my new home

January 30, 2012 § 2 Comments

I realized I never posted a photo of my new writing desk. I’ve been spending a lot of time here and our cat has a new favorite spot.

A Year Later

January 2, 2012 § 1 Comment

I was watching the movie Groundhog Day for about the 15th time the other day. It really does get better the more you watch it. This time I saw a lot of parallels with my 52 To Do project. With time, people and events being constant, Billy Murray’s character was ultimately left with himself to contend with. He learned how to play the piano, to sculpt ice, to speak French and to read poetry. He got to know the people around him in town, ultimately deciding to make Puxatony his home. He lost the ego, but thankfully not his wit, and learned the joy in looking outward.

Thankfully I didn’t relive the same day over and over this year (supposedly he lived the same day for 10 years!).  I did manage to slow time down a bit for myself taking it week by week. You will be surprised how much you can do in a week, even when you’re working. I removed myself from a full-time, full-on work schedule and took freelance jobs instead. Change started occurring little by little. I started sleeping well again. I quit making excuses for not getting out and doing things. I learned how to make stuff with my hands again and became someone who knows they can figure things out if they tinker enough. I learned how to get back to thinking for myself again. I still made some great new friends through advertising but also now hang out with people who are sommeliers, chefs, beer brewers, knitters, philosophers, climbers and so on. I’ve made Boulder feel like Home, something I haven’t felt about anywhere I’ve lived since moving out of my parents house after high school.

I’ve wrestled with my identity the most over the past year. I still don’t quite know how to answer the question “What do you do?”. It took awhile to let go of the quick and ego-stroking answer that I work in advertising (and most recently led strategy on Apple). My favorite answer so far is that “I’m taking some time off”. I joke with my husband that I might just use that the rest of my life.

We take time off for many reasons. Sometimes we’re forced into it. We may take time between jobs. We may be retiring after years of dedication to the same job. Whatever the reason, we should all have time to ourselves at some point. For me, it was less about self improvement and more just about simply getting to know myself again, period. I’m glad my time came sooner rather than later.

I’m a bit sad the project is coming to an end, but more than anything it got me back on the track of exploring and learning again. For 2012 I’m starting a new blog called So Now I Know. Each week I’m going to explore things I’ve always heard about but have never really learned; things I’ve always said I’d learn someday, probably. I hope you’ll check it out and thanks for reading about 52 To Do this year. It has really meant a lot.

Happy 2012!

52 To Do – Top 10

January 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

When I tell people about my blog they always ask what my favorite week has been. It’s always hard to pick a favorite but I can name my top 10. If you’re looking for some fun, interesting things to try out for 2012, here were my favorites from this past year in no particular order:

1. Learning to roast coffee – If you claim to love or live on coffee, this is something you have to try. Unfortunately for those who live in apartments where it’s hard to get outside this may not be ideal for you (there’s smoke). Sweet Maria’s has a great starter kit for $45.

It will seriously become your favorite cup of coffee. Ever.

2. Ice fishing (or something that seems completely out of your range of possibility) – We spent the day with friends trying something none of us had ever tried before. While we didn’t catch any fish, we did arguably have the best laugh of 2011.

Getting out and doing things I’d never done before to embrace winter made a huge difference living here in Boulder.

3. Researching my ancestry – I definitely looked at my life differently after understanding more about where I came from. Plus it is a great thing to do with your family. I spent the week with my family going through old pictures and hearing old stories, many I had not heard before. It was a nice way to spend time together.

It was good to get my parents to talk about what they remember. I only wish my grandparents were still around. I have so many questions for them.

4. Churn homemade ice cream with friends – I bought a hand churn ice cream maker (White Mountain 4 qt. hand crank) and this proved to be a fun summer activity with friends. If you do get the hand churn one, you pretty much need the extra help since it isn’t easy!

My friend Jess (who also accompanied me on lots of blog adventures) gave me a great ice cream recipe book that did us right. It was a toss up between the goat cheese ice cream and the roasted coffee ice cream (we of course used fresh home roasted coffee for that) as to which was the best.

5. Learning about wine – I owe a huge thanks to my friends at Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder. James Beard award winner, Bobby Stuckey, welcomed my project early on letting me shadow his amazing crew of sommeliers on what it’s like to live for wine. I’ve made lots of new wine buddies through Frasca and the Boulder Wine Merchant. With more Master Sommeliers per capita than any city in the U.S. Boulder is a good place to be to learn about wine.

6. Hike a 14er – In 2011 I officially became a Coloradan by climbing my first 14,000 foot mountain with my friend Alicia (another partner in crime with many blog projects).

You likely won’t have mountains like that around but maybe there’s another physical feat to try that makes you equally feel a part of where you’re living. Boston marathon? Rowing the Thames? Surfing in Santa Monica?

7. Learning how to knit – This was a favorite for multiple reasons. I gained a new skill that is incredibly relaxing. I made some beautiful cowls that served as well-received holiday presents and to top it off I made a new friend in the process.

I also found a gem of a local store (Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins) where I will continue going for yarn and pearls of wisdom from the fantastic crew of ladies that work there.

8. Shooting a gun – I will likely never own a gun but I am glad I learned how to shoot one this year (target range only). It is an experience you could never understand without actually doing it. I now know just how powerful and dangerous they are.

It was something totally foreign to me and outside of my comfort zone, but I felt like it was something I should try once in my lifetime. Plus it was a great way to spend the afternoon with my husband and his twin brothers in Portland.

9. Pasta making – Pasta is one of those staples around the house and making it yourself is not only easy but worth the little bit of effort. The difference in taste is amazing.

I’ve continued along with it and for New Year’s Day dinner tonight I’ll be making some homemade orchiette I learned to make from Brian, another Frasca friend.

10. Reading about philosophy and religion – One of the best outcomes of the year was learning to think for myself again. It was a great exercise to dust off some books on philosophy and religion and to challenge my thinking in that regard a bit again.

It’s easy to get caught up in day to day issues and worries and can be enlightening to realize we’re just a blip on the radar when it comes to humanity. We are trying to answer many of the same questions people have been trying to answer for centuries.

Finding a Place to Write

January 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

It’s interesting to see where writers write from. Faulkner had a simple setup on a small desk with his typewriter, tobacco and a window to gaze out of. It’s hard to believe such a tiny desk was responsible for so many great works. I guess it comes down to finding a place where the writer feels physically at ease while their mind travels great lengths.
Tolstoy had a similar size desk but had quite a bit of clutter in his study. I would have a hard time concentrating in here. It feels a bit claustrophobic. Maybe he felt he was surrounded by everything he loved all packed into one little room.
Jane Austen had the most Spartan setup of the bunch. I imagine you’d want to have a good idea of what you wanted to write before you sat down in that chair; I wouldn’t call her setup comfortable. Maybe for her, being from such a large family, it was just a luxury to have her very own spot to write.

I’m not setting out to write a book in the same league as these writers, but I’d still love a place to write. So far I’ve just written from wherever I happen to be whether it’s the couch, the kitchen table, a local cafe or sometimes like Marcel Proust, in bed. I’ve never had a proper writing desk before, so this week I’ve been on a quest to find one. I would say the desk found me. The first desk I sort of liked was a no-go because the store owner flatly, rudely and definitively refused to sell it (even though it had a price tag on it).

It turned out to be divine intervention because the next place I went to I found my desk. I hadn’t planned to go there but my husband wanted to look at a Hans Wegner chair so we made the trip. It may sound strange to have such a strong reaction to a desk, but it sucked me in like a vortex the second I laid eyes on it. It was more perfect than I could have imagined. It’s a beautiful mid-century modern Danish desk made from rosewood with a bookshelf built into the front of the desk. We bought it from our new favorite store in Denver called Zeitgeist, home to a gorgeous array of modern furniture and art.
Not only did we find the perfect desk, but I totally dig that the desk has been Randy’s own desk for the last 10 years. Randy is just a cool guy. You’ll get no disinterested Design Within Reach demeanor from him. He loves Modernism and wants any and everybody to have the chance to love it too.

I knew I wanted a desk that had a little history to it. Randy built his business from that desk, a business he’s been lovingly been in for 38 years. He was willing to part with it because he  recently acquired a desk he’s been trying to get his hands on for 20 years.

Before Randy, the desk was owned by a Danish architect who lived in Boulder. Apparently he had come to work in Boulder and fell in love with a woman who lived there, eventually moving there for good.

Now the desk is making its way back to Boulder. I hope to continue to be an interesting part of its history. One thing is for sure. It’s a place that inspires me to sit and write from.


Finding the Right Critic

December 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

If only it were as easy to find a great editor as it was in the latest Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris. Owen Wilson (a West Coast Woody Allen) is a Hollywood screenwriter taking on his first real novel. A hopeless romantic he wanders the streets of Paris and reminisces about what it might have been like to live in Paris in the 20s. (mini spoiler) As he walks the streets at midnight he finds himself magically transported back to the 20s and in the company of the greatest writers, artists and thinkers of that time. Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) even agrees to read and critique his novel. If only it were that easy.

Even though I’ve never written a book, I know from the work I have done that editing can be what makes something great. Luckily my skin has thickened nicely over the years and I look at critique (or I should say good critique) as a positive thing now. When I was greener I always took it to mean I hadn’t thought through my work enough. Now I realize that critique can help unlock the greatness in your own thinking in a way you can never do on your own.

The hard part is finding someone you not only trust with your soul but that you trust to be honest. The last thing I want is too many cooks in the kitchen. I want to create a relationship with someone who can bring my work to the place it needs to be. This involves an inordinate amount of both trust and honesty. What better person to turn to than my husband?

John is not a traditional editor in any sense but he’s one of the most well-read people I know. The good thing is that I know he will hold me dead to rights in my own writing and help me get to where I need to be. As with any good married couple we can sometimes be overly critical of each other which I’ll have to watch.

Maybe we should edit over wine.

A Writer’s Journal

December 29, 2011 § 3 Comments

When I’m reading a novel I often wonder what the author was thinking as he or she was writing it. I wonder what life might have been like at the time. As I was looking for resources from writers about their writing I came across two unique journals that John Steinbeck kept when he was writing his greatest works. Working Days was his first journal he kept each day while writing the Grapes of Wrath. Journal of a Novel represents the combination of a journal and the manuscript for East of Eden (he wrote both in the same book).

He used each journal as a warm-up and many of his entries had to do with setting the pace of his writing and slowing down his mind. It was a method he used to shake off his jitters before jumping into the prose.

“I shouldn’t be thinking about getting it done. Should be thinking only of the story and I can’t let future interfere with the hardest, most complete work of my life. I must get the tempo.” – Working Days

Even if you’re not a Steinbeck fan (which I am), these give you a window into the discipline of a great writer. Each day of the week and often some weekend days he would begin at roughly the same time each day (around 11) and put in solid hours of writing, even when he didn’t feel like it. For The Grapes of Wrath he gave himself 5 months to write, averaging 2,000 words a day. For East of Eden he wanted to give himself a full year and averaged around 1,000 words a day.

He used the diaries as a means to focus. Each day he would start the act of writing by giving a short account of what was happening in life and then re-center his focus on the story and his task at hand that day.

He did not like distractions, even the buzzing of an infiltrating fly. He talked a lot of keeping the world out and the books being the one thing he was responsible for. He and his first wife (there were 3) had constant visitors (Charlie Chaplin was a fairly regular visitor). He seemed to get most disturbed by the sound of the washing machine.

More than anything, the journals were a daily pep talk that even if he didn’t believe he was good enough to write, there was a story to tell and he would do his best to live up to it. He often closed his journal entries after his writing wondering whether what he just wrote was good enough or not. He even referred to the Grapes of Wrath as “just another book”.

“All I know is that little by little it will mount and grow slowly until finally it is a house and then it will either be a good house and will stand or a bad house and then it will fall of its own weight. This is always true both of books and houses.” – Journal of a Novel

I plan on adopting the journal idea as I take a stab at writing my own book.

Writing a Story

December 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s the last week of a tremendous year. It may seem like I’ve already crossed writing off the list through my blog this year, but for my last week I want to explore writing a book. I have 3 sisters and as a kid my grandmother always wanted one of us to become a nurse and one of us to become a writer.  I’m no good with blood, so that leaves writing.

I don’t know that I could ever go so far as to call myself a writer but I like the idea of writing a book. Writing has always been one of those things lingering in the back of my mind that I’ve sedated over the years through lots of reading. I believe writing isn’t necessarily something you set out to do but can be something you accidentally bump into at some point in life. It then sticks to you like tar and you can’t shake it off.

Imagining that you not only have something to say but that you can also sit down and write it all out coherently is daunting to say the least. After this year and what I’ve experienced, I have something to say which is a start. Writing the blog has also been a good warm-up to creating a discipline of writing. I know I can make myself sit and write even in those moments I don’t feel like it. The hurdle will be releasing the story that wants to be told.

I think a good place to start the exploration this week is to look at what many of the great writers have said about writing. Maybe one of them will have words I can use to help guide me along the way.

Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.  ~Franz Kafka
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. – Ernest Hemingway

Not surprising encapsulations from these two. My writing will not be venturing into the same territory as theirs, so I think it’s ok for me to have a little less intense of an ambition than that. I need to find a less bloody analogy to pouring myself into my writing.

Every writer I know has trouble writing.  ~Joseph Heller
Easy reading is damn hard writing.  ~Nathaniel Hawthorne
I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.  ~James Michener
The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business. ~John Steinbeck

It’s always reassuring to know that even great writers struggle with writing. It will be good to keep in mind when I hit a wall of frustration. If I don’t hit a wall of frustration then I need to push harder until I do. I like the sentiment of being better at re-writing than writing which I will adopt. It removes some of the anxiety of staring down a blank page.

If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.  ~Lord Byron
And eventually as I kept writing it, something emerged that was not quite me but a version of me. ~Larry David
Writing a story or a novel is one way of discovering sequence in experience, of stumbling upon cause and effect in the happenings of a writer’s own life. ~Eudora Welty
Was it only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought? ~Joan Didion

These thoughts better represent why I’d like to write a book. How often in your life do you get to reflect in such a systematic way on what you’ve experienced? The closest thing I’ve probably had over the years is a performance review at my job which doesn’t even compare. This last year has been life changing in so many ways. In the process of writing a book I’d like to untangle the ways and understand them completely.