#359 — words that matter

I am not back from my hiatus, but I couldn’t let the occasion pass without marking it. I am 4 days from saying “I do,” and today I wrote my vows (yes, of course, we wrote our own).

Y’all, writing your wedding vows is HARD! It’s also one of the best things I feel I’ve ever done in my life (whether or not they came out awesome is a totally different story!). I am so excited to spend the rest of my life with this man and I promise to try not to totally spam you all with wedding pictures after this Saturday!

8.8.2020 ❤️

#357 — so very tired.

This page, for the most part, isn’t particularly political, and I don’t intend for it to be now, but I really am having a hard time these past few weeks with politics and wanted to share how I put my complicated feelings into words… This feeling is not based on Party or Policy or anything else you may feel the need to argue with me about. Please, be kind. I am tired.

I find myself, more than anything, tired. I am tired of the disappointment, the fight, the lack of fruition. I feel like my generation was lied to – we were told we could do anything we wanted, that whatever boys can do girls can do, too – but it’s not true. Not yet. Not for some time, probably. I’m 35 now and I was told when I was 8 and wanted to be President when I grew up, that it was possible. No one questioned me when I answered “what do you want to be when you grow up?” with “President of the United States.”

They didn’t prepare us for this kind of fatigue, this kind of betrayal as yet again (our entire lives thus far) three old, white, men lead the charge (two left in the Democratic Primary and the current POTUS as the GOP nominee). I feel like something has been stolen from us.

This isn’t an impassioned anti-Boomer argument (my parents were both born in ’57 and are smack dab in the Baby Boom generation – they are also two of the most progressive, understanding, caring, and thoughtful people I’ve ever met). I don’t even blame them for telling us what they did when we were children, for getting our hopes up. My parents really believed a girl could grow up to be President. Or an astronaut. Or a CEO. They still want to believe that. I’m sure my mother is feeling just as disappointed at 62 as I am at 35, probably even more than I am. She has hoped for this for much longer than I have. We have worked toward this goal – volunteering, voting – for so long, both of us. We went together to the polls to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. She was so proud to vote for a woman for President. I was, too, and it was a moment we savored together.

But if the Boomers aren’t to blame for this, who is? If we feel lied to, who do we blame? Not the parents who gave us that hope, not the women who ran and failed… It partly feels like we should blame ourselves for believing, but I will never regret hoping and working for a better America. I will never feel my time was wasted as I worked for a more equal world, a world of better opportunity and fewer glass ceilings.

But I do feel tired. I feel burnt out. I feel disappointed and sad and small. I know I’m not alone in that. But I still have hope. I always will. After all, that’s how I was raised.

#356 — a turtle on its track

To kick off the month of March – when Spring Break hits us hard here at the beach and we all get a touch of work-aholism – poet S.P. Johnson has been so kind as to write another missive on his Writing Process while I am buried in inventory and purchase orders. Looking back on February, S.P. comes to some pretty hard-fought conclusions about the act of “doing” vs “not doing” — thank you, S.P.!


A beautiful frantic passion.

I appreciated it for the effort that went into my fourteen poetry submissions in January. Far from perfect, but at least I was “doing”, as a friend put it. Those were comforting words of support as I ran, not in circles, but in roundabouts.     

Then February came.

It brought slothful days that turned into empty weeks. Only a paltry 3 submissions. If January was a forceful step forward, then February must have been three leaps back. Maybe that step forward overstimulated me to a point far past exhaustion. A typical pattern for me. Always such the hurdle.

I’m too far behind them.

Cobain never had this issue. Langston Hughes was his own perpetual force of unrelenting creativity. Hemingway — the icon, ‘nough said. When was Flannery O’Connor ever at a loss for words? Van Gogh’s brush strokes — delivered by unending strokes of genius.

Unhealthy pressure? Perhaps. But my idols have always been my competition. I’ve always needed the validation that is measuring up to the best. That’s why this is a race to catch up to the greats.

Rejections.

They came from five publications in February. The 1st was delivered to my inbox on the 3rd — my birthday. Best. Gift. Ever.

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” — Sylvia Plath

She always had such a way with any word she desired. But Plath’s rejections came because she had enough finished works to submit. I took some solace. Those whirlwinds. That legendary flurry that we followers always adored in her, came after an extensive uninspired period — fruitless in her work and lost in the wilderness of normalcy.

Those periods. I can never cease my fixations on Sylvia’s immensely creative periods when she was touched with fire. By comparison, those legendary episodes made my frantic and passionate January look like what I feared it to have been —  amateurish.

But there’s a lesson in it, somewhere. Maybe the moral of her story is that it doesn’t matter how you come out the gate, but how strong you finish the race.

7/1/ 2020

On that day it’ll be a day too late for meeting an all-important deadline. I used to welcome any race against the clock. I even found it quite sporting to procrastinate. But I’m too old for that now. Thirty-six years. A long time here. I am weathered. I am ancient.

This project must be submitted before July 1st, though I’d prefer it done sooner. In my old age, finishing early tends to be my thing [insert “that’s what she said” joke here]. But February only yielded one written scene. One horribly written scene. In fact, the roughest of rough drafts that I’ve ever seen.

But there’s an explanation for it.

The 1st half of the month was spent in the malaise of daily life. The laundry. Washing the dishes. Snooze fest. No more fun creativity in my mind or my world. Such uninspired mediocrity.

I cooked several healthy meals. Bean soups, roasted lean meats and fish, and my daily five to six servings of veggies and fruits. I was going to get back on track.

Then I stored them in the freezer, for a rainy day. I’ve a lifelong record of seeking instant gratification.

My poor impulse control has always served as a formal invitation to poor choices — an exclusive soiree.  

“Please indicate your preference of entrée:  Fish, Chicken, or Pork.”  

Well I do believe that I shall have the double bacon fast food burger.

Large fries. But no soda, only water, because I’m getting back on track.

A healthy choice.

The snowballing was dreadful. I would look to my laptop from bed and know that I should’ve been “doing”. I’d just glance to it every few hours for motivation that never came. Then frustration and self-loathing over the idleness. I’d sooth myself by promising to “get back on track tomorrow.” Tomorrow always came, the cycle continued. “I’ll get back on track tomorrow” became nothing more than a bit of mother’s milk. The placebo. The lie I knew that I was telling myself. But none of it could save me from my familiar ennui, no matter how hard or fast I tried running from it.

Then something happened.

The rainy day came. It was brought in by the same storm that visits each month. Tropical Storm “I’m Broke”.  

Apparently, these fast food joints want money in exchange for food. So I was forced to dig those healthy meals out of the freezer. Properly fueled, I naturally found my way. Laziness and a blank mind gave way to daily exercise and proper sleep. Then, the ideas returned — in a sprint!

The structure and the themes. My style and my voice. The overall concept for the project. All were made clear in a sudden flash of inspiration. Yes. I was up and running. I was back on track.

I didn’t see it then but I’m grateful to see it now.  

Those weeks weren’t so fruitless. I was “doing” — even when I wasn’t.

That’s because those weeks of not “doing” were far more productive than met the eye, including mine. It turns out that things just needed to happen organically as I simply lived my, albeit bland, structured life.

Maybe the frantic and passionate whirlwind of January won’t be the strategy that sees me to the finish line. Instead, it’s the slothful, bland, normal February that may be my best bet. Just slow and steady. Afterall, that’s what wins the race.  

Those are indeed sage words.

And I know that it must be true because a turtle said it. Maybe Leonardo? Or it could have been Donatello. I think that it was after they beat B-Rabbit from 8 Mile in a race or something or other.

Either way —
Cowabunga dude!


S. P. Johnson is an emerging poet from down South.  Sharing insights on his experiences, he offers glimpses into the world as he sees it — rather than as it has been shown to him. Follow him on Instagram @SPJohnsonWrites for updates and to stay in touch!

#355 — a history

I had never heard of fanfiction, or writing-based RPG, when I was a Junior in college and living abroad. I was living, working, and studying in Rome, and some dear friends were stationed with the US Navy just a couple of hours south in Naples. One of them had started a Livejournal. I was familiar with online journaling, as I’d been using private, online platforms for a few years myself, but only as a diary of sorts (think back to sites like Xanga, OpenDiary, and Myspace), and this close friend planned to us their Livejournal as a connection with friends flung far and wide. They asked me to start one as well, so I did, with the explicit goal of keeping better in touch while traveling.

This was 2004. It took me less than a month to find ‘fandom’ – in its hay day, Livejournal was home to some of the most robust fandom in the world. I stumbled upon a rather large Harry Potter role playing game, and wanted to practice creative writing in a more consistent pattern, so I applied. I made up an original character within the world of JK Rowling’s Wizarding World and relied on the kind moderators and my fellow writers to help me navigate the world or RPG. Soon I was being invited to read other writers’ stand alone fanfiction pieces – stories, some novel-length, also based in the Wizarding World that had nothing to do with the original author. I made friends, no longer using my Livejournal solely to keep in contact with ‘Real Life’ friends, but using the site to make connections and build relationships with people all over the world, all based on our common love of Harry Potter. By this point, only the first five books had been released, we had lengthy debates about fan theories, argued playfully among ourselves about what we’d like to see happen next, and explored the minute details of the world we’d come to love so much. I would go on, over the years, to travel great lengths to meet some of my ‘online friends’ in the ‘real world’ and to this day, over 15 years later, they are some of my closest friends in the world.

I didn’t see the bigger picture while I was living in Italy. I was glad to have my game and my friends and it was a great habit-builder for my writing, as I’d hoped. When other writers are relying on you for scenes or plots, you don’t have any other choice than to write! This was my only focus in my first foray into fandom.

Soon, I made other friends, people who’d been involved for much longer than I. People who built their own websites in the days of DOS and Angelfire, to discuss and debate fiction going as far back as the original Star Trek run. Star Trek, it turns out, is the birth place of modern fanfiction, and the origin of the word “Slash” (aka, supporting the idea of two characters of the same sex ending up in a relationship – or ‘ship’ – and in this case, specifically Kirk/Spock). I learned so much about this whole other world wide community of artists, writers, fans, coders, editors… There was so much out there.

Since then, fandom has moved into the mainstream. You can read about toxic fans and published fanfics on the regular – whole platforms (Wattpad, the Hugo Award winning Archive of Our Own, and Insanejournal come to mind) have been built specifically to cater to these artists. Hollywood has embraced these hardcore ‘nerds’ with fan service and multi-billion dollar franchises such as the MCU and the DCEU. Fifty Shades of Grey rocked the publishing world (it began as a fanfiction based on the YA-Fantasy series Twilight). At one point, I became an editor of a popular Twilight fanfiction curation site. Along with ‘online’ friends, I founded and moderated a years-long Harry Potter role playing game that spanned thousands of scenes and over 200 individual characters/authors. I took on beta-editing for other authors, started writing my own fics outside of games, and when my own projects – originals – were stalled or stale, I would give myself a moment to breath a little easier and simply write about my favorite, already established characters and worlds.

Fandom has, over the years, given me an outlet for my creative pursuits when my creativity needs a recharge. It has given me some of my most cherished friendships. The nerds have taken over the pop culture conversation. Even now, when I’m feeling drained or depressed, I can turn to fandom to pick me back up, to take my mind off things, or just to offer a refuge.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

A few weeks ago, I lost a dear family friend. I was at work when my mother called with the news. I had to get through the rest of my shift, though I was feeling so very low, I wasn’t sure I could. When I mentioned my loss on twitter, multiple ‘fandom friends’ reached out to check in with me, some with links to cheer me up, gifs to send their love, and jokes to make me smile through my sadness.

A few days ago, my bipolar disorder reared its annoying, ugly head and I slipped into a depressive episode (which I’m still fighting). In that time, these online communities have supported me, validated my feelings, been welcome sounding boards, and simply let me be and breathe with them. They have been understanding, reassuring, and so incredibly kind. I’m not saying I don’t have support “in real life” (I do) – but the support that comes from my creative community is different. It’s artful and flourishing and silly. It lets me vent via my own creative outlets. I can ramble in an email, be angry and frustrated in 280 characters, and take comfort in virtual hugs when in-person touch is really the last thing I want.

I’m very lucky that all those years ago I fell into fandom. I’m lucky that my communities grew with me – most of us were teens then and together we’re getting oh-so-close to our 40’s now. I’ve watched my friends’ children grow, attended ‘online’ friends’ weddings, been on vacations with women who until then were only names on a screen.

I’m an older millennial, and thus among the last that aged along with the internet. My family got our first computer when I was in high school, and I got my first – prepaid – cell phone when I moved away for college. I’m sure that many people my age can honestly say that we don’t know who we would be today had we not grown into the world wide web like we did. I don’t know who I would be without fandom in my life. Come to think of it, I may never have become a writer at all, and how dull and listless would my life be without my favorite words, my dozens of works-in-progress, the characters that have reflected my own feelings and struggles…

I can’t imagine. It is one of the only things in life that I don’t even want to try to.

#354 — lawlessness!

I have written almost 15,000 words so far in February! It took roughly the first week of the month to eclipse my January numbers. That felt good.

Whether or not these 15,000 words are worth their weight is another question entirely.

By way of update: my 1st draft now has four different points of view now. Sentences are at war, whole paragraphs are passive, and chapter titles have been reduced to (Day) (Place) (Character Name). It is a lawless land. I may not get out alive.

Yes, I have broken some cardinal rules in my last few weeks of writing. But who says we can’t? I certainly don’t follow MLA or the Chicago style or even Elements of Style! My stories tend to be detail-oriented, emotion-driven, and a little (okay, a lot) meandering until I take a red pen to them. I am a fairly brutal editor, almost extremely so with my own work. Until then, though, who says we need to follow rules when we write?

Some of the greatest of all time didn’t follow the rules! Some of my personal favorites wrote stories that would have English teachers balking! Didn’t stop any of them from being their best literary selves and torturing High School students for generations to come! Mary Shelley invented a new genre when she wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus! Hell, Dante wrote Biblical fanfiction and is still considered among the most important artists of all time.

As I think back on the writers that have had the most influence on me, they have – most nearly all of them – been rule breakers. Vonnegut decided to tell the literary world that a perfectly mundane story could be science fiction because it happened to highlight technology, not because it included aliens or spaceships. Elizabeth Barrett Browning essentially told her father to shove it in order to run away with Robert Browning, who’s greatest work was an epic – seriously, very, very long – poem following an ancient Roman murder trial. She was disinherited for her love. Bob Dylan won the Novel Prize in Literature for rambling, simple lyrics that told the story of the heart of a generation. Stephen King became one of the most prolific writers of all time writing mass-market pulp horror.

I’m sure they all questioned themselves as they went along. Rainer Maria Rilke’s father sent him to military school when he found the young man preferred the ‘femininity’ of poetry. Many years later, this experience would give us Letters to a Young Poet as he tried to council a fellow artist through the hardship of toxic masculinity at that very same military school. How must that have felt for Rilke as a teenager? Or for E. B. Browning as a near invalid who’s father forbade her – and her siblings – to marry but chose the inordinately difficult task of falling in love anyway? Would we have had the works we do, the literary history we do, if they hadn’t been rule breakers?

I don’t say any of this to compare myself to any of these giants. I write in role playing games and pulpy, silly chick lit and angsty dramas about fashionable people with thoroughly modern ‘problems’. My stories will not be remembered, they will not torture future generations of ninth graders, I doubt they’ll ever even see the light of day in a published format. But I don’t write for those reasons. I write to play with ideas, characters, POVs, timelines, emotions… I write as therapy and as wishful thinking. I don’t have to follow any so-called rules, because I haven’t made any for myself.

If you have – if you’ve imposed some stodgy or conservative ideals upon your art, in order to feel it is “good enough” or “real” or more than it needs to be – please reconsider. Art exists for its own sake. Break the rules. Paint – literally – outside the lines, if you want. The world would be a far duller, less colorful, much quieter place if we don’t.