Good Lord, shower me the way!

I am planning a baby shower. Don’t worry. I’m not gonna turn all mommy blog on you.

(Side note: I always treat the first sentence of a blog like an explosive confession you tell a friend after the first swig of beer at the bar.  Know thats what I’m imagining when I write it. You (reader) are my friend and we are at the bar catching up.)

Anyway I’m planning a baby shower. And it’s friggin exhausting! It shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t even be throwing it. I know this. Etiquette says your dearest friends should be throwing it and it should look like this: ideal

But I hate that. It’s so bland and boring and vanilla..but I also don’t want to end up with a case of coke, a bag of Doritos, and a cake like this:

cake1

Not that my friends are like that…probably. BUT I CAN’T RISK IT.  They can help but I must do this myself! Only I know exactly what I want. I will accept nothing more than what I imagine perfection to look like to me. Please note,  It’s not even a matter of me having crazy exorbitant taste, it’s just a pure control thing. It has to be…right.

Which explains why I will do everything else before I sit down and write an entry. I have to get it perfect* the first time and that fear of not getting right stops me from writing. In fact, the aboved asterisk indicates where I avoided and went googling for about an hour before I finished the sentence. Why do we do this? Why do I do this. When I sit down to write something, I “make sure I did everything else I have to do for the day” so I don’t get distracted but that list is endless and I always find something else.

When I was a kid, I wrote all sorts of things. Mostly poems. Gothic, Marilyn Manson inspired,  black soul poems. Well as black as you can get when you live part time in suburbia. But you couldn’t pay me to do anything else but write those super cliche poems. Nothing distracted me, I always found time. On the bus, between classes. After a busy day of school and rehearsal I’d unwind with a pen and a torn out page from a spiral notebook. Now after a long day, I go home and…couch. I “can’t write” with a pen and paper. It must be on a computer and I’m certainly not whipping my laptop out on the C train on the way to work. Steal-city.

So what am I to do? How do we solve this? When did it happen? The flip from using creativity to relax and inspire to looking at it as a chore? And what can I do about it? Yeah I know that there are a million techniques to help with this. I’ve googled it. I’ve spent a lot of time googling it in the time I allowed myself  for writing. Because I’m using my false need for a structure to stop me from just spitting out some words. Funny how as a kid you’re feel under the thumb of parental rules and regulations but you are so so free creatively. As an adult you can make a million of your own decisions but mentally, you’re a clogged drainpipe.

There’s a million options out there to help get the creative going again. So many that I’ve read so many times that I know them by heart. I could advise you. But I can’t advise myself. What isn’t flipping back? It’s something in me.  Am I too content? I was so discontent as a child. The stakes for everything were so high. But now, only rent is high.

I know you’re looking for an answer, a tradition, problem, debate, solution story here but this entry isn’t going to end with one. Perhaps this is just a confession of a self realization. And I’m not sure if it could come at a better time as the atmosphere these days seems to be swirling with change. Globally and personally. Almost as intense as it did decades ago when everything mattered. Perhaps the flip is coming and I don’t know it yet. But I do think it’s a good time to have my pen out.

Just Like Anything Else

Today marks the end of my third week here at Gotham. The time has been moving quickly—as time tends to do nowadays—and only now am I starting to feel like I’m fitting in okay. I don’t mean socially. The people here are awesome, and sometimes I even get them to laugh, but before this gig, I was never answering phones with a tagline and talking to strangers. I’ve never been good with speaking on the phone. I’m not even that good at speaking to people face-to-face. I stutter and ummm like I’m still learning how to speak English. Today is my 7th day and I’m just beginning to feel comfortable. Maybe it’s my new sweater. Maybe it’s because it’s Friday. Probably not either. But whatever. I feel good. I think it’s important to take note of the times when you feel good because on the crappy days, it can be easy to forget what it’s like.

I know how things work over here at Gotham now.

Well, the things I need to know.

Actually, just some of what I need to know, for now.

I can add someone to a class or switch them or drop them. I know all the buttons, generally. It’s learning an instrument except quieter. It’s testing out the bike without the training wheels except with fewer scrapes and bruises.

It’s like anything else.

It kind of amazes me how resilient babies are when it comes to learning how to walk. They keep trying and failing. Trying and failing. Trying, crying, and failing. There is no concept of quitting. When do we learn that? I’ve given up on a lot of things in my life out of fear of failure, fear of inadequacy, fear of humiliation, and even just boredom. I wish I had the resilience and the will to succeed like an infant.

(That was a weird thing to say.)

I don’t consider myself a perfectionist (I tried for awhile but it was too exhausting) but in my time here at Gotham, when I’ve misspoke on the phone or given the wrong price information or came across too curt to a prospective student, I’ve beaten myself up for it the whole day. I know that no one is perfect and the best way to learn is to make mistakes and blah blah blah but I can only seem to remind myself of that in retrospect. So the next time I embarrass myself here, I’ll try to convince myself that I’m just a 22-year old baby—still trying and failing (without the crying)—and eventually, I’ll get the walking down. No quitting: infant style.

Curry and Tiramisu

With determined tired eyes, I swiped the alarm on my iPhone to 7am. Enough time to do my morning workout, take a shower, and make my way into my part-time home for the next few months. In the morning, the synthetic gentle sounds of Forest Bliss moved my eyes to open but the very real and warm weight of the 65 lb dog on my leg moved them right back to the closed position.

So I woke up at 8:30. Fuck me. Day 1 into the new year and already having to compromise because of my lack of will power (fyi despite common belief, first day of all “New Year New Me” resolutions start the Monday that follows). Will I ever grow up? I get dressed. I eat oatmeal and fruit. Fresh fruit. I can check breakfast off the healthy day list! Off I go.

Out the door. Down the subway. I am starting my first day as an intern at Gotham Writers. How exciting! An office! Like an adult! Working on a computer! Like an adult! And I’ll have bosses…like an adult. I’m Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada! I’m so excited thinking about how I’m going to be part of the hustling bustling mass of city commuters that I drop my metro card on the subway platform. I bend over to pick it up but there’s bit of an issue. My belly is in the way. So I widen my stance. But I’m not confident enough to bend over so far without falling so I lean my butt to one side and sort of twist my body to once side so my arm is long enough to reach the card hoping my nails don’t touch the actual ground. And thats when it hit me.

I am NOT Anne Hathaway in TDWP. I’m Robert fucking DiNiro in The Intern. I’m not young and starrey-eyed. I’m old. And I’m pregnant. I’m 10 years into this city so my “you’re new, dick around and you’ll figure it out” card expired a long time ago. And I did! I went through the drudges in my field of acting and did the internships and free gigs, and the whatever it takes to get ahead hold your nose and just do it gigs. I’m established. So why am I doing this again and now?

Because I can’t sit still. I need to be productive. Inevitably, the acting gigs were going to be put on a little  bit of a hold due to a growing waistline and a limitation on my ability to travel or work after a certain time. What better time than now to pursue the other thing that I never have time to do and never trained to do, write! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done short works here and there and have about 1,000 google docs with unfinished brilliant scripts “that I will get back to when I have the time.” But now I can actually pursue and learn  the craft of writing. I have the time to surround myself with writing peers and bounce ideas of what and how to scribe out genius works. For a second, I imagine myself surrounded with a bunch of other writer-artists, wearing black, talking about the bourgeoisie.  And thats when it hit me.

I’m going to be surrounded by a bunch of other young writers who have been…writing. Who know how to write. Unlike me. I’m a total amateur. I didn’t study writing in college, my classes were Improv Movement and Jazz Tap. How am I going to level up with these intelligent people and aspiring-but-still-more-experienced-than-me writers??? What do I know about writing,  I took JAZZ TAP for fucks sake. I’m terrified. I am going to make so many mistakes that I’m laughed out of the room. Whatever I do I will inevitably mess up on. Whatever I write is going to be put to the test and laughed at because of my lack of (fill in the blank). But there is nothing I can do so I arrive at 555 and take the elevator up.

The first people to greet me are two girls, one 9 and the other 6. OH MY GOD IT’S WORSE THAN I THOUGHT, THEY’RE GENIUS BABY INTERNS AND I REALLY AM SO OLD! But their questions to me is, What do I want to eat?  They point to a sign on the glass window of a back office where the word restaurant is posted on a pink square construction paper. I can have anything I want. I ask for a cinnamon rice milk, curried vegetables and chicken, and tiramisu (I mean how many times am I going to be in a restaurant that offers anything I want)! The 6 year old looks at me quizzically. She has never heard of this dish in her life. And while there is no admission there is a glean of bother. “Um, we may be out of that. Is there anything else you’d like?” And I offer an alternative of Key Lime pie. When she came back, I was given three colored post-its with drawings on them. One with my rice milk, one with my entree, and one with Key Lime pie. They were out of the “other stuff.” And thats when it hits me.

These girls DO NOT know what they’re doing. They are not proficient at running an established restaurant. They offer anything the customer wants but their culinary knowledge is limited. That didn’t seem to matter though. They were doing it and doing it the best they could. Without care.  The other interns (yeah totally younger than me ) didn’t even thought twice about my lack of whatever it is I thought I was lacking. They just jumped in and started working on a project for the site. And then so did I. It felt great! And I remembered why I was here and why I’m doing this. Because I haven’t and I always wanted to. And I’m finding I’m not alone in that, so are a lot of the writers here, including those who have been writing already. Which is very empowering. And great. Hell yes I’m doing this thing that  I’ve never done before because I want to and I have time and why not! Knowledge and adventure have no limit and only gain more value over time, right. I mean who says you can’t have your curry and tiramisu? I am.

Not a Writer

I don’t like calling myself a writer.

Sure, I just graduated college with a degree in Creative Writing, I’ve had a few of my poems published, I’m applying to MFA programs for writing and I’m currently working on a manuscript of linked short stories that takes up most of my nights and all of the free space in my brain, but when I tell people I’m a writer, I can almost feel their eyes twitch, fighting the urge to roll into their heads.

To be honest, I don’t even necessarily believe I’m a writer. I think I just try to make sense of things in my life and sometimes I’m able to come up with few well-put sentences that feel like something. It doesn’t come easy to me. I find that my “writing process” is less about writing and more about grappling with self-doubt until something not-so-bad comes out.

And then deleting it and starting over.

A few months ago, I came across a video of an interview Ta-Nehisi Coates did when he was awarded the McArthur Grant for his book, Between the World and Me. Actually, I found this interview as I was supposed to be working on my manuscript, but decided it would be a better use of my time to procrastinate and drown myself in YouTube videos of interviews of actual writers talking about how they actually write. In the interview, he talked about his process and said something that I’ve found to be the most relevant and honest sentiment about writing that I’ve ever heard. It was something along the lines of writing being a process entirely built on failure. You have an idea and you put it down on paper and you get all the awfulness out. All of the horribleness. You write it all out and put it away. And then you go back to it the next day and try to make it less awful and less horrible. And then you go back to it the next day and then the next and then the next and then you keep going until you come up with something that’s good, if you’re lucky.

Growing up, the picture I had in my head of writing was much more romantic than that; Hemingway sitting in front of a typewriter, looking out at the city of Granada through a window in a small, hot room; Salinger locking himself in a shack and shutting himself out from the chaos of his life, his writing being the only solace he had; the Beats sitting in a studio apartment in the Village, drinking, smoking, fornicating and having conversations about existentialism and jazz for days. Because of all of that, I never imagined that when I’d try to write, I’d spend an hour trying to figure out whether I should use a comma or an em dash. I’ve been to Granada and I didn’t write a word while I was there, and I’ve never locked myself in a shack, but my brother once locked me in a dog cage and that did nothing for me creatively.

EH 3155P

I guess what I’m trying to say with all of this is that I’m learning to be okay with failing. It’s tough to sit down everyday and read what you’ve written. To have your own thoughts staring back at you. But maybe that’s what gives the word writer such gravitas.

As of now, I definitely don’t expect to receive any awards or acclaim for my writing and I don’t think I ever will. I don’t even expect my work to get into literary journals. Right now, I only want to keep failing and maybe, eventually, look someone in the eyes and call myself a writer and not be sorry.

Getting In The Spirit Of Things

I’m going to try my hand at a bit of writing advice. I am nothing close to an expert, but there is one thing that I have noticed that makes the world of difference, and it’s really common sense, when you get down to it.

I finally finished a  novel and it is set in 1774 in Great Britain. I had an absolute blast writing it and most people that I have workshopped it with have commented that part of what makes it so much fun is that the dialogue makes you feel like you are standing in Great Britain in 1774.

I am now starting another historical fiction novel, this one set in 1850 in Northern Michigan. It was a story that I stumbled upon and I could not wait to start writing about. But it’s been a week now and I’ve written about a paragraph and I hate every word of it. It’s not as fun as my first one (it actually isn’t fun at all) and it had me worrying that maybe that first completed novel was a one-off thing and maybe I will have to settle for just that.

Rather than face that hastily-drawn-up fate, I did some thinking. What made the first one so enjoyable?

It was an easy revelation. While writing that novel, set in 1774 Britain, I was reading Barnaby Rudge, by Charles Dickens, which is conveniently set in Britain in the early 1780s. As many of you know, I have an obsession with Charles Dickens and that made the transition from reading to writing incredibly easy and enjoyable.

So I had to figure out a way to get into the spirit of 1850s America. I explored some authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Walt Whitman, wanting an American voice at the time, but most of what they write had nothing to do with the tale I wanted to tell.

Then, I stumbled on gold. In all of my fandom of Charles Dickens, I was never privy to the knowledge that his own Martin Chuzzlewit takes a turn from Great Britain and lands in America, circa 1840s.

chuzzle

I’m not a guy who shows a lot of outward emotion, but that almost made me jump for joy. Although it was still going to be from an Englishman’s perspective.

Wanting to avoid just being a Dickens wannabe, I also dove into Herman Melville and the one novel and few short stories he wrote that didn’t take place on a seafaring vessel or involve a whale.

I’m now reading The Confidence-Man which takes place on a boat (surprise!) only it’s a boat on the Mississippi River. And the dialogue has gotten me in the spirit of the 1850s and suddenly, my tale is fun to tell, just like the 1774 tale.

As a side note, the first thing I look for in dialogue is how people insulted each other. In the 1770s, ragamuffin, rake, rapscallion, cretin, and more were used in the insulting arsenal.

I was so pleased to find a developing array of insults in The Confidence-Man. I cannot wait to call someone a churl and a rascal.

So that’s my attempt of advice. Don’t assume you know anything. Put yourself in the spirit of your piece by indulging in other pieces of that time.