I posted a status update on Facebook yesterday noting I was at The Yardhouse Restaurant, and that “at least they have good beer.” Someone responded asking me if I like to drink (yes, I like certain alcoholic beverages), and I found myself defending the stereotype of the drinking, binging, self-destructive writer. I’ve certainly had my scenes of inebriation, but I am simply lucky not to carry the addiction gene. Beyond that I have an inherent impulse toward beauty—meaning I cannot stand the way I look and feel after any sort of binge. Chocolate, tequila, smoke or deep-fried hush puppies, I don't feel good when I look bad. And I’m OCD about hygiene, so I can’t embody the unwashed, sloppy over-doer (nor can I be an effective hippie, but that’s another blog post).
In one of those universal existential confluences, moments after I posted my “I’m not a tortured, sloshy-drunk, self-mutilating writer” response, I received a friend request from a wonderful writer, Jacqueline Doyle, who has a story in the latest issue of the Santa Fe Literary Review, and read my piece, Demonios Y Canciones Mi Padre (live link to follow) there. In perusing her wall I found this wonderful essay she published in The Writing Disorder that interrogates the notion that writers generally create best when toasted. I found this excerpt apt: “But since I've gotten sober, I've noticed a few things. Not all writers are drunks. My own productivity has increased tremendously. Before I often wrote in an alcoholic euphoria after a night out of drinking, or induced a kind of euphoria sipping wine by my computer, and it sometimes produced results, but there wasn't much follow-through.”
Talent--it's breathes all around us. People can be so extraordinary. Watching the latest episode of SYTYCD last night I was yet again gobsmacked by art—the gifts of our bodies and brains. Not just dance, either, but in as many media as one can imagine. Each day I read the stories written by people I know, or from people I don’t know and must “judge,” and marvel at the creative impulse, the genius that must be ubiquitous—so much abounds. Feeling uninspired? Drab? Walk Off the Earth’s clever little cover song, performed with such acumen and wit, surely makes you feel a smidge better about the human stain? We are sublime.
Still, we focus and aggrandize production and consumption in our lives; our admiration doled out most often to those that accumulate money and power and things of “status” that ultimately mean nothing. We call him "Mr. Trump," for nothing more than his self-proclaimed status.The venture to become top dog is privileged, protected and exalted, and our singular impulse to art is diminished, mocked, and too often wholly unsupported.
Hello again from the world’s worst blogger.
I’ve had a festering writer’s block this year, only finishing up two fiction pieces I started at the end of last year and pulling out an old memoir piece called Jagged Little Summer, which was one of the final works I completed in college. As all old work does, I had a palpable physical reaction upon revisiting it that was akin to a fight-or-flight adrenalin dump—intense aversion. I hated it and knew it was all wrong. This piece is a memoir, and there were places I didn’t want to go with it, things I resisted reveal.
So first I rehashed it vigorously. I worked it and reworked it for at least the past six weeks. I kept revisiting it and tweaking a word here, a phrase there. It slowly got leaner, then longer, then better, but still it needed some stitching up, it needed a little more flight. Finally, frustrated, I made myself leave it for a while. If I stared at it for more than about 15 minutes, I closed the document and did something else.
Today Tin House linked over to Open Culture for a list of 8 suggestions for constructing a short story by Kurt Vonnegut. They are concise and helpful for every writer to bear in mind, or at least to try to only break one or two at at time:
While each has strong merit, I'm paying particular attention to #8, since I chopped such a beginning from a recent CNF that has been getting rejections. Maybe I'll add the old beginning back and try another few places before I give up on it entirely. I am also going to have #4 tattooed to the inside of my wrist--happily my most recently completed story passed this test. Finally, we all pretty much know that I'm already committed to #6.
In other news, what does this image have to do with anything?
“A great work of fiction involves a certain frisson that occurs when its various components cohere and then ignite. The cause of the fire should, to some extent, elude the experts sent to investigate.” Michael Cunningham, Author – The Hours
Here in The Paper Garden I like to wear the cloak of “writer” with a modicum of pride. Someday sooner rather than later, I’d like to add the hat of a published “author” and strut around for an instant before my work dissipates into likely obscurity.
The pinnacle of success for an author is the Pulitzer Prize, the Oscar of literature. Last week the Pulitzer Prize winners for 2012 were announced, and for the first time since 1977 there was no Pulitzer prize awarded for fiction.
March Madness in re college hoops be damned!! Here’s some April madness for the reading/writing geek brought to us by Powell’s—the top goddess of all bookstores and the place I often dream of being locked in after hours. Powell’s is sponsoring the bracket of all bracketing with their April (the cruelest month) Poetry Madness. The categories are as follows: Living Poets, Dead Poets, Poets in Translation and Pacific Northwest Poets (what can one say, Portland and Powell’s are nearly synonymous). The method for their bracketing choices is explained here in an appropriately tongue-in-cheek manner.
Ahhhh, the “smartphone,” not much bigger than my palm, but able to obliterate my confidence in a millisecond! For instance recently I decided it would be advantageous to have a voice recorder with which to record ideas. Like so many other folks, I seem to be highly inspired and creative right before sleep takes over—ideas buzzing around like hummingbirds across the dark sky of my closed eyes. Two nights ago I had a stimulating idea for an essay, and even “wrote” the first few paragraphs in my head. Over and over again I tried to burn the concept into my psyche for morning access--to no avail. The idea disintegrated in my sleep. I also get copious notions as the water hits my skin in the shower or bath, or immediately out of the shower—another occasion when a pen and paper won’t help.
In the past decade I have written memoirs for a nun, tutored children from Somalia, edited a college literary magazine, interned at Literary Arts in Portland, published a few stories, graduated from University with highest honors, given a speech to a packed house at the Schnitz, remodeled a fixer-upper, written grants for programs that helped, extended my emotional /intellectual horizons, made an intra-state move, started a business, regained my groove, placed my finger back on the pulse, joined Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn, bought a smartphone, traveled, raised puppies, and most importantly--honed my writing skills. I bare myself here on The Paper Garden and hope some moments will resonate with you.