Losing Robin

rw standing on desksI was on my way to buy groceries last week when the news came over the radio.  Robin Williams was gone.  I cried in the grocery store parking lot.  I was struck so deeply by it, that I had to find an excuse for my reaction–why mourn so deeply for a celebrity? A person I’d never met.  A man who brought joy with his comedy and movies.  A man who was manic and candid and childlike and brilliant.  He made some of my favorite movies.  I remember watching him on a late night show with my mom in the 90s–we laughed so hard, we fell on the floor, wiped tears from our eyes, laughed just as hard 15 minutes later in remembering to one another what he had said or done.  He was a bringer of light, even as he dealt with his own darkness.

I have purposefully avoided reading the negative commentary that inspired Zelda, his daughter, to leave Twitter with a bitterly sad note that she may never return.  Who feels they should speak ill of the dead in the moments after they have passed, regardless of how they passed?  Who thinks it’s justified to spew negativity at a person they’ve never met in the wake of her father’s death?  Who does that?  Only monsters, in my mind.

I cannot admit to living with monsters, though the evidence is all around me.  I have to believe that people like the ones Robin Williams portrayed in his movies are still all around us–John Keatings and Patch Adamses, Adrian Cronauers, Morks, and Chris Nielsens.  Teachers who make us think and step out of the cadence and stand on desks all to gain our own perspective.  Doctors who see the patient as a human, not a disease, not a problem to solve, not a thing, and who values laughter as a healing tool.  Radio deejays who play us the music, who tell us the jokes, who bring us the news, who buck the “man” while still sharing the unifying magic of song.  The outsiders who bring us their unique perspective and humor and wonder.  Dedicated spouses who will walk with us into hell and back, no matter how challenging the lives we share may become.  Those are the people I want to believe are the majority.

And though it is hard to talk about, and though some of us cannot understand the reality of depression, and though we can never know what kind of life another person lives inside their own minds and hearts, we CAN have compassion for another human being who struggles, who battles, and who loses that battle.  It’s not easy, and I am sad that this is how Robin left this planet, and I pray for his family to find their way to healing in the days and months and years to come.  And for those of us who can imagine the struggle, who can identify with the pain, please know that there is help, there are people who love you, that even though it seems as if there are no more choices, there are.  There are. Call 1-800-273-8255 if you are in distress.

Robin Williams, I thank you for the happiness you gave me through your art.  You made my life happier and brighter.  I stood on my desk in my high school English class to prove a point because of you.  Farewell for now.  I hope I get to meet you someday.  Thank you.

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Taking Your Art Seriously

I write. I am a “writer.” I am, however, not what I would call an “author.” The distinction in my mind is the difference between being published and not being published. Authors are published. Writers write.

I have a good many friends who are authors, though, and if I am being honest with myself…I am jealous of their success. I am truly, truly happy for them, but I confess that I am also covetous of their ability to win the acceptance and approval of whatever powers that be that decide: “YES! You! This work you have produced–it is publication worthy!” Huzzah for them. Sincerely.

AND I know I have no room for grousing about feeling jealous or depressed about my own lack of authorhood BECAUSE it’s my own fault. I haven’t *really* tried to become published in the traditional way since I left grad school. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I put a short story on Amazon (about a year ago) to be sold like a Kindle “single.” For 99 cents. And of all the people I know who know I did this…let’s say something like 100 people (a low estimate)…7 of them dared to spend less than $1 on a story I wrote. And these are people I know. It’s demoralizing.

So yeah. Boo hoo. Pity party for me. In all honesty, I wrote a supremely snarky “nobody loves me” blog about the whole debacle, but wisely decided not to post it. Although, in retrospect, it’s pretty damn funny. I mean, if you like snark.

But now that party is over. I am just done wallowing. Because I decided, “If I don’t take my own art seriously, who will?” Self-publishing is one route to take, but just plopping something down on Amazon isn’t going to turn me into an author because I wish it to be so. It’s time to go back to the basics of becoming an author and go about it in a different way.

First, obviously, is writing.

Second, just as obviously, is attempting to become published by TRYING to become published. There is no wishing in publishing, dear self.

Third, is to return to my old methods that allowed me to gain insight and growth as a writer…by reaching out to my friends who are/were writers and get them to share work with me. And if they won’t/can’t, then it’s time to find a new group of writers to bounce ideas off of, and to serve as a voice of reason when I want to put a sasquatch in my short story. Or maybe they will say that sasquatch should stay. You just never know.

And I’m going to take this little gem from my cousin. She is a painter, and recently she quoted a friend of hers who said, “art is an equation; the more you put in, the more you get out.” Such a simple adage, but a good one to remember.

So. Here goes. Taking my art seriously.

The Vocation

I started this blog because my stepson challenged me to.  Because I want to be a writer when I want to grow up.  Because I feel as if writing is my true life’s vocation.  And by vocation, I mean:  I can’t not do it.  I am miserable when I don’t do it.  When I write, something inside of me unlocks and I am able to be myself.  My “real” self.

I have, largely, felt as if my hands are tied by the reality of life.  I have, though, dreamed the craziest of dreams telling me I must…that I have no choice, if I want to live a fulfilling life.  I dreamed last night that my hands were dripping what felt like blood, but when I looked down…it was words, dripping from my fingers on to the floor, where they lay there in a puddle, like alphabet soup.

When morning rolls around, and I have to get dressed to go sit at a desk, and do other people’s work, I have to damn up those words and stories and keep them at bay until I have time.  When the end of the work day comes, I am frazzled, and stressed out, and tired.  And then there is dinner to make, kids’ sporting events, dogs to walk, exercise to do, dishes to wash, floors to sweep…and then I really ought to go to sleep.  And then, my mind whirs out these ideas and notions and stories–things I would really like to explore on paper, research and write about, and I make a mental note and finally fall asleep.  And then it starts over again.

I want to know…how do I make this dream life my real life?  I remember Toni Morrison saying that she had to make time to write…that she had to carve it out for herself or it would never happen.  In an interview from the Paris Review (1993), she said, “Writing before dawn began as a necessity—I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama—and that was always around five in the morning.”  {If you have read my blog, you know this does not work for me…I am not a morning person.}  But then, she says this:

Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.   I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?

I know that I have to carve out the time for my writing life.  I know that I am going to have to prioritize and carve the time from the day for this act of creativity, because no one else is going to, because no one else needs to.  It’s not their vocation…it’s mine.

Have you designed your perfect place, found your perfect time?  I’m taking this as my task today.  To schedule it and make it known.  To steal it, if I can.  To listen to the calling.  To write.

A little quote…

From a dream I had…

I have a lot of dreams related to writing. Mostly they tell me that I need to, that I am not spending enough effort toward it, that I have a calling, what am I waiting for…you know: WHY AREN’T YOU WRITING?

I go through phases where it is all that I think about. But sometimes, when work is burdensome and I am tired and there are too many other distractions either personal or professional, I will have one of those dreams that knocks me back into place with a jolt.

The quote above was a from a dream. One that I woke up from like walking through a door. I won’t go into details, but the one person whom I would listen to without question said these words to me: “Write like your life depends on it.” I’ve been haunted ever since. And I must write these instructions on my heart and do so.

“Nesting” for a New Story or Gathering Parts?

I can’t be 100% sure if other writers do this…but I feel like they must on some level, at least.  Once a story/article/book is finished, I begin to think about writing a new story.  Much like an expectant mother, I start getting ready for the delivery.  I do this in a variety of ways, but it helps me get excited about this hard thing that I know is coming.  I buy new pens.  I buy new notebooks.  I scrutinize both, because I want to make sure I am getting exactly what I want, because I am really going to be using these things to produce something.  Something magical and messy and of my own creation.  I like to write in longhand on paper (lined OR unlined OR quadrille…it all depends), because it feels more real to me…like I’m getting my hands dirty while I’m making this thing come to life. 

Now that I think about it, maybe I’m more like Frankenstein.

When it’s a big project, I necessarily have (likely) been writing snippets here and there…I gather these together and will often try to type them up.  The typing process is the first editing pass for me.  I add a lot of detail or new paragraphs, cobbling sentences together in a different ways, changing words here and there so it flows better, adjusting names, creating new characters…this is where I may become more like a mad scientist…trying to sew things together that don’t necessarily *go* together or adding ingredients in a random alchemy, hoping for a speck of gold, a grain of a gem.   Then again, if things are already taking some sort of shape as far as format or chronology, I start blocking those things together into convenient packages known as…chapters!  And characters formerly intended to be mere background become main characters or even…(gasp)…the protagonist!  Bwahahahahaha!  It’s ALIVE!

Ahem.  Sorry…probably taking that metaphor a little too far. 

If I really get into creating this new world, I draw pictures of scenes, characters, their cars, their pets, their family members, maybe jewelry if it is important.  I used to cut pictures out of magazines, but those images almost never match what is in my head.  Sure my sketches are a tad bit cartoonish, but if I can glean the “feeling” of what I have in my mind, it helps to keep it solidified–another way to make it all seem more real.  It can also be an exercise in just creating that world on a different level…it helps me identify details I hadn’t thought of before and to simplify overly complicated ideas.  It also helps me realize that my strength is writing and definitely NOT drawing. 

And then, when I feel like I am ready, I start carving out more and more time to let my ideas get on to paper.  If I have a lot to get out, the biggest challenge is to just allow myself to write and write and write, with as little on-going editing as possible.  If I get stuck, as you have witnessed with my previous blog-posts, I make myself use writing prompts or exercises to get the thoughts flowing again.  These exercises are like Lamaze classes, making me get through the writing process with intent and focus.  Or maybe it’s more like opening a new grave, scavenging for anything that will work to fit in that empty socket.

As I consider this next project, I find myself growing anxious about it, because it is going to be my first book-length undertaking since before going to grad school (I wrote a romance novel when I was 18…it was BEYOND terrible.  Then I wrote a slightly more interesting (historic!) romance novel when I was like…24?  I didn’t finish the second one and I lost the first one, so it is time to try it again).  Part of me thinks I should wait until NaNoWriMo rolls around again, but…that wouldn’t be fair to the story I am trying to bring to light, nor would it be fair to my own self in my attempt to get my hands on that writer’s life I want to forge for myself.  And waiting around for the right time is…such a ridiculously lame procrastination ploy.  Especially when I am in the middle of trying to write like my life depends on it.