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“Sick” Days

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This will not be a rehash all of the blog posts you’ve read about how women don’t get sick days, especially if they’re moms.

This is still pretty funny, though.

The topic of this post is trying to write while staying home with a sick kid. Most writers I know, (know = have read about their writing habits) shut out the world while writing. Some close the door, some play loud music, some claim better writing through the use of biochemistry.

None of these things are possible when you are tending to a cranky kid with a cold. Some will say power down the laptop, take care of the child. Take a day off. And I would, if she needed me to. I’d toss the laptop out of the window if she asked. But she’s engrossed at the moment with Tinkerbell and her vaguely mean girl friends acting out their latest melodrama. Still, despite her interest, it’s taken me over an hour to compose this paragraph, having run to fetch tissues, to take her temperature, to refill a juice glass, and just to check on her to see how she’s doing.

Each time I’ve come back and reread what I wrote and  have thought about it differently. I’ve broken my “hash out a first draft” rule by sneaking in some editing, and changed the tenor of the post twice because my train of thought switched to another track.

I haven’t even tackled any of my science writing yet. I read over an assignment, and the generally familiar and friendly scientific terms look like gibberish.

I recognize that the end of this post “should” read with language akin to “but I know what’s really important in life, and so, I will take that day off.” But sometimes that’s not reality.  Sometimes reality is deadlines. Is not getting paid if you don’t make them, is losing the job altogether. Reality is losing the story if you’re writing fiction.

So I brush up my balancing act, and press on. And kiss my coughing baby. And hope she sleeps.

Written by Jen Szymanski

March 12, 2013 at 11:28 am

Posted in Personal, Writing

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Still Life With Cats

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Written by Jen Szymanski

February 20, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Posted in Personal, Uncategorized

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“Be Kind. It Matters.”

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In late December, or maybe mid, I can’t be certain, as my brain was muzzy with caffeine and wine and cries for rest, I stumbled on a signature in a political forum. I see many signatures every day, attached to text messages, e-mails, posts, status updates. I’m a little fascinated by signatures, and what they say about the writer. Is it a song lyric? A bit of a poem? An inspirational quote from a famous author? Does the sender use it to shore up an image? Advertise a company or brand? Are they talking to the reader, or are they a personal reminder to the writer?

This signature was brief, just four words long:

Be Kind. It Matters.

Each word was capitalized, the formality of correctness dispensed with in order to stress the importance of each term. I read it as a challenge. It made an impression on me, so much that I decided to add it to my outgoing emails beginning January first. Could I be kind, knowing that to someone…it might really matter?

We’re a week into the new year. It’s been harder than I ever imagined, to have to face  that signature, clinging as it does to the bottoms of email replies from friends and colleagues.

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“Be Kind.”

…to myself, to people I don’t normally correspond with, to people who have, in the past, hurt my feelings, even when I don’t feel like being kind or nice or think in my own shallow judgement that they (or I) “deserve” it.

“It Matters.”

…because I don’t really “know” anyone’s thoughts or situation, because I don’t know if someone is ill, or depressed, or hurting, because maybe just someone who is a really good person is  having a really bad day.

Sometimes it’s hard to be kind. Even when you know it matters. I wonder how long I’ll be able to leave it as my signature.

Written by Jen Szymanski

January 8, 2013 at 10:24 am

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Having Difficulty Writing? Good.

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According to many cognitive scientists, accomplishing a task with little money or resources may be harder, but it also makes us vastly more creative. This article describes some of the products of creative people placed in (sometimes deliberately) difficult situations – the Beatles’ Abbey Road, for example.

Is there something to the “starving artist” stereotype?

Fans of J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter series know that she was on government assistance while writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, jotting much of the novel down in coffee shops, finishing it up on a manual typewriter. And then there’s this:

You might have thought any tool which enables a writer to get words on to the page would be an advantage. But there may be a cost to such facility. In an interview with the Paris Review Hughes speculated that when a person puts pen to paper, “you meet the terrible resistance of what happened your first year at it, when you couldn’t write at all”. As the brain attempts to force the unsteady hand to do its bidding, the tension between the two results in a more compressed, psychologically denser expression. Remove that resistance and you are more likely to produce a 70-page ramble.

Rowling’s not the only successful writer to have to overcome obstacles – in this video, Stephen King discusses writing longhand; when Carrie was published, King was working as an over-worked, underpaid english teacher in rural Maine. Rowling and King are just two examples of successful authors who started in imperfect conditions. After some rumination on this theory, I can think of several writers whose work has, in my opinion, suffered after they’ve become famous, though this certainly doesn’t apply to everyone.

Thus the question: do you write better when you have obstacles placed in your way (physical, financial, or otherwise?) Would you ever deliberately make things harder on yourself to improve your writing or other work?

Written by Jen Szymanski

November 14, 2012 at 11:01 am

Nightstand Psychology

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My nightstand as it appeared this morning.

“There’s no place for me to put a cup of coffee.”

I opened my eyes to see my husband standing next to the bed, blue spatter mug in hand. I absolutely require caffeine first thing in the morning, so this was a real problem. Glancing over at the nightstand, I could see he was right. My bedside table is in a constant state of disarray. I ended up having my coffee in the kitchen.

My husband and I have a bit of an Felix Ungar/Oscar Madison relationship when it comes to our respective reading habits. He tends to read one book (usually history or other non fiction) straight through, while I have an open book in every room. He chides me for my inability to use a bookmark, harangues me about the state of the spines of my hardbacks. Having read that your stuff can say a lot about your personality,  I wondered what all those books mean to me, and thought I’d give my nightstand library a second look.

I have my constants, the books that never leave my bedside:

The Bible, and an ancient, cracked Book of Common Prayer; Gladys Taber’s Stillmeadow Sampler; a book of Robert Burns’ poetry in dialect.

I have my literary “To Do list,” the books I want to read next:

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Brave Companions.

I volumes of short stories by Stephen King and Alice Munro, for when it’s time for sleep, but I need that little “reading fix” to relax me.

I have the books that evoke childhood memories: My favorite (and recently deceased) aunt’s circa 1940 copy of Alice in Wonderland.

I have my current read, Chocolat.

What does this say about me, this eclectic group of tomes in hard and paperback, old and new, scattered as they are? I’ve thought about it since that first cup of coffee (I’m on my fourth…it’s Friday, no judgement, please,) and I think the answer is: I like to read, nothing more.

What do you think someone would be able to tell about you by just looking at your nightstand or bookshelf?

Written by Jen Szymanski

September 21, 2012 at 9:10 am

Posted in Personal

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