Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pictures and People: A blog on writing...sort of.

Pictures.  If you're like me, you've gone mostly digital by now, memories recorded in cell-phone and on the hard-drive of a computer.  We don't have the shoebox of photographs, the stack of albums stuffed to near-explosion with yellowing pictures of times long past.  Okay, I'm stretching the truth here just a little.  I still have a shoebox.  But the photographs are old.  I still have a couple albums, the stick of the pages long since undone, glossy plastic covers coming loose.  But these pictures pre-date the shoebox.

Still, I remember sorting through pictures with my mother.  I must have been somewhere in my tween or teen years.  The memory is rough around the edges, blurred as if a negative laid atop another nearly identical scene and that atop another.  I think she and I must have had many such sessions, most unworthy of separate recall, recollected in group and bound by the thematic blend of home/safe/happy.

I was sitting on the couch, flipping through pictures in a shoebox.  It was one of several laid out for review, each filled with old memories: the prior summer's vacation, the old apartment where we used to live, various renditions of my brother and myself at an unchanging four years' difference.  I was looking at a picture, one of a seeming thousand just like it:  a sunset at the beach, a patch of scrub in the desert, a blurred flash of a lizard scuttling its way across an asphalt road.

"Why?" I asked my mother.  "Why do people take pictures without other people in them?  They're never that interesting."

My mother had various answers to the question.  At times, my mother would ID the photograph as being significant of a new camera or my father's unending fascination with the fuchsia.  But, more often, she would shake her head and say she didn't know.  People, after all, make everything more interesting.  

Years later, another memory.  My mother is busy in the kitchen, bustling red-faced and flustered, fending off offers of help that are more trouble than temptation.  It must be Christmas, or a gathering much like it given the number of people jammed into a house far too small.  I am trying to take pictures with my mother's camera.  The room is too dark and the quarters cramped, but I pick my way through snapping blurred pictures of people mid-bite, mid-word, mid-life.  

Sometimes, I will ask them to smile.  It is a mixed response.  I get a few smiles ranging from toothsome to toothless as lips clamp shut over some presumed dental embarrassment.  From others, there is only reproach: a glare, a frown, an honest-to-goodness scolding.   

There are people I never photograph.  They turn their head, lift their hand or emptied plate to block the slightest attempt.  I have far too many pictures of hand-covered faces.

Why are there pictures without people?  Because scenery doesn't shift, requires no cajoling, offers no rebuke.

I always think of this when I think about non-fiction writing, about this blog.  I do not share stories of real  people very often.  I try to limit my words to the scenery.  Occasionally, my mother will slip in at the edges, my nieces.  My father has had a cameo or two.  There are others.  It is hard to excise people completely.
There are those who would say I shouldn't try.  Pictures are more interesting with people.  But then I remember the up-held hand, the shield of a dirtied plate, people twisting and turning to avoid capture on film.  Isn't this so much more invasive?

What would I think were any one of them to write about me?

The answer has me sketching trees, a scampering squirrel, that long-ago blur of a lizard.

WOK Entries:  Current with this entry
Magic Spreadsheet:  11,290 words since June 2, a 29 day chain, 472 points

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

And they’re off…! A tale of jell-o.

Wow.  Quite the build-up.  Nerves.  Wringing hands.  Research.  

The act itself was almost simple.  A few file and saves.  A last minute edit.  A flash drive.

We’ll pretend it ended there, that I didn’t open and re-open those files, testing, re-testing line breaks, titles.  We’ll pretend I didn’t have second thoughts, third thoughts, didn’t drop a poem or two from the packet, didn’t make strange screeching sounds as I uploaded and then hit…submit.

It was an odd sensation…rather like throwing a baseball into a vat of jell-o.  There’s the wind-up, the pitch…and then jell-o.  The anti-splash.  It’s out there.  My poetry is out there, just hanging in lime-green limbo as I wait for the rejection.

I’m not letting myself think of the alternative.  The idea of rejection…is comforting.  Exciting even.  An affirmation of the status quo, a tick in the “yes, I’m really a writer” box.  The idea of publication, on the other hand, is a little frightening.  I think maybe publication will be the death-knell for all of my excuses.  

After all, if a magazine is taking me seriously…maybe I have to take me seriously.

The jell-o wobbles, holds firm.

I wait.

WOK Blog Challenge:  Current 
Magic Spreadsheet:  9,908 words, 24 day chain, 332 points

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The 24 Hour Conundrum

I have been on this planet for 33 years 9 months and some odd days.  We're talking upwards of 12 thousand days.  And every single one of those days has consisted of a mere 24 hours.  This never changes.  We don't get to slip in an extra hour the night before an important work presentation or school paper.  Not even the night before Christmas on those pesky Christmas Eves where you've waited till the last minute to wrap the ten billion gifts still bundled in their department store plastic bags and sitting in a haphazard (at times dangerous) pile of unrealized Christmas cheer.  

There is no mercy.  None.  

And, no, don't you dare talk to me about Daylight Savings.  It's stupid.  It doesn't count.  Because where, on one end, they give us an hour, they take it away on the back half.  So.  24 hours.

It's not enough time.

I have spent today with one goal in mind.  Okay, that's a lie.  It's been a busy day and I had lots of stuff to do, important stuff, important-to-me stuff.  But, at the back of my mind, was the one thing.  I've identified the first of a handful of magazines I will be submitting stuff to in the next few weeks.  And I have one last round of suggested edits to evaluate, implement and/or discard before I'm ready to send the first selection of poetry out into the world on its own.  I have to do this.  I have a singular rejection slip sitting in a drawer somewhere.  It's getting old and lonely.  It needs friends.  But I'm sitting at more than half past 8 in the evening, and I haven't started.  Somehow, as it has so many times before, the day has escaped me.

I dragged myself out of bed at something past 7 this morning and straight into the computer to sort through the god-knows-how-I-wracked-up-that-many auto-save docs on my computer in search of the one poem I didn't get saved to the hard-drive before the computer decided to "update" things.  Yes, I know this is my fault but I feel better when I put things in the snotty little quotation marks.

Then I proceeded to agonize for an hour on the title.  Poetry group was set to start at 10 and I couldn't bear the idea of presenting another "Untitled" poem.  I really should number these things.  An hour later, I decided to move on to the even more agonizing analysis of the line breaks.  I talk about line breaks a lot, but they're important.  A line break gives shape, emphasis, can affect the way the poem is read, is heard, is said aloud.  They are important.

And let's just put it this way.  I got the line breaks sorted, but not the title.  Even giving up on the quest for titular greatness, I ended up racing for the shower, slapping on a rather mismatched outfit and I was racing...or driving the speed limit...on my way to poetry group with my two erstwhile offerings:  the one I had wanted to bring, and the one I knew I should.  If you write poetry, you'll know what I mean.  And, if you don't write poetry or even if you do and you still have no idea what I'm talking about, just call it crazy poet-brain.

We were a small poetry group today, but had great fun.  The community spirit of poetry group is a balm.  I do not rush groups, nor my own leisure; I am not fierce with my time, just envious of tomorrow's untapped stores.  Both of my poems were well-received and discussion may have sparked a title for one of my two untitled submissions...sadly not the one I'd spent the morning agonizing over.  

Then there was a pick-up at the parents' house.  I'd left zucchini in their fridge.  I'm on a zucchini kick.  I was not letting the squash go.  So I stopped in and visited for a good hour or so...probably a little more into the or so.  Have I mentioned that I don't rush leisure?  It was a pleasant hour (or so) sitting in the backyard and talking New York with my mother, poetry with my Dad.  What's to rush?  I had a whole 24 hours...

Long story short, think post office, lunch, a book-club reading selection to dig into, blog to write, frozen yogurt to eat...and why are you people not feeling sorry for me?  I mean I have to catch up with my sister-in-law in Candy Crush...I don't know how she passed me!

Long excuse short?  I'm getting all of my fun stuff done today.  Poetry.  Blog.  Candy Crush.  Visiting in the backyard with family.  So what that I didn't get the one thing done.  There's always tomorrow, right?  And, yeah, someone out there is probably being a wise-alec and pointing out that I've got a good 3 hours left in this day.  Except I'm writing this blog.  And then I'll be posting the blog.  And I should have another life in Candy Crush by then...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thick Skin (And a Row80 check-in)

As a child, I was never what anyone might call thick-skinned.  An unkind word or raised voice was, invariably, enough to evoke tears, snot, a whining keen unique to the under-five crowd.  And, much as I wish otherwise, the habit stayed with me well past those pre-school years, whining keen aside.  This, of course, was a source of much frustration for my father who was prone to a reflexive bark.  He told me once, many years later during one of many long talks, that my lack of fight during those growing up years was disappointing.  With any given rebuke or rejection of inquiry, I would accept it as due (or pretend to) and retreat in tears to lick my wounds in private.

But everyone grows up.  Tears are corralled, defenses fortified, the facade made new.  Somehow, and against all odds, the functional adult emerges.  

Nonetheless, against such a backdrop, it is odd to find myself the owner of an exceptionally thick writer-skin.  Over the years, my work has been deemed selfish, boring, grammatically incorrect, unpolished, archaic and confusing to name a few.  With the exception of selfish, I have swallowed them all without comment and been glad for a full belly.  I would take any one of those words over the canned "good" that marked a number of my submissions both in school and after.  The goal is, after all, to improve.  And I have a thick writer-skin.    

It didn't start out that way.  I remember the absolute terror of my first critique group as a student at BC.  I spent days agonizing over which poems I would submit, which masterpieces.  Despite the vanity of such a thought, I was afraid.  My stomach was pitted with nerves, a vague sense of horrified expectation settling onto my skin.  The act of handing in the stacked copies was significant, the week-long wait for review excruciating.  And this despite the fact that I had, against the teacher's well publicized advice, submitted that which I thought to be perfect.  

This is a no-no for any writer, any poet, any person who asks for critical review.  Do not submit that which you believe to be perfect.  Because it is not perfect.  

That's the part I didn't get.  

17 years old, I figured I would bring my best work, bask in the glory of non-stop praise (or rather cower in full blush), be affirmed in my self-appointed role as poet and writer-extraordinaire.


I sat in that classroom, utterly still, utterly silent as every strip of baby writer-skin was taken from me.  In hindsight, there was a gentility to the process, a plucking away of feathers rather than a flaying of the flesh.  In that moment, I couldn't have articulated or recognized the difference.


There were kind words.  There was even praise.

I heard none of it.

I was fixated on the word:  selfish.

At home, sitting in the backyard after dark with my father, my baby writer-skin still burning, I expressed my theretofore unspoken outrage.  I spoke at some length, waving my hands about in the dark as though a mime suddenly and for the first time required to speak.  It is a habit I maintain to this day in phone call conversations, and prayers.  

"Selfish!" I said, my hands pushing at the dark.  "Selfish!  That was my best poem!  It's a power poem!  And they called it selfish!" 

There was silence for a moment and then my father looked me.  "Well, was it?  Were they right?"

And, perhaps this too was habit, I thought about it...for the first time.

I won't sit here (or blog here) and claim that my uber-thick call-it-crap-if-you-want-to writer-skin developed overnight.  I worked for it.  I contemplated every harsh criticism, found most all to be accurate at least in some part, worthy of consideration and far more helpful than praise.  Nor will I claim I don't get just a little bit nervous reading my poetry at the poetry group or hearing my work read at the Sci Fi Group.  I don't post my blog links on Facebook.  I'll be honest; I don't want writer-me, family-me and work-me to mingle.  It gets weird when they're all in the same room, and Facebook keeps trying to arrange play-dates.

But I've realized something through the years.  I want to be better.  So...bring it on.

And, yes, to answer the was a selfish poem.

WOK Blog Challenge:  Up to date with this entry
Row 80:  250+ words a day, check.  Writing every day...YES!
Magic Spreadsheet:  7,741 words since June 2, an 18 day chain, 196 points.

Row 80 Wrap-Up:  June was good to me.  Everything prior to June I'm ignoring.  Lol!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Stories as Persons: A Row80 Check-In

Sunday.  A quick Row80 check in.  I have now written for 15 consecutive days.  I cannot remember the last time I was able to say that.  I am having some trouble picking up the pieces from day to day.  I’ve been struggling around a story idea, putting out words without managing to combine them into one cohesive unit.  It’s frustrating, and yet…there’s a sense of satisfaction in the fact of the word-count.  I have a fragmented, disjointed start of a story that I think could be really cool.  I wouldn’t have had that if I hadn’t been writing something.  

And, I’m a little hesitant to say this for fear of jinxing myself, I’ve had another story idea pop within the last couple of days.  I’ve been working at that one too, finding its words a little more easily, dropping into the characters, learning the characters.  I don’t think the idea is as interesting as the other, but I think it could be good.  And I know the characters will be more relatable…I think this explains the greater ease with which they’re coming to me.

In a weird sort of way, I think maybe Story #1 is more like me in personality…a little stand offish, hard to approach.  And Story #2 is the person I wish I were, the kind and effusive personality, warm and welcoming, familiar. 

Yeah, I know.  I’m a dork.  Stories aren’t people.  But they do have personality.  And, just like in life, I want only to work on #2.  Because it feels good to work on a story that gives back.

The trick over the next week will be to divide my time.

Row80 Update:  250+ words a day, check.  Writing every day?  Believe it or not, yes.
Magic Spreadsheet:  6,487 words since June 2, a 15 day chain, 141 points.