A month ago I took a step back from producing fresh work on my novels. It has been a hard block of weeks and I wish I could say that my coffers were brimming with words, but they aren’t.
This week my two best writing friends had some exciting news. One agent took her whole book, the other had a few chapters requested. This is big news. This is years of hard work on both of their parts. This is motivation.
They have both been writing fiction much longer than I have, but it doesn’t take away that sense of feeling like I’m tagging along behind older siblings (though one of them is younger than I am). If I’m honest I have been sitting around feeling sorry for myself the last month which isn’t something I’m prone to doing. It needs to stop. Today.
I went back to the gym today and I know this bite of information seems incongruent to writing, but it isn’t. When I feel strong in my body, I feel more clarity in my mind. Though I have been active with disc golf, it hasn’t been enough to really given me the same feeling as lifting weights. A persistent foot injury because of increased outdoor activity has also made it harder to get out and play as much as I want.
Today at the gym, I got that old feeling back–the one that helps me push limits and reach for more. I started editing The Secrets of Womanhood again this morning, amid the kitten circus, but with headphones on. Sometimes I need to get out of my own way. I’m hoping to have the complete manuscript edited by November so I can have it ready for my next outside beta reader. This is my goal. Bigger muscles and bigger dreams.
This is my note wall which houses editing ideas for my first novel, The Secrets of Womanhood. It also has filled in with ideas for my second novel, The Hunted & The Hidden. What you can’t see to the right is another wall full of sticky notes for all the other projects I currently have my fingers in.
Let’s just say it is all a bit overwhelming.
I finished the first draft of my novel The Secrets of Womanhood on March 31, 2020. This novel was over ten years in the making. It was something I pulled out every year, added a few lines, felt discouraged and put away. Last year when I started going to a writer’s group, I began working on it in earnest. The problem with this novel was that in its first draft is more fictionalized autobiography than fiction. The story arc isn’t where it should be. The characters under developed because of one personal issue or another.
By the time I started the second draft, I was no more sure of what I needed to do to make it better. The pandemic was in full swing and I used this time to write a collection of poetry with a friend, I took poetry workshops online, and I proposed a fresh novel idea to my small writing group. The proposal went well, and it fell into a brainstorming session that set me on fire.
For seven weeks, I wrote a chapter a week. Sometimes a chapter in two days if that was all the time I had with a busy summer schedule of work, new kittens, and disc golf. This week I hit a plateau in my desire to produce anything. I think my over productive tendencies have finally caught up with me in the worst way. I spread myself too thin, and now I lack the momentum to get going again.
Much of the problem comes from not wanting to be a disappointment. I love my small writing group because they elevate my writing and they are two tough cookies with editing. They don’t let me get away with anything. We are brutal with each other and then also caring and tender.
(Shhhhh, don’t tell Jerry I said that. He hates feelings.)
Another part is I think the pandemic is finally taking its toll on me. I can do more social things, but not the social things I want to do. It has taken me a long time to curate friendships and I miss the human connection and the freedom to connect that we had before all of this started. We are all staying safe, but it makes me feel lonely sometimes. I find it very difficult to produce enjoyable work when this happens.
Today, I passed out on the couch for an afternoon nap. I rarely allow myself to “waste” free time, but the air was cool in front of the fan and I had a kitten curled up behind my knees. The sky was brilliant blue with cotton candy clouds. The recipe was right for recharging. It is hard to recognize in this age of instant gratification, perfection, over-production that we all need to slow down and take a break. Re-cooperation is what drives meaningful work. Go ahead, give yourself a free pass. You deserve it.
I have had a lifetime of powerful dreams. Many of these I can still remember in detail from twenty or more years ago. There was a time in my life where this ability was heightened and my recall fantastic. If I look back on these times it is usually when I am under great emotional duress.
Recently, I have not been under such stress and the dreams fade away without being remembered. The ones I do remember I interpret as I believe our own minds do try to tell us things. This isn’t a post about dream interpretation though, it’s about how some of those fantastical things can be turned into short stories! Think of the potential.
I’m going to share a dream from June of 2017 which was a very hard time for me. This will eventually become a short story along with the others. Maybe it will be a book of short stories. The world is wide open.
The Dream (6-8-2017)
In the dream I am standing in a parking lot without cars in the company of unknown people and I look around for someone I know. I don’t see anyone so I go to the side of the lot and start to do yoga. I feel like I am waiting for someone. The parking lot is near the ocean and I can see the sand. I stop doing yoga and go over to the beach and feel the sand under my bare feet. I can see a storm coming in the distance. The sky is dark and grey. I am standing alone. I hear people screaming and feel wind on my back. I turn around to see a tornado coming. People are running. I run from the beach to a long wooden bridge like a boardwalk or dock towards a group of houses. I am running with other people to warn others about the tornado. We run to the end of the boardwalk and there is a house. There are several people who tell me to go down into the basement via a ladder. They tell me when I get down there to move the ice around to make feathers. In the basement, it is a small room like a bunker with a chair and a bed that is made. I move the soft ice around with my foot and make patterns. It is not cold on my bare feet. We stood there for a while with no one talking. There is a dim light in the corner. Someone opens the hatch again and says we can come out. I do not remember climbing the ladder out.
When I am out of the basement, the storm is still going on and I can see two tornadoes. I walk down the boardwalk this time in no hurry. There is a car there which has my clothes in it and I am only half dressed after coming out of the basement bunker so I grab some clothes. I look tattered and disheveled. When we are walking I see a large wooden fence to my right and hear the wind loudly. I feel the wind pushing me from behind and I am watching green trees sway in the wind. We keep walking and on the boardwalk a man who is next to me wants to buy food from a man on the side of the boardwalk. The seller is standing under a white tent. I crouch down to look at what he is selling and it is hot dogs and some other meat. The man next to me grabs handfuls of meat and gives the man money. I buy nothing. I stand up and watch the man walk away with the meat.
Last night I attended an online workshop put on by the local library, which featured a writer who was also once a literary agent in NYC. This was a grand opportunity to learn some upcoming steps I will have to make to shop the first novel I completed this year.
The business end of traditional publishing is overwhelming and I can understand why many people take the time to write novels but never publish them. Or how they never quite finish their novel so they don’t have to think about the process.
During the session, the audio messed up when it came time for me to explain what I was working on and this started my frustration and anxiety. I never really got another chance to get the same attention the rest of the writer’s received, so I felt let down. Technology is not always our friends.
This workshop has two parts, and she assigned us the task of finding five current writers (within the last five years) who we feel have some relationship to the novel we are working on whether it is style, subject, journey etc. Trying to figure out where your work would fit among those already published is hard enough. Then to ask you to compare your raw, unpublished work with those who have sold millions of copies is daunting.
If I’m honest, I never thought I’d finish the novel, anyway. I had started it ten years ago and would take it out every few years, add a few paragraphs and put it back. It was something I attempted but failed in my mind. My background has always been heavy in poetry and I have been writing since I was ten years old. My father was a poet, and I spent my life trying to capture every beautiful moment I saw to connect us in our estranged relationship.
When I started publishing poetry in the small press, both online and in print, I met other writers and began dabbling in flash fiction, short fiction, and micro fiction. These always felt like extensions of poetry to me and I didn’t consider myself a fiction writer until I attempted the novel. Because of this, I never thought about finding an agent or ever moving beyond the small press.
Having my work published was satisfying if one person told me they experienced something from the piece. This has always been the basis of my desire to publish. I want the reader to feel something for a moment… to pause or look at the world in a unique light even if it doesn’t change them profoundly.
Somehow, I lost grasp of this last night. Being vulnerable and rejected repeatedly for a novel I’ve worked so hard to complete put me over the edge. I had a sudden wave of imposter syndrome which made me want to give it all up. The thought of doing all the business side truly makes me not want to write anymore. This is sad because writing is all I have ever known. It saved my life on so many occasions and has brought me to the dearest people in my life.
After the workshop, I locked myself in my room and cried while crocheting. My best girlfriend talked me off the ledge with her kind, matter-of-fact positivity. My boyfriend asked me a series of questions to tease out the genuine reason for my fear. Together then brought me back to center. Things always feel impossible until you begin them. The thought of what it will cost you emotionally and mentally are often less than the high price tag you place on them.
I have spent a life overcoming impossible odds. Now is not the time to give up trying. For all of you folks out there feeling down or that you are the biggest impostor in the world, just know we are all there with you. Be kind to yourself. Dig a little deeper. Work a little harder. You’ve got this.
“Do you ever have those days when you feel so disconnected you aren’t sure you exist?” asked Sound.
“But you do exist, because I see you sitting there. I hear your voice. I can reach out and smack your pouty mouth if I want to,” said Fury.
Sound sighed. “I know I exist, you asshole… I’m just saying that sensation of utter despair and complete invisibility gives the impression of non-existence.”
“How do you know you exist?” Fury asked.
He challenged her to explain the things in the world that couldn’t be captured. He made her furious for sure and smiled knowing he was aptly named.
“Didn’t you just confirm my existence a few minutes ago? Why do I have to prove it to you if you have already proved it to yourself?”
The space between them filled with an electric and violent silence. The conversation went nowhere fast. Each of them lived their lives as separate sides of a coin. Neither of their faces could be seen at the same time unless the universe stood on its head.
Sound loved her brother just as much as she hated him. She knew Fury felt the same about her, but what were twins supposed to do with that indelible mark? That gossamer seam stitched them together whether they liked it or not.
“You have to prove it because I know you love the musicality of your own voice. Why do you think we are having this conversation in the first place?”
It’s strange, but as a child I was not into collaboration. I feel like this is when we would be at our most viable to handle it. Our egos don’t get in the way. But as I have gotten older, the more I love to collaborate in some way. It pulls the mind open. It gets uncomfortable and this is where your craft grows. In 2010, I did a fair bit of poetry crafting with my friend Brad Burjan. Many of the poems we created together were published.
I would later go on to work on short fiction in a collaborative setting with people I had never met before and learning to trust where they were taking the story. It is an exercise that allows you to play and take chances you otherwise may not have taken. I started using conversations with other people to create characters for stories. Things began to have lives of their own.
Collaboration has so many levels of sharing. It can be in your face construction of a piece of writing or art. It can be subtle in the sense that another person’s presence in the room or the sound of their voice lends to creation. Often we take collaboration to be this big undertaking but it is truly about interaction with another person who has their own unique picture of the world. Never be afraid to try something that makes you feel on the edge of your comfort zone. You’ll come back happier than when you started.
Please enjoy this poem from 2010 by Brad Burjan and myself:
Generation of Guns
Sometimes these bones are strangers, touching each other in the night like blind/deaf lovers. They call each other by name, their words Morse code vibrating into fresh cells.
Like frightened armies cut off at the river, they move together in the trenches, faces smeared with mud, limbs articulated with their sentences hovering in the open mouth of the air…searching.
Legions of men rise and fall in this mist, this place of stopped time and stolen history, exhaling the exposed wounds we’d rather not carry.
All that dried blood of reality pools and hardens in cold chambers— in a generation of guns now frozen in the memory’s trigger and I’d rather shoot the teeth out of love than admit defeat or truth.
So I’ll just sit here choking on every syllable that weighs down my throat, and cease to resist destiny.
This new website was created to be less about personal life and more about a writer’s life. But yesterday I realized that these cannot be separated. Not if you are doing it right. Yesterday I was able to participate in a workshop put on by Shuffle Collective during their Weekend of Words. This has been a free event of poetry and writing. It is something to connect us in this time when we all feel physically and mentally disconnected from our surroundings. Allie Rigby spoke about writing from a sense of place, from the environment that you belong in, and it started me thinking (more than I had already been).
This pandemic has affected me in more positive ways than negative, and I consider myself lucky. It has taken out all the busyness of my life and pared it down to what matters the most. There has been time to start a new job, to complete projects, and to finish my novel. I have had the opportunity to get closer to my child in a meaningful, more adult way. This mother’s day I was treated to an insightful letter from my eighteen year old. I’m amazed at how far they have come in the world.
In this time, I have become closer with my two good girlfriends. This has always been a challenge for me. Women have continually stabbed me in the back my whole life. But these women have given me pause. They accept me with my array of faults and eccentric behaviors. They don’t mind that I’m a forgetful hummingbird most of the time. They lift me up when I can’t see myself in the mirror and let me know that the warped image I might see is not real.
For poetry month, I did something different. I jumped on an acquaintance’s prompt train because I was determined not to write a month of death poems for my mother. Not this year. Not ever again. He has always been a poet that I admired and one that I published when I was in that capacity years ago. Every night for a month, we wrote poems as a call and response. I had never done this before. I had always gotten a prompt and had to dig up, sometimes painfully, a poem that I only 40% liked.
This was different. Everyday, I collected random lines from the world. Things from nature or memories that floated into my head. The worries about pandemic and fragile loved ones. The grief of losing a way of life I didn’t realize I had established. At the end of the night, I would take his prompt and construct a poem from what I collected. It was an organic feeling. It was beautiful. What a gift to be able to see something new about yourself and your craft. I’m forever grateful to him for this. Along the way, we found a friendship too that is more deep and centered than I might have expected.
I’m not sure I have ever felt more whole in my entire life. All the years of grief and death. All the losses and terrible endings. All that suffering feels washed away with spring rain. This pandemic will change us all. Some in good ways and others not so much, but I think perspective means everything. This is a time when nature and universe has given every living being the opportunity to look inside themselves and see what they are made of. You owe it to yourself to do this instead of grasping at what was or what should have been.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the beautiful women I know who are loving their kids, other people’s kids, fur babies, and lifting other mothers with their compassion. It’s a great day to be alive.
At the beginning of the pandemic in the U.S. I was working in a rural Emergency Room with a large international presence in the community due to several universities. I had a deep and terrible feeling months previous to this pandemic and had started looking for nursing work in different areas. I had started interviewing in November.
I had worked in Emergency Services since 2006. Fourteen years is a long string of being in fight or flight mode for twelve hour shifts, most of which I spent on the night shift. My life was shortening. I was feeling like I was getting more sick all the time. My ability to maintain relationships was getting weaker. Simply put, working in emergency areas can give you PTSD that you don’t even realize you have. Front line workers shrug it off and keep going because that is what expected of us.
This morning, before getting out of bed, I read an article at The Atlantic which my friend in Alaska had posted which talked realistically about what this pandemic means for America and how it won’t be over in a few weeks. This recovery and even stabilization will take more than a year. Economically we can’t afford to have everyone lock down. People will starve, but it will be hard to determine how to bring services back without creating areas that breed infection.
These are all things you know if you’ve been on your phone or computer and at least reading non-hype postings. This pandemic is something that our generations have never experienced before and I think we never prepared for because we, as Americans, have a false sense of invincibility. When things get fixed we have a tendency to smooth them over and forget they happened. We move on. In some cases this is what makes our country great, but in others, it leaves us looking ignorant of the truth.
I’ve been thinking about how to live my life in this age of pandemic and isolation. I am not feeling too bad as I started out an introvert, but this forced isolation made me realize, despite whether I socialize with people or not, I spend a lot of time out in my community watching life move. As a writer, I am a natural born observer. It is a comfortable place for me. The shelter in place order made me a little insane the first week because I was thinking of all the things I was missing instead of all the things I had gained.
I have plenty of time to write, finish art projects, read books, cook beautiful, healthy meals for me and my child, to make my house look nice, and to spend more time reaching out to people than I would if I weren’t in this situation. What I have learned is that I had taken my little world for granted. A walk in the sunshine feels so much different than it ever did before.
In order to survive the next year to eighteen months, you will have to shift your perspective to look at the things you could gain. Can you find free online courses through Coursera? Can you be a citizen scientist over at Zooniverse? Can you start that novel you always wanted to write? This is the time to fill your life with creativity and reduce your concentration on fear based tactics in the media.
I’m still in healthcare. My child is also an essential worker and all we can do is take the proper precautions and stay positive. I hope all of you are doing your best. You are doing enough. Take care.
Life is a series of submersions into sound. It creeps into the psyche and takes up space in vacant gray matter. The noises register there like squatters—alarms for work, alarms at work, the sound of a child breathing, the cat’s impossible half cry, the washing machine, the balloon stuck to the heating duct—all of them attached to some innocuous memory that never seems to elevate the heart rate. Never causes a sense of fear.
But the noise of too many humans crammed together in a small space serves to derail every nerve ending in the body. It causes synapses to vault into high gear and the world becomes amplified. Hypersensitivity bleeds all of it together into sonic chaos.
What if we could float to the ceiling away from their voices, rip ourselves apart with bare hands until it all goes into a state of lucid cataplexy? People talk, machines work. Movement for which we know makes sounds, but none register. It’s a struggle to recover the senses, to convince the ears to work again.
Stepping into the evening air there was a silence that caused every lost thought drip from the brain. Reality was maddening. Who knows how it will continue?