"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Thoughts I've Had About the Internet

1. All of these artists and writers I follow are so productive- they're always sharing new work, so they must not struggle with their creativity ever! 

2. Maybe my life would be better if I threw my phone in a lake and lived the rest of my days in a cabin in the mountains without internet

3. Why does it feel like everyone is yelling at each other?

4. I hate it when someone with a large platform posts something obviously just for fun/to document their life, and someone else feels the need to comment something like, "I'm SO disappointed to see that you're still using plastic straws! (or buying fast fashion, or ordering from Amazon, or not eating vegan/organic/raw/whatever, or supporting ____ company with terrible labor practices, etc. etc). We should all try to make ethical choices, but trying to make EVERY choice ethical all the time is exhausting and frankly sometimes financially/emotionally/logistically impossible in the current world we live in.

5. Why does every cooking blog make you scroll for miles to get to the recipe?

6. Do people even read blogs anymore? Why do I still have one?

7. The truth is I want to have an online following. The truth is I'm terrified that the things I have to do to get an online following (post more, be relatable, promote myself/my work) will look weird and self serving to the people who already follow me (especially people I know in real life).

8. Instagram is horrible and fake. Why are we all pretending that it's real???

9. Instagram allows you to glimpse the world through other people's eyes. It's the most creative social media platform.

10. Social media would be so much easier if I was a visual artist instead of a writer. Writing is so solitary and slow and not as aesthetically pleasing as art.

11. I love that Patreon allows creative people to have supplemental income, and it seems like a really great tool. But, like with anything on the internet, will it be around in 20 years? What if it goes the way of Vine? What if all of those people pour their art and their livelihoods into this thing and then one day it's gone?

12. When I was a kid, I wrote journal entries from my dog's POV and posted them on Dogster, which used to be a sort of Facebook for dogs (aka: their owners. Obviously). Now, if you go on Dogster.com it's just an online magazine about dogs? All of the community pages have been taken down, including the rather large number of entires I wrote when I was eight or nine. For some reason that makes me kinda sad?

13. Question I think people should ask more: What's your favorite website? (Mine is Brain Pickings)

14. I love cute animal videos as much as the next person. I HATE the sappy music that plays in the background of almost all of them.

15. The roller skating community is the friendliest, most supportive internet community I've ever encountered. It's where I feel the magic of the Internet the most strongly.

16. There's nothing more disheartening than reading the comments made by guys on a video of a girl skateboarding. (Watch this video for a taste.)

17. Why do I feel that little zing of happiness when I read something/see a meme that I relate to? Even when it's something small and stupid. Why do we crave that little bloom of recognition so much?

18. I'm going to do a social media detox. *5 min later* How did I get on Instagram without even realizing it?

19. Maybe if I gave up social media I'd have more time. Or maybe I'd just find a way to waste it on something else.

20. I still sometimes have these moments where I'm in awe of what the internet can do. You can type anything (anything!!) into the search bar, and there are thousands of people talking/writing about that very thing. You can learn anything you want. If you're curious about something, all it takes is a few clicks. It's the ultimate knowledge tool - bigger than any library in the world. And isn't it just so HUMAN of us to have made this incredible knowledge machine, and fill it with cat videos.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Keep Going

Hi friends. I wanted to have a little honest chat about how I've been feeling about my creativity lately, because it hasn't been great.

I've been really struggling with feeling like I'm not making any progress, or more realistically, the fact that I can't recognize the progress I've been making.

I've been working on the second draft of the novel I finished last November, and I'm almost 15,000 words in, but I don't know how to measure my progress in a way that will make me feel accomplished. As such, I've been being really hard on myself about writing, and my habit of constantly getting distracted, and just everything in general.

I think part of the problem is comparison. I follow a lot of creative people on the internet, and I love it because they are a constant source of inspiration. I want to be as prolific as the artists and writers I follow online, but because writing is such a solitary, slow activity I haven't been able to share any of the progress I'm making. It sucks that in today's creative economy, it feels like you're not being "productive" unless you share the results of your efforts. And like, that's part of the creative process, right? I want people to be able to interact with the things I'm making- that's part of the reason why I make things. But at the same time, I hate that the progress I'm making doesn't feel like "real" progress unless somebody else is witness to it. It's like the creative version of "pics or it didn't happen."

I hate that the internet/social media does this to us. I love that the internet/social media connects us to this whole world of creative people I never would have discovered otherwise. I'm very, very conflicted.

I don't know if self doubt is even the right word for what I'm feeling. It's weird, because I've never been more confident in my work. For the longest time I didn't want to even consider submitting short stories to magazines, because I didn't think what I was writing was anywhere near good enough yet. I don't really feel that anymore. It feels like time to start submitting things for publication. I want to rack up rejection letters, because that means I'm finally putting myself out there. But that knowledge doesn't change the fact that every time I sit down to write I have to fight through this mire of fear and distraction and just plain old discomfort. And I know that's normal, and I know that every writer deals with those emotions, but I wish I could fall in love with writing again. I wish I could write the way I did as a kid, where the stories just poured out of me without judgement.

I don't have a neat bow to tie all of this up in. I don't have tips or answers or advice. I'm just trying to make stuff. I want to start posting here more regularly again, because maybe sharing things will make me feel like I'm part of the conversation, like I'm making progress.  Part of me hates that I can't be happy on my own little island of creativity, just slowly plodding along towards the end of my novel. But I've also never felt the urge to put my work out there as strongly as I do now. It's time.

So, I'm trying to be kind, but firm, to myself. I'm going to keep writing my novel, and I'm going to try and enjoy it. I'm going to make things that I can actually share, because I have things I want to say, things that I think are worth reading.

If you're feeling any of these things too, you're not alone. I'd love to know how you handle the topsy-turvy-ness of the social media inspiration vs distraction trap. (Honestly, it feels like a daily see-saw). How do you balance making things to share vs the slow, quiet process of making things just for yourself? And writers: how do you remind yourself that you're making progress???

This girl has a lot of questions and not very many answers. But she's gonna to keep going anyway.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

10 Reasons To Take Up Roller Skating

Last year, I got my first pair of roller skates since I was a kid. Since then I've wobbled, stumbled, and downright fallen into all things roller skating, and let me tell you: I'm having a blast! Roller skating has changed my life for the better in so many ways. Here are a few:

1. It's good to be bad at something. Let me confess something: I'm not good at skating. I'm still very much a beginner. But that's one of the things that drew me to it in the first place. Being a beginner humbles you. It pushes you to learn new things and not be afraid to look stupid doing them. And trust me, that's a very valuable skill.

2. It's exercise that's actually fun. For a while, I thought the only kind of exercise I found even moderately enjoyable was walking. Seriously. I thought I just wasn't an athletic person. I could list off a ton of the physical benefits of roller skating: It requires leg strength, core strength, good posture, and flexibility, not to mention balance and coordination. But the main thing that matters is that it's fun! When I'm cruising down an empty street on skates, I feel like I'm flying. Who doesn't want their workout to feel like that?

3. The community is amazing. My first introduction to the skating community was this video. Maybe it's cheesy, but it's what gave me the final push I needed to commit and get myself a pair skates. Since then I've discovered #moxiskatedaily on Instagram and stumbled into the most supportive, empowering, and downright friendly community on the internet. Seriously, I've never seen an unkind comment on anyone's posts, and I've connected with skaters all over the world.

4. It helps you face your fears. Skaters face the fear of falling every single time they lace up. They roll over cracks. They drop into bowls. They jump and spin and fall, fall fall. Feeling the fear and doing it anyway has extended beyond skating and into every aspect of my life. Skating makes me a more confident, fearless person, and for that I am forever grateful.

5. It makes you see your city in a whole new light. One of the best things about owning skates is that the only thing you need to have fun is a smooth stretch of concrete. I find myself noticing great skating spots everywhere I go. Every time I see a tennis court I make a mental note (inside scoop: tennis courts are like impromptu outdoor roller rinks). Walkable areas become skateable areas, plus a stretch that would take you twenty minutes to walk takes about half that on wheels. The possibilities are endless!

6. You can really gauge your progress. Unlike other creative pursuits, where it can be hard to judge your progress against any kind of objective metric (AKA: Writing.....haha ha ha ha....), skating is satisfying in that you can physically see your progress. It's simple: you put in the work, and then suddenly your body is able to do something that felt impossible just weeks before. Finally getting a new trick down is one of the best feelings in the world.

7. It improves balance and flexibility. This one is pretty self explanatory, but I didn't realize just how uncoordinated and inflexible I was until I got on roller skates! Now I find myself looking up exercises to do off skates, JUST so I can become a better skater. Who am I???

8. It's empowering! Want to see some strong, badass women? Look no further than the roller skating community. I'm not just talking about roller derby, though of course that's a big part of it. Roller skating is female dominated in part I think because skateboarding is such a boys club. Roller skaters can do everything (and more!) that a skateboarder can do in a skatepark, AND they're doing it with wheels strapped to their feet. No simply jumping off boards for us—when our wheels roll out form under us, we go down with them. You only have to see EstroJen do a flip in the bowl to believe that roller skates are the next feminist power symbol.

9. You get to know your inner kid again.  A lot of people take up skating to feel the freedom and fearlessness they had as kids. Let me be the first to say: I was not a fearless kid. I was probably more cautious and reserved than I am now. Skating as an adult feels a little bit like a gift to my younger self. It's me saying: look what you can do now. Look how far you've come. I have to believe that little Laura would be proud.

10. It's more fun than walking! Need I say more? I don't think so :)

Before I sign off, I just want to say: maybe roller skating isn't for you. That's fine. But I'm so glad I found a hobby that  makes me feel like a kid again, that brings joy and play into my every day life, that allows me to make new friends and challenges me to grow in ways I didn't think possible. Don't question wether you'll be good or bad at it, or if you'll look stupid doing it. Just find something that makes you happy, and go with the flow :)

Happy rolling!

ps. If you want to updates on my slow, un-graceful roller skating progress, follow @lauralearnstoskate on Instagram :)

pps. Here are some of my favorite resources for the beginner skater:

Planter Roller Skate

Nicole Fiore's Tutorials

Deborah Harry's Tutorials

Chicks in Bowls

 I go to meet the Skate Queen herself: Indy Jamma Jones

Sunday, November 18, 2018

On Finishing.

Last Sunday, I finished the first draft of my novel.

Wow. It feels really weird to write that. It feels weird, because "Write a novel" has been one of my New Year's Resolutions every single year since I was about 13. And 2018 is the year that I can finally cross it off my list. That's a really, really good feeling.

Messy hair, bad lighting, but a very happy writer!
Needless to say, I learned a lot of things about craft and productivity and my own very flawed process in the writing of this book, so I thought I'd share them here. In fact, some of these things directly contradict the lessons I mentioned in the blog post I shared at the halfway point. That's one of the things I love most about writing: there is always, always more to learn.

1. I'm a slow writer, and that's okay. This draft took me two and a half years to write. That's a long time, and not exactly ideal, especially since published authors usually produce work on much tighter deadlines and I want to be one of those someday. What you don't see in those two and half years are the looong stretches between writing sessions. The waffling. The dragging of feet. The distraction. To give you a sense of my pace, I reached the "halfway point" (40,000 words) on January 15th of this year. It took me 9 months to write what some people write every November. I don't say this to disparage myself, but to remind myself that even the slowest writers can still finish. I would love to write faster. I think, with more discipline and less procrastination, I can write faster. But I will never be one of those people who writes several thousand words a day. I will never "win" Nanowrimo, because a prolonged effort of 1,600 words a day just isn't doable for me. What writing this book taught me was how to work within my own sporadic productivity, and that writing at my own pace, especially for a first attempt, is perfectly okay. So if you're feeling overwhelmed by Nano this month, just remember that every writer writes differently - and if we didn't, what a boring world it would be.

2. Planning is Key. I said in my "halfway point" blog post that I thought I'd found my ideal planning method. Well, let's just say, it wasn't enough. I wrote this book with a loose outline that was really just a list of scenes I thought should be in the book somewhere. That's a good start, but it was not nearly enough momentum to keep the story moving forward. It wasn't so much the dreaded middle that tripped me up, but the last third. I'd left most of my ending scenes blank, thinking that I would figure it out as I went along. Bad idea. It's really hard to write the somewhat compelling, halfway-decent ending you're hoping for in your first draft, when you realize the whole book has been building up to....something?? That's a lot of pressure and a lot of stuff to figure out at the last minute. For my next novel I'm planning to do way more outlining. My characters need clearer motivations. They need the escalation of problems. They need (or rather, I need) an end in sight.

3. Reading More = Writing More. Let it be known, this doesn't always work, but when it does, it works wonders! If I'm reading a good book, I'm almost always more likely to want to write. Sometimes I find myself picking up a book, reading a couple pages, and then immediately feeling the urge to write. (Or, well, think about writing and then work up the motivation to actually open the document. I'm being real here, guys.) I always tend to write more when I am actively reading something, especially if I'm enjoying it. When the delicate ecosystem of inspiration and creative output is in balance, the writing feels almost effortless.

4. Commit, commit, commit. Honestly, most of what got me though this process was commitment. Commitment to telling this particular story. Commitment to seeing this draft through to completion. On a smaller scale, commitment to getting to the next word count milestone, whatever that might be. Writing a novel is an endurance sport for your brain, so it's vital that you have little markers along the way. I'd always write more on the days when I could see the next milestone ahead of me, just out of reach. I'd sit down with the specific intention of finally hitting 10K or 20K or 30K and I'd actually follow though. I was at 78,000 words last Sunday when I decided that that I was going to finish this thing no matter what. I ended up writing 6,000 more words (the most I've written in one day, ever), just so I could type "The End." But this doesn't just apply to the final stretch. There were plenty of times when I could have stopped for the day at 9,000 or 59,000 or whatever, but I wanted to make it the next 10K milestone, so I pushed through the resistance. I wrote 2,000 words on an airplane once just so the person next to me would ask me if I was writing a novel! (They did, by the way.) (Is that embarrassing to admit? I don't know.) Getting through a first draft is not just about committing to the whole, gargantuan undertaking. It's also about finding those smaller moments where you can commit to just getting to the next level, and then pushing through the resistance to get there.

5. Trust the process, and trust yourself. There's not a writer on the planet who doesn't feel self-doubt. There were times when I felt like everything I was writing was crap. Sometimes a whole month would slip by, and I hadn't written a word. It was in these moments that I'd feel bad about myself and my work, and it felt impossible to face another blank page. "Trust the process" is not new advice, but it's so important. The more you write, the easier it gets. I slowed down considerably towards the end of my draft, partly because I was still clutching at vague ideas for my ending, but also because my self doubt kicked into high gear. I thought that if I couldn't do the novel justice in the last section, all that hard work would have been somehow wasted on a story with a disappointing ending. I inched forward at a snails pace, until finally, I decided to just go all in, and trust that things would work out. I figured out the ending as I went, and it was such an adrenaline rush, writing those last  few thousand words. So when you're feeling full of self doubt, remember that the only way to get through the fog is to keep writing, because every word you write is proof that you are worthy of the task. That's you trusting the process. When it feels like the story is rebelling, and you don't know if you can fix the problems you've created for yourself, you have to trust that future you will know how to fix them. That's you trusting yourself.

Writing is the process of muddying a perfectly crisp blank page, and then working to turn the smear into something beautiful. It will never be as perfect as the original clean slate, but who wants it to be? Writing this draft taught me that perfection isn't the goal: completion is.

So. There you have it. I hope this little list was helpful to those of you trying to get through a first draft. It's hard, y'all. But it's doable. This book still needs a ton of work (I predict a full re-write and a lot more research), but I'm proud of myself for doing the work. Now, whenever I feel the self doubt monster creeping in I can tell myself: I've done it once. I can do it again.

I've done it once. And I will do it again.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Maker's Log: Introduction

For years I've been looking for a way to document my writing progress. I tried keeping a spreadsheet of my word counts, but it always seemed too rigid - what if I wanted to work on something other than my novel? Did the words still count? Then I tried keeping a traditional journal to document the work, but I never stuck to it because the entries took too long to write and I never went back and re-read them, anyway. What I needed, I decided, was a sort of captains log for my creativity. A no-nonsense chronicle of my day, with just a little room for embellishment. A maker's log, if you will.

I love taking time to chronicle my day, even if its only in outline form. It gives credence to both the productive days and the ones where I only manage to get a few words down. It makes each attempt seem noble and good, because look, I showed up, I attempted. I love deciding what to put into my maker's log and what to leave out on any given day. I love reading my old entries. Looking back, I can already see the shifts in perspective, and the things I'm going to have to re-learn over and over again. It makes this thing I'm doing, this endless swath of words, seem a little more worth it.

I'm planning for this to be a monthly series on my blog: a compilation of some of the entries from my log throughout the month. As much as I'd like to say I write in my log book every night, that's just not the case. I've never been good at doing anything daily (as you all can probably attest to), but it feels good to do something semi-regularly, to document even the most incremental of progress, and to honor it for what it is.

What follows is a smattering of entries from the past few months. They have been tremendously helpful for me to write, and I hope they will be helpful for those of you trying to stick to a creative practice- I know first hand just how hard it can be. Stay turned for a September-specific maker's log at the end of the month!


Today I... Went exploring with my friend for the second day in a row. I finally got up the nerve to record parts of our conversation for my walking episode [of the podcast I want to make someday but is currently on the back burner]. In the evening, even though I was really tired, I did most of a water color painting for my book postcards project. All in all a productive day.

Was inspired by... Colorful fences, houses painted audacious shades of purple, people who kept asking us if we were artists when we told them we were going to Texas Art Supply, my friend's encouragement and enthusiasm for my podcast, feeling like I could do anything!

Listing to... Linus and Lucy by George Winston while painting, so relaxing.

Reading... Nothing :( Didn't have time.

Feeling... Like I'm on top of the world! That I wish more days were like today and yesterday. That I'm exhausted...

What I learned... Spending time with people who inspire you is important. People are more receptive to your ideas that you think they will be. Make time for inspiration - it makes actually making things easier. You don't have to do everything alone!


Today I... Wrote most of a short story based off of Edward Gorey's shuffled stories. It started out as an attempt at a blog post and it feels like it could turn into something much longer. Had one of those surreal writing experiences where you just completely lose yourself in the story and it hardly feels like you're doing any work at all...Until you come out of it and you realize that it's almost 1am! I feel kind of like I'm in some sort of brain fog induced by intense concentration. Worried that I'll lose all of my momentum if I try and start again tomorrow, but I know if I kept going I would literally be up all night. I wish FLOW would happen more often!

Was inspired by... Alice Oseman. She's so down to earth and she seems like a person who knows how to find the fun in writing. Also Edward Gorey is a genius.

Listening to... The intense quite created by my headphones. Earlier today: Julia Nune's album, Some Feelings

Reading... The Wild Birds by Emily Strelow, In the park, on my lunch break. Proud of myself for actually reading on my lunch break!

Feeling... Like I should trust my instincts more. It's really nice to write something for the sake of writing, not because you want to use it for a project or publish it or even finish it.

What I learned... It doesn't help to beat yourself up over NOT working on the novel or a blog post or whatever. It does help to make what feels right in the moment.


Today I... Actually finished a blog post! I'd been feeling really uninspired with the blog recently but today I took the time to really search for inspiration. I finally found it in the form of a blog called Enjoy It - it's a really great mixture of personal posts and really helpful tips, not to mention gorgeous photography. Took some cues from her and am very happy with the result. Con: I didn't work on my novel at all.

Was inspired by... The blog mentioned above; thinking about Frank Lloyd Wright for my blog post (he was so prolific!); and this quote, even thought it's hard medicine to swallow: "A professional is one who does his best work when he feels the least like working." - FLW

Listening to... Hozier! How did I not realize he was so good!

Reading... The Honey Farm by Harriet Alida Lye. Will try to read a few more pages before bed.

Feeling... Tired, too warm, like my hair is really greasy, like I made progress today, but hoping that in the future I don't need to spend hours scrolling blogs in order to feel inspired enough to write.

What I learned... Patience is as much a part of creativity as anything else.


Today I... Wrote 360 words, painted a little watercolor illustration to go with my blog post, and then posted it!

Was inspired by... I'm not sure... mostly lyrics to my favorite songs.

Listening to... Andriene Lanker! So good!

Reading... Nothing at the moment :(

Feeling... A little overwhelmed by all the stuff I want to make....again.

What I learned... Doing that little watercolor painting lifted my spirits os much. I felt accomplished, AND I didn't even have to get up that much earlier than normal in order to do it. So nice to have tangible progress!


Today I... Wrote 27 words, aka 2 sentences. This was just a few minutes ago, after I decided that I needed to get over my creative procrastination habit once and for all. It actually felt like a bit of a relief to open the document again. I've built it up in my head as this scary thing, when really it's not. I also wrote an entry in my journal and even though I'm still unsure about where I want all of my creative projects to go, it's nice to feel somewhat in control again. I don't have to figure it all out right now. I just have to devote myself to showing up in the barest possible capacity until I'm ready to move forward.

Was inspired by... Molly de Montaigne on Youtube, esp. her video on journaling. It reminded me that journaling doesn't have to be only one thing - that it is completely private and personal and unique. Also she's one of the first people I've seen make a video about finishing a novel draft who openly and happily reveled in the fact that it's bad. She calls first drafts clay. Not bowls or vases, just clay, that you have to shape into something better. I really like that.

Listening to... 99% Invisible, specifically their wildfire series. I'm really trying to re-ignite my love of podcasts.

Reading... Recently finished Bleaker House, which made me want to work on my novel even more. It gave me the profound sense that I was reading the right book at just the right time, which is a great feeling. Am going to read at least 2 pages of Thoreau's journals tonight, after I finish this entry. I never want to pick it up, but I'm always glad I did.

Feeling... Relieved that I feel somewhat more in control of my creative life. I want to create rituals for my creativity - I think embracing small steps jus might work. So yeah, relieved and cautiously optimistic.

What I learned... I can make myself write 2 sentences even when I don't want to. Sometimes, letting go of the big picture helps.


Today I... Wrote 56 words. A couple more sentences. I feel like I have the urge to write but my procrastinator's brain keeps getting in the way. I'm hoping that this little mini vacation to Austin will free my mind up a bit. I want to associate writing and creativity with that vacation state of mind - maybe then it won't feel so much like work.

Was inspired by... My own imagination (is that arrogant to say?). I keep thinking about all the stuff I'm magically going to fit into 3 days. It's not going to happen, but it's fun to think about.

Listening to... The Bundyville podcast. So addicted! Also my Meld playlist which is just a good upbeat mix of songs I love.

Reading... A couple more entries in Thoreau's journals.

Feeling... A little stressed, but mostly just excited. I want this weekend to be restorative and fun, but I really want to come back from it refreshed and inspired and ready to FINISH MY NOVEL!


Today I... Wrote part of a recap of our Austin trip for the blog, which I'm actually really proud of. It feels funny and interesting, and like something someone else might actually want to read.

Was inspired by... The guy with his golden retriever at the lake. He was standing waist deep in the water and every so often he would hold the dog up so he could swim a little bit. We should all aspire to be more like that guy and his dog.

Listening to... My Earthy playlist while driving through the hills of Austin.

Reading... A few pages of Wildlands by Abby Geni. I can already tell I'm going to be totally sucked in.

Feeling... Rejuvenated, excited, inspired.

What I learned... Sometimes breaks are good. You can still have "busy" days that feel relaxed and leisurely if you do them right. I need to find a relaxing ritual to do each morning, like swimming at Barton Springs has been for us this weekend. Maybe I just need to bring that calmness to roller skating.


Today I... Wrote about 350 words. Not as much as yesterday when I wrote 600 (didn't have time to write an entry about it). I think writing this novel is just going to be a bit rough for a little while. Not everything about novel writing is easy, right? There's always that point where you think you can't do it. Well, I'm telling myself that I can.

Was inspired by... Roller skating! Went on a relaxed evening skate tonight and felt completely refreshed. I think roller skating is like a palate cleanser for me. It makes my day instantly better and reminds me what's really important: feeling alive, and free, and happy.

Am reading... The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. The language is very clean and sparse, but somehow that just makes the imagery even more beautiful.

Am listening to... Silence, mostly. The whirr of the air conditioner. The sound of my pen on the page.

Feeling... Like today was a full, productive day without even trying too hard to make it one, which is a nice feeling.

What I learned... When in doubt, go skating. :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Perfect Weekend in Three Parts

This weekend my family and I took a mini vacation to Austin. It's been years since I've been to Austin. Years. Even though it's only three hours away! The last few times, I was there for the Texas Book Festival, so I spent most of my days gallivanting around the capitol, soaking up the words of authors I admire, and trying to fit as much in as possible. This time, we're just here for the sake of getting away, being in a new place, and going where the wind takes us.

I don't think I realized how much I needed a vacation until this trip. These August days have been oppressive. This month feels like it's gone on forever, and more and more I've been feeling like every day is the same. The truth is, I've been wallowing and feeling sorry for myself for a while now. And boy, does it feel good to have done something about it.

If you've been feeling the same way, I hope you'll take matters into your own hands and plan yourself a little weekend getaway. It works wonders, I promise.

Here's a recap:

Day One - Friday

Afternoon: I get off work at 2pm and stock up on road food (aka Cheezits) on the way home. Dad is already in Austin for a seminar, so it's just mom and I, eating grilled cheese sandwiches and taking care of last minute preparations. We consult google maps before heading out, but it still feels like it takes us forever to get out of the city. Houston is a sprawling, tangled mess of a city, and it feels like rush hour officially starts at 3pm. When we finally reach a two lane highway flanked by fields and trees, we breathe a collective sigh of relief. Conversation consists mostly of reminisces of previous trips, musings on the pros and cons of technology, and confusion over toll roads.

Evening: Hit some traffic coming into Austin, but ultimately escape unscathed. Eventually we pull onto the street where our air bnb is. My parents being my parents, we're staying in an airstream. (Why not?) The neighborhood feels strangely deserted. My dad meets us on the curb and leads us through a gate into our host's backyard. The airstream gleams in the evening light. It's cramped but comfortable. We drop our suitcases and immediately decide on Mexican food, at a place known for their avocado margaritas (Totally Austin Thing #1).

Dad fills us in on his seminar, and we all eat our weight in Mexican food. There are lots of Mexican restaurants in Houston, but there's something special about Tex-Mex in Austin. Maybe it's that taco trucks are everywhere here. Maybe it's the plethora of neon signage. Maybe it's that all the waiters have man-buns. Who knows? Whatever it is, it's delicious.

By the time we leave the restaurant, we are all beat. It takes a little bit of configuring to get the dining area of the airstream converted into a bed for me, but it all comes together. Lights out. I wake up frequently due to the noisy air conditioner, and have a weird dream involving time travel and a city like Las Vegas if Las Vegas was on a beach.

Day Two - Saturday

Morning: Here's something you should know about my family: We're morning people. We hate crowds to the point where if it means getting up at an ungodly hour to avoid them, we'll do it. This is how I end up being roused from a restless sleep at 6am to go swimming. Really, I did this to myself. Mom said that getting up at 7 would have been plenty early, but I insisted that earlier was best. So here we are.

We groggily get ready while trying not to run into each other, and finally make it to the car with towels and non-pool clothes in tow. We are headed to Barton Springs.

Barton Springs is a spring-fed swimming pool. It looks more like a lake than a swimming pool, with limestone sides and a natural rock bottom that is covered in algae. The water coming up from the ground is a chilly 68 degrees, which may not sound that bad, but on an 80 degree morning it feels like swimming in glacier run-off. We discover to our delight that it's free to swim before 8am. Because of this, the pool is moderately crowded, but it's the early morning crowd, which is the best kind. The demographic is mostly dedicated (crazy) lap swimmers, and people like us, who are content to wade around and enjoy the sunrise.

Despite the cold, the whole endeavor feels luxurious. How often do you get to float around in crystal clear water before the rest of the (not crazy) world wakes up? It feels like we've stumbled across some big secret. A snowy egret lands near us and goes about its business, not seeming to care about the swimmers. I overhear one of the swimmers talking about his daughter, presumably in college, and how proud he is of her for "not trying to be the best, you know?" (Totally Austin Thing #2).

When the water finally gets to us, we get out and warm up by the side of the pool. It's not even 8am, and we already feel rejuvenated. Onward and upward.

Our next stop is obviously food and coffee. In true Mills fashion, we just drive around until Mom spots a tiny hole-in-the-wall diner. It looks busy, but not horribly so (always a good sign), so we go inside. We were expecting a greasy eggs and soggy hash browns kind of place, but instead we get a restaurant with items like "bacon-infused collard greens" and "soyrizo" (veggie sausage) on the menu, with local, farm-fresh eggs. (Totally Austin Thing #3).

By the time we're done with breakfast it is finally mid-morning, and it's time to do something we have been meaning to do for years. My grandfather requested that his ashes be scattered at the same lake that my grandmother's were, which happens to be in Austin. It takes lots of driving through the hills around the city to find the correct spot. Finally we find a secluded spot to say goodbye, but not before witnessing one of the sweetest dog/human interactions I've ever seen. There is a guy standing waste deep in the water with his very old golden retriever. The dog seems content to just be in the water, near his favorite person, but occasionally the guy will gently hold the dog up so that he can swim a little bit. The guy is so patient and the dog is so mellow and content, and it honestly made me want to cry. (Totally Austin Thing #4).

Afternoon: We eat lunch at a place called Pool Burger, so named because it's adjacent to Austin's other spring-fed pool: Deep Eddy. Pool Burger feels like a little slice of Hawaii. The bar has a thatched roof. The kitchen is in an airstream trailer. Inside, the stools are made of bamboo and there are vintage surf posters on the walls. All the bartenders wear Hawaiian shirts. I order a mojito because I'm feeling extra vacation-y. It's possibly the best mojito I've ever had. I don't know if it's because only sometimes like mojitos, or I've only ever had ones that were sub-par. Maybe it's just really good rum. The burgers are delicious, too, but we eat them so fast I hardly notice.

Next we make an obligatory, almost compulsory stop at Book People. It's just a fact that I can't go to another city without visiting at least one bookstore. This time I'm seeing it with slightly different eyes because I work at one. I'm happy to see one of my favorite books, Gold Fame Citrus, on a display of "CliFi", a term I'd never heard before that stands for Climate Sci Fi, or science fiction about climate change. Because so many books cross my desk every day, I'm mostly just looking for titles I don't recognize. There's not a lot I haven't at least seen the covers of, and it's a strange feeling. For a slow reader like me, working at a bookstore can be overwhelming. Visiting Book People makes me thankful I work in a pretty small store - I'd be really overwhelmed in a store that's got two floors worth of books.

By this point it's almost 3pm and we are all exhausted. We head back to the airstream and sleep for the rest of the afternoon. Luxurious, right?

Evening: When we finally roust ourselves from our collective nap, it's almost 7pm. We decide to eat at Lucy's Fried Chicken, a place I have weirdly distinct memories of. I was probably around 9 or 10, and there happened to be an open-mic night going on the back patio while we were there. By this point I was well into my dream of becoming a writer, meaning it was what I told everyone when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I forget exactly how it came about, but  someone at a neighboring table ended up giving me a little spiral notebook. They told me to write something. Looking back, it's kind of amazing that it even happened: that we happened to be there that night, that the people next to us (or maybe the restaurant staff - the memory is fuzzy now) had a notebook to spare. Anyway, I did write something. A tiny poem, something about cigarette smoke and mountains. It took a lot of encouragement, but somehow my parents convinced me to volunteer to read. I didn't even read the poem myself - my mom did while I stood on stage next to her, but I think it still counts as one of my first public readings.

Now, the patio of Lucy's Fried Chicken looks completely different. There are no events being held, and we eat inside to get out of the heat. We still spend the time creatively though: Mom and I crack open a box of colored pencils. I sketch the restaurant while she draws a picture of the airstream we're staying in to tape into the guestbook when we leave. I forgot how much I liked drawing in public - it makes me really notice things I would have completely ignored otherwise. I briefly consider carrying a sketchbook from now on, but decide I carry around too many notebooks already.

By the time we are done eating boatloads of fried chicken and finishing our drawings, it is almost 9pm. After that it's back to the airstream and back to sleep. I sleep straight through the night and don't remember my dreams when I wake up.

Day Three - Sunday

Morning: The previous day we had decided to make the most of our time in Austin and go swimming at Barton Springs again. Day two is definitely harder to wake up for. At 6:15 my dad asks if I still want to go swimming and I groggily say yes even though I'm not sure I do. Somewhere in my sleep-added mind I know it will be worth it, but my body needs some time to catch up. Mom is already cheerfully in the car by the time I stumble into clothes and grab my swimsuit.

Barton Springs is just as wonderful as it was the first time, and the cold water definitely wakes me up. The cold doesn't bother me as much as it did the day before, and I end up staying in longer than both of my parents. On this morning there are people doing back flips off the diving board, a German couple shivering in the shallows, and several swimming instructors giving lessons. I watch one of them, a wiry older woman in a wetsuit, teaching someone breathing techniques. It's obvious she isn't coaching a professional, just teaching someone how to swim recreationally, as a skill they should have. I briefly think that swimming instructor would be a nice career- getting to spend time in water, getting to teach people a skill that is not necessarily useless, but definitely under appreciated (at least at the recreational level). It's a moment I have quite often, a curiosity about other people's lives, how they spend their time. I like seeing people doing work that is completely alien to me, and wondering if they are fulfilled by it. I wonder what this elegant woman would be doing if she wasn't a swimming instructor. I imagine her in a dance studio, or a museum. Maybe teaching people to swim is her second or third career. Maybe she's mostly retired. If I follow this train of thought too far, I end up back at myself, at what I'm doing with my own life. Stringing words together, one after the other.

After our swim we head off in search of breakfast. We pick The Magnolia Cafe , which is somewhat of an institution in Austin. It's still early (and I'm still chilled from the pool) so we choose to eat on the patio, which turns out to be perfect: lots of shade and dappled sunlight. I order eggs benedict with sausage and spicy hollandaise. By the time we leave the restaurant there's a line out the door and all the tables inside are full. There are definitely perks to being an early riser.

We spend some time at the airstream packing up and cleaning. Mom braids my hair while I write a thank you note in the guest book of our airstream. I flip through the previous entries for inspiration and learn that someone from Italy once stayed here. I wonder how they ended up in Austin, and what they thought of it. Italy and its culture seems worlds away from the middle of Texas.

Next I want to visit the Modcloth store, because I keep seeing pictures of it on instagram, and I like the idea of experiencing it in person. Upon entering, we learn that it's a "fit shop," meaning that you can try on the item in your size but instead of taking it home, they order it for you and it gets shipped to your door. The whole concept seems strange to me, almost hollow. What's the point of having a beautiful space where you can touch the things you'd normally only see online, only to leave empty handed?

After that we wander into a few more shops, and I finally stumble across a pair of sunglasses I like. I recently lost a pair of my favorite sunglasses (they were green!), and I'd been pining for them almost the whole trip. It just doesn't feel like a vacation without them (not to mention it's bright outside). These have slightly purple lenses with gold accents, and they feel chic and different from what I normally wear. I don't think you can buy happiness, but it is amazing how a single purchase can instantly make your day better. I don't know what it is, but new sunglasses are one of those things. Books and haircuts fall into this category, too.

Afternoon: Armed with my new sunglasses, it's finally time to take on South Congress. It's hot, the middle of the day now, and our progress is slow.

Because it would probably be boring for me to narrate entering and leaving every store we stopped in, here they are in list format for easy reading (Honestly, if you've made it this far, I'm impressed):

Warby Parker: So my glasses-wearing parents can try on some different frames. I try some on, too, and consider what I would look like if I wore glasses. Am mildly afraid that I will find some I really like and be disappointed that I don't wear glasses. Kind of a silly worry, when I type it out now. All of the employees are wearing glasses, and I wonder if it's a requirement to wear frames, wether they need them or not.

 Madewell: A store that is basically my style in a nutshell, but I can't afford anything. In fact, I've been inside often but I don't think I own anything from there at all. Pine after red and white floral tank top with beautiful covered buttons.

Service: Menswear store that we go into mostly for my dad's benefit. To our delight he ends up buying something! Mom and I have too much fun joking about weird menswear styles and commenting on the decor. I'm surprised by all the florals.

Manana: A beautiful coffee shop we step into to cool off and refuel. The iced coffee glasses are a sort-of pointy hourglass shape (there's a word for it, I know there is) that helps distribute the cream evenly when you pour it in (Totally Austin Thing #5). It has floor to ceiling windows on both ends and lots of mirrors. If I lived in Austin, I'd probably come here all the time to write and get nothing done because I'd be too busy people watching and staring out the window.

Tesoro's Trading Co: An eclectic, beautiful store that reminds me of Henley Market in Galveston. I buy a gorgeous skirt that is made out of sari fabric. You're supposed to be able to wear it about 12 different ways, and I can't wait to experiment with it! Everything in this place is embroidered or hand carved or interesting in some other way. The textures and variety are kind of overwhelming. I love it.

Our last meal is from Bouldin Creek Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant. I'm not usually into vegetarian food (I like fried chicken too much), but I'm so hungry it doesn't matter. (Also, this place has really good food) I order their veggie burger on sourdough bread with garlic aioli. It's amazing and so filling and I eat almost the whole thing.

Evening: At this point, I'm officially exhausted, and it's time to make the long trek home. I attempt to sleep some in the car so that I can be awake enough to drive later. At the halfway point we stop at a gas station and I get an Arizona Iced Tea, my go-to road trip beverage. I haven't had one in such a long time, and maybe it's silly, but it just reinforces how great this weekend has been. I've gotten to do basically everything I think vacations should be: getting up early (if there's a good reason to), eating fantastic food, discovering new places, people watching, daydreaming, afternoon naps, bookstore browsing, and collecting the odd souvenir. It was just a couple of days and it felt like a week.

I wanted to write this post, not just because I want to remember this trip, but also because it felt like it filled something that was missing since I graduated college. I've been adjusting to the working world pretty well, but travel feels more difficult when you don't have the designated breaks that school provides. If anything, this weekend proves that you don't need lots of time or exotic locations to get away. The best travel is travel that you go into open minded. It's easy-going and relaxed, with not too much pressure to stick to an itinerary. If it seems like we did a lot, well, we did, but we did it moment to moment, and it was dictated by our moods (and our hunger levels) rather than a schedule. I want to do more trips like this in the future, to discover new/old places with new/old friends.

Today is Monday, the start of a new week, but I want to keep living on vacation time. I want to get up early and sip my coffee slowly. I want to keep buying the little things that make me happy, and keep imagining myself in other lives. Vacation time doesn't have to exist only on vacation. With a little imagination and little effort, it can be most of the time. Sometimes it just helps to get away a little in order to see home with new eyes.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Writing is Like

Writing is like trying to piece together a puzzle from a bag of puzzle pieces you found in the back of your closet: no picture on the box to follow, no way to know if the pieces you have are for one puzzle or several.

Writing is like trying to take a decent picture of the sunset on an iPhone. The colors never come out as beautiful as your brain interprets them.

Writing is like cracking pistachio nuts and then dropping them into a box. The pistachios are words, and the box is your novel. You can't see the progress you're making because the box is opaque. You crack open a nut, discard the shells, and drop the little green kernel into the darkness, hoping it's enough. The only way to know how far you've gotten is to pick up the box and shake it, to hear the satisfying rattle, to feel the weight. But actually see your progress? Harder than it seems.

Lately I've been feeling jealous of visual artists. Not because I wish I was better at art (though sometimes I do) but because their progress is so obvious. From a blank canvas, an image emerges. The pieces of a quilt come together, square by square. A sweater is birthed from the apex of two knitting needles. The results of this kind of effort are tangible: you can touch them, see them.

Writing a novel is different. It feels transient. Your progress is marked by pages and word counts, by how long it takes you to scroll. When I open my word document, I don't immediately get a sense of how far I've come, or of how far I need to go. All I see are the last few paragraphs and a little blinking cursor. It's the same no matter where I am in the process, which makes it feel like I'm starting from the same place, every single time.

I suppose it was different before computers. When you pulled a finished page out of your typewriter and placed it on the stack of pages that came before it: physical, tangible proof of something that was once in your brain. I like the idea of this, but the truth is, I've tried writing big projects on typewriters, and the form is too rigid for me. I can barely get through one page before I'm dying to change something and frustrated that I can't.

In a lot of ways I love how mutable writing on screens is. I can sit down and put whatever is in my brain on "paper", knowing that it is instantly changeable whenever I feel like it. It's freeing. I can tell my inner-critic to take a seat and not interrupt until I tell her it's okay to do so. On the page, anything can happen, and if I don't like it, no big deal. One click, and its gone.

The flip side of that coin, though, is that something so changeable is hard to hold onto. A novel in itself is hard to picture all at once, while if I asked you to visualize a painting you could do it, no problem. I feel as though I'm trying to hold water in my hands but it keeps slipping through my fingers. I want to be able to hold something up, to say, "Look what I'm making. Look how far I've come." But all I have are word counts. All I have are page numbers. They work as markers, as flags. But they don't feel substantial. You can't glance at them and see the whole picture.

Instead, I just catch glimmers. A shape appears out of the fog. I hit milestones, and compare them to things I can visualize more easily. For instance, I recently passed 50,000 words, which is about the length of The Great Gatsby. When I don't have a good frame of reference, I try to make time the thing I can measure. I've been logging my writing using a time tracking app. There at least I can see how much of my day goes to this thing, this growing, changing thing that is impossible to see.

Most of the things I want to make are intangible. Things like novels (which will hopefully be book-shaped one day, but probably won't be for a long time) and podcasts and blog posts. It's been plaguing me because I want to share my progress, to have something to show for my efforts, but all I have are these words and pixels.

And so, I build my days around them. I carve out the time and record and measure and make due with flags and markers. When my first draft is done (and it will be soon, I hope) I will print the entire thing out (warts and all) and hold it in my hands. I've always imagined myself lugging a manuscript around with me to coffee shops, marking it up in different colored pens, but honestly I'm not sure that's the fate for this project. This feels almost like a practice round, like the challenge I cut my teeth on. I may come back to it, I may not. Either way, I'll have it. Physical proof of something I made. And that will make all the guesswork worthwhile.

Until then, I'll just keep dropping pistachios into the box.