**This photo is from a family trip to D.C. around 1986–aka pre-gentrification.
I had to laugh. My Dad told me he was too busy to read my blog at the moment. He was in the process of writing two newspapers about his beloved Baltimore—the Baltimore he remembers.
Trump’s comments might have put Baltimore in the spotlight, but the city has been in trouble for a while. I have plenty of family that still lives there and have seen some of the changes myself. There is a great article in The NY Times by Alec MacGillis, “The Tragedy of Baltimore,” published March 12, 2019 that helps explain “the why.”
Unlike my dad, who mourns for his hometown, I’m not a fatalist. I think Baltimore will turn around, but these things take time. Here in D.C., I have yet to ride in an Uber when a driver, who has lived here for over thirty years, tells me “this area,” the area I now live in, “used to be a very dangerous part of town.”
The double-edged sword of gentrification.
In 2017, I was accused of being part of the problem [of gentrification] because I now lived in housing that displaced the less fortunate. It caught me so off guard, I laughed hollowly and said, “Well, we’ve all got to live somewhere.”
Everyone is the asshole in someone else’s story.
But this post isn’t about Baltimore or assholes. It’s about the fact my dad is still writing newspapers with his opinions at the age of 83. He has done this for as long as I can remember. He proudly states that even the Wall Street Journal has published his letters. Well, one at least. Still, my dad doesn’t give up, and off his letter goes to a couple of newspapers about his beloved city.
Along with my mom, who spent her career as a kindergarten teacher and now works part-time (she’s almost 78) at the local community college tutoring students with their papers, I wonder much less these days, where my love of writing comes from. This was not the case with my riding. My parents still scratch their heads about the origins of that love affair.
It’s either in you or it isn’t.
I’ve had some very nice comments from people in regards to my blog, which is always more pleasant than the alternative. The people who don’t like it have kept it to themselves, or quit reading it and moved on to something else, which is a nice way for the world to keep spinning around the sun.
My friends are amazed I wake up at 3:15 am, without an alarm, and make coffee and start writing. I’m sure horse people can relate to the fact that when the work doesn’t feel like work, it’s easy to get up at 3 a.m. to get to the horse show in time for your first scheduled ride.
So, it’s like that.
I’ve written enough now, consistently, to have experienced the peaks and valleys that come with it. Whenever I wrote anything in the past, it was always inconsistently, because there was never any time. Inconsistency creates a very comfortable illusion. The creativity flowed out of the pen freely and smoothly, and it felt pretty easy and like I was sort of good at it. This is no different than the first run I take after a long break, when nothing hurts, and I feel like I could run forever. When the writing or the run is over, I’m left with an indelible high.
Inconsistency is a trickster like that.
Now I’m writing so much that the façade of easy has worn off, revealing the rust and broken axels on the machine. Some days the words come out like a fifth grader is holding the pen. (I know, a pen is an archaic metaphor, and consequently, I have just dated myself).
Just the other day, speaking with a friend, I compared my writing to mulching the garden. Some days I sit down at my laptop, and I can barely form words, let alone string them together. To the gardener, this would equate to being ready to go and pick-up mulch in your truck, but finding your truck won’t start. So you jump it, and then you have to go out of your way to the gas station because the truck is running on fumes. You fill up the tank, only to get a flat tire halfway to the nursery. You change the tire on the side of the road and finally arrive at your destination. Then you wait in line to order the mulch, wait in another line to pay for it, and wait in yet another line to have it delivered to the bed of your truck.
By the time you get home, the day is just about done and you really haven’t accomplished all that much. You sit down, crack a beer, and stare at the huge pile of mulch in your truck. You are not happy. The whole thing took way too long, with too many hiccups, and now your task is only half finished.
Some days of writing are just like this.
However, you get up the next morning and dump the mulch in a pile next to your parched flowerbeds. You get to work. You don’t stop until the mulch pile has been obliterated and the flowerbeds are all tucked in with beautiful, nurturing soil. This time, when you step away and crack a beer, a smile spreads across your face. There is great satisfaction seeing the fruits of your labor and feeling that you have done a good job for the day.
Some days of writing are like this, too.
I’m sure the equestrians have figured it out by now. This is no different for anyone who rides consistently, regardless of whether you are a professional or not. Some days you ask yourself, “Have I ever sat the trot before?” and that’s being generous. One day I fell off of J.B. as I was getting on. He spun around super quick and knocked me off my makeshift mounting block before my foot hit the stirrup. This was right outside Phillip Dutton’s ring, right before my lesson started, and before I went advanced that weekend.
One minute you’re the windshield, and the next minute, you’re the bug on the windshield.
In my mind, the struggle signals your commitment to the endeavor. It’s easy to float in and out of things without getting a hair out of place.
Where’s the fun in that?
Besides the days I can’t form words, my biggest struggle with writing is to know when to end things. I have so much swirling around upstairs and I’m afraid it will depart if I don’t get it written down. It makes it very difficult to walk away from my laptop. Our house is covered in notes scribbled everywhere on index cards for the times when I’m not in front of my laptop. Russ has gotten used to me picking up a pen and scribbling something down when one of us is mid-sentence in conversation.
It’s very hard to shut it off.
I used to consider each horse I rode it’s very own chapter of the greatest book ever written. There was a starting point and a somewhat determined end point to each ride. With writing, it’s just up to me. I am the workhorse and it can be difficult to know when to wrap it up. This translates to being easily consumed, the same way I was once consumed by my equestrian lifestyle. Even though each horse’s ride had an ending, it was easy enough to just keep pulling them out. Your day could go on forever, and it often did.
It’s the juxtaposition of the fear of missing out versus the fear of not stopping.
(Isn’t this how a drug addict feels?)
My other challenge, because I’m inundated with ideas and thoughts and stories, is keeping it all straight and not getting distracted within my writing. I have not been successful at this yet. I am often in the middle of writing a piece, and something will pop up in my head, and I will let it play through on a separate document. This piece is a good example of that. I haven’t decided if this is the right thing to do, or whether I am lacking discipline and allowing myself to be whimsical in my process.
Maybe it doesn’t even matter.
The flip side of that same coin is there are other stories that sometimes need to marinate for a very long time before putting them to paper. Some experiences are so big and painful in life and need to be mourned privately. There are many of my own that have not made it to paper yet. However, time has the ability to bestow the gift of perspective, which is the seasoning to what can otherwise be a tough piece of meat to chew.
I’m willing to wait.
So writing has become my new riding. It feels very familiar, just in a different arena with different equipment. I quipped to a friend that my biggest fear of pursuing a writing career is that it would mimic my riding career—just on the cusp of real success, but not quite. It’s more of a possibility than not, but that’s okay. The real value lies in the trying.
Luckily, for me, the fear of missing out far exceeds the fear of failure.
When I was employed briefly as a writer (after horses), I wrote my first feature and handed it in. As we were on a business trip, I saw my boss early the next day at breakfast. Before the coffee was poured, she looked down her nose at me and said accusingly, “Jenn, I read your feature. It’s 10,000 words.”
I looked at her, waiting for her to continue. After an uncomfortable pause, I said, “Yes, I know.”
“Features like this, at the most, are 2,500 words.”
She looked at me waiting for a reaction.
I didn’t have one.
She spit, “You are going to have to cut this WAY back.”
I felt like I had just been slapped on the wrist for walking in front of the Board of Directors with toilet paper on the bottom of my shoe. Obviously, I thought I understood the parameters of the assignment, but clearly I was off the mark.
I have no regrets. If you’re going to make a mistake, make it by going too big or doing too much. Better to arrive a day early, than a day late. Scaling back later is always easier than trying to make up for what you didn’t do, and needed to do, in the first place.
That same boss whispered in my ear early on, “Try not to say ‘awesome’ so much. It sounds very young…and unprofessional.”
(Wow, a double dig).
Just like my dad who continues to write to the newspapers, I hope my writing, somewhere, sometime, along the way, will resonate and touch someone and make them feel less alone, less awkward, and most of all, seen.
After all, we are all on this journey together, like it or not.
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
May your journey be sweeter than the destination
And may you always
Think that life is Totally. Completely. Awesome.