Tag Archives: Writing

Babel

blog-1483685851bookThis happens to me now and then. Instead of writers block I get readers block. There are a million beach reading lists out there and I blink at them and don’t know where to start. I read the NY Times Book Review and wonder, who are all these people writing? I look through books on my bookshelf and feel overwhelmed by them. Which ones did I read? Which one should I pick?

When I’m on a roll there’s no stopping me. I am in love with reading and will go through stacks of books. But when I sputter and stall out and find myself circling the bookstore in a daze, well it’s bad.

Maybe I’m trying to tell myself something. Doesn’t our behavior often proceed our cognition? Maybe I’m trying to say, self, you should be writing – you should get your name on one of these books, in one of these book stores, on one of these lists. That would certainly cause paralysis.

You have to work hard at anything you want. You have to pay attention. You have to make mistakes and face rejection and not care about things you might normally care about.

I had to give up alcohol because of my RA meds. I miss it once in awhile when I’m out for dinner or cooking at home, but not enough to really bother me. I had to give up coffee because it gave me horrible heartburn. That was harder, but I drink tea. I manage. I smell good coffee and feel longing and regret and I salivate unconditionally. But I don’t go back. I can manage. I have to give up cheese and ice cream and most dairy because my RA meds sent my cholesterol into orbit. But I can’t do it. I’m eating even more than usual. Out of spite? In fear it will be gone? To give myself a heart attack?

To write I have to give up time and get organized. I have to stop watching stupid TV and looking up recipes and reading Real Simple magazines. I have to feel crappy and stupid facing the blank page day after day. I have to feel worthy of finishing something good, something people will want to read. I have to open up this calcified area inside where I store all the ugly, tender, raw, dangerous memories and feelings.

I guess it’s time to cut the crap and get over whatever it is I have to get over. Do what the doctor says. Put my ass in the chair and write. Stop whining. Start listening. Get reading.

Growing up is hard.

‘Cause I know my weakness, know my voice,
And I’ll believe in grace and choice
And I know perhaps my heart is farce,
But I’ll be born without a mask

Mumford & Sons

 

 

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Decisions Decisions

monkey

Every day there are thousands of decisions to make. Do I pick through these old blueberries for breakfast or get a greasy egg sandwich from Dunkin Donuts? Do I bend down and pick up that ball of dog fur or walk past it again? Do I write to my Congressman or watch reruns of Parks and Recreation? Do I sort through this Mount Washington pile of mail or stuff it in an old shopping bag for later? Should I let my 17 year-old newly licensed daughter take the car tonight to see a movie with her friends -because there is construction around the theater and it might rain and it will definitely get dark and it’s a 10:00 PM movie so I’ll have to stay up way past my bedtime until she gets home and if she’s late it will take at least 2 weeks off my life from the stress and terror.

A lot of decision making is automatic (I just keep walking past that dog fur), and a lot of it seems small but is big (that damn movie), but a lot of it also takes energy and focus and time. And I am not always great with this. I get distracted or I use up all my decision making powers at work so I make poor decisions at home (pizza again for dinner) or none at all (let me just sit on this couch for 20 minutes in a fugue state). You have to decide what to eat and wear and buy and say. You have to decide whether to cook or clean or get an oil change or go for a walk or call a friend. You have to decide how to parent and treat colleagues and support your spouse.

You have to decide whether to write.

Perhaps I could be the person I want to be if I was better at decisions. Perhaps I could take greater risks and do the things that would ultimately, to use a horrid self-help statement, bring me joy. There are multitudes of books on how to do the things I want to do. How to magically change my life by tidying up or create 7 habits for myself to be highly successful or dare greatly or rise strongly or master self-love. How to write a novel in 90 days or loose weight, gain more energy and never diet again, or have pain free posture, or do the ultimate memory exercises to keep my brain from crapping out. But these books aren’t magic. You have to decide to do the things they talk about. You can’t take action until you decide to take action. You can’t change until you – uhg – decide.

And thus the rub. How do I get better at deciding? I’ve had a lot of therapy and that hasn’t worked. I’ve made plenty of bad decisions and didn’t learn enough from them to make me a better decider. I’ve certainly aged a lot, and that doesn’t seem to be helping.

There’s a tiny voice inside me that’s reacting to all of this as I’m writing it. A whisper of a voice I can barely hear. She’s saying, you have to be worthy. You have to feel you are worthy of these decisions.

And I must be listening to her today because I’m writing. But if this is going to last she’s going to have to speak up. Shout even. And then I have to decide to listen.

I am learning a little—never to be sure—
To be positive only with what is past,
And to peer sometimes at the things to come
As a wanderer treading the night
When the mazy stars neither point nor beckon,
And of all the roads, no road is sure.
Carl Sandburg

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And It Stoned Me To My Soul

writer

Today I have a day off and I want to write.

So I emptied and loaded the dishwasher, watched 2 cooking shows, finished the last chapter of Trans Atlantic, looked up recipes for vegan caesar salad dressing which led to trying to find recipes for inspiring lentil casseroles (an oxymoron?), which took me to to a bookcase near the CDs and I wonder how did Van Morrison wind up next to the High School Musical soundtrack? Now I’m thinking about picking up a pair of winter pants that have been at the dry cleaners since January and taking 2 epic fail bras back to the store or buying some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

I’ve been wanting to start a puzzle and I need to find some paperwork for my Flexible Spending Account and I have a couple loads of dirty clothes that are going to solidify into the shape of the laundry basket if I don’t do them soon. Plus, the dogs haven’t barked in over an hour so I should probably put a mirror in front of their muzzles to make sure it fogs up. Or maybe I’ll get lucky and a telemarketer will call.

It’s brutal. The blank page.

Divine inspiration is scarce.  And no matter what they say, just showing up is not 80% of the work. Because you can show up and just stare at that white empty space and feel like you’re going to choke on the saliva that’s turning to dust in your throat. Or you can pull up an old half-started manuscript and watch the words start to cyclone into something indecipherable and you know you are faking this as clearly and truly as you know you will never sky dive or eat a bug. You will be voted off the island before you even get there.

And then after a lot of angst and decay of the soul you just write something. Even if it sucks. Even it it’s offensive or a lie or barely makes sense. You just stop snarling and spitting into the wind and put your gory beat up self out there. It’s not pretty. It’s not as satisfying as Ben & Jerry’s. But it plugs up a hole or two. It makes the day feel like it’s your day. And then you can listen to Van Morrison with a clear heart.

And I shall watch the ferry-boats
And they’ll get high
On a bluer ocean
Against tomorrow’s sky
And I will never grow so old again
-Van Morrison

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April Showers Bring May Showers

cats

This month has been a meteorological cat fight in Rhode Island. Rain and more rain. Hot humid scorcher of a day where you show those pale legs because who cares in this heat, followed by why did I put all the sweaters away, followed by a shit load of grey rainy dreary damp my-whole-body-aches days.

And for someone who already hates the spring (don’t judge), this weather is reeking havoc. The smell of wet grass and things growing and the sound of birds crazily chirping and neighbors hammering and mowing and greeting one another and the density of it all. The thick labor of coming back to life then retreating then coming back again. I’m exhausted.

April is supposed to be the cruelest month but May’s been vicious as far as I’m concerned. I feel slow and fat and foggy and nervous and hesitant and insecure and just not up for it all. Coming out of the cave. Jumping through metamorphic hoops to face sunlight and cookouts and mosquitos and overgrown tomatoes that burst on the vine and tics on the dogs and my ugly bare toes and vacations I never take.

And then there are days when I catch a whiff of childhood so strong it takes my breath away. And there’s Mother’s Day, and my mother’s birthday, and the fuchsia rhododendron blooming in my yard that I know she would love. She loved spring. She loved planting and pruning and coaxing the dead back to unruly brilliant life.

May will always be my mother’s month, and while some will be rainier or hit me harder than others, I know I will get through it. I know May will end and June will begin and I will start over, planting, pruning, coaxing, in this blog or a notebook or some ratty old short story, tweaking and cutting and adding words. We didn’t always have a lot in common, but we both needed something to quell the demons, self-made and otherwise.

There are only a few days left – it’s Memorial Day weekend and that has certainly taken on new meaning for me. They are promising sun and warmer weather. They are promising that this too shall pass. Am I ready? Never. But it’s okay because I face it anyway. Come. Get me. Spring.

“In the motion of the very leaves of spring in the blue air there is then found a secret correspondence with our heart.”  -Taken from Mary Oliver’s Upstream who took it from Shelly’s On Love

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Working 9-5

9 to 5

When I graduated from college I started the job search. There was no living in my parent’s basement. There was no backpacking through Europe. I knew I had to work. With a double major in English and Sociology, I really wanted to become a famous novelist but had a backup plan of saving the world. The prospect of writing a novel was a thousand times more terrifying than saving the world so I looked for nonprofit jobs and anything that seemed remotely brave and sacrificing.

There was no internet, so my strategy was to cut out little ads from the Boston Globe, arrange them on a sheet of yellow legal paper and stare, looking for a sign. I should have recognized the giant sneeze that sent the ads scattering to the floor as a sign. Wrong direction. Go with the writing.

But instead I started interviewing. In preparation I went home to Syracuse and my mom gave me her Dey Brothers charge card so I could buy something other than t-shirts and jeans. I came home with an Evan-Picone suit jacket and skirt and a London Fog raincoat. My mother almost went into shock, not just at the price tag, but at the fact that I had any style or taste. But that’s a whole mother-daughter story for another time.

My first interview was at an all boys Catholic School in the North End of Boston. I didn’t have a teaching certification and had never taught, but neither of those was a requirement for Catholic schools. There were two priests and a lay teacher who looked stern and priest-like. The interview lasted about 20 minutes. but felt like 2 hours. They were looking for someone to teach juniors and seniors English Literature, American Literature, Sociology, Psychology and Criminology. And they wanted this person to teach freshmen Western Civilization as well. There was one planning period a day except 2 days a week you would have to cover study hall. The average class size was 27 and the study hall was for 45 or so juniors and seniors. Boys. 45 junior and senior boys.

They asked me how I would teach abortion. They told me women weren’t paid as much as men. I was sweating profusely. It was August and that Evan-Picone suit was wool. At the end of the interview I shook everyone’s hand, walked out of the school to the parking lot and found my keys locked inside my car. I teared up, swore, and went back inside to face my inquisitors. They were in the same room, their heads bowed together, murmuring about me no doubt. With no AAA, no idea who to call in the middle of the day, I did the only thing I could do. I asked for a coat hanger.

They found one, and then followed me out to the parking lot to watch as I untwisted the metal, made a long straight rod with a hook at the end, and broke into my car. Eyebrows were raised, odd noises emitted from the back of their collective throats. I pulled out of that parking lot at a dangerously high speed, ready to take off the suit, bra, the matching pumps, right in the car and drive naked through a Dairy Queen for a sundae.

I got the job.

And so began the wold of work for me. I’ve been at it ever since. Jumping from job to job, never quite saving the world, writing in fits and spurts on the side but never finishing that novel. Structure is good, money is good, but putting aside one’s dreams, well that takes its toll. There are, however, stories. Lots of them. And they percolate, inform, get me to write now and then, shape my outlook and days.

You are, after all, the stories you tell. I have so many from my work. More probably from childhood. A lifetime of stories. Don’t we all have a lifetime of stories?

 

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Infused

spa

End of the work day and off to the spa. Today the snack is peanut butter crackers, four in a pack. They bring me water in a Dixie Cup and Rachel Ray is on TV, but only for a few minutes because someone asks for Dr. Phil. This time the needle goes in after only two tries with minimal wiggling to find the vein. I think the bruise will be smaller, more yellow than purple.

I sit in the same chair, my chair, at the end of the row closest to the door. For more air? For the possibility of escape? Maybe just habit. I negotiate a book between one arm hooked up to the I. V. and the other attached to the blood pressure cuff that periodically puffs up like an inner tube, checking on my status. Then I use my superpower. I tune out the chatter of the nurses, the bleating of Dr. Phil, the drip of chemicals, the flush of a toilet, the snoring of the man next to me. I read. I read and read and read. Nothing else matters. I am in a place I’ve been going to since childhood, a place of dreams and good vs evil and second chances and laughter and tears. A foreign place I immediately recognize. I am home.

This is my RA treatment. It happens once a month and while I know the drill I’m still uncomfortable every time. I’m usually the youngest person in the room. I want to put my legs up in my chair, the hospital version of La-Z-Boy, but I’m too self-conscious. I don’t want to appear overfamiliar. Like going into a friend’s refrigerator without asking. I am so rule-bound, even here. God forbid I have poor manners.

Rheumatoid Arthritis isn’t the worst. Not as bad as cancer or a brain tumor. Not as bad as really bad MS. It’s treatable, it can be slowed down, it has a long shelf life. I know there are people who suffer terribly with RA. I know that day could come for me. But right now a monthly infusion at the spa, a shot in my stomach that I give myself once a week, these are manageable things and it only takes a little work to not feel sorry for myself.

Because I can read, and write, and read writers’ writing about writing. Like Colum McCann’s Letters to A Young Writer. Ho no, I am not Young, and in fact I’m bordering on Old, but I still count. I can be brave now and then. I can carry a notebook and care about language and think someday I’ll be something.

And surprisingly enough, I can still blog. I can just open up my laptop after getting lost in the dessert for 6 months (was it longer? shorter?). I can say stuff and hope it lands somewhere. I can love you guys. Because you read.

What are you reading these days?

 

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This Old House

Fixer Upper
Today we are having some work done on the house.

If you own a home, you know what a scary sentence this is. Strangers invade, banging, sawing, talking in code about things you know will cost more money. Things start, then stop and you’re not sure why. Music you would never listen to is turned up to cover the sarcasm and  pissing contests that ensue. And you have to ride it out. You are at their mercy. You hold your breath, pray to the gods of renovation that in the end it turns out alright. That your bank account is not completely empty and your house settles back to its old self after all the upheaval and violation.

Today I’m surrounded by all the crap in my coat closet so a construction guy can climb into my attic and put in a vent. It’s amazing how much there is in the coat closet besides coats. That’s the other thing that happens when you start these kind of projects. You uncover more. You find something else you’ve been ignoring that really needs attention. Like the hoarding problem you’ve been hiding in the closet. The stockpile of grocery bags you buy so you don’t use plastic but then forget to bring to the store, so you buy more and forget those. The binoculars you thought you would use to look at birds in your yard. The cans of Spray Starch without their tops next to an underutilized iron. And all the board games from the ghost of Christmas Past.

When you write, it’s like this. You are working on something. You bang and saw and go at it. But it just uncovers something else that’s weak or broken or needs attention. And you don’t want to go there. It’s overwhelming. Why can’t you just put the vent in? Why do you need to clean out the closet too? And then fix the leaky faucets and nail in the step into your TV room so no one breaks their neck and figure out why the light over the basement stairs is flickering on and off like Gus the firefly?

Because it’s never finished. Never, ever.

You just keep at it, until, well I don’t know exactly until when. Because I’ve never finished anything. Nothing’s ready to send out. Nothing’s done, or good enough, or safe. I just keep trying to fix the leaky faucet, or more accurately, stick a bucket underneath and leave it for awhile.

OK, enough of this metaphor. But seriously, what do you do when your writing is an endless fixer upper?

 

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