Caught In a Net

Colored butterfly in the green grid

Shortly after I began writing a weekly column for the local newspaper, I was pondering a head of lettuce at the local supermarket when an elderly gentleman with gray bushy eyebrows, a battered cowboy hat, and a painful-looking limp wheeled his cart my way.

“Hey, you! Yes, you.”

Startled, I looked around, but saw no other shoppers. Was he talking to himself or me? Finding either alternative alarming, I clutched my lettuce and prepared to flee.

“You’re Janet Sheridan, right?”

I nodded. In my hurry, did I cut him off in the parking lot? Or, heaven help me, had I run over his foot?

Without altering his stern expression, he limped on by, tipping his hat as he said, “I like your columns, young lady. They read real good.”

No words could have pleased a fledgling columnist more. When someone finds something of worth in my words, I feel my writing has served a purpose beyond my own enjoyment and self-fulfillment — which is why I started a blog.

Unlike my columns, Aunt Beulah invites readers to communicate with me and makes it easy for them to do so. In addition, the potential audience includes bloggers: writers of all ages and nationalities who amaze me with their insights, skilled use of words, and insistence on quality. Some have become friends.

Much as I enjoy these interactions, however, a state of critical self-examination about my writing has pursued me for some time, like a collector stalking a butterfly. Most of the time, I manage to ignore the hovering net. Caught up in the ease and comfort of producing writing I’ve learned how to do — newspaper columns and the mini-columns I write for my blog — I flutter happily about, enjoying the attention my efforts earn.

But I’m not totally oblivious. Occasionally, the net descends and unbidden thoughts intrude, give me pause, make me question.

Have I become lazy, a one-trick pony? What has happened to my desire to create poetry, to write fiction, to tackle darker topics? Do I busy myself with columns and blog posts and comments in order to avoid stretching my wings? Does the writing I do interfere with the writing I could do?

And, if so, is that a problem? Is it OK to ride the currents in the mountain meadow where I am without thinking I should be making my way up higher peaks?

When, in life, is it permissible to drift in place for the pleasure of doing so without seeking growth or improvement?

I sometimes wonder if others question themselves as I do in terms of developing and improving their talents, hobbies, or passions;but  usually I decide that whether to linger in a comfort zone or take on a challenge depends on where we each are in our individual lives.

So I’ve decided to put my debate aside, to explore the meadows where I find myself, and to enjoy the reader interaction I relish —at least for a while.

And I tell myself that my mental agitation means I’m still interested in nurturing my mind, exercising my talent, and increasing my chances of aging well. Aunt Beulah would be proud.

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49 thoughts on “Caught In a Net

  1. Oh those nagging thoughts! They do come sometimes and they either spur us on or they can be ignored! I say write what comes to you because Janet you have such a good way of seeing and communicating to the rest of us that makes reading your work quite enjoyable!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. These same thoughts have been plaguing me lately– I haven’t written anything other than a shopping list or instructions for the babysitter in sooooo long. I am wondering if I am being lazy or if I have just lost my will to do, to be, to FIND- in my writing. Your post has made me begin to ponder…

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    • I’m thinking you have more important priorities right now, Becca. You aren’t lazy, and even as you’re immersed in your family your mind is observing, remembering, working. Remember, I didn’t truly write with intent until I was 65. When you find the time to write again, a treasure trove of material will be waiting for you. And, selfishly, I hope you find time sooner rather than later because I’ve missed your blog.

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  3. E. B. White said, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” For my part, I’m done saving the world. I want to enjoy the meadow. Maybe that will turn out to be, after all, the world’s salvation.

    Liked by 4 people

    • What an incredible quote from an author I used to read aloud every year to my students. I’m glad to know such a marvelous writer shared my ditherings. And you know, Martha, I think you’re right: less striving and more enjoyment might be what our tired world needs.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. That great philosopher Ricky Nelson said it best: “you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”(I think the line was in his song “Garden Party”).
    Anyway, after pondering that musical masterpiece, I realized that at this stage of the game it is quite okay to do what I want, when I want. And if others like it, well that’s a very welcome bonus.
    The only problem–often we are our own worst critics.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Another fine quote from a person I didn’t respect the way I do E.B.White, but someone who rocked my boat back in the day. Your pondering makes sense; I agree that our success in doing what we want depends on our ability to silence our inner critic.

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  5. I have to agree with Shelley. Write to please yourself. If you like it, probably others will too. You can’t expect everyone to like everything but I for one will hang in there for a while as you bounce around.

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  6. I know how much work you put into your writing, so I don’t think there’s any danger of you becoming complacent, nor do I think there is any chance that you will ever become stagnant. Let it shine.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Something that cured me of all the self analysis of my writing and the researcholicism I was afflicted with was nanowrimo. To write a 50,000 word novel in a 30-day month, I didn’t have time to stop and smell the semi-colons.

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    • Well, it certainly worked for you, Don. You move from one type of writing to another and make it look easy. Maybe I should give it a try. Since the 30-day novel experience, how much time do you typically spend on revision? Or perhaps you’re like I am and don’t keep track but just stop when it feels right.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Change comes in cycles just like the seasons. The fact that you are questioning your comfort zone means your are on the brink of change. Whether it happens in a few months or a few years is up to you, but your mind has begun to prepare you for the shift! Best wishes now and in the future.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Janet, I share your unsettling thoughts. Writing a blog is a discipline, but it can gobble up time that could be spent writing other things! I really enjoy reading your posts, as it makes me realise how I need to stretch my own abilities. Am I letting the day to day frivolities titillate my pleasures rather than write the elusive novel? I should like to re-blog this post of yours Janet, as I feel it must be a question so many are asking. Thank you!

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    • Of course you may reblog it, Barbara. I consider it an honor, especially on a blog like yours. Thanks for telling me you struggle with the same thoughts: I’ve long wanted to try fiction, but know it will take more time and concentration than I have to give it now. I’m glad you understand.

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  10. Interesting thoughts here Janet, do you feel you have a inner muse guiding your pen? Is writing like a reverse emotional eating thing for some? My muse comes unbidden, but as an example, Landlady having a fit in the hall over errant dryer lint- off he trots without me for a day, then shows up at work where i have to play jot that thought and hide it under the Yogurt Invoice. Aah, I to loved E.B.White. Chase that bright elusive butterfly of love- song from my era- great post and happy Tuesday..

    Liked by 1 person

  11. An interesting topic for me this week…..I had a couple of friends drop by to “check on me” while I’m dealing with this “pneumonia bug” and one of the topics that I shared with them is my insecurity with whether or not my blog is “good enough, funny enough, etc. etc”. I was going to reach out to fellow bloggers for some input, but BOTH friends reminded me to “write for myself and honor my own voice and my own writing style and that I’d be happy as long as I did so”….so, yes, many of us “question ourselves in terms of devoloping, etc” and it’s sure nice to know that talented people (like yourself!) do so, just like the “rest of us”! A good read!!! 🙂

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    • I so enjoyed this comment, Lucie, and it sounds like you have wise friends who gave you great advice, advice that I should pay attention to as well. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and I hope you feel better soon. In the meanwhile, I’ll drop by your blog and visit you there.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m sure you’re not the only one. I am compromising by trying to do everything – write the dark non-fiction, the fourth novel, spend time on my beloved garden, keep the blog rolling, never mind a few other commitments I care about. You have probably chosen wisely. I feel like a charioteer with too many horses. I know I will have to lay some of them off before I crash.

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    • It might be a matter of misery loves company, Hilary, but I enjoyed your comment very much — especially the charioteer comparison. I’m in a whirlwind of obligations in my personal life right now, so my decision to not worry about any writing ambitions for the moment suits me. However, I’m sure my mind will revert to them when things calm down. Thanks so much for writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. In the face of such doubt, find love and in love you will find the truth.
    Does it feel loving to write in the meadow? Does it feel loving to push your pen beyond the cliff and allowing yourself to fall, maybe far before you start to gain ground? Does it feel loving to take a break and enjoy others work for a while? Does it feel loving to admire your own work in the past and edit beyond where you were then? Does it feel loving to learn, grow, start fresh?
    It is all about what is loving, it washes over simply, defines us beautifully and enables us to move forward easily. When in doubt your heart feels like it has cement holding it in place, slowing seeping into everything. Spring is here, sweep out the shadows and embrace the incredible word wizard that you are. Any form of creativity only flows when we are centered on love, I know you know this well 🙂
    Oh and what every direction you turn, I am here, reading and enjoying you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie, your poetic nature shines through in this insightful, supportive, warm comment filled with love. (I can’t help wondering what photograph you would choose to accompany it!) You’re right, my friend, during the recent finally-spring days we’ve had, which I so love, I’ve felt refreshed, confident, unworried. The words have flowed; and the shadows have retreated.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Good to hear. Let me say, there is nothing wrong with the doubt, it is in all of us. Instead of giving it purpose, once recognized, remind yourself doubt is not serving you well and wave goodbye (literally). It will fade away as quickly as it arrived.
        Enjoy the spring! I love the shifting seasons, so much energy to grab on to 🙂

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  14. “And I tell myself that my mental agitation means I’m still interested in nurturing my mind, exercising my talent, and increasing my chances of aging well. Aunt Beulah would be proud.”

    I agree with you, and I think you are perfectly safe there! I don’t think those who are content to rest on their laurels actually entertain the idea that they may be hiding behind a small life in avoidance of a bigger, scarier new one.

    Great article. Your writing is kind of like sitting down over a cup of tea with a friend who always leaves you with a warm feeling in your belly.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Many of your posts address a topic relevant to my own life, and this is one of them. I attended a writer’s conference in SF last summer, in part to try and decide whether or not I should keep blogging, or take my writing in another direction. And I still haven’t made the decision!
    Also I’ve been thinking a lot lately about unrealized, untapped and unfulfilled potential. I’ve come to the sad conclusion that most of us never reach our full potential because “life” gets in the way. Kind of sad to think about, so I guess I’ll just focus on the good stuff for now—documenting my passion for travel and sharing it with others.

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    • Rita, it does seem that we often walk parallel paths of introspection. How was the writing conference? I’ve often thought I should attend one. As you can imagine, I’d been debating my writing options for many months before it bubbled to the surface as a post for my blog. And I’ve decided to do more or less what you are doing: focus on the good time I’m having and let any decisions find me when they’re ready.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi again Janet,

        The travel writers conference I attended was a real eye-opener. The seminar presenters (all notable travel writers) were friendly and approachable. But not a single person at the conference—presenters or attendees—was much interested in domestic travel. I had two writers critique a couple of my posts and I basically came away with the inference that my stories are not ready for primetime. Not as polished or exciting or interesting as getting kidnapped in a foreign country or something! Also the editors are looking for travel as it relates to a personal coming-of-age/finding yourself story—such as someone recovering from divorce, a deadly disease or alcohol or drug addiction. Tim thinks that maybe attending the conference was not such a good idea after all!
        Don’t get me wrong, I did appreciate hearing the feedback and it did inspire me to try to find the “real” story in some of my travel experiences. (And to try and “polish” some of my writing, too.) But, many of my stories are “just” stories about the glories of a particular place in the US, and this country was seen as a too “safe” and uninteresting place for the editors at this conference.
        I suppose that if I’m going to attend another travel writing conference I should look for one which specifically refers to domestic travel. Or, go in a different direction entirely?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, that sounds discouraging, Rita. (Though Tim’s comment was quite funny.) I found the same thing when I tried to peddle my book a little before I decided to self publish it. As a memoir, it had no issue, no terrible problem, no dysfunction; it was too happy and normal, thought well written. Someone even responded that maybe I could tweak it so I was searching for something. So I feel your pain.

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  16. For some reason, your post made me think of the people I have known who knew when they were expected to die. They find a peace within themselves. It shines from them. It is only marred by everyone around them falling apart. They finally feel free to relax in that meadow because it is too late to climb the peaks.

    I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say. It’s a pity we cannot find that peace in the meadow, now, without feeling guilt. My physical self is very reluctant to follow my mental self to the heights – so I am questioning myself all the time.

    I agree that the very act of questioning shows possibilities are still open. Enjoy, Aunt Beulah.

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    • So much to think about in this meaningful comment. I just spent several days with an elderly loved one (99 in 2 weeks!) who is in her final stage of a long life, living at home still with the help of hospice, and I saw what you mean. She’s no longer concerned about things that used to annoy or worry her and instead concentrates on the day and those around her. How nice, as you so aptly stated, if we could enjoy the meadow more often if not always. I hope you do so today. I’ll visit you on your blog soon.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. Janet, I’ve found this post quite comforting and the many kind comments reassuring. I’ll not try to put into words the reasons why. I have to think there are many others who read and remain quiet as they apply these thoughts to themselves.

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  18. This is a great article, Janet–and one I can relate to. I often wonder myself what I am missing by not taking on other projects. There is so much to write and so little time. Thanks for helping me feel less alone.

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    • Writing the post and reading the comments has made me feel less alone as well, Laurel. I sometimes wonder how I can be retired and feeling that I don’t have enough time to write; as you so aptly put it: so much to write and so little time.

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  19. I really enjoy reading your blogs! There is just so much simple and yet hard-to-grasp wisdom that I always find so inspiring. I’ve often had these thoughts and really it doesn’t matter. If you love doing your thing and if you’re passionate about it, you should go for it with all your heart. Thank you for inspiring me yet again 🙂

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