Leavetaking and leavekeeping, plus a ROW80 check-in

My older son left for college today, which should not have been odd, but was, despite the fact that he left mid-senior year of high school to go work for a living. After two years of manual labor, being laid off, on the dole (as my Irish relatives used to call it), he asked to come to live with us to go to college.

The local community college didn’t offer what he wanted, what he felt he had missed. As everyone scattered the instant class was over to their respective jobs, families, or life, he felt isolated from the college community that his father and I had told him about, and continued to extol, since we both work at a university.

So he packed the car and headed an hour and a half south on the New York Thruway, barely a skip and a jump from here, but I miss him already.  I know it’s the best thing for him to do, and I know that is the half-full glass, but I’m feeling the half-empty glass at the moment. In part, I recognized the signs of his nervousness, in his reluctance to get going until late in the day.  As my husband pointed out, that is my classic behavior, when I am nervous or anxious. 

I wrote a poem in my twenties which I titled Leavekeeping, to express trying to keep one’s memories with one, instead of taking leave of them. I suppose given my losing my brother in December, I am less willing to say goodbye, even temporarily, to other family members, even when I know it is the right thing, the best thing, the healthy thing, to do.

Do any of you find it hard to say goodbye, even when the person leaving you is going toward the fruition of his/her dreams?  I feel very small and mean right now, although I did hide all of this sentiment behind a brave front.

On another mixed note, my ROW80 progress.  I have been a very bad participant, not checking in for the last several times. I did make some progress, however.

  1. Meditate for no less than ten minutes a day. Attained. It clears the mind, offers peace; why have I not done this before?
  2. Find gratitude for at least one thing every day. Attained. I have been grateful for things, like running water (after thinking of the public fountains in medieval Europe as the most convenient source for water); for people, like my husband, who figured out how to add an email address to my WordPress domain, friends who drag me away from the day job for a brief respite; for actions, being able to console a friend of mine, whose brother is also dying of lung cancer, or for those of my younger son, who counseled his brother about what courses to take at college.
  3. Return to the daily habit of at least 250 words a day. Not attained.  I still have very difficult days, but I have at least managed a few sentences most days, and I did turn in my sponsor post (although a few days late). I have signed up for some workshops at DIYMFA, which will force me to do some writing.  That is a good thing.
  4. Never sit when I can stand, never stand when I can pace.  Stand for at least 5 minutes every hour; pace for at least 5 minutes every hour; walk for 5 minutes every 2 hours. Attained. Last Friday I walked two miles around midtown Manhattan to see my various doctors there. I have lost 10 pounds since the beginning of October–an added benefit.
  5. Contact every extended family member on their birthday. Pending–there have been no birthdays yet.
  6. Reply to comments on blogs within two days. Not attained.  I started catching up with the comments of condolences in mid-December, but despite my sincere, overwhelming gratitude for all of you, I couldn’t go on for a while. I hope to get back on track with comments.

So, while staring at the half-full glass, I am planning to do better.  There is always room for improvement.  Please consider dropping by some of the participants’ blogs to cheer them on; they are all listed here and would love to hear from you.


Check-in April 25 Sitting by the Fire

Well, folks, it has been a fast few days since the late Sunday evening check-in.  And hmm, progress has been spotty.  However, I have been sitting by the fire pit, musing with my characters.  It has been fun and somewhat productive; I am not exactly struggling with the writing, but with finding a balance.  I am working so hard at the day job that I am cooked linguini when I get home; the best I can do are mindless tasks like laundry and dishes.

I did one thing that seems to have worked well. I asked on the ROW80 Facebook page about starting a list of folks who want to have guest posts or who want to write guest posts.  There seemed to be a fair amount of interest, which was gratifying.  Soon, after writing two posts that I owe people already, I will get that list pulled together for everyone who was interested.

Finally, I think I am going to adjust my test mile to a time goal rather than a word-count goal.  I know myself, and I get way too involved in watching that number down in the toolbar change.  Also, I am at the point where I need to take my sparks out of the fire pit and build the structure around them.  I need to get to know my characters, outline my plot, tack down all the background, history, and research that I need to do.  My new test mile will be a half-hour a day.  I know it is a small goal, but I also know that even with a full house and a demanding day job, I can find a half-hour that is all mine.

What I have learned:  I can write anywhere.  I was very nervous about giving up my study.  I had both a warm-weather and a cold-weather place to write in Florida; I had pared down to one in New York, and now have none.  However, I have found that I can commune with my characters while sitting ten feet from the TV, grabbing fifteen minutes in the staff lounge, or waiting for a meeting to start.  I will eventually need my early morning uninterrupted time, which may prove difficult with two sons who are on vampire schedules, but it is a true breakthrough for me to grab moments when I can.  My next goal is to stop writing on stray pieces of paper–the amount of memorable prose that I have lost to recycling bins is utterly tragic!

I hope that everyone is finding ways to resolve their struggles.  Please support the ROW80 community by visiting and encouraging everyone here.


Check-in April 22 Tending the Sparks

Today is Earth Day. Here in upstate New York, it is cool, breezy, and has been raining quite hard all day. The postage-stamp sized garden I’ve planted in front of the house needs the rain, so I am not really complaining. In addition, western New York is getting snow, so I REALLY cannot complain.

So, what has been going on since Wednesday? Not enough of some things and too much of others. My sons have asked to come to live with us two weeks earlier than originally planned. While I am flattered, it does mean that I have exactly two weekend days after today to get things ready, rather than six. Eek! On the whole, I’m pleased. They understand that they will not walk into a perfect house (ha! Like they ever did that!), and will have to pitch in to help move furniture, organize the garage and sort things out.

As for my test mile, I’ve been working on the academic article, so that has been a good thing. I have been gratified that creative ideas have not taken offense to being shelved, but continue to fall like sparks in a dark night. I wrap them in straw, blow on them gently and put them into a fire pit. I visit and warm my hands on them while they wait for me.

What I have learned:  My process seems to be working for me. I’m gratified that my creative ideas have not abandoned me, even when I have felt that I have abandoned them.

 Further, I need to stay connected with the ROW80 and my other creative communities. I’ve been away from Twitter and everyone’s blogs more than I would like recently. I need to make time for that interaction, because it is important for my well-being.

 As part of this community support, please encourage the other ROWers here.


Check-in April 18 Letting Thoughts Gel

The past few months have been interesting for me, not only because of all the change in my life, but due to my reading blogs a lot since joining the ROW. I have followed several medieval studies blogs for a long time, but find that I am reading them more these past few months as well.  

I’ve mentioned on earlier check-ins the academic writing groups in which I’ve participated, as an accountability check for the academic writing I’m doing. What I am noticing now is the confluence between the two groups and the applicability of what I am learning in each venue for the work in the other venue. In the academic group, we have been talking a lot about starting to write, how to organize, how to finish by wrapping things up without taking away all the threads that lead to future research. 

During this round, the harmonic resonance between the two groups is nearly mystical. Last week, the group explored how we start. When I start an academic article, I face the same blank screen that I do when writing my historical fiction. I realized with a shock that I do the same things to start. I read, I scribble, I doodle. I put a clean sheet of paper on my drafting board, take my fountain pen, and start. I let it sit for a while, then I draw all over it—asterisks to show where things move from and to, line through whole paragraphs, add in whole paragraphs with arrows pointing to the back of the sheet where my new writing lies.

But most importantly, I think about it, nearly constantly, at a level of dim white noise. I think for days, often, with the academic work; for weeks, and sometimes, years, for the creative work.  Where am I heading with this? Heck if I know, but I suppose I’m finally learning that it’s okay; this is my process.

How did I do these past several days? Not perfect, but not bad. I nudged my test mile slightly higher, but not always to 300 words, especially if I count all the words I excised. 

What have I learned: Honor the process. After reading about how I “should” (see my earlier check-in about “should”) be able to write a couple of books a year, after seeing (and applauding) fellow ROWers’ books come out, after letting myself feel bad about my pace, my ideas, my interests, I have FINALLY learned that it is really okay.

I’ve learned that there are some incredible writers out there who are writing thought-provoking, interesting blogs. When I first joined the ROW last summer, I thought I would never be able to come up with blog posts; now I realize that just responding to some of the posts I have read would carry me through a year of daily posts. I am far more limited by time than by topics. Thank you all!

Also, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that, to a degree, writing is writing. Working on an academic article keeps words flowing through the consciousness, and lets me feel their weight and size, even if the fiction mosaic is very different.

Check out the other ROWers in this great community here.


Check-in April 15 Being positive

Much as I hate to admit it, I fell off the wagon a bit since Wednesday. Because I know that self-flagellation is not part of the ROW80 spirit, I am looking at what I can learn from it. First, it wasn’t a total fail; I did ruminate and scribble every day, but calling it the test mile seems over-inflated.  However, I’m climbing back on the wagon, and following Kait’s advice in the check-in, going to make the test mile 300 words (“baby steps” is still one of my mantras).

Life interfered a lot, but not in completely bad ways.  I found a cousin of the LaBrea tarpit at the day job, which is bad, but I have some good ideas on how to fix it, so that’s a neutral. I found out that both of my boys (sorry, guys, young men), are coming to live with us for the summer and check out colleges in New York State. So we’ve been working like bees around the house, as the “guest” bedroom was full of boxes (blush) and the study was, well, the study, not another guest bedroom.  Although I selfishly mourn the loss of my study a tiny bit, it is a big positive to have them here and getting back into school.

What have I learned: beyond the universally true “life is what happens while you’re making other plans,” there is the lesson to be flexible, accepting, and positive. Comparing the work and stress of getting everything ready to having both sons here for the first time in more than two years, and knowing that they are going back to school, well, there it is no contest.

I also learned that my path isn’t my sons’ path and that is okay. They are good people, and they will find their way in their own time.

Finally, I learned that “should” is a word to be excised from 95% of my thoughts. I had a bit of a struggle on Friday. It happens most birthdays, to be honest, since I use that as a reckoning point—where am I, and where should I be. At first, I was depressed, since I wasn’t where I “should” be with the creative writing. After a pretty miserable hour, I realized that I am where I am, and that is okay. I take a long time to mull, create, tear apart and recreate, then at some point, it gels.  And that is really all right.

I hope everyone has a creative, productive week. As always, please go encourage the other ROWers here.


Check-in April 11, 2012 Throwing Away Words!

It’s been a busy week at the day job.  I’ve come home to collapse on the couch, falling asleep by 8pm. It’s sad, but it’s not bad.  I still like the job and the atmosphere. More importantly, even though I am flattened by the end of the day, I am still getting the test mile written. Yay, me! True, most recently, it has been academic writing, but it comes from my research interests. I’m not counting the reports and other writing of the day job

I started writing the grant application on Sunday, and finished on Monday, thank goodness. I hate writing those things! Tuesday and Wednesday, I started to edit one of my articles, and thought the beginning was dry and boring, so I decided to trash the first several pages and start over. It may not sound like much of a decision to all of you, but trust me, for me to throw away any of my precious academic writing is huge. I felt that I could easily write better, and that I could edit and rewrite if it wasn’t better. How freeing, and how much like my creative writing. I find I have a different view of the academic writing now that I see the ways that what I learn about creative writing can help with it.

Today was full enough of grand poobah-ness that I may have to count this post as part of the test mile, but I’m feeling okay about that. I often exceed the word count, but the important part is forming the habit.

I will try to have some more interesting things to say on Sunday.  Have a great rest of the week, everyone, and as always, please go encourage the other ROWers here.


Check-in April 8, 2012 Tagged and Awarded and Still Magpied

Matt Hofferth tagged me in the Eleven Questions meme. That post will appear sometime in the next week, I hope. 🙂 And thank you, Matt, for giving me something non-academic to write!

Also, a little over a week ago, Shan Jeniah awarded me the Sunshine Award; I have begun writing the post to honor the award. Thank you, Shan and my apologies for the lateness of the thanks!

Today I have to finish writing a grant application that is due tomorrow.  I am hoping to get some time to go to New York City to do some research at the Pierpont Morgan Library.  I’ve been there once, and would love to go back, as it is a researcher’s dream.

I have continued to write the test mile since Wednesday, posting something other than a ROW80 check-in since December. Check it out here if you like.

I’ve also continued to be in complete magpie mode. While I have been busy in the day job, I’ve had to look into various projects for said day job, and, as I reported last Wednesday, I have become reacquainted with how much unknown medieval literature and wonderful forgotten stories there are out there.  I’ve started to feel a wave of excitement that I’ve not felt in a long time.

Happy holidays to those who celebrate; happy day to those who do not.  As always, go encourage the other ROWers here.


Check-in April 4 Return to blogging

My only goal this Round is to write a test mile of 250 words a day.  So far, so good.  I have written over 800 words in the past two days, parts of two blog posts, one of which I will post on my lunch break today.

What have I learned: I’ve learned that sometimes the words don’t want to come.  I find that if I just rant about something, then I often find myself writing into the topic I had planned, or I find another subject that is interesting to me as well.

I’ve also learned, or rather, become re-acquainted with my magpie nature.  I have been researching topics for an article I need to write for the day job; I can write about anything in the realm of medieval literature, which leads to my problem.  I think of one topic, go grab some books, and find ten more topics in the books.  It has been a constant flow of “Ooh, shiny!’  The bad part is that I would be long retired if I wrote all the articles that grab me; the good part is that I am finding creative ideas as well.  Although the creative “ooh, shiny” is frustrating, I know that I can at least follow some of those leads.

So, all in all, a good start to the round.  Thanks for stopping by, and please go encourage everyone else here.


ROW80 Round 2 Goals Coming Back

Although I may eventually refine and expand my goals for this Round, I am going to start with a very simple goal. I am going to write a test mile every day of at least 250 words. These words may be part of a blog post, as I am gong to resurrect my blogging schedule, part of a WIP, or edits to earlier works or posts. I am going to prettify and edit my earlier posts on the history of language and literary history, as well as some of my personal musings. If you are interested in the Round of Words in 80 Days, check it out here. There is a great, supportive community of authors in this group; check out their goals here.


March 22 Check-in Looking Back and Forward

Round One of 2012 is over!  I have given some thought to the past 80 days.  Although I failed on some goals and did better on others than I thought I would, I’m more pleased than not at how things went.

Writing: I made a very small goal for this—250 words a day, due to the uproar I knew would occur in the rest of my life.  I accomplished about 65-75% on this test mile.  Some of it was ranting; a lot was thinking through life, work, my childhood; some was organizing, and clearing mental space.

Family: This Round was abundant in its problems with parents, parents-in-law, siblings, and children. As I look back, I am intrigued by how the problems brought my husband, my kids and me closer together.  This closeness escaped my parents and my siblings, where the problems we face served to drive us even further apart.

Friends: Some socializing with ROWers IRL has been great. I was sad to say goodbye to C. M. Cipriani  but glad I had the chance to see her before I left.  In upstate New York, I have been greeted warmly by Marcia Richards  and Kat Morrissey, and have already had IRL meetings with Eden Mabee  and Shan Jeniah .  No one is very nearby, which makes the warm greetings mean even more.

Exercise: I have been walking a lot more in the new neighborhood, which is a very walking-friendly part of town.  Hubby and I walked to a bakery for breakfast last Saturday for a round trip of about a mile, and we will often walk in the evenings, to the pharmacy last night (another mile round trip) for example, rather than jump in the car.  There are so many lovely state parks and hiking areas nearby we want to explore, so there will be more long walks in the future.

Day job: I’m still in the honeymoon, where people are so very happy I’m here, so it’s hard to say, but it looks promising.

What I have learned: Although I have known this before, the friends I have met through ROW80 are almost the most supportive people I know.  Your comments have celebrated with me, consoled me, and buoyed me up.  Thank you all. I haven’t been as good this Round at replying to your comments, returning visits,  and commenting on your blogs, but I want to do better next Round.

I was reminded how writing peers into the dark spaces, presses on the scars, calls the little girl out of her shell.  Much of what I have written in the past is so raw and painful still that I have had a hard time reading it again, and I remain unsure whether it can or should be brought into the light, or might better just go back into the drawer.  There is something to be said for exposing these feelings, but I have no magic answers.

I am more and more drawn to embodying my heroine, as Gene Lempp suggested to me.  I am playing with ideas, and plan to do more with that during the break.

Looking to Round 2: I want to resurrect the blog, which will entail some editing of earlier blog posts and working on redesigning the paid site.  I need to think through my future professional writing as well as the dissertation, and to figure out the place, space, and scope of the creative writing.  Not much, eh?

If you’re not familiar with ROW80, consider joining us in the next Round, which starts April 2nd.  Details are here.

If you are familiar, go check out how everyone did this Round here.