Monthly Archives: March 2019

Book Review: “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg

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It isn’t every day that I can say a book fundamentally changed the way I view writing and how I write.  Such is the case with Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Somehow, I thought I read the book nearly a decade ago.  No. No I didn’t. That became clear when I picked it up recently.  I wish I read it ten years ago! Better late than never, I suppose.

I finished the book several weeks ago at this point, but I couldn’t quite capture the impression it left.  I took my time reading her essays and highlighted (in my Kindle version) what I perceived to be the best writing advice contained in each essay.  That is one feature I love about this book. Her advice is all nice and neatly wrapped up in small essays that make you feel as if you know her. So, how did it change the way I write?

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Well, here are a few changes that I made as a result of her book:

  1.  I finally got journaling right.  Finally.

I may have mentioned this before, but I have had a love/hate relationship with journaling for as long as I can remember.  I love the idea of journaling every day. Better yet is starting a new journal. Add online journals into the mix, and the entire thing is one huge mess.  I collect journals. I hate actually writing in the more beautiful ones at times. Beautiful journals call for beautiful words. No one gets it right the first time.  After a short period of time, I always wanted to start all over again. Repeat.

So, what changed?  Well, I started acknowledging there is a need to get the junk out of the way first.  That is where 750words comes in. By writing daily in this online journal daily – no frills, just the junk that comes to mind – I tend to become much more focused when I write a blog post or in one of my beautiful traditional journals.  I limit what I write in a traditional journal to one short page a day. It is much more focused.

Natalie refers to the “junk” as monkey mind, and that concept deserves its own blog post. The idea is that we all tend to think in circles. We have to write through our wandering thoughts before we can write something meaningful.  She discusses this concept throughout several of her essays.

  1.  Find What Works for You.

This seems so cliche, but she suggests experimenting to find what processes work for you.  No judgement regarding pen versus typing, morning versus evening, and so on. Writers need to write when and where they can.  She provides several wonderful examples of this and how the local atmosphere can seep into writing.

What really made the difference for me was her discussion of what works for her – writing in cheap one subject notebooks until she fills them up.  She goes on to say that the tools truly do not matter. While I knew that wouldn’t work for me, it did get me thinking. It finally hit me. A three-ring binder I could decorate with my favorite writing quotes and fill with tab dividers and loose-leaf notebook paper would work well.  I could plan, write, and revise blog posts without having to worry about destroying bound notebooks. A binder would allow me to reorganize different pieces as I see fit. So far, I love it. I also included some of my favorite blog posts, lists of topics, and writing prompts – anything to keep me writing.

  1.  Don’t Beat Yourself Up.

I would love to write full-time.  The reality is that I substitute teach, spend summers working in the family business, and so much more.  I am trying hard to find time to write everyday, but every once in a while, I don’t. I am learning to just pick up the next day.  I don’t need to stress about it. It is a little thing, but it helps. Creating a simple writing routine helped simplify everything.

I love the fact that she embraces the fact that everyone writes garbage.  We have to work through the garbage to get to the good stuff. Authentic details are everywhere.  Even when not writing, we are still hard at work collecting details, situations, characters, stories, ideas, and so much more.  In fact, that is one reason why I started blogging: I wanted to experiment with and collect different story ideas – to think out loud.

  1.  Write Everywhere and Anywhere.

Write.  Write. Write.  Writers spend so much time avoiding writing.  Plotting, planning, organizing, and even cleaning are all brilliant distractions from the actual writing itself. This is one reason why I head somewhere else when I actually want to get something done.  I can always find something to distract me when I am at home. Natalie goes so far as to offer tips on how to effectively use cafes and coffee shops as places to write. My dream is to have a wonderful coffee shop near my house.  It won’t happen any time soon, but a girl can dream.

Conclusions

Writing Down the Bones may mean different things to different writers, but I would recommend it to anyone who loves to write.  I think there is something in there for everyone. It is a book I will come back to time and time again. Writing Down the Bones already fundamentally changed the way I write.

Writing Down The Bones

Projects Old and New

School

Over the last several weeks and months, I have finally recognized how important writing and reading is to my quality of life and my sheer happiness.  No joke.  If I have a writing project, I am happy.  As a student, I loved writing assignments.  Even if I didn’t love the subject, the book, or whatever it may be, I could always count on myself to do well. 

Some of my earliest and best memories of elementary school are of creating “stories.”  As I learned to write, my “stories” became less picture/drawing based and included more writing.  I love the fact that writing plays such a prominent role in my earliest educational memories.  By the way, I still can’t draw.

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What I’ve come to realize over the last week or so is that I didn’t value my early writing much. When I say early writing, I am not talking about childhood or even adolescent writing.  Those journals are safely tucked away never to see the light of day.  No, I am talking about the writing I did from 2005-2012.  During that time frame, I published dozens of throw-away articles for a now-defunct website called Associated Content.  As a writer for Associated Content, I wrote articles on all kinds of topics – reviews, how-to, and more – for a small upfront payment and then residuals.  Page views mattered!  After a couple of years, the site sold out to Yahoo!, which eventually shut it down.  Even though I had ample warning and could have saved my hundreds of articles, I didn’t.  I didn’t care enough.  The content just didn’t interest me enough.

While I don’t regret not putting in the time and effort to save my work with Associated Content, I do regret not saving my JamsBio work.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have much notice.  JamsBio, a now defunct online magazine, paid writers to discuss their memories as it related to music.  I only wrote ten blog posts, but it was the most fun I ever had “working.”  Even though I wish I had those articles, the ideas planted by writing those pieces live on.  I will eventually write something similar here.

The reason why all of this came to mind lately is due to different projects I am currently working on.  I just wrote my first piece for the Macbeth Post and had my first podcast published on Spartans Helping Spartans.  In fact, I am in the middle of writing a series of posts on study abroad for Spartans Helping Spartans as we speak. All wonderful stuff that I will share here.  

That’s just it.  I need to share some of my other work here.  There is an infamous piece I wrote on the Witchy Wolves of the Omer Plains for Michigan’s Otherside.  It is probably the earliest writing I did online or close to it.  I’ve toyed with the idea of a rewrite, but people keep finding it and sharing on Facebook.  Then there are a handful of articles I’ve written for the Huron Shores Genealogical Society Genogram. I’ve long meant to share them here permanently.  I just haven’t taken the time to do it yet.

As writers, we need to take care of our work and not let it become lost to time.  I wish were better at taking care of my own work. On a fun note, I came across an old online journal dating back to 2003.  Interesting doesn’t begin to describe it.  It brought back memories long since forgotten.  It is time for me to take better care of my own work.

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The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 1

Texas Flag

Ah, Texas.  Where do I even begin?  First, there is my own history in both Austin and Houston.  To make a long story short, I adored Austin and hated Houston.  Go figure.  My Texan friends tried to warn me.  Either way, I spent just under a year and a half in the lone star state, and everything that happened during those times (Austin and Houston) still shape who I am today.

First, there was Austin.  In 2002, I worked at Applied Materials as a co-op from June to December.  I hated it at first, but soon, it became all I wanted after graduation from MSU:  good job, good friends, and good music – maybe love.  It really was as simple as that.  As much as I enjoyed all the wonderful times I had there, the near catastrophes are what really stick in my mind.

On July 24th, 2002, I survived a major car accident:  a moving truck turned in front me of while I had a green light.  While I walked away from the accident with a broken big toe and metatarsal (that is how hard I braked), along with a few minor scrapes and bruises, any passenger probably would have been killed.  Considering that I used to haul my brother around in my 1989 Grand Prix all the time, that shook me.  What if he had been with me?

The accident itself took place out on 290 just before Applied Materials.  I’d been on my way to work, and I later found out that my boss witnessed my crash.  Somehow, I had many people looking out for me that day.  One witness to the accident happened to be a nurse, and she stayed with me until the ambulance arrived.  While I have almost no memory of anything until the hospital – probably due to shock – the Texas State Trooper who came to interview me about the crash couldn’t have been nicer.  Then again, the accident clearly wasn’t my fault.

My mom, of course, was on the next flight out.  When she arrived, she helped me manage buying a new car and finding a lawyer.  We did both in style, and somehow, I negotiated my three-story walk-up sublet apartment in a splint up to my thigh.  Mom, forced to drive in a completely unfamiliar city in an era before ubiquitous turn by turn navigation, marveled at how I already knew the streets and layout of Austin in such a short period of time.  I still have fond memories of the few days Mom and I spent together in Austin.

Then, approximately a month or so after my accident, still in a walking cast and attending physical therapy, I found out that I could only sublet my apartment until the end of August, not the six months I had been promised and needed.  I needed a new place to live yesterday.  I panicked for a hot minute – and then rose to the occasion.  Fortunately for me, Applied Materials had an internal classified section on their intranet.  I started there.  In the end, I found a wonderful roommate – a single mom who had worked at Applied for nearly a decade at that point – who owned a beautiful home minutes from work.  I am still in touch with Karen today.

I could write almost endlessly about the time I spent with friends, including attending the first Austin City Limits Festival (now an institution), meeting Cheryl, the party we threw for Andy, and so, so much more.  As I’ve said before, leaving Austin on a rainy, icy December morning, my heart shattered.  Not so much with Houston.

So many friends tried to warn me about Houston.  I wouldn’t be happy there.  It started off well enough.  My senior year at Michigan State, I intended to end up in Texas in any way possible.  I made it to second round interviews with Applied Materials.  Ultimately, they only took half of the engineers and supply chain people they interviewed.  It did not help that my manager left before he could even evaluate me.  In the end, I had no one on the inside fighting for me.  I also ended up going through second round interviews at Dell.  Less than a week after graduation, I ended up at FMC Energy Systems in Houston purchasing parts for wellheads.  Frankly, it was a great first job – until it wasn’t.  When I initially interviewed, I interviewed with five people in our department.  By the time I left less than a year later, only two were still there – one on long-term medical leave.  I won’t go on and on about Houston.  There isn’t that much to tell:  Wrong job, wrong city, wrong time, and wrong man.  I think that about sums it up.  We headed back to Michigan exhausted and broken.

I intended to write a post discussing my family’s history in Texas, which will now be part two; instead, it became a post describing my personal history in Texas.  Looking back, I truly became an adult in Texas.  I had some wonderful times, along with my share of disappointments.  As much as I loved Austin, there is a reason none of it worked out.  If Houston hadn’t ended in disaster and I hadn’t ended up back in Michigan, I wouldn’t have known my Grandpa Buttrick nearly as well.  I belong in Michigan, even if a little piece of my heart will always be in Texas.

I didn’t know it at the time, but by running off to Texas, I was participating in a well-established family tradition going back generations.

Stay tuned for part two …

Texas

The Clash

Girl

I’ve been meaning to write a post about infertility since this past fall – September, in fact.  On a perfect September Monday evening the stars aligned, and I had the greatest time catching up with an old friend over dinner.  This particular friend and I are almost exactly the same age, and frankly, we are old enough to have been through some serious garbage.  Even though she is married and has a wonderful young daughter, she still knows exactly what it is like to struggle with infertility. Over dinner, the conversation naturally turned to foster care, adoption, and infertility.  I will never forget what she made me realize that evening.

First, know that I’ve known that there is virtually no way I’ll ever become pregnant since I was 10 years old.  I am not going to be one of those women who adopts and then miraculously wakes up pregnant one day. In fact, that is another topic I will discuss shortly.  What I failed to realize, and what my friend made clear so eloquently, is that having a biological child doesn’t automatically “heal” infertility or change everything.  It made me realize just how many women I know who don’t quite have the families they envisioned. My friend’s daughter is an only child, and that was not the plan. Another good friend has two beautiful little girls and wanted a third child.  I could go on.

I once read that no one ever quite gets over infertility.  It is a process – and there is no end. One day he or she may be fine, and the next, it all comes flooding back.  In fact, you can read my response and the original article here.  So true.  So very true.

Somewhere along the line, I think society makes this expectation that infertility is somehow “fixed” once a person adopts or becomes a foster parent.  “You can always adopt.” I am not exactly sure where that comes from, but it is completely inaccurate. Women who struggle with infertility and have a biological child (or even children) don’t even register.  Yet, they struggle just as much as the rest of us for whom biological children won’t happen.

There is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t wonder where I went wrong or what I could have done differently.  Maybe if I had been more clear with my ex, he would have been more open to adoption – or I would have moved on much earlier.  For the record, I told him before we ever really dated (we were friends first), so none of it should have ever come as a surprise.  Maybe if I had done x, y, or z, i would have adopted by now. Frankly, I need to stop beating myself up. But I also need to acknowledge that not a day goes by that these thoughts run through my head.  They are at the heart of what keeps me going and keeps me fighting for the family that I want so badly.

Unfortunately, our society and even some well-meaning people do not help.  I am tired of being told that “it will happen” one day when he or she knows nothing about my medical history. Nosey, but usually well-meaning, people seem to ask the most intimate of questions. As I have said before, not being asked when I will get married and/or have kids is one of the absolute best things about being single.  I am tired and frustrated by assumptions that seem to be everywhere. All of us need to be more careful. Unless we know the details, we have no idea what a person is truly going through at the moment.

And then there is religion.  For years, my cynical nature made me skeptical of anything having to do with organized religion.  By the way, I am completely comfortable separating organized religion from my personal belief in God and Jesus Christ.  I am not angry with God; I know He has a plan. I am angry with how insensitively we treat anyone in the church who isn’t a part of a traditional family unit.  My views toward organized religion may have changed somewhat, but the church can and should do better. It doesn’t have to be related to infertility, although that is what I will discuss here.

Again, well-meaning Christians may tell those struggling with infertility that he or she is praying or that “miracles happen all the time.”  Both are absolutely well-intentioned; however, what if she doesn’t get her miracle? What about cases of infertility that cannot be remedied by current medical science?  What about the woman who is alone and plans to adopt on her own? What about the woman who is still struggling after she and her husband do have their miracle baby? What about men who struggle with infertility?  I could go on. Instead, we just need to try not to jump to conclusions. Yet, it is so easy to do.

I finally decided to discuss infertility yet again thanks to a jaw-dropping blog post that discusses the clash between infertility and foster care.  With the exception of the author’s discussion of her daughter Lil Red, I could have written this article, especially regarding pregnancy.  I expect that once I do adopt, I will feel much the same way she does towards her daughter.  Her post touched me in a way that I can’t fully explain. You can read it here.  I am so glad that I live in a time where women can truly express how they feel towards topics such as infertility, loss, pregnancy, etc.  I can’t imagine not being able to express all of this.

I am not other.  I am not sick.  I am definitely not less-than.

Waiting for Baby Bird – Infertility and Foster Care:  The Clash of Both Worlds

A Different Perspective:  Is This Why We Don’t Talk About Infertility?

Ramblings of a Misguided Blonde:  The Lessons of Infertility

Made

Rebellion

makeup.jpgI can’t say I’ve ever been much of a rebel, but I did rebel in certain ways.  Most teenage girls rebel by wearing makeup; I rebelled by not wearing makeup – or at least little. Growing up, my mom would not leave the house without full makeup. It didn’t matter where she was going, she had to have makeup.  It is still very much a part of who she is. I decided that I never wanted to be that attached to a product or process.

Somewhere along the way, something changed.

For the longest time, I could not teach without makeup.  I’m not even sure how it happened. It became a part of the process of getting ready for the school day.  Then, over Christmas, I left my makeup bag at my aunt and uncle’s house by accident. They’ve been in Florida ever since.  The thing is that I don’t even own much makeup. It all happened to be in that one bag. I didn’t even replace any of it until recently.  Somehow, I survived over two months without any makeup at all.

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Now, I am left confused.  Do I need to wear it everyday or not?  The answer is: I can wear it whenever I’d like.  I love the fact that I proved to myself that I could go months without wearing makeup.  It turns out that I am not necessarily addicted after all.

With makeup, that was biggest concern:  That somehow I would not feel like myself if I wasn’t wearing any.  I watched my mom feel that way my entire life, and I wanted something different.  I adore my mom, but that was one instance in which I did not want to emulate her.

For me, it goes to a larger issue though:  confidence. I have to admit that I do feel slightly more confident when I do wear makeup.  It also makes me think of the labels we give ourselves as girls. There are the tomboys and the girly-girls.  I grew up with characteristics of both. I considered myself both and neither depending on the time of day. I am equally comfortable in the woods and in the city.  I grew up loving dolls and Legos and wore both jeans and skirts religiously. More than anything, I love the fact that I share that with my mom.

Lipstick Saying

Best Laid Plans – Family

Life

I’ve put off writing about my personal life for many reasons, but the main one is the simple fact that I must come to terms with my reality versus what I’ve wanted my entire life.  It is not easy, and sooner or later, choices must be made.

I never expected to be single and childless nearing 40.  Anyone telling me that I should be happy to be so thoroughly unattached doesn’t know me at all.  It never should have been this hard.

As a child, after I learned about Turner Syndrome and infertility, any conversation about infertility included phrases like “don’t worry, the technology will catch up to you” – my well-meaning mother referring to IVF – or some vague mention of adoption.

I’ve long known that adoption was what I wanted for myself.  I couldn’t imagine putting myself through round after round of IVF only to have it not work.  Physically, I might have been OK, but emotionally, I don’t know how I could knowingly do that to myself time and time again.

In a sense, Mom was right.  IVF is more accessible and successful than ever.  It still doesn’t change the fact that failure is the most common outcome.  It doesn’t change the fact that I would need donor eggs.  Most important of all, it doesn’t change the fact that there are so many children who need love and a home – now.

Then why am I so hesitant when it comes to adoption?  That is a trickier question.  I suppose it has a lot to do with the fact that I will be doing this alone.  Somehow, I never thought I’d end up being single.  Even though I barely dated in high school, I thought I’d meet the right man in college.  In fact, I counted on it.

Oh, I could write a book on how I met all the wrong boys at Michigan State and across the world – or I should say, a handful of well-intentioned boys who never saw me as anything but a little sister.  One actually said that to my face.  I intentionally use the term boys here; I have yet to date a man.

Why am I always good enough for friendship and that’s it?  During my time at MSU, I lost a lot of weight, and the resulting male attention still leaves me unspeakably angry.  I was still the same smart, well-intentioned girl who can be fun and funny once you get to know her.  Only my weight changed.  One day I wasn’t worth knowing; the next, I didn’t know what to do.  While I wasn’t exactly drowning in male attention, I noticed.  It became all too clear.

Why should I have to change some arbitrary characteristic to be happy?  That is an awful message to send to anyone – but as a society, we do it all day, every day.

I suppose I should worry about myself and pursue parenthood on my own.  That is exactly what I intend to do.  Yet, there is such a huge piece of my life missing.  I never wanted it to be this way.  Hopefully, I’ll be pleasantly surprised and finally meet the right man.  Unfortunately, that takes an incredible leap of faith living in Arenac County.

What it comes down to is that I am tired.  I am tired of being rejected before someone gets to truly know me.  I am tired of being lied to repeatedly.  I am tired of being alone.  I am tired of watching everyone else find their person, knowing that it probably won’t happen for me.

Above all, I am tired of feeling not enough.  I am enough.  It is time I started acting like it.

The biggest obstacle I face, aside from all that comes with foster care and/or adoption (by the way, anyone who thinks it is easy knows nothing about either), is trust.  Being on the receiving end of lying and cheating will do that to a person, particularly when that is your only experience in a relationship.

How can I bring myself to ever trust again?  Yet, I must.  I refuse to let one bad relationship, no matter how long or awful, have the last word on love.

By the way, if you are concerned about me after reading this, don’t be.  I will be fine no matter what happens.  I am just incredibly frustrated and see no easy fix.  People may question why I share something so intensely personal.  It is for this simple reason:  I do not want anyone in a similar situation to feel alone.  He or she is not alone.

boots

Best Laid Plans – Career

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I’ve spent a lot of time lately reevaluating where I am and what I want out of life.  What I want hasn’t changed much, but I have come to some conclusions.  I fully realize how close I am to having and creating the life I want.  I am so incredibly close.

Career –

So much revolves around my career.  I still intend to be a teacher, business owner, and writer – just not all at once.

My focus at the moment is teaching.  I am looking for a full-time teaching position for next year.  I don’t care much if it is Spanish, social studies, or business.  I already know how I’d set up my classroom and how I would organize, generally, my classes.  That is half the battle, right?

I also plan to look into teaching online.  While I don’t want to teach online my entire career, it might be a good way to get started.  There are so many possibilities at the moment.  I will land somewhere.

As for the canoe  livery, I am hoping Dad finally retires – or at least loosens up a bit.  I love the canoe livery – and it will always be a part of who I am.  I like where we are going.  I don’t know how much more we can change and grow until Dad retires.

I don’t want to lose sight of our primary business – rentals – and yet, I want to add to the experience.  Ultimately, we are in a pretty good place.  I am grateful that my brother Garrett (i.e. my future business partner) and I have similar ideas as to how we plan to expand the business.

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Then we come to writing.  My writing goals are long-term and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.  The other day I had a phone conversation with a family friend I’ve known most, if not all, my life.  It involved the donation of a river trip.  She then told me how much she enjoys reading my blog.  Next, she asked if I planned to write for publication.

The question itself caught me slightly off-guard.  Yes, I do intend to pursue publication at some point, but not in the immediate future.  It isn’t that I am completely putting my writing on hold – in fact, I’ve been writing every day, just not for public consumption – I am not making a career out of it at this point.

I need time and space to hone my skills and let my vision evolve.  Over the years, it already has.  There are many smaller projects to work on in the meantime.  I have no shortage of inspiration – and that is a wonderful thing.  I love the fact that I can use Google Drive for my planning and have access wherever I go.

This post, borne out of the idea that it might be helpful to explore what I’d like my life to look like over the next few years, is a good example of how my brain works when I write.  One idea expands into something much larger.  Instead of one simple blog post, I now have a series of posts on my hands.

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