Category Archives: Uncategorized

Key West (Is the Best?)

As you probably know if you read my blog, or did read it when I was doing a better job of keeping up with it:

I AM WRITING A NOVEL

But, let’s be honest.  Which novel?  Because I have been through a few ideas that didn’t pan out.  Transitioning from writing short stories to writing a novel is not exactly easy.  Granted, I have a lot of education and a decent amount of publications behind me, but it is still a struggle.  More of a struggle?  No.  That actually sounds super unfair.  A struggle.  Not to be confused with My Struggle–either Knausgaard’s or Hitler’s–in fact, I’d pretty much like to say that it is nothing like either of those guys.  Especially Hitler.  Yikes.

So, I decided that I could use some technical help as well as some scenic help.  (Spoiler alert:  Look at the title of this post.)  I am extremely proud to announce that I have been accepted for a writing workshop in Key West this January!  Author Madison Smartt Bell will be discussing novel writing with a bunch of us short fiction writers who can’t get it together.  Did I mention that it is in Key West?  Guys, I have never even been to Florida. I am beyond excited and honored to be chosen.  One of the chosen?  Nope.  Let’s not get lost here.

I’ve decided that it is meaningful to be fully prepped for this extravaganza.  (Note to self, double check full definition and meaning of extravaganza.)  In light of that, I have made you a dandy list.  Here’s a break down of my pre-game strategies to ensure success:

  1. Lump copious amounts of guilt on self for failing to publish more short fiction this year because I have been too “distracted” by my novel.
  2. Worry that I should be reading all of Hemingway, Hemingway bios, and the complete works of Bell before setting foot on Florida.
  3. Ask A LOT of people if they know I am writing a novel and then confirm with them that it is hard.  Then, ask if they have been to Florida and if the oranges and other citrus fruits are superior because they are so fresh and perfect, like tart little edible angel babies bestowed from a benevolent god.
  4. Stare at novel components, spending hours tweaking the same three or four pages.
  5. Become convinced that my dental hygentist is totally right and I will be a huge success.
  6. Become convinced that I am delusional for believing my dental hygentist.
  7. Repeat

How’s it sounding so far?  I’m not really sure that I can adequately explain what it would mean to me to be able to walk into bookstores across the country and see my book on their shelves, waiting and ready to be purchased.  Everyone will say to me at some point that it is about how badly you want it and if that was ALL it took, I can say that I’d already have it.  Not only would be mean a ton to me and my loved ones, but I could tell everyone who has ever done me wrong to eat it.  Does that sound harsh?  Truth hurts?  Why am I talking about this?  Oh.  Wanting it isn’t enough.  That was my point.  It also takes a lot of work, self-confidence, creativity, willingness to adapt, and an eternity of persistence.  But, here we are, and here we go.

I just wanted to share some happy news during these dark, short days.  Thanks for listening and for checking in on me!  I will try to keep up a better progress report.  And, maybe eventually, even start to tell you a little about my project.  But, you know, not just yet.

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Threads

Sometimes it seems like I have had a handful of differents lives, something more similar to a somewhat sparse tassle than a single thread.  Does everyone feel that way?  I remember pieces of my life that seem like they happened to someone else entirely.  I look at photos of younger me and think, “oh, there is that person.”  Maybe one day this me will also seem far removed.

I am told that as a young child I once spat on some young ladies in a booth behind me in a restaurant.  I was usually very well behaved.  I don’t remember it.  I was about three years old and my mother forced me to give a very insincere apology.  What was I thinking?  How had I become not only so incensed, but so bold?  It seems like I don’t know that little girl at all anymore.  I sort of like her terrible behavior.

But sure, you are thinking.  That is childhood.  That’s hard to remember and we are not yet fully formed.  (Surprise!  We never are!)  How about a more recent self?

Well, here you go:

Today a friend mentioned to me that I have lost some weight.  We had not seen each other in quite some time–we debated on the number of years.  I struggled to envision the larger me that she remembered.  She fumbled over her words, assuring me that I had not been vastly overweight.  I thought, yes, if I had been vastly overweight I would remember that.  I remember buying larger pants than I buy now, but I feel totally disconnected from that body which is vague in my mind.  The me that wore larger pants.  The me that she knows.  Did I eat more?  Differently?  Exercise less?  Did my body just take a detour into slenderness?  Am I a stranger sitting before her?  I was larger.  We knew a lot about each other’s lives.  Now we don’t.  We are quite separate and spending a lunch catching up.  I want to say, “Do I seem like someone you know?  Am I pulling off the impersonation of myself?”  I say, “Huh.  How long has it been?”

Maybe it is a sign of growth, or perhaps it signals detachment.  Better still, maybe it is resilence.  I can adapt.  I can persevere.  I keep shedding skins to become a different animal.  Or should we go back to the thread metaphor?  The tassle?  Either way, we are talking about fragmentation and change.  Either way, something remains a continuous whole.

The world is impossible and strange.  I look backward and wonder.  I look forward and question.

The Pleasures of Running

“You’ve always been easily bored,”  my mother says.  “Even as a little kid, you’d just follow me around saying ‘I’m boredies.”

Boredies.  Boredys?

This commentary comes after telling my mother that I find sitting in my apartment a near impossibility.  Essentially, once things are tidied, I am ready to just get the hell out of there.

“What if you lived someplace nicer?” my mom says.

“That’d be great, I can’t lie.  But I think I’d be restless anyway,” I tell her.

And it’s true.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy reading, I have a compulsion that doesn’t allow me to stop writing, and I know how to make my own fun.  (Every time the upstairs neighbors try to have sex, I stand directly beneath them and fart as loudly as I can.)

Here’s the problem.  I want to be excited.  So I go out and sculk around looking for it.  I watch people getting arrested, eavesdrop on strangers, burn too much gas just driving around.  I’m not sure how to explain to you what I need and I am less certain how to fulfill those desires.  Something in my subdued body is always clawing and scratching and ready to tear itself out.

It feels best to be in motion.  I think sometimes that I could drive forever and I wouldn’t get bored until I had seen every route.  I love how it feels to anticipate a new place and to be accountable to no one.  I love how it feels to imagine never stopping and never turning back.  I imagine endless bad motel nights, BBQ and draft beer from every dive.  I love being alone in public, an observer.

Living in familiar spaces is painful.  I am prone to a crippling, grieving, nostalgia.  I see in everything what my life has been and is no longer.  The slightest thing unleashes an onslaught of tears.

But.

Not on the road, where I can run like a wild horse.

I am done with being domesticated, but domesticity is not done with me.  So, I vacuum.  I scrub dishes.  I check the mail.  Take out the trash.  I dutifully send out small greeting cards.  “Hello!  All is well here in my fractured abyss!”

“You can’t outrun how you feel,” my mother says.

And that’s true.  But I have grown addicted to the pleasures of running.  I’ve grown to love with bitter attachment the sensation of anonymous motion, blank landscapes, and a body always roiling with feelings barely concealed.

Speak When You Are Not Spoken To, Listen Without Being Asked

Well, here we are.  I haven’t blogged in so long now that it feels like I should be saying something particularly meaningful, some amazing truth bomb that will go viral and blow your whole day apart.  In truth, I have a cold and didn’t feel like going to my third bellydancing lesson.  I’m congested and my face hurts.  So, in that haze of discomfort I figured I would write instead.  (Hopefully I won’t be entirely lost next week at bellydancing, but it’s a real possibility.)

I’ve thought about writing many times.  The inauguration of Trump left me stunned and silent at a time when I most wanted to speak.  Somehow, this seems to be my general pattern, giving such great weight and responsibility to my words that I cannot find or gather any of them.  I could have mentioned how I hate his racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-environmentalism.  I could have said that he seems like a narcissist who duped voters with his bravado.  I could have said that I cried listening to Obama’s farewell speech while driving to my favorite movie theater that is about to close.

But, who cares how I feel?  Lots of people have already pointed out all of these things.  I can’t illuminate any of these points with evidence that you wouldn’t be better served by learning about via legitimate news sites.  I can’t tell you something that will change our circumstances now.  I don’t think you need lots of bitter metaphors or empty positivity.

I figured I could just say some personal things on here and ignore politics altogether. That might be the way to go.  However, this felt like an absurdity too.  Why would I share the minutiae of my days with you when all of these terrible things are happening?  I am learning bellydancing!  Aren’t you excited for me?  Hope you don’t mind losing all of your human rights!

So, what this tells me is that now everything feels so awful with the state of our country that I’m at a loss for how to function in ways that validate my own experience.  I don’t feel entitled to talk about myself because there are bigger worries, even as I worry about how we aren’t listening to people’s stories.  I’m terrified of people being silenced, yet I am silenced by my own feelings of lack of worth.

Sure, I’m a minority:  working class, lesbian, female atheist.  But, I’m white and youngish, and perhaps a bit cute.  I’m able-bodied.  I could be more oppressed?

But, wait.  Isn’t this what I am angry about?  The feeling that I am being so stripped of everything that I have to be grateful for any scrap thrown?  I ate dinner today, so I should shut up.  I might have a hoopty, but it is mobile.  Why should I complain that my healthcare might be taken away?  That I often feel unsafe in my own apartment?  That it is NOT cool with me to see my neighbors NRA tag on their car and then watch them creep on me and wonder if they plan to hurt me?

I should shut up.  I should sit down.  Unfortunately, that’s the feeling of a lot of oppressed people.  Someone else has it worse, harder, more fucked up than me.  Fine, maybe they do.  It doesn’t make my situation fair or right.  It doesn’t make it acceptable.  I don’t want to use my voice to shout down others who have it worse.  I want to stand up.  I want to be just another reminder of how not okay it is to diminish others through your own privilege.  If I want you to listen, I have to believe that I am worth it.  Money buys you a lot of attention, so does position, power, and the charisma to make others buy what you sell.  I don’t have any of that.  That’s why you should listen.  That’s why I should speak.

Winter’s Black Hole

I’ve been debating with myself about what to say on here.  I’ve been asking myself how to address the election, how to address steps that I am taking with my writing, how to say something meaningful.  Instead, I feel my days slipping past in a sort of wallowing selfishness.  I tell myself that I will write this blog post and instead I spiral down the YouTube rabbit hole.  Sometimes, I distract myself with reading, yoga, a hot bath.

Other times, I stare out the window at the snow, my bleak antagonist.  I hate winter.  The gray days feel profoundly miserable.  This morning, the snow was gone and the sun was out (albeit weakly).  I felt better, told myself that I would get ready and go out.  Do something with my day off.  By mid-afternoon it was snowing again and sunless.  I looked outside and wondered what would happen if I just sealed my door and didn’t make a move until the sun came back and the snow once again melted.  I frantically checked the weather report.  How long until I can feel a sense of hope?  But I knew that I was catsitting and had to leave and I know that tomorrow I will need to go to work.  Giving up is not really an option.  The snow feels claustrophobic and I miss days on the beach, nights lying in the grass.

Does this seem melodramatic?  It does to me.  It also feels true.  Abstractly, I know that seasonal depression is real.  I also know that seasons pass and given the sunshine and lack of snow this morning, such a day may not be far off.  I also know that eventually, spring comes back and, like Lazarus, I am up again.

When I try to suggest that it feels hard, forbidding, I am often told sarcastically, “You live in Michigan. Get used to it or move.”  Of course, this answer does not account for the poverty that I experience.  I could leave, but I would be homeless.  Moving would require savings, a job in the new place, an ability to acquire housing because I had such a job.  (And before you say it, I HAVE my education.  I have a master’s degree.  In fact, I have almost two of them.  So.  Don’t peddle me your easy answers.)  It also doesn’t take into consideration that I would need the emotional capacity to blow off every person that I know and go it alone.  In short, it feels like a suicide mission.

Instead, I am still here.  I am writing to you to say that it is hard and bleak.  Some days, I fake it so well.  You might never guess.  I see you and I smile.  “I’m great.  How are you?”  It’s nothing short of a miracle to hide so much darkness.  I wait it out.  I blot it out.  There were better days behind me, there are better days before me.

I wanted to tell you something meaningful.  I meant to say something uplifting.  Instead, I passively wait and ask you to wait too.  It’s the only way I know.  Inside of it all, there are tiny moments when it all feels okay.  I note them, an oddity.

Ask For What You Deserve

snapshot_20161115

This election has broken many hearts, including my own.  I don’t care that Hillary lost.  I care that a campaign of hatred won.  I wish that I could tell you something new, some new perspective on why we need to be vigilant and aware.  I wish that I could illuminate all of the reasons our people and our Earth matter.

Until I have a more cogent way of expressing my grief, I will just offer the photo of me smiling back at you and giving you the peace sign.  I’m here.  I’m safe.  And I care a great deal about the ability to create art.  So I will continue.  And I hope you do too.  To all of the diverse voices out there, you deserve to be heard.  I am listening.

 

How to Write a Novel, Probably…

Here is what I can tell you about writing a novel…I am semi-doing it.  I am trying to do it?  It is slowly happening?

Okay.  Let’s start this again.

I am writing a novel.  (Applaud now, please.)  It is not ready yet, so that’s cool.  I’m still writing a lot of short fiction and even a little poetry now and again.  However, I am taking this next step and wondering where it will lead. Let me clarify:  I don’t expect a plethora of publishers to step up with enormous checks and arms filled with roses.  I just want to get it published when I am done and then I want to see this thing on shelves in bookstores.

I don’t think this is impossible…I am trying not to find it improbable.

Sometimes you have to just roll the damn dice and do something.  I’m writing this and I am getting this bastard published, somehow.  That’s the whole thing with writing and publishing–you have to be a weird blend of certain and uncertain, humble and proud.

For now, the plot is a secret.  For now, it is just mine.  But, when the time comes, it becomes something else.  It becomes a thing shoved out the door and sold.  A product.

Although, I can tell you, it never really has felt like that with any story I have had published.  I read them in publications and it feels like an odd surprise to find some private endeavor has become public.  That said, what is revealed is usually entirely imaginary–with a few notably honest exceptions.  So there is it in a public forum:  some random thing that I felt compelled to share with the world.  Fiction has a way of saying bigger truths than my facts.  In a fiction there is a thousand bits of me, and yet no me there at all.  All of the characters are me, and none.  It never really works any other way.  You’ve got to walk into the funhouse and see yourself in all of the mirrors, every one of them a distortion.  Then, you write what you see.

I Will Want What I Have, Even If That Is Nothing At All

I’m going through my closet and weeding out clothes that I do not wear and ones that I really ought to stop wearing.  I peeled a frayed pair of underpants right off of my body and threw them in the kitchen trash.  Then, I stared at them in triumph.  I do not have to keep wearing these just because I technically still can.

I was planning to pare down my belongings in anticipation of a move to a different apartment.  Then, I took a brutally realistic look at my finances and knew that the smartest thing to do for now is just to re-up on my current lease.  So, I looked around me and sighed.  Stuck again.

So, I told myself that if this is my home, then I am going to make it matter. I am still going to purge the trash, deep clean it, and since I couldn’t afford the move, I will try to afford a few small upgrades.  Those are TBA.  Junk goes first.  Curtains might be nice.

I am going to want what I have.  And when I have nothing at all, I will be grateful for the simplicity that it brings.  Right now, I am just sort of staying in my space.  I am occupying a rented unit.  The goal is to make this a home.

I live here.  I LIVE here.  I’m going to relax a little.  I’m going to say this is okay.  I am going to accept it and try so very hard not to be resentful.  Sometimes this space feels like an impossible emptiness.  Sometimes I do too.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Somebody said once, “You are enough.”  I keep telling myself to believe it.  Snapshot_20160905_10

 

 

Paperwork Meltdown, or How to Have a Public Freak-Out

I am applying for indigent people health insurance.  I am doing so online.  Here is what you need to realize about this seemingly simple task, I don’t have internet at home, but I do have panic attacks.  So, I have to tote my things to a coffee shop and plug in.  That part is not so bad.  Doing the application is that bad:  I am having a series of panic attacks trying to leave the apartment to fill out the forms, at the coffee shop accessing an account for which I cannot remember a user id or password, on the site while the words spin before my eyes.  I. Am.  Panicking.

What if I do it wrong?  I read the words “perjury,” “fraud.”  What if they need additional paperwork and I cannot get it to them or something changes in my life ever and I goof up the updates?  They will take away my benefits, ask for money back.  I don’t have any benefits, but maybe if I get some that will be yanked away and I will be fooled and forced to pay more money that I do not have and will never be able to acquire.  Then, straight to prison.

I am struggling not to cry.  I am having a hard time focusing on the words on the page.  Every sound in the coffee shop is irritating, upsetting, a nightmare.  I am having a meltdown in public while trying to complete an application.  I am starting to sniffle.  I want to leave.  I don’t have anything completed.  I cannot tell if I am doing it right.  A bunch of times it logs me out and I have to start over.  I have to allow pop-ups.  I cannot figure out how to allow pop-ups.  Then, I cannot figure out how to stop allowing pop-ups from everything ever.  There is a glare on the laptop from the sunlight and I keep grimacing and re-angling the screen.

It feels like everyone can see me crying and freaking out.  Maybe they can.  Every time the website asks me to review a section of info, I stare at it, uncertain that it is correct.  Why are they asking again and again?  Now anger is setting in, hardening.  Fuck this fucked up program and its questions.  Fuck this laptop, fuck these pop-ups, fuck health care and fuck all of these clattering noises and wailing children and fuck me for ever being fucking born.  Fuck.  Fuck.  Fuck.

The final questions are answered.  I click “submit,” knowing that it is not really over because now I will be status “pending” and will be called upon to verify all of the things that I just said.  I can do that, right?  No.  Maybe.  The desire to cry and smash everything in sight is rising, even as it just started to subside.

And then, the chore is done.  I am still shaking, but it is done.  I still want to cry, but it is done.  I can go home to the disaster of clutter that I created tearing through everything for papers that I brought and did not need.  I can go home and try to put everything back to together.  I can go to my job.

I don’t know how to say how hard it is, how debilitating.  I can tell you that logically it sounds incredibly stupid to me to struggle this much with a task this mundane.  The same thing happens when I try to do taxes, apply for a job, etc.  I realize on a strictly cerebral level that these are just annoying chores and that I should complete them and move on.

Every attempt is exhausting.  Every attempt.

 

Start with the Question, the Complaint, the Dissatisfied Ramble

I want to throw out everything I own.  I want to build a ramshackle cabin in the woods and live in it.  I want to quit every job and not take another and just write.  Do you know how hard it is to write when all you do is work at jobs that somehow leave you poorer than you started?

I am tired.  I am frustrated.  I can’t tell you how deep it goes without unleashing a bitter and fruitless rant.  My best energies fall to waste; my best talents are obscured.  My money that I work and work for pays the rent of a shit apartment and little else.  It is difficult to make time for loved ones.  The more hours that I clock in, the less that I have to show for the time spent.

What am I doing?  How do I make it better?  When I die, what will have mattered?  What can I do that will not have been in vain?

I want to tell you that it is fine to feel this way, but I am not sure that it is fine.  I am not sure that I should be ignoring the huge, visceral instinct to stop wasting my time.   It seems like we are encouraged to think that any and all work is of value just because we put our energy into it.  I have my doubts.

What if I opted out of capitalism?  What if I opted out of rules?

Perhaps this sounds like useless dreaming–a ramble about a magical world that is not real.  What I know is this:  my body, my spirit and my mind have needs.  I cannot care for myself without giving them time and attention, but to have food and shelter I am expected to spend every waking moment “earning” them.  I would rather learn to make them myself.  I would rather ask for nothing.

I want this life on my own terms.  I want and want and want.  I have no answers.