Monday, May 14, 2018

Should I Cut Corners on Creative Joy?

As readers of this blog may know, my main resolution for 2018 has been to have more creative joy in my life: to be precise, at least 10 hours a month of creative joy, where I have strict rules for exactly what counts toward the total. It can't be just an hour of ordinary joy in doing my ordinary creative work: I have to make some special effort to add joy to the process. This means I can't just write on my couch with my usual hot chocolate; I have to write in a cafe with a friend, or at the Denver Botanic Gardens, or with a special food treat (preferably Pepperidge Farm apple turnovers), or even just with Cool Whip in my hot chocolate or a scented candle burning on my desk. (The  only exception: writing poetry gives me SO much creative joy that no additional infusion of joy is necessary).

Oh, and final rule: I have to have 10 hours every single month. I can't stockpile extra hours in an earlier month to make up for fewer hours in a later one.

Thus far this year, I've met each month's creative joy quota with room to spare:

January: 14 hours
February: 14 hours
March: 15 hours
April: 22 hours - TA-DAH!

But now it's halfway through May, and as of two days ago I had zero hours of creative joy recorded in my little logbook: zero! I had plenty of joy when my granddaughters were here for their ten-day visit, but it wasn't creative joy. And I've done plenty of creative work this month, working on my chapter-book-in-progress (the one set in an after-school comic-book camp), and I experienced plenty of joy in doing it, but I didn't make any extra effort to enhance the joy, so these hours don't count toward my fixed monthly goal.

I found myself tempted to relax the goal a bit. After all, why NOT allow stockpiling of joy in lush months to allow me to take a little break from joy in skimpier months? Why ISN'T plain old Swiss Miss hot chocolate joyous enough? Who makes and enforces these dumb rules, anyway? (Of course I know the answer to that one.)

But then I got a grip on myself: AM I TOTALLY CRAZY??!! WHY ON EARTH WOULD I WANT TO GIVE MYSELF PERMISSION TO SKIMP ON JOY?

So I lit a candle for my hour of writing yesterday. I bought myself Cool Whip; a good dollop of it during my writing time gave me another hour of creative joy for the logbook today. I have a writing date with a friend tomorrow. At the end of this week I'll have a weekend absolutely bursting with creative joy as I'll be staying in a charming cottage at Chautauqua as a faculty member for the Big Sur in the Rockies Children's Book Writing Workshop, which has a good amount of free writing time built into the schedule. I have my heart set once again on meeting or exceeding my creative joy target for May.

No, I should NOT cut corners on creative joy, and neither should you. Nobody should try to rationalize the reducing of joy in their lives. It's fine to cut corners on tedium, drudgery, dreary toil. But when it comes to joy, I'm going to throw my whole heart into every minute of it.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Bookstore to the Rescue!

Yesterday I was scheduled to give a keynote talk at an awards program celebrating the young readers and writers of Jefferson County, hosted by the Educational Nonprofit Corporation, in downtown Golden. Because Golden is so delightful, I arranged to have lunch there first with a children's literature graduate student who lives in Denver; we'd eat on the porch of a restaurant overlooking Clear Creek. Then I'd put finishing touches on my talk at the Golden Public Library, and perhaps write on my work-in-progress a little bit (creative joy!). The keynote address would be at four.

Great was my consternation, however, when I reached the library, stuffed full of yummy lunch and ready to ponder my inspirational remarks, and opened my totebag only to find that I had grabbed the wrong book to read from. I had planned to share a couple of the love poems I wrote in seventh grade (1966), one of which made its way into my middle-grade novel Write This Down, which was published exactly 50 years later (2016). I wanted to encourage these young writers to save their writing - and to see the joy that writers feel in taking their own heartbreak (that boy who spurned my love!) and turning it into art that could be shared with others, even half a century later.

But the book in my totebag wasn't Write This Down. It was Zero Tolerance. Both have red spines. It was easy for a careless person to get confused.

Now what was I supposed to do? Wait! I was in a public library. Maybe they had a copy of my book I could check out? I didn't see one on the shelf, though, and when I checked the catalog, they had Write This Down only as an e-book.

Well, an e-book might work; I already had Write This Down with me, as an e-book, on my phone (I have all the files for all my recent books in my Dropbox). I could read the crucial passage from the book aloud from my phone.

But oh, that is lame, lame, lame! I didn't want to read my book aloud from my phone. I wanted to read it aloud from the book.

Should I drive back to Boulder to retrieve the book from home? That felt like such a defeat.

Wait. . . I pulled out my phone and called Second Star to the Right, my favorite children's bookstore. It wasn't that far away. Might they have a copy on hand of Write This Down by Claudia Mills? Yes, they said. Would I like paperback or hardcover?

Hooray! I leaped into my car, put the address for the store into my phone, and 20 minutes later I had a copy of the book clutched close to my heart.

The talk went well: the love poems were a huge hit, first read aloud from the little notebook where I inscribed them back in 1966, then read aloud from a real, actual copy of the published book fifty years later.

I'm so glad I had my phone with me for calling the bookstore and navigating there.

But I'm even more glad I have a favorite bookstore that could sell me a copy of an actual, wonderful, beautiful, old-fashioned BOOK.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Pleasure of Contrasting Days

Yesterday my two little granddaughters finished their monthly ten-day visit to us - a period of exhilarating, exhausting non-stop activity with a four-year-old and a two-year-old, with me as their primary caregiver. Today begins the monthly twenty-day span of time without them, when I can immerse myself fully in my own work with uncluttered space and unhurried time.

I love both, and I love that right now I have a life that contains both. One of things I loved best about my quarter-century of teaching in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado was having a work life that alternated between time on campus and time at home. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I'd be on campus all day teaching my classes, mentoring graduate students, attending meetings (yes, even that could be pleasant once I learned how to keep my mouth shut and stay out of the fray of academic politics). On Tuesday and Thursday I tried very hard to arrange my schedule so that I could work at home - writing, preparing for class, grading (yes, even grading could be fun with enough tasty treats to energize me).

Now I'm loving the alternating rhythms of ten-days-with-little-girls followed by twenty-days-just-for-me. I value each one more because I know it's finite, although of course everything in this life, for all of us, is fast fleeting. The current arrangement with the girls won't last forever. Once Kataleya begins kindergarten in the fall of 2019, everything will change. I have no idea whatsoever what the shape of my days will be then. So I might as well savor what I have right now even more intensely.

In fact, savoring whatever one has, in the moment when one has it, is a pretty good plan for living a pretty good life.

Here, a few glimpses of springtime in Colorado with little girls in tow.

Touching a "cloud" at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

The view from behind NCAR

At Clear Creek in Golden

Mistress of all she surveys