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Sideways: Embracing interruptions

One of the joyous frustrations of being a freelance writer is the unpredictable variety.

I never know if I’ll be writing about money, or toilet installation, or chickens, or veterans, or crows, or . . . the list goes on. I never know when I’ll receive the last-minute phone calls. I get up in the morning with plans in place to do something and then BAM, the phone rings. My whole day gets knocked sideways.

That joyous frustration happened yesterday when all the things I’d planned to do and write about got swept off the table.

Joy comes from learning about new things all the time. I am so lucky to never feel like I’m in a rut. I get paid to write! How great is that? Still, sometimes I grit my teeth. It makes it difficult to plan. And if you ever drop by my house and see dust on the furniture, now you know why.

Another joyous benefit of my freelance writing career is the reading I do on many topics. Years ago, one of those reading stints led to me this best piece of advice:

Embrace interruptions.

When I’m writing, I focus. I dive deep down into a well of creative thought and if someone speaks to me I need to swim my mind up through sludge to the surface again. I can practically hear the murky bubbles around me.

Interruptions used to drive me bonkers.

Now I tell myself: There is a purpose behind this interruption. How does it benefit me?

It gives me a chance to get a drink or go to the bathroom. It makes me notice the typo I overlooked before, once I settle back into place and look with refreshed eyes at the work I’ve done. It gives me an extra 24 hours to write a blog post.

Interruptions come in big and small sizes too.

There’s the simple, “Mom, are we out of milk?” kind of interruption, and then there’s the, “You need to take this. I’m afraid there’s bad news,” kind of phone call that knocks a life sideways for weeks, or months, or years. The big ones are harder to embrace, but perhaps it’s even more important to look for the gifts in those doozies.

There is a purpose behind your interruptions. How do they benefit you?

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Align with the flow

When the universe sends you exactly what you need, why would you say no?

Anne Lamott puts life on the page in a way that resonates with people and makes them feel that their own messy life is really not so messy. In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, she writes about an experience that reminded her to align herself with the gifts of the universe—in writing and in life.

She received a call from New York. A producer wanted her to fly in, do a talk show and then return home again. Of course, she wanted to do it, but the complications involved made the enterprise seem impossible. She had to consider arrangements for her son, the flight times didn’t mesh with her schedule, and she had to return in time to lead a workshop in two days. Gifted with the ability to conjure the worst case scenario, she imagined plane crashes and madmen with Uzis. She fretted.

That day, she had a meeting at her church. Throughout the meeting, she lost concentration on the discussions as she filtered through every possible disaster. On her way out the door at the end of the meeting, she paused when she saw a little prayer book on a shelf. She picked it up, stuck it in her purse and headed out for dinner. She wrote:

“All the way to the hamburger joint, I worried that I would be involved in a car accident and the book would be found on me. My survivors would know I had finally snapped, that I had become one of those fundamentalists who think the world is going to end tomorrow right after lunch. I made it to the restaurant, though, and when I sat down, I took out the little book. I opened it before I got it out of my purse so the cover wouldn’t show, as if it were the rankest sort of pornography, like Big Beautiful Butts of something.”

When she started to read she knew why she had picked up the book. This beautiful quote reminded her to relax and allow the flow:

‘The Gulf Stream will flow through a straw provided the straw is aligned to the Gulf Stream, and not at cross purposes with it.”

Anne Lamott read a quote that reminded her to stop working at cross purposes with the universe, and she in turn reminded me to align with the flow.

I hope this post passes the favour on to you. 

How the universe answered my request for perseverance: Fun.

Photo courtesy of RozSheffield from Flickr

Photo courtesy of RozSheffield from Flickr

Have you ever had an unusual and timely answer to a plea or question?

I spent the weekend at a Healing Pathway workshop. During one session, I had to ponder an intention. It didn’t take long for mine to bubble up.

I needed a push to persevere.

Being a writer isn’t easy. Every day I receive feedback from someone about something I’ve done wrong. It could be as simple as a misplaced comma or as a grand as a challenge to my central theme, but no matter how large or how small, every negative comment dents my armour. Most days I’m strong. I accept it as part of the job and use it to better my work. But every once in a while, all those dents blast a hole. When feedback tells me, over and over again, I have failed in some way, or my writing is off target, or “not what we’re looking for,” or just plain “not good enough,” I wonder why I do it.

In my daily life I get paid to write in a corporate environment. I’m not passionate about the subject for which I get well paid. I am passionate about my creative writing, though. My short stories and my blog stir my blood—and garner very little financial compensation for me. Lately, that frustrates me. I’m supposed to follow my bliss, right? All the self-help gurus say when you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, money flows to you. Why the disconnect? What gives?

What. Is. Up. With. That?

I carried my frustration and discouragement into the weekend. Why bother with all this creative writing? Life would be so much easier without it, really. I said to the universe (or God, or whatever you choose to call that mystery we’re all trying to figure out): “What do you have to say to me about perseverance?”

At the end of the day, I climbed into my car, turned the key and the song “Carry On” by Fun. blasted out of my radio.

Let it never be said that the universe doesn’t have a sense of humour.

My favourite line from the song: “May your past be the sound of your feet upon the ground.” What a profound, inspirational blessing. The line fires me up and rekindles my spirit. In ten years, or 20 years, no matter what happens, I hope to look over my shoulder at the past and listen for the sound of my feet upon the ground, step by step, going somewhere, taking action, doing something, trying. Persevering.

When did our writing lose its charm?

From my hometown newspaper, October 1936:

“On Sunday afternoon an automobile full of young men, who were evidently full of something stronger, disturbed the quiet and decency of the Village Sabbath-keeping by halting before one of the places of business and proceeding to dance the Charleston to the noisy accompaniment of cheers and shouts. It continued for some time, increasing in noise as the dance progressed.

A citizen, who objected to the disturbance and desecration wrote down the number of the license plate. As soon as this was noticed, the party brought the dance and shouting to a speedy ending and with no furthur waste of time boarded their car in haste and were gone.”

The passage makes me smile. I envision the scene so clearly, and I empathize with the young men enjoying a rowdy afternoon in the middle of the Great Depression. How they must have needed that joyous release.

But the charm of the writing really warms my soul.

Would we ever read the phrase “full of something stronger” in news today? Or “quiet and decency of Village Sabbath-keeping?” The paragraphs break all kinds of writing rules followed by journalists today. A news story covering a similar event today would be soulless and half the length.

We can’t claw back the advancements of time, but occasionally we can dip into the past to revisit the charms of the era. And maybe we can inject just a little of that character into our lives here and there.

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