My number 1 favorite thing about residency is that I get to spend a week not explaining myself or enduring weird faces from people because all the other humans there are precisely my sort of weird/neurotic/thinky.
A close second, however, is that a lot of people there call me April Line.
I have a really cool name for a writer. Perfect, even. It’s as if my parents knew. Hell, maybe they did.
And then there’s the pursuant wordplay: April Line, you so fine; April Line, where’s my wine? Of course, I am in a tribe of people who, like me, enjoy the sounds words make when they scrape across tongues. We enjoy rhyme for its own sake. We slide words together in lines because they are fun, because of the sounds, because because words. The words do not have to be true. I am not fine in an objective sense nor do I make a habit of fetching wine.
My favorite thing since I got home? The thing that gives me more joy even than particularly delicious beer, running, or good food?
My Writing Workshop, the first of which happened last night. I met a new student. I had an hour of that lovely thing where I can talk about being a writer like it’s normal. I can explain to people who get it about the weird writer brain thing. I can help them cultivate their own, give them guidance for how to overcome their inner critic, I can talk about all the articles I read about writing and writers to people who are interested.
I am knowledgeable and there’s huge power in knowledge. It’s energizing. I got home feeling excited and light and right.
It is micro-residency. It is how I’m sure I want to be a writing teacher forever. Because to teach writing is to always have a way into that world, the world where I’m not just a loon who has a big vocabulary.
Come join the tribe. The workshops are fun and affordable.
First, Button Poetry. I’m sending you to their foundation page, but there are loads of wonderful, educational, inspiring, well-performed, energetic pieces on their YouTube channel.
Next, American Life in Poetry, a free column edited by former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser. It’s lovingly posted each week, and is a great place to find new poets to read/love/internet stalk.
750 Words is a semi-social online writing experience. It is not for blogging or for writing for public consumption. A lot of people who want to write have told me they’re paranoid about sharing their work, but that they’re at a loss for maintaining accountability. This is a site to help build the discipline to write every day, based on the concept of Morning Pages. You can make friends, get rewards, and have “friends” or writers you follow. Try it free for 30 days, after that it’s $5/month–cheaper than 3 pages a day worth of pens and paper for sure.
I have traditionally avoided funks by being addicted to productivity. If I am constantly in a flurry of activity, I cannot introspect enough to be depressed.
I become anxious if I’m not getting stuff done. (I think, lately, because I’m scared of facing myself.)
But this semester, I have intentionally lightened my load.
The result? I have been in a 3-month long funk of rage and sadness.
The usual thing (writing) isn’t helping. Neither is working out. Though I’m still doing both. Less than I’d like to be.
I have been getting much, much less done; and I’m trying to be okay with that. It’s hard.
I’m not saying this to elicit pity, so if it is your impulse to say something like, “It’ll get better!” and “You go girl!” please don’t. I know it will get better. I am totally going.
I am sharing about my funk because funk shouldn’t be taboo. Because women’s funk especially should not be taboo. A lot of us have memorized lessons that say, “contentment is not your birthright: internalize and adjust, you can make everyone happy.”
I’m calling shenanigans on all that. That shit is a recipe for an eternal motherfunking funk.
There’s a lot of media about women in extreme funks: substances and addiction, abuse, approximate or near life-ending funks.
This funk I’m having isn’t anything like that.
This is a low-grade, sometimes ignorable funk. But ignorable funks are dangerous: my intuition is lower, I feel like checking out. Ignoring things that are important can have lasting physical, emotional, and financial consequences.
But funks are also a healthy part of the process. And I’m learning how to use it to be a better person, instead of just ignoring it or launching back into a frenzy of hyper productivity. I’m making conscious, deliberate, steps toward no mo funk. Or low mo funk.
Part of my funk is the result of plugging into books about women, about feminism. Intentionally becoming more tuned in to my daughter’s education (which is fucking depressing and a post for another day). Paying attention to politics.
Looking at myself and the ways in which my religious, rural upbringing has shaped the way I think about myself and other women, how I have voluntarily believed(and sometimes still believe) I am not worthy or deserving of things that, frankly, I want. Basic things like professional fulfillment and money and self-assurance, confidence, and to be taken seriously by people in authority.
I’m staring the fact that I talk myself out of a lot of self-confidence directly in the face.
I’m trying to figure out how to stop getting in my own way when I want to communicate in important and meaningful ways.
I am trying to get to the locus of my fear.
I am trying to become a better woman so I can teach my daughter to be powerful and self-actualized and know how to ask for and pursue what she wants without feeling like an imposter.
And over the last few days, I’ve had a couple of experiences in my communities that made me feel relevant. And strong. And proud.
So I want to take this moment to be grateful for my communities and share them with you.
One of the communities, the best one is the Wilkes Creative Writing community. Just being connected to so many productive writers gives me the warm fuzzies. So many of my peers, friends, colleagues, and teachers from Wilkes are doing amazing things.
And an editor at a tiny press who has my manuscript has been sending me poems and links that my work reminds him of, challenging my thinking and being generally awesome.
And the facebook group dedicated to raising awareness to Opt Out of Standardized Testing for PA has provided assurance that I am not, in fact, insane. And encouragement and advice when I was seriously millimeters from letting apathy win.
I had a wonderful, long, simpatico conversation with a district administrator when I showed up to opt Child out of the PSSAs.
And last week, after a failed hour with Angie’s List and web searches for talk therapists in my region, I put out a Facebook update asking for recommendations of secular (you wouldn’t believe how difficult this is in my area), female talk therapists so that I can get help to untangle this mess in my head. This mess that I don’t even have specific words for. My friends delivered. And I even have insurance. Thanks, Obamacare.
It feels good to do things that give me power and that I want to do. Small steps.
Anybody care to share a moment of funk? Or a month or year? How did you get out of it? or How did you cope?
I think it’s always been that people believe they’ll write a novel and get rich. My friend Jamie wrote at least one blog post about this, and we freelancers often bemoan our shared plight of wannabe writers chasing that gravy train.
My world seems to be shrinking around the edges with the slew of people who have produced a manuscript after a long, lucrative career as something else, or during a lucrative career, or who believe that all people who’ve written and published a work of fiction are as stinking rich as Stephen King (which is not true. There’s him and JK Rowling. The rest of us are teaching or waiting tables or both to pay the bills).
I recently had a facebook convo with a grumpy mid-list author (who wishes to remain anonymous) and, certainly out of jealousy of the economic freedom to while away the hours, obliviously typing convoluted absurdity after stilted dialogue after overly obscure or pop allusion and then to pay someone to read it, we groused about having to schlep through tomes (that sometimes read like 70s performance art) in order to fund our writing.
When I say what I do, I never say, “I’m an editor.” I just don’t. I say, “I’m a writer.” Sometimes, if people ask if I make enough money at that, I say, “well, I also freelance as an editor.” Because, love or hate it, editing pays.
But my soul lathers whenever I read a beautiful book. I can barely make my typing fingers rest until I can get to a keyboard or a notebook. The words are in me. They thrum to get out.
And editing sucks out all my creative energy.
And it’s frustrating.
And I’ve been working so hard at writing for so long.
And I feel like an imposter already. I can’t handle clients with less than half my experience being graceless with my feedback just because they have money and I do not. I don’t have any more space inside for shit.
I dislike the power balance when the uninitiated, naive writer (regardless of his or her life stage) is signing the check and I am assessing the work.
The expectation is that I am being paid, not only to read the work, comment on its effectiveness, find its typos, fix its grammar, style, and usage, all without letting the writer’s voice get gobbled up by mine, but to respond thoughtfully to long, defensive emails or to listen to a client yak on the phone for an hour or two; and frankly, even after drawing clear phone boundaries, I just don’t have time.
What my clients paid me for was my expertise, my experience, my felicity with grammar and style.
What they got was a little piece of my soul.
I know that sounds insane and melodramatic, but I’m in graduate school for writing. Editing is one of the many things one can do with a graduate degree in creative writing, but I need to hone my focus. I need to be the guy with the manuscript for a while. I am the guy with the manuscript.
And I am smart and I have every right to have a manuscript.
This is my story. I’m tired of helping with yours.
I guess a gal can only muster so much cheer and helpfulness.
And maybe I’ll get back to it someday. Hell, even though I said I wouldn’t, I’m proofing a romance novel now. Just one toe in the door.
I’ll see ya’ll at AWP, or after. My next post will be all about that.
I’d like to extract my mind from myself, the artist’s plague, and shoot her dead. Or strangle her. Or perhaps torture her for a time, like she’s tortured me as long as I can remember; perhaps that would be a more satisfactory end for this piece of me, is it the Id? The Uberself? The built-in cynic with a penchant for the soul squash? My masochistic inner other.
You’re not good enough.
You never should’ve stopped writing those five years, when your kid was small.
I didn’t. Not entirely. I blogged. Badly.
It’s too late for you now.
I know. I’ll get my MFA when I’m 34 instead of when I was 29. 34 is practically retirement age when you’re a woman. I should just give up. I’m out of time.
You’re a phony.
I’m very good at tricking people. It’s just because I know a lot of words.
People like you don’t get to do this.
It’s true. I’m a brokeass from a brokeass family. I could never afford the luxury to create, to commit my whole self to what I make. I will always be lesser because I am poor, because I have always been.
Also, you are a mother.
That, too. Mothers’ writing is the worst, nobody cares about dirty nappies and what it really feels like to breastfeed. People care about war.
You will never go to war. Also, you will never publish your essays.
I’m afraid of losing the people in them. The ones who are really important. Much more important than my writing life, my artist’s soul.
Perhaps it is bold to say that we are all constantly pushing hard against those conversations. I picture myself between two tiled walls, my back against one, my feet flat against the other, pressing till my face is red, till my gut is herniated, till the muscles in my thighs lock and ache. Keeping that sacred space between, the place where I get to breathe deep and free and feel alive because I am making. Perhaps other artists face lesser negative self-talk. Perhaps other artists feel like it is their right to do what they must, to create.
And when I’m feeling rested and healthy and positive, which is more often, I am able to recognize all of that for what it is: fear. Not just fear of failure: fear of judgement, of self, of what happens when we let it out? Does it get lost? Do I get it back? If I let my mind really fruit, the ante will be upped, I will push myself to do better next time.
As it is, everything I write sucks as soon as it is down. The process of printing exponentially increases the suckage. The more I work on it, the better I see it is with my rational mind, the more it sucks. How can I live with everything I write forever and ever, published or in a secret journal or on some disk somewhere or in a drawer, sucking. Letting it out means it sucks. But I can’t keep it in!
And it doesn’t suck. Not always anyhow. If I were left to myself alone, I could never believe that.
So, as much as writing practice is alone, alone, alone; I prize my weird and wacky and mostly long-distance community of other writers and artists. These are the people who’ve helped keep me from lobotomizing that cunt who lives in my mind. The ones who teach me how to quiet her, how to shut her in a room with meditation. These are the people who will read this post and nod and feel recognized. These are the people who help me to know that I do not suck, my writing does not suck, and I have every right to pursue my passion.
So when the self-hatred begins to mushroom and permeate and threaten my very will to live, I remember that awful/wonderful movie, LADYBUGS, and I shout over the din, YOU ARE GREAT! YOU ARE WONDERFUL! EVERYBODY LIKES YOU!
You are, too. What does your self say? What do you tell it? How do you shut it up?
Most of us who are mothers have enjoyed a man, if only for a few minutes.
One of the things I do with my current man (he is worth it) is to (very occasionally) watch awful movies. The most recent? PACIFIC RIM. Really, Guillermo? My man said, “Yeah, he did it so he could get enough money to do something more interesting.” Somehow that doesn’t fly with me, even though it should: I wait tables so I can do something more interesting (write, read, grad school, general thinky awesomeness). I want artists who get paid livable sums of money, however, to be above all that.
The upsetting thing about PACIFIC RIM was not the poorly written screenplay, the wooden characters, or the insane, bullshit, lazy names for types of immense badass creature/robots. I mainly expect these things from CGI action apocalypse movies (I know, I know, there are one or two great ones, but pointing that out every time somebody mentions the general badness of the genre isn’t really doing anything to elevate our culture, is it?). The upsetting thing about PACIFIC RIM was that there was only ONE female character. Screen after screen of literal oceans of dudes. One of the halves of the Russian Jaeger team may have been a woman, but I couldn’t tell, and if she was, she got blown up sometime during act one.
Which leads me to the wonderful article by Geena Davis about making Hollywood less sexist. Take a minute and giver a read. You won’t be sorry. But in case you don’t have time, she suggests taking half of all male characters in any screenplay and making them women. No other changes, just played by a woman.
Which wasn’t actually where I intended to go next at all. I wanted to tell you about this NPR story I heard about Black Twitter that brought up a thing that makes me feel my privilege in a way that is, if more aware, certainly uncomfortable. Go listen to this NPR interview with Meredith Clark who’s writing her dissertation at UNC about Black Twitter. Or read the transcript. In the middle of a conversation about influential hashtags, specifically #solidarityisforwhitewomen, here’s the quotation that made me THINK: “#Solidarityisforwhitewomen when conversations about gender pay and the gap ignore white women earning higher wages than black, Latino, and native men.”
Yeah, howzabout that, anyhow? How can I help make solidarity for people of all colors? How can I be a better, more thoroughly informed ally? How can I do that without alienating good white male feminists? Or even just the white men I care about? Should I care if I alienate them?
Which leads me to this short French film called “Oppressed Majority where men are cast in typical women’s roles and women are cast as men–even pissing in alleys and running without shirts. The director is Elanore Pourriat. It’s only about five minutes long. If you’re like me, you’ll be all, Why did that make me sooo uncomfortable? The intro to the film is right–we stand for this very stuff every day when the roles are “traditional.”
Which makes me wonder why it does not make me uncomfortable that out of the thirteen short stories about motherhood I recently read (from a book called Stories of Motherhood) twelve had men who disappeared like the Russian Jaeger pilot, who were dead, or who were only in the stories peripherally, who the women in the stories seemed quite happy to be without? Of course, a short story is a different thing from a film, and in each piece, the absence of man/father worked to develop the conflict between mother and daughter (or son) and mother and motherhood. But why do women write stories about motherhood without men?
Which makes me wonder, too, why I tell other women I think they’re pretty when what I should say, and what is nearly always as or more true is, “I admire your mind. I am glad I know you.” Why do I tell my own daughter that she’s pretty more often than I tell her she’s smart? Why do I, sometimes thoughtlessly, passively participate in these age-old tropes, rhetorics, and massive piles of sexist bullshit that affect all of us women, the ones Justine Musk hints at when she describes the process of finding her Deep Yes in her TEDx Talk?
Any of you routinely getting your mind blown by your obsessions?
I was going to post something amusing today about literary submission + rejection and how it is similar to the worst parts about applying to college and online dating. Next week, I promise. I’m going to write a lot this semester about imposter syndrome, rejection, and the harsher realities of the writing life so that people don’t keep getting all doe-eyed and excited when I say I’m a writer. Also, maybe to stave off some of the retired would-be novelists…
But then I finished this little guy last night, and I decided it would be better to talk about him. Unnamed Zombie Rockstar, crafted about six months late for my darling Child. (It was supposed to be a gift for her July 30 birthday.)
First, I got this book over the summer. What it lacks in creative title, it more than makes up for in fun, mostly easy knitted Zombie projects. It’s called Knit Your Own Zombie. It’s by Fiona Goble. She lives in England, and SHE’S ALSO ON WORDPRESS. Lookee!
But let’s rewind. Last year at this time, I was living with a dear, sick friend. Her name was Judy. I helped her take care of herself and her house in her last days. It was a privilege and an honor to have shared that time, even though it was the second hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’m still not over it. She was a Knitter Extraordinaire. She knew how to do all the stitches, including Entrelac. And she needle felted. That’s a real textiles geek squee thing right there. She was among the most creative and intelligent people I’ve known. I miss her.
I learned to knit when I was in high school, but hadn’t really done a lot of it beyond a few years back when I knitted about a dozen hats for people for Xmas.
It’s peaceful. Some peace was called for over these past three or so weeks.
I was taking a break. A well-deserved one after the kinetic and vocational fury of the recently ended semester. Some time to think and breathe and plan for what’s next. There are revisions and a big paper and a new manuscript in the works.
And whenever I knit, I feel connected to Judy. I remember he sagacity: “Just trust the pattern. Suspend your disbelief!”
Which is good advice, and applicable to my life now, as it moves forward on a path that finds me mostly happy, content, and successful. And I’m living the dream. But I still have difficulty accepting it. I am waiting for things to derail, for a shoe (or two) to drop, when it really looks like things might just go well for a while.
Which is a good segue into imposter syndrome and some of the lesser joys of being a writer. Stay tuned.
But for now, tell me what you like to do when you need a break.
I moved twice, took care of my dying friend, had more freelance clients than ever, lost myself, found myself, wrote a book, experienced real grief, improved my love relationship, repainted and decorated a room in our house (w/ my partner) got a restaurant job after a long non-restaurant work spell, explained the concept of “biological father” to my child, told her there wasn’t a real Santa, had the furnace replaced in our old drafty house, went to a writers’ conference, made new friends, lost track of old ones, and reconnected with people from childhood.
It has been intense and difficult and magical.
At the end of all of it, I got a Master’s degree. That photo up there is my me and my mentor, Nancy McKinley after our moment during fake graduation the last night of residency. She’s a fiction and essay writer, and a feminist, and among my favorite people on Earth.
The Wilkes University Low-Residency MA/MFA program is the one I’m working through now (I write my MFA critical paper this semester), and It’s amazing. If you’re not in the know, low-residency means that you go to campus for a small amount of time each semester and do the rest of your coursework online or by correspondence.
One of the recent graduates from the program, Lori A. May, actually wrote the book on the best low-residency MFA programs. So if you’re interested, that’s a great place to start, and it’s no accident that she’s there, at Wilkes, out of any of the other many low-res programs available.
I think New Year’s Resolutions are disingenuous at best. Every year I, instead of making a list of things to accomplish, try to adopt a general posture of self-improvement.
This year, my blogging slump will straighten, I will focus my excess energy on writing and teaching. I will say no to things that don’t help further my goals.
Why are you telling me this?
I must seem like one of those attention-seeking internet lame-os. I am. But if you’re reading this, you had, at least once, a passing fancy for my blog, and I need to confess these things to help keep me accountable. It’s a lot easier to break a promise to myself than it is one I make to internet strangers.
So, dear Internet Stranger (Internet Friend, Real-Life Acquaintance, or Real-Life Friend), thanks for being here.
And know that I will post on Wednesdays for the rest of the year.
Once a week, about 500 words (probably sometimes way more).
For me, for you, for art.
And if you’re in North Central PA, go click Workshop Registration and join me for a study of blogging or of memoir. Next week? I’ll list five of my favorite memoirs.
* Lyric from a poignant song from Love is Dead by Mr. T Experience.
Last grad school residency, my cohort was required to attend a panel discussion of agents and editors. As I’m sure you can all imagine, we were chomping at the bit to impose our tendrils of ignorance on these people, the very ones we hope will help us realize our writerly publication dreams.
They said that almost none of their authors are making a living from writing alone.
They told me that I’m living the dream already.
That was heartening.
Living the dream means cobbling together a living from constituent parts that allow your writing to flourish, that don’t make you miserable. That give you both enough time and money.
Tricky alchemy, that.
I write every weekday morning from sometime between 5 and 6 a.m. to sometime between 7 and 8 a.m.
Then, I teach on Mondays and Wednesdays.
I work in a restaurant on weekends.
And I do freelance writing when I can get some that doesn’t annoy me, even if it pays shit.
I take on clients. I am interested in coaching/teaching and developmental clients. I am booked through January, though, so if you are interested, gimmie a buzz and we can get you on the calendar. Not to be a wanker, but Karma’s been on my side since late March, and I’m in increasing demand.
At the end of this week, I will have completed the first revision of my manuscript. It is twelve personal essays. About a week after that, I will have completed my second revision, and it will be “ready.” I will embark on my personal trek of hellrejection submissions. I have a list, a strategy, and a budget. That’s a future post.
I’m calling it a memoir. I have the worst ideas for titles, so if I sell it, I’ll let you know what they’re calling it.
I have my half dozen beta readers lined up. These people deserve to be sainted.
The book is called FEAR AND WHAT FOLLOWS, it’s available for pre-order on Amazon. I’ll be reviewing it in the Sun-Gazette’s lifestyle magazine in the Fall issue.
A guest post I wrote will be on Jamie Chavez’s blog next week, on the 16th. Go subscribe to her so you’ll catch it when it goes live. Another post I wrote about creativity, that will only be on Jamie’s blog, will show up there another time soon.
Doesn’t sound too glamorous?
But it’s rewarding, and I am, for the first time in many, many years (maybe ever), truly content.
I’ve read and heard a lot of writers talk about their relationship with a particular talisman–I forget who has a mug with Gold Letters that spell Writer across it. Some of my friends paste quotations in their writing spaces. Some writers advise the utmost in tidiness, a veritable sensory vacuum, or discomfort, or writing with the lights off, or writing with your back to the monitor, or writing at a treadmill desk.
I’m not overly superstitious, nor am I overly tidy, so This Mug, which I advised you to buy on Monday, has helped me get back on the express line to my draft. I got derailed a bit just before AWP. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve got pages due on Saturday.
It’s okay to get derailed, as long as you remember–sooner rather than later–to get back to writing like a motherfucker.
*It does not escape me, the misogyny inherent in the word Motherfucker, but it strikes me as meaningful especially for that reason, and readable as a colloquailism whose meaning would be more aptly conveyed as “badass” or “person (male or female) of particular bravado.”
Sugar = Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, some other books, once secretly a Rumpus advice columnist, and probably a million other things, too.
Write like a motherfucker is what she advised Elissa Bassist to do. Bassist is a New York dwelling woman writer who wrote to Sugar saying, “how do women become the writers they want to be?”
There, Strayed & Bassist’s conversation is a beacon of hope for writers of both genders: encouraging and witty and funny and warm and delicious, a hamlet of surety–to my mind–that women writers will not always be considered twee and lesser, just because they have vaginae.
Twee is a word I learned at AWP. Go on, look it up. At first I thought the woman who said it was being onomatopoeic. But then I whipped out my M-W app & was assured that she was not.
The most important thing to do is to write. Write like a motherfucker.
I can tell you that I’ve been writing like a motherfucker, the most mothers fucked I’ve ever written like, since January.
I have churned out 160 Manuscript pages (mostly nonfiction, some fiction), maybe 50 of these are recycled or expanded material.
I do not say this to brag. I say this because I have written loads and loads of stuff since I was a small child, so I have always written like a motherfucker by most people’s standards. If I had all of my journals from forever, they would probably stand in a stack to my chest. I can’t imagine the stack of paper if I printed everything I’ve written, every draft I’ve revised.
Now, I’m writing like a motherfucker to my standards. And mine are the only ones that matter.
My point is that you can always up your game.
So however much time you spend writing now, double it. Then double that. But don’t freak out if you get off the track a little bit, or if you have to take a day off. Take it, then get back to it.
Remind yourself, as often as you have to, to Write Like a Motherfucker.
Get the T-shirt, or a mug. A talisman. Or clean your writing space till it looks like an ascetic monk lives there. If you write best when you’re doing a yoga pose, do that. If you need to engineer a device by which you can hang by your feet from the ceiling, do that. If you love those quiet morning hours as I do, before everybody starts to need you, get up early.
Any writers reading want to share their talismans or rituals? Advice? Words to the wise?