What do you give up for your writing?

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“Regardless of what the advertising campaigns may tell us, we can’t have it all. Sacrifice is not an option, or an anachronism; it’s a fact of life. We all cut off our own limbs to burn on some altar. The crucial thing is to choose an altar that’s worth it and a limb you can accept losing. To go consenting to the sacrifice.”

–Tana French, The Likeness (aka the greatest book I’ve ever read)

It wasn’t until I (finally) decided to get serious about writing that I fully understood there would have to be a decent amount of sacrifice involved. It’s not possible to hold down a full-time job and be a full-time writer without giving up something, and in most cases, many things. So I’m curious: what do you give up to write? What don’t you give up? My list below…

What I gave up to write

1. The Weekend Not the entire thing. I still try and exercise at least once and go out with friends at least once, spend time with my boyfriend, and get outside for a bit. I still watch my Patriots. But gone are my Sunday-funday 5 hour brunches and drinking binges and Saturdays of all-day shopping and errand-running. If you have a 9-5 day job during the week, like I do, the weekend is for writing.

2. DIY anything As part of my job (as a social media manager), I read a lot of blogs where people are constantly making their own jewelry, face lotions, throw pillows, candles, you name it. And that’s awesome! I love art and creativity in all its forms. But me? I will never have time to be that crafty. If I need a throw pillow or a glittery candlestick, I will order it off the internet during a break in an 8-hour writing day. Thank God for the internet.

3. Shopping I know what the trends are (I do read the blogs, after all) but rarely do I have time to go shopping every season and buy a whole new wardrobe. My clothes are usually last season (if not several seasons old), and they never look brand new. Do I wish I were more fashionable? Sure. I admire people who are. But I choose to spend my time writing instead.

4. My hair I used to spend about a half hour per day styling my long hair. Now? I usually let it air dry and put some product in it and that’s it. I don’t have time, and I no longer really care.

5. Hobbies This one sucks, but I just don’t have the time to spend on hobbies. Things like photography–I love my camera, but it took me awhile to learn how to use it. I still don’t understand all the settings. I keep meaning to teach myself photoshop–but when? I played the piano when I was little–I’d love to relearn that. I love cooking and baking, and wish I had time to invent my own recipes. You know what looks cool? Gardening. Have I ever tried it? Nope. Maybe someday when writing is my full-time job, or when I retire, I’ll have time for these things. But not today.

6. Cleaning  Outsource it. We have a sweet little cleaning lady who comes every couple weeks and gets our place cleaner than I ever could. Well worth the $ and the time I save.

7. TV This isn’t entirely true–I still watch TV. But I don’t sit down on my couch and have netflix binges like other people do. I usually have something on in the background as I’m doing something else, like laundry or cooking. There’s nothing wrong with watching TV–actually, a well-written TV show is really useful for a writer. I draw character inspiration from great shows like Mad Men, Lost (the good seasons), Buffy (anything Joss Whedon, really). But I don’t watch much and don’t have time to keep up with the shows everyone else is talking about.

What I will not give up to write

1. Doing the thing that pays my bills Most writers have day jobs. I am fortunate enough to have a job that doesn’t usually require long hours–I’m out of the office by 5:30 and I make time in the middle of my day to spend an hour writing (while simultaneously eating lunch). But I’m not slacking off at my job, not at all, even though it doesn’t even come close to stirring my passions the way writing does. Respect the thing that pays your bills–but don’t let it take over your life.

2. Exercise You should never, ever sacrifice your health for anything. Even with all your writing, you must make time to exercise. But why? you ask. I want to be a writer, not a bikini model. I used to think the same thing–until a bout a couple of years ago with a nasty thing called RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury). It was one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced–about 6 months of constant pain in my arms, hands, back, and shoulders. I had to stop typing for a while, which in turn made me really depressed. Long story short, I was saved by yoga and a very skilled massage therapist. So now I do yoga at least 3 times per week and try and run for at least 2 miles on the days I’m not yoga-ing. RSI is now gone (yay!) but it could definitely make a comeback if I stop strengthening myself regularly.

3. Eating right It’s actually not hard to eat right with very little time on your hands. I like to make a batch of something at the beginning of the week and heat up leftovers for a few days. You don’t need to eat fast food to save time. Maybe I’ll do a post of my fave fast and healthy meals at some point. For now, follow my food boards on Pinterest.

4. Sleep This goes along with the other two, and I don’t think people take it as seriously as they should. You need your sleep to be healthy. I’m not about to wake up at 4 AM to get extra writing in–I do it during my regular waking hours.

5. Reading If you are a writer, you need to read, voraciously and often. This is an easy thing for me; I love reading.  I read on my commute, and before bed. If you are a serious writer, you make time for reading.

6. Unwinding The aforementioned TV-watching-and-cooking. Yes, I could choose to eat take-out every night and save that precious dinner prep hour for writing. But I like cooking. It relaxes me, gives me time to think. You know what else I like? Baths. Yes, showers are shorter and more efficient. But I like my baths. Also? Football. It’s the only sport I absolutely love. Gone are the weekends sitting around with my roommates drinking and watching every game that’s on, but I still do make a point to set aside three hours for the Patriots every week during football season.

7. Spending time with the people I care about People are the most important thing in the world. You know this: you’re a writer. What would your stories be without people? You need experiences to be able to write realistic stories, and you’re not going to get them sitting around your living room typing. Don’t give up your life to write. As the master (Stephen King) says, “Life isn’t a support system for art; it’s the other way around.”

Image found here.

Friday things

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So I promised this blog would be about writing, reading, and traveling and I haven’t done a post on any of those things in a very long time. I’m sorry! All I can say is that I’ve been too busy writing, reading, and traveling to post about them. But I’m going to do better. I promise.

Here are three things I’ve learned this week:

1. The solace I find in favorite stories is like no other. How do people who don’t read books get through hard times? I’m going to write more on this later.

2. If you’re cooking something and it tastes kind of bland and you’re not sure what to do–add smoked paprika. It’s the most delicious spice I’ve ever come across and it makes everything taste better.

3.I cannot stop laughing over this. Laughter is good for you.

Above photo from my travel days of yore: Bratislava, Slovakia, taken by me February 2007.

On Grief

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Grandma died two Fridays ago. Last week we had the wake and the funeral. And now we are back to ordinary life. Without her.

Aging and dying–is there anything more cruel, in this world? Grandma had 93 years on earth, almost 94. But it’s still not enough. I haven’t gotten married yet, and she would have liked to be there for that. I haven’t published my book yet, and that would have made her so proud. I haven’t had kids yet, and now they will have to come into a world without her.

People generally sugarcoat during eulogies, but everything we said about Grandma was true. She loved to read. She was a great storyteller. She loved us. She lived for us. We didn’t visit often enough. Or call often enough. And now we have to live with that.

The wake and funeral were not too bad. Then again, they never are. Flowers and old photographs and wine and endless amounts of pasta (at Italian funerals, anyway). There are hugs and smiles from people and relatives you don’t always get to see. Everyone who knew her and loved her, coming together. One last time.

The worst part is when the afterglow fades. It’s going on with life, without Grandma in it. It takes getting used to, mostly because we don’t want to get used to it.

The flowers are wilting, the lasagna is eaten, friends and family have all gone home. And I go back to normal, mostly. Soon I will stop waking up in the morning only to be hit with it, just as I’m regaining consciousness. Soon it will be just another loss to live with. Soon my eyes will stop prickling with tears when it really gets through to me, that I won’t get to talk to her again, at least not for a very long time.

They read this poem, at the funeral, by Henry Scott Holland. I hope it’s true.

Death is nothing at all

I have only slipped away into the next room

I am I and you are you

Whatever we were to each other

That we are still

Call me by my old familiar name

Speak to me in the easy way you always used

Put no difference into your tone

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow

Laugh as we always laughed

At the little jokes we always enjoyed together

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was

Let it be spoken without effort

Without the ghost of a shadow in it

Life means all that it ever meant

It is the same as it ever was

There is absolute unbroken continuity

What is death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind

Because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you for an interval

Somewhere very near

Just around the corner

All is well.

Above: me, my sister, and Grandma, circa 1987.

On Opening Lines (from MY favorite books)

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I love those posts where you have to guess the opening lines of classic novels. I’m usually pretty good at it, despite the fact that I’m actually not a huge classics person.

So when trying to figure out the perfect sentence to start my own novel (after having written most of it), I compiled my own list of opening lines from my favorite novels. It’s quite eclectic: everything from classics to children’s to YA to the probably obscure. If you can get them all, let me know! That means you have shockingly similar taste to me, and we should be friends.

Here you go! You can click through to the answers below!

1. Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called True Stories from Nature, about the primeval forest.

2. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

3. Some nights, if I’m sleeping on my own, I still dream about Whitethorn House.

4. Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

5. The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.

6. Dear friend, I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.

7. First the colors.

8. Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950s.

9. Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.

10. It’s hard being left behind.

11. It was a dark and stormy night.

12. Hapscomb’s Texaco sat on Number 93 just north of Arnette, a pissant four-street burg about 110 miles from Houston.

Image found here

Answers: 12. 3. 4. (obviously) 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.

Friday Things

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Happy Halloween! It’s been awhile since I’ve gone out on this sacred holiday, but tonight I’m dressing up, going out with friends, and partying like it’s 2008. I am predicting I will start out excited, and then as the night wears on I will start to feel old, come to face the inevitable truth that my glory days have come and gone, drink too much vodka to make myself feel better, and end up with a hangover tomorrow morning. But let’s see, shall we?

Here are three things I’ve learned this week:

1. This book is incredible. How had I not heard of it until last week? Go read it. Now.

2. These tacos are SO DELICIOUS. Go make them. Now.

3. You know that taboo about how straight men and women can’t be friends after a certain age? Did you know that’s not true for gay people? I was having this conversation with a new (gay) coworker who told me she has some very close gay female friends and her partner doesn’t mind at all. “Heterosexual people are so weird about that,” she told me. She’s right! More on this another day.

I found the above image on Pinterest but it links to a dead end; if anyone recognizes it please let me know so I can give credit!

The Marks We Leave Are Too Often Scars

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This is something that’s been on my mind for awhile now.

Have you read this article about how the Pont des Arts in Paris is starting to collapse under the weight of the “love locks”? It’s somehow become a tradition (if you can call something that popped up so recently a tradition) for tourists to go here and leave a padlock. To commemorate the fact that they were there.

But why?

“I want to leave a mark. But the marks humans leave are too often scars… We are like a bunch of dogs squirting on fire hydrants. We poison the groundwater with our toxic piss, marking everything MINE in a ridiculous attempt to survive our deaths.”

Exactly, Augustus Waters.

Everyone is SO OBSESSED with leaving their marks on the world. Maybe it is something animal. Maybe we can’t help it.

And I am certainly no exception. I am a writer. I want people to read the stuff I write, both my fiction and here in this little corner of the internet. My words are the marks I make on your minds.

But–but–before I make my marks, I ask myself this question:

Is my mark IMPROVING the world?

If the answer is no, I believe it’s better not to make it.

In the case of the Pont des Arts, the answer is definitely NO. I’ve never felt the need to add a lock to that bridge. Is it really that thrilling all those years later to come back and see it there? Isn’t it enough that you were there?

This is one of the reasons I don’t write negative book reviews. I understand why people do. You take the time to read a book, and when something in it bothers you, you feel the need to complain about it. I just spent hours of my life with this book and it did that? This is especially hard for me as a yet-unpublished-writer: this piece of crap got published and no one’s discovered me yet? Blasphemy!

But really–what kind of mark does that negative review leave?

In the same vein, today I saw a comment on a popular blog saying, “I really hate those shoes!”

What is gained by posting that comment? You’re entitled to your opinion, of course. I’m not saying you can’t post what you want, comment on what you want. Free speech! But just because you can do something does not mean you should.

The best response to someone’s crappy outfit/art? Don’t comment on it. Don’t pay it any attention. You have a limited amount of time in the world–why do you want to spend that time talking about something you hate? Post about things you love. Compliment things you like. Have experiences–but don’t leave the places you touch (like the Pont des Arts) worse for the wear.

Don’t make lots of little negative marks on the world. Make only good ones.

John Green via Augustus Waters obviously says it better than me:

People will say it’s sad that she leaves a lesser scar, that fewer remember her, that she was loved deeply but not widely. But it’s not sad. It’s triumphant. It’s heroic. Isn’t that the real heroism? Like the doctors say: First, do no harm.”

And before John Green, there was Alfred de Vigny. From La Mort du Loup:

“Seul le silence est grand; tout le reste est faiblesse.”

Only silence is great; the rest is weakness.

Which is just another way of saying: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

If the mark you’re leaving isn’t improving the world–consider not leaving it at all.

Friday Things

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Confession: I really love lifestyle blogs. Like this one and this one and this one. I’ve always wanted one, but I am so not that girl–the one with the perfect outfit and the perfect hair and the perfectly curated apartment. I will never make the time to learn how to give myself a perfectly braided bun or make DIY doormats or bake my own recipes from scratch (actually that last one is a dream for another life in which I don’t have to work a 9-5).

I wasn’t even sure I should start a blog, to be honest–so many people are already doing it, and doing it so well, that what do I have to offer?

Well for starters, I wrote a book. So I do know some things about that. I’m also a bibliophile and a travelphile (and, like Shakespeare, I make up words when needed). So I know how to write and read and travel. Hence my blog was born.

But I am also a person who has been living for over 3 (!) decades now, so I know some other things as well. I decided to start a Friday series to document the little things I’ve learned lately.

This week I’ve learned:

1. If you leave your phone on top of a pumpkin candle overnight (this one is amazing) it will smell like pumpkin the entire next day, which is delightful.

2. Don’t walk over a subway grate while wearing a skirt unless you want to show off your underwear. Not sure how I got away with 7 years in NYC without learning that one.

3. Putting fresh sage and a little honey in hot water is delicious (and healthy!) and will get you through the draggiest of all draggy afternoons at work. (Thank you to Inga my new German cubicle mate for that cup of deliciousness).

(Above photo found here, via Tumblr. For another life in which I live in a tiny cabin in the woods and bake and write all day long.)