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The Neighbors

Today is the seventeenth day. I didn’t mean to begin counting but after the tenth day, I couldn’t help but notice. It’s been seventeen days since I saw any of my neighbors. In theory, there should be five humans, one for each of the five doors besides ours in this building on the second floor, but of course,  it could be more. It might not seem all the strange to you, that I haven’t seen a single soul in the hallway outside of our apartment for seventeen days, but as an unemployed person who spends most of her days going in and out, it’s becoming more and more bizarre. When we first moved in, I saw the man across the hall at least once a day as he was taking his small dog for a walk. He always spoke, or least nodded, and he seemed like a good omen.

But I haven’t seen him or anyone else for seventeen days. I know that I’m hypersensitive to neighbors. A few months ago I was living in the motel my boyfriend was renovating. Our neighbors changed daily; it was important to take note of who was gone and who was still there for personal safety reasons. And yet the upstairs neighbors at the motel, who apparently practiced their WWE wrestling moves before bed each night never left. Even before living in the motel, I was working and residing on a college campus. Read more »

Storytelling as Community, as Healing

After Asa’s great post about how storytelling affects our decision making, I started thinking about how storytelling could play a role in the careers of people who aren’t writers. I found this great video from storytelling.org, the website for the Center for Digital Storytelling, about forensic nurses and digital storytelling. The mission of the Center for Digital Storytelling is “to promote the value of story as a means for compassionate community action.”

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I know many of the contributors to this blog have taught, or currently teach, creative writing. My question for those with this type of experience is: In what ways has being a promoter of storytelling brought about change in your life or the life of someone else?

Stories Sway Our Decisions

Last month, I attended a writers conference where Lisa Cron presented a master workshop on how neuroscience discoveries can help your story telling (and your writing). I had to leave early for an appointment, but Ms. Cron’s ideas about the importance of story telling and how stories influence our everyday decisions stuck with me.

So, I looked her up when I got home and found a TEDx talk by her. The video is a little more than 17 minutes long, but worth watching just for the share pleasure of discovering that stories–and therefore writers (hyberbole added by me)–are more important than we think.

In Ms. Cron’s words:

“We turn to stories not to escape reality; we turn to stories to navigate reality.”

and

“If you can’t feel emotion, you can’t make a single rational decision.”

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“The Power of story is yours, use it wisely.”

Writing Horoscopes

Cancer (June 22 – July 22)
Set aside some time this week to watch people at the park, the café, or the doctor’s office waiting room. Go wherever your current tale is set. Pay attention to the movements, appearances, and conversations that make these people real. “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature,” Cancer Ernest Hemingway reminds us.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)
Leo, your comedic timing will be spot on this week. Make sure that every pun leaving your fingertips is working in service of its larger meaning this week. As lioness Dorothy Parker said, “Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.”

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)
Virgo Roald Dahl once said, “A writer of fiction lives in fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not.” Don’t let that fear stall you this week, Virgo. Instead of opening your Word document and experiencing stage fright, tackle that electric white page like a gardener would as he tilled his spring beds. Seize the opportunity to plant, grow, weed, and nurture your ideas.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)
“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil,” admitted fellow Libra Truman Capote. He was speaking of revision. Libra, this week the scales have tipped in favor of cutting, adding, and rewording rather than creating new material. Work through your past drafts dramatically on the first pass and judiciously on the second.
Read more »

Optimism in the Cycle of Failure

I’m not sure when I realized that I’m a fairly optimistic person. I know I began to identify optimism as an integral part of my outlook on life when it became clear that I was going to be laid off last fall. And when the lay off happened, I had grief but never really lost optimism and confidence.

During that period I was looking for quotes—inspirational, humorous, self-affirming—when I found this one from Helen Keller:

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope and confidence.

But there are moments when optimism feels like delusion. Moments when I ask, where does this faith in self come from? 

When faced with failure, there is that briefest second when the idea to give up sparks. But then my confidence snuffs it out so unequivocally. Doubt presses in to blow some air to revive the ember; it says, you failed and there is no certainty you will ever succeed. But Optimism, Hope and Confidence punch Doubt squarely in the mouth, so it crumples to the ground. They each take a turn at grinding the already dead spark into the dirt with their heavy boots and then kick Doubt in the stomach a few times, for good measure.

Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots

Yes. I just characterized Optimism, Hope and Confidence as a gang of bullies. Here’s why.

I appreciate the power they evoke, the ability to persevere. But I think there is value in all emotion, even that moment of defeat. I don’t necessarily want to wallow in defeat. But my gut is telling me that it is important to let it happen, that there is value in not shutting it down quickly and completely.

And then Doubt comes back in bruised and playing Devil’s advocate; it says, if you wallow, you could get stuck; better to keep moving forward; don’t look back. Doubt is consistent in its ability to play any and all sides of the field.

So, what’s my point? Read more »

Just Stop Trying, and Other Impossible Acts of Surrender

Relax, nothing is under control.

I’m trying!

“Just stop trying, and it’ll happen,” all varieties of people tell me when I say I’m still not pregnant. But I don’t know what that looks like. Stop charting my temperature? Stop taking supplements? Stop going to the doctor? Stop thinking about the trajectory of my life? How does one enter such a state of zen?

At some point I stopped trying to be beautiful or brilliant and settled on being kind and honest…at least mostly. My hair’s sprouting up wires of silver that I refuse to pluck or dye. My skin’s clean of makeup, because what difference could it really make in a life — lips brightened, eyes framed by shadow, rouge a trick on the cheeks — that couldn’t also be made bare? And when I draw a blank to an answer, I just say it: “I don’t know,” and hope the recipient appreciates candor over breadth of knowledge. In these small ways I’ve given up and feel good in the giving.

I’ve also given up trying out of pure inability to make something happen. Writing, for instance. I’ve stopped trying to get published. I’ve stopped trying to write something great. Instead, I let things happen. A contest or publication deadline lands in my inbox or on Facebook on a day when I have space for it, and I enter it. I try. By doing that over the past four years, I’ve had five poems published in three journals. Not bad for not trying, eh? The memoir I’ve been trying to write for years eludes me until I give up, and then, out of nowhere, while watching Q with Jian Ghomeshi (live no less) in Portland at the Aladdin I have an epiphany about a big question I’ve had — how to write myself as a character — and I jot it down. By not trying, I’ve invited the answer in, perhaps.

Read more »

I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghostwriting

Ghost Writer.

I’ve done some ghostwriting recently as a freelance content creator. My first ghostwriting experience came as a surprise. Strange as that sounds, I was expecting to publish commissioned blog articles under my own name. When my first article was published with a different person’s name without any discussion over the simple fact of authorship, I was surprised. I now know of my naiveté.

I’ve been paid to write before. I’ve created material with no attributed author—things like brochures, quick guides, user manuals, catalog copy, “about” web pages, and so on. I’ve also researched and written a weekly and monthly column, as an organization’s employee, for regional newspapers. That gig doesn’t make me a journalist, but still… I’ve had a byline.

So the surprise of the ghostwriting experience felt, maybe, a little insulting. Perhaps my pride was hurt. Or maybe that sense of ownership when creating something evoked my sense of violation. Whatever it was, I had to do a little bit of soul searching about it. It took me maybe a day or two to reorient my thinking and accept the circumstances. After all, I was given a topic and was being paid for the research and subsequent article. It was work. I was being paid. I accepted that my name wasn’t on it. However, I decided that if I ever found myself as a writer for hire again, I would definitely be sure to discuss all aspects of authorship before accepting the job.

Since, I’ve ghostwritten more blog articles. And now, if I know I’m ghostwriting for a particular person—someone I’ve met, interviewed, and taken the time to consider as the author—then I’m all set. And then, in a reversal of fate, I’ve been thrown by the suggestion that a ghostwritten blog post could be published under my name. I rejected the idea. What does my reaction mean? Am I so easily thrown by this idea of authorship?

At the basic level, I think it means that I approach marketing content creation as I would a piece of fiction. I construct the narrator and her (or his) voice based on the parameters, self-imposed or imposed by others. But that’s not enough of an answer, I don’t think.

I went looking for what others had to say. Read more »

Twitter Fiction and Creative Experimentation

I watched the TED Talks video “Adventures in Twitter Fiction” a few months ago and wondered, could I do that?

In the talk, Andrew Fitzgerald gives examples of successful storytelling, using Twitter as a micro-blogging platform with writers setting up Twitter accounts for fictional characters who interact with each other. The experiments seem complicated and brilliant and risky. What could a writer do with Instagram, Pinterest, or even a dating site? Social media provides the space for flexible identity and anonymity while engaging with the real world. Many writers have probably considered social media for marketing their work, but what about for creation? If you’ve already jumped into this type of experimentation, let me know. I want to see the risks, rewards and… I’m going to bring up the “F” word. Failure.

What about failure? With so many voices (real and bots) clamoring to be heard in the social spheres of the internet, could a creative experiment go unseen, or seen but ferociously attacked? But does any of that matter?

Writers risk failure with every word they put on the page, so maybe the medium of delivery doesn’t seem so scary, even if unconventional. I remember the first time I heard of actors and directors taking their work exclusively online with webisodes. Maybe this isn’t so different?

If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll watch the TED Talks video. Let me know if you feel inspired!


Revenge

copyright abc network

copyright abc network

I feel a very unholy and gleeful sense of revenge. I am deeply and darkly pleased to hear that you are getting fat. I could faint from sheer joy that through no action of mine, your once perfect figure with your perfect teeth are blemished in a way that I know must be so disappointing for you.

Obviously, you aren’t fat as in unsightly fat (yet), but you have more fat on you now, especially in your face, and I hope it stays there a long time. I hope that people who knew you when you were skinny in college run into you now, or a year from now, and walk away thinking, ‘She’s put on a lot of weight,’ and I hope they gossip to all their friends about you.

I hope that you have to give all your pretty dresses away to goodwill because they don’t fit you anymore, I hope that you have to buy a new wardrobe of jeans, shirts, and skirts and I hope it costs you a lot of money. I hope that you go on a diet to try lose the weight and then I hope you gain it all back double. I hope that when you have kids you get ugly stretch marks and cellulite. And I hope all your teeth fall out when you’re old. I hope that your husband (who used to be my friend until you forced him to friend-break-up with me) remembers how good you used to look in a bikini. Used to.

Sigh.

Well, fuck.

What a mechanistic conundrum.

How do I contend with knowing I am the only one who still cares enough to hate? Here I am feeling hunched, feeling sick, feeling dragged by my teeth all the way back to pettiness by an inordinate desire for payback, all my progress of letting go destroyed by a violent emotion that takes neither of us anywhere further. Revenge is its own kind of poverty and it looks like I am the poorer for it.

If I’m being honest, I really do wish you good things, I hope you are successful and loved and happy and get everything you ever wanted. But I also hope you gain ten pounds this year, just as a precaution.

Learn “Deep Yes” so You Can Say “No”

JustineMuskLast year, I was on the verge of burnout and a friend sent me the most wonderful list: Justine Musk’s 25 Badass Ways to Say No.

I’ve always had a hard time rejecting requests, whether they’re from a family member, a friend, a coworker, or a total stranger. I want to be the perfect hostess, making sure everyone enjoys the time spent with me. Making sure everyone likes me.

My exhaustion last year didn’t only depend on not wanting to disappoint people. Life threw me a few hurdles: my dad’s fast onset of dementia, my mom’s reoccurrence of cancer, my husband’s shoulder injury, which although not life-threatening required caretaking duties. A person saner than me would have recognized that these events demanded less commitment elsewhere. But I barged on, over-committing myself to write a grant, organize a physics conference, join work committees and initiatives, and keep up with my regular volunteer duties in the community.

Hence the burnout.

Even when life doesn’t throw huge boulders in our paths, creative folks don’t always recognize that it’s okay to say “no.” It’s okay to set aside time to practice our art. We’re not being selfish. We’re not being entitled. We’re just doing what’s necessary to nourish that part of us that feeds our soul.

Justine’s list didn’t cure my tendency to instinctively say “yes” to any and all requests, but it I am learning to be more protective of my writing time. I’m not yet brave enough to say all the things on the list out loud, but it’s so much easier for my mouth to utter a “no” when my brain is thinking one of these:

-Life’s too short to do things I don’t love.

-My ladyballs are not that big.

-There is a person who totally kicks ass at this. I am not that person.

-The idea is bad and you must be punished.

-I no longer do things that make me want to kill myself.

-It would cause the slow withering death of my soul.

It’s easy to think that until we are published, sold our first photograph, or recorded our first song, we don’t have the right to turn down a request in favor of writing, painting, creating. But actually, we do.

Actually, we must. Read more »

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