This feels incredibly weird to write, but I’ve hardly picked up a needle in months. That feels a little like saying I haven’t stopped to think in months, because handstitching has become such a key part of my creative process: keeps my hands busy but allows my mind to roam. This may explain why my brain feels a bit like a dartboard right now. It’s been seven months of pointy Life things flying straight at me. I’m ready to take back the needles. (This metaphor is falling apart fast.)
Well, my new space is set up for creative practice beyond my wildest dreams. There’s so much room! Including a large flat counter for cutting fabric. Now comes the absolute hardest part of embroidery: deciding what to stitch. I have several hoops in progress, not to mention the linen bag pictured above—it’s a weekend pattern but I slowed it down by, gosh, months by deciding to stitch those wonky watercolor-inspired circles on the front panel. I mean, it’s no rush. I have bags aplenty already. So perhaps that’s the project to dig out? Something to do while I decide what new thing I want to make?
A frequent refrain in my head lately is how the two hardest parts of my day are: starting and stopping. Starting work on the thing I want or need to do, and stopping when it’s time to stop. The modern wisdom about motivation (the impetus to do a task) is that you have to start work first, and only then will motivation arise. But a lot of the discussion around best practices seems to assume that starting is as simple as deciding to start. And for me, there’s a gap between those two actions.
I have all kinds of tricks for hurtling across that gap. But employing a strategy is itself an act that requires a launch. I often feel the most intense resistance about taking the first step in a strategy I know to be effective for me. Like: Click on Scrivener. Simple as that. Or: Ask Scott to hang out with me until I’ve gotten started writing. That works every time and he’s always happy to oblige. But I’ll resist clicking or asking. It’s my absolute most frustrated state of mind. I’d rather sit at the DMV. Actually, it’s kind of like sitting at the DMV without having taken a number first.
I mention this because it occurs with fun stuff as well as work. I mean, a lot of my work is fun—once I start working. But I mean it happens with down-time, leisure activities too. Like embroidery, which I adore doing and often feel I don’t have enough time for.
Well, here I am, well past my allocated time for writing this post. The only thing harder than starting is stopping!
Yay! Photos are back! These are the daisies I was going to put in last week’s post.
Things I noticed this week:
• A tiny yellow praying mantis the color of the fronds of ornamental grass in front of our dining-room window. I was leaning over the bushes to turn on the hose and saw him, bright against the shiny green leaves of the vinca that carpets the mulch. He (she?) stayed put long enough for the kids to come see him, then disappeared into the jungle. I haven’t spotted him since, but I’m braced for him to wind up in my hair one of these mornings.
• A borage volunteer blooming in a pot of delphiniums. This is amusing because I planted a lot of borage seeds in May and they’ve been spindling along at a snail’s pace.
• Drafting blog posts in other apps simply does not work for me. This is a head-smacking realization because I made the shift to drafting in Scrivener or Evernote, gosh, months, years?? ago—thinking it was a smarter practice than drafting directly in WordPress, which sometimes gets snippy and logs me out without autosaving. But, duh, I wrote ALL my posts here in WP for like 15 years, at a pretty steady pace. Since I shifted to Scrivener (which I’ve used successfully for writing novels and Brave Writer lit guides, and whose quirky features I utterly adore and honestly couldn’t do without) for blogging, I’ve amassed a pile of unfinished drafts and have posted about once a month, on average. Um. Yeah. Obviously there have been other factors, like, say, exhausting myself with a move, but still. I had this system that worked beautifully for me, and then I changed it up because I love change, and whoosh, consistency went out the window.
• That no matter how sluggish I feel, certain songs galvanize me into motion and high spirits. Lately, that’s been (don’t laugh) “Mmmbop,” “Bad Romance,” and Katy Perry’s “Roar.” These three, along with “A Little Respect” and (no, seriously) Justin Timberlake’s “I Got This Feeling” from the Trolls movie, top my morning playlist and never don’t work.
• That I’m not capable of writing an even-numbered bullet list. Heh.
WordPress won’t let me include a photo, for some reason, not even an old one. When my upload of daisies in this morning’s garden failed, I searched for a daisy pic in past posts. I found this post from 2016, a happy rediscovery. But they won’t load either!
As I stirred my cocoa this morning, it struck me that this time the obstacle to posting here is backstory. So much has happened, these past six months, that filling in the gaps feels like a chore, a too-big undertaking. So in lieu of rich exposition, a two-sentence summary: our landlord is selling the house we rented for the past six years, and (long story short) we wound up buying a very sweet little mid-century home less than a mile away. It’s adorable and has a beautiful yard, and although the past six months were incredibly fatiguing, everyone is settling in nicely and oh, I love this house so much.
There. We’re all caught up. Now I can write! I’m going back to the practice I had just barely begun to cultivate in January when the landlord’s bombshell email arrived: posting a single photo, not necessarily related to the post, often pulled up from the archives here via whatever random search term jumps into my head, but now—now that I have this lovely bit of earth to play in—sometimes a new picture taken in my morning ramble around the yard. And then I can write for a few minutes, warming myself up for work on the novel.
I wake up earliest of all the family and I relish my gentle time in my favorite chair—now with a rooftop view, if I turn my head a little, of blue mountains in the distance, and plenty of sky. During these last few months of the move (we closed in April, got Covid for the first time in May, and did the heavy lifting in June), my nourishing morning practices fell away one by one, and I often started the day with Stardew Valley and social media—the former a respite from thought, the latter a really unwise choice for beginning the day in a state of equilibrium.
This week (not only the move behind us, but a trip to the East Coast, and then a very tight deadline to meet, so that I didn’t really felt like this new chapter of life had properly begun until yesterday) I’m returning with profound relief to my old habit of Poetry Before Screens. I thought it would be a lot harder to ditch the dopamine slot machines I’ve been reaching for first thing, but I was wrong. I woke up yesterday relieved and hungry: hungry for a particular kind of nourishment, like when you’re craving a good salad after a few days of fast food.
Yesterday: a few poems from Henri Cole’s Middle Earth (I’m going to love this book, I can see already) and then I reread some of my own notebook entries from December—bread crumbs, I discovered, leading me back to what I think of as my Shining Intention: to treat all the primary areas of my life as art. Family, house, work, health, and, yes, my creative practices, my literal art-making. Not all of them, all the time (and of course you can see there are things I’ve omitted: friendships, for one; parts of life I value deeply but can’t give first priority to—which means I’m thinking about my friends much more often than they know). But much and as often as I can manage. The words help get me out of my head and into the present moment. Remember your Shining Intention. I feel as if I used to live this way (even if I didn’t have that language for it) for many, many years; but the stresses of the past few years shoved it out of my mind.
It came back to me in December and then went on a shelf in January. I did try, often, to experience the house-hunt, the move, the whole exhausting, distracting upheaval, as art, but I never really got there. Every thought circled back to the to-do list. There were only flashes—washing our empty floors with Murphy’s Oil soap, one of the best smells in the world, in April after we took possession of the house but long before we moved in—and the scent of honeysuckle (the actual best scent in the world) meeting me in the garden on an early-morning walk—and the joy of watching some rather glorious sunsets from our bedroom windows, a view I hadn’t realized came with the house.
Flashes, but will-o’-the-wisps, easy to lose sight of as you pick your way through the swamp.
I can hear in these (perhaps a bit dramatic) words how exhausted I am. But rest feels possible, now. Not time off work—not a vacation—but something better (for me, at least)—a daily rhythm that intersperses work with plenty of down time. Like this hour right here! A quiet space with books, and art, and a blank page beckoning.
Look how much I needed to write! I didn’t even get to today’s perusal of Lydia Davis and Grace Paley, who hit me like a bolt of lightning.
Anyway, I’m back. I’m home.