Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Writer's Life

I recently returned from a writing conference: three days of workshops and conversations with other writers, publishers, editors and agents. My mind is still spinning with the information and new ideas to process. Being around all that creativity stirs the creativity within me. I reflect on my own writing life as a result and realize it’s similar to the health-conscious life I lead with a forever focus on food, exercise and weight.

There’s an aspect of being a writer that is never ‘turned off’. Ideas are everywhere, when I’m awake and when I’m asleep; when I’m driving and when I’m in the shower; when I eat and even when I sit down to write. All those ideas need to be considered, indulged, sorted and shared. It reminds me of when I went to college part-time in the evenings. The only way to survive those eight long years of work towards the goal of that college degree was to accept what felt like the never-ending nature of school assignments. The only break was between semesters, but during those class sessions, there was always something else to read, something to write, something to study for.

The role of being health conscious, too, is never ‘turned off’. Food is everywhere, when I’m awake and when I’m asleep; when I’m driving and when I’m in the shower; when I write and even when I sit down to eat. All the food needs to be planned, purchased, cleaned, cut and cooked. Every day. Three times a day, at least. Unless I choose to fast for some period of time, there really is no break. Ever.

Another aspect of being a writer is the need for discipline within the creativity. Over and over again in workshops and conversations I hear about keeping our writing lives a priority; making sure to take the time to write whether or not the muse strikes. When writing is a paid job, there is attention to the task at hand; there is a tangible deadline and paycheck that results from the act of writing. When writing is part of a bigger goal, such as a book, there is the discipline required to persevere in its writing, editing and promoting. There is the unknown end date; the unknown deadline, but the need to continue remains intact. The need for daily attention to the writing task is simply disciplinary in nature.

Being health conscious is always disciplinary in nature. A self-professed lack of discipline is what causes most people to see the eating and exercising as ‘on’ or ‘off’ tasks, but instead there is more success in remaining healthy when we see the tasks as ‘forever’ tasks; never ‘off’. Only then can we gain the tenacity to stay with it day after day without throwing in the towel on our health efforts.

I claim the right to remain creative while being disciplined. I claim my identity as a health-conscious writer. Forever.

Tip of the Week:
To stay on my eating and exercise program, I really must pray. Not the ‘bless this food’ prayer rituals, but really pray. Every day. This week, I commit to revisiting the focus on prayer; making sure my prayer time is a higher priority than the million other things I need to do. Amen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Taylor Swift: Fearless

High-pitched screaming. Cheering. Arms waving. More screaming. Through my earplugs, I could still hear the excitement. Yes, I am the parent of a Taylor Swift fan. And yes, I, too, am Fearless.

Among thousands of groupies at the recent concert as part of her “Fearless” tour, I was fascinated by Taylor Swift. She lives up to her reputation of being beautiful, energetic and connected. I have never seen a performer work so hard at making sure she exuded a sense of one-on-one connection with each of her fans. She displays a sense of gratitude and humility while sharing her talents as an artist and a person. Taylor Swift may only be nineteen, but is wise beyond her years. There were moments during the concert when I intentionally sat down and looked around. The joy of seeing my daughter experience this concert was palpable. Watching others, however, I understood the appeal of this young artist. The wide range of ages among the Swift fans—girls as young as four years old up to women who must’ve been older than me (oh, the horror)—were all singing along to those familiar lyrics of a female’s life. Dreams of being a princess; finding our own way in this world; recovering after being treated badly by a boyfriend—all common themes and perpetually relatable. It has been a long time, but I could still recall being “Fifteen” at the prompting of Taylor’s lilting rendition of teenage life.

I was also fascinated at the purity of the concert experience. Growing up in the era of rock ‘n roll rebellion, I associated concerts with radical dynamics, not the music. This time, the music itself was a welcome treat, as if I was chatting with my best friend or reading a great book.

As we stumbled along with the rest of the herd to exit the concert, a young girl next to me exclaimed my favorite comment: “This will be the topic of discussion for the rest of my LIFE!” Now that’s quite an impression.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spring into Exercise...Again

Warmer weather. The reprieve from the harsh cold and imposing snowstorms of the winter are over. (Well, maybe.) It’s not spring yet, but the smells in the air, the robins on the roofs and the smiles and skip in the steps of people everywhere indicate that we’re close to this next season.

I find it interesting to see a lot of people get excited about exercise again at this time of year, too. Whether it’s the seasonal change itself, or the fear of getting back into shorts and bathing suits again, the exercise industry seems to benefit from the renewed interest. Admittedly, it’s great to experience a walk in fresh air, not a sweaty gym, and to hear new sounds, tackle new hills in the neighborhoods and simply to be outside for a change.

I also find it interesting to hear people say they have a stronger commitment to exercise because of the weather. In some cases, it’s true. In most cases, though, it’s simply another phase. I’m more impressed with people who start a new exercise regimen in the winter, or perhaps that infamous January 1st start date, and are still in their exercise routine today—three months later. Then, if they say it’s time to take it outside, I am pretty confident it’s simply a new twist on an old routine, which is healthy.

Where will all those outside-weather-exercisers be with the first rainstorm? On their couches, I presume. Time to break out the at-home workouts, or head back to the sweaty, smelly gym again. Boy, isn’t exercise fun?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Penny Candy

Ahhh. The smell of spring. School recess time. Jumping rope and penny candy. Red hot dollars. Root beer barrels. Sugar daddy lollipops. And my favorite: boxes of chalky, yummy candy cigarettes. Oh, and the soft pretzels too.

Sugar and carbs. What more could a kid want to refuel mid-day? When I was a kid, we could buy candy and soft, doughy pretzels at recess time. We squirreled away our coins to indulge in our favorite treats. The pretzels were a bonus; hey, it was Philadelphia—the pretzels were a requirement. The money transactions on the blacktop were simple enough: exchanging coins for smiles. The grueling chores of school life were briefly replaced with sugary ecstasy; penmanship was exchanged for pretzels with just the right amount of salt.

Unhappy dentists must have rebelled, though. Today, school age kids are lucky to even have twenty minutes of recess time; twenty minutes is not much time for fresh air, for running around. Oh, and forget about buying candy. Or pretzels.

Back in elementary school, I still remember one method of discipline that was used on Patrick, who was the kid in my class who talked too much. The teacher made him sit in the closet. No, it wasn’t a time-out on a chair facing the closet; he was IN the closet. One of those days, Patrick rose to the occasion, though. He sat in that closet and ate the recess candy. It was a delicious victory for all of us.

I believe God wants us to enjoy the good things in life—in this case, sugar and carbs. It doesn’t seem right to go too far to the other extreme without the goodies; without the fresh air. The moderation is the challenge. Like my fortune cookie paper said: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Gravy Connections

My mom’s homemade gravy, bubbling and steaming, is prepared exactly the same way Nana cooked it. Small spatters of red on the white stove mark the perfectly stirred combination of puree, meatballs, sausage, a carrot, an onion and spices. Recipe sharing was done only in the kitchen, in front of the pot, with the appropriate stories shared along with the instructions. My mouth watering, I look around for a slice of pure white bread to dunk into that pot; I used to sneak the bread-dunking routine when I was a kid. It’s fun that I can dunk in front of Mom now. Mom tells me her mother-in-law taught her all the family’s Italian recipes. It was the in-law rite of passage.

What’s so interesting and delicious are the feelings evoked with the wonderful smell of that gravy—the nurturing, the sharing, and the indulging. The traditions themselves don’t matter; what does matter is the closeness they represent. How perfect that our traditions are about “gravy”. The expression “it’s gravy” means it’s “extra”; similarly, our traditions with the food result in the connections which are the “extra”. Why, I’ve always wondered, is it always about the food? Sharing a meal forces us to slow down enough to sit and talk with each other. These connections are lost in the usual schedules of our lives. No wonder I love the gravy so much. Pass the white bread please.