Of Importance

Someone recently allude to the reason they haven’t been writing is they felt their work wasn’t important.

But – is that why we do this? Out of some idea of importance to the world or to ourselves?

Are we not just driven to create because we are creators? Or does it lose meaning when we think our creations are not important?

As a young person, I wrote. I wrote with no thought of audience or publisher or awards. It was a drive within me, for as long as I can remember, to just write. Get it all out. Put it down on paper.

The idea of importance to the world didn’t come until later – college, in fact, when one professor said – but what is the deeper meaning?

And a student answered – maybe it was just for fun?

And she, slitting her eyes, growled, “We don’t do that.”

My writer friend always got stuck on audience. She’d start on a piece, but then she’d become stalled, staring at it for hours and rereading it and attempting to answer the question – Who is the Audience?

All these expectations stifle the creative spirit. Maybe these questions need to be answered, but I believe the answer must come after the creation.

Perhaps that is the true spirit of creation. Create first, ask questions later.

The spirit of commercialism to which we are all pulled, drawn, or lead is in opposition with the authentic need to create. For the product, we must ask the questions and then create something tailor made.

I don’t want to make products. I suck at sales. I just want to write. The writing is important to who I am as a human. Writing makes me a better human. Isn’t that important?

Morphing Memory

Psychologists believe that memory is fallible. We don’t really remember everything correctly. Every time we take out a memory, we add to it, subtract from it, try to reason with it – which, essentially, changes the memory.

People are highly suggestible. Their memories can suffer from suggestions from others, from pop culture, from their own emotional instability.

We all have those stories when we’re wrapped around the holiday table reminiscing and someone misremembers something – or remembers it differently than others. They swear they are right and the other is wrong.

Remember that scene in Scrooged with Bill Murry when he’s in the taxi and he’s recalling a memory: “I was running down a hill, and there was this beautiful girl in pigtails.” The taxi driver grumbles – “That was Little House on the Prairie!”

I used to know someone like that. Her misremembering took on a life of its own. It’s a wonder she’s not the fiction writer.

I find memoir exciting. Not because of the fictional aspects of the things we fill in. I completely accept that memory, and thereby memoir, is corrupt, but the exploration is enlightening. In memoir, we discover who we are. In my search for my sacred parts, in the healing of my broken parts, I strive for authenticity.

“Days of Remembrance” is an effort for me to come to terms with my brother’s passing. I didn’t get to say goodbye, so this is my goodbye to him. I think he’d appreciate it in the same way he appreciated when others reached out of their comfort zone, as he was trying to do in his last year or so of life.

“Days of Remembrance” was published in MemoryHouse Press. A lovely little journal of which I am proud to be included.

What is Creativity?

My friend believes creativity is a gift direct from the powers that be.

I believe everyone is creative in different ways.

My friend feels when she is ill, she is unable to write. The body, she says, is recreating itself, creating health from illness.

I think of the great minds in our society – Mozart’s last work, although incomplete was powerful, was written on his deathbed. Einstein was working on his next great theorem as he lay dying. Howard Hughes, burned and bleeding, after a plane crash left him near dead, redesigned the bed he lay in, redesigned the plane in which he crashed.

My friend is not completely wrong. When I’m not well, the last thing I’m thinking about is how my character will move forward.

But maybe that’s exactly what we need when our body is focused on healing, that our mind needs to be occupied with our passion in life. Maybe there is something to the creation – the connection between healing and writing – that makes magic.

We know that, already, don’t we? We heal though creativity. We are fully present when involved in our purpose.

I wrote the first draft of Our Gentle Sins during a stressful time. It came out fast and easy. The flow was beautiful and powerful and made me feel better, more in control, and hopeful.

When I think of the book now, the characters hold a special place in my heart. Jack and Valerina are the epitome of hope

What Beautiful Souls

In dusty, breezy classrooms I stand for eight, sometimes ten hours a day, depending on the day. I’m one of the fortunate ones. I don’t have a single classroom, or even a single location. I move from city to city, even on a single day, from school to school, walking across hot blacktop and behind dusty construction. All for the beautiful souls.

I love students, young people, for all their awkward, wonderful, perfect imperfections.

There’s the brave souls who seem to know themselves and push forward in original dress or make up, the shy ones who cower at the back of the class, the jocks, the nerds, the quiet and boisterous, the bright, bouncy, round, and rolling. The variety is marvelous to experience.

There’s the one who know what they want to do every day for the next thirty or forty years of their lives, and the ones who wander lost, stumbling through their education, and the one who thinks they know their sexual power, and the other who hides behind their hair.

They’re all so amazingly beautiful – without really knowing it.

Beauty lies in their movements, in their anxious thoughts, their mistakes and missteps and goals and exceptional struggle to achieve.

Many people are concerned that our future, the future of our planet or mankind is in trouble; but there is hope.

In their clean, fresh faced, pimpled, freckled beautiful souls – earth’s only fountain of youth is our youth.

I sometimes believe I became a teacher by chance, but maybe it was always my fate. In either case, I’m fortunate. One of my professor’s suggested I join the TA program. I didn’t know if I had the time, could afford the low pay. I was certain I’d flubbed the interview. I walked away believing that I would never hear from them. But I did.

And even now, all these years later, I get to stand in front of the class and watch these young people grow and flourish before my eyes. I watch them struggle and see their eyes brighten when they’ve met the challenge. It’s a gift.

I occasionally complain, shake my head. The pandemic and now post pandemic has not been easy. The lack of appreciation. But – the students.

They are not perfect, they are not fully formed, but they are lovely humans just trying to adjust to life. There’s a lot on their shoulders, and they’ve seen so much darkness. Let’s teach them kindness, let’s encourage their open minds and praise their open hearts.

Imperfection, struggle, growth, change, and challenges met create the beautiful souls – and I get to witness that miracle!

Edgar Allan Poe in his time…

Have you ever wondered what it was like – the 1830’s/1840’s – when Poe was alive and walking around the streets of Boston or Richmond?

I’ve imagined the dark nights with gas street lights to guide the people at night. I’ve thought about his mother rushing him home after her show at the theater in the billowing cold of a frosty October, as she burned with fever, desperately fighting for breath.

Or Edgar, as an adult, leaving the pub on a similar cold winter night.

in the 1830’s, there were 12 million people in all of the United States. Now, there are 10 million in LA County alone!

In the 1840’s, the latest medical invention was a mechanical leech – let that sink in for a moment.

Boston grew phenomenally – from 1830 to 1840, the population grew from 60,000 to over 90,000. Today, Boston has nearly 700,000 people.

Poe lived in a town (Richmond) with 16,000 people. It was a growing metropolis with plans for paved streets (paved with wood, by the way). Richmond now boasts over 200,000 living souls.

These thoughts inspired the first lines of Eddy:

He stumbles from the pub, slips and falls on the iced over bricks of Boston’s November streets. Save for the muddled voices beyond the closed door, the street is quiet as his body thuds to the ground. His breath billows in front of him as he gasps and grumbles and struggles to his knees, then to his feet to regain his drunken balance…

I wanted to tell an imaginary tale of Edgar Poe the night he nearly took his own life… what saved him? what changed him? But the details needed to support the time, to place the reader in the 1800’s with a sick mother, a dying wife, a bottle of poison. When I read this at the Poe Museum in Virginia a few years ago, the employees complimented the personal grasp on Edgar’s life.

It serves still as a source of pride. And I come back to it – I want to write more about Poe, his life, not the dry biographies, but a more personal investment in a man who is still very much admired for his literary accomplishments in the face of his personal challenges.

Grief Memoirs

I handle grief by writing. I handle stress by writing. I handle many things by laying a line on paper and allowing the dark moments to flow out. Image and rhyme and memory and magic blooms and appears sometimes in chaos, other times in patterns however rarely symmetrical.

People all handle grief differently and all the ways are valid. Many people don’t understand those who don’t bawl and post and praise. Other people don’t understand the public display.

After my brother passed last year, my mother followed him in a matter of days. It took me a bit, but I wrote. While I’m working on a longer piece about my mother, I’m proud to say Memory House Magazine out of Chicago accepted the piece about my brother.

“Days of Remembrance” is a mystical memoir of my brother’s passing, more specifically the days following his death. The print version will be out soon. They’ve invited us to read their digital version at https://chicagomemoryhouse.wordpress.com/

Setting Your Baby Free

I was in conversation with someone who works for… let’s say… a certain network about Our Gentle Sins. How Exciting!

But, she warned, “Once they get their fingers into your story, it will no longer be under your control.” She went on to intimate that they would twist and change and do what they wanted with it.

I’ve heard many writers get upset about this. Some writers in my own circle were offended for me when an editor from the Chicago Tribune’s Printers’ Row Journal asked if they could change a name in my story. The editor felt the nickname would confuse the readers. I responded – please change what you feel is confusing. My writer acquaintances took me to task on that – how dare I give them permission. I should fight for my story.

There are things I would fight for, things I have fought for. When the editor publishing West End wanted to change a slang Midwestern term, I didn’t agree. I argued that it made it more authentic and we had to trust the reader to figure it out in context. But small things like a nickname or a comma, I have no problem with those. Some writers do, however.

One publisher asked me to take one of my short stories and turn it into a long style poem. My first response, no, no, it can’t be done – but then, I was intrigued by the task! Picasso was once challenged to change one of his paintings to a negative – black and white inverse – he took that challenge and ran with it, changing the colors in multiple ways! The results of which line the halls of his museum in Spain. Sometimes change is not the enemy.

However, I do know what producers, directors, movie studios, and television does to novels and stories. They interpret into their own little idea. They change things for dramatic purposes, for comedy, for whatever reason may suit their purposes at that point in time. But – isn’t that what they’re paying you for? They are taking your characters, your setting, and they’re bringing new life to it. This may be a very different life that the writer intended. But that happens anyway.

Many people have misunderstood “The Ghost in her Room.” However, it didn’t stop them from enjoying the story. They just had their own interpretation of it. It brought something to their lives that I hadn’t intended. It didn’t make it wrong. I think that means I did something right!

When a reader engages in your story, identifies with your character or event, aren’t they changing it into their story or their idea of your story? Once we set the baby free in the world – that baby becomes something else and we have no control over it. It takes on a life of its own. It affects the world and the world affects it.

There are certain things I hope Our Gentle Sins will carry forth – the message of hope, of recovery, of leaving the mistakes of the past in the past, and building the strength as an individual to move forward in this world. We can only wait and see!

I like words…

I like sentences. Big, beautiful sentences so long and thick you can wrap them around yourself and keep yourself warm in the winter. Yeah, those. But I like words too. They go together, you know, words and sentences. I like to make them move with rhythm, sing and dance in a way that you fall into them as if you’re hypnotized by them and you never want to leave them, you just want to sway back and forth and keep reading until you slip off of your seat.

It takes time to create those. They start small, like these. Then you have to let them sit, like yeasty bread, and let them rise. You leave, come back, lift the towel, pinch and poke at them, and leave them again thinking, “I know it can be better than that.”

Then you have to sit down with them, you have to get to know them, talk to them, talk through them, try them on, and break them then mend them, try this and try that. It’s frustrating too, I know. You fight with them, want to give up on them, want to trash the whole thing and sometimes you might leave in tears with hopelessness tearing at your soul, but then you come back on another day, maybe an overcast day that holds the threat of rain, and you sit down and talk it all out once again. Maybe this time, this time, it works. Someday it will.

Then you’ll move on to the next sentence.

This is writing. It hurts. It cuts giant gashes filled with jagged edges through you. It scars. It gives you nightmares and makes you curl up in a ball and rock not so gently back and forth.

But it’s also the only thing that pushes you forward, fills the empty spaces, gives you purpose. It keeps the dark shadows at bay and protects you from the harsh world.

Love and Boundaries

Since we’re talking about love, let’s talk about Love’s bestie – Boundaries.

I suppose Boundaries are besties with Respect which, as I’ve said, goes hand in hand with Love. Maybe these guys are more than besties; they’re all in the same family, like kissing cousins.

I said in my post on UNCONDITIONAL, that I love my kids unconditionally. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about that. I would die for them. No questions asked.

But even unconditional love comes with boundaries.

I had a friend whose son was having some troubles with alcohol. The son would call her up at 2am (after the bar closed) and start blaming the mom for everything that had gone wrong in his life – based on what his mother had done wrong in raising him.

My friend asked, “what should I do. I have to work. I can’t get up at 2 or 3 am and talk him down from whatever trip he’s on.” I suggested my friend not answer the phone. She thought that was a horrifying prospect. How could she neglect her son like that? I suggested that she pick up, make certain it wasn’t an emergency, and say, “I will gladly talk to you about this tomorrow” and hang up. She wasn’t certain she could do that either.

Her son was 30 years old. He was a grown ass man. He should have known better than to call his working mother in the middle of the night.

If it happens once in awhile… If there’s an emergency… If her son was really distraught and needed to talk – that is totally different.

My phone is open to anyone who calls and is in need of help – any time. However, when my Australian friend calls at 3am, knowing full well that in my time zone it’s 3am, I am not up for a chat about the weather or to shoot the shit and he has gotten an earful.

The very next time my friend’s son called, which happened to be the very next night, my friend answered the phone near 4am, and asked her son if he was safe, if he was home, if it was an emergency, then told him to call her at a more appropriate time.

The son was pissed. The son didn’t talk to her for a week. But he also never called her in the middle of the night again. And, when he did call, he was in a less inebriated state and they were able to have a real conversation.

Sometimes we have to show others our boundaries. Tell them we love them – and I love my Australian friend – and remind them we have our own ideas of love, respect, and boundaries.

As parents, we need to teach our children these things. As adults, sometimes we have to remind those we interact with as they may have learned something different.

Jack’s father loves him. He loves him with his whole heart and soul. He spent his life protecting his family and his community. But there were times he couldn’t deal with Jack. He couldn’t deal with the choices he made or the pain he caused – so his father enacted some boundaries. These boundaries hurt Jack but, in retrospect, they also helped him.

We can’t allow people to hurt us just because we love them.