Sunday, September 30, 2012
I tried capturing it in jars, first a Hellman’s mayonnaise, not only rinsed out, but scoured, cleaned within an inch of its life. Outside was the crisp light of early fall, the trees not yet turning but on the verge. The sky bright with free floating dreams, the kind that rarely float close enough to catch. I stood underneath the pear tree where the light was subdued, and I held up my jar, as high as I could reach, and the light flowed in. It filled my jar, stopping just short of the top, a clear bright color with the promise of cool nights and fire.
When I put the lid on the light tried to escape, pushing back against the lid while I pushed down, and just a bit of it got out, not much, but more than I’d like. I wanted the jar full, so it could last all winter, and not run out halfway through January.
I tried a pickle jar, scrubbing the jar first with a scouring paid, and though I couldn’t fit my whole hand in I used two fingers, wanting to make sure the color of the light wouldn’t be contaminated by any extra pickle flavor. I stood next to the house on the first cold crisp day of winter when the air was brisk enough to turn my nose red. Instead of holding the jar up I swept it next to me, scooping up the light. In the jar the light looked white, though it was as clear as the sky. I was stronger this time, and sneakier, and before the light knew what was happening the lid was on tight. It wasn’t as much light as I had in the mayonnaise jar, but in the summer I don’t need as much of the winter light, so it should last me.
By spring we had moved, and the light I wanted to capture wasn’t available at our new place. I had early fall, and the first day of winter, but I wanted the spring of where we used to live, not the flat spring of where we were living. The spring air where we used to live was full of promises, the dreams drifting down close enough to touch before they spun away again, light as gossamer, as fragile as a soap bubble. But where we were now, there were no dreams floating by, just a flat blankness of space, with no color to the light at all. It was as if the color was gone, replaced with fallen dreams that crumbled to grey ash in the harsh spring days.
I didn’t try to save any of it. I wanted no reminders of that spring, and I scuttled through the days with my eyes half-closed. Sometimes, but only rarely, I would open the Hellman’s jar a tiny bit, just to get an idea of fall or winter. This would last an hour or two before fading away again.
And that summer was the summer I left home, packing up my jars and my memories, and heading out of town, walking down the two-lane highway away from everyone I had ever known. When I couldn’t walk anymore I stopped, and I sat on a boulder twice the size of me, and I put my two jars next to me, their colors out-of-place in the heat of the summer. These were cool clear colors, not the dry desert colors of where I was now, and I resolved to return to those colors.
The next day they found me though, pulling up alongside me in the wood paneled station wagon, calling to me. “Annie, come get in the car.”
I kept walking, foolishly hoping they would think I was someone else.
The car stopped then, and my father, a short man with a smile of regret and an air of having been done wrong, got out of the car. This was what I had feared the most, that he would find me and take me back. But I stopped, and turned, and looked at him.
What I saw on his face was not happiness, but it wasn’t sadness either. “Annie, you have to come home now.”
“I can’t see the color of the air there,” I told him, knowing he wouldn’t understand. She would, if she would get out of the car, but she wouldn’t.
“Foolishness.” He scratched his chin, overgrown with a few days’ of stubble, and he stood with his legs slightly apart, ready to run after me if I should take to running. Just in case. It had happened before, me deciding to run, but I’d learned that no matter how hard I tried, he’d always catch up to me, grab my arm, and pull me back towards him so hard I’d probably fall, and he wouldn’t catch me.
“Air doesn’t have a color. Just get in the car.”
My mother peered out the side window at me, her brow furrowed. She never understood why I ran off, though she knew what I meant about the color of the air. Sweat glistened on her upper lip, and on her forehead, and I walked to the car, thinking of how beautiful she was even as she was determined to return me to my prison.
Towards the end of summer I took an empty jar, this one having held salsa, and I scrubbed it clean with the scrub brush my mother kept for the potatoes, and when I’d done that I scrubbed the label off, and then I scrubbed off all the glue. I wanted it perfect, one perfect jar for the end of summer light.
I walked out at twilight, past the end of the street where there was nothing but desert, and I held my jar high, willing in the still desert air. The twilight air had more color to it than the daytime air, and the briefest glimmer of hope that sparkled like a worn bit of metal that has just the slightest bit of life left to it.
Once the lid was on, keeping in the twilight air so it couldn’t get out, I took it home, and I placed it on the shelf next to the fall and the first day of winter, and they glimmered together, far off dreams and the present, telling me to hold on, that spring would come again, and that next time perhaps I could capture it. Next time perhaps I would want to capture it, the spring of a new start, the dampness of spring soil waiting for seeds.
The color of the air glimmering on my shelves, telling me to hold on, that new colors were on their way.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Writing Through the Pain
Everyone has experienced pain and heartbreak. Knowing this doesn’t help when it’s happening to you, of course, since we’re not part of a collective. We’re each sort of on our own here, and unfortunately we can’t ease another’s pain just because we’ve been through it. If we could, we would, but everyone has to go through their own pain. This part of being a person really sort of sucks.
I’ve heard people say it makes you stronger, pain and heartbreak, but I don’t know about that. Maybe we were that strong all along and just didn’t know it. People also say that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, and that I will disagree with. I don’t know if there is a God, and if there is a God, handing out just as much pain as you can handle and no more, why are so many people having more pain than they can handle?
Perhaps that last sentence isn’t entirely clear, but I’ve seen many people with more pain than they can handle all the time. Suicides are up, depression and anxiety are up, people are having a hard time coping.
It’s the world right now, and as it ever was. And as it will be.
So how are we supposed to write when the pain is so present that it controls our mind? When we can only think of what we’ve lost, or how everything sucks so bad that there doesn’t seem to be any point to writing anything at all? When we’re so busy asking ourselves why we should continue, how we can write past that to keep going?
For some of us, writing is our passion. It’s what we do. It’s how we define ourselves. (When I’m not defining myself by the size of my jeans, or how much money I made this year, anyway.) We aren’t what we write, but we write because we have to. And sometimes what we need to write isn’t what we choose to write, nor is it anything we want to put our name on.
I have had to write obituaries after watching a body carted out of the house, after watching the loved one die. Stew and my mom both left me behind, dying right in front of me, and then I had to sit down and write the obits. One might think I could have done that before they died; it wasn’t as if their deaths were unexpected, and it’s not as if we couldn’t see it coming, but I couldn’t set it down on paper, or computer, before then. I just couldn’t.
So I sat in front of my laptop and I looked at the blank screen, still not wanting to believe that they had died, and hoping the whole thing was a nightmare.
I’d type out the name and the date. I’d put down key words. I’d think of who they had been, and the joy they’d given while they had been alive. Every word that came out was strained, and every word that made it onto paper was insufficient. But sometimes, if you can get those words out, no matter how insufficient and difficult, you then have something to work with, something you can rewrite and refine. You can have others read it, and comment. And when it’s done you’ll feel like you’ve scaled a mountain. Most likely because you have.
There is no easy way. Not that I’ve found, but if I do find one, I’ll let you know.
It’s not always death; there are many ways for us to be immersed in pain, so many ways for chaos to make itself an omnipotent presence in our lives. And still we have our stories to tell, still we need to force those words out of us and onto paper, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Sometimes it helps if we just write down what we’re feeling, why the chaos is there, and tell yourself, if no one else, about the pain.
This doesn’t mean you’re writing a masterpiece. It may mean you’re writing something you’ll discard later, or you may save it so you can remember, next time, what it was like. It does mean you’re giving voice to the chaos in your mind, whether it’s whispering or screaming (mine likes to talk in a high falsetto, as if it’s mocking me, which it is). For writers, this is a first step in letting it go. Or if not letting it go, because does it ever go all the way away? at least giving it less power over you. That’s what chaos seeks: power. And when it’s inside of you, mixed in with the pain, it has enormous power, and this power is being used for evil instead of good. When you put the words on paper, little bits of evil fall out with the words, and you can brush these little bits onto the floor and then sweep them up and throw them away.
Or have your housekeeper do it.
Keep writing out the pain until you can’t find any more words for it, or until you fall asleep, or until you get hungry, or until you get so sick of it you just want to move on and do something else. You may still have pain, but it will get better.
You may not be able to write past the pain, so you may have to write through it. Don’t let it get the best of you, because we want that part, and chaos has no use for it. Save the best for us, your readers, and let chaos take its pain and crawl into a corner and die, for all we care.
We have no use for it, and neither do you.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
I KNOW! I’m pretty excited myself, so I can imagine how you’re feeling about it.
Granted, you don’t care much, but you must understand what a big deal this is. Not that you’ll care more, but just so you know: it is very difficult for me to find pants. Oh sure, they’re in stores everywhere, but none of them fit me. They’re too short, or the butt sags, or they’re too short.
Mostly what I’m saying is, they’re too short. Or the butts sag. And I mostly wear jeans because I’m not comfortable in pants – pants always make me remember junior high when my sister made me a pair of pants that were so big on me everyone at school laughed at me. So we went to a place that has the kind of jeans that fit me – you know the ones I mean – far too expensive, but they have them in long and they appear to fit even after I wash them. I was collecting some to try on, and the helpful sales guy said, “Do you want to take a 12 regular just in case?”
“Just in case of what? I decide I want capris?”
Yes. I am a size 12. I KNOW! That’s a plus size model size!
I didn’t start off this big. You know how someone like me gets this big? We start off being skinny, with everyone laughing at us. (And by us, I mean me.) We leave home at 18, go to basic training, lose a couple of pounds, then go to Monterey, California, for awhile, and gain A LOT OF POUNDS. At the time there were chow halls to choose from: Air Force, Army, and Navy, and we could go to whichever random chow hall we wanted, depending on what sounded the best. The Navy does have the best food, by the way. Not only that, but a short walk downhill was downtown Monterey, filled with fabulous restaurants. (Of course, we couldn’t walk back up the hill after pigging out, so we’d take a taxi back.)
And so I gained weight.
Then I lost weight.
And gained weight. And because I’m such a big girl anyway (by which I mean, I’m taller than the average . . . girl) no one seems to notice so much when I gain weight. Anyway, eventually how it works is that the pounds don’t go away as easily as they got there, and you, or I, end up this size.
So my legs are long, my butt is little, and waist is . . . well, hidden pretty well, by the fat.
Did you know that people who carry their weight in their stomach are at greater risk of dropping dead of fat-related causes than people who carry it in their hips? I do not make this stuff up.
Anyway, so I tried on some jeans, which have to be boot cut because otherwise, well, I can’t wear my red boots, and I bought a pair.
Made my week.
I know. With everything that’s going on in the world, how can something like this make me happy?
For one thing, I don’t go shopping much. To fortify myself for this event I had a 5-Hour Energy first. (Yes! They work for FIVE HOURS!) So when I do go shopping, it’s a big deal.
For another thing, I have had a really rough summer. I have been engaged in hand-to-brain combat with depression, and while I’m now winning it was rough going for a bit.
And for yet another thing, every day when I wake up I hear more bad news. People I love are sick, sad, depressed, the environment is going to hell, there’s killers running loose in the streets, zombie bees are now in Washington, there’s some sort of political thing going on, people are homeless, jobless, hopeless, and there’s a dead baby panda somewhere. Cripes, it never ends. Every day I hear something horrible.
Man, life sucks sometimes, doesn’t it?
Here’s the thing. There is always going to be something going on that I can be outraged about. There will always be sadness and despair and people doing horrible things to other people. (And what the hell is that all about anyway? That’s just not right.) But I can’t fix it, though I would really like to. Sometimes it’s all I can do to hang on to what little piece of sanity I have. And I think a lot of us are in the same boat, metaphorically speaking.
Obviously. If only we all had boats, that would make life more fun.
So like I say in my enormously popular book (insert self-serving statement HERE), you have to hang on to whatever pieces of joy you can, no matter how fleeting.
My friends hate it when I tell them that. “But I don’t want to!” They tell me, “I’m unhappy!” So I try not to run around acting as if I have the answers, because I don’t. I do know that our time here is fleeting, and that we have to really work at finding the little things that make us happy, the things that make it possible for us to look at the icky things and work around them, if we can, or help other people with their icky things. Everyone runs into icky things sometime, and they can beat you down.
Look for the light, in whatever you do. Take the little pieces of joy you can and build on them. It’s all I’ve got for the moment, but sometimes a tiny bit of light is all you need.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
I had a dream. This is not uncommon. I have dreams fairly often. It's sort of what I do when I, uh, sleep. But in this dream we were touring expensive apartments in high rises, not that we necessarily wanted to move there. No, we need a house with a yard and a fence for the dogs we'll always have, because no way am I taking the dogs downstairs when they need to go outside. I'm far too lazy.
And as we toured the apartments, some of them quite lavish and huge, we ran into other people who were also touring. And then we debated the various merits of various apartments. This one had too many bedrooms, that one had too many stairs, the other one didn't have enough space. The one at the top of the building, however, had everything, including a view.
I do love a good view. We could see the city for miles, and it was a beautiful bright day, much like today.
As we were leaving we were talking about our finances, and why we couldn't afford one of these places, and you said to me, "It's all that stuff you buy at 1 Sale A Day."
Enraged, I turned to you and said, "I only bought one thing from 1 Sale A Day, just once, and it was twenty-seven dollars."
"Oh," you said, "I thought it was more. You get those emails all the time."
"Yes, they send them to me every day. That's why it's called 1 Sale A Day. It doesn't mean I buy anything."
You weren't exactly apologetic, but you shrugged your shoulders, as to say you were glad we'd cleared that up.
We were in an elevator, and preparing to go down, and it occurred to me that I have a problem with high speed elevators, which is that I float towards the ceiling.
As far as I know, this is only a problem in my dreams, and not in real life. It's not as if I've ever actually floated in an elevator.
There were other people in the elevator with us, and when it began its descent I floated toward the ceiling, and I was embarrassed, because everyone else stayed right where they should, feet firmly planted on the ground, while I was hanging out in mid-air. I felt unnatural and a bit conspicuous.
Someone said to me, "You can come back down to earth if you twist and force yourself down."
This hadn't occurred to me. I'd though I was stuck in the air for the duration.
I don't know if I stayed up in the air, or if I came down, but knowing I had the option seemed to make a world of difference. It was my choice, now, whether to float, or whether to stand on my own two feet.
And I remembered it this morning, when I should be working, because I remember that it's always a choice, whether I stand or float, whether I come down to earth or stay above with my head in the clouds.
(I almost typed heads in the cloud, but I've only got the one head.)
It's always a choice for me to make.
Monday, September 10, 2012
Drop the ego. Easy for me to say, what with my gigantic ego. Sometimes me and my ego don’t fit in the same room together, so I park it another room, but it still screams at me from a distance. I’m a paradox – I know I’m a crappy person and a middling writer, but I’m fairly convinced that I’m a good writer. It’s a difficult spot to be in. (See this post (coincidentally) by Betsy Lerner, who knows more about how writers think than I ever will - Betsy Lerner's Blog)
The truth is, no matter how much you write and no matter how good you are, some people just don’t care. You may think you’re the best writer you know, and maybe you are, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep telling people that.
The reason I know this so well is because I tried that method and no one cared.
Some writers think that they don’t need editors. I am not one of them. I need an editor. I love my editor. Don’t blame her for my blog posts though – I don’t have those edited. I just write and post. But if someone is going to write a book, someone really needs an editor, and someone may need gasp! Rewrites!
Editing and rewrites to make your writing better means putting aside the ego, just a bit, and asking for help. A different perspective is vital for, because we often can’t see the forest for the trees. (I hate clichés.) We’re so used to seeing what we meant to be saying that when we look at what we’ve written that’s what we see, even if it didn’t quite come out as we intended.
For example, some of my phrasing and sentences might not be clear – from my perspective, they’re perfectly clear and make sense, but from the perspective of someone who wasn’t there (whether fiction or non-fiction), it may just be confusing. We can’t tell because we’re so familiar with what we’re trying to say that we don’t see it.
I’d go look for an example, if I had the energy.
Get used to the idea that you may have written something astoundingly beautiful and it’s going to be cut. Not that it will, necessarily, but it might. You might have a paragraph that just blows you away, but if it doesn’t fit with the rest of your work, if it obfuscates and goes off on a tangent that’s not relative to the story, it’ll have to go. This is really hard, because it’s yours.
This is when an editor comes in handy.
You can ask friends and family to read your work and that’s fine – but if they’re like most of my friends, they’ll say, “It’s great, love it,” and that’ll be it, which is nice, but not terribly helpful. I do have some friends who are great at pointing out things that are wrong, or need changing or clarifying, but often the people closest to us are the worst at editing.
Get used to having other people read your work and give feedback. We all love it when people to tell us how much they love our work, but feedback may be negative, and you have to be prepared to hear it. Not necessarily accept it – just because it’s negative doesn’t mean it’s right. But also get used to not receiving any feedback. Your fragile ego (and by “your,” I mean “my”) may be expecting a response for everything you do, but your (my) fragile ego needs to get over itself.
Most people who read something, online or offline or some other line, won’t respond at all. Ever. It’s nothing personal, usually, it’s just that everyone has their own stuff. Or there’s nothing to say. Or your piece doesn’t resonate with them. Or whatever. It doesn’t really matter why there’s no response, it only matters that you don’t take it personally, and that you realize most likely has nothing to do with you.
All you can do is write, and do what you will with it. Tell your ego to relax a bit – you may be the best thing since sliced bread, but so are a lot of other people. It’s a fabulous world with lots of great writers.
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Thursday, September 6, 2012
Today someone sent me an email asking if his wife would like my book.
How do you respond to that? (By you, I mean me, obviously.) How do I know? Maybe she only likes romance, or is a 50 Shades sort of person (in which case . . . oh, never mind). Maybe she will, maybe she won’t. I can’t be so pinheaded as to not realize that there may be people who have read it and don’t like it – they just don’t tell me about it afterwards. Far as I know, everyone loves it and it should be a bestseller.
(No, it’s not, but publishing being what it is, things are what they are.)
(By the way, I hate clichés such as, “things are what they are,” “at the end of the day,” “where’s my machete when I need it?”)
This is the same guy who a week ago expressed some amazement that the book has done as well as it has. Really? You need to say to someone, “I’m just surprised it’s done as well as it has.”
This from someone who knows me only from an email list and hasn’t read any of my work. I just said, “Eh,” and moved on. This is what you do with comments like that, unless you want to engage in a discussion of everything you stand for. I wanted to respond, “And I am surprised that you’re still breathing. I can’t imagine the amount of thought you must put into staying alive every day.”
But I didn’t.
After today’s question about whether or not his wife would like it (in which my response was, “I don’t know, other people seem to,”) he responded again with this gem:
“I guess I was just thinking that if it wasn’t nice to the psych health care field she might not like it, but then again that doesn’t seem likely. I’ll pick up a copy in the next week or so.”
Yes. My entire point was to be nice to members of a profession to the exclusion of telling the actual story. Or, alternatively,
No, my entire point was to be mean to members of a profession to the exclusion of telling the actual story.
Sheesh. People. I hadn’t actually considered whether I was being nice or mean to people in the psych health field because that’s not what it’s about. It’s about friendship, and finding hope when it seems there is none. It’s also about what we’re willing to do to save others. Those are the themes. Mental illness is just the backdrop.
It’s an important backdrop, but there it is all the same. I wish people in the psych field would read it. Or students studying in that field, because it’s a real-life case study of what happens without a safety net, and a first-person account of what is actually in the head of someone with mental illness, someone who’s desperately trying to put his life back together.
Some days I want to move on, but then I realize I really do want people to know this story, so I press on with talking about it.
When you’re a writer, you have options. You can write about anything and there’s a niche for it. And if there isn’t, you can make one for yourself, if you can find enough people interested in what you’re writing about. You can put as much of yourself into your work as you want. Sometimes I write to entertain, and sometimes I write to inform, and sometimes I write because otherwise my head will explode.
My husband has asked that I please not explode. It’s very difficult to get brain out of the carpets.
The choice is ours. Some people who have read the book feel like they know me, and that’s all right with me. (Though they could email me more often – it wouldn’t hurt to keep in touch.) I didn’t hold back, and this is a story that’s so very important to me.
When we write, we take little pieces of ourselves and we stick it on the paper, and we hope people like what we’ve done with it. Our writing is not us, and we have to keep ourselves separate from it, but it is a part of us. So tend it with care and nurture it, and don’t give up on it, even when you’re certain that would be the best course of action.
I myself give up at least once a week, but then I keep going anyway. I don’t know if it’s because I’m slow to catch on or determined, but since the result is the same, it doesn’t matter. Ignore the people who want a nice little story that won’t offend anyone, and go with what you want to write. Use your own pieces of yourself.
Saturday, September 1, 2012
I’ve never really grown up when it comes to summer. Each summer I have the same issues with wanting to be out playing instead of inside working. Growing up, I never worked in the summer. A job might have been a good idea in high school, but my time was filled with looking after my younger brother, and a job just never fit it into the schedule.
Besides, I never had any skills and didn’t know how to get a job. Instead I took care of Jeff, picking him up from preschool, hanging out with him, answering his endless questions, hanging out by the pool with him (he was a much better swimmer than I by the time he was 3), and letting summer float by.
I still want summers to float by. When it was hot, really hot, I wanted the summer to fly by, the sooner the better. But when the temperatures go down into the 70’s and 80’s I just want it to float by, lazy days where I do what I want, a giant summer vacation. It doesn’t, of course, because I still have to earn a living, since money doesn’t grow on trees.
This summer I also tried to convince myself and others that I was a writer, and some people are still buying that lie. I’m still buying it myself, though I have certainly faced the subject head on and should, by all logical measures, abandon the idea and console myself with a life of being paid by the hour.
No such luck. I have faced really dark times. I have doubted myself, and I have been tired and frustrated. I have fought against encroaching depression, which is just something I have to do, no matter what I do with my life. I have wished for other skills and other knowledge, and I have wished to not care if I never write again. I have repeatedly dealt with the idea that I am not a special snowflake, that I may be more hype than substance, that writing will always be my “little hobby,” something which people think is cute in a sort of, “Oh, isn’t that cute that she writes those little books” sort of way.
I always wanted my family’s approval, and even though they like me well enough, it has occurred to me that it’s not that they don’t approve of me, but they’re just not that interested in what I do, and that we have no common ground. Also, it’s not that they don’t consider me good enough, it’s that I don’t. I will always wish they approved of me, and though people tell me it doesn’t matter in the slightest, it’s as if it’s built into me, and I can’t escape it.
I haven’t floated through this summer as gracefully as I would have liked. For that matter, doing anything gracefully isn’t my forte. I consider Labor Day weekend to be my last glimpse of summer, and once it’s over I can return to my real life of working on numbers and fitting in some writing when I can. Of course, that describes my summer also, but in summer it’s so much more work to get myself to sit down and do the work when the sky outside is so blue and I know, just know without even thinking about it, that I belong out there.
After Labor Day is when I restart, again, and hope I can do it better this time. Or at least do it without so much self-doubt. Or at least do it without banging my head against the wall wondering why I can’t do it better. Self-flagellation is not something I aspire to, though I am quite good at it. In summer I can excuse myself because it is summer, but this summer I have been very hard on myself. I hope to lessen it, though I’m not yet sure how that will happen.
Summer is coming to an end, and I am still fighting off this virus that makes me so tired, makes my throat hurt, make my chest feel like there’s a giant weight on it. Or maybe it’s hay fever. Or maybe it’s just the end of summer, barreling down on me like an out-of-control freight train. (An overused metaphor, but still useful now and then.) Maybe it’s just another stop on my journey to wherever it is I’m going.
This is why I put off scheduling a doctor appointment. “Doctor, I’m having problems, and I think it’s because summer is ending.” “Doctor, I feel like crap, but it’s probably just the freight train headed my way.” “Doctor, if I’m so healthy why do I feel so bad?”
“Doctor, it’s the end of summer, can you make it painless?”
I love fall, and I love winter, so I shouldn’t have a problem with the end of summer. But I do – new beginnings, the concept of change, the idea that another year is speeding by and I’m still looking for my place. I have all the pieces: a great husband, great dogs, a great place to live, work I’m paid for, daily gratefulness for everything that has brought me here, where my greatest joys are, and still, still I keep looking for more.
Now I need a nap. It’s the virus thing, of course.