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

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

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

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

@deathwishcoffee

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Until next time.

***

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

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

Featured photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

 

Advertisements

Stephen King and Writing by Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

― Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing

and

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

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

And he will probably ask himself two more:

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

— George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

Some others I am considering:

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously, I cannot recommend his memoir On Writing enough.

king_what_sq.png

***

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

Check out my previous quotes from Stephen King.

Featured image via Unsplash

Currently // June 2017: The End of a Disappointing First Half

The passing of June is a time of conflicting feelings for me. I am happy it is still summer, the weather is still warm, and I still have a feeling of freedom and possibility, but at the same time, I feel disappointed. I never accomplish as mush as I want to in the first half of the year, and I am sad because from here on the days will be getting shorter and the weather will soon begin to get colder.

But I am also excited. All the mistakes I have made so far can be left in the first half of 2017. I can look back and learn from my mistakes and let July be a new beginning, a last chance sprint to the finish line and all of my goals. I’m excited to feel excited again.

But before I start again, here is what I am currently:

Writing something for my Bitch Media’s Writing Fellowship application, and I am extremely nervous about it. I’ve been a reader of Bitch Media’s online publication for the past year or so and the idea of becoming a part of something so big, and wonderful, and feminist is both exciting and terrifying.

Planning on making some big changes to my schedule and the way I work both at my day job and on my personal projects and goals. There have been major changes made at my day job, and I no longer feel that it fits with the life I am trying to have. There is a chance I may be looking for different work, or I  may stay and try to work around the changes. I do know for sure that this next year will be focused on finding a way to turn writing into income.

Making very little progress on my personal projects, surprise! Not really. I have no idea what I am doing or what I want to be doing. I wrote about it already so I won’t say much more. I’ll just say that I am learning and I really want to do better and do more. I’m trying not to doubt my talent and passion or let myself believe there is anything I can’t do if I would only focus and work al little harder every day.

Anticipating my first Coursera course. Someone in the Femsplain Slack group posted a link and asked for some buddies to take a free course in International Women’s Health and Human Rights by Stanford University. I’ve never done anything like this, and I know I don’t really have the time, but I do miss learning about new things in a structured way, so I thought, why not try? It’s free, and it’s a topic I’m passionate about so I’m jumping in.

Reading Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, I haven’t gotten very far yet so I don’t have much of an opinion except to say that the way it’s written is interesting but a bit hard to follow. I’m sticking with it though. The last book I read by her, Orlando: A Biography, was the same way but so worth the effort. I finished The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Stories of Your Life and Others, a collection of short stories by Ted Chiang. Gatsby was boring but very well written. Stories of Your Life was like nothing else I have ever read. The plot of every story was so original and well thought out that I wanted to quit trying to be a writer because I was so certain I could never live up to that standard.

Watching nothing. I finished House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, American Gods, and the Leftovers on HBO. Right now I just watch Vice News Monday through Thursday and Vice the documentary series on Fridays. In film, I enjoyed Wonder WomanIt Comes at Night, and Okja, a beautiful and heartbreaking Netflix original that you must watch. Some new shows will be starting up soon. I’m looking forward to Game of Thrones season 7 and Insecure season 2 in July.

Feeling so damn scared. Did I mention that I am applying for the Bitch Media’s Writing Fellowship? Oh, I did? Well, what I didn’t mention is that they only pick FOUR PEOPLE. I think I read somewhere that last year they received 5,000 applications. They picked four people out of 5,000 from all over the world who probably write much better than I do. Part of me doesn’t even want to try because I am sure I won’t be chosen. Part of me is hopeful though and dares to dream I might win.

Needing my mind to start working a little more creatively. I’m running into a lack of idea lately or a lack of ideas that I think are good. I want to move away from purely person essays to the informative, the persuasive, and work on telling stories other than my own. There are so many topics out there my mind cannot choose. I have to narrow my focus and work on branding and purpose. I need to learn to be more creative with fewer choices and tools at my disposal.

Loving the @AloeBud Twitter account, a community garden and self-care bot that asks followers to tweet “resources” like water (💧), sun (☀️), tending (👒), and encouragement (💚) to help the plants grow. In return, you get self-care prompts and questions to help you take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Aloe is brought to you by the same wonderful people who created Femsplain, the first publication to pay me for my words, so you know it’s amazing and pure.

Hating that I wasted so much of this month. It’s summer time, and since I work for a school district I have been allowed to come in late and go home much earlier than I normally would throughout the school year and instead of sitting down to write, I was lazy. I slept, I played games on my phone, I slept some more, I watched TV, I messed around on Facebook and Twitter, and I slept. I wasted a great opportunity, and I’m angry with myself for it, especially because I am trying to do some very big and scary things right now.

Hoping that I do much better in July. My schedule is still going to be open for at least another month which means I get another chance to make some real progress on my goals. I can’t keep focusing on what I haven’t done and how much I don’t know how to do yet. I can’t keep letting myself stay frozen in indecision and inactivity because I am afraid to take the wrong step. I am good enough to begin, and I am smart enough to find the way.

All in all, this month was a good month. The weather was warm. I got a much-needed visit from my sister and her kids who I have missed more than I knew. My siblings and I got matching tattoos that turned out better than we could have hoped. I got plenty of rest. I got to see some fantastic movies. I celebrated Pride month with my lovely girlfriend and a few good friends. I did a lot! Looking back now I see there is more to be happy about than there is to be disappointed in. I couldn’t have asked for much better to mark the end of the year’s first half.

So, how about you? Was June good or bad to you? What are you looking forward to in July? Are you excited for the new season of Game of Thrones? Do you think I have a chance at this writing fellowship? Let me know in the comments (:

***

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

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

Featured image via Pexels

Work From Where You Are

“In human life, if you feel that you have made a mistake, you don’t try to undo the past or the present, but you just accept where you are and work from there. Tremendous openness as to where you are is necessary.”

— Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Transcending Madness

For a long time now I have been trying to move beyond this blog and into writing that is more challenging and more rewarding too. I’ve had a few opportunities, but they’ve all fizzled out. Some of them I missed, some I messed up, some simply faded away, and now I’m beginning to feel discouraged. I’m unsure of where I want to go and wholly ignorant of how to get there even if I did.

All of this has snowballed, and these last few weeks I’ve gotten worse. I am distracted, lost, and honestly, afraid.

I’m watching other people more and more. Other writers who are moving on, finding jobs and a following and I’m trying to puzzle out how they got there. I’m trying to figure out the formula to progress and telling myself that it eludes me, but that is a lie. I know how to get there, but I just can’t move. I’d rather spin my wheels instead because it feels safe. You can’t fail if you never start, right? That’s another lie. I am failing every day that I do nothing, but I want to stop. I want to let go.

This week I watched my girlfriend start from nothing, a hobby, something to do for fun, and suddenly she was on a path forward. Things happened for her, and I am jealous, but instead of letting my jealousy further hold me back, I’m trying to learn something from watching her.

She started by making birthday cards for fun using watercolor paints and paper. Then she made some for our mothers on Mother’s day, then Father’s day, then one for my cousin’s daughter’s dance recital.  That cousin took the card to work to show off to co-workers, and soon my girlfriend got a text asking if she could make five congratulatory cards each for a new baby and a new home.

She worked all week to get those ten cards done not once stopping to worry about whether they would be liked or what would happen after. She focused on right now. She used what she had and simply started.

We’re not sure what will happen yet, but even when I bring up future possibilities, she hushes me. She isn’t on that step yet she tells me. She is simply having fun and seeing where it leads. She is simply doing the work without worry.

I want so badly to be like that. To just do it without caring what other people will think. I don’t want to freeze up because I am comparing myself to others or doubting my own talent. I want to just do what feels good, what is fun, what interests me and share it with others, the same as her. I’m not positive that this way will work for me, but I do know that what I have been doing isn’t getting me anywhere. What I’ve been doing has been holding me back.

What I’ve been doing is a lot more consuming than producing. What I have been doing is trying to find what it is that other people have that I don’t. What I have been doing is making a whole lot of plans and taking almost no action. What I have been doing is talking the talk and standing completely still. I have been failing by refusing to act. I have made a mistake by doing nothing because I thought I could only do something very little, and stupid, and uninteresting, and ugly…That was a lie too.

So, I have accepted where I am, and I have beat myself up enough for it. Now it’s time to start again, again. This isn’t the first time I have admitted to being frozen by self-hate and fear, but the difference is, I have seen first hand what just working and worrying about nothing more than this day and this task can do.

I am incredibly proud of my girlfriend and a bit jealous that she could do so easily what I am struggling with week after week, but again, I have to let that go and move forward on my own path.

If you have been like me, unsure not only of which road to take but which road you are worthy of walking, take some time to look around, admit your mistake, and take stock of your options. Then take a breath, forgive yourself, and take your eyes off the horizon. Stop looking at the people around you. Stop looking at where you wish you were. Stop looking at where you messed up and missed out. Just look down.

Look down until you can only see the next step you must take. Focus on what you want to do today, not next week, not five years from now. Focus on what you want to do right now because it feels good and right.

Remember why you started in the first place. You didn’t start because you thought you would be perfect or the best, or because you thought you would be popular, go viral, or get rich. You started because this is simply what you enjoy doing. So, just enjoy doing it.

Take it one step at a time and let your feet and your passion lead you where you want to go.

***

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.

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.

***

10427

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.

baldwin_teach_sq2.png

***

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

Jorie Graham on Capturing the Past

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

This week I have chosen a quote from the poet Jorie Graham.

jg_fp_and_p

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jorie Graham, Overlord: Poems

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

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

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

Nick goes on to wonder about Gatsby:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can be Gods.

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

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

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

graham_believe_sq

***

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

Biographical information via Joriegraham.com and The Poetry Foundation

Featured image via Unsplash

Douglas Adams on Where Ideas Come From

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

This week I have chosen a quote from Douglas Adams.

4Douglas Noël Adams, born March 11th 1952 was an author, scriptwriter, essayist, humorist, satirist and dramatist best known for his book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which originated in 1978 as a BBC radio comedy before developing into a “trilogy” of five books that sold more than 15 million copies in his lifetime and generated a television series, several stage plays, a comic book series, a computer game, and in 2005 a feature film that was completed after Adams’ death.

Adams’s contribution to UK radio is commemorated in The Radio Academy’s Hall of Fame.

Adams also wrote Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and co-wrote The Meaning of Liff, The Deeper Meaning of Liff, Last Chance to See, and three stories for the television series Doctor Who; he also served as script editor for the show’s seventeenth season in 1979. A posthumous collection of his works, including an unfinished novel, was published as The Salmon of Doubt in 2002.

In the early 1980s, Adams had an affair with novelist Sally Emerson, who was separated from her husband at that time. Adams later dedicated his book Life, the Universe and Everything to Emerson. In 1981 Emerson returned to her husband, Peter Stothard, a contemporary of Adams’s at Brentwood School, and later editor of The Times.

Adams was soon introduced by friends to Jane Belson, with whom he later became romantically involved. The two lived in Los Angeles together during 1983 while Adams worked on an early screenplay adaptation of Hitchhiker’s. When the deal fell through, they moved back to London, and after several separations and an aborted engagement, they married on November 25th, 1991.

Adams and Belson had one daughter together, Polly Jane Rocket Adams, born on June 22nd, 1994.

Adams died of a heart attack on May 11th, 2001, at the age 49.

 

Toward the end of his life, he was a sought-after lecturer on topics including technology and the environment. He was known as an advocate for environmentalism and conservation, as a lover of fast cars, cameras, technological innovation and the Apple Macintosh, and as a “devout atheist.”

“The fact is, I don’t know where my ideas come from. Nor does any writer. The only real answer is to drink way too much coffee and buy yourself a desk that doesn’t collapse when you beat your head against it.”

— Douglas Adams

I’m suffering from a real writing crisis here. I am a writer with no ideas! I love to put pen to paper, to type away all day the thoughts that pop into my head, thoughts that don’t mean much and in the end don’t leave me feeling very fulfilled, accomplished, and are not at all as lucrative as I’d like.

To say I have no ideas isn’t exactly the truth. I have ideas, they are just bad ideas, and I don’t know how to find good ones.

I want to be a good writer, and that means that I can’t write stupid or pointless things, but I’m not a good writer, yet. The catch is I can’t become a good writer without writing all the stupid and pointless things first. It seems simple enough, just write, and you will get better, so write already! But the embarrassment hurts! It’s paralyzing to be such a noob! The shame of being bad at what you love and sharing it with the world freezes you at your keyboard.

But summer is coming, and I have to use the time to move forward. I’ve been stuck lately. I had found something, a community and publication to be a part of but just as I was really getting into it, they decided to move in another direction. I’m sad, but I’m trying to think of it in a positive light. This was never something that I thought I could do as a job, it was always a stepping stone, a place for feedback and practice. I’ll miss that, but maybe now I can finally make something of my own. But what?

I want to be a freelance writer, but I’m afraid without school or a ton of connections that dream feels too far away.

I want to write a book, but I’m not sure I have enough passion or talent for fiction.

I want to be an artist too but my confidence is low, and I have no idea where to begin.

Nothing feels small enough to start with. I don’t have experience, I don’t have mentors or peers to learn from and work with. I only have idols who are light-years ahead of me and the internet which seems severely lacking in information about how to go from knowing nothing about writing to knowing something about it.

Oh, sure there is plenty of information on the rules of writing and the best practices of publishing. Even if everything contradicts everything else you at least have an idea of where to start, but what do you do if you have a desire to be a writer or an artist, but you have no idea what it is you are trying to say or how to even say it?! What do you do when you feel like a stupid noob and you can’t muster courage enough to start?

I know how to write a blog post, I know how to fill a page of my journal, I don’t know how to make something someone might pay for. I don’t know how to put together a project that is unique and valuable. I don’t know what I don’t know, and I have no idea where to begin to get an idea.

But maybe I am going about it all wrong. No, not maybe, I am certain I am. I am waiting for the ideas and the inspiration, to come to me before I get started and if there is one piece of advice I have read over and over again from author after author it has been that you just have to do something until you stumble upon something worth pursuing and sharing.

So, I’ve been rethinking everything.

I’m pushing my big dreams back to work on something small, something tangible, something that feels like a place to start. I’m working with what I know and love. I love non-fiction. I love essays. I love creative non-fiction and stories about real people and what we feel and know. I love I am putting that together with simple art, doodles, and collage, and I’m spinning these ingredients around in my mind for a little bit every day and seeing what I can come up with.

I am taking the summer to make something, and I’m doing it before I have the inspiration and the ideas all squared away. I am just going to drink coffee and bang my head until something interesting happens.

And you know what? I have a feeling that is what everyone else is doing too. It isn’t magic, or maybe it is, just not the kind of magic we are used to wishing for. We want to walk through fields of flowers, or fall in love and let the words just come to us, but that’s just not how it works. Instead, maybe we just have to brainstorm like hell, write something, post something, draw something, and decide what we think afterward. Then wake up tomorrow and do it again, only a little bit better, and a little bit better, and a little bit better, again and again. You gotta bang your head like hell and drink liquid energy, or liquid courage, whichever you need, until one day someone declares that you are finally a “good writer.”

That is the fucking magic. That is where the ideas come from, and that is the only way to get the work done. The miracle is doing the work, and I plan to work until magic and miracles happen for me too.

adams_ideas_sq

***

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

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

Featured image via Unsplash