Voice

July 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

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“Good movement, strong voice.” These were some of the remarks a creative writing professor had written on some of the pieces I found shoved in my nightstand this morning. Bent staples, old CDs, some leftover Euros, my high school yearbook, and close to a hundred pages of writing spanning 5th grade to last year. I struggled to open the drawer.

“Strong voice.”

I thought this comment over while I counted the Euros. It felt like a higher compliment than “good movement,” somehow. A superior achievement to making a good transition. But what did it mean, anyhow? My “voice” was strong? What did it mean to have a weak voice? Every author has a voice. They’re speaking on paper, from beginning to end, right? Or do they? Can a poor author write an entire manuscript and not have said a word? Be voiceless?

Or is it that so much writing feels like one big voice, with the same intonations, the same emphasis, perhaps even the same words? You read one thriller novel by John somebody and another by Kate somebody and you say ah, yes, I know this voice, I’ve heard it before, I trust it, I’ll follow it to the end to find out he’s multiple personality and really did commit all those murders.

So then, maybe a strong voice means breaking through. Everybody’s chanting at the some volume in the same rhythm and suddenly someone starts whispering to a different beat. You pick up a new book and it shocks your senses. Something you haven’t heard before.

This is perhaps the greatest challenge for any artist. Breaking through. It’s more than just being different, being unique. We are all unique. Not all of us have a “strong voice.” You must not only break through the clutter of everyone else, but of yourself. A strong voice comes from an authentic place, a real, truthful feeling. Think of it as a little light trapped under layers of sand. You’ve got to dig, past the defense mechanisms and the impatience and all the modern world distractions to get there. It ain’t easy, but you’ll be rewarded.

It should be mentioned that a “strong voice” is not an eternal state of being. God, no. Just thinking it makes me feel exhausted. If I’m lucky enough to break through to that place and stay there and write, write, write, once I’m done the sand fills back in the hole again in a rush, and I fall back and let it. You don’t win the battle every time. I get frustrated when I write something that’s crap, nothing special, and jealous when others can seem to turn out “strong voice” pieces like it’s nothing. I’m struggling to stutter, and they’re singing in the shower.

But here’s the beauty of it: If you’ve tapped into it before, you can get there again. The young hipster woman with too-large black glasses thought I had spoken with a “strong voice” in that one childhood memory piece. I thought I had too. I had felt it rise within me as I wrote, asserting itself, saying I’m here, I’m here, let me speak. And I felt the exhaustion and closing back up when I finished.

Some people don’t even know that little speck of light is hiding under there, or don’t care enough to do the work to get there. They’re content to stay up above. Digging is messy. It’s time-consuming. Who’s to say you’ll find anything?

Here’s what I find, though: Breaking through to that voice, letting it yell, uninhibited, into the world, and resonate, and reverberate off the walls and ring in your ears-this is how we assert ourselves, make our presence be know. Tell the layers of clutter they ain’t got nothing on us. Really speaking-it gives me hope.

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Blue Moon and Lonely Lovers

July 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

Some of it is hazy, and I don’t know if it was the Blue Moon or the summer air or just how many times you turned and bent and touched my body, but I do know that one moment we were quietly playing the piano and the next you were inside of me. It hurt and I yelled out, but it was a good hurt, a hurt that makes you want to hurt again, like the satisfaction of a bloody knee falling off your bike for the first time, I wanted to dare again, I wanted another ride, I wanted to show off my battle scars. You were no one special, I knew that, I was no one special, you knew that, but here we were on a Sunday night tangled in one another’s warmth. And when the sun came up, it was as if the magic faded, and there were empty bottles on the floor and my makeup on your clothes, and my mind and body throbbed and yours slept. And I still think everything would have been okay, I would have never wanted us to go to a restaurant or a carnival or for you to buy me roses and sing songs outside my window, except in half-sleep you played with my feet with yours because mine were cold and yours were warm, and I knew then that I was doomed, at least for a while, to another almost lover, like that beautiful song says, a skinny love, like that other beautiful song. It was as if I had tasted love, what maybe others talk about, the subject of movies and musicals and songs and classic literature and trashy romance novels, but it wasn’t love, not even close, I couldn’t listen to those songs and pretend they were mine, because they weren’t, and when we untangled and you dropped me off at the train station, all anything had been was some piano playing and then your body dipping into mine and making us two of God’s intertwined and desperately lonely creatures.

“There is nothi…

July 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

I think Hemingway was a little right here, and a little wrong, which makes sense with Hemingway, given that the man was a genius and an alcoholic all at the same time. Because writing well does not mean you have thousands of imaginative plot lines and an extensive vocabulary up your sleeve. It doesn’t mean you’re somehow wiser than the rest, that something sets you apart. If anything, you’re the most human of anybody, because you’re so damn aware of that humanity. To write, you communicate the truth of that human experience. You speak what is, and nothing more.

But while you do sit down and bleed, it’s not like the blood just pours out and makes a nice little pool. The body doesn’t allow that. It fights back, tries to repair, stop the flow, clot and prevent the bleeding, not totally, but the best it can. Every time when I write I try to bleed, try to open myself up, and my body flies into preparations to save me, close me right back up again, make me whole, and I end up with a fuzzy head staring at words that slash.

There is certainly something to writing. As writers, our biggest challenge is to let the words out, let out wounds breathe. One does not simply cut and sit back and watch. We have to push the walls down, let the soul out, let ourselves bleed out, and fight the temptation to reach for the band-aid.

Lessons from Boston

April 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

This summer, I have an internship on Boylston Street. I’ll transcribe original works by the Adams family, maybe do a little research, some menial office work. One more thing to put on the resume, to keep up with all the other undergraduate kids balancing partying and the promise of the real world right around the corner. It was a relief to see that “Congratulations!” email sitting in my inbox. I was guaranteed an unpaid gig with limited hours, and I was thrilled. There was a plan for summer, and soon another teensy bit of experience under my belt.

 A week after landing the internship, I went walking alone in Dublin. It was dark and late, and I must have criss-crossed the city twice, jamming music in my ears and feeling that familiar, unwelcome spacey feeling. I passed people on the sidewalk and waited at traffic lights and even picked up soup in a bag from a small grocery store for dinner, but I wasn’t there. Just a shell. More than that. I was feeling what I used to feel when I snuck out of the house as kid, when I would hop the fence and wander into the little woods behind. I wanted to disappear entirely, but there was the neighbors’ house, right behind a few scraggly trees, because the rest of the woods had been cleared to make room for a swing set. And so I would turn and wander back into my little blue Cape house version of Hell. And now in Dublin, despite feeling impulsive, and like maybe, fuck it, I wouldn’t go back this time, I knew soon I’d smile at all my roommates as I opened the door and make a comment about the weather and put the soup on the stove.

I really think God taught me a lesson that day.

After two hours of self-pitying wandering, with no way of telling my roommates if I was okay, or where I had gone, or when I’d be back, having left my phone at home, when the city was good and dark, I opened the door, smiled at my roommates (“Where were you???”), put the soup on the stove, and picked up my phone. Several missed calls from my mother. A frantic message from a close friend back home. Is your family safe?

 Is your family safe?

Why wouldn’t they be? I texted back. It’s a stupid question, something people ask in dramatic movies. Before I even finished typing I’d navigated to CNN. 

Blasts in Boston, at least one dead, scores injured, information coming in, and a street I’ve walked a million times filled with smoke and screams. The Marathon. Shit, the Marathon was today. People I know run that marathon. People I know watch that marathon. People I know could be dead or without legs, for Christ’s sake, dead or at least forever changed in no more than 15 seconds. Shit. Shit.

I called my mother. We think everyone’s okay, but we haven’t heard from this person, or that person. No, Sean, my uncle, a Boston cop, wasn’t working. Still out on injury, thank God, normally works the Marathon. But we haven’t heard from Dad’s college buddy, or Matt next door, or Janice…no, nobody knows anything, yes, she’s safe, but she’s stuck in the city, can’t get out, train lines shut down, phones off, can’t get through…

For the next few hours, I experienced what no one should have to experience. I refreshed news pages, I stayed on the line with my mother, and I waited. Waited to hear who was okay. And who wasn’t. Waited for what would happen next, because something would happen next. Another bombing, or an arrest. Something would happen.

Too close to home, I kept thinking. Perhaps the selfish thing a person can think, but still. I don’t think of people dying every day in Syria. But I’m unable to breathe when hate, terror, evil blows up the corner of Boylston street. And a couple hundred people with it.

I hated myself for my self-absorbed, poor-me wandering. And I hated that I tried to disappear while so many others didn’t have a choice. And while others were desperately trying to find their loved ones, find hope, find normalcy. And it’s not my fault, and maybe I’m being too hard on myself, but Jesus, I was listening to melancholy musical theatre and buying bagged soup while a 6 year old little girl’s legs were blow off, and her 8 year old brother’s soul blown to pieces.

It’s a lesson I’m going to have to be reminded of again and again. That maybe all of us will have to learn again and again. But here it is: Don’t Take This Life for Granted. You don’t have time to pretend like you control it, like you can decide whether or not it’s worth it. You don’t have time. You’ve got to take it for what it is, you’ve got to decide, right now, to love it, and do what you can with it. Right now. This ain’t a joke, and this ain’t reality TV. Because five seconds from now, twelve seconds from now, eighty years from now, a bomb will go off below your feet.

Don’t pretend you’re better than Life. It wins the game, it knows more, and it’ll own you every time.

Thank You Boston

April 21, 2013 § 2 Comments

This spoken word poetry video was made by a fellow Bostonian and friend of mine. I still can’t seem to find the words when it comes to the tragedy that took place at the Boston Marathon, to people whom I love, on a street I’ve walked many times, in a city that is my home.

The 25 Greatest Quotes About Writing

April 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

Love this!

Thought Catalog

Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words. Mark Twain
I only achieve simplicity with enormous effort. Clarice Lispector
A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. Virginia Woolf
I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality. James Joyce
The first draft of anything is shit. Ernest Hemingway
Always be a poet, even in prose. Charles Baudelaire
Literature — creative literature — unconcerned with sex, is inconceivable. Gertrude Stein
If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it. Anaïs Nin
One can be absolutely truthful and sincere even though admittedly the…

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I belong here just like you

April 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

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I sit in the immigration office and think about being an immigrant. An immigrant for five months only, and really, I feel like a citizen because we’re all Irish, my family, all the way back, and my grandmother grew up on a farm on the West coast and I’m a pale redhead waiting for an extended visa, for Christ’s sake. I look like a typical Dubliner decided to stop by and while away time for the fun of it, get a glimpse at all these people with funny accents and anxious faces. A woman looks at me suspiciously as she wraps her hijab, a pretty, pale, pink one, tighter around her head, while her husband paces the floor and the baby she cradles twitches in her sleep. Everyone’s got different colored passports–a Chinese man, dressed in his best suit, leads his little wife over to the pot-bellied, red-faced immigration official, and they’re both touting deep red passports. Mine is dark blue, and the woman in the pale, pink hijab’s is brown, though her husband is carrying that one. Every two seconds an Irishman butchers a name over the loudspeaker so that they all sound the same and no one knows who’s being called, until the loudspeaker finishes: Singapore national, or, Brazilian national. The called bound up, shuffling their documentation, muttering their rehearsed English under their breath before blurting out Hello sir, how are you? to the same hostile-looking pot-bellied, red-faced immigration man. Often times they’re missing a piece of documentation, or they need a certain signature, and the immigration man tries to explain this and the want-to-be-immigrant can only nod feverishly and act as if they understand completely, yes, two floors up, yes, medical insurance, right, but all they understand is disappointment. You are still outsider.

 

There’s my name, crystal clear over the speaker, American national, and the waiting eye me as I quickly make my way over to the desk. I show my documents, receive my stamp, get my finger pushed into some ink. Free to go.

 

And there’s a sense of relief from the man at the counter. He still looks like he’d rather be doing anything else, but his jaw relaxes somewhat and it’s clear he considers me an easy case. Hand me this, sign that, out you go. Maybe it’s because I look Irish, or because I’m white, or because I speak English, or maybe just because I had all my necessary documentation neatly organized in a little portfolio. Either way, I feel a strange sense of guilt as I make my way towards the exit, the rest behind me, still tapping their feet and coughing and sleeping, and now the woman’s baby has started to wail. And as I walk down the street, I become a local again. Because I’m just another pale girl pushing through the crowds, not looking twice at the tourist attractions, walking right by O’Connell Street, moving with purpose, with a sure sense of belonging. And I find that I take an almost sick pleasure in it, that I can leave that stuffy, overcrowded limbo of others behind me and act as if I have a right to my spot on the sidewalk. I’m a fraud, with just a stamp on my passport allowing me to stay a little longer, and sure, my heritage is here, but I don’t know these streets like the girl I pass smoking a cigarette on her doorstop. But I’ll pretend. Because the feeling of I belong here just like you is so warm.