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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Novel Number Two

During the month of March, I was introduced to the continuation of the National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) with Camp Nano, which is always done in April. I persuaded myself to attempt the same feat that I had accomplished just a few months ago back in November. There is this one character that I have carried around in my “back pocket” for a few years and knew she was ready for a novel of her own. I decided this was the perfect time to bring her to the surface. I gave her her own spotlight and stepped back to see what would happen.

I started out on April 1st with all the gusto and feeling I had from November. In the weeks before, I had taken the time to develop her backstory as well as creating a current “situation” and even a subplot full of personal tension. I gave her a bit of a platform and set out to tell a harrowing tale! During this time, I also started or was in the process of reading 3 heavy-hitting books. “The Art of War for Writer’s” by James Scott Bell, “Character’s and Point of View” by Orson Scott Card, and “The Silence of the Lambs” by Thomas Harris. I also didn’t fully take into account the fact that April is our busiest month of the year at my work and that I was scheduled for almost double my normal workload.

Like I said, things were good at first. Although I wasn’t regularly hitting my word count and I knew it. I was exhausted from work but I kept telling myself that I could catch up. I got sick. I caught the crud. Of course, I did. I was stretched too thin already and barely able to keep my house clean. I was managing to get some reading done and in turn, learning things along the way but not getting much in the way of actual writing done.

As my story became clearer and clearer, I realized that I had more work to do before I could really keep writing, or at least that is what I told myself. The truth was I had lost my way. I had taken on too much and my learning was getting in the way of my writing at that point. For the first time since I started writing again, I hit a full-blown wall of solid writer’s block. Through my reading, I learned why I hit this particular wall, but it did me no good as far as finishing the manuscript by my deadline. I had oversold myself and needed to step back. So I did.

This is also the first time I didn’t beat myself up for not finishing by my deadline. I showed myself some compassion and for once, I learned something by not finishing. I learned that reading a brilliant book like “The Silence of the Lambs” makes your own writing look even more amateurish than you would ever think possible. Also, I would not recommend reading any type of learning books while trying to reach such a tight goal. I worked on things that are developmental in nature instead of just focusing on getting the story out. I ended up changing the direction so much that I couldn’t recover fast enough to keep the ball rolling, not with me on top of it anyway.

So, once again my character goes into my back pocket. Only this time, for the next few weeks, as I finish up these books I am reading, I will be working on her character and her story, but this time from the pinhole points of synopsis and loglines, developing elevator pitches, voice journals and honing her story down to the barest essentials. I will take the current story skeleton that I have and piece it together like Dr. Frankenstein and put meat on its bones like fattening a calf for slaughter. When I am finished, I hope to have done my character justice and while I’m no Thomas Harris, I hope to create a lasting character, with deeper substance and an amazing story.

I did not win the contest (because I did not reach 50k in one month) for Camp Nano this year. However, I did win in general because I am learning to set my character into motion and develop a story like never before. While there is still plenty of writing to be done, I am proud every time I stretch my wings and at least try. I always accomplish more than I would have if I had never tried at all.

Camp

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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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Writing My Way into the Day

 

My life has rarely been structured or disciplined. I’ve lived most of my life by the seat of my pants, doing things my own way and making plenty of mistakes in the process. I usually choose to learn things the hard way. As I get older, I’ve learned the value of learning from other people who are experts in their field. The best way to learn to be successful is from doing the things that successful people do. Successful writers write. They write a lot.
So, I am sure that when I first encountered the idea of a daily word count, I scoffed at the idea, thinking it ridiculous. Not only did I not see the purpose in it, I didn’t think it was possible to maintain a high count nor was I sure it was even a good idea. It all seemed like a waste of time to me.
I have learned so much by writing every day. Setting a target to reach for every day really helps to keep me on track. Plus, when I hold myself accountable for a daily word count, I always get more writing done than without one. I push myself, even when I don’t feel like it and am always surprised that my writing is usually just as good as when I am inspired.
There is something about writing every day that is more spiritual than anything. It tends to open a person to the creative force of the universe. It creates a new level that wasn’t there before and doesn’t tend to exist unless you dedicate the time to maintain it. Writing every day opens the mind’s eye to new things and even silently encourages from the sidelines. It helps the writer pay close attention and get down to the nitty-gritty details.
When the daily word count is added in, it raises the bar on the overall writing. My dad, who is a photographer, once told me that you must take lots of okay pictures to get the good ones. I think it is the same with writing. We might write pages to get that one sentence. We might write years to finish that one book and it’s always worth it.
I’ve never been a morning person, however, since making a commitment to a daily word count, I find myself up before sunrise, writing my way into the day. I get more done and all before I would normally even climb out of bed. My writing life has changed the way I live. I don’t have time for things without a soul. I no longer allow myself to waste time on things that won’t help me to grow. I want to do the things successful writers do.

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The Girl No One Saw

Growing up, I had what I will call, an alternative childhood. I loved books and one of my greatest unmet childhood desires was to be read to. My mom and step-dad worked crazy hours and there was rarely anyone around to guide me or nurture me let alone read to me. Without a present parent, the circumstances were far from ideal. I did not have sleepovers or even a best friend. How could a girl have a best friend when she had no clue how to even be a friend? Now, as an adult writer, it is my job to not only write about what happened to me but how it affected me and how I grew because of it. Most importantly, how I managed to get through to the other side.

I’ll be honest. I made it through by stumbling my way along, picking up experiences as I went. I learned life-lessons from sharp comments and public humiliation. I learned how to laugh because of social ostracization. I learned how to do things by watching others from the sidelines of life. The perpetual wallflower. The fly on the wall. The girl no one sees. Finding better ways to be ignored rather than to be abused or humiliated was my central goal during my early years. During this period, I tried to make myself small and insignificant– to which I succeeded for the most part but also hindering my growth.

Also, my alternative childhood left me too scared to try new things, a problem which has continued to plague my adult life. I was not taught that it was okay to make mistakes because that is how you learn; I wish I had been taught that one. Instead, I was taught that not only was making mistakes a bad horrible thing but that I was only good at making mistakes. That was my everlasting teenage state. I was always wrong. I was born wrong into a world that would always see me as wrong, a single weed in a valley full of beautiful flowers.

But in a way, these turned out to be good experiences. I learned to entertain myself. I learned to embrace my weirdness and used it to create laughter when I could. I was semi-cautious and managed to stay out of trouble for the most part. However, I’ve struggled as an adult to learn all the things I missed out on as a child. I’ve found that as a writer, I must observe everything around me in detail, and in doing so, I also am able to shine a light on my own flaws. “To succeed in life is to be able to transform.”

I think this is why I like writing so much. I can write to my heart’s content. I can let it all spill out on the page. I can use what I find within myself, deep below the surface. I can take what I learn about myself and transform my ideas both on paper and in my mind. I can choose what I focus on and how I focus on it. I can find my own alternatives and develop positive action.

When I share what I have written, I am always surprised to find others who feel how I feel, have had similar experiences, or who share my perspective. It reminds me that no matter how alone I feel, I’m not. There might not be many people like me in the world, but there are enough of us that I can finally open to the world around me. I cannot change it no matter how much I want to. All I can do is observe and adjust my own sails. I will always come up with solutions. Being resourceful is how I have made it to my alternative adulthood. Growing is how I made it to the other side.

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Personal Essay #52

It was about this same time last year I had made up my mind I was going to do it. I wasn’t sure if I could, I had never tried anything like this before. It was a whole new experience and a whole year of it as well. I was excited, I was nervous, I was hesitant even. But just like that, I made up my mind to do it, to write and post one personal essay a week for every week of the year. It was my writer friend Julia who suggested it. I admire Julia’s writing prowess and decided she put it in my path for a reason. The final result isn’t just this last essay but an experience that brought so much to my life. So, as we get ready to enter 2018, here is essay #52 for the project #52essays2017.

So, first off I would like to say a quick thanks to anyone and everyone who has followed me along this bumpy journey. There is so much about this I will miss. Second off, I would like to apologize for not following standard protocol regarding things like technicality and style or even expected structure for that matter. Technically my pieces are not “personal essay’s” as far as format goes. I have always written this way to figure my own thoughts out, never really thinking that structure was needed for things like sticky feelings. Well, this challenge has sent me into a heavy-handed era of learning in my writing life and I know that my pieces here haven’t met those expectations but I am okay with it. I stuck to my initial vision while I focused instead on learning more about the actual craft of writing. Thereby using this as almost a personal journal at times.

I also realize that it was highly uncreative of me to never actually name my pieces, even though the numbering seemed effective enough. I struggle with that and am working on it along with all my other weak spots. I also didn’t always write from the heart. Sometimes it was just about getting through it and getting it done. Out of all 52 pieces, there are probably only 15 that I truly love and am proud of. But I committed to this and I wanted to finish, no matter what. I learned how to be brave by sharing my words with the world. I am grateful that no one bashed me for following my own path and that some of you might have actually gotten something out of this too. I don’t think I’ve never grown more in one year as I have because of writing these.

This challenge had some unexpected results. I found my voice. I finally found it. It’s eluded me for decades and I am so happy to have stumbled over it as I was focusing on other things, like learning the actual craft of writing. My writing voice still needs work and I will continue to give it a daily workout even though I won’t be writing these anymore. I considered it but I have a long list of writing goals for this upcoming year. I will still be writing essays but now they will be fully developed and I will take my time with them until they shine. It sure was nice to color outside the lines though.

This year I’ve done so much more with writing than I ever have and more than I ever thought I could or would. This was the year I didn’t quit. Oh, there were points I wanted to. About half-way I think. I hit a wall and thought that I couldn’t go on. But I did. I pushed through that wall like the Kool-Aid man and I came out the other side the happier for it. I learned how to persevere. I learned how to follow through. I learned how to push myself even when I didn’t want to. I learned not to let life get in the way of my writing. I learned that I can always do more than I think I can if I just keep going. I learned not to give up. I am a better person and writer for it all.

I want to thank Vanessa Martir for creating this challenge and giving so many of us a chance to walk through this wordy jungle and add something unique to our writing lives. This was just the recipe I needed. I got something indescribable out of it. Something that changed me forever. Perhaps someone reading this will decide to give it a shot for a year and it will change their lives as well. I personally am walking into 2018 with a little more confidence, a lot more knowledge, experience, and my writer’s voice. I am ready for the next leg in this journey. Farewell, my friends.

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Personal Essay #51

About ten years ago, tucked away in a box of keepsakes, I found a poem my son wrote about me in elementary school. It was a beautiful creation and he decorated it with a rainbow and a thundercloud. I don’t remember the exact verbiage but it was something along the lines of…”When my mom is happy she’s like a rainbow when she is mad she is like a storm.” I began to question myself after that, “Was I really mad like a storm?” After some self-reflection, the accurate statement bit into my senses.

I wish I understood my anger. I’ve tried to figure it out, subdue it, let it rage, vent it, sooth it, hold it in. I’ve read books and taken classes. While there have been improvements over time, I am ashamed to admit that it still has a hold of me. I am still a slave to it when it rears its ugly head. I experience yet again the unpleasant failure and its consequences.

So what do I experience? I am filled with what I can only describe as an intense anxiety fueled “fight or flight” energy that courses through my entire body. My hands shake and my palms sweat. Perhaps it’s an adrenaline rush or a chemical reaction caused by my past, either way, sometimes I can soothe it away quickly and sometimes I can’t. I am painfully aware of the interpersonal communication challenges this has created in my life and I wish to rid myself of this reaction.

I wish I hadn’t been brought up in a household of explosive anger because it has followed me for decades. At least it’s the last real shackle I have left to break. I can see how I have improved my control of it over the years. I also know that those feelings are mostly non-existent unless I am around certain people and then the anger tends to rise to the surface. I try to steer clear of anyone who literally brings out the worst in me.

It gets sticky when it involves another person. All the lashing out, apologizing, the trying to make things make sense. It’s even tougher when there are two heated points of view. Toes get stepped on. Any relationship is like a sheet of paper, once it’s been crumpled it can never be smooth and blemish free again.

Sometimes this energy is so strong in my gut and even in my soul that I usually know there is often a deeper issue at play, just waiting for my recognition and attention. Therefore, this anger has a purpose as it brings to light the growth I crave. I still hate that this feeling goes hand and hand with my anxiety and my expectations though.

I would like to rid myself of this “character flaw” for good. I know that there are changes I have made that have improved my quality of life and diminished this flaw (slowly like wearing down a rock). One is just being grateful for all the good in my life. I also work on not taking things personally (unless a negative intention is evident). However, the best way I have found to combat this anger is by turning it into something positive. This is where I shift my focus to my creative writing and focus on learning new skills instead of circling around in the negative space in my head.

I guess mastering this monster is going to have to be one of my goals for the upcoming year. I think I will be happier if I can master my anger. Yet I can’t help but wonder, without a little anger and outrage, how do we know what needs changing in our world?

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