The 85K90 Challenge


January usually brings a feeling of renewal. The days are getting longer (they are!). It’s a new year. We have a chance to start fresh, whether that involves your eating habits, exercise routines, spending and saving and investing, or, for me, starting a new novel, January is an opportunity.

As some of you know, I try to complete a novel every year, and because the Association of Rhode Island Authors, a 300+-member group to which I belong, holds its annual RI Author Expo each December, I like to debut the new novel at that time. So January is a chance for me to get started.

This year, I’ve decided to participate in the 85k90 Challenge. Haven’t heard of it? If you’re a writer, or aspiring to be one, this is a terrific place to start. Started as a small Facebook group in 2016, the idea is simple – write 85,000 words in 90 days (January, February, March). I like the year-long plan, because it helps me to plot out the months. Unlike NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which asks you to write 1,000 words a day for a month (usually November, although there’s one in the summer, too), this 85k90 project is more realistic.

First of all, 30,000 words is not a novel, it’s a novella. I participated in NaNoWriMo twice, and I finished, but I was nowhere near done with writing. This year, if I can write (at least) 85,000 words by the end of March, I’ll be ready to step right into first edits. That’s the plan. Second, thirty days goes by quickly. If life interrupts your writing schedule, it’s difficult to catch up. With 85k90, you have more time. You’re still writing about 1,000 words a day, but there are many days when you’ll write more than that, and it gives you a little cushion for the days that maybe you can’t get to it.

The founder of 85k90 is Julie Valerie, a friend and fabulous writer. I’m so grateful to her for her vision and dedication to this project, and I’m right on track to get the new novel written.

And here’s a tiny bit about that new book – It’s going to be a sequel of two different novels. Yep, I’m writing a sequel to April in Galway and combining it into a sequel to A Jingle Valley Wedding – and it’s working!

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With All the Madness in my Soul


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I’ve mentioned to a few people that it’s worth subscribing to Netflix just to watch “Springsteen on Broadway,” his almost one-man-show that ran at the Walter Kerr Theatre from October 2017 until a couple of weeks ago. On the day it ended, December 15, Netflix picked it up. And either before or after you watch this program, read Michael Hainey’s article about Springsteen in Esquire magazine. Even if you think you know Springsteen.

As a songwriter, he’s on par with Bob Dylan. As a performer, I’m not sure there’s anyone better alive today. Springsteen’s fans will recount their attendance at his legendary concerts.

He’s 69 now (and before you catch your breath on that, remember, as I did, that we’re all older) and he stands before you, the longtime fan, the new fan, the casual observer, and talks about his life. About his hometown, Freehold, New Jersey, the place he couldn’t wait to leave. About his parents, especially his father, who viewed the quiet, sensitive boy as a sissy. About the father-son relationship (“he was my hero, and my greatest foe”). Spoiler alert: it turns out okay in the end, and it might should make you cry a little.

His first breakdown occurred when he was thirty-two, years after he’d already enjoyed tremendous success (six million copies of Born to Run sold in the U.S.). It was hard to explain. He says, “All I do know is as we age, the weight of our unsorted baggage becomes heavier . . . much heavier. With each passing year, the price of our refusal to do that sorting rises higher and higher. . . .”

As a society, we’re talking more about mental illness these days (thankfully), and Springsteen’s candor must be helpful. As Hainey writes, “Springsteen’s desire to share his demons, and to argue for the need he believes all of us have to confront our own—this is one of the show’s great powers. We ignore our demons, he says, at our peril. . . . This is the work of a man revealing his flaws so that he can inspire us to redeem ourselves.”

Hainey and Springsteen discuss pieces of lyrics (brilliant lyrics) that are so much a part of Springsteen (about the line ‘the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted,’ Springsteen says, “Everybody carries those things with them. It’s a line that always penetrates. It still penetrates for me when I sing it each night.”)

And finally, those two lines from “Born to Run,” – “Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness/I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul”

He was only 24 when he wrote those words, years before he had his first breakdown. And they’re possibly the most self-describing lyrics he’s ever written.

Go watch “Springsteen on Broadway.” And let me know what you think.

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Fifty-two


mini

Well, that year flew by. I seem to be saying that all the time lately.

A year ago, inspired by The Minimalists (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus), I decided to begin my own journey toward living a more minimal, and more mindful, life. If I blogged about it every Friday, I’d be more accountable, and maybe if I had a flash of insight, I’d share it.

It began by cleaning out a drawer, then another. Then a cabinet and a cupboard, and another. Closets, multiple times. I began to look at possessions differently – all those collectibles that my husband I had bought through the years of our marriage, little trinkets of remembrance. Some Many of those items are worth keeping – like the prints and paintings that remind us of a special trip. Other things just take up space.

I’m not done. This is an ongoing project, and I never did clean out the garage as much as I’d wanted to, so I’ve marked that as a fall project. We still have our beloved dog, Bonnie (thankfully), so the well-worn furniture that she claims as her own stays, for now.

My friend gave me this wonderful bracelet for my recent birthday – how thoughtful she is, especially knowing how I feel about plastics and ocean pollution. Please click the link for more information about how you, too, can help. Gifts with purpose!!

If you’re overwhelmed with clutter, know that if you want to change that situation, you can. And if you look around and think you can never live more minimally, start small (like I did). Start with one drawer. Or, start on August 1 and get rid of (meaning, recycle, repurpose, or toss out) one item. On August 2, do the same with two items, and go through the month that way. You can throw out an old tube of mascara on August 1 and donate a worn but still wearable pair of shoes on August 2. Yes, you can do this.

So even though I won’t be blogging every week about my journey, the journey continues.

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Bonus Time


Martha turns 4. That’s me on the right. I don’t know who these other children are.

I’ve only had a few birthday parties in my 60 years on this earth. Birthdays weren’t something my parents made a big fuss over, although the celebration was always enough. Hamburgers on the grill, chocolate cake with white frosting. “Milestone” birthdays are usually a bigger deal (until they aren’t). Although this year, celebrating with my two sisters, brother-in-law, and husband was one of the best days ever.

I’ve never liked having my picture taken, so I don’t get the obsession of some people with selfies. I see myself in photographs and cringe – bad hair, fat face, goofy look, whatever, I could always find a flaw. Adding three pictures of myself to this blog post feels self-serving.

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We were all young once.

Through the years, I’ve celebrated my birthday with family and friends, most of the time. In 1981, I was working as an au pair in Switzerland, living with an unhappy couple and their badly behaved little boy. On my birthday, I broke a lamp in their house. It was an accident, but oh. Not a good day. She was much more forgiving than he was.

The year I turned 40, my husband and I went to Boston, and, as it turned out, we were back there for my 50th ( I spent my birthday facilitating a roundtable discussion with fellow fraud investigators). But, our hotel room had a view of Fenway Park and I ate chocolate-covered strawberries.

I’ve lost some friends over the years. By the time you reach this age, it’s not completely unexpected, although I do expect to attend wakes and funerals for the parents of my contemporaries, not my contemporaries. Still. Jeff, Steve, Lucy, Kevin, Sue, Paul, Kathy, Jack, Patty, Susan, Michael, Andy, Danny, Carole, Tom, Pat, Karen, Joe, Tim. Always remembered.

My friend Tommy Hobin (we’re going on 48 years now) says we’re living in “bonus time.” How many of us can say we’re still alive thanks to good fortune or dumb luck – those narrow escapes we reminisce about but don’t want to share with our children or grandchildren. Bonus time.

This year we won’t be in Boston, but I’ll be somewhere near the Atlantic Ocean. I had a new headshot taken, by my dear friend Dianna Solimeo of Vee’s Photography. It’s me at 60, with my Coke-bottle eyeglasses and lines on my face. It is a true photo of the real me. Maybe, finally, I’m okay with it.

BONUS!

If you’ve read this far, you deserve a reward! Every single one of my books (all eight) are discounted to 99 cents for the digital version. Seven novels, including my Swiss Chocolate trilogy, and one nonfiction. I’ll keep the prices low for a week or so. 💛💚💙

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Fifty-one


plastic bags

I’ve been thinking a lot about plastic – bags, straws, packaging, utensils – there’s just so much plastic. And we all aware that our oceans are filling up with plastic at an alarming rate.

At the conclusion of this year-long project, I’ve just discovered Tippi Thole. Tippi Thole is someone you should discover, too. Check out her “tiny trash can” website here – and you’ll be amazed/inspired/ wowed. Because Tippi Thole replaced the trash can in her kitchen (10-gallon capacity) with a small wastebasket (like the kind you probably have in your bathroom). She began to shop mindfully, and within a few months, the amount of trash her family produced each week fit into a Mason jar that is under 3″ tall!!!

Could I do this, too? I’m sure as hell going to try. We’re only two people.

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Fifty


LIVE

Maybe you’ve figured out, like I have, that material things don’t make you happy. Yay! But, like I was last year, you’re wondering where to begin. So. Much Stuff. Right?

I hear you! I feel you! And perhaps I can help. So here are 10 things you can do now:

  1. Start by reducing items. Look in your linen closet – how many towels, how many sets of sheets, how many tablecloths? Do you need all of them? Betcha you don’t. Keep what’s necessary – you also don’t want to be doing laundry every day – but donate or ditch the rest.
  2. Get in your closet. Remember when I wrote about Project 333 ? I did it, for the summer, and I love it. I have a few work-appropriate pieces for when I go into the office where I work one day a week, and the rest of my clothes are simple pieces. I’ll do this again in the fall.
  3. See if you can donate something to a well-deserving charity each week. The extra set of dishes that you never use. The winter coat and the boots that you don’t wear.
  4. Sell your unwanted but still good stuff. Yard sales and online auctions work for some, and you might pocket a little cash in the process.
  5. Have cloth shopping bags in your car always. Use them wherever you go, not just the grocery store, but everywhere. If you do have plastic bags, find a place to recycle them.
  6. Living minimally also means spending mindfully. If you keep track for even a week of your mindless spending, you’ll be shocked.
  7. Getting rid of paper has been one of my biggest challenges. I’m still working on digitizing everything, from photographs to insurance policies to tax returns.
  8. Unplug when you can. And you can more often than you think. Unsubscribe from mailing lists that clog up your inbox and never get opened. If the news in your feed is making you angry or depressed, let it go. You can still be informed.
  9. Borrow books instead of buying them. Or buy a digital version, if you like that. I read both, and I like to support independent authors by buying their books (both print and digital versions), but if I buy a print book, I pass it along to someone else. For better-known authors, I’ll use the library.
  10. Do you give a lot of gifts? How about an experience instead? Treat your girlfriend to a manicure, send your parents to their favorite restaurant, give your kid’s teacher movie coupons.

 

I’m sure there are plenty more ideas you can come up with!

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Forty-six


Smile

The death this week of Kate Spade struck me. I don’t own any of her products, but the death of a celebrity usually makes the news, and in Spade’s case, because of her relatively young age (55), her vast success, and the fact that she took her own life, her death was the lead story on evening newscasts. Many people were shocked – why? Because her inner struggles weren’t obvious. Like so many people, she suffered from depression.

And where does this fit in with living minimally? Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist writes, “It is [also] helpful to intentionally make time to think positive thoughts, to practice looking for the silver lining, to choose happiness. At first, it might feel phony if you’re not an optimist, but even the staunchest realist among us can acknowledge that there is at least some lesson to be learned in every situation.”

I agree, it’s easier for some than for others. And this is not to suggest that decluttering your living space will eradicate your sadness and depression. You can clear out all your junk and still be unhappy. However, as my friends Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (The Minimalists) will tell you, “Getting rid of the excess in your life will…help you discover what does in fact make you happy. (Hint: it’s not your possessions; most of your possessions are actually in the way of your happiness.) And it’s much easier to find the path toward happiness once you’ve cleared the debris.”

Isn’t it worth a try?