Sunday, November 29, 2015

So Long, Shoulds ....

It began with my birthday. That one day of the year, I reasoned, would, at last, be spent doing what I most wanted to do and not be spent doing what I expressly did not want to do.

And so that was the day that I began to shed some of the most engrained "shoulds" that have dictated most of my life.

I have more to release but even in just these two-plus weeks, I feel a difference, a lightness.

"Shoulds" are insanely weighty.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Nudge From The Universe ...

This morning, while putting on coffee, I informed the universe that I would write something today, something intentional. Something of some length. Not just tweets. Not just comments. Something. Perhaps a post.

And once my coffee was done brewing and I had it in hand and settled in on the love seat in my living room where I've taken to clacking again, I made my morning rounds and discovered that today is I Love to Write Day.

Well, love might be overstating it. Most days, anyway. There's a reason Anne Lamott uses the phrase "shitty first drafts." I reckon no writer loves creating shitty first drafts. But they're necessary. Though perhaps they need not be shitty. A framework, though, is the point. We need to start somewhere, we writers. Painters don't paint masterpieces in one pass. They build layers on canvases.

Foundations. We all need 'em. Cars aren't constructed from the front bumpers back. They begin with frames.

And so it is with posts. And books. And poems. And songs. They all start somewhere. From nothing.

Last night, on my way home from the store, I was listening to Beck's "Dreams." It's a catchy tune. And until he wrote it, it didn't exist. And no other song ever written is the same as "Dreams." Even with a finite number of notes with which to compose, songwriters manage to combine them in ways we've never heard before.

Now that's a feat. We writers have far more words to combine than composers have notes. And as I once told a composer I knew, most folks are able to string together a few words to convey a thought but very few people in the world are able to string together notes to convey emotions. That's truly magic from where I stand.

But then, I suppose all creativity is relative. And that which comes more or less "easily" to each of us tends to seem less remarkable than whatever gifts we don't possess.

Last night, I watched "The End of the Tour," a film about David Foster Wallace at the time of the release of Infinite Jest, which I've long meant to read but never have. Perhaps I will someday soon.

The Redbox star rating it received was not kind, though I don't put stock into reviews. And truly, there's likely not a huge, interested audience for a movie about an author agreeing to a days-long interview by a writer from Rolling Stone.

But the writer in me was intrigued. The trailer I saw on another DVD piqued my interest. And I really liked the film.

Many, many, many years ago, when I applied for an internship at Chicago magazine, I imagined that working there was glamorous. I imagined cocktail parties with authors. I imagined that cocktail parties with authors would be glamorous.

I attended no cocktail parties with authors nor was the internship glamorous. It was a job.

A couple years later, I landed a job at the Chicago Tribune. Working until 4 a.m. in a nearly deserted newsroom? Not glamorous.

And yet, among folks I knew outside that world, there was the perception of something special about working in the media.

And I suppose there's some validity to that. Working in the media does provide some folks with access they would otherwise not have, and in that way, the media is a bridge between two worlds.

There are the people who sit in the bleachers at the Oscars, there are the reporters who ask the inane questions on the red carpet, and then there are the stars.

The writing world, though, has no such glamour component.

A billion people do not tune in to watch writers collect Pulitzers or National Book Awards.

Nobody cares what authors are wearing, most of all the authors.

The film about Wallace was a good reminder that any myth that surrounds writers is just that. And we, the readers, create it.

What continues to amaze me about writing, though, as silly as it may seem to anyone who reads this, is that I can sit here, as I am now, and I can clack words onto a screen through my keyboard, as I am now, and I can create and capture anything my mind can conceive, and then, depending on my intent and other considerations, I can sell the end result. For money.

Seriously. It blows my mind.

Also, I recognize that that amazement is ridiculous.

Writers have been doing just that for a very long time.

I have demonstrated this to myself.

I joke with folks that my little cookie e-book has earned me "tens" of dollars. (And that's true. It did not make me my millions, but that was never its intent. The point of the exercise was to simply do it, to have an idea and to see it through. Check!) But the other day, when I checked my bank balance and it was six bucks and change more than I expected it to be, I smiled when I realized that Amazon must have deposited my latest royalty payment.

Royalty payment. I earn royalties.

Very, very small royalties.

But royalties just the same.

In the end, it's a matter of confidence and belief in self-worth. It's a matter of hearing the voice that says, "Why do you think anyone would want to read this?" and pressing on, writing for, well, for the love of writing.

Perhaps the day has come to dust off the screenplay … .

Sunday, November 08, 2015

A House Is Not Necessarily A Home ...

I'm engaged in an ongoing project with someone I know. (As opposed to being engaged in an ongoing project with a stranger, which might be weird.) For the purposes of this post, it is relevant – at least to me – that that someone is male.

We've been convening here. The plan was to meet at his place, but to date, circumstances have aligned themselves such that it's made sense to meet here instead.

This past week, during a pause in the active participation of said project, the conversation wended its way around to his living space.

"My house has always just been a roof over my head," he said, and then he added, as he gestured to the space around him, "not a home."

For as long as I've known him – which is quite a long time – I've never thought of him as the kind of person who's mindful of his space. For as smart and thoughtful as I know him to be, environment never seemed high on his list of priorities. So long as his basic needs were met, he seemed OK with whatever presented itself.

And perhaps that was true in the past. But maybe years of living that way have taken a toll. In any case, he's no longer satisfied with shelter. Now he wants a home.

I've offered to help him on that front. For starters, we could change a lot in a weekend with a few cans of paint. We shall see what he wants to do.

But in the meantime, since the day of his "not a home" gesture and compliment, I've been even more mindful of my space. Like many, I suppose, I live with a mindset of what I'd like to do, improvements to be made, items to be purchased. (I could really up the cozy factor of this room with a full-size area rug. But choosing one opens a whole can of worms, as is often the case with a space.)

I'm more mindful, though, of how much I really do love my house, my home. It is welcoming and comforting. And, as the cold weather arrives, I am very grateful for its coziness.

As I sit here, typing, this is my view:

My view is actually wider – thanks, peripheral vision! – but that is what I face directly. Behold the evidence of my love for grey and brown. There are stories behind every item. Not every story is compelling, per se, but nothing in that image arrived in my life in a mindless, passive way. Everything was either given to me with lovely intent or chosen by me for a specific reason or, in the case of the pillow, made by me because I couldn't find just the right pre-fab thing.

Nothing was purchased passively. Nothing materialized simply because I felt the need to spend money, to buy something one day when I was out and about.

I'm not a fan of too many things, so the existence of six items on that small pie safe is actually quite a lot for me. But they've all found their ways there over time. They seem to enjoy each other's company.

And yes, I have a strand of Christmas lights on my lamp. Most of the strand is piled on the shade's spider. The rest hangs down because the outlet is near the floor.

I'm always sad when the holidays are over and I put my Christmas tree away. A few years ago, I decided to maintain a bit of the glow.

I'm never very far away from the thought that I surely do not need this much space, even though my home is humble by many measures.

But is a home indeed. And for that, I am very grateful.

I hope you have a home, too.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

An Appreciation, Not A Review ...

I don't read reviews.

If I have the sense that I want to see a movie or read a book, I do. If it's awful, so be it. If it's great, good. But reviews give too much away in their reviewing, and I'd rather not know.

I have, in the past, I believe, written reviews, which were not really reviews, and were instead critiques, for better or for worse. But I have ceased writing those, some time ago. Maybe I didn't like something but that doesn't mean you won't love it. Likewise, I can love something that you'll find total dreck.

It's a crap shoot, really, how we receive the creative output of others. As Thomas Dolby once sang, "Two and two make five and a quarter. That's why people fall in love."

(That said, if you Google me, you may find that I've written in the past about my bafflement of the adoration surrounding The Shipping News – I just couldn't get into that book but it was widely praised and lavished with awards and most people loved it, so that failure's on me – and you may also see that I had unkind things to say about Mario Puzo's The Fourth K, but seriously, in that instance, people should be spared.)

This post, though, is about Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, of which I am one-third of the way through, but I was moved to slip the due-date receipt in between pages 92 and 93 and tweet at her, but the computer was being poky, which I took as a sign that I should take the time to write a post and tweet the link instead. One hundred and forty characters surely would not suffice.

Because, oh, Liz gets me. Because she gets herself. Which means she gets every creative-type person out here, which means she gets everyone, because everyone is creative in some way.

Still, it feels very personal, this book. (There's advice in the writing world to write as if you're writing to one person, so, mission accomplished, Liz!)

And while there is plenty of interesting information of the "Really? I didn't know that. Huh. Well, that helps me to think of this in a different way" variety and plenty of gentle "Don't be so hard on yourself, dear one" kindness, there is also – at least in the way I'm reading it – a healthy dose of Liz sitting across the room from me, listening to my litany of excuses past, rolling her eyes every so slightly, and verbally swatting down every single one of my lame explanations with a "Yeah, and?"

"Yeah, and?" indeed.

I'm giving myself a little talking to, and it's going something like this:

"Get over yourself, Beth. You're no different than every other person who's ever paused in the face of fear or flat-out shut down. Your lack of creation isn't something special. It's no measure of what could be. It's banal. It's common. You've been looking for confirmation for most of your life. And you've received it and you've still failed to produce. Because the positive opinion of others is nice but it doesn't matter. It guarantees nothing. It's not protection. It's not a shield. It does not inure you from criticism. If you really want it, do it. For the sake of doing it. Because you'd rather look back at your crappy clay Mothers' Day ashtray and be glad that you made it than regret that you didn't have it to give."

I checked out this book from the library because I made a deal with myself that I would read books first and then decide if I want to own them, because in the past, I had spent far too much money and consumed far too much shelf space with should-reads that went unread until I finally gave them away.

So now, I date a book first, as it were, and then decide if it warrants a more permanent place in my life.

I'll be heading out to buy Liz's book this afternoon.

Right after I return this copy to the library, where it's one day overdue. Someone else is waiting to read it (I know this to be true; I couldn't renew it because of a hold) and I hope that that person gleans something meaningful from it about their creative life and their creative truth.

Thank you, Liz. Consider this is my Patchettian virtual kiss.