November Goals and Portland Sweat Project

Hey it’s the last day of October!

Tomorrow is November 1st, and I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year (National Novel Writing Month, a thing where you write 50,000 words during November). I have done and won NaNo for the past five years. Five is a nice round number, and I’m proud to have finished and reached my 50,000 word goal every single time I’ve attempted it. As it turns out I already had a pretty strong streak of “Reach the finish line at any cost!” even before I started doing foot races. Back in 2014, my NaNo project was this cool little urban-fantasy book about a lady trucker and a telepathic dragon. I still think it’s a cool little book—though with the current draft at over 100,000 words, it’s not such a little book at all. And every year since 2014, November has meant a brand new project and a whole lot of writing energy… directed away from that cool little book that I’d really like to finish. So I want to write in November, but instead of starting a brand new book that might reach 50,000 words without even figuring out what it wants to be when it grows up (did I mention NaNo 2016 and 2017 were basically plot and theme disasters?) I want to really focus in and move forward on my existing project. I want to do the type of writing and editing and fixing that isn’t easily quantifiable by word count, and I want to finish the ending and create a readable draft. So that’s November goals this year. I also have a few other creative projects that I don’t want to completely abandon for the month, so it makes sense and feels right to keep moving forward on what inspires me right now rather than doing something new just for the sake of doing it. But for all of you out there gearing up for NaNoWriMo 2018, I wish you the very best of luck!

Also, a note on today. The temperature was just below freezing when I woke up around 5:30 am. On a workday I would have already been at work, or at least hurrying in that direction from my all-day parking spot a ten-minute walk away. Today I had the option of curling up into a warm bed and going back to sleep…but instead I got up and #JustShowedUp for the first time ever to a 6:30 am free fitness meetup in a city park. It’s called Portland Sweat Project and it wasn’t as scary as a TOTALLY new thing since I knew most of the crew from my run club, but it was still really early in the morning. I’m generally not a morning exercise person, but within minutes of sprints and squats and pushups and burpees I felt awake and alive and took off my parka because I wasn’t even cold anymore. Then we ran around city hall and played duck-duck-goose (with squats and planks) in the square and took a picture with some pumpkins at the farmer’s market. Winter is bad but I learn over and over again that going outside and moving and sweating and running with your friends is pretty much always the correct choice.

45074585_2209771659290178_5022683894386786304_n

My newbie photo from PSP! (Photo credit © Mari Balow.)

Advertisements

Blogging. What a Trip.

At post-run drinks the other day, a friend mentioned updating his blog. Then we had a talk about writing our books, about how hard it is to nail the ending, and about how, much, goddamn, TIME you put into something like a novel with no guarantee of that time paying off for you in any tangible way, no guarantee that that book will ever reach an audience other than yourself.

Okay, now I’m depressed about writing again.

But blogging as a topic of conversation in a run space, the runniest of my run spaces, got me a little inspired and thinking that maybe, with a little tending, this blog could be more than a relic of a less active time in my life.

I feel like blogging has an uneasy space in today’s options for communication and self-promotion. If I am looking for attention, for example, I will make a facebook post. This will get me immediate feedback in the form of comments and likes, and will be seen by more people than blog content that requires time to click through to a different website and read a whole post. The immediate feedback feels nice. What a thing to want, though. Feedback. Attention. “Attention-seeker” is a very negative thing to call someone, and if anyone is being bratty, or acting up, or behaving in a way that is over-the-top and destructive to those around them, they are commonly dismissed with the phrase, “Oh, they’re just looking for attention.” So even on Facebook I feel a lot of pressure not to post too much, or too loudly. It can be hard to tell where the line is between sharing and bragging. I often feel annoyed by the relentless positivity of posts that are meant to inspire, often by public figures who have turned their online presence into a brand. I try not to trust this annoyance because perhaps I am cynical or jealous—but I also try to hit a more subdued note, and to not post about accomplishments more than once or twice a week. And yet… I spike my hair up and dye it Rock’n Roll Red (words from the Manic Panic bottle, not mine). I want to be seen.

So blog posts don’t get seen in the instant way a Facebook post would. What’s the point of a blog, then? Is it a diary? My actual diary, for which I use the more sophisticated term journal, is for writing in when I’m mad about boys. I have a series of physical notebooks on predominantly this topic going back to the year 2000. A blog makes a crappy diary because I’m not exactly going to blog publicly about every detail of my life. Sometimes I wish I could—I sure have some witty things to say about it—but I place too much value on my own privacy and the privacy of others to ever use a blog post the way I use my journal.

Maybe a blog is just to have a consistent online presence in a world where things like that matter, or could matter depending on what decisions you make and paths you take. A blog is a place on the internet to hang your hat, ready to mobilize on that future date when you sell your novel or launch your public career as a motivational speaker (Ha!). Or, smaller scale, maybe it’s just to practice saying a few things. To practice writing them down, and to try growing less afraid to share the parts of yourself that are shareable, just in case your sharing might give a moment of pleasure or connection to someone else. Maybe?

This isn’t a big “The Blog is Back” announcement. The future is uncertain and priorities are constantly shifting. But I wanted a to write a post and then I kept wanting to write it, to the point that I’ve actually drafted this on a public library computer while waiting for my replacement laptop charger to arrive in the mail. So maybe I’ll keep wanting to write blog posts. I’m guessing I’ll want to write posts about running, which is why I’ve redesigned the website to feature running in the tagline and header (photo credit Craig Dilger—you can’t see it in the mobile version but yes the tiny runner on the breakwall is me). This might be a temporary redesign—maybe I’ll write another blog post soon about how all my tech is breaking down and it’s making digital art difficult. Maybe not. The future is uncertain. This is a blog post. The end.

Life and Running

National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow and I promised myself that, somehow, by the end of the day, I would post something on this blog. Maybe not the perfect thing—I’m about to write 50,000 very imperfect words in thirty days, so getting used to doing things imperfectly is a good idea—but SOMEthing. An update. Seeing as my last post was in March 2016.

The longer I go without an update the harder it is to do one. So many things have happened. The website needs a redesign. So many things have changed. But November starts tomorrow, and I’m going to begin the exact same challenge I’ve completed every November since 2013, so that’s something. The older I get, the more stock I put in having things that I do. Not things that I want to do, or hope to do, or plan to do. Things that I actually, consistently, do, even when it isn’t easy to do them.

The biggest thing I’ve done this past year is running. I’m close to a full year of at least one run a week (and usually five or more). I’ve been a casual runner for years, I’ve posted about running here before, but this is the first time I’ve stuck with it for more than a few

Screen Shot 2017-10-31 at 10.01.27 PM

My 2016-2017 run calendar (days I ran are in pink).

weeks, or more than a season. My story is that winter last year was rough. Rough for the nation, yes, but I had some personal frustrations hitting at around the same time. I was angry and confused and embarrassed and sad, and I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I started running. Even though it was cold and dark and being outside was the worst thing ever. Running was just suddenly all I wanted to be doing, so I kept doing it. I also started showing up, obsessively, to the Thursday and Saturday hashes (a hash is an adventure run with beer). We started a new practice run on Mondays. I think we ran through nearly every single blizzard last winter. And here’s where I get a little sappy, but I am so grateful for this rotating crew of beautiful souls that I get to spend the majority of my free time with. Maybe it’s not so exceptional, maybe people are amazing the world over, but I can’t help but feel that my friends are something extra shiny. I’m always looking around me, just, so delighted that we’re all here, we’re running through streets at night, we’re following trail through a foot of snow, we’re singing under bridges, we’re wearing silly costumes, we’re getting lost in the woods—and so many other things. Y’all are constantly warming my heart.

In the spring I signed up for a 10k (Beach to Beacon, Aug. 5th), which kickstarted my more serious running. At the time, running six miles seemed like an awful lot. At the same time I also started hanging with a super cool and supportive group of more runny runners, people that run VERY FAR distances and have multiple marathons under their belts. Turns out that sort of thing rubs off on you. Before I even ran the 10k (my first race ever!) I had signed up for my first marathon (MDI Marathon, Oct. 15th).

You know that cliché (I think there’s a meme) about single people in their 20s and 30s watching enviously as their friends get engaged, get married, buy houses, have kids, etc? My recommendation to anyone who feels that they haven’t had a Life Event in awhile is to run a marathon. I’m very willing to believe that my friends and family are particularly incredible, but all the support and congratulations I’ve received have made me feel like a goddamn rockstar. Have I mentioned yet that y’all are the absolute best and I love you very much?

In lieu of any sort of race details, since most people reading this will have already heard all about it, here is a visual representation of the difference between the first half of the marathon (mile 7 I think) and the second half:

So I started out last year with exactly one winter running outfit that wasn’t even real run clothes. Now I have an Entire Drawer stuffed full of run clothes and spandex. I used to run so sporadically that I wore a single pair of run shoes from the summer of 2012 to March of this year, 2017, when they were literally falling to pieces on trail and had holes in the soles. Now, I’ve already run over 400 miles in the shoes I purchased mid-July. Oh, and I also do a pretty intense circuit training class twice a week (minus the three weeks resting for and then recovering from the marathon). When I started the class back in July I could barely bench press the 45 lb bar even once, and now I can usually do it for the full minute. Maybe soon I’ll add weights! Mostly my goal here is the pretty shallow one of turning fat into muscle and looking like as much of a badass as my genetics will allow (#buffquest!!!), but I’m also doing it for that teenage girl who was completely humiliated in high school gym class when they counted how many chin-ups/pull-ups you could do, in front of all the athletic popular kids, and she couldn’t even hang from the bar for a full second. Ever since then I’ve had a life goal of doing a pull-up—just one—and this is the first time in my life I’m actually consistently working in the right direction to make that happen.

To wrap up: I feel like I’ve changed a lot and come a long way. I’m going into November physically stronger than I’ve ever been, twenty lbs lighter, and with a higher confidence in my own abilities to stay a course and to do the things that I set out to do. There are still things in my life I am not proud of, there are things I am working on, and there’s an awful lot I’m still searching for. So, as always, an awful lot of journey still to do. For the next step, I’m gonna write 50,000 words in November, and I’m gonna keep running.

I’m Back

I’ve returned to the USA. There’s cheese here; I like that.

It’s been a great joy to see so many people I haven’t seen for so long. My social plate has been full for the last week and a half, and I hope all my friends know how wonderful it is to see their faces and hear their voices.

People keep asking how it is to be back; and it’s good. It’s surreal how ordinary it all feels, almost like the last year never happened and I’m back where I’m supposed to be. I’m different, though. The ten months abroad gave me a lot, in terms of focus, identity, belief.

Currently I’m existing in a state of unknowns. Thankfully I saved enough to invest in some things I need (an American phone, a drawing tablet that works, new interview shoes), but things cost a lot in America—like, so much—and I need an income sooner rather than later. I expected to feel more anxiety about that, but I’m putting a lot of energy toward the search, and it all has to work out one way or another. Housing is also an issue, and unexpectedly so, but I know we’ll find a solution.

My most overwhelming reverse-culture shock moment so far happened while walking into a Hannaford grocery store last Sunday. There are many Hannaford stores all over the greater Portland area, and for the two years I worked as bus driver Hannaford was my home-away-from-home. You can always find bus parking in a Hannaford parking lot, and I used to go in at least once a day to use the bathroom and grab a snack, or even get lunch from the wings/salad bar. While riding back from the airport, just seeing the Hannaford sign gave me a surprisingly intense shot of nostalgia.

So I walked into Hannaford on a Sunday morning, concise grocery-list in hand, and it was SO STRANGE to be alone in a public place and feel like I was meant to belong.

Every time I went into a mall or grocery store or market in Phitsanulok, I knew that I stood out. I was the tall foreigner who didn’t speak the language, and couldn’t be expected to know how to do anything. If I ever needed help, or if the cashier needed to tell me that it was buy-one-get-1-free on one of my items (which I never knew while getting it off the shelf because I couldn’t read the sign), it meant we were in for a half-mimed and half-understood conversation of broken Thai and broken English. I became really accustomed to that feeling of standing out, of being watched, of sales people whispering to each other when they saw me and then sending their best English-speaking representative over to ask if I needed anything.

So it was bizarre to be in a large store and to feel like everyone around me expected me to fit in and know exactly how to behave. It felt like a lot of pressure, suddenly, like if I messed up people would judge me. I didn’t realize that the lack of expectations for my behavior in a foreign country was actually freeing, in some ways, and belonging in a place visually made me feel like an imposter. Especially since I couldn’t remember where the coffee aisle was, and hadn’t steered a shopping cart in months.

I’m also really scared that Hannaford has stopped making lemon poppyseed muffins, which were my favorite. They did them perfect, too, soft on the inside and crispy on top. I need to try a different store, or a different day, to confirm. All I know is that the back bay store didn’t have them on Sunday, and it was a bummer.

That’s all for now! Despite the muffins, it’s great to be back.

Blog Number 100: Space and Summer and Goals, Goals, Goals

This is the 100th post on the Grace Makley Blog.

Yay.

We also had the two-year blog anniversary sometime last week.

Woooo-hoo.

Neither of these strike me as especially significant, but it’s so hard to get anything done these days that I might as well celebrate small accomplishments.

I’ve been thinking about workspace. One of the biggest things I’ve learned in the past year is that writing/arting in my apartment is difficult. My bedroom has barely the requisite space for a bedroom; forcing it into double-service as desk-area and studio really taxes its reserves. There is no space I can work in my apartment that is not also the space I use to relax, so it’s hard to find any distraction-free focus. I work in coffee shops when I can, but the difficulty there is the danger of your work being on display. I’m putting together a kick-ass painting of Vanya and I don’t care who looks over my shoulder at Starbucks and sees it, but I’m using a photo of Mr. Huntington as reference. He’s not making I guess the most flattering face in the photo, and the Vanya-shirt isn’t his usual style,  and he’d frankly rather I not inadvertently display it around town—and since I’m going to be needing many more reference photos, I’m rather keen to respect his wishes on that.*

So I need a better space. Not necessarily my own solo space, but a space where I don’t need to feel self-conscious about the accouterments of my work, and a space where I don’t need to buy a drink to stay there. I actually had the possibility of an exciting opportunity that would solve my space problem and provide a fulfilling occupation and some extra income. I was hoping for it with all my hopes. It still may come through, but it’s looking less likely now, so I’m trying to move on to other solutions. I’m at a point where I’m ready to invest money in this, ready to make it happen—except, oh yeah, I’m also out of money! Not out out, but this business of cutting back to three days a week from four without an extra part-time job to fill in the cracks is starting to make itself known in the size of my bank statements. Even if I’m ready to shell out cash for some workspace and willing to make that investment, I just can’t afford it right now.

This post is not supposed to be a downer! I’m just putting the problem out there to the universe. Acknowledging the issue in good faith, making my goals known, stating them so I can start working on them where I can. And hey, I grabbed an extra shift today. And I’ve got a job lined up painting a fence this summer. Not enough for rent on a studio space, but at least I’m getting by.

And, oh yeah, the weather is beautiful. I’m biking places, and yesterday I ran the Back Cove Trail for the first time this year (over four miles, starting from my apartment). Today it reached 80º, and I have more energy after work than I’ve had in a long time. I’ve been trying to eat more fruit, and trying to at least go for walks when the weather is nice and I don’t feel up to running. I cleaned my room yesterday, and some harmony in my space makes me feel like I can breathe. Gotta wonder, sometimes, if Maine winters are really worth it. Do people in warmer climates feel this good all the time? Or are summers only so welcome in places like Maine and Michigan because we have endured the snow and cold and depression all winter long? As someone who would choose 90º F over 50ºF any day, I think I would like the opportunity, one of these years, to discover whether I would miss Maine winters if given the chance to do so.

Hey internet! Do you have any advice for me on finding a studio I can afford in Portland, Maine?

 

*The reference photo problem actually represents a solution to ANOTHER problem, the problem where I wasn’t using as many reference photos as I should because it’s hard to work ON the computer while looking at a photo that is also on the computer. So I started printing my photos! Now I can use my whole workspace for painting, but an 8″x10″ photo propped up beside my computer draws more attention than a few pixels taking up space on a screen.

 

A Weekend, A Sketch

Long weekends don’t mean too much to me, generally; I always have Mondays off. Brother came up from Massachusetts on Friday evening, though, and stayed with me and Brackett through yesterday. We checked out the newly renovated Dogfish Bar and Grill for lunch yesterday (I can recommend the 128 Free Street Sandwich) and then Brother and Brackett picked up some vinyl and a few Super Nintendo games at the Electrcic Buddhas nostalgia shop around the corner. They proceeded to beat Goof Troop in under two hours—a game that had seemed impossibly difficult when I was a child. Brother headed up to our parents house yesterday evening, and I’m following in a few hours. Sadly, I have to return my mother’s car. It was easier for her to leave the vehicle with me last weekend than for us to figure out the logistics of her and my father dropping me and another friend off in Portland on their way home from the retreat in separate cars in time for a scheduled event back home. It’s been really nice having wheels for a few days.

I can’t share the painting I was telling you about last weekend yet. I’m really happy with how that’s turning out, but it’s not quite done. My week was subsumed by another worthy project (yes I did make art during the week this week, though it was for a different purpose [an exciting one!] than my usual stuff) so I haven’t made too much more headway on that painting or my other digital art. I did make a sketch yesterday that I finished today, though, so I’m sharing that instead. I’m working on an illustration for the picnic scene in Chapter 4 (Wanderlust Chapter 4: City of Shadows) and right now I’m planning where everyone’s sitting and what they’re doing. I’m hoping to round up some friends to shoot reference photos this week (friends in Portland: I need about two more models for a picnic scene—let me know if you want to help!), so it will be good to know what poses I’m looking for ahead of time. I’m thinking Vanya will be in the background of the scene taking a swig of his drink. I realized I’d never drawn that before, so I did the following sketch as a study, using some stock photos as reference.

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 10.42.29 AM

Weekend Retreat

If you read my last post, you’ll recall that working from home is a real struggle for me, even if I’m working on the things I love and the things I want to be doing. This past weekend, I received an amazing gift of time and space that let me do more work in a few days than I’ve been able to do in a long time.

There is a Franciscan Monastery and Guest House in Kennebunkport, Maine. It’s a ten-minute walk from the beach by road, and has beautiful, well-manicured grounds with walking trails through the woods to various shrines and down to the river near the mouth of the sea. Every year before the tourist season begins, the Guest House hosts a retreat for the Secular Franciscans from the surrounding states. A Secular Franciscan is a Catholic who takes vows to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis—but Secular Franciscans aren’t monks, and they are allowed (and encouraged) to get married and live in the world. My parents are Secular Franciscans, and they’ve been taking me on this retreat since I was very, very small.

When I was a kid, there were always older kids at the retreat who babysat and took care of the younger ones while our parents were at the retreat sessions. They took us to find tide-pools near the beach, brought us walking on the trails, and played frisbee and football with us on the lawn. We would sit at our own kids table at dinner, away from the adults, and steal second-helpings of pudding and third-helpings of very sweet iced tea.  As we got older, we became the babysitters for the younger kids. Now I’m twenty or so years older than I was at my first retreat and my parents have aged accordingly, but my parents are still some of the youngest of the professed Secular Franciscans. There weren’t any young families with children at the retreat this weekend, and there weren’t any gaggles of young children running around the grounds the way we did when we were kids. Some of us still come back as adults, but this weekend all my childhood friends were busy (the baby of our old crew was attending his Junior year high school prom) and I was pretty much on my own. And, in terms of making art, that was exactly what I needed.

While my parents went to the retreat sessions and spent their time in prayer and reflection, I went to a conference room on the third floor of the guest house and worked on a digital painting. Given large blocks of time to myself in a space without distractions, I was able to focus. I didn’t even have to worry about feeding myself, because the retreat included included bountiful and delicious home cooked meals served up three times a day. All I did on Saturday was eat, paint, eat, walk to the beach, paint, eat, walk to the beach, paint, spend some time with parents and dears friends, and sleep. I’m excited to show you the painting I was working on; it’s almost done! And of course we can’t be on retreat all the time, but sometimes time away from home shows us what we’re actually capable of when we don’t allow ourselves to be distracted. It was a good way to get back on track mentally and creatively, and I’m hoping to bring a little bit of quiet and focus with me as I travel through the weeks ahead.

Have you had any retreat experiences that have allowed you to get more creative work done that you could do at home? Where do you go when you need to focus?