To be heard. To be loved. To live a life of his own choosing. To be a hero. To not be a hero. To understand.
I was just sitting here as Milo drifted off for his nap, and I got this joyous lift as I looked into his eyes. This will be his first fall, and he’s going to love it . . . because he loves everything. It’s awesome.
But I love this season, too. It’s my favorite by about a bazillion percent. (Yes, I know that percentage isn’t actually possible, but you know what I mean, right?) I love everything about autumn – the cooler temperatures, the change in the way the air feels, the colors of the leaves, and yes, of course, pumpkin spice (although even I will admit we’ve gone a bit too far these days).
But some of my biggest reasons for loving fall have to do with books and other wordish delights. Here’s my Top Ten Ways Fall Makes My Word-Nerd Heart Dance:
1. Hot mugs of beverage. Coffee. Tea. Hot chocolate. Hot Cider. Mulled wine. . . I could go on. These are best enjoyed, of course, with a book. . . on a porch on a fall afternoon.
2. The way the supernatural and magic are very close to the surface. Of course, this is because of Halloween and Christmas, but I love the way even impossible things seem more possible in these days. I’m thinking here of Sarah Addison Allen’s books and The Good Witch. But also of Sleepy Hollow (and Starrs’ Hollow – RORY and Jess forever) and a great Poe story. . . of this after-school movie where a room glowed red in a child’s home because it was haunted. (Anyone remember that circa 1985?)
3. Back to school. Apparently some people, my husband included, did not love back to school, but I, I still love it. School supplies mainly. All those pens and notebooks . . . Trapper Keepers! But also the first day jitters of new teachers and new routines. LOVE it.
4. Sweatshirts and sweaters. These may not seem particularly bookish, but just think about pulling on a big, warm sweater and grabbing that warm beverage to sit on that porch. My favorite sweater is a wool one of my mom’s. It’s that color brown that is almost green and has a front pocket where I can tuck my hands when I’m not holding that great novel. (Speaking of which, Tana French’s new one The Witch Elm comes out October 9, and I CANNOT WAIT!!)
5. Long walks. I am not a person built for heat, so in the summer, I tend to sequester myself in the air conditioning. Once the heat and humidity break, however, I’m always up for a good, long walk to clear my head, to ponder what I’m writing, to enjoy the fresh air. Throw in crunchy leaves, and I’m especially thrilled. This year, I so look forward to long, daily walks with Milo.
6. Pumpkins. I do enjoy a pumpkin spice latte, but more, I love the way pumpkins appear on front stoops and along the entrances to winding driveways. Pair them with mums, and I’m a happy girl. A hot drink, a warm sweater, a porch with pumpkins, and a book. Ahhh!
7. Early sunsets. This time of year, I love watching darkness crawl in earlier and earlier each evening, and likewise, I love the way the changing light makes these early sunsets more orange, somehow smokier. Darker evenings have always felt like prime reading time to me.
8. Wood smoke. Oh, goodness. This may be my favorite fall thing – the way bonfires blaze in cool air leaving the front half of you warm and the back half chilled; the taste of a marshmallow cooked on a crisp evening, the hint of smoke in the farmhouse when we light the wood stove for the first time, the crackle of a fireplace in a great book. (Wuthering Heights always comes to mind when I think of fireplaces. Perhaps that’s why it’s one of my favorite books of all time.)
9. Soft blankets. Hot drink, sweater, porch with pumpkins, soft blanket over my lap, and book. The scene grows richer as the temperatures grow cooler.
10. The Great Slowing. My way of being, on my best days, is slow and deliberate, and fall is a season of intention. Putting up the harvest (here on the farm, we’re down to okra, jalepenos, and pumpkins in the garden), preparing the house for winter, storing up food for the coldest days. Those are all things that speak to something deep in my spirit. Maybe I love this season so because it simply means I have more time to read now that farm work is slowing down.
Just writing this list gave me joy. . . and I cannot wait for that first crack of air cool enough for me to turn back around and get my cozy sweater when I take to the porch with a book*. Oh, autumn, I do love you.
Anything about fall you love, fellow word nerds?
*Right now, I’m reading Anne Bogel’s charming and winsome I’d Rather Be Reading. Might I suggest it as an ideal read for an autumn day?
A few weeks back, someone I had come to call a friend had some real struggles with something I posted on my personal Facebook page. She was angered by it – very angered – and she told me. I respected her anger and her position, even as I disagreed with her, but at that time, in that moment, I didn’t have the energy or space to engage that conversation. I told her so, and she unfriended me, unsubscribed from my work, and by and large severed all ties with me.
I would be lying if I said that didn’t hurt. It did. . . and I wrote her to say I was sorry to see that she needed to make that decision but that I respected it and would be here if she ever wanted to reconnect again.
I feel good about how I reacted.
What I’ve Learned About What I Do
A few years – even a few months back – I would have taken her decision personally. I would have tried to soften what I said, to shift my angle so that it wouldn’t bump against hers. OR I would have gotten defensive, entrenched myself, maybe even gone on the attack.
Now, though, I’m learning that I cannot please everyone with my words (or my person), that to try and do so waters down all I say (and am), and that I have to recognize that not every person is my reader (or my friend). It’s taken a lot of work to get to this place because I am a real people pleaser (a 2 on the Enneagram if that is “helpful” to you). But for the sake of my mental health and the sake of my work, I’ve had to learn that not everyone is going to like what I have to say (or me).
This bit of hard-fought growth has made the writing life easier for me in some crucial ways:
- I have stopped trying to write things that please everyone and have begun to write things that please me first and the people who choose to read my work second. I’m never going to be a writer who is mild in her opinions, and I’m never going to write lots of short sentences. I appreciate a bit of mystery and space within my words. Owning my style and my preferred subjects frees me to say what I need to say.
- I have stopped justifying what I write to people who don’t like it. Recently, someone responded to my post about orcas and berated me for not being more direct and clear, for not writing journalism and for expecting my readers to know more than he was willing to know. (He didn’t want to Google Tahlequah because it was my job to tell her who she was.) I replied and told him that I didn’t write journalism and that it was okay with me if I wasn’t the writer for him. His reply to me was that I certainly wasn’t and he was done with me. In my heart, I said, Good. Via email I said nothing. Via Voxer I vented to a few writer friends. (I’m not fully there yet.)
- I have settled into the place where I can disagree with people – sometimes fundamentally about some very hard things – and still be in relationship with them. I don’t want to sever ties with someone because we see the world differently, even when the way they see the world is painful to me.*
- I have come to expect unsubscribes and unfollows when I say things that some deem controversial or that speak of a way of being that not everyone loves. For instance, this week I wrote a newsletter where I discussed being a writer who is a Christian but not a Christian writer. The unsubscribes came quick, probably from both people who only want to read Christian writers and those for whom Christianity is hard or bothersome or deluded. Do I love that my list got smaller? Of course not. But do I appreciate that people make space for new things if my things don’t fit? Sure do.
Some of us write about controversial topics that often divide. Some of us choose to avoid those topics with vigor. But all of us will sometimes write something that upsets someone. Perhaps it will be that thing about your kid and pacifiers or that note about adoption that you didn’t realize would be so hurtful to adoptees or that tweet about how you love the smell of wood smoke that will cause someone to launch a tirade about asthma and your lack of respect for air quality (that one happened to me). We can’t avoid upsetting people if we are going to write. That’s just the bottom line.
So let’s embrace what we do. Let’s apologize when we cause harm. Let’s recognize the difference between when we harm someone and when someone’s wounds are making them lash out at us. Let’s write what we need to write today and know that tomorrow we may have something – maybe even the opposite something – to say because we are not stagnant, static beings and our writing needs to reflect who we are now.
In short, let’s do our best to write the best we can and let readers respond as they will. Their reaction is not our responsibility – good, loving, honest, true, powerful writing is.
*Note – that doesn’t mean I tolerate abuse or don’t speak my mind about injustice. It just means that I don’t walk away from human beings if I at all can help it without subjecting myself to harm. And sometimes, friends, we have to talk away because sometimes, harm is the only thing there is.
I’m so thrilled to have my friend April Yamasaki here today. April’s new book is entitled Four Gifts: Seeking Self-Care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength.* I invited April here today to help us, as writers, know how to take good care of ourselves AND also avoid using self-care as an excuse that keeps us from the page. Enjoy her wisdom, and be sure to pre-order her book,* which comes out September 4th.
Where I live in British Columbia, we’re in a state of emergency due to wildfires that continue to rage in this hot, dry summer. The fires aren’t anywhere near where we live, but they’ve turned the sky grey, and weather forecasters have added a new category to their reporting—not sunny or cloudy, but “smoke” has been the forecast for days.
That’s meant I’ve been staying indoors more than usual–to avoid breathing in the polluted air, which in my town was rated today as the equivalent of smoking 8.3 cigarettes. With such good reason to stay inside, I should have had plenty of time to write this article. In fact, I’ve been trying to write this piece for days. But instead of zeroing in on self-care for writers as I intended–as I promised—it seems I did everything else on my to-do list and then some.
A Pro at Procrastination
One day I used my writing time to draft a proposal for a new project. The next day and the next day, I kept reading and revising my proposal until I finally sent it off. Another day and days I worked on an author interview, an article for my own website, a guest post for a community blog. I finished reading two books. One day I even used my writing time to take in a movie with my husband who had a rare afternoon off.
Some of that I considered justifiable procrastination, for while I procrastinated on this article, I made good use of the time and completed some other projects that were due. The books I read were part of my self-care. And the movie, well that was self-care and couple-care as we’ve both been immersed in our separate projects and needed to take a break. At least that’s what I told myself.
As you can tell, when it comes to procrastination and finding ways to justify it, I’m a real pro.
The Perks of Procrastination
When procrastination means substituting one project for another, I find it a helpful strategy to get more done. Instead of spinning my wheels when I get stuck on a piece of writing, I can switch to something else and come back later. Working on something else in between allows me to be productive in one area even while I’m stuck in another. A change of pace gives me fresh perspective, fresh energy.
Procrastination can also make room for healthy self-care. As writers, sometimes we do need to set aside our work to read poetry for sheer pleasure, to abandon our search for just the right word in favor of laughing with a toddler or listening to good music or watching the sunset. At times we might even need that movie. Recreation can truly be re-creation, as rest nurtures our creativity and care for ourselves.
The Limits of Procrastination
But even I can’t justify procrastination forever. Reading a good book can be good self-care, but regularly stealing from my writing time to read day after day tells me I’m avoiding something. Trading my writing time for a movie with my husband can be a special treat once in a while, but doing it too often to the point of missing deadlines sounds more like self-sabotage than self-care.
For me, it’s a matter of degree, of finding that sweet spot between procrastination as avoidance, procrastination as self-care, and procrastination as just another way of getting things done. I can’t say I always find that sweet spot, but I’m working on it.
What about you? How do you navigate between procrastination, avoidance, and self-care? I finally finished this article. How are you doing?
April Yamasaki is the author of Four Gifts: Seeking Self-Care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength (Herald Press, 2018) which officially launches into the world on September 4. This is her fifteenth book as an author or contributor. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.
*These links go to April’s book on Amazon. If you follow them and then make a purchase, I get a small commission – at no cost to you – which helps me pay the cost of hosting and running this website. Thanks.
The 24-7 news cycle. Social media. Email. Good glory, information comes at us fast and furious. Sometimes, it can feel like a writer needs to be like a machine-gun of responses – rapid-fire and scatter-shot – just to be heard.
We have deadlines. We need answers to requests (You should see me as I wait for responses to our requests of guest speakers for the writers’ retreat.). We work in a very fast, very connected culture.
But for the love of pete, could we all just slow down a little bit? After all, writing is not often something best served by rapid-fire work. It takes rumination and consideration, a little living in the white spaces. Maybe sometimes, we need to let the immediate response go in favor of the larger story.
Spaciousness, Graciousness, and Truth
Most of the writers I know write quickly, particularly for things like blogs or articles on current issues. We don’t have the benefit of weeks or months to consider things in a lot of instances. But sometimes (maybe even often?) our work – and the thinking that our work requires – suffers because we are in such a hurry.
When we can slow down, when we choose to slow down, though, suddenly, our writing becomes more spacious. There’s more room for the reader to breath, more openness within the words to allow a reader to turn around and consider, more air for us all. Writing that’s done too quickly is often too dense. . . or completely vacuous.
We also open up space for grace when we slow down. We make room for grace for the people we write about and for ourselves as we write. I suspect most of us know what it is to dash off something – for a magazine, for social media, for an email – only to wish we hadn’t sent it into the world so quickly. We need to hold room for grace – to allow ourselves to be angry without responding, to give ourselves a chance to learn more, to keep open the opportunity for further understanding.
And slowing down also allows us to seek truth in all its richness and complexity. Truth is not often the first thing we encounter. It’s usually tucked behind masks and bureaucracy, efficiency and limited perspectives. It takes time to unearth truth because truth is hard-earned, hard-fought, hard-understood. We buy into a lie when we pretend that truth is apparent and easy. In my experience, it never is . . . or at least it’s never easy for me to actually see it beyond my own prejudices and preferences.
Let’s Make a Pact for Slowness
So let’s make a commitment to one another that we will slow down, that we will take a breath or a day or a month or two before we hit publish or send. I’ll commit to that slowness, to walking away when my emotions get ahead of my good judgment, to thinking through my reactions to the news before I decide I know what I think, to trusting that more time may lead me to broader, richer truth.
Sure, sometimes, we need that immediate article. Sometimes, we need quickness and launching within the frenzy. That’s unavoidable in the age of global communication.
But maybe more often we need meditative consideration, the gift of deep breath, and a trust that if we take a moment, we may find more than we ever imagined.