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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.

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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? 

For Whom Do We Write and Why and How?

Writing’s paradoxical. Write for yourself. But have the reader in mind. But write for the sake of writing. But make sure it’s good enough to be read and (hopefully) published. Of course, that’s creative, fictitious writing. What about blogging? Blogging is extra egotistic. You can say whatever you want, about whatever you want and publish it by yourself as easily, and as quickly, as you can click a button. And then you actually expect people to read what you’ve written. People you’ve never met, who know nothing about you and have no reason to care about what you have to say. People who really have no business caring about whatever problems you’re either making light of or melodramatizing for their reading pleasure.

Blogging is probably, for me, the ultimate combination of writing for others and yourself at the same time, from the moment your fingertips touch the keyboard. On the one hand, it’s very much a thing of vanity, in the same way self-publishing is often referred to as  vanity publishing. You do it so you can say (and/or feel), hey look, there are people who read what I write — don’t I feel special for having readers? Aren’t I such a great writer? I’m published, on the internet, for the whole world to read! But, while it is very self-centred in one sense, you also tend to be be very aware of the fact that people will read what you’re writing — and very soon. You’ll “publish” it as soon as it’s “perfect” or sometimes just “good enough” and people will read it (if they do at all) somewhat immediately. It doesn’t have to go through any third parties. No one has to validate what you’ve written. No one censors it. No one even looks it over for spelling errors. This sounds pretty powerful, but in itself, it isn’t. Because you need readers. Readers are what makes it powerful. Without readers, you’re just some loser, sitting at a keyboard. Writing for yourself.

Credit: students.washington.edu

But what about “real” writing? Fiction writing? Fiction that you don’t plan on self-publishing online? Who do you write it for? For yourself? Or for your readers? Who knows if you’ll ever even have readers? Who knows if it will ever even be published? And if it is published, so what? What then? Will it last? If it’s in a magazine, will it ever be read more than once, before the magazine is tossed to the side to make way for the next issue? If it’s a book, will it sell? Will it survive? Or will it shortly (or even not so shortly) go out of print — which to me sounds like the most horrible, tragic thing imaginable.

And what matters, anyways? Success when a book is published, during the author’s lifetime? Or a book that doesn’t go out of print for years and years, even after the author has died, but didn’t have much acclaim while the author was living? Of course, I’m thinking of literary fiction here. In principle, I think that’s all that really counts. That’s all I think is worthy of a writer’s time. I know this probably sounds very snobby, and I’m probably stepping on a few feet (something I tend to accidentally do literally). But I stand by that. Because, while I’m on this whole, existential, why do we write, “to be or not to be” style rant, I may as well throw the literary vs. “mainstream” fiction debate into the mix. I mean, yes, sure, people who write bestsellers must enjoy their vanity-filled, money-making fifteen minutes of fame. But then what? What happens when those fifteen minutes (or in some cases fifteen years) of fame end? Some may argue that those few authors are pretty damn happy, sipping champagne from the top of their piles of money. “Who cares that they’ll be forgotten?” some people say. Well I think, that if they’re real, introspective, insightful writers, then they should care. What about leaving a legacy? Don’t people care to change to world? To leave something behind? To touch other’s lives for longer than the time it takes them to get from the front cover to the back?

I probably sound like a bit of a naïve, idealistic teenager. But I know this, which tends to get in the way of that wonderful, youthful idealism. In fact, this idealism takes a hit from reality quite often. And, perhaps because of the way I cleave to this idealism, reality tends to come at me like a slap in the face and leave me sore for days. I sit up on my (very) high horse, criticizing authors like E. L. James (the woman gave the world the pleasure of Fifty Shades of Grey), whose work I would never condescend to read, and yet I often wonder who am I to criticize? At least this E. L. James woman has taken pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and had enough discipline to sit down and get out enough words to fill three entire “novels” (if they’re even deserving of that title). And yet, here I am, criticizing myself for criticizing her, and I can’t even do that without poking fun at her and her books.

I’ve been focussing my writing energies on blogging lately and with less feeling I should be doing it and more just doing it. But then I feel as though blogging isn’t real writing. I feel as though it “doesn’t count”. Because, after all, who’s going to read my blog a hundred years from now? Is there even anyone who’s still reading my posts from a month ago? The awesome, brilliant posts that I put so much love and effort into and care about with all my heart and soul?

And so, with this slightly pressing upon the back of my mind, and feeling a little unsettled that I haven’t written any fiction in the past few weeks, I opened up a notebook, hoping to try out a writing prompt. When I opened the notebook, I found a little sketch I had been working on recently, but abandoned (or got distracted from) after about a page and a half. It was a great idea. Very meta-fictitious. Very satirical. Very awesome. So I started adding to it. Tried to move it forward. But I couldn’t. Because I started thinking too much. What was I going to do with it? Who was going to read it? Could I really make it good enough for people to actually get it? For people to actually enjoy? Could I really pull it off?

Cartoon credit: offthemark.com

My problem, and I assume it’s a very common problem and why there aren’t even more people who have written books, is that once the initial excitement wears off, after the moment of inspiration passes, I get tired of it. I can’t seem to keep going. I get bored of what I’m working on. No, bored probably isn’t the right word. What I get is stressed. I do this thing where I forget how to breathe. I forget how to keep my butt where it is and keep going. I imagine that I’ve forgotten how to write. Because, instead of focussing on writing, I’m focussing on editing the only three words I have until perfection. I’m focussing on what’s going to become of what I’m writing once it’s written. I’m focussing on how certain people may perceive the sentence I’m about to write, but haven’t even gotten onto the page yet.

Writing is a paradox. You need the idealism. You need the inspiration. But you need to be realistic. You need to be persistent. You need to sit down and (very unromantically) get some words onto the page. You have to sit for hours. Sometimes you have to avoid people. And stay away from the internet. But, funnily enough, I think the idealism, the naiveté, the total abandon is most important while you’re unromantically plowing through pages, cranking out some words, trudging through the first draft. It isn’t how you’d idealize the writer’s life, but it’s what needs the most idealism. That’s when you have to stop caring what will happen to it and just write. Write for yourself, write thinking of the best possible fate for your darling brainchild or write thinking nothing at all.

Then rationality and reality can probably return when you edit. Then you can set the inner critic loose and think about what’s going to become of it. All the hoops you’ll have to jump through. All the revisions you’ll have to make to your precious baby. But by then, you’ll have something. And you’ll be proud of it. And (after some time has elapsed and you can look at it realistically again and not as a peace of perfection that’s just emerged from your brilliant brain) you’ll be able to make changes. I’ve seen copies of (and original) manuscripts from classic, brilliant authors and they’re all the same. The rough drafts all crossed out and rewritten and scribbled over so much, you can scarcely see the original text. I imagine very little of what we read was written the same (or even included at all) in the first draft. And yet, there was once a first draft. Even writers whose work is being read years after they died started as a terrible, awful rough draft. And those masterpieces couldn’t have been edited and become what they are now without those original drafts, because without those drafts, there would have been nothing to edit.

Of course, realizing and writing all that was the easy part — now all I have to do is internalize it and try to take some of my own advice. What about you? Do you have any sage wisdom to share? Why do you write? Who do you write for? How do you get through those first drafts? And, most importantly, do you think blogging counts?

Running Around in the Rain

I should really be doing something else. That seems to be the most prevalent theme in my life. The constant internal conflict. I want to do this but I should be doing that. And then, as soon as I can do the thing I wanted to do, I don’t want to do it anymore. I want to do something else, and the previous want becomes the current should. During the school year, I want to be blogging or writing creatively or sitting around all day reading or even just finding some time to clean my room. What I should doing is homework. Of course, I procrastinate the homework, but feel that if I’m not doing homework, how dare I do anything else, so the things I want to do get procrastinated as well. I certainly have time to do both, but the things I enjoy always seem to take back seat.

So, I make all this wonderful resolutions. I decide that when the summer comes, I’ll do all those things I would love to be doing during the school year, but just can’t. I never plan to do very much in the summer, like get a job or go to camp, and I tell people that I don’t have plans aside from a week or so at the cottage and a week or so on vacation. But I do have plans. I plan to read — smart books, enjoyable books, any and all books — I plan to write — blog posts, short stories, a flipping novel — I plan to organize — my closet, my room, my life. In short, I plan to do everything that will make me happy, I plan to conquer the freaking world. But then, because I plan to do all these things and have the best summer I’ve ever had (and do all this because it’s what I want to do), all these wants become shoulds.

And it isn’t just that I should read, because I like reading, but then it’s about what I should read. I should read smart novels and stories and poems, that will expand my mind and make me seem smart, but then, I should also be enjoying what I’m reading. And so, if I decide that I’m going to spend this moment reading, and even if I’m not thinking of all the other things I should be enjoying, I worry that maybe I should be reading a different book. It’s the same with writing. Should I write on my blog now? In a journal? Should I instead be writing ficticiously? Should I be trying out a writing prompt? Maybe I should give my “novel” a go?

This moment, I’ve chosen writing on my blog. But now I feel that maybe I should abandon this post, because who wants to hear me complain about my pathetic problems? I should really be writing about the trip to England I just got back from. I should tell you about my visits to Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born or to Bath, where Jane Austen once lived. I should review one of the three Shakespeare plays I saw. I should be writing about those experiences or any of the other very cool, very literary things I saw and did. But I just don’t feel like it. Probably only because that’s what I think I should be writing about.

One of the pictures I took in England that I feel like I SHOULD post. Taken at 4 Sydney Place in Bath — where Jane Austen once lived.

That’s really the problem with me. I never want to do anything if I actually can. If I should. Only if I can’t. I never feel as compelled to write as when I don’t have a pen and paper with me or as when I have stuff to do that I don’t feel like doing. I never feel as compelled to blog as when I don’t have internet access or my laptop handy. I was itching to post on my blog for the two first days of my trip when I still hadn’t gotten internet set up. Then, as soon as I did, I wrote this post, which didn’t have that much to do with the awesome things I was actually doing in England. The next day I wrote another post, also not really about what I had been doing and seeing. Neither were what I felt that I should be writing. After that, I had internet access the entire rest of the trip and we were back at the hotel fairly early a few nights. But because I knew I could blog, I didn’t really feel compelled to. I’m on vacation, I reasoned. I’ll post when I get home. Because that’s always how it is with me. I’ll do it later. I’ll do it at this or that future date. Then I’ll have the time. I’ll have the motivation. It’ll happen. Later. I hadn’t posted what (or as much as) I had wanted. I felt okay with my justifications and I had a marvellous trip, but I still l felt a little uneasy. I had all these nagging shoulds. I enjoyed everything I did, and everything I did was something I wanted to be doing, but I was in England, so they felt very much like wants I should have. And I still felt the compulsion to blog and write about it, but without the desire and drive to do so.

But then today I tried something different. My room is still in a messy state, as I started cleaning it a couple of weeks ago and decided to finish it later. Add all the stuff I brought back from England to that mess and it’s really not looking so good. So I have to deal with that. Then there’s the stuff I should be doing because I want to. The reading, the blogging, the writing. I was going to do all of this today. I was also going to go run some errands and then come home and sit out in the sun because it was beautiful outside today. The latter two items involve getting dressed (something I tend to avoid until I actually leave the house). So I woke up and spent a few hours taking a shower and eating breakfast and figuring out what to wear — because these are totally things that should take a person a few hours. I was all dressed and ready to leave the house and about to go out, when the clear, blue sky clouded over and began spewing drops of rain.

I was stuck. It was another should versus want to situation. You see, I love the rain. I love the sun even more, but when I have no need to remain dry and a warm towel is at the ready, nothing gives me more joy, nothing is more exhilarating, than running around in the rain. Not only was it something I desperately wanted to do, but it was the epitome of a should not. Who would go out and run around in the rain? What was I thinking? Surely I’d catch my death. Besides, I had just, finally figured out what to wear and gotten dressed. I had things to do, things that I should do.

So I did what any reasonable person would have done. I changed into something I didn’t mind getting wet and I went outside to run around in the rain. My sister refused to join me. Someone who was at my house laughed at me when I came inside with water streaming from my hair and clothes. My mother shook her head — I think ‘crazy’ was the word she used to describe me. But you know what? I didn’t catch my death. I felt as though I had caught my life. Sure, when I came inside I was dripping and shivering. But outside, despite the rain, it was warm, peaceful. I love the steady sound of rain, hitting the wooden deck. I love walking barefoot through warm puddles. I love the warm wind whipping around, throwing raindrops in my face. It feels so good to just let go sometimes. To forget what you should do, forget what other people think, forget how cold you’ll be the moment you come inside and get hit with the freezing air-conditioning.

And because let myself do that, I felt like I had accomplished something. I felt really good about myself, about my decisions, about my life. And now I’ve finally been able to just sit down to blog — something I should do — without feeling like I should be doing this or should be doing something else.

Of course there will always be things that should be done and have to done. Things I don’t want to do, but have to do anyways. But maybe sometimes it’s easier (and more enjoyable) to do those things, if I give myself permission to do something I want once in a while. To do something unreasonable and unnecessary and perhaps a little crazy. Just as long as there’s a dry towel waiting for me when I come inside.

What about you? Do you have a constant should versus want to debate inside your head? How do you reconcile with doing things you’d rather not? Do want to’s ever become shoulds for you?

People Watching

Coming to you live from the top of a double decker in London. I love riding up here. It reminds me of Dead Poet’s Society — the scene where Mr. Keating has his students get up on his desk, explaining that they should constantly look at the world from a different perspective.

This is just like, that but on a greater scale. I think this view is far better and more interesting than looking down from a window in a tall building. From there, you can see the big picture, the context, the other buildings. From here you see the small, but to me more import, picture: people. It’s almost like watching a play: you’re removed enough from the action to observe the scenes unfolding, but close enough to still feel like you’re part of the action.

Of course, you only get a cursory view and judgement is completely superficial and based solely on a brief view of people’s appearances. But still, you see how people dress, how they walk, how they interact with each other. You get to be super creepy and blatantly stare at all the pedestrians, under the guise of politely looking out the window.

And because you’re surrounded by people, sitting very close to you in a contained place, you’re afforded another, equally intriguing, opportunity to observe people. You have to be more careful not to stare too blatantly at your fellow passengers — it gets super awkward if they look your way — but because you’re so close, you get to overhear lots of interesting conversations. Did you know British people actually say “bloody hell” and “cheers”, just like in movies? They do. They say both of these things in the same 3 minute phone call.

Whenever I have to chance to creepily watch people, I love entertaining myself by imagining their back stories. Are the married? Do they have kids? Are they school? What do they study? What kind of job do they have? Where are they on their way to? What’s their relationship with the person they’re with? Are they happy?

This probably makes me sound like Briony in Atonement by Ian McEwan — not believing that everyone else is as alive as me and making up my own stories about other people and such. But, it’s not like that. Really. I know I’m only getting half and quarter stories. I know that whatever I think of these people is biased and may be wrong. I have no faith that the stories I tell myself about them are real.

But, regardless of the flaws in the ideas I form, I cannot deny myself this pleasure. I’ve always loved looking around at the people around me. Perhaps it’s because I’m “a writer”. I guess that’s a pretty writer-ish thing to do. Observe the human condition, report it back through your own lens.

But that’s not why I do it. I do it because I just can’t resist. People are interesting. We watch plays and TV and read books to be entertained, but just sitting around listening to and watching real people can be even more entertaining.

Also, as opposed to Briony, who knows that everyone isn’t just as alive as she is, but just doesn’t feel it — and determines not to — I find this very obvious fact to be incredibly intriguing. Imagine, a whole world full of people who all see the differently from their own perspectives. Imagine getting a bunch of those people all on a bus together, all going their own way, subjectively stuck in their own heads, but doing so together? It’s invigorating. Everyone has their own story and to them, their’s is realest.

That’s my side of my story, anyway. What’s your side? Am I the only one who does this? Or are there other people who do this too? Come on other people like me, tell me I’m not alone.

Laughing at Spam

Lately it feels as though I’m taking my blog way more seriously than I should and contemplating life and writing and my silly little problems more than is healthy, so today I’m just going to turn off my brain (and the incessant internal monologue) for just a moment so we can all have a good laugh. I’m sure all you bloggers who are reading this get plenty of your own ridiculous spam comments, and I assume that you (like me) have filters to weed out those comments so that they don’t end up on your site. But I’m not sure if there’s anyone else who likes to get a good laugh by going through that spam folder. I know I do and today I’m going to share some of those strange, laughable comments.

Before I do, I need to take a moment to contemplate spam philosophically (just for a minute! I promise). I’m just really not sure what the point of spam is. Yes, I understand that it’s mostly for self-promotion and the likes, but it’s so transparent that I wonder how it could possibly be effective enough to even bother with. I mean, most of these comments are computer-generated or home-made with so little sophistication that they get weeded out immediately by filters and never even see the light of day (or at least never grace the bottoms of enlightening posts). And even if these comments do get posted, what purpose do they serve? They are so obviously spam (as opposed to legitimate comments) that I doubt anyone would bother clicking the links. I mean, my readers rarely click the links post, so why would they click a link in the comments? Although, I guess some people must click these links. I imagine that the same people who believe they’ve won a million dollars for being the trillionth viewer of a random, sketchy website would be the same ones who click the spammy links. Additionally, who are these links trying to hook in anyways? Me (reading them in my spam queue) or my readers (reading them at the bottom of my posts)? Most of them seem to be directed at me, but you never know…

Photo credit: cartoonstock.com

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, here’s some spam (minus the sketchy links) along with my make-believe replies.

stays on topic and states valid points. Thank you. 493862

No, thank you, for that insightful and original feedback!

I didn’t know bad teachers were reading my posts and marking them. That has got to be one of the most generic, “rubric-style” comments I have ever seen. I’m sure it’s true of my post about the differences between dissecting pigs and dissecting poetry, but if I find out that I have a reader who legitimately wasted their time writing that, I will be very surprised. (And I’ll apologize for making fun of his comment.) Also, what’s with the numbers at the end? Is that my grade? Is that a percent? Or is it out of 500000 marks?

Desensitizing Your Horse To Objects That Spook It at Horse Shoeing:[…] discoverhorses.comHorse Training Videos – Horse Training Tips – Horse Training DVDGetting Back on the Horse // 0) { //0==expires on browser close var cdate = new Date(); […]

It seems as though there’s a link to my blog on a site about horses. Or a site selling stuff for horses. I’m not sure and I don’t particularly care to find out. This ping-back is on my post Getting Back on the Horse. I’m (mostly) using that as a metaphor and that post has (almost) nothing to do with actual horses. Not sure how my post would be any help to people who want to “desensitize [their] horse to objects that spook it”. I actually think this is pretty cool though. Someone has obviously gone to the trouble of placing his spam in an “appropriate place” based on some fancy computer program that searches for certain keywords. (I assume. I may be making that up. I have no idea how computers or spam or fancy computer programs work.)

I had similar comments on my post Literary Baby Names. If I remember correctly, the links in my spam queue for that post wanted to sell me diapers. Clearly the fancy computer technology didn’t understand that I was referring to naming fictitious characters and hypothetical babies. And obviously fictitious characters only need fictitious diapers (if they even need diapers at all) and hypothetical babies only need hypothetical diapers (if they need diapers at all).

Thank you for the good writeup. It in reality was once a amusement account it. Look advanced to more added agreeable from you! However, how could we keep in touch?

No problem. I’m sure it was “once a amusement account it”. By the way, what language are you speaking? Is that supposed to be English? Because I think you’re doing it wrong. Those two middle sentences, for example. Are you just throwing words around and hoping they form an original idea? Or is there some method in your madness? If there is, I’d love to hear about it sometime. However, let’s not keep in touch, because, um, WHO ARE YOU!? Don’t we have to be in touch in the first place in order to keep in touch? Is your expectation that I’ll respond by giving you my number? Or were those some randomly flung words, that just happened to fit together to form a somewhat legitimate thought?

hgbzmbtpmjubszsbncmf, [sketchy, gibberish hyperlink], [another weird, sketchy, gibberish hyperlink], [a third link; equally weird, sketchy and nonsensical as the previous two] atfwkghszi

Well ertyulkjhcxdfghjk and trdhyfcj,vj,yfyufk to you to! I will most certainly check out those links, because you asked so kindly and you aren’t being needy with your excessive linkage at all.

If you want to get social bookmarking backlinks that will help skyrocket your website search engine ranking straight to the top, check out this site [site has been omitted because I don’t think any of us should be checking out rude spam sites].

I don’t even know what “social bookmarking backlinks” are. And to be honest, I don’t particularly like your use of the word “skyrocket”. It sounds like an outdated cliché. Also, WHY DO YOU CARE about my search engine ranking. Dude, you’re just being weird.

Of course, there are plenty more about my SEO ranking. I’m not fully aware of what that means, but I feel secure in my understanding that writing good posts is more important than trying ridiculous things to fix my poor SEO ranking. That’s because regardless of how high I rank, no one will keep reading my blog once they get here unless the posts are actually good.  (Or so I’ve heard from non-spam sources that actually want to help bloggers such as myself.) And I’m sure that even if you don’t get a kick out of reading your spam, you know all about these comments heckling you about your poor SEO rating and have either tried to do something about it or decided you don’t care.

My final thought is about a couple of comments I got a while back, which I deleted right away. They were both supremely creepy and supremely entertaining in about equal proportions. The commenters’ names somewhere along the lines of “F***buddy” (those are my asterisks) and the like. I think these awesome spammers wanted to know if I was interested in “having a good time”.

My response would be: Nope. I’m already having a pretty good time. Here. Writing on my blog. Faarrr awwayyy from creepers like you. Thanks for the offer though. I’ll be sure to let you know if I change my mind.

Do you ever go through your spam folder? Find anything worth sharing? If so, tell me about it in the comments, I’m always up for a good laugh! (And if anyone would like to answer any of the questions I raised  in my intro– that would also be awesome.)

Just to be Understood

I get easily distracted. Very easily. I resolved to read more this summer. And write more. But in addition to being distracted by silly websites and watching TV, lately I’ve also been struggling to stay focused on a writing a blog post or reading a book for long enough to get through it, before moving on to another post or another book. I stay at home most of the summer and don’t go to camp or get a summer job. My friends don’t know why I do it, they get bored during the two weeks between the end of school and the beginning of whatever arrangements they have for the summer. Whereas, in my ‘doing nothing’, I feel that I have too much going on. I find myself with at least five unpublished drafts sitting in my “All Posts” page, and I’m in the middle of at least two books, with what feels like a million others begging me to read them.

This so-much-ness leaves me overwhelmed and paralyzed. Earlier this month I was participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned a million times, but I’m not even sure, because I can’t even remember which posts I’ve published and which are still just drafts and what I’ve even expressed in which post. I quit that, because it was stressing me out and I felt I would spend my time better focussing on things I enjoy — namely reading and writing. But then, with so many options for optimum enjoyment, my brain just explodes and I end up doing nothing. I resolve to write first thing when I wake up — before I do anything else. I did this with my NaNo novel and I’ve been doing this all week with a still unpublished blog post I’ve been struggling to write. Rather than help, this resolution generally tends to lead to wasted days, trying to psyche myself up to write, not letting myself enjoy any other activities before I do and eventually finding that it’s four in the afternoon, and I’m still in my pyjamas.

And, of course, by the time I do sit down at the computer, my family is all home from whatever awesome things they do with their lives and they start distracting me. My sister comes in and tries to steal my attention, just as I’ve finally given it to what I’m working on or my brother will ask me for a ride somewhere — I, as the oldest and the only sibling with a license, being the family chauffeur.

The worst is when my mom asks me to do things for her and I constantly disappoint her by being a scatterbrained idiot, who forgets to do those things. She’ll call when she’s out asking me to do something minor that should take about thirty seconds. I’ll get her call while I’m at home, agonizing about the fact that I should really be writing, and then I’ll forget about what she wanted as soon as I hang up the phone, due to the fact that I’m preoccupied with the battle going on in my brain. She’ll then arrive home — always just when I’ve started writing and am finally getting really ‘in the zone’ — and she’ll get upset that I haven’t done what she asked. And then she’ll call me downstairs and (after she’s expressed her intense disappointment) she’ll ask me to go run some errands and will think it’s just too likely a story that I’m in the middle of writing, just that second. What were you doing earlier? she’ll ask. Why are you always on that blog whenever I need something? I wonder the same thing. And when I tell her I’m working on a blog post that I’ve been struggling to write all week, she’ll discount my blog — because it isn’t as if I’m doing work for school or anything important — and she’ll tell me that it’s no excuse.

I’m painting a very harsh picture of my mother. Probably even a biased, angst-y, immature picture and that isn’t very fair of me, as she has got to be the best mother in the entire universe and I don’t deserve half of the wonderful things she does for me on a daily basis. She’s an incredibly supportive mother and believes in me and my writing abilities far more than I do. She’s the kind of mother who suggested that rather than take the practical approach and be an English teacher when I grow up — because what else am I supposed to do with the English degree I plan on getting? — I should “just be an author”. On the bestsellers list. Because that’s what happens to every person who takes it into their head to pick up a pen (or keyboard) and write. I’m not even exaggerating — she believes in my talents to a fault.

This is pretty much the antithesis of MY parents.
Still not sure if that’s a good thing.
Photo credit: glasbergen.com

But still, for all her perfection as a mother and cheerleader in one respect, we are very different people and a lot of the time, she just doesn’t get it. I know, I know. That has got to be the biggest cliché in the history of the world. A teenager who feels misunderstood. By her mother. Where (and how many times) have you heard that before? In the past week?

But, perhaps somewhat uniquely, I feel that her belief in me is part of the misunderstanding. I hate when people (especially my close relatives, who are obviously extremely biased) tell me that my writing is going to make me famous one day. It’s an absurd notion, completely misses the entire point and if I do end up publishing fiction as a career, I wouldn’t want to write the nonsense that tends to comprise the bestsellers list. My mom thinks that’s absurd and even snobbish of me, but I really wouldn’t want my writing filling the bestseller slot that’s been filled by the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey and other such silliness that’s sensational today but will be forgotten and covered in dust by tomorrow.

My other problem with such high and unrealistic praise (I’m not talking solely about my mother anymore, just generally my relatives who love me very much and misunderstand me in an equal proportion ) is that I feel the need to refute it. Both out of modesty (whether that humility it is sincere or affected) and because I like to think realistically about my talents to avoid inevitable disappointment. The problem with this, is that I feel like I regularly put myself down, to balance how much other people sometimes ‘put me up’. And that isn’t so good either.

I’m not saying that praise is a bad thing. In fact, I love showing my work to my family so I can hear them say nice things about it. And furthermore, I think that where constructive critique is involved, positive comments are just as beneficial as needs-improvement comments. However, fluffy, insubstantial, you’re-absolutely-brilliant-and-going-to-be-famous-one-day style praise helps no one. The helpful comments are the ones that highlight specific aspects that are done well. Like techniques that are used effectively or content that’s relatable.

This post has gone on longer than I expected it to, and has gone far more deeply into my deep-seated issues than I had intended, but I hope it was still somewhat relevant to you and you enjoyed it in some way. If not, at least I’m glad I was able to sit down and focus on it for long enough to get it out. Perhaps it was a little self gratifying, as a fellow blogger talks about in her thought-provoking post here. But even so, maybe the family members who shower on the praise will read this piece of writing (in raptures, I’m sure) and at least it may succeed in helping us all understand each other a little better. Because isn’t that all everyone really wants? Just to be understood?

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