The Painful Joys of Writing: Oblivion

Writing is both cathartic and stressful. In my mind, I see a story unfold or envision an excellent conversation or picture a vivid scene, but when I’m ready to translate the images into words, many times I end up frustrated with the result.

But there are times, glorious times, when the perfectionist in me can let go. I draw a blank–literally, a blank on the page–to be filled in later, I’ll put big question marks over something I’m not sure of or at the end of an awkwardly worded sentence and just move on. My writing picks up and the world melts away.

I ran cross country in high school. (Stay with me–this is related). It was hard and painful and I told myself and my parents and coaches and friends that I did my best but honestly, I’m not so sure I ever did. My brain and my lungs and my legs were all like “yep, that’s all I’ve got,” but looking back, I don’t think my heart got there. See, everyone talked about this idea of a “Runner’s High,” where a person pushes herself beyond the pain and the struggle and the fatigue and suddenly, it all disappears. I never broke through that wall with running. I ran for a lot of reasons and a lot of people; I ran with the varsity team during several meets my sophomore year and all of junior year, I medaled at a meet (once), and I did push through shin splints and stiff knees and sore ankles, but it was never for me. I never ran just for myself, and so I never really experienced that promised high.

I get it with writing. My hand cramps up and my eyes strain and my back aches and my neck pops. But I keep going, sinking further into the words coming out of me, the life swirling inside of me, until there’s nothing and no one but my characters. My handwriting turns nearly illegible, or my typing is filled with those obnoxious red squiggles, but perfection can wait as the letters and words tumble out faster than my fingers can form them.

When this happens, time has no meaning. I’ve sat at a desk for six hours after work without noticing the sun setting. I often have to be jarred out of this trance-like state if there’s any hope for me to rejoin the land of the living in a timely manner. And don’t expect me to be pleasant if I’ve been pulled away just when my story is flowing well. In general, it is usually better to let me taper off.

My husband is getting very good at this. There have been times when he’s come home to me furiously typing or scribbling and I’ve told him there’s no dinner and I’m not sure when there might be (side note: I’m the cook in the family. He can boil up some rice like nobody’s business, sure, but dinner is my forte). He’ll remind me I need to eat, too, before going across the street for sandwiches. Then he’ll return, gently trying to coax me away to eat something. I tell him just a little bit longer and I’ll grab something. The next thing I know, all the lights are off and the apartment is silent and it’s past midnight, and I’ve completely forgotten that I was supposed to eat.

I’ll show up at work the following morning bleary-eyed and ravenous, but the worst part will be struggling to pick up the fast-unraveling thread of a story from the night before. Too often, it slips through my stiff, swollen fingers.

But the promise of another Writer’s High keeps me going. Because I’m doing this for me. And nothing energizes my spirit like a solid night of bleeding my story onto the page.

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The Wildcards

My friends and I are garbage people. We drink cheap beer and play raucous drinking games and create quite the ruckus when we get together. We rarely engage with people outside our group and hardly even socialize within it.

An actual conversation I’ve been a part of:

“I don’t want to hang out with so-and-so’s friends. All they do is sit around and talk.” “I know, who wants to just talk?” “Guys, why don’t we talk to each other?” “I don’t know. Are we bad friends?” *heavy pause as we consider the possibility* “Nah.”

It’s hard to invite new people into our group, even harder for them to be fully accepted. My husband was pleasantly surprised when he was invited into the “wildcards” group photo–at our own wedding.

Here we are, looking hella timeless (even if we’re missing a few wildcards):

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(Photo credit: Anne Lord Photography)

To outsiders, we are close-knit and loyal. To each other, it’s rare to hear a kind word said (more often, it’s the meanest words that express the most affection).

This beautiful mess of garbage people came together the way many college friendships do: through that happy coincidence of random roommates. Sophomore year at JMU (yeah, we bleed purple), one group of freshman friends shared a suite with another group of freshman friends, as well as a pair of freshman BFFs (due to more random roommate-ing). The result? Pure garbage. Over the next three years (and beyond), we crushed Natty Light and ate Chanellos Pizza at three in the morning and had to stop playing drinking games like Chandelier because yours truly was (is) too good at it.

We played intramural sports like soccer and floor hockey and dodgeball, and stole our team/friendship name (Wildcards) from an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (the show with the ultimate garbage people) in which (*spoiler alert*) Charlie cuts the brakes of their getaway car. Because wildcard, bitches.

As we’ve entered adulthood, we’ve kept the garbage spirit alive. We’ve celebrated three wildcard weddings in glorious wildcard fashion. At the first, we danced on broken glass and one of us nearly got in a fight for hitting on a bride from another wedding (he’ll swear up and down she wasn’t the bride, but who else wears white to a wedding?). The second, we piled up beer bottles so high on the table, the centerpiece had to be moved and we *almost* felt bad for the guy clearing tables (he brought a giant trash can over just for us). The third, the bride received several “we’re not going to make it” texts with distressing photos of shoes-missing-their-owner and someone wrapped in a blanket hunched over in the bathroom and another sleeping on a hillside (they did end up making it). Also, after at least two of them, we had pizza delivered to the hotel bar rather than buy the bar food (#classy).

But also at these weddings, the brides all received loving (and ridiculous) performances from the wildcards. We form circles and link arms and sway in time to classic love songs. We take off work and drive through the mountains to spend a weekend at Billy’s lake house. We come up with awful hashtags so we can tweet to each other while we’re hanging out, just so the others know what they’ve missed out on (#noLisa). We shell out our hard-earned cash to rent a beach house and spend a week together in the summer.

Because no one loves as hard as us. We just don’t like to talk about it.

 

The Painful Joys of Writing: Introduction

I am a writer.

Can I just say that one more time? I am a writer.

I have a hard time owning that statement, probably because in the eyes of the world, I have nothing to back it up. When a stranger asks “what do you do?”, I freeze before mumbling some nonsense about property management and commercial real estate. It always comes out like an apology, like I’m sorry for wasting their time with my dull answer. Really, I think I’m apologizing to myself for lying.

Because I’m a writer. I write. Constantly. I’m in my head most of the day and all of the night. I put words on a page almost every day, usually the old fashioned pen-and-paper way.image

I craft worlds and nurture characters and explore life’s questions. When I’m stuck–when I hold a pen and my mind is blank–I feel like my soul is dead. Panic sets in and I start to sink into the depths of despair. Writing is that all-encompassing for me.

Sure, I get paid to sit in an office and make sure the lights are on in people’s workspaces. I type up service contracts and submit invoices for payment and answer phones.

But property management doesn’t consume me. It doesn’t make me get up in the morning (if anything, it makes me snuggle deeper under the covers). It doesn’t drive me. So why do I let it define me when answering the age old “what is it you do?” question?

Probably because I know the follow up question would be “Oh, what do you write?” or “Anything I might have heard of?”. And the answer to the first would lead to the terrifying scenario of me describing my current work-in-progress the only way I can: in the lame, detached voice one must use to protect the core of her heart from unnecessary exposure. The answer to the second would end the conversation abruptly with a self-deprecating “not yet,” which is far more preferable than shouting “I’M WORKING ON IT!” even though that’s the real answer. Like, relax world, I’ll get your stupid validation eventually.

But I’ve made up my mind to own who I am: I’m a writer. Maybe I’ll be published someday, maybe I’ll only write stories for myself, but regardless, I write. It’s what I do.image

And now, in answer to those follow up questions, I guess I can say I have this blog. Even if it only has one reader (hi, Mom).

Dental Issues and Turkish Lentil Soup

I recently had dental surgery. I needed a tissue graft for the receding gum of one of my molars. For the squeamish reading this (hi, Mom), I’ll spare the details and just say this process was less involved than a root canal but on par (possibly worse due to lack of sedation) with wisdom teeth removal. I was swollen. I was in pain. I was hungry.

One thing about me: I’m almost always hungry. If I don’t feel like eating and I haven’t just finished a meal, there may be something wrong–mentally or physically–to curb my appetite.

The issue with dental surgery is the limitations it places on one’s ability to eat the way she loves. I have long been a huge fan of soups, so I will admit going into this procedure, I had a plan that was all soup all day and I was fine with it. I had a nice long grocery list laid out with little notes and explanations so my husband could navigate Harris Teeter without me (side note: my husband is excellent at grocery shopping for things he enjoys. It’s the “weird” things: the olive oil, the ginger root, the multiple different colored onions… that throw him.) and I knew I’d be cooking up some awesome soups that for whatever reason, I never got around to making this long, drawn out fall-winter-canwereallycallthisspring? season that seems *finally* (knock on wood) behind us.

So there I was, laying on the couch with an ice pack pressed to my cheek, catching up on Grey’s Anatomy (yes, seriously), and trying not to let my cranky, post-procedure feelings convince me I was getting hangry each time my husband called with another question. He was amazing, by the way. He’d call and say “I can’t find such and such” or “they’re out of this or that” and I’d say it doesn’t matter, I don’t need it, because I just wanted him to get home with the basics so I could eat SOMETHING besides the applesauce they gave me at the periodontist (which was already gone). He kept saying it was important so he was going to find it for me. My knight in corduroys.

Anyway, I started flipping through the recipes I’d jotted down for Carrot Ginger Soup and Black Bean Sweet Potato Soup and this impressively-named Flu Buster Vegetable Soup and realized I didn’t want any of them. I wanted salt-and-vinegar chips. I wanted chocolate-covered pretzels. I wanted a cheeseburger. Basically, I wanted what I couldn’t have. My husband found me wallowing in self-pity and a little bit of drool and frantically tried to help with a bowl of ice cream. (The best thing about this surgery: I was instructed to do my two favorite things–eat ice cream and don’t exercise.) It did help, until my stitches bled (sorry for that detail, Mom).

The perfect soup occurred to me around this time, and I frantically Googled to make sure we had the necessary ingredients (my husband loves me, but I couldn’t bring myself to send him back to the store, no matter how often he offered).

A Digression:

Several weeks ago, we went out to dinner. I was feeling particularly adventurous that night, so I told my husband I wanted to go somewhere I’d never been. I even offered a French restaurant he’d mentioned in the past (I’m not a huge fan of French food. Sorry). He ignored this completely and decided we should go to a Turkish restaurant that he loves near his parents’ house. Normally, I’d be happy with this option, but I was feeling like being dangerous and surprising myself by eating some frog legs or similar “French” cuisine. So I was less than kind as we sat down at the Turkish place and huffily read through the menu. Our waiter told us the soup of the day was Red Lentil Soup, a traditional Turkish soup, and I informed my husband I was going to try it (as if it was some big stand I was taking to display my displeasure that we were not eating somewhere new). All of that is to say, I had the lentil soup, it blew my socks off, and if not for my husband ignoring my wishes (read: demands) to go elsewhere, I would never have even thought to make a soup of pureed lentils and potatoes.

So that is what I needed when my mouth was swollen and my jaw was sore. The Turkish Lentil Soup ordered out of (weird, hangry) spite ended up not only saving the day, but it was probably one of the best dishes I’ve made in general. My husband did a fantastic job with the immersion blender, too. He refused to let me stand up for the time it took to puree the soup.

So there aren’t any pictures, but the recipe I used is below.

Turkish Red Lentil Soup:

  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup (~2 small) potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth (I used chicken)
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  1. Put all ingredients in large stockpot; bring to boil.
  2. Lower heat to Medium-Low and simmer 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove from heat and blend.

(Let cool to room temperature before eating if you’ve just had dental surgery and can’t have hot things)

First blog post

This is the post excerpt.

Welcome! I’ve had family and friends encourage me to blog, but I’ve always dismissed the idea. How could I blog when there isn’t a specific topic that stands out to me, begging to be discussed at length specifically by yours truly? Who would want to read anything I have to say, anyway? Then I realized, I fake-blog all the time. In the car, in the shower, while cooking, sometimes during conference calls…I start commentating and re-wording and revising these mini-essays in my mind. So why not write them down? Even if the only person who reads this is my mom (hi, Mom), I can still use an outlet for all my rambling thoughts. My husband will appreciate that he is no longer the sole recipient of my long-winded tirades about nothing.

PS: The picture below is the sample that came with the blog but I love it so I’m keeping it without having any significant relevance.

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