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Category Archives: The Writing Life

Poetry Begets More Poetry

Actually, I find any-kind-of-writing begets more any-kind-of-writing. Unless you go and strain a writing-muscle through stress from over-exertion. And yes, that muscle is located in your head not in your hand (trust me, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to this kind of science. I’m an English major.) But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start just over a year ago — we could go back two years, or even ten years, but you aren’t here for my life history, and besides, I’d need more than just one blog post for that*.

So anyways, about a year ago, high school was just winding down and my life was a flurry of essays, exams and endless excuses to avoid writing. Including this disaster. But, amidst this madness, I had to think about an end-of-the-year-teacher’s-gift to end all end-of- the-year-teacher’s-gifts for the English teacher who changed my life. I was maybe going to write her a poem or something, like I used to do for my parents’ and grandparents’ birthdays, but… That would be lame. And what kind of present is that? Gosh, that would make me seem rather full of myself. And she wouldn’t even like it. And. And. And. Excuses, excuses. Anything not to write. You know, despite all my well thought out plans to write so much that summer.

But then I found myself bored one weekend, so I took out a book of poetry, a collection of villanelles, and read way more poems in one sitting than is recommended by most doctors. Because doctors are science people. So they don’t like poetry. William Carlos Williams excepted, of course. Anyways. Poetry. So I had villanelles on my mind. And I had this teacher who I needed a gift for on my mind. And my mind is very good at making connections. So I thought of a villanelle for this teacher. And I wrote it down. And I rewrote it and tested how the words tasted in my mouth and I rewrote some more. Finally I loved it. I showed it to my mom and she loved it. I showed it to my grandfather and he loved it. Okay. Great. I figured it out. I was going to write a little, mini poetry collection for this teacher. I’d write three more poems, which would get me to four — see, this English major can even do math!

So I wrote and revised and wrote and revised, and I loved it and hated it, and it was impossibly easy and impossibly hard. You know, just your standard creative process. And I finally finished this project (or at least got it to a point where it was hand-in-able) around two a.m. the night before I planned on giving it to her. I was really proud of that collection of poems. And it was the greatest teacher’s gift she’s ever received in twelve years of teaching. At least that’s what she told me. Or maybe I just told myself that. Hmm. It was a whole year ago, cut me some slack.

So, okay, reading that collection of poetry that one wild weekend was the joyous conception of the poems I later labouriously birthed. So to speak. And then the cuddly, precious new poems I now had were supposed to convince me that I needed to write even more poems because, aw, just look how soft and pink they were! But that didn’t work out so well. Because I just couldn’t forget the hardship of bringing them into the world like I was supposedly supposed to.

Also, I believe that the ordeal had overworked my already-injured writing-muscle. Which, again, is located in the cranium. (That means head. I think.)

And then, being myself, I jumped head (and writing-muscle) first into a remarkable act of stupidity. Shortly after the above mentioned incidents, it was three days after my last exam, a week or so before prom and graduation. And someone on my twitter feed informed me that Camp NaNoWriMo had started yesterday.

“Hey!” I thought. “How about I write a novel this month!? I could expand that fragmentary story that would work so well as a novel!”

“Hey!” one of the voices in my head should have shouted back. “How about you calm the #*@& down! Write ‘cuz it makes you happy, not cuz some dumb chart on a website tells you that you still have 1008 words left to write today! And calm down!”

Well that voice kept its mouth shut, so instead I dove in, ignoring the sign on the pool deck that clearly stated NO DIVING, and I hit my head on the bottom of the pool. I’m not really sure what the pool (or anything else, for that matter) is supposed to represent in that metaphor. Let me know if you figure it out.

So yeah. I kind of did some serious damage to my writing-muscle. So writing wasn’t really begetting more writing for a while. It was begetting frustration. Not writing was also begetting frustration. Because it’s no fun to be a writer (at an artsy school where my writing was supposed to flourish, no less) who doesn’t write.

And you know what helped? Not writing. Not forcing it. Forced and enforced writing and writing habits made writing a chore, and a painful one at that. So for a while I didn’t write much. And while I wasn’t writing much, I was reading books that I thought would make me smarter, more literary, more inclined to write. Then I came home from being away at school and I stopped that nonsense. I started reading stuff that I wanted to read. Mostly fun, light collections of essays from the humour section by the likes of Nora Ephron and Mindy Kaling.

And then I read a whole collection of poetry by Bronwen Wallace in one sitting, maybe two. She’s a brilliant Canadian poet, and it just occurred to me it was one of her poems which I based my “masterpiece” on a year ago. It’s rather fitting too, because a day or two after reading her poems, a poem of my own flew through my head. And I caught on to it and wrote it down. This was only two or three weeks ago, but since then, lines from poems that want to be written keep coming to me and I keep writing them and more and more poems continue to fill up my notebooks.

And they don’t have to be good and they don’t have to be about important things. They just have to be and just by being, they will even more poems to be. And the more poems filling my notebooks the better, right?

Hey there! You, yeah, you in the corner! What inspires you to write? What kind of writing are you doing these days? Do you see much of a connection between what you read and what you write?

*But if you wanted to know where I’d start that story, it would be here, at the ripe young age of eight.

Word Choice and the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Random people (i.e. my various relatives) often give me suggestions for blog posts. Something funny happens while we’re on vacation together — “you should write about this”. Some other fiasco occurs several seconds later — “add this to the story!” they squeal.

I recently received one such suggestion (though we were just out for dinner, not jet-setting around the world). I brushed it off, as I tend to — “please, I have plenty to write about without your help, thank you very much,” I thought. Then I got home and realized that while I do have plenty of ideas, I haven’t really gotten around to sharing them with you so much lately, dear people of the internet. And so, I bring to you to my dinner conversation from two weeks ago.

We were discussing a person whom I… dislike and want to avoid seeing. I believe these sentiments surfaced around the same time I was born — he is not a pleasant person to be around. (And no, not in a Mr.-Darcy-at-the-beginning-of-P&P kind of way, more in an weird-annoying-obnoxious-but-pretty-much-harmless-uncle kind of way. Anyways.)

“You’re still afraid of him?” my Post-Suggesting Relative asked.

“Well, it isn’t that I’m afraid of spiders” I said, “I just don’t like them.”

He was awed and shocked and impressed with my retort (as I hope you were) and suggested I write a post about this altercation. Cue eye roll and the rest.

Then I thought about it and realized the profundity of my retort. The post-worthiness of it.

All of life, it occurs to me, is just semantics. Our of understanding of the world, of ourselves and of others comes from the words we use and choose to think about them with. Effective communication depends on shared vocabulary, with words that have the same denotations and connotations to all parties. Unlike Newspeak in George Orwell’s 1984, modern English has a plethora of synonyms and sayings to choose from when we clothe our ideas in the words we think, say, and write.

The words with which you choose to express an idea give that idea different meaning than if you had expressed it in other words.

Thus, when I decide against something, I’ve been trying lately to express my decision (to myself and others) it in a way that it is just that — a conscious decision. It isn’t that I can’t clean my room — it’s that I choose not to. It isn’t that I can’t write at a given moment — I’m choosing not to. It isn’t that I can’t break school rules — I choose not to.

The effect is the same, but the cause becomes different. And by identifying and naming the true cause, I gain accountability and responsibility. It becomes a choice, because in the story I tell myself about my life, I am aware that it is a choice.

The same seems to hold true everywhere. My brother made a rude comment over the summer that I shouldn’t be afraid to go jet skiing. I tend to be one for irrational fears, and I was often teased for them in childhood. (Of course, it seems as though my siblings will never stop teasing me.)

But this time I had a rebuttal. I explained to my charming younger brother that I’m not afraid to jet ski. I’ve simply done it already and did not particularly enjoy it. Since it’s supposed to be for fun and I don’t find it to be such, why would I do it? So I choose not to.

Again, nothing actually changed, aside from the words through which I looked at the situation and therefore my entire perspective of the situation. And realizing this was so freeing. It took me from I can’t to I’m choosing not to. “And that,” as Robert Frost might say, “has made all the difference.”

Thoughts on Time

In the style of The Waves by Virginia Woolf. Kind of.

Times plods on. It rushes, it streams onwards. An era, a year, a day that’s passed will never be again. Ever. Except for its shadowy vision that exists in the minds of its survivors, its victors. When they pass, when their memories are lost, it’s gone. Except for in the words that have attempted to capture it. But even it cannot fully live in those words as it lived in its time.

It is 6:03 pm on Tuesday March 5, 2013. It will never be this date and time again. Even as I write this, that moment disappears. Now it’s 6:05. And the hands of my watch move along, even as my fingers caress this keyboard. They’ll look the same in a mere twelve hours, but a different number will occupy the circle where the date resides. Everything — the rotation of the earth, the hue of the sky, my level of consciousness — will be changed. Except fo the position of the minute- and hour-hands on my dainty rose gold watch.

I will never have this moment in my head and hands and lungs again. There. It is gone. It has passed on to be hazed in the land of memory. It is replaced by a new moment, which will pass on in the next moment’s birth.

Every minute, every second a piece of my youth is buried without a eulogy. I am also reborn, each moment, older and wiser or younger and acting foolish. Just for the moment. And each moment is a choice. Often nothing changes between moments. They are fluid. They pass without informing me. But still, a piece of my life becomes the past, to make room for the present and future. If I learn from it, and release it, and let it.

And time slides on. It doesn’t notice this, any of this, because time cannot notice. It just slips and slides onwards, forwards, backwards. Into infinitude. Whatever that is.

And what about us. Me and you. Do we notice? We can, because we are not time. How do we spend these moments that we’ll never live through again? We choose how to spend each moment. And even when we do not choose, that is a choice. It is 6:28. 6:29. And now it’s dinnertime.

Twitter Poetry and a NYPL Contest

If you don’t know the premise of Twitter — posting micro-thoughts of up to 140 characters — you must be anciently old or infantile-y young.

There are obviously some polarized thoughts on this no-longer-new form of expression.

Blah, blah, deteriorating attention spans, darn lazy young people, blah, blah, blah.

Blah, blah, new forms of expression, advancing society, blah, blah, blah.

Blah, blah, social media marketing, brand-consumer interaction, blah, blah. Blah.

Was that quite enough blah’s to make your brain hurt? Okay then, moving on. I think that all those people with the polarized views are missing the point. As people with polarized opinions often. Yes, I think it’s a shame that people’s attention spans last about five seconds due to the constant stream of… whatever, but I read somewhere that decreasing attention spans has been a lamentation-du-jour for centuries.

And as a writer, Twitter’s limited space for expression is a great place to practice using language economically. “Brevity,” as we learn in Hamlet “is the the soul of wit.” I agree entirely with the sentiment, despite the irony of the fact that it comes from Shakespeare’s long-winded, dull Polonius. This is true whether we’re discussing humour, poetry or a novel. Why waste a paragraph on what can be said with more strength in one sentence?*

Really, twitter works with the same premise as poetry. I think my creative writing teacher from last year explained that poetry is prose distilled, and I think that in an ideal twitterverse, tweets are blog posts distilled.

They’re also a great medium for an up and coming form — Twitter Poetry! That’s right, poems composed of 140 characters or less. The New York Public Library has caught onto this trend and they are having a super cool poetry contest! You can find out all about it on their site and enter if you have a twitter account and live in The States (which I now do, so yay me!). The contest only runs until March 10, so get writing and check out my submissions at @asolitaryramble!

May the brief, witty, poetical forces be with you! (Whatever that’s in reference to…. Seriously. I have no idea what I’m referencing there. Something science-fiction-y?)

*Disclaimer: the only form that this does not hold true in is the academic high school (and possibly university) essay. In such pieces of writing, it is essential to be as redundant as possible, rephrasing the exact same idea using different words and examples as much as you can without absolutely dying of boredom. For some reason, teachers love this and will call your work things like “excellent” and give you mid- to high-nineties. There will be the occasional hundred-percent, but only if you say in five paragraphs what could have been summed up in one sentence.

More Posts to Come (Probably…)

I wonder what Elizabeth Anne’s been up to lately. We (my online persona — who is basically just me under a different name — and I) seem to have lost touch lately. I’m not sure what she’s been up to, but I’ve been pretty busy with my new school, new home, new friends and such.

I’ve been trying to write more, after an extended period of what one of my teachers calls “creative blockage”. So far I’m mostly working on poetry for my Creative Writing class and in my Screenwriting/Playwriting class I’m writing a screenplay about a psychopathic Math teacher I once had.

In Music class I discovered that I like playing piano. In Art class I found out that I’m capable of drawing. I’m singing in the school choir (probably just because the woman who leads choir is one of my favourite teachers here and she said I have a pretty singing voice). I’ve already gotten a reputation for playing five-year-olds in my Theatre class (not that playing a five-year-old requires much acting for me, despite my eighteen-and-a-half-and-and-a-quarter years). I’m learning what the duck a Plie is in Dance class. Then there’s Filmmaking and photography… I’m not really sure what I’m learning in those classes…

This is what I’m learning how to do in Art class. It’s my hand.

Our school is in a cute little building (that was seemingly once a house), tucked away in a cute little neighbourhood somewhere in The States. And it’s a very small school, so we can basically do whatever we want and it’s a very relaxed atmosphere. Some of my peers react to this by spending class socializing in the lunchroom. I choose to take off my shoes the moment I walk into the building and walk around in socks all day. I also bring a blankie to class and spend a lot of time cuddled on or beside the radiator during class (because adorable old buildings tend to come without central heating). That’s all the freedom I need. Well, that and coming to school twenty minutes late every day — at least I’m consistent…

I’ve also been learning how to wash dishes and do my own laundry and trade with a friend when I get stuck on garbage duty — I don’t mind washing dishes (especially with the help of rubber gloves), but for some reason dealing with garbage is where I draw the line.

Now that I’ve been in this crazy new place for a bit, I think I’m actually adjusting (as opposed to when I thought I was adjusted after being here for literally three days and then freaked out when I realized that I wasn’t adjusted a few days later) hopefully I’ll have some more time, energy, and ideas for posting more than once a month. I bet the internet’s been pretty quiet without my voice chiming in lately — just like they say my house has been since I moved away just over a month ago. Regardless, of the noise level on the internet, I do hope actually resume posting again — no more excuses!

Shooting for the Moon, Landing on the Ground

I haven’t really written much this summer. There, I said it. I mean, I’ve written plenty. I’ve been somewhat prolific. But it feels like I haven’t written anything at all. Same goes for reading. The two activities, for me at least, are completely and utterly intertwined. I planned on writing so, so much this summer. I thought I was going to blog nearly every day, I thought I was going to write some stories, I thought I was going to write a novel. I was also going to sit around reading all day. I was going to read every book on my somewhat vague, somewhat ambitious, somewhat long (and ever-growing) “to-read list”. And this is all on top of my handful of other household responsibilities, occasionally interacting with other human beings and sleeping in until noon. There were also TV shows to watch, plays to see and places to go. I was also really going to clean/thoroughly organize my room. So, while technically I had “no plans” over summer break — no camp, no job, no major commitments — I planned on getting a lot accomplished.

I did accomplish a lot. I “published” some blog posts, I wrote a story or two, made some decent headway in Novel Number One during Camp NaNoWriMo — at least as far as word count goes — before abandoning Camp NaNo along with that failure of a “novel”. I started planning Novel Number Two — although, at the rate planning is going, I may be ready to start actually writing the thing by 2020. I read about seven books in the past three months, which for me is pretty good (it probably would have been more if I hadn’t tried out the habit of reading more than one book at a time, but that’s a whole other discussion). I’ve travelled and slept in and just hung out this summer. I socialized, I watched TV, I saw some great movies. I even made some form of dent in the room-cleaning endeavour (by which I mean that now I can totally see what colour my floor is).

So, I had a great summer. A somewhat productive summer. But doesn’t really feel like it. And I think that’s because I aimed too high.

“Shoot for the moon,” some guy once said, “even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Generally I hate inspirational/motivational quotes, mostly because they tend to be nauseating, thoroughly overused clichés. This is one I hate in particular, and, looking back over my summer, I’ve decided that I strongly disagree with it. I just don’t believe it. The higher the stakes, the farther you can fall — and the more that fall will hurt. At least in my experience.

The font and background in this image are about as tacky as the actual text

I tend to have a very “all or nothing” personality, so when I do set goals, they tend to be big and somewhat vague, and then if I don’t meet those ridiculous and all-encompassing goals in the ridiculous and arbitrary amount of time I’ve given myself to meet them, I see it as a failure. Furthermore, for me, just the setting of these enormous goals is enough to keep me from meeting them. I get overwhelmed and paralysed by what I have in front of me, so I just avoid starting. Forget the moon and stars; if that’s where I’m aiming, I’ll just end up dawdling around on the sidewalk, trying to work up the courage to get started on my upward trajectory.

I think “shooting for the moon” is often the clichéd equivalent of “biting off more than you can chew”, or piling up too much onto your proverbial plate — both things that the mighty clichés warn against.

I’m not against ambitions — I certainly have plenty. Ambition and goals are important, but I think it’s also important to remember that whole thing about moderation being key. Last summer, I had a couple of little goals that I wrote down on paper. The only one I met was along the lines of “write something, anything, every single day.” I have a nice journal filled with all sorts of ramblings from that summer and I was actually able to meet that goal. Sure, that journal contains nothing “publishable”, nothing that will directly achieve any of my hopes and dreams. But it was something I accomplished. Something I kept at. Something I felt good about having done. The self-confidence, and creative exercise, that it gave me led to more creativity and the confidence to move on to bigger, more substantial goals. Sure, I imagine I wasn’t completely satisfied by the end of the summer by how I’d spent my vacation — who ever is? But I had accomplished one of my goals and so I was okay. I look back at that summer as being very prolific, although, in terms of quality, I would venture to say that this summer has been far more of a success.

It really just depends on how you look at it. My plans this summer were too grand and so the results fell short; I aimed too high so missing made me feel like I had landed on the ground. Whereas last year I aimed just high enough. Writing (something, anything) every day was something I’d never done before, so while it wasn’t difficult, it was new, it was a challenge. I didn’t write everysingle day. There were days I missed, days I skipped. But there was always the next day and the day after that. Because I didn’t aim to high, I was able to stumble at times without much more than a bruise and then keep going.

Maybe this summer wasn’t a failure, I simply didn’t manage to reach an impossible, insane, unspecific goal. I think the real failure, isn’t that I didn’t meet that “goal; the failure was in the nature of the goal I set.  And if you remove the vague, all-encompassing plans and aspirations I had for the summer, and just look at what I accomplished, I think you’d find I did pretty well for myself.

I guess it’s all just a matter of perspective.

Do you set yourself up for failure by setting absurd goals? Did you get what you wanted out of the summer? Is this post starting to sound kind of like a super lame self-help book about how you can most effectively shoot for the stars? Would this be more interesting if I was giving out chocolate? (That was a joke. There’s no chocolate. Sorry to get you all excited.)

Am I a Writer? (Probably Not)

Writing sucks. I hate writing. It makes me miserable. It stresses me out. It makes me feel really bad about myself.

So why do I do it?

Because it’s awesome. Because I love it. It makes me happy. It calms me down. It makes me feel really good about myself.

Credit: Wikipedia

I write because I’m a writer. But what does that even mean? What makes me a writer? I started writing (outside of school assignments) about a year and a half ago, just before I turned seventeen. It quickly became my “thing” — for some reason kids and teenagers feel this need to have a “thing”, something we own, that’s ours, that makes us unique. (I imagine not all kids and teenagers are this way, but I am — when I was fourteen my “thing” was an addiction to drinking Starbucks coffee, now that I’m eighteen it’s an addiction to putting words onto paper.)

When I started, my writing habit wasn’t something I shared. I didn’t talk about writing with my friends and it would never have occurred to me to let them read any of my work. I loved having my parents and grandparents read and fawn over my stories and poetry, and I would give some of my stuff to a favourite English teacher so she could give me feedback. Other than that no one really saw my writing, and few people knew about it. Then I took a creative writing course at school. And I started this blog. And I applied (and got accepted) to a gap year programme for next year that has a focus on creativity and writing. So people started to find out about the fact that I like to write. And then they started calling me a writer.

Aside from other art forms and creative fields, I doubt there are many other jobs that have this ambiguity with titles. If you take Biology and put a bandage on someone’s cut, that doesn’t make you a doctor. If you’re in med school, but haven’t graduated and cannot yet practice medicine; you’re not a doctor. Maybe your loved ones may think of you as one, or brag about you as one, or refer to you as a future doctor, but until you’ve graduated and filled whatever qualifications required, you aren’t a doctor — there’s no ambiguity. I imagine the same thing applies to most professional professions. Also, keeping with that example, being a doctor is just a career. I don’t say that to imply that it’s inferior to something creative, like writing — what I mean is that there’s no such thing as practicing medicine as a hobby. It’s a job. Of course, I imagine that it’s just as much of a lifestyle choice as writing, as is any career you choose. But most people aren’t a doctor “on the side”. They don’t dabble in stitching people up or giving checkups or prescribing antibiotics.

Being a writer, or calling yourself one, is a lot more complicated. For many people it has to be “on the side” because, from what I understand, most people don’t make enough money from their writing to “quit their day jobs”. For some people it’s a career, for others it’s a hobby and there are many gradations in between. It also has a lot of definitions. Blogs, poetry, stories, novels, reviews, articles, gossip columns, opinion columns, news articles and a million other modes of expression are all comprised of the written word. Does it follow, then, that someone who writes one or a few of these is a writer?

I dabble in poetry. I’ve even had two published in a small magazine. Does that make me a writer? Does it make me a poet? I don’t know if I think so. I’ve written a bunch of  stories. I’ve even sent a some of them out into the world and already have my very own collection of rejection letters (something which every writer has). Does that make me a writer? I don’t really believe that  it does. I’m trying to write a novel. I’m actually trying to write two. (Neither are really working out.) Does that make me a writer? A novelist? I doubt it.

Then there’s this blog. I have a bunch of followers. (Hi guys! Thanks for following!) You guys are the best. Sometimes you click the ‘like’ button. Sometimes you’re extra awesome and take time to leave some comments. Sometimes new people come along and follow me. Email alerts telling me these things make my day. In a small way, these notifications validate my existence. I write words, “publish” them and there are people who actually take the time to read them. Still, I don’t know if that makes me a writer. Maybe I’d go so far as to say I’m a blogger — if I’m feeling particularly full of myself and my awesomeness.

The word “writer” is really just a title. A label. An identifier. To most people it probably has little philosophical significance. Non-writers throw the word around applying it to people with presumably little thought. The word probably has some associations and connotations attached to it, but other than that, to most people, I imagine it means little to nothing. But to people who write, to me at least, it means everything. It encompasses my hopes and dreams, it represents so much more to me than I could express in the few words I want to put into expressing it. So it’s hard to bring myself to call myself one. It feels presumptuous.

It also feels as though it sets me up for failure by raising people’s expectations. Calling myself a writer feels like it gives me credibility that I don’t believe I’ve earned. It seems to imply that I’m good at writing. Of course I believe this of myself (sometimes) but it feels safer to let people judge for themselves. I have this fear that if refer to myself as a writer, or my friends/family brag that I’m one, then the people who of are told I’m a writer will have high ideals and expectations of me as such and will scoff if they have the opportunity to actually read my work.

But, I guess that’s what I am or that’s what I’m becoming. And people need labels and titles and identifiers, so they will continue to be presumptuous and give me this title that I don’t feel I deserve. So I’ve started embracing it. A little bit. Sometimes I refer to myself as a writer on my blog — without even surrounding it in ‘air quotes’. Sometimes I tell people about the fact that I’m taking a year off from formal education next year to study creative writing (among other things) in a ‘not-for-credits environment’.

“I guess you like writing,” they normally say. “Yup,” I tend to respond.

I do like writing. I guess. I can’t seem to stop, so that may imply that I like it — although alcoholics can’t seem to stop drinking, so this may not be a good thing. Writing is actually a pretty self-destructive habit. It often stresses me out, keeps me from sleeping (because I’m up late doing it or thinking about it) and tends to be a very antisocial activity. Those traits remind me of the lists of symptoms for various mental illnesses I had to memorize for a test in my Psychology course last year.

And yet, I keep writing. I want to say it’s because I’m a writer. That would be a nice, tidy, somewhat ironic way for me to end this post. But like I said, it’s hard (and more importantly scary) to think of myself as a writer or to call myself one. So no, I don’t write because I’m a writer. I write because writing is who I am.

Do you consider yourself a writer? Why or why not? What do you think makes someone a writer? 

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