Recliners, Curtains, & Changing Definitions

by Paige Ray in , , ,

My husband had just switched the TV to a new series that one of the guys at work had recommended to him.  In the first five minutes there were more blood and guts than I was comfortable with so I felt no guilt trading the large shared screen for the small one next to me in my recliner.  As someone six months pregnant with her first child I have grown ridiculously at ease with terms such as “my recliner”.  The thought of claiming a piece of furniture so... "bleh" as a recliner would have been impossible a year ago; now, I have no shame. With my growing belly I am learning to take whatever small bits of comfort I can find and if that includes chairs that resemble those which my grandfathers' preferred I will take it.

My laptop perched on my knees as I squirmed to find a comfortable place in my big fluffy chair.  Though Facebook isn’t my normal layover during my online time, I had just survived the last stretch of holidays and had used the coinciding free time to catch up on all my favorite blogs.  This was the main reason I was scrolling and scrolling and scrolling mindlessly when I saw the picture that caused me to curse.

“Curtains?  She handmade nursery curtains?  With matching bedding? Including a quilt? What kind of pregnant woman does that?!?!”  

On my side of the screen I was struggling against time, energy, and motivation to simply complete my registry and find the mailing addresses of those I wanted and needed to invite to the baby shower.  Just the thought of putting in the hours needed to hand furnish my unborn child’s bedroom exhausted me.
nd here some watch was making curtains.

As I continued to look further into my Facebook friend's nursery decor progress, I would occasionally mutter “curtains” under my breath.  I assume it was this sign that my husband read and realized I wasn’t simply checking out blogs.  When he asked what was wrong I explained that this (perfectly smart and nice) woman had the (skill, talent, time, energy, and) audacity to spend her time on handmade nursery decor when there were other pregnant women out there who would kill to have that kind of stamina. But what I was really thinking was, “What has happened to me?  Why am I not doing any of these things?  Don’t I love my unborn child as much as she does?  What am I doing to show that?”

In short, I was feeling guilty, and as if, before even beginning motherhood, I had already failed as a mom.

"Well, I guess that’s what she chooses to do with the time and energy that she does have,” was my husband’s response.  This, of course, made me ask myself: "How have I chosen to spend my time?"

  • Instead of sewing I have chosen to make elaborate meals with my husband over the holidays.  Both of us are aware that one of our favorite activities together, and the corresponding time involved, will most likely be coming to a close in the next three months, so we made a special effort into creating some memories.
  • Instead of making decorating decisions I have chosen to make decisions about my career and how I choose to handle the career focus / family focus debate while in the midst of potentially making a cross country move.  (Details on that move at a later date.)
  • Instead of spending hours behind a sewing machine, I have spent hours on travel sites researching flight and tours and other arrangements to see my younger brother on the East coast before the baby comes. Because, though I look forward to the many hours of life that will happen in my newborn’s room, I realize that my pre-child years are quickly coming to a close.  Travel and exploration are one of the many things that won’t be as easily available to me in the upcoming years, and I have consciously chosen to pursue these things while I am able.

And just like that recliner that I would have never reveled in a few years before, I realized that my definition of comfort and preparation has changed. I should not feel guilty for taking care of myself the best way I know how, now or in the future.

p.s. The image up top is one of the few decor decisions I have made.  It's an absolutely beautiful piece from Wild and Free Designs which I found via The Little Craft Show.

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Act as if it's the real thing

by Paige Ray in , , ,

It all starts with a good book...

I have been reading "All the Light We Cannot See" (which is wonderful) and, in the beginning, one of the characters has to decide what to do with this potentially expensive diamond that he's been given.  The premise is that there are 4 other jewels and no one knows which one is the genuine stone.  The character decides, from the beginning, to "act as if it is the real thing".

And as soon as I heard that phrase, it stuck with me.

How would I act if I thought I carried the real thing?  What would I do to protect it? How would I keep it safe? 

Immediately I pressed pause on the audiobook because I realized in that half a moment where I asked myself that question, I had moved away from the world of the book and straight into my own reality. 

What if I acted as though I really am a writer?
What if I acted as though I am carrying around the real thing?

What if, as creatives, we collectively claimed whatever it is that we are?

"I am an artist."  "I am a writer."  "I am a photographer." "I am a musician."  "I am a poet."

Claim being a writer

How might we act... 

If we were protecting the real thing?

Would a real writer hide that she was writing? Or would she claim it? Work on it? Develop it?  Put it on her Twitter bio and proclaim it to anyone who happened to ask at the next social or family event?  

Here's the reason I ask:

I have realized that, personally, I don't act as if my desire to write is real.  When asked, "What are your plans for the weekend?" I often answer, "No plans."  The majority of the time that I say this my actual hope is to hole up in a coffee shop somewhere for a few hours and work on whatever writing project is currently sitting on my laptop.  I'm not lying exactly... but I'm definitely not acting as if it's the real thing.

After thinking it over

I realized that I've been doing this for a really long time with almost all of my desires.  Growing up it seemed as if I struggled with constantly bumping up against big dreams.

  • Want to get out of town?
    No, that's acting like you're "too good", better to act like you love this place and want to stay.
  • Want to have a career that isn't available in small town Arkansas?
    "Why would you do that. There's no money in it."
    Better to get a sensible job: bank, teacher, or nurse. What's your choice?
  • Want to travel to the other side of the world?
    Why would you spend all that money and not have anything to show for it?
    "That $2000 plane ticket could buy your grandpa a new carberator that will make his truck last longer than he does."

None of these were said directly.  But they were felt.

  • "How exciting! Aren't you scared?" is the reply when you finally confess to your cross country move. "I bet she won't make it past Christmas," is heard in the whispers.
  • "You can be anything you want to be" is what is said, while the thought, "You go to school to get a job where you make better money," is the mindset.
  • And, well, the truck thing is pretty much a direct quote.
    So maybe some is directly communicated...

The thing that they all reinforced: it's better (easier, more convenient) to lie and not talk about one's grand plans, one's real desire's than to "act as if it's the real thing" and face the potential ridicule.

The thing with lying is this:

You start to believe the lie yourself. 

Why go to that workshop?  It's not as if you're a real writer.
Why bother with posting on a regular basis?  It's not as if you're a real writer.
Why struggle over that last sentence? Why spend time away from your family? Why get up at some godawful hour?  It's not as if you're a real writer and any of this matters...

The reason I don't tell people, "My plan for the weekend is to spend a total of five hours behind my laptop working on my current project," is two-fold.

  1. I risk that same sense of isolation via doubt that I felt as a kid. (Because, unless I'm talking to another creative, I generally feel like others eye's glaze over with disgust when I mention that I'm looking forward to "working".)
  2. I actually have to make plans to follow through.  (And *eek!* that's scary. Wouldn't it just be better if I were to keep my dreams of being a writer in the mental world where I could pretend to do the writer-ly things while not having to take time away from my family and our life?)

So I'm working on these things.  
Working on not carrying so much when I give others the truth.  I can't help / control their reaction any more than I can control my own desire.  Working on actually saying things out loud and committing to doing actual work.  Even if the extent of this accountability to a goal is a list in my journal and occasionally a text to my husband.

And through it all 

The cloying question still remains:  Is this thing that I'm carrying (my desire to write/create/make) actually the "real thing"? Or am I carrying a fake?  A pretty but all together useless device that isn't doing anyone any good.

It's in that moment that I remind myself that the characters carrying the fake diamonds most likely don't have stories written about them.  But I haven't gotten to the end of the book yet... so I have to keep choosing to believe that I have the real thing.

Maybe I should have titled this "How to Believe in Yourself"... Regardless, how do you act as if you have the "real thing"?  How do you know you have the real thing?

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LASER // January Update

by Paige Ray in ,

Oh January...

As of writing this, I am fully entrenched in the first month of the year.  That month that starts off with so much exuberance and zest, eventually fades as fast as those champagne bubbles that start the whole thing off... As it comes to a close, it is still as much winter as it was four weeks ago but the shine has somehow managed to tarnish bit.  

Sparkler One little word update

Not yet a habit

Something that I realized pretty early on is that if I was going to keep my laser focus, I needed to keep it at the top of my consciousness everyday until writing and thinking about writing and even the physical need to need to write became more engrained in my daily habits.  I want to view myself as a writer but, until I'm actually writing on a more regular basis, I need public accountability, an excuse free way to make writing easy, and a change in schedule.

The Good & the bad

Accountability came through my #15min2015 project where I take one sentence from my daily writing goal, turn it into an Instagram image, and post it.  
The result: I decided to start that on the 8th and have consistently posted every day but once (on which day I had already written but my phone ran out of juice before I posted so I simply posted the next day). I like this method, but I've realized two negative things: 

  1.  I realize as I'm writing that I often think, "What will I Instagram today?"  I need to keep in mind that it's not about what I will share with the world.  This daily goal was "personal" for a reason.
  2. so want people to like these thoughts.  And even as I type that I think, "Ugh.  That's gross."  I wish my own"likes" were enough. 

Neither of these things are so bad that I have decided to cancel the social sharing. It's just made it more obvious I still have some social media hang-ups that I'd thought I'd shaken during the social sabbatical.

Easy like Sunday Morning-ish

No one likes to think they're lazy.  
In fact, most likely, no one does until they're given the "challenge" of finding a pen so they can complete the almost laughably small goal of 15 minutes of longhand writing a day.  And when that pen is not immediately found? Well... it becomes a little less "easy" and "lazy" looks like a more viable option.

So I've started making things easy: 

  • I keep my pen tucked into the notebook that I use for my daily writing.
  • I've streamlined my system to use the same notebook for my weekly schedule as my writing. (One notebook = less to haul around = higher chance I will take it with me = higher chance I will actually use it.)
  • I put everything that looks like it may be helpful in writing into evernote.
  • Within evernote: I have started a thousand tiny drafts.  Because a blank page is always harder to write on than one that has something started.  Even if my drafts end up wildly deviating from my original intention, it feels good that the spark wasn't lost to whatever else swirled around me at the time.

And now brought to you at an earlier time...

This has been a big one: I'm getting up early.  Like... 5am early. This is something that I started doing because of my irregular pregnant sleep schedule (yep, your'e officially a mom once you get up to do laundry before 5am), but have realized I kind of enjoy because it allows me a much more chill morning schedule.  

I recently read something to the notion of,

Making plans to change is fine but unless you are willing to change the way you spend your time concerning those plans, you are wasting your time.

Consciously giving myself more time and space to write has been good. I take my writing and myself more seriously (which is good for my self-esteem) and I also go to bed earlier (which is good for my marriage / early-to-bed husband).

Image credit: Kelley Bozarth via Unsplash

How are your resolutions going?

Maybe not resolutions.  Your word of the year? Your daily goal? Have you fizzed out over the course of the month or are you still going strong?  I'd love if you linked up to your updates below.

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Laughter & the Stressed Out Mother

by Paige Ray in , ,

Dear baby.

I hope you like the sound of my laugh. I hope we both hear it a lot.

polar vortex snow day laughter and the stressed out mother

Recently I text a good friend after seeing that the polar vortex had closed down her children's school for the day. "Enlighten me- How do you get anything done with three elementary school children in your house?" was the paraphrase of my text but the real question rolling through my brain was much more cynical.

How do you not go crazy when you realize that you’ve unexpectedly have to play mom when your plans for the day were previously ‘be a grown up and be productive’?
— Me, stressing out for a friend.

Her answer was simple, "I lower my expectations for the day."  
Experience had taught her that trying to be as productive on a "snow day" wasn't the best way to look at the day and by temporarily lowering her standards, it made it easier on everyone: her children and herself. 

One of my biggest fears is being a stressed out mother.

From my perspective, the definition of stressed out is "high responsibilities and higher expectations that lead to a shortage of laughter or calm." In my exchange with my lovely polar vortex friend I wonder if she has chosen to take the "expectations" part out of that equation on a daily basis.

Yes, there will always be deviations.  Shoes will be misplaced and the blizzard will occasionally arrive, but most of these things have no way to be controlled. It's only the expectations, both the ones we heap on ourselves and the ones from others we choose to hold onto, that are able to be controlled. And wouldn't it be a shame to look back on your life and realize that your children (or friends or partner or coworkers) can't recall the sound of your laughter because of someone's silly expectations? 

Image : Ali Inay via Unsplash

Notice changes around here? 

Me too.  
It seems as if I've stockpiled months worth of essays on / around motherhood in my brain during my time away from the blog. Yes, I still have thoughts on things outside that sphere but, for now, this is where I'm at.  

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Love and Cravings

by Paige Ray in , ,

This is the essay I would submit to the Listen to Your Mother show (specifically the Little Rock version) if I wasn't going to be in the very midst of the "surviving a newborn" phase of my life while the show was in production.  While I'm sure there are more eloquent words to explain the fear of of the unknown that a first time mother faces, this is my story.

The child I am carrying has caused me to lose my appetite.

I realize that this makes me the antithesis of every pregnant woman caricature out there, but I have actually lost my sense of craving for my favorite foods. 

ginger tea - fear of the unknown motherhood preganancy

I can remember a time not too far past that I would get a craving. A overwhelming visceral memory of specific food: often savory, occasionally sweet, almost always soul warming. The type of food that you sigh over. The type of food that you eat slowly and cherish and almost mourn a bit once the experience is over. The crunch and sigh of my grandmother’s friend chicken and gravy on a Sunday afternoon. The slurp and twang of the noodle house I visit every time I go to New York City. That first perfect bite that is raw tuna and rice and soy sauce and wasabi. All my favorites were always a perfect combination of flavor and texture and memory and craft. 

Now: I’m plowing through plates of french fries. Loads and loads of french fries. Condiments not optional. Please pass the ketchup or the mustard or whatever special sauce the particular restaurant, in which I currently find myself sitting, serves. I force myself to eat salads. Partially because it’s the right thing to do and partially because I have overwhelming amounts of french fry guilt. Oh and oatmeal - a daily serving of the power food that multiple generations of women raised on “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” have learned supposedly acts as baby growing fuel.

And I worry: 

What if I never get my "real" appetite back? What if, after this lovely miniature human inside of me decides to come out, he chooses to take with him the remnants of my palette which I have worked to expand and refine over the last thirty years of my life? Will I be doomed to a never ending cycle of grease laden fries and its exculpatory partner of greens and vinaigrette?

This, of course, leads me to the larger, more pressing, question:

What if motherhood causes a similar loss of creative craving? 

I look back at the not too distant past of the first trimester haze and remember how the mere thought of considering the words I wanted to write proved to be too much effort. During that mythical first three months I felt as if my urge to anything other than take a good long nap was out of the question. Will the onset of motherhood be an extended version of this?

I worry that as I step into the unknown that is new motherhood- the breastfeeding, the bonding, the early morning, early afternoon, and midnight cries that seem to have no resolution- that my appetite for the goodness of life will fade away. Similar to my current dependence on the fast food line, will my creative urge be replaced by a resigned reliance on the processed foods of entertainment? Will I, in my desire for story and plot, be forced to consume the saccharine stories of the real house wives of wherever the heck they currently reside? Or will even that desire fade away where I will simply fast from anything artistically expressive? A place where my life is infinitely less likely to be documented and treasured, and instead, merely survived.

As I write this I don’t have an answer.

The child will, hopefully, stay tucked away a few more months while he grows and develops and pushes both of us to our limits. In the meantime, I will also be growing and expanding and testing my own boundaries. Every night that I or my husband cook something that is beautiful and delicious will be considered a success. But every night I opt for McDonald’s will be regarded as a success as well. Because every meal that passes means I have made it one day closer to meeting my son. And because I realize that his appearance is not the end of this creativity thing, just a different course of meal that is life.  And I fully expect life to become more sweet and delightfully savory once he arrives.

image : Dominick Martin via Unsplash

Now go write your story and submit it to your Listen to Your Mother crew.  All of our stories are important.

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TCOYOS // Quarterly Retreats for Creatives

by Paige Ray in ,

The general premise...

of the TCOYOS weekend is stated in its name: one is responsible for Taking Care Of their (Your) Own... Priorities. (Yes, I realize that makes it TCOYOP... You must use your own imagination for the "S".)  

TCOYOS Take of Your own Stuff - Sunlight in Woods

If I were writing...

the copy for the (nonexistent) TCOYOS website here's what it would say: 
"Imagine this: A weekend in the woods (with Wifi, heat / air conditioner, and real beds) that allows you to focus on yourself and your priorities for two days.  This weekend would allow you to get away from your normal responsibilities of mother / employee / wife / small business owner.  How would you spend that time?  

How about writing down those family stories you've been meaning to record?  Or maybe you'd like to launch that handmade business that you've been talking about for months?  Perhaps adding a few chapters to that children's book manuscript that has been gathering dust on the back of your desk?  

What if I told you could do this for the cost of one hotel room and planning / preparation of one meal?  Bonus: A small intimate group of cohorts who, after four separate weekends, have begun to understand your strengths, weaknesses, and goals in such ways that they make the best cheerleaders outside of the time spent together?  Are you in... or would you rather another Monday morning arrive where you think: Where did my weekend go?"

Yes, I just made that description sound terribly cheesy, but it's also 100% true.  I have found that TCOYOS's mix of decreased responsibilities, increased camaraderie, and specially reserved time to focus on one's own project at hand are like a special kind of magic.  The mix of laughter and learning and tears and truth and the resulting work (so much work) that happens is perfection.

And truthfully, even when it's not all that productive (says the woman who battled pregnancy related illness two of the four times TCOYOS has convened) the time is invaluable.  At least, it has been for me. I have been fortunate enough to find myself in a group of women whom I deeply respect: women who are doing amazing things in their personal and professional lives.  Women with whom I gain wisdom when I remember to simply shut my mouth and listen.

As I mentioned, there is no website for TCOYOS; we are simply a group of women who cobbled ourselves together and found out we made a great match.  While I'm encouraging our group to create some type of resource to help others (maybe you?) create your own TCOYOS experience, for now you will have to live with being introduced to the ladies who I'm honored to have on my team.

Jaqueline Wolven
Terra Butler
Sarah White
Sarah Hood
Eileen Jennings

Let me know if you'd be interested in learning more about how you can implement the TCOYOS experience: Instagram, Twitter, or in the comments below.

p.s. The first time I wrote about TCOYOS (before it even had a name) was when my camera went missing.

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Laser // Cutting Through the Distraction

by Paige Ray in ,

When defining "laser"... 

there are two definitions which I'm choosing to implement. One is the "intense focus" that I have spoken about in Part Two and Part Three. The other defintion is more about what a laser does once that intense focus is achieved: cutting, slicing, and all other manners of destructive buzzing about. 

While I don't think my laser-like activity will directly cause any destructive buzzing, I do foresee removing all manner of distraction as a part of my personal challenge this year. 

Sunlight over traffic - One little word laser

I especially want to apply this to my creative sphere where, for the last two years I have given myself, mostly, free reign.  In the name of discovery and exploration and inspiration I have  followed every interest that has been piqued.  Knitting, quilting, watercolors, acrylics, photography, fashion, cooking, illustration: I did it all with varying levels of natural capability driven by high levels of curiosity. 

In my professional life I also found myself searching endlessly for the thing on which I should focus. What it social media like some encouraged? Or was it a broader calling of public relations? Perhaps marketing, internal communications, or event planning? What about small business owner? None of these was a perfect fit but I was so quick to race to the next that I never gave myself the time to consider why none of these options "fit".

This recent experience, the unfettered searching and exploring and dreaming, have been nice.  As someone who grew up in a household where work ethic and practicality were emphasized above most other things, this chance to wander through multiple options was a gift.  But now, I've realized that it's time to focus in on the things that I choose to emphasize and subsequently cut out the rest.

My rules:

  • No new projects.
    I may give myself some leeway on (quilting, knitting, home decor, insert your preferred distraction here) the distractions that I am currently in the middle of finishing.  And I may not.  I may simply give that half knit cowl to my friend Sarah and tell her to do what she wishes with it.
  • No conferences/ workshops / classes / "how to" books that are unrelated to either writing or story-telling.
    All of the above generally require money and time.  Both of these are limited resources which could be funneled toward on that which I am choosing to focus.
  • Less social media distraction.  Thanks to my recent social media sabbatical I feel much more confident in my ability to ignore the siren song of social media in general, however, I'm cutting even more out in the following ways:
    • Unfollowing those whom I have followed in the past who served as inspiration for previous projects/focuses.
    • Using social media tools intelligently. I have multiple (private) Twitter lists that allow me to use my online time in a much more focused manner.  Want to interact with publications I want to write for?  There's now a list for that.  Want to support the work of other writers? There's a list for that too.
    • Getting over getting caught up in numbers.  In the past I have spent so much time using numbers / followers / comments / feedback as an indicator that I was "doing the right thing" or "on the right path".  Because surely the rest of the world should know what I need to do with my own life... right? **sarcasm**
  • Generally saying "no" to more.
    This includes both things which I enjoy (my local bloggers meet ups) and things that, over time, have become more obligatory.  Saying "no" really helped me keep my sanity last year and is a habit I hope to become more comfortable using in this next year of uncertainty.

My reasoning:

The majority of time, I realize that these projects, though I enjoy them, are just an excuse that I use to avoid productivity. What sounds like, "Oh, it's so cold and I won't be leaving the house today - I should knit," on the surface, is really, "Writing is hard.  I will most likely flounder for half and hour and then get distracted by whatever the dogs are doing."

A Confession

I have no clue how new motherhood will factor into this concept of subtracting for the positive.  None.
I figure it will make some things (saying "no") easier, but the overall experience will seem like addition.  I figure that this will just be one more thing that I will learn as I live it this year.

No lie: This is going to be the hard part of the year of the "laser".  Any suggestions, recommendations, general cheerleading is now being accepted. 

p.s. Feeling lost?  Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three.
Hopefully that makes this make more sense.

Image Credit // Chris Liu-Beers via unsplash

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