Hedgebrook Diary: Week 3

September 15, 2015

I am exactly at the midway point of my residency. I’m winding up work on this next chapter of the novel. It was over a week of what I felt was not much, but amounted to a whole chapter, a lot more figured out in terms of world-building, and time well spent with a character.

Some writers get here and write like 100 pages but this is not that type of project (or maybe it’s just not at that point yet) and I am certainly not that kind of writer. Years of writing in spurts—a few words in caps as placeholders, expanding on those words with a few sentences, molding a paragraph, threading it to be cohesive with another paragraph, staying with a scene, rounds of printing, rereading, tweaking, heightening—not in one sitting, mind you, but at work, on my lunch break, after work, on the way home on the train, for a few minutes in the evening, on a Saturday morning after walking Niko, a Sunday morning after breakfast. Snatches of time. It’s all I’ve ever had.

It’s trained me to keep working like that even when I have blocks of time so even here at Hedgebrook I’m compelled to work in a touch and go way. I write a blog post, make edits to a work in progress, have coffee, expand a scene, have lunch, make notes, take a shower, print, reread, mark-up, have dinner, talk to other writers, take another look at the whole thing, tweak, read, listen to the radio, read in bed. Even from week to week I feel the need to switch from one project to another.

It’s fine. It works for me. And the only right way is the way that works.

This week, I’m dedicating my attention to studying musical theater. Some things are better done when you’re too inexperienced to have the foresight to see just how impossible it is or you’d never do it. I have a collaborator. I have a fresh premise. I have a story. I have no fucking idea what I’m doing. But I once said the same thing about short stories and essays. While many days, I still don’t have a clear idea of what the fuck I’m doing with a particular short story or essay, I feel I have a better grasp. Maybe that’s all we get, more confidence in the handling.

September 16, 2015

On a walk with a few fellow writers after dinner, someone today made the most casual comment that this time, being here at Hedgebrook, is especially great for 9-to-5ers.

what-on-earth-are-you-on-about

I fucking forgot my life. That I have a life other than this one. That this one is not the real one.

I seriously had a moment of dissonance where I did not understand that I am one of the aforementioned 9-to-5ers and was like…oh shit, this isn’t my life. The way you pick up a jacket at a party and you’re like oh wait, this isn’t mine, looks just like mine but it’s not. I might have audibly gasped like someone threw a drink in my face. It was as frightening as those days you wake up suddenly and can’t determine if you’ve woken up late or early, if it’s a weekday or weekend. A moment of sheer terror.

I haven’t locked my door, used keys, a wallet, cash in weeks. We had a brief power outage the first weekend I was here. When the power returned, I didn’t even bother to set the time on the clock radios in my cabin so both clocks have different random times because who gives a damn? I haven’t even shopped for my own food. I basically ricochet between my cottage, the pumphouse, the bathhouse and the farmhouse. I pushed myself to take that quick walk off the property today because…I mean…it’s good for me, but I was glad to get back in the farmhouse when we returned.

I fucking forgot my life. How quick was that?

September 17, 2015

The writer Alexander Chee posed a simple question on his facebook status. Just asked if anyone had comments about taking a social media break, if it was helpful in their writing.

I use Facebook and twitter most frequently. I’m a jump-on, jump-off type of user rather than someone who sits and scrolls and I don’t rail about the evils of it. I’m in the “it’s all about how you use it” faction. If your timeline annoys you, curate a better timeline. There are plenty of tools available for you to do so, from herding individuals into circles to limit their view, to unfollowing for limiting yours. And once you set that up you never have to think of it again.

I long ago uninstalled Facebook and twitter from my phone and haven’t missed notification icons and dings for a moment. My linkedin account just sort of sits like a monument, although I don’t know if that’s technically social media. It’s like one serious friend in the crew. Google + is crickets, so I just share infrequent big professional news and blog posts. I use pinterest for inspiration boards for writing, recipes, saving photos of sploosh-worthy famous people. It’s my corkboard, not somewhere I engage with others. I’m a fan of instagram and use it, but oddly enough I uninstalled it upon arriving here. Partially, because my phone was pressed for storage space and partially because I wanted to encourage myself to directly experience in the present rather than capture for later. Tumblr and Medium are infrequent afterthoughts.

I don’t feel they get in the way of my writing, at home or here. Other things siphon from my writing time: work for pay; parenting and parenting-related putting out of fires; commuting places; household crap like cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry; working out, people, events. Much more so than social media, but something stuck to me from that thread. Someone said they felt a decrease in their hair trigger reaction.

Sometimes checking social media feels like a series of quick, and therefore meaningless, indignations. Everything from a news item to a status to a photo, meme, or video can spark declarations of heinousness, offense, vapidity.

There’s no time to process in depth why we feel the way we do. No time to turn it over in one’s mind, see things from different angles, practice introspection, examine ourselves, glean insight, practice empathy. There’s not even time to feel nothing because the flow of stimuli is so constant and eternal. Something that sparks outrage in the morning is forgotten by noon. And in between, there were a dozen other sparks.

What strikes me when I’m reading a piece of literature, whether essay, short fiction or novel, are the parts that refuse being shaken off so easily. The insights revealed in the sentences that feel like a wallop. And a hair trigger reaction doesn’t seem conducive to creating that experience for others. Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” Tears take time to collect and surprise actually takes time to build.

I respond to individual experiential learning so I decided to take a break from social media for the rest of my time here. I don’t expect to write more, but perhaps create the space to think and feel more.

September 18, 2015

I listened to a Thich Nhat Hahn talk this morning and cried. I mean, like an ugly sob. I’m not really a crier anymore. I have one good cry a year. Period cries don’t count.

My father once asked me if I ever saw my grandmother depressed or crying. I never did. We know she must have felt desperate or sad many times, but we never saw her cry. I believe I come from a long line of non-cryers, especially women. Breaking down, releasing, unpacking, is a luxury and a privilege—one I did not see exercised too often in my family.

I am afraid, despite all of my emotional intelligence, that while I understand when others cry and feel compassion toward them when they do, I see it as a sign of weakness in myself.

It means I have allowed something to wound me. I have given something power to do so. It is a constant struggle to remind myself no one gets through this life unscathed and that wounds remind us we are human. The power I think I retain when I don’t allow things to penetrate is a false one, an illusion, something to make me feel immortal.

He talked about the components of love in Buddhist terms. The concept of understanding did me in. How necessary understanding is to love and how much must be traversed to truly understand. How you must see it all at once, a person’s suffering, their obstacles, their life, their desires. That when you truly understand another person, you don’t do or say things to make them suffer. If you’re not bringing them joy, it’s not love. If you can’t understand, it’s not love. Perhaps there’s an intention to love, but not real love just yet. How when we love our friends we give them all the freedom they require. What changes in romantic love that this becomes no longer true? He suggested we ask our loved one, do I understand you enough?

I think I have been intending to love for the last year, but not truly done so. Fear and attachment get in the way. I can see it when I look deeply, as Thay suggests we do, at my loved one’s disappointments, loneliness, fear, his past experiences, his desires, his reaching toward happiness. I don’t think I have always said or done things to ease his suffering. I think my suffering always stepped in front of his. I don’t think my love has always been freeing in the way a friendship is, in that selfless way, where you want to see your friends happy, in whatever form that takes.

I exercised my privilege of having the time and privacy here to cry over how nearly impossible a task it is love well.

September 19, 2015

Well today sucked. I am disappointed I didn’t get something I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted. I got something else I wanted, but wasn’t sure I deserved it. Or rather the thought ate at me that I got it despite what I perceived was a conclusion that my work is mediocre at best. The few people I could divulge these happenings to were kinda remiss about it. And it’s not fair to expect people to respond the way you want them to. They can only respond the way they know how.  I couldn’t cultivate any gratitude or happiness in the present. I didn’t bathe. My confidence took a bit of a hit. So did my ego.

September 20, 2015

You have to be delusional to be a writer. Have to be. It’s the only way forward.

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Hedgebrook Diary: Week 2

September 6, 2015

I read this month’s Power Path and apropos is an understatement.

I know I am working on a good project. (I’m rotating between several – a short story collection, an essay collection, a wisp of an idea for musical theater, possibly a coming of age novel I abandoned years ago…but I’m talking about The Novel.) It is ambitious, especially for someone who has become comfortable with short form work. I believe in the story. What I need to believe is that I am the person that can make it great. That the story is not a prodigious orphan. That along with the characters, the plot, the world – whatever I bring to it, my me-ness is a part of that as well. That a person with an MFA, a historian, a seasoned fantasy writer could do it, but not like I can. That I can commandeer this, whatever I perceive my shortcomings to be.

“At the end of the day, all you will have to really rely on is FAITH and TRUST.” -Lena, Power Path

September 7, 2015

I have to remember I’m here for more than parking myself in front of a screen and typing. Or even reading. Rather, I want my experience to culminate into more than that and I think I came here because there’s more.

20150907_071558I slept in the Farmhouse last night because I was up late writing. I write in spurts so when it trickles out continuously, I just go with it. I woke up at sunrise, without much of a plan, just ended up at the garden and cut some flowers for my cottage. I walked up the path leading past my cottage and was moved to stop and look at sunrise streaming through the trees. Encountered a banana slug. Was standing under a tree when a burst of rain showered on me. I looked up to where the sound of leaves being shaken came from and it was a squirrel (chipmunk?) jumping from branch to branch. Discovered the spider on my porch that I had lunch with, who hung in the eye of its web all day yesterday was still there, but its web had been washed away by the rain. It was a beautiful web, I regret not having a better camera to capture it, but maybe that’s the point. That I am to take in the things that are exclusive to my being here.

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September 8, 2015

I rode a bike for like the third time in my life yesterday. No, it wasn’t just like riding a bike. If anyone used that expression to describe something being second-nature I would ascribe a completely different meaning to second-nature. You mean something that I steal away to do out of sight from other humans, cannot completely figure out (how does one go uphill?), and gives me small heart attacks in doing? Because that’s what riding a bike is for me.

The spider that lives in the shrubbery(?) right by Oak, the one I had lunch with, rebuilt its web. Chose a new spot, a little to the left, and by this morning was right in the center, waiting again. Didn’t seem to have many feelings about the loss of the other web due to something so out of its control like heavy rain. It just did it. I give the spider a nod every time I cross my porch.

September 9, 2015

It’s 5AM. An ungodly hour for me, but I woke up from strange dreams. I’ve been having them since I got here. Vivid and urgent. I’ve dreamt of E’s father at least twice. He is always a dark presence, a menacing energy. Even after years of not speaking with him. Even though our last conversations have been cordial. In dreams, I am always trying to keep him out or get away. So much so, that in last night’s dreams I could read the street signs and concentrated hard enough to make them appear in sequential order. It is almost impossible to read in a dream – the words and numbers are usually illegible or change.

E’s grandmother died last week, her father’s mother. I’ve seen her at least twice in my dreams here too. She was a great boon to me during my pregnancy with E and especially during E’s collicky infancy so her death certainly affected me. Neither E nor I were able to attend services, both of us being far out of state, and to be honest I prefer to maintain distance between myself and certain areas and people of my past. If we dragged our entire pasts with us, there would be no room for the present or the future.

In my dreams, E’s father and I alternated between following, annoying, and getting away from one another (like the good old days) all the way to his mother’s apartment. She came to the door, sad, in mourning clothes. Teary. He tried to sell her something he’d stolen (like the good old days) and I tried to give her two Mickey Mouse car seats he’d tried to sell me. But I discovered they were used and worn, not brand new under the packaging and got irritated. He made a show of strength outside by body slamming people into the steel cellar doors commonly found outside of bodegas in NYC. That is what made me start reading the signs and forcing myself away, toward home.

I woke up from this feeling disturbed, fearful, invaded, with the urge to cry. Most of all I felt unprotected, missing my grandmother and with the resolute thought that the purpose of family is protection. I have been working on a fantasy novel – about maintaining power, class, migration, what a matriarchy could look like, what a world without the influence of Judeo-Christianity would look like, especially for women, especially for gender expression, but at the heart it is a story about a brother and sister. It is about family.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls these “dark man” dreams. The man, a manifestation of the predator in our own psyche. The dreams have a strong physical aspect – jolt you awake, make your heart pound. They’re initiatory dreams – preparing us for the change from one level of knowing to another, deeper one and the actions that go with it.

“Dark man dreams are wake-up calls. They say: Pay attention! Something has gone radically amiss in the outer world…The threat of the “dark man dreams” serves as a warning to all of us — if you don’t pay attention, something will be stolen from you! The dreamer needs to be initiated so that whatever has been robbing her can be recognized, apprehended, and dealt with.” (Laura Knight-Jadczyk‎‎’s modified quote from: Estés, Clarissa Pinkola. Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.)

September 10, 2015

For the fourth time, the same ant scurries across the journal page I’m writing in. It is alone. Where is its colony? It searches frantically. At least, I see it as such because it refuses to pause or even change pace, covering the same ground. Over and over. From the side table to the coaster to the bookshelf, back to the side table, across my page.

Only once does it try something different and climbs the lamp on the side table. Look at this stupid Icarus, I thought, about to incinerate itself with the heat from the bulb. Relentlessly marching toward its death. Like all of us. One day, it’s your grandparents dying, the next it’s your parents, everyone else’s parents and then you.

I grow annoyed with this ant. Why doesn’t it go somewhere new? It feels out in front of itself with its legs, only stepping where it feels solid ground. But sometimes, there are small gaps. Well, I perceive them as small. To the ant it must be places where the world ends. A fall to certain death. I suppose it feels like that to us sometimes too. If the ant just took a little jump at these edges, it would land somewhere that would put it on a new path.

I push the ant off the table. Perhaps that’s what life or God does to us.

Somehow, it has reappeared, scurrying across my page again. For the fifth time. I give up on him. Jodete, entonces.

2014 Resolutions

Read more.

Game of Thrones books 2-4

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good people Turn                           Evil

Hammer of the Gods

Hitman (Bret Hart autobio)

Undisputed (Chris Jericho’s book)

Slaughterhouse Five

Siddhartha

Proof of Heaven

Guns, Germs and Steel

Fredick Douglass’ Narrative

something by Bukowski (haven’t decided yet)

Toni Morrison (probably Sula, but I mean, you can’t go                               wrong with any choice)

Assata Shakur bio

The Stranger – Albert Camus

something by Ursula K. Le Guin

something by Chimamanda Adichie

something by Chris Abani

(This doesn’t include 11 books via my book                                                 club)

Lose 15 lbs – Do a pull up.

Oral surgery. Sigh. I need at least four teeth pulled. Relax, they’re wisdom teeth.

New glasses. Something with larger frames. I should’ve just kept my grandmother’s frames or the Medicaid ones, we all feared as poor kids. 

Learn to play a sport. Try boxing and if that’s the sport.

Learn to play an instrument.

Another tattoo

Writing goals: Write a proper essay. Write better stories. Get a grant or fellowship. 

Ride a horse

Wear your hair curly. An entire year. No cutting unless split end situation becomes a code red.

Receive mindfulness trainings at Blue Cliff Monastery

Help E get a job.

Hug Jillian Michaels. Hug Jay and Mark Briscoe. Possibly for an awkwardly long time. Try to not to stare or lose your shit.  

Maybe a little tv would be okay. Archer. Metalocalypse. Bob’s Burgers. Anything RuPaul is involved in. Some smart shit like Arrested Development. That’s it. And Game of Thrones of course.

Epic Halloween costume. Epic Christmas card. Glitter. Possibly dragons.

Don’t speak poorly of yourself.

Put your phone away when you’re in the company of others or just in the middle of an activity yourself. Be present.