Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Welcome Address to Young Writers


If you are a writer you may, once or twice before, have had a thought like this:

Writing sucks. I suck. My writing sucks. It’s too hard. I will be judged. I will be made fun of. If I write the truth I will be ex-communicated, disowned. If I write everyone will KNOW. Besides, everything has already been written before. Who cares what I have to say? Do I even care what I have to say? What’s the point? What can I DO with my writing? I’d rather be reading. Or eating. Or picking my nose. I’d rather be making money, even 10 cents an hour scrubbing vomit off the floor. I need to update Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, Ellio. Only my mom will ever read what I write and she will only compliment it because that is in her job requirement as my mother. I don’t want to live a lonely miserable life and die a lonely miserable death. I don’t want FAILED WRITER inscribed on my tombstone.

If you have ever had any version or iteration of these thoughts…CONGRATULATIONS! You are a writer. And the amazing thing is, just as you have the power to use words to convince yourself of all the reasons why you shouldn’t write you also have the power to use words to remind yourself of all the reasons why you should.

I write because I want to find out what I think, how I feel, why I believe and who I am underneath the makeup and the clothing and the skin. I write because writing is the best revenge and the best way around goodbye. I write because it’s is a vehicle for feelings that didn’t want to take the train. Writing is talking in a more colorful version of black and white. I write because it’s the grown up version of passing notes. I write because I’m tone deaf and I can’t sing but I want to be heard.

I write because I’ve found that even the littlest, weirdest, most obscure thought in my head, once written down, is somehow universal. I am my own scientific laboratory, testing ground, petri dish, experiment, lab rat, not only for how I feel but for how others feel, too. I am the universal I, the big and little me, the hole in the donut and the whole donut, perfect in my imperfection, unique just like everyone else. I write to fit in and I write to stand out. Like Lord Byron says, if I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad. I write to feel better and to feel anything at all, good, bad, beautiful, horrible and so on, forever. 

Here are some answers to the question Why Do You Write? by 2014 Richmond Young Writers, ages 12-16:

I write because my pen holds the secrets of the universe.
I write because I don’t always like the endings of books.
I write because I don’t always remember everything.
I write because it’s a beautiful distraction from reality.
I write because it helps me express what spoken words can’t.
I write to bring characters to life.
I write to get things out of my head.
I write because I am capable of having an infinite number of ideas.
I write because no matter what else happens in my life, writing is always there.
I write because there are words flowing through my veins pleading to get out.
I write because I am the person I want to be when I write.
I write so I can see the world through someone else’s eyes.
I write because I am so manyy different people and so many different stories.
I write to give the voices somewhere to go.
I write because I cannot yet see a whole new universe.
I write so I can move everything from the tallest mountain to the tiniest speck.
I write because I can create and control an entire world.
I write because I like being able to go back and see how I used to think.
I write because it's a way to express myself when I don't feel like talking. 
I write because I feel like I'll explode if I don't pour my words out on paper.
I write to expose evils and celebrate the beautiful.
I write to share what I know and ask others what I don't.
I write because I can immerse myself in a different world. 
I write because writing helps me remember that there's life beyond high school and technicolor dreams beyond the black and white world.
I write to let my feelings out, even the ones I don't know are in me. 
I write to find a way to face emotions. 
I write because murder is illegal.
I write to make people understand why I am the way I am.

Why do you write? What does writing do for you? What can you leave on the page that you don’t want to take with you? What do you bring to the page that you didn’t even know you had? 

And now, for a small inspirational game of Mad Libs (as completed by the young writers of the October 18, 2014 Ad-lib/ Mad-lib/ Surrealism Workshop)

Once upon a time there was an (ADJECTIVE) spicy child named (PLANET) Venus who wanted with all her heart to grow up to be a (PROFESSION) sewage worker, just like her favorite character and role model, (CHARACTER IN A BOOK) Darren Sharp. Even though she had to study (SUBJECT IN SCHOOL) math, (VEGETABLE) children, (PART OF SPEECH) prepositions, (MADE UP WORD) wockets and (SOMETHING HORRIBLE) mothers they read every (NOUN) dragon they could and practiced (VERB) skating whenever they had a spare moment. Even though lots of (ADJECTIVE NOUNS) slimy windows told her it wasn’t practical and she’d never make any (NOUN) racicoriphalatiroisous, she did it anyway. But then while it was (WEIRD WEATHER) cloudy with a chance of meatballs, (SOMETHING WEIRD) life happened. A (IMAGINARY CREATURE) jackal penguin appeared out of the sky just like in the movie (MOVIE) Princess Bride and began to dance and sing (SONG) Never Gonna Give You Up as if what she was doing mattered more than anything else in the entire (PLACE) library. At that moment Venus had an epiphany and began to (VERB) smell. Who cares what anyone else thought or said, even if they said (COMMON PHRASE) it’s raining men, Venus could still follow her dreams. She ended up writing (NUMBER) Pi (GENRE) horror steam punk even though she felt (EMOTION) curious and (EMOTIONagitated. It didn’t matter because she listened to her (BODY PART) belly fat. She was so happy to have created an original (ART FORM) swordsmanship that she yelled (SOUND EFFECTeekcjreohwaerhohwheowed all the way home!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Shack Martha Stewart

The other night when I got home from teaching, ready for bed and bad TV, my husband started to sand the kitchen ceiling. From my position under the covers I could see white specks of sheet rock begin to coat the pots and pans hanging from their hooks, the stove top and burners (minus the one that had caught on fire that we’d thrown into the back yard the night before), the baskets of apples my son and I had picked at the orchard, the cat food, the coffee maker and every other conceivable surface within 100 feet, including Stan himself.

I got up for a bowl of store-brand granola with expensive organic whole milk (which I will not be entering in the food journal I stopped keeping last Friday) and padded across the plywood floor we let our son draw on with a sharpie until we get our REAL floor- that mythical unicorn of bourgeois renovation I’ve heard plenty about but am not sure will ever actually materialize. My footprints were visible behind me as if I had just tracked across a pristine sandy beach on a tropical island. I poured my granola, resolved not to say a word and pretended instead that we live in the out of doors. On a beach. In a snowstorm. God forbid I impede progress.

Because our house—like our mental health and our marriage—is nothing if not a work in progress. The front porch, living room, backyard, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and tool shed all under different states of construction. Merge this with my thwarted longing to craft, an allergic reaction to cleaning, a deep inner desire to hostess and an almost primal urge to feed people and make them feel at home—even in a home in which I feel at turns like a queen and the beggar on her knees outside the castle.

Recently, in one of my 12 step groups, I sobbed, “I want to get it all together but I just can’t! Everything is such a mess. I feel like Shack Martha Stewart!” A friend suggested I start a new line of items for the home available exclusively at the Dollar Store. I-Tried-to-Clean-But-Couldn’t-Air-Freshener. Too-Bad-We-Only-Have-Four-Places-To-Sit Placemats. Whoops!-I-Burnt-the-Hell-Out of -Dinner-After Dinner-Mints. I could even make Turn Your Hovel into a Home DYI video based on scavenger hunts through the attic for art to hang on the walls and the arrangement of potted plants almost guaranteed not to die. Truly, they do wonders. We named ours Plant A, Plant B and Bob.

Because I don't want my shame and confusion about how to run a home and be a mother while having a full-time life and a slew of creative projects stop me from ever letting anyone into the house again, I feel I should go ahead and set the record straight now.

If we invite you over you may have to sit on the arm of the ratty leather couch we found a few year's ago. You may get snagged by a booby trap and fall into the dungeon with the child-sized spider crickets. I might serve you the plastic baggie of poop brownies I inadvertently invented 4th of July 2013. Nothing you see will match, is probably second hand and may even be broken. If I apologize for the state of our house I am breaking my New Year's Resolution to stop apologizing for the state of our house. Because more than likely you did not come over to be awed by my ability to mop. Chances are you are more interested in connection and conversation than a shellac of cleanliness. It could be that you like strong coffee in a mismatched mug even if chaos and clutter reign around us. I just have to keep remembering that.