So the thing about being in a writing program is it feels like all writing needs to be devoted to making work for my program. I feel less guilty wasting time doing things that make me feel worse about the world than I do about writing here. But reading about how shitty the world is is starting to get to me. I can’t spend time on the internet anymore. It’s just too terrible a place.
All this to say: I’m trying to come back here. It’s better than reading about who hit whom, and who is going to prison for what, and where in the world is on fire, and where in the universe smells the most like farts (spoiler: it’s everywhere. Everywhere smells most like farts).
I am trying to finish my thesis for school (a novel! A novel about a terrible family doing terrible things to each other terribly, but the writing is good, so I got what I came to school for), and another project (a weird, weird sort of semi-autobiography thing, made up of bizarre answers to a questionnaire I stole from a psychologist and an inventory of myself and a gazetteer of the places I’ve lived–needless to say IT’S HOT, SO HOT, AND ALL THE KIDS WILL BE IN THE THEATERS SOON WATCHING A MOVIE BASED ON THE BOOK OF MY LIFE), and I’m trying not to stretch myself so thin I just give up on everything and eat salty snacks. I ate a bag of goldfish crackers yesterday and it was painful to open my eyes this morning. They weren’t crusty or anything, the corneas were just so dry the lids were almost sealed to them, pieces of rubber to glass.
I have no illusions this will last. We shall see.
I was there, at my mother’s house, not at all enjoying my spring break, tending to her after her knee replacement surgery, when I discovered she’d been lying to me to get me up there.
Her cats had tapeworms again. After I had taken them to the vet in January, two months before. This was one of the few things I told her I needed her to do for me to come up there. I just needed her to treat them for fleas consistently so I could be in her house without parasites. She said she would
I felt manipulated. Used.
At this point, I don’t trust her anymore. She’ll do whatever she feels she has to and will say whatever she feels she has to in order to get whatever she wants. My needs, comfort, health and safety don’t matter.
That’s not at all to speak of her cats’ health. I asked a couple of people if I should get them treated again and they told me the same thing: if you treated them two months ago, and they’re sick again, they’ll just keep getting infected. There’s nothing you can do for them.
Unfortunately, I think they’re right.
Then I came back here and tried to get work done. I didn’t get anything done up there. Yes, poor me! I have the privilege of being one of the elite few in the world who can earn an advanced degree full-time. I have no illusions about where I am in the world. This is the top, really. I have clean water, a safe place to lay my head, an automobile–this is great. I do get anxiety, though. I’m behind in my work.
And I churned out a book for a contest just now. I’m proud of it, and proud of myself. It’s good work. Poems. No one would read it except for my boyfriend. They’re too depressing. Everyone said to send them some, but they didn’t really want to read them because they’re too down. I understand; they’re all about death. That’s not something people really want to read.
My habit has been to wait for the muse to come to me and then work off of inspiration, and I didn’t do that this time. I just worked through the time I had allotted. There was only so much time, so that’s the amount of time I had to work on it. It’s still work I’m proud of. This means I can do this always–it’s a new skill for me. I feel like I should have had this sooner (I’ve been writing for twenty years! I should be here by now!), but I’m at where I’m at and it’s here.
I also feel bad today because I set a boundary that was the right thing for me, but I don’t think the other person saw it that way. I can justify and explain and make a case to you, but I don’t have to. I know what was the right thing for me to do. I can’t hurt myself today because that’s what I think other people want and need. I have to put my own oxygen mask on first. Besides, I don’t know what they need! I’ve never been that good at figuring that out. I destroyed my own life and showed up somewhere with a shoebox full of most of the pieces and needed help putting them together. What do I know from life coaching?
Boundaries are tough, y’all. But living without them? Way fucking worse. You can take that to the motherfucking bank.
I’ve been undeniably cranky lately. The past several weeks. It’s been either contagion and I got it from somewhere or I’m Patient Zero and spread it up and down to all the people who are porous around me (sorry, so sorry, I didn’t know I was giving you pinkeye on the Third one. At least is isn’t visible and people will still sit next to you on the bus). People I have noticed it in:
- Little gray asshole cat in the neighborhood (has taken to shitting on the fucking sidewalk, how dickish is that, can’t even be bothered to shit in the gutter or on the bare dirt around here, fucking little asshole cat)
Okay, I had listed three other people here, but I removed them, because I’m trying not to talk about other people. As long as you aren’t grumping at me, which they aren’t, I don’t mind. Have your feelings. Have away! Don’t take them out on me and we’re totally cool. There have been some miscommunications because grumpy people are more anxious and forgetful–this includes me–so I need to take that into account. But it’s more than just me, it’s a lot of people, which makes me think this is an emotional virus.
I think it’s starting to shift, though. At least for me.
I got a huge shift of creative energy the other day. Well, I got a huge burst of toxic energy (I felt like I was dying–don’t worry, this happens not infrequently to me), and then I had to go see Moms. But I was able to push this shit out of my psychic colon and paint this energetic poop on the walls of my own private asylum. I can use it for creative inspiration, is what I’m saying. So I’m onto a new, short-term project.
It’s shadow side, this project is, so I’ll be dipping my cup into the darkness a lot in the nearness. Next few weeks or month or so. That’s fine; it’ll give me a constructive channel for all the yechery. Maybe I’ll be less of an a-hole. Maybe. No promises.
The thing about taking on a new, highly energetic project: it hurts to do this. It’s like shedding a skin. It’s cutting the nails past the quick and bleeding. Losing teeth makes for the tender, bloody, pulpy spots, you know? That’s where the energy comes from. The energy comes from the parts of the body that don’t normally get exposed. It comes from the humors. The bile, blood, phlegm. Growth and creation hurt. If you don’t believe me, ask a pregnant lady. Hella them are fucked up crazy people. But you get a baby/work at the end of it, so hopefully you’re at least satisfied about the whole thing. Not always, but you know, there was at least some sort of payoff. Flu just sucks and then it sucks less and less until you can hold your head up without it feeling like it’s full of dirty rocks and motor oil.
This is good shit, is what I’m saying. But it’s way potent. I’m already having waking visions and sleeping dreams related to this project. I’m not taking more of the project on than I can handle (I guess, but probably not, I’m probably doing too much, letting it eat too much time), and I totally know my dealer (that’s not true, really; I have no idea where this shit comes from. Do you know the Muse? Or the energy of the universe? I fucking don’t. I feel it, and have only a rudimentary understanding of it), but still: creative energy is a helluva drug, man. Crazy-ass trip.
We’ll see how long there’s catshit on the sidewalk. That cat is a fucking nincompoop, really. No decency.
I really didn’t know I was such a bad person. Really, I didn’t.
I have been keeping more to myself than I used to. It started two years ago Christmas when I was telling one of my mother’s friends about my novel I’m writing for my thesis (she asked). My mother was getting more and more testy. She doesn’t like the attention pulled away from her, I think, especially when it’s her house. That’s what I think, at least. And she wasn’t approving of the plot. Mind you, it was sounding extremely convoluted and strange. But I had just explained it to my novel writing class, and after having come through an entire semester with them, they were really excited for me. I was really excited for me. I felt I was making huge progress. Things were looking up.
But as I’m telling the plot in my mom’s living room, I’m becoming more and more conscious of her eyes on me. Her throat, the sounds coming out of it. Squeezed sounds. Small sounds. Dampening sounds. The sighs, the dismissive cut of her eyes. We both do that. Neither one of us knows how to fix our faces. My pops doesn’t, either. All the no comes right to the surface.
“Well,” grumphasses Moms, “I hope I’m never expected to buy any of your books.”
I tried to save it. I always try to save it. I’m the baby of the family; it’s my job to save it now. Now that everything’s gone to shit and everyone else has stopped trying and no one’s in the same place at the same time and everything’s pointed at me: it’s Seer’s fault now. It’s so easy for the baby to feel persecuted, and it’s so easy to blame the baby. Spilled milk and all that.
“You’ll never be expected to buy a goddamned thing,” I said. But I didn’t say it cheerful enough. There wasn’t enough laughter. Too much vinegar. And I was ashamed of myself–for being a bad writer, a bad daughter, a bad person. Look what you did.
I don’t think she remembers saying this. I don’t think she remembers any of this. My brother had a bad habit of coming over and acting like family but wanting to be waited on like a guest. Mom wants to talk like family but be talked to like a guest. And she writes people tickets for minor infractions but has no idea how big the trailer she’s towing is. She’ll swing wide and knock out telephone poles and fire hydrants and then tell you she is hurt you didn’t say something the way she wanted to hear it.
When I won the little poetry contest, she couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to show them to her. I’m not a masochist. I’m never showing her anything ever again. I’m writing everything under a pseudonym at this point and never telling her if I get published. It’s out of self-protection. After she said the thing about the novel? That little, tiny thing and who cares and blowing it into a huge whatever? Pole-vaulting over that mouse turd? (Yes, she had said something negative about one of the most important facets of my life right now. But it was a fairly small thing about just one thing that lives in one of those facets.) I got into a self-hatred thing and didn’t touch it for four or five months. I’m still doubting it now. I’m too sensitive still. Sometimes it doesn’t get me. But I never know when someone or something will infect me. When you hit me under one of my scales it’ll get swollen and tender for months, years. And I don’t need that bullshit. I have enough to deal with.
I am going up to see her tomorrow to run an errand for her. She’s quite capable of doing it herself. It’s hard for her right now because she’s in pain but people do more than that all the time. But I’m doing it as a peace-offering. I’m not staying longer than I have to, though (see: masochist, not a). She wants me to stay for dinner and: no.
I am really not looking forward to the upcoming surgery. It’s only a week. Only a week. The last time I nearly lost myself. I am scared. But I can do this.
I don’t know when I became this bad a person to her. Or she to me. Why do you hate me now? Why can you never be kind? I think she thinks these things, also. She thinks that I’m the asshole here.
It seems so sudden sometimes, the change in people. The car door slams and they turn and a new face, who is this? Who is this mother of mine? How do I treat you now? How do I let the stones you throw hit me, cover my face and still walk towards you?
So: one of my favorite words, as it says under the title of my blog, is “Lunch.” I wrote a little exercise for myself. Here are the rules I used (mix and match as works for you–this will work for fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, play writing, or just a warmup):
- Choose a word. Find an image you like that relates to that word.
- Write a piece in response to that image. Focus on the musicality of the piece–all of my definitions are just sorta, to jog your memory; look them up if you don’t really know/it’s been a long time. There’s no shame in not knowing something you have had no reason to learn: assonance (repeated vowel sounds in stressed syllables: knows-owes-goes), consonance (repeating the initial consonant sound with words but changing the vowel sounds: wonder-wander-wader), rhyme, half-rhyme (also called eye rhymes or inexact rhymes: said-maid, love-prove) and alliteration (beginning words with the same consonant or vowel sound, also called a head-rhyme: land-lamp-laugh).
- Aim to have at least one piece of “music” in every line.
- Try to make every word you can interact with another. Just try. It’ll give you a chance to edit! Editing: making good writers better since forever. Ask yourself: what other word could I put here? Why did I choose this one? Why am I in love with this? What else works? Sacrifice musicality? Or meaning? Story? Time? Logic? Or ease in writing? What is my aesthetic? How do rules/structure make me realize what my tics are?
- Take no more than forty minutes.
If anyone uses any of these exercises, I’d love to see what you do. If you post them, lemme know. You can also always email them to me if you haven’t gotten to the point where you’re ready to share your work with anyone. I will look at them and I am always kind. If that link it’s working, it’s the blog name at the Google Mail.
Have a great lunch today!
Lunch–my, I love lunch. Lisa looks lovely like that. See the scar with the scarf on–no. Quick with the picture. For the look book. And her sister and the children. In a photo, you have control. No fights or sighs; all smiles. We wandered until we blundered on this marina and it was a wonderful–we are so alone.
Luanne, she makes the best sandwiches. Spreads to the edges. Every bite has a niceness to it. You are fed more than bread. She says there’s an art to it, and heart to it. Good food, but just food.
Kids didn’t bicker. A great day. Water wasn’t, you know, you couldn’t get in it. Green, bile-like film and vile, sticky sheen. Smelled of well, shit–no, that wasn’t it. Bleach, I think, something you keep under the sink. I don’t know; Lisa keeps the house.
A bloated dead mouse found on the ground. The kids put a cross over it after covering it with gathered moss.
We sang The Star Spangled Banner for it with our hands on our chests and left.
I had a swell of fear tonight and had to call someone for help with it. There was no real reason for the fear. No new information that would lead me to be afraid. I’m not sick. No possessions of mine have broken. I’m not in a jam with school. I have no new problems to face. Just regular, run of the mill fear swirling its skirts around me, laughing and hissing and spitting while it talks.
It told me I was terrible at the thing I want to do most in this world today. It told me I have No Business Writing Anything Ever. Stop it, Seer. Give it up, girl. There’s no point! You’re terrible. The worst.
I called someone pretty soon to help me get out of the spin. He helped. Within twenty minutes, we got me out of the ditch.
I think the thing that fueled this doubtfest was a bit of extremely positive information about my work that someone gave me the other day. Crazy, right? What happened: Someone tells me they like what I do, and that they want to help me put my shit into the world. I ride high for a couple of days. Hey, I’m good at this! There is a place for my work in print! Huzzah. Then for a day I feel nothing. And then KABLAMMO I feel like shit and doubt everything I create. Everything I touch turns to shit. It’s all awful.
I have to remember: it doesn’t feel like angels sing when I make good work. That’s not why I do it. And when people connect with my work, they don’t tell me angels are singing in their ears, either. That’s not why I do it, either.
But I’ll be goddamned if I stop doing it because I am afraid. Afraid of what? Let’s see which fears are even real.
Am I afraid that people won’t like me? I have sung that song for too long. I can tell you that living my life according to what I presume people want me to do doesn’t make me happy.
Am I afraid that I’ll be poor? I’ve been poor making good money! When I’m unhappy I spend every dime I have trying to make myself happy. I’d rather have less to go around and be satisfied with my life.
Am I afraid that my work will never find a place in the world? Wheels are already turning to make that happen. Every time I read aloud I connect with at least one person there (that happens for almost everyone at every reading. If you’re reading this and you haven’t tried reading aloud yet, you may want to). And so what if it doesn’t? Some of my favorite writers never found a home for their work in their lifetimes. That doesn’t mean their work wasn’t good. And that bridge is so far away from me right now.
Am I afraid that I don’t have the chops? I got into a school, so I had to get past an admissions committee. My professors think I have chops. I won an award for some poems. (Did I tell that I am an award-winning poet?) So fuck you, fear.
You hear me, Fear? Fuck you! F you in the A! Go home and take a shit! Get lost! Go jump in a lake, you scrote!
not your pal, Fear
If you need something to put in your mouth and chew on instead of fear, BOOM:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing……Only I will remain.
And if you need something for your eyes and ears to hear instead of fear, here (Find musician Steven Buck here):
So: This is a poem I wrote in response to an in-class exercise.
I’ll share the exercise with you, too, in brief. In my own words, because those are all I got.
Emotion is intangible. Really, it is. Everyone feels love, but you can’t smell it, see it, taste it, touch it, or hear it. But when you’re ass over teakettle in love with someone, your perspective is filtered through that love. Everything you experience is colored that way. You see more, you can feel other people’s feeling differently. When you’re in line at a coffeeshop, the tension in other people’s silences can be overwhelming: those people are having a huge blowout. When you are scared about your loved one dying, how does the world look then? Can you hear people at all through what’s going on inside, or do they sound quieter, farther away?
Here is a great poet of place, Robert Hass. (You can find eleven of his poems there. We used a different poet in class, but he’s my go-to guy for place.) See how he plays with the tangible and the intangible at the same time. How does he link the concrete outward details with what the speaker is feeling inside? How does he make the unique and personal universal?
Really, if you’re going to write better and hone your skills, you need to read great writers’ works and see how it’s done, so if you didn’t read Hass, go read another place poet’s work that you know. I will wait.
Now, imagine you are in love and your love has left you without warning. If you walk around your neighborhood at night, what do you see? Take a few minutes and write down concrete things you see, smell, taste, hear, and touch. Give yourself a time limit. This isn’t supposed to be perfect. It’s an exercise. Drills. Scales. Warmup. Not the greatest story ever told.
Now fill these details out. Sand them down. Make them beautiful(er) and make a poem of them.
(We spent five minutes on each: five on poem reading, note taking, and poem writing.)
Remember, it’s not supposed to be fantastic. It’s an exercise. It’s skill building. We’re getting stronger here. Faster. Better.
My current motto about writing is: It isn’t my job to love my work. It’s my job to do my work.
Here’s mine, presented without comment (except the one above):
Man, Woman, Space
I don’t know Who did What Wrong
Space knows all
If only Man or Woman or I
Could knit them together
She gets out of the car
Space rides shotgun