Mockingbird Tyler 2017 Fundraiser Fanzine is HERE!!

I know it’s been six weeks since the conference, but Mockingbird never gets dated!

I love making zines to document my life. I also enjoy drawing humans in their natural habitats. And I love Mockingbird and want to give them a token of my esteem. This zine is my homage to the Tyler Mockingbird conference, with my original drawings and commentary, plus three essays by other Friends of Mockingbird. 50% of the profits from the sale of this zine will go to Mockingbird ministries.

The zine is 7.5×8.5, 40 pages, and handbound with a heavy color cover. Price is 15.00 including shipping.

You can also buy last year’s conference zine for 8.00, 50% of profits for that will go to Mockingbird as well. The theme of last year’s conference was Story, and in addition to original drawings and commentary, that zine also includes a small article about my experience with personal storytelling and everyday memoir (including book recommendations to get you started on that in your life, if that interests you).

If you’d like to purchase these zines and support indie publishing and Mockingbird Ministries, please go here

This blog will soon be incorporated into Rough Edges Life, which will provide encouragement, creative resources and gentle self-improvement for the tired and somewhat jaded optimist. If that sounds like something you need, or if you’d like to be updated when future zines are born, please sign up for the Rough Edges Life email list!

How I Determined My Productivity Personality

In all the “online business” stuff I’ve been reading over the past few months, I hear that I need to “present myself as an expert in my field”. I’m also supposed to have some kind of system or thing to teach that will Get Results As Quickly As Possible For My Students. But honestly, the only thing I am an expert at is persevering over decades in self-improvement and creative work even when I don’t see tangible results and when no one else seems to be all that impressed. It seems like the perseverance itself is what keeps the tiniest ember of hope burning when my inner fire pit of hope is just about extinguished.

I have gone back and forth with myself on the importance of having “specific, measurable goals” – the necessity of which is of highest importance to most productivity voices. I like to achieve goals as much as the next person, but when I take the meandering out of my life and my projects (in favor of reaching a specific outcome by a specific time) that’s when my Ego Gets Involved, and an ego is a fragile and fickle thing. If I “succeed” at whatever my goal is, I feel good (usually better than is justified in proportion to the actual success). But then anxiety starts creeping in because I now have to keep performing up to the standard of my previous awesomeness. If I fail at achieving my goal or if my project isn’t well-received, then I’m just a loser who doesn’t even have any laurels to rest upon.

One of the big themes that has run through my life is the relationship between freedom and form. Too much structure or too much focus on one project, and I rebel. I dig my heels in and refuse to do anything because no one (not even ME) is going to give me orders! No rulers, no masters, anarchy FOREVER!!! But when I have too much freedom (too many art supplies, too many “possible” projects or plans or too much outer chaos because I am just too “free” to have to do basic household chores) then I freeze up and do nothing. Either way, I don’t get a lot done, which for a self-improvement junkie means that withdrawal symptoms kick in pretty quickly. Understandably, this is something most addicts try to avoid.

But sometimes, I’m being super-effective and my inner Stephen Covey is patting me on the back, and then suddenly I find myself burned out and unable to do anything except what I call monk’s work – those repetitive tasks of daily living that sometimes seem to be what hold me back from the mythical self-actualization, but which save me when I can’t eke out even one more “productive” thing, when I just want to  be left alone to die in peaceful obscurity, thank you very much.

It’s the proverbial vicious cycle or the blessed paradox. I can’t decide which.

Before you decide whether I have the right to say anything about productivity, let me tell you about myself and what my life has been like for the past quarter century. I am a 48-year-old homemaker with five children from 23-5 who have never gone to school. I haven’t been the CEO of any companies or started a successful nonprofit. What I have done is spent spent untold hours answering questions, wiping butts and making rotini pasta with butter and romano cheese. I’ve also spent a lot of sleepless nights (pre-Netflix). Despite these challenges, I have made 13 long zines, written scores of illustrated letters to friends, made acrylic paintings, hand-bound and then filled numerous art journals and sketchbooks and written a 22,000 word spiritual memoir that was published by Christianity Today (and they even paid me!) I have done thousands of shoulder press reps with 20lb dumbbells and read a lot of theology and psychology books, as well as as many pleasantly gruesome crime novels. I did not do all these things within the same week or even the same year.

I used to strive for “balance” in my life planning, but I have found through long and sometimes humiliating experience that I can’t “manufacture” balance. But in hindsight and often in spite of manic planning, some kind of balance and a measure of freedom within form appears when I follow some “general principles” maybe 75% of the time. The other 25% of the time I am having some kind of existential crisis and doing nothing but drinking too much coffee:

1) Focus On One Thing, But Not For Too Long:

This might mean that I binge a project over a relatively short time, like a thirty-day zine (which necessitates ignoring other semi-important things but which quickly gives me a finished project and a significant deposit into the oft-overdrawn Personal Integrity Account) OR I work on a bunch of different projects for maybe 25-minutes at a time. I have accomplished extensive projects and goals using both these methods. I have also accomplished things with absolutely no plan at all and now I am baffled as to how I managed to do (insert whatever I did here).

And let’s be honest, I have also gone years where I accomplished nothing except basic household maintenance, no matter what my self-improvement technique was at that time. I have learned to honor the fallow periods. If you don’t honor them, they are like the Godfather when he doesn’t get any respect. But at the very least they do allow you to develop simple memories of your life with your people, undistracted by too much doing. And sometimes, like their agricultural cousins, they are working unseen in the soil of your life, and some weird but beautiful plant may grow.

2) Try New Projects and Self-Improvement/Productivity Techniques On For Size, But Feel Free to Abandon Them If They’re Not a Good Fit:

I have tried so many creative things and quickly realized I hated them. Despite the cultural belief that quitting equals failure, I have finally accepted that time is limited and just because I admire something as a concept doesn’t mean I have any talent for or true vocation towards it as a pastime.

And just because I am impressed by certain techniques, planning systems and philosophies other people may use to accomplish things, that doesn’t mean their method will work for me. You will ultimately get more done in the areas that are important to you if you accept who you are and work with your strengths. Time spent learning discernment about yourself, your energy levels, your motivations and true aspirations – that time is never wasted. So even if you “fail” at whatever it is, you have learned what doesn’t work. That’s important information.

3) Go Outside Your Comfort Zone Sometimes, And Retreat As Far As Possible Into Your Comfort Zone at Other Times:

This is the difficult challenge of determining when you are experiencing fear and resistance, and when you are experiencing burnout. They can look the same on the surface but require different tactics to overcome. What fear and resistance want to do is keep you from working, that’s why they are always distracting you with other things and/or tell you how much you suck so you may as well stop now. It really pisses them off when you ignore them and work anyway. They retreat and lick their wounds for a while. You will, unfortunately, deal with them again and again in your life.

When I find myself burned out, I either have too many projects going at once and/or I am not getting enough time alone and/or my work is being done with wrong motive – meaning I’m using it as a self-justification project, trying to impress people etc. Sometimes I misread the symptoms as resistance, and I make it worse by pushing through for longer than I should. Once I recognize it for what it is I go into monk’s work mode, and I usually choose a new television show and I take a lot of baths with the oil lamp burning. I try not to judge how long it takes me to come out of this and “start working again”, and so far, I always have.

4) Keep a habit tracker, and be generous to yourself when filling it out:

I’m not a big pinterest person, but when I first saw a habit tracker there I knew it was something that would work for me. But what it took me a while to figure out was that I respond better if I just have to do a little tiny bit of something for it to “count”. With my first habit tracker, I think I had to do a whole workout DVD to be able to color in “exercise” on a certain day. Well, I rarely had time or energy to do a whole DVD, which left me discouraged when I looked at my tracker, because it looked like I wasn’t exercising at all. But most days I really do at least a few minutes of exercise…I might jump on my rebounder for two 5-minute periods or do 15 knee pushups and 20 single leg bodyweight deadlifts or eke out a few downward dogs or sun salutations.

Now, I give myself the pleasure of taking out those Inktense pencils and waterbrushes and I color in that darned “cardio” square if I stepped on the freaking rebounder. I color in the “writing” square if I wrote three sentences in my journal. And I color in the “mindfulness” section if I sit outside with my kids for 15 minutes without doing anything else. Our get-as-much-done-as-possible-every-day-society would think I was cheating here, but what I want to do is develop a habit, and I know I am not going to stick with anything if I feel beaten down and judged by my very own self for yes, keeping the habit but doing it in an unimpressive way. It’s better to give myself the small wins and they will either add up cumulatively over time OR I will eventually feel confident enough to expand the length or scope of the habit.

Today I hula hooped for 250 turns each way, but I’m not sure if that should be labeled cardio, strength, or restorative? Either way, I’m marking it down!

Please tell me in the comments what you know about your own productivity personality!

This blog will soon be replaced by Rough Edges Life, which will focus on encouragement, creative resources, and gentle self-improvement for the tired and somewhat jaded optimist. If that sounds like something you need, please sign up here and I’ll let you know when that site is “live”.

 

 

 

 

 

The Coffee Silence – or How an Antsy Person Like Me Found a Way to Meditate

the-coffee-silenceI have been “into” mindfulness and meditation for a few years now. But for me, being “into” something often means I read about it more than I practice it.

Learning to be more present in my daily tasks has been easier than finding time to do more formal meditation, and let’s be honest, sometimes it wasn’t about finding the time. It was about my aversion to doing seemingly “nothing” for any length of time. I’m a person who doesn’t like to be idle, which is fine in itself. But I am also an unhealthily reactive person. I have the Not-Very-Zen tendency to believe I need to take action RIGHT NOW on any thought or task that comes to mind. That can lead to a lot of unfinished tasks and projects and also creates stress because I can’t accept a thought as just a thought. I often allow my thoughts to morph into such a negative storyline about myself or my relationships that my body starts pumping out the stress hormones (because it perceives this ephemeral THOUGHT as a clear and present danger, like I’m being chased by the proverbial saber-toothed tiger.) I knew that meditation would help me with those things, but I had to find a practical way to fit it into my life.

In her book Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin talks about various methods that can help us create healthy habits in our lives, while still being sensitive to our own personalities and “what works for us”. The strategy I used to create my meditation habit is “pairing”. One thing I already do every day about the same time is drink my morning cafe latte, so I decided I would pair meditation with that already ingrained and pleasant habit.

Since I often suffer from paralysis by analysis, I decided that the formalities of meditation (how I sat, whether my eyes were open or closed, how I held my hands) weren’t important. All I had to do was find a comfortable place to sit (alone and in silence), set the timer for 20 minutes and do nothing but drink my coffee and return to the breath when my mind wandered. For all you laid-back people, that might not seem like a big deal. But for me, the first day I accomplished this was a real milestone.

It was a gloomy, wet day, and I was in a funk about my life. I sat there by the window and watched the sparrows flitting in the crepe myrtle trees. I felt a heaviness and silent tears ran down my cheeks. But still I breathed, and a few sparrows landed on the windowsill and seemed to look into the room. That felt like a blessing to me, I had never seen them do that before. A lot of thoughts and fleeting emotions came up during that 20 minutes, including the question “WHEN THE HECK WILL 20 MINUTES BE UP????” When I felt like I was about to cave and look at my timer, the 20 minutes ended. I had done it.

This is still a new practice for me, but it feels sustainable. My kids don’t go to school, so once or twice they ignored my command not to come in the room, but I took that as an opportunity not to be my usual reactive self (meaning I didn’t yell). Right when the timer goes off, I take my journal and write down any thoughts that seem important to remember, or ideas that will need action. Then I read the day’s entry in The Mockingbird Devotional, and then I allow myself to leave Being-Only mode (and I usually go wash the dishes).

I know that meditation isn’t about progress or achievement, so I am trying not to judge whether the 20 minutes was “a success”. The success for me is in keeping the commitment. I trust that over time the practice will shape me in some positive way.

A few questions for you:

– Do you have any long-term practices that have enriched your life?
– Do you have any strategies for developing and maintaining healthy habits?

 

In Which I Re-Enter the Blogging World and Recap My Blogging History

I started blogging in 2002, as a way to affirm life after a 9-day bout of the stomach flu. My first-ever blog post was called “A New Beginning”, probably because I was so glad to not feel sick anymore, plus the blogosphere of that time was my oyster, People. I was a stay-at-home-homeschooling mother in my mid-thirties, and I felt like I had found my “tribe” in the Godly Woman Subculture (wherein I felt included but also interestingly “edgy”…since my Proverbs 31 credentials may or may not have been forged or from an unaccredited institution). At that time I didn’t even know what a digital camera was, so I didn’t understand how these women always had photos on their blogs from THAT VERY DAY, too quickly to have had film developed while they were already so busy with bread baking, latin games with the children, plus being the kind of wives whose husband’s desires were always at the very forefront of their humble and modest thoughts. Anyway, I digress. The point is that I started blogging at The Home Realm (where I wrote a few okay pieces but mostly, too many posts from my smug young mother vantage point) and I continued there until about 2006. I also had a few (basically unsucessful) forays into “business” during those years, and a short and forgettable stint on the now-defunct Intellectuelle blog (it’s my contribution that was short and forgettable, not Intellectuelle itself).

In 2007, I discovered the world of home fitness and became obsessed enough with that to start a blog called Eclectic Domestic Works Out. I chronicled my P90x experience and documented my workout DVD collection as it grew to over 200 discs. I gave up on that blog in 2009, but I kept working out almost daily until Moppet 5 was born in 2011. Since then I have been more sporadic with exercise, but I have retained a lot of my fitness gains and I do work out fairly often in short spurts. I have no idea why that blog even exists in cyberspace anymore.

No Spring Chicken was born in 2010, a year or so into my Midlife Crisis. I was considering getting back into zinemaking at that time, but I guess I didn’t and started that blog instead. I still talked about diet and fitness a bit at first, but overall, NSC is a good screen capture of Who I Am Now (in germinal form). There are a lot of thoughts and feelings chronicled there, which were clarified for me a few years later, when I heard art historian Dan Siedell interviewed on The White Horse Inn, and then found Mockingbird. I last wrote on that blog almost exactly two years ago, when I started my eponymous blog (which shares characteristics with No Spring Chicken but has definitely also been a precursor to the business blog that will hopefully “go live” in early December.) I am also a “contributor” to the Creative Circle Blog, where I have not contributed since probably February.

One thing that concerns me about having a business blog or being a “contributor” or “guest poster” is how I will manage the contant drumbeat from the biz gurus to Stay On Brand, and even better if your brand is so inspiring and inspirational and full of those bright colors I hate. I’m sure I can come up with a somewhat cohesive and/or coherent “brand” (even with my various interests) but I don’t like the feeling that I can’t let the “brand identity curtains” get at all frayed. Like if somehow people get a glimpse behind the curated image, that’s a negative for your business. But since my business is called Rough Edges Life, I don’t want to feel trapped by my brand or like it is a facade. I need to have a place for my honest writing (especially since the zine is on hiatus) but not necessarily interspersed with “content” on a business blog. I think I will just keep this blog and link to it in my new About page, so anyone who might want to risk seeing “behind the brand” can do so.

Two women who were small-time bloggers on the periphery of my early blogging circle are undoubtedly millionnaires by now (Pioneer Woman and Ann Voskamp). I think it’s unlikely that I’ll become a millionnaire, but I am ready to “embrace the blog” again and see where that leads me.

The Year of Not Sharing – Maybe Part One

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If you will miss me when I am no longer hanging out in cyberspace, subscribe to my zine. I’m sure chronicling this experiment will be something I do a lot of in there.

I have been “on the internet” since 1996, so it’s almost 20 years, almost half my life. I don’t remember much of what I did in that shadowy early online world, except hanging out for a while on the message boards at John Michael Talbot’s Brothers and Sisters of Charity site. I was a new Christian and (as usual) my talent for being simultaneously ignorant about a subject and inappropriately vocal about it was alive and well. I hardly knew anything about Christianity or Protestantism and there I was, debating Catholicism.

I was in the Cage Stage of Libertarianism at the same time – I needed a cage inside a cage (and perhaps a straitjacket and definitely a sedative). I got a lot of great radical libertarian ideas online, to mix with my own thoughts (always a deadly brew) which I then put into my zines and mass mailings. My eyes glaze over when I think of it, I can’t imagine the eyes of my poor friends who had to read that stuff in real time.

As I look back over my online history (which, as an everyday memoirist, I can easily do because I have almost the whole thing printed out hahahah)  I see the majority of it as Identity Creation and/or Enhancement, which includes (but is not limited to):

1) Debating various topics in order to be perceived as intelligent and/or a good writer and/or communicator

2) Getting people with a similar (but more impressive – or impressively developed) identity to mine to accept me into their cool online cliques

3) “Sharing” my life, thoughts and activities so others (usually the people in #2) can approve of me because of (insert thing I do/don’t do/believe/don’t believe) or because I am “talented” in some way

4) Circling back to #1 to defend myself when people don’t actually approve of me or like me

The online time that isn’t conscious or subconscious Identity Enhancement (also known as self-justification) has been roughly equal proportions of unhealthy distraction from difficult emotions and finding/utilizing truly helpful information or services.

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Last week I watched the documentary Tiny, which is about people living in microhouses under 200 square feet. Everything they chose to own had to have both a purpose and a place, which is something I’ve always admired and want to emulate in my own non-minimialist way. I decided to think about each room in my home as a tiny house in itself, and that helped me to make some changes regarding both the stuff and how I manage the stuff. In one of the tiny houses, they had a small built-in bookshelf that was probably 4ft worth of total space, and it was fascinating to think which books are important enough to me that I would give them that kind of precious space. Anyway, I digress, but somehow that made me think about my time and what I put onto the proverbial but also limited Shelf of My Life.

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I have wanted to make a radical change in my life for some time. But my options for radical change are limited, being that I have five kids, a husband and a heading-towards-elderly mother who lives with me. I can’t just up and go backpacking across Europe. But taking into consideration my desire to be more mindful, more prayerful, more productive in things that matter…I decided that giving up most internet, and especially social media, was my best option.

Also, I want to make a zine every two months for the aforementioned Zinescription Plan, and I won’t be able to do that if I am always frittering away my thoughts and experiences and creative explorations in little social media sound bites.

Ever since I read the book Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping,  I’ve wanted to do a kind of psychological experiment on myself. I do want mindful spending to be a part of what I work on during this year, but since I don’t have what I consider to be an “issue” with shopping, that wasn’t quite the right experiment for me. I don’t think I have an issue with excessive internet or social media use as far as actual minutes spent, but I feel like somehow it sucks away energy for other good activities just by always being an option. I also want to remove it as an activity that I can use to distract myself from those circumstances or feelings that are uncomfortable or unpleasant.

I’m also curious to know how the very nature of the internet has contributed to my problem with focus. How is scrolling, clicking and being presented with short boring articles with hardly any content affecting my ability to read books or to think longer or more complex thoughts? (Of course, motherhood has already done that to a greater or lesser extent). Also, how does the act of reading onscreen vs. reading on paper differ, and do those differences matter for my brain and my life?

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“Before The Internet”, I still made and distributed zines and I communicated with a lot of people through what we now call snail mail. I used to write letters and send zines to authors I liked or people I wanted to connect with, and that almost always “worked”. I wrote to Vince Bugliosi (Charles Manson’s prosecutor) when I was about 15 and I got a long letter back from him. I wrote to Walter Williams and he sent me a copy of Frederic Bastiat’s book The Law. I want to start using the power of the post again. Right now I want to write to Mary Karr (author of The Liar’s Club and two other memoirs) and Dan Harris (author of 10% Happier) I also want to see if I can “grow my business” with just word-0f mouth from people who, for instance, subscribe to my zine. Regularly posting on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram to plug myself and my products or services is just not for me. I want to let God build my business, if I’m going to have one.

Too much self-promotion and I get depressed and overwhelmed. If it doesn’t seem to be “working” (meaning no one is buying, liking etc.)  I morosely wonder why I am even bothering. At that point it has become not about the work, but about my awesomeness quotient. And that fluctuates dramatically depending on how much I can sell or how many people “like” or “heart” or “retweet” the picture of my art journal page or my pithy 140 characters. I want to nip that cycle in the proverbial bud.

If I am mentally and emotionally projecting what I’m doing into the social media future while I am in the actual physical process of doing it, the enjoyment just seeps out of it somehow. I also feel like I am crafting an “image” and I hate doing that. I hate how internet images just present this facade of calm or contentment or got-it-togetherness that doesn’t match with real life, at least my real life (which I assume is similar to everyone else’s life in human condition generalities even if not in the particulars). When I get too caught up in that I feel like I am lying in some way, even if what I’m doing is only “selective sharing”.

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I don’t feel that way with zines, because the act of creating the zine takes quite a while and so is separated somewhat from other people’s opinions about it – even if it’s the week between printing and mailing. My ego is not as involved after even that small separation. I am also a super-confident zinemaker and in the realm of social media, I “share” more of my visual arts, where I’m not as confident because my drawing and painting skills are way less honed and/or impressive than my zinemaking skills. I’m not saying that everyone will love or like or even care at all about my zines. The point is that having this zinescription – wherein I also “share” with people – will most likely have a positive effect on me whereas using the platform of social media has had a negative effect (for whatever reason, I’m sure there are a bunch but I don’t feel like extrapolating.)

In Not Buying It the author determined what the “rules” were, as far as what constituted “shopping”. So, it was okay to buy any kind of food or alcohol (even expensive, gourmet or whatever) but it was not okay to go out to a restaurant or a bar. Then the question came up, is it okay if someone else takes her out to eat or drink, and the answer to that was no. The whole book is basically a chronicle of questions that came up, how she felt emotionally during the experiment, how often she “failed” (meaning broke down and bought something) and what “success” taught her. I have had to think about what internet use will be “okay” during this time.

What I CAN do:

– Read at sites like Mockingbird (whose most recent Technology Issue solidified my longtime desire to try this) and click through to any articles they reference in their commentary

– Shop on Amazon or Dick Blick or wherever (this includes reading reviews of books and products)

– Listen to podcasts like White Horse Inn or watch conference talks or Ted Talks or equivalent

– Use Pinterest for a certain purpose (though Pinterest has never really “drawn me in” so it doesn’t need any rules)

– Use a secret group I started on Facebook that has my six closest Internet Friends in it

– Find images to use in my zines

– Write and produce videos with my friend Donna at The Creative Circle

– Use Facebook Messenger

– Work on maintenance for my two websites, add pages, links to things I am selling, etc. but no blogging

– Post completed things listed FOR SALE on Facebook

– Watch Netflix or Amazon Video

– Use email

– Read the few blogs that are important enough to me that I already get email notifications, like Dirty Footprints Studio

That may seem like a lot, but none of it is stuff that I do all that often, and it has no Identity Enhancement attached to it nor does it control me in any way. Those are all things I see and use as tools, in a healthy manner.

What I CAN’T do:

– Post anything on Facebook or look at Facebook (except the two exceptions above)

– Make comments on any article I might read. I can directly contact the author of a piece if I have anything I want to say about it

– Post any of my political or social commentary anywhere online

– Use Twitter or Instagram (which I only recently started using and which had a negative effect on me almost immediately)

– “Share” any creative ideas or projects that are “In Progress”, anywhere online. If I want to talk about that stuff it has to be in my zine.

I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list of what “appropriate” use during The Year of Not Sharing. Facing those questions as they come up is part of the experiment. Right now I am wrapping things up. There are online friends I want to keep in some contact with while I am MIA. I want to finish my in-progress Everyday Memoir site, which is just a business site with no blog. I want to make a few strategic shares about my zinescription, and that’s about it. As the title says, this may be a Part One, but I assume that I will be hitting disconnect sometime in the next week.

Failed Plans and Schedules

The main article in my new zine is called My Favorite Time Management and/0r Productivity Books, wherein I share with you, yes, my favorite time management and /or productivity books (catchy titles have never been one of the more creative aspects of my zines).  If you have read the article, you will know that none of these books have succeeded in making me all that much more productive as a direct result of reading them (though I do think that, when taken cumulatively, they have had a net positive effect). An artifact in my Box of Important Papers is an envelope labeled Failed Plans and Schedules, which are just a fraction of my actual failed plans and schedules (more recent ones are a bit less fleshed out and live inside various journals). All of the ones in the envelope date from the mist-shrouded, long-ago years of my Godly Woman Phase (as you can see from the Biblically-appropriate illustration of the busy mother, working diligently in the home).

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I like looking through this stuff because some of the plans/planners are actually kinda impressive. I have thought that I could make some money designing and selling printables for homeschooling and life management. I would seriously be rich  if I had a million little businesses selling all the many services/products I have created over the years. I’m not sure if I am just truly lazy and don’t want to do the work of production, or whether daily living tasks are indeed so time consuming that I just can’t get to “art and business” regularly enough or is it that research and development really can take decades?

Looking at this stuff put me into Plans and Schedules Mode, but my current approach to that is thankfully a bit more organic and merciful than it was in the past. Beginning to see everyday memoir as a process is helping me to clarify my business objectives as well as channel my self-improvement tendencies into something less neurotic, more helpful, and something like market research on myself. I assume that whatever niche or demographic I am meant to serve with my creative talents and/or offerings is comprised of people who are something like me, so if I make and try something, if I like it, I assume there is probably a market for it.

A few days ago I had a lot to do in a few different “categories” of my life, and I was feeling overwhelmed. I decided I was going to take two hours and dedicate that to house and home stuff, then the next two hours would be dedicated to art and business stuff. One problem I have always had with a housekeeping “schedule” (do this or that on such and such a day) is that, well, either I just rebel against the schedule – being a natural lawbreaker – OR there is another area in the house that really needs work or a chore that really has to get done if my sanity is to be taken into consideration. So, what I did on that day was walk around and see what was really bothering me the most and/or what I felt like I could handle, and I did that stuff for two hours. Then I went in my art room and did a few different things for two hours. I liked that because it alleviated boredom but still required focus. I would not let myself move from one task to another until I was done with at least some pre-determined segment of the current task. It was cool to realize what stuff “fit” into each category. Today when I was in my two hours of “house tasks” I wouldn’t look at Facebook, but it was fine to look for rice pilaf recipes for dinner. No matter what I am doing, it’s always “acceptable” to make notes in my new mini-journal.

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I am thinking that after having a four hour block of “productive” hours (two “house and home” and two “art and business”) I will have a personal hour where I can exercise or read. I don’t expect this to work perfectly or be The Thing forever, but it combines the best of both worlds (Freedom Within Form).

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.