Oh, Neil, I’m getting lazy

My writing habits have become abysmal lately. I still write every day, because by this point it just feels weird not to. For a week and a half or so, when I was on holiday and barely touching my computer, I didn’t write except the odd quick email or instant message on my phone. But other than those few days, I don’t think I’ve not written for an extended period of time in about a year now – be it parts of an essay, notes, comments on other people’s posts on the web (more thought-out than they should be, maybe, but still), long emails, or fiction. There’s not a day, anymore, where I don’t think about my writing, the work-in-progress I have going on, or allow ideas and sentences to germinate in my brain for further use. I lose the latter more often than not. Another of my bad habits is my inability to commit to keeping a notebook on my ACTUAL PERSON at all times. I have more than one, as well as pens, in my backpack at all times, and that backpack is with me wherever I go. But it’s not the same. Needing to rummage in a backpack isn’t the same thing as being able to whip a notebook out of my pocket and jot something down. I need to either find jeans with bigger pockets (damn you, girl jeans!), find some way to stuff a notebook into my bra (there’s definitely a business idea waiting to happen there – easily bendable, stuffable notebooks, for any crevice of your body you may want to keep one in) or else just start walking around with a permanent marker and jot things down on my hand. But then, if they’re no good, I won’t be able to wash them off. And I’ll run out of space pretty quickly.

The real answer, of course, is to get back into a more routine writing habit. At least, that’s the answer as far as I’m concerned. Every writer has her or his own ways and means and needs. For me, writing every day for an extended period of time that is for my own purposes – not for schoolwork, in other words, and not out of a feeling of obligation to anyone but me – is the best way to make sure I use the things that float around my head all day.

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Do You, Like, Like ‘Liking’?

Or do you, like, like like ‘liking’?

If you’re of my generation or younger, one generation above mine, have kids of either of those generations, or have ever turned on your television, you probably understand both the title and the subtitle below it – I hope the commas and quotations helped to convey the intonation and meaning of both questions.

I think that there are few English speakers of my generation who don’t use the word “like” too often. It is our verbal tick, probably more used than “um”s or “ah”s, sprinkled among our other words as liberally as seeds on Pepperidge Farm’s 15 Grain Bread. But, like this bread, which actually looks on the inside almost exactly like the company’s Whole Grain or Whole Wheat lines (the only difference being the crust, the outside), our use of the word “like” is only as annoying as we make it out to be and probably not worse than how other generations talk, on the whole.

What really bothers me is the way the word has trickled down into social media. I rather enjoy using it on Facebook – ‘liking’ someone’s status or comment means approving of it. I get to join in the communal laughter at my friends’ witty remarks or pump a virtual fist in the air at their political remarks. It gives me a case of the warm fuzzies to see that people have liked my own rarely updated statuses. So I like Facebook likes okay.

But the ‘like’ button has now become a staple of sorts, and it is maddening. People can like my comments on every website I post on, they can like my reading choices, and, worst of all, they can like my posts right here, on WordPress. Why do I dislike this so much? Because, more often than not, on blogging websites, ‘liking’ is a strategy. And that infuriates me.

I came to WordPress almost four years ago because I’d heard it was a “serious” blogging website. Less TeenOpenDiary and Xanga, less LiveJournal, but a bit more customizable than the then still dull-looking Blogspot. On the whole, I wasn’t and haven’t been let down. I haven’t achieved fame, fortune or book contracts through this blog, but that wasn’t what I was setting out to do as an eighteen year old who’d just barely realized that if she wanted to be a writer she’d better start to actually practice her writing and get over her stage fright and let people read some of her mistakes along the way.

I’ve been happy here, and incredibly lucky – I have found real friends and people who believe in me and my writing. I have found amazing writers whose work I have faith in.
But since that bedamned ‘like’ button was added to WordPress, I’ve felt that this place has turned into some stats factory. Every post I write gets ‘like’d within seconds, too short a time usually for the person to have actually read the thing – the only reason they’re clicking that button is because my post has appeared in the newly published section, where someone, this ‘like’r, is clicking on new posts and liking them, one after another, in the hopes of having on of those people come and visit their blog and read their post.

Isn’t part of the point of blogging the mutual experience? The actual, genuine, process learning to like someone else’s writing style and subjects and, being able to discard that person without them even knowing it if you don’t like what they write, by just leaving their page? This way, liking people just in order to draw some random audience to your own website, seems so… competitive. As if it’s a game that people are trying to get ahead in.

Now, I make no false claims – I check my site stats just like everybody else and get very excited and happy when my readership goes up, and when I don’t post and don’t read my friends’ blogs, I’m well aware that it will go down. But I also don’t randomly travel around WordPress simply clicking the ‘like’ button just to make people come see my own site. If I use the button now, it is only on blogs where I’ve left enough comments that make it clear that I am a regular reader – and then I usually leave a comment as well.

I don’t like liking when I don’t actually know if I like something or not.

What are your (like) thoughts?

Forgotten Ground

There is nowhere in the city where people don’t put their feet inside of their shoes, their sticky, stinking shoes, with gum and grime and dog waste and spit of a thousand disgusting young men on the bottoms of their souls. No, that is not a mistake, in case you were wondering. I never make mistakes. I am deliberate a fault, each and every one of my fault lines is purposeful and is there to make you trip and fall and break your necks, the same necks you take such pains to make smooth with operations and suctions of various sorts and different kinds of nips and tucks and pulls and lifts, as if you can climb into an elevator and make time go back if you take it from the seventieth floor to the twentieth floor fast enough but what you forget is that the hand that you use to press the buttons will always look the same no matter what happens to the rest of you on the way.
The only places that are forgotten are misnamed thus because things that are forgotten are done so by accident, but these, these places are as purposeful and deliberate as each of the cracks I put in the sidewalks for you to slip and trip and pool your blood and life and your lifeblood in. The forgotten grounds are always remembered by those who live in them and wish they could forget about them and return to the places they came from, the places they used to live and that they fled from because they thought that they could come here, where everything is oh so much better because that’s what you tell them on your black boxes with people smiling so brightly with little white pearls replacing their teeth.
There are no forgotten grounds. There are only those neglected by the shoes of those who think that their souls are so much cleaner and that their behinds never let out a single spray of brown waste and that there is nothing but smooth plastic between their legs and that the pits between their arms smell of the sweetest perfume at all times. Those people don’t even really think that this is the truth but they wish it was so deeply that they try to make everyone else in the world believe that it is and it is there, in their minds and hearts, that the real forgotten wastelands of kindness and feeling and truth lie.

I Lost, But –

I submitted a story to a contest. I didn’t win. I didn’t get a notable mention. For a few seconds, I felt as if I would never write again. Then I thought that I should change my aspirations for the future. A few minutes later, having climbed into bed and curled up in my black-covered duvet, I felt a little better and just decided to never share my writing with anyone ever again.
When I woke up from my nap, I stopped being ridiculous.
I may not be good enough to win a fiction contest to which only some dozens of people have entered stories. Alright. But two published authors who have taught me have told me that I will get published. That is exhibit A. Exhibit B is the fact that I’m on a forty-five day streak on the website 750words.com – meaning I haven’t missed even one day in the last month and a half of writing three-pages-worth of words. Sure, some days I had to cheat and write parts of essays or schoolwork within that blank white space, but it was still my original writing in there.
Exhibit C is the discover I made a couple months ago – my mental and emotional state deteriorate when I don’t write for a while. I doubted this at first, but it can’t be a coincedance that I started to feel more on top of things once I began to write fiction again. Exhibit D is that people have been reading my blog for months or years now and have seen my writing develop and improve. Exhibit E is the fact that sometimes, once in a while, on a rare day, even I think that I’m a decent writer.
So. Okay. I didn’t win the contest. Maybe the story wasn’t good enough. Maybe others were just much better. Maybe it wasn’t my time, as one of my friends put it. Whatever the reason, I’m not going to give up. I’m only twenty-one, for goodness’ sake. I’m only just finishing up my sophomore year of college. I’m going to freaking Oxford next year.
Anyway, haven’t I known the reality of my choices for years? When I was in second grade, I began to develop the ambition of becoming an actress. I nourished, cherished and worked at my ambition for years. When my father became ill and I retreated from the world to stay at home with him and my mother, I lost my confidence in acting and the mere idea of being in public in such a vulnerable position stopped being even remotely appealing. Instead, I developed my love of writing, a far more private endeavor that nevertheless connects me to people in its own way.
But the point is that since I was about seven years old, my parents warned me that going for a career in an art would be a long, hard slog. They told me that I may not make much or even any money and they reminded me that there are a lot of talented people out there. They didn’t say this to discourage me – they simply wanted me to be aware of the realities of the world. So my seven year old self began to be aware of the fact that I shouldn’t take my future employment for granted.
For fourteen years I’ve been aware that I may work at some sort of drudge-job that I don’t enjoy or that isn’t “ambitious” (whatever that means) in order to support myself while trying to work at what I love. I’ve decided recently that I’m going to get a bar-tending certificate after I finish college; I want to try working night shifts, and I want to be exposed to people, their stories and their lives in a way that few people get to be as fully as bartenders do.
My grandpa wanted me to be a doctor. When I took care of my father while he was sick, he reinforced the idea that I would make an amazing doctor. You know what? I would. I would make a wonderful doctor. I would be empathic and caring, personable and kind.
But I don’t want to be a doctor, and my not wanting to be one would, ultimately, make me hate my job – and that would probably affect my work eventually. I want to be an author. There. I said it. An AUTHOR. I already am a writer, and will be for the rest of my life if it depends on me. But I also want to be an author. I don’t know if I will be. But I’m going to try my damnedest.

Thoughts on an Evening

Standing in front of a room full of people who write, I felt small. Or large, as if something in me was leaving my body, expanding beyond it, but not in a transcendental way. Whatever the indescribable feeling was, it only registered after the fact, once I’d sat down again.
I’ve read my work to friends and family before. I’ve read it in a workshop setting. But for some reason tonight felt different. It wasn’t bad, per se. I just felt… judged. Maybe that’s the correct phrase. I felt watched, measured, scaled, as if I was having a suit of clothing made for me – a suit that’s only supposed to fit those people who describe themselves as “writers.”
I thought I was getting better about this. Only the other day, I told my mother, during one of our usual, daily conversations, that I wasn’t feeling very nervous. And I guess that was true – I didn’t shake, when I stood there in front of the twenty five or thirty people who showed up. My voice was clear, I think, and I didn’t stumble on or rush my words. It was simple, and it happened, and then it was over, and there was no climax, no feeling of accomplishment.
Is it the comparison? Is it that I was looking at all the other people who went before me and realizing, as each person stood at the podium, that there are so many talented people here?
I felt this way once at the beginning of this school year. There was an event during the first-year’s orientation week that allowed people to show off their talents, whatever they may be. Some people read poetry, some people sang, some danced, some got together with a bunch of others and put on a hastily-put-together piece of a musical. I sat through that evening this year without once feeling like I was a lowly creature – instead, I appreciated everyone’s strengths and felt proud to be part of a school that encourages us to be as zany and weird as we want to be.
But during my first year, when I attended the same event as a nineteen-year old who wasn’t really ready to leave home yet, I felt awful. I felt like the zit on a toad in a pond full of stagnant, poisonous water. There was nothing I was good at, nothing I would ever be good at, and nothing worth aspiring to because there was simply no chance that I would ever be as good as any of the people I was watching were.
Sure, I was clearly in need of antidepressants then. I’m quite aware of this fact now, and in retrospect, it’s easy to remind myself that not everyone was great, actually, and that many people were frankly quite awful.
When I told my mother the other day that I wasn’t nervous, I also told her that I felt like I was legitimately a writer. I told her that I felt that I had the right to read at once of these things, these showcases, and that I was confidant in my conviction that writing is what I want to do with my life.
It’s still what I want to do. I want to write more than anything in the world. And I do write. That’s one of the things that keep me going – I know that I write and that I miss it desperately when I don’t. I know that I’m committed. I know that I can receive criticism if it’s not cruelly given and that I don’t have an inflated opinion of my own writing and that I have a lot left to learn. Usually I’m secure in this knowledge these days. I feel, most of the time, as though it’s a given that I’m a writer, and I know that other people know this about me – it’s not something I keep hidden anymore, and that’s good too.
So why did tonight feel so strange? I don’t know. I was intimidated by some of the talent that I heard in that room. I was put off by some of the overconfidence that I saw, too, because it’s something that I simply can’t feel connected to. But I enjoyed the evening as a whole. I loved sitting in the midst of a roomful of people who all must think that words are beautiful and have power, or else they wouldn’t have been there, reading their writing for all to hear.
So what is it that feels so strange? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just over-thinking things.

Wrackspurts

“A Wrackspurt… They’re invisible. They float in through your ears and make your brain go fuzzy…” – Luna Lovegood, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I’ve had a Wrackspurt in my head all day. I didn’t have any classes and an interview I was supposed to have about my school’s Oxford program was canceled: I had a whole free day to do lots and lots and lots of work in. Total amount of time actually working? Probably about two-and-a-half hours. That’s all. I napped for too long, I messed around on the Internet for too long, and now I’m writing in my blog instead of working on the story I need to send to my writing teacher or continuing to make some headway with the notes I’m trying to organize on Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Ugh.

I hate when this happens. I begin to feel guilty about not having done enough and it takes the pleasure out of the things that I do for fun. Even when I try to tell myself that I actually do have enough time, that things are going okay and that I’m mostly on top of my work, actually, I still somehow end up feeling guilty. And then I get stuck in obsessive thoughts; for example, I woke up from my nap at 4:50PM and then lay in bed feeling back about having taken a nap until 5:20PM, wasting another half hour that way and not managing to release myself from those obsessive, judgmental thoughts.

If anybody knows of a potion to get rid of wrackspurts and unfuzz the brain, let me know. Also, any un-guilt potions would be helpful.

Stage Fright

When I was younger, I loved putting on a show. My friends and I would create little plays with our dolls and perform for each other. I would rally the girls younger than me at old family friends’ dinners and we’d end the evening by enacting some fairy-tale story for the grownups. I participated in drama classes starting in second grade and didn’t stop taking them until my teens.
There was a glitch, though. I didn’t get accepted to the performing arts high school’s drama program, and that broke my heart. Later, when my dad became ill and passed away, I became even more introverted than I’d been before (in all aspects of life except acting, I’d always felt shy and awkward). Acting became a thing of the past, an old dream that was quickly being shadowed by my passion for reading and writing.
I don’t want to be an actress anymore. The pipe dreams of rock-stardom have disappeared as well. But the stage fright that had gripped me melted away during the past few months when I went back to acting in an amateur theater group at my school, a place where I can practice both writing and performing every week with an entirely new show. It’s a hit-or-miss kind of production, and all the more fortifying because it means I’ve seen that a bad show isn’t the end of the world.

Oddly enough, now that the end-of-year performance at the music school I’m taking voice lessons at is upon me, my stage-fright is virtually nil. I need to leave in twenty minutes and I haven’t even picked out what I’m going to wear yet. I know that I’ll probably get rubber legs once I’m onstage, and maybe I’ll even have the nervous jitters in my stomach that’ll be asking me to please run away as fast as I possibly can. But right now, I’m feeling none of that. And while it’s pleasant, I also feel almost too reckless, too uncaring.

UPDATE: And now, back from the concert, I realize what an idiot I was to write this. I jinxed myself or something. I had an awful night, an awful concert; I was out of tune and sang badly. I’ve rarely been as embarrassed as I was tonight, singing the wrong notes in front of a roomful of people, all of whom came only to see their children sing and who were probably wincing at my voice booming out of the bad sound equipment. I know that I’ll get over this. I’ve gotten over worse. But right now? Right now I’m going to allow myself an evening of self-pity and depression. I suppose those are needed sometimes, too.