Observations, Self, Writing

on the single life.

Yesterday, I was sitting alone at a bar waiting for someone and wound up finishing the book I’d brought with me. The bar was in downtown Brooklyn, right off the train, large and bright and full of empty tables, but I preferred to sit at the counter where I could, despite being absorbed in reading, be around people. I’ve always liked that– being around people doing their own things, while doing my own thing. When I finished the book, which I did fast and greedily, I immediately texted my roommate.

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“Have you ever gotten that feeling after reading a really good book?” I continued. “Like: full, warm, maybe a little sad, and at the same time really open and clear?” It’s been such a long time since a book made me feel that way– probably years since I read a book I could both escape into and learn from.

The book, Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, is a memoir about author Kate Bolick’s love life, interlaced with anecdotes and biographical snippets of five woman writers from history who remained single– or maintained a “single spirit” while married– whom she positions as her “awakeners” to the possibility of an adult life sans marriage: Maeve Brennan, Edna St Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, Neith Boyce, and Charlotte Perkins

It’s meandering, full of poetic musings about the pleasures of singledom and fears about rejecting convention, woven (occasionally clumsily) with biographical anecdotes about her court of authors, who chatter on in her head like derelict guardian angels. Bolick writes about walking and living alone in the city, eating greasy fast food in her bed, cobbling together freelance jobs that barely pay rent, going on boozy dates, chatting with a widow who drinks tea on her stoop: she paints a picture of life in New York City that reminds me of my own.
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Bolick’s desire to be single, which outlasts a rotating cast of boyfriends, seems to be inextricably connected with her desire for the financial independence and emotional detachment she feels is required to be a “real writer.” She enjoys her wide swath of “weak ties” afforded by city life and delights in reflecting on her world from the vantage point of an unattached person: that is, a person who doesn’t define herself by her relational roles. She seems to believe that she notices more as a single person than married women might: that she can observe and appreciate more of the color of city life by the lack of a relational commitment weighing on her mind. Her desire is urged on by the awakeners, whose marriages didn’t last even when happy, and who found living alone while being sexually and socially extroverted most conducive to their productivity. Still, she feels pulled towards marriage by abstract notions of conventionality and the real comfort of having a stable partner.

The book is less about her decision not to marry than it is a scrapbook of reflections of what it means to carve out a life on one’s own, which is increasingly the question I ask myself the longer I stay single: how to live independently and confidently while also in community, how to find meaningful work that pays, how to balance professional success with alignment to one’s values, how to be a feminist and enjoy going on dates, how to be an extrovert while also listening to one’s need for solitude. It provides no easy answers to these questions. But a book that asks them, and while giving me glimpses of the lives of fascinating literary women to boot, is a gem to me.

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Self, Writing

inspiration for writers (and why writing is scarier than halloween)

Just thought I should let y’all know that over at brain pickings, Maria has put together a compilation of posts featuring writing advice.

I need to hear a lot of these today, as I’m getting back to work on a piece I had given up on a while back. I’m still (verrrrrrrrry slowly) working through The Artist’s Way, and the last chapter talked about the self-sabotage many recovering artists face. The road to recovery, Julia reminds us, is frightening. It means we can no longer hold on to the excuses we used to keep us from facing the vulnerability inherent in making art. Once we get close to the ledge, it gets windy and cold. That’s why so many artists take one or two steps towards creating something great and then shelve the project for no real reason.

Months ago, I gave an essay I’m writing about a situation at my alma mater to my writing mentor. She took the time to give it a helpful critique and asked me to send it to her again. I never did. I made some of the changes, got busy, started making excuses about how disappointed she’d be in how late I was getting back to her, and then just sort of pushed it out of my mind. It haunted me, that I had let her efforts and mine go to waste. She believed in me; why couldn’t I? Still, I couldn’t bring myself to work again.

But now that I realize this is an actual thing for other writers, a silly, avoidable avoidance tactic, I don’t want to let it go. I want to see this project through: even if it’s hard, and even if at the end I still suspect that it sucks, and even if I don’t end up sending it around.

But it IS fricking scary. I have been so ashamed of myself for pushing this project away for so long that I’m having trouble even opening the file to look at it. Just thinking about loading Microsoft Word, my chest tightens and my hands feel shaky. What’s with this anxiety? It’s a dumb essay. It is utterly meaningless in the world of things, in the world of my daily life. I have written so many school papers that my fingers should be cracked and bloody. And yet. The idea of writing a VOLUNTARY and (gulp) CREATIVE project to completion is powerful and nerve-wracking because it signifies a step towards commitment to being a writer.

So here’s to being brave, friends.

P.S. Unrelatedly, M and T are insisting I go as a manta ray for Halloween, and I was refusing on the grounds of impossibility, but then I saw this:

 

Bllaaargghhhdljbfasdjhbofsadlbhdalvsbsda that’s an amazing costume and I would be way happier than that kid if i had a mom to make that for me.

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Observations, Self, Spirituality, Writing

introducing: an advice column!

Writing on this blog and working my way through The Artist’s Way have been helping me figure what it means to be a writer. I used to believe only novelists counted as writers. People who wrote poems were poets, people who wrote for newspapers were journalists, and people who wrote online were bloggers (and hacks). The esteemed title of “writer” could only apply to those who dealt in that fearsome world of Real Literature, aka Books with Long Ass Stories aka Novels.

Except that the novel was originally considered dumb and low-class anyway. And I barely read novels anymore, making them feel less relevant. Also, if I didn’t write–in my journal, here, or in my writing notebook– I would feel lost. I wouldn’t be able to process my life– writing things down is part of my identity. Besides, isn’t writing just putting words on stuff? And I put a lot of words! And this one time I was even paid to do it! So damnit, I’m a writer!

One of the writing forms I used to poo-poo especially was that of the advice column. When I was struggling with my writing identity in college, a friend recommended I read “Dear Sugar” at The Rumpus— which I recommend you do also– and I thought it was heavy-handed, flowery, and superfluous. The advice column is not an art form, I maintained. Advice is what you dish out over a second bottle of wine, and only when your friend asks for it. It’s sloppy, honest, personal, loaded, off-the-cuff– and oh wait. That sounds like fun!

I guess every advice column ever will be compared to Dear Sugar’s. In case you live somewhere very far away from the writing world (bless you) its author was the real-life main character of the movie Wild (read the book of the same name. Way better, way inspiring.) But instead of comparing mine to hers, I’m going to focus on giving my own advice, in my own way, and I hope to never mention Sugar again except as unrelated to this.

THAT ALL BEING SAID!

I’m starting an advice column.

I get asked for advice sort of a lot in real life (hahahahahahahahahaha no) (well kind of) (more like lots of people tell me their problems and then I give unsolicited advice). And I’m going to transfer some of these questions to written format and answer them here.

Or you can also send me your own: mwant1390 at gmail dot com.

Pretty please? Let’s do this together.

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Self, Spirituality, Writing

the artist’s way.

Have any of you used this book before?

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(Also, have any of you struggled when typing the word “artist’s”? I misspelled it like five times. No? Just me? Ok then.)

I heard of Julia Cameron through her book The Writing Diet, which I picked up on the bargain shelf at Barnes and Noble back in the early 2000’s. I’d been struggling with disordered eating for several years and was desperate for anything to break me out of my funk.

That book was both helpful and not. Julia, bless her heart, is a lunatic.

No sugar, she advised. Absolutely none. She was ahead of the clean eating bandwagon. But the relapses she admitted to having– splitting a dessert at a restaurant with friends–apparently led to major regret and sugar hangovers. If clean eating meant I would get sick every time I ate a dessert– nay, SHARED a dessert– I wanted no part of it. Still, I tried. I lasted less than a day.

However, she also plugged her signature strategies, Morning Pages and Artist Dates. Cornerstones of the emotional healing required to resolve eating issues, Morning Pages and Artist Dates were the one techniques she said were non negotiable.

So they were the one thing I didn’t try. I didn’t lose any weight.

Fast forward to now, when a dear creative friend of mine, Nandita, invited me to join her in working through Julia’s best known work, The Artist’s Way. I prepared myself for lots of pseudo-spirituality and anecdotal evidence and admonitions to move to New Mexico, where people just get it. 

And now I’m on chapter 6, admittedly far behind in the schedule Nandita and I set, and I have to say, it’s working!

I’ll be writing about it more in depth later, but for now I’ll say that the major theme I’m taking away is that we live in an abundant universe where God is waiting and eager to bless us a thousand times more than we can imagine. He’s extravagant. He’s effervescent.

“We have tried to be sensible– as though we have any proof at all that God is sensible,” Julia writes.

OH MY GOD, I felt like shouting. HE’S TOTALLY NOT! THANK YOU FOR SAYING THAT! BECAUSE THAT HAS BEEN MY MAJOR CRITIQUE OF CHRISTIANITY!

‘There is not one pink flower, or even fifty pink flowers, but hundreds. This creator looks suspiciously like someone who might just send us support for our creative ventures.” And you know what? As soon as I started working my way through this book, I landed my first ever paid writing gig. And while it’s not panning out the way I thought, it was enough to encourage me to seek out other paid writing gigs.

(SO, LOL, hire me! Kidding. Well, not, I’m not, but, ya know.)

So the universe does seem to be encouraging me creatively. Thank you, Julia. Thanks for being so woo-woo you. I’m curious: have you used this book, or Julia’s others? What’d you think? 

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Design, Observations, Self, Writing

a blast from the past.

Speaking of the tenuous copywriting gig, which I got through a friend, I was recently going back through all the writing I’ve put on the internet for my creative portfolio and stumbled across a blog I ran back in college.

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Unlike pretty much anything else I wrote during the time I consider my childhood, most of the writing on here isn’t half bad! Most of the posts are pictures of manicured houses or elaborate recipes, and my taste, although now more urbane, I’d like to think, has stayed the same. I read it and was like, “Yeah, 20 year old me! You were pretty cute!”

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Right? I think this blog needs some similar frivolity. If you feel like checking it out, you can do so here. Although I won’t be updating it, I hope I can bring a little of its “Eyyy I’m in college and no one reads this anyway so I’m going to post whatever beautiful stuff makes me happy!” sort of vibe to here.

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Self, Writing

a brief history of my relationship to creating stuff (part 1).

Courtesy of Page After Page’s writing exercise.

In fourth grade, I wrote a story. I wrote it on a yellow Steno notebook, sitting against a beam in the basement of my grandparents home, with a pencil. It took me a few days, and it took up 18 pages of the notebook. When In I got home, I got on our CompuServe desktop and typed it out, slowly, with four fingers. The title was–are you ready for it?– “Mary Story.”

I know. Be jealous. It was a tale of sweet, gentle, blonde Mary who had a crippled mother and had just moved into a town full of rough and rowdy children. They didn’t like Mary– or rather, didn’t understand her. She liked sewing, and reading, and walking in nature, and cleaning. She especially liked John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony and Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

I was 8.

In the end, Mary’s gentle ways convince the town children that not only was she fun to be around, but that her flower-picking, shelf-dusting, and homework-doing ways were far superior to playing tag and getting muddy.

“Mary Story” reveals a lot about my 4th grade notions of femininity and virtue, but it was also exhilarating to write. I had gotten completely lost in joy during the days of its creation, my pencil moving without consciousness, the words feeling like delicious soup, pouring steaming hot into a clean bowl. From that moment on, I began entertaining notions of being a writer.

Around that time I picked up playing the flute, and discovered that not all art-making felt the same. Playing the flute was frustrating, and boring, and difficult. I kept a practice log but cried each time I checked the clock and found I still had 20 minutes of my mandated daily 30 to go. The only note I thought sounded okay was my B flat, which had been the first note I learned.

Fast-forward to high school, and I was still writing, and playing the flute, and now singing and acting. Singing felt a bit like writing in that I could forget time when doing it. I worked at making my performances better, but the work rarely felt like a drudge. I could trill my voice through the runs of “Poor Wandering One” and “Phantom of the Opera” and when I hit a rough spot, simply go back and let my voice open up the troublesome note so it could float like a clear red balloon.

 

 

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