Between Ease & Effort

A few months back I started taking yoga classes to get some sort of activity in my life that is not dog-walking. The other day, one of the instructors was talking about the space between ease and effort: how every pose should be a balance between those two. We should be pushing ourselves to be better (the effort), while also finding the comfort and joy in each move (the ease).

On our recent road trip though Montana, my brain mulled over this concept. We were on a long straight highway, clear as the eye can see. Looking at the world stretch out before us. A valley between sharp hills, west of the Rockies, with conifers clustered in gullies. Early morning sun making long shadows across tall grass, the occasional hawk poised overhead. A sky so big and blue it hurts the eyes.

The more I see of it, the more in love I am with the world. Why would anyone think there is anything better than right here, right now, this beautiful perfect earth that we have?

I get the feeling of seeing it all for the first time, the first time, as if no other eyes have devoured this landscape. Greedy. It fills you with such joy and such loneliness. It is good to look at rocks and realize how young, how small you are to this place. I could drink in all the world and never get enough.

2016 has been a big one for me in terms of trying new things, putting myself out there. Hedgebrook, going on my first-ever backpacking trip, making the decision to take the leap and leave my job… I couldn’t have foreseen how this year has gone. And I’m glad for that. I always want to see like this: filled with wonder at what the earth created.

This is how I want to live my life: full of adventure and a just a tad bit of uncomfortableness. Between ease and effort. It’s the balance between those two where you really shine.

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Trying New Things: Tarot Card Reading

Let this be a lesson: if you put something out in the universe enough, sometimes the universe will respond by tossing it in your lap.

In this particular instance, the universe took the form of good friends: Jenny and Adam. These two have heard me yammering on and on about how much I want to do a tarot card reading that they decided to do something about it. For my birthday, they got me a session with a local tarot card reader. Rad friends — I got ’em.

Now, I know that astrology, tarot cards, palm reading… some people argue that all of these things can be wrapped up under the umbrella of “a bunch of horse shit.” People argue that it’s a fraud, that astrologers and palm readers and tarot card readers are just attune to people’s emotions and mental state, and use that to give an “accurate” reading. Which… yeah, I mean, I get that. Maybe it’s true. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. And besides, I tend to be a bit hippy-dippy myself. So I went into the reading with an open mind, not knowing what to expect but eager to see what this whole tarot card thing was about.

About 10 seconds after meeting me, the reader said, “Happy birthday! I do some astrology stuff, too, and since your birthday just happened, I’m guessing last month was a really hard month for you.” Which YES, YES IT WAS. Last month saw the introduction of a new job, new responsibilities, a new jam-packed work schedule — all in all, a trying month. But more than that, it’s had me wondering how I can possibly find time to write and edit a book  when life is so damn busy. When other obligations are so demanding, when I need to step up to the plate in other arenas. How can I do all that, and still have the energy to focus on my own pursuits?

The tarot card reader and I settled in. She sprinkled some salt (I’m not too sure what this was for? But I love salt, so I was down), she arranged a white napkin on the ground, and then she had me shuffle the tarot card deck. I drew My Cards. And then we started flippin’.

Six of Wands Tarot Card

What quickly became apparent — a WHOLE lot of fire and water was goin’ on in these here cards.

Tarot Card Reading

Tarot Card Reading

In fact, it was ALL fire and water cards — the Suit of Wands and the Suit of Cups. The Wands are apparently all about “movement, action and initiatives and the launching of new ideas”, while ye ol’ Cups deal with “displays of emotion, expression of feelings and the role of emotions in relation to others”, as well as being linked to “creativity, romanticism, fantasy and imagination” (according to the first website I found, Biddy Tarot). 

That dude on the far right? He represents the big ol’ grand vision — my future self, where this is all leading. He’s the Knight of Cups, with a sweet white horse and winged feet and a “cloak covered with images of fish, the symbol of the spirit, consciousness and creativity.” And what does this knight in shining armor instruct you to do?

Be open to exploring your passions and your grand ideas at this time. You may find that you have been drawn to a particular passion or hobby and now is the time to start turning into ‘something’. You do not need to go at a cracking pace but it is important to balance your ideas with action and ensure that you are taking proactive steps to achieve your goals and ambitions. — Biddy Tarot

You can probably tell where I’m going with this. How have I interpreted my tarot card reading? That I need to get cracking. That I need to get down to business, and stop with the excuses. Write, edit, create. Life has been crazy for the past month — but that doesn’t matter. Work will always be there — crazy life obligations will always be there. In five years, I’m not going to regret an hour less sleep every night. I’m going to regret the stories I didn’t finish, the publications I didn’t submit to, the runs I didn’t run to get my creative juices flowing. I’m not going to regret the minutes of hard work — I’m going to regret the words not written.

Sometimes we need an outside source to refocus and get our rears back in gear. Maybe tarot card reading is all baloney — maybe it’s not. At any rate, I’ve gotten what I needed out of it.

 

Crossing Off the Learning List

Yesterday at work we got to attend a talk by Arianna Huffington of… well, yeah, you know where she’s from. At the moment she’s promoting her new book “Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder” (HOLY INSANITY, sub-title!), which seems to essentially be about finding work/life balance. I have many thoughts about Ms. Huffington (one of which is she should PAY WRITERS), but it was a very interesting, thought-provoking talk. I’ll probably pick the book up from the library when it becomes available.

One of the points she brought up was “letting go” — of guilt, of grudges, of projects. The projects one stood out to me. For her 40th birthday, she took a “life inventory” and wrote down all the projects she had dreamed of completing, but realistically knew she wasn’t going to complete. “Become a really good skier.” “Become a really good cook.” She wrote all these projects down on one big list, and then threw the list away. She let the “side” projects go — which gave her more time and energy to focus on the projects that truly mattered.

I immediately thought of my “Learning List” I posted a while back. It’s a list I circle back to with guilt because I have done literally 0 things on it. Listening to Huffington talk, I realized — that’s stupid. Why am I feeling guilty about this list? I should re-evaluate. I decided to go back through and really focus on what’s important to me, and let go of the others.

The original items are italicized — the strike-outs are the items I’m nixing.

  • Pick up the flute again. Get good again. To be honest, this is probably one I SHOULD let go… but I can’t. I played the flute for 7 years, used to love it, want to love it again. But “get good again”? That may be unrealistic. I’ll just settle for “pick up the damn flute once in a while.”
  • Learn how to draw.  Nope. I’m sorry, aspiring artist in me, but this one ain’t happening. Learning to draw takes a lot of time and effort that could be spent on other things (COUGH COUGH WRITING).
  • Go get a tarot card reading. No wait I CAN STILL DO THIS ONE! Who’s going with me?
  • Learn how to drive stick shift. This just seems like a good life skillz. Ok — this IS a life skill. It’s something I actually need to learn. Damn it.
  • Re-learn how to play the guitar. As much as it pains me… I’m crossing this one off. I will never be a guitar virtuoso. It’s not in the tarot cards.
  • Learn how to write a strong, sharp short story. This one stays. It’s a specific skill in the profession I’ve chosen. RELEVANT LIFE SKILL.
  • Get re-certified in scuba diving. Sigh… no, probably not. Time, money, priorities. Again, I hate crossing this one off… but if I enjoy snorkeling more anyway, why not just stick with that?

And the one item I’m adding to the list?

  • Fly fishing. Huffington specifically mentioned fly fishing as a form of meditation, and that meditation is important, so HA FLY FISHING IT IS!

There. Re-prioritized.

So do I feel relieved, having “let go” of these things? Not yet. Mostly right now I feel kind of bummed out. But that’s reality, isn’t it? We can’t do it all — if only for the fact that as each day clicks by, that’s one less day to Get Shit Done. The Shit that really matters to you. And I’m going to focus on the ones that really matter to me.

Trying New Things: Fly Fishing

Several years ago, Byron and I took a road trip down to the Bay area and visited our friend, Jay. At the time, Jay was super into fly fishing. He even tied his own flies. There were at least a dozen of them lined up on his desk, showin’ off their different feathers and sparklies and colors. I pointed to a pink fluffy one and said, “Wow, Jay, that’s really pretty!”

Jay immediately gifted me the fly. I named it Fernando. Fernando now lives in my car and gets his feathers tussled by gentle sun-roof breezes. Sometimes I sing ABBA to him.

A pink fly for fly fishing.
Fernando riding shotgun.

Fast forward to present day. I was having dinner at my parents’ house, and my dad was sitting in the living room, going through his fly fishing vest. He had just gone fishing that day and was sorting things out. True fact: there is so much stuff that goes along with fly fishing. Little tools, different types of line, all those different beautiful flies. I pestered Dad with questions as he put things away, and finally he asked, “Would you like to go fly fishing sometime?”

So off we went.

Woman casting a fly rod.

We were after cutthroat trout — they follow the dying salmon upstream, eating their eggs. The salmon presence was unmistakable — from the moment you stepped onto the stream, a faint yet definitive fish smell hung in the air. And you could see them in the water, of course, laboriously making their way upstream. One of them scared the crap out of me as I waded through the stream bed, suddenly lunging out of the water about three feet away from me (I SWEAR IT WAS TRYING TO ATTACK).

Now, I can’t say that I’m a total newbie at this. Dad taught me once before — I think I was in middle school? But, you know, my skillz have gotten a bit rusty, to say the least. Dad had me tie the flies on the line, for practice. First cast — that fly I tied on oh-so-well goes slipping off. Oops. Good thing I had my super-snazzy fly fishing vest with all the pockets to hold all the things. Including extra flies.

fly_fishing
How on earth can a fly line get so incredibly tangled with one flick?

I can see why a lot of writers enjoy the pastime of fly fishing. Like running, it’s a physical task, and a very rhythmic one. The sound of the stream going by, the weight of the pole in your hand as you cast, the swish swish swish of the line snapping through the air. The methodical nature of it all helps clear the head. And that’s what we writers need from time to time: something to clear away the jumble, get us out from the darkness of our mind-grapes and into the light of day, so we can work out whatever word tangle is troubling us.

Fly_Fishing_Walking

Since the good weather probably won’t hold out too much longer, I doubt I’ll get much more fly-fishing practice in this year. But I could see myself enjoying it in the future. That evening after I got home, Byron commented that I must be tired because I’d had an adventure.

“A ‘Laura’ adventure, though,” he clarified. “Sun, not a lot of people, nice and quiet.” Yes, that sounds like my kind of adventure indeed.

The Learning List

Last week while walking my usual route into work, I heard flute music. Take 5, to be exact, the notes floating up from the underground bus tunnel. I slowed down to listen, for two reasons:

1) Flute music in downtown Seattle is pretty unusual. We have guitars, saxophones, bucket drums, saw violins and some guy who plays what appears to be a sort of Vietnamese lute. But flutes just don’t seem to happen.

2) I played the flute for seven years, and Take 5 was my song. Not to toot my own horn (to mix musical instruments), but I was a damn good flute player. I was almost always first or second chair — and on Take 5, I always got the starring role. That song was so much fun to play.

Hearing it unexpectedly, downtown — well, it made me want to pick up the flute again. And then I realized, damn, there are a lot of things I want to learn or re-learn or experience and I just never get around to doing them.

So here’s the thought: by typing them up, and putting them out there, I’ll actually get down to business and do some of these things:

  • Pick up the flute again. Get good again.
  • Learn how to draw. I always like to think of myself as a decent drawer, but when I sit down to do it… no. No, this is just not a factual statement. BUT! With practice, I could make it happen.
  • Random, and not really learning, but — go get a tarot card reading. I don’t care what anyone says IT SOUNDS LIKE SO MUCH FUN.
  • Learn how to drive stick shift. This just seems like a good life skillz.
  • On another musical note — re-learn how to play the guitar. I took lessons one summer and really enjoyed it. Why did I stop?
  • Learn how to write a strong, sharp short story. There’s definitely a specific skill set there.
  • Get re-certified in scuba diving. Jacques Cousteau said Puget Sound was his second favorite place to dive in the world — AND I LIVE HERE. I’m missing out!

I’m sure there are others that could be added to this list, but those are the ones that get stuck in my head like a catchy pop song. And you know what ? Most of those items are things that I could accomplish within my own home — simply by sitting down, getting out the flute or guitar or pen or colored pencils and just doing it. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill — and really, I don’t want to be a master at any of these. I just want to be able to do them. But it starts the same way — clockin’ in the practice hours.

And you? Anything you want the Universe and Internetz to hold you accountable to?

5K Foam Fest

Buffalo Writes - Foam Fest 5K Finish Line

YOU GUYS I DID IT! I ran the Foam Fest 5K and I DIDN’T DIE! Totally achieved my goal (I’d even go so far as to say I surpassed it). Score!

Buffalo Writes - Foam Fest 5K
The starting line. Not sure what I was trying to achieve with this pose. It basically just looks like I’m trying to punch Val in the jaw.

It’s funny — day before the race? Morning of? NOT nervous at all. In fact I was almost excited. Good friends were around, we’d be running it together (it’d all be over soon) — it’d be great!

And then we arrived at the race. Got checked in. Waited around for our start time. And I started getting SUPER nervous. Byron’s sister had finished a few hours before us, and she started giving us tips — which were super helpful! I ended up remembering and using most of them during the race. But at the time? As she was telling us? HELLO, ANXIOUS LAURA!

Of course, as SOON as we crossed the starting line — I was fine. The waiting around was just killing me. True of all life’s events, I guess: waiting is the worst.

Oh, and mud. Mud filled with GRAVEL is also the worst (my scrapped-up elbows agree).

Buffalo Writes - Foam Fest 5K
Audrey and I crawling through mud, under electric wires (which DID shock — Byron can attest to this).
Buffalo Writes - Foam Fest 5K
So much mud on us that our clothes were LITERALLY being pulled down our bodies.

The actual running part was quite a bit harder than I expected. In my head, the obstacles would provide a nice break from the running — let me catch my breath. In reality? The obstacles got me so psyched up, that by the time I got past each one, I was a bit worn out from the adrenaline let-down. I still ran MOST of the time…. with a few walking breaks cut in. As Audrey continually reminded me, no one does these types of races with the goal of getting their best 5K time.

I gotta say — I killed it on the lily pad obstacle. I thought that would be a hard one, but I was like a frickin’ frog across those things. Wide-leg stance, you guys. That’s your best bet.

Buffalo Writes - Foam Fest 5K
Going up and over the cargo nets.

The hardest by far? The 8 foot wall you had to climb over. I wasn’t really psyched out about that one until we got to it… and then it was THERE. And it was TALL. And I had to go OVER it. And once you get to the top of the wall you have to figure out how to get your limbs over it without dying. SO FUN. I wanted to skip it, but Audrey gave me crap about it — so, over it was. Fortunately Byron was a very good encourager and helped talk both me and Val through it.

Buffalo Writes - Foam Fest 5K
WE DID IT!

So would I do it again? I… think so? I’m honestly not sure. I definitely want to sign up for another 5K run — we finished this one in about 48 minutes, which was to expected with all those obstacles. I’d like to do a run for time, see if I can’t get myself under 30 minutes.

But for now: we set a goal, and we killed it. We tried a new thing. All in all, a good day.

Buffalo Writes - Foam Fest 5K Finish Line
Muddy. Foamy. Happy.

(All photos courtesy of the lovely Audrey and the lovely Tori, who are both crazy enough to bring their cameras to a mud-filled race.)

Outlining vs. Writing

This outlining thing, you guys. It’s interesting. You’ll remember (or maybe you won’t, whatever, NOT LIKE I CARE) that I’ve been meeting with two other writers in an effort to get “unstuck” in my current book. They strongly encouraged me to take a step back and focus on the outline. Now, I’ve never done a full outline before. Ever, for any piece I’ve written. I knew it would be hard work — I didn’t know what different work it would be.

Outlining with Scrivener - Laura Dedon Oxford at Buffalo Writes

I’ve been using a couple different tools. The first is Scrivener, which has a cool notecard feature that lets you move the cards around however you like. Perfect for outlining! The only problem I’ve found with notecard outlining is that, for me, it’s very linear — I feel like I have to have X card in place before I can jot down the scene for Y card. I’ve tried to get around this by putting in placeholder cards — ah yes, the infamous “Something” scene — but then my brain just keeps jumping back to that blank card, wondering, “What happens there?”

So, while Scrivener is great, what’s been working best for me is my old standby — writing by hand. And this is where the real differences between outlining and writing have become apparent. I write by hand all the time — I know what that feels like, the responses and outcomes — so it’s been easy to contrast to the process of outlining. 

Writing is instant gratification. You type, words appear. It can be slow going, yes, but you still can quickly and easily see the progress being made. Hell, there is even a way to quantify it — hello, word count!

Outlining is delayed gratification. You’re not really going to see the fruits of your labor until much, much later, until after the first draft is written and all the pieces have easily fallen into place. Which, while you’re doing it, makes it seem like a more frustrating process — “WHERE ARE MY RESULTS??” you want to scream.

Writing is action. It’s turning off the editor and just getting those words down on the page. At least, for me it is — when I’m really in the writing zone, I try not to think too much, because it can quickly turn into overthinking. I don’t want my internal editor saying, “Oooh, you know? That really isn’t all that good.” Not on the first draft. I just want to get those words down, keep the story moving.

Outlining is thinking. When I’m outlining by hand, it seems to activate different parts of the brain — I feel free to be much less linear, to just wander and circle and finally zone in on a solution. And sadly — there often aren’t a ton of physical results for this effort. I sat in the backyard the other night for almost two hours, outlining. And I felt really good about it — I had a couple great breakthroughs and felt that, all in all, it was a solid night’s work.

Then I looked back over my notes, and I had three scant pages of chicken scratch.

But! That doesn’t mean I failed (I mean, I don’t think it does, at any rate). It just means… well, outlining is turning out to be a much more internal process than writing. Which is odd, right, because writing is such an internal, solitary activity. But outlining is forcing me to go deeper, think harder, get totally and completely lost in my head. And there’s no real way to quantify that on a page. You just have to trust that in the end, it’ll be worth it.

(One aside? That belief that outlining takes the magic and surprise out of writing? I’m finding that not to be the case at all. I’m delighted by what I’ve discovered about my story while outlining — new plot points, new factoids about the characters. It still holds the same magic.)

I’m making progress. Soon I’ll be able to fill out those “Something” notecards. But until then, you can find me in the backyard, a vacant expression on my face as I mull over the endless possibilities.