Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Brought to you by the Letter R: Ritual, Resolute, Routine

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 09•17

Image result for Cascade Mountains snowfallWe’re in the second week of January and the Portland area has come through another snow and ice storm. The southern part of Oregon has accumulated a lot more snowfall than we have although the nearby Cascades boast record snowfall levels. My Facebook friends’ photos of snowy wonderlands have left me with a bad case of snow envy even though I’ve been snowed in twice this winter. But they’ve got the real deal, the kind that sticks around. The kind that brings a permanent hush to the landscape.

Meanwhile, I’m finally falling into a routine. I so love some kind of routine to scaffold my days around, don’t you? You see my routine vanished last year to be replaced by bizzarro world, starting over, and a lot of anxiety, loss, and sadness.

Because I’ve been absent so much from this space I feel like I owe an explanation. Are you familiar with the lists that depict all the possible life stressors that can set a person over the edge? I experienced most of them in 2016. Since my mother died in 2015 and my dad is doing fine, I cannot claim I hit the jackpot and slogged through every major change. Mostly because I didn’t end up in prison.

But then again, my hellfire list is impressive. Major illness, check.  Car accident and multiple injuries, check, check. Lots of doctor visits and physical therapies, check, check. Dissolution of a long-term relationship, check. Long, maddening search for a place to live in a crazily-expensive housing market, check. Moving out of our beautiful shared home, check. Leaving behind my garden, check. Remodeling a ‘fixer upper’, check. Remodeling horrors from plumbing to foundation to electrical, check. Resulting money problems from recovery times and fixer upper horrors, check. Surgery, check, check. Recovery from surgeries and the accompanying exhaustion, check, check. My favorite person moving to the other side of the country, check.

In January when my year began with Norovirus while visiting Vegas it probably was an inkling of what was to come.  I’m not a Vegas-visitor type anyway, but I still haven’t forgotten the audacity of the stomach cramps when they hit. Or the hallucinatory juxtaposition of the garish Vegas strip and an I-wish-I-was-home illness.

So when the new roof I paid too much for leaked in November amid record downpours and the ceiling needed to be torn out, and the contractor who is licensed in the neighboring state won’t fix the problem, I wasn’t all that surprised. Just like  I wasn’t all that shocked when I went flying down the stairs in August landing in a twisted heap and injuring my back (yet again) so that my left leg and foot still buckle from time to time and pains keep me awake at night. In fact, after the sudden flight, knotted and twisted in a crumpled, awkward heap, I wondered if locusts or frogs would next plague me. And laughed out loud.

Nor was I surprised when the second recent surgery was so much more painful than bargained for; the recovery so much longer. Which explained the largest bottle of Percocets a doctor ever prescribed to me.

And yet here we are, another circle round the sun. A new year beckoning with promise and dread, but let’s leave politics out of this. Right now my living room is festooned with about 10 Chinese-red Rubbermaid tubs filled with my Christmas decorations. That’s right, I just took down my dried out, but formerly glorious tree yesterday. Partly I couldn’t bear to see it go and say good by to my favorite season and partly because I didn’t decorate it until the eve of the Solstice.

Which brings us to ritual. You see, I am still moving. If you can avoid moving for the rest of your life, do stay put.  I visit my former home several times a week and pack my turquoise Nissan full of boxes and detritus of my former self and haul them here, vainly hoping somehow I’ll fit my belongings into rapidly-filling nooks and crannies. My office is stacked with boxes so there is a wiggly, narrow path to my desk. I ran out of book cases, the windows leak, my first electric bill was astronomical, and the roof is still not completed.

Ritual. A way to mark a special day or transition; a behavior or activity that stamps a moment into memory. A passed-down custom. A pause amid the ordinary passage of time.  A rite, a ceremony, a tradition.For years I celebrated the Solstice by hosting an open house, but over the years with granddaughters arriving, Christmas celebrations and traditions took over the end of the year.

However, each Solstice and Equinox feels special with an almost mystical link to people throughout time, throughout the world who have celebrated the changing seasons. The shortest day and longest night seem especially potent and need rituals to mark them.

Without really planning to, I fell into ritual on December 21st. I had lit candles and was listening to carols when I  strung lights on the Noble fir and then hung my first ornament. The ornament was a little gold bird with the banner HOPE in its beak. It was given to me my niece Naomi. The moment it nestled among the branches it was as if a spell had been cast. I felt a peace descend that I hadn’t felt in all the previous year. A sense of connection and rightness that’s difficult to describe.

And as I hung ornaments and festooned strings of gold stars, the feeling remained andbird ornament never completely vanished throughout the cookie baking, music, present wrapping, gathering, and generosity that was Christmas.

I believe in ritual. Especially for writers and artists. Small acts and remembrances that help transport us to a place of attention, inspiration, and openness. And the fun part: each of us gets to invent our own rituals, our own means to reach that focused engagement. What does your writing ritual look like? Do you make a pot of coffee before you sit down? Clear off your desk? Light a candle? What small act can bring you into the writing mindset?

Writing gives us purpose.

Onward. Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Next: Routine

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  1. judy says:

    I so hope your new space will begin to feel like home. I meant it when I said you can make anything beautiful. We have that in common.

    It is so long since my mind was free to wander. I know this year will bring the peace and space I need to write. I got noise cancelling headphones for Christmas, but it turns out they only deal wiht the noises OUTSIDE my head.

    Love and miss you. judybluesky

    • Jessica Morrell says:

      Thanks. I need to not look around too much and notice all that needs fixing. It’s not quite home yet, but that will happen.
      I get the noises in your head problem. On Tuesday I opened a document that I wrote last year and I hated it. I mean really hated it. But it’s already 40-50,000 words and I need to trust that when I wrote it I knew what I was doing. It needs a lot of work and refinement, but mostly I need to fall in love with it again. And forcing love ain’t easy. Will keep you posted on my progress. Happy writing and love to you, Jessica

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