Judging the Cat

Orange tabby cat sleepingI’ve been watching the cat lately with a little pissiness. Judgment. It annoys me that he stays so apparently healthy and slender and happy, even when he loafs around so much, rarely doing anything but lick fur (urgh, ginger furballs going down), sleep or eat with one spaz attack between 5 and 7 p.m.

I mean, I’m so freaking busy and look at that indolent scrag! I have small people whining, demanding snacks and scrapping it out over who gets to choose the next play of events with the LOL dolls.

I have a husband who looks nonplussed at my nonexistent delight when he wanders in at 7 p.m. after his long day of work lunches and adult problem-solving that he’s paid decent money to do and gets praised lavishly for. He doesn’t understand why I have nothing nice to say. I don’t have it in me to explain the incomplete paragraph of writing, the clenching in my chest at even the thought of sitting down to write because I have left it so long that my brain thinks I am no longer a writer.

It’s flu season, so there’s the afterthought swipe of Clorox over the toilet seat as I leave and then my displaced anxiety that impels pulling a new wipe for the sinks and handles. My heavy writing heart knows the words are in there but instead takes the kids out of school for shots. That leads to a further hour of mothering and treats, voice memoing story ideas as I drive twenty miles to pick up other peoples’ laundry (OPL), while mine is half on the sofa, half on the ground and is stepped around by every other family member.

I will wash, dry, fold, and return OPL to do my part for our family coffers since nothing else I do has any apparent and immediate monetary value, while I ‘write my book’—A pursuit which, I’m warned by everyone who’s had a flutter in the publishing world, won’t earn me any damned money. But I can’t stop thinking about the words, and I can’t find time to write because I’m too busy keeping other creatures alive.

Like the toffee-striped bunch of cat bones lying in front of me. Look at him, paws stretching a little in his sleep, fifty more white hairs coating my olive suede couch from this action alone. Sloth incarnate. And I’m really annoyed. You know, as much as you can be with a feline moocher.

This life ain’t for sissies, I tell the cat, and I’m leaving for a convent, probably by 2 p.m. He can wrangle another goddamned rat for dinner. Or go hunt that lizard he lost in the office yesterday. The same lizard that freaked me the hell out doing press ups in the doorway when I went to find the stapler. Hell, I’ll just leave the guinea pig cage open. Dinner for all.

Somehow, I get through school pick up with stomach acid pumping, the tightness still in my chest, the disappointment of another day not spent writing. I manage a couple of lines in the school parking lot, and while ignoring my kid’s imperfect cartwheels at gymnastics. “Mummy! You missed my round-off again.”

Dinner is a pastiche of TJ’s frozen delights. Kids are coerced, threatened, screamed at and deposited in bed, and finally, I plop down in front of the computer to write. (Subtract the moments I sit for furtive FB feed glimpses that suck writing time through the giant straw that leads to some other ‘verse.)

Now I’m too tired to write, but I do read, a blog: Being Busy is Killing Our Ability to Think Creatively. I then plop on the couch and lay a hand on his fur. He’s completely out. I mean not even aware I laid a hand on him, except for a flick of an ear. And it hits me: I’m jealous. I have no control over my day, or the amount of creativity I think I want to be part of it.

Why? Cos I can’t get off devices or the busy-busy thang. And I’m being hard on myself, and no one else is going to facilitate this or write for me, not that I want anyone on my words. No one can write like me. That’s not an ‘I’m better than everyone else’ thing, that’s a recognition that this voice only comes from fuck knows where in me. And I have a job to do, goddamnit.

Writing time is not ‘me time’ like getting a pedi. It has me by the jugular. I sleep, shower, eat and drive with story ideas floating through my prefrontal cortex; I didn’t go to the Women’s March because I took a writing course. Which means I’d better bloody make it count. My pen and paper are my foam-core board protest signs. I have work to do.

I can keep making excuses and get fucked off at the cat. Or I can wake up to this life I have carved out to write, and write about the blue-eyed girl graven with her tattoos who I haven’t seen in fifteen years, who won’t leave my brain. And about my stroke victim of a father who is beyond reach in the way I want to communicate, in fact, he always was, and the line-up of men who undid me, and I them, and the endless creative ‘tappability’ of this scene we call earth.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/3080966/

The Holiday Gift Guide for Feisty Writers

Do you ever wonder what to give your favorite feisty writer? It’s that time of year, and some of our awesome contributors have made gift suggestions any scribe is sure to love:

Marni’s Writer Gift Ideas:

the cover of Novel & Short Story Writers Market1. Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2018 is the only resource you need to get your short stories, novellas, and novels published. This edition of NSSWM features hundreds of updated listings for book publishers, literary agents, fiction publications, contests, and more, and each listing includes contact information, submission guidelines, and other essential tips.

Inside Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, you’ll find valuable tips for:

  • How to take your readers on a roller-coaster ride by mastering the art of the unexpected
  • Weaving foreshadowing and echoing into your story
  • Discovering the DNA—dialogue, narrative, and action—dwelling inside all memorable characters
  • Gaining insight from best-selling and award-winning authors, including Steve Berry, Liane Moriarty, Junot Díaz, and more

Why I love it:  I love this gift because it answers the age old question, “But where should I send my work?”  This is the gift that keeps your work from ending up in a shoe box.  Buy one for yourself while you’re at it.  Truly worth it.

https://www.writersdigestshop.com/novel-and-short-story-writers-market-2018

2. Inspirational Book

Book Cover for Juicy Pens Thirsty PaperWrite and share what’s in your heart! Let SARK show you how. Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper is your non-judgmental witness, resoundingly supportive friend, and practical guide to the craft of writing and storytelling. For anyone who knows that a writer lives within them but doesn’t know how or where to start; for writers who need new ways to work past their blocks and be reinspired; for anyone who loves SARK’s wise words and art, Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper will help start the ink flowing and keep it going.

 

 

 

 

Why I love it:  Well, truth be told, I love every book by Sark.  She is the queen of giving you permission to loosen up, to play, to love the messy, juicy and joyful process that writing can be.  If you become a fan here are a few more: Eat Mangoes Naked, Succulent Wild Woman and Inspiration Sandwich

3. The Editor’s Tote by Dooney and Bourke

For those who want luxurious toting of their notebooks, papers and laptops…

The Editor's Tote by Dooney & BourkeThe Editor’s Tote by Dooney and Bourke

H 7.5″ x W 4.5″ x L 8.75″ One inside zip pocket. Two inside pockets. Cell phone pocket. Inside key hook. Buckle closure. Handle drop length 4.5″. Detachable strap. Strap drop length 13.5″. Lined.

https://www.dooney.com/pebble-editors-travel-tote-BSHTL0326.html?dwvar_BSHTL0326_color=2LCAPATN#q=editors+&start=1&cgid=dooney-bags-style-tote

 

 

Why I love it:  Well if you know me, you know I can be greatly cheered up with purses and totes.  I don’t know why but when I carry around my notebooks in this it makes me happy.  If you have a writer in your life who is equally delighted by pretty containers with straps, this is a lovely gift.  And guess what, it is ON SALE for the next 4 days!

4. Bonus Gift – Just for Fun

fun wall clock for writers

The Writer’s Clock at Café Press

Why I Love it:  It only allows you an hour to panic, then back to writing.

http://www.cafepress.com/+writers_clock_wall_clock,1160095998

 

 

 

 

 

Melissa’s Writer Gift Idea:

book cover for The Anatomy of Story

 

The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby

 

This is the most comprehensive and practical how-to book for narrative writing that I’ve ever come across. It explores story from conception through execution, delving into character development, world building, thematic through line, plot, and scene construction. Truby’s concepts build upon one another, helping the writer understand their story from many different perspectives and thus giving them the tools to weave an intricate and cohesive web that will satisfy readers. And the best part is, this isn’t just for fiction writers—it’s useful to anyone who incorporates narrative into their writing, be it journalism, memoir, or non-fiction. While this book could be mulled over from time to time as ideas develop, it also includes a workbook format where the writer can do the work as they progress through each chapter. The writer(s) in your life will be forever indebted to you for this gift and—let’s be honest—there’s no shame in treating yourself to this one too!

https://www.amazon.com/Anatomy-Story-Becoming-Master-Storyteller/dp/0865479933

Karen’s Writer Gift Idea:

an index card that says the gift of 5 hours for writing

 

The gift of time to write.

That’s all I want in this crazy season. My shelves are full of books on how to write, I have very nice bags to carry 10 copies of my latest, a laptop, pens, three spare unfilled composition books. There’s one thing missing…

 

 

Paula’s Writer Gift Idea:

book cover for Big Magic

 

Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear 

Here’s why I recommend it:

Big Magic grants authors and artists permission to create free of fear (or maybe in concert with it). I especially liked the early sections on the distinction between being a genius and having genius pour through you (the latter reflects the true nature of the artist) and how ideas can get sidetracked and, if they’re set aside too long, lost (been there myself recently). But, Gilbert argues, even if these ideas go away from you, they often appear elsewhere, pursued by others in a concept known as multiple discovery.

Fascinating and liberating, this book celebrates the joy of creating and gifts all authors and artistic types with the knowledge that it’s okay to just do the work, no matter the experience level or eventual outcome. Highly recommended, not just for authors, but for all who yearn to be creative explorers.

Marijke’s Writer Gift Ideas:

an open moleskine journal with drawings and writing in it1. Moleskin Journals

https://www.amazon.com/Moleskine-Cahier-Journal-Large-Ruled/dp/8883704983/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1512416238&sr=8-3&keywords=moleskin+journals+set+of+3

I’ve tried a LOT of journals and finally settled on the plain moleskin journals.  They are the perfect size to carry with me.  I have taken them on all my retreats and now have a collection, one for each retreat I’ve been to.  These are marvelous to mine for content later.

 

2. Watercolor pencils

water color pencils

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000J6EVZK/ref=twister_B076PK1CZC?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1

These are so fun for adding pictures to my journals.  I find that it helps me relax and pay attention to my surroundings when I add a little color to my journal notes

 

 

 

 

 

3. The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language by Natalie Goldberg.

book cover for The True Secret of Writing

 

https://www.amazon.com/True-Secret-Writing-Connecting-Language-ebook/dp/B008J4RQD8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1512417133&sr=8-1&keywords=the+true+secret+of+writing

This book captures what I think are essential components of my own writing practice, which Natalie distills as this: Sit. Write. Walk. It encourages us to dig a little deeper to “mine the rich awareness in your life, and to ground and empower yourself.”

 

 

 

 

Danielle’s Writer Gift Ideas:

  1. Out of print clothing

old t-shirt

https://www.outofprintclothing.com/

I wear a lot of t-shirts. They are part of my personality and feature anything from interesting designs, to bands that I love. Lately I’ve started to add both bookstore and book t-shirts to my collection. This site has a whole host of book-themed gifts, whether it be a t-shirt with Frederick the Mouse or a scarf with Edgar Allen Poe-ka dots.

 

 

 

 

 

2. Book darts

book darts

https://www.amazon.com/Book-Darts-Bronze-Line-Markers/dp/B0030J1J30/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1512428855&sr=8-2&keywords=book+darts

I choose to read physical books simply because I spend most of my days and nights in front of a screen. I have also attempted to curb my book spending, so I’ve also been borrowing a lot of books from the library. Book darts are the absolutely perfect way to mark specific passages in books. If you’re reading a book you borrowed for the library for book club, you can “dart” your way though it and remove them all prior to returning the book. Book darts are thin, neat looking, and removable. I’ve already blown through two tins. So worth it.

3. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art book cover

 

 

https://www.amazon.com/War-Art-Through-Creative-Battles/dp/1936891026/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1512428569&sr=1-1&keywords=the+war+of+art

The War of Art is my writing bible. Pressfield tackles one of the greatest nemesis of writers around the world – resistance. When I’m wrestling with the demons of resistance I reread the final paragraph of this book (which is marked with a book dart in case you were wondering) “Creative work is not a selfish act or a need for attention. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us all you’ve got.”

 

 

Lisa’s Writer Gift Ideas:

  1. 1. Book Map

book map

https://laughingsquid.com/street-maps-of-book-and-tv-show-titles-by-dorothy-collective/

These are fun, beautiful pieces of artwork featuring landmarks from literature in a single city map. Fun to stare at during those brainstorming sessions! They also have TV and movie maps, for those who don’t just love books…

 

 

 

 

 

2. Storymatic:

picture of storymatic game

https://thestorymatic.com/collections/frontpage/products/the-storymatic-classic

Literally a box of writing prompts. These have gotten me out of many a writer’s block jam, and there is a booklet of fun group games, too!

 

 

 

 

3. Dragon:

dragon software box

https://www.amazon.com/Dragon-NaturallySpeaking-Home-13-0-English/dp/B00LX4BZAQ/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&qid=1481404642&sr=8-1&keywords=speech+to+text+software&linkCode=sl1&tag=bookfox-20&linkId=989cb992faf4df717d127e4fe36aecd5

This is a software program for taking dictation, which is the fastest way to get words on the page, whether they are notes, prose, blogs, or whatever pops into your brain. It also learns to recognize words and spellings you use often, including proper names. Think of all the brilliance you’ll be able to get out when the words move as quickly as your imagination! (Note: this is the PC version. They have it for Mac as well, but it’s more expensive for some reason.)

David Foster Wallace

a person writing into a notebookI’m going there—quoting a writer I admire enormously, who I can’t hope to replicate, who falls into the group of male, helplessly gifted, entitled by birth-status, educational opportunities, and that thing I seek—the early recognition and assumption of greatness in literature. The teenage boy who walks into the university hall knowing he is one of the good ones. Maybe great ones.

He could say without cringing, giggling or looking at the ground, I am a writer.

I am jealous. There. It’s probably already clear, but I missed that trip down early acknowledgment lane. This must now fall under whining. So, I dig Wallace, Franzen, Mary Karr (interesting that I feel the need to clarify her first name when she broke new ground, too), Atwood, Hemmingway and all those classic English writers, as well as Keri Hulme and Janet Frame (two of New Zealand’s finest—check them out; my first literary idols after Enid Blyton). All the time thinking, there’s no bloody way I could write like that.

But, after reading Infinite Jest again, I can’t forget Wallace’s fearless leap into himself, his voice. He is wildly, passionately, his own writer, which is also all I can be. It’s all you can be.

So that’s what I’m doing. Throwing myself into my own voice. Oh, and working feverishly, manically, like those other writers that will make it. More than anything, I think they are obsessed workhorses with a shit ton of grit.

DFW said, “By the end of [my] undergraduate education, [I] was committed to fiction; he told David Lipsky, ‘Writing [The Broom of the System], I felt like I was using 97 percent of me, whereas philosophy was using 50 percent’”. -Wikipedia

That’s how I feel, too. Thanks, David. RIP.

P.S. He also expressed a desire to write “morally passionate, passionately moral fiction” that could help readers “become less alone inside”” -Wikipedia

So, here’s to being passionately ourselves on paper (forgive my industrial revolution era foibles), and in life. I’m working on my grudges but hell, they inform who I am. If I didn’t have deep-seated issues with the patriarchy, I might have given in to the dark side (read: done what others thought I should have done) and gotten a job as a mid-level sales manager a long time ago and stayed there.

 

Photo by Calum MacAulay on Unsplash

Something Special

solo female piloting a helicopter“I thought you were going to do something more with your life.” He stops himself, this friend and classmate I haven’t seen in 20 years.  “I mean, I know you’re an amazing mum and done some cool things. But, you know, I thought you were one of the ones that were going somewhere special.”

He means it as a compliment. It hits me like a close-range shotgun shell in the chest. Because I believed what he believed about me when I was 16, too.

He’s a pilot for my nation’s airline, and we’ve just spent four hours going over how hard it was for him to get in that first officer seat. How he floundered in those formative years we shared in the back end of rural-ville. Both of us aching to get out of there, filled with ideas and notions that got us nowhere fast in an ag-centric town, lacking the role models to make the leap our deeper natures knew was possible. “Why don’t you grow up to write and paint and be closer to your higher self,” said no one.

We’re both drunk at this point, so I forgive him this low blow (not to mention there’s nothing like seeing a cute boy turned into a good-looking man without the painful in between). Next morning, after he leaves, and through my IPA of a headache, it hits me that I’m my own best role model. The work I’m doing now. The writing, the scribbling and filling composition books and pretty little journals is a solo journey. Belief in the art, in the making of the art, and that I am the right person for the job, for society, for my own sanity. It’s a tall order. Sustaining the belief that choosing words and creating stories that just won’t sit down in the bleachers of my brain is a necessary part of my journey.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com-983979/

Nearly Not Done

Clothes dryer with door open and towels tumbling outI get the urge to switch activities when I’m three-quarters through unpacking my groceries. I will have three bags unpacked, one left with tomato paste, rolled oats and two boxes of cereal. Nothing perishable, because that would drop me straight into fuckwit territory (using my mother’s scale). And I get this urge to leave. It’s a big feeling.  The rest of the bags are lying empty on the kitchen floor, and I’ll walk off to take a shower, write down a thought, run a load of washing. It’s a powerful feeling I must obey.

I get it when I’m folding laundry—90% done. Piles everywhere. Maybe some undies unfolded. It’s perfectly clean and heaped all over the corduroy green chair. The one I like to read on. And I’ll walk away. Start something else.

What does this mean?

Because I do it with my writing, too. At work, when I was tasked with the press releases for an airline, I’d write the first draft—well, most of it. Then I’d put it down for quite a while, ’til the hour before it was desperately needed, then have to power through the edits, the finishing, panicked, but on point.

Projects without a deadline are death to me. Nearly impossible to finish. At least, they used to be.

Now, at least half the time, I tell myself I am capable. I notice the aversion, the panicky, fluttery feeling when I think about finishing something, when I’m close. The texture of it is child. There’s a part of me that knows finishing means extreme judgment by an audience who does not understand me or my potential. Who finds my work, without meaning to, not quite enough.

Right now, for example, my urge is not to finish. Actually, this blog stayed exactly as it is above, nearly not done, for four months over summer. My editor (and damned fine writer herself), Lindsey (could someone please hyperlink this to her work, which does get finished), said I could leave it like so, to drive the point home. She really did appreciate the irony, but perhaps I might want to tie things up.

Because if I can’t finish a blog post, it will be nigh on impossible to nail a novel. So here’s to the nation’s eroding attention span and the compressed, one idea at a time blog world we live in, which offers people like me the perfect chance to finish.

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com

 

 

Wherever You Go

girl runing away from a lamppost with her arms backDid you ever have to move countries to find the freedom to write? It’s a bit more aggressive than leaving home because you have a case of the suffocating creativity clap that you just can’t shake.

Needing separate space to create is a real thing. Yeah, I know, it’s all in our minds—wherever you go, there you are—but it’s true. And sometimes, a seismic geography shift is what it takes to snap the cords and bring you closer to self, truth, and bravery.

I grew up in small town New Zealand. You didn’t get clapped on the back for being creative. On top of that, my idea of art was to move like a Solid Gold dancer to Richard Clayderman (don’t hold it against me), write like Virginia Andrews, and paint like Monet (one of the only painters I knew by name).

Think low social economics, too; we had no classics except Treasure Island on the shelf (next to the wad of NZ Women’s Weekly and Reader’s Digests), and the closest to maestro was Dad strumming Ghost Riders in the Sky on an ill-tuned guitar. We had family art on the wall, but Mum shot it down for not looking real.

It felt like only a couple of people understood the depth of my need. I’ll take this as my chance to say thank you to Diane Wana (I’m sorry it’s too late—I hope you always knew. To Patrick, her son, instead—your Mum changed my world) for her encouragement and for trusting a 12-year-old girl with The Bone People.

I wrote.

I was shy, but my potential to know fear and run towards it was strong. So I said yes to travel with my grandparents for a month at 11. I heard about exchange programs at 14. Bingo. I told Mum and Dad, “That’s what I’m doing… And I’ll be going to a country where English isn’t the first language, thank you very much.” I was a pretty uppity 14-year-old, with all my ass-pir-A-shuns.

At 16, I walked away from academic surety and took a year to fuck and get high in Brazil. Whoops. I mean to promote peace and study hard. On my return, Lord knows how I got into the courses I wanted, but one psych/English lit degree later, plus a year of waiting tables and bartending, I had a thousand bucks in the bank, so I moved to Europe for two and a half years.

The whole time I was searching, listening, looking at myself and the world around, thinking, “I could write that. I really think I could.”

But there was the fear. So there I went, making do; waitress, chauffeur, translator, pot seller, fudge delivery van driver, waitress, unreliable English teacher and picker of fruit.

You see, my fear of competing against white privilege meant I continuously went for the low brow wins that relied on map skills, grit, flirting, and common sense.

I penned words on serviettes while waitressing in Chelsea, on bartender order pads, on my driver’s record book that tallied which rich or famous person I delivered as though they were chicken carcasses, and I wrote in my Škoda waiting in Brixton’s high-density housing estates. Waiting for women to ‘turn up’ (I knew they were there—felt their bodies hiding behind scratched up doors). I was determined to sell them my gilt-edged cookware. And these Nigerian and Ghanaian women were determined to feed me, laugh, and make me a second wife to their brothers.

“You are good for my brother—I’ll call him!” To her friend she’d grin, turning me with warm hands, “Look! She just needs more here,” pointing to my arse, “You need to eat more fufu.” Phone calls were made, my velour rug got stood on by kids, the pans glanced at, and yes—desired—but nine times out of ten, I‘d be turned out with a full belly and empty pockets.

But I’d write—about the houses, the lack of furniture, the marriage offers, and the laughing that always unsettled me, the doubter, the five-, six-, and ten-year-old in me that was the youngest butt of too many cousin jokes, she recoiled. I sat in my little Škoda, stalking clients, and writing.

My New Zealand home was, well, tougher. When I arrived at Mum and Dad’s, my pen slowed. I sat on the terrace, senses on fire. I was on a cliff gazing absently at sunlit green seas and a freaking steaming live volcano.

“Thanks, Mum,” I’d say as she proudly served me a latte (“We have a machine now”). The bush smell that I missed so much was blowing in from across the road.

The ink dried after four sentences. That was it. Shut down happened. I couldn’t write a Mills & Boon if my life depended on it.

What’s your deal? Do you get the urge to write in your childhood home? Eyeball your Dad over the roast chicken then write furiously in your childhood bed? Do words just flow when you’re sitting at the kitchen table you threw cheerios off?

I’m hoping there’s a shift, cos I’m about to head home. Maybe the veil is down. Maybe I’ll take my advice and write through the feeling. I figure it’s all about noticing when you’re in avoidance mode—when you feel possessed by a sloth spirit.

I’ll walk into my composition book, pen like a dart, and write just one word.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/girl-at-night-running-cloud-162474/

Your Brain Is So Hot

Unicorn in front of a waterfallViv, Becs, and I are drinking passionfruit mojitos in the kitchen. It’s Friday night; we’re seeking mom oblivion for a few hours. House is empty. The slider’s open and I wonder how much the neighbors can hear.

The slippery little haloed seeds smell like manna. The mood is relief, a willingness to probe the recesses of non-motherhood life.

Becs says, “There are few things hotter than intelligence.”

“Mmm, hmm,” Viv agrees, chewing on a mint leaf, “Intelligence is definitely critical to attraction.”

My mind wanders through lover’s faces, IQ estimates floating above: 102, 118, 123, 98, 129, 144.

Swigging and swallowing, I say, “I dunno.” I often find myself disagreeing with these girls. I know what they’re saying, but it’s too glib. I also know two cocktails in is not the time to question and critique. One line witticisms that don’t even have to make sense is where we are.

A little sensitive and long accused of not paying enough attention to my gut, I’m a believer (it’s scientific) in emotional intelligence playing the real role in special humans. Mr. 98 was an example of this. He defied categorization with his world-wise, compassionate self. He was one of my favorite humans, and yes, I was extremely attracted to him, partly due to his ability to attune, know when to play, know when to support, and know when to walk away and leave me the hell alone.

It’s complicated for me when it comes to the gender divide. I’ve found, with a lot of guys—but not all—that there’s an IQ skewing tied to societal entitlement. On top of that, due to the social justice field agent (male) v. target/non-dominant (female) roles (look it up), their condescension means I don’t get the chance to reveal my true braininess. I play dumb a little too long and find it hard to express my peculiar wit as soon as I’m deeply attracted to someone. Take attraction out of the equation, and I can hold my own. I do well with the middle-aged male corporate type. Not that it does much in the traditional workplace unless I combine it with a level of aggression that leaves me feeling exposed and a bit sick. I imagine I’m not alone.

I’m getting off track, but the conversation got me thinking. Lately, I’ve been digging kind, deeply empathic people. I’ve been training myself to notice it in others and walk the walk. If you want to see kindness and compassion in action, hang out with long time Dharma practitioners. Highly self-aware beings pouring lavender shrouded non-judgment all over you. On a footing with your best spa day.

The point is, as much as I wanted to throw EQ in, I also shut down the conversation because, well, of course, EQ is admirable. Duh. But that’s all a bit saccharine for this crew.

Becs looks into her empty mojito, shrugs, and says, “Well, I’m still looking for the unicorn.”

You know that Universal Hot/Crazy Matrix of women that’s totally offensive—the x-axis shows looks, the y craziness, and the more you fall in that top right quadrant, the hotter and more unhinged you are? I don’t want to agree, but I laugh and toast unicorns anyway.

Three days later, I’m reading The Paris Review’s sixth series of Writer’s at Work interviews. I notice Rebecca West and Stephen Spender spend most of their interviews (okay, they cover a few other worthy topics, like feminism…and writing) discussing the relative merits of their peers’ brains. They appear to relish the line of questioning—a discussion that flows around how much one writer respects, refutes, or enjoys another’s intellect, as displayed in prose, poetry, or remarks recalled from a party ten years gone.

It’s a giant bitch fest—a gossip session about who’s got the intellectual goods. And although most of it isn’t related to sexual attraction (well, not consciously—Auden is quoted as saying when someone disses his work, “he probably wants to sleep with me.”), it’s all about who floats your boat intellectually.

Rebecca West on Iris Murdoch (p.28), “… [Whom] I like enormously except when she begins to clown and be funny, because I don’t think she is ever funny. She writes curious books on goodness. Have you ever read her philosophic works? I can’t make head or tail of them. They’re better written than anything else she writes. They are so strange. She says that one has to study what goodness is by looking at good people. She says that the trouble with good people is that, if they’re men, usually very little is known about them because they’re so obscure, and, as for women, goodness is rarely found except in the inarticulate mothers of large families, which is just such an idiotic remark, you can’t believe it.”

It could be People magazine quoting Perry on Swift.

Spender on Earnest Hemingway (pp. 45-46): “Hemingway I knew during the Spanish Civil War…we would go on walks together, and then he’d talk about literature—I mean he’d say how the opening chapter of Stendhal’s La Chartreuse de Parme was the best description of war in literature…Then I’d say, “Well, what do you think about Henry IV, do you think Shakespeare writes well about war?” Oh, I’ve never read Shakespeare,” he’d say. “What are you talking about—you seem to imagine I’m a professor or something. I don’t read literature; I’m not a literary man.” That kind of thing.

“He was very nice when one was alone with him, but the public Hemmingway could be troublesome. On one occasion I remember we went to a bar where there were girls. Hemmingway immediately took up a guitar and started strumming, being “Hemmingway.” One of the girls standing with him pointed at me and said “Tu amigo es muy guapo”—your friend is very handsome. Hemmingway became furious, bashed down the guitar, and left the stage.”

Hemmingway definitely gets a male unicorn trophy.

That’s when my bullshit hits me like a golf ball to the temple. I collect friend’s frontal lobes for trophies. Most of them are way smarter than me, and I roll in their brain matter, asking questions, waiting for the ideas to drop. Yes, I’m smart enough to seek out inarticulate mothers of large families (and Dharma sisters), but for me, intelligence is way hotter than the unicorn in the speedo.

Photo Credit: enUS742US742&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi9muKotffTAhVL52MKHbayCsEQ7AkIUQ&biw=1366&bih=613#imgrc=iZ66YJ-ASlnnJM:

Lady Muck

Lady in apron standing in the doorway of a stone houseI’m a self-doubter. One voice inside says, “I’m good enough,” but the ones I hear most are the critics, flying in from 1979, ‘82, 87’, 95’. All those careless comments, words nobody meant anything by…

“I was just kidding.”

“God, you’re so sensitive.”

“You think too much.”

Worse are the comments I didn’t visibly react to, that nobody knew how deeply they embedded. Hooks, tugging at my self-esteem, whispering, “You’re no good/You’re not very smart/How are you going to change anything?/Just accept the way things are/It’s your own fault anyway/If you weren’t so [insert: picky, sensitive, whiny, pathetic, female], everything would be fine.”

Gigantically unaware of how everything affected me.

Suck it up.

These hooks mostly came from listening in on too many adult conversations I wasn’t equipped to process–a weakness of mine from age two on.

Warning: the following comments on repeat are guaranteed to disturb any young girl prone to taking adult commentary as gospel:

“God, who does she think she is?”

“Nothing worse than a jumped-up bitch who knows too much…thinks she’s something special.”

“Doesn’t she think she’s Lady Muck.”

That was a popular one in small town New Zealand, said of anyone who occasionally wanted to rest/tool around, eat chocolate, or, God forbid, read–while everyone else was working their butts off. Money must be earned. “Doesn’t get handed to ya’ on a silver platter.” Introspection, navel-gazing was for losers–lazy, dole bludging no-hopers.

I was secretly a bit of a no-hoper. Life in my family was about action–a good day involved productive activities like getting the thistles ripped, clearing a paddock, cutting the lawn and planting a 2,000 tree orchard. “Plenty of time to rest when you’re dead.”

We spent an inordinate amount of time over cups of tea, standing around the tractor munching on homemade chocolate crunch, sponge cake or gooey caramel square. No matter how much heavy labor we were doing, everyone was overweight.

Then there was, “Needs cutting down to size, that one,” and those that struck at the heart of my deeply unaccepted tendencies, “I could do that! God, what a bunch of crap.” Referring to any piece of art that wasn’t a painted facsimile of a pretty landscape.

I grew up understanding anything I was helplessly drawn to was wrong, especially art. Also, books that ripped chests wide open for the rain to pour in, where people wielded emotions like rage, ecstasy, and sadness like swollen rivers, but in a complex language that didn’t immediately make sense. God forbid if nothing really happened in the story. Most things I loved were too artistic, or just weird.

My trick was to leave. At 12, I spent a month in Hawaii, and I wrote. At 16, I moved to Brazil for a year, and I wrote–a diary filled with lust, pining, and a shameless lack of brevity. A painful, emotionally-penned journey, detailing my relationship with the host family, boys, girls, sugar (I had an hour to hour survival stash of chocolate hidden in my undie drawer and by my bed), and a meticulous effort to fit in. Listing in detail all the Brazilian men I wanted, and the women I wanted to become. To invade. To take over. To body snatch.

For a while, I felt pretty morphed. Triumphant even. From a shy, fearful, hardworking academic girl, I returned from Brazil with hair down my back and arse hanging out of a g-string bikini. I felt beautiful, and, apart from becoming a famous painter and writer, I just wanted to get laid. So I did. Quite a bit. My favorite parts were always the build-up, the chase. I better not tell you about the beach, the moment the first tongue touched my labia, and I nearly died with the sweet pain of it. [Aaah, what the hell: It was a hot night in Ferrugem, and this Carioca boy was intense and brown and surfed so much I don’t know how he stayed awake to be lying in the sand with me when the moon was peaking. I primarily felt courageous to be with him.]

Over time, I left more places because I didn’t know how to stay. What I kept looking for wasn’t anywhere. Emptiness, a shell, a fake brittle world. I bolted New Zealand for England, England for Scotland, then Spain, Portugal, Sweden, London, and back to Brazil. Somewhere I lost my words. My connection with myself, with others.

As you can guess, I finally stopped, realized I could only find truth and love by getting okay with myself, with accepting how things are, as they are. Lady Muck? Turns out the giant, dumb, lazy blonde faker I had myself pegged for is also a reasonably sweet, intelligent, empathetic, loveable human.

And it’s all grist, right? For writing. The hurts, the awful memories. The ones that still make you cringe with what you said, what he did, what she asked, what makes you burn 25 years later. Write it down. Kind of fun, eh? I never imagined at 20, when I thought I wanted to write but was too afraid to apply for the creative writing program at Vic, that describing someone’s tongue on my labia would be part of a larger, far more cringe-worthy body of work. I never guessed I’d be excited at the thought of trying this spoken word thing now. Labia. Labia, my labia. It’s gonna be fun to say that one out loud.

 

Photo Credit: http://nos.twnsnd.co/image/136466723467

Writing Through Rejection

Bull stabbing matadorI’m writing. The words are coming—not from me—from that other place. The vault of ideas that’s in my aura or somewhere. I’m just standing under the waterfall. The kind of writing that feels good.

But I keep checking my email—breaking the rules. There’s a message from the Kenyon Review, “We had an exceptionally strong pool…The editorial staff was impressed with the consistent quality of the work; narrowing the pool…was not an easy task. Unfortunately, your submission was not selected…”

I feel shock.  How my burning chest retracts, collapses. My mouth turns down and aches at the corners. I cry.

A week later, I get another one.

My disappointment is so physical. Sore. Acid, ache in my chest. My wrinkles deepen, my mouth literally sags. Then comes the anger, “Fuck ‘em!” [I’m a Kiwi; can’t help it.] Later, a headache—I can’t be sure why it’s there, but fact is, my forehead’s been trying to fold in half at my frown lines the last six hours because rejection SUCKS.

I submit to the biggest journals in the country; the gatekeepers of American literature. Granta, Kenyon, Ploughshares…and I get rejected nearly every time.

I put myself through this regular torture because a friend gave me some advice. She, who has published two novels and multiple short stories in prestigious journals, says, “Go big. Don’t fuck [she’s from Philly] around. Submit to the big name journals. Keep submitting. Whatever you do, keep submitting.”

This is how I deal: I notice it. I don’t push it away, and I wait at least an hour before I get a drink.

I pause, the tears rise, an ache spreads down through my gut. God, I’m sad. I breathe, and the breath holds space for me.  My breath travels into my chest. As I sit with it, the pain melts a little. It doesn’t go away, and I don’t ignore it, but it loses its swagger, its hugeness, I’m a hopeless fucking case-ness.

On the screen, I bring up the story I’m working on and finish a sentence even as my mind wanders back to the rejection. I also chat to myself. I know I sound like a nut job but bear with me. I speak to my inner voices. “I know you’re hurting. Yeah,” I croon. “Yeah…it feels like this. This is what rejection feels like.”  Then I keep on writing. One more sentence.  In an hour, when I have to pick my girls up from school, it’s okay. The rejection hasn’t gone away, but it’s okay. I write four more pages. Stepping stones. Nobody got good by giving up.

Get to know how bad it feels when you don’t make the cut. Celebrate the sweet joy that comes with the finishing, the occasional accolades, the acknowledgment in “Great effort!  Man, I could never do what you do.”  All of it.

Find the people who will hold you, love you, because of and regardless of, this propensity to write down every single thing that happens and say, “Keep going.”

If your gut’s telling you to write, listen. We need more people in this world of broken attempts at the rational—the fixation on linear thinking; more people allowing for the flow—allowing for the mystery of life, the pain of life—not to explain it, just to hold it.

Writing, painting, and creative movement are conduits to touching this moment and that. To feeling truly alive. We writers are agents, the inspiration for a world that needs more love, more art, and more people okay with the darkness, the not knowing. This space.

And if you don’t believe me: http://www.aerogrammestudio.com/2016/05/27/why-your-rejection-letter-means-nothing/

 

Photo credit: http://nos.twnsnd.co/image/121356626818

Racist Bitch – Deconstructing My Racial Profiling and Lifting the Shiny Lid

Young woman against picket fence in American flag bikini“According to the America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ‘Racial Profiling’ refers to the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials [and yours truly] of targeting individuals for suspicion of crimes [such as shallowness] based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin.” – Wikipedia [mangled].

It’ll be good to get this out of the way, cos’, I’m sorry, this is probably going to offend you. Piss you off even. I’m gonna’ generalize, talk politics, gender, nationalistic tendencies, and possibly religion.

Last election, I was not American. I was married to one, am still married to the one I met during the last Bush’s reign. Back then, the world hated America and I hated consumerism (don’t look too deep–I was buyin’ plenty) and Hollywood. I didn’t understand why people talked at the speed they do here. It was a tough time to be sold on moving to not just America–I probably would’ve swooned over San Francisco, Monterrey or Seattle–but Los Angeles, the representative kingdom of every human behavior I abhorred, the armpit of burgeoning things in my mind and body I just didn’t want growing.

But lust has always pushed me into dubious situations. So I said, “Yes, I’ll move to LA for you, lover of my loins, child of my projections.” I moved from my New Zealand hamlet to not just LA, but freaking Santa Monica. I started courting every Los Angelean who fit my target audience profile (I was working for the NZ tourism board), even went to the Oscars (psst…I held Johnny Depp’s hand and told him, “I just think you’re…lovely”), the Hollywood Bowl, ate crappy roadside food and drank too many Starbucks. I also grew to fear the 405 freeway.

I woke up ten years later having birthed two girl babies and chosen to remain in SoCal (hand to mouth, squeal of provincial feminist disappointment), the place I feared most for the de-evolution of female minds and bodies, the loss of sisters marching toward freedom, so busy are they with body image issues and a disturbing lack of independent thought.

Wait, I wasn’t feelin’ it, my hatred and fear of what might happen to me and my girls. Something had happened–I’d developed a frenzied and devout appreciation for In-N-Out Burger, your national park system, farmer’s markets, and Peet’s Coffee.

Filter coffee, highlights, yoga pants, and the next president swept my heart up and crushed my will to judge. I danced and cried the night Barack Obama was elected, swearing I’d be around for the next election to help my compadres in what would surely be a tough fight.

You know what I love about y’all?

  • You are shameless celebrators–of sport, beliefs, Halloween, Purim, other people’s festivals, your own random shit, independence, and more. Decorations collapse attics and bring down eaves, yet still, people sing, laugh, hold block parties, and embrace. Hardly anyone is hugging because they’re so wasted they can’t stand or want to get a leg over (well, maybe still that).
  • You’re willing to try hard for things; you’re not ashamed to voice it and go for it.
  • You’re moderate on the booze (compared to my binge-drinking antipodean experiences. I mean whole towns drinking in backyards, pubs, and clubs from after work on Thursday ‘til Sunday, not even stopping for church as I recall).
  • “Fuck the Tall Poppy Syndrome!” say ye all.
  • Inclusive
  • A big spiritual heart
  • Welcoming
  • Into truth telling
  • People are way into working hard and giving away a shitload of it, in time and moolah.
  • And what about them mountains? Oh. My. God. The mountains. I like the added edge of potentially running into a bloody great bear or rattlesnake. It only heightens my wilderness experience (for someone with a 20-year phobia of cockroaches to shrug and pop preteen brown widows between her fingers).

Thank you, Southern California, for the wake-up. I bow to each of you, my teachers. I am humbled by this lesson in love and acceptance.

Parting tip: Cut your hair, girls. Go on! Feel that freedom! Who needs foot long hair?

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/z5juYzSHGKI