A Small Note Book

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And your work is good for you
And your drive is good for you
And your loss is good for you

Go crazy.
Implode.

This is your life now.
Sleep thick pages,
The lines are like scars

This is where I resisted
Through poetry
All that empty space
I could have filled

With books,
The stories in my father’s basement
Soaked in earth and fluids
A small notebook
Dried in the sun

It is easier to forget
All my fictions,
Remember only pieces
A smell
A color
A taste
Absorb them

Like my mother’s feet, pacing
Marborlo lights and pepsi cans
Squares of green carpet
Fire pits and the smell of deet

All those half-finished projects,
Little myths, self-assured realities

I am bitter that I have no tragedy,
Just a shattering, a string of possible
Maybes, what-ifs, of
Could-have-beens and near truths
To bend against the past –

My own indecision.

Cover it in paint and tile
In eloquent metaphors and tropes,
Plot twists – my impossible poetry.

Tell my mother,
I am not a poet.
I am a liar.

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An Angry Adjunct

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I have taught for a certain university for nearly four years. In that time, I have grown to love the art of teaching, to respect the remarkable genius born only from experience, and to savor the challenges and trials I endure with each of my students. I have experienced their struggle, their victories, and their losses. I have seen too many stories – always stories of strength, of courage, and ultimately, of confusion.

I am also confused. I am unsure, learning-as-I-go. They know – I am making it up. I haven’t read the book either. We are merely students of our experiences, sharing the knowledge that we have discovered, created, through our own trials – the daily deconstruction of ourselves, rebuilt within the guiding framework of our memories. I adore my students for keeping me confused, unsure, and inspired. I cherish the chaos that they bring into my routine, how they break me and allow me the opportunity to reimagine myself, my classroom, and the art of writing.

While I adore my students, I am enraged by the politics of higher education, the guidelines and prejudices, the unspoken laws and by-laws, the games. I despise committees. So many committees. One right after the other, discussing, debating, plotting. I despise the illusion of compassion, the hordes of admission personal, technical support, financial aid offices, presidents and vice presidents – the desire to create a system so complex that it cannot discover or understand its own purpose. A voice enters and is consumed. I despise the need to say yes, to accommodate the impossible, to assure and assure, to trick and recruit students, to shop for bodies and minds, collecting interest. Change is impossible, agonizing. The system works as the system has always worked. We could discuss the many, specific failings of higher education, but that is for a later article. Rather, I’d like to pose a question: why hasn’t higher education changed? Why have there been no changes in regards to who teaches, what is taught, and how institutions are run? Why is there no outrage regarding bad teachers, corrupt institutions, and archaic policies set to benefit the institutions at the expense of its students and alumni?

Because while we complain and whisper quietly amongst coffee houses about these blocks of brick and delicate landscaping, we secretly desire nothing more than to be accepted by them. They are above us, shining stars of intellectual and physical accomplishment, a testament to all our accomplishments and the gateway to all our dreams. To deny the authority of higher education would be to deny all that we have learned and striven for throughout our lives.

Go to college, go to college, go to college…become something. My mother’s words still resonate.

The crisis of education and the discussions created by this debate are often focused on K12 learning, on low scores, drop-out rates, and the failings of our public school systems. We discuss bad teachers, fire ineffective principals, and launch into the twitter-sphere with impossible enthusiasm and focus with complaints, demands, suggestions, frustrations. In fact, it is this outcry upon which change depends. There is no need to change until it is demanded, until old institutions are torn down so that new policies and guidelines can be constructed. We raise our voices because we find ourselves equal in the face of public education. Regardless of income or perceived worth, we are in a position to fight for it. We know it, understand it, and thus, can do battle.

However, we don’t generally want to reform higher education even though it also suffers from corrupt institutions, bad teachers, low grades, and ridiculous drop out rates; we just want to be accepted by it, to walk through its doors, and become a part of its legacy. We crave access. So, while we are highly critical of K12 schools and are often vocal regarding its policies and shortcomings, we fail to criticize the institution of higher education. We might complain about it, but we don’t dare reform it. We care more about affording it and desire little more than to be accepted by it. We are infatuated by its image, its promises and its legacy; despite the lack of substance, despite its failing, we cling to what we imagine it to be and all the things we could become within its walls.

I recognize this within myself. I would not be writing this if I had tenure. In fact, the same institution that has caused me many sleepless nights, that I have complained about and secretly, hoped to challenge and change, would have little to fear if they offered me a full time position. My desire to be accepted by the institutions that I have grown up longing for, admiring, is stronger than my will to create or reform.

For many of my students, little thought has been given to their actual classes or grades – simply getting in is an accomplishment. And while they might complain about certain policies and actions, their criticism is never realized or mobilized into action. Their concern is affording higher education as though the institution of higher education is some immovable, all-knowing entity that they have neither the knowledge nor the right to challenge or change, as though they are to blame.

Higher education has little reason to reform. We believe that we need these institutions; as such, we have little ability to control them, despite the fact that these institutions exist solely because of us.

As an educator and scholar, I adore education, learning, knowledge, experience. I despise the false idols erected in place of these ideals.

And so, I am sick of deans and admissions personal threatening to deny me classes because I haven’t played enough games, written enough papers, published enough articles; I am sick of being praised with one hand regarding my accomplishments in teaching while my pay is demoted with the other; I am sick of counselors convincing students to stay in a class they should drop to ensure that they don’t lose funding, of the sales pitches, half-truths, and spreadsheets. I despise presidents and coaches, construction projects that steal money from students to build shiny things with little substance, the ways in which power and money are abused, the way prestige and image is valued over content – how the way a classroom looks has become more important than the learning taking place within it. I loathe the ways in which adjuncts are assaulted with false promises and meager salaries, the ways in which our love of teaching and our students is used as ransom against our own common sense and reason. I’m an angry adjunct, a committed educator, and I, for one, demand change.

To be continued…

In Cleveland: Memories

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I am writing a novel, but I still persist – I am a poet at heart.

I am writing a novel about my grandfather and mother. The narrator is like a ghost, an empty vessel through which her grandfather’s stories find presence, worth.

These stories are not truth – fractured memories. I wonder how many of my memories, all those moments stitched into the very fabric of me, are real, true. I wonder how many I adopted, stole from strangers. How many dreams sabotaged my reality; how many nights I’ve spent, subconsciously weaving fictions, half-truths.

This is a story about reality and its fictions. It’s all a lie – the only way to live in a city like Cleveland. I remember it’s brick and steel, the cracked concrete facades that followed me, spinning out into basement bars and apartment rooms without doors or furniture. I remember men and women, all children, casting out into the night. The streets were wide, the lake was shallow, and the world began and ended at the scars on my grandfather’s hands.

I loved people in Cleveland. I despised sleep.

I lived fast in Cleveland and fell hard into any number of waiting arms and bodies.

There was always a man with a guitar on a mattress, drunk-strumming the night, resisting sleep until the bitter end.

Cleveland is a story of leaving and near regrets disguised as pride; poverty worn like a badge, a reason to exist and persist against the dimming horizon, to distrust anything beyond the struggle, to depend upon backyard BBQ’a, 64 packs of bud light, wings, pig roasts, and the stream of teenagers in June who climb into their parent’s cars and never come back.

Because this is our city. The mills and the factories all boarded up in red paint, standing relics of our past wrapped up in the present.

We don’t belong; we don’t belong.

Inside, against the impossibility of existing here – on a lake in a city, all that fire inside burning.

I love Cleveland. All the roads I chased, aimlessly, in heels and glitter.

I loved the smell of it, the sweat of it, the heat or at least, the memory of fire wrapped up in humidity, rain.

Softball games and endless highways, yellow lines tangled in maple leaves and a strange, pale haze just over the West.

There are stories, but they are not a fiction.

I remember laying on the beach in the late fall, the snow catching the rocks and gravel with Leo and James and Ian, shirtless and thin the way that all high school boys are. Open bottles of wine, two towels and the gulls outline the shore. The cove and the lighthouse, the street mimics the sand, lines its borders in large brick houses and grass-less yards.  Glass and shells, driftwood, plumes of smoke and an orange haze to the west over the city. Music blares from the dockside bar. There are lights in the water, slipping in and out of the ice fields that encase the island.

I think about writing when I think about them

in Cleveland

the electric paper cut into strips

the ways I choose to fill space

 

I imagine the stories I’ll tell our could have been children

I imagine how they’ll write us

one of them must be a poet

I’ve decided

our involved language

we stitched

in Cleveland

 

its  refrain

repetition

the phone calls

the lost emails

in Cleveland

I’ve never loved a city

I still can’t

I’ve tried

The crossed lines of the apartment and the textured walls we walked all morning with the windows and blinds open.

I imagined them and remembered dancing in the water in a blue dress lined by lace. The folds caught on the rocks and filled with water.

The turns were slow but my toes were sharp and arched, my arms were straight.

My mother swam alongside my grandfather across the lake. In the shallows, their hands clawed the sand. They ate on the beach. Their legs never left the water.

I never wanted anything but lights

the glass in the waves

I never wanted the waves just the light they kept

there is no ocean but there is light

just the ice and the black I caught between the bricks that lined the road and buildings around us.

 

 

My Muse Terrifies Me

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My muse is desperation. She is longing, fear, regret. I cannot understand her; I dread her. Most mornings, I wish that she would abandon me to plague some other lowly writer. I want her to cease her constant questions and images. I want her to let me sleep, to let me wake, just once, under my own power. I want to be inspired, but I also want to be productive, efficient, focused.

My muse is nothing like the near-naked women clad in white robes and silver light that I first witnessed in paintings and ancient poetry. My muse is a shadow of me, a plague. She is an uncomfortable memory of struggle and chaos, of mistakes and regrets, of fear – she is the  antithesis to everything I wanted my art to embody, to become.

I dreamed that I would be soothed and comforted by her. That she would pacify the raging doubts and uncertainties, that she would provide much needed direction and guidance. She does none of these things.

My muse is doubt and rage and fear. She expresses every challenge, embodies every doubt, fills every desire with questions and uncertainties. I am afraid of her, and I wish that she would leave me alone.

I need her, however. The world needs her.

Because, my muse embodies the struggles that define me, that motivate me. She will not let me look away or forget or ignore. It is too easy to forget, to move through the present without giving thought to the past. All those voices, all those moments, could so easily be lost and buried.

I would rather forget some things. My research into trauma, narrative, and memory has taught me this. I want to forget, even though my muse forces me to remember. These dark times and dark stories.

Like an old poet, his book of poems soiled in fluid and earth, drying out in the sun. .

I can’t get this image out of my mind – she drives it in. I can’t sleep. This need to write, to be remembered, or rather, to be the means by which memory can persist and live on. We are nothing but the stories we leave behind, nothing but the weight of our lives pressing against the fabric of another’s. We are nothing but carefully crafted fictions, poems, recited, remembered, uncovered. We march and march towards uncertainty, scribbling out our lines, narrating our moments, until we are black and silent and the marching ceases and all that is left is to either fade into relics or be discovered, read, remembered.

Perhaps this is what I take with me, what my trails in the mountains, my adventures in teaching, and my struggles as a writer have amounted to…

It is not our work that defines us, but our fear,  our muse, that terrifying creature buried deep within our subconscious that never lets us forget, that forces us to embrace struggle and chaos, to approach the darkness, cowering, but always seeing, always remembering what was, what we are, what we are here to do.

We are here to be inspired and terrified by the possibilities within our world, both past and present.

Tapping Into Your Creativity: 10 Truths about Creating

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You are an artist, a philanthropist, a dreamer. You have ideas; you’ve kept them caged in notebooks, scribbles, napkins, and half-finished word documents. There is something within you driving you to create. It may be a novel, a company, a song, a piece of jewelry, a recipe – anything as long as it is something meaningful.You are driven and you are inspired. So why, you wonder, is this “creating” business so difficult? Why haven’t you finished that novel? Started that company? Finished that song? Why are your ideas still just that – ideas?

Now what?

Now what?

Because there are a few dirty truths when it comes to creative enterprises. No one will tell you these truths. Your mentors will often allow you to harbor under the belief that all good ideas take time and little else to realize their potential. They will pat you on the back and tell you how wonderful you are before quickly changing the subject.

I am not your mentors, and after nearly a decade of struggling and striving, I’m prepared to tell you 10 dirty little truths about creating.

The first truth?

  1. It doesn’t matter how creative you are, how profound your ideas are, or how talented you are as an individual. The creative process depends on one simple equation: Needs and Wants / Needs Met = Success

You are creating a product – one meant for consumption, which makes you a capitalist at heart.

God, that hurts. My liberal upbringing is crying.

God, that hurts. My liberal upbringing is crying.

Regardless of your lofty ideals, you still live in a world driven by needs and desires. These desires may seem silly and unpoetic, even downright laughable, but they exist and people need them to be met. This doesn’t mean that you sacrifice your integrity, but it does mean that you creations must meet some need in order to matter. As a working creator, your livelihood depends upon you making and marketing a product that people need and will want to buy. However unique or inspired your work may be, you will fail to create anything meaningful (or profitable) until you accept this fundamental truth: it’s not about you; creating is about them and what they are willing to pay you for.

2.      Forget what you wanted to create- what do they need you to create?

I teach classes in professional writing to a wide range of students – some are business professionals, some are fresh out of high school. They all face the same problem when they write the first draft of their proposal. They don’t care, not even a tiny bit, about their reader. “So what if I need this bank to finance this project? If they can’t see how great this idea is, then they are _____(insert derogatory remark here).” I see it again in my creative writing class. “That story was genius! How dare they not publish it! Their loss. When kids are reading my novel a hundred years from now and studying me, they’ll be sorry.” No they won’t. Because you, and everyone else, will most likely be dead at that point.

This guy matters

  This guy matters

While it’s true that great creative  works are overlooked and that  great ideas can be dismissed too  easily by organizations and critics  alike, it’s also important to  consider that it might not be them  – it might be you. You may have a  great idea; your book might be  beautifully written, with complex  characters, vivid scenes, a well-  paced plot structure, and jaw- dropping plot twist at the end. Your company may be the next Apple or Microsoft. But it only matters if you can sell it; if you can speak to your reader and prove to them that they need you to create it.

It’s really that simple. Your reader (whether that reader is the bank going over your loan, the publisher reviewing your article, or the client browsing your jewelry) is more important than you, is smarter than you, is better than you in just about every way. And you need them. Without them, everything you think, dream, and do is meaningless. So, you need to speak to them, work with them, do everything in your power to convince them that they also need you.

How? By being a better communicator.

3. Invade other people’s conversations.

As a lesson in humility and dialogue, my mentor and celebrated fiction writer, Bobbie Hawkins, sent us out into the world to invade other people’s conversation. Creativity, she argued, isn’t borne of fiction or imagination, but of reality. What people, real people, are saying and doing is more interesting than anything you may be thinking of right now.

Sure enough, Bobbie was right. I camped out on a bench and, pen and paper in hand, listened to other people talk. I watched them for hours. You know what I learned? Reality is more strange and far more interesting than fiction. I also learned a great deal about the way people connect, how they argue. I learned to recognize the subtle ways we communicate and also learned a great deal about recognizing a person’s wants and needs. What do people think when you aren’t looking? When they think no one is watching? How do they act, think, speak?

To find true inspiration and to learn more about your audience and your art, you need to listen. Invade other people’s conversations like some interview ninja.

Give me your words!

Give me your words!

Get out of your mind, your office, your own imagination, and get out into the world where your product will be used.

And once you are out there, make sure you brought your tools.

4. Buy a notebook and pen – one without lines. Bring it with you everywhere. I mean it. Everywhere.

Not your IPad, your notebook. The touch of pen to paper, the sound of ink and the process of words becoming something tangible within the world, will inspire you. Make sure to write in circles, draw arrows, get lost in your own ideas as they pour out of you.

And make sure that you bring it with you everywhere.

Why? You never know.

with notebook

with notebook

In addition to my career as a writer, I am also a struggling and average cyclist currently hoping to move out of that last place finishing I’ve managed in every mountain bike event this year. I train six days a week, averaging about 80  miles a week (mountain) and about 40 miles (road). It’s a lot and it takes a lot of commitment, energy, and time. Another thing that cyclists care about? Weight. The lighter you are, the faster you go. We don’t bring anything extra with us – only the bare essentials. Which is why I get so many strange looks when I pull my notebook out of my pack and begin conducting an interview mid-ride.

I bring my notebook everywhere. Not my phone, not my computer. My notebook. I listen, I write, and I scribble. I try to be a constant medium between the world outside of me and the creative process within me. You never know when a story is going to strike, when that next “aha!” moment will hit you. You never know when, you’ll be riding down the trail, only to run into the CEO of a major bike manufacturer who you’ve been struggling to get an interview with for weeks. Good thing I brought that notebook.

5. Now that you have that notebook, make sure that you steal ideas.

Good artists are thieves. They steal ideas every chance they get. A color, a word, a conversation, an image, a plot line, a note – you name it. They will steal inspiration from just about anyone and anything. They don’t steal things – that’s a crime. But ideas? Fair game!

I see you have an idea...

I see you have an idea…

A good creator sees the world around him as a source of endless inspiration and opportunity. They take a bit here, a bit there. And they bring it together to create something new. You can’t create on your own. And inspiration isn’t isolated or polite; it’s dirty, raw, and unapologetic.

6. You’ve stolen some ideas. Great! Now you must use what you know to focus on what you don’t know.

The possibilities of empty space are more uncomfortable, and therefore, more exciting than what you were going to create in the first place. Empty space is where creativity happens. You will begin with something, then abandon that something to fall within the empty space you have created. Let go and just fall in.

7. To create, you need to begin with endings – beginnings are over-rated.

It’s not where you started, but where you end up. Why, then, do we always stress over beginnings? Start with the end. What do you want to end up with? Where do you want that plot line to go, that business to earn, that song to become? Start with the ending and work backwards.

8. Seek out boundaries and limitations.

This is where true creativity lies. Creativity depends upon struggle. Don’t give me a blank canvas; give me rules and limitations, give me boundaries, challenge me to find a way to make the impossible, possible.

9. When it comes time to create, turn off the internet the phone, the mp3 player, lock the fridge, lock the door. Abandon yourself to struggle – forget the nice studio, the desk, the iPad – all these things you think you need. Those things are nothing more than convenient distractions.

To create, you need space but you also need struggle. You need to hit the wall, toss the computer out the window (figuratively, of course), go after your ideas with red pens and scissors.

what happened there?

what happened there?

You need to sit within your creative process when it is at its darkest, when you are at your most uncomfortable rather than surfing the web, eating something, getting some air, etc. Don’t escape, don’t run. You are on the cusp of something brilliant. Keep typing, keep drawing, keep speaking, just keep moving.

10. Share what you do – not what you think.

You are a good person, a beautiful, creative flower with incredible potential. I think that you are magnificent.

Now, go and do something, because no one else cares.

Sound harsh? It is, but it is true. It doesn’t matter how brilliant you are – all that matters is what you do with that brilliance. Creativity is a good place to start, but unless you use it to create something real – something with actual presence in the world – it’s worthless, a wasted talent.

As a writer, I witness this mistake far too often and it’s a big one. I have also fallen into its clutches from time to time, wallowing at home, eating ice cream while reflecting on all the incredible stories I have locked away in word folders and half-finished documents. I have written and I write – but do I publish? If you don’t publish, you aren’t a writer. Sorry. Remember that reader? That person who is more important than you, who actually brings your work to life? They need you and your work. And, for that work to matter, you need them. So why are your ideas still locked in your mind? They aren’t getting better with age. They are suffocating.

If you are a writer, write but then publish what you write. If you are an artist, paint but then submit your work to galleries and festivals. If you want to start a business, draft the plan and then take a leap of faith, quit your other job and actually do it.

Tapping into your creativity is a process, but the measure of its success depends upon a product, on you, your work, and your reader (and how well you can facilitate the space between them). Create constantly, openly, and without reservation. Create as though your life depended upon it, as though there was nothing else in the world that you could do or become. Create as though dinner, rent, etc. depended upon it. And then cast that desperation out into the world, share your struggle and your triumph, and be happy and poor in the way that only creative souls can be.

That’s pretty much it.

Now do it.

Being Fe-Male: A Linguistic Response

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I am obsessed with definitions, with the gray areas of identity and self, with the contradictory terms, figurative language, metaphors, and shifting cultural thesaurus that dominates my art and my livelihood.

There is never simply one meaning; there is never one definition.

We are dualists at heart – walking contradictions, defined as we are un-defined, dominated by the literal and confused by the figurative. We live in reality and remember in fictions, endless possibilities as real as they are impossible, imagined what ifs.

Governing these “what ifs” are scales, rules, guidelines. Structural foundations, a Rosetta stone to translate modern culture and align it within the language of our past. We create boxes and categories, cardboard cut outs of our world to contain it, understand it, simplify it.

My work as a writer, as a story teller, forces me to face these guidelines, to question them, the hypocrisy of our culture ingrained within the very fabric of our language, our cultural universe.

I can confront it, but I must work within it, use it, love it. There is no escape from it. I only have these words to work with and these words depend upon our culture for their meaning. I can play, I can re-imagine, but I cannot destroy,  I cannot start over, I cannot begin again.

How frustrating.

A word is defined and its definition depends upon what it is not, its opposite. I know what tall is because I am short. I know what it means to be large because I am small. My life is a process, a system of sliding scales by which I know “I” by what “I” am not.

I know that I am a woman because I am not a man; my husband knows that he is a man because he is not a woman.

Contradictions, holes, misunderstandings, a gap, an ocean of possibilities, lost in translation.

As a writer, my job is to navigate those oceans, gray areas, places where the holes grow too large, the wells to deep, and the structures guiding our translation collapse into a wet abyss. Drowning – that’s how it feels to study these things, to write about them, to contemplate them. Flailing in a sea of half truths and fictions, of possible realities and forgotten ones, sinking deeper, with nothing left to hold on to.

I noticed the other day, something curious. A conversation with my younger brother and a separate conversation with my husband, shocking for the commonalities between them. The issue? Something “liberal,” something about violence, about corruption, about injustice and the contradictions that govern our society. Something about feminism (if you want to create a powerful, unjustified and negative response, simply mention this word to a man within my family and watch the sparks fly).

Their response?

First, to make a crude joke. Something about kitchens and lunch meat.

Second, to excuse the comment with a derogatory remark, a logical fallacy otherwise known as Ad Hominem, character assassination.

“Fucking feminists,” they had said.

Third, make another joke.

Forth, smile awkwardly.

Fifth, change the subject.

Now what?
Now what?

A pattern. As an editor, I am trained to find patterns to exploit and build upon for the sake of a good story and to connect these patterns to larger themes and ideas.

What is means to be a woman; what it means to be a man. Definitions, expectations, our cultural thesaurus. What happens when those definitions are challenged?

This is what it means, then. As a woman, as a writer, and as a scholar, I am drawn to controversies, to the issues and conflicts within language and narrative that arise when a culture begins to change, when a character does what it should not, when its script becomes unscripted. I explore how language defines us, how narrative, the stories we tell, influence the stories that we live – and what happens when a story challenges the language that defines it.

Our world is changing. This has created crisis, a gap, an ocean of misunderstandings, of chaos and uncertainty. And we respond to this sea with scorn and ridicule, excuse it with insults and cruel jokes, decry it with laughter and quickly, change the subject, praying that we lose sight of it or forget to see it.

Eventually, however, running blindly, we all fall in.

Clem Bastow is currently raising funds for a movie, The Mask I Live in, that explores what she terms a crisis in masculinity. Amen. As a woman, I focus a great deal on how definitions of femininity influence my narrative, the characters that I can play, the plot lines that I can develop, the ways in which my story will be read. However, it is impossible to ignore how definitions of what it means to be a woman influence the stories of my brothers, fathers, friends, and husband. What I am as a woman they, our language demands, they must not be. And vice versa.

What happens then, when my femininity invades their definition? When the rules change, when the guidelines collapse?

This conversation is not difficult; it’s impossible. Our very language inhibits it, prevents it. We cannot change our Rosetta stone. We cannot re-imagine it. We cannot create a new language, a new scale to define what is upon. But we can play, we can challenge, we can alter and “metaphor” our way to expanding definitions.

The first step is to acknowledge the contradictions within our culture, the reality within our fictions, and that the scales we live and learn by do not tell the whole story.

Creating and the Creation

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As wordsmiths it is easy to become obsessed with definitions, with steps and cues, with lines, and the manipulation of those lines. Art can resemble a science; the creative process becomes just that – a process, a string of impossible questions and frantic answers, systematic and unwavering. There are theories and rules, guidelines to control the streaming, each wave building further uncertainty and expanding definitions. Layer upon layer. The movement compels further movement, always forward, sustained by its own momentum and governed by the thin lines and strings of our own devising.

Poetry-poetry-6709064-1024-768

The creative process is just that – a process. And it is a consuming one. The act of creation propels itself, inspires itself, as it narrates its own creation. It’s easy to be consumed the process, with the external narrative of creating. We forget then, that our work isn’t about definitions and it isn’t measured by its process. We cannot simply be creative; we cannot simply be writers. We must create something; we must WRITE something. And that which we write, that something, cannot be a mere abstraction. It must extend beyond its narrative, beyond its own eternal possibility, and assume a physical presence in the world.

While it is nice to be a writer and to be in the process, always, of creating, it is far better to have created. Definitions of self, of identity, of who we are are meaningless when it comes to our art. Our art is not an extension of who we are becoming. Rather, it must be something, its own presence, a word, an object, a book, a sound – something to inspire movement, to assume and build upon the stories of others. It is in this exchange that meaning is created and that we (and our words) become something more than our individual symbols and definitions. We are not defined by a process, but by a product and by the way in which this product lives and expands beyond us and our vision – by what it becomes as opposed to who we are becoming. By all the ways that it becomes unrecognizable to us.altered books

It’s hard to remember this. As a writer, so much of my work is wrapped up in abstractions, in ideas. The “something” that they create can easily be confused the process of their creation. And it is easy to settle. Whereas a sculptor can see the difference between each, for a writer, it’s more difficult to recognize the presence created by language; it’s easier to define ourselves in our own terms, our own language, as opposed to accepting and opening ourselves to the definitions of others, our readers.

But we must. I read once that words are just words – they are. But in the hands of a reader, words become something more. The trick? They must be read first.

And so, I retreat back into my maze of half finished projects, of hopeless dreams, and rambling notes to create something, to publish something, to become something. We cannot live our lives as partial verbs and phrases. Eventually, we all become nouns, the objects of our own wandering.

 

Olive Oil, Single Track, and Sand

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I should have been writing – fulfilling promises to virtual friends and imagined readers. Instead, I was camping.

 

In the Colorado desert, the sky was dust and gold, especially at dawn and dusk when the light caught and the air tumbled. 

The dust was everywhere and in everything; it crept and crept, being places it shouldn’t, defining shapes, building landscapes and skylines. We camped in the dust, setting up our tent along side countless others. A caravan. At least 30 individuals from Crested Butte had wandered along with us into the desert that weekend. It began with a facebook post, somewhat random acts of fate and minds aligned, calling everyone and bringing them to a small, dirty space. 

Dogs raced about the campsite, makeshift and scattered. The neon shades of tents clashed with the gold of the dust and the sharp yellow of the sun burning against the trees and rocks and sand. Trails were carved throughout, bending and arching up makeshift mountains and tracing narrow ridge lines. There were bikes and fires and beer and cheap whiskey. 

The mornings were early and slow. A steep hill stood between us and the only restroom for miles. Many attempts were made in bare feet, still half drunk, and hungry at dawn – few were successful. Most fell and pushed their bikes up the steep incline.

The first night, a dog named Olive Oil dug a hole in our tent. 

She ran free and returned often, exploring the damage. The owner of Olive Oil was far too relaxed about the hole. He offered us whiskey. 

The dust crept in throughout the day and night, staining us and everything with us a slight shimmering. 

At dawn, we biked. Up Prime Cut, over to Joe’s Ridge, along Zippidy Do Da, and down countless other erratic holes in the land. Like water, filling ruts and tracing corners deeper up and then down until the mountains and ridges were a maze of bodies and sweat. Like sugar, taking pictures in the dark, tracing words in flashlights and then dissolving.Image

Exposure. 

I should have been writing. 

In my youth, I stole the words of others and hid them in books and on napkins. I crept, like the dust, inserting myself between window panes and imagined conversations. I extended the lives of momentary characters, imagining their realities into fiction and then, bringing chaos and sound to create poetry. 

There is no need to write them, these neon strangers passing the whiskey from one mouth to the next. Around the fire, full of dust, the red veins in our makeshift mountains caught in the black, there were stories that I didn’t write or steal, words that I let sit in the sand until they were buried in more words and more sand.

Because we write with more than words.

Colors or sounds, forgotten moments and fires, the taste of someone else’s sweat, sugar, and dust. 

We are always listening and misremembering histories, slipping into the present. Scattered words and pieces of stories, lost and gathered, stitched into a mismatched tapestry of ski bums and rejects, wandering the desert, looking for nothing, running from nothing, simply bathed in dust. 

They are no mine, but they are me.

 

I’ve Fallen Off the Wagon…

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Meaning…it was winter, then spring, and then summer and I hadn’t written a thing in 6 months.Image

With summer came sharp realizations, about landscapes and possibilities and adventure.

With spring came road trips and camping tents, and red dust painting every inch of my body. There were sharp sunsets in Arizona, the heat of the sun magnified by the earth – also red and sharp, cut into mesas and stacked mountains built in rock sheets and flat pebbles. 

There were long roads in Utah. Mesas where sand dunes calcified into stone, creating bowls and ledges.There were cults and strange gas stations to the south, towns with stone walls and fortresses, side roads that lead to nothing, where I hunted for beer on a Sunday with little hope besides desperation.

There was the inevitable waiting for letters, for opportunities. But then there were camp fires, sweat, and whisky that tasted better for being hot and full of sand. Nights without dinner, just half melted chocolate and store brand oreo cookies. 

The dogs escaped not once, but twice, chewing through their leashes in the Utah desert. We chased them on bikes through the sand dunes.

We drank coffee from a french press and savored the inability to sleep past 6 when the sun hit the earth and everything was wind and fire and red..

And we stayed there and biked there for weeks. And I worked from coffee houses and truck stops and stole wifi from unsuspecting cell phones and hotels. And we slipped in an out of states and wilderness areas. And we slept and woke and moved and built a home every day again and again until home was a verb we kept finding and imagining one night to the next. 

Moab was hot  and full of stone, polished until it was sticky. And we road our bikes and sat, dirty and red, in coffee houses, drinking coffee and eating ice cream. 

And I forgot about everything but writing. I forgot about PhD programs and marketing and media. I forgot about applications, taxes, start ups, editors, deadlines. I forgot about everything beyond the story we were living and the words to describe it, later, when we threatened to forget it.

And then we came back to Crested Butte, and the words were there and it was summer. The rejection letters were there, and we smiled and were happy to have another chance to get it right, that is, to write and live the story without the need for outside validation. 

It’s summer in Crested Butte, and it’s time to write again.