Tag Archives: writers life

Getting Dirty in a Rainbow

I’m not an artist, by any means. I’d more likely consider myself a child. A child who likes to play and get dirty in a rainbow. Who wouldn’t love playing in a rainbow. Sadly, so many people have dismissed that inner child who likes to play. Yet, I’ve learned, through my wanton splashes in color, about life and, ironically, writing. Let me explain in bullet points.

1) Art is subjective. As is writing. As is life.

There is no such thing as black and white, wrong and right. No art piece is perfect or horrible. Not story will appeal to all people. And no ones life is easily explained in a stereotype.

2) Nothing is right on the first try. Ever!

I usually start my paintings and hate what I see. Then, I set the canvas aside to let it stare at me for a while with evil taunting. When I’m ready to sit down to work on it again, it gets a little better. Several sitting later, I find a finish.

It’s this tip that I struggle to remember when writing. First drafts are ugly. The current short story I’m writing, Specimen, read as two short stories that never really fit together. I’m at a second sitting right now. We’ll see how many sittings it takes.

And it’s safe to say that I’m consistently getting life wrong, even after three or four, five or six, one hundred million and twenty two trials. I’m not sure I’ll ever get it right.

3) It’s always more fun to play.

In painting. In writing. And in life. Especially in life. The best things come out of play.

I’m sure there are more, but I feel these three cover the most important lessons in art, writing, and life. I believe if we all took more time to play in the rainbows and allow ourselves room to make mistakes, we’d find more joy in our every day experiences. So, splash in the rainbows, scatter words carelessly, and take a little time to play today!

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Country Mouse, City Mouse

“Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.”

― F. Scott Fitzgerald

I spent the forth in two extremes and it drew inner conflict on a huge white board in my head. You know, like football plays with different colored markers. Thankfully and unfortunately, I had a nine hour drive back home to think about it. Yet, I came to no conclusion. In fact, I might have ended up more twisted than before.

Wednesday night, I spent the night with my friend Michael in Minneapolis. He has this condo that is gorgeous with cement floors and a fireplace. Best of all, he has a veranda that over looks the Minneapolis skyline. It was beautiful and I thought to myself, “I could live this way.” I love going out in the cities and find that I’m more social and outgoing. I talk to everyone and meet so many interesting stories. I was sad when I left, as if I were leaving behind a dream that seems so far out of reach.

Thursday, I headed back to South Dakota and ran to jump on the float for the small town parade. Everyone (well, nearly everyone) in town comes out for the parade flying their American flags and dancing to the music pumping from our speakers. The float was an 80’s theme and I got my groove on creeping down Main Street. I also got a really wicked tan on my back from the netted shirt I was wearing. I drove a friend home after his car broke down and watched the small town fireworks shows from the Interstate, little bursts of colors as dusk. I spent the rest of the weekend being a small town girl. Drinking beer by a huge bonfire in the middle of no where. The sky was so black that you could see every star for miles. We sat on an old couch and talked until the sun came up over the horizon. I spent four hours at the lake with my friend Kari catching up while light sprinkles cooled our skin. No one cared about the rain because we knew it would pass. And it did. The sun came out and we pulled our chairs to the edge of the lake and cooled by the lapping waves. I sang karaoke in a country bar. I stirred another fire. As I drove away, I felt a longing for what I was leaving behind.

Enter conflict. Because I love the city. The rush of people from all walks of life. Open discussions with complete strangers about politics. Beautiful skylines. Interesting foods. Dressing up and looking good. But I love the country too. There’s a part of me that’s such a redneck. Fires that burn all night. Open skies blanketed in stars. Cheap beer. Hours at the lake.

And the truth is…I don’t know what I want because I love them both.

And…F. Scott nailed it on the head. A whole lot of people trying to be one. As I drove back from South Dakota, starting with tedious stretches of flat plains, save the occasional herd of red cows gnawing on the grass, to the rolling hills and curving roads lined by cliffs and trees in Wisconsin, I made the whiteboard in my head and tried to connect the plays. But the connections always broke because I don’t get my cake and to eat it too.

I envy people who know where they belong and what they want. Who have a clear path in front of them with directions laid out with plays connecting just right. Don’t get me wrong. I know that even they have obstacles, but I often wonder what it would be like to just know! Instead, I’ll jump from life to life and keep searching for the right combination of everything I love, even if it doesn’t exist. Dorothy Thompson and I have come to the same conclusion when she said, ““Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict.” Finding a way to have little parts of each existence within my life. Perhaps that’s what I do when I write. Perhaps I grab all the little parts of me and put them on paper so that I can live all the experiences I long for.


The Great Debate

I find myself, since finishing Itsy’s Ugly, in the midst of a great debate. Fortunately, and unfortunately, with experience comes the knowledge that choices made today can create the choices you will have to make tomorrow. Sometimes, choices are stifling, especially when the world offers so many options. Do I spend the extra dollar on a new brand of humus? What if I don’t like it? Do I buy the shelves for forty dollars? Because experience says that something could happen tomorrow and I’ll need that forty dollars. Do I continue my fight to return to school? (Believe me, it has been a fight.) The truth is that I don’t want to go to school, especially after spending a week in classes for work. But what impact will my decision now have on my future employment when I’m in my fifties? Sixties? And since I won’t be able to retire, seventies and eighties?

When we make decisions, we assume responsibility for the outcome and it’s overwhelming. So, when new thoughts crept into my brain in their ever so sneaky way, I found myself in another great debate.

Self-publishing.

Deep breath while I use my coping strategies.

I have been adamant for years that self-publishing, for me, was never an option. Between marketing and lack of validation by the established industry, it just didn’t seem like a viable choice. But lately, those little thoughts crept in and I’ve been re-evaluating my opinion. And it all started with The Beat documentary. I’m not sure if I should be thankful or bitter. Either way, I have decisions to make.

My opinions began with validation more than any other driving factor. I wanted validation by the industry and other professionals who knew so much more than I did about what good fiction was. We, as writers, all drown in the insecurities of our work and publishing is the means through which we hear, “You’ve got it!” Which is important due to the solitudinous act of writing.

But watching the documentary raised one important question for me. What is art? So, I did what I always do and went on a quote search. I found the following…

To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution. ~Steven Pressfield in The War of Art

An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk. ~Francis Ford Coppola

Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it. ~Hugh MacLeod

This is the power of art: The power to transcend our own self-interest, our solipsistic zoom-lens on life, and relate to the world and each other with more integrity, more curiosity, more wholeheartedness.

“The first and most important thing an individual can do is to become an individual again, decontrol himself, train himself as to what is going on and win back as much independent ground for himself as possible” ~ William S. Burroughs

And I began to think. Why do I write? Well, I write because I have something to say. I write because the world makes sense in the context of stories. I write because people need to be heard and since all characters are aspects of real people, I can give them a voice when they can’t find their own. I write because…well…because it’s all I know. Which, of course, then raised a more challenging and disturbing question. If those are the reasons I write, why do I need validation? Why is acceptance by traditional publishing houses so important that I’d rather not send my stories into the world unless they can be through the societal accepted method?

And I found that I couldn’t answer.

As the debate raged in my head, I found that self-publishing appeals to my “stick-it-to-the-man” rebellious side, along with my “no-one-can-own-me” feminist side. Then,  in this ever-changing society, thanks to the internet, we now have a think box of ideas that we exchange with people from around the world. The internet is like a great university without the price of tuition. And I want to be a part of this exchange of ideas through my stories. I want my ideas in the world as they are. Not in a watered down version edited for maximum sales potential by an editor who doesn’t quite get it.

And then, I found this quote…

Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.

This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose…

…Describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty – describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. – And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke

A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.

Self-publishing, in my eyes, has now become the thought of a great experiment in which I could put myself into the world and not care whether validation is returned. Because, essentially, that’s the risk a self-published author takes. And perhaps risk without consideration what society will think, is the greatest indicator of an artist. Because true art isn’t about anyone else.

Thankfully, I’m not even close to having to make a decision. I still have edits and descriptions that need expanding, not to mention a time line element that needs adjusting. In my time, I’ll work out the kinks and give more thought to my choices. Even though I hate choices, I’m kind of grateful for this one. With that said, I’d love any feedback or opinions from other writers or readers. What are your thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing? What experience have you had? Do you have any further insight into this great debate?


Finding Your Own Beat in America

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If you get a chance, I highly recommend watching the documentary “The Beat Hotel”, highlighting the artistic community of the 50’s that housed Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and so many other iconic artists of the time when the world was changing so quickly.  A little corner of the world where creativity reigned free with out compliance of the strict social norms of the time.

There was an amazing inventory …

… of activity focused within and around just one building, a creative epicenter that has been virtually overlooked in the majority of studies on the Beats.
-Barry Miles

I have no words for my envy.

It seems that the world of the artist has changed over the past decades.  Commercialized so one can still have the socially accepted life with the happy house and all the trimmings.  We sacrifice the freedom to drown in our work for a paycheck because, in truth, it’s a necessity.  There are no more cheap French motels.  And luxury is such an entrenched part of the American psyche.  We expect it.  Demand it.

I found myself questioning the toll our quest for luxury has had on current American Literature.  It’s harder than ever to live on a writers earnings, if you earn anything at all.  The rise of online literary magazines makes it harder than ever to make a dollar from a short story, forcing writers to maintain a 9-5 job.  Detracting from the deep hush of a brilliant story.  Now days, writers schedule a set time, as if creativity is a job.  “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”   Stephen King, On Writing.

I respect the sentiment, but I wonder what the Kerouac would say about that.  This is his 30-point list, entitled Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.

  • Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  • Submissive to everything, open, listening
  • Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  • Be in love with yr life
  • Something that you feel will find its own form
  • Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  • Blow as deep as you want to blow
  • Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  • The unspeakable visions of the individual
  • No time for poetry but exactly what is
  • Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  • In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  • Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  • Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  • Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  • The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  • Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  • Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  • Accept loss forever
  • Believe in the holy contour of life
  • Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  • Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  • Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  • No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  • Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  • Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  • In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  • Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  • You’re a Genius all the time
  • Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

He says nothing about writing every day or scheduling a time.  He lived his art.  One could even say that he drowned in it, dying at the age of 47 from internal bleeding caused by alcohol abuse. I’m not suggesting writers should kill themselves for the process of great art.  But perhaps we’ve boxed it into a simple process of what should happen.  Story streaming.  Point by point. Over-simplified the process so that anyone can take a plot, plug in a few characters, and write a story if they just follow the easy steps found on an array of blog sites.

I’m guilty.  I have a job and a son and bills to pay.  When I have a rare day off, it’s difficult for me to break from the mindset of monotony to drown in a story.  To sink into the waters with my eyes wide open to examine the story from every shimmering angle. And I am envious of the freedom The Beat’s found in France.

These thoughts come on the heels of my finishing Itsy’s Ugly last week.  Somehow, in the details of a busy life, I allowed myself to drown and finish the story. It’s pretty good, I have to say, but needs so much more.  I’m not sure when I’ll find the time.  I’m not even sure, if I had the time, that I would have the energy.  Thus, my longing for a tiny, run-down, French motel tucked among narrow streets of Paris surrounded by the inspired and eccentric.  A world that no longer exists as capitalism reigns supreme and art no longer matters. I’m stuck here until my son perfects time travel, so I must make the best of it and try to find my own beat.


The End

“It is always important to know when something has reached its end.  Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.” ~ Paulo Coelho

My greatest struggle in writing is the end.  I can spend hours on a story perfecting the setting and characters, but when it comes to the end…I want it done.  If you read my first drafts of any story, it is apparent how much I hate endings. They are rushed and inconclusive.  Done.

It’s indicative as to how I live my life.  I don’t like endings that drag on with mess.  When something is over, it’s over.  No looking back.  No long drawn out nights.  Yup!  I’m conclusive that way.

Relationship.  Done.

Job. Done.

Mourning. Done.

Get the paperwork filed and move on. Pack the house and move on. Say goodbye and move on. Tell the story and move on.

If only it were so simple. Far too often, after I’ve said done, it comes back to haunt me.  Lingering emotions tighten their grip until I have to deal with the mess I try so hard to avoid.  This is probably not the healthiest way to live.

There’s something important about endings.  The greatest lessons lie in goodbye’s.  When we sweep them away and move on as if they never happened, we miss the lesson.  Perhaps we avoid it for that reason.  Lessons change us. Change is hard. Better just to be done.

Yet, we can’t get away from them.

When I skimp on the endings in my story, far too often I don’t want to delve into the lesson.  All the common advice says to tell the story and let the readers take away what they will.  Don’t be preachy.  Don’t shove it down their throats.  I understand the advice. I’ve avoided my share of self-righteous people trying to tell me how to live my life.

But if we can’t take something from a story, what’s the point of writing? I look to Paulo Coehlo who lays forth his stories like philosophy.  He has no shame in creating stories with moral fibers and laying them out for the reader.  And his books have made an impact on my life and views of the world.  Some might say that he’s preachy, yet he’s wildly successful.  There has to be something to it.

I think I’ll take more time on my endings.  Put a little more heart and lesson into the conclusion of my story.  Allow myself to learn a little.  Not just in writing, but in life as well.  Maybe it’s a lesson we can all take with us.  Slow down and allow endings in life to change you.  We all might be a little better for it.


The Pattern of Snow

“Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself…It’s a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent.”  ―    Harper Lee

Every writers deepest desire is publication. The dream of seeing your writing on a website or in print to be read and, hopefully enjoyed, by readers around the world. Vindication. That’s what DLBurton called it. Vindication. Not necessarily towards anyone else but for the hours spent behind a keyboard punching in words, then deleting, then more until the recipe is right. Vindication for every eye roll and “Oh, you’re a writer” comment. Above all, vindication for the poison of self-doubt that sucks the life from the marrow of our existence.

My first published short story was released this weekend. You can read it here  http://www.thewritemag.com/2012/08/falling-snow/ .  Be sure to read the others stories too.  I especially liked Tabula Rasa by Brian J. Robinson and John “Tubby” Stover by Arthur Davis.

Funny thing about being published, besides the feeling of vindication, is the overwhelming sense of nakedness.  A friend said she felt like a voyeur reading “The Pattern of Snow”.  While the story is fiction, I understand why because the feelings are all very real to me.  I think that’s how a good story should make the reader feel.  Like a voyeur peeking into someone else’s life.  Reading should be the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes for a period of time.  It’s the singular greatest asset we have toward compassion.  Without understanding, there can be no compassion, leaving only room for hate and disgust.

Right now, I’m going to revel in my first publication, though shameless self-advertising is much like I’d imagine wearing a jock strap, bulky and ill-fitting.  This is the most you’ll hear from me.  Stop by and read my first published short story at http://www.thewritemag.com/. Enjoy it.  And feel free to leave comments.

Whew.  I’ll go back to writing, thank you.  Less like a jock strap, more like a pair of cozy pajama pants.  And I’ll put away that vile of self-doubt for a while.

 


The How of Letting Go

“You know how writers are… they create themselves as they create their work. Or perhaps they create their work in order to create themselves.”  ―    Orson Scott Card

Perhaps the most difficult challenge that I’ve yet to learn is when to let go.  Or perhaps it’s the how of letting go.  I suspect is has a lot to do with growing up a military brat and having to let go of friendships long before they bloomed.  So, I hold on to everyone I meet that touches my heart with such an iron grip that I often break them.  Much of my writing is a process of learning to let go.  Sometimes, I wish it were so simple to just write the story down and tuck it away for rereading when the wounds of goodbye are less tender.  If I could perfect the process, I would.

So, I begin again with my novel, having mulled over the non-existent plot and figured out the loopholes.  It is, primarily, a novel about letting go. Letting go of opinions, ideas, expectations, things, and love.  Love being the hardest.  Because I’m still learning the how of letting go of love.  Being as I am, I just figure that I won’t ever have to really learn the how of that because I won’t ever let myself go there again.

How to let go of regret is another theme I plan to tackle.  Those dodgy thoughts that run through your mind of people you’ve hurt or opportunities lost.  Those moments when fear allowed you to push away chance that danced outside your door.

Perhaps Orson Scott Card had it right.  Maybe writing is nothing more than a long journey to create a self out of the messes we make of our lives.  It’s a good thought to have as I begin this novel. It gives me a goal to work towards.  The only way to work toward a goal is to decide what outcome you want.  Then, plan accordingly.

“. . . All artists’ work is autobiographical. Any writer’s work is a map of their psyche. You can really see what their concerns are, what their obsessions are, and what interests them.”
―    Kim Addonizio

The craziest part about writing is that the best laid plans are usually thrown asunder by the end of the first draft and truth comes to light.  If it’s written right. I’m off to begin a new journey of self-creation.  I’ll check in with you soon.


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