On my computer, there's a folder called "In Process Posts." This is where I save blog posts or articles I've written but don't consider ready to publish or submit just yet.
Lately my stack of unfinished posts is growing. For some reason, I've been struggling to take this content to the next level. Coming up with a basic idea and blathering on about it hasn't been a problem. But transforming it into something I can feel proud to share with the world has been a challenge. Maybe the ideas aren't quite crystallized or my writer's voice sounds muddled. Often, there might be glimmers of compelling insight hidden somewhere in a post, but my take on the subject matter just isn't relatable or even interesting.
When this happens, often I stare at my computer screen for a while, my eyes glazing over despite the delicious caffeine I just consumed. This writing is just not good enough, I conclude, and I don't know how to fix it. And I hate the way I feel looking at this jumble of words, this mountain of prose that basically says nothing worthwhile. So off it goes into blog post purgatory, where it may or may not remain for all eternity.
What's the solution when the creative process seems to stall? There is a fascinating interview with artist and illustrator Christoph Niemann, who creates drawings using ordinary objects. He talks about how the process of creating something isn't always linear or pleasant. You need friction, he argues, or what he calls "a moment of discomfort," in order to make your work truly interesting. If you can embrace this sense of uneasiness and uncertainty, you'll find the process much more enjoyable.
I think I've been actively avoiding this moment of discomfort, because, let's face it--it's uncomfortable! When I get to that point where I feel I can't improve my writing anymore, yet I'm still not satisfied with a post, I just shelve it. Out of sight, out of mind. But Niemann would say that's the exact moment in which one should not give up. That uncertain, uncomfortable and often very frustrated feeling means we're actually on the right track.
With this in mind, I'm going to delve back into my unfinished posts folder...
Do you ever feel stalled in your creative process? What do you do to get back on track?
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It's not spring yet, but we sure had a great preview of it this past week in Wisconsin. Getting outdoors in the fresh air felt amazing, especially since I've decided to train for my first half marathon in May.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about miles and milestones. Completing a half marathon has been a longtime goal of mine, but I never actually committed to the training until now. For the past month, I've been following the Hal Higdon Novice 2 Program, and so far so good. The program involves several short runs and one progressively longer run each week. The only snag thus far has been discovering the joy of chafing. Let's just say I now understand why runners sing the praises of Body Glide.
As I look forward to the milestone of competing in this race, I'm also celebrating another milestone: yesterday marked six years since I said good riddance to most of my colon and underwent surgery to re-route my lousy plumbing.
If you had told me six years ago that someday I'd be running, swimming and training for races again, I'd have laughed in your face. I remember the physical therapists who came to visit me after the surgery. They coaxed me gently through some simple exercises that felt like torture: sitting up in bed and marching my feet up and down. They were so patient and kind, despite the fact that I wasn't the most cheery patient. I felt broken, frail and weak.
But over the next months, as I healed, my despair turned to gratitude. I started to recognize how the surgery had given me my life back, and how much joy there was to be experienced. Yes, things were different, but I wasn't broken, only changed.
To be sure, I don't run as quickly or easily as I used to a decade ago. After two babies and a life-changing surgery, it's as if my body has recalibrated itself. I do struggle to accept this at times. Getting back to the paces I pulled off in my more youthful days seems like a futile dream. Maybe with enough training, it's still possible, but I have a feeling the cost would be steep.
I don't have the answer, but I do know this: The fact that I can sit here, joking about chafing and looking forward to my next run, is a gift.
Whatever race day brings, I won't forget that.
When it comes to Wisconsin winters, any temperature over 40 degrees can almost feel tropical. This weekend, we took advantage of the warm weather and made the drive to Kohler-Andrae State Park. Located in Sheboygan, the park features miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, nature trails, and some really cool dune cordwalks.
The beauty of this park was an unexpected treasure, especially smack dab in the middle of winter. The kids loved running up and down the dune cordwalks, paths that seemed to spiral into the distance with no end. At times, we felt as if we were the only souls in the entire place. Huge chunks of ice were strewn across the beach, settled into the sand like lounging seals. The kids enjoyed climbing and jumping off these "ice rocks," their boots splashing into the tiny rivers of water below.
As the kids hunted for treasures and made stick drawings in the sand, I found myself looking for signs of life along the beach, picking up shells to see if any tiny inhabitants might still be inside. No such luck: any critters had long since moved out, likely relocated to the belly of a hungry seagull or another animal.
Then I happened to see this peculiar-looking little dude lying on his back in the sand. A quick Google search suggested he was a Whirligig beetle, which typically swims on the surface of water. The kids ran over and we debated on whether our little friend wanted to swim or just keep hanging out in the sand. Gingerly, I flipped him over to his stomach, and almost immediately, he began moving in the direction of the water. He had impressive speed and seemed to move instinctively toward his destination.
We watched as his body broke the surface of the waves, his tiny legs propelling him forward with a natural grace. He even flipped to his back and performed a pretty solid elementary backstroke. We walked along the shoreline for a while, following his progress. Eventually, the kids worried that our little friend might be getting tired, so we fished him out and placed him in a shallow pond a few yards from the lake, flanked by a couple of ice chunks. The girls decorated his pond with some moss and a few seashells, so he would feel cozy and at home.
Who knows if this particular stretch of beach really was his home, or if we'd inhibited or aided him on whatever journey he might have been attempting. Maybe we'll see him, or some of his family, again when the real spring arrives.
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On the radio recently, I heard a social media expert discussing the different platforms people use today. She remarked, “Facebook is really for older people; young people prefer to connect in other ways, such as Twitter.”
I opened my mouth to protest, “But I use Facebook, and I’m not an older person!”
Or am I?
I have to admit that I have plenty of habits that might correlate with a person of a more mature age than, say, a teenager. For example:
But I don't feel old, I think to myself. Surely, age is just a number. Besides, don't store owners have to card you nowadays if you look younger than, say, 65?
I was at a school event recently, and one of my daughter’s classmates greeted me with a polite, “Hello, Mrs. Rich.” For a moment, I was taken aback. Mrs. Rich? Who the heck is that? No matter how the world may see me, in some earnest part of my soul, I really do still feel like a kid, not a mature, responsible grown-up warranting such formal salutations.
In many ways, I'm afraid of saying goodbye to my more youthful, carefree years. Someone once told me, "The best years of your life are between ages 15 and 25," and that saying stuck with me. If I believe this, then looking ahead is a bleak prospect indeed.
But what if it's not true? As 2016 winds down, I'm choosing to challenge the notion that those earlier years of life were a peak, after which everything trends depressingly downhill. Maybe life is a series of peaks, in which moments of excitement and accomplishment are interspersed with more quiet times. So while I can't predict the future, I'm looking forward to what's ahead—grey hairs and all.
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One day last week, the kids and I were engaged in our usual after-school routine: as they raided the pantry for snacks, I dug through their backpacks, hoping not to find another letter announcing the presence of lice in one of their classrooms.
I'd just breathed a sigh of relief (no letter this time) and was preparing to excavate the remains of my kids' lunches when the unwelcome sounds of bickering and whining filled the air. I groaned internally. My daughters seem to be blessed with the ability to pick a fight with each other at the drop of a hat.
There are days when I feel remarkably enlightened (or over-caffeinated) and my kids' spats somehow don't get under my skin. Today was not one of them. Today, for whatever reason, I just did not want to freakin' deal with my kids' innate tendency to create conflict.
Over the din of two little voices shrieking various iterations of, "It's not fair!" and "Noooo!" a lightbulb suddenly went off in my brain. I remembered recently seeing a friend's Facebook post about making your own "Calm Down Jar."
"Girls," I practically yelled, trying to cover the frustration in my voice with what I hoped sounded like enthusiasm, "Let's make a chill out jar!"
They stopped arguing and looked at me. "Okay," they agreed.
I grabbed a mason jar and placed it on the floor. Then the girls took turns filling the jar with water, adding glitter and paint, and stirring the contents. When our creation was complete, I gave it a good spin and we all oohed and aahed as the water whirled and twirled like some mythical sea creature. Mission accomplished: their argument forgotten, the girls were entranced.
Looking at the jar made me think of the movie Horton Hears a Who! "What if each speck of glitter in this jar was really a whole other universe, like in the movie?" I asked the girls. For a moment, we sat quietly, imagining tiny, glittering worlds floating through liquid space. Surprisingly, the kids didn't fight about who got to keep the jar in her room first, agreeing to take turns.
I know that distracting ourselves from the issues at hand isn't a long-term solution for conflict. My daughters' fights remind me that there is plenty of work yet to be done in learning to live peaceably together, whether in our own kitchens or around the world. There are big feelings that need to come out, and tough discussions that need to happen. But sometimes, when emotions are at their most raw and fragile, there is beauty in just stopping for a moment, in pausing to let the quiet surround us, instead of adding to the noise.
We can't stay in the peaceful quiet forever. But once in a while, I will come and gaze at our Chill Out Jar, watching as it spins like a centrifuge, illuminating a different world.
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I'm Gina, mom to two girls, writer, and seasoned coffee drinker.