Jorie Graham on Capturing the Past

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 poet Jorie Graham.

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Jorie Graham was born in New York City in 1950, the daughter of a journalist and a sculptor. She was raised in Rome, Italy and educated in French schools. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris before attending New York University as an undergraduate, where she studied filmmaking. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa.

Graham is the author of numerous collections of poetry, most recently Sea Change (Ecco, 2008), Never (2002), Swarm (2000), and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994, which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

About her work, James Longenbach wrote in the New York Times: “For 30 years Jorie Graham has engaged the whole human contraption — intellectual, global, domestic, apocalyptic — rather than the narrow emotional slice of it most often reserved for poems. She thinks of the poet not as a recorder but as a constructor of experience. Like Rilke or Yeats, she imagines the hermetic poet as a public figure, someone who addresses the most urgent philosophical and political issues of the time simply by writing poems.”

Graham has also edited two anthologies, Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language (1996) and The Best American Poetry 1990.

Graham is known for her deep interest in history, language, and perception; the critic Calvin Bedient has noted that she is, “never less than in dialogue with everything. She is the world champion at shot-putting the great questions. It hardly matters what the title is: the subject itself is always ‘the outermost question being asked me by the World today.’ What counts is the hope in the questioning itself, not the answers.” Graham has received numerous honors and awards for her work, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

She has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. She served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003.

“There’s no way back believe me.
I’m writing you from there.”

— Jorie Graham, Overlord: Poems

It seems like a sign or an interesting coincidence that I should come across this quote from Graham so soon after finishing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which was concerned very much about returning to the past. When I saw I thought immediately of a scene near the middle of the book, when the narrator, Nick, is talking to Gatsby about his longing to get back Daisy Buchanan, a girl he had to let go some years before, and who he hope to get back.

Gatsby has been throwing one of his famous parties and invited Daisy to attend. She didn’t have a good time nor did she seem to like the company Gatsby is keeping. He’s a bit disappointed at not being able to please her and make her understand what he is trying to do. Nick listens and advises him not to be too hard on Daisy, after all, “you can’t repeat the past.” Gatsby replies:

“Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can! I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before.”

Nick goes on to wonder about Gatsby:

“He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was…”

Of course, Gatsby’s longing to return to the past, to go after Daisy and try to recapture what they had will be his downfall, that is how these kinds of stories go. If he had only moved on, and let her move on to, he might have made a good life for himself. Or if he had discovered writing and found a way back to the past that offered closure and cleansing

The laws of this universe are such that time moves one way and one way only. The past can’t be returned to, but we can express our frustration at being forced to live with no instructions or guarantees and no ability to go back and fix what we got wrong. We can express our heartbreak and our loss and our suffering/. We can even express our wishes and our dreams of what might have been had we turned left instead of right at the fork five years ago. We can’t relive the past but we can sure as shit rewrite it.

It’s strange to think too that everything you read is from the past and everything you write is to the future. I mean, I know that but to consider the past, and the future too, as a physical place that writing is either going to or coming from feels weird.

By the time you are reading this, I will have left my place behind this screen and gone on to finish my day. You may even be reading it days, weeks, maybe a year or two from now. I wonder where I am? I wonder what twists and turns my life has taken in that time. I wonder what wisdom I could send out to myself, or to you from here?

As for the past, I may not be able to speak to my old self, but I can comfort the part of me that is still hurting. I can talk with an old self who feels joy and hope. I can sit with myself as a child and capture a bit of her innocence again, in a way.

This is the loophole, a poor one, but it’s all we have for now. We’ve been gifted with an ability to vividly imagine new worlds, and we have cultivated out knack for language and learned to share those worlds with each other. We found a way to beat time, to loop back, to jump forward, to redo this life or make a new one entirely. We can live on this planet or another, light years from here. We can live in another time. We can travel to heaven or hell. We can see our lost loved ones again and tell them what we never could in life. We can fall in love, give birth, beat our enemies, become the leader, the savior, the hero, the genius, the one that everyone wants to have or wants to be.

We can be Gods.

But only in our heads, and only on paper, and that just has to be enough. Trying to go back never works. It can’t be done. Writing can help though. It can get you through your feelings. You can get them out, you can find closure, you can have what you want, in a way. Writing can be your therapy and your friend. It can help you discover the thing, that part of yourself, that you missed and reclaim it. It can keep you from getting stuck.

We’ve never been able to revisit the past, but somehow we have never gotten over the desire. We’ve never been able to let go of regret, but we found another way with writing. Take advantage of it because there is no other way back.

Trust me, we are all either writing from there, or writing about then, and we should know.

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

Biographical information via Joriegraham.com and The Poetry Foundation

Featured image via Unsplash

Virginia Woolf on the Path from Reading to Writing

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 renowned English writer Virginia Woolf.

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Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen on January 25th, 1882 in Kensington, London. She was educated by her parents in their literate and well-connected household.

Her parents had each been married previously and been widowed, and, consequently, the household contained the children of three marriages. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was a notable historian, author, critic, and mountaineer. He was a founding editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, a work that would influence Woolf’s later experimental biographies.

The sudden death of her mother in 1895, when Virginia was 13, and that of her half-sister Stella two years later, led to the first of Virginia’s several nervous breakdowns. After her mother and half-sister, she quickly lost her surrogate mother, Stella Duckworth, as well as her cherished brother Thoby, when he was in his mid-20s. She was, however, able to take courses of study (some at degree level) in Ancient Greek, Latin, German and history at the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London between 1897 and 1901. This brought her into contact with some of the early reformers of women’s higher education

Her most famous works include the novels Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Orlando, and the book-length essay A Room of One’s Own, with its famous dictum, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Woolf suffered from severe bouts of mental illness throughout her life, thought to have been what is now termed bipolar disorder. She spent three short periods in 1910, 1912 and 1913 at Burley House, which is described as “a private nursing home for women with nervous disorder.” Though this instability often affected her social life, her literary productivity continued with few breaks throughout her life.

Woolf committed suicide by drowning in 1941 at the age of 59.

“For once the disease of reading has laid upon the system it weakens so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing.”

― Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Every since I can remember I have loved books. I learned to read early and easily, and my comprehension levels were always well advanced for my age. Books felt to me what watching TV must feel like to other people. I was transported right into the action, the emotion, into whole different worlds with different ways of thinking and doing things. I felt most alive, most like I was becoming future myself when I was reading.

During my 6th grade year, I volunteered to work in my school for part of my lunch period. It was so quiet in there, and it smelled like books rather than sweaty kids like the rest of the building. My job was to put the returned books back on the right shelves, but most of the time I just walked the rows and ran my hands over the worn spines. I flipped through the ones with dragons or spaceships on the front and scoffed at the ones about cheerleaders and love.

The ones I took home I could never put down. I read in the dark after my mother insisted we go to be until she grew tired of trying to force me and asked that I only keep to my room and keep quiet.

My father and his father loved reading too, and I often stole books with subject matters much too advanced for me from their collections.

I loved reading so much, and then I became a teenager, and between the depression and trying to be cool, I forgot all about reading. Then I became an adult and life got too busy for books. At first, I was busy falling in love and making a home. Then I was busy fighting for love and always working harder to build a better and better home. And no matter what there never seemed to be enough time for love and home and work and friends and sleep and reading.

Things have changed. Reading has come back to me. I realized that I had let something I loved go and I wasn’t at all happier for it. I realized I wanted something for myself. I remembered how good it felt to learn things and see the world in new ways. I remembered how reading made me feel more like myself all those years ago. So, I went looking for my old friend, my first love, and I found that she had been waiting for me all along to return. We picked up right where we left off, and we’ve been going strong ever since.

I’ve also come back to writing, another old love from my childhood. I’ve come a long way since those old angsty journals, and I want to go further still, and I know that in order to get there I can never take reading or writing for granted again. I have to make them a priority in my life along with love and home and work and friends and sleep. With them, never behind. Not when I can find the time, but when I make the time!

I wish I had learned this lesson a long time ago. If I had spent more time with books than I may be a better writer now, or at least a better person. But I am still grateful for the time I had, without having experienced the magic of words being worked on me I would never have craved such power myself, to wield over other minds and time itself.

I am grateful that books never leave you entirely and that reading is a patient and understanding friend who will let you leave and return as often as you wish. I have come back to my first love and friend, and I found that our passion for one another never really waned. I had only been a stupid human who forgot what life was really about, doing what makes you happy.

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If you like this post, check out my weekly-ish newsletter for some existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + important reads from others, or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

See also: Short and Sweet Reviews // Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

Featured image via George Charles Beresford [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

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.

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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.

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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

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.

 

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Quote via Alec Nevala-Lee

Biographical information via Goodreads and Wikipedia

Featured image via Unsplash

Charles Dickens and Speaking to Ideas

My goal has always been to one day become a published author, but lately, I haven’t been doing much to get myself any closer to that goal. I need to light a fire under my ass, and that fire has come in the form of NaNoWriMo and the demise of the beloved blogging event Writer’s Quote Wednesday previously hosted by Colleen.

In thinking over both, I have realized two things: I enjoy learning about authors who have come before me, collecting their words of wisdom, and sharing both with all of you, and two, I know nothing about writing a novel, but I think I might learn as I go. So, I am combining both. On Wednesdays, I will continue to write about writers and their advice, and I will also let you know how I am faring so you might hold me accountable.

This week I have chosen a quote from the English author Charles Dickens, who’s book, Great Expectations I am currently enjoying.

239579From Wikipedia:

“Charles John Huffam Dickens, born on February 7th, 1812 created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the twentieth-century critics and scholars had recognized him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories enjoy lasting popularity.

Born in Portsmouth, Dickens left school to work in a factory when his father was incarcerated in a debtors’ prison. Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed extensively, was an indefatigable letter writer, and campaigned vigorously for children’s rights, education, and other social reforms.

Dickens was regarded as the literary colossus of his age. His 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, remains popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre. Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are also frequently adapted, and, like many of his novels, evoke images of early Victorian London. His 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities, set in London and Paris, is his best-known work of historical fiction. Dickens’s creative genius has been praised by fellow writers—from Leo Tolstoy to George Orwell and G. K. Chesterton—for its realism, comedy, prose style, unique characterisations, and social criticism.

On June 8th, 1870, Dickens suffered another stroke at his home after a full day’s work on Edwin Drood. He never regained consciousness, and the next day, five years to the day after the Staplehurst rail crash, he died at Gad’s Hill Place.

Contrary to his wish to be buried at Rochester Cathedral ‘in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner,’ he was laid to rest in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. A printed epitaph circulated at the time of the funeral reads: ‘To the Memory of Charles Dickens (England’s most popular author) who died at his residence, Higham, near Rochester, Kent, 9 June 1870, aged 58 years. He was a sympathizer with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world.'”

“An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”

― Charles Dickens

To be perfectly honest I decided to give this NaNoWriMo thing a go only yesterday. I figure I thought of it just in time too, I still have a whole month to prepare! For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every year in the month of November and the goal is to write a 50,000-word novel by November 30th. Whew!

I don’t have much to go on, just a few characters, and few ideas, and a feeling, but I think that might be enough to start.

I’ve always wanted to write a series, so 50,000 words will quite literally be “only a start” for me. I want to write something about the future, something sci-fi-ish, something where everything we thought was going to be good has gone to shit instead.I want to write something with a message, about how we are loving and cruel and how we repeat the past over and over until one day we decide to stop. I’ve always wanted to write something where someone who looks like me saves the world. I want to write something I would want to read.

So, I’m starting with that. I do realize what I have is next to nothing but feels like it could be something, even if it’s only ever something to me.

I signed up over on NaNoWriMo.org this morning and saw that everyone was gearing up for #NaNoPrep during the month of October, which is exactly what I was planning on doing too. I started pre-preparations this morning by firing up Ulysses on my iPad and getting acquainted with how it works, doing a little novel writing how-to research, and jotting down some ideas. I already I have pages of notes!

I’m not just writing down ideas, though, I’m talking to them. I’m treating each one like something apart and outside of myself and letting it tell my what it means, what it wants, and where it wants to go. I’m asking not telling and letting the story tell itself to me. I’m learning a lot in a very short time.

I don’t believe any of the ideas I come up with are especially great ideas. I don’t get the feeling that this novel will be a bestseller and that I will be rich and famous. I don’t even know if there will ever be a novel, but I know I like the way this feels. I like sitting down with my ideas, and letting them take me out, and back, and out, and back through the plot and problems I might write about one day.

I like learning what I am capable of imagining.

I like talking to the ghost and letting it explain to me what this journey is all about.

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Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

Original image via Pixabay

Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Clifford D. Simak

Hello, hello, and welcome to the middle of the week, dear readers. If you are feeling a little run down or if Friday is feeling a bit too far away, I encourage you to check out Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event that calls on bloggers share their favorite quotes to inspire and motivate one another.

For my contribution this week, I have chosen a quote from the American science fiction writer Clifford D. Simak.

Simak was born in Millville, Wisconsin on August 3rd, 1904, the son of John Lewis and Margaret (Wiseman) Simak. He attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison and later worked at various newspapers in the Midwest. He began a lifelong association with the Minneapolis Star and Tribune in 1939, which continued until his retirement in 1976.

23012He married Agnes Kuchenberg in 1929, and they had two children. In a blurb in Time and Again he wrote, “I have been happily married to the same woman for thirty-three years and have two children. My favorite recreation is fishing (the lazy way, lying in a boat and letting them come to me). Hobbies: Chess, stamp collecting, growing roses.” He dedicated the book to his wife Kay, “without whom I’d never have written a line.” He was well liked by many of his science fiction cohorts, especially Isaac Asimov.

Simak became interested in science fiction after reading the works of H. G. Wells as a child. His first contribution to the literature was “The World of the Red Sun,” published by Hugo Gernsback in the December 1931 issue of Wonder Stories with one opening illustration by Frank R. Paul. Within a year he placed three more stories in Gernsback’s pulp magazines and one in Astounding Stories, then edited by Harry Bates. But his only science fiction publication between 1932 and 1938 was The Creator, a notable story with religious implications, which was then rare in the genre.

Simak returned and was a regular contributor to Astounding Science Fiction throughout the Golden Age of Science Fiction. During this period, Simak also published a number of war and western stories in pulp magazines. His best-known book may be City, a fix-up novel based on short stories with a common theme of mankind’s eventual exodus from Earth.

Simak continued to produce award-nominated novels, writing and publishing science fiction and, later, fantasy, into his 80s. He believed that science fiction not rooted in scientific fact was responsible for the failure of the genre to be taken seriously, and stated his aim was to make the genre a part of what he called “realistic fiction.”

He died in Minneapolis in 1988.

“I’m just a propagandist and a propagandist doesn’t have to know what he is talking about, just so he talks about it most convincingly.”

— Clifford D. Simak, Time and Again

All writers, all artists, are propagandists. We work to spread ideas about ourselves, and in doing so, about all people. We write about the past, present, or future, in ways that tell the truth of the events, not just the facts. We write about what right and wrong without giving clear answers. We write about what hurts and what feels good too so that you can experience all of life.

We spin lies and tales so well you can’t hope to decern what might be true or real. You give up and fall into our world where we catch and cradle you all the way. We spoon feed you exactly what we want you to think and feel and you love every bite.

The world needs more propagandists. The world needs people who will pick a side, take a stand, and inject some color and feeling into the cold hard facts of the world. Us creative types, for the most part, have good intentions. We would do it if it weren’t of the utmost importance, for us, for you, for the future. Lat us take you on a journey. Let us into your mind and heart, give us the benefit of the doubt. Believe every world and spread our gospel. We bring the truth.

We would never steer you wrong. It’s hard to be hateful when all you wish to do is express who we are. It’s hard to be hateful when all you want to do is tell the truth, even if you use lies to do it. It’s hard to be hateful when you are creating characters who must overcome and worlds where good must triumph. A propagandist takes his title seriously and works for your trust, and your repeat business.

If you are a peddler of truthful lies and big ideas yourself, be sure you know what you mean to say. Be certain you say it with confidence and be sure to say it again and again. Convince people, push people, drag them over to your side of things by any means necessary. Use all the tricks in the book but make sure you are authentic and true at least to yourself and your message. If you aren’t, you may lose them as fast as you can gain them.

Don’t worry so much about facts. Feel free to emphasize, exaggerate, and steer the story along in whatever direction you need it to go to show your reader what it is they cannot see. Feel free to make it all up as you go.

Don’t write what you know, write what you can imagine.

Embrace the propagandist inside yourself and release them in all your art.

Let them bring readers over to your cause.

P.S. I was very sorry to read that this week’s Writer’s Quote Wednesday event will be the last. I have enjoyed them immensely, so much so in fact, that I think I will continue to write them. I may change the format, and the frequency, but I will continue to feature writers and their advice regularly on this blog. Thank you for reading.

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Biographical information via Wikipedia

Original image via Unsplash