I don’t think they even have a portion of the application for this.
Why, How, and When I Write
It used to be that the only time I felt like I could write well was when I had this moment of inspiration. You know the feeling. It was my life’s blood. It was the only time I could write anything good, anything emotional, anything meaningful. Trouble was, it only lasted a few hours at most. After that, my muse had other things to do. Flash fiction is the only thing that ever came out of those moments of epiphany. And they were few and far between; the muse only ever graced me every few months. The muse came more often when I was in a writing class. She never came while I was actually doing something for my writing class, but she came in the in-between moments, and I was grateful for her presence, like an alcoholic dad that actually shows up on time for Thanksgiving. Of all the emotions that have come and gone, this is the only one that feels good, true, and right every time.
I took one of those Myers-Briggs personality tests, and it told me what I wanted to hear. I was “rare,” maybe 1-2% of the population, a “perceptive” personality that could sometimes be taken as a psychic. (Score! Possible career path.) “This is like a more accurate horoscope,” my boyfriend said to me. A “writer would be a suitable occupation” for my personality type. I didn’t need this validation; writing was the only thing that ever gave me that divine feeling of doing something totally me, totally right.
At the same time, entirely debilitating, panicky self-doubt struck much more often. Fear was more my goddess than the inspirational muse was. Maybe that’s why she came so rarely, she had to fight off Fear in an epic battle before she could make her way into my psyche. Fear came just as unwarranted as my Muse, but with just as much force. She told me, “You’ll never be Emerson.” “You’ll never be an Orson Scott Card.” “You’ll never be Kelly Link.” I was a padawan trying to break into the game of the greats.
But Fear was right, I would never be any of those things. I would have to make my own way, a way no author could forge for me. I was not destined to write the teen books with girl’s red lips and stylized, glossy names like “Dawn’s Kiss” on the cover. (Shoot me if publishing agencies make that my novel’s, my baby’s, future. Oh wait, you want to give me an advance of $5,000? Put Baby Jesus on the cover, I don’t care!) I am destined to write my ultimate book, the book I wish somebody had wrote. If Philip Pullman, Kelly Link, Holly Black and Orson Scott Card’s book had a baby, it still would look nowhere near as magnificent as this book to me, because this book would actually be a part of me. Actually, I take it back, will you guys all get together and collaborate to write a book? And then, I guess… somehow mate it with another book… and make a baby book.
I don’t believe in god (notice the lower case, I bet you did), but if I had any faith in my little agnostic body at all, this book would be it. My destiny. (Cue sweeping, epic movie score.) The problem was, I could only write when my muse decided to visit, and that was less often than my monthly gift from nature. (Thanks a lot, god.)
People told me to try writing when I was drunk or high, but I knew how that would come out. (Either in Wingdings or something like this, “People are so weird. We all try to look like each other, act like each other, but we’re not. We’re our own selves. I mean, we’re all just like each other in how we try to act like everyone else, but that just keeps us from all being ourselves, from being humans, from being humanists.” Or just an epic MS Paint drawing.) Actually, wait, maybe writing high is a good idea…
I am hungover at the moment. That’s another way to get the Muse to take a stop in my brain; get severely drunk and then Self-Doubt can’t even wade through the muck I’ve made of my mind the next morning. I’m too out of it to really ponder how bad I could be at this thing, how I could never write long stories, how I’d never be the authors I admire. When a hangover set in, I guess I could say it was the truest part of myself.
So anyways, that’s my problem. Musey over there only visits every once in a while, and for a novel, I’d need her to visit for about a year. Maybe more. I read all these things about how to be a writer, because when I’m not writing, it’s about the closest thing to making me feel like I’m actually doing something productive. It tells me to write at least every day. To write a few pages full of rants and bullshit, and then try to be creative after. My problem is, I go on a two-page long rant of what the fuck my boyfriend is possibly thinking when he does something or other, but no real writing comes of that.
In truth, I have 1,001 excuses for why I don’t write everyday. Mostly, Lazy and Self-Doubt are my bffls. You guys are probably the best muses in the world because you visit everyone everyday. There must be 1,001,001,001,001,001——wait, that doesn’t work, does it? It looks more like the matrix——of you and only maybe 10 Muses of Inspiration and Great Novels. For 7 billion people. Good going, god of Writing. And did I mention I have a full-time job? Yeah, I edit other people’s books. Educational books. For 8 hours a day, plus 2 hours+ in traffic, plus the time it takes to talk on the phone or video chat or whatever to keep a pseudo long distance relationship going. I’m supposed to be at work right now. Who created a system where I have to do something for half my day that I hate and then I feel guilty about doing my life’s work because I’m late for the thing that makes me enough money to survive from one measly paycheck to another? Fook you, corporate ‘Merica.
God, I really just want to write something good. Something beyond two pages. Something that will have a cool cover and good content and will make someone else think, “Shit, I could never write that well.” Nah nah nah, not really, just to think anything at all really besides “This is shite.” (Obviously my readers are very worldly, and therefore British. I’ve been listening to too many audiobooks.) No no, they could never think my work is shite, because if I ever actually got around to writing a novel, it would be damn good. I would spend way too long editing and re-editing and writing and editing and editing for it to be bad, unless you were a complete mindless twat. Wanker. With a jammy dodger. (British courtesy of Louise Rennison.)
Anyways, I need a 6-week long writing workshop so I can make Self-Doubt shut the FUCK UP ALREADY and have the Muse of Inspiration at least stick around long enough for me to write something longer than two pages. And writing classes seem to be the only thing to do that for me.
God, did I mention I tried to create a writer’s group using Craigslist? I should have known, but I didn’t, that there were so many goddamn screenwriters in L.A.
I need this workshop. I really want to meet and learn from you, Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. And all you other authors too, I need to check out your work. And Clarion West’s authors too. You’re the Muses of Inspiration in disguise, right? I knew it.
I just wrote a two-page-long rant again, didn’t I?
(Please pick me.)
Just the beginning of a little sumfin’ sumfin’ I’m working on.
Kestrin Yugen wasn’t even a rat in a cage; she didn’t have the good fortune to be able to see her captors, or her surroundings. She couldn’t make an escape plan. She was a rat in a box, a cubicle. Rats get more space to run, surely. She just sat in an ergonomically designed chair with a conspicuous butt-shaped stain on its seat, probably from the person who worked here before her, who must’ve slowly seeped into the seat until he disappeared. She could feel her muscles begin to atrophy, her bones slowly filing down to shards, like the automatic pencil sharpener she was looking at that always sharpened the tips of her pencils into oblivion, no matter how she tried to time it differently. Three seconds was a small hill of wood with the graphite just starting to peak out, three and a half seconds was an inch-long shank. She visualized her brain mass decreasing to a peanut, her body slowly devolving back into an ape. She was hairier under her work pants than she wanted to admit. She could feel their spiky ends graze the polyester, but she comforted herself that no one else knew that just by looking at her.
She filed for a living. That is what she did. She had the system laid out for her, so she didn’t even need to use her brain to create one of her own. Blue means new patient, blue goes here. Red means September patient, red goes in the September file, and so on. If she was color blind or had synesthesia, maybe this would be a problem. Something to overcome. Unfortunately, she had neither; her eyes worked just fine. In fact, she felt she had a good eye for color. Girls always remarked on the beauty of her room, the stylish edge to her clothing. Here, she was an intern. Here, she was the bottom of the food chain. Here, her range of motion was less than ten feet. She had no window to peer out of to pass the time. The only window she had was the one open on her computer, and that was full of people, blogging people, chatting people, whining people. Looking at her through the little window, peering in at her sad, beige little box as they drew clever comics and posted on forums about the unjust law that was in danger of being passed, if she didn’t sign a petition. She mostly kept that window closed.
At least while she was in school she could look out the window during class, day dreaming of climbing the tree outside. She didn’t even climb trees anymore, but being in class made her think of her childhood, of being free; she wished for that carelessness so badly again that she felt like a child, tempestuous.
She didn’t feel any more comfortable in school, though at least the school gates were a cage and not a box. The other animals in the pen somehow could smell her fear, knew she was to be avoided. They didn’t fight her, though, or call her names. She didn’t get a rise out of them whatsoever. They sidestepped her like an old lion that would die soon, not a cause for concern. Yet their subconscious told them that she was an other-girl to be avoided. As if they could see by the way she tucked her thumbs under the straps of her checkered backpack and made her posture slightly more diminutive than it naturally aught to be that inside her mind, she was simultaneously a hamster cowering under cedar chips and a screaming banshee. She mostly kept her eyes on the ground, now out of habit, previously so as not to stare in the eyes of passersby, hoping one would be an acquaintance, or a cute boy who would take notice of her.
She mindlessly highlighted and unhighlighted text on the screen until Alec came up behind her, her posture utterly horrible, her spine surely working to permanently maintain that curve to her back, her elbow firmly planted on the desk in front of her, holding the entire weight of her desolation. Wordlessly, with a subtle clearing of his throat, he dropped a stack of files into her smaller, file-filled box on top of the bigger box that was her desk inside the slightly bigger box that was her “work-space.” She could tell it was Alec from the particular rolling sound his mucous made in his throat.
“Thanks,” she enthused, without turning around.
She thanked him as if he was giving her something she wanted, as if she was grateful for the pile of work he defecated on her desk. She thanked him because it was the polite thing to do, and she needed an income. She thanked him so he would be appeased and walk back to his own box.
She slid her arm under the back of her shirt and felt the little bump towards the middle of her spine. It felt bigger. She sighed audibly, then caught herself. She didn’t want to be that embarrassing person who talked to themselves all throughout the work day; there were enough of those in the office. She continued to file, feel the bump on her back get bigger, highlight and unhighlight text, sigh, then stop herself, for seven more hours. With bathroom breaks.
Other people from her high school went off to college, got pregnant, became auto mechanics, became baristas. Kestrin became a filer. She somehow lacked the motivation to do anything at all, and so she chose something on an online database that was near her parents’ house. Secretly, though, filed away now in the back of her mind under “Future,” she knew she was better than this. She knew she could do something great. So she saved up her meager earnings in her cheeks for something… What exactly, she didn’t know yet. Maybe in the winter she would start a fiscally safe, low-yield savings account so she could eventually move out.
I’m digging Gotye hard right now. His videos are graphic and his lyrics evocative. The imagery seems to be in line with the whole ’90s hip-update that’s going on right now. Kitschy and engrossing, with a gargantuan dash of whimsy. Mostly I’m obsessed with the music though. I highly suggest youtubing the shit out of him; he’s not on Spotify, so that’s what I’m currently doing. Oh, I mean, I’m working. Oh shit, I just realized it’s lunch. Why am I pretending to be working…
I love watching super-8 films and have long wanted to make a look-alike of my own, so when James and I went to Big Bear a few weeks ago and it snowed like crazy (to beautiful effect), it seemed like the perfect opportunity. James and I shot the film, and I edited. Enjoy 🙂
Why don’t you love me the way I want you to love me? Am I sucking all the color out of you? Am I selfish? Should you love me the way you want to? Should I accept love as it is given, as it is able to be given? Why isn’t it enough? Do I want drama, passion? Do all women want that? Do we all give up when we realize you don’t have the emotionshormonessensitivityunderstandingneed that we do? Do we accept you as other? Do we keep searching until we fill the need? Do children fill the need? Do friends? Does our work? Do we? Does anything? Does satisfaction exist, or is it a passing sense of filled hunger until our bellies go empty again, overwhelming at one point, a few hours later, yearning for more like it was never there? Does my childhood give me this need? Is it wrong, other? Am I wrong? Do I crawl into myself and wait for it to pass? Do I crawl into another? Do I keep crying? Do I force myself to stop?
You need to relax. Let’s go get something to eat.
When you won’t devote yourself to me, am I foolish to devote myself to you? Should I be distant, as the moon, as you are? Should I cut my ribs open and reveal all? Does that matter? Would you be horrified by the blood? Would you be entranced? Would you be disgusted? Would you be sympathetic? Would you pity me? Would you play in it? Would I be engrossed in the smile on your face? Would I let you?
I love you.
Am I overemotional? Am I different for feeling this way? Would others mock me? Would they see truth, or a pitiful form shuddering in the corner? Would they dare to touch me, dare to try again when I rebuffed? Is this my fault?
Do I accept reality? Do I put on a pretty face? Do I dig into someone else’s mind, take them into the dark pond with me? Do I carry them into the depths, so I have company? Do I grip their wrist when they try to pull away? Do they still hear me when my voice is warbled by the water that climbs up my throat? Can they see my eyes still shining? Can they see I’m not fine? If I tread to the top, and keep treading, how long will it be until I sink, not by choice, but by exhaustion?
You can swim, you’re a good swimmer.
I don’t want to. I don’t want to do anything right now.
Can’t you do it for me?
How can I stay here with you when you won’t even commit to being here tomorrow?
Why are you being silent? What is it? Say it. You blame me. You don’t want to be here anymore.
I didn’t say that. You don’t understand. This isn’t the life I wanted.
Nobody gets the life they wanted. They get the life that happens.
I don’t want to believe that.
Is this life ( that you’re in control of, by the way) better? Is this working for you?
You don’t understand. I’m drowning.
If you’re drowning now, you’ll be drowning tomorrow. What’s going to pull you out of it? Decide to get out of it.
It’s beyond my control. I want to leave, but I can’t leave you. I’ll be alone again.
Run like you always do.
In the night, sometimes I do. I rip off my pajamas and I run through the grass and I jump over fences and I get bruises, scrapes, cuts. Then I wake up with the dark water in my chest, rising up, spilling out. I gulp in air in quick gasps, water sloshing against my ribs until my eyes close and I force it to retreat back into the sea. Until I fall back into dreamless sleep. Lately, I haven’t been dreaming at all.
Will you ever understand? I can’t control my emotions. They pour out when they want to. They claw their way out if I cage them up. They become first in line for the next thing I say. They push their bony arms out my mouth, out my eyes, out my body. I say I want truth, when all I want is release.
I’m not happy here. I feel like I need to get away, whether that’s wrong or not.
Go exercise or something.
Run in a circle? Run back to the same point I left? Rinse off my emotions in the shower?
Go shopping, get a coffee.
I don’t need a new shirt, I need a cabin deep in the woods where no one will hear me or see me.
God, are you going crazy?
I guess I am.
Someone’s calling. I’ll call you back in five minutes, okay?
I love you.
Love you too.
Los Angeles, CA
When did you start thinking of yourself as an artist? Or, do you?
As a cartoonist, I think of myself as a writer first and an artist second. I use art to convey a joke or story or situation that I initially spend a lot of time putting down in words. The pictures help bring those words to life. Sometimes with sexy dinosaurs and butt jokes.
Why are you an artist? What is art to you/what does it do for you? How important is it to you?
I draw comics because I like making fun of things. It sounds simple, but that’s really all there is to it. Life is strange, people are weird, and it’s important to point out all the absurdities—and create new ones—to help take the edge off.
How did you get to where you are now, and do you want to take it further? In other words, what are your artistic goals?
I started doing Poorly Drawn Lines as a weekly comic strip in my college newspaper my freshman year. A few months later I found out about this thing called “webcomics” and decided to put PDL on the internet. The rest is history. By which I mean “things I remember in my head.”
I definitely want to take it further. PDL has started gaining an audience over the last year or so, and it’s really encouraging. If things keep going well, I’d love to make PDL my full time gig. In any case, my goal is to keep entertaining people and exploring what I can do creatively, whether that means drawing comics, writing a novel, or making tiny clay statues of Batman fighting Darth Vader and selling them on eBay. Don’t steal that idea.
Ever since I got kicked out of Astronaut Cowboy Indiana Jones school I’ve had to take a real hard look at what I want to do professionally. Like I said before, doing PDL full time would be amazing. Whatever happens, I want to continue to flex my creative muscles. Maybe I’ll open a gym for artists. Don’t steal that idea.
What are you working on now?
New comics. Always. I’m also going to be launching the PDL blog soon, where I’ll be writing short stories and essays of the humorous variety. Some of them might actually be good.
Any advice for aspiring artists?
Make stuff and put it on the internet. It’s unbelievable the kind of exposure you can get out there. Artists have a crazy level of access to people these days. Just people in general. Lots of them. Lots of people who might really enjoy what you do and support your efforts to do it.
If you could be anything else, what would it be?
Astronaut Cowboy Indiana Jones.
I’ve seen your comics on Reddit and Pinterest; how do you feel about that? (I think it’s pretty damn cool.)
I feel great about it. Reddit was actually a huge source of encouragement for me. There was a point after I graduated from college when I wasn’t sure I was going to keep drawing PDL. Then I did this comic about how I killed a spider and it got really popular on Reddit. That’s when I realized I could potentially reach a lot of people by drawing silly shit and presenting it to the masses. It goes back to that whole “put stuff on the internet” thing I mentioned earlier. The internet is a big artistic melting pot, and at the same time, a perfect democracy—good things get propelled to the surface because people share them and talk about them and lend them this amazing collective momentum. It is, for the most part, a beautiful thing.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Prevent internet censorship. And brush your teeth.
The phone rings beside my ear. For a second, in my dream-like state, I thought it was the still the ringing of the concert from last night in my eardrum. I was sure my hearing from the year I’m going to be 79 was surely taken all in one night, and I was also sure it was worth it. I also decided I should wear ear plugs next time. I’m not as young as I used to be, and I keep catching my memories flitting off, no longer safely stored in the rows and rows of filing cabinets in my mind. Those are all filled now with how to file tax returns, Tuesday, December 13’s doctor’s appointment at 2 p.m. in unit 8B, the various deductibles from my sucky health insurance. I picked up the phone.
“Hello?” I was surprised by the raspy sleep-sound of my voice.
“Hey, I didn’t think you were going to answer. You’ve gotta get up,” Chris said.
“Why? What happened?” I put alarm into my voice in what I hope sounds like sympathy, but I stay in the exact same spot underneath my comforter. The air is cold. It’s probably something stupid, like it usually is when he calls.
“The coolest thing ever, Ru. The ocean. There’s a bunch of surfers out here, it’s like watching some epic game of cosmic golf…but it’s real.” Chris sounds genuinely excited.
“I have work tomorrow…” I start.
“You’ll regret it if you don’t come out. Seriously. This is a once in a lifetime thing,” he says, with that same uppity tone.
Hell, I’m still young.
“Fine, where are you?”
“The Shores, by lifeguard post number three. Text me when you’re close.” And he hangs up. That was rude; he never just hangs up on me.
I force myself willfully out of bed and pull on a hoodie. I’m not changing out of my pajamas and subjecting my naked bits to the cold, fuck that. Hopefully there’s no one cute there.
As I drive down the windy two-mile stretch to the beach, I crane my eyes to the ocean. Can’t see anything lit up over there but the occasional, methodical glow of a fog light. My car hits a reflective bump on the road, waking me up. Shit, better keep my eyes on the road. People die here all the time, and I can see their cars float off the cliff before everything shifts into slow motion, doors open, bodies, books, and clothes fluttering down to the water. The sickening ploosh as body meets water.
I pull into the parking lot, the only car. I text Chris, and after a few minutes I see the little light of his cell phone bouncing towards me in the air, an artificial firefly. It’s really dark out here. He opens my door and lets in a gust of briny, dead-seaweedy cold air.
“Fuck!” I scream, and pull my sleeves down over my knuckles, blowing into the nautilus curve of my hand.
“Come on!” He says, and he’s already jumping back over the fence that demarcates the beach from the lot. I rush to catch up, my body as stiff as a nutcracker’s. I pulse my hands open and closed to get some blood back into them as the cold sand crawls into my sandals and grinds itself in between my toe and the strap. My eyes have been glued to my feet and the sand so I can keep my face out of the wind, and trick my body into believing I’m still warm for as long as possible. I’m at the point where the dry sand becomes wet sand when I notice that the sound of the waves is suddenly loud, and lift my head. I see it, and then I see nothing else; the cacophony of the ocean, my body temperature, and the wet force of the wind become a backdrop to something out of a fantasy book…
To be continued
Once, in second grade, I peed myself sitting at my desk. I was too nervous to ask for permission to go to the bathroom, so yellow lines snaked down my white stockings. I put my sweater under me to sop up the urine and pretended it didn’t happen, while my heart quaked and my breath quavered. When the kids around me began to remark something was strange, I kept quiet. American school brainwashes you into being a robot: “Sit in your seat!” “Stay in line!” “Don’t backtalk me, young lady!” Because a teacher has 30 other kids to worry about, she only has time to teach by getting everyone to obey. We learn about rebels like Patrick Henry and Susan B. Anthony while we sit quietly, faces forward to the whiteboard, eyes on the teacher. We revere those who break out of the system while we’re stuck inside it and taught to like it, to appreciate it. Imagining seven-year-old me “pledging my allegiance” to a flag makes me think of heiling Hitler. I didn’t know what “pledging my allegiance” meant, but I was taught to do it. I didn’t know what America really was (except for the good guys!), but I knew I was supposed to love it, and I didn’t question that. I didn’t question that, while we shouldn’t have taken the land away from the Native Americans, now it was ours for-keeps-forever-no-take-backs. I didn’t question that Columbus founded the “new world.” I didn’t question our founding fathers. Liberty Cabbage was delicious and boys who die fighting for their country are heroes (not just low-income minorities). I didn’t question anything because I wasn’t thinking for myself. I sat silently in my desk and absorbed. My teachers always sent my mom report cards that read, “Very mature. Excellent student.” I thought getting good grades, being respectful, being quiet, meant I was a good person. I thought being a good Christian, going to church, confessing my sins to God in prayer, made me a good person. All that made me was obedient. And obedient is a word that no longer has a positive connotation for me.
We think more for ourselves as we get older; in high school, some allowances for having your own mind are allowed (within the boundaries of the school gates). Yet grown students in the system still have the foundations of an obedient primary school experience. I used to write a political column in high school, because I was so amazed by what I was learning in my Government & Economics class. I used to think that voting for a third party was the only way to go. Then, my teacher dropped a bomb: By voting for those third parties, I was throwing away my vote. Only a Democrat or Republican would win, so I should choose the lesser of two evils. He changed my mind, and I shared that new view with the world. Now, out of the bubble of high school, my mind’s shifted back. Yeah, maybe I’m not changing anything. But if more people catch on, it could. It’s not unheard of in our history for a third party to win, we’ve just lost faith in the system. Young people don’t vote rather than put their votes toward either of the party leaders. Voting doesn’t work for us, doesn’t change anything. School from 8 AM to 3 PM, university, full-time work from 8 AM to 5 PM, retirement at 65, Florida, golf, nursing home, death.
Capitalism gave me the wrong idea about what life is supposed to be for. “Making it” isn’t actually how much money you obtain, but the amount of love and happiness you reap from what you do with your life. It’s difficult to remember that when your waking hours are taken up by what it takes to survive. Corporations reward exploiting the lesser man; Wal Mart wastes gas on their traveling trucks, exploits outsourcing, and then gets consumers to support this system because it has the cheapest prices, and we don’t have expendable income. Big wigs get rich by exploiting our plight, and the only way to change it is to change the way we live. Buy local food, live green, live kindly and symbiotically. Growing up, I was taught that commies were the enemy. Now, I see that communism was just another system exploited by the power-hungry. Capitalism is the only thing that has “worked” because it rewards base human needs: greed, comfort, survival. As capitalism and “democracy” take over the world, I can’t help but wonder if it’s really for the best. Trees are cut down to make way for highways, tenements, and skyscrapers. Big Business. That’s not a world I want to live in.
We should all be working to change the world, but instead we’re all trying to get by, to “make it,” so we don’t have to worry about those base needs anymore. We live for our own comfort rather than for making the world a better place. We’ve barely changed anything. Women can vote, maybe homosexuals will be able to get married soon, while we live in a box in a concrete jungle? That’s progress? I read a few days ago that there are plans to put a park over the 101 freeway in Los Angeles. The plans horrified me; it’s a short-term solution to a rapidly down-spiralling long-term problem. Rather than bulldoze some old buildings, or spread people out of the very center of the city, we’re just going to build a park over the smog-producing, carbon-monoxide smoking, car-whizzing, truck-blaring freeway. My mind flashed forward to the year 3000, when Los Angeles is several layers high, with the lower income residents living on the bottom layer, the only light eking out of the occasional skylight that cuts through the layers, parks lit by artificial halogens on the dark ceiling.
It’s been a while since I’ve written. It’s easy to put off the things you love when the things you hate take up so much of your time. I find myself making excuses: I’m tired, I’m an adult so I can do what I want, I’ll write when I have the actual time and drive. But working full time has definitely taught me something: you’ll never have the time and drive. During the Summer of Unemployment, I couldn’t write anything because nothing was inspiring me. These days, I get little bouts of inspiration, but my ideas look thin when typed up, like they’ll lift off the page of their own accord, letter by letter, floating off like dandelion seeds to someone who will do something grand with them. Or, actually do anything with them. It’s like having a huge assignment looming; the massive size of it crushes you underneath so you can’t even type one word or make one step. When you start, you’re committing yourself to the Giant Thing and there’s no going back to procrastinating free time. James was telling me he was feeling anxious because of the massive amount of work he knew he had in his near-future, studying for his nursing certification tests. I gave him some sage advice, “Just give yourself tiny little deadlines. Say, today I will finish this one chapter or master this one concept. That way, you’ll meet goals every day and get to feel good about it. Baby steps.” (This coming from the girl who did all her studying the whole day before the test, or the whole paper the day before its due date.) One of the cool things about being in a relationship is that you can tell the other person what you know you should be telling yourself, and you’ll come off as wise and supportive instead of self-deluding. At least I’m doing one thing right. Writers all say the same thing, “Force yourself to write or you won’t write at all.” It feels good to know there’s a network out there that has the same fear-cum-procrastination as me. It’s like starting a diet or an exercise regimen; you just have to be your own bully. I want to follow the write-one-page-first-thing-in-the-morning system, but I can’t see myself actually doing it. I guess the only person who can force myself to do anything is me, right? One can only forcibly change oneself. I heard this Kaiser commercial on the radio a little while ago, and a comforting woman is saying, “So you slept in this morning instead of doing that early work-out. You ate the extra piece of cake… It doesn’t matter, you can take two steps forward and one step back, and that’s still progress.” So maybe that’s what I really need to do for now; not become a bestselling author right this minute, just write a blog post. Patience. Baby steps.
There is a red string tied to my finger
I did not tie it there.
Two seconds ago,
There was no red string tied to my finger.
I sat in my hard desk, facing the teacher, eyes on the window
Beyond the hazy window
And the autumn tree
And the blue sky beyond that.
The string tugs at my finger,
Lifting it slightly.
My brown eyes follow the string
Across the classroom
Under the door
And then I do, too.
The string goes all the way out of the heavy, metal school door
The front gates, locked
And to the street beyond
So I go, too.
Leaves crunch under my feet
Wind dances with my hair
As I follow my finger
Attached to the red string
I follow it down a few blocks
To my house
To my car
And get inside.
My arm stays out of the car,
Elbow resting on my window
My finger points east, so
I follow the red string
To the airport
The airplane floats along on the wind, jumping from cloud to cloud
I follow the red string
To Ann Arbor, Michigan
I follow the red string into a taxi
That smells like saffron
And then the tug on my red string stops
So I stop the taxi
My breath stops
The end of my red string is sewn onto a blue flannel shirt
Down the sidewalk
That a boy is wearing
Flannel smiles at me
As my finger pulls me forward
“A Chinese proverb says an invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, despite the time, the place, despite the circumstances. The thread can be tightened or tangled, but never be broken.”
A little note on the poem “The Red String.” A friend of mine, whose awesome music you can listen to here, was being berated by his other friend about his lyrics. And after listening to that going on for a while, I chimed in, “I love your music. It’s simple. Great music can be simple.” Some of the best Beatles music was the songs they made in the ‘60s, simple, unadorned. And the same can be said for poems. Poems like this would have made me gag a couple years ago, but after falling in love, they strike me right in my heartstring. Simple can be powerful. Simple can be more difficult than complex. Simple can be scary. I was inspired to write this poem by this tumblr‘s post, and my boyfy James :} And btw, I wrote it as I listened to this.
Pale light sifted through the shutters, never quite reaching the undersides of their fat, catching in the wrinkles. She step-tip-toed into the silent room, hearing her every breath catch with each footstep, as if her step was a small alarm that could wake the two sleepers, and even exhalations were suspect. Patients Patricia Wheaton Fletcher and James (Jim) Fletcher, wife and husband. They never usually got a pair in the same room. From her view under the doorjamb, their faces were obstructed by thin white cotton sheets stretched over two people-shaped mounds, like trick-or-treat ghosts.
They were both oddly naked, and she couldn’t help but glimpse at her body’s future. The woman’s skin was covered by a layer of dust; she dragged her fingertip lightly across the swollen belly. A little snaking trail was left where her finger had passed. She couldn’t see her fingerprint on the end of her index through the thick brown film. She lifted it to her nostril automatically; it held that indescribable scent of old people. The woman’s breasts sagged like over-filled water balloons — surely they would burst at that capacity? — but they reached lower by the year, longing to reach the final solicitude of the ground. The woman’s eyes opened languishly, and in them she could see her youth, these eyes she had carried around with her always, which had seen sixty-two more years than her. Pale irises just barely peeked out, obstructed by pages of hanging skin, paper-thin now, like the day she was born. The nurse could almost see the heaving difficulty of her pumping veins just underneath the skin’s surface, clear as milky bath water, pipelines obstructed by lime and rust and years of wear, but a thin trickle of blue blood still pushing through to her softly quaking heart.
The woman’s eyes questioned, silently, but closed without caring for the answer. She’d probably never be entirely cognizant again for the small remainder of her life. The nurse hoped that she had told the stories she had to tell to her family, that they had gotten their weeping good-byes. She was supposed to be impartial, get used to death gazing hungrily at her patients over her shoulder, but these trespassing thoughts always slipped through her mind nonetheless. She looked down to the woman’s raisined hand and saw the translucent spots where teardrops had fallen on the sheet. So they had got to say good-bye.
As her eyes had about had their fill and her brain had just completed mapping and cataloguing the woman, the sound of rustling sheets came from the next bed. The second mound was moving. The white sheets were wrapped around the man’s entire body, as if ready for the final labyrinthine passage through the hospital halls and down to the stainless steel gates of the morgue. But through the sheets, she could make out the shape of two arms wrapped around his chest. In his twitching sheet cocoon, stretched now up to the ceiling, he was preparing for his next reincarnation. She wondered what he would look like when he emerged.
Her eyes pulled away from the sight with difficulty, as if they were trying to swim through gallons of leaden water. The old woman was lying back still, her skin flaking off in translucent beige pieces. Soon there would be two people-skin shells littering the floor, and she would have to be the one to sweep them up. It seemed wrong to just clear away a piece of somebody, though. Maybe she would crawl inside the woman’s shell for a few hours, and see how much smaller she was than her. No, it would probably break the person-shape, and surely someone would be in here looking for her in a few minutes. She had other patients to attend to. Why had she been in this room for so long?
I’m working on a long journal entry thing called Public vs. Private Self and it’s proving a bigger task than I thought. It needs a lot of revision (stay tuned), so for today I’m going to share two quick bits of fiction and nonfiction instead. These are some of the first things I recommend to people because they’re powerful, fast reads, and they really inspire me.
It’s so hot in here. Oh god, there it is again. That overwhelming…I’m going to throw up, I’m going to throw up, I’m going to throw up. And arrroooooound it goes. I lean over and retch onto my toes. Every time I try to crawl to higher ground, I slide back down the slippery, droplet-speckled metal walls. There is no escape. We’re all going to suffocate in here. I try to hold onto her, but can’t keep her in my grasp. I realize she’s not trying to hold back onto me. No‑no!‑She…She’s giving up. I can still see her pained eyes as she falls away from me, sliding into a menagerie of different textures and colors. I make the gut-wrenching decision to let her go and make a run for it. That was the last time I ever saw her…my other half. My life-mate. I looked around feverishly and examined my options. The clear glass window lets me see the next room, but I’m not strong enough to break it. I tried that. The air must be coming from somewhere… Metal everywhere. No dice. Ah, up there! To the top left, a hole that must be connected to a hose. But I can’t reach all the way up there. Nix that. Sharp dents like divots in the grass stick out of the metal underneath me. I look down into one. Black. What if there really is a troll down there? I’ve heard others talk… Oh god, hurry, running out of options. No escape. It’ll turn back on any time now. Something clicks on above my head. Now! I roll myself up, as thin and as tight as I can, and squeeze one of my toes through the hole. I lose a few threads to its jaws, but I’m nowhere near small enough. What was I thinking? A paper clip couldn’t fit through that thing. I’ll just have to hide and endure it, waiting for the right time, like an attic Jew in the Holocaust. It’ll be over soon. I slide through the bustle of the crowd and crawl into the pocket of her tightest jeans, waiting for the inevitable opening of the door and the cold rush of air that fills the chamber like an unexpected blizzard. When will this horrific cycle end?I lie in wait, close, hibernating, and slightly claustrophobic, trying to control the quickness of my breath as I stare out the window, not flinching, not blinking. She’ll never expect me here. When she folds, I’ll slip out and hide somewhere else. I’ll wait for as long as I have to to escape this place. She’ll never suspect.
-Diary of a Misfit Sock, discovered sometime around January 2011
So, you may have wondered what the title of the blog is all about. Well, to explain, we have to go back a long, long time ago, to a faraway, distant, foreign land…
Temecula, CA. 1999.
Apparently playing with lady bugs out on the field at recess and making people out of your erasers with markers and yarn makes you weird at school or something. These boys, who can remember their names, used to tease me by calling me “freak of nature” and “Surfing in Wyoming!” Wyoming, to ten-year-old bullies, sounds like Nye-oh-me, which is an incorrect pronunciation of my name. And I became obsessed with grammar and the English language, go figure. So, I’m taking back the name (like “bitches!” and “queers”) to mean something good for me, even if in real life it caused pain ‑ and some frustration with the stupidity of ten-year-old boys, but that is not quite as traumatizing as teasing for a prepubescent girl. And, actually, now I kind of like it. It’s an apt title for a blog with no real, concrete theme, something kind of surreal and fantastical (and occasionally nonsensical), like the written works I hope to share. So far removed and old enough to realize the amazing lack of intelligence and creativity that boy bullies of the fourth grade variety show with their ridicule, my blog’s a slap back at all those kids that made you feel weird, inferior, and/or out of place on the playground. I’m not a freak of nature, I’m creative, thankyouverymuch. …There isn’t even surfing in Wyoming.
EDIT: So I looked it up just to make sure, and there actually is surfing in Wyoming along the Snake River. (Wtf?)
“I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality. So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive…” –JK Rowling
I’ve always heard about how you lose your hopes and dreams when you become an adult. You misplace them somewhere, like my old stereo remote and that matching sock. Aspirations of becoming an astronaut and an actress become feeding your family, feeding yourself, getting by. Everyone’s talking about these Occupy protests right now. The youth of America are channeling the 60s’ and 70s’ Vietnam War protests and protesting everything really – how we don’t have jobs, we don’t have money, and that limits our freedom. We 99% have the proverbial short stick, while the 1% smoke Cuban cigars in their velvet robes, sucking the caviar off their fat fingers. Just about to graduate college, I thought an unpaid internship was my only next step. Yeah, it doesn’t seem moral, yeah, it doesn’t seem legal, but what else could I do? I needed experience. Even those unpaid internships are competitive. Consequently, I experienced my first panic attack. My boyfriend James napped catlike and happy beside me as I lost control of my ability to breathe, the thing that is supposed to be natural, no thinking necessary. It was as if I had just finished a race, or tried to get the wind back into my lungs after being hit in the gut by a ball. But I hadn’t even started playing the game yet. I went out on the balcony, sat on the edge of it, legs dangling dangerously over the rim. I needed to breathe and there was no air out there either. I went back inside and we went through some blogs I follow together, pointing out nice furniture or nice houses. The things that calm me. Luckily, I got a job a few months out of college. (After three months of questioning my self-worth, restarting yoga, thinking about moving back to my college town, being stuck in a hot California summer house, watching my Dad’s graduation gift of $3,000 dwindling away and $20,000 of student loans gradually ballooning.) Unluckily, I don’t like it. Depression ensues. James keeps telling me, “Appreciate it.” He asked me the other day, as I cried into my bedspread, “What’s the difference between a job and a career?” “I don’t know, tell me,” I mutter dejectedly. He answers for me, “A career is something satisfying you want to be doing for the rest of your life. A job is just making money. Some people can’t get jobs right now.” He attempts to ground me as my head fills with helium and I start to float up into the cosmos. I’m trying to hold on to my desire to be a writer, I’m trying to hold onto my childhood fascination and not get stuck in the deflated downward spiral of adulthood-into-death. I’m trying to marry fantasy with reality. I want to travel, I want to live, I want to join the Peace Corps or become a river guide or something crazy! I don’t want to be in this cubicle! I don’t want to be a sleepy rat, sitting in my car two hours a day, red tail lights a foot in front, red tail lights a foot behind. So I escape it by creating little bits of text at a time (and changing application windows feverishly when my supervisor passes by). Hopefully one day these thoughts will turn into money‑oh, I mean, a novel. That’s my life goal.My friend just got bailed out of the 99% question – she received a multimillion dollar settlement from a crazy accident she was in a few years ago. James and I started fantasizing together, what would we do if that happened to us? What would I do with my life if money wasn’t a problem? I’d want to travel, and I’d want to write. So there again was my answer, as thoughts of becoming a salesperson or web developer floated through my head. That’s what I have to do with my life, the “dance as if nobody is watching” bit – I have to try my damnedest to “live as if money wasn’t a problem.” People don’t get it, most are trying to talk me out of my dream and into the reasonable thing, (even myself sometimes), but I have to retreat into myself and remember I have to do what’s me, not what’s money.
I get my best ideas late late at night. I got my idea for this blog at 5:13 in the morning on May 20, 2011. I grabbed my computer and immediately typed this up (yep, this). At around this time, I think of these really far-out-there, idealistic things, and by the time I wake up, the sentiment is gone. (Tell that crush you finally like him! Clean my mom’s whole house just so she’ll feel good!) I am most myself at 5 a.m., but self-interested, lazy, self-doubting, scared Naomi pops her way back in by the start of the day (11 a.m.-ish, usually). A lot of the time, I get ideas of what to write at this time. If I am lazy and just want to go back to sleep goddammit and I don’t get my computer out, I usually lose the idea. If I get my computer out, I write cool things. 6:58 a.m. UPDATE: Before I even fell back asleep, I thought of scrapping this whole idea. Who would want to read about me? Then I thought of this Ernest Hemingway quote I read yesterday:
“Before you talk, listen
Before you react, think
Before you spend, earn
Before you criticize, wait
Before you pray, forgive
Before you quit, try”
I love reading about other people and getting to know them through their words (and pictures!). Maybe you will too. Might as well give it a try.