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Empty Spaces

Empty Spaces. Just that title alone makes you assume that this is going to be a sad post, mourning a loss or space that was once full. The words themselves are sad. They make you think of an empty crib that was awaiting a new baby, or an empty room after a kid goes off to college. When your favorite restaurant shuts down. An abandoned building. The empty journal never used. The empty chair your grandfather no longer sits in. An empty school in the summer. Empty refrigerators. Empty bank accounts. Empty gas tanks, baby bottles, and swimming pools. Even empty cereal boxes when you’ve already poured the milk.

And then, there are the intangible sort of spaces. An empty mind, free of obligations, responsibilities, worries, anxiety, depression, loss, and heartache. Or an empty, blank mind, devoid of thoughts all together. The empty-ness in your life when you break up with someone who occupied a place in your heart and no longer is in your life: perhaps a friend, partner, spouse, child, sibling, pet, or parent. The empty-ness you feel after giving your everything or pouring your heart out.

And yet, there are pleasures to be found in the empty spaces. The empty amusement park on a day of forecasted thunderstorms that never arrived. The empty grocery store with no lines. The overseas airplane ride that was so empty you got to choose first class or a whole row of five seats to yourself.  An empty home as a treat to a busy mom of toddlers. An empty movie theater where you get the big screen all to yourself.

What is talked about much less—and what this post is actually about—is one of my favorite things: All the possibilities of empty spaces. Where others may feel intimidation and overwhelm, I feel excitement. And that isn’t to say that I don’t feel intimidated or overwhelmed when I enter an empty space or stare at a blank page I need to fill. I do feel them as they are certainly swimming around in my feelings pool. But I also have space in there for wonder and creativity and excitement and prospects and capability and potential. They are louder and stronger feelings for me than fear, intimidation, loneliness, overwhelm or despair others may feel acutely.

This weekend, I held a yard sale in my driveway. We were amassing all kinds of items in our home that we had outgrown and were taking up space for all the potential items and furniture that actually fit:

– The kids clothes that ride up their ankles, bellies, and arms take up the space in their closet for clothes that will fit them.

– The styles in my own closet that have changed over the years that I never wear nowadays, taking up room and allowing me to have space for things that I might fall in love with and wear frequently.

– Toys and books the girls are too old to enjoy anymore.

– Outdated DVDs and video games we don’t even have equipment to play them on anymore.

– All kinds of pieces of furniture in my home—mostly in the basement these days—that were purchased for other spaces:

– The whitewashed dresser, the Serena and Lily rattan dining chairs and bar stools, palm trees, the white dining table, and all the jute rugs and baskets were meant for the beach house apartment we rented to get through our quarantined time together. They went to homes of people who were crazy excited about them or those just looking to get a good deal.

– The small black, fake leather office chairs and long work tables made from IKEA countertops, framed art and modern couch set were meant for our studio/office basement in our previous home.

– The childish mirrors that adorned the girls bedroom walls there.

– A round black table and the brown settee that fit great in the country-ish kitchen. A woman returned for the brown settee after thinking about it for an hour, and was gleefully excited at taking it home even though she knew she didn’t have a place for it. She declared she would make a space for it.

– The shabby chic pew bench my mom painted a sage green that was meant for her French country styled home before she retired and moved to the islands. The same woman who took the settee originally came to the yard sale for this bench. She left with a huge smile on her face, a sweet obliging husband, and a hint that she wouldn’t mind moving in since she loved my style so much.

All these things don’t have a place in our new home. But they have people willing to make space for them in theirs, and I love that! It’s like a new life for them. It’s like the plot line of Disney’s animated Toy Story movies.

I’m happy to say twenty-four hours later, I don’t have any regret at letting them go. In fact, I’m waiting on a young couple to purchase a few accent chairs in an hour that I’m excited to get rid of and make some money back from. It helps that I’m not a particularly an attached-to-things/sentimental person. I just like to think that everything has a season, and doesn’t need to be around for me to continue to enjoy it or remember it well.

Which brings me to my empty spaces. My heart flutters a little when I go down to the basement now. I have more space to play. More room to imagine what it could be. What is a better way my family can use this space or enjoy?

Perhaps  I will turn it into an apartment for my parents to stay whenever they visit. It has certainly housed a few visiting friends and family. It even became a hotel of sorts for an old high school friend suffering an unexpected loss and needing a place to crash for a few extra days.

I might turn it into a lounge to escape to until my kids turn into moody teenagers and take it over. I would cover it with dark wallpaper, velvet couches, and soft pendant lights. I might even keep the palm trees. Or, it could be my husband’s music room where he can play whenever he wants and record music if he was so moved. Ooh! We could have killer karaoke parties down there.

Did I mention the emptier storage rooms? How will I design my house so that I don’t fill these up again with absolute Homegoods nonsense? I want to design our rooms so beautifully and planned ahead of time that there just isn’t room for a tchotchke or another set of pillows. I would like to not be embarrassed every time I have to move a mountain of pillows for the electrician to get to the electrical boxes.

I would like less things, and more space. The emptiness creates more room in my head, because I have less things swimming around in there to manage. With less nonsense in there to manage, I have more time to create. I have more time to design beautiful, experiential spaces for myself and others to enjoy, or more time to imagine rich, lush worlds and write about them. My hope is to spend more time on these things and less time buying nonsense that makes me feel good in the moment, yet leads to long lasting busyness and an unsatisfied spirit.

I didn’t realize how much work goes into a yard sale, and it’s not just the heavy lifting of furniture up and out of your house. It’s not just the negotiating with strangers or parting with some of your treasures (which my kids were unsurprisingly terrible at some of the time, and surprisingly excellent at in others). The hardest part was making a million tiny intentional decisions.

Similarly, the most difficult thing about this journey of making space is to take a look at what took up the space in the first place. How did it get there, why is it staying? What does it mean if I keep it, what is its purpose? What if I replace it with something else, what would change? This is a lot of work.

 

And what about looking at what takes up space inside of you that isn’t working anymore? Mentally, physically, and spiritually. Questioning all the things that take up space inside of you means questioning who you really are, and that is scary. Yikes. I know, I know…this got deep, but it’s worth the exercise and work of doing it to be able to enjoy your life and live the way you want to. Or maybe to enjoy the second part of your life and live the way you haven’t been able to because you have never had the space. There’s something that feels so satisfying when you are able to reject or leave the unwanted stuff behind and choose the wanted and intentional.

It’s like a fresh start. And ohhh, the possibilities. The ways you can choose, and design and plan to fill the empty spaces. It’s freeing. It’s creating. It’s beautiful.

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Rooms and Rooms and Rooms and Rooms

I told everyone I wasn’t going to buy a bigger house. I joked “who is gonna clean all those damn rooms?” Just the thought having a home with more rooms to manage and clean and decorate and think about seemed unnecessary. But then we found our current home.

The square footage is only a few hundred more than our previous residence. But somehow, it feels like we use all of it more than we used all of our other home. There were times in our other home that I wouldn’t go to the bottom half of it for weeks at a time. Here in this house, I might go a day or two before I venture down into the basement, but that’s about it since I have made myself a small gym down there to exercise.

There are just more rooms. We have two rooms, in fact, that I don’t know what to do with. One that was my husbands small office will eventually become a kids room when I think the girls are ready to have their own rooms. And the other is the puppy room right now, since our barely six month old puppy can’t be left alone for more than a second before she has something she shouldn’t have in her mouth, or she’s peeing or pooping in a place she shouldn’t. She needs her own empty room be kept in when we are out to keep her safe for now. My two year old Yorkie does not appreciate this, but that is because he can’t reach the counter or jump up on things like the puppy can.

The large room to the left of the front doors when you walk in is empty. However, I have moved my husband’s work station down there and he’s on calls all day in there now, alone except for stacks of his books. Each stack is a different color of the rainbow, including many white and black stacks. We are planning on turning this room into a library soon, and are excited because this is the first time we are spending a large amount of money on home improvement that isn’t an emergency. We used to spend this money on travel, but with the pandemic we aren’t as comfortable traveling abroad like we used to, so we figure now is a good time to invest a bit into our beloved new home.

There are rooms in my modern home that I don’t enjoy. I don’t enjoy my master bathroom, although many ooh and aww over it. It isn’t right. It shouldn’t be in the front of the house. It makes it impossible to open the floor to ceiling windows unless I want the whole cul de sac to watch me pee, shower, or brush my teeth. The shower is a rain shower, with three heads on the wall to the right, and a hand held on the left. There is no good place to stand without being drowned. It is just awkward. And it’s all gray. The contrast is brown, and darker gray, but I don’t like it.

It feels gray washed, and the standing tub they must’ve have squished in at an awkward angle in order to sell the house for a ton more money. It did have me at hello, until I moved in and had to utilize the space. It’s just strange. I know I sound like a brat, but as an interior designer I need to feel right about a space. This one has the right idea, but a poor execution. I rack my brain trying to figure out if I had a client come to me and look at it and ask what to do…what would I do?

But I’m still blocked. I think any one thing would cost a lot of money, like change the subway tile to black and have it match the flooring, or convert the vanity to something dark grey and not brown. However, for all nonsense, it would still be wrong. I’d rather rip it out and move it to the back of the house, attaching it to the master bedroom through the closet and making my office it’s new home. My office could be the bathroom space with all that beautiful light coming in all day. Or it could be a sitting room for the bedroom with a small wet bar. My own private getaway. I love it.

My sunroom is my next challenge. The insides and window casings are all an orange-y brown. It does warm up my black and white color schemes, but it’s just not my favorite. I want to paint it black. It would look less like nature, but it would be glorious. The tile is giant pieces that are beige and cream. They don’t bother me too much, but I think something dramatic in there with the black window outlines would be magnificent.

What I’m learning the more I do interior design is that the more intent I have about a space, the story I want to tell, the idea of the room and letting it be shown through paint and furniture and textures and light and everything else, the better the room. The more peace I have with it. The less horrible tchotchkes I buy to fill it up and make it feel cozy. I have lots of furniture pieces I’ve bought or were given to me in the past, but they belonged to a different home. A different room. A different era. A different Emily. They don’t fit here.

This weekend I’m have a huge yard sale to sell the things that don’t work. The chairs I bought for the beach house, or the black round table I bought for the Bristol house kitchen, or the IKEA glass and lucite table and chairs set we got for the studio. I’m getting rid of the table for the beach house, and the table custom made for the Bristol house studio. I’m selling the small flowery white fake flowers, the small mirrors, lamps, and ottomans we bought for staging that we are no longer using. I’m encouraging the kids to sell their toys they no longer play with, and bags of their Halloween candy (it would take us years to get through all the candy we have in the house and I’m finding myself eating a handful of it every day. Ugh with the Tootsie Rolls!)

I’m making room. Space. I’m creating a way for new things that fit me and who me and family are right now in this new home. With these other pieces here, there isn’t room for anything else. And there is a clutter of things I don’t love and don’t want to keep. I’m letting go.

I’m selling the things that don’t serve us anymore, in hopes to create enough money to buy things that do. Like a new couch to watch TV on for Dan that doesn’t hurt his neck when he lounges on it. New rugs for when Matilda gets her bladder life together. Maybe making a dent in the library construction fund. Maybe buying some art. Or new windows that don’t have foggy panes. Maybe a new fridge that doesn’t freeze all of our food or have broken shelves.

Doing all the work now to make this yard sale successful will enable me to at least one of these things. It is a step in the right direction, especially in order for me to take portfolio shots here of the house in the next few weeks so I can get more work. It’s also distracting me from my nervousness about doing profile pictures tomorrow. I noticed being nervous about getting my license picture taken last week, and I’m noticing that I’m really anxious about the whole ordeal of doing a bunch of profile picture for my website and online portfolio.

I’ve moved rooms around in order to find vignettes to do the profile pictures. This wasn’t good timing with the yard sale stuff making its way out of closets and spaces and corners and shelves in the house, but I know the more I delay doing these things, the more I delay my career and my dreams of creating exciting spaces for people to enjoy. I want to create exciting spaces for people to enjoy cocktails. And dinner parties. And celebrations. And to enjoy relaxing or vacationing in.

I want people to love their homes and their spaces. I want them to feel less anxiety about having friends, family, and colleagues over. I want them to feel pride in their spaces and want to spend time there. I want them to enjoy going to a night out and feeling transported to an entirely different place. One that changes the night, their minds, their perceptions of what is acceptable, what is right, what is okay, and what is not. One that makes them want to tell fascinating stories, secrets, and lies. Where they leave a little bit changed and more interesting because they actually went instead of going to the same old same old.

For now, I will practice on the rooms of my house, taking it one at a time, making sure each has its own story and reason for being. Perhaps even the empty ones.

 

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Spaces and Stories – New York Edition

I’m honestly not sure what to write about today. However, due to my newly decided on Nanowrimo 2021 exploration and study of Spaces and Stories, I think that I could easily write 1500 words about New York since me and the husband are here right now. But where to start?

My four hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art yesterday? The way I sobbed all the way through an amazing Omakase menu at a Michelin-starred sushi restaurant? Or how I really can’t get over the design and attention to detail in this Kit Kemp designed hotel, The Crosby Street Hotel?  Or just a general ode or tale about this grand city? I’ll just write and see where I end up:

Dan and I woke up early as hell this morning to do what we love. It somehow makes the dark mornings easier and not really a pain point. He drove off to Hoboken, NJ to shoot the sunrise and the New York City skyline together. And I am here, in this gorgeous, luxury hotel soaking up all the luxuriousness of it that I can before our late check out at 2pm. We will be leaving way sooner than that, however, since we need to be home by the time the kids get off the bus for school.

I want to stay here in NY and spend more time in the city. The pandemic has made me painfully miss being in spaces other than my home. This city oozes magic. And trash juice. But just walking out of the hotel doors at 6am to find coffee felt like an adventure.

It took me back to when I was in my 20s and used to leave our apartment in Brooklyn a few times a week at 4am to open the gym where I worked at the time, New York Sports Club. I walked exactly one mile to get there and it usually took around twenty minutes depending on how quickly I needed to arrive. The mornings that were 40 degrees or below I would just drive over. It was worth it to circle the blocks a few times looking for nearby parking, and then to have a secluded, quiet spot to take my allotted break time in. I fondly remember being alone, people watching, and eating some kind of delicious bagel sandwich.

When I’m here visiting, I always miss living in New York. I miss the plethora of places to eat, experiences to have, and people to meet. I miss the way you develop tight friendships that feel more like family in order feel like you are part of something. I miss the late mornings and late nights vibe of the city. The energy, the pace, the closed in feeling in a massive city. I miss the contrasts: the new, the luxuriousness and opulence mixed with the old, poor and rundown. I miss the excitement of no one group, culture, or stereotype being the majority  where ever you go; the self-important, the high powered, the celebrities that mingle with the newly relocated foreign, the homeless, and all of the nobodies.

The amount of smells you experience walking down a New York City block is equivalent to the way excellent food has a flavor profile. It isn’t meant to be ignored. First, you’ll get the strong stench of hot trash melting in the morning sun, then you’ll smell the restaurant you walk by, someone’s expensive perfume, and the dirty steam from the subway that will waft all the way up from your ankles to your nose. You’ll get the dry smell of old brick and mortar when you walk by construction sites and after the rain you’ll get that wet, city sidewalk and asphalt smell. When is snows, however, the only smell that is strong enough to permeate the thick blankets-even during a snow storm-is, unfortunately, trash.

There are, of course, a few things I don’t miss about New York. I don’t miss living on top of or below or surrounded by neighbors. I really do enjoy having space, and there just isn’t enough to go around in the city. In the ‘burbs, I love having the ability to lay out in the sun in my backyard without worrying what creepy neighbors might be leering. I love being able to sit outside and hear nothing but the birds and the breeze.

While I know I mentioned enjoying the energy and pace, but living here, it can be sometimes exhausting. People here don’t leave their homes without spending at least a little bit of energy getting dressed up or thinking about how they look, because you never know who you’ll run into. There is something about the way nature lets you live in the moment and slow down, but New York has very little of it to offer. It’s imperative to get out and take breaks from the city in order to slow down and remove yourself from the hustle and bustle that you can easily get caught up in.

Because of its small size, you won’t spend a lot of time inside your apartment. It will leave you feeling small and cramped, too, so you leave and spend a lot of time out and about. You have to walk everywhere, and while it is fantastic exercise, it too, can be exhausting. You have to think ahead in order to get your groceries, your meals, your shopping, your mail, to get to work, to meet with friends. Being late in this city is entirely acceptable, and to a person like me who likes to be somewhere when they say they will, it is also exhausting to have to try your absolute best (and thanks to the subway your absolute best is still not good enough garbage) to follow through.

For an introvert, the sheer amount of peopling you do in New York on a daily basis is rough. Despite the real possibility of being lonely in a big city, you still have to do those tiny interactions throughout any given day to survive here. I suppose that’s why its not cool to make eye contact with people on the sidewalk or to make conversation on the subway where you are trapped for any given amount of time. New Yorkers need a break from interaction and if they had to do it everyday on the subway, too (the way the person next to you on an airplane feels the need to get to know you)…they would lose their minds. Or maybe that’s just me.

When we were driving through the Upper West Side to get to the Met yesterday, I asked the husband if he wanted to get an apartment here so we could visit and stay more often. He responded by saying he’d rather spend the money on new sneakers. I agreed. I like the idea, but I think I can enjoy the city more if it weren’t taking from me. And I think the only way I can do that at the moment is visit and take what I can from it during short visits instead.

I love the short visits. Like the time when me and the kids came and spent a snowy weekend seeing Wicked on Broadway. We shopped in Times Square and ate in a restaurant that was a ninja village with servers that would jump out and scare you every five minutes. It was delightfully awful and the kids loved it.

Or the short visit with Sharon where we ate and drank cocktails at a beautiful roof top garden hotel with fantastic views of the city, then went to see Hadestown town on Broadway, or the time we brought our husbands and celebrated my birthday visiting fun cocktail bars and eating an amazing sushi dinner, or the time we visited for her birthday and saw Moulin Rouge while Nicole Kidman and her country singing husband sat a few rows behind us. Or the day we spent here around Christmas with my brother and his family. We ate at the restaurant where the servers randomly belt out show tunes while you eat, then went to see the Rockettes while we enjoyed the way the buildings decorated themselves for the holidays.

I enjoyed being a small part of New York for a while. But now, I enjoy being a small part of New York for a small amount of time. New York will always have a place in my heart, especially since my oldest was born here in Brooklyn. She was what helped us decide we were ready to leave find more space for us to grow as a family.

Perhaps living here at the time in my life when I was newly married and childless was my New York Story, but the trips I take to visit now are my New York Short Stories or my New York Essays. I would love to return one day to create new spaces and stories in hotels and buildings like this one, creating the scenes, backdrop, or atmosphere for other peoples stories or essays they will tell.

 

 

 

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Under the Sun

It’s barely 6am as the sun begins to peek over the tops of the trees. Geraldine carefully tiptoes in her slippers into the dark sun room with a steaming mug of hot coffee. She doesn’t turn the lights on. She slowly sits onto the leather couch that is covered in an Australian animal hair rug and leans back. Surrounded by glass walls, she stares into the darkness.

It’s drafty in the uninsulated room, but the crisp air just makes Geraldine pull her plush bathrobe tighter around her like a blanket. She takes a deep, long pull of the air through her nose, and lets it out slowly. She can smell the potting soil of the five giant, majestic palm trees that have taken over the room before the frost kills them outside. Purple potato vines bush out around the base and reach down for the floor from their pots. Three occupy a corner, and the other two have found a home in two others.

Geraldine finds she is surprised at the thought that she wouldn’t mind if they died. They take up so much space in this room and block the views. They are also needy. They need to be watered everyday and they need to be trimmed back. They need their droppings picked up or the dirt from watering backsplash to be wiped or vacuumed. She has to make sure the dogs won’t eat the vines in case they are poisonous.

Her slow inhalation felt so good she does it a second time, but this time inhaling the coffee vapors from her mug, letting the warm air soothe her nostrils as the sun gently lights up the backyard forest of trees. They are changing colors right now, some from dark green to yellow or red, while others are already brown. Her favorite stays steady green all year. He has long, pointy leaves that sway beautifully in the wind the way a model’s hair does when placed next to a fan. He also has a new rope swing from one of his branches, where Geraldine’s girls spend hours swinging and dramatically singing to themselves in the breeze.

Today is her birthday. Geraldine thinks that perhaps normal people wake up excited and ready to enjoy a whole day that is focused on celebrating her year around the sun. But she isn’t one of them. Every year she wakes up and spends the day fighting existentialism every time someone says “Happy Birthday!” to her. She watches the birds flit around the backyard as she takes another sip of coffee. Why do they get to be alive? They zoom from tree to tree in a sunrise frenzy, the noise of the flock a cacophony of chirps and noise that remind her of a elementary school yard at recess. She checks her watch to make sure it isn’t time to wake the kids yet. She wants a few more minutes sitting adjacent to nature. A part of it, but not quite.

She can’t help but think about the past year. She’s not a fan of relishing or spending time in the past. She likes to think about the future and it’s possibilities, but there is something about birthdays that forces her to look back at the time she’s spent alive and what she’s done about it. That is usually sobering as she considers how little she has spent doing humanitarian work or making the world a better place than when she leaves it.

However, there is the fact that she works hard on raising good human beings that will be kind and open-minded. She works on making sure they won’t be part of their selfish, technology-oriented generation that believes the world revolves around them (as if they were the sun and everyone else twittering birds!). They are respectful. They understand how important it is to read a freaking room. They consider other people’s feelings and can empathize when necessary, without giving up parts of themselves. They are learning boundaries, and to Geraldine, this is a great work, and her annual worries about how she is contributing to the world ease a bit.

A red fox darts out of the bushes that surround her property. He’s on the other side of the tall chain link fence that is meant to keep out deer, but doesn’t. She has seen this beautiful creature before with his large bushy tail. She worries for a minute about her tiny Yorkshire terrier, but knows if he had the chance, he’d run after the much bigger fox with such force and a loud bark that it would scare the creature away. After all, the tiny dog does it to families of deer, so why not a lone fox?

Geraldine finishes her cup of coffee before it gets too cold and considers another one. But that means getting up and making it. She wishes she had brought a pot in with her so she could sit here longer, until the sun reaches high into the sky and wakes everyone up so she doesn’t have to do it herself. It’s her birthday after all, where is the breakfast in bed? Or better yet, coffee in the sun room? Alas, her greatest birthday wishes are dependent on others, and she continually decides to make them happen for herself rather than ask. It’s almost easier. It’s definitely reliable.

She glances out at the run down tennis court on one side of her backyard. She wonders if it was loved once. With the tall spotlight surrounding it, she thinks it was intentionally put there for two people to practice the sport, either for the love or exercise. Or for each other. Did they have white outfits they wore while they played? Did they have to pick up all the tennis balls before the lawn was mowed? She likes to think the couple who installed the court played every night after dinner. They would change and stretch, circling their arms around and twisting their bodies to warm up. They’d take sips from their cocktails, roll their shoulders, and take their places on the court. If it was late in the year like it was now, they’d have to turn the bright spotlights on. The idea of it already hurts her eyes and head, so Geraldine turns her gaze to the small green house next to the court instead.

The moldy green greenhouse is hidden by an overgrown wisteria vine that hangs so heavy Geraldine has to bend over to get through it and into the greenhouse. But that doesn’t bother her much since she doesn’t go into it often. Right now, it’s packed with so many pool floats and supplies that she couldn’t enter it even if she tried. She should cut back  the vine, but she loves how beautiful it looks for about two weeks in the spring. But then it starts to smell awful for a month after, like rotten garbage cans that have ripened to a worse state in the sun. She tries her best not to go near them then, especially because the flowers drop to the ground and turn to a slimy film.

Nothing stays the same. Beautiful flowers grow and wilt and die. That is all they do, other than provide nectar and shelter for the tiny creatures. And the delicate bird just chirps, the gorgeous foxes run around the woods all day, and the elegant deer stick together and eat. They are simple. They don’t have much meaning or purpose to their days other than to live and do their own thing and die. Most of them don’t go remembered or have names or contribute very much to the world they live in.

This thought makes Geraldine turn her thoughts elsewhere. The sun is high above the trees now and the dogs are barking to be let outside of their crates. The kids need to wake up in order to be on time for school. Geraldine watches the birds continue to chase each other gleefully around the  yard and wishes that was all she had to do today, too. Worry about just today. Not tomorrow, not yesterday or the day before. She’s not a here-and-now person, but there is something so simple about nature that reminds her that that is what life is about. Being present and enjoying the moment here and now. Greeting each day with a new or renewed sense of purpose, or whatever one may choose.

Geraldine thinks she can handle that. She’s had many years of experience waking up to new days and new places, but this room, this home, is one of her favorites. Quiet, dark, slow, and with a good cup of coffee. As she contemplates waking up earlier each morning to enjoy this peace longer, she watches a bird land into the small ring of water on the pool cover, splashing it wings and puffing out its feathers. A few of his friends join him, and together they bathe in the morning sun, cleaning their gray and brown feather, and letting the cool water slide down their tiny beaks. So simple.

 

 

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Nanowrimo 2021

It’s been a whole year since I have finished the first draft of my first YA Fantasy. And it’s been a whole year and counting since I have revisited it. I had hoped to start the editing process in January of 2021, but with the pandemic changing everything, it enabled my family to move to a new home in December of 2020, so life got a bit too turbulent for me with all the change (and excitement of being able to hang out with people again especially in our new home!) to settle back into a writing/editing routine. Excuses. I know! I hear it.

Here we are, one year later, and I’m excited to start my 4th Nanowrimo. I don’t get to 50k words every year. I usually get to 25-40, but I have no regrets, because hey, it’s always better than zero words! Last year I finished my novel during Nanowrimo. L

With a first draft begging to be re-read and edited, I am still unsure about what to do with my Nanowrimo time. Do I dare start a new story when the last one was such a epic mountain to climb and has yet to even be turned into a masterpiece? Or do I use this time to explore other ideas and create something new, now that the pressure of finishing a book is finally off the table?

With these questions swimming around in my head the last few weeks, I have decided to spend this week exploring new options, all the while sharing my thoughts, findings, and words every day here in this space. And hopefully coming up with 1500 words a day. Here are what I see as my options over the next thirty days:

1) Edit my YA Fantasy. I re-read it, and then spend time cutting out the icky parts and replacing them with the good stuff. Or just cutting them out altogether. I think this option will be tricky because I am really not sure how I would trace my word count. But I do know that somewhere in the middle of the story I have a gigantically monstrous gap with some lazy line that says *description of game goes here.* I didn’t want to waste more time dreaming up a new Quidditch game for my book instead of just finishing the thing. I figured I would have more time for that sort of contemplating in the editing process, and if not, I would just cut it completely. I don’t remember it was necessary to the plot, but I like to think that Editing Emily will figure that out and make it work. She’s so smart. And industrious.

2) Write a story live in this space. Every day, I would add 1500 words and some sort of plot to make a story, totally pantsing it and making it up as I go. The tale might change, it might have a course, a plot, a plan, a strategy, or it might just be what I want to happen to my main character that day. Is she having a good day too? Or is she miserable and stuck in a bind and we will just have to wait and see how she fixes it the next day? Maybe it will take a few days to play out. I like the idea that this also could be a space where I just write and practice getting ideas, plots, and characters out of my head and onto the page without worry about editing myself…or them. It feels like a scary option, because what if I change my mind halfway through and wish my main character had the established ability to be invisible and that’s what the story needs to be more interesting and keep moving. Alas, it feels just as scary as Option 1 and trying to edit a project during Nanowrimo.

3) Outside of Emily the Author world, is Emily the Interior Designer.  Both of these parts of me share a love of creating and experiencing different worlds, spaces, and realities.I think it is why I travel as much as possible, feeling that deep pull to see all the places I have never been before and experiencing that desperate feeling that there just isn’t enough time in my life to do it all. Thank God for books and stories!

I love all kinds of magic, weird sci-fi planets, and cozy small towns that you’d love to hate to live in. I even love getting lost in the realities and thoughts of a deeply complex character and her ticks and systems. I’ve lived in Hogwarts, sea communities, steampunk cities, southern small towns with vampires, Mexican gothic mansions, spaceships and stations, African villages full of voodoo, forests full of folklore, and remote islands with Demigods. Amazing. There is no way I could experience all these places without having stories too take me to them.

It’s my favorite thing about Fantasy and Sci-Fi authors. The way they create worlds and allow those reading to join in and escape into their vivid imaginations. It’s so vulnerable. It’s like, “hey strangers, please enjoy these weird ideas I have about how a world could be or could not be.” A big thanks to you all who continue to have new ideas and the courage to share them with the rest of us!

I love how diving  deeps into someone else’s world is one of the best ways to develop your empathy and gain such a diverse amount of perspectives. This keeps you open-minded and allows you to enjoy all the rich fullness and amazing-ness of everything, without bring your preconceived small world-mindedness to the table.

As an interior designer, I’m in love with the way a room or space can give you a whole new experience. Like walking through the gates into Disney World. It is truly like no place on Earth. And without gobs of money and the ability to withstand crowds, crying children, and obnoxious parents, we don’t get to experience cool places like it very often. As an interior designer, I want to create small spaces that we can enjoy like that. My favorites right now are hotels and restaurants. Especially their bars and bathrooms.

When designed well, they transport you to an intentional feeling, time, place, idea, etc. The good ones allow the food to be center of attention for sure, but the lighting, the fabric on the curtains, the seats, the floor, or the wall coverings, the beautiful furniture pieces, the carefully selected table accents or bar glasses change the atmosphere and prepare you for what’s to come. The tiles that glimmer in the sconce’s glow, or the unique, unforgettable crystal chandeliers you tell your friends about the next day contribute to the overall experience, which would sorely lacking without them. Imagine trying to enjoy the same meal in a barn. Or in a noisy warehouse that echoed every time you put your fork down.

Some spaces even go as far as to take you somewhere specific, like a forest, or a country, or a castle to evoke a specific experience. For example, I n a seafood restaurant all the elements of the room might have wavy lines or rounded shapes, or similarly, a hotel by the sea might include a beach palette of colors and incorporate driftwood or sand into the design. A Mexican restaurant will adorn the walls and furniture in dark cherry woods and bright wall coverings to evoke the feeling of their culture.

Interior design details don’t work singularly, the way white candles don’t automatically mean you are at a wedding. But all together – mixed in with intention, design, and planning – details and setting of a space can tell a story.

For this option, I would spend the month of November exploring world building, in writing and in interior design. This would include visiting new spaces and writing about them, working on my visual storytelling and world -building, figuring out a way to make them both more intentional and impactful just by practice.

This is obviously my favorite idea of the three, and one that I think will give me the most opportunity to play and learn and grow. I think I might even weave a bit of Option 2 in there if I feel moved and start a few stories based on the spaces I visit.

Oh that’s it! I will make up a story for all of my most favorite spaces I visit over the next month. I’ll visit at least two each week, and give the room/space/city/whatever a story that is pulled from the details of the whole experience. What a fun study and exercise, especially since I’m headed to New York tomorrow! By the end of Nanowrimo, I will have a better understanding of telling a story with interior design, and a better practice and grasp of descriptive world-building. I will have eight different stories (at a minimum), and hopefully…50k words.

Awesome. Thanks for joining me on this journey and swimming with me through my stream-of-consciousness while trying to figure out what to do with my writing and creativity over the next month!

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My Homework For Life

My Onteejo and I have been making our way through the book “Storyworthy” by Matthew Dicks. He’s a Moth StorySLAM champion, who is utterly fantastic at telling stories. We decided we’d try his methods he explains in the book so we could get better at storytelling, too.

One of the first things Dicks says to do is to start what he calls Homework For Life. (He even did a TEDx talk about it). Homework For Life is a five minute activity at the end of your day where you sit and reflect on your waking hours, then write a few sentences about the most important moment of the day. What makes today different from the last? You log a moment when something changed, or you discovered something for the first time, or find some beauty or import you wouldn’t have found or seen otherwise.

Dicks describes Homework for Life as a way to develop a storytelling lens. He says you realize you have more stories than you can imagine, and when you start to look for stories in your life, stuff will come up from your past. Even if you don’t want to collect stories, amazing things happen from collecting your daily stories.

Thus, me and Onteejo decided to try Homework for Life for at least a week to see if we wanted to subscribe. Once the week was up, I found I wanted to share my moments with my aunt and asked if she’d mind sharing hers, too (I was so curious!).

If you’re curious like me, here’s mine:

9/7: Fun and flirty hike with Dan at Tyler State Park. We got lost at the top of the mountain, stumbling upon a horse farm and large amounts of rusted, abandoned boats, automobiles, and farm equpiment being eaten by trees and vines. Seemed like the beginning of a thriller/horror story.

9/8: Super flustered when I showed up at an OB/GYN appointment, only to discover my old OB/GYN (from 7 years ago) had moved into the same exact building/space as my new OB/GYN. I must have called the old one by accident and made the appointment when they confirmed the same. exact. address. as my new one. Mind-blowing!!! I sat in the waiting room at a total loss, wondering if I should stay, leave, or admit my mistake. I ultimately decided to just stay and get an exam. Whatever.

9/9: Kids first day of virtual first and fourth grade. It was rough since we didn’t know what to expect, and neither of us had owned any responsibility of it. I hated feeling unprepared on a day I wanted to be calm and collected to model for the kids. Ugh.

9/10: Ate with Dan and the kids indoors at a restaurant for the first time since March, then we ran to the beach to enjoy blue hour and the dark beach. Tears filled my eyes as I took deep breaths of ocean air, enjoying the moment of pure joy which on its own felt like it validated our new beach place:. The feeling of freedom, wildness, and the light touch of sea spray and rain while we all lost our minds and ran around like crazies in the darkness. It was perfect. It was a moment I hope to always remember.

9/11: (Thought I lost this day!) Bought candy at the candy shop after school with the kids and ate it on the beach while making sandcastles for a few hours. Charlie now calls all bees “Sweat-Bees” since learning about them on our lake house trip a few weeks ago. The grouping of the two words is hilarious to me.

9/12: Chilly day on the beach as we sat in hoodies, ate lunch, and chased napkins. Long conversation with Dan about our new schedule and who was willing to do what while we snuggled and I drank hot coffee.

9/13: Solo morning yoga on the beach at 8am, not caring who watched as I used AirPods to follow along with a yoga routine. It was relaxing and calming…but mostly glorious.

9/14: After a dinner of American-ized sushi (thick, giant portions and overly sticky rice) in Yardley, me and Dan went on a hunt to find a bakery that was still open, despite our full stomachs. We somehow ended up in a scary area of Trenton, NJ, finding a fantastic little Spanish bakery, complete with Tres Leches and Flan. A man who could’ve played Chewbacca rung us up and towered over the cash register, making it look like a child’s toy. I thought it was hilarious, and Dan thought I was mean. Potato Potahto.

9/15: Did my least favorite thing in the world today: went to the grocery store. Except today for some reason, I didn’t mind it so much and didn’t even listen to a book. It might have been less awful because it was empty, I had a list, it wasn’t raining, and it’d had been like month since I had last been there.

I enjoyed looking back at this list and smiling at the moments. I was surprised to find I could actually remember the past week, despite the busy and not busy moments. I even got upset when I couldn’t remember what happened on the 11th; it felt like I’d lost a whole freaking day! Super disconcerting. (Luckily, a moment from the 11th came back to me a few days later when I saw the lollipop candy one of my kids had picked out that day).

I like this writing/story-generating exercise and am definitely going to add it to my daily Morning Pages routine. (Or yeah, I’ll do it at night. Whatever.)

Dicks says that by doing Homework for Life every day, things will slow down. Life won’t pass you by in a blink. You’ll realize you are not an unimportant person, and that your days are not meaningless and the same. He says if you have commitment and faith, Homework for Life will change your life, though it may not happen instantly. Over time, you’ll discover there are meaningful life-changing moments that are happening to you all the time, and you can touch and read them years later and transport yourself right back into those moments. You can even do it on your death bed. It’s the greatest blessing you’ll ever give yourself.

Don’t lose a day!

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The Great Escape Challenge of 2020

In the middle of Thursday morning last week, in the middle of my lawn, sat a brand-new coffee table.

I pulled into my driveway exactly ten minutes after the delivery men called to notify me they were running over an hour early. As three men stood proudly around the beautiful, Pottery Barn coffee table sitting in the grass for my whole neighborhood to enjoy, I cringed and sweetly asked them to re-box it since it was going to another location. Luckily, they were happy to oblige and carry it down to my basement.

If you’ve been following along the last three months, you’d know I did The Artist’s Way 12-week recovery challenge, finishing it two weeks ago. Inspired by the work I did during those 12 weeks, I’ve created another challenge to help me get through the pandemic: The Great Escape Challenge of 2020. The challenge is to explore creative ways to escape and get out of my house in a safe way over the next year. 

Feel free to join me!  Maybe it’s planning a hike once a month, setting up a weekly Zoom party, carving out a new room in your home just for you, or setting time aside once a week to escape into a book or movie. Give yourself permission to try and find ways to get what you need during this rough time, no matter how silly it seems or what other people might think.

After a ridiculous amount of hours scouring the internet and sending inquiries, I found great solution for me and my family: a beach place only an hour away from where we live! With the kids going to school virtually this year, experimenting with having a place on the beach seems like it’ll be a fantastic, temporary escape with the option of it being long term if we love it. We’re planning on spending time there during the week and in the off-season, with less crowds and cooler temps. Wish us luck! 🙂

 

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Week 12: Forest Adventures, Phone Calls, and a Beach Apartment

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12-week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.

Chapter 12: Recovering a Sense of Faith

“In this final week, we acknowledge the inherently mysterious spiritual heart of creativity. We address the fact that creativity requires receptivity and profound trust-capacities we have developed through out work in this course. We set our creative aims and take a special look at last-minute sabotage. We renew our commitment to the use of the tools.

I did it! I finished the 12-Week Artist’s Way Challenge!

This challenge has been invaluable while living in the last 3 months of ambiguity and unanswered questions. Will they create a vaccine for Covid-19? Will the country re-open? Will my kids be able to go back to school? Will I ever be able to travel again and delight in planning trips?

Twelve weeks later, and I still don’t know what’s in store for the future. However, thanks to this challenge, I’ve realized I can get through hard times and still enjoy my life without having answers to everything. The first section of this chapter—Truth—reminds us to focus on what we do know and trust our inner guides: “I know the things I know.”

I know that my family is healthy and thriving. I know that my kids can be educated virtually. I know that I can escape to my office/playroom when I need to be alone. I know that I can start a 12-week challenge and finish it. I know that I can show up every morning and do my morning pages. I know that I can wake up early and to workout and get work done. I know that I am close to finishing my book. I know that my high intensity and passion when I commit to something has a solid three-ish month lifespan, then I tend to get bored or burned out.

“Once we trigger an internal yes by affirming our truest goals and desires, the universe mirrors that yes and expands it. There is a path for each of us. When we are on our right path, we have a surefootedness. We know the next right action-although not necessarily what is just around the bend. By trusting, we learn to trust.”

I went into this 12-Week Challenge wanting to finish my YA Fantasy book and become a better writer. However, now at the end I can look back and see that those were clearly not my main goals. They were secondary wishes.

My truest goals and desires during this challenge were (I feel real basic for admitting this) to not be stuck in quarantine. I wanted to escape and “get out” when I needed relief from cabin fever and find some much needed alone time. Therefore, I can honestly say twelve weeks later I reached my true goal: having purpose, focus, direction, and the tunnel vision needed to climb my way out of all the ambiguity and anxiety, and escape.

For the first time, I submitted work to a short story contest (no, I did not win…But at least I tried and put myself out there!), I tried writing Erotica and joined a erotica literary group meet up (which was interesting and fun), I wrote 16 chapters of my YA Fantasy, I wrote new essays for a funny memoir I want to one day publish, and I wrote a never-ending, 120+ word book of morning page nonsense. I now have new author mentors (Natalie Goldberg, Dani Shapiro, and Lisa Cron to name a few), a closer relationship with my Onteejo (*smooches*) and I have a playroom that is the perfect space for my wild, playful mind to write and create.

I am more confident in my feelings, my writing, and what is most important to me. I let go of things much quicker, since I practice that daily in my Morning Pages. I get it out it in the pages, and then it’s gone. Who cares what it was or where it went? It’s garbage. If it comes up again and again, however, I know still have work to do. Maybe I have to have a conversation with someone, maybe I need to schedule an appointment, maybe I need to make some time commitment changes. Do the practice of Morning Pages has taught me how to bring all this stuff to light, making my life easier and, well…lighter.

I highly recommend this challenge to any blocked or stuck artist. Actually, even if you aren’t blocked or stuck, or even if you don’t consider yourself any sort of artist, you can still get a lot out of it. I promise! (Who doesn’t want permission to play?)

I am grateful for all I have gained from this journey, and have already started mourning the loss of it during this final week. What will I do next? How I will I structure my days if I don’t have daily tasks? Will I keep doing weekly calls with my Onteejo? Will I finish my book?

Every page of the Artist’s Way has quotes in the margins. The quotes in this last chapter were particularly inspiring:

“Adventures don’t begin until you get into the forest. That first step in an act of faith.” – Mickey Hart

“Do not fear mistakes-there are none.” – Miles Davis

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.” – Albert Einstein

In order to find a semblance of control in this chaos and some hope for the future, here’s what I’m doing—the mistakes and adventures that I’m making—now that the Artist’s Way Challenge is over:

  • Continue to do my Morning Pages (writing practice) every morning and the weekly artist dates and blog posts.
  • Finish my rough draft of my WIP
  • Help our company, SuperFriendly with its marketing by writing content, posting to social media, and creating an email newsletter
  • Continue my weekly calls with my Onteejo. Even though I hate phone calls (small talk makes me want to shoot myself), I’ve enjoyed our these past few weeks, as we have structure and purpose, and they often end up going easily over 30 minutes. We’ve both agreed to be each other’s “creative colleague” and committing to weekly check-ins as outlined in the Creativity Contract at the end of the book. I really do a ton more writing because I know I have our call coming up and want to have work to share!
  • Redo the Artist’s Way challenge in a few months. I will buy a new book to destroy again with pen, sticky notes, and highlighters, and recommit to the challenge to see what new goals and desires come up. Instead of typing the morning pages on my laptop, next time around I’d like to do them by hand and see if that makes any sort of difference. I’d also focus more on the spiritual stuff in the book, as I found that resisted it HARD these past 12 weeks, and only started to really give it any importance in the last three.
  • Rent a beach apartment. I just adventurously signed the lease! I mentioned this in my last post, but as someone who loves to travel and isn’t able to right now, it’s been rough. I started house hunting then realized I don’t want to commit to anything in this moment, so why not rent for a year? Despite the perceived waste of money, it will provide our family with a LOT. A place to “travel” to during quarantine, a change of scenery if the kids end up virtual learning (which seems likely), the ocean!, ability to see if we like renting vs. owning, trying out renting property, distraction, figuring out what is reasonable for our income, decorating!, make new friends, socializing our yorkie puppy, a weekend getaway spot, etc.

“One does not discover new lands without consent to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” – Andre Gide

 

 

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Week 11: Weird Coats and Lip Gloss

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12-week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.

Chapter 11: Recovering a Sense of Autonomy

“This week we focus on our artistic autonomy. We examine the ongoing ways in which we must nurture and accept ourselves as artists. We explore the behaviors that can strengthen our spiritual base and, therefore, our creative power. We take a special look at the way in which success must be handled in order that we not sabotage our freedom.”

Two sections of this chapter stood out to me: Acceptance and The Zen of Sports. In the Acceptance section, Cameron talks about how different we are as artists. We don’t live conventionally, and when we try to, we sabotage ourselves, and it seeps into our lives in negative ways. She gives us permission to accept ourselves and our artist, and to just work with it instead of against it.

“I cannot allow my emotional and intellectual life to stagnate or the work will show it. My life will show it. My temperament will show it. If I don’t create, I get crabby. As an artist, I can literally die from boredom. I kill myself when I fail to nurture my artist child because I am acting like somebody else’s idea of an adult…To be an artist is to acknowledge the astonishing. It is to allow the wrong piece in a room if we like it. It is to hang on to a weird coat that makes us happy. It is to not keep trying to be something that we aren’t. If you are happier writing than not writing, painting than not painting, singing than not singing, acting than not acting, directing than not directing, for God’s sake (and I mean that literally) let yourself do it.”

I resonated with a lot of the points in the Zen of Sports section, as Cameron explains why we need to get out of our heads and into our bodies in order to enable creative recovery.

“Exercise combats this spiritually induced dysfunction… the goal is to connect to a world outside of us, to lose the obsessive self-focus of self-exploration and, simply, explore… Exercise teaches us the rewards of process… Exercise, much maligned as mindless activity among certain individuals, turns out to be thought-provoking instead.

I usually work out five days a week, but have been struggling to make it a priority in the past three. I view exercise as a way to work through tough stuff and satisfy the ever-present, obnoxious question of whether or not I’m taking care of my body. Julia challenged my view of exercise this week, and offered some reframing: “The goal [of exercise] is connect to a world outside of us, to lose obsessive self-focus of self-exploration and, simply, explore.

I’ve decided to work out three days a week, with a walk or bike ride on the rest days. (Damn it sounds easier in a sentence). I miss working out at the gym, as it was my way to get out of the house. Exercising at home is tough, though, because everything around me is distracting and seems more important. Despite that, I’m going to figure it out and do it, because who am I to argue with Buddha: “To keep the body in good health is a duty…Otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”

______________

This week, I:

  • Did my Morning Pages every day
  • Did my Artist Date and made lava lip gloss with my kids
  • Rewrote chapters 13-14, and wrote chapters 15 and some of 16 of my WIP
  • Took a long walk at a nearby park, worked out twice this week, and spent time with friends.
  • When I should have been writing, I spent hours searching for a new home or for an apartment/condo and always wound up frustrated with too many options.
  • Made an actual decision (Shh! The elusive decision emerges for its barely-annual visit) to rent a beach apartment for a year. We’re checking it out this weekend, so fingers crossed it’s not Jersey Shore gross. If you’re curious, here’s why I’ve made this choice:
    • In hopes of quelling my anxious, trapped feelings during quarantine (as I doubt we’ll be traveling for a while), it’s a great, one hour drive, get-away
    • It will give us a deadline to work on making our house ready-to-sell and we won’t have to be in it if there’s construction or work being done
    • To see if we’ve romanticized the idea of apartment/condo living and if it is actually a better option for our family than owning
    • To have a safe change of scenery if the kids are doing virtual school again this fall
    • I can rent it out when we aren’t using it, and gain experience in having an investment property. I’ve always been curious. If it is profitable in any way, this could lead to a slew of different future options. 🙂
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Week 10: Books, Bottom Lines, and Spiked Lemonade

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12-week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.

Chapter 10: Recovering a Sense of Self-Protection

“This week we explore the perils that can ambush us on our creative path. Because creativity is a spiritual issue, many of the perils are spiritual perils. In the essays, tasks, and exercises of this week, we search out the toxic patterns we cling to that block our creative flow.”

Get ready for this recap, ya’ll. Grab a drink, pack some snacks, and make sure you’re comfortable, because I’ve worked some things out this week, and I’m bringing you along for the ride.

“In creative recovery, it is far easier to get people to do the extra work of the morning pages than it is to get them to do the assigned play of an artist date. Play can make a workaholic very nervous. Fun is scary… Fun leads to creativity. It leads to rebellion. It leads to feeling our own power, and that is scary.”

Julia is totally spot on! I’ve had no problems with the Morning Pages, and even crave them sometimes. But the artist date? Not a priority. I don’t even know what to schedule, and even if I did, when and how would I get the time? Quarantine has made this assignment more difficult, but I think if I can work through it while it’s the toughest, it will only be easier later once the pandemic is over.

One of the main sections in this chapter is Workaholism, which I immediately resisted and discounted, as I didn’t think it applied to me. I don’t have a 9 to 5 job, where bosses, clients and employees are dependent on me. However, in “The Workaholism Quiz” the item I connected with the most was, “#18: I allow myself down time to do nothing; seldom, often, never?”

My answer of “seldom to never” brought on the revelation that I do have a job with people who depend on me, and where things could get tough if I didn’t show up.

“If you really have no time, you need to make some room. It is more likely, however, that you have the time and are misspending it.”

Damn, Julia. Harsh! She’s right again, of course. Thanks to this quarantine, I’ve been struggling to get my needs met. This need to be alone has roared its ugly head and sharp teeth in the past few weeks as the pandemic teased us with its descending numbers, only to climb again. It has made me irritable, finding fault with everyone and everything, most often with myself. And that is unacceptable. I am awesome.

So why couldn’t I read the 85+ words of my morning page task I was assigned to the week before? Why couldn’t I work on my book and organize my twisty plot of Act III? Why couldn’t I just sit at my desk and write without searching the internet for beach hotels and homes for sale?

Because Julia is right. My job is in the home, and not being able to leave “work,”now, I have no relief from it. I can’t shut the door on it the way people can walk out of an office building, transitioning into their family or social life. My usual respite is travel. I can “hang in there” because I know I’ll be able to enjoy living in a hotel for a short while, with enough distractions to keep me from thinking about the never-ending needs of a family and its home. How the siding and fence need fixing, the rooms need to be cleaned, and the uniforms need to be washed. Light bulbs need to be replaced, the refrigerator smells, who is going to take the dog out, what about dinner, appointments need to be made, and when was the last bath time? Where are the summer clothes? Which shoes don’t fit and where are they?

As desperation set in early this week, instead of waiting for my busy husband to send a text message to his parents (the only people my husband is comfortable interacting with during this quarantine), I did it myself, and asked if the kids could sleep over.

I got the space I so desperately needed and felt like I could put my Hulk away, returning back to Bruce Banner. I dove deep and finally read the first eight weeks of Morning Pages a week late. I noted all the times I mentioned the words “escape”, “trapped”, “stuck”, and “bored.” (A lot.) Every time I started a sentence with the word “Maybe,” it was immediately followed by an action I should take (which I found I usually acted on a few weeks later): Maybe I should try a new place to bike ride, maybe I should put boundaries around conversations, maybe I should let go of a certain relationship, maybe I need to practice writing certain scenes, maybe I should just book a room in Cape May, and maybe I should just keep writing.

“To write is to right things. Sooner or later—always later than we like—our pages will bring things right. A path will emerge. An insight will be a landmark that shows the way out of the wilderness.”

It was clear that I was in desperate need of getting away, creating space and finding alone time. I needed room in order to manage not only my life, but the complexity of holding and organizing an entire book’s plot and story line in my head, and to get it all out onto paper in a way that makes sense.

While the kids were at Grandma’s, I booked a short beach trip for that weekend, and it was perfect. We managed maintaining our distance from the crowds by adjusting our schedule. We walked on the empty beach at 7am and found all sorts of amazing treasures like seashells, horseshoe crabs, and giant jellyfish.

After enjoying alone time and quelling my adventure monster, I sat down at my desk a few days later, and had finally created enough space to be able to focus! I re-plotted Act III, giving me more direction and confidence in order to finish writing the last part of the book. I was so excited, and felt so validated after getting my needs met, that it made me cry when I shared the news with my husband.

I rediscovered this quote from “Girl, Wash Your Face,” by Rachel Hollis I read a few years ago, and wrote it in Sharpie on my wall later that morning:

“You’re allowed to want to be your best self, to pursue your dream, even if they don’t understand it. You’re allowed to push for something more, even if they don’t like it. You’re allowed to take time away from your kids, even if it’s an inconvenience to the person who has to watch them. You’re allowed to do something, even if it makes your partner uncomfortable. You’re allowed to tell people who you are and what you need instead of first asking if they’re all right with it. You’re allowed to simply exist without permissions or opinions or qualifiers. Grown-up women don’t ask permission.”

One of the tasks at the end of Chapter Ten is to set five “Bottom Lines” for yourself. It’s basically a gentler way of saying, “Set some rules and boundaries for your workaholic self, damn it,” in order to allow space for your creativity.

I actually made six Bottom Lines for myself during this Quarantine (or until the kids go back to school):

  1. Write from 6am to 10am every morning. This is nonnegotiable. It means saying no to anything else that pops up: email, exercise, kids, appointments, anything…no matter how appealing or fun. I have the rest of the day to do those things.
  2. I will not tolerate a week without at least a day to myself. Anything less is unacceptable.
  3. I will not stay up late. I need rest to be able to show up and work in the morning. I can find other ways to connect with my husband and friends.
  4. I will ask the Divine Creator for help.  I will trust that she will take care of the things I have no control over and the things I feel like can’t manage without me.
  5. I will take a walk, bike ride, or mediate every day. Through this challenge, I’ve learned that these activities create space in my head when I can’t get alone time.
  6. I will reward and treat myself weekly, if not daily. I will be compassionate. I’ll celebrate large and small victories, or just celebrate me. I will allow my artist child her desire to restart her keychain collection, to climb trees and lie under them in the grass, to dress up, and to sing at the top of her lungs in the car. I’ll buy her Zebra cakes and rainbow popsicles, let her wear the crazy earrings, and the red rain boots she loves. We’ll both enjoy getting lost in a YA fantasy book, riding bikes, going for walks, pirate video games, and playing with the kids.

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This week, I:

  • Did my Morning Pages every day…even at the beach! My artist date was picking tiny tumbled rocks at Higbee beach (Cape May diamonds!) to put in a glass jar on my desk.
  • I read my weeks 1-8 Morning Pages and learned a lot about myself.
  • Found treasures at the beach with my kids and felt that chest-exploding happiness.
  • My husband’s sweet gift of a new, fancy office chair arrived this week. (He thought my old one was garbage and would injure my back). It’s great!
  • Rode bikes with a friend and then got lunch and drinks afterward at the Vault in Yardley, PA. Their homemade spiked lemonade is the perfect amount of tangy sweetness. Delicious!
  • Went to the bookstore for the first time in months. It was glorious. I bought all the books. All of them. This type clutter surrounding me at my desk is bringing me joy. Yesssss!
  • I brainstormed and outlined Act III of my WIP.
  • I rewrote Chapter 13, and some of 14.