday, washing myself in tender and healing touch. I mentioned my blues to my massage therapist, telling her the date that had been bothering me. Her response made little impact at the time: Do something special that day, something that rewrites that day in my memory. Fat chance, I silently figured. What could happen that could push away that darkness of that single and dreadful day? How could I escape those ruts?

The answer came hours later, after the mail had failed (again!) to bring my copy of UUWorld, the quarterly print and online publication of the Unitarian Universalist Association. By no effort of my own, I had a piece in both editions, a piece I’d written last fall — Questions of Comfort, a musing about the need for meaning in tragedy. An editor at UU World contacted me, a writer who rarely submits anything to anyone anywhere since that keeps the rejection monster from visiting too often. He asked if they could use the piece, and I, eager to be in print, elatedly agreed. While I’d seen the piece online, my copy had yet to arrive. Over the previous days, friends send messages saying theirs had arrived, one kindly sending a picture of the first page, providing the proof I needed that this was real. But I wanted my own.

Stalked mail carriers rarely deliver, however, and Saturday’s delivery was notably without my copy of the magazine. As I headed to bed after a marvelous day with my intended, it came to me that perhaps I’d found a way out of the ruts March 2nd had held for me these past six years. March 2nd fell on Sunday again this year, and friends, knowing I’d not yet held the magazine that contained proof that I was indeed a published writer, promised to bring that proof to church. Sunday, I’d see my words published in a small yet not invisible magazine that often contains pieces on the hardest parts of life as well as the seemingly small wonders it brings every day.

And so I find myself on a new road, one where March 2nd isn’t a day of recalling pain and reliving disaster and returning to thoughts of failure. March 2nd can be the day I first saw my work in print in a made-of-paper, read-by-people-who-aren’t-obligated-to-do-so magazine. It’s small, this success, but it’s a start down a road I’ve yearned to travel: The road of the published writer.

I don’t know what will happen come the end of February 2015. Habits are hard to break, and some memories are more challenging to manage than others. It’s not in the remembering that the ruts wreak their havoc, however. It’s in the emotions and thought patterns that we dig deeply, either by intention or accident, and it’s what we miss by assuming that once we fall in that we can’t find our way out. There’s nothing wrong with remembering and learning from our most painful memories, but when they steal so much of our present, they need some adjusting. They are ruts to ride over and out of, in search of more open road. Who knows where that might lead?

Running With Ambulances

The first ambulance made me smile. Two and three-quarter miles into what would be my first three-mile run, I heard the siren behind me. I’d only planned to run the two-and-a-half, but three just seemed too close to stop. My breath was ragged and my gut was protesting this last half mile commitment. The ambulance roared up the street, sirens blaring and lights ablaze, and I was certain someone had called it for me. If I looked half as bad as I felt at that point, that seemed like a logical conclusion. As it streaked past, I turned my last corner toward home, half chuckling and half wondering if this was a sign I’d pushed it a bit too much too soon.

Per the advice of my esteemed running mentor, I backed off on my next run and promised not to increase my mileage for another few weeks, and then only by ten percent. (I also promised to take a tissue since it seems blowing snot onto neighbors’ lawns violates running etiquette. Why spit is acceptable by snot is not, I am not sure, but I follow the advice of my mentor. From shoe selection to tech shirt decontamination, she’s my go-to woman for all things running.) I’ve committed to running three times a week, weather and body permitting, with a goal of increasing cardiovascular fitness and running a few 5Ks this summer. I’m following no particular program or schedule but do check in with my expert and friend.

A few days later, I set out on what was to be another 2.5 mile trek. By the two-mile mark I was feeling something akin to sweaty moxie, and decided to go for three again. That’s when I heard the ambulance. Rather than coming from behind me, this one approached from the front, perhaps in an attempt not to frighten my in my fragile state. I stared it down and wondered if I was missing a message. I’m healthy and fairly fit for my age. I shook off the question, turned the corner toward home, and finished the last leg of my run. I arrived home far less fatigued than after the first three-mile loop the previous week with the confidence that the first time hadn’t been a fluke.

I’ve been feeling my age lately. Thus the running. At  >42.5, I know there’s still likely plenty of life ahead of me. I also see how much is behind me. I’m not one to live in the past, but I did spend a significant part of my younger years planning my life far into the future. Children and divorce taught me both are futile paths, although learning from yesterday and preparing for tomorrow are essential for growth and assure there’s enough milk for tomorrow’s cup of coffee. I am, however, wondering when I’m going to get to it.

Now if I only knew what “it” was. Homeschooling and home maintenance fill much of my time, and the moments between are flashes too easily filled with phone class, errands, social media, and other distractions. I’d like to be writing more, doing something larger and longer, but I can’t summon the sustained time, attention, or energy. Inject a fair amount of doubt about what in the world I’d have to say of interest or importance in this vast world, where nothing is really new, and the result is an uncomfortable ennui. That ambulance may not be heading for my decently healthy, somewhat fit body but for my fatigued and discouraged heart and mind.

So it’s time to turn the corner and stop listening to the whining in my head (which could easily be confused with that of an oncoming rescue vehicle).  There’s a road to run, one that for now is paved with homeschooling, home maintenance, work, a bit of writing, supportive friends, and perhaps too many distraction. I can work on decreasing the distractions (no, the kids are staying) and carving out a bit more concentrated time to think and write while remembering that much of the rest of the list is worthy and necessary work. This is my road. It’s been the right road, although sometimes a bit rougher than I liked at the time. It’s part chosen and part chance, and while I don’t know what is beyond the next  corner, I’m sure I have the breath and sweaty moxie to make that ambulance up the street unnecessary.


Magnifying Mirrors

I recently received an email from a friend in appreciation of a post on my homeschooling blog, Quarks and Quirks. I’d written about how our family has handled studying war. She commented on how things in my life seem to work out somehow noted her own feelings of parental inadequacy. (That’s certainly not my intent when writing about my experiences with the underbelly of life. Quite the opposite.) Ironically, the day I received that message I was struggling with a serious case of that same malady that day — the feeling like I’m getting it all wrong.

Okay, not all wrong. When I objectively step back and look at my life, I don’t see some overarching failure or anything close. But when I sit too close, I’m apt to see only what seems awry. It’s like staring at your face for too long with those magnifying mirrors: rather than seeing the whole face, all that stands out are the crevasse-like wrinkles, Mt Vesuvius zits, and errant wiry hairs. Eek! A short survey of that amplified visage can be informative. (Time to wear sunscreen daily and cut down on the potato chips. Oh, and put better tweezers on the shopping list.) Too much time studying the parts, and one begins to consider large-brimmed hats and oversized sunglasses as indoor winter attire.

I tend to tempt the mirror fates with long examinations of the minutiae of my life and relationships with others. My mind’s eye strays to predictable places: my boys and our homeschooling, my productivity outside of homeschooling, and the messiest places of my house and yard.  Regular, short looks into life are healthy, desirable even. It’s in these moments I see what is working and what is not. In those glances, I see the dust bunnies under the bed and the diversionary tactics that keep me from writing bigger projects. Those looks help me reorder priorities if needed and remind me what is important and what isn’t. (You will live another day, bunnies.)

The longer looks take my breath away and can reduce me to panic and tears. Attention to detail is good. Obsession about detail is not. With a bit of attention, I can see the pattern of my frustration with my teen, notice my parenting mistakes, and reflect on what part of our struggles is his responsibility and what is mine. With too long of a look, the relationship between us seems fatally flawed, with rents and rifts made by me forever damning him and us. I can shift from constructive self-criticism to scathing self-loathing in a few blinks. He’ll despise me when he’s older. He’ll run from this home and never return. I’ve ruined it all, and there is no redeeming this relationship.

Yeah, I’m good.

Fortunately, I’ve  peered often enough into the magnifying mirror to know that those panicky moments, hours, or days are more calisthenics of an overactive imagination, some inherited tendency to assume guilt, and a flair for the dramatic than reality. Not that the initial inklings of concern aren’t important messages that can inform me that my ways of being in the world aren’t working as well as I’d like, but perseverating on them isn’t useful for him or for me. It doesn’t even help the dust bunnies, who tend to get rather matted and muddy when exposed to tears.

Despite these mountain-into-molehill looks at my life and self, I’m generally optimistic. Like my friend noted in her email, things tend to work out for me. I think this is true for most people, although tallying success by the day is likely not the way to find this. Scorekeeping life a bad idea, and it’s far too easy of an activity for an introverted, internal, continuous improvement sort of person to do. The path from a single bad moment to a hideous month is short and leads to nowhere productive

So as self-flagellating as I can be, I’m not a believer in bad days. Bad moments, challenging mornings, trying afternoons, exhausting evenings, sometimes all in the same 24 hours, but not bad days. My viewpoint may be partially a product of semantics and partially protective, positive attitude. I’d hate to mark the day as “bad” at any point along the way, since each moment is a separate moment, and all those moments can’t really all be bad. After all, if we’re still all here at the end of the day, how bad could it have been? The label of a day negates the good, the amazing, the profound, and the vast majority that just is.

The brief look in the mirror shows what is. That’s the look that’s long enough to honestly assess the situation, assign responsibility, and ascertain a course of corrective action.  Too little time of self-reflection results in too little data to foster growth.  Too much time results in a serious magnitude of one’s actual affect on the world around them. It may be a miserable, jet-lagged, luggage-losing fiasco, but assuming one is the blame for all the world’s wrongs (or even all one’s teenage son’s misery) is an ego trip. Ouch.

And that’s part of why I write. I write to sort out what I see in the mirror. I write to give myself some distance from the magnified view I tend to see on sleepless nights or after difficult conversations. I write to see that generally the moments that make up life are fine. Perhaps they don’t all work out in the neat way I’d prefer. Perhaps more angst, drama, and failure than I’d like occur along the way. I write to sort the chaos, failures, missed opportunities, success, hopes, and joys and find that even at the hardest days, the latter three win out.


Stalled Out

I’m stalling. Again.  Or still, depending on the definition of stalling.

Either way, I am not writing.

Sure, I’m writing here and on Quarks and Quirks.  I’m responding to emails, engaging in online chats, and checking in on Facebook far too often.  But several months after mapping out a larger project, I remain mired in the getting started process.  Call it writer’s block if you like, but I think that’s dressing it up.  I’m fighting the discipline of writing with a single focus for more than the thousand words I regularly pound out on my blogs.  I’m resisting sinking into a topic and letting it get messy. At the same time, my younger son slogs away at NaNoWriMo, attempting to produce at least 10,000 words in the month of November and create his first novel.  The irony of raising such a dedicated child while floundering myself is not lost on me.

In order to stall just a bit longer, I’ve decided to outline my recent tactics here. Perhaps I’ll exorcise a few demons along the way.

  • Wonder where to start.  I’ve pondered this in the shower, while driving, and before going to sleep.  A certain amount of thinking seems prudent, but I crossed the line from prudent to inertia some months back.
  • Create a timeline.  Initially, this was a useful step.  Sticky notes of themes placed on a timeline proved a valuable start — six months ago.  I place the timeline with notes on the wall next to the computer, and watched them start to fall off.  In a fit of desire to preserve these plans, I spent way too much time trying to convert them to digital sticky notes on Corkulous.  Between notes disappearing and other technical foibles, I ended up with nothing usable and a good deal of time wasted.
  • Meet with my creative endeavor inspiration.  This is never a waste of time and isn’t a true stall tactic.  While we write in different genres and with entirely different end goals, I find my greatest encouragement from our periodic meetings.  The chemistry works.  It is time, however, for me to bring a bit more product to our table during our coffees together.
  • Search for the perfect writing platform.  This is my most recent stall tactic, and it has eaten hours out of my potential writing time lately.  I want what doesn’t exist, at least yet:  a seamless way to write on either my Mac or my iPad on the latest version of my work that, while writing, does not require an internet connection.  I’m bounced from Mac to iPad during the day, depending on the needs of my kids’ online homeschool classes and other homework, but I prefer to write at the Mac.  Pages disappoints (not compatible with Dropbox when going from iPad back to iMac), and the iCloud doesn’t offer a fix for that yet.  A few independent platforms offer apps for both iPad and iMac, but most don’t allow for automatic updates on one device to show on the other device.  For now, I’m using Google Docs, although I’d rather find something that allows me to work even when I’m without internet.
  • Check Facebook. Another downside of Google Docs is the distractions that come when writing online.  It’s way too easy to click the Facebook tab that seems to remain open when I least need distractions.  Am I playing tons of scrabble or commenting on too many posts?  I’m stalling.
  • Look for more books about writing.  This one feels virtuous.  After all, reading about the writing process should aid me in my writing endeavor.  To a point, yes.  But the writing about writing shelf is full.  Research has its place, but I’ve likely overindulged in this form of it.
  • Tweak my Pandora stations.  No, I don’t write better when doing that.  I don’t write very well listening to any music with words.  That doesn’t stop me from trying.  Often.
  • Answer email.  Hey, the chime tells me a new one is there, and it may be important, after all.  Another reason to switch to a full screen dedicated writing platform.
  • Blog.  Yeah, it’s writing.  Lately, it’s been writing to play with ideas for my larger project.  It can become a stall technique, however.  Like today.
  • Refill my coffee, find a snack, clean the toilets, move the laundry, plan curriculum for the boys, run an errand, plan to run an errand, phone a friend, text a buddy, consider exercise, pay the bills, read the paper…You get the idea.
Does that help me out?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  But it’s a start.  Now back to work.

Privilege, Autism, and Mistakes Along the Way

I’ve turned off the lights at Asperger’s at Home.  My short-lived third blog fell prey in part to time pressures and in part to my reluctance to screw up.  Some stinging comments and scorching tumblr feed rants from my post, Love, By Any Other Name, left me shaken and doubting.   A few weeks of theoretically “dialogue” posts on The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, each day with dozens of comments from autism self-advocates (those on the spectrum who advocate for themselves and others on the spectrum) and parents of autistic children, vitriol flowing back and forth (mainly from self-advocate to parent), kicked me closer to the electronic door.  I’ve decided to leave regular autism blogging to others.

A few good friends have encouraged me to grow a stiffer spine and thicker skin. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and that advice would serve me well across my life.  But that’s not why I’m leaving.

Neurotypical privilege is the term I learned a few weeks back in the dialogue turned diatribe on TPGA.  I’ve long been aware of my white, middle-class, right-handed, heterosexual, (currently) able-bodied privilege.  I’m also a female non-Christian.   I’m not so sure what I’m to do when any of those situations unto which I was born or raised except be aware and alert to the benefits that brings me while being sensitive to those who aren’t that long list.  I was brought up firmly middle class in a largely black upper middle-class neighborhood, and the privilege part of “white” didn’t resonate until around the age of 10. Still, I’ve received plenty of privilege for characteristics I did nothing to earn.  I’m sorry seems grossly insufficient.

So, unaware neurotypical privileged person that I was (I know better now), I blogged about my son’s autism.  Specifically, I blogged about how it affected me.  I used language that suggested that some of the characteristics related to my son’s Asperger’s were hard on me.  I discussed his difficulty with perspective taking, his difficulty reading nonverbals, his social delays, and, in a fit of honesty, I even said I was tired of Asperger’s.

A bit of self defense.  I love my son.  I’d not remove his Asperger’s (although I’d love to release him from his anxiety) anymore than I’d remove his brilliant mind, laughing eyes, and sweet snuggles and purrs.  It’s all part of who he is.  It’s not to be cured, exorcised, rejected, or “treated”.  It’s just him, and I love all of him.  (For the record, sometimes that mind drive me nuts, too.  Don’t get me started on the mouth that goes with that mind.)  But sometimes, I’m tired and defeated.  I had written out of my experiences and feelings. I had often written to sort those two things out.  Trite as it sounds, I’d written from the heart.

But it seems I made mistakes.  Re-reading some of those posts, I can see where I went astray. I overstepped my experience with my son and mused about the ways the characteristics of Asperger’s (generally from the DSM IV) were reflected in him.  This matching of definition to experience is a favorite word pastime of mine, especially when writing or arguing a fine point.  Yes, I’m blogging from my own experience, looking for personal growth and a bit of release from the stress that builds up some days.  I’ve worked hard to be fair to my child in that process.  Since he likes to read what I write (and would undoubtedly complain if he disapproved), I’d not worried about offense.  Yet, I’ve offended.

Could I do it differently, with more thought to those with autism who may read it.  Probably.  Do I want to throw my thoughts through another filter?  Not now.

Not because I don’t care about the rights of autistic people.  Not because I don’t think the voice of those with autism matters.  Not because I know more about autism than those who live it from the inside every day.  Simply because it’s not a battle I want to fight now.  I don’t have the energy to make sure I get it all right, that I really give those with autism their due.  Because I don’t entirely have my head wrapped around that neurotypical privilege that I’ve just learned I have.  Perhaps later, with more time listening to self-advocates and simmering this new stew of information, I’ll step back in.

Not that autism won’t find its way to this blog and Quarks and Quirks. It’s part of my life, part of our lives.  My younger’s Asperger’s touches our daily routines, homeschooling, church life, play, and sleep patterns.  It’s not leaving, and that’s fine by me, but I’ll return to this forum to ponder, wonder, and wander about what autism means to us.

I’d challenge others to consider neurotypical privilege.  Visit Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism.  Lurk on the forums on Wrong Planet.  Keep your mind open.  And if you really want to know what’s going on in the self advocacy world, here’s a few reading opportunities: AutisticSpeaks, Illusion of Competence, Journeys With Autism, and many more.

Peace is in the Letting Go

For the past two weeks, I’ve not written a word.  Okay, I’ve emailed a bunch and Facebooked many a snarky comeback, but I’ve not blogged or written outside of my blogs.  In general, I’ve been grumpy, weepy, pensive, and just off.  With a bit of thought, plenty of conversation with friends, followed by even more thought, I’ve decided there’s too much on my plate as of late, so I’m scraping some of it off.  I’m letting things go.

    • Cats.  We’ve fostered cats from the Michigan Humane Society for the past three years.  As a good friend said, it’s like owning a cat without owning a cat.  Specifically, it’s like borrowing (serially, although sometimes in gangs of six tiny beasts) cats.  After half a summer without feline companions (travel doesn’t mix with foster care), I was practically running to MHS for a kitty or two.  Shockingly, the last thing we needed when starting our homeschooling year was a mother kitten with the runs and four active kittens.  Hmm.  Two weeks in, the adorable ones and their stinky mom were ready to return, and I declared retirement, at least for the near future.  We adopted two gerbils, Brian and Bill, who never climb the curtains, poop in helmets, or chase yarn.  Good trade.
      • Blogs.  In May, I started Asperger’s at Home, my third blog.  With a personal goal to write four times a week on each of my three blogs and write for other venues, this increased my self-imposed work load dramatically.  I wanted a forum for my posts about Asperger’s, with which my younger son was diagnosed last November.  It’s an issue that shapes us all around here, and it seemed to need its own forum.  Plus, as I started writing for The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, I thought a blog focused solely there would be appropriate.  For the summer, I enjoyed the new forum and subject matter.  Come the school year, it’s just too much to manage and keep up with my other writing goals.  All future posts about autism will find their way either here or on Quarks and Quirks, my homeschooling blog.  In retrospect, this wasn’t a hard decision to make, but it did take time to feel comfortable with letting go of that venture.
      • Martial Arts.  I’ve practice Tang Soo Do for over four years, accompanied by my sons.  If we stay the course, we (or two-thirds of “we”) should be eligible for black belt testing in March.  My older son plans to continue karate after his Black Belt.  Our dojo supports a vibrant and ever-growing body of learners working for higher degree black belts, and I admire his dedication to the sport.   My younger son remains uncertain about his future with the sport but hints at wanting to try something different.  And me?  I’m just tired of being in pain.  For the most part, it’s the sparring that gets me.  On many levels, I object to sparring.  Sure, some of my objection is to being punched and kicked.  Some is the risk of hurting others accidentally.  I’ve accumulated a fair number of bruises and strains over the years from karate class, almost all due to sparring and other self-defense practices.  Thanks to an injury sustained outside of the dojo some three years ago, my back takes all sudden movement and jostling quite personally.  Simply put, since then, it takes little jarring to produce long-term pain.  I’m forty-two. I’m tired of hurting myself and others.  I adore the other aspects of the sport — mental discipline, strength, balance, focus, control — but carrying on the rest of my life in more comfort (and with less costly visits to my chiropractor) needs to be a priority.  I’ve not found a final solution.  Since leaving the sparring behind undoubtedly means never reaching black belt, I’m in a bit of limbo.
      So am I suddenly sweet, smiling, carefree, and on all the time?  Not quite.  I am sleeping better and writing again.  Mentally, I’m gentler with myself and more focused on the (long) list of what remains:  homeschooling my boys, taking care of the yard and house, writing (remaining blogs and beyond), reading, knitting, working, and generally maintaining a pretty full plate.  The mental energy expended on doing what I wasn’t sure I really wanted to do took a toll.  And I’ve some sorrow about each of those changes, although relief lessens the sorrow.  All have been labors of love, delights more than not.  All had (and may have again) a place in shaping me and my children.  So I remind myself that sometimes, peace is in the letting go.

      I’m Thinking

      Practice Makes Progress, the title track, is applies quite well to writers. Like me.

      I’ve stopped the disclaimers.  No more, “Wanna be.”  I don’t say, “Later I’d like to be.”  Now I just lay my hopes on the line and say it:  I’m a writer.  Never mind that I have yet to be paid for a single word.  Forget the part about homeschooling two kids, raising those same kids 24/5.5, and having a generally disobedient, wandering mind.  Now, at least in print, I say that I’m a writer.

      But mostly I’m not writing.  I’m thinking.

      When I’m reading, my thoughts spin off to writing ideas.  Listening to a sermon or talk leads to plenty of writing fodder.  Conversations with friends aren’t exempt — commonalities in experience often cause me to consider a bigger picture.  Waking from dreams provides a time of half awake, half asleep kind of space that is perfect for percolating thoughts, although many fine ideas are lost to a return to slumber or the complete transition to the day.

      Then there’s the random thinking.  The thoughts that come when I’m cooking a meal, watering the garden, or watching a child sleep.  These are when my best writing ideas spring forth, for these are the ordinary times of my life.  And that’s what I write about.  Ordinary stuff.  That giant weed in the garden, the one whose roots seem to reach bedrock below, may provide the metaphor for a blog post here.  Cleaning the shower, cleaning out the cat box.  It’s all fair game, and my mind can connect that mundane to other mundane or even to the divine.  If I’m lucky, the connection works.  If not, ah well.  Back to thinking.

      I spend a fair amount of time stuck in my head , working out thoughts.  I write and rewrite up there, rattling ideas around until they either sound right or run into a deadend.  If I have the time, I head to the computer or iPad.  If I don’t have time, these thought too often slip off to irretrievable neural pathways.  Now if I were a bit wiser, I’d carry a notebook and write down those thoughts, but my implementation on that front are lacking.  Still, the thinking a musing seems to take much more time than the writing.  Even mid-compostion I’ll push away from the keyboard to warm up my coffee, check the laundry’s progress, pet the cat, mutter to myself. (That last one bugs the boys a bit.)  Perhaps I have the ratio wrong, but at this point in my writer’s life, there’s more thinking going on than writing.  Ah.  Perhaps that’s why I maintain my amateur status.

      So when I listened to folk musician’s David Roth‘s newest CD, Practice Makes Progress, I took the first track, My Work Day, for several spins.  Due to copyright laws, the limitations of my blogging system, and a lack of technical know-how, the song itself can’t be posted here, but do search away. (Addendum:  Go here for a legal listen.)  I’ve posted the words, copyright info included, because they exquisitely express how I feel about writing.

      My Work Day © 2003 David Roth, Jana Stanfield, Sue K. Riley  (Addendum:  Go here for a listen.)

      I sit around, I stare in space
      I take a break, a torrid pace
      Back to work, I rub my eyes
      A workaholic in disguise

      Discipline’s my middle name
      Time to take a nap again
      Maybe one more cup of tea
      “ All My Children” is on TV

      I’m thinking, I’m thinking
      I’m thinking, I’m thinking
      I’m thinking what I might want to say
      Welcome to my work day

      Back to work, my daily grind
      Tripping through a cluttered mind
      Pet the cat, clean the fridge
      How to write a perfect bridge

      I’m thinking, I’m thinking
      I’m thinking, I’m thinking
      I’m thinking what I might want to say
      Welcome to my work day

      Time to use a different chord
      Better not go overboard
      Keep it simple, tight and terse
      Find my way back to the verse

      There’s the phone, not now, I’m blazing
      Brand new trails … of navel-gazing
      Hemingway was so inspiring
      Long time thinking, short time writing

      I’m thinking, I’m thinking
      I’m thinking, I’m thinking
      I’m thinking what I might want to say
      Welcome to my work day

      Writing is far from being my work day, but that’s the direction I’m heading.  Right after I pet the cat.  And, shh.  I’m thinking.

      Life is Good

      Thank you, Chrissi, author of Chrissi’s World, for tagging me with this blogging award.  My job is to answer these questions and pass the award on to other fine bloggers, who in turn get a bit of a plug and the opportunity to pass the award along.  That makes for an easy post for me and a chance to give a hurrah to some other fine writers.

      Q1. If you blog anonymously, are you happy doing this? If you aren’t anonymous, do you wish you started out anonymously so that you could be anonymous now? While I’m not anonymous exactly, I don’t share the names of my kids.  While it’s a bit awkward to refer to them as my older and younger, I’ve not come up with pseudonyms for them, and if I did, I’d likely confuse them as often in print with those names as I do in real life with real names.  I do like to share some details from my church life and sermons, so anonymity would force some changes I don’t care to make.

      Q2. Describe an incident that shows your inner stubborn side. I don’t have an INNER stubborn side.  I have a rather visible stubborn streak that I work hard to counter with deep breathing and mindfulness.  Don’t ask this not-so-anonymous blogger’s friends how succesful I am.
      Q3. What do you really see when you look at yourself in the mirror? I’m pretty pleased with my 41-year-old physical self.  I’m finding peace with my slowly increasing number of grey hairs and deepening lines around my eyes.  I delight in the muscles in my upper body thanks to four years of martial arts study.  Note that I don’t have a full-length mirror in the house…

      Q4. What is your favorite summer cold drink? That’s mighty hard to consider in Michigan in the winter, but I’ll tell you a half -caff  french-pressed coffee with milk is my favorite warm drink all year round.

      Q5. When you take time for yourself, what do you do? I write.  That’s the number one soul-warming activity on my list now.  I also knit, read voraciously, play Scrabble via Facebook, and spend time with my dear friends.  It’s one of the few upsides to divorce — two evenings a week to myself in my own home. Alone.

      Q6. Is there something you still want to accomplish in your life? I want to get published.  I’d like to write enough of what I like to write about to support myself, but that’s probably a reach.

      Q7. When you attended school, were you the class clown, the class overachiever, the shy person, or always ditching? Honestly?  I was hard-working, high achieving, afraid of failure, and often feeling somewhat socially lost.

      Q8. If you close your eyes and want to visualize a very poignant moment in your life, what would you see?

      Definition of POIGNANT (Merriam-webster.com)

      1: pungently pervasive <a poignant perfume>
      2a (1): painfully affecting the feelings :piercing(2): deeply affecting :touchingb: designed to make an impression :cutting <poignant satire>
      3a: pleasurably stimulating b: being to the point :apt
      Using definition 2a, I’d have to say my most poignant moments revolve around the ending of my marriage, from our sudden separation to the divorce papers that arrived in the mail over a year later.  I still find a lump in my throat and tears filling my eyes when I recall those events.

      Q9. Is it easy for you to share your true self in your blog, or are you more comfortable writing posts about other people or events? I prefer to write about connections I find and the rabbit trails that lead to those connections.  Sure, most of my posts are about me and my kids.  I write what I know.  I also enjoy writing book and curriculum reviews (largely on quarksandquirks.wordpress.com, my blog largely devoted to educating my kids at home).  Even in those, I tend to turn inward, reflecting on how the material or book functioned in our lives.  Write what you know, they say.

      Q10. If you had the choice to sit down and read a book or talk on the phone, which would you do and why? It depends on the day.  I’d likely chose writing over either, at least now.  On days filled with clamor and chatter, the book sounds great.  When I’m needing some adult company and contact, I reach for the phone (or Facebook, email, or the like)

      Here’s the point where I get to pass on some of my favorite reads in the blog-a-sphere.  While there are dozens I read regularly, here are five current favorites:

      • Counterpoint: Keith Yancy is far and away one of the wittiest, hilarious, thought-provoking bloggers I know.  I can’t plug Keith enough.
      • Everyday Unitarian :  Plaidshoes is prolifically blogging Unitarian Universalist mom who writes about church life, family life, and just plain life.
      • Vanilla Twice: Cassi writes about mothering two boys with albinism with humor, grace, and honesty.  Plus, she’s a fine UU-minister-to-be.
      • The Journey: Lizard Eater, another Unitarian Universalist seminarian, blogs about church life, seminary, family, and her family’s journey through her young daughter’s cancer.

      Response: Best Practices for UU Bloggers

      The following are my answers to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA) Survey Questions on Best Practices for Unitarian Universalist Blogging, August 2008.  Yeah, I’m two years late.  Why bother now?  Admittedly, I’m trying to expand my readership, and being listed on the UUA site is a step in that direction. 

      Why do you blog? What goals do you have for your blog?    I blog because it clears my head and clarifies issues.  Blogging allows me to explore a topic more fully, and, on this blog, pull the spiritual strings together.  I also write to share my spiritual journey with others, and growing readership is a goal.  

      Who is your intended audience?    Other Unitarian Universalists and liberal religious seekers, parents, people going through and coming out the other side of divorce, and any other folks interested in following a spiritual journey. 

      Who owns your blog? Does it belong to you as individual or to your congregation or other organization?   It’s mine, mine, all mine.

      How frequently do you post?    I keep two blogs (quarksandquirks.wordpress.com is my homeschooling blog), and I try to post at least once a week on each. 

      What is the tone of your blog?    Personal and reflective, although I’ll sometimes close with a question.  

      What steps do you take to make sure that your blog is a safe space, both for you and for other participants? Do you have a code of conduct?    Although many of my regular readers know me and my kids, I keep my children’s names out of my blogs.  I don’t bad-mouth them, my ex, or anyone else.  I write with compassion towards myself and others in the front of my mind.

      What kinds of boundaries do you observe around confidentiality?   I don’t post confidential information here. 

      How do you respond to comments and email from readers?    I often respond to comments on my posts.  My email isn’t available on my blog in an effort to avoid spam.

      What are the most challenging aspects of blogging in your experience?     Making time to blog regularly.  As a single, homeschooling mom, I tend to only have small pockets of time for writing.  While I’m working on longer writings, my available time to write is about one blog post long right now.

      What are the most rewarding aspects of blogging in your experience?    Two rewarding aspects come to mind.  First, blogging often clarifies an issue for me, and this is personally satisfying.  Second, comments from folks who find resonance with their own journey from my posts reward me with connection. 

      What advice would you give to Unitarian Universalists who are new to blogging and want to get started?    Dive in and write.  Write first for yourself, try to write regularly, and boldly hit the publish button.   Read blogs of other UUs, comment on their posts, and experience the conversation blogging can be.  Finally, if you’re labeling your blog as UU, remember the 7 principles in your writing, especially honoring the dignity and worth of others.  Be kind.

      How do you evaluate the success of your blog? What have been your most successful blog posts or series?   Okay, I’m addicted to the stats on wordpress.com.  I love to see that graph shoot up.  Personally, I feel successful if I explored a topic and came to a new understanding of a situation, but I do like to see those numbers go up.  My most successful post was picked up.  My most successful post was Finding Friendship, Finding Religion, which was quoted and linked to the UU World blog round-up, Interdependent Web

      What do you wish you had done differently in your blogging?   I wish I’d started sooner!

      What other online tools do you use to promote your blog? (i.e. social networking sites, Twitter, social bookmarking tools, etc.)   Networked Blogs via Facebook is all for now.  I’m looking for more routes to promotion.

      Do you use an Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed? How many subscribers do you have?    I’m on UUpdates.net and have no idea how many subscribers I have.  Now if I could only install the RSS button on my blog for that feed.  I do have the RSS feed from wordpress.com.

      Do you track site traffic?   How many unique visitors do you have per day (on average)?  I watch my stats through wordpress.com, but I have no idea how many unique readers come by a day or per post.

      Do you find Unitarian Universalist Association resources helpful to you as a blogger? What additional resources could we provide to Unitarian Universalist bloggers?    I’d like to find active UU blogs more simply.  Many of the lists online contain numerous inactive blogs, which is discouraging to the reader just looking for a place to start reading UU writings.