Taking Stalk

Something terrible happened to me recently: I forgot what I had ever loved about writing. I’d had to wrap my heart in gauze and I forgot to cut away holes so it could breath. I had a dark night of the soul; I had to ask myself, Is this something you can truly let go? My body responded with a kind of shock. The answer that came was no.
So I’ve been gentle with myself, and tapping into my sense of curiosity. What is bringing me back? (so slowly, but like awakening from a dream):
poetry. images of dark things. yoga.
The other day I had one of those moments where I had to keep pulling things from the shelves. Hamlet! That moon book! Plath! The tarot deck! The perfume Adrienne got me that smells like a fairy tale! I love when that happens. When all of the sudden we are reminded everything is connected by a web of poetry and art. I place little jewels on each strand and write things into notebooks that I will maybe later incorporate into a novel.

I am moving slowly these days. Savoring.

In college, I had an assignment once to partition off a square of earth and spend an hour peering into it. I was given a ruler, some pin-sized stakes, and a bit of string. I don’t remember the dimensions, but the space was about the size of my two hands, stacked thumb to pinkie with both hands showing. What a luxurious gift to be given. I was eighteen years old.

I hadn’t been an imaginative kid. I didn’t build fairy houses or have tea parties with my stuffed animals. I stayed indoors, reading books, writing lists into notepads. I was terrified of spiders and other bugs, and I didn’t like playing outside. Anyone who knows me now would probably be surprised to hear this, as nature is my temple; I have for many years worshiped Grandmother Spider and have even come to a place of peace with ticks and tomato hornworms, but in those days, there was a fear I can’t explain.

So my childhood memories aren’t of lounging on the grass, watching snails and birds. They aren’t of me sitting and letting my mind fill with ideas, as if in a meditative state. When I was sitting, I was reading, or I was in class, or I was making a list.

Now I was being offered this quiet, delicate time. No distractions—this was in the day before cell phones and iPods. It was me, my partitioned piece of earth, and a notebook, in which I had written: Lab #4.

In high school I had a similar assignment, I realize now. I was taking Chemistry in summer school as the result of having had irreconcilable differences with my sophomore year Chem teacher and dropping his class halfway through. Summer school happened to be pretty fun—I met some great kids from neighboring schools and the teacher was interesting, captivating, and, unlike her predecessor, not a racist. The first day, she gave us an optional extra credit homework assignment: watch a candle burn. So we were to light the candle and observe it for fifteen minutes and take notes on what we saw.
I remember writing about the flame: how it went from orange to purple, and the way the wax pooled and dripped…

And now I am reminded of another college assignment…

I don’t actually remember the name of the class, but I remember the teacher. She was smart, a feminist, and she liked to lead conversations regarding racial stereotypes in advertising and popular culture. One day she brought a bag of Hershey’s kisses to class. The assignment, essentially, was to learn how to slow the fuck down. We were each given a chocolate, and we spent a good ten minutes examining it, still in its wrapper. Then we were to smell it. Then unwrap it. Then smell again. Probably a half hour passed before we were invited to put the chocolate on our tongue. We were being asked to experience the chocolate. And if you could spend so much time on a Hershey’s kiss, imaging how much time you could spend on a walk around the block, or observing the weather?

I am grateful to these teachers, to their assignments. I am grateful because I learned that the mind does not always have to be racing, rabid monkey to the next thing. Sometimes the body needs something else. A book of poems. A square of earth. A candle, lit, in the dark.

Blank Character Chart for Kids

I made this simple character chart for a group of 10 year olds. Feel free to use it!

Character Chart

Name:

Age:

What does he/she look like:
Any scars or missing limbs?

What is his/her favorite color?

Does he/she prefer the beach, the forest, outer space, the desert? Other?

What does he/she dream about?

Does he/she have parents? Siblings? Fish?
Favorite food?

Best friend?

Worst enemy?

If he/she had a motto, what would it be?

What color is his/her room?

What is his/her biggest secret?

What is his/her biggest fear?

What does he/she want?
What is standing in his/ her way?
What animal would he/she take to Hogwarts, if any animal at all was permitted:

10 Things I’m Currently Loving

  1. This video of the 2016 Bosch parade in the Netherlands. It’s an annual thing. Bucket list.
  2. The mango tangerine scented candles from Trader Joes. My friend discovered these. I trust her judgement so I bought four. Going to need more.
  3. This article about the meanies who took to cyberbullying the parents when the kid  fell into the gorilla pen.
  4. These drinking glasses from Target. For some reason I got mine on clearance for six bucks. I wasn’t sure I’d love them, but they feel very elegant. They make me happy.
  5. Living Life Beautifully by Christina Strutt. I hyperlinked to Amazon but get it from your local bookseller if you can.
  6. This post on making a travel journal. I love all things Pam Garrison, but this post really inspired me and I copied her and made a journal I’m pretty happy with.
  7. This girl. Men used to be “uncomfortable” when women showed a bit of ankle. And by the way, I’m “uncomfortable” when you wear a speedo at the beach. You’ll get over it. We’ve had to.
  8. This healthy breakfast I make every morning. A spoonful of Greek honey yogurt, granola, berries. It’s such a treat, and it’s good for you!
  9. CreativeBug. Unlimited online art classes for five bucks a month. So good.
  10. Her. So wise.

Champagne and Chocolate

I’m currently reading a book which I’m liking very much, called Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont. It’s this beautifully written book about those rich sort of teenagers who burn too brightly, who gravitate toward excess, who fly too close to the sun. And as I read it, a certain indulgent feeling comes over me. This is a feeling only a few books have evoked in me over the years. A feeling like I’m lounging beside a pool, wearing a soft Calypso tunic, eating chocolate covered strawberries and drinking champagne.

This is certainly not the way I feel whenever I read books about rich people, or entitled people. Often stories about the very rich bore me, and I can’t stand those gossipy socialite novels one sometimes comes across. Then there’s this whole other genre of book; I’m thinking Valley of the Dolls for example, that is admittedly enjoyable but makes me feel dirty. Like sitting in an orange den in Echo Park with some coked up ex-model who shakily smokes a cigarette while I stuff french fries and milkshakes from McDonald’s down my throat. It’s not the worst way in the world to feel, but it ‘aint poolside in Saint Barth.

I was taking this over with a friend yesterday, and she brought up the movie Stealing Beauty, which we both love in an indulgent and guilty kind of way. Yes, it’s kind of like that. Or listening to Billy Holiday late at night. Or sleeping in on a warm spring day when the sheets are white and the windows are open and the curtains are billowing in the breeze (ooh, maybe I should add Gatsby to the list. [which follows])

I should say, these  books that make me feel this way aren’t necessarily even among my favorites. They are rad and wonderful, but you won’t find most of my favorite writers’ work falling into this category. It’s a rare thing, this shimmer of luxury.

It occurs to me: the common thread is youth and carelessness. Perhaps this is the reason I write YA, although my characters are more angst and rain.

So I’ve composed a list, and here, for what it’s worth, is the list of books that feel like chocolate and champagne, at least to me, at least right now:

Gossip of the Starlings, hyperlink above

Collages by Anais Nin

Bonjour Tristess by Francoise Sagan

Chocolates for Breakfast by Pamela Moore (although I do remember being disappointed by the end.)

And here are a few bonus tracks.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Sister by Jim Lewis

Net of Jewels by Ellen Gilchrist

(Parts of) The Bell Jar 

(Parts of) We Were Liars by e. lockhart

How about you? What books are your Chocolate and Champagne?

 

10 Things I’m currently loving

 

  1. The youtube channel called “Yoga with Adriene
  2. Larry Wilmore’s piece from The Nightly Show in regards to the conferderate flag. The video begins a little early; I heard it first on Fresh Air, beginning with the line: “It’s time for a segment we call, For the Record”
  3. This article about the bullies who make nasty comments on the internet from Sarah Hepola, as read to Terry Gross on Fresh Air
  4. Speaking of which, this video wherein men read horribly trolly comments written to women sportswriters by other men
  5. This candle from Capri Blue. The small votives from Anthropologie are great too
  6. This candle from Trapp
  7. the Gilmore Guys Podcast
  8. This rad Hieronymus Bosch interactive
  9. The book At Home With Madame Chic by Jennifer Scott
  10. Bullet Journaling! I’m hooked. I use my always fave notebook, a blank Moleskine  What are you loving right now?

On Acting (another post for young writers)

What does acting have to do with writing? In my  experience, the two are rather similar. When I was in high school, I was in a really great theater program. You had to audition to get in, and the teacher was amazing and hard and sometimes a little mean. We loved her. She was the first teacher I ever had who made me work. I wanted to please her. She wanted, demanded, and succeeded in directing high school plays that were top quality. We were serious. We were all decent actresses and actors and we worked our butts off. This is, incidentally, the same way to become a good writer.
The teacher/director taught us the difference between acting and Acting! Acting! is John Lithgow and Jon Lovitz doing their Baudelaire skit on Saturday Night Live. “Acting! Genius! Thank you!” Okay, so you’re too young to remember it. Google it. Seriously. Go now.
That is Acting! Acting! is what you want to avoid. Similarly, Writing! is what you want to avoid. Writing is true and from the heart. Writing is not using a bunch of big words that no one can understand. That is Writing! Writing is not using metaphors that sound good but don’t work at all. It is not cliches and melodrama. Writing is you, not trying to please anyone, not trying to write like anyone else. Just pouring your heart onto the page. What could be simpler? Don’t force it. You will find your voice. I promise.
Okay so I was joking when I said What could be simpler. Pouring your heart onto the page may be one of the hardest things you may ever do. But if you are a writer, and you know it if you are, then you must do it. Start small. Baby steps. It does get easier.
One more thing about acting. I have always been able to write dialogue. I’m not saying this to brag, or because I even believe it wholeheartedly. But people have said this to me over and over again, from my very first writing workshop in college. “You know how to write dialogue.” I have heard people say that they wrote entire books without dialogue because they couldn’t figure out how to make the words ring true. I credit acting. I had to read a lot of plays when I was a teenager. I had to read them and audition them and ultimately memorize my part. And what are plays but dialogue? If you are stuck on dialogue, go read a play. Even better, choose a character (who is similar in age to you or the character you want to write about) and act that part out as you read through the play. You can do this quietly, all by your self. No one will ever have to know what you are doing. If you do it enough, the dialogue will come.