May- early mornings, writing, and ritual

Montpelier bridge

May has been a whirl of activity but let’s start with the 30-day challenge I began in April. My goal was to wake up every day, at 5:18 am, for 30 days. I missed a couple of days, primarily because after the second weekend I asked myself, “Why are you getting up this early on the weekend?” I modified the challenge and did not set an alarm on Saturdays and Sundays; however, even without an alarm, after about four days I found myself naturally stirring around 5:15 am.

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Rising early set me up for the next goal for May. I had been accepted for the Vermont College of Fine Arts Novel Retreat, which took place May 15-21. This experience was positive and affirming for me as a writer because I was able to accomplish a few goals I established for the retreat:

  • Spend hours a day writing, starting a new (and lengthy) project that I want to write,

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Morning Routine

bird at sunrise

I started a 30-day challenge to get up each morning at 5:18 a.m. Why? For the past few weeks I have felt a creeping discontent with my ability to stay on track with some of my priorities. Around three o’clock or so, I would consider my day and end up frustrated because I had not made progress in the areas I told myself were most important—writing and wellbeing. Maybe I would get a little writing done, but not enough movement, or I would be so determined to get in the Orangetheory workout that I would piddle (this means dawdle in southern Ohio speak) when I got home, never really working on the essays that swirl around in my head. Continue reading

A Snowy Day

A snowy day here in northern Indiana. Days like this are perfect for writing, and if it warms up, venturing outside, even if it’s only to open the front door and take it all in. Stay warm!

 

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Retreat

Bright Green Door

I’m back from a writing retreat, one that I scheduled and planned at a cottage near Lake Michigan. I spent the first day alone and then a friend who is also a writer joined me for the remainder; she is working on her book and an amazing project.

Writing has been hard the last few months. In August, my family learned that my mother’s illness was serious; she was very sick. Thirty days later, she passed on.

I cannot find the right words to tell you more about her at this time, other than to say I love her and I am so grateful to have been blessed with her as my mother and guide. I had no concept that grief would be so heavy, numbing, and unpredictable, but since her passing, I am learning more about the impact of loss  than I knew before, even though I have gone through other challenges. At the beginning, grief caused me to switch between two impulses—a total retreat, into myself, to deal with the hurt; and a persistent urge to open my front door, and walk and walk and walk, until I arrived…somewhere.

I felt my mother’s presence over the last few days, encouraging me, happy that I had found yet another place to visit, wanting to hear the details of how the cottage looked, how the rooms were arranged, if it was near water.

Alone at the dining room table, I began to write and feel happiness creep back into my life. I slept well, full of words and ideas for future writing. When it was time to leave and close the door to the cottage, I felt like I could walk through another door. One where I could grieve my loss and yet be happy, retreat for healing and come back renewed.

 

 

 

 

Ritual – Put the Keys in the Chrysler

Car Keys

My father has always purchased Chryslers. I remember the green Plymouth Fury III that he drove to my friend’s house one afternoon to pick me up; it was not our first car but I loved the surprise of him showing up in a new one. Later there was a light blue gray Chrysler that he drove on his carpool days when I was in high school. For a few weeks until he got it repaired, the horn used to randomly sound off if he turned the steering wheel a certain way. The intermittent honks and beeps could have been embarrassing but I ignored my friends’ quizzical looks and acted as if it was the nervous tic of a car overly stimulated by chatty teenage girls. Continue reading

Summer Hiatus

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Hasn’t this summer been beautiful? It occurred to me that while some say it is half over, I still have several weeks to enjoy this season. I am going to take August off from blogging, and devote more time to my other writing and getting to the stack of books I want to read.

I’ll return after Labor Day, refreshed and ready to start the new (school) year. I’m not enrolled in school but August has always been my favorite planning season and feels like nearly back-to-school time for me.

Savor summer; I don’t want to hear any fussing about how much you miss it once winter rolls in.

Ramona

 

Working and Writing from Home – Five Easy Rules

You are not likely to find me writing in a coffee shop. I don’t drink much coffee and I need quiet to write. That rules out most Starbucks. And I will occasionally drink a coffee from Dunkin Donuts, but could never work there. That is where the sour cream donuts live and they often boss me around, telling me that I will be okay with just one. So I usually grab the coffee and run out, trying to ignore the donuts whispering at me from the case.

There is Le Pain Quotidien, my favorite spot. I can work there. Scribbling revision notes at the table, warm mug in hand, looking out the window to see the passersby, glancing around the room to make sure that the lunch crowd is not heading in, making me feel like I need to give up my table. And the food, organic and artfully presented, makes me believe that if I order, at least I’m doing my body good.

But the best place for me to work is at home, alone, in my office, perhaps with the TV or radio tuned to a classical music station. No jazz or lyrics, I am easily distracted.

Friends often ask me how I work from home, without anyone to talk to in the next cubicle, and with all the undone chores in plain sight.

It is easy. I follow the advice of my brother, who gave me Rule 1. He mastered the art of the home office decades ago.

Rule 1 – Don’t do anything during your at-home workday that you would not do if you were in the office. This means that I seldom do chores during the day, unless it is tossing in a load first thing in the morning, or washing my dishes right after lunch. You wouldn’t bring your cute lace undies to work and fold them on your desk, so don’t do that during the work part of your day if you’re supposed to be writing or working.

Rule 2 – Get dressed. Yes, I know that I may not see anyone except for the mailman, or a neighbor walking a dog, but I dress for myself. And unless I am taking a walk during a break to revise in my head, I avoid workout clothes, at least making an effort to put on a nice tee with comfy pants or a skirt, or occasionally a dress, just because I love dresses. I can guarantee that if I am sitting in a robe (or housecoat – now there’s a lovely 1950s word) at 11 a.m., one of two things will happen. I will get a call to meet a friend for a quick chat and be unprepared, or I will feel slightly sloppy until I am properly dressed.

Rule 3 – Have a game plan. The night before, I review my goals for the next day, so I don’t waste the first few hours of the day flitting around, trying to figure out what to write, read, who to call, or what I need to do to move forward on a project. If I know where to start I can at least get going, and that helps me be more productive during the day.

Rule 4 – Allow for breaks and serendipity. See rules 2 and 3. Sometimes I choose to revise while doing yard work, and I don’t feel bad about it. Or a friend who has an office job calls to see if I can get free for an hour. If it doesn’t completely throw off my schedule, I say “Yes,” (because I am already dressed and ready to go) and get on with my day after I’ve had a chance to connect.

Rule 5 – Learn your own rhythm. (Rhythm is a hard word to spell; I always want to add an “n” in there, making it something like hymn) Get to know your peak periods and when you seem to drag. Take breaks to move or get outside. And avoid the cookies. They are not your friends. Not if you eat them every day, every break.

I could probably go on but these are the five rules that have helped me, and I have worked from home more often than not over the last 20 years. If you have any great tips, please share them; they might help someone else get the rhythm of this thing.

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.

 

 

 

French Lessons – Exploring Nice

There are places I have been drawn to and France has always been one of those places. I studied Latin in high school for three years and then switched to French because I wanted to learn a language that was spoken on a daily basis, not just in church or classrooms. In college, when friends departed for other countries in study abroad programs, I realized that immersion might be the best way to experience a different language and culture.

I was fascinated by Josephine Baker for a time, and admired her taking leave of the states and forging a career and life abroad. James Baldwin, a brilliant and prescient writer, also made his home in France. And the fact that my family had roots in Paris, although it was Paris, Kentucky, was a source of amusement for me. It had been over 20 years since my last trip to France and this year I decided that it was time to return. Continue reading