A Month of Writing Practice

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One month ago I vowed two things: I would not look at social media for a month and I would write everyday.  I did this because of Austin Kleon’s “29 Day Challenge” for February. Austin Kleon is an artist and author of some great books, including “Steal Like An Artist” and “Keep Going.” My mom printed out four copies of the chart and we all chose a thing we would do for every day of February.

I knew immediately that I wanted to give up Facebook and Instagram for a month. I don’t like the way that I compulsively check my phone and sometimes spend more time than I want to mindlessly scrolling. I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t have a reason to spend a lot of time on my phone. But I also knew I didn’t want to just take something away; I needed to add something too. I was struggling with writing a memoir and I was only sitting down once a week or two to tackle it. I decided to choose writing to replace my phone addiction.

I don’t have a lot of time in my day so I realized I would have to make some time to write. I often fall asleep when I’m putting Mina to bed at 9:00 so I decided to wake up at 5:00 every morning (except for twice a week when I work late the night before). That gave me almost two extra hours a day.

I predicted that I would write more, read more, be more present, feel more grounded and alive. That all came true but to an even deeper extent than I expected. I also thought I would stop wanting to check social media about two weeks in. I was wrong- I never lost my urge to check Instagram and often I would pick up my phone to check my email and then I would just Google dumb stuff or look up images of cute celebrities. Apparently there’s a part of me that just needs a mindless escape. I wish that weren’t the case. I was surprised that I still spent some much time on my phone even when there was nothing to do on it.

Another thing that surprised me was how much I wrote. I gave myself permission to only write one sentence if I didn’t have time that day or if I was feeling uninspired. But writing every day became its own addiction and I always had a lot to write. After a week I started to effortlessly fill pages when at first I would lose steam after a paragraph or two. The act of writing, of spending regular time with my journal in the quiet of the morning, was satisfying in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.

Here are some excerpts from my journal during that month.

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2.3.20

A girl walks by in a long hot pink coat, sleeping bag-like, with yellow hoodie underneath, tote bag and blond hair piled in a bun on top of her head. I think, maybe someday I can wear my hair like that. I’m starting to make the movement of tucking my hair behind my ears. 

2.4.20

Woke up early this morning and read “The Creative Habit” by Twyla Tharp where she talks about routine and daily practice. I miss social media but also not. Without it there’s a lot more time in my day. 

The other day at work Ben picked me up, just lifted me into the air when I went in for a hand shake, he moved towards me and swooped under my arm and I was up above everything, surprising me and him in a way that felt like a tear in the space time continuum, like a portal to another reality had opened. I didn’t realize it was a possibility to be picked up like that. I don’t think it’s ever happened to me before. 

2.3.20

Opening the curtains this morning with Mina she looks outside at the dark and gray rain (how it’s been for the last few months) and exclaims, “A beautiful summer day!” “Indeed!” I reply. “Not a cloud in the sky!” And we both collapse with laughter. 

2.7.20

I was talking to Emma last night at work about writing my memoir and I said how it’s been hard to write anything of apparent value. I said I feel like I have to have some new experiences to help me connect with the old memories. When I sit down at the computer and try to write with my brain it just feels flat and dry- I need to get moving, be outside, be in touch with my senses. I don’t want my brain to write the memoir, 

“I want my body to write it, through my brain.”

She looked a little confused when I said that but it struck me that, that’s it. That’s what I want to do, whatever that means. 

I picture myself alone in the woods for a week, maybe in a cabin by the coast. Hiking every day, drinking fresh stream water, eating wild mint, scribbling nonsense. 

Or walking the bouldered hills around Ramona, inhaling sage and dust, getting scraped up by scrub oak, remembering the land I grew up on. 

Or spending a day by the creek in Chico, watching the emerald water glide over stones and feeling the life I lived there. 

Jumping into a mosh pit, playing the songs I wrote as a teenager, walking the streets of SF, Seattle, San Diego, Eugene. 

The body remembers what the mind forgets. 

2.8.20

I feel juicy with energy from the past. Last night I found myself playing old songs I wrote on the guitar: Mr. Friday Night, Vintage Life, Plum Folly, etc. At The Station, which always makes Benny tear up. 

Today I just want to bust out old journals, type up excerpts. I’m always unsure how to use journals, whether to take directly from them or just as a trigger, a prompt, a fact checker. 

2.10.20

I like this, this writing every day. Scarfing down broccoli pasta after yoga and Zumba, felt so good on my body. When I exercise I often think of it as time away from my real priorities, art and writing and music- but I thought today of how I want to move my body as a way of reconnecting to the past, a way of tuning in to the writing. Taking care of my body serves the art. 

I feel relaxed, centered, clean, fresh, open to deep breaths. The sun is out. Spring seems close by. 

I observed the feet of the man in front of me in yoga. He was about 60. His feet were clean, smooth, dry. His skin had that shiny quality that I recognize from my mom’s feet, maybe’ dad’s too. Worn smooth from age and use, like a river stone. 

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2.11.20

Sitting by the fire, cold feet, dressed in black, full of Thai food. Mina humming “Eleanor Rigby.” Benny making a buck-toothed LEGO creature. Reading Twyla Tharp I’m jealous of her commitment to creativity and the assuredness in her life’s work. Her willingness to work tirelessly. 

2.12.20

My early morning time was a bit thwarted today- I had a bad dream, the first one in a while, the kind that make you jolt awake and your whole body is tingling. My mind dwelled on it for a while until my silent 5:00 am alarm went off (just vibration) and as I reached to turn it off I saw Mina’s little head up and looking for me, she had had a bad dream too. 

I cuddled her and told her a story of a beautiful baby dragon who could sing and the five year old girl who befriended her. She fell back asleep but just as I was about to get up Mochi strutted into the room yowling, stepped all over Mina and stood on my stomach. Eventually I got up and it’s worth it for this, just these few previous minutes. 

I keep wondering how to make the memoir smaller and more manageable, or how to give it a “spine,” as Twyla says. An original driving idea that you can come back to when you feel lost. Not the story, not the theme, but the secret scaffolding that gave it its original structure. 

I keep thinking I need a retreat, time away from my real life to loosen up my brain and get weird. I kind of want “get weird” to be the motto of writing this memoir, since Jenny Slate’s weird writing was what inspired me. She was in my dream the other night- she had the same wallet as me, the vintage green one with the gold clasp. I thought it was an amazing coincidence, she didn’t think it was that unusual. What is a wallet? A way to carry your richness, what’s important to you. I thought mine was unique and original, she knew it wasn’t. 

2.13.20

I slept hard last night, as if drugged. Lots of dreams. It was difficult to get up but I did after a couple hits of the snooze. 

Yesterday I sent an email to old friends (Amy, Diana, Tyana, Emma, Cadence, Thomas) inviting them to a virtual writing group. I think that will help me with getting to some good stuff. We will write one 15 minute prompt per week and do short responses. 

2.16.20

Hard to wake up this morning, my silent alarm was going off for a while before I heard it. I was dreaming of a dark wooden saloon, drunken men, guns, sex, a race for the bounty. A man named Loyal who was tricking them all by offering free drinks so he could find the money. 

But even when I have trouble getting up I still do because I love this so much. This quiet alone time. 

Fridge humming, green tea, the fire dancing behind glass, robe, slippers. I didn’t write in here yesterday but I did write a page of guidelines for the writing group that will start Monday. So far Amy and Cadence are for sure in, the others are less responsive but still interested I think. 

2.18.20

Had a dream the other night that I was taking care of someone’s baby. I took it to a tattoo shop and got it a neck tattoo- a pair of fanged jaws with the word FANGZ (our friend Alex’s artist persona). Immediately after I was horrified at what I’d done. Now this baby was going to have an ugly neck tattoo her whole life! When the mom returned she was appalled. “Is this a real tattoo?!” “Yes, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking.” 

Later in the dream I was getting a back tattoo, a huge pastel colored skull, delicately shaded with a lot of detail. Mark Ryden comes to mind. The tattoo artist said it should have some kind of phrase or mantra with it but we couldn’t think of one. 

“Maybe you could just put ‘Party on Wayne’ and ‘Party on Garth’ somewhere in there,” I told her. 

Why these vivid tattoo dreams? A tattoo is a permanent mark, a label, a visual manifesto of one’s identity. I labeled a baby (new life, project, endeavor, adventure) but it wasn’t mine to label. My own tattoo was bigger than expected, beautiful. I was worried about the cost. I didn’t know if I wanted words with it. Funny, since I’m so into words these days. 

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2.20.20

Wow. Been reading this incredible book called “The Wander Society.” All about a group of people who have made wandering a kind of spiritual practice, a way to be present and aware and open to the magic of all things. This is exactly what I’ve been thinking about with my writing- I keep feeling like I need to get up and move, be outside, connect to nature, and that will lead me to insights about my writing. I had the sense that if I get more in touch with the present it will help me write about the past. 

I’m honestly not quite sure how to fit more wandering into my life but now that I’m aware of it I can look for spaces in my day to wander. In the book they say you can even wander sitting still because it’s more of a mindset, an openness, an observational quality. They encourage you to allow yourself to be bored. This also coincides with my efforts to use my phone less. 

I might have some time to wander today. I’m skipping school to go to a haircut demo hosted by Bishops. So maybe I’ll get to that neighborhood early (Alberta) and wander around. 

Windy outside- it will be another sunny windy day. I breathe deep, feeling alive. I can already feel my feet moving, my blood pumping. Wandering gives you a reason to explore a street, a meadow, a bookstore. Sometimes I feel pulled to a place but think, I have no reason to be there. Now I do have a reason- to explore, to be curious, to be open, stray. 

(Later, same day)

I’m at Proud Mary, a brunch spot on Alberta, a beautiful open space with cement, wood, plants, skylights, rough-textured ceramic bowls. I just ordered a cappuccino and sardine toast. The cappuccino is thick and bitter and incredible. 

On the way here I listened to a This American Life episode on delight and it blew my mind in a similar way as the Wander Society book. There is a man who spent a year searching for delight, chronicled his daily delights, studied delight, went deep into his own delights and what delights him. 

I thought, I could combine wandering with a mission to find delight, be open to whatever might delight me, and take note of it. Almost immediately I was delighted by several things:

A restaurant on Killingsworth called Ole Frijole, a concrete building painted an electric, sizzling red orange, intensified by the bright sun and blue sky behind it. 

And on Alberta, a person crossing the street dressed entirely in yellow, even pale yellow round glasses, taking pictures of a bus stop. 

And an adorable tiny pale green cottage by a bar. I tried to figure out what it was and all I saw was a sign in the window advertising Portland made kilts!

I love the idea of always being ready to notice, appreciate, welcome delight. I think sometimes I allow a flicker of delight but quickly move past it. I’d like to practice savoring delight, lingering in it. Feel deserving of it. 

When my food came I closed my journal, I didn’t pull out my phone or a book. I was fully present with my meal, taking in the environment, eavesdropping on conversations. Being present and open and grateful is a state that’s been missing from my life for a while. It feels like my natural state, who I really am, and I’m happy to be finding my way back. 

2.21.20

My wandering experiment turned out great. I felt so open and alive, allowing myself to be pulled by this or that, going into shops not to shop but to see what I might discover. I was more talkative with strangers, made more eye contact. Gave $1 to a woman who asked me if I could help her get something to eat. Signed someone’s petition. Let my gaze linger, paid attention to background music, let things be symbols. It was like I was in a new city, interested in everything. Or on mushrooms, open and ready for anything, ready to be affected, enlightened. I was vibrating. When I got to work Charlotte asked me how my day was and I said, “Oh my god. I had such a good day I feel like I’m on another level of consciousness.” 

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2.23.20

I have to tell you, twice lately I’ve been stunned by my own beauty. The other day when I was taking myself out to brunch and I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and then yesterday in the bathroom at school. My longer hair is just gorgeous- I love the curly wild texture, the darkness of it with hints of silver, the way it frames my face. And my face looked flushed, awake, sparkly, strong, mature, alive. My skin is healthy and pink. This has been a somewhat transformative month for me in general. 

2.25.20 

Yesterday when I walked Mina to school we tried to spot signs of Spring. “Daffodills! Sign of Spring!” “Cherry blossoms! Sign of Spring!” And then of course she made it funny- “Trash on the ground! Sign of Spring!” “Dog barking! Sign of Spring!” 

2.29.20

Hi, it’s me. I’m here. It’s dark and quiet early morning and there’s Mochi purring on my lap and I hear a little rain outside. This is my last day of the write-every-day challenge and I know I will continue. But I can allow space for other things like visual art. 

I feel tired, internally windswept. When my alarm went off at 5 I set a new one for 6 and tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t. 

Wind makes the house crack. Mochi gets up. I don’t know what else to write. It’s probably time for another wander soon, somehow. 

Hi, it’s me. I’m here. My eyes feel dry and bleary. My neck and shoulders are sore from 45 degree haircuts and shaking cocktails. 

I’m here and I’ll keep being here, I’ll keep showing up. I’ve begun the long process of re-meeting myself, re-committing to a creative life. I have this, I have my mornings, I have my journal and my writing group and my wander society. Every day I will try to show up for myself however I can. I know that it pays off, I know that I need this. Even if it’s just to sit here in the still-dark and hear the sound of my own breath and say to myself, “Hi, hello. It’s me.” 

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