Category Archives: Writing and Reading

On writer’s block…

writer's block paper pen keyboardIn the midst of the tangible word-less-ness of “writer’s block” the word noise doesn’t stop.

The page may be blank but the words…the words…

Every open space in your brain is filled in with random dialogue, curious notions, winding plot points, and jagged story arcs. Your head is so full it actually hurts—the pain eased only by the thought that the building pressure of all those words pushing against your skull will have to explode out of your fingers and onto the page at some point. But the trigger for the release is impossible to define, and so, it is impossible to pull at will.

And you come to an angry acceptance that the number of words and ideas that can be stored inside the folds of your grey matter must be infinite. You are being killed from the inside out by the words you love.

The words…the words…

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Write Like Nobody is Reading

I spent last week in a bubble. A beautiful, word bubble filled with writers and wordsmiths and the people who publish them.

Well, maybe it wasn’t so much a happy bubble as it was a vacuum, a wordy place from which no air could escape.

I guess it was a little bit of both.

AWP Conference KMLast week I attended the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference and bookfair (a place from which you cannot escape without being forced to take a tote bag). The AWP conference brings together more than 12,000 writers, teachers, students, editors, and publishers from all across North America who sit inside an otherwise bland convention center and marinate in each other’s words for four days. There are readings, lectures, panels, Q&A sessions, hook-ups (both literary and some slightly more personal in nature), drinking (and the apparently necessary “meetings” for those who drink too much), and a whole lot of “what genre are you?” chats. (Note: it’s best not to say you are a blogger, for bloggers seem to represent all that is unholy in writing. Just offering a bit of fair warning.)

And then there is the bookfair! Think State Fair hawking but with poetry journals.

Some people LOVE the bookfair—HEY, FREE STUFF—but I found it overwhelmingly repetitive.  One booth was very much like the next. And their market seemed limited to the people in the room—MFA students and writers. No best sellers here. Just finely crafted poems and stories—some of the best writing I have seen. Beautiful and moving, but not really the kind of stuff that will pay the bills.

But that is really the point, isn’t it? Writing for dollars doesn’t always produce the words we need to read. The general public doesn’t want to read the poetry, the prose, the essays, the angst, the words that reflect back at us all the things we are trying to ignore and avoid in our everyday lives.

Outside of those convention walls Twilight, Divergent, and Fifty Shades of Grey mock what was going on inside. And inside the walls the contempt for commercially successful books was palpable. It’s not that there is anything wrong with commercial success, but in this particular company of writers, success is measured in blood, sweat, tears, and how often you’re published in a literary journal. THAT you wrote it outweighs the importance of how many people read it. In other words, write like nobody is reading and you’ll probably find peace as a writer (and with writers).

(Being the cynic that I am, I’m convinced there was not one writer at AWP who would turn their back on a big money deal. Even a writer’s soul has a price.)

All things being equal, I was probably out of my element most of the time at AWP, but I was not out of my head and I came out the other side with some new writing words to live by:

  1. Do not be afraid of “cliché” or “trite” for they are just starting points.
  2. Since, statistically, no one is reading your words you may as well take risks.
  3. Online writing doesn’t (or doesn’t have to) last to be valid and legitimate.
  4. Think of social media as a gentle matchmaking/community building tool, NOT a megaphone.
  5. Trust that “funny feeling” in your gut that tells you the writing isn’t authentic.
  6. Write by the moral code YOU define for yourself: “I was there. This is what I know.” But remember to respect the reader. One lie and the trust is gone.
  7. Two truths can coexist when each character is given the time to share their perspectives.
  8. Do not fear the BIG MESSY DRAFT for without it you have nothing to revise and edit.
  9. Kill the words—even the ones you love—if they don’t serve the work.
  10. Write like nobody is reading!

Now go write the words!

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The Thanksgiving Seizure: Two Years Later

Two years ago.

The Thanksgiving Seizure Two Years LaterTwo years ago I woke up in an ambulance.

Two years ago I scared the hell out of my husband and kids.

Two years ago my life was altered in a way that is still difficult to explain to others because on the outside I still look like me.

Two years ago, the morning after Thanksgiving, I suffered a massive tonic-clonic seizure, what we used to call a grand mal seizure…the Thanksgiving seizure!

I shook and trembled and twitched. I fell and rolled and curled in. I stopped breathing. And then I just stopped altogether and I slept and I slept and I slept and I slept while my family hovered, unsure if I would ever wake.

I did wake. I awoke feeling disoriented, surrounded by strangers. My clothes were wet. I could taste blood in my mouth.

“What happened?” I managed to ask.

That would become a regular question over the weeks and months that followed because seizures steal from their victims. And a seizure like the one I had, the kind that lasts longer than it should, steals a great many things. It steals time. It steals memories. It steals peace of mind. It steals simple skills. It steals independence. It steals plans. It steals balance. It steals things you didn’t even know could be stolen.

What happened? Why? Will it happen again?

All those years of doctors dismissing my “episodes”— those moments where I zoned out or disappeared inside my head or enjoyed some involuntary meditation–caught up with me. What the doctors had written off as nothing, as over-reacting, as hormones, or as stress were, in fact, focal (partial) seizures. Seizures! Fucking seizures!

It is so very obvious now, my symptoms were classic, but no doctor ever picked it up. Left untreated a seizure condition such as mine can lead to a profoundly life altering seizure episode. And it did.

Two years later I still feel the effects, both the tangible ones and the emotional ones. I am changed because now I know I have a “fuzzy spot” on my temporal lobe. That’s what the doctors have decided. Three specialists, two separate hour-long MRIs, and various other brain scans and what I have is a “fuzzy spot”? Fuzzy spot my ass! Two years ago it kicked my ass and two years later it still has the upper hand. There was and is nothing warm and “fuzzy” about it.

But it’s two years later.

I’m not having seizures any more, not even the little ones, but I still live in fear of them. Having a headache or feeling a little dizzy may be nothing at all but I have to treat headaches and dizziness like they are something. Just in case. I live a life of just in case. And at Thanksgiving I am especially on my guard.

There is no cure for epilepsy, just seizure abatement drugs that may or may not work depending on the day. And menopause promises a new roller-coaster ride of finding the right dosage. Yay! I once asked my doctors to explain to me how the drugs worked. Give me the science, the facts! They looked at me with a blank stare and said “We don’t know.”  It was almost funny. Almost. The brain is just far too complicated and treating brain injuries and defects is really more like throwing darts in the dark and hoping for a bullseye than strategic attacks. You can’t remove the “fuzzy spot” on a temporal lobe like you might be able to do for a tumor. My best hope for a seizure free life is staying attuned to my body and maintaining a rigid adherence to timetables. I have become a slave to my pillbox app on my phone, as friends can attest, just to keep the drug levels in my body constant. It’s a pain but as sacrifices go I’m lucky. I’m still here.

Like so many who come out the other side of something traumatic or dramatic I remain all at once angry and sad and overwhelmed and hopeful. Each day without a seizure is another day without a seizure. That is the best I can expect and it has to be enough.

Two years ago I was one person and now I have been shaken (not stirred) slightly askew, but in a good way.

I am braver.
I let go without regret.
I giggle every time someone says ‘temporal distortion’ on Star Trek.
I care a little less about being liked than I do about being honest
I fail in public a bit more because I try more things.
I make decisions faster and with bolder strokes because I don’t want to waste time on an ambiguous life.

I’m still here, two years later.

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