The thing my blog has taught me, if nothing else, it’s that I’m afraid of being vulnerable, afraid of judgement, and afraid of rejection. This translates to being afraid to be myself, on the internet and elsewhere.
When I started law school, I was brimming with false confidence. I was just gonna walk through those doors and win it all, get an important job at a big firm with a big paycheck which would probably lead to a big house and an expensive car and clothes and shoes and all the other things one needs. As it would happen, my experience with law school and the legal industry in general would deliver nothing fancy for me to hide behind.
By the time I left law school, I was thoroughly humbled, though not in any way that was particularly useful to me. I lived in a constant state of scarcity. Nothing would ever be enough. I would never be enough. I found my way into litigation, and spent every day embroiled in family drama. I took it all on my shoulders. Perhaps I could be enough for my clients. For someone. For anyone.
The weight of it crushed me.
At the same time, my marriage was failing and I hid it from everyone. My friends and family were shocked when I was suddenly separated from my husband. But, in fact, the only thing sudden was the announcement. I suffered alone for months, maintaining the appearance in person and online that ALL IS AS IT SHOULD BE AS PER USUAL NOTHING TO SEE HERE SORRY I FORGOT YOUR BIRTHDAY JUST BUSY.
I know this is bad for me, and even worse, I know I’m not alone and I think that is very bad for all of us. We fear vulnerability and we suffer in silence and self medicate and loose sleep and thank god for flattering filters on all of our social media posts. Because, of course, everything is fine. Perfect, really.
I had a really foul day yesterday. The first thing I did yesterday morning was re-publish this site, which I had taken down nearly immediately after I wrote my most recent post in December about re-publishing everything I had previously unpublished. (I know, it’s exhausting to me, too.) I was feeling pretty okay about the nice little “about me” page I had written and though the formatting on my CV page was frustrating me (someday I’ll just write this site from scratch, but today is not that day) that was looking fine, too. I mentioned it all to Ben, or showed him the nice, sanitized online version of me I had created, and he said something along the lines of, “I just think it’s a little weird that you deleted all your blog posts.”
My face must have betrayed me and said what I was thinking, because he was pretty busy after that for a while. How dare he judge me! It’s totally reasonable that I would want to carefully architect my image on the internet because there are going to be people judging me and I want to make sure they judge me correctly, not accurately.
Later, as we made breakfast in the same room but not together, he must have decided I’d had enough time to fume and his curiosity got the best of him. He asked gently if something was bothering me. I don’t remember if I burst into tears before or after I told him that I had felt judged by his comment. I blabbered that I know it’s actually me and my fear of judgment that is the problem, not that he’s actually judging me but nonetheless, *gestures to my snot-covered face*
His response was perfect, of course. He said that my blog reflects me and he really likes me and that it’s brave to be vulnerable. Which was very sweet and annoying because here I am.
I’ve had writer’s block for like, 8 months. There’s something to learn about myself there, and I’m still working on it.
I made a bunch of posts private after feeling vulnerable and exposed having shared so much on the internet.
I republished them today. Even the ones that make me look back and reckon with the things I said I was doing and then didn’t. Also the ones in which I’m vulnerable. And, the one with the “F” word. Because, well, fuck it.
I hadn’t heard of “flow” the first time I felt it. In the churning time of my last career shift, I spent some time thinking I would become a graphic designer. I would spend hours designing t-shirts for my own small business. I clearly remember how addictive it was. When I had a design I was working on, I didn’t want to do anything else. It almost felt as though I couldn’t do anything else.
I didn’t learn what that feeling was until years later. I was listening to a podcast discussing the principle of flow, and I was immediately transported back to my days as an aspiring graphic designer. I could feel it. More striking at that time was the realization that I hadn’t felt flow since then. Instead of becoming a graphic designer, I went to law school. I actually hadn’t thought of this until now, but I didn’t experience one millisecond of flow either in law school or during practice. That’s not to say it’s impossible to get there practicing law, but it doesn’t seem to be possible for me, and at this point I don’t care to analyze why.
Last fall, I found flow again while I was writing and this time I was not going to let it get away. This awareness is one I only have in hindsight–I didn’t see at the time that I was chasing flow. All I knew was that I wanted to feel that way every day as much as possible and that I didn’t feel that way at work ever. For me, the ingredients to achieve flow are relatively simple: I need to have the opportunity to focus deeply without distraction and I need a problem to solve (or a creative idea to execute) that is complex enough to require substantial attention but within my accessible skill set. Recently, I’ve found glimmers of flow doing my trigonometry homework, which is thrilling for someone who previously self-identified as “bad at math.” I haven’t experienced it yet with coding, but my skills there are still quite shallow. I can feel it at the tips of my fingers and it keeps me motivated to do my homework. Programming has all the necessary ingredients, and you can even get paid to do it. How exciting is that?
Are you familiar with flow states? Have you felt it? What gets you there? The video below has a good high-level explanation of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow.
I’ve never shied away from change. In fact, I’ve run towards it with such gusto it’s probably actually a character flaw. But I’ll save that for another post (or for my therapist). Recently, I’ve embarked on my second major career shift before the age of 40, and as I was making the decision I agonized over that (high?) number.
Is it just that I can’t commit to anything hard?
Maybe. But I have a more interesting explanation (rationalization?).
I think what’s really crazy is the idea that we should hold people to every choice they made at the age of 18 or 22 for the rest of their lives. Young people are stupid, my past self included. It’s not their fault, and they seem to grow out of it. Nonetheless, they should not be given the responsibility (or the power) to determine the rest of our lives. If you take issue with this point, I congratulate you on probably having been an exception to this rule. You probably would not have been partying on a beach in Florida during a global pandemic. I’ve never been much of a partier myself, but I can’t say I was any smarter at that age.
I was in my late 20s when I decided to go to law school, and 30 when I started. I had almost a decade in the banking industry at that point. I thought this gave me an advantage over my 23-year-old colleagues. It probably did in some ways. But it turns out that even 29-year-olds aren’t that great at predicting what their future selves are going to want to do with the rest of their lives. Although, if I’m honest with myself now, there were certainly early indicators for me that the practice of law wasn’t going to be a great long-term fit. Lesson learned.
Now another chunk of years later, I’m making the shift to computer science, but it doesn’t feel at all to me like I’m throwing away the things I learned in banking or in the law. It feels like I’m synthesizing the things I’ve learned in the past, adding new knowledge, and adapting. In fact, I think my legal education and experience in the law gives me extremely relevant and valuable experience for a career in tech. It’s certainly not the traditional path, but I think that’s a feature, not a flaw.
And that brings me to my point:
The only constant in life is change. Knowing this, accepting it, and embracing it as true is a valuable lesson in my humble opinion. What that knowledge frees you to do is look to the future with the sense of openness and possibility. You can brace against the flow of time, or you can adjust your heading and use the energy to sail to interesting places. My choice is to sail.
It’s been a month today since the Engineer and I started “sheltering in place.” Yesterday, I wore a mask to the grocery store and had to sign up for my turn to go inside. Life has taken a strange turn.
Last summer I decided to publish daily posts here as a writing exercise. Seth Godin has said something along the lines of, “if you don’t have at least one interesting thing to say every day, you’re in trouble.” Obviously I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the message I took from it. I had lots of really good excuses to stop blogging daily last fall, but now, life has gotten really weird and small. It seems an ideal time to challenge myself to find something interesting to say every day.
For the last month (plus), my thoughts have been thoroughly dominated by COVID-19. I really should write a short story about it, as this is the moment anxiety has been preparing me for my whole life. I had the foresight to irrationally and somewhat obsessively worry about global pandemics, so I was all stocked up on rice and beans and toilet paper (the TP was just lucky Costco timing, I didn’t actually foresee that particular shortage) by the time the rest of America was panic-buying hand sanitizer. I remember thinking to myself the day the first community-spread case in Washington was announced, “I’m not going to look back on this moment of panic and regret having wasted it.” as I bought four heads of cabbage (among other long-keeping produce).
As it happens, I over-shot on my panic, but it’s reassuring that my pantry is well-stocked and it’s easy for me to limit trips to the grocery store. Which leaves me plenty of time to stew about other things. Like guilt, for example.
The ability to strictly comply with “stay home” orders is such a privilege, and I struggle with it. (To be clear, when I say “struggle” I mean, like, philosophically. I’m personally just living my introvert’s dream right now.) I don’t have well-developed thoughts on this topic yet, but I spend a lot of time thinking about it. I think about “essential” workers and the class system that allows me, a knowledge worker, to stay home and benefit from their sacrifice. They’re not compensated commensurate with their contribution to society, and they should be. But how? The price of food goes up, which is fine with me, but then other low-income workers struggle further… I get here, feel discouraged and then usually feel the need to check Facebook for a couple hours.
I can see ways to massively overhaul our system to make it more equitable, but I feel quite pessimistic about such measures in 2020 America. I have learned the magic of daily incremental progress toward long-term goals in my own life recently, and I think that it’s important to keep the power of that in mind. We should have big goals (like reducing income inequality and improving access to health care), but it might take us all pushing rope uphill for a long time to make that happen. American culture is all about instant gratification, more, cheaper, faster. That approach is unlikely to work in solving big problems. So rather than focus on the big, sometimes seemingly unsolvable problems, I’m going to look for ways to push things forward. It may require small, but meaningful progress. But if we all commit to small, meaningful, and consistent progress, I’m confident we can accomplish big things.
It’s been almost exactly three months since my last post, and I’ve been busy turning my life upside down. I’m mostly out the other side of that rather messy process and here to tell about it.
I spent much of last fall writing fiction and writing in my journal and working through a massive transition in my life that required re-examination of roughly everything. The outcome of that process was the realization that I wanted to spend my life being creative. Specifically, I wanted to write. Words are my medium of choice.
But with that realization came internal conflict and discontent. My novel fizzled as I realized my goal in writing it was to become a novelist. Around this same time, the stress at my day job took a turn up the hockey stick. And a tsunami of anxiety crushed me. This was January. (Aside: I first learned of and started following the coronavirus situation in January, which didn’t help my anxiety situation. More on that later.)
The Engineer and I took another “Think Week” in Bend at the beginning of February, the primary goal of which was to figure out what the next phase of life would hold for us. While there, I picked up a book called “Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software” and blew through it in two days.
I don’t mean to be dramatic,* but this was a revelation for me. I can use words to tell computers what to do. I can use LOGIC and words to tell computers what to do. I know how to logic! The law school admission test is like, 75% logic. It’s one of the reasons lawyers are so popular at cocktail parties and in society generally. Also, do I have words!
Skipping the less interesting and flail-y parts of my decision-making process, I found out this week that I was admitted to Oregon State University’s post-baccalaureate computer science degree program. Fortunately, I nailed the timing of something for once and I’ll be spending the next year or so with my nose in a book. (Figuratively speaking. More like staring at a screen most of the time probably. But I do also plan to read a lot of books.)
I could not be more excited for this new adventure, even during this crazy and uncertain time. I still plan to write fiction, but I’m thankful to take the pressure off of it. So this blog will pivot a bit. I’ll still write about writing (I have a new book idea percolating), I’ll write about my second major career change, and my experience social-distancing in Seattle during the apocalypse.** Doesn’t that sound fun?
**I don’t actually think this is the apocalypse. I feel generally quite optimistic, in fact, that this is the reset and wake-up call humanity needs. But it’s going to be scary and painful at times, and we’re really going to need to take care of each other.
I decided, for a brief moment, that I was going to start publishing posts on Medium. To build an audience, I told myself. If I make some money at it, that’s a side benefit.
I showed the Engineer the first draft of the Medium article and our conversation went something like this:
“It’s good,” he said, as though an alternative definition for “good” could be, “resembling doody.”
“But?” I asked, very patiently.
“But… I’m trying not to be a jerk.”
Either I said, “I would never think you’re a jerk!” or gave him a look I ordinarily reserve for doody myself. I don’t remember which.
Bravely, he said, “It’s just that it sounds like it was written by a different person than your blog.”
That’s not so bad, I thought.
“Someone with a stick up their ass.”
That hadn’t exactly been what I was going for. Fortunately for him three things are true: one, I take tough feedback extremely gracefully, and two, the stick was only metaphorical and not an actual stick that could be used, hypothetically of course, as a weapon. Most importantly, he is expressly my biggest fan and an unrelenting supporter of my writing. Even so, I was characteristically mature about the whole thing and spent an hour in quiet contemplation (during which I wasn’t speaking to him). Following this, I came to an uncomfortable realization.
He was right. Shit.
So I went back to my computer and thought about what he had said somewhat tentatively before I burst into tears: try again, and maybe loosen up a little bit. Reminding myself that I’m breezy, I tried again. Then I posted it to Medium and waited very patiently to learn whether it would be “curated.” On Medium, curation matters both for audience-building and for making money on your posts. The specifics don’t matter, but suffice it to say, this puts a sort of pressure on my writing. I wrote the original article with the Medium curators as my primary audience.
This morning, my article had been up for approximately eleven hours and I had checked approximately 22 times to see if it had been curated. And then I spent some time reading up on how to write articles that are successfully curated. And then, by the grace of the muses, I had the thought, none of this is actually going to make me a more successful author. I don’t want to be a professional blogger. I want to write books.
I deleted the article from Medium, and gave myself a stern reminder to write for me. I’m my target audience. More later on all the very uncomfortable and related feelings I’m having about my current novel-in-progress.
The Almost Medium Article: On the Daily Practice of Journaling / DIY Therapy / Creating Time Where There Wasn’t Time Before
At the end of September 2019, I became a Person Who Writes in a Journal Every Day. That was almost three months ago, so now I am an expert. In those three months I’ve experienced such dramatic benefits (not necessarily inclusive of taking feedback in the way of a Buddhist monk), that I feel compelled to shout about it from the roof of the internet. It’s just that I think everyone reading this should run out right now and buy a pretty notebook and a reasonably-priced fountain pen, and start writing about their hopes and dreams and inner demons.
I’ve always had this vague awareness that journaling is a Good Idea. It seems that there really isn’t a counter argument to that position. I think it would be nice to know on what date a specific thing happened. Possibly for the purposes of winning an argument that doesn’t matter. Or, now that I’m getting older, to be reminded of the fact that particular things had happened at all. Despite this unrebutted opinion that journaling is a Good Idea, I had never managed to get the habit to stick. That’s not to say I haven’t given it the ol’ college try. I have over a dozen pages of rather boring daily chronicles spread among at least fifteen pretty notebooks (eight of which I still have in my possession). Many of those pretty notebooks are still depressingly blank or full of endless possibilities depending where you are on the path to enlightenment.
In 2019, perhaps because my life became suddenly very not-boring (to me, at least), I bested my previously streak of uninterrupted journal writing by about 87 days (and counting). The universe upended my life this year and gave it a good shake. I got divorced. I moved from a mountain top in the middle of nowhere to a Big City, and started a new job and a new relationship. I decided to write a novel (but, actually). And then my head started to feel a bit like it might explode. In an effort to prevent this from happening, I decided to start writing things down so when people were like, maybe you should be in therapy I could say, “no, no it’s fine. I journal.” Followed of course by quickly backing out of the room away from the awful person who expects that I might face my troubles head-on or something.
The funny thing is, it has ended up feeling quite a lot like facing my problems head-on. And also like magic.
Journaling has been a bit like DIY therapy for me, particularly when it comes to processing the feelings associated with the end of my 18-year relationship. At first, I used it as a way to track my version of Events that Lead to the Thing Exactly as They Happened. I had fallen into the trap of litigating the past, as though it would have made me feel better to prove that my version of events most closely mirrored “objective reality.” This didn’t last long. I quickly lost interest in my retelling to myself the history of my marriage. Instead, I learned the best way to deal with the pain is to face it and feel it and then move on. I’ve learned to leave the past where it belongs and to focus on the present. This is a gift.
Second, my journal opened up a wormhole or a space portal or something sciency that allows me to manipulate time. My life seems to have slowed down in the last three months. It no longer feels like it’s passing in such a blur. I feel as though I’m experiencing life more deeply and more fully since taking the time each day to really pay attention to what I’m thinking about and what I’m feeling. It’s a strange and wonderful experience.
It has also shown me the magic of daily practice. With the 25th and 26th hours I found in each day, I’ve started writing my first novel. I participated in and “won” National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. I would estimate that all total, between my journal and book, I’ve written at least 100,000 words with a pen on paper since the beginning of October. If that doesn’t make me a badass nerd (and also very humble), I don’t know what will. I’ve accomplished this by doing a little bit every day.
Because I’m such a zealot about this whole writing-every-day thing, I’ve come up with some (hopefully) useful best practices. In no particular order:
I write first thing in the morning. Partially because it’s a very zen way to start the day, and partially because there’s no way in hell I’d actually do it every day if I didn’t do it before all the “emergencies” of the day started rolling it. It helps to wake up before the rest of the world (including hungry dogs) can start bothering you.
I have a very simple “minimum” daily practice. I start my daily journal by writing three things I’m grateful for, because although I am naturally very positive and patient and brimming with gratitude for the gifts my life has bestowed upon me, sometimes it helps to spend a little time actively focusing on the good things. After that, I do some intention-setting related to my long-term goals, which is an extremely woo-y thing to do, but I love it and I own it and recommend it to everyone. Finally, I write whatever is in my head. This is rarely very profound, and often something like, I wish it was Friday.
I carry my journal with me everywhere I go. I love to jot ideas and positive thoughts and inspirational quotes in my notebook throughout the day. Also, hypothetically, if someone were to get pissed off about something during the day, instead of saying what they’re thinking out loud they could instead write what they are thinking and it would turn out way better in the end. This is another possible use for a journal.
I am very fancy. I write with a fountain pen (Twsbi Eco) in a beautiful Leuchtturm1917 (size A5 with dotted pages), and it is pretentious and satisfying and I LOVE IT SO MUCH.
Perhaps most importantly, I am not precious about the process. I have previously described my writing process in this way:
“Some days are very flowy. The words pour forth via my fountain pen as though spoon fed to me by angels. On other days, I hold my pen in my fist like a pissed off kindergartner with a fat crayon and miserably scratch out each one.”
Some days I write mostly without error, and some days I cross out every third word. I don’t care. My only goal is to fill the whole beautiful notebook with very fancy ink, and as long as I’m doing that I’m winning. The goal is volume, and the trick is to lower the bar and embrace imperfection.
I very loosely follow the Bullet Journal method, which has helped me in my quest to not be so precious. It provides a method of organizing information that would be useful to refer back to like, “Books to Read,” “Quotes to Remember,” or “People I am Currently Not Speaking to and Why.”
There you have it. If you have ambitions, experiences, or opinions related to journaling I’d love to hear them via whatever process Medium facilitates such interaction. You can also find me on Instagram (@talialaurenwriter) and at my blog (talialauren.com).
On November 29, 2019 I “won” National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) by writing 50,000 words of a novel during the month. I set a goal for another 50,000 in December, and hope with that I’ll have enough to call my first draft done. It will be done when it’s done though, so I plan to just keep writing until the story ends. I’ll know it when I see it, I think.
Since the end of NaNoWriMo, I’ve been trying to make it back here for a recap, but oof, that’s been tough! The whole writing-with-a-pen-on-a-whim thing turned out awesome. I love it. I love my teal Leuchtturm1917 again, which was a saga in itself. I love my fountain pens. I love writing stories this way. What I do not love is typing on a keyboard and staring at a back lit screen, which is sort of necessary for blogging. I’m working on a way to overcome that resistance though, because I do find a lot of value in keeping up with the blog.
So, with that, the first lesson I learned during NaNoWriMo is that I very strongly prefer paper for writing. I’ve even switched to paper for some work-related writing. I’ve been dreading the thought of writing my second draft of the novel on a computer. It sounds awful and makes my face scrunchy. Writing on a computer feels like work and writing on paper feels like art. I want to make art. I do enough work. Writing on paper forces me to slow down and think which has allowed me to slow down and think. This is a gift.
I also learned that I don’t have to be so damn precious about everything. I have been paralyzed by perfectionism in the past. I have embraced Anne Lamott’s concept of the “shitty first draft.” My story and my notebook are messy. I wrote lots of bits that aren’t going to end up in the final draft, or even the next draft. I already plan to toss the first 8,500 words. Good riddance. I wrote another 6,500 in the middle that consists of backstory for a supporting character and encyclopedic explanation about the world I’m building. These were things I needed to know, but I’m not sure yet that the reader will.
My beautiful teal Leuchtturm1917 is full of cross-outs and misspellings, though less of both than I would have expected. The thanks on that goes to the whole slow-down-and-think phenomenon of writing on paper. The mistakes and messiness don’t bother me at all now. They’re beautiful pieces of the process of creativity.
I learned that I am a finisher. I set a big goal that required diligent effort. I could have just not done it. There would have been no external consequences. But I didn’t quit. I finished. And that feels SO good. I also finished a crochet project I’d been toting around for two years. I finished reading/listening to multiple books. Finishing is a thing I do now.
I also learned that there are many more hours in the day than I previously thought. I wrote 50,000 words during the month by writing around 1,750 each day (less than five 500-word-plus outliers, no days under 500 words). This takes me around two hours per day. I also worked full time. I read books. I crafted. I cooked. I made kombucha. I spent a weekend in Portland. I walked my dogs and rode my horses, though not as much as I would have liked. I spent Thanksgiving with my family. I didn’t miss a single weekly date night.
I’ve learned the magic (MAGIC, I say!) of daily creative practice. Writing every day for a month has unlocked something for me that I have difficulty putting into words. November 2019 has been, hands down no contest, the most creative month of my life. I can’t wait to see what next month holds.
I’m 30,500 words into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and feeling rather pleased with myself (she says, humbly). I’ve learned a whole bunch about writing and about myself. Here are some of my lessons in no particular order:
Daily practice! The idea of a daily general creative practice, or daily “deep work,” or daily incremental progress towards big goals in any other form has been flying at me from several sources recently. I started this, kinda, back in October after a trip to Bend, but adopted it in a more focused and earnest way with NaNoWriMo because I had a very concrete and measurable daily goal. To “win” NaNoWriMo, you have to write an average of 1667 per day. I have written an average of 1694 per day for 18 days, with only about four days of high or low outliers. This is very out of character for me, but I like it.
Treat it like a job, and do it whether you feel like it or not. Some days are very flowy. The words pour forth via my fountain pen as though spoon fed to me by angels. On other days, I hold my pen in my fist like a pissed off kindergartner with a fat crayon and miserably scratch out each one. Today was a fat crayon day. But I write regardless, and that feels good. Importantly, I don’t wait for inspiration to strike. I usually have to bribe or cajole inspiration to visit, which seems to happen most often when I am sitting in my office, holding my very-fancy-but-not-as-fancy-as-it-could-be pen, and staring at the blank pages of my teal Leuchtturm1917.
Do it first. On the good days, I write at least 1,000 words before I do anything else. I get up, put on stretchy pants, make coffee (actually, I usually receive coffee already made), and go downstairs to write. Specifically, I tiptoe downstairs to avoid waking between one and three dogs depending on the day. If the dogs realize I’m awake, this whole process gets more complicated. Most of the days are good days, actually. On the bad days, I don’t wake up early enough to put the dogs’ breakfast and potty walk off for at least an hour in good conscious, or I have to be at work early, or I’m otherwise lazy and undisciplined, and getting my words in gets way harder.
I’m on track to “win” NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words during the month of November. But more importantly, I’m excited to take the things I’m learning now and keep going until I have a polished manuscript. Onward!