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For years I had seen signs around town for Spiderweb Salon shows. I may have even stumbled into a few of them. They were odd and subversive and breathtaking and challenging and magical and haunting and angry and hopeful.

In a word, perfect. Exactly what art is meant to be.

True to my observer persona, I watched and admired from afar, happy to get a once-in-a-while glimpse of this lovely art collective. Sometimes I considered introducing myself, but I held back. After all, I already had two thriving online writers groups and a group of writer friends I met sporadically with in person. I kept in touch with writing/artist friends from fandom and other spaces through Facebook groups and blogging. And while I was an active member of my church choir, I hadn’t really performed or played piano or danced in so long that I was sure I would never find time to practice enough again to pursue it for real.

Then in January 2019, Sarah invited me to the first meeting of Follow the Reader, Spiderweb’s new book club. We had a main book selection and a supplemental read. Sphinx, written by Anne Garréta, was the centerpiece, and it was unlike anything I’d ever read before. I don’t want to give away the linguistic restraint the author used, because I really want you to read it and discover it for yourself. Garréta is a member of Oulipo (Google it if you’re a fan of rabbit holes. And welcome to freakin’ Wonderland), which is the experimental literary collective that Daniel Levin Becker writes about in Many Subtle Channels, our supplemental reading that month.

These book selections would have been enough to keep me coming back. But that’s not all I found that evening.

The people in this group talk about books, reading, and literary life the way I talk about books, reading, and literary life. We discussed the books we read, but we didn’t just muse over the content within, as if something written by a human being could ever be discussed in a vacuum, separated from its place in humanity. The conversation flowed from art to history to oppression to current events to community support and back to art.

Spiderweb had my full attention and loyalty from that first meeting.

I went home and immediately committed to being a monthly supporter of their Patreon (shameless plug – support artists!). It took me a couple of months to start making an appearance at shows, but soon I was showing up at every performance and event scheduled.

I thought I was coming to this book club to reconnect with a friend from high school in a way that guaranteed we’d at least see each other once a month. And I got that (we’re currently working on an album together!). I also found a loving and beloved community that invites me to their stage and supports me in whatever I’m working on. We’re collaborators but we’re friends first, and that fosters an inspiring space for creation of all kinds. They’re the reason I’m dancing again and considering perhaps one day even doing it on stage again (maybe).

And, of course, it all started at book club.

I’m writing about books and people who love them as much as I do this month.

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April TBR

April is one of my favorite reading months because it’s National Poetry Month. It’s also National Jazz Appreciation Month, and while the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival is postponed until the fall this year, I am going to be reading through some old standards via keyboard. So we’re taking liberties with what goes on the “reading” list this month.

Joy Selections:

Art in its various forms is a big part of my life, and I’m exploring the joy in that this month.

Book Club Selections:

This list will seem long. No, I haven’t joined four more book clubs. It’s just because Follow the Reader is doing choose-your-own-adventure poetry this month, and my perpetual adventure is that, when left to my own devices, I can’t pick just one collection.

There may be other things that I read this month, but these are my main foci. What are you reading these days?

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“May your coming year be filled with magic and reams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” Neil Gaiman

Every year, I write this quote on the first notes page of my new planner. When I read through my 2020 planner, it made me cry, not only because of some of the things I missed but also because of how much of this sweet wish actually came true. It wasn’t at all in the ways I expected, but I guess that’s part of the surprise.

In Joy the Baker’s “Let It Be Sunday” post last week, she talked about goal setting as making deposits on your dreams. I love that perspective. Each year during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I reflect on the last twelve months and tweak the goals that need a little nudge to get me closer to who and where I want to be. As I mentioned yesterday, I reflect and adjust throughout the year, but this is the time that I always have some days off work to really dig in.

Here are my goals for 2021:

  1. Read 120 books. Third time’s the charm? I don’t know what will happen this year, but I know that I’m more myself when I’m reading regularly. As long as the focus to do so remain constant, ten books a month is a pretty reasonable pace for me, and when I have a little extra time off, I read even more (thus the 13 I read in November and the 15 in December). The theme for this year’s reading is community. I’m in three local book clubs that meet live every month, another one that discusses primarily through a Facebook group (Fantastic Strangelings), and a new one that Roxane Gay is leading. A friend at work is also organizing some of us to participate in the Pop Sugar challenge. I love talking about books with fellow lit lovers.
  2. My current career plans are to retire from UNT when I’m eligible in nine and a half years and then embark on my second (third? fourth? Who’s keeping track, really?) career as a full-time writer. To this end, I will need to have established a strong second income already, which I have already begun working on. I wrote 250,000 words in freelance articles in 2020, and for 2021, I want to push to finish 300,000 words. This means an average of 6,000 words a week, which is a lot but also reasonably doable.
  3. One thing I have become acutely aware of this past year is how the spaces in my home are technically functional but not really inviting. I want to fix that this year, and I have weekly goals for doing so mapped out. Even if I’m the only one who enjoys them, I am reason enough to make them as cozy as possible.
  4. You know what would also be great dream to realize? Becoming a better/more confident artist. I mean, I’ll perform anyway, but I would like it to take less intense and sudden practice, particularly when I’m performing with other artists who regularly put in the time to be prepared for such things. The first ten years I played piano, my mom made me practice an hour a day to justify the lessons she was paying for. It was not always convenient or easy, but it sure was handy to be able to sub in with little to no warning when someone needed me to. At the height of the time I was performing regularly, I danced 10-15 hours a week (and my legs were phenomenal). I also was more aware of how food affected my body and paid more attention to strength so that I didn’t get injured. I have so many writing projects started, and I want people to be able to read them in their entirety at some point. So I have a lot I want to accomplish. I don’t expect myself to carve out an extra 25 hours a week right now, but I can build toward more consistency. To this end, I am putting aside an hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights as well as two hours each Saturday, to give myself time to make personal art practice a specific, regular part of my schedule. For January, I’m going to practice each of the three genres (writing, dance, piano) at least three times a week, and I’ll expand/adapt once I am consistently doing that. My hope is that by the end of the year, I’m closer to the 25-hour mark than the 5-hour one.
  5. Pursue joy. Joy is my word of the year, and as you may have been noticing in the 31 days series (which we’re just shamelessly going to continue until it’s done, ignoring the fact that the 31 original days for which it was intended have passed), I have a lot to say about it already. You can expect a few updates a month, and I’m going to be reading at least one book a month with joy in the title. The first one I started with the blog series was Surprised by Joy (which I expect to finish within the week). January has three selections by the same author – Jennifer McCartney’s The Joy of Being Online All the F*cking Time, The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place, and The Joy of Doing Just Enough. In a month where everything else is certain to be pretty intense, I expect these books will bring a little levity.

Do you make resolutions? If not, do you have goals you’re working toward? I’d love to hear about them!

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Day 7 – Dance

“What we want from modern dance is courage and audacity.”
“If a thing moves, it lives.”
– Twyla Tharp

I may have written this post before, and I don’t want to do a strict rehash. It’s not always easy to articulate how dance relates to joy, because…it just does? It seems too obvious, maybe? We leap for joy. Joy seems to be inherent in spirited movement.

Except when it’s not. When you have so much anguish built up that you feel trapped in your body. You have to release it or burst. So dance can be angstful (full of angst? I like angstful better) and angry and all the things we may think of as the antithesis of joy.

Dance can be many things. It can be happiness. It can be frustration. It can be catharsis. It can be release. It’s both/and. It’s holding all the realities in the same hand.

It can start with muscle memory but it doesn’t stay there. Dance is always at least partially now.

I love the way that dance immediately pulls me not only into the present but also connects me to all that has come before. Into the body I have now but also into the memory of just how much my body has done before. How much it can do. How much it still has to discover.

Dance can be possibility. Dance forms dreams and gives shape to progress.

Dance can be joy.

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

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The tree is officially up and plugged in. And that’s it. No decorations yet. Just twinkly lights. Happy.

Our small group on Monday night talks about the lesson for the next Sunday, so my appetite for Advent has been whetted. Although Advent is one of my favorite seasons, December is not usually my favorite month. It’s usually too busy. That is not the case this year, though. Events are either canceled or virtual, and I think most people have (more than usual) an attitude of just making it through to the other side.

Students have already started leaving for break, since UNT classes are going completely online for the rest of the semester. They’re welcome to stay here, but they also have the option to go home and stay with their families for the holiday season, and many have chosen to do so. Can’t say that I blame them.

This December, I have a little more time. Rather than add extra things to it (with the exception of a blog series – more on that next week), though, I’m going to focus on savoring things I enjoy.

Cozy mysteries (just re-read Publishable by Death by A. C. F. Bookens this weekend, and it was just as much fun the second time around).

The above-mentioned twinkly lights. Just staring into them. Also candlelight is nice. More sparkly-lit rooms, please.

Soups and toasted sandwiches.

Baked goods of just about any kind. Sweet, savory – I love (most of) them all.

Dancing. Stretching. Dancing again.

Playing old records while sipping warm beverages.

Practicing hope. Practicing love. Practicing joy.

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Books and mascots and dressing up for the intrawebs

That may be the most introvert-y title I’ve ever written.

In a lot of ways, this pandemic/work/socialize-from-home situation has been rough. My mental health is not its best self ever. Or, rather, it has been more work to take care of it. I don’t think prolonged isolation is good for anyone, and I’ve definitely had challenges that I expected as well as those I did not. I have needed to take many more precautions and call on more support than usual in order to function.

Other distinct pockets of my life have (dare I say it?) flourished. After the initial shock wore off (this is the theme, really), I have been able to adapt in several ways that sort of flow together but also are each their own separate issue:

  1. Reading – For a few months, I wasn’t able to concentrate to read at all. But now that I have at least an extra hour per night to add to my regular reading time that I was spending just driving from work and then to-and-from whatever meeting I had on that particular evening, I am reading about 100 pages a day. My reading goal took a hit from those missing months, but I may still read more books than I read last year.
  2. Productivity – Working from home makes me super efficient. Having more control over my work setting allows me to get through emails much more quickly, and I don’t feel rushed on phone calls. I miss my coworkers, of course, but my productivity (and thus my motivation) is thriving. We are closing one of our buildings at the end of the semester, and I was able to give significant help in getting those students moved over, and this would have been a lot harder/more stressful in the office.
  3. Sense of self – It’s been interesting to see the habits that have dropped off and stayed gone and the ones that I have either continued or picked up. I was surprised to see the things that I do, say, wear, etc., to make others more comfortable and things I do, say, wear, etc., to show up as who I really am. It will be interesting to see how (or if) I adjust back to old habits that I find stifling once I’m out in the public again most days.
  4. Consistency – Each month, I make myself a chart that has goals I want to focus on that month. It’s usually a mix of habits I want to build and the things I know I need to stay grounded and at peace. If you’ve been around here a while, you know my goals tend to be…lofty. But I’ve been meeting them better than usual. In fact, the last time I was this consistent with eating well, dancing, playing the keyboard, exercising, etc., was in my early to mid-twenties when I was performing regularly. While I’m not performing right now (well, not a lot – I do have a piece in the virtual SPIDERDEAD show tomorrow night), I am excited about how well I’ve been staying on track with things that are important to me.
  5. Creativity – All the others kinda lead in to this one. When I have the time (and the ability) to focus on what I want in life, my creativity thrives. I have so many project ideas, and I’ve been consistently writing toward my NaNoWriMo project. I also have a 31 days blog series coming up in December that I hope you will enjoy. I look forward to getting to collaborate with people again, but for now this will do.

I hope you are finding some moments of joy or clarity or focus or whatever you are needing right now.

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My first small, imperfect peaches of the season. 

My word for the year is “alive.” The universe is hilarious.

I had a few thoughts about how this would go. There were a lot of lofty quotes that came to mind and many goals I made that I thought would contribute to a more vibrant existence. I had no idea how often I would have to fight to actively choose living over becoming stagnant or something else.

Today I read Joy the Baker’s post on turning 39, and so much of it resonated with me. I can list the accomplishments I’m proud of and many things I do well, but most days I can’t help but feel that I, too, have been left behind – that I missed a turn somewhere that would have taken me down the path toward those Big Life Goals™ that I just assumed would come along as soon I was ready for them. I also love her curiosity and her intention to set aside the small life story in exchange for embracing the things that sparkle – to “do them badly, then less badly, then maybe almost well.”

When our church decided to start meeting remotely, we didn’t hesitate or put it off a few weeks to figure it out. Our pastor told council, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” He didn’t mean, of course, that doing a bad job at online services should be the goal. Only that it needn’t wait until we had all the information to do it expertly.

As you can imagine, this is not my modus operandi. I am all for jumping off the cliff (metaphorically); I just want to be armed with a gigantic parachute of relevant knowledge before I do.

But I started the year with a commitment to come alive, so whether I know what I’m doing or not, here I am, doing it badly but consistently. This looks like a lot of different things:

To bake and eat the cake that I’ve been craving for a month rather than just think about making it.

To dance, enjoying the way my body – this body, the one I have right now – feels when it moves.

To choose to spend money in a way that actually makes a difference in my life and the lives of others rather than contributing to the greed of entities that exist to homogenize us.

To play Chopin. And also Joplin. And also brand new things that no one but me has ever heard.

To sing, even when there’s no one to carry the harmony.

To eat my veggies and stay hydrated.

To seek out the people who love me well and stop worrying about those who don’t.

To discover how much time I have when I cut out all the things that don’t really matter.

To discover exactly which things do matter so, so much.

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Sweet note on the dry erase board in the office this week

We are finally working from home. The students no longer are answering the telephone. We are having our first Zoom meeting tomorrow morning to check in. Denton’s stay-at-home order kicks in tomorrow night. I have plenty to do here to keep me busy, as my apartment looks like a tornado hit it (yes, ’tis the season, but in this case, just a simile) and thus is in desperate need of some attention.

Also I have books. Hundreds of books.

But I also need a little structure to maintain even a little bit of a sense of well-being. I can’t be alone in my house for weeks (months?) on end with no structure.

My goal checklist that I’ve been using this year to track the progress of my resolutions has thus far been extremely helpful for helping remain calm(ish). Every day I’m home all day, I make sure I’m:

  • drinking enough water
  • practicing Spanish, either through the Duolingo app or by reading a book in Spanish while keeping the dictionary close
  • dancing, whether for just a 10-minute break or a Zumba video or an online dance class (the tap classes Chloe Arnold is hosting through Instagram? Very cathartic. Highly recommend.)
  • exercising with Pilates on demand or with something that helps me stretch/strengthen
  • playing the keyboard (currently brushing up on some theory)
  • doing at least one thing to rest or pamper myself (e.g., relaxing foot soak, face mask, nap, etc.)
  • working on a crafty/creative project (e.g., knitting, poetry, coloring, etc.)
  • picking a different small area of the apartment to clean each day
  • taking a walk (weather permitting)
  • finishing the daily to-do list (e.g., keeping up with bills, checking in with friends, etc.)

I’m also taking the free Yale course, “The Science of Well-Being”. I’m just in the introduction, but I can already tell I’m going to like it.

I knew this weekend that I needed to go ahead and put these things in place now. I had a whole weekend at home. Normally, this would delight me. A whole free weekend? Paradise. But I spent a lot of the time overwhelmed and anxious and terribly lonely, despite the fact that I had a lot of interaction online. I thought when this started that this experience would be a good test of whether or not I could really work from home, but I may need reminders that this is a whole other animal. It’s not going to give me an accurate picture of what working from home would really be like.

What adjustments are you making to make this phase of life work?

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It’s the International Day of Happiness. This week has been w.e.i.r.d., to say the least. I’ve had a few panic attacks, and I’m still at work as we try to accommodate students who have nowhere else to go and figure out what in the world we’re going to do next (I would welcome faster decisions here…I’m just sayin’.). But there’s also been so many opportunities for joy. Just in my little corner of humanity, there is so much goodness. There are also so many fun things online. Here’s a list for times when you’re feeling more anxious than happy or just want something hopeful.

  1. Italians singing from their balconies.
  2. Lots of love happening on the ‘gram. Nikki Mayeaux is posting a daily creative prompt called Poem Passwords. The pictures on #seeninquarantine are spectacular. Between her early start for April Love and purrs from her sweet cat, Susannah Conway is soothing my soul. Julia Turshen is posting daily foodie prompts. I love this list from worn_ware of people offering yoga, meditations, etc.
  3. Tessera Arts Collective in Philadelphia closed the gallery for now, but they are still on for installing a street art campaign throughout the city this Sunday.
  4. Local businesses that can’t afford to shut down completely are making the best of it with delivery and curbside pickup. The Dentonite is keeping a running list. I love watching local business owners figure out how to take care of their employees by offering alternate earning opportunities and giving devoted patrons the ability to still tip their baristas/servers (*cough* support Golden Boy *cough*). Also…Golden Boy has key lime and coconut pie right now, which are in my top three favorite pies (blueberry is the third, if you’re wondering).
  5. Aid Network Denton and the city of Lake Dallas are keeping up a list of ways to get help or get involved if you can give help.
  6. Nature is delightful. The canals are clear and the swans are back in Venice. And penguins at the Shedd Aquarium enjoy a tour of the zoo.
  7. Since you can’t go in person, many field trip locations and entertainment venues are coming to you. You may also be able to watch the stage production of your favorite musical online. The Metropolitan Opera is streaming. Andrew Lloyd Webber tweeted himself playing “All I Ask of You”, and Lin Manuel Miranda responded with his performance of “Everything’s Alright”. Yale is offering their course on The Science of Well-Being for free (audit only).
  8. For artists whose income is impacted by all the cancellations, here’s a list of places that may be able to offer support.
  9. Books resources! I didn’t know how much I needed Betty White reading Harry the Dirty Dog in my life until this week. In fact, many children’s authors are reading their books online this week. And one that made me salivate – download from a selection of over 300,000 books for free from the New York Public Library through their reader app!!!
  10. Debbie Allen is teaching online dance classes! So is Chloe Arnold!
  11. Joy the Baker is just a delight. As usual.
  12. People are putting their Christmas lights back up to spread joy.
  13. All the Julia Child is streaming!!
  14. What am I doing this weekend? I’m so glad you asked! 24in48’s Social Distancing Readathon!

I’m sure there’s more. What are your favorite things people are doing right now?

 

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It’s been a busy week that has followed another busy week, and I’m handling it but I also am really looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow. Here are some things that have helped.

  1. Speaking of (not) sleeping, I feel this in my bones – NPR on the sleep issues of Gen X women.
  2. What can you get out of dance training (besides, you know, dance)? A kick-ass work ethic.
  3. Love to Maggie and Michelle (even though you’re closer, you’re still so far away from me) and other long distance friends.
  4. Middle-aged success stories that make me feel refreshingly like a larva.
  5. Jenny Lawson’s thoughts on hard days. ❤

Where have you gotten help this week?

 

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