Category: Writing


Ghosts


I’ve been working hard on my book lately.  It’s mostly written (except for the last ten years of my life), which means I’m editing.  Editing means reading my book over, and over, and over again, because editing happens in layers, I’m discovering.  You go through the book once to catch one kind of mistake, then you go through it again to catch another kind of mistake.  So on and so forth.

I’m sure that with some other kinds of books, this merely gets tedious and boring after a while.  With mine, it’s really stressful sometimes, on an emotional level.  I’m writing about things in my life that made me very sad, or angry, or frightened.  Having to read them over and over again is taxing, to say the very least.  Some things that I’ve been able to distance myself from over the years are much closer to the surface, now that I’m exposed to them so much more often.  I’m feeling things I haven’t felt in a long time, all over again.  Unpleasant things.

These feelings bubble over into my everyday life.  I’m crankier than normal, I feel, and need less stimulation.  Conversely, I’m appreciating parts of my current life more.  The difference between this life and that life are even more stark.  I’m aware of how my daughter’s life differs from my own as I was growing up.  My biggest worries with her are that she’s too materialistic and needs some direction, which seem pretty normal for a kid under ten.  I don’t worry about her needing years of therapy, or being saddled with severe personality complexes that hamper her personal relationships and ability to function in the world.  Like me.  I do worry about her developing bipolar illness, which seems to run in the family, but at least we know it might be coming, and forewarned is forearmed.

I have many hopes and fears attached to this project.  Like any writer, I have that tiny nugget of hope that this will be successful enough to garner a spot on the featured shelves of popular bookstores.  Perhaps even a coveted spot in the New York Times bestseller lists (hey, a girl can dream, right?).  I know the reality will probably be more subdued, though, that my readership will probably extend to my circle of friends and not much farther, if at all.  I may even have to self-publish through Amazon or some other venue, if a publisher doesn’t decide to pick up my manuscript.

I admit, I’ll be very disappointed if I can’t even get a publisher to consider printing my book.  I really do think it has that much merit.  Someone recently asked me why I was writing my memoir.  I didn’t have an immediate answer for them.  I think I started writing it just to get it all out of my head.  I had this jumble of bad memories, interspersed with the occasional good one, and I wanted to put it all down, in order, in part to see if it really was all that bad.  To see if, perhaps, I was ignoring the good.  I wasn’t.  It really was that bad.  It was an extremely valuable exercise to validate my memories and did a great deal for my confidence.

Then I wanted to share it, though I couldn’t say exactly why.  Part of it was attention, I won’t lie.  I think all humans want attention for the things they’ve accomplished.  Most people accomplish things like degrees, or mastery of a craft or art, perhaps.  I accomplished the feat of surviving my childhood, something that took far longer than any college degree.  And yes, dammit, I want acknowledgement for that, because it was fucking hard.  In acknowledging the hard, I found another reason for writing and sharing my story, which is best illustrated by sharing the last paragraph of my book’s introduction:

 

There is a Sanskrit word, bodhicitta, that means “enlightenment”, or “awakening”.  It is the primary goal of one called bodhisattva: someone who wants to achieve Buddhahood as quickly as possible, so they may benefit other living beings through compassion and wisdom.  That is my wish with this book, for others to benefit as I make my own journey to enlightenment, as well as healing.  If even one reader can stumble across their own bit of illumination that makes something make sense enough to propel them forward, then we will all be one step closer to peace.

 

While I feel pompous comparing myself to a bodhisattva, that’s how I feel.  So, yes, this book is for me, but it’s also for everyone else who needs inspiration to move forward with their life if they’re feeling like they’re stuck in the path that was carved for them.  It’s possible to get out of the rut, and to carve a new one.  It’s hard, harder than staying where you are, but it can be done, and it’s far more rewarding than staying where you are.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more ‘be’ verbs to turn into action verbs.

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Perspectives


Back when I was a beginning henna artist, I thought I was awesome.  Everyone looked at my work and said so, and that I should start a business doing henna.  I knew I wasn’t quite ready, so I fooled around with it some more for a couple more years, and then decided to start a business.  About the same time, I got pregnant with my daughter, so that didn’t last very long.

A few years later, when I had more free time, I started doing henna again, though just for myself.  Again, my friends were adamant that I was good enough to charge money.  I agreed and began my business once again, armed with better art books from The Henna Page.  It wasn’t terribly successful, but mostly because of the environment in which I was working, which had way too many henna artists in it already.  Most of them at about the skill level I was.

All this time, I had been involved in a virtual community at the same website where I had been buying my art books.  They had an annual conference in Las Vegas that I was just dying to go to.  I planned on going in 2006, but it just wasn’t in the cards.  I kept buying better henna art books and practicing, though.

Finally, in 2007, I was able to go.  It was awesome.  It was the first time, I was able to spend time with other henna artists.  Despite the relatively large number of henna artists in my city, none of them would talk to me.  They were all fiercely protective of their business and saw any attempt at outside communication from another artist as an attempt to steal it.  This wasn’t my intention, but they were still tight-lipped.  Understandably so, though, as our town was still overrun with mediocre henna artists charging way too much money.

In Las Vegas, however, I had the chance to watch some of the world’s best henna artists do their art.  I learned all kinds of tips, trick, and techniques.  While I did very little art while I was there (I was too embarrassed to do so amidst the company I was in), I was soaking in the knowledge around me.  I went home with a full head, and got to work.

My art skill increased by a factor of five, I shit you not.  After Las Vegas, though, I looked at every single thing I had ever drawn before, and it looked like ass.  I was embarrassed to have charged money for it.

I feel similarly about my book project at the moment.  I’ve been reading a small, but potent, book called The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing and Life.  It’s only around 100 pages, but each one is a carefully cultivated garden of words intended to pass on its bounty to the reader, in the hopes that they will also be able to find the thrift and beauty in their writing that will ensnare their reader at the beginning and carry them to the end.  I’m not quite done with it, but I’m already sure that I’m going to rewrite my book, probably more than once.  What I’ve produced thus far is called “the vomit draft”, and while it contains everything that will eventually be contained in the final product, it is not worthy of other eyes yet.

Which is why I’m so embarrassed to have already given it to some friends to read and edit.  I was stuck, though, and foolish enough to think that I had something mature enough to warrant the sort of attention I was asking to be paid attention to it.  I think I was also really proud of what I had done and wanted to show it off.  I mean, I had written, over about a decade, 100,000 words detailing the length of my life.  It was quite an accomplishment, to be sure!  It wasn’t one to share so intimately with others quite yet, though.  I wound up creating a second draft that was 40,000 words shorter than the first because I removed things from it that really belonged in their own book, or at least as a separate appendix.  Then there was a third draft that contained edits I and my husband had made.  Now I’m on a fourth draft.  And if that book I’m reading is any indication, there could be dozens of them, some of them complete rewrites.

This pretty much kills my goal of being done with this project by the end of the year, unless I’m able to do some incredible work over the next few weeks to a couple of months.  I do need a deadline, though.  If I don’t have one, it will never get done.  I’ll have to make a project outline and divide the entire thing into segments with their own individual deadlines, and then glean a tentative final deadline for the whole project.  Dividing it into smaller segments will also make it easier to work on.  Right now, it’s so big.  I keep looking at it as the whole book.  I have to break it down into smaller parts.

I also need a goal for the project.  Why am I doing this?  Just for myself?  For the family?  To help others?  Just to do it?  For publishing?  If so, do I really have aspirations for serious publication?  Like, getting on the bestseller list sort of aspirations, or self-publish on Amazon sort of aspirations?  I suppose all authors want to be successful.  Who wouldn’t want to do a book signing at the New York Barnes & Noble?  Will I be disappointed if my aspirations aren’t met?

I know I want this book to be helpful to others.  If there is a message to my story, it’s that you don’t have to be defined by your past.  That it’s possible, with enough muster and work, to break the cycles of even generations of severe dysfunction.  So many people think that they have to do things a certain way because the people before them did things a certain way, that they are locked into a particular course, but they aren’t.  Not if they don’t want to be.  They have to want it bad enough to do the work, but it is possible to carve a new path away from the rut of stagnation and death.  It also takes patience, because it takes a long time to carve that path.  Sometimes I look back and it seems like that rut is still right behind me.  Other times, though, it has long faded into the distance.  A mere happy shadow against the horizon.  I want to give other people the hope that they can have that happy shadow as well.

And if healthy people happen to be interested in my story as well, then that’s just fine, too.

Head Down


I haven’t written in three weeks, not since the post I wrote about the third cat of the summer dying just a week after we’d adopted him.  I can’t imagine why I might not have been feeling very ebullient.

I did throw myself into a project, though.  In recent months, I’ve been working on my memoir, which will in all likelihood go by the same title as this blog.  It’s a story that’s impossible to tell without delving deeply into the nature of family relationships.  In the instance of my own family, the relationship between myself, my mother, and my grandmother in particular.  That was a story unto itself, so I outlined it with the help of a shitload of letters that I came into the possession of when my grandmother’s childhood and beyond best friend had them sent to me.  They spanned from 1940 to the mid-2000s and told quite a tale that told me a great deal about my grandmother and how she may have contributed to the troubled relationship she had with my mother.  I put all that together with what I had of my own material in the form of photographs, memories, and genealogical data to piece together a century-long tale of adventure, sorrow, intrigue, despair, and resolve.

It’s early yet, so I don’t know if it will be something that stands by itself or if it will be part of the memoir, which now needs its second serious editing pass.  That will take a while and will be an interesting exercise in seeing how good I am at slowing down enough to really analyze my own writing well enough to significantly cut it.  Right now it’s like a music piece with too many notes, so it sounds busy and muddy.  Some of them have got to come out.  I do think that if each project were edited properly that they could be put together, and that along with all of the photographs, letters, and genealogical data I have, it could be really really cool.

So that’s what I’ve been working on.  And when I’m working on a big project, everything else slides.  Including my blog.  I needed something to work on, though, to get through the stress of the cats dying.  After the first cat died, I planted a 6’x8′ garden with corn, beans, and squash that is now (mostly) looking pretty darn good.  The broomcorn is blooming and there are baby melons on some of the vines.  The beans are flowering, too, so I expect some of those soon as well.  The whole thing needs fertilizer, a tilling, and mulch.  It’s somehow comforting to see the continued result of something that I planted while deeply in pain and attempting to manifest life after experiencing death.

After the second cat died, I finished up the first editing and collating pass of the memoir and sent it out to anyone who had expressed interest in looking at it.  It was much cleaner after I had taken out some travelogues that should really be appendices or a little book of their own.  I also fixed some of my attempts at playing with writing in third tense rather than first.  It was fun, but sounded pretentious and removed my ability to use that device when I needed to fill in important events that needed describing in that sort of style.  Plus, it’s my story: I should write it from my perspective.  Then the third cat died and I worked on the family history project.

So here I am with a lot of potential, and a lot of work.  One of my oldest and best friends who also has an English degree has been graciously lending her help to me on this project and was kind enough to let me know that my request for editing help was a little premature, but gave me enough to work with using my introduction to allow me to do the same to the rest of the book (and to the other one, now that it’s been written).  Fortunately, I have the ‘problem’ of having to take words out, rather than put them in.  No teacher has ever accused me of using too few words!  I should just make a list of rules to follow and get to identifying everywhere they’ve been broken.

Back to cats, some good did come out of the whole situation.  In an effort to make me happy and to save face for the organization, the people who adopted the sick cat to us in the first place graciously adopted the two kittens we were fostering to us for free.  So we are a three-cat household again.  Our existing cat has warmed right up to them, incredibly.  We thought that she might not, given that she’s so old.  Indeed, she was quite upset for several days, particularly because we had moved her food dish to be closer to theirs so they could get used to each other’s smells.  Once everything was back where it was supposed to be, she was happy again and they’re all getting along fine.  And of course, kittens!!!

We’re still fostering cats, as well.  At the moment, we have a mama and her two young kittens, about 5-6 weeks old.  Which means they’re stupid-noises cute.  Mama’s still a juvenile too, and has a high-pitched chirrup-y meow that is also incredibly cute.  I’m looking forward to finding homes for them, despite my fondness for them.  I’m sure there will be some heart-tugging when it’s time for them to go, but I’ll be happy when they find their forever-homes.

But wait, there’s more, now how much would you pay?  Today, I’m picking up a set of 3-week or so old kittens to live in our back bathroom.  If they weren’t begging for kitten fosters at the moment, I wouldn’t, but I have the space and it’s hard for me to ignore emails telling me that if they don’t foster kittens, others will be euthanized.  Yes, I’m that sucker, but it’s me and suckers like me that are attempting to keep Austin a no-kill city, which we (mostly) are.  So having an extra set of kittens is a trial run.  If it’s just too much to handle, we won’t do it again, but hey, it might be fun and it’s a good thing to do.  The only drawback so far is the increased expense in cat food and litter.  And having to sanitize our hands constantly, at least for a couple of weeks (standard initial isolation procedure).  On the upside, kittens!!!  🙂

Rotate!


Remember in volleyball, every now and then the coach would yell out, “Rotate!” and everyone would move around one place on the court?  Well my blog is about to go through something  similar, only there are seven places on the court instead of six.  I admit, I got the idea from my good friend Dianne Sylvan over at Dianne Sylvan (she writes gud, buy her buks), but her themes are different from mine.  Anyway, here are the themes that I am going to attempt to adhere to so that I can touch on all of the topics that are important to me.  Emphasis on ‘attempt’.

Meditation Monday: wherein we will discuss things meditative and I will try to introduce you all to a new meditation

Chi Tuesday: wherein we will discuss things yogic and martial and tantric (oh my!)

Witchy Wednesday: I picked this name more out of an effort to dispel its darker meanings than anything else.  A witch is no more than someone who is interested in the inner workings of life. This day is for gardenlore, herblore, spell-lore, stonelore, foodlore, and any other kind of lore.

Expansive Thursday: this day is for knowledge that’s bold and adventuresome (or was at some point in the past); this day is also for maps and geography; this day is for anything that makes part of you travel

Euphonious Friday: this day is for music, new and old

Siddhartha Saturday: this day is for something about or by the Buddha

Silent Sunday: this day is in honor of mystics and hermetics everywhere; a hermit, mystic, or saint will be honored this day


I’ve been crying a lot the last few days.  Whether it’s because of hormones, or because of sadness over the cats, it doesn’t matter really.  I’ve felt sad, and so I’ve been crying.  Or I’ve been frustrated, and so I’ve been crying.  Sometimes I’ve been angry, and so I’ve cried.  I’ve tried not to judge it too much and just see it as my psyche needing to purge extra feelings.

Not that I haven’t been entitled to extra feelings.  I’ve had a frustrating week, I feel.  I’ve been feeling the absence of the cats very keenly for some reason.  It was the same Moon sign as it was when YinYang died, and it was also the same time in my hormonal cycle as it was when I was dealing with both of their illnesses.

I’ve also been working on my book, which is always frustrating.  I do a little bit, and then get stuck.  Usually because I’m waiting on edits from other people.  I hate to put it that way because it makes me sound ungrateful, which I’m not.  I’m extremely grateful for the time other people are giving me towards editing or just plain reading and opinion-giving.  I’m starting to get really antsy, though.  I want to move forward, and I can’t.

As such, I’m trying to divert my need to write something into other projects, like the other two writing projects that grew out of the primary one: the travelogues, and the one I refer to as “tapestry” which is made of all of the photographs and letters and other objects from my grandmother that tells the story of the women in my family.  It sheds a lot of light on the relationship between the women in the family too, at least Mom and Gram anyway.  It’s interesting, especially when overlaid onto the history of the timespan it covers.  Unfortunately, it’s a fuckload of material.  There are letters that span over 70 years, and almost as many photographs.  Not to mention all of the genealogical information.  I’m drowning in all of that stuff.  It’s overwhelming.

The travelogues, on the other hand, are almost written.  Their drawback is that they’re dependent on the main project to make sense, to a certain extent.  Unless I remove all text that refers to the main storyline.  That would make them sound weird, though.  I don’t think they’d stand on their own, not all of them anyway.  I’d have to try it and see.

Then there are the blogs.  I have this one that I’ve been working on that I’m thinking of adopting a daily theme for.  I.e. Meditation Monday, Witchy Wednesday, so on and so forth.  It would make me stay on top of content and would hopefully draw more traffic.

I’ve also made another site that might not necessarily be a blog per se, but a place to put more formal articles and that is more about me and has my name for a title.  A site for a “writer”, as recommended by Writer’s Market, which I’ve been reading for the last two days in the absence of the ability to actually do any writing.  I also made a separate Twitter account and am thinking of making separate Facebook and LinkedIn accounts as well.  I had a LinkedIn account but recently deactivated it because it was pretty well useless.  Then again, I wasn’t using it specifically for writing purposes.

So this one will probably stay pretty much the same topic-wise, it will just get re-organized.  The other one will be more formal and will hold my articles that I spend more time and research on and will hold more biographical material.

Looks like I’m really serious about trying to be a professional writer after years of bellyaching about being an amateur one.

Reading and Writing


Things have been quiet around here the last couple of weeks, with the exception of the blatting cat, who still misses her mother.  She’s slowly getting quieter, though, and is settling into a one-cat routine.  We all are.  Samadhi gets a lot more attention than she used to.

I’ve been making myself read.  I do this dumb thing where I tell myself I can’t read because there must be something more important that I have to be doing, even when there isn’t.  I have plenty of time to read, in actuality, but don’t utilize it.  I’ve been trying to change that this week, using my backlog of Stephen King books as the hook.  Of his 50+ books that he’s published (just the novels, mind you), there are 34 that I haven’t read.  I own 8 of them, because I have a tendency to buy books and then not necessarily read them.  Such is the life of a bibliophile.

Whenever I read, it makes me want to write, and my brain writes in my head as I go about my day.  This both amuses and irritates me because it reminds me how shitty I am at writing fiction.  I get a little nugget in my head and try to make it go somewhere, and after about a page, it sits there like a dog turd needing to be picked up from the grass.  Maybe I just don’t read enough.  Maybe I’m really not good at writing fiction.  I don’t know.  What follows is an attempt at a fictional style of writing the ongoing narrative my brain generates when I read.  Enjoy, or try.

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She did the same thing every time she read a decent book: she began narrating her life inside her head. Actually, narrating her life was something she did constantly, but when she read, it had a bit more clarity and definition. The increased narration also made her want to write. What, as if people want to read about the minutiae of your life? Well why not, she muttered to herself. My favorite authors frequently write about the minutiae of life to great effect, if not to great length. She went back to stirring the kid’s lunchtime macaroni. Lunchtime? Maybe in Seattle, sweetheart. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon. Fuck off, it’s summer vacation, she once again muttered to herself. She wondered if she didn’t need to call the crazy whisperer to have her bipolar meds upped.

 

Once her daughter was happily ensconced with a book behind the bowl of macaroni, she went back to her own book, or at least tried to. She was having a hard time maintaining her concentration and couldn’t decide if it was her or the short story she was trying to read. It was something by a favorite author, but that didn’t mean she swallowed everything they wrote. This particular piece was hard going so far, and she was about to give up on it.

 

Eyes wandering from the page, her thoughts strayed to her constant inability to finish anything she wrote. At least, anything that was fictional. She wished fervently that the same muse that struck her so hard in non-fictional matters would strike her as hard fictionally. Alas, her creative spark had always been one dependent upon being stoked by others. She could play musical instruments with great competence, but could not compose music. She could draw beautiful patterns and designs, but only ones that were inspired by others. She could write essays on specific topics that bowled over readers with their depth of research and clarity of writing, but couldn’t muster a decent short story to save her life.

 

Got those shit-colored glasses on again, dontcha. Fuck you, she thought, though she knew perfectly well that quiet voice in the back of her head was correct. It was the one she knew she shouldn’t ignore, the one that she had ignored in the past, to great peril on occasion. Whatever other crap life had dealt to her, at least it had given her a really great bullshit detector. It was up to her to pay attention to it, though.

 

She was jerked from her silent reverie by the yowling cat, who had been in some distress since the death of her mother a couple of weeks beforehand, and her brother a few weeks before that. Sucks getting old, doesn’t it, she thought to the cat. She felt bad for her. At fifteen years old, she was alone for the first time. It made her trepidatious about her own approaching old age, being in the late stages of one’s seemingly mandatory mid-life crisis. Oh don’t even go there today, girlfriend. She pushed the thoughts away and went back to addressing the distressed cat, who was finally silenced by some ardent ear-scratching.

 

She gave up on the book, which had become more of an annoyance than anything else. Better to bookmark it and put it aside before it got flung across the room. Book abuse was inexcusable, even if a story was bad. It was too hard to try to read above the yammering in her brain anyway, which was one of the more delightful (not) effects of her bipolar illness. So was book throwing. Or throwing in general, though it had been a while since that had happened, thankfully. She wasn’t sure what suffered more damage when her mood devolved to throwing things: the thrown object, or her own self-worth. She was quite certain there was very little in the world that could make a person feel worse than being angrily destructive. At least, there was very little in the world that could make her feel worse. It could take days, or even weeks, to recover from such episodes, and she did everything in her power to keep them from happening. Just thinking about them made her feel bad.

 

You’re not like her, she thought. Are you sure? another part of her asked. She steeled herself for another internal debate over how similar or dissimilar she was to her mother, who had been, to put it mildly, batshit crazy. For fuck’s sake, do we really have to go through this again? You are neither batshit nor crazy, she told herself. She once again thanked her lucky fucking stars that her mother wasn’t around any more to make her crazy, and then immediately felt guilty for being happy that someone was dead. Some people just really need to reincarnate and do it all over again, hon, and that’s okay. She tried to remind herself how much fucked up baggage went with having a parent kill themselves, let alone both of them.

 

You’re upright, breathing, not addicted to anything other than chocolate, have a family and a home, a big circle of real friends, and take much better care of yourself than anyone else in your family before you ever has. Give yourself some credit, and a break.

 

She acknowledged the quiet, small voice in the back of her head that never lied to her, and went back to trying to read before the mental dinner party really got out of hand.

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