Final Days of 59

“… Transformation always involves the falling away of things we have relied on, and we are left with the feeling that the world as we know it is coming to an end, because it is” (Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening).

This past February, I wrote a post about some unexpected milestones at age 59 ½. At the time, I was struck by the synchronicity. Still am. As this is my final week at age 59, I decided to revisit those milestones before I step into my sixth decade, one that promises even more transformation.

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I have continued to lose weight beyond the 59 ½ pounds of February; I am down 69 pounds with another fifteen-twenty to lose but no more than that. My eating habits have not changed in the past six months but my taste buds have adjusted to other options, and I enjoy eating again. I found millet-buckwheat bread made with chicory root and without refined starch, absolutely critical for me.  Almond butter sandwiches are now a staple. While my future remains gluten, yeast, sugar, dairy and soy free, my grocery list items are crisp and fresh.

In my last week as a fifty-nine-year-old, I am in better health than I was at 58, sans an arsenal of allopathic medicine. I remain convinced that Eastern medicine– Ayurveda and Chinese–has a better understanding of autoimmune disease. Ted J. Kaptchuk’s The Web That Has No Weaver is an excellent overview of traditional Chinese medicine, and I am searching for a similar Ayurveda text. Until I find it, I am enjoying Deepak Chopra’s Perfect Health, an informative volume regarding Ayurveda traditions.  This Tuesday, I have my first meeting with a practitioner of Eastern medicine.

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But in these final days of my 59th year, it is my writing that is undergoing the greatest transformation. My numbers alone are major personal milestones.  I no longer publish blog posts twice a week as I did in February but on June 2, I began writing the initial draft of a nonfiction manuscript. Currently, I am producing over 9200 words per week on this manuscript alone. At my 59 ½ milestone, my word count was 9800 words for the entire month of February.

While I do not write for a specific word or page count, numbers gauge a manuscript’s size so I knew the end of the nonfiction manuscript was close: currently, it is 330 pages or just over 91,000 words. But even before I tallied the numbers, synchronicity had come to call; what Deepak Chopra calls “a quantum leap of creativity…a relinquishing of the known for the unknown.” And like milestones, coincidence comes wrapped in the ordinary.

In February, I included my participation in ROW 80 as part of my regular blog posts.  Frequently, I discussed the initial draft of a novel that I wrote seventeen years ago; in some blog posts I’d opt for rewriting the novel and in other posts I’d refer to the novel as a life once lived. Rather than letting go, I was very like the speaker in Linda Pastan’s poem, “Ethics,” unable to decide whether to save the old woman or the painting.

So, I signed up for an online workshop, Conflict and Idea with Bob Mayer, and learned about “kernel idea.” I have not been the same since so I consider it my toehold in the unknown, a piece of a milestone.

Bob says that the kernel idea is what initially inspires the writing of a novel–it is the Alpha and Omega of a book–it starts and completes the creative process but here is the key point: the story that you write may and probably does change but the kernel idea of a book does not, ever.

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During the course of the workshop, I came to understand that the “kernel idea” for my novel was not the story I had written. The kernel idea had not changed but the story I wrote moved away from the idea within the first 100 pages. Finally, I realized what I was hanging onto for seventeen years—my kernel idea and 100 pages—yet, it took me a while to understand just what that might mean but when I did, it felt like a “quantum leap of creativity.” Still does.

Thus, as I started writing a new nonfiction book—my current manuscript–I discovered the way to tell the story of my original kernel idea. Maybe the years sorted themselves, maybe I was letting go of what no longer serves but with transformation there is also revelation. In letting  go of a seventeen-year-old-story that no longer served, I discovered the kernel idea for a new nonfiction book.

“When faced with great change—in self, in relationship, in our sense of calling–we somehow must take in all that has enclosed, nurtured and incubated us so when the new life is upon us, the old is within us” (Nepo).

The Night Circus: A Review

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In The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern spins a tale that is magical in its prose and practical in its illusions. To me, it is as fine a debut novel as can be found.

Morgenstern’s prose is poetry mostly and not without wit. Her novel’s structure is a marvel, perhaps a study in magic itself for Le Cirque des Reves—the Circus of Dreams—arrives and departs without notice, opening only at midnight and closing at dawn.

The dream circus is a world of black and white with wafts of caramel weaving in and out of striped tents that offer moments of awe and acts unknown, swirling round an extraordinary love story, truly a circus for any rêveur.

There is the Wishing Tree where every wish is a light always lit; there is the illusionist who appears and disappears as if she were born to it;  there is the Labyrinth that will take you up and down, sideways, or to the top of your world.

If you are fortunate, perhaps chosen is a better word, you may receive a silver pass to the Circus of Dreams for the rest of your life. It is a tempting way to live for every tent tells a story within a story as “there are many kinds of magic,” seemingly unending.

The Night Circus opens in 1885, near the midnight of the 19th century and closes in 1903, just after the dawn of the 20th century. Anything and everything seems possible, as the planet is still more dream than reality so there are stories yet to tell, and what is more magical than a story in which so much seems to happen all on its own.

If you read The Night Circus, do pay attention to time and its relationship to permanence or endurance but if you lose track of time— and you probably will but you won’t mind—remember this:

“The whole of Le Cirque des Reves is formed by series of circles. Perhaps it is a tribute to the origin of the word “circus,” deriving from the Greek kirkos meaning circle, or ring. There are many such nods to the phenomenon of the circus in a historical sense, though it is hardly a traditional circus. Rather than a single tent with rings enclosed within, this circus contains clusters of tents like pyramids, some large and others quite small. They are set within circular paths, contained within a circular fence. Looping and continuous.”

As I have mentioned previously, Stephanie Carmichael, a fine writer, wrote a review of The Night Circus that captures its essence completely, and I hope you take a moment to read Stephanie’s review found here.

(All excerpts are from Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Thorndike ME: Center Point Large Print edition by arrangement with Doubleday, 2011.)

 

 

ROW80 Wednesday Words

This ROW80 round is one of continuous goal revision for me yet challenge is growth, even if my vision is a bit cloudy at the moment. However, I am considering not writing fiction for I suspect I am a better reader and editor than a storyteller when it comes to fiction.

As for nonfiction, I do have a lifelong love affair with the essay and seem to pursue that form more than storytelling. It is not the first time I have met this issue but I do believe it is the first time I may have to choose. Yet, I write, which is what is important to me. My revised goals are:

Write 500 words per day, write a regular blog at least once a week, and complete the ROW80 check-ins on Sunday and Wednesday.

So far, the revision feels comfortable.

Go for the Metaphor

Eleven days ago, I stopped blogging regularly on Wednesdays and Sundays and my mind shutdown, leaving me alone with my ego.  It had been years since that had happened, and I did not want to go there, again.

And so I begin my second Round of Words in 80 days, the writing challenge that knows I have a life and probably has similar suspicions about my ego. Wayne Dyer refers to ego as “Edging God Out,” and when it comes to God, I’m with Joseph Campbell:

Joseph Campbell
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 “God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that” (PBS Power of Myth Series with Bill Moyers).

It is always advantageous to define one’s terms succinctly, if possible, and if not, find others who can and do.

Our fearless ROW80 leader, Kait Nolan, provided an initial inspirational post for her ROW80 ranks of writers.  In particular, Kait dispelled a popular fallacy for many writers: if writing were their full-time job, writers would write as many as three or four novels a year, at the very least.

Once again,  ego spins falsely into fantasy.

Before I retired to writing, I, had that fantasy, which faded–frankly, on my first day– with full-time watching of Turner Classic Movies, then PBS, then British television, simply seductive. While some movie/television gazing can be considered studying the craft of scene and dialogue, reading and actual writing are closer to the grindstone.

As a writer and a human being—at times, known to be one and the same—my ego chatters constantly but I want the metaphor, aware  that I cannot know what transcends all intellectual thought but I can contemplate.

Frankly, ROW80 is what got me pursuing metaphor, in a most practical way. When I began round one in January, I was determined to publish a Sunday and Wednesday blog post for the entire round.

I did.

However, success has consequences, often overlooked in the glow of self-satisfaction, but for every action, there is a reaction.

The amount of time I spent writing blog posts, thinking about blog posts, and trying to have a week’s worth of posts written so I would not be always writing to deadline took on a life of its own, admittedly, a life bigger than screen gazing but it was not the metaphor.

So, here I am writing this post on the afternoon of April 2, the deadline for my first post of the second round of ROW80, battling my ego that says, “Post a couple goals. By Wednesday, you’ll be organized.”

No, I’m following fearless leader Kait Nolan:

“I want to help you develop that discipline and establish those good habits in your everyday life.  I want to help you take YOURSELF seriously as a writer, treat YOURSELF as a professional, so that bracket of time you can devote to writing, be it an hour or a day, becomes set in your mind as Writing Time–something you protect with the fierceness of a honey badger.”

See what happens when you go for the metaphor?

ROW80 Goal Posting

I have a separate blog page for the precise accounting of my R0W80 goals and updates, although I will probably  include a summary on main blog posts. Frankly, I can decide that later but for now, here we go:

Writing and Reading

Writing: Beginning April 4, 2012, write 500 words five days a week on my current manuscript. Word counts will be updated every Wednesday starting April 11, 2012.

Reading: Beginning April 4, 2012, read at least 50 pages every night to re-establish my reading routine. Am currently reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Beginning Sunday, April 8, 2012, I will comment on my reading progress each Sunday.

Blog Posts

By Sunday, April 15, 2012, I will have at least one week’s posts written and scheduled so I am not writing to deadline. 

Honey badger, honey badger….

Comment Choice

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It seems last Sunday’s blog on silence coincided with the implementation of some “comment updates” from WordPress, the hosting company for this blog. I chose WordPress for its theme diversity and low cost but mainly for its ease in connecting with other social networks.

A blog that deals with Oneness and being is about connecting so hosting my blog with WordPress did and does make sense. It also makes sense that there will be missed connections, from time to time. On Monday, some readers wanting to leave a comment received this message:

That email address is associated with an existing WordPress.com (or Gravatar.com) account. Please click the back button in your browser and then log in to use it.

No one has to register with or log in to my actual blog to comment;  however, my blog has always required an email address (never revealed) and a name to accompany all comments. If I didn’t, anonymous responses could conceivably rival spam contributions so on my blog, one must create an identity to comment.

Identity seems to be at the core of the recent comment update issue, although I do not pretend to understand the technology of it so I may be completely wrong.  However, it does appear that in order to leave a comment on my blog now, readers must sign in with an existing social media account (Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, etc.) or create an account with WordPress.

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This is the ether so remember that  updates/changes to what I just wrote are always just a breath away, if that far.

As this blog is also about one boomer being–I have an appreciation for and history of questioning authority so I do “get” why some readers are upset—I support every reader who does not want to sign in with any of their existing accounts or create an account with WordPress in order to comment.

For me, blogging is all about community and finding ways to support each other. Yes, I am nauseatingly optimistic almost all of the time but just the fact that we can have a global conversation about commenting or not commenting is a positive for all of us. Here’s an alternative way to comment on my blog:

Under Contact in the right hand column on my home page (Oneness),  please click on Email me!  to send  your comments.

As I do with all comments, I will review, respond (if appropriate), and I will post your comment just as if you had submitted it in the comment section. Please provide a name that you like as your identity. It may even be your own.

“So rather than giving energy to…perceived misfortunes, [I look to] the Tao…inexhaustible…the ancestor of it all…living infinitely” (Wayne Dyer).

“Wisdom is knowing I am nothing,
love is knowing I am everything,
and between the two my life moves.”

Nisargadatta Maharaj


Round One of Round of Words Final Tally
 

The first round of Round of Words in 80 days ends tomorrow, and round two begins April 2. ROW80 helps writers bring their writing into their real lives, no more goal-gazing or sighing. ROW80 helps writers establish realistic goals that may be revised as many times as any manuscript. All one needs is a blog and a love of writing.

I was skeptical about ROW80 but if nothing else, I launched a blog, the writing of which requires way more than I anticipated. Furthermore, I saw my writing as it really is, which is not exactly how it was playing in my head or through my heart.  Now, I know what is possible so thank you  to the ROW80 community of writers who post their progress on Sundays and Wednesdays.

My beginning goals were modest—write at least 250 words per day, write a blog post twice a week, do something with a 17-year-old manuscript. I made it hard for me to fail, for once.

I progressed from 250 words per day to 30-minute stretches and to a daily average of 900 words. In these last few weeks, I am comfortably writing over 1,000 words per day. The type of writing includes technical, nonfiction, fiction, and blog posts but in this first round, I excluded technical and nonfiction writing from my word count. Total fiction and blog post word count is 23,639. Total technical and nonfiction word count is 14,000-18,000.

As a writer who was not writing except for an occasional spurt, I am more than pleased. What ROW80 reveals is that it does not take a great deal of time to generate words. With words come ideas and better words, clearer thought.

My manuscript is in shreds but its core, kernel idea is intact, which is more than I expected. The story is completely different as am I– seventeen years later–but the story’s idea is as fresh as always.

ROW80 Round Two on deck.

Center of the Universe

You are not the center of the universe” is a pivotal line in my unpublished novel, written eighteen years ago. Actually, Center of the Universe was the novel’s real working title, which I do not believe I have never told anyone until now but I’m old and every day, my memory is kinder. For most of my novel’s years, I called it Spirit Song or a still favorite phrase, In-Between Dances.

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Anti-Spoiler: At no time in this post or any other post will you be subjected to excerpts from any novel or story I may write. This blog may  look at the 10,000 things of the Tao but my novel or story excerpts are excluded.  My writing has its place, which is not my blog.

“Center of the universe” was an unusual concept in the early 1990s  for me and for the small, coal mining community where I lived. Amazingly, I played a pivotal role in that community for a short period of time, if not as the center of the community, it was close enough for me forever. It doesn’t take much in a small community.

Fresh from a university setting, I was teaching the  basic composition course for the community college outreach program. The course was required for anyone pursuing an associate degree but I did not let that hold me back. I launched my (and the community’s) writing life with Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Zen Buddhism completely captured my heart; I was so in love.

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Everywhere I looked, there was analogy after analogy. In teaching Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher,” a classic story of sentience, I nearly brought to life the house’s  weeping walls and the Tao of 10,000 things. I was ingenuousness personified. At best, I only knew half of what I thought I knew but I tossed all my sentience out there.

It stuck.

For the next few years, former students liked to introduce me as: “This is (My Name), and she thinks this chair has feelings.” Yes, a chair was offered to a somewhat startled, formerly secure person. It kept people on their feet, and for a moment, made me the center of the universe. Only now do I appreciate how truly amazing those years were.

By the time I began writing my novel in 1994, I had pulled away from the community and in all fairness, it had pulled away from me, too. We had reason to separate—it seems fair to say we had forgotten our sentient selves—it is so long ago who knows whether  there was any reason left in any of us. We just were.

Regardless, my novel was about finding community again; I wanted to discover where we had gone so wrong, all of us. Somewhere after 60,000 words, my protagonist was informed: “You are not the center of the Universe.” Truly, I remember the moment.

As a writer, I recognized the importance of the sentence but as a human being, I sensed enlightenment, albeit briefly. It would take another seventeen years to fully appreciate the center of the universe but there was light, and toward that, I moved.

In 2011, I read Stephen Hawking’s books—Grand Design and A Briefer History of Time—and learned of the multiverse, a considerable blow to my centered universe–momentarily–for I found the joy of quantum entanglement and Oneness. The reality of joy is once you experience it, you move in that direction always. Dark just does not have the same hold in Oneness.

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However, Oneness translates hard for a writer, sometimes.

While I had known for a while—sixteen years, eleven months, and twenty days—that I might glean only dribs and drabs from my first attempt at a novel, I always believed I had the center of the universe. Not so. Seems it really was a bit of fiction.  And there was something even worse: my center of the universe was a Little Darling, in writing, a death knell.

True to form, I kept silent about my Little Darling. Perhaps I hoped I would forget there was a multiverse–I promise you there is real merit in this possibility–yet, sentient human or no, once the heart knows, it knows.

Yesterday, my universe imploded, victim of  my first assignment in a writing workshop: write the idea of my novel in one sentence of 25 words or less. Surprisingly, I managed to find a sentence, not a cogent one, but the center of the universe was gone.

Note: For one of the best explanations about Little Darlings and how to get help for this alarmingly prevalent addiction, please read Piper Bayard and Kristen Lamb, proud sponsors of Little Darlings Anonymous.

ROW80 Wednesday Word Marking:

My word total for January was 8250 with my goal of writing at least 250 words per day; in February, I began writing in 30-minute stretches to focus my writing and the word total for the month is 9814;  in March, my current word total is 2118.  My total Round of Words so far is 21,182, which is a raw total, meaning a lot of free writing/brainstorming with a goal of writing consistently, which I have accomplished. I generate an additional 1200 to 2000 words per week as blogs, fiction, and nonfiction.

For the remaining days of this ROW80, I am focusing on scheduling my blogs so I am not on “deadline” ever or always on deadline.  Oneness is confusing in this regard.

Bob Mayer’s Idea and Conflict Workshop  is just incredible, and I mean that sincerely. I can honestly say I have not been this excited about writing in years. There is true joy in my work.

Imperfect Reader

In her debut novel, Perfect Reader, Maggie Pouncey does a fine job with a protagonist who irritates within a plot that invites.  Twenty-something Flora Dempsey is so thoroughly dislikeable I had to keep reading to find out what she’d do next, all the while hopeful she might at least let go of her snobbery but Pouncey knows how to take readers to their limits and does not disappoint.

Flora as snob fits in well with the granola, privileged college community of Darwin to which she returns after the death of her father, Lewis Dempsey. A former president of Darwin College, Lewis Dempsey was a literary critic of some repute and devotee of Hardy, but  Lewis’ pure and constant love of language as illustrated in Reader as Understander–where the perfect reader puts aside life experience to experience only the words on the page–is the work that defines his professional life.

In retirement, Lewis turns to poetry, providing his perfect reader, Flora, a handwritten manuscript of  his poems, which she decides  not to read. When Lewis dies, Flora inherits a bit of wealth, including the house in Darwin, and she is named Literary Executor, forcing her to confront the poems along with her father’s late in life lover. And so, the story begins.

Author Pouncey is never cliché or sentimental but relies on wit and the subtlety it requires. My  favorite minor character is Joan Dempsey, ex-wife of Lewis and mother of Flora. All that Lewis is, Joan Dempsey is not as Pouncey draws us into a Thanksgiving dinner conversation between mother and daughter:

Joan “…was incensed about `Bible thumpers’ sprouting up all over the country in the guise of politicians, `like a plague of idiots’….

“`Every day there’s some new denialist denying the existence of some atrocity—there never was a Holocaust…there’s no such thing as global warming….If it doesn’t work for your agenda, say it never happened…how do you take that next step of actually believing the whopper—denying history, denying science?’”

In response, Joan Dempsey takes to writing a blog, The Responsible Anarchist, that “…attracts a healthy group of readers, some of them, admittedly, insane—who else was Googling the word anarchist?” (pp. 107-08). I read for these moments and to mark Flora’s progress, of course,  but always hopeful for Joan’s return.

My only complaint with the novel are infrequent, hazy references to characters I don’t remember ever meeting. Perhaps it’s just a characteristic of my older mind but I still require firm footing for any character that has a name and therefore a raison d’être.

A perfect reader I am not for what speaks to me in this novel– more than I care to admit–is Pouncey’s portrayal of the “Pompous Circumstance” of the academic world I adored. As this novel so beautifully illustrates, the world of Darwin is and always has been attainable by and for the very few. Making the grade involves social status as much as being awarded the diploma, something I’d forgotten, until I looked for the luster, long dulled, and now, a way I will never be.

Perfect Reader reminded me of much I once believed important, and it was refreshing to remember, imperfect reader that I am. As for author Maggie Pouncey, she tells a truth as perfectly as she knows how, which is all any reader ever asks.
Quoted material from Perfect Reader, a novel, by Maggie Pouncey, New York: Pantheon Books, 2010. 

Rhythm of ROW80 Sunday Scheduling:

The 30-minute writing stretches have improved the overall quality of the “words I keep.” The exercise provides a way to think through material for blog posts as well as novel scenes.

Last week I started writing out the concept of my already drafted novel, using Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering and Kristen Lamb’s concept critique.  On Saturday, I submitted an overview of the novel to my concept critique group and am still making scene notes. Plan to finish scenes and plots points this week. This is the first substantial progress I’ve made with my novel in the last four years.

Doing the Tao with Dyer: being, not doing

Nepo morning meditation continues

 

 

An Unexpected Milestone

This time of year is one of anniversaries for me: it’s been just over a year since Gumby died and Cooper and EmmaRose arrived; it’s been two years since life turned upside down physically, fiscally, and spiritually. I am 59 ½ years old, which I recognized only after this morning’s weigh-in showed me less 59 ½ pounds, an unexpected milestone.

I had planned to write about weight today, in particular because I read August McLaughlin’s absorbing story about bulimia and anorexia. Weight issues—fat or thin—produce the kind of sadness that asks, “`does dirt have calories?’” Those were August McLaughlin’s first words as she found herself face down on the ground, dirt in her mouth, her body nearly spent. Of all the thin or fat stories I have read or heard, of all the books, tapes, and videos on nutrition I bought to discover why eating/living this way will work or won’t, this young woman’s courageous story gave me all I ever needed to know.

Although I am not aware of ever thinking about dirt in the context of calories, I do know the agony of abusing food. For 58 years, I ate as I pleased, favoring bread or cheese of any kind–same with fruit and meat. Surprisingly, I don’t remember not liking brussel sprouts, broccoli or spinach (my first spinach was from a Del Monte can a la Popeye). I don’t think I ever met a drop of alcohol I didn’t enjoy but gin and vodka martinis have always topped my list followed by all beer and any wine.

Gumby and me 2008

I am of German-Russian descent—farmers mostly—even at my best, I have a solid look about me. For the better part of the last twenty years, I walked at least three miles a day, which pretty much stopped in 2008 as my profile picture with Gumby demonstrates. By August 2010, I added another 33 pounds.

I was still taking prescription medication for my lupus, for my depression, for my degenerative disc disease, for my thyroid—I sought treatment for diseases–I dismissed being in second stage kidney failure, and I ignored extensive blood test results that showed “remarkable” food sensitivities to wheat, dairy, and yeast. Later, when I actually read the results, I saw signs of sensitivity to soy, to gluten, to sugar, all of which came to pass.

Food had begun to reject me, a life of food abuse was making me allergic to myself. That was my dirt.

I could continue consuming gluten, yeast, starches, sugar, dairy and remain dangerously ill physically, accompanied by spiraling slides into the slough of despond for weeks, even months or start “eating to live,” somewhat like Dr. Joel Fuhrman suggests but without starchy vegetables, mushrooms, or beans—too many carbs, maybe for always, same for all grains.

Within a year, I dropped 50 pounds as well as all medications, staying within a 50-53 pound loss for almost six months. I discovered my body does know how much weight it needs and that exercise plays a role but not in weight loss, not really. Exercise does benefit my body but what I eat is what I weigh, and that’s been most hard to learn.

Two weeks ago, I noticed my hip bone, at first in alarm because it’s been so long since I’d seen it—it’s still amply cushioned but it’s really there–my small fingers are not slender but they seem to have length; although a jiggling wattle is a fact, there is a definite shape to my face, even emerging cheekbones.

By the end of last week, I had lost 5 ½ pounds (my scale is most precise, not allowing me a whole pound when it’s only half), then a pound, then three until 59 ½ pounds gone, a total pounds number I hadn’t seen in over fifteen years.

I won’t say the scale is my friend—even in my Pollyanna world that’s a bit much–yet I do not mind weighing myself every morning, and today, it meant a milestone.

ROW80 Wednesday Word Marking:

From January 2 until February 4, my goal was to write 250 words per day—as blog posts, fiction, or nonfiction–for an approximate total of 8250 words.

Beginning February 4, I started the “30-minute” stretch in which I write for 30 minutes. So far, that has generated just over 6,444 words, averaging about 900 words a day and now the writing is for longer than 30 minutes. It still takes care of the mind minutia so my other writing is more focused. I am still “keeping” between 250 and 300 words beyond those 900, which means with ROW80, I am now over 17,300 words. On days like today, numbers really please.