Precious Things

About a month ago, Kate Bowler published this op-ed in the New York Times, and her question has lived rent-free in my head ever since:

What’s a precious thing in your life that would never be assigned to a bucket list?

I was stunned by the first image that fell into my brain:

It is Fall 1991, and I am walking across BYU’s campus, crunching as many dead leaves as I possibly can. I can’t remember seeing so many different colors of leaves up close—bright reds and yellows with occasional oranges and browns. It’s chilly enough that I’m wearing a coat, with my treasured cassette Walkman tucked into my pocket, listening to a tape my dad dubbed for me before I left Montana. On one side, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and American in Paris. On the other, a lesser-known Gershwin composition titled “Lullaby for Strings.” This precious moment, I’m listening to the lullaby. The cool air, crunchy leaves, and comforting music soaks up my stress and slows my walk. I try to parse out the four different instruments, focusing on a violin one minute, cello the next, but eventually lose interest in tracking the individual instruments and succumb to the beauty of the group.

I could never assign those moments, walking across campus with various genres of music buttressing my homesickness and imposter syndrome, to a bucket list. I could never imagine crafting those exact sequences of moments and saying “This. This is what I want to do before I die.” But they are moments I repeated many times in my three years at BYU that when I think about it, or when I take the time to listen to “Lullaby for Strings,” still fills me with a cozy calm that all can be right in my world.

I love lists of all kinds–read these books, see these movies, visit these places. I feel a such satisfaction when I look at a list and think, “Okay. I’ve experienced these things. This means I have lived.” But does completing any list really mean that I’ve lived?

I’ve been slumpy since the school year started, off my game in nearly every aspect of my life. Many different factors play into my slump, but this week I’ve started to make concrete plans to pull myself out of it. First up?

More identifying precious things. Less living by lists.

A November request.

Nine years ago, Stueve convinced me that the best way to heal a broken heart would be to write. And the best way to get it all out was to just get to 50,000 words in 30 days. As I write that now, I think of the quote attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

I was a little surprised at some of what fell out of my brain during that initial draft, and even more surprised when Stueve thought it was worth publishing.

It took another four years of hard work, but with the help of good editors, we polished that initial draft into something that I still am pretty proud of.

I don’t know if other writers experience this, but there’s a vibe, an indescribable push in my brain when I know I’m ready to write. I’ve tried NaNoWriMo every year since that first book, hoping I would get lucky to end the month with a polishable draft. And every year I have failed.

I think it’s because that vibe just wasn’t there.

About a month ago, I started to feel that push. My brain would start composing while I was driving, doing my hair, or taking walks. So I opened a new note on my phone and started writing down titles, themes.

NaNoWriMo starts in two days, and I have a list of 22 personal essay topics. I might not write all 22, but the ideas are there. I hope as I write them, connective tissue forms, and in a couple of years, I have something to publish.

All this is to say:

I’m doing NaNoWriMo 2020, so if you see me on Twitter, ask me what my word count is. If you notice I’m recently active on Instagram, ask me if I’ve met my daily goal.

And if you are so inclined, feel free to send encouraging messages throughout the month—I know I’ll need them.

But if I text or email back and you think I’m stalling, ask me to share the best sentence I wrote that day. And if I don’t have an answer, tell me to stop stalling and start writing.

Thanks, pals.

I did not write

April 14

I did not write yesterday

And from 10 p.m. until midnight,
I wrestled with my sheets and pillows.

I turned on the TV, then turned it off
Tried three different meditations
Ate some toast
And though tired, could not sleep.

Somehow my alarm woke me
Which means I did sleep
But once awake
I wrestled with my thoughts and feelings.

I answered emails
I listened to podcasts
I ate some breakfast
(and some snacks)
And though full and entertained and marginally productive,
My mind would not settle.

“I must need a break from my computer,” I said.
So I closed its lid
And swiveled my chair to the left
To see the leafless trees and blue sky off my balcony

Too windy to go for a walk, I deduce
(after yesterday’s forays into 20 degree wind chills)
And I lean back in my chair
Mind racing, eyes swimming
When I realize

I did not write yesterday

A Return to Self.

During an appointment with my therapist in early October, I lamented that for two straight months, I hadn’t accomplished anything. Yes, starting a new school year is stressful. Yes, I was managing significant personal turmoil. But wasn’t goal-setting supposed to help me through that? Give me something to focus on, to work toward? Why was I failing?

Her advice: don’t set any goals in October. Just exist. Do the necessary things on a day to day basis, but use October to stop putting pressure on myself to always be working toward something.

I’m a planner, a goal-driven person. So it seemed counter-intuitive. But after a week, I noticed I felt more relaxed. Like I could breathe. So I took October off from the self-imposed expectations, and it really was quite wonderful.

So here it is, November 1, and I’m feeling restored. I feel like I can return to my planning, goal-driven self. Including…

NANOWRIMO!

Wish me luck. I will definitely need it this time around.

A Note about Heartbreak

I told a friend recently that writing and being vulnerable is sometimes like having food poisoning–you know that once you puke you’ll feel better, but you also don’t want to puke. So consider this post as me having a touch of food poisoning. But also, I’m hoping this might be a survival guide for someone else.

Anytime I have my heart broken, I turn to past relationships and try to figure out how long it took for me to no longer be sad, because I just want to stop being sad. But I never do find a conclusive time span, so this time, I tried something different.

I’ve always believed that my heart never fully repairs from being broken; that little shards of my heart will always belong to men I’ve loved. As a visual exercise inspired by Mari Andrew, I realized that’s not fully true. Behold: sketches of my heart from 1991-2019:

This one wasn’t in my book, FYI.
This one took a good three years to heal.
1998-2000 was ROUGH.
This guy.
Look at who isn’t here anymore…

Every time I drew a new version of my heart, I reflected on how much of my heart truly still belonged to these people. I was actually surprised by my 2019 heart–that really, of all my relationships, there’s only two that still hold space in my heart, and that somehow my heart regenerated over the scars of the other breaks.

The other piece that struck me was how much of my heart I still had to give after every heartbreak. When I’m in the middle of it, when I can’t see more than the next tissue before the next tear falls, when I feel actual real pain despite not having any visible bruises or scratches or breaks, I forget that there is still space in my heart to love the people who are still in my corner.

And boy, did those people show up last month.

It’s time for me to get up off the mat. I have big goals for September that I’ll write about another time, maybe. But for now, I’ll just leave this here, and maybe a heartbroken someone will stumble across this someday, and draw iterations of her heart, and realize she will heal and she still has plenty of love to give.