Fragmented

Mom. Homeschooling parent. Physician Assistant. Teacher. Friend. Companion. Housecleaner. Ombudsman. Taxi driver. Cook. Handy(wo)man. Obtainer of All Things Needed. Finder of What is Misplaced, Gardener. Problem solver.

I feel fragmented.

Perhaps it’s the change in weather. The days are shorter. Many are cold and wet. It’s dark when I used to take my walks, the walks that assured me time to regroup and recoup.

Perhaps it’s the season. Holidays loom large. I’m starting to flounder with these days needing preparation: shopping, cooking, decorations, plans. Thanksgiving, just a month away, and this year the kind of Thanksgiving that doesn’t include my boys, a reminder that divorce splits families for good. They are, after all, what I’m most thankful for. And Christmas. With my Christianity gone, I’m struggling with the celebration we continue to do, which I say is for the boys but is really for all of us, ritual we need and want while wondering what means what.

Perhaps it’s struggles of my younger. He’s having a hard time, what with oncoming puberty stacked atop his Aspergers and plenty of anxiety on the side. I’ve been pulled in closer as support and stability, jobs a mom expects, yet to a level not anticipated at this age. And to see a child in such a state of hurt… It pulls me in and under, leaving me gasping for breath and wondering where that oxygen mask is. I can’t put it on if I can’t find it.

Perhaps it’s time, cut in too many tiny pieces to do anything but play Scrabble online, check Facebook, read the shortest articles in the New York Times (days after it comes), answer another question about another math problem, watch my younger closely –again or still — for signs of stress, check my email, and make lists of things that will never get done.

I like my jobs, both paid and unpaid. I feel generally competent at them, and I enjoy the interaction with my children, other people’s children, and the adults whom make up my friends and co-workers. I feel respected professionally, cared for by friends, and often appreciated by my children.  I’m less enamored with the tasks that keep us in food, clothing, and a relatively clean house, of course. But each task is entirely manageable. Together, they seem impossible. 

It’s not just the tasks at hand. It’s all the ones that need attention but aren’t getting it, little and big. The call to the university my older son likes, the one to schedule a day-long visit complete with classes. The presentation for church that will happen in just over two weeks whether it’s written or not. The writing that just isn’t happening because I’m never sure when I’ll be interrupted or because I can’t maintain concentration for more than a few minutes. The books on my nightstand that go unread because I can’t pay attention to them, either. The book that I’m trying to assemble, the one that requires a few hours — or even just an hour — each day of undivided attention I just don’t seem to be able to find.

I’m in pieces. I’m not depressed or anxious or otherwise suffering from existential despair. I’m just in pieces. And most of the pieces are good in themselves. While it’s a hard job, homeschooling my sons is a choice I’m glad to have made, to have continued to make, year after year. I enjoy (most parts) of my relationships with them, and while the stakes seem astronomically high when homeschooling an eleventh grader on the cusp of full-time college, it’s overall a good ride to share.

My professional endeavors — medicine and teaching/editing — feed me deeply. Some of that food is straight ego-stroking — the patient who tells me I am the one who truly listens to her or the young student who stops me mid-class to thank me for teaching him to write, noting he really likes our time together. But some of the professional satisfaction is the challenges of the work itself. Both require close attention to the person I’m with at the time. Both require dropping my own agenda at points, attuning to the patient or student and letting the rest drop away.

The personal encounters — those with my friends and fiancé — feed and sustain me when I’m struggling the most. But even these meetings seem smashed between What Comes Next — classes, cleaning, cooking, calming, driving duty, bills, calls, and chaos management. Too often, they are the punctuation marks more than the paragraphs in my daily essay. This fragmentation (repaired somewhat come next spring, when my dearest companion becomes my spouse) is perhaps the most painful. I love my children, and I enjoy and appreciate their company. But a homeschooling mom in her forties who also teaches the children of others starts to get a bit twitchy when days go by without substantive contact with those over the age of 30. I want conversation about things other than Minecraft, computers, comma placement, and tropical fish. (The last is interesting for a while, until the lists of fish are repeated.)  I love my children, and my older is learning to be a somewhat empathetic listener who actually asks how I am and listens for the answer. But still…

So tonight I’m writing, (almost) alone in my home, enjoying the peace sustained attention brings. The presentation/sermon is nearly done, needing only an hour or so of polishing and (likely) shortening. This cathartic piece, almost complete, reminds me of the threads upon which the beads of my life rest connect what can seem broken and unbound.  When I can connect those pieces and roles, seeing them as cohesive wholes and not tiny pieces of me, I’m more settled and more likely to find the time to finish the book, edit the essays, or even veg in front of a show (scandalous!). This sense of quiet and wholeness may not last even another half-hour, but for now, it is here. So I sit with it, feel the connections, and just breathe.

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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.

Namaste.


Color Me Blue

The last month or so finds me a bit down.  Stressors are running high, and schedules are too tight.  Life’s just moving a bit too fast.  I’m not depressed: I’m sleeping, eating, and otherwise keeping up with all my obligations.  But I’m on the blue side now.   Not permanently so, but perceptibly off.

I have the crabby kind of  blues that wash from the blue one onto the family when care isn’t taken to build up the psychic levee system.  My  younger son calls me on this quite often. “Mom, just because you’re mad at (his brother, the IRS, the outside faucets that won’t release their hoses and will, I’m sure, cause hose bursting come a cold spell), doesn’t mean you should yell at us,” he declares.  He’s right.  And his blunt message generally hits its mark.  But despite my good intentions, my stresses often find their way through to my voice, which grows loud, pinched, with rather blunt messages that say more than need to be said.  And then repeats them. I hate that voice.  It’s not the voice I grew up hearing.  It’s not the voice I ever wanted to use as a mom.  Yes, I can plug the levee hole and shut up.  I can apologize and start again.  We’re together 24/5.5, and it’s inevitable that I won’t be soft-spoken every moment.  But I still despise it.

I have the weepy kind of blues that make my eyes leak at certain songs.  And the kind of blues that draw me to play those songs again and again, directing pent-up pain toward those tear ducts.  Sure, I could make other listening choices, but a sad song matches a sad mood, and that emotional matching releases a bunch of emotion.

I have the kind of blues that fit the rainy, cold days of November, which is a serious plus, since that’s what we have in Michigan now.  It would be a shame to waste May with a mood like this.  I’m no fool.  I know the longer nights and shorter days contribute to the blues, but like the music, the match of mood and weather work for me.

I have the kind of blues that evaporates with the presence of a laughing child and fades gently in the presence of friends.  The kind that is banished by love, hope, and joy, at least for a while. So I find time each day to make contact with those who care about me, who make me laugh, who listen with the heart.  Ah, so blissful to have so many places to turn with life seems so hard.

I have the kind of blues that run when I run.  Or, given this time of year, walk, rake, weed, sweep, vacuum, or otherwise move quickly.  A bit of a blue patch is great for my yard and home.  Bringing control to a controllable area of my life softens the blow that so much of life is necessarily uncontrollable. Anyway, my basement is clean and the leaves are raked.

I have the kind of blues that remind me that my life is generally fine.  My children are healthy, whole, and happy (usually).  Likewise, I’m healthy and whole.  And, when I stop to think about it, generally happy.  Really.  These blues are a blip, a passing period of time, a time that will likely come again, only to be worked through and passed through once more.

I have the kind of blues that lift when I feel a sense of focus and purpose.  Writing, even about being blue, banishes them, and not just for the brief time I’m writing.  Teaching my younger about verbal phrases, discussing math with my older, or working on a project for someone else also whisks them away.  Any creative work expunges the sadness, at least for awhile.

So I write.  I knit.  I rake and clean.  I laugh with my children, and I apologize when I need to. I cry to sad songs,  and I reach out to friends who care.

Yeah, I’m a bit blue.  Like the seasons, moods  — happy and otherwise –come and go, and I’m certain this one will do the same.

 

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.

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.

Not a New Year’s Resolution

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions.  I could go on about how the day we celebrate as a new year is arbitrary, and, given the true length of time it takes to go around the sun (365.25 days), the whole “year changing at the stroke of midnight” business is laughable.  I could ponder a better starting point (if we really need one), like a solstice or equinox, which at least shifts with the rhythm of the earth.  I could blabber on about the human creation that time is, from seconds to minutes to hours to months (don’t get me started on that disaster) to years. 

Or, I could argue my unwillingness to make a bunch of promises to change on each January 1st reflects my desire to continually adjust to life’s whims, making one day a year of changes a bit underwhelming.  I could even admit (honestly) that the prospect of making a list of changes to make within a trip around the sun is daunting.  What to pick?  Where to place priorities?  What if I (gasp!) fail?

Somewhere in all that blather and bother is quite a bit of truth.  I’ve never really understood the excitement of New Year’s Eve and Day (or Valentine’s Day, the Superbowl, movie stars, really low-waisted jeans, or People magazine, but I digress.  Again.) .  I’ve never felt drawn to making the list, either mentally or physically.  And I’m frustratingly failure-phobic.

But yet, for the past two years, somewhere in the first month of the year, I’ve set some writing goals for myself.  I’ve not thought of them as resolutions but rather as intentions.  Splitting hairs?  Perhaps, but I like to think the timing is more accidental than that.

Last year, I committed to blogging here on Finding My Ground and on Quarks and Quirks (my homeschooling blog) four times a month.  For the most part, I’ve met that committment, at least when averaged over the year.  I’ve been a bit slow from the start of December 2011 to the present, but I’d like to continue that pace this year.  It’s helped establish at least some semblance of a writing habit and coaxed me to the computer even when my mind was blank, if for nothing else than to produce a post.  I like to think that habit improved my writing at least a bit.  I know I cringe a bit when I look back at posts from two years ago and take comfort in the progress I see.

I also committed to submitting a piece for paid compensation.  Midway through that year, that goal was hanging over my head.  Writer’s block reached epic proportions as I tried to settle on what to write for whom.  And I wonder where my kids get their tendency to stall when they’re concerned about failure.  Those apples sure didn’t fall far. 

And then an offer fell into my lap.  After responding to a blog about one father’s struggles finding an appropriate education for his gifted child, I received an invite to write a piece about my experiences about the same for a newly forming online publication for a large philanthropic organization.  The editor needed the piece in five days.  Could I deliver?  Sure. 

So I wrote the piece on spec, meaning that I wasn’t guaranteed they’d take it.  While many writers will advise writers not to this, I figured I had nothing to lose.  It’s not like I was published anywhere aside from my own blog, and I certainly wasn’t making headway with my committment to submit an essay for publication.  So I wrote and rewrote, submitting the essay after the Fourth of July weekend and settling in to wait.

And wait.  And wait.  After a few back-and-forths with the editor, I received the news.  He really liked my piece and wanted to use it, but the online magazine was taking a very different direction, and the piece no longer fit.  He’d tried many ways to make a case for it and find a place, but to no avail.  He apologized profusely and encouraged me to look for another home for the piece.

I was ecstatic.  Okay, I was also disappointed, but I’d done it.  I met my goal of submitting an essay for publication.  And, according to the editor, I’d produced something quite good.  Not usable for its original purpose, but well-written. 

Six months later, I’ve just submitted one other piece for publication (and I’m still waiting to here back).   At this pace, I’m hardly likely to be able to make my living writing anytime soon, but I’m satisfied with the forward motion, despite the glacial pace.  After all, I’m a world away from where I was one year ago.  I’ve maintained a second blog, joined (briefly) a writer’s group, submitted a two pieces for publication, started a memoir, and been picked up several times by Interdependent Web, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA) weekly round-up of blog posts by UUs and about UU matters. 

But the greatest yield from my not-resolutions last January is a change of my sense of self.  Somewhere over the last year, I began to consider myself a writer.  And that’s not something I could have successfully resolved to do.  It had to happen through effort and habit.   So here’s to another trip around the sun, a year filled with writing.  Because that’s what I do.

Thanks to all of you who make it to the end of my rather lengthy and often self-involved posts.  Your feedback over the years encourages me and feeds me.   Thanks especially to Keith Yancy, who maintains an often hilarious and always thought-provoking blog, Counterpoint.  His dedication to his blog, fine writing, and enjoyment of his craft inspire and encourage me.  Thanks, Keith. 

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.