Just Write

My favorite recurring fantasy involves a strict schedule. Yes, that is weird. Whatever. In this fantasy, I am a workaholic down at the desk by 7 a.m sharp, Monday-Friday, come hell or high water. Nose to the grindstone, slaving away on research and words, words, words. I would finish those four projects languishing away in boxes and drawers and tattered notebooks for the better part of five years. I’d rescue them, complete them, then move on with fiery diligence to THE NEXT GREAT THING. My only breaks from writing writing writing, would be to mine for gold in stacks of submission possibilities. I would flood lit mags and presses. They, the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, would never escape my fiery diligence, my flood of work. I would astonish them all with my doggedness.

Family and friends would beg me to visit, just get out of the house once in awhile. Sure, I walk the dog and venture out occasionally for food, but come on. A person can’t type ninety hours a week and remain a healthy, normal human. But I can! I would swear this in a passionate voice! I am happy, in fact, I’ll work longer hours. I walk my dog, and carve out a few minutes each week for the grocery store and bills, and maybe talk to people I love most, read to them.

Maybe, after a year or so, I’ll go see the world. Hang out. Follow a story, sniff out ideas and hang out. Observe. Listen. Involve myself in the story until it becomes multi-dimensional. Until it becomes so goddamned irresistible, I have to drive miles up into the mountains to one of those legendary writer’s cabins, nice and rustic in early spring, and there I’ll work ninety hours a week until I have a manuscript that proves once and for all I am the writer I always thought I would be. This will, of course, inspire celebration. A nice break from writing long enough to shop the manuscript, get a terrific book deal — one that will make other writers wistful and teary eyed.

Until then, I’ll be sitting down to sketch out my plan of attack, to map out my schedule. The map will not include by-ways of procrastination. No guilt over a messy abode. No worries for not having a “real job”, no panic attacks, no sense of failure. The road will be clear, wide-open, as endless as my dark little heart desires. On day one, in those wee hours when the birds haven’t yet gathered their voices, I will walk my dog, do a few chores wearing earbuds from which the wisdom of memoir and literary journalism themed audibles will enter my brain and trickle down to build muscle memory. Once satisfied that dawn will break any moment, I’ll put away the earbuds, turn on some music, shower then dress, and take breakfast to my desk.

For eight hours I will rip away lines from old poets, paste them to the titles and endings of younger lesser-knowns, weed out genius word by word by line from dreamy-eyed dead folk and weave it all between the lines of contemporary feminists. With one hand I’ll keep an ink and white stack of citations, with the other, I will type and type, compile new work from the old and famous. Eight hours a day, for forty days will make a masterpiece that outshines my first attempts at a cento collection the same way the sun outshines a 40 watt bulb. But that’s just the first eight hours of the first in a forty-day stint.

An hour will be spent stretching the stiffness from unused muscles, feeding my dog, giving the hubby a loving phone call. Then, with a dinner plate next to the laptop. I’ll stand at that cute little pub table in the dining room, surrounded by Van Gogh reproductions, facing a window looking out toward a wink of the river. There, I will have dinner and get to that essay a small paying publication is anxiously awaiting. This will pay the rent and there might be some left over for the best doggy treats on the market. I will hit the send button and yawn. That’s a good day right there.

Day one will be so impressive that years later I will chronicle it an anthology piece, the opening to a brief synopsis of my success story. Just imagine what could be accomplished on day two, three, ten! I’ll need a bit of help, of course. A professional editor for the poetry collections. And once I’ve dug out those old pieces of speculative fiction and essays, saved them from languishing away in the dark, I’ll be keeping that editor so busy she will have to quit her day job. The essays will sell quickest. Let’s face it, readers are absolutely inundated with speculative fiction these days. And poetry, well, most people grimace when the P-Word is mentioned. Nevertheless, after the three collections are out in the wind and a dozen or so lit mags pick up individual pieces, who knows? The P-Word might be pronounced without a grimace by a few less readers. A few. But I won’t concern myself with that now. What’s important is the work. Do the work.

That’s what one of my favorite professors used to say. Be loyal to the work. She also said that I should send off Emancipation and I Am Not an Evangelist right away — that was four years ago. I never sent them anywhere. It’s as if when that class ended, when I no longer had reason to receive or send emails to that professor, I no longer had reason to consider what life those words would have outside the confines of my files. These messy files that have been packed and repacked, hauled from one end of the country to the other, digitized then lost, transcribed in the middle of the night, then shoved into the corner.

Why? Lots of things kept getting in the way. Mostly, basic survival. The last four years showed me something contrary to what that professor declared to be the ultimate truth, the ultimate goal of every creative. Sure, be loyal to the work … when it’s actually paying the rent. Or, if some benevolent deep pocket is paying the rent. For those of us who don’t have deep pockets dishing out the basic necessities, there’s forty hour weeks to be put in elsewhere. And to get through those, of course, there must be distractions. Distractions become as necessary paying the rent when a creative is punching a time clock, and spending distraction hours on poetry seems to make poetry less somehow. A shot of good whiskey and an hour of TV can save a life. Don’t waste breath in argument. It’s fact.

Before the next random person can spout a tired old platitude or start jabbering on about first world problems, four years have blinked by and here I sit with boxes of old notebooks and no real body of work. Before I can fully recall just what I took away from that brief university lecture about the importance of avoiding sentimentality in art, I realize that I can no longer introduce myself as a writer, or a student. I don’t write, I don’t study. I’ve got a job that affords me the opportunity to do neither. But the lights are on. The rent is paid. I’ve run Netflix out of good distractions. The whiskey bottle hasn’t been touched in months, and I’m sick of being a non-writer.

Lately I’ve filled free moments with fantasizing about putting in a 30-day notice and driving home to sit at my desk and start a new chapter, so to speak. It’s past 10:30 p.m., and tomorrow is coming at me way too fast. But I won’t concern myself with all that now. The work is priority.

So, let’s get to mapping out that schedule.

7 a.m. Monday: DAY ONE.

Just Write

My favorite recurring fantasy involves a strict schedule. Yes, that is weird. Whatever. In this fantasy, I am a workaholic down at the desk by 7 a.m sharp, Monday-Friday, come hell or high water. Nose to the grindstone, slaving away on research and words, words, words. I would finish those four projects languishing away in boxes and drawers and tattered notebooks for the better part of five years. I’d rescue them, complete them, then move on with fiery diligence to THE NEXT GREAT THING. My only breaks from writing writing writing, would be to mine for gold in stacks of submission possibilities. I would flood lit mags and presses. They, the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, would never escape my fiery diligence, my flood of work. I would astonish them all with my doggedness.

Family and friends would beg me to visit, just get out of the house once in awhile. Sure, I walk the dog and venture out occasionally for food, but come on. A person can’t type ninety hours a week and remain a healthy, normal human. But I can! I would swear this in a passionate voice! I am happy, in fact, I’ll work longer hours. I walk my dog, and carve out a few minutes each week for the grocery store and bills, and maybe talk to people I love most, read to them.

Maybe, after a year or so, I’ll go see the world. Hang out. Follow a story, sniff out ideas and hang out. Observe. Listen. Involve myself in the story until it becomes multi-dimensional. Until it becomes so goddamned irresistible, I have to drive miles up into the mountains to one of those legendary writer’s cabins, nice and rustic in early spring, and there I’ll work ninety hours a week until I have a manuscript that proves once and for all I am the writer I always thought I would be. This will, of course, inspire celebration. A nice break from writing long enough to shop the manuscript, get a terrific book deal — one that will make other writers wistful and teary eyed.

Until then, I’ll be sitting down to sketch out my plan of attack, to map out my schedule. The map will not include by-ways of procrastination. No guilt over a messy abode. No worries for not having a “real job”, no panic attacks, no sense of failure. The road will be clear, wide-open, as endless as my dark little heart desires. On day one, in those wee hours when the birds haven’t yet gathered their voices, I will walk my dog, do a few chores wearing earbuds from which the wisdom of memoir and literary journalism themed audibles will enter my brain and trickle down to build muscle memory. Once satisfied that dawn will break any moment, I’ll put away the earbuds, turn on some music, shower then dress, and take breakfast to my desk.

For eight hours I will rip away lines from old poets, paste them to the titles and endings of younger lesser-knowns, weed out genius word by word by line from dreamy-eyed dead folk and weave it all between the lines of contemporary feminists. With one hand I’ll keep an ink and white stack of citations, with the other, I will type and type, compile new work from the old and famous. Eight hours a day, for forty days will make a masterpiece that outshines my first attempts at a cento collection the same way the sun outshines a 40 watt bulb. But that’s just the first eight hours of the first in a forty-day stint.

An hour will be spent stretching the stiffness from unused muscles, feeding my dog, giving the hubby a loving phone call. Then, with a dinner plate next to the laptop. I’ll stand at that cute little pub table in the dining room, surrounded by Van Gogh reproductions, facing a window looking out toward a wink of the river. There, I will have dinner and get to that essay a small paying publication is anxiously awaiting. This will pay the rent and there might be some left over for the best doggy treats on the market. I will hit the send button and yawn. That’s a good day right there.

Day one will be so impressive that years later I will chronicle it an anthology piece, the opening to a brief synopsis of my success story. Just imagine what could be accomplished on day two, three, ten! I’ll need a bit of help, of course. A professional editor for the poetry collections. And once I’ve dug out those old pieces of speculative fiction and essays, saved them from languishing away in the dark, I’ll be keeping that editor so busy she will have to quit her day job. The essays will sell quickest. Let’s face it, readers are absolutely inundated with speculative fiction these days. And poetry, well, most people grimace when the P-Word is mentioned. Nevertheless, after the three collections are out in the wind and a dozen or so lit mags pick up individual pieces, who knows? The P-Word might be pronounced without a grimace by a few less readers. A few. But I won’t concern myself with that now. What’s important is the work. Do the work.

That’s what one of my favorite professors used to say. Be loyal to the work. She also said that I should send off Emancipation and I Am Not an Evangelist right away — that was four years ago. I never sent them anywhere. It’s as if when that class ended, when I no longer had reason to receive or send emails to that professor, I no longer had reason to consider what life those words would have outside the confines of my files. These messy files that have been packed and repacked, hauled from one end of the country to the other, digitized then lost, transcribed in the middle of the night, then shoved into the corner. But I won’t concern myself with all that now. Those days are over. The work is priority now. So, let’s get to mapping out that schedule.

7 a.m. Monday: DAY ONE.

Just Write

My favorite recurring fantasy involves a strict schedule. Yes, that is weird. Whatever. In this fantasy, I am a workaholic down at the desk by 7 a.m sharp, Monday-Friday, come hell or high water. Nose to the grindstone, slaving away on research and words, words, words. I would finish those four projects languishing away in boxes and drawers and tattered notebooks for the better part of five years. I’d rescue them, complete them, then move on with fiery diligence to THE NEXT GREAT THING. My only breaks from writing writing writing, would be to mine for gold in stacks of submission possibilities. I would flood lit mags and presses. They, the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, would never escape my fiery diligence, my flood of work. I would astonish them all with my doggedness. Family and friends would beg me to visit, just get out of the house once in awhile. Sure, I walk the dog and venture out occasionally for food, but come on. A person can’t type ninety hours a week and remain a healthy, normal human. But I can! I would swear this in a passionate voice! I am happy, in fact, I’ll work longer hours. I walk my dog, and carve out a few minutes each week for the grocery store and bills, and maybe talk to people I love most, read to them. Maybe, after a year or so, I’ll go see the world. Hang out. Follow a story, sniff out ideas and hang out. Observe. Listen. Involve myself in the story until it becomes multi-dimensional. Until it becomes so goddamned irresistible, I have to drive miles up into the mountains to one of those legendary writer’s cabins, nice and rustic in early spring, and there I’ll work ninety hours a week until I have a manuscript that proves once and for all I am the writer I always thought I would be. This will, of course, inspire celebration. A nice break from writing long enough to shop the manuscript, get a terrific book deal — one that will make other writers wistful and teary eyed — then I’ll take a mini vacation. A day or two, long enough to go shopping for doggy treats and new pens before sitting down to sketch out my plan of attack, to map out my schedule.

The map will not include by-ways of procrastination. No guilt over a messy abode. No worries for not having a “real job”, no panic attacks, no sense of failure. The road will be clear, wide-open, as endless as my dark little heart desires. On day one, in those wee hours when the birds haven’t yet gathered their voices, I will walk my dog, do a few chores wearing earbuds from which the wisdom of memoir and literary journalism themed audibles will enter my brain and trickle down to build muscle memory. Once satisfied that dawn will break any moment, I’ll put away the earbuds, turn on some music, shower then dress, and take breakfast to my desk. For eight hours I will rip away lines from old poets, paste them to the titles and endings of younger folk, weed out genius word by word by line from dreamy-eyed dead folk and weave it all between the lines of contemporary feminists. With one hand I’ll keep an ink and white stack of citations, with the other, I will type and type, compile new work from the old and famous. Eight hours a day, for forty days will make a masterpiece that outshines my first attempts at a cento collection the same way the sun outshines a 40 watt bulb. But that’s just the first eight hours of the first in a forty-day stint. An hour will be spent stretching the stiffness from unused muscles, feeding my dog, giving the hubby a loving phone call. Then, with a dinner plate next to the laptop. I’ll stand at that cute little pub table in the dining room, surrounded by Van Gogh reproductions, facing a window looking out toward a wink of the river. There, I will have dinner and get to that essay a small paying publication is anxiously awaiting. This will pay the rent and there might be some left over for the best doggy treats on the market. I will hit the send button and yawn. That’s a good day right there.

Day one will be so impressive that years later I will chronicle it an anthology piece, the opening to a brief synopsis of my success story.

7 a.m. Monday: DAY ONE.

Just Write

My favorite recurring fantasy involves a strict schedule. Yes, that is weird. Whatever. In this fantasy, I am a workaholic down at the desk by 7 a.m sharp, Monday-Friday, come hell or high water. Nose to the grindstone, slaving away on research and words, words, words. I would finish those four projects languishing away in boxes and drawers and tattered notebooks for the better part of five years. I’d rescue them, complete them, then move on with fiery diligence to THE NEXT GREAT THING. My only breaks from writing writing writing, would be to mine for gold in stacks of submission possibilities. I would flood lit mags and presses. They, the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, would never escape my fiery diligence, my flood of work. I would astonish them all with my doggedness. Family and friends would beg me to visit, just get out of the house once in awhile. Sure, I walk the dog and venture out occasionally for food, but come on. A person can’t type ninety hours a week and remain a healthy, normal human. But I can! I would swear this in a passionate voice! I am happy, in fact, I’ll work longer hours. I walk my dog, and carve out a few minutes each week for the grocery store and bills, and maybe talk to people I love most, read to them. Maybe, after a year or so, I’ll go see the world. Hang out. Follow a story, sniff out ideas and hang out. Observe. Listen. Involve myself in the story until it becomes multi-dimensional. Until it becomes so goddamned irresistible, I have to drive miles up into the mountains to one of those legendary writer’s cabins, nice and rustic in early spring, and there I’ll work ninety hours a week until I have a manuscript that proves once and for all I am the writer I always thought I would be. This will, of course, inspire celebration. A nice break from writing long enough to shop the manuscript, get a terrific book deal — one that will make other writers wistful and teary eyed — then I’ll take a mini vacation. A day or two, long enough to go shopping for doggy treats and new pens before sitting down to sketch out my plan of attack, to map out my schedule.

7 a.m. Monday: DAY ONE.

Road Sounds

The dream of small towns being miles off, cities being hundreds of miles off, hearing none of their road sounds or the blustering voices of their inhabitants, that dream belonged to my grandfather. He wanted to walk out onto his porch in early light, sipping coffee, and hear nothing but the occasional noise chickens make when wrestling breakfast from the soft ground above the creek. By then, the roosters would have hushed their wake-up calls and whatever night critters had been scuttling around had long since gone off to bed. His dream was dark nights turned daylight unpolluted by traffic or socializing with people who liked to make traffic. People who liked car radios, guzzled fuel and convenience store snacks, and always seemed to find places to go to later complain about.

He wanted none of it. He claimed this was perfection, but still considered moving out past his quiet green hills upon discovering a “neighbor” had gotten the gumption to start building fences and running a tractor just a mile away. We were concerned he wouldn’t get over the insult.

Being out there frightened me, thrilled me, centered me. The trees were full of racket at nightfall, not always musical. And beyond the creek, where sunlight never dared to drip down, came threatening feline screeches that froze my blood. Those screeches made my grandfather laugh softly. Whatever animal could make such blood freezing noise, though unseen, unnamed as far as I knew, gained his admiration. He liked the mystery of it, the threat, and didn’t have to warn me twice to stay within sight of the house. His land was wild, bounding with the kind of quiet he cherished. A property split in half by a skinny dirt road no one seemed inclined to travel, and if they did, oh Grandpa made sure to watch their taillights until they disappeared for good. He’d more likely invite one of those screeching wildcats onto his porch than wave at passersby.

I still remember the scent of the soil. The feel of that creek water, wintry cold even in the leaden heat of August. I remember the feel and scent of sweat wetting my face and forearms as I climbed tree limbs, or tried to walk carefully between the rows of a summer cornfield. To say those memories are precious is an understatement. To say that I still love the scent and feel of rich black soil and my own sweat is absolute truth. How I would love to be there now, as an adult, listening to chickens feed themselves and wondering what thing hid beyond the darkness of the creek bed as I put seedlings into the ground right on the spot where he once had his garden.

I do wonder what Grandpa might think about my equal love for city life. The rush rush and abrupt halts, the voices, the bridge lights and tall buildings and narrow streets. At this moment I’m listening to cars rounding the bend of Riverside Drive, way too fast. Rain has fallen for almost twelve hours, nonstop, and the sound of speeding tire rubber splashing past reminds me of marching band cymbals. Exuberant road sounds punctuate voices carrying from the sidewalks and parking lot, laughter sometimes, sometimes arguments, complaints, conversation via speaker phone. Saxophone music, blues guitar, birdsong, motorcycles growling, the screech and whine of sirens. It’s all mine.

Another Brief Project?

The ten days of letter writing did something for my writer soul. I started with no idea of how long it would last, no goals or list of names at hand. For now, it feels complete. And, I’m pleased to say, a complete tiny body of work I look forward to reading over and over again.

I hesitate to deliberately begin another project … my favorites are always those ideas that come out of nowhere. It was reading Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty that helped along the idea to write letters. It was reading Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary that inspired me to begin my own. And it was recalling a lighthearted old middle school assignment that inspired me to write cento and found poetry. I still indulge in the latter two quite often. Sometimes, reading a news article will inspire me to do research on particular topic. Or just start ranting.

For now, this very moment, I’ll concentrate on getting Ramshackle Houses out into the world (or at least a few literary contests). The month of June is already slotted for finishing up my first honest-to-goodness chapbook (of cento poetry) … maybe the next will be all love letter poems?

Letter Writing Series, Day Ten

Dearest bluff and bluster. Keeper of my soul. Cantankerous lady flaunting precious jewels alongside jagged scars. Breath like a hot bath.

Once I swore leaving was the best course of action. But you called and called with memories bequeathed long before my birth. Music. Trees and trees and all the sounds the trees make in the urban version of a restful night. What splendid, weepy, long walking nights we’ve had.

The mud and swelter might keep you famous, but I have seen you cool and all silvery glass. Wisps of fog curling beneath your bridges, old ghostly mystics. What splendid, weepy, long walking mornings we’ve had.

Letter Writing Series, Day Nine

Dearest stolen legacies, little birds. Life interrupted. Deepest fears come to light. Greatest loves come to light.

Wondering if I did you real harm, irrevocable disservice, or irrevocable good, has kept me up nights. For months after they reclaimed you, I could feel your heartbeats in the palm of my hand. More than a year passed before deep breaths were possible, before peaceful dreams were possible.

Somewhere out there, you both have reached adulthood. And there is a part of me still missing. There is a part of you still here. A tender scar that could rip open and bleed out any moment.

I’ve known people who can wax poetic about a path not taken. As for me, I’ll go to my grave unable to speak or write plainly about the path un-mapped before my eyes. Erased. Pulled out from under us.

The unfairness of it can still send me into a rage.

And then, I think of your faces. Those expressions of confusion, the tears, the shivers in your forced goodbyes. The slow, terrifying dawning of understanding that not even the most stubborn, most confident grown ups can beat a rigged system. And the rage gets paralyzed by shame.

God knows how much I miss you. I’ve railed at Him enough. Shouted. Screamed. God knows every day it happens — the days I can’t get out of bed because the weight of hating myself is simply unbearable. The weight of hating Him is a sledgehammer too heavy to lift and commit satisfying revenge.

Our lives wouldn’t have been easy together, of that I am sure. Even now. Nevertheless, we should have had it together. Saying I am sorry will never change anything. I can’t go back in time and change anything. All there is for me is a scrap of hope. Hope is a thing with feathers.

I hope that you both are okay. That you’ve learned to build happiness for yourselves. That you spread wings long unseen, that you left a path etched out by bureaucrats and made your own. And I hope deep down there rests the knowledge that you are adored from afar. For always, little birds. Always.

Letter Writing Series, Day Eight

Dearest slugger, ink-stained and booze-stained voice, beloved misanthrope. Plain-speaker, angry drinker, friend.

How would you type this day out on your Royal? Or would you even bother? I dedicated it to you, you know? That damp drive across the bridge to the track. The trek into a smoke-filled room, that first sight of high dollar horse rumps. Old beer and cigar smells overtook the scent of novel experience.

It was all a little different than the image built up in my mind. Everything has been digitized since your days of playing hooky then celebrating winning forms with beer, steak, and hookers. Pretty sure I did spot a few hookers, by the way.

I nursed a vodka, silently chanting 3, 4, 7, 3, 4, 7. Alas, it was the 2, 5, 9 that cleared the line. My first try at the track left me broke and not even a little bit tipsy. Still, I was smiling on the drive home.

Letter Writing Series, Day Seven

Dearest three of three, furrowed brow, sweaty curls, puzzle-solver, builder extraordinaire. Hunter, fisher, father. Distance.

Today is your birthday. I remember your first. How is that one teeny human could bring such joy? Four decades later, just a few miles from that spot we found you squalling, fists in the air, face puckered … how is it you’ve managed to grow so far away?

That first time I witnessed mountain mists sliding downward, the sky looking as if it would follow until it met the road, you came to mind. In every stone, every reptile, every insect song in flight. What a shame we never got to share a road trip. It’s not too late, right?

The timbre of your laugh is missed. That furrowed brow. Eyes like a wood pond at dusk. I’ve got wishes for you that could fill these rooms, climb the walls and overflow. Here’s just a few: turn around, look in my direction and wave. Let me hear your voice again. Let me hear that laugh.