Tag Archives: inspiration

Good Night, Sweet Prince

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So, Prince died. And I’ve been crying on and off since yesterday. I’m not sure if it’s that I’m sad that he’s gone, or that I was too sick to go to Brooklyn last night for Spike Lee’s block party. All these people are dying. Famous people I never met, folks whose work meant a lot to me, inspired and touched me in personal ways that are hard to describe. And then there are the deaths of people in my life – family members, friends, whose silence still rings loud in my ears and in my heart.

Prince Michael Ochs Archives

Photo credit – Michael Ochs Archives

These endings, these reconfigurations, they are inevitable, I suppose, and a normal part of life. But as I grow older, they seem to increase in frequency, and their resonance with my own sense of impermanence, the reality of my own eventual demise, becomes more acute. I feel vulnerable and more alone.

I remember back in the days when scanning through the calendar of events in the Village Voice made me feel small and insignificant. There was always so much going on, so many scenes that I was not a part of, so many shows I would miss, performers I would not experience firsthand. Rather than feel enticed to choose something fun to do, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices, the out of reach amount of money required to do all the things that called to me. I often got paralyzed into doing nothing.

These days, I scan my Facebook and Instagram pages. I see all the pithy descriptions of parties and shows and other events, I get the invitations, I scan the guest lists, I see the pictures afterwards. I am connected to all these people, yet not part of the group selfies, not part of the behind the scenes moments, the preparatory meetings, the after-parties. And yet, I am fooled into thinking I am part of all these things. I see the pictures, I read the remarks, I comment and like and share. But I am home, alone.

When I do go out, I have a great time. I meet old friends, new comrades, new besties, crushes, potential collaborators, business partners. I speak my mind, I tell jokes, I flirt and sparkle, I flash my teeth, I share drinks and other things. I am part of my world, wherever I go. I am not afraid.

But the people keep dying. I keep getting older. The world keeps shifting, as loved ones leave us, change the geometry of the landscape, the energy, the dynamic. I knew who I was, and then Maya Angelou died. Michael Jackson died. Amy Winehouse died. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams. They died. Why then? Why them? My parents. Gone. My husband. Gone. Friends have lost children. Unthinkable. Bowie, Prince, gone. These losses, they seem arbitrary, random. They are unexpected. It’s hard to imagine a world without them.

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Only my husband, who took over twenty years to slowly slip away from me into the grips of his chronic illness – only he took his time. And that deconstructed widowhood, it took me over slowly, taught me to feel every molecule of loss, taught me to understand the gradual letting go of our partnership, our plans, wishes and dreams, taught me to look to myself for strength when everything pointed in the direction of abandonment.

There are things we may not want to admit to ourselves, such as the fact that we will all be dead someday. When one of our luminaries crosses over, and the world changes, I want to hold onto something that feels more permanent, more robust and hearty than my own fragile sense of myself. I want hugs, kisses, maybe adoration, maybe sex, the grinding of body against body a reminder of my physical existence, my presence here on earth right now.

I’ll bet it would have been great to be crushed up against a sea of strangers in Brooklyn or Minneapolis or Harlem last night. I’ll bet it would have been great to cry out loud into the night with the soundtrack of a genius playing in the background. I’ll bet it would have been great to get high on collective grief and inspiration. Instead, I cried myself to sleep, grateful for the drowsy escape from sore throat, sinus congestion and a deep cough.

I remember now that every great artist knows a profound sadness and uses it to fuel his or her art. I remember, as any good Buddhist will tell you, that suffering breeds compassion. I remember, as my husband used to say, that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. And I remember that the grief I feel over anyone’s loss is a tribute to the love we shared, whether in person, or through the magic that was their art, their music, their words.

So I guess things are as they should be…

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Thanks For the Reminder, Ira Glass

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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.