Oregon, Portland, Writing

Oh My Portlandia

Husband and I recently completed a six week birthing class at our birth center here in Portland, and more than anything it made me realize that we are just living in an extended, never ending episode of Portlandia. Bumper stickers everywhere implore us to Keep Portland Weird. I don’t think we really need to worry about Portland losing any of its weirdness. Just this past week, as we were driving down our main street, in our little slice of weird Portland, we passed a woman who was waiting for the bus with a turtle in a cat carrier and a trio of wandering musicians: one wore tight pink pants and beat on a little kids drum, the second carried a sign around their neck asking for money to support musicians, and the third beat on a cowbell.  Portland.

Then a couple of weeks ago my mom and I went to check out a reflexology massage place in the Alphabet district. We were given foot massages by a husband and wife team—a duo straight from a Portlandia sketch. The husband held different bottles of essential oils against my feet to see which one my body resonated with. That time it was frankincense, the time after that it was lemon, and last week it was a blend that had spruce in it—I believe it was called Balance. Anyway turns out the couple also writes a blog about all of the feet that come through their door.

Not to mention that every single clip I have watched of Portlandia, I am able to find something identifiable: put a bird on it, the male feminists, the raw milk hippies, the tiny home dwellers. But our birthing class has been  over the top—every week. We learned a lot and met some very neat couples, as well as getting to know one of our midwives a lot better. A. LOT. BETTER.

We knew things were going the way of Portlandia when we took our seats among the seven other couples in the room. It was a little surprising to look around and see that EVERYONE in the room was white with brown hair. I mean everyone was brunette and there was a lot of flannel and moccasins. There was even a couple who live in a school bus—a love bus I believe is what they call it. But they were pretty tame compared to the final couple who walked in.

They were a little late, a little younger than myself, and both wearing wolf tails—wolf tails attached to their derrieres. They had taken the bus to get to the center, and when they took their seats on the other side of the circle from us, they both gingerly moved their tails in order to sit down.

That was only the beginning. I am pretty sure Mr. Wolf Tail was high whenever he was in class, or he was just really spacy and VERY overly communicative. Everyone listened intently as the midwife talked us through the anatomy of birth, but none of us felt the need to verbally signal that we were tracking what she was saying–except Mr. Wolf Tail. He could not help but nod in agreement with really any point the midwife said, but he carried it a step further by continuously saying things like: interesting, I agree, yes (not as a response to a question), okay, etc.

But the Wolf Tails were not the only Portlandia experience. The second birth video they had us watch was something else. It was of a Mexican midwife during the birth of her third child. The video opened with her talking about her husband, a Japanese sculptor, who was very in tune with the birth process due to the nature of his art. He would slowly, patiently carve his sculptures, giving birth to them as it where.

At one point the video, which goes from her early labor all the way through to her water birth, cuts away from her and her husband to a pair of mating dragonflies. Husband and I have talked it over and we aren’t really sure what that scene signifies. Were the couple having sex to help labor along and this was their classy way of showing it? Or was it just a representation of their love?

I really don’t know.

But it gets more interesting. The next scene showed pregnant momma walking forwards with her husband holding her hands and walking backwards. Her narration explains that she realized that when she was walking towards her husband it felt like her belly was swollen with their love, but when she ended up walking away from him it was physically painful, so his solution was to walk with her.

Watching the video with seven other pregnant couples was an interesting and slightly uncomfortable experience. I am pretty sure we all avoided eye contact. Especially when we learned that it was the mother’s father who did all the filming. Imagine your father—or for you men imagine your father-in-law—filming the birth of your child and all the beautiful, naked glory that it entails. I mean her birth ends in the bath tub with her naked with her naked husband, and then after the baby is born, the other two naked children climbed in. Now I have nothing against nudity, especially during childbirth, but I cannot imagine sharing that much with my father.

All of these very Portlandia experiences have me convinced that I would love to be a writer for the show, but I am pretty sure that is just the lazy part of myself speaking. EVERYONE who lives in Portland could contribute to the content of that show. It wouldn’t really take much talent or effort as just living here is enough to supply anyone with enough material for ten tv shows.


Stuck Again

I am constantly amazed at the things I fixate on. Today it is headphones, but I should back up a bit first. See I made it to the Cafe that I write in for the second day in a row (this NEVER happens), but I am here and all set up and it has taken me two hours to get down to writing. I got myself my usual London Fog and chocolate chip cookie. I chatted with the bestie for a bit, while I halfheartedly did some blog reading. I got everything set up the way I like it: my kindle plugged in, my favorite playlist on repeat, my stack of writing materials that is a physical manifestation of my to-do list. I have all the websites I will need up and running: a timer, my spreadsheet to log my hours, my blog, Yarny (where I keep my novel), and email. I have been ready to go for a while now.

But then I realized that wearing the ear buds that I have, as much as I have been, hurt my ears and I really need a new pair of headphones. So I researched which ones I want and since we are on a budget I sent the link to my brother, hinting towards a Christmas or birthday present.

Problem solved?

Unfortunately not, because how on earth can I write when I do not have these new headphones? They are necessary. Now. I have decided so. They are noise canceling, which would be perfect at the café. So then I can be around other people without having to listen to them. They would be over the ear, instead of in the ear, and that would make all the difference. So obviously I can’t write until I get them. Because writing with them will be so much better than right now.

So I will see you all in January?? No?? Uggg

I guess I have to move on without them. There is no boss I can go to and explain that I need these new headphones in order to do my job, so please buy them for me. I am that boss (shudder) and I am unfortunately frugal. But having gotten over the headphones long enough to write these 375 words (so far) I have to wonder what will be next?

Maybe socks? Comfortable feet are important to writing. Maybe my desk chair. I sure do need a new one, even though I have done most of my writing at the café and in their chairs. I have been hung up on the perfect pen running out of ink, and needing the right pair of underwear (maybe you shouldn’t ask). I have had to cut my fingernails first. Organization gets in my way frequently. I need my stack of materials in the right order and in the right corner of the table. My phone and pens need to be on the right of my computer, while my reading list (the ever-present stack of books that I am working through) needs to be on my left and slightly behind my computer. My tea needs to be on the left.

How do I ever get anything done?!


A Writer’s Journal

About three years ago, I was sitting in one of my writing classes when the discussion turned to a Writer’s Journal. Now at that point I had been journaling seriously for about eight years. I felt like I was being told that I was doing it wrong (admittedly I was imagining things looking back), so I rejected the idea of the use of a journal just for writing. I liked the way I journaled–a chronicle of my thoughts on paper to help me understand my inner landscape.

The Writer’s Journal is a place, usually carried on the writer’s person at all times, for ideas, words, strategies, etc. What I failed to understand is that I could do both. I could keep journaling the way I always have AND I could use a Writer’s Journal. So after three years of obstinance, I broke down and bought a small journal that I keep in my purse. When I don’t have it with me, like in the middle of the night, I jot down my ideas in my phone and then later transfer them to the notebook.

It has been three months and I have only used about ten pages (they are small), but I am developing a habit and a strategy. The pages in the back are devoted to a list for blog ideas. The rest is an unorganized mess of ideas for the current novel, short story ideas, ideas that seem big enough for other novels, time management ideas, and words that I love.

I have learned that I am a fount of ideas. That there is a well inside of me that I can pull up ideas one after the other. I have enough in me to create a book or two, or ten. This is something I have had to come to terms with, and to trust. It is a hard, slippery thing to believe in. The Writer’s Journal has also taught me that writing is like meditation. The idea of looking inside and finding your boundaries, and then struggling with the realization that your boundaries are self-constructed and unnecessary. The raindrop in the ocean, who comes to realize that she IS the ocean.

I have spent a good amount of time looking at other writer’s work and marveling. Wondering how they do it and why I can’t do the same. But then I realized that I can’t because I say so. I am my limit. I am the one who says otherwise. My ideas are only as good as I can conjure them to be, and I can only conjure as well as I believe I can. Tricky.

It has been a slow process coming to terms with being a writer. I didn’t buy a writer’s journal and have it filled over night. It has been a VERY slow process of discovering writerly habits. I say discover on purpose, because it has been less like trail and error, and more like realizing that I strategy or process for doing something already. Without ever having done it before. It’s like excavation. I dig a little more into myself and discover something that was already there, waiting for me to discover it. Nice surprises.


Running Mad

I have a new motto:

“Run mad as often as you choose; but do not Faint”

Taken from Jane Austin’s Love and Friendship.  I want to write mad as often as I choose. I want it to be a free-for-all of words. I want to slap down every crazy thought, every crazy analogy and word that comes to me. I want to use words like pitch, scruple, rancor, fit. I want to kiss knights and us body armor for protection.

Passion, anger, hilarity, wild abandon.


Hypnotic abandon.

Swirls of crazy jotted down on paper. A crazy swagger. People will read and ask: huh??

I want sunflowers of ideas sprouting all over my pages, a wild thicket. Impenetrable. Incomprehensible.  I want to be salacious, lewd, and insatiable. I want to use m-dashes wildly; semicolons with lust. (Correctly).

I want to take that turn–either by page or by phrase. I want my book to spin heads, to be full–brimming.

What is tame? What is caged? What is fear or repression?

The questions are: Why not? Who cares?

The answers are: Because and it doesn’t matter.

I am NOT my censor.

I will use BAD words and not apologize. Talk about the taboo and not flinch. Glory in the uncomfortable.

Blizzards of words. There will be a white-out. And I will tattoo it on my brain that I do love this. All of it: good days, bad days, both days, sentence days, paragraph days, and chapter days.



7 days of Writing

Today marks day 7 of writing in a row! Imagine me doing the happy dance–now stop. That was embarrassing. Anyway I have been writing to a prompt everyday. They are all simple prompts, meant to just get the juices flowing, things like: write about time passing, write about a conversation, write about a new moon. So far, my responses have bordered on journal entries, but I am slowly letting myself relax and walk away from censored writing and into more free-flowing ideas.

I have learned that the difference between being stuck and being on a roll is one sentence. It could even be one word that prompts the flow of ideas, leaving writer’s block far behind. The whole point is patience, giving my brain time. Giving myself a safe place to write, where no one can see how bad things get if and when they get bad. I had toyed with the idea of putting up my responses to the prompts on this blog, but having spent the past week at this there is no way in hell all of that is going up for all to see.

A concert violinist doesn’t hold concerts or release a CD of their practice sessions.

But even in just one week things have gotten better. Writing for practice is becoming more like a habit, and I find myself less hesitant to approach prompts I think are stupid. Instead of putting them off or skipping them, I write them anyway because it is good for me. Just like vegetables. I am also slowly beginning to rearrange my daily routine to allow for more writing. Today I cleared my schedule, giving myself the whole day to sit and write. I started off with the handwritten prompt writing, now I am blogging, and then I am going to go some reading and then move onto my novel. I set up a desk in my backyard.

The dogs and I are loving it. Panda has found her favorite place to lie in the dirt. Her head is between her paws and her hind legs are stretched out behind her. She looks like superman would look if he ever slept-flew. Bobo is eating dirt. He pauses every now and then, looking at me with pits of bark dust dangling from his chin to see if I am going to do anything about it. It is not worth intervening. If he doesn’t get his dirt in outside, he will just eat the dirt out of my houseplants.

I had thought it was silly to feel so good about how sitting out here, surrounded by my dogs and my favorite table covered in papers, journals, and books. But then I realized that this is what it feels like to love my job. My mind is slowly picking up the tools I had back when I was writing daily, for several hours back in college. The tools are really like questions that I keep at the forefront of my mind: is this the best way I can describe this? is this the best word? Are these words working for me? are the pulling their own weight? Why did I reject that idea? Am I being an editor when I shouldn’t be? Am I stifling myself? What needs to change?

Panda is now lying on her side in the sand. I have no idea why she likes sand so much, considering she is such a finicky dog. She doesn’t really like being outside unless one of her humans is out there with her. Bobo has decided to use some of my flowering ground covers as a mattress. I hope his butt is well cushioned, because those flowers are now flattened beyond recognition. And I am trying to figure out how to end this blog post gracefully.

Done right?

Rant, Reading, Writing

Kent Haruf and Punctuation

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.


You would have done it if…

A couple of weeks ago I as perusing among the Freshly Pressed blogs when I came across a small rant regarding Nanowrimo and other monthly awareness campaigns: Movember, Nanowrimo, Nablopomo, American Diabetes Month, etc. The list does go on, and I can see her point that it is all a little much. I was right up with her until she said, “If you wanted to write a novel, you would have done it already.” (In regards to Nanowrimo).

I was personally offended. I hadn’t written a novel yet, but I had REALLY wanted to. Her tone suggested that using Nanowrimo to write your book, be it your first or last, is a crutch. That if you were an author–someone really passionate about writing–then you would have buckled down and done it already. That we shouldn’t rely on Nanowrimo. That it is stupid. That by using Nanowrimo, I was labeling myself as a new writer, a writer without drive, or possibly even a bad writer.

As a disclaimer, I feel I should tell you that I might be exaggerating. The quote I quoted, is exact, but the implications and the nuances that I laid out in the second paragraph may or may not be factual. It is just an explanation of how I felt she meant it. At the very least it is a portrayal of my knee-jerk reaction to her quote.

I refrained from posting something about this before now. I didn’t want to preach, or rant, or rave. But the sentiment has festered, and I can no longer not say anything. I MUST defend Nanowrimo–it has taught me a lot. Here is a list of what Nanowrimo has given me:

  1. I now know that I write an average of 1,500 words an hour. If I am under duress, I can manage to make 1,900 words an hour.
  2. Any reason to write is a good reason to write.
  3. Writing a novel isn’t as painful as I thought it would be. (Don’t get me wrong, there is pain, but good pain–see here).
  4. I have a novel–written by me. (Okay I will have a novel when I finish the last five chapters, but that is not the point).
  5. I now have a good understanding of what it would feel like to write 8 hours a day. Awesome.
  6. I understand that a month is not long enough to write a good novel, unless you are Hans Fallada, thereby incredibly amazing, and die from the effort–literally. But it is long enough to give you a good start and a lot of material to work with.
  7. Nanowrimo helped me realize that this is all possible. It helped me shove my ego aside, which always hampers instead of helps, in order to get down to the nitty-gritty task of writing.
  8. If you have a good idea use it; do not save it. If I hold back an idea, because I want to put it into something else, not only am I selling my current work short, but I have come to believe that it is somehow not worthy of a good idea and that I will write something better later. It also is an indication of the belief that I have a finite amount of good ideas, which is no way to write. How can you create if you believe that you have to hoard your good ideas in case new ones never come? If I have an idea I need to use it and trust that another will come later.
  9. I edit too much while I am writing  first draft. I choke myself with how much I try to edit. I need to work on this.
  10. Nanowrimo made me remember that I love writing and it gave me a taste of what my life will be like when I finally get the chance to jump into author-hood with both feet.