Writing and Reading

I’m finally getting my shit together.

There’s just been so much going on. Moving back into my bedroom for the first time in going on five years. Reclaiming the spaces in the house that used to be very clearly delineated as territories.

I had so little territory.

How did I exist in such a small cube of physical space?

So not just peeling myself out of my prescribed places in the house, but then quitting smoking, removing the act of smoking from the act of writing. The act of staying up all night, wildly trying to pin down a goal, just thinking “I have to write this. I have to fucking write this and I have to write it now. And I have to know what it is and it has to be that when I finish. And I’ll be done at point X. And point X will be at point T within the plot but point V within the main character arc…”

Madness.

Absolute madness, all carefully, quietly predicated on the fact that I didn’t fucking want to write.

Clearly, I did not want to write what I felt so compelled to write.

I’ve always lived probably too much in the moment. Probably, I could do better by myself by being just a little more forward thinking. A little less manic. A little less reactive.

Sherrie Flick recently shared a piece from Brevity.

I love Brevity.

I want to be good enough for Brevity someday. Someday I’ll learn to keep my shit together. Word by word.

Someday, I will learn to be as beautiful brief as I can be long and winding, when I try.

Anyway, this is what Sherrie said:

“Something to keep in mind: ‘My thesis did everything it needed to do in order for me to earn an MFA. But my thesis was not a book. I was almost halfway through the program before I learned to appreciate the difference.'” ~ Colin Hosten

I spent so much time learning about writing, and then planning for a life of teaching writing that, I realized, somewhere along the way I’d forgotten how to just sit down and do it. How to be okay with not having a syllabus for this project.

How to be okay without someone telling me to read this essay, write this exercise, put everything in order. Put it in this order. Everything will be fine. There is a recipe. Here. Here is the recipe.

I realized that there was no recipe. And that’s what had scared me. I had so many little ingredients and no idea how to measure or combine them. I could be making something delightful and nourishing and good or I could be making poison.

The last few nights I’ve been ready to bring the creative notebook to bed with me.

The creative notebook and I have been on a break from one another.

The creative notebook and I were headed down a bad path together. I’ve only been writing, since I quit smoking, about clear, academic, tangential things. I may write down some practical instruction on writing. I may make notes on an essay or book I’ve been reading. But nothing that had anything to do with the project that had become the vehicle in which I drove myself very nearly completely insane.

Nothing to do with that essay collection.

I read about other people’s lives and work. I read the work of other people, and tried not to think about what to take from it, and how, to put it to use toward my own project. I tried to just be a reader again. To get back to the love of storytelling that had made me want to tell stories in the first place.

And, in the meantime, instead of working on my story, I worked on my house. I worked on my bad habits. I worked on my face and my hair and what food I put in my body and I changed a lot of other things that I thought had nothing to do with writing.

But they had everything to do with why I wasn’t writing.

They were why I wasn’t writing.

Today, I work nights. After I took the girls to school I went back home instead of to the office. I don’t work a ton of nights. It was weird. The house was still. It was quiet. The light was that weird, soft, electric combination of blue and gray and white and lavender and smoke, on a foggy, snowy, winter-spring morning, when everything’s uncertain about which way it’s going to go.

Will the snow be snow or will it be a puddle instead?

So much hung in the balance this morning.

And I just set down my purse and took of my shoes and I should have cleaned. I should have picked up the toys and the papers and the clothes and the life that had been left to lie where it had fallen a day or two before and intentionally not retrieved.

Just left.

Doesn’t it feel so good, sometimes, to just let things lie where they are for a while?

I could have cleaned. I should have cleaned. But I went upstairs, instead, with the book under my arm and I turned on the heated mattress pad and I wrote. And I read.

I read something else, and then I wrote again, a little bit, until I’d spent three hours in bed not with someone else’s book, but with my own. And we enjoyed each other’s company for hours.

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I’ve been taking breaks from slowly gathering my thoughts as I let little pieces of things I think I recognize to make their way to messy paragraphs loosely collected in rows on a page. I’ve been taking breaks from easing into the all new act of writing, of creating new associations between writing and emotions, writing and behaviors, writing and being able to breathe, I’ve been taking breaks from that and reading what the writers I respect have to say about writing.

I’ve narrowed myself down to focusing on David Sedaris for right now. I’m not mimicking his style. I’m not trying to bring him onto my page in terms of style or content. But that looseness, and the ease with which he comes out with it. His easiness with honesty, I think, will help me get to the core of the humor in the stories I still need to write.

I read his essays, in no particular order. I read his interviews. I listen to him read his own work, because what’s so great about Sedaris’ work is that it’s written like he would say it. For the past year I’ve been working on a little voice project where I’ve transcribed interactions between myself and my kids, myself and the woman in front of me at the grocery store, myself and just the world, in general, into a Facebook or an Instragram post. But I’ve been doing it in voice. I’ve been working on seeing the world through the lens I want to write it. I’ve been working on not developing a voice that I think will serve the essays I want to write, but working to make my own voice – the voice I use to live my life every day – cleaner. Sharper. More precise. More elemental. More literary. More observant. Funnier. More sarcastic.

I’ve been working on bridging the distance between the person I thought I had to become to write these essays and the person who lived these stories. And I’ve been stealing one thing from Sedaris. I’ll come clean.

I’m stealing his journal. Well, the idea.

Basically.

Every day I get out this little reporter’s notebook and I go to the On This Day app on Facebook and most days, there are the little vignettes I’ve been leaving myself. Like a breadcrumb trail out of the forest, I didn’t know what I was doing as I left it. But I think I kind of did and didn’t let myself realize it because I had to clean everything else up first or I’d have discovered it, and realized its potential, and destroyed it trying to follow it back in.

I was so afraid I was going to lose this experience or that experience. The memories were going to fade. The points were going to be lost, and if I didn’t get them down my stories would be gone in the dash to live each day. The dash to help my daughters live each day.

They’re not lost. There are at least three years represented every time I stop by On This Day. Sometimes, there are pictures. Sometimes, there are conversations, bare-bones dialogue and stage direction, they seem sparse and not enough. But the truth is that they’re perfect. They’re the essence of that moment. They’re what I couldn’t have remembered. The words. How the conversation started or where the humor had been in it. I couldn’t have remembered these little memories. And the memory of how they’d made me felt would be there, but without anything to attach it to.

It’s a very strange thing, coming out of the woods like that. You come out sort of blind, and dumb and like your ears have been packed with cotton and you’re floating a little bit, and tripping over roots, and rocks, and grass, but you know you’re getting there.

I’ve been going back a little every day and collecting the breadcrumbs. And they’re the stories. These are the stories I’d have missed if I hadn’t been oversharing my life on Facebook.

I’d have missed them trying to figure out how to tell the story of Mike’s arrest. That one event had preoccupied me for two full years. Two. Years.

It felt like mine. Like God Damn it, that one day fucked my life up so bad. It was mine. He put it on me, he put me in that position to have that experience and God damn it I felt so entitled to write it.

Why couldn’t I write it?

It seemed like all I was.

It was all I was.

But it couldn’t be less who I am. And that’s why it’s gotten harder and harder to grasp. I’m moving away from it. I’m not far enough away from it yet. I need to take little steps. I need to write little stories. All these little stories that will make great little exercises in writing short.

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