Wednesday, December 15, 2010

One Ringy Dingy . . .

My spider plant is blooming and having a baby. I've never had a successful spider plant, so it's fun to watch it each day. I didn't know they got flowers on them. It's the spider plant the company librarian gave me when I moved out of the corporate building two years ago to the building where I am now. It was a baby off the giant spider plant she had up there, which was the baby from a big plant in the executive offices. It was only about 6" long and had 4 or 5 leaves and was wrapped in a paper towel when she gave it to me. It sat on my desk in a coffee cup with a bit of water in the bottom for a couple weeks until I brought in a pot for it.

Donna died a couple months later. She was writing a book based loosely on her family history about bootleggers during the 20's.

Em and I recently watched a movie we stumbled across while perusing Netflix. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Neither of us had heard of it, but the blurb said it had won some awards so we decided to give it a try. It was very good, even if it was in Swedish and we had to read subtitles. In the previews we saw it was part of a trilogy, so after we finished watching, we had to go online and read more and see what other movies were available. #2 is on our counter now (it arrived yesterday) and #3 is out in theaters (but probably on limited release since it's in Swedish). I mentioned the movies to a friend of mine, and she said "Oh yeah, the Steig Larson books were best sellers. He died before they were published so there's a big battle over his estate."

I was in a workshop one time where the teacher kept referring to fiction/plots/characters as coming from a "great Jungian subconscious pool", a never-ending stream any one of us could dip into. At the time, I took this to mean there are stories drifting around out there, waiting to be told, much the same as there are souls in heaven waiting to be born. It is only a matter of choosing where they will go. When a story chooses us, we only need to follow it and be truthful in the telling of it, faithful in the translation. It seemed to me as if it might be a little like being possessed. Relax and don't fight it, then write down whatever comes to mind and if you don't try to control it, if you are 'faithful' and 'truthful', you will have a good story when you are done. Maybe a bit like the Nurture philosophy - there is no such thing as a bad story, only a bad writer who doesn't give an honest translation.

In the past, this idea has made it possible for me to freewrite. To trust the Muse. To put no limitations on what I write - except for the parts that don't seem acceptable. Those I gloss over. But that's another discussion.

Now this idea of the great Jungian subconscious has come back to me, in light of the deaths of these writers - Donna, Steig, and of course Patty. Where does fiction go when the author dies? Does it go back into the pool and get doled out to another writer? Is the Muse more of a facilitator than a storyteller? Does she only decide who gets what stories? Like a cosmic telephone operator? Is my number unlisted?

Now my muse looks more like Lily Tomlin than the grim reaper.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Grim Reaper

I'm having a hard time believing in my writing right now. Not with believing I can write, but the validity of what I do write (or have written maybe is more accurate these days). It REALLY bothers me that the story Patty was working on was cut off in the middle as if the characters just evaporated. It really bothers me that everything she knew and imagined and thought about is gone. Okay, so maybe it's not exactly 'gone', but I kinda feel like it is. Even when I can manage to believe in an afterlife of some shape, I can't believe fiction would go along.

It doesn't feel as if it's my own writing I'm troubled about . . .but if everything feels trite and pointless, maybe it is?

I wrote about 1000 words of fiction on Saturday morning, but it was total freewriting and even while I was writing, I had to work hard to ignore the voice that kept saying "what's the point, it's a stupid alternative romance with no market and no message and no plot."

The editor maybe looks a bit like the grim reaper now, sitting off to the side, watching my efforts in amusement, shaking his head at my foolishness. I guess my snowflakes must really make him laugh.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dear Patty~

Today is one of those days.

I miss your smartassery soooo much . I don't have any particular complaints (or celebrations), no particular witty repartee up my sleeve... but I long for the days when we traded a few dozen one-line emails during the day, playing off each other's wit as if we were playing tennis. Or when we brainstormed a new story and new characters. Or wrote about our respective characters meeting up with each other on a cruise or in Thayer. Or just discussed current events and big ideas and various issues.
Or vented.
Or anything.
I just plain miss you.

I'm trying to write again. I haven't written since you left. I can't think up new characters or stories and I haven't had the heart to write about the stories and characters you were so much a part of helping bring to life.

I know if you were here, you'd kick me in the butt and tell me to write.

I think maybe the 'disbelief' stage lasts a lot longer with internet friendships.
Is looking around and wondering who you'll come back as a form of denial? or bargaining?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Courting the Muse

Inspiration sometimes feels very random. Like, if you face East at noon and have marmalade on toast on the 3rd Tuesday after the equinox...

Well, maybe it's not that random, but sometimes it feels that way.
The truth of the matter is, if you set aside time to meet with your Muse, eventually she (or he) will show up on time, with more ideas than you can possibly write about.

The key is trust. She trusts you to show up at the keyboard and you trust her to provide inspiration.

You go first.

Show up at the keyboard every day, or every other day, or Monday through Friday, or every Saturday morning at 5am. You pick the time and the place. Just be consistent.

The Muse won't show up first, and she might not trust that you'll show up consistently, so she'll wait, lurking in the shadows, teasing you with a glimpse of an idea that evaporates as soon as you get around to showing up at the keyboard. But once she trusts you'll be there, she'll sometimes get there before you and be waiting, drumming her fingers on your desk, bubbling over with ideas.

It’s not easy to keep the date. You can make excuses til the cows come home. I had to clean the house. I had to fix dinner. The cats needed to be fed. The dog had to go for a walk. I was stuck in traffic. Oh yeah, there are a bazillion excuses - and I've probably used most of them and then some. But if you truly want to write - for whatever reason - set a date with the muse. Be consistent. Show up at the keyboard and do like we did yesterday. Set the timer and write, even if you have no thoughts in your head and the Muse is off in the Bahamas somewhere, ignoring your texts. Just write whatever words you can. Consistently. After a week or two, or maybe three, one day you'll realize that you're on your way to the keyboard, stuck in traffic, and you're already thinking about what you'll write.

This 'date' with the Muse can be a particular place (like your computer desk), a set time no matter where you are, a particular notebook any time of the day or night, a particular tea, fragrance, chair.... Or a combination of those things. The key is consistency. After awhile, this place/time/notebook/tea/whatever, will become a trigger. It will become a sign to your Muse (which, by now, I hope you recognize as your own imagination and inspiration) that it's time to deliver.

Sounds simple, huh?
Yeah, it is. And guess what?
It works.
Trust me. I've done it.

Of course, sometimes things disrupt our carefully constructed routines or favorite places, and we have to adjust. Just be careful that doesn't become an excuse for not writing. Unfortunately, I also speak from personal experience.

If you're looking for an exercise, try writing a description of your Muse. Maybe your Muse looks like Sharon Stone (movie: The Muse - 1999). Stephen King calls his Muse 'the boys in the basement'. You decide.

It's time for me to set a date, and court my Muse into coming back to me.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Just Do It.

My advice to someone in my state of mind is to be gentle with yourself. Set a goal to write, but do not put restrictions on what the writing must be. Nor does it need to be the same every day. One day it might be journaling, one day a blog, another day it could be an ‘essay’ – and I use this term loosely. Character sketches, descriptions, and even fiction scenes are acceptable.

Set your goal only to get words on the page. Set a goal of time rather than word count, with the only requirement being to keep writing and not stop. No staring at the blank page allowed. If you don’t know what to write, write that.

“I have nothing in my head. My brain is pudding today. I don’t feel inspired and I feel rather cranky that I’m forcing myself to write. But I’m doing it because I’ve been told it will be a good thing, that it will help this foul mood, that it will unlock the frozen words in my head. I don’t know if I believe it, but for now I’ll go on faith. If it’s worked for others, it could work for me. And if it doesn’t, at least it was free.”

If you feel that you’re wasting time, writing drivel, comfort yourself with some sage advice I heard years ago: Give yourself permission to write garbage. Even garbage becomes compost with a little treatment.

“Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you're supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go--but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.”
–Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird

“The only time I know that something is true is the moment I discover it in the act of writing.”
—Jean Malaquais

This last is particularly helpful if you’re writing from a place of gloom or depression. Sometimes we think we know how we feel and what our thoughts are, but very often, if I’m pushing myself to keep writing until the timer dings, eventually something I write surprises me. This doesn’t happen at first. Our filters are pretty good at keeping the weird thoughts, the unacceptable angry thoughts, or the just plain embarrassing thoughts off the paper. If you wholeheartedly accept the challenge, you will eventually uncover things buried beneath the daily clutter.

If you need more convincing, Google on ‘writing therapy’ and see how science has supported the benefits of writing.

Go on now, go set your timer and put some words on the page. You don’t have to share them, just write.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Physician, Heal Thyself

I was sick over the weekend. Not terribly so, but enough that I didn't want to go anywhere or eat anything other than chicken broth and saltines. I'm pretty sure it's a real bug of some sort, though I can't help but wonder if part of it is fueled by depression. Or what to do about it.

I've been toying with the idea for awhile... I've suffered clinical depression a couple times over the years, and taken meds. I told myself then it wasn't meds I needed - my circumstances sucked. But what I found was meds helped me cope and come up with solutions rather than to be immobilized by tears. The times I've been depressed, I've been unable to write.
I've heard that some of the best artists (actors, writers and artists) have mood disorders, depression, bi-polar, etc. Could my depression become a tool rather than a hindrance?

Am I really depressed? How do you know?

Does crying every day mean I'm depressed? Or does it mean I'm just unhappy with my current circumstances? I think part of it is the apparent inability to change the largest reason for my unhappiness. Which, depending on the day, is either mine and Em's conflicting schedules, or the need to work full time at a job I only marginally enjoy, trading my time and energy for money to pay for the obligations of supporting a large family.

I tell myself I want to stay home and write full time.

But when I have time at home with the computer or a notebook, I stare at the blankness, overwhelmed with the desire to write and the lack of any words that want to be written.
I have a to-do list... not imperatives, but ideas I've wanted to pursue.

I want to redesign my writing website, turn it into something that is mine rather than a group effort with a less-than-involved group.
I want to teach myself CSS so I can work on a wider variety of websites.
I want to blog more. (doing that, though, requires facing Patty's death, and sometimes I'd rather be in denial. It's softer)
I want to get back to my stories. To history. To the research I so enjoyed.
I want to start working on a powerpoint presentation - 'just for fun' with my ideal workshop in mind. To learn to make it into a DVD, to collect my thoughts, to start developing the muscles I need if I choose to pursue the persistent dream of teaching workshops.

With all these things in mind, I sit down at the computer and surf a bit, read a few headlines, some Hollywood gossip, and play a few games.

I think I need to attend one of my own workshops.

Will this state of mind be helpful in figuring out what to teach?

Is it laziness?

how would I encourage someone in my state of mind to write for therapy?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance...

Some days it hurts more than others.
Sometimes I can fool myself into pretending we're both just busy with different pursuits.
And then some days, I want so much to blather, or share an observation, or process or discuss. Or just laugh about something. And you're not there.
I remembered today how you told me I was a blessing. That you felt compelled to remind me of that, and did just that, for several weeks, in almost every email. Why didn't I save those emails? Because I didn't realize all the emails we traded would come to an abrupt end so soon.
Did I tell you often enough that you were a blessing to me?

I was going thru some old emails that I did save... some of the early ones where Em, Jill, you and I were chatting. "Reply All"... I found the one where I asked about your writing process. I didn't have the heart to read it just then. I put it in a folder to read another day.

I want to lay on the floor and kick my feet and scream "It's not fair!"

I think I'm in the anger place today.
Denial isn't so disruptive.
What will acceptance feel like?