Archives: writing



You guys, I’m going to be part of this national storytelling event in May called Listen To Your Mother. LTYM is sort of like the Moth, but all about moms, which is not nearly as Hallmark card-y as I am making it sound.  There will be no sixteen-inch rises on acid washed denim or “Live, Love, Laugh” painted on driftwood, just good old fashioned stories about sex, drugs, and motherhood.  Emphasis on the motherhood part, probably, but, hey, you never know.

Star Struck

Dear Holy Writing Spirit,
Please let me not trip over my words tonight.  Please take the marbles from my mouth and the lead from my tongue.  Grant me patience both with myself and with “The Process”. Guide my hand with the pen, and turn my ears towards your messengers.   Allow me to be a conduit for your writerly grace and to know a glottal stop when I see one . Imbue me with perfect diction and let my hands lay down by my sides, lest they pinwheel about my wrists in nervousness. Forgive my overuse of elipses, cleanse me of the sin of starting sentences with “and”, and deliver me from clichés,
Now in the hour of your finest performance,

This is the prayer I recite every Tuesday night.  Every night now for three weeks, I have sat around a table, along with a dozen other students, with one of my literary heroes.  I have made it seem like it’s all cool to be sitting five seats from my literary hero and reading my writing out loud, but it is not cool, people. No, it is not cool at all.  It is an anxious, sweaty- palmed affair in which I bend the corner of my papers back and forth in anticipation of having to speak I am so nervous.  And why?  Because the combination of being in the same room as one of my literary heroes AND the pressure I’ve put on myself to make this class THE CLASS to END ALL CLASSES and to make me finally write that book is making my head implode. I have to consciously remember to breathe.  I have to remember to be calm and to breathe and that hey!  The instructor puts his shoes on one at a time just like the rest of us!
Oh, but the agony of trying to stay present when all this STUFF is swirling around in my head.  Stuff like: why does this book matter anyway?  Why should anyone want to read it?  Are you going to trip over your words when you read?  You HERO is listening, dummy!  What if his eyes glaze over and you bore him?  WORSE!  What if your stuff is so bad he is stunned into silence?  How will you live afterward if your literary hero hears a bit of this book you’ve been writing and his reaction is that of a man watching a Great Dane take a dump in a baby stroller?
These past few weeks of writing were particularly challenging.  Not only was I nervous about reading, I was nervous about WHAT I was reading.  The week before last, this thing kept coming to me, both from my classmates and from my writing coach.  The thing was a question.  The question was: where are YOU in all of this?  Somehow, I’d begun to write a memoir and I wasn’t IN IT. And everyone could see it.  Either I was a master at writing a character into obsolescence, or I SUCKED at showing up in my own work.  It seemed strange to me that I could achieve such invisibility, given that I come here every once in a while and tell you about my arthritic knees and my intestinal distress,  but I’d heard it now from several people. I wasn’t showing up in my own work. It was like I was invisible. 
So I spiraled into some real darkness and I went back to lying on the leather couch of my mind and asking: okay, LoLo.  When did you first make yourself invisible?  No clear answer came back. I was just aware of a vague sense of hiding behind telephone poles for most of my life. Not real ones, of course, but something figurative, something large enough to peek out from behind to observe the rest of the world, but something that would hide me entirely if I wanted to stand with my back up against it. 
Eventually, I pulled out of that dark place. On the third day, I woke up and said, “Ahhhh.  That’s better”.  I went back to the drawing board and cranked out another chapter and this time I made sure to start most of my sentences with “I”.  I was putting myself in my book.  I had thoughts and feelings and not all of them were around Cheez Doodles!  I was doing it!  I was expressing myself!
I can’t tell you precisely when that shift from Describer to Narrator happened.  It might have been the conversation I had with an old friend of mine- a musician who has made his way to Broadway.  He said something to me about how ALL of us, actors, musicians, writers… all of us live with doubt.  And all of us need to create and perform in the face of that doubt.  In fact, you could postulate that the only thing separating an artist from a non-artist is that the artist lives in his fear and acts anyway. 
I also spoke to a very good friend of mine who is a professional photographer and she echoed the sentiment of my musician friend- that all of us, ALL HUMANS, cringe in fear at the idea that we are subject to criticism at all times… especially those of us who put ourselves out there ON PURPOSE to be critiqued and loved and reviled and adored.   Again the message came through: your desire to crawl under a rock when things get ugly is no excuse for not trying. 
Really, what came out of all of this was the idea that I have a VERY fixed idea that because I want this so badly, it should come gracefully and easily.  I may have read ONE too many articles of the Zen of Pulling Weeds or some shit because EVERYONE I talked to has the same reaction to my insistence that this should be easy: WHAT ARE YOU? NUTS?  NOTHING in life is SUPPOSED to be easy, dummy!  The things hardest fought for are the things you treasure most.  Sometimes that thing is a difficult childbirth.  Sometimes it’s being unemployed for a long stretch only to find your dream job at the end.  I know of very few parents who would trade in their kids for an easier time of things.  That’s how you fall in love with your creation: you work alongside it. You fight for its survival.  You change in the process.
Something, though, has kept me from embracing this struggle.  Everyone who has passed on that bit of wisdom circulating around the Internet right now ,“Lean into it”, I have wanted to shove hard into row of parked motorcycles.
The Perfectionism is dying a slow death, but it still rears its mangled head from time to time.  I have found myself stumbling, wanting to impress my instructor and classmates, leaving my willingness to experiment at the door in the name of making a good impression.  I am actually embarrassed at how intimidated I am. I feel like everyone else is so witty and charming and funny!  I can hardly string a sentence together. My words leave me regularly.  I find myself in this very awkward game of Charades, where  I am subbing out wholly formed thoughts for wild gesticulations.  My classmates lean in and try to discern what I mean by *wave hands in circles, swivel head, make guttural noise, stare at tabletop for uncomfortable seven seconds and wave hands some more*. My classmates aren’t just good at writing, either.  They’re good at talking abouttheir writing.  About their thought processes and how they go from point A to point B.  They’re having meta conversations about what it’s like to think about their writing.  I’m still stumbling over fucking verb tenses.  For god’s sake.   Their stuff is SO good.  Their pieces are charcoal sketches of nudes.  Mine are hairy firetrucks and my name signed in crayon trailing off the page.  They are waxing philosophical about film and theater.  I am laboring to push out words like a manatee with twins on the way.
I do this a LOT- get all star-struck and tongue-tied in front of other good writers and then I want to crumple up into a ball my version of “art”.  I think it’s a little, um, weird, because my level of discomfort should be inversely proportional to the level of celebrity. But my celebrities aren’t the normal ones so my nervousness is a little, well, extreme.  To wit: one of my best friends went to a Beyonce concert a few  nights ago and she sent me a text telling me she’d just about peed her pants in awe at the woman.  Truthfully, if I came face to face with Beyonce’s quadriceps, I might be liable to let go a little trickle.  But, really?  I don’t think about Beyonce except when someone mentions her name.  No offence, Mrs. Knowles-Zee (which is, I’m SURE, what you call yourself).  You are amazing; you’re just not as cool to me as, say, Ira Glass or Oliver Sacks.
 “Normal” celebrities don’t do it for me.  One time, at bookclub, talk ran right into celeb gossip and the ladies were all Ryan Gosling this and Ryan Gosling that and I was like WHO IN THE HELL IS THIS MAN with a baby duck’s last name?  Everyone in the room just then turned to me and their heads began the slow, awkward swivel of the possessed/incredulous.   Someone pulled up a picture on their phone. I stared.  I squinted.   Nothing.  I didn’t know him from Adam.  Incredulous looks from the ladies circulated. Do you think she’s okay?, they whispered to one another. 
The problem is that I don’t see a lot of (American-made) movies, and I don’t watch TV much. Instead, I read. A lot.  Heavy stuff, too.  Like right now, my favorite book is a five-hundred page treatise on the origins of cancer.  I can’t put it down.
Here are some factoids about me that might clear up why my heroes run so left of center.  I have never, ever in my life done two things:
Smoked a cigarette
Bought a women’s magazine
That should do some of the work in explaining why I can’t point Ryan BabyDuck out of a lineup, or why I think of rum before I think of  actor when I hear the word “Gosling” and why a child’s dose of cough syrup is enough to get me high,  and why I can’t identify 80% of Hollywood on name alone.
Ask me about the fascinating connection between the brain and the guts, though, and I can point to the exact PAGE the article is on in my subscription to Mother Jones.  Or if you want to read that gorgeous story about the beekeeper in The Sun?  Yeah, I got you covered.  Oh, and if you want a short history of how autopsies have historically been performed, you just let me know.  I’ll be returning “The Emperor of All Maladies” to the library in about one week.
I never think that what I’m reading is so weird until I find out that the rest of the world wants to know about the Royal Baby that was just born and I’m like “Royal baby? Is that Nigerian princess who keeps spamming me pregnant?”  I’m much more interested in how my food is produced, which one of my bath products contains Methylparaben, how to excise a lung… these are the things I’m reading about. 
And none of that seemed so weird or cloistered (or soooooo very indicative of the fact that I live in Seattle) until I got to this class and realized that all my reading has done me no good.  I don’t have a working knowledge of Shakespeare.  I haven’t seen very many movies.  I’m more familiar with the fiber content of graham crackers than I am with filmmakers.  It leaves me feeling like I’ve shown up to a MENSA meeting with a baloney sandwich in my hands and an Archie comic stuffed into my back pocket. 
The whole reason I wanted to take this class was because I saw the instructor perform a few years ago and his monologue was what made me think I could make a go of this writing thingee.  And now that I am in front of him, I’m acting like a Nervous Nellie.  I took this class because I wanted to use it as a tool to flesh out this book I’m working on.  Somehow, though, I’ve let my nervousness eclipse my focus and I’ve been loathe to work on the book.
The instructor is only ONE of many indie-celebrities in front of whom I’ve made myself sound like a broken Whoopie Cushion. There was this one time when I met one of my musical idols, Dan Bern.  He was playing in my city, in my neighborhood even.  When I walked up to him after the show to flirt/chit-chat, I made a complete and utter fool of myself.  Again, a little bit of trivia to help paint a picture here:  I live with a particular form of cognitive dissonance when it comes to physics.  I cannot properly gauge the distance between two locations.  Miles mean nothing to me.  Tell me distance in minutes, and be sure to throw in landmarks or I will never understand what geography you are pointing to.  Anwho,  when Dan Bern, my idol, told me he had just come from SeaTac, the town that is synonymous with our airport, an airport just thirty minutes away by car, I asked if he had flown from there to here, the club we were standing in.  In other words, instead of taking a moment to process the information, take in a few molecules of oxygen, synthesize it with what I already knew about time and space, and perhaps form a follow up question, or maybe just stand there and shake my head dreamily like a NORMAL star struck person, I summoned up all my bravado and asked if he had flown from the airport to the venue.  In essence, I’d asked him if he had gotten into a plane and flown the approximate three minutes it would take to cover the roughly twenty mile car ride. He stared at me blankly, wondering how I didn’t know the geography of my OWN FUCKING STATE. “ No”, he said with an appropriate amount of exasperation and pity in his voice. “I drove here”.  Like a normal person, was the implication at the end there.
So yeah, me and celebrity – we don’t do so well together.  My brain melts around people I admire.  I keep thinking I’m meant to rub elbows with big names, but when I actually do, I wind up saying THE most inane stuff.  I once stood in line WITH NO BOOK TO SIGN just to shake hands with Stephen Tobolowsky at a book signing event.  When I got to him, all I could say, like he was some veteran coming home from war, was: “Great job sir.  You really inspire me”.  You know what?   I didn’t say that at all. What I said was, “You. Are.  Beashhhhhh.  Ohgod.  I. Thank you.  I’m sorry I don’t have a book.  You. Should know.  Aiiiiiiiiii”. Then there was the sound of hissing as my brain off-gassed from death by atrophy.  So, yeah.  I can wreck a two sentence sentiment in no time flat.  There were probably about a dozen or so OTHER sounds I used to “talk” to Stephen Tobolowksy, but I have necessarily blocked from my memory so that I am not horribly disfigured by the weight of my own shame.
Today I am taking a moment to collect my breath and my thoughts and to remember that we are all human, all of us.  And that unless I am told otherwise, I should just presume that everyone else is just as nervous and tongue-tied as I am, in front of celebrities or not.  Everyone is finding their way.  Everyone is making hairy fire trucks in the privacy of their own home and maybe they are much more practiced at shining them up before they bring them to class.
Sometimes, The Holy Writing Spirit answers my prayers, and it sounds like this:
Dear Little Child, Wandering in the Desert of Your Own Mind,
How DO you read your work in front of your writing heroes?  Ah, if only I could reveal the answer to you!  I acknowledge your difficulty, though. You probably haven’t yet learned the art of dismantling your gods.   That’s all.  You’re just now starting to see how absent you’ve been from your reading and isn’t that helpful?  After you go home and the adrenaline ebbs from the shores of your self-awareness and your breathing goes back to normal? See? You’re doing alright.  Listen.  First of all, do you not remember the first of my laws?   There is no God of Writing but the One God of Writing.  Thou shalt not worship false idols.  I’m sure this guy is great and all, but, seriously.  Do I need to inscribe it on stone tablets or something?  Buy their books and go to their shows, but remember who fills you with wordy life day after day after day. Not those yahoos.  Me. ME! TREMBLE BEFORE ME, THE LORD, YOUR WRITING GOD!  Lol! Just kidding!  I love throwing that shit in from time to time. Hey. Listen: you must learn to calm down.   You will never glean all there is to glean from those you adore (and there is stuff to be gleaned, for sure) in that state of starry-eyed palsy . You must gracefully take your heroes off their pedestals and you must raise yourself up tall.  Only then, with the pedestal out of the way, will you be able to see what there is to see: you are all human.  And you are all trying to tell a story.

Now go tell yours. 

Artful Bitching and How To Realize When Your Body Is Telling You Something

Internet, I’ve been away, and I apologize. Typing has been extremely painful these last few days, so I have been resting my hands. I have a finger injury. Okay, it’s more like a fingernail injury. I can’t actually tell what it is because (if you’re squeamish, now would be a good time to just skip to paragraph two) every time I try to trim back the cuticle around the middle finger of my right hand, blood and pus come oozing out, blocking my view of the wound site. CLH thought it might be a splinter, but I argued that a splinter should not make your finger ooze, nor should it make it numb. Plus, I should be able to see a splinter. And all I can see at this point is layer upon layer of ragged skin around my nail where I have been tearing away with my manicurist’s tools for the past few days. That, and some dried blood. This is now the third or so mystery injury that I’ve sustained on the right side of my body. And if you think I take these kinds of things lightly, well then you have me mistaken for someone who is not ultra sensitive to every little thing and not just a little bit woo-woo.

The past few days have been odd and great.

I made an appointment to see a cranio-sacral therapist to help out with my ear stuff. CLH has been hounding me about making an appointment with this therapist for probably more than a year now, but I have been resisting. I didn’t want anymore turtle-shell rattle-waving in my general direction from another “alternative therapist” before I went to a western MD and had my head x-ray’d for this ear issue. You’d think I would be a little more open to the turtle-shell rattle folks, being practically married to someone who does alternative healing for a living. But, I can’t help but have a bad taste in my mouth. After my original cranio sacral therapist all but kicked me to the curb two years ago, giving me the excuse that she just didn’t think we should work together anymore… and after the naturopath I saw dismissed me after five minutes of consultation, I didn’t want anything but a big, deadly machine to tell me what was wrong with my ears. Unfortunately, the stress of trying to rent this house has really exacerbated this ear thing lately, so, I decided to give in and see this illustrious Dr. Pat CLH has been raving about.

And, man alive, am I glad I did. She is everything CLH said she would be.

A little background: cranio sacral therapy is a healing modality in which the therapist, by subtly manipulating the plates of the skull, allows for the movement of cerebrospinal fluid within the head and spine. The general effect is that the patient feels relaxed, relieved, and maybe a little lightheaded. That’s my scientific understanding of it, anyway. I’m sure a quick Google search will reveal that lots of people think it’s pure quackery. To me, though, all medicine is just Dumbo’s magic feather in a labcoat. And I say, whatever modality gets you feeling like you’re at your optimum, go for it. I do things like accupuncture and craniosacral because I can physically feel the results, and the results are generally awesome. I am fully willing to admit that it might just be me convincing myself that it’s working, but who cares? I’m of the belief that a little bit of positive thinking never hurt a healing process. Anywho, I could actually FEEL the effects of Dr. Pat’s work. Not only could I feel the intended movement in my head, which left me feeling slightly nauseous but happy that SOMEthing was unsticking itself up there, I had some intense visualizations that were deeply moving.

Now, as if giving a woman $70 to gently rock my head back and forth doesn’t sound desperate-for-relief and turtle shell rattle-y enough, my visualizations were pretty damned outta-this-world, too. My visualizations during my therapy sessions are always revealing in this profound sort of way, and what I saw while I was laying on Dr. Pat’s table was nothing short of THE GREATEST METAPHOR IN MY LIFE EVER. I saw with my mind’s eye that the inside of the left side of my head was all pink and plump and juicy- it looked kind of like what a healthy intestinal tract might look like, or maybe a healthy brain- all squiggly and bunched together, teeming with blood vessels and shiny with some deep-inside-the-body lubricant. The right side (the side where my throbbing, aching ear lives) looked like something out of a Hollywood set. It was a old tin box, irregularly shaped, and lining its insides was fuzzy grey mold. I had the sensation of old age, and neglect, and a little bit of Boo Radley’s house. Then I had the feeling that Dr. Pat was reaching in there- I could see hands gently scooping out that mold. And I was grateful- grateful that someone wasn’t grossed out by the state of my head, and grateful that she was brave enough to get in there and clean some of the crap out.

And that was all at 10 am that day.

Later on that same day, I had a great talk with my friend Tracy about writing. She’s an aspiring writer, and she works part time for a non-profit that I do the books for. She’s such an inspiration to me. She just up and decided one day that she’d had enough of her own excuse making, so she applied to a graduate program for creative writing, and now, two years and a degree later, she’s got a mostly finished manuscript for a play she’s written that’s ready for production. She’s been trying to talk me into signing up for this same program for some time now. Always curious about her process, and excited about her nearing graduation, I asked her to tell me the greatest lesson she’s learned about her writing. And she told me that, prior to her program, she never made time for her writing. Even when she finally learned to schedule time to do it daily, she would double and triple book herself with appointments so she could avoid the computer. Now that she’s gone through the program, she’s learned that she needs to treat writing like the daily exercise/job it is. I cannot thank her enough for sharing that little nugget of wisdom. While she was talking, I thought about how much I needed to learn about making regular time for my writing. I shared the image of the musty tin box on my right side with her… and suddenly my brain made a synaptic jump. The right side of my body… the side that scientists say is the impetuous, artsy, feeling side… is starting to mold from disuse. The left side, the one that does math and science, the one that balances my checkbook, and the checkbooks of my clients, is alive and well. The mysterious bug bite that has taken a chunk out of my right leg… the fingernail injury… the ear…. all on my right side. All right side, right brain, art brain functionality experiencing a major breakdown. It was like my right side was just screaming at me to DO SOMETHING already. I’m a FREAKING BOX OF MOLD, FOR GOD’S SAKE. It was saying that I needed to replace that box with something vibrant, something pulsating with life and creativity! Something worthy of the right side of my brain, the side that writes and dreams and drifts off into plot lines all day long.

Well, damn. That little revelation was well worth $70.

That night, feeling still slightly queasy from my session with Dr. Pat, I decided to take a nap before heading out to see Lindsay perform her burlesque routine (which was AWESOME!). I couldn’t sleep, though, because aside from the general grunting and laughing noise that was coming from the backyard full of CLH’s friends through the windows, it sounded like someone was hammering on the pipes DIRECTLY underneath my bedroom floor. You see, we’ve found someone to live in and pay rent for the basement. It’s a small step to getting this place full of money paying renters. She’s been moving in for the past few weeks and it has suddenly been made very clear to me that there is NO NOISE BARRIER between the basement and the two rooms in the house I spend the most time in. I can hear EVERYthing from below. So, in a rage at not being able to get one moment’s peace in my own home, I took off for the show early. And I drove to the coffeehouse that sells my favorite coffee and I hunkered down with a book and an americano for an hour before the show.

Of course, it never fails. Whenever I am by myself in public, I attract all sorts. An older man sat down next to my table and asked me what time the place closed. Now, I’ve heard ALL kinds of come-on lines… everything from “I like your hair” to “Do you know of a good place to dance around this city? ‘Cause I was thinking you could show me some time…” This guy, though, wasn’t trying to guess my sign. He was actually interested in the time. And when I told him, he followed up by asking if this coffee shop had always been a coffee shop. I closed my book, turned to him and the dog eared stack of papers he was holding in his lap and settled in a for a long conversation with another member of the I-Am-Weird-So-I-Will-Talk-To-YOU-Pretty-Accommodating-Lady club.

Thing is, though, he wasn’t weird. On the contrary. He was one of the most interesting strangers I have ever met. He was a screenplay writer. That rumpled stack of paper in his lap that looked like it was covered in Klingon was actually a work in progress. Some of his screenplays had been turned into movies that were being shown at Seattle’s International Film Festival! And he seemed genuinely interested in my writing when I said I was experimenting with this blog. He wanted to know what my message was. What it was I saying in my blog. And because “contemplative musings about mostly nothing” or “artful bitching” seemed a little too vague, I said I wasn’t quite sure yet. That I was still trying to figure it out. Mostly my writing is exactly what a blog was designed for: diary entries about my chronic ear and intestinal blockages and also a place to moan about how much it sucks to shop at the health food store. And since that sounded incredibly self indulgent and not just a little lame as hell, I decided I would spend more time thinking about it over the next few days.

I haven’t quite reached any decisions yet about anything. I am just so grateful for this new awareness in my life. so I am going to sit with it for a few days while my finger heals.

So, Thank you, Tracy, for teaching me that it’s okay to hang a sock on the door when I’m busy writing. Thank you, Lindsay, for showing me that you still need to practice your craft even when you don’t think it’s perfect. Thank you, strange dude at coffee shop, for forcing me to dig down deep for my message. And thank you, Dr. Pat, for revealing to me the rusty insides of my creative machinery… and for the hand in clearing out all that space to make room for more writing.