A New Beginning

Do you ever get really into something, then life comes along and distracts you just long enough that returning to that thing feels a little awkward? You start to wonder if you really loved it, since you haven’t really missed it, but at the same time you feel like you should really get back to it?

It happens to me all the time, especially with blogging. I’ll be on a roll for maybe a week or two then something else pulls my attention and the next thing I know, more weeks have passed without a single post. I start to feel guilty, but rather than motivating me to write, it shifts into a bundle of anxiety that I shove to the back of my mind. I’ll get to it, I tell myself, as the anxiety builds each day. Maybe tomorrow I’ll think of something brilliant, I reassure myself, as the anxiety drips down my throat and curls around my chest.

The longer I give it free reign to grow unsupervised, the darker it gets. I tell myself there’s a simple explanation — not as simple as “life gets in the way”, but something more damning — I’m lazy. I’m a dabbler — not a true writer. I don’t belong in the blogging world, I don’t belong in the writing world. If I’m so easily chained to everything but writing, why bother keeping up the facade? Just give up already.

You already have.

It’s a metaphor for my life lately. My thoughts are scattered, too jumbled to untangle, too time-consuming to fit into a blog-length ramble. My life is on the precipice of some huge changes, both exciting and scary. And I know I should cut myself some slack, even though it’s hard.

I’m leaving my current job at the end of this week. My husband and I are moving halfway across the country so he can go back to school full time. And even though I’ve been relatively silent on the blog for the better part of this year, I want to share the adventure with you. I want to be better at making time for the things I love, and I’m hoping these changes will bring with them a shift in focus. A way to make time for things that can be hard, even though they’re enjoyable. A kick-start to get out and experience things worth sharing. An incentive to pause the Grey’s Anatomy Netflix marathons and take time exploring — either my community or my inner self.

I want to be better at this. And I thank you for sticking with me and my sporadic posting.

A Too-Public Apology

I’ve gotten carried away on Facebook. This election was ugly and contentious and it stirred up a lot of “yuck” on both sides. After the shocking results (or not so shocking, if you’re that one professor who’s always right about presidential elections), everything came to a head.

Going into Election Night, I knew a lot of friends and family voted differently than me–and that was okay. One person — whom I love more than my own life, and who did not vote my way — posted her “I voted” sticker to Facebook, and someone else commented “I hope for the right one!” Now, this could have been a statement of solidarity, like “so did I and I hope we made the right choice.” But I saw red. I almost typed back something along the lines of “who are you to judge if someone’s choice is right or wrong? She voted for the right person for her and that’s all that matters here.” I was ready to throw down, all in defense of someone who basically canceled out my vote, because I loved her more than a stupid vote or a stupid four years or eight years or whatever it will be. (Instead, I raged to my husband and settled in to watch Hillary #crushit). And then I lost sight of that completely.

I’ve always known I’m very competitive and not the best loser, but this was not some game I could shake off the way I should have. I’ve written before my reasons that I personally could never support Trump; I didn’t realize until he won just how much my own understanding of my immediate world was wrapped up in this election. Suddenly, I didn’t see family, I just saw betrayal. I felt confused — probably because I never took the time to sit down beforehand and explain face-to-face with people what it is that drives my thinking, and therefore how I believe they must think, too. I was — and am — terrified of what this can mean for a country already so divided.

I lashed out on social media, in a defiant show of love behind a veneer of anonymity, a soapbox once-removed. And I hurt people with some of the things I’ve “liked”, some of the posts I’ve shared. I didn’t take the time to put into my own words my terror and my angst and my confusion. I won’t apologize for fearing for my country, or for feeling hurt or betrayed or confused, because this is how I feel, and I am allowed to process this in my own way.

But I do sincerely ask forgiveness for the hurt I’ve caused through a careless, too-public post, or the words I’ve endorsed without explanation or attempt to make them my own. Because I’d like to think that while I shared some of the same sentiments, my own words could have held more love and less accusations. It’s too easy, when one is hurt and scrolling through a newsfeed, to say “yeah!!” and just click ‘share’ rather than sit and think and scribble out her heart. It’s vulnerable and difficult, especially when that heart is already bleeding from wounds others don’t realize they’ve made. Wounds that might have been avoided, if we’d shared our hearts sooner.

Because the people I love — those who want to Make America Great Again and those who were #WithHer and those who chose neither — they feel the same as me. They fear for America, they want what’s best and they didn’t intend to hurt me anymore than I wanted to hurt them personally.

And maybe this whole post shouldn’t be public, either. Maybe it would be better served individually, but a public harming deserves a public acknowledgement that while I’ve been screaming about “love” for almost a week, I haven’t done a good job of connecting through love with those I care about. And maybe I’ve hurt someone without even realizing it, and I want them to know I’m sorry for that, too. Love is not a weapon, but a shield we should use to defend what’s precious against a ravenous world. I lost sight of that, and I’m sorry.

I love you.

Stoplight: A Snapshot

 

The light clicks from yellow to red.

A mud-splattered truck stops short at the line, its driver blaring Lynyrd Skynyrd. He openly scopes out the blonde in the Jetta beside him. She pretends not to notice as she taps out a mortified text to her BFF of the week. Behind her, a balding businessman strums his fingers along the dashboard of his leased Mercedes and frowns at his knock-off watch. The ’06 Subaru next to him rocks with four teen boys’ motion as they take turns playing air drums and ironically head-banging to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off,” while the dusty new Honda behind them houses a woman’s quiet sorrow. Tears roll over her chin as she sobs silently into the steering wheel.

The light turns green. The snapshot becomes a picture in motion.

The truck engine revs.

The Jetta driver drops her phone into the passenger seat.

The business man reaches for the shifter only to remember he now drives an automatic.

The boys burst into the intersection with shouts of laughter.

And the woman drags a hand down her cheeks, blows out a heavy breath, and swallows the rest of her pain.

Until the next stoplight.

Mockingbird

“I was like a well trained pianist who knows which note to hit, but can’t make the music his own.”
― David Benioff, City of Thieves

I’ve come to discover I’m something of a mockingbird. My art is often more mimicry than original.

My funniest moments usually entail bringing up something that has already been deemed hilarious, the memory even funnier in a new context. I have decent comedic timing and quick wit, but most of my jokes are not my own.

I’ve noticed it in my writing, too. My personality is a bit obsessive so once I get into a show or a book I can’t stop until I’ve absorbed it entirely. I start thinking in terms of the story, using similar vocabulary and diction as the characters, and when I try to write my own stories, this mimicry flows through.

I got the full series of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman for Christmas one year, and I wasn’t halfway through the box-set before my characters were using words like “ma” and finding rugged, outdoorsy ways to occupy their time. While reading Robin LaFevers’s His Fair Assassins trilogy, my own writing stopped using contractions and took on the elevated diction of a medieval noble.

Usually upon editing I can get back into my own character’s heads, my own story’s voice, and I can make the necessary word adjustments to return to my own style.

There are a few writers whose actual style lingers deep in my subconscious, though. Mark Zusak (The Book Thief, I am the Messenger) is probably my favorite. Every so often, I’ll write something oddly poetic, and I’ll have a burst of gratitude for Zusak and his impeccably beautiful prose.

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Mark Zusak, The Book Thief

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And like a child watching her world with awe-filled eyes, I am easily shaped by the words and experiences I’ve immersed myself in. I only hope I will continue to tug out my own, original voice from the web of adoration I gladly weave around myself with each new book, with each beloved movie.

The Painful Joys of Writing: Research

My current WIP (that’s work-in-progress, Mom) is a historical fiction novel set during WWII. I’ve always been fascinated by that time: the beauty and the tragedy, the resiliency of the people and the fact that those generations can laugh after the horrors they witnessed.

My other stories have been completely imaginary, so it’s been refreshing having a number of sources to go to with questions rather than having to make everything up. The Internet is an amazing thing, with just a few clicks, I get more knowledge than I ever needed.

This is also a drawback.

Sometimes, I get too hung up on stupid tiny details that are only important for making the story authentic. My characters are going dancing in D.C.? Let me just Google what clubs might have been around in the early ’40s (spoiler alert: this was not as simple as it sounds. It took me days of research to scratch out a number of dance clubs my characters might have attended).

Wikipedia is helpful but not completely trustworthy. Its hyperlinked words make it too easy for me to wander, too. For example, my characters need a summer activity to be doing (or on their way to doing) when they run into another character (at which point, said activity no longer matters). Still, I can’t just say they’re eating ice cream at the waterfront. Today’s DC waterfront is nothing like 1940s DC waterfront (was there even much of a “waterfront”?). Google tells me the area I’m thinking of (now near the AMC Loews theater) used to be the site of the Georgetown incinerator. So…people probably weren’t hanging around where they were burning trash. So maybe they went to a museum. Or just hung around one of the monuments or memorials. The Wikipedia page for the National Monument takes me through the Lincoln Memorial page to the the Reflective Pool (not built yet in their time), to the Tidal Basin, to the WWII Memorial, to the grafitti “Kilroy was here” and the next thing I know, I’m reading about rationing in Great Britain during and after the war.

Also, my interest to know whatever I can about the ’40s is a drawback during quick-research time. In this example, I figure the Tidal Basin is probably a good area my characters could end up, so I leave the page open to read in a second, but first I want to continue reading about Marian Anderson’s epic performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 after she was not allowed to perform at the DAR (because she was African American). And in reading more about Anderson, I find out she was good friends with Albert Einstein. He was really big in the Civil Rights Movement (and referred to himself as a devout anti-racist). One thing leads to another and two hours later I’ve somehow ended up reading about the U.S.O. in World War II.

Now my brain is full to bursting will all this barely-necessary knowledge and I’ve completely forgotten what I originally set out to look up. Forget about the actual story I wanted to write around that little detail–it’s gone. I leave the story for the following day, only to wake up and find the blank I’ve literally drawn to remind myself I need a relevant detail, and the process starts all over.

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.

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).