Writing Is Art

Writing is art. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, but it’s a phenomenon that I’m sure veteran writers have been dealing with for ages. What I mean when I say writing is art is that even if the writing is labeled “nonfiction,” it is a creative endeavor. It is not intended to represent the whole truth, nor can it. It is a slice of life, a snapshot, one angle on the truth in any given moment. That is not to say nonfiction writing is a lie – it’s not! But it is a piece of writing. It is not meant to convey the totality of the feelings and intentions of the writer.

writing is artNeither should the writer attempt to explain, justify, or soften the writing. This can be very slippery territory indeed. I’ve never published anything I regret, but I do wish I hadn’t answered questions about some of my pieces, and I have vowed never to do it again. Once, after reading a poem I’d placed in a lit journal, a well-meaning relative asked, “Was this about so-and-so?” She already knew who the poem was about, I’m sure, because enough of the details were recognizable. So the question caught me off guard and I answered, “Yes.”

“I thought so!” She sounded pleased – she’d solved a puzzle. She knew the inside story.  And I instantly regretted affirming her suspicions – because the poem didn’t tell the whole truth. It was only one piece, one facet. If you read that poem and thought, “This is what Jennifer thinks about so-and-so,” you’d be wrong. Did the poem represent a thought I’d had once about so-and-so? Sure. A recurring thought, even. A poetic thought. But it wasn’t the complete story. A poem can’t be the complete story. It’s a poem.  Continue reading

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Ready. Set. Write! (week #5 for me)

My writing theme for this week: back to the notebook.

Ready Set Write!1.  How I did on last week’s goals:

I abandoned them and worked on something else instead, and I totally don’t regret it because I got over a huge hurdle with another WiP.

2.  My goal(s) for this week:

Write a chapter of the new thing (Is it a book? A collection of essays?  A novella? Only time will tell.) and work on Where I Write.

3.  A favorite line from my story OR one word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised:

On a Wednesday afternoon, she asks me to fetch her rings in their little box from the bedroom. They are too big for her now, so she isn’t wearing them. She shows me the different ones, telling me which is which, although I already know. She wonders if she should give me a particularly special one now. I’ve always coveted that ring, but I want to wait. I’m not ready to take Mama’s rings.

4.  The biggest challenge I faced this week (ex. finding time to write):

Attention Deficit Disorder

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

I’ve finally given myself permission to write it.

Ready. Set. Write! (week #4 for me)

As a monumental improvement over last week, I’m actually remembering to post this on Monday.

Ready Set Write!1.  How I did on last week’s goals:

I did okay. Would have liked to put a bit more time in, but I made a lot of progress with Where I Write.

2.  My goal(s) for this week:

Get Where I Write into submittable form.  Period.  Write another blog entry.

3.  A favorite line from my story OR one word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised:

She wants me to tell you that for as long as I can remember, I have written every chance I get: at school during recess; in the back seat of our family car on the long drive to Yellowstone; in the bathroom through a thick haze of red wine while my boyfriend slept; in the fluorescent-sharpened break room at work.   Tell them, she urges.  Tell them how the only thing that mattered was your writing.

4.  The biggest challenge I faced this week (ex. finding time to write):

Lack of energy.

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

That this week it feels more authentic.

Ready. Set. Write! (week #3 for me)

I cannot believe I forgot to do this yesterday.  Well, yes, actually, I can.  I can forget just about anything on a Monday.

Ready Set Write!1.  How I did on last week’s goals:

Great, actually!  Blog entry – check.  Where I Write – coming along!  Thoughts – marginally organized, but congealing.

2.  My goal(s) for this week:

Get Where I Write into submittable form, or at least one revision away.

3.  A favorite line from my story OR one word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised:

I write in the shade of restless eucalyptus trees with their strands of peeling bark.  I write their dusky, pungent scent.  I write from the bottom of my grandparents’ swimming pool where I scrape my nose learning to dive the summer of my ninth year.  At night I write from the stars of Orion’s belt, the first constellation I can name.

4.  The biggest challenge I faced this week (ex. finding time to write):

Distractions!  Weird interpersonal crap (which I seldom have to deal with) that had to be dealt with. Not exactly drama, but close to it.

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

That I can still surprise myself when I write.

Ready. Set. Write! (week #2 for me)

Back again keepin’ it real, folks!  I did okay this week – couldn’t have done better considering all I had on my plate, but I’m really, really trying to fix that so I eliminate the worst of my writing impediments and always have time for my creative endeavors.  They are not, after all, indulgences.  They are as essential to my well-being as the protein shake I had at 10 am this morning.

Ready Set Write!1.  How I did on last week’s goals:

Like I said, I did okay.  I covered a coworker’s vacation at work, and she apparently does the work of three people, so sleep was scarce and spare time was scarcer.  Still, I submitted to the Ashland poem contest thingy (took longer than I thought because their website was squirrelly) and wrote a blog article that (hopefully) doesn’t suck, but I made zero progress on Where I Write.  No worries – onward and upward!

2.  My goal(s) for this week:

Work on Where I Write and start organizing my thoughts about the nonfiction piece I want to write about trauma.  And, write another non-suckish blog entry.

3.  A favorite line from my story OR one word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised:

Although I relished my newfound status as a “professional” writer, the novelty of the [Internet] articles quickly wore off, and churning out 20 pieces on a single keyword became tedious at best. After being assigned the keyword “barbecue sauce,” and then later “cash gifting,” I decided that perhaps I needed to expand my horizons. (The prospect of writing ten articles about popular condiment or a notorious scam can do that to a person.)

4.  The biggest challenge I faced this week (ex. finding time to write):

An average of four hours of sleep per night and the workload of four people.

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

It’s the absolute truth, and writing it is f***ing cathartic.  Oh, wait, this is the Naked Notebook – it’s already R-rated.  Fucking cathartic.

Ready. Set. Write! (week #1 for me)

Okay, I’m giving this a try.  Accountability is the key to keeping my pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), so I’m joining an group of writers who get together every Ready Set Write!summer and track their progress, share their goals, their writing impediments, and their (sometimes mini, sometimes big) victories.  Hugs to all you writers who believe in your words and do what it takes to keep at it no matter what!  (I signed up thru host Katy Upperman.)  Monday posts follow this format and describe our progress the preceding week/outline goals for next week:

1.  How I did on last week’s goals.

I’m just starting out with RSW, but I’d set some goals on my own that I managed to complete (piece submitted to publication, etc.).

2.  My goal(s) for this week.

Submit poem to contest thingy in Ashland, write a blog entry that doesn’t suck and schedule it, and continue revising my “Where I Write” essay.

3.  A favorite line from my story OR one word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised.

The weekend of our garage sale found me in no mood to watch people paw through Mom’s things.  Exhausted and emotionally raw, I glowered at women as they kicked off their sensible shoes and shoved their ordinary feet into my mother’s classy sandals.  Who did they think they were?

4.  The biggest challenge I faced this week (ex. finding time to write).

Well, it’s unoriginal, but…finding time to write.  In the midst of work, family, my car catching fire (Yep. That happened.), our outdoor sprinklers failing in the 100-plus-degree heat and…you get the picture.

5.  Something I love about my WiP.

It’s sentimental without being maudlin (I hope).

Choosing My Life

Lately I’ve been obsessing over careers, particularly mine but also the topic in general. I was recently offered a promotion to a management position at work that I ultimately turned down. Through the process of evaluating whether being the remote manager of a team of 50 people was a fit for me (and concluding that it isn’t, at least not right now), I had to take stock of my current situation. What, after all, do I want from my job? Do I want recognition? Status? Money?

This photo is here for a reason...I'll get to it...I promise!

This photo is here for a reason…I’ll get to it…I promise!

Since I said no to the job, I’ve wanted to do nothing but sleep. I’m tired, though I’m not sure from what. It’s not as if I took the position, worked myself to the bone, then decided it was too much and quit. Rather, the idea itself seems to have been too much for me; I became exhausted by the mere prospect of it and the energy it consumed to weigh my options, making lists of pros and cons, deciding what is most important in my life now.

I’m not just relaxed and listless – I’m sleeping big drugged sleeps that come to me in lumbering waves and crush me with their weight. I awaken feeling more tired than I started, and so I have no choice but to sleep some more, even though it’ll undoubtedly just make me more tired still, like a junkie for whom one last fix inevitably leads to another. I wake up amazed by the amount I’ve slept, palpating my neck for lumps, idly wondering if I have lymphoma. (Working for cancer doctors for a decade can do this to a person; there is a cancer for every innocent symptom in the book.) Then I remember the ten pounds I gained last summer, the ones it took me all winter to lose. I dismiss the thought of lymphoma, roll over, and go back to sleep.

Oddly, whatever dissatisfaction I had in my current job before I considered the promotion seems to have evaporated along with the opportunity to make a change. Before I was offered the new position, I’d grown so impatient with my medical transcription work, which I admit can be tedious at times given my inherently restless nature, that I’d contemplated seeking out the very position I ended up turning down. Although I didn’t actively seek it out at all, when I was actually approached and offered the job, I assumed, as did everyone else, that I’d say yes. It seemed I was ready for a change, a new challenge, an opportunity. But the more thought I gave the matter, the more clear it became that I’m adequately challenged enough as it is, balancing my job, household, family, and hobbies. Now I have settled back into my “old job” gleefully, newly appreciative of the harmony it allows me to maintain in my life. My suddenly deliciously simple life.

Ambition has never been one of my attributes. Perhaps I should feel guilty about not having more of it, but in fact the only thing I feel guilty about is that I don’t feel guilty. In college I aimlessly shifted majors until life sent me in the direction of starting a family, at which time, vaguely relieved, I let go of any career goals I might have been halfheartedly harboring (a nursing degree, at the time) readily and without a backward glance. I’ve never known what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m starting to think I never will. Working in the health care field, I have been surrounded by people who have put their educations and their careers above all else, and I’m not sure how much happiness these choices have afforded them.

As if to illustrate this point, I recently learned that a former coworker of mine, someone highly educated with a license and a degree, has gotten herself into some difficulties involving narcotics, a costly transgression that may end her career. She’s not someone I’m currently in contact with, but I’ve found myself compelled to reach out to her. As if, I remind myself, what she really wants right now is for old coworkers to come crawling out of the woodwork and say – what? I hear you’ve made a big bungling mess out of your life – do you want to talk about that?

Suspicious of my own motivations for wanting to talk to her (am I some kind of inappropriate rubbernecker, ogling at the scene of an accident by the side of the road to see how bad things can really get, wanting to put my own life in perspective?), I realize that I’ve always been attracted to people who’ve led difficult lives. It’s a tendency that’s brought me as much fulfillment as it has misery. Damaged people have been chipped away at by the many traumas fate doles out – inept or outright abusive parents; a sudden tragedy; or simply a white-out snowstorm of the mind that sends them stumbling blindly into an abyss of drugs or alcohol, or crippling depression and anxiety – and what’s left after circumstances have worked them over with hammer and chisel is someone more worth knowing. A more authentic human being.   Whether these people have triumphed over their situations or not, they have been forced to live from a place without veneer, without artifice. They’ve been forced to be real. It’s the realness that draws me in. I want to be close to that because it feels like the only thing that matters.

So I often find myself drawn to screwed-up people, people who have suffered trauma of one sort or another, either self-induced or circumstantial. I myself am not overly damaged, but I’ve been chipped away at a bit myself over these last few years: a brutal attack on a family member; a stupid, pointless run-in with cancer that took my mother’s life; the vacuum left behind when the housing market collapsed, a void which sucked in my husband’s lucrative career; a succession of pet losses.

Still, not knowing what to say, I don’t call my friend from the old days who has committed professional suicide, even though maybe I should.   Instead I just turn the story over and over in my mind, feeling empathy for her and a sort of kinship, even though I’ve never done the things she did.   Beyond all the misery getting caught has no doubt brought her, I hope it has also pushed her toward a healing of sorts. She might even be feeling relieved that it’s finally over, that who she is on the inside and who she is on the outside finally matches. There are no more secrets, no more lies.

Beneath all our pride, we desperately want to live a life of truths. Even though it’s painful, we’re secretly glad when our virtuous intentions are brought into check by our undeniable depravity and moral turpitude. We live our lives stretched taught as a piano wire, twanging under the tension of these opposing forces, caught between our desire to appear perfect and the absolute certainty that we are anything but. When the wire finally breaks, we are devastated…but we are free.

Somehow, saying no to the big career change has given me a new freedom, a new affection for the status quo. I’ve made a little more peace with my lack of ambition. My life is just fine; my career is what it is. At least it leaves me the time and energy to do the things I love: writing, gardening, tending to my family. I have chosen a career that doesn’t cause me ridiculous amounts of stress, doesn’t force me to miss out on important family moments, and doesn’t drive me to write myself illegal prescriptions to numb myself out.

So, what do I want from my job? Not power, not prestige, not even money, although I need a little bit of that to make things work. What I want is my life, this life, with all its splintery surfaces and slippery slopes, and with its rare glimpses of piercing truth. I want a job that gives me time to sit down with myself, to examine the areas that have been chipped away at, that have left me broken but also more whole, more me. And this is the job I have. It gives me time to get to know the authentic person I’ve become.

First Friday Freewrite #60: “In cars…”

Welcome back to the First Friday Freewrite! 

Here’s how it works: I post a “JUMP LINE,” a short phrase that will serve as a writing prompt, each first Friday of the month.

YOU put pen to paper and write. (I’ll do it, too, of course.)  Don’t think.  Don’t cross out.  (That is wise advice borrowed from Natalie Goldberg in Wild First-Friday-FreewriteMind.)  Just start with the prompt and see where it takes you.

Then POST YOUR RESPONSE as a comment.  (Just click the comment bubble  to the right of the post title to leave a reply.)

Today’s jump line:  “In cars…”

Happy Writing!

First Friday Freewrite #59: “Waiting…”

Welcome back to the First Friday Freewrite! 

Here’s how it works: I post a “JUMP LINE,” a short phrase that will serve as a writing prompt, each first Friday of the month.

YOU put pen to paper and write. (I’ll do it, too, of course.)  Don’t think.  Don’t cross out.  (That is wise advice borrowed from Natalie Goldberg in Wild First-Friday-FreewriteMind.)  Just start with the prompt and see where it takes you.

Then POST YOUR RESPONSE as a comment.  (Just click the comment bubble  to the right of the post title to leave a reply.)

Today’s jump line:  “Waiting…”

Happy Writing!

First Friday Freewrite #58: “Into thin air…”

Welcome to the First Friday Freewrite! 

Here’s how it works: I post a “JUMP LINE,” a short phrase that will serve as a writing prompt, each first Friday of the month.

YOU put pen to paper and write. (I’ll do it, too, of course.)  Don’t think.  Don’t cross out.  (That is wise advice borrowed from Natalie Goldberg in Wild First-Friday-FreewriteMind.)  Just start with the prompt and see where it takes you.

Then POST YOUR RESPONSE as a comment.  (Just click the comment bubble  to the right of the post title to leave a reply.)

Today’s jump line:  “Into thin air…”

Happy Writing!