Mary Oliver

The Accountability Project

In the last days of 2018, at a small gathering of writer friends, I mentioned I was thinking about starting an accountability project for 2019. Would they be interested in joining me?

All four of us are working writers, but it’s not all we do: Two have full-time jobs unrelated to writing; one is an artist in residence for the state going here and there, teaching in a variety of capacities; one has numerous health issues, but is also active in the community working diligently for good causes. How to make sure that writing still gets done, that we move forward on our projects, that we don’t get overly discouraged alone at our desks after a long day of doing all the other parts of our lives? I knew I needed a boost, and I thought maybe they did too.

Here’s the structure I set up for our little group:
1. At the beginning of each month, I send out an email to the group saying what do you want to accomplish this month? Each person responds when convenient with a goal or two or three, putting it out there safely among friends who are invested in our writing.

2. On Sunday of each week, I send a quick email check-in asking how did it go this week? Each person checks in to encourage others and share their own progress.

3. During the month, we each send along links to articles, blogs, pictures, whatever comes our way that seems relevant to our journeys. It’s a simple way to say, I’m here, I thought of you, I thought you might enjoy this.

4. We meet in person when possible, trying for once a month, to catch up, share publications, responses from editors, contest successes, those pesky problems and “no thank yous,” and the ultimate glory of tea, coffee, critique, and hugs that only being together in person can provide.

At this point, on the last day of January, we are a month in. I’ve met some of my goals, but not all. One of our group finished a draft of a novel a week early! Another has a bad case of the why bothers? The other member has been braving ice and snow to develop workshops for the spring season, and dabbling with the beginnings of new poems. We have all reached out to one another to share encouragement and empathy. Mary Oliver‘s death prompted many emails of articles, poems, remembrances, and inspiration. All of us dabbled with the Writers Happiness Movement (Thank you Lori Snyder!).

On Friday, February 1, I will send out that new email, saying what do you want to accomplish this month?

It’s like a reset button. After today, those January goals are gone. Sure we can carry things over, but we don’t have to. No matter what we did or didn’t accomplish in January, February is a clean slate, a fresh start. Like when a new coating of snow settles overnight, we get to make our own tracks. Yesterday’s muddy footprints are gone.

So as the polar vortex goes back where it came from, and the groundhogs debate spring, take a moment to consider:

  • What do I want to accomplish this next month?
  • Who do I want to help me be accountable?
  • How can I support others on their creative journey this year?
  • When and where can I meet with creative friends to share the ups and downs of this wonderful/horrible thing I am called to do?

I’d love to hear what you come up with or what you already do.

Stay warm. Stay safe. Keep going.

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Creating Intentions vs. Resolutions

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to accomplish in 2017. It’s probably something most of us have been doing, making those tricky resolutions, hoping against hope, that this will be the year we finally “get it together.” But if I’ve learned anything in my years on earth, it’s to know when it’s time to reflect, and when it’s time to jump in.

My little dog, Charlotte, is a good example of this strategy. She’s had a challenging life. I don’t know how old she is. I only know how many years it’s been since someone dropped her off at the bottom of my hill, scared, hungry, and most likely wondering where her puppies were as she appeared to have recently had a litter. She’s still timid, hates men in pick-up trucks, and approaches each offering with a look around to see what might be sneaking up behind her, but when she feels safe and happy, she runs! Great loops around the house, jumping over obstacles, a flash of furred joy.

I’ve had some troubling times too. We all have, but that shouldn’t shut us down. Pause, learn, be patient with yourself. As Mary Oliver says in her poem, Wild Geese,

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

I love words, and nature. I love being alone, and making connections. I love sharing what I find along the way, what I learn to be true. One thing I’ve learned is about the power of intentions as opposed to resolutions. When I hear the word resolved, my mind spins to the movie National Treasure and Nicholas Cage’s character, Ben Gates, making the leap from colonial clues found on a pipe stem in a frozen ship to a treasure map hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence. “It was firm. It was adamant. It was resolved.”

My leaps of faith tend not to be quite that grand, or dangerous. Nor are my resolutions, my intentions, nation-building worthy, yet that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. To me, who I want to be, and what I want to achieve, means the world.

So for 2017, I set these intentions. Not resolutions. Intentions. Though I will put effort and time in to following through with these intentions, I am not adamant. I am not firm. My intentions may change as I change and grow this year. That’s okay. If I need to reflect, and set new intentions I will. But for now, these are my guide. I like the idea of a guide, much better than ¬†boulders of resolution hanging over my head ready to fall with the next storm. And we all know there will be storms in 2017.

My intentions:

  • Write one poem per day or five per week
  • Write one blog post per month
  • Submit my work two times per month
  • Meditate five times a week
  • Exercise two times a week

What are your intentions for 2017?

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