Friday, October 12, 2018

An Update from the Writing Desert

It's been almost a year since my last post. I choose to post again more for myself than the world, as my blogs feel more and more like messages in a bottle in the vast ocean of cyberspace. I post today's update as a way to check in with my creative self, see how she's doing and what she's up to and why she hasn't ventured forth much lately.

During this past year, I participated in two storytelling performances, one with Portland Story Theatre and the other with Solospeak. Both were powerful experiences in exploring true stories from my own life, stories that swerve close to the bone. They were great lessons in crafting structure, choosing details, and thinking about overarching themes that expanded my creative vista into the more vulnerable realm of personal narrative.

The other big creative event for me last year was a performance of my own poems at my 30th College Reunion at the invitation of a classmate. Being so public with the raw emotions embedded in some of my poetry was an incredible experience - to speak with that voice in that place witnessed by those people. Afterwards, I told myself I wanted to explore other chances to share and perform my poetry. This December, I will do just that, as part of a culminating reading for a poetry class with the fabulous Claudia Savage.

Other than that, I've written some poems and posted them on my other blog, Pamplemousse, created a one-hour edit of Macbeth for Willamette Radio Workshop's Halloween show, read, tended to my health with yoga and meditation and wandered around in cyberspace. I find myself putting my energy into the needs of my family, nurturing relationships, and the demanding vocation of teaching. I write every day in my journal, but I seem to have given up any pretense of seeking publication, even self-publishing beyond my blogs. I alternate between accepting that and being horribly disappointed in myself. I dance between neglecting and abandoning my identity as writer.

Perhaps this shift is a function of that word "identity" and its collision with mortality and a changing  concept of self. The whole notion of "I" or identity seems, as I age, less important than the notion of the larger human organism, the world and the great arc of time, of which I am only one infinitesimal part. Making my peace with that truth seems to occupy more of my energy, and a desire to have public recognition for writing seems to dwindle.

Or perhaps it is laziness, or an honest self-assessment of my own abilities and chances, or just simple  despair. However, here I sit, typing this entry, reminding myself once again that the written word is my chosen form of self-expression, for good or for ill, in sickness and in health, 'til death do us part.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Refilling, and Stirring Things Up

It's been a while since I've posted in here, mostly because I've been focusing on recharging and generating work, and just functioning in the world, rather than writing about writing. And, to be honest, after a long streak of rejections and non-responses to submissions, I was engaged in a lot of soul-searching about my writing life, like you do when the world seems to shrug apathetically at the products of your soul.

In any event, here are some things that have put a little wind back in my sails.

First, the friendship, support and inspiration of other creative people. My husband, Sam, and I spend a lot of brunches kicking around creative ideas about our respective artistic lives. Some of those ideas overlap, some don't, but it helps me remember that I exist as a creative individual.  My writing friend, Suzanne, not only inspires me and holds me accountable every time we get together for coffee, but she recently gave a concert of songs she'd written and it was so freaking brave that I found myself challenging my own fears and disappointments around the submissions grind.

Next, feeding the soul. I didn't write much formally this summer, but I spent almost every day communing with nature, God and my soul through a dance between the beautiful outdoors and the written word. I read inspiring writers. I journaled - A LOT.   And I recently took an 8-week class on Mindfulness in Education through Peace in the Schools. All of that work, and the habits of mind that it fed, has left me ready to dive in again. Sometimes, nurturing the spirit is the best thing you can do for your creative self.

And finally, stepping outside my comfort zone to stir things up. I signed on to be part of not one but two separate storytelling performances in the coming months, a process that will ask my writer/storytelling self and my performance self to join forces in brave and vulnerable ways. I decided to dive into self-publishing one of my novels (more on that when there's more to tell). And I attended an Open Mic poetry event through Portland Ars Poetica, where I read some of my poems, met a lot of new poeple (all poets of one sort or another, all ages, genders, styles), heard a wide range of work, and gave my words a life outside myself (which left me inspired to polish a few more pieces in preparation for the next open mic poetry event).

So, I've managed to give my dying creative spirit a serious IV infusion and now it's looking a lot healthier and recuperating from the batterings of life and rejection.

If you're finding yourself floundering, and wondering whether to keep on creating, but knowing in your heart you can't help yourself, and pondering the fate of your creative soul in this dilemma, try a few of these ideas:
  • Connect with other creative souls. 
  • Take time to nurture your spirit and refill. 
  • Look for a ways to step outside your comfort zone and give your words an audience through a non-traditional avenue.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Taking the Reins to Redefine "Finished"

Not long ago, my writing partner and I wrestled with the question "What stops us from finishing?" We followed the thread of this question and it led us to another question - "What does finished mean to us?"

Sadly, at this point in my writing journey, finished, for anything but poetry, too often means homeless, stillborn, rejected and unwanted. I believe that constellation of adjectives is sufficient to stop me from finishing.

What makes poetry different? I post it on my blog, maybe share the link, and consider it done. It is similar to tossing a message in the bottle out to the universe, but a bit more like the digital equivalent of one of those poetry boxes I see sometimes in my neighborhood. If only a handful of people see it besides me, so be it. At least I am not waiting for it to come into being. It has been born. It is public. It exists beyond the realm of a stray dog begging for scraps at the exclusive tables of public consumption on a grand scale. I'm not sure I can bear any longer to subject myself or my words to that other fate, that begging for scraps fate, and the massive infusion of self-doubt, jealousy, petty emotions and misery connected with it. I have been brave and ventured into that world, and, quite frankly, it sucks. I hate it. And it has given me precious little of value in return. Nor, I think, has it brought much to the world, including my words, in the end.

This holiday season, inspired by poet and teacher Claudia F. Savage, I created hand-bound mini-chapbooks of poetry as gifts for three special people in my life. Each book was a poem, or collection of poems, written for the recipients. The process of writing and the process of lovingly creating the binding was so profoundly energizing and meaningful. My words were given homes that mattered. My words were born from a place of love. There was not a single thought of fame or fortune or self-doubt involved. A gift of love, made with love, given with love.

Now I find myself with two collections of poetry that I want to turn into chapbooks, that were born from strong and personal sources, but that are something other than personal gifts meant for one recipient. One is called DEAR ONES: MESSAGES FROM A TEACHER'S HEART, and is inspired by and dedicated to my students, past, present and future. The other, tentatively titled EPIC is a series of poems exploring the height of the AIDS epidemic and how it impacted my life. I have begun to contemplate how to give birth to these two collections.

I can't bear the thought of putting them out there for the wolves to feed upon or turn up their noses, left to shiver in the cold and die of neglect. I realize that money and recognition aren't what I want for these two collections. I want them to exist, to find homes, if only a handful, and speak to some other heart somewhere.

So, a plan is beginning to form in my brain. A plan to hand-bind a small number of each collection and put them out at local, welcoming places - the coffee shop I frequent down the street, and perhaps some of the "free libraries" around my neighborhood. A plan to offer them for free, with a note on the back page that says, if these poems spoke to you, please make a donation to charity, and then includes either a list of charities or a link to a list, with maybe a place to email me a note if the reader is so inclined. I like the way this idea also feels like a small act of resistance in the face of our current political climate.

Perhaps this will be my one and only New Year's Resolution. To give my written work existence, without waiting for scraps from the great tables.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Secret Insanity

Many, many years ago, at the beginning of my life in Portland, Oregon, my life as an adult in the "real world" (which is what we called it to contrast it with college), when I was living on my own for the first time and I was wrestling in secret with this notion of what being a writer meant, I wrote a strange, waking daydream of a piece. I wrote it on my old Brothers brand electric typewriter, because I had no computer at the time and back then people used typewriters not just because they were retro.

My waking daydream was about the act of creation. It described an ephemeral sprite-like creature wandering with a lit torch through the caverns and echoing hallways of the mind. As it rounded the corners and went up the stairs and followed the twists and turns, the flames of its torch touched on hidden beings and their shadows leapt up across the walls. Some of them came out of hiding and followed the sprite in a sort of parade. The sprite kept wandering until at last it found the right place, the right beings, to illuminate, and then the light changed and grew to elucidate the details and open a larger story.

This short description ended with an imperative of sorts, an invocation and a caution. It went something like this: You cannot tame this beast, but if you catch hold, ride it, ride it for all your worth, ride it until it throws you off again.

At the time, I saw that piece as part of a longer work that cobbled together many short sketches and mental wanderings I had put down on paper, a longer piece that I thought, for lack of a better plan,  was an experimental novel, though I had no idea whatsoever of how to write a novel. I cut and pasted (with actual scissors, and tape) the elements from these many mental wanderings and stored them in a special notebook, crafting them in isolation, never showing them to anyone, because I did not believe in myself as a writer, did not believe I could publicly call myself that. I believed my writing was a secret insanity that both elevated me to some sort of special status and exiled me to the land of fools. I believed that if I exposed my insanity to the world, it would result in humiliation and failure and mockery. I'm not sure why I believed this. God knows I had supportive people in my life. I can only posit it was a reflection of how my sense of self had gotten bogged down at that stage, perhaps an unfortunate side-effect of our oh-so-practical-minded world, or the heightened cynicism, intense self-examination and daily practice of critique that were a part of my undergraduate experience.

It's been about three decades since I wrote that piece and pasted together its subsequent parts. I finally showed someone my secret notebook, and they did not lock me up, laugh in my face or run screaming from the room. I've found narrative homes for many of the disparate sketches and meanderings that I carried in that notebook. Some of them have even turned into published stories. I've embraced the public identity of writer, with all its rejection and heartache and wonderful companionship. And I've read a lot about writing and the creative process. I've learned that my strange waking daydream of the sprite and the cavernous hallways matches with surprising similarities many descriptions of the elusive creative process by folks far more talented or successful than I am.

My older self is often quite critical of my younger, more naive or inexperienced self, that self whose sense of perspective could be wildly out of wack. But in this case, I'd like to go back and congratulate her. I'd like to say, "Yes. This is how it is. This scrap of a daydream is what it's like. You're onto something. Only these words aren't the beginning of some strange experimental novel. They are a map. They are directions. They will help you recognize the journey when you are on it. Your fellow travelers have been there, too. They know the way. Come out of the dark and find them."

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