If We Were Having Coffee // Losing Hope but Hanging in There

Hello dear readers! Happy Sunday, welcome, and thank you for stopping by for a bit of coffee and catching up. The weather this weekend has been gloomy, and by now the gloom has worked its way right into my mood. I’m tired, and all I want to do is crawl back into bed with a good book and a hot cup of tea for the rest of the day. BUT the weekend is only so long, and I know that doing nothing at all won’t make me feel much better, so I’m up, I have my smoothie, a cup of cold brew, and you, to cheer me up.

“The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce.”

― Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that yesterday was World Inflammatory Bowel Disease Awareness Day and I celebrated by staying home, resting, and writing. I posted some thoughts on my fight so far with this disease. I tried to convey some of the things that I go through that go deeper than the symptoms and the medication. I tried to help people understand the way it’s affected how I relate to my own body.

Like most things I write here it was written as a reminder to myself, but like all advise we give ourselves, it’s hard to remember and harder to maintain. Just hours after I wrote all that about acceptance and loving myself I had a breakdown. There is so much guilt I have for not being able to be the best me I can not just for me (e.g., not being able to write, to exercise, or go place and do things I enjoy) but for other people too.

It isn’t even the bowel symptoms that are making life so hard! It’s the fatigue and frustration that are forcing me to become so introverted and irritable. I feel myself crawling back inside and away from people, not out of anger but out of exhaustion. I feel bad that I can’t be the sister, daughter, friend, or fiancé that my loved ones need me to be. Of course, they are understanding, but I can see the sadness there. I know that just because I am sick doesn’t mean they stop having needs to and I have no idea how to get back to them.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that as soon as I begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it moves. I’m starting to believe the light is an illusion and to fear that the tunnel goes on and on forever.

This week I was feeling a lot worse and was finally forced to contact my doctor. I was trying so hard to hold on and hang in there until I started my new maintenance medication on Tuesday, but what I was getting so bad I was worried about how much damage I was doing to my body by trying to toughing it out instead of trying something else. So, I called the doctor who then put me back on what I’ve learned is referred to as the “devil’s tic-tacs” in the IBD community, Predisone.

Neither of us wanted me back on that crap. It works miracles, at first, and then it wreaks havoc on the whole body and takes months and months to recover from. But okay, it’s what I need to do, so I felt hopeful I would feel better right away, but she put me on such a small dose it’s made only the smallest dent, enough to keep me working. Then I was hopeful that the new maintenance meds would help right away, but that probably won’t happen either. I’ve gotten so bad that it will be another month or two before I know whether this course of action is right or not.

So, I’ve stopped hoping. Now I’m just hanging in there. I’m going from day-to-day, sometimes hour-to-hour, doing what I can and resting when I must.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that writing was slow this week. I just couldn’t get my brain to stay on task. It was drawn to scrolling Twitter and commenting on Facebook group posts. I did my best to redirect my attention though by remembering that I had pledged to get back to reading more this week.

My girlfriend surprised me with a bit of spontaneous book shopping this week to cheer me up after all that bad news, and I settled on The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, a creepy, heartwarming, and thought-provoking zombie apocalypse story unlike any other. It was the perfect book to get me back into regular reading. Well written, attention-grabbing, and easy to read and follow. I highly recommend it, and the movie too!

This week coming week I’m going back to The Odyssey. I love this book, but I’ve never been able to actually finish it! Too much detail I suppose. My brain just shuts down, and my eyes start to glaze over and close after only a few pages. I end up having to reread so much of it but I’m determined to finish it this year, so I keep plugging away.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that the coming week is the last of the school year and as you might imagine the atmosphere at work has been tense. There is so much to get done. Graduations, field trips, bidding for summer school routes, bus and equipment cleaning, evaluations, and training. It’s a bittersweet time. We’re saying goodbye to the kids and as relieved and excited as we are we’re all a little sad too.

You get close to these kids, preschoolers and high school seniors alike. Some of my kids are graduating, and some will be moving away over the summer. Even if I get the same route next year, I won’t see them again. Next year new kids will be moving into the district, and many will be moving from elementary to middle school, or middle to high school. There will be new schools opening and routes will be rearranged somewhat and the training department I work for in my off time is moving and hiring new people.

Everything is changing and much of next year is up in the air. I have a little over two months to try not to panic about it.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that the sun is trying to peek out through the clouds and if I am going to get to spend any time outside of the house this weekend, I had better get up and get going now. I need to look at something other than these walls, hear something besides all the bad news on TV. I need to move my body and be around people. I need to feel that sun and smell the spring air.

I hope you had a productive week and that your weekend has been a relaxing and revitalizing one. If not I hope next week will be better than the last and that you find time to do something just for you before the weekend is over.

Until next time.

***

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

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

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

 

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A to Z Reflections: Part I // I’m Writing It the Long Way

Yes, that’s right, this is part one of my Blogging A to Z Challenge “Reflections” posts.

See, I’m not actually finished with the challenge yet, but instead of quitting after the race is over, I’m just going to go on running even as the other participants head home. I still have just over half the alphabet to go but I thought I’d at least share my thoughts so far, and, being sure I will have further thoughts after I cross the finish line, I’ll write “Part II” on the theme itself in a few weeks.

And still, even after all that, I’m want to take the challenge a step further, and with extensive editing, some additional creative writing, and a little art, I’d like make something real out of all that work, something I can hold in my hands. Something you can hold in yours too, and I’ll share my thoughts on that in “Part III.”

So far all I can share is my thoughts on the process. Writing, all kinds of writing, are a daily lesson not just in the craft itself, but in reflection, introspection, observation, and self-awareness. Writing teaches you how you feel about a lot of things and writing every day, or trying to write every day teaches you a lot about yourself too.

I’ve known for a long time that the kind of writing I naturally gravitate toward is a very slow kind of writing. I’ve known this, but I’ve worked hard to try to change it. I’ve read a ton of advice and tried a ton of strategies to “get ahead of myself” and even on good days when I spend every free second I have on words, I still can only get through a half a post at most.

My writing process is made up mostly of reading, gathering facts, ideas, and inspiration. I also enjoy brainstorming and drafting by hand. I like for writing to feel more like an assignment, a task, a very serious endeavor. I’m not sure that will ever change but I know that if I want to it, I have to start by trusting the process first. Maybe I have to just go with it for a while and write the way that feels right to me?

I also realized I’m still not a very good writer, but it’s okay! I wouldn’t expect to be a very good writer yet. I work a full-time job, and I don’t read nearly as much as I should. What I mean to say is, I’m not a good writer because I lack the capacity to be a good writer. I’m not a good writer because I don’t do the things I need to do to be a good writer one day.

I’m aware that I am long-winded and repetitive. I want to learn to either keep my word count but say what I want more clearly, so that I might say more, or, if I have less to say, learn to say it in fewer words and save us all the time. I’m sure I make a ton of grammar and spelling mistakes, many I catch only after hitting “publish.” Maybe my readers would be willing to read my posts with a more critical eye and share my mistakes with me?

Finally, I learned that blogging is hard to prioritize for a writer like me, a writer who has only barely begun to solidify their relationship with the craft. I have very little to show for all of my effort except what I have here on this little unknown and, I feel, unimportant corner of the World Wide Web. It’s hard to feel important when you can see the looks people give you when you talk to them about what you do.

Of course, I know it is only me projecting my own insecurities into the minds of others. In my mind, people only understand one way of writing. I expect that they are disappointed not to hear I am on my way to publishing a book, or a poetry collection, or that I have many articles in popular magazines. I’m sure they want to hear that I’ve written something they have read or something they might want to read someday, or now if I happen to have a draft to share?

I often think blogging isn’t real writing, this challenge reminded me that it most certainly is if I believe it is. If it’s important to me, it is important. My opinion is the only option that matters on the subject, well, and the opinion of my readers of course.

Which brings me to the last thing this challenge taught me this year, I am not very good at engagement.

If there was anything I felt disappointed in myself for or wish I could have done better, it would be commenting and sharing. I’m trying not to beat myself up too much over it. I did the challenge for me. My writing is for me first, always, and with being so sick lately and with work getting in the way, I had to protect my writing time by making cuts to other areas.

I did read every comment posted here, and I replied to many. I still plan to reply to the rest. I’m finding the time to comment on other blogs too. I know engagement is critical here and I know that I give up a lot by not making it a priority. There is still time to make those connections since the master list will be up for some time longer. I will do better.

There are other bloggers I follow and admire who don’t even allow comments on their blogs and instead move to social media to engage their readers. I like that idea considering places like Twitter and Instagram are places I spend most of my time, but I’m sure no one likes little old me enough to open another tab and type their thoughts into yet another text box.

As for the challenge itself, I have very little to complain about. The hosts do a great job of keeping the participants motivated and on track. I only wish the lists provided for each letter stayed open a little longer so that other bloggers like me who fall behind can still share our work with the others. I still plan to participate every year that I can at the very least come up with a theme and a subject for all 26 posts.

I hope you all will continue to follow along while I make my way, slowly but surely, to the finish line. I love my theme, and I have no plans to give up before I’ve written every post I promised myself I would.

Thank you all for your support so far, for every kind or encouraging word. Congrats to everyone who signed up for the challenge, whether you wrote all 26 posts or none, I’m proud of you for at least trying and I want you to know that is enough.

See you soon for the rest of the alphabet!

***

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

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge Reflections link-up. Check out my theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence,” and my posts for the 2018 challenge so far, and, please, follow along for the rest! Even though I failed to finish on time, I am determined not to fail to finish at all. 

Photo by Tim Wright on Unsplash

If We Were Having Coffee // Working on What Works for Me

Hello dear readers and thank you for stopping by for a bit of coffee and conversation. I failed to prepare the cold brew in time, so I apologize in advance for the hot drip on this warm morning. I guess I could serve it over ice, but who likes watered down coffee? At least the sun is out, and I’m able to open up the house and let the spring breeze through. I have a feeling winter is finally behind us, and despite the pain I’m in right now, I actually feel happy.

#sugarcube #culpability #coffee

A post shared by Artie Redshoe (@artie_redshoe) on

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that ulcerative colitis is a real pain in the ass, literally and figuratively. I’m still feeling pretty cruddy, and I believe I will be for a while. The new medication my doctor prescribed isn’t doing much, in fact, I just seem to be getting worse, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, or at least that is what I keep telling myself. There will be stronger medication soon. I start infusions next month, and I have my fingers crossed and a heart full of hope that by the time summer hits I will feel something like my old self again.

In the meantime, I am getting along the best that I can, eating healthy, resting, and staying hydrated, but not exercising as much as I should I’m sure.

My fiance continues to be wonderful, taking care of me, comforting me, being patient with me, and I continue to feel awful for putting her through so much even though I know it isn’t my fault at all. The guilt just adds to my depression and anxiety and in turn makes my immune system react which makes my colitis worse which makes me feel worse which just makes me more depressed and anxious and so on and so on and so on…

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that due to the teacher walkout/call out I got to enjoy an unexpected 3-day-weekend. I’ll admit before I got wind of the coming protest I had no idea that our teachers made so little. I work for a district with a reputation for having a lot of money. We service a lot of the more affluent areas in the city, and our schools are among the best in the state.

Of course, I should have guessed. I work in the transportation department, and our drivers, assistants, and staff are all making less than their counterparts in the surrounding districts, I just always assumed the teachers were doing ok though. I fully support them and the kids we are all responsible for. We all deserve better, and it’s been disheartening to see so much pushback on social media.

I wish everyone understood how vital a teacher’s job is. Even more, I wish people understood how important every person working in a school district is to the safety and success of every child and our entire country’s future.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that this is the last weekend of my birthday month, and I decided to do a little more celebrating. On Saturday, since it was so nice out, and since we had a couple of free tickets, and since we had heard so many good things about it, we went to see A Quiet Place, and I am so glad we did!

I’m a lover of horror films, always have been. There’s something about getting to feel fear and anxiety and even sorrow and regret in such a controlled environment. It’s thrilling, but it only works if you can be fully brought into a story and can really believe you are there with them, trying to escape. A Quiet Place does that in some of the most unusual and captivating storytelling I have ever had the privilege of seeing.

A Quiet Place is a piece of art, and I recommend everyone see it.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that the Blogging A to Z Challenge ends tomorrow and I’m half an alphabet behind. I won’t be finishing on time, but somehow, I’m okay with that. I’m not mad. I’m not disappointed. I’m not freaking out or beating myself up. I learned so much, and I found what I came here to find, my passion.

The challenge most certainly was, and continues to be, just the kick in the ass I needed. I have posted more in the past weeks than I had since the beginning of the year. I have momentum, a groove, and I have not given up. I’m just having fun is all and working on what works for me.

I learned that I am a slow writer. I have to brainstorm first, by hand, on paper. Then I have to read three other pieces on the subject and figure out if what I am saying is different enough, interesting enough, or if it makes sense. Then I brainstorm again, by hand, on paper. Then I go through the whole mess trying to put it in order and type it up here.

It’s a lot, and obviously, there are better ways to write blog posts. I could do it that easier way if I wanted, but the truth is, I just like reading and thinking and brainstorming, the writing is just the part I do to justify all the time I put in. I also learned how I want to do better and what I could start adding to my way of explaining things. I have a lot more ideas and a place to work them out now. I feel like I’m back. I feel like I got to begin all over again.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I’ve lost track of time. The sun is going down and turning the rooms orange and lavender, that means it’s getting late and I have fallen behind. I have so much cleaning and preparation for the work week, and I guess I really should wrap up this “L” piece I have sitting in my drafts and try to make progress on “M.”

I hope you had a good week. I hope it was stress-free and productive, and if it wasn’t, I hope the next will be so. I hope your weekend was warm and that you got to meet the sun some. If you didn’t, I hope that wherever you are, there is still time.

Until next time.

***

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

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

Photo by andrew welch on Unsplash

If We Were Having Coffee // Enough is Enough

Hello dear readers. Welcome, happy Sunday, and thank you for stopping by for a bit of caffeine and catching up. The weather report promises a gorgeous day, so if you don’t mind I’m opening all the blinds letting as much light and fresh air in as I can.

Spring is in full swing here in Denver, CO and that means our weather has become unpredictable and unstable. It may snow tomorrow for all we know so I’m soaking it up while I can.

I’m up early today because it is my week to do the grocery shopping. Anyone who knows me knows I hate grocery shopping. The crowds and the confusing layout send my anxiety through the roof, not to mention having to drive there in the first place, but now that I have gained a bit of confidence, I thought I’d try giving my girlfriend a break every other weekend. So, she’ll be doing the laundry and enjoying a little time to herself, for herself. She certainly deserves it!

Trade the drama in your life for coffee and see how quickly life improves.

@mutinyinfocafe

//

If we were having coffee, I would start by saying I am so proud of everyone who made it out to the marches yesterday, especially the teens and children many of whom who are among the “187,000 who have been exposed to gun violence at school since Columbine”. I couldn’t make it out to the march myself, but my thoughts were with those I know and care about who have been affected by tragedies closer to home.

I watched the live steam from DC and was moved by Samantha Fuentes, a Stoneman Douglas student who was shot in the leg, and who, partway through her speech, threw up, finished her speech, then sang happy birthday to her friend who died in the shooting. I was also moved by Emma Gonzales, whose speech lasted exactly the number of minutes and seconds of the Stoneman Douglas massacre. And finally, there was Naomi Walder, an 11-year-old black girl who took it upon herself to include for the voices of countless people of color living in our cities fearing for their lives every day due to gun violence.

I hear rumors of another walk out in the works for April 20th. I hope the rumors are true. I was attending school in the same district as Columbine High School on that day in 1999 when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire, and my heart has broken as I have watched the same happen time and time again.

We forget that the effects of a school shooting ripple far past the school and students affected on that day. Back then we became a little more aware that it could happen to us, but we still didn’t believe it would. Now every student, in every grade, and in every school across the country worries they will be next.

//

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that this past week I took a break from The Odyssey and from Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals to read Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer and I am so glad I did. I finished it in just three days and I am desperate for the second and third installments of the series.

The best part about reading Annihilation was having a friend who was reading it too and was willing to nerd out over the book with me.

We shared our favorite parts and the parts that frustrated us the most too. We shared theories of meaning and metaphors and speculated on what the future might hold for the biologist and Area X. My friend printed me a map highlighting landmarks and a picture of the lighthouse that inspired the one in the story. It was exciting to delve so thoroughly into a story, it’s world, and it’s characters, and I am seriously considering asking him if he’d like to start a book club even if it was just the two of us as members.

//

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that so many little things happened this week that meant big things to me but to tell you all about them in detail would take all day. So, here’s a quick list:

  • My youngest sister, who attends an amazing alternative school got to go on a field trip to see Hamilton this week! and I had to practice not being bitter about my own experiences in school and just be happy for her. She loved it, she wishes I had been there with her, and she assures me the ticket price is well worth it.
  • I invited a coworker and his wife to join our once a month couple’s dinner (we are up to 4 couples now), and it was a great success. I was awkward as usual, but everyone seemed to have a great time anyway.
  • My boss guilt tripped me into making a crock pot meal for our annual “buck a bowl” fundraiser at work. I hated every minute of it, but it turns out my salsa verde chicken was among one of the favorites! Everyone loved it, and I promised to make it again next year.
  • The countdown to my birthday has begun! Less than a month now to design a new tattoo, get tickets to the museum (and maybe a movie too), and plan the many and varied nights of celebration with my girlfriend, my friends, my family, and my in-laws. My birthday is kind of a big deal, at least to me, and I make sure everyone knows and participates.

//

If we were having coffee I would tell you that tomorrow marks the first day of my Spring Break and, of course, I’ll be working through it. Well not entirely. I am taking a day or two to get a jump on the A to Z Challenge. I don’t have much time left and I haven’t written one post yet! But I do have my letters and my topics all planned out so, that’s a start, I guess.

I’m going to take an extra day off of work tomorrow and use just about every free minute I have to work on these posts. I’m easily distracted so I have deleted apps like Facebook and Twitter from my iPad (where I do most of my typing) and disabled notifications on my cellphone lock screen for all apps on my phone. Apps I’m particularly prone to checking constantly have had their notification disabled entirely.

If you’ve been following along these past few months, you know writing has been hard for me lately, and I think I’ve figured out why. I need to be alone more. Whenever it is time for me to write it seems like people are around asking me to make a choice, hang out with them or write, and I feel bad when I choose writing. This weekend I cleaned up a little in my “creativity room,” a place I had begun dumping ideas but never spending any time in to actualize any of those ideas. I cleaned up my desk, sat down to write this post and realized that I have been in desperate need of solitude.

Not solitude as in physical space although physically this may be what it looks like. I am talking about solitude for of mind. I’m (re)learning that space, silence, and room to “spread my mind out in” are crucial not just to forming thoughts but critical also to getting said thoughts down on paper.

//

If we were having coffee I would tell you that it’s time for me to wake the rest of the house up, make a nice big breakfast, and start getting ready to brave the Sunday crowds at the grocery store. I’m also cooking something new for dinner tonight, crispy slow cooker carnitas!, that needs to be prepped and started very soon.

Thank you again for stopping by. I hope your week was productive and joyful, and if it wasn’t, I wish you less stress and more time to take care of yourself in the coming week.

Until next time.

//

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

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

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Sylvia Plath and Catching Up to Shakespeare

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

— Sylvia Plath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kahlil Gibran on Weariness and 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’s inspiration comes from the Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer Kahlil Gibran.

“I want to write more but I cannot. I am a little weary and the silence in my soul is black. I wish I could rest my head on your shoulder.”

— Kahlil Gibran, Beloved Prophet: The Love Letters of Kahlil Gibran and Mary Haskell, and Her Private Journal

These past few weeks something strange happened to me. I have been touching on it and mentioned it in post after post because writing it out feels like the logical way to solve this problem. The problem? I stopped wanting to write.

Writer’s block isn’t something I believed in. I learned from Austin Kleon that a problem of output is almost always a problem of input. If I felt stuck I only needed to get out in the world, in real life and online equally, to search for ideas to steal, to pull apart, to transform into something all my own. For as long as I have been blogging I have never had a shortage of ideas.

No, this was something different. I stopped wanting to try to write.

Writing felt like work. It felt pointless. It felt pointless because there are so many who are better than me. It felt pointless because I don’t know how to be more writer and less blogger—not there is anything wrong with blogger. It felt pointless because I am worthless as a writer. I want to say things, but I have no idea how to say them. Too much is flying around inside my head. I flit from one thought to another, one message to another, one interest to another. It felt pointless because I am so turned around and confused and insecure and scared and lost, and I don’t know how to get out.

I do know. I’ve written about that too. I just have to do the work, but first I have to work out how that looks for me.

In the meantime, I’m acknowledging how hard this is and why. I’m spending a little time letting myself feel what it’s like to try to be a writer. I’m looking at what is working and what isn’t, what sets my soul on fire, what turns it black, and what makes it go silent and keeping track of what I do in response.

I’m marking what I do when I can’t write, and what it is that gets me writing again. So far I’ve only found that rest is important and a sense of safety and support is crucial. Part of the reason I chose this quote specifically is that a shoulder to lay on has been the best help I could find.

Every writer I have read seems to have trouble writing, a revelation that is both comforting and frightening. I feel on more even footing with the greats but even more fearful that this dread, this pain, this fear will never go away. Writing will never be something I can do easily and with pure joy. It will always be this hard. I imagine it will always feel something like drowning, or like pulling teeth, or like healing broken bones. The only difference between the greats and me is that their pain produces better results than mine, for now.

If writing is so taxing for the soul, then all writers must have a home to run to too when they become weary. If they don’t, I imagine they write about that too. Maybe they move from writing poems to expressing themselves in other ways. Home can be found within yourself as well, you know?

As for me,  I have someone who loves and supports me. I am one of the lucky ones. I have a shoulder to lay on, arms to hold me, and ears to hear me whine and rage about my future failures. I have someone who cheers me on when I make progress and who supports me when I fail.

It’s wonderful to have such a home inside of such a person, but all the love, support, and self-reflection will only get me so far. The rest of the way has to be made with hard work and words on paper. I just have to fucking write.

So, I will keep a notebook with me at all times and keep my pockets filled with pens. I’ll have a journal to fill page by page every day and a tiny notebook to take with me wherever I go to jot every passing thought in. I will write on scraps of paper and in the margins of books making conversation with every author I whose work I read.

I will write love letters and thank you notes. I will write to rant and to praise. I will write essays and poems and stories both true and false. I will write what hurts and what feels good. I will write the lie and the truth. I will write what has been forgotten and what has yet to be known. I will spill secrets and expose my darkness to the light. I will write what life is and what it isn’t, what it should be and how we make it there.

I will do what I always set out to do and what I had always done before it occurred to me that writing could be something I do for me, for others, for money, and for recognition. I’ll just write and forget all the rest.

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khalil-gibran-9Kahlil Gibran was born on January 6, 1883, in the town of Bsharri in modern-day Lebanon (then part of Ottoman Mount Lebanon) to Khalil Gibran and Kamila Gibran. As a result of his family’s poverty, Gibran received no formal schooling during his youth in Lebanon. However, priests visited him regularly and taught him about the Bible and the Arabic language.

As a young man, he emigrated with his family to the United States where he studied art and began his literary career, writing in both English and Arabic. In the Arab world, Gibran is regarded as a literary and political rebel. His romantic style was at the heart of a renaissance in modern Arabic literature, especially prose poetry, breaking away from the classical school. In Lebanon, he is still celebrated as a literary hero.

He is chiefly known in the English-speaking world for his 1923 book The Prophet. The book, composed of twenty-six poetic essays, is an early example of inspirational fiction including a series of philosophical essays written in English poetic prose. The book sold well despite a cool critical reception, gaining popularity in the 1930s and again especially in the 1960s counterculture.

Gibran was an accomplished artist, especially in drawing and watercolor, having attended the Académie Julian art school in Paris from 1908 to 1910, pursuing a symbolist and romantic style over the then up-and-coming realism. Gibran held his first art exhibition of his drawings in 1904 in Boston, at Day’s studio. During this exhibition, Gibran met Mary Elizabeth Haskell, a respected headmistress ten years his senior. The two formed an important friendship that lasted the rest of Gibran’s life.

Haskell spent large sums of money to support Gibran, extensively edited all his English writings. Sometimes Gibran dictated his ideas to Haskell while Haskell found the proper words. Haskell’ contribution to his writing, including The Prophet, was such that by today’s standard she would be acknowledged as co-author.

The nature of their romantic relationship remains obscure; while some biographers assert the two were lovers but never married because Haskell’s family objected, other evidence suggests that their relationship never was physically consummated. Gibran and Haskell were engaged briefly, but Gibran called it off. Gibran didn’t intend to marry her while had affairs with other women. Haskell later married another man, but then she continued to support Gibran financially and to use her influence to advance his career.

Gibran died in New York City on April 10, 1931, at the age of 48. The causes were cirrhosis of the liver and tuberculosis due to prolonged serious alcoholism.

He is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu.

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Biographical information via Goodreads and Wikipedia

Featured image via Unsplash

James Baldwin and the Education of People of Color

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’s quote is from the essayist, poet, novelist, playwright, and social critic, James Baldwin.

“Not a thousand years ago, it was illegal to teach a slave to read.”

— James Baldwin

The first laws prohibiting slaves from being educated were passed in South Carolina in 1740 beyond what was necessary to understand scripture. Other states followed quickly adding fines for anyone caught teaching a slave to read or write and even going so far as to prohibit freed slaves from living in some states in fear they might incite others by educating them and distributing abolitionist materials or ideas. By the 1850s public education for all black people was illegal.

Educated slaves were a threat to white slaveholders. To have slaves reading and reflecting, questioning authority, and getting ideas of rising and rebelling was not to be tolerated.

This discouragement did not end after the emancipation proclamation was signed. There were few schools or teachers available to teach black people, and they were not permitted in white school. What schools were established were poor and largely ignored by the government. It would be almost another 100 years between the signing of the end of the civil war in 1865 and the legal desegregation of schools in 1954. One hundred years of freed slaves and their descendants scraping by the best they could in a world where white people had the advantage.

And not much has changed since. A significant percentage of Black people in this country are illiterate or unable read above a basic level. They say we are all equal now. Legally we all have a right to an education and the same opportunities regardless of race, but anyone with eyes can see it isn’t true.

School in predominately black or poor neighborhoods doesn’t receive the funding needed to educate its student body enough to compete with the richer and often whiter schools.  It is their schools that have less money, fewer teachers, bigger class sizes, and lower graduation rates. Even in the school district, I work for, one of the best in the state and arguably in the country, there is a clear difference between the education and resources received between our predominantly white schools and the ones with a more diverse enrollment.

The same discouragement to educate exists now, black schools are still poor and largely ignored by the government and for much the same reason, to keep the power where the ruling class wants it.

Education carries ideas, ideas about who we are and what life is and should be. Education exposes you to ideas about what happiness is and what suffering is and how we end up with either. Education brings wisdom from the past to the present and cultivates the capacity to imagine a better future for oneself. It puts you into perspectives you might never see from. It makes us want.

Writing means utilizing logic and creativity for more than basic comprehension ideas. It means pulling those perspectives and ideas you encountered apart and recombining them into something new. The power of writing is in its ability to teach you how to think and reveal what you think. Writing makes it possible to share these new ideas and possibilities with others.

Writing gives you an independence that threatens the establishment. Writing lights your soul up, and gives you the power to light another’s, and another’s, and another’s. It gives you a freedom you don’t have to beg for, a freedom you take for yourself. Once writing has happened control is lost. You cannot keep the masses from reading it, and you cannot stop them from spreading it. The end of oppression becomes inevitable.

It can be slowed. A ruling class loathes to give up power, so they find new ways to restrict education. We’ve banned books and burned whole libraries, but the human appetite for knowledge is insatiable and compulsive. It comes naturally to us and is essential for success in our society.

Too many Americans never learn to read or are not taught the joy and power that words and ideas can give them. It’s a damn shame. A shame not only on those in power but on all of us who turn a blind eye.

Someone somewhere at some time thought that too, and it is because of them I can call myself a writer now.  It is because so many people who came before wanted that I have access to so much information and education, often for free and at my leisure. It is because of them that I can contemplate and reflect, forming ideas of my own and share them with you. As a woman and a person of color, I know how lucky I am to have this power. I feel like I owe it to them to wield this power, to practice it and share it. I can’t give in to self-loathing and doubt. I can’t quit or make excuses because that would be a dishonor and a disappointment to their legacy and sacrifice.

Every person who fought to get us here, no matter how small their resistance, performed great acts of courage. Those who still fight are true heroes. I want to be among those heroes.

The conclusion we all have to come to is that literacy is a human right, period! No person sound denied access to a fundamental feature of what it means to be a human being. No other species on this planet has discovered math, reading, or writing; it is our discovery, it belongs to all of us, equally.

We all have access to school, but we don’t have access to the same education. What we have is a deliberate attempt to keep certain groups ignorant and unable to think or think properly, or articulate their needs and imagine solutions to their ills. I say “deliberate” because the news that some schools are failing, are poor, and are overcrowded and understaffed is not news to anyone and yet is still not a problem politicians are willing to fix.

Who better to take up the fight than writers? As a writer, it hurts my heart to know that language is being used as a weapon this way. As a writer yourself, or as an artist or any creative type, you should feel the same. What would life feel like to you if you had been denied the tools to express your hopes, and fears, and dreams? What could a stunted mind imagine or believe in? How might you suffer if you had been kept from words this way?

No one should be denied to opportunity to fall in love with writing. Call you representatives, contribute to local school fundraising efforts, even if your children do not attend. Familiarize yourself with the basic literacy statistics and the reality of black students in public education. Read authors of color, especially women and queer authors of color. Raise awareness. Confront your own racist ideas, even the ones you deny you have.

And finally, make access to the very best education for everyone a moral issue. Make reading, writing and math, a human rights issue. Make it your goal to bring up other artists and writers the way you were brought up, or the way you wish you had been. Make sure they can read the classics, learn the rules, and know that expressing the human condition through fiction, poetry, essays, memoir, and more are noble and fulfilling endeavors. Let them know we need them, their ideas, and their words.

We need more minds lit up and souls burning in all of us.

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James 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.

The oldest of nine children Baldwin spent much of his time caring for his 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. At age 14, Baldwin became a preacher at the small Fireside Pentecostal Church in Harlem. In the early 1940s, he transferred his faith from religion to literature. Critics, however, note the impassioned cadences of Black churches are still evident in his writing.

Baldwin’s first and probably best-known novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, a partially autobiographical account of his youth, was published in 1953.  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. His essay collections Notes of a Native SonNobody Knows My Name, and The Fire Next Time were influential in informing a largely white audience. Other novels included Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, and Just Above My Head.

James Baldwin offered a vital literary voice during the era of civil rights activism in the 1950s and ’60s. Baldwin’s novels and plays fictionalized 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. His inclusion of gay themes resulted in a lot of savage criticism from the Black community.

On November 30, 1987, Baldwin died from stomach cancer in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France. He was buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, near New York City.

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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.

Also: James Baldwin on What Artists Know

Biographical information via Wikipedia, Biography, and Goodreads

Featured image by John H. White, 1945-, Photographer (NARA record: 4002141) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons