26 May

Gratitude vs Appreciation

I’m trying to be really, really mindful these days. Sitting on the lanai…

Okay, little digression about “lanai”. It’s funny to me how just using that word instead of “patio” or “porch” makes me feel like I live in a tropical paradise. I mean, I do live in a tropical paradise. I have a swimming pool, bougainvillea, bamboo, a palm tree… my backyard is as magical as tropical paradises get.

But over the seven years that I’ve lived in this house (almost), I’ve let the magic fade away, drowned in the need to paint the house, repair the sprinkler system, fix the fence, clean the fence, re-surface the pool, sweep the porch, worry about mice, etc. etc. etc. All of the sense of the backyard as a peaceful oasis disappears in wondering whether I need to clean up after the dogs. Well, not whether I need to clean up after the dogs, because I always do, but when the last time was and whether I should today.

But when I think, “I’m going to sit on the lanai,” suddenly I’m reminded that this isn’t just an ordinary patio. It reminds me that I live in a place that once seemed incredibly exotic to me.

I’ve often been grateful when I sat on my patio. I’m grateful for the roof over my head, for how lucky I’ve been in my life, I’m grateful for my private backyard and the space I’ve been given and I’m grateful for my canine companions, even when they’re running around chasing squirrels and barking at people passing by from under the fence.

But when I sit on my lanai (the exact same place), I’m appreciative. I admire the beauty of the bamboo and the softness of the breeze, the warmth of the sunlight, and the way the shadows flicker as the leaves sway with the wind.

I think I used to think those two things were the same: that being grateful and being appreciative were exactly alike. But they’re not, or if they are, they’re the same in only the same way that “lanai” and “patio” are alike. One is prosaic, practical, solid, but the other has a little more magic in it, at least for me.

So yeah, my house is not sold, but I am appreciating it, and my lanai, every day. Adventures lurk on the horizon, but I am so lucky to be where I am right now.

23 May

Future Self

I read a truly brilliant comment on reddit on Saturday.

I consider reddit a vice, unhealthy on a regular basis, best avoided, but with a lure that makes it ever so appealing on a slow Saturday evening. It’s not the worst vice in the world, pretty far from it, really, but I do try to stay away. 99% of the time on reddit, I leave feeling the same kind of vague nausea that eating too much junk food creates. Like I should rethink my life choices if I’m wasting my time that way. But 1% of the time, I read something truly inspiring. On Saturday, it was this comment on Non-Zero Days.

You should go read it, really. I cannot do justice to its splendor. Partially because I couldn’t bring myself to use capital letters like he did or swear like he did, but also because the flavor of the comment is perfect for the advice within the comment.

My favorite part of the advice, though, is Rule 2: Be grateful to the 3 yous. Ever since I read it, I’ve been thinking about Future Me and how to be nice to her and it’s such a lovely way of providing perspective in my days. Some of it is obvious: that cookie that looks so appealing? Future Me would be so grateful to Past Me for not eating any gluten today. Some of it is a little less obvious: Future Me will definitely appreciate it if Present Me unloads the dishwasher before I start piling dishes in the sink, instead of only after I have a pile of them. And then there’s the big picture stuff: how grateful to Present Me will Future Me be if I actually get better about flossing my teeth? Huh, probably pretty grateful, especially given what a minimal effort flossing really is.

But I’m also trying to take care of Present Me. I got reminded of the second half of the serenity prayer recently, which begins, “Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time;”. It’s so easy for me to get lost in worry about the future, so natural for me to spend my time wandering in mental circles of anxiety. But stopping, taking a breath, sitting on the lanai and admiring the bamboo… it feels so much better. And worrying about the future doesn’t actually help Future Me. Yes, I need to take care of her, but I don’t need to try to live her life. I’ll get there when I get there.

My backyard neighbor has lined the entire back of the fence with bamboo. It’s really tall, at least fifteen feet, maybe even taller and so beautiful. One stalk has managed to spring up on my side of the fence and it’s leaning precariously. But it sways in the wind and light filters through the leaves, and the colors are so perfect, yellows and deep greens. I think Future Me will probably have to chop down the stalk at some point, but Present Me thinks it’s lovely. bamboo picture This picture doesn’t do it justice, because I don’t know how to take a picture of light with my phone, but I’m posting it anyway to remind myself.

So this is what I’m trying to do this week: Be grateful to Past Me for her good choices, forgive her for her less good choices; take care of Present Me and live in her time; and do nice things for Future Me. Fortunately, Future Me would really, really, really like it if I could finish this book and move on to writing A Precarious Balance, so I’m hoping for lots of good writing. Happy Monday!

19 May

Selling my house (or not, as the case may be)

The second people to look at my house made an offer.

I said no.

This house-selling business is an interesting process. I had imagined it as straightforward: standard contracts, typical mortgages, generally accepted terms. Not so much, apparently. Or at any rate, my two offers were very different. The first seemed straightforward. The second, not so much. The number of things without prices that the seller (i.e., me) was going to pay for was… well, almost laughable. No, I’m not going to pay for all these pigs-in-a-poke. WDO inspection and underwriting and tax services and closing costs and on and on. I do expect that I’ll be paying some of a buyer’s closing costs, but I’m not going to sign a contract that doesn’t come with clear prices attached. Apparently people do, however.

This offer was, in every possible way, worse than the first, so eh. Nope, not going to do that yet. Oh, well. Maybe I’m not selling my house. Or maybe the third people to look at the house or the eighth or the tenth or some other number will be the offer to work out. Meanwhile, I will enjoy living in it.

In other news… I’ve got nothing. I’ve been spending a lot of time looking up random words and thinking about definitions. Well, not exactly random. One link leads to another which leads to another, but the starting word was “grace.” What does her name really mean? A Gift of Grace started with the idea that on the surface, he rescues her (back in my original plot) but really she rescues him. In the new plot, as it has evolved, there is no rescuing. So what’s the gift? Before I could answer that question, I got wound up with words and the way we use them. Salvation, surrender, blessings, alleluia — it’s made for some fascinating reading. None of it useful for writing Grace, ha, but still interesting.

I do think that maybe I got a glimmer of an idea last night from a writing group that I go to. I brought up my struggle and what I currently think my issue is and one of the guys said (about Noah), “so his perspective needs to change.” I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with that idea, but it might help. I hope so anyway! Meanwhile, I continue meandering around in the same chapters, but I think they’re evolving in good ways.

And back to it!

16 May

Houses and quilts and other stuff

The first people to look at my house made an offer.

I accepted.

And then their financing fell through.

It was what you might call a whirlwind of emotions. I’m not fussing about it, but it inspired me to live in my house very mindfully this weekend, enjoying the pool, appreciating the lanai*, and taking full advantage of the laundry room.

I’ve determined that I’m going to leave this house with all quilts and blankets as clean as possible: I’m not thinking about the fact that an RV doesn’t have a ton of room for blankets and so I should be probably be deciding which ones need to get donated. I own a lot of quilts. Maybe I’ll do a post of quilt pictures and let you help me decide? But mostly my choices will be between presentable vs extraordinarily well-worn and ragged, but incredibly nostalgic. For example, I own a quilt my mom made with her grandma for her wedding. It’s purple and red, ripped along one side, very lightweight, and more than fifty years old. Put that up against the perfectly serviceable blue and green quilt I picked up at Bed, Bath & Beyond a few years ago and there’s a practical decision and the decision that I will undoubtedly make. But I sort of suspect that I’ll be keeping all the quilts when I leave and making the hard decisions only when I am forced to it by the lack of space in my future new home.

And who knows when that will be? After my first showing turned into my first offer, I thought this process would be quick, but no one else has even looked at the place yet, so maybe not so much. That’s probably fortunate because I have a lot to do before I leave. (Ahem, like, write a book? Yeah, that.) I’m not stressing, though. A time for everything and everything in its time. And now it’s time to write!

*Lanai: So it turns out, in Florida, there are specific terms for those outside spaces adjacent to one’s house. They’re not all just patios. My outside space has no walls but is covered, so apparently it’s a lanai. If it weren’t covered but was paved, it would be a patio. If it was made of wood, not covered, it would be a deck. If it… well, follow the link on the term to read all the variations. But I may have to go through all my Tassamara books looking at the porches. Apparently the Southerners might have called them verandas. I figure I’m fine in Akira’s point-of-view, because she — like me — probably had no idea of these fine distinctions, but I suspect Natalya should have. Not that I’m going to make any changes, it would just be interesting to know where I got it wrong.

12 May

Showing the house

In twenty minutes, I’m putting the leashes on the dogs and taking them for a walk in what I hope is not the rain, so that some total stranger can wander through my house, considering whether they’d like to live in it. Such a weird feeling! Wistful and worried, anxious and yet, curiously relaxed. I love my house and it’s okay with me if these people do, too, and it’s okay with me if they don’t.

This is my first house, probably my last, although one never knows what the future will bring. (In my case, unless it brings me a partner who wants to do yard work, this is my last house.) My bucket list from over fifteen years ago — found while sorting stuff — included “live in a place that feels like home” and I do. One checkmark.

It will be so strange to leave it. And yet, adventure awaits. I need to figure out a way to record names of campgrounds, names of places to visit. I’m following all these fun RV blogs in my RSS feed now and it feels like there’s so much to see. I keep reminding myself that really what I plan to do is find a nice place to sit for a while, then sit and write, then find another nice place to sit. This adventure is supposed to include many, many words.

First, though, I need to finish Grace. I wonder if I can squeeze in another 100 words before time for my walk? I should try. Or maybe I should wander my house, eying the floors critically and seeing if there’s one more spot I can scrub, one more pile of Bartleby fur hiding in the corners.

09 May

Mother’s Day

On Saturday, I was bracing myself for the Mother’s Day blues.

Five years ago, I didn’t see my mom on Mother’s Day. I called her, I expect, but I didn’t do flowers or a card or a gift — I was in grad school, quitting my job, life was busy. I didn’t know, because we so rarely do, that it would be our last holiday. I don’t feel guilty about that — she would scoff at me if I did. But I do think of her and miss her more on the holiday. At the best of times, it’s still a teary holiday for me. And this year, R was busy with finals, so I expected a solitary day. As I said, bracing myself.

Instead, there was an after-dark knock on the door on Saturday evening. I went to answer it with trepidation, that sense of ‘uh-oh, who could that be?’ But yay! It was R, home to surprise me, and a delightful surprise it was.

Instead of my solitary day, I made us a big breakfast and then we headed off to our annual Mother’s Day super-hero movie tradition. We saw Captain America: Civil War, which was unexpectedly good. I’d been careful not to read or see anything about it — I actually didn’t want to be spoiled, because my expectations were so low. I usually don’t mind spoilers, but in this case, I anticipated that spoilers would reveal things that would make me unhappy and I didn’t want to dread the movie, if that makes any sense. But it was surprisingly enjoyable and far more fun than I expected it to be.

Afterwards, he worked on his final papers and I thought about Grace. Didn’t write a word, but did finally decide to go backwards again. R came into my room at one point and I told him I was debating throwing the whole thing away and he forbid it, very sternly, so I guess I’m not doing that. But the last six weeks of words just don’t work for me, so I’ve deleted them from my file (saving them, of course, for when I change my mind again) and am starting over again from the point where I think it stopped working. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to re-use some parts, but I’m going to work on writing it as if it’s a clean slate.

Meanwhile, a friend taught me to knit on Saturday, so I have been knitting and thinking and knitting and thinking. No words written (unless I count these) but at least I’m not feeling frozen anymore which is how I spent the last week. I’m trying to remind myself to put progress before perfection, like a good positive discipline parent.

But I’m also thinking that maybe knitting would be a good metaphor for how I should be treating writing. Because in my knitting, I’m trying really hard to focus on process, not product. I finished off my first skein of yarn, and then I ripped it all out and started over. Not because I was worried about it not being good enough, but because the point of knitting for me is not to produce usable objects, but to have the mindful meditative process. I’m trying to find flow states, not create scarves. Maybe I should be treating my writing the same way. The goal isn’t to produce an end result that follows other people’s rules of storytelling and satisfies every single person who ever picks it up — the goal is to love what I do while I’m doing it.

Process, not product. It feels right. So now let’s see what the words are like when my only goal is to enjoy writing them.

05 May

4AM Bargains

There was a mosquito in my bedroom last night.

I tried bargaining with it. I promised that if it sat on my skin, I wouldn’t flinch, I wouldn’t move, I would just hold still and let it stuff itself on my blood. I swore it could have a full pint of the good stuff.

I offered to set up a plate of water, shallow and non-filtered. Even rainwater, if that would be better for its little eggs. Anything, everything, whatever it wanted or needed, I would give it its heart’s desire (do mosquitoes have hearts?) if it would just SHUT THE EFF UP.

It didn’t.

My crankiness level would be sky-high, since I’ve been unhappily awake since 4AM, except that it is a gorgeous day, sunny and cool with a light breeze. And I have two adorable dogs who are wandering around the backyard appreciating the weather. B, especially, likes the temperature, I think. He’s a lot more active on cool days than hot, when he tends to lie underneath pieces of furniture with his tongue out.

Oh, people who know more about plants than I do: what is this plant?

mystery plant

I should know its name but I can’t remember it. I bought it to put on the front porch, but it lasted for two days out there, miserable and droopy at the end of every day, so I decided it needed less sun. I moved it to the patio and it’s been so flourishing ever since that I almost wish I wish I could keep it. I’m death on plants, so I’m not going to — it’ll go live with some safer person when the house sells — but I’m pleased that it’s happy at the moment. But I wish I knew what it was.

Writing is going so horribly that I’m being extremely mean to myself. Hmm, that sentence might be backwards. I’m being extremely mean to myself so writing is going horribly? Which is cause and which is effect? Tough to say. But I’m on the fourth version of the scene that I’ve been working on for the past week. I manage about six hundred words, then delete them.

I keep coming up with ideas for why it’s so hard, things I’ve forgotten to consider, plot holes, characterization issues — but I seriously wish I was done with this book. Last night — before the mosquito — I told myself that I just needed to do a writing binge. To treat this like a school assignment with five days before a deadline that would prevent me from graduating, or a magazine deadline where the issue is going to press with blank pages that would lose me my job. Then I met my friendly neighborhood mosquito and instead of writing-binging this morning, I’ve mostly been drinking coffee and playing solitaire and waiting for a plumber to arrive. That counts as work, right? Waiting for a plumber? Yeah, I thought not. But as soon as he’s here (or she, I don’t mean to be sexist in my gender assumptions about plumbers), I will settle into writing. Words will get written. Real ones. Meanwhile, though, I will keep drinking coffee and enjoying the weather.

02 May

To-do lists

I looked at my to-do list and with the exception of one ridiculous item — finish writing this damn book — it is very close to being completed. Most of the items on it are either things that I am waiting on someone else to do or things that are optional. For example, wash all the windows. Well, that’s a nice idea, because clean windows look good. But if I don’t get around to washing all the windows and someone doesn’t buy the house because the windows weren’t clean, they probably weren’t someone who needed a thirty-year old house anyway.

Yesterday’s chores included buying six bags of mulch and spreading it on my front garden; organizing books and items in the garage and taking a load of books to the library donation spot; going to Lowe’s and buying lightbulbs for the overhead kitchen lights, then dragging out the big ladder to change the two that were burned out; scrubbing my bathtub to within an inch of its life (it’s still doesn’t look spotless, but it never will); and much playing and splashing with the dogs.

The last part was fun. It was a beautiful first day of May and the water was perfect. B, I think, finally really likes swimming as long as I’m close to him. He’s like a toddler in the water, running around all excited on the edge, then super-cautious about how he puts his paws in, then always checking back to make sure he hasn’t gotten too far away from safety. And Z, of course, loves the pool and playing with her basketball.

2016-04-26 13.06.13

It definitely gave me pangs about giving it up. I had the gloomy thought of “I will never find another house that I love as much as this one.” French doors to the patio, high ceilings, my window seat, my kitchen cabinets… and then I thought, yes, this is true, I will never again have to be responsible for yard work or worry about termites. Leaks I will have to worry about — apparently, water is the big problem for RVs and getting a leak is both eventually inevitable and the problem that you have to watch out for. Yes, I’ve been doing lots of reading about RVs.

Today’s goals: finish the damn book. But that brings me back to my original thoughts on writing — that goal never moves, because I’ve made it too overwhelming. I need to make it a series of smaller goals. So today’s goal: finish the scene I’m in, write the next one, figure out what happens in the one after that. And, at least temporarily, let go of worrying about the house and the RV and the future and all the things that are driving me away from the story, and concentrate on Grace.

Ironically, I thought my trip to Sarasota on Friday would be really great plotting time to finalize the order of these last scenes and maybe get some real words imagined but I spent most of it daydreaming about Fen. She’s having such great adventures in my head. I seriously am so looking forward to getting back to writing about her. First, though, Grace. And even before that, a Monday morning, a dog walk, some healthy breakfast, and so on. The fingers are warmed up and ready to go!

28 Apr

Overthinking

At some point, I’m going to sit back and think about what I’ve learned from Grace. I’m not sure yet what it is. Not to have too many characters? Not to let side characters steal the show? To stick to an outline instead of abandoning it? To put more time into planning? Except I put a ton of time into planning with Grace. I thought I knew exactly where I was going, I just could never figure out how to get there.

I think probably the most important thing for me is that I really need to stop overthinking. I never considered plot or structure or character arcs with Ghosts and it’s entertaining nonetheless. And A Lonely Magic was a seven-week whirlwind where I never knew what was coming next and I adore it. Somehow the “write like mad without too much thinking” is my best strategy, I just need to figure out how to do it successfully without letting myself get turned around too much.

So yes, still working on Grace, finally starting to see a little forward movement instead of spinning my wheels. I don’t even know what revision I would call this now, maybe seven? And, of course, this is all before my usual multiple revision rounds that are edit rounds, not rewrites. Ah, well. I persevere! (It’s a character strength. :))

I’m persevering on the house, too. It’s not yet 10AM and I’ve checked off another item on the to-do list, namely clean and paint the trim on the patio. While I was at it, I wandered around to the front and touched up some of the trim out there and discovered — ridiculously belatedly — that the trim around the new windows by the door (sidelights, they’re called) was light blue. Seriously, what planet have I been on for the past month? I was berating myself for my lack of observational skills while I painted the blue white, to go with the rest of the trim, but then I realized, or maybe remembered, that I actually have excellent observational skills, as long as what I’m observing is people. Trim color does not interest me, not even when it’s on my own house, which is why I shouldn’t be a homeowner anymore. People do.

That said, when I was sitting on the patio, semi-admiring my work and mostly comforting a stressed-out dog who really wanted to be in my lap, I also did some good observing of the way the sunlight passes through my backyard neighbor’s bamboo. It’s seriously beautiful. Something about the way the light gets broken and the bamboo sways makes it alive. The light that is, not the bamboo, which is, of course, obviously alive. It’s magical. I tried to take a picture, but I’m a lousy photographer. I couldn’t capture it at all. Well, or maybe my iPhone was not the best camera for the job.

I did take a picture of Zelda, though, to commemorate the occasion.

Zelda, taking a nap on her dog bed

Zelda, taking a nap on her dog bed

What occasion, you ask? Well, we’ve owned that dog bed for years, and she never, ever uses it. It’s where Bartleby curled up the day he wandered into my backyard, but neither of them spend time there. I decided to throw it away, since it’s got a hole in it (presumably put there by the now-unhappy mouse that was living behind the now-gone granite countertops that had been sitting on the patio since my kitchen remodel.) I intended to drag it out to the curb for the trash guys, but got distracted by the bamboo, and what do I see when I turn around?

Zelda.

Perhaps expressing her opinion of all this chaos.

When I started this blog post I had something specific I was going to write about and it wasn’t Grace and it wasn’t Zelda and I have no idea what it was. Maybe fear? I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately, good fear and bad fear, and optimism and faith. Fear is an emotion that people want to dismiss quickly, one way or another. Either it’s, “oh, you’ll be fine, you’ve got nothing to be afraid of” or it’s, “then don’t do the thing that scares you.” I feel like neither of those is the right answer.

I think some fear keeps me alert but also lets me know that I’m doing something exciting. A little good fear — not anxiety, but fear — keeps me present and focused. On the other hand, anxiety is the bad fear. Anxiety is when the fear starts spiraling into worry and becomes irrational. I’m trying very hard to stay present in my life and not let the anxiety take over. It’s trying, some days more than others. But as long as I can see that, I think I can beat it.

That’s the optimism and faith speaking. Or maybe the character strength of hope? I’m often truly scared about the future that I’m heading toward. What if I get sick? What if the dogs get sick? How will I deal with X, Y, Z? But whenever I get too focused on those what-ifs, I take a step back, and look at the day I’m in. What can I do to make today better? And what can I do today to make my tomorrows better? The answers to those questions are so much easier than the answers to the what-ifs. Right now, the answer is “stop writing a blog post and write Grace instead!” So off I go.

What can you do to make your today better?

27 Apr

Mindfulness exercise

I totally stumbled across this article — I was reading another one about dogs not liking hugs, which turned out to be sort of silly and obvious and this one was a link on the side — but I like it so much that I need to save it, and what better place than my blog?

Basically, it suggests an incredibly simple mindfulness exercise: for fifteen seconds, notice your breathing, in and out. And then ask yourself, which of my character strengths am I going to bring to my next action?

The character strengths are categorized into Wisdom, Courage, Temperance, Transcendence, Humanity, and Justice and then broken down within those sections into deeper levels. Some of them will be easy for me to remember to use: perseverance, creativity, curiosity. I recognize and appreciate those strengths in myself. (From the Wisdom and Courage sections.) But appreciation of beauty and excellence; gratitude; and hope (Transcendence) are just as useful and necessary in my life.

And then the others — love, honesty, bravery, zest, judgement, love of learning, humility, perspective, kindness, humor, spirituality, forgiveness, prudence, self-regulation, fairness, leadership, teamwork, social intelligence (in no particular order) — well, I won’t remember to use them as often, but I hope having written this post will encourage me to turn to the idea of approaching life from a position of mindful inner strength when I need them. It’s fifteen seconds that could change my day.

In other news… my list of things to do seems to keep getting longer instead of shorter, but I think the items on it may be getting both easier and more nit-picky. A new one that I added today is that my painters missed an area in the front room. I’m not sure how I missed it on the run-through and part of me wants to just ignore it. But now that I’ve spotted it, I see it every time I walk through the room. So finding a little can of the same color paint and touching it up is now on my list. And re-grouting my bathtub looks so good that now I want to re-grout the other bathtub. I painted the interior of the French doors that lead to the patio and the inside of the laundry room door — they both look so nice that I’m considering painting the exterior doors. That kind of stuff. Maybe they’re delaying tactics? Or distractions to keep me from obsessing about the thing that I really need to do, aka finish writing Grace.

Speaking of which… yeah, I should be doing that right now. But I’ll breathe for fifteen seconds first and then bring a character strength with me. Or maybe two. It seems like a time for both perseverance and creativity!

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