Old School Sundays: Carl Sandburg’s “Fog”

Back during my undergrad years, I took a class called ‘Survey of American Literature II.’ We covered everyone from Whitman to Ginsberg and beyond. The professor was a lively, animated guy and his literary analysis was all but awe-inspiring, holding us all rapt with attention, our books opened, our pencils poised.

By semester’s end I had only one complaint with the course. We ‘d completely grazed over the poetry of Carl Sandburg.

This afternoon in fact, having dusted off the front cover of my old Norton Anthology, I saw that only one of Sandburg’s poems, “Grass,” had been covered in the American lit class. I know this because I circled it—in the shape of the poem’s format, no less—in the book.

photo(14)

I don’t recall our class discussion on “Grass.” Reading it now, however, I’m seeing that it’s quite compelling. The first three lines read, “Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo./Shovel them under and let me work—/I am the grass; I cover all.”

It goes on to mention Gettysburg, Ypres, and Verdun—all names of famous battlefields in various wars. What a telling—if not morbid—way to describe the function of grass.

But today I’m focusing another tiny, but pensive poem in the Sandburg section of my former college text. The poem was untouched that semester, but I can remember wishing we’d discussed it at length.

 

Fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

 Boats Free Photo

Sandburg was known to be a plain-spoken poet, who in his own words wrote, “Simple poems for simple people.” Some call him an early forefather to the Beat poetry movement. His words don’t contain hidden allusions or tricky metaphors. Sandburg was a straight shooter. No rigmarole found here.

I wonder then, if we’re meant to take “Fog” as it is—a fleeting image of a common weather pattern. Truthfully, I find that difficult to accept. I’ve been wired to make literary analyses; it’s what I do. So after picking the thing apart, I’ve come up with my own interpretation.

First I pulled out the key words and did a sort of free association technique on each one, in other words, what comes to mind when you hear the word…

Fog: confusion, danger, mystification, fleetingness, quietness, peace

Cat: transitory, feminine, solitary, often symbolized or associated with sorcery, magic, etc.

Harbor: stationary, temporary holding place, shelter, safe haven

Haunches: crouching, sitting, resting

Thom Parkin → in Cats and dogs

Pulling it all together…

Another thing about fog is that it is temporary. It comes, stays a while, and then dissipates. Cats too, often appear and disappear in an almost uncanny way. The use of the word “haunches,” which clearly parallels to the way that cats actually sit is suggestive of the stooping way in which the fog hangs. And of course here, the fog is hanging over a harbor—a place for rest, a place for peace.

To me fog will forever symbolize a lack of clarity. I see this harbor as human consciousness that has been temporarily befuddled by the haziness of the fog. We all face periods of confusion and indecision in life, and in those moments our visions and hopes can seem cloudy, indecipherable, and unclear. But these situations often have a way of lifting themselves, of dispersing at the source.

We work out our problems. We seek advice. We pray. We move in different directions. We make decisions. Little by little, our concerns take care of themselves. They have to after all, because just like the fog, if they don’t eventually fade away, we’d never make it through.

Do you have a different interpretation?

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Filed under Books and Literature, Old School Sundays

Are All Writers Introverts?

What do you think are the chances of ever coming across a Help Wanted ad that reads like this:

CREATIVE WRITER
La La Land, NJ

Fiction factory seeks imaginative daydreamer to brainstorm, draft, and revise/edit story ideas for potential publication. Applicant must have been born with a calling, and posses a quiet, low key personality, yet still be temperamental enough to be artistic. Salary + bonus and full health benefits included. Send resume and writing sample by June 30, 2013.

Zero? Damn. Ah, well. I’ll apply anyway. See what happens. Never know. Right?

I’m currently knee deep in Susan Cain’s innovative new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts. One page in, I already knew it was the book I’d been waiting for my entire life. Through this impeccably researched chronicle of the introvert’s rich inner life, I’m learning to understand myself with a whole new kind of clarity.

Cain also gives a great speech on the topic on Ted Talks. See video here.

Contemplative “Window Cat” Clifford M. Kinsman → in Cats and dogs

Since the notion of introversion has been ruminating in my mind lately, I’d like to ponder a question out loud: Can a writer—a keen, devoted, fanatical writer—ever be anything but an introvert?

I can hear the shouts already. “Of course not! I’m a writer but I’m also a very sociable person!”

This may be true. And of course there are plenty of gregarious writers in the world. Take me for example. I’m a textbook introvert—but I’m also a teacher. I love being in front of a classroom. Like everything else in this world, there is spectrum. Take any given Are you Introvert or an Extrovert personality test and if zero equals pure introvert, and one-hundred equals pure extrovert, most people will fall somewhere in between.

However, through my reading of Quiet, I’m learning that introversion and extroversion go beyond personality styles and daily verbal word count. Cain suggests that it has more to do with responses to stimuli and levels of energy. Extroverts, according to studies, aren’t as distracted by outside noise or activity, while introverts are more likely to be bothered by disruptions. Extroverts get their energy from interactions with others or at social events; on the other hand, introverts get their energy from inside themselves. So, hence, extroverts=external energy going in vs. introverts=internal energy going out.

“Lonesome Fishing” Shi Yali → in Sea & water

The crazy part? The part I never allowed myself to realize is this: Neither one is better than the other. Cain says we  need both types (and all the kinds in between) of people to keep this world functioning the way it does. It’s evolutionary. So far, nature hasn’t weeded out the timid folks. Society, however, places higher demand on the extroverted way of being. (But hey, don’t you remember an old saying: the WHO shall inherit the earth? :))

So how does all this relate to writing? The title of this post poses the question of whether or not writers, by nature, are typically (key word there) introverts? We all know some classic examples.*

1. Emily Dickinson
2. Virginia Woolf
3. J.D. Salinger
4. T.S. Elliot
5. The entire Bronte family

But surely not every single writer who ever lived dreaded even the mere thought of a cocktail party? Am I right? I’d be willing to bet, however—and I say this on no other grounds than I’m both a writer and an introvert—that many of them did…dread the dinner parties and such.

Face it; writers are the kinds of people who need downtime—and not just to do their work. Writing is one of the few activities that is done primarily alone (not counting television series, for which there is often a team of writers), but your typical novelist, journalist, memoirist, short story writer, and poet works solo. And by nature, introverts are more comfortable being alone than extroverts.

“Waterfront Bench” for the introvert Brian Norcross → in Landscape

Ask yourself, who is the most outgoing, vivacious, liveliest person you know? Is he or she a writer? (It’s funny, actually I know a lot of extroverted readers, but when it comes to sitting down at a computer for hours at a time…not a chance) I’ll doubt it. Extroverts need a lot of action to feel stimulated and writing—even at its best—doesn’t provide a whole lot of action.

I’m not making any assumptions of course. Nothing is ever black or white. But I will venture to say that generally speaking, writers are people who posses rich, inner lives that reveal thoughts and ideas from the heightened states of consciousness that can only come from spending a lot of time in solitude.

Thoughts? Can you think of any extroverted writers? Or more examples of introverted writers?

By the way, this was recently posted on BuzzFeed:31 Unmistakable Signs That You’re an Introvert

*Did I say introverted? I meant reclusive :)

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Filed under Self Discovery, The Writing Life, Writing Details, Writing Process

Old School Sundays: William Wordsworth’s “The Daffodils”

*Note to my loyal readers: I apologize for “disappearing” this past month. The reason for my temporary absence will hopefully explain itself in this post.

Nichole → in Landscape

I’m not sure when I first encountered Wordsworth’s ode to the Lake District, “The Daffodils,” but I was struck immediately by its tight rhyme scheme and peaceful vibes. To anyone who’s ever gotten pleasure from taking a simple walk in nature, these words can be truly resonating:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A Poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

As far as poetry goes (yes, even the “romantic” kind) this can seem simplistic. What is the speaker really saying after all?

I saw some daffodils. There were pretty. I think about them often.

But it’s more than that. The sharp description in the second stanza indicates that the sight of these flowers reverberated deeply with the poet. The image was so sublime, so breathtaking, that it imprinted itself in the mind as a regular reminder of peace.

And essentially that very notion (reminder of peace) is always what I’ve taken from the poem. I once came across a bunch of forget-me-nots at a nature reserve called “The Celery Farm” nearby where I grew up. I remember being so taken by the sight of these starkly blue & purple flowers that in the moment I understood where Wordsworth was coming from.

Furthermore, I believe “The Daffodils” also calls for a celebration of solitude, which, unfortunately seems to be losing its relevance in this hectic, fly-by-night world. Wordsworth’s poem illustrates that at one time, solitude was something to be cherished, something to enrich the soul.

In my personal life I thrive on solitude. I yearn to visit quiet places with pretty things to look at—nature sanctuaries, public parks, and state reservation sites. And yes, I like to go to the quiet hotspots alone, by myself, solo, “stag,” or whatever.

It is only through solitude do our inner longings reveal themselves, does our state of consciousness rise. Wordsworth teaches us that we can hold onto these moments of pleasure by taking “mental snapshots” of something we see that is beautiful, whether it may be a babbling brook, a flock a geese in a perfect ‘V’ formation, a lone buttercup, a swath of violets, or a school of minnows. These are the things that thrive around us in this world. Through solitude we can become connected as one.

-See more Wordsworth poems here.

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Old School Sundays: John Cheever’s “The Swimmer”

John Cheever is best known for his suffocating depictions of post-war suburban life. For this, I’ve always enjoyed his work. There is something fascinating behind the concept of thousands American men fighting bloody, brutal battles to come home to cookie cutter neighborhoods, shallow niceties, and good old fashioned repression.

No wonder everyone drank back then…

Vladimir Ovcharov → in Food & Drink

As an undergrad, I was assigned to read Cheever’s short story “The Swimmer.” Neddy Merrill, a middle-aged suburbanite is drinking gin with his wife, Lucinda, and their friends, Donald and Helen Westerhazy.

No pun on the ‘hazy’ part of that name, right? Nah.

By all accounts, Neddy has “arrived.” He makes a great living, has many friends in his community, and receives invitations to all the fancy social events. In fact, at the beginning of the story, he feels on top of the world. His life is good. He is fit for a man his age and decides to take advantage of this fact by quite literally, “swimming” home—that is, doing laps across every pool in the neighborhood, town, heck county. Now, it may be the alcohol talking, but Neddy feels pretty confident in his feat.

Marian → in Constructions Marian → in Constructions

And at first he has reason to. Several neighbors offer him an additional drink before taking his voyage across their pools. But after some time, he notices the curt receptions he gets from people he’d assumed were his friends. He’s baffled by a couple who says they haven’t drunk alcohol in three years due to the husband’s illness. Neddy can’t seem to remember this. He also notices for sale signs on the lawns of an acquaintance and wonders when it was they decided to move. He begins to question his sanity and considers the fact that he’s lost his memory.

Finally, about half way through his quest home, he is forced to cross the highway to get to the town’s public pool. He has this thought while shivering his swimming trunks, waiting for a clear shot to get to the median:

“Why, believing as he did, that all human obduracy was susceptible to common sense, was he unable to turn back? Why was he determined to complete his journey even if it meant putting his life in danger? At what point had this prank, this joke, this piece of horseplay become serious?” (Cheever, 2047)

j. l. johnson → in Constructions

Of course, this becomes symbolic of Neddy’s larger world. He lives in a world full of superficial expressions. He’d gone for so long believing that his life was peachy keen that he didn’t realize how much he’d isolated himself from his own community. His trip  becomes parallel with his life: Seemingly fun at first, but murky and confusing when forced to face it head on.

When Neddy finally makes it home (not before stopping at his former mistress’s house, where she promptly kicks him out) no one is there. It is dark. Neddy cries suddenly, and assumes it is just from all the swimming, all the liquor. But when he peers in the window, the house is empty.

I love this story because themes of hopelessness and the barrenness of suburban life ooze off the page. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? A nagging for adventure, but nothing to show for it except a bunch of uniform swimming pools.

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Time is On My Side (Or is it?)

Can’t you just hear Mick Jagger’s rousing voice now? Of course he was only twenty years old when he uttered these famous words; plus, he was referring to the inevitability that a lover would return to him. But in essence, time has been on Mick’s side, hasn’t it? How else could he take part in the production of one-hundred singles, over two dozen studio albums, various compilations and live albums, and not to mention the fathering of an inexplicable amount of offspring? Besides, fifty years later and Mick (along with the Stones) are still touring, performing, and rocking out.

Pretty impressive. Not going to lie.

Photo Source: newyorkchronicles.blogspot.com

But this isn’t about the prowess of The British Invasion. It’s about the life of the average writer—particularly those writers leading a presumed double life, i.e. day jobs, parenthood, general housekeeping—and his or her capricious relationship with time.

Over the weekend I went to Sears to pick up my newly repaired watch. As I forked over the fifteen dollars it hit me: I’m actually paying someone to provide me with yet, another device to tell time. There’s a clock in every classroom at the college where I teach. My husband and I have two alarm clocks in our bedroom. Downstairs in my kitchen, I sometimes feel cross-eyed staring at the double digital imprints on the stove and microwave. Our cable box tells the time. If I turn on the television and go to the preview channel, I can see the exact hour, minute, and second of the day. Sometimes TD Bank even offers a courtesy update in between commercials. My car shows the time. This laptop I’m currently writing on shows the time. My iPhone has clock app. If interested, I can view the time in the Philippines.

mrceviz → in Graphics

It’s no wonder so many people I know (myself included) are near-lunatics. The constant ticking and tocking and shifting numbers are forever reminding us of the things we haven’t yet done, of the things we’re supposed to be doing. As a writer—particularly one who aspires towards publication—this obsession with time has had some pretty negative impacts on my psyche.

Many of us have been asked this question: what is your biggest fear when it comes to writing? Some obvious answers might be “failure,” “success,” or “failure to reach success,” or even, “successfully reaching failure.” Others might say, “Never being good enough,” and “not finding an agent,” etc.

In hindsight, my personal writing fears have always been rooted in Time. Not finishing in time. Not finding the time [to write]. Or worse, not making time to write—in essence, wasting time. Wasting precious, valuable time. Not using enough time. The list goes on.

Consequently, this fear often spirals out of control into some sort of wicked slippery slope. The ‘what if’s’ run rampant and in a span of two minutes “time” I wind up feeling depleted, doomed, and hopeless.

It sounds something like this:

How could that author finish an entire, polished manuscript in only nine months? Well maybe if I had all day every day to write then I would too. Oh my God, I’m thirty years old and I have nothing to show for it. The publishing industry is changing faster than I can write and what if by the time I’m finished with my book no one is reading anymore? Everyone is just watching cat videos on YouTube? What’s the point of investing all this energy into something people don’t even do anymore?!

Every time I open my inbox I get flooded with offers—webinars on the ‘craft,’ books on snagging an agent, methods for improving characterization, tips to enhance social media! At this rate, it’ll take me a decade to master all this stuff, never mind actually write a novel…what if I compose an amazing story, written brilliantly, but I get rejected because I’m lagging in social media? What comes first? Chicken? Egg?

Not to mention with all these other things on the horizon—buying a new house, selling this house, and starting a family, what if I lose track of my goals? I’ll end up putting it off and putting it off and next thing I know I’ll wake up one day and I’ll be seventy years old and no one will be reading anymore because the world will have gone to s**t and in fact no one will even be talking to each other anymore, let alone reading, we’ll have the attention spans of fish and…and…and…it’ll all be lost, and I’ll say, Man! I wish I had spent more time on this when I was thirty….

Merelize → in Objects

And so it goes. It’s one thing to write, it’s another to revise and edit. Even still, there’s mastery of the craft. All of this takes…you guessed it, time. And this is why I fear time. I don’t fear failure, actually. I fear not having the time to fail. I don’t fear rejection. I fear not having enough time to be rejected.

But at least I’m discovering that this is a counterproductive way of thinking. In all the time I spend seething about my lack of time, I could be well, doing something about it.

I’ve discovered some “truths” to help this issue of time when it comes to writing.

1. The writing industry IS competitive. But that’s a good sign, because it means that there are thousands upon thousands (probably millions, in fact) of literary types out there that want to keep this craft alive. And where there are writers, there are readers.
2. Some of the greatest novels I’ve ever read took the author years to write.
3. As long as I’m doing something towards my writing goals each day I’m making good use of my time. Even if it’s simply subscribing to a helpful blog.
4. It helps tremendously to ask myself where I was in the writing process one year ago today. This shows me how far I’ve truly come

Then of course there’s Mick Jagger. You could always reflect on that guy’s life. Because, be it as it may, The Rolling Stones know how to make good use of time.

Osama Hasan Khan → in Objects

I’ll leave you with some of my favorite quotes on “Time”:

“All that really belongs to us is time; even he who has nothing else has that.”
-Baltasar Gracian

“An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth.”
-Bonnie Friedman

“Calendars are for careful people, not passionate ones.”
-Chuck Sigars

“If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.”
-Maria Edgeworth

“We must use time as a tool, not as a crutch.”
-John F. Kennedy

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Filed under Why We Write, Writing Fears, Writing Process

Old School Sundays: Seduction Poetry

This week’s Old School Sundays is dedicated to the original players—Robert Herrick and Andrew Marvel. Both 17th Century British Poets (Marvell being of metaphysical variety) seemed to know how to woe the ladies—as evidenced in their poems below.

TO THE VIRGINS, TO MAKE MUCH OF TIME.
by Robert Herrick

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying :
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer ;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may go marry :
For having lost but once your prime
You may for ever tarry.

Nicolas Raymond → in Paper & Books

What better way to lure a woman to bed than to suggest that she’s not getting any younger? The first two stanzas delightfully use the notion of ‘time’ as a metaphor. And actually, Herrick may go a bit further than that. I wonder what “rosebud” is meant to represent…
The second two stanzas take that same notion of time and applies it to thou fair maiden who is likely making a silly mistake by not making use of said time.

In the last stanza, the speaker really hits the below the belt. Don’t be coy, he says? Coy. Interesting word choice. Notice that it is part of the title in the poem below? By don’t be coy, do we mean ‘don’t be a tease’? You’ll regret it, my dear, he says. Everyday you’re getting older and uglier. If you don’t do it now, while you’re young and beautiful, you may not have a chance later on. And boy how you’ll regret it…

TO HIS COY MISTRESS
by Andrew Marvell

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Botticelli. ‘Three Graces’ detail from ‘Primavera’ 1481.

Damn, Marvell’s pretty good at this. Had I been around nearly three hundred years ago, he might have convinced me…well, maybe. The first stanza here is filled with allusions, or shall I say, illusions of time. He’s comparing this very charged moment with his mistress to the sands of time.

I’d be willing to take things slow, he says, if we had the weight of the world’s time in our hands. If we did, I could admire your breasts for two-hundred years before we went any further.

But by the time Marvell gets to the end, he can barely contain himself:

Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball:
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet will make him run

Instead of letting time dictate us, the seducer says, we can be the ones dictating time.

How could any woman resist? Move over John Mayer. You got nothing on these guys.

Interesting though, how Marvell takes so much ‘time’ to prove how much ‘time’ he and his mistress are supposedly wasting.

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Ten Days in the Life of a “Non-writer”

A few weeks back, in a post titled “Today I Resign from Writing (well, maybe),” I unabashedly vented my grievances with the written word, or more notably, my desires to be a writer. I knew at the time that my threats were likely empty, but I felt compelled to at least toy with notion of quitting, giving up, or in the formal sense, resigning.

I explained how my personal identity was suffering, and I couldn’t see myself as being worthy if I didn’t write. This is a dangerous game to play when one is virtually unknown, unpublished, and unfinished with a novel two and half years in the making.

Consequently I dared to wonder if my life would be better without the prospect of writing.

Many of my wonderful readers suggested taking a break, which believe it or not was something I hadn’t considered. Others advised me to figure out the kind of writer I wanted to be—another insightful piece of wisdom that hadn’t dawned on me. Some swore that if I wrote for myself and not for publication that I’d find what I was looking for.

So I devised an experiment. Ten days. No writing. More than that actually, for ten days I am no longer a writer. I don’t think about writing, I don’t talk about writing, I don’t know about writing. I will strip myself to the bare essentials and see what’s left.

Here’s what I discovered:

1. The urge to write is difficult to ignore. It didn’t matter if I was doing laundry, going grocery shopping, holding my friend’s new baby, or teaching one of my classes, the act of writing still called to me. It’s a subtle, sneaky kind of feeling that makes me glance over my shoulder, as if someone is watching me.

2. The void is vast. I learned that self-identity comes in many different forms from many different sources. I’m a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend, a colleague, and a teacher. But I’m also a writer. And when I deliberately hack off that part of myself, it can feel like I’m walking around with a missing limb—or a hole in my chest.

“There’s a part of me missing!” Melissa Nicklen → in Food & Drink

3. Subconsciously, the writing doesn’t stop. Even though I boycotted my novel for more than a week, I still deliberately drove the past the house in my neighborhood that inspired the setting for my story. Even now, I’m silently categorizing its features, its blemishes, its overall vibe, and the role it plays in the story. In other words, if it’s in you, it’s in you.

4. This respite is likely an excuse to slack off. I’m tired. I work. I clean. I cook. I make and keep appointments. I run errands. Writing can sometimes feels like an added responsibility. I often find myself rushing through more menial tasks so I can attend to my writing. But on days when the writing just isn’t working and I start to lose faith in my talents and abilities, the craft itself turns to work. Worse than that. Extra work. But hey, sacrifices need to be made. I now understand that in truth, my desire to “resign” from writing was based in fear of failure, and hence, a loss of personal identity—which is really silly if you think about it.

5. The real reasons for writing start to emerge. To be the next Danielle Steel? To prove myself to former classmates, colleagues, etc.? To make money? Not really. It turns out my true purpose for writing comes from someplace deeper.

Janis Urtans → in Flowers

 

So, for each day I didn’t write, I came up with one GOOD reason to continue writing:

 1. Because stories are powerful

2. Because I’ve always been fascinated by time and place

3. Because I want to contribute to peoples’ reading

4. Because the human condition is expansive

5. Because we ARE our characters

6. Because our READERS are our characters

7. Because I’ve got something to say, and I don’t know how else to say it

8. Because we all need to escape when we aren’t otherwise able to

9. Because it’s all about perspective

10. Because one day, it’ll be all that’s left of me—of all of us

As it turns out, that whole resignation thing was a fluke. But I’m glad I considered quitting, because if I didn’t, I’d still be stuck in that whirlwind of false hope, delusional motivation, and indulgent yearnings of writing for all the wrong reasons. Real writing is about scratching an itch, answering a calling, and following an instinct.

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

-Red Smith

What are your GOOD reasons for writing?

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Filed under Breaking Through, Inspiration, Self Discovery, The Writing Life, Why We Write

Getting Published for a Good Cause

Oh Sandy! An Anthology of Humor for Serious Purpose is now available and I’m honored to be a part of it! Back in December, editors Leigh Beighley, AJ Fader, and Peter Barlow put out a call for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry on topics dealing with surviving disaster or being from New Jersey. The twist? Each submission was asked to take a humorous tone (can’t be too hard when asking for stories about New Jersey) to help raise spirits for those who survived (and are still surviving) Hurricane Sandy.

Like most residents of New York and New Jersey, I experienced Sandy in my own way, and it’s something I’ll never forget. I was one of the lucky ones though. Thousands of people lost their homes and possessions in the super storm.

When I heard about Oh Sandy! it seemed like a personal calling. I’m a writer. I lived through the hurricane. And I’m from New Jersey. Plus, I can be funny when I put my mind to it. And so it went. I composed a piece about a hilariously lame weekend my sister, our friend, and I spent down the shore in Belmar. I made sure to weave as many “Jersey” themes as I could–The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Springsteen, Parkway traffic, and more.

What’s great about this publication is that all proceeds go straight to those affected most by the storm.

If interested in supporting me (yay! I got published) the hurricane cause, or perusing a new read, see below:

Purchase the ebook here.

Purchase the print edition here.

Or,  simply visit the website here for more information or to check it out.

Thanks to all my readers for your continued support.

4 Comments

Filed under Breaking Through, Inspiration

Today I Resign from Writing (well, maybe)

I’ll start by sharing a recent “brick & mortar” journal entry, dated January 18, 2013:

Geoffrey Whiteway → in Paper & Books

“…this publication and that publication and ebooks and agents and I’ve had it! What if I were to just stop? Give up on the notion of ever becoming an author? Get my manuscript back from [freelance editor’s name here], pay her, thank her, and then put the damn thing in a drawer somewhere. Forever.

 I could focus on teaching, creating a nice house, and preparing to become a mother. That’s it. No more nonsense. Would I be happier?

Would this writing dream chase after me anyway?

How much more satisfied would I be if I STOPPED writing?

Maybe I should consider this.

I’m serious. What if I were to simply…give up???

What do I really want anyway?”

I have been toying with my resignation letter of late. What I find puzzling though, is who would I address it to? My muse? My readers? My future agent? No one?

Yesterday I received my tenth rejection letter for a short story I’ve been sending to various literary magazines. I didn’t even care. I shrugged. Tossed it in the trash and set about feeding the cats.

Ed Davad → in Toys

What’s wrong with me?

I don’t feel discouraged per se; I know the writing business left and right—rejection and uncertainty come with the territory. It has more to do with my personal happiness. My identity. How much of myself do I associate with writing? What percentage of my brain is solely focused on “making it”?

If I were to strip myself from all writing obligations, what would I be left with? Is this why I push myself to write? To be something? As if I’m nothing without the possibility of becoming the next Jodi Picoult?

How many hours of my day would clear up? Suddenly doing laundry would be nothing more than doing laundry. A day off would mean I could climb in bed with a book or watch the entire third season of Beverly Hills 90210 without feeling guilty because I’m “not writing.”

Intrinsic Writer?

The term “intrinsic” suggests something that is built-in, inherent, natural. As in, I was born to write, no one taught me how (not initially anyway) and no one suggested that I write—I just did. As a kid I wrote stories abound, filling countless spiral notebooks with tales of haunted houses, conniving best friends, and handsome boyfriends. In fourth grade, I won the “Best in Storytelling Award” for my fictional piece about a talking vacuum cleaner. Back then I wrote because I liked it. It was organic. I had an idea, so I wrote it down.

Then I got caught in the fog of adolescence and forgot all about my talent.

But in college I rediscovered my insatiable need to write, only this time my priorities were different from my childhood days of scribbling stories and poems. I started using writing to identify myself, to impress others, to become something I never was before. That’s the way it’s been ever since. I push and push and practically delude myself into thinking that I’m already a New York Times # 1 Bestseller. The pain of it all occurs when reality hits: I’m still plowing through a sixth, seventh, eighth draft of my novel, quietly—by myself—in my upstairs office.

Maybe I’ve been doing this for all the wrong reasons.

So I hereby resign from this practice on the grounds of reclaiming my sanity, my morality, and my overall well-being…

Wait.

Nicolas Raymond → in Objects

I’m suddenly reminded of an episode of Mad Men:

Ken Cosgrove, an account man at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, is a fantasy writer on the side. He keeps it on the down low. He’s supposed to be focusing all his energy on the firm, and a side practice—of any kind—is simply forbidden, and many of his superiors have told him just so. So Ken, not be discouraged, uses the pen name “Ben Hargrove” to continue his writing and manages to find some success.

One day, Peggy Olson, one of the ad agency’s copywriters, spots Ken in a diner with his editor. She promises to keep quiet.

Later in the same episode, Ken is at a dinner party with some colleagues—including Don Draper, main character and one of the four partners of the agency. Ken’s wife accidentally spills the details of his writing, along with his pen name. Don eerily questions him on the plotlines, themes, and characterization of his fantasy stories. Ken answers respectfully and calmly, but it’s clear that he’d rather not be having the conversation.

In a later scene Ken admits to Peggy that after having dinner with Draper, he’s decided to “resign” from writing. Ben Hargrove is no more. He shrugs it off, chalks it up to a silly hobby and goes on his way.

However…at the end of the episode, there’s a quick shot of Ken sitting in bed with a pad of paper, writing a story under a new pen name, Dave Algonquin.

I think the point comes across here. Can a writer ever truly stop writing? Is there a force that won’t let us resign—even if we want to? Maybe I’ll keep going for a while. See what happens (rips up resignation letter).

I think there is one line in my journal entry above that is louder than the rest: Would this writing dream chase after me anyway?

You too?  Tell me all about it.

31 Comments

Filed under The Writing Life, Uncategorized, Why We Write

Old School Sundays: Langston Hughes’ “Harlem”

The first time I came across the poetry of Langston Hughes, I was an undergrad in an African-American Lit class. I immediately took to his style. To me, Hughes’ work seemed morphed—broken up and haphazardly put back together again, yet the final result was pure…well, poetry.

Hughes’ words seem to almost mimic the meandering beats of jazz music, and it’s not just the formatting, or the ways the words are displayed on the page…the content has roots as deep as the American experience.

Hughes was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance—a black arts movement that exploded in a Manhattan neighborhood (Harlem) during the 1920s. At the time thousands of African Americans from the south were migrating up north in search of a better life. Those who landed in Harlem took this notion and ran with it.

This poem speaks to me on a variety of levels:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

“Dried Fruits” Merelize → in Food & Drink

I think most, if not all writers—or anyone with a dream for that matter—can relate to this notion. What does happen when we put our dreams on hold? Do they die this horrible death? Do they “fester” inside of us?

I’ve often wondered if Hughes is suggesting that our unanswered dreams completely disappear or if they stay with us, weighing us down, razing our passion and desire.

The other question that troubles me concerns personal choice. Do we choose our own dreams? I’ve often considered leaving my dreams of writing behind. What kind of person would I be if I no longer wanted to write? Would my life be easier? But if I turn away from it…as Hughes seem to be suggesting…am I destined to “…dry up/like a raisin in the sun?”? Is something I can or can’t help?

The last line, “Or does it explode?” appears to have an even darker connotation. Does what explode? Our lives? Does neglecting our true fervor lead to destruction?

It’s interesting to note that despite Harlem’s rich history, it’s more or less a slum today. West Harlem, actually, was the home of the Renaissance. Anyone from the greater NYC area knows to be wary of treading above 96th street. It’s sad, but I can’t help but wonder if Harlem itself feels victim to this idea of “deferring dreams.”

4 Comments

Filed under Books and Literature, Old School Sundays