Wednesday, November 26, 2014

377 days - Blog #119 thoughts while shoveling or the validation of lazy

I get a lot of thinking done when I shovel.  I suppose that is one reason I like to do it so much.  Even when I now have a snow blower and a neighbor who gives me a very reasonable rate to clear the driveway if I didn’t want to.  But it is good exercise and a very real opportunity for me to see that I’ve accomplished something.

I have a proclivity for laziness sometimes… or at least the tendency to lose my focus and not finish a project.  Shoveling, much like cooking or rehearsing for a play means there is a fixed point in time and necessity for completion.  I won’t be able to leave my house if I don’t clear the driveway.  I won’t be able to get back up the driveway if I don’t clear it properly and leave bits of snow to melt and ice over.  So I work very hard to finish what I begin.

I was thinking about that.  How I do work very hard on the driveway.  I’m probably the only one who has any appreciation for my accomplishment, but I am aware of the effort.  Indeed, I make more of an effort to workout when there isn’t snow during the winter so my heart and muscles won’t hate me for it.  I could use that other option – the snow blower (which is an effort) and make it a little easier on myself.  Or, as I think of it, be lazier.

Credit patries71 via Flickr Creative Commons
 Yes, I am one of those hippies who protests against modern conveniences.  I don’t much care for machinery that pollutes the atmosphere in the name of a little ease and ‘extra’ time.  I don’t really think that a cake mix from a box is easier or better than taking a few (really, it is a few) additional steps to make from scratch.  But I also recognize I’ve constructed a lifestyle where those are acceptable uses of time.  Someone else might see it differently, as one defender of leaf blowers argued to me that it allows more time with family.  (Although it completely ignores the fact the noise pollution intrudes on other people’s conversations and time with family… but whatever.)

Anyway, as I pushed the slushy snow to the sides of my driveway and pulled up the tree branch that had split near the turnaround, I thought about these opinions of hard work versus lazy and how we choose to see if our time is well spent.

In a lot of recent political punditry there are arguments about the poor.  How they are lazy because… they don’t get a decent job.  Because, obviously, they are poor.  Okay, that’s a trite sentence… but the expression seems that way to me.  And I thought of all those people who complain about the lazy poor working two part time jobs and needing food stamps.  Would they be the sort to shovel their own driveway?  Or rake leaves?  Or make a cake from scratch?  Or empty the trash?  Or scrub a toilet?  I bet those part time jobs are hard work – a daily ritual of an effort like shoveling my driveway at minimum wage.  And yet… it’s lazier than having a desk job where one can switch windows over to the internet or take an hour lunch?  

We have a lot of disrespect for jobs that require physical labor.  It asks too much of us to take time to do something.  And because it takes time, it isn’t quick.  So does that equate laziness?  

Don’t we crave laziness though?  As much as I love shoveling, the reward is sitting on the couch and watching Netflix.  Getting through a long day at work justifies sitting in front of my fire with a glass of wine.  In the summer people go to the beach and sit in the sun all day.  Oh – wait – that’s not laziness.  That’s leisure.  


Anyway, shoveling does make me think about random things.  It also wears me out so I lose that train of thought when I sit down to write about such things.  

Maybe some day I will have the enthusiasm and level of focus for writing that I do for shoveling.

Now, I think I will indulge that lazy and enjoy this fire as it warms my toes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

377 days - Blog #118 or how sometimes in order to think I write and I'm going to take you, dear Reader, down the rabbit hole with me

A couple years ago I was having dinner with a friend and we were reflecting on our age and how it related to our child bearing potential.  She said how sometimes she imagined the child that could have been born if she had a baby at the same age as her mother… or some other benchmark of significance.  I shrugged and said I never thought that way.  I wasn’t in that place yet.

As I approach the end of my 30’s, I confess sometimes I do that now.  If I had a child when I was 27 or when I was in the company of someone I might have let get away.  I don’t like to live in regret… but considering the best potential of my child bearing years is now behind me, I can’t deny the ghosts of those children sometimes float into my brain.

The thing is they could be anyone.  They could be a boy or a girl.  They could be a toddler or a teenager (I guess I could have a 16 year old at my age).  If I don’t think about the father, the child could be white or black or any combination of our amazing American rainbow.  And it isn’t really regret that comes with them.  Maybe it is the writer in me that imagines a life – and the imagining is usually about two or three minutes – so it isn’t a very detailed life – in which this child might live.

This isn’t to say I have ANY concept of what it is to be a mother.  I know every mother on the planet will hasten to remind me how good I have it as a single person who can sleep in on the weekends.  But there is a lot of untapped love and fear and grief and joy wrapped up in those imaginary offspring.  Which is probably why I can’t watch violence against children on television.  Or why I hear the laugh or a cry of a toddler in the store now as some sort of melody.  Or why I feel so crushed about a headline like the one exploding across the country today.

This morning, that is where my thoughts lingered.  On the mother of Michael Brown who, regardless of the headline, must confront her first Thanksgiving without her son at the table.  I confess I tried to think of Darren White’s mother… but, I guess that’s where my imaginary sense of motherhood failed.

Actually, I felt a bit of a failure last night when I heard the news.  I wasn’t even paying attention, really.  I happened to be on the phone with my sister and she was the one who lost focus.  I wasn’t really there mentally or emotionally, but after I got off the phone I went on Facebook.  I listened to Obama for a bit.  But I didn’t have any sense of what to think or feel.  I wasn’t angry.  I was… kind of numb.  Almost apathetic… because, really, is it that surprising?  Any of it?  The grand jury’s decision?  The fact there was violence. I mean, Jesus, we can’t keep our shit together over a hockey, baseball or football game… why do we expect reasonable behavior after a pressure cooker of waiting and hyping up the fear through media all day long?  I wasn’t surprised at any of the headlines.  Nor was I surprised very much by the opinions I ended up seeing on Facebook.  A little disappointment, I confess, in some… but whatever.  I didn’t want to get too worked up.

If I’m honest though, I was mostly disappointed in myself.

It’s been a year since I left my job at Urban Improv.  I work in an art museum now.  I live in a rural town.  I do community theater.  My life has become so very white.  So very white.  Not just socially – but I feel disconnected from the conversations and debates that pushed my way of thinking about these social injustices.  My life is budgets and excel sheets and Raphael and armor.  My theater is doing plays about white people that seeks out white people except when absolutely necessary and still thinks it is okay to use the word oriental.  My writing is even… I have a book on the back burner.  A book that, I tell myself, is marinating.  I’m actually just scared to go back to it.  Because no one will want to read it.  Because I fear my ability to do it justice.  Because it is about race.

Wait.  What does this have to do with anything beyond artistic ego and self-pity?  Maybe nothing.  Maybe everything.

It would be very easy to fill this blog with pointed fingers.  With cries over what is wrong with our country.  The excesses of police force.  The targeting of young black men.  Fear. Guns.  Why this opinion is wrong.  Why my opinion is right.

But what is the point of that?  Really.  What happened last night wasn’t a surprise.  And it won’t be the last of its kind.  So why rant and rave about all those things in this blog?  Haven’t I already done that before?  And what does that opinion matter if the reality of my life is so very contrary to those opinions?  If I only seek to complain about the problems and do nothing to participate in their solutions… how am I any better than that grand jury or a looter or the person who watched this story on Fox News this morning?  


Maybe it is the latent mother in me.  That desire to want to fold the world in my arms and say it will be better, but also put the ones who got it wrong in the corner until they figure out how to do it right.  But I can’t do that.  Not really.  That’s actually a lame metaphor.

But I’m going to keep it there.  I’m not going to delete that paragraph… because the whole point of this rambling is that I am struggling today.  I struggle to know how to feel, how to think… and most importantly how to act.

I encouraged my Facebook friends to take these debates offline and have a conversation.  I know that no one will take up on my personal invitation to actually do that.  And I know my own failure in personal conversation when the subject of race clunks out of someone’s mouth onto my dinner table.  I can’t even talk about that book that I’m not writing without feeling some sort of apology for bringing up the subject with people who get all squirmy about it.

I need to stop.  And I need to stop waiting for people to talk to me.  I need to talk to them.  Not confront.  I need to remember it’s more like saying, hey, you know you have a piece of spinach in your teeth.  Not pretty, but it’s not an insult to tell you that it’s there.

 Watch this. If not now, come back to it.  He says it all a million times better than I ever can.

I need to talk about this more.  I need to expand my own circle so I’m not just talking about what I don’t know.  I need to learn and listen as well.

I want us to talk about this.  So, dear Reader… I know I have a few of you out there and I’m not the kind of blogger who encourages conversation and comments very much.  But today, if you are scanning through this, please say something.  I am listening.

Monday, November 24, 2014

377 Days Blog #117 Creative vs. Destructive

Last week a Facebook friend posted a piece about The Walking Dead.  I watched the first season of that show on Netflix in one big gulp three years ago.  I had just finished working on a play that I hated doing with every fiber of my being.  My body, my emotions, and my brain were tired.  So much that I got sick, as one inevitably does after a series of late night shows and self-medicating - but not self-caring - to avoid any thoughts of that play.  I required some mindless (and maybe even some destructive) distraction to get me through that decompression.  I was living in Worcester at the time and was frequently alone in the house.  The television was in the cellar.  I note this only because my binge took me from daylight into the dark of a fall evening and I was scared to get off the couch to just turn on the lights.

That scared… that getting inside my head and perception of reality… convinced me it was good writing.  I liked the characters and the conflict.  Okay, I liked that it was the guy from Love Actually who does that thing where he zips up his sweater (his very subtle but handsome British style of dress) after Keira Knightly figures out he has a thing for him and his physicality is so jumbled because he can’t express his emotion.  I love those thirty seconds of speechless acting.  And yeah, that was mostly the reason I even bothered to watch.

That said, I went back when the next season was released.  There is something fun, even if infantile, about scaring yourself to the point that you are too frightened to move.  Well.  Fun when you are alone in a well populated neighborhood.  Now… in the darkness of rural New England, it isn’t so much fun.  Plus, in the second season a child was shot.  By accident.  But, nonetheless, a child was shot.  I don’t do well with violent acts against children.  I don’t always do well with violent acts in general… at least if it doesn’t serve the purpose of the story but is just there to add more blood.  I don’t think that was why the accident happened in the script of the episode.  It actually created some conflict and a catalyst for further storylines… but it’s all fuzzy now (and you don’t need to correct me – I don’t care) because I stopped watching it then.  I stopped watching it because I don’t find that entertaining or thought-provoking.  I realized at that point that something in me had changed.  I didn’t even (as several of my peers declare happens) have to have a child of my own to understand that empathetic grief.  Something about that scene just made me draw a line in my own personal taste and tolerance for violence.

Which is the point of those three paragraphs.  This is my personal taste.  I am not asking for a disagreement or a conversion with any arguments of writing or character development.  Nor am I going to condemn you if that is your personal taste.  I find that for me, I would mostly rather watch/read/write something that is creative and not something that destroys.

In spite of the fact I drew that line three years ago, my ability to articulate this proclivity just came to me over the weekend.

Creativity is somewhat approaching a religion with me.  Not in that blind worship way (at least I hope not.)  But in the, this is what I believe in as a higher form of our human existence sort of thing.  Not as a solid truth.  As an aspiration of bettering my soul.  Of improving my life.  I ask all my dinner guests as they sit at my table to tell me of their creative accomplishment from the week.  To tell one another and listen.  To appreciate.  To celebrate what was made from imagination and heart and the belief of possibility.

I love and use to exhaustion the phrase, ‘make good art.’  But I don’t just worship the idea.  I put it into practice.  I invite people over to my house to write.  I host play readings.  I participate in theater.  I encourage writers to start, to talk through an idea, to make the time.  I write my blog.  I write my manuscript.  I turn on music and let it inspire me.  I go to community events. I have dinner parties.  I work in a museum.  So much of my life is surrounded by the beauty of color and the ideas of what could be.

I like that.  I like to do things like that.  I like to spend my Sunday evening sitting in a circle of old couches reading through a script and contemplating what it means.  I like to sit around the table and hear my friends detail their projects of knitting, baking, music, or theater.  I like to put words together and make something new.

I don’t like to sit around a table and tear apart other people’s work.  I don’t like to go to a show or a reading and spend hours of ‘conversation’ dismissing the effort and focusing on what is wrong.  I don’t like to focus my attention on things that continually explore the darker side of our being without any intention of learning from it.  

Okay, that last statement is a little fuzzy.  I don’t really like stories that are puppies and rainbows.  I do like Shakespeare after all.  Light and frothy that is not.  And sometimes you are just left at the end of a play with Horatio standing there compelled to tell the whole story but without a whole lot of point to go on living.  There is some balance  - a sort of karmic playing out of events.  And yes, there are awful things that produce something creative.  That show I don’t want to watch is the fruit of someone’s creativity.

The story is just so… well to me, it’s destructive.

I don’t want to indulge any of my time – time that I increasingly find conflicted between devotion to theater or writing or work or friends – thinking about things that are destructive.  I don’t want to watch shows filled with excessive body counts just for the sake of more body counts.  I don’t like zombies… the destruction of the human intellect and problem solving capability.  Actually, maybe that could even be the crux of the matter.  I love the human soul.  I love the beauty of intelligence that works against a problem.  I don’t like things that diminish it without hope of resolution.

Anyway… that’s just me.

I am going to recognize that there are times when life throws some very stressful things (like a play that made me hate getting up in the morning because it meant thinking about that god damned script again) that make a bit of escape into the destructive an appealing detour.  I just really don’t want to live there.

I would much rather be creative.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

377 days, Blog #116 Goals and detours

I had another night with a conversation that stretched well into the midnight hour… even though it started half a day before.  Conversations like that are treasures.  Especially with a friend whom I don’t see very often, and yet feel the rhythm of our conversation is the same as when we would stay up nights after serving cub scouts in our anachronistic costumes or over hurricane punch and games of Uno in our Newton apartment.

So, if a day’s worth of writing is usurped by actual human interaction, it is not a wasted day or a distraction from my goal.  It is, much like the point of this writing endeavor, an opportunity to enrich life and develop my ability to communicate to a fellow human being.

I do find it interesting that I feel compelled to make that excuse and justify to you, dear Reader the fact I am not exactly perfect in my commitment to write a blog every day of this year.  That I have to rationalize even if you stop in here haphazardly on a weekend scroll of social media why I neglected to accumulate a word count.  Maybe it is that premise of Nanowrimo that I’ve already abused.  Maybe it is my inability to ever follow rules even if I know they are in my best interest.  Maybe it is a lesson about making a habit.  That it isn’t the repetition of doing things for the sake of doing things.  Maybe, the regularity is more meaningful with the understanding of the importance of the ritual of devoting time… but also understanding how it fits in to all those other things of life.

I am at the point now where I have written more blogs since August than I wrote in all of 2011, 2012, and 2013 combined.  It changes the way I think about my day – mostly the end of it.  That there is something I really have to do, entirely for myself.  (Although maybe there is an invisible reader out there counting my misses and ready to tell me my shortcoming on August 10th.)  Sometimes I write a piece that pleases me very much, especially when I thought I had nothing to say.  Some days I know I have something to say from the moment I wake up in the morning.  But, I do find there are just as many days when I struggle to figure out what to say and how to say it in an interesting way.

I write anyway.  Even if it is just to complain about not knowing what to say.  Because at least I am putting words together and getting the exercise of discipline.

And that has translated to other successes.  Or other shifts of habit.  Knowing I can commit to this thing has allowed me to start committed to my 20 minute workouts. To taking 20 minutes to go move some wood.  To making the effort to see a friend I don’t see all that often so we can have those 12 hour conversations.  

I’ve never really been a person who thinks in terms of goals.  I consider myself pretty easy going and what happens happens.  I think that is a flexible attitude and none too rigid so that I freak out when things don’t go according to plan.  So… I just choose to avoid the plan.  But this practice of writing and working towards a list has shown me that, okay, sometimes it is good to have a framework.  A goal can be good.  The roadmap may get a little messy on the way there… well, maybe not messy.  Just not a straight line.

And that’s okay.  The detours are nice.  Especially when it is a conversation with an old friend.