My Inner Ninja, Part III: The Numbers or 40 years, 100 posts, 45 minutes

A Milestone

Welcome to my 100th blog post! Thank you, readers, for keeping me going. “Vessel” started in 2010 as a path back into my writing and has matured into a weekly ritual that is now as important to me as exercise, my journal, and the big Vessels, my book.

In Memoriam

Today my Grandma China would celebrate her 85th birthday. She died in January 2004. Gosh, I miss that woman.

A Post

There were times in my life when I could write uninterrupted from nine in the morning until one o’clock in the afternoon. The apartments I rented in El Paso and later, Oaxaca, were suited to solitude and focus.  My El Paso two-bedroom was housed in a formerly glorious red brick building, the wood floors covered in green shag carpet and mint marbled linoleum in the kitchen. The natural wood on the window frames and sills had been painted over in white, so in order to open the windows I sometimes had to scrape paint off the metal latches. My space was on the second floor, right above the landlord who offered me a television each time he stood in my doorway to collect the rent or inform me of an upcoming repair and noticed only bookcases, a sofa, and matching loveseat in my living room. The back bedroom where I kept my writing desk had three walls of windows from which I could stare at the Franklin Mountains, Scenic Drive, El Paso High School, and the grand Mexican flag on the Juárez side of Chamizal Memorial Park. Aside from the maintenance guy whose bigote and hair were dyed the color of a brown leather jacket and who often asked me if I was married (I finally just started saying yes), I had the building to myself most days. Because I was self-employed as a nonprofit consultant and yoga instructor, I scheduled most of my paid work for afternoons and evenings. I had a sweet setup, but even then I was a purist about time. Once a week I taught a morning yoga class at a YWCA. With the commute, the class took at most two hours of my time, but because I didn’t have my full nine to one block, I didn’t write on those days.

Oaxaca was perfect in many ways. The apartment I rented had double doors that overlooked the interior patio of my landlady’s house. The patio was home to an array of houseplants that she cared for with a tenderness I rarely saw her display toward other human beings. As in El Paso, I had natural light, solitude, and time.

Back in my thirties (just trying out the phrase on this, the one-week anniversary of my 40th birthday) I wrote that I would like wisdom to be my weapon. The wise do not fret. The wise live in the present and work with what they have. We have a joke in our house. If any one of us, in a spirit of complaint, starts a sentence with the words “I wish,” Henry or I will say, “I wish I had a pony.” It’s a way of steering ourselves and the kids back to the present, focusing on the circumstances over which we have control rather than those beyond our control.

I wish I had more time. I wish I had a pony.

The wise do not wish for ponies.

The wise follow the advice that author Ellen Sussman lays out in “A Writer’s Daily Habit,” which appeared in the November/December 2011 edition of Poets & Writers Magazine. The good news, according to Sussman, is that I don’t need a four-hour block of time or a pony. I just need a unit or two. Sussman writes in 45-minute units. She disconnects from the internet, sets a timer, and for 45 minutes works on a particular piece of writing. Even when the writing is difficult or painful or like that first long run after a weekend off when it’s all I can do to wheeze along the ditch and if only I could stop and drink some water, even then, it’s only 45 minutes. Then the timer goes off, and it’s time for a break. Sussman recommends 15 minutes of genuine break from the work. She says to get up from the writing desk even if you are mid-sentence. Since adopting the unit system a few weeks ago, I have used my breaks to walk around our yard, do sun salutations, shower and dress. I try to do something physical that gets me away from the computer and in my body.

15 minutes is magical. It’s enough time to eat a snack or get a refill on green tea, but not so much time that I forget how I wanted that sentence to end. When the alarm signals the end of my break, I go back to the writing and pick up where I left off. More than once, I’ve gone into the studio with the intention of writing only one unit, but built up enough momentum to keep going after the break. When the break ended, I wished for more time. Then I sat down, set the timer, and seized it.

Published in: on February 14, 2012 at 5:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

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