One-liner Wednesday– Writing

This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word down after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.  – Neil Gaiman


This post is brought to you as an attempt to keep up with this blog despite the many squirrels and sickness and life things which keep popping up and distracting me from doing the very thing this quote suggests. AND as a part of Linda G. Hill’s One-Liner Wednesdays. Check it out!

Not quite a one-liner Wednesday–Squirrel!

A friend of mine told me a story about how he went to the park to run and ended up just sitting in the car watching squirrels. The story was a lot funnier the way he told it, and it reminded me of the dogs in the movie UP. Squirrels became our code word for anything distracting, any threat to our train of thought, any obstacle that might get between us and completing a goal, a task, a sentence, or even a thought. The other day at a department store, the boys and I became very engrossed in picking out Halloween decor even though I had gone into the store to buy new dress pants for work. Suddenly, G is wearing a Santa hat with Yoda ears and they are talking about picking out their annual Christmas ornaments and I’m all, “whoa, whoa…we are getting off track here.” G said very seriously, “there are a LOT of squirrels in this store.”

My big problem is there seem to be a growing number of squirrels in my life. Are squirrels like rabbits in that they multiply rapidly? I should look that up. SEE?! This is how my brain works lately. I’ll sit down to do one thing and then before I know it my train of thought has thoroughly derailed and there are many, many casualties.

Amongst the casualties has been my writing. I cannot focus long enough to take a thought, flesh it out, and complete a series of meaningful sentences to convey whatever it is that I want to communicate. It’s common for me to have many different ideas for blog posts or character development or stories, but it is unusual for me not to at least write something about any one of those things. But these days, I am just left with a swirling mass of noise in my head and nothing to show for it.

My dreams have been super vivid and complex, no doubt as a result of all of these unresolved thoughts trying to make sense of themselves in my subconscious. But do I wake up and write them down? Nooooooo. I immediately allow myself to become bombarded with squirrel after squirrel. The other day I found myself fully dressed for work, cleaning the bathroom after the boys had left for school, about 20 minutes after I should have left for my own commute.

Today I spent an hour at work just following up on emails and tasks I should have completed weeks ago. There is a joke at work about certain people who become distracted by shiny objects. Except I’m not laughing about it any more. I have become that person.

I have at least ten browser windows open on my computer at any given time for any given browser. Working in the digital space means I often have several browsers open at any given time and different applications too. It’s a wonder I can find anything. Ever.

I’m sure it’s the society we live in. The information age. So many distractions arising from being über connected all the time. I always prided myself on not falling victim to it and yet, here I am. I called bullshit on multi-tasking a while back. And I meant it. We aren’t meant to do more than one thing at a time. Without mindfulness, everything is half-assed. I want to do everything with my full ass. My problem is I can’t get my whole ass to just sit and complete the task at hand. I can’t even decide on which task to complete!

I’ve got two main things I think about a LOT of the time.

  1. My son’s health. He had a CAT scan on his belly today and did amazing. Still waiting for the results. This in and of itself, his health and this mystery condition he has which rears its ugly head only when I’ve finally let my guard down and believe maybe he has “grown out of it” trigger at least a dozen thoughts, if not more, a day.
  2. The boys’ schooling. Here’s a typical train of thought: Did they do their homework? Oh shit, I didn’t do the fundraiser. Well, I paid my PTA dues. Should I go to the PTA meeting? When is that? When is the next fundraiser? Oh my goodness, I have to do the fundraiser for church too. And cub scouts. And baseball. Baseball tryouts are coming up. I need to sign C up for karate. Wish I had been able to find a place for him to go to tennis. Geez, no wonder they can’t concentrate on their homework there is too much other stuff going on. G really needs to practice his violin. When do their after school activities start? How are they going to do it all? How am I going to do it all?

The rest of the time my brain is like: Did you do that work thing? Maybe you should bring up that great idea you had in the shower (I have all my best ideas in the shower. By the time my hair is dry, I’ve forgotten most of them). Don’t forget to get the car to the airport for your business trip. Yikes, I hope my mom can handle the boys when I’m gone. When am I ever going to find time to see my friends.  When will I finally join a gym? How will I get there? How can I pay for it? I should be spending that money fixing up the house. I need to find a waterproof cover for the couch so the cat won’t ruin another piece of furniture with his pee. I should write a story about that damn cat. Should I do NaNoWriMo this year? Can I actually finish my novel? When am I going to work on my new business plan? Changes are happening at work, this would be a good time. But I’m so tired. I don’t even write on my blog. Oh geez, I really need to go write on my blog. I’m going to lose readers. No one reads this anyway. I should just go relax and catch up on my reading. Although I did that free trial of HBONow. I should really be watching more TV to get the most out of it. Dammit I never called Verizon to get a new remote after I washed mine in the laundry. Now I can’t watch any shows with parental controls on them….

And on and on and on.

I need to turn it off.

My vacation at the end of the summer was great. I stayed away from the computer and TV and phone and everything else. I spent every day in nature with the boys and then sat by the fire reading and listening to music every night. It was heaven. There were a lot of geese. But no squirrels.

It’s time to set up some squirrel baffles and figure out how to get back to a one-track mind. At least for a few hours at a time. I’d love to hear what other people do to keep those squirrels at bay.

Unfortunately, they can be so damn engaging.

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Fun-house mirror

There’s a mirror in my bathroom that I call “the skinny mirror”. I probably shouldn’t call it that because I know the boys have heard me refer to it that way, but whatever, I’ll work on it. This mirror is awesome. I’m not sure how it works, but it’s a little like a fun-house mirror and it seems to slightly elongate one’s shape and therefore makes one appear, well, skinny. It’s done wonders for my self-esteem. Even if I know it is an optical illusion.

I’ve laughingly joked that I almost have body dysmorphia, except in reverse of how many people seem to experience it; I walk around thinking I look better than I actually do because of this damn mirror. If I need a dose of reality, I have other mirrors which are happy to give it to me.

But I know body dysmorphia isn’t funny or to be joked about. This is what leads to lifetimes of unhappiness. Eating disorders. Addiction.

Our society is so flooded with negative messages about body shapes and sizes that way too many people obsess over their perfectly normal, healthy bodies. Or maybe society is so flooded with messages that a certain body shape or size is desirable because that body shape is what is used to sell stuff, whereas other shapes are not as good.

I had a sad discussion with a friend today whose 13-year old daughter was in tears over the “extra skin” on her belly. This girl is beautiful, her body is perfect, and there is no extra anything on her anywhere. And yet, she was determined to do an “ab challenge” to make her stomach perfectly flat (or probably concave) as modeling ourselves after models will make us wont to do.

I say, “I’m so glad that I have boys” and yet, that is false too.

Boys are just as susceptible to these body image problems as girls.

I’ve had to stop my boys dead in the track of their conversations on several occasions when the talk turned to “diets” and “six-packs”. They are not even ten, yet! I am careful not to talk about losing weight and to only stress “being healthy” and “making good food choices”. Everything in moderation, I tell them.

Last year, I changed my diet and I explained to the boys I was doing it to be healthy, not too lose weight. I was trying to change my body from being a “sugar burner” to a “fat burner” and I explained that fat was the preferred fuel for the body. Too many carbs, and too much sugar, just makes the body ultimately slow down and become unhealthy. They internalized this and I think they are more conscious when I tell them that something has too much sugar.

But imagine my dismay at hearing my (rather skinny) young son talking about how he shouldn’t have too many calories. Or my other son comparing himself to his brother and calling himself the “fat one”. He is not. Not by a long shot.

I continue to reiterate how they are extremely active boys and don’t need to worry about anything other than getting enough healthy foods and plenty of water to keep them growing. And yet, they still seem to be getting the message that they need to have a certain kind of body to be attractive and worthy.

This bothers me on so many levels.

I know I am not passing these messages on to them. I do not talk about weight. I do not own a scale. I do not count calories. I do not talk about “six-packs”. However, these messages are still coming through to them.

I’ve struggled most of my life with being happy with the way I looked. When I was very young, I was super skinny. People called me skeleton and skin-and-bones…it wasn’t particularly pleasant. Then when I hit puberty, I grew a set of hips and an ample butt and I had people pointing out my thunder thighs and fat ass. Seemingly, I couldn’t win.

My weight has been all over the place. I’ve been skinny and in bad shape fitness-wise, plump and in good shape, ridiculously enormous with pregnancy, and now, I’ve sort-of settled into my “mom” body, which is pretty average. Certainly, I was in much better shape last year when I was eating better and exercising regularly. Oh, but how I love ice cream. And french fries. And…I digress.

Last week, I was lamenting with friends about how hard it is to try to eat healthy and lose weight. No one had sympathy for me because they perceived me as not having a problem with my weight or eating healthy. Yet, I could sit with a different set of friends and I’d be the biggest and unhealthiest of the bunch, and they would still feel unhappy with their bodies.

I think the problem is we have all become so programmed to believe in an idea of beauty and health that essentially tells us only rail thin or super muscular people are beautiful and healthy. And that is simply not true.

Our minds have become a fun-house mirror of their own. We see ourselves through distorted lenses. We magnify our flaws. We don’t see the truth in front of us. And we pass it on to the next generation.

My sister is a beautiful woman. She is super petite. She has a body that most women would cut someone for. But even she is not satisfied.

And finally, at age 40, I’ve accepted that I will never have my sister’s body. We are just not made the same way. Yes, I’m petite (read: short), but I’ve got those hips (maybe twins were in my design from the beginning) and I’m fuller all around. That’s OK. Some people are tall, some people have an enormous rack (I do not), some people are naturally stocky, some people are super skinny; there are so many different body types. Why do we continue to compare ourselves with one type?

Being comfortable in our own skin, accepting our differences, making healthy choices when it comes to food, exercising regularly, and having that damn piece of cake without guilt are what we ought to be striving for.

Letting our children, girls AND boys, know that their bodies are GIFTS and that they should love them and feed them and make them strong and resilient is more important than ever in this age of over-saturation of advertising and emphasis on the young and beautiful and the tendencies of models to only represent one body type.

Maybe more of us should get “reverse” body dysmorphia. I’m not suggesting we all become morbidly obese, eat whatever we want, never exercise, and then look in the mirror and say, “Damn, I look GOOD”. But, I do think everyone could benefit from a skinny mirror. The thing is, it’s all an illusion anyway. No mirror is an accurate reflection of how you look. It all has to go through the filter of your mind. Which is why we have the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

More of us need to open our eyes. To behold ourselves in a different way. Perhaps to behold ourselves the way we look at our children, or someone we love. Without critical judgement, without comparison to another. Simply hold an alternate view of ourselves that says, you may not be perfect, but damn, you are one fine, beautiful human being who deserves to be happy. And no, those jeans don’t make your butt look big.

Home stretch

It’s just about the last week of NaBloPoMo. I’ve successfully written a post every day, even through one of the worst stomach flus that I can remember. It has been challenging, but after doing both NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo, I can say that this is easier for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that each post is its own entity and doesn’t have to complete the whole.

When you feel that you have to write a number of words that will meaningfully contribute to an overall vision, there is (for me, at least) a bit of hesitance. There is an internal editing that takes place before you even sit down to type your little heart out. And then a bit of a struggle whilst pushing and pulling those words around on paper or a screen. With a blog post, you can take an idea and flesh it out fully or not, put your words down and hope for the best. They are what they are and hopefully they are good, but if they aren’t there is a lot less pressure to make them so.

In that way, I am finding that NaBloPoMo is accomplishing what I have always hoped that NaNoWriMo would…establishing simply the habit of writing every single god-forsaken day. For better or for worse. Regardless of life, regardless of word choice, regardless of distractions. I can write whatever I feel, get it all out, and tomorrow I can write about something completely different. I can change my mind. There is a freedom in that.

In the past, when trying to complete NaNoWriMo, I found that I got so hung up on the story or the characters and spent so much time editing as I went that my time investment went up while my word count stayed the same. I wasn’t able to simply write it all, with the promise that I would edit it later. Even though I mentally gave myself permission for my writing to be subpar, the reality is that my attachment to the story or the characters paralyzed me into not exploring scenes if i couldn’t get the tone right or if I couldn’t get into the right frame of mind.

I’ve learned that in order to be successful at writing (a cohesive novel), I either have to plan meticulously and give myself as much time as needed or I need to isolate myself and immerse myself in the story and writing an nothing else. Since I can’t do the isolation part, as a single mom and the sole custodian for my children, I will need to plug away at it as needed. In the meantime, this blog and NaBloPoMo has given me a wonderful opportunity to just write. To let the thoughts flow as they might and see what comes of it. Some are good, some are just a triumph in persistence; but the habit of writing every day, the challenge of putting it out there for consumption, the knowledge that there are just no excuses for not doing it has been an incredibly motivating and liberating experience for me.

Just nine more days. And a lifetime left to go.