Sylvia Plath and Catching Up to Shakespeare

“I’m chock-full of ideas for new poems. I can’t wait to get time to write them down. I can’t let Shakespeare get too far ahead of me, you know.”

— Sylvia Plath

They say every writer who wants to improve their craft has to be a reader first. While I haven’t always followed the advice to a tee—I haven’t always been a writer, or a reader, or both at once—I have found that when I have, reading only makes me feel more worthless, impotent, and my efforts futile. And now these feelings seem to have come to a head, and I have come to my wit’s end, now that I have had my first taste of Shakespeare.

Growing up my teachers tried to get me to appreciate his rich wordplay, lively relatable characters, and imaginative plots, but I struggled with the language and never got very far or very much out of Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet. I gave him another try this month with Twelfth Night, and now I know I should never have tried to be a writer at all.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way. I try to read and learn from many of the greats, but each one only highlighted my ignorance more and more. I’ll never have even half the talent of these authors. I will never write anything so moving, and I will never be known or remembered, so I should just give up, and sometimes I do.

Still, no matter how discouraged I get I still love writing and can’t seem to quit her entirely. So, I’m here again, lost and exhausted of my own faults but looking to try something new.

I’m far from being chock full of ideas though. I once was, and I hope to be again someday, but self-doubt is a hell of a drug, and I don’t know how to kick the nasty habit. Even when the words come slow, they still come, just never the ones I want. Never the ones I had always wanted to write. I gave up on all my dreams because I know I can never tell the story the way it appears to my mind’s eye and I can never teach the people what I know is right in my heart.

Where have all my ideas and ambitions gone? I have a feeling they are still there floating in the shadow of my self-consciousness. I suppose courage is what will get them back into the light. I suppose when you believe you can do things, or at least when you don’t know that the things you might do could be ugly, or stupid, or that you might one day lose interest or fail to finish things, there is no end to what you might do. But, it’s nearly impossible to unsee what is now painfully obvious.

And even if I was all wrong about my own ability and it was all just a matter of learning, of cracking the code and finding my voice and a good muse, I’m still far too far behind to ever catch up. I’m too old to learn new tricks. I’m too old to race the young, the strong, the flexible but maybe I’m looking at the race all wrong.

They say that practice makes perfect, but my practice rarely results in progress, let alone perfection. I’ve read that in order to get better you have to fail more and fail better, and that sounds a little more up my alley. That is how I can catch up to Plath, and Woolf, and Austen, and maybe even Shakespeare himself one day. I will embrace my fear and run by failure instead. I know I have enough failure in me to fuel a lifetime of work and more. I will stop trying to be as good as everyone else and fail the very best that I can instead.

And once you have set your heart on spectacular failure suddenly the ideas come by the dozen, and the words flow free as rivers. If I’m going to fail anyway, I can at least make it look good. If I am going to fail anyway, I might as well express myself, and tell the absolute truth. If I am going to fail anyway I might as well fail every single day and make it big, and bold, and bright! If I am going to fail anyway, I might as well make it my own and share every catastrophe with you.

I might as well be a proud failure considering failing is better than never trying at all and if I am so sure I’ll never be successful I should work to collect the same weight in flops and defeats, yes?

So, I have a new mission it seems, to fail more and better than anyone else. To earn even the possibility of my name among those greats by a paying in rejections, criticisms, and loss.

I’ll need a list, notebooks long with no two items the same, of ways I want to fail is what I want to work on now. I want each line to be a bigger and more impressive way to fail than then the last, and I have to start with them straight away!

It won’t be a hard task I’m sure. There are infinite ways to write failures out of short stories, essays, poems, hell, there are whole books I feel floating around inside my head I can fail at too. No, Shakespeare won’t get too far ahead of me now, nor Plath, nor Woolf, nor Austen or any of the rest.

I have them in my sights now as none of them could dream to fail like me!

***

U1889231Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist, and short story writer.

Known primarily for her poetry, Plath also wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The book’s protagonist, Esther Greenwood, is a bright, ambitious student at Smith College who begins to experience a mental breakdown while interning for a fashion magazine in New York. The plot parallels Plath’s experience interning at Mademoiselle magazine and subsequent mental breakdown and suicide attempt.

Along with Anne Sexton, Plath is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry initiated by Robert Lowell and W.D. Snodgrass. Despite her remarkable artistic, academic, and social success at Smith, Plath suffered from severe depression and underwent a period of psychiatric hospitalization. She graduated from Smith with highest honors in 1955 and went on to Newnham College, Cambridge, in England, on a Fulbright fellowship. Here she met and married the English poet Ted Hughes in 1956. For the following two years she was an instructor in English at Smith College.

In 1960, shortly after Plath and Hughes returned to England from America, her first collection of poems appeared as The Colossus. She also gave birth to a daughter, Frieda Rebecca. Hughes’ and Plath’s son, Nicholas Farrar, was born in 1962.

Plath took her own life on the morning of February 11, 1963. Leaving out bread and milk, she completely sealed the rooms between herself and her sleeping children with “wet towels and cloths.” Plath then placed her head in the oven while the gas was turned on.

***

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If We Were Having Coffee // When I’m Ready, You’ll Have My Story Too

Hello dear readers! Thank you for stopping by for a bit of coffee and catching up this afternoon. I had hoped to meet with you earlier, I had everything ready I swear, but then the clouds and the cold began to roll in and with them an intense drowsiness that my will was no match against. It carried me to bed and weighed me down until I gave up resisting and finally rested.

I slept most of the afternoon away and woke with a start just moments ago remembering it was Sunday, and I had wanted to chat with you badly. I straight away made a double shot of caffeine in the form of espresso, and I beg you to be patient because I know my mouth will awaken far faster than my thoughts.

“On Sundays my coffee is recreational. As opposed to weekdays when it’s medicinal.”

— Unknown

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I’ve been very busy with my day job lately. Being a school bus assistant doesn’t usually take so much time away from my writing projects, but I’m also a trainer when I am not on my route, and we’ve been dealing with a shortage of employees. That means we’re hiring new people like crazy which means I am working many more hours than I normally do and I am a lot more exhausted than I normally am too.

I don’t know when this will end, and to be honest with you I’ve been tempted to make some tough decisions and make big changes to my schedule, and my paycheck. I am a trainer for the extra hours and the flexibility but the pressure has been on, and it’s no longer feeling so flexible. I would have more time to write, but less money to bring home unless I can learn to turn words into money, but I’m still not so sure I am good enough, smart enough, or brave enough to do it yet.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that as much as I hate to be pulled away from my screens, it was nice to do things In Real Life for a change. I have been overwhelmed by everything that is happening in the news. It’s bad enough that our President continues to be an embarrassment but the slew of sexual harassment allegations coming out, while not surprising, has been depressing and to be honest, awful triggering.

I have my own stories to tell, and one day I will, but as much as I want to listen and uplift these women, I can’t help feeling a bit weak and lonely holding my own back. Their strength is admirable, but it only highlights what I lack and reminds me that I am still a victim and not yet a survivor.

Not only that, but my mind can’t process fast enough for me to say anything worth posting in enough time to be relevant. It’s hard to keep up, so I’ve stayed away. I keep my mouth shut and jealously watch other writers be smarter than me and carry on conversations I can never join in on. Still, the word must be spread, so I’ve instead opted to at least share the posts and tweets of others smarter and more articulate.

I’m biding my time, waiting and working out how to say what it is I need to say so badly. When I’m ready, you’ll have my story and all my thoughts too.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I was not selected to participate in the Bitch Media 2018 Fellowship for Writers. I knew I wouldn’t be, but part of me still hoped, the way you know your odds in the lottery, but you still buy tickets when the jackpot gets high. You know you can’t win, but you still plan that big house and the fancy cars you will finally get to own when you do.

It was nice of them to send rejection letters along with the four that went out to the obviously talented winners, but no matter how sweetly they let you down, wishing you the best and encouraging you to try again next year, it still stings.

But don’t tell me you are sorry and don’t feel pressured to say anything encouraging out of pity. I really am okay. I’m more than okay! I’m actually so proud of myself for even trying. I have never done anything like this before, and I know that not only did I give my very best, but that my very best will be even better next year.

I’m glad it’s over though. I sweated for a month and a half waiting to hear either way, and it was tough to think about anything else. I had a hard time feeling inspired and motivated to take on new projects in the meantime but now that it’s over and I can work on something of my own. As soon as things calm down at work that is.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I’ve been trying harder to talk to people face to face. I’m allowing myself to be distracted by conversation and losing time laughing. I’m getting used to embarrassing myself sometimes in exchange for having people to talk to and to do things with on Friday nights. It’s been strange to open up, and I am reminded that there was a time when little social butterfly Lisa did exist. She’s still here. She likes people, and she needs time to shine too.

Speaking of a social life, I am sure I’ve mentioned them before, but we’ve been having a blast lately hanging out with a couple of couples we’ve recently grown very close with. Being around two other couple, both so alike and so different from us—one couple is straight, and the other is two gay men—has been like therapy for us. It’s nice to know you are normal, and that other people love as much as you, fight as much as you, and have no idea what they are doing just as much as you, and that still, it can work and be beautiful too.

We’ve been rotating once a month dinners and brunches, or any other outings that catch our eyes. Last week was brunch, and in a few weeks, we’re thinking about visiting a comedy club, or a burlesque show, or just bar hopping downtown after dinner.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I’m actually kind of excited about Thanksgiving this year. I learned long ago that the story we were taught in school about the Native Americans sharing their crops with the settlers isn’t the whole story, it’s not even half. The story of the Native Americans is one of cruelty and thievery, and we should take time to reflect on that.

Thanksgiving—and Columbus Day—are days I normally choose to mark with reflection and by spreading awareness about the brutal history of this country. I’m certainly going to spend time doing that this year too, but I am working on relaxing into the idea of rebranding the day as also being a time to giving thanks for what I have and celebrate have earned throughout the year.

I’ll be with my family this year and I know we’ll have a blast and I do have so much to be grateful for. It’ll be a good holiday this year.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I had better get going. It’s dark outside already, pleasant smells are wafting from the kitchen, and my lovely lady has placed a glass of deep red wine in front of me, so I know dinner is on the way.

It’s been so nice to catch up, and I promise to be more prepared for our coffee date next week. These winter afternoons turn dark way too quickly for me to start so late anymore.

I hope you had a wonderful week and I hope your holiday plans this week go off without any stress or disastrous mishaps. I hope your friends and family are all there to celebrate with you and that you have much worth celebrating with them.

Until next time.

***

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee. Thanks again!

Written for the #WeekendCoffeeShare link-up hosted by Eclectic Alli

Featured photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

If We Were Having Coffee // Halloween Isn’t Over Yet

Hello dear readers! Thank you so much for stopping by today for a bit of cold brew and conversation. I’m up and moving about with the blinds thrown open and the sun streaming in but I feel far from awake. The stupid time change is enough to throw your circadian rhythm off, but I also stupidly decided to stay up late last night for no reason at all besides I hate giving up so much of my life to sleep.

I’m no good after late nights anymore. No matter how late I let myself sleep in the next morning, I still feel groggy through to the next evening. I’m less myself and certainly less productive. The early bird gets the worm, sure, but only if she’s had enough rest to keep her eyes open and her thoughts coherent, right? Coffee helps, but I’ll still need you to be patient with me today too.

“There are two kinds of people. Coffee people and sad people.”

@deathwishcoffee

***

If we were having coffee, I would need a minute to recall what all has happened since we last sat done. It’s been a little while, hasn’t it? I don’t think we’ve chatted since at least before Halloween. I don’t usually take such long breaks from these dates, and I don’t have a good reason for it this time except I’ve been feeling down. Not sad exactly, but like I’m empty. I have no ideas, no energy, no interest. I feel thin, transparent, fragile? None of these words describe it quite right.

My girlfriend calls it depressed, but it’s hard for me to use that word. I think I’ve only been lazy, and selfish, and weak, but I’m trying not to feel that way, and I’m trying not to apologize for resting or removing myself as I need to. I only wish I was better at expressing how I feel instead of just sort of fading out of people’s lives with no explanation.

The good news is that I had a sort of revelation recently and I’ve come to accept that while it’s not my fault I am feeling this way, it is up to me to start doing something about it. I haven’t been out of the house much, except for work. I haven’t been exercising. My eating habits have gotten bad again. I’m focusing on other people’s successes and my contrasting failure. I’m struggling to want to do things I love, like writing, drawing, and reading, and falling too easily into doing things I know don’t make me feel good, like playing games on my phone, wasting time on social media, and sleeping.

No wonder I am depressed. But I’m going to make more of an effort to get out and feel the sun and go to places where there are other people. I’m going to eat more fruit, drink more water, and say a few nice things to myself and to the people around me. I’m going to go for walks in the evening and try to get in a quick 15-minutes work out in the morning when I wake up. Those are my goals anyway, it won’t happen overnight. I need to get help too, but that’s a bigger ball of anxiety than I can get over at the moment.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that Halloween wasn’t all I had hoped it would be. We dressed up as Coraline and Wybie from the 2009 film Coraline. I wish we’d had more time to prepare because I didn’t get to make his mask and no one really knew what I was supposed to be. We did have fun at our friend’s party, but a very inconveniently timed migraine meant we had to call it a night earlier than we’d hoped.

Still, the rest of Halloween was great, and I’m even planning to have one last night of spooky celebration this Tuesday when my favorite movie theater, Alamo Drafthouse, is showing my favorite horror film, The Shining. Around here Halloween isn’t over until we’ve watched it and getting a chance to see it on the big screen (and get an awesome t-shirt too) is beyond exciting.

Once we’ve gotten that out of the way, it’ll be time for the customary watching of the transitional holiday film The Nightmare Before Christmas. Then and only then will I be able to fully accept that Halloween is over, and the god-awful holiday season of stress has begun.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that even though it has been hard some days, I have been doing my best to read more. I tell myself that if my brain is so out of it that I can’t write, and if my self-doubt is so intense that I can’t draw, then I need to be reading.

I got through The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, a beautiful and effortless read and Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, a strenuous yet rewarding read. I thought it was time for a little nonfiction again and picked up A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, an interesting and rather incendiary read so far. I have Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman to read next, but after that, I’m not so sure.

A few days ago I did come across a list of 135 Free Philosophy Books and another list of 800 Free eBooks that would be plenty to keep me busy for a while. I’ve never been very good at reading from a screen, but if there are free books to be had, I’m willing to put in the effort and learn.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that on the writing side of things, it really hasn’t been so bad. I’m writing, I’m just not posting, and to be honest with you, I don’t have much of a problem with that.

I have a few things written for the upcoming week, and I feel a little freer to work on things that are important, not just urgent. I never wanted to only be a blogger. The goal has always been to be an author, but it’s hard when you feel like people now expect things of you, and you now expect things of yourself, and you can’t switch gears as easily as you’d like.

I love this space, but I need space in my life for other kinds of work too. I need to stop worrying about content, posting times, follower counts, and engagement, and about how I’m failing at all of those things.

I need to write with pen and paper and spend a lot more time getting bored so I can think. What I’m trying to tell you is that things might get a little inconsistent around here but don’t worry, I won’t abandon you without saying something. I won’t drop off the face of the internet the way I have seen so many other bloggers do. I haven’t posted in a while be patient, I’m coming back, I promise.

***

If we were having coffee, I would say that it was about that time that I get going on this housework. The time change still has my mind and body feeling all out of whack. It feels later than it is and I’m panicking even though I shouldn’t so I’d better get going anyway. No harm it getting it all done early I suppose.

I hope you’ve been well these last few weeks since we’ve talked, and I hope we can all get through the coming months with a little more cheer and grace than we’ve been expressing toward one another as of late. Let me know what you’ve been up to lately in the comments, I’ll be around today, and I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time.

***

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the #WeekendCoffeeShare link-up, now hosted over at Eclectic Alli!

Featured photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

 

If We Were Having Coffee // Time to Get Spooky!

Hello dear readers. Thanks for stopping by for a bit of coffee and conversation. I’m feeling anxious today. The caffeine isn’t helping. Actually, the caffeine might be the cause.

I’ve been drinking cold brew coffee for months but since the mornings are growing colder and colder, and I need something warm and strong to start the day again. Drip coffee tastes like bitter water now, so I’ve dusted off my espresso machine and moved to drinking a couple of warm, velvety shots instead. I’m still figuring out the right ratio of coffee grounds to water and I may have overdone it.

“Coffee for two
The sweetest and most bitter
Bold in taste
Warm in conversation
Lovely in embrace
Coffee for me
Coffee for you”

— NB // Coffee For Two

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I’m feeling much better this Sunday than I was the last. The world still feels like it’s ending nearly every day, but I made sure to take breaks from social media and to limit my intake of the news to once or twice a day. Some of the shit still found its way in.

Between Harvey Weinstein’s predation coming to light, the short-sighted call to boycott Twitter in response to Rose McGowan being suspended, the fires in California, and Trump sabotaging what little health care we can get in this country I still found plenty of reasons to be depressed and anxious, but less so than the week before. It was good to unplug for a while.

Not that I have been any more productive instead. I found new ways to waste time, and new ways to be disappointed in myself. It wasn’t a good writing week at all. I had such hope after starting a list of specific topics to write about here and after deciding on the theme for an upcoming personal writing project I thought it would be easy-peasy from here. Nope, the hardest part is still keeping my ass in the chair and just doing the damn writing.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that there is hope though. I’ve started reading Things Are What You Make of Them by Adam J. Kurtz, and I’m feeling a little less afraid of writing. Or, I feel a little less alone in my fear and my failure. It always helps to know you aren’t struggling alone. It helps to know it isn’t all you, being creative and putting yourself out there are just hard things to do, but you can do it if you just don’t give up.

I’m also reading The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. I started it last Thursday, and I’m already halfway done. It’s such a dream to read! I’ve seen the movie about a million time but it’s such a unique story told from such an intriguing perspective that it still draws me in and excites me.

***

If we were having coffee, I would wish you a belated happy Friday the 13th! Being a fan of all things horror, I’m always excited when the 13th falls on a Friday of any month, but having it happen in October is an especially spooky treat. To mark the occasion my sister, and my girlfriend and I went out to take advantage of some Friday the 13th tattoo and piercing specials. My sister got her nostril pierced. My girlfriend got a lucky white rabbit tattoo, and I got this cute little fly that reminded me of the film The Fly, the 1986 version specifically, thank you very much.

This is my second Friday the 13th tattoo, and I’m already looking to getting another next Friday, which just happens to be my birthday!

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that the highlight of my week, besides the tattoo, was last night when we met up with some friends for a couple’s night out.

We started at a small pizza place downtown for dinner and drinks. It was a new place, and I was pleasantly surprised. The calzones we ordered were enormous and delicious, and the menu featured an extensive list of microbrews and cocktails. Afterward, we went to a huge haunted house to get spooky! After that, we went for even more drinks!

It’s been too long since we were last out with friends, I didn’t realize how much I had missed it. Especially these friends, two other couples who understand what it means to be with someone for years. I enjoy watching them interact with each other. Like everything else, it helps to know you are normal.

We're the cutest 😍😙

A post shared by Lisa Blair (@zenandpi) on

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that it’s getting late and I have to get going. There’s more writing to do, posts to draft and notes to type up plus laundry to do, dinner to get in the oven, and the cocktails that need to be made before The Duece comes on.

I hope you had a wonderful week. I hope you found time to take care of you this weekend. I hope it’s beginning to feel like Halloween and you are enjoying the spooky vibes too.

Until next time

The world's shrinking.

A post shared by Lisa Blair (@zenandpi) on

***

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the #WeekendCoffeeShare link-up, now hosted over at Eclectic Alli!

Featured photo is by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

September 2017 // Fall Brings Its Own Kind of Warmth

The last of summer has faded, the leaves are changing, and I feel myself changing too. I’m curling up inside myself, making a place to keep warm and safe before winter moves in. It’s a sad time for me. Summer has always been my favorite season and this time of year is the farthest I will be from that freedom again, but I am trying to change my perspective. I’m learning that fall has its own kind of warmth, one I can find inside myself.

September always feels like the longest month of the year, and this one was no exception. I had a ton of birthdays to mark, my girlfriend, her father, her sister, two of my sisters, one of my brothers, and a cousin. I didn’t celebrate with them as much as I’d wanted to because things are still pretty crazy at work but as the month worn on though things began to calm down. I’m allowing myself to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. October might be a return to some normalcy, and I am so ready for it.

But first, here is what I am currently:

Writing…something? I have had an idea, it’s still small, but it’s important and full of potential, I think. See, I’ve been having a hard time dealing with my death anxiety, and everyone is telling me to get help but I already researched ways to cope, and I have plenty of people will listen when I need to talk. The reality is, this will probably always be a part of me, and the best I can do is learn to soothe and redirect myself when I need to, but there may be something else I can do. Maybe turning it into something creative and giving it a purpose can help too. I’m writing things down, but I have no idea what they will be exactly. It’s exciting!

Planning My next big writing goal, another fellowship, this time it’s with Buzzfeed! The BuzzFeed Emerging Writers Fellowship includes four months of financial support and mentorship focusing on personal essays and cultural reporting and criticism from Buzzfeed!. It’s a dream come true. Applications are due by December 4th, and while that might seem like plenty of time, there’s a lot that is required, and I figure I better get started before my brain has time to get overwhelmed or decide it’s a waste of a time for a talentless hack such as myself.

Making a very long list of blog post ideas. This blog hasn’t been focused in a very long time, and I want to get control of it and make it into what I always wanted it to be. A place for self-care, mindfulness, philosophy, science, art, society, and culture. Whew! I’ve got my topics figured out, at least 15 in all, and I’m writing 3 posts for each slowly but surely to get me started. You won’t see them for awhile, maybe not even until the new year, but they are coming.

Anticipating Halloween! It’s time to get spooky dear readers, and I am ready! This month we are seeing a ballet performance of Dracula, a play about Jack the Ripper starring a friend of ours, and heading to a haunted house with friends. I’m hoping to hit up Fright Nights at Elitch Gardens, a movie party at the Alamo Drafthouse, and a party if I can convince some friends of friends to open their home. Mostly though I will be watching every horror movie, I can find streaming on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and HBO!

Reading Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul by Giulio Tononi. I’ve read it before but it’s such a beautiful book, bok in its writing and in the presentation, I had to pick it up again. I finished Mrs. Dalloway, finally, and breezed through Memoirs of a Geisha and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as well this month. I’ve started setting a goal of 40 pages a day, and reading during my lunch and between my afternoon routes instead of napping. It has really helped, and there’s hope yet that I might accomplish my reading goal for the year if I keep it up.

Watching The Duece on HBO, Starring big names like James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal The Duece is a semi-fictional account of the rise of the porn industry during the 70s in New York. The show is only a few episodes in, but I can tell you its pretty damn good so far. I’ve also been watching American Horror Story: Cult and the new season of Transparent but neither has sucked me in like The Duece.

Feeling A bit introverted lately. Maybe it’s just the changing of the seasons, or my focus on this new project and my lofty writing goal, or maybe it’s my anxiety, I’m not sure, but something is putting up a wall between me and everyone around me. I’ve turned into  Very Serious Woman with no time for jokes. Having any kind of conversation feels pointless, and I can’t imagine there is anything anyone might say that would make me feel better. Of course, I know that isn’t true, and I’m trying to make time every day to socialize in some way. It’s good for people to be with people, even when we least want to be.

Needing more hours in the day, please? I know that isn’t possible, so I’m willing to settle for more days doing more of what I want and less of what the world needs. This damn capitalist culture is taking all of my free time and paying me back very little of what these precious hours of my life are worth.

Loving fall cocktails! My girlfriend has been making Hot Buttered Rum before bedtime, and I’ll be picking up some Fireball Whiskey to make Angry Balls too. I’m even thinking about trying these Caramel Apple Mimosas. They look delicious!

Hating Um, Trump? Again? More? I mean a week doesn’t go by where he doesn’t say something insulting or inflammatory and nothing his administration has done makes me feel like this country is great and has only confirmed that we never really were in the first place. The American Dream made that man. He’s everything this country pushes people to be and that ought to be a warning and reason enough to reevaluate everything we think is good and right in the world. The people of Puerto Rico are in my thoughts, and I am proud of every player taking a knee.

Hoping October takes it easy on my loved ones and me. After Halloween, the pressure of the holidays follows. The pressure to be the most giving, the most grateful, the happiest, and most tolerant of your family’s crap because they are family. It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time, but it’s the most stressful! October will be the last chance I’ll have to enjoy being a little selfish. I hope the month’s demands won’t be too harsh.

All in all, September was alright. I was busy and anxious for most of it, but I’m proud to have made it through still focused and motivated. I’m proud that I never once let the demands put on me by work and family pull me down into depression and I never gave up on my personal goals. I simply did my work quickly and utilized every minute I had left over to further my goals. At least, I did on most days. There were certainly a few evenings I came home to grouchy and full of pity for myself to do anything. As always though, progress, not perfection is the goal. I am definitely progressed!

So, how about you? How did September treat you? What did you accomplish? What did you learn? Do you have any fun Halloween plans or costume ideas?

Let me know in the comments (:

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Thank you for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

The inspiration for this posts come from Andrea at Create.Share.Love.

Featured image by Owen CL on Unsplash

August 2017 // I Did the Thing!

Wow, the end of August really snuck up on me! I went the half the day writing the date on forms and staring at it on my calendar before I realized what it meant, tomorrow is September, and then it took the other half to reflect on everything that happened.

This month was a buzzing busy one. The kids have all gone back to school with means I have gone back to working a regular schedule and this school year has been off to the rockiest start I’ve seen in my 11 years here. With the employee shortage, we are all having to chip in and work a little more. My girlfriend is working very long hours, so I’ve been picking up some slack at home all the while plugging away at a big scary goal I had at for myself too. I sent in an application for the Bitch Media Fellowship for Writers under the topic of sexual politics.

I’ve never done anything like this before which means I had no experience working cover letters, crafting a CV, or putting together writing samples, but I did it. I agonized over it. I fought my fear of it. I thought of my future self and how I hoped she would be proud rather than disappointed. I did the thing, guys. I did the big scary thing, and now I’m ready for September to begin.

But before it does, here is what I am currently:

Writing: Nothing. Well, not nothing. I’m posting here and working on a few little things, but after having worked so hard on that application, I’m kind of burned out. I’m going to take a little break from the pressure and deadlines. I’m just reading and brainstorming. I say nothing, and I say I’m taking a break but to be honest with you I’ve already been making interesting little notes I might make into something one day.

Planning a long weekend away! So, work got in the way, and our big trip west won’t be happening after all. Bummer. But since my girlfriend’s birthday is on Sunday, and since this weekend marks the 40th anniversary of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and since Birth.Movies.Death is teaming up with SyFy and showing the movie in Wyoming at the base of Devil’s Tower we ARE DRIVING NORTH FOR THE WEEKEND! I’m so excited. Oh, and I guess I better start planning for the 100 other birthdays of close friends and family falling in this month too.

Making a new art journal. I think I’ve said this before, and I didn’t really do it, but I finally have just the right piece of cardboard for the cover and plenty of scrap paper to make a nice thick book out of it. I want so badly to get back into drawing but trying to do it in the same art journal I failed to keep up with is just a reminder of my failure. I can’t draw when I feel like a failure, so there needs to be a clean slate. Art will be the thing I do that is entirely for me. Writing used to be that thing, but now I write for you all too, and while I love sharing my passion with you, I’m just one of those people who needs something that is just for me too.

Anticipating the end of September! I hate to see the season go but Halloween is my favorite holiday, and as far as I’m concerned it begins on October 1st. I’m ready for candy corn and all the horror movies I can watch. The good ones and the cheesy ones too, I love them all. Plus I’m so ready for the next season of Stranger Things. I have a feeling September is going to dragggggggggg.

Reading Mrs. Dalloway, still, because I caved and reinstalled Candy Crush on my phone. I’m so addicted to the game that even talking about it now makes me want to close my laptop and get a hit of that sweet, sweet color matching action. I need to delete it, and I will, I promise, just one…more…level. It’s not just the game though, the book’s stream of conscious style was hard to get the hang of, but I am making progress. I believe I’ll get through it before the weekend is over. Next up I’ll be reading either Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare or Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.

Watching Last Chance High on Viceland. Many of the years 11 years I’ve worked in this school district were spent with children who have emotional and behavioral disorders. These kids are defiant, violent, and angry but they are also so caring, and smart, and afraid. There is a serious lack of public understanding of how these disorders develop and how to treat them. People believe these kids need to be ashamed, bullied, and beat into better behavior but it is precisely this treatment that leads to this behavior. Last Chance High chronicles the harsh world these kinds of kids live in and teaches us that love, affection, protection, and understanding is how you help them heal.

Feeling a little alone. I’m surrounded by people who are too busy living their own lives to pay attention to me, but I’m doing my best not to be too whiny about it. I’m taking some time to learn how to be alone with myself without anxiety and existential dread creeping in. I’m learning to be self-motivated and disciplined and to soothe myself and take care of me without help. I’ve never been on my own, and even now I’m not truly alone, only bored and having a small internal tantrum over not having attention paid to me the moment I want it.

Needing the world to get back on some kind of even keel again. Everything feels so upside down and up in the air. I’m afraid of the future, for our country and for my own small family and circle of friends. The big political and economic landscape have had real world effects. My job can’t find or keep enough qualified employees, my friends can’t afford the skyrocketing rent prices in this city, and I’m afraid to lose my rights, my healthcare, and my sanity. I’m worried about war and natural disasters victims who will lose their homes. I’m afraid there is nothing I can do, and I’m afraid there is so much I can do, and I’m only too weak or lazy to do it.

Loving that last season of Game of Thrones! Best season yet despite being so short. Every episode was action packed and full of surprises and bombshells of information. I sat on the edge of my seat for seven whole weeks. I have no idea how I’m going to wait out the next year or two until the eighth season premieres, and I have no idea how I will live without the show in my life after that final season ends.

Hating that I’ve had to stop being so open to people emotionally. I used to pride myself on being so willing to hear the pains and complaints of others. I k ow how much we all just want to be heard and I know not every is so lucky to have someone in their lives to listen, but lately, there has been so much negativity and lying around me that I’ve had to take a step back. With my own support system working at a lower capacity than usual I just don’t have the emotional strength right now to deal with toxic attitudes. I hate it, but it’s necessary for now.

Hoping I get picked for this fellowship, and I’m also hoping I don’t. I want it because I really think with some mentorship and a little direction I could turn out to be at the very least a damn decent writer. I want this because it will give me a purpose and a place for my writing to call home. I want this because I want to feel proud and I want people to feel proud of me too. But as much as I want it I still have this sinking feeling that I’m not good enough and that I have made myself a liar by trying to convince the nice people at Bitch Media that I am. I’m afraid to waste their time, to find out I’m incompetent, and to let everyone down. Mostly I’m just hoping I can put it out of my mind and keep myself from going crazy until November 15th when the 2018 fellows are announced.

Mostly I’m just hoping I can put it out of my mind and keep myself from going crazy until November 15th when the 2018 fellows are announced.

All in all, this month was a really hard one, but I’m so proud of myself, and my girlfriend, and of us for making it through it all together.This month was about growth and maturity and about loving each other enough to put our own feelings and sometimes needs aside to be supportive of one another. She supported me and took time out of her day to proofread and give me her opinion. I did my best to take some worries off her mind, and we both let go of our frustration to make the most of what time we had.

I hope things improve next month, but I know that if it doesn’t, we can handle it. We can take on whatever the world throws at us, separately and together. We’re growing up finally, and it feels good.

So, how about you? How did August treat you? Are you ready for fall? Do you have any last-minute summer plans to squeeze in? What did you think of Game of Thrones season 7?

Let me know in the comments (:

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Thank you for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

The inspiration for these posts come from Andrea at Create.Share.Love.

Featured image by Dixit Motiwala on Unsplash

 

Stephen King and Writing by Questions

Writing, like any other 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—apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week’s inspiration comes from the prolific American author Stephen King.

“You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about?”

— Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

The first hurdle to writing is getting your butt in the chair and keeping it there. The second hurdle is getting the pen moving, or your fingers typing. The body only needs training. You only have to employ a few days of treats and punishments to get the hang of sit and stay but to get your mind to show up is like coercing a stray cat to follow you home.

I can get my butt in the chair but lately getting my mind to show up is near impossible. My body is easy to control. My mind, on the other hand, has one of its own. It wanders inside itself and finds plenty to do that isn’t writing at all. It thinks about all the things I should be doing, the dishes, the laundry, that email, that book I wanted to read, that movie I wanted to watch. I get antsy. I get tired. I feel guilty and decide that I don’t want to write. If it happens often enough, I decide I shouldn’t write. I’m obviously not good enough or disciplined enough.

I give up and get up and doing everything but write. I do anything but write. The pen doesn’t move the screen stays blank.

But there has to be a way to coerce the cat, and there has to be a way wrangle a mind and wring the words from it. One bit of advice I’ve come across time and time again is to start with questions. Questions get the wheels turning. Questions interest the mind and make it want to work with you. Questions lure it along the way you wish to go and reveal what it is you are setting out to say to write about.

The first question you should ask yourself is an easy one, what do I want to write about. You don’t have to be specific here. I like to write about humans, and emotions, and the way how we ought to live. Simple.

You can’t begin if you don’t know what you are talking about. What genre are you writing? Is it fact or fiction, persuasive or story telling. Are you going to write a poem? A story? An essay? Who are you writing about? Yourself, a celebrity, a person who doesn’t exist, are they even a person? You have to get these basics down before you can build a shape or structure but those questions aren’t so hard, and you can always change the answers when you please.

So, once you’ve gotten a start, the next step is getting you to the end, another writing hurdle. I’ve found that the best way is to keep asking questions of yourself, and your writing.

Begin with the what and then make a list of whos, hows, and whys to keep you going. You need this list of questions to tease out what you mean to say and how you can go about saying it in the clearest way possible. The list is personal. And after you have one you can copy and tweak it for every piece you write. You can have one for fiction and memoir and maybe one for blog posts and for articles you pitch. You come up with whatever questions you like, or you can steal them from other writers. Here are some of mine:

  1. What do I want people to get out of this?
  2. Who am I speaking to? Who am I speaking for?
  3. Why should they care?
  4. What am I trying to say?
  5. How do I want to make people feel?
  6. What will people learn? About me? Themselves? The world?
  7. What has been forgotten?
  8. What is the truth?
  9. Where does it hurt?
  10. What has helped?
  11. What is missing?
  12. What makes this any different?
  13. Is this boring? What would it look like if it wasn’t?

I don’t always have all the answers, and many of the ones I do have are similar, but the differences are subtle enough that they can help me illuminate what I think and feel and how I can structure my writing to articulate that to my readers. These questions aren’t perfect, and they do not guarantee concise or compelling writing, obviously, but they help get me home even if the path is rocky and winding and I get lost a few times along the way.

The answers can be long or short and often I can write the whole piece by taking my answers, expanding them, rearranging them, and adding a little emotional flair.

I tend to check in more than once while writing a piece. I write my first draft and go over the questions again to see if my convictions have changed and if I need to move n a different direction. I write a second and check in again, and after editing to grammar and structure, I glance over it one more time and ask myself if I’ve said what I needed to say.

Writing this way keeps me focused and on topic and whatever I wanted to say that didn’t fit can become another post or piece, and I can answer the questions all over again from another angle.

Of course, you can come up with your own questions, ones that work for you and the way you write and whatever genre you work in. You are free to borrow my list too, or you can search for other ones from writer’s who know much better than I. Here are a few I’ve found:

“We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history you must ask yourself, Whose story am I missing?, Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there you get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”

― Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing

and

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly?
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

— George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

Some others I am considering:

  1. Why do I need to write this?
  2. Am I ready to share this?
  3. Can I get paid to write this?

Sometimes I have more fun answering these questions than I do in writing the actual piece. And sometimes I get too focused on them and have a hard time moving from a list of facts to writing something with color and emotion. It’s easy to figure out what you mean to say, the hard part is figuring out how you mean to say it. So, when I realize I am only spinning my wheels, doing something that feels like writing but isn’t, I keep in mind the second half of Orwell’s advice:

But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.

I don’t think he was actually endorsing this method, but I think there may be some value in employing it as needed. Whenever you become too strict, too wound up, when the boundaries of all these questions make your mind move in mechanical ways, and your writing loses its humanity it may be time to open your mind and let whatever words float by make their way on to the page, for a while.

You have to give yourself boundaries, but you also have to give yourself time to just write it all out of yourself, no matter how bad or ugly it might be at first. Then, when you have exhausted your ready-made sentences and your mimicry you can go back to your list of facts and find a middle ground.

It’s good to have more than one approach, one structured and one not to keep you from getting bored or lost. The brain needs both, creativity needs both. If you find yourself having trouble finishing your writing, or maybe you have trouble writing when inspiration and motivation are running low, try beginning with questions and go back to them whenever you need a little leading to the end.

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3389Stephen Edwin King was born the second son of Donald and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King. After his father left them when Stephen was two, he and his older brother, David, were raised by his mother.

Stephen attended the grammar school in Durham and Lisbon Falls High School, graduating in 1966. From his sophomore year at the University of Maine at Orono, he wrote a weekly column for the school newspaper, THE MAINE CAMPUS.

In the fall of 1971, Stephen began teaching English at Hampden Academy, the public high school in Hampden, Maine. Writing in the evenings and on the weekends, he continued to produce short stories and to work on novels.

In 1973, King’s first novel Carrie was accepted by publishing house, Doubleday. King had thrown an early draft of the novel into the trash after becoming discouraged with his progress writing about a teenage girl with psychic powers. His wife retrieved the manuscript and encouraged him to finish it. His advance for Carrie was $2,500; King’s paperback rights later earned $400,000.

King and his family moved to southern Maine because of his mother’s failing health. At this time, he began Salem’s Lot. Soon after Carrie’s release in 1974, King’s mother died of uterine cancer. His Aunt Emrine had read the novel to her before she died.

After his mother’s death, King and his family moved to Boulder, Colorado, where King wrote The Shining. The family returned to western Maine in 1975, where King completed his fourth novel, The Stand.

In all King has published 54 novels, including seven under the pen name Richard Bachman, and six non-fiction books. He has written nearly 200 short stories, most of which have been collected in book collections. Many of his stories are set in his home state of Maine. His books have sold more than 350 million copies, many of which have been adapted into feature films, miniseries, television shows, and comic books.

Seriously, I cannot recommend his memoir On Writing enough.

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Thank you for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee

Check out my previous quotes from Stephen King.

Featured image via Unsplash