Words on Words #3

I’ve been working lately on not needing to explain myself. There’s a scene in the 10th Kingdom, where Virginia is having a meltdown and she says, “I still have this uncontrollable urge to just go up to people and say “My mother left me when I was seven!” You know, as if that would explain everything.  And I miss her… And I hate her! And…and I miss her… And I feel like I was on a train and it crashed or something and no one came and rescued me.”

I feel like this is what I’ve been doing my entire life. Just walking around with a dead brother storyline and a foster care storyline and a mentally ill mother storyline and a dead mother storyline and just waiting for someone to a) recognize that these stories are what make me broken and b) give a shit. And I feel like, with stand-up, I was able to share these stories, imperfectly, but enough that I don’t have that urge anymore.

I Ally Sheedy’d, just dumped all of my baggage out on everyone I spoke to and for the first time in my life, I found people who didn’t look away. Instead, they listened, and they had their own bags to dump out. I don’t know what it is about the stand-up community that is different from any other set of people I’ve ever been around, but that is the only community I’ve been a part of that let me be sad and angry and whatever the fuck else I was.

But now, I have this weird normal job around normal people and if I say something dark, instead of people laughing, they get concerned. And that makes me miss stand-up but instead of feeling like I have to explain the joke or explain my existence, I just let them think I’m weird. And I don’t care anymore. The urge to explain myself in real life has almost entirely faded.

This is not to say that I don’t have anything to say. If anything, I have more to say than I ever did and I have a much better handle on how to express myself. But the need to be understood by every person I meet, in every interaction I have, is gone.

This is not to say that sitting down to write is less terrifying than it ever was. But I was watching a YouTube video with “tough love” writing advice for writers tonight, and it was the same old shit until she said, “find a way to make it fun”. And I was like, holy shit, I make writing a chore. No wonder I don’t want to do it.

So I searched YouTube for “how to make writing fun” and there was really only one video, and it was “how to make writing fun for kids”. And I thought, if it’d work on kids, it might work on me. So, basically, the way to make writing fun for kids was a story generator set up by Scholastic. And it’s cute, so I wanted to try it out.

I realized that the other thing that stops me from writing is that I want it to be good. It takes so much energy to talk myself into writing that I don’t want that to feel like wasted time. And there are all these rules about writing. The very first piece of writing I ever showed to a professional in the publishing industry was responded to with a suggestion that I check out the Turkey City Lexicon. The Turkey City Lexicon is a list of tendencies new writers have. It’s essentially a list of what not to do.

So, I’ve spend the last decade-plus figuring out how to write well so that showing my writing to other people won’t be humiliating. But not wanting to be humiliated is just another thing that stops me from writing. So, I decided to take the writing prompt from Scholastic and pair it with the first rule in the Turkey City Lexicon — Brenda Starr dialogue. Essentially, you don’t want to write blocks of dialogue that aren’t anchored in a setting, with defined characters.

So I wrote a short story (see last post) that was a bunch of blocks of dialogue with as little setting, characterization, and narration as possible. And, damn, was that fun. And, damn, did I like the story. Is it well-written? Naw. But did I want to keep going and find out what happened next? Yes. So, maybe this is a writing exercise that will get me out of my head and and make writing fun.

In the movies, a character will go through a tumultuous experience and then sit down at a typewriter and their story will just pour out of them. I spent a lot of my life expecting that I would become a writer someday. I’d have that movie moment and it would be all I could do to keep up with the waterfall of words. But that isn’t what writing is for me.

Writing is something that I want to do, all of the time when I can’t, and none of the time when I can. My first day back at work after my mom died, one of my managers who knew that I had a complicated relationship with my mom and had her own complicated relationship with her parents, said to me that I was “free”. She wasn’t wrong. But in that moment, I hoped that she would never know how terrifying and lonely true freedom actually is.

When I have the time to write, and I sit down to do it, all of the potential for greatness and ineptness — and worse than either of those, mediocrity — come crashing down on me. I don’t know how to make writing less important to me. I don’t know if I should. But I would like to make it fun and I would like to thumb my nose at people who make rules that seem to restrict creativity more than encourage it.

What the hell is the point of the Turkey City Lexicon? Why isn’t there an equivalent list of specific things TO do in order to write a good story? Why are we, as human beings, so much more responsive to being torn down than being built up? It seems antithetical to me, to create a list of what NOT to do in order to encourage people to create more powerfully.

So, fuck the Turkey City Lexicon and fuck any rule about what not to do.

Words on Words #2

I have work tomorrow and I’m not dreading it any less than I usually do, despite having had the last two days off. Saturday and Sunday are usually pretty chill, but, still. It’s just the beginning of another shitty week, every moment of which leaves me aching for my next day off.

I had lunch with my former boss today. He doesn’t understand why, if I love stand-up the way that I do, I decided to leave the business. I tried to explain, but he doesn’t get it and I’m barely eloquent enough to explain it to myself. But it was nice to see him.

I never really understood the concept of missing people. My mom used to tell me that she missed me when I went to work. I thought that her saying that was manipulative because I saw her nearly every single day for 30+ years. She’d seen me the day before, would see me the next day. She knew 80% of my thoughts. I’d be back in 9.5 hours.
What was there to miss?

Then she died, and I missed her. I’d just seen her. I’d seen her nearly ever day for the past 30+ years. But here I was, seconds into her being dead, her empty body three feet away, and I already missed her.

I see and talk to the people I love in my head, all of the time. The only time I “miss” them is if I get the idea stuck in my head that I won’t see them ever again, that I won’t make new memories with them, that I’ll never get the chance to know them better than I already do.

But I’m a weird, solitary person, and I always have been. I used to be agoraphobic, and I use the phrase “used to be” very loosely. I used to be ashamed of this period of my life, judging myself for hiding, for giving up before trying. But I’ve spent the past 13 years out there, jobbing, schooling, interacting. And my dream is as it ever was; a house in the middle of nowhere, with no easy means of communication to the outside world.

There are always people in these fantasies, either me visiting “home” or them visiting me, but just with long periods of no human interaction. The older I get, the less guilty I feel for this fantasy. I need people but, like, in small doses. I’m trying to figure out how to save up enough money to bring this fantasy to reality, and how I’m going to manage leaving everybody behind without feeling too guilty.

Anyway, the writing has been okay since my last Words on Words. I don’t love a couple of the stories but they all have something in there that I like. I never would have thought to write about a rodeo clown and his ghost brother, that’s for sure.

I joined a critique forum, where The Brave Princess has been critiqued by 5 people. 3 of them picked up what I was putting down and had some really good suggestions on where to add and how to tighten it up. The other 2 had good suggestions too, although the really didn’t get what I was going for in that story. That’s okay, I think I had a good ratio of people who got it, and that’s always the risk with satire. I may spend the next week implementing some of those suggestions. If I do, I think I’ll improve the number of people who can at least read it as a coherent story, even without recognizing it as a satire, which was the goal.

Okay, off to bed. I hope tomorrow doesn’t suck as much as I think it will.

Words on Words

Today is Tuesday. On Sunday, I got home from work, angry. My job right now isn’t the worst job I’ve ever had. There are definitely perks that I’ve never experienced before, like affordable healthcare and an almost livable wage. But when it comes down to it, I wake up at 6AM and get home a little before 6PM. Essentially, 12 hours out of my day is centered around being at a place I don’t actively want to be, and doing things that I don’t actively want to do.

And this is life. I get that. I’m an adult. But I’m also a person, and society doesn’t always recognize that these are two different things. An adult is an archetype; responsible, hardworking, conscientious. A person is a lot more dimensional. We don’t always do, say, and think the correct things. So, even though I accept that I should accept that my life should be drudgery, there’s a person in my head, screaming, “FUCK THAT!”

And that voice has gotten a lot louder over the past few years. Say what I will about the entertainment industry (and most of it is bad), being immersed in artists for almost 5 years taught me how indomitable a spirit really is. Like, it’s not a joke or a stereotype that a lot of comedians struggle with depression. The natural oversensitiveness that artists are subject to is exacerbated by an industry that is designed to overwork and undervalue them.

That spark that artists have within them can’t be blown out by the strongest wind, or quenched by the heaviest rain, or smothered by a mountain of sand — at least, not without that level of monumental effort. And the whole world feels it when that spark is finally destroyed, whether that artist ever “made it” or not. Because we ARE more than our khakis.

All of that to say that I came home from work on Sunday and realized that so much of my day, so much of my energy is stolen by a corporation that could and would replace me without a blink if I were to quit or get fired or die — right now. So, how is that I can always find the energy to make it there on time and put as much of myself into every call or email as I can manage that day but at the end of the day, I can’t be bothered pursuing the thing that I really want to do?

I want to be a writer. I want to make a living at it. I want to change the world with my words. I have a thousand creative hobbies and a soul-sucking job and those are all things that I use to distract or excuse myself from writing. Because writing may be the scariest thing that I’ve ever done, and it never gets less scary, no matter how many times I’ve done it.

If I make a necklace that comes out shitty, I take it apart and put the pieces of it away, knowing that I’ll make something better with those pieces when I come back to them. When I doodle a shitty sketch, I throw it away. I forget it ever existed. When I crochet something that I hate, I unravel it, re-ball the yarn, and toss it back in its basket. But just the idea that I’ll write poorly will stop me from writing, for months.

Don’t get me wrong; there are SOME stakes with other artforms. Of course, I want something that I spend all of that time and energy on to turn out well. But I don’t expect anything I make out of beads or yarn, or both, to change the world. I don’t need anything that I make out of beads or yarn to change the world. But words — words are what shaped me — not my body or my career or my khakis — but my personhood.

I’ve never been moved to tears by a purse or a bracelet. But I was recently purging some old papers that my mother had written on (it’s only been 9 years since she died, give me a break). These weren’t important papers. They were old receipts that she’d organized into envelopes. On the front of each envelope, she’d written the name of the month in bold, decorative letters in a myriad of colors. Green for March, pink for February, etc. with little doodles of shamrocks and hearts for those respective months.

October 2009 was written with a copper sharpie and highlighted with pink squiggles and underlines. In smaller letters, she’d written “Happy Birthday Crystal!” I peeked into each envelope to make sure there weren’t any hidden gems; poems or songs or letters to strangers, encouraging them to be the amazing people she already knew they were.

There wasn’t anything filed in the envelopes that didn’t belong there. But damned if the idea of throwing away all of that work didn’t hurl me into a hurricane of grief. So, I did the adult thing and deposited my snot and tears into a quick succession of tissues, and then threw the envelopes away. But I did the person thing first and took a photo of every single envelope in that old shoebox. Just like my mother did the adult thing and kept all of her receipts neatly organized, but did the person thing and made it pretty.

We can pretend like we are this civilization that goes to work and pays its rent and erects another skyscraper that nobody wants to work in. And we are. But we’re also this other thing that can’t help but make that skyscraper sparkly or blue or round or shaped like a crescent moon or built to support the world’s largest and most ridiculous swimming pool.

So, I got home from work on Sunday, furious that 12 out of my 16 waking hours is centered around having the same three conversations, over and over, all day, forever. And I said to myself, I have to be able to write for a living. It’s the only thing I can think of that I want to do with my life. So, I have to write. I have to be able to write on demand. I can’t let my creative energy be quenched by fear, before I’m ever asked to write anything.

I started this blog with the intention to explore every story prompt I could find. On Sunday, I wrote 3 stories. Yesterday, I wrote 1. Today, I realized that my rage from Sunday was all gone. All I wanted to do was settle back into my complacency, watching YouTube videos where people criticize other people who make art wrong.

So I thought, do I still want to be a writer? And I vaguely registered that I still did. And then I realized that I really liked the stories that I wrote Sunday and yesterday. And I wasn’t sure if I could keep up the momentum of writing well. And I realized that I have to give myself permission to suck. These are all determinations that I have made before. To write every day, to dedicate my time to pursuing what I really want to be doing, to let myself suck.

And maybe it’s not bad that I end up fighting the same battle every time I sit down to write. It means the stakes are still there. I still give a shit. I still need to change the world. It doesn’t matter how many times or how many ways I try to take the pressure off. The pressure is on, baby. We’re changing lives, here. Or, at least one. My life counts, too. So, it’s 9:43PM on Tuesday night. Bed time is 10:30. Let’s see what pile of crap I can come up with in the next 45 minutes. And maybe tomorrow, I won’t have to give myself an hour-long, 1300-word pep talk.