In Monday’s post, The Unburdened Writer, I felt a poignant ‘Ah!’ moment when I read of my colleague Silk’s quest to become ‘unburdened’ this year.
To be more ‘aware’ of her surroundings.
To be more ‘centered’.
To be more ‘mindful’.
Perhaps this is part of every writer’s journey, a spiritual renewal that comes along every Fall (especially for those of us who have spent too many years in academia), and again at the beginning of every January, the more traditional start of the ‘New Year’.
Undoubtedly, all this soul-searching is prompted by a massive case of guilt:
1) guilt over the excess of food and drink consumed during the holidays;
2) guilt arising from the inevitable, heartfelt re-examination of the past 12 months.
Yes, glorious January 1st, the day when we wake up and are forced to flip the pages of the calendar and stare, not only at the lovely blank pages of the New Year, but also at the entire 365 days preceding that day, the day when we look back and find ourselves confronted by a depressing lack of productivity in a year that is now, undeniably, over.
In my case, this quaint annual ritual of ‘calendar flipping’ occurred on the beautiful Island of Kauai, during the waning days of a busy family holiday.
Family Holiday.. Nana..
I confess: it is not easy to be a step-parent.. to be a grandparent, when you have little training in this department. I am, admittedly, a “straight to grandparent” kind of Nana.
The kind who has never changed a diaper.
The kind who looks helplessly at “GrandDaddy’ at the first trembling lip or willful stamp of of a tiny, flip-flop clad foot. The kind who says, ‘over to you’ when a busy and exhausting day culminates in the inevitable bed-time meltdown.
No, I have no natural inclination, much less training to be a grandparent, but I’m working on it!
Thankfully, I am not without certain skills. Skills surprisingly adaptable to the care and feeding of four year olds.
For those of you who’ve ever raised a puppy, I can tell you this is excellent training for keeping a grandchild warm and fed. Now, keeping them amused so that they don’t chew up your shoes or throw temper tantrums, that’s another thing entirely, but even for this, I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve.
For one, thanks to my Mom, I’m an excellent swimmer. My Mom believed in taking us to ‘Mom and Tots’ water baby classes even before we could walk. I honestly do not recall a time I could not swim. This is an essential life skill and I am delighted to be able to pass my love of the ocean on to my grandkids.
Another thing my mother taught me was the love of story. Not only did she read aloud to us when we were younger, she also lead by example and will always be remembered by me with a ‘nose in a book’.
Looking back, those two early ‘gifts’ are often what I remember most about my mother. What I want most for my grandchildren: a love of the ocean and a love of books and reading.
And writing. Let’s not forget writing.
Now, I admit that a four year old may be a bit too young for writing (although she can, however, proudly write her own name, which is pretty good for a four year old).
In the meantime, I frankly need to worry more about my lack of productivity on my writing this past year.
I haven’t been entirely hopeless. I’ve kept up with my blog posts in November and December and with our weekly ‘check in’ emails with our 5writers group. The way we 5writers have become accustomed to meeting ‘virtually’ when we cannot meet in person.
Surprisingly, these ‘check in’ emails really seem to work. For one, there’s an ‘accountability’ element, knowing that we have to report every Monday morning what we’ve accomplished (or not accomplished) during the preceding week. But more than that, we also appear to be increasingly relying on each other for a personal support network. Problems… challenges… our various and sundry triumphs and failures. All our discussed, both those in our ‘writing world’ and in the greater realm of ‘life generally’.
None of us started out together as ‘friends’. All of us, in one way or another, met as writers first, friends second. But each and every member of my writing group has become ever so much more than that.
So, in the spirit of the New Year, as we unburden and share with the ‘group’ our difficulties in getting revved up for another year of writing, I am thankful I don’t need to confine this discussion to just the world of writing, but can also share with my ‘friends’ all the other challenges we are each facing in our personal lives at this time.
Because, we all know by now that these challenges are inter-connected. Perhaps that is the biggest journey we have all taken together. Learning to support one another through difficult times. Through happy times. Through challenging times. Through joyous times.
The other thing I’m thankful for is that, by and large, my writing group is not judgmental. which is why I feel comfortable sharing this week’s topic, the joy of writing outdoors.
Now some, I suspect, may already be pooh-poohing my somewhat frivolous choice of topics for the ‘New Year’ of writing. I’m especially ready for the arctic blast from those who are not so lucky as to be writing from a pool-side bungalow on the Island of Kauai (as I am doing now) much less returning to the relentlessly sunny California desert in a few days time. I hear you… I feel the frosty ice daggers thrown my way. I don’t mean to be unfeeling, but I do feel compelled to share what for me is pure ‘fuel’ for my writing productivity.
Maybe I should blame it all on my mother. I’ve already told you about how she inspired a life long love of both ocean and books by setting a fine example in our infancy. This continued well into our childhood. Most of my early reading was done ‘out of doors’, if not on the beach itself, then on the sleeping porch of our summer cabin, where my mother would read to us far into the night from the Hardy Boys. We invariably clamoured for her to read another chapter, no matter how late it was. Who wouldn’t, with Frank and Joe just about to plunge off a cliff into the murky darkness? My mother was as eager as I to find out ‘what happened next’. So, even though the lantern attracted swarms of those blood-sucking mosquitos, on she would read, much to our delight.
But that isn’t my only recollection.
Who remembers literally feeling ‘pent up’ as winter turned to spring and the first warm sunshine slanted through your elementary school window after months of dreary clouds and rain? Who remembers begging the teacher to take you ‘outside’ to read. You’d still be reading, sure, but you’d be ‘outside’… with all the promise of giddy freedom those words inspired. I don’t actually remember that many times where our class succeeded in this campaign, but that didn’t mean we didn’t keep trying.
Later, even in university and later law school, springtime heralded the first ability to break ranks and head outside with the books to study. I always chose studying outside, given the chance. And not just studying, most of my serious summer reading was spent in the back yard, or on the deck, ‘outside’. I remember devouring most of James Michener’s novels ‘outside’, the entire Bond series ‘outside’, most of Ludlum ‘outside’.
But let’s not stop there. In high school, in a time before internet, I craved information. A nerdy kid, I’d check out an eclectic selection at the library, never less than the 10 book maximum allowed on my library card. Every summer, from 8th and 11th grades, I lounged outside reading everything from biographies of film stars and trial lawyers, to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
I wanted to know everything.
During this time, for reasons unknown (though I suspect have something to do with a reverence for books and a depression era determination not to squander) my parents had a fabulous collection of ‘Life Magazine’ and ‘National Geographic’. So I read those too, acquiring an adult’s retrospective view of the world. At least as dished out by those mainstream publications.
Yes, I was a true nerd.
In some respects, I think I must have burned myself out, because as embarrassing as it is to admit, I do not read at anywhere near the intellectual level of my adolescence. (Thank you Twitter. Thank you Facebook. Now, I truly punch below my weight.
I’m a bit wistful, looking back. All those lazy days, learning EVERYTHING are now gone. Or maybe we just are just spoonfed our information now, via our Twitter and Facebook feeds.
But this past few weeks, spending time with my family, I’ve been fortunate to re-connect with my love of outdoor reading and with outdoor writing. I’ve composed this blog post sitting pool side at the Sheraton Kauai, officially coming to you from Bungalow 8, a virtual outdoor office where we have a power bar to charge all our devices, along with a 26 inch TV mounted above our tented cabana. (We haven’t turned it on).
But the point is, I’ve been productive. I’ve been able to fulfill my obligation to my 5writers group (to blog) while enjoying the last day of my holiday. No choice between pleasure and duty forced upon me. I did not have to choose to stay inside a darkened business center in order to be productive, I can both read and write outdoors in my preferred element. I do not feel one bit sorry for myself as, from my ‘outdoor office,’ and can even field telephone calls from clients and review my emails (albeit always discreetly, because you must always be aware of who is listening… (and if you are not, well, fellow writers, that’s the stuff plots are made of).
Now, by this point, you likely think that I am either:
1) Your soul sister;
3) The product of an overly indulgent upbringing.
4) All of the Above
You know what? I don’t really care. I mean I do. In that very human way. I’d like to discover that I am not alone in my love of reading and writing outdoors. Of course, because I do have ‘the internet’ – I more or less already know that.
Just as I know it is almost impossible to come up with a blog topic someone hasn’t already expounded upon. But, and here my love of all things nerdy shines through, I bet you didn’t know that:
1. Being outdoors enhances creativity – sadly, this is particularly true if you ‘unplug’ from your digital devices, so I still need to work on that).
2. Writing outside is becoming increasingly popular in many primary and secondary schools as a method of engaging children and providing activities and stimuli which cannot be found indoors.
3. Writing outside provides variety, the ‘spice of life’.
4. Spending time outdoors in ‘green areas’ helps to reduce symptoms of A.D.D.
5. Spending time in the sunshine has the added benefit of increasing vitamin D levels and mood.
6. The opportunity to ‘character study’ in outdoor venues adds a new dimension, – watching people interact with nature and ‘the elements’.
So, relying on the above, I make the argument that I am not just an escapist ‘dilettante’ but rather, my mother was ‘on to something’ when she inspired in us a love of reading and writing outdoors.
How I am going to carry that forward into 2015, I do not yet know, but I am going to try.
No stuffy, dingy writers’ garret for me!
Happy New Year, from Bungalow 8!
Dear Readers I drafted this post on Monday and Tuesday, but somehow, the week whipped by and I’m just posting now… already back in Sunny California, after a few days in chilly but lovely Canada). Now that I am back in California, I hope to continue to work on being the ‘unburdened writer’ (and reader) outdoors. How about you? Do you find it inspirational to write (or read) outdoors, or do you prefer the dingy writer’s garret pictured at the top of my post: Henry Wallis’s portrait of the 17 year old poet, Chatterton (1856) Public domain