Tag Archives: amwriting

Thanks For the Reminder, Ira Glass

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iraglass

Video by David Shiyang Liu, Words by Ira Glass

OK, I’ve been waiting for this moment. You know, that moment where you open your brain and the words pour out onto the page. Fully formed ideas and sentences, complete thoughts. You see, I’ve had a little writer’s block.

I just heard this little piece of recorded wisdom by Ira Glass. I don’t know if, when he was speaking these words, he was thinking, “Oh shit, this is brilliant. I gotta share it so I can inspire people and change the world.” But really, it is. And he actually might.

I, like most of you other writers out there, love that moment when I write something wonderful, and it feels like I’m really a writer, you know? Like I know what I’m doing, and I am so witty and funny and poignant, and all that. I love how it feels to pour my emotions into my prose. It’s like a massage, or a balm, a good drink, a long hit of weed, great sex. It. Just. Feels. Good.

But you know what? That good feeling you get from writing? It doesn’t always translate. I’ve gotten high and been inspired by my chemically induced visions to compose poetry, and when I’m writing it, I feel like I’m touching the stars. OK, I’m high, so that kinda figures. But the next day, I read it, and it’s crap. Utter rubbish. It’s like an attempt to capture the brilliance of a sunset on a cheap, disposable camera – the kind you used to be able to buy at a drugstore at the cash register for five bucks, and sometimes they’d put a whole bunch of them out at the tables at a wedding, and you could get the pictures developed in the mail. And when you got the pictures back, your thumb covered half the shots, and the ones that did come out are in this weird shade of orange, out of focus, and the crap on the front lawn is taking up most of the frame. That. The crappy writing the day after a good high is written in some cryptic code that is only readable by other high people. It’s worthless.

Then there’s the other kind of writing that feels so good to get out of your body. It’s like a good purge. It’s the kind of writing that’s tantamount to sticking your finger down your throat and vomiting up the contents of your stomach. The acid, the bile, the half digested chunks. It’s pretty disgusting, really. Who wants to read that nonsense. Go to therapy. It belongs in your journals, your morning pages, your private notebooks. Aaah, blogosphere, you went and gave us permission to publicize all of this private processing. That was one boundary that would have been better left undisturbed. We’ve all done it. The Facebook rants. The confessional blog posts. The public sharing of private feelings, the exposure of raw nerves. Yes, we’re all in it together, we are the world, boo hoo, I’m sad too. It’s not good writing.

Then there are the online articles that start to pick up page views, and likes, and shares. Oh, the stat whore in all of us comes to life. They like me, they really like me. I’m popular, I’m getting more hits, I’m driving traffic, I’m a thought leader, I’m getting more followers, they’re pinning me. This roller coaster is exhausting, it’s illusory, it has no meaning. There are no standards, just the winds of popularity blowing in your direction. Keep it up for a while, make it consistent, and then perhaps you’ve got something. A brand, a platform, a voice, a career, an ad magnet, a source of income. Maybe. Good writing? Who the hell knows…

They say in order to build your brand online (dig the etymology there, as though our identity is valued by its ability to be properly sold), that you need to maintain a steady presence, a regular, consistent output of material. I confess, I haven’t been very good at that type of regularity. For a while there, I was cranking out regular pieces of experimental fiction and with a couple of deadline type assignments, a consistent level of output on several blogs. But things change, and now it’s all on me to make sure you don’t forget me. Now I need an internal clock, like an animal responding to the cycles of the seasons and the rotation of the planets around the sun, and sometimes, well, the cycles don’t coincide with the working week and the optimal posting times, and all that jazz.

But mostly, there’s my realization that more important than regular output and steady presence and recognizable brand is the need to write well. If you google me, you will find a boatload of stuff I’ve written. Some of it is good. A lot of it is uneven. Much of it is crap. I am still in process as an artist, as a writer, as a human being. My shortcomings, thanks to the lure of the internet and the need for public reassurance, have become part of public record. I hope they make you feel better. Feel free to trash my early efforts, or even the recent ones, if they serve to prop up your own sense of relative artistic capability.

But really, I hope that my willingness to fail in plain view will be a reminder, mostly to myself, that this writing thing is a craft. It’s a learned skill. Sure, we bring to it a certain amount of inspiration, a bit of  spirit and courage, and a bunch of bravado, but all of that is but a small portion of the process. Mostly, it’s hard work and doing it again, and again, and again. And again.

It’s being willing to tear apart the passages we thought were genius and throw away the pieces that don’t work – maybe even the whole thing. It’s being willing to learn craft from others who are really good at it. It’s being willing to acknowledge that I will never stop learning, and I have to keep practicing, every day. Even when I feel hopeless, that everything that comes out of me sucks and I would rather scratch out my eyes than read another cliché ridden, hyperbolic, melodramatic, narcissistic passage of my so-called memoir.  When I think everything I know is wrong, and I will never know what it feels like to be recognized for what I know is the pretty damn good writer lurking inside me, just out of view of the webcam.

Thanks, Ira, for reminding me that it’s OK to suck, because it won’t stay like this forever.

Lillian and Me

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One of my favorite writers is Lillian Ann Slugocki. Full disclosure – she’s also a friend, and we’ve worked together to promote her latest book, The Blue Hours. So yeah, I love her work because I know her, and I helped her with some late stage edits, so I feel really connected to the piece, as though there’s a little bit of me in there, too… but beyond that, and before that, I loved her work. Before I even met her. She wrote some unbelievably raw material in a book called The Erotica Project, along with writer Erin Cressida Wilson who was an old college buddy. Yeah, again… the personal connection.

But over and above and besides that, I love her work because Lillian is fearless. Not in life! God no… who the hell is fearless in life??  That doesn’t really exist. We’re all afraid of one thing or another or many things at once. I’m talking about in the words she commits to on paper. The prose she signs her name to, and puts out there for all the world to see. She talks about things that I want to articulate, things I know and feel and have experienced or would like to experience or am afraid to experience. She goes there. Past thoughts of judgement, past ideas of who she “should” be or what she should or should not be allowed to say. She doesn’t give a shit.

Here’s what I’m thinking:
I have staggered into my writing, unsteady, lurching forward and then cowering in anxiety and paralysis. I have choked it down, then spit it out, laughed and cried it into existing, and then, once emptied of my words, shaken with the emptiness of expectation. I care so much about what you might think that I have to will myself to not care, just to protect my heart. I am not afraid to say this anymore, because honestly, I want to care less, and maybe this will help.

I want to write about things that make you uncomfortable. I have written stories that make ME uncomfortable. I’ve heard it said that if you aren’t making someone uncomfortable, you’re not really writing. Well then. I guess it’s going to be a battle between fear and discomfort. Which one wins??

I write a lot. All the time. In fact, I’ve begun to develop some chronic discomfort in my lower back and groin from sitting, cross legged in front of the computer for hours at a time. Curse my natural flexibility! It’s not working in my favor right now. I’m stretching out muscles that should not be stretched so much, in service of stretching others that have lied taut for too long. I am still trying to find the balance. My body is confused by the rapid unraveling of my mind’s freedom. I’m in transition.

I write different things for work than I do in my blog, and in the secret notebooks I keep near my bed. I joined a private fiction site where I share fragments of stories with writers much more accomplished (read: published) than me. I gladly accept the random bits of praise that come my way, and I dutifully read the works of the other writers, offering my generous comments whenever it feels genuine. I want to be a good community member. I want to be part of the club. I want to be – no wait, I AM a writer, too. We just talk to one another, because this is so.

The walls between my different kinds of writing are coming down. All of my identities are merging into one self which is me. Complicated, putting my issues out there for all to see. Turning a smart phrase on behalf of clients on the one hand, opening up my heart and sharing my fears, fantasies and visions on the other. Turning the difficult thoughts and feelings into characters and situations several steps removed from real life, in order to make them into stories I can view with some degree of perspective. I just want to create journeys. I am preparing myself to put more of my work on the line and receive not only the praise but the criticism of many sets of eyes.

I see my future, and it contains me, writing, afraid but doing it anyway. No wait. That’s my present. It’s already happening.

Photo courtesy of Eric D. Weiss

Washing Away Fear

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Warm water is so soothing on my hands…. I have grown to love washing my dishes. I haven’t had a dishwasher since i was a kid living at home. Maybe once or twice in random dwellings since then, but never for an extended period of time, and certainly not in the last 25 years. (And yes, it’s still amazing to me that I can say the last 25 years and be talking about only half of my life.) The water calms me. The gradual clearing of the surfaces of all grease, grime, dried particles of food, leaving only smoothness, and that sound and feel of squeaky clean. It soothes my spirit.

Yesterday morning I awoke from a very disturbing dream. I was in the subway tunnels with (my good friend and writing partner) Lillian, and suddenly a woman with a familiar face came up to me and said “hi.” With a deep sigh, she leaned her elbow on the railing next to me and looked up at me with a mournful expression in her eyes. I recognized her instantly, and turned my gaze to Lillian, who of course did not know her.  Damn, I could not remember her name.

Knowing that I needed to introduce them to one another, I said, “I’m so sorry, but I’ve forgotten your name.” She looked at me, shattered, and did not reply. I said, “Are you going to tell me your name?” At that point she started to unravel, her eyes filling with tears, and her lip quivering. She just could not believe that I didn’t remember. I said, “Well, if you aren’t going to tell me who you are, I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

As we walked away, I heard the sound of the woman wailing, and I said to Lillian,”C’mon let’s get out of here,” and started flying down the stairs, two or three at a time, her voice getting louder in the distance. When I looked over my shoulder, I realized that I had lost Lillian, and that’s when I woke up.

Who was that woman, whose fate seemed to rest in my hands? How could my inability to remember her name render her that undone?

I wonder if this is some kind of metaphor… you think?

My brain has become very crowded with the thoughts of past, present and future. I am trying to keep them straight, but they seem to converge on me with ruthless intensity, without regard for my schedule. I have a list. They ignore it. I have priorities, some defined by me, some defined by others. They don’t care. Half the time I’m not sure who’s driving the train, me or the others, but somehow I manage to guide us through the tunnels and overpasses and curves and straightaways. Despite all the noise.

I try not to get too caught up in this notion of “my path.” Even though I know we’re all ultimately alone, and we have to figure out which way we’re going, it seems so narcissistic to make that the sole focus. I try to divide my time and energy between thinking about my own goals and desires and contributing to the lives of others – my son, my boyfriend, my sisters and the rest of my family, my friends and colleagues, and other people in the world who could benefit from my energy focused in their direction. In other words, I try to be helpful. And yet, I know that I ultimately come back to me.

And yesterday, I started off feeling very scared. Frightened of things that are happening in my body that I don’t understand – strange aches and burning sensations that have been plaguing me lately. In my mind I don’t believe it is very serious, but still, I have been so scared, and not wanting to embrace that fear. There is the idea that we create our own reality, and I don’t want to carve out an ominous future, so I’m trying to stay positive… but for me, that often entails cutting off from myself, and when that happens, my boyfriend says I disappear (he is right) and then that relationship comes into question and I lose a prime source of support. So I have no choice, really, but to be with this fear.

Something is burning inside me. I don’t know what it is. It’s hotter than warm water on my hands. It’s as frightening as forgetting who I am. It’s related to leaving my past behind and moving into the future. Yet confronting it has me racing down deeper into the depths of who I am. It’s not an original story. We all have to go it alone, ultimately. Yet there is something in the sharing of it that makes it a little easier to handle…

Perhaps you can relate.