“Darling!” she said. “I’m so glad you came. I’ve been waiting for you all day. I was dying to see you. Is that a new haircut?” It wasn’t. “Well, you look amazing. I’ve missed you. Why do you always stay away so long?” It had only been a week since I’d seen her. “Jeb went to buy a power drill from Sears. He’ll be back soon. We can have a nice cup of tea. I got those butter cookies you like so much.” I’ve never liked butter cookies. It was gingerbread cookies that had always been my favorite. “Sit down right there. That’s good. Now, tell me all about yourself and how you’ve been. Is your boss still giving you trouble at the office?” My boss had never given me trouble. It was my brother, Harrison, who was having problems at work. His boss had decided that he wasn’t working hard enough, and to be fair, he was right. Harrison was so bored at his job that he just looked at porn all the time and tried to find new positions to try with his latest girlfriend, who had once been a dancer. “And what about that plant I got you, is it still alive? Are you treating it well? You know, you have to give it a lot of light. Light is crucial for that kind of plant. I forget the name, but the guy at the nursery definitely told me that what it needed was a lot of light and not too much water.” The plant had died three months ago. I’d told her this at least twice. I said nothing this time. “Oh my, I can’t believe I forgot to tell you. Did I tell you? Jeb’s getting a promotion and we might be moving to Oklahoma! Isn’t that wonderful?” She’d told me this at least twice on the phone in the past week. “Oh, darling, I’ll still get to see you. Since Jeb is getting a raise I’ll be able to take the train over any weekend I like. Your brother’s said I can stay with him.” He hadn’t. That was my sister, Eliza, who had offered her a place to stay, albeit reluctantly. But she didn’t really love Eliza and she couldn’t bear Eliza’s girlfriend, and we all knew it. She wouldn’t stay with them, even if her life depended on it. “Have you been watching American Idol? Didn’t you use to like that show?” Never. “I thought so – but you probably don’t have time for it now, not anymore, not with all the work you’ve got piling up, I’m sure. You really shouldn’t take those freelance jobs, you know, they’re way too much for you. You never have time for anything anymore, darling. You never come and see me. Oh, Jeb had these two tickets to the game that’s happening at that stadium – oh, what’s its name? You know the one, the one downtown next to the mall. That one. So do you want them? There are three tickets, really, but Jeb is going to go alone because his friends don’t like going to the game – isn’t it silly, they all say they’re too old and that they prefer being at home in front of the television. As if Jeb is old! He’s in the prime of life, he really is. Anyway, do you want the tickets? You’ll have to sit with Jeb, of course, but you should spend more time with each other anyway.” I’d never been to a game in my life. Well, maybe one or two in high school, because my friends had wanted to go for some obscure reason. Maybe it had been the cheerleaders. “Also, you know, I showed my friend Pam the picture of Lia, and she pointed out how much Lia looks like me when I was younger – isn’t that funny, darling? You know, they do say that-” I actually had noticed that, but it was much too creepy and disgusting a concept for me to entertain for long. “Oh, I’m just teasing, don’t make that face. You know I don’t go in for all that psychobabble anyway, darling. Pam does, though. Do you know, she’s seen five different therapists in the past year? I mean, aren’t you supposed to stick with one person if you start that whole thing?” It’s incredible how people manage to judge things they don’t even believe in. “Going already? Oh, darling, you didn’t even finish your tea. Do you want some butter cookies for the drive home?”
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.
One strand after another, something is woven. Slowly, painfully, maddeningly slowly, a pattern begins to emerge. Sometimes there are stray hairs that creep into the fabric and need to be picked out. Sometimes a mistake is made and you need to go back, to destroy some of the careful work already finished, in order to fix it. There might be a change of heart – you might decide that the blue corner should actually be red because it looks nicer with the brown beside it.
I learned how to knit many times in my life, but am finally trying to take it seriously now. And one thing that I’ve learned from it is that mistakes are not irreversible, that you can always take out a few rows, that people will always be there to help you correct something you’ve done, and that there’s a joy in the process.
I’m in a corny mood tonight, I guess, which is odd because I feel far from being comfortably settled. My mood is flip-flopping irritably. But knowing that the process is important helps, and knowing that there are few things that can’t be fixed in some way or another is also an important fact to remember.
I’m all over the place today – forgive me.
How do you deal with weird moods? Do you remind yourself of the good things? Do you try to be intrigued instead of uncomfortable and investigate what it is that feels not quite right?
Another one of my disclaimers: it’s 1:40AM right now, and I’m pretty out of it. Not sure if much of what is below makes sense. Forgive me for not editing it, but I’m exhausted.
I’ve been thinking about journaling lately. I’ve been keeping a journal pretty steadily for a while now – I don’t write often, but I keep the same notebook instead of jumping from one to the other, and whenever I write I feel very relieved. I love it. I wonder if I should start doing it regularly, as part of my routine – doing it first thing in the morning or right before I go to bed or else find some better time during the day. It’ll be hard to keep it up during school-time, though, so I need to consider this.
I’ve also been thinking about how so many bloggers manage to write about their personal, everyday lives in an interesting way. I’ve always had a problem with this, partly because I put such low significance to anything that happens to me. Let me clarify – I find whatever happens to me important, but that’s natural and expected; the problem is that I seem to think that nobody else could possibly find anything that happens to me engaging and worth hearing about. Only through therapy have I succeeded in forcing myself to share more of my everyday life with my friends. I used to expect them to yawn – inwardly, if not outwardly – and find me incredibly dull. I’m slowly learning to accept the fact that my friends love me for who I am and want to know what’s going on with me. They shouldn’t need to ply me with endless questions just to get me to tell them about the internships I’m applying to or how my current work-in-progress is going.
But then there’s the issue of the internet. Sure, my friends are interested in me. But why should random readers who stumble on my blog care about what I’m going through? I realize that I read many blogs where people share their personal, daily lives in a way that I find entertaining and I keep coming back to read more. How do they do it, though?
I’ve been thinking of experimenting with adding a new page on my blog, another one that I’ll post to every day, that will be more of a journal. Then this, the main page, would hold my fiction and thoughts on writing.
How about you guys? What are your thoughts on journaling? If you’re a regular, would you be interested in seeing me add a more journal-like page to my blog?
Just got back from lifting books for three hours and fifteen minutes. I am tired. So very tired. And my browser has a long row of tabs open to blogs I want to read but won’t get around to tonight. I’m going to sleep for a few hours, wake up, and go right back to work. Tomorrow is going to be such a long day.
Sometimes I use this blog to bitch and moan. I’m coming to terms with that right about now.
Frequently. Free-quent-lee. I love the sound of that word. The way it clicks around my mouth but ends in the soft “ly” sound, making it like a bite of dark chocolate that tastes bitter and sharp at first but then melts exquisitely on the tongue.
Exquisite. That’s another good word. It seems to glint in my head as I say it, and I imagine a dragon guarding its gold; which of them is more exquisite, the hoard or the magnificent beast sitting near it, eyes burning almost as much as its mouth, flames curling around its nostrils? The shimmering pile of coins twinkles in the firelight… exquisitely.
Descriptions can evoke such strong images, and part of every description are the words we choose to include in it. Words, themselves, can call up memories and ideas that flash on the screen of our mind’s eye without our ever realizing it – but somehow, complete ideas of whatever we’re reading are transported to our consciousness.
Words are magical. Ma-gik-kl. Another beautiful word.
Acceptance is a good word. For starters, it has two kind of “c” sounds, a delicious “p” and a lovely ticking “t.” It’s a fun word to say. I accept the fact that not everyone agrees with me about the deliciousness of words – for which I must, again, thank Fry, S. J. – and so I’ll elaborate beyond the mere clicks of tongue and lips together. “Acceptance” is a good word because it has good connotations. It sounds positive in every respect:
We talk about accepting someone for who they are – accepting their faults or quirks, their weaknesses and passions. We talk about feeling acceptance from others – becoming comfortable with people, being who we feel we really are with them, shucking off the shells we build around ourselves to guard our hearts from strangers. Children are taught to accept others who are different than themselves, to ignore skin-color and race, cultural barriers or freckles.
“Acceptance” also brings to my mind the feeling of my stomach leaping upwards in a sweet rush when I find out that I’ve passed a test to get into a program, or gotten a big envelope from a college. It means being good enough, proving myself both to others and to the inner-critic.
But “acceptance” can also be a horribly sad word. When someone dies, we need to learn to accept their passing – not necessarily for anyone, but merely because there’s no choice. Life can’t go on unless we accept the death of a loved one. Even if we fight it, life has a knack of getting in the way and forcing us into realizing that we’ve accepted the horrible truth that someone we love will never hug us again, never smile at us, never blink or speak or cry. It’s natural, though, to accept this. If we wouldn’t, we’d go mad with grief at every death, every breakup, every parting.
And yet, there’s a part of me that rages at the acceptance, that feels as if it’s an insult to myself and my emotions. A part of me wants to scream out from the rooftops and subject the neighborhood to the keening sounds I hear only in my mind. A part of me wishes to give up entirely, to lie in bed and never rise from it. But that part is stuffed down, hushed up, quieted, because life goes on whether I want it to or not.
She stood on the tiny balcony and clutched a cup of coffee in her hand. She listened to the early morning traffic go by and watched the sky go from dark to light gray. Shivering, she clutched the shawl closer to her.
“Why aren’t you wearing a sweatshirt?” demanded a voice. He came up behind her and blew hot air onto her neck. She leaned back and closed her eyes, nuzzling into his embrace as his arms circled her waist.
“The cold feels nice,” she murmured. She felt him grin behind her. He’d always loved the cold. Opening her eyes, a thought that had been tugging at her mind shaped itself on her lips. “What are we doing here?”
“Living the dream,” he said, raising his eyebrows. They both laughed. Corny phrases were so fun to use when there was no risk of being taken seriously. “Are you regretting it or something?” he asked, worried. His self-esteem, usually substantial enough not to need to ask questions like this, wavered.
“I’m ecstatic,” she answered, turning to him. “Let’s go unpack.”
“Ungh,” he moaned. “Do we have to? I can live out of the suitcases for a while…”
“Yes, we have to,” she laughed, slapping his midriff playfully. “And later we’ll take a walk to the bank to open the account, and we’ll get some more groceries.”
“Fine, fine, fine,” he huffed playfully. As she bent over a box and began ripping at it energetically, he sighed and thought of where he’d been ten years earlier. He hadn’t been happy then, but all had come well in the end.
She sat on the lanai. The sun was shining brightly and the temperature was perfect. Some might say it was boring, always so perfect, but she loved it. The laptop on her knees was small, comfy and full of prose – just the way she liked it. She spread her fingers, getting ready to take that incredibly exhilarating plunge and actually start writing when she froze. A hummingbird, beautifully colored and almost shining in the sunlight, was only a foot away, hovering next to the big flowerpot that she referred to as her “pet.”
Hands still hovering in the air, much like the tiny bird, she watched, mesmerized, scared to take the slightest move and scare the thing away. A blast of music came up suddenly from the cellphone beside her, and both she and the hummingbird jumped. “Oh, birdie, come back!” she called under her breath as she picked the phone up. The bird took no notice. Looking at the screen as she flicked the phone open, she smiled.
“Hey, you,” she said. “You scared away a hummingbird. It was right next to me.” She waited, listened, and laughed. “That’s so like you,” she grinned to herself. “How’s the Missus? And the kid?” She smiled softly as the deep voice on the other end spoke. “I’m so glad,” she said warmly. “Listen, I’m just about to start writing. Can I call you this evening? Mhm. Mhm. Sure. Okay, talk to you then. Love you, bee-eff-eff,” she added cheekily. “Bye now!”
She clicked off, and watched her flourishing garden. She thought about where she’d been ten years ago. She was glad that things had come well in the end.
He was in Brazil, and she in Tasmania.
Both fictional characters never were, had never been, would never be.
I’ve fallen deeply in love with Virginia Woolf lately. I’m generally enamored of the classics that I read, if only because the kind of writing styles that existed in the 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries are so utterly different from the contemporary books I read. This isn’t a bad thing, as far as I’m concerned, because writing, like everything else, changes over time. Language changes, mannerisms change, people look and speak differently… So even though human nature probably hasn’t changed all that much at its core, stories about people are definitely going to sound different at various points in time.
Virginia Woolf has a beautifully unique writing style – in my opinion anyway – and I feel that she loves language just as much as she loves people. Yes, I think she loves people in general for being so different, versatile, strange, quirky and interesting. I truly believe that nobody could write the way she writes without loving the process of writing, even if it caused her much anguish and hardship. However, that’s not even the point, because much as I find her a fascinating person, I want to write about her style right now. That style, in my view, is distinctive. There’s a very stream-of-consciousness feel to it, although at the same time there’s a calculating purposefulness to it, a feeling that the writer knows and understands so much more than her characters do and that she, in looking at them from above, is smiling down at their thoughts and hearts that are laid bare to her. It’s beautiful, self-conscious but at the same time utterly abandoned – I don’t know how Mrs. Woolf achieved this duality in her writing or if she was even aware of it, but it’s beautiful.
A week or two ago, I read The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes Virginia Woolf, although I would say that you should read her Mrs. Dalloway before reading The Hours. In certain, well-chosen, parts of the book, Cunningham manages to copy Virginia Woolf’s style beautifully, to its smallest details, while still keeping the plot and character fully immersed in late 20th century New York City. The man, in my opinion, is an incredible writer. The fact that he can mimic Mrs. Woolf’s style so wonderfully, while also giving other characters their own distinct voices, makes me admire him no end.
Now I finally come to the question this whole post was about: what do you think about copying a writer’s style? Personally, I think it’s interesting as practice. I feel myself trying to do this whenever I finish a book I particularly enjoyed, and I have fun with it. There’s something challenging about writing according to specific rules and trying to adhere to a very distinct atmosphere. It’s not easy, but it’s also a very different feeling than trying to find your own voice or a character’s specific voice. Still, I don’t think that I’d ever try to write something long or substantial while mimicking another writer’s style, unless (as in the case of The Hours) I was doing it purposefully and obviously.
So… What are your thoughts on this?
Disclaimer: Forgive me for the pompous and maybe too flowery nature of this post. I’ve been reading Michael Cunningham and Virginia Woolf and I wanted to try my hand at writing something like this, trying to articulate my thoughts with more than my usual drivel of words. Forgive me, again, if I sound obnoxious, and if I do, believe me, I won’t force any such thing upon you again.
If there is a feeling that accompanies the witness of genius, surely it is awe. Seeing a great masterpiece of art, listening to incredible and unbelievable music, or turning the pages of a book where words, simply words written one after the other, convey the genius of the author – these experiences all come hand in hand with mixed emotions, and at their center, awe.
Somehow, genius seems to give one both the feeling of great insignificance and great community. At one and the same time, one feels tiny compared to this piece of majesty and beauty that touches one’s senses, but also part of a vast body of all the others who have appreciated and seen and felt what one has felt. The illogical nature of this emotion – for if one is small, how can one be large at the same time? – goes hand in hand with genius, which is something, I believe, that no one, not even its possessor, can fully understand. We can understand aspects of it, appreciate parts and facets of it, but never the whole. Perhaps we could gain a full picture of the nature of genius if we collected each and every person’s idea of what the piece, be it a painting, a piece of music or a novel, conveys, we might reach a whole in which we understand both what the genius meant to pass on to us and also what he or she didn’t, what we understand, we who are the vast organism that at one moment in time seem to exist only to appreciate the piece.
There is genius that is cold, calculated and smooth, the results of which would be cold and calculated too if only we didn’t have the need to insert emotion into everything. To this kind of genius we give our own thoughts and feelings, the stirrings in our bellies and the pictures that flash across our minds. We exalt something we may not understand, but why shouldn’t we do so when something has this quality that is so hard to define – genius?
Then there is genius that gushes with more emotion, more heart and soul that we can take in a single view, a single read, a single hearing. To this genius we may do a damage as we try to reign in our emotions and control them, simplify them, understand them. Maybe we shouldn’t try to do so, though, for maybe it is this genius most of all that we ought not to try and understand – maybe it is this genius that we ought to let take us for a ride, whirl us around without apparent, obvious sense and comprehension. Maybe swimming in the place where all emotions stem from, somewhere deep in the soul, is good for us, once in a while.