Heeding Madeleine L’Engle’s Advice Yet Again!

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As I write this post, I watch a Life Flight helicopter land on the field situated less than 1000 yards away from my bed.  I spot paramedics transferring a person hovering between life and death over to the Life Flight team. I’ve seen this scenario many times over the years we’ve lived here.  The roar of an idling copter never fails to put my problems into perspective.  I’ve just been given a “reality check”.

For various reasons, I’ve struggled more than usual the past week, but as the gifted blogger Kitt O’Malley gently reminded me, “this too shall pass”.  I must remember that just because life is more difficult, that doesn’t automatically mean I’m going to crash into the depths of despair.

For some people who have bipolar one disorder and are stable, dreading a relapse is ever-present. Fortunately, fear of bottoming out doesn’t mean that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Still, unless some kind of miracle occurs, I’ll always be afraid of relapsing.

Last week I deliberately stopped my daily blogging habit, which I had kept up for over four months.  I still can’t believe I didn’t miss a single day.  If sometime told me that a writer/mom with bipolar was keeping up such a demanding writing routine, I’d wonder (perhaps a tad jealously) if that person was hypomanic or manic.  I most definitely was not in either of those states. (thank God!)

Anyway, I ceased writing my minimum of thirty minutes a day, whether it was for this blog, for my book or for freelance articles.  Writing at least thirty minutes a day was a famous rule created by my favorite author Madeleine L’Engle.  I’ve discussed L’Engle’s writing advice in prior posts, and if you’re familiar with my blog you probably know how much I revere L’Engle.

Today I came across an interview with L’Engle about writing that I found to be affirming and fascinating.  She was asked by Scholastic students for the advice she’d give to aspiring writers.  L’Engle told the students:

“I would give the same advice to writers of any age – and that’s keep an honest, unpublishable journal that you don’t show to anyone.  You dump things into it – it’s your private garbage can. Also, you have to read to be a writer. You have to write every day – not necessarily in your journal.  But you have to do it every day. It’s like practicing a musical instrument – you have to practice and stick with it.  I love every bit of it.  I love getting the ideas, and I live with the ideas for a long time before I write them – I may write two or three other books while thinking about an idea.  And I love sitting down to work at the computer and just starting.

L’Engle wrote the Newberry Award-winning, bestselling A Wrinkle In Time and many other amazing books. This prolific writer knew what she was talking about.  I especially appreciated her comparison of writing to practicing a musical instrument.  One of my fondest childhood memories was listening to my Juilliard-trained, Fulbright Award-winning Dad practice on his Stradivarius or his Guadagnini violin almost every single day.  (Yep, I’m gonna namedrop!  And he had bipolar one!)  Dad’s Irish setters Tanya and Amber hung out in this practice room listening to his world-class performances seven days a week, those lucky hounds.  I didn’t realize how disciplined Dad was until much later.  If I had an iota of his work ethic, I’d be stoked.

Oh well.  I thought that the time I freed up from reducing my writing schedule would refresh and perhaps inspire me to write more and that my writing might even improve.  I was dead wrong.  I’ve found myself feeling blah instead of the usual rah regarding writing. This SUCKS!

A few days ago it was my father’s birthday.  He passed away five years ago, and I’ve missed him ever since. The anniversary of his birthday drained me emotionally, but I don’t think that was the main reason I haven’t been gung-ho about writing.  At least I haven’t been depressed, but I’m definitely not where I want to be, and I need to take care of myself.  I’m convinced that part of “taking care of myself” includes scheduling writing time every day unless I’m really sick or there’s an emergency.

Thirty minutes is not that long a time to write!  It’s the length of one “Full House” or “The Nanny” episode, now, isn’t it?  And those episodes roll by in a flash.  I’m guessing that the very act of writing has been like my own version of Lumosity.  My theory? Writing stimulates and exercises certain areas of my brain that are usually not in use.  Furthermore, I’m guessing that consistent writing is serving as a mood stabilizer! How I wish that Madeleine L’Engle was alive today so I could run that supposition by her and hear her opinion.  After participating in two writer’s workshops with her, I learned firsthand that she would tell you exactly what she thought.

So yes, I’m missing my “writer’s high”.  The cardio exercise I’ve been faithfully doing on my NordicTrack gives me a different kind of high – actually, it doesn’t feel like a high, but more of a grounding of my jangled nerves.

For the time being, I’ve decided to give myself the gift of daily writing, and not feel guilty about making it a priority.  I used to journal all the time, and I stopped when the bipolar depression became too much.  Now I’ll either create a private blog for my use as a journal, or buy a blank book.  (Most definitely not for publication, as L’Engle instructs!)  I’m looking forward to feeling better and clearing my brain out, Madeleine L’Engle-style!

Kitt O’Malley’s blog (Life with Bipolar Disorder and Thoughts about God)  is: http://www.kittomalley.com

This link leads to the entire transcript of Madeleine L’Engle’s interview with the Scholastic students and I love it! ;

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/madeleine-l39engle-interview-transcript

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Madeleine in her office at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City – probably sometime in the 60’s with those groovy glasses!

Dy and L'Engle 2Dyane & Madeleine at the Mount Calvary Retreat in Santa Barbara, California, 1997

 

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Sisters & Cupcakes – A Sweet & Salty Tale

Image Big and little sis: Avonlea & Marilla, 2014

Over the past year, my daughter Avonlea and I developed a love (a.k.a. an obsession) for the cupcake world of Georgetown Cupcakes.  It all began with the TLC reality show DC Cupcakes which Avonlea discovered while browsing through Netflix listings.

The show features sisters/business partners Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis Berman running their Georgetown Cupcake shop in Washington, D.C.  A more fitting name for the cupcakery could be “Dysfunction Cupcake Junction”, as there are baking and staffing hijinks galore.

DC Cupcakes became a hit for TLC; it was renewed for two more seasons and the sisters’ business grew from one store to six.  As their success grew, the Kallinis sisters appeared on the the Martha Stewart Show, Today, and the holy mecca of shows, Oprah.  They’ve had two books published, The Cupcake Diaries and Sweet Celebrations, and Avonlea owns both of them.  She has thumbed through them so many times that many of the pages are coming out.

Avonlea reveres these two sisters, and she has gotten a big kick out of analyzing their contentious and loving interactions on the show.  Avonlea has one sister, and sometimes they play together beautifully and sometimes, oh boy, they do not.  When the lovely moments between the girls happen, I gaze at them feeling that all is right in the world.  But when they travel to the dark side together with their yelling matches resulting in time-outs, I want to pull out my hair and scream right along with them.  Although the Kallinis sisters are several decades older than my girls, they have similar sisterly dynamics.

To some extent, “DC Cupcakes” has been surprisingly educational for both me and Avonlea.  We’ve learned the value of baking precision, decorating techniques, and we’ve been entertained along the way by the colorful Georgetown Cupcake staff members.  (My favorite one is Andres, the lead baker – he always makes me laugh.) The often ridiculous dilemmas dreamed up by the TLC production company are fun to watch and the sisters often bake projects that benefit worthy charities.

To add icing to the cupcake, the Kallinis sisters have their mother, who everyone in the store calls “Mommy”, come work for them.  I’ll just say that Mommy is lovable, but more-than-a-bit spacey and sometimes annoying. She has a loving, respectful relationship with her two daughters, and I think it’s healthy for Avonlea to watch the depiction of a (mostly) positive mother-daughter relationship.  (But no one walks on water in this show!  Otherwise it would be a snooze-fest.)

Ever since Avonlea was given the Kallinis sisters’ cupcake books, she has gotten into the habit of reading them before bedtime and sleeping with them under her pillow.  This nightly tradition has moved me deeply.  I love that my daughter, the child of two writers, insists not only on bedtime reading but putting both books under the pillow as a talisman.  No tattered teddy bears, or baby blankets for her – she has full-size, hardback books.

Marilla is now asking to read one of the cupcake books before bedtime, and it’s touching for me to see how one sister influences the other.  While I don’t harbor dreams of my daughters opening a business together unless they choose too, I hope that they have a close relationship in the years to come.  Craig and I will do everything that we can to foster such a bond.

God forbid, if either of our girls inherit a genetic predisposition for bipolar, I want them to be there for one another in a big, big way.  (As much as is possible without either of them becoming too codependent, that is.) I’m still hoping that a bipolar disorder cure happens in their lifetime.  They’ve already been through enough bipolar-related agony as it is with me.

When they are older, I want to teach them that if anything ever happens to either of them mental-health-wise, the only choice to make is to show up for one’s sibling while protecting one’s own mental wellness as much as possible.

This tale started out sweet, and then it became salty when I brought up bipolar disorder.  (I couldn’t help it!) But I want to end on a more optimistic note…

It’s amazing to watch two smart, sweet-toothed young girls who I (with the help of my husband) brought into this world.  Now that I’m stable, I can bear witness to their growing up, while before when I was stuck in a hopeless, insidious bipolar-depression, I couldn’t make much sense of anything, or stand up for very long.

I’m thankful that I can notice my girls’ ever-changing behavior.  I love being a fly on the wall when I listen to their interactions with one another – even their  furious “You twits!” and “I hate you’s!” and the “I wish you weren’t my sisters!”  (They always apologize to one another after uttering such atrocious words – they don’t have a choice!)  I’m grateful I can spend time in the kitchen with Avonlea making caramel (OMG: who knew how good mixing cream, sugar, vanilla, butter on a stove would taste?)  and baking cupcakes.  After being depressed in the past for so long, unable to function, baking cupcakes with my daughter is as sweet as it gets.

 

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Look – soooooo delectably tasty and only two million calories!

 

Our Home’s Holy Grails

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For more information about DC Cupcakes

http://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/dc-cupcakes   http://www.georgetowncupcake.com/