writing

The missing step in writing

[A video that has exactly ZERO to do with this post!]

This post is #37 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

My struggles with that mythical circus balancing act known as the Brothers Work-Life are legendary and ongoing. And experts agree that in my case, the smart money is generally on Work.

Still, I make inroads. At a recent meetup of my master mind group, I was praised not just for taking the time out of this nonstop fundraiser-fest to do some exercise, but for exhibiting the knowledge that doing so was a significant achievement. Because while the first step to lasting change is noting where you are, and close behind it is setting an intention, then moving towards it, one frequently overlooked step is acknowledgment.

Or, they are also steps which stand there, unmoving.

There are two ways this has to do with writing. First, please remember that this delicious brain of yours that hooks the words together cannot keep doing its work without rest, without play, without a little care and feeding of its housing.

Second, at some point in your work, pause. Not just to rest the brain and the body that are working so hard for you, but to complete a cycle of work. This practice is baked into my favorite values-centered goal-setting system, Your Best Year Yet, the very first step to setting next year’s goals is reviewing the previous year’s accomplishments. And disappointments, but whatever. Other systems use a variation of this forward/backward technique, and I finally get why:

Completing cycles of work equals better work.

Live and learn.

xxx
c

Sisters are doin’ it for themselves

This post is #36 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

Not to dismiss the efforts of my writerly gentlemen friends, but yes, I think it’s important to especially promote the writing of women and girls, as well as the tools and practices that get them writing. Anyone who has been a girl who is in class with boys (or, sadly, a woman who is in meetings with men) has at some point experienced the horrible feeling of turning invisible. The more girls (and, subsequently, women) learn to trust in the truth of their own voice and perspective, the more they feel the strength make themselves heard, not fucked with or over.

And so, WriteGirl. And so, Rock Camp for Girls, WriteGirls more musical sister.

And so, The World-Changing Writing Workshop, which is open to men, certainly, but was created by two very special freaky and awesome ladies for the benefit of people who might not feel the courage to be heard without the right encouragement. As I’ve mentioned earlier, all of my proceeds will go towards 50-for-50 for the rest of the campaign, and half of Pace & Kyeli’s, through today. (You can also get a pretty sweet deal on it through today. Just sayin’.)

We grow up believing in what we see, and we see what the people who came just before us created. I’m sorry to have created so many distressing images for girls and women via my participation in the advertising-industrial complex, and am working hard now to empower this next generation to grow up smarter and stronger than I by creating a better environment for them to soak in. I agree that the Internet has opened up vast opportunities for women and girls; yes, there are still wretched, unhappy creeps who single out women for attack, but we will not be silenced. We will write and we will talk and we will fight. We will not stand down, we will create and share and spread the tales of adventures and derring-do to nourish the next generation.

And you can take that shit to the bank.

xxx
c

Why most writing stinks

[A video that has exactly ZERO to do with this post!]

This post is #35 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

I’ve been thinking about this video conversation between Patti Digh and David Robinson since I watched it last week.

It’s short and worth a watch, but in case you’re more of a reader than a watcher (like I am), the takeaway is this: you cannot do two things at one time. Specifically, you cannot make anything good while you are simultaneously, not to mention paradoxically, worrying about what people will think of what you are making.

David, you see, comes from a theater background, and as such has spent many years watching actors try to do just that. Because if there’s one thing an actor cares more about than the choice he’s making on stage at a given moment, it’s what you think of him while he’s making it. And if there’s one thing anyone who knows anything about good acting will tell you, it is impossible to be fully in the scene, to do your goddamned job as an actor, when you are doing anything besides being fully in the scene, worrying included.

I never really “got” this as an actor, which is why most of the time, I wasn’t very good as an actor. My success in commercials is easily attributable to my extensive background in TV advertising; I’d been “acting” the commercials I wrote for art directors, bosses and clients for 10 years before I made dime one really acting in them. TV, film, and theater were problematic, though, because no matter how hard I worked at the acting part, you could always smell the want coming off me.

Writing is no different. There are many rat-bastard writers whose work you love to read because they are good writers, writing their truth.

There are also some very nice writers who love their audiences: Patti Digh herself is one of them. But she will happily tell you to eat sh*t and die (my words!) if you don’t like what she’s written. She is unwavering in the courage of her convictions, which is as it should be: they’re not really values unless you’re really willing to hold onto them.

For the love of all that’s holy, and your writing had better be included in that, hew to your path. Screw the “like” buttons and pandering and other tedious bandwidth-wasting circle-jerkery. Whether you’re writing about marketing or macramé or your love of the baby Jesus, stand for what you stand for. The opinions of others have exactly zero to do with your truth. Will this make you less publishable? Less-retweetable? Possibly.

Or not. There is something about single-minded focus linked to passion that is quite compelling. Watch who you watch and learn.

xxx
c

Writing by hand

This post is #34 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

You don’t need to convince people who use “journal” as a verb of the value of writing things down longhand. (Although some, you must convince of the the value of editing before taking things public.)

The Keyboard People can push back, though. “I can think faster than I can write longhand,” they say, or “I can’t read my own writing.”

Both of these things are true for me, and yet I have filled two cubic feet with chicken-scratchings on paper anyway. Because despite what I carelessly tossed off many years ago, the point of writing a journal by hand is to write a journal by hand. Period. That your journals provide a “map of you” is a kind of bonus-extra, a by-product of the true point, which is spend time quietly with yourself, being exactly where you’re at.

What can I say? You live, and hopefully, you learn. But in case it’s still not clear, I suggest you spend more time walking, and less time looking at your maps.

xxx
c

 

 

Death and taxes and love love love [+ a 50-for-50 video]

This post is #32 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

I spent the morning today at the funeral service for a friend’s father. I’ll be spending the rest of the afternoon and evening preparing my stuff to take to my tax guy tomorrow morning.

Death and taxes. Yes, really.

While I’d been dreading them both, a weird kind of calm settled over me as I drove out to the West Valley. Maybe it was the spirit of my friend’s father, showering love and happiness from the great beyond; by the sound of it, he was that kind of a guy, always full of love and a zest for life. Or maybe it was just so much sunlight everywhere, spilling onto everything. It’s hard for me to keep feeling badly when the sun is shining, which is part of the reason I’m unlikely to move to the glorious PacNW anytime soon.

Anyway, the service ended up being terrifically uplifting: wonderful stories of a life beautifully lived, angelic singing from his eldest son. Which is good, because it also ended up being terrifically long, I’d forgotten that’s how the Catholics do their celebrations. Lots of pomp, and lots of long.

But my favorite point of the show, and come on, it’s a show, folks, was the sermon. Usually my least favorite part, owing to the bombastery of 90% of the priests you tend to run into, this one contained useful and uplifting words about many things, most strikingly, forgiveness. You hear a lot about forgiveness, blah blah blah, but you don’t usually hear this: that Jesus talked about forgiving (an order of magnitude of forgiving), but he never said anything about forgetting. We are supposed to work on forgiving, and then leave the other party room for acknowledging and making amends. An incredibly loving and just and harmonious solution to the conundrum of life slamming you in the face repeatedly. My job is not to say “Oh, fine, it’s all good” but to process and forgive. Process and forgive. (And, of course, if I’m on the other side of things, to acknowledge and make amends.)

It’s a relevant subject right now because this 50-for-50 Project, for as wonderful as it is, is rousing all kinds of strange, old things inside me. Hurts from long ago blow up unexpectedly like ancient land mines, triggered by actions real and intents projected. Another reminder that there is no burying things, no hiding your garbage. You sit with it, you sit in it, you deal with it, and then maybe you get to move on.

For me, writing helps. It gets things out of my head and heart, even the long-buried, festering stuff. Not always pleasant, but life is not about pleasant, it’s about living. Loving. Moving. Growing.

I’ll let you know when I figure out what the taxes are for.

xxx
c

Art for writing’s sake

"Surrogate Mothers Nest," a painting by Geoff Barnes

This post is #30 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

The same grandparents who instilled in me a love of reading and writing also gifted me with my deep and abiding love of real, honest-to-god art.

Not posters or reproductions (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but art: Paintings. Statuary. Sculptures. Bas-reliefs. Lithographs, woodcuts, silkscreens. Mobiles.

I spent a good part of most weekends during my childhood with Gram & Gramps, reading or writing or making art, and hearing the stories behind the many, many, MANY paintings and sculptures thoughtfully arranged throughout their beautiful apartment on the Near North side. You grow up with an ear for words and music or a eye for color and shape by being immersed in the stuff, and I was: living with art made me an artist, albeit one more facile with words than music, color, or shape.

There’s an energy that artist-made art is imbued with. We get a hint of an echo of it in dead-tree books, which is why it’s so hard for those of us who grew up loving them to let go of them entirely. But fine art vibrates with the energy of the artist, the energy that flowed through the artist and into the medium. The paint, the metal, the stone, the wood. My grandparents had art of all kinds surrounding them at all times, all their lives. Their very first painting (which I own) they bought on their honeymoon, in 1928. The mat and even the matboard have yellowed, but the painting itself, of a village street somewhere in the tropics, looks like it could have been painted yesterday. It is timeless. It is a wormhole through time, connecting me to my grandparents, to that island (which they most decidedly did not visit for their honeymoon), to the artist, to a sun that shone on an Earth that is my Earth and not my Earth, on people who are like me and not me.

My grandparents had paintings like they had books: everywhere. The kitchen, the bedrooms, the hallways, the bathroom, not just the living room. (Their personal photographs, on the other hand, actually were personal, tucked away in discreet leather frames on the dresser, or on a corner of the desktop. Or, you know, with a magnet to the fridge, just like everyone else in the known air-cooled universe.)

Which is how I have my artwork, everywhere, just like my books. Above my desk, in my hall, in my bathroom, in my kitchen. By my front door, where they’re the last things I see when I leave. In my bedroom, where they’re the first things I see when I awake.

Art makes my writing possible, inspiring me out loud when I can’t have music on, putting into two- and three-dimensional form what floats around in my head.

Which is why I was particularly delighted when a fellow writer, Geoff Barnes, outed himself to me as a fine artist, and offered to contribute to the 50-for-50 Project not only his dollars (which he’d already done, and generously, thank you, Geoff!), but his artwork. Or, to be precise, his original, custom, one-of-a-kind-made-for-a-supporter-of-50-for-50 artwork.

That’s right: the winning bidder of this newest auction will become the owner of a one-of-a-kind, custom, original painting by the one and only Geoff Barnes (aka @texburgher).

You can see one sample of Geoff’s delightful work above. You can see a number more in this Flickr gallery. And you can (and should) most definitely hear Geoff talk about them in this video. He’s charming and self-effacing and all the things one should be in general in life, and specifically on video.

Now, come on: what better holiday gift can you imagine than painting created on behalf of a good cause by a writer/artist/father-of-three? “Pony” doesn’t even come close.

xxx
c

When in doubt, be grateful

joan didion, circa 1969

This post is #29 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

It was a difficult day on the horn of the hump.

On the other hand, 20 or even 10 years ago, it took much less than a day like this to unseat me. Keeping things in perspective is a gift of having looped around the mountain enough times. Even if you can’t see as well or move as quickly as you used to, you recognize the view well enough to know you’ve been here before, and you’ll be back again.

One of my favorite ways to stick a fork in a day that’s less than perhaps everything I wanted it to be is to find five things about it that were pretty damned good.

Like…

  1. We came within millimeters of $31,000.
  2. My protruding tummy & I made it through Day 8 of the dreaded 30-Day Shred.
  3. The overdue fines were racked up for a good reason and are going to a good cause.
  4. I got an incredibly polite rejection note from Joan Didion herself.
  5. I get a fresh start tomorrow.

Words don’t always come easily, and when they do, some days they just don’t sparkle like others. That’s okay. You can always make a serviceable casserole from them.

Tomorrow.

xxx
c

Photo by Julian Wasser, Time Life Pictures, Getty Images, via the Library Foundation of Los Angeles who no doubt licensed it properly for their ALOUD series, at which Ms. Didion is appearing this fall. I’ll be in Detroit, goddammit, but you should totally go; I would.