Sunday, August 25, 2013

Time Crunch...Avoiding the Falling Piano

We all have that day or week that events conspire to swamp us all at once: all the deadlines sync, all the hormones crash, everyone needs a piece of our time, the house is a wreck, we have no clean clothes, and to top it off, there's nothing to eat but canned soup and Ramen noodles. At this point I turn to my husband and say, "Idonwanna!" in a whinny two-year-old voice. He smiles and hugs me and for a moment it all goes away.

But I still have to deal with it.

For me, it all comes down to revising my life down to the essentials: what MUST be done and in what order. Once I make my list I start to feel better about the mountain of work ahead. With two newsletters, 650 kids to test, 30 total miles to run, four sets of submissions for four publications due, a night class to prep for on Thursday and the aforementioned laundry, dishes, and meals, I'm a little panicked about this week. Plus, I have some great ideas prepped for my novel and I want to finish the first draft as soon as I can, but when can I fit that in? What do I give up? My writing? The laundry and dishes?

I keep forgetting living well isn't all or nothing. I don't have to throw up my hands and surrender the entire week of anything. Instead, I should focus on each day and do what I can then forgive myself the rest. A body can only do what a body can do.

So, deep breath, list out, baskets of laundry ready to go, Garmin charging for my next run, notes for my stories sitting next to my computer, research for Thursday's class at the ready. Zen the days efficiently, Cannon. Smile and enjoy the journey. Pianos don't fall from the sky every day. And when they do, they make for great stories to tell later.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Expectations...Give me an Anvil and I'll Pound in my Head

Trust me, there's no one in this world who's a greater nemesis to me than myself. Oh, yeah, I have people that upset me, anger me, frustrate me, drive me crazy, and often make me question the direction of the human race, but when it comes right down to hate, it's that woman in the mirror who gets the brunt of the blow 100% of the time.

Don't get me wrong. I'm generally a very positive person. Even about myself. I have improved through the years. It's just that I've become so good at self-depreciation through the years, it comes easily and naturally. Especially in times of stress. For me, it's easier to take the fall, take the blame, take the bloody nose rather than try to prove I'm smart and lovable and wonderful...

...because deep down I still think I'm not.

I can think of some off-color phrases my husband, my close friends, and my family would insert right now that are not "G" rated contradicting my belief. I smile and blush and thank them profusely.

So why can't *I* see this? Why is it that we can't see the wonderfulness that is us? As a teacher, I run into the same issue with kids at school. I see their potential, their inner beauty, their amazing nature to learn and see and grow, yet many of them are limited because they think they are ugly and stupid and worthless. I coach them and push them and cheer their every success yet still, in the end, they still believe, as I do: I am not the wonderful person everyone thinks I am.

I think what it comes down to is expectations. We each have a set of expectations that are set based on some ridiculous bar set by society or media or fiction that is unattainable. Don't get me wrong. I believe high expectations gets you great results. But sometimes in the night when all you're left with is your thoughts, those little negative voices, they whisper poison in your ear that is counterproductive. And when you start listening to those thoughts, they start eating you from the inside out. It's a pain no one can see and no one can help you with unless you ask...but how do you express your pain without it sounding like, "Hey, would you give me a compliment today? I'm all about me and you should be, too." That is so not the point.

So when I get in these moods, I remind myself of how hard I've worked to get where I am physically, mentally, and spiritually. Peace doesn't come easily nor does it stay without constant effort. Counterintuitive, but I have found, true. I remind myself of the people around me who care about me and wouldn't STAY around me if they didn't care. What do I have otherwise that they would want? My furniture? Ha! And I also look at my expectations: am I expecting TOO much of myself? Do I need to say "no" so that I can focus and be wonderful at the things I need to do rather than being stressed about the million things I have to be doing?

Finally, I remind myself, I cannot allow myself to be defined by my failures. Failure is merely an opportunity to rise above the shattered remains of the past and grow stronger to face the next challenge. What is past is past. Leave it there.

On to the next revision, then.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reflections on the Summer: Cannon the Crazy Woman

As I pause before the storm of school hits this week, I grow a little maudlin about the passing of summer: I woke up when I wanted, took naps galore, went wherever my heart desired, only got out of my pj's once a week...oh, wait a minute. That's someone else. Sorry. But still, I will miss the freedom I had to create my own schedule and do a number of things I didn't have time to do during the school year.

First, I wrote a lot of stories, articles, and the majority of my second novel. Plus, it was a successful publishing summer as well! One piece in an on-line literary magazine, won an honorable mention in an international flash-fiction contest, three of my pieces will be published this fall in an anthology, and I still have a lot of pieces submitted in "possibility land." Who knew 40 would be this great!?

Our Fourth of July family reunion was lots of fun. Too much food, lots of conversation, a variety of instruments and songs played and sung, and did I mention too much food? My eldest sister and I found an alternate use for the hand-sewn tutus made for the grandkids. The family decided we looked like Thing 1 and Thing 2. Very well then. ;-)

I ran my fastest mile EVER. In the HEAT and HUMIDITY! 8:49! Now, for those of you who know anything about running, I realize that's nothing to brag about at the track with "real runners." You know, those, tall lanky (or short skinny) folks that can run a marathon in three hours or less. Or belt out a 100m sprint in 13 seconds. (If you've never seen that live, you're missing something amazing!) But in three years, this nearly 200 lb. woman (yes, I do weigh less than that but I'm rounding) has gone from a 12:12 mile to an 8:49 mile and I think that's something to be proud of. I'm aiming for 8:30 this fall and a 5k time of 28:00 this fall/winter season. That's AFTER the November 2nd marathon: 26.2 miles of body-jarring, sweat inducing, energy-sucking exhilaration. Do I know how to have fun or what?

I almost had my house clean. I baked cookies, pies, and made real meals a few times. My husband almost recognized he had a wife for a few weeks there. Poor man. He puts up with so much. Love him dearly!

And I also taught a few adult classes out at the CTC. I love doing those simply because I don't have to worry about doing anything but teaching. Enough said.

Here's where I vow to myself to carve out a piece of every day, no matter how small a piece, to write, to revise, to do SOMETHING "writerly" daily. I know I'll be busy teaching, meeting, supervising, and worrying about various aspects of my job and the students I work with. It isn't going to be easy. Nothing worthwhile is. That's what makes everything I do an accomplishment. That's what makes it all worthwhile. That's what makes people stop and say, "Cannon, you crazy woman!" Hehe. Yep. That's me wearing a 5k shirt and a purple tutu on my head. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, August 2, 2013

I Am Borg...The Power of the Hive Mind

For those of you who aren't Trek fans, let me 'splain my title. No, wait. Is too much. Let me sum up: The Borg, in Star Trek fandom, is one of the Federation's ultimate enemies. The Borg is a Collective where no one is an individual. All independent thought is suppressed. The goal of every drone is the betterment of the Collective. A little like a bee hive or ant colony, only focused on universal domination and the destruction of all other sentient and independent beings. (Insert political joke of your persuasion here if you choose.)

But being part of a collective doesn't have to be evil. It can be a good thing. No, no! I haven't gone to the dark side. Even though in the mornings when I run with my headlamp, my beeping Garmin watch, my headphones, my reflective gear, etc. etc. I may look like a cyborg, I'm still mostly human. Mostly. ;-)

Back to the point.

When you work in a critique group or if you ask others to read your work and give you feedback, you are part of a collective. You're putting your minds together and trying to reach a common goal: a better piece of work. It may be your piece or theirs. It may be a piece you're working on together. In any case, as a collective, you have to work together to re-work the writing into a better piece.

There's one thing, though, that we humans often forget when trying to work as a collective: leave your ego at the door. This is for all parties involved. If you're asking for help, read the help with an open mind and realize the comments aren't meant as a personal attack but as a way to improve your work. Conversely, if you're trying to help, make sure you're making suggestions that will help improve the work, not just point out its flaws. And also praise the parts that are good, too.

See how this works?

Years of violin master classes and college critique groups have toughened my skin quite a bit. I can take a tongue lashing (or a red pen lashing, as it were) pretty well. However, I'm not everyone. Some people come out of their first collaboration/critiquing session and swear never to do one again. Worse, they swear never to write again!

So next time you're asked to look at someone's piece and give your opinion, consider this: collaboration is a jeweler's kit, not a jack hammer. Give them gems that highlight the jewelry they crafted, not break the concrete of the foundation they've tried to build.