Magical thinking. Mixed feelings.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Text Talk

I’m reading The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. It’s wonderfully written, yet halfway in, I’m not sure I like the book. Well, the book I like. It’s my relationship to the book that puts me ill at ease.

I came to the book from several sources.

One. A mentor/advisor recommended it once she discovered my renewed interest in journalism and creative writing. She spoke highly of the author in general and this book in particular, so I added to my ever-growing List of Books to Read.

Two. Every now and again I review the list of Pulitzer Prize winners and add them to the similarly growing, often overlapping List of Writers to Know.

Three. Pearl Cleage’s newest book arrived amidst much fanfare, and more than once I saw Joan Didion’s name referenced as a peer. As in, this book is autobiographical/confessional and brings to mind other well-read writers like Joan Didion.

Four. In the aforementioned book, Pearl notes Joan’s work (although not this offering – it hadn’t been written at the time). As it was already on two Lists, and her name was becoming a steady fixture in my consciousness, I finally ordered it.

So, the book…The very first page compels. Yet soon thereafter, I’m repelled. She’s exploring her husband’s sudden death, and it’s so well done, I feel it.

Having experienced my mother’s death up close (albeit 11 years ago), much of what she wrote hit notes I wasn’t prepared to experience. The circumstances and the relationship were different, but the trauma and the grief remain true.

I put it down for a day or so.

I picked it up again and found myself, at turns, congratulating myself and questioning the book. Congratulations because I saw whispers of my writing style in hers, and I thought this might be a good mentor text for professional development. Questions because, unlike Pearl’s book which seemed to edify and affirm something in me, Joan’s book felt more… I hesitate to say it… self-serving?

I believe in the power of storytelling, yet something about this storytelling seems to serve the teller. Which is an interesting critique given my praise of Pearl as her journals were originally meant to serve herself. Pearl didn’t write them to publish them. She wrote them to reflect. I don’t know if Joan set out to document this period in her life so she could publish it, or decided later on the story could be valuable. It certainly can be. I’m sure it has been.

To be fair, I’m at the halfway point. And maybe the crux of my resistance is the emotion. Because her writing is so clear, because she lets you inside the black box, you know and witness and feel everything. Which is good writing, great writing, but a bad feeling if that’s not the feeling you want.

So I have mixed feelings. I like the book, but I don’t love it. I do plan to finish reading it.

Did you read it? What did you think of it?

This is all there is.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative

I’m unsettled, yet settling in.

Thinking. Reconsidering.

I was clear about a decision yesterday. I revisited it today and realized, although a good decision, it’s one that would lead me on a familiar path instead of the new path I’ve claimed to be walking.

Always grateful for moments of reflection.

I’ve long gravitated toward interesting, yet shunned exciting in favor of practicality. Sam might say that’s my Venus in Capricorn. It serves me, yes. I lean on it too much, this taking the practical road thing I do.

Doing what makes sense rather than what ignites is safe. Today it also feels useless. Or maybe it’s outlived its usefulness.

I’m taking steps, but if I get to the crossroads and choose the path previously traveled by, how will I arrive at a new destination?

To be or not to be… outraged.

30 Day Blog Challenge

It’s a day ending in “y” so that means it’s a perfect day to be outraged. And outraged, we are. I’m not going to share what we’re outraged about because chances are, by the time you read this entry, we’ll be outraged about something else entirely.

A few weeks ago Whiskey, Wine & Moonshine talked about society’s propensity to be outraged about, well, everything.

Some folks seem to get up in arms about everything, and others seem unable to muster a flip about anything much. They’re on the other end of the outrage continuum, hanging out at the apathy mark. {Insert horrible thing to be outraged about} and we aren’t interested in the details. Our heads are buried in the proverbial sand. We just go along with the status quo, because why not? We aren’t critical about the media we consume, the opinions we hear, nothing.

Of course we don’t need to be outraged about everything, and certainly it’s important to be outraged about something. They key I think, lies in reflection.

Pay attention to your surroundings, inform yourself about what’s going on, ask questions, think about things, and develop an informed opinion.

200 pages down.

30 Day Blog Challenge

I’m 2/3s of the way done with Pearl’s book. I’ve been on a first name basis with her since I began this journey.

parchment-23662_640Reading it makes me wonder how much wisdom gets lost because women don’t share their most intimate thoughts? Either aloud or in writing? Many of us live our lives, and simply figure out the hard shit as we go along.

Some read the self-help gurus say, and I’m sure there’s plenty of insight to be gained by doing so. Others bond and grow through occasional talks with a close friend.

But how many of us engage in a systematic effort to document (your real) life and the lessons it teaches you? Either for your own reflection and edification or for the express purpose of passing it on? If we are not the keepers of our stories, who should be? When our stories fade, our wit and wisdom fade also.

I’ve written before about questions I’d love to ask but can’t. There’s also this about the importance of family narrative. There’s so much learning to be gained in the living of life, yes, and eve more so in the telling and retelling of it.

Do you document your life? Why or why not? How do you or how would you if you started today?

Healing. An excerpt.

30 Day Blog Challenge

This is stream of consciousness from my efforts at NaNoWriMo last fall. This is fiction. I wrote 1,000 words a day for 30 days. This excerpt was selected at random this afternoon. This is raw data. For better or for worse, it’s unedited.


I finally arrive and set up as close to the ocean as possible. Only a few people are out. I stretch out my sheet and lay my belongings on top. I quickly strip down to my suit. It’s a simple black bikini this time, and I’m aware of a few appraising eyes glancing at my glutes. I tie my hair in a messy knot atop my head and stride toward the ocean. I sigh as my feet, right first, then left, touch the cool, clear water. The bottoms of my feet barely register the little shells underneath.

I walk on.

atlantic-ocean-103084_640The water is to my ankles. My calves. I stretch my hands out, beckoning the water to me. Beckoning my spirit to it. I keep walking. My hips are underwater now. I stop and slide down, until the water is at my neck. On my knees, I am still. I play a game with the water, keeping my abs tight, trying not to move my body. It’s good exercise.

Once fatigue sets in I stand up and walk a little deeper into the water. The waves come toward me and I draw them to me with big sweeping gestures to pull the water in. a little ritual.  I say a little prayer – I welcome all the blessings and love of the universe into my heart, into my life. I turn around, facing the shore. Starting at my chest, I push outward, pushing the water away. I say another prayer – I expel all of the thoughts and doubts and sadness that no longer serve me. I pray that all the negativity is transmuted for the good of all mankind.

I turn around and repeat this ritual several times. Then I just play in the water for awhile. Spying the few people in the ocean with me. Admiring the sun. I swat at the schools of fish to see what they’ll do. They change direction and keep moving. There’s a lesson in that.

After about 20 minutes, I decide it’s nap time. I stroll back to the beach and begin untying my hair. I towel off and spray the Banana Boat liberally on my exposed skin. I add sunblock to my face and don my floppy beach hat. I stretch out on my back and begin dozing to my favorite sound in the world.

sungoddessI wake up a few times and turn over. Don’t wanna be too brown on one side. Eventually I can no longer ignore the gnawing in my stomach. It’s lunch time. It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten alone. I tell myself it’ll be fun. Like old times. Relearning to enjoy singledom and solitude?

I guess.

I begin driving along the causeway just looking for someplace that might have some good fried oysters. I eventually stop at a Green Iguana. I know for sure they have good turkey burgers, and that would be yummy too.

How many? Asks the host. His spiked Mohawk just cool enough.

… Just one.

He begins to lead me to a table when I ask to go outside.  I sit at one of the tall tables, remembering the last time I was here. Sophia and I met in person for the first time. She was a friend of a friend who thought it would be nice if we connected. It was. We did. Although I never saw her again after that. Our lives simply weren’t in sync.

I ordered the turkey burger I wanted. Avocado and pepper jack cheese. Lettuce, tomato. No onion. Fries. Yummy indulgences. I brush away tears from time to time. I savor each bite although I secretly want to wolf it down and get out of there as quickly as possible. Another round of tears I hide as those darn allergies. I even pull out a book to read. Zora Neal Hurston keeps me company. Probably not the most upbeat book in places, although it’s one of my favorites. Maybe I need to get a comedy or something more neutral that doesn’t involve relationships at all.

I think about going to Barnes and Noble to find another book. Then I remember, that’s where I met Daniel. I have a library card. I can go there instead. Or I can go home and download some ebooks.

I tell myself it’s okay. I’ll be okay. Today it’s just an exercise to prove to myself that I can be alone. That I can continue. Tomorrow I’ll do something similar. Go to my favorite dinner spot. Maybe I’ll even cook by the end of the week.

And one day, I’ll even remember what happiness feels like.


I posted a fiction excerpt one other time. Check it out here.

Spring!?

30 Day Blog Challenge

Is it possible? Has spring finally sprung in Georgia?

After many false starts, has winter finally melted away? Flowers and trees have long thought so. Dogwoods are in bloom and a healthy layer of yellow dust has blanketed cars and outdoor furniture.

Folks with allergies walk around with puffy pink eyes and hints of congestion interferes with small talk about the weather.

Despite these outward signs, the morning 40s have persisted. We’ll warm up a bit by late afternoon, only to plummet once the sun goes down. That’s someone’s definition of spring time, but that’s not how we do it in the Deep South.

Yet today? There were no April showers! There were no morning 40s! The sun shone beautifully all day as did I in my dress! I’m excited. It’s time. Maybe I can finally pack away these sweaters!

Those who believe in the Lotus Sutra are as if in winter, but winter always turns to spring. ~Nichiren

In the home stretch

30 Day Blog Challenge

It’s always an interesting exercise to blog every day for 30 days. As the month wears on, it gets alternately easier and more challenging. Mostly easier. I look back and realize there were a couple of interesting posts in the jumble of freewrites, last-minute entries, and comments on other people’s writing. That’s nice to see.

I have a little over a week in this particular challenge, and as usual, I’m thinking about my public vs. private writing. The things I want to write about and the things I end up blogging are often different. I have mixed feelings about this. But as this is my fourth time engaging in this sort of daily blogging practice and my findings have been the same each time, I’m going to act on the findings instead of opting to collect more data.

Today I ran. It was my 6th run this year. I started at 2.20 miles the first run, and have been steadily increasing a bit each run.

Today’s run was 3.25, a 5K. When I get up to 4 miles, I’ll be back at my average distance.

I’m thinking of making 5 or 6 miles be my new standard, or perhaps running 7 miles once a week and keep the other runs short (and faster with intervals).

Not sure yet.

I’m going to leave you with a quote I saw this morning; one of my long-standing favorites. It’s attributed to Goethe, but it seems unlikely he actually wrote it. Still, it vibrates with power, and isn’t that the best way to start off the work week?

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

 

Dreams, obligations and learning to say no.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Text Talk

How many minutes per day are enough to set aside for your dreams when you have a full 25 hours of obligations?

Blue posed this question to me last week. I was between two appointments and missing Tananarive Due’s Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts & Activism at Spelman College. (#OctaviaButlerSpelman). I was disappointed, but thanks to social media, I caught some of the proceedings later via live stream.

Blue’s question was a good one. He offered a response: Maybe the secret is minimizing your obligation footprint.

But how?

In the past my approach has been to start with dreams instead of waiting to fit them in later. “Later” isn’t tangible. In fact, by definition, later is always some time other than the present. Starting with dreams means waking before sunrise to tackle priorities. Or it means designing the day with hard breaks for non-negotiables.

In general, obligations take up more space than they’re due. Portrayed as sprawling affairs, they cover time and consciousness they simply don’t deserve. They’re akin to shadow puppets. They play games with light, appearing bigger or smaller in response to our motivation and energy levels.

But let’s be real. Creative scheduling and clarity of purpose do not absolve us of obligations. And despite our best efforts, sometimes they pull rank, and demand healthy portions of our limited attention. But then, what happens to our dreams?

Time is a finite resource, and minimizing your obligation footprint can mean being more efficient, but it also means cutting away that which doesn’t truly move you forward.

yes-238371_640I’ve spent the past couple of days cuddled up with Pearl Cleage’s latest. I’m underlining and starring key points, and alternating between laughing (or gasping) aloud and reading aloud as audience permits.

In the first section of the book she whines, schemes and strives to create time for things that are most important. Eventually, she quits a job that makes her unhappy so she can focus on living her life instead of lamenting about it.

Last May I came across  Learning to Say No, an essay Pearl penned for Essence Magazine in 2004. In it, she said she was a recovering yes-woman:

I realized there was only one way to stop saying yes when I meant no, and that was to understand that I wasn’t just giving up an hour or two here, or a Saturday afternoon there, but the precious, irreplaceable moments of my life. And I decided to stop doing it.

She lights on a specific moment in her life and the circumstances of the essay dovetail with the journal entries detailing her resignation and new departure. She said no to obligations that didn’t serve her, so she could say yes to the priorities that would. We can learn to do that with the big issues of our lives, but it’s also good practice for vetting the energy vampires in our day-to-day. More wisdom from Pearl’s essay:

That night I came up with six questions that I hoped would help me reclaim my life. I call them The Big Six, and I offer them here for one simple reason: They work. Next time someone asks you a question that requires a yes or no answer, ask yourself the following:

    1. What am I being asked to do?
    2. Who is making the request?
    3. Who will benefit from this activity?
    4. What do I want to do?
    5. What will happen if I say no?
    6. What will happen if I say yes?

Wishing you the perfect balance of no, yes and joyful reclamation.

xoxo

Publishing and power

30 Day Blog Challenge

Check out this piece by Daniel José Older, about the lack of diversity in the publishing industry. The topics he engages here speak to some of the reasons I’ve considered launching an independent publishing house myself.

From the piece:

In the New York Times last month, children’s book illustrator Christopher Myerswrote about “The apartheid of literature — in which characters of color are limited to the townships of occasional historical books that concern themselves with the legacies of civil rights and slavery but are never given a pass card to traverse the lands of adventure, curiosity, imagination or personal growth.”

Myers’ father, author Walter Dean Myers, wrote about growing up a bibliophile in Harlem, falling out of love with books when they offered up no characters he could relate to, and the revelation of reading Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin: “I was lifted by it, for it took place in Harlem, and it was a story concerned with black people like those I knew. By humanizing the people who were like me, Baldwin’s story also humanized me. The story gave me a permission that I didn’t know I needed, the permission to write about my own landscape, my own map.”

These two essays perfectly frame the emotional and social debacle of publishing and diversity today. They begin with this stat: “Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people,” according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin. The wide world of literature in general, and by no coincidence, the publishing industry itself, suffer from similarly disastrous numbers.

He goes on to critique the industry’s history of victim-blaming, wherein gatekeepers are somehow blameless and those who seek entry are denied, in large part, because they are too different from the establishment. A bit too diverse, it seems.

Writers are encouraged to white-wash characters and make them more recognizable to gatekeepers. Moreover, they are shaded as being poor writers who are too lazy to improve their craft. Funny how that works – legions of writers representing alternative points of view are simply less talented than all the “traditional” storytellers.

And really, what can agents and publishers do when The Market says folks won’t buy literature featuring underrepresented characters? Hands thrown up in despair, they are free to march ever onward into the Land of Sameness.

Daniel calls on industry insiders to examine their privilege, and consider concrete ways to expand publishing to look more like the world actually is. This is quite a deal more difficult than simply maintaining the status quo. And yet, he says, diversity isn’t enough:

We’re right to push for diversity, we have to, but it is only step one of a long journey. Lack of racial diversity is a symptom. The underlying illness is institutional racism. It walks hand in hand with sexism, cissexism, homophobia, and classism. To go beyond this same conversation we keep having, again and again, beyond tokens and quick fixes, requires us to look the illness in the face and destroy it. This is work for white people and people of color to do, sometimes together, sometimes apart. It’s work for writers, agents, editors, artists, fans, executives, interns, directors, and publicists. It’s work for reviewers, educators, administrators. It means taking courageous, real-world steps, not just changing mission statements or submissions guidelines.

It’s a thought-provoking piece. Read the rest (and see Julie Dillon’s gorgeous art) here.

Rainy Friday, special delivery

30 Day Blog Challenge

Pearl CleageThe rain is tapping a sleepy rhythm outside, and I’ve been fighting sleep (I lost one battle) throughout the day. April showers bring May flowers and all that, but I can’t help but wish for warmer temps to help cheer the gray days.

Minutes ago I received my copy of Pearl Cleage’s latest, Things I should Have Told My Daughter. Although I generally prefer fiction, I‘m excited to read this book. I don’t claim to be a fan of many folks, but I’ve appreciated Pearl’s wit and wisdom for years.

I’ll share salient points as I come to them.