Things That I Do To Avoid Writing That Are So Close To Writing I Can Almost Convince Myself I’m Writing

3 Sep

Things that I do to avoid writing that are so close to writing I can almost convince myself I’m writing:

with contributions by Hilary Miller

  1. Talk (complain) about how my writing is going
  2. Set outlining goals
  3. Set writing goals
  4. Set revision goals
  5. Set goals for the next month, because everyone knows the best way to get things done is in small chunks
  6. And while I’m at it, why not make goals for the day? The week?
  7. And also a ten-year plan
  8. Create rigid, complicated schedules to help meet said goals
  9. Take up bullet journaling to see if maybe there is a new technique surrounding goals and schedules I should be using?
  10. Read articles on how to become a morning person, because if I’m going to do this thing it sounds like I need to become a morning person
  11. Look up specific, obscure grammar rules that will probably be deleted anyway
  12. Research names for characters
  13. Go down the rabbit hole that is name forums and name culture, but every voice should be heard!
  14. Do a deep dive into Australian exports, because that one character is Australian and maybe this is backstory
  15. Calculate how much time I could write for and still have enough energy to work out
  16. Solve complex math problems along the lines of, “If I write 500 words a day and do 12 edits, each at an increasing speed, how many years will it take me to finish this book?”
  17. Investigate drastic life changes that would “allow me more time to write,” a true investment in the future
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House For Sale

28 Aug

I made Rob look at a house for sale on Cape Cod.

To clarify, we are not in the market to buy a house, nor do we know where we will eventually buy a house (if we ever buy a house!)

caveat 

caveat

caveat

But this house!

Oh it’s a good one.

But this house!

Oh the mortgage would be less than our rent.

It looks like a little cottage out of a fairytale. Barn meets Cape Cod. Shingles with an outdoor shower. A deck made for string lights and card nights. A clothes line.

There’s something so romantic about a clothes line, about a white dress fluttering in the salty breeze. About packing a picnic for a beach that lies just beyond the backyard.

I’ve picked out the tile for the kitchen. I’d turn the loft space into a guest room slash library slash play room.

The bookshelves would be millennial pink and I wouldn’t care.

Every year I’d send out colorful invitations to my closest people, inviting them to stay that summer, to borrow our deck and our beach and our bookshelves.

Whenever I imagine having kids, it’s always in a home like this. There’s shakshuka or an oatmeal bake or cinnamon toast in the oven. The windows are open. We run off to the beach or the pond or grandma’s house. We eat fish stew in thrifted bowls. Dolly lounges in a slice of buttery sun.

I made Rob look at a house for sale on Cape Cod.

Two weeks later the house sold.

I am surprisingly hurt, surprisingly invested for someone with

caveats

caveats

caveats

 

PS: A dream home in Malibu

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The Books of Cape Cod

1 Aug

Some years I remember perfectly.

There was The Goldfinch year, 2014. It was the book of the moment, or so it felt. Everyone had an opinion. 

It took me all week to read it and by the end, the pages of the book were salty and bubbled. The whole trip defined by that monster of a story.

There was 2018, the year my mother-in-law and I both read The Big House. I marveled how we had selected twin 14-year-old books, her from a garage sale on Cape Cod, me from the Santa Monica library. How we had both ended up that same week with the same family history.

Other years are less clear.

I believe I read Beautiful Ruins in 2013.

I have a memory of sitting on the white cloth couch and listening to Rob’s grandma paint a picture of Italy. A flash of that dramatic cover abandoned on the table at a house party

In 2016 I was volunteering at a library and I brought two out-of-character nonfiction books recommended by the adult librarian: 

How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the worst breakups in history by Jennifer Wright

The only thing I remember from either book was a creepy fact from It Ended Badly which later seemed to relate, urgently, to a friend’s creepy relationship.

This is all I remember.

(My friend’s relationship ended badly.)

In 2017 I was getting married and for the first and only time I didn’t read on the sandy beaches of Cape Cod. Days were filled with family and preparation, hostessing and listening to Morty the mouse.

If my Goodreads is right, I read The Light of the World on the airplane over to Boston, though I truly do not remember this book. You could tell me anything you wanted about it, and I would believe it.

It’s about dinosaurs? Well the blurb says it’s a memoir about marriage, but it could be a memoir about a dinosaur marriage! 

I’m still not convinced I’ve actually read it.

I do know I was planning a wedding that year.

And then there was 2015.

It appears I was loosey-goosey with my Goodreads habits in 2015, marking books read but not giving dates, everything fuzzy and haphazard. I searched through my library holds and read through old blog posts and 

and

and

I just do not know what was going on in 2015.

Can I sit in this mystery?

It’s now 2019.

A new Cape Cod trip is upon me.

I currently have 

3 physical books

4 Kindled British stories (unavailable in the States) 

16 ebooks checked out through the library

 

I am ready and open to all possibilities.

I am ready and open to the magic of it unfolding, page after bubbled, salty page.

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Love, Book Launches, And What I Wore

24 Jul

Inspired by Love, Loss, and What I Wore, I started drawing some of my memorable outfits and posting them on Instagram under the hashtag (what else?) #lovelossandwhatjillwore

 

My dress was pink and flowy. The sort of thing you might wear to junior prom with kitten heels and sticky lip gloss.

The fabric had tiny fuzz balls dripping off it, giving it a kind of dizzying effect. 

A dress made for twirling, for special occasions, for me.

A friend said, “Well, that’s the most Jill dress I’ve ever seen.” 

I told Katie that I wasn’t sure if I should wear it, seeing as how it was her book launch and I didn’t want to make this about me. She laughed and pointed to her all-black ensemble, “Yes, I almost wore the exact same thing.”

In the pictures you see this:

Me in my prom dress.

Katie in her jumpsuit and staggering black heels. 

Hilary in jeans and a floral shirt, shoes that she later declared “orthopedic, but still not comfortable enough.”

Us laughing.

But this is not a post about what we wore.

It is, but it isn’t.

Katie had her first book launch this month. It’s an event we had talked about and dreamed of for years. The years where everything was lost, we were working the bad jobs, the dream was so far.

Katie thrived in those years. It’s one of the things I most admire about her.

I am sensitive and fragile, the slightest criticism throws me into a spiral.

Katie is tough and resilient. You criticize her? She is coming back. For BLOOD. (Or at least success.)

She’s the person who wakes up at 5AM to write her book, who takes hits and comes back swinging again and again.

For some reason in my mind I have Rocky Balboa with the battered face, pulling himself up for another.

That’s Katie.

And this summer, at a quaint children’s bookstore in a quaint little town, she got to stand in front of all the people she loves with her arms raised, victorious.

DING DING DING

(They actually struck a gong when she walked on stage.)

At the end of the night, I twirled through the quiet streets. Lights twinkled overhead. I spread my arms wide as my dress floated above me.

Katie took off her killer heels, her feet indented from the sacrifice.

Hilary announced she needed flip flops even though her shoes were orthopedic.

(This deserves sharing twice.)

We laughed.

We laughed and we ate chips and salsa outside in the dark.

We laughed and I wore my pink pom pom prom dress, the sort of thing you might wear to junior prom with kitten heels and sticky lip gloss.

A dress made for twirling.

PS: Katie’s book can be found HERE!!

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St. Swithin’s Day 2019

18 Jul

I’m fascinated by the minutia of our days one year to the next. What it can tell you about our lives and the changes that happen over time. St. Swithin’s Day feels like as good a day as any to track through the years, doesn’t it?

 

I have found the secret to a fulfilling life and that secret is a simple breakfast banana cookie

2 ripe bananas

2 cups rolled oats (blend in blender until it becomes a flour)

1 tsp vanilla

Cinnamon

Pecans

 

Mix together

Bake at 350 for 9-12 minutes

 

I have made these cookies weekly since I discovered the recipe. I have shared it with friends, family and now you. It feels like a burden is lifted. When the bananas go bad each week I simply turn them into breakfast the next. No trips to the grocery store. No added sugar.

If I’m trying to capture today, I must capture the banana cookies.

It’s my first day of Quidditch camp and my first time back at work in a while. I’m creaky. Creaky at waking up early, creaky at packing my lunch.

I do it, though. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The crispest watermelon, the pink itself a taste. Cherries and carrots, goldfish and olives. It sounds like a lot but by the end of a day running around with a Quaffle I’m hungry.

I take a brief nap with Dolly by my side. Dolly should be mentioned in this, the year of our Lord 2019. She’s sleeping on my legs right now, having done that thing where she walks over to me in a sleep daze, knowing exactly where she wants to go. (My lap.)

Rob makes my favorite pasta. 

I walk to the library.

I return

Once More We Saw Stars

 

I get

Women Talking

Mostly Dead Things

 

I am reading

Southern Lady Code

The Cactus

 

I tell myself that today I don’t have to do anything other than work. This feels like progress. Usually when I start a new routine I want to begin with a bang. I must not only incorporate this new, exhausting thing, but then when I get home I need to exercise and do a few errands and work on my book for four hours.

I remember a friend telling me that all she requires of herself is to go to work every day and then she can just be.

How freeing is that?

I tell myself that today I can just be.

Maybe I’ll start telling myself this more often.

 

PS: A letter I wrote to myself on St. Swithin’s Day six years ago, the first year of my blog, the first year of knowing Rob.

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Confessions Of An Overachiever

9 Jul

I recently started reading at a nursing home nearby. They call it Reader’s Corner with Jillian and it’s really sweet and on my first day I brought no less than 17 options of books to read.

I went to the library and I researched which Stephen King short stories would be best and I made sure to cover genres and interests and lengths.

At the end of my session, the activities director pulled me aside and told me, you don’t need to bring so many books

She looked concerned, “How is your back doing?”

A friend told me that the picture of all my volunteering books laid out on my bed and sorted into categories, should be under a Tumblr “Confessions of an Overachiever.”

The confessions aren’t pretty.

Overachieving, for me, fills a couple of roles.

The first is validation.

From a young age when I overachieved I received praise and attention, good grades and an identity. Not even in a bad way! In a really reinforcing way.

A really, really reinforcing way.

It also gives me a sense of control, I think?

By picking out four types of poetry and just the right fairytale collection I can feel as though I am prepared to volunteer my time at this nursing home. That I am now armed with whatever I might need for whatever is thrown at me.

Of course I am not.

Of course when the Nora Ephron essay doesn’t go as planned and the jokes aren’t hitting and suddenly it’s hot, isn’t it very hot in here? all my preparation won’t save me.

Of course, it’s a false sense of control.

In fact, why is that a phrase? False sense of control.

Is there ever a true sense of control?

Does that exist?

A few weeks ago, I was on a very delayed flight. We’re talking 8+ hours of delay, 8+ hours of me rotting away in an airport.

When I realized what I was up against, I immediately decided I would make the most of it. 

This travel experience would be a metaphor for my life. Yes, it didn’t go as planned, but how I respond to that is in my control.

I am in control.

(You see where this is going.)

I began by keeping a list of all the ways I saw grace during my airport stay.

There was the Khiel’s lotion I used to soothe my dry-shaved legs.

The kind man who didn’t charge me for my overweight bag.

There was the soft serve ice cream right by my gate and TSA pre and working chargers.

I meditated right there in the middle of the airport.

I made myself a bullet journal of everything coming up in my life.

I would TRIUMPH! I was triumphing!

Even as the plane stayed on the runway, as they announced that due to weather we would be rerouting for a longer flight I simply nodded. I had made it this far, I would make it all the way.

About an hour into my flight I was adjusting my bag, putting away my headphones, when the woman in the seat in front of me stood up. She began to yell.

EFF YOU. EFF YOU.

I looked around, feeling horrible for whomever this was aimed at.

As she continued to swear and yell and scream I realized she was talking to me.

I was shocked. We had had no interaction the entire flight.

EFF YOU EVERY TIME YOU TOUCH THE BACK OF MY SEAT YOU INJURE ME.

EFF YOU.

I opened my mouth to apologize, to say I was not trying to touch her seat, but she silenced me with her hand and continued to scream.

When she was done, she sat back down, pulled her camo hoodie over her head and went back to sleep.

My heart pounding, I picked up my bag and put it on my lap. I would not be using the seat back for anything. 

I twisted my legs so they wouldn’t go near her seat, soon causing cramps and parts of my body to go numb.

I had four hours left.

A mini metaphor of life,

a mini metaphor of control, indeed.

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The Common Cold And Starting Over

8 Jul

I have this theory that the common cold exists to teach us how to start over again and again.

This sounds dramatic, and I suppose it is. I am in a bit of a dramatic mood.

You see, I get colds all the time.

It’s been like this my whole life. When I lived in Utah with the winter and the sneezing and the (shudder) inversion, I was sick half the year.

Now I live in paradise and work at an elementary school and last year I was sick for nine months.

I am in the throes of a terrible summer cold as I type this.

You see, I am feeling a bit dramatic about colds.

A few weeks ago I got back to California after a whirlwind couple of trips. I was tired, but ready. Ready for Summer to begin.

I went to the gym that first day, I blasted the Jonas Brothers, a band I didn’t even know I liked until they liked their wives so much. I did a ridiculously hard workout for 28 minutes. I was sore for days after. But my gosh. That workout!

My gosh! My legs!

I attached my phone number to my Vons card. I created a to-do list that you would like to see only if you would like to…OK you wouldn’t like to see it.

I was on a roll, I was doing it all!

And then. The cold struck.

I’m bad at colds. This is part of the problem.

The other day I was wheezing on a hike while Rob held his tongue, because he knew I didn’t want to hear that instead of hiking in Santa Barbara, I should have been in bed. Again.

Listen, I love bed. I want to live in my bed. But only on my terms. Only when I’m choosing it and can monitor it and can not fall into an endless malaise because of it.

I don’t want to stay in bed for two weeks, two weeks of a very very precious summer. I have a book I want to edit this summer, OK, and a very limited time to do it. 

I want to be tasting my food while I am writing said book!

I want to write my book, dang it.

Thus my theory.

About colds and starting over.

The thing is, with this cold, I could not keep up the exercise routine I had planned. I had to stop it all and now I’ll start again and you know how that is. How hard it is to start doing something every day when you’re out of the habit.

I couldn’t write as much as I wanted either, what with the naps and the fuzzy head, and just now I’m getting back to it. To the kitchen timer and the forcing of the habit, the forcing of my brain to realize, yep, I’m doing this, yep accept it.

And recreating these routines and brain pathways and steps towards the goals, oh it’s hard.

It’s really hard.

And it’s life.

Never once in my life have I been able to keep up all my good habits all the time. Something throws them off, life happens, and whoops I’m out of it again. 

And I start the slow painful process.

The setting of the timer.

The twenty minutes on the elliptical.

I start again only to know that it’s a matter of time before I’m knocked off course. A matter of time before my next cold.

And yet, I keep trying.

What else can we do anyway?

Achoo

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Tell Me Three Things

17 Jun

I just read the YA romance Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum and so you’ve caught me at a vulnerable time. I am deeply in love with these characters, with this story, with Love In General.

Love is a many splendored thing!

Love lifts us up where we belong!

All you need is love!

(Fine, I won’t start that again.)

In the story, Jessie and SN (Somebody Nobody) text all day every day. Except, TWIST, Jessie doesn’t know who SN is! They fall for each other, of course. Through sharing their souls in little bite-sized chunks.

Jessie and SN often begin the day saying, “Tell me three things.”

They share tidbits and thoughts and all that nothing means more than so many somethings, as Kathleen would say.

All that nothing inspired me to share some of my own.

Maybe it will be a series?

Who knows, I’m not thinking clearly!!

 

Three Things Today

1. I like the bad animal crackers.

You know the ones.

They taste almost neutral. Like eating sawdust. A snack to fill you up but not let you down.

This feels significant to me, somehow. That I want the bad stuff.

I bought the normal branded animal crackers recently, forgetting that they are ever-so-slightly sweet. That they have a taste. I’m not interested in that.

I want my animal crackers like I want my Amazon packages.

Made of cardboard.

 

2. I have created the world’s most perfect Coldstone order.

In my list of life accomplishments this has to go somewhere near the top.

Jillian Denning. Good at book recommendations, birthday presents, banana bread and Coldstone combinations.

(It’s too bad Coldstone combinations doesn’t start with a B.)

 

The Jillian Denning

½ Sweet cream ½ cake batter ice cream

Cinnamon

Pecans

Kit Kat

 

3. My hair is a shaggy mess.

Shaggy seems the only word for it. The ends are frayed, the top is heavy, and there’s this slight fuzz to it all that never quite goes away.

Sometimes I wonder how I got married in August, during a hurricane on Cape Cod and my hair looked fly as pie and now, in my everyday life I wonder if I’ll ever like it again.

Hair, if you are reading this, I’m just joking. Please do not give up on me now!

I have an appointment with Alberto tomorrow and I’m just hanging on until then. Crown braids, high ponytails.

The price of only getting your hair cut two states away from where you live.

The price of picky.

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Have A Great Summer

15 Jun

The other day I was sitting with a group of friends talking about the summer.

When you work in a school, The Summer takes on a life of its own.

What are you doing This Summer?

Any plans for Summer?

I’ve answered this question a dozen times over now. I’ve asked it even more. We are all the problem. We are The Summer.

This summer I am

Seeing my family in Utah

Attending the American Library Association’s annual conference in Washington DC

Going to Cape Cod

Teaching a Quidditch camp

whataboutyou?

When my friends asked about summer plans, I recited my four events much like you recite your college major, anticipating the follow-up questions.

Sonia Sotomayor (is speaking at ALA)

My husband’s family has a home there (on Cape Cod)

You have a student wear a yellow flag football belt (to be the Snitch)

“But what are you looking forward to?” someone asked.

“Oh, I have a long to-do list.”

I started rattling off my bullet journal.

  • weird car noise to address
  • art to frame
  • items to post on Craigslist
  • storage closet to clean

“You know, really getting things done.”

The group looked at me.

“But what are you looking forward to?”

I went silent.

I have this thing.

I don’t know what to call it.

But basically, I don’t count myself as a human in this world unless I’m being productive.

I guess I should call it a curse.

Last summer I made this exhaustive list of every errand I needed to accomplish. On there was renew my passport. I wasn’t going anywhere, but my passport was expiring. This was the time to get it done!

At the end of the summer I looked at my list in shame.

My passport remained outdated.

How had I wasted all of my time?!

Of course, there were other things not on the list that I had accomplished.

Things like walks with my grandma and cuddles with a newborn baby. Fresh strawberry jam on my mom’s homemade bread.

The things that never make it to the list because the list only contains horrible things I hate doing and only 20% need to be done.

(But if they aren’t on the list, do they even count?)

What are you looking forward to this summer?”

I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Not Large Activities I Am Doing.

Not My Enormous, Oppressive To-Do List.

But things I’d like to do, just because. Things that nourish my soul.

Things like thrifting with my sister and trying my hand at cinnamon bread. Turning off my phone for large stretches of time. Hiking and smelling the honeysuckle and I don’t know.

Things I haven’t even thought of yet.

Things that are going to surprise me with their beauty.

If I let them.

If I can let go of the horrible productivity monster inside of me.

Did you know that kids still use the phrase HAGS?

It’s in yearbooks and everything.

Have a great summer! You’re the best!

HAGS!

Note it’s not: have a productive summer

HAPS!

It’s not have a great time getting your passport renewed

It’s have a great summer.

HAGS, baby

HAGS

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Terry Tempest Williams

9 Jun

Reading Terry Tempest Williams felt so intimate it was almost like hearing an echo. There I was, there were generations of Mormon women, with our voices combining and splitting, yearning and striving.

I felt heard and understood, seen and embraced.

I wonder what it would be like to read Terry’s words and not be a Mormon woman.

A Mormon feminist woman who grew up in Utah.

She speaks of places I know, people I’ve never met who are familiar all the same.

There is a part in Refuge where she is given a ride back to Salt Lake from strangers. She notes that if she had asked enough questions they would have likely been related several generations back, “the dark side of residency” in Utah.

She and I, with enough questions, might find we are related.

I don’t need to ask them, though.

Refuge is a memoir. A story of grief and death. Terry speaks of her mother’s cancer, the slow decline, holding her mother’s hand, acting as her midwife as she passed on.

Refuge is an environmental treatise. Terry speaks of the Utah landscape, of the Great Salt Lake.

Chapters begin with the Great Salt Lake’s water level. Terry spends pages, chapters on birds, at times the text becoming a scientific journal, one I don’t fully grasp.

When I saw her in person, just days after reading this she said, “My dad can tell you, I had every indication of being normal until I started watching birds.”

I’ve always been a little hesitant to use the phrase “hand of God in my life.”

It’s something we like to say at church, instances where something bigger than ourselves shows up. Grace, perhaps.

I can rarely pinpoint these moments in my life when they’re happening, but this week, after seeing Terry Tempest Williams in person I felt it.

Me reading her words just a week before she was to be in Los Angeles and I could see her. Surely that was the hand of something.

Me sharing that experience with a girl who I feel firmly was brought to me by something bigger than myself, well, that was a hand waving in my face.

Hello!

Hello!

I took a lot of notes at Terry’s talk. It’s hard to describe the energy in the room. You could hear others breathing around you. We were eager to take her in.

Terry is thoughtful and kind. I appreciate that so much.

There was so much talk of her being Mormon!

Terry is no longer a practicing Mormon.

I take issue with that very black and white definition, though.

The book is overflowing with Mormonism. She speaks of it with respect and nuance, recalling a spiritual experience as angels in the room. She speaks of its origins and liking to be connected to something magical and mystical.

She prays over her mother’s sick body.

She carries a few verses of Mormon scripture, Doctrine and Covenants 88:45-47, with her at all times.

45 The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God.

46 Unto what shall I liken these kingdoms, that ye may understand?

47 Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.

Practicing is a subjective term, isn’t it?

After Terry’s talk, my friend and I stood in line to get our books signed. We were missing another event, but it seemed vital, pressing that we stay. That we see her.

Terry joined the crowd on  her time, smiling and friendly. We introduced ourselves.

We are Mormon.

We met through the visiting teaching program.

She spoke about her love of fast and testimony meetings, of hearing each other’s stories and bearing witness to each other.

She gave us a hug and said, “We share so much.”

Hello!

Hello!

We share so much.

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