Misc Poetry, Poetry, Writing On Writing

I’m Kind of Having a Poetry Crisis You Guys

It’s like noticing your boobs
Are shaped differently than all
The other girls’ boobs. Or their
Boobs are shaped differently
Than yours.

Is that good?

You shouldn’t need a boy to
Tell you, but you really kind of
Want a boy to tell you, and
You really kind of only want
Him to be honest if the news
Is good.

-M.

Writing Advice, Writing On Writing

Affirmative Writing

I started a major creative nonfiction writing project today. While I am excited, I am mostly terrified. I am telling myself not to let it grow too big before it is even born. I am telling myself not to tell people any specifics. I am telling myself not to plot the end before I have begun the beginning.

Slow slow slow. Steady steady steady. I am telling myself this too.

Write your time then forget about the writing until it’s time to write tomorrow.

I wrote the following affirmation and copied it at the top of what may or may not be page one. I will copy and paste it every day at the top of what may or may not be, that day, also page one.

The affirmation:

I allow myself to be a beginner. I allow myself to write the most miserable shit that has ever been written. I let go of the outcome. I consciously let go of the outcome. I release. I accept.

I accept. I accept. I accept.

-M.

Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Personal Essay, Prose, Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Perhaps I Should Stick to Writing

What have I carried and gnawed over?

I was going to be a film composer. I had a stack of Film Score Monthly tall and leaning as Pisa’s tower. I looked forward to that mag coming each month the way you look forward to unexpected money in the mail. I carried it with me wherever I went until it was read from one end to the other and back again. I knew all the current composers. If they had trading cards, I would have owned them all and memorized all their stats.

I bought a Korg electric piano for my first apartment. It was the first thing I ever bought on credit. It was $1,200. The credit card company called me to make sure I meant the purchase. Oh yes. Yes I meant it. I was $1,200 and more worth of serious.

I took piano, violin, and theory lessons from a Hungarian who escaped Communism and had almost more stories about that than he had musical wisdom. I didn’t mind. I was in it for the long haul. I did composition exercises from his Hungarian music university textbooks. I couldn’t read the explanations, but I could do the musical math.

I wrote songs for each of my family members. I wrote songs for each of my friends. I wrote a song for Clementi from whose sonatinas I learned keyboard basics.

I made a giant packet of all my composition exercises and all my songs and put it in the box of the head of the composition department at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music. I swaggered back to my apartment and my credited piano and awaited his call. When he did call and invite me to see him, I strutted confidently into his office, ready for my new career to begin in a bright flash of praise and appreciation.

The professor brought out my composition exercises first. He showed me every mistake I made. He said I didn’t know anything about something called “voice leading.” He pointed out every crooked stem on every not perfectly round note.

He went for my singing next. He had me sing a major scale and I came out with it easily. He asked me to sing a minor scale and I faltered, reverting to the major on three different attempts. He said he would have to tell me someday why that happens.

Finally, he brought out my Clementi. He said he didn’t understand why I started it on what was clearly not the downbeat. He said it sounded nothing like Clementi. He said he had composition students who could do Clementi in their sleep.

He said, “You obviously have a love for tonal music, but a complete lack of the talent necessary to create it.”

He broke my world.

I wrote him a letter the next day. I told him in two pages how I was going to prove him wrong. I wrote something about the shining prize on the top of the hill that I would do anything to attain. I said a lot of inspirational things. I was on fire.

He wrote back that I had a great talent for writing. He wrote that I should, perhaps, stick to writing.

Every time I sit down to write, I gnaw on that.

-M.

Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Context! Context! I Hear It in My Sleep

My poetry often tends toward context-less sketches.

Today’s, for example, is just about wings—red, crepe paper wings. There is no big meaning. There is no money line. It’s just…. here’s this picture. Is there beauty there?

Does poetry need a money line, or is the image enough? Is it enough to sketch and offer the sketch without offering an interpretation of the sketch?

I feel like it is but just about everyone I’ve ever encountered either teaching a workshop or participating in a workshop with me thinks differently.

I painted red, crepe-paper wings today standing up to a hurricane. That’s it. No context. No background to give you an idea of where the “wearer of the wings” is, where she came from, or who she is. I think the picture is pretty enough on its own. If a visual artist had to go into a long expository about what the pearl meant and why it was significant and what that girl was doing there and why her head was turned that way and the deeper meaning you should get out of it, it would be an unsuccessful painting. I feel the same can be true of some poems.

Here. Here’s the picture. Sometimes that’s enough.

Sometimes money lines get tiresome.

This could be me simply justifying bad poetic behavior—a naughty habit like the creative equivalent of hanging up the phone without saying “good-bye” or “I love you.” I’m not above rationalization. I may be above context, but not rationalization. Never rationalization.

How important is context really? How much can I get away with, or, more to the point, how little?

Am I a minimalist, or am I lazy?

Anthony Hopkins looks into the camera and asks, “Am I a good man, or a bad man?”

-M.

Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Sometimes I lay into it and declare stridently that my prose is so much better than poetry. It occurred to me this morning that that’s probably just a way of giving myself an excuse to punk out on writing poetry to the best of my ability. This composition stuff can be hard and scary as hell sometimes.

-M.

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. 

Writing On Writing

Gender Bias Among Women Writers

Usually when we speak of gender bias, the first thing that comes to mind is the literary feats of old dead white dudes still controlling the standards by which works of literature are measured today, regardless of the author’s race, gender, socio-economic status, etc. Or we speak of the white guys who are still alive and kicking having an upper hand in getting grants, getting agents, getting published, getting attention, getting press, getting prizes, getting better grants, and round and round we go. But the gender bias I want to talk about is far more insidious. Those things I mentioned earlier certainly create a problem that needs to be addressed, but there is a pernicious undercurrent of another form of gender bias among writers that can potentially harm their efforts so early on that they will never get past the very early stages of publishing, let alone into the realm of real recognition, regardless of the depth of their talent. This gender bias has directly to do with the quagmire of questions that are: What does and what does not make a woman? What does and what does not make a man?

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Writing Advice, Writing On Writing

Hot and Sweet

My ancient fiction professor at Vanderbilt once told us about a man he knew who drank Dr. Pepper hot. When work was over, this man would get into his after-fives and stir it in a saucepan over low heat, delicately, like he was handling milk. “Sometimes,” Professor Sullivan said, “it’s all right to let your characters take life a little too far.”

-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.