Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Writing Wild


“If you’re not scared, you’re not writing.”…….Ralph Keyes

I never kept a journal. I never even came close. I never lay across my bed in high school scrawling notes on things I later would be horrified if found out---Today I dreamed of what it would be like to be married to (random nameless guy in my biology class on whom I have a huge crush). I dreamed of our children and how he would bring me flowers and call me sweetheart and show me off to all his friends……….Today I cursed my life. Why do I have to be the smart girl and not the party girl? A friend offered me something in home ec class. I didn’t even know what it was. She said it would make me feel good, really good, and that it would be fun and that nobody would know. She told me this while sitting on the counter flipping the lights on and off, on and off, on and off. I was afraid I would get in trouble. I was getting sick from the lights. I really wanted to focus on the skirt I was sewing for the upcoming fashion show. I said no…………….Today I learned that some girls like girls. I learned this from a girl who likes girls. I think she liked ME. Some people, she said, are grossed out by this. I wasn’t. I wonder if I like girls. Now I can write these things and find them humorous and unimportant. At the time, the thought of having someone see my inner world was equivalent to the pain I imagine involved in a good round of tar and feathering.

When I hit adulthood and finally convinced myself to pick up the pen, I wrote the literary equivalent of safe sex. It was writing, yes, but with all the adjectives and expletives deleted. The content was present, but the passion removed. I created recipes that were so good they were published. Add two cups of flour, one of cup cocoa, two tablespoons of baking powder and stir. I nearly sold an article on breastfeeding to one of the major glossies. Many mothers make the decision to continue to nurse an older child when they learn they are pregnant with number two. I penned thought of the day books, quote books, and books filled with writing prompts that never saw their way to agent. Later, I began writing articles on vegetarian diets and health and well-being. People paid me to do this. It was exciting. Exciting with a period, not an exclamation mark. I was writing, yes, but I wasn’t WRITING!!

Then one day I sketched out an essay on growing up poor, on growing up hungry and cold and on being whipped with switches and belts and shoes. I told the story of learning to smoke pot in my grandmother’s bedroom when I was ten, pretend pot. We didn’t have money for the real thing. I told the story of how my cousin taught me to walk, to swing my hips and flip my hair. You do this, she said, so the boys will like you, and then you smoke pot, and then you have sex. That is the plan. I told the story of how I didn’t want that plan. I didn’t want a baby when I was fourteen or even when I was fifteen. I didn’t want to be like the other girls. I told the story of growing up in a house with parents who yelled and fought and went after each other sometimes with fists and frying pans and whatever they happened to be holding at the time. I told this story and someone saw it. Only one someone saw it. “Why are you writing this other crap?” he asked. “You have a real story here. You have real mud and rocks and (some other earthy piece of grit I can no longer remember).” But I didn’t want people to see that real story. I didn’t want them to see it and feel bad or to tell me that it never happened. I didn’t want them to say that I couldn’t tell my story because it wasn’t mine to tell.

I wrote more. I wrote about the thing my cousin did to me when my mom wasn’t looking. I was five. I wrote about the fire and how I thought my mom was dead. I was seven. I wrote about eating squirrels because that was all there was and about crying myself to sleep when I thought I would never see my mother again and about wishing I had big boobs and pretty legs like Barbie. I got brave. I wrote about practicing the kind of kiss you kiss when you want a baby. I wrote about practicing it on my pillow when I was seven and pretending it was Whitley Crow, the guy my best friend and I ogled and argued over in Mrs. Farrell’s class. I wrote about my cousin who died from drinking too much, my cousin who died an alcoholic at forty. I wrote about my life. I cursed people while I wrote. I cursed my parents for birthing me into a life of poverty and a life of want. I cursed my friend for encouraging me to write this stuff. I cursed others for not understanding, for thinking it is easy to grow up in a world where one is expected to get good grades and be a good student when really she can’t focus so much on the books because she is tired from not sleeping, not sleeping because there was no heat and it was cold outside and cold inside. She cannot be excited about the field trip as the other children are because there is no money. There is no money for the field trip because there is no money for lunch. Her parents don’t help her with her homework not because they are bad parents, but because they don’t understand. She doesn’t want them to feel bad and so she teaches herself and just figures it out. She doesn’t ask her friends for help because she doesn’t want them to know that her work is hard for her parents. That it is hard and they don’t understand. I began to write the literary equivalent of hot wild raucous sex. Passion flew off that page. Passion flew, but no one saw it, no one except this one friend. I was afraid.

Well, dear readers. I am not afraid anymore. I am not afraid because we all have our inner worlds. We all have our inner worlds that are not pretty, that are real and wild and deep and dark. You may choose to keep yours to yourself. That is fine with me. For my part, I am putting mine to print. Deny it or don’t. I really don’t care. It is MY story. It is mine to do with as I wish.

(I no longer curse my friend. I thank him. I thank him very much.)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

You've Got the Power


I have been struggling this week to put together even a slightly coherent, remotely passionate thought. This is odd for me, as I tend to be the conversational equivalent of one of those Chatty Cathy dolls. Ask me a question, pull my string and I am off and running. I could pretty much talk forever. I have an opinion on everything and know just enough about many things to carry my own in a verbal exchange. When it comes to subject matter, I can skim a surface or dive into the deep. I can flit about in boas and pearls, talking frou frou and fun, or get all school-girl serious in my nerd glasses and Mary Janes, going places other writers won’t touch.

I am just not feeling incredibly passionate this week about much of anything.

I am, however, giving it the proverbial college try. I went back to school this week after ten years out of the classroom. That’s exciting, but apparently not enough to spark any words. I did post an essay earlier this week, but it meant nothing to me. It was an excellent example of writing just to write. I picked up a book tonight, a writer’s book, Barbara Abercrombie’s A Year of Writing Dangerously. I’ve lost the page, but the first thing I opened to was a quote by a guy talking to his friend as the two of them jogged past Abercrombie on the beach, “You sit down every day, and you just fucking do it.” That’s exactly what the essay was to me, just sitting down and doing it. I even tried to find inspiration in a Facebook post. There was a photo of a ninety-some-year old woman with the question, “When you’re her age, what will matter most to you?” What would matter most to me is that I gave my priorities priority time, that I loved people for who they were and not who I wished they would be, that I surrounded myself with people who made me smile and laugh and think and that, in turn, I did the same for them, that I never gave up on myself, that I found work and play that brought me joy and helped me radiate that joy to those around me, that I lived a kind and gentle life, that I accepted myself as the person I was and not the person I felt others felt I should be.

Nope. Nothing.

Then a friend was bragging about how he now had power. An outage had left him without air conditioning during near hundred-degree days. He was thrilled to once again be living in a climate-controlled environment. I’ve got power. And in my weird take-an-idea-someplace-completely-unrelated sort of way, I thought of the library guy.

After a good long morning in the children’s room, making puppet shows, working gigantic floor puzzles, reading, and spouting off the scientific names of all the plastic dinosaurs, I drag my two eager readers upstairs to check out our books. As I turn to grab their unwieldy stack, I notice behind me an older gentleman with a longish white beard. He is short and serious looking, dressed in stereotypical professor garb with glasses that slip down his nose a bit. He looks at the kids, then at me. He smiles and nods and says with absolutely no context at all, “You’re a writer.” A statement. The librarian needs my attention. I turn back to address her before I can respond to the elderly gentleman. When I have finished, I look around to question the mystery man. He is gone. Was he ever really there? Did he actually say that? Who was this guy, and why did he feel the need to contribute to a non-conversation?

He had the power.

I have been influenced as much in my life by random strangers as I have by family, close friends, teachers, and therapists. It is a dry summer day and an elderly neighbor guy is walking past. My front yard is packed with nine and ten-year-old boys playing home run derby. It is a mess of dirt patches, bikes, baseball gloves, water bottles, and discarded t-shirts. I look longingly across at another neighbor’s lush, green, perfectly edged lawn and comment as Random Stranger Neighbor and I exchange polite curbside chat. He says to me, “You can’t grow grass and kids in the same yard.” No advice on parenting has ever struck me more.

He had the power.

I am thinking, too, of the day when I was a young mother of four small children. Everyone was crying, complaining, whining all on the same day, including me. We were in a very public place when I completely lost it. Flustered, frustrated, and at the very end of a very short rope I say in that scary-controlled, sedative-like way I have when I am beyond angry, “I am mad right now at everybody. Every. Body.” An older gentleman walking beside me looks over and says simply, “That’s too bad. That’s really too bad.” And I thought to myself what a waste of a life to spend it angry at others. What a waste of a day. That man is in my head forever.

He had the power.

If I am passionate about anything this week it is that we underestimate the power of our words. I have heard far too many negative words being passed around lately, words that shout contempt and ridicule and hatred. It sickens me. It absolutely sickens me. For my part, I choose to build others up, to spread words of encouragement and love and compassion. I don’t always succeed at this, but I try. I try because I know that I’ve got the power.

And I’d like to give a big Universe shout out to the library guy. He could have easily chastised me that day for the ruckus my kids and I were creating, but no. He used his words to build me up. He used his words to light my path.