Learning to Rest

I often have a hard time resting when things around me are messy or chaotic. How that plays out in real life is that in any small amounts of time during the day I have to rest (few and far between, actually), I find myself cleaning or straightening so that everything is neat before I can sit down and rest. Folding clothes, picking up toys, sweeping crumbs--this all takes precedence. Now, I know sometimes house chores do need to come first, but sometimes a mental health break is more necessary than the to-do list. And I have such a hard time getting this across to myself. I do all those things to make the environment around me neater and less messy, to make my nest a little cozier so I can rest (usually read or write) better, but what actually happens is that I squander that rest time so that when I do actually sit down, I have five minutes until I need to wake Sela up or start dinner or pick Kate up from school. It happens time and time again, and honestly, it's so frustrating. This plays into my writing life as well. I tend to get to a place in my stories where things are flowing well, then all of the sudden, it feels like I hit a wall. The usual culprit is that I've been listening too much to the "rules," to the illusive "they" who say you have to pack the story with action, stay out of the characters' heads, use cliffhangers, ratchet up the tension, use third person, no, use first person, keep it light, add more depth. It all adds up to me freaking out and thinking I've written 114 pages of total crap that no one is going to want to read. So I usually start going back through the story and picking it apart, thinking I need to change the tense, use more or fewer POVs, maybe change the setting, add an extra character to add conflict, anything to make things work better. I can spin my wheels for weeks trying to make everything in those beginning pages perfect so I can make forward progress. "Only when everything is perfect and clean can I go forward with the rest of the story."

It's not a way to go through life and it's not a way to write a novel. Well, it's a way, but not a very good one. Sometimes, in both life and in writing, it's necessary to forget about the mess and just press forward. Let yourself rest even if things around you aren't perfect. Let yourself feel your way through a story--even stream of consciousness, if that's how it comes--and worry about the fine-tuning and following the "rules" later.

(I put "rules" in quotation marks because there really are no hard and fast rules. Follow them, break them, it doesn't matter as long as you tell a good story well.)

I recently read a quote by Anne Lamott that I LOVE: "Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns." This reminds me that nothing is going to be perfect in this broken world. There will always be mess, emptiness, and discomfort. What matters is the constant pushing forward to the light. Trusting that the light will come, and it will illuminate all our dark corners.

Writing as a balm for real life

I began this blog as a way to document my journey to what I hoped would be publication of my first novel. Things are good in that realm, and while I wait for the official okay to give more details about that, I need to write about something in my non-writing life, because of how it will affect my writing life. I’ve just found out my mom has cancer. And it’s likely pretty advanced. To say it’s heartbreaking is a profound understatement. I was thinking about it yesterday on a long solo (as in stroller-less) walk I took yesterday afternoon. So far in my life, probably the hardest thing that’s happened to me is our “journey” (sometimes I hate that word) through infertility. But that process was a slow dawning of realization, a creeping acceptance that took time—months, years—then finally, it was over. But this? A kick in the gut that came out of nowhere. We were all tra-la-la,-ing through life, then BAM. We all (the four of us and my brother and his family) dropped everything and drove home to see my parents on Friday forty-eight hours after hearing the news. We don’t know many details yet—hopefully more will come soon. Because if waiting for fertility procedures and waiting for publication news is hard, it’s nothing like waiting to hear your precious mom’s diagnosis and prognosis. It’s excruciating.

Interestingly, ideas for both my current story and the one I’ve put on pause until I finish this one have been coming fast and furious over the last few days. I’ve been scribbling notes hither and yon, little bits of conversation, small snapshots of life in these places I’ve created in my mind. Little things I don’t want to forget, so I can run back to the computer and type them up. I’m also thinking of books I want to read. It’s like I’m mentally stacking them up, saving them for later when things are hard and shutting my brain off is preferable to real life. I’m making a list in my head of very non-scary books—things like The Rosie Project. A Walk in the Woods. Maybe rereading Where’d You Go Bernadette. Good books, but nothing that will make me cry.

I realized this weekend that reading and writing—two of my favorite things—may help get me through this. They, along with copious amounts of prayer, may serve as my coping mechanisms. Yes, I realize it’s unhealthy to shut down when things get hard, but it’s also a form of self-preservation. Reading has always been a form of escape for me—a way to shut out real life or a long day and let myself get carried away with someone else’s story. Writing is my way of creating those stories for other people. Additionally, the thought of giving my mom something great to read while she’s in treatment gives me even more motivation to keep my butt in the chair and write as much as possible. Finish this draft of my WIP so I can polish it, then start on the next. For me and for her. Keep them coming, so she’ll have fun things to read and I can have this imaginary dream world to escape to when my own world is too harsh and jagged. Keep writing and keep praying—not just for healing and faith, peace and strength, but also for the real end—for Jesus to return to get us all out of this mess. Life is beautiful, but sometimes it feels like walking on broken glass with bare feet—hopping around trying to dodge the pain, but knowing it’s coming sometime. It’s also not home. I long for home more and more every day. Reading stories where things mostly work out in the end, and writing those same stories, is a way to bring a little bit of heaven to readers—and to myself. The books I read and the ones I write aren’t heavenly by any means, but they speak of love and family, community and hope. We surround ourselves with those things to stave off evil in the world—evil that comes to us through news reports of faraway places, and evil that comes to us through an innocuous phone call on a Wednesday morning about something, someone very near to us that changes our world.

I’m not always very good at dealing with emotions—especially hard ones, like grief and sadness. I don’t like to cry, especially not in front of other people. But right now, say the wrong thing to me, and the tears come faster than I can blink them away. It may be like that for a while. Who knows, I may be like that from here on out! But I also know things that help. Prayer is one. That’s where I find hope and peace, so it is—He is—where I go when I need to drink from water that heals—or at least band-aids—my broken heart. My husband is one—he’ll likely be the one who takes the brunt of my pain so I can put on somewhat of a brave face for the world.

And reading and writing will help too. Discarding my own life for even just a few minutes and putting on someone else’s, dealing with someone else’s hardships, humor, and mysteries instead of my own. Being choosy about what I read. Creating stories that end just how I want them to. Life doesn’t give us that option, so I’m thankful I have a “job” that allows me to choose how to things work out in the end. I’m also thankful that ultimately, things will work out—there will be peace, joy, healing, and no more tears. A gut-punch like this reminds me even more to pray for that day to come swiftly. While I wait—for all kinds of news—I’ll keep creating stories that give other people a chance to lay their burdens down and escape.