Wednesday, May 29, 2019

On Writing

I've seriously dedicated myself to writing for about twenty-two years now. This doesn't include being a small kid writing stories and playing them out with my friends, making puppets or building sets out of the few things we could carry. I don't even really think much about the years I've consistently worked, exploring an idea to its (almost) end. I think a lot about that (almost)-- those times when I've abandoned a project completely and then didn't write much of anything for a year (or more) because I knew I had to work something out in my head. Or maybe it's more than that.

Maybe the first twenty years of writing was just getting out and getting over all the ghosts that haunted and hurt. The simplest, most personal realizations can often become the most profound. At the end of William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, the demon is raging in the bedroom, assuming the voice of Damien Karras's dead mother, who Damien feels profound guilt over. He and Father Merrin are at the door, and Merrin tells Damien about his own loss of faith. Pretty much, Merrin says he has a difficult time loving everyone. He says that a lot of people actually disgust him, and he felt a loss of faith because God asked him to love. Then one day, he finally realized that he didn't have to actually love everyone, not even close. But he did have to act with love. It always comes down to the act. 

I am often asked about how one can go about writing. If you read any book on writing (most of these books are terrible, minus Stephen King's On Writing), in so many words, they all say you have to meet the muse. Like Father Merrin's act-- or faith in any pursuit-- you have to be there, in the room with the pencil and paper, writing it all out. Eventually, you'll come to something. This is what I tell people because it is the easiest way to put yourself in the head space, to tap into that psychic energy you need to write. But as I said before, because of those (almost)s, I don't write this way. I'm more like Roethke: I take my waking slow

I've been working on a novel for about two years now (those different two out of the twenty-two), and I'll pause for a month (or months) to work through an idea because I don't want to fall into the old traps. I don't want to get sick of myself. This time, I am willing myself to do something completely different. That difference has taken a considerable amount of clearing out the ghosts and internal clutter so I can write something in front of me and not behind. 

And this is what led to the most basic of realizations: I've always written horror. Of those twenty years where I was writing what was behind me, man oh man, those stories and poems were bombed out and broken. I thought I was writing capital-L capital-F Literary Fiction, but it really started out as Gothic horror and then moved into gore. In poetry, I've mostly published Gothic horror. In fiction-- with the exception of the last two years-- it's all gore. And the gore is painful for me to read. Whenever I workshopped the pieces, I would always hear that the writing is beautiful, but the story hurts. And man, I loved that. But then something changed, and it got to where my own stories made me nauseous. 

Because I only wrote about girls, and all the girls I wrote about were in monstrous situations and they couldn't get out. They followed the breadcrumbs because their was no where else to go. And I wouldn't let up. I wrote out the worst parts, the willing walk to destruction. I thought this was romantic (you know, Literary Fiction, even sometimes Southern Gothic), but I was really writing slasher stories where the girl had absolutely no power, and there was always a force (usually a stranger, sometimes a boyfriend, once a mom) that runs the girl to the ground. 

The realization came yesterday, and it was this: I hate gore horror. I won't read it, I won't watch it. But it's all I wrote. I thought I quit those stories because I'm a bum, when really, I quite those stories because I truly hated their drives. 

I only recognized this because of the novel I am working on. I met a man on a bus who I could have easily turned into an active monster, which is far different than the threat of violence. I could have taken the power away from my main character, fallen farther into the world of splatter horror and out of the supernatural/paranormal. I took a month to figure out who everyone on the bus is, how I was willing to build force and vanquish it, and yesterday, I was finally able to write the scene. Afterwards, I felt like high-fiving my old self, and all those sad girls I buried in all those old stories.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

That's Just the Feeling

This fall has been a bizarre season. No matter how much I tell myself that a single life is only one timeline, with a definite beginning and end, I can't help but constantly give myself over to that American idea of perpetually having the capability of beginning again. I think part of it is that I believe people can change. I mean, there are two ways of going about it: people change or they don't. And if I believe people change, then I have to believe I have the capacity to change too-- for better or worse. And man oh man, does the idea of ever growing worse startle me. I can't be the only one, though I may be in slim company of those who are infinitely conscious of it at most every moment, even in dreams. 

One of the reasons I married Tim is because we speak the same language. He has the exact same capacity of the infinitely conscious fear of being one who grows worse. I'm not saying that it's because of, but maybe only informed by, that fear that he is pretty good at saying something I've never heard before when I need to hear it. For this strange fall season, Tim told me that the worst tragedies happen on otherwise beautiful days because it's the only way anyone could cope with it. 

I mean, damn. That's poignant. 

Throughout this strange fall season, with all it's dramatics moving in completely disparate directions, along with other things, I keep thinking of what Tim told me. Maybe part of it's poignancy is connected to staying in the center of things. When things get to feeling like you're being tosses around at sea, I hear the best thing to do is remain a stone. So for this strange season, I've tried my best to remain a stone. But even living in this little city, one can only really stay a stone for so long, hardly anytime at all.

I keep going back to that scene in Broken Flowers too. When Bill Murray is at the end, all busted up and broken, suffocating under the gravity of life and being, and all the repercussions that stem from both, and he's holding those terrible, cheap pink flowers. He's leaning against a giant old tree, squatting next to the grave of one of his last loves, crying. Whenever I picture this in my mind, it's raining. I've seen the movie at least twenty times, and the greens are so fresh, they feel wet with the weight of falling rain.

But it isn't raining at all. That's just the feeling. 

For the most part, outside my love for Tim and Langston, I don't know where I'm traveling. But I know I'm capable, and I know people love me. (I dyed my hair pink this month, and immediately, my wonderful cousin texted me, "Are you okay? It's pink not brown, but does it mean the same thing?")

I think art is inside/outside-- part of the time is collecting, the other part is creating. Sometimes the stages take years to navigate. This week I've realized that it's probably just time for the other side of things.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

About David

This entry, most likely, won't make any sense, and most likely, I will keep writing on it, over and over, as an attempt to reconcile my feelings. I started this journal eight years ago as a way to cope with death and loss. I thought then-- and still believe now-- that if I could write it out enough, I could find my way through to the other side. It's like the story of when people die. Their spirits are on one shore. A man on a boat arrives at the shore and drops anchor for the spirit to board. With the spirit on the boat, the man guides the boat to the other shore, drops anchor again, and the spirit makes it to the other side.

When I think about all the people I've lost, this is where they are. And in that space, I wonder what the man on the boat would say. When I try my hardest to write my way through things, I try to tell myself what the man would say.

When I was young and angry-- and I was young and angry for a long time-- I believed in God and believed in heaven and hell. There are pictures in my mind that I can't imagine existing on any other plane of consciousness. People I can conjure that I can't imagine being a part of my life again, over and over, in endless worlds, with both of us in them. 

Outside of my great grandmother and great Uncle Joe, the first real loss I experienced was when Manny died. I was nineteen. David didn't know how to deal with my grief. In his defense, no one really did. My dad told me I was being stupid, my mom cooked me food and bought me an inspirational wall hanging with an inspirational quote, and none of it was good. When Manny died, I burned everything down. I swore he was haunting me, and I left everything behind. I started a new life-- frantically-- then that didn't work out, and I ran away. I went to Nebraska to be alone for a while, lived off of my savings, spent my days in the library, and I wrote my way through the tragedy. I didn't tell anyone in Florida where I was.

I eventually went back to Florida, but it was only to keep writing. Literature classes were my church, the books my Bible, the professors my spiritual guides. I saw a dream specialist for a little while-- an old anthropology professor who acted a lot like the man on the boat, leading me into those old and frightening rooms so I could confront what was in them. I lived in my brother's old bedroom, slept on my childhood bed, and spent my days listening to records, writing, and frantically reading everything I could. I was looking for something I needed to find. David had already moved to NYC by then and I didn't care too much. Anyone that was out of Florida I was happy for. We wrote letters and talked. He sent me postcards and songs. He sent me pins and a shirt from the record shop he managed.

When David's mom got sick and slowly died, he could hardly cope with the grief of it. We talked for hours and hours, we spent years talking about it. I was the man on the boat, David was the spirit then. At that point, I had spent so many hours on that boat. He had been my friend for so long already, and meant so much to me, that I didn't mind. For years and years, until I was about twenty-six, we flew back and forth to see one another. 

We would have magic days and nights.Dancing until 7a at a pop-up party in Brooklyn, surround by a thousand people, all dancing to old blues and doo wop 45s. That time in Central Park, on Davis Islands, at that sushi restaurant in Brooklyn that played Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark".  The punk concerts we went to. The mix tapes he made me. All those nights we stayed up til morning laughing and talking, moving from one party to the next.Then the next day David would be dead quite, totally freaked out by all that happiness. One of us would go home and then the whole thing would begin again. There were a lot of trips that fell apart too, planes neither of us got on, at the last minute, yelling and upset feelings. Over the nineteen years, we tested our loyalty to one another a lot.

The last time I saw David, I was twenty-six. It was the 4th of July. He was living in NYC and called me. He said he needed help, asked if I would move in with him for the summer. I thought that maybe the dark half of things would go away, and all that happiness would not be overwhelming at all. I took leave from work, packed my bag, and flew to NYC. I took a cab to the apartment, and he could hardly get to the door. The way he was acting stunned me. The fact that the room I was supposed to stay in was completely bare stunned me. It was 100 degrees in the apartment, except for in David's room, where he had air conditioning. He stayed in bed all day. He slept until after dark, after the 4th of July fireworks really got underway. I had been there for a good 8 hours, in the empty, suffocating side of the apartment, trying to figure out what to do. I unpacked and repacked my things twice. Eventually though, I pinned a 900 dollar check to the refrigerator and took a car to Jersey. I flew home the next day. David called in the middle of the night to see where I was. I told him I was visiting friends. We didn't talk for a while after that. I know what was happening in his life, and it wasn't what was happening in mine.

Over the years, I've thought a lot about my decision to leave instead of stay. I think that the who I am now-- who I've grown into-- could have stayed and been okay. Who I am now could have probably had the strength to changes things. Who I am now is who he needed then. 

About a year after I left, we talked again. It was awkward for a few years. We were both still making bad decisions-- mine with people, his with other things-- and he was angry with me. But in the last few years, we talked almost everyday. In the last two years, he told me things, gave me every answer to every question I've ever had about how things happened, from his perspective, since we were sixteen. This summer he gave me too many truths from the last nineteen years. He said he just thought he should tell me. I'm glad he did. 

This year, David and I had been friends for nineteen years. From his perspective, he said it was twenty. The last year he'd say, "God Kristen, I've known you twenty years, and..." That's the part that's keeping me up at night. I always thought I'd see David again. He'd make fun of me for living out in South Dakota, but he always talked about getting time off of work to go to Wyoming. He talked about saving his money to get out of NYC, go some place quiet.

On Monday of this week, I found out David died at the end of last week. I didn’t sleep much Monday night as I found myself trying to catalog everything I could possibly remember about all we’d been through together. My first thoughts went to the hard times, all the coming of age stories of navigating each other through the deaths of loved ones, the strange feelings of time travel that you can only experience with someone you’ve known for so long. Then around 2a, I started to remember all the magic, all those moments in my youth that will forever be cataloged as some of the greatest nights of my life. after that, I spent hours thinking about that magic time travel, and how every time we talked, we could pull at those same strings. There’s a part of Rocky V where Mickey talks about how suddenly, you look around and realize you don’t know anyone anymore and you wonder what you’re still doing here. We grow older and the tethers to our youth— who we used to be— start disappearing. And we have to carry that old, reckless world around inside of us. As we grow older, that’s the only place the past keeps living. That was a lot to deal with at 4a. Milosz believed that the purpose of writing is to create a space for the dead. Writing is what helps to pull the world on the inside to the outside, which has the power to construct a similar sense of time travel that only an old friend can do. And I have nineteen years of journals, a stack of poems and stories all about David and the magic we could conjure. 

When I say I'll miss David forever, it isn't an understatement. I'll miss him everyday. Outside of Tim and Langston, no one has impacted my life so immensely. 

Since Monday, I've tried not to think directly about it. Some moments, when I am with Tim and Langston, when I am fully present, I feel okay. I live in a place where I don't know a lot of people and am surrounded by people who don't know this part of my life. When I was a kid, I would always ask my parents who they used to be, what they did before being my mom and dad. They always said "nothing." I tell Langston how much I miss my friend. Yesterday, he told me that when he lived in my belly, he could see my friend on the "Network". I asked what the "Network" was, and Langston said he built a little TV in my belly, so he could watch everything. Then when he moved out of my belly, he broke the TV and took it with him. 

This is kind. But I'm still not sleeping. All the love I have both comforts me and makes me nostalgic. It makes me feel like giving things, giving everything I can.

And I know my idea of death has changed. Now, hope that when we die, all of us, in all of history, are in the same place. We are all on the exact same plane. There is only one of us, there's only ever been one of us, and that idea of separate planes of the same people is gone. And I am okay with that. If the people I am scared of are there, that's okay, as long as everyone else, all the people I love so much, are there too. It wouldn't matter then. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

On the Mute

The hard and horrible rooms of growing up always find their way into my writings. It's a fact. In real life, I am sunshiny and bright (I think), but my writing is not. My writing is considerably harder than me.

But for long stretches of times, I block the hard and horrible spaces out. My mind has this mute, one where my conscious thoughts can only reach so far back. A few days back. Months, maybe. But not really. Mostly, when the mute is on, I just look at the things in front of me. It's like I become one of those small little dots in George Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte. It's kind of wonderful. It's so easy.

And my body commits to the mute. I stop doing things that make me reflect, things that rely on muscle memory, and rely on keeping my mind right in front of me. The mute makes me tired. I sleep a lot on mute, or I want to sleep a lot, but when the mute's on, I have horrible nightmares. Not just dangerous or violent, but heavy. Sad. Nightmares that feel like an inevitable trajectory. Nightmares that feel like dark portents from my subconscious mind telling me to turn the mute off. That even though the mute is wonderful, it isn't wholly me.

The mute's been on for a year. It's been on since last October. I probably turned it on because too many changes were happening, and I really had to keep my eyes and mind on what was right in front of me. There were so many immediacies. 

It's also been since last October that I was able to write anything. That probably goes without saying. It had been a year since I'd written anything, until this week. 

Now all those spaces and rooms are rushing back to me. When I do the laundry, when I walk down the street-- my conscious mind pushes back into the spaces of things. 

I was actually able to find the thread in the novel, again, this week. Last October, it got all knotted up, all bogged down into old methods, old ways of how to explore the thing. So I put it away.(On the writing side of things, there isn't much worse than the feeling of repeating myself). Over the last year, every time I read what was there, I'd still like it, but I didn't know how untie the knots and bear traps I'd set up. I didn't know how to build something new and stay out of the rooms that were no longer beating. Rooms I'd already ripped to shreds and devoured completely, piece by piece. 

But suddenly, the mute is off again. My creative mind is ambling back into being, and I found my way back into writing.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

How to Meet Girls

Making friends as an adult is a tough business. When I lived in Florida, I never thought about it, because when you live in one place for thirty years, the good ones stay around for ever after. I knew I’d miss my girl friends—mostly the full-on belting laughter and jokes, the sentences that didn’t need endings, the day trips and overnights—but I absolutely underestimated the difficulty of finding good girlfriends who can turn a story into a joke.

When I knew I would be leaving Tampa, and had to choose one place from seven, I went with Omaha because though I didn’t have any roots there, I had smoke signals. I was a ghost who had haunted the place, off and on, for eight years, and thought that was more than enough to get started.

And it was okay. Omaha was okay. But making friends was tough. Three years in, I was talking to my creative writing class about it (because, I mean, my classes were totally who I talked to most of the time, especially to get advice about the social dynamics of the city), and they explained a good amount of things about Nebraskans. The big reveal though, the a-ha moment that answered the question of why, at that point in time, I had only hung out with two girls, separately, once a piece, at non-work related events, is this: niceties sidestep the truth.

My creative writing class explained how it always happened, even to them, people who had lived their whole timelines in the Midwest, and knew the score. It’s like this: you go out with a maybe-soon-to-be friend, you have a great time, and at the end of the night, you say “see you soon” or “we should totally do this again” or “best night evr!!!” And you drive away feeling alright, and that’s the end. You never hang out again. That’s the hand the Nebraskans deal, and man, is that depressing and self-alarming (remember when I dyed my hair brown? I thought it'd be the magic move).

Three years was a long time to wait for this information, and I got it right at the tail-end, right when I knew we were on our way out of the Midwest and moving into Mountain Time.

The thing about making friends in Florida is this: most everyone is from somewhere else, and being someone from the state is a novelty to anyone new. These two aspects made friend-making easy. Everyone was looking for someone else. Everyone was up for a party.

But move to the insides of the country, and you realize that’s not the easy case. It isn’t just that lots of people have their forever-friends around (like my good funny Florida girls), but they have shared interests because where they live, that’s what you do.

When I moved to Omaha, I thought it was weird there were no dance clubs—so that was a no-go that I’d relied on from the start (my girlfriends and I were making up dances from 7 years old up). But there is a great writing community (which pulls one out of her room), and I thought about other ways to meet girls. I went to the gym a lot (God, how this doesn’t work), and I took a lot of yoga (my friends, this is not a social sport—it’s still in the range of niceties).  Three months in, I started ballet. Meeting girls didn’t work so well the first year, though it did kind of work the second. Eventually, I realized my socialization would occur at work, work related events, and organized activities. (This is the chin-up, Annie, point of the story. Not as good as the original, but okay, I guess. In truth, the best girl night I had occurred four days before I moved away [right?], and I'm pretty sure more times like that will happen, when I come back to town [seriously, the thing about good girlfriends is that they are worth traveling for. my best Florida funny girls are coming to see me in May, and I'm telling you, I am preoccupied with thoughts of fun times ahead]).

So now I am in Rapid City, about a month in. There is a girl gang in my community, but they’re all 65+ and all have little, snapping dogs. They are nice, but we don’t understand each other’s half-sentences, and no one has made me laugh. There is no writing community or adult ballet here, and I went to one Ballet Booty Barre class and met a pilot who is deploying to Quatar soon, she seemed nice, but that class was canceled in favor of ballroom. And I don’t know if I would find the girls I’m looking for at a ballroom class. So there’s the gym, which really, is always weird. There’s group-silent yoga. There are a ton of fine arts classes, but God, I am awful at throwing clay and painting (when I had to take pottery in high school, my big project was a cookie plate I made with cookie cutters). So all the things I do: photography, sewing, ballet, club dancing, and writing, aren't community-sets. So I have to think of something new. Maybe tennis. There might be some funny-girl tennis players around town.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

today, about 15 hours after reading Kristen Roupenian's "Cat Person"

A few blocks outside of downtown, there is this pretty trashed, rundown house that is painted a very bright pink with purple trim. The yard is a back and forth of chalky shell rock and cat litter, the kind of yard that absorbs motor oil from all the piecemeal cars propped on blocks. 

In this yard is a red picnic table, weather beaten but not unstable, it would seem, because on the red picnic table is a giant, dead deer. Right out front. Right close to the stop light. No flourish. No care, not even a tarp to cover the corpse.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

"fire truck bed" is code for the best writing space I've had since my dad built me one of these things when I was eight-years-old.

on Stephen King and bullshit

Before I even began reading Stephen King's On Writing, one of my fiction students (actually, the final person in a ten-year stretch who has recommended this specific book) told me that King says journals are never for collecting amazing ideas-- no one ever returns to those ideas, picks them back up, and writes something stellar. Great ideas stay in the skull-- they can't be shaken loose, they can't be put away in wait.

Truly enlightening, lifting the veil kind of information. But what I actually gleaned from the conversation is that journals are, in fact, bullshit.

This was last week. Believing this truth, I stopped writing in my journal-- I actually threw my journal away. After being a steady journal writer since I was eight-years-old, I stopped. 

It felt okay. I guess. It felt like the same jumbled anxiety that has been my normal state for the last 2 1/2 years. okay.

But last night, the gods must have been creeping through my dreams because I woke up this morning to an epiphany: I need a space for my bullshit.

Fact of the matter is, there is so much bullshit, so much chronicling of minutia in my mind, that if i don't stick it somewhere, the bullshit becomes fully animated, stomping around my skull in beatle boots,  creating muck of my brain. so here I am-- back to the bullshit.

But also back to fiction.

And don't think these two things are not synonymous. When I quit writing fiction 2 1/2 years ago, and transitioned back into poetry, it was the beginning of when my pressure of chronicling began it's beating to the summit of my psyche. My journal writing changed. No longer a place to store bullshit, it became the bullshit itself: a space of obsessive lists and behaviors. It was the self under a microscope, a complete dissection of the spirit. ugh.

But thanks to Steven King (and Ira  Levin too, actually) some stupid stone got kicked against the wall of my skull, and startled me back into the singular, cutting out the fascination that the distraction of bullshit can bring.