Archive | August, 2017

Holey Bucket List! When Dreamers Meet Reality

18 Aug

Ah, the infamous bucket list. I’ve never met anyone who’s actually written one down, yet if you ask, just about anyone can rattle off their top five or six items. I believe we intentionally keep our lists untethered. It’s a brilliant system, really. Frees us from commitment and leaves room for updates as our world view and our sense of the ideal experience evolves. When I was a harried young mother, all I wanted was a good night’s sleep and to stay (sans children, of course) in a European castle. I’ve long-since given up on either of those ever occurring. Sleep, to me, is still a mythical suggestion, and most real castles are not the opulent fairytale fortresses of my childhood imagination. They’re cold, damp, and echo-noisy. I truly doubt people sleep in castles, except perhaps the residents of Windsor.

Lately, I’m becoming more aware of The List, whether because we’re free to travel now with the boys grown and chasing their own dreams, or because I worry about the ticking clock, and getting too old to enjoy travel. I think it’s most likely because I’ve become aware of a tiny hole in the bucket, and of the possibilities that have been leaking out. For example, in January, I had to mentally cross off “Drive through the Giant Sequoia tunnel tree” because the dang thing fell over. And this summer I learned that landslides have buried parts of California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway, a drive I’ve never had a chance to experience. They will be repaired, but the new route might not be the same.

trainsigns

Aren’t these posters perfect? The adventure of my dreams!

So, when my hubby suggested taking a train to meet his family in Colorado, I just knew it had always been on my list, and I eagerly accepted. I couldn’t imagine anything more romantic than falling to sleep to the clickety-clack of wheel and rail; quiet dinners for two, whispering to each other as a debonair waiter uncorks the wine; or watching mile after mile of scenic countryside fly past me as I wrote volumes of nature-inspired prose.

Silly, silly girl.

It started off well enough. We stepped aboard the Capitol Limited, a massive steel monster headed from D.C. to Chicago. The porter showed us to a tiny sleeping cabin, helped us stow our bags and sent us off to a fantastic dinner. We ate “family style,” which is train talk for “We don’t have a lot of room, so sit here with your new family.” Not the intimate time for two we’d expected, but okay. We chatted with a young father and his 10-year-old son over dinner while the train wended its way up through the mountains, into Harper’s Ferry and the setting sun.

We returned to our cabin to find the porter pulling out the wee prison-mattress. He turned with a smile and said, “Try to get some rest.”

Not, “Good night,” or “Sleep well.” It’s as if he knew.

My idyllic “clickety-clack” turned out to be more of a “screech, clank, clank, JOLT,” filled with stops and starts, lurches and shakes, and metal-on-metal groaning. All. Through. The. Night.

Good thing I’m not a sleeper.

I hadn’t anticipated how much traveling we’d be doing at night. One bonus to sleeplessness was that I could text my oldest as the train pulled into Pittsburgh around midnight and tell him I was waiving in his general direction. He was up, and we e-chatted as the train chugged through town. I must say, Pittsburgh at night, with its myriad bridges adorned with iridescent lighting, is a sight I’d never expected but am glad to have witnessed. I’d put it on my bucket list if I hadn’t already seen it.

the_steps

Okay, guys…what is this?

We pulled into Chicago for a layover, a story I’ll save for later, except to say I hadn’t put “Stand at the top of Willis (formerly Sears) Tower” on my list. Fortunately for me, hubby had. What a view! Chicago’s Union Station (they’re ALL called Union Station, by the way) brought an unexpected thrill for him when we stumbled across this apparent-bucket-list-item for all men. A simple stairwell, it seemed to me, but to him, you’d think we’d climbed Mt Everest.

Back on the train, this time the California Zephyr into Denver, we again had little time to take in the view before darkness fell. What scenery I did see surprised me, although it shouldn’t have. Early on I recalled the phrase, “down by the tracks” and understood its implications. Once I accepted that we wouldn’t be seeing glorious vistas start to finish, I was able to re-frame my expectations and enjoy the splashes of Americana flying past: junkyards, fancy new windmills, rickety old trailer homes, backyard trampolines, dense foliage, phenomenal murals and graffiti, farm animals, cornfields, and U.S. flags hanging from every possible brace. Glimpses of the hundreds of beautiful stories going on every day across the country. I couldn’t write, because of the jarring train and my sleep-deprived fog, but I enjoyed the glimpses.

Dining remained interesting, despite a menu that never changed. We met new “family” at every meal and swapped tales that our old families have long-since tired of. I found something to love about every guest and every attendant, and more than just their value as future novel characters. Of course, my debonair waiter with the corkscrew turned out to be a series of wise-cracking, overworked servers with orders to keep us moving along. I thought I’d lost my mind when extremely thick-accented Guillermo kept asking if I wanted “basketballs” with my meal. I never realized how much that sounds like “vegetables.” (Go ahead, say it. You know you want to: “You want basketballs with that?”)

trainview

Typical scenic view from a moving train.

The same legs on our return trip took place during the day, enabling us to see much more graffiti and farmland. Still awake, when we passed through Indianola, Nebraska in the wee hours, I used the GPS to tell me exactly where Uncle John and Aunt Peggy’s house was and watched it fly by. It gave me a strange sense of connection—picking out this little home in the darkness, knowing its sleeping inhabitants. (I knew better than to send a text this time).

Romantic? Hardly. Quiet time for two? Not a chance. Writing time? Not a word. But don’t cross Train trip across country off your list too quickly. We had a blast. While our unmet expectations could have ruined the journey, once we reeled in the fairy tale and took the world as it zipped past, we were quite glad we did it.

Will we do it again? I hope so. I’ve heard the train trip across the Rocky Mountains is quite lovely. Doesn’t it sound romantic, flitting through the snow like birds? Enjoying the clear blue skies and crisp mountain air, snuggled in our parkas while Guillermo lights the flambé?

Ah yes, add that to the list.

———–

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. — Exodus 13:21

Secret to Creativity? Shut It Down

5 Aug

Somehow, without meaning to, I took an entire month off.

Nobody was more shocked than yours truly. I can’t remember the last time I did absolutely nothing, if ever, for more than a weekend. I’m usually that guest at the family gathering who keeps stealing away to write, or the one who cancels at the last minute because of an unmet deadline. I take my laptop on retreats.

“Writing IS my relaxation,” I tell the raised eyebrows.

Just over a month ago, I was building writing projects into an upcoming two-week adventure with my husband. I looked forward to the train rides across country to Denver and back, falling asleep to the rhythmic click-clack as the rails ticked by; sitting on a quiet deck at the rental in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, my writer’s brain inspired by the cool breeze and lovely view of Mt Werner; and then a week in the city, sight-seeing by day and journaling each night.

Ah, plans.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although I enjoyed every minute (my next three or four blog entries will catch you up there), I did not work a single minute during that time.

Flash back to the weeks before we left. I’d taken on a deadline-driven part-time job that requires a bit of a learning curve, I had accepted three different short-story assignments (fortunately with August deadlines), and nearly took a fourth that would have been due mid-vacation. I’d also been rushing through some editing projects and wrapping up two book productions, all while our family saw the youngest through high school graduation, an Eagle Scout ceremony, and preparation and delivery to his 7-week camp counseling job deep in Virginia’s woodlands.

Frankly, my brain fried. I began forgetting words, simple words like “mailbox” and “bread,” and resorted to pointing and saying, “that thing.” I’d stop mid-sentence in conversations, wondering where in the heck I’d been heading with whatever ramblings were escaping my mouth. I reached the point where just writing my name felt creative. I worried about my mind, and my work, concerned that I wasn’t giving my customers OR my family the best of me, and with today’s hindsight, I can validate that worry. But I pushed forward, because that’s what I’ve always done.

People count on me; I must keep working.

I felt particularly overwhelmed by snippets of story and blog ideas that tried to surface, an experience that used to thrill me but had begun to scare me, because nothing really made sense or led to a real concept. Knowing I had no time to address them, and no mental strength to remember or even log them in my idea file, I simply let them go. I felt like a mom at the playground, ignoring her kid yelling “watch me!” from the top of the slide.

Just hang in there until vacation time. Then you’ll be freed to think.

But that’s not what happened.

The moment I stepped aboard that train, I stowed my laptop under the seat, where it stayed. I toted it through the streets of Chicago and onto the connecting train, where I stowed it again. It sat idle in the Colorado mountains, in the Denver hotel, and again on the train home.

red rocks

Just a tease. I have so much more to tell you about! 

I tried to feel guilty, I really did. I at least jotted down a few fleeting ideas. But in truth, I enjoyed not concentrating. We hiked a bit, slept a bit, read a LOT, took in some of God’s most amazing scenery, and greatly enjoyed the company of family. (I feel compelled here to allude to our Beers Across the Midwest adventure, but only as a suggestion of blogs to come, and without the words “a lot” because the truth is never quite as interesting as the suggestion…)

In short, I rested.

Self-imposed deadlines passed, yet the world kept turning; words went unwritten, yet my mind filled with beautiful, coherent phrases; tasks I’d considered of massive importance shrank to mere suggestion size. I swept them away with a wave of my hand.

mount evans

More teasing. 14,000 feet up, I couldn’t imagine anything more creative than what The Creator has already given us.

And do you know what? My mind healed. Not completely, but enough so that I noticed my words coming back and that story ideas made more sense. I ventured out of my awkward introvert persona enough to have real conversations with people. Conversations with a beginning, middle AND end.

Back at home, I extended my non-thinking binge until we returned from a weekend trip to pick up Woodland Counselor Boy and deliver him to Middle of Nowhere College, just east of camp. I kept reading lovely words and letting my brain rest.

Sweet Victory!

I woke up this morning ready to go again. My mind is clear, active (in a productive way) and excited about being creative again. This is what a real rest can do.

When did I buy into the idea that pushing forward and staying busy would make me more productive? Obtaining rest between obligations is a concept that goes back to, well, the Bible, in Genesis 2:2, where even God rested. Sure, I try to honor the Sabbath by not working, but I realize now it was more a freedom from doing—my mind never actually took a break. Lesson learned. Getting rest is not about taking your work somewhere else; a true VACATION is a departure from activity. Its Latin root word is vacare, meaning unoccupied, and it’s in the same family as “vacate,” or “empty.”

We were meant to shut down on occasion. Think about it. Fields are more fertile after a fallow period. Athletes perform better after a few days off. Why shouldn’t our brains need the same?

Do you want your mind to be more productive? Give it a rest.

———-

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. –Mark 6:31