Ink runs from the corners of my mouth

Wanted this to be concise; I got overwhelmed.

A woman died. She was a poet. The New York Times tells some of her story here.

Mark Strand wrote a poem. It’s about a dog. This dog and I are kin. Read it at The Poetry Foundation here.

Then, sit for a minute.

 

Crocuses in Den Bosch

Advertisements

How to Tell Your Friends & Family You’re a Writer

DSC02792

Word on the street is that the Tethered by Letters blog is down and out temporarily for some good old fashioned re-design, so I’m republishing a piece I wrote for them here. Anyone who didn’t check it out before, now’s your chance. And you don’t even have to click on a link this time.

How to Tell Your Friends and Family You’re a Writer: In Four Not-So-Easy Steps

Your mother may be prepared for the day you become a doctor. A lawyer. A plumber. She may even understand if you decide to go into IT. Your father might have known all along that you’d be a writer. What he likely doesn’t understand is what, exactly, that entails: long hours in dumpy coffee houses, awkward scribbles on paper napkins at family picnics, small talk with strangers about philosophy. (These are all, by the way, in the official job description.)

Fortunately for me, four years ago, I married a man who understood all of this. He encouraged me to quit my job (which I, albeit reluctantly, did) to pursue my passion. To this day, he supports our family financially. He offers thoughtful edits when I ask for them, and he doesn’t when I don’t.

Despite all of this, he and I both fall into one of the most common literary traps. Last week, I overheard his phone conversation with a colleague: “Christine? Yeah, she’s doing great. No, she’s not working. She does a lot of writing on her own, though. But, no, not for a company or anything. She reports to herself.” His last line a sort of subconscious guilt-laden recovery.

Here’s one of my most recent: “Me? Actually, I’m an author. A writer. No, not books. Um, well, short fiction? Not in an office, no. From home. Right.” And with each response, my face grows more red. My voice more full of air. And then, A visit? Next week? Can I show you around Amsterdam, because, well, you’ve never been to Europe, and you really would like an in-depth week-long tour? “Of course. I make my own schedule. I’m not doing anything.”

The problem here may seem like a confidence issue. And it might be. In just one day, I received six submission rejections, a notice to pay the renewal for my website, and an email from a friend wondering why, since I was unemployed, I didn’t have more time for her. So sure, maybe I lack a little bit of confidence.

But last week, Lincoln Michel of the online non-profit Electric Literature gave me a little boost. He penned an article titled If Strangers Talked to Everybody like They Talk to Writers. It is, frankly, hilarious. And like most good humor, it’s good because it’s true. And like most things that are true, they give you that little bump. They roust out of bed that end-of-week energy and make you try a little harder. So here they are:

 

The Four Not-So-Easy Steps

Always remember it’s not about the money.

  • You might be earning a living wage. You might be making nothing. You might, occasionally, be able to buy the groceries and the pay the electrical bill.
  • Bottom line, it doesn’t matter.
  • Despite all sorts of other inappropriate questions, no one will ask you how much you make. I promise.

Be a commodity. A hot one.

  • When I moved to The Netherlands two years ago, I was worried about fitting in. My father told me not to forget that, once I moved, I’d be the exotic. I’d be the foreigner with the romantic accent, the one with stories to share, the traveler. And that advice has made most of the difference.

Know more about your career than anyone else.

  • Done. You do. You already do. You are the professional. You are the expert. Run with it (sometimes far, far away).

Tell the world. Over and over and over.

  • Smile.
  • Speak loudly.
  • Pre-empt silly questions.
  • Never apologize.
  • And never use the word actually.

DSC01984

Why You’ll Never be able to Write while Pregnant, and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

28 weeks- Shadow

I wrote a short story during an undergraduate creative writing course. The protagonist was a pregnant writer. (She gave up using highlighters because she feared it would affect the fetus.) But I, the real writer behind the curtain, had never been pregnant. My professor suggested reading something in the African Literature tradition wherein I might find more examples of the relationship between thinking Mom and thinking, kicking, growing baby. He said I could find interesting works on how the two brains might strangely, interestingly, creatively intertwine. He suggested a few specific titles, all of which I’ve now, unfortunately, forgotten. So instead, when I became pregnant roughly a year ago to the day, I hit the internet. Hard.

First, I found gems like this one: “For many women, the ability to think is one of the first casualties of pregnancy.” (http://www.watermanwords.com/index.php/tips-writing/100-writing-while-pregnant)

And this one: And then there are those who are actually pregnant while writing a novel. We turn into a bundle of hormones and cravings, fall asleep at inopportune times and occasionally wonder if our brains have been replaced by a sack of cornmeal…How are we supposed to keep characters straight when we keep putting our clothes on inside out and walking down the street with all the seams showing?” (http://laurastanfill.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/pregnancy-and-the-writers-brain/)

The article, unfortunately, goes on: When in doubt, blame pregnancy brain–whether that’s for losing your keys again or using too many adverbs.”

I can’t (and won’t) speak to any other woman’s experience of pregnancy,—I’m now the mother of a happy 3.5-month-old—but I know that if you wake up and tell yourself you can’t write, then, pregnant or not, chances are, you won’t be able to write.

There are many things that might keep one from writing, some legitimate, some, well, not so much. A death in the family. A head cold. The laundry. Writing, because of its implied flexibility, is, unfortunately, acutely prone to the back burner.

It took me quite a while to find any article that implied something contrary to the common pregnancy-will-only-leave-you-drained wisdom. But could the small human in my uterus help me? Could he provide something extra? Give me an experience, and a perspective, I’ve never had? (Curiously, this last one is something, I think, that most writers value.)

I did, finally, come across this article (http://booksbywomen.org/creativity-in-pregnancy-by-eleanorfitzsimons/), called Creativity in Pregnancy, and written by Eleanor Fitzsimons. And, unlike the other articles I referenced earlier, it wasn’t all subjective. It cited studies, and quoted author interviews, and I was delighted.

Pregnancy will be different for every woman, every partner, every baby, for that matter. It might be a blast. It might be miserable. It’ll likely be something in between. But it doesn’t help anyone—writer, reader, plumber, firefighter—to spring from the gates and assume the worst. Pregnant or not, do what you’d do every day. Write. If you can’t, fine. Stop, relax, re-focus, repeat. Isn’t that always the process?

Reason not to Write #8: Naps.

I love naps, plural. And long walks. And small talk with strangers. But I learned at an early age that careers don’t generally include these activities. (I felt astutely prepared for a nine to five.) It took me a while to confront the lion in my driveway: what is productivity?

For a while it felt productive to sit in front of the computer and try. That is, until I realized I wasn’t writing. Anything. (Blank pages provide poor inspiration.) But naps gave me vivid dreams; aimless walks set scenes.

What did you do today? someone asks.

Took a few short naps, went for a walk, talked to this guy I didn’t know.

I dread the question to this day.

 

As it turns out though, I’m maturing. I’m also fortunate to live with a supportive husband in a place where art has value. And so it might, after all, only be my neighbor’s housecat.

In the Black Forest, Germany

In the Black Forest, Germany

 

Best and Worst Reason not to Write: #7

DSC00388

I’ve been dropping hints all week. (Remember these? Photo of bike with suspicious carrier. Incriminating syntax.) But here’s my final and most obvious shot. Above is the face of a coffee-adoring woman who’s spotted bags full of freshly-ground Turkish coffee. In Istanbul nonetheless. And, get this, according to the sign, the bag she’s pointing at would cost her half a Euro. This woman, however, has been weaning her intake. Why? Because she’s four months pregnant.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Reason not to Write #6: Uncertainty

Sign inside Dracula's Castle- Bran, Romania

Sign inside Dracula’s Castle- Bran, Romania

Reasons not to Write Numbers Four and Five: Romania & Turkey

DSC00156 DSC00174

(Above: Dracula’s Castle, Bran, Romania and Dracula’s writing desk)

In lands pregnant with folklore, filled by mysterious forests, enchanting music and, above all, equally interesting people, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Yes, you packed notebooks of varying sizes, plenty of pencils, a pen or two, and a camera. You kept them (always) in your interior jacket-front pocket. Hiking, driving, on a boat down the Bosporus. (You’d be more upset if your trusty green spiral notebook was pick-pocketed over your passport and so feel for its outline frequently.) While you slept, the items waited not-so-patiently on the hotel nightstand.

And so, now that you’re home, what have you got to show? How many pages did your writing occupy? How many of those notebooks did you pack back away in your suitcase as they quickly filled? How many pencils lost their led at your leaning?

Answer:

1. Not much.

2. Six small–reporter-pad-sized–pages.

3. Zero notebooks packed back away.

4. Zero mechanical pencils that need re-filling.

But there are moments. Just moments. Somewhere. Everywhere. Written and un-.

DSC00414  DSC00413

(Above: Bookstore, Istanbul, Turkey)

Reasons not to Write #3: Boys in Trees

DSC02176

Yesterday, on my run through a nearby park, four ten-year-old boys stopped me to ask the time: Hoe laat is it? I changed my watch from GPS to clock. Half (two syllables) vijf, I said. When they giggled on in Dutch, Ik sprek Engels, I said. Engels? Well, um, how old are you? one asked. Twenty-nine, I said, You? When do you go back to England? another asked. I live here in Den Bosch, I said. I don’t know when I’ll go back. And your man? Is he from England too? Amerika, I corrected. According to my GPS the boys then ran with me for half a kilometer, longer than I had expected, the tallest of the group, though, out-striding me for sure. I made the rest of the lap around the park alone without event until I saw a fifty-foot-tall tree shaking and calling my name. If I’d been writing, I would have missed it.

I’d like to think that when I forgo writing, it’s for adventure. That life simply sucks me up in a whirlwind of exploration, and that’s why I didn’t get my quota in today. But, a lot of times, it’s neither: no writing, no adventure, just me and a lonely computer screen trying desperately to make something up. Which never works, by the way. I don’t suggest it.

So, as much as I hate New Year’s resolutions (besides, it’s Feb. 11), that’s my pledge from here on out. If you don’t hear from me in a while, I’m out on an adventure.

Reasons not to Write: #2, Something Rotten in the State of Denmark

DSC00025

Alright, so no ghosts have appeared to me in the night (or day, for that matter). No corrupt politics in the Stocke household, though we are dogsitting and so the balance of power has shifted a bit. In fact, things with me seem strangely, markedly, un-rotten, and for someone prone to brooding, this is a sure sign of rot.

I bike, almost daily, to the grocery store in this heart of January weather, and though the air is cold, the sun seems to smile warmly each day at just the time I pop out. I walk into the store and glance at my lately always-complete list, and as I walk down each aisle, each corresponding item is on sale. When I arrive home, my every attempt at a new baking recipe goes off without a hitch, not one (proof below).

Then I wash my dough-caked hands. (Out, damned spot!) I look down and see perfectly manicured fingernails, the same nails I’ve been biting since I could really chomp, let’s say twenty-five years. I was never a timid nail-biter. Not ashamed to bite in public nor when my mother constantly scolded me in private. I even remember a meeting with the elementary school guidance counselor to discuss my habit, I’m sure at the behest of my worried mother. And now, here were these fingernails, white, pristine, squared off at an even length, and I couldn’t even remember when I’d last bitten them to the bone. Here were hands I didn’t recognize as mine.

The nails clatter on my plastic keyboard; I think now that I even hold my pencil differently so as not to disturb them, and some days it’s all you need. It’s all you need to throw you from writing, an inkling that something somewhere is off.

Lavosh Cracker Bread

Lavosh Cracker Bread

Morning Buns

Morning Buns

Reasons not to Write: (Really) Bad Haircut

This week, after a blog hiatus, I decided to write my reasons for not writing. All of them irrational, though the haircut is especially heinous.

After two solid days of crisp-looking, spunky, even well-thought-out short curly hair, I woke to a cross between Lyle Lovett circa 1991 and Bozo the clown minus the orange highlights. Every morning, without fail. The first week, I laughed and pinned it down with a variety of hair apparatus. The second week I cried. The third week I decided this omen surely meant that my blogging career was over. It was that easy.

Hence, this is me, and the hat I’ve been wearing since November.

Hat Photo

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.