Missing writing…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been taking a holiday from writing of late. It all started with my knee surgery and recovery – then my life was so focused on pain management (knee replacements are not for the shy of pain, and two at once made it quite an intensive focus for a time) and then the resultant MS flare-up afterwards that I couldn’t think in a straight line. Everything was pointed toward getting my knees better.

I’ve missed writing. I haven’t been able to do it, and it is like a missing tooth, an empty space that my tongue goes to again and again. But trying to pull words out of my head via my increasingly untrustworthy fingers was impossible.

But I long for it. I went to New York City, feasted my eyes on characters who wanted a story, from the sad Italian guard at St. Patrick’s with the too long pants, to the bejewelled lady on the bus who insisted I “must” go to the Frick, to the surly waiter at McSorley’s who shouted “It’s your lucky day!” Everywhere I went, I spoke to people, driving my travel companion mad, no doubt. But everyone had a story, or conjured up stories in my head. Even the sculptures in the Met spoke to me, told me of the lives of the sculptors or the models, murmured tales of strength and suffering.

All inspiring, but my longing for writing hit me when I got back from my trip and ran flat against tragedy. Horrible, gut-wrenching tragedy of a life gone awry, of people damaged beyond belief through the great evil of one man and the world around them. World damaging disasters that crushed many in their wake hit, too, wars, poverty, despair.

You see, in a story writ by me, I can create the characters. I can make them flawed and I can make them suffer. I can wreak revenge. I can offer hope. For better or worse, my characters often misbehave and I have to adjust the story to fit that bit of personality or experience they kept hidden from me. But overall, if I find the situation unbearable, I can “bearable” it. I can add heroism in tales of darkness. Or I can toss the story in a bin, let it go without a backward glance.

In life, though, we have no control over the narrative. We watch other’s stories, feel their pain, are inadequate to the task of changing anything. We can rewrite our own story, yes, but bits of the past are left sticking out like burrs or sticky left-over pieces of chewed gum  clinging to our hair. We toss our heads in the breeze, feeling our thoughts blow away, only to find our hands are enwebbed in our hair, trapped.

George Grey Barnard Je sens deux hommes en moi

George Grey Barnard
Je sens deux hommes en moi

So when I meet tragedy (and oh golly there’s a lot of it these days), I yearn for the comfort and safety of the page, where I can step safely into a pretend world, either by reading it or writing it. That world can be stopped as easily as closing the computer or shutting the cover of the book. Would that we could stop real tragedies so easily.

Do you not know me?

sticky-quotes_080912_what-you-do-for-a-living-does-not-interest-me-i-want-to-know-what-you-ache-for-and-if-you-date-to-dream-of-meeting-your-hearts-longingwtmkIt’s a line from Moll Flanders, by Defoe. A book from 1722, yet the question is still valid.

Do you not know me?

Who does know another person? Sometimes I wonder if we all wander about, selves packaged in different boxes, pulling each section out depending own we are with. It’s not that we are dishonest, exactly, more that different parts of us fit better with different people. So who can really know us?

I’m taking an excellent Teaching Company course with the brilliant professor Arnold Weinstein. I’ve taken other courses with him, through Coursera, and he is such an impressive speaker and he understands and interprets literature so well I had to purchase this version from the TC (thanks Marie-Danielle for telling me about these people!) Weinstein dissects treasures of literature: Moll Flanders, Bleak House, To The Lighthouse, Proust, to name a few. He brings in humanity, the what if of the characters and the writers, not in the “analyze the green light at the end of the pier” way of high school, but wrapped in his knowledge of the times. He has a few gaps. He assigns to Moll an avarice, without saying anything about the grim status of women at that time if they did not have money. And of course, he relies rather heavily on male writers, but that is the way of things.

The best thing is that he brings universal themes into the discussion of the books, and makes me think about them. Thus the wondering about being known.

Coincidentally, I’m also reading a graphic novel, “Are You My Mother?” by Alison Bechdel.(The brilliant founder of the Bechdel test!) It, too is all about being known. About how it is only in writing that we end up actually defining ourselves, or others. Whether we write in journals (note to children: should I die, burn before reading), or stories, or lists (as in the very creepy Walt, by Russell Wangersky), we reveal ourselves best, I think, through the written word.

Alas for relationships, we rarely share those words, instead relying on speech and actions, those malleable things, to let others know who we are. True, we are what we do, but our motivations – ahhh, those are a different kettle of fish, often known only to us. And perhaps that’s a good thing.

We can figure them out, but it requires acute attention, a rare thing. I once knew someone who studied me, got to know me so very well, read my mind almost. It was unsettling, though I was grateful someone had finally seen behind my screen.

But I am comfortable, partially shielded, and knowing that is part of knowing me, too.

Do you not know me?

So, about that being a writer….

from:http://writerscircle.com/2013/09/writing-perspectives-so-you-want-to-be-a-writer.html

So You Want to Be a Writer
By Charles Bukowski

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

Fallow fields

Tis the winter of my not writing…but for a change, it feels more like a resting field than a concrete parking lot.

I can feel the life under the surface, the worms and bugs and roots and earth, cold now, but resting, not dead. As in winter garden, there are still twigs standing, bits of last years’ life, shrouded with snow now and hoarfrost. They show me where the growth will start in spring, they direct my attention.

My writing field needed a rest. Sometimes personal and physical challenges are too much, and require a retreat from writing. I’ve focused on non-verbal creativity, and it’s been a welcome break. I figure it will be another month or so before the fields start to warm, begin to break into greenery.

The writing isn’t really an option. It will sprout when it needs to, as it always has in my life. I’m not sure about what will sprout this year – I know I’ll want to tend my perennials, but the big thrill is always the surprising plant that has blown in from somewhere, the one that calls the eye, makes the heart race.

I’m already scanning for tendrils….maybe a snowdrop will make an appearance….

IMG_0382

On anger, depression, Robin Williams, Terry Pratchett, and writing

I read an article yesterday by Neil Gaiman about Terry Pratchett, author of the fantastic, funny, wise, and seriously wonderful Discworld series. Neil was asked about Terry, about how he must be such fun.

Neil told a story of Terry, about how he’d been furious one time and about how he’d told Neil that it was the fury that drove him to write. He was furious about his Alzheimer’s. I felt a surge of recognition.

Though I try to out a good face on it of acceptance and “enjoy each day”, I am completely furious that multiple sclerosis has robbed me of my life. Scrape the surface of my cheer and you’re likely to see tears or rage. I spent years, years, educating my mind. I was moving rapidly forward on my career, heading for a position where I could have significant impact on things. I wanted that, I tasted that, I respected people with a mission. And then MS came and struck my brain. Cognitive assessments tell me I should concentrate on things requiring no more than 20 minutes concentration.
This is very true for complicated tasks, and , alas, my writing. So I’m trying to shift my focus to less verbal/executive/numerical things, to more generalized creativity, but I feel the loss. I feel it every day I get up and am baffled by simple tasks. It breaks my heart, every day.

And so I rage. And like many, I turn that rage inwards, towards depression. Part of the depression is because of the MS brain damage – perhaps the depression associated with Parkinson’s damage was the final push for Robin Williams, poor and wonderful man. Part is because, like Terry and Robin, I share the telescope-turned-backwards view of a progressive, disabling disease that will not just kill me, but will make me a crippled, incompetent, incontinent, dependent thing first.

It’s all about generativity. About the ability to contribute in some meaningful way. For Terry and Robin, perhaps the thought of no longer being able to be brilliant is/was too much. I’m not burdened by assumptions of brilliance – I’m nowhere near these guys on the scale. They bring (still) joy to millions, I might do the same for a few, and I’m content with that, most of the time.

Other times I grieve what I might have been.

And then I give my head a shake and vow to make every minute count while I can still manage those twenty minutes. So I pick up my pen, my creative projects, my advocacy, my friendships, my joy, and surge onwards…

Because it’s the rage that fuels me, too.

http://www.theguardian.com/profile/neil-gaiman<<a

How to keep writing if you think your writing is shit…

From another blogger, Ksenia Anske, who was recommended to me by Michael Davis, one of the two really good instructors I had at Gotham Writer’s Workshop (the other was Gregory Fallis)

How to keep writing if you think, etc.

Michael also has an excellent blog, filled with much goodness.

Happy reading….

Creativity and madness

I’ve struggled with depression for years. It started with my multiple sclerosis and was the first symptom spotted. Coincidentally, I restarted writing.

My family always tells me I’m the creative one, the one who thinks oddly, out of the box (though I would argue my older brother is also gifted in this area – and my kids are wildly so). I know that, during my brief career in management, I was often on a completely different page than many. This led to feelings of failure and isolation and utter hopelessness…

So, now, I’m having a bad bout with the MS – blurred vision, muscle spasms, pain, confusion, the whole package. And depression. And I feel at these times, any challenge is beyond me, AND, at the same time, my life is meaningless if I don’t do something important. It’s a tough place to be stuck. So I decide to quit everything I am doing and try new things in a flurry of trying to succeed at anything, anywhere.

51TTMH+FdgLAlong comes Maria Popova’s excellent Brain Pickings today: Creativity and Mental illness. Sometimes, at my most paranoid, I think she secretly knows me, her postings are so appropriate for the day…

And suddenly I don’t feel so alone. There are many others here in the murk (with occasional northern lights and lightning) here with me.

Now all I have to do is decide. Do I quit the writing game? Or do I listen to my chafing neurons and continue?