Utah escape/escapades – Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon from Sunset Point

Several of my more recent posts have been about moving, because, well, we’re moving. Specifically, we’re moving to Tucson, AZ, in a little over a week. As I write this post, I am surrounded by boxes, and my sinuses are irritated by all the dust I’ve stirred up while packing and cleaning. I’m excited about this move and my new job (which I start on Monday–yikes!), but even though I see this move as a big positive, it’s still stressful. There are a thousand little details to keep track of and so, so much work to do.

This will be our third big move in a little over a decade, and one of the lessons we’ve learned is to plan a break before the last big push to get everything done. We took that break last week–a road trip north to Bryce Canyon in Utah. The trip was short, only two nights, but it was the refresher we needed.

The Grand Staircase Inn in Cannonville, base camp for our adventures:

I spent each morning sitting outside the door of our room, journaling and contemplating a sequel to Vanishing, Inc. And eating Frosted Mini-Wheats straight out of the box with my bare hands (because I’m a classy broad) and washing them down with Diet Coke and befriending an adorable kitty who had perfected the art of scamming food off tourists (I might or might not have given the little dude the remains of my pulled pork lunch. I please the 5th.) And for those who are worried about a pitiful stray, this guy was fixed and looked perfectly healthy–lovely fur, a healthy weight, etc. I suspect he lived at the Air BnB across the street but had learned that motel denizens are suckers good food sources.

After driving all afternoon, evening and staying the night, we spent last Friday exploring Bryce Canyon. My husband is recovering from knee surgery, so we mostly explored by car.

View from Sunset Point:

I think this one may have been taken from Bryce Point. Not sure – should have kept better notes.

Natural Bridge:

Overly friendly raven at Agua Canyon:

And the view from the Agua Canyon viewpoint:

Hoodoos, caves, and a soaring raven at Rainbow Point:

We took one short hike up to Mossy Cave. It provides a great view looking up rather than down at hoodoos.

And here’s Mossy Cave:

It’s hard to find words to describe Bryce Canyon, but “otherworldly” probably comes closest. It’s a landscape that would seem more at home in a sci-fi movie than here in our everyday world. It also reminds me a bit of an outdoor version of cave formations. So, so lovely.

Stay tuned for the next (and probably last) installment of my Utah adventures, in which we will visit Red Canyon and Cedar Breaks National Monument. For now, I have to get back to packing. 9 more days…

#IWSG: Writing, work, and the highway to hell

Happy IWSG Day! For those who are new here, I participate in the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. This month’s optional question is: When you think of the term working writer, what does that look like to you? What do you think it is supposed to look like? Do you see yourself as a working writer or aspiring or hobbyist, and if latter two, what does that look like?

First, sorry for missing September, y’all. Please don’t kick me out of the IWSG club. There’s a lot going on in my life right now (see my last few posts if you’re interested–but, spoiler alert, I’m moving), and I couldn’t get it together last month.

Now for this month’s question. I’ve noticed that a lot of us in the writing community get hung up on our identity as it relates to writing. So, pop quiz:

I am a writer if I:

  1. Am traditionally published
  2. Am self-published
  3. Blog
  4. Write for fun, but I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a rusty soup spoon than let anyone see what I write.
  5. All of the above

The correct answer is, 5. Here’s a more concise version of the pop quiz:

Do you write?

  1. Yes. Congratulations–you are a writer.
  2. No.

I spoke with a writer friend a couple of days ago. This woman’s poetry has won awards in our statewide literary contest, but she assured me that she is not a writer. She’s a finalist in this year’s contest. She’s working on a memoir. But she isn’t a writer. She just dabbles. I should have recommended she join the IWSG. Like the rest of us, she’s mastered the insecurity part as well as the writer part, even if she doesn’t know it.

So, fellow insecure writers, here’s your daily affirmation. Strike your favorite power pose and repeat after me:

I. Am. A. Writer.

One more time, with feeling:

I. Am. A. Writer.

C’mon, you in the back row with the sunglasses and backwards ball cap. This ain’t the back seat of the school bus. Get on your feet and shout!

I. Am. A. Writer.

OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the phrase, “working writer.” I’ll admit, that has a slightly different connotation to me. It includes the (other) dreaded W word, “work.” So, what does it mean to be a *working* writer?

Well, I dunno about you, but writing is definitely work for me. Dang hard word. Some of the hardest work I do. Even harder than packing up everything I own for my upcoming move.

But of course “work” has another meaning–the thing we do for money, our career. So which definition do we want to use? (Yes, I’m a writer–I love to play with words and their meanings.) I’ll give you my personal definition of a working writer, but I want to be very clear that it is just that: my personal definition. I am not the self-appointed gatekeeper of the writing world. My definition applies to me–and only me. You get to decide for yourself what being a working writer means to you.

So, here’s my definition:

A working writer is a writer who aspires to share their writing with others and is taking concrete steps toward that goal.

Notice: I didn’t say a word about getting paid. I didn’t say a word about getting published. I didn’t say a word about being “good.” And I for sure didn’t say a word about being self-supporting as a writer (my understanding is that most midlist published writers can’t make it without an additional source of income).

My definition implies a degree of “seriousness,” if you will. Some intent. A goal. A purpose beyond self-entertainment. And as you might guess, that ties in with my definition of, “work.” Something doesn’t magically become, “work,” just because it earns money, and something doesn’t magically become “not work” if it doesn’t earn money. Same for earning external recognition (e.g. getting published). Work, to me, means some kind of focused effort to create something for others as well as yourself. I’ll admit I haven’t carefully analyzed all possible implications of that definition, but it seems to match my view of work pretty well. Work as service, I suppose.

Work is a loaded word in US culture. We were founded in part by Puritans, who, as I understand it, seemed to divide everything into two categories: work (which was godly, had value, and demonstrated that you were one of the elect, predestined to go to heaven) and everything else (which was frivolous, ungodly, and likely to indicate you were buddying up with Bon Scott on the Highway to Hell).

Diversion alert! Play this video and crank it up. It may be frivolous and ungodly, but it’s worth it.

Official video for AC/DC’s Highway to Hell

Sadly, these ideas persist today. We are taught to value “work” above everything else and to sacrifice everything else for “work.” And “work” is usually defined as something we get paid to do and that is valuable primarily because someone will pay us to do it. If we enjoy it, and/or if we can’t assign a market value to it, it isn’t “work”–and therefore it’s frivolous and a waste of time and we might as well ask Bon Scott for a piggyback ride.

This idea is toxic. (Though if Bon Scott weren’t dead, I’d probably ask him for a piggyback ride, and he’d probably drop me, because he’d be drunk. But I digress.)

It’s toxic to the arts, certainly, and it’s also toxic to the human soul. It robs people of the ability to do something for the pure joy of it without feeling guilty–and that guilt pollutes the experience, so that it is no longer one of pure joy.

Diversion alert: I am now blasting Highway to Hell loud enough to rattle the walls of my spare bedroom. For the pure joy of it.

OK, back to work–literally and figuratively (but AC/DC is still blasting away, because who said work can’t be fun? Oh, yeah, the Puritans. But they’re dead, so screw them.) It’s hard to avoid value judgments when talking about work, and I know my definition includes an implicit value judgment straight out of the Puritan handbook: it mentions goals and doing something for others. Feel free to argue with that definition. You might convince me to change it. I am, after all, a product of the same Puritan-based culture I’m complaining about.

But I do think work involves some kind of effort that goes beyond the self, not because the self is bad, but because I believe we can find a higher purpose in getting outside of ourselves and touching the lives of others. And it takes effort to do that–in other words, work. See? I can’t escape the Puritans no matter how hard I try.

And, to bring our discussion back to writing, when we write for others, we have to dig deeper to make sure we are communicating what we intend to communicate. We have to tap into age-old methods of storytelling that resonate with other humans, create characters our readers can identify with, and choose our words carefully so they carry the meaning we want to convey. And all of that is, you guessed it, work. But it also deepens and enriches our own experience of writing–or at least it does for me.

And I finally had to turn off AC/DC, because I couldn’t concentrate on crafting this post while bouncing around in my chair to the bass line from “Thunderstruck.” Maybe the Puritans were right about having to choose between work and fun. Dammit.

#SoCS: Old and new

The home we’re buying in Tucson

This post is part of the Stream of Consciousness Saturday blog hop. Linda Hill posts a prompt every Friday; see https://lindaghill.com/2020/10/02/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-oct-3-2020/. This week’s prompt is “new/old.” Use either or both of the words “new and old” any way you’d like. Bonus points for starting and ending with either one.

Old house, new house, old job, new job, old place, new place. This weeks’ prompt is timely. As I’ve written in my last two posts, I’m in the process of relocating from Flagstaff, AZ to Tucson, AZ for a job at the University of Arizona. This week I became more seriously focused on wrapping things up at my old job. My office walls are nearly bare, my desk is nearly clean (truly a shocking sight), and my email inbox is nearly empty. I have about 3 more days. People have started saying goodbye, an oddly impersonal experience in the age of COVID. There’s that moment after everything has been said, when we would normally hug but instead stand there awkwardly before giving a small wave and going our separate ways. It reminds me a little of middle school dances, with boys on one side of the gym and girls on the other, awkwardly approaching each other but not too close. My wonderful colleagues are planning a farewell party for me next week–in person with masks and distancing and also on Zoom. Maybe if I pull my mask up high enough, my co-workers won’t see me cry.

My email is set up at my new job, and I’m starting to think more about it, about what I want to accomplish in my first day, first week, first month. I’m excited and nervous as I always am when I start a new job. In some ways, it’s like the first day at a new school: Will they like me? Will I make a good first impression? Will I make it through my first day without saying something stupid? (answer to that last one: almost certainly not).

This weekend we need to pack like fiends, because I start my new job in 2 weeks, and we move in 3 1/2 weeks. It seems like every part of packing takes longer than I think it will. Find the right sized box, find the tape, figure out the perfect tetris challenge of fitting everything into a box that’s just slightly too small… rinse, repeat. We’re also sorting through 6+ years of accumulation to figure out what will fit in the new house, where it will go, whether or not we need it in this new chapter of our lives.

We’re having a run of spectacular fall weather here, warm days, crisp nights, aspens turning golden, cottonwood leaves crackling in the breeze. We walk each day, drinking in as much as we can of our beautiful rural neighborhood, our view of the San Francisco Peaks, a night sky that puts a planetarium show to shame, the scent of ponderosa pine with undertones of skunk. In less than a month, we will be city dwellers again. Our new neighborhood is cute and conveniently located, but it isn’t 2.5 acres at the foot of the highest mountains in Arizona. On the other hand, trips to the grocery store won’t require nearly an hour of round-trip travel time. And winter will be sunny and 75F, not windy and 15F. We’ll trade snow-flocked pine trees for a saguaro strung with Christmas lights–if I can figure out how to put Christmas lights on a cactus without skewering myself. I expect I’ll be a human pincushion by the time I’m through. So, tradeoffs.

But, to close on a philosophical note, all of life is a series of tradeoffs. Tradeoffs that shift as our priorities change, as our bodies age, as our interests become more focused. Out with (some of) the old to make room for the new, for the things that are a better fit for who we have become.

And now I need to sign off, so I can pack some of the old into boxes that are just slightly too small.