Yesterday I got on a housecleaning jag and without really meaning to, I found myself going full-throttle A Bowl Full of Lemons on the basement and laundry room. Except: as I told Scott later, during the laundry-room deep-clean I faced my most difficult parenting challenge yet. In nearly 24 years as a mother, I’ve never been put to the test quite like this.
Our laundry room is in the (finished) basement and has one small high-up window. When we moved in, the house had been professionally cleaned and was immaculate except for a spiderweb in that particular window—a large web, quite old, thickened with lint and age into a heavy cobweb the size of a saucer. No sign of a spider—the original webspinner was probably long gone—but we left the web just in case. Nearly two years and seven million loads of laundry later, the cobweb is the size of a cloth napkin. There’s no spider. There never was, not in our time.
But when Rilla saw me on a stool, vacuum hose in hand, she begged me to spare the cobweb.
I’d just finished hoovering up every speck of dust and lint from the rest of the room and I was all set to decobwebify that window. And wash it, even!
But Rilla implored. “For science!” Heh, she knows my weak spots.
So I gritted my teeth and left it. For now, I said ominously. She grinned, unfazed by my direful tone.
When Scott came home later, I told him the story.
“So you left it there?” he asked. “WHEW. That thing is cool.”
“That thing is the size of a wedding veil.”
“Like I said. Cool.”
Well, he does all the laundry, so I guess if he wants a year-round Halloween theme, he can have it.
(For the record, if I believed that old circus tent was still the home of a spider, I wouldn’t have needed any persuasion to leave it alone. No Aunt Sponge or Aunt Spiker here.)
This morning I’m trying something new.
I noticed that this week’s morning poetry-reading-and-writing-time kept getting interrupted (the writing part, at least) by scritchy angsting over my daily schedule—how to fit it all in, “it” being homeschooling and house-tending and paying work and personal projects and long walks and gardening and reading and TV and doctor appointments and fun time and down time and sleep—oh, the days are so wonderfully, terribly full. When it hit me that I kept returning to logistical questions during the precious minutes I give myself for freewriting, I realized my brain was trying to tell me something. So I leaned into the questions instead of impatiently shooing them away.
I know I try to fit too much in. But there are ways it works, if I’m thoughtful and honest with myself. (For example: no matter how many times I tell myself I’m going to read in bed, I know I’ll just fall asleep within a paragraph or two and I need to give myself some other space during the day for real reading.)
This morning’s insight was that no matter how often I write an after-dinner blogging interval into my schedule, I won’t use it for blogging. Especially now, when the long evening light is amazing and my feet carry me out the door almost before my mind realizes what’s happening.
Or yesterday, when I said: I’ll blog between lunch and work. Naturally, this meant I went out to the garden to prune and weed and rhapsodize over this week’s wave of bloom. (Poppies, pincushion flower, snapdragons, begonia; and the yarrow is about to explode with color.)
So today I’m trying in the morning. Mornings might work—the loose half-hour between my poetry time and high tide. I suppose it’s another step in my shift toward digital minimalism. After I took Facebook and Twitter off my phone in early April, I gave them small containers at breakfast. I’m going to try a week of stealing those containers for Bonny Glen. I’m documenting the plan so I’ll (obliger that I am) be more likely to give it a fair shot.
I need this blog! Its archives are our family chronicle and a source of great joy. (Scott’s too. His “fambly” posts capture so many moments I wouldn’t have remembered, or wasn’t present for in the first place. And so hilariously.) And—as any Charlotte Mason educator worth her salt knows—retelling an event helps fix it in your memory. Earlier this week, a doctor was asking me about developmental milestones one of the kids. After six babies and so many years, there’s no chance I’d remember those specifics organically. But I remembered a blog post—and where I was sitting when I wrote it—and that gave me an approximate window of time.
(There’s something there worth exploring: the way the physical act of writing—where I’m sitting, what’s out the window, whether there even IS a window—becomes as much a part of memory as the words themselves.)
This is my thinking-aloud space, and heaven knows I’m thinking aloud right now. But I think they are thoughts relevant to others, because we’re all trying to squeeze too much magic into too little time. I know I can’t fit in everything. I also know I won’t fit in a lot of things unless I think through where to fit them. These past two years, with such a comically full plate (even for me, greedy plate-filler that I am), I had to make a concerted effort to save space for sleep, walks, and down time.
And I make a mental distinction between my kinds of work—I think of it as paying work and creative work, but those labels are clumsy because all my ‘paying work’ is creative, and of course I hope all my ‘creative work’ will earn its keep eventually. The distinction is more like: short-term, pays soon and long-term, pays someday or maybe never. Dividing it that way helped a lot! Without blocks in my schedule for the long-term personal projects, I would never get around to them. Calling those blocks “creative work” in my planner helps set the tone and mood I want when I sit down to that work—it sounds exciting and rich, not like a slog. And the “paying work” label is a good motivator too, because it says: these hours pay next month’s bills. Tangible, concrete.
Speaking of my planner, another big shift I made in April was—gulp—abandoning my beloved bullet journal for Evernote. This happened for a quite practical reason: I had gotten sloppy about maintaining the index that makes it possible to pull notes out of a bullet journal at a later date. After so many years, I have a giant bin of filled notebooks. If I need notes on a particular event or phone call (the insurance company, a doctor, an editor), I have to hunt through all those books. Even with the properly indexed ones, this is a pain!
And (again out of a fierce urge to save my time for good things) I realized that if I do the same kind of task-logging and note-taking in Evernote that I’ve been doing in my notebook, I can quickly, easily search for a note.
After a few weeks, I developed a template so I didn’t have to recreate the wheel every morning. I read this article about “interstitial journaling”—the practice of taking a few moments to write narratively about the task you’ve just completed and what you’re about to embark on next, including feelings or trepidations about it—and boom: this made so much sense to me, and after two months I can say it’s a practice that works really, really well for keeping me focused.
I title each note with the day and date: “Wednesday, May 22.” The “Notes” section is where my time-stamped interstitial journaling entries go. By the end of the day, there’s a full page of notes. This section has become the most important part! Turns my focus up to eleven.
I still use a paper notebook for my morning poetry pages. And lots of other things throughout the day—I’m an inveterate doodler. If I take notes on paper, now I simply snap a photo of them and save it in Evernote with a couple of tags to help me find it later.
I’m working on a longer post for Medium about this transition to Evernote. It’s funny that it grew out of digital decluttering! But interstitial journaling has been a brilliant tool for me so far, and Evernote (which I’ve used forever for various kinds of digital notekeeping) is a handy place to do it.
Right now, though, I’ve reached the end of this morning’s experimental blogging container. See you tomorrow, friends!
May 16, 2019 @ 12:28 pm | Filed under: Links
You guys, I think he likes me!
If you happen to see this post in the next half hour, you still have time to sign up for Holly Wren Spaulding’s free 5-day Poetry Challenge—a mini-version of her wonderful 21-day Challenge that I’ve taken multiple times. Holly’s lessons contain poems, commentary, occasional videos, and daily writing provocations, and her methods and magic have sparked the most fertile period of poetry-writing I’ve had since graduate school. I’m tossing this post up quickly since registration closes at 5pm Eastern—believe me, there’s so much more I could say!
And if you miss it, there’s a new 21-Day Poetry Challenge starting June 1st.
Danny Gregory on art supplies:
If you want to draw, pick up that ball-point pen in the kitchen drawer, flip open that sketchbook you bought years ago that is ‘too good to use’, pull up a chair and draw whatever’s in front of you. Keep doing that every day until the very last page of that good sketchbook is full.
May 14, 2019 @ 3:08 pm | Filed under: Family
What times are these
When to write a poem about love
Is almost a crime
Because it contains
So many silences
About so many horrors….
(His reworking of Bertolt Brecht’s “What times are these when to talk about trees is almost a crime because it implies silence about so many horrors?”)
Strive to change the world in such a way that there’s no further need to be a dissident.
Don’t let it be said of you that sluggish imagination drowned out the slush of your heart.
Don’t hew stones. Dip into the sea for poetry, every poem a live fish.
It’s Saturday morning and I’m lazing in bed, drinking cocoa and dipping lightly into social media, which I mostly ignored this week. Saturdays are the only mornings my alarm isn’t set for 5:45. I could sleep later on weekdays but my two boys get up around 6:45 and I really love having that quiet hour to read and write. I’m committed to the practice of poetry before screens, even if some days it’s a bit of a wrench to drag myself out of bed that early. This week was extra challenging because I take allergy medicine at bedtime, and its soporific effects last into the morning. Portland’s spring is spectacularly lovely but it also wants to kill me a little.
I could take the meds earlier but I’m equally time-greedy about my evenings. I try to use 7-9pm as another block for creative work, with a break in the middle to go tuck in my Huckleberry, for whom this is still an important ritual. (My last little kid, y’all…Rilla became a teenager this month. Can you believe it?) Then Scott and I watch an hour of TV, and then I read in bed for a while, where “read” means “hold my Kindle in front of unseeing eyes until Scott gently removes it from my hand.” Often I turn on the Kindle next morning to discover I highlighted random phrases as I dozed off, like:
tics. The simple action of sweeping
Norman was unaffected by her because
Uh, super helpful there, sleepy Lissa.
I learned last summer that as our Pacific Northwest evenings lengthen, I won’t be able to resist that magical golden-hour light, so the 7-9pm time block for creative work will give way to long walks, and I’ll have to find other ways to create room for playing with color and words. Of course in a way my whole day revolves around those activities: reading to and chatting with the kids, doing art projects together, working on various writing projects in the afternoons. But I’ve learned I need to give myself chunks of time for creative play that has no end-purpose—no deadlines, no expectations to meet. Lately I’ve been enjoying drawing houseplants—on index cards, mostly, because that’s the ultimate low-pressure canvas—or doing Procreate tutorials on the iPad. (I’m trying to catch up to Rilla and Beanie. Their Procreate skills far surpass mine.)
Not that I have any wish to hurry spring along! I could linger here for another three or four months. My bitterroot is just beginning to bloom, and the dogwoods are in full glory. I remember last May as a month full of swoons—the light, mostly, that miraculous glow illuminating the clouds every evening, turning the air blue and gold.
I may be getting carried away with photos—I have hundreds like this from last spring.
Some quick notes on things we read this past week:
—Began a readaloud of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, a lovely novel by Grace Lin. I wrote a BraveWriter Arrow guide for this book last year; it was one of my favorites from the year’s lineup. I’ve been looking forward all year to enjoying it with Huck and Rilla.
—Continued our nostalgia-read of Brambly Hedge. It’s slow going because Rilla and I have to spend long minutes cooing over every tiny detail in the art.
—Rilla (my resident green thumb) and I have also spend loads of time poring over my treasured-since-college copy of Crockett’s Indoor Garden. Rilla has taken charge of the houseplant-watering schedule, which is marvelous since I’ve been…unreliable on that front these past two years. My goldfish plant is getting ready to bloom, we repotted the aeschynanthus, Rilla’s jade cutting, and a few other overcrowded treasures. Rilla has a small succulent collection that began with cuttings given to her by a neighbor whose cat she looked after for a week last summer, augmented by plants harvested from a beautiful succulent wreath my sister gave me for Christmas. And this week we inherited a large fennel volunteer that was taking over my friend Ron’s vegetable bed. Trying to decide whether to plant it in a pot or in the small raised garden bed out back. The latter was probably sundrenched when it was built, but now the neighbor’s magnolia is leaning over it, casting heavy shade over the bed for much of the day. Our fennel will probably prefer a spot on the sunny front steps.
My parents gave Rilla a big box of flower bulbs for her birthday (thirteen! did I mention?!)—dahlias, daylilies, glads, and I forget what else. So those will be going into pots this weekend. Luckily we inherited a dozen large clay pots from yet another neighbor who was clearing out her garage before a move. And a big bag of potting soil! Such riches!
My rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, and chives survived the winter. The basil, not so much. (Its demise was expected.) The potted blueberry has buds and there’s a nice fat poppy coming up where I planned to repot the dahlia tuber Ron gave me when we moved in. My yarrow is looking lush and the foxglove has gone bananas! No flower stalks yet but the leaves are huge and abundant. And my tulips, oh! I can’t get enough of them.
But I’m supposed to be writing booknotes here! Apart from things I enjoyed with the kids, I didn’t get much reading done this week—I had an unusual number of out-of-the-house events in the evenings. I’m enjoying Austin Kleon’s latest, though—Keep Going. Come to think of it, I read that one with the kids as well—they love his artwork.
I’m about halfway through Mike Monteiro’s Ruined By Design, which is thought-provoking and somewhat chilling.
The world is working exactly as designed.
The combustion engine which is destroying our planet’s atmosphere and rapidly making it inhospitable is working exactly as we designed it. Guns, which lead to so much death, work exactly as they’re designed to work. And every time we “improve” their design, they get better at killing….
Design is also a craft with a lot of blood on its hands. Every cigarette ad is on us. Every gun is on us. Every ballot that a voter cannot understand is on us. Every time social network’s interface allows a stalker to find their victim, that’s on us. The monsters we unleash into the world will carry your name.
This book will make you see that design is a political act. What we choose to design is a political act. Who we choose to work for is a political act. Who we choose to work with is a political act. And, most importantly, the people we’ve excluded from these decisions is the biggest (and stupidest) political act we’ve made as a society.
Fascinating and unsettling, and it feels like an important conversation for this moment in time.
Today I’m in the mood for some entertaining fiction—maybe another Terry Pratchett since I so enjoyed The Wee Free Men. My only highlight in the Kindle edition: “an egg’s worth of education.” I read it aloud to the kids so that fragment can’t have been the thunk of a sleeping hand on the screen. I guess I just liked the notion! (Tiffany barters eggs for knowledge when the scholars come to town.)
This week on Medium I shared a peek at how I used a Trello board to help with my novel revision. And squee—the most exciting moment of my week—my editor sent me the cover sketch for my new book and it’s fabulous! I can’t wait to share it. The artist is brilliant and the sketch just crackles with energy. I’m so happy. I think we’ll have final art for it quite soon. Of course the book doesn’t pub until summer 2020, but seeing the title in print makes it feel very real!
Happy last-weekend-in-April, my dears. I’d love to hear what you’re reading and planting!
Welp, I turned in the revision of my novel and I’m feeling…I don’t know how I’m feeling! Like a groundhog emerging from its hole, maybe? Hey look, it’s spring! Portland has passed cherry-blossom-and-daffodil season, and now we’re in the glorious throes of dogwood-and-tulip season. People are planting vegetable gardens. Robins are busy in my back yard. The whole city is a wonderland of bloom.
One exciting aspect of being finished with this stage is that I can turn my attention to some neglected side-projects, and some that aren’t neglected, just new. I’m working on a follow-up to my Medium post about digital minimalism and a new one about tidal homeschooling. I have some poems just about ready to send out and a picture book idea ready to fall out of my head and onto the page. And I want to do some spring cleaning here on the blog. I’ve read 42 books so far this year and I’m dying to talk about them!
For today, though, I’ll just take a deep breath and enjoy the wind in my neighbor’s pink dogwood. And the flowers on our little cactus!
This morning, two days after the photo above was taken and about a week after taking a spill on his bike, Huck burst into my studio at his usual sunrise moment and announced with excitement, “Mom, look! My leg is almost totally better!” He lifted the injured knee almost to his chin, Karate Kid-style, to demonstrate. “Now it only hurts when I do THIS!”
Sunday night, and I’m trying to think of something to say that isn’t a repeat of things I’ve posted elsewhere this week! I just sent off my weekly Patreon subscriber post—a diary of this week’s reading—and I wrote a longform post for Medium earlier in the week about my progress so far at a shift toward digital minimalism.
(An odd thing about Medium: I knew you could “clap” for posts you like to help boost them, but I thought the clap button was like every other like button on the internet—on or off. But no! You can clap up to 50 times per story.! This is…frustrating. I like to help give a bump to good posts, but I’m not inclined—especially in this minimalism mood!—to sit there mashing a button for several seconds to give maximum applause. At the same time I’m wincing to think of all the times I’ve given just the one clap, unaware it wasn’t a terribly enthusiastic response. Ah well.)
Anyway! That post was fun to write and I plan to follow up with more steps toward streamlining my screen time. One big shift this week that happened after I posted the article was that I ditched my habit trackers. All of them! Seems like I’ve been attempting to track habits or log progress one way or another (on paper, in apps, or both) since way back in early FlyLady days when it was a yahoogroup sending eight emails a day to remind you to drink your water. Sometimes it’s been just a few basic things: did I take my vitamin? did I take a walk today? Other times I’ve had a whole raft of daily trackable activities. Sketch! Read! Duolingo! Stretches! Etc etc etc. And of course I jumped on the Fitbit bandwagon at some point. But it all just suddenly seemed like unnecessary pressure. I read every day, whether I mark an X in a box or not. If I’m not in the mood to sketch, a habit tracker isn’t more likely to make me do it—it’ll just make me feel guilty for not doing it. And step-counting: well, let’s just say I’ve had one too many nights where I’m jogging in place in my pajamas just to get my Fitbit to turn over to a nice round number. (Scott has a particularly sardonic eyebrow lift reserved for these moments. And I’ll be like: “I know! [pant pant] This is ridiculous! [pant] …98…99…8000!”)
So I deleted the tracking app (more digital decluttering, yay) and put my Fitbit on a shelf. And then I went for a long walk, a walk measured in cherry blossoms and tulips, not steps.