Better Mistakes Tomorrow.

This is my new philosophy:
I am not perfect. Far from it, in fact, and it’s really been bothering me. I annoy myself, quite often.
It doesn’t help that I have this theory that writers, more than most people (except for maybe designers and politicians) are thrown over the coals for mistakes we make. Why? Because our mistakes are out there in black and white.
It’s rather crippling when you think about it. And I think about it a lot.
Like, for example, when I’m about to send a mass email to 2,000+ people, or share a Facebook status, or publish an article on a website, or post on my blog… the possibilities are frightening. I scan every word, phrase and punctuation mark to see if I’ve done it right.
… And then, let the palm-to-forehead moment commence!
Or not.
Either way, I’m terrified that I’ve screwed everything up.
This is my excuse for the notebooks full of ideas that have never been explored, the plethora of blog drafts that have never been published, the unwritten articles that float around in my head: It’s scary.
Trust me. I’m notorious as the picky, stuck-up writer that’s constantly correcting others’ spelling, grammar, punctuation and pronunciation flubs.
The truth is, I spend a lot of time worrying that someone else is judging me just as harshly. It happens! And when it does it stings, like a band aid has been ripped off and all my insides are exposed. My flaws, raw and real for everyone to see. A classic case of the pot vs. the kettle.
Jon’s first post on his new site reminded me today, though, that a plethora of unwritten articles, a notebook full of unexplored ideas and a blog full of unpublished drafts mean nothing. They don’t help anyone, least of all myself. Of course, as a writer I believe in avoiding posting the first draft of anything. But the real problem comes when I never post anything.
My old philosophy: if you can’t write it “right,” then don’t write it at all. But that’s not what this blog is about, nor is it an effective philosophy for a writer.
The true process is always the same:
1. Write.
2. Then right.
3. Repeat until you come to the best combination of fresh words and edits.
4. Publish.
5. Give gratitude (or apologize) when appropriate.
So, my new philosophy is about accepting my mistakes, swallowing my pride, and doing my best. And if I fail, at least I have a lesson to learn from.
Strive for excellence, not perfection. Perfection doesn’t exist. Perfection is that nasty, cynical voice in your head, criticizing everyone around you and at the same time, telling you:
“If you try it, you could fail and that’s worse than if you never did it at all.”
In truth, perfection is envious of the freedom and confidence that others exhibit when they accept themselves as they are.
Maybe that’s why God made me a writer: it continues to teach me about grace. Our flaws are part of who we are, but they’re not the only part. The flaws don’t outweigh the gifts, and the passion that we possess to fulfill our purpose in life.
So here’s to tomorrow, to better mistakes next time, and the grace to write about it anyway.

Ritual: Poetry

I have this book, Good Poems, a collection from Garrison Keillor. He compiled a collection of more than 300 poems of every type and subject, written by the greats – Shakespeare, Donne, Yeats, Dickinson, Whitman, Frost, Hughes – and other lesser known poets.
I first discovered the book when I was a page at my local library. When I was bored during my shift, I’d sneak into the poetry section, grab this book and read it where the librarians couldn’t see me from the front desk.
I loved it so much that I bought it, and now, every once in awhile I pull it from my shelf, entwine myself in a blanket, and read and read and read. I never start at the beginning of the book and worked my way to the end, a phenomenon I only just realized the other day. I always find myself opening to a random page and reading it. Backwards. If I open to page 342, I work my way back through the book: 341, 340, 339… I have no idea why.
And I don’t read it silently, and I don’t read a poem only once. I often find myself reading it aloud, many times over. The second, third, or even fourth time takes me deeper and deeper into the poem until its rhythm becomes ingrained in me, like a tidal wave or the melody of a song, or the steady tick of a clock.
And when I reflect on each word – its meaning, its placement, the subsequent punctuation – I find a clue, a piece of the puzzle that reveals a little more about the writer’s thoughts and feelings, their stream of consciousness.
Somehow this ritual, the book between my hands, the blanket cloaked around me, the sound of my own voice stumbling over the rhythm like waves over rocks until I am finally immersed in it like a river tide, feels more right and real to me than prose does right now.
One of my favorites:
A Light Left On
by May Sarton
In the evening we came back
Into our yellow room,
For a moment taken aback
To find the light left on,
Falling on silent flowers,
Table, book, empty chair
While we had gone elsewhere,
Had been away for hours.
When we came home together,
We found the inside weather.
All of our love unended
The quiet light demanded,
And we gave, in a look
At yellow walls and open book.
The deepest worlds we share
And do not talk about
But have to have, was there,
And by that light found out.
What are your favorite poems or poetry sources? Do you have a hard time reading poetry? Do you have a method for reading it that helps you understand it better? Do you enjoy another artistic medium better – music, visual arts, prose? What inspires you?

“Rolling in the Deep”

I don’t know about you, but my week coulda been better. It wasn’t a disaster at work, or fight with a friend that had me down. There are just some really hard life issues that I feel caught in the middle of.
I read a lot of blogs, and most of the authors, as talented and interesting as they are, don’t always admit things like that. Sometimes it makes me wonder, am I the only one that feels like life is caving in on me? Am I the only one that feels weighted down by the pressure of figuring out my career, my marriage, my gifts, my passions, my relationships, my faith?
I know that I am not alone. And so I am admitting that I feel weighted down and scared and frustrated… and inspired and blessed and loved… but not altogether happy right now. I don’t admit this so that you can throw me a pity party or beg me to tell you what’s wrong or so that you can give me pep talk. I’m admitting it so that in case you feel this way too, you can know that you’re not alone.
Sometimes, life is just messy.
Here are some things that really inspired me this week, in spite of everything:
Buy this album. No, really. BUY IT.*
Some funny, belated New Year’s Resolutions that I am totally stealing.
My friend Madison has started a healthy living blog – good recipes, and even better info about what’s good and bad for us and why. Happy, healthy eating!
Kendi and Bryan: Dream Reporters. They’re starting a business, and they’re blogging about their journey to success.
Check out Kat’s revamped blogspot! She’s also got a new product line coming soon, so keep an eye out for her woodland-inspired wonders.
My friend Hollie has started a blog: Baking with Ex-Mix. Join the conversation about gender, culture, and you.
Grace over Karma – that’s the kind of faith I can believe in.
Does it Really Matter? A good question to live by.
And finally, just a word of thanks to all the talented, loving, funny, inspiring people that I am surrounded by. You make it worth it. Every day.
*Blog title taken from the album. Did you buy it? Get on it.

On Finding Things.

The impossible has happened. My brother called me today: O’Hare Airport Security found his stack of vinyls that we thought were lost forever, safe and sound, right where he left them on a lobby table at the Hilton. What are the odds?
I can’t deny it. After my downer of a post yesterday, it would be wrong of me not to write in response to my own pessimism with the truth that sometimes miracles, even small ones, do happen.
Remember that list of things lost in yesterday’s post?
The grapes, the postcards, the pants, the cell phone, the camera, the laptop charger? What I didn’t tell you is that I actually did get some of those things back.
The camera I left in a cafe in Vienna was waiting for me when I dashed across the city to grab it before I missed my train home.
The pair of pants were neatly folded along with some clean sheets in the laundry room of the hostel in Florence where I left them.
The time when I got lost on a crowded street in Amsterdam it just so happened that I was in possession of our group’s cell phone, and I was able to call the one other person in our group who also had a cell phone. She found me within minutes and I was soon safe in the arms of my companions.
Why was this an unimportant piece of the story yesterday?
Sometimes, having faith makes it hard to reconcile my fear and doubt and disappointment. If we can convince ourselves that miracles don’t happen, then the pain of losing out on the things we want most might somehow be easier to deal with.
So then, what do I do with the found things in my life? The miracle moments when all of my pessimism and cynicism are met with the impossible? Against all odds, I’m standing in the moment I feared would never come, holding in my hands the thing I never thought I’d see again. And how do I reconcile that with the moments when I don’t get what I’m hoping for?
It should be obvious by now that I’m not just talking about finding records and cameras and pants. It’s not even about losing and finding myself on a street corner in Amsterdam.
Maybe what I need is not the thing I want itself. Maybe I just need to find the faith to accept life as it is, lost or found.

On Losing Things.

I woke out of a sound sleep this morning to the ring of my cell phone. Disoriented, I answered to hear my brother’s frantic voice. After spending 5 days in Boston for the Harvard Model Congress, he was boarding his early morning flight home when it hit him: he’d left his bag of newly-purchased vinyls somewhere in Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
“I don’t know what to do! I retraced my steps, I ran all the way back to the concierge desk in the Hilton and asked around to see if they’d found anything, I talked with airport security. They can’t help me find them and I can’t remember where I left them,” he said, his voice frustrated and strained.
I listened and tried to comfort him, but we both knew that his souvenirs were lost forever. Sadly, a $75 stack of vinyls won’t wait around for the one who leaves them behind. If he’s anything like me, he’ll probably lose more than that.
I remember the feeling well. When I traveled abroad in the fall of 2008, it seemed like I left pieces of myself all over Europe. In the midst of doing something as simple as fumbling for my passport, I’d forget the item I set down next to me.
It started with a bag of fresh-market grapes I left in a train station in Slovenia, and then it was a stack of postcards (written and stamped), a pair of jeans, my cell phone, my camera, my laptop charger, and sometimes, I think, my heart. Minutes, hours and many miles later I would realize that I was empty-handed and there was nothing I could do about it.
Mementos, possessions, they’re replaceable, maybe even forgettable. Nevertheless, the moment you realize you’ve left them behind, a deep ache, an inconsolable sense of failure sets in.
Sometimes, life feels that way. Memories, bittersweet and vivid as they are, won’t replace the tangible feeling of a weathered album between your fingers or the weight of a friend in your arms.
You’re on a train, a plane, in the car, and every second is taking you further and further away from reaching back in time to that moment when you held everything in your hands.