Currently

Hello! I always find it so awkward to begin a post when I haven’t posted anything for a while. I’m not going to apologize, because I’m trying not to apologize for things that don’t actually bother anyone. For instance, I have this habit of apologizing when I almost bump into someone on the train. When I do bump into someone on the train, I apologize twice. When someone else bumps into me on the train I also apologize. Last year I was on an Amtrak to Boston and the girl next to me dropped her notebook, which I had nothing to do with. The exchange went like this.

Girl on the Amtrak shifts a little bit, and the notebook on her lap falls on the ground.

Me: Sorry.

Girl on the Amtrak: That’s okay, you didn’t do anything.

She picks up her notebook.

Me: That’s true. Sorry.

Doing this isn’t endearing, it’s wishy-washy and annoying. So, ladies: let’s not apologize unless we actually do something wrong. If you’re anything like me you probably have enough to apologize for without apologizing for all the stuff you can’t help.


I turned 25 in July and I have since been in an everyday panic where I wake up clutching my to-do list and groaning. I am planning on applying to grad school this winter. I am studying for the GRE, which is hard because I essentially forgot how to math. I am worrying that the people who I will ask for recommendations are going to be all, “Who dis?” I’m worried that I will study and apply and be recommended and still not get in anywhere. I’m worried I will get in, do well, and graduate only to never find a job in my field. I am worried as I always am that on top of all of this people will also laugh at me! It’s a lot to be worried about all at once.

Right now I have a job as a paralegal. I am good at it and it’s not horrible. These facts plus health insurance somehow aren’t enough for me, because I’m greedy and I want a job that stimulates me. Sometimes when I’m frustrated with my day job I remind myself that both Lorrie Moore and Gary Shteyngart and probably a lot of other writers started out as paralegals. Cheryl Strayed was a waitress and Kurt Vonnegut sold cars. Writers can be found in basically every profession. I don’t mind writing on the outskirts of a day job, but I want a day job that will make me happy, too. It is pure and disgusting greed.


In January I signed up for Net Galley with aspirations to post a new book review every week. The problem is that I hate everything I write for this blog and I miss when writing felt like rolling on a skateboard downhill – fast and triumphant and you wind up with bugs in your teeth. In comparison it often feels clunky and strange to write book reviews.

I took an online class in February with GrubStreet and I remembered what it felt like to write with exhilaration again. I am never more productive than when I have an audience. I wanted to write about my experience with GrubStreet for a post but I never found the time and now it’s one of those things in the back of my memory, all foggy. Did I really write those stories? I never turned them into anything more than flash fiction for a class. But I did it, on top of my day job and my real life and everything. I made time to write. I could do it again. I could keep going.

I have trouble seeing my accomplishments as accomplishments. I forget them as soon as I do them, because I’m too busy thinking about what I have put off, what I was hoping I’d have accomplished by 25 vs where I actually am, and everything that is ahead. I dwell on all the ways I’ve screwed up. And I start to feel worthless, like no matter how hard I try I’m not good enough. But when I have time to screw my head back on I realize that I’m on my way, and I’m right on time. Those bad feelings and experiences and mistakes are supposed to happen to help me get where I’m going. 

I’m trying to ease up on myself and at the same time be better. It’s a balance beam sort of thing. I don’t want to force myself to keep up with a post schedule, but I want to keep going with this blog, and I want to write things I’m proud of. I want to keep reading and engaging with what I read which is why I’m here in the first place.


P.S. – Let me tell you about two books I’ve read recently.

FATES AND FURIES by Lauren Groff – I read this because I heard somewhere that Barack Obama liked it. It was released last year and as far as hyped up books of 2015 go, I think I like this one more than A Little Life, although the reading experience of A Little Life was more immersive throughout. Fates and Furies won me over only in the second half. The book is about a married couple, and the first half is the husband’s story, leaving the wife’s perspective somewhat mysterious. In the second half, for reasons, her perspective takes over. I loved the wife’s character; she reminded me of a Gillian Flynn narrator.

WE EAT OUR OWN by Kea Wilson – I received this as an ARC from Net Galley. This is a strange first novel from an MFA graduate, so naturally it was somehow both overwritten and vague. I can’t blame Wilson though; she’s definitely talented enough that it mostly worked. It’s based loosely on Cannibal Holocaust, an exploitation horror film from the 80s that caused a huge stir because of it’s horrific realism. This is a narrator-jumper, but the main character is an unnamed American actor who is told to fly to Columbia to star in a film which he discovers has no script and a crazy, moody director. The story is sliced up in bits divided with court transcripts of the trial that follows the release of the movie, when the director is accused of leading his cast and crew to violent ends. A lot of crazy stuff goes down and it’s pretty fascinating, although I felt it hard to follow because of some of Wilson’s techniques. For every character there seems to be a chapter in their point of view. Also, the chapters where we follow the actor are told in second person perspective (“you feel like this”, etc) which is my biggest pet peeve. Wilson explores the dissociative aspect of acting with this character and uses the technique to highlight it, but I still rarely like second person POV – it feels like a cheap trick in a desperate attempt to make a story more interesting.

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In Progress

I had this post planned out this week about Books on Writing, but I kind of lost heart about it. I’m sick of reading about writing and not writing, and I’m sick even more of writing about writing but not writing. If that makes sense.

I’ve been having trouble settling on something concrete to write about, but all these little story ideas keep coming to me. I scribble them down on post-it notes and then look at them later and feel like I am actually the dumbest person on earth. I remember what it used to feel like when I had something I wanted to say, that rush when I felt elevated enough by my own voice to say it. Things have gotten difficult, because the voice that used to tell me to write it down is now telling me I have about a million other things to do.

I am, however, nothing if not resilient in the face of my constant nagging neurosis: when I feel most pathetic is when I am most likely to be quiet and listen to what is going on around me. I have a creepy need to sit back, do nothing, and observe. This is how I became a writer in the first place. I have always had a knack for feeling like a fly on the wall, and an ugly one at that, and this has served me well. But it’s not just that-sometimes you need to be humbled to see what’s actually going on around you. You need to be knocked down before you can actually see what the story is, that the story is not about how you are a Great Talented Successful Person. The story is about what you saw when you sat down, shut up and listened.

It’s self-indulgent for me to read Stephen King’s On Writing for the fourth time instead of writing a story. There’s a time where you have to set aside the noise and decide for yourself how to write.

Sometimes you have to indulge, if only to find little bits and pieces that will lift you up and remind you to keep your eyes open and your fingers ready. This week I saw this video of George Saunders on the Atlantic that did that for me. He makes writing seem holy and life-affirming (“when you pay attention to those sentences, your better nature rises up”), but also like a skill to be honed, which is what I needed to hear. Stories are important, great stories are holy things, but writers are not holy things. Stories aren’t just delivered pre-written from the heavens. It takes equal parts practice and empathy, just like everything else.

My goal for the new year is to practice, not preach, and I am looking forward to shutting up about this topic in a variety of ways. Thanks, as always, for reading.

All I Do Is Win: NaNoWriMo 2015

I didn’t win. I had been planning that title for a while and I don’t know what else to call this post.

I finished November with 23,163 words of a “novel” or, let’s just say, a Piece.

In my creative writing classes in high school and college, we would always call every thing Pieces. Poetry, short stories, essays about your dad – all of it can be called a Piece. Now that I am out in the real world, stranded and alone, I prefer to call my writing the thing that it is: if it’s a poem, it’s a poem, if it’s a story, it’s a story. This here is a blog post. During my years of schooling the word Piece had taken on a sacred tint in my eyes. “Piece” meant something. A piece of your writing, like a piece of pie, was a gift you brought to your fellow writers, even if they all secretly hated you. Writing lately is more of a lonesome endeavor, but I will call this thing I wrote in November a Piece. Simply because I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a story.

The piece I wrote for NaNoWriMo was about a woman, her husband, their five year old son, and a dead body. I planned ahead of time this year, which normally I don’t bother with. I chose the Snowflake Method and worked on it all October. I had big dreams for this story. I was thinking Olive Kitteridge meets Gone Girl. It was going to be the creepy yet heartwarming tale of a small, scenic town and the dead bodies and unstable wives who reside there.

Once I started writing, I really hated my story. I hated my characters, and most of all, I hated writing so fast, because I was getting my own imagined facts mixed up. I kept forgetting what the town was called, what my main character’s mother was like, etc., and I could never go back and check because that would be against the rules of NaNoWriMo, namely the rule Write and Don’t Look Back. I kept running off the rails I had laid for myself the month before, so all my planning was for nothing.Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 10.36.56 PM

The triumphant part is that I both started and finished the month writing – I didn’t give up once it became obvious I would have trouble winning (See above: Picture me hanging my head around Day 16) . They are some days I skipped, but this year I successfully beat the syndrome that usually ruins November for me. Usually, I write all the way up until the middle of the month, have an off day, and then stop writing for the rest of the month.

I have been participating in NaNoWriMo since November 2006. I have done 10 whole NaNoWriMo projects. I spent some time yesterday reflecting on this…and realized, to my horror, that I almost always lose. It’s not something I really own up to, because every year I am so newly excited to start. But, yeah. Out of the 10 Novembers I have participated, I have only won three times. And one of those was Glee fan fiction.

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Most of 2011 was a blur.

So, why do I like participating every year? Rush writing doesn’t seem to result in any brilliance or enthusiasm from me. I guess I like the idea of working on a project in a month with a bunch of other people trying to do the same thing.

I wrote at least 20,000 more words than I wrote in October, and I feel excited to keep writing this month. That’s the most valuable part of participating – it helps me remember to make writing a daily practice. It’s not about winning or losing, or even making a specific word count. It’s simply about doing the work, and making it a priority.

Now, onwards. Let’s talk December Write Lots Please. DeWriLoPl. I made a spreadsheet to keep track of words, and my goal for this month is 5,000 words a week. The first thing I’d like to work on is rewriting my NaNoWriMo piece as a short story, because as a fiction writer I love redemptive arcs.


 

Here is what I read in November: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont (re-read), Revival by Stephen King, Little Girls by Ronald Malfi on audiobook, and The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood. I’m currently in the middle of re-reading Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, and the Welcome to Night Vale novel.

Expect reviews soon on two of those. It’s a surprise which.

How was your November? Did you write anything? DID YOU WIN? Or did you just read something really good? Let me know, because I could use some inspiration.

Why I Still Write

I went to a tarot card reader last week. After she spent some time on my love life, she asked me if I had two jobs at the moment. I shouldn’t have, but I threw her a bone to chew on. I told her I had one job, but I was also a writer. I said it sheepishly, because I am embarrassed about being a writer these days. When I tell people I’m a writer it’s sort of like telling them I have a mole on my thigh that I’m going to get checked out soon. They make a pretty sad face.

My reader made me flip up some cards for her about my writing. She told me all was not lost, but something something, I don’t know. She was kind of full of shit. She said she saw an older woman in my future who would be my agent. She told me writing would be a thorn in my side for my entire life, but I would publish. She said I’m an impatient person and I need to be better at revising. Then she went back to talking about my love life.

So I’ve been thinking about this lately–what my writing is in the grand scheme of things. Is it a job? A hobby? A waste of time? Pretentious to even spend so much time thinking about it?

I don’t make any money from my writing, because I haven’t been published. I have yet to write anything worthy of being published–I am not one of those people bitterly wondering why magazines won’t publish me. I know why. So, it makes sense to call writing a hobby, as it is something I will gladly put my time and money into without any promise of benefit.

Right now my main hobby is running, which took me a few tries to get into. I have pretty pathetic lungs. Let’s just say running isn’t always fun. But I found things I liked about it–I liked getting better, in small but noticeable ways. (My lungs don’t burn anymore! I can run a 5k in less than 30 minutes! I only fall sometimes!) I like the feeling of keeping myself accountable, and feeling like I accomplished something when I do improve. But I know I will never win any races. I just don’t have that natural talent. So it’s a hobby, and I don’t mean to disparage hobbies–there can be a lot to gain from hobbies. It’s just that the ambition isn’t always there. The only person I compete with is myself, at the end of the day.

I would be lying if I said I don’t feel my own ambition gnawing on me when I write. I want to be good, not just better.

I don’t have a natural talent for writing, but I spent most of my childhood reading rather than going outside, which means I have more of a flare for words than, say, beach volleyball. If I have any natural talent, it’s in my ability to observe myself and others and think about it enough until I can grind it down into some sort of thought that reflects the way I view the world. I think of my brain like a meat grinder, basically. And I need this because otherwise I just can’t handle being a human very much. It’s like, you get broken up with? Take those feelings, put them all in the meat grinder that is your brain, and spit out a poem, shape it however you want. You’ll feel a little bit better, I promise. This is also what books were to me growing up. If I felt sad or lonely, there were characters in books that felt the same, and I felt better.

When I’m not writing regularly, I don’t feel like myself. I feel like I am skirting my own responsibility. This is why I think of it like a job, even though there’s no money and no boss and let’s face it, I don’t really need to do it at all. But when I don’t make time for it, I am letting myself down. It’s really not about the passion or desire to write, at the end of the day. It is this feeling of responsibility to myself.


When I have a good writing session, it is a relief. It feels remarkably similar to getting up to stretch my legs after a long drive. The problem is that it isn’t always that way–somedays, everything I write feels stiff, clumsy, and boring. I’ve been feeling like this a lot lately.

Writing is fun when I have already trudged through the mud of a story to get to the part where it flows. After that, my mind suddenly feels organized, and everything has a point. It is like clearing a cluttered table. It is satisfying. When it’s good a story gets to the point where your brain is drunk on it all the time, and everything in your life is more interesting and useful because of it.

Ever since I read Tenth of December, this quote from George Saunders from the little special edition part of the book has obsessed me:

“What I think good writing does: It enlivens that part of us that actually believes we are in this world, right now, and that being here somehow matters. It reawakens the reader to the fact and the value of her own existence. How? Hmm. Well, maybe just by holding the things of the world up for examination in a semi-sacred way. Just the act of reading ‘The dog licked his ass, not even budging as the huge riding lawn mower powered past and the sky clouded ominously’ makes us suddenly think about dogs/asses/lawn mowers/clouds – and I’d say that this reminder (this momentary redirection of our attention) makes dogs/asses/et al. holy again, in a certain sense.”

Because: exactly. Reading and writing are sort of ‘soft’ interests. They’re easy to dismiss as unimportant. But I chose them, because writing is the best way I have found to connect with the world around me. To remind me that life is important. There are other ways, but this is the way that has been given to me. Not a gift like a talent but a gift like an offering. I have a responsibility as a human being to cherish and grow whatever it is that makes me feel closer to the world around me.

The problem is the pressure I feel to prove something, the feeling that being a “writer” means something other than just being a person who writes. If I were an actual writer, I would be published by now, or I would have at least written something I felt was good enough to publish. If I had actual talent the world would constantly sing my praises, obviously. If I were any good at all, it would take me less than six months to finish a story. I feel like this most when I am out of touch with why I do this in the first place. When it starts to feel like just a way to get people to notice me, I don’t feel like an actual writer at all. And then I am not entirely sure what I actually am.

I haven’t felt the relief much lately, that satisfied feeling when the words come out, simple and true and easy. The current status of my writing life is this: words come out and they are very slow and very bad. But I am still writing.

This is all part of it: the connection, the disconnection, the wading through mud. I’m learning how to trust the process. All is not lost.


This is all just to say I will be taking a hiatus from this blog in November, because I want to concentrate on NaNoWriMo, which I do every year but haven’t won in a few. I’m challenging myself this year to write 1) A lot and 2) Something Not Bad and 3) All of it fiction. So, sorry blog, see you in December.

If you are participating and want to connect, please add me as a buddy. I would love to see what sort of stories you are all writing!