Category: On writing and blogging

New year, same you (hooray!)

I will begin 2019 with a link to Emily McDowell’s toast to the old you on Instagram which echoes what I believe: you don’t need a new you—love the well-worn book you already are.

My children have been back in school for five hours and 38 minutes. So much to share, not quite enough time.

We will start with…

MAJOR UPDATES

First book coming soon! I am soon to (self)-publish my first book The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts. Cover art is in final stages and I am hoping to be ready to launch by February 1 (stretch goal). I think it has turned out beautifully and I cannot wait to share this book with you.

100 Rejections: Still sitting at 2 submissions, 0 rejections.

Stuffed Project: Three posts written and shared. So far it seems like I’m on to something. A lot of comments and more sharing than usual (especially This little light of mine). Since beginning the project I have been observing all the times when objects are introduced into a perfectly amicable situation and—voila!—mayhem ensues (this is applicable to adults as well as children). I have been reading the book The Gift by Lewis Hyde. He distinguishes between a true gift and a transaction and this has been eye opening though I don’t yet have an articulate way of explaining what I mean. I’ll finish the book first.

Report card / promises / letting go: Over my four years of blogging, I have promised a number of things. In the near future (note, another promise) I will provide a report card on promises kept, commitments of future work, and changes in plan / the promises made that I am going to let myself off of the hook for (I don’t think you’ve been waiting for them all this time, but if you have, you can let me know).

My word for 2019: Finishing.

And now for 2018 in review

(Or, things I made in 2018 that I’m happy about and that you might like.)

Here we will walk down memory lane and take a look at major creative milestones, in reverse. I’m going to go back to 2017 because I have a number of new readers and I’ve never done this before so there is no 2017 round-up to look back to.

Dec 2018: Began The Stuffed Project, a theme I will explore and write about over some period of time, culminating in a book. Through this project I aim to develop: a joyful appreciation of the material world as reflected in my daily life; clear criteria for decision-making, to dispel exhaustion in the face of hundreds of daily decisions about the stuff I/we are managing; a way to consider obligations, including the obligation of organizing, acquiring, disposing of all the stuff, that restores time and energy for living. My approach is to bring some lightness and humor to the subject and think about it in new ways, not to get too heavy, or focus on harm and doom.

Dec 2018: Launched The 100 Rejections Project. While writing things and hiding them in obscure places on the internet is a very enjoyable and valid way to practice, sharing the things I’m writing more widely is something I feel ready to try. I don’t expect rejection, but at this point learning about submitting itself is a huge win for me, that is where I am in the learning process. I also do not have relationships or a reputation in the publishing world—yet—so that is something we build : ) Also, I like games so this way it is fun for me and also something I can share with you.

Dec 2018: Told a wise friend I was planning to finish my book (Rise and Fall) and then just “put it out in the world and see what happens.” She told me that is like saying you’re finished being pregnant at 8 months and she insisted that I have to come up with a plan to share it. She’s right (so I asked for her help and she said okay).

Dec 2018: Submitted an essay (my first) to The Sun.

Nov 2018: Commissioned cover art for The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts (versus designing myself as had been the plan).

Oct 2018: Submitted my writing for publication for the first time as an adult. I sent one poem to The New Yorker. I think it is a good poem. I also wanted my first submission to be to The New Yorker. Probably because of E.B. White. If you have never read his essays, may I highly recommend One Man’s Meat or Essays of E.B. White.

Sep 2018: Enrolled in Seth Godin‘s The Bootstrapper’s Workshop with practically no forethought other than having read his daily blog for the past four years. Met a lot of interesting, thoughtful, supportive people who helped me to feel braver and more ready than I thought I was. Wrote a lot, learned a lot.

Jul – Nov 2018: Spent hours, days, reading my published and unpublished words from the past four years. Saw some patterns. Noted the number of things I kept saying I would do or write about someday. Noted that Stuffed, for example, was something I’ve written about writing about since November of 2014. Can’t decide if I never gave myself permission to do the writing, if I had other priorities at the time, or ??.

Jun 2018: Accidentally deleted 50,000 words of my 80,000-word novel draft. Not recoverable. Devastated. Shortly thereafter, notably while writing about it, was honest with myself about priorities, saw more clearly the importance to me of the work I had been doing. Thereupon decided to pursue the Rise and Fall book which I am so glad to have done. I did not know that Rise and Fall would take quite so much time as it has, but I’m glad I made the decision to put the time in and I’m proud to have followed through.

May 2018: Eating and other problems is incomplete but writing it was very important for me. This was when I felt (not thought, but felt in my body) that I have spent too long living in the story of how humans cause damage to the Earth and focusing on the details of the damage caused. I want to focus on how we love the Earth, how we love each other. This does not mean ignoring information and it doesn’t mean turning away from what is hard or scary. Love can be, is often, hard. But it feels different than fear, avoidance, or wishing. And it is active.

Mar 2018: Writing When Bono saved Easter also shifted my perspective on life. This one is a very appropriate New Year read and may help you to rethink the New Year, New You claptrap. Of everything in this 2018 review, I think reading this one may give you the most hope, or acceptance. I love this piece.

Jan 2018: I wrote my most popular piece of writing, to date, How to lose 10 pounds in 10 days. It is funny. But I will tell you a secret. The reason it has so many views is that a friend of mine has about 10,000 Facebook friends and she is a revered wit. She shared the piece saying it was “hilarious” and almost all of the views and comments came from her friends. As an emerging artist, this is tough because what it suggests to me is that my humorous writing is the most marketable thing I have going. And I love to write with humor. But not all the time. It’s tricky because people want to know what to expect. So, here’s what you can expect: I frequently write with humor, but sometimes I don’t.

And some notes on 2017

Nov 2017: Successfully extricated myself from annual post-Halloween sugar-fueled emotional slump. Blogging helped.

Oct 2017: Began writing my still incomplete, mostly deleted but not abandoned novel. This was an amazing experience (even considering the mishap). My writing improved, probably because I came to understand what it means to sit with your paper or your computer and listen and translate words that are not crafted only by your own mind, to be a conduit. I also learned that the act of sitting and writing, itself, is asking a question. The answer doesn’t necessarily come while you are writing but the act of writing down the words helps you to understand what the question is, where you don’t yet know something. And then, sometimes, an answer comes first thing in the morning, or in the shower, or washing the dishes, or driving and listening to the radio. I look forward to granting myself more time to do this.

Oct 2017: Posted a song I wrote while thinking about how to keep going when people you love are hurting and the world is feeling dark. I’ve written about 20 songs and this is the only one I’ve shared in this way and only in voice memo format. Also I was sick when I recorded it so in my opinion it is not my finest vocal work. I’d like to record this one and some of the others in a more listenable format and I’d like to do it in 2019. But right now it is an aspiration and not a plan or promise. This is #2 in terms of my most viewed post ever. So again, not sure what to draw from these small slices of data. Comedienne, songwriter, poet, hybrid? I’m still going for hybrid.

Sep 2017: Wrote How to find your life purpose and How to make any decision. I love both of these pieces and the first one marked a shift in my voice and style of writing.

Aug 2017: I wrote a lot around the time of the violence in Charlottesville but none of it is posted on the blog. Some of this writing made it into the book though, so you will be able to read it there. I did share one piece on the blog, I may be right, I may be crazy, that my dad (who is usually one of my biggest fans) did not care for. I think is a helpful read for someone who is aching to be creative but afraid. I think I was on the cusp of jumping towards writing more honestly and authentically but of course I didn’t know that yet.

Jun 2017: I wrote the Happy Atmosphere Challenge after President Trump announced the US would pull out of the Paris Agreement. It could use some refining and I have new thoughts about it in light of a year and a half of more thinking. It was an important exercise for me, I think it is a good read. Refining and sharing this in some way is one of the projects I am thinking about within the context of Finishing.

May 2017: Launched the Adventures with Jenny Goodguts blog. Wow — it hasn’t really been that long! I love the launch post Not holding out for a hero and the explanation about the origins of Jenny Goodguts, even if I’m not using the superhero terminology anymore.

April 2017: Found a lucky quarter—face up—in the Trader Joe’s parking lot. Made a spreadsheet. Life changed.

***

After writing, and rereading this post, I reflected a bit. I asked myself, do you think the work here is the best you can do? Is THIS how you want to be known to readers? And I smiled at myself, inside. Yes, I said. This IS the best I can do. Today. That day. And I did it. And I shared it. I don’t know what is the best I can ever do, if I get more time. If I stay healthy. But I’ve done this, and I’ve learned, and I’m learning. I’m practicing and I’m trying.

Thank you for reading and for your encouragement. Thank you for helping me to find my voice and share it. Thank you for bringing out the best in me.

In Adventures with Jenny Goodguts, I share progress and notes on a variety of experiments while trying to become a published author, reimagine my relationship to the material, and sing a lovesong to the world. I share about one post a week (historical overestimate). Subscribers occasionally get extra news and notes. You can subscribe here.

Four years

It’s been four years, and a few days, since my soon-to-be published book, unimagined at the time, began. Five months since I lost my 50,000 words, folded up my checklists, became a routine coffee drinker, and started taking a closer look at what I’ve made, what I’ve promised (to you and to me), what I’ve learned, and what is next.

When I started to blog in November 2014 it was the only feasible creative outlet that I could imagine. It was something I did on the side, in tiny pockets of time that felt borrowed from other responsibilities, slightly embarrassed, apologetically—an experiment. Starting the novel, and devoting significantly more time to writing, though still very much on the side of the other responsibilities, still a guilty pleasure, was another experiment. Can I do it? What will it be like? But after all the experiments, failed, embarrassing, or otherwise, documented in these pages, I find that I can no longer imagine a life where I do not write.

So many of the pieces I have written have changed me, the way I see life and myself. I can recognize, now, what is my voice and what is not my voice, when I am saying the things I have heard and when I am saying something I feel to be true. I have felt a connection to something outside of my own mind that if I open to it will move through my hand onto a page. It frequently does not feel comfortable, but sometimes it can feel like witnessing a miracle. 

It has been interesting to watch the process where my mind recognizes something new: I don’t need an empty notebook. I’m not an empty notebook. Integrating a new understanding into how I live my life, watching how that changes interactions, or my feelings about myself…Well, I can’t say for everybody but for me it takes a while and I’m learning to be kind to myself: Remember? You’re a dog-eared notebook. It’s cool.

The would-be break-in piece, written in October 2016 but never published on the blog, marked a big shift for me, in life and in writing. I can see that now, but I didn’t know it then. I think the ideas in Lemon vs. Knope were also very important: stop focusing on your foibles and flaws as the most interesting things about you, embrace your inner Knope—it is okay to express love, enthusiasm, and not just for things that don’t really matter, like hot dogs. 

Writing the Happy Atmosphere Challenge was also important (if overwhelming), and that experiment will certainly inform my future work. I learned that motivating to do less bad feels very different from motivating to do more good. I am loathe to make any promises here, having seen so many in these pages that are still not fulfilled, but I think it is safe to say that you will be reading more about Do More Good in the near future (or at least safe to say I will be writing about it). Writing Happy Atmosphere also started me down the path of learning something else I want to think/write/share more about soon. The Challenge is filled with SO MANY THINGS to think about, to measure yourself against, to monitor. Maybe it feels good to have a large menu of possibilities. Or maybe it is better to say, hey, change these three things, they make the biggest difference, and then live your life where you are, be flexible, relax. I haven’t written this one yet, but I look forward to learning this lesson.

The piece called Piggly Wiggly, and more pieces where I consider race and my southern heritage, were things that I wrote about but never published to the blog. The Piggly Wiggly piece was a draft in August 2017, right after the violence in Charlottesville, and a reasonable amount of the thinking, and the conclusion, were done more recently. I don’t feel qualified to write about this. I don’t feel free to write about this. I feel scared to write about this. But the conclusion of that piece changed me. I thought I had loved people, but after revisiting, editing, and considering this piece, I don’t know that “love” is the right word. I had loved in a child-like way. But now I am an adult. I think love is more active, more interested.

Feminism, Me Too. I have written a lot about this and unlike Piggly Wiggly not a single one of these pieces has made it into this book (well, maybe that one bit about the patriarchy). There is so much to be said, and so much feeling and anger circling this topic. I haven’t wanted to get involved in the middle of that. But I do have a perspective, and writing, even what I have not shared, has helped me. I’d like to share. I think I will.

Basic Training. I don’t know if I would have managed to write the things I did, to grow in the way that I did, without Basic Training. When I am hardly drinking alcohol, eating very little refined sugar, not on Facebook/playing iPad games that surge my neurochemicals, I’m energized, mostly positive in outlook, patient, and many other things that I like to be. Add meditation and eating veggies with some regularity and I’m positively pleasant to be around. But there is a fear that goes along with all of this normalcy. What if I can’t keep it up? What if I get back in the bad place? So my flexibility dries up. I am steady, but possibly less joyful. Basic Training was a huge benefit because I got to see the balance that could come from some different, regular habits and I could assess which ones were most helpful. I needed that. But I don’t have to LIVE there. I want to learn to walk the line of moderation. Enjoying things, but not overmuch, eating cheese and knowing that it will be okay, skipping a week of meditating and then starting again, living in the flow of life. But I think it’s important for me to have some basic guidelines and principles and to know that, if I want to do the work that matters to me in the world, if I want to be awake to life as it is today, if I want to have experiences with my kids where I share my spark with them, I need to mostly moderate. Checklists can work for me. Checklists with love and flexibility.

Bono. I think this is the best piece I’ve written to date. I don’t know how other writers work, but what I like about the act of writing, and about my writing in particular, is that I’m not out to teach you something, I don’t have an ending that I’m trying to convey, I’m not trying to convince or persuade. I’m trying to understand something myself and sharing my questions and the answers that I find, that are in process. The exercise of writing this piece was truly transformational for me, for my understanding of myself and of life.

Eating and other problems. I know this one is heavy, and incomplete. But I’ve included it in the book because, again, the process of putting this down on paper totally shifted my perspective. For twenty years, instead of singing a lovesong to my home, instead of embracing, and celebrating, and shining a light on beauty and connection, I have fretted about tablecloths. I have seen life as damage. Hard to write, hard to read, possibly confusing out of context here. When I read these words back to myself, it kind of knocked me over, imagining myself as my own child, learning about how people live on the earth, our relationship to it. I guess I will spend a lifetime figuring this out, but it has stayed with me every day since writing it. I want to sing a lovesong to the world, I want to know what I mean by that. This feels like it has become a basis for what comes next.

And what about Jenny? I thought Jenny Goodguts was separate from me. An ideal—a superhero—that I aspired to be closer to, more like. Someone who always knew the healthy choice, someone who held me accountable to being my best self. I felt that I could never quite meet her expectations, and I felt a growing frustration with her inflexibility, with her constant judgment of my behavior. I felt she was watching me, saying: you’ll never reach your potential if you keep not following my advice, if you keep falling short, if you keep slipping. But Jenny Goodguts never said those things.

I thought that Jenny Goodguts was the me I could become if I could get my act together, fix all my habits, make a plan. I was wrong though. I tried to send Jenny away, but I don’t want her to go away. Because she’s me—I’m her, of course. The person who knew to tape the quarter up on the kitchen wall, to make a game, that was me. Was the same me that sometimes raises my voice and feels bad, or who is sitting here in a magenta hoody sweatshirt having eaten no breakfast, face unwashed, typing these words to you. I don’t need to be more like a superhero, I just need to be quiet, and still, and listen to the voice inside, to love her, to give her some space, to do my best. I still love Jenny Goodguts, who was never a superhero, who never expected me to be either, who just wanted me to be myself. I’m not sending her away, but I’m taking off the mask and the cape that I thought she needed to wear, handing them back to Control-o, the dark vixen of constriction who keeps us small by making us feel like not good enough. Together, Jenny and I, who is just me and my soul, can notice, maybe even laugh, when Control-o is up to her usual tricks.

***

Four years ago, on the day I blogged about my pants and began the journey that would lead to this book, I had a skill—I could organize words into a logical, frequently pleasing or amusing, arrangment. I could take the words and the thoughts around me and I could reflect them back. I could translate the things I heard people saying into a comfortable language for my handful of readers. But something was knocking. I knew I was missing something. Oh, I thought, maybe I need to organize x or y, maybe I need to change p or q, maybe if I can fix myself somehow, if I can fix something about the world, crumbling around me, then the knocking will stop, I will find some peace.

When I started writing what would become this book, I had vocabulary, and structure, rhythm and a backpack of life experience. But I had not learned how to listen. How to pay attention. How to be open, to be brave enough, to say something new, something that I hadn’t heard before.

Learning to look and to listen will change you. Except you don’t need to be changed. It will open you to what is true and real and beautiful. It will connect you to the light inside yourself and the light inside of others. Four years, and all of these words later, I will say: It is worth the time.

the beginning

Note: I have been advised that this might make more sense to readers with a tiny bit of background. First, hopefully it will be obvious but this is fiction. My real sister was not actually punished by Hera, as far as we know. It may help readers to be reminded of the Greek myth of Echo, the mountain nymph who had her voice taken away by Hera, as a punishment for her long-winded stories (and, more specifically, for not exposing the whereabouts of Zeus), and afterwards could only repeat what she heard others say. Echo fell in love with Narcissus, who fell in love with his reflection in a pond and then turned into a flower, and afterwards Echo faded to nothing but a sound. So, without further ado…

 

My sister was a shadow. Her skin no longer felt the brush of wind. She had become the breeze.

I never met her. But my first stories held her transgression. Conveyed her punishment. Her suffering.

Zeus, King of the Gods, sought my cousins. He loved their strong, laughing bodies. Their husky, smooth songs. Their sharp, glittering eyes. He followed them, hungry, into the mountains, into the rivers, blue-green, teeming with life. His sister-wife, Hera, came looking for him – Hera, older than Zeus, tricked into being Queen of the Gods. Trapped into a life she had not asked for, Hera asked my sister for an answer my sister had been forbidden to give.

Where is Zeus? she asked.

I was told that Hera was jealous, vengeful and my sister verbose. Both of these – crimes. My sister, with her long, rambling stories and beautiful voice, keeping secrets from the Queen of the Gods. Hera, in her rage with her brother-husband, the one who had hung her from the stars, stole my sister’s voice. Cursed my sister so that she could no longer share her own words but only repeat those of another. My sister who fell in love with a flower, her beautiful body withered, her bones become rock.

I listened carefully to my mother, to my cousins. I was a quick study. I had my sister’s way with words, her lovely voice. And I knew these things were a danger to me. I knew to speak these words, to use this voice, could lead to losing everything: My very body, the feeling of waves washing over me, the taste of a ripe peach. I learned to give Hera what she demanded: A dutiful echo.

But I was plagued by dreams. I woke up, sweating, in the night. Hera beside me, I cowered. I have done what you wish. I have said nothing but what I have heard from others. Please, spare me. Too afraid to look in her eyes, I looked away. From the Queen of the Gods I heard the sound of ancient tears. I turned and saw deep grooves, canyons, where sorrow had carved a centuries-long path.

With a weary tenderness she spoke. I am blamed, but he had already robbed her when he forbade her to speak the truth. I only made obvious what was already so.
I don’t want to become a shadow.
An echo is already a shadow.
But I can feel the wind. I can taste a peach.
Can you?
I’m afraid, I said. I don’t want to lose everything. They said I would lose everything.
And Artemis the hunter and Athena the wise warrior were there. Aphrodite. We are with you. I slept fitfully.

Sunlight. I am breathing, alone in my room. I whisper the truth. I am awake. It is morning. Nothing happens. Birdsong.

I pull back the covers, my feet touch the ground. I look in the mirror, speaking slowly. I am strong. Dust dances in a beam of light. Nothing happens.

I walk outside, the symphony of limbs, light and dark, warm, cool. She was forbidden to speak the truth. I speak this to the trees, to the sky. I say it clearly. Repeat it. Nothing happens. The branches do not seem to mind.

My legs start to move, before I know where I am going. I am walking, running. My lungs are filling with air, reaching for more air, not enough air. I am afraid I will run out of air before I get where I am going. But there is Theia, the shining light, mother of the sun, the moon, the dawn — my lungs are renewed. And the Muses, dancing with Apollo — more breath. And then I see Alice Walker up ahead with a bag of air. And E.B. White? There is so much air, I am full, to the brim, of all the air I need and I’m running, flying until I reach the cave.

I stand outside, looking into its depths. I gather my strength and with all of the breath left to me I call, sending my words as far into the recesses as they will go: He is here. I hear my sister’s voice calling back: He is here – here – ere. I feel the sun on my arms, a swirl of wind. Birdsong. And my sister, blinking, steps out of the cave.

My sister became a shadow. But I am not. I have hands and a tongue and a still-beating heart. I am afraid. I am alive.

365 days

Adventures with Jenny Goodguts is my fourth blog. My first, Cheapa$$ Jen, begun in 2001, now exists as a few printed sheets in a file in my basement. My second foray, 75 Small Steps for Change, circa 2008, now mysteriously lives on Causes.com — I stopped writing after only 20 small steps, not able to keep up the pace of the one post a day that I had planned. My third attempt, Jenaissance, begun in November 2014, lasted for 2.5 years with periods of intense activity and months of silence. The Jenaissance blog had no organizing principle, other than the survival of my soul — it was a matter of writing something somewhere for someone. Jenaissance still lives on the Internet, but no new posts have been added since the beginning of Jenny G. And here we are, one year into blog number four.

It is strange to think that it has only been a year. 365 days. I think back over the year, what has happened, what has been accomplished, what is different. We have a new sofa. I meditate now, sometimes. I’ve written just about 80,000 words of what was originally planned as an 80,000-word novel. And I think, sometimes, that I’ve learned how to hear my own voice.

Please remember, when we first met Jenny Goodguts, I (Jennifer, an aspiring super-ish hero) had been struggling for some months with a debilitating addiction to farm-building games on the iPad. I had been told that my guts were hosting no flora save for a vast colony of E. coli. My body was in pain from the repetitive strain of the iPad. Donald Trump had recently concluded his first hundred days as President of our once illustrious nation. I was watching too much news. I was scared, I felt lost, and I was way down depressed.

For the sake of clarification, as this has never been made clear, Jenny Goodguts is not the authoress of this blog. I, Jennifer, am the author. Jenny Goodguts is the super hero — the alter ego who lives in my imagination. She’s the one who knows what to do, who is full of plans and ideas for how I should act — for good. If I’m not taking my vitamins, she helps me make a checklist. If meditation would be good for me, she helps me make a checklist (It turns out Jenny is a big fan of the checklist.) Jenny is that voice in my head that whispers that there’s always something I can do to make things better. Who reminds me that I have the strength to do what needs to be done. Who helps me make a plan when the chips are down.

Jenny is the one who told me to tape the lucky quarter from the Trader Joe’s parking lot onto my kitchen wall and reminded me that I would lose 25 days of good luck if I played that damn game one single time. And she was right. I stopped playing the game. I ate some sauerkraut. And life changed.

I once wrote that Jenny Goodguts saved my life. Saved was/is too strong a word. I wrote that to get your attention I guess. Now I feel like it sounds a bit overly dramatic. I would have gone on living, and things would have happened, good and bad. But starting this blog I feel has changed the trajectory of my life. Why do I say that? What do I mean?

What started out as an idea of sharing games, quests, adventures has, yet again, turned into an outlet for me to say whatever I want about whatever I want to whoever is reading. Except.

Except with this blog I figured out how to send each post as an email, automatically. There’s no choice, no planning involved. I write. I hit publish. My words magically appear in inboxes around the world.

And people subscribed. Not a lot of people. Some people I thought would subscribe, just to be nice, did not. And other people, who I would not have expected to subscribe, did. You did.

And not only did you subscribe, but you read and you kept reading and you said things like: that post really spoke to me or that post helped me or even have you thought about stand-up comedy?. One note, seven words, from one person on one day. It makes a difference.

There have been artists throughout history who have been so certain, so clear in their vision, that against all odds, against all criticism, they have gone on to make their thing and we celebrate them today. I’m not that type though. I am brave. I have done things, and tried things, that some others would not have done or tried. But I needed you. To read, to react, to nudge, to support, to appreciate, to notice. And your eight words here, your comment there, were enough. I felt brave enough to try new things. I felt safe enough to be real, to not hide behind cutesy attitudes and tired figures of speech.

And here I am on the other side. With this year behind me and however many more to come. My voice feels clearer to me and more authentic and I look back on the words I’ve written here — to you — and I feel like I’ve made something that I want to make. I’ve said something that I want to say. I’ve found something that I wanted to find.

***

I think it is correct to say that when I started this blog I imagined that I had it in me to write. I thought, I have had some interesting experiences, or more that I have had an unusual constellation of experiences. And I also thought that I had the ability to share the perspective derived from those experiences through writing. And that doing so would bring me some pleasure.

If I’m being totally, completely honest, I also thought that the world was/is full of huge daunting problems and that maybe I could do something, some small thing, to change minds, or to propose solutions, or to make personal change fun. I think I thought I was going to make games and challenges that in their way, small or large, would help people “do the right thing”. Help us all be a little more super.

Did I want my writing to save the world? I think I could only give myself permission to write if there was some small chance that it might. I felt that my obligation was to exchange my life energy to help stop the damage, or to compensate for my share of damage, my accumulated share going back generations, that was the only arithmetic that seemed defensible. If I get to be alive, here, in these circumstances, there is a debt to be paid.  I think that was the deep down truth.

After 365 days, I have a different view.

After 365 days, today, I will sit down with my friend, Jenny Goodguts, who set me on a path that changed my life. And I will tell her this:

My dear, beloved, Jenny Goodguts, thank you for always being there, for your dedication, your persistence, your frightening ability to organize, your compulsive lists. Thank you for not giving up and for helping me when I needed you. That idea, about taping the lucky quarter to the kitchen wall, was invaluable to me and it turned out to be the oar I needed to get back to shore.

But Jenny, I’m not so sure anymore about this theme song business, all this aspiring, or the obligation of my one life to make everything right.

You, Jenny, have so many ideas about how to fix things, ideas about what is right or wrong, good or bad. Ideas about how the world could be different. But an alternative world, just like you Jenny Goodguts, is not real. And I am determined – determined – to love this real world. And its real people, every single one a wabi-sabi bowl, broken, chipped, glued together. Every single one.

Do you know what I’d like to do Jenny? I’d like to be awake in this real world, be myself, and I’d like to tell some stories. I think we could all use some new stories and I think I have some inside me. But, to do that, it turns out I don’t need to be a superhero. And it turns out I don’t think what people need is fixing. My own Jenny, I love you, but I’m not on the path to super-ish anymore.

And Jenny, who is not real of course, will scrunch up her face and look at me oddly. She’ll blink a few times and kind of curve her eyebrows like she’s really disappointed in me. I’ll look down because I’m a little embarrassed, but I won’t change my mind. After a minute, she’ll say back to me:

Jennifer (she won’t say darling Jennifer, because she’s a superhero), you are real. And, try as I might, you still have not developed the rigid discipline, the focus at all costs, the regular exercise habit needed to save the world. I know sometimes you feel confused. Sometimes you feel — inadequate.

She’ll pause for a minute, considering something, then continue: You know, I have a lot of systems. A lot of information. You have a lot of empathy, compassion. Maybe it’s not inadequacy, maybe its love that allows you to show people what’s behind the curtain, just in case it helps. Just in case that’s what they needed.

She’ll pause again, and she’ll say, a bit more quietly this time: Maybe what people need most isn’t another list. I guess… (and then she’ll start to slightly nod her head, up and down) you should keep being… real. (Now she looks me straight in the eye) And try not to be scared. To be honest, I’m a little tired myself always devising these checklists and spreadsheets. If you’re sure about this stories thing, maybe it is time that I put away my mask and my cape and learn to live with some clutter and eat chocolate soufflé and sit outside, just my own two arms, my own two legs, my face, sit them outside feeling the wind and not try to fix anything for a little while. Just be.

Maybe, Jennifer, eventually, we can both learn to sing that lovesong to the world.

***

There is still work to be done. There are good guys to help, banks to stop banking with, parabens to outwit. I’ve been around for what is scootching closer and closer to half a century and I am darned sure that even if Jenny takes a break she isn’t going to let me forget about all of this. I can’t unlearn and I don’t guess I would want to.

But on the one year anniversary of the launch of this blog I am announcing, I am proclaiming, that while Jenny Goodguts might have had some great checklists to share, while she could put together a kick-ass resource list, while she really knew how to organize activities, she’s on a sabbatical of undetermined length.

I don’t feel like being super, I feel like being real. And I feel brave enough to be real thanks to you.

Make money and gain new skills to live your extraordinary life!!, This post is not about how to

Scraps of paper, loosely arranged in stacks, rest on my bedside table, on the highest shelf in my office/guest room/kids playroom/occasional restaurant, in multiple file folders of different names (jenny goodguts, b-school, writing, ideas, projects). Then there are the notebooks which are 80% drawings by my daughter who must fill any blank sheet, these days mostly with pictures featuring a couple kissing, their lips grotesquely puckered to enable them to fill the available space between the two figures. Some of those lips are as long as arms. There is a picture of me sitting at a piano (one of my favorites) and one of her and me, smiling, with musical notes all around. I keep them all, of course, but these two are my treasures. The other 20% of these notebooks are filled with ideas or drafts that I start while sitting in bed reading or, possibly more commonly, directly after showering.

If I ever have good ideas, and who is to say, they mostly come to me while I’m showering. It is occurring to me at just this moment that showering is the one occasion during the week (as this is certainly no longer a daily occurrence in my life) when I am somewhat relaxed and there are, for brief spans of time though certainly not for the full duration of any shower, no children, spouse, mother with their own needs breaking into my thoughts. There are no piles of mail to open, no computer to check, no phone to beep. Just me and some hot water and whatever is running through my mind. So at least half of the time when I get out of the shower I have to immediately find the nearest available paper so I don’t lose track of whatever “genius” idea I have just had. These notes are either haphazardly arranged within the treasured steno/doodlepads or stacked somewhere for a time when I have the bandwidth to use them for their still undetermined purpose.

I mention this because I had written a draft for a post that I was excited about and it is in one of these stacks and now I am visiting my parents. So I cannot electrify you with the majesty of my premeditated and brilliant thoughts of several weeks ago. What I can do, in the few moments I have before my children and my two nieces, with my assistance, turn my mother’s kitchen into a Mexican restaurant (complete with adult and kids menus for the littlest ones that includes a hand-drawn coloring page) is to jot down a few thoughts I had several weeks ago after listening to a webinar about how to grow your blog audience. (In case you were wondering, yes, of course there will be the requisite “show” where the girls and Sam dance in more suggestive ways than I feel comfortable with to Desposito but C’est la vie (except in Spanish).)

Why write about my recent revelation regarding blogging success (I am asking myself?) — because I want you to understand why in the future all of my blog post titles will be significantly different from how they started out. Let’s look at my past choices: Not holding out for a hero, Paris or Pittsburgh, Why did I start a blog, Remembering to breathe, The happy atmosphere challenge, smalltalk (etc). I’m doing it all wrong.

From now on, I am advised, my title is the most important single thing that I can write. Because without a good title, no one will be interested, I will catch no fish. I can grow my blog empire exponentially by tweaking my titles. So henceforth, I must tell you exactly what you can expect to receive by taking the time to read. Be forewarned.

Next item of business. The blog turns three months old in a couple of weeks. It still doesn’t know what it wants to be, but I love it anyway and I appreciate your reading and your comments and your support! Basic training, which was meant to start in June, will begin on August 26, or something like that and I plan to explain basic training on August 19.

I still have not told you about some of my organizing principles (most of, I guess) but those are to come shortly.

In closing, I would like to leave you with a bit more from my beloved E.B. (White):

“The sound of the sea is the most time-effacing sound there is. The centuries reroll in a cloud and the earth becomes young again when you listen, with eyes shut, to the sea — a young green time when the water and the land were just getting acquainted and had known each other for only a few billion years and the mollusks were just beginning to dip and creep in the shallows; and now man the invertebrate, under his ribbed umbrella, anoints himself with oil and pulls on his Polariod glasses to stop the glare and stretches out his long brown body at ease upon a towel on the warm sand and listens.

The sea answers all questions, and always in the same way; for when you read in the papers the interminable discussions and the bickering and the prognostications and the turmoil, the disagreements and the fateful decisions and agreements and the plans and the programs and the threats and the counter threats, then you close your eyes and the sea dispatches one more big roller in the unbroken line since the beginning of the world and it combs and breaks and returns foaming and saying: “So soon?”

I am on my way to visit with the ocean soon and look forward to asking her my questions and listening for her answer.

Remembering to breathe

Hungry this afternoon and browsing the refrigerator for options, I found a leftover Independence Day hamburger, some whipped cream (should I?), and a jar of pickles. And what have we here in the opaque silicone pot?  Half of a raw onion. Resigned to a few minutes of labor in exchange for sustenance, I took out a carton of eggs and a frying pan. I rinsed one day’s collected drawer dust out of the pan (longish story) and cracked an egg directly in. Remembering the pan was cold, and unlubricated, and that I was planning to scramble the eggs, I then poured the raw egg from pan into a bowl, rinsed, then dried, the pan again. Cracked two more eggs into the bowl, melted an unmeasured chunk of butter in the pan. Poured eggs in pan. Added salt. Fiddled with the gas on the stove – hotter, colder, hotter until the eggs were satisfactorily fluffy, salty, and warm. Peppered.

Reached blindly into the drawer and pulled a spoon from the bin allocated to forks. Returned wayward cutlery to quadrant assigned to teaspoons. Selected a salad fork (as shorter forks are both less menacing and more appropriate for non-dinner purposes). Sat down at the table, next to the open laptop. Put one warm bite into my mouth and began to read email. Didn’t taste the eggs. Shortly realized that plate was empty. Sat more quickly than is usual to attention. What is this sudden and quite unwelcome sensation running in a wave from my stomach through my throat? Am I about to vomit? No? Maybe?

Walked as fast as I could to the toilet. Crouched down. Burped. Spat. Waited. Three eggs remained on trajectory towards stomach, crisis averted.

Barring an intervention from the magical postman in the sky, I’m not pregnant. My son was sick with a virus last week, so that is the obvious explanation. Clearly, I have the same virus, a week later, and am feeling a bit sick to my stomach. That, or salmonella – though I’m guessing introduced bacteria would take longer to percolate and would result more likely in realized regurgitation rather than continued low-level nausea.

But I’m suspicious. I wonder. I’m having trouble sleeping again and this time it is not due to my ignorance of the caffeine in Kombucha. I’m caffeine-free and exhausted. My eyes are carefully guarded from all blue lights and screens during the twilight hours. And for the past few nights, I turn off the lamp and I’m lying there, mind traveling haphazardly down one path, jumping quickly to another, with no seeming theme or connection other than willing some divine intervention to give me answers, to guide me to a path.

How is all of this related to the phone call directly preceding my three-egg feast wherein two non-technical, creative types discussed the future of humanity considering advances in Artificial Intelligence?

Or to the essay I read last night by E.B. White, “Freedom,” from his (very highly recommended) book of essays One Man’s Meat? White writes, in 1940, in the midst of the Second World War:

The United States, almost alone today, offers the liberties and the privileges and the tools of freedom. In this land the citizens are still invited to write plays and books, to paint their pictures, to meet for discussion, to dissent as well as to agree, to mount soapboxes in the public square, to enjoy education in all subjects without censorship, to hold court and judge one another, to compose music, to talk politics with their neighbors without wondering whether the secret police are listening, to exchange ideas as well as goods, to kid the government when it needs kidding, and to read real news of real events instead of phony news manufactured by a paid agent of the state. This is a fact and should give every person pause.

I am not here to offer unsettling opinions or doom and gloom, but I am unsure how to arrange my life, what choices to make, how to be prepared for what is next in this world.

Reading good old E.B., I am not sure of his politics (a refreshing change from most of what one reads today which so very clearly promotes one dogmatic perspective or the other). He questions too much government interference, but is concerned about the wellbeing of other people. He fiercely loves and defends liberty and individual freedom, which in his case includes accepting and thoroughly enjoying diversity. When did the divorce of these things occur?

I feel this divide around me. I hear people — very close to me — saying that there will be two sides and I will have to choose one. Saying they can imagine a future when women have lost the rights we enjoy today, that strong forces exist with the intent of moving humanity in this direction.

And then there is AI (artificial intelligence, that is). Industries will be disrupted. Jobs will be lost. People will be desperate. There will be a revolution. The 1% versus everyone else.

I’m not sure it will go down like that. What I do know is that I will not be among those escaping to Mars. I’ll be here – on my beautiful planet. Living whatever life there is to live. With my last ounce of strength, or courage, or just a very strong will, loving my kids. Loving my friends.

In the face of all of this, and to keep from upchucking one’s eggs, so to speak, what can one do? Perhaps salvation, or at least moderate happiness, lies in defining a set of principles and devising an action plan. So towards those ends, a starting point:

Take care of my physical health.

Be a friend. Help people.

Learn new things. Read.

Stop accumulating.

Manage my chemicals.

Do more good.

Hug.

Breathe.

In a brave, new world I would feel better having a body that can get me where I need to go. I realize this won’t always be the case, but it can be the case now. The better a friend I am, the more likely there will be someone I can live with when the robots take my job, the more likely we can put our (non-mechanical) heads together to figure out how to solve whatever problems we face, the more likely I will have someone to laugh or cry with. If I figure out how to help people, I can probably scrape together a living in some way. Also, the world will just be nicer. As the world changes, I do not have to learn how to navigate Tumblr or read more on CNN or finish watching Game of Thrones. But if I keep learning how to be healthy, how to be a good friend, and how to help people, I’ll either be ok, or I won’t. But I will feel better. Reading (fiction, essays, poetry) helps me connect with human beings outside of this moment in time with other concerns, other fears. I can see which of their worries came true and which didn’t. I can feel how humanity has been good at heart for so very long, restoring my faith that goodness does seem to prevail, even if one is unfortunate enough to live through a dark period of history (of which there are many). Moreover, reading (and I’m not talking about news or Facebook) helps to remind me that people are people. They want things and they fear things and they do things but they are usually more like me than I expect, and even if they don’t see things my way, they aren’t as ignorant, or as selfish, as I might imagine. They are in their situation, doing their best with what they’ve been taught. Regarding material possessions, I have no need for a collection of My Precious Love-em’s Figurines, or of perfect shoes for any occasion (though I would be sad to part with my Paragon tea cups with matching saucers). These will all be lost or broken in the revolution. As it is said, you can’t take them with you.

Move my body. Eat vegetables. Be a good friend. Help. Learn. Read. Stuff is not life. Understand how marketers use my chemicals and stop giving my power away. Stop letting them buy my attention, my ability to focus, my precious time/life for so little! DO GOOD! Support people working towards my vision of a secure and healthy world. Hug as many people as will let me. Breathe.

Breathe. (I never remember to do this. I’m working on it.)

In.

Out.

Breathe. (Probably it is just a virus, but I will keep breathing, just in case.)

Why did I start a blog?

I don’t know what I want.

I kind of know what I want – I have a 10-year vision written down and it sounds nice. I want to be healthy, for my kids to be healthy, for everyone I love to be healthy, for everyone on earth to be healthy. To walk outside and feel the sunshine and the breeze, to breathe clean air, to drink clean water. To sit by the ocean and hear the waves and smell the salt air. For there not to be tons of plastic microbeads in the ocean being eaten by fish being eaten by me.

I’d like to be more patient. I’d like to exercise – but not in a gym because I cannot stand the smell or the feel or the screens or the machines. I’d like to have a comfortable sofa to sit on with a friend.

So, in the broader sense I know what I want, or I have an idea of a life arrangement that I imagine would be very nice.

I have a pretty nice life arrangement as it is – maybe that is why it is hard to be clear about what I want. Because, in truth, I don’t really want for anything. I have a sofa. It is hideously uncomfortable. But I have friends who are very kind and will just use extra pillows and seem to like me enough to deal with the lack of seating and still want to come be with me. I think that’s pretty lucky.

I am lucky enough to have all of the essentials. I can afford healthy food, security, shelter. I have loving relationships and good physical health.

So what is this feeling in my chest? Why, this morning, when my kids were sitting at the breakfast table, bright, shining, bursting with life and happiness, did I command silence and that they quickly finish their food because we might be five minutes late for summer camp? Why didn’t I wrap them in my arms, hold their joyfulness close to me, let it fill all the cracks, kiss them, put on their backpacks, walk peacefully to the car and deliver them to camp – to camp – possibly a few minutes late.

My husband asked me why I wanted to start a (nother) blog. He wasn’t being unsupportive, just trying to help me think about what I should spend my time doing. In the past 15 months, I have taken a musical theatre class, worked on a novel, intermittently blogged on another blog, started songwriting lessons, written essays that I want to try to get published but have not submitted, written ‘children’s’ stories that are not age appropriate, read tons of non-fiction, been addicted to ipad games, played my guitar and piano sporadically, bought a (still unused) ukulele, quit and rejoined Facebook, read way more news than in the previous 10 years combined. (I have also taken on a reasonable amount of contract work, primarily copy editing technical documents related to ‘sustainable development,’ and started selling beauty products).

I told my husband I was starting the blog because I would enjoy it — for fun. (I think I am remembering correctly.) I like to write, I like to read what I wrote last week. I like to come up with “programs” for myself and try them out and report on the results. So I think that originally the way I convinced myself to get started with this blog was that it would be enjoyable.

But in addition to that, I will tell you this. After my first several posts on this blog were published I felt some relief. Because there is a need inside me to make sure, if I die tomorrow, that there is a letter somewhere telling my kids who I am, what I love, what I think matters, some advice that they probably won’t take now but might value later. There have been two days in my life when I’ve actually sat down and started writing this letter to them (both nights before setting out to do something I was scared of doing). But after I started writing this blog, I felt better. I felt like some of what was inside was now written down somewhere that they could find it. And that is a comfort to me.

But where does that need come from? Surely if I am living my values, living in a way that shows what I love, what matters, they can just read my life and know what I would tell them. Yes, precisely, which is why I need it written down somewhere, because I have not yet figured out how to arrange the clues of my lived life to truly demonstrate what matters most.

Another thing: When I started my last blog, I posted a video of myself singing a song I had written. A friend of mine, later that week, sent me a recording of herself that she had just made, singing a song she had written 15 years ago. She thanked me for inspiring her to just sit down, in her den, and record it. Another friend wrote that she had started working on a song of her own.

Google’s Larry Page has said that Alphabet is looking to work on ‘billion people problems’ – how to build solutions, like self-driving cars, that can help a billion people. I guess I work on one person problems.

I made a star chart for myself and my husband (I promise I will explain more on this). It was really good for me, and he was a good sport. It improved our life or our feelings about our life. I shared it with a few friends. Some of them really enjoyed it and it improved their lives (or their feelings about their life).

So, in addition to wanting to write things down so they exist somewhere, I also think that sometimes I have ideas that are interesting and helpful to other people. I don’t exactly know what I might share that is helpful, so I err on the side of sharing more than less. I don’t know if this is the right approach, I guess I’m experimenting.

So, my faithful readers, this is all to say that I’m working it out. Am I writing to eventually have a book of different “challenges”? I definitely have a lot of challenges for myself that I think it would be fun to take, and share. Am I writing to build a platform for my ideas? Am I writing so someday someone asks me to speak about something? Am I writing to help others? Am I writing to figure myself out? Am I writing to practice? Am I writing to have fun? Am I writing to laugh or to help others laugh?

I don’t know.

And so it gets tricky. I write. I share. I think of each of you who has subscribed. Am I going to offend anyone I love? Are you going to lose faith in me? Am I going to be able to be authentic, am I going to lapse into someone else’s voice?

My other blog was easier because I didn’t share on Facebook and I’m pretty sure I only had one ‘regular’ reader. So I didn’t have all of this conflict when thinking about what to write – I just wrote – but then I didn’t have the energy that comes from knowing that people are reading.

I love the Happy Atmosphere Challenge. I have, for the most part, not gotten started implementing. But I loved writing it, thinking about, and I learned a lot about myself which I had meant to share in my next post which instead has turned into this. But having written it I am afraid that you won’t like it, that it is depressing, that it is not perfect, that it is not what you care about, that it won’t help.

So I get stuck. I have to decide what I’m doing. I also have to have some time to think. I also need to get an ergonomically appropriate writing situation. I also need to exercise. But there will be quests and challenges soon to help with these things. I have not played ipad games since starting the blog, and that alone is a victory over my chemicals.

Have a beautiful day. I hope you feel some sun and some wind on your face today. I will.