my teeth will be hanging.
I have been going through some deeply dramatic changes in my life lately, not the least of which is my attitude toward writing. I drive myself hard, but it had come to the point where I had actually become cruel and, rather than that cruelty leading to more artistic production, it did the exact opposite and led to nothing but blocks, an acid stomach, and sleepless nights spent fretting and miserable.
All of that until I decided enough of that, took my life in a new direction in all facets, and committed to driving myself firmly, but lovingly.
In that vein, I found this picture the other day and fell in love with it. I’ve decided it’s me and it’s my new thing. When the writing gets tense and I hear the cruel voice start to crank it up, my response is going to be, “Screw that! …and here’s a picture of me smoking on a Vespa.”
(Because that lady looks all kinds of “screw that”, doesn’t she?)
It’s the best writerly advice I can give to myself right now or to anyone else. Find a “screw that” picture that speaks to you, keep it on your desk for those dark moments, and, when necessary declare:
“Screw that! …and here’s a picture of me… riding a llama, cavorting with bandits on a beach, goth-clad straddling a chair backward, petting velvet the wrong way, and/or the ever popular, smoking on a Vespa.”
(I’ll share it with you. I’m nice like that.)
Be free. Be free and kind to yourself. Write. Do it. You’ll feel better after. I promise or your money back.
Now, if all three of you will politely line up against that wall there and close your eyes…
I had a revelation once at writing summer camp for adults at the University of Iowa writers’ conference. I noticed when everybody read their short prose pieces that mine sounded nothing like theirs. But then I read mine and people were delightfully receptive. I wrote about my dad botching sun tea. “I’ll remember that melted orange plastic pitcher for a long, long time,” one of them said and the other two laughed and nodded while we walked away from class, across the stinking river, backs turned to the university art gallery that was featuring second-string Picassos and African furniture.
I realized in that moment and for the first time that maybe not sounding like everybody else is a good thing.
But that was all about prose. It was the opposite reaction in my advanced poetry class. I read the poem that won me the big hoop-dee-doo writing award only a few months earlier and the bald-asshole workshop leader who worked mostly in prisons and wrote about breast milk eroticism told me my poem had “a lot of work to do.”
He was mad at me anyway because when our class went out together at lunchtime and climbed up the interminable campus steps to forage for chi chi sandwiches, my retelling of going to a computer generated atonal concert that was held in the dark by a composer whose silver jacket buttons I was madly in love with got more laughs than his pretentious snarking about “language poets”.
My revelation stands.
You can’t force yourself to love something even if it is philosophically correct. Likewise, you can’t force yourself to not love something that is philosophically incorrect.
I am speaking here not only of foolish wanting when it comes to romantic love, but also of the writing process. If a writer were to be philosophically correct, she would love the “writing” part of writing as much as the “having written” part—the production as much as the product. But we’re all grownups and we know better. Creative inertia is a bitch. The physical act of writing is an unwieldy drudge. We know such an upright love affair was never carried on in the heart of any writer who has earnestly walked this earth.
While sitting at my desk today, I glanced over at the tiny pile of books in the left corner. Among these are the only three out of my once mighty personal library that made it with me through all the hasty moving I have had to do in the last few years.
One of them, the most special, is a book of Guy de Maupassant stories. It is a holy artifact. I’ve read it two and a half times. You can see the pages are yellowed with age and use and love. The first short story to ever make me cry, (my favorite short story), is the first one in the book,”Boule de Suif”. When I was writing fiction regularly, I wrote my best stories while reading it. At Vanderbilt in springtime, I used to sit in the late afternoon on a bench in a circle of shade trees at the center of which was a blooming dogwood. The stories made me sigh and think and dream of better for my own work all while the dogwood blossoms fluttered to the ground like snowflakes.
Pictured here is a note on, “The Conservatory”. How amazed I was, and still am, at his gifts of humor, twist, and sly revealing.
You’ll roll from aisle to aisle
aimless and slow
eyeballing the shiniest packages first
overhead and at foot
at your groin and at your twitching nose.
You’ll make better bad choices
(still bad choices)
fill your cart with loud
brightly powdered crunchies
that exercise your jaw
but stain your hands
without so much as a goodnight kiss
or any nutritional value at all.