I give you two definitions:

Persist [per-sist] verb: To continue steadfastly or firmly in some state, purpose, course of action, or the like, especially in spite of opposition, remonstrance, etc.: to persist in working for world peace; to persist in unpopular political activities

          -Dictionary.com

“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

          -Albert Einstein (Supposedly; I wasn’t there.)

And all I’m saying is that sometimes, with revision, it can feel like a pretty darned fine line.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins133991.html#CrccpM4TWOF60oOb.99D
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins133991.html#CrccpM4TWOF60oOb.99

I am just about finished reading Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has Time, and over the course of its pages, I have had many responses, stretching across a broad range of emotions. At the top of all the reactions was, HOLY COW, THIS WOMAN CAN WRITE. Schulte has made me realize why, in this age of disappearing newsprint and byte-sized reporting, a young person might decide to go into journalism. Because Overwhelmed IS journalism, the kind of quality investigation and prose that made me, a person who often struggles with nonfiction reading, continue to pick up this book over the very excellent novel in which I am simultaneously turning pages. And, in one of the very few times I have ever felt this way about a nonfiction book, I am pretty darned crushed and disappointed that this is the only (although hopefully just the first) book that Schulte has published. Because, frankly, I want more of the questions she asks, of the research she collects, and of the exquisite prose she crafts.

Another strong response has been that I am obviously not as cynical as I thought, because–as I read the book–I was beset, over and over and over again, but a heart-compressing, mind-exploding rage. Schulte did thorough research for this project, and she includes a lot of it in the book. Research about law suits that women have had to file, lawsuits about being discriminated against for getting pregnant, for having children, for making family-based choices. Still, in 2014. F*ing still. Okay, logically, rationally, if you’d asked me if this kind of thing were still going on, I’d have said, yes, of course, duh, because I am a cynic. But apparently my heart isn’t. Because I am angry, hurt, disgusted. Yes, the book has been a bit of an eye-opener. I’m not sure what/if anything I will do with this new vision, but it’s better to get it than not. My awareness, at least, has been broadened.

I spent some time while reading and in the spaces between reading thinking once again about Feminism. I am a feminist and, as far back as I can remember, have always been. You don’t grow up a non-feminist when your mother who was one of the first female vet students at UC Davis and your father as a man who considered himself incredibly to have met and married someone who wanted to build a veterinary practice with him, as partners. For me, feminism is a no-brainer. That said, I’m not naive enough to think that everybody agrees on a single definition of the word, or identifies with it in exactly the same way. What I kept thinking as I read Overwhelmed was, do I see this as a work of feminism. I think that Schulte’s primary focus in the book is her research about working women with children and the way in which their lives can and do get out of balance, whether from an outside perspective or their own or both. It makes sense that this should be Schulte’s angle, because it was in this scenario that she found herself basically drowning in, as she calls it, “the overwhelm.” However, I also think that Schulte recognized for herself and recognizes in the book that the overwhelm hits all of us, women without children, women with children who choose to stay home or work from home, men with children and men without children. She delves into work styles of individual and companies; she explores social and individual influences and drivers; she shares her own personal stories and stories of others–men, women, corporations, and governments–all of whom who are trying to find their way. So, yes, I think this book is a feminist book, both with its slant toward the frustration and imbalances still around for women today, but also in the sense that feminism is–at its root–about equality and not giving up on our fights, all of our fights, to achieve it.

And the last big response was the way in which I found myself reading for clues to and ideas about my own overwhelm. Frankly, I think I’m pretty good at leisure. With my reading addiction and my high-level of introversion, I do make plenty of time for curling up with a book and letting myself do just and only that. It’s my recharge time, and I take it. I also don’t have particularly high standards of house-cleaning, cooking, or filling my family’s days and weekends with a long list of activities. And there’s a chapter on play, which adults (women more than men) tend to leave behind with childhood. I’m thinking about this one, but again–my preferred play as a child WAS reading, and I certainly haven’t left that behind. I’m not sure I need to take the trapeze swinging class that Schulte got herself, too, but I can watch for opportunities that make a ping in my brain and see if I want to pursue them. (Seriously, a half-hour or so with Barbie and her camper might do it). So, basically, I’m feeling pretty okay.

EXCEPT…”contaminated time.” I don’t have the book at hand to give you the exact definition, but contaminated time is essentially those minutes (hours?) that we are ostensibly at leisure, but in which our brains are still looping around the to-do list, or future choices we have to make, or questions about whether a past issue is truly resolved and put to bed. And, oh, yes, I do that. Contaminated time is why I go to yoga classes and why I have started meditating and listening to dharma talks. And, yes, the studies Schulte researched do pretty much show that contaminated time is more of a problem for women than for men. Which I believe. Again, I haven’t sat down and decided which, if any steps, I want to take to reduce the contamination of my time. But it’s another place that Schulte has me looking at myself, at my goals, and at what I might want to do differently to achieve them.

When I heard Schulte talk about her book to Terry Gross on Fresh Air, I knew I wanted to read it. But I think I was expecting something like a very well-written, even humorous self-help book. Which I wish there were more of. That is not what I got. And I’m glad. Because Schulte’s research and writing took me out of looking for a quick-fix solution for myself and brought me back into touch with what is such a varied and yet common reality for so many of us. For so many of us women, yes, but also for so many men. She got me thinking in a different way. And that’s always good.

I try not to talk too much online about the actual specifics of where I am on my writing path. I believe that moving forward consists of lots of ups and downs, some of those forward steps, and plenty of backward ones. I think that Jeannine Atkins’ Views from a Window Seat is probably the best collection of thoughts about all these steps and definitely the best overall representation of them and how they feel. I like to join in the conversation at times, and that’s usually what I use my blog and other social media for. Like I said, mostly I stay general.

Today, though, I’m kind of celebrating some specific steps. I’ve had a goal of getting a few picture books to the “ready” stage–ready for submission. From what I understand, if you’re submitting to agents (which I still want to do), they want you to have several ready to show them. So, for a while now, I’ve been working to add to my pile of one. I’ve switched back and forth between these others, sometimes struggling, sometimes following that light at the end of the distant tunnel, sometimes sitting back in frustration and exasperation. But, really, each one has–in its way–been moving forward on its own path.

As of today, my pile of “ready” has grown to three. Ready? Obviously, I don’t know if that means ready enough for an agent or an editor, but they’re ready enough to feel complete and cohesive to me, and I see a layer of sparkle in each one that whispers a quiet, happy “Yes.” And for a minute, let’s even take this out of the submission path, out of the “success” path, and just look at what it actually means.

I have written three picture books.

Wow.

As for the last one I still have to work on, there’s a little voice in me saying, “Hey, you have three. Three is several. Go ahead and send three.” Luckily (I think!), there’s a larger and much louder voice saying, “You almost have four. Keep going.” The little voice says, “But I don’t know what to DO with that one. (The little voice is kind of a whiner.) And the larger voice says, “You didn’t know what to do with the others either, many times. Remember?” And I remember. And the larger voice says again, “Keep going.” (The larger voice is kind of stubborn.)

So I’m pushing on. There’s another curve ahead on the path, and I’m going toward it. This time, though, the picture books in the “ready” pile are helping me along, kind of like rollerblades (a magical pair on which I can actually stay upright) gliding on pavement through a forest of beautiful trees with just a few scary animal noises in the distance. I’m happily carrying my pile with me, and I’m determined to make it a little bit taller.

And when I do…Well, who knows, really? But some kind of adventure–that much, I can tell you.

You know when you stare and stare at the monitor and your fingers just sit there on the keyboard doing nothing? Because the picture book in front of you may be technically fine, even good, but it’s not there yet and all the staring doesn’t seem to be giving you a clue about what would get it there? You haven’t found the magic?

The magic? That indefinable ZING! that is in the best stories and that–I really believe–is rooted in a word, a phrase, a detail, a structural twist, but when you read it, what you get is that feeling of Oh, Yeah! Or Ahhh.

Some examples? Sure.

  • Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska’s The Quiet Book: The absolutely perfect, layered, resonating choices of types of quiet that she made.
  • Jim Averbeck and Tricia Tusa’s In a Blue Room: The stubborness of the little girl, the patience of the mother, and the ever-increasing stillness of the room and the story.
  • Alan Arkin and Richard Egielski’s One Present from Flekman’s The ever-growing gap between the opposing goals of the grandfather and the granddaughter.
  • Sarah Stewart and David Small’s The Library: The utter contentment, even in the moment of highest conflict.

I’m pretty sure that each of these authors had their moments: first the staring, then…ZING! That Could-This-Be-It wonder that they pursued and found out Yes! Or maybe a few times, No! But then, finally, Yes!

Why am I writing about this today?

Because I may have just…

ZING!

sunzing

Yesterday, feeling a bit overwhelmed by the changes (unknown) still needed on one picture book, I went back to another that I knew was “close.” (Thankfully, I was right!). There were a couple of consistent comments from my critique group that I had agreed with completely, but that I still needed to take a look at and muse on solutions for. (Thankfully, again, those came relatively easily!) And then I started doing a read-through, since I hadn’t seen the actual words for a while.

And…bing! Something jarred me. For lack of a better description, the story is kind of a two-sided one, one that moves (hopefully in a great story way) from conflict to cooperation. And as I read through, prompted by a great piece of feedback from one critiquer), I realized that–for one important piece of the story–things felt one-sided. Off balance.

That description actually makes it sound like I reached a really clear understanding, all at once. Not true. What I had was more of a feeling–a pinch, a pause, a little alarm bell ringing in my head. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do about the problem; I’m not even sure that making things symmetrical is the right fix. But that bell…I love it. That sense that something is off, that recognition that the off part is right there, and that knowledge that this is where I need to work next. This is what makes revision so awesome (and, yes, so challenging). This is what reminds me that, “success” or not, I’m in the right place doing the right thing. Because I get it. I can see it. And with enough courage and persistence, I’ll probably be able to make it better.

Here’s to happy little bells in our brains.

I’ve been working on three picture books for a while now. Okay, quite a while. And I’m close. Sooooo close. But you know what it’s like? It’s like when you fold a piece of paper in half, then in half again, and again, and again…Apart from the physical difficulty, you could–theoretically–be forever able to fold the paper in half and never get to the end of the process. I’m at the stage where it feels like I could revise, then revise again, then revise again, and again, and again…

And then there’s this first draft of a middle-grade novel calling. Pages and pages and pages of first drafting. Hours of writing time when you don’t have to (yet) figure it all out, find the perfect word, get the theme and the plot and the character development totally nailed. That feeling of knowing you can put off all the “fixes,” because you’re still wandering through and exploring the problems.

Sure, yes, I know it isn’t really like that. First drafting has plenty of agony. Yes, I know it’s just a siren song right now, tempting me to procrastinate out of the picture books revision, avoid the fear, skip the frustration.

So this week I’m saying, No way, siren. I’m plugging my ears. Tying myself to the mast. Rowing with all my might through the rapids. And sticking with the hard stuff. Because all the work I’ve done so far? It deserves recognition and support. So it’s more picture-book revision at my place.

To infinity and beyond!

 

 

I just put this book on hold at my library.

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time

Why? Well, no, it’s not just the title resonating with huge echoes in my head. Typically, I would probably shy away from this title–it makes me think of people who say all the fault is in our era and that, if we just went back in history to when life was simple and children ran around in the grass for hours, we’d all be happy and at peace. Not that it’s a bad title, and maybe there’s just a bit of defensiveness in  my mind about the time I spend on Facebook, but whatever. :)

So why did I order it? Because I heard Terri Gross interview the author, Brigid Schulte, on Fresh Air earlier this week. You can listen here.

I actually haven’t heard the whole interview yet; I’ve been listening in bits and pieces as I fold laundry and tidy things. But I’ve heard enough to know I want to try the book. Schulte talks about waking up in the middle of the night, basically staring into the darkness at her insurmountable to-do list. She did research with people who study leisure time (yes, they exist) and talks about the man who labeled as “leisure” the time she spent playing tic-tac-toe with her daughter when they had car trouble and were waiting for help to come. Oh, yeah, that’s relaxing. She talks about what she calls her “stupid days,” when she forgets all she’s learned about handling life stress and spins back into frantic worrying. Sound familiar? It does to me. I tend to use the term “Tasmanian-Devil Days,” but “stupid” would also fit.

Note, I’m writing  this from memory and paraphrasing, so don’t quote me on the details.

Still, I doubt I’m the only one that will see themselves in Schulte’s stories.

One of the things she mentions that has helped her is doing tasks in chunks of time. I think what she means by this is giving yourself a single thing to do, perhaps in a set of hours, perhaps in a day.  So instead of coming home from work and spend the whole evening tackling multiple tasks, you chunk that time for one job. At least, again, this is my interpretation of the little bit I heard about this. (Obviously, this is why I need to read the book!) But the thing is, this is what I’ve been doing this week. I’ve been working on a temp project for the past couple of months, and when that finished up, there was this pile of paperwork. You know the kind. Oh, yes, you do! The stuff you push aside because it’s going to take more than five minutes, and you need that five minutes anyway to work on your main job, and when you’re done with that main job for the day, you really have to relax with a book because your brain is too tired to look at that more-than-five minute job. And so on and so on… The pile grows.

This was my week to do the pile.

No, I haven’t spent four days straight doing paperwork. I’ve done yoga all four days as well, and I’ve done plenty of reading (currently on The Merry Misogynist, in my reread of Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri Paiboun series). And obviously the dishes aren’t stacked quite a mile high.  But mostly it’s been about this paperwork.

I also haven’t written.

My first reaction as I typed that line was that I actually felt my eyes tear up a bit. And my stomach wants to tie itself into a knot. It’s not that I write every single day, and I actually do agree with what Nathan Bransford says in his blog post about not having to do that. But here I was, with a free week stretching out in front of me, and I chose to exclude writing. It was a tough choice, but when I looked at the week and visualized both the pile of paperwork and writing time, it was like staring at a fractured mirror, the kind someone has thrown a shoe at and won seven years of bad luck. On the other hand, when I gave myself permission to gently slide the writing out of the picture and revisualize just the pile (and the therapeutic yoga), I saw a clean, doable path for me to walk. Calmly.

My theme for 2014 is Staying Open. And I think a big part of staying open is, sometimes, letting go–if not always of the writing, then at least of going auto-pilot on the way we have to do things. The way we have to do writing. I do honestly believe that if I had tried to tackle the pile and be creative, I would have done neither well. And the yoga would have become at once another demand on my time and the thing that was failing to relieve my stress.

It’s Thursday afternoon, and the pile is pretty much done. It is completely managed. The follow-up tasks are clear.

As is my mind.

I’m pretty sure I have another week of available time for myself starting next Monday. And I’m thinking that I’ll be chunking that week again. But this time it’ll be for writing.

Have you experimented with this method of picking one task for a chunk of time? Do you feel like you’ve reaped benefits? Or do you feel like that to-do list is still looming over you, shouting NOT DONE YET in your face? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 92 other followers