Writing the next step…

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Last week, I woke up ridiculously early, slipped on a Hope College Alumni sweatshirt, and started writing my personal essay for my low-residency MFA creative writing application. It’s currently in an embarrassing, jumbly state, but it’s a beginning. Next step: finish editing the manuscript essays — I need a range of 20-30 pages, depending on the program. I am close to that page count with two or three essays, but each needs a lot of slice-and-dicing.

All of that to say: ten years ago, I decided against graduate school because I wanted to live a little first. I was burnt out from words and workshops, and not even sure of myself as A Writer. But my writing has slowly started begging for this next step, and it’s about damn time. That morning, I was tired, but writing felt so good.

While writing that morning, Farhan woke up and said it was “still sleeping time.” And then asked me to build a Lego airplane from three pieces in his hands. I did, and he zoomed it around the attic studio. This is what an MFA program will look like for me: waking up before dawn, writing until the kids wake up, then breakfast before we rush out the door to school and work. Rinse, repeat.

I’m ready.

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Lunch workshop with my friend Nell earlier this spring.


One of my favorite poems, “How These Words Happened,” by William Stafford, has helped nudge me out of bed (ok, so it only took three years of being taped to my office wall).

Each time I sit down to write, it’s part of a litmus test I’m giving myself: can I discipline myself to write while the kids are sleeping (well, quiet time usually doesn’t involve sleep for Sofia and Farhan, but I can still hope!)? Can I pay attention for any particular essay long enough to not only write the first draft, but edit and revise, too? Some days it’s simply, can I put away my iPhone (games, Instagram, whatever) or ignore the laundry long enough to get a few lines done? If I can do these things enough times to produce an MFA application, it helps give me confidence that I might actually be able to sustain work during the actual program, too.

There is also a whole lot of “what the heck do I think I’m doing!??” in there. Some of this is the usual self-doubt, but there’s also the reality of my busy life with three small kids and a full-time job. But I finally realized that I can’t keep putting this off — there will always be a reason to delay, and I’m not getting any younger. So, I’m doing this madness. I’m taking my own advice to students at Sweet Briar: that cumulative effort adds up, to do a little bit each day toward a larger goal.

Here goes…

Wishful thinking

Hannah and mama in Asheville, North Carolina, this past September. I can’t remember if my brother or husband took this photo for me, but think it was my bro. Either way, I love this moment! And look, traveling with my kiddos! ❤

Every now and again, I try to revisit my list of life goals. Some I’ve managed to cross of, even wild ones like “Visit Cuba.” Others are still languishing in a teenager’s dreamy journal, like “write a novel,” or “be on stage with the New York City Ballet.” And while I haven’t ruled either of those out (though I doubt I’ll be the one dancing if the second ever comes true), I’ve had a few new ones kicking around lately and thought I’d share them here. Most of these are just lifestyle goals I’ve thought a lot about in these first few months of 2014, not events or projects, and there’s no rhyme or reason to their order here. Here goes:

1. Write a little bit every week.

I’ve learned that daily is probably unrealistic right now, with little kids who sprout teeth in the middle of the night, and work in general. But weekly is doable, and I think if I can do that regularly, I can build up to daily writing.

2. Mail something hand-written every week.

Again, not daily, or even an expectation of a letter. But slipping something in the mail that’s been hand-written and hand addressed? I think I can do that. I’m currently buying and trading pretty fabrics as part of my babywearing hobby, and I try to include a little note with each one that leaves for a new home.

3. Learn Adobe Illustrator and expand my graphic design knowledge/portfolio

This has always been a hobby of mine, beginning with “books” I created as a child and continuing with my high school’s literary magazine and yearbook. I learned design on Quark and feel very comfortable with Photoshop and InDesign, but feel pretty clunky when it comes to Illustrator. I know my way around the software on a very basic level, but can’t make a vector drawing from scratch, and I’d like to be able to do that. I have a few paintings and doodles I’d like to digitize, and besides that, I would love to be able to work with original art instead of relying on stock vectors all the time.

4. Travel with my kids.

At the pediatrician’s office today, I explained what the Grand Canyon is and where, thanks to a mural that intrigued Sofia. I remember road trips to Tennessee or Miami with my family. If we could afford it (or if we can save up for it!), I would love to take them to Europe before Sofia graduates high school. I want my kids to be global citizens, and to understand that the world is more than America. Though, as I wrote that, I realized perhaps my half-Pakistani, quarter-Cuban and British-American kiddos will have a decent grasp on that fact.

5. Take better care of myself.

I’m falling into the mom trap. I leave the house with wet hair and no makeup most days. Now that Hannah’s nearly a year old and we’re sleeping better at night, I’d like to take a few more minutes each morning for myself. But more than that, I want to do the same thing at night. If I don’t make time for me, if I go straight from washing dishes to bed, I feel more stressed in the morning. Exercise fits here, too.

6. Go to more concerts.

I’ve missed this! I guess I probably go as much as is realistic with toddlers and work obligations, but I don’t want to forget the feeling of being in a crowd, getting lost in the sounds of a favorite band performing live. I’ve built up a pretty exciting list of incredible live concerts so far, from U2 to Gin Blossoms to Sufjan Stevens, and I never want to stop adding more to that list!

7. Go camping and rock climbing.

This one is surprising for me! But I had the chance to go camping for a couple of nights with a Sweet Briar trip, and fell in love again. We used to go camping as kids, and it had been nearly two decades since the last time I slept outdoors or ate a meal cooked around a campfire. I also tried rock climbing outdoors with the group, which was a first and I loved it! I’m hoping to blog about the experience, but suffice to say it was incredibly fun and surprisingly empowering!

edited to add: 8. Share more photos, ha!

I was about to share this post, and realized that, once again, the photographer has no photos to post. So I’m digging back and adding a photo of Hannah and I in Asheville last September. I was so inspired by the blog post that went around a couple of years ago, The Mom Stays in The Picture, and have tried to set aside my own self-consciousness and make sure to be in more photos with the kids. And so I’m taking it one step further: share more photos of me with my kids, instead of waiting until I have a thinner body/better haircut/etc!

I am stopping here for tonight, but will keep adding to this list, and I’m hoping to dig out the original list to see what else I’ve accomplished in the past couple of decades. Writing them down always feels good, and I’m surprised sometimes at what I accomplish later in life that I’d forgotten was important to me at a younger stage.

Feel free to share your own new goals in the comments — especially ones that surprise you!!