Saturday, February 27, 2010


Goal-tending may not mean the same thing to me that it means to Olympians, but it's something I've been thinking of a lot. A goal-tender, I take good care of my goals, most of them, and take steps to make them happen.

Sure, lots of folks would disagree with me. One look in my garage would dispell any notion that my goal of inventorying and dispensing with its contents, a goal formulated back in 2005, is much more than a joke. Get a car in there? Not even. Can barely walk among its treasures. Anyone who has tracked my history with crafts would testify that I'm a terrific starter, but not such a good completer. In fact, my late husband referred to my wonderful craft room, with its built-in sewing desk, drawers, closet, and shelves of future creations as my "crap room."

But goals do matter to me. Decades ago, my business partner and I taught folks how to set realistic goals and how to draft and then follow the steps to make them happen. I demonstrated this to myself in the eighties. A clumsy soul, I teamed with a fine dancer and set the goal of winning a statewide dance competition. With focus, artistry, and grueling hours of practice, we made it happen. The goal was real-ized, a stellar moment for this stumbler.

In 2009 my goal was to publish a book. I did it. The Silence of Bright Star is real. Now I want to keep going. Writing goals are no longer pies on clouds; they're tangible realities. My writer friends throw out daunting numbers: must produce 50,000 words in three months; just sold 150,000 copies of my book. A year ago I would have swooned at such figures but, now, they feel grounded, not that outlandish.

Seems odd to me, in this word where bookstores are endangered and many forms of print seem like lumbering brontosauri, that diving neck-deep into writing would feel so good. Shouldn't YouTube approaches be my focus? Shouldn't I just Tweet, trimming my observations to 120 characters to allow the courtesy of a re-Tweet? Shouldn't I prune my words to texting's terse constructs?

No. This is a good time to tend to writing goals. This is a good time to write. I write during my day job. I teach writing to 60+ university students. I write every single day: important words fall into space from my tunneled, synapsed memories. This is a good time to set goals: number of words, number of posts, number of queries to publishers, number of responses to online writers. This is a good time to be tending--carefully, very, very carefully--my goals. A goal-tender, that's gonna be me, right now.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Yesterday's visit to a physical therapist netted an intriguing notion: I don't breathe right. Funny, the way I breathe seems to have been working for a few decades. A better way to describe the message may be this: I don't breathe optimally. Okay, now that makes more sense. Like lots of us, I rely on the upper part of my torso for breathing, rather than harnessing all of it, including the part below my diaphram. Doing this imposes stress on my body by denying it the oxygen it needs. It also exacerbates oddities of structure and quirks imposed by repetitive actions and typical responses to stress. End results are not good.

My physical therapist is also my yoga instructor...a great combination. She shares with us physiological explanations of why a position is helpful or why it's so important to be cautious about getting into and out of a certain pose. She's taught me, as have my other yoga teachers, how critical full, controlled breathing is. I've learned that, when I'm stressed out, my breathing is typically shallower than normal, which stresses my body even more by denying cells the oxygen they need.

Yoga has taught me how to use breathing for meditation, for prayer. How to use the focus on something as "thoughtless" as breathing to still the frenetic grasshopper jumping around in the brain. How to breathe my way to the serene.

When I think about breathing, I think a lot about language. I think about the word "inspiration" which, like "respiration," is associated with breath, and of the word "spirit" which is associated in lots of cultures with life force, a society's "breath." I think about the blessing we give each other after a sneeze...a blessing that may stave off the escape of essential spirit. I think of the breathing metaphors, like "a breath of fresh air," and the importance we place on that poetic language.

I also think about those for whom breathing is an ordeal: my nephew and his asthma attacks, a friend's young newphew who was born without the automatic reminder to breathe while asleep, and my uncle who rockets to comfort when he heads for a sea-level condo. I think about my husband near the end of his life, when his respiration rate was nearly three times mine and he fought for every single bit of oxygen he could get.

Breathing. I need to practice. I need to learn to do it right. I need the ongoing infusion of spirit, the in-spiration, to keep me going optimally. Blessings upon the breathing coaches among us!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hiding Out

I ran away this weekend. I ran away to write. It seems odd to have to do that. Shouldn't a writer---one who writes about things connected to other humans, like dogs, art, and the natural world--be able to write among her peers? I don't think so.

There are so many distractions. Hardwood floors: spotted and dotted with dust bunnies. Answering machine: LED light commanding me to answer that person's message. Television: how can one NOT watch Olympic competition? Front yard's berm: yes, those shrubs need to be cleaned up.

So if I stay at my house, with my canine and human roomies, I'm not going to get the desired number of words turned out. Won't happen. Just won't happen.

What's a writer to do? That's easy. Run away. Find a place where the dust bunnies and the answering machine and the TV and the yard can't find me. Hide out. For me, this weekend, it was in a little two-bedroom house in a mountain town. There was no internet. There was no cable. There was no Starbucks with WIFI. The laptop awaits. Gotta write. Gotta hide out and write.

The monastic tendencies of writers intrique me. Lots of religions have hermits, who hide away to gain spiritual insights. In fact, the voluntary separation from society is a human archetype, behavior imbedded deep within all of us. It's something that mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote about frequently. In "A Hero with a Thousand Faces," he said a hero, after receiving an important spiritual message, has to leave his society and head out on a solitary trek. The journey will be filled with threats, most often head-on encounters with death and sexuality. A safe return means the hero has been victorious in challenging these huge life-truths. Campbell compared the motif to the steps in human psychological development; we leave the safety of our parents, head out on our own and, if our encounters with dangers are successful, come back home, bringing great gifts to our tribe.

So, I fancied myself a heroine, heading out on this writing trek. My intent was to encounter, once more, some of the darkest moments in my life. Because one of my projects involves responding to the loss of a spouse, when I work on it I'm immersed in sorrow and anger and reverie and anguish. It's not the kind of thing I can do most effectively surrounded by the distractions of my daily life.

The decision to hide out was a good one. The laptop, the dog, and me made a fine team. Words poured out of the keyboard. Chapters were outlined. Query letter to publishers was polished. An Excel spreadsheet was even built, categorizing publishers who might offer the most promise and highlighting critical information about topics like simultaneous submissions and agents.

I returned from the escape feeling satisfied. I made some progress on my writing goals. So what if I had to run away to do so? There's a long, long history of humans having to escape their tribes to make spiritual progress. I'm in good company.