I’m not a great listener. I’m worse at it with family than with strangers. Worse still, listening to my Self. This weekend, I tried a technique Julia Cameron suggests in her newest book, The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention. Similar to The Artist’s Way, Cameron includes exercises to practice the skill as a way to tap into creativity. Being silent. Listening to everything, rather than hearing.
One way to listen to that inner voice is to write to one’s Self, or inner child. I did that on Saturday, asking some big questions I’ve been trying to figure out. I wrote in script form and gave my Self the name of Little Cat, using pink ink with responses in purple.
What am I doing? This is wonky. But, it’s my notebook, I can do whatever I want. I wound up with five pages of questions and answers, dialogue. Some I thought I knew and others I didn’t realize were options. Skeptical during my writing, I had to tell Little Cat to shut up already. Let it flow. Stop and listen. Respectfully. Attentively. Fully.
Today, I continued thinking about my questions. I haven’t returned (yet) to my notebook to re-read answers, but I have the gist. After a conversation, in the silence of my being, they shouted at me. They were whispers on Saturday, but I wouldn’t listen.
Okay, Self, I get it. I’m listening now. Forgive me for dismissing you.
I took myself on a date today. With ideal places still iffy, I took her to a local coffeehouse. She likes coffee. I invited her to bring her journal and she ordered a raspberry mocha. Indoor seating is closed, but the proprietor offered the patio. We accept, walk around to the back, and find a table. We have the place to ourselves. He delivers the raspberry mocha.
I open up to chapter five of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and peruse the exercises at the end. I pick up my pen and start answering the questions, reminding myself to dig deep and be honest. This is our second round with the book. The twelve weeks we started in October 2019 came and went. We worked on morning pages, three days of writing every morning for twelve weeks. It’s become a good habit. I’m still wondering what three pages means if we start with an 8.5 x 11 journal then switch to an A5. But three pages is three pages, sometimes more, sometimes less, but every morning. Mostly. And ideally before we pop into social media, work, email, busy-ness, but that’s tricky with work. Weekends and breaks are best, but we’ve stayed the course.
Besides the morning pages, Cameron also makes us go on an artist’s walk. Once a week, but more is okay. No one else is allowed. No spouse. No kids. No pets. Reeses hates it when we leave without him. No music filled earbuds. Those walks have become our lifeline. We have to listen. Pay close attention to our surroundings. Our inner voices.
The reason for this intervention is to unblock Creativity. I have great ideas. She’s not so good at following through. No time. Self-doubt. Stuck. Getting too old. Needing to tend to the kids first. Working on alone time with the hubster. Alone time with each kiddo. Family time. Cooking. De-cluttering. Work. Self-soothing with too much social media. Lots of self-sabotage.
We’ve made lists of possible dates: museums, an empty church, hiking, a relaxing bath, perusing bookstores, a massage, star gazing, tickets to a musical, day trips, lunch at a new to us restaurant, an art class, hand lettering, hanging out at a library. Artist’s dates are the hardest to schedule. Once a week. Every week. We’re working on that. We need variety, but we’ll take what we can get. It’s usually a walk, hike, short drive, a visit to a coffeehouse, or massage. Our last pre-pandemic artist’s date, just when we were making progress on this new routine, was to the Lone Star ‘Zine Fest.
Today we went to a new coffeehouse that opened about a week before the pandemic shutdowns began. I’m glad they’re still around. Artists’s date for the week is done. I’m glad we spent time together. We need it.
The budget. That infamous budget forced Mom to buy me what I wanted, but didn’t want. If I needed a small bottle of glue for school, she bought the huge bottle to last the rest of the year. When I requested a cigar box to use for my school supplies, she bought a plastic one so it wouldn’t wear out. When I told her I needed a large green eraser, she bought one that was half pink for pencil erasures, and half gray for ink erasures. Who erases ink? I never used that eraser.
This time I was determined I wouldn’t let the budget get in my way. Western Day approached at school. It was the biggest day of the year, bigger than Halloween. Everyone participated in Western Day. I hated it because I only had last year’s pink western shirt with hot pink satin piping around the sleeves and collar. Mom had to hack a foot off the bottom of my jeans for them to fit.
I wanted to look like the other girls. Every year they wore their western hats and Wranglers, plaid western shirts pearl-buttoned up to the collar, and leather belts with their names stamped on them, complete with shiny heart shaped buckles that clasped in front. To complete their outfits, they wore boots. They got new boots every year. I had to settle for my sneakers.
I made up my mind. This year would be different. I owned a western shirt and jeans. I learned not ask about a hat. But boots, oh how I wanted a pair of boots. I imagined my boots, nice and smooth, black or brown—a nice neutral color, waiting for me on Western Day morning. I’d own the good kind, leather boots that creased around the widest part of my foot to fit, molding themselves to fit only me. They wouldn’t sound like high heels—those were too clickety—but commanding, a strong thud that let people know when I walked down the hall. Just the right sound, unlike how sneakers sounded when I stomped around in them or how they squeaked when I dragged my feet.
I needed con Mom into buying me these boots. “Just be patient,” she’d say. That meant no; it always meant no.
Determined to get my boots, I approached her cautiously like a cat approached a foreign object. I purred, “Western Day is coming up and I need a pair of boots. I can wear last year’s shirt, I have jeans, I don’t need a belt, but I need boots. Besides, the weather is getting colder and they’ll keep me warm when I walk to school in the mornings.” Whew! I let it out and she didn’t interrupt me. “I’ve been patient,” I added, letting her know I wasn’t taking no for an answer.
“I’ll think about it,” she replied.
It was better than ‘be patient.’ Progress in the making. It wasn’t a yes or a no, but a maybe. Maybes worked out to my advantage. I pestered her about the boots until she gave in. I felt like two-stepping her to the car, but I didn’t want to make my enthusiasm too obvious. She might change her mind.
We drove to Carmen’s Western Wear. We rarely bought anything here; it was too expensive. They had lots of nice things to look at and dream about. Usually full of customers, there were no parking spaces. Mom parked a little way off, in front of old and grungy J.C. Jones, which sat next to the drugstore. I asked if they were even still in business. I jumped out of the car and made my way to Carmen’s. Mom cut me off.
“No, we’re going this way.”
I looked around. What did she mean?
“The drugstore?” I gulped.
“No,” she replied, pushing the door into J.C. Jones, “they have boots here too.”
Well, I thought, maybe we’ll go to Carmen’s after we’re done here.
I’m nervous. We have one of those busy-ish evenings. Prescription glasses are ready to be picked up before the office closes for the day, but they need to be picked up today for tonight’s orchestra concert. The concert doesn’t begin until 8:00 tonight. Between the glasses, dinner, travel time, getting ready, and arriving on time, it’s takeout night.
Usually it’s a treat. Lately, it’s been a disaster. It happens when I’m hangry. There are days when I skip breakfast, pack a sad little lunch, stay late for a staff meeting, and I’m ravenous when I get home. Takeout sounds like a great idea. I place my order. Everyone else makes their requests and off they go to retrieve the goods. I’m guzzling water to fill me up because if I start snacking to hold me over, I’ll eat too much.
Staying home to get started on household duties that pile up during my day’s absence, my husband volunteers to pick up our order. One night, I order a fancy salad and add a chicken breast for a more filling, yet light dinner. We unpack our food. The chicken is missing. I check the receipt. Sure enough, not ordered. I calm myself down using the strategies we use with kindergartners because I’m about to flat out wail. I find a chunk of chicken in the fridge, add it to my fancy salad, and devour my meal.
On another occasion, I order a burger from one of our favorite burger joint. We have ingredients for burgers, but we have to thaw meat. We’re not feeling the cooking tonight. The restaurant is less than ten minutes from our home. Picky eaters beget odd orders, especially for burgers. I order mine with mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, no onions, add cheese and go ahead and add fries. I’m splurging today. We order with time to get it home in less than half an hour. No need for extra water or snacks.
However, it’s already 6:30. We ordered at 6:00. We should be eating by now. 7:00. Nothing. Hmmm…I message my husband. No response. 7:30. No food, voicemail kicks on. I could’ve already defrosted the meat, made the patties, cooked them, peeled the potatoes and made home-fries. I start snacking, just a little. He’ll be here any minute. 8:00. Another call, still no answer. I’m getting a little worried. 8:20. The delivery arrives, finally. There was a wreck. Okay, I get it, but it was that bad? I didn’t even hear sirens.
We unpack our food. Order number one: burger, plain, with fries. Check. Order number two: chicken sandwich, no pickles, no mayo, fries on the side. Check. Order number three: burger, everything on it, add jalapeños and an order of chilli cheese fries. Check. I’m salivating by now. My stomach rumbles. I can eat through the wrappers. Order number four: burger, dry, lettuce. Fries are missing. That’s it. Forget calming strategies, I implode.
Here I am an adult mom modeling behavior about how to handle not getting her way. “You will go back and get the right order, I’m so tired of this!” I put the brakes on though. Positive energy in (inhale), negative energy out (exhale). Check the receipt. All of the orders were correct. Of course. I went to the fridge, retrieved a block of cheese, found the mustard, and reassembled my burger after I reheating it. My kids share their fries. Two fries from each of them. After I chomped down my dinner, I asked why it took so long.
The burgers were ordered at the location 30 miles away. The wreck was in that direction, nowhere close to where we live. During rush hour.
Let’s order a family pack of tacos and add on the flautas. It’s Chuy’s night this week. Last time we had plenty of food plus extra for decent leftovers. Six taco shells, meat, rice, beans, queso, chips, plenty of jalapeño ranch, salsa, a dozen flautas…I’ll make my own margaritas. This is a great deal and we don’t have to special order anything other than adding the flautas.
Once again, hangry. We order. We unpack our food. Five taco shells instead of six. No flautas. Check the receipt. It’s correct, but we didn’t get our flautas. My husband calls, sorts out the order and goes back for them. I’m on my second margarita. I start with the chips and jalapeño ranch. I stuff myself until the flautas arrive. We serve ourselves cold tacos and warm flautas.
It’s takeout tonight. Again. Check everything before you leave. Unpack all of the food in the car. Check the receipt.
I’m waiting. We had a staff meeting today. Two more hours until the concert starts. I had a sad little lunch. My stomach rumbles.
Years ago I found a book (or maybe the book found me) called Whatcha Mean What’s a ‘Zine? I don’t remember where I found it, but it looked interesting so I bought it. Well, hello, this was the best purchase I had made to inspire kids to write in my classroom. I shared it with my teaching bestie and we came up with a plan. After we both read it and started using them in the classroom, we presented a professional development session for secondary teachers in our district. I was hooked and the kids loved them. This was back in the day when foldables were all the rage.
If you aren’t familiar with ‘zines, they are small, self-published mini-books, or tiny magazines, on any topic. They’ve been compared to flyers or pamphlets that were used way before printing and buying magazines was the norm. Think Ben Franklin’s pamphlets. We liked using these and the students responded well because they’re small and less intimidating than writing on full sized sheets of paper. We had students use them for note-taking, free writing, mini-graphic novels for those who wanted to give it a try, publishing their personal narratives, and even for a variety of responses to reading. In our PD session, our handouts were two separate ‘zines that participants folded with us. They were a hit.
As COVID made its entrance, I became restless. Connecting with my friends on social media was great, but I wanted something different. I wanted connection with snail mail. I posted an invitation for friends to DM their snail mail addresses so I could send them a little something. Unexpected snail mail from a real person is a treat, at least it is for me. Close friends and family whose addresses I already had were default recipients. However, I wanted to reach out to those farther out of my everyday circle: new colleagues, old high school friends, new friends.
I planned to mail a quick note to say hello and sticker bomb the outside of the envelopes because as a true child of the ’80s, I’m a sucker for fun stickers. Then I got an idea. I’d make a ‘zine. I knew everyone was going through tough times adjusting. I’m not a naturally optimistic person, so I decided to make a Little ‘Zine of Happiness and send some happy mail. I created my first (and so far, only) ‘zine that isn’t classroom related.
After I made the original ‘zine, I unfolded it, scanned it, and printed copies. Assembling them was therapeutic. I bought stationery, collected addresses and sent them out. I used all the Christmas stamps I had since I didn’t get around to sending cards, a delayed little gift. I didn’t send them all at once. I’d send out two or three, wait a few days and then send a few more. I made sure to tuck in the little ‘zine.
I received delightful messages from recipients, some of whom snail mailed me back. Many told me it arrived at the perfect time and put smiles on their faces. I left a blank on the cover for personalization. My ‘zinester teacher colleague, now an instructional coach, passed them out to her teachers earlier this year to lift their spirits. That was my intention, to spread joy during a tough time.
More topics roll around in my head for new ‘zines. I even created an Instagram account for people to share there, but it’s quiet right now. I plan to make more, but following through has waned. I’m sure inspiration will visit soon. Feel free to get your copy here and share some happiness.
*This is sometimes referred to as a “smoosh book” or an 8-page book. No fancy tools required. Not even scissors, unless you want a clean line. Video directions for folding are here.