Do you write better during the good times or the bad times?

During bad times, some writers seem to pour out a more substantial amount of work. If the pain and heartache are authentically transformed on the page, the work touches readers.

Some writers in history seemed to have sought out heartache and drama through alcohol, affairs, or other. As if their creative bent fed off their self induced suffering.

But a writer needs to produce when things go well, don’t you think?

I’ve heard of many “one-hit wonders.” Their first novel, fraught with the strain of life’s challenges, zings. But then, sitting back with their big, fat check, they are unable to produce.

My hardest times are relieved through poetry. As if words are squeezed out in some sort of rhythm that requires the concise, mystical format of a poem.

But I recall good times, great times, when my writing poured out too – the excitement of new challenges on the horizon lit up the page.

What do you think? Do you write better in good times or bad times?

The Healing Power of Our Story

Many years ago, I sitting uncomfortably in a hard wooden chair waiting for class to begin. The instructor had just begun speaking when the door squeaked slowly open and a rattling sound was heard, but no one stepped forward. We all turned toward the door wondering. The instructor even stepped to the side of her desk, ready to snap, “Close the door,” when a woman struggled in.

This lovely woman’s posture was bent and crooked, one hip higher than the other, one leg starkly stiff, the other crooked. She used two hand held metal crutches to help her maneuver through life. She huffed and hemmed, the groans of constant pain that the person making the noise no longer notices. Someone offered her a seat, saving her from walking two aisles over and four seats back, which she willingly accepted. Then we went on with class.

With the majority of us in our twenties, this class became a favorite. The teacher was a 40’s woman with a streak of gray in her blunt shoulder length dark hair. She was open and outspoken, persuading us to be the same. Her guest speakers were radical, loud, and insisted we stand up for ourselves and scream to be heard.

Throughout the semester, the woman who wore crutches on the first day, became less twisted, stood taller, began to use only one crutch instead of two. Her silence transformed into sharing, slowly and quietly at first. The mystery illness that had baffled her doctors was spooling away and that, too, left them nonplussed.

She stood and told us her story. She’d been assaulted and abused and afraid to tell anyone. Throughout the semester, the message of speak your story was freeing her body from the unexplainable pain and immobility her mind had trapped it in.

All types of trauma gets trapped within us – we need to get it out to free ourselves.

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The Healer’s Daughter is the first story in How to Throw a Psychic a Surprise Party. It’s one of my favorites, and it’s been suggested it become a novel in itself.

Healing Through Writing

After hearing some of my story, a woman said to me, “Do you think writing saved you?”

I was looking out the window at the blue sky, avoiding her overstuffed office. Books, photos, and nic-nacs lined the dark wood shelves behind her and a lamp sat, too bright and hot, to one side. She was tall and thin, model like in her own way, and she looked at me earnestly, waiting for a response.

When I turned to her, she answered the question for me. “I think writing saved you.”

Ah, there it was.

Writing did help me toggle to the clearer side of sanity. Believing in something larger than my tiny distressed corner of the world helped me get through some very dark times. The ever present feeling that I had something to add to the world secured me from suicidal tendencies.

Some time ago, I thought to write an autobiography. My writing partner has lived a long life. Her stories rich in detail, tempered with the spiritual, and filled with agonies of another time and another kind. She said she’d write her own but for fear that’d she’d hurt people.

Hurting others is not my intention. Those who pinned my pain are are long gone in both their minds and mine. They don’t read me and they exist only as fodder for stories. Writing is how I survived my world. Now, the others are just players in my story, antagonist, foil, etc.

Bits and pieces of my memoir have been published here and there. Some as fiction. Some not. Sometimes, it’s all shaken up to create something new and wonderful – like how ashes are used in bricks to build a city.

Writing it all out – getting it all out – says it’s real – this happened. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be published. It has to be outside of our bodies, not locked into our psyches.

Too many pains in our bodies, tangles in our thinking, are caused from the unspoken past.

Closure comes in many forms. Sometimes just getting it out from inside of us is enough to begin the healing.

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One of my favorite stories – an early piece that I was thinking about as I walked my dogs in the chilled morning air.

It begins:

BEFORE MY MOTHER drank herself to death, I knew her as a gentle creature who fed wild squirrels from her hand.  On the back patio at mid-day, she’d stand very still, calm, peanuts laced in the fingertips of her outstretched hand. The squirrel, a female, her babies came later, approached with caution, across the railing, onto the windowsill, grab the nut, run to the other side of the patio where the squirrel peeled back the shell, ate the meat, then returned for another and another. For a while, the squirrels became my mother’s greatest pleasure.

Success Stories

I didn’t grow up with a lot of positive role models. There were not many (if any) people in our neighborhood who were looked up to as success stories.

I can see my neighbors, even now, from the concrete steps of our four unit blond brick building on S*** Avenue in Collinwood. Across the street, Francis. She had Lucille Ball red hair and sat on her porch from 9am to 9pm, beer in hand. Next door, a single mother who worked at a bar and brought work home with her – in all sorts of ways. Next to her, a retired old man who sat across from Francis with his own beer in hand. His wife, Goldie, was a sweet woman whose toes twisted around one another, feet mangled, she said from twenty years of high heeled waitressing. On the other side, a retired railroad worker, no patio, so he sat in his kitchen hand wrapped around a cold beer.

There were bars on every corner. T & M’s could be seen from the porch. Strangers and neighbors stumbling out with the music pouring onto the street.

The teenagers went to high school, married the boyfriends who beat them, and set up house on the next block. A few got away, I’m sure. But I can list many more who died young or ended up in prison. My teenage crushes are dead now. One was shot in the head, the other crushed under the wheels of a truck. I never got into drugs, thought those who smoked and drank acted silly, stupidly, dangerously. Girlfriends recall tales of waking up half naked, uncertain if anything happened. That wasn’t the memory – or lack of memory – I wanted.

Mostly, I felt limited. I felt outcast. I didn’t seem to belong with any particular crowd or group or gang. I wanted something more, something different, and I didn’t know where to turn. Getting out and getting away seemed the only answer for me. I didn’t know what might meet me beyond the borders of the familiar, but there was no safety and no options in the familiar.

Someone once said – it was very brave of you to travel across country on your own and start over alone. I hadn’t considered it was “brave.” I’d believed it was my only choice, my only chance. She offered, the world is a dangerous place for a young woman to do such a thing. Sometimes home is a dangerous place. Limiting yourself is dangerous. Not fulfilling your potential is dangerous. Living a life in which you’re completely unhappy is dangerous. Sometimes, saving yourself, however scary the unknown is, is your only choice.

 

Does pain inspire creativity?

When I was young, I knew many people attempting to inspire creativity by causing themselves pain. They used drugs, alcohol, fought, caused drama, got in to trouble and they’d say – this is what it takes to create good writing, music, art.

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The tortured artist effect – it takes agony to create good work.

I recall one writer who drank and cheated and lied and ended up homeless, rejected, lost. He said – it makes for good stories.

I decided, quite young, that life was painful enough than to dive in head first to any more misery.

But then as I lay in bed a few nights ago with the pain of the last few months growing, the losses, the fears, the absence of loved ones, and others looking for a scapegoat for their own pain, I succumbed to a wave of agony.

The way I have handled anything challenging in my life is to write it out. So – I wrote.

Does that mean, then, that torment is good for writing?

I do write almost every day, pain or no  pain.

Maybe it’s not about torture inspiring art; however, my pain came out in poetry, which I rarely write on a regular basis.

Creatives, writers, artists, musicians write as a way to work out the agony and perhaps it just seems that pain inspires art.

Others come to the mistaken belief that they need to place themselves in harms’ way in order to create.

The guy I mentioned earlier – who caused himself and others a lot of pain – never did become the writer he wanted/thought he wanted to be. I think he fell into far too much misery to pull himself out. It stunted his talent and desire.

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The Crier – by the way – is about people who go to extremes to avoid pain.

Your Journal is Important, Especially Now

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Journaling allows us to process our daily lives. It helps us see patterns that we are taking part in physically and mentally, and most importantly it allows release.

 

Don’t hold back in journaling. These are your private thoughts and they need voicing and validation. No one ever needs to read them – or you can turn them into a creative efforts.  Some of my students have begun painting, writing, or even baking to express their creative outlets.

 

During this time, my writer friends and I are journaling to keep track of an important time in history. Maybe these will be records of human thoughts and feelings during a very difficult time in our society – much like The Diary of Anne Frank.

 

Some are doing dream journals as well.

 

In a few years, this will be forgotten, swept under the rug, or rebranded. Our society, our children, and our grandchildren’s grandchildren will need real life, first person examples of what was happening internally and externally.

 

I teach topics that deal with slavery, suffrage, native American relocation stories. We read first person accounts. These allow my students to understand critical happenings in our society not from our history books who are written by the victors or the historians recording political acts, but by the people who went through and dealt with racism, oppression, and death our history has reaped on individuals.

 

Journaling seems more important now than it ever has before.

 

It can be anything you want it to be, look like anything you want it to look like. Let it be private and burn it later. Or share it.

What Did You Do?

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I read an article which stated, there’s no need to feel you have to be productive at this time.

WHAT? Then wtf are we going to do?

I heartily disagree. I think during this time we need to set goals. We need to focus on something to keep us sane!

When this is over, I want to have something to show for it.

When this is over, in another month? another two months? giving us a total of 3 months or more alone in our homes, do we walk out with nothing to show but our muffin tops the size of three tiered wedding cakes?

I’m not telling you not to feel stress. I’m not telling you not to stress eat. I am saying – set a goal and focus on something positive while we’re doing the best we can to survive the pandemic.

This is hard. I get it. We’re scared. If you want to stuff your face full of maple bacon donuts, I’m totally with you. If you have a bad day and want to curl yourself into a ball under your flannel sheets and cuddle your cat – that was my Saturday. I’m not superwoman. I’m not asking you to do anything I’m not doing myself.

When someone asks me, what did you do during the pandemic? I want to say I accomplished something.

I’m setting goals.insi

I’m in the process of another draft – hopefully the final – of my novel. I want to finish that.

I have two fully drafted novellas that need work – those are next.

I signed up to take two classes. I may take more.

I painted my patio. No shit. It’s nearly finished.

I’m going to have a hell of a lot of rooted clippings – plant speak.

My yard will look amazing – well, for a week or so after the pandemic ends, then the weeds will be back.

I’ve written two new poems. I think I’ll start reading poetry live.

I have a live online reading scheduled for April 24th, if you’re interested.

If you’ve gotten this far, I’m planning on offering a free writing class to whoever wants to share some writing. I may recruit other writers to offer their opinions. I think we should workshop too.

So – speaking from the future – what did you do during the pandemic?

 

 

KUDOS and LOVE

to those who are serving,

police, fire, grocery clerks, doctors, nurses, volunteers.

You are my HEROES!

 

Old Disasters, New Meaning.

The night was black; there was no moon to guide us when we woke up to sound of the earth roaring, the feel of concrete slamming up then down.

Dogs barked and whimpered, car alarms bleated and died out. Then there was silence.

It’d been my first major earthquake.

We pawed our way through the dark hall over broken glass picture frames to find our children, our shoes, the doorway.

In the 1994 earthquake, I lost almost everything. We lived on the second floor of a nice apartment about a mile away from the Reseda Boulevard epicenter where (I believe) 23 people lost their lives.

Everyone in our building got out alive. But the building was destroyed, gas hissed into the alley and we had to flee.

I walked away from that disaster with my daughters. At the time, I didn’t care about all the material things.

All of the “stuff” we had seemed so worthless. And as we rebuilt, I didn’t replace all the junk we had. I didn’t have a mixer or a microwave. I didn’t fill the kitchen with “good plates” and every day plates. My cabinets remained near empty for many years. Slowly, they have been filled with occasionally used items nestled next to the well used necessities. I have things I don’t need. Pretties collected that I’d resisted for so long fill small places here and there.

And here we are again – on the brink of another disaster. And I say – I do not care about all of these things I have collected. I care about my family, my friends, students, neighbors.

My first year psych teacher said to me – before that 1994 Northridge earthquake – “The only real thing of value is meaningful human relationships.” I have always held that close.

We should dismiss our first world concerns of malls, cars, and money. We can put aside our overly independent natures and our me first attitudes. We can do what it takes to make certain that those we love, families and strangers, survive this.

We know what we need to do. We’ve done it before.

Hold on to those you love, even if they are far away right now. Nothing else matters.

 

1994 Earthquake

Plagues and Pandemics throughout History

 

Writing in the Time of Cholera

journalA number of people have mentioned the book Love in the time of Cholera to me lately. Ron Terranova, fellow writer and Poe lover, reminded me Shakespeare had a very fertile writing period during The Black Plague.

My writer and critique friend, Jo Rousseau, said she’s keeping a journal and thought many people should. It would be interesting, she said, to see the pandemic from different points of view.

There are people who are having trouble focusing on writing. I have to admit, I was one of them.

While others are saying they’ve never gotten more done. Perhaps they are in the minority? Or maybe they write well under pressure?

Just the day before Jo mentioned the journal, I started keeping my own. I’ve been plagued by disturbing dreams.

Our lives are changing, but not forever. We will come out of this, we will get through this, and I, personally, want to have something to show for it.

I started listing the things I’m accomplishing every day. I’ve added some other things, pandemic jokes and memes. Someone else is writing down the use of language, such as “social distancing”, and how those words are changing and shaping our understanding of society. It’ll be interesting how this comes to use after the pandemic.

Beyond all the free things being offered to keep us safe and sane, free yoga classes, free workouts, free virtual tours of national parks and art museums, there are a number of other things to keep us busy.

It’ll help us all to accept that, for a little while, we need to stay home and find alternative ways to sail through our days. 90186249_1912526478878981_330678285262389248_o

I urge all writers to keep a journal. Not to focus on writing to publish, but a personal historical account for your children, your grandchildren, or for the future. How will this time be remembered? Consider how we think of the Plague and The Flu Epidemic of 1918. What do you know about it? Do you know any people, any stories, any personal or family accounts of the day to day life? Encourage your children to keep journals too – in the future, compare them.

Journaling has helped me get back to writing.

Stay well. Stay healthy. Be safe.

Much love and appreciation.

Crying

People feel all sorts of ways about crying. I feel it’s cathartic, sometimes needed. Sometimes I worry our world is headed in a different direction. My new story explores a world that feels differently.

Let me know what you think. The Crier on Kindle.

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