Jen writes

January 23, 2014

It’s powerful because it’s possible

These five words came from my fingertips, typed quickly over my keyboard and onto the screen. I hit “return” before really thinking. So many of my online social media connections are done in just this way. A quick response to something that really hit home. No overthinking. Just a genuine word or two meant to convey a kind of understanding and solidarity. Like a smile at school dropoff or a nod to your neighbor. Online we all must do a little more to be seen, to make the connections that are the equivalent of eye contact, talk of the weather.

“It’s powerful because it’s possible” was my response to Galit Breen’s beautiful post about, essentially, taking things one thing at a time. Or, as Anne Lamott is known for saying, inch by inch. Galit writes of the mind of a woken mama who is surrounded in sleep by her family and yet who cannot turn off her brain and find sleep herself. Sound familiar? This is so frequently my 3 a.m. place. Something wakens me, and honestly it’s rarely a child anymore. But then my mind is started and it’s so very difficult to turn it off. I listen for a while to my Sweetie’s breaths, and from there my mind goes to places that it shouldn’t be, not at this time. Not now, I think. Relax, I try. Breathe, just breathe, I say to myself. And the mind spins and goes and touches upon all of the work and the projects and the activities and schedule changes. The editing and the leotard needed for tomorrow’s ballet class. The birthday party email invitation that I forgot to tell my son about. The writing that I want to do and that I can’t find time for. If only I wasn’t awake here, now, at ohmygodnowit’sfourinthemorning, I would have more energy for more writing, more exercise. I would have more time in the daylight if I were not so consumed with this monkey brain the nighttime.

It’s powerful because it’s possible.

One thing at a time.

Inch by inch.

We can set our goals. And we can work toward them in measurable ways. We can write a blog post and not be self-critical because it is not a chapter of a novel. We can walk to get lunch instead of driving. We can apologize for the forgotten leotard and invitation and do better next time. We can be honest with ourselves and with our families—with our children, perhaps most important—that we are not here to do it all. We are here to live as happily and as fully as we can. All of us. We are here to make connections and to be real in all of our interactions. We are here to learn. We are here to give ourselves over to all that is difficult and all that is joyful.

As I write this there are countless things I could be doing. And it’s hard to write “could” and not “should.” In the prioritizing of my daily life, writing for me—whether a list or a blog post or an outline or character sketch or book proposal or a chapter of that novel—comes last right now. That’s another post, of course, but inch by inch I’m trying to replace some of the “shoulds” with “coulds.” The undeniable truth that I know in my heart and soul and that many other people in my daily life don’t fully understand is that I am happier, calmer, more able to do the things on that endless list when I have written. I know this and I try to answer to that pull in ways that are meaningful. Uninterrupted time is so rare, but sometimes a sentence or two scribbled on the back of an index card is enough to have a calming effect. To get me to better sleep, even. Sometimes clearing one thing from my brain by writing it down results in my shoulders physically relaxing.

I thank Galit for reminding me of this. For being there to connect with. For sharing her own busybrain. For reminding me again of Lamott’s one-sentence-at-a-time encouragement. Being a writer and connecting to other writers through our online nods and handshakes is powerful. It’s surprising still. That I so easily make a quick comment on a Facebook post and it turns into days of mulling and then more than 700 words of my own. A bit of relief. And a feeling of contentment, if just for a short while.

It’s powerful because it’s possible.


Read More in Jen Writes, writing

New job. Old commute. As I drive the familiar roads to get to my still-new job I cannot even estimate how many times in the past 24 years I have driven this same route. It’s like my tire tracks are somehow reflecting back at me. Three previous vehicles. Timeless travels to and from school, work, crew practice. This place where I have been student, alumna, friend, volunteer, coach.

There is a field that I pass each time. It has been there, it remains there, no houses built on it. Too close to the riverbank, I suppose. I see a pumpkin patch, even though there has never been one. Not since I’ve been driving these roads. But in my mind it’s there. Always. And there is a little boy and his father searching for the perfect pumpkin.

Do you ever read a book or a story and see so vividly the words on the page in a place in your mind that is actually a place that you know?

Years ago, I read the short story Along the Frontage Road by Michael Chabon. I do not read very many short stories. That feels like an admission of some kind of guilt. I call myself a writer. At one point I was pursuing an MFA in creative writing. The novel is my preferred form, to read and even to write. But it’s really the writing that stays with me, no matter the form, and this story, about a little boy and his father searching for the perfect pumpkin … it takes place on the field on Rte. 47 between Northampton and South Hadley in western Massachusetts.

It doesn’t, of course. Not really. It takes place in the mind of the writer. And then on the page. And then in the mind of the reader. And then is transported to anywhere and everywhere. Or nowhere.

Imagination takes us where we need to be. Sometimes it is as simple as that. And in Chabon’s story there is imagining and, for the narrator thinking about his own childhood while he spends time with his son, a kind of reflection.

As I drive these familiar roads to this familiar place and think so frequently of that story I am happy. Happy to be where I am right now. Happy to imagine a place that doesn’t really exist and yet does, because it is in me and has no inkling of moving or even changing.

It is enough to notice the field and think of the boy. To guide my van around the turns and down the hills and through the small neighborhood that brings me to the buildings that were my home for four years and continue to be a place I belong to now.

It’s a New Year still and I am noticing the old. Still. But it feels purposeful. Intentional. Useful. It feels right. And that’s more valuable to me than striving for more. What I have now is good. And while I am open to more, always, I am content to drive and think about words and life and what I already have. I have no word for 2014. No resolutions written down. It’s enough for me to be back in this place that I so fiercely love. To be happy. To notice. To just write.



Read More in Jen Writes, writing

I’ve changed jobs. And so I’m reading less. My last job, where I worked for 13 years, was 50 miles from my house. For 75 minutes, twice each day, I would listen to audio books. Drive the roads I knew by heart and take in the words of writers. To feed my heart. My brain. My inner writer.

Now I work 12 miles from home. The urgency to fill that time isn’t there. It’s easy to tune into NPR for a quick news update. To listen to the local independent radio station. Or to a few Josh Ritter tunes.

But I miss the reading. …

Today I’m over at Project: Underblog, where I write monthly or so about books and reading. You can read the rest of my post about driving and reading over there. And hey, if you’d like to contribute to Project: Underblog, take a look at our guidelines. We’d love to read your words.


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