Quarterly Resolutions

It’s never too late to make New Year’s Resolutions….or is it?  Maybe these should be my quarterly resolutions, as we are a quarter of the way through the year. The first three months of 2017 have gone by in the blink of an eye, and to be honest, I don’t feel like I’ve been very productive. I’ve managed to start a handful of books, and just completed one tonight, and I’ve had a week off my marathon training, and am nursing a two day old cold. This cold has got me tired and rethinking my priorities. So, before I lose this urge to write, I am going to share my resolutions for the next three months.

  1. Read more. Last year I started instagramming all the books I finished, and making lists of the books I had read and wanted to read in goodreads.  For a while, these apps kept me on track, but then I fell into my old habit of reading too many books at once, and not finishing any of them. And Netflix and cable TV did not help in my literary pursuit. Tonight I finished my first book of 2017 – a true crime, Deadmonton! It’s a small victory, but I hope it will motivate me to read more. My cable has also been cut off, so I have one less distraction.
  2. Stop apologizing and be more direct.  I’ve spent most of my life saying sorry for things that are often not my fault. I’ve spent most of my life stumbling to get what I want because I don’t speak my mind. In my professional and personal life, I have suffered the consequences of this passive behaviour. Today I stopped myself from apologizing to my late student, and informed her that I would charge her for the full session, even though she was 30 minutes late. And you know what? It was easier than I thought, and empowering too. Going forward, I will only apologize when I am in the wrong, and be more direct about what I want.
  3. Make weekly to-do lists. Sometimes I fall into an unproductive rut. I become overwhelmed by the exhaustive lists I write in my head. Although I use an online calendar, I like to breakdown my tasks even more. I’ve started printing out a weekly list that includes things like “lesson preparation”, “go for a run” , “do laundry”, “arrange social activities”, “write a blog post”, “read a book”, “grocery shopping” , and much more. After I complete these tasks, I can check them off and feel a sense of small accomplishment.  I schedule and edit my activities on this Excel sheet, but Coach.me is a great app for checking in, too.
  4.   Write More.  It’s been nearly four months since I updated my blog. My emails are getting poetic, and this is a sign that I need to let my creativity out. I’ve started  reading Eat, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (Profile Books, 2003) by Lynn Truss and Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (W.W. Norton & Company, 2016) by Mary Norris.  I tuned into Michael Hyatt‘s online webinar, The Busy Person’s Guide to Writing a Book the other week.  I love writing….I do. I do want to write a book one day, but I am a procrastinator and a perfectionist, who is too timid (lazy?) to get serious about it.  Anyhow, I want to write more, so I will write more.

Since this is my quarterly list, I’ve kept it short and sweet. I find resolutions are more digestible in small bites. What are your quarterly resolutions?

NaBloPoMo: Why I Stopped Posting

NaBloPoMo was supposed to go differently – I was supposed to write everyday for the month of November in the spirit of National Blog Posting Month, but  instead I stopped writing and posting on Day 7. The month was going to be about writing in the here and now, and my intentions were to write from Victoria, Vancouver, Bangkok, and some other Thai city.  I  managed to blog from Canada, but then I boarded an airplane bound for Thailand and something happened. There were a bunch of forces that transpired against me; I decided to give in to the here and now, and just live life without blogging about it.

So, why did I stop writing? Why did I stop posting for NaBloPoMo 2016?  Why was I able to post through my 2014 breakup and make it to Day 19 in 2015? What was different about NaBloPoMo 2016?  Why did I drop the ball on Day 8?  I’ve been asking myself these questions, and have come up with some reasons/excuses.

  1. I was told not to write.  On November 8th, while enroute to Guangzhou, I was told repeatedly to turn off my device.  I was mid-way through my post titled, “Giving up my seat for Love”, when the flight attendant spotted me. Stuck between a Bali-bound drinker and a China-bound meditator, I thought I would discretely get some writing in, since I no longer had the luxury of leaning my head against the window. The elderly man in front of me was now leaning his head against the window, as his wife rested her head on his shoulder.  Before the plane had taken-off, through hand-gestures and smiles, I had given up my window seat to this couple. No regrets, but I wasn’t going to just shut off my device with a smile. Well, I did shut it off momentarily, then she caught me again, and I reasoned that my phone was on airplane mode, but she countered that it could still receive calls.  I just looked at her, ready to continue the debate, but then she said, staring at me coldly, “It’s the law.”  With that, I had a flash of prison in China, and powered my device off, forgetting to save my work in progress.
  2. Jetlag hit me. I spent half the month of November in a jetlag induced brain fog. For my first week in Bangkok, I was up before 6am everyday, napping every afternoon, and in bed before 9pm. During my awake hours, I had no desire to sit in front of a screen. I wanted to eat Thai fruit, lounge by the pool, ride motorcycle taxis, hang out with friends, read books, and just enjoy my old Thai life.  Once back in Canada, I was hit with another week of jetlag, and just wanted to enjoy my life here in my sleep-deprived fog. I was a space cadet that was fit to decorate a Christmas tree, but not her blog, with random foggy thoughts.
  3. I felt that I had to censor my writing. I’ve never felt this way before.  My blog is quite tame — I think the most risqué thing I ‘ve ever written about was in Thailand Firsts. However, while I was in Thailand, I made NaBloPoMo Day 3 private at the request of someone close to me.  It was a heartfelt letter that sprung from the prompt, “If you could be completely honest with no regrets, what would you say and to whom?” Funny, I always believed this special person never read my blog. Turns out I was wrong, and after a sleepless night, I moved that post to ‘private’ and emailed her. At this point, I had already decided not to carry on with NaBloPoMo, but this just sealed it.  I want to be able to write freely on my blog.
  4. The heat made me cranky.  The Thai heat did not inspire me to write. I managed to get two 5-kilometer runs in, and then decided swimming would be my new form of exercise. Cooling off in the pool made me calm, but I had zero patience for trying to write a blog post on my cellphone. I could just imagine a bunch of posts that would start the exact  same way, “I’m melting….”
  5. Blogging was not part of my Thai life.  I lived in Thailand for a long time — it will always be a big part of who I am. I was never one of those expats that blogs about all the crazy things that happen living abroad. Thailand was my home, my life was there — it wasn’t crazy. It was when I moved back to the West that I felt off balance and started blogging.  In the spirit of revisiting my Thai life, I didn’t want to blog — I wanted to just be there. I visited my old neighbourhoods, took the bus out to my old university, caught up with my old friends, and enjoyed the simple things — eating fresh mango, speaking Thai, getting a pedicure, floating my krathong. Being back made me realize that Thailand will always have a place in my heart, but it is no longer where my home is.

Those are my reasons, my excuses, for not posting during NaBloPoMo.  Instead of being disappointed with myself because I didn’t post everyday for the month of November, I’m going to rejoice in the November I had to just be in the here and now.  In saying this,  my hat does go off to all the bloggers out there who didn’t stop posting.  It’s not easy — it takes incredible discipline. Well done — I will join you another year :).

Thai house

 

NBPM #12: Write on

I don’t really have time to think about you, day 12.  I’ve only got one hour left to publish you, so I am sorry that I cannot be more thoughtful.  If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been inspired to write tonight. I’ve been inspired by the writer’s life.  I’ve often thought about doing something crazy, like quitting my job and writing and reading all day long.  I’ve also thought about just immersing myself in another language, another culture. I’ve come close.

I’m an amateur, when it comes to writing.  I sit on the fence; I just dip my toes in. In Bangkok, I joined a women writers’ group, but only made it to two events, before being swept away by a fulltime job. I was also a little disheartened sharing my work with fellow writers. The first night, my writing piece was dissected and critiqued, and I went home wondering if my writing should just be confined to the walls of my journal.  How pathetic, I know.  Rejection is part of the writer’s journey.  Anyhow, this year when I joined ‘Writing your Memoir’ at UVic, I was met with thoughtful feedback that made me want to write on.  But again, a fulltime job seemed to envelop my life, making it difficult to make it to class, and find the time to write.

Blogging here is helping me get my writer’s groove back, and a new teacher in my life is getting me inspired.  She invited me to her book reading tonight, and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to wade through puddles in the pouring rain, with no gum boots and a flimsy umbrella, but I am so glad I did. Initially, I had my reservations (not at a table), when I arrived in the lavish hotel, looking like a drowned rat.  I looked around and saw so many characters. Elegant dresses, funky boots, jeans and jackets, cozy sweaters and leggings, cat-eye glasses, wine glasses, beer bottles, tables of books, indistinct chatter, distinct laughter, subtle perfume, perfect smiles, rain pattering on the glass ceiling above me.  The introvert in me wanted to escape, but then the teacher/writer arrived. She was with her partner, a suave dresser, and her friend, a lovely silver-haired woman with a three-legged dog. They took me under their wing, and us ladies spent most of the night gently (and quietly) critiquing the readings (and writers), from the back of the room. For some reason, I felt right at home with these hip, older women.

When the writer in our midst finally took stage, we all stopped momentarily, and then burst into laughter, with the rest of the audience.  Her book, a memoir of sorts, in honour of her mother, was touching, but never the less comical. Actually, I haven’t read it, but the excerpt leads me to believe it will be this way. The book looks at an aging mother through a lens of compassion and humour. It’s on my book shelf now looking at me, just waiting to be read.

I believe writers have a magical life; they have so many different worlds. They write what they know, and what they hope to know. They create worlds with their words, and dig deeper into themselves, while at the same time urging others to look inward, or outward. They have a writer’s ‘hat’, like a secret spell, and it is theirs alone, it is their voice.  Their stories are part of them, but they’re not selfish, they share them. They are many things, and one part of them is a writer. Sometimes, I think I am a writer.

Rustic flowers

NBPM #9: Nine things on my mind

Day nine of NaBloPoMo has arrived, so I thought it would be appropriate to share nine things on my mind.  Most of these things are simple and random, but some of them are more complex. Read on for my list of nine, in no particular order.

  1. Writing challenges.  A teacher at my school is doing NaNoWriMo, and she’s loving it! She’s becoming addicted to the increasing word count, and turning into a writing machine. She knows I’m doing a writing challenge as well, and she asked me about this blogging thing, that’s hard to pronounce. We commiserated about Writer’s block today, and she suggested I write about life at the school. To that I replied, “I’d rather leave work here, and keep my writing random.” And to that, she gave a knowing nod.  For my sanity, I need to keep my work life and my outside life separate.
  2. Laundry.  As I was walking home tonight, I was thinking about laundry, the laundry I had to do tonight. And then I started thinking about the fresh smell of the laundromat on an American military base in South Korea, and afternoons spent hand-washing clothes in Thailand. We take washers and dryers for granted here. They save us time and manual labour, and nothing beats the smell of a blanket fresh out of the dryer, but there is something to be said for the meditative satisfaction that one gets from washing clothes by hand and hanging them to dry. My Sunday afternoons used to be reserved for laundry and somtam (spicy papaya salad).
  3. Patience. Not everyone has it, and I don’t have it all the time, but I think I have more of it than the average person.  Funny thing is, I have more patience for others than I have for myself. Today, my boss was losing his patience, so I left five minutes early.
  4. Gratitude. Lately, I’ve seem so much gratitude around me. Last week, there were two flower deliveries at my office; one with a thank-you note, and the other with a happy-anniversary note. It is my colleague’s last day on Friday and I want to do something special to express my gratitude for all she has done for me and our students. I’m still working on my gratitude plan.
  5. Tipping — Not tipping the scale, but tipping your barista.  Three weeks ago, my friend from Boston came to town to give me a reality check. After she left, I realized my thirty-five is just fine, and I should start tipping coffee baristas. You see, her boyfriend is a barista, and she told me about some of their ‘extra’ jobs, like cleaning up shit. You may choose to take this literally or figuratively. So, if I am ordering a fancy coffee, I always tip now.
  6. Skinny legs and boots.  I envy skinny legs and slim calves.  Buying high boots is an absolute nightmare, if you have calves and little boxes for feet. On Friday, I tried on a dozen boots and shoes, and ended up walking away with boot shoes.  I took them back today, because they just weren’t me.  I really wanted boots.
  7. Separate spaces.  As I was wandering down the hall to do my laundry, I was thinking it would be so nice if I lived in a women-only building. If that was the case, I could simply wear my pyjamas, while I did my laundry. And I wouldn’t have to worry about one of the tenants asking me out.  When I was working in Thailand, I lived in an apartment building that had separate floors for men and women. It was perfect for students; it provided a safe and distraction-free home. These separate spaces for men and women provide comfort, and a place for camaraderie. On Sunday, the Arabic school is organized by women; when they are not in the classroom with the students, they are lounging on the sofas, in their slippers, chatting. However, this past Sunday, my boss made an appearance, and the headscarves flew on.  Today, I told him not to come to work on Sundays. The Arabic school is for the women to run the show; it’s their space.
  8. Bridging the gap.  I love watching the unexpected friendships that grow at my school. I love being able to offer gratitude in a language that is not my own.  I love seeing our students take their learning beyond the English classroom. I love listening to all the different accents and stories around me. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, South Korea, Brazil, Morocco, Japan, China, Thailand, Mexico…..my school is a little UN.
  9. Netflix.  I’ve started watching a new show – Master of None.  It’s Aziz Ansari’s little baby, and there are so many things I love about it — its diverse cast, its take on social media in our everyday lives, its look at the immigrant experience and racism, and its relatability. If you’re a twenty or thirty something navigating your life, you’ll get a laugh out of it, and probably a whole lot more.
And there you have it…….nine random things that are on my mind.  Good night, NaBloPoMo!
flowers and Paris

NaBloPoMo Day 6: Anywhere but Here

I’d love to be anywhere, but here. I’d love to be in bed with a book. I’d love to be in bed with Netflix. I’d love to be in bed with my special someone. Instead, I am here at my desk tapping out these words while the wind howls and the branches scratch my window. It’s only day 6 of NaBloPoMo, and I’m craving other pleasures. My inner critic has stirred, and she’s asking questions. Why are you doing this challenge? Where’s your voice? Wouldn’t you rather be doing something else? She’s not easy to shake, she’s clingy and persistent. What answers will satisfy her?

After a long hot shower, I still don’t have the answers for her. I still can’t muffle her voice; it’s a conspiracy with Writer’s Block. So, I’m giving myself ten minutes to tap on the keyboard, and whatever comes out will stick here. So, if you decide to read on, I’ll thank you in advance, and if you decide to switch off right now, I won’t hold it against you.

*****

My grade 12 English teacher, Mr. T, was pretty cool. For the first ten minutes of each class, he’d let us do guided free-writing. He’d put on some music, and join us in our experimental writing, and he never asked to see our work. It was guided because he’d give us some kind of prompt…..sometimes it was smelling a plant or looking at an old picture in the hallway. Whatever sprung to mind as a result would be what we would write about. I still remember that plant — it smelt like my great grandpa’s pipe, and that made me think of white peppermints. He’d always had a bowl of those around his house, and my grandma (his daughter) still keeps them in her purse. Anyhow, just tonight, I was trying to look for some of  those old writings from Mr. T’s class. I couldn’t find them. In his class, I started to find my voice; I started to dig deeper and express myself on paper. He inspired me.

My grade 8 teacher inspired me, too. He was a chalk-thrower with white curly hair and a razor sharp tongue. I was lucky. He wanted a daughter like me, or at least that was what he told the class. He liked my writing, and I was never grazed by his flying chalk. I still remember his common sense…..but at the time, I thought it was wisdom. Write about what you know. Funny, I can’t really remember what I wrote in his class. By that age, I’m sure I knew enough. I do remember being an outsider that was involved. I was in the band, and on the soccer team…and the field hockey team. I wasn’t one of the cool kids. I didn’t want to be one of them, but I did feel lonely at times. (this is harder than I thought….this tapping away without critiquing.) I just want to stop. I know if Mr. M heard this he would chuck some chalk at me, so I will write on.

I’m grateful to these English teachers; they were polar opposites, but there was no BS about them. If your writing was good, they would let if be known. If it was rubbish, they would also let it be known. They didn’t sugarcoat anything. We need less sugar-coaters in this world.

*****

There you have it — ten minutes of free writing! I still would rather be anywhere, but here. NaBloPoMo day 6 is done, and now I will give myself permission to jump into bed with a book.

Korea

Writing practice: resisting the delete button

Recently, I’ve been inspired to write, but I haven’t been writing — I’ve been reading about writing in coffee shops, and dancing to Bachata remixes in my bachelor apartment.(Yes, I’ll do anything to procrastinate!) However, I think the combination of reading and dancing is loosening me up, so that I can write from a place where I’m not afraid to fall flat on my face.

I wasn’t sure what to read, but a writer/editor friend of mine had some great suggestions on her blog, commatology, in her fabulous post concerning writer’s block. Honestly, I’m not sure if that is my affliction, but I made a list of the books she recommended anyways. I was able to find Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Pantheon Books, 1994) by Anne Lamott, and Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambahala, 1986) by Natalie Goldberg at the public library, and then stumbled upon Room to Write (Penguin/Putnam,1996) by Bonni Goldberg at a used bookstore. I’ve barely cracked Room to Write, but it’s filled with writing exercises, and quotes that I love. But have the courage to write whatever your dream is for yourself. –May Sarton; One writes to make a home for oneself, on paper, in time, in others’ minds. –Alfred Kazin; and A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.Frank Capra, are just a few that are resonating with me.

Lamott writes about ‘shitty first drafts’ and ‘perfectionism’ –Allowing myself to expose a shitty first of anything is nearly impossible because I strive for perfectionism. (However, I’m learning to let go, and letting myself be the follower on the dance floor.) Her words made me realize that it’s okay to write really crappy stuff, and that I need to stand up to my ‘oppressor,’ the perfectionist within. The parallels she draws between writing and life are beautiful, funny and bang on! And Goldberg (the Natalie one), also highlights the correlations between life and writing, and the importance of practicing and composting.

Tonight when I sat down, I decided to just let the words pour out. I’m practicing. I told myself I was just going to let it happen — I wasn’t going to listen to my inner critic, I was going to resist the urge to hit ‘delete’. Prepare yourself — what follows might be a really shitty blog post. It’s all me, uncensored.

bell

“It’s been a long time since I’ve sat myself down to write. There always seems to be something more pressing — the dishes, the laundry, a run, a chat with a friend, an overdue email. It needs to stop — I’m not going to let my voice dry up, even if I’m not sure what I’m saying has any relevance. What’s that sound? Oh yes…..the eggs are boiling — better tend to that….maybe I’ll just turn them off and come back here to write. Wait….okay, they are simmering.

My inner voice has been talking a lot of shit these days. You’re not a writer. Everything that comes out is so constipated. You’re just on the surface. Reach deeper. You need to read more before you can get anything out. Do you think anyone is really interested in that? That doesn’t sound right. Yawn……you’re putting me to sleep. It’s so loud in my head; I want to scream SHUT UP!!! Okay, I did it. Now what?

Silence….just keep your fingers moving. Whatever comes out, comes out. And now I will be deleting all this, but at least I am writing. I’ll give myself ten more minutes to come up with something witty, something that I can use to hook you in. What I have been learning is that I’m not alone. Even great writers think they can’t write….sometimes. They sit down with loud voices in their heads, and write crap….sometimes a lot of it. This makes me feel better.

And I know that I can write. Inside me I know there is this honest, somewhat naive voice, that has fresh things to say. Stuff that might make you laugh….or cry….or go hmmmm….or think really?! Yes, it’s inside. They’re my stories. We all have them. It’s just finding the right notes to strum, the right moves to make, the right stuff will come to you, but first you need to silence that inner critic that says you can’t.

The other day I found out that my mom reads my blog. That made me smile because I know I don’t share enough with her. This can be a way for her to get to know me better. But what got me was that the thing she remembered was how I said I was going to blog everyday in February and then I didn’t. It’s my shortcomings that she remembers. Me, too. I still beat myself up for that one. What was so hard about blogging everyday for one month? And February only had 28 days? Why couldn’t I do it? I couldn’t do it because I love the delete button too much and I’m a perfectionist. Or at least, I try to be. When I notice a mistake….usually my own….I cringe. I need to get over that.

Anne Lamott says allow yourself to write shitty stuff. You will write a shitty draft. So, my blog posts are my shitty drafts…..at least the first time I publish them. Sometimes I read over old posts and then I go in and make changes. Sometimes I’m so tempted to just delete them. But then I think, just let it be. This is you….flaws and all. And who is really reading it?! If they can’t deal with the flaws, they will move on. Sorta like life and those you let come close to you. If they see your flaws…..those parts that need some polishing….those parts we try to hide…..and they still want to get to know you, then they’ll stick around.

Okay…..it’s been over ten minutes. Time to wrap this up or should I keep going on this tangent. Not really sure where it’s going, but the words are still coming.

Maybe what makes us really wonderful are those flaws. I think so.I look for those flaws. I don’t like shiny, sculpted things….they seem too unattainable. a fantasy. I don’t like fantasies. It has to be believable. I have to feel like I can connect. Connecting  is important to me; it’s what keeps me going. as an introvert, maybe this is strange….I guess I like to do it on my own terms, but either way I want to feel a closeness. I want to relate. we all want to relate and see ourselves reflected in someone else’s eyes. It’s this connection that says I see you, I know you, I hear you. We all want to be heard; we all have an inner desire to be heard — to live our stories, to share our lives, and to be known. Sometimes I don’t share. Is it the only child syndrome? I’m not sure, but i like to be on my own, I like to have the freedom to do my own thing, I like my own space. sometimes it’s lonely, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes i want to be loud. I want to be able to talk to anyone. I look at my extrovert friends with green eyes; i wonder what it’s like to be in their shoes. To always know the right thing to say? To never appear awkward. To never be at a loss for words. ”

So, that was it. That was about 15 minutes of non-stop chatter on the keyboard. I’m not going to leave you with any promises. Maybe I will try one of the exercises from Room to Write next time or maybe a reader (if you stuck it out till the end) will give me a topic. Hint, hint….let me know what you think. I want to connect.

Lessons learned at home and abroad

Did you think I was going to stop at 9? I’ll admit it has taken me a long while to sit down to write, but I’m back now to complete my list of 13 things I’ve learned in 33 years. By now you know that I have a thing for chocolate milk, I prefer to spend the holidays with my friends, and I’m an introvert. Here are 4 more things I’ve learned at home and abroad.

*****

10. Home isn’t a place.

Having spent over seven years away from my birthplace, I’ve often wondered where my home is. What I’ve figured out is that home is not a place. It’s neither where you grew up nor where you’re living now. Home doesn’t fit inside four walls or come with a welcoming committee. Home is a part of you. It is your memories, your experiences and your choices that make you ‘you’.

Victoria

When you miss home, close your eyes and you are there. 

11. Play outside your comfort zone. 

This must sound like strange advice coming from an introvert, but it’s not. I play outside my comfort zone more than most — I have to. My curiosity drives me to try new things, meet new people, and explore new paths. So far my biggest and best move outside my zone has been Thailand.

Start on a journey

If you want something different, you’ve got to stretch yourself.

12. I’m a feminist.

The other day I was accused of being  “quite an extreme feminist”. I’m not really sure what that means — either you believe women and men should have equal rights or you don’t. In defending myself, I replied with this.

I believe in equality and respect; equal pay for equal work; women being able to have a family and a career; women feeling safe and having the freedom to make choices about their bodies; women and men living their lives free of gender constraints; and feminism having nothing to do with shaving or not shaving your legs. My world view is not of hairy legs; I shave my legs, wear makeup, hold the door open for men and even buy them flowers, and have no problem picking up the bill…..or letting a guy pay my way. 

we-can-do-it

Feminism — it’s so complicated, yet so simple.

13. Waking up your childhood dreams is always a good thing.

When I was a child, I spent my afternoons writing never-ending stories. I’d type away in my own little world for hours on end. It was something I was good at. When I wasn’t dreaming about being a veterinarian, I was dreaming about writing books. Writing made me feel alive. It was a way for me to express my inner world.

Writing this blog is me waking up my childhood dream. I’m connecting the dots and sharing my stories here. And like my childhood writing, I’m not sure where it will lead. Will it be never-ending or culminate into a beautiful book?

snoopy rejection

Childhood dreams are those that are pure and honest. They’re the dreams that come from the heart. 

*****

In the spirit of following my childhood dream, I’m going to be blogging everyday for the month of February. It’s going to be a challenge filled with moments of clarity and moments of ‘what am I doing?!’. However, if there is anything I’ve learned in my 33 years from my time abroad and at ‘home’, it’s that I stumble gracefully through challenges and in the end they make me stronger. So here’s to stumbling towards better writing!