Where do you write?

I stumbled upon an article about writing space that I wanted to share.

I used to write, quite successfully, at my dining room table. I love the early morning light that comes through the window, not too bright until right after lunch – sometimes, I’m still writing and I have to draw the blinds.

From my dining room table, I can also view of what happens in front of my house. It’s minimal distraction. But just distracting enough for when I need to look up from any painfully blank pages. A neighbor walking a dog. A child riding a bike. My neighbor searching through the recycling bin.

I have a cafe style table. Far too big for my little space. A little taller than average. But it works when I get tired of sitting, I can stand.

The chair got hard to sit on. Back pain. Hip pain. The minimal cushion became even more minimal after so many days and hours and years sitting there.

I’ve thought about getting a little table. A table built for two – me and my computer – and set it right near the window – even closer than I am now. But would it be big enough for my tea? my snack? my stack of junk mail?

I changed my writing space to a proper desk. Big. Wooden. Dark. A drawer filled with paper, pens, stapler, and the like – whatever I might need. A nearby printer. A proper chair.

Yet, reading this article, I realized I’m nowhere near as productive as I used to be.

Starting tomorrow – it’s back to my table!

Where do you write?

My mind is a dry, dry desert

The waters cease to flow and my mind becomes a dry desert, void of any green and brown or dreams. Words fail me. Dedication wanes. I posture in contention with an empty screen, my silence doing little to reach resolution.

The tea pot whistles, the phone pings, a dog barks in the distance and I remove myself to interject where wanted or needed. Anywhere but that blank screen and my vacuous mind which refuses to fill it.

The dry times are the hardest. I remind myself it’s temporary; I list the ways, committed to memory, of how to overcome, outdo, move forward. But I am uncooperative.

I need new stimuli, a piece of starlight dropped at my feet, the feather floating before my eyes, but it’s all just lies.

I blame the hostility of empty souls, the long blankness of lock down, the right light, the wrong pen, but it’s meaningless.

Streams create rivers which become lakes and flow into oceans. Water wedges into openings, fills spaces, creates movement.

Stay open. Always stay open.

Fear

For many years, I have walked confidently on the stones in the stream, believing the fall not that deep, won’t hurt that much.

The truth is that the fall might not be very deep, might not hurt at all – it’s the fear of the fall that worms it’s way into the squirmy regions of my brain. That’s where all fear starts – somewhere deep inside the brain which is supposed to warn us of danger. We begin to feel it all though our bodies.

I come from a legacy of anxiety.

I, however, have never subscribed to the fear. I’ve never allowed it to control me or my life. In fact, I pushed back by crashing through obstacles of all sorts, by caving, and diving with sharks, traveling to far away places, and teetering on the edge of canyons for selfies. Yes, I’m one of those!

This past year, however, those rocks seem far more precarious than I ever noticed. The water rushes past so quickly, loosening the stones, unsteadying the path.

When I take one step at a time, I’m okay. If I look at the other side, if I concern myself with two or three stones ahead, I begin to panic.

Walk steady. Walk slowly. Head high. Believe it will all be okay. The other side is nearer than it seems.

Link to publications

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.

 

Superman

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Citizens

Imagine going to a therapist who works out of her home. She tells you to use the side entrance, through the gate. But the gate is locked, so you go to the front door and knock.

The therapist, who specializes in trauma, whips open the door and screams in your face “GET AWAY FROM MY HOUSE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN MY YARD?”

If you’re seeking a therapist with a specialty in trauma counseling, it’s because you’ve experienced trauma.

How do you react?

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Maybe part of that trauma is that you’ve been ignored your whole life, described as a criminal, pulled over and searched for no particular reason. When you walk by, people pull their purses a little closer. People say things to you that seem aggressive, yet they smile while they do it.

If you haven’t experienced these traumas, then perhaps you react. Ask the woman what her problem is? Ask her if she speaks to all her patients like this? Maybe you curse her out. And I’m definitely guessing, you don’t go in and pay her exorbitant fees.

But if you have experienced microaggressions and this is maybe just the third one that day, and it’s still early, you go in.

It’s not one black man who was brutalized by cops that hurts and angers large sections of our population. It’s the thousand little microaggressions that happen on a daily basis and it’s repeated brutality by those who should be setting an example in our society which makes it seem okay to other parts of our population. Further, it is those in charge who seem to shrug and say, oops, as if a cop didn’t just kill someone by kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes, but rather ran a stop sign or some other insignificant infraction.

Claudia Rankine describes hundreds of microaggressions perpetrated by colleagues, “friends,” strangers, and society. Citizen: An American Lyric is a book of poetry. I saw it enacted as a play at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Los Angeles some time ago – and it made and left an impression.

I’ve used it in nearly every literature class since. It is a work of art.

Articles, excerpts, and videos:

New Yorker

An Excerpt from the book Poets.Org

The New York Times

You are In the Dark

From Granta 

Stop and Frisk – video

More from Youtube

 

Silent, Not Silent

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I was going to say I’ve been largely silent in the last weeks, a post here and there, but I don’t want my lack of posting to be confused with silence about what is happening in the world these days.

I am left speechless at the horror of this year, of this last month, of these last days. But not silent. Not neutral.

To compound the coronavirus horrors, my only refuge – as with all of you – my house was invaded, my dog got skunked and brought the smell into the house.

Stay with me here….  this grows.

If you are unfamiliar with the smell save for passing a kill on a country road, the smell leaches into everything in a matter of moments. It’s not a matter of opening the windows to release the odor. The smell is thick, it has claws. It sticks around. Even with fans going, windows open, it lingers in corners.

The spray is an oil type substance that is embedded into my dog’s fur. The skunking is meant to do harm; therefore, it causes burning of the eyes, rash on the skin, nausea. And it is not easily scrubbed out.

I don’t only mean the dog. I was sick for days.

Now, let’s add to that a passing of a friend.

Layer that with the death of George Floyd. This hurts me because it hurts my friends, my students, my family. The brutality Floyd experienced is the brutality people of color experience EVERY DAY!

Top it with the protests, which would have been peaceful except for the agitators who want to use the protests as a front, to cause problems, and commit crimes.

So add looting and violence, the armed national guards, police, and curfews.

Do not take my silence as a neutral position. I am horrified.

Racism is that skunking. It is meant to do harm. It is an odor not released by opening a window. Racism is a stink that has claws, it has bite. It is a sickening, stinging, lingering presence. And it needs to be scrubbed out of the system entirely.

And the scrubbing needs to begin at the top.

 

I am an educator. I teach. One of the classes I have taught is The History of African American Literature. For the next few weeks, my posts will center around what I have learned and what I teach my students about communication, history, and growth.

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Sending loving and healing thoughts to all.

 

What Your Character Reads

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You’ll remember reading some great stories in which the character is reading or recommended a book to read to another.

Authors do not peel off the list carelessly, especially if it’s a single book, author, or scene. These are chosen carefully to reveal something specific about the character, to complicate the story, or to foreshadow what is to come.

There are numerous books which mention other books or authors; however, I’ll example Charity, a short story by Charles Baxter.

In one scene a drug dealer has Othello open to Act 3. It’s unclear if the dealer is actually reading – he’s sitting in a dimly lit bar, running his finger down the page; however, the main character offers, “the handkerchief. And Iago” to identify the scene and illuminate the foreshadowing.

The story of Othello, and more specifically the scene, involves Iago as the master of a manipulation using the handkerchief as evidence of a betrayal.

This is not by some accident that Baxter chose the story and the scene. He didn’t grab at something out of the blue because he needed the dealer to be reading at a bar. He chose to use a scene from another classic text to complicate and foreshadow what is to come. However, the question becomes how does it layer the story of Charity?

I won’t tell you, but I highly recommend reading the story.

In one story, I had a character reading a book by Betty White. The book is fictional, but I wanted the character to be seeking an idea of normalcy as far from herself as I could get.

Presently, I’m working on a novel. One of the characters is rather shallow and cares about the appearance of things more than anything else. Another character is describing the home and I needed a coffee table book to reflect the first. I felt he would choose a book which matched the decor, but also shows him as worldly. I chose National Geographic’s Stunning Photography. He’s never even cracked the spine, he just wanted something beautiful to match the blue of his curtains and make him look good to his guests. I may change it, but right now I think it works.

Give thought to the choices in your work, even if it’s a book sitting on a table, passing from one character or another, or in a window. It’ll layer your work, giving more depth to your characters and the story.

 

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.