Writing

I’ve been writing ever since I can remember holding a pencil. I’ve always been infatuated with words and stories as well as putting my own thoughts on the page.  My biggest fear has always been sharing my work with others. So, I’ve started this blog to break out of my comfort zone and to become a part of this project called #52essays2017. My purpose here is to write with all honesty, to delve deep into my soul (making improvements along the way) while I continue to hone my craft in writing.

For me, writing is organized chaos.

This is my commitment to authorship and I welcome you to join me.

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My Writing Life–Every Word is Worth it

Writing is one of my favorite things and my love of words started at a young age. Not things like poetry, but the language itself. I am still fascinated by the way the words themselves are formed. I am awestruck by the variety of ways words can be transformed into sentences and subsequently into stories. In school, I loved the Dictionary games and deciphering a word’s meaning based on its parts. In one elementary school class, I remember memorizing the prepositions. (Yes all of them, in alphabetical order and I am still able to recite most of them.) I was very proud of myself for these things, these odd abilities.

I got an old desk when I was around 10 years old. I loved that desk and would “set it up” so that I could pretend to be a writer. I had stacks of paper and pens and pencils. I had managed a handful of office supplies; a mini-stapler, some tape, and a pair of scissors. I remember sitting there for hours creating. My step-dad who was never very encouraging questioned me about my new behavior followed by the lecture that “Writer’s don’t make any money and it’s not a good job option.” Finishing his lecture with the comment that my handwriting was awful.

To say my dreams were subdued by this incident is, to say the least. I allowed my dreams to crash themselves and break on the shore—evaporating into thin air. I did work on my handwriting though but I never really wrote again. I even had to be pushed to write basic things like letters or thank you notes. Not because I didn’t want to but because it hurt too much to write. It broke my heart when I tried.

I didn’t really have to face that fear again until high school, at which point I ended up with a decent English teacher who pushed just hard enough to stir that dream again from its sleep. It wasn’t much, but I wrote again for a little while. And then, life happens as it does and I wasn’t able to write and didn’t allow it to take precedence. That is until my late 20’s when I went back to college.

I probably wasn’t as serious about college as I should have been. But it did stir that urge to write again and this time pushed a need to read along with it. That was nearly 20 years ago and my commitment to writing has been mainly sporadic until about 4 years ago when I started down my own road and paved it with self-education. Since then, I have read 17 books about writing (and am currently reading 3 others), Read and watched interviews, read blogs about writing, watched webinars, participated in a handful of writing groups around town and (most importantly) have been writing like crazy. It’s been over a year and a half that I have written every single day. Even if it was just for ten minutes, though most of the time I write for at least an hour or two.

So now my love of words comes full circle. I still play dictionary games but now it’s usually trying to find the right word. I try to spice up my preposition and verb choices. I put all the things I have learned into practice as I work to improve my prose and write better stories. I have learned to trust my voice and not listen to the little nagging voice that attempts to tell me that it’s all awful and that there is no point to it. Although, (it might be right), I have been writing steadily for 4 years and have not been paid one cent for my time even though I have technically written several novels worth by now. Who does that? Works for free? But it’s what I love to do. It brings together all the little parts that mean nothing by themselves.

Now, as an adult, I sit at one of my two desks to write. I have one for the organic writing (long-hand) and one for editing and word-processing (my computer). For the first time in my writing life, I am finishing stories and sending them out for submissions. I have a handful of helpful readers who give me feedback so that I can focus and tighten what I am trying to say. My final drafts are far more interesting than my first drafts and I suspect that is the way things are supposed to be. I love the writing process and that love has surpassed my love of words. My work has evolved, grown, and improved along with me. I am proud to say that every word has been worth it.

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Working on the Weak Spots

This week, I learned that one of my weak areas within my writing (at least initially) is the area of character development. I can throw out hidden themes that I only catch later, or I can easily come up with a unique setting or problem. But fleshing out my characters never materializes very well in my first initial draft no matter how much I have thought about the character first. This might not sound like a big deal, but considering that great characters are what keeps us reading, it is actually a big problem.

 
I think it is one of the reasons I struggle to write effective short stories. It is a problem that I would love to see myself outgrow and I am now constantly working on developing my main characters. Like all good stories, the current short story that I have been working on started out as a singular thought and is morphing out from that. With the work I have done this week alone, I have turned a 500-word piece into a genuinely good short story of at least double the size. I am actively putting the writing lessons that I have learned over the last several months to work as I polish and develop this story to its fruition.

 
I feel I am learning at an alarmingly fast rate like I am flying downhill on a bike with no brakes. I am scared and thrilled all at the same time. As my deadline approaches, and I see the bottom of the hill, I am wondering if I will find the right way to stop without crashing a good thing. Essentially, I am worried because (another weak area) I know I am not good at endings. They scare me and leave me feeling pained and anxious. But I will do it. I will find a way. I always do.

 
I am starting the actual rewrite today and my goal yesterday was to get as much of the fleshing out and piecework done before my rewrite. Now I can sit down and start piecing it together, weaving in the necessary details together to bring the whole thing to life. Someone once told me that writing is magic and I am beginning to learn how to cast the spell. I am grateful that I have taken the time to learn, question, study, and pursue the aspect of getting it right. It is the most satisfying ending I have come up with, so far.

 

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My Dad was Mr. Rogers

I was separated from my father at an early age. It was a combination of divorce, circumstances and over 3,000 miles. This was in the 1970’s and I ended up being what they called a “latch-key kid”. What that meant essentially was that my primary caregivers (mom and step-dad) worked so much that I was left alone at home with instructions to keep the door locked and not let anyone in. The concern was that I would and could possibly get snatched up. We lived in Florida and at that time, there were children all over the state being taken mostly from public places and mostly because the parents turned their backs for only a moment. That was all it took.

 
I missed my fun and kind father, despite the strange things my mother told me about him and why he left. I remembered him wearing a sweater and his black hair was parted on one side and laid obediently next to the others, swooping to the opposite side. I had a few pictures of him. He looked like Mr. Rogers to me, only less gray.

 
I ran across the show one morning and began to fantasize that this is why I never saw my father because he was too busy making this caring show for all the kids in the world. So he was too busy and important to come to see little old me. I could see his face every time the show came on and it brought me a little closer to him. It eased my pain. It comforted the scared little girl who felt alienated from the entire world. Since he could not come to me, I would go to him every day and watch him interact and teach me things from inside his tubed box.

 
I must have known in my heart that it was just something I made up. I don’t think I told anyone. I might have told mom, to which I am certain she must have told me how ridiculous that was. I remember being devastated when my step-dad lost his job and was home for a few weeks and I was told to stay in my room and not allowed to watch their TV. I missed seeing my dad and my alienation grew.

 
I ended up seeing him twice over the years between 5 and 16. Once when I was about 6 or 7, not too long after both of my parents were remarried and once when I was 11, just before my grandfather died. Both times I remember him changing his shoes when he got home and putting on a button-up sweater. It doesn’t matter if this part was true or happened, it happened for me. The fantasy in my head played it out over and over again. In my mind, my dad was Mr. Rogers. And if as an adult I had to compare him to an iconic figure, that would be the one. Even though I rarely saw my father during my formative years, he was always with me, always guiding me and always told me he loved me.

 

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A Cleaner Slate

This month I started a new exercise in my writing program. (I believe I picked it up from James Scott Bell.) It’s called the “10-minute warm-up” and it starts off each time with the phrase “I remember…” This exercise has done more than just get my writing muscles warmed up and jump-kicked into action, it has also been eye-opening each time I do it and I am discovering new corners of my memories that have been previously ignored.

 

As I get older, there are always moments from my past that stick with me. Oftentimes these moments have either negative connotations or ended up having negative or very unintended consequences. These feelings leave a sting on me and mark me by never letting go. Regrets, I think they are called. Anyhow, doing this lesson has allowed me to look past the moment, around it, under it and giving me the ability to now uncover little things that lay dormant in the corner like dust bunnies waiting for me to sweep them out into the light. These new perceptions and freshly unearthed feelings are becoming something more…some bigger part of a once narrow picture.

 

While currently these memories and images are becoming fresh organic writing fodder, I am also experiencing a wash of healing and acceptance. This is an unexpected outcome of this exercise. One I was not warned of, but I like it. It’s the satisfaction of cleaning and the gleam of a hopeful future instead of the constant hopeless memories that tug at me daily. It is the resurgence of newness and freshness, a cleaner slate to work with.

 

Besides writing every day, this exercise has produced the quickest and most fertile results. I feel like I just leveled up, found a key I have been looking for, or found a satisfying answer to a nagging question. Relief for my regrets while heading for results.

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Dear Friends,

I hate to admit that I still have a few racist friends left. I have justified keeping them out of some strange sense of loyalty. However, as time passes I feel I am not being loyal to myself. I feel that, especially in this current political climate, it is impossible to keep them. Not that being racist is ever fine. But in the past, at least they were learning and growing and (I thought) evolving. Now that the “American” narrative has gone backward (and it has), it seems impossible for me to ignore this problem any longer.
Perhaps I have outgrown these friends anyway? Or perhaps I should overlook their shortcomings and accept them for who they are as I have always done? Perhaps I am overreacting? I am here to figure this out. Writing is the best way for me to do so.
In the past there were bits I could let fly, so long as no active harm was being done. I was naive to think that if I didn’t see it, it wasn’t a problem. At this point in the narrative, EVERYONE now has an opinion on the kneeling thing; some for, some against and I understand the reasoning behind both. But that doesn’t mean I agree. (I honestly hate what football has become and detest organized sports for the most part.) But, I think that when you have a platform you should use it and do something that matters. Whether or not anyone agrees or likes it. (The president is a perfect example of following this unwritten rule.)
But now, with this whole Roseanne thing? Well, I’ll just state things the way I see them. I will admit, back in the day, I used to watch her show. I used to think she was funny but eventually I became disenchanted. Whether I outgrew her or she changed I am not sure. But I started finding her more and more …unlikeable. It happens. I had no desire to watch her new show and still don’t. I have no need for her crass attitude in my life.
Now that she has shown her racist colors to the world as well as shown her fragrantly rude and disrespectful side (example: that one time someone decided to let her sing the anthem) over and over without any remorse, my opinion of her is beyond low. Why are people upset that she got fired? Are these the same people that said Kaepernick should be fired for kneeling? In most cases yes. This is the blatant and disturbing hypocrisy of our time. What scares me most is this is the mental framework that is helping to shape the next generation.
Look, I don’t care what side you are on. Go ahead, pick a side and wave those colors proudly. But when you look to me as a friend and I am gone, you should know why. So, in writing this, I have decided, this is my goodbye letter to my racist friends who are left. I am sorry that we could not continue. But I cannot in good conscience continue to pretend that these attitudes and beliefs don’t go against the very fiber of my being. I am not mad at you. I am disappointed that you chose to quit evolving. I am sad that I have to let you go because you don’t understand that what you are doing is wrong. The words “racist” and “friends” cannot fit together in my vocabulary. And common decency means it never should have had to.

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Be the 20%

I was in Costco yesterday picking up a few things. I had the rare opportunity to casually cruise through the store while making a list for a bigger trip later. I had been up since 6 am and hadn’t really eaten so I was hitting the sample stations one at a time. Each time, I would come up with my cart and at least 3 or 4 people would rush or push in front of me in order to get there first and literally swiped up whatever sample was there to be had without even a thank you. The fourth time this happened, the attendant was an elderly woman about 3 inches shorter than me with the typical white smock and hair net. She was beginning to look fatigued. I made eye contact, smiled, and said “thank you” as I took my sample and pushed my cart off to the side just out of the way. While I snacked, I watched her as she refilled her tray. I struck up a conversation with her by mentioning the “vultures” I witnessed. She smiled with a sad understanding and said that what I just witnessed was “mild” compared to most. Curiosity got the best of me and I asked her, “How many people are like me verses like that?” and nodded in the direction of someone else who just swooped up another sample without a “thanks”. “Honestly?” she paused as she thought, “People like you are probably only about 20% of what I see daily.” I was shocked. And yet, looking around at my fellow Americans right now, not really all that surprised. I shook my head with shame and then smiled at her. “I am sorry. Thank you for what you do and experience.” She returned my smile and stood a little taller and I could feel the gratitude pouring out of her as she thanked me. I couldn’t quit thinking about this experience and it made me want to write about it.
I now want to challenge anyone reading this to step into the 20% of the population. Instead of rushing to be first, let’s take a little more time to be courteous to others. Say “thank you” instead of expecting. We all have shit to do. Let’s do so with a little gratitude instead of attitude.

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Brain Sputtering

I look at the clock. The arms don’t seem to be moving and the digits all look identical. Something inside me pushes against time, wanting everything to just hurry along. Does anyone have time for all the bullshit little things that we have to do and sit through each and every day? All the tedious things that seem to take forever? All the dreaded things?

I am not sure how I came out of that place, but I know it happened slowly as I sifted through my own mush and bullshit. During this period, I had to constantly remind myself to slow down, after all, what was the big hurry? Is it weird that I had to teach myself how to enjoy life’s every moment? Shouldn’t that just be a built-in part of being human? Shouldn’t that just be a given? Yet my anxiety-ridden nature could do nothing of the sort. I had to just get to the other side of things and quickly. The pattern was most noticeable with watching movies. I could watch a film I know I had seen and in some cases not remember a single moment of the film. I discovered the problem was, since all I was thinking about was getting through it, I rarely paid any attention to what was going on. At first, I thought the problem was my memory when really it was my lack of focus, my desire to just “get through it”.

I am not sure if it relates but I also battle a touch of dyslexia. I loved words so much that I fought back my constant poor choice of which letter was correct b p d or q (which ironically still happens frequently when I type). I find that both my hands and my mouth will betray me and either say or write a word that sounds similar to the one I want to use but is utterly incorrect. I catch it a lot when I am editing a piece that I have written really fast, my brain sputtering out a placeholder so that I can get the right word in the right place later. It happened all the time in my earlier years and I was dubbed “dingy”. It doesn’t help any that when I have this “verbal dyslexia” in public I get so embarrassed that I giggle uncontrollably. Ah, but what is life without all it’s little flaws and inconsistencies?

I have never had any kind of treatment for these brain misfires of mine. In my late 20’s, I luckily followed a path to study Psychology and in a storm of self-repair went through a wide variety of self-help books, classes, and therapy, shedding light and doing remodels of all the glaring personal blemishes that covered my interior walls. I also took my love of words for a walk and have challenged myself to improve my speech and vocabulary. Improving my typing speed has been the most challenging. After over a year solid of typing every morning at the computer for at least 20 minutes, I have not yielded any noticeable improvement in my speed or accuracy. That part is disappointing. Perhaps in another couple of years…

Oddly enough the one practice that has helped me the most is to just be grateful. I just stop myself for a still moment, close my eyes, take a deep breath, as I let it out I allow myself to smile. As I open my eyes I remind myself to just enjoy the moment. I don’t know if anyone else suffers from or experiences these things. I don’t know but I am guessing at least some of these things are familiar to most from time to time. I try to always smile, even through the bullshit. I try to enjoy every moment. Some days it’s harder than others, some days there is just too much bullshit and we all just have to do the best we can to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible. No matter what though, I always have time to be grateful.

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Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

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