Category Archives: Writing

Care Instructions

I’ve started yoga this year with my daughter, and have found some great fat yoga teachers online, specifically Amber at Body Positive Yoga and Anna at Curvy Yoga.  I subscribed to Anna’s email list, and I so enjoyed her post about her own care instructions that I was inspired to create my own.

April’s Care Instructions

Make sure to read, write, and walk at least every other day.  Doing all three every day is optimal.  Eat meals regularly, and don’t forget the broccoli and kale, because you will crave them if it’s been too long since you’ve had any.  Don’t forget to have hot or iced tea every morning, because you need the caffeine.  You can have another caffeinated drink with lunch if you really need it, but don’t overdo it because too much caffeine feeds the chattering extrovert.

If you’ve had a lot of meetings during the day, make time to do some yoga, take a walk, or relax alone before making dinner.  You really do need to get to the gym to lift weights twice a week.  You need to create those endorphins for your mental health–don’t persuade yourself that you don’t. If you’re going to schedule being out in the evening, try not to be out more than two evenings in a row, or you are likely to melt down and ignore everything in favor of an introvert hibernation / pajama day as soon as you can.  Take the time to have an orgasm at least once a week (falling asleep on yourself before you’re done doesn’t count!), and get to bed by 10 pm most nights.

Be sure to create often–write, crochet, or cook something new.  Limit the time on your phone scrolling through the news and your feed.  Try not to look at Facebook unless you’re standing up, otherwise you may hyperfocus and be stuck scrolling and reading for an hour or longer, and there are better things to do with your time, like writing or reading an actual book.  If your daughter persuades you to watch TV with her, don’t watch more than 2 shows in a row without getting up off of the couch.

If you feel scattered or restless, it’s OK–it won’t hurt you to feel those things.  But take a walk or sit down with a pen and open up your journal.  Even if you just write down the random thoughts going through your head, there is value in getting them out of there and onto paper.

Be gentle with yourself, and as kind as you would be with your best friends.  You’re doing the best that you can, and that’s good enough.

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The Fear of Being Derivative and of Not Fitting In

I (obviously) haven’t been blogging much. What I told myself was that I was afraid to put anything out there that was too much like the writing that some of the big-name fat activists, like Ragen Chastain and Virgie Tovar are writing.

Almost a year ago, I emailed Ragen some photos for a video montage (I’m at :42, 1:07, and 2:59) and thanked her for giving me the words to say what I want to say about fat acceptance and fat civil rights. But I also I told her that I was afraid to blog too much for “fear of being too derivative.”  Ragen encouraged me to blog, even if I said the same thing as she does, in my own words.

So what’s this fear?  The fear of sounding like everyone else?  Of not having anything original to say?  The fear of being derivative doesn’t even come up in Google suggestions for “fear of being  d . . . ” The actual fear of not being or sounding original only shows up once in the top ten websites in a Google search of “fear of being derivative.”

To flesh out the fear a little more, I feel like I don’t have anything original to say.  I read books and online constantly, so I’m afraid to start writing because I feel like I’ll just be parroting back something that I’ve read–not something that I’ve thought of myself.  And then I think that even if what I say isn’t quite the same, do I need to be writing if I’m almost like someone else?

But isn’t everything derivative?  Isn’t there only one universal Hero’s Journey?   How do you get over the fear of sounding like everyone else?

So I did what I always do:  Look for answers in a book.  In Bird by Bird: Some Thoughts on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott acknowledges that her students often take on someone else’s style, that another author’s style is “a prop that you use for a while until you have to give it back.  And it just might take you to the thing that is not on loan, the thing that is real and true: your own voice.”  She says that “the great writers keep writing about the cold dark place within.”

And then it hit me: My “cold, dark place within” is the fear of not belonging, of not being like everyone else.  I’ve found myself taking great pains to try to fit in, and I even created an extrovert, at odds with my bookwormish and somewhat socially-anxious self, to attempt to fit in.  As a fat woman, I’ve been subject to appearance-based stigma for just about my entire life. Last to be picked on teams, never had a date in high school, blah, blah, blah.  The world tells me I don’t fit in when chairs or desks are too small or I can’t find clothes to fit me.  The fear of not fitting in is probably one of the most universal fears, but for those of us who are fat, it’s not just a fear. It’s a reality.

But if not fitting in is my big fear, then how can I also at the same time fear being derivative, which is being just like everyone else?

Having both of these fears at the same time is completely irrational.

Seth Godin calls it the resistance–that fear that tells us to go slow, to compromise, that creates writer’s block.  I realized that that’s what my fear of being derivative is–the resistance has been winning for too long.

No more.

Writing Project 2014 Update



Sometime in late 2013, while I was figuring out what step to take next in my writing, I decided to take parts of a memoir I had started, and make a second draft.  Taking Seth Godin’s advice, I set a “shipping date” of December 31, 2014.

I figured out a process for each chapter, and set a schedule.

Life intervened, and work has become much more stressful over the past year.  I don’t have as much space in my head or energy for writing these days. But I have been plugging along when I can.

The schedule has been changed several times, but I am happy to report that I have one chapter left to edit, and it is only 8 typed pages.  And eighteen days left to finish!

Katie Heaney’s Memoir and My (Still Unfinished) Memoir

Katie Heaney wrote and published a memoir, Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date, before she turned thirty. Some people find that tedious, but I found it inspiring. See, Katie’s story is interesting because she has been single for her entire life. Yet she is heterosexual, and for most of her twenty-five years “there has been at least one boy [she] was thinking about and hoping to date, in the abstract….[and] there has been a specific theoretical boyfriend in mind more often than there hasn’t been.”

I wish someone my age had written this kind of memoir when I was in college, and that I had found it then.  I have twenty years on Katie, but I get her completely.  The writing that I’ve been doing is similar in scope and theme to her memoir.  She wrote about every crush from grade school forward, describing her experiences with boys and lack thereof.  I’m writing about every relationship, however ill-advised or doomed, to try to figure out why I’ve felt the need to do what Katie has done–have a specific theoretical boyfriend in mind most of the time–or go even further– have an actual boyfriend or husband a good portion of the time.

It’s funny how the image we have of ourselves when we are teenagers never seems to go away completely, or is really hard to change.  I was the boy-crazy one, the fat girl who was always chasing someone but never catching anyone.  Like Katie, I didn’t date anyone in high school, but in my case, it wasn’t for the lack of trying.  Many things came together so that it never happened for me.  And when it did happen, I wasn’t very picky about who was interested, how I really felt about him, and how he treated me.  That came much later.

Katie got to an “end to the era in my life when I might have felt the need to do something for the first time to get it over with” and ended up writing the book as a twenty-five year old who hasn’t had sex.  She refers to Tina Fey saying that she was twenty-four when she had sex for the first time because she “couldn’t give it away.”  I may not have had the exact same experiences, but I know the feelings.

Why am I writing and thinking about this now, more than twenty years later?  I’ve been deliberately single for more than three years.  This is the longest period of time since college that I haven’t been in a relationship or trying to get into a relationship.  I still think about men often, both specific men I might like to date and in general when I see them out and about.  But at the same time, being with someone after three years of not being with anyone makes it all seem theoretical, like it happened in another life to another person.  And I have a hard time imagining how a man would fit into my life with everything I have going on such as work, raising my daughter, my family and friends, and the things I want to do, like reading and writing.

But I’ve also realized that I’m writing about my sordid past relationships because I’m trying to change the story I tell myself about myself.  I’m not that fat girl who couldn’t get a date any more.  I have dated and married and divorced and broken up and been broken up with.  I’ve got almost two hundred pages with all of the gory details.  Katie’s memoir spoke to me because she has realized a lot of the same things I’m trying to, without the twenty-five-year detour.  That’s why I wish her book had been available to me when I was in college.

The status of a relationship, whether I am in one or not, or dating or not, does not define me.  Katie writes, about dating: “Why would I want to go out to dinner and a movie with someone I’m not completely crazy about when I already know how much I like eating dinner and watching a movie by myself?”  When a friend finally recovers from a bad breakup, she does so partly by realizing that “she could do whatever she wanted, work wherever she wanted, and live wherever she wanted…she didn’t have to think about anyone else’s goals or desires and then try to make them work with her own…It’s not that she wouldn’t do those things.  It’s just that she didn’t HAVE to. She could live for herself and herself alone.”  Katie realizes that her friend never felt this freedom before, but that it was “the same freedom I’ve always had, for my whole entire life.”

Last night, Friday night, there were two other possible things I could have done instead of what I did.  A female friend had an extra ticket to a gala that would have been so much fun, to get dressed up and go downtown to a fancy ballroom and people-watch.  And an online friend was in town with her husband and wanted to try to meet for dinner.  Either would have been enjoyable.  But my daughter isn’t old enough to stay home in the evening by herself, babysitting is expensive, and I am using a lot of my childcare “credits” with friends right now because of a two-week fall break.  So I didn’t do either thing.  Instead, after work, I changed into my sweatpants, made pizza from scratch, and then my daughter and I watched The Voice episodes we had DVR’d from the week, while I knitted a scarf I owe for a charity auction.  Then she went to bed and I read for a blissful hour of peace and quiet.  I don’t know how dating would fit into all this, and that’s all right.  Like Katie, I am “sure of who I am and what I want (and don’t want) in other people.”  I can take wisdom from anywhere, even from a tall, awkward girl twenty years younger than me.  Thanks, Katie.

 

Finally, “After”

It’s May! We are now firmly into spring, after a very long winter. Part of what made it so long was that I didn’t make very much time to do the three things that keep me grounded–reading, writing, and walking–so I was somewhat off. Between work, family, and church commitments, the time I took for self-care had gone by the wayside. But, the year-long church commitment is now over, with a successful result.  I’ve been back to the gym in the past month on the treadmill and at the weight machines, and I’ve found 30 minutes to get outside and walk during the work day about half the time. I am reading at least four books simultaneously right now, including an audiobook in the car, and I’ve been journaling daily for a while. I’m on my way back.

In my journal, which I do first thing after I wake up, I find myself writing a quick recount of the past day and giving myself a pep talk about what I need to get done that day. Lately, journaling hadn’t brought me amazing new insights and seemed kind of ho-hum. I’d start writing, but then stare off into space and stop. The siren song of my phone and social media has been hard to resist.

I found at The Gift of Writing the idea of listing several writing prompts at the front of your journal, so that when you come to a point that you’re not sure what to write, you just flip to the inside cover and pick a prompt.  I did that with the journal I started in November, with fair results.  The prompts were things like “What does your heart say?” and “What can you do in the next couple of days to get you closer to where you want to be?”

I started a new notebook recently, and thought I’d go one step further.  If you’re looking for writing prompts, go no further than The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron.  He has collected over 800 of them there, ranging from introspective to prompts designed to help you work with a piece of fiction or nonfiction you’ve already started.  As if having the book right next to me while I journaled wasn’t good enough, I went through and picked out the prompts that seemed appealing and listed them in the front of my new notebook.

The other day I decided on this prompt: “What is your five-year plan?  What would you like your life to be like in five years?”  If you’ve known me for a while, you know that I have to have a plan.

For a very long time I had the habit of daydreaming about my life “after” something–long ago it was “after I lose weight” or “after I’m done with school” and then it was “after I meet someone” or “after I have a baby” then everything would be perfect and my life would be wonderful.   Of course, that’s no way to live because life is never the way you expect it would be after.  After can’t meet those high expectations.

When I did the five-year plan prompt, I realized that in five years, I don’t want my life to be any different than it is right now.  I want to live in the same house, have the same job, the same friends, and go to the same church.  I want the peonies I rescued from across the street a few weeks ago to be getting ready to bloom, and my daisies to be getting ready to turn a good portion of my lawn into a cutting garden.  I want to take my daughter to school down the street, listen to an audiobook on the way to work, lift weights and feel strong a couple of times a week, and turn my face to the spring sun as I walk off the long winter.  I want to continue to cook on the weekends so that I don’t have to during the week, and I want to keep talking to and spending time with my beloved sisters and friends.

Oh, sure, I’d love it if the clutter fairy came to my house to put everything away and work against the forces of chaos and dirty dishes.   But I don’t see that happening as long as I make reading, writing, and walking a priority after taking care of my daughter and making sure we have a roof over our heads and food to eat.  And it would be nice if the powers that be determined that public service jobs deserved pay that was more on-par with those in the private sector.  And there is still great injustice and suffering in the world that requires a lot of work from a lot of dedicated people.  And there’s no guarantee things won’t change because of factors beyond my control.

But, all in all, I realized that I’ve got everything I need right here, right now.  There is no “after.”  This is it, and it’s pretty damn good.

Writing Project 2014

I’m snow and cold-bound, so have way more time than usual.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like.

I have struggled with the form I want my writing to take. At one point, I was researching a novel. Then I thought a family history memoir was what I wanted to do. I wrote every day, about 5000 words a week, and ended up with pieces of a novel (maybe 100 pages) and of a memoir (about 200 pages).

A lot of the memoir had to do with my breast cancer experience, but I really don’t want to publish that.  I don’t think it would be very marketable, because it seems like everyone and her sister has published something about going through breast cancer. Surgery, chemo, radiation. Blah, blah, blah. It sucks. What can I say about that that is different?

I ran out of steam in the 5000 words a week in the summer of 2012 and never really got back into it. What I did do was start handwriting in a spiral notebook, as Natalie Goldberg suggests in Writing Down the Bones. Just writing practice. With no goals. I have been able to keep that practice up, not every day, but most days. I have five notebooks of gobbledygook now–the random stuff that goes through my head when I wake up in the morning, when I have to wait for my daughter at some activity, or when I’m struggling to get focused on something–anything! I find that getting the crap out of my head onto the page somehow helps.

So I’ve been struggling with form. I have all of this raw material, that is written but disorganized rambling.  When I looked at it, though, I realized that I have about 90-100 pages of my relationship history. In all its gory details. Letting my ex-husband move in the day after I met him.  Meeting a guy while driving on the highway, while I was pregnant as a single mom by choice. Internet dating off and on for nearly 10 years. Meeting someone between chemo and radiation, while bald and boobless, and breaking up while on a cruise to celebrate the end of treatment. Giving away my cat and dog because a boyfriend was allergic to them, only for him to fail to understand how having had cancer affected my parenting. Meeting someone wonderful, knowing my patterns, thinking I wasn’t following them, but realizing later that I hadn’t come as far as I’d thought.

Seeing that I’m currently single, without plans to change that status, it seems like shaping my past relationships and what I’ve learned from them into a memoir would be helpful to see where I’ve gone wrong, and so that I don’t make the same mistakes should I ever decide to try it again.

In the fall of 2013, I wrote in my journal that my goal was to have a final draft done by the end of 2014. I started working with what I have, and hit a wall. I started editing, then did nothing for weeks, or even more than a month. But I did come up with a process.

For each chapter, I will:

A- Edit on paper.

B-Make a list of additional scenes I need. I tend to write much more easily in essay form than in novel form, with scenes, so that is what I need to add.

C- Write the additional scenes, in a notebook or using Write or Die.

D- Type in the edits.

So after the new year, I made up a schedule. I’ve listed the 12 chapters I have, which vary in length from 2 or 3 pages to 19 pages. I’ve given myself goal finish dates for each chapter, generally depending on how long each one is. As I get each stage done–A,B, C, or D, I list it next to the chapter with a checkmark.

My goal is to be done with this draft by June 1, 2014. I’ll rest for a couple of weeks, and then re-evaluate. I think the next step will be to work with the plot and narrative form, because I tend to work more in summary or essay. Essay is fine, but it is not a memoir.

And by telling the blogosphere my plans, I have accountability.  I just finished edits to Chapter 2.  The goal to finish Chapter 3 is January 19, 2014.  Feel free to ask how I’m doing!

What I read in 2013 and what I want to read in 2014

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

Stephen King, On Writing

Ever since I read On Writing in 2008, I have taken Stephen King’s words to heart.  He admitted that he reads 70 to 80 books a year, so that has been my goal.  In 2013, I read 85 books, 12 more than in 2012.

When I analyzed the books I read in 2013, the numbers came out generally like this:

  • 20-25 Memoir/ Autobiography
  • 35+ Novels, including 7 “Classics” and 3 Childrens/Young Adult
  • 10-12 Writing Craft
  • 10-15 Nonfiction (including self-help, history, but not writing craft or creativity)

I loved the classics that I read, especially Pride and Prejudice, The Moonstone, Girl of the Limberlost, Hard Times, and Tom Sawyer.  Most of them I read on audiobook through LibriVox, through which volunteers read, record, and make available free public domain audiobooks.  In that future life in which I will have enough time to volunteer for all of the things I want to do, I would love to contribute my own reading and recording.

I read a lot of memoirs in 2013, primarily because I realized that the writing I have done and want to shape into a book is really a memoir, so I’ve been studying the form.  I still have a lot to do, but I’ve read many great examples that also include family history, including: What We Have, Missing Lucile, Nola, Ava’s Man, and The Lost.  I loved to read about Sonia Sotomayor in My Beloved World and Marcus Samuellson in Yes Chef, although I’m sure both books were ghostwritten.  To me, that didn’t diminish their journeys.  Other books were a combination of memoir and nonfiction, such as Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Wolf’s Vagina, and Pollan’s Cooked.  Each provided insights that I hadn’t considered.  I want to read just as many memoirs in 2014, and I have plenty of lists to start with.

When I compiled the 2013 list, what surprised me was how many books on writing craft I read.  I realized that it’s much easier for me to read about writing than to actually write.  So I think the reason I read all the writing craft books was avoidance.  Don’t get me wrong, many were very useful, especially the ones about plot, journaling, and memoir writing.  I learned a lot about how I need to shape my material.  And The Icarus Deception, by Seth Godin, was life-changing and paradigm-shifting. Although it isn’t about writing per se, it’s about creating art, so I included it in this list.    In 2014, I want to read less about writing, and write more.  

Fiction.  A portion of the novels I read were for my library book club:  Defending Jacob, An American Tune, Blue Asylum, Goldberg Variations, Cup of Gold, Devil’s Trill, Goodbye for Now, and the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  Most of those were books I probably wouldn’t have picked up myself, and I continue to treasure the opportunity to expand my book horizons and discuss them with other book lovers.

My favorite novels of the year were probably An American Tune (Barbara Shoup’s novel set in Bloomington and MIchigan between 1969 and the recent past); The Yiddish Policeman’s Union (what happens fifty years later if Alaska had become a Jewish protectorate in WWII, minimizing the effect of the Holocaust?); The Last Days of Dogtown (outcasts and forbidden love in the early 1800’s, including all of the savagery and cruelty of the time); MaddAddam (Atwood’s final book of the dystopian future trilogy begun with Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood); and Kindred (written in the late 1970’s, Butler wrote about slavery and time travel that seems to combine aspects of the later Beloved and The Time Traveler’s Wife).

Novels that had an interesting twist:  Defending Jacob, Goodbye For Now, Gone Girl, and The Perfect Ghost.  I enjoyed the surprises each of these books gave me.

I’ve realized that I like a lot of books.  There aren’t very many I don’t care for.  There were only two this year that I can say I wish I hadn’t read:  Cup of Gold and The Lost Get-Back Boogie.  Cup of Gold was one of Steinbeck’s early books, and I didn’t care for the sexism and conquer-the-natives exploits of Captain Morgan.  The book was well-written, and kept me interested in finding out what happened, but I didn’t like what was happening.  Boogie was also well-written, but I had anticipated that it would be a mystery.  Instead, it was a crime novel, tracing the activities of an ex-con and his drugged-out friend.  It wasn’t what I expected, and I don’t care for drug scenes in movies or books.   (Years ago, I started but couldn’t continue with James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces for that reason.)

Although I can’t say I wish I hadn’t read them, I continue to read Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, but just for the pure entertainment.  I don’t expect the characters to say anything profound or come to life-changing realizations when I read this series.  Although they were great mysteries in the beginning, they’ve become formulaic and I’d just like her to pick between Ranger and Morelli, finally!

My wish for 2014 comes from Seth Godin, from The Icarus Deception:

Sometimes, courage is the willingness to speak the truth about what you see and to own what you say.

I hope what I read in 2014 helps me to speak my truth and that you are able to do the same.