Monday, December 28, 2015

The Eerie Similarities Between My 2016 Writing Goals and the Election

My goals for writing in 2016 could apply to the presidential campaign.

It all ends up as wrapping paper.
  • Don't go negative.
  • Honesty is good but is also isn't pretty. Or particularly uplifting.
  • Wear better clothes while working.
  • A lot of people think they want this job. They're kidding themselves.
  • Polish up the body armour. You're gonna need it.
  • Where did all the money go?
  • You'll know who your friends are when the shit goes down.
  • Never let them see behind the curtain.
  • Don't trip.
  • Hey, if Trump can bluster...
  • Make them wonder. Make them love you.
  • Keep your eye on the finish.
  • Remember, no one ever makes money doing this. You have to be a little crazy.
  • You're better off playing the lottery, but it isn't as much fun.
  • Gray hairs are a friendly reminder your time is short. Get crackin'.
  • If you don't get what you want, become an environmentalist and make an Academy Award winning documentary. It worked for Al Gore.

Seriously, love yourself. I'd hug you if I had the chance. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Creativity, The Captain of the Ship

Creativity takes a commitment. You must love it, first. Then you must indulge it, second. Then you must show up for it, and that is where the slippery slope begins. Excuses are easy. Too busy. Too tired. Too pointless. But the creativity feeds itself; that's the beauty. It generates its own energy and gives it back. I don't have to bring it anything but my attention. It surges forward. Why then do I resist it?

Today could be the beginning of change. Time is fleeting. I may be stuck but time passes anyway. Maybe my stuckness is all in my head. I tell myself there aren't enough hours in the day to get it all done. I have to negotiate with myself about myself. And in that negotiation there is little leeway. 
Ubiquitous cute cat pic.

I need to write more. I think if I did, I'd feel better. I say this, think this, yet I don't write more. My crit partner said to put a note on the frig of the thing that is troubling me most, and in a month, if it is still troubling me, then I'll know it is a real problem.

Here it is: I don't write enough. I don't allow myself to write enough. I procrastinate and think I can't do it. That it doesn't matter. But hey, I know many writers feel this way. Knowing this doesn't help.

The same crit partner told me I'm too hard on myself. I would agree. I just moved and set up a new house and resettled my family while trying to work and be a mother. But I don't like excuses. Creativity should steer the ship. To write. To live. To motivate.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Meat Grinder and Cookie Monster: Lessons of NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo (the annoying acronym for National Novel Writing Month) ended two days ago. A week before the last day, I thought I could skid to the finish. I didn't. Thanksgiving punched a hole as big as a turkey dinner in my daily word count. Full disclosure: I stopped writing the Wednesday before turkey was served and never picked my novel back up again. Just 11,500 or so from winning.

But is NaNoWriMo about winning? It's about writing, and writing isn't really about “winning” in the competitive sense. I wrote for 24 days straight, and each day I reached my word count. It wasn't easy for me. It pushed me to write more than I usually do in a day and to spend less time on making my sentences perfect. My process, so far in this noveling endeavor, has been to write as the ideas form in my mind, so my schedule might be every day or every third day. Sometimes, months go by between projects. Last month, I forced myself to write every day, including weekends, and move the story forward without looking back.
NaNoWriMo Journals
NaNo long-hand? No way.

I'm not unhappy with the product so far (vs. I am happy; I use the double-negative on purpose). I think my work is a good start, a structure. If anything, NaNo crystalized my conundrum. My writing habits have tended to evolve one way (a haphazard practice of writing when so moved), but the month showed me I could do it another way. It was harder, yet my work turned out relatively okay. Not everyone has the same experience. I asked a writing chat group what others felt about their NaNo novels, and one writer said: a pile full of crap (my words). Many writers think the idea of writing a 50K-word novel in a month produces ill-formed stories. In the throes of a bad moment or two, I could relate. Plotting has never been my weakness; selecting the words right has been. Admittedly, I wanted to run my book through a meat-grinder on a couple of nights. Or at least a chapter. A paragraph. A freakin' sentence.

However, most of the time, I was jazzed. I dealt with household/work/parenting duties during the day, and slammed out a couple thousand words between 6-10p (usually longer). Easy? No. But a foundation went up in record time for me, and once the ending is written, the book will be okay. Not a Nobel. Not a Booker. But okay. Worth the extreme schedule. It felt extreme. Hyper-focused. A little more than neurotic. Brain-freeze-y.

I ignored a lot of ordinary stuff and my pets more than usual. Piles formed. And, in a sigh of relief, I've spent the last few days focusing on the mundane. I haven't gone back to the book yet, and the guilt sets in. I've been made aware that I need to start writing every day. Probably not 2,000 words a day, because that felt a little taxing, but a couple of hours.

I'm not going to toss out a grand judgment on the value of NaNoWriMo. A couple of my “buddies” (virtual writing friends on the site) exceeded their goals in handy fashion. A fellow friend from Texas wrote 100K before I'd landed on Day 24 with my paltry 38,500. I'll never be that guy, and I'm okay not being a word monster (cookie monster, maybe). I produce what I produce and keep going. Nothing I write is “wrong” – it is just written. Maybe someone will read it. Maybe not.

The point of the exercise is to get into a routine. Allow yourself (myself) the time to do the work. It is work. The drafting, the editing, the rewriting, the proofing. It is a job. And if you want to make a living as a writer, you must do the work. Who am I trying to convince? You or me?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Intellectual Property Mashup

The internet is a black hole for artists. It's a copyright Bermuda Triangle.

This is such a convoluted topic, I'm almost too wary (and weary) to tackle it. Don't take any of my opinions as legal advice. If you, as a creative person, fear someone "stealing" your work, then take advantage of all your legal avenues to prevent it.

Here's my take: Once I put something out there, it's out there. I hope no one uses my work for profit without my consent, but there's no way in hell I'm gonna know every infraction. I do know some. I have a Google Alert set up for my book title. More times this year than I care to remember (probably six?), an alert has popped into my email box informing me that my book is downloadable for free on a site that doesn't have permission to distribute it for free.

It used to irk me. Now, I figure, maybe a few people will read it and like it enough that they'll actually buy something else I've written (or will write).

My house sits on a large lot. At one corner, three neighbors, whom I've yet to meet, place their trash on the very edge of my property for pickup each week. At first, this irked me, just like the free downloads. Now I see that it doesn't really harm me much. I've even thought about building an aesthetically pleasing trash bin for them to use. It's just a matter of being neighborly, in a way.

Are those free download sites making a killing off my download? Selling ads as an aggregator? I doubt it, but I don't know. Frankly, it doesn't harm me much. Or at least, if it does, I don't feel it directly. I worry sometimes when I find things on the internet that I want to use but can't find a way to properly credit the creator. It's not easy to know who created what online.

But my creative work is my work. I put hours and worry into it. I'm not going to give it away outright. Far from it. I'd like to make more money from it, but doing so isn't easy. My advice: Do what you can and when you can to keep your work protected. Then, let it go. It's going to be out there whether you double-down on surveillance or not.

For an overview of copyright issues for writers, see this post by Writer's Digest.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Guard Your Creativity

The battery on my smartphone is dying. It keeps a charge for about six hours, then zip. Gone. Dead as a brick. At first, this was a major annoyance. The phone needs to be upgraded; its planned obsolescence has arrived. I like upgrading technology about as much as I like cleaning gutters, so we've limped along for months, me, uttering foul insults every time it died.

But something's happened in the last few weeks. I've come to appreciate the dead air. Instead of curse the black screen, I breath a sigh of relief. Ah, finally, a moment's peace. I don't rush to plug it in and recharge. It's gone, and the freedom from the chirping reminders causes me to want more silence. Even when it's on silent mode, it's still a powerful force field. Rather than invigorate my life, the phone and its conveniences have become a drain.

More specifically, it siphons my ability to create. Not always, but more than it should.

This has been a year of creative introspection for me. I started down this path unknowingly. I joined two groups in early 2015. One, started by a life coach transitioning out of being a life coach. Another, a class on living as an artist taught by a poet. These groups brought forth ideas about what it truly means to live an artistic life. Let me tell you, it's not the easiest life you can choose. It requires discipline, determination, a courageous belief in yourself, that ordinary 9-to-5 work doesn't necessarily require. No offense to anyone working a typical job. In many ways, I envy you. The structure, the stability, the camaraderie of working on a shared cause or task. Those are embraceable ideals. Writing for a living, even as a paid freelancer, lacks many traditional warm fuzzies.

So why do it? That's not a question I can answer altogether coherently today. My answer would change tomorrow, and two weeks from now, and in a year. I've chosen to survive by my creative wits because it seems the right thing to do at this moment, and I want to give myself the chance to see where it will take me. I'm not quite there yet. I'm not quite the artistic savant, the accomplished art entrepreneur, the one to take pointers from about success.

But I have learned this year that my creative urges are important to safe keep. Obstacles to creative freedom lurk around every corner. They come in the form of smartphones; of well-meaning people; of negative self-talk. They are real: bills and family obligations. They are made-up: no one liked my post/tweet/comment. I recognize them now, after a year of understanding how artists build resilience. You must have deep personal resilience to make it as an artist. You must positively believe in yourself, Pollyanna style, illogically optimistic, so sickeningly sure of yourself that very little strikes you down.

Because the world will. It's just gonna happen.

I wish it weren't so. Follow your dreams and your dreams will reward you? No guarantee. Your goal may need to shift, not to ideas of success but to an appreciation of the creativity you've been granted. If you guard your creativity, you will have it. Nothing more. It will be there when you want it. In it, lives the potential to open windows of contentment. This, I know.

Watch and read more related thought:

"Stop Googling: Let's Talk." NYT Sunday Review
Elizabeth Gilbert on Fear, Authenticity and Big Magic


Monday, September 28, 2015

The Gift of Time

Writing needs the gift of time. It requires the potion of reflective idleness. If a book is to live, it must grow. If a book is to grow, it must be nurtured. It must have space and air to expand and contract. Air and space are the equivalent of time.

Two years ago this December, I finished the draft of my second book about Athos of The Three Musketeers, part of my historical romance trilogy. I've written other kinds of fiction, but this series has taken up tons of my head space. When I finished the second book, my idea was to let it sit for about three to six months to "rest." My crit group had read it, and two editors were lined up to review it.

Then my husband died.
Prequel to The Three Musketeers

So much for book two.

Unfinished projects drive me crazy. They morph into little clouds of gray, sitting above my shoulders. Grieving trampled my motivation for just about everything. My good intentions eroded. So did my bad intentions. All my intentions. It's getting better. All the well-meaning people in my life said it would. It does. It won't ever be the same, but the grief is not molasses like it had been. It's still sticky, sometimes, but not thick and dark, like it had been.

The book kept pestering me. I enjoyed writing it, maybe even a little more than the first one because I had less to learn about writing fiction. Not that I know it all. God, no. I just had the basics down. So, I let myself run a little faster, a little looser.

Book Two is better than book one. My opinion.

My two editors read it last year and sent editorial notes. I let them sit, too. I lost one set of notes in my email, then rediscovered it. A year ago, I read one editor's comments and laughed and laughed at his pokes. There was work to be done. It took another year, until a week ago today, for me to decide enough was enough. Time to shape up the manuscript. I thought it would take me several weeks. It took six days.

The work sat idle for almost two years. It annoyed my conscience, but it also worked out the kinks. There are probably still a few, but now that I'm on the other side of revisions, I like the book more. It's angst-y, sexy. Better than it was. I dumped a bunch of purple prose. I recalibrated the logic. It makes more sense. I WANT people to read it.

It'll be out by November. Besides bringing about a sense of elation and relief, it represents a turning point for me. I'm moving forward. Little by little. It reminds me that rest is good, and all can end, if not completely well, at least a little better.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Why We're All Zombies and Nobody Plants Trees Anymore

Somewhere along the continuum of human evolution, inertia burrowed its way into our genes. Advocates of XY&Z movements (environmental, social justice, organic food, you name it) fight against inertia and have systems for it. For example, tree hugging organizations send me free mailing labels. Does this make a lot of sense? How we fight complacency, apathy, call it what you will, sends us down all kinds of incongruent paths.

Jonathan Franzen is on book tour for his new novel, "Purity," which received a decent review in the NYT. In an interview on Fresh Air, he spoke of writing in a journal. This is a practice many writers undertake to keep the words flowing, to flush the mental crap away, to discover, to weep, to just write SOMETHING. I've tried it with fleeting intentions. (Let's not make any comparisons here between my journaling and blogging habits. For public disclosure, I'm a better blogger.)

He was talking about journaling because he's used it through difficult spells of noveling. By writing in the journal, he saw patterns of thoughts, so similiar that sometimes he'd write the exact words, months apart. Where did this take him? Perhaps nowhere mentally, but in the physical act, maybe somewhere, 50 pages. Or flip that, maybe nowhere physically, because he couldn't use the material in a book, but mentally he might have come to a place of ahh, that's what's bugging me. That's my take on his state of arrival or non-arrival.

I often feel myself circling around and around my thoughts and never inching out of the wagon ruts. The inertia is maddening. It's endemic though. I think it's why zombies are popular. We see ourselves in the walking corpses, not advancing, not thinking, not feeling, not really living, just gobbling up fragrant shit placed within whiffing distance (my slam on the media/advertising); and it's why we don't think planting a tree really accomplishes anything. What difference can one damn tree make? Ha, I tell you, ha and ha and ha.

Recently, I had two dead spruces removed from my yard. They were brittle ghosts of themselves, waiting for a good bolt to go out in a blaze. It was the right thing to do, to remove them. But. Now my yard is less two trees. Days after or before the trees left the property, The Arbor Day Foundation sent me a "free gift voucher." If I fill out a Survey Questionnaire (redundant, no?) and send in $10, I'll receive 10 free trees. I'm flabbergasted to think this actually makes the organization any money. A survey and $10 covers the expense of the trees and shipping them to me? How can this be?

Okay, so maybe the info they'll learn about me in the survey is invaluable leverage to use for future solicitations. I get that. However, I'm tempted to see if this really works. Would it move me a little off my inert butt? Make me a committed environmentalist? What if I awake one morning to find 10 tree starts on my front door? Wouldn't that be something? Would it be worth the flood of solicitation mail that would eventually follow and the zero net-gain of planting the trees? How many mailing labels can one tree negate? How many of the 10 will survive?

I'm probably better off recycling the solicitation and buying my own trees. Maybe I'm better off not journaling and wasting the paper. Maybe I'm better off saving the electricity instead of blogging in circular fashion about whether my carbon footprint can be improved. But then? Where would my inertia place me? With the zombies.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Take Criticism at Face-Value, An Opinion

My father didn't come to a reading I gave in my hometown.
Hoorah for Friends.

That's a sentence I'd never thought would show up here, let alone congeal in my own mind.

Let's break this down, for if a blog is worth a cent, it should be for breaking down uncharted territory (at least today it is; at least in the last year it has been for me; you do what you want on your own blog).

Fact one, my father and I have a good, if not arm's length relationship. Fact two, we love one another as finely as any daddy-daughter could love one another. Fact three, people around the small town where I grew up like him. He's a swell guy. Honest, hard-working, appreciates tools and old cars. Fact four, he loves me, loves my kids, generally enjoys retirement and reading. We don't talk by phone every week (mom and I do), but we call when necessary.

He has not read my book. Or, if he has, he has not spoken of it.

What do I make of all this? I've generally lumped it into a category another writer defined for me in 2009, the year I began writing my book -- the Silent Group. She said some people will know of your work, even read it or attempt to read it, and remain mum. Never speak of it, never offer an opinion, never a word of praise or acknowledgment or criticism. Which, in and of itself, is an opinion. It's the opinion, "The work is not for me."

I know the work is not for my dad, chiefly because I've written sex into the book. It's part of the novel. It's not all of the novel, but it is a large enough part of it to be disagreeable to him. I understand this.

One of the lessons I've learned as a writer, particularly in the post-publication phase, is that my work is not for everyone. I didn't set out to please the masses. I set out to please myself. This may or may not, in the eyes of commerical publishing interests, be a good plan for success. Genre fiction evolved for a reason: because it is pleasingly familiar and readers tend to gravitate to formulas. Just take a look at any new movie coming out of Hollywood. They're surprisingly similiar. Familiar. And, in many ways, stale.

I'm not saying my work is a grand slam of fresh ideas or craft. But I didn't stick to a genre romance formula. Partly because I didn't know enough, partly because once I knew, I didn't want to follow the "rules."

Now, I move on. My writing is evolving. It leans toward literary. Yawners, for some people. Pissy sales, most likely. Complicated characters, interior dialogue, and lack of action? Who in the hell reads books without an explosion, death, or bondage any more? I still don't think my father will read my new work. I've cozied up to the fact that he won't. It's okay. It's just another opinion.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The List-Led Life

My life boils down to lists.

Things I will do
Things I should do
Things I wish I did better
Things I want to do but never will

Where is happiness in this list of lists?

The challenge for me is to reframe the lists. Lists imply work must be done and it isn't. There's always something to be checked off. Or, if I reframe, a list can show progress. "Look, I crossed it off my list." Bad part is, the finished work always begets more to do.

Wiser people advise to create lists that represent accomplishable goals. Here's an example of how NOT to do this. My literary list for August includes:

Publish (insert Title 1)
Publish (insert Title 2)
Publish (insert Title 3)

Really? Publish three books in a month (new for me because I'm not an indie author, yet)? (Maybe the list should be Become An Indie Author). Problem here: The task is too large. Therefore, it becomes unattainable. Therefore, it becomes an impossible psychologoical hurdle. Therefore, it doesn't get done.

Result: I'm bad at writing lists.
Ergo: How will I make it as an indie author?

A better list might read:

Reread and edit first chapter of (insert Title 1)
Find layout designer for (insert Title 2)
Write synopsis for (insert Title 3)

My mind knows this breakdown already, the steps to be taken in order to publish Title 1, 2 and 3, but writing it down in smaller steps makes it seem more accomplishable.

Unless you are a procrastinator. Then, lists are meaningless and become detestable reminders of non-productivity. Coffee and food soil them. They end up on the far reaches of your desk. The White Board of Accountability becomes the neice's doodle easel.

Fortunately, I'm not a procrastinor. But that may be why you're here. You are ignoring your own list to be pleasantly distracted by the shining object of your electronic device and the promise of some morsel of knowledge that will make not accomplishing your list worth the wasted time.

Hope this was.

My new list:

Find the happiness.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Stay Stoned on Your Words

Does that word "stoned" date me? Now that states are flipping the switch on legalized marijuana sales, is my word choice old? I'm not a smoker, nor do I plan on becoming one if the voting public in my current state of North Carolina decides to legalize pot, but I want to use the right terminology.

Point is, writing should make you high. If you don't find a buzz in it, give it up, baby. It won't take you where you want to go. And, frankly, where you want to go is just royal-flush nirvana, 'cause nothing else about a writer's life will make you happy.

Stay put in the smoking-room desert, the one I've been personally wandering in for a few years now. Because the publishing territory on the outskirts of your royal-flush nirvana is wild and lawless. Breath deeply of that glorious smoke, those words of yours, because when the beautiful fog lifts and you're in the territory, because you've wandered so far off in your stupor, you'll develop a crazy-ass migraine called no-one-gives-a-shit-about-your-work.

It's then you'll start writing about getting stoned when you actually don't really get stoned. But you can't feed your habit enough, and that's how you'll know you're addicted and, wow, how did that happen?

Blog *not* endorsed by
Trippy cycle. Crave your story, write, get stoned, fog clears, no one gives a shit. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I've met writers who go cold turkey, set aside the ink for years, and suddenly, one day, madly crave it, and go back. I understand, but goddamn it. They should have had the strength to stay away. They went and threw sobriety away. For what? A comic essay? A memoir? A god-forsaken novella? What a freakin' shame.

What they really should stay away from is the publishing territory. Vape to your heart's content, just don't ever come down. Stay in the stoned zone. Trust me, there's nothing in the publishing territory you want. Nothing at all.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Writing As Its Own Inspiration

Writers write for different reasons. If you're good enough and lucky enough, you make money. The powerhouse gatekeepers in publishing will say, luck has nothing to do with success. Hard work and talent determine a writer's career. I tend to agree with them. And ignore the hell out of anything they say, including how to succeed as a writer, detriment be damned.

I'm tired of advice. Right? I hear you shaking your head. Everyone's got advice for writers. There's money to be made on giving advice to writers -- about how to write, what to write, fixes to write, salves to write, addenda addenda addenda. Maybe I'll patent The Writing Patch. Slap it on your derrière and you'll be bound for literary fame and fortune in no time. I'd make a bucketful of money. Now, not all writing advice is snake oil patches, but there are too many people giving advice, (hey, look, I'm one of them) and it all bleeds together and not in a beautiful Monet delicate-brush way.

Pack Square AshevilleI don't really count myself as one of the advice-givers. I'd count myself as a wandering seeker. My path is forged from trying out a new passion. Novel writing is a special brand of high. I'm not a stoner (although on one of my stray index cards around the house, this title hit me recently: One Nation Under Pot. Air lick it as one book to write), but creating a story is its own kind of inspiration.

Wait, you say. Advice about writing and inspiration are two different things. Yes, and no. If you're learning the craft, you still must take advice in good humor. Advice can have the tendency to induce writer's block. There's plenty of time (most likely a lifetime) for you to revise your work and improve. But if you let stinging or overwhelming or too-close-for-comfort advice keep you from writing, you'll never write enough to produce something good.

I don't have to go looking for advice. Of course, I study techniques and try them out. But the act of writing gives me all the fluffy cloud inspiration I need to blissfully (maybe just contentedly) keep going. Go to the page. Pour some words on it. Stamp your feet in the puddles. I'll meet you outside without an umbrella.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Writers Need Technology Breaks

The title of this post doesn't mean you should skip reading this post.

Being constantly connected through technology to info feeds and group posts and Facebook friends/family frustrates me. Not too long ago, six years or so, I wasn't frequently checking my smartphone to see if I had new email or a Facebook like or a retweet. Now, I do it at least once or twice an hour without thinking. Maybe more because I haven't quantified my use. Maybe much more. I wonder, as I've read lately, if this prompting by our computers and phones to stay on top of EVERYTHING is fragmenting our ability to concentrate and work in long stretches on ANYTHING. I think it is, in my case.

I've wanted to break this habit of being so available to people and to input. But I haven't had much will or motivation yet. Maybe I'd miss something. Someone might try to reach me or I'd miss an emergency text from my daughter. This feeling plagues me when I accidentally leave my phone at home by mistake. At a minimum, it irks me for a good five to ten minutes. Then I relax and realize the world is still in motion without my device telling me so by its whistles and pings.

I want my NYT.
On occasion, I just give up stalking the world or building my digital platform. Going dark lasts for a few hours, a half day. It's usually enough time to realize, hey, my life is just as good without all that distraction, because at its core, that's what it is to me. If I really want to talk to someone, I call. If I really want to know what is happening in the world, I turn on NPR or read any section of my Sunday NYT. Do I like having access to the world on my phone? The ability to Google questions like: How do you calculate the mean absolute deviation (which I did an hour ago for one child's homework)? Oh sure. My life is easier. But I'd prefer to feel like I wasn't doing research on the fly, and my phone encourages me to fly.

Writer friends of mine fall on a wide spectrum of technology addiction. Some of my friends use way less instant technology than I do, and lo, they write more. Other friends use just one app but use it so well (or obsessively), they don't need to do anything else. Or at least it seems that way.

I dream about going off-grid from technology like a generation of writers used to dream about retreating to a cabin in the woods to write. Does that work? Would I be a better writer if I let go of my BFF Samsung Galaxy Android? Would readers know the difference or are they too glued to their screens to care?

I want a little head space. But I'm the one who's going to have to make it. What works? Suggestions solicited.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Not Your Ordinary Writing Prompts

One of the beauties of blogging is the chance to write unfiltered. Here, I simply let myself write, almost always without the benefit of my interior or an external editor. Take that for what you will, because so much of the advice for writers, especially new ones who may be thinking of self-publishing, proclaims you must, without fail, throw resources at good editing. How many times do I see in my Twitter feed each day a link to a post that urges and extols the beating of a manuscript to within inches of its spine by proofers and Beta readers before publication? Far too many.

I absolutely agree with the essential idea behind this well-meaning advice. Don't put out work that hasn't had good, professional editing. There's too much poorly written, poorly edited tripe on the Amazon marketplace. It makes it excessively difficult for unknown writers (particularly self-published writers who are craft, not quantity, focused) to earn a purchase. The major assumption is that books aren't good without a publisher and its systemic filters. You haven't found a publisher? Then forget reading you.

However, I think this belief that publisher=good is an insider's argument. It bounces around mainly in the echo chamber of writers' circles. I don't know too many readers on the street who decide to buy or read a book based on who publishes it. Of course, there are always exceptions. But readers find words and books any number of ways, and once they find a writer they like, they read more of that writer's work. It makes little difference who publishes it.

Full circle. Why is writing without a filter important then? And in public? On a blog, in my case? Because a writer must have some freedom to experiment. I believe blogging is a good place to start. I get a kick out of blogs where writers run their books by friendly readers as they draft them. See Kenton Lewis or WattPad (a psuedo-blog place), for instance.

This idea of unfiltered writing may run counter to the idea that a blog must also be a "platform" for the writer to build audience. Yes, I agree for the most part, but the act of writing should be a source of joy, and sometimes when a project mostly hinges on consumer-potential (commercial viability of your manuscript, screenplay, self-help tome), the sheer joy of writing to write may turn into purely writing to sell. That's a shame.

I write here to discover my opinion, to wonder, to find ways to express myself, to imagine something I haven't imagined before. To soapbox and be silly. To write without an editor waiting to slice up my work. If I find a few readers in the process, all the better. I want people to buy my books. LOTS OF THEM! But here is where I take a break from the [do it like this] mentality. May I suffer for it? Only if I think about it too much.

Now, here's what I really wanted to put out today but haven't yet. I started writing notes to myself several years ago on stray paper (I've graduated to index cards) of thought prompts. I've blogged a few of these before, and it's fun to go through my stack on occasion and give them an airing. Here are a few from the past months or so. Feel free to use as a prompt or to ponder.

Do terrorist suffer bad karma?

Be maniacally vigilant of your ...

To write a good line of fiction, you must think like a poet.

When do I deserve peace? When do I earn it?

The irony of countering the work of another writer it that mine must also include salacious details.

Death is an ordinary grief. (which evolved into a blogpost)

A peaceful heart

If you write long enough, you are eventually going to get somewhere.

Everything comes into question when a life revolts.

Beds are not for making,
They're for snuggling, they're for praying
Playing footsy with your lover
Finding warmth beneath the covers

Book idea: a writer of pulp crime who decides to commit his own heist (probably already been written)

People don't like people who tell extreme truths.

You never get rid of the face.

The consolation amid the mess is liberty.

Anguished good-byes

Croutons, kale salad, cantaloupe
Crunchy carrots, add the crackers


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

One Person's Crazy is Another Person's Courage

"To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become; that is courage." ~ Charles Dubois

"Crazy is as crazy does." ~ Forrest Gump

A year ago this week, I chose to leave my life in Portland, Ore. After three difficult years, my decision had the tone of reactionary. I tried not to view it as rash. It felt necessary for survival. I wanted out of Hell. I don't use this word lightly and do not direct it at the city of Portland itself. Portland is world class. Progressive, eclectic, sexy, infused with food and fanatics. I fit into Portland, personality-wise. We just had poor timing.

I anguished over whether to leave. The allure of the place had definitely hooked into my ego. Portland caters to writers. If you're a writer, go there. If you're already a writer in Portland, stay there. It carries great potential along with cachet. Even if you're a bad writer, the line "Portland writer" on your resume puts you in a different section of the train car -- one reserved for notables.

The writing scene there is vibrant, supportive, irritatingly creative. I had stars in my eyes, literally. Cheryl Strayed, Chuck Palahniuk. Powell's City of Books paraded all the literary roadshows through its cavernous rooms. No name in publishing would pass up a chance to read at the distinguished standard-bearer for independent book stores.

Powell's was a scene unto itself. A tourist destination, of course. But an overdose of nook-and-crammed; book lovers left drunk on lit. I suffered Powell's Paralysis. I'd browse and end up empty-handed because of the overwhelming choices. When everything is at your fingertips, the best choice is elusive. (Blame it on being a Virgo.)

I left it all behind. I left a good job. And two writers' groups and professional support networks and my growing group of writer friends and parenting cohorts. Phhtt. Gone.

I fled because my husband died.

I fled because I thought it would make me feel better.

I fled because my extended family lived 2000 miles on the other side of the country.

I fled because when life gets too hard, you cut your losses and hope a change of address will bring you peace.

I fled because I felt insane.

An ironic, but important, aside: The comment I heard frequently about my decision to relocate, solo-new-widow-mom, across the country was -- you are so courageous. 

For a month on the road, I felt pretty good. Maybe a tad heroic. It's easy to feel good when you don't have a house to keep up, an electric bill to pay, a clock ticking in the night beside your bed, calling you to wake up and make some money.

Friends commented before, during and after my escape about my incredible journey. Someone, she knows who, called me Oh Wandering One. It was sarcastic, meant to goad me back to the ticking clock.

My clock ticks now. As I write this. Maybe a digital would be better.  A year later, my plan to leave the strain behind has disappointed me some. Would it surprise you that there are days I pine for Portland? Of course not, you say. It could be a longing for the normalcy of my old neurosis. The bad that I knew. Not the bad that is new.

Did I make a courageous choice to leave? That's debatable. I wear my stiff upper lip headlong into single parenthood, into discovering myself again, into holding my breath, into dating (oh, what a blogpost that could be -- my working title is Sex, Grief, and the Young-ish Widow; or maybe, Girl, Don't Date w/o Meds).

All is not bad. I arrive at a place with possibilities. More specifically, this is a time full of potential and not a physical place in the road. Change often evolves when great adversity strikes. I have been struck and struck again. It isn't time for another change of scenery, but a change of psyche.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Valley of Write

Whenever you are sad, write.

Whenever you are lonely, write.

Whenever time cracks open, write.

Whenever you need strength, write.

Whenever the voices take over, write.

Whenever the stars need praise, write.

Whenever you are whole or part, write.

Whenever your cup runneth over, write.

Whenever you need to remember, write.

Whenever you need to access peace, write.

Whenever all places are a foreign place, write.

Whenever the rain drowns your parade, write.

Whenever the troubles of others flood in, write.

Whenever black and white don't contrast, write.

Whenever the headache is really heartache, write.

Whenever you can't tell the difference inside, write.

Whenever the nerve of every nerve is frayed, write.

Whenever someone hurts you and you hurt them, write.

Whenever you cannot walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, write.

Write, for yourself and the wonder.

Write, for all will be well.

Write, for purity.

Write, for grace.

Write, to know.

Write, because.

Write and feel.


A collection of poetry from my years living in Portland, Ore., is available in paperback this month. This poem isn't in it. Many in the collection are light-hearted. Hope you find the book amusing and inspiring.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Letting Go of Nonsense

The firsts end today. A friend in Portland has gently reinforced this idea since last March. This is supposed to comfort me. The first year without Daryl ends tonight at midnight.

My last visual memory of him is from Portland, from the window of our house. Standing in the living room, I watched him lift his mountain bike into the hatch of our Subaru. He had on a ratty t-shirt and shorts, ready to get muddy. We didn't say good-bye. Unusual. He didn't come in for a quick kiss. Again, unusual.

This post was unplanned. I'm just letting it come out.

Our youngest daughter had been invited on the bike ride. She decided not to go. This troubles her now. It was for the best. He rode with a friend up a trail in Forest Park. He became short of breath. It was a beautiful day and the trail was green and perfect. They stopped to rest on the side of the trail, and the friend called me on my husband's cell at about 5:30 p.m. Daryl had punched my number, handed it to his friend and said, "You better talk to Jennifer."

For all I know, the last word my husband uttered was my name.

I didn't hear him in the background during the call. I didn't talk to my husband, only the brave friend. Words were quickly exchanged about Daryl's shortness of breath. I told the friend to call 911 and waited to hear back. Frantic stuff happened on my end. I had no car to go to the trail and didn't know where it was. By 8 p.m., a man in black arrived at my door. Yes, he was literally dressed in all black.

Daryl had slumped over as soon as the friend ended the call. He had died on the trail, probably instantly. His heart, which had suffered a mild heart attack the year before, stopped.

I never saw him again. It was too painful to go to the morgue.

I had no intention of writing this, like this. But this morning is different. It is the last of the firsts.

Death stories have a voyeuristic quality. People want to know what happened. I told the death story probably more than a hundred times in the first week after his death. Friends. Family. I tell it now whenever anyone asks. Maybe not all the details, but the elevator speech. It has become an elevator speech. I usually don't cry. This is considered normal.

Death changes life. It changes people. It changes circumstances. This isn't always negative. But it readjusted the interior timepieces. I tick differently. It just happens.

I'd like to say the hard part is over. I cannot assure myself it is. That's because of the strong feeling of arbitrariness this event has imposed on my directions. Plans are wonderful, aren't they? It's good to make plans. Make them. They comfort us and give us goals. I have made some plans and kept them this year, but ... always the "but." Where does death fit? It doesn't fit into plans. It makes nonsense of them.

I've only recently begun to write a little about this major event in my life. I know it is a huge bummer. Why would anyone want to come back to a blog about a subject no one really discusses in public? Or wants to hear about? That's okay. I'm working through it.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Ordinary, Interspersed with Brilliance and Pain

Years are slow when measured in hours. I wish I could always see the long view of the passage of time. I measure suffering in hours. How many hours? But the hours pass and a day is over and then it is another day and time goes on and does not hold onto pain. Time does not hold onto pain.

This should be repeated:
Time does not hold onto pain.
Time does not hold onto pain.
Time does not hold onto pain.
Time does not hold onto pain.
Time does not hold onto pain.
Time does not hold onto pain.
Time does not hold onto pain.
Time does not hold onto pain.

Soon, time will have moved through me and taken with it the hurt. It will water down my insides with mundane, brilliant things.

Like laundry. (water)
And dishes. (water)
Short trips to the beach. (water)
Routine walks around the creek in the park. (water)

So many steps yet to take for water to move in and separate the molecules tightly packed now.

I often think my writing is too flowery. My dog has a penchant for running off these days. I envy her.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Grief is a Moment

Writing morning pages is supposed to help me lead a healthy creative life, according to Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way. Grief has affected my creativity. I'm more reluctant to write on personal projects that don't necessarily have an immediate pay-off versus projects that have a client attached to them. More money would be nice and give me a buffer I don't currently have.

But this allusion of security is a false prospect. If I have all that I need in the moment – my wits, my health, a warm place to call home, food to eat – then everything else should be superfluous. Everything else, including my pets, furniture, fancy clothes, a closet full of shoes, jewelry, my car, books, smart phone, all just extras. Props for the real living. If I'm not happy in the moment, then all of those things, even if they are the finest items of their kind in the world, will not make me happier.

Thoreau spent two years, two months, and two days in the woods and figured that out for us.

On the evil-twin flipside, studies show that people who live without financial strain are generally happier. This makes some sense if money is a constant worry, but I don't necessarily have severe financial strain. If I reallocate resources – toss out my phone or downsize my vehicle – that would improve my ability to travel more or have an emergency fund (other than my credit card).

But this idea of being 100 percent secure is a falsehood. Death teaches me this. Death comes whether you have your car paid off or a life insurance policy in place. Death comes whether you've finished writing your will or your novel, or have sent your kids out into the world. Because death is definitive, it makes forming future plans feel foolish. It's not like I'm throwing up my hands entirely and indulging chocolate cake everyday (though I have announced to my daughters that I will do so upon turning 75), but the finality and inevitability of this breathing existence puts everything else under a different lightbulb.

Should the small stuff be elevated to the level of “precious”? Breath consciously, for it could be my last? That sounds ridiculous, but the idea behind it -- being conscious of the stuff we take for granted -- does not.

My youngest daughter wanted to go on a walk in the freezing snow one night this week. I didn't immediately say yes. Quite the opposite, my motherly knee-jerk thoughts were: Absolutely not! There's no way that's going to happen! But then I thought, really what's the harm? It's just cold. No one was out on our street. She rarely expresses a desire to take a walk, and it's a plea-fest to get her to take the dog. So, I told her to bundle up, scarf, mittens, hat, heaviest coat.

She was gone for a long while. I worried. Then I saw her. Standing motionless on the sidewalk, looking at the snowy street. She was in the moment.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Writing Through Grief

Does writing make me see things I haven't seen? It certainly brings up old feelings. If I write about my dead husband, I feel the same emotions boil up that accompanied certain life events. Sometimes, the memories just simmer. When you remember the dead, the dead return in your cerebral cortex and jog the shit out of your nervous system.

I've watched other grievers. At my grief counseling class, we wear the black G under our shirts rather than on top. We are the secret Legion of the Grievers, and we choose to grieve, mostly without fanfare. We each drive ourselves to a class, which takes tremendous energy for active grievers. People who don't seek help after a death in the family may choose not to grieve. They stuff. I'd like to stuff. It just doesn't work that way. For me, anyway. The grief comes whether I'm feeling good that day, or whether I've gotten work done, or whether the sun is out, whether the birds are chirping, as they are outside my window this cold morning in February.

Almost all of the grieving moments and days for me come first with the deep realization that my husband is gone. Gone in the permanent way. Death is the ultimate definition of permanent. This is the permanent gone of infinity and prophetic biblical proportion. It has impressed upon me a lesson that has changed my perception of life, which is that the surest fact of life is death. Even the most privileged among us, the One Percent, will die. They get it in the end, too.

So, what does an intelligent, 47-year-old college-educated mother of two do with this kind of information? Outside of the obvious – that it makes me more than a little dark-minded – it makes me partly despise conventional ways of living. I no longer lead a conventional life. Conventional as in a husband, two kids, and a dog (now a cat). A mortgage, a car payment, a career of some sort, a vacation every once in a while. It makes it difficult sometimes for me to spend time with people who live conventional lives. I feel cheated. There's a lie in the promise of an ordinary life.

If I choose to continue processing through the lense of futility, what's there? I do believe it is a choice to harbor futility. It is a thought pattern that could just as easily be replaced, in time, with another. Futility is unpleasant to share a bed with. It makes everything look like not much at all. It takes your hand and constantly squeezes in Morse Code: What's the point? I am told, yes, this is grief. This is what grief does. It is normal. It will pass.
Cooper Chapel, Bella Vista, Ark.

Mind you, I don't feel stuck. I get up and participate. I don't wallow under the covers cuddling futility all day in my pajamas then at dinner time, shuffle toward the frig in my gaudy slippers past a mound of dirty dishes. I've never done that. Don't imagine I will.

So, I shift. If I no longer fit the convention, then my life is different. It is not ordinary. I can choose to see it as not ordinary in a positive way. And in doing so, I can believe my life is extraordinary, if I choose.

If I choose. If I choose.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

She Grows

One helluva masterpiece.
The ruler used to be my measurement. A door jamb and a ruler.

Her eyes, encircled in dark mascara and eyeliner, sparkle at me. It finally comes to pass. Three states, six schools, and countless boxes of macaroni and cheese later, her skirts are shorter, her tights are tighter, her ambitions, grander.

The day she came home, long ago, my head ripened with thoughts of firsts. First night of unbroken sleep (please soon), first bite of real food (mush), first word (no). The days widened and narrowed. She walked and talked. I followed and worried. I watched my independence give way to parental obligation. I left a job; she threw a ball; I took less and less notice of the news and more and more notice of her schooling. She grew and my world shrunk.

You throw yourself into something or it’s not worth doing. I would teach her: Quitting left everyone unhappy.

“Take that soccer ball and KICK it!”

“Read or there’s no TV tonight!”

“Play with your sister or else!”

“And, for God’s sake, share!”

There’s taking in the act of giving. If there’s no receiver, giving doesn’t work. Her young hands and open mind took from me. The good parts mostly. But, also the guilt. Have I done enough? And, the resentment. You take too much.

Her nose touches mine without her standing on tiptoes. I pretend to shrink and use a cane today, in my best granny voice, joking, “Don’t worry about me, my pretty. Just hand me my shawl.”

She looks away now more than looks up. She’s taller by an inch and a half. It’s a mountain to me, a skyscraper of “I hope...” and “I dream...” She uses her assertive sense of self as a metaphysical yardstick. Her eyes reflect words she doesn’t speak: “I’m done taking from you.” But, me, knowing, can see the marks I’ve already made.

Every birthday of mine growing up, my dad used a ruler to measure me against the door jamb in the kitchen. Pencil in hand, he’d stand up my brother and me and lay the ruler flat on our heads to the back of the wood. There, he’d mark the spot and write our age, making a scritch-scratch of lead on the wood.

I look him in the eye today.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What You Really Want

Answer this: What do you really want?

Maybe it's the pair of fuzzy leopard print slippers in the bottom of your closet. You want them because your feet are cold and you cannot sleep, the covers tossed.

Maybe you cannot sleep because you are thinking about the slippers, and their gaudiness reminds you of what you really want, which is much bigger and flashier. You are awake not because your feet are cold but because you're thinking about other things. You think of your breakfast of buttered toast and tea.

Food, what you may want, pulls you out of bed, and early, but there are the other ordinary things, too. The work laid aside once you eat and the shower and the putting yourself together for another day. You prepare for the day of wanting what you really want. You put yourself together and fixate only on the tasks.

The tasks are mundane but important. Papers to sift through, groceries to consider, weather to contend with, a car to gas up, animals to tame, people to calm, all considerations on the road to what you really want.

Underlying every move will be that want. You don't take it out much for inspection -- that seemingly unattainable goal or state of being. But it's what you really want and you nurse it daily, not consciously, but secretly, holding it apart from you and wanting it closer. You want it more than you can articulate, but articulating seems braggart and too bold.

Maybe it's time to start naming it and taking it out from behind the curtain -- this grand scheme of yours -- this thing that keeps you up at night -- tucked into a pair of slippers --
maybe light is what it needs.