I think I am an Affirmation Hoarder

There have been a few times in my life when I’ve finished a project for a teacher, instructor, professor, or whomever I aimed to please, and when they handed it back to me, there was a neatly written note across the top, sometimes in pencil, pen or even a post-it note.

This is excellent! May I keep this?

I mean, is there any great affirmation?

It happened in college, in my intro to education class (which I somehow considered to be a not-real class because it had the word ‘intro’ in front of it and I felt like that meant we would be learning about what we would learn later instead of actually learning how to be a teacher, which was the greatest cry of my heart at that time in my life), when I finished a teaching practicum and needed to write a case study on myself, a student in the class, or the teacher whom I had observed. I wrote about the teacher, an angry woman who clearly didn’t like children. I wrote about the evidence I could see that she didn’t like them, she didn’t like teaching them, and they weren’t learning very much as a result. I wrote about what I had learned not to do.

I received the graded paper with the note on the top. Please, can I keep it?

It happened in fifth grade art class (the same class where I decided red could no longer be my favorite color because a study of colors indicated that such a person is disloyal and unfaithful) when we were learning to draw ‘a vessel’, and I could draw anything I wanted as long as it held a fruit. The idea was to draw a bowl or a vase, but she had said I could draw anything I wanted, and I was inspired by the open crayon box sitting on my art table. So I painted a classic green and yellow Crayola box spilling with pears. I even recall one resting next to it.

I received the painting with the note on top: Tricia, this is lovely! May I keep it?

It happened in my writing class in my senior year, when I wrote a compare and contrast essay about my third and fourth grade teachers.

It happened in fifth grade when I wrote a song that somehow won something on behalf of our elementary school.

It happened in college when I put together a thematic unit on the five senses.

Interestingly, I don’t recall that ever happening with any of my papers or projects in the maths or sciences. But, whatevs. You can’t win ’em all.

You know what’s funny? I never, not once, said, “Yes, sure. Of course, professor. You can have it.”

There was something deeply satisfying about holding the work in my hands, feeling the weight of the project and the time I put into it, reading the affirmation written on the front. Not just a grade, but a request to immortalize my work.

Somehow, that mattered more to me than my work on display for anyone else or modeled as an example. I always said no.  Somewhere, there is a stockpile of my work that someone once wanted, surely they don’t anymore, and yet I didn’t share it because I was hoarding the notes to myself.

I’m not sure what that says about me.

The Voices of Creativity and Promise

There are two voices that meet me in the half-awake place. First it is the Voice of Creativity, followed shortly by the Voice of Promise.

The Voice of Creativity presents me with an exquisite sentence, a detailed setting, the perfect analogy, the metaphor I’ve been thirsting for, or even an entire book outline.

For example, two nights ago I wrote the entire first chapter of my next book. Pure beauty, I tell you. It was a thesis in its own right, capturing life’s fleeting moments in words that people want to read. It was funny. Honest. Meaningful.

And then the voice of Promise says, “You’re right – that is beautiful and perfect. So dazzling, in fact, that you’ll remember it all tomorrow. Who could forget something like this? Surely not you. So rest your weary head, darling artist and keeper of words. They’ll be here in the morning.”

This voice cannot be trusted.

Pillow Talk

I love a cold house. Like, ridiculously so. My bedroom at night is downright cold. (You can blame a certain Robb Williford for this. I had no choice but to adapt my body temperature to his arctic preferences.)

But the furnace stopped working yesterday, and the temp in the house was dropping dangerously close to my age. I’m a tough girl, but this I can’t handle. So we loaded up and came to my parents’ house, which meant three things: 1) Tuck could watch Broncos with his favorite comrade, Grandma, 2) Favorite cereals for everyone, 3) Waking up to my dad’s coffee.

It also meant that Tuck and I would be bunkmates. I came to bed after he had fallen asleep, because I’m an adult like that. I nudged him to move over and make room for me. He looked at me with narrow, sleepy eyes and pillow creases across his cheek. “Um, no, Mommy. I’m going to sleep on this side. Sorry about that.”

I forgive you. And I’ll sleep on the far side.

“Mommy, can I have that fuzzy blanket you brought up?”

“No, because you get to sleep on that side.”

He rolled over to face me, now fully awake. He looked at the book in my hands, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, by Anna Quindlen. (Love. Her.)

“Mommy, what does that say across the top? Number One… New… York… Tim’s… Boat Stealer.”

“Close.  Actually, it says #1 New York Times Bestseller. The New York Times is a newspaper, and they keep track of the books people love most. That means this is a book that America loves.”

He traced the letters. I said, “That’s one of my dreams, Tuck. I would love for one of my books to say that on the cover.”

He held the book out to me, “Well, look! You already have a book that says that!”

“No, I mean I book that I write. I hope someday one of the books I have written will be a New York Times Bestseller.”

“Ohhhhh…” A look of recognition. Aha. So it’s not just about collecting NYTBS, although there is great merit in that.

He opened my book, naturally filled with doodles and notes, circles and scalloped underlines. He said, almost out of the side of his mouth like he was speaking a secret we keep together, “Mommy, I told my teacher about this. I told her that you write in books.”

“Oh, did you?”

“Yes. I told her I think you underline the very best sentences, and probably also any words you don’t know.” The second grade version of ‘interacting with the text.’

I smiled. “Yep. That’s pretty much how it goes, buddy. Do you ever write in books?”

My rule-follower looked at me wide-eyed. “No. I definitely do not.”

I situated my pillow under my head as he found my bookmark, a 3×5 card with one of my favorite quotes scripted in my handwriting. He asked me to read it to him.

“It says, ‘Life is a collection of a million, billion moments, tiny little moments and choices, like a handful of luminous, glowing pearls. It takes so much time and so much work, and those beads and moments are so small, and so much less fabulous and dramatic than the movies,’ and it’s written by Shauna Niequist, one of my favorite authors.”

He rolled onto his back and said, “A million moments.”

I think this is one of them.

The Art of Tricking Yourself

I taught a class of artists recently, and a poetry student asked me this question afterward.

“And so what do you do on those days of self doubt? When you don’t have anything to write about, and you think you’re a failure at this whole thing?”

Oh, you mean, how do I begin my every morning of my writing life??

I give myself grace. I’m careful about what I tell myself.

I don’t say, “I’m a failure at this. Who am I kidding? I have no idea what I’m doing. Somebody’s going to blow the whistle on this fraud at any moment, and all measures of book contracts will be thrown out the window.”

I don’t say, “Whatever, Trish. Stop writing. Nobody cares what you think anyway.”

But I have to replace those words with something else, or those thoughts win. So instead, I say, “Not a whole lot of words are coming my way right now. Maybe I’ll read a book until the words find me. Hey, it’s okay. It’s a slow writing day. I’ll write about what it feels like to have nothing to say.”

And I write.

“But what do you do when you can’t write? When you really have nothing to say?”

Nothing is more suffocating than straining to create. So when I’ve got nothing to make, I step away from the process. I step away, and I live for a little while. Art is born of life; life is born of art. They cannot exist without each other. So, if my artistic well is running dry, then it’s time to give it some new experiences.  Go live a bit. Then write about it.

“And what do you do when you really think you don’t have any right to call yourself an artist?”

Well, see, the thing is?  You can trick yourself into believing you are one.  When people ask what you do?  Say, “I’m a writer.”  Or poet.  Or singer/songwriter.  Or philosopher.  Claim it.  And before you know it, you’ll start to believe it.

Write it down somewhere.  Start to say it.  And you’ll start to believe it.

Itchy

Prompt: “Write about feeling Itchy.”

The summer before tenth grade, I decided to make a few extra bucks by weeding my parents’ yard and flower beds. I did the whole chore in my bathing suit, intent on getting myh summer tan in the process. Turns out, I spent three days weeding poison ivy. Oh, how I itched. For weeks and weeks.

I remember learning when I was a little girl about that magical, mystical trick of poking my fingernail into a mosquito bite, first this way and then that, to make a cross over the bug bite. It was to make it itch less, they said. I don’t know if it really worked. But my kids still ask me to do it for them, with my luxurious fingernails.  It seems to work better than that one night in a beach house when they couldn’t sleep for itching, so I sprayed them with a layer of hair spray.

My grandma told me a story about her sister eating poison ivy when they were small children in the hills of West Virginia. She told me how her mouth ahd broken out, how she had the poison ivy itch, even in her rectum. Yikes. Even then, I remember thinking that was a little too much information.

I still think that.

When I was emerging from the anesthesia of my epidural after Tucker was born, I itched. I could tell where the epidural was wearing off because the itch worked its way down my body in a very consuming way. Oddly, it was all neurological. So if they gave me anything to stop the itch, then the antihistamine would just put me to sleep. And I didn’t want to sleep. I wanted to stay awake to breathe in everything about my new baby. So I let myself itch.

Today, I itch to be held.