How to Write More: Insomnia and a (non) Tuesday Tribute

Insomniac Bears

Image courtesy of Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig: https://flic.kr/p/aUMTi8

Tuesday Tribute: Insomnia, and Two Months of Life

Here’s a new Tuesday Tribute for y’all: Insomnia. How it can be a muse and a curse, rolled into one.

It’s common that people with problematic insomnia stress about the insomnia itself. Because my insomnia is typically sporadic and directly tied to psychological background noise, it’s less of a worry that “I’ll never sleep a full night again!” or “I could never survive the next few months/years like this!” Because I am a general worrier, I can see how that kind of insomnia about insomnia would be terrifying. For now, it’s a muse and I’m using it. Writing can flow with more guts and insight when in that 5 a.m. wired state, watching the slow glow of the pre-dawn sky, keyboard tap tap tapping away.

This is why I find myself up at 4 a.m. on a night that I really needed sleep, itching to ruminate and write and pay bills and get stuff “done”. Marking off the checklist for the next few days. Googling for things that stressed me out enough to wake me up. Writing a blog post, this one right here, posting it before too much editing will get in the way of the flow.

Image courtesy of Fairy Heart: https://flic.kr/p/a2pCgZ

Image courtesy of Fairy Heart: https://flic.kr/p/a2pCgZ

I’m shocked to see that my last iteration of the Tuesday Tribute series was a whole two months ago. For that, I apologize. I’m personally both flummoxed and OK with how fast those two months have gone. Time in general speeds up as we age, most often it seems when we are trying to get things done or figure out our whole tangled lives or something profound in that regard.

And yes, I’ve been figuring out that tangled stuff for quite some time now, with the snowball finally rolling over me about two months ago, taking me along in its wake. Of course, it was a snowball of my own creation. I am the the one who makes snow. I am that thing that makes it possible to ski in New Mexico in November. I accept this, philosophically and metaphorically.

iamtheonewhomakessnow

I like quietness. In my head, typically. I used to think I liked it in my heart, too. Not too many complications, not too many things external to me to rely on or need to worry about. It’s part of why I don’t have kids – I would probably make a good parent but dear GAWD the pressure and stress and all that would drive me to either really screw them up or just put myself into an early health decline from all the freakouts in my own head. If nothing else, I think to not screw up a child in my care I’d have to meditate about 2 hours a day. I wonder how many parents attempt to modulate their own stress directly in that manner – with mindfulness and calm – rather than just suffer and slog through it, sleepless and stressed.

The quietness in the heart? That’s something I question lately. Perhaps that’s a midlife crisis sort of thing – the slowly awakening realization, sometimes over years, that you just might want to crank up the volume knobs on one’s own experience – not just the good and the not-so-good but rather the extremes of AMAZING and (potentially) DEVASTATING. Or, perhaps the midlife crisis so enmeshed in our culture is not so much a volume adjustment as it is a swap out of the walkman constantly strapped to your head for a window-shattering car stereo you can ride off with into the sunset. Or some B.S. analogy like that. I apologize. Usually my analogies are way better.

So here’s my real Tuesday Tribute, posted on a Wednesday but thought up the night before: my own insomniac muse. May she continue to spur little writing jaunts, bursts of productivity, and displays of heart-on-sleeve that seem to only result in long-term good in my life. Cheers to the muse.

2014-11-03heartonsleeve

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Tuesday Tribute: Erika Napoletano

Today’s Tuesday Tribute is Erika Napoletano. There are a lot of ways to summarize her personality, from ass-kicking public speaker, motivational coach to Gen X laggards like myself, esquisite and judicious potty-mouth, and heart-forward strong woman.

Erika doing something she does really well - not having a lot of f*s to give.

Erika doing something she does really well – not having a lot of f*s to give.

Technically, including Erika is a little bit of a cheat – I actually have not met her in person, but we have conversed over email and I’ve devoured much of what she’s wrote in the last 6 years.

So, who the fuck is she? (Yes, for this installation I’m bringing out the bombs.) Her bio lists off her attributes: the things she can do for her clients like get people UNstuck in whatever thing their life is presenting, her choice in bicycles, her appreciation for warm coats in Chicago winters, and her published works both online and in hardback.

BUT. To me it is the last bit of her About page that is actually important and what makes her work so useful:

And she is happy.

Ridiculously happy.

Because it is happy people who ooze that juju out of their pores, out of their sparkling eyes, out of their manners and way of speaking. Watch her TEDx talk in Boulder. At the end she does a spontaneous victory dance – the only indication in the whole video that she was terrified all along.

How do people become happy? That’s a ridiculously difficult question that occupies many a writer and thinker. Many people seem to have a default happiness “set point” that they come back to even after periods of trajedy or prosperity – that is, if you lose your job you’ll come back to the same level just like you will if you win the lottery. The “amount” of happiness that set point represents varies from person to person. But that doesn’t mean you are doomed to your default level – I believe that a measure of grace and happiness can grow from terrible loss. We all know someone who only really started living after their cancer diagnosis or scare.

For Erika, it was the death of a new love, a potential soul-mate, if you believe in such things. When she first met him, he was a fan of her work and they became quick friends. Then, she says, “And that night, a friendship began that grew into something I never expected: the beginnings of a relationship where I never had to be anything but myself.”

Jason died four years ago, on Halloween, after two months of joy building that relationship with Erika. Two months. But here is why Erika is here on this post – it is what she did publicly – the very next day, in fact – when it happened. She ripped her heart open bare on her blog, grieving in real-time for the world to see.

Today is day one. Tomorrow is day two. I’m scared shitless of days three and four. Five is horrific. Six – incomprehensible.

She had nothing to lose and – perhaps – had a glimmer of a thought that in the long-term this kind of vulnerability would help someone who chanced into reading it. She was right about that, even for people who didn’t suffer as deeply as her. I felt sorrow reading her Jason story, even though I’ve never lost someone in that way. It drew me in and added to the respect I’d already built for Erika’s work.

That’s why I chose her, this week. She along with writers like Brene Brown and Ella Francis Sanders and Cheryl Strayed (in her Dear Sugar days) are all trafficking in pure openness of heart. You gotta love that.

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**Tuesday Tribute is my way of showing off the women in my life who have done something to influence me for the better, through direct advice, great example, resilience, strength, bad-assery, or any number of things. Almost every week. Always Tuesday.

Tuesday Tribute: Carey Smoot

Tuesday Tribute: Carey Smoot – lover of life, cheese, islands

Part of a Carey selfie

Part of a Carey selfie

“Did I ever tell ya about this guy I met with the Cuban restaurant?”

“Did you know that the cheese at XX restaurant came from XX weird country?”

“I’m so busy – I have so much to tell you!”

Not long after I met Carey, she began to bombard me with every little interesting thing going on in Albuquerque’s restaurant scene. It was dizzying and awesome. Who was fired, who just opened a new place (and if it sucked or not), which place was doomed…. it’s just her nature to be gregarious while cultivating a wide network of friends. Carey has had her hands in the local food scene for many years – everything from her own gourmet shop to cheese distribution to burger joint mastermind to French pastry seller to chocolatier‘s administrator.

Carey is one of those women who is instantly on your radar, usually in a fabulous way. She’s blunt, energetic, and enthusiatic. She’ll tell you about her drama-filled family shenanigans, point out that you have something in your teeth, and then reach into her purse for the gift she couldn’t help but get for you, all while asking if you’ve had the sweetbreads at some new place in the North Valley.

How did I meet Carey? That’s a story I’m racking my brain trying to dig the nuggets out. Was it email? Possibly. Was it before she opened her amazing Downtown Grocery store (which lasted only a few years before vanishing into the local food nostalgia-sphere)? It doesn’t really matter how we first met. Our friendship is punctuated and enduring. Lately we seem to meet up for an overly long lunch or social hour at least once a year, but boy those months go screaming by.

 

She’s been through a lot – with her spunk and experience you can’t really avoid a vibrant life – but nothing is as interesting to her as what’s next. Plans are her thing, and boy does she have some awesome ones that involve building and travel and new places to live. She’s an island fan, so I’ll leave it at that.

Here’s to a lot more years, and many more three hour lunches.

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**Tuesday Tribute is my way of showing off the women in my life who have done something to influence me for the better, through direct advice, great example, resilience, strength, bad-assery, or any number of things. Every week. Every Tuesday.

Tuesday Tribute: Mina Yamashita (RIP 2013)

Tuesday Tribute #8 (because 8 is a lucky number): Mina Yamashita

Mina around 1970

Mina around 1970

This is an overdue Tuesday Tribute. I missed a week, thinking about writing this and how to broach the topic.

I wanted to write it now, because this past Friday was Mina’s birthday. But here’s the thing. There is no way I can do Mina justice. I’d have to write a whole book and then it would not be enough, not by far. Maybe there is a perfect haiku to summarize her spirit, but I don’t know it. I’ll write a little bit about her, now, here, but she might make another recurrence in my lexicon of Tuesday Tributes.

She would have been another year older, another year wiser, another year sweeter.

She was a designer, a writer, a food lover, a cook, a friend, a preserver of vegetables, a book binder, a gourmand of all good food, and great at everything she did, whether personal or professional. She was a close friend to hundreds of people whose lives she crossed in her time.

I started writing to Mina sometime around 2009, when she popped up on my radar after starting reviews for the Alibi. She had no idea who I was but I figured since her writing was engaging and knowledgable that she must be cool. I made assumptions, like we are want to do, that she was a young-ish woman (like myself), possibly Asian but possibly using a pen name (like myself). I was totally wrong – she was an experienced opinionated woman around the same age as my parents.

Mina had an amazing life. I’ve heard a few stories out of her own lips about her early days in New Mexico and how she acquired her name (it wasn’t her birth name) from some guru in Santa Fe.

She introduced me to a few things that continue to help me in my own (very Gen-X) self-searching attempts, but the most important was just her LIFE. She didn’t take bullshit from anyone, she did what she wanted, she worked on big projects, and she was actively working on new endeavours with all the enthusiasm of a 25 year old up to the week of her death.

There’s so much crap that we Gen X’ers do to ourselves in our own heads – “who am I?” “what’s this life thing for?” “am I doing enough” – and having someone like Mina in your life helps clear through that clutter. In the end, that crap about doing enough and impressing the right people – it’s all crap.

Mina Yamashita was an example to everyone she touched on how to look at living.

Mina at Los Poblanos, "there's a what? where?"

Mina at Los Poblanos, “there’s a what? where?”

P.S. About “TUESDAY TRIBUTE” and the why: a few weeks ago my mind went off a-wandering during my run. As it often does, it strayed into the realm of wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if ideas. Ideas like memes and tributes. It is refreshing to see gratitude posts directed at a certain person or community, someone that made a difference even if they didn’t know it. I thought about those 52 week challenges to leave little notes for strangers or smile more. I decided on a new challenge for myself: I will take every Tuesday to highlight someone from my life, past or present, who has changed my outlook, nudged the course of my life, or given me reason to make a positive change.

There are only two guidelines: First, I must have interacted directly with this person. Authors or public figures that have had positive effects in my life are not candidates if I do not know them well enough to call them an acquaintence. Second, those I choose to highlight are in no particular order. There is no implicit hierarchy or chronology. 

Tuesday Tribute: Gretchen Dudley Wolfmeyer

Tuesday Tribute: Gretchen Dudley Wolfmeyer

That's the smile. See what I mean?

That’s the smile. See what I mean?

In a way, this is not only a Tuesday Tribute but a “throwback thursday”, because this week’s story was one of the highlights of all of my weeks during junior year of high school. I only wish I had some photos from that era…. somewhere in a box, I suppose.

This had to have taken place junior year because pretty much everything I remember that was awesome about high school happened that year. I could drive (though I had only periodic access to vehicles); I started a new/awesome/serious relationship; I had tons of friends in the SENIOR class. Whoa. And the reason I was friends with many of them was through DRAMA – something I never took to and thus it ended for me after high school. But that fall, we did Jesus Christ Superstar and whoa was it fun. The energy of a production is crazy – frenetic and happy and stressed all at once. You’re busy for hours into the evening after every school day. Everyone is tired but excited and the camaraderie is intense – maybe even more than in sports.

That all being said, it might have been one night after rehearsal that I gave Gretchen a ride home. I recall it being cold because the car took some time to warm up. We had gotten into a conversation that I’ve long forgotten but it was VERY IMPORTANT. I only know that because it was one of those should-stop-too-tired-can’t-stop-too-interesting discussions, the ones that lead you to keep the car running because you think you can wrap it up in a few minutes, and then it’s 20, and then half an hour, and more…

Something Gretchen and I were talking about was awesome, and I wanted to keep it going. That’s all that matters.

I remember how I felt about her in high school, how she was just a bit more of everything that was cool to me. We traded back and forth with several others in the circle a stolen Heathers VHS (stealing? me? how rebellious!). We went to a pizza joint in town and had “usual” orders (spending money for prepared food? preposterous!). We bought KMFDM and Greenpeace t-shirts and wore both with equal pride. Gretchen had (and still has) a smile capable of powering a Tesla and a kindness that radiates from her pores.

So this is for Gretchen, who changed me by showing me that being a little bit of a rebel could coexist with being a happy and generous person, and that burning a little gas to keep one excellent conversation going in the dead of winter is an OK thing, too.

[this is also a sort of Tuesday Tribute to the memory of Robin Williams, and Gretchen knows why. I love you, sweetie!]

Tuesday Tribute: Jamesina Simpson – engineer, mom, runner

I’m back with another Tuesday treat, your current Tribute of the week. This one comes from a close personal connection – my sister-in-law, Jamesina.

TUESDAY TRIBUTE: JAMESINA SIMPSON

Part of Jamesina's herd - the kid, the dog... all perfectly under control

Part of Jamesina’s herd – the kid, the dog… all perfectly under control

She’s a PhD in Engineering, a university professor, a sub-3 hour marathon runner, and, perhaps most potently, the wife of my brother and mom to my niece (soon to be 2nd niece!). But there’s a lot more going on – things that have taught me much about myself and how to interact better with other introverts. You see, I’m a shitty communicator, make no bones about it. I’m like Sheldon without the witty t-shirts. When I want to talk about something, I do. When I don’t want to interact on a subject, I don’t. I, in general, have not been communicationally housebroken.

When I first met Jamesina, she was hard to read – quiet, reserved, but serious. She and my brother hit it off immediately at a party we all attended and alighted off to chat alone after I tried to occupy the conversation with talk about running. I was jealous of his time, of course – he had only recently “finally” moved to New Mexico and I was enjoying getting to spend time growing our post-college sibling friendship. On the other hand, Jamesina was really exciting to me – we were both geeky, quiet, and runners. We did training runs together that proved to be key in my own brief road racing stint – easy runs to her, but crazy hard tempo pace for me. It was perfect. She also got me into Bikram yoga (which turned into hot flow yoga), a habit that lasted three years and gained me literal balance that I still retain.

Then there were her life accomplishments: the PhD, a professorial position before 27, a house before 25. Yowzers. Oh, and we both loved Greg. This couldn’t go wrong! Yeah…. well there were some bumps in that road.

In a nutshell, we’ve had some serious miscommunications over the years. However, I’ve learned a TON about being a better conversationalist and listening to other people’s emotions instead of just the words they are saying, and we’ve ironed out nearly all the remaining kinks. She’s shared knowledge with me about her own ups and downs with athletics that has proven insightful and is appreciated. This gives me the same hope that I had when we first met. I’ve only grown in my admiration for what she’s accomplished. I mean, a sub-3 hour marathon a year after your first kid? Seriously impressive.

Not much has changed in the intervening 7 years – she’s still serious, quiet, driven, and always happy to share a joke with Greg. They don’t live here in New Mexico any more, so my visits are more infrequent. But when they are both happy, that’s awesome. I hope the two of us continue to grow as people, communicators, and athletes.

Thanks, Jamesina.

Tuesday Tribute: Krista Scott-Dixon

Tuesday Tribute #3: Mistress Krista (Krista Scott-Dixon to the ‘real’ world)

Krista Scott-Dixon rocking the back squat, circa 2003(?)

It started with squatting. Doesn’t it always? If you think about it, a lot of things start with squatting, like childbirth, a good start to a day, et cetera…

OK, I digress. Back to the squatting that involves iron. It was around 2003. I was reading a few different blogs about weight lifting and female strength training in general. Then I found HER. This petite but fart-joke-loving strong diva of a woman named Mistress Krista. She used an old nickname – something about her diminutive size, I imagine – to adorn her blog: stumptuous.com

On that site she catalogued her thoughts on strength, eating, training, and more – all with a laser focus on women. I read a bunch and then some more. Then I noticed her series on how to squat, and how she broke the HUGE commandment drilled into anyone doing squats in the 1990s – never, ever let your knees go past 90 degrees. Krista came right out and said that is bullshit – IF you have good form and you feel no pain. Anyone with bad form and/or pain need to adjust accordingly, but for many folks, going ass-to-the-grass is totally great and fine and normal. Toddlers do it every day. We’ve forgotten how.

It's actually natural. We forget and tighten up.

It’s actually natural. We forget and tighten up.

Once I learned how to actually squat correctly, I got myself OUT of the stupid Smith machine contraption I was using to try to do squats, and did them like a ‘grown up’. It took about 6 months and my 10 years of runner’s knee went POOF. Gone.

But Krista is oh so much more than squat technique. She’s a powerhouse of information about women in many dimensions – as workers in Information Technology (and wrote a book on it), as athletes, as 40 year olds, and as powerful creatures.

She’s a coach, a writer, a no-bullshitter, and damn funny, too.

Krista, bravo. A zillion times.

P.S. About “TUESDAY TRIBUTE” and the why: a few weeks ago my mind went off a-wandering during my run. As it often does, it strayed into the realm of wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if ideas. Ideas like memes and tributes. It is refreshing to see gratitude posts directed at a certain person or community, someone that made a difference even if they didn’t know it. I thought about those 52 week challenges to leave little notes for strangers or smile more. I decided on a new challenge for myself: I will take every Tuesday to highlight someone from my life, past or present, who has changed my outlook, nudged the course of my life, or given me reason to make a positive change.

There are only two guidelines: First, I must have interacted directly with this person. Authors or public figures that have had positive effects in my life are not candidates if I do not know them well enough to call them an acquaintence. Second, those I choose to highlight are in no particular order. There is no implicit hierarchy or chronology.