Tag Archives: writing

Real Talk

Where have two weeks gone? Since Memorial Day weekend, summer has arrived; we finally became first-time homeowners (hurrah!); I took my first writing class since college days; my parents bought their ticket to visit over the Fourth of July (hurrah again!); we made our inaugural visit to Sam’s Club… the list goes on and on. While I actually have a gazillion things to write about and think about lately, the practical part of me has been focused on the need to organize as much as is humanly possible. Thus writing quickly gets pushed to the bottom of my to-do list, ironically when I need to process the most.

Of all things to inspire me, it had to be watching an episode of The Next Food Network Star last night. This season they modified the format: the finalists are broken up into teams being coached by Alton Brown, Giada de Laurentiis, and Bobby Flay, respectively. Every week, they are faced with two-part challenges, because they are expected to cook well and be able to be themselves (budding stars) on camera, too — obviously, the latter tends to be the far more difficult part. So I’m watching this episode, and by now the finalists are expected to have a very clear sense of their individual points of view, food-wise and personality-wise. Listening to the coaches, they all had the same message for each person: Be yourself. Be authentically you and no one else. Be confident in you and the stories you have to tell. It will translate positively on camera, we promise, because people want to connect to Who You Really Are.

Last week in my 5-day writing class, we all walked in on Monday as strangers. The first sharing we had to do was read aloud an informal piece of writing that we had to bring with us: metaphors for our writing process. What floored me — and maybe what I should have expected, having been in writing workshops before — was how much we revealed about ourselves through our writing as the week went on. On Wednesday our instructors put us into workshop groups based on our chosen genres (we had three non-fiction pieces and one poem in mine). My personal essay was about three different writing experiences at various points in my life. Immediately after reading my work, the poet in our group said, “This piece is about the narrator reclaiming joy in her life that she used to feel when she was a child.” What?! That’s what I wrote about? I thought I had been taking a walk down memory lane with myself. But there I was, naked like a baby in the words on the paper, and this semi-stranger called it out.

So it was as we workshopped everyone’s piece – the “cheapest therapy” available, our instructors called it. Each of us — in our small groups and in our class overall — uncovered (re-discovered?) parts of ourselves that we didn’t realize were there. It’s a very disconcerting and simultaneously liberating experience to meet yourself on a piece of paper. Even when you want to or try to lie to yourself (or about yourself), people who are paying close attention will recognize what’s going on below the surface. Real talk. No hiding from that. By the end of the week we couldn’t help but be engaged authentically with each other, as was made apparent in the notes people shared after reading portfolios and the meaningful, no-cost gifts we exchanged (including the priceless gifts of honesty and actively listening to each other throughout the week).

If you’ve never had a Moleskine journal, I promise it’s inspiring.

The other best part of class for me was doing free writes in my  (unlined) journal for the class. I truly love seeing people’s handwriting — including my own — because there is energy and emotion there, and I like to imagine the person doing the action of writing. Again, there is an individuality and concrete-ness to ink on paper that doesn’t exist on a computer, where I can cut/paste/delete at will, even dictate words to a smart computer, and everyone turns into Times New Roman. Now, by my own hand, I have this small collection of beginnings of things, some attempts at poetry, and some reflections all in one place. I can’t say specifically why it’s more special to me to have it handwritten (it would be more practical to have them typed already); it just is.

Last week I also thought often of why we need things like art and music and writing in the world: it teaches us empathy and reminds us that we all have our human imperfection in common. For the entire week I kept thinking about the stories behind the people at the grocery store, or why the checkout girl had a certain tattoo on her arm. I was mindful in a way that I forget to be sometimes when I’m with people I love the most, like Husband and family. I want to be that way more often — to be more aware that I am living my own story and in the stories of countless other people’s lives. What will we remember about each other when we meet again in the next life?

I find that when I really need guidance, God has this way of being super didactic in my life. But I’ll remind myself one more time to be sure: Be yourself. Be authentically you and no one else. Be confident in you and the stories you have to tell.

Yes. I will.

I’m Starting to Hate Lists

In general, I am a list maker. It gives me a fleeting sense of organization and control, whether that’s making a grocery list before heading to the store, writing out an errands list to spare myself making separate mini-excursions, or even working up a to-do list for the day as soon as I get to work. To me, these lists have immediate use for a few hours, maybe a day, and then they get tossed.

The reason why I am starting to hate lists (“hate” being a relative term, of course) is because I’m starting to feel insulted that a huge percentage of writers (journalists, bloggers, you name it) continue to bombard me, a reader, with lists. 5 Ways to Be a Nice Blogger. 10 Movies That You Should Go See. 7 Reasons Why This Team Will Beat That Team in the Playoffs. 6 Things I Learned When I Went to This Conference. 50 Things You Should Never Say to a Guy. (Cosmo, of course, is one of the worst offenders of The List, though the frivolity of their lists is obvious to most… I think.) As I mentioned up above, I use lists briefly, and toss them; thus, when I read a List that is supposed to be an Article, that’s what I do to that info — toss it. It’s like throw-away writing, except it’s published. Sad.

Don’t get me wrong. In the land of creative non-fiction, list-making has its place, and I understand that. I even appreciate it. It’s the ever-growing mass of public list-making acts that are seen as articles that are starting to stress me out unnecessarily. I actually like to read things that are written out in lovely paragraphs full of solid grammar and often deliciously delightful adjectives. I appreciate the art of a writer working hard to make a transition from one idea into the next one smoothly. Lists-turned-articles are a bit of a killjoy for me… As they are being presented in my universe lately, they seem to take the thinking out of thinking; to me this underestimates the abilities of literate folks altogether.

Yes, I also understand that people have limited time these days — limited time to write and limited time to read, especially if they’re reading from a 3.5-inch diagonal screen. Lists have a way of squeezing themselves neatly into that space, and maybe that’s what lots of people want/need in their day of digesting way way too much information in the first place. I get it. Even if I had some kind of smartphone (I don’t — it’s sort of fun to be a pseudo-Luddite), that’s not my ideal means of getting any sort of reading — even casually — accomplished.

For this girl, this English major at heart, I’m going to have to have to opt for other forms of written creativity. I don’t need to read daily treatises or Bible-length articles all the time (that’s what The New Yorker is for sometimes), but I need something greater than a list to generate my interest these days. To quote the timeless sarcasm of John Bender in The Breakfast Club: “Moe-Lay really pumps my nads.” That’s how I feel about lists right now. Maybe not forever, but definitely for the time being. In the future, I will signal a change of heart when I post a list of Reasons Why I Now Like Lists Again.

Why I Write, Part 2

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.  ~William Wordsworth

Today marks my two-month anniversary of embarking on this blogging journey. I had thought about it long before moving to Alaska, and my original idea was to write about Alaska in general as a way of keeping my geographically distant family up-to-date on life. But last summer that didn’t happen because there was too much emotion and too much adjusting for me to handle. Oh, and the fact that we waited for about a month for the rest of our belongings to catch up to us from California, so I was sans Mac for too many days on top of it all.

And then time passed and I let the idea go because… that’s what happens to ideas sometimes.

Then I read part of The Happiness Project and thought about it again.

Finally, January came and my sister said, “Just do it — it’s not as hard as you think.” So I did it (a liberating experience, pointed out my sister), pushed myself to write for 30 days straight so I’d make space for daily writing in my life, and that brings me to today.

Now I have to thank Wordsworth at this point for his words above, because he has captured so eloquently why I need to write: because I need to capture, in real time, “the breathings of [my] heart.” If I don’t, then who will? And if I don’t give my heart room to breathe, then I can’t feel like myself, and I value me too much to do that.

I have always known that I wanted to write, even when I was very small and before I started going to school. The very moment I could adequately print my name, I remember my mom taking me to the library so I could have my own card (they were paper then) and start borrowing books. And as soon as I could read stories, I wanted to write stories. Years later, I took fiction writing twice in college, plus a non-fiction writing course.

What I have discovered through this experience so far is not that I want to write fiction — there are already many many gifted people in the world who do that, and I am so grateful they exist and share their art with the world. For me this writing is allowing me to get to know my authentic self better, to keep me grounded even while everything around me continues to change and go forward. I, too, am changing and moving forward, of course, but this allows me to check my own intangible vital signs, if you will. Listen to the breathings of my heart.

With or without all of my belongings unpacked, with or without a permanent place to live (yet), with or without a job or some position label attached… I am still myself, all in one piece. Here in this space I claim that and know it’s true.

Thanks again, Wordsworth.



Another word on my mind this week. A lacuna is an unfilled interval or gap; it is also the missing part of a book or manuscript. I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s 2009 novel, The Lacunaand while I will not repeat my review here (I already posted it on Goodreads), I do want to contemplate this word.

The novel is built through the main character’s collection of journal entries and letters, in addition to an assortment of newspaper clippings relevant to his experiences. Not surprisingly, however, we are to ponder the lacunae in his story as much as we are to engage with this assembly of his chronicles of his personal history. I was thinking about this in particular because of my own journaling experiences and the lacunae created by my own recordings. When I have stopped writing and there are “gaps” in my history, what untold stories lie there that reveal my character?

In my mind, the lacunae of a person’s life are breathing room spaces, like the white space on the pages of a book. As a reader, this is one of the reasons why I’m particular about publishing choices for a hard copy of a novel; if the page itself seems chaotic from a visual perspective, I will choose another book. Text without any spacing (either between words, lines, or paragraphs) runs together and either becomes nonsensical or too intense to comprehend. (There’s a reason why double-spacing is standard for essay-writing.) That’s how I feel when I have many things going on and not enough time to think or reflect about any of them. In those periods of time, it gets hard to tell what’s important and hard to discern meaning when there is little to no “spacing” between happenings. So in that way lacunae become necessary and important instead of random.

The novel implies that lacunae are somewhat mysterious, especially because the protagonist himself is very introverted compared to the majority of his friends and associates. I don’t think lacunae necessarily are meant to provoke speculation about someone else’s life, but they do imply depth, a Something More than what we can see or read. They’re a reminder that there is more substance to a person than the words on a page, more than their exterior selves might show, no matter how much we think a person is revealed through what they write.