Category Archives: On writing

The five hundredth post!

Holy cow … this is my five hundredth blog post.    I can’t believe I’ve written that many.  I was pregnant with Lukey when I started way back in 2008, and now he is a strapping two-year-old.  Matthew, who was barely talking in complete sentences,  is now a four-year-old who can write his name.  And me?  Well, I’m  a little grayer, a little more wrinkly, and a little bit wiser.  Life does that.

People often ask how I find time to write.  I always answer that it’s my outlet, my sanity-saver.  And really, no matter how busy you are, you make time for the things you love and need, don’t you?    I love writing because it gives me a chance to play with words, my artistic medium of choice.    And I need writing because in a life that is so often oriented towards the needs of others, it reminds me that I still exist as my own person.  It sounds strange to write that, because I don’t in the least begrudge my kids, my husband, or my students for the time I give them.  But writing affirms that my inner life, the life that ponders and questions and reflects, is still a vital and valuable part of this person called Ginny.

Anyhow.

As a way of celebrating this milestone, I went back through the archives, and plucked five posts (one from each hundred)  to share here.  I’ll call it a “Mary and Me Retrospective,” which makes it sound terribly grand.  At any rate, these are five posts that I’ve always kind of liked, and which I think give a pretty good sense of what this blog has been for me for the past two and a half years.

And to all those who are reading this: thank you for doing so.  A blog without readers is a journal, and though there is nothing wrong with journals, I’m always gratifed that people find my random musings interesting enough to read, ponder, and comment on.   I hope you enjoy reading the next five hundred, too.

Impractical Beauty (or why it is okay to sacrifice prime San Francisco parking space for a good cause)

* On how my toddler learned to Reach Out and Touch Someone

* Read all about A Teaching Mom’s Life, By the Numbers

* September is a really big month for me. Here’s why.

* A football player? Me?

The reality of writing

Sometimes, the act of writing is exhilarating.  It’s like running through a meadow with the wind in your hair, wild and weightless.

And sometimes, it’s like unpacking an entire moving van and hauling the boxes to a fourth-floor walkup.

That’s why I really like these words  from the writer Madeline L’Engle:

For me, to work on a book is the same thing as to pray.  Both involve that unpopular word discipline. If an artist works only when he feels like it, he’s not  apt to build up a body of work.  Inspiration comes far more often during work, as things get rolling, than before you sit at the typewriter.  This is because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen.  To listen to the work and to go where it tells you to go. And this involves faith.  Letting go of your own control and having faith in something you do not control.

To pray is also to listen.  To move through my own chattering to God, to get beyond those  words to that place where I can be silent and then listen to what God may have to say.

Excerpt from Madeline L’Engle, Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life, edited by Carole F. Chase.

“Why?” and the writing life

So Matthew, who is three and a half, is very full of questions these days.   Actually, let me be more precise: he’s very full of one question these days.

Allow me to share a recent conversation between my eldest son and me.  It took place the other night, as I was getting Lukey ready for bed.

ME: So you’re going to Grandma and Grandpa’s tomorrow, Matthew.

MATTHEW: Will Megan and Mandy [his beloved cousins, who were visiting last week] be there, too?

ME: No, they had to go back to their house.

MATTHEW: Why?

ME: So they could go to school.

MATTHEW: Why?

ME: So they could get an education and learn things.

MATTHEW: Why?

ME: So they can be successful in life.

MATTHEW: Why?

ME: Well … because usually people who are successful are happy. [Here I start to doubt my own answer.  Everyone knows that many CEOs lead hollow, unfulfilled lives.  And how do you define success, anyhow?  Why does my mind automatically fly to thoughts of money? ]  And Matthew, we all want to be happy.

MATTHEW: Why?

ME: Because we do.

MATTHEW: Why?

ME: I don’t know.

Many of our conversations now end this way.  “I don’t know” is the only answer that stops the “whys” in their tracks.   It gets pretty wearying, this kind of conversation.  It’s a bit humbling, too.  Earlier today, passing by a dry fountain, Matthew asked why the water wasn’t running.  My answer sparked another string of “whys,”  ultimately leading me to  the cold hard realization that I have no idea why, exactly, water is necessary for life.   I really don’t.  Does it keep our cells oiled, or something?  Put me in Bio 101, and I’d clearly fail.

Here’s the thing, though: Matthew’s repetitive but earnest line of questioning may be wearying to Ginny the Mom. To Ginny the Writer, though, it’s pure gold.   Frankly, what he’ s doing is exactly what I should be doing.  Too often, I find myself going on to another topic or another idea before I’ve fully explored the depths of the first.  If I’m writing about something spiritual, it’s worth it to keep going down, down, down, into whatever it is that I’m really, truly feeling.  That’s where the really good stuff is.  That’s where the surprise, the honesty, the revelation is.  And I like reading pieces by writers who don’t rush on to the next idea but who linger, who take time to ask the hard questions.

As a friend of mine once said about the author of a bestselling memoir that he didn’t really like: “She snorkels when she should be plumbing the depths.”  In my next book or writing project, whatever it is, I want to be plumbing the depths.  I want to be way down there near the ocean floor, in the strange and mysterious waters, where the wild and astonishing and crazily beautiful fishies are.

Thank you, Matthew, for reminding me.

Is the letter dead?

Do you write letters anymore?  I mean honest-to-goodness letters on paper, that you put into an envelope and send children-r12with a stamp?

I’ve been thinking about this lately, because  I’m reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. As many of you know, it’s a novel told in letters.  (It’s also UTTERLY delightful, and I recommend reading it, even though it took me about a week to learn the title.)

Unlike the charming characters in the book, most of my communication these days takes place by email.    I write letters by hands less and less frequently these days.  Usually, when I do, they are either 1) thank -you notes or 2) epistles to my friend in Paris.  Those missives are pretty infrequent, though, which is totally my fault; it takes a certain amount of energy for me to scour off my rusty French and write her.

But I love it when I get a letter in the mail.  It’s so tangible and timeless.  It makes me feel special, as if the person sending it feels I am worthy of the effort involved in finding stationery, looking up my address, and affixing a stamp.  It IS different from electronic communication, in lots of ways.  Gosh, there’s so much more to say about this.  I think I feel an article coming on.

But I’m curious about your written communication habits, too.  Do you write letters anymore?  If not, why not?  And do you ever miss them?

What to do when you don’t feel like writing

1. Blue hydrangeas
2.  Sangria
3.  Vintage holycards
4. “Cheers” reruns
5.  Lazy weekend mornings
6.  When my boys laugh in tandem
7. Bookstore browsing
8. BBC miniseries where people live in huge estates with names like “Henleigh Hall”
9. Otsego Lake
10. “A Little Respect” by Erasure

IMG_4333Three years ago, I read Julia Cameron’s book The Right to Write.  It had a fabulous exercise: Number a sheet of paper from 1 to 100 and write down 100 things that you love.

At first, it seemed daunting.  Then, as I went along, it was amazing how one idea led to another.  And most of all: it was FUN.

I still make lists from time to time.  It works well for those days when I want to write but just feel … well … sort of blah on the creativity front.  It’s freeing because all I have to do is write down ideas; there’s no pressure to make those ideas sound good.  And, of course, I know that somewhere below the surface, this enormously fun exercise is planting the seeds of future articles,  blog postings … even books.

Try it.  I think you’ll like it.