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Archive for the ‘(not) writing’ Category

Things don’t always go the way you plan when you’re a creative type. I happen to be of the writerly-variety, but I’m fairly sure this happens to other stripes as well.

Last year was terrible, but this year is going to be different. I know I thought last year was when things were going to happen, but they didn’t, and after a while I realized I needed to set my sights on this year.

The year before that things seemed like they might have worked out, but then half way through the year things got tricky and I had to shift priorities. Just the nature of living in the real world, I knew there’d have to be some sort of give-and-take along the way.

Before that? Promise and potential. Not wasted, mind you, but explored. I dove in, delved deep, accomplished only some of what I set out to do knowing full well that you can’t always force things to happen on your preferred timeline. Hey, wouldn’t we all rather be instantly successful and retired already?!

And in those dark moments, echoing from the back of a cave, that dark place the inner critic-cynic likes to call home, that shaky voice of doubt saying

“I just want a sign, something to let me know its worth putting up with all this crap.”

At what point do you truly hear that voice? At what point do you turn and decide that you have been given a sign, and that sign has been there all along. They were there in the couched doubts when I declared myself a writer. The signs were lurking between every line of dialog I gave my confused and befuddled characters. The signs were there in every rejected-if-you-don’t-hear-from-us query. Days and weeks and months and years worth of signs, piling up like debris at a narrow in a river, waiting to be acknowledged and either blown to smithereens or come crashing down in a flood of soul-crushing truth.

When does that truth finally sink in and become the sign you were waiting for – not the one you were hoping for, but it’s opposite, the sign of giving up? When do you finally give in to that doubt?

Never.

This past year I felt there was a shift, but it was more a slip into neutral than a full-on slide into reverse. Things weren’t working out on a lot of fronts, not just the writing, and I was too close to get any sort of perspective on things. It wasn’t an intentional move, and there can be benefits to downsides and laying fallow, but it would have been nice to know up front that it was going to be one of those years.

You know, like if I’d had some sort of sign or something.

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I’m back, I’m tanned (okay, burned in splotchy areas), rested, shaking the sand out of my clothes, and ready to get back into things.

Or rather, I’m ready to see what new things I can get into, because the old things made me want this vacation so badly that clearly there is something wrong with what I’ve been doing.

There are no promises to make here, no resolutions, no grand agenda, but there is an enormous desire to undo what I’ve been doing which isn’t hard, because lately it’s it felt like I’ve been doing nothing.

I have not been reading. For months now. I have picked up books here and there and never got into them then let life get in the way. That’s just stupid. The “life” I let get in the way had to do with things I’d rather not be doing, i.e. a job for money, where the reading constitutes the necessary manna required for the thing I love, which is writing.

So I’m back to reading.

I have not been writing. Not seriously. I have squeezed in 20 minutes here and an hour there but I’ve also only been toying with things until I could find the time to do the “real” writing. Wrong. That’s just flawed thinking. Back-burnering larger projects because I don’t have time for them? No, I MAKE time for them and stop giving myself these little outs of being busy. Busy doing what? Things I hate, things I don’t want to do?

So I’m back to writing.

And the book reviews, my poor sad book review blog. While I have been reading for some reason I have fallen out of the habit of writing about those titles. In the past I have tinkered with the point and purpose of those reviews – initially they were part of my personal exploration and education, then they were an offshoot of both grad school and the reviewing I did for The Horn Book – but I’ve had a sort of crisis-of-faith that reviewing on a blog was somehow pointless. But I was able to do some quality reading while on vacation – my one and only goal for vacation was to read, which I did – and that reading kicked up some spark that makes me want to rethink and revisit the notion of writing about what I read. Hang the purpose and the style, if it isn’t for me first and foremost then it won’t matter to anyone else anyway.

So I’m back to blogging.

I guess there really is a list there, a plan, a scheme. Basics, I’m back to basics. It isn’t hardcore, planned on a calendar and scheduled to the minute, but the desire is there and I think, ultimately, its important for my soul that I get these parts of my house in order. Of those thing the blogging might lag behind the others, as I have recently been reading non-children’s books which don’t fit within the scope of that blog. I see this occasional gorging on “adult” literature as a sort of palette cleansing but also as a way of refreshing my critical reading skills. How much different is reading Don Delillo from a graphic novel? How are short stories for adults different or the same as those for teens? Whole new topics seemed to materialize out of the salty beach air. Cobwebs of the brain, be gone! I have things to think about and discuss!

So now we’ll see.

How is your summer shaping up, world? Any brain-clearing vacations on your horizon, any grand plans for these next couple of months?

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Behind the curve. Out-of-whack. Unbalanced.

This is how I’ve been feeling lately. I’ve had issues – issues surrounding free time, issues around the job, issues concerning one late computer – and all sorts of hopes and goals (lets not call them resolutions) for the new year.

But everything feels as slippery and elusive as trying to chase a cat on a greased floor wearing roller skates.

A writer friend noted how many blog posts I produced last year and asked, by comparison, how much time I dedicated to writing for myself. At first my inclination was to feel insulted; clearly I had spent twice as much time writing my own things as I did for the blogosphere.

And then the python of doubt slithered up from the pit of my stomach and gently cut off circulation to my defense mechanisms. In that hazy fog of semi-consciousness I realized that whether or not it was true that I had been neglecting my own work in the past I needed to double-down going forward.

I remember reading some financial advice once that suggested “paying yourself first” with each paycheck, essentially setting aside some savings before even paying bills, to say nothing of extracurricular spending. I realized – am realizing – that I need to apply that same philosophy to my work, that I need to deposit some time in the bank of creative writing before I start spending willy-nilly on the internet.

Ah, but the internet is so much fun, so hard to ignore its siren call!

So, here I am.

Earlier this week I was able to carve out a few hours for my own writing and even managed to get myself invited to participate in a fairly large project for National Poetry Month in April. It wasn’t a lot of writing but it was enough to not feel guilty about making the rounds and hitting some bookmarks that I haven’t touched in weeks.

Including this here blog-o-roonie.

This is my seventh year of blogging. Perhaps I’m feeling some strange itch that needs to get worked out. Rethink what I want to say, who I want to reach, and why. With my creative writing I know that, I understand it better, there isn’t this same question. Here, the exercise of keeping my fingers moving and communicating with the outside world, I have many questions.

The plan is… status quo. For the time being I will continue to add book reviews over at the excelsior file, and my monthly contribution to Guys Lit Wire. Aside from the writing I still have some duties as a Cybils judge again, so that’ll take some time, and I fully expect that these here fomagrams will again appear with greater frequency down the road.

For what it’s worth, I miss being here.

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Many years ago there was this thing I heard about that some guy was doing, a project where people wrote a novel in 30 days. Sounded interesting, but I wasn’t writing novels at the time. A couple years later, in 2001, I thought I’d try it as a lark, mostly because it was immediately post-9/11 and I felt this great urge to do or say something. that was the first year I failed National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.

I tried again in 2002 then again in 2004, failed on both counts, and decided it just wasn’t for me. November, it turns out, is just a terrible month for projects of any size. That sounds like an excuse but it’s been true across the board, any new project that starts in November is just a stress-filled wreck, and not just writing projects but for some reason writing projects are especially tough.

But a couple years back I stumbled onto PiBoIdMo – Picture Book Idea Month – which takes place during the NaNoWriMo and I thought Finally, a project that’s just my speed. Instead of a complete novel in 30 days PiBoIdMo consists of one picture book idea per day for the entire month. Not a completed story, no even a title, but simply an idea, a seed, a kernel of something that might one day provide fruit. This seemed like a nice bite-sized goal and one that could keep me feeling like I was still writing-active during a usually tough month.

Did I mention this would be easy? No, I did not. Because as it turns out, you can’t always come up with ideas out of thin air on command.

Nonetheless, for the last couple of years I participated and completed PiBoIdMo, and left the month with a handful of reasonable ideas and a couple of stellar ones, but mostly with a sense of accomplishment.

This year I couldn’t even manage five stinkin’ ideas before the month fell apart on me.

Can I blame the new job I started back in July? Well, for this and many other failures, but that seems like a cop-out because plenty of people manage to wedge in writing and plenty of other creative projects around jobs and family and whatnot. Best I can explain it (again, not to sound like an excuse) is I just haven’t found my groove.

I did have a new idea that I thought would/could have made and awesome NaNoWriMo project, entirely manageable and well-suited for short-chapter writing, but the last thing I want to do right now is start a new project with so many others outstanding. Compounding my November anxieties was the fact that I’d agreed to participate in a New Writer’s series put on at my local library. A reading. Of my own work. In front of strangers. I would be just like the readings I did in grad school, only in front of strangers, i.e. people who weren’t predisposed to being supportive no matter what. You know, like the rest of the real world. So where I might have spent my free time during November working on new pages I instead devoted that time to worrying every line of the one section of my WIP that I would be reading from.

It turned out not to be such a bad thing.

First, when you prep something for reading you are forced to read it aloud. Once you start to hear the lines in your ears instead of just in your head you quickly learn what does and doesn’t work. Sections that “read” well on the page suddenly seem to bog down the story aloud and send action and dialog crashing head-first into a metaphorical dashboard with a tremendous whomp. Stilted dialog gets ironed out, precious details get cut because they are too precious. In the end, the pages are tighter and the story is stronger. None of this alleviates the terror of reading in public, but you take what you get.

My reading suffered as well. I found long passages of text too distracting. This happens when I’m preoccupied, and the best thing I can do is give myself a bit of a reading vacation and let myself get book hungry again.

So here it is, December, and despite the harried holiday season and other possible roadblocks ahead, I’m feeling re-energized. I’m ready to finish this one thing and start something bold and new. Or bold and old. Or anything. I’m ready to tear through a backlog of reading and discover something new to become a new favorite.

November was hard, but November is gone.

Onward!

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Okay, so I made that word up, from the Greek roots of the word “middle” and “place” because I really think there needs to be some sort of alternative to the unrealistic idea of utopia and the dour-as-all-get-out dystopia that’s all the rage.

I understand the popularity of dystopias because I enjoy many of them myself. The idea of looking at the world as it is and wondering how bad things could get, wondering if we’d land on the “right” side of things. Growing up my friends and I would play a similar game of what-if but through the lens of the past: if we were in Paris or Italy or Austria in the late 1930s, or even Germany, would we have done the right thing, would we have joined the Resistance? We’d like to think we’d know to do the right thing, and its these sudden shifts in the ideological ground that makes a dystopia fascinating.

But when you look up the word utopia, and then its antonym, you find that the opposite of a perfect world is hell. Dystopia is hell on earth. And all the hope in the world ladled into the ending of YA dystopias cannot hide the fact that hope is merely a band-aid on hell, a word of cheer meant to let the reader close their eyes and pretend it never happened, that it was all a bad dream, and that everything would get better from that moment onward.

Reality is never that clean. In fact, it’s rather messy.

You know what, I don’t particularly like this partisanship in fiction, I don’t like this idea of black or white with no middle ground. I love me some good dystopia but I’m feeling starved from a lack of a more positive visionary substance. I want to see something in between, the messitopia, a future with human complications but not at the brink of using its children for blood sport or shuttering us in a post-global warming nightmare or forcing us into protective domes that keep the ugliness of the outside world at bay. I would hope that there are writers out there with enough imagination who could deliver an action-packed tale of a future where we got somethings right but still had some kinks to work out.

Give us a future to hold onto, not one to fear.

 

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First, apologies to those who might believe the title of this post has anything to do with Douglas Adams. Though I’d do anything to possess his wit and literary note, I do not and I try not to think about it very often.

For several months now I’ve been pulling back at various aspects of my online presence, from my twitter feed to my blogging to even merely zooming around and seeing what the rest of the world has been up to. The reason has been external and not entirely planned, but absolutely necessary: I was hunting down some gainful employment. And now I am, gainfully employed full-time, and for the first time since 2008.

Yeah, the economy sucks.

To be fair, I’d only been job hunting seriously for seven months, and a great number of ideal positions I was seeking were clearly inundated with applicants. I’ve worked in HR for a spell and was well aware of the “negatives” that I couldn’t hide – gaps in employment, indirect career paths, and the biggies that no one could legally ever admit to, my age and my abundance of experience – so a good deal of my hunting involved reframing my personal narrative. Add to that my willingness to start from the bottom in a career shift where “entry-level” now means “at least two years unpaid internships with prior experience and a willingness to work 80 hour weeks” and I was really up against the wall. I landed in familiar territory – retail management, bookstore variety – but I really thought I had so much more to offer in other fields. Sadly, hundreds of employers did no agree with me.

The job hunt itself pulled my internet tendencies away from blogging and took up valuable time I would normally have assigned to my creative work. Then, just before a long-planned family vacation, and I thought I’d have plenty of time to do a little catching up before the nine-to-five grind caught hold of me.

Yeah, I honestly thought I’d be chillin’ online instead of enjoying a fine week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in late June.

And while I was on vacation, I caught a cold.

So here I am using a holiday to recoup and see if I can’t get a sense of what the future looks like.

When I was last employed full-time I had just begun the process of earning an MFA with an eye toward becoming (finally) published in the area of children’s and young adult literature. That work, that road, has been steady but bumpy. I think everyone has a hope of what they think will happen, and then adjusts as reality sets in. The hope is the goal, the distance keeps shifting, the way a place on the distant horizon always looks closer that it really is when you’re driving straight toward it. While many (or most) of my fellow MFA-ers worked parallel to their employed lives, I am just now making the adjustment back into the stream. I don’t imagine it’s going to be easy at first, but I also don’t think it’ll be impossible. Once I get the rhythms of the new job (and commuting, and home duties) in place, I’ll know how and when to establish writing time, better manage my online presence, and find that new balance between all the things I want and need and hope to get done.

I have much deck-clearing to get done on this Independence Day, with more to do in the days and weeks ahead, looking forward to the equilibrium that is the next stage in this crazy life of mine.

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“You were wrong, David. You were wrong about everything!”

That was the pronouncement made by my younger daughter as the final credits rolled for the season finale of the TV series Smash on Monday night. What I was wrong about, specifically, were my predictions about the show’s story arc. To be fair, my guess was made after the first or second week, when I saw a lot of potential in the various elements and couldn’t imagine the show would get almost instantly stupid.

I was not an actual fan of the show, though something more than a casual viewer. Apparently there’s a love-to-hate contingent out there but I never really followed the armchair quarterbacking that has become almost de rigueur of any TV series these days. But given the scope of what the show set out to accomplish — a backstage story of the creation of a Broadway show — I didn’t feel it was out of line for me to expect something more than a fifteen week version of an old MGM musical.

So what did I expect? I expected that they wouldn’t tease out the lead for the show-within-a-show all the way up to the very end; I thought they were going to stumble with funding and lose the director back to his old show, taking the rising star with him (his Eliza Doolittle as it were); that Smash would become a show about two separate shows with torn allegiances going up against each other, each becoming competitive in their successes; that the finale would involve the Tony awards where the two battling leading ladies were up against each other and when they announced the winner… fade to black, see you next season!

What we got was a very drawn out process of a show in workshop that was held together with preposterous sub-plots. The adoption of a Chinese baby, by the least realistic family on TV (and a teen son who was unarguably the show’s worst actor); the constant need to give the competing leads opportunities to sing popular songs to fill in for true emotions in storytelling; a determined producer whose lines were clearly written by a computer sampling dialog from old movies and phoned in by a sleepwalking actress… and in the end the show barely-but-miraculously makes it through its out-of-town previews with hints of Pregnancy! Suicide! Divorce!

How could I have expected anything more from TV?

So I won’t return to Smash for its second season, and maybe one day someone will develop the backstage drama worthy of Broadway that is also quality television.

Until then there’s always Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz.

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