What I learned from “Groundhog Day”

Sometimes I think about the meaning of life. Really. It occupies a lot of my time.

Friday – undoubtedly because yesterday was Groundhog Day – I started thinking about the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. I had to view it more than once before I realized what it meant. (Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the movie you will be learning some key plot points when you read this.)

Every day can seem exactly like the day before: wake up, get ready for work, sleepwalk through your tasks, deal with annoying people who want something, be disappointed by someone’s response to you. Have dinner. Go to bed. Start over.

And our cynical hero – the weather reporter played by Bill Murray – is (literally) repeating his least favorite workday:  the traditional February 2 spring forecast with Punxsutawney Phil, where he is upstaged by a woodchuck. The day begins with Sonny and Cher on the radio and ends with him trapped by a blizzard he didn’t predict. And as his day repeats, we watch dozens of different scenarios. How many times does the day repeat? Maybe hundreds. He commits crimes. Seduces women by lying to them. Tries to kill himself. And then gradually starts to realize the opportunity to do something better.

With the final repetition, before he wins the girl, Bill gives us a beautiful list for living a fuller life:

Be kind (listen to your friend’s sales pitch)

Be helpful (catch a kid falling from a tree)

Do more (change the flat tire for new friends)

Learn something new (Bill takes piano lessons; learns how to create ice sculptures)

Be creative (see: learn something new)

Be enthusiastic (Bill goes from cynic to participant in the town’s activities for the day)

Keep trying

Which brings me back to the meaning of life: We really don’t know what’s coming. Too often, it’s sad news. Friends and family with illnesses or in accidents. But we have the power to balance out negativity. We can add to the positive forces in the universe and keep growing.

We can try to make the best of the time we have by planning to do all of the things that Bill Murray did. Remember Theodore Roosevelt’s quote: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Learn something new: try something you’ve always wanted to do. Watch a video or sign up for a class at a local community center. Check out the library for free sessions.

Be creative: take time for walking and thinking. Great ideas come to those who listen.

Be enthusiastic: keep an open mind and avoid negative sarcasm.

Be kind and helpful: the people you support might have a better day because of you.

Keep trying. Just keep trying. And so will I.

Weekend writers’ retreat

Last weekend I lied to my family and friends. I told them I was going to a writers’ retreat – a simple excuse to decline theater and dinner invitations (always a tempting and fun use of writing time). In fact, I really was invited to attend a writers’ retreat at a bed and breakfast on Lake Erie. The agenda looked great: a beautiful setting, interesting speakers, optional activities like yoga and hiking, plus time for writing; and all that communing with other writers. Sounded perfect.

But then, I thought about: four hours of (wasted time) driving plus the $300 fee. So instead of going, I created an agenda for a writing-focused weekend and TOLD people I was going to a writers’ retreat. It was also a great excuse to skip laundry and really work on my writing, plus spend focused time reading about writing and taking an online course on screenwriting – in lieu of listening to the speakers at the event.

I wrote a list of potential activities and then developed a schedule much like the actual retreat:

Saturday (also used on Sunday):

Morning yoga stretches (Sun Salutation)
Journal time
Light breakfast

Optional activities:
1) bake banana bread (we had some REALLY old bananas …. definitely wouldn’t make it to Sunday) OR
2) accompany my husband Ron and Dug the dog on their morning walk

Reading time: Vein of Gold by Julia Cameron
Vein of Gold assignment:  binge reading
Writing time
Editing time
Post blog entry (here it is!)
Reading: fiction choice: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan  (the Bowling Green State University alumni book club current selection)
Consolidate notes* (see below)
Review next lessons in Master Class: Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting
Master Class homework assignment Saturday night: Watch movie – take notes

Other optional choices (didn’t get to either of these):
Play music – piano, clarinet
Review TED Talks on writing and creativity (Does Elizabeth Gilbert have one with Big Magic?)

On Friday night I prepared for the retreat:  Instead of time I would have used packing, I went to the gym for a workout. I planned food to make kitchen duty easy for the weekend, and did a little cooking. I grilled chicken and made a chicken pasta salad, one of my family’s favorite summer dishes and great for lunch on a warm summer day.

Saturday lunch included flirting with my husband. “What brought you to the writers’ retreat?” I asked him. He’s been working on a book since NaNoWriMo, and I knew he was planning to spend the afternoon editing. We had a great conversation as though we didn’t know each other and I learned more about his book than I had known.

Sunday’s schedule was harder to manage. I lost some steam and didn’t feel as motivated. But I definitely plan to set up writers’ retreat weekends once a month from now on.

* Note consolidation: I have dozens of scraps of paper with notes including essay ideas, story topics, character concepts, and quotes overheard and written down – from funny comments that people have made to insightful statements, all of which I intend to use as dialogue some day. I have dumped these into a bin for years, and finally spent several hours putting them into several organizational documents: I have a list in word of Blog and Story ideas. I use OneNote to organize magazine article ideas, character sketches and research topics. Goal planning, long-term projects are all in Evernote. I just recently started using OneNote to try it out and actually watched a lecture about how to use it effectively. And since they bought WunderList (which I love and used to pay for), I thought I’d give it a try to see how OneNote will eventually incorporate the functions of Wunderlist. There are so many choices in how to organize notes for writing and I have found it to be so difficult to choose which one is better.)

 

Writing every day is hard

I have spent more time reading books ABOUT writing than actually writing. I have spent hours in workshops and classes, attended conferences and meetings – all in the hopes of being instantly inspired with the perfect idea that leads to a flawless first draft.

Every class and every book has two main messages: 1) If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day.  2) The first draft is going to be crap. (NO. Wait. The first draft is going to need to be edited. There! That’s much more positive.)

I think all writers are victims of other writers’ success. When we read a great novel, we are not reviewing the original draft. We only read published works that have been revised, critiqued, edited and re-written.

OF COURSE the story sounds better in my head than on paper! Did I really think it would be that easy?

Well, yes. Yes I did. So when I struggled to describe a scene or create dialogue or explain a character’s motivation, I gave up. Because I expected it to be easy.  And besides that, sometimes the little voice in my head is a bitch: “Real writers don’t struggle to find the right words,” she would whisper. “Real writers get it right the first time.”

But they don’t! Real writers work, and re-work. They write and edit and revise and re-write. Creativity takes time. And patience.

Writing every day is hard – because progress is incremental and I want MONUMENTAL and IMMEDIATE. In the immortal words of Carrie Fisher in Postcards from the Edge: Instant gratification takes too long.

 

How do you get inspired to take care of yourself?

January 21, 2015
by Melissa L. Weber (@Melwriter)
#YourTurnChallenge Day 3

I start each day with such good intentions: Do yoga! Eat yogurt! Drink eight glasses of water! Go to the gym after work! Some days, I do most of it. This week will be better! (I think that every week.)

The past two weeks we’ve been trying to eat vegetarian. My husband took it a step further and tried vegan and minimal gluten – only cheated a little with eggs. “I’m not dogmatic,” he said. “And I need something for breakfast.” No toast though. And I just can’t eat eggs without toast. I don’t know how he does it.

We spent a bit of time in the organic foods section of Kroger. I like their selection. We are trying recipes I’ve been meaning to try for years – several from Moosewood, a vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, New York. I have two of their cookbooks and last week I made Caribbean sweet potato soup, which was delicious, and Quinoa vegetable soup, also good. Fun stuff. Tasty too. And I’ve been pleased with how good I have felt since focusing on eating better. Our kids even gave us cookbooks for Christmas, so the word is out. We got Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck and Cook This, Not That. Haven’t cooked from those yet, although I plan to. Try every cookbook I own during January and February! That’s not exactly a New Year’s resolution or part of my bucket list – just something I’ve been meaning to do for years. I think it came once from a brain dump.

Have you ever done a brain dump? Take a notebook and make a list of everything you want to do: this year, within five years, maybe 10 years. And not just big bucket list things – everything. I keep multiple lists going so I can add to them. Last year, I created a list of “everything I like to do” from read, dance and nap when I’m tired, to bike, drink beer, and play cards – it has about 50 items. I also have a list of “things I care about most.” This includes issues from global warming and women’s rights to wildlife protection and supporting the arts. I’ve got a list for projects around the house (reorganize the pantry, put old photos in scrapbooks – this includes our wedding pictures. We’ve been married for 17 years. That one hasn’t made it to the top of the list yet. But going to Ohio State football games does.) When faced with multiple choices for my time, the priority is always on “things I like to do.”

How do you get inspired to take better care of yourself? How does feeling better inspire creativity?

Planning for NaNoWriMo

The “National Novel Writing Month” is a speed-writing tactic to write a novel in 30 days. It has a fun 20 year history and has inspired thousands – maybe hundreds of thousands – of people to complete a first draft of a novel. The NaNoWriMo website describes “best practices in preparation.” There are dozens of conflicting suggestions: outlining, not outlining, researching, avoiding research until the editing phase, creating detailed character descriptions, and diving in with no preparation at all. It also says, “choose what is best for you.”

I am a “failed NaNoWriMo.” You have to commit to writing about an hour every day for one month. Some days longer. You need to average writing 1,667 words per day for 30 days to reach the 50,000 word goal.

Why would anyone want to put themselves through this? I can think of two good reasons! First and most important, this exercise requires writing every day – the best way to become a better writer. And because of the speed required to make the word count, there is no time to edit while you write; so it’s a great way to focus on the creativity of telling your story. Daphne Gray-Grant, The Publication Coach, offers a succinct list of pros and cons on her website. https://www.publicationcoach.com/nanowrimo/

I am planning now for 2018 November, the month generally promoted as the time to undertake NaNoWriMo – with 100,000 of your closest friends. If support groups help you achieve more, it’s a great opportunity to commiserate with other people who are attempting to do it too.

NaNoWriMo Preparation, Step 1: Daily writing

For more than 40 years – since I was a kid – I’ve been reading books, taking workshops and classes, attending seminars and conferences, all to learn how to be a better writer. From each instructor I have learned insights, suggestions, traps to avoid, but they all say the same thing: to be a writer you have to write every day.

Writing every day is difficult, but it’s all about muscle memory. Just like music practice – if you want to learn how to play an instrument, you should play every day. All that repetition makes you a musician.

So my first step in preparing for NaNoWriMo is to carve out daily time now – even 15 minutes a day, every day – to exercise creative writing muscles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s important now?

January 25, 2015 by Melissa L. Weber (@Melwriter, melwriter.com)

#YourTurnChallenge Day 7 https://www.yourturn.link/

Our Christmas decorations are still up

Today is one month past Christmas and I’m still looking at a lit tree in my living room. Along with lights on the mantle, a collection of snowmen (and snow women!) on a shelf, a few small decorative Christmas trees, and of course the nativity scenes in the hall and the family room.

We buy a live tree each year – I love the scent of pine during the holidays. (As our oldest son pointed out one year, it’s actually a dying tree, which is a little bit depressing.) This year I welcomed the Frazer fir and actually felt a great deal of affection towards it. I usually put the holiday decorations up in early December and put them away around the middle of January. I typically wait until I am tired of them. I enjoy the process of re-packing and labeling boxes. I  enjoy getting our “normal” decorations out, and the clean, tidy look that the house has after they’re put away.

I am fortunate to live with a man who believes that keeping the decorations up helps make the cold, gray Ohio January more bearable. More important still, I am fortunate to live with a partner who recognized my commitment to daily writing is more important than an arbitrary deadline for a household chore.

For the past seven days, I have committed to producing words for the #YourTurnChallenge and my personal blog.

For years, I have tried to live by the credo made known by Lou Holtz, football coach at Notre Dame and now an analyst on ESPN. The “WIN” strategy: “What’s Important Now?”

So instead of four hours re-packing the boxes today, I made a conscious decision to take care of more important things.

My next question: What’s next – now that it’s my turn?

Have you ever memorized poetry?

(@Melwriter)

There many good reasons to memorize a poem or two (or so I have read). They may provide insight or inspiration, even comfort in times of stress. Of course it’s good for your brain to memorize, also. Sometimes it’s just fun. We had to memorize poems in 6th grade at Urbana Local school. I chose – from a book of silly poems – one of the shortest. I still remember it:

“The Meal”

Timothy Tompkins had turnips and tea.
The turnips were tiny.
He ate at least three.
And then, for dessert,
he had onions and ice.
He liked that so much
that he ordered it twice.
He had two cups of ketchup,
a prune, and a pickle.
“Delicious,” said Timothy.
“Well worth a nickel.”
He folded his napkin
and hastened to add,
“It’s one of the loveliest breakfasts I’ve had!”


And thanks to Google, I now know the writer and at least one source:
From Dogs and Dragons, Trees and Dreams, by Karla Kuskin, Sesame Street, Sept 1984.

How odd that that it says 1984, but I would have memorized it in 1972. Seriously. That’s when I was in the 6th grade.

Lyrics are poetry, so I know that I can remember verse – at least if I’m singing it. Psalms (a book in the Bible) is also poetry. I know many people who have memorized Bible verses. (Probably also a comfort in times of stress.)

There must be a list of “great poems to know” and my next task will be to find it. Let me know if you have any suggestions. I’ll be starting with T. S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

What pomes do you love?

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