Natalie Goldberg on Writing What Disturbs You

Writing is and always has been my passion, in all forms, whether blogging, poetry, or, my newest endeavor, novel-writing. Like any art, it takes practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you.

Each week I like to take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work. In learning, I like to teach, and in writing, I like to share with you all everything I learn as well as everything I do.

This week I have chosen a quote from the American New Age author and speaker Natalie Goldberg, best known for a series of books which explore writing as Zen practice. A series I am very anxious to read.

natalie-goldberg-403-pxls-largeFrom Goodreads: “Natalie Goldberg lived in Brooklyn until she was six when her family moved out to Farmingdale, Long Island, where her father owned the bar the Aero Tavern.

From a young age, Goldberg was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Carson McCullers’s The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, which she read in ninth grade. She thinks that single book led her eventually to put pen to paper when she was twenty-four years old.

She received a BA in English literature from George Washington University and an MA in humanities from St. John’s University.

Goldberg has painted for as long as she has written, and her paintings can be seen in Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World and Top of My Lungs: Poems and Paintings. They can also be viewed at the Ernesto Mayans Gallery in Sante Fe.

A dedicated teacher, Goldberg has taught writing and literature for the last thirty-five years. She also leads national workshops and retreats, and her schedule can be accessed via her website: nataliegoldberg.com. Her 1986 book Writing Down the Bones sold over a million copies and is considered an influential work on the craft of writing. Her 2013 book, The True Secret of Writing, is a follow-up to that work.

In 2006, she completed with the filmmaker Mary Feidt a one-hour documentary, Tangled Up in Bob, about Bob Dylan’s childhood on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota. The film can be obtained on Amazon or the website tangledupinbob.com.

Goldberg has been a serious Zen practitioner since 1974 and studied with Katagiri Roshi from 1978 to 1984.”

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

— Natalie Goldberg

It’s been over two years since I started blogging here, and a few months since I started sending out deeply personal newsletters. In that time I have asked either, “What am I feeling right now?” or “How can I help people?” but lately, I have noticed a tendency to only look to the lighter, more positive aspects of life and not enough at the dirty and unpleasant parts.

I’ve started to—in the newsletter I mentioned earlier, hint, hint—but I struggle with it. I try to here, but it doesn’t feel right. Poetry helps, but in fiction, I find it near impossible.

When I think about writing mean or disturbing things, my mind just stops. I feel blocked. I don’t think it’s that I am incapable of feeling hateful and mean, or that I am incapable of imagining doing mean or cruel things, I think I don’t like for others to see that side of me.

Ever since I was a child, I have been “the nice one.” I have been the one to quell conflict not cause them. I have been the one to point others toward a kinder and more empathetic way. I have been this way in all I have ever done, and I never noticed I had been that way in all that I have written too.

But I am trying to write a book, dammit, and at some point, I need to get to the villains! I am trying, but I just can’t see them the way I do all the good guys. I can’t imagine their motives; I can’t follow the ways they might use people up for their own ends. I can’t imagine all the cruel and disturbing things they might do for power, or money, or self-satisfaction.

I am not a perfect person. I have done bad things, and I have hurt people, but I have always felt a nearly crippling guilt afterward. Being cruel has rarely made me feel better. I have a hard time imagining how people can be “evil” and not want to not be evil. Except, I suppose they don’t realize they are evil. They may think they are good, or they are just crazy, and it makes no difference.

So how I am working through this? The way I always do, with practice and a bit of creativity. I am going to try to write about real events and people who disturb me. I am going to spend time examining their motives, the why, and the methods, the how. I’m going to do a very dangerous thing and try to empathize with people who have done horrible things.

While reading through different sites and blogs filled with writing advice, I keep coming across the same suggestion to treat each character as if they think this story is about them. They each have their own motivations and goals. Something is at stake for them all, and throughout the story, many of them will be forced to make choices as their wants and needs are put at risk.

Just like real people, no one is evil for no reason. There is a reason and if I can learn to understand that I might just learn how to tell a real story, yeah?

***

So yeah, I have a newsletter :)

Featured image via Pexels

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

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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 // John Steinbeck

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 iconic author, John Steinbeck.

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John Steinbeck III was an American writer. He wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath and the novella Of Mice and Men, published in 1937. In all, he wrote twenty-five books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and several collections of short stories.

In 1962 Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Steinbeck grew up in the Salinas Valley region of California, a culturally diverse place of rich migratory and immigrant history. This upbringing imparted a regionalistic flavor to his writing, giving many of his works a distinct sense of place.

Steinbeck moved briefly to New York City but soon returned home to California to begin his career as a writer. Most of his earlier work dealt with subjects familiar to him from his formative years. An exception was his first novel Cup of Gold which concerns the pirate Henry Morgan, whose adventures had captured Steinbeck’s imagination as a child.

In his subsequent novels, Steinbeck found a more authentic voice by drawing upon direct memories of his life in California. Later he used real historical conditions and events in the first half of 20th century America, which he had experienced first-hand as a reporter.

Steinbeck often populated his stories with struggling characters; his works examined the lives of the working class and migrant workers during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. His later body of work reflected his wide range of interests, including marine biology, politics, religion, history, and mythology.

One of his last published works was Travels with Charley, a travelogue of a road trip he took in 1960 to rediscover America. He died in 1968 in New York of a heart attack and his ashes are interred in Salinas.

Seventeen of his works, including The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, The Pearl, and East of Eden, went on to become Hollywood films, and Steinbeck also achieved success as a Hollywood writer, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Story in 1944 for Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat.

“A writer out of loneliness is trying to communicate like a distant star sending signals.”

— John Steinbeck, The Art of Fiction No. 45

Sometimes, I am lonely. It’s not the usual kind of lonely. I don’t just feel like I wish I had companionship or someone to talk to, I wish I could be known. I wish I could share what it is like to be me, unfiltered. To use language, or even art or music feels wholly inadequate. I am lonely inside my own mind. I wish another person could come in and visit, look around, and tell me what they think.

I am loved, and that helps. I am surrounded by people who care about me, listen to me, and think highly of me, and that helps too, but still, I am lonely. I think we all are on some level. I think we all what to be known in a way that is simply humanly impossible. Still, we try. We are all doing our best to communicate what is inside with the other people around us.

But the communicating is hard, and other people feel unreachable.

That’s the things about people. We can be standing right next to one another and feel light years away. Loneliness is not about being physically alone; it is about feeling disconnected from other humans. It’s a deep pain that manifests when we are misunderstood and feel uncared for. It’s when you feel unwanted and useless. It’s when you feel like you are nothing at all to anyone.

I think writing is an act of that deep loneliness, an attempt to alleviate it. I think writers have more to say that the average person and so need more than the average feelings of acceptance and understanding. It’s hard to get that understanding in the here and now, with just the people that we know, so we reach out with our words, across the entire world and forward in time too. We are trying to connect to someone, anyone, anywhere.

I feel like something inside me is pushing to get out. I don’t even know what that thing is, but writing helps it. Writing makes me feel better, though like I’ve gotten a bit of it out. Like I’ve connected. Like a hole somewhere deep inside me has been filled in. Only, the hole is a bottomless one. My loneliness greedy, and soon the drive to write, to connect, consumes me again.

I think all writers possess that same greed, that same emptiness and a need for human connection that goes beyond the usual relationships humans form. A writer must be fully known. A writer must be fully understood. A writer will not accept that one person cannot know another. We keep churning out bits of ourselves, sending them out, and hoping, this time, we got it right.

We hope that this time we have formed the right words and sting them in the correct configuration and the reader will finally see all of who we are and why we are here.

Every time the writer will be disappointed. Humans are not built in a way that makes the accurate expression of our condition impossible, nor can we understand another’s attempts thoroughly.

Fortunately, and sometimes, unfortunately, the writer never gives up.

***

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Also, check out my review of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

Biographical information via Goodreads and Wikipedia

Original image via Pixabay

Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Frank O’Hara

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, where bloggers share their favorite quotes to inspire and motivate one another.

For my contribution this week, I have chosen a quote from the American writer and poet, Frank O’Hara.

o_hara_frankFrancis Russell “Frank” O’Hara was born in Baltimore, Maryland on March 27, 1926, and grew up in Grafton, Massachusetts. O’Hara served in the South Pacific and Japan as a sonarman on the destroyer USS Nicholas during World War II.

With the funding made available to veterans, he attended Harvard University. Although he majored in music and did some composing, his attendance was irregular and his interests disparate.

O’Hara was heavily influenced by visual art, and by contemporary music, which was his first love. While at Harvard, O’Hara met John Ashbery and began publishing poems in the Harvard Advocate. Despite his love for music, O’Hara changed his major and graduated from Harvard in 1950 with a degree in English.

He then attended graduate school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and moved into an apartment in New York City with Joe LeSueur, who would be his roommate and sometimes his lover for the next 11 years.

Known throughout his life for his extreme sociability, passion, and warmth, O’Hara had hundreds of friends and lovers throughout his life, many from the New York art and poetry worlds. Soon after arriving in New York, he was employed at the front desk of the Museum of Modern Art and began to write seriously.

O’Hara was active in the art world, working as a reviewer for Art News, and in 1960 was made Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture Exhibitions for the Museum of Modern Art. He was also friends with artists like Willem de Kooning, Norman Bluhm, Larry Rivers and Joan Mitchell. He is regarded as a leading figure in the New York School—an informal group of artists, writers and musicians who drew inspiration from jazz, surrealism, abstract expressionism, action painting and contemporary avant-garde art movements.

O’Hara’s poetry is personal in tone and in content and described as reading “like entries in a diary”. Poet and critic Mark Doty has said O’Hara’s poetry is “urbane, ironic, sometimes genuinely celebratory and often wildly funny” containing “material and associations alien to academic verse” such as “the camp icons of movie stars of the twenties and thirties, the daily landscape of social activity in Manhattan, jazz music, telephone calls from friends”. O’Hara’s writing “sought to capture in his poetry the immediacy of life, feeling that poetry should be “between two persons instead of two pages.”

The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara edited by Donald Allen (Knopf, 1971), the first of several posthumous collections, shared the 1972 National Book Award for Poetry.[3]

O’Hara died in an accident on Fire Island in which he was struck and seriously injured by a man speeding in a beach vehicle during the early morning hours of July 24, 1966. He died the next day of a ruptured liver at the age of 40 and was buried in the Green River Cemetery on Long Island.

I love you. I love you,
but I’m turning to my verses
and my heart is closing
like a fist.

Frank O’Hara, Mayakovsky (1957)

Sometimes, as much as we need people and love and all the good things that come with it, we also need to immerse ourselves in words and writing. Sometimes we need to be alone with ourselves. We need to close ourselves off from the world and make time to immerse ourselves in the parts of our minds that are beyond words.

I need that. It’s not enough to have time to write I need to fall into myself. I need to get away from the influence of other people’s words and feelings. I need to be alone to pace, and to drink copious amounts of coffee, and listen to loud music that has no words. I need to write what it is in me that lives behind the ideas planted there by the media and by my upbringing.

I need to get at the parts of myself where I don’t think with logic. The place where I am full of understanding without a word being spoken.

I have to do it. It is the secondary requirement for writing. There are the words and experienced from the outside world, and then there is the pain of processing and of bringing the dark inner world onto the page.

I need to be alone, and I need to close my heart up.

I can’t feel myself when I am with other people and I can find who I am in the background of what other people think that I am. I can’t breathe through this air of obligation and expectation.

Even from the girl I love. She has been the richest and most abundant fuel for my writing. I feel the full spectrum of human emotion because of her, love and something like hatred, friendship and loneliness, acceptance and shame, pride and lowliness, happiness and a deep sadness that may be with me forever.

She is at the base of it all. Everything I say is either about her or written to her.. but even from her, I must close myself off from time to time. I have to shut her out with the rest of the world so I can get to what it is I am trying to say. I love her. I love her more than anything, but I need to turn to my verses.

I don’t think I am alone in my need. Virgina Woolf said “I like to have space to spread my mind out in.” and I think that gets at what I mean. I want to be alone to spread out my thoughts and look at all the contents. It’s just, I need to do it without anyone else getting in to muck it up.

I love the world, I love people, I love my girlfriend too, and all these things give me so much inspiration and motivation for my writing, but there is another need too. One where despite my love for all things that exist outside of myself I need to shut them out and work from what in inside myself only.

***

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Biographical information via Goodreads and Wikipedia

Original image via Roco Julie

Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Sylvia Plath

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 hosted by Colleen of Silver Threading and Ronovan of Ronovan Writes.

For my contribution this week, I have chosen a quote from the infamous American poet and novelist, Sylvia Plath.

4379Plath was born on October 27, 1932, in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. Her mother, Aurelia Schober Plath was a second-generation American of Austrian descent, and her father, Otto Plath, was from Grabow, Germany. Plath’s father was an entomologist and a professor of biology at Boston University who authored a book about bumblebees.

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.

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.

“I needed experience. How could I write about life when I’d never had a love affair or a baby or even seen anybody die?”

— Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

A little while ago I signed up to be matched with an Awl Pal through The Awl‘s newsletter. An Awl Pal is basically a pen pal with whom I would email back and forth getting to know a little about them and telling them little bits about myself. We’ve only written back and forth a few times, but it has been fun to hear about the life of someone who lives in a different place and works a different sort of job than I do.

Recently I asked him why he signed up, and he replied that it sounded Romantic and that he is also just plain nosy. Good answer. He asked me in return and in a moment of “thinking I knew my answer until I wrote it down and realized it was something else entirely” I learned that I did it because I wanted to do something new. I did it because nothing new has happened to me in a very long time, and I am desperate for something new.

I have loved the same girl for 14 years, I have worked the same job for over 10, and I have live in the same city of almost my entire life. A lot has happened in my life, but none of it has been very recent.

I wanted this. I wanted the slow and steady, the “same shit, different day’, and the comfort of knowing what was going to happen in every moment of my life. I have too much anxiety, I am too sensitive and too full of fear, to live in a way that at all feels like chaos. I chose this life, and I still want it too, but lately I have wondered if I might have gone too far to the safe side. There might be a way to add an element of surprise and novelty here and there. Not too much but just a little?

I think I may need some new experiences if I want to be a better observer, thinker, and writer.

I get the feeling my mind has grown dusty and stuffy. I get the feeling ideas are lurking around my mind that need to be shaken up and out. I wonder if a few new experiences might light up some neglected parts of my mind. I wonder if seeing something new, talking to someone new, or even just sitting in a new place to do the same things I always do might connect a concept or two and unlock a little potential in me.

I don’t doubt I could write something good the way that I am now. I just think a little push and pull, and little stimulation, and a little excitement, could motivate me, inspire me, and light a good fire under my ass.

No harm in that, right?

***

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Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

Featured image via Unsplash

Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Trista Mateer

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 hosted by Colleen of Silver Threading and Ronovan of Ronovan Writes.

For my contribution this week, I have chosen a quote from the poet Trista Mateer.

image
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Trista Mateer is a 25-year old writer currently based outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Known for her eponymous blog, she is also is the author of three collections of poetry: HoneybeeThe Dogs I Have Kissed, and Small Ghost. She believes in lipstick, black tea, and owning more books than she can ever possibly read.

She is currently working as a contributing editor at Words Dance literary magazine.

I stumbled across Mateer’s work while scrolling Tumblr; most user can’t scroll very far before coming upon her words on love and queerness.

Her metaphors are brilliant, and her writing is direct. Everything she says is relatable, universal, and she can tell a story and fill you with emotion in a very small amount of words.

She is my newest obsession and role model. She is the first poet contemporary poet who I have decided must grace my bookshelves and she has been a shining example of how self-publishing can lead to success.

“Write about what you need to write about even if it’s just love poems. The world could always use at least six more love poems. And don’t let anybody tell you otherwise”

— Trista Mateer on advice to aspiring writers in an interview at The Wild Ones Queer Lit Rag

It feels like everything has been said already, and that can be discouraging
I was born too late to say anything for the first time. Maybe I should just give up? Maybe we should all give up. I am positive you were born too late to say anything for the first time too.

Some things resist being said again and again while provoking the same response, but there is one thing for which I believe there is an infinite number of things to be said and perspectives to be shared. That thing is love.

That thing is love.

There are countless poems professing that love has been found, and the happily ever after is in sight or already grasped. Some love poems aren’t happy poems. So many of them are sad poems because for so many of us our love ends in pain and suffering. Even a love that endures experiences moments of hurt and doubt, all of which can be translated into words that capture our unique experience and transcend time.

Love improves us and brings out the worst in us, both of which make more some of the best writing motivation you will ever find.

The lack of love hurts us, and there is much to say on that too.

Like any good writing, a good love poem tells the truth about love. It captures the way love blinds, distracts, and consumes. It brings forth a remembered or hoped for passion in the reader. It translates the desperation of jealousy, the heart-clenching pain of abandonment, and the emptiness that comes with a love lost to death from one heart to another.

Even the love poems that tell sweet lies have their purpose.  The greatest epics on love have given us the most unrealistic expectations, and if you believe them, you will surely fail. But I can’t help but think that without their promise of happily ever after we might never have enough hope to brave the possibility of pain and loss time and again to find that perfect soul mate.

There is never enough that can be said about love. There is no end to the ways to say you love someone so much that it fills you with a kind of energy you’ve never felt. There is no end to the ways to say you love someone so much that it hurts. There is no end to the ways to say the sight of that person awakens your whole body and fills you with a passion that scares you.

So write some love poems and don’t for one moment think they are too cheesy or unnecessary. All love poems have a place, and this world needs them more than ever. In a time when the rise of hatred and loneliness threatens to push us past a point of no return, write a love poem and do your part to remind the world that love is beautiful and even in the pain it causes it will always be the greatest force for good and happiness in this world.

Write a love poem and remind yourself that the time of romanticism is not over.

I’ll write mine too and remember the same.

***

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Featured image via Unsplash

Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Frida Kahlo

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 little too far away, I encourage you to check out Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen of Silver Threading and Ronovan of Ronovan Writes. For my contribution this week, I have chosen a quote from the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo.

***

Frida-KahloFrida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907, in her parents’ home, La Casa Azul, in Coyoacán.Kahlo contracted polio at age six, which left her right leg thinner than the left; she disguised this later in life by wearing long skirts or trousers. It has been conjectured that she was born with spina bifida, a congenital condition that could have affected both spinal and leg development.

On September 17, 1925, when Kahlo was 18 years old, she was riding in a bus that collided with a trolley car. She suffered a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, and a dislocated shoulder. In addition, an iron handrail pierced her abdomen, compromising her reproductive capacity. The accident left her in a great deal of pain, and she spent three months recovering in a full body cast. She had relapses of extreme pain for the remainder of her life.

After her accident, Kahlo abandoned the study of medicine and began to paint, to occupy herself during her three-month immobilization. Her mother had a special easel made so she could paint in bed, and her father lent her his box of oil paints and some brushes. Self-portraits were a dominant motif then.

Kahlo created at least 140 paintings, along with dozens of drawings and studies. Of her paintings, 55 are self-portraits which often incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds.

In 1929 Kahlo married the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He encouraged her artistic endeavors and had a great influence on Kahlo’s painting style. The bisexual Kahlo had affairs with both men and women. For her part, Kahlo was furious when she learned that Rivera had an affair with her younger sister, Cristina. The couple divorced in November 1939, but remarried in December 1940. Their second marriage was as troubled as the first.

Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, soon after turning 47. In his autobiography, Diego Rivera wrote that the day Kahlo died was the most tragic day of his life, and that, too late, he had realized that the most wonderful part of his life had been his love for her.

Although she has long been recognized as an important painter, public awareness of her work has become more widespread since the 1970s. Her “Blue” house in Coyoacán, Mexico City is a museum, donated by Diego Rivera upon his death in 1957.

“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”

Frida Kahlo

I don’t remember when I first encountered a Frida Kahlo painting, but it feels like I have always loved her work. I love that she paints herself, and I love that I can feel her pain when I look at her work. At some point I did research who she was. I read her incredible story and I watched the movie made about her life too. I became obsessed and I now count her amoung my greatest heros and influences.

I once described her to someone who had never heard of her, telling him what I loved about her, and his response was: “so you love her for her pain?”. At first, I became defensive. I didn’t love her for her pain, did I? When I thought about it I had to admit I did, but I also realized that it was only half of the story.

I loved her pain, which became an intrinsic part of who she was, but I also loved her for her ability to translate it into something that could be grasped by those around her and for future generations. She learned to paint her pain so that the world could see that she was hurt, and she learned to paint her overcoming of it too. She painted who she was and when we look at her work we can see inside her and inside of all of us.

Frida Kahlo is all of us. She used her pain as a chance to learn a skill, to explore who she was, and to paint hers, and every human’s, condition.

I’m the kind of person who you might call pessimistic at first. I see suffering every where I go. I believe pain and suffering are a few of the only conditions every human shares with every other, regardless of our position in this world. The ability to see past that pain is something every human is capable of as well.

Pain and suffering give each of us a chance to contemplate our choices, our responsibilities, and our reasons for doing everything we do. Pain and suffering give us a chance to take those same questions and apply them to society and all people. Pain and suffering are what help us grow and eventually turn into hope, joy, and accomplishment.

I want to be like Kahlo. I want to take my pain and transform it into something that tells a truth about all of humanity.

I want to tell so beautiful a truth that it transcends race, class, culture, and time.

Happy Birthday Friday Kahlo.

You were such a lovely woman and a great influence on the kind of woman I would like to be one day. I wish I could have known you.

toni_frissell_-_frida_kahlo2c_seated_next_to_an_agave
Toni Frissell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

the-two-frida
Frida Kahlo, Las Dos Fridas 1939

***

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Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

Featured image via by martinak15 [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Joseph Heller

 

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 little too far away, I encourage you to check out Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen of Silver Threading and Ronovan of Ronovan Writes. My contribution is from the American satirical novelist, Joseph Heller.

Joseph Heller
Author Joseph Heller in his publisher’s office in New York City on October 9, 1974. (AP Photo/ Jerry Mosey)

Joseph Heller was born on May 1, 1923, in Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, the son of poor Jewish parents from Russia. Even as a child, he loved to write; as a teenager, he wrote a story about the Russian invasion of Finland and sent it to the New York Daily News, which rejected it.

After graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1941, Heller spent the next year working as a blacksmith’s apprentice, a messenger boy, and a filing clerk. In 1942, at age 19, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. Two years later he was sent to the Italian Front, where he flew 60 combat missions as a B-25 bombardier.

After the war, Heller studied English at the University of Southern California and NYU on the G.I. Bill. In 1949, he received his M.A. in English from Columbia University. Following his graduation, he spent a year as a Fulbright scholar in St Catherine’s Society at the University of Oxford in England, and, after returning home, he taught composition at Pennsylvania State University for two years. He also taught fiction and dramatic writing at Yale.

He then briefly worked for Time Inc., before taking a job as a copywriter at a small advertising agency, where he worked alongside future novelist Mary Higgins Clark. At home, Heller wrote. He was first published in 1948 when The Atlantic ran one of his short stories. The story nearly won the “Atlantic First”.

He is probably best known for his satirical novel Catch-22. Set during World War II, it mainly follows the life of Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier. The novel looks into the experiences of Yossarian and the other airmen in the camp, who attempt to maintain their sanity while fulfilling their service requirements so that they may return home. The novel has frequently been cited as one of the greatest literary works of the twentieth century.

He died of a heart attack at his home in East Hampton, on Long Island, in December 1999, shortly after the completion of his final novel, Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man.

On hearing of Heller’s death, his friend Kurt Vonnegut said, “Oh, God, how terrible. This is a calamity for American literature.”

I’m not sure that my motivations then for becoming a writer were worthy ones. I wanted to be a writer because I felt I had a gift, and I really wanted to make money and have some kind of status.

Joseph Heller, Rolling Stone Interview: Checking in with Author Joseph Heller

For the past month or so I have been trying very hard to get through Heller’s famous Catch-22. It’s not an easy read for me—a lot of characters and a lot of dialog, a lot of jumping around in the chronology of events, and a lot of military talk I don’t understand—but the author has become a bit of an obsession for me.

The fact that he wrote his books so slowly is interesting and gives me hope in my own endeavors. I also like that he wrote the books that he wanted to write, in the way he wanted to write them, and he was able to find success in doing it. He had a lot of strong political views, and while this book is a hard read for me, I feel it is an important one.

When I read this quote, it stuck with me; I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I just love the honesty of it. To say “Yes, I wanted to write because I enjoy writing but I also do this because I want to know what it is like to succeed and reap the financial and status benefits that come along with it” seems like a very taboo thing for a writer to be saying.

Everything I have read has said that writers should not concern themselves at all with money. That no one should go into this looking for fame. Everything I have read tells me that to do so means certain failure.

Now, I’ve only just started collecting ideas and getting used to the idea of being someone who is “writing a book”. Right now, and for a long while, I’ll be at this stage, the fun stage. The stage where everything is possible. The stage before I have to start thinking about what I can’t do.

For now, I am only dreaming of what it means to be a writer. I am a “newb” and a bit ignorant of what it will take and whether I have it in me to do this. I don’t pretend to know anything about what other writers think, or what our goals should be. I just like the honesty of this quote.

I love to write, and there’s a lot I want to say and a lot I want to make people think and feel. I want to write for all the good, and moral reasons any writer should want to write. But I’m human and as someone who concerns herself with who we all are deep down, where there are no expectations, where there is no good and bad, where there is no shame. Those parts of us that we hate to admit are there because we’re told they are “bad”. I have to be honest with myself and admit that I too dream of status and money.

If I’m honest, part of me wants to be a writer because then I get to say I’m a writer. I daydream about it. I think about the way people will say my name. My girlfriend will tell everyone she meets that she is dating Lisa Blair, the writer. My mom will be so proud of me; and she’ll tell everyone her daughter is Lisa Blair, the writer. People will read my books and tell me how good they are, how much emotion they felt, and how talented I am. Everyone will love me. People will look to me for advice, and they will hold me up as an example of intelligence and hard work.

I don’t like to focus on those reasons for writing but they are real, and they are motivating. I can’t deny that all the work I do is in the hope that that dream will come true, and a lot of the fear I feel is the fear that that dream will never come true. I don’t think it is “bad” to want the money and the fame. I think the reason we have to avoid focusing on it is that both the success and the failure of our work can be paralyzing.

I would guess that all writers have that part of themselves that is looking for money and status. That’s something we are all motivated by every day. We work our day jobs to earn a paycheck. We work hard to impress our bosses in the hopes we’ll get more respect, more responsibility, more power, and more money. It’s a human thing to want, a human thing to hope for, and like all other human things it’s not the wanting that is good or bad, it’s what we do to get what we want that matters.

Heller might have wanted status and money, but he didn’t compromise himself to get it. He focused on the goal and took his time to do it right. He put himself into his work and in reading his book I can tell that this was written the way it was because of who Heller was, not because of what the public may have wanted.

I hope to do the same.

***

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If you’re interested, here’s another quote from Joseph Heller that inspired me.

Oh! and the interview I got this quote from took place initially in 1981. If you have a little time, I highly suggest you read it. It’s an interesting bit of history and Heller’s views on the future of America echo some of our current concerns.

Featured image via Tracy O

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

Margaret Atwood on Writing Poetry

Margaret Atwood on what it feels like to write poetry.

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 little too far away, I encourage you to check out Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen of Silver Threading and Ronovan of Ronovan Writes. My contribution is from the Canadian poet and novelist Margaret Atwood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERVIEWER

How do the activities of writing poetry and writing prose differ for you?

ATWOOD

My theory is that they involve two different areas of the brain, with some overlap. When I am writing fiction, I believe I am much better organized, more methodical—one has to be when writing a novel. Writing poetry is a state of free float.

— Margaret Atwood, The Art of Fiction No. 121

My girlfriend asked me the other day why I don’t write poetry as much anymore. I told her I don’t like it. Then she asked me why I ever wrote it all if I don’t like it. I told her I write it because I like writing poetry. She was understandably confused.

The thing I hate about poetry is also the thing I love about it and Margaret Atwood put into words. Writing poetry is like free floating. You can’t hold on to any one thing. You can’t try too hard to stabilize yourself. You have to let yourself go and move freely from one thought or feeling to the next caring only about what the connections mean.

You have to let yourself slide back and forth along the piece tweaking here and there until you feel your feelings coming through in the words you have strung together. There is no research, there is no grounding topic or prompt, there is only a vast sea of time, and space, and emotion inside of you. You have to let the current take you where it will. You must passively ride the waves and eddies and concentrate only on documenting what you find there.

Sounds easy enough, right?

It would be if it weren’t for the pesky human need for control and the pesky human tendency to second guess everything.

Poetry is hard because you set out wanting to say a certain thing and you end up saying another thing entirely. You think you know how you feel until you start writing and words flow out of you that you didn’t set out to say. See, you want to swim through the sea rather that float. You want to reach a predetermined destination. You know what you want to say and you intend to say it!

Except that is not how poetry works. Poetry is all patience and free float. You can’t force it and you can’t fight it. When I feel like having a little control over what I write I try fiction. I will get a few surprises here and there but through editing, I can rein things in and stay on course. If I want a lot of control I switch to nonfiction. I think I am the type of writer who has to try all three. If I want a lot of control I switch to nonfiction. Where there is research and very strict steps to take. I like to know where I am going every step of the way.

I think I am the type of writer who has to try all three.

I love to swim but it feels damn good to free float too.

***

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Check out: Margaret Atwood on Existing in Two Places

Featured image via Unsplash

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

James Baldwin on What Artists Know

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 little too far away, I encourage you to check out Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen of Silver Threading and Ronovan of Ronovan Writes. My contribution is from the American novelist, poet, and social critic James Baldwin.

10427James Arthur Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924, after his mother, Emma Berdis Jones, left his biological father because of his drug abuse and moved to Harlem, New York City. There, she married a preacher, David Baldwin. The family was very poor. His mother reportedly never told him the name of his biological father.

Baldwin spent much time caring for his several younger brothers and sisters. At the age of 10, he was teased and abused by two New York police officers, an instance of racist harassment by the NYPD that he would experience again as a teenager and document in his essays. His adoptive father, whom Baldwin in essays called simply his father, appears to have treated him — by comparison with his siblings — with great harshness.

Baldwin developed a passion for reading at an early age, and demonstrated a gift for writing during his school years. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where he worked on the school’s magazine with future famous photographer Richard Avedon. He published numerous poems, short stories and plays in the magazine.

In 1953, Baldwin’s first and probably best-known novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, was published. His first collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son appeared two years later. He continued to experiment with literary forms throughout his career, publishing poetry and plays as well as the fiction and essays for which he was known. He garnered acclaim for his insights on race, spirituality, and humanity. Other novels included Giovanni’s Room,Another Country and Just Above My Head.

Baldwin’s novels and plays fictionalize fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures thwarting the equitable integration of not only blacks, but also of gay and bisexual men, while depicting some internalized obstacles to such individuals’ quests for acceptance. Such dynamics are prominent in Baldwin’s second novel, Giovanni’s Room, written in 1956 well before gay rights were widely espoused in America.

Having lived in France, he died on December 1, 1987, in Saint-Paul de Vence.

The poets (by which I mean all artists) are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers don’t. Statesmen don’t. Priests don’t. Union leaders don’t. Only poets.

// James Baldwin

I got this quote from a beautiful talk Baldwin gave at New York City’s Community Church on creativity and what it costs to be a true artist. I found it on the Brain Pickings blog from a post titled James Baldwin on the Artist’s Struggle for Integrity and How It Illuminates the Universal Experience of What It Means to Be Human, whew! I urge you to listen to it, I have three times now and each time I feel more inspired and motivated.

In part of the talk, Baldwin tells us that most people live in darkness and it is the artists job to bring the to the light. The light is all the that makes us, us. It is the feeling of being encased in flesh and unbound in mind. It is all we easily forget we are and could be. You have to tell the truth of what it means to be a human being. It is an artist’s responsibility to do this and whether or not you asked for it, you must accept.

In a way, it made me think of Spiderman. You know, when Uncle ben told Peter that “with great power came great responsibility”. Peter didn’t ask for his powers, he didn’t ask to be a hero, but he was given the job all the same. All of a sudden his life he would be spent saving people and trying to make the word a better place. It wasn’t at all what he wanted to do. He wouldn’t be thanked, he would more than likely be hated, and he would never be normal again, but none of that mattered. He had to do it.

Artists, writer, poets, musician, we all see the world differently and we have the ability to share our insight. That is a superpower too, and whether we like it or not, whether we asked for it or not whether we even want to or not, we have to do it. We have to do it authentically and we have to do it with money and fame being only secondary goals. We have to do it because we love it. That is the only way to do it right.

We have to because without artists showing people the light we might all be lost to the darkness.

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Please be sure to check out the post on Brainpickings and listen to the talk below.

Featured image via Christian Gonzalez

Biographical information via Wikipedia, Biography, and Goodreads