From the Page to Reality: Thoughts on Finishing One of My Everyday Journals

 First, let me define “everyday journal”.

My everyday journals contain Anything and Everything, from stream of consciousness journaling to sketches and paintings, from project ideas and lists, to habit charts, church notes and handlettered quotes, all stitched together with the cord of my neuroticism. They are handbound, with pages made of thick, toothy bristol paper, and are usually (but not always) small enough to fit in my purse (favorite size 7×8.5) All the smaller ones have covers that are made using kitchen chipboard, like cereal boxes, and the covers of the larger ones are actual book covers taken off old books and covered in decorative paper.

I have other books which I consider to be “art journals”. They  are made with 140lb watercolor paper and contain more acrylic paint and no pages that are exclusively writing (although I do write on my painted pages). They usually feel more forced to me than my everyday journals, more like I am trying to “make art” and perhaps am failing at it and so should stop right away.

In my everyday journals, there are no “rules” and Little Miss Perfectionist isn’t welcome. Paint sometimes bleeds through the paper, some (or maybe most) of the drawings totally suck and there is a lot of boring sameness in my constant desire to Manage My Time and Improve My Self and Get A Lot Done, and I succeed in that for a while and then I fail, and then try again, etc. etc. ad infinitum, and that’s pretty much what I chronicle in my everyday journals.

Here are a few pages from the past three years:

1) a habit chart (which usually cover about 2 weeks)
2) a self-portrait I did over some journaling
3) some dried rosemary from our 2014 garden (stashed in an envelope page)
4) a diagram of my circle of influence vs circle of concern.
5) some sketches for printable ideas for “freebies” to get people to sign up for my Rough Edges Life mailing list
6) covers that are decorated with “engraved” aluminum tape (a very easy technique that makes it hard to believe your cover used to be a cheezit box)

From the Page to Reality

My current journal has taken me almost four months to fill. When I got to the last-ish page, I noticed that there were a lot of ideas that kinda “went somewhere” quickly. That doesn’t necessarily happen with every journal. I am telling you this not so that you will think I am so impressive Dahlink, in my accomplishments.  But rather, so that you can see what a good tool a journal-based creative practice is for a person like me (and maybe like you too), someone who has limited time to create/achieve/produce and is not known for high levels of focus. I am a self-improvement junkie, as you may already know.  This disorder, if left unmanaged, can lead to excessive reading about self help, rather than actually helping oneself and perhaps might even lead to wallowing in one’s most unhelpful habits. But keeping journals like this, which have no rhyme or reason or expectation, has helped me more than any other “technique” to be steadily productive on a sustainable level. Maybe because all these ideas would have vanished into the ether if I didn’t have my journal around. Not to mention the little snatches of memory or personal insight jotted down randomly or contained in a few sentences of writing. (I still have a lot of bad habits though, this isn’t a miracle process by any means).

What Came to Fruition In This Journal

  • Here are the first and second stages of the idea that became the banner image on this blog (although ideally it is for my new business website, which is unfortunately NOT one of the projects I have completed):

We won’t talk about the fact that I actually prefer the middle image. When something gets too polished I don’t like it as much. Plus in the final image it looks like my cup hand is amputated. But since my “brand” is all about persevering creatively through imperfection, I allowed that to remain.

  • A few days after the Mockingbird Conference last February, I was still trying to figure out what the Mockingbird fundraiser zine would evolve into. On the right is a list of my motivations and fears about the project. It was not a big success financially, but it’s not true that No One Bought It (which was one of my fears). It did just break even. Also I may presell them at next year’s MBird Tyler conference. So a new opportunity did present itself even if I didn’t sell as many as I’d hoped.

And here is the completed MBird zine. Hopefully I can master watercolor skin tones by next year. I am not crazy about the stark whiteness of the Magills, who are stunningly attractive and always have the glow of health, but who would have undoubtedly looked piggishly pink under my “artistic ministrations”. THIS ZINE CAN STILL BE PURCHASED HERE:

  • Another wonderful providence is that I bought Anne Kennedy’s book Nailed It and I fell, immediately, deeply in love with it. I don’t remember how it happened now, but Anne and I started corresponding, and now we are friends. I even had a guest post on her blog, which was not even on my fantasy radar of what might possibly happen, ever, even in an alternate universe, between me and such a cool person as Anne. Here is a page whereupon I made a sketch inspired by the cover of Nailed It, probably a few days after I received it. I was thinking about writing a review Praising It to High Heaven (which I have not yet done because I haven’t made a zine since that time, and I would not relegate such an important piece of writing to the ephemeral blogosphere) :

  • And here are my first ever notes about Jordan Peterson, who I heard for the first time in mid-March. I had no idea at that time how he was going to become one of the Grand Obsessions of my life.  These notes I took while listening to him are intermingled with notes from Sarah Condon’s Tyler talk, and in both sets of notes is the word Suffering (with Sarah Condon thankfully having the word of Grace as an oh-so-necessary foil to JBPs almost neverending Law)

Dr Peterson pervades the rest of the journal, although there are some mind maps, a few pages with brainstorming for the upcoming habit chart/everyday journal making class that will be out by the end of August, and a painting or two:

I have many notes to help me as I create the Jordan Peterson Fanzine during the long, hot Texas summer. I’ve done sketches of him lecturing, and he never stops moving, so that’s a real challenge for me with my rudimentary sketch skills And in his honor, my habit charts are now titled with the admonition “Sort Yourself Out”

  • Another thing that began in this journal, and that seems to have become (for the time being at least) a semi-regular activity – church sketchnotes done using a template for an orderly layout (which pleases my inner zinemaker):

Three Days On, One Day Off

In addition to “being productive”, I learned something useful about myself near the end of this journal. I figured out that one reason I have always had a problem with time management is that planning or scheduling within a 7 day week doesn’t work for me. Maybe it’s just rebellion, feeling like I am expected to just fit into this RANDOM social construct that I didn’t even ask to be born into, man! But whatever the reason is, I decided I was going to buck convention and try a four-day structure.

In case you have ever wondered, there are 91.25 four-day-periods in a year.

On each of three days I have been having a loose focus, and then on the fourth day I do whatever the heck I want. I need one day for grocery shopping and other errands and for housework. Another day for creative but “business focused” work and a third day for whatever seems pressing in the family or household – maybe, if I can ever break through my annoyance and resistance, I could do some reading aloud or take better care of the household finances.  Those are two squares on my habit chart which rarely get filled in with pretty colors.

In the little snatches of time apart from the day’s focus, I have been “fitting in” the things that too easily slip through the cracks, like reading real books, (most notably, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge) and also exercise, salads and brief but blessed moments of silence and inactivity.. Then on the fourth day/evening I can drink alcohol, or binge watch TV (which for me might mean three episodes) or just sit around all day reading Nordic crime fiction. But I am just as likely to spend an “off” day rearranging some room in my house, which is one of my favorite activities and technically would be considered both housework and exercise on the habit chart.

I hope your interest in making and keeping your own everyday journal has been piqued, and that you will let me help you in that endeavor 🙂

Be in the Rough Edges Life Creative Loop

If you have any questions related to journaling, personal excavation and/or creative practice (or if you just want to ask me some random question or tell me something) please email me at samantha@roughedgeslife.com

On my next “creative work” day I am going to make a video to go with this blog post. If you’d like to see that video, or be kept abreast of the progress on the habit chart class or the Jordan Peterson Fanzine, please sign up for my mailing list.

Introducing Everyday Memoir, Part 1: My Box of Important Papers, Part 1

I have mentioned my Box of Important Papers elsewhere. What is in my BoIP is a lot of stuff that is important in the chain of my Everyday Memoir, mostly things that are individually printed or handwritten sheets and not bound like a zine or art journal. Since I am about to begin an online collaboration with a few other women, I was thinking about another online collaboration I was involved in – back in 2005  I was part of a woman’s blog called Intellectuelle, with a few women I still know (at least peripherally) through Facebook.

Intellectuelle was sponsored by The Evangelical Outpost (which still has a website that comes up blank for me). To be a contributor, you had to be one of the top 5 or 6 in an essay contest. I wrote some kind of post about apologetics, and was chosen to be one of the ground-level contributors, along with my still-friend Marla Swoffer. That first essay is the only one I don’t have a copy of (who knows why) and I’d love to see it, because I was never a whiz at apologetics and can’t imagine what I might have said about it that won me that contest.

intellectuelle

The first post is my “introduction” and it is dated June 30, 2005, and titled “Everyday Living Gives Us a Lot to Think About”. The final post was not even three months later, September 16, 2005, titled “Another Resignation”. Every one of my measly 14 posts began with a limerick. Some examples:

…from the post titled “Concealed Estrus, or Why is the Ovulation of the Human Female Hidden?”

There once was a thing, ovulation,
Necessary for human creation.
But it cannot be seen, and what does this mean?
Is there a Christian Explanation?

…from the post titled “Memento Mori”

There once was a gal quite alive
Who could think of no way to deprive
The spectre of death from a-stealin’ her breath
But she knows in the Lord she’ll survive

mementomori

This whole thing was nerve-wracking for me because 1) I had to make some appropriately intellectual post EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK and 2) I’m really not all that intellectual and most of the other contributors really were. They were doing stuff like reading difficult books and writing thoughtful commentary about them, probably seamlessly integrating all their other knowledge into the post as well. It’s likely they even spoke French and so were true Intellectuelles, while I was pretty much a poseur. We were also buying and moving into our first house at that time, and I’d had three miscarriages in the past year, and in general this was my last attempt to prop up a certain fantasy about myself as A Great Thinker, and I got out when I finally admitted that to myself, and I haven’t looked back.

This is an interesting pit stop on the Trail of Everyday Memoir (sometimes known as the Avenue of Absurdity). I could write a blog post or zine article on any of the same subjects I did at Intellectuelle, but I know my tone would now be different and my thoughts about most of the subjects have changed, maybe significantly. It’s both humbling and encouraging when I look at my past self, because I see definite evidence of sanctification while I simultaneously still possess some of the annoying and/or sinful traits of my youth, which range from actual bad behavior to well-hidden but impressively crappy attitudes that are rarely seen by anyone except me and God.

We’ll come back to the Box of Important Papers again in a few days.

 

 

 

 

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Creative Stuff Goin’ On

The last month and a half has been a proverbial whirlwind of creative busy-ness, planning, and some surprises. I spent a lot of August finishing my zines and being very nervous about sharing them outside my usual crowd. I went to an event called The Dallas Zine Party in early September, which was a panel of longtime zinemakers talking about their work in the zine world. Even though I’ve been making zines for more than two decades, I still experienced mild Impostor Syndrome symptoms when I was there. Unfortunately, the only antidote to those symptoms is to act like you aren’t an impostor, which can be difficult. But I handed my zine packages to the panelists and they all just seemed happy to get some new zines and not hell-bent on exposing me as a fraud. Later that night when I was making more zine packs for Day 2 of the event, I realized that I had a misspelling. On the zine COVER. The zine I had just given to 10 people earlier that day while pretending not to be an impostor.

I was mortified for about two minutes, then exhausted at the thought that I had to print new covers. Then I had an epiphany. I saw that I could “fix” the problem while simultaneously reinforcing the main theme of my zine – being “productive” while also accepting my very real limitations as a fallen human being. So, with the help of my trusty Pigma Micron pen:

zinecover

So, that ended up being a happy accident, and it was good for me to have to walk the Accepting Failure Walk, instead of talking about in an inspirational way (which is a good way to distract people) while behind the scenes I was eradicating any evidence of actual failure.

A few days after the Zine Party, I became a paid, published author. That had been in the works for a few years, and I don’t know if I believed it would ever really happen. The piece that was published began as an article in one of my zines from a decade ago, and it was interesting to see how it came to be a 22,000 word spiritual memoir. I have never had a huge interest in being a published author apart from my own self-publishing, and the reason Mark Galli (Christianity Today Editor-in-Chief) knew about me at all was because I sent CT my zines (way back in 2009, I think) in the hope that they would consider writing an article about zines and how they are an underused medium by Christians. So, it was a pleasant surprise that something I wrote so long ago would come back to benefit me in some way, and would be read by maybe tens of thousands of people instead of the (maybe) fifty or so that was my usual zine readership.

I was personally contacted by maybe 15 people after the CT piece was published. It was encouraging to know that my writing resonated with at least some people who don’t know me and don’t consider it their job as my friend to be encouraging about all my weird ramblings. Then, about a week after that was published, I got an email from someone at a Pittsburgh radio station inviting me to be interviewed on their show. That was a terrifying prospect because while I am fairly eloquent and somewhat funny in writing, I am not known as a super articulate speaker. I had visions of being introduced and then nothing but the sound of my drooling would be heard. But John and Kathy put me at ease and asked good questions, so the drooling situation was mostly avoided. My delusions of grandeur (that every single one of John and Kathy’s listeners would immediately order my zines) also did not come to pass, but I don’t think I could have handled that much business anyway. But I was invited to be on the show again, and that is happening this afternoon. They even made me my own graphic!

johnandkathy

I’m just as nervous about it this time and I have no idea what I am going to say about “the act of creation: what is it, how does it work for you, why is it important for Christians to create and flourish?” (which is how they are promoting my segment). Hopefully we can bypass the drool scenario this time, as well.

And then finally, my dear artist friend Donna has invited me to participate in an online teaching group called The Creative Circle , where three of us will regularly write and have videos about our own creative practices and our creative struggles, as well as “teaching” various techniques or art things that we do. That is a nerve-wracking situation for me, mostly because I am afraid of not getting the stuff done and proving myself once and for all to be an incorrigible flake. Realistically, I don’t expect that to happen, but the aforementioned Impostor Syndrome always has a serious flare-up when I think about having to come up with fresh content to “inspire and inform” people. The blog portion of the Circle will begin in November, and come January we will open it for subscriptions, which is how you will be able to access videos and other content and “Support for Your Creative Practice”. Go here if you want to get in on the ground floor.

Oh, and in the next week or so I am going to buy the domain everydaymemoir.com and get started offering my own zine/mail art subscriptions and tools to get you started on an Everyday Memoir Practice. So, I have a lot going on, which is interesting but also mentally exhausting. One of my perpetual challenges is trying to simultaneously do enough to avoid boredom and feed my alter-ego Self Improvementista, while also giving my Introvert enough downtime (she has been known to create drama if I don’t do a good job with that).

One cool thing about being an Everyday Memoirist is that I know in a year’s time, I will come back to this post (the printed version, of course – since I’m all about paper) and I will have Thoughts About It. I will compare my delusions of grandeur and/or worst case scenario for my artistic career with whatever the reality is, which I actually consider to be a fun and edifying activity.

 

In Which I Read Three Books

I actually read three books this week. It has been more common in the past few years to read maybe one book in three months. I may have spent all my energy in reading them and have none left to write about them.

The first one was Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel. She is the originator of the Bechdel Test, which asks the question: do two women in a fictional work ever talk to each other about anything but a man or men, which is supposed to be a good starting point for discussing gender inequality or sexism within the work. The test definitely has its limits, because there are shows like Buffy which are full of strong and capable women who also talk a lot about guys and romance. Ms. Bechdel is also the author of the long-running comic Dykes to Watch Out For. Yes, she is a lesbian. I guess Fun Home would be considered a coming-of-age or family memoir, in comic form. It didn’t have the look of a graphic novel to me, which are usually too busy for my taste artistically and/or filled with too many unrealistically huge-breasted female characters who may or may not have conversations about archery or philosophy or other non-man subjects.

It’s not all that prominent a theme in the book, but the title comes from the fact that Ms. Bechdel’s father was a part-time mortician in his family’s funeral home (their family was way more dysfunctional than the Fishers on Six Feet Under). The main focus of the book is her father, who she eventually learned was a closeted homosexual who had/attempted to have inappropriate relationships with underage teenage boys. She never condones this fact about him, and in general presents him as a tyrannical figure in her family’s life. He died young and she believes his death was suicide, although it was officially determined to be accident. Her relationship with him became somewhat closer after she went to college and came out as a lesbian, although he was always mysterious and often communicated with her through esoteric passages in literature (he was an English teacher when he wasn’t embalming people).

This book has caused controversy because some students at Duke University refused to read it because it offended their Christian sensibilities. There are about 7 panels in the work which depict nudity, masturbation, and sexual acts. I’m all for people not reading things they don’t want to read, but why choose a secular university in 2015 if you are bound and determined not to encounter any shocking, offensive or immoral ideas? And as someone who had early and prolonged access to pretty hardcore pornography, I think that even most non-pornogrified adults are aware of the sexual act portrayed and have probably even engaged in it at some point. Even if you think gay relationships are wrong, how damaged can you be by a single black and white panel in a comic book? And is God really mortified if you see it?

I can’t say I really loved this book, but not because of the sexual themes. It was somewhat interesting but kinda slow, and it didn’t have any emotional punch for me. I didn’t develop affection for the narrator, Ms. Bechdel (not that I actively disliked her). But it did solidify my desire to draw comic memoir, which scares me. But I already have so much memoir-ish writing I could illustrate, including but not limited to my spiritual memoir that Christianity Today published. If I get up the guts I’ll make a few small comic memoir zines, to break it into manageable chunks. My new zine (which should be listed on etsy this weekend) has a two-page comic chronicling my early zinemaking history, so that’s a start.

Book Two was Jen Hatmaker’s new book For The Love. I had little love (perhaps a vague but fleeting affection) for this five-star favorite. There is no doubt that Ms. Hatmaker is funny. I think she might be more enjoyable as a stand-up comic. There are probably fewer upper-middle-class-yoga-pants-wearing Christian mothers on that circuit. Ms. Hatmaker seems to be wildly inspirational in her demographic, but like She Who Seems To Be Spiritual Godmother Of This Tribe, Ann Voskamp, her writing mostly depresses and annoys me (though I don’t think their writing is necessarily all that similar). On a literary level, I get tired of stuff being called A Thing. Or hearing that someone Just Can’t Even. I’m tired of Women (supposedly) Just Like Us for whom housekeepers and nannies are Things. I Just Can’t Even. Do (insert Thing) because I don’t have those amenities (though I acknowledge that many others probably can and do).  I also can’t imagine having a close knit group of couple friends to cook gourmet home-cooked meals for at our monthly Supper Club (even if my turn only comes once every three months) where we sip wine, have deep fellowship and cheer each other on in our ever-expanding repertoire of successful projects. I don’t exactly begrudge Ms. Hatmaker for having those things, but hearing about them makes me discouraged instead of inspired. I fully admit that this doesn’t demonstrate my deep generosity of spirit. It reminds me of how I felt years ago when I was reading the Mitford series of books, and I realized that the reason Father Tim and his wife Cynthia could be so productive and read so many good books was because they had a full-time cook and housekeeper who did everything necessary to their neat and well-fed existence.

I have to be clear also (because I’m not really bashing Ms. Hatmaker as a person or even as a writer) and say that in general I don’t like inspirational as a genre, and in fact my idea of inspirational may not be the norm. Whenever something degenerates into what seems like an affirmation, especially, I turn off. So while I appreciate, say, Brene Brown’s basic thesis about shame and vulnerability, I’ll start rolling my eyes when she says something like You Are Enough. I’m not necessarily saying that I don’t agree with that or other inspirational soundbites on a basic level, but it can just start sounding like an overly simplistic feel-good mantra or even like propaganda, and that turns me off. I have this same struggle in the art journaling world, which is full of often technically impressive pages which insist that we should “soar”, “bloom”, “connect”, “discover” or (insert inspirational mountain you can ascend if you can find just the right word).

In a peripheral way, my general dislike of some of these wildly popular “trends” (for lack of a better term) in books or art make me curious to know if my writing or creative pursuits could be categorized as “fitting in” with any other writer or visual creative.

Book Three was The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr. I haven’t read any of her three memoirs yet, I just know about her from reading at Mockingbird. In addition to being a memoirist herself, Ms. Karr has taught memoir for years at the graduate level, something that still seems to surprise her a bit, considering that she came from a redneck family full of abuse, alcoholism and other dysfunction. This book contains her thoughts on the memoir writing process, the nature of truth in memory, as well as chapters dedicated to some of her favorite memoirs. I think I may be at some disadvantage as a memoirist because I am an only child and don’t have anyone my own age to compare memories with. She makes it a point to share her manuscripts with the people in her memoirs, even when the stories or memories are not pleasant or flattering. I have never done this with my mother. Not that I have written deeply about her as a person or about our relationship per se, but my childhood is such a volatile subject for both of us that I just don’t want to go there. After reading this book I wonder how much of that may be my avoiding the possibility of her challenging my memories, even though I don’t really think she would.

I find it ironic that so many people who like my writing say they are drawn to my honesty, but I don’t think I’ve ever been deeply honest in anything I have written. Even in my illegibly written journals. That makes me wonder how extremely guarded other people really are. I joke that telling the truth about my life is my spiritual gift, but that’s a lie. I’m still too afraid of my pain and my shame and am unwilling to unveil it all even to myself. And I do think about whether I want to name anyone in conjunction with it and tell their part in my suffering (even when it wasn’t their intention to hurt me or their fault in any real sense).

I need to read Mary Karr’s actual memoirs and see how she writes about her experiences of childhood sexual assault, a mother who was a serious drunk to the point where she sometimes brandished a gun in intoxicated anger, as well as her own drug use and alcoholism and her growing into her own sexuality.

I can tell that little by little, I am becoming more honest. With each zine I make I have a few more sentences or even paragraphs that say something real.

FOCUS – New Zine to Be Published Mid-June

This feels like a transition time. Baby is almost 4 and seems to be finally coming out of a long-term, hard-core gotta-have-Mama-at-all-costs phase (which has, in all honesty, lasted her entire life). My score of readers knows that I always have a lot of things I want to do or feel like I should do, but right now the overarching important thing for me to do is relearn how to FOCUS, both for my own sanity and to facilitate actual progress on the to-do list items.

I regret what has happened to my brain and my nervous system during the childbearing years way more than I regret my stretch marks or other physical signs of motherhood. I saw a documentary once about stress, and it said that many people in our culture are always in fight or flight mode. That put into words how I have felt for years, maybe all my life. It’s the pressure of “perceived threats”. That can mean being afraid that my past will come back and haunt me in some way, or worrying myself sick about what might happen in the unknowable future. There are also the ever-present threats of the present – like my all-too-common (though usually mostly subconscious) sense that somewhere, someone (could be my husband, the old woman at the grocery store or someone reading this blog) is judging me or expecting something from me that I cannot deliver.  All these things are actually incorporeal  – my feelings, neuroses, angst – but FEEL physical like threats that I want to run away from or come at with teeth bared. What that looks like for each of us will be different, how we manifest fight or flight –  but I assume (as a fellow human being in an often scary world) that you also deal with this unfortunate aspect of life in some way and have developed a few more or less ineffective coping mechanisms and/or annoying habitual behaviors in response.

I honestly believe that my body now reacts to the constant interruptions of children (and the over-complication young kids bring to otherwise simple or straightforward tasks) the way a proverbial caveman would react if they were suddenly being chased by the proverbial saber-tooth tiger. This doesn’t mean that I literally think my kids are out to get me (although they can be as manipulative as any sinner at any age). It’s like this:

kids

And that’s just one example. It’s like my brain can no longer hold a thought for more than 10 seconds even if I am alone. I think this is probably what they call neural pathway development (or in my case, neural pathway destruction). I notice this problem especially when I try to read, but it has affected everything I need or want to do. Having to do something like run a simple errand or do a basic household chore is almost a trigger in itself. I get anxious  and even somewhat panicked even thinking about doing whatever it is because I know it will require so much more from me than chopping celery. My body interprets it as a threatening situation. I can fight by literally fighting – or at least getting really grumpy and showing it. I can take flight by simply not doing “it”, whatever IT is.

My own self-improvementy thoughts (completely apart from dealing with other people) usually also feel, if not always threatening, then at least exhausting.  In practice, this makes me inefficient, because I will let my ideas (if I am feeling competent and/or productive) or my emotions (if I am feeling depressed and/or stagnant) distract me from what I am doing. I will literally be in the middle of washing dishes (a good and necessary, if sometimes maddeningly mundane task) and in response to a thought like, “Such-and-such would be a good thing to have in my next zine”. I will turn from the dishes like some mind-controlled person in a sci-fi show responding to her master’s inner call or something, and head to the computer or notebook. That’s if I’m feeling productive. If I’m feeling depressed the thought at the sink might be, “Oh crap, I’m already washing these dishes but those (insert your favorite expletive) sheets have to go in the washing machine. Man, I am a total failure at this job.” So, I turn from the dishes (in the same sci-fi manner, only looking more despondent) and go get the sheets off the bed. The most likely next act in this scenario will be someone in the family inserting their need or request or simple comment into the fray, and neither the dishes, nor the zine work nor the sheets will get done.

So, I need to focus in at least two senses. I need to focus on what I am doing at the moment and, yes, pay attention to it in a zen-like manner but mostly just finish it already. I also need to plan at least some focused time for the things I say are most important to me. This could be having a mental date with myself at 2pm every day for a workout DVD, or a plan to sit with my 7-year-old for thirty minutes to read aloud, or setting aside the whole day for only basic housework and zine stuff. I’m not sure of the specifics, in fact it is specifics I am afraid of, because when something has been specified or codified that’s when it’s most obvious if (or when) you deviate, which (in perfectionist-speak) translates to FAIL.

A new zine comes into this situation because it, in itself, is a form of focus. So, it’s a natural container for six weeks or so of my thinking and planning and (most importantly) execution of FOCUS. It should be ready for mailing by mid-June. I don’t think it will a Thirty Days Zine exactly, but it will be done quickly, in that Thirty Days spirit. I’m going to charge for this one. Not sure how much yet, but that info will be made public when it has been determined.

 

Forty-Six Things About Me or a Not-So-Lurid Confessional of Middle Age, Part 1

When I was young and in the throes of the new blogging world (back in 2002 or so when I thought I was more interesting than I do now) I had a “100 Factoids About Me” link in my sidebar. They were just pithy little sentences that didn’t really tell that much about me (as I was even less willing then to really share than I am now) and I think I probably chose them to illustrate my idea of cool quirkiness. A lot of them are just simple facts about my life, which has obviously been quirky, and not always in a good way. But as I look back, at least a few of them seem to be me deceiving myself. Like Keith Green sang, “No one believes a thing you say, not even you“. I wonder how honest these new ones will seem in ten years?

1) I couldn’t stand Ann Voskamp’s immensely popular book One Thousand Gifts. I have also disliked 99.75% of the blog posts I have read on her immensely popular blog, A Holy Experience (full disclosure, I haven’t read all that many). I have a hard time with her writing style, I don’t find it inspiring or moving and it doesn’t make me fall to me knees in gratitude or want to buy her spinoff books. It confuses and annoys me on a good day and weighs me down with guilt on the bad days. I honestly have an easier time reading Calvin’s Institutes with its somewhat archaic theological language. I do, however, really like her daily habit sheet.

2) One of my longest-running (but still somewhat sporadic) external manifestations of sin is sometimes being a high functioning stoner. I have self-medicated with pot off and on since I was about 16. I went a full 8 years without smoking at all, from 2004-2013, but have once again had bouts of smoking since that time. I don’t think smoking is any more inherently wrong than drinking margaritas, but of course, it’s illegal and I use it in unhealthy ways. And like any drug or substance, it gives diminishing returns and also deceives you into thinking that it’s helping you when it really isn’t. It relieves stress for a time, jumpstarts creativity for a time – but after a while it increases stress and it’s horrible in terms of creative follow-through. I recently read a book called Grace in Addiction, and while I don’t know if pot is addictive in the same sense that street drugs or alcohol are (it isn’t all that physically challenging to give it up and it certainly hasn’t caused me to destroy lives, steal, cheat, etc. to get some) I definitely feel mentally powerless against it’s allure when it is available (see the first step of AA). Thankfully, accepting that coincided with being very burned out on the stuff and got me back on the proverbial wagon, where I will hopefully remain.

3) Motherhood has killed off way more of my brain cells than smoking pot ever did. I can hardly focus to read any more after all these years of constant interruptions to my thought process. I think it may be God’s way of humbling me for being somewhat prideful in my past intelligence (which was never really all that impressive, and in fact I have never been more than a pseudo-intellectual).

4) I’ve gone to a Presbyterian church since we first started going to church about 14 years ago, and while I am committed to the doctrines of grace, I don’t know if I am full-on Reformed. In general, I have struggles going to church and often get stressed about it on Saturday evening. That might be because I have had little children for so long that just the process of getting everyone up and fed is a struggle, not to mention being there with all the wandering attention spans, desires for drinks and (insert thing kids do at church that basically makes the whole thing just another period of unfocused multi-tasking, not much different than every other day). I feel guilty about it, but Sunday has never been a day of rest and prayerful re-creation for me. I also struggle with the whole “fellowship” situation, because by Sunday afternoon, after a long week of non-stop interaction with the many people in my household, my Inner Introvert has pretty much shut down. I literally get to church harried and parched and crave to simply hear the benediction that God grants me grace and peace, and then I want to go home.

5) One thing that really pisses me off is when people tell someone they are taking something too seriously or that they should “lighten up”. People take seriously what is a serious issue for them, and not everyone’s serious issues will be the same. Just because you think something is lighthearted or a joke or not a big deal doesn’t mean that another person won’t see it in a more serious light. I’m considered a pretty funny person who laughs a lot, but I have been told this more times than I can count.

6) I have male friends who are not also friends of my husband. One of them died a few years ago. He was my first love when I was about 15 and I saw him off and on since those days of youth, the last time being in 2010. We talked on Facebook every so often, and after he died in 2013 I printed out our entire chat history and put it with the many other papers I have which chronicle my life. I’m very glad I didn’t marry him, not like that was ever an option. I also keep in some contact with a man I worked with back in my young adult years before children. One of my Alter-Egos would probably have been a good fit for him, but not my real self. My third and final male friend is someone half my age whom I have known since he was about 10. We have coffee together occasionally and sometimes I feel like we are very much alike and other times I feel like he is unknowable and my exact opposite. While my relationships with them are (or were, in the case of my dead friend) platonic, I feel different about them than I do my female friends. There is just this Other quality. My husband knows about these friendships and has never asked me to cease and desist. I don’t know how I would feel if he had women friends, but he really doesn’t have any male friends he hangs out with either, so if suddenly there was a woman friend it would be glaringly strange.

7) Despite being able to write long rambling blog posts, I have less to say now than I ever have in my life and/or I literally do say much less. In some ways this is a good thing, but I’m also concerned that I am getting further into my introvert shell in a negative, self-protective way. I was walking the other day and listening to Tim Keller’s sermon The Wounded Spirit, and I heard this:

“If you take a look at the third proverb in the list, it’s a very interesting proverb. “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” What in the world does that mean? You say, “Well, I have friends. They can share my joy. I have people who understand me.” Do you know what this is saying? Again, don’t relativize this. Here’s what this is saying. Your insides, the movements and motions of your heart, are so complex, they’re so inward, and they’re so hidden there’s an irreducible, unavoidable solitude about human existence. Nobody will ever completely understand you.”

I impressively demonstrated my coordination as I walked and simultaneously nodded in agreement. Of course, he didn’t end on that depressing existential note and I wasn’t actually feeling all that nihilistic. But my point is that I think I am acquiescing too much to this very real existential aloneness. My husband has never been a chat-er, and I’m not so much either, but more than he is. I used to try to get him to talk to me more (or listen more about what was going on with me) which didn’t work very well because, well, no one likes feeling pressure to do something they don’t want to do. So while in a way that has been good for our marriage (me releasing my expectations that we should talk together more), it has driven me further into myself and I wonder how interested anyone is in anything I think or do, and what purpose trying to communicate really serves. I worry that I may be forgetting how to communicate and share, which is not good for someone who is naturally emotionally repressed anyway.

8) These days, when I honestly say I am “doing my best”, that is not very impressive.

9) I let my kids spend waaaaay more time in front of screens than I am comfortable with, which is a fairly new development. I figure that is better than the alternative of them visiting me twice a week in the loony bin. In the past I would have put together some big plan to change this, but now I think it is just better for me to let it run its course (For my sake, not theirs. They seem to be doing fine and their brains don’t seem any mushier than they ever have.)

…To Be Continued

 

 

 

45 Minutes at a Time and the Stuff That Brings Up

I’ve liked the idea of breaking a day down into manageable blocks of time since the old days of Managers of Their Homes (although scheduling every minute of every day into 20 minute task-specific blocs is not for me).  In my journal from last summer (which was pretty much a detailed record of my self-improvement-overdose) there are more than a few pages where I mull over that idea. It was definitely good for me to give up self-improvement as a lifestyle and an idol, but I do need some kind of framework for my time or I will literally walk around the house all day jumping from task to task but not accomplishing much that is tangible. (I was amazed at how many steps this generated when I wore a pedometer). Because I am such a perfectionist, though, something as broad as “pick something to do for 45 minutes” can get me all stressed out. I start feeling like I must (for all eternity henceforth)  fit all my life into neat 45-minute segments. I would wonder whether this or that activity should go into  1) a housework block 2) an enjoyable but productive activity block 3) a something I dread or feel a duty to do block, or 4) a true relaxation block (which is how I would likely break it down). And what about the things that don’t fit neatly into any block! We can’t have unmanaged time running around now, can we? I’m serious. Especially when I am generally stressed out or hormonal, my thought process has some uncomfortable similarities to this humorous dramatization.

On a practical level, I know it is important for me to switch tasks like that.  One of my tendencies is to go all obsessive with an activity (usually for days and days at a time) and then wind up with burnout and even a distaste for the activity that sometimes last a while. I also don’t know how else I can practice mindfulness if I don’t have a nice mental barbed-wire fence I can corral my thoughts behind for those 45 minutes. But although my rambling thoughts do need a bit of corraling, I need to let some cracks form in my Armor of Emotional Repression. A few days ago I realized and/or admitted that for a melancholy type like me, there is pretty much always some level of sadness happening. Even when everything is going along blissfully (and I feel bathed in peaceful, Rivendell-ish soothing light) there is always a sadness because of the impermanence. The moment is passing away. Of course, that is somewhat more pleasant than the dreaded is-this-all-there-is-to-life sadness that comes with depressions, the times of despair, loneliness and/or (insert human suffering here).

It’s easy for me to be critical of my much younger Journal self – more externally obnoxious, wholly non-Christian – but she had some good qualities that I have lost. She was more more optimistic and/or funny in the face of the aforementioned human suffering. She was still cynical (but it was a hopeful cynicism). My disillusionment with myself and with everyone else over the years has been theologically correct (people pretty much hopeless, hence, Jesus) BUT I wish I could just suddenly transition from KNOWING that everything I need I have in Christ to FEELING it. I know our feelings don’t affect our standing with God, and I know that He doesn’t owe us spiritual warm fuzzies and all that. I just think that my general tendency to suppress my emotions as a coping mechanism is making me cold hearted in some ways. I think it’s standing in the way of my getting the gospel on a deeper level.

I know I had a lot of pain and stress and trauma early in my life, that my protective neuroses come from that. But I know that my fear of having my heart broken (in all those myriad ways this can happen in our world) is keeping me from loving people like I should. Over the years I have come back many times to the idea that we have to lose our life in order to find it, and that means letting go of it (or at least my conception of it) and all it contains. That hurts on so many levels.  I want to learn mindfulness because I want to see my life as it is, which is the life that God gave me. I want to feel the feelings my life (the living and the losing of it) brings up because I believe that’s part of the dying process of the Christian. I want to get to the living part so I’m starting to be maybe willing to go through the death.

I don’t know how I got from 45 minute time blocks to those existential musings, but ever since I was a teenager, if left to babble, I eventually link every seemingly mundane topic to some underlying stuff.

Some Rambling About The Same Old Stuff

I am feeling some benefit from my maxi-minimalizing adventure and my hiatus from self-improvement. Even with getting rid of almost all stuff we don’t use, the place still gets pretty messy during the course of a day. But the process of cleaning up (even though it can look so daunting to my already chaotic mind) is much simpler and might take 25 minutes for the whole house, including vacuuming and sometimes excluding the kitchen (depending on what’s happening in there at the time). I think now I could actually follow a focused day kind of routine like recommended in Bootcamp for Lousy Housekeepers, which is the only housekeeping/homemaking book that made my cut during The Great Purge of ’15.  When there was worthless stuff in all my rooms (and I’m not talking about stuff that would be considered crappy in general, it’s just superfluous for me and our lives), any focus I put on housekeeping seemed to go towards maintaining and/or organizing the excess so it didn’t put out its tentacles and take over.

Now, post-minimalizing, if I go into a room that’s messy, what I see might be toys and dirty clothes on the floor (which does look super overwhelming at first glance and can really make my heart sink if I’m having a discouraged and/or bad-attitude kind of day)… but really, they just need to be picked up and put in their proper toy homes and the washer or at least laundry area. 10 minutes tops.  I am doing surprisingly well having no or low expectations of the outward impressiveness (or lack thereof) of my life. If I feel like painting, I paint. If I feel like cooking, I cook. If I feel like scrubbing the kitchen sink (which I occasionally do) it gets scrubbed. If I don’t feel like doing much at all I will just putter around all day, getting into this and that.

I finally started writing the mixed-media/memoir book that’s been percolating on my inner stovetop for a few years. I’m not sure if I know enough to write the kind of book I’m envisioning. Not sure if I have enough actual content for actual book length, which looks to be in the 125 -150 page range for this type of book. But making the book is the only thing that’s going to answer those questions. Either I’ll finish it and say, wow, this is pathetic I need more OR (I hope) wow, I can’t believe I had enough stuff to fill a book! I am gonna give myself a deadline and say it will be done by the end of September. I want to positively utilize those long months when we are hermetically sealed into the house. I have been trying to remember that I want to Make Positive Effort For The Good, which can often be a tiny thing.  I bet if I worked steadily for just an hour a day on:

1) book research – doing artwork and doing hands-on planning of the projects and/or

2) actual writing of memoir text portions that will probably lead into the projects

…that I could be way done with the book by the last day of September.

I have chosen my closest personal artist friend to read every section and give me feedback. I am keeping a little journal close by so I can jot down any thoughts about possible content. My oldest daughter is pretty much living in my art studio room temporarily while she does some redecorating in her own room, so if I am going to work with paint and stuff I am going to have to use my 8 feet of living room table for the time being. I’m going to go through my own art journals and see what “techniques” I already use naturally, and probably work my way through my few absolute favorite art books and try some new things to incorporate into my repertoire. I also need to look through my own zines and the book The Zine Scene, because one project will be an actual old-fashioned handmade zine.

The demo zine in the book will be called something like going zen, and one feature I want to have is a list of what I did in a day, rather than things I want to do in the future. So, today I did the day one work of making danish pastries (it’s a two-day affair), I washed sheets, sat outside with my younger kids and worked on this entry, I made nummy baked chicken with a spice rub, buttery white rice and salad. I washed quite a few dishes, vacuumed and enjoyed watching my little one playing with the Daniel Tiger figures I ordered her as a surprise. If I didn’t write all that down, I would think I did the proverbial Nothing. Hopefully I can finalize the list by saying I watched the Americans, but that won’t happen for an hour (God willing).

The End.