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Posts Tagged ‘the work of writing’

I remember in my twenties feeling there were two me’s. The true me and the false me. I can’t describe now the difference except to say when I was in the “true” mode I felt as though nothing else were with me. No material concerns, no jealousy, no desire. Just me.

I don’t have that feeling now, twenty-some years later, of being two people. I write. I work. I mother. I love. I do many things but each thing informs every other. Some of my vocations I love more that others. But if, for example, I am in the heat of a meaty project at work, something that takes me to an exotic country, I can be happy. And sad, for the week or so away from my girls. And sick, for the long trip overseas squashed in economy class. And exhausted and overwhelmed and awed. Nowadays I bear the flood of every emotion that comes with doing what I do and being who I am.

When I was in third grade I went to a new school. My first friend was Kim Bay. She looked like her name sounded, short and cute with freckles, a button nose, and reddish brown hair she wore in pigtails. We were on the playground at recess when a group of six boys came to us and said they wanted to play chase.

Kim and I started out together, two little running bundles, screaming with mouths open. Such fun and glory! Boys had never chased me in my life, never at my old school, and here we were. It was great having the attention of six boys. And then Kim veered right, I veered left, and as if I were up in the sky looking down upon the scene I see all six boys move like a cloud of bees after Kim.

My screams disappear into the empty air around me, my little legs come to a slow stop. Why run? Where am I going? My fun game is over almost as soon as it started. At that moment I suddenly have this thought: I am Kim and Kim is me, we are the same person.

That scene sticks with me like an out-of-body experience of sorts, a realization that the molecules that formed to create me are the same as molecules that create every other thing. All through my twenties I searched for myself, and now I wonder if it’s because I saw the truth once but couldn’t find it again no matter how hard I tried. Do I know it now?

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“Hey, I was thinking, you ought to just publish your book.”

“I don’t have a book to publish.”

“Oh, well then, just write a book and find someone to publish it. You’re a great writer, I know someone will want to publish your book.”

“Well, that’s what I’m working on…writing a book.”

“Oh, good, what’s it about?”

“Well, no, I mean, I wrote an essay and once I finish that I’d like to get it published, and then maybe I’ll work on the book. I might use the essay as a launching point for the book.”

“What’s stopping you from just writing the book?”

“Well, it’s finding the time and figuring out the format of the book.”

“You’ll find the time, you always find the time.”

“Yeah, it’s true, so I guess maybe it’s more about the format.”

“I think you need to just do it.”

“I have been…what do you think I’ve been doing all this past year with the intensive and all my writing practice?”

“I don’t know… In the words of Nike, you need to just do it.”

“Yeah, OK, you’re right.”

“Good, cuz I really want to read your book.”

“OK, Patty, you’re going to read the book. Hey, do you want to read the essay in the mean time?”

“Yeah.”

“OK. Good-night.”

“Good-night.”

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  1. I write to be able to say something
  2. I write to have the voice I didn’t used to have
  3. I write instead of shouting, but sometimes I also shout
  4. I write to do
  5. I write to be
  6. I write to live with others, to be with them and not just sit around talking about the stupid teacher at my kid’s school, which is what a group of mothers did this morning as we waited in the library for our kids to take a test
  7. I write to clarify statements such as the above, which is to say I write so I have something to do other than bitch and moan and gossip
  8. I write to gossip, although when you write out your gossip to people who don’t even know who it is you’re gossiping about, it’s no longer gossip
  9. I write gospel, my own
  10. I write to own my life
  11. I write to live
  12. I write to vent
  13. I write to rest
  14. I write to get on fire
  15. I write to practice the art of not editing
  16. I write to tell a story about someone important to me
  17. I write to have something I can do anywhere, anyplace, like those women who knit and the others who carry prayer or rosaries
  18. I write as a way to be close to God
  19. I write as a way to be close to everyone in my life that I’ve ever loved or even hated and emotions in between
  20. I write to capture memory
  21. I write to let go of memory; isn’t this a quote I just saw last night in the documentary Stone Reader?
  22. I write so that I can fall in love with myself, and then get mad at myself for falling in love with myself
  23. I write for the same reasons I draw or doodle, it keeps my hand moving
  24. I write as a way to practice my spirituality
  25. I write to give something to someone, who I don’t know, maybe you.


-from Topic post, 25 Reasons I Write

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I was making a second cup of Earl Gray tea, waiting for the water to boil. Thinking about my essay. How I feel stuck. How yesterday I thought it might help to go back to the compilation of Best American Essays from 2005. How that only served to make me feel like there’s no way in hell I can ever write an essay.

Something about those essays’ voice. The people who wrote those essays. I notice the voice is calm. I notice that right away. I flip to the essays I especially liked. Ted Kooser’s Small Rooms in Time. Melancholy, I wonder if one always gets melancholy for first wives and homes and places we had our children. I can’t imagine starting life over with a new spouse and thinking back to these homes. Anyway.

Then I flip over to the baseball guy, Roger Angell. How he starts out with a memory of peeing in the garden of a wealthy famous person, a baron or something. I flipped to the essays I didn’t read, just to see how they start. The ones about cooking. The one about a dog. The about David Sedaris’ boil.

They’re all so concrete. That’s the other thing about them. Their voice and their, what’s the word I’m looking for? The first paragraph immediately grounds you in reality. Is there a word for that?

Then I’m thrown into a tizzy. I’m thinking now of my essay. Do I have a voice?

Ese, pronounced just like Essay. Ese, dude. Ese is what the vatos say to each other, or used to when I was in high school. Oye, ese. It means you, hey you. Ese vato. You, vato. Hey you, vato. Orale. I like those words. I like that I know what they mean, how to use them. Orale ese, you sapo’d out.

I remember this guy Charlie who worked behind the desk of Fort Marcy rec center in Santa Fe. He wore thick, thick glasses, had reddish hair, one of those light-skinned vatos. He poured all his energy into his body.

Fitness. You could tell he wasn’t used to female attention. I realize now I gave my attentions to anyone, I didn’t discriminate on the basis of looks. What was I looking for? Friendship, I guess. I never slept with him or even made overtures to sleep with him. But I did glom on to him. I insisted on him riding with me on 20-mile or 40-mile bike rides.

I insisted that we both register for a running/walking race in La Tierra. He was the runner, I’d be the biker. Two-man race. He was so much fitter than me, he must have felt like he was training a novice.

We did eventually do the race together. It rained that day. We did poorly. I blew it on the bike. I still can see rain dripping from his bangs down his face. His glasses completely blurred as he stood there waiting for me. Like he was peering into fog, Where is she?

What made me think of him was how he was an artist and I was an artist. He once told me he wanted to do a show called Sapo Art. Do you know what sapo means, he asked me. Sure, I said, it’s like when you throw a basketball and it swooshes into the hoop without making even a sound. That’s sapo. You’re right, he said.

The Sapo Art show was going to be art that came easily. Graffiti art, art that you just sit down and spout out. Nothing you labor over, just easy art.

I went to Spain before we could do our Sapo Art show. It took me almost the whole year to finish the one drawing I really loved. It’s four small panels, each features an ogre that in hindsight looks like a prototype for Shrek. I wrote a poem to go with it: My Monster Eats Small Children.

I was the monster. I was so lost in Spain. I didn’t know what I was doing, just that I was there. Was I a writer? Was I an artist? Was I a drunk? I didn’t want to be who I was, that’s for sure.

I still think of that ogre drawing as Sapo Art, even if it took me a long time. It came easily, I just couldn’t bring myself to produce. I remember one time Almudena came up to my piso and asked what I was working on. I showed her. Dibujas de puta madre, mujer. “De puta madre” was one of those words that means exactly the opposite of its literal meaning, like “bad” when you want to say “good.” You draw like the mother whore, was the literal meaning.

Ese, dude, I really need to just let this essay come out of me without worrying what David Sedaris says about boils. I guess it’s becoming a little a bit clearer what I want to say. What experience it is I’m trying to recall without coming out and being literal about it. I wonder if I’m just scared that whoever it is I am is not the person I want to be.

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I worked on my essay all day yesterday. I read the speech by the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. He talked about being holed up in a room to write, and I realized how much I like that work. I like it and I don’t like it, but I look forward to holing myself up in my space to write. I can stay there for hours. It’s like a puzzle to me, and afterwards I also realize I’ve been struggling with my brain. My mind. I have been working out the puzzle. I’ll throw out everything I wrote that didn’t come through practice. It’s not alive. But what it showed me was the way I needed to go. What I was working out was the theme and the main points of the essay.

I’m intrigued with this interplay of the writing, which flows out one paragraph after another, and the structure of the story. That doesn’t flow out. I didn’t make my outline like I said I would. I didn’t write on the topic I thought I was going to write on. I picked out a blog assignment that had energy for me. I guess since it was palpable I just started going with it instead of planning it out. I knew there was something I wanted to say with this piece, but I was not exactly sure what. I’m still not exactly sure what, although after yesterday I’m closer. I got stuck in one particular transition, and it was only in the bathtub this morning I realized what I wanted to write about in that particular paragraph. It’s like the transition, the turning point that allows me to go to the next section, came to me.

Is this how writing is? This is the first time, besides the blog assignments, that I am honoring practice by using it as the main approach to building a finished piece. I will labor over a particular paragraph that hasn’t been built with practice. I’ll rewrite the sentences, even knowing as I’m doing it that it’s not working. I’ll step back, read from the beginning. The first four or five paragraphs changed hardly one iota from the way they came out in practice. Then it gets stilted. I run into the paragraph I’ve been laboring over. I sit down, try to write what I want to say using practice, except I haven’t arrived at what I want to say. That’s where the structure comes in. I don’t know if this makes sense. I don’t know if this is what happens to others. I want to talk about it to someone, not analyze it, just understand it and then read their finished piece. It’s important to know what goes on in the room where you alone sit.

Today, work. I have an all-day meeting where people are flying in from other places. I’d like to bow out for the meeting. I won’t be able to focus on my writing. Maybe I can take my schedule book and sketch in it if I get bored. I know now what I want to write next, and it’s hard when you have that in you belly. Or maybe I have it on my mind and I need to transfer it to my belly where it can sit all day, patiently, letting it build. That’s what I’ll do. I’m not sure when I get to write next. I do know I have to write soon.

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