Taking a break

Recently, Bethany Reid posted about taking a break from writing. I take breaks from writing all the time–meaning that I skip writing. And feel guilty, worry that I’m not a real writer. But that isn’t the same as taking a vacation from writing.

On my vacation last week, I decided to really take a vacation. Usually, time off means time with a stack of books and a manuscript or a notebook to fill with free writes. This trip, we went to Maui to see our daughter, to spend time with her and meet her friends.

joannie and claire We went on a hike in the Iao Valley. We went up to Haiku, where her friend handed me a ukulele and I spent about an hour jamming–or trying to keep up (I haven’t played ukulele before). After that, it was lau laus for lunch and then a quick slack-key guitar lesson (by this time, my fingers were hurting). The next day, my first yoga class ever. The day after that, we went paddling in a double-hulled canoe in Kahalui Harbor.

Instead of worrying about the writing that I wasn’t doing, I enjoyed all the firsts and then decided to privilege things that I could do only in Hawaii, even if it was just taking a dip in the ocean or walking on the beach–including trips to the bakery. I still read a lot (This Time, by Gerald Stern) and noodled around with some poems, but I didn’t feel pressured to complete something, to make progress.

(Okay, true confession: I did have a momentary freak-out when I was supposed to meet my daughter on the beach and, when she didn’t answer my calls about the fact that I had run out of beach, I thought that maybe she had been swept out to sea and started to half-run back to the condo to see whether Tom had heard anything. I kept telling myself that this was not the Aloha spirit and to visualize good things. Finally she called, and then I half-ran back to help with dinner. But everyone made it alive and we ate mahimahi and drank sparkling pineapple wine.)

As the plane lifted away from the island and I tried not to cry, a poem started to introduce itself.

Back on the mainland, I’m looking for that balance (always) between writing and the rest of my life, between working and playing, between process and product–how to make space for that vacation calm in the everyday journeys. And I’m getting ready to take my second yoga class ever.

Why learning Italian is bad for my writing

You’d think it would be a good thing, right? Learning more about language through another language, exploring how the puzzle pieces fit together, reveling in the music (la musica!) of it.

Since I’ve started to learn Italian by listening to learn-Italian CDs in my car on the way to work, I’ve found it harder to write when I pull into a parking space and turn the car off. I generally read some poems first, and that helps sometimes. But later, when I’m walking by the creek, instead of observing the grasses and birds and emptying my mind to receive images, receive poem sparks, I’m rehearsing Italian, conjugating verbs, making up sentences in my head–very simple sentences.

I thought about maybe listening to NPR on the way to work and listening to Italian only on the way home, but I forget to switch to the tuner, and after the voices start asking me questions, I just respond–or I repeat simple words and phrases, which is a kind of comfort.

What ignites your writing? What distracts you from it?