I AM a writer, I AM a writer, I am a writer…

On Friday I signed and submitted a contract, legally binding me to revising my sex ed book first written in 2003. I’ve known about the possibility of revising for several months now, and have been working on it ever since the editor proposed the idea. Yet, I wasn’t sure I would go through with it until a few days ago. Allowing myself a way out, a changed mind, until the last minute. I’ve been researching, writing, going to writing groups, collecting stories from young people, and thinking about this revision for weeks on end. And I signed the contract.

Yet, I still don’t consider myself a writer.

I wonder what the hell it will take until I feel I can own that label – a writer. A successful book? And if that’s the case, how do I define successful? I mean, I’m revising a book I already wrote at the request of the publisher. They have to consider the book somewhat successful in order to ask me to update it, no? And if the answer is no, then I question their business sense.

my book

See? That’s a book with my name on it.

For some reason, it’s easier to claim the title of Author; maybe it’s because, in my academic life, I’ve “authored” several manuscripts and have the vitae to prove it. Being a writer implies a level of craft and creativity I’m not sure fits me.

What is a writer? What is an author? Who is a writer? Who is an author?

I’ll ponder these questions more as I continue updating my work.

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Little magic

My teabag offers me a lofty thought for the day: “A relaxed mind is a creative mind.” I think of the times I write – sometimes it’s in my office, but more often it’s at home, after meditating, or after a long, quiet sit on my purple couch where nothing at all has happened in the previous hours. Those are some relaxing times that inspire writing. Sometimes, I’m somewhere else when inspiration flows. Over the last few months, I’ve taken a couple of trips to the Oregon Coast. One weekend was designed to be a (scholarly) writing retreat, while the other was a girls’ weekend. Creativity abounded. The first trip was full of ideas and progress as two of us mucked our way through a manuscript on a painful topic. The second trip had no agenda – people colored, knitted, and crafted through the weekend. Bernard, a seagull with a bum left leg (seems like his claws and webbing never fully formed), kept us company for three days of relaxation and expression.  I read books on topics I plan to write about in the future – sexuality education for youth, and karaoke (no, not in the same book) – and I could feel my mind making connections between the words I read and my own developing ideas as I stared out the window of our wonderful beach house. It’s always hard to leave places and friends like that.

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Bernard with Haystack Rock in the background (Pacific City, OR).

But sometimes I write as the mood strikes me – inspiration hits suddenly: a line, a concept, a moment arrives, and I begin narrating events and feelings in my head as my life is unfolding. Often, these are moments of intense emotion, nothing close to relaxation. These are the times when I grab a pen and a scrap piece of paper from my purse and begin to scribble. If I was lucky, I could read my own writing a few hours later and share it in my blog, or transcribe it into my computer journal. Elizabeth Gilbert describes this phenomenon in her book Big Magic. She believes that ideas exist in the world, and it is up to a person to be open to receiving them — that creativity is an “exhilarating encounter between a human being and divine creative inspiration.”  If a person isn’t in a state or position to take in an idea and express it, the idea will go off and find a willing recipient. When “genius comes to pay a visit,” you better answer it, because genius is an impatient partner.

While I’m not sure I completely believe that creativity is out there in the world, waiting for a human vessel to work with, I’m not taking any chances. Earlier this week I bought a small spiral journal that I now carry in my purse — no more scribbling frantically on stray pieces of paper. It makes me feel like a writer, though its pages are still blank. In its small pocket, I carry the stub from my return ticket from Oman and a small card given to me by a dear friend. It reads: “replace your shame with the hope of pressing on towards your highest goals, and your fear with a passion to fulfill your dreams.” I’m working on it, though fears nibble around the corners of my self-confidence.

I rip the tea quote off its string and place it in my journal’s pocket. I’m ready.

Letting go of letting go

I spent the evening organizing. Cleaning out old files, trying to figure out what I need to keep, and what needs shredding. I found some old postcards – created by a well-known local artist – ones that were bought five years ago to become an art piece, celebrating Oregon, in my kitchen. Maybe I’ll make it someday, to replace a painting that I’m not too fond of, but hangs there anyway. I also uncovered my file of old recipes, the things I used to cook before I left to travel the world. Maybe I’ll make some of those dishes again. Lots of stews and soups, just in time for winter. Two thank you cards were buried in a pile of health records. I was going to throw them away, but something stopped me. I’ll probably put them in a box, along with other assorted memories. Overall, I did a poor job of letting go of things today. Something I’ve struggled with my whole life, but am slowly getting better at. Better at understanding when it’s time to let go of things, a hobby, a relationship, an idea. There are things and people from the past that are worth holding onto for sure: I’m just not so sure that the kitchen painting or the replacement postcards fit the bill.  Nor is this thought process really worth holding onto. I recognize that this blog post is half-baked, ill-formed, and pretty non-sensical. So, it’s time to let go of this. At least I let go of something today.

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Today I pretty much chose the latter

I took the day off (almost)

I strongly considered not posting today, yet here I am. Blogging every day is definitely challenging;  I anticipated it would be, and as the month wears on I come to the realization that I don’t think I could write every day. At least not in this manner. Perhaps if there was a goal, a specific project I had instead of a more free-floating target, things would be different. Nevertheless, I appreciate what this exercise is teaching me about writing, inspiration, and myself.

I almost didn’t post today because I take commitments very seriously. While overall I am proud of this trait, there are some times where I take it to an odd extreme. Take the promise to blog every day as an example: Who did I make this promise to? Me. And if I don’t feel like writing one day, who am I letting down? No one, because I am listening to myself — the self of today — that is requesting a break. Past self will understand and my desire for perfection will have to get over it. In fact, I think it’s a good idea for me to practice striving for not-perfection, to get used to the idea that if something doesn’t actually happen, more often than not it’s OK. I know the difference between important things and unimportant things. I know myself enough to know that I will follow through on the important things. The less crucial stuff can slide now and then. I say that, but I’m not really sure how much I mean it.

Meanwhile, I laugh at myself because essentially I am writing about not writing, and how it might be good for me to not write. But I feel good writing these words, so it’s all good in the end.

Maybe I’ll play hooky tomorrow. It’s nice to know I can — and will — give myself that option.

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These people know how to take a break: Samgeori Park, Cheonan, South Korea.

The peaceful Middle East

I’m not really in the mood to write — I knew there would be days like this during NaBloPoMo. I could attribute my burnout to the grey skies and strong winds outside, signs of the storms to come. My lack of desire to write could be because of what is going on in the world: the attacks on Paris and Beruit  by ISIL weigh heavy on my mind. I am also upset to only now learn about an attack on a Kenyan university that happened in April.  Why hadn’t I heard of it until now, thanks to a friend’s Facebook post? I suppose I could blame it on the fact of timing: I was days away from leaving Oman to return back to the US. Or maybe it was because an attack by Islamist militant group al-Shabab that killed 147 African students doesn’t matter as much, in the eyes of the press, as an attack on the French. I do know that back in April, there was no Facebook option to place a black, red and green background behind profile pictures.  Today, I see several of my friends place a soft blue, white, and red-stripe pattern onto their images. My thoughts are with all lives lost.

So much violence, it’s hard not to view the Middle East as one big source of violence. But that was not my experience. Oman was, and is, a very peaceful nation. In honor of the lives lost and those who live in peace, I share a few pictures of the beauty that is there; I purposefully feature places of worship. Peace and beauty in the Middle East exists, and always will. I hope people don’t forget that.

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An abandoned mosque outside Rustaq, Oman

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A mosque in a small village en route to Jebel Shams

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Prayer in the Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman