December 15, 2012 § 6 Comments
I am feeling a little lost, and I am not really sure how it happened. I feel like I have just wandered off and lost myself among the tangents to the point that I no longer remember where I came from or where I am going. It is not upsetting. I just feel like I have come to a place where I can plop down, sit cross-legged on the mossy ground between a couple of my tangents, and scratch my head in bewilderment. I am bewildered within the wilderness of writing.
This blog had a purpose–but a personal one, not offering much of a definition of what it would look like, what I would write about, or how I would interact with readers. My goal is to write for 10,000 hours, but somewhere around hour 30 I got confused. Somewhere around hour 35 confusion turned into a dog chasing its tail without ever having remembered starting.
I look around at other blogs–some of the fun ones I follow like Creative Liar, and they are well-developed, of clear voice, and you get a sense that everything you read ties into a central idea. I know mine doesn’t have any of that. But I might also be too hard on myself. It is just a blog after all.
I am still listening to Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life and it has gotten me thinking. He examines the books the mean the most to him, the teachers that have stuck with him, and why he writes. While I have examined all of these things before, each with more or less scrutiny, what I have not thought about is where I fit in the literary world. Writing my novel and stepping back from it–looking at it from a distance I notice that I am having a hard time finding my voice in it. It is too simplistic. I don’t think it really sounds like me. It is lazy and uses too many conventionalities. It is pedestrian. I am afraid it is of the caliber of something Stephanie Meyer would write, and since I can write better than that in my sleep I am disappointed.
Granted I wrote it in a month. But I know I need to rewrite it, and I am struggling to center myself and come back to who I am as a writer. I need to do the same thing with the blog. Listening to Pat Conroy talk about how he has changed as a writer over the years, makes me remember that I am going to change as well. I am going to get better (one can only hope) and my voice is going to mature.
But that leaves the questions of where am I now? What is the voice of my generation? Where do I fit? I have been reading books from ions ago: Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo, Eugenics and Other Evils, Sula, and Beloved. They all have strong voices, but they are a product of their times. It is something I can’t emulate. Something I shouldn’t emulate. While I admire them, to emulate them would run the risk of trying to rewrite them. This would take me further from my own voice, my own ideas. I had a realization while I was driving around this morning that I simply need to embrace my generation and my voice. I need to stop trying to be the next great Harper Lee, because all I end up trying to do is be Harper Lee.
But where does that leave me? It gives me a sense of what I am not, but I do not think I am any closer to understanding what I am as a writer. I have this vague, morphing, misty idea of what I am–what my voice sounds like–but every time I try to explain it, it wriggles out from between my hands and vanishes. It is so fragile. Fickle. A Bitch. With a capital B.
There are so many things that lead me away from my voice: trying to write a novel in a month, trying not to offend anyone (Hello Grandma. Sorry about the B word), trying to find a theme, trying to write better than I can, trying to be a writer I’m not, trying to respect families wishes (promised mom I wouldn’t write about her on the blog, but considering she MADE me is that really fair? Can you really not write about half of yourself?), trying not to get too personal, trying to get too personal, lying, censoring myself. On and on.
It all can drive a writer mad.
I am now trying to ask myself a couple of questions as I write: Is it true? Is it me? Can I say it better? Is it original? But they are sometimes hard to answer.
Having said all of that, I have to say this is the first blog post I have liked in a while.
April 29, 2013 § Leave a Comment
During one of my first blog posts, I complained about punctuation–either the lack thereof or punctuation mistakes. Now nobody is perfect, and I make a TON of punctuation errors. I am the very first to admit that, but I do know good punctuation when I see it and I miss it when it isn’t there. Why am I bringing this up? Well, I am currently reading Benediction by Kent Haruf for the Portland Book Review. I am about halfway through, and it has taken me just that long to get used to Kent Haruf’s punctuation style.
Or lack thereof.
I did a little research, because I had a hard time understanding how a writer could be published without using punctuation. Turns out he is an award-winning writer: Whiting Foundation Award, Hemingway Foundation/PEN citation, Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award, Maria Thomas Award in Fiction, and he was a National Book Award finalist for fiction.
Color me confused because I do not think the man knows what an appositive is, or how to use commas with one.
It’s not that his writing is bad. The story, centering around a dying patriarch of the small town of Holt, Colorado, is well written, engaging, and heartfelt–if you like Foursquare literature.
But he makes interesting choices when it comes to punctuation–choices I can’t agree with. He doesn’t punctuate dialogue. At all. Period. It isn’t that I am not intelligent enough to figure out who is speaking when, but punctuation has developed for a reason. It is there for the reader–like directions. It is a common courtesy on the part of the writer to make sure that the reader is comfortable that the reader isn’t confused. Some writers have used punctuation as a tool, as a way to be groundbreaking. I can respect this up to a point. Messing with, or deleting, dialogue punctuation isn’t groundbreaking; it is inconsiderate.
I am a huge fan of using a fragment. Now and then. I am a huge fan of the mdash–clearly. But I respect the rules and I break them because I know them and respect them. I make a conscious choice to break the rules to make a point–to make a statement. I cannot detect a pattern to Kent Haruf’s breaking of the rules. I can’t be sure he isn’t punctuating an appositive out of choice, or because he doesn’t know how. That is how many times the rule is broken and how many times it is broken.
But he has an MFA in writing, and he is an award-winning writer. What gives? If I would have turned in work like that during my undergraduate career, I would have been taken aside by the professor and explained in very simple English what a comma is. In fact that did happen–more than once. I have had a lot of issues with comma splices and verb tense, but I am learning and growing as a writer. I am figuring out the rules, and as I have figured them out I have greater respect for them. They make my writing better, and I have learned that I have a choice when it comes to the rules, but I need to respect that fact. I need to respect the power of the rules and break them only when I think it should be done.
Reading Kent Haruf’s work is like trying to read underneath a flickering, fluorescent light. The punctuation turns on and off incessantly without any pattern or structure. I have to ask myself if he has a reason for writing the way he has. Is he trying to teach me something? Is he trying to reach the lowest common-denominator, and if that is the case then wouldn’t more, correct punctuation help? Is he trying to piss me off? Does he even care?
I do not have any answers. I have been left stranded and bewildered, in the middle of a dusty highway, with my hand raised in the air, and no one around to see me. If anyone has any answers, please let me know.
April 26, 2013 § 4 Comments
I miss my yoga studio in Tacoma: Samdhana-Karana Yoga Studio. It is one of the few non-profit yoga centers in America, and though I may be a little biased, I have to say they have some of the best teachers. I am thinking of one in particular: Pamela. I have tried to call her Pam in my head before, but the nickname doesn’t work for me. Every class with her is a journey. I haven’t really felt anything like it since–every time I step on a mat I miss her. She had the uncanny ability of empathy–she could step into a room and easily asses the mood of each individual in the class and from there she would decide which direction to take that night’s practice.
Teachers like that are one in a million. I have never been more in-tune with myself, then in a practice with her.
So I have decided to take a Yoga Teacher Training course and get my certification. My future in-laws are going to be excited. Fusband grew up in an intentional community, centered on meditation and yoga. He has since left the community, and when his mother met me she joked that despite his best efforts he ended up with an Ananda (the name of the community) girl anyway. To some extent that is true. It probably become more true as I get older. I have a tendency to get more leftist and hippy as time goes on.
I think coupling writing with a yoga practice would make for a good life balance. I doubt I will ever make a ton of money at either, but at least I will be contributing to the household monetarily–if only a little bit. Besides a good work/life balance, I am hoping that training will give me a little more independence. Right now, I rely solely on the instructor to bring me through a practice. This means that the depth at which I am able to go within myself, is limited to how adept the instructor is. If the instructor has only been taught the poses, without any internal pose then I am left to my own devices–for many it just becomes exercise at that point without the benefits of internal reflection. But when I am with an instructor like Pamela, who has spent years studying and going deeper into her own craft, then I get the guidance I need.
It is all about education and having the tools I need in order to guide myself. Not that you ever lose the need for a guide. There will always be a place for someone in my life who has more experience. Someone who can push me to go deeper. Someone who can teach me something new. But independence would also be good. The ability to lead myself down a path, to create my own practice, fusing the internal and external reflection of a pose.
Anyway this is a ways off. I have a lot on my plate now, and financially yoga certification is going to have to wait a bit. Currently we have some big-ticket items. Besides the wedding, we are trying to save some money for a house down-payment, which is very hard to do when one is spending money on things like weddings and honeymoons. Or coffee.
April 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I almost dropped the half-gallon carton of milk yesterday, when I pulled it off of the shelf in Winco and saw the expiration date: June 3, 2013. My wedding date is June 8, and it just seems wrong that I am now able to buy milk that will expire five days before my wedding. Fusband will be buying the milk from now on I think.
Where is time going?
Out the window?
Because it is certainly not sticking around here. I bet time yells, “adios!” as he takes a great leap out of my life. Jerk. It’s not that I have any anxiety whatsoever about getting married. It’s that it is such a large milestone and I think I am watching it sail by–at break-neck speeds. It’s that once again it has been too long since my last post. I didn’t even notice that a couple of weeks had passes, until I sat down to write.
I hear things just get faster as you get older. I am not sure I can handle much faster. I guess I am going to have to learn to slow myself down. To put on the brakes every so gently, so I can look around and notice things. Give myself a chance to catch my breath. Maybe that will be my new mantra: slow, slow, slow. I will repeat it under my breath all the time, enough so people near me will think I can crazy.
I am not sure I would want to be thought of as anything else.
April 24, 2013 § Leave a Comment
This is the best thing about pretending to be a writer–I get to do it wherever I want. For the first time in a couple of weeks it is sunny in Portland. Not only is it sunny, but it has been for the past couple of days. My mood is definitely better, and for the first time in months I actually feel like sitting down and writing. For the first time in a while, this doesn’t feel like a chore. So I have set up shop outside. I have my laptop on our TV tray, surrounded by my lunch of yogurt, Fresca, and water. I am sitting cross-legged, on top of our green, plush foot stool, and my skin is a speckled patchwork of tree-limb shadows and sunlight. Panda and Boaz, the dogs, are camped out on the wooden deck, panting in the sun like there was never anything better.
I can’t help but to feel incredibly lucky, and maybe a little smug that I thought about coming out here in the first place. This morning I was in a class for Hospice volunteers. There were just six of us, as we learned how to use bed pans, move patients, how to lift properly, and how to help with their oxygen. It was a short three-hour seminar–as a volunteer they don’t take you into a lot of depth. They just want you to know the basics, so that if a patient needs help you get the mechanics of it, but that you never assist beyond your physical capability.
I think that was the biggest lesson: never go past your limit. As volunteers we are not there to lift, we are there to guide; if the patient starts to fall get out-of-the-way. I think that lesson is going to take a while to sink in. It is against all logic and instinct. If someone is falling, I would think my body would immediately go into action. But they problem with that is that my mind doesn’t have enough time to fully asses the situation in order to do what is right. If I grab an arm while the person is falling, I could rip it out of their socket, or I could fall with them and do damage to myself and more damage to the patient. The nurse running the training kept drilling it into us that EVERYBODY falls. It is normal, and most of the time we don’t break anything when we do it–even if we are old.
There are many lessons I can learn from this I am sure. A lot of it has to do with control and knowing when to let go. Some of it is staying calm in unnerving situations, while some of it is learning to have the presence of mind in order to overcome natural (and sometimes harmful) instincts.
Anyway, things to think about. Right now my phone is set to Do Not Disturb, everything on my computer is closed except for the blog and my novel, and the wind is gently churning the trees and wind-chime. Looking out over the back yard, where the rhododendrons are starting to bloom, following on the heals of the azaleas it is hard not to be content and let the mind wander. It is a mind wandering kind of day–if you couldn’t tell from this post.
March 27, 2013 § 2 Comments
Pardon my language, but I couldn’t help it–I have a new love. Her name is Louise Erdrich and she is a master spinner of words. She won me over with her novel The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, which is about a strong woman bent on survival. As a woman in her twenties she turns herself into the Father Damien Modeste and lives on the reservation of Little No Horse till her/his death of old age. The story is captivating, but the writing is genius. It is sensual, gritty, romantic, living, energetic, human–all of the things you want writing to be.
The book I am tucking into now, promises to be just as good. She makes me wince tragically real descriptions, and she makes it incredibly easy to fall in love with her broken and flawed characters. The Master Butchers Singing Club is full of history, following the journey of several individuals who have just come out of World War Two. It has been a whole since I have been truly struck by someone’s writing. I have been struck by plot-lines and the overall effect of a novel, but not the writing by itself. Here is a lovely paragraph, presented as proof of wonder:
They went back to the beer crates and lighted up. From behind, the house was so small and pathetic looking that it seemed impossible for it to harbor such a fierce animosity of odor. Long ago, Delphine had painted the doors and window frames blue because she’d heard that certain tribes believed that blue scared off ghosts. What she’d really wanted was a color to scare of drunks. But there wasn’t such a color. They came anyway, all through her childhood and on into her clever adolescence, during which she’d won a state spelling contest. Her winning word was syzygy. She spelled it on instinct and had to look the meaning up afterword.
I am in love. I don’t know what more you could want from an author. Louise has reminded me that every word is a choice, and no word is to small or trivial. Every word has the chance to change the trajectory of a sentence. Every word should pull its own weight. I am not going to go back through this post and quarrel with each word until I find the perfect ones, but it is something to keep in mind. I heard once that Herman Melville went through Moby Dick word for word until he felt it was perfect.
How many authors do that now? How many care enough? How many actually have the skill to do it? Or even the attention span?
March 26, 2013 § 4 Comments
So I have been absent for a while. I am blaming it all on the stress of the transitional period where my job ended and I moved back home, but instead of sharing my childhood home with my family, I am sharing it with my Fusband. Needless to say there have been a lot of changes in a short amount of time. Luckily, the only thing that has suffered is my writing.
Fusband and I have worked out an arrangement. He will support me while I stay home and write. I mean I would like to make money writing–that is the plan, but you don’t start out that way. Especially if you haven’t been turning out any product. Anyway I am now home, and I now have the time to write, but what I have found is that I have no time to write. In order to feel useful–in order not to feel like a mooch–I feel like I have to do other things. I need to clean, go grocery shopping, plan our wedding, etc.
Up until today I have not sat down and done any writing. What is different about today? Well I start a new volunteer job, and since I am starting one new thing I figured I might as well blog too. Today I get my first hospice care volunteer assignment. I am assigned one patient at a time, and I will spend four hours with them a week, each week until they pass away. Then I will get another patient.
Some have called me crazy; some say it is admirable. I think it sounds like fun–minus the drag of the patient’s dying. But I think I will be good at it. I like that every patient will be different: old, young, small, large, funny, angry, dying of old age, dying of disease, coherent, comatose. Mostly I feel it is an honor to be able to just keep someone company, while the conclude their life. I am sure it will get emotional. I am positive that I will get attached and that some of this will go to my head.
Maybe after this week I will feel differently, but my gut is telling me that it will all be worth it. I have decided to listen to my gut.
Anyway, not the most eloquent post, nor the longest. But I am getting back in the saddle again. I am going to work out a new writing/posting schedule. I haven’t decided yet how often I want to post, but I am sure you will all know soon enough. If you are still reading me, thanks for sticking around.
It gets better. I promise
January 18, 2013 § 4 Comments
I am facing a transition. And this one I have not been handling well. For the past week I have been hiding. It isn’t that I am dreading what is coming. I am ecstatic about the changes that are going to happen in less than nine days. But that is the problem.
I have nine days of this life left.
On Friday the 25th my contract with AmeriCorps VISTA will be over and I will be free to move back home to Tdale. I will get to see my Fusband everyday, and my parents almost as often. I couldn’t be happier–in nine days. I can’t quite put my finger on what is making this transition so hard, but I have noticed the tell-tale signs of depression creeping back in. I have stopped writing and blogging, as some of you might have noted my absence. I find myself having a hard time doing all the things I should do: work, eat healthy, write, read, be social, exercise, work.
I am taking this momentary break in the emotional clouds, so to speak, to get a blog post in before things close back in. I don’t know what makes right now any different from the past half hour, which I spent in the break room at lunch giving myself a pep-talk, urging myself to go back to my desk. Sometimes I just want to crawl into my skin and disappear. Thankfully, I have been granted a reprieve and am actually happy as I write.
As I face the upcoming task of moving home and starting a new life, I have been thinking a lot about what I want to do with my life. I know I don’t want it to be what it has been. There are 168 hours in a week. We spend an average of 56 hours sleeping, 40 hours working, 10 hours doing all the things we are supposed to do, and the remainder we get to spend how we want: family, friends, pool parties.
The remainder. It seems so sad, and even wrong, that we give what is left over to those we love the most. The majority of the time we have a week is spent doing things we have to do. It seems like a cruel joke that we work more than we love, and we get to love less than we sleep. To me it seems even worse if you love your work–it takes up more time that way. This week I have worked over 50 hours–because I care. I know it is nothing compared to a 60 or 80 hour work week, but it is more than I want to give.
And if I spend the remainder on other people: my family, friends, and my marriage what is left for me?
Maybe I am being a little dramatic. I don’t really know–bear with me. Drama isn’t something I do regularly.
All of this has made me realize that I do not want a traditional 9-5 job. I don’t want a job. I want to work, but within my scope of passion. I do not want to push around paper unless it is the pages to my book, and I don’t want to spend the majority of my time away from the life I am so carefully building.
It is a relief in some ways to come to this realization. It means I do not really have to worry about building a resume unless it is specifically related to writing. It means I can stop wasting my energy on plans and ideas that I was making and having just to make myself feel like I am normal. To make myself feel like a viable member of society.
It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society – Jidda Krishnamurti
It is not that I think everything we do is sick, but I do think we have a propensity for being workaholics, for being stressed, for forgetting to live because we are too busy, for being too busy. I think it was inevitable that I would end up going against the grain. I have always rebelled, in one way or another, against societal norms (I hated GPA’s and the fact that College has become an expectation). So it makes sense that I would want to go off the grid to some extent. To work from home. To be a free-lancer. To be successful on my terms.
To be an Artist. With a capital A.
Good lord, I must be crazy.