Category: Writing

Boxes with Bows

I have a very bad habit of trying to compartmentalize my life. I want everything settled, tied up in a pretty red bow, and organized neatly on the shelf. Running in one box, knitting in another, and cancer in that large box in the corner.

Apparently I do this with my blogs as well.Giftbox_icon

Rather than be happy with one all-encompassing blog, I periodically feel an overwhelming need to separate things out–kind of like when you don’t want the mashed potatoes touching the green beans on your plate. I felt like my cancer story took over this blog, so I started a new one–and then only wrote one post. And didn’t write anything here. Or on my running blog. And my knitting blog has also been severely neglected.

And that’s not to mention the gardening blog I tried out years ago, or the photography blog. I think I can still remember my husband suggesting that it might be difficult to keep up with all the different blogs . . .

Enough! Mind Margins has always been my home blog, the place where I can write my thoughts and experiences about anything I want. The byline “thoughts on being human” is there for a reason. The fact is, I can’t separate out anything that’s happened to me these past two years into separate little boxes. I think having all those boxes has actually kept me from writing–and I need to write. Running and writing are the best therapies, and God knows I need them both.

I will admit that I also needed this past year to process what I had gone through. Cancer didn’t end when I stopped chemo. In fact, in a way, that was the easy part. All I had to do was get through it. It was my 24 hr a day job for over six months. But once the chemo drugs worked their way out of my body (which took longer than I thought it would), I was left with a lot of what-if’s, whys, and what-nows. More than anything, I’ve spent the past two years learning to live with uncertainty. That’s something I’ve been working on my whole life, and will probably continue to do until the day I die.

Another reason I didn’t write was because I was embarrassed by the attention. You would think someone who shared every gory detail of having cancer, and who shares probably more than she ever should about everything else in her life, would love the attention. After all, no one made me write about any of it. Instead, I felt like a show off. And I have only myself to blame.

(Why did I never think of writing an anonymous blog??? Problem solved!)

My only intention in sharing so much about what I went through was to help other people who might be going through something similar. I found very few stories from other women who had ovarian cancer, and I felt the need to help someone else. That desire is still stronger than ever–and that’s why I keep writing about cancer. Life does go on, but it will never be the same again. And that big box in the corner, the one labeled Cancer? It’s getting smaller and smaller as the months go by.

Hitting the publish button is a scary thing. I cringe every single time I post something. The thoughts in my head range from Why would anyone care what I have to say to I sound like a complete idiot. Ultimately, I write for myself. I always have, since the day I first put my stubby pencil to a Big Chief pad. I write because I have to.

So I’m raising the white flag and calling a truce between me and my blogs. I’ll probably shut a few down. If surviving cancer has taught me anything, it’s to keep things as simple as possible, and to get rid of the stuff that’s not important.

Time to clean out some boxes.

(photo courtesy of petercui [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

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Thank You!

Heartfelt thanks to everyone who liked and left comments on my last post. No one was more surprised than me to get the email that it was going to be Freshly Pressed. I am so honored to have been featured there, and even more humbled to see my little icon amongst such great blogs. You guys really kept me busy replying to all your lovely comments, and I look forward to checking out everyone’s blogs. It may take me awhile, but I can’t wait to see all the great writing and photography that’s out there.

Thanks also to those of you who signed up to follow Mind Margins. What a daunting task I have ahead of me to make it worth your while to continue reading and visiting. I especially look forward to discovering your own blogs and reading what you have to tell the world.

Most of all, a special thanks to those of you who’ve been reading my blog for the past year, which is when I really got serious about writing and keeping up with the posts. It took me awhile to slog through the changes and find my niche, from Walls with Doors, to chasing now, to Mind Margins, but you guys were patient with me! You are my blogging family, and I appreciate all the time you put into keeping up with my take on the world.

You guys rock!

Angela

Angela and Dogs

With Shasta and Nevada in Colorado

Baby, You Were Born to Be Something

A couple of weeks ago I experienced some problems with procrastination and motivation, especially in the area of writing. It happens fairly often and tends to coincide with a random change in routine (like being out of town for a week). For inspiration, I downloaded the book The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle, by Steven Pressfield. It’s a short, easy read on fighting Resistance.

I’m terrible about trying to get everything done in my day before sitting down to write. I like to save the best for last. Of course I never get everything done that I want to, and writing usually pays the price. And to be honest, there are many days when I question putting so much time and effort into writing posts that are sometimes very personal and that very few people actually read. Writing takes a lot out of a person, and sometimes I question why I spend so much time doing it.

I remind myself that Vincent van Gogh never sold a painting his entire life either, except to his brother, Theo. Obviously, he wasn’t doing it for the money.

So I turned to a book to help me out of my slump.

As these things often happen, the last part of the book synchronized with a post I had recently written on being who we are, as opposed to who we are meant to be.

We’re not born with unlimited choices.

We can’t be anything we want to be.

We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.

Um, I’m not so sure about that. Mostly, I just don’t believe in a “specific, personal destiny.” I don’t believe there’s that one, true thing everyone was meant to BE, kind of like I don’t believe in that one, true soul mate. He continues:

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

If we were born to paint, it’s our job to become a painter.

If we were born to raise and nurture children, it’s our job to become a mother.

If we were born to overthrow the order of ignorance and injustice of the world, it’s our job to realize it and get down to business.

Well, maybe I do agree with that.

I have two children. Both kids came into this world with distinct personalities, interests, and talents. Each have their individual strengths and weaknesses. One is very artistic and creative, the other very logical and mechanical minded. I could not have molded them to be otherwise. They were literally born that way.

Ironically, the creative one became a geologist. Her saving grace: she makes sure there’s enough time in her life for artistic, creative endeavors after work to be happy.

Getting my other child to read anything other than maps, cross-sections, or Tin Tin–and that’s if I could coerce him away from his Legos or video games–was like pulling him from the jaws of a grizzly bear. He now builds wind turbines and couldn’t be happier. And he still doesn’t really like to read.

(Remember, I’m a teacher. Having a child who hated to read was tough.)

In twenty years of teaching, some children’s natural talents were like billboards in the classroom. I’ll never forget third grade Madai and her incredible artistic talent. She made beautiful drawings in class (she was constantly drawing), and was also emotionally mature beyond her years. When I read a picture book aloud to the class about Wilma Rudolph, who overcame polio as a child to become the first American woman to win three gold medals in the Olympics in 1960, I looked up to see tears streaming down Madai’s face. She was absolutely born to be an artist. She felt everything so deeply.

I can honestly say that if she does anything other than something artistic, it will be a terrible shame for herself and the world. She was born to create art.

Other children were fantastic athletes, eloquent speakers, and gifted mathematicians. Most students didn’t display their talents as brightly as a select, dominant few. I was often surprised–and relieved–when the music teacher would tell me one of my academically struggling students was musically gifted. I suspect many quiet students had talents they chose to keep hidden after years of testing and being forced to conform in the classroom.

For me, I’ve always loved to write. From the time of my first lock-and-key five-year diary to journals in high school, to English Lit papers in college to this blog, writing is a natural love. I suspect almost everyone feels the need to express themselves in some manner, and for me writing always met that need.

I never had enough confidence or courage to make it a career, or never made enough time after earning a living to do something with it. I don’t feel like I’ve disappointed myself, or haven’t lived up to my potential, however, because the desire to write is not going to suddenly disappear.

It’s just there, like breathing. It always was and always will be. And as long as I respect the urge to write, and keep writing–even if it’s junk–I’m being true to myself and the person I was “meant to be.”

It might not pay the bills, but it will keep me happy.

Perhaps life is nothing more than figuring out what you were born to do (which to me is the same thing as figuring out who you were meant to be), even if you never make a penny doing it. You may put in the hours at a lackluster job to pay for the groceries and that great vacation you’ve been saving for, but hopefully there’s something else, something meaningful, that makes you feel like a whole person.

Make it your job to make it happen. Life is too short not to.

Finding Meaning (Again)

Last week was a “dark night of the soul” kind of week for me. I felt unmotivated, untethered, and lost. I have a great life, but suddenly it felt as if I had gone off the path and into the brambles. I had lost sight of what gave my life meaning.

We all have weeks like this, weeks where we feel as if we’ve lost our way. I think a lot of people live lives like this, never knowing in which direction they should be headed, and never expecting anything better.

Last year I quit a job I used to love. It reached a point where I felt as if I was selling my soul every time I went to work. I didn’t believe in what I was doing any longer and I walked away.

I think a lot about meaning these days. What makes our lives meaningful? Does it just happen, or can we create meaning?

I mostly believe life is what you make it, that we facilitate a meaningful life by the things we do, the relationships we build, and the experiences we create. Sometimes, though, you have to search for meaning, and it’s not always easy to find.

After a week of soul searching, I finally figured out that most of what I’ve done this past year has been solely for the purpose of making money.

We all have to eat and make our way in the world of work, but focusing mainly on how to make money completely changes everything. Whereas I used to look forward to writing, it became a chore, something that might possibly lead to a way to make a living. My writing changed, became less personal. I found ways to avoid sitting at the computer. I found excuses. Having to write took all the joy away. I started to resent the constant pressure of having to write something every day.

If I’m writing only because I hope to make a living from it, it will probably never happen. I don’t want to write because it will put food on the table; I want to write because it’s the food that will nourish my soul.

I had forgotten that without meaning, without having things we do for no other reason than we love doing them, life becomes stagnant and hollow.

What did I do? I sat down and wrote, for no other reason than I wanted to. I wrote without an agenda, without an ulterior motive, without expecting anything to come of it.

I’m going to try and write poetry again. I’m going to knit something beautiful. I’m going to grow green beans.

 

Your passions may be something other than mine. It could be painting, gardening, cooking, running, knitting, photography . . . the possibilities are endless. Hopefully you have more than one passion.

Whatever brings meaning to your life has to be nurtured and allowed to breathe. It has to be something you can’t live without doing, something that encapsulates your entire life into one single, small moment of creation.

Find time each day to do something creative, for no other reason than the pure act of creating something. Do something just because you love doing it. It will bring meaning back into your life.

Why I Love a New Year

The Christmas/New Year season is always a time of reflection and introspection for me, as I suspect it is for most people. This year has been no exception. Reflection and introspection are the main reasons why I love a new year.

Since Thanksgiving I’ve written very little, mainly because I’ve been incredibly busy. I’ve run a half marathon, traveled a little, cooked a lot, knitted some, and spent not nearly enough time with my children. Not writing became an activity in itself, even though snippets of future posts kept bubbling to the surface at odd hours of the day and night, begging to be written.

New Year’s Eve is one of my favorite days of the year. There’s such a sense of fulfillment that comes from having lived another year, and a feeling of anticipation for the year to come. This year the day coincided with my regular Saturday group long run, which is almost always culminated by breakfast at Fuzzy’s Tacos. Though different groups run different speeds, everyone always comes together afterwards to eat, visit, and talk about our run. A lot of Saturdays I enjoy breakfast much more than my run.

Being able to visit with so many great friends, old and new, on the very last day of the year made it that much more special. I had come full circle, running with friends who were with me when I began training for my first half marathon almost five years ago.

The older I get the more I realize: the relationships we build with others are truly what matter the most in life.

Even though it is “just another day,” the first day of a new year brings with it the idea of a new beginning, a chance to start again, a brand new, fresh, blank page. Ever since logging the morning’s temperature on January 1 each year in my little five year diary when I was a kid, I usually take some time to reflect and write something on New Year’s Day. I’ve always loved buying a new agenda for the year and filling it in with birthdays, future races, and vacations. This year, because of my son’s unexpectedly generous Christmas gift, I’m doing it all electronically on a brand new iPad2.

I’m not one for resolutions. They’re almost always forgotten within a few weeks, if not days. I usually prefer to think about what I want to do more or less of in the new year. I remember one year’s plan was to “find more joy.” I think I’ll always work on that. This year, my plan is to have less clutter in my life–and my house. I think I’ll always work on that as well.

Mostly, I want to get out and do more. Staying home doesn’t create memories. Adventures do.

I’ve always wanted to be somewhere else. Even when I’m on vacation in the most beautiful places in the world, I’m planning my next trip. Call it restlessness, call it dissatisfaction, call it nonacceptance . Whatever it is,  I’m still working on learning to accept that wherever I am is where I should be.

And it truly is about the journey, not the destination.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone! Here’s to a great year of adventure, acceptance, and a clutter-free life (and house).

My Writing Life: From Big Chief to Computer

I’m old enough to remember the days before computers. Anything I wrote was by hand. Nowadays the only time I ever pick up a pen is to add something to the grocery list. I’m guess I’m old school that way.

My writing life started with a little five year diary with a lock and two keys I got for Christmas one year. Each January 1st, while watching the Macy’s Day Parade on TV, I’d record the time and temperature and a New Year’s Resolution. The rest of the pages may have been sparsely written on, but January 1st had an entry for all five years in a row. The little five year diary had entries such as “Played Monopoly with Cindy and WON!!!!!” (I always had to win), or “Sick. Stayed home from school. YEAH!!!!!” Life was pretty simple back then.

When I got a little older I upgraded to a Big Chief tablet. On trips to visit my grandparents in Oklahoma, my Big Chief was always waiting for me. I know you could buy them anywhere, but Oklahomans are especially proud of their Indian heritage. I never took it home with me back to Texas–it would have seemed out of place. My grandmother always kept it on the top of the shelf in her kitchen. I loved spending hours rereading plays, poems, and silly things I’d written from past trips. I would sit on the front porch in the big wooden rocking chair, look up at the huge tree that dropped leaves shaped like helicopter wings, and write informational plays about saving the environment.Yes, I was granola even then.

I ran across the Walton’s Thanksgiving special on TV over the holidays, and of course John Boy, ever the diarist, was writing it all down in a Big Chief tablet. No wonder I always had the biggest crush on him . . .

And I always wondered what happened to my Big Chief tablet.

When I got to be a teenager I kept writing, but I moved on to spiral notebooks. They were certainly cooler than the five year diary. I had volumes and volumes of spirals. Each page was covered in frantic writing, front and back. When it was full, nothing was better than picking out a new spiral at Skillerns. The color had to be just right, and the paper and lines had to be worthy of being written on. Yes, I was a big dork. Life was tough for a skinny, uncool, late blooming, Save the Whales and Earth Shoes kind of girl, even in the late 70’s.

After I graduated from high school I spent one lonely Saturday night rereading them all. I was disgusted and aghast at the realization that I had wasted that much energy anguishing over boys and the unfairness of life. I promptly drove to a dumpster at the apartment complex nearest to my house and threw them all in. Every single one. I’ve never regretted it. It was like hitting the reset button.

Somehow I made it through college as an English major with only an IBM Selectric typewriter. Every revised paper I wrote had to be retyped, page after page–and I revise a lot when I write. Typos meant sticking a little tab of white correction paper over the mistake, hoping it would cover it up, and hoping your fingers wouldn’t slip off the keys. I thought I had died and gone to heaven when they invented a self-correcting typing ribbon, but you could still see the mistake.

After a year of college, I worked as a secretary in Switzerland for a company that made turbine generators for nuclear power plants. After all those years of being a closet hippie, and after Three Mile Island, I had an unsettling feeling I was working for the enemy. They needed my English and my typing skills, though, and it had great benefits. Also, I got to work on both a telex machine and a real computer, an IBM Office System 6.

The telex was terrifying. The keys had huge spaces between them and my fingers were always slipping off the keys. Every letter you typed made little holes on a long piece of tape, so if you made a mistake you had to start all over again. Horrors. After you finished you took the tape to a room filled with women who fed the tape into machines that sent the encoded message somewhere else. The machines were loud and obnoxious.

The IBM OS-6 was a behemoth. It had its very own room. Everything was saved on huge floppy disks that were labeled and cataloged. We even had some type of ancient transfer system between my computer and the one in the New Jersey office. I would pull up the written proposal on my computer, call the States late in the afternoon, hit a button, and three times out of 10 it would be received on the New Jersey OS-6. At least parts of it would be received. Sometimes.

We’ve come a long way. I can’t imagine going back to the days of writing twenty page English papers without a memory mechanism. Writing is so much easier with memory. And I’ve always had the worst handwriting.

As much as I loved my Big Chief, I love my computer way more.