10 Questions for Writers

June 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Hey all you writers out there, I have a few questions for you.

 

1. Why do you write? When did you start?

2. What emotions flow through you as you write?

3. How would you describe your state of mind as you write? Are you very conscious of each word choice, revising things as you go along? Or do you get sucked in for stretches of time?

4. What do you write about? What inspires you?

5. How do you start a writing session? How do you end it?

6. What themes does your work tend to explore?

7. Do you switch up your style, or stay with what you know? Do the books you read reflect a similar style?

8. What have you learned about yourself through your writing? What have you learned about others in your life?

9. What personal struggles in your past or present inform your writing?

10. Looking back over your journey as writer, how have you grown? In what areas do you want to improve?

I’m dying to know your thoughts on these! You don’t have to answer all ten, just give me some general thoughts! What is the writing process like for you?

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Cracks in the Cement

June 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

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Moments. Dropping a pebble in an undisturbed pond and watching it ripple. Throwing a stone at an old window and hearing the shatter. Firing a gun into too still air and feeling the vibrations.

Today I have a migraine that pulses beneath my skull and tightens my chest and sends shooting pains throughout my muscles, beneath my skin. I’ve had this migraine for a few days. And every day that it announces its continued presence, that it tells me, Still here, Still alive, I become upset. I worry, I overanalyze. I cry. I Google neurological disorders and stare at my ceiling, imagining dying young.

Today is the second day my mother invited me to lay down in her bed. Well, she didn’t so much invite me as find me lying in the dark on her bed when I had just told her I was looking for Tums. Lying there clutching her raggedy old childhood teddy bear and my raggedy old childhood blanket. She climbs in beside me in the dark, and I feel that familiar tug in my chest, a tug that has nothing to do with the full-body migraine I’m experiencing. A tug of words unsaid, of restrained love, of confused hurt.

We lay in silence for a while. Then a boldness grips me. Maybe it’s that nagging fear of dying young.

“What do you wish you knew? Like, before? In the past?”

All of those words unsaid and that confused hurt are translating into jumbled questions. She tells me, I don’t understand the question.

And then before I can clarify, she’s streamrolled ahead. She’s saying things about her childhood, about living in fear of beatings from her mentally unstable sister, about the cold distance of her mother. She’s saying, I wish I knew I mattered. I wish I knew I could have made it on my own, without a husband. I wish I could have picked the wedding dress I wanted, the DJ. I wish someone had supported me in getting my education. I wish I knew.

I’m absorbing all this, the openness. It’s uncommon for my mother, who normally looks pain, the past in the face and shakes her head, says with certainty, with firmness that nothing’s really there. A mirage. Or that it’s nothing more than a speck of dust. It exists, but does anybody want to waste any time talking about it? It’s really nothing, after all. Sweep it under the rug, as they say.

And I know I only have a few precious moments of this. Because soon the broom will come out, and instead of a beating soul I’ll see a cold, ugly wall. But my airways are constricting and words are screaming in my chest, and then halfway up my throat. I’m choking and I hate it. I should ask more, but I can’t, because her wall is down, at least partway. There’s at least a crack in the cement. But mine is staying resolutely up. It’s standing strong.

Buzzing silence. My head aches.

“Do you feel like you have walls? Like, emotionally?” It’s not the most eloquently phrased, but it’s the most my diaphragm and heart can manage at the moment.

Oh, huge, she says. Huge. She says two years ago she put up the biggest wall she’s ever constructed, and she never sees it coming down. She talks about how it feels to have a shattered heart. And I’m biting my lip so hard it starts to bleed. Because I know what she’s referring to, and guilt weighs down on me like a tombstone weighs down on the body beneath it. In my head, a therapist tells me, that’s not your fault. But my soul will always whisper, yes it is.

Air pushes out of my lungs, and soon I’m saying, squeaking, really, that I understand. That I have my own walls, too. But she doesn’t ask about them. She doesn’t prompt me to divulge my hurts, and suddenly they seem silly next to this wounded woman’s, this person so hurt for so long. And part of me scolds me for my self-centeredness, for ever dreaming that my own trials could match those of my mother’s. But another part says, why don’t you want to hear my story?

But I know the answer, at least in a way. The same reason I often don’t want to hear her own. Because it’s not enough that one wall come down. Both must crumble. And I, we, are too busy adding reinforcements. Strengthening the hold.

My mother’s quiet now, and by the quiet in, out of her breath I know she’s sleeping. I know that glimpse of connection is gone. And I wonder how long until I see it again. Till another crack opens in the cement.

But most of all I wonder when my own cement will crack. When my own wall lets in a little sunlight.

A Day at the Beach/Beautiful Sadness/Existential Musings

June 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

A Day at the Beach/Beautiful Sadness/Existential Musings

To most people, the ocean means sunblock and potato chips gritty with sand. It means sneaking up on an unsuspecting sibling, attacking them with an armful of seaweed, splashing them with chilly, bubbling foam. It’s relaxing, its fun. It’s plastic buckets and chipped seashells and yells from shore that warn not to go out too far, to be careful. Because this sparkling blue beauty can swallow you up.

From a young age, the ocean meant something far different to me. I got a strange feeling in my stomach standing by the lapping waves, a feeling that made me look at my hands as if I had never seen them before, as if I couldn’t remember who I was. Sadness engulfed my heart, especially watching the orange ball of sun sink towards the waves at the end of the day. I couldn’t explain it, but something about the colorful sky, the streaks of pink and orange, the quiet motion of the waves made me feel. Feel strongly. And it wasn’t even that I was relishing in the picturesque landscape, appreciating the beauty. Instead I felt a complete, undeniable, aching sadness in my soul. A sadness that lingered while my cousins and I fruitlessly attempted to rinse our sandy feet before piling into the minivan, while the grown-ups shouted instructions about beach chairs and coolers. I’d stare out at the sea until it was out of sight, desperately trying to understand something far beyond my reach.

I’ve experienced this feeling in other venues. Standing beside the Grand Canyon when I was 11. Walking through a patch of woods by a main road and stopping to rest at a tiny, trickling stream. Each time, that sudden sense of loneliness. Perhaps not even loneliness. Of just loneness. Of being utterly alone in all the universe. Of realizing that we all are. I felt cursed by the nature that surrounded me for reasons that I could not understand. In their beauty, I suppose, they reminded me that I, somehow, existed. And for me, that news was hard to swallow.

I remember trying to explain this feeling to a close friend while walking down to the beach in the middle of the night. I’m a teenager, now. The beach does not signify the same chipped shells or games of Marco Polo. It means sneaky parties, like the kind at the beginning of Jaws, where that hippie gets eaten by the shark.

She frowned in confusion as I tried to patch together a coherent explanation of my feelings. “Oh, but it’ll be beautiful in the moonlight!” She tells me. “Here, have a beer.”

It was beautiful. Beautifully painful. I couldn’t see the waves, except when they glowed eerily in a sliver of moonlight. But I could hear them. In, out. They hardly whispered in their steady rhythm. The sand was cold beneath my feet, and when I dug my hands into them, a million individual grains scattered. I picked up a single grain and tried to appreciate its age, its history, its presence in the here and now. My friends were preoccupied with clinking bottles and letting out huge, echoing laughs that seemed like they should disturb the water, but they didn’t. In, out went the waves. Whisper, whisper. I laid down, letting the millions of particles of sand nestle around my form, and let the feeling overwhelm me. That crushing sense of Whoever you are, you’re alive in a world that really makes no sense at all.

In these moments, I think of those existential thinkers, writers. I imagine them standing by the waves of the same ocean, the same sun hanging low in the sky. I see them sigh while the ocean takes no notice at all.

In, out. In, out.

To Be Perfectly Still

June 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sometimes I’ll be sitting at a cafe, lying on my living room couch, standing resolutely still on the top of my hill, like a statue, or a god. I’ll appear perfectly quiet. Undisturbed. Like a small stream behind some brush. And it’s not like I’m at peace or serene, I’m just…there. If a scientist was jotting down observations in a little yellow pad, he’d say, “Subject not moving. At rest.” Sometimes I’ll blink, but other than that, I’m like an age-old boulder jutting out into sea, letting the waves crash hard against my solid form, breaking again and again and again.

They’re funny, these moments.

Because really I can feel myself moving. My toes are tingling, and when I blink I see myself throwing the cafe table up into the air and running fast, fast, fast down the hill until I come crashing down and break every bone in my body, even the tiny, forgettable ones in places like my pinky and ear. I lie on the couch and my body screams at me to move move move. My heart starts racing and a twitch develops in my legs and my eyes swivel round the room. Round and round. Move move move. Out out out. Go go go.

And I just lie there and I think, this is a miner trapped beneath a mile of earth. This is a blind man stumbling in a cave. This a bird banging into the wires of its cage, banging again and again, bursting to be free.

And it actually brings tears to my eyes, wondering how that boulder out at sea manages it. To feel the blinding, rushing fury of the ocean all around you, and to sit there quietly, with the appearance of someone who couldn’t care less.

Why Life Is Still Beautiful, Part 1

June 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

Why Life Is Still Beautiful, Part 1

I’ve been a little down lately, and I’ve decided the best way to tackle my yucky, lingering feelings is to (no, NOT eat everything in the kitchen again and watch marathons on Bio), but remind myself of some of this world’s most beautiful things. Things that touch my life, things that will hopefully one day touch it. My usual plan of action is to avoid, avoid, avoid, face the painful things, analyze it to no avail, experience renewed pain, and then avoid avoid avoid. I’m hopeful this will be a more effective approach. So, without further ado:

Things I find beautiful, in no particular order:

-going apple-picking in the fall and reminding the youngest among the group to twist, twist, and then gently pull

-tea. All tea. Tea with honey and lemon.

-old libraries with floors that creak and books that fall between shelves

-playing with my younger sister like we’re six years old

-the honest-to-God goodness of my little sister, the genuine sincerity

-the honest-to-God goodness of my friends, the genuine sincerity

-city streets with music and lights and laughter and loud conversations I’ll only ever hear a part of

-girly dresses that give one that oh-so-amazing Disney princess feeling

-that spontaneous decision to bake brownies and/or cupcakes

-watching the ocean breathe, feeling myself breathe

-the quiet dignity of nature

-closing my eyes and trying to feel six billion people in the world

-imagining meeting those six billion people and asking them what they love and what they fear

-interactions with strangers while waiting at the crosswalk, the train, the cash register

-talking with people who know something I don’t know

-listening to people with stories to tell

-realizing I’m different than I was before

-realizing I’ll probably be different in the future

-seeing a person smile from a long ways away

-the possibility of travel, even when my bank account says, Definitely Not.

-witnessing recovery

-experiencing recovery

-pretending to be a mermaid while I swim

-lip syncing in the bathroom mirror

-belting out an entire medley of songs to an empty house and open windows

-hugging and hearings heartbeats

-ridiculous dance parties to ridiculous songs

-waiting for the walk signal and waving to cars

-tickling wars

-kisses that are tiny and sweet and make me giggle

-kisses that make me want to take my clothes off

-reading books about trying to understand

-trying to understand aforementioned books

-meeting amazing people who do amazing things because they want to help people they find amazing

-seeing children play pretend. Remembering when you played pretend.

-wondering what love feels like

Here are just a few reasons I find life to still be beautiful, despite its character flaws. What do you personally find beautiful in this topsy-turvy world of ours?

What I’m Reading

June 19, 2012 § 1 Comment

What I'm Reading

Summer for me almost exclusively means reading. I haunt musty old bookstores just to run my fingers along hundreds of dusty spines and envision their hundreds of writers who were once young and hopeful and looking for the right idea. I read in the afternoons, when that lazy, dreamy feeling sets in accompanied by buzzing heat. Usually I drink tea with honey or lemon while I hang upside down in my bed or scout the house for a quiet area.

Reading has always been a great comfort for me. I remember once during a sobbing spell that seemed never to end, my mother finally desperately suggested, “Does your library have any Harry Potter?” I spent the next several hours huddled up in my common room with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, my breathing becoming more regular with every page turn. Books have been my savior since I was little. An escape from pain, a journey to another place.

I definitely get what I call “writing orgasms” when I read a particularly good book. I fall in love with the writer’s choice of words, his use of imagery, that feeling that resonates throughout the entire work. A few great lovers were The Book Thief and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Fantastic writing orgasms. People will say to me, “Yeah, cool story,” and I’ll say, “But the writing. Wasn’t the WRITING just fantastic?”

Reading is a crucial learning experience for any writer. You’ve got to expose yourself to what’s out there. If you don’t read, don’t expect to write well. Or know very much.

Here’s what I’ve read so far this summer:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince– So I’ve read it three times, who cares?

The Hunger Games-Mostly because people made me, and I wanted to see the movie but abide by a strict not-before-I’ve-read-the-book! policy. I found the story itself to be fairly creative, and there’s no doubt that the pacing was well-done (though I find that pacing is over-rated in a way, at least when it’s used in the context of “creating suspense.” Kurt Vonnegut agrees.) But I find that these sorts of stories aren’t really my kind of thing. They don’t make me think as much as other works. But Katniss Everdeen kicked some serious ass in that movie.

Brave New World-I had never read this book, and a few people recommended it to me. Huxley certainly creates a vivid and terrifyingly real world. I felt like I could ask him anything about the social order or the geographic qualities of this brave new world of his, and he could answer me immediately, perhaps with additional references. I really like when authors care enough about their work to “put in the effort” so to speak and be well-researched. Experts on their fantasy. Think about in terms of the medical profession. Would you prefer a doctor who knew anything and everything about the human body, or one who has a general idea? It’s Huxley’s detail that transforms Brave New World from fantasy to very probable future reality.

Slaughterhouse 5– Again, this was a classic I had not read. (I know, what was up with my high school English classes?) I really enjoyed this one. First of all, I’m a sucker for books that make you feel like one, lonely person moving through life, through space and time, interacting with a world that often makes no sense (I felt this way about Brave New World as well.) That’s the sort of feeling that underlies a lot of my own writing. The way Vonnegut moves through each period of time, then back again, then forward and so on is incredibly well thought out and really perfectly done. It truly felt like I was on this journey with the character. And isn’t that the point of all this thing we do?

Me Talk Pretty One Day-This was interesting for me. Nearly everyone I know has told me “I’ve got to read this thing by David Sedaris.” He’s so funny, I’ll love it. “It’s so deep, it’s totally your thing.” I didn’t dislike the book. Sedaris’ writing is beautiful in the sense that nothing ever trips you up or makes you pause. It’s seamless. And he is quite funny at some parts. For me though, I sort of finished it and shrugged. It’s more or less a collection of very short clips from Sedaris’ life that revolve around humor, though there is some talk of self growth and the like. I felt like I could write like Sedaris, make a similar book. But I didn’t want to. The style was not my style, but that by no means should suggest it’s a bad book. It was an amusing way to spend my time, and I really did enjoy the clarity of the writing.

So what have you been reading? Any thoughts on the books listed above? Recommendations?

What am I doing?

June 18, 2012 § 4 Comments

The never-ending question.

What am I doing? Where am I going?

It’s a question that causes excessive amounts of listening to angsty musical theatre and leads to the overconsumption of herbal teas to calm the nerves.

Sometimes it just means staring at the bedroom ceiling.

A lot of times it happens when you have your period.

Sometimes it means manic, inspired, emotionally heavy writing. Or just staring at the ceiling.

Chocolate. There’s chocolate involved. And the typical avoidance strategies. You know, the old, if-I-just-watch-reality-TV-my-future-will-go away.

But always

What am I doing? Where am I going? 

And

How the hell will I ever get there?

Musical theatre is telling me it’s because I’m a dreamer. Don’t worry, it’ll happen in Act 2. It’ll all work out. There will be resolution. And if not, there’s always intermission, where you can just skedaddle.

Oh, God.

What am I doing?

Where Am I?

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