The State of an Author-Composer’s World

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Do you ever have that feeling that there’s just too much going on? No, of course not, she says (wink-wink). This summer hit me like a Mack truck, and the grace in it was that I was so focused on two weeks in July–my week at NPM in Cincinnati and our trip to Colorado last week–that I didn’t have any time to spend calculating how much other work was getting shoved off to the side. If I had really processed how much there was, the stress level would have skyrocketed.

As I was taking these pictures I was feeling bad for the poor mama moose, who was having to raise her babies with 50 people taking pictures…but now I think I sort of missed the part where she was living in ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, with no responsibilities except existing. There’s some beauty in that.

My poor kids have two weeks of summer break left and it’s the first real unstructured time we have. We needed one day for recovering from twelve hours on the road–day 1 we saw moose at Sprague Lake, I battled Nicholas and Michael on the aerial course, we had lunch and souvenir shopping, and THEN drove 6 hours in 7 hours. Day 2 we got up, ate breakfast, and drove 6 hours in 7 hours. And then did eight loads of laundry and went to a birthday party for the baby of a choir member. So yeah, we needed Sunday to recover. And Monday.

By Tuesday, they were “all war zone, all the time.”

And me, in the meantime?

I knocked out my first two deadlines on Monday and Tuesday–the shortest two. Some of the other tasks on my to-do list are gargantuan. It’s easy to say, “Query Trust Falls.” What that line item doesn’t tell you is I have to write a synopsis. And take the list of upwards of a hundred agents I’ve been collecting for the last two years and organize it and figure out which ones are the best match. Then agonize over the query letter and make sure it’s as compelling as it can possibly be, with the right balance of, well, everything. And only then comes the querying itself.

It’s also easy to write on that list, “Trio.” But writing a piece of music is not a short process. I will likely spend three or four months working on that.

So I view the upcoming school year with a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, all the kids will be in school all day for the first time. (Hurrah! Uninterrupted days to work!) On the other, homework season is starting. The reading assessments that ended 3rd grade underscored to us that we’ve really underserved Miss Julianna, and we can’t do it anymore. We’ve GOT to figure out where to scrape together 15-20 minutes a day for reading comprehension, and when the speech therapist sends home that 12-page packet that says “do this list of words 3x a day for a week, then do this list 3x a day for a week…”…well, we really need to do it.

Such things make me feel like whimpering. It makes me miss this even more:

I could totally stand to spend every day climbing enormous piles of boulders at the Alluvial Fan and cuddle up by a fire in the evening to write. Wait. If I write, that presupposes all the deadlines and the other stuff…roses and thorns.

When this round of deadlines clears out I have to take a clear-eyed stock of what I commit to and be more realistic.

That’s the state of my world right now, and I know no one’s all that interested, but I debated not blogging at all today because I just remembered (I’ve been working on agent lists this morning!), and I have a flute duet rehearsal any minute, so I decided it was the type of day that calls for a stream-of-consciousness post that only takes 12 minutes to write.

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My “Week Off”

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I was supposed to take this week, the last week of summer school, as a week off writing. I’ve finished my novel revision, and that was my reward: scrapbooking, some time sitting outside in the quiet, a shopping trip, maybe even a couple hours in front of the TV.

Well, I have deadlines, so forget that. Boo hiss.

So my “week off” became “two hours off” (three, including transit). About ten minutes from my house is Finger Lakes State Park, which is a reclaimed strip mine with a water trail. I’ve been on it once with my family and another family who are friends of ours, but with 8 kids, you can imagine that day was not a particularly peaceful one.

Yesterday morning was absolutely perfect. Cool, quiet–so very quiet, back there on the water trail. Just me and the frogs and the birds and the cicadas. Even the highway was obligingly quiet, for a change.

And since, you know, deadline, I’m just going to share some photos taken with my not-phone (what do you call an old iPhone with no service plan, so it only functions with wireless internet? We’ve tried ipod, but somehow “not-phone” seems most accurate). In any case: not fabulous photography, but enough to say: a wonderful week day couple hours off.

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kayaking 6_optKayaking 1_opt

 

Kisses In The Outfield (Photo Friday)

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Monday night, when the coach dismissed the boys from their last (praise God!) baseball game of the season, he followed it up with, “Let’s get together for a parents-vs-kids game on Wednesday!”

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Nicholas sent a good line drive out there, and he hasn’t even been playing baseball this year.

I clamped down on the biggest “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” ever heard in the history of humankind. (Yes, I too can do idiotic superlatives that bear no resemblance to reality, thank you very much.)

I started praying on the spot for the grace to take this calmly and not gripe about yet another night’s worth of commitments. I told myself the boys were incredibly excited about this game and it wasn’t fair for me to ruin their enjoyment. And maybe it would even turn out to be something I’d enjoy.

Which it did. We all played, even Julianna.

Baseball is much more fun to play than it is to watch. And how can you not enjoy having a 5-year-old shadow in left field with you, leaping into your arms and slathering you with kisses every time you look at him?

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Different game. Same adorability.

Besides. I got a hit. Oh yes, I did. 🙂

Learning To Say No…to Me.

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Summer School“I need to learn to say ‘no’ more.”

Those words, spoken by a friend of mine this past January, were like a tiny pebble in a small creek. They resonated, but I already knew, or thought I knew, what I wanted to focus on in 2017, and the word “no” wasn’t it.

But as the year has gone on, the ripples from that tiny pebble have been spreading and ricocheting off each other, gaining momentum, and I’ve realized this is what I am supposed to be doing this year: learning to say no.

The thing about being type A is you tend not to set limits for yourself. In fact, often you choose not to accept that you have them. You see a need, you see an opportunity, you see that you have the appropriate skill set, and you say, See? I can manage this too. Then you find your nights chasing your mornings and your schedule crammed with activities for 4 kids all at the same time in opposite corners of town while DH is otherwise occupied, and you can barely breathe, but by golly you get everybody where they’re going and you still manage to make some minor progress on editing That Novel. And you think, See? I can do this.

But at some point you start thinking, Okay, I CAN do this…but what am I doing to myself in the process? And WHY?

I’ve been thinking about m y friend’s words a lot, the past few months. And I’ve been practicing saying no. It feels terrible. Terrible. I’ve said no to a couple different volunteer opportunities for causes I’m passionate about. No to a couple of teacher appreciation lunches at the Catholic school and the request for volunteers in the classroom. I feel dirty and somewhat guilty about this. Who am I to say my time is more important than that of any other parent in the school? Still, I did it.

But here’s the thing I’m discovering: as important as it is to learn to say no to outside commitments, sometimes it’s myself I have to say “no” to.

I don’t always have to fix dinner from scratch. It’s not the end of the world to grab fried chicken from Kroger on a baseball night, or to heat up chicken strips at home some night when I’m wiped out. It’s not even the end of the world to grab fast food once in a while.

I don’t have to make every single loaf of bread from scratch. It’s okay to buy one from the store once in a while. (Even if it’s not nearly as good.)

I don’t have to increase the number of Jazzercise classes I take every single year. The important thing is to exercise; if I get to three classes a week and fill the rest of the time with gardening, biking, running, lawn mowing, and swimming, that’s fine. I don’t need to pressure myself to make that 20-minute drive to and from the center four or five times a week when I can do different exercise based around home.

This is what I’m working on now. How I’m trying to love myself. And it is a particularly important lesson to keep in mind today, because this morning I am turning a page: All my kids wanted to go to summer school.

First, I feel a need to explain this. I am beginning to realize that summer school in my town is a very different experience than it is in most places. It’s all day, every day. And it’s fun. The kids are doing a couple hours of core learning and then they’re doing units on bridge building, gameology, puzzles, and technology. So they all wanted to go, and that means instead of waiting until August to have an empty house with all four kids in school, I get a one-month sneak preview.

Last summer, a friend of mine whose kids are a little older than mine gave me some advice. I was sharing how hard it was to write with Michael getting older and being ready for kindergarten but too young to go—how bored he was at home, and how much I was looking forward to the 2017-18 year. “Kate,” she said, and I braced myself for the usual annoying don’t wish it away/enjoy it/you’ll miss this when it’s gone advice. Instead, she said:

“When the time comes…pace yourself.”

Words to live by.

The Negative Loop From Hell

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coyote-bluffLife has been feeling pretty overwhelming lately. If I haven’t given out that vibe, just look back at the fluffy blog posts I’ve been publishing, trying to avoid talking about it.

I’m not sure why it seems so much harder right now. Really, not all that much has changed. Maybe this is what people mean when they say they’re under spiritual attack: you resolve to adopt a demeanor of joy and immediately the powers of the universe start aligning to beat you down. This belief, I should be clear, is not my default approach to the spiritual life. In fact, it’s not even on my list of approaches to the spiritual life.

I’m more inclined to think maybe everything is as it has been for a long time–it’s just eventually I get worn down.

One way or another, my outlook hasn’t been too pretty lately. I’m trying really hard to see the positive, because it’s always there—I know that. But my work load is currently higher than usual, and the time to accomplish it has been significantly compressed. I’m not imagining that.

Nor am I imagining the repeated calls/visits to the orthotist, the new PT visits, ENT visits, the ongoing foot pain, the escalating need for homework supervision, or the ridiculous number of early-outs and scheduled no-school days this semester. In other words, the persistent, consistent interruptions that prevent a person who works from home from establishing any momentum. The kind that make you feel like every day you’re trying to launch a rocket from a dead standstill using half a cup of lighter fluid and a single match.

And the global worry. Oh my word, the global worry. And trying to separate hysteria from what really warrants worry. It’s exhausting.

Still, I’m experiencing at a visceral level a truism I’ve bandied about glibly for years: it’s really, really easy to get into a negative loop. And once you’re there it’s really, really hard to knock yourself out of one.

My choir helped me today. So did a walk with my family and a few minutes sitting on the bluff, watching the wind skip from one part of the valley to the next before arriving at our rocky outcrop. Listening to the kids (and my husband) trying to make echoes off the far hills. But of course, multiple extended periods of air conditioner weather in February brings me right back to “global worries.”

I know all this, too, will pass away, and I have to choose joy in the meantime. Take a day off. Say no to things I want to say yes to, and yes to things I want to say no to. Maybe I need to chew on a 5-year-old belly. Maybe I need to list two positives for every negative.

Most of all, now that I’ve said my piece, I’ve got to quit complaining about it. Because, you know…negative loop.

The Challenge of Achieving Zen When Your Kids Are Wrestling On The Floor

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The women of the 2017 Liturgical Composers Forum

I spent last week hobnobbing with my fellow liturgical composers…which means I got to geek out about hanging out with people I have looked up to since I was old enough to pay attention to the names in the copyright line at the bottom of the hymnal pages. And yes, I am fully aware that this paragraph outs me as a complete Catholic nerd. But I don’t think that was a big surprise to most of you, so…y’know. It is what it is. I am who I am, and all that.

(Bracing for the lightning strike.)

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Long days and late nights….my camera tells me I took this picture of the Eagles jam session at 10:45 p.m. That’s an hour past my bedtime. 🙂

It was an intense three days, during which I played for two morning prayers, an evening prayer, and Mass. Oh right, and the big Forum concert. But it was also very calming. Which is surprising, in a way, because I realized about 12:30 on Day One that I was poised at the edge of a spiritual cliff—a result of an extended neglect of the quiet stillness that keeps me spiritually and emotionally healthy.

I knew I was pushing it a couple weeks ago. You can coast for a while, but sooner or later you have to feed the soul or you fall to pieces. At least, I do. And I could tell I was getting close to the danger zone, but there’s just so little time this year. Last year, Michael was in a.m. preschool and napping after lunch; this year I only have afternoon preschool. And there’s always a dentist appointment or a Christmas party to attend. (Or a kid’s birthday gift to buy, as was the case today, because doesn’t everybody wait until two days before their daughter turns ten to think about what to get her?)

So my daily mantra this year has been, “Next year…kindergarten…next year…kindergarten…” A way to keep myself from getting too frustrated at the lack of work time. And I’ve been substituting mantra for spiritual food. I haven’t taken the time to go out and sit by a creek or under a tree.

So when, last Tuesday afternoon, I recognized the first stages of anxiety and a potential for a real crisis of faith, I knew I had to ignore the feedback on two novels sitting in my inbox and focus entirely on faith and music for a few days.

The great thing about a conference, even one with an intense schedule, is that I can do that. Somebody else is responsible for the cooking and the cleanup and I’m a hundred and twenty miles from the chauffeuring and the “did you brush your teeth?” and the “where are your shoes/coat/backpack?” and the “is that any of your business?” Oh yes, and the “so-and-so forgot his homework, can you bring it to school?”

Last week, even though I had very little down time, I was focused on what I was doing. (As opposed to this moment, when I’m sitting on the couch at the piano teacher’s house and trying to decide whether to intervene in the wrestling match going on between my oldest and youngest.) I prayed several times a day. I played my flute every day.

And I came home tired—very tired—but also much more calm, with my heart in alignment.

While he's still small enough to hold like this...

While he’s still small enough to hold like this…

The trick, of course, is figuring out how to carve time out of real life to hold onto that calm. How to import a modicum of last week’s spiritual focus into days when I am, once again, on chauffeur and KP duty, and trying to make sure I don’t waste the last days of small childhood—that I spend time playing Blokus with or reading Batman to Michael.

And if you’re expecting some pithy resolution, I’m sorry to say you’re going to be disappointed. This blog is about my wrestling with questions, not providing bullet point answers. I just share my journey in the hopes that others will recognize themselves in my words and know we’re not going through it alone.

New Year, Not Exactly New Adventures

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Image via Pixabay

Image via Pixabay

Well, I had all but decided to quit blogging as of January 1st. But I tossed off a quick post about Julianna and—gasp—a whole bunch of people read it.

So I’m entering 2017 with a willingness to keep on keeping on, although I think I’m going to be more off-the-cuff than I have been in the past. I’m going to go back to MWF…at least, most Fridays…depending on availability of material. I added a post right before Christmas called Friday Funnies, in which I’ll be collecting all the things that make us laugh as we raise this wacky bunch of kids.

You know how sometimes there are themes in your life, the same messages coming up over and over again in different contexts? In the last ten days of 2016, that theme was being too busy, or more accurately, how not to be.

The thing is, nobody has figured it out. We’ve all recognized the crushing weight of too much, but we don’t see a way to reduce it.

In my house, for instance, Christian has six piano students on two nights; the third is occupied by choir; and during parts of the year we might be doing baseball or basketball on a fourth. (And doubling up with some other night, just for fun.) And then there’s piano on Tuesdays and adaptive gymnastics on Sundays and band early morning on Tuesdays and Thursdays and school choir early morning on Wednesdays, and weddings on some Saturdays…

So we have a lot of discerning to do. Because we miss the deep breath and slow exhale of the nights when we don’t have to go anywhere. When the neighbor can bang on the door and say, “Can the kids come out to play?” and there are pickup wiffle ball games in the cul de sac. When we can walk up to the park and let the kids play. Or pull out a board game and have an impromptu family game night. Or I follow a rabbit hole and discover that there was a line in a Star Wars movie that none of us had heard, so we spontaneously throw it in the DVD player and find the scene…and then watch the special features, just for fun.

Another thing that’s been turning around and around in my brain is the idea of luxury and Christian responsibility. Again, something many of us struggle with. I “happened” across a post in which someone talked about how all gifts are meant to be enjoyed by the receiver—and that the pleasure for the giver is in seeing that gratitude lived out. And that includes the gifts given by God. This resonated with me. I don’t remember where it came from, which kills me because I really like to credit original authors. Nor do I think it entirely answers the conundrum. Yet it is one ingredient, added to the stew pot in my mind. Hopefully answers will—eventually—begin to surface.

And then there was this, with which I will leave you today, because after this sentiment, anything I have to say is entirely superfluous:

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