not ripe yet

Lately I haven’t felt like writing. You may have noticed. For two weeks I have turned on the computer, opened a new document, and then repeatedly checked my email.

I have made the rounds of my favorite websites, become disenchanted by the headlines, and left promptly after checking the score of the ballgame. The only things able to move me to action are cooking blogs and the Joy of Cooking print edition. In the past week I have made apricot jam, coconut macaroons, shrimp Thai noodles, whole wheat blueberry muffins, banana walnut waffles, and six different kinds of pizza. I have been busy.

I realize that part of inspiration is the action you take every day. The people you choose to surround yourself with, the books you read, the music you listen to, the route you take to work. Maybe I need to start doing something different. Something that does not arrive from a few scoops of a bag of flour with some honey drizzled on top. Because right now my runs aren’t doing it. Mountain biking isn’t doing it. Reading isn’t doing it. I wonder if it’s because the world is not really an inspiring place to read about right now.

Lately our government held its people, and its future, hostage because a few egocentric white dudes couldn’t imagine not having their picture hanging on the wall in a handful of state-owned buildings. The world economy is in the shitter because people continue to put faith in the movement of some numbers they can never touch and that represent people and companies they don’t work for. Children are starving in Africa because their parents have nothing to offer the world except sad stories.

The only place I see progress happening is in my backyard. There everything has a season, a chance for some time in the sun before being carted off to the compost pile where it will become nourishment for some other life. A retirement stay with the worms.

Life in the garden begins with a seed and conditions deemed good enough to try. Those who survive the first few weeks in the ground are fragile. Sensitive to heat, cold, insects, mold, and infection. They grow, mature, produce, and die. Kind of like us.

When spring first came to Utah it was wildflowers and muddy trails, snowmelt on the run – trying to pull the rest of the mountain down behind it. The soil finally dried and the grasshoppers came. Then the butterflies. The last to arrive were the dragon flies. I recently came across an entire field of them mating. Or eating. I can’t be sure. But I ran through the dry grass with hundreds of wings zipping past my face and none of them ever touching me.

This month I pulled the last of the peas from the ground and the first of the beets. I thinned carrots that finally resemble carrots. I discovered tiny green tomatoes that aren’t so tiny anymore. Planted corn that might not make it. Boiled apricots into the first hours of morning. I yanked onions from the earth and dreamt of homemade gnocchi still maturing underground.

Gardening is a process much like writing. Both sound more romantic than they really are. Both require diligence, weeding, and a thinning of the unnecessary. And for me, both are an exercise of faith. That what I intended to produce actually made it into the rows and onto the pages. That I actually created something at all. This summer I have found more success in the garden. I am looking forward to the fall when the temperatures drop, the leaves change, and maybe I will too.

For now, I weed when necessary. Collect apples and apricots rotting on the ground and carry them to the compost pit. I watch young girls pushing baby strollers down the sidewalk. I wonder about the things they know that I do not. I wonder what I have done that they never will.  Apples continue to drop from my tree in the backyard.  The plums and pears look healthy and strong. They’re not ripe yet, but getting there.

today i saw this …

I am not a photographer. Nor do I aspire to be one.

And while I love the idea of preserving a moment on film – even just until we can show someone that yes, this actually happened, or yes, this truly exists, or yes, I really ate that – I am better at capturing these experiences with words.

So, why I am going to tell you that I recently started a photo blog? Because lately the words just aren’t coming. I think they are bored with me. And I guess I am too.

I am hoping that by training my brain to think a little differently – to consider each missed train, each doorway, each wrong way, to be an avenue of possibility – that I will finally locate my creativity. Because right now it is lost and refuses to ask for directions.

The images on todayisawthis are not meant to impress or inspire you. They are meant to inspire me.  The shots are taken on an iPhone 3G during moments that give me pause. And I admit. Most are poor quality. Most are of ordinary things. Sometimes I cut out important details. Like people. And backgrounds. But that isn’t the point. Because this photo project is actually a writing assignment. It is an effort to salvage my relationship with my words. Because we are stuck in a routine. And routines are good. Until they are bad.

This new blog is an effort to get me to take an alternate route home every day. To look up instead of down. To say yes instead of no. And take notice of the people and things happening around me.

My goal is that by taking the time to capture at least one thing that catches my eye every day, considering it, and then sharing it with you, that maybe I will eventually find my words. Perhaps on a side street somewhere in San Francisco – eating chocolate donuts, wearing my favorite dress, and pretending they were never anywhere but right in front of me.

To see what I’ve been up to you can visit  http://www.todayisawthis.wordpress.com. I am still tweaking the site. It will likely change in the next few weeks. To be honest, I hope it changes in the next few weeks. But I thought I should get it out there and start holding myself accountable to the exercise.

starting for good

How does one begin writing about a man’s life? Do I open with talking about how time takes everything – your memory, your bones, your stories? Or do I start more simply. Do I start with his room? A bright white room in a big brown building on the top of a hill that no one can see. Behind a fence no one knows is there.

Do I tell the story of how he was surrounded by books? Overwhelmed by them. Confused by them. So he painted his way out. Between headlines and photos of people who used to breathe at the same time. Or do I mention his shoes?  Black and yellow and new. And how he uses the word abandoning and says, I am more than a paintbrush?

Perhaps I begin with his voice? Or maybe focus more on what he has to say. Everyone must have a point a view. It must be more than pretty. It must be more than about form. You must have a theme, he tells his students. What is my theme?

I am supposed to write about who he is. I have 400 words. But I want to tell the story of how you get to happy. And it might take longer than that. Because no one else seems to know the way. He thinks he found it between coffee cans of orange brushes and a stack of newspapers no one wanted to throw away but no one reads anymore either.

He studied math. He was good at it. But he needed something a little less predictable. Something with a little more mystery. Something time could bite into and shake around, break down and toss to the side, for someone else to pick up, spread out, and say: a treatise about life. And memory. And loss. Brilliant! When really it is just a piece of garbage someone else found value between the tears.

He painted the news. He made it look like something it is not: full of precision and order, less ads, and more words. Words that don’t always fit together. But I don’t want to write about the news. And how it’s not always accurate. Or anything other than sad. People defending themselves and their name and their right to poke your eye out because it was the wrong color. People defending their right to say all the right things because it gets them further than when they don’t.

I don’t want to write about wedding announcements or obituaries and the people you share your life with and the people you leave behind. I don’t want to follow a formula that is a lede and quote, some background, and a little more detail before you get bored and I blow my way out the back when you’re not looking.

He says he paints in response to events. I write because I feel like it. Because the words have to go somewhere. Or else they stack up and spill over at all the wrong moments. Because there was an opportunity. And someone had to take it.

He tells me he hesitates before painting. I know this feeling. He says he pushes things aside that make him uncomfortable. He walks away from them. Then they call him back. And he listens to what they have to say. And he copies them on the canvas. And then he leaves them for good.

I think I will begin with his shoes.

149 posts later

One year ago today I started this blog. At the time, I noted how it was only fitting I would join the Internets on Independence Day. My first entry I wrote about how I detested technology. Back then I was afraid of my phone, had no idea what Flickr was, and thought people who used Twitter had an overdeveloped sense of self-importance.

Now, I’ve upgraded to an iPhone (which I still don’t know how to use properly), co-launched a second blog, and fully admit to tweeting. But I remain old school. I still believe boys need to make the first, second, and third moves. I still prefer phone calls over texting. And I still don’t own a digital camera. But I’m not writing today to talk about technology – or boys.

Looking back, I’m not really sure why I started sharing my personal thoughts with all of you anyway. And ‘sharing’ probably isn’t really the best word to use in this case either – that would imply you actually asked for my opinion. I just kind of dumped them on you. But you’ve been kind enough to listen for the past 12 months. So thanks.

The blog was conceived in the same café I sit typing in now with Emily and Allison. They encouraged me to make my thoughts and opinions public knowledge after one of my frequent rants. Maybe the girls were just tired of being the first place I unloaded my ideas. Maybe they recognized that I simply needed an outlet for my emotions. Maybe they thought other people might get something from them. Either way, I had no goal or direction with the blog when I started.

And in truth, I still have no idea what I’m doing. I write about everyday things that move me. Or at least move me to the point of grabbing my laptop and heading to the nearest café with Internet my computer will talk to. Because I do not write in a vacuum. I have to be emotionally invested in a topic. That’s probably why I only write about relationships – whether they are with friends and family, boys, technology, the Boston Red Sox, or with myself.

Over the past 12 months the blog has turned into sort of a life experiment for me. I’ve enjoyed looking back over the past 148 posts and seeing what has changed and what has more or less remained the same: We have a new president – one I actually voted for. I live in the same apartment – though only for the next three weeks. I gained and lost one lovely boyfriend. I’ve trained for and completed a marathon. I’ve applied to law school only to eventually opt not to go, and I’ve launched another blog with Allison which should make us Internet famous any day now. (Fingers crossed.)

While I’m not certain what will unfold over the next year, or whether the blog is something I will continue with at all – as long as I continue to feel deeply about the people and things around me, I’m pretty sure I will have something to say about it.

a good story

MOM: Today is the 35th anniversary of the day your father and I met.
ME: Wow. What made you remember the date?
MOM: Because June 3rd is the day I met your father.  Don’t you remember the day you met M —?
ME: No. But that’s probably why I’m not married to M—

As someone who is paid to write about other people’s lives, you would think certain story lines would inevitably get stale. You might imagine certain themes illicit groans, a blinking cursor on a blank screen, or at least a visit to the online thesaurus for another turn of phrase.  And yes, you do become weary of repeating the same stories remedied simply by inserting different people’s names.

As a writer one of the most frustrating things is when someone contacts you trying to promote a story that is in fact not a story. And I guess that might leave you wondering what makes a good one?

In elementary school when you are just learning to write you are taught that a story has a beginning, middle and end with some action in between. Throw in a few adjectives and call it a good time. Otherwise, it’s a just a footnote and who wants your life edited down to something pushed to the fringe? While opinions on what makes a good story vary, in a newsroom the key is in the first word: new. Something noteworthy needs to have happened to get ink; but in general, you need a character people give a shit about doing something people want to hear about.

The stories I seem to expend the most energy writing are those I have to try to even care about long enough to get them down on the page. Mostly they lack a struggle, speed trap or giant pothole. After considering this, I have decided we are all just characters in a big book God is writing and the reason we have so many misunderstandings is because we would otherwise be boring subject matter.

That aside, the one story line I never seem to grow tired of is learning how people met their other. These are best told when the couple is together since both typically have different accounts of the situation and the meat of the story typically lies in these differences.  In my experience, the best stories seem to contain the same elements: the misinterpretation of a moment, a tiny act of God, or a little bit of luck – and most of the time, it’s a combination of all three.

In the case of my parents, they met while working the night shift on the men’s geriatric ward of a local hospital. She was a nurse; he was an orderly. The night she started working he had made a bet with coworkers that the new girl was going to be a fat Italian lady with rolled down knee socks. Not so much. “She was a babe,” my dad recalls. “He had great arms,” my mom says.

He wooed her with homemade doughnuts; she drove him home every time his MG broke down – which was nightly.  Then he moved to France for medical school and left her behind. When he returned over Christmas to find her wearing an engagement ring belonging to someone else, her sick mother, he felt sucker punched and within a week asked her to marry him.  (Who knows how long he would have strung her along otherwise?) They moved to France and have been drinking good wine ever since.

I love that story.

career advice from mom

You always need to have a plan B in life.  Tonight I was reviewing fall back careers with my parents … just in case. My dad threw out the option of electrician. I told him I probably should avoid repairing anything that operates with an on switch. Especially since the way I “fix” my phone is by shaking it repeatedly and vigorously. Kind of like a martini. But it was my mom who came up with the ultimate money maker. (After flight attendant. “So you can fly home!”)

ME: I was thinking of becoming a pirate. I hear it’s pretty lucrative.

MOM: Why don’t you just write a book about a dog? That guy wrote about a dog named Marley and look – he has a movie deal now. He’s making millions!

ME: [Mull it over. Remember that do not own dog. Not even a fish. Respond.] No, I think I will just become a pirate.