I have been fighting it all week, finding no pleasure in writing. I knew what I wanted, I wanted to quit this November fiction writing project, but my commitment had been public and I wasn’t sure that my reasons for wanting to quit were healthy. I wrote before about wanting to find some balance, giving myself weekends off, shortening my word goal when it felt necessary, but today I realized that those attempts at balance weren’t enough.

I’m quitting.

And I’m feeling all the shame and self criticism you can imagine about that.

The truth is I’m not in a healthy place right now. I’ve been digging into really hard spaces lately, core issues about how I see myself, how I treat myself, how I speak to myself. I hope that slowly God and I are making progress and things are changing, but right now I’m just sitting in a lot of muck.

In August and September God invited me to dig into some difficult places and really take another look at a number of past hurts. It was hard work, but it was also work that was accompanied by an overwhelming sense of Love. God’s love for me. My place as the beloved. It was a rich and full season, though not at all easy.

In the past few weeks there has been a new invitation, to go deeper. So much deeper. And it has been terrifying what I’ve found. It’s only been this past week that I feel like I’ve even started to put words to it all, but those words whispered to Bryan, cried to a friend, they were words I hope my daughter never utters. Heavy words. I need to sit with these things.

Writing bits of random fiction might be a good distraction for me, but right now, I don’t think I need a distraction. I think I need to sit with these things. Sit with Jesus. And pray for healing. I’m not ready to really write about this space, but I’m also finding it hard to write disconnected fiction.

So, today I’m deciding it’s ok. It’s ok to press pause on this project. Maybe I’ll come back to it later. Maybe not. For now, I need something different.

So, I’m quitting, and I’m trying to tell myself louder than my shame, that it’s ok. And it is. It’s ok.

Grace and peace,

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Meeting Irene

For the month of November I’m trying to write a small piece of fiction every day (or as close to every day as possible!). These are unedited, made up stories.

To learn more about this project, click here.

This is my piece for November 12th:

When I moved into that house I never imagined how dramatically my life would change from one decision. She needed a roommate after her husband died, someone to keep her company in that big airy house. I needed a change. She was older than I thought she would be, but then again I was younger than she had wanted.

When I came for the interview, she opened the door, looked me up and down and said only one word, “No.”

I’m convinced she would have shut the door on me, if I hadn’t stuck my foot in the doorway.

“Please, just give me a chance.” Her word had been firm, but I could see the softness in her eyes and thought there was a chance, “I know you wanted someone older. I’m young, still in school, but I’m not like most people my age. I won’t be loud or out late. I won’t have parties or invite people over all the time.” She looked me over again, not saying a word. I wished I had buttoned the top button on my bright blue blouse, but it was too late now. “Can we at least do the interview?” I asked.

She paused for what felt like a long time, then spoke, “Yes.” She smiled and stepped back so I could enter.

I stepped onto the beautiful geometric patterned rug in the entryway and took in my surroundings. The room was dominated by a mahogany stairwell directly across from the door. To my right were french doors, I wasn’t sure where they led as there was a curtain covering the glass from the other side. On my left the same french doors were swung wide open revealing a spacious sitting room, which is were the woman led me now. I sat down on the modern cream colored couch and she sat in a stark white arm chair across from me.

“Shall we start with names?” she asked.

“That would be great,” I smoothed my black pencil skirt quickly, “I’m Jill.”

“It’s nice to meet you Jill. I’m Irene.”

I leaned in a little closer, “I have to admit I already know your name. I’ve admired your work for years.”

“I appreciate the admiration,” she sat up a little straighter in the chair as she continued, “But I hope you are not confused about what this will be. I am not looking to take on an apprentice. My studio is in the back of the house and is strictly off limits to everyone,” she paused for a moment and then softened a little, “unless specifically invited.”

“Oh, I know.” I leaned forward to the edge of my seat, “I’m not an artist. I’m studying nursing. I just love pottery. My mom painted a little and instilled a love of the arts in me. She used to take me to museums and galleries on weekends. We would wander for hours talking about the things that caught our attention.” I smiled thinking back to those moments.

Irene smiled for the first time since I had arrived, and though I hadn’t seen it before, I could tell from her laugh lines that it was a common occurrence. “My mother did much the same for me.”

We were quiet for a moment as we both thought of our own histories.

“Is that one of yours?” I broke the silence, pointing to a large vase on a small end table near the window.

“Yes,” she stood and walked over to the vase as she spoke. Resting her elbow on it lightly she twirled the broach pinned to her white blouse. She stared off into the corner of the room, as if she could see something that was hidden from me, “I made it as a wedding gift for my son. Never had the chance to give it to him…” She didn’t tell me why then, but I could guess enough from her body language to know I shouldn’t ask. She was quiet a long time.

I looked at her and at the beautiful pottery she leaned against. Her work was simple, clean, timeless, much like her. There were no frills, there was nothing extra, or unneeded. And yet the lines on her face stood in contrast to her stark simplicity. They told a different story, the story of a life that was anything but simple, a life that was full. They told the story of laughter and tears, worries, heartbreak, and victorious accomplishments. Though there was a simplicity about this woman, her surroundings and her art, that I was drawn to, what really drew me in was the complexity that lay just under the surface.

After a long silence, she spoke, “I keep it here to remind me of my son. To remind me that he was here, that he lived and loved.” She looked at me then, “And to remind me that life is short. We all know it, but we don’t really know it, in our bones, until we are too old for it to be true for us. I am as old as you think I am, and in all this long life I have I have only just learned that life is short.” She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and then spoke again, “Would you like some tea, dear?”

“Yes, please. That sounds wonderful.” I watched as she walked slowly across the room towards the door, “Can I help you with it?” I asked.

“If you help with tea and dishes, the room might well be yours.” The woman laughed softly then, and I stood to follow her into the kitchen.

We talked for over an hour that first time. I did the dishes as she sat and asked questions. When I told her I had to leave and get to class, she stood, reached out her hand and said, “It would be a pleasure to live with you, Jill.”

Moving in with Irene would chance the whole course of my life. She would teach me that embracing life didn’t mean embracing everything. It meant embracing fully those things that were important and letting go of all that wasn’t important. She would teach me that so much of what I thought was important wasn’t really. She would teach me to live a full life through boundaries, limits, and simplicity. It was the best move I ever made.

(The picture that inspired this piece)

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Gather and Crash

259. That’s the number of words I’ve written in the last two hours. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but that’s where I am today. I’m fighting a bad head cold (again!) and the kids are both home from school for the holiday. My brain feels foggy, my attention divided, and I keep beating myself up for only having 259 words.

I want to learn discipline and perseverance in the craft of writing, but I’m starting to think discipline and routine might not be for me, at least not in the way that they are for others.

My guilt and shame tell me that 259 words isn’t enough, I haven’t reached my thousand word goal. I stare at the screen unable to think what more to write and they scream at me that I’m not enough, that this effort isn’t enough.

This inner critic screams two lies at me:

“You have to finish!”

“You can’t finish! Just give up!”

I’m stepping back and recognizing that those aren’t my only options. I didn’t feel like writing, I could have used illness as an excuse and not written at all. Instead I sat down and wrote what I had. Now that I haven’t written enough, I could continue to sit here and allow my inner critic to torture me into finishing, or I could say I didn’t reach my goal at all so I won’t post anything. Instead, I’m choosing to celebrate the fact that I was able to get 259 words in today, post those 259 words, step away from the torture and go take care of my tired and sick body.

Perhaps what I need more than discipline or perseverance is balance. And the ability to celebrate my accomplishments however small they feel. 

If you want to know more about this writing project, click here.

Here’s what I have for November 11th:

I opened the shower door and pulled the nob hard away from the wall. It sputtered and let forth a spray of cold water. I trembled in the cool air, as I waited for the water to warm. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. I realized I was counting and took a deep breath. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, I thought the words with each breath. My mind needed the repetition, the predictability.

I noticed the steam gathering on the glass, stuck my hand into the water to check the temperature, and deemed it warm enough. My feet touched the cold floor of the shower and new shivers ran up my spine. I dipped one shoulder in the hot fluid, then the other, then buried my face in the stream. Gasping for breath I turned around and brushed the water from my face with my hands. The heavy pressure of the shower beat down on my head and neck with it’s own unique rhythm and force. The water was hot, but I still felt cold.

I watched the drops pool and collect on my arm. They stuck to my skin, waiting, quivering in stillness, until another drop would come along. The two would combine, mesh together, and both would fall from my arm and onto the hard shower floor, crashing into a puddle at my feet. I followed them to the floor, sinking down slowly. Standing felt like too much effort.

Sitting on the floor of the shower I continued to watch the droplets gather on my arm and then fall. Gather and fall. Gather and crash.

(The picture that inspired this piece)

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Finding the Water

I’m spending November writing little random bits of fiction inspired by photographs. Each piece is largely unedited and entirely made up.

To learn more about this project, click here.

Here’s my piece for November 10th:

The woods don’t speak to me the way the water does. It calls to me sometimes with such force that I will change directions, cancel plans, and search for it until I find it. There are woods everywhere here, but the water hides. It hides in little lakes and streams, buried in the trees. I have lived in this cabin for a whole year now, not because I chose to, but because it was available. I still dream about the ocean, such vivid dreams that I am convinced it is nearby, just around a corner, hidden, despite the map that tells me I am surrounded by mountains and miles from any coast. I awoke from just such a dream this morning. Today was suppose to be a writing day, there were deadlines to meet and editors to appease, but the call was too strong.

I didn’t bother showering, or even getting dressed. I rolled out of bed, pulled on my boots and reached for my coat. I pulled my hair back into a messy knot on the top of my head and walked out the door. Perhaps today I would find it. The air was cool and crisp and the trees were dripping wet. It must have rained in the night, I thought looking up. The sky was mostly hidden but I could see patches of grey between the green tree tops. I didn’t bother locking the door. I was miles away from everyone. When the opportunity to live here landed on my lap, I thought a few years of living in the woods would do me good. I thought following in Thoreau’s foot steps would perhaps produce a work of literature with lasting power. All I found was my own restlessness.

The woods felt like a cage. The trees were beautiful and majestic. They spoke to me, but I was coming to realize it wasn’t my natural language. I wanted it to be, but to me their words always felt boxed, confined, trapped. There language was a language of stability, and I wanted something fluid. I wanted water.

I had walked nearly every trail through these mountains now, I knew the woods well. I knew where the deer liked to graze. I’d watched them during slow afternoons in the spring, when the flowers had just started to pop out of the earth. I knew where the river got thin and I could cross it by hopping on boulders, always careful not to step on the frogs that played their own games in the shallows. Today I didn’t want any of my normal walks. I didn’t want the paths, I wanted to find the sea. I knew it was silly, but the desire was heavy on me, taking on a life of it’s own, pulling me forwards. I went towards the west.

As I walked I thought about what I had written the day before. I kept stringing words together hoping they would turn into a strand of pearls, something beautiful, pure, and captivating. Instead I was left holding a noodle necklace made with all the rough imprecision and misplaced eagerness of a preschooler. I stopped walking and turned back towards the cabin. What was I thinking? I thought. “That plot twist will never work,” I mumbled to myself.

I stood still between the trees, trapped between my desire to explore, create, unearth, and the alternate desire to hide, to run back to the cabin and rip the written pages to shreds, press the delete key on the computer and go get a normal job. I could see the cabin peeking out from the trees, I hadn’t gone that far. Then I heard a bird calling. Did he know the way to the water? I wondered. I turned and followed the noise.

I walked for a long while without much thought in my mind at all, just walking. One foot in front of the other. Listening to the birds. Listening to the wind. Listening to the active living quiet.

Eventually it started to rain again. I felt one drop on my nose, than another on my ear, a third on the back of my neck and then little droplets were falling all around me. I wasn’t really prepared for it, though I should have been. It always rains here, it rained last night, but I hated carrying an umbrella. It always turned out the times I had it with me the rain held off until I got home and the times I didn’t have it I ended up soaked to the bone before I made it back through my door. I thought about turning around, but it was water of some kind, even if it wasn’t the broad freedom of the sea that I was looking for. I’ll walk just a little farther, maybe over that hill, I thought.

When I got to the top of the hill, I saw the most beautiful lake I had ever seen. It sounds trite to say it that way, but it truly did surpass all other lakes I had ever come across. It wasn’t the sea, but it felt large and expansive. In the mist of the rain it was hard to see the other side and I could imagine the water going on and on unendingly. There was a little makeshift dock near where I stood, if it could even be called a dock. It was really just two large thick slices of wood hammered onto a few rough wood poles that jutted out of the lake. I walked down the hill and straight out onto the dock. I lay down on my side, as if a small child curling into a ball to sleep. I stared at the circles of tiny waves that spun out and away from every rain drop as it hit the lake. The rain fell on my face, my hair, my arms, my legs. I dripped as if melting, and shivered from the chill, but I didn’t care. I had found the water.

(The picture that inspired this piece)

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The Unique and The Common

I’m only one full week into this November writing project and I’m already fighting against the desire to quit.

Here’s the truth friends, lately I just want to crawl in my shell. I don’t want to put myself out there. I don’t want to create. I don’t want to open my heart. I don’t want to be involved in things. I just want to crawl in my shell and hide.

I’m trying to give myself grace for that feeling, trying to acknowledge what is valid and necessary in that feeling, while also not letting it rule and reign. So today, I’m trying for small steps. I’m showing up to write even though I want to run and hide. I might spend the rest of the day hiding, but for this small moment I’m choosing to create.

If you’re curious to know more about my November writing project, click here.

Remember these are all unedited pieces, and all are strictly fiction. 

Here’s what I have for November 9th:

The snow was coming down hard now, but I was prepared. My umbrella kept most of it from clinging to my eye lashes and blurring my vision, but it couldn’t keep out the wind. I marveled at the women I past on the street in their high heels and short skirts. Didn’t they know it was winter? Were they made of some stronger material than skin?

As for me, my boots were thick and my coat thicker. I’d lived in New York for years now and knew how to handle the cold. I didn’t wear my high heels in the snow anymore. I carried mine in a bag slung over my shoulder, but I still carried them.

I turned the corner and headed straight into the wind. It whipped at my face and made me feel awake despite the exhaustion that had filled my body for most of the day. The city felt quieter in the middle of a snow storm, perhaps the snow acted as insulation for the noise. Perhaps it was just that less people were out in the middle of it. I could have taken a taxi, but I always walked home during the first snow storm of the year. It had become my ritual, my tradition. My way of taking note of time passing, and differentiating the seasons that seemed to get smudged and smeared together.

I liked to watch the little snow drops fight for my attention. I knew they were each unique and individual, but in this moment each one seemed nothing more than a part of the whole.  They could only be seen as unique when surrounded by space, seen up close. There was never any space. Not here. In the middle of the city, in the middle of the storm, they weren’t each unique snow flakes, they were just snowflakes. A mass of ambiguity held together by quantity. I thought of the people I passed on the street, the people I worked with, I thought of myself. If someone could take a microscope to our lives I’m sure that we would each be stunningly unique, but, here in the city, we were just a mass of ambiguity held together by quantity.

Each snow flake may be unique, but when you view a storm of snow flakes you see that they are really all the same. Each person may be unique also, but when you view a city full of people, they feel pretty much the same too.

I pulled my coat a little closer around my body, and shifted the case I carried full of contracts and obligations in my hand. At the cross walk I pushed the button and waited for the light to turn. It felt even colder when standing still. Where the roads crossed there was no protection from the buildings and the wind was free to rule the night. I watched as the cars moved past. It seemed the drivers were even crazier than normal. I saw a taxi cab cut narrowly in front of another car to make a turn they hadn’t originally planned. I was glad I had chosen to walk.

The light turned and I started across the street with purpose. I only had one more block until I reached home. The lights from the cars acted like spotlights for the snow. It fell at a steady pace, no one flake getting too much time in the spotlight, each looking exactly the same as all the others even in the light. But, the light did make them sparkle and glow, a bit like diamonds for a moment and then simple white and neutral again as they fell out of the light. I like them better in the dark, I thought. Less striving, more just being what they are, all unique and yet the same too. They were held in the tension of the special and the ordinary. The invaluable and the cheap.

I reached my apartment and paused on the front step. My bags were heavy and my shoulder’s ached, I wanted to get inside, but I stopped and turned around. Standing on the step I looked back at the snow falling onto the street. It would soon turn to mush and mud, but for this moment it was beautiful. Peaceful and calm, content in it’s commonness.

I turned again towards the door, pushed my key into the lock, and went inside. The warmth engulfed me and left me sweating. Before I had made it up the stairs to my door I had removed my scarf and coat, shedding layers with each step. When I got inside my small corner of the city I left everything by the door and walked straight to the window. I pulled the old lounge chair my father had passed down to me close to the window and took a seat. These little drops of frozen water deserved an audience and I was going to give them one. Their beauty, uniqueness and commonness all needed to be recognized, at least for tonight, at least in this small corner of the city. I would be their audience, they could tell me their stories. I sat and watched and listened.

(The picture that inspired this piece)

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