Tag Archives: writing

An itch

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“Constantly risking absurdity/ and death/ whenever he performs/ above the heads/ of his audience/ the poet like an acrobat/ climbs on rime/ to a highwire of his own making…” –Lawerence Ferlinghetti

It has been a long time since I wrote here.  I missed holidays, seasons, thoughts and ideas.  I missed the click of keys and the scroll of ideas across the screen.  I missed writing.

I have been working to the point of exhaustion since my last post, both in person and online.  Days spent on my aching feet and nights straining my tired eyes have been so incredibly long.  As I have been working as a TA, grading papers and looking at the process that others go through as they write, I have missed it myself.  I envy them, getting space and time and an audience.  They get to collect and present their ideas.  They get to narrow topics, sift through articles, make arguments and craft titles.

I miss writing.  I decided early on that I would write here regularly as I teach, to keep my own sanity.  That has not happened so far, but I think it needs to.  As I made my way through the text for this course, Ferlinghetti spoke to me.  There is a drive, a frightening dare to create.  Something inside compels a writer to write, something that is greater than the fear of failure.  I miss that push, that scream that demands to be given voice.  It has grumbled and mumbled, but I have not given it a chance to develop because I haven’t made time to set it free.  I need that time.

In one of the texts I’ve used for teaching, the introductory chapter discusses, at length, the fact that no one is born a writer.  Good writers do not exist–they develop.  They practice and learn mechanics and understand how to structure a paper.  Good writers are made.  Which I belive, to an extent.  I spent years learning rules and diagramming sentences, identifying thesis statements and formatting bibliographies.  I learned to write.  I learned to articulate with conviction and support.  Great men and women showed me how to make thoughts bigger than they started, how to give them life and send them into the world.  They taught me to look at the words of others that came before, see what they meant and mean.  I learned to see the bigger picture, the web of people and life and literature that is more intricate and unbreakable than I know.  I learned to read and write, and how to read deeply and write powerfully.  I learned.

But that push inside me recoils, whimpering, “What about me?”  Aren’t writers born to do so?  Doesn’t something in me, unique and determined, make me write?  Isn’t it the same thing that drives painters to smear the canvas and chefs to filet?  Isn’t something inside me special, something that cannot be taught or learned?  Don’t I have something that makes me write, something that sets me apart?  Or is that all wishful thinking?  Is it only true for real writers, those who have something authentic and big to say with words that are not tired?  This idea, though meant to strengthen confidence, shook me.  If I am honest, I like to think that I am a good writer.  I want to be seen as someone who uses words elegantly and effortlessly, who puts words to thoughts that others cannot.  I want and like to think that I have a talent or, perhaps more powerful, a gift.  I want to think that I was made to write, made to express.  Those words, meant to convince everyone that they have the potential and ability to write well, took all of that away from me.  Perhaps that has also led to my lapse in writing–I feel doubtful.

The one thing that I have clung to, the one thing that I think I do well, was snatched from me.  Even knowing that I have worked hard in school, for years, to learn the skills that the text was encouraging students to learn, stings.  Learning to be a good writer is not the same as being one.  I want that gift that I am now unsure exists.  A skill is not as special, as defining, as a gift.

All of this has brought me here, starting yet again, with the intention to continue.  I guess I want to take time for me to continue to work on the skill that I have developed.  What I pray is that I find a tiny place inside where I still feel chosen to be a writer, born with graphite and pronouns coursing through my veins.  I want that joy, the thrill that string words together brings me.  I feel lighter, more agile and powerful, when the ideas are left on paper.  I need to remember this intense affection I feel for letters and spaces, and the world they create.

“If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me/ Threatening the life it belongs to/ And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd/ ‘Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud/ And I know that you’ll use them however you want to…” –Anna Nalick, “Breathe (2am)”

“Until the very end.”

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“My test of a good novel is dreading to begin the last chapter.” –Thomas Helm

Tonight, I went and saw Horrible Bosses for only six dollars–a steal!  On my way into the theater at 5:15, there was already a long line of fans waiting for the midnight opening of the final Harry Potter film.  I sit on my couch very jealous and slightly bitter that I am not at a midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I get so excited every time I see the commercials and am bursting to see the movie.  By and large, I love the movies–not quite as much as the books–and love going to see them.  I have special memories of each film (Azkaban through Hallows, that is, but I’ll save those for tomorrow) and the people who love this world with me.  My biggest complaint about the movies tends to be that they are not long enough, leave out too much of the minutia that makes the books that I love.  I was deeply disappointed when I saw the runtime of this movie was just barely more than 2 hours.

Part of my sadness is that the movie has a lot to cover in very few minutes.  More than that, my disappointment is that it is all ending.  Harry has a very special place in my movie and book collections, and in my life.  I was late to the bandwagon, hopping on after film two and before book five.  I devoured the books, after being bullied into reading them, the summer before I started college.  In two weeks, between shifts at summer camp, I was finished and hooked.  There is such a rich world in the books, so much imagination that I deeply envy.  I am in awe of Rowling’s ability to create such vivid places and people effortlessly, with minimal words.  I have tried, and cannot pinpoint how she does it, but she does.  As a person who likes to write, and would love to be thought of as a writer, I am humbled.

More than enjoying the craft of the books, they were an escape for me.  When I was in college, I read the books all the way through twice a year: Christmas break and summer vacation.  The hours at home were long and contact with my college friends was limited.  I was busy with school and new people and lost touch with many of my high school friends.  Thus, when I came home, I was alone.  To stave off the isolation, I would stay up late at night, huddled in my mom’s rocking chair, letting myself drift off into Hogwarts.  I would let my magical friends embrace me when my real ones seemed to forget me.  It was an escape from my loneliness, a retreat.  I read all night, stopping only as dawn neared and I knew my parents would be waking.  I don’t know if I would have made it through those breaks alone without my Hogwarts crew.

Part of the solace that I found was in the fact that Harry and his friends were not popular, that they too knew isolation and awkwardness.  The summer after I graduated, I read the whole series one last time, ending with the final book.  That long, unemployed summer was the hardest yet.  I lived alone, did nothing, and left for one last trip to Hogwarts.  Since then, in four years, I haven’t read all of the books again.  That does not mean that I never will, because I still love them deeply and fall into a spectacular magic stupor when I dive in.  Something in me, something even in my loneliness, has not needed them.  Perhaps when temperatures drop and days shorten I will feel more drawn to that world, but I am finding it hard to believe it has been four years since I have embarked on that journey.

The unopened books do not mean that Harry, Ron and Hermione have not been with me these past years.  I have seen them on the silver screen, and thought of them.  I have talked about them and bonded with people over them.  I felt a deep bond with Harry (which I realize is odd, because he is not real) as I settled into my job.  I lived two lives: one, the before, where I was important, impressive.  The other, the now, in which I am insignificant and disrespected.  I had a Hogwarts, I was known and praised.  And then I fell into a world where the cupboard was too good for me, where dignity had no place.  I clung to the fact that someone else knew this pain, lived two lives unrecognizable to the other.

There is a poignant sadness in closing this chapter.  After the books were finished, no matter how satisfied or not I was, there was always a film to look forward to, something to keep the world alive.  Now, with the stroke of midnight, that world closes.  Yes, I will reread and rewatch, but there is no mystery, no anticipation–all secrets and surprises are revealed.  I love how the books feel familiar in my hands and words settle into their places in my memory.  I have read this before, this is mine, I know this.  I like comfort and familiar, but there is that small, daring part of me that wants to have an adventure, to sneak a peek into the unknown.  That little adventurer inside cannot wait to see the movie this weekend, and simultaneously wants to put it off forever.  If only I had a time-turner…


“Lord! when you sell a man a book you don’t sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life.  Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.” Christopher Morley

One Red Heart

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OR: A DEFENSE OF VALENTINE’S DAY AND THE POSTAL SERVICE

“And none will hear the postman’s knock/ Without a quickening of the heart./For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?” —W.H. Auden

(It’s been much too long since I have written anything and there has been so much that I have thought about since July.  But internet was spotty and time was wasted and the longer I wait to write, the more daunting it becomes.  So I’m diving back in because I feel and think better when I write.  I write better when I write.)

I used to consider myself a romantic.  I was a sucker for any film starring Drew Barrymore or Freddy Prinze Jr.  I gushed over boy band lyrics and was convinced that Prince Charming was just waiting to make his move.  Now I fear that I am a garden-variety cynic.  Love stories are too neat and cliché.  Declarations of love are too optimistic and blind.  And I hate Valentine’s Day.  It’s a day to remind me that love remains elusive, romance a stranger, and affection distant.  That being said, deep inside, a small flicker of the optimist remains and fights to reclaim her territory.

I am a fan of the ease technology lends to communication.  Living far from my family and old friends, it’s nice and convenient to go online and send a message, to email when I have the time, to text when I can’t talk.  However, I embrace these only because the world has moved so fast that it leaves me no choice.  I highly prefer a phone conversation to the 160-character limit of a text message.  I like the nuances of voice much more than an emoticon.  I’d rather have lunch than repeatedly message that we should.  I will never, ever, EVER embrace the electronic reader.  I find photo prints far superior to clicking through a flickr file.  Going to college gave me a new appreciation for mail.  To get a care package or letter from home rivaled any e-Card forwarded to me. 

Loving the physicality of mail, the weight of a card, the feel of tearing into an envelope lingered after graduation.  I have continued to try hard to get cards in the mail for holidays, send home a little reminder that my family and friends are on my mind.  I spend time searching for the right card for each person, choosing humor or sincerity, addressing and decorating each envelope.  I love getting mail, but I have come to love sending it just as much.  Just before Valentine’s day I was waiting in line at the Post Office to buy stamps.  Losing precious minutes on my day off, I stood in line for what everyone knows is far too long.  As I neared the front of the line, I saw an older woman leaning over the counter addressing an envelope.  She then turned it over and with a red marker, drew a large red heart over the sealed tab and colored it in.  This is why I love mail.  I almost cried, overcome with emotion watching her.  I was filled with love for her, for whomever that letter was meant for, for my family and friends I was mailing. 

Mail is time.  It is money.  It is effort.  I have to pick out a card, or at least find paper.  I have to put my hand to the paper, write out my own thoughts, articulate my own feelings.  I leave a piece of me on the paper, my handwriting, my words.  I put the writing in an envelope.  I lick it, tasting the glue and feeling the rough paper on my tongue.  I line up an address label and stamp.  Mail is intentional: one card to one person.  No Cc or BCc.  No mass forwarding.  No Tweeting to the masses.  I then spend time putting stickers and colors all over the envelopes, making my letters special.  I want my people, my loves, to stand out and be unique.  I can be impatient, but I also appreciate that mail is not instant– it goes on a journey, taking time to arrive.  Mail is anticipated, delivered, discovered.  Junk mail is annoying and wasteful, but it’s worth wading through for the good stuff.

This incident at the Post Office reassured me that perhaps the hopeless romantic I bragged about being in Junior High isn’t gone.  She’s wounded and scared, but she’s in there.  Like Bukowski’s blue bird, my optimist survives quietly.  If she weren’t, I wouldn’t send Valentines.  If she weren’t, that woman and her heart-sealed letter would not have been on my mind for more than a month.  I wouldn’t be bitter and resent romantic holidays if I didn’t believe in romance, feel that I am missing something.  I go out of my way to show my love, even if it is a small gesture.  Watching that little old woman with her red marker, it was clear to me how much I value the written word, communication, and love.  True love, strong and simple, is not grand gestures and big romances.  It is small devotions, simple reminders, and hand-drawn Valentines.  You can see it, touch it, read it, and send it– it is very, very real. 

“Christian, you may see me only as a drunken, vice-ridden gnome whose friends are just pimps and girls from the brothels. But I know about art and love, if only because I long for it with every fiber of my being.” –Toulouse-Lautrec, Moulin Rouge!

“Dump Me In The River”

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“Boy, when you’re dead, they really fix you up.  I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something.  Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery.  People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap.  Who wants flowers when you’re dead?  Nobody.”  —The Catcher in the Rye 

Despite, or perhaps due to, his reclusive life, J.D. Salinger is still a fascinating piece of the literary world.  His death is tragic because, though he lived a long life, he is one of the eternal “what if?” writers.  This is typically ascribed to the young who are just beginning to grow into their talent, who are rising into fame.  He, however, showed his capability.  He shared his talent.  He changed American literature.  And then he stopped.  He pulled the plug on what may have been a prolific, lengthy, lucrative career.  He took himself out of the spotlight.  In a society that craves its fifteen minutes of fame, that will go to any length to achieve “celebrity,” he literally ran and hid from it.

The more I learn of his personal life, the more I see that he probably is not someone to look up to and idolize.  However, reading The Catcher in the Rye my Junior year of high school completely changed me as a reader and writer.  There are a handful of books that have made this kind of impact on me through the years, but the book turned on a light.  The distinct, engaging and painful, awkward voice he created for Holden was unlike anything I had ever read before.  He spoke to me in a way no narrator or character ever had.  As a moody teenager, he said what I thought, articulated so much of the frustration and angst I had swirling around in my sixteen year-old mind.  His voice and style is still something that writers are compared to, a “modern-day J.D. Salinger” being one of the biggest compliments an author can have printed on their book jacket.  From A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius to Choke, the icon Salinger created echoes through literature that followed.  Both of the aforementioned books I love, mostly because of their narrators, strongly reminiscent of Holden.

On top of changing the way that I look at literature and, in turn, writing, The Catcher in the Rye strikes me as classic, as so loved, because of what Salinger sees in kids growing up, and grown-ups who still feel like kids.  Holden’s aching desire to protect the innocents, clearly because he has grown out of that stage, struck such a chord with me at sixteen, and does now at twenty-four.  I watch my younger brothers, both now in their twenties, and I want to protect them from everything.  I refuse to think that they struggle with anything more difficult than who to invite to their birthday party or what video game to buy.  Forget about love and girls and stress or alcohol or drugs or depression.  Even as I write that, it seems so absurd.  I doubt that I’ll ever see them as anything but little boys, ones that I was charged to protect the days that they were born.

There is so, so much more that still lives in my mind, quotes and ideas that woke me up almost a decade ago.  I have read some of his other writing, and enjoyed it, but nothing has had the impact that Catcher had.  For the ways that I grew, the ideas he inspired, and the love that he kindled, I am forever indebted to Mr. Salinger.  I’m sure this is the last thing that he would want, one to shrug off fame and adulation, but with his passing, Mr. Salinger is reminding us all what we loved about his art.  While he may have wanted to slip quietly off into the next life, it is impossible to ignore what he did in this one.  I only hope that he can forgive us for all the flowers on his grave.

“There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”  –J.D. Salinger