Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Dreaded Critique

I belong to the best writing group in the world. Really. Having struggled for so long on my own, longing for helpful feedback, I know how valuable it is to have eight astute writers reading my work and giving me their thoughts. In the few short months I’ve been in the group, I’ve become a better writer, editor, and reader.

And yet, even in this group that I love and value so greatly, getting critiqued is hard. It’s like taking medicine—I know it’s good for me, but I still resist, clamp my mouth shut, feel icky while it’s being administered. The first time was scary because it was the first time. Last night was the second time, and though I was a little nervous, I knew the group, I knew the vibe would be honest but gentle, I knew the intentions were to help me, my writing, and my novel.

Even still, after listening to the group discuss my third and fourth chapters for an hour or so, I felt overwhelmed. Some thoughts I immediately recognized as true. For example, I need to weave my protagonist’s struggle into the narrative more, not take a break from that as I set the scene or introduce characters. The descriptions need some work—yes. The Spanish needs proofreading by a native speaker—yes, yes. Maybe part of why it’s overwhelming is that there is so much still to do. And if I think too much about how much work remains, it feels impossible.

So this morning I’m going back to biting off one tiny piece and working just on that. If I can figure out a small step and take it, I often trick myself into taking a few steps, sometimes surprising myself by how far I get. And if I’m taking steps, I’m less worried, more in the moment, and still moving forward.

Thank you writing group! I will let all your thoughts sit for awhile, see which stay with me, which ring true. The more confident I get as a writer, the easier it is to receive others’ thoughts without thinking I have to agree with them all. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, including me. The trick is to stay open, but also trust myself to pick out what is helpful for me and what isn’t. Easier said than done, but at this too, I’m getting better.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Surfing in 50 Degree Water

Surfing in 50 degree water is something I never thought I’d do. But after surfing all week in Rincon, I couldn’t wait for the water to warm up to go out again. Plus Carl was going. As much as my competitiveness trips me up, it also pushes me to do things I otherwise might not do. So two weeks ago, when Carl said he was going in the water, I thought, well, I’ll give it a try. With the water temp hovering around 50, amazingly, my body was nice and toasty in my wet suit, once the initial blast of cold water warmed up, but my bare hands and feet hated me. It wasn’t like when the water is cold in summer, but eventually your body adjusts. No, it was painful, painful, painful, then numb. Amazingly, I wanted to stay in the water, I wanted to surf that badly. There were waves, although I couldn’t do much with them, as my frozen feet refused to hold up my body. But still I paddled around, caught a few waves, tried to pop up, and had fun.

With a good surf report Carl and I went back to the shore this weekend, but this time I insisted we stop at the surf shop to get booties. Mr. I’m From Syracuse and Don’t Feel the Cold said he didn’t need any, but I’ve never pretended to be tough about the cold. I tried on four booties—feeling like Cinderella once I found the right neoprene slipper—and off we went into the ocean. Amazing thing, neoprene. How can I be in 50 degree water, and not be cold? I don’t know, but I fucking love it. I felt like a whole new world of surfing opened up for me this weekend, one that gives me a few more months each year in the water—months when almost no one else is around.

Each time I take my surfing to another level, I hesitate. When I first started, I knew I loved it and wanted to do it as much as possible, but buying a surf board? Really? With no evidence that I’d ever be able to ride it? But I did it. Then when summer ended, I needed a wet suit. Then when Carl started surfing a lot, and hogging my board, we had to buy a second board. Our first surfari was another level, taking lessons yet another level, and now the cold water.

Each new step required another level of commitment, and yes, faith. And I can say that I haven’t regretted any of the time, money or energy we’ve put into surfing, because I get so much more back in return. I get entire days outside, doing something I love that’s good for my mind, body and soul. I get days with the ocean all to myself. I get exhilaration, adrenaline. And I get to share it all with my husband, who loves surfing more than I’ve ever seen him love anything.

This weekend as I paddled for waves, battling the wind and the current, as I stood up for the first time on our new board (woo-hoo!), as I watched the horizon and knew when waves were going to appear, I realized that somehow over the past year I’ve transformed from poseur to surfer. I don’t feel like a fraud in a wetsuit anymore, I just feel like a surfer.

If you want more surf blogging, check out Carl’s new blog, Surf For Your Life, which is all surfing all the time. Just don’t tell me if you like it better than mine.