It has been 9 months since I lost my job and have been home, every single day.
That’s 268 days of me trying to figure out how to use this “down time” to work on writing. Sad reality is… there is now “down time.”
Yet, here I am, 6432 hours into something that was supposed to last “three weeks.”
385,920 minutes of a situation so repetitive I feel I shouldn’t be moving forward–maybe I’m not moving forward–maybe I’m just spinning in circles. I’ve become a broken clock that twirls on a pin attacked to a cog that isn’t touching anything else.
Well, damn. I guess that’s a top. I am a top.
Yes, sirs and ma’ams, theys and thems — 23,155,200 seconds of me going round and round and round and round… no wonder I’m so damn dizzy.
The world is a blur that has lost its color, pigment drained from the thick black lines outlining what I’d come to perceive as my reality. I’ve found myself missing something I wasn’t sure I liked in the first place–but it’s is the something I knew, the something that was comfortable.
Spinning isn’t comfortable.
Especially without color.
Now, if you’re wondering what is the point of this post? I supposed it’s me sharing with you that I’m not okay. I’m just okay enough. I would say I’m fine but that’s a complete lie and I could say I’m terrible, but it’s not that bad. It’s just the spinning.
One day I hope to post about writing (because I’m still writing) or about books I’m reading (because I’m reading two at this moment — one by Nico Walker and the other by Joe Hill.) Words form in my head to describe them to me but not in my mouth to describe them to you.
Guess I’ll just keep on spinning and hope when I fall the couch is at my side, and I tip in the right direction. Until then, this is me saying, if you’re not okay, you welcome to be not okay with me–we can be not okay together. Until we’re all okay again.
This topic was presented to me the other day. If I’m honest, this topic has been tossed my way on more than one occasion since March of 2020. How do you create when the world feels as if it’s crumbling around you? So, I thought I’d write about it.
The real question is: How do you do anything outside of running the motions of day to day survival?
If you do a google search, myriad posts with resources, tips, and tricks to get you back at it, bullet points on what to write about, and on and on will pop up. But do they actually provide answers? I guess. They say something — I didn’t find any of them helpful. Mostly I found them to create more anxiety. So I ignored them.
For me, these last eight months have been an emotional roller coaster in every aspect of my life. Like so many others, I lost my job. For the first time in all of my years of working, I applied for unemployment. My son no longer goes to school. His last year of fifth grade was meant to end in fanfare with a send-off celebration and a special yearbook (that he never received); instead, it ended in tears. My husband has been working from home. Gone are the days of teaching yoga. Gone are the days of writing at 5am Writers Clubs — because I can’t get out of bed. Gone are my morning/afternoons of writing, plotting, editing, researching — basically being a writer.
The life I had was lost.
Then all the internal changes began. Did I even want the life I had? Did that life make me happy? Was I running through the motions back then, or am I now — or am I running through the motions of my life in general?
It was a real-time Waking Life — Existential — I got drunk/high for the first time and saw god in the broken tail light of my best friends Buick — crisis; but now, I was having it as an adult, sober, while doing a YouTube HIIT class in the small space between the end of my bed and the wall.
Do I really miss the students who go above and beyond to correct me while I’m teaching? Nope. Do I miss being in traffic? Nope. Do I miss carving up my writing time to construct classes? Nope. Do I miss my seniors? Yes. Because they’re fun. 80-year-olds are fun. If you disagree, you need to talk to more 80-year-olds.
My exercise routine went from 2-3 times a week to 2-3 times a day. My best days are a solid 1.5-2 hours stretches. This is when I have my most significant “moments.” This is when I can think without interruptions.
This was when I had my “how to create art during a pandemic” moment. It went a little like this:
I’ve been writing for my whole life — but I have always found a reason not to write. Pre-child, it was because I was socializing too much. Post child it was because of the child — and I still was socializing too much. Then we moved to Los Angeles, and my first round of isolation began. 2011.
This was my first time genuinely dealing with isolation — the only human contact I had for more than a couple hours at the beginning and end of the day was my 3-year-old. This isolation lasted nearly three years until he started Kindergarten. Then, his isolation ended. Mine lingered. Because after three years of living inside your own head — it’s really, really hard to get out. (I learned to hate myself on levels I didn’t know existed. I was never good enough. I was never smart enough. I was never skinny enough. Fun enough. Witty enough. Never watched the right shows/tv. Never read the right books/poems/essays. Never.)
Most of 2018 & 2019 were spent fixing all of those Nevers. Then Covid hit — but Now I knew better.
Those three+ years are what I reference as an emotional gauge during this time of Covid. I watched myself shrivel into prune of my old self the last time around — as I lost total confidence in who I was and what I wanted — I kept a journal (mental and physical) documenting this dive into the underworld of my brain. Now, I refer back to those moments so I don’t do that again. Now, I know there is another end of the tunnel — because I walked through it before.
These bits of knowledge have kept me from totally drowning this time around. Also, one thing that is majorly different during this period of isolation is, I know I’m not alone in it. It’s more challenging to accept isolation when others are so free and moving around. During Covid I know in my cells we’re all in this shit-show together.
I am not alone. You are not alone.
But how does any of that help you create? It doesn’t. Are there ways to help you create? I’ve found two:
1 – You must grieve. All of the steps. You need to cry. You need to get angry. You need to accept you can’t change things. You have to let go. You have to move on. Until you can move on – you need to repeat the steps. You need to GRIEVE. Completely. Totally. 100%. Cry. Cry until you can’t any more. Then cry again.
2 – You need to accept that without control — all you can do is be. Be in this moment. Think about the things you would normally not think about. How things piss you off. What things trigger you. When do you do your best creating?
There is no contest or competition. The only person you’re competing against is yourself. And, this is a big one, if you still can’t create — it doesn’t matter. You’re still an artist. You’re still a creator. You’re still you. We all have our own process at writing, creating, living, being — honor it. Embrace it.
So, back to the top: How do you do anything outside of running the motions of day to day survival? You breathe. You live in this moment, not one from last year, not one that might be in your future–you embrace the heck of RIGHT NOW. And if you end up writing — good job you!! And if you don’t — good job you! Because you’ve made it this far. You’ll make it farther. I promise. You’re not alone.
I watched this gem of a film last night and hate to say it, but it was my first time checking it out. A classic film and musical, directed by the late Bob Fosse, Cabaret was nominated (and won) many Academy Awards–losing Best Film to The Godfather. (Also a great film and amazing read.)
Unlike The Godfather, I haven’t read the original, short-story, novel version of Cabaret (yet). Goodbye to Berlin was written by Christopher Isherwood in the early 1930’s, as Germany morphed from a liberal, open, artistic city, into the breeding ground for the Third Reich.
Now, if you go to IMDb and looked up Cabaret, the description reads, “A female girlie club entertainer in Weimar Republic era Berlin romances two men while the Nazi Party rises to power around them.”
And if you head over to GoodReads and check out Goodbye to Berlin, it reads, “In linked short stories, he says goodbye to Sally Bowles, to Fraulein Schroeder, to pranksters, perverts, political manipulators; to the very, very guilty and to the dwindling band of innocents. It is goodbye to a Berlin wild, wicked, breathtaking, decadent beyond belief and already – in the years between the wars – welcoming death in through the door, though more with a wink than a whimper.”
GoodReads description is much more accurate than the Hollywood neutralization of the film. In 1972, the war had only been over for 27 years. The deep cut of what took place was still felt by many, in a way, only first hand survivors can relive. (Unlike now, where it’s all text books and films to remind us of the horrors of WW2.)
The amount of films that tackle this subject is long, to say the least. Each years since 1945, has produced film, after film, after film (book after book, television show, after television show, etc.)–attempting to capture the horrors of the war from one angle or another.
in 1931–as Isherwood lived in the slow absorption of nazism in Berlin–watching the wild and decadent city he loved so much, become the backdrop for hate and horrors. When the book was published in 1934–American talked about these sort of things in comments quickly forgotten as they dealt with more important, local, issues–like the great depression.
But, the great depression was everywhere–not just in America. Which is also seen in Cabaret. The divide between Rich and Poor.
Now, as a writer–Showing vs Telling comes up a LOT. Personally, I feel both are needed from time to time. Sometimes, we need to tell our audience things–so we can get onto our next great Showy part. This is a personal opinion, and–if you’ve ever submitted a query to any agent in all the literary land–you probably have learned that, “Opinions are subjective,” and very from agent to agent. So, while you may not agree with me on the combination of the two–that’s okay!
But, back to Cabaret. As I watched the film last night, the story unfolds about the relationship between Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) and Brian Roberts (Michael York.) Each pivotal moment being punctuated by a musical number at the Cabaret Miss Bowles works at. As you follow them along their complicated relationship, you watch the world around them transform: from the opening, mirrored credits, to the final mirrored ending.
Never once do they say: Sally is hungry. Instead, each time there is food, she pounces on it. They never say, Sally is poor, but she wears the same clothes over and over again.
They never SAY directly, what is happening in Berlin. But you see Nazi uniforms arrive, at first, getting kicked out of the Cabaret–later, in larger and larger numbers. The blood and violence grows in time with tension of Sally and Brian’s unconventional relationship–until it all comes to a head and pops.
Now, for a writer of short stories and books–I’m a rather visual person. I enjoy watching and seeing stories as much as I do reading them, which is why I’m suggesting Cabaret as a successful example of Showing a major transformation, rather than simply saying, “This happens and this and then a little more of this.” Is it possible to execute the same effect on the page? I really do think so. It’s hard to get away from Telling your stories, at first. But that’s what editing is for. Second, third, and fourth drafts are where the true magic happens–when you take a story you’ve told and mold it into a cacophony of sound, tastes, and textures. Overloading more senses than the eyes–adding depth to your words, your surroundings–and really capturing the essence of a story all the way into its bones.
I mean, that’s the real different between showing and telling, isn’t it? In one you’re saying–IT WAS JUST LIKE THIS. In the other, you’re hinting to what it’s like with thread barren shirt cuffs, unwashed sheets, the copper scent of blood; boots on pavement that rattle up your spin, laughter so thick its contagious, and more and more and more.
If you haven’t seen Cabaret–it’s free on Netflix (and most certainly available at your local library.) I recommend it on many levels–for Showing vs Telling, Character development, a world slipping in the background. It’s a real treat, and deserved all the awards it won back in 1973.
Now, go enjoy a good film while I start reading, Goodbye Berlin–which I hope to blog about soon. (Or now. Who knows. Only time will tell…)
Once upon a time… I’ve never actually started a story with those words, not outside the ones in my head. In the real world, the world living on a computer screen and scraps of paper in my car’s glove box, most of my stories start mid-action. “Here I am!” my character’s say. “THIS IS GONNA BE A FUN RIDE!”
Sometimes, that is the honest truth. Others, it’s a lie, lie, lie… But does it matter? No. For I have written and everything is right in the world–for that one moment.
I started writing a long time a go. But not seriously. I refused to take myself seriously–because I knew (deep down) I wasn’t good enough. The little voices I’d allowed to crawl into my head ate at my confidence like a necrotizing fasciitis. And I believed them.
Until I didn’t.
Until I decided to ignore them and to keep trying anyway.
It took awhile to get there.
And life kept happening around me.
I’d say, “One day, I’ll write.” or “One day, I’ll be a writer.”
The push kept pushing–but the fear was more than I could manage for a long time. With a million and one, distractions along the way…
I “one day’d” myself to death….
But then I took a chance and I stopped saying “one day.” Maybe I didn’t start with, Once upon a time, but I tapped out letter after letter, word after word–IGNORING–the acid voice in my brain that says things like, “Well, aren’t you trendy?” or “You know someone else tried that already. What makes you so special?”
I DID IT ANYWAY!
And I sent it out via the magically world of the internet–and someone said yes.
I don’t know what “making it” looks like to you–but last night was pretty spectacular. And, the voices were quiet.
The voices ARE quiet.
It’s not always a fairy tale, but what’s so bad about that? Who wants a fairy tale when you can make new friends who lift you up as you try to lift them up, too? Not me.
“Once upon a time, there was a woman who always thought she couldn’t. But then, one day, she did.”
(visit: Madeinlawriters.com for more information about Volumes 1 & 2 of the Made in L.A. Anthology.)
Once upon a time, there was a woman, and she had dreams…
Dreams. Dreams. Dreams.
She loved to soak herself in them like the warmest, most perfect bath, ever drawn.
Dreams. Dreams. Dreams.
Wisps of them–the dreams–wafted off her much like morning dew on a warm summers morning. She loved every second of them. Every single moment of those dreams. They were her happiness.
Then, one day, she realized the world was changing around her. A society that once felt forever stagnate and motionless spun and turn like a possessed top. While she was still tethered to her dreams (dreams. dreams. dreams.) Their tails wrapped around the ball of life, a long, twisted bit of twine created a tangled ring of all her moments in time.
Of all those dreams…
Until she felt stuck.
The dreams that once felt as silky as honeysuckles on a humid night’s breeze transformed. Sweetness went sour. Silk became burlap.
You may think the spinning whipped and turned her around. The tether lassoed to her ankle, wrist, heart–pulled her from her origins, thrusting her into the world. They didn’t. She was a damsel tied to the railroad tracks–a locomotive barreling down on her.
She knew it was wrong. All of it, but she’d become too obsessed, confused, disoriented to begin to understand what was happening. Especially, now… without her:
But one day, a notion dawned upon her. A perfect ‘a-ha’ moment pushed her through the clouds of her mind. What she figured out was none of it is real.
The spinning globe.
They were all illusions conjured by the most wicked evil maker of them all–herself.
She’d become so concerned with the outside perception of her she’d neglected her truth. That neglect led to her forgetting who she was and accidentally distanced herself from those dreams.
The moment expanded, growing like a bubble stuck to the tip of a child’s plastic wand. Rainbows and stripes of swirling color encased her. She was the nucleus. She was the yoke floating in the center of it all. And just outside the thin veil separating her from those awful thoughts and her truth–were those dreams.
(dreams. dreams. dreams.)
She knew, while she stared through the stained glass coloring her vision, life was what she decided it to be. She was the creator of her illusion and understood what she stared at the longest became her truth.
Her fingers uncoiled and the tethers released–completely. Her dreams. All of those… Dreams. Dreams. Dreams.
Caught in an upward current, floating high above. Each dream holding every desire she’d ever harbored–bobbing reminders of who, and what, she was.
She was herself. Perfect and true.
She was the right amount of everything because she could never be her or her or even him. And her dreams… all of those dreams! (dreams. dreams. dreams.) kept her afloat and moving forward–high above everything trying to hold her back. High above herself.
What, you may ask, is the moral of the story? Simple. You are never too old to dream. Your dreams are valid. Just because someone else doesn’t understand your dreams will never and can never diminish your dreams. And even if your first had your dream many years ago doesn’t mean it’s not the right dream because dreams don’t have expiration dates–they only fade if we give up on them.
Inspiration. When I first started writing I looked for it everywhere. Sometimes, I still set out on a quest, searching. The problem is I never know what I’m searching for. Not until I find it.
The older I get, the less I rely on inspiration. I put all my energy on hard work.
Maybe when you’re younger you can’t hear how it’s really hard work that makes the difference. Maybe you’re not ready to hear it. Or maybe you already feel you’re doing all the hard work–with little to no reward.
Maybe I’m talking about myself.
That’s more than likely.
Yet here I am.
The interweaving roads I walk in this life can feel too great to accomplish at times, yet when I stare back, my footprints have been left on all of them.
Unrational fears are the first thing I create. I dismiss my factual proof and cling to reactions. Overreaction. Fear. All the different shades of the unwarranted emotion that clings to me like frizz to my hair on a humid day.
I’m knee deep in denial there is only one real path.
I’m really not in denial. I know there is only way path. It’s through. One foot in front of the other, never give up, ignore all the name calling and bullshit, on the path that leads to my goals.
Do you have some? Any? None.
I have too many.
That’s a lie. I have one. People think I have many. People tell me what I should do with my life all the time. I listen. In one ear and out the other. I’m not lost. I’m quiet. I’m busy. Always plotting. Maybe it looks like I’m being lazy.
You can call me a lot of things. I’m not lazy.
I should be lazier. It would be good for me. Not doing anything would be good for me. Not. Doing.
In the darkness, there is a solace. In the silence, there are the loudest shouts ever heard. I hear it ALL DAY LONG. I hear it now. In the words, music, streets, in the people around me. They all say the same. They have a story.
I have a story.
We all are stories. One billion of them. No, more than a billion. A trillion. A quadrillion. Stories everywhere. Whispers on silent lips.
It’s hard work to hear them. To shuffling through. To find the right ones. They must fit better than custom-made kid gloves. Perfection in every fold.
And it circles around. It always circles around.
Quitting is failure. Hard work is the key. There is one path, it’s lined with words, stories–quintillion stories–waiting for you to gently brush your fingers over, breath in, hold.
This is my life, in general. This is me.
I’m not lost. I’m dancing. I’ve always known the way. Just wait, you’ll see.
[this post brought to you by the inspiration from Alt-J’s album, “This is all Yours.”]
It keeps me awake at night. Trips me up when I’m working out. Distracts me from real life. It is a whisper in my ear telling me what it thinks I need to know. Its message, a thousand gentle fingertips brushing over my skin, raising each hair in their wake.
Call it a muse.
Paint an image of a woman in a flowy dress or whatever you like, but make sure it warms you on chilled days, lifts you on dreary ones, and dances with you when the sun is out.
I will not call mine muse, it is more like a scent on a breeze. A sprinkle of confection sugar, sweet on the tongue.
Hidden thoughts woven in air.
An enigma, a ghost, a jolt to my psyche. Arriving without announcement, planting seeds intended to devour me. Each spiky root burrows deep, claiming, consuming until I have no choice but to float on its rhyme without reason. For it has none other than to ignite.
I suppose there are things worse than being consumed by ideas, stories, images. Like, not being consumed by anything at all. A blank page, blank mind, the drab vortex of nothingness.
But I have my inspiration. It came calling like a rogue wave, washing over me when I had my back turn, pulling me into its folds. It has claimed me, uncaring of all those other things I should be doing.
I bend at its will because when it planted those seeds it has also molded me into what I’ve become. Thus proving, life without inspiration can only be death.
Let’s write something meaningful, shall we? This is one of the many things I think when I sit down to write. How meaningful is my WIP?
I like to pile on the stress. You know, because raising a son, running a household, and doing the other odd jobs I keep picking up isn’t hard enough. I need to add more and more and more and more to my plate. Until it breaks. Then I know I’m worthy! But then I break. And I beat myself up for failing.
Rewind. Start over.
Inside my head is where I do most of my talking about writing. Out in the real world, not the Japanese Garden inside my brain, I rarely talk about writing any more. Rarely, I make general comments, “Got up early and wrote today,” or “I think I’m going to ruin my main characters day,” but never more than a shallow puddle. Going into detail feels like signing a contract for automatic failure. Lucky for me, the longer I don’t bring it up, the less and less people ask me about writing. The less people ask, the less I have to say. And then my secret is safe.
I’ve come to the conclusion, if no one knows, and it doesn’t work out–then it never really happen. My own personal deniable plausibility clause. Granted, I doubt I’m using the term in the right context. Yet some how it still applies…
I wish I wasn’t a slave to words. That they didn’t own me and I could go about my day… But its not meant to be. At any given time I have at least six stories playing out in my head. I work very hard to put them in the place, but some are impatient and I’m easily distracted. Yesterday I picked out a pseudonym–because keeping one of me in check is so damn easy, I should try two!
Will I ever learn?? I doubt it. Especially at this time of year. It’s nearly spring. The LA Festival of Books is just a little over a month away.
Anyway, now I’m rambling. And rambling won’t get the laundry folded, dinner prepped, or the last twenty pages of my current WIP written. So, I’m off. And to all you out there who are also slaves to word, god speed. Don’t let them manhandle you. Because they will if you’re not paying attention.
One of the hardest parts about growing up is coping with the number of years you’ve been alive. Ha! Okay, that sounds off, so let me explain better…
Take two: The most difficult part about growing older is dealing with and accepting the number limit we have (subconsciously of course) put on our lives. It’s the old, “By the time I’m 35 I’ll have 4 kids, a house in Hawaii, and have a billion dollars in the bank,” road block.
We set it firmly, then we watch the number approach and pass us. Then we pull out the jar of nutella and have a pity party. Because life may be a lot of things, mostly a hot mess, but it’s never predictable.
Best laid plans and all that… Let’s take me for example:
I’ve plotted out book I’ve never finished.
Written books I’ve never plotted.
Written full books and never edited them.
Edited books that should have been set on fire.
Written stupid things to agents in desperate moments.
Cried in my cereal whilst grasping my flash drive, begging it to explain why it’s contents is never ever ‘good enough’.
I’ve had my tarot cards read to show me exactly HOW I’d finally obtain the title of ‘author’ I so desperately want.
I’ve joined writing groups
I’ve quite writing groups
Made writing friend
Taken writing classes
Danced in the shadows of a solar eclipse while chanting, “Book Gods!! Hear my pleas!!”
Thrown handfuls of salt on my WIPs at dawn to keep all my characters on their path.
Left silver coins in the moonlight to collect the lunar wisdom before clutching them tights as I wrote a new scene
Used the same coin to do laundry, because clean socks are nice when you’re writing.
And I’ve even made up a list filled with utter lies about the extent I’m willing to go, in order to entice the books gods into finally giving me that “hells yes” response to a query letter–all before [insert age here,] and you know what?
My birthday still came an went. Know what else? I’M STILL HERE!
So, it’s easier to say, “Age is just a number” than it is to feel the damn sentence is true. But guess what? AGE IS JUST A NUMBER. Want to know what age you should stop trying at? Well I can’t tell you because I have no idea how old you’ll be when you die.
If you find something that makes your heart soar when you do it (for me writing, and well, eating) and you give it up because you’re [insert age here] years old…
Yeah. The Power Rangers are flummoxed by this response. Don’t flummox the Power Ranges. They have enough on their plate.
Can’t say I go out of my way to look for books on writing, these days at least, but this one sort of fell into my lap.
The other night, after finishing Jeff Smith’s, BONE, which I was reading for a elementary school Graphic Novel Book Club I’m leading, I began to swipe through the catalog available on Hoopla. (LA County Library grants access to Hoopla with your library card. Bonus books!)
It was late, and I needed to sleep–but wasn’t tired enough to go to bed. Actually, it was one of those night when I didn’t want to sleep, because I didn’t want it to be tomorrow. Has that ever happened to you? Anyway, I laying on the sofa, swiping through Hoopla’s ebook selection, and find… “Zen in the Art of Writing,” by the late, great Ray Bradbury.
At this moment, I’m about 1/2 way through. Yes, I should wait until I’m completely done to form a full opinion–but there was this one scene in there… this one moment that has stuck with me.
Bradbury is discussing how he enjoying keeping lists of nouns. These list have lead to titles like, “Something Wicked this way Comes,” or his short story, “The Dwarf.” He was remembering years ago, living in his parents house in Illinois, where the bathroom was on the second floor. Every night he would wake up from the need to use the bathroom, but to get there–he would have to climb the dark stairs up a level in order to turn on the light to get to the bathroom in the first place.
Ray Bradbury hated it. On his list he added “The Thing,” because to him, something wicked lived at the top of those stairs and it was going to kill him.
Each night he’s lay in bed contemplating how long he could hold it. The he’d pull himself out of bed, climbs the stairs, only to fall back down–waking his parents in the process. His father would ignore him, and his mother would help him up, turn on the light, and kiss him on the head every night.
This only brought him more inspiration.
Sometimes it’s hard to see where ideas come from. Maybe you find them in a book you’re reading, or a show you’ve seen. Maybe it’s from a list, like Bradbury, or something you read in an old journal–something you forgotten.
As I said above, I never intended to read another book on writing–not right now. A ‘how-to’ to get my juices flowing–yet here I am. Pretty much the same way I found out where Ray Bradbury is buried–I didn’t go in search of him. His name wasn’t even mentioned when I was asked to take visiting family to see “where Marilyn’s grave is,” but there I was–standing over a plot so fresh there wasn’t a tombstone and the sod was still waiting to take hold.
“That’s Ray Bradbury’s grave,” a random person said, leaving me to stare at the earth.
It makes me wonder, maybe Ray Bradbury is my spirit writing guide? Or maybe I’ve been lucky enough to have not one, but two serendipitous moments that forced me to question his art.
I suppose that is the beauty of art, how non-conformed or predictable it is. Inspiration lies in myriad places, waiting for you to swipe to find them, fall down the stairs into their arms, or walk directly into their arms.
And as I struggle forward, at least I am still moving forward. And while I didn’t set out to find a book on writing, at least one that resonates with me dropped in my path. Signs are funny things–they’re pretty much whatever you decided them to be. So, maybe it is serendipitous. Why? Because I need it to be.