The first time I thought about this was at a museum exhibit displaying selected pages from Michaelangelo’s notebooks. He didn’t just use his notebooks, he wore them out. Every page wasn’t a large drawing. Instead, he scribbled and sketched small studies in every bit of white space. The pages were old long before I saw them, but the brilliant swirls of his sepia ink still shined, crisp and indelible.
“Nothing went to waste,” I thought.
Using up the pages makes lot of sense, paper was probably scarce and expensive back then. Not like today. I was a frequent business traveler and writing on planes was sometimes my only uninterrupted time. My rationale was, “Well, I can’t take two journals. But what if I write to the end of this half-written one in mid-flight, then I won’t have more pages with me. Better take a whole new one.” It wasn’t long before the number of halvsies were gaining on the finished ones.
Just as it has been my mission this year to finish old pieces, I have been finishing off the halvsies. When I get to that last page, I feel like my writing and that notebook have had a second chance, like bowling for a spare. Yeah, it wasn’t like bowling a strike on the first go, but does anything worthwhile ever go in order, as planned, as hoped? All those blank pages are opportunities just waiting for us and picking up the spares, finishing the halvsies gives us a chance to find them.
I am hungry to observe real people who negotiate the complexities of their passions, professions — the courageous ones who are polished by their hard fought successes and failures. Arriving at BlogHer14, I didn’t know who Kara Swisher was but when she was introduced to the audience as the CEO of Re/code and Silicon Valley’s Most Feared and Well-Liked Journalist, I sat up straight and paid attention.
“People are afraid of her, and they trust her,” Barry Diller says. “That’s not an everyday combination.”
Within a few seconds, I learned what people in Silicon Valley had known for years. She calls it out in technology, a place where I made the career preserving choice to be silent. Swisher is intelligent, open, honest, and above all, unapologetic. I was late to the Kara Swisher party but will stay and dance until the lights come up and the band goes home.
BlogHer14’s serendipity gave me a chance to meet briefly with her. I introduced myself by telling her that she is my new spirit animal. We decided in the moment that she was a honey badger, which somehow led to roller derby.
“I LOVE ROLLER DERBY!” she said with a big smile. Then paused to confirm, “You do that?”
I explained that I referee banked track roller derby and she listened, nodded slowly. Here is the woman who scoops big tech news on a regular basis. She even played herself on HBO’s Silicon Valley. And, she’s a roller derby fan. Just as I cheer for her and her voice, she cheers for me. I had made a connection – keep doing, keep writing, keep at it because our heroes and rock stars need us too.
The last time I stood at the San Jose Convention Center was four years ago on a stretch assignment in trade shows and exhibits for a Fortune 30 manufacturing company. Despite the good intentions and great mentoring from my executive sponsor, I felt out of place at the office and on that trade show floor. No one looked like me or outwardly valued the same things I did. I left that job not long after and another, then took a leap of faith by stepping off from work, and wandered a bit.
In the days prior to BlogHer 2014, I’d been whispering to my friends about how nervous I was to attend. Then last Friday, I returned to the San Jose Convention Center and as I walked in the familiar physical space, I felt a bit of sadness from my former job. I’ve only been blogging for a few months. Yeah, I fully own that I’m a professionally trained writer, and these women publish regularly AND have followers. No, they have passionate armies at their fingertips. I pulled on the glass door to the registration hall and remembered how it felt to be an outsider.
When I sat down at the Pathfinder breakfast, the women of BlogHer 2014 welcomed me with warm smiles — as if I had been long lost — and they asked where I had been all of these years.
Over the next few days, many women continued asking about my story, something I had written and rewritten for years but as my words left my throat again and again — I learned about myself and being myself. And these women listened. They got it, like, not just polite nodding, I could see it in their eyes, they got me. I met these women (see above) and in minutes, our collective energy at the front table was strong and positive enough to catch the attention of Richelle Parham (CMO of eBay North America, @RichelleParham) while she spoke on-stage.
I met thoughtful women who speak their mind and they care. A lot. BlogHer women believe in civil disagreement. They believe in keeping the conversation going. They are creative and they iterate on ideas. They’re friendly.
They asked point blank questions about technology, culture, policy, politics, innovation, publication, and blog monetization. Everyone was there to figure out blogging and social networking – no one was an expert. When I ran into new friends later in the conference, they offered introductions and to others on a similar path. Giving, sharing, giving, sharing. I offered my help too. BlogHer women ask everyone to have a point of view, jump in, step up now, and be who you really are because the world needs you.
Yesterday, I left the San Jose Convention Center fortified with the smarts, fellowship, and business cards from my new BlogHer family. Today I’m back here alone at the page plotting my own revolution but if or when I need anything, anything at all, this force of sisterhood is just a few keystrokes and click away. Yes, I will return to the BlogHer conference and in some ways, I will never leave.
Last weekend, I attended the San Diego Wild Animal Park‘s Roar and Snore Safari. One of the many animal presentations included a cheetah and a dog. Cheetahs are nervous, especially in front of crowds of strange people who might be predators. The San Diego Wild Animal Park has been pairing cheetah cubs with shelter puppies and as they both grow up, the net relationship dynamic is that the dogs have a calming effect on the cheetahs. Dogs are used to interacting with people and sitting in front of a crowd presents no danger to them, just as the dog above demonstrates and the cheetah picks up on this, feels safer, less anxious.
Just as this cheetah is an animal ambassador, we are ambassadors of our work when we send it out or when we read in public. Putting ourselves out there may make us wish we could dash 100 yards away in 5.7 seconds but our writing needs our advocacy and no one else will do it for us.
We may attend classes, workshops, and conferences to develop our craft but we’re also there to be inspired by others and, yes, make friends. Did that second part make your gut cringe? It’s okay, mine did too. Can’t I just listen to the lecture and go home? No. I’m already tired from being here all day. Well, suck it up, buttercup. Fortunately, quality is more important than quantity, so take your time to find the right one or two.
And I’m not talking about networking (see #12), though certainly being well-connected helps. But knowing those people won’t do any good without the support from a few fellow writers whose friendship helps you take risks with your work and be brave when doing the difficult things that writing demands of us.
If I were ever to teach a writing class of any genre, Bradbury’s essay, “How to Keep and Feed a Muse” would be required reading. In this essay, he isn’t talking about some magical fairy sprinkling pixie dust on our revisions while we sleep — he’s talking about him, you, and me and how we care for ourselves as wide awake writers in the world because as he says in the first sentence, “It isn’t easy.”
His advice throughout the essay could prevent some heartbreak and encourage more excitement because that’s “the pattern that holds it all together.” Excitement isn’t a one-time thing, it’s something we sustain throughout our practice. And this isn’t because we need to appear cheery as a counterpoint to the stereotype of the writer riddled with angst – it’s because that’s where the honesty is. Bradbury explains, “…the search, the finding, the admiration, the love, the honest response to the materials at hand, no matter how shabby they one day seem, when looked back on.” He recalls being a kid sending away a wrapper from a box of macaroni for a toy and the reception that gorilla received.
This “daring to love silly things,” along with an “ever-roaming curiosity,” this is “to be a child one’s time” – this is the challenge that Ray Bradbury gives to us, this is how we care for our writer selves.
Every day I observe then jot notes, or type them into Evernote on my phone. I think while I’m driving, folding clothes and emptying the dishwasher. These activities are critical steps before I sit down to write. For me, writing is butt in chair, pencil moving across the page. (Revision may also include fingers on the keyboard.) And even though I don’t always make it to the page every day, sometimes when I’m there, it’s a no-kidding marathon, and I won’t leave.
But some days, some weeks, I don’t get to all of my writing projects. Every writer I know feels bad about lapses in their practice. I didn’t write today. This phrase is often followed by expressions of judgment like shame, guilt, self-doubt. There are many time management and tracking tools to address the practical tactical matters but for today, there’s something bigger I want to address.
My mind is a powerful multitasker — I can create to do lists while simultaneously feeling bad that I can’t complete them all. Eventually, I learned that no one can do everything — this lesson was harder than it sounds. And a couple of years ago, I decided to stop feeling bad. It takes a lot to get on in the world, earning a living, caring for people, and then there’s this matter of writing. I decided to cut myself some slack.
In fact, I decided to have fun.
I became a roller derby referee for a local women’s banked track league. When I officiate, I can’t think about writing. Or anything else for that matter. I can only focus on what I’m doing at that moment. Roller derby can be dangerous if your mind is elsewhere. It’s rewarding to keep games safe, enforce the rules, train with an outstanding ref crew, meet great fans who are passionate about the sport, and give time to groups like Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles. Roller derby, even for crisp time managers, is a part-time job and time away from writing.
This grand experiment has taught me that I’m a person who writes, not a writer who “persons.” It’s okay to be out in the world, away from my desk, focusing intently on something else other than the poem I’m crafting. I’ve learned to be a little more patient with myself, to be a lot more accepting of all of the opportunities that life offers and, above all, that I won’t forget about writing – I will return to my desk. I’ll even have a few stories to tell.
So it’s okay — go ahead, get out there, live a little, live a lot, live often.
Kaloakulua hatched on January 27, 2014. Here’s some of the first footage of her, thanks to @AlbatrossCam.
Yesterday, Kaloakulua decided it was time to finally go to her home in the wind. Mahalo to the vacationing videographers who caught her last moments on land.
Thank you to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology for letting us watch her grow and to the volunteers at the Kauai Albatross Network who have been tireless camera operators and advocates for these amazing birds. Fly, Kaloakulua, fly! See you when you come home to Kauai in three years!
These are my first words on the screen since I returned from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio on Saturday. The Kenyon Review is one of the oldest literary magazine in the United States and every June, they host a workshop for writers. 2014 was my fifth season — meaning that, yes, my week at Kenyon can feel like months where characters disguised as attendees, learn, grow and, more interestingly, change.
Don’t let the sleepy trees, dancing fireflies, old buildings fool you. Glance at, but don’t rest on the literary history because there simply isn’t enough time during that week — there’s too much homework. The bucolic setting that soothes the eyes is a necessary contrast to the frenetic pace of writing something fresh and new every day then sharing these fledglings with the sensibilities of writers who read — not to make you feel good or bad about your work — they read for the craft of writing, they advocate for what the piece seems to want to be. It’s not personal, it’s far more important than that.
But it’s not just drudgery. Over the last five seasons, I’ve begun friendships and this was the year they really started to bloom. This one week brings a handful of us scattered across the country back together. And, finally, this year, I know that when Time finally takes us and separates us, it will hurt. In a world that scrolls and rarely pauses, that’s always looking for the next thing, that’s disposable, recyclable — writing is especially lonely, but these friendships remind me I’m not alone.
This week, I felt my own resistance in so many ways — change isn’t free. Ugh, that prompt, I’ve written about that tons of times, I don’t want to write about thatagain – I’m so bored of that. And, he didn’t get what I was saying. (Turns out, he understood way more than I did.) And, my only response to that prompt leads me straight down cliche lane. I am so tired. I am on fumes. No, no, no. Shut up, open your notebook, pick up your pencil. Write, listen, write more, write through.
Keys Creek Lavender Farms just north of San Diego opens to visitors during the blooming season in May and June. I had the opportunity to tag along on a photographers’ shoot to raise funds for the repair of the farm’s recently collapsed beehive. On Saturday, costumed models posed in the fields, photographers hovered, captured beauty like the honeybees toiling in the lavender. I sat in the fields – out of the shots – observing the shapes and texture of its petals, the bend of its stems. In the last two years, I have been collecting sketchbooks, oil pastels, colored pencils — carting them back and forth across the US — mostly unused because I don’t know how to draw, but I like office supplies. And finally, I opened my sketchbook, started with dots, circles, then small buds, stems, followed the light, watched how the sun touched everything. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t been trained, I reached for the essence the best that I could, looking for new ways to see.
I read them until I fell asleep last night and the night before. #YesAllWomen stories. Fear, pay inequity, shame, anger, sexual assault, entitlement — are you listening? It won’t take long, fewer than 140 characters. Still not listening? Then, your ignorance is part of the problem. Listening is a sign of #respect. The stunned one when I asked him, “In your career, how many men have you given your ‘you ought to be a little nicer’ lecture that you just gave me?” Go ahead, tell me, I’m listening. #YesAllWomen are listening too. Silence. Silence doesn’t mean I’m alone because all along, as I walked into every lab, down every street, sat in every classroom, went on every date, rode every train, as I entered every board room and sat in business class where no one else looked like me — #YesAllWomen stood by me.