Diving In

pool

Summer is heavy breathing down my neck – and for some reason it’s not freaking me out.

Early next week school ends for my kids, and so do my two mornings of uninterrupted writing time. I’ll have to find new ways to squeeze in my work, which might mean a combination of getting up earlier, watching less Netflix at night with my husband, and giving the kids TV time-outs (ha).

Normally, this change in routine fills me with dread, but this year I’m feeling a sense of calm as spring winds down. I’m almost welcoming the forced surrender it will require.

If only I could stay this calm all summer long.

If only I could be this calm.

Last summer, before our big move from city to country, we bounced around like pinballs, living out of suitcases, but this summer we’re home. We joined a pool so the kids can stay busy and wet, there’s a beach trip scheduled for August, and a few weeks of camp mid summer, which will no doubt be a sanity saver.

But summer with two kids mostly at home means certain sacrifices will have to be made. Summer means loosening my grip.

It’s also an ideal time to reflect on my writing goals. Over the last few months, I’ve been feeling fragmented and scattered, due in no small part to an excessive use of social media.

In some ways, joining Twitter and Facebook has been great – I’ve made many new friends (not just the kind you tally up, but real ones) and discovered some wonderful blogs. But on the flip side, so much distraction has been, well, distracting.

Not simply because I can’t stop scrolling through my Facebook feed (although that IS a problem, just ask my husband) but also because I’ve discovered many more writing opportunities.

The good news is that I’ve picked up a few exciting bylines, most recently an article on The Mid that I wrote after a traumatic bathing suit shopping trip. I also have several articles out for submission, including another anthology. I’ve been honing my essay writing skills as well as my ability to roll with rejection.

But on the flip side I’ve been neglecting my novel and fiction writing in general. Writing essays for online publications is fast work compared to the long slog of a novel. If my piece is accepted, I’m rewarded with the buzz of recognition, and it makes me want more.

Which is all fine and good…except I’m not a freelancer.

I know it’s not all or nothing. I don’t have to choose sides, so to speak, but I do need to choose priorities. I’m still interested in writing essays and improving my craft, but I also want to finish my novel and continue writing short stories.

That is why summer is the perfect time for me to step out of the rushing river of social media and submissions, and give myself some space to examine my goals and dreams.

river

I love living along this gorgeous river.

I’m in good company, at least. Two writers that I admire greatly, Nina Badzin and Lindsey Mead, have both written blog posts in a similar vein. It’s important that everyone, not just writers, take time to step out of the busy pace of life to reevaluate and examine, to track their steps and see if they want to continue along the same path, or change directions.

My little guy at a crossroads.

I was listing to Krista Tippet’s On Being podcast the other day and was struck by something her guest, writer and thinker Maria Popova, said:

“Identity is this perpetual process, it’s like constantly clearing out and rearranging an attic, and it’s as much about throwing out all the furniture and trinkets that no longer serve us as bringing in new ones. In that sense, it’s just as important to continue defining who we are, is to continue eliminating who we are not.”

As I veer headlong toward my fortieth birthday, it’s actually something of a pleasure to dive into this self-work – this vital sifting of who I am, which I believe I’m better equipped to do now more than ever.

 

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Being Here

be here 1

I’m having some trouble being here. Not here on the blog, but here in my life.

Over the past few months I’ve started a new blog (this one!), rejoined Instagram and Goodreads, signed up for Twitter (yes, I know I’m late), and after years of holding out, I’ve joined the ranks of every other person I know and opened a Facebook account.

Initially, I tried to ignore Facebook because it seemed like an online high school reunion, which I had no interest in taking part in (still don’t). But also because it reminds me of yearbook culture [shudder].

I still get sweaty palms thinking about middle school yearbook season. I remember trying to act all blasé, like I didn’t care about how many signatures I collected, or which boy scribbled his name on top of his grinning snapshot, and then the next thing you know I’m sprinting down the hall with every other seventh grade girl, collecting as many signatures as possible.

Fortunately, because I’m so late in the game, the competitive feeling has subsided and most of my high school alumni have already (perhaps) tried and failed to find me. It’s quite possible I’m overestimating myself. At any rate, I’m happily cultivating a small and genuine group of “friends.” It’s also been an unexpected delight to reconnect with those I’ve lost touch with over the years.

But all this online involvement comes at a cost.

My time. My attention. My focus.

There is pretty much NO reason at all to be alone in our lives, to be bored, or quiet, or still, ever. I know I reached rock bottom the other day when I was cooking dinner, and in between steps of the recipe, refreshed Twitter and checked my Facebook status.

UGH. This is why I hesitated to rush into the yearbook fray, because I know myself, I know how susceptible I am to distraction, to checking out.

We are all guilty of this, of course, but sometimes it comes at a cost higher than we’d like to pay.

Eight years ago I spent the afternoon with my mom, about a week before she lost consciousness forever. She sat in her usual reclining chair and we watched TV while my dad attended his company picnic, a celebration my mother hadn’t been able to attend in several years.

My mom seemed more out of sorts than usual. She kept asking me to help her stand up. Just let me put my feet on the floor, she kept saying, agitated at my reluctance.

At least let me try, she said, growing steadily more furious. I can’t do it, mom, I kept saying, I’m sorry. Please, I begged, stop asking me.

But she wouldn’t. Finally, I lowered her chair so her toes were grazing the floor. See, I said, helpless with despair, it’s not working.

Furious, she ripped her gaze away from me and stared at the TV leaving me feeling more alone than I had ever felt in her presence.

You need to understand, my mom was a paraplegic. She had a severe form of multiple sclerosis and hadn’t walked, let alone stood on her own, for at least a decade. Listening to desperate pleas to stand, as if we, her family, had been withholding this ability from her, tore at my heart.

This was years before smart phones, but I did have a laptop. I remember checking my email and staring at a ridiculous celebrity gossip site. Anything to create distance from my mother’s pain and my inability to help her.

It breaks my heart, even after all these years, that I tried to escape from her weeks before she left me forever.

Escape has its consequences. The price for checking out can be steep.

I’m not saying there isn’t a time and a place for the pleasure, guilty or otherwise, of reading say, the New Yorker, or E!

Technology is a brilliant way to stay in touch with friends, keep up with news around the world, and read beautifully written blogs filled with life and writerly advice.

But when all you do is click, when you can no longer bear to hear the noise of your life, it’s a problem.

Sometimes I think I stay online because I am so afraid of missing anything. But if I’m not careful, I will miss my life.

This isn’t news. There are – ahem – a bazillion blog posts, not to mention books, about the risks of living online instead of off. But this is my wake up call. I need to focus.

focus rock

I need to Be Here.

That’s the reason for my rock, the flip side of focus, to remind myself where I’m supposed to be. While cooking dinner, driving with my family (as a passenger!), playing with my kids, spending time with my husband, and writing.

So, if you wonder where I am, that is where. Here. In my life.

I’d love to hear from you, if you can spare a moment, to learn how you balance – or not balance – your online and offline lives. Do you schedule out your social media time? (Something I’m considering.) Do you put away your phone at certain times of the day? What is ONE thing you can do, right now, to be more present in your life?