Happy Little Writer Sarah, Words for Food

Shake it Off: Finding Whimsy Again

I’ve been writing for decades. I’ve been writing in some professional capacity for ten years. I have never faced what I would term “writer’s block” until this spring.

Let me be clear: I procrastinate. Sometimes it is hard to sit in the chair. There are times when I  would rather be taking a run or joining my friends at the brewery or binge-watching Netflix.

That is NOT what happened this spring.

I sat in the chair faithfully, every day. I had a looming deadline, and so I sat at my desk and stared at a blank piece of paper. Sometimes I’d get so far as a paragraph written, but upon re-reading, it was nonsensical. What was in my head wasn’t translating through my hand correctly; it was a garbled mess. The more I tried, the harder it got.

This, my friends, is writer’s block.

18 months ago I left my full-time job to pursue writing full time. It took a great deal of convincing and planning and then just straight-up moxie to do it. It took a great deal of vulnerability and trust to let my husband financially support my art. But the more I produced, the more writing gigs I got, the more pieces were published, the more I was affirmed–you made the right choice.

When the words dried up, I began to spiral into an ugly web of self-doubt and low self-worth. The voices in my head told me I’d made a mistake, that it had been irresponsible to leave a steady income for this writing nonsense, who was I kidding anyway?  

The voices, incidentally, are a mixture of the teacher that mocked my work when I was young, a super judgmental colleague that once brought me to tears and the ex that referred to me as unbelievably stupid. The louder the voices grew, the harder it was to find words.

I’d always viewed writers block as laziness. Procrastination. I’m from good German stock and was brought up with a work ethic that insisted that one work until the job is completed (and in satisfactory fashion, we don’t half-ass anything). Then you can play. I’d always applied this same work ethic to my writing.

Unfortunately, writing, while three-quarters hard work and tenacity, is also a quarter childlike whimsy. Writers are first and foremost storytellers, and when you step away from the joy that is telling the story, then you’ve lost what makes good writing, well, good.

I began, with the help of some pretty great book-teachers, to reconnect with my what was purely fun about writing. I listened to my body. As anyone who has trained for anything knows, there is a fine line between pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and into a place of new achievement and over-training. Over-training can do  way more harm than good. I believe my writing self needs to be given the same treatment my running self got when I was training for marathons. I wrote until it was no longer fun–some days that meant just ten minutes. I wrote what sounded like fun to write, even though it had nothing to do with my looming deadline. I took long walks, I read, I watched great movies and went to see local art.

Eventually, it began to work. My whimsical writer-self came began to emerge. I do my best to listen to her voice even when the other voices speak louder. It continues to take practice.

I have found–and am continuing, every day, to find new ways to loosen myself up. And, I’m hoping to share what I’ve learned. I’m hosting several workshops this fall about how to shake off the writer’s block.

Please join me Wednesday evenings from 6-8, September 14 and 21st at the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts. Class is $45 or $40 for members. Register here!

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Happy Little Writer Sarah, St. Anthony's Stories

Ted

They sat on the driveway in their lawn chairs chasing the shade. By late afternoon, the entire concrete pad would be bathed in white hot July sunlight and they’d be forced to retreat to the shade of the garage or inside entirely, but for now, the moved their chairs every twenty minutes or so as the shadow of the oak tree crept across the lawn. Laura was cradling a mystery novel from the library in her lap and the edges made a sweaty crease across her thighs. Adam absently poked at his phone from time to time and the dog, Fred, lay on her side and panted miserably.

Laura knew she would lose this battle. The couple of hundred bucks they’d make on their junk would not convince Adam that the whole ordeal was worth it. After weeks of stockpiling old clothes and unused kitchen appliances and hand-me-down tools in the garage, hours of pricing and tagging, and now this, the hottest day of the year. If the woman hadn’t knocked on their door an hour before they were ready to open for business, perhaps she could have managed a truce. That violation of Adam’s privacy, however, had pushed the whole charade from “tolerable” to “absolutely not fucking worth it.”

Ted and Bea rounded the corner and inched up the street in Ted’s little Ford Ranger. Laura pressed her lips together. She was pretty sure Bea had a car, she glimpsed an older model Buick in the garage, behind the door that was always shut. But Ted insisted on driving her everywhere, escorting her to and from the market and the bank like an antiquated chauffer. Bea bounded out of the passenger seat dressed in white and pink, her tan legs still shapely. She carried a tennis racket and wiggled her fingers in their general direction by way of greeting. Ted was still swinging his legs out the door and, with great effort, was pulling himself out of the truck with one arm gripping the door handle and the other precariously placed atop his cane. Bea steadied him by the elbow and helped him to his place on the glider in their side yard. When he was appropriately settled she bounded up the stairs and into the kitchen door. Laura could see her cracking ice into glasses.

“She takes awfully good care of him, the old grump,” Laura said.

“He’s not so bad.” She got the distinct impression that any idea she had at this juncture would provoke disagreement in her husband and so she shrugged, leaned back and closed her eyes, pointed refusing to engage.

He wasn’t so bad, though, that was true. When they’d first moved into the house a year ago, Ted—slightly more nimble then—had hobbled up the driveway and offered Adam the use of any of his tools. “Anything atall,” he’d said, making the last two words into one, like her grandfather. Laura suspected he had more interest in seeing what Adam was working on in the garage—he’d been building her a bench. Ted made a few pointed suggestions, Adam graciously thanked him and then he’d returned to his glider.

Nosy old man, Laura thought.

She must have drifted off there on the driveway, because what seemed like moments later she was blinking her eyes open, aware of the tell tale tingle on her nose and shoulders. The shade had moved and she had not moved with it. She looked around for Adam, how could he let her fall asleep in the midday sun like that? A shadow fell across her lap.

“I’d like this here garden hose. How much?”

“Hi, there, Ted.” Laura squinted up at him, his face dark and backlit by the sun directly behind him. “Adam priced it at $3.”

“I’ll give you two.” He held out his hand and impatiently shook a pile of quarters at her as if the decision had been made. Laura gritted her teeth and took them.

“She had Alzheimer’s, you know.” Ted stood awkwardly. Laura still couldn’t make out his face and tried to shift to see him better. “We’re going to have to leave this house. I’ve done my best for so long, but I—“

“Oh, Ted, I’m sorry.”

“I just can’t bear putting her in a home, but I.” To her horror, his voice caught. “I can’t do it anymore. I want to. But I can’t.”

He let out a noise that Laura was sure was more animal than human, a sort of wail and groan and snort. He put his free hand over his eyes, the green garden hose dangling from his wrist. Laura tried to stand, but before she could, Adam was there at Ted’s side. He put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed for a moment. Laura marveled at how tall he was there, next to this old man who seemed to shrink by the minute. Her young, lithe husband, so boy-like, seemed to know just what to do.

“Thank you for telling us, Ted. We’ll do whatever we can to help.” Adam said.

“I just didn’t want you to think she was crazy if she started talking about her babies. Her babies are older than you all. You might find it peculiar—“

“Well, we’ll be happy to listen either way.” Adam said, taking the hose from Ted’s arm. Ted fixed his eyes on him over the tops of his glasses.

“Yes, well, that’s kind of you. Would you mind helping me home, now?”

Laura, unable to breathe or swallow, watched the two of them amble tentatively across the yard to where Bea stood, holding two glasses of lemonade, beaming.

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Happy Little Writer Sarah, St. Anthony's Stories

Flip

I’ve been behind on the St. Anthony’s stories–forgive me. I’m working on a monster one to make up for it. In the meantime, here’s something I wrote as part of my novel…it likely won’t make the cut, but I kinda like it anyway. ~ Sarah

Look. There isn’t much to say about me. I can’t think of one single thing that makes me stand out. I prefer the Republican to the Democrat, the Cardinals to the Royals and meat to vegetables. I go hunting but don’t particularly enjoy it, I tell people I can bench press 250 but that’s a lie, but everybody lies about that, so. I don’t have a girlfriend, but I have had my fair share. My parents are still married and they seem to like each other well enough. I grew up pretty ordinary.

We went to church every Sunday, more out of habit than anything. Like a lot of folks around, it was more a place to say hello to all your neighbors than to get real intimate with the Lord. Most of the time when I sat in those pews and put my forehead to my folded hands I was trying to stay awake. I’d look over and see my dad doing the same thing. I can’t think of many times I had a real conversation with God sitting in St. James or any other place for that matter. We went to nine o’clock service and then to the coffee and doughnut reception afterward in the basement. Then we’d go home and my mother would make a big Sunday supper. Sunday afternoon is when people went for drives and if you lived in the country like we did, you’d expect visitors. It’s one of the only times people from town came out to the country roads. I don’t know why, I expect it has something to do with having more time and everything else being closed. If you drove through downtown Burton on a Sunday afternoon, you wouldn’t see many cars and the supermarkets were near empty. I remember Sundays being the sacred day not because we were supposed to be thinking of God all day, like some folks suggested, but because it was the day you spent with your family. I spent a lot of time gallivanting all over the county, but on Sunday I didn’t even pick up the phone.

Everybody knows the Schusters, we’ve been around for quite some time and there are a lot of us. My dad was one of fourteen, and his dad was one of eleven. We often joke that we could swing an election in Walnut County if every last one of us voted. Being named Schuster in Walnut County didn’t necessarily get you anything special, but everyone sure knew who you were.

At holidays we used have to rent out the Elk’s Lodge because nobody’s house was big enough for all of us. After my Uncle Ray built that big fancy heated barn, we started having holiday suppers in there. You think that’s funny, probably, but you have no idea how nice this barn was. Up above there was an office and a kitchen, a pool table and a bar with a sixty-inch television on the wall and a couple of leather couches. The cattle were down below. Every now and again you’d hear them bellow, but mostly you’d just think you were in someone’s house. My dad frowned at that barn and one time when my sister pressed him he said it was ostentatious, but Uncle Ray had enough money so it was none of our business.

When I graduated from high school I did two years of community college and then went to the police academy.  I wasn’t the smartest of the bunch, but I had a good head on my shoulders. I couldn’t stomach the idea of looking at a computer all day. I didn’t think I was going to be a big detective or anything like that, I don’t even think Walnut County has one of them. But I did think that when there was some kind of domestic disturbance, I could probably de-escalate it pretty well. Or if there was a robbery, I could get as much information as quickly and calmly as possible and, you know, get it taken care of. Some people raise the temperature in the room. That’s not me.

Carrie called 911 on November 7th. It was a Wednesday, I believe. Far enough after Halloween that there wasn’t much going on. Everybody had gotten the mischief out of their systems. It had been drizzly and chilly all week, that lazy sort of weather that makes you think the sky just couldn’t get up the gumption to commit to something. It’s the kind of weather that drives people in doors. The call came in at 8:47 PM, Nancy the dispatcher told me later. She was rattled. Her hand shook like a drunk’s while she held on to that Styrofoam cup of decaf coffee. She said that Carrie sounded like she were calling in a broken streetlight or a kid playing his music too loud, her voice was so matter of fact. She just said that her father had been shot.

I was the first to respond. I think now that I probably did have some kind of conversation with the Lord, though I didn’t know what I was doing at the time. I do know that I was damn grateful that it was me that pulled into that long driveway first. I was grateful that Flip’s truck was nowhere to be seen.

Flip was my first friend. He’s not always the greatest friend, nor is he the greatest husband. He’s the kind of guy that raises the temperature in a room just by walking into it. Sometimes that’s pretty great, and you just want to be around him because you figure some of the fun will rub off. Other times it turns sour. A lot of people don’t like that sour aftertaste and they fade away. I figure that if I’m going to leech off the good times, the least I can do is be around for the ugly.

Tuesday was poker night at the Palace Pub, so I knew just where he’d be: leaning back in his chair with his back against the wall so he could see everything in the room, smoking a cigarette and gloating. Everybody suspected he cheated and it was almost as competitive to keep him from doing so as it was to just win the damn game. One thing about Flip, he’d liven up the party. I worked Tuesday nights and usually picked him up and drove him home just to keep him from getting behind the wheel. Sometimes we’d go to the truck stop and drink coffee and eat breakfast. I tried to keep him occupied, get him sobered up. He and Carrie fight on nights like that. She asked me once why I stuck by him knowing he’d never change. I didn’t have an answer for her, but I suspect now that it’s because I think he tries to be a good man, just like he tried to be a good boy. He just has trouble committing to it.

When we were little bity kids, maybe ten or so, I was at Flip’s house in town. His parents ran the grocery store in Burton, the one Flip runs now, and they weren’t ever home. Flip was left with his big sister Tasha, which meant we could do whatever we pleased. That day we took off on our bicycles to the store, shoved Hershey bars and orange sodas down our pants and then made our way to the city park. It was early summer so the air hadn’t gotten that wet-blanket feel just yet, and the park was all but deserted. Later in the day when the baseball games started and the concession stand opened the whole place would be a zoo but in those morning hours we had it to ourselves.

The swings and slides weren’t as interesting to us as rest of the deserted park. We’d go to the pay phone, dial zero and make prank calls to the operator. We tried to find a way into the groundskeeper’s cottage, reasoning that there’d be all sorts of good tools in there. There was a fence around the wading pool, which didn’t open until early afternoon and we did our best to scale it without getting caught.

That day we wheeled our bikes across the baseball diamond and through a gap in the fence to where the concession stand straddled the two fields. It was a big stand with food on the first level and the announcers stand up above. We love our baseball in Burton and boys like us dreamt about the day we’d be big enough to play on that field with the Mr. Andrews calling the game over the loudspeaker. On either side of the concession stand were rows of bleachers and we often scavenged for all the things people dropped the night before and plumb forgot about. That day, at the back of the bleachers stuck between two support beams, we found a roll of cash. It was a big roll, big enough that my fist couldn’t close around it and we stood there staring at it for a long time.

“Holeeeeey shit.” Flip said. We weren’t acquainted with cursing yet and it startled me, but I reasoned the occasion warranted the language. He unwound the rubber band and began to count. There was nearly five hundred dollars there, which to us might as well have been a million.

“Let’s buy a car,” I said.

“You can’t buy a car for five hundred bucks, you dummy.”

“My daddy got his Chevy for $500 and a steer.”

“There ain’t no car worth buying for $500. It probably wouldn’t even run.”

“What would you do with it, smarty?” He shrugged and looked at me sideways as if to say “wouldn’t you like to know.”

The thing was, we knew we weren’t going to be buying cars or truckloads of candy or bus tickets to Chicago. We were still young enough to be afraid of getting caught stealing this wad of bills from its rightful owner.

“What do we do?” I asked. Flip usually had an answer for everything, and at the moment he was suspiciously silent. “We can’t keep it.”

“I know that.” He glared at me. “Who do we give it to? How do we know whose it is?”

We spent the better part of an hour under the bleacher rows, guzzling orange soda and eating melted chocolate bars trying to puzzle out this problem. We could take it to the police and have them finger print it, I suggested. Flip rejected that outright. “Do you know how many finger prints are on money you moron?” I didn’t, but I took that to mean there were a lot. Flip thought that maybe we should put up a sign that said, “If you lost something here, call this number.” I thought that sounded pretty good in theory, but then what happened when somebody started calling the number? What then? The idea of returning grocery money to a little old lady sounded heroic. The idea of meeting a burly, tattooed, grizzled drug dealer on a Harley was terrifying.

“Can’t we just take it to your parents and ask them what to do?” I was tired; this game had lost its appeal. I didn’t know what the right answer was and I was bored of trying to figure it out. That’s what adults were for—to tell you what you should do. Flip shrugged. He, too, seemed to have lost interest. Now I wonder why we didn’t just leave it there for it’s careless owner to come reclaim, or let it be someone else’s problem, but at the time turning it over to adults seemed like the safest course of action.

When we walked into Flip’s parent’s store, the assistant manager straightened his red IGA smock and scowled at us. “You better go see your mother,” he said, staring down his hawk nose at us.

“What did you think we were doing, you dummy? Coming to talk to you?” Flip sneered and stalked right past him.

The office was in the front of the store, just behind the courtesy counter. Flip’s mother sat behind the large wooden desk. The room was oppressive. The walls were paneled with warped wood paneling and the sheer amount of paper stacked on file cabinets, credenzas, and even the windowsill had to be a fire hazard. Donna pulled her glasses down her nose and stared at us.

“Did you take sodas and candy without paying for them again?” She asked without even saying hello.

“Yeah, mom, but listen—“

“I told you what would happen the next time you did that.” She hadn’t moved she just kept staring over those half-glasses. Donna was pretty in an older lady kind of way. She had very tight, uniformly curled blonde hair that I think was the result of something my sister called a permanent wave and she wore very pink lipstick. She always dressed in blazers and skirts, though she rarely left the little office.

“Mom, we’re sorry but you’ve got to listen to me, Jimmy and I found something and we need your help.” Flip spoke very fast. He looked panicked. I wasn’t sure what the punishment was for stealing merchandise from your parents’ store, but clearly he did and it had caused the blood to rise in his cheeks.

“I don’t care what you found.” She stood, went to the back of the door where there was a paddle on a hook. She kept one at home, too, I’d seen it there. My parents weren’t above whacking me every now and then but I could tell that this was not going to be the same sort of whack. Flip’s voice had reached a pitch that I’d never heard and he was talking very fast, trying to explain what had happened at the park and his concerns about the wad of money before his mother could bend him over the desk and wind up with the paddle.

She completely ignored him. She just turned Flip around, gripped him at the nape of the neck and pushed his face toward her desk. His forehead lay flat on the wood and every time she wound up and landed that paddle, the top of his head shoved the folders on her desk a few millimeters forward. He kept talking as she hit him, but it was muffled both from the desk and his own tears and that just seemed to make her angrier. I’d never seen anger like that before. Her face didn’t change; her voice was as calm as it would be if she were telling you the total for your groceries. And yet you could almost see her shaking with fury. For the most part I couldn’t see her eyes, but when she glanced up to see the folders on her desk teetering near the edge, they were flat.

The rage I was used to seeing was my mother’s loud, shrieking anger. When we’d pushed the limit to far, when I’d back-talked her one too many times, her voice would rise to an octave that I could barely tolerate. It usually went away as quickly as it came on. My father’s anger was of a quieter variety, but I’d watched him punch the wall of the barn before. Donna’s anger, though, it was a well and it’s depth frightened me.

“Get out! Jimmy, get out of here! Get out. Get out. Get out!” Flip was no longer trying to explain what happened.  He sounded furious at me, as though I was harming him by being there. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to save me from the same treatment or if he was ashamed. I backed slowly up and just as I turned around I heard his mother.

“You goddamn baby. You’re going to have to clean that up, too.” There at Flip’s feet was a puddle. The sight of that puddle seized my insides. I could barely breathe and the orange soda and chocolate churned in my stomach. All I could think about was getting as far away from Flip, his mother and his humiliation as I could.

I backed out of the office and ran out of the store. I’d left the roll of cash with Flip and as far as I was concerned, I never wanted to see it again. From then on I avoided Flip’s mom as much as possible. It wasn’t hard to do, really. His folks were rarely at school events or church; they were always running that store. I figure, though, that what I saw that day had a lot to do with why Flip always seemed so wildly inconsistent, why the part of him that drew people in like flies to honey was also the thing that drove them away.

That’s why on the night Carrie called 911 and reported that her dad was shot, I was more thankful than I’ve ever been that Flip was unreachable in the back of People’s Pub. He might turn up and be the most caring, sensitive husband anyone could ask for. He might take charge where Carrie couldn’t, stroke her hair when she looked as though she were going to crumble, field questions from the authorities.

But he might not.

I pulled into the driveway and the beams of my headlights caught the silver of Carrie’s step-mom Anne’s hair against the blackness of the old farmhouse’s front lawn. It was so light it looked like frost. She was lying motionless, her thin legs drawn up to her chest and her head bowed forward. I looked around frantically for Carrie.

My first order of business should have to be sure that Anne was okay, alive, but I was suddenly so sure that Nancy had the story wrong and it wasn’t Wayne who had been shot but perhaps Wayne who had done the shooting. I was afraid for Carrie. No, that doesn’t begin to describe it. I was panicked that I’d find her behind the house, her blond hair splayed across the grass like Anne’s, her eyes big and empty and gaping. I’m embarrassed to say it now. I lost my head. I’d been an officer of the law for ten years and I lost my mind that night. I was shouting her name and running around the house when I saw her standing deep in the yard, back where Wayne’s old Chevy sat rusting next to the shed. She didn’t respond; she just kept standing there unmoving.

When I reached her I tried to touch her, to say thank god you’re alive, but she yanked away and pointed into the open driver’s side door. Wayne was huddled against the passenger door, his chin resting on his chest. He was dressed in his work boots, old, dirty steel-toed Red Wing work boots, the kind they carry at the farm supply. He had on an ancient pair of stained painter’s pants and a button down, flannel-lined denim shirt. He had a carpenter’s pencil in his pocket and clipped to the waistband of his pants was a tape measure. It was eerie. Wayne hadn’t been a carpenter in easily ten or fifteen years. He’d been working in the home design showroom since I can remember. I opened my mouth to say just that—it was as though my brain were registering things backwards—and then I saw the rest: the pistol in his right hand and the mostly empty Wild Turkey bottle in his left. The glass behind his head glistened darkly.

I heard the sirens approaching and another car and then another pull into the driveway. In my panicked state the minutes had seemed to slow down and I felt like it’d been hours since I’d arrived but now I could let my pulse return to normal. Someone else was here, and I was relieved because I couldn’t think of anything to do.

“Is he dead, son?” I heard Sherriff Park calling across the yard. He was walking swiftly our way, training his Maglite on the ground.

“I believe so, sir.” I said.

“Is she alright?”

I looked at Carrie. She did not look back but nodded almost imperceptibly and said, “I’m fine.”

“Get her inside a car where it’s warm for God’s sake.”

I took her by the arm and led her across the field and away from the old pick up truck. The front yard was a carnival of blue and red lights, people were everywhere and radios were squawking. She stopped a moment, put her hand out as though to push me to arms length. She took a long shuddering breath, and let it out, a sob, in one stream. She caught it, her eyes closed as if she were talking herself into something. She met my eyes for the first time, nodded and we kept walking.

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Happy Little Writer Sarah, Journey

Beahans on a Journey Home

Team Beahan is taking a grand leap this summer. We are selling Casa Beahan in Seattle, putting all our worldly possessions in storage and going on the road for the foreseeable future. We are on a creative quest to find our new home. IMG_1156

Why? Why would we leave a house we love, a neighborhood we totally jive with, a community of friends that are our family in a part of the country that could simply not be more beautiful? That’s crazy.

Well, no one said we weren’t a little crazy.

We have been digging in and re-evaluating our philosophy on living and working for many months. We want, more than anything, for our life and our work to be fused, to achieve the ultimate work/life balance. I grew up watching my dad work day and night at his craft. I believe he did it because a) he is a hard worker by nature b) he had a family to support but more importantly, c) because he loved it and he couldn’t not do it. It was so integral to his life that while it was grueling and wore him down, it also fed his soul. And, frankly, he was really successful–a nationally known furniture maker. 

Mr. B and I want that too. I have gotten a big, beautiful taste of that in the last few months. I left my career in the nonprofit world to pursue writing, and it is similarly something I feel like I never stop doing. I never stop writing. I wake up and read to push my writing further. I write all day–sometimes it’s all day in my head, working out a scene or motivation. Sometimes I get out of bed to put the ideas that were churning through my head as I drift off to sleep on paper. My vocation is my avocation.

Anyone who knows us at all knows that we have been dreaming of opening up our own business. Mr. B has been day-dreaming about this since I’ve known him, and I’ve just gotten in on the action. The idea has morphed through the years, but the plan is pretty simple to start: a community arts center, a place where people gather to do, learn, show and see creative work. A place where we can write and paint and support others to do the same.

As all this discussion simmered and the creative energy burbled we began to see this plan emerge–sell our house, pay off everything we owe, minimize our expenses, nest-egg some away and invest in a trip across the continent to find our next home. I can feel all of our collective creative energy burbling to the top. It’s like in the process of searching, we are creating something as well. I am going to write this into a book. What makes all these places different? Similar? How do we react, both individually and as a couple? How does our art change?

Our quest over the next six months is actually quite simple. It’s a quest to find the place where we can build this life. Our criteria is pretty basic:

  1. Low cost of living–the less we spend on housing and transportation the less revenue we have to generate for ourselves.
  2. Community of creatives. It does’t have to be big, but one that we can contribute too and build our own life within.
  3. I want something smaller. I miss the quietness of the Ireland country roads, the simplicity of not having so much to choose from (I realize this is decidedly NOT the American way), wide open spaces and a community where people know each other.
  4. We love to be outside. When I am outside I do not want to sweat profusely all the time. I did my time in the Missouri humid summers, it’s miserable and I am not interested.
  5. Mr. B must be close to a movie theatre–not just the big box flicks, but the indies as well.

It’s a journey to find our place. It’s a game changer. It might lead us right back where we started here in the PNW, and that wouldn’t shock me. I’ve certainly returned before. But the decision to create a new life in the process, that feels big. To have a chance to soar above the mundane, to take a risk to live our life differently–that feels huge.

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Happy Little Writer Sarah, Words for Food

War of Words

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Rainier Valley Lit Crawl at Flying Lion Brewery–community and words in action!

I started a whole bucketload of new stuff in the last 90 days, because why change one thing when you can change EVERYTHING? In January I started wrangling the marketing and social media for my terrific friends at Team Diva Real Estate–I thought I was pretty hip to the social media but WHOA. Much to learn. On the opposite end of the writing spectrum, I also started an MFA program in Creative Writing. Talk about two very different types of writing–but the awesome, stupendous, high-fiving, ass-slapping amazing thing about it is that I am writing all. the. damn. time. Words are coming out of my ears and I could not be happier about that.

Getting adjusted to letting go of the non-profit world was both as easy as breathing and complicated. I have a bit of a save-the-world complex, so I’m still working on how to save the world from where I now sit. After a few months of letting the dust settle, I’m realizing this–the intersection of words and community and learning and social change is where I find fulfillment. The power of language to impact and change the status quo in our neighborhoods, our communities and beyond is magnificent.

Which brings me to this little article that’s made a lot of noise lately. A writer in Seattle wrote an article that essentially shames MFA programs and the participants in them and read sort of like a two-year-old in the grocery aisle throwing a tantrum that you can’t look away from. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes:

  • If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re not a real writer and will probably fail.
  • If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.
  • If you aren’t a serious reader (and this is qualified by those who have read The Great Gatsby and those who haven’t), don’t expect anyone to read what you write.
  • Memoirists are narcissists who are simply using writing as therapy.
  • Stop trying to sound smart.
  • It’s important to woodshed.

There were a whole bunch of responses posted. I’m linking the ones I think are worth reading herehere, here and here. This guy, Ryan Boudinot, is also the Executive Director of the Seattle City of Literature, and since his article stirred the pot so much, he’s been asked to step down from his post, which he declined to do (does anyone else think that this on it’s own is indicative of something about his character?), stating that the organization’s Board of Directors and the community as a whole was imposing a dangerous censorship upon his opinion and writing.

I have thought a great deal about this article and the subsequent responses over the last few weeks. I agree with a lot of what he said. I also roll my eyes at self-absorbed narcissistic memoirs that seem to be a dime a dozen these days. I also want to shake anyone that complains about “too much reading” or “not having time to write.” It is absolutely true that something like 1% of us will actually be remembered as writers fifty years from now. (Incidentally, that’s not why I’m in an MFA program or why I write. I am there because I can’t NOT write and I want to do it better, be around more people that are better than me and soak up as much concentrated writing knowledge as I possibly can. Will I be paying off my student loans until I die? Yes. The investment is worth it). All that said, I still ultimately think he’s both a pretentious asshole and not very good at being the leader of an organization that is supposed to represent a major metropolitan area.

But here’s why I ultimately feel compelled to comment.

I am a self-described rabble-rouser. To not address this would be shirking my obligation as such. I believe in the power of language to both divide and unite. This a call to action for myself.

Writing, like so many of the arts, has long been an elite activity reserved for those who had enough money and power and leisure to enjoy it. And yet, when the arts–writing, music, storytelling–was/is engaged in by those who are disempowered, it is incredibly, deliciously world-changing.

Ryan Boudinot’s article smacks of that elitism. IMG_3313

I want to be the kind of writer, educator and community member who does not put up walls, but breaks them down. I want my community to be conducive to all the writers. I want my little blocks of Hillman City, my beloved Seattle, and the rest of the world to lift up the use of words to tell a killer story, to have the openness to forever learning how to do it better, and that will bit by bit change the world.

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Happy Little Writer Sarah, Journey, menagerie, Uncategorized, Words for Food

Culture Shock.  

It’s taken me two weeks to really get readjusted. Yet another thing I’ve never done before, this adjustment back–like grieving where you’ve been, its uniqueness and how impossible it is to both explain and replicate.

I returned from my month-long writing retreat in Ireland to a whole new ballgame. Really, it’s like I was playing golf and now I’m playing cricket.

I left my nonprofit work with a hard stop, spent four quiet weeks hibernating in the hills with the cows and kitties and fairies. And then I returned and within a week had a new gig as a social media/marketing wrangler, a new professional identity as a freelance writer, said the words “I’m working on my novel” out loud, put finishing touches on MFA applications, re-budgeted, reassessed, reconsidered…recovered from a kick ass headcold…

Here’s what I miss about my Ireland adventure:

Peppers--the writing annex, where everyone knew my name and what I was working on.

Peppers–the writing annex, where everyone knew my name and what I was working on.

  •  Druid Cottage
  • Brown bread
  • 2 hour-long walks in the country
  • Peat fires, specifically mine.
  • Silence
  • Simplicity—from food to routine, everything was barebones, accoutrement free
  • Walking into Peppers and feeling like I belong
  • Wind howling around the eves of my cottage making me feel strangely secure and cozy inside.
  • Not ever knowing what day it was or what time it was.

Here’s what I am so glad to come home to:

Here goes...

Here goes…

  • My menagerie
  • My new (fully functioning!) oven and it’s various culinary adventures (which may or may n to include baking brown bread).
  • OAK! The best burgers in Seattle. The best cozy winter bar. Happiness abounds.
  • Public transit (yes, really—it’s nice to not have to drive everywhere)
  • The right side of the road.
  • My new gig with these fun, creative, shit-kicking folks, Team Diva Real Estate. Taking buying, selling and renting to a whole new level. I love their commitment to relationships, neighborhoods, to knowing the quirkiest spots, to snark and pink.
  • IPA’s, especially this one. Guinness is oh, so good, but I’m a Northwesterner at heart.
  • Esquin and the Saturday wine tasting—what you’ve never been to Esquin? Best wine shop in Seattle. Nicest staff. Best back room with phenomenal deals.
  • A new adventure as a freelance writer (stay tuned)

 

 

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Happy Little Writer Sarah, Journey

Bringing it Home

When I work with young people, I talk about integration–it’s not a Sarah tool, it’s a learning tool, but I think it’s often overlooked. But critical. How can you take the experience you’ve just had–good or bad–and integrate what you’ve learned into your life? For example:

I was [bad at math]. Then I [asked for help from my teacher and worked with a tutor]. Because of this I [got a higher grade on my test]. I feel [proud, confident and less tense in math class].

The next step: how do you keep those feelings you have right now?

I am in the last few days of my writing retreat. I woke up with the sun (which is NOT early, trust me), ate bread slathered in butter and jam, took a long walk through the “neighborhood” in the pouring rain, took a quick hot shower (quick because the hot water lasts about 5 minutes), ate an egg and cheese and fruit. Now I’m curled on my cushiony daybed with hot tea next to the fire. I feel peaceful and inspired, ready to crank out the last few pages to complete one project.

I was worn out and worried all the time. I worried about my finances, my students, my career, my weight, my family. I worried that I didn’t have enough time to write and time was slipping away from me. I decided I couldn’t do that anymore, so I let it go.

Mr. B and I have long talks about how to live more simply so we can slowly start to spend more time doing what soothes and inspires. We want to spend less time chasing the bus to commute to jobs to take care of the customer or push for the outcome to show that we are competent and worthy of our paycheck. That is incredibly hard to change, it’s the way we’ve been taught to operate. It’s the way our culture works–we spend so much time chasing someone else’s permission or approval to validate our own happiness. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’m cutting out the middle man.

The trick, of course, is that in making that decision, I am faced with figuring out just what it takes to make me happy. And, it seems to me, this is not a one time project, but constant reassessment and adjustment.

This trip was my exercise in just that. In some ways, it been as much about establishing what is essential and what I can let go as it is about the writing. Because letting go of something will make room for better writing.

Here’s what I think I need more of in my life:

  1. Silence. It’s okay if there’s no one talking or music playing.
  2. Bread. I’ve eaten nothing but bread and butter for the last 25 days. I do not feel bad, I feel healthier than I’ve ever felt. Screw this low carb bullshit.
  3. Butter. See above.
  4. Liquor. I’m not a liquor drinker, but there is liquor on/in/around every dish I’ve eaten outside my cottage, I swear. It’s time to bring that back, ’cause it’s totally worth it.
  5. Walks. Long ones.
  6. Listening. All the writing I planned to do went back burner because in listening to people talk, the stories came. We don’t listen, really listen, enough.
  7. Laughing. I miss my chats and laughs with my great old friends, my wild wine Wednesdays and League nights. You shouldn’t ever be too tired to have a bit of that.
  8. Brian. That probably goes without saying, but I feel like my other arm is missing. You know you’ve got it bad when you talk to him and he’s not even there (see #1).

Here’s what I could let go:

  1. Coffee. I know, it’s PNW sacrilege. My insides don’t feel like they are boiling when I’m not drinking six cups a day.
  2. Wine. Not totally, but maybe less. See above…less on the boiling insides and more on the fuzzy head.
  3. Make up. Totally overrated. Stop putting on mascara to go to the grocery store.
  4. Running. When running starts to feel obligatory (read; I should go for a run–the should meaning, I’ll get fat if I don’t or I have to because I’m training or because I might want to train for something soon) it’s not fun anymore.
  5. Leaving the house everyday. I’m pretty sure there is enough food in my house at any given time that I don’t ever NEED to go to the store. Just stay home.
  6. Planning–Mr. B is saying his hallelujahs right now. I’ll never be able to totally give it up, but my anxiety levels would drop considerably if I just decided each day what I wanted instead of days or weeks out.
  7. Meat–I’ve probably had meat twice a week since I’ve been here. I don’t have a big fridge, so nowhere to store it or leftovers, so I only eat it out. I haven’t missed it.

Some of this is tongue in cheek, but really, I think the moral of the story is that all the things I do because I feel like I should are just cluttering out the things I do because they make me so very happy. Less is  more they say…

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