Where Fear Has No Home

I thought I knew how to come and go as I pleased.

To load up the car, drive the tree-lined drive to two lane roads toward the behemoth interstates. I don’t. Or at least didn’ until I forced myself to do so this Memorial Day weekend. In March, I bought my ticket to a writing retreat in which I knew only the other attendees by their avatars on Twitter, years of blog posts, and that awkward moment when I friended a few of them on Facebook and hoped that they accepted. They did. IMG_0134

For three months, I scrolled through the #RRforWriters tweets and mapped out travel plans from the safety of my desk surrounded by all of crazy but comforting knick-knacks(doesn’t every writer have a Jane Austen action figure with a mini-poseable Shakespeare kneeling at her feet?).

But then the day before I was to fly out of RDU toward Michigan, I felt the old panic rising upward, fear tingling away whispering this was a bad idea. I’m an introvert. I’m fairly certain if Dante wrote about the circles of Hell for introverts meeting new people that one has only known through the internet would be in there somewhere. My mind grasped for excuses to stay where I was comfortable. Where I could be safely at home.

Home on five acres surrounded by pine trees, towering dead oaks, and blackberry vines. Where I can click the red circle on my browser to get rid of unnecessary blogger drama, to escape to my porch where I notoriously overwater my petunias, to tend my herbs–sage, thyme, lavender, rosemary. Where I feel both trapped and secure, where I have the power to keep all who’ve hurt me away.

Sometimes, we confuse what is supposedly stable, safe, and secure with what lurks beneath in the shadows. Our fear. 

Perhaps, fear doesn’t always look like the bogeyman under our beds. For me, fear wears Sunday dress clothes and carries a Bible, sits in the pew next to me, and waits until I offend to unleash its fury. These emotional scars came from those who claim to love the same Jesus I do, and yet, there are such deep hurts that I’m not sure will ever fully heal. Being around other believers causes me to panic, but the only I way I know to deal with this terror is to silence myself, push others far away. I’ve spent years bouncing from church to church, stayed seated when the old panic bubbled up, kept other believers far away so I could lick my wounds. Now, emotional callouses, hard and numb.

Fear took away my ability to be in community with other believers because I let it.

But I signed up for a Christian writing retreat anyway. Out of sheer bravery, doubtful.  Over-confidence in my own abilities, more likely. How hard could it be to sip some wine, talk about writing, meander about during free time writing poetry, endure the spirituality portion? Again, I tried to keep other believers at distance, walls built up from years of brick laying, plaster the everything’s okay smile on, no one would know the difference. Except for the Holy Spirit. And probably, everyone there.

During Vespers, we sat in silence. Sometimes, we stared at the flicking of the candle flame. In the silence, I felt these simple words–love, peace, and seen. While I had never been to Michigan before or this retreat center, this place became a new kind of home. Where I was loved, where I was seen, where I could break down the emotional walls for a much needed period of rest.

 

 

31 Days of Poetry{Day 19} Stuck

Welcome to 31 Days of Poetry!

Happy Friday!

Only 13 more days this of our journey, and I must confess that blogging everyday about something I love has been challenging. I haven’t blogged for an entire month ever(I tried in February of last year, and it didn’t work out so well), and I’m finding the act of blogging and writing each day helps me in my other creative outlets as well(like my fiction and my other blogs because once you start collecting blog you just can’t stop!).

This leads me to our topic today. Even when we feel the words flowing and the keys keep a steady beat as letters and spaces and periods bounce into life.

Sometimes, we get stuck. 

We call it so many things: writer’s block, my muse hath flown, just not clicking, the creative juices have dried up.

As writers, we train ourselves for the grammatical issues and stylistic changes and the weirdo in writing group that think everything we write should be thrown out and burned. But we rarely prepare ourselves for being stuck, so what happens WHEN you get stuck?

Well, obviously, we have to get unstuck(like it is that simple).

While I don’t have a magic formula, I do know what has worked for me. I would say that it is has been a LONG time since I needed to get unstuck, but it was just yesterday.

  • Clean: when I feel overwhelmed in a writing project or the poetry isn’t flowing, I clean something. I need to see immediate results. So I straighten my desk or do some dishes. If I’m really stuck, I clean a whole room(yesterday, I was EPICALLY stuck so I cleaned the living room, did dishes, cleaned the jetted tub, and the bathroom sink and mirror.). Once I see results, I can usually write something.
  • Walk the dog or walk yourself:  My desk faces the wall so it often feels like I’m in time out when writing. Having dogs gives me the excuse to go outside and mull over what I want to say, to look for new ways of seeing the world. I always come back feeling better and with something to write.

What tips and tricks do you have for getting unstuck?

A Moment of Soul Care

I refuse my soul to shrivel up

Like a shrunken head

For a new exhibit at Ripley’s.

 

 

I believe in soul care –the kind that stares at the early morning bathed in dew, sips coffee, and learns to breathe again. The soft tendrils of gray smoke curl around the  Tulip Poplars whispering secrets before the wind lifts them too high for tree-ears. Then, dog paws stretch out and yawn in the fullness of the morning. Scratch their ears and flop back down on the earth, dogs understand soul-care. Maybe, this is why I keep a few around my feet–to show me how to take care of myself(it is most certainly not for their smell).

I am learning, 

To pump life-blood

Into this heart, once broken.

I woke up this morning, my life rearranged, and I find myself with new puzzle pieces to fit together. I jamb the old ones down in the back of a drawer because the pain hurts too deeply, but stuffing the fragments of an old life–for now, a temporary one– discredits their existence, their beauty. I pull them out and mingled them with my new pieces, and I find my life, my soul.

For many, today is the first day of school, and today is another chance to care for my soul. Right now, I need to read poetry and write short stories and finish this damn novel, drink more coffee, attend more writing classes, heading to the library for books. This is soul care. I will change my writing schedule for this little blog to a Monday, Wednesday Friday. I am feeling the pull to a bit of prose each week in addition to the poetry. What do you say to that? I ask for a measure of grace as I venture into this brave new world(ah, literary references, no matter how cliche, make me happy too).

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Why I Bother Writing

Why I bother?

Because writing as a vice isn’t quite as bad as drinking, smoking, or collecting cats(my epitaph will not read: she was a crazy cat lady). Writing appeases my OCD personality to have something to create, to perfect, to pursue relentlessly.Or just offers another excuse to ignore the dishes, the laundry, and the unmopped floors. My OCD is fickle and cares not for such trivialities–it longs for something grander; hence, I write.

This is why I bother writing. 

I know there are so many writers that we drown  new books and NY TIMES bestsellers list, and maybe my words are just adding to the noise. But so what? If I don’t satisfy this compulsion to connect my feelings and experiences to words, then I’m not sure how I can make sense of this effed up world(except maybe in a therapist’s office, but writing doesn’t require a co-pay). Somehow, writing unlocks something deep in my subconscious that wouldn’t have come out unless written down. I can write things in journals that I feel but can’t speak aloud. This is freedom.

This is why I bother writing.

True, I vacillate between bestseller and the hack with no talent; punch drunk on the illusions of fame and hiding behind the mask of nobody.  While the comparison bitch screws me over every time always halting my writing process, it takes all I can do to shut her up and just write a few more words.

Perhaps in those next few words, I can free my voice just a little bit more,

feel something a bit deeper, hone this beautifully naracisstic craft.

 

This is why I bother writing.

And quite possibly, I don’t want to be the crazy cat lady.

 

 

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Fortune Cookie Writing Tips 2

Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Images of Money

 

A couple of weeks ago, I gave you several writing tips based upon fortune cookies. Now, it’s your turn to come up with the best writing tip based on this fortune:

Adventure is worthwhile in itself.

What tidbit of writing wisdom, pithy tip, or hilarious anecdote can you offer today? Or let me know what your best writing tip is in the comments!

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Fortune Cookie Writing Tips

Brown paper sacks, over flowing plastic containers filled with pork fried rice and General Tso’s chicken. Standard fare for at home date night, movie watching, stuffing ourselves with food not really from China, and hoping the MSG doesn’t petrify our insides yet.  We open our fortune cookies, read them aloud. Yours read like a bad Dear Abby letter, but mine always relates to my crazy writing life.  Or perhaps, I only see, read, breathe this writing gig.  Or maybe, I have stumbled on some great Zen wisdom:

The best writing advice comes from fortune cookies.  

Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Images of Money

Seriously, if we want to write better, perhaps, we should heed some of the wisdom baked with the oddly orange flavored, vanilla cracker cookies(on a side note: what is the flavor of a fortune cookie?). Today, I am giving you my TOP 5 things I learned about writing from my fortune cookies:

  1. You are not illiterate.  Neither is your audience. Right now, you’re reading. I hope you’re laughing too. As a writer, it is my job to treat my readers not as ignorant schoolchildren, but as literate, amazing, highly sophisticated, intellectual readers. It is so freeing. Try it.
  2. Only put off till tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone. Pretty much my philosophy on housework, dieting, and exercise. If I die with dirty dishes in the sink but have a beautiful manuscript finished, I say I spent my life wisely. If I choose to catch up with another writer to encourage her, no amount of laundry and well scrubbed floors will take the place of this soul balm.
  3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Because they would make better zombie fodder in your manuscript than actually stewing over their horrid bitchiness. Unless you choose the life of a hermit, people will piss us off so badly that hate feels like the only option. Now, take note: vindictive writing isn’t always good writing. But it is cathartic. Let it heal and move on.
  4. What you will do matters. All you need is to do it. Begin, write the first sentence that will amaze you and only you. I think sometimes we forget that we are our first readers not our second cousin’s first uncle’s nephew’s daughter twice removed. One thing that helps me get started is gather notecards, post-it notes and write 1 thing. Just do something. Begin the journey with your characters or yourself.
  5. At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet. We will never produce our best work if we believe that everything we do is shit. For our best writing, we must be sweet, kind, loving to ourselves. Encourage another writer. Believe in the revision process can make your words better.
Now, what is your best writing advice? Extra points if it includes fortune cookies!
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The Queen of Quantity

Quality is always better than quantity, right?

As I writer, I believed it. Shouldn’t we always look for the best word, the most tantalizing sentence, the perfect description? Under this paradigm, I labored and toiled. Second guessed my muse, begged forgiveness of my muse(her name is Winifred Eugenia Blowfish. She is a horrid harpy who praises mediocre bullshit and entices me to sofa sitting, Downton Abbey watching utopia. Or perhaps, she is merely personified writer’s block. Never quite sure.).

In the search for quality, I wrote nothing. I waited for the right conditions to write–kids in bed, husband distracted with video games, dogs snoring and farting very far away from my desk. Then, I bought new pens and purple legal pads and neon green Post-It notes. No quality writing. In my mind, I created everything I need for some kick ass poetry and prose. But the blinking cursor counted each second like a scowling metronome .

But what if I were focused on the wrong thing? What if it isn’t quality, but quantity?

Somehow, I existed underneath the hegemonic rule of my quality driven muse. I needed a paradigm shifting, parallel writing universe where I could simply write and write and write eschewing grammar, syntax, and stuffy formalities. Perhaps, I suffered from the classic writer’s block lie–if it isn’t amazing the first time, it isn’t worth writing. I berated myself for not writing like a mother scolds her children for untidy rooms. The passion, the enjoyment seeped out, and in its place, I found nothing.

But when I would sit in writing class, I threw off my need to perfect. Relaxed and allowed the words to flow trippingly on the tongue or in this case, the pen (ahh, Hamlet, I do so love thee).  I didn’t self-edit. There wasn’t time. I focused not on quality, but getting those damn words out on paper. Giving life to those faded memories, blowing the dust off my imagination, I gave myself permission to fuck up as a writer.

So, I became  The Queen of Quantity.

For May, I am committing to writing in mass quantity. Lots of shitty first drafts cobbled together, but it will all be inked out upon paper. My writing goal is to fill one 70 page notebook before the end of this month. And all this month, I am going to blog about this quantity over quality journey. Perhaps, I shall let you see a few first drafts. Perhaps, not.

Question: What has been the most freeing moment for you as a writer, artist, or person?

 

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Sun Sick: A Poem

We are sun-sick

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Kevin Dooley

Rain weary,

Dried up drowning.

Our Hearts

Filled to the brim

Empty.

Sweat stained dirt

Crushed under trowel

Of our laziness.

We are broken-healed

Pieces in a whole

Torn up cosmos.

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Of Poetry and Process

I am a writer. 

For almost year, I have grown comfortable in writer’s clothes, the garb of imagery, the scarf of dialogue, the perfume of ink dripped on paper. I meandered through my writing closet choosing which clothes and outfits to present on this blog. What statement would be mine unique voice? What delicate nuanced twist would captivate me again, my readers again?

I didn’t have an answer.

Like so many writers, our passion dulls. We resort to pulling out the old hats, the worn out phrases, the thrift store shoes just to keep plugging along this writing life. Of course, I could write about feminism and women’s rights and tell stories about my children just to watch my blog’s stats soar. But after while, the familiar becomes worn thin, thread bare prose. Lifeless, grim, and uninspired.

Even after asking you, my dear readers, I knew that this blog needed a change long before I posed the question. I needed to escape the familiar and dig deeper into my writerly closet. To push into the back recesses, behind the faded curtains, the cobwebs, the dust. I long stuffed behind elegant prose, random attempts at blogging about faith and women’s rights –using a voice not entirely mine own. There, in the depths, I found my new purpose to peck out words about screen. A name, a new wardrobe.

I am a poet.

I am not so comfortable with these new clothes. Maybe, I have seen too many poets parading their wares like open confessionals or watched poets vomit up rhyming nonsense. Of course, it must be poetry if it rhymes. If calling myself a writer didn’t make me a freak show, calling myself a poet AND publishing it to blog certainly qualifies me.Besides, I dabbled in poetry here on the blog always disappointed when no one commented, no one read , or no one seemed to care. And I returned the familiar writing topics that garnered more notice, but burning inside me is a poet’s soul.

Slowly, I am warming up to this idea of being a poet, and this blog will house more poetry, fewer prose pieces(I will  still  keep up the ol’writing skills, eh?), more short articles about my process or lack thereof. For now, this is my blog’s story–of poetry and process.

So, dear reader, will you allow me the privilege of offering you a few more poems, a few more haikus, a few more  poet prayers?

Today, I am linking up with Joy in this Journey’s Life Unmasked. Link up and share your stories of every day messes.

 

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My So-Called Glamorous Writing Life

I sit down at my L-shaped desk and fidget with the piles of school papers, Post-It notes, and books. Once my desk is tidy, my overwhelming email addiction demands that I check every single email account and answer every single email based upon importance. I probably need a 12 step program for email addiction, but it can go on my to do list right after my writing. The whole reason that I sat down at my desk is to write. But after an hour, I haven’t written one damn word. Except my to do list which says: “write a good paragraph.” Four words and no more.

But lately, my writing wallows at the end of a mile long list of crap. Despite putting it as number one, I choose to print out coupons(number seven on the list) or check Twitter and Facebook(not even on the list) or random internet searches(I’ll call this research). Next, I check my blog for comments, respond to comments(yes, this counts as writing. Or that’s what I tell myself), then I proceed to comment on my friends’ blogs. Certainly, they need someone to say nice things about their writing, right? Somehow, I meander to YouTube, and I’m sure I could have put off watching the Basset Hounds in slow motion until after writing. But they were so cute.

Five hours after I sat down to write, words meet ink and paper. To escape the noise and whining, I sit on the front porch with my legal pad and favorite blue pen. I bask in the warm sunshine and listen to the wheels whirring on 421. Finally, I wrestled myself free from the distractions—kids, the internet, social media, and myself(sort of). Holding my breath, I waited to see if I would be followed outside, but the doors never opened. I was safe. A few moments of quiet and writing time.

While I should have been thrilled, I berated myself for wasting five hours on stupid, mindless distractions. I imagined all of the words that could have been written each hour pushed towards a precipice. Once the hour passed, they tumbled down into vast nothingness. Never to have lived on paper. They haunt me, fuel my guilt, and strangle my creativity. My muse chokes upon the bile of these undead words.

Like so many unproductive days, I placed myself on trial for wasted writing time. I’m always guilty. Perhaps, I should feel some remorse and shame for all of the time misused. But then again, it’s just another excuse to avoid writing. Yet, I replay this cycle of distraction and guilt too often. Another moment to wallow in self-pity, another moment to poison my muse. Guilt and regret mingled together kill every ounce of creative energy.

But now, I see blue inked out words. Words breathing out their lives upon paper, and I feel a bit of the writer’s guilt melting away. With each new word, I forgive myself. Sentences take shape, and paragraphs lumber along. I keep writing and forming my thoughts, but mostly, I repent of the five hours wasted and work in the hours I have now. It’s the only thing I can do. Until tomorrow.

 Question: What things get in the way of your writing, art, etc? How do you overcome them?

Photo credit: Keith Williams via Flickr Creative Commons

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