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Gather what you have
and rest when you need to
Description: A time-worn black and white photograph, circa 1962, of my six young brothers and me as a toddler. Not pictured: my younger brother not yet born.
I’m thinking this snowy day about our connections. To family, friends, neighbors. But I’m also thinking about our connections to our past. The people and places and events that, for better or worse, made us who we are today. In my flash workshops, I urge writers not to shy away from the “stuff” that is uniquely their own.
I grew up in a working class family in a factory town in Iowa. I had seven brothers (my brother Tom passed away a few years ago). We were Catholic in a town of seven Catholic parishes and many large families like ours. I was second to the youngest. My older brothers experienced harder, poorer conditions than I did. Six of them lived with my parents in a 450 square foot house that had no shower or tub. They bathed in a tin tub set in the middle of the tiny kitchen.
Things improved for us when my dad got a job at Deere and he and my mother bought a larger house a couple of blocks from the bridge that spanned the Cedar River bisecting the town. Moving day was a Saturday and my dad was offered an overtime shift he couldn’t pass up. So my mom, nine months pregnant with. me, worked all day hauling their bits of furniture and worldly possessions from the little house to the new, very old house.
When she finally got to rest at the end of that long day, my mother immediately went into labor. The story forever to be a part of family lore: “Kathy was born the day we moved into the house on Mullan.”
You have your own stuff: the places you’ve lived, the jobs you’ve worked, the people you’ve met. Every loss, every triumph, every bit of beauty or ugliness your eyes have beheld. Use these. Gather from your past and from the present too. Keep your eyes and ears open. There is inspiration everywhere if you are open and receptive to it. Embrace wonder and awe. Stay curious.
But accept the down times, too. Sometimes gathering takes too much out of us. Our heads are too full, too addled, too worried. There's too much going on in the world or in our small corner of it. Overwhelmed with the world, our creativity shuts down. I’m here to tell you, in those times, it’s okay to rest.
Dear writers, you don’t have to write every single day. Maybe you read somewhere that that is what “real writers” or “successful writers” do. Nonsense. Down time has its value too. And times are challenging enough right now. Don’t put that burden on yourself. If you’re feeling creative, go for it! But if you’re feeling scattered, used up, exhausted, stressed, numb, it’s okay to simply rest and recharge. In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s good for you.
In early 2020, in the first weeks of the pandemic, when most of us were in lockdown, there was evidence that our beautiful planet was responding favorably to the decrease in human activity. If the earth can take a breath, certainly you and I can.
Your “prompt” for today then is to hit the pause button, if only for 15 minutes. Breathe. Close your eyes. Turn off the news. Stare at the fresh falling snow. Let these 15 minutes of your life go unrecorded, un-Instagrammed, un-Tweeted. When you are rested and ready, I promise you, the page or the keyboard will still be there waiting for you.
Take care and be well, my friends. See you in the new year.
P.S. I will be announcing and opening registration for a new round of workshops sometime in mid-January. If you are interested, please sign up for the mailing list on my website HERE.