Margaret Atwood on Existing in Two Places

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes daily practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from the Canadian poet and novelist, Margaret Atwood.

mg_5527Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born on November 18, 1939, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Because of her father’s work and research in forest entomology, Atwood spent much of her childhood in the backwoods of northern Quebec and traveling back and forth between Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie, and Toronto. She did not attend school full-time until she was eight years old.

Atwood began writing plays and poems at the age of six and realized she wanted to write professionally by the time she was 16.

In 1957, she began studying at Victoria College in the University of Toronto, where she published poems and articles in Acta Victoriana, the college literary journal. She graduated in 1961 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in philosophy and French.

She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000.

She has also published fifteen books of poetry. Many of her poems have been inspired by myths and fairy tales, which have been interests of hers from an early age. She has also published four collections of stories and three collections of unclassifiable short prose works.

Atwood is also the inventor, and developer, of the LongPen and associated technologies that facilitate the remote robotic writing of documents.

She is a noted humanist, and, in 1987, she was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association.

“I exist in two places,
here and where you are.”

— Margaret Atwood

This week I’m thinking a lot about Atwood and her book The Handmaid’s Tale. Of course, because today her book becomes a show, and I’m pretty stoked about that since I recently read it, but I’ve also been thinking about time. I’ve been thinking about what it means to be the writer and the reader, and for time to pass between both. I’ve been wondering what it means for me to exist as I am now, and for me to exist again with you when you read these words. I wonder in what forms I will exist when I am read after I am long gone?

I know that I am a human and I know that all humans are mortal and still my own death seems impossible to me. How can there ever come a time when I will not breathe, or think, or write, or love, or look to the sky and feel small, and here, and so myself and so a part of everything that exists? How can there come a time when my heart stops and with it the thoughts in my head while the world goes on spinning and humans go one warring, inventing, and evolving, doing things I will never witness or be a part of?

This makes no sense, and yet it is a certainty, and it hurts me so every time I remember it.

I am afraid, I admit, not to be anymore. I want to face the fact, but I also want to keep it out of my mind. Why let the inevitable distract me and keep me frozen? Then again, the fear can be a motivating and focusing force until my end comes. If I want to live on after my death, I must remember that I am going to die and use what I have to limit my fading into the nothingness.

When I read the words of other writers they come into me, into my time and place, or some form of them does anyway, and I am happy to give them life again. I suppose I want a bit of that too. I want to know what it feels like to exist again and again and yet still be me, growing and changing here and now.

I want to live in every human and in every time after this one and words seem to be the only way to do that. It is a selfish thing to want, but I can’t help wanting it either. I am afraid of not being.

I am angry too. To be limited to this body, to this mind, and to this time feels so petty and unfair. One day there may be better ways to circumvent these pesky limitations, but for now, all I have are words. I have the imperfect ability to write down who I am and the improbable hope that in the future, minutes or eons from now, you will read them and remember me.

But who will it be that you remember? By the time this goes out I will be a little different, and the longer the distance between now and then the more the difference between the Lisa that wrote this and the Lisa that exists. So, I suppose no part of me will live on really, only bits of who I was. Only a snapshot in my history. Still, it’s all I have, and I am happy to give it to you.

Because even though I am not that Lisa anymore that does not mean she cannot be of some use. She can be a friend, a comfort, and warning, or a dream for you. She can walk with you when you feel alone, same as she walks within me. She can exist far longer than I. She can travel through space and time and be what I cannot.

And because the Lisa I am now is jealous of where that past me is able to go and where she is able to be, I will send this out and immediately sit sown to write again. I will send myself out to you over and over again, and one day, if all my works, everything from my little notes and journal entries, to the stories I’ve endeavored to tell here, and the books I may one day write, were to be put together it would be the closest a person could come to time travel. To real, complete, existence in another place and time.

I hope it happens for me one day, and that something like magic will allow me to feel what it is like to be here and there, now and then, and me, with you.

exist1_sq.png

***

Check out my weekly-ish newsletter for interesting reads + some of my own existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering, or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

See also: Margaret Atwood on Writing Poetry

Featured image via Unsplash

If We Were Having Coffee // A Week of Getting Back

“That’s what I do: I make coffee and occasionally succumb to suicidal nihilism. But you shouldn’t worry — poetry is still first.”

― Anne Sexton

Hello, dear readers. Thank you for stopping by for a cup of coffee and a bit of conversation with me. I’ll have a cold brew as usual despite the dreary look outside. The weather reports promise a turn for the warmer soon, and I’d rather not be full of hot and bitter brew when it comes.

I apologize if I’m sluggish. I’m not feeling all that well, but I’m fighting it, with the aforementioned cup of coffee mostly. I slept in much later than I meant to, which seems to be the new theme around here just about every Sunday. The bed felt too comfy, and the house was too cold to get up until well into mid-morning when I found myself well behind in everything I hoped to accomplish, including meeting with you.

I beg your forgiveness but remind you, with a smile, that it is always better to be late than to have never shown at all, right?

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I’m in a good mood today despite not feeling especially well. I started the day with breakfast in bed because I have the best girlfriend in the world who heard me mention we hadn’t had homemade biscuits in a while yesterday and made sure I had some, with a healthy side of bacon when I woke up.

Still, I’m tired, and these words are coming slowly, but I have a playlist featuring songs from Tarantino movies playing in the background, and I’m keeping busy, running around the house trying to clean what I can before the caffeine leaves me and I’m back snuggled under the covers and sleeping again.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that this past week was not especially eventful, but that was a good thing. I was able to get back down to my quiet tedious work of writing, and reading, and thinking.

I wrote more posts this week than I have in a while, and I worked a bit on some sort of editorial calendar, but I haven’t gotten very far. The problem is as much as I love writing here it never feels exactly like real writing, no matter how much I tell myself is certainly is. I suppose what I mean is it isn’t exactly the kind of writing I want to be doing, or, not the only kind. So, once again I am searching for other places to send some words too, and next week I’m going to start working on a zine of awful things in the world.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I finally made progress on my 30 book reading challenge this past week. I finished Saga Volume 7, it was amazing and heartbreaking like all the others and made considerable progress on Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf which is turning out to be such a surprising and delightful book. It’s like reading an adult fairytale, so refreshing and different from my usual picks.

I’ve also gotten back to learning a little something every day. One of my favorite birthday gifts this year was The Intellectual Devotional by David S. Kidder. It’s a thinkers version of those books of daily prayer or aspirations, but instead every day I learn something new on history, literature, philosophy, mathematics and science, religion, fine arts, and music.

And, and, I’m working my way through a YouTube playlist of James Baldwin interviews, talks, and debates because, I am ashamed to admit, I have only just recently discovered how truly amazing this man was.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that staying productive this week is going to be tough because this week is going to be a good one for TV!

The Handmaiden’s Tale premieres on Hulu Wednesday. I just read the book this year, and it was good, weird, but good, and I am very interested in seeing what they do with the show. Dystopian stories have always been my favorites, and this was the first that really made me think about privilege and perspective in the telling of suffering. As a woman, it also scared the shit out of me.

Then, Dear White People is coming to Netflix on Friday. I really enjoyed the movie and, same as above, I’m interested to see where they might take a show. I think stories like this are important. The world is changing and they way people are processing their positions within society are different now too. Some things are getting better, mistakes are being made all the time too, and we ought to be able to have a conversation about it all, and a little entertainment too.

Then, then, on April 30th, the show I have been waiting forever for finally becomes a reality, American Gods! New Gods, technology and media and money, and old Gods like Odin, and Anansi, and even Easter going to war here in America. I cannot wait!

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that this little blog of mine hit yet another milestone this week. I have crossed the 3,400 followers mark! I know, that isn’t a real milestone, but it’s felt like forever since 3,300, and I needed a boost before long wait to 3,500.

I hope most of you are real people but either way I am grateful for each and every one of you. It’s not 10,000, sure, but it’s still good for the old ego and keeps me motivated. It feels good to know that so many people stopped by here at one time or another, some of you when I was a worse writer than I am now, and still thought me worthy of following and checking back in on here and there. I hope I can keep getting better and you can keep finding reasons to stick around.

Thank you all again, really, from the bottom of my heart.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that, as much as I’d love to stay and chat all day with you, there is so much more to be done around the house and in preparation for the coming week. I’d like to work on some of that reading I talked about and get a jump on the writing too. It’s early enough too that I might get in a nice long hot shower and a good body scrub and a face mask too.

I hope you had a good week. I hope you accomplished what you set out to do, or you learned a lesson or two for the next. I hope this weekend was a relaxing one and you got to make some time for yourself. You deserve it you know.

Thank again for stopping by.

Until next time :)

***

Check out my weekly-ish newsletter for interesting reads + some of my own existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering, or share a cup of coffee perhaps?

Written for the weekly Weekend Coffee Share link up hosted by Nerd in the Brain

Featured image via Abi Porter

 

Michele Leavitt on Bravery and Words

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes daily practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from the memoirist, Michele Leavitt.

8184355Michele Leavitt is a former trial attorney the author of the memoir Walk Away, and the 2013 winner of the inaugural Michael Macklin Poetry Prize, and 2010 winner of the William Allen Creative Nonfiction Prize from The Ohio State University. She’s a high school dropout, former trial attorney, adoptee, and hepatitis C survivor who has taught writing, literature, and critical thinking in New England, Japan, Florida, and Idaho.

Walk Away is an unflinching and inspiring story of how Leavitt lived through the violence of her adolescence, how that violence haunted her through her escape to college and law school, and how she ultimately came to rise out of it to a place of possibility.

Her book-length poetry collection, Back East, won the inaugural Michael Macklin First Book Prize and was published by Moon Pie Press in 2013. A memoir excerpt, “No Trespassing,” won The Ohio State University’s 2010 William Allen Award for creative nonfiction, was published in The Journal, and received a notable listing in 2011 Best American Essays. Other recent works of poetry and prose appear in venues including Guernica, The North American Review, and Catapult. A high school dropout,

A high school dropout, hepatitis C survivor, recovering English teacher and former trial attorney, she now lives in North Central Florida, where she works in a program dedicated to helping women over 50 achieve economic stability.

Her poems and prose are published in a wide variety of print and online journals, including Guernica, Medium, The North American Review, So to SpeakHEArt: Human Equity Through ArtThe Humanist, The Journal, Mezzo Cammin, and Passager

I highly recommend you check out her blog and her Medium page for personal stories on life, and love, and pain, and writing.

“Telling my story is possible not because of bravery, but because I have the words to tell that story now.”

— Michele Leavitt, Memoir, Bravery, & Facebook

I have been silenced, by others and myself. I have felt the fear of speaking up and speaking out. I have shut myself up tight not wanting to say things that couldn’t be unsaid, not wanting to tell my story or reveal my pain. I still feel this way now but words are coming to me easier every day and the more they come, the faster they come, and the more insistent my silenced-self gets.

But it never feels like bravery.

I had no words for my pain, my gender, my love, my wants and needs, my dreams. I couldn’t describe my anxiety, my panic, my hope, and my rage. I spent many years at a loss for words for who I was and where I had come from, and I learned a lot about silence in that time.

I’ve learned that silence is not your friend. It cannot protect you, and it will not save you. I’ve learned that silence is a liar. My silence made me believe I didn’t matter, that I was hopeless and alone. I learned that silence leads to loneliness, and loneliness is some of the worst hurt we can inflict.

I have written some personal things and burned with embarrassment and shame wishing I could gather my words back up and stuff them back inside. I’ve falsely believed that my silence was a place of comfort and I have falsely been called brave for the clumsy, and ugly, and sometimes quite selfish and cowardly ways I have shouted myself to the world.

I am not brave. I am weak, and afraid, and tired, and unsure all the time. I am not brave, I am only at my wit’s end. Hiding hasn’t helped. Keeping it all in hasn’t helped. Ignoring it hasn’t helped, and wishing it away hasn’t either. Below the surface the pressure builds. The guilt, the depression, the anxiety becomes too much and I have found the writing is the only relief. So, I tell my story little by little, and for no reason but because I have to, and people have thought I am brave. I am not brave.

But I am trying to be brave now.

There are things I am not ready to say, but that must be said soon. Maybe at first, it was only for me, now, then it was for me, then, but it is becoming increasing for us all, throughout time. I really do want to have some purpose. I want to be of some help to the world, and these words are all I have.

But no matter how hard it is, and no matter how afraid I feel, and how I fight through it, I still don’t feel brave. I feel compelled and through that compulsion comes practice and with practice comes clarity and skill, and maybe that makes it seem that the words come easily or that I, and all writers who write hard things, are brave when we really have very little choice in the matter.

I am grateful for the incessant need to write. I would never write if it weren’t for it. If I had a choice to be brave or not, I most certainly would not. To be so vulnerable and weak is my worst fear but something bigger than fear works in my mind. I have no name for it though, but it doesn’t feel very much like bravery. In fact, it may only be another kind of fear, a bigger and badder fear, death.

To go to my death having lived with such secrets, to live like a ghost before I become one, is the worst kind of waste, shame, and sin. I only have one life, and I am afraid of not living it more than I am afraid of anything else.

So, I tell my story and to do it right I learn the words and learn the way. The words are coming now, sometimes faster than I can write them, and sometimes at an agonizingly slow, drip, drip, drip but they are coming.

I am still learning to speak, and I have so much more to say, but there are new words now and new ways to use them. I am grateful to those who bring the words to me, writers who have come before, some longer than others, filling my head with all the ways a thing can be said.

I am grateful to those who have taught me the power of words. Words are what humans have to wield against one another, ourselves, and the passing of time. Words are all we have to get what is in us to the outside. Words are the things that change reality. That is why so many are afraid and so many seek to silence. Words are all we have that can survive time. Words can be a salve for the past and a preventative for the future. They shape our minds and our world. They are the closest to magic we have.

If I ever give anything to this world at all, I hope to give you all a few words to shout, to whisper, to share, and to stand up and stand on. If I ever give you anything I hope it is the knowledge that you need never be silent or afraid of words. Words set you free, in the end, after the pain and the work. I hope I can give the lesson to myself one day too.

In the meanwhile, search through your silence. Find the person who made you afraid, find the reason you cannot speak, start there to find the way to freedom.

At first, the words will not be perfect. They will shake from your grasp and fall to the world in ways you don’t mean, but practice makes perfect. Repeat, refine, and restate as often as you need, until you get it right. Until someone understands.

Throughout history, words have been made used, stolen, eradicated, given new life, and gave life in return. Go out and make some words of your own of your own. Find the power to define yourself, your world, and your experience. Don’t worry about brave or cowardly, only worry about what must be done for you to feel alive and real. Bravery comes later, I hope.

***

Check out my weekly-ish newsletter for interesting reads + my own existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering, or buy me a cup of coffee perhaps? :)

Biographical information via Leavitt’s blog and Goodreads

Featured image via Unsplash

Amy Krouse Rosenthal on Trying to Matter

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from the beloved and prolific author Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

1351773Amy Krouse Rosenthal, born April 29, 1965, in Chicago, was an American writer of both adult and children’s books, a short filmmaker, and radio show host.

Rosenthal had several books on the New York Times bestseller list, but she is probably best known for her memoir Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, her children’s picture books, including the Little Pea, and the film project The Beckoning of Lovely.

She published more than 30 children’s books between 2005 and her death in 2017. She is the only author to have three children’s books make the Best Children’s Books for Family Literacy list in the same year. She was also a contributor to Chicago’s NPR affiliate WBEZ, and to the TED conference.

Rosenthal made short films using her iPhone or Flip camera. Some invite further interaction from viewers, some are social experiments, and some build upon each other to become something else entirely. Her films include 17 Things I Made, Today is a Gift, ATM: Always Trust Magic, The Kindness Thought Bubble, The Money Tree, and The Beckoning of Lovely.

Chicago Magazine described The Beckoning of Lovely as:

Rosenthal’s masterpiece, unfolding over the past two years, began with a YouTube video called 17 Things I Made. In it, she invited viewers to meet her on August 8, 2008 (8/8/08), at 8:08 p.m. in Millennium Park to make an 18th thing together. That thing was a party. She expected a group of maybe 30, but roughly 400 curious people showed up, surprised to find themselves singing, dancing, blowing bubbles, and giving flowers to strangers. One couple met and fell in love. “I wish there was a word less obvious than ‘magical’ to describe that night,” Rosenthal says. “It was meaningful to everyone in some way.”

On March 3, 2017, at the age of 51, she announced that she was terminally ill with ovarian cancer by way of a New York Times Modern Love essay, You May Want to Marry my Husband, written in the form of a dating profile to help her husband date again once she dies.The article was picked up by several news sources and quickly went viral online.

Rosenthal died ten days later, on March 13, 2017.

“Just look at us, all of us, quietly doing our thing and trying to matter. The earnestness is inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time.”

― Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Textbook

I am ashamed to say I only just discovered Rosenthal through her final essay and through another favorite author, Austin Kleon, who, like everyone else who read the piece, was deeply moved and saddened by the news of her cancer. I wish I had discovered her sooner. She was clearly a lovely and loving person and a great inspiration to all who knew her or followed her work.

I am working my way through her videos, slowly but surely, and have added her books to my ever-growing TBR.

Her essay was something else, something I can’t quite describe, something all at once disturbing, heart-wrenching, and so, so, beautiful. I tried to imagine myself in either of their shoes, Amy’s or her husband’s, and I concluded that under the circumstances it was the greatest gift a writer could give to their partner in their final moments. I can’t stop thinking about it, and my beautiful girlfriend, and what I would write to and about her at the end of my life.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this essay has changed me.

Rosenthal, I think, accomplished what most writer’s set out to do. To reach the hearts and minds of people and in doing so live on forever in what she teaches and inspires in others. She left a body of work behind that, in just the short time I have been consuming it, has brought me to tears and pushed me to rethink why I do what I do, how I do it, and how much of it I do.

Her work, her earnestness and attempts to matter, are inspiring and heartbreaking, and I see now that this all any of us are ever trying to do.

We want to leave a mark and while we know the odds are against us and the competition is steep we go on plugging away in home offices, crowded cafés, and in all the crevices of life, as Rosenthal once said, and it is beautiful.

I wish I could see all of you doing your thing. I wish you could see me too, sitting here at the kitchen table typing slowly, deliberately, every word here hoping that when you read it, you will be moved to change and work the way that Rosenthal inspired me to change and work.

And when I am finished, I’ll open another blank draft, and write again, and again, and again, to try and reach you.

I do it for the same heartbreaking reason I believe Rosenthal did, because time is short and what else can you do? What else is there really to do except bend all your energy to becoming a part of the great wave of humanity. What other reason do we do anything but to try to be a part of a future we will never see?

And how else can you do it but to get up every day and just do it. So far, from what I have seen, this has been Rosenthal’s message: Create, create, create with every free moment of your life create something! Don’t work so hard trying to achieve fame and fortune, work hard making the world a better place and the rest will follow.

I like that message. I like the idea that I can just be me and my tribe will come along to support me in time. Stop chasing the world, just create with an eye for what is good and right and one day you will look up and what you have put out will have come back to you after all. That is how I want it to happen for me.

As for Rosenthal, I will end by saying that to inspire and be loved long after you take your last breath, that is the closest to heaven I imagine a person can get. That is where all the great writers go and I hope one day you and I can be among them too.

***

If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for interesting reads + my own existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering, or buy me a cup of coffee perhaps?

Biographical information via Wikipedia, Goodreads, and WhoisAmy.com

Featured image via Unsplash

If We Were Having Coffee // Spring Break Started Early!

“Sometimes life is merely a matter of coffee and whatever intimacy a cup of coffee affords.”

Richard Brautigan

Hello, dear readers. Thank you for stopping by for a bit of coffee and catching up. I almost didn’t make it today! Fatigue is kicking my butt, and my medication still hasn’t taken effect yet, and that means I slept most of the day away.

The clouds outside aren’t helping. It seems our warm, dry weather streak is over.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that thanks to the break in the warm, dry weather I got an extra day of spring break. The local news predicted blizzard-like conditions, so school was canceled which means I got to stay home too.

But here in Denver, Colorado what happens in one part of town can be very different from another. Some parts of the city got hit bad, in my area we got mostly rain, and by early afternoon the slush had melted and dried. I have a feeling out district will take a hit with the public for this one, but it won’t matter. It’s hard to decide whether or not to brave the conditions and hope for the best. The public forgets that safety is most important, especially in the Transportation department.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that even though it’s officially spring break, I still have to work but it’ll be easy work: organizing, filing, spreadsheets, cleaning up, that sort of thing. I can’t exactly afford to lose five days of pay, but I can afford to lose some, so I’m just working six hours a day, and only three days out of the week, Monday thru Wednesday.

Thursday and Friday, my girlfriend and I are planning a day trip out-of-town and a day in-town. Thursday we’re heading to Denver Art Museum for a very geeky Star Wars costume exhibit then out for seafood and sangria. Friday we’ll be heading up to Boulder for the day. I’m not sure what we’ll do up there, but I’m hoping for lots of shopping and more good food.

***

Last week wasn’t so bad. My route wasn’t running, and I managed to steer clear of having to do extra work, so that was good. I had hoped to spend all that free time working on a whole bunch of writing projects but, it turns out, I only had time and energy for one.

I entered a fiction contest at The Writing Collective. You can read it if you like but it isn’t my best work. I found out about the contest a little late and between work, my guts still acting up, and a last-minute dinner and drinks date with a cousin who got laid off from work, I didn’t have time. I wanted to give up, but I thought maybe I should try anyway. I thought I should do my best and see what happens. *shrug*

I also finished my first submission for Aloe. I’ll be submitting it today, but there is no guarantee of acceptance. If they agree to publish it, I’ll wait a few weeks before working on another. If they don’t, I’ll get started right away on another.

I’m hoping that this week I can finally get back on track around here. I have a ton of drafts to finish and the A to Z challenge is just around the corner, and I have barely got any ideas together. I have a theme, which I have yet to announce, another thing I’m behind on, but I have nothing written and a few letters lacking a topic.

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that we’ve come to that time, I have to go. After spending the day in and out of naps, plus sweating over cleaning and writing, it’s time I took care of myself. I’m thinking a nice cold hard cider and a long hot shower, at the same time!*

I hope you had a great week. I hope your weekend was nice and relaxing. I hope you’ll take a moment to drop by the comments and let me know how you are doing and what you’ve been up to.

Until ext time :)

*Some might consider a “shower cider” to be outside the spirit of the “shower beer.” Unfortunately, beer doesn’t agree with my stomach so cider it is and I don’t care what those people think.

***

Check out my weekly-ish newsletter for interesting reads + my own existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering, or buy me a cup of coffee perhaps? 

Written for to the Weekend Coffee Share link-up hosted by Nerd in the Brain

Featured image via Unsplash

Why Do I Write?

The simple truth is,
I just like the sound of bone on brick and
the feel of brain matter against barriers satisfies me.

***

Check out my weekly-ish newsletter for important weekly reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering (:

Written in response to Ink in Third’s Three Line Thursday Prompt: Blocked

Featured image via Unsplash

 

M.H. Abrams on a Writer’s Desperation

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from the American author and literary critic M.H. Abrams.

23abrams-1-obit-blog427Meyer Howard “Mike” Abrams, born July 23, 1912, was the son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants in Long Branch, New Jersey.The

The son of a house painter and first in his family to go to college, he entered Harvard University as an undergraduate in 1930. He went into English because, he says, “there weren’t jobs in any other profession…, so I thought I might as well enjoy starving, instead of starving while doing something I didn’t enjoy.” After earning his baccalaureate in 1934, Abrams won a Henry fellowship to Magdalene College, Cambridge, where his tutor was I. A. Richards. He returned to Harvard for graduate school in 1935 and received a master’s degree in 1937 and a Ph.D. in 1940.

During World War II, he served at the Psycho-Acoustics Laboratory at Harvard. He describes his work as solving the problem of voice communications in a noisy military environment by establishing military codes that are highly audible and inventing selection tests for personnel who had a superior ability to recognize sound in a noisy background.

In 1945 Abrams became a professor at Cornell University. The literary critics Harold Bloom, Gayatri Spivak and E. D. Hirsch, and the novelists William H. Gass and Thomas Pynchon were among his students.

Abrams was an American literary critic, best known for works on Romanticism, in particular, his book The Mirror and the Lamp. In it Abrams shows that until the Romantics, literature was typically understood as a mirror reflecting the real world in some kind of mimesis; whereas for the Romantics, writing was more like a lamp: the light of the writer’s inner soul spilled out to illuminate the world. In 1998, Modern Library ranked The Mirror and the Lamp one of the 100 greatest English-language nonfiction books of the 20th century.

Under Abrams’s editorship, The Norton Anthology of English Literature became the standard text for undergraduate survey courses across the U.S. and a major trendsetter in literary canon formation.Abrams was not only the general editor of The Norton Anthology, but he was also the editor of The Romantic Period (1798–1832) in that anthology, and he evaluated writers and their reputations.

Abrams died on April 21, 2015, in Ithaca, New York, at the age of 102

“I think most of the things I published have been published out of desperation—not because they were perfected.”

— M.H. Abrams

I still do not have the honor of calling myself a published author. My book has stalled, and I am looking to other things, for now, but I think I do know something of a writer’s desperation and reasons for publishing. I have felt it with the publishing of every post, poem, personal essay, and story I have posted here and elsewhere on the internet. Surely these published pieces, bits and parts of my life and larger themes, were pushed out into the world out of at the same sort of desperation too and surely none of them left me perfected.

The word desperate, to lovers of this craft, means two things:

  1. (of a person) having a great need or desire for something.
  2. (of an act or attempt) tried in despair or when everything else has failed; having little hope of success.

A writer is a person with a great need for expression and communication. We write because there is nothing else that will satisfy that need. Art maybe, but writers often gravitate toward the clear expression that language can offer over the murky interpretations of art. We work to satisfy these needs, and we do it with very little hope for success. Still, we persist. Our need outweighs the hopelessness I suppose. Our need will not allow us to feel hopeless. It has to work, because if it doesn’t, who are we?

I am desperate to say something, to tell you something. All writers are. A writer’s work is at least hard, even if it is not always fast. Writers bend all their time, giving as much as they can give to words, words, words, always the words. Giving everything they h to getting them out of ourselves and into the world hoping to have an effect. Hoping to move someone, hoping to become and move themselves.

Why the urgency? Why the intensity? Why do whole worlds hinge on our abilities and dedication?. Why do these things scratch at us so? Why do we hurt ourselves this way? What do we hope to achieve?

The desperation stems from our inevitable deaths I am certain. No tomorrow is promised, we know that, and writers feel it more acutely than most. We know that if we hope to leave behind the thing in our chests beating to get out, we must work hard and fast. We must make choices and sacrifices in our lives, and in the work too, to do just enough, to say just enough, to get the message out in a way you can live and die with.

Desperation is a writer’s friend. Desperation leads to an outpouring of work. It leads to pens flying across pages and fingers flying across keyboards. It leads to a body of work that might be less than perfect but at least says what you were meant to say.

But I wonder, what will happen to the ones who don’t make it?  With a life lived straining toward work we may never get right? How can a writer cope with in obscurity without acknowledgment? What if I am among those who no one reads, hears of, or remembers? The thought alone makes me want to pick up a pencil and write furiously whatever comes to mind. The thought alone fills me with anxiety and hunger. I am reminded of my drive and my reason: To tell my truth. To get at what makes us all so great and terrible a force in this universe, even while we mean nothing and matter, not at all.

Desperation is a writer’s friend, and it may be the very defining thing that sets a writer apart from dabblers and fakes. Charles Bukowski wrote that a writer without desperation is nothing at all, and I am inclined to agree. Writer’s need to feel always on the verge of losing life and sanity without words or our work wanes both in quality and quantity. We forget to care about the truth and telling it, in just enough time.

When you sit down to write you should be sweating like you’ve just sat down to disarm and disassemble a bomb set to go off in seconds. You have to be struggling like you need food, water, or air. Write like the world depends on it, like your loved ones lives depended on it, like your life and legacy depend on it, no matter what your subject, from dystopian future to sci-fi, to memoir, to children’s books, and on down to little blog posts like these. Write like it truly matters whether you succeed or fail.

Of course, there ought to be balance, like all things. Walk the line between desperation and contentment, between urgency and patience. There has to be positivity and joy when you sit to write too, not just fear and anxiety. Find peace and focus in the knowledge that you are doing the work you were made for and that someone out there will agree. Even if it is one person you save through your sweating, you will have achieved your objective.

Balance is what keeps you getting better. It’s what keeps your ideas clear, organized, and coherent. Your words will mean nothing if rushed out there disjointed and jumbled.

Do not fear the desperation, the need, let it push you to stay dedicated to getting better and getting your name out there. Keep hold of that need, it will keep you going, and remember that without it, you are no writer. Keep it, cultivate it, let it guide you, but do not let it control you and never let it hinder your message.

Be desperate to get better, to learn, and to hone your craft. Be desperate to be different, desperate to show the world something new.

 

Be desperate to get it right.

 

***

If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter on life, love, and suffering (:

Quote via Alec Nevala-Lee

Biographical information via Goodreads and Wikipedia

Featured image via Unsplash