Writing

The FOUR Challenge: Day Three Catastrophe

Time for McDonalds?

Going on this diet is a little like the first week of trying to be an evangelical Christian. I could also compare it to meditation but the concept is really the same.

You start with this idea that you want to make your life better and living the spiritual ecstasy of evangelism is one way to do it. Of course you could just read the Bible and be nice to everyone, or take a walk in the park every day and ditch and candy – but as the Bhuddha said – life is suffering – so embrace it. I chose to eat cabbage for a week – well variations of it that are all unappealing except for the fruit – and would never be found in any part of my normal bush hugger (but not quite tree hugger) diet.

During this week of dieting, I expect a point I wonder why I am doing it. Typically feelings such as these are followed closely by shame, self disgust, remorse – a thesaurus full of guilt at my weakness. Then I look around me, at the absence of self deprivation and I wonder if they are judging me. Once you start speaking in tongues, someone will judge you – as will someone else when you decorate a piece of lettuce with basaltic vinegar for lunch.

The problem with being social is that you hang out with people, and you have drinks. The other problem is that this week, alcohol was not on my diet….I’m a back-slidden dieter. One Apperol Spritz with Luca my Italian coach – and I’m wondering what does this all mean?

Nothing written (except this blog)

Nothing edited – I’m running out of time

I lost another half pound or so – I forgot since I weighed myself this morning.

I have nothing but time….4 whole days.

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FOUR Challenge – Day 2. Creating more tension

Day 2Don’t judge me but I decided to geek out on the graph. Apparently I have too much time on my hands. Actually – you can judge me all you want. Day 2 kicked off rather late. I won’t go into the list of excuses including late night. As the graphical presentation shows, I’m doing ok and Im not as lazy as I like to think I am. I ran my 5km at the end of the day. I mostly ate what i was supposed to. Apparently I was supposed to eat a potato, and i forgot about that. By the time I remembered, I was too lazy to go to the store.

I should talk about my lame attempt at writing. 1500 words in about three hours. Am I lacking inspiration? I learned two things today.

  1. Create more tension – I have chapters where there is not a lot of action happening besides setting the scene. This is required here and there. However, the trick is how to maintain tension when setting a scene. This Blog on Six steps to creating more tension helped. Some genres are easier than others. In my story a little boy gets lost in town and my task today was to fill in a part of the story that has been missing although the rest of the story is written. I almost made it. One way I gauge how engaged my readers could be is by evaluating how engaged I am when i write the chapter.
  2. Forced accountability with critique groups helps a lot. I have a date with a friend on Tuesday and she’ll get me to finish the chapter before then.

In three weeks and minus 4 pounds –  I have to hand over a completed draft to the boy to read through….

The FOUR Challenge – Day 1

The 7 days Goal: edit four chapters, write four thousand words, lose four pounds, exercise 4km four times.

Day 1 of the Cabbage soup diet consists of a large selection of fruit and a large selection of vegetables boiled together to make Cabbage soup. I actually decided to commit to the diet mid morning. Luckily, I hadn’t really eaten anything.

I woke up bright and early at 6:30 am because my bladder was bursting and I’d tried to ignore it for some time. I’d like to say I got up early to get ready for this busy challenge filled weekend, but I’d be exaggerating – a lot. I’m learning Italian and so I spent an hour on a vocabulary app while in bed. I typically use this method to justify procrastination.

I’ve just moved to a new apartment in NYC and so there are a couple of apartment/closet straightenings that still need to be done. I’d budgeted a few hours this weekend to clean this up. So I changed into my running gear first. I always do this so I don’t use the excuse of the stress related to dressing up to go running as a way to get out of it. I charged my iPod (yes, some people still have those) so that I wouldn’t use the lack of music as a reason not to run. I’ve done this before.

I grabbed a plum and a coffee and started tidying up after unsuccessfully trying to convince my boyfriend (in Europe) that I needed new sunglasses. He said something like I have a pair already and that the other two we got last year I left somewhere (I forgot one in a plane and another one in a shoe shop in Mainz). He doesn’t think that I should get Salvatore Ferragamo sunglasses on 5th Avenue or any sunglasses anywhere if they cost over $20. I could start by discussing the advantages of having a long distance boyfriend (and my own job).

Around 10:30 am I took off to Central Park just around the corner and did a very difficult 4 km run. Day 1 (or 2) of the heatwave was already underway and it was about 90 degrees. To add to the heat stress, I may have run a grand total of 15 km in the past year (about 10 of them were over two days in June).

After the run, I wasn’t as tired as I was expecting given the heat, the low caloric intake and the exercise. I was high on adrenalin and lavazzo coffee.  I cleaned the kitchen, grabbed a couple of apples and then took off to Bed Bath and Beyond to get a bathroom scale. Yes, I didn’t have one. As much as I was concerned about my weight, I had no idea what it was.

Mid afternoon, I made the cabbage soup. Lots of vegetables, spices and herbs. I hate cabbage, but not enough to substitute it with something else like broccoli. I would have, except that at the supermarket, the broccoli looked like it arrived at the store for 4th of July. I ate the cabbage soup. Unappetizing as I expected. So I ate a large bowl of fruit salad for dessert. The diet shouldn’t be so challenging for me because I’m typically a “eat to live” person and so as long as I eat something it’s usually sufficient. Except when I’m stressed, then I get picky.

I started editing a chapter. Editing is tedious. I didn’t finish or come close to. Passive voice. I have a lot of that. I need to get that aggressive voice going. So I gave up and fell asleep. I woke up at 7pm and started writing. I wrote 1000 words. Its not 4000, but I have a week.

So far, my challenge is going well. Its easy on a weekend. we’ll see how  well it goes after I return to work on Monday.

Image from  Baju Muslim Tabaru.

 

Let there be darkness: a poem

Painting by Francesco Borzani

Painting by Francesco Borzani

I breathe and I live

It is but a small step towards my grave

A beautiful mirror that most may miss

Would there be a south, if there was no north

Would there be a west, if there was no east

If there was no darkness, would I know light

Would I stare in wonder at the sunset bowing to the night

Would I know love, if there was no hate

If there was no war, could I welcome peace

Would I know joy if there was no sadness

Happy are those in pain, they say

For they will see Heaven,

Happiness, an illusion

Laugh, sing, dance, and be gay

Just the absence of pain

How would life be if there was no death

Would I postpone today until eternity

Would I desire dying if there was no last breath

So today I will declare

Let there be darkness so I can embrace the light

I will befriend pain, so I know when I feel joy

You can hate me so I can find love

I will tango with death so I can live today, as if it were my last

The boyfriend diary: Fixing my unemotional character

I’ve been told that I’m unemotional. Last time I heard this was when I was getting dumped. Don’t worry, this wasn’t painful at all. I’ve used my lack of emotion as a tool to deal with life. So I never had a problem with “unemotional”. I liked it. I owned it. It defined me. But frequently I found that people define emotional differently.

Then as life would have it, I started writing a book. The book is written from the point of view of a 10 year old boy. I found out soon enough that the little boy, Farai, was just like me – or just like how i thought I would react in the situations he found himself in. It took a lot of help, reading, emotional thesaurus and creative acrobatics to make him more realistic. I essentially resisted this at the beginning because I felt (and still do feel) that there are situations where kids his age would react that way in Zimbabwe (i.e. unemotionally). I was trying not to turn him into a pussy little boy. I think I managed.

I recently started an autobiography “idea”, and I ran into the same problem. However, to every problem there is a  solution. I listed three solutions:

A personal “emotions diary”

love diary

love diary

I did three days. Everyday for three whole days, I wrote up to three prominent feelings I had. I had to think about questions like: What did a feel? What physiological changes did I experience, increase in heart rate, body temperature, tensing of muscles? What thoughts were going through my head and what did I say? How did I say it?

After three days, it wasn’t working so well. Ignorance had been bliss. I operated under the idea that “I don’t think about my emotions so therefore I don’t have any”. There were also events that happened through that short period that made me scared of myself. I will likely come back to that on another day.

An emotions diary about my relationship

I’m dating a truly amazing guy. He makes me happy. I decided to start a diary tomorrow on how he makes me feel. I plan to start with the positive feelings (thats just taking the path of least resistance). Maybe a daily log of our life would be a great gift for him one day. I’m curious to see whether I can be honest. If I can be honest about a situation that brings so much happiness to my life, then I expect that will be a training ground for my autobiography. I can start with the happy times. I wasn’t always unemotional.

A therapist

Someone once said to me “there are people who go to school for years to learn how to deal with people like you EJ.” Well – my ex-therapist acquired his own therapist….Only joking, I’m not that broken. Therapy is not an option because I don’t trust that I will be able to open up to someone who essentially couldn’t care less if I walked through his door or not. I don’t think you can pay someone to care. I can understand their value, but in my skepticism, its not for me.

I went with the boyfriend diary. Stay tuned for how much progress I make.

Writing – the beginnings

I am a born and bred Zimbo. Lets start there. I was in Zimbabwe at the beginning of the economic decline and visited my family frequently (one a year or so) as it continued. These visits were an amazing snapshot of the decline and I was taken aback by the attitude of the Zimbabweans. We had had it good for a long time and so this was a set back, and it couldn’t get worse. That was a mantra I heard every year, “we survived this past year, it cannot get worse”. But it did. While the resilience was impressive, I observed things I thought, people who have never lived through this would never believe. So I noted everything I observed and converted it into a story about life in Zimbabwe over a short period of time.

In 2006, I wrote the first chapter. I was really happy with it. It had everything I thought would hook any reader. Furthermore, you could google what I wrote about and wiki would verify. I gave myself a Noddy badge for the excellent product and promptly put the 2000 word chapter away for some years. In 2010 or 2011 (I cant remember), I broke up with my now ex-boyfriend, so I had a LOT of free time to do a lot of things. I joined the Fairfield scribes, a writers group in the Greater Danbury area in Connecticut. At some point I presented my first chapter for critique. Now, this wasn’t a pat you on the back, stroke your ego type of group and I received detailed critiques from the small group of about six or seven people. They genuinely liked the premise of the story, but I clearly had a lot to learn about the art and science of writing.

Writing was new and different to what I did for work. I work in a scientific field where writing technical documents was part of my job description. So gears had to switch between work and my own writing. At some point I got into it and the science of creativity was an adventure for me, a challenge which took me away from the rest of my life.

I am editing the book now and hopefully make it ready for the readers and my multitude of supporters.