The good news: I’m working at a paying job again.
The meh news: That thing where I do nothing but work is happening.
The good news: I’m working at a paying job again.
The meh news: That thing where I do nothing but work is happening.
It seemed perfectly reasonable to buy a Smart TV for ourselves as a “housewarming gift” when we got this apartment. The Smart TV was soon followed by a subscription to Netflix, which was soon followed by a subscription to Comcast with On Demand. Which was soon followed by my understanding of the phrase binge watching.
Medium with Patricia Arquette is seven seasons long. Californication, seven seasons. Foyle’s War, George Gently, Dr. Who, True Blood, Game of Thrones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Walking Dead, Penny Dreadful, The White Queen … number of seasons vary. Orange is the New Black, Sense8, Hemlock Grove, Orphan Black …
There was a time that I read no less than two novels and upwards of 500 pages of scholarly text per week, attended three-four classes, did yard work, and held down a full-time job. This past three years I’ve run out of school funding, worked less than twelve months full-time, and lived in rentals with little yard maintenance required.
Sometimes I get so involved in the shows that I forget past aversions to so many hours with the boob tube. The boob tube is my friend. Family, really. A font of information, entertainment, inspiration. The boob tube content can now be live streamed through my computer. Technology is wonderful. Sarah Manning is such a complex and delicious character — a fiction writer’s dream — but the deus ex machina is getting to be a bit much. I want to know the story behind the story of Sense8. Who is this amazing writer? Where did they find such fabulous actors! I want to have an hour long conversation with Wolfgang.
And then I remember.
It’s still the boob tube. Sure it’s an amazing 21st century version that has taken gratuitous violence and sex and human troubles to a mind-blowing yet completely relevant level of artistry …
During moments of clarity I fear that I am wasting my life, my own creativity and intelligence, and I wonder if the human spine was built to withstand so many hours in this position. During moments of clarity that are soon followed by obsessive worry and guilt, I wonder what I could do without TV. Sure, I make some fairly cool ink doodles when listening to the growls and screams and horrible insights of Miss Ives, and I got my office completely cleaned and organized during three episodes of Orange is the New Black, but …
Butt. Maybe I could walk more. Exercise.
I’ll just leave that thought there for a while. Come back to it later.
I could finish the research and revisions for that essay I started in 2013 — the one Professor L.G. liked so much and suggested that I should send it off for publication ASAP. This could be the cornerstone piece of a lengthy memoir … I could do a lot of research. That used to be fun, to read and make notes for days until an argument for or against a specific topic formed in my mind.
I could start a container garden on my patio. Maybe repaint the cheap little chairs out there that pine sap is totally destroying.
TV hasn’t really taken away from online reading, revising my resume, sending out said resume, applying for jobs, or getting the evening meals prepared. My dog doesn’t really mind waiting until the end of an episode to go out for his walk, or a trip to get the mail. He is very understanding. And I’m fairly certain he is aware of the difference in my TV schedule on the days when the hubby is home. On these days, sports programs, investigative reporting, mysteries and historical documentaries dominate the airwaves (not sci-fi and dirty comedies). It is on these days that the pup dawdles outside over cat trails and mysterious fallen branches, and slyly gauges my level of attention before deciding whether or not to attempt digging holes.
It’s too bad I didn’t have my IQ tested prior to welcoming the Smart TV into the living room. If so, I could retest now and either set my occasional worries at ease or have a valid point to make if I chose to form an argument for trading the flat screen in for a radio. As of now I have no proof that the brain power has diminished, but there is obvious evidence of attention span deterioration.
I haven’t written a new poem in months. What did I do with that notebook?
There are times that success must be measured by how many new things I try in the span of a month, a year. This method of measurement extends beyond writing, but yes, for now I’m speaking of writing. If ever you’ve read my ramblings, you know that I began to write with the goal of one day completing an epic fiction. I spent my childhood and adolescence gorging on historical romances, mysteries, and thrillers, and dearly wanted to write a hybrid of all three one day. Participating, finally, in writing events and group competitions led me to discovering many different genres and exploring them thoroughly. That’s how I found poetry, and ultimately, how I discovered my voice.
Poetry … rather … the fact that I got poetry, and that a well of it actually existed somewhere deep in my writer’s soul came as quite a shock. I refused to call myself a poet for years. It was all quite comical. Then absurd. Then frustrating. Until I embraced it. Earlier this year I completed the writing of THAT ONE THING, and since I’ve done little more than experiment. Dabble, even. Syllabic verse, haiku, cento, found poetry, prose poems, list poems, recorded readings, etc. These are the new things I’ve tried. Therefore, I am successful.
The contest judges who read THAT ONE THING were nice enough to send their notes to me — notes compiled, I can only assume, as they read and made suggestions for what entries should win the contest. Wasn’t that nice of them? This was my first experience with submitting to a large contest, so I was delightfully surprised that the judges would offer such a thing. I like feedback. I learn from it. What did I learn in this particular instance? That one person out of five completely appreciated my efforts. That judge commented on style and voice within individual pieces, as well as the arrangement of the collection, said “sometimes it’s just so seamless it’s impressive”, and “rich with history and language without every being too historical or verbose”. Wow. Thank you.
One out of five. Weeks later, after reading through that email, I am still overwhelmed by the miracle of that percentage. I was just happy that I tried new things — in this case, an autobiographical, hybrid series of two very different genres — then actually completed the task of compiling them all into a collection. I was just happy that I FINISHED SOMETHING, then submitted it. The bonus was that five reading writers working in the literary world were thoughtful enough to send their notes. The others all made nice comments about how well-written the collection was, but questioned whether or not it was “right” for them. I expected the challenge of finding a place that would be totally open to my style … it’s not really a universal style. But, oh man, I’ll never be able to express how thrilled I am to discover that the words “well-written” to come from the editors of a lit mag.
I didn’t win the contest. Didn’t get past the quarter-finals. And, though it may read as such, I’m not still patting myself on the back over how far I got, or that I completed my first major writing project. What I’m doing is making a record of a measured success. The last record. For four months, my life has revolved around this first major project, from inception to final email from the lit mag. I’m done. Now I’m on to worrying over where to go from here. I can, in fact, measure success outside of THAT ONE THING, because since I have tried more new things, specifically, cento and prose poetry. These two styles have dominated my reading and writing since March. I have learned a lot … but I am beginning to question what might come from it all. It seems, regardless of the immense learning experience gained, that I have put a lot of distance between my writing and that thing that I once considered my authentic voice.
It seems, regardless of my accomplishments thus far, that I am becoming more and more isolated. I have thrived in a certain measure of isolation since that moment years ago when I accepted that I was writer, and that I wanted to dedicate the majority of my waking hours for the rest of my life to becoming a better writer. I have no local writing friends. My husband doesn’t share in my enthusiasm for writing and rarely offers to read or give feedback. The desk where I sit to write and do research faces a wall in the back of the house — a fitting representation of how involved I’ve been in the WORLD for the past four years or so. Closed off, isolated, my back to everyone as I write and read and write. On the rare occasions that I participate in live, group conversations, I realize just how little I have to say. If it didn’t happen on Netflix, HBO, in an anthology that I’m currently reading, or in this little corner of the city while I’m out walking the pup … I got nothin’.
Recently, I was called in as a temp to work for ten days in an accounting office. I was quite pleased that I managed to sit up straight and could follow along well enough to complete necessary tasks. Even so, conversation often failed me. Witty banter … no. Knowledge of current events wasn’t really required but I sweated over the probability of certain topics coming up. What the hell exactly would I say?
I’ve cut myself off too much. And I’m beginning to worry it’s long-term self-imposed isolation, rather than dabbling in disparate styles and genres, that is effecting my voice.
Yesterday when I said out loud in print that I was going to finish … I may have been just a wee bit high on caffeine.
Yes, I have been very productive over the last five days. Incredibly so. But I have to admit that trying to edit and revise so much is beginning to shut my brain off the possibility of creating new work, and this project is in need of some new work.
In hopes of opening the tap a little, I sat here for an hour listening to music and making notes last night. It’s been a long, long while since I’ve done that sort of thing. Music is very inspirational. The inspiration yielded a poem, a crappy poem. Crappy in the sense that it’s way too confessional, way too expository. Had a nice rhythm, though. So, I’ve created a new file entitled “The Scrap Pile” and tossed that sucker right in.
Which …. and this causes me to groan … made me want to begin organizing all my files and perusing old dusty ones page-by-page. Really? Really! Ugh. I had to force myself to turn off the light and go to bed.
I’ve got some pressing responsibilities today and tomorrow, so I’m well aware that I won’t be writing for hours on end again until Sunday night. What I wish I could do during this next couple of days of non-writing is hear from dozens of productive writers about how they get the work done.
Oh, sure, I’ve read all about the process that various celebrities swear by. I probably know way too much about celebrity writers. In a totally uncreepy way, of course. I want to hear from people like me. People who must leave their writing every day to put dinner on the table, do the shopping, pay bills, walk the dog, medicate their mother-in-law, go to the day job. I want to hear from people who, despite all that, get the work done. You get published. You’ve self-published, or have actually had lengthy conversations with your very own agent/publisher. Y’all exist, right?
Other than university assignments, a dribble of poems submitted to online venues, and a handful of stories written for another (member’s only) online venue, I have never finished an honest to goodness writing project. For more than three years now I’ve been toying with the idea of publishing a collection of my poems and nonfiction pieces. Back in 2012 I actually got close to pulling off a self-pub. Close.
The cover art was easy. The title easier. The compilation? Notsomuch. Therein lies my yet insurmountable obstacle. I envision a crisp chronological order that I cannot achieve.
Back in September I stumbled over a potentially perfect home for this incomplete collection of mine and vowed to work on it diligently to make the deadline. The deadline is February 28. Today is February 12, and I am nine pages short on content. I haven’t even attempted a Table of Contents or Acknowledgments page.
Twenty-five poems, thus far, and five creative nonfiction/memoir pieces… and I’m nine pages short! Over the past two days I have done some fairly spectacular editing and revision of older work. This morning, I lopped more than 500 words off one of my best and I think it’s now amazing. I’ve patted myself on the back and done a little happy dance for that.
The potentially perfect home for my collection offers a modest cash prize and printed copies of the winner’s submission, but that’s not really the true prize. The true prize, if I do this freakin’ thing is the knowledge that I actually FINISHED SOMETHING. That I actually finished THE THING!
Moments after I spun my last spin in that happy dance, I realized something. It’s painfully disappointing to admit, but I have developed a terrible habit. For school writing assignments I would do research for weeks, take notes and type out stingy, disconnected paragraphs for weeks. Then I would do everything but write the final draft for weeks—power wash the porch, plant flowers, shop for flowers to plant, reorganize my bookshelf, watch crappy reality TV shows that I never used to waste time on, do online searches for Christmas gifts in June …
Then! Two days before deadline, I would start on my final draft.
This is a terrible habit that was often awarded several A+ grades. And, it is apparently ingrained in my DNA. Or something.
As negative as this reality is, I taste optimism in the air. I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am going to finish.
I’ve been hired to write two articles each month. My instructions are to neither write about my personal life, nor write about a specific current event. Nevertheless, the articles should be engaging, of an editorial nature, and get immediate positive feedback. Or else, I’m fired.
This is what I was dreaming. I woke up frantic for the feel of the keyboard beneath my fingers. The instructions came from a stern female voice, yet I knew each word and spoke along with her. Our voices mingled, me speaking in first person, she in second. It was almost musical.
Last Wednesday I was laid off from a job I began January 7, 2014. My medical benefits kicked in October 1, and from there business began to slide down hill. The phones stopped ringing altogether during the month of December. The company can no longer afford extra office staff—that’s me. As soon as I got through traffic to my home I filed for unemployment and contacted a previous supervisor to ask for any work she had available. I’ve heard nothing from either application.
I have been outwardly calm, reassuring hubby that we have plenty of money to last through the end of the month. He didn’t have the heart to ask me, “what about March?” And I haven’t had the heart to broach the topic.
So, I’m dreaming about unlikely writing jobs.
Which, of course, brings up countless insecurities and internal arguments. I cleaned my oven Thursday. Paid bills Friday. Wrote a poem Saturday. Last night I set the alarm to wake me at 5:30 a.m. so I could walk the pup and take a shower just as if I were preparing for a work day. Now all I want to do is try to tackle this ridiculous work assignment. Pressure is mounting. I’ve never written an editorial piece in my life.
During a 2014 holiday gathering with in-laws, I had the pleasure of meeting some new people—coworkers and friends of our family members. They are warm, cheerful people who really know how to talk. I enjoy talkers. Not babblers, mind you, but genuine conversationalists who graciously reveal themselves while openly accepting virtual strangers into that moment of their lives.
That’s a rare thing. Think about all the functions you attend, particularly around the holidays, in which you are introduced to dozens (if not more) of people whom you’ve never met. Generally, in the lukewarm atmosphere created by a gathering of unfamiliar personalities, small talk occurs. Hours of it. And that’s generally the best case scenario.
This past holiday season, I am happy to say, I basked in a complete lack of small talk. Didn’t have to make it with anyone.
Typically when we meet someone new, we notice their appearance—their outfit, their posture, their hairstyle, etc. I do this, of course, but I rarely remember that sort of thing the next day. What I tend to remember is their voice, their laughter, the movement of their hands and facial expressions as they speak. Sometimes I don’t even remember what topic we spoke on, but I always remember what emotion(s), and what thoughts their voice evoked as I listened. And I always recall my own comfort level during the conversation.
This all has a point… I promise.
When I first began to share fiction and poetry publicly, I received more compliments on dialogue than any other aspect of my storytelling. Grammar was a painfully obvious ongoing struggle, and often just as obvious was my inability to effectively, and briefly, build a scene separate from dialogue. But once my characters spoke, they told the tale. My characters’ voices did all the work for me.
I cannot declare with any accuracy if my enjoyment of conversation is directly related to my ability to enhance a story with good dialogue, nor can I say whether or not my enjoyment of reading dialogue directly influenced my writing of it in the years that followed. What I can say is that few stories hold my attention if I cannot listen to the characters do the telling. And, I can also say that I gain a certain amount of satisfaction when told that the dialogue in one of my stories flows well. My goal of becoming a writer has been validated, and thoroughly strengthened, by the complements I’ve received.
Too often, as of late, I spend a lot of time complaining about how little time I spend writing. It’s been a while. I have spent a bit of time doing some peer reading, as well as trying desperately to get back in the habit of reading novels for fun (after too long reading only for school assignments). Sitting here in my office this morning, alternately staring at the computer screen and sighing with frustration, I glanced over at my bookshelf and noticed a book that I haven’t opened in about four years—a book on writing dialogue. Inspiration arrived.
Hello, you fickle old friend.
Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue, by Gloria Kempton, is one of several books I bought in 2010 when embarking on a serious plan to study fiction writing. I glanced through, got distracted with school and work, and never actually followed the exercises offered within. I intend to rectify this situation over the next two weeks.
Yes, I do believe that dialogue is one of my strengths. I also believe that enhancing a strength can lead to exploring, and improving upon, weaknesses. Besides, I really like this book.
For the next two weeks I will share writing exercises and discussions from this book. Would anyone like to follow along? You’re welcome.
I am a terrible, terrible writer. Look at me: I have all the blessings of time, a reasonable income, an agent–and still it has taken me months to revise the last draft of my memoir and get it to the agent who has already expressed that she would like to sell it.
They aren’t big revisions.
The memoir has, at this point, taken eleven years. Two years to live it and nine to write it. Isn’t it supposed to be faster than this? Don’t good ideas come out, get whipped through a few drafts, sweat sweat write write and out the door?
As it turns out, I needed five years of distance before organizing the journals into a book. Two years of drafts. A year of waiting. Another year of polishing and querying. In that timeline, why not take another three months to determine how, exactly, I am…
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