On Mentors, the Cold of Singularity, and Giving Gifts to One’s Self

I’m sitting in a local coffee shop, a new book in my hands and on my my hidden tongue, behind my teeth, moving with the rhythm of the words as I speak them in my head.  Beside me, a cup of yerba mate steams against the cold from the window, and a arm buttermilk biscuit sits on a plate with one little bowl of butter and one of raspberry jam.

 

The book I’m reading, which I have only just begun, was recommended, as part of an event, by one of the best writers I’ve ever read, probably the best who I’ve ever had the privilege to get to know and work with.

 

I’m feeling a myriad of emotions sitting here, and every time I read a few more sentences in the book, I put it down, last month’s bus pass as my bookmark, to thumb-type a few more of my own into the notepad app on my phone.

 

I feel proud of myself for leaving the house to go to the event, since I had to go alone and with the exception of my old mentor, who I wasn’t even sure would recognize me, I didn’t know anyone there.  I feel foolish and stupid for being awkward and stunted and strange, for struggling so much just to carry on a normal, everyday conversation.  I feel glad that I got to see her, and touched that she did remember me, I feel grateful and happy that she shared real pieces of her life with me and that she asked me with genuine feeling what I’ve been working on, that she expressed with real care that she’s glad I have the time and the mental space to be working on anything.

 

I feel silly for being so emotional, full of creeping loathing for putting my foot in my mouth so consistently, grateful to myself and to her and to the world for allowing me to have the experience, however brief and difficult.

 

I spent money that I don’t have on two books I’ve been wanting to read.  I left the event feeling worse than I did when I walked in, for no real reason other than my own insecurities and the over-extension of my under-exercised social limb.  I bought myself a cup of hot tea and an old-world-sweet snack — the kind of thing that tastes rich and special not despite, but because of, its simplicity — and I sat down alone by the window.

 

My heart is tender and sad and often lonely, but these are the moments when I most appreciate my craft, entirely divorced from what may or may not ever come from it.  These are the moments that nurture the writer, these tiny triumphs and even tinier gifts, and the writer will always continue, as long as there are words to transmute moments and feelings into something more.  Disappointment in myself turns a character into a true representation, the reflection of something real.  Raspberry jam becomes magic.

A Casual Blog Post

Sometimes I think about the particular nature of blog posts: how they are utterly their own thing, a little egg of thought, so small you can carry it in the palm of your hand.  Sometimes I find myself wanting to write one even when I don’t have any good blog post ideas.  So that’s what I’m making today, because a blog post is what I want to make, it’s what my hands and my mind feel like creating: a casual blog post.

Here are a few things that are on my mind today:

I’m obsessed with the new Florence + the Machine video for “Big God” (pictured above).  All I could think when I watched it this morning was that I want to be able to write how that video looks.  It’s charged with creative energy, and so stunning, so well-crafted.  I want the things I make to have the same force and passion and beauty to them.

I miss traveling.  A year ago, I was in Ireland, gazing in abject wonder at a landscape that truly does feel as magical as everyone says it does.  I want to be back there, where the land itself feels imbued with ghosts, and the trees have their own spirits, but even more than that, I want to put my feet in new places.

Today and yesterday have both been hungry days — days when I consume and consume and never reach satisfaction.  My stomach is like this sometimes, but my brain is like this always.  I want and want and want, and no matter what I chase and catch, it’s never enough.  Usually I’m okay with this, because it keeps me working, keeps me moving toward something.  The problem comes when I don’t feel pulled in any particular direction, so the energy, the drive, is here with me, but I’m unable to do anything with it.

There are flies in my house and I hate them, but today I’ve started considering the metaphor they could be.  I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m sure there’s something.

The mess of my inside is slowly but surely spreading to my outside.  I had better stop writing for a bit and bring these dirty dishes out to the kitchen, brush my hair, and put on some pants.

Kayaking on an Ocean of Fear

Earlier today, I went out on the water with Danika.  In a couple of kayaks, we rowed out to where the water just began to roll, and as we got further, I realized I had never been so far out into the ocean with so little between it and me.  I could imagine worlds beneath my seat, a universe of creatures and realities alien to me and my experience.

And I did feel terror.  I felt it in a more real and more immediate way than I’ve maybe ever felt it before.

Everyone says that: in a “real” way, or “it felt ‘real.'”  But what does that even mean?  I’ll tell you what it meant for me, today:

Here was the thing I am most afraid of, the actual entity I fear more than anything else — a fear so pure that it’s utterly divorced from any reality or practicality — and I was literally floating on top of it, nothing but maybe an inch of candy-red plastic separating us.

I was directly upon my fear.  We sat together, it and me.  I had to commune with it whether I wanted to or not.

I discovered several things in this process.  That I did not want to be still — I felt better when I was moving, even when I was moving further out, over deeper and deeper water.  That I could feel the fear and keep myself from being overcome by it if I thought about something else, like how the scenery transported me despite being here, or how to structure a magic system in a fantasy novel I might write someday.  That it was worth feeling the fear in order to accomplish something, and because I got to witness a particular beauty I usually feel separated from, and because, possibly, the beauty was better for the fear I fought to get to it.

That fear makes imagination expansive.  Every bunch of seaweed housed a monster, every stretch of sea without seaweed could have housed anything.  That expanse of the fear, the size of it as it stretched out all around, and deeper and deeper beneath, me, is what is sticking with me most.

That there was so much possibility in it — not good or bad, no value at all.  Only that there was a lot.  Only greatness, in its old sense.  A large and expanding mass of fear meant a large and expanding mass of anything I could imagine.

It was a feeling that opened me up and opened the world around me.  I’m thinking about getting up early to do it again tomorrow.

Basics for White People

Out of a deep desire to do literally anything at all that might be remotely useful, I’ve done A Thing. I created this document. I call it “Basics for White People” and it is basically a crash course on the things I see white people seem to constantly struggle with understanding: our own privilege, the impossibility of reverse racism, the Black Lives Matter movement, and why it’s important that we educate ourselves (and each other) on these things rather than asking (or, for the love of god, expecting) people of color to do that work for us.

The document is only one page long, because it really is just the basics and I was afraid that making it too overwhelming might turn people off from actually using it. I tried to make it accessible. Essentially, it’s a compilation of other sources — articles I’ve found and read through, mostly written by people of color — and for each of the ideas listed above, I also included a “the concept in a sentence” line because sometimes it seems to help really drive home a point if you just state it in the simplest possible way. And these truly are basic concepts. Sometimes, it just takes us a while to punch through all that systemic and societal, for lack of a better word, bullshit.

Please feel free to use this link however it best serves you. Use it to educate yourself, use it to educate those around you. If you’re tired of explaining, if you don’t understand it yourself. Or use this compilation to mine the links and find further information.

Anyone with the link can view the document, and anyone is welcome to take the link and share it wherever you think it might do some good — to your news feed, in comments, through private messages, wherever and however. You can share this post, you can create your own new post with the link. Just use it if you think it will be helpful.

Magic and Storytelling

A few months ago, I went to Walt Disney World with my beautiful darling.  We’ve been together for about two years now, and this was the first real trip we’ve gone on.  We had an absolutely beautiful time (and we looked adorable).

However, as much as we loved hurtling through mountains and flipping upside with Aerosmith screaming in our ears, as much fun as we had stumbling around Epcot and watching all the animals at Animal Kingdom, we still are who we are, and so we got to talking – a conversation we dropped in favor of rides and fireworks and picked up again when we saw something that reminded us of it.

We were talking about elements of theme throughout the parks.  In Disney, everything is all about story.  When you walk around Animal Kingdom, for example, look at your feet – or, rather, at the ground under your feet.  The paths have been made to look as though leaves and animals have left their imprints there.  The corners of Magic Kingdom that are hardly see are still made part of the magic – a wishing well behind the castle, a sweet little side street where a singer practices in a window overhead.  No matter where you go in the World, you’ll hear music that evokes the spirit of the area you’re inhabiting.  Everything from the scents in the air to the taste of your snack is crafted to fit into the story Disney wants to tell.

Disney does this because they want to always be telling that story, and the creative minds behind it know that these details are the key to keeping that story going.  When the details stop, the spell, or the dream, of the story stops.

One of my wonderful critique partners is excellent at pointing out when my scenes are lacking details – when they need to be more fully rooted in the world.  We have five senses, and by manipulating our perceptions of them, we can change the way we – and the way others – feel.  Music is a commonly noticed way of doing this.  If we’re sad and we listen to happy music, we feel a little better.  If we’re happy and we listen to sad music, we often feel our mood begin to sink.

The lesson in this is, I think, two-fold.  For us writers, it’s to take a note from Disney when it comes to storytelling.  The things we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste all affect the way we feel.  And so when we use these things in our writing, we affect the way our readers feel.

But it’s for all of us, writers and non-writers alike, too.  So much in the world we have no control over.  And we can’t solve the world’s problems by listening to a happy song or smelling something that reminds us for happier times.  But we need to take care of ourselves, and while life happens and many things are out of our control, there are still ways in which we are all the authors of our own stories, and it doesn’t hurt to remember that we can make the dream for ourselves when we need to.

Meet Me at the Fair

This weekend, my love and I went to the fair!  I’m not sure how common they are in other parts of the country (or the world, for that matter) but here in New England, fairs are a pretty big deal.  We have a lot of them here in Maine, but the Fryeburg Fair is the biggest and most popular.  We braved the traffic and went to spend our day among the sheep and the fried dough.

We drank hot apple cider and ate fried pickles and Italian sausages.  We walked through a lot of dirt and got anxious in the big crowds.  We investigated charming booths and turned our eyes from the less charming ones.  We saw lots of sweet babies and chainsaw art and tractors.  I was excited about it!

Somehow the experience of the fair reminded me of what I love and what I truly dislike about my home state.  There’s something so simple and lovely about Maine – something I missed deeply when I lived away for nine months or so after graduating college.  It’s easy to feel enchanted with its beauty and its reservation, its distance.  It serves as an inspiration to me in everything I write.

But I need to remind myself that even the sweetest things have underbellies – even the brightest points of light have darkness.  And that there are times and places in which this is okay, and others in which it’s not.  When I write – even when I write about my beloved home – I need to acknowledge the darkness in things because my stories won’t be realistic without them.  And in life they need to be acknowledged too, not so they can take up necessary space (as they need to in fiction) but so they can be fought against.

It doesn’t do to romanticize: in writing, it detracts from the humanity of the work; and in life, it keeps us from making the world better.  Lessons learned at the fair.

A Portrait of the Artist at the Bookstore

On Friday, I went to the local cafe-bookstore, and I dedicated myself to a full day of writing.  I got there around 10:45 AM and I wasn’t going home until my boyfriend was going to pick me up on his way back from a family dinner, which I knew would probably be around 7:30 PM.  I was committed, and I felt great about it.

Except that I got there later than I wanted to.  And then the table I wanted in the cafe was taken.  And then my mom, who was going to meet me for a coffee and hang out for a while, had to leave as soon as she walked through the door to take care of an issue that had cropped up elsewhere.

But despite these setbacks and the heartbreaking lack of the corner table with the outlet, I ordered myself a salted caramel chai and I got to work.

And let me tell you, that chai was delicious.  I mean it was amazing.  It was the kind of chai people could write poetry about – the chai that brews in adversity, and all that sort of thing.  But despite the remarkable quality of my chai latte, I didn’t get much work done.  My mom ended up coming back when I’d only written a couple pages, and I spent the next hour-plus chatting and eating and otherwise ignoring the goals I’d set for myself.

However.  I am happy to say that after we got lunch at the food court in the mall next door, I returned to my post to find my corner table available once more.  I bought myself a simple cup of hot tea.  I plugged in my laptop.  I sprinted through the next few pages.

For the next four hours or so, I sat right there and I wrote.  Or at least, I alternated between writing and watching videos of other people talking about writing (but hey – that’s still pretty good for me).

My friends, I ended up writing ten pages that day.  That’s twice the number I usually do in a day!  I’m sure that’s not impressive by many standards, but for me that was quite a feat.  And when I was done, I bought myself the last slice of peanut butter cheesecake as a reward.

And it tasted awesome.  The sweet flavor of peanut-buttery success.

Not that I want these posts to be prescriptive or Ptolemaic, but as I’m writing this, I’m realizing something that I know will be helpful for me in the future, and maybe it will be helpful for anyone else seeing this too.  This day of mine serves as a good reminder: we can’t compare ourselves to others.  Success for me may not look like success for you, and vice versa.  We don’t need to accomplish the same as others in order to feel good about what we’ve done.  Set goals that challenge you but that, if you stretch, you can reach – and never feel bad about rewarding yourself when you succeed.

Turning Seasons

Sweet September.  No matter what else is going on, what stress I’m facing or what mental health issues I might be battling, there’s something about September.  Even when I don’t want summer to go, when September arrives it’s like I fall in love with it all over again.  Maybe it’s the air, the cool crispness of it.  Maybe it’s the leaves turning amber and making the whole world smell sweet and musty.  Maybe it’s the lingering feeling of that back-to-school excitement.  I honestly don’t know, but especially in New England, September brings a special kind of magic.

I wish I could talk about what I’ve been writing, but it’s too close, too fragile, too sweet.  Too alive, still.  I need to wait for it to ripen.

I wish I could listen to the album The Huntress and Holder of Hands is releasing next week.  Ever since Ireland, I’ve been obsessed with their song “Borealis” (you can listen here) and I know their album is going to be the soundtrack to my fall.

I wish I could fragment my days into shards, increase their surface area so I could fit more inside.  I want to read and write and love and finally finish Until Dawn.

I wish I had the energy to make everything in my life look beautiful, instead of just a smattering of curated images.

But while wishing is not necessarily a bad thing (especially at this time of year, when it feels as though we’re moving into the season when fairy tales take place), it’s also important to recognize those goals we have already achieved.

For the first time in a long while, I’m reading again.  Last week I read The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, which was a non-stop delight.  For the first time possibly ever, I’m writing every single day.  I’m keeping my spaces clean and tidy.  I’m nurturing my relationships.  I’m thinking about ways that I can better manage my life.  Things are good for me right now.  I hope they are for you as well.

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑