Sunday, January 24, 2010

Where are you now?

The first year I was in public school was the fourth grade. Another new school in a new school district and I did not know anyone, had not grown up with those children. Private school kids can be mean, but public school kids are meaner.

There was a girl - she was skinny, with long brown hair and holes in the knees of her jeans (jeans? kids get to wear jeans to school here? rad.)

She did not have friends; the other kids told me she was a witch, that she could hurt you without even touching you. Well, I came from a Catholic school and I totally believed that. Some people just got the Devil in them, and apparently this girl did too.

She was quiet. She sat by herself and she read. Everyone avoided her, except for the girls who were mean to her.

One day, I saw her work her deep, black magic. A boy was playing on a playground toy; it was a strange toy, made up of metal pipes with a bench for sitting. The toy was dome-shaped, and that bench was in the middle. I have never seen a toy like this since.

The boy, sitting on the bench inside the dome-shaped toy, called out to the little girl as she was walking past. Something rude, and she stopped dead in her tracks. She turned toward the boy and slowly started to walk over to him. He made an exaggerated show of scooting backwards away from her, as though he were afraid she really would hurt him. She walked closer and closer and he scooted farther and farther back on his bench, until he ran out of bench and fell over backwards. As he toppled slowly backwards he smacked his head on the metal pipes that made up the dome-toy.

Adults came running and carried the boy off; his eyes here glassy and he had a righteous lump forming on the back of his head.

I am pretty sure I had joined my peers in taunting that little girl; I discovered that you can fit in with others by behaving the way they do, and I am sure that I was mean to her just as the others were.

Until that day, when I saw her do no more than stand in front of a boy. She wasn't a witch; she had merely figured out how to turn people's own fears against them. People gave away their power to her, and she used that power. I am certain I thought she was exceedingly clever after that.

I got to know her a little bit throughout that school year. I shared my lunches with her because she never got more than PB&J (which I NEVER got) and I got vienna sausages (which I thought were gag-worthy and she loved because you could spear them with a stick and eat them in one bite).

We moved again before the year was out and fourth graders don't keep in touch with one another. I never saw that little girl again and I wonder about her. Where is she now? Is she a doctor or an artist or a scientist? Does she write books about flowers and track the migration patterns of small birds? Did she stay in Sacramento? Maybe she is a psychologist, teaching people how to manage their fears and retain control of their power? Maybe she has children, and she gives them peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and vienna sausages in their lunch.

I don't remember that little girl's name; I don't remember the name of the school we attended together. I doubt I can ever find her again, but I hope that she surrounds herself with people who treat her with more kindness than our child-peers did.

And if not, I totally hope she still intimidates people into hurting their own selves like fools.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I got a message the other day in my Twitter inbox asking me how the writing was going. Oh yeah. I had big plans to write more. Every day, in fact, for at least one-half hour.

How's that going, huh? Oops. More like, how's that not-going? Ask me that, and I'll tell you: Great! I'm really succeeding at the not-writing.

Tonight I was feeling crabby. Actually, I have been feeling crabby for days. I haven't been writing, I haven't been exercising. I am working on using fewer contractions in writing and in speech, and that always makes me a little crabby.

I decided the solution to tonight's crabbiness would be some yoga. Wow. Usually doing yoga while crabby is exactly what I need. Tonight it just pissed me off. It also helped me realise again just how out of shape I am. I can no longer sit in virasana without my knees feeling like they belong to a 90 year old. I managed to go through a few motions, but it really wasn't there for me.

I dutifully recorded my exercise in my log book, and became further annoyed when I saw that my last entry was in September.

No wonder I feel all stiff and out of shape.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The form of writing

I have been spending the past few days analysing how I write, and how I think my writing is supposed to happen. I am enjoying having my methods challenged.

So much of what I have been reading lately espouses the butt-in-the-chair approach; the sit-your-ass-down-and-write-already method of writing, leaving well-developed characters and highly researched plots at the door - not as a permanent approach, certainly, but as a means to get away from the "one day" mentality (as in, "one day I'll be a writer").

This approach liberates and scares me; inspires me to write and makes me roll my eyes at the utter chaos of it. It grinds up against my deeply-ingrained beliefs that writing is a defined process - defined by research, citation, track-down-able facts.

That is one way, of course. Not the only way, obviously. I love the idea of this new way, even as I sort of want to hold it at arm's length. It's like the seductive little sister of the grown up thoughts I have, whorishly baring her breasts at me, begging me to put aside my "data" and my "facts" and sit my ass down and write...

I was chatting with Mantramine ages ago about writing, and she asked me if I ever put loud music in my ears while I write. Music? No. Gross.

Until now.

My stick-in-the-mud ideas about the process of writing do not include music. No, when I write the only thing involved is my furrowed brow and my glasses on a chain around my neck. When I write I get my librarian skin on; my librarian is very stern-faced and serious.

Today I decided that some music might be a nice change. Just for something different. I'm trying out some new ideas, different ways of approaching writing, so climbing out of my librarian's skin seems like the most painful, perfect way to challenge myself.

And you know? It's a little bit awesome. Mantra gave me a gem.

I am reminded of the importance of of challenging myself, of not following my own patterns and habits just because. Today, just now, right this moment (okay, sometime between my shower this morning and that second cup of French press coffee that wired me to my eyeballs, but whatever) I acknowledged that sometimes just because I believe something to be right doesn't make it so.

The really neat thing about this particular lesson is that I don't always recognise it for what it is so I get to learn it over and over and over. Fun, huh?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Writing is hard

I am focusing today's daily writing on acknowledging the difficulty of writing. I think this will be a common theme for me, because I have a lot of thoughts about it that aren't done forming in my head.

One of Jack Heffron's writing prompts is to write about the positive messages we receive about our work, and to keep those messages visible to ourselves when we start feeling badly about our writing in a way that prevents us from succeeding.

I am reminded of the saying that we are "our own worst enemy", and it is certainly true for me. I have never received one negative message from anyone about the quality of my writing, yet I have quite often felt as though it was bad. Unimaginative, boring prose that no sane, intelligent person would want to read.

Recently I wrote that my dad told me how good he thought my writing is. Arguably, dads are supposed to support us and tell us that our art is good even when it isn't, but I think I can tell when my dad is lying.

My Aunt Alyce, who isn't really my aunt but I have claimed her as such, gives me so much support and positive love about my writing.

My friends, both "real" and bloggy, give me the most positive messages of all.

Even the criticism I have received from friends to whom I have entrusted my fiction for review has been constructive, positive feedback that I can use to better my writing. In truth, I am the only person to be so judgmental of my writing; to read it and then delete it in disgust, to pick apart sentences and criticise structure and stance.

If I could get out of my own way long enough to finish a project I might actually un-learn that behaviour. I wonder if the words that leak into my head and demand to be written are my own psyche's way of really forcing me aside so this creativity can come out. Perhaps that overwhelming need to write that I get is not actually true inspiration pouncing upon me, but my brain's way of forcing the creativity out of me; the creativity that I stifle by telling myself that I am not a "real" writer or that I don't have enough talent to pursue anything beyond writing-as-a-hobby.

Wouldn't it be neat if my unconscious knew better than my conscious what was best for me?

Listing love and hate

One of the exercises in Baty's No Plot? No Problem! is to make two lists before writing your own novel: one is for elements we (as writers) enjoy about other's books and one is for those elements we do not enjoy. This is not meant to be a literary critique, but simply as a tool to identify what we like to read and what we don't. Baty's philosophy is that if we write something with elements that we enjoy reading in a book we will have fun writing our novel and we will stick with it. Conversely, if we write something we wouldn't enjoy reading then we won't enjoy writing it and we'll give it up.

Makes sense, no?

I decided I needed to have my two lists on the wall behind my desk so I can swivel around and look at them from time to time while writing. So I bought a big roll of butcher paper and some of that magical adhesive substance that doesn't ruin paint and made my lists.

As I began, some interesting information was revealed.

    1. I tend to look for characters who are introspective and who learn from their mistakes.
    2. I most enjoy female characters whose personalities (haha) reflect my own.
    3. I intensely dislike characters who put up with emotionally abusive or manipulative families.

These are certainly not surprising facts, but I found it interesting to see it laid out in a list. I began remembering the characters and plots of books I have most enjoyed, and realised that all the characters I most enjoy reading are those with whom I can personally relate on some level. Furthermore, that I base all my fiction female characters on myself, to some degree.

I wonder how many writers model their main characters after themselves. Is this narcissism at its finest or are we simply writing about what we are most comfortable?

As a side note, you know how I've got this obsession with the Twilight Series? Those novels have most of the elements from both my lists. I guess that explains the love/hate I've got with them.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I have a date

I've been seeing NaNoWriMo around the internet for years. I heard vague references to it on people's blogs, and stumbled across the forums once, but I never really paid much attention to it. I have so many writing projects dying in my brain that I didn't think I could possibly take on one more, and one that requires you to write a whole novel in one month at that.

But then I found out there's a book on how to write a novel in a month, written by the founder, and I was instantly interested. Anytime there's a how-to book on something, I have to have it.

So I took myself off to my favourite local bookstore; in addition to finding the book I was looking for, I also found The Writer's Idea Book. A how-to, of course, with prompts; over four hundred of them, and I'm in love.

One of the prompts is to have a dedicated time to write at the same time every day; I wasn't very good at taking my birth control pill every day at the same time, and I am equally awful at setting aside time to write every day. I tend to write when I am woken up in the middle of the night by crazy, demanding words. It seems simple-but-brilliant to set aside time. How did I not know about this? I spend so much time feeling like I can't write to save my life, and then someone comes along and gives me a gem of an idea that sort of makes me want to bang my head against the wall, it's so bloody simple.

So, the idea is that I'll spend a certain amount of time -every day, at the same time- at the place where I do my writing. I don't have to write, but I can't do anything else. Of course, I do all my writing at my computer, but that is also where I do anything else, so maybe I ought to pick a different spot for my writing-on-a-schedule?

Like so many other things I try for five minutes and then abandon, I suspect that I'll forget this the moment something more mindless comes along (I have four episodes of Vampire Diaries recorded and a hat that needs knitting...) but it fits in nicely with my goals for the year, so I'm going to give it a go.

Oh yeah, by the way... I might even give NaNoWriMo a try this year. Won't that be sexy?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Goals: old and new

I like closure and I love lists. Here's a little bit of both:

For me 2009 was about:

    Being inspired
    Making new friends
    Being lost

I would like focus my energies in 2010 on:

    Follow-through (yes, again)

Last year I worked on follow-through; I didn't do as wonderfully as I could have but I think I made progress. Which is what the not-resolution is about for me. I hate the concept of making and blabbering about big, serious resolutions, like save a thousand dollars or lose a bunch of weight or quit smoking. All honourable goals, and certainly worthy of being "resolutions".

No, for me the problem is that when I make such resolutions I fail. Miserably. I bite off more than I can chew and I overwhelm myself almost immediately. Enter guilt, shame, and remorse which lead me toward behaviour that is entirely counter to my original resolution. Dumb, huh?

Several bloggers whom I follow have focused their years around concepts; words that trigger an idea they work toward in the coming year. It is a very slight shift in perspective when thinking about "new year resolutions"; in principle, maybe it's the same thing. But for me, and I assume others too, thinking of concepts that I will try to draw into my life over the course of a year is much, much different from working towards a stated resolution with a (potentially) unrealistic time-line and so much pressure to not fail.

So it is with no guilt or shame I carry 2009's concept of follow-through with me into the coming year. Even though it is something I still need to work on, I did make progress in that area; something else that I experienced in 2009 was acceptance: acceptance that I will not always be perfect; acceptance that simply working towards a goal can be good enough for me. While I am generally self-accepting, I also tend towards perfectionism and being hard on myself when I feel like I haven't done it right, so this last one is sort of a big deal for me.

Another main focus for 2010 will be art. I have a couple hobbies that fall into the 'art' category and both need some stimulation: writing and fibre-crafting. I can work on both my goals at once, really, since it is often my art that suffers from lack of follow-through.

What do you do to gain closure from the last year and transition into a new year?

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