Thursday, July 31, 2014

The struggle

Late last night I listened to a podcast by writer Neil Gaiman, who is extraordinary, in which he talked about how important it is to write even when you're not inspired to write.

Which is where I run into problems.

How do I write when I feel I have nothing of importance to say? Mr. Gaiman says that I shouldn't be making that distinction now, that in several years I will look back and be unable to tell whether something I wrote was finished in a moment of inspiration or otherwise. I'm disinclined to believe him, though, seeing as how I'm feeling more otherwise than inspired these days. On the other hand, the guy is a published author, so he clearly knows way more than me.

Then, how do I motivate myself to write when I'm uninspired and yet can find really wonderful podcasts about writing to which I can listen? I get caught up in that instead of writing. It's a vicious cycle. I don't feel like writing, so I search for inspiration to write, which tells me I should just shut up and write already, but I don't feel like writing, so I search for inspiration...

Now, in my search for inspiration, I found a book that details the daily habits of successful writers. As if following someone else's habits (who is the opposite sex or able to maintain a lifestyle which I cannot or any number of other variables that I will not do like chain smoking cigars while I write) will make me, too, a successful writer.

I just need to get into the habit. Like drinking a shit ton of water every day. Like brushing my teeth in the morning and then again before bed. Like plugging my phone into its charger every evening.

If only it was that easy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bleeding at the typewriter

Okay, break's over. I need to start writing again.

I mean, I've been writing. Just not here. No, I don't have another blog. I'm not cheating on this blog by posting elsewhere. I'm a monogamous blogger.

I wrote and delivered a talk to my ACTS team tonight. It was about the role that values play in my life. I was supposed to talk about service, which would have been easy because I heard a service talk a few months ago and immediately had a shit-ton of ideas on how to write my own. So that's what I signed up for, and that's what I got. I was pretty pleased with myself.

Then the Holy Spirit decided that shit like that doesn't fly, and that we only grow when we are challenged, and blah blah blah. My retreat director called me one night and said, "Oh, hey, so there's another team member who feels really CALLED to talk about service. Do you want to talk about forgiveness or values?" Well, fuck. My last talk was about forgiveness and if I did that again I'd be mailing it in. I mean, I'm all past that and stuff. This left values.

Values are really fucking hard to write about, because they're so damn ambiguous. Forgiveness is easy: someone does something incredibly boneheaded and you forgive them. Viola! Service is pretty walk in the park, too: these are all the ways I help others. Boom. Done.

Values? Yeah. Huh.

So I said, okay, I'll do values, because I try really hard in group situations like this to be the easy one, the path of least resistance, the person who fills in the holes and makes life easier for the poor slob stuck running the whole show. And then I hung up and stuffed it down deep in my brain because I wasn't ready to think about it.

I mean, I had a chunk of it immediately. There are two men who were instrumental in forming my values as I was growing up. It's not too difficult for me to talk about what amazing men I have for fathers. But the crux of these talks is baring your soul, sharing a difficult time or a struggle and how you made it through. That's where the good stuff is. The juicy stuff that people can either relate to, or be amazed by. It's where you strike the chords, get attention, drive home a point.

So I forgot about it, and off we went on our vacation. I was stupid and checked my email periodically, mostly to avoid being blindsided by anything huge happening at work or at home. Last Monday our retreat team got an email from the director, in which she cheerfully reminded everyone that Amy is giving her talk on values next Tuesday night!

This is when the alarm bells started sounding in my head. Instant panic. I think I even started sweating. Well, as it turns out, riding for miles and miles in a car with beautiful scenery all around gives you lots of time to think. Ideas started forming, and I bounced them off M. He solidified a few things, suggested a few improvements, and my brain was off to the races. Sunday, after we dropped Zoe off at Girl Scout camp, we went to his new office so he could put things away and generally get set up. I took my laptop and, as he likes to describe it, barfed all over the page. The entire speech came out in a torrent of typing. A few tweaks here and there, insert appropriate scripture reference, a final proof to make sure no f-bombs sneaked in (this is a church talk, for fuck's sake), and it was in the can. I felt better immediately.

Until tonight when I had to deliver it to my team. Holy shit I hate public speaking. The writing was easy, once I finally knew what I wanted to say. It was having to stand in front of 30 people and read it. All while trying to make eye contact and slow-the-shit-down-already. (I tend to machine gun my speech when I get nervous.)

So I'm on the flip side now, having delivered it, and feeling much better about the whole thing, although I'm a bit flummoxed by my comment sheets. "Share more of your faith journey!" "You shared enough of your faith journey!" "Slow down a bit!" "Your delivery was perfect!" I do have some edits I want to make, but sheesh. It's hard to tell exactly what to do when some people say do this and others say do that. Eh, I'll figure it out. The hard part is over. I bled.

Ernest Hemingway said, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed."

My best writing comes when I'm passionate about something, when I bleed.

Or maybe when I'm drunk.

(I'm neither tonight, but feeling somewhat slackerish since it's been so long since I posted. I guess I wanted to get something out here that says yes, I've been writing. Just not here.) (And this was an incredibly long-winded way to say that.) (Many apologies.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

How to Travel

I have found my preferred form of travel.

Over the years I have crossed our country (and even gone out of our country) using many different methods: train, bus, airplane, mini-van, 15-passenger van, cruise ship. They all have their benefits.

Only one, though, seems to fill most of what I need out of a trip, especially a trip that comes on the heels of an extremely busy time.

It’s a pretty simple formula: best friend + Corvette + road = happiness.

The best friend part is pretty self-explanatory. Your best friend should be someone you want to spend most of your time with, the person who loves you for who you are, allows you to just be your unvarnished, most true, you. Who cherishes your dreams as much as you do, even if he doesn’t understand them, just because they are yours. Who puts up with your whims and musings and your tendency to get hangry if you’re not fed right now dammit and your inability to navigate anywhere, even places we’ve been before. This is the ideal travel partner.

Taking the Corvette means we must distill down what we need for two weeks into a pretty small space. We have become masters at packing flat, which allows us to remove the roof of the car and stow it in the back, all our belongings underneath the “lid.” Packing flat is an art form, and requires discerning what we really, truly need to be happy for two whole weeks. Only the basics and the essentials make it. (Basics: tooth brushes and paste, medicine, clothes. Essentials: iPhone and charger, laptop for writing, couple of small books.) Traveling like this makes me feel light, reminds me that it’s not possessions that make me happy. The things are simply tools to help me down the road towards fulfillment; they aren’t the finish line.

The Corvette has only two seats. Two. One for him, one for me. Taking a car that has only two seats means it’s impossible to bring our child. This is where the explanation gets tricky, because there are a lot of parents who wouldn’t dare dream of doing anything without their children, and who are aghast that parents would even purchase a two-seater car while still having a child(ren) at home. M and I believe, though, that we are more than Parents. We are also Husband and Wife, which we were before our daughter came along and which we will be after she flies the coop and starts her own life, hopefully with her own best friend. If we do not cultivate our marriage, what will be left when she goes? If we make our lives child-centric for 18 years, how do we go back to being childless when she’s grown up? 18 years is a long time to set new habits that may be impossible to break. Don’t get me wrong…we do plenty of trips with her (the kid just flew to the Dominican Republic, first class mind you, for a week of beach and pool fun). But part of her experience should also include exploring (both herself and her world) and growing up, so this summer she went to her first week-long sleep-away camp and is now spending a couple weeks with two of her three sets of grandparents. We FaceTime and I text pictures of things I think she’d like. We connect without being entirely connected. This is good for all of us.

Owning a Corvette led us to join a local club of Corvette owners. The only thing any of us really have in common with each other is that we all own this particular brand of car. That’s pretty much it. Some couples have no children, some have grown children, some – like us – have a kid at home. Some work, some are retired. College grads and high school grads and rocket scientist-types. Some like to heavily mod their cars, some prefer to stay factory original. We come in all colors, shapes and sizes, and we all have a tremendous amount of fun when we are together. Sometimes, M and I will go months without seeing our club. Work and retreat and child schedules preclude us from participating in many meetings, runs and parties. When we do get a chance to join, though, it’s like not a day has passed. We pick up right where we left off, falling all over ourselves with laughter. At the same time, one of my closest Club friends is becoming an incredible source of comfort for me. Her mother struggled with Alzheimer’s, so she gets it, gets me, gets how difficult all this is. She can’t fix it for me, but she gives me wonderful hugs that remind me I’m not alone.

All this is just to say that yes, even the car is important when determining how to travel. If we didn’t have a Corvette, we most likely wouldn’t be on this trip. They planned a jaunt out west and we decided to tag along. We left early because M and I want to hit Moab, UT, and the rest of the Club decided to skip that this year. We stopped first in OKC to spend time with friends there, then headed up to Loveland, CO, where we are currently visiting with more friends. From here we hit Grand Junction, Moab, and The Black Canyon of the Gunnison before we meet up with the rest of the Club in Colorado Springs. The Club trip was what spurred us to action.

When we left Friday morning, I felt a sense of calm settle over me. I haven’t been calm in weeks. Work has been hectic, and so much summer fun at home has meant a pretty frenetic pace. While I have enjoyed work and am so grateful to be blessed with an incredible personal life that includes a kick-ass house and even more kick-ass family, I do need down time. Time to recharge. I read somewhere that the true definition of an introvert is someone who needs time between social interactions. If you’re shy, you’re shy, but if you’re introverted you can get along just fine socially but require time alone to recover. This is me. I crave alone time. My whole life I thought I was an extrovert because I love being in social situations. Turns out I’m actually an introvert because I love being alone just as much, if not more. (I know, this was a surprise to me, too. It all depends on how you define extrovert and introvert.)

So when we’re in the car, with the lid off and the music playing, and we are silent for miles and miles at a time, it’s a good thing for me. It’s a good thing for us. We see new things together, share new experiences, create memories. And at the heart of it, we are just being. He is just him, and I am just me. No more is expected of us. He is content to drive every mile (he still has a child-like joy with driving that car of his dreams) and I am content to passenge. (Is that a new word I just made up? He’s a driver who drives; I am a passenger who…passenges.) HAL, our lovely navigator, tells us where to go. The wheels spin and the tires make a soothing hum on the road and the vistas sweep by. Pump jacks and broken down barns and small towns…all passing scenery as we flee our over-scheduled lives. I will never tire of the pump jacks and the broken down barns and the small towns. They help remind me of why I love my country so much. Manifest destiny? Bet your ass.

There’s a feeling that we could go anywhere we want, that we are actually going everywhere we want. The only pressure is to keep the gas tank and our bellies full. At nearly every gas station or restroom break we have a small conversation with someone who admires the car. Seems like everyone has a link to Corvette. “I used to own one” or “My dad had one when I was a kid” or “I helped my uncle restore his ’53.” Corvette is, at its core, shared Americana. It’s one of the things I love best about that car. On the highway to OKC a couple days ago, we came up on a church van filled with kids. One of the boys in the back turned his head and caught sight of the Corvette. He must have said something, because the two boys next to him dutifully swiveled their heads to look. I waved at them, and they smiled and waved back. As we came up alongside the van more boys turned and looked. I saw one boy say, “Oh! She’s waving!” and we all shared goofy grins and waves. It was just a moment, but it was fun. I hope we planted a seed and one of those boys will grow up and buy a Corvette.

We’re still in the honeymoon of our trip, only three days in. I’m settling into a new routine of no routine, just open road and a bed waiting at the end of each day. We’ve gone from Missouri hills to Oklahoma red soil to Kansas flatlands to Colorado mountains. We’ve already eaten a whole bunch of good food and seen some beautiful sites (we drove Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park yesterday…holy cow) and laughed a lot with friends.

The road stretches before us. I can’t think of anything more beautiful right now.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Hootie pens a letter

We signed up for a service with Zoe's camp where we can view photos from the week and send her emails. The counselors print them out every morning and deliver them, so each night M and I compose a message and send it along. (In other words, I barf on the page and M reads it and says, "Yeah! That sounds good!" and then we send it along.)

They warned parents not to write too much about missing our campers and stuff, to avoid encouraging homesickness. It's been an exercise for me, taxing my not inconsiderable writing skills. I am so used to typing what I'm feeling that I'm finding it hard to write differently. So I say things like, "I hope you're having a great time!" and "Your cats are meowing a lot!" instead of what I'm feeling, which is "OH MY GOD I MISS YOU SO MUCH AND I WOULD LIKE TO COME AND GET YOU RIGHT NOW JUST SO I CAN SEE YOUR LITTLE FACE AND HEAR YOUR LAUGH AND HOW ON EARTH CAN YOU NOT NEED YOUR MOTHER ANY MORE YOU'RE ONLY EIGHT FOR CHRIST'S SAKE."

I'm thinking that wouldn't be good to write, so I haven't.

Tonight, in an attempt to shake things up and keep myself from writing anything like the above, I composed a missive from Hootie, her beloved owl. Some of this won't make sense to many of you as they are inside family jokes, but I kind of wanted to document it here so we have it. It's not often your stuffed owl sends you a letter at camp, after all.

Dear Zozo,

This is Hootie, your owl, writing. Hoooo! I just wanted to say that I'm doing a good job taking care of your Mommy and Daddy while you are away. I hang out on Mommy's nightstand at night, so I can keep an eye on her. Some times I fly around and Hoo, and then Daddy tells me to be quiet. He hasn't let me drive in a few days. I'm not sure why. I'm a pretty good driver. Although I do like to use the steering wheel like a monkey bar, and sometimes I cover my eyes, and I do like to dance a lot. Maybe I'm not such a good driver. But I do like to drive!

Your cats are very furry, and very loud. The fat one likes to meow a lot. She's always meowing. The furry one blows boogers everywhere. He's kind of disgusting. Sometimes I go for rides around the house on them. Usually I just Hoo at them and try to get them to be quiet, especially when Max is singing The Song of His People.

Hershey is doing pretty good. I visited with her today and gave her a treat. She wheeked at me. I am trying to teach her how to Hoo, but it's not going very well. All she wants to do is wheek. I'm glad I am an owl. I much prefer Hooing.

I've been watching out the windows, too. The little rabbits in the yard are growing. They like to hop around a lot. I bet they wish they could fly like me. They don't Hoo either. They are pretty quiet, actually, unlike your loud cats.

Max keeps asking for meatloaf. What is up with that? I can't make him a meatloaf. I'm an owl, for goodness sake. I offered him some caramel-covered acorns, but he keeps insisting on meatloaf. And then he sings his M-A-X song. Please make him some meatloaf when you get home. I'm tired of him asking.

Mooli is getting along with the Beanie Boos very well. They're all hanging out above the doorway to the mudroom. I think they like coffee. They always look very wide awake. I fly up to visit them sometimes, but they're always staring at me so I usually don't stay long.

I've been reading a few good books while you've been away. I like Owl Babies and the one about the little white owl who eats toast and tells stories. Those are my favorite.

Summer flying lessons are going pretty well. I'm learning some new tricks. I'll have to show you when you get home.

I hope you're having a good time at Camp O. Does the O stand for Owl? I bet it does. Have fun at Camp Owl. Maybe I'll get to go there some day. Are you learning flying tricks too?

See you soon!
P.P.S. Mommy and Daddy say Hi and We love you!

Monday, July 07, 2014


I'm gonna try to upload this here video of my kid making a sound that resembles a sea lion, maybe? She started doing this in the shower, and we'd crack up laughing since we could hear her all the way out in the great room. Now, evidently, she does it anywhere. Including the car.

The girl has mad skillz.

I'm thinking this could come in handy someday. As soon as I figure that out, I'll let you know.

In the meantime, I share this with you. You probably won't find it nearly as funny as her father and I do, but that's our role as parents. To think that our child is a freakin' genius for being able to imitate a seal. Genius.

Edit: Well, look at that. I can easily upload a video from my phone straight to the blog. Huh. Learn somethin' new every day.

Edit2: I also learned today how to shoot off 8500 bottle rockets in less than a minute, thanks to a video posted by my BIL to Facebook. This, my friends, is why I love Facebook.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Taking a breath

Coming up for air after over ten days of go. Party, brunch, party, recital, party, guests, party, party, party, camp. All parties and no break makes Amy a tired girl. And now, after typing it so many times, the word "party" looks pretty silly. It's weird when that happens. "Is that spelled right?" my brain asks.

In the middle of it, in between the cleaning and the laughing and the planning and preparing and welcoming, near the end, I lost my shit.

A painful conversation with my mother, who still believes in the stigma of mental illness - even mental illness tied to a global Alzheimer's epidemic - kickstarted that day. Tears all around, and apologies, and expressions of love and respect and comfort. It laid me bare. We had a very frank conversation in which she was completely lucid and reasonable. Then, within minutes, she told me the same story three times, back to back. I'm not sure which was harder: the emotionally-charged conversation about controlling whatever aspect of Alzheimer's she can, or the reminder that short-term memory is floundering. Short term becoming, as I witnessed, mere seconds.

From there, I scurried around packing up Zo for her first week-long camp. As much as I want her to experience the same fun and independence and sense of exploration (both within and without) that I did, I have pangs about letting her go. What if she needs me? Really, the more honest question is: What if I need her? I realize that it's pretty awesome that my kid is willing to go off and experience something completely new, without her parents, for a week. I love that she's got that self-confidence. This is exactly what we've been trying to instill in her since she was old enough to understand the life lessons we try to convey. I am so incredibly proud of her, and so happy that she has these opportunities. All that is what races through my mind, doing laps, over and over.

And then I remember that she's there, and I'm here, and my heart shatters into a million little pieces. I want to go tuck her in, and then give her more kisses right before I go to bed, smelling her hair and listening to her breathe. I want her hugs, scrawny arms draped around my neck. I want to hear her fake (yet remarkably good) English accent and the sea lion sounds she makes in the shower.

I realize this does not bode well for me when she goes off to college. I'm thinking M will have to strap me down and inject me with tranquilizers or something when that happens. Or maybe I can just go with her. Because that's not weird at all.

I thought that by keeping busy I'd keep this stuff at bay. Turns out that vacuuming the house and doing laundry and making dinner doesn't actually require a lot of thought, so I just had that much more time to dwell on the fact that she's away and that I don't know what she's doing every second of the day. I did, however, have a nice diversion when I tried to stuff a new comforter into a new duvet cover. (We purchased new bedding to go on our new bed due to be delivered Wednesday, and I am so excited that I managed to get it all washed and folded by today despite all the other stuff we had going on. It's the little things.) We've never had a comforter/duvet cover combo, and it turns out that it takes a fair amount of acrobatics to get everything stuffed and spread and buttoned. I'm hoping that it'll get easier with time. Maybe in the future I won't be sweating and cursing by the end of it. A girl can dream.

Tomorrow is an average work day. It may sound boring, but I'm looking forward to it after the frenetic pace of the over-scheduled last week and a half. I'll get up, go to work, work, then come home. Nothing more. Nothing less. This sounds pretty amazing to me right now.