Museo de la Palabra

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This year’s writing contest, put on by Museo de la Palabra, had over 35,000 entrants from 149 countries. I am honored to have made the long list, and, consequently, the book–yours free to download here.

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

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

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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.

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Aqui esta. (Acentos implied.)

 

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Writing Trip: Spain

My husband, my son, and I are travelling to Spain today. We’re staying for a week: eating tapas, riding a funicular up Mount Igeldo. And then they’re leaving.

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The Best Part of the Best Part

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Unlike most, if I wake up tired, I have a choice. I’m in my pajamas after all, and therein squats the problem. The best part about being an author is, you guessed it, the same thing that makes it hard.

There are some writers who are able to convince themselves of anything. But if I could say to myself, You’re not tired, then I could also say things like, You believe in the Easter Bunny.

When I had a more traditional job, it was easier to see myself romantically, easier to fantasize stealing away minutes to write. It was also easier to believe that stealing away those minutes was the right thing to do.

So now we skip to the best part of the best part: being an author forces me to have a balanced life. If I wake up and I’m sick or tired or hung-over, I can’t make myself sit at the computer and write well. I just can’t. So if I want to be a writer, then I’ve got to get enough sleep. Things don’t have to be perfect. Occasionally, I row my personal best drunk. (That happened only once in my three years of collegiate crew.) But usually, that’s not how it works.

So, fine, go out and drink like Hemmingway. Early Hemmingway. Smoke a cigar. But then brush your teeth and chug some water and go to bed. After all, it’s easy enough to second guess yourself as a writer. Not working out or getting a good meal or enough sleep, makes it even easier. A good writer is a confident one.

Happy French Friday.

To a weekend of writing and wine and brie the size of your head.

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Museum of Four in the Morning

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I don’t usually post links to other people’s things. There’s enough of that going around. This is a beautiful exception: http://www.ted.com/talks/rives_a_museum_of_4_o_clock_in_the_morning.

Maybe it’s because I have a fondness for poets. Maybe this particular one ranks high on charisma and humor. Or maybe it’s because it hit me the way you wish everything in life would, always.

It’s a fourteen-minute TED Talk by Rives about collections, about searching, repetition, pattern, social media. It’s about coincidence. But for me, as a writer, it’s all, every second, about writing. It’s about having a weird dream of the lady you met at the super market that afternoon. Taking that dream and making it a story, and then taking that story with you back to the super market and trying to find the lady.

I promise not to bombard you with future links to other people’s things. A lot falls into my internet B bucket, but A–it just doesn’t happen often.

These Quick Bright Things

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It’s spring, so seek them out.

Find them in your backyard.

Sketch them. Photograph them. Touch them with your fingertips. Squat down and stare.

Think about what they’re doing: what their wind feels like, how their sun shines.

They’re not friends. They won’t advance plot.

They’re details. Micro-environments. Codes.

Beautiful, awkward, leafy, and out of focus. Seemingly unimportant. Let them stand somewhere in your story.

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Pregnant Writer’s Advantage #1: A Thorough Cleaning of Your Belly Button

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When there are other things on your mind–things other than writing, that is–you can either clear them out or let them consume you. Do some housekeeping (metaphorically), and get rid of them. Or do some housekeeping (literally), and let it take up your whole day. I’m treating pregnancy as a great excuse to do the former, though it would be much easier now to commence a thorough cleaning of my outie. I’ll spare us all the photo.

A Lesson in the Wheelhouse

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This is fine. It’s really fine, in fact.

I am not, contrary to popular opinion, a people person.

I write what makes me comfortable and sometimes what makes me squirm. Or I just sit on one end of the picnic bench.

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

 

I Have Been a Writer

I have been a writer since sixth grade. A quick response to the common question, What do you want to be? (For the record, my teacher, whose name I fortunately cannot remember, then also quickly said, No, no I mean, what do you really want to be, like for a career? Her response will be addressed in a much later much angstier post.)

Later that same year, I wallpapered my bedroom with my own (mostly terrible) poetry. (Below is a brooch I’d like to buy on Etsy.com.)

For Progress in Writing

So this writing career is  approximately twenty years old. And yet, I have never belonged to a book club. Sure, sure, I’ve debated plenty of books. In living rooms, literature classes, at bus stops. Once I even debated Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead in a public restroom. The arguing went on for so long that three of my friends eventually came in to see if everything was all right. Freshman year of college at Brandeis University, we all were required to read Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, but that’s the closest I’ve come to the official tradition.

Truth be told, I’m not much for traditions or clubs, or even large gatherings. I prefer intimacy. I prefer not having things in common. A lot of times, I simply prefer to be left alone.

On Friday, however, all this will (at least temporarily) change. A mix of intelligent women will gather, some of literary backgrounds, some not, and we will eat and drink and discuss Richard Morais’s The Hundred-Foot Journey. I’m skeptical. I’m excited. I’m unsure what to expect. I will be there to listen.

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Happy Friday, to me anyway.

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I love rain. Cold rain. Hot rain. Just right rain. Rain that spits or soaks or wakes you up in the middle of the night as it slashes sideways against your window. And the forecast in ‘s-Hertogenosch, Nederland this weekend is nothing but, you guessed it, regen.

I love running in the rain, biking in the rain, and, most importantly, writing in the rain. Or, more accurately, writing indoors next to a big bay window and not just watching it rain but knowing, with every punch of the keyboard, that it, most certainly, is. I love day darkness and monochromatic clouds and everything gloomy that comes with the package.

I love precariously walking my laptop in some kind of plastic grocery bag to the nearest café and commandeering a window seat to write stories about the woman in the perfectly-belted beige trench coach and Gucci umbrella, the little kid decked in one-size-too-small purple slicker, the man who didn’t notice the chasm of intersection puddle that soaked his mesh tennies and white gym socks. And, if, today or tomorrow or next year, I’m the one unknowingly prancing through the puddle, I’d love it if you wrote about me too.

Oh, rain, I love it all. Head to toe. Tip to tail. Rock to rump roast. Happy Friday. Happy raining, blowing, storming, writing weekend.

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Productive Spaces: the Productivity of being Flexible

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I have a small home office. Complete with desk, shelves, printer, ambient lighting, inspiring paintings, and reference books. But in the morning, the sun comes in the house here. It’s a an empty soon-to-be baby room with psychedelic wallpaper of safari animals.

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In the spring, this trees blooms, and so I sit here, smell here, have coffee right under it. Sometimes the neighbors give me long Dutch stares. Sometimes a child stops by with a soccer ball to ask me a question I don’t understand. (I know neither Dutch nor soccer.)

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In summer, it’s usually the backyard. Everyone is close at hand, but the eight-foot-tall fences allow me only to speculate, and hence, to write. A little girl yells. A bike bell dings. Someone splashes in–what is that?–a kiddie pool. A moped passes far too quickly in the back alley.

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And none of this is as perfect as it sounds. Sometimes the writing comes; sometimes it sticks like globs of crunchy peanut butter to the back of my brain. Sometimes it rains on my laptop and I have to run inside. Soon, there will be a baby in one of my writing rooms, and so I’ll have to move on. And that is, I think, what writers do: move on. Change perspective even if it only means the domestic scenery. Write in the attic laundry room where the morning light also comes in quite nicely.

(For a short piece of fiction on this topic, see “The Year-Ago You” published online at Tethered by Letters: http://tetheredbyletters.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=380.)

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