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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A Black Crayon

 

The smell of crayons always takes me back to my first childhood memories of creativity. Crayons were almost always available and easy enough to use though I was never “that kind” of an artist. To this day, I love the way the wax slides across the paper and catches every bump or imperfection both in the paper and from the surface underneath it. I still love the smell of a fresh brand new box and can hear in my head the sound of the paper being torn off as the crayon leaves itself behind on the paper.
The black crayon was always my favorite. I saw it as the most useful of all the colors because you can use it to outline anything, like the way a tattoo artist or coloring book does. It creates the lines and structure of your focus. It conducts your direction like the line on a road. It is the color of ladybugs and window frames.
Now as an adult, I get to show my grandkids the cool things one can do with a crayon and I love when they think I have some sort of magical powers. “How do you know how to do that Grandma?” my grandson Lucas will ask, his voice filled with wonder. “Because when I was your age, I practiced,” I tell him smiling.
I hope he always sees me as magical, just as I did my first box of 64 Crayola crayons, the cool one with the sharpener in the back. The box was so much better than that smaller, plain, nondescript box of crayons that mom got me before that, which broke, randomly melted, and honestly did not even write the same as the Crayola brand. I remember feeling rich when I opened that package on Christmas day! I am sure that it came with a coloring book but I have long since forgotten what book that could possibly have been.
I do remember emptying the entire box on a regular basis. I used the four inserts to arrange the crayons in color coordinating patterns, resulting in the colors beaming back at me like some confused sort of rainbow. Crayons, in some ways, symbolize my first OCD moments, which as an adult continue to play out in my color coordinated closets and pantry’s, outlined in black. I manage my OCD with a strong dose of writing and have long since traded my crayons for pens and my drawings for stories.

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Don’t Rue the Day!

I was not brought up in what I would call a concise home. My upbringing involved frequent blurted bursts of verbal emotion but genuine communication was not really encouraged. Few, if any, of the values or structure that I abide by now, were present in my youth and have been instilled with the help of people who have cared enough to help me.
Besides my writing, I currently work in a very public environment and am learning to work within a certain set of boundaries with the desired skill-set. There are things that I say, in general, that can be misconstrued. Those who have bothered to give me honest answers when I have asked, tell me things like “people take you wrong” or “you don’t use positive verbiage”. I try to be as concise as possible but not everything comes out the way I intend it. Inevitably, the wrong words are taken the wrong way at the wrong time by the wrong people. I’ve referred to myself as “Miss Understood” or “Miss Spoken” as these titles fit those moments. This is a problem that has gnawed at me for years. While I am still struggling with this, I am actively working on it.
Twice now, in the last twenty-four hours, I have been reminded of RUE… Resist the Urge to Explain. Since the universe has flagged this one down for me, I must take heed and examine this idea closer. Perhaps in the process, I will eventually find out why I do this and find ways to remove this reoccurring problem.
I stole the anagram RUE from a book I am reading, on writing, called “The Art of War for Writers” by James Scott Bell (My favorite writing mentor!). In writing it’s also called “avoiding excess exposition”. As a writer, I can easily go back and cut my dialog and narration using this method and improve my writing. However, when it comes to verbal communication, I am so worried about being understood that I can also come across as Captain Obvious (which no one likes unless C.O. is funny, which is a tough act to pull off, believe me, I have tried).
In many ways, every essay like this I write falls into the RUE pit as I do my best to navigate and share my thoughts and ideas. I can edit my writing. Can I edit my mind before the words come out of my mouth? I have to ask, am I still being true to myself? Or would I remain me… only an improved me? Or an enhanced me? How do I use this technique and strategy to improve my communication overall so that I am better understood in general?
While I have worked hard and in so many ways, changed and edited my own life so that the present reads the way I want it to, I still have some serious work to do. I will have to be dedicated and observant while I try to slow things down and really start paying attention to this aspect of my life. My goal is to become a clear and concise communicator and improve my communication competence, both with my voice and with my words.

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The Divided States

In some ways, our country has always been divided. Our two system party, the American Dream vs. Big Brother, North vs. South, Rich vs. Poor, Cowboys vs. Indians… Yet even with the violence of the civil war, our current divide seems more dangerous and more deadly. Is it because of our ever-growing population? Is it because of the ease of modern communication? Is it because of our growing and impassioned beliefs? Is it because of politics and the political systems in place? Or does it simply boil down to the fact that we are human and have a very primal human nature? Or is it because these continuing issues seem to be uniquely American in nature and are forever woven into the fabric of our life and our flag?
Our divided states are like one big chopping block instead of a melting pot. Combining and emersion are not encouraged; keep things divided, separate from others not like you, alienate anyone who is different. This is how the dividing occurs and we are willing participants because we all have opinions and preferences. I would rather not indulge some of our cultures worst traits, yet maintaining freedom means those traits get to stay. It is a serrated edge that cuts and separates the “what could be” from the “what is”.
“They” have us fighting with each other, solidifying the division, closing our ears and our hearts off to viable solutions. Alienate. That is what an abuser does. If he can alienate his victim, then the abuse can go on as directed, without interruption. The abused usually is clueless as to what is going on, too busy trying to juggle the blame and horror of the situation. That is what many of us are doing or experiencing. And yet we are blind to it.
If you say to me, “The kids don’t know anything about gun control! They were just eating Tide Pods last month!” Perhaps you are right. Still, as adults we are supposed to protect the children until they are old enough to make their own decisions, that is our job. It is our job to raise “responsible members of civilized society”. Whether as an adult or a parent, you have to realize that if we don’t like what the children are doing, then we need to educate them and guide them, not belittle them. The age of abuse is passing out of existence and we must lovingly evolve our thinking. Let us use communication as a tool instead of a weapon.
I believe that we are mainly divided by those who want change and those who don’t. It’s almost like a couple who is continually fighting. One side thinks everything is “just fine just how it is” and the other side is showing all the ways things aren’t fine. Perhaps there are some things that shouldn’t change. But we obviously need to sit down and really look at what is working and what isn’t. Isn’t that what you would do with car trouble? Or financial issues? What is working well and what needs to change? And then how do we change it? It is pointless to constantly point the finger of blame and not provide or explore working solutions.
I believe sometimes problems arise so that we can (together) find solutions. Perhaps strength and change come from having the hard and difficult discussions. Perhaps this is where we find our true humanity. Perhaps in the process of breaking down is where we create the strength of building up. Perhaps this is where we bridge the divide. Let’s fix this rift before it gets wide enough to swallow us up. We can fix things without losing what we have. But if we continue to fight amongst ourselves we could lose all that we have built. Divided cannot be United.

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The Peaceful Wallflower

You think I don’t notice all the ways you ignore me. I notice the way you treat me, different from the others. You make time for them, you include them, you smile at them. Don’t think that I don’t see it. I do. I see it, clearly. I won’t lie that it hurts. I won’t lie that it makes me mad. I wish that I didn’t care.

At least you are not outwardly cruel to me like you are to the un-liked others. Don’t think I don’t see that too, your obscure sense of kindness. At least you ignore me rather than push me, you look through me instead of directing your energy at me. I appreciate the kindness, even if you don’t. I would break under the stress of you and that is not something I want to do. I wish I didn’t care.

You swell in your pride and your hate. I know what it feels like, I know how consuming it can be. You think you are beyond reproach and so far, it seems that way. I wonder if the feeling will hold or if it will fade for you as it has for me? I wonder if you will change. I wonder if you could grow on this wall like I do. I wonder what your path looks like, what those shoes feel like, what your heart beats like… a drum or a nail, pressing deeper into the skin. I don’t want to care.

You don’t think I notice, but I do, I see you.

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Camp Nano

If you follow my blog, you know that learning my way through this writing process has been a favored topic. This is not only so that I can analyze what I have learned but also a way to keep a record of this journey, much like a journal. This past year has brought me so many lessons and the learning I have done has brought forth a positive part of myself that I feel I should share with others who are either on my same path or are thinking of starting something new.

The other day, I met a woman who was taking her first steps on this journey that I have been on for the last few years. This flashed me back to some of the first public writing groups that I met, thinking I knew so much when I really knew so little. I was hit with the feelings all over again, the curiosity, the bewilderment, the unknown and uncertain paths, all the things that perplex us in the beginning, all the frustration for there being no one single “right way”.

Within the first few months, I successfully learned all the wrong ways. There were ways that I tried that left me spinning in circles, never getting myself anywhere. I finally learned not to write and edit at the same time even though I swear this is what I was taught in high school English classes. I learned that not writing every day is one of the worst things you can do if you want to be a writer. I learned that not sticking to deadlines prevents finished projects. I learned that writing with money in mind will only bring forth writing that contains no heart or passion.

I learned that some kind of support is paramount. It helps if you have someone you can talk to about your work. Someone to share your excitement. Someone to hold you accountable. “How’s your book coming along?” is a steady motivator. Having an online group that shares your small successes is encouraging as well. Even keeping track of your word counts supports that forward motion. I’m often motivated when I look back at how much I have already written.

I’ve decided I must be a glutton for writing punishment. I have committed to writing another 50k in April for Camp Nanowrimo (which is basically Nanowrimo-National Novel Writing Month- only done in April instead of November) on my next novel. This is not an easy task. Only 17% of the people who start Nano, finish Nano. The odds are not in my favor. However, I have found that this crazy method works for me so I will stick with it. Plus, I learned so much about the writing process from the last one that I want to see what more I can learn the second time around.

What will I gain from all this? Hopefully another finished novel and a better sense of my writer’s voice. A feeling of success and accomplishment for sure. I will also gain a dirtier house and friends and family who will claim to miss me. I will disappear into the recesses of my story as I watch it unfold before me. I will lose sleep and miss fun activities but I will be a better person for it. I will strive to learn all I can as I create something new, something that didn’t exist before I put it on paper and for that, there is no greater reward.

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The Cost of Value

The concept of value differs depending on how you use the word. As a noun, it’s the importance or usefulness of something. Yet as a verb, it’s the monetary worth. We all value different things. To one person, the truth might be valuable and to another, it might be a cost. The things I value will not necessarily be the same things that you value. Therefore, to me, a value is relative and changing. Value is intrinsically individual.

To draw deeper into this idea, there are also personal values that shape who we are and shape our decisions. What we personally will or won’t spend money on, what we hold dear, what we cherish and believe, what we live for, what we would die for. These are things that cannot be priced yet they often have a cost. I value hard work, not just for the money it affords me, but also the feeling of freedom and satisfaction it awards me in the long run. Putting time into relationships also affords a cherished experience that we could not have without putting in that time. Finishing a project brings pride and a sense of accomplishment that we could not have without putting in the hard work to make it happen. You hear about lotto winners saying that the money did not bring them happiness, this is because life does not work that way. Life is all about hard work and motion, if you just sit there on your ass you will never get anywhere. You must value motion and get to work, that is the cost.

So, while some people value education and pour their time and money into that, others value fun and experiences, spending their money on vacations or toys. Some value their image and spend money to maintain that image on everything from cars to name brand apparel. Some value privacy and freedom preferring to live a simple and muted life. Some value family above all else and solely strive to provide for their family unity and connectedness. My list of examples could go on infinitely, but my point is that many of us carry strong values that permeate our lives and all our decisions.

It should become obvious then, that these differences are the basis for both human connections and rifts. If you and I value the same things, then we are connected. If we value different things, then we are split apart and there is less to connect us. The universe pulls us in different directions and blinds us to the real reason for the rift. Something I cannot connect with is not important to me, leading to an apathetic viewpoint. While variety and diversity are the spice of life, the differences between what people value can separate and divide us (the clearest examples of this are politics and religion). What one person values and cherishes another may find ridiculous and ignorant, yet shared values can hold people together and create bonds that last a lifetime.

So, what can we do to keep our values intact (or perhaps be open to re-examining them) while still respecting the values of others? How can we change the dynamics without going either rogue or militant? How can we bridge the gap and the honor the diversity of all humans? Is there even a way? Does this mean that we must respect the bad and evil in this world as well?

For me, I think that we can all make improvements on how we communicate with our values and value systems. For instance, we can listen and be understanding, perhaps offering a little more caring to someone who doesn’t share our own values. We can try to understand why something is valuable to another and respect that viewpoint even if we don’t agree. It’s doubtful and foolish to try and change someone’s mind about their personal values. I think it is more advantageous to attempt to understand even if we are unable to be supportive.

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Take Time to Listen

What makes someone a good listener? When they sit quietly, focused on intense eye contact while someone else talks incessantly? When they nod in agreement? When they get outraged or sad in all the right places? Or do you find a good listener to be someone who gives feedback? Or do you simply want to be understood? Do you desire someone who can empathize with you? Since communication is the backbone of humanity, it makes sense to improve these communication skills; it is the “miracle grow” to our developmental evolution. Listening can tune us into our fellow humans, helping us dive below the surface of things, and enriching our communication along the way.

 

I was in my late 20’s before I realized I wasn’t a good listener. I was young and self-absorbed. I rarely paid attention to anything that was said to me (perhaps that’s why I never followed anyone’s good advice…) so when slapped in the face with this embarrassing fact, I knew I had some personal development work to do. At the time, I was taking classes at the community college, so I signed myself up for a class called “Interpersonal Communication”. It happened to also fill my speech requirement for my Associate’s degree yet it wasn’t an actual speech class, which I would have hated. So, I jumped into this class not realizing it would change my life or how.

 

I approached the class with the idea that not only would I improve my listening skills but also my communication skills which I knew were severely lacking. I walked into class confident that I would come out the other side as an active, resourceful, and skilled communicator. The class was anything but that for me. I struggled more than I expected. In fact, I don’t think I made it through a single presentation without crying. I still don’t know what about the whole experience was so heart-wrenching for me besides the sensation of overwhelming vulnerability, or beside my inability to open my mouth and finally honor the muzzled girl who lived within me for far too long.

 

I recently decided to re-read the textbook from that class. After more than a decade, it no longer gives me anxiety. Instead, it is like re-watching an old movie. I barely remember it but when I look back to the person I was then, I am surprised at how far I have come from that girl into this woman. I have to remind myself that as adults, it is up to us to fill in those blanks from childhood and give ourselves the proper tools through learning, so as to ensure our future success.

 

Becoming a better listener has improved my quality of life and enriched my relationships with others. It has helped me to see that the heart of listening is in understanding and while it is difficult to understand something that you haven’t personally experienced, it is a good thing to try. It is good for the person who wants to be listened to, and good for the person listening. So, let’s all step up to the possibilities of language and each do our part to help each other evolve and grow. Let’s strengthen the backbone of humanity and enrich what it is to be human.

 

Take time to listen.

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