Month: December 2014

Breaks

I love my Christmas vacation! (Look! An Exclamation Mark! Many Marks!) I have my whole little family home, and we do a lot of relaxing, some eating, some visiting, some movies, some reading (we all got books for Christmas, natch), some laughing, some playing, and some of us (totally not me) even get to do some skiing.

I also have been doing the writing. I have this goal that I’ve been meeting for a whole week now about writing 1000 words a day. Once that was my normal. Once I did that every day. In less than an hour. Then I got a job and an increased blood pressure and a fear of failure all at once, and I sort of cut away at all the things that Didn’t Matter So Much. Writing my 1000 words a day fell by the way. The blood pressure normalized, and I realized that – although I missed it – writing was not essential to my life. Then. I’ve kind of decided that I want it to be essential to my life again.

Here are some things I’ve noticed: * Writing 1000 words is not hard if you have something to say. Dialog can go on for pages and pages and pages, if there’s subtext and romance and sadness. If, however, you’re trying to describe getting a heavy box into a locked house, it can take a really long time to make those sentences stick to the page. Because WHO CARES is why.

* Seeing the word count grow at the bottom of a document is a total rush for word nerds like me. Total rush. RRRUUUSSSHHH. (Don’t you hate how that doesn’t really say a word anymore?) It’s kind of like the feeling when the numbers go down on a scale, but the opposite in direction and SO FAST.

* I don’t need this story to be a book. I have arrived at the place where I’m writing for the sake of writing. If I manage to make this a Real Story, and it lives to see itself Revised and makes it through Edits and I like it well enough to Submit, it still may not be a Book. And that is totally okay with me. I’m having fun with Greta and Will and Mac and Marigold and Julie the Librarian.

* This is a story that I’ve been pecking at for a long, long time (that’s calendar pages long, not consistent fingers-on-keys long), and it’s fun to see how things change in that time. Characters have grown depth and flaws and dimensions. Some things I’ve been certain my main character wouldn’t do (because they’re stupid) I’m letting her do (because they make good Story). It’s easier to teach that than to actually let it happen.

* Rejection still hurts my ability to create, even though I’m old. I have to deliberately focus on the fun of creating, the joy of drafting, and not consider how it might feel if this manuscript goes the way of the last one. Even though I’ve decide to write for the gift of it, sometimes my brain slips backward into the muck of disappointment (in myself, in bad communication, in frustrating relationships) and it’s hard to write my way through it.

* One thing that seems to help is to write the Vomit Draft. Maybe Real Writers (you know the ones – they have OUTLINES) don’t need to vomit out scene after scene, but I need to allow myself to do just that. It’s an act of discovery. I am throwing up words here, and I am okay with that. Today, this month, this year it’s okay to write words that won’t stay. Once (or maybe over and over) I told writer class attendees that Writers Block is nothing more than the fear of being less than awesome. I don’t have that fear any more, because OF COURSE THE FIRST DRAFT IS GOING TO BE LESS THAN AWESOME. That’s why God invented Revision. So I don’t have to feel blocked, because it so doesn’t matter (today) what I write, as long as I write. This will not always be the case. But I’ll embrace it today.

I’m loving this Christmas break, and the huge amount of family time it’s bringing. I’m enjoying the gift of writing time (and I really, really hope I can be a champ about it when I have to get up at 5:00 to do it) and the gift of watching my manuscript grow and the gift of seeing my characters become Something. Maybe I needed a break from daily writing to recognize that I really like it. Not like I like Breathing, necessarily, but maybe the way I like something else that’s good, like popcorn or snowshoeing or reading novels.

I hope the things you love are the things that fill your days as we stride toward the finish line of this good year.

Wrapping

(As in Wrapping up the Year. I’m not still doing presents the Day After.)

Christmas was lovely and precious and fun and very nearly perfect. After a very not white November and December, we got inches of powdery snow for Christmas morning. Couldn’t have been more pretty. We did happy presents – lots of the Joy of Giving (which translates to lots of the Joy of Getting, too, but the real excitement came for everyone in the presenting of the presents).

The husband and the boy got up early in the dark hours this morning to try the new game: Skiing. The boy’s amazing grandma got him the fifth grade ski passport, which allows him to ski at every Utah resort three times. (!) His dad’s pretty excited to get back in the saddle. (I am pretty sure nobody uses a saddle to ski, but then they might; I’m absolutely not an expert on anything related to skiing.)

I’m writing words (lots of words) (for me), and lying around a great deal, and reading books. I am excited about the books. Unbroken. S. Death Comes to Pemberly. On Writing. Bird by Bird.  So many good words.

Family Christmas Letter, The 2014 Version

Hello, Dear Family and Friends! We have an update on our tiny, happy world:

Jana (19) shows university no mercy. She’s super successful in all her BYU studies, and after earning top marks in her first-year classes was asked to work this year as a TA in the economics department. She’s learning plenty of life lessons by living with roommates, and has found unsurprising personal strength as she faces grown-up challenges and makes adult decisions. When she comes home, everyone is thrilled and delighted. She makes our home happy when she’s there.

Katie (17) is plowing through her senior year in anticipation of her acts of World Domination to come. She excels in her courses (including 3 AP classes and 3 college courses), and anxiously awaits all the college acceptances. As soon as graduation is finished, she’ll throw her mortarboard hat into the air and board a plane for three weeks of European adventure. This she’s funding through her job fiddling on the Heber Valley Historic Railroad and teaching her 13 violin students. She works hard, she plays a little, and she impresses one and all with her wit, her talents, and her general fabulousness.

Ellie (13) rocks the 8th grade. She is an amazing student in all her content areas. One thing she’s loved is learning to play guitar at school. Her teacher occasionally lets her play his electric and his bass. She’s pretty much a rock star. She played goalkeeper for her competition soccer team this year, and has loved that experience – with all the practices, the wins and losses, and the ice cream after matches.

Matthew (11) has taken fifth grade by storm. He’s in a dedicated gifted classroom, and he’s pretty sure he’s the luckiest kid in America. He’s playing club basketball, trumpet, and piano, to all of which he dedicates before-school practice time. He loves to cook, and often spends Sunday afternoons making something delicious. He loves great books, movies and games, his sisters, giving gifts, pretty girls, and expensive cheeses.

Scott has been working most of this year on a super-secret project of his own devising. He’s been doing tons of research, writing, filming, editing, business-developing, networking, and general passion-following. It’s a joy to see him eagerly at work every day, creating and discovering happiness.

I love teaching high school English so much that it constantly surprises me that they pay me for it. I’ve come to grips with the fact that I no longer do anything very well. I do a lot of things not very well. It used to make me sad, but now I’m okay with the not-so-impressive situation at least half the time. I’m surrounded by a healthy, beautiful family. I know I can’t ask for more.

We feel hopeful and glad and grateful about the state of our lives. We live in peace in our home. We love God and are grateful for His Son, the reason for the hope and the gladness. We hope you feel the hope and the gladness, too. Merry Christmas!

Love, the Wilhite Family

Truce

You know the story of the World War I Christmas Truce? Where the German soldiers sing “Stille Nacht” from the trenches? And then the Allies peek out of their own trenches and they all tiptoe out and then they play together? I hope you’ve seen the two beautifully-done films I’ve seen bouncing around the internet this Christmas about the Truce.

One is a British grocery chain ad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWF2JBb1bvM

The other is this glorious thing: http://faithcounts.net/christmas-truce-peace-is-possible/

(You know it’s really me doing the posting when it’s the lowest-possible-tech way to share media.)

I’ve been thinking about truce-ing. Turns out that’s not a recognizable word. But it should be, so I’m not changing it. Have you ever been in a metaphorical war and found a moment that is was The Right Thing To Do to call a truce? To stop the battle for one day, or one night, and find reasons to think about something Other?

I’m not really so much a warrior, so I don’t have a great deal of experience with this kind of thing, but it comes to my mind anyway. I think about others’ battles – ones I only witness from the sidelines, out of the line of fire. It’s a matter of material collection. For stories, you know. Because in a story, isn’t everyone in a battle about/for/against/with something? And then, I work in a high school. So there’s a constant stream of battling happening around that good place. Some for reasons that are noble, and some because stupidity. Kind of like war, I guess. It all makes a perfect kind of warped sense.

Maybe if you’re in a war you’ll experience the grace of a truce this Christmas time. Maybe you’ll feel so good about it that you’ll surrender. Maybe you’ll find a common ground upon which you can choose to end the war. That thing you’re fighting about/for/against/with? Maybe it matters enough to start the battle back up after the day, or the night, or the weekend. Whatever it is, I hope you have some peace in the weeks to come. And I hope it sinks deep into you so you can look back on that peace when things start crumbling around you once again. And you can remember how it feels when “all is calm; all is bright.”

Flex

I love Yoga. I have a beautiful friend who teaches an early morning class, and I really wish I could get all my business together so I could attend. Because there’s not an obviously better way to start a day than with purposeful breathing and stretching and all that awesome Hippie goodness. As it happens, school day timing isn’t perfect for this opportunity.

When I try to do Yoga by myself it’s not so good. I creak and I whine and I (occasionally) fall over and I giggle at what appears in that moment to be silliness. For some reason, leaping out of bed and into Warrior 3 is not so great. I don’t manage to bend like I wish I could.

And now. Metaphorical flexion:

I like to think of myself as a flexible human. When things are supposed to go a certain way, I expect them to go that way within reason, but I really believe that I can bend with uncontrollable circumstances. In certain arenas of my tiny life, I’m kind of famous for it. Being bendy, I mean.

But then. Then there are times when I crack in half. When I refuse to flex (because I don’t know how, or because my planned world will shatter and crumble and deteriorate if This One Thing doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to). Sometimes when that happens, I know in the very moment that I’m being a freak. I know that I should just run with it. But sometimes I don’t. Run. Or roll. Or bend. At all. Usually it’s not a choice to crack. When I feel capable of making the choices, the decision is generally To Go With It. To Make It Work. To Flex. But when decisions seem beyond me, I feel that rigidity overtaking my spine and it scares me. Because I have every capacity to behave badly in such inflexibility. I can roll my eyes to a degree painful to witness. I can snark like a champ when I’m making passive-aggressive remarks about people who have dropped their respective balls and therefore made things Not Go Well. I can deliver a well-timed reply that makes everything worse.

Can you just trust me on this?

When I make things worse, they’re really, really worse. Sometimes worst.

And all of that is to illustrate that I really prefer to flex. I always would rather be the one who picks up the dropped balls and makes things work. I love the bending, most of the time. I like being the repairer rather than the destroyer. But when it’s too hard, when I’m too stiff, and I react badly, I know it instantly. The heat rushes to my face. Thoughtless words pour out of my mouth. Edges blur and all I can see in focus is the wrongness of the situation that equals the wrongness of my response.

So here’s what I wish for me and for you: This (crazy) Christmas time, I hope that things go the way we’ve planned them. I hope the gifts we’ve ordered all arrive on time. I hope our tape wrapping paper supply outlasts our box supply. I hope our travels are undeterred by weather or sickness or inconvenience. I hope the recipes turn out perfectly. I hope the happy outweighs the stress. I hope that snow falls when and where it ought. I hope that gladness attends.

But when it doesn’t, I hope we’ve had enough of a stretch that we can bend with it, make it work, make it feel right. Namaste and stuff: My flexibility bows (deep and low) to your own flexibility. Breathe deeply. We’ll make it right.

Powerless

In the last 2 weeks, our school power has gone out twice. Once the tech gurus managed to keep the internet humming (I have no idea – voodoo magic, I expect, was involved) but not today. It’s funny to be in a school full of kids on computers and have no way to get them online. My writing class found excuses not to write (surprise!) because they couldn’t link to stuff saved in cloudy regions.

I find it hilarious that we rely so much on technology to make our lives easier and then that tech (be it as simple as THE LIGHTS) goes away, and we kind of don’t know what to do with ourselves.

I think about this sort of thing kind of regularly – not so much the Power, but my dependence on it. Getting my car out of the garage for work in the morning, for instance. If the door doesn’t work, neither do I. My freezer full of food, for another instance. I know that on any busy day I could grab food of many varieties out of the freezer and produce a meal. But what if the freezer dies? (Not an entirely hypothetical question – last time that happened it was January, so the freezer acted like a cooler for a day or two because LUCK or BLESSINGS or COINCIDENCE, depending on your semantics.) Or what if the oven doesn’t work and I can’t cook Costco Orange Chicken? Or what if the power’s out and I can’t blend all those frozen fruits and veggies together? All my careful preparation is for naught, and here I am, stuck being the one who no longer ALWAYS HAS HOMEMADE BREAD in the pantry. So no dinner.

I have plenty of metaphorical powerlessness, too – when I depend on things (physical, mental, metaphysical) to work and they don’t and I’m left feeling all alone and drown-y and helpless and abandoned – and that right there is the thing. I always manage to take it personally. I feel like I’VE BEEN LEFT ALONE, which my brain knows is silly but my heart totally buys.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: If I have ever been your Power, and I went away and left you Powerless and you were depending on me because I should always be there for you? I’m sorry about it. And please understand (as I’m coming to understand) it’s not very often a conscious choice, and it’s mostly true that I don’t even know it happened unless you tell me. But if you tell me, I’ll try to get you connected to your power again so you’re not feeling all abandoned. Because we hate that, right? (Right.)

Sympathy

Today in church someone told a story about a devastated woman who had experienced a terrible time (losing her marriage, suffering a ton of loss and heartache, just imagine all the badness) and felt all alone in the world. She prayed for the Lord to let her know He knew her.

When I heard that story, I felt sad. Not just because it was a sad story (because the first part really, really was*), but because even though I have NO RIGHT to feel sad and alone, I often do. I am surrounded by good people who tell me they love me EVERY DAY. My husband and my kids tell me (and show me) their love every day. I have students who tell me (in exact words and inexact ones) every day.

I heard the story and I felt guilty for usurping that poor lonely, forgotten woman’s pain.

And then I tried to get over it. I may be silly and thoughtless and ungrateful to feel sad and alone, but guys, I FEEL IT sometimes. On days, or for weeks, or in moments, I really feel it. And maybe you do too. And so I’m here to say that it’s okay with me if you want to feel sad and alone. And I won’t tell you YOU SHOULDN’T. Because you’re allowed to. You’re welcome to. Because sympathy is Good. And if we feel those awful things, we understand others (who may have more obvious reasons to feel them) when we listen to their stories.

So if you feel sad, if you feel alone, if you feel unloveable (even when you’re loved), you can tell me and I’ll understand. I’ll feel those things with you, and I’ll listen to you say why you feel them, and I won’t tell you you’re wrong.

Because I get it. I really, really do.

___

* In the second part of the story, she saw a sign of God’s love. Literally. She saw a sign that said, “You are Loved.” And that was her answer. And I like her answer.

Exhaust

I just read a one-sentence story about exhaustion by a writer who has suffered a fairly major illness. I realized that for all the times I talk about tiredness, I probably don’t know anything. I have been sleepy (I’m kind of always sleepy after the sun goes down – thank goodness I don’t live in Alaska, right?), and I have been wiped out (raising toddlers that was a near-constant), and I have been swaying on my feet (that one time it took me 24 hours to get from Indianapolis to Salt Lake City. on an airplane. with a small child.), but I wonder if I’ve ever been literally exhausted. I use the word to describe me, but is it fair?

If I were actually exhausted, wouldn’t I have exhausted all my options for moving forward? Have I ever felt that? Physically, I mean? (Considering that one of my options is always “Lie down and go to bed now,” I think I’ve not.)

Emotionally I have. Felt exhausted, I mean. That feeling of “There is not one more step I can take. I have tried everything I can to “move forward” and there is nothing left.” I do know that feeling, and strangely, I deal with it in the same way I deal with physical tiredness. I get in bed and close my eyes.

Why does that help, I wonder? Does sleep fix everything? I’m no doctor (surprise!) but I kind of think it does. I’m the sleep evangelist. Sleep it off. Sleep will make you less cranky. Sleep will fix all that ails you. I’m also the water evangelist. Have a headache? Drink a glass of water. Tummy hurt? Have a drink. Chapped lips? Itchy skin? Runny nose? Anger management issues? Count to ten and have a glass of water. Too hot? Here, drink this water. Hungry? Dinner will be ready soon. For now, fill up your belly with this water.

Point? What? I was supposed to have a point? Okay, well, then… I think that for all the physical and emotional ills, I have not exhausted my options as long as I have a bed and a source of clean water. For both those things, I am certainly very grateful.