Monday, January 20, 2020

Making A Comeback: Done, Not Perfect!

For years I have tried to figure out what blocks me from writing--the activity that I wish to be doing more than any other. It’s certainly not about the lack of ideas. If I could transfer my thoughts to paper or a screen instantly, I would be set. 

While fear seems to be at least part of the problem, I’m still not clear if it’s the fear of failure or the fear of success. (I have BrenĂ© Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection and am sure there is some connection here, but I still have to read the book.) I know that I am not at a place where it feels like enough to write only for me. I want to share my words, insights, and observations. I guess I need to know that others appreciate what I write. Self-doubts can have immense power over moments of confidence, and when it comes to a dream and a longing, self-doubts squash my focus and push me closer to the “why bother” side of my attempts at writing. 

Last April (2019), I started a new fitness and nutrition program. Before this, I disliked exercising as it bored me and felt like a task that got me nowhere--literally and figuratively. When it came to food, I felt like I was eating the same foods all the time. Then, an ad popped up online one March evening. Instead of ignoring it as I do most, I decided to watch the one-hour webinar. 

Sometimes I do believe we see things at the time we are ready for them. I wanted to find a program that included nutrition with real food (not proprietary shakes, bars, and other food), and fitness routines that didn’t require expensive equipment or for me to be watching happy fitness leaders and participants all perfectly in sync while smiling as they worked out. I needed, and still need, real. Human. People who don't stand on pedestals to teach me their celebrity fitness plan or latest trend. For me, it wasn’t about losing weight--which did happen--but rather it was about forming new habits and a new lifestyle. The program I found was the right one for me. I now have new habits, both with fitness and nutrition. I discovered that I enjoy meal prep and cooking, and it’s possible to actually like exercising. When so much of my life--jobs (yes, I have more than one currently), parenting, writing--are subjective, open-ended activities, finding something that is concrete and has a definite start and finish (such as preparing a cooking a meal or following an established timed fitness routine) keeps me grounded. 

I believe, for me, it’s harder not to write than it is to write. So, when I recently met with my Wellness Coach to discuss my progress on various goals, she introduced the idea of “done, not perfect”. I see this as not about doing something mediocre just to get it done, but rather about doing the activity and accepting that it may not be perfect. If the doer puts forth honest effort, the activity has value and is worth doing and finishing, even if it's not "perfect" in the end.

Now, as I try again, for the millionth and hopefully last time, to turn writing into a habit, I’m going to remind myself of “done, not perfect.” I need to do this. I can do this. Today’s post is my comeback. 

To new habits,

Today and tomorrow,


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Teamwork and Individual Stories

Sometimes when I meet a character in a realistic fiction story who accomplishes a major goal or succeeds at a great task that seemed daunting or impossible, I think how lucky I am to have met that person, and been an observer of their life (even though I know the author was the one who did the masterful job of creating the character and challenge and making it all seem real). Then, I often wonder, what about the other characters involved? I don't know if I would have been able to accomplish the same feat as the main character. Just because the protagonist is the star player of the championship team, and the story focused on her, and she has a great story, the other players on the team have a story, too, don't they? I have to tell myself this daily when I doubt my skills and abilities and think that maybe what I have to offer and the stories I write aren't "good enough" when compared to others. We don't know what happens behind someone else's front door.

You know what? My stories matter. And, I want to hear those other stories, too. They do have value. I think this is part of what I love about the character, Nikki, in the debut novel by Barbara Carroll Roberts.
Nikki on the Line Written by Barbara Carroll Roberts; (c)2019 Little, Brown and Company (Publisher)

In Nikki on the Line, Roberts gives birth to a main character, Nikki, age 13, whose immediate family is comprised of her younger brother, Sam, and their single mom. Nikki lives for playing basketball, even though her mom apparently has no sports genes and seems to zone out when Nikki talks the sport. Readers also learn, when the science teacher assigns a project involving DNA and family, that both Nikki and her brother were conceived via anonymous sperm donors. To Nikki, this is initially the most embarrassing thing her mom could have done to her kids.

The story primarily revolves around Nikki's involvement playing on a club basketball team. After she makes the team, she must convince her mom how much it means to play at the club level. Nikki also must decide what she will sacrifice to make it feasible for her mom to afford the club fees on a single-parent salary. The story continues with Nikki figuring out where she fits on a team of players who each perform at a high level of skill, managing the changes she chose for her life so she can play at the club level, and finding her way with friendships. As the story progresses, Nikki struggles with belief in her own abilities and wondering if her choices are truly worth it.

I loved this book on several levels. First, I'm sure I've mentioned before that I am not a sports person. I watch basketball at times, but I do not know the rules of the game. Until reading Nikki on the Line, I also only saw basketball players from the outside, solely as players, which is also part of the reason watching team sports has not appealed to me. Roberts writes with a clarity that allowed me to see via Nikki's first person point-of-view and be in the game. I was on the floor, in Nikki's mind, seeing through her eyes. This was a perspective I've never had with basketball before. The plays started to make sense. The working together with team-mates and strategy from the coach came into focus. I could see it, and I liked it.

Second, being a mom who also conceived her daughter via a sperm donor, I found Nikki's embarrassment interesting. Each family is different, and I wonder when Nikki first started to have a problem with how she was conceived. I have considered how my daughter will think when she reaches age 13, but we have had conversations about it (at levels that are appropriate for her age). So far so good. My first picture book manuscript draft during grad school was a story I wrote for my daughter about a girl who struggled with making a family tree for school and trying to figure how how to fit in the person who brought her and her mom together. (If you want the actual terminology I used, I am looking for an agent and/or publisher for the now heavily revised manuscript that I included in my graduate creative thesis). In Nikki on the Line I appreciate how, as Nikki starts to learn about the man who she identifies as her "paper dad", she starts to acknowledge and welcome the traits she likely inherited from him.

Third, when looking at the book as a whole, the theme of teamwork comes to mind. Not only do the individual contributions of each player combine to make a dynamic team, everything in Nikki's life relates back to teamwork. Whether it is how she works with a friend and family to improve her basketball skills, how she works with her brother and her mom to make playing basketball a reality, or how all parts of her life come together, like a team, to make her hopes and goals a success.

Finally, I love how this book was not about a girl who single-handedly led a basketball team to a championship or won a super scholarship or was discovered and became a star. It was about a girl who makes up one important part of a greater whole. It was about a girl who understands the value of hard work, practice, family, friendships, and what it takes to be part of a team. I wonder what the story would be if any of the other players on Nikki's basketball team were the protagonists. Any one of them might have a story equally valuable. For now, though, in this story, Nikki is the winning character in my mind.

To discovery of many more perspectives, and individual stories.

Today and tomorrow,


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A First Visit to an Unfamiliar World Via a Book

A picture book may show only static, non-moving images on the page, but if we allow the images, along with the book's text to merge in our mind we can travel to other worlds without a computer or other electronic device.

So many people, including kids, view picture books as being only for young children. I know I've written about this before, but I feel I must continue to reiterate how picture books can be like a sample taste of something larger - a small introduction to a grand new concept.

This week's book provides an introduction to a practice performed by another culture - a practice that will likely be new and fascinating to readers. I first learned about the book and story many years ago at a professional development session focusing on the use of picture books in the secondary school setting. I have not forgotten it since.

Very Last First Time Written by Jan Andrews (1942-2017) and Illustrated by Ian Wallace; (c) 1985 Groundwood Books (Publisher)

On the day of the story, Eva, a young Inuit girl in Canada, prepares to partake in a tradition of walking solo on the seabed floor below the ice to gather mussels for food. Until this day, Eva had always accompanied her mother on the journey.

The two women venture together to find just the right place in the already cracked ice. They make a hole. Then, Eva, along with needed supplies, descends into the darkness below the frozen surface. With the tide out, Eva lights candles and explores the undersea wonderland as she searches for mussels. Colorful illustrations, like the hues of a coral reef, fill the pages. Readers can see Eva discover mussels, coral, anemones, and other creatures and plants that usually dwell in the water's depths. The author and illustrator show Eva's curiosity and wonder through the text and images.  

While the story does not delve into the hazards of walking beneath the ice, the author creates tension when Eva hears signs of the returning tide. Her fear grows as she realizes she must find and return to the hole where she entered the undersea world before the water returns. Did she venture too far? Cries for help go unheard, but Eva has done this before with her mother. Can she finish her task and be all right? Will her solo journey be her only time, or only her very last first time of traveling alone? 

Prior to learning about and reading this book, the thought of venturing below the ice had always been more of a fear of breaking through and falling into the freezing water below. Imagining what it would be like to first have the tide continue to ebb and flow, and then be able to enter the world below the ice when the tide flows out, both scares and fascinates me. Knowing now that this is a real thing, makes it all the more compelling.

As I've researched more about the Inuit practice, I've learned how the harvesting of mussels beneath the ice is not a daily adventure. The phases of the moon work along with the tide. When the moon is full, the tide stays out the longest. This scientific phenomena, alone, fascinates me. The process involves a great number of risks including drowning due to being caught beneath the ice when the tide flows back in, losing the hole where the person entered the sea because of thinning ice shifting and blocking the hole, cracking and breaking ice not supporting the weight of the travelers, and more.  An online search using the phrase "harvesting below the ice" (one of many search terms I've tried) reveals videos and articles that share about the experience of real people who, despite the dangers, continue the practice today.

Learning about the practices of other cultures, especially when it comes to survival and meeting basic needs, teaches us about the world in ways we would never know if we weren't willing to look beyond our personal experiences. Each time I learn something new, it is a discovery. And, unless my learning reveals something that disturbs me, something that I wish I had not learned about, I almost always feel enriched.

My daughter asked me about the title of the book. "I don't get it," she said, before I read her the story. I then explained how once we learn or do something for the first time, there will never be another first time. We talked more, and it made sense. 

There are countless activities we can say we've done for the very last first time, but some are greater than others. What is an activity you have done that you can look at in awe and recognize that your attempt or accomplishment was truly the very last first time you did it? Can you name a picture book you've read during your life that took you on the first step (as it provided an introduction) to greater learning? I would love to read more about picture books that gave you a taste of something larger.

For now, to more last firsts!

Today and tomorrow,