Thursday, January 12, 2017

What's the Point of Writing?





I got my fifth rejection letter today. Though I pretend not to care, I do. It takes something out of me each time that it happens.

So why am I doing it?

What's the point of all this?


* * * 


When I was a child I would pretend I could control the wind.

We had long uncut grass much of the time and when the wind whipped through it, it looked like a wild safari or the grasses of the Savanna. I orchestrated the movement of the wind with my arms, with mad, sweeping movements and grand gestures that demonstrated my command over nature. I was all powerful and in control — and it was transcendent. I could pretend that the chaos that was going on inside the house was far away. I'd get lost in the way the leaves of the grass would sway back and forth, looking like a silvery gray sea when the undersides of the grass flicked towards the sun, and then flipped back to a dark green sea as I commanded the wind to blow the other way.


* * * 


When I was a child I pretended I was a deep sea diver in a blue plastic pool in the backyard.

I had a snorkel and a mask and I circled about endlessly, the water warm the sun. Strips of grass and leaves floated lazily past the glass of my mask, twirling in a vortex I'd created with my circular laps. I'd pop my head up over the water, over the edge of the pool, and then taste the blue plastic while I gazed across the yard, watching dandelion puffs float through the sky. I could get lost in that world. Another world. Underwater, removed, silent and undulating with currents I'd created. I liked the feel of the grass under my feet as I ran back inside the house, pieces of grass sticking to my feet and ankles.


* * * 


Why write?

I've been wondering this since I've been trying to blog every day (or at least every week day) for the month of January. Scroll back and you'll see I'm not exactly accomplishing this goal. Why the resistance? Why the battle? Isn't this supposed to be something I love?

I've been struggling with the edits on my memoir. I'm blocked by a difficult chapter and I keep striking upon the same spot where I stop "showing" and start "telling" the story. I'm undone by this. I don't even know where to begin fixing it. And the chapter has fifty pages. I'm overwhelmed by the impossibility of the task.

So why write? What's the point?

I'm acting like it's a job or burden. I submitted some short pieces to the literary journals because I want to be read. The blog is supposed to be pleasure. The memoir is what I chose to write. These are all things I want to do. I have something in me that compels me to write. A song that needs to be sung. A song that's been stuck in my throat since I was that little girl conducting the winds and creating the currents.

Writing is not a burden.

Writing is getting lost in that magic space in my head. Writing is the lull of the wind across the tops of the grass. Writing is the warm water and the sun filtering through it. Writing is a music that only I can hear.

Maybe I want that song to be heard? Maybe I'm singing it because it needs to be sung? Maybe I'm singing because it's the only voice that I have?

I don't know.

But whatever the reason, it is not a burden. It's not a job. It's not something to feel ashamed of or to fret over.

This is magic. This is music. This is mystery. This is the only space where I conduct the song. Every note. Every measure. Somehow I keep forgetting to just open my mouth and sing.



* * * 


This is the only place where I'm free.






Monday, January 9, 2017

The First Week of New Year's Resolutions

Goodbye Alcohol, my old friend. 

I have been trying to come up with something to write about that isn't about a) writing b) dieting and/or c) not drinking. Those three subjects could get really boring for you to read over and over again.

But then my mind just draws a blank.

I got nothing! Nothing but nothing. I can write about the inability to write until my fingers bleed, which seems mildly ironic.

Nobody wants to hear how great I'm doing on my Pseudo Paleo diet. If you're on a diet, okay, maybe it would be interesting to you. But if you're not, you're just like, "OMG SHUT UP ALREADY." It's like exercise that way. Just ask a vegan or someone who does CrossFit* and you'll quickly wish you hadn't.

And nobody wants to hear about how I'm not drinking for the month of January over and over again, all month long. See CrossFit.*

I'm decidedly disappointed in myself that I have nothing else to talk about other than those three things. But the truth is, they're currently preoccupying me. They are major life changes and I'm really hyped about how well it's going so far.

Of course I haven't lost a single pound.

I did finally step on the scale on Friday morning after six days of dietary purity. I figured that would give me a little bit of a head start before I shocked myself with the reality of the number on the scale. Unfortunately six days wasn't enough and the number that confronted me was the highest number I've ever weighed in my entire life.

SIGH.

I'm going to blame the election. I've been comfort eating since November 8.

What are you gonna do? Just pick yourself up and eat another Brussels sprout, I suppose. I'm in this for the long haul, not the quick fix.


Oh look. Another salad. 


On the other hand, the not drinking thing is going really well. I'm always surprised by how easy it is to quit drinking. I like to have a glass of wine after work to take the edge off. To unwind. Calm down. Mellow into the evening hours. It's become such a habit, that the need to have a glass of wine felt like just that ... a need. That's why I like the idea of Dry January so much. It puts you back in touch with your relationship with alcohol.

As the child of an alcoholic, I like to quit drinking every so often just to remind myself that I can. It nags at me not unlike the way a cut or a canker sore in your mouth nags at you. You keep touching it with your tongue over and over again, thinking, "Yep, still there. Yep, still there. Yep, still there."

Every once in a while I like to quit drinking just to remind myself, "Yep, still not an alcoholic. Yep, still not an alcoholic." I don't think children of alcoholics can ever have a simple relationship with alcohol. Seems like lots of them either don't drink, are alcoholics themselves, or worry about it in the backs of their minds all the time.

I do believe some of us are wired to be alcoholics and others aren't. I mean, I should be an alcoholic. I've got half my DNA just begging me to drink myself into oblivion every night. And yet I'm able to drink a single glass of wine and call it a night. And here I am, 9 days into not drinking and pleasantly surprised once again by how easy it was to completely stop. I brew myself a cup of hot mint tea and I'm completely satisfied. I don't think it feels that way to an alcoholic.

Another benefit to not drinking (aside from rediscovering that I'm not an alcoholic), is that I have a lot more energy in the evenings. It's surprising how one glass of wine can slow you down enough to not want to fold laundry or edit manuscripts. Now I'm writing, editing and doing the laundry midweek.

Who am I?

ALL THE ENERGY!!!

I even worked out over the weekend. (Uh oh, we're getting into CrossFit* territory again...) I tried a new circuit training class with my niece on Saturday and then dragged her to a spinning class on Sunday.


Welcome to the gun show, motherfuckers.


ALL THE EXERCISE!!!

Maybe the endorphins are like a drug? Maybe once you start working out all the time it's like you've joined a cult. You feel so amazing! You feel so alive! You want everyone to feel so awesomely fit and energetic and alive so you tell everyone about it and try to talk them into it too!

Then next thing you know, people are avoiding you on Facebook and in public.

"Oh Jesus," they say. "Ever since she joined CrossFit* it's all she talks about."

P.S. I'm not doing CrossFit*. I think I'm more in danger of becoming addicted to it rather than the alcohol. So you're safe for now.

*NOTE: Pronunciation of CrossFit—Every time I say or think the word "CrossFit," I say it like they do on the radio show Dave and Chuck The Freak. You have to bug your eyes out and drag it out into almost a scream-whisper, "CROSSSSSSSSFIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!"






Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The River

Shh! Don't spook him.


Thoughts are like a river. Dip your hand into them and try and grasp the moment...reach too late and the moment is gone.

Yesterday morning I had a good idea for a blog and thought, "I should write this down." But I was driving in my car. Whatever it was I was thinking was profound. But alas, I lost it somewhere on Southfield Road.

Yesterday afternoon I had another good idea when my son and I saw a buck strolling on a golf course in Huntington Woods (irony) but it too proved as fleeing as the morning's inspiration, more fleeting than the deer contentedly munching on carrots.

I once saw the river of thought, like actually saw it. I was meditating on the carpet in the classroom I once had, many moons ago when I was a high school English teacher. The carpet changed into a river and colors flowed smoothly past my conscience. It's the first and last time I ever saw anything like that while meditating. Or at all. I mean, aside from literal rivers.

My favorite place is a river. It's called the Pigeon River and it's in Northern Michigan. You can sit by it and watch it flow. It's golden and coppery and shimmery. Cold too. I've bathed in that river and spent many hours lost in that river, climbing over beaver dams to find my way. I've canoed it and been shushed by fly fisherman in it. I almost walked into a bear alongside it. I want the ashes of my body poured into it when I am dead.

The river flows.

Dip your hand into it, try and catch me.

Reach too late,  I"ll be gone.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Small Things

I include this for no other reason than it amuses the hell out of me.


I'm continually and repeatedly surprised by the power of small things.

Small things can lead to big changes.

The small act of writing these few words each day have had a ripple effect on not only my writing, but my life. By blowing the dust off my brain and forcing myself to commit to a few words each day, it put me back in the writing frame of mind. Since I'd already dealt with a blank page here, it wasn't quite so daunting to open up the manuscript file and make a few pages of edits. And what I found there wasn't as scary as I thought it was. In fact, it was pretty good.

So here I am again. Doing one small thing, which may lead to another small thing, and who knows how many other small things after that?

My silly dietary changes are like that too. And maybe committing to those changes began with committing to writing these baby blogs each day? A small snack-size bag of Cheez-Its is not that big of a thing to give up. Or a small (haha — who are we kidding?) glass of wine each night is not that big of a thing to give up. The Cheez-Its are worth about 210 calories and the glass of cab, 130 calories (let's allow for 150, just to be generous). So that's 340 extra calories a day, or 2,380 a week. Or 9,520 a month. Or 114,240 a year. Those small changes can lead to big changes and significant weight loss over time.

I wrote my memoir the same way. Some days I only wrote a hundred words. Some days I wrote 500 words. Say I averaged out to 250 words a day, that's 1,750 a week, 7,000 a month or 84,000 a year. That's a whole book. Now I wasn't that consistent mind you, so it took me about 3 or 4 years to write it, but I did. It's finished and now I'm just editing it. And that's because I thought small.

Small daily habits lead to tremendous changes in your life. You can lose weight or write a book. You can move from chaos to organization. You can save enough money to buy a house or a retirement. You can learn how to play an instrument or knit a blanket. Whatever you want. It's all possible.

But tackling big things is overwhelming.

Doing something small each day, not so much.

Like writing this sentence.

What small thing can you do?

Monday, January 2, 2017

Dry January and Magical Thinking

My refrigerator after The Great Purge of 2017.


Last year I participated in "Dry January." I didn't know it was a thing-thing, like with an official name and everything. I just figured I'd take the month of January off from drinking and try to go Paleo. I lost ten pounds.

I drank and ate my way through the other eleven months of 2016. So I've got that going for me. I mean, if I was looking to gain fifteen pounds, that is.

Here's where I embark on my second annual Dry January with a Modified Paleo Diet on the side. For the past two days I have consumed no booze and have eaten no Cheez-It baked snack crackers. I'm not sure what my life will be like without red wine and Cheez-Its, but I'm thinking it will feature striking cheek bones and jeans that don't rip when I'm jumping up and down to jam myself into them.

I've been yo-yo dieting since I was approximately 14 years old, with an eating disorder thrown in there for good measure. Since I've been in recovery from an eating disorder for the past 15 years or so, I've still yo-yo dieted but without the puking.

*Rimshot*

Sorry, I imagine Bulimia humor has a rather niche audience.

Anyway, I've yo-yo'ed up and down about 15 to 20 pounds over the years. It goes something like this:

1. I realize my pants don't fit.
2. I hire a personal trainer, quit eating carbs and lose 15 lbs.
3. I look amazing, buff, fit and fabulous.
4. I get tired of paying for a personal trainer and decide I can do it on my own.
5. I stop working out.
6. I believe I am "naturally thin" and start eating carbs again.
7. I gain 15 lbs.
8. Repeat.


Can someone please remind me in the spring that I am not in fact naturally thin? If you see me, just smack the bag of Cheez-Its out of my hands.



Friday, December 30, 2016

Losers and Other Voices in Your Head

Mandy, 1987-ish.

Part of not writing or not creating whatever it is you should be doing but aren't, is dealing with the tumult and fray that are the voices in your head. I'm not talking diagnosable voices that might lead to some sort of prescription or anything. I'm talking about the voices of doubt and derision that tell you that you can't. That you suck. That you're a loser for even thinking anyone would want to read anything your lame ass would write.

Every time I'm faced with the blank page, those voices start to clamor. Voices from the past. Voices from my own psyche that tell me I'm not good. I'm not worthy. I'm a piece of trash and no one would ever want to read anything I wrote.

"Who do you think you are?" they whisper. "You're just a loser."

"Loser" is the secret key to the darkest door in my brain. Walk down a spiraling staircase and descend into the pitch and cobwebby spaces of my gray matter — there you will find a little girl huddled in the corner. It's difficult to even write these words because I've given you access to the most vulnerable space within me. You now have the means with which to hurt me, easily.

"Loser."

It's my kryptonite.

I'm 45 years old and still I'm walking up the slow slope of Woodbank hill towards my house, the one with the peeling paint, the broken garage door and the overgrown grass. I'm still trying to get past one house as quickly as I can, before the Catholic school kids come out of their garage to play basketball in the driveway.

Too late. Always too late.

"Your mother's a drunk!" they shout. "You're a loser!"

Loser. 

Once planted it's there forever. Why? Why can some little snot-nosed, private school brats infect my brain like that? Maybe the only reason it resonated with me is because it's what I already believed about myself. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered a whit if I liked myself.

I suspect that's the real truth of the matter.

Loser.

The blank page sits there and taunts. "Loser, who would want to read your stuff?" "Loser, don't post that on Facebook, Jesus." "Loser. Nobody gives a damn."

All the voices that clamor for your attention. All the voices that want to bring you down. But then another voice, perhaps the voice of the divine. Something calls to you and says, "You're fine."

That twinkle. That sparkling little light that reaches down the deepest cavern of your biggest doubts and tells you that you can.

And so I do.

Each time that I do, some kind of victory is won. And maybe that's why you're here too. Maybe you've been in the dark. Maybe you want to see the light. I'll hold my candle up and show you the way.




Thursday, December 29, 2016

Writing Is Contagious. Like An Infectious Disease From Which You Will Never Recover.

My six year old is proud of her writing. So innocent! So naive!


My friend John is blogging now. He's been blogging every day. And each time I read his short quips, it makes me want to write in my blog. But then I have nothing focused to say and I don't really write "short" anything. I back my way into stories, books and blogs and it takes a bit of meandering before I find my way.

Perfectionism is hurting my ability to write. If I don't have something profound and tidy to say here, I don't say anything.

If I can't make each chapter of the memoir I wrote perfect, I don't edit. I have a completed memoir. A 300-page finished book that just needs me to make some minor tweaks and edits. But right now every time I open that giant file, I feel exhausted and weighed down by all of the ways it's not perfect.

I submitted a short short story to a number of literary journals recently. And I also submitted a longer nonfiction piece (one of the chapters from my memoir) to some as well. Overall, I submitted to about 30 journals. I've gotten about three or four rejections so far. One rejection wasn't "quite" a total rejection. They offered to publish my story if I changed the ending.

But I don't want to change the ending.

The ending is the one thing that's perfect.

Unlike everything else I'm not writing and not editing and not doing.

I had a point with all of this but I can't quite find it. Everything related to writing feels oppressive and heavy. Each rejection pulls me a bit deeper. I try to laugh it off, but it doesn't feel good. Maybe I'm not editing my manuscript because I fear rejection? If I never finish the edits, the memoir can never be rejected.

And if I never write in this blog, I'll never have to be rejected here either. No comments? No problem! No likes, who cares!

Why do we write anyway? Is it navel gazing and egocentric? Is it to connect to others? I suppose if it were the former, the lack of comments or likes wouldn't matter. If it's the latter, the inability to publish or to have a conversation about it, that would feel like failure. But still the ego's in there, I'm sure.

LIKE ME LIKE ME LIKE ME!

Is everything about a fear of rejection or failure? Is that why we fall off the wagon? Cheat on our diets? Don't exercise? Don't do our homework? Procrastinate at work? I feel like there's some wisdom at my fingertips, but it eludes me.

It's probably something quippy like, "What would you do if you couldn't fail?"

Maybe I'd write a self-help book. Maybe I'd go on the motivational speaker circuit. Or maybe I'd just sit here writing shitty blogs and collecting rejection letters like lost loves and missed opportunities.

Okay. Time to rethink that motivational speaker career.