writer’s block

Been struggling to find inspiration lately. Maybe I’m just jaded? I mean, how many more shootings can I write about? And the royal wedding was splendid and all, but I didn’t even know it was happening until it was over. (Yes, I’m out of touch.) I’ve been searching for meaning and struggling to find it, even in my triathlon training. Like, who cares? What’s the point? I keep thinking about my friend from college in Africa. I’ve been back in the States too long. Maybe once I finish this grad school thing, it’s time to go where I feel like I can really make a difference.

Below is a poem I originally published on February 20, 2013. It seems appropriate today.

writer’s block

I’m reaching and falling.
I’m hemming and hawing.
I’m trying and failing.
I’m rowing, now bailing.
Stop.

Another day.

(Go outside.)
(Never give up.)

My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living. — Anais Nin

For an audio recording of the above, click below:

 

 

 

 

the power of “real”

Or, why Shift has necessarily evolved into a “personal blog.”

To write or not to write, that is the question.

Actually, no. That’s not the question. The answer is always, “Write.” There’s no point in asking questions you already know the answer to. (Unless, of course, you’re asking to reaffirm what you already know. In that case, by all means, ask the question . . . )

No, the question is: what to write about?

Soooo many things.

There are the controversial, disheartening topics, of course — the Cosby verdict, the Trump administration, the Waffle House shooting, the Kate Middleton vs. Meghan Markle comparisons . . . Or there is the avoidance of these subjects: the travel posts, the love poems, the movie reviews, the short fiction. There is a place for all of these, certainly, but lately it seems I’ve been trending towards my own life experience.

Why? Maybe because my life experience is the only thing I can claim to be an expert on. And, also, maybe because I’m tired of bullsh*t.

Interestingly, I didn’t start Shift with the term “personal blog” in mind. I started it to share stories from my time abroad. As time has gone on, however, I’ve realized: how can good writing be anything but personal? Everything we do is personal, and to deny the power of our experience is to negate our humanity and potency as people. There is power in vulnerability: vulnerability is the bridge to connection.

That said, vulnerability is also scary as sh*t.

brene-brown-quotesTake, for example, my last post. Do you think it was easy for me to admit that I didn’t receive an offer of funding the first time I applied to school? Hell no! It was embarrassing and made me feel “less than.” But I thought it was worth sharing because, well, what’s the value of a goal if it’s not worth fighting for?

In fact, the more terrified I am after I post something, the better my writing usually is, and the better my post is received. I find this telling. Readers can sense pretense and appreciate authenticity. At least I know I do . . . I also get tired of reading articles about things I should and shouldn’t be doing or concepts that are plain common sense. Give me something real, people. Don’t give me guilt trips.

Of course, this world is a scary place, and I would never “bare all” on my blog. Oversharing does not equal vulnerability, and there are obvious lines that should not be crossed. But the walls we build and the facades we live behind are toxic to ourselves and our fellow humanity. I have never felt better than, when admitting something I’ve struggled with on my blog, I’ve managed to touch someone else.

It makes me feel less alone.

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Note: In trying to uncover images to accompany this post, I’ve found quite a few quotes from researcher Brené Brown and others that resonate with me. I’m sharing them here for your perusal.

 

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All images courtesy of the world wide web. Featured image by Olivier Tallec from Louis I, King of the Sheep.

 

what i wanted to say

I’m struggling to write what I want to today. You see . . .

Some of you have said I’m a good writer. Sometimes I think I am. Some you have suggested I write a book. Sometimes I’ve thought about it. (My rock-climbing accident would make a good story.) Sadly, though, I struggle with descriptive writing. I can write personal pieces all day long, but story-telling? Honestly, I suck.

The fact is I need to read more, and read good authors — people like Dickens, and Tolkien, and Hemingway. I need to read authors who paint big pictures and create even bigger characters. I need to read writers who know what they’re doing.

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“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Can that be?

It was encouraging this past week, though, when I was admitted into a creative writing class despite not having taken the prereq. It’s the only graduate writing course being offered next semester, and while my program isn’t writing-specific, I can tailor it to my interests. This class required the prereq or approval from the instructor, so I contacted the teacher recently and sent her some writing samples. She took a few days but finally sent this response:

Jessica,

You are welcome to sign up, but with the warning that the other students in the class are graduate MFA and PhD students and are more advanced. Of course, that means you can learn more that way. I always choose musicians to play with who know more than I do.

You have my permission.

Professor —

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Life is about taking chances, and the world of graduate school has been one of the biggest and most intimidating chances I’ve taken so far. I applied four times before finally being accepted and talked recently with another classmate about her own graduate journey. She has an MFA in non-fiction creative writing (something I’d like to do) and participated in multiple writing workshops at UCLA just to create a writing sample for her applications . . . and even then she was only accepted to one of the schools to which she applied.

Oh. My. Word.

(Side note: So then how does most of the garbage in the literature sections of grocery stores and airports today get published? I don’t get it!)

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And so, yes . . . Anyway . . . My point is . . .

I’m a decent writer, but I’ve got a long way to go, and sometimes I can’t write what I want to, even when I try. I swear, though, that sometime I’ll get around to writing a description of Hanoi, and how I met my friend K- , and about the package my friend P- sent me, and about the real reason that Facebook is worth it to me . . . I’ve just got to get through a few other things — like the research paper I’m supposed to be working on or the sprint triathlon I was talked into doing tomorrow morning (when there’s a 100 percent chance of rain) — first. Aye aye aye!

Happy weekend, all!

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friday night frenzy

If I were to open my heart I’d say a lot of things right now. Things like, “It’s Friday, folks. Hip hip hooray!”

Only it’s raining. And I volunteered to pick up trash tomorrow — in the rain. Ohhh, goodie.

Put your money where your mouth is.

No, really. It won’t be so bad. My friends will be there. I can sleep when we’re done. Really.

If you say so.

I say so. Except . . . When I was a kid, I thought my parents had it all figured out. I thought that when I grew up, I’d have it all figured out, too.

Oh, honey.

I know. I know.

Speaking of “honey,” people say funny things in the South. Like “Sweet Pea.” And “you’uns.” And “y’all.” And I realized tonight: I’m getting used to it. It will feel strange to visit California and not hear, “You’uns ain’t done nothin’ wrong, y’all ‘ear?” or “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” . . .

. . . It’s not so different from listening to Mandarin in Asia, actually. It was strange to return home and understand conversations around me then, too.

Is that so? Hmm . . .

Conversations are great, yes. But what about communication?

You would ask.

Communication is key — in everything. It’s why we can’t just all get along. We don’t seek to listen and understand before first being heard. This goes for everyone.

And me too. Me too.

But . . . “home.” What is home? Is it the bed upon which we lay our head? The person with whom we don’t hold back? The thing we’re really good at? People boast that their homes are the BEST EVER. But have they traveled the world? Have they seen everything it has to offer?

They don’t have to. Home is where they’re comfortable.

I see, I see. But not for me. Home is where my heart is, but it’s more than that, too.

SO much more.

SO.

I should really go to bed. But I have dishes to do and wars to fight first. (This poem inspired me the other night, though. Lord knows I need to lay off the Pledge®.)

dust if you must

 

 

 

 

 

 

walking my “why”

The truth is I lied in my last post. My trouble with blogging isn’t work. It’s time management.

Sure, sure — we all have this problem. Who ever does everything they’re supposed to exactly when they’re supposed to do it? Almost no one. That’s human nature — and life. But this flaw has perhaps been exaggerated in my case since moving to Knoxville. I work from home for a company on the west coast. I have class in the middle of the day. I’ve always been a night owl . . .

You see where I’m going with this.

It’s a fine thing to have flexibility and down time, but there comes a point where structure is good, too. Kids need routines and schedules, and so do adults. I like needing to be places and feeling productive. I like feeling like I’m a part of something in a meaningful way.

I’ve talked a lot about happiness on my blog — what it is compared to what we think it is. I’m come to see that happiness is multi-faceted. It’s not enough just to be thankful for what you have. Happiness is not about possessions or wealth. Happiness is much more than that, and part of it is “walking your why” and feeling like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.

Take, for example, the families who have been displaced in places like Syria or Rohingya. Many of these people have nothing except the clothes on their backs. Surely these people are suffering, but something that keeps them going — something that keeps all of us going — is the idea that a better future is within their grasp, that somehow they can create a better life for their children.

But why do I bring up refugees? Why not talk about the Yale graduate who left a prestigious law firm to help save women from human trafficking? Or the CEO who left the big business to start a program to help the homeless? Or myself who moved across country to start school to become a teacher? Those are the kinds of stories you were expecting, right?

Why? Because happiness isn’t limited to “first world” nations, folks. Take a look at that smiling Syrian baby above. Is he not the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? Indeed, some of the happiest people I’ve ever met were in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Imagine how much simpler your own life would be if you didn’t have all of those “things” to worry about and bills to pay? How much easier would it be to live in the moment? We underestimate the toll some of our privileges take on our overall well-being.

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In her talk on emotional agility, which I mentioned previously, psychologist Susan David talks about the importance of living our lives according to our values when it comes to our happiness. And I feel like that’s what’s really missing here. I say I want to get to bed earlier. But do I? I wake up much more satisfied with myself the next morning when I do! We say we want to help others. But do we? We’re much happier when we volunteer at that food kitchen, or reach out to that silent coworker, or take a leap of faith and make that career change — in other words, when we listen to our gut and think outside of ourselves — yes, when we follow through!

My challenge to myself this Easter weekend is to challenge my habits and actions that are not in line with my true values. I desperately want to be a better person and to “walk my why” on a daily basis. Don’t you?

Just food for thought on this beautiful Easter weekend. And . . . Speaking of “whys” . . . Now that I’ve got this blog post done ;) . . . I’ve got a five-page paper to write, so I guess I’d better get going on that, too!

the ragnar report

I should have written this post a few days ago. I tried. But this darn thing called “work” kept getting in the way.

Ragnar was amazing. I didn’t expect it to be. In fact, in the weeks leading up to the event, I was worried about sleep deprivation and missing work and school and wondered why I’d signed up.

What is Ragnar? you might ask. Up until a year ago, I had no idea, either. Ragnar is a multi-stage, point-to-point relay race in which teams of 12 runners (or fewer, if you’re crazy) cover 200ish miles in one straight shot. Teams typically split up between two vans and stagger shifts of runners. Van 1 has runners one through six; Van 2 has runners seven through twelve. When your van isn’t running, it’s either eating or sleeping — or trying to! Ragnar Tennessee goes from Chattanooga to Nashville and covers everything from mountain climbs to farmland to city scapes. It was an amazing way to see Tennessee, but even more, it was an opportunity to meet some incredible people.

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Outside the Blue Chair coffee shop after our first run

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enough

Inadequate. That’s how I feel every time I sit down at the page.

Every time I put on running shoes.

Every time I open an email.

I’m not enough, ‘nough, ‘nough, but I’ll be damned if I give in. Every day is a fight against the great unknown, the land within.

There are people for that, they say . . . you whisper . . . They can help. They can help.

I knowww . . .

But I’m doing fine on my own. I’ve got my boxing gloves and heart of steel, my line of defense, my reason. I don’t need your Zoloft.

But how did you get here? Your peers are fine. They’ve got kids of their own now. Careers. Homes. You never wanted that, anyway. You were a woman with purpose, not a “Mom!!!”

That doesn’t mean I wanted to be alone.

But you’ve got it so good. Remember Taiwan when it was 100 million degrees and you didn’t have air-conditioning? When you didn’t have a place to wash your clothes? When you didn’t have an oven? You have SO MUCH to be thankful for.

And I am. I am . . .

. . . But if I have all of these things, and if I’m still struggling, is it my fault? Is it yours? Is it society’s?

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

True enough, but try again. That’s others’ problem, not mine. I think often of the Syrian and Rohingyan refugees, the Bangladeshis, the Cambodians. I’ve seen them. Seen their lives. Felt them. I have so much to be thankful for, and I’d give it up in an insta—

—So easy to say. Would you? Would you, really?

YES.

And?

And yet.

Thankful is not enough. Purpose. Life is about purpose. What is the mother when her children leave the nest? What is the rich man on his dying day? What is the triathlete when the race is over? What REALLY matters?

Granted, I AM alone. I’m NOT a mom. I have TIME to think these thoughts, on my bed in my apartment in Tennessee — where the birds “sing pretty” and the rebel flag flies high. (Who knew the North-South controversy was still so strong? Not this California girl.) Why can’t we look for our similarities instead of our differences? Why does white privilege have to exist? Why must women be forced fight for their rights? If you really stop to think about it, it’s all SO DUMB.

But it IS real, and it IS relevant — just like the mother in rags living in a cardboard box in India. She’s only 23 but she looks 35. Her children will always be beggars. This is the caste they’ve been given, the lot they have won — just by being BORN.

The 16-year-old in Southern California whose grandma got liposuction, permanent makeup, and a boob job is real, too. LOOK like the stars, kiddo. That’s the real reason you’re here.

It’s a big world out there, they say. Shoot for the stars. Follow your heart.

But what happens when the stars forget to shine, and your heart breaks before you begin?

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I’m gonna go for my run now. Wish me luck!

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I went to a “Poetry Slam” last night — basically an open mic session for people to share their poems, which also included a performance by the American poet Buddy Wakefield. I’d never heard of Buddy before, but apparently he’s a pretty big deal. He’s performed on BBC, HBO, ABC and won Individual World Poetry Slams in recent years. His work is powerful; much of it is dark. I like the powerful part — not so much the darkness. I’m not sure I agree with his worldview, but I bought his book and liked how he signed it. He hit a nerve close to home, as you can see.