Family, Humor, Memoir, Nashville, Personal Essay, Prose, Writing Life

Christmas Onions 2000

My first Christmas in my first apartment alone, trying to be a big time grownup. I made French onion soup for dinner. I called home to California earlier in the day. I had read a scripture, I told my mom, something about getting my house in order, and I felt I needed to do that, which involved me staying in Nashville for Christmas, again, alone. She wasn’t convinced, but because she couldn’t fly out and physically drag me home, she accepted it. 

I was trying to be so adult. I was trying to prove something, though, looking back, I can’t imagine what. Was I trying to prove that I could withstand severe holiday depression? Was I trying to prove that no matter how badly I wanted to off myself that season, I didn’t need my family to help me not become a statistic?

I called my Hungarian violin teacher after I called my family. He was a big part of my life then as music was a big part of my life. I also adored his stories of escaping communism. Communists used to make Hungarians eat diseased cow meat and chocolate made from blood. Zsolt was also disappointed I wasn’t coming home. He was put off by my choice of Christmas dinner. He said, “Well, maybe you could float an ornament in it and make it more Christmasy that way.” I laughed and felt lonelier by the minute.

God I was miserable then—a miserable sort of miserable that radiated in waves across the country from Nashville to my little city Berdoo.

I was new to keeping my own appliances then, just as I was new to keeping my own household in general. For example, while I had used a garbage disposal many times as a kid growing up, I somehow never learned that putting onion skins down one is not such a great idea. By the time I had all the onions in the Christmas soup pot sautéing with butter, beginning to oddly smell like apples, my garbage disposal was filled to brimming with onion skins. 

I ran the water and turned the disposal on. It growled like an offended demon and the water didn’t go down. It began to spit up chopped onion skins in great belches, making of the sink water a slimy, stinky soup of its own. I stopped the thing. “That was not bright,” I told myself.

I grudgingly lugged my plunger into the kitchen from the bathroom. In retrospect, it is amazing I had a plunger given that, when I first moved it, I hadn’t realized until I was in dire need that toilet paper doesn’t grow on the roll. 

I stuck the plunger to the drain and plunged for dear life. More and more onion skins belched forth from the disposal along with other unspeakable things most likely from tenants past. I sucked everything out that I could. 

The water still didn’t go down. The chopped onion skin and unnamable goo mocked me as it danced its spiral around the sink.

I ended up having to strain all that onion skin and other detritus out of the sink with my bare hand, letting the water slip through, but retaining the chunks that clung to my fingers. I pulled the trash can up next to me and went to town. I think a year might have gone by. 

The sink came clean, the water went down, and the garbage disposal growled happily, its gut no longer sick.

I washed my hands at least three times. I washed the plunger. I raised the plunger over my head and made He-Man muscles. 

“I am the Garbage Disposal Master of the Universe!” I proclaimed to my empty apartment.  

“I am the Garbage Disposal Master of the Universe!” I shouted again just in case the ghosts I lived with hadn’t heard. 

I lowered my plunger and shrugged my shoulders. Shoving the onion skins down the disposal was not the only terrible mistake I made that lonely Christmas. Not by a long shot.

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Writing Advice, Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Writers’ Stage Fright

The blogs that are the best blogs are personal, not academic. Those are the blogs that are fun to read, or at least fun to read for me. The reason they are fun to read is because the author is writing for the joy of it. If you can’t write for the joy of it on your own blog, then where else? Blogs are possibly the most low-pressure forum anywhere.

My focus on my own blogs has been twisted. Right now, I need to focus on making myself a writer rather than making myself a viral success. I need to be an artist first. Always first. And I need to begin at the beginning. I need to humble myself.

I know a lot of craft shit. A lot. I have a style. I have a voice. I know oodles of words. I know how to type. I know how to get myself so balled up about a project that laying down the first word gives me a panic attack—literally. 

If I’m writing for the audience first, I get stage fright.

I used to perform often. I was very involved in drama and choir in school. I had two stunningly awesome speech classes. I was a singer. I was and am a performer. Also, every time I am about to perform, I feel like I’m going to die. My anxiety gets full and physical. I have to take long, deep breaths to hopefully slow down my heart enough so my chest doesn’t explode. I have to close my eyes because everything all of a sudden gets bright. My hands shake, hard. I get a little twitch at the corner of my mouth. My knees shake too. 

But here’s the great and weird thing:

When I perform, I am amazing. I don’t want to sound conceited there, but performing and public speaking are things at which I know I am excellent. 

During the speech class, I stood up there delivering the speech with my hands shaking, suppressing my tick, making sure to slow my words, and even though I am going through all that, the performance comes out shiningly.  

After, I sit down and let my hands shake their last shakes, and when they’re done, I feel a euphoria that is so all-encompassing it is impossible to describe. Better than crack, we’ll say. Better than crack.

The difference between performance anxiety before an actual performance and performance anxiety before beginning a writing project is that when you’re set to perform, you must perform. Your cast members, partner, grades depend on it. There is a lot at stake should you fail to act. With writing, it’s different. You can convince yourself all day long that your anxiety is bigger and more important than your need to write. The whole big show won’t be ruined if you take a nap instead. Nobody will fail and be held back if you’d rather play on Facebook. Performance anxiety gets the best of you and stops you in your tracks.

The question becomes, how do you overcome performance anxiety as a writer? I don’t have a clear answer. I remember all the things we’d say to each other before shows: “Don’t be nervous. The audience wants you to succeed,” “Plant your feet and own the stage,” or, my personal favorite, “Anxiety and excitement have the same physical symptoms, so just tell yourself you’re excited.” I like that one because it sounds super wise, but is near impossible to do. 

Perhaps the key is not considering your audience at all in the beginning. There is no stage when you sit down to write. No one is watching you or judging you. If you hate what you write, it need not ever see the light of day. You are totally in control. You are totally free.

Dance like no one is watching, blah blah blah and so on, big saccharine barf.

Conquering writers’ stage fright is easier said than done, but better done than undone.

For now, that’s the best I can do. 

-M. 

Fears, Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Writers’ Insecurity: Give Me 20

I am not a long-write poet and suspect, by nature, I never will be. Most of the time, I see much more value in longer works than in what I produce, (read as: “most of the time I see more value in what everyone else in the world is doing except me”). In this insecurity, I am like a child who stubbornly believes ten one dollar bills will always be worth more than one twenty dollar bill.

A friend of mine once told me he doubts I have the attention span for long-write. Possibly. More likely though, I’ve got an addict’s taste for hit-and-run.

-M.

Fears, Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Some People Call It “Terminal Uniqueness.”

It’s crazy how these old worries keep coming back. In my mind I’m in a poorly lit room. I look down at my own work and think, pouting, “But my work doesn’t sound like other people’s work. My work doesn’t sound like what’s in the literary journals and magazines.” It’s true, but why I automatically jump to the conclusion that this is a bad thing is beyond me. I may have trouble finding a home, but when I do, it will be the right home, the Goldilocks home. Maybe I’ll find several.

The only thing I must absolutely not do is write what I think I should sound like rather than writing what I actually sound like. My poetry and essays look and sound how it looks and sounds in my mind. That’s a good thing because I’m the only one who has my mind. For the world’s sake, that’s an excellent thing.

-M.

Albinism, Writing Life

On Being Albino in Southern California

Photo on 2012-06-07 at 18.06Last week, out to lunch with a friend, a pack of neo-valley-girls blustered in and sat down in our section. Not too long after, one of them pointed at me, they whispered to each other, then all laughed loudly. It happens. It is an extreme unpleasantness that goes with the albino turf.

As galling as it was, however, I think the thing that galls me most is realizing that these idiots, obviously students at CSU Berdoo, are probably the same type who shout diversity and inclusion from the rafters all day, every day, as they flit from class to class. I see tolerance only goes so far. Only certain types are worthy.

One interesting thing is that in the thirteen years I lived in Nashville, I never encountered that. Not even once. Since I have been back in California, however, it has happened several times, and has always come from adults. In Nashville, if someone were curious, she or he would just walk on over, strike up a conversation, and ask. They’d most often want to touch my hair and ask whether I preferred “an albino” or “a person with albinism.” I found this pleasant and endearing.

While I’m not prepared to make any sweeping conclusions about the virtues of southerners as opposed to the vices of southern Californians—individuals are individuals after all, and hypocrites can be found under any slimy rock you care to turn over, regardless of geography—in my heart, I feel those conclusions beginning to boil.

Uncategorized, Writing Life

Olden Days Tough Cookies

54e14547b172c.image.jpgI just saw a post that my Vanderbilt U. cancelled classes because of the snow. Bunch of pansies. When I went there they ne-e-ver closed for snow. Never. They didn’t even close when, in my freshman year, everything was covered in so much ice, we could have ice skated to class. We never got any Mondays off for anything either. Ne-e-ver. I remember the rumor was that the only time Vandy had ever cancelled class was in the 1870’s when a bull broke through a fence and was chasing students around campus, (which I’m sure was awful, but sounds hilarious, especially because I’m imagining really old-timey students wearing black robes, running around like headless chickens, going “Eek! Eek! as their robes flap in the wind).

They didn’t even cancel class when a tornado hit downtown Nashville and ricocheted off the corner of campus. I remember I was in “Great Works of the Wester Tradition” at the time, in which we had been reading some very atheism-heavy books. A girl was giving her presentation on Thus Spoke Zarathustra while outside it went black, then green. “Man is Superman,” she said.

“Boom! Boom! Boom!” from outside.

“Man is the measure,” she said.

“Boom! Boom! Boom!” the tornado said.

The lights flickered and went out. My professor raised his hands to the heavens and exclaimed, “God forgive me for making them read these heathen novels!”

State of emergency nothin’. Go to class!

-M.

(That tornado story is one of my all-time favorites to tell—and every word of it true. No joke, yo.)

Uncategorized, Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Brain, Hand, Ink, Paper

planner-02-460x600.jpgMy world is so incredibly computerized. It seems I spend the entire 2/3rds of my life that I’m not sleeping sitting chained to this screen. To combat this, I’ve started doing my morning writing by hand, which feels wonderful and has improved my previously disused handwriting tremendously. Last night I received a box of stationary supplies from Evil Supply Co. and, among those supplies, was a planner. I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing it felt to do all my deep, creative planning for the next three months by hand. There is something about the connection between brain, hand, ink, and paper that simply cannot be duplicated by typing. (I think there are even studies that confirm this.)

Obviously, as a writer, I will still spend the majority of my workday in front of the screen, but it is wonderful to have an outlet now for real communion with my creativity.

-M.