Tag Archives: writing

me me me

  1. If it takes more than 5 minutes to take the food between restaurant and home, I will not eat take out.
  2. I love the smell of my dog three weeks after he’s taken a bath.
  3. I hate wind.
  4. I am paralyzingly uncomfortable around groups of strangers.
  5. I hate quotation marks when used for dialogue.
  6. I have no problem eating alone at a restaurant so long as I have a book.
  7. I will overpay by 30% just to patronize local businesses.
  8. I have been hit on by more women than men at bars.
  9. I drink my coffee black.
  10. I have zero tolerance for rude behavior.
  11. I never thought I would live past 30.
  12. I think Raisin Bran is the best cereal ever.
  13. I let the dishes stack up for 7 days before I decide to wash them.
  14. I have 6 different perfume bottles.
  15. I have zero tolerance for people who are “the life of the party.”
  16. If I put my mind to it, I’m a pretty good cook.
  17. I canceled my subscription InStyle last year because it made me feel bad about myself.
  18. It has only been within the last three months that I’ve become comfortable sleeping in the middle of the bed.
  19. If I don’t have a cloth bag with me, I will not stop to buy groceries.
  20. If I couldn’t live on the West Coast I would live in Chicago.
  21. I cannot walk into a bookstore and leave without a book.
  22. I can’t stand when people tell me I’m funny.
  23. I’ve had my heart has broken once.
  24. I hate public speaking but I’m good at it.
  25. Up until the last year, every decision in my life has been made in order to make my parents happy.

letters to a young poet

The universal and timeless nature of the human condition blows my mind, and there is nothing that reminds me of this more than when I hear a song or read words written years ago, that absolutely capture the thoughts and emotions going through my head.  In those moments, songs and words transcend simple entertainment or beauty.  They are a link, a ladder, a ghost standing behind me comforting and encouraging me.

I am sitting here on my disheveled bed, my dog oddly resting against/on top of of my left leg, killing time by reading “Letters to a Young Poet”, a translated compilation of letters from Rainer Maria Rilke.  My writing instructor recommended the book to me a few weeks ago and it has been collecting dust at the foot of my bed since then.

Any attempts to describe the sense of excitement and comfort I felt as I read over his letters would be inartful and inaccurate.  I simply lack the skill and verbal facilities to it justice.  But I sit here, at 12:48am on the verge of laughter and tears, feeling as though an old friend sat beside me, listened quietly to my questions, my fears, my insecurities, and offered the following words of advice:

“You ask whether your verses are good.  You ask me.  You have asked others before.  You send them to magazines.  You compare them with other poems and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts.  Now…I beg you to give up all that.  You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now.  Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody.  There is only one single way.  Go into yourself.  Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write.  This above all–ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write?  Dive into yourself for a deep answer.  And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet the earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.”  — Letter #1

“Turn your attention thither.  Try to raise the submerged sensations of that ample past; your personality will grow more firm, your solitude will widen and will become a dusky dwelling past which the noise of others goes by far away. — And if out of this turning inward, out of this absorption into your own world verses come, then it will not occur to you to ask anyone whether they are good verses.. Nor will you try to interest magazines in your poems: for you will see in them your fond natural possession, a fragment and a voice of your life.  A work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity.  In this nature of its origin lies the judgment of it: there is no other….  I do only want to advise you to keep growing quietly and seriously throughout your whole development; you cannot disturb it more rudely than by looking outward and expecting from outside replies to questions that only your inmost feeling in your most hushed hour can perhaps answer.”  — Letter #1

“Everything is gestation and then bringing forth.  To let each impression and germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity.  That alone is living the artist’s life: in understanding as in creating….  Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer.  It does come.  But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide.”  — Letter #3

“If you will cling to Nature, to the simple in Nature, to the little things that hardly anyone sees, and you can so unexpectedly become big and beyond measuring; if you have this love of inconsiderable things and seek quite simply, as one who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier, more coherent and somehow more conciliatory for you, not in your intellect, perhaps, which lags marveling behind, but in your inmost consciousness, waking and cognizance.  You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.  Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.  perhaps you do carry within yourself the possibility of shaping and forming as a particularly happy and pure way of living; train yourself to it–but take whatever comes with great trust, and if only it comes out of your own will, out of some need of your inmost being, take it upon yourself and hate nothing…. Therefore, dear sir, love your solitude and bear with the sweet sounding lamentation the suffering it causes you.  For those who are near you are far, you say, and that shows it is beginning to grow wide about you.  And when what is near you is far, then your distance is already among the stars and very large; rejoice in your grown, in which you naturally can take no one with you, and be kind to those who remain behind, and be sure and calm before them and do not torment them with your doubts and do not frighten them with your confidence or joy, which they could not understand.  Seek yourself some sort of simple and loyal community with them, which need not necessarily change as you yourself become different and again different;  love in them life in an unfamiliar form and be considerate of aging people, who fear that being-alone in which you trust.” — Letter #4

Good stuff.  Thanks, Rainer.  Oh, and he gave the young poet a book, which makes my whole drunken Jen Knapp incident a bit less embarrassing.

k.i.s.s.

I was reminded of this Hemingway quote last night as I had a moment of panic listening to other students in my class read their work out loud:

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

If Drunk Ernie tells me it’s ok to used simple language, I’m going to keep using simple language.

patron saints

My creative writing instructor gave us three pieces to read for homework.  One was Chekov, one was…something else that I can’t remember yet, and one was this 2008 piece by Malcolm Gladwell.  I read it while enjoying a tasty grilled cheese sandwich and ice cold Heineken.  Don’t ask me why I ordered a Heineken.  I think I panicked for no apparent reason.

If you actually take the time to read the Gladwell piece, which you should because it’s really inspiring and somewhat comforting, I’m sure you will pick up on certain themes that you’d think really resonated with me.  They did, but that’s not the point of this post.

My immediate reaction to that article was to lean back and reflect on my “patrons”.  The people in my life who have made personal sacrifices to allow me to pursue whateverthefuck it is that I’m pursuing.  Whether it be sacrifices of money, time, or an emotional or psychological tax of just being around me in my current dazed state, I am, despite my prickly and aloof state of nature, eminently lucky and thankful.

I was filled with warm fuzzies.  Though, upon further reflection, that might have been more the grilled cheese talking.

nurturing nature

I had my first writing class today. It is a nine week class called “Introduction to Creative Writing” and it is supposed to be a survey of all the different genres of creative writing (fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, personal essay, memoir, etc.), wherein we deconstruct and analyze poems and writings to learn what makes them good and then apply those lessons to our own writing via in-class exercises and homework. Aside from the rather precarious dance with public transportation that takes me to Potrero Hill, a neighborhood that for no good reason has scared me during my entire tenure as a San Francisco resident, I’m excited. I never took an English class in college and aside from high school, I’ve never had any formal instruction or training in any form of creative writing.

The class started with our instructor asking us to read the following quote from Katherine Anne Porter:

“I started out with nothing in the world but a kind of passion, a driving desire. I don’t know where it came from, and I do not know why — or why I have been so stubborn about it that nothing could deflect me. But this thing between me and my writing is the strongest bond I have ever had — stronger than any bond or any engagement with any human being or with any other work that I have done.”

I stared silently at these words as the class droned on, their voices dissolving into white noise that I easily ignored. I know this quote is supposed to have a profound effect on me. It is supposed to trigger something in my writer’s soul. “Aha! A kindred spirit,” I should say.

It didn’t.

Because I don’t feel that way about my writing. At least, I don’t think I do. When I read that quote I immediately thought, “Well, replace “my writing” with “music” and that’s dead on. But writing? Writing, interestingly, is not necessarily something I enjoy. I don’t revel in wordsmithing or crafting stories. I don’t carry a journal and a pen with me everywhere I go in hopes of crafting the next great short story. I don’t ride an emotional high when I complete something I’m satisfied with. In fact, I find writing to be a chore.

I write because I feel compelled to do so. I write because, to put it simply, I can’t not.

Riding the bus home tonight, music of course blaring into my ears, this stark contrast between my feeling and connection with music and writing perplexed me. In class, as we sat in deeply tufted couches amidst the police sirens and ever-present smell of chai to deconstruct the intent, meaning, and greatness of a particular piece of writing, I couldn’t help but think “But this is what I do with music.”

I can hear a song and let it wash over me, marinate in it, live in it. I can spend hours deconstructing the meaning of that song, both lyrically from the writer’s perspective, lyrically from my perspective, the intention behind the song structure, melody, or riffs. I hear things that other people don’t. I know this because when I try to explain it to others they stare back blankly. When I hear a great song I can’t help but tell anyone who will listen about it. It is a gift and a curse. A great song becomes a part of me. It changes me. It can destroy me and move me in a way no piece of writing ever has.

But here I am. I’ve quit my job to pursue my writing. I’m considering going to school for it. I’ve shelled out $350 and am risking life and limb every week in order to learn more about it. I am consciously forcing myself to write more.

Why?

Like I said, I can’t not.

So this is where I come down on it: Music is my best friend. It has never failed me. It has always been there for me. I could “talk” to music for hours and I always walk away feeling better about myself, about life, about the world in general. Music is nothing but good times. But if you were to take music away from me, I could go on. I might not enjoy life the way I did with it in my life, but I would be ok.

Writing is love. Something that I am drawn to despite my own protestations. Something that I try to love on my own terms but fail. Writing commands me. I didn’t choose it, it chose me. And if you were to take writing away from me, to be honest, I’m not sure I would be ok. I quit my job because I did not like the person I had become and I did not like where I was headed. And a lot of that had to do with the fact that my job did not give me the space and the personal resources to address my compulsion to write. I know that I was headed down a very negative path and something had to give. Money and prestige or my sanity? I choose sanity. And Chaka Khan.

“But this thing between me and my writing is the strongest bond I have ever had — stronger than any bond or any engagement with any human being or with any other work that I have done.”

I hope that over time I am able to internalize this, acknowledge it as a truism and wear it as a badge of honor. But for now I am pleased and somewhat proud of myself that instead of letting the writing rule my life, I am taking active measures to learn how to control this compulsion. Because at the end of the day, I know that writing and I will be together forever. We might as well start learning how to live with each other.

dear santa

Hand sewn journals using old beer boxes. Perfect for my drunken ramblings.