Category Archives: Writing

Making a mess

What is this? Don’t know, but it was awfully fun to make.

One of the interesting things about homeschooling my kids is watching them create. They tend to pull or dump everything out, then slowly piece parts together and create order. The creating is in the refining of the mess they have made into a tower, or a collage.  They can look at a mess of a pile and extract the bits they need to make something coherent.

This also seems to be how I make things. Everything gets dumped onto a page and sorted out.  With art that is often taking pictures, doing tests of colors and techniques, and then doodling several possibly unrelated things before I get to what I wanted to make. Sometimes, I just make a mess to see what I get out of it.  And then I go back and do more to it, pull out order in my mess.

  

Order from the mess.

With writing, I find the first draft easy.  It is a dump of thoughts and images and all the florid prose I love to write. I love descriptions. I love painting a picture with words. It is a vivid, and sometimes nonsensical mess – the equivalent to a box of blocks dumped on the floor.

I am not a planner. I don’t outline, I don’t write character sketches or compile files about every place mentioned. This sometimes bites me in the backside when I finally do research, and find out the best setting for my book is in a place I have never been and know nothing about. Or that the law is nothing like what I just wrote about, and it completely tanks the whole plot. Mostly, though, it lets me avoid the block of having to research something before I write about it. It lets me pick the right blocks out of the mess and build my tower.

Sometimes, it leaves me with a big, fat mess on the floor and no idea where to start cleaning it up.  Each part intersects with the whole in a way that it will create more mess if I pick up the one bit, and make more of a mess. One of my stories is proving to be like that.  It is a lovely, vivid puddle of paint, but if I move the paper or add anything else, it will turn to mud. With painting, you can sometimes just leave that bright pool of color and it works.  With writing, that is often not enough to make it enjoyable to read, or interesting.


My children currently have a pile of blocks, magnet tiles, and glass gems piled on the light box.  Every once in a while they will wander by, move or extract something, and walk away again.  Each move creates a new picture, effortlessly altering the mess to be something beautiful. I envy the ease and fluidity of their creation.

How do you create? Are you an outliner and planner?  Or are you a mess maker?

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On existing. 

  I have had the interesting feeling lately of vanishing. I first noticed the feeling of being invisible when I became a mother. But I was 31, so I was young enough to still be noticed by others, even when the fact that I had a child with me made their eyes slide past me. More recently, I have noticed I seem to be ceasing to exist outside of my own house.

Two kids and being over 40, and being one of the legion of moms in my age, race, and class in this town and I have become background noise.  Like the moon in the picture, hard to see for all the other closer, brighter lights.

It extends beyond just the feeling of invisibility when running errands. I have made changes twice in my life (going back to college, moving to PDX) that have seemingly left everything from before, behind.  Whole swaths of my life erased, ended, overwritten by what came next. And then, later, having a second child at a time when everyone else was finished having kids, and it was like turning around to find a formerly crowded street suddenly deserted.

It wasn’t anyone’s fault. I often seem to do things at times when no one else is doing them, becoming part of something either before it takes off, or as it is ending.  And even though I do things when I feel they need to be done, this out of step action has left me wondering where I am now.

In elementary school, I liked people.  I wanted to be their friend. I learned about them, emulated them, made overtures, and let them occupy a space in my brain and often my heart. Usually, in fact almost all of the time, this was one sided.  I felt a fondness and a connection that the other person often didn’t feel.  I would hazard a guess that most of the people in grade school – whose names I still know – would be hard pressed to identify me even by name, and my name is pretty unique.  I have been involved with groups of people I think of as friends, who have no idea who I was to them, or why I seem to know them.

How does one exist? By having a family? Or friends? By being in other people’s pictures, or perhaps sharing their own creations with the world? By making something permanent, no matter how small, so that someone decades down the line says, “Hey, this person, she existed, she did THIS.” And if you don’t do that? Do you cease to exist? If there are no pictures, or children, or paintings, or stories – what then? Are you just gone?

This is an awfully angst ridden post, I realize. These thoughts have been fueling my desire to write and create lately, and I have been trying to give them some sort of voice. My desire to write is as much about saying, “I am here, I did THIS,” as it is about sharing the stories my brain comes up with. Painting the flowers in my garden, or taking pictures of the moon while I am waiting at a stoplight is as much about documenting my life as it goes by as it is about making art. Maybe then, when someone finds the box of things I have created, decades down the line, they will say, “Look at what she made. Look at her life.”

August. 

 August, for me, is a lot like February. An oddly long month, with nothing to really set it apart. And then 3 years ago my youngest daughter arrived, on her due date halfway through the month, following close after the closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in London. (I do not recommend Spice Girls as labor music.)

Now, there is a marker mid-month. It punctuates the long stretch of late summer with preparation and visiting. And suddenly, it becomes September and then Autumn. I still get excited by Fall each year.  I also tend to get rather romantic and wordy about all the bits I love: the first smell of woodsmoke from fireplaces, the change of light in the afternoon, the crunch of leaves underfoot, the cool breezes that are just different than any other time of year.  If I were a poet, I would probably write about nothing else.  As it is, I tend to set most of my stories in the Fall.

Part of my love of Fall is the mystery.  Fog rolls in. Night comes earlier.  You can’t always tell whats going on with the weather, and storms pop up with no warning. The heat of the summer fades away, and being outside is comfortable again. It feels like a time for discovery and exploring.  And at the same time it is a time to regroup. Bring in the harvest, get ready for winter, evaluate your days. The Jewish New Year begins at the beginning of Fall.  This has always made more sense to me than beginning the new year in the middle of winter.

This summer is dragging on up here in the Pacific Northwest.  Hotter than usual, and I’m ready for it to be over. I’m working away on revising my novel, and getting hung up in all sorts of places.  Plot holes like moon craters over here. I saw some advice to write a summary of your novel to see where the problem bits are…and let’s just say I found them.  Writing a summary of something you came up with out of your own head seems like it would be easier. It’s really not.

I’m looking forward to the burst of creativity I get when we hit September! I always get a little more done that time of year. When is your most creative time? Or are you equally creative all year long? I will be participating in NaNoWriMo again this year.  Last year really gave me something to work with, and I like the focused month of work. Have you participated in NaNo? How did it work for you – was is harder or did you find it to be motivating?

The Intersection of Art and Craft, and the Whys of Inspiration 

Do art and craft intersect?  Or are they parallel paths?

Craft is technical proficiency: the knowing how to do something and using skills to achieve a desired result.  Art, well, everyone has their own definition, but doesn’t art have to have some inspiration behind it? Can art be possible if there is only craft involved in the making?

And what is inspiration? Half of my painting and drawing is because I want to see if I can do something, not because I am trying to communicate something or I have some ethereal vision.  I want to see if I can make something that looks like the flower growing in my garden.

Does that make it not art? Is it just an exercise at that point? If someone seeing it is inspired by it, or it moves them – regardless of my intention when creating it – does that make it art? (There’s another post in here about artist intention versus audience reception….)

And does the desire to recreate something I see count as inspiration? Does wanting to tell a story I find interesting qualify? Does it need a higher message to be art?

The question of “Why should anyone care?” seems to be driving a lot of my creation lately. I look at things I’ve done and think, well, that is technically proficient, but ultimately…boring.  My creation ability seems to be well suited to knitting socks and sweaters and less well matched to painting and writing.

Perhaps I have an antiquated view of art in my head. Art as the fine and rarefied thing you see hanging in a museum (which, realistically, I won’t ever be featured in), craft is the thing that everyone can do. Is there art in craft? Certainly. That passion, that inspiration that crosses the divide between the two, though, what is that made of? Where does that come from? Does it start with wondering if you can do something? Does it start with seeing God in a sunset? Does it start with practice or talent?

There’s a loaded word. Talent. I’ve grown to hate it. So much stuffed into one little word. Expectations, limitations, fantasy.  Being told I’m talented feels like a dismissal, as if I’m not working at what I do, it just happens magically with no effort.  This is hogwash. Being told I’m talented also ranks up there with people saying they don’t know where I find the time to do art, or that they could never do what I do.  It feels like a way of telling me it’s frivolous.  That doing something I’m already talented at (if I even am) is a waste of time I could be using to do…what? Accounting? Dishes? Whatever it is that other people use their free time to do? Something that is qualified as work. Something that isn’t useless.

Clearly, I don’t have any grand answers. I paint and draw because I find things beautiful or fascinating, and I want to create something that is beautiful or fascinating.  I also paint because I like finding out if I can do it.  I write because I have stories in my head that I like to put down on paper, and also because I want to see if I can do it. I knit because I like socks that fit and warm sweaters, and also to see if I can do it.  (Seeing a theme here?) Is that enough? For me, for right now, yes it is. For other people? I don’t know.  I don’t know if people will ever find my writing captivating, or my art inspiring.  There is no objective measure though, so I will keep creating as I can and see where it takes me. At the very least I will have made something pretty at the end of the day. And my socks will fit.

What inspires you to create? Do you consider yourself an artist or a crafter? Does the word talent make you grind your teeth?

Submitting

What I did last week while The Husband met Joss Whedon
What I did last week while The Husband met Joss Whedon

The dust is settling from The Husband going to San Diego Comic Con, and I finally have some time to blog.  The week he is gone seems longer than it is, but as it is his only business trip each year, we manage.  It’s a pretty cool business trip all told. I mean, hanging out at Comic Con is a pretty good work day.

Before he left I spent some time polishing up the short story I had been working on and I pulled the trigger and submitted it to two magazines.  That was the most nerve wracking thing I have done (aside from making dentist appointments) in a very long time. You wouldn’t think sending bits of text out into the wi-fi ether would be cause for nerves, but it was.

And then there’s the waiting.

One magazine says they will get back to you in 8-10 weeks.  The other didn’t say at all.

I submitted 10 days ago, so I have a while to wait.  I might have clicked on my Submittable account a few times….and the junk folder in my email is the cleanest it has ever been.

Finding places to submit my work is a challenge.  I don’t have the money to subscribe to all the literary magazines, and I rarely have the time to browse the magazines at Powell’s for longer than it takes for one of my kids to holler, “MOOOM!” at me. Someone pointed me toward Duotrope, and it looks amazing.  I have only begun to poke around it to see what it can find, though I haven’t signed up for an account yet, as it is a pay service.

Revisions on the book are going slowly. One of the problems I have faced since having children is that sometimes, they use up all the focus and creativity I have for the day. By the time we get to bedtime, there’s nothing left to offer. I think this is a common problem for parents, mother types especially.  Sometimes I read a couple of paragraphs and make a couple notes, and other times, I watch X Files on Netflix.

I need to pick a time where I can block off writing time and protect it. I can squeeze in a bit here and there, but not in the amount of time it needs to have dedicated to it. While the sliver of time after bedtime is good for doing small bits, it is also the time when I am most likely to fall asleep myself.  I also have found that drawing or painting comes easier to me when I am trying to clear my mind for sleep as well.

Do you have a creative pursuit and kids? What time of day do you find most conducive to working on it? How do you guard that time?

Daunting Editing

 There it is.  120-ish pages of writing, printed out and waiting to be edited. It was both cool to see it printed out, and alarmingly daunting. If I’m totally honest, it’s still sitting in the folder.  I have peeked at it a couple of times, but nothing beyond that. It is intimidating.

Writing is a daunting endeavor.  It is surprisingly easy to get the initial flood of words out. I’ve never had a problem writing thousands of words a day, racking up long stories was easy, even in high school, when my fiction assignments came in well over twenty pages, while my classmates were complaining at page five.

After that initial rush, however, it is a very different *ahem* story.  Rereading and editing is…uncomfortable.  I can see the bits that are lacking.  I can see the writing that is boring. The story in my head doesn’t match what is on the page, and I’m at a loss to fix it.

This 120 pages – very loosely based on some family history – is adding an extra level of difficulty.  What to keep? What to change? What to make up? What to use from actual history?

Not too long ago I finished reading Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, and it was such a beautiful book.  And it was boring as all get out. Beautifully written, but the tension and stakes were so low that ultimately, I didn’t care. It is 768 pages of gorgeous writing, that I had to struggle to get through because the descriptions were so fantastic that I lost the thread of what was going on. It reminded me of my writing a lot. Beautiful descriptions, not much movement.

That’s what you call an “Oh, crap.” moment.

What I am working on right now is all movement, few descriptions. It’s hard. Hard to keep the tension up, hard to make it exciting, hard to not lapse into a description of something beautiful. Something beautiful, and ultimately boring that takes the story nowhere, or worse – derails it entirely.

That’s not to say that all beautiful description is boring, but when that is the bulk of the story, it becomes tedious.  Like too much salt in the dinner, a little bit enhances the flavor.  Too much, and it becomes inedible.

I’m not sure what to salt, as it were.

I’m rambling here on the blog because I’m putting off facing the stack of paper.  Fortunately, rambling often provides me with a solution when I am unsure where to go. Fix the technical first – the commas, quotation marks, spelling and run-on sentences.  Things that are not attached to the story, and will let me reread without being critical of plot and setting.

I know this is only of marginal interest for most folks reading, so if you stuck with it this far, Thank You.  I’d love to know what fiction books you are reading right now, and what you think of the writing. And if you have a dissenting opinion of Winter’s Tale, I’d love to hear it. What books really get your brain going, make you eager to finish the story?

Begins with ‘m’

The only thing I can think of is Mama.  Life is so wrapped up in that aspect of my being right now that it is the only thing that comes.  Well, monkey did too, but I honestly couldn’t think of anything to write about a monkey.  I did think about describing the Littlest Pet Shop monkey we have, but being so small, that wouldn’t take long.  It is purple, by the way.

Mama is the thing I wanted to be most of all. After a certain point that is.  I also wanted to be a model (at age 13…), and an artist, and a writer and finally a professional stage manager.  I managed that last one. There’s an M word…manager.  I am a very good manager. I can take a lot of things in stride, and sort through chaos pretty neatly.  I even won an award as a manager.

But Mama…now that is something else entirely.  From the beginning the journey wasn’t easy. After years of constantly being worried about accidentally getting pregnant, it turned out I was infertile.  And husband was sporting a few million less sperm than he ought to. We tried to get pregnant. Then we went to a doctor and had tests.  Then we tried some more things to get pregnant, finally succeeding after nearly 4 years, and we had a baby.  A brilliant, gorgeous, blue-eyed baby girl. She was the best and most important thing that ever happened to me. She still is.

Being a mama was a challenge, but a good one. One that made me grow and stretch and that felt fulfilling. I loved it. My daughter and I were incredibly close. It was joy to be with her and watch her learn. We came up with adventures to go on and things to do each day. When she reached 5 years old, I knew that we would homeschool because I adored being around her. I love teaching her and watching her discover things. I love listening to her narratives.

And I thought that was it. That was my picture of Mama. Me and my girl.

And then…turns out infertile doesn’t mean sterile. After years of knowing we couldn’t conceive on our own and years of thinking that we would need help and a lot of money to have another child, after wrestling with the fact that we only got to do this whole journey once, after coming to terms with that and being okay with that…after all that (roughly 6 years of all that) it turned out I got to be mama again.

She arrived fast, and with a full head of dark hair.  She was a surprise in every way possible, from the hair, to her size, to her dark eyes, to how angry she got.  Born in Leo, in the year of the Dragon, and she was going to let everyone know it.  Everything was different with this baby.  It was not a peaceful gazing at the baby and becoming a mom.  I feel like I was still slightly surprised by her until she was nearly 6 months old. She had a tongue tie and a lip tie that made it hard for her to get enough milk at first, and she would get a lot of air when she nursed.  This made her gassy, and hungry and MAD. So mad. I was shocked by her arrival (40 weeks is not enough to get over nearly 10 years of infertility), and then shocked that she was always upset.  Except for the brief hours when she was sleeping. It was nothing like the mama I had envisioned.  It was hard, and exhausting and finally at 4 weeks old we got her tongue tie clipped and everything seemed to let out a breath.

Here we are now, big kid is 7, and tiny is 15 months (as of yesterday). Mama looks a lot different from here.  Mama is tired.  Mama is trying. Mama frequently finds herself short tempered and stressed out. Mama is trying to not yell.  Mama is trying to learn new languages to speak to her kids the way she wishes she had been spoken to.  Mama is trying so hard to let her girls know she is there for them. Mama is being a mama.

That is the only M word that comes up for me because it is so much of me.  There’s another M word: ME. These days, Mama and Me are one and the same.

following the daily prompts for November from Writealm.com

Find the language

Finding the language. This is my fight right now.  Finding the language that will convey what I am feeling, that will make people sit up and notice, that will relay a message.  I feel like right now everything I say is bogged down.  Either in trying to not blame someone (or make sure they don’t feel blame), or in trying to translate into 7yo-ese, or toddler-ese, or just because I don’t have the words.  I have always been confident in my ability to communicate clearly.  I can illustrate and teach, give examples and craft words. But now….right now…everything seems sticky. LIke wading through tar. All the things I am trying to remember are cramming up into the same small chute, trying to come out in an organized manner and get themselves HEARD, DAMMIT!, and instead I end up with word salad. I use words too big for my daughter to understand, and she tunes me out.  I ask unreasonable things of my baby and she gets frustrated. I try to convey what I am feeling to my husband and nothing registers. Is it me? Is my universal translator broken? Am I really, finally not making sense?

Where is the language that can convince big kid how much I love her? How much I think she is the most awesome and lovely and kind and smart girl I have ever met. That I think she is incredibly talented and that I hope she chases her dreams down and sits on them until they give. That I want her to be happy more than anything.  That I miss the time with her when it was just us and we were a team.

Where is the language that will let my toddler know that she is an amazing surprise and every day I fear I won’t have enough time with her to get to know her.  That all I want to do is cuddle and hang out and love on her.  That when she gets so frustrated that all she can do is cry, I want to move the world out of her way and make it better. That her hugs and kisses make my world right.

Where is the language that shows my husband that I am running on the edge? That the juggling act I am performing is in dire danger of falling to the ground. That each day seems a bit harder to get everything done. The language that explains how much I feel like I’m missing with my kids each day trying to manage it all, and how much it hurts my heart when I have to juggle the kids to do something I hate. How do I find the words to let him know that I know work is hard on him too, and I miss him and I’m sorry I complain so much?

Do they know? Is any of the language being found?

following the daily prompts for November from Writealm.com

Gloaming

Much as fall is my favorite time of year, twilight is my favorite time of day. The precipice between day and night has always seemed full of possibility. I am, as you might guess, a night owl.

I discovered the word gloaming during an involved romance novel phase. I believe it was a torrid Scottish affair, with not much plot, and a lot of racing over the heather strewn hills in pursuit of one another. The word though seemed to describe the time if day so much more aptly than dusk or twilight. Dusk and twilight only seemed to describe the color, or how much light was present. Gloaming, though, described the experience. The moment the sun drops behind the hills in the west and the light becomes diffuse and indirect. The way the street lights begin to come on, and how you can see into people’s houses in the moments before they close the curtains. The hush that falls as the daytime sounds fade and the birds stop singing. The feeling of resolution of the day.

I used to head to work about that time of day. In the autumn, I was unlocking the theatre and awaiting the actors arrival right about the time the sun would be touching the mountains. In those days I would sit on the loading dock with a cigarette and a cup of coffee getting ready to start my day as I watched other folks walk home. As full dark fell I would head inside to start my tasks and begin to set up the world of the show. This time of setting up mimicked the quiet of the gloaming. The pause before something else starts.

These days, I barely have a moment to note the sun is down before it’s time to make dinner and sort out the kids at the end of the day. Now it’s my favorite time if day because Daddy is coming home soon, and bedtime approaches. I miss the ritual of watching the night fall. Whole I may not be able to do coffee and cigarettes, perhaps adding so thing to our daily routine would not be amiss.

following the daily prompts for November from Writealm.com

Regret(s)

I used to say I didn’t have any regrets. That every single think I had done had move me to where I was, made me who I was. I still stick to that – mostly. I never saw the point in spending a lot of time regretting what I had or hadn’t done. I couldn’t change it, I could only move forward.

Even now most of my regrets are about smaller things. I regret not saving more money, or using my credit cards too much. I regret not getting good grades in high school (and college). Small things in the grand scheme. Things that can’t be changed, and that I didn’t need to dwell on.

But there is the one thing that I have come to regret. While I was pregnant with Tiny, the situation in my house changed pretty dramatically. And it wasn’t awesome. For me, for Big Kid. I was not the mom I wanted to be, and I am still getting my parenting legs back after that. But the thing I regret is that the last 6 months I had with just Big Kid was derailed and (I hate this word, but it fits) ruined. I was focused on things that were ultimately not my problem and shouldn’t have been my focus. I can’t get that time back ever. I can’t go back to it just being me and Big Kid and have those months back. And I bitterly regret that. It is going to be a while before I can forgive myself for making the decisions that led to the situation.

I dislike having regrets. I feel like I need to make up for it, to fix it somehow. It feels like a weight that I have to carry around with me all the time. All interactions with Big Kid are weighed on that time, and how much I failed her, whether or not she is mad about it, if she will remember it. I can’t change it, but I haven’t quit figured out how to let go of it yet either.

following the daily prompts for November from Writealm.com