“I haven’t opened up about this yet. I probably shouldn’t now, to be honest. But I’m sure as hell not writing anything else worth reading these days, and everything’s worse in the dark, right?”Read More
Asking a writer what their favorite word is might be akin to asking a musician what their favorite note or chord is -- it's borderline impossible, and any answer is liable to be impermanent. We'll hedge and waffle, we'll give you a menu of our favorite words broken down by emotion or circumstance or even alphabetically ... but choosing just one is, for many, immensely difficult.
I love words that feel good in my mouth: acetaminophen, hilarious, monumental, and (inexplicably,) clothes. I love words that represent ideas: compassion, imagination, minimalism, fragility, steadfast, and affirmative. I also have words I dislike: moist, mayonnaise, cornhole, dregs.
But my favorite, right here and now, is kintsugi. Kinsugi is the Japanese term for "Golden Joinery," and refers to both the practice of repairing pottery with precious metals and the philosophy that a thing is more beautiful for having been broken. I think it also speaks to the care that should be taken in the repair/healing stage - which I find refreshing in a world of "suck it up" and "get over it."
I resist, on every level, the emphasis in current culture on recovery speed - the faster you are out of the hospital, back on your feet, over the loss, back to work, the better. Don't dwell on pain, put hardships behind you, always forward, always faster. Who does that help?
What happened to honoring the experience, integrating it, and learning how to exist with the new reality of it? What about healing, or recovery?
Oh, right. Productivity. Our worth is directly related to our contribution, time for ourselves is time we're stealing from our employers. Employees are as disposable as napkins, so you'd best be present and useful regardless, or you're out and the next one is in.
This whole 'disposable' mindset is so damaging ... repairs are a thing of the past, people just buy another whatever-it-is. We're all so broke we can't afford to buy the quality product that will last for generations, so we line up to buy cheap imitations that we'll have to replace in a year, maybe two if we're lucky. Why work on a relationship when we can just swipe right? Why take care of the planet, we'll be dead before it's uninhabitable. We're surrounded by stuff and starving for meaning.
I don't have any answers. Minimalism comes to mind. A life with a select few (ideally high-quality) possessions, nothing present that is not treasured and greeted with enthusiasm every day ... things loved and maintained with care and pride. Authentic. (Which in this era, equates to expensive, which equates to unattainable, so again ... no answers.)
Ah, well. At least I have my words.
There's a "challenge" happening on the Instagram this month in preparation for National Novel Writing Month which yes, is in November, and yes, October would make more sense as a "gearing up to write" month but ain't nobody tryin'a compete with Inktober, yo. Least of all ME, who maybe isn't the best at turning lines and dots into anything ... recognizable.
Anyway. Instawrimo is a series of daily challenges - a before selfie, an inspiring quote, etc. Day 4 (that's today, for those keeping track) asked the question: "Why Do You Write?" My answer is in that super-artsy image at the top, but that's the edited version. I edit a LOT. Sometimes it feels like that's all I ever do, because I've been getting three books ready for publication this year. (Book 3 is due out the first week in January 2019.) So while I am pleased with the "Why I Write" edit, I wanted to honor the words it took to get there.
I write because I am an artist, and because I am a magician. I paint exquisite, elaborate pictures in your minds using your own imagination as my paint and your experiences as my canvas, and I do it across time and distance with ease. I direct theater in your minds with a cast you create. Words are everything and words are nothing, and some words in their absence say even more. Words are both curse and cure, words are sedatives and aphrodisiacs and an escape into the familiar we might never have known. I write because naming is power, because there is truth in fiction. (Anyone who tells you differently isn’t reading it right.) I write because stories light the way in dark places when all other lights have gone out.
Like Hamilton, too, I write my way out. I wrote my way out of an elementary school I didn’t fit in to with the help of a teacher who placed high value on words, and context, and storytelling - he gave me a love of vocabulary that has never faded, began my understanding of the differences between waiting and longing and anticipating. I wrote my way through high school and college on the strength of essays and research papers and book analyses where my words made up for the sports I didn’t play, the teams and clubs I wasn’t a part of. I wrote my way through trauma and marriage and divorce and motherhood and pain, and I continue to write because life continues to happen.
I also write because I can’t not - my imagination is constantly navigating, understanding, and reinterpreting the world. My brain is a browser with twelve tabs open, and everything I see or hear sets off an explosion of synapses reaching for associations - in my past, in pop culture, in obscure nerd-dom, in similar situations or recalled memory. Every single one shows me - often insistently, to the point of distraction - alternatives or questions or conflicts to be explored. Writing these things down is occasionally the only way I can get some peace - otherwise the characters and their situations or dialogue or challenges appear in every idle moment, adding new elements each time it replays in my brain.
I also write, I've realized, to find out what I am thinking, what I believe. Words let me try on attitudes and opinions like suits, and choose not to wear the ones that itch. Words are mirrors and I get to judge which reflection is true, and what to do with the funhouse versions that aren't wrong, just different. Words act as a dialogue with myself in which I am allowed to be clumsy and uncertain, words allow me to build the structure of my thoughts piece by piece - unlike in conversation, which often feels like war and bears no mercy for shifts in thinking or feelings.
It was difficult, then to come up with a simple answer to "Why Do I Write?" The nature of Instagram and Pinterest and social media in general is brevity, you're supposed to present just a single thing, one neat little digestible phrase to sum it all up. But it's never that tidy, is it? Which became my reason, in the end. Nothing is as obvious and simple as we want it to be. Things are messy, nuanced, and multi-faceted, beliefs and behaviors are situational and often ingrained, but malleable. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but if they’re the right words, what they spark in us might be worth a thousand Monets, or Picassos, or Pollocks.
In closing, i want to say that I find it interesting that the most effective way to sum up why I write was NOT in simple words, but in the graphic representation of those words, manipulating the text to show the simultaneous nature of everything and nothing, and the similar dichotomy in people - every-1, no-1. The position of the 1 at the center of things, too, is intentional - showing how every 1 of us is surrounded by things, how things are inseparable from the people who create them, who need them, who sell them, who hate them...
I write because I perceive.
As a participant in the InstaWrimo Challenge on Instagram (in preparation for this years NaNoWriMo,) I needed to provide an "inspirational photo" on Day 3. That was easy enough, but I wanted to be able to explain WHY it was inspiring, and this post is that - so I moved it over here.
(Originally posted October 5, 2017)
The only thing haunting the graveyard this afternoon is me.
It’s been close to eighteen years since I last roamed the paved throughways between the headstones and monuments. Today’s adventure was completely coincidental – or serendipitous, if you prefer. I just happen to be house-sitting this week. The route to my “city” “job” from the house where I am staying just happens to take me through a town I’ve not lived in for ages – the town I lived in before moving to Georgia. And in that town, when you turn right at the light and go down past the Comic Book Palace and the bowling alley and the AmVets Hall and a little ways further across from the school … there is a cemetery. The cemetery. My cemetery.
It’s actually Saint Someone-or-other’s Cemetery, but I never paid attention. I didn’t today either. I had footsteps to retrace, monuments to touch, tears to shed, and pictures to take. It was the best possible day, the best possible time of day, the best possible season. Cemeteries are at their very best in autumn, I think. I parked Abby (my car) out of the way, took a deep breath, and started walking. It was muscle memory from then on.
And it was all there. The veteran’s section, with the guardian tree slowly devouring the sign which warns against off-season decorations, and low stones in rows under the branches.
The lone grave off by itself in a forgotten corner, revealed on inspection to be that of Reuben, possibly a Dad, who died on May 7, 187? – aged 24 years. Rueben is off to the side of the ancient section, where what stones or markers have survived are spaced far, rarely upright, and often broken. Most are illegible. There is tragic loveliness to be found amidst the disarray.
I would walk these roads for hours – for fitness, perhaps, for fresh air, or time alone. With my portable CD player in hand, Matchbox Twenty’s Yourself or Someone Like You on repeat in my ears, I would walk from the street to Reuben’s stone, then turn left and climb the pathless hill to turn right onto the ‘real’ road. Down and around to the left and back up, past the newer graves on the right which remain peaceful in spite of the beer cans and used condoms strewn amongst the dead flowers and faded flags. There would be a gentle strain on my legs and lungs as I moved up past the endless Irish names, flocks of stones gathered beneath their pastor’s own monument, marked by their Irish county of origin. The streets are named for churches, I think, or Saints. Maybe both.
At the top of the hill, so close to the adjacent neighborhood I can hear the children playing inside, is the Ryan monument. She stands with her head bowed, holding a wreath – every sculpted crease and fold of her face and robes is accentuated by lichen and shadow. Daniel Ryan was just 18 when he died on February 15, 1890 while trying to save the life of his friends, the stone tells the reader – it won’t for much longer, the words are fading quickly under the elements. The monument was erected in testament to his “heroic courage and manly spirit.” Now it stands watch over a utility shed.
My heart beats faster as I round the corner – I’m getting closer. I can lie and says she wasn’t why I came, but it wouldn’t do any good. Every part of me anticipates her, now as it did so many years ago when she was my “lap marker” of sorts. And there she is. The sun finds and brightens her as it always has. Her wing is still broken – it wasn’t when I first met her. I remember being so sad when I returned after one winter to find the wing on the ground, propped beside her. It’s completely gone now. But the cherub beneath the birth and death dates of the children is new. It’s touching. Kitschy, but … I decide I approve.
The Feeney story has broken my heart since the day I read it. Patrick, born in Ireland, died on his birthday in 1882, just 38 years old. His wife Mary followed in 1889. In the years between, they had four children. Mary, born on Christmas Day in 1872, lived 2 years; Edward, born only two months after his sister’s death, survived just over a month. Catherine lived for 5 days in 1876, and Elizabeth, only a day in 1877.
The angel that stands guard over them has crossed arms, and her head is tilted as if she is looking at the sky. There is a star on her brow. A chain drips from her grasp, descending to an anchor tucked amongst the folds of her robe behind her left foot.
Anchors allegedly symbolize hope and either Christian or Masonic leanings, depending on your reference source – but all the reference pictures are of disconnected anchors, and the Feeney’s Angel – my angel, I adopted her the moment I met her – is holding on to hers. It is not a decoration, it is a part of her, she cradles the chain in her arms almost like a child. I’ve never seen another one like it – and I frequent cemeteries whenever I can, I love the peace and stillness to be found there, and the stories.
There was comfort in the return to this place, the feeling of walking the same roads I’d walked long before moving South. Their familiarity was welcoming, I felt very much like I belonged again, that I was where I needed to be.
(Spiritually, not literally.)
(Well a little bit literally, since this was the place I did 99% of the brainstorming and problem solving for Melody’s Song, my as-yet-unpublished magnum opus that I’m currently carving into a trilogy because no one buys 450 page novels from new authors these days.)
(Anymore. I know, Sword of Shannara was a new author’s first work and it got published, but that was in the 80s and as I recall it was accepted on a dare so hey, publishers, I dare you to buy my book.)
In conclusion, I apologize for the lack of Supernatural gifs. Please accept these graveyard photos instead.
SEPTEMBER 1, 2018: I wrote this last year, about the events of the year before that. History hasn't changed, but I have. I think I might be clear of the recovery stage, finally. I've done some amazing things, I've connected with some amazing people and reconnected with even more. I got published. I went to the lake and saw my granddaughter teach herself how to put her face under the water and then come up laughing and high-five her mom. I came up with the story idea that's going to change my life (and I'll write it just as soon as I get book 3 to my publisher, because THAT's a phrase I never thought I'd say...)
ANYWAY. In a lot of ways my life started 2 years ago today, so I'm leaving this here for posterity.
(Originally posted 9/1/17) It’s time. If you know, if you knew, if you didn’t know – now you will. This is the story of me, one year ago.
I can’t tell you how it got as bad as it did. Mental illness doesn’t work in absolutes and neat little formulas, depression doesn’t care if you should or shouldn’t feel as hopeless and lost as you do. I can tell you it didn’t happen overnight. I can tell you I fought. By Chuck, I fought. With everything I had, and some things I didn’t. Every single day I would repeat to myself the words that worked for an actor I respect and admire – Always Keep Fighting.
Jared Padalecki dealt with depression and thoughts of self-harm and suicide as well. He was going through some shit rather publicly while I was struggling myself – he has no idea how much he helped me. I can’t go to cons or connect with him in person at all, but the man is probably singularly responsible for me not killing myself at least five times. Because there was always his face, his sincere and aching Sam Winchester face, begging me not to give up, not yet. That I couldn’t see it or feel it, but I mattered.
Today marks the one year anniversary of the day I lost that fight. The specifics are blurry. I think I went to work. I know I had another anxiety attack. I know I couldn’t stop crying. It was like I never stopped crying. I’d been reaching out the only way I knew how, messaging friends who thank Chuck could read past my dry “i’m totally kidding” words to see that I was absolutely not kidding and in actual, real danger. There was just nothing they could do, I was hundreds of miles away. They convinced me to go to the doctor – I managed not to drive full speed into any number of trucks, and I made it to the doctor, who’d seen me for depression and anxiety more than a few times over the previous months. And I didn’t tell him I was fine.
I remember the doctor telling me he was going admit me for a psych evaluation. I remember he said the cops could take me or my husband could take me. I remember him calling my husband because I couldn’t make the words happen. I remember being picked up, going home to get clothes, and never going to the hospital. Something about how they weren’t going to let me sit around and feel sorry for myself, so why didn’t I just go to the beach and get away for a few days. I remember curling up on the couch and the tv being on. I remember the painkillers. I remember alcohol. I remember more painkillers.
I lost count. I lost faith. I lost hope. I threw up once, but just took more to compensate. I remember a seizure. I remember lying beside my sleeping husband and actively fighting to not throw up again while I begged – BEGGED – god to let me die.
Let me make it abundantly clear that despite any murmurs to the contrary, this was not ‘for attention.’ I wanted to die. I NEEDED to die. My daughter lost her father to suicide when she was younger, so can you wrap your head around how broken I had to be to think that her losing her mother the same way would be acceptable, let alone for the best, as I was thinking at the time? I can’t. I’m a year removed and I remember so clearly thinking that my death would make things so much better and easier for the people I love, and the me I am now is still stunned that I’d even consider it.
I failed, obviously. I woke up. It’s hard to describe the next few weeks, because I checked the fuck out. I was a zombie, without the hunger. Just an empty shell, nothing left – no way to move forward, no way to go back, breathing only because it was automatic. Something was missing – hell, everything was missing. I just. didn’t. care. I couldn’t even bring myself to feel angry or betrayed or even sad anymore. I just wasn’t there.
You want hope and warm fuzzies, look somewhere else.
I survived, but barely, and not in one piece – Jared Padalecki may have saved me over the years, but it was my brother, my Simon who literally walked me out of hell. The River storyline in Firefly, where she goes off to a place she thinks she wants to be and then is all tortured and crazy and Simon gets her out and deals with all the broken parts of her in the aftermath? Yeah. There’s a reason I call him Simon. There’s a reason he calls me River. I don’t lay claim to the super-genius part, but the deeply damaged psychic? Yeah. So the next time you’re glad to see me, thank him.
I’m not going to post tomorrow, nothing big, anyway. I’ve got this idea that I should treat tomorrow like something special, and spend a little time convincing myself that I have come a long way, that the journey was worth it, that there is more to come and maybe not all of it will be pain and sadness. Or maybe I’ll cry for that woman I used to be, born of the girl that I was, and help her see the woman she can be. Either way, I’ll wake up tomorrow. And the day after that.
I wrote this in 2012, back when I had a newspaper column (As I See It) - in that life, I was the editor of two weekly newspapers, and still dreamed of being more, of writing the things I knew were in me to write. Correction. I already wrote them, I couldn't NOT write, not then, not now. What I dreamed of most was being read.
TODAY I WILL BE BRAVE: It was my mantra at the Crossroads Writer's Conference I attended this past weekend. I printed the phrase out in a hand-lettered font style and I colored it in and I taped it to the very first page of my journal - the one I bring with me everywhere, and used in every class and discussion panel throughout the weekend to take notes.
I'll tell you a secret. I'm not brave. I'm not a people person, I freeze up in crowds of more than 3 strangers. I'm an introvert's introvert.
Another fact (not so secret) - I'm perpetually lost. My sense of direction (or lack thereof) is nigh on legendary. My husband used to joke that I could get lost in our driveway, which in my defense, was very long at the time. Without GPS (and oftentimes even with GPS) I usually have no idea where I am or how to get to where I want to go.
Enter my determination to attend a conference in a city I am terrible at driving in, at a location I've never been, with people I had never met, for reasons I believed less and less as the time to hit the road approached.
Today I will be brave, I told myself, and I drove to Macon and found the Mercer Campus and found parking and followed someone who looked like they knew where they were going until I arrived at the registration building.
Today I will be brave, I told myself as I Sharpie'd my name in bold, decorative letters on my name tag and pinned it to my sleeve.
Today I will be brave, I thought as Delilah Dawson talked to us about emotions, and seeds, and the importance of remembering how much you love what you're doing, even when it isn't easy.
I thought it as I smiled and took a seat next to people I didn't know to listen to Ed Grisamore, reading their name tags as they read mine, and doing my best to glean something useful out of a speech I had heard before … why hadn't I chosen one of the other 3 options for that time slot?
But I was brave, and I went to the next 'class' and suddenly it was all making sense. Nathan Edmundson talked about writing stories that sell, and my journal page was filling up with notes and thoughts and suddenly my brain was so distracted by what I was absorbing that I forgot I wasn't a brave person. I forgot I was shy, I forgot I didn't talk to strangers, I forgot I was a chunky introvert with red cheeks and graying hair.
By the time Carrie Howland (a working agent from New York) finished her "Getting Past The Gatekeeper" talk, I was in the full throes of amnesia. I spoke to others, I asked questions, answered questions, and smiled. I found my way to the hotel and met people in the bar - people who turned out to be authors and screenwriters and students and I went out with those people for "hobnobbery" at the Tubman museum (where I met a delightful, buoyant, effervescent woman who shared my name but not my spelling, and who danced just because.)
I was brave at The Rookery, the single most crowded place in the known universe, where I wound up in a conversation with three authors and the same agent who had spoken earlier in the day - talking more like people and less like introverts.
By the next day I was that other person full time, the person for whom it was not the most unattainable of goals to be a real, honest-to-goodness writer, the person who could see with mountain-air clarity the potential and the process and the path - and more importantly, I was the person who wouldn't be immediately lost on that path.
I will not lie. By the time I got home on Sunday, I was exhausted. My brain was overflowing, my hand was cramped from taking so many notes, and I was dizzy with trying to remember details about social networking and how to be an introvert that's part of a larger community as well.
But I had done what I set out to do. I was brave. I was braver than my fear, braver than my shyness, braver than my complete inability to navigate a social situation.
Someone famous that I'm not going to look up right now has been quoted as saying "Do one thing, every day, that scares you." Some time back I promised myself that I would try to do one thing every week that scared me (baby steps, you know) but my adventurous spirit - as it often is - was weighed down by routine and obligation and "should-do"s.
Well I've proven to myself that I can be brave. Better, I've proven to myself that if I pretend to be brave for long enough I can actually act like I am. So here I come, social networks. Here I come, NaNoWriMo 2013 and author's platform and query letters and novel edits.
Because in 5 years, I'm going to be at the front of one of those panels, telling my story to people who, just like me, are being brave.
Five years have come and gone. My bravery took a different direction - one I may or may not revisit on September 1st, the anniversary of the day in 2016 that I never intended to wake up. The Crossroads Writer's Conference is a thing of the past. I'm no longer a newspaper editor, I'm no longer in Georgia.
But I am still writing. I'm still learning. I'm still dreaming.
And being brave can result in some pretty amazing things.
Confession time: I love Scrivener. Love it. Might not be a writer without it. (I'll have lots more to say about Scrivener some other day, but today is about the not-writing usefulness of it.)
However, comma, it's not just for writing. Sure, that's what it's MADE for, but when you're a writer who's obsessed with planning and you're going to open Scrivener every day ANYWAY ... You make a planner in it. Or at least, I do.
True story: this is the only digital planner I've stuck with for more than a week.
Also true story: As I was tweaking my templates to account for some new priorities, I realized my little cobbled-together planner that was almost singlehandedly responsible for my increased productivity, wordcount, and peace of mind might actually help other people get their plan on, too.
So I started a new project, brought in the templates, added a How-To, and called it a day.
NOTE: This project was created in Scrivener 3 for Mac. I have no idea what this will look like or how it will perform in a Windows environment. Click the screenshot to download the Planner Template file for free - no strings, no email address exchange, no nothing.
Just go forth and plan, with my blessings :)