Adjusting to Retired Life

“It is a hard thing to leave any deeply routined life, even if you hate it.”

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

I didn’t hate my day job, but it seemed every day brought an onslaught of challenges.

I did, however, like the people I worked with and loved the routine the work week ushered in. I knew I only had so much time outside my work hours to get other work and writing done, motivating me to use and structure my time well.

This retirement thing is going to take some getting used to. Right now, it still feels like I’m on vacation. It’s a challenge to get into any writing done when I’m traveling.

So I’ll just have to steal moments of time until I settle into a routine that suits me. Meanwhile, adventure awaits…and I’ll be posting photos of some of my favorite places.

When I wrote poetry in the late 1990s, I wanted to publish a book of poems called Solitary Sojourns and Everyday Epiphanies. I never did, so I’ve started a new Instagram profile called SolitarySojourns where I share photos from my travels and thoughts on this, my sixth decade of living in a meat suit on this beautiful, blue spinning marble in the cosmos. My blog will become more of a photoblog while I focus my writing on finishing my memoir so I can move onto other things…and more adventures.

Writing As Art

Writing Myself Home
I don’t know if I could
or even if I should
dig through the debris
of buried memory
to get to the place
where I can face…
myself.

I wrote the above poem in the late 1990s and when I wrote it, I suspected it had to do with my mother’s mental illness and my fear it would happen to me. I had a good life with a husband who loved me and the daughter I’d always wanted, but something was always gnawing at me? I never felt satisfied, and my mother’s memory hung over my life like a grey cloud. I quit writing shortly after when work and family life took priority.

I came out to myself 12 years later. It would take another 6 years to come out of the “having a mentally ill mother” closet.

Last Fall after moving back to North Dakota, I read a call by the BisMan Writer’s Guild for a collaborative touring art show called The Art of Writing, sponsored in part by the North Dakota Art Gallery Association. Artists and writers were to submit samples and if an artist selected a piece of writing (or vice versa), they would create pieces of art inspired by the other’s work. I wanted to submit my poem, but it needed a title.

After having spent two years drafting, rewriting, excavating, and shaping my memoir, I realized the poem was a way to express what I could not. It was the beginning of “coming home” to myself. Then a year ago September I moved back to my home state of North Dakota. I literally and figuratively had come home, thus the title Writing Myself Home.

Today The Art of Writing touring show opens for a month at the James Memorial Art Center in Williston, North Dakota where I spent the first six years of my life. My poem, in word art, will appear with the piece of art created by the artist who was inspired by it.

An Artist’s Reception will be held on Friday, September 17th from 7:00 to 8:30 PM, one year from my first full day as a North Dakota resident again.

Life truly has come full circle.

Badass Women Warrior Writers

After I was discharged from the Marine Corps, my first mother-in-law asked me what would be a prescient question.

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to be a writer.”

“Don’t strive to be a writer, write.”

It would take years before I finally put pen to paper, first writing poetry in the 1990s. Then in 2018, I saw a Facebook post saying the MilSpeak Foundation was hosting a Women Warriors Writing Workshop weekend at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina. I only had to pay for my room and transportation.

I jumped at the chance and took an early flight so I could check out the Whitewater Center and take a zipline tour before the festivities started. Note to self: visit the Whitewater Center again and try whitewater rafting.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I wanted to reignite that dream, to write the book I wanted to read when I was struggling.

The weekend was transformative.

A Friday night welcome reception with Open Mic kicked things off. Several women were published authors, and many others were further along their writing journeys than I was. It was intimidating. And inspiring.

The weekend was filled with keynotes, break out sessions, and on Sunday a small-group workshop. Participants were asked to bring five copies of a work-in-progress, whether it be fiction, memoir, poetry, or an article. I went back to my room to write something so I could participate.

Nothing.

I could not write. I was so hung up on wanting it to be perfect that I couldn’t get any words out of my head.

Sunday morning I listened in awe while other brave writers shared their stories. I vowed one day I would too.

It’s been three years since that weekend spent in the company of badass women warrior writers. Although I didn’t write anything myself, I consider it the beginning of my writing journey because of the writing friendships I made and the inspiration I received…and the adventure continues.

My Open Mic Moment

I stepped out of my comfort zone today. Ever since I saw Poet Will Langford perform at The Rally of Writers last year, I’ve wanted to do a poetry reading.

As luck would have it, today the same Lansing Poetry Group that put on yesterday’s workshop held an event with two amazing young poets. I put my name in the hopper for the Open Mic that followed.

I’m not gonna lie, listening to everyone waiting for my name to be picked was nerve-wracking. But I wanted to be heard. And I survived.

Now to work on calming the nerves so my voice doesn’t quiver.

Practice. Practice. Practice…for next time.

Y2K, A Time Capsule, and Change

It’s hard to believe there is only one month left in this decade. My wife tried to tell me 2020 belongs with the 20teens, but I’m not buying it. Remember the chaos of the pre-Y2K days and the impending doom of the new millenium? Again, hard to believe it’s been 20 years because it’s been largely forgotten, overshadowed by what happened 1 year, 9 months, and 11 days later.

At The Rally of Writers conference I attended in April, Jan Shoemaker, the workshop facilitator, gave us prompts and we had about 5-10 minutes to write our response. The topic was: Waiting for it to explode. We also had to include the following words “wherever there is life, there is a twist and mess.” In response, I wrote this:

Y2K, New Year’s Eve. We escaped to our off the grid cabin unsure whether the world we left would survive. We each wrote letters to our future selves imagining what our lives would be like in a couple of decades; I wrote of my writerly dreams. With a circa 1999 cell phone, we buried a time capsule, sure that we nailed the future. But wherever there is life, there is a twist and a mess.

I’d forgotten about the time capsule, a 18″ x 12″, 6″ deep plastic tote sealed with duct tape. We had unearthed it from it’s hiding place in the California Central Coast when we sold the cabin. We hauled it to Michigan and from one place to another, then I got custody in the divorce.

The tote is heavy and it rattles. My daughter and ex remember what’s in the time capsule. I only remember the three letters we wrote, and the cell phone. 

Our lives today look nothing like we could have imagined. And what did we think we would need to preserve to show what life was like at the dawn of the new millenium? I look forward to finding out soon.

Writing Fiction, NaNoWriMo Style

2019-NaNo-Winner-BadgeNaNoWriMo 2019 is a wrap and it was oh so very different from last year’s win on many levels.

First, last year I was a NaNo Rebel because I wrote memoir. I knew what the story was (or so I thought), and didn’t have to make up anything. This year, I tried writing fiction and I finished my shitty rough draft with 50,373 words. Since non-fiction has always been my go-to, this month has totally been out of my comfort zone, which was the point. Blogging provided my non-fiction, real life outlet and I was surprised by how much grief dominated my posts this month. The fiction I wrote, on the other hand, was more about resilience and the power of love. Interesting.

NaNo-2019-Daily-Word-Count-Deb-SinnessSecond, last year as a first time  participant, I didn’t know whether or not I could really do it because 50K is a hella lot of words. I knew I’d need the support of the local Lansing NaNo group for inspiration. With their write-ins, I got a head start on my word count and never looked back. This year, I had a death in the family so I only participated in one local write-in. There were six days I wrote less than 500 words a day, and two days I wrote nothing at all. But I knew because I had finished and ‘won’ last year, I could do it. So I kept at it, stringing one word after another, no matter how much of a slog it became.

Third, these fictional characters have a mind all their own. That surprised me, never having written fiction before. I mean, it was my fingers doing the typing but what was coming from my brain through my fingers seemed to come from nowhere. That’s some magical shit right there.

Fourth, you know how when you find a great book to read that can’t put down and you have to stay up until 2 AM reading because you want to know how it ends…only to be disappointed because the air came out of the tires at the very end? Yeah, that’s a little how I feel about my shitty rough draft. But then again, I’m a recovering perfectionist, my goal was to hit 50K words, and I wanted to write “The End,” so there’s that.

Which brings me to my final point. I hate to admit it, but as an INFJ, I’m a pantser. It seems like in every other area of my life, I’m a planner. As much as I’ve tried to plot and outline my ideas, my brain just doesn’t seem to work that way with writing; I have to write my way in to figure it out.

So today is the final day of National Novel Writing Month and I came in just under the wire, whew! How was your month? Whether you hit 50K words, or just wrote your first sentence by overcoming the fear of putting words on the page, celebrate your progress. It’s more than we started the month with. After all writing, as in life, is not just about the destination. It’s about enjoying and celebrating the journey.

A Sprint to the NaNoWriMo Finish Line

NaNo19_40K

Thanks to a cancelled meeting this evening, I’m over the 40K mark and sprinting to the NaNoWriMo finish line in five days.

On this day last year, I was celebrating my first National Novel Writing Month win. Between writing fiction this year and dealing with a fair amount of personal stuff, the month has been a challenge.

I’ve got to average around 2K words a day to make it. Come hell or high water, I’m going to do it. Good thing we don’t have any big Thanksgiving Day plans.

NaNoWriMo19 Muddy Middle

Keep WritingDriving to dinner to celebrate her birthday on Friday evening, my partner asked how my writing was going since returning from a six day trip to attend a family funeral.

Me: Slow, it’s been hard getting back in the grove.

Annie: That’s understandable.

Me:  I’ve come to accept that I won’t write 50,000 words, and I’m okay with that.

She slowed to stop at a red light, then turned to look at me with disbelief.

Annie: Really?! You? I know you, and you won’t settle for anything less.

Okay, she has a point. I’m known to be a wee bit of an overachiever. After this weekend, I’m up to 17K words, but I’m still way behind the 8 ball.

As if being behind wasn’t hard enough, this year I’m trying my hand at writing fiction instead of memoir. As a pantser, these characters seem to have minds of their own. I’m often surprised and unsure about where to go next.

Even more reason to press on to see what happens, right?!

How’s your NaNo going?

Creatively Rebooted

img_1415A year ago today I traveled to Santa Fe, NM to attend Creative Reboot with my BFF Karil. We had cemented our friendship in 1992 by working through Julia Cameron’s new book “The Artist’s Way.” We worked our way through one chapter at a time separately, then we’d get together for lunch or a margarita dinner to discuss the chapter, what the exercises brought up for us, and our takeaways. Creative Reboot would be a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time together since we live in different states.

We both arrived in Santa Fe early to attend an intensive Friday session; I took Julia’s session and Karil chose an art session. It seemed surreal to be in Julia’s presence after all these years. She outlined what the session would cover and gave us this warning, “Sometime during this session, you’re going to think wow, this person really knows what she’s talking about it, and another time you’ll think this person doesn’t know what the heck she’s talking about.”

It was an intense day of exercises and sharing, but the one thing she kept hammering home was the need to do morning pages. I thought, “No way, I get up for work at 4:10 and no one’s got time for that!” Later when Karil and I shared notes from our respective sessions, I scoffed and said “Yeah I’m not really impressed anymore. Julia says morning pages are a necessity and there’s no way I can do them with my schedule. But since I’m on vacation, I’ll try doing them in the morning.”

Turns out she was right. I stuck with writing in the morning until it became a habit. I fast-drafted a memoir during National Novel Writing Month in November, I started this blog, my story Semper Fi, Sister was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Running for Good in June, and I’m continuing to make progress on my memoir.

This year’s event is called The Gathering of the Creatives and starts a week from today. I’m looking forward to thanking Julia Cameron for the kick in the pants, sharing a margarita dinner celebration with Karil, and seeing where this next year takes me. Cheers!

A Confession

I have a confession to make. I still haven’t cashed the $200 Chicken Soup for the Soul check I received for my Semper Fi Sister story that was published in their June 4th release of Running for Good. My coach Lauren Sapala says INFJs need to suffer to feel like they earn success. If it’s true, that’s messed up.

I’ve been holding on to the check for two months. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to finally be published and paid for my writing, and I was especially grateful to receive the check. But there’s been something holding me back from cashing it that I can’t quite put my finger on. Every time I think about depositing it, every instinct I have pushes back like repelling magnets.

I think it may have something to do with my Marathon Guardian Angel Megan McClung because I feel the story is just as much hers as it is mine.

This morning I journaled about it, thinking of one reason after another. Finally I wrote, Megan what should I do with the check? And my fingers typed…You earned it, you did the hard work. Treat yourself and enjoy the fruits of your labor Marine.

Whether I was channeling Megan or just my inner wise self, tonight I signed and deposited the check and celebrated a milestone: being a paid author.