Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Sporting Life

Here it is, the long promised surf video, shot and edited by the talented Carl. I have improved further since we shot this footage, but I love how this video captures me just on the cusp of standing up. My first shaky steps. I also like how it shows me wiping out, getting tossed off the board, and almost colliding with both cool, experienced surfers and young children. That's what surfing was like for me right up until August of this year, when finally I figured out how to stand up and stay up on the board.

"Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it." Goethe

This is one of my favorite quotes. Not just because I think it's true, but because it's so optimistic, so encouraging. I had always wanted to surf, and in spite of being out of shape, and not a great swimmer, and quasi-afraid of the ocean, I dared to try. And I succeeded! This ranks up there with some of my proudest accomplishments, along with learning how to speak Spanish, passing the bar exam, and writing a novel.

Rediscovering and reclaiming my inner athlete has been one of the best gifts of the past year. I unearthed her, first for surfing, because it was an itch I had to scratch, and then for swimming to help the surfing, and then for tennis, to help research the novel. Along the way I remembered that sports were a huge part of my life until I was fifteen, when I decided I was an intellectual and not an athlete. I'm glad that I've finally realized I can be both. Why choose?

Finally, I can't let the week pass without shouting out my Fighting Phils! October baseball two years running in Philadelphia--I'm not sure this is my city anymore. My awesome parents took me to game two of the playoffs last night, where we handed Milwaukee a second defeat with an incredible grand slam from Shane Victorino. I've never been part of an event where such passion was displayed--by the crowd. The cumulation of 28 years of hope for the Phils was fully present last night as we screamed, shouted, taunted, cheered, and yes, booed. One thing I love about sports is watching people dig deep into their talent and determination to perform under great pressure. I love watching people rise to an occasion. Our Phillies did that last night, and I got to share in the love with my parents and 46,000 other rabid fans. What a joy, what a blessing.

Go Phils!

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Next Small Step

12 Step circles have a million helpful phrases, but the one I've been using for the past week is "Just do the next right thing." This is a simple concept, but for me, who often makes things harder for myself than they have to be, I find it hard to believe that something so simple could work.

But this week, faced with an overwhelming amount of work to do on the book, and not knowing where to start, I gave it a try. After calming down, working through my consuming panic about NEVER finishing through long walks and reassuring words from Carl, writer friends and others, I came back once again to just doing the next right thing.

I chose one of the many problems I identified while reading the manuscript, just one, and then tried to think of the smallest possible thing I could do to address it. The smallest step forward. The problem was the role of a particular character in the book--if he is necessary, and if so, why, and how my protagonist feels about him. It's a big issue that needs to be decided for the book to move forward. My smallest step was to look at one scene where he appears and see if it rang true, if it made sense. Once I decided it did, my next small step was to brainstorm how that scene would affect his relationship with the protagonist. And that small step led me to realize what their relationship was like in the first half of the book and how I could portray that. And that small step helped solve a problem that I thought was completely unrelated.

All of which gave me a lot of hope that by just progressing one small step at at time, any remaining issues with the book will be resolved. And isn't that the only way to proceed anyway?

I have also rediscovered/remembered that it greatly helps if I come up with a few possible small steps for my next work session, and write them down before I stop working for the day. That somehow eases my mind, and allows me to jump in more easily the next day.

I have applied this idea in other areas of my life, from my job search, to structuring my day, to selling my car, and it really seems to work. So if you're like me, and occasionally feel overwhelmed and don't know where to start, try taking the next small step, or doing the next right thing. Let me know how it works out.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Overwhelming Myself

I hate to brag, but overwhelming myself may be the thing I do better than anyone. I can overload on reading, on tv, on food, coffee, email--you get the idea. Even in this I am an overachiever.

This week I overwhelmed myself with my own book. I was trying to read it is smallish chunks, so I could absorb and digest what I was reading. But on Wednesday, with the pile of papers growing smaller, I couldn't resist plowing through to the end. And then I just felt paralyzed. Like what the fuck do I do now?

I wandered around like a zombie that afternoon. A saleswoman in Ten Thousand Villages said five cheerful things to me and received only grunts in response. I went to Penzey's Spices and sniffed my way through the store--tried to tell the difference between Turkish and Mexican oregano, tested to see if hot pepper flakes would burn my nose (answer no) and spent a good five minutes inhaling the comforting scent of vanilla extract. I don't think anything else smells as good. My fog started to lift when I went to see my Artist Way group, where I talked about my creative struggles to sympathetic ears, and got the excellent suggestion of taking the next day off to let what I had read wash over me and sink in a bit.

On that advice, I was extra nice to myself yesterday. I bought an almond croissant from the patisserie, and decided that it's impossible to be anything but happy while eating such a thing. I had lunch with my grandmom, and then ventured over to the Tyler Arboretum to see their tree house exhibit, comprised of seventeen or so tree houses. My favorite one consisted of hammocks strung all over with an invitation to lie in different ones to see various perspectives of the same group of trees. Rocking gently side to side I understood why Mexicans use hammocks to lull their children to sleep.

And then today, with great trepidation, I ventured back into the book, with what I thought was a small and gentle goal of simply reading the notes I took as I went through the novel. After reading the first half of notes, and making more notes on them, I knew I should stop. I had enough to chew on, to think over. But I kept going and am once again overloaded.

Why is it so hard to stop? To not only know when we've had enough, but actually walk away? I'm not sure. I think it feels like if I know what's there, I'll be able to control it somehow. The everlasting struggle for control. Or maybe it's the impulse to finish. If I read more, do more, then I'll finish faster. Which probably is the opposite of the truth. If I go slowly, at a sustainable pace, I work more quickly. If I overwhelm myself, it takes time to recover, regain some perspective and then get back to work. So for today, I'm done with the book. Writing about it helped, and my next step is a long walk. If you see me wandering with a glazed-over look, now you know why.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Return of the Blog

Ah, readers, a whole month has passed--longer--since I've posted. A few people (not even my parents) told me that they have missed my blog, which made me happy, not that I've been delinquent, but that people noticed.

What to say about August? Once I get my act together I will post a video that will explain August better than my words could. So you'll have to wait on that.

What I will say is that I took two whole weeks away from the novel, which I had not done since I began working on it in earnest last April. At first it felt good. I needed a break from it. But after a week I began to really miss it. And to feel somewhat at sea. Like the one constant for the past year has been the novel, and without it I didn't quite know what to do with myself.

I cleaned out closets, I busied myself trying to sell my car (which is a great little Corolla if anyone is interested), I started looking for a day job in earnest, I caught up on food shopping, cooking, correspondence, and generally just tried to get my life in order. So now that that's accomplished, I'm trying to get back into good habits. Like working on the novel in the morning, and writing a blog posting once a week.

My writing project this week has been to print out and read the entire novel start to finish. I have of course read all of it in sections, but never all the way through. And although I've found some alarming errors, holes in plot and problems yet to be resolved, it feels like a miracle to read a book that I wrote. Little old me.

Here's hoping that someday, in the not too distant future, you, and many other people, will be reading that book too.

Look for weekly posts again, now that I'm getting back on schedule (usually Friday afternoons.)

It feels good to be back!