Writing is the JOB

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Here’s the thing: I don’t actually think it is any easier to show up to the work we feel required to do — the work with immediate financial return — than to show up to our creative work.
 
Both require commitment. Both present challenges. Both can be frustrating/exhilarating/mind-stretching.
 
The difference is how we value the creative work – how we allow ourselves to treat it.
 
When my son was 2-years-old and I decided to commit to the WRITER in me dying to run free, I had to confront the idea that as a stay-at-home-mom my writing could always be placed on the back burner.
 
Right behind the mac ‘n cheese and broccoli.
 
I had to begin to shift my thinking from:
 
First, I take care of everything that needs to be done around the house, I make sure to play for a few hours with my son, I get dinner prepped, and THEN I can write if I am not asleep on the couch by seven pm.
 
To:
 
The house can be messy, or someone else who lives here can pitch in. I can hire a babysitter occasionally. We can order take-out. My husband can put the kid to bed. Screen time will not kill my child – I want to finish this scene.
 
The writing MATTERS, it is real and important and I have a right to pursue it.
 
My job as a mom remains demanding. My job as a freelance editor and book biz coach continues to require energy and time. I am a social butterfly who loves to hang out with friends and go do fun things in LA.
 
My writing WILL NOT be put on the back burner no matter what else winds up on my plate.
 
My plate is full with valuable, interesting things and I am lucky.
 
We cannot achieve the big dreams we harbor inside without agreeing to make big changes to the way we view our passions.
 
YOUR writing is a job worthy of YOUR time.
 
Value the creative life and the creative life will begin to pour out of you.

5 Steps to 500 Words

TGI the Weekend!

I’m blacking out time on my schedule to write some words, but I thought it might be fun to drop some knowledge about HOW I get 500 words NO MATTER WHAT.

1. Decide the writing will happen and you will enjoy it. So much of the story around writing is about how HARD it is. How challenging it can be to get what’s in your brain out on paper (or a Word doc). I won’t lie to you and say the writing always feels like shooting rainbows out of my fingers, but – especially in the drafting phase – I always remind myself that this is a chance to purely create. It’s alchemy with words. It’s FUN. Even when it tries to convince me it’s HARD.

2. Set the scene. I know writers who need it dark, with candles flickering, music playing. I know writers who exclusively write in cafes with bustle and noise all around them. It doesn’t matter how, but find a way to use your senses, and habits, to trigger your creative brain. It doesn’t have to be the same every time either. Honoring the time with your story is what matters.

3. Set a timer on yourself. This can be a few hours, or 30 minutes or whatever you want. But having a window for the words helps. It’s like how having a deadline can spur you to finish a project. It will help you stay with your writing instead of slipping onto Instagram, or taking one of those Buzzfeed quizzes where you make a pizza and they reveal the color of your soul.

4. Write forward. Once you get momentum going, try to stay with the forward motion until you hit a goal. You can always go back and edit after. But you can’t edit at all if you don’t write the words to begin with!

5. Reward yourself WHEN you succeed. Celebrating the victory of setting a writing goal and then meeting it is SO IMPORTANT. Sometimes, when I need to get a lot of words in one day, I will set little rewards up for hitting 500 word increments – a fresh cup of tea, a walk with my dogs, playing a round of Mario Party with my son – and then I will give myself a big reward at the end of the day. This usually involves wine and Netflix, and it’s glorious because I did the work and I loved the process and, best of all, I WANT to do it all again tomorrow.

W*nt

I put a timer on my life in LA.

Subconsciously, in subtle, but subverting ways, and because I thought that wanting to be here, wanting this life, this spot, this experience, needed to be justified in order to be valid. Then, and WAY WORSE, I realized, it wasn’t just LA I had put a timer on – it was EVERYTHING.

Somewhere along the way I made my DESIRES something I had to prove valid.

Something I had to justify wanting at all.

Over the summer, my family spent time back in Texas. A lot of time. More than we expected. And it was good, and joyful, and meaningful for us to be close to our families again, living alongside them and seeing all the changes, laughing, crying, complaining about the heat. But it also opened my eyes to something surprising.

I WANT to live in LA – and not because I don’t love Texas. Not because I don’t long to be near my family. Not because LA is better — life is much more complicated than better or worse. And it wasn’t because I want to MAKE IT. It wasn’t for any other reason than…

I wanted this – that’s it.

I choose this place. This journey. We all choose it – my husband, son, and I.

And we don’t have to validate our choice.

I don’t have to validate it and I don’t need a timer.

I never DID.

I only thought I did because…

I thought WANT was a dirty word.

Like NEEDING is better. Like SUPPOSED TO is somehow more justified or noble.

As if something deemed noble — like a calling, like a destiny, like a purpose — is better than wanting it and going for it and that’s it. Want is not inherently selfish — though, yes, it can become that way. Just like money is not evil, though many evil people seek it, acquire it, misuse it. Same with power. Same with fame.

WANT is desire, and passion and drive. WANT is why we keep going when supposed to, need to, because I should, dies on the vine.

And also…

Choosing is scary AF.

Because when we choose, we say goodbye to option B through D. We can’t keep daydreaming about the what if because now we’re living the RIGHT THIS EFFING MOMENT.

Choosing means saying yes everyday even when we want to throw in the towel. Choosing means not blaming anything, or anyone, for the shit along the way, because WE chose, and we DID have other choices — we always have other choices. It’s scary because..

What if we choose from that want then what IF we are wrong?

The day after I got back to LA, carrying all this new WANT, and CERTAINTY, and HELL YES, inside me, I went shopping with my friends. It was one of those afternoons where you talk deep and long while winding through Bloomingdales, trying on make-up and dresses and dreams, where you end up sipping Rose at an outdoor cafe, bathed in sunset and satisfaction.

It was the kind of day where you choose something just because you can. I chose Jimmy Choo sunglasses. I am really happy with my choice.

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What you want can be yours. You just have to CHOOSE.

And then you have to be willing to live that choice everyday.

 

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On This Day

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One thing I love about Facebook, (and there are many things I do not love about it) is the memory notifications I get in the mornings. Sitting with coffee on my couch, cool light slipping in between the blinds, my son snuggling up under my blanket rather than getting his own, I will often use that lazy time to check those reminders.

Today, I have memories from Brooklyn, Texas and, from last year, the day our boxes arrived to fill our new apartment in LA. Scrolling through them, I remembered each very different stage, and for the first time ever, there was no melancholy, no sting of loss or missed opportunity, no feelings of sadness or anger.


In July, it will be seven years since my family moved to Brooklyn. My son was about to turn two. A cherub child with wide, sparkling blue eyes and white-blond hair, learning words and still using a pacifier to cope with the world around him. My husband would take the subway to work in an open-concept office, in an old warehouse building, between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. I would use my son’s nap time to write my first novel, learning by doing, and doing doing doing again. We would all go through high-pressure change in the two years living in that city. We would all leave the city feeling a little bit lost.

In March, it will be five years since my family moved back to Texas. My son would soon turn four. A tiny superhero who had left cars and trains and his pacifier behind for super villains and dance fighting and playing pretend. My husband would work in an office, tucked in a corner of our wood-shaded home. I would write my second novel perched above the trees, and it would be better because practice makes imperfect things a little less shabby. We would all go through slow, sometimes painful transformations in the four years living in that house on the hill surrounded by trees. We would all leave the forest feeling a little bit braver.

Two days ago, was the one year anniversary of my family moving to Los Angeles. My son will soon turn nine. A sweet-natured but sharp-tongued gamer with a massive playlist and a lot of big, weird, and wild dreams of his own. My husband works at a desk he built with is father, in a sunny corner of our living room, and at night, on the weekends, he writes a screenplay with me on the couch. I revised my third novel, rewrote a screenplay and began another two, write a book with my friend, and all the unfinished stories inside of me, on the page, in drawers and notebooks and my imagination are bursting to be told imperfectly, perfectly because they are mine. I do not know what we will be when we leave here, or if we will ever leave, because none of that is a memory, it’s a story we’re all still writing.

I am not always good at feeling settled with myself. My choices. My own character arc. I get restless and flustered, my confidence wobbles and becomes false, my faith that I can achieve my goal (or that I should actually ever achieve it) falters. But isn’t that just part of it? Isn’t every moment of failure the beginning of something new?

santam

 

 

Learning to Drive in LA

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When I was a teenager, I failed my driving test three times.

Yeah. 

I mean, even after I took a six-week driving course and had loads of behind-the-wheel practice. The reason? My utter and complete disinterest in precision. Like, turning into the correct lane, always putting on my blinker, not changing lanes in an intersection—you know, life saving factors. But, even when I managed all that on the second go, I could not parallel park to save my life. Or in this case, pass my test.

On the third and final shot, the instructor testing me was an older man who had not enjoyed teaching me over the course of my training. He’d — more than once — told me to get out of the car and walk off some steam, which, for a girl with a hot head, was like turning up a boiler.

I withered inwardly when he approached the car. Shit. May as well give up now. But, I was determined, and too stubborn, to ever go down without a spectacular fight. I got in the car. I would ace this test just to spite him.

I received two marks right off for technique. He goaded me with snide remarks, red ink on the page. Then, as you can probably imagine, my blood began to boil. By the time he was testing my parking, it took everything in me to keep going. And, unsurprisingly, I failed to parallel park.

I began to cry. I am an angry crier, but also I was deeply disappointed that the freedom attached to that driver’s license was out of my reach. I needed that freedom. I needed to be able to roll down the window and fly over country roads, my music blaring, a cherry limeade from Sonic in the cup holder. I had plans.

The instructor turned to me, took off his bottle-cap glasses, and rubbed his watery, gray eyes. Stop crying, he said. I’m going to pass you.

I furrowed my brow. Too suspicious to be happy. Still too pissed off to stop crying.

I can’t have you in my class for another six weeks, he said, and then he smiled. But please be careful. You are not a good driver. 

This was not kindness, and in that moment, I didn’t care. I got what I wanted, and he got the last word.

It was only years later, after multiple car accidents, after crying — and lying — my way out of speeding tickets, after having my ex-boyfriend and my brothers, my parents, my friends, fellow shitty drivers, and, yep, constantly myself, reiterate this declaration over my driving, that I realized how thoroughly I had internalized this limitation.

I was thirty-two-years-old, we were thinking of moving to LA, something I had dreamed of doing since I was a little girl, and I wasn’t sure I could handle driving in Los Angeles.

When I would imagine LA, my thoughts would trail, fast, to the honking traffic, the zipping between lanes, the confusing off-ramps, the millions of people on the road all fighting to get somewhere, maybe right where I was also trying to go. There was no subway like New York City, no tube like London. LA was sprawl reached best by car, and I was not a good driver. 

It had been years since I’d gotten in a car accident. Years since a genuine ticket. (Okay, there was that one for speeding where I rage cried at the police officer to no avail.) I was not a bad driver, not anymore, but still I believed nothing had actually changed. I was sixteen, failing my driver’s test and being given a pity license, all over again. I never should have been allowed to drive. I would never be a good driver. It didn’t matter that I was so much better now.

During the debate over where we would live, I was talking with my LA friend about my hang ups. I was not saying that I couldn’t drive. I was not saying that this, more than almost anything else, was why I didn’t want to go.

She asked me, point blank: Is part of your hesitation about having to drive in LA? 

Yes. Squeak.

You’ll be fine. You can drive as well as anyone else here. You’ll learn. 

Wow. What an asshole. How dare she state my fear out in the open like that and make it sound so completely surmountable? (FYI, this is what good friends do.)

Confronted with the truth about a lie I’d bought into for most of my life, I actually laughed. Out loud. Dismantling an argument you’ve been making for why you CAN’T do something is liberating. CAN’T should be a dirty word. CAN’T is the word that stops motion.

When we did finally move to LA, I knew I had to get in the car and drive. I had to use Siri for guidance and I had to take it slow, and it was okay that my hands were shaking. Only by DOING IT would I ever overcome. Whether I thought I could or not. And I did. I did it one little trip at a time. I did it over and over until I turned into one of those assholes barking at the idiot without their blinker on changing lanes in an intersection and speeding through a school zone.

The lie had been true long enough. Once I stopped believing it, I suddenly was actually a very good driver.

Here is what Learning to Drive in LA has taught me: The only thing stopping me, is me.

Get out of your own way. Let go. Drive with faith and when the fear paws at your mind, flip it the finger and get on with your journey.

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High Anxiety Day

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Here is something you may not know. Since my early teens, I have battled anxiety and OCD. Maybe, before that, there were symptoms — signs I coped with the world in a different way. I was little, and I was good at playing pretend, so I can’t be certain. It was a different time, and diagnoses wasn’t easy to come by.

The battle began in earnest, though, when my family moved away from Texas when I was thirteen. It felt as if the bottom was falling out of my life. In one fell swoop, I had lost my best friend, my support system, and the only place I’d ever called home. It would take years for me to get a grip on what was happening to me. Even longer to own my recovery.

But that’s a long story, and today is not a good day to tread back over it. Why bring this up now? I woke up this morning and knew: today is a high anxiety day.

This is what that can look like:

When I got out of bed, I felt heavy. My chest was tight, my skin hurt. The sound of my son’s voice seemed far away. I couldn’t close my eyes again because my thoughts were racing, wouldn’t settle on any one thing.

When I drove my son to school, the world was too bright. Cars were changing lanes too close me. Pedestrians were too near the curb. My adrenaline kept spiking, and my hands were shaking.

When I dropped my son off, I thought of how many parents drop their children at school and never see them again. How horrific a thought, and how shitty I was for allowing myself to feel the way I was when so much bad was everywhere, so nearby. I hugged my son, held his hand. He humored me because he’s intuitive, and maybe he needed it a little, too. I told myself that.

When I got home, I was in a fog. I knew what was happening and I felt powerless to stop it.

I cleaned the living room. Put on laundry. Made the bed. Cleaned the kitchen. Stay moving, stay ahead of it, that’s my mantra. I cried when the floor got some soapy water on it.

I started making dinner that was supposed to go in a crock pot. I had gotten the wrong potatoes, and one of them had roots on it. I had to cut that off. I mused over how no matter how hard I scrubbed, I couldn’t seem to remove all the dirt.

I questioned the recipe, mistrusted the portions, wondered why the author had used different forms of measurement for the same kinds of root vegetables. Pounds, Milliliters, Grams. PICK ONE. I was agitated, for a second, that was better.

I pulled out the crock pot and loaded the now cut, rootless, and stupidly measured ingredients in. I worried they wouldn’t fit. They did. I couldn’t celebrate the victory like I’d like.

I plugged in the crock pot, put on the lid, and realized this was not a crock pot, but a rice cooker. That would not work. Dammit. Why had I thought this was a crock pot? It’s not even the right shape. My throat felt like it was going to close.

I began frantically searching for the crock pot. Through the depths, a memory emerged. Me, cleaning out the kitchen before we moved from Texas, claiming I did not need to bring the crock pot at all.

I began to cry. It was easy. Every nerve had already frayed somewhere between waking up and that moment. It wasn’t hard to believe that my sudden lack of crock pot would be my eventual undoing.

I realized, through my tears, that my tea had gotten cold. I guess I had made tea somewhere in there, probably as part of my OCD attack plan, and forgotten. For a second, that felt like a tragedy and then —

I could heat it back up. I could pour it out. I could choose a different tea bag. The world of that cup of tea felt limitless. Slowly, my ribs stopped trying to squeeze out all my other organs. I could breathe again.

My adrenaline slid back to neutral. I turned on the kettle, pulled out a fresh tea bag, and decided to cook dinner on the stove and fuck that recipe it was shit anyway. I DID NOT need a crock pot.

Anxiety and OCD do not look the same on everyone. For me, they look like a roller coaster, full of hills and loops, rocketing motion and sudden stops. Most of the time I’m not on the ride. Not now, not after years learning to cope and facing my fears. That doesn’t mean I am not still occasionally in the line, or like today, buckled precariously in and imagining all the ways the coaster could kill me. Like today, I know I will be on the coaster for a while. I am past the worst part, but not in the clear yet. That’s okay.

Some days are harder than others. Pretending they aren’t won’t help. There isn’t any one way of coping, but coping and caring for yourself in the midst of it all, is a must. Reach out, whether to a friend, by writing a strongly worded critique of a recipe (which you don’t send but feel vindicated by nonetheless), or crying in the kitchen while your husband stands nearby knowing that’s better than touching you right now.

Remember: This does not make you weak, or wrong, or less.

Remember: You are not alone.

Remember: Eventually, this too shall pass.

 

 

 

 

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When the Moving Dust Settles

When moving to a new state or city, country or provence, the hardest part comes after all the dust settles, and all the fun exploration putters to an end. When then, in the light of a still warm sun, you have to commence real life.

This summer, my young family and I moved to LA from Texas. We left a comfortable home, a thriving social circle, and a lower cost of living, and drove across the American Southwest in our freshly hail-dented Jeep. At no point on the four day journey did I think this transition would be easy, yet never once did I question if it would be right.

When we arrived in LA, the wave of relief that washed over me was almost as powerful as the ocean pulsing only a few miles West. We had survived, and that horrible prick of pain in leaving was felt a little bit less.

Summer passed as it always does when you have school age children: too fast, in a haze of sunlight and swimming, adventure-finding and dreaming. And every one of those days I wondered, will today be the day we break down, realize how hard it really is to leave everything behind for a hope in a future we can barely just taste? Today, will we long for the people we were before we sold off our home and waved goodbye to our family and friends?

But we didn’t. We were having too much fun to notice the pain. Were too busy exploring the city to sense how hard that pain still clung to our heels. Too in love with the hills and the palm trees, too soothed by the smell of the sea, to feel the pieces we’d left behind that were now missing.

And then summer ended.

Fast as the lightning we haven’t seen since May, the last time we were in a storm in Texas, the realness of this move shot through us. School started, and with it came the realization that we were not playing at living here, we were really doing it.

It hit my son hardest of all. This wasn’t his school, with his friends, and his teachers he recognized. This wasn’t his routine with all it’s comforts and predictability. This wasn’t Texas. This wasn’t home.

And it wasn’t easy. Because as his anger settled over him, my guilt ballooned. I was the reason we’d moved, and now here I was forcing him to accept it all over again, and this time he didn’t want to. And for a solid day, I genuinely, earnestly just wanted to run away. Because here pain was now grabbing my ankles, climbing my shins, and here I was with nothing to bat it away.

In these moments, the very best advice I can give is this: feel it all. Allow every itchy, ugly, vulnerable thought to crash over you. Let the violence of loss growl in the depths of your throat. And then get up, make a cup of tea, and find some way to face the rest of your day.

For these past two weeks we have had to do that. Through long hot walks and brutal conversations. Through weeping and yelling and silent treatment. Through feeling embarrassed. Through dumplings and cocktails and ice cream. Through journaling and role playing and gaming. It has not been easy, living in this moment alongside the pain, but, today, it finally started to feel better.

The reality is, we all have to face our fear that the choices we make are not the right ones. If we don’t face it, we leave ourselves vulnerable to doubt, and worry, and the nagging sensation that we are just one wrong move away from utter destruction. Moving states, cities, countries is never easy. Leaving family and friends always sucks. But staying where we are when we know we shouldn’t is worse than the pain of saying goodbye.

Acceptance is a stage of grief. On the other side is Life waiting for you. New adventure. Scary and fun and weird moments you couldn’t have had while wallowing in what was lost. Today, as I watched my son resign himself to walk into his new school without panicking, I knew he was close to that, and moments away from whatever wonderful thing awaited him.

The most important part of moving, is moving on. Not looking over your shoulder for the chance to run back. Not longing for the way it once was. But being thankful, and being willing, and then just simply being right here.