Friday, June 23, 2017

Why Do It?


“Why do you do it, Mom?” my daughter asked. “I mean, you always want to back out the night before. It’s like you really don’t want to do it at all, you know?”

It was happy hour. Just my daughter and me. A time to catch up with the details of each other’s busy lives. A time to enjoy my adult daughter in a way I never thought possible as she scrapped and scrambled through her teens. Now in her late twenties, social worker and student, wife and home owner, she is the daughter of storybooks and dreams. And she probes me with questions and forces reality checks like no other.

“Why do it?” she insisted in the silence of my stall.

It was the night before Flying Wheels, a 46-mile Cascade Bicycle ride, 46 because my riding group made the collective decision that none of us were conditioned for the 75- or 100- mile options and all of us knew the 2200 foot elevation gain would kick our collective butt.
Struggling up Ingram Hill
"It’s great exercise. I want to stay strong. I want to stay connected with these friends. It’s just that it’s so hard, I guess.”

“I get it,” she said. “Besides, nobody really likes exercise. We like the results, but not doing it.”

I didn’t contradict her. I didn’t mention the women I know who seem to truly enjoy grueling exercise. Or about my concern that others in my group are far more passionate about cycling than I am. Where is my passion, I wondered? Why am I so often tempted to quit?

Pain.

I once heard an NPR interview with an NFL player. When asked about the pain involved in training and playing football, he shrugged it off. It’s part of the game, he said. If you play, you hurt. I remind myself of this as I gear up for each ride. I also remind myself that if I rode more, if I trained harder, pushed faster, climbed more hills year-round, it might not hurt so much, I might be able to breathe more easily. But then maybe not.

The obvious lesson that NFL player taught me was that it’s all about attitude. It’s about turning the negative to positive. I’m strong. I can breathe. I can do this. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

The anxiety I feel before a big ride is similar to the feeling I get every single time I stand before an audience to read my work. I always want to back out, call in sick, fall through a hole in the floor. But somehow I get through it, and usually I feel a sense of deep satisfaction when it’s over. The same holds for distance cycling.

Yes, it hurts. Yes, it’s dangerous. Yes, it’s time-consuming. But cycling builds muscle and endurance, both of which are hard to retain and even harder to build as we age. The great thing about cycling is that it is a sport for all ages and skill levels, a sport I can continue well into my 70s, maybe 80s. They’re out there, on every ride I see older women (and men), pumping the pedals at their own speed, competing against no one other than themselves and the ravages of age. Through their dedication and passion, they inspire me to do the same. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Minding My Muse 13: Private Writer & Public Author

I began this blog series four months ago. I decided to share my raw journal entries, my responses to Priscilla Long's end-of-chapter writing prompts in Minding the Muse: A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators, in hopes of inspiring others to explore their creative processes. With this final post, I end this series. Thanks for reading!
April 2, 2017 Journal Entry
“Can you look at one or another public figure you see in the arts and choose one or two models—people you admire for their values and presentation?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 98)

The first name that pops into my head is Barbara Kingsolver, not because I know anything about her or have ever seen her speak or even visited her website (if she has one). But I’ve read her work, and I recently read the interview at the back of The Lacuna. She strikes me as a very private woman and writer who puts years of research and work into her novels. This I admire. Some may suggest I learn more about her, but I prefer to know her through her art.

June 3, 2017 Journal Entry
“If you had to speak to an audience, whether of fourteen or four thousand, what are the three most important things you would want them to know? Can you get someone to give you feedback on  your teaching or talk or radio or TV interview?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 98)

In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Barbara Kingsolver stated, “A novel can educate to some extent, but first, a novel has to entertain—that’s the contract with the reader: you give me ten hours and I’ll give you a reason to turn every page.” I believe the same is true whether I am writing fiction or memoir. I want my audience to know that I believe my work is worthy of their time.

I also want to convey my belief in the importance of knowing people and worlds beyond those of our birth culture. Through the characters in books, we experience new realities and perhaps that experience will influence our behavior when we encounter others different from ourselves. Through positive encounters, we all benefit.

Finally, I would want my audience to know, perhaps even come to share, my belief that writing and reading of the realities of others, whether fictional or factual, can heal. Whether we have faced traumatic or mild challenges on our life journey, it can be comforting to know we are not alone, that others have survived the same or worse, that we will be okay.

“Practice presenting your work or giving a talk using a video or audio recorder. What do you see as your strengths? What could use work?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 98)

I have seen and heard myself, and I find it mortifying! I move too much and use too many facial expressions and hand gestures. The more nervous I am, the more animated I get. I start too softly and get too loud. Reading aloud is a pleasure, but I’m uncomfortable speaking without a script.

Strengths? I enjoy reading aloud and sharing the words, the narratives, I’ve crafted. What could use work? All the rest of it!

“Do you treat others with respect and kindness? Do you honor other creators in your community and pay attention to their work? Can you improve in this endeavor by 5 percent?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 104)

Some folks speak of competition and jealousy among writers. I have neither experienced or felt either. I’m pleased to learn a fellow writer has landed a contract or made the decision to self-publish. I do what I can to promote the work of others on social media. Because I will only promote works I’ve read or viewed personally, I could improve by trying to give 5% more of my time to reading and reviewing the works of local, emerging writers. Knowing that reviews are the lifeblood of writers, I try to always post on Amazon and Goodreads when I read something I enjoy.

“Do you have very high self-esteem? If this is an area that needs work, what work can you do? If you feel you need help, the time to research and access that help is now.” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 104)

Writing is a pleasure, challenging at times, but for me it is always rewarding—even when it feels like crap. When I’ve finished a manuscript, I’m eager to share it with the world and that’s when it gets tough, that’s when self-esteem and perseverance are essential. The submission process, the rejection inherent to that process, can be heartbreaking. They can convince you very quickly that what you’ve spent months, even years, to create, what you have poured your heart and soul and just plain hardworking into, is worth little more that fodder for a summer bonfire.

I know. I’ve been there. I’m there now. Persistence is key. I know I can’t give up. I know I need to believe the world will be a better place with my work in it. For me confidence and self-esteem took years. At first I wrote only for myself, for understanding and healing. When my mentors convinced me I had a manuscript worthy of publication, I collected close to a hundred rejections from agents and small presses before landing my first contract. When The Thirty-Ninth Victim sold over five hundred copies, when readers wrote to thank me, to share their own stories, to ask for more, my confidence grew. I wrote three novels and again readers responded and my confidence continued to grow. I am finally at a place where I do not need an agent or publisher to validate my work, not because it is earth-shattering but because it is me.



Posts in the completed Minding My Muse series:










Minding My Muse 13: Private Writer & Public Author

Friday, June 9, 2017

Minding My Muse 12: Making vs. Marketing


Writers write. With a bit of determination and a lot of luck, we manage to get our work out into the hands of readers. By responding to the prompts in Priscilla Long's Minding the Muse, I am reminded of why I write and the importance of finding balance between the creation of my work and  marketing it. Once again, I share my journal entries.
April 2, 2017 Journal Entry
“What are you doing to get your work into the world? Do you function within the new media, as in Facebook, Twitter, etcetera? Do you over-function?” (Priscilla Long, Minding  the Muse, p. 92)

Social media is a blessing and a curse. it usurps time while it renders readers. Finding balance is essential. My work, my novels and first memoir, still await re-release. My second memoir awaits publication. I am patient, or try to be. I focus on new work while trying to maintain a small bit of public involvement through this blog. I suppose I could, should be submitting short works for consideration, but time is limited and rejection harsh.

“Are you at least moderately active in your local arts community? Do you connect with other artists, and how?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 92)

I do public readings and workshops on a regular basis. I participate in monthly readings, speak at open mics and support fellow writers. I also attend big name releases whenever possible, maintain membership at the Seattle Art Museum and enjoy local gallery events. I also belong to two timed writing groups as well as several on-line groups. Seattle has a very lively arts community. There’s always something to do. Maybe too much—such wonderful distractions.

“How are you doing on walking that fine line between making work and marketing work? If you have suddenly become more famous—perhaps you have a new book out or an upcoming show—are you still putting in time on creative work itself?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 92)

Fame is not a concern nor do I imagine it will ever be a concern. I don't see the need for a private secretary to process the demands of an overzealous public in my future. for the past year my focus has been solely on making new work--with a slight attempt to stay public with my blog and social media as well as with library workshops and private book club appearances. But I don’t have a new book coming out, and I’m in an odd place right now having four published books which are no longer available because my publisher went out of business. It’s hard to market what is not in the market. I have no release date to share, so maintaining a marketing presence feels absurd, even working on a new project at times feels meaningless, but I remind myself of my earliest writing, of when I wrote only for me, of writing to make sense of myself, my personal journey and my role in this crazy world. I have slowly found my way back to that place, and it is good.



Prior posts in this series:










Friday, June 2, 2017

Minding My Muse 11: Do You Have an Inventory?



I recently realized that while I read Priscilla Long’s Minding the Muse from cover-to-cover, I failed to complete the writing prompts at the end of the last few chapters. I stopped at the organizing and cataloging of works. Creating an inventory or list of works is a time-consuming, challenging feat of organization that will require me to sort desk files, computer files, and notebooks. My goal is to set aside a week in late summer to do this project, and I suggest you consider doing the same. Wanna race?!
Thursday, September 22, 2016 Journal Entry
“Have you inventoried your work? If not, consider doing it.” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 81)

I did this some years back, but the list is out of date as is the collection of hard copies. I should list and print everything I consider a prose “piece.” I don’t think blog announcements and thank yous and wedding photos really count. I should inventory those pieces I might consider submitting elsewhere beyond the limits of my own blog.

“What person or institution will receive this body of work when you have to leave this world?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 81)
Tom? Erin? Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe it needs to be a body of work with an audience, or a potential audience, or at least something my daughter would want to pass down to future children. Right now it’s just a disorganized mess.

Friday, June 02, 2017 Journal Entry
“What did you learn about your body of work after making or updating your inventory? Do you see directions and tendencies you were unaware of? Does a clearer notion of where you’ve been help to sharpen your vision of where to go?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 81)

Since I haven’t done it yet, I can’t respond! However, I do remember the feeling of accomplishment I experienced when I did an inventory some years back. It also helped to clarify the areas of interest I wanted to explore in my writing. I look forward to going through the process again.

Sunday, May 7, 2017 Journal Entry
“Write a vision statement laying out what you see as your next year of work. Your next five years of work.” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 81)

I still need to inventory my work and respond to P. Long’s self-assessment question: “What did you learn about your body of work?” I need to sort and purge and organize my home office just as I was forced to do with my work office. And just as the process of deciding what I value in terms of teaching materials and books clarified my instructional focus, sorting and organizing my writing world will not only better preserve my body of work, but will also guide future writing.

My next year of work? First and foremost, I will get my books republished. One way or another three novels and two memoirs will be on Amazon by summer’s end. I will also submit my recent memoir essay, Memoir & Why I Do It, until it finds a home. In fact, I may submit more short pieces. I’ve always been so focused on book length projects, I’ve ignored essay submissions. Just not enough time for everything.

As to new writing, The Ex-Mexican Wives Club is on the move. I’ve written about 45,000 very rough words, a skeletal structure from beginning to end, a structure that includes journal entries from the 1980s. I’ve put together a scene chart—3x5” color coded cards on a bulletin board—to guide me. Now I will read and plug in letters where appropriate. Then I will re-write chapter by chapter to complete the story. I’m also in the process of locating the women I knew in Mexico. I'm reaching out and reconnecting with friends from almost forty years ago. I am taking my time on this project. I have no desire to rush it. I hope to create something different, perhaps intriguing. I'll have a first draft, a draft I will share with those I once knew so well, by summer 2018. Who knows, maybe sharing the draft will involve some traveling!

  

Prior posts in this series:

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Minding My Muse 10: When Is It Done & How Do You Know?


Do you keep a journal? Do you go back and read prior entries? I'm finding this visit with past journal responses to Priscilla Long's writing prompts in Minding the Muse insightful. I've found my way back to writing over the past year, but writing in a slower, more deliberate manner. 

Journal Entry: September 19, 2016
“Are you good at bringing works to completion? Might this area of your art practice be improved?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 67)

I am all about the finished project – excessively. I need to slow down and focus on the process, learn to play with creativity, dibble-dabble as Priscilla calls it. At the same time I need to work daily (on a project). These morning pages are good, but I am not working on anything. Not a novel. Not a blog piece. I’m dibble-dabbling with my thoughts alone.

For the next little while, once I get my computer back, I’ll do morning pages and edit/read Moving Mom. Once finished, I will re-enter the Mexico years and see where they take me.

Do you rely on others to inform you as to whether or not a work is finished? Are there ways you could become more self-reliant in this matter even as you also consider feedback?(Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 67)

Do I rely on others too much to inform me a work is finished? I certainly was. Maybe not so much for the books, but certainly for the blog posts. I showed a friend everything before posting there for a while. I don’t do that now. I’m also not doing weekly posts. I should try to do that again. What’s stopping me?

“Do you have an adequate arts community, whether it consists of one or two buddies or more? Are your art buddies, comrades, or critique group members erudite enough to stimulate your own creative growth?  Do you make yourself a valuable member of this community? Do you pay attention to the work of others and from time to time make yourself useful to their creative process? (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 75)

An adequate arts community? I suppose I’ve turned my back on it lately. I take more than I give. Louisa’s I attend rarely. The Uptown means more to me and I need to return and be active and supportive. We are not all on the same page, so to speak, but they are all solid writers and good people. Maybe in part I feel intimidated. They are good writers. I have my insecurities, but I will return to the table this weekend and dedicate myself anew both to my writing and to my community. Of course, the biggest thing is that I need to be writing – on projects – on a daily basis and therefore be prepared for timed writing practices.

Do you attend readings and openings? Do you write an occasional note of appreciation to an artist whose work is meaningful to you? Consider doing so.(Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 75)

Not nearly enough or as much as I’d like. I will attend C&P monthly as well as B&N West Seattle, starting October. They’re local and I should be able to make that much of a commitment. I also want to go to Elliott Bay on a regular basis – maybe Friday nights – or U Bookstore. But getting to know both better would be good. 
 

Prior posts in this series:

Monday, May 8, 2017

Minding My Muse 09: Space & Time



How do you use your space and time to nurture your creativity? Here I share my notebook scribbles on that topic from eight months ago. How would you respond to Priscilla Long's prompts?

Monday September 19, 2016
Last night I finished Priscilla Long’s Minding the Muse. Though I have not yet completed my own musings on her “Questions to Contemplate as You Continue Your Practice,” I am certain to do so. It’s a book that reminds me I am a writer despite my distance from new work, a book full of reminders and suggestions to new and experienced writers and other artists whose practice has, for one reason or another, gone sideways. Long encourages readers to think and write deeply about their practice and ways to improve it.

“How well does your workspace serve the creative work that you do?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 61)
I could not function at this desk. Could you?
I love to write, type, read, edit at our large dining room table, at times alone, other times with my writing partner at my side. I love the openness of the space, the living room to the right, windows to left, front, right. I love the wide view of front yard before me, leafy green trees, red table umbrella, jasmine-laden picket fence, street and neighboring houses almost hidden behind our green curtain. Even in gray rain, even in leafless winter, still I love to work at this table.
But is this my “workspace”? If asked, I’d identify the small office at the back of the house as my workspace, the room that holds my desk and files, my laptop, notebooks, notes, pencils, pens, tape dispenser, stapler. My drawing pad, still unused, and watercolor pencils, the box still wrapped in cellophane, taunting me, challenging me, to try, just try to draw what I see from this dining room table – trunks and canopies, umbrella and table, fence and jasmine, lights strung overhead.

Still, on workdays, on what should, could be every day, my desk in my office serves me well to drink my coffee and scribble my morning pages and wake to each new day in private, no interruption, door closed, if necessary.

So I have two workspaces in this small house, and I have Louisa’s and the Uptown and Pam’s house, and C&P Coffee Company, and West Seattle Uptown, and the Italian deli/restaurant. So many places to plant myself with pad and pen.

“How do you sequester time to do your own work, particularly during the busiest times when other demands impinge?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 61)

This is my greatest challenge. Is it lack of dedication? When I am teaching I claim to have insufficient time and struggle to force myself out of bed thirty minutes earlier for morning pages or a timed write. But then the three-day weekend rolls around (no Friday classes) and I do not stick to the routine. I sleep in, I dawdle, do chores, look at email, FB, before morning pages. And so it goes all summer long. Without the imposed structure of a teaching schedule, I seem to lose all routine.

I suppose I can see and address this in various ways. I can force myself to adhere to a strict work schedule whether working or not. Or, I could create and adhere to a list of daily must-dos and not worry about when or how they are accomplished, as long as they are indeed done before I go to bed. The problem, as I have seen it, is that they do not always get done, and yet I still go to bed each night.

So much to consider as I prepare to return to work next week. I don’t want to return, don’t want to lose this freedom of summer, of time to use as I please. Yet I have no choice. Fall quarter begins, my 30th fall quarter, and a salary must be earned. And honestly, it isn’t so bad, not once I’m there, settled into the routine once again.

“If you teach, how can you better shape your teaching so it serves your own creative work as well as that of your students?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 61)

I return to the classroom a week from tomorrow, to the campus the day after tomorrow. I do not teach students with language skills advanced enough to do much writing at all, but I do require in-class journaling. I could, should provide a topic or an optional topic when we write in class, and I must write and share as well. I should not use this time for attendance, grading or anything else.

“Consider the painter Joan MirĂ³’s phrase ‘vocabulary of forms.’ A vocabulary consists of separate elements that can be put together in various ways to make a whole …  How could the idea of a ‘vocabulary of forms’ be useful to you as you go forward?” (Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 61)

Separate elements: journal, entries, letters, photographs, music, memories. These elements are the vocabulary of forms I can use, will use, to create The Ex-Mexican Wives Club. I will stop worrying about what I do and don’t remember and instead write from these forms or elements to piece together a story.


Prior posts in this series: