Simplicity

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Eden Park, Cincinnati, Ohio – May 2017

I have been clearing my closets—of clothes I don’t wear, or outfits that represent a life I no longer live. I didn’t need so many white blouses; I am convinced that those many years of wearing uniforms in grade school could be part of the problem. There is something about the crispness of a starched white blouse that says I am ready to work, whether it is cotton, eyelet, or linen, long-sleeved or sleeveless. But I had accumulated more than I needed.

I walked around my home, rummaging through shelves, opening doors, and looking for items I kept but no longer appreciated. Anything that was in good condition became a candidate for donation, to Goodwill, the women’s shelter, or the homeless center. I want to streamline my life, prune it of the extraneous and unnecessary, so I can focus on the activities that matter to me, like my writing and wellbeing.

You might think that clearing clutter means that I no longer shop. To the contrary. In fact, my style of simplicity is informed by the notion that I am more thoughtful about what I purchase and would rather save more and wait to get what I really want and treasure, rather than buy something that I will tire after one wear or use. It means that because I don’t eat meat, I willingly pay a bit more for a luscious piece of fruit, maybe organic, because that is how I would rather spend my money. I saved for a new dresser recently and I am eagerly awaiting its delivery today, because it is the first one I have picked out for myself, even though I love the midcentury piece I inherited from my grandfather and have used it for decades. I chose this dresser, waiting for years until I found one I wanted, and that makes it special. My other dresser will find a place in another room; I will not give it away, not yet.

As I release some of my possessions I am also examining my use of time. I said no to a couple of projects and resigned from a board, and I decided that for this summer, I really want to have my family and friends here for visits, so I put these dates on the calendar first, rather than squeezing them in among obligations.

Curating my commitments has also led to more time for writing, which has become my priority after my relationships. Writing is also on my calendar; I schedule a block of time to write each day, Monday-Friday, leaving the weekends a bit more fluid. It is not a rigid schedule, of course I’ll change as things come up, but one way I honor my writing is by making time to do it. I will not finish the essays, blog posts or the book that are in me if I treat my writing with a “get in where you fit in” attitude.

It is a process of asking myself, almost daily, if what I am doing is going to lead me where I want to be—in writing, with relationships, wellbeing, etc. By pruning my life of excess, in my closets, unhealthy eating, junk news, I create a more open, expansive world, one that I hope is suited to helping me focus on my values, dreams, and goals.

Dominique Loreau, in her book, L’art de la Simplicite´, addresses this issue of examining our possessions and use of time to determine what we would discard, keep, or add to our lives. It is not about deprivation, but rather about being mindful of what we choose to own, do and focus on.

She writes, “It is better to live with high aspirations than mediocre realities.” Consider what inspires you to create a more positive life and surroundings, what assists you in the pursuit of your dreams. For me, it began with clearing my closets and my calendar.

 

 

 

New Book-Family Stories from the Attic

I am excited about the arrival of a new anthology that features one of my essays. Family Stories from the Attic, published by Hidden Timber Books, was released this month. My essay, Without Words, appears in this wonderful anthology that holds stories about what we learn from the items our loved ones once cherished enough to hold onto. My story is about a different way of coming to learn more about someone when they are no longer able to talk with you. Through the words of the 22 writers in this book, you will come away with what it means to be in family, and how many questions are left unanswered if we don’t seek the deeper meaning in these artifacts. If you are blessed enough to have family members around whose stories you do not yet know, spend a little time with them, ask them about their favorite memories, lessons learned, or people they loved growing up. Then be prepared to sit and listen.

I hope that you will consider picking up a copy of Family Stories from the Attic; it is available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and some independent bookstores will soon be carrying it. I’d love to hear from you if you read it, and let me know how conversations with your family members are going.

Peace and blessings,

Ramona

My Encounter with an Owl

This weekend we change our clocks, and in less than two weeks it will officially be spring. If you have ever had that feeling that someone is following you, tiptoeing to catch you by surprise, that is how I feel about the coming of spring. It is windy today and the first daffodils are in bloom. I am visualizing how my yard will be in full bloom midsummer, mentally plotting where I will plant the three hydrangea bushes I ordered, and considering how I can spruce up my screened-in porch. I have decided to not wait until it gets warm to sit out there; all I need is a good chair and a blanket. A peaceful way to start my day.

Last week I looked outside and saw something moving in a corner near a large urn that sits on the porch. It was grayish, not the brown of the dried hydrangea blossoms that I placed in a bundle in a wooden bucket last fall. Continue reading

Inspiration-Women

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I just finished Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, and although I have read many of her other works, this was the first time that I read this book. When I was done, I felt like something in me had cracked open.

Her words are beautiful even when the lives described are not. But there was one section that insisted I read it again and again, and it captured something I know to be true. Continue reading

NaNoWriMo – I Finished!

Reporter working at typewriter.

 I did it! I wrote over 50,000 words for my novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In NaNoWriMo, you are declared a winner by finishing 50,000 words, but I felt like a winner after the first week. As I said in my first NaNoWriMo post at the beginning of the month, this was a challenge to find out what I could accomplish with focused effort. I know that my novel needs more work and lots of revision, but it feels great to have started.

Some of the lessons I learned are: Continue reading

NaNoWriMo – Day 18 Word Count

Reporter working at typewriter.

It is Day 18 of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), my word count is 27,518 and I am not finished writing for the day. It is time to take a break and get some fresh air, run a few errands. I took my time writing today because I had to write a pivotal scene that I have been building towards for weeks (or should I say words?)

Something happened in my novel this week that was not planned. The story took a direction that I had not foreseen, so I followed it down the corridor to see where it was leading me. I also had a glimpse of what another novel could be, based on some of the subplots and characters I might not be able to include in this story. No need to get ahead of myself, I still have lots of work to get to 50,000 words.

Have a good weekend!

NaNoWriMo Day 11 Word Count

Reporter working at typewriter.

This is a quick NaNoWriMo update – as I anticipated, this has been a slow week for writing, due to some other work that had to come first. I am just over 16,000 words and that is fine given all that is going on. I have written something for my novel every day this week, so consistency has been good. That’s what I am learning this month, that consistency is the way to getting things done. Next week is going to be better, I don’t have so much on my schedule.

Have a good weekend!

Ramona

NaNoWriMo – Day 4 Word Count

 

Reporter working at typewriter.

Hello and thank you for checking in on me! I have received so many encouraging words – here, face-to-face, and through email. Last week I told you about my commitment to participate in National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. I’ll need to complete 50,000 words by the end of November; this is my weekly update.

Great news – it is Day 4 and I have 12,730 words on my work-in-progress! I set a faster pace for the first week because I know that I have other projects coming up and the holiday, so I wanted to get off to a strong start. I am having a blast, and like the characters that I am writing about. Wish me well, I am going to keep it up!

 

 

NaNoWriMo 2016

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NaNoWriMo, National November Writing Month, begins next week on November 1. For 30 days, I will join hundreds of thousands of writers around the world, working towards one goal—to complete a novel of 50,000 words during November. This is my first time participating in NaNoWriMo and I am excited.

I usually write shorter pieces, such as essays and profiles, and I have never completed anything this lengthy or large or imposing in my years as a writer. But I have various stories floating around in my imagination, stories that I want to explore, and I decided it would be a good challenge; I want to see what I can create after a month of focused work. I will need to write nearly 1,700 words every day to get to the finish line, but I am certain that some days will have me zipping past that goal, while other days will be a struggle to get down the first few sentences.

On December 1, I do not expect to have what could be truly called a novel, at best, it will be a messy draft, a jumble of words, twisted plots, and characters. Part of me wonders if by rushing through this process, I can develop any real sense of what it means to write a novel. I know that the real work of writing comes in revision, not in the first draft. I did not learn how to swim by putting on a swimsuit, or run by choosing running shoes based on color. After November, I may have to walk away from this work for a while, giving it time to settle in, and go back later and revise it into something that can carry the label “novel.” It doesn’t matter; I am thrilled by the prospect of trying to tell a story that is interesting enough to hold my attention for its first 30 days.

Accountability is a good partner, so I will post my word counts here every Friday during November, which will keep me focused on my progress and let you know how I am doing. If you think you have a good story in you, and want to join me, you can sign up at NaNoWriMo or just start writing on your own.

Reporter working at typewriter.Starting word count: zero, but lots of ideas…

We are All Artists

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It took a while before I felt comfortable calling myself a writer. Saying that you are a writer elicits so many questions. Some are easier to answer, such as, “What do you write?” or “Are you working on a novel?” When I respond to the first question, I explain my love for the essay form and that my favorite genre is creative nonfiction. That term sometimes requires explanation—isn’t all writing creative?— but then I add that I use the tools of the novelist while telling a true story. This seems to help them understand, and I can point them to examples, essays, books, or magazine pieces that fall under this genre.

The second question is a bit trickier, because many people immediately think of novels when you say that you are a writer. I savor novels too, with their characters and plots, evocative descriptions, and scenes. I even made an unfinished attempt at a novel many years ago, but I did not finish it. I didn’t commit the time, the plot began to flounder, and I put it aside.

Then comes the inevitable third question “So have you written a book yet, are you published?” Even though I have been published, I had to learn that being published, the frequency of it or the recognition it can bring, cannot be my sole reason for writing. If I have labored over a work, then it is often my intent to send it out, to share it with others. But first, I had to get over imagining the book cover, the catchy title, book tours and readings. I was left with only one course of action – I had to sit down and put the words on paper. All of those imaginings are great for inspiration and ideation, but until I place the words on the page, wrestle, tease or play with them until they are properly positioned, it’s all make-believe.

Writing forces me to deal with my desire for perfection. Every time I sit down at my desk to begin a new piece, I wonder how it is going to turn out, or if it will be any good. At first. But the best part of writing is that I give myself permission to just let the words come, whether they are in a rush so swift I cannot contain them, or if they come as a measly drip, drip, drip, one tentative word at a time. When I finish the day’s writing, I always am slightly amazed at myself, not because the writing is so incredible, because it is not most of the time, certainly not right away. I am amazed because I sat down with the intention to write and I did it. I kept a commitment to myself, using a gift that I let languish for years because I was busy doing other stuff. I used to want to be like those people who discovered their vocation early in life, wishing that I had started sooner on this writing life. I have made peace with that dream, because I have lived long enough to have rich and varied experiences, and enough years have passed that I have perspective and insight about what I have gone through.

I believe that everyone is an artist of some sort. Creativity has to be nurtured, but it must also be explored. This exploration takes place when we become more aware of the diversity of thought, experience, style, and culture around us. Without this awareness of different perspectives, an adult tells a child that her picture “doesn’t look quite right,” and believes it. A writer tells a story, and because it is so foreign to your worldview, you dismiss it, instead of looking for the kernel of truth or insight, or even humor, that might be present.

I am partial to the written word, but I also have explored sewing, pottery, singing, dancing, and improving my French and Spanish. I go to hear other authors read, visit museums, poke around in small shops, searching for other ways to look at and feel the world. We are all artists of some sort, and to the question, “How do I get paid for it?” my advice is not to wait to figure out how to make money at it, at least not right away. Practice, explore, get better, and then consider if this craft is something you love enough to pursue whether it feeds you or not. I think you will be enriched by the experience of exploring your creativity, whether it becomes your livelihood or not.