The More You Do

I’ve found this to be true enough times that it must be true: the more you do, the easier things get. I say this somewhat hopefully, having volunteered for too many things as a new elementary school teacher. I say this as somebody who writes a novel on top of living. I say this as someone who thinks they’re supposed to read absolutely every night but also write absolutely every night and also be nice to others. There’s only so much you can really do, but I think the more you try and do, the easier each thing gets.

It’s a splitting of the heart, but also a realization that the heart space is so much bigger than you thought. You can’t be up for twenty-four hours, sure, until they find a cure for that, but you can be doing more things in your day than you think you can. The moment you take a break to do something different, something you think you don’t have time for, the work you left behind on your desk suddenly gets put into perspective. That’s work on a desk. This is life.

I had a dream in which I was going to get killed by a gang member and then the gang member’s girlfriend shot herself in the mouth twelve times and I just watched her brain go everywhere. So I think I’m pretty stressed out. I looked it up in my dream book and I found that everyone in your dream (all those gang members and that girlfriend shooting herself in the mouth) are actually you. Dreams are very egotistical. And suicide, says the dream book, is an indication that you feel you have no pleasure in your life.

It’s getting to the point that I want to take up smoking, just so I can go sit out on a balcony for ten minutes and not do anything. It’s getting to the point that going to the washroom is the best part of my day, that eating a bowl of yogurt last night almost made me cry because I felt like I was treating myself and that somehow felt comforting.

I’m busy! But the more I do – the more I sign up to coach basketball and take on this thing called The Vow of Silence (which sounds easy) – the more I spread my heart out and the less I confine it to this small space between two Ikea desks where I have piled up soo many papers and worries. And the more I realize that kids are all around! And they’re just kids! They don’t care if the math thing that I’m doing makes total sense, they would just rather me be nice to them. So that’s what I figured out. Also, the more I take a moment to write a blog post, the more I realize that I am me, and not a teacher, and not a writer who is failing to write, but me who writes in this blog and thinks these thoughts, me that I left behind when I decided to work from 6am to 11pm and shoot my pseudo-self in the mouth in dreams and think that’s okay.

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Writing Elbows

I did it, I wrote a novel in 3 days. I held my elbows at my side and I wrote a novel for 3 days straight. At the 2.25 mark (1:00 on Day Three) my elbows gave out. They hurt! I blamed them then I kissed them better. Then the day stopped. My document was stuck at 83 pages when I so badly (so badly!) wanted it to be at 100.

I wrote a story about a girl that ended up being a little shallow (17 pages shallower than I thought). It took place in one day! How much of a worthy-of-a-book life transformation can you have on that one day that will make a book worth reading? Less of one than I thought. Or at least I kept telling myself to back off because I didn’t want to appear corny. I didn’t want to accidentally write a young adult novel without meaning to! What would that say about my level of intellect? My soul?

So I added a subplot. I knew about this one already (it was in my outline). It was the story of her parents meeting at Woodstock. I didn’t know anything about Woodstock, really, so I tried to tell their story through feeling (through what I imagined was the feeling of Woodstock).  And that was okay, but it was short, because feelings are fleeting.

Overnight Sunday and early morning Monday, I began planning a new subplot. This one was the story of homeless people living in Powell’s Books (this one day takes place in Portland). However, instead of homeless people, I just created one homeless person, and I told the stories of his three great loves. This got me no further than 83 pages because love is fleeting.

What I loved about this contest was its absurdity. Everyone on Twitter shouting at each other, shouting at empty rooms: Why am I doing this? What am I doing? I loved going places that weekend (because I somehow made it to an outdoor concert and too many coffeeshops) and wondering whether people looked at me and knew what I was doing (or were interested). They didn’t; they weren’t, but I liked the secret I was holding, like I was in some cult in which we write a novel in 3 days.

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(from http://annieneugebauer.com)

It’s what fiction writing is, some weird cult. You do that? Who else? Actually, I sit alone and do it, but I know some people…

One very big highlight was being interviewed by CBC’s Canada Writes about my preparation and afterwards about my experience. It was neat to appear on a website I look at often and to somehow feel validated, even before the experience happened. I love committing to hard things, knowing that all that matters is I committed.

I started teaching the day after I finished my 3 day novel. My back and my legs hurts but my elbows have stopped hurting! I love the sharp contrast: here I am alone; here I am with so many kids so full of energy. The experiences better one another, and I am better for committing to both of them, however hard and crazy a commitment that may be.

Preparing for a 3-Day Weekend

Next weekend I write a novel in 3 days. Not this novel! I’ve been working on this one for 2 years. Three days to finish it would be ridiculous. But a whole new novel? No problem! I speak of the 3 Day Novel Contest, something I didn’t make up. It’s a thing! Click on the link! I’m paying money to do it!

My mindset going into it is one of naive confidence, something I’m hoping to cultivate for my first year of teaching, which starts the day after I finish my 3-day-novel. It’s a frame of mind I’m actually trying to cultivate in all areas of my life.

I spent a weekend by a pool in the middle of summer. I kept cannonballing into the pool, telling myself before I took the leap: this is you jumping into everything.

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(from http://www.hiren.info)

I know that for my first day of teaching I need to look like I know my stuff. I need to have the right amount of desks. I know that for the 3 Day Novel contest I need to have an outline. I need a main character with a cool name.

But there’s something else I need for both these journeys, something so much more important than anything already mentioned. I need to be absolutely crazy! I need to go feral. I need to trust my instincts before my tired, sketchy, rigid mind. I need to keep doing cannonballs even if no one’s watching, even if I’m paying thirty-five dollars to sit alone all weekend writing something that will undoubtedly have such poor grammar.

But that’s what it seems to come down to. I need to keep doing what makes me happy, in the strange, clumsy way that I do it. It’s only then that I’ll find the things I’m looking for (or what I didn’t know I was looking for, but happened to find). If I don’t whisper maxims to myself before jumping into a pool by myself, then I’m not being me! I’m not putting all of myself into it. And what better thing to teach, to write about, then the feeling of power that comes from giving it all?

Time in a Garden

There is so much more than you think there is in one armful of soil. So much more movement, so much more depth. I stared at a patch of soil today because I was asked to. When was the last time you did that? When was the last time someone asked you to?

We didn’t go outside enough in school. It’s a sad thing everyone talks about. I’m becoming a teacher, but in Vancouver. I can’t wait to ask students to put on their galoshes and stare at patches of wet, thriving soil.

I hope to start (or continue!) a school garden in the school where I work. I am this week getting my fingernails dirty in a practicum placement at UBC’s Orchard Garden. I’m realizing things like seeds are so small and salad mix is a real thing. I’m also learning things about time.

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(from http://www.theorchardgarden.blogspot.ca)

My sister just had Anya. That is what I will say from now on because my sister didn’t have a baby, she had Anya, and Anya is now here. Anya is my niece. I can’t stop saying her name, letting it out under my breath like witchcraft. We stared at each other for a while the other day, Anya and I, and I can’t believe she will never remember it. I can’t believe there’s a time when you’re too young to realize anything about time.

She knows when it’s time for sleep, and she knows when it’s time to eat. She knows when it’s dark and when it’s light. I assume she knows a lot more than we think. But does she know about time?

Does she know that The Orchard Garden is being relocated for a construction site? Does she know that the polar ice caps are melting? Does she know that every day we age and every day we grow and every day there is someone new and someone gone? Does she know that her being born has marked a moment in time in our lives? There was once a time, and now there is a new one.

I think a lot about time but I stopped this week, when I was in the garden. Instead I thought about life, and how easy it is to forget that time is only there as a byproduct of our living. I only worry about it because I’m here, because I’m thinking. When really, thinking about time takes me away from life. Plants grow because they’re getting somewhere. They use all the energy they have to go for it. They grow and grow, unconscious of what might happen were they to stop. Then time, as seen by the plant itself, stops. Naturally.

Full Moon Dreams

I created worlds in my dreams this week, alternate universes. I did little yet so much writing this week.

For our final writing project of my practicum, I asked my grade three students to do something called “writing projects”. The idea was they could create an idea for a project – any type of writing they could think of – and then they had to write it. I read their first drafts this Saturday night and was blown to pieces. Imagine if everyone did a writing project.

 

What a neat thing, to ask your brain to create alternate universes every night, universes where you dance on a party bus as if that is just something you do in your personality. Imagine creating an alternate universe where you get to visit with someone you don’t get to see anymore every night. What a writing project I have under my belt, these dreams of mine.

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I’ve started writing them down, as if to tell them I am taking them more seriously. I wake up and I write the last thing that happened to me – my reality before I opened my eyes – and from there I go back in non-sequential time to all the other pieces of myself I had made up in the hours of unconsciousness. More than you would think comes back to me. I fill up a page or two at least. I write everything because it is all so insignificant that I can’t let the grocery store dream go if I’m keeping the elevator on the beach. It’s all nonsense; it’s all gold.

The final step my students will take in their writing projects will be deciding on a mode of publication and publishing it. I scribble my dreams down every morning. Months and years later I reread them and I remember my dreams like memories. They inform my writing and my life. They inspire me and make my life feel bigger than it is. They provide a recursive element that isn’t present in my linear life but has no reason not to be. They allow me to reflect and absorb and change. I am shifted every night because of something and I think it is good I have found importance in what it was that happened that made me shift.

Confidence

Whenever l write a sentence I am sure it is the best. It is the best sentence I could have written and the best sentence that has been written. It means exactly what I meant it to say. Is this unruly confidence the nature of the writer, or the nature of written words?

I feel safe under words, when they’re written down. When I speak them – and when I speak them in a different language – they’re lost to me, invisible because I haven’t seen them and I didn’t plan for them to come out that way. They float somewhere above my head, marking me. I lose confidence in myself. That’s not what I meant to say! That’s not me!

I wonder if it’s what people feel like when they write and they can’t express themselves. I wonder if people who can speak and say what they mean feel as confident speaking as I do writing. Imagine that, standing there with confidence.

I asked my students to write a project in sentences. They choose an image and write a sentence next to it. This sequence of sentences and images forms a story. A class book will then be made up of one sentence and image from each student’s story. My teacher asked me today whether this was maybe a bit too easy for them. In grade three, they’ve been writing sentences for a while. With the most confidence I’ve had yet, I said that I respectfully disagree. I said that as a writer, I think that writing a really good sentence is a lot harder than writing a paragraph you’re not that worried about.

I said it with the confidence of someone who has written a lot of sentences and who knows how that is done. I said it with the confidence of someone who goes on tangents in her blog posts and somehow remains sure she will come back to the main thing. I said it like I meant it, my hand on my heart when I said the word “writer.”

And I realized that confidence doesn’t come from the words themselves, the ones I’ve written down or the ones that happened to come out of my mouth. Confidence comes from somewhere a lot more meaningful, and to have forgotten that is absurd. Confidence seeps through you. It’s in there and it fills up everything. That I write using it only means that I dig deeper then when I’m speaking. I need to speak to you, to speak to them, from a place deeper in me. I need to stand there knowing who I am and I need to share that with everyone. I need to seep out at you. I need to!

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(from Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on power posing,

photo from 8simia.wordpress.com)

I just put a sticky note next to my bed, where I roll over every morning and wonder why I ever got myself into a job where I have to wake up in the mornings. It says “Confidence.” The “e” trails off, and it’s boxed over in pen marks to indicate an evident stress on the one word that’s on the sticky note. And maybe tomorrow I’ll scoff at myself for writing it, and maybe the next day it will fall down as sticky notes do. But maybe the next day, or the one after, (Friday, thank god), I will wake up and I will meditate, as I am supposed to do every day of 2013 and onwards, and I will think to myself: confidence. And it won’t seem so silly, the word and the idea, because I will have been practicing it all week.

First is Worst

How do we ever start things, knowing our first attempt will be the worst? After years of experience knowing that success usually comes only after considerable amounts of failure, how do we ever begin anything new? I tried writing a first draft of a novel last year. I tried teaching last week. I also tried curling. I did them all wearing dark glasses of faith, surging forward with a white cane, sure I was going to have something called beginner’s luck. I came out of the first day of each unsure about my performance, unable to judge it on much of anything. I came out sure I was either a blow-away success or an utter failure, sure I could only be one or the other. In reality, all of my first days were very mediocre. What I had yet to realize in each activity is that everyone starts somewhere.

I forget this because I see people starting who aren’t really starting at all. I see writers my age who have novels published. I don’t realize they’ve been through Masters degrees in Creative Writing. I don’t realize that they’ve never had a job. I see new teachers like me who have complete control. I don’t realize they’ve taught before. I don’t realize they grew up with younger siblings. I see people doing things that I should be able to do and they’re doing them better than me. And I forget that everyone has to start somewhere.

I’m starting somewhere and it feels shitty. It feels shitty and I know that every day for the next few weeks, maybe the next few years will feel a little shitty. Because I’m passing over speed bumps and I’m learning the things every person has to learn in my position. I’m doing what I need to do in order to do the thing I am doing. But I hate it. I hate being aware of it.

What I need to focus on is the fact that the first day is the worst. The first day is long gone, as is the fifth. I am on to the sixth day of teaching and the sixth draft of my novel. I don’t know that the two are comparable, but the number is the same. Five times I’ve tried things. The first time I had nothing to go on, the second time I had one thing to go one, the third time I had two things to go on, the fourth time I had three things to go on, and so on. And now I am on to my sixth day and I have five days to go on. I am on to my sixth draft and I have five drafts to go on. I have five drafts to go on. I can go on because I am standing on five drafts. I have crushed them underneath me and I am five drafts taller and I am almost on to you, people who think you know what you’re doing. Because I know you never did. I know you started here, and I just never caught you in it. And you remember it, you remember the shitty days, the shitty drafts, but you can’t really imagine it, because something in you has shifted.

You are no longer a beginner. You have made it past something (maybe you had to create the thing in your mind) and you are suddenly in it. You haven’t made it (oh gosh, you’ll never make it), but you’re in it. The first is over and you’re on to the second, or at least the fourth, and you’re running forward because you’ve knocked everyone out of the race. You just kept going and look where you are.

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