Recently, I wrote an article about some of the students I work with. I tutor writing and English at the local state college, and since I love the work, I was inspired to reflect my feelings on paper. When it was published, I proudly emailed it to my supervisors. Both of them took time out of their busy schedules to read it and both praised the piece profusely. While their words were kind, I felt a bit deflated and even slightly forlorn. These emotions confused me as I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of reaction I was looking for. At the very least, I guess I was hoping for a spot on the employee bulletin board and a brief, self-indulgent flash of notoriety. Perhaps I even wished that my email, article attached, might have been forwarded to the dean. Certainly, I decided, my feelings were somewhat childish, and even though I had not expressed them out loud, I was embarrassed. For all I knew, half my colleagues were published authors and could probably care less about some little newbie writer. The entire episode forced me to re-examine my motives and ask myself, “Why do I write?” As a sort of therapy, I composed a few thoughts:
I have to write something every day. Sadly, some days I only write a sentence or two. Other glorious days, I have four or five hours to write. If I am deprived for reasons beyond my control, I must do something pseudo-writer-ish like wasting thirty minutes editing a simple five sentence work email and enjoying it entirely too much. Even weirder, I find myself getting a little too creative with the grocery list and using overly descriptive, flowery adjectives to describe items like a bunch of bananas or toilet paper.
Life is a series of writing prompts. If I don’t capture each one, I feel as if I might miss an opportunity to write something decent. This is sometimes a challenge since life doesn’t always stand politely by so that I can take notes. Technology generally comes to the rescue in the form of my cell phone, email, and Evernote. Utilizing this technology often takes some ingenuity depending on the activity of the moment. For example, stop lights have become an opportunity to jot notes regarding whichever article happens to be writing itself in my head that day, instead of just another annoying pause in my daily commute. Note taking while running poses an entirely different problem. You would think that an Evernote recording might be the perfect solution in such a situation; but alas, I am usually entirely too out of breath for that. Plus, the whole-looking like you are talking to yourself-thing is a little strange. Therefore, I have devised a system whereby I kind of jog in place for a brief moment while I type into my phone. Unfortunately, this usually results in a sentence that looks something like this, “Gee Blue Hero Was Staying so? E rocks waiting for best fast.” By the time I get around to transcribing it, I am rarely able to remember what I was trying to say! In these instances, auto correct is not my friend!
I keep little notebooks everywhere. In addition to the one I keep in my car, I also have one on my bathroom counter in case some interesting concept pervades my psyche at 2:00 in the morning. Should this occur, and it often does, I simply stumble sleepily out of bed, scrawl whatever it is down on paper and head directly back to my covers. This “scrawl” can also be quite the struggle to decipher the next day! Regardless, the entire exercise does manage to somehow capture those elusive life prompts and safely anchor them down before they can float away. At day’s end, or whenever I have the chance to write again, I gather my emails, Evernotes, and notepad scrawls and transfer them to my laptop with the intent to someday, in the near future, turn them into something more. What that will be remains to be seen. I just like to think it will be more.
Once upon a time, I actually made a steady paycheck doing something else other than writing. Every other week, a respectable amount of money magically appeared in my checking account which enabled me to pay my bills. While I was financially comfortable during this period of time, I was also miserably unhappy and consequently couldn’t write even a sentence. My little muse, stressed out and sad, went into hiding and refused to come out until the day arrived when I was no longer making that respectable paycheck. Now I write full-time and make little to no money. I also tutor college students in writing, work that I love which helps pay my ever-present bills. Although I must now stretch my paycheck to pay those bills, at least dry cleaning is no longer one of them, and I save a lot of money on therapy.
So, at the close of this little exercise, I am satisfied to conclude, in all honesty, that I truly do write for the love of (and obsession with) writing. In the end, I’ve decided, it truly doesn’t matter how many times I am rejected or whether I ever become the next Flannery O’Connor. It doesn’t matter that my article wasn’t posted on the employee bulletin board or that the dean hasn’t seen my latest contribution to the literary world. I write simply because I am fueled by the desire to do so. If I am rejected, I eat a lot of chocolate, and maybe drink some wine, okay . . . a lot of wine, and I move on. Writing is and will remain my great passion, and while I often feel alone and voiceless in my own creative solitary world, I never feel lonely. And that is good enough for me.
I am a lousy conversationalist. Really, I am. This assessment is often difficult for my friends to accept since I am a people person and can strike up a conversation with anyone; so, make no mistake, no one is safe from my own personal brand of social lunacy. Neighbors, coworkers, even unsuspecting passersby are all potential victims. Even the person in front of me in the grocery line might be targeted for an inane and pointless exchange should I happen to notice some intriguing item in her cart!
The fact of the matter is, I am a terrible rambler and for those of you who know me and think I possess the gift of gab let me tell you that there is a tremendous difference between an enjoyable, animated conversation and someone who simply cannot cut through the-you-know-what. Yep, I am a digresser. I digress all over the place and over the years my tendency toward random and often off-topic chit-chat has become an increasingly painful process for my listener. The gentle art of conversation is like the verbal version of an oil spill to me. It begins as a slow leak, and pretty soon there is information all over the place. For some reason, I am unable to leave a discussion that is sufficiently informative, well enough alone. I am inexplicably compelled to throw in extraneous details that the listener doesn’t need or really even want to know as if there must be something else I could add. Surely, my captive listener will want to know all about the miscellaneous nuts and bolts of my personal life like why I am so busy I can’t find time to get my car into the shop, this morning’s brutal commute on I-95, last summer’s vacation, the evils of plastic shoes, or the benefits of baking with chickpea flour that somehow seem to come out of my mouth when conversing with total strangers. Apparently, I feel the need to use these examples to illustrate a point when, in fact, further illustration is not required. The most unfortunate part is that I am aware I am committing this offense as it is happening. Nine times out of ten, I am left scratching my head and asking myself, “Now why on earth did I say that?”
Then, there is the insurmountable problem of my brain which seems determined to move infinitely faster than my mouth; i.e., I am unable to speak fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. When immersed in lively conversation, I vainly attempt to keep up with my thoughts by speaking faster and faster, but often what comes out is a run on sentence or dangling participle usually peppered with verbal ticks added for color. “Y’know”,” so”,” I mean”, even the occasional “Dude!” are all part of my repertoire. Given my propensity to slaughter dialogue, it is imperative that I never lose my temper. Not only because no one actually enjoys losing their temper, but when I lose mine I am in grave danger of sounding like Darren McGavin in Jean Shepherd’s “The Christmas Story”. “Not a finger! (naddafinga)” I believe is the famous quote from the movie and a prime example of what is likely to come out of my mouth since I lose all ability to string together a grammatically correct sentence in moments of intense stress.
This brings me, finally, to why I love writing. Writing allows me to control my verbal diarrhea and edit my words. I’m not saying it’s easy. Editing my written words is just as difficult for me as it is to stop them from incessantly spilling from my mouth. Maybe even more so; however, in the end I have the perfect version or so I like to tell myself, of what I want to say. Writing allows me to ramble and not feel quite so idiotic about it since no one else has been subjected to the idiocy of the discussion.
With writing, when something inane jumps out of my mouth and I have one of those, “Why, on earth did I say that?” moments, editing makes short work of those regrettable words. A simple gentle press of the delete key and they are banished forever nary to be thought of again. That’s the good news. The bad news is that now that I write for a living, all of my friends and family may very well stop talking to me and simply read the abridged version!
I was thrilled, after a very scary year of unemployment, to be hired as a part-time writing tutor at a local community college. The job was a perfect fit for me, and I felt right at home. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to manage my time and deal with this new commitment on top of my old responsibilities or switch my brain back an forth between working and writing mode. My creative output ground to a halt. I could not understand how I could be so responsible and efficient at work, yet so inefficient and unprolific at home. This simply did not compute. Other writers seemed to manage. I have read about those super writers who rise at 4:00a.m. to squeeze in a couple of hours of work before the day begins. 4:00a.m.??? I can barely get out of bed at all in the morning let alone rise at 4:00a.m.! In order to exorcise this demon that was blocking my so-called muse, I decided to create some guidelines for my current inefficacious state. Since there is so much material written across the media regarding how to be a writer and that wasn’t working for me, maybe a little reverse psychology would. So, without further ado, here are my guidelines for how not to be a writer:
- Be sure to have a monumental stack of bills on your desk. The stack will serve as a constant reminder that you don’t have two nickels to rub against one another and visions of homelessness will be so distracting you won’t be able to string a sentence together.
- Have a teenaged daughter close at hand who requires a great deal of chauffeuring with extra driving required for soccer practice, Green Club, chorus rehearsal, chemistry projects, football and basketball games, and other social events such as movies and birthday parties. If you don’t already have one of these young human deterrents handy, I am quite sure that there is a parent out there who would be more than happy to supply one or more for a nominal fee.
- Take on all household responsibilities such as making phone calls, (two hours on hold with the IRS last week!!!!), scheduling home repair people, running errands, grocery shopping, taking the dog to the vet, doing laundry and cleaning the house. You must be enough of a control freak to firmly believe that no one can do these things as well as you and you must never accept any offer of assistance with any of these chores.
- Randomly determine that making Snickerdoodles is absolutely the most important thing on your to-do list; so important, in fact, you must drop everything to make them.
- Spend inordinate amount of time researching MFA degrees because surely spending another $40,000.00 on your education will propel you to writing stardom even though your existing degrees and huge student loan haven’t brought you even remotely close to stardom thus far!
- Spend equally inordinate amounts of time investigating mundane things on the internet like why the orchid has withered since its repotting, a deliberate ruse regularly employed by you to avoid writing when things aren’t going well.
- Waste lots of time dreaming of winning the lottery and moving to Bora Bora.
- Last, but not least, make sure you immediately retreat into a black hole of despair the minute any submission is rejected. Eat lots of chocolate while ensconced and refuse to come out thereby, yet again, successfully avoiding the laptop.
So, there you have them! Follow this regimen closely and I can pretty much guarantee that you will not succeed as a writer. However, should you decide to create your own How not to be a Writer guidelines, search carefully amongst the words, punctuation, and clauses. You just might find your errant muse hiding behind that orchid, mischievously eating chocolate, and patiently waiting until your back is turned before making a break for it to Bora Bora.
December 25, 2013
I am obsessed with Microsoft Sticky Notes. In fact, my desktop is so littered, I can barely see my icons. Sticky notes have replaced the messier paper version that organized the daily mess of my life; without them, insanity and chaos reign! Each sticky note is personalized with a unique color. My general “To Do” list is green, the note for my copywriting business is purple, the home repair list is blue, and my New Year’s Resolution note, I decided, would be yellow. I didn’t have any resolutions for the New Year as yet, but my plan was to be particularly selective this year. There would be no “Lose weight”, or “Eat less chocolate “, and certainly no “Drink less wine” namby-pamby stuff on my list this time around. No-no, this year, the only entries worthy of New Year’s Resolution status would be important personal goals; y’know, like running a marathon or climbing Everest. Typically, I arrive at my New Year’s Resolution (s) on Christmas Day, because, to be honest, I am too busy to come up with any ideas sooner than that. This year was no exception.
Christmas Day, 2013 was brilliantly sunny, and a very cold thirty-six degrees in Mooresville, North Carolina where my husband, daughter, and I were visiting Mom and Dad for the holiday. Gifts had been opened, breakfast had been consumed, and everyone had gone lazily off to that comfortable place we all go on Christmas prior to the preparation of the big evening meal. The house was cozy, and a fire rose merrily in the grate. My daughter was busy video conferencing her friends about her Christmas loot, my husband was shopping online for Christmas specials, and the dogs were four paws up. Mom and Dad, grateful, I’m sure, that we were all occupied had probably gone off to rest, and since I was not at home, and work, laundry or other chores did not beckon, I was free. This seemed nothing short of sheer luxury to me, and was the perfect opportunity for some serious me time.
Thirty-six degrees was a bit cold for my Florida blood, but I went for a run anyway. The golf course was closed for the day, and the opportunity to commune with Mother Nature in such a beautiful setting rather than running on the road was too good to pass up. There was no one in sight. As I ran up and down the hilly cart path, terrain I was quite unused to, I began to ache fore (shins) and aft (Achilles). It had been a good day. So far, I had managed to do absolutely nothing, and since I don’t consider baking or cooking anything other than a labor of love, that didn’t count. My thoughts, when I run, tend to either, randomly gel and develop into something I can write about, or gel and are dispensed to the trash bin icon in my mind. The faster and further I ran, the more I enjoyed my me time, so it was only natural that today, as I reveled in my twenty-four hour respite from everyday life, I would eventually begin to wonder why such a gift only came once a year. Why is Christmas Day the only day of the year that I have no chores, no errands, nowhere to be, and nothing on my to-do list? In other words, why does this very special day that allows me to think and focus clearly for more than a thirty second time span only come once a year? This seemed downright egregious to me.
This concept continued to puzzle, and eventually I came to the conclusion, somewhere around the third mile that something needed to be done. I trotted along frantically attempting to warm my hands one at a time in my vest pockets, thinking furiously. No disrespect to Jesus intended. I know what Christmas is really about and who was born on that day, but something really needed to give regarding the lack of me time in my life. Things were at a desperate impasse. You know the situation is bad when you are so busy, you become seriously annoyed when you have to break to use the bathroom. I needed more time for writing, more time to take care of pressing personal errands, like getting a haircut, time to go to an occasional movie with a girlfriend, and even though I don’t wash my car every weekend, I’m not a guy after all (!!!), I would like to clean it occasionally if only to avoid that inevitable day when someone writes, “Wash me!” on the trunk. Sigh . . . ., and well, to tell the truth, I would give just about anything for an occasional pedicure.
So, there you have it. My New Year’s Resolution will be to celebrate Christmas Day aka Me Time more than once a year. In 2014, I plan to throw in a couple more of these special personal holidays into the mix, and while I might not be celebrating Jesus’s birthday and I won’t be climbing Mount Everest (You didn’t think I was serious, did you?), I can assure you that if those days provide enough time for a pedicure, there will be quite a bit of thanking the Lord going on!
Happy New Year!
Moving forward, I intend to offer more light hearted copy here as the blog page of this site is really intended as a “meet and greet” and a place to feature random bursts of creativity that gel but somehow never turn into full posts or feature articles. Thanks for reading and I hope you will return!