Well, I worked through the weekend and planned to take this afternoon off, which of course means I’ve spent much of the afternoon dealing with tax stuff and medical admin. I’m chronically bad at honoring my own breaks. So I’ve come here to tell on myself and create a little accountability for the rest of the day. I have a last few Cybils Easy Reader & Early Chapter Book finalists waiting to be picked up at the library, so I think I’ll walk over there while Scott is in his Tuesday family Zoom meeting, and I’ll stop into the grocery store on the way home to get dinner fixings. I’m roasting a chicken tonight.
Since I was finishing up a Dart, I didn’t write a Sunday stitching update. I did take a picture for it, though! I’ve added a few more circles since then. What I’m aiming for is capturing the loose, blendy watercolor feeling of the painting exercise I posted last week. The circles are meant to be irregular, with their colors bleeding into the adjacent rows. At first (the circles on the left, which is the bottom of the design) I was using a Frixion pen to draw circles as guidelines, but I quickly abandoned that plan. You can see from the marks inside some of the stitched rings that I didn’t even keep to the guidelines where I drew them. Now I’m just winging it.
I love using the heat-erasable Frixion pens for embroidery designs. A quick hit with an iron or blow dryer will zap those marks away.
I’m enjoying the looseness of this project, the way I can make a couple of extra-long stitches at the top or side of a circle to have its colors bleed into a new one. It’s also fun to be so deliberately imprecise—since most of my embroidery is quite the opposite.
It’s a meditative process and I’ve been stitching a few circles each morning, not even listening to anything for once. Just thinking, or not thinking.
I’ve needed those pockets of quiet because life has been rather full this month! Full in some fabulous ways, and some frustrating ones. I’ll be able to share more about the fabulous bits soon.
I do think it’s funny I decided to stitch these slow circles on fabric intended for a crossbody bag. It’ll be ages before I’m ready to get on with the bag assembly so that I can actually use it. But no rush.
Ha, the weather app has just informed me there’s a 50% chance my library books and I will get rained on. Guess I’d better scoot out the door!
Selvi gave me the keyword “stone” for my media-library game. My book Across the Puddingstone Dam popped up several times, but this long-ago pic of Rilla won the day.
When I said yesterday that I’m not a single-tasker, what I really meant was that I’m not a single-project-er. I can hyperfocus like a champ. It’s one of my greatest strengths and biggest struggles, depending on whether the thing I’m hyperfocusing on is the thing I ought to be hyperfocusing on. For instance, I never care about the state of my closets until I have a book deadline breathing down my neck, and then I’ll care about closets FOR HOURS.
But one project at a time, in an orderly fashion, finishing one before I start the next? Not possible. Not how I’m wired. I’m most creative and (to use a word we’ve all come to loathe, for sound reasons) productive when I have an abundance of projects to move between. A dozen hyperfocus opportunities at the ready, is what I’m saying.
Thus the half dozen stitching projects in various stages of completion scattered around my studio, and the comically long list of books marked “currently reading” in my Goo Dreads (to borrow a very young Rilla’s misreading of Goodreads many years ago—I’ve never not seen it that way since).
Of course this means I’m horribly prone to option paralysis. A pocket of free time can be an occasion for distress. Suddenly the thing that was the only thing I wanted to think about while I was working loses its allure, or at least seems no more or less alluring than any of the other creative projects I was yearning to dive into, or the stack of books I was aching to read, or the poem I was burning to fiddle with. As for the closets, I’ve forgotten they exist.
I’ve learned that in this state of curious misery, I have to pick up any book, any embroidery hoop, any drafts notebook. It really doesn’t matter which. If I can stick with it for sixty seconds, I’ll be consumed by it for hours.
A fun thing about being wired this way is that once or twice a year, I’ll realize I have a whole bunch of projects that are all pretty close to the finish line. Then I go on a finishing spree, which is super satisfying.
How about you? Are you a one-project-at-a-time person? Is anybody a one-book-at-a-time person?
It’s a wet, blustery day and I don’t have anything in particular to say. But I never let that stop me in the olden (blog) times, did I? Ha.
Here’s one thing: you can help me continue my easy-peasy image selection method by tossing out some random keyword suggestions. I’ll type them into my WP media library and see what pops up. Here, let’s try rain and wind.
Aw, this picture gives me a smile. It’s from our first spring in Portland. My youngest kids’ first time needing raincoats! When we moved into this house—a block and a half from Klickitat Street—practically the first thing I did was buy Huck a Henry-Huggins-yellow rain slicker. 😄
Wind didn’t bring up anything terribly windy…just a lot of pretty windows.
Well, my new Dart is underway, I finally wrestled some tax info into shape for the accountant, and I did a bunch of admin chores. Scott & some of the kids are watching an Iron Man movie. I think I’m going to take the rest of the afternoon off and do some prep for some stitching projects. I’ve found that it works well for me to immerse in the planning/cutting/choosing stages for several projects at once, and then I stick everything for each project in a different bin, and that way I can reach for whatever kind of stitching I’m in the mood for. Right now I have: a needlepainting project (begun last fall? summer? but idle for months); a saeksilnubi project (begun even longer ago); a hoop meant just for noodling around and trying things out; a really fun hoop based on Tove Jansson’s Little My illustrations (Rilla’s helping with the design of that one); and a long-in-progress piece I designed myself. Oh, and when all I feel like doing is hemstitching (by hand, which I was surprised to discover I adore doing—having believed Jo March for decades that it was a detestable activity), I work on a long-term project (what am I saying, they’re all long term): hemming big squares of linen to use as gift-wrapping cloths. I only got a few made in time for Christmas this year, but I’m determined to switch over from paper completely.
So that’s plenty to keep me busy for weeks (months) to come, and now I’m wondering why I thought I needed to prep anything new? I guess it’s that I have this cozy flannel I want to make pajama pants out of. Handsewn, if possible, because that’s the only kind of sewing I really like. The machine treats me with the disdain of a cat. If it could knock the scissors onto the floor, it totally would.
Updated to add: I made a quick and (in keeping with the topic) totally unedited audio recording of this post, if you’d prefer to listen. I just used the voice notes app on my phone, and to close up some longish pauses, I selected the “skip silences” option, which has pros and cons. It’s good enough for now.
Am I doing the math right? It’s about to be 2023, and I started my blog in Jan. 2005—so: it’s about to turn 18? Holy cats.
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reflection about this blog and all the other places I’ve engaged in online discourse. I’m holding most of that reflection close to the vest for now, but what I can say is that my line of thought this past year has been heavily focused on the way this blog used to support my writing life, and the ways my pattern has shifted over the years.
One thing I’ve been keenly aware of is that navigating multiple platforms—necessary at times, for good reasons—has often left me feeling scattered, digitally speaking, unsure what to put where. My Patreon (in addition to paying off the hefty medical bills of 2017) was meant to cover the overhead costs of Bonny Glen. In practice, though, I found myself constantly waffling over what to post where. Here or there or social or where?
During the pandemic years, the decision fatigue—bane of my existence—has had a dampening effect on my writing process overall. I’ve begun, and left in drafts, dozens, possibly hundreds of posts. Blog, Patreon, newsletter, Medium, Instagram. As my old Astoria landlord used to say: It’s too much! It’s too much!
Another major factor in diminished blogging was the end of Feedburner’s posts-by-email function. Some of you will remember when I tried a substitute, with unfortunate (ad-icky) results. Absent that feature, and with social networks playing algorithm games with us all the time, readers have to actually go to a blog to see if there’s a new post. A few readers still use an aggregator, like Feedly, but not many. (I do have extremely high hopes for Reader, though—a new offering from Readwise, which became my favorite platform of 2022.)
Substack has perks as a platform, but—like Patreon—much of its content lives behind a paywall, and as a reader I thoroughly grok the impossibility of paying for individual subscriptions to a whole bunch of Substacks. Medium, at least, offers access to all paywalled posts for about the same monthly cost as a single Substack sub. But getting any kind of visibility on Medium is a whole nother challenge, a boring one.
And it’s all—aha, here I’m getting to the heart of it—work. It takes time. A lot, lot, lot of time. But this blog was never intended to steal time from writing my books—it was meant to support my work. I’ve written often about the role it has played in my reading/writing/thinking/mothering life, and that’s part of the more recent reflections I’m holding close for now.
What I will say is this:
Over the past several years, I’ve experimented with half a dozen strategies for refocusing my blog habits. Nothing succeeded at beating back the scatter factor. So in September, I tried something new. I put my Patreon on pause and dialed back on all forms of posting. No newsletter, not much action here on the blog, very little social media activity. I needed the break.
But privately, I was trying to restore the practice of daily blog-style writing—capturing my thoughts about what I was reading, watching, experiencing. And now, with lots of things bubbling behind the scenes, I’m ready to return to posting. But posting within some self-imposed parameters.
1. Since work and family responsibilities tend to come in intense waves, keeping to a regular posting schedule has been difficult-to-impossible for me. For that reason, and to mitigate the scatter factor, I’m keeping my Patreon on pause indefinitely. I’ll miss the egg money, but right now it’s more important that my blog is a delicious respite from work rather than another kind of job.
2. I’m not going to bother with affiliate links anymore either. I switched from Amazon to Bookshop.org a while ago, but (much as I love Bookshop) that creates even more work. (Amazon’s tools are faster, basically.) I may leave affiliate portal links in my sidebar, but I’m not going to take the extra time to grab specific book links any more.
3. Photos: another form of busywork. What I’ve been doing this past year is just entering loosely related keywords into my WordPress media library and choosing one of the old pics that pops up. I may also take advantage of Readwise’s lovely quote graphics because they require only a quick tap.
4. Similarly, I’m not going to bother much with design. My WordPress has a built-in analysis feature that loves to scold me for using too many words/too few keywords/too few subheadings/too few images/too complex a vocabulary. To which I say: Pffffttthhhht! See, what I’ve learned is: subheadings make a piece of writing feel like an essay or article, not an old-school chatty blog post, not an even-older-school letter from a friend. And essays and articles, while a form of writing I love to read and sometimes write, are not what I’m turning up in this space for. I need a place for shoes-off, hair-down writing. Warty writing, even.
5. How to let people know there’s something new! Last year I planned to round up posts in a monthly newsletter. This required both a) posts and b) sending a monthly newsletter. I did not much of either. What I think I’ll try instead is just sending a newsletter whenever I have three or four posts to share. No fixed schedule. You can sign up for my newsletter here, if you’d like.
6. And finally, as for posts themselves—the heart of this endeavor. There again, no pressures, no expectations. Just thinking out loud about what I’m reading and doing, as of old—but without any of the busywork that has often made it feel like a job. (Sending a quick newsletter isn’t arduous if it’s just to say—like Tonia Peckover or Three Ravens—here’s something new I wrote.)
So that’s what I’m thinking about my digital writing life as 2022 rolls to a close.
This year, I stopped wearing a Fitbit because I was weary of feeling like I hadn’t taken “enough” steps yet. I stopped caring about streaks in everything except Duolingo. (I’m learning Welsh, and I’ve been obsessed for [checks notes] 112 days.) I think I’ve logged barely half of my year’s reading at Goodreads—another intensely busyworky site, if you care about certain fiddly details. I’m sick of metrics. I keep thinking about that bit in A Ring of Endless Light where Vicky’s younger sister, Suzy, is more or less volunteering at a bait shop (something like that), and she comes home every day and flops into a chair with melodramatic fatigue, and the rest of the family is like, well if it’s so exhausting, why are you doing this totally voluntary thing? How about you just…don’t?
Here’s to walking away from the bait shop, friends, if that’s what you feel like doing. Here’s to a year of rest and restoration for all of us. Here’s to reading what you feel like reading, and deleting what you feel like deleting, and writing like your best friend is going to college on the other side of the country in 1989.
In the course of writing this post, I’ve thought of about six other things I want to write about. Which is, of course, the reason I blog in the first place.
…is where I’ve been. Literally, kind of: May & June allergy season kicked off a pretty brutal adventure with asthma—same as every year, but worse this time. Last week the doctor changed up my asthma & allergy meds and I’m much improved. Still coughing but the shortness of breath & crushing fatigue are diminishing. I can wipe down the kitchen or take a shower without getting winded, which is huge.
I’ve been keeping up with my client work, but my own writing bore the brunt of the fatigue. Creative battery totally drained. This week, as I begin to feel lots better, I’m working to reset my creative practice and good habits. Taking it slow, though!
I’ve been dialed waaaay back on social media, too—which is a good thing? But this blog fell silent too, and I’ve missed capturing thoughts and adventures here. And I’m aching to be back in a fertile groove with my book.
So much for what I haven’t done; how about what I have?
—Lots of Minecraft, with kids and without. We have a Realm where we can all play together and I had fun building a whole village of medieval-style houses for us to live in. In my own world, I’ve got a pretty little Hobbiton going. Mellow and satisfying, and certainly creative in its way.
—Read Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte. I’ve followed his blog for ages and I really like his “CODE” process (Capture, Organize, Distill, Express) for navigating all the reading I do constantly, on many fronts, and finding connections and throughlines in the ideas I’ve captured, and writing about them to assimilate and synthesize that knowledge. Basically it’s a name for what I did on this blog in its first twelve years—gathered thoughts about my reading, noted connections, worked out my ideas about whatever topics were gripping me. Somewhere along the line I shifted to doing that work more on paper than on the blog—also a nourishing practice but it eradicated some vital steps in the Organize, Distill, and Express parts of the process. It’s so hard to find anything I jotted down in one of the dozens of paper notebooks I’ve filled over the years. Which makes distilling the ideas difficult, which makes expressing them a longer and less serendipitous process. So my big takeaway from Forte’s book was to:
—Revisit the ways I’m capturing information and ideas. I’ve used Evernote for at least a decade, for stashing away everything of interest I encounter on the internet. So this past month, I tidied up my notebooks and reorganized with Forte’s Second Brain (digital brain) “PARA” structure in mind: Projects, Areas of Interest, Resources, Archive. Now, personally I find a lot of overlap between Areas and Resources, so my system is different from Forte’s. Which tweaking he encourages, of course! But if your Capture tool has a robust search engine (and Evernote has one of the best), how you organize your notes is of less importance, because you can always surface what you need via search.
—Of course I’m still writing in notebooks. Pen and paper does spark a different kind of fertile, creative thought. So I’m making it a practice to read over my scribbles at least weekly and move anything of use or interest into Evernote. Sometimes I type things up (a helpful practice for zero drafts of poems) and other times I just take a picture. Evernote’s search can even deal with handwriting! This practice is another way of leaning into the “Second Brain” concept—recognizing that we live in an information-overload age and it isn’t possible to hold it all in one’s own (first) brain anymore. There’s a lot of peace in trusting you’ll find what you need in your archive. And, I mean, so many of us homeschooling blogger types experienced the magic of the Distill and Express parts of the process in the enthusiastic discourse that led to such good writing & experiences in those days.
—Even in my fatigued state, the thrill I get from trying out a new app or platform has been as intense as ever. Over the past year or two, I’ve tested lots of notetaking and project-planning apps (a slew of Capture tools, basically). Notion, Roam Research, Logseq, Mem, Sunsuma—these are all excellent projects with unique structures and uses. You’ll find diehard fans of each one. In the end, though (ha—there is never a true end to this experimentation), I determined that Evernote makes the most sense for me. I like its looks, its functionality, and its amazing integration. For task tracking and timeblocking, I use Todoist, and I’ve been really happy with my setup there for a long time. The other two apps I lean on constantly, with gratitude for the role they play, are Readwise and Momentum Dash. The former catches all my Kindle highlights, article quotes, and any passages I’ve marked in print books & sent (via photo) to the app; and it sends all these juicy bits of good stuff to Evernote where I can…search them whenever I want. And Momentum Dash is a nice focusing element in my browser. When you open a new tab, you get a nice clean screen with a beautiful photo—no Google distractions. You can add habit tracking across the top if you wish, plus other tidbits like the weather. And you can customize tab sets to make it easier to stay focused on a particular type of work. For example, I have one set that opens all the tabs I need to do my social media job for Low Bar Chorale. Another one opens only what I need for daily planning. It’s an elegant little browser extension that went a long way toward cutting down drifting and getting sucked into feeds, or having Twitter open all day.
(P.S. That Todoist link is an affiliate link—I rely on the app so much I signed up for their referral program. If you’re interested in how I use it to keep track of homeschooling, housework, medical admin, client work, and creative projects, I’m happy to rave about my system anytime.)
—Since May, I’ve written the first three (!) Brave Writer Darts of the current year’s lineup. Am at work on the fourth, for Pam Muñoz Ryan’s lovely novel Solimar, now.
—I’ve worked a little bit on a long-term project to create a resource for Oregon families with a kid making the shift from child disability services to adult services. I documented the almost-a-year-long process we navigated for my son, and I was stunned to discover the road map/timeline/checklist I yearned for doesn’t exist. So I’m making one to share. Slow but steady progress.
—As for stitching, I’ve mostly been mending socks and jeans. My embroidery projects have been on idle.
—And (since this got long!) one last thing I’ve been reading and enjoying immensely: A. R. Moxon’s post series called “Unpacking LOST.“ I’m a major LOST fan, have watched the whole run at least six times, plus twice more chronologically. Moxon’s take on the show is brilliant and riveting, and each time a new installment drops, it makes my day.
Hope summer is treating you well, friends. Let’s catch up!
Good grief, it’s been two months since my last post. I did start several (in the seventeen-plus years I’ve been blogging here, I’ve amassed a truly ridiculous number of unpublished drafts. Over seven hundred of them. I mean.) but I kept butting into that wall I face when I want to capture some funny or beautiful moment—the larger context, the grimness of that larger context. The state of the world. I’m resisting the urge right now to write that distressing litany (war, plague, corruption, oppression, fires, dying oceans, dying soils, melting ice—the list we’re all carrying around all the time.
I’ll read a poem that shoots through me, or something amusing will happen during our lessons, or I’ll see a neighbor’s cat stalking a scrub jay, the jay perfectly aware of the crouching, intensely focused predator, cocking its head this way and that, hopping a little, flaunting its total confidence in its power of flight; and I’ll want to come here and record the thing so I don’t lose it. Even capturing in a notebook as I often do doesn’t insure against loss: I’ve filled so many, many notebooks. And they don’t have rapid search engines.
But the urge to begin with a disclaimer—exactly this kind of disclaimer—burns up all the energy I had for writing the post.
Can I just issue the disclaimer once and move on? Everything is terrible, but also a lot of things are beautiful and I want to remember them?
Well. Here I am, in May, a month I love. On the East Coast I loved it for the explosion of blossoming trees; but here in Portland that begins in April and is winding down by now. We’ve had cherry blossoms & tulip magnolias & flowering plum; now it’s dogwood time, and rhododendrons and azaleas. What I love most about Portland’s May is the light: especially in the evenings after rain, when the light lasts and lasts, and the clouds are shot through with it, backlit, illuminated, and it’s like there is light in the air, or the air is made of particles of light. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, anywhere else.
Soon, unless it starts pouring, Huck and I will go out for a walk. Last night, Scott and I were returning home from a long walk and encountered a pair of mallards splashing in a large pool of water on Beech—a cross-street in our neighborhood badly in need of repairs. Blocks and blocks of puddles and potholes. Puddles large enough to attract waterfowl, it seems! Oh, the gorgeous sleek green head of the male duck.
And of course I can’t think of mallards without remembering one of the funniest moments of my whole parenting/homeschooling life: the time someone at the park yelled “Duck!”
…A bunch of kids were playing ball not far away. Suddenly a cry rang out: “DUCK!” Every person in the vicinity ducked out of the way of the large ball hurtling toward our group. Except my kids. All three of them (there were only three at the time) LOOKED UP AT THE SKY. I kid you not. “Where?” cried Jane. “Is it a mallard?”
How happy am I that I wrote that story down at the time? 2006, it was. Sixteen years later, still so funny.
Okay. Whew. It’s March. I’m a few days away from finishing my last Brave Writer Dart of the year (this one on Nim’s Island, that utter delight of a book), and I’ve scaled back on other freelance work in order to—dare I say it?—give myself a little break. It is a long. long time since I’ve had a real break. I want to work on my new novel, finish some stitching projects, and read a lot of books.
I’ve been feeling pretty wrung out, I must admit. I just answered a lot of messages on FB and IG (and comments here) and was horrified to see some of them have been sitting for months. I didn’t mean to be rude. I was just buried.
And now, like the daffodils exploding all over my neighborhood, I’m ready to emerge. I mean, sort of. Emerge and be sociable online again, and write posts and answer comments. But in another sense, I’m thinking the nice, quiet, soaking-up-the-good-nutrients life of a flower bulb sounds like heaven. I guess I’d better scrap the metaphors and, while I’m at it, the plans. The planning!
LOL LOL LOL I just realized that what I’m saying is I’m ready for low tide!
Which is funny, because the kids and I are definitely in high tide right now. We’re reading Beowulf, Wilding, and Moominpappa’s Memoirs. Lots of good rabbit trails. Lots of geometry.
How’s this for a quote? From Seamus Heaney’s brilliant translation of Beowulf:
“He is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain, limping and looped with it.”
Oh we lingered long over those delicious verbs. Hirpling!
And they’re the right verbs for this moment in time: the whole world, it seems, is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain. And no epic warrior coming to set things right—it’s going to take small actions from all of us, small ripples building up into great waves.
I wish you could see the sky outside my window right now. The light—it’s like it’s shining behind and through things, a luminous wash of gold, like something from an Elizabeth Goudge novel. Oh, I know what I’m thinking of: the “tide of gold” in The Scent of Water, the light moving across rooms in Mary Lindsay’s house, rooms that had once been part of a monastery infirmary. I reread that book (again) last month and have been on a Goudge kick ever since: the light, the woods, the skylark, the shipwrecked grain coming up near the water’s edge every year. And the small thoughtful or loving actions of individuals rippling out to change others’ lives. That’s what I love most about her work: the way one nearly invisible choice, one kind word, one hand held out to another human, can set in motion a cascade of events that makes life better for a community.
This is the poem that carried me through this year, more than any other. “One Poem a Day” by Olav Hauge, from his lovely book The Dream We Carry. Those last lines especially—
I get up. It’s lighter. Have good intentions. And see the bullfinch rise from the cherry tree, stealing buds.
There have been so many days during the pandemic (and before) when I’ve walked around thinking: Have good intentions. Look for the bullfinch, the buds.
In her wonderful book Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life, Twyla Tharp urges us to “make sharing delight into a daily occurrence,” or, as she puts it a few pages later, to find “the Daily Miracle. Find something that pleases you greatly first thing every morning when your mind is fresh.”
Mary Oliver puts it like this:
Every day I see or hear something that more or less
kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle
What, for you, is the bullfinch rising from the cherry tree, stealing buds, today? Your ‘daily miracle’ for this last day of November? What little thing, ordinary or extraordinary, has more or less killed you with delight?
Reading: Gathering Moss (still, slowly, with lots of marginalia); Black Birds in the Sky, Brandy Colbert’s chilling account of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
Reading aloud: The Whisper of Glocken by Carol Kendall—only a few chapters to go, and I’ll miss it when it’s over.
Listening to: A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (audiobook). Am listening to these all out of order, whatever comes into Overdrive first. Excellent company during evening stitching time.
Watching: The Morning Show, season 2, with Scott; Tiny World with the kids
Learning about: saeksilnubi (a traditional Korean quilting art) and Roam Research (an incredibly useful notekeeping/mind-mapping tool). Also some basic Korean as I work to translate pattern instructions.
Remembering: Rilla in 2009:
3yo asks, in a knowing way, “Mom, what do you like?”
Of course I say, “I like YOU.”
She looks perplexed: “I thought you liked chocolate!”
Noticing: leaves starting to go yellow all over the neighborhood; the last tomatoes splitting on the vine; a downy woodpecker at the suet feeder
Feeling: mildly feverish and very achy (got my Pfizer booster yesterday)
Stitching: too many things all at once. A saeksilnubi panel for a small crossbody bag. Several handstitched drawstring bags to give as presents. A secret embroidery project. Another secret embroidery project.
Writing: A novel outline; a Brave Writer Dart on Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree.