Tag Archives: writing

Strip Poker

Last night, as I was falling asleep, I was staring at my husband, who was by then in his third REM cycle.  I was thinking, God, I love that man — that quirky, brilliant, flawed and funny man.  Then I was thinking of how our years together have uncovered our idiosyncrasies and imperfections.  Not that I’m counting, but I have at least five or six more than he does.  I considered waking him up and asking him, “Do you love me this much, even with the self-absorption and the brutal morning breath?  Really?“  I thought of how I am (mostly) still amazed that I get to share my life with him.  I even got to make babies with him.  We made two people and brought them into the world.  All because we went out for Chinese one night, fourteen years ago.

Isn’t dating bizarre?  You date (sometimes) because you are looking for a life-long companion.  And you think this search should start with the 7pm showing of American Pie 2, followed by dinner at The Cheesecake Factory?  Couldn’t we find more appropriate material for the audition?  When my husband and I were dating, we drove to Chicago for a night and crashed on his buddy’s couch (now I’m the one in charge of making hotel reservations).  Upon arrival at his friend’s apartment, we parked our car on the street.  The next morning, we returned to find a towing notice and a phone number.  While I stood in the empty parking spot with my mouth open, my husband took out his Palm Pilot flip phone, got the address of the towing company, and ordered a cab.  He didn’t get mad or impatient.  He stayed calm and took care of business.  Before I knew it, we were reunited with our car and making our way home.  That was the first time I thought he might be the guy for me.  Of course, if the same incident occurred today, I would probably hiss, “I TOLD you we shouldn’t park there!”  And then I would growl at him.  A few hours later, we would laugh about it.  The week before we would have done something equally stupid, like pay a guy $150 to open the garage door by flipping a light switch in the living room.

Marriage is like a game of strip poker.  As time passes, you reveal more of yourself, until you are completely naked and exposed.  Every dimple and wrinkle are on display.  At the end of the game, you count yourself lucky to have a partner who’s still holding his cards and making jokes.  And best of all, the jokes make you laugh.

 

Advertisements

Sit Your Butt in the Chair and Write

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?  What’s worth doing, even if you fail?

I’ve been asking myself these questions all week.  Sheryl Sandberg poses the first one in Lean In.  Brene Brown poses the second in Daring Greatly.

For me, the answer to both questions is clear:  Write.

Here’s the problem:  I’m a person with a short attention span.  I have one big idea a week.  I get all excited about it.  I tell my husband about it.  And then, inevitably, I poke a hole in my big idea, and it deflates.  Within forty-eight hours of a Eureka! moment, my big idea doesn’t seem so big.

But writing is different.  Writing is the balloon that never pops.  The act of writing always brings me happiness and satisfaction.  It doesn’t matter if I write for myself or share my writing with others.  It always feels good.  It can be frustrating and deflating too, but I keep going back for more.

Well, alright, writing is my big idea.  Now what?  Where do I go from here?  What happens if I stray from my big idea?  I get lost, and I come back to it.

When I think of not writing, or periods in my life when I have strayed from writing, I think of this poem:

Harlem [Dream Deferred]

By Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I know what you’re thinking.  What’s the problem?  Just keep writing.  But here’s the thing with writing: it’s hard.  Writing is a craft.  It requires study.  It requires time, discipline, and patience.  I’m not whining, I’m just intimidated and insecure.  What if I get lazy or lose interest?  What if I wimp out?  What if I write nothing but crap for the rest of my life?

Well, I suppose there are worse things.  Apart from loving the people I care most about in this world, there is nothing I’d rather do than write.

I once read an interview in the New York Times Magazine with Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels that inspired the HBO show, “True Blood”.  When asked to give advice to aspiring writers, she replied:  “For any writers at all, read everything you can and then put your butt in the chair and write.  That’s all there is to it.”  Harris is telling us that writers have to roll up their sleeves and get to work.  It’s not easy, and there are no short cuts.  Isn’t that what it takes to follow any dream?

So, here’s the deal:  Follow your dream, but don’t expect it to come easy.  Work hard.  Lean in.  Dare greatly.  When you fail – and you will fail – get up, dust yourself off, and get back to work.

I make it sound easy, don’t I?  Time to sit my butt in the chair and write.

 

Going to the Grocery Store Naked

The End.  I meant to include that phrase at the end of my last post, “Lady Yellow Slippers, Part V”.  If you’ve read it, please send me a comment.  Any comment will do.  You could respond with “Your writing stinks!” or “What’s up with the birds?”  You could tell me, “No one would ever use the word ‘ciggies’”.  I’ll take whatever you’ve got.

Writing is like conducting lab experiments – mostly you fail, but you keep doing trial after trial.  When you write like I do, mostly in a vacuum, you crave feedback.  I know, I know.  Why don’t I stop whining, and take a workshop?  But until then, hit me with your best shot.

I just read an interview with A.G. Wodehouse, who, at the time of the interview, had been writing for seventy years.  He said that when he started writing, in his early twenties, he sent out lots of stories and got lots of rejections.  You see, he said, when you first start to write, you write lots of awful stuff.  What a relief!  Isn’t it comforting to know that even the great writers don’t come out of their mothers’ wombs publishing pieces in The Paris Review?  We all have to start somewhere, don’t we?

Since I’m beginning to write short stories, I’ve been reading lots of them lately.  At this very moment, George Saunders’ Tenth of December is in my purse.  Saunders’ stories absolutely transport me.  As I make my way through his book, I’ve been reflecting on the characteristics of a great short story.  I’ve started a list of characteristics.  First on my list:  complex characters.  Why?  They are credible.  We readers are human beings, and human beings are complex.  If characters don’t mirror actual human beings, the story won’t work, will it?  Second on my list:  humor.  Even the darkest story has the potential for humor.  In fact, the darkest stories require humor to function as a relief valve (kind of like life, right?).  Take Dorothy Parker’s “Just a Little One” as an example.  In this story, a woman simply talks to her date, as she consumes high balls.  The more she drinks, the more her character unfolds.  Parker writes lines so clever, and with such perfect timing, they make you laugh aloud.  And yet, even though her story makes you laugh, it is both dark and sad.  Complexity, check.  Humor, check.  The same things could be said for Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” or Junot Diaz’s “The Sun and the Moon”.

Third on my list: imagination.  For a story to hold us captive, it must be imaginative.  It must be novel.  It must make us think, “How on earth did he/she come up with THAT?”  Karen Russell’s “from Children’s Reminiscences of the Westward Migration” is the story of a family’s journey to the western frontier.  The father is a Minotaur.  That’s right, a Minotaur.  How on earth did she come up with THAT?  The very premise of the story is imaginative.  If Russell had written a story about a family’s westward journey, you might have thought, ho hum.  The Minotaur turns this story on its head.  It kicks down the doors of our imaginations.

What would you add to my list?  Send me some ideas and the names of your favorite short stories.  We all love stories, don’t we?  We share them.  We hand them down from generation to generation.  We use them to connect with one another.  We tell stories to convey what it means to be human.  Isn’t it funny how being human doesn’t change much over time?  The set and props may change, but the play is the same.

Great stories are timeless, as is our need for connection.  For me, writing is about connecting with people.  It’s also about following my passion and being vulnerable.  It’s scary posting your writing online.  It’s like going to the grocery store naked.  But it’s also rewarding and stimulating.  The more I share my writing and passion for writing with others, the more others open up to me.  The more we connect.  So go ahead – go to the grocery store naked.  See what happens.

Mindfulness

I went to yoga to learn why I love to read and write.  Two weeks ago, I attended a class taught by accomplished yogi, Rolf Gates.  A dear friend had invited me and even given me Gates’ book.  I started reading it right away, and, by the time the evening arrived, I was truly excited to hear him speak.  Like a star-struck fan, I was thrilled to just be in the same room with him.  I knew I was going to learn something very important from Gates.  I was right.  It has taken more than two weeks to digest the lessons Gates taught us that night.  But finally, this morning in the shower, it hit me:  Mindfulness.

Put your palms together, and bring them to the center of your chest.  Do you feel the surfaces of your palms lightly touching?  Neither hand is grasping or covering the other – they are simply pressing together.  Gates explained that this gesture is a symbol of mindfulness.  It reminds us of how we should be with our partners and our kids – fully present, free from distraction, and focused on the other person.

This week I have done a poor job of being mindful.  I have put too many appointments and errands on my calendar.  As a result, I have spent too much time doing things that are not particularly meaningful or fulfilling for me or my family.  I have been distracted and unfocused during my time with my kids.  How silly – the primary reason I embarked on this sabbatical was to have more quality time with my children.  Not only did I fail my kids, but I failed myself by not honoring my commitment to write daily.  This week I have been the opposite of mindful.

In thinking about how I can do better in the coming weeks, I’ve realized that reading and writing have infused my days with meaning, fulfillment and happiness.  For me, reading and writing are acts of mindfulness.  They center and focus me.  They bring me to the present and clear away all distractions.  When I stray too far from them, I feel less focused, less fulfilled, and less happy.  Reading and writing charge me with energy to be the best person I can be for others.

Thank you, Rolf Gates, for the lesson in mindfulness.  The next time I sit down to write, before I place my fingers on the keyboard, I will bring my hands to heart center.  Namaste.

The Stronger Pull

On the first of January, I resolved to write every day of my sabbatical.  How am I doing so far?  It just so happens – and today is the first day I’ve done the calculation – that I have written exactly 32 “pieces” since the start of my sabbatical.  I’m on target.  I suppose that making a New Year’s resolution to do something every day that you have always loved – for me, writing anything at all — is not exactly heroic.  But I’m not hurting anyone.  If I am, please stop reading immediately, accept my sincerest apologies, and move on to Slate.com.

Why did I make this arguably narcissistic resolution in the first place?  Here’s a Rumi quote I saw in a yoga studio this week:  “Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.”  I suppose I am succumbing to that which I truly love.  I am letting myself be drawn by the stronger pull.  What do you truly love?  Can you feel the stronger pull?  I have lots of loves – my children, my husband, my mother, my father, my extended family, my friends, reading, writing, exercise, photography…  My best days are those on which I devote as many hours as I can to my loves.  The next time I examine my calendar, I will recite my new mantra:  “Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.”  Repeat.