Here’s a snapshot of my experience measured in sound bites, a dozen one-line reminders, recommendations, and definitions I overheard (or synthesized) at AWP last week. Sure, they’re out of context, but isn’t that part of the fun? I’ll commit to making full pieces out of some of these soon.
12. Listicles are a legitimate form of online publication.–@JamieIredell
11. Writing (capital W) about something is actually about creating distance.–@BenTanzer
10. An essay is a unique expression of universal insight.–@AnnaMarch
8. You don’t get to have a mind without a body.–Eula Biss
7. There is no self beyond the constructed self.–Claudia Rankine
5. If you want to be a writer, you must become teachable–if you succeed, the piece will be your teacher.–@ElyssaEast (I think she’s paraphrasing someone else, but didn’t…
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I’m not a good socializer. At least not in crowded social situations like bars. I can be an EXCELLENT socializer in smaller situations. One on one. A few on one. I’m best with people I know, but I can hold my own with people I don’t. If nothing else, I’m a fantastic listener. (I should also add, the best part of the couple people I have slightly gotten to know is that they understand my dislike of crowded places.)
Tonight, I feel like a faker.
I want to be better. I want to get to know people. I want to drop the stupid guard I’ve built. I took a risk tonight and went to the bar with my classmates. Never mind that most of them are quite a bit younger than me. Never mind that they talk about a lot of things I don’t understand and/or have never experienced. I went. And I didn’t like it.
I don’t solidly know why, but I didn’t like it. I was wildly uncomfortable. Honestly? I don’t know much about sex or drugs, and those were two conversations I muddled my way through tonight. I was fine with talk of our classes, our workshops. The seminar tonight where we watched the most beautiful but horribly depressing movie. I was fine talking about writing. How hard it is. How grad school makes us struggle, but how we are better for it. But when it came to other topics, I was left listening. I felt weird and out of place.
Earlier in the evening, I had the pleasure of going out to dinner with people from the fiction program. (Even though I had already eaten). That was lovely. Three people. Lots of productive conversation about a myriad of topics. But throw me in a bar? I get lost. I had a few bar experiences in my undergrad years. They weren’t bad. The most memorable of them involve mozzarella sticks and darts. These times were with people I knew. Maybe that was the magic of it. Or maybe I was just younger then. Maybe this really IS something I’m too old for.
All that the evening’s risk taking served to prove was that no amount of twisting, pushing, or shoving is going to make me fit in at a bar. It’s not my mold. It’s loud and crowded and makes my brain all sparkly. People are always surprised when I don’t go to the bar. “How will you meet people??” The only get togethers we have at my school are at the bar. So then, one would assume I will struggle to meet anyone beyond my experience tonight. I’m not sure that’s okay. But I spent so many years trying to be someone I’m not that I really don’t want to play that game anymore. I didn’t come here for that. I didn’t fight tooth and nail to get here as someone else.
Everyone likes the bar, and I don’t. Is it that I won’t LET myself like it here? Because tonight was the closest I’ve come to actually feeling like I belonged in this group. Or is it simply that I’m a square peg trying to fit a round hole? The answer is anything but simple, but I’d love to find it.
I was nominated by Kelsey Hoff to do the lovely Writing Process Blog Tour. I, in turn, nominate The N Weekly, for one because I think she should write more, and two, because I lack writers on here that I actually know. I also nominate Creative Imaginations, because it another blog I quite enjoy.
What are you working on?
I am currently working on two different profiles for my grad school writing workshop—one is a profile of gender, the other is a profile of sailing. While I am interested in both of these ideas, I am having a hard time latching on to either one of them. I would rather be writing memoir, which is evident in the very cool memoir essay I wrote while I was trying to work on my gender profile.
I am also working on getting the draft of my full length memoir to publication the end of this year. I’ll be doing some local readings and such for it in the near future. I think that, because I’ve had so much success with memoir, it’s put me into a box writing-wise that I don’t really know how to get out of. I worry that I can only be good at one thing, so I am trying to force myself to be different.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
In terms of my profiles, I’ve been told that I have a very unique way of approaching a subject, and that I’m good at drawing the reader in and making them as interested in that subject as I am. In terms of memoir, I think I have a gift for dialogue. I can recall important conversations that have happened in my life almost word for word, which allows me to include them in my nonfiction without worrying about getting something wrong. I believe that my ability to work in accurate dialogue is a large part of what makes my writing interesting. But the further I get into the world of writing, the more I realize that my story is similar to the stories of many other people—I just tell it differently.
Why do you write what you do?
I think that part of the reason why is that I want validation for my experiences. I want people to tell me that it’s okay, that’ll it get better. Or I want them to tell me “yay!” when something good happens. But I think that the main reason is that I just don’t know any other way to handle some things. The only way I have found to successfully tackle and get over certain experiences is to write about them. I can write about things in a way that I can’t talk about them. I think I also have a tendency to get stuck emotionally, and then wherever I’m stuck is what I try to write through.
How does your writing process work?
I’ve been struggling with the writing process since I moved to New York. Because everything around me is different, so too is my writing process. I find that I actually write better now with distractions—in the grad student lounge, in front of the television, in the park—than I do writing in silence. I have a shoebox of quotes that I keep in the closet; I pull from those a lot to include in my writing. Lately, I’ve started carrying around a Moleskine that I write down random ideas in, or things that I see. That way I can pull it out later and weave those ideas into new pieces.
Today is apparently a high traffic day for me, with a second Freshly Pressed front page nod. Therefore, I find it only fitting that today is the day for this message.
One of the number one problems faced in the after by rape survivors is an inability to talk about it. This isn’t just an internal thing, though that’s a huge part of it. It’s also societally driven.
“Look how low cut that top is.”
“Her skirt is so short.”
“She had too much to drink.”
“She said yes once, so it’s always yes.”
“She led him on.”
“She didn’t say no.”
“It’s her fault.”
It’s not. Her fault. Your fault. My fault.
It’s just not.
There are people out there who judge people—for their clothes, for their actions, for their gender. And it drives me crazy. It’s just simply not okay to blame the victim, whether she had a drink or her skirt is short or she shows a little bit of cleavage. The choice to wear a particular item of clothing is the choice of the person wearing it, and gives no right to anyone else to take action or judgement against that person. A woman’s body is her own (just as a man’s is his own). She can do with it what she wishes. A very wise person commented on a Facebook status of mine a few weeks ago “Men can run down the street half naked and they do not have to fear judgment or worse. Women deserve the same freedom.” I agree. There’s a huge inequality between expectations held for men and those held for women. It’s not right, and it’s not fair. So many women are afraid to talk, afraid to say what happened to them, because they fear they will be judged. Or worse yet, not believed at all. It happens more often than you might think. No means no, no matter the circumstances.
There is a shame that comes with being raped. A stigma. I know it because I’ve felt it. If I wouldn’t have been in that particular place at that particular time. If I would have fought more. Harder. If I would have done something, anything, differently. Never once in the beginning did it occur to me that it was his fault. His choice. I searched for months for what it was that I did to cause this to happen to me. But it wasn’t me at all.
When I was attacked, I wasn’t wearing anything particularly low-cut. And I was wearing pants. I hadn’t had any alcohol. And it still happened. A person can be as pristine and clean and straight edge as they want to be, but bad things still happen. Rape is the decision of the rapist, and the only way to one hundred percent successfully prevent it is for the rapist to decide not to do it. Wearing turtlenecks and pants and cowering under societal stereotypes is not going to help anybody. As a matter of fact, it’s only going to keep people from talking.
I got some fresh statistics off of the RAINN website:
44% of victims are under age 18.
80% are under age 30.
Every 2 minutes, another American is sexually assaulted.
Each year, there are about 237, 868 victims of sexual assault.
60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
Approximately two thirds of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.
38% of rapists are a friend of an acquaintance.
This is just the surface, and just the United States. (For more, visit www.rainn.org).
Why aren’t rapes getting reported? In my opinion, it’s because we aren’t talking about it. Hell, it took me forever to talk about it myself. So maybe, what it takes is one person to light a fire. One person to share their story. Then that story gets read by another person, and inspires them to share their story. Which is read by another, and another. Sharing occurs. A network is formed. And maybe that percentage of unreported rapes drops to 59.
And, after all. Isn’t that what my memoir is all about?
It’s time to disturb some shit.
So hey, let’s talk.
Can I be this open? Yeah, nope. But I wish I could.
Also, this is my friend, and she’s an awesome writer. So y’all must read her blog. 🙂
I’m generally an open person once I get to know and trust someone. While there are subjects I don’t necessarily care to talk about, I’ll give my opinion, my experience, if asked.
It’s been hard reaching the point of openness that I have. From my childhood, the things I saw around me only served to teach me to lock myself inside, to be quiet, to try to fit in instead of stand out. The only way I expressed myself was through the written word, through stories. And as I grew (and continue to grow), I realised a lot about myself. I learned what I valued and what I believed in. In some cases, I vocally expressed my new-found belief or value with other people, so we could talk about our similarities or differences.
There was something I discovered along the way, though, that I didn’t really mention. Something that I…
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I sat on the park bench with a little green notebook in my lap. I covered it in colorful Lisa Frank animal stickers before I left the house, and I brought my pen that had eight different colors of ink, all in the same pen. I was ready. For what, I didn’t know, but I knew that I was ready. I was fresh off of my very first viewing of “Harriet the Spy,” a movie about a young girl who wanted to be a writer and got herself into all kinds of trouble with the honesty in her writing. I looked around, trying to decide what to write about, how to best be Harriet. There was a duck, but that didn’t seem right. A mom and a kid at the swing-set. None of it was interesting to me; I was not a good Harriet. She was interested in everything, while I was interested in seemingly nothing.
But then I saw the lake. And the dam. I got up from the bench and crossed over to where the water was crashing over the rocks, craning my neck up to see the top of the dam where a small artificial waterfall had been created by the flow of the dam. In front of the waterfall, in the middle of the lake, was a small island covered in trees.
A pathway made of rocks cut through the water and led to the little island, a la Bridge to Terebithia. I slid the notebook and pen back into my mini backpack and scampered across the rocks onto the island. When I sank into the grass, there was some cover from the trees overhead. The branches dangled low instead of straight out like the trees in my grandma’s backyard, almost as if they were reaching for the river. It was like my own secret world, just like Terebithia. Peering out from between the leaves, I knew I could get away here—from school, from home, from people, from life.
I want to be a writer, I wrote, because when I write I am a part of nature and the world, and it is a part of me.
I was, maybe, eight.
I sit on the sailboat, watching the birds fly overhead and wondering how they do it. How they just coast through their bird lives without a care in the world while we are down here stuck on one path. While we can’t fly.
I wish I could fly.
The sail whips from one side of the boat to the other, amidst jokes on how the wind can’t make up its mind where it wants to go. Every time the wind changes, the direction of the sail needs to change to compensate. We drift a bit. But I don’t mind drifting, at least not on a boat. When I’m looking at the water, I can reflect. I like this time. I wish I had it more.
“What are you going to New York for?” the other woman in the boat asks.
“Graduate school. Creative writing.” I leave it simple.
“Ah. Nice.” A similar reaction to what I normally receive in that it is noncommittal to either the good or the bad. I insert my own thoughts as a tag line: Because who wants to get an English degree?
Another bird swoops by. Have I made up my mind? I mean, I’m going to New York. People keep asking me if I’m excited, if I’m happy to be going. And I am. But at the same time, I’m also changing my entire life. And no one really understands how difficult that is for me. How hard it is to jump, to accept change. To give up a life I have built here and people I have met after being through everything I have been through, to go off into the world and maybe be a writer.
You will never be anything. His voice echoes in my head. Do I want to go to prove him wrong, or will my going be the thing that proves him right? I am strong; I am brave. I am good. Not only as a writer, but as a person.
This in no way guarantees success. Especially when I don’t even know where I will live.
The sail whips by again. I watch my head, though I’ve essentially moved past my fear of getting wiped out by the boom. “There’s a life lesson for you,” T tells me. I look at her, confidently settled onto the bench while controlling both the tiller and the sail. She is doing what she loves; I want to be that confident. I cock my head, curious as to what she means. “Sometimes the wind shifts,” she continues, “and you just have to go with it.”
My views have changed slightly since I was eight, but not much. I believe that my writing gives me a stronger connection to the world, and to nature within it. But I also believe that allowing myself to be in the world is part of what makes me a better writer. Getting out. Being with people. Hiking. Going to the water. Seeing things for how they really are, at their base level.
Life is simpler at a base level. When nothing changes. However, the winds of life are always shifting and changing. Going with them, taking risks, is what will make me a better writer, and, in the long run, a better person.
Sometimes the wind shifts, and you just have to go with it. Because, really…there is no other choice.
This has been a weird week for me and love. The third would have been my anniversary, so there’s that. Also, I finished the most beautiful video game in the entire world, “The Last of Us,” and I went to see “The Fault in Our Stars.” Why, you ask? Because I’m apparently a glutton for punishment. And feelings. All the feelings. You see, I’m really not one who finds it easy to believe in the good, in love. I believe this is the reason that I watch so many horror films. They tend to favor gore over feelings. While I personally am not into gore in my real life, it makes for a good escape.
I am not sure I have ever believed in love. So when I watch amazing movies such as “The Fault in Our Stars,” I find myself a little lost. It isn’t really real to me. I have never clicked with a person like that; I have never been loved in that way:
“I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”
Love isn’t real; life will always end; people will always return to dust. The sun will eat the earth. These things will happen. They are facts. And just like they are all facts in the moment of this speech, it is also a fact that this boy loves this girl. I have never been everything to somebody else, despite all of my greatest efforts to be. I will give everything. Part of that is just my personality, but part of that is also that I really just want people to like me. I say all the time that I don’t need to be in a relationship with another person to be complete, and that’s the truth. But holy crap, do I want to feel that type of love even just one time in my life. Just once. Do I cry over this movie because of the beauty of it all? Or because of what I don’t have? Or both?
I thought that I had to be a certain way, fit a certain mold wherein I married and had kids and did all of the womanly things I was supposed to do. I did that, but it didn’t work out for me. Because it wasn’t me. It isn’t me to give everything and receive nothing in return; it isn’t me to give everything because I am made to do it. Giving everything of myself to someone needs to be a choice that comes from within me, not an idea that is pressed upon me. Never has anything rung more truly to me. Love should not ever be that way. Love is not ever one-sided, or, at least, it shouldn’t be.
Every person on this planet, all six billion plus of us, are orbiting in small circles that occasionally come into contact with one another. And we all leave tiny ripples behind; everything we do alters the paths of those around us in even the tiniest of ways. The greatest lesson that I’ve ever learned is that there is no right way to be with other people. There is not one singular way in which to do it. Everyone is doing what they need to do to survive, to show that they care for each other. And somewhere, out there, there is perhaps another person who is doing the same things that I am doing. Showing the same things. A match.
This year has opened up a whole world I never knew existed, thanks to the making of many new and openly honest friends. There’s romantic love, there’s attraction. There’s men with women, and vice versa, and women with women, and men with men, and people who don’t identify with any of these things in particular. There isn’t one formula for love; it is always different. And perhaps the reason that I have never found it, never felt it, is because I have tried to place it inside a box.
I lost something, but I lost it because it wasn’t the right thing for me. And what I lost was in no way real love. It wasn’t love at all; I see that now where I couldn’t see it while in it. So thank you world, for opening my eyes. Maybe I will never be loved in the manner of Augustus and Hazel Grace. But the hope is there. And that’s enough.
This is the last anniversary I will remember. Or, at least, I plan to try.
I am told that, on this day, I need to say goodbye to you. And so, I shall. I do not remember the first day we met; I wonder if that’s some sort of sign. I just remember knowing you. I watched you from across the stage, playing the guitar while I taught people to sing the alto lines. I’m not sure why I was watching, but I was. I don’t remember the first time we spoke. I don’t remember much about that time at all.
My first kiss came when I was seventeen years old. I was working as a volunteer at a church coffeehouse in my hometown, where kids went every Friday night in an attempt to hide from the real world. My job involved roaming the floor and making sure people stayed out of trouble, checking the bathrooms to shoo out underage smokers, and occasionally brewing coffee. That night, however, I was trying to be seen. I wanted someone to notice me. Anyone. And Adam walked by. He put his hand on my shoulder, I drew him in towards the Coke machine, and I kissed him. I didn’t care about him.
“Whoa,” he cried as I pulled away. “I mean, yay. But what was that for?”
I tightened my fingers in his hair and kissed him again. He leaned into it this time, his lips responding to mine and his tongue finding its way into my mouth. We only separated when the kids around us started wolf-whistling. His eyes searched mine, inquisitive, but the blood rushed to my face and I looked away. I want to see if I could still feel. Apparently, I could.
I remember all of the details of this night vividly. But. I do not remember our first kiss.
When I was a kid, I did not believe I would ever get married. There were a lot of reasons for that. One, I wasn’t interested. Two, there wasn’t really anybody out there. Three, I didn’t believe anyone would ever ask me. And then someone did. I firmly believed that there would never be anybody else. I knew it wasn’t a good fit, but I thought I didn’t have a choice. I got on the first ship that sailed by, because I believed there would never be another.
I remember leaving you. Many times. I knew how uncertain I was, yet I went with it anyway; I kept coming back to you. And while I’m sorry for that, I’m also not. The path I took got me where I am now, and while I wish many of the things that had happened along the way had never happened, I wouldn’t be where I am had I not taken the path I had. The time we had together is forever tarnished, the bad outweighing the good tenfold. I remember all of the bad things you said, the lessons you taught me, the idea that I wasn’t worth anything. I remember these things, but not the good milestones. Not the things I should remember. You played on the internal dialogues I had previously created; I let you do it. I was wrong, but so were you.
Marriage does not equate to ownership, and all rights of any kind were dissolved the day those vows went ignored. You can’t make up for what happened. You may think you have stripped me of something, and maybe you did. But you also gave me a gift. I am stronger now. Powerful. Connected. Brave. This is what you are up against. I am stronger on my own now than I ever was with you, with anyone.
All of my life, I have let other people dictate my actions. That’s not all on them; that’s on me too. I am horribly codependent. There are probably many reasons for this, but I don’t understand all of them. There are a lot of things in life that I do not understand, but one thing I am certain of is that I have given you much too much of my precious time. You made me feel unworthy of my own time, my own space, when I am anything but. I can’t devote anything more to you. In the spirit of that thought, it is time to let you go. Wherever you are, on this, what would have been our anniversary, I hope that you are thinking of me. I hope that you are sorry; I doubt that you are. You took a lot from me. I want to take what I can back.
In years past, I have burned our wedding invitation. Visited the church where we were married. Sat quietly by myself and done nothing. But I have never actually said goodbye. I thought I couldn’t let you go, but maybe letting go is not the physical thing I thought of it as. Maybe it is simply denying you anymore power.
Therefore, I am thinking of you today, but I vow to make every effort that this will be the last time. You get no more space in my head.