November 21, 2012

if at first you don't succeed...

My last two NaNoWriMo projects went really well overall. I thrived on the discipline of sitting down to write with such a specific goal in mind. And I felt proud each day when I had achieved my words. It was not always easy or fun, but the end goal of achieving 50K words felt like its own reward and generally kept me going. If I missed a day, the result was that I felt even more determined to get back on track the next day. By the end of each project, despite this discipline, I had fallen behind on my word count and my daily goals had grown steep in order to finish on time. But I was really motivated by all the discipline I had exercised in keeping up as well as I had. And so on the last two or three days of each project, even though my word count goal had grown higher in order to finish out my commitment, I felt the reward right around the corner and could not bear to give up. Each year, I hit my goal and felt a rush of rewards gained from that sense of accomplishment. 
This year has been the one to break my NaNoWriMo cycle of motivation. Despite all these little captured moments of sugar and caffeine motivation over the past few weeks, I have missed so many days of NaNoWriMo writing. I have felt more tempted than ever to throw in the towel and let myself give up on my goal. Life has thrown some curveballs, and I could tabulate and analyze them to death. But in doing so, I would put off my project a little longer and probably even find a way to justify it to myself. But yesterday, when I sat down and calculated how far behind I had fallen and what it would take to make up the difference, I could not bring myself to give up. I think it is really important to face failure in life, and to accept that sometimes we simply do not live up to our own ambitions or expectations. But I guess what I am realizing is that the failures I believe in facing are the situations when I at least know I have really tried. Sometimes embracing failure does require me to completely let go of a goal or expectation I have placed on myself. But sometimes it means I have to pick back up and keep on going. 
At this point, it will take 3000 words per day for me to hit my NaNoWriMo word count goal on time. I achieved 3000 words yesterday, and I just finished 3000 more to achieve today's goal. Two days accomplished out of eleven remind me that it is possible for to make it there. As I sit down each day with this goal that has grown so much more daunting,  it will be easy to feel defeated going in. And there is no guarantee that the quality of the words will increase with the quantity. But that was never the point of this project, only a sideline goal. The project is an exercise in disciplined writing time, a chance to focus my energy on a challenging goal. And this brings me back to my idea of failure vs. success. I believe that sometimes giving up, or letting go, is failure, and sometimes it is a gift of self-love. How do you know the difference? By digging deep and answering honestly. What motivated your goal in the first place? Was it a reasonable goal? Did you "fail" because you didn't try, or because the goal was too hard? Those answers can only lie deep within each of our own hearts and minds. If we accept failure without a deep sense of peace, then we will position ourselves as our own worst enemy.
I am facing failure aplenty. I have failed to keep up with my words, I have failed to produce the quality of writing I had dreamed of for this project. But I am not ready to give up, and because I am not ready, to do so would be to fail my very self. What I feel deep inside is not a desire to let go, but to keep on fighting. I can make sure that I do not miss my goal without giving the best fight I can. So I will do everything I can to sit down to the page for these next nine days to write my three thousand words. And if I miss a day, I will have to write more. But if I give up on my goal, I am not simply facing failure, I am giving myself over to it entirely, against the better judgment of my own heart and mind and conscience. 
Wherever you are yourself with your own writing or creating, NaNoWriMo or otherwise, I hope you can find the gifts of self-knowledge and peace that will help you know your own parameters of failure and success. And for my part, I am going to do my very best to keep on keeping on... and perhaps my leftover birthday cupcakes will help keep me going! 
(Can you believe my local Sprinkles has a Cupcake ATM?!? It is there for a reward at any time of day or night... look here to see if your city has one!!)

November 17, 2012

birthday joy

Our life has been absolute mayhem lately with moving and traveling and NaNoWriMo and all sorts of other good-but-exhausting circumstances. Order and organization have become unfamiliar concepts, and planning ahead has meant thinking about what needs to happen five minutes from now. And right smack-dab in the middle of it all, my birthday arrived. 

I am always a little bit sentimental and melancholy about birthdays. I try to tell myself that they are just another day, that there are 364 other days that matter, too! But I have never succeeded in reducing the weight I attribute to this particular day each year. On birthdays, I feel the passing of time more acutely. I become overwhelmed with the importance of the year to follow, wanting so much to make this one count even more than the last. But against the backdrop of chaos in our life lately, this birthday turned out to be a day of opposites, in many ways. Usually, I love to have things planned out in advance: amazing adventures which will make the day memorable for all time! But this year, as my kind husband tried to anticipate how he could make my birthday special, I hardly wanted to think about it, let alone make any hard, fast plans. All I could think about was how many things still need to be put away in our new space, and how much laundry needs to be done, and how discouraged I am from falling behind on my NaNoWriMo project. I went to sleep with a heavy heart and wished I could push my birthday off a month or two.
But these are the moments when I am so grateful that Ryan knows me so well and cares so much. I woke up to discover a trail of thoughtful notes and gifts and these beautiful flowers (which just might be the prettiest roses I have ever seen!!). And I was given a chance to let go of my anxiety and exhaustion and let these gifts of love soak in to nourish my weary heart. As phone calls came in from friends and family, the love began to multiply. And while I still did not feel entirely like myself, we decided to find a way to make the day count with some spontaneous city adventures.

There are so many places I have wanted to check out in Chicago for awhile now, and what better day to explore a bit? First, we visited Bite Cafe in Ukranian Village, which was super cute and had delicious food! I ordered the tomato sandwiches, on melt-in-your-mouth biscuits and dressed with yummy kimchi for amazing flavor. I love that the salt and pepper shakers are different sizes! It's all in the details, right?

Our next stop was shopping fun, which was super inspiring although we did not end up buying much. We visited Sprout Home, where I was absolutely amazed by the selection of plants and containers and pretty things in general!! It is SUCH a beautiful store and you MUST visit if you are ever in the area! I found a couple of vessels for some air plants I got recently, and I love that every time I see them, I will think of this wonderful shop!

After wandering the neighborhood for awhile and visiting many different shops, we landed at Big Shoulders Coffee, a newish shop/roaster in Chicago which I've wanted to try for some time. Ryan was a good sport even though he is not a coffee drinker and we shared conversation over my French press experience. As is my tradition, I picked up a bag of beans to bring back home - this always helps me to savor my coffee shop experiences even more and provides good fuel for my days of writing.

I am reminded of how much I love my city. All the beautiful, unique wonders of the busy world around us filled me up again and inspired me so much. My day of exploration reconnected me to my creative passion and reminded me to open my eyes wide and soak in the world around me. It is so easy to become mired in the never-ending list of tasks and responsibilities, especially in times of transition and stress.

We ended our city adventure at Mana Food Bar, a vegetarian restaurant we have wanted to visit for a while now. The only picture I managed to take in this wonderful place was of the menu, because once the food started to come my attention was completely monopolized by the deliciousness of each small plate in front of me.

My birthday was cured by a simple return to beautiful gifts in life which inspire me: good food, the city, pretty things, love from friends, and quality time with my favorite person. This birthday broke the mold, and reminded me that sometimes the feelings follow the actions and not vice versa. Is this true for you, too??

November 1, 2012

nanowrimo 2012: day one

Today is NaNoWriMo Day One, and I planned for this day to begin very differently. When I posted two weeks ago about my plan to participate again in National Novel Writing Month this November, I had grand plans for that two-week countdown. I was going to research and plan some sort of outline approach for my project this year. I was going to cull through old writings and collect paths to be followed in this work. I was going to be prepared. This preparedness is a regular ambition of mine, which applies to most things I attempt, from cleaning to crafting down to every single thing on my million lists. I am an Idealist (ENFJ, remember?), and this natural ambition is a gift but can also often feel a curse.
Art: Old Souvenirs, by John F. Peto
Here is what I actually achieved in this past two weeks: no planning, no research, no outline, and almost no actual writing, if I'm being honest. Even my morning pages have gotten the shaft more days than I would like to admit. This happened partly because I do this thing with my ambition, like when one person has such a crush on another person that they freak their crush out before the crush is even interested in getting to know them at all. I have a crush on my ambition, or ideal, and sometimes I can kill it before I even get to know it better. I realize that is a lame and very high school analogy (middle school?? elementary?? lower?!?), but hopefully you catch my drift. I wanted so badly to be ready for a great NaNoWriMo that I put off getting ready because I was afraid I wouldn't be. How masochistic of me, and yet this can be a very repetitive pattern in my life.   

The other half of the story is that we had to pull off an unexpected move over these past couple of weeks, from one home to another. The circumstances of the move have been complicated and annoying, but everyone is healthy and there are no real disasters involved. The move has been quite a pain, but I know there are so many worse things you can face. I am a firm believer in trying hard to protect your creativity no matter what the obstacle, and I failed my own beliefs as my writing slipped away from me a bit throughout this process. But I also was really encouraged to realize how much I missed my writing time and creative practice. And I found myself really motivated to complete as much of the moving and organizing as possible before today, because I really wanted to create more space again in my days for this project. 
Art: Office Board, by John F. Peto
As I woke up this morning, I felt a mixture of anxiety and anticipation about my NaNoWriMo beginning. I was eager to dive in and get going, but the nagging thought persisted that I had not prepared as I intended. I did my best to shut down the ugly thoughts and lean into the gifts of present possibility. I had a whole day to spend unraveling my creative practice and my NaNoWriMo project however it needed to happen. I began with morning pages, coffee, a good breakfast, and prayers for the ability to be honest, gentle and disciplined with myself as I entered my practice. I sat down to write, and glanced quickly through some old notes from prior attempts to work on this project. I caught wind of one of those ideas, and I made myself start typing. 

Two thousand words later, I had reached my goal! (2028 words, to be exact- I try to begin with a more ambitious goal to help pad those days which will prove harder later.) And while it did require honesty, gentleness and self-discipline, I was reminded of exactly what it is I love about this project. I had forgotten to register on the website that I would be participating in the project this year, and so when I went online today to register, I found just the message I needed. The tagline for National Novel Writing Month, taken directly from their website, is "Thirty days and nights of literary abandon."

My work will require organization, preparedness, and discipline in many of its stages. But the stage I need most right now, which I couldn't even see clearly until I was done with today's writing, is this goal of "literary abandon." I need to keep my bottom in the chair and get the words out onto the page. I need to work with my words until a form begins to emerge and I need to follow my thoughts until I learn more about where, exactly, they are leading me. 
Art: The 49 States, by Matthew Jensen
Happy November and Happy National Novel Writing Month!! I hope that each of you are embracing a chance for creative abandon in your own life, whatever form it takes for you. And if any of you decided to participate in NaNoWriMo along with me, I am here cheering you on and wishing you well!!

(These photos were taken a month or so ago on a quick trip to NYC - my first time ever visiting, can you believe it?! We had a busy couple of days but spent one amazing hour at the Met, and these were a couple of pieces of art that caught my eye. These works offer a lovely reminder to me of the way that art often comes in layers, through consistent pursuit of something that is not yet fully known.)