“best” week ever

Boston

Boston (Photo credit: Bahman Farzad)

I really wanted to be able to write today about how this past week was completely and utterly excellent. Except that I live in Boston, so first someone bombed the longest-running marathon in the country (world?), and then I had to sit inside all day Friday because my neighborhood was on lockdown for being close to Watertown, and then the whole city was. Even though I know no one who was affected directly by the bombing, and even though I wasn’t in all that much danger on Friday, it was still extremely stressful. I didn’t actually feel like I was stressed, but then when I realized how I couldn’t stop going to the bathroom because of my stomachaches and how I couldn’t read a single page of a book because I couldn’t focus, literally with my eyes and figuratively with my attention, so apparently I was quite agitated.

I in no way want to say that I was in as bad a position as other people, like my friend who lives right in Watertown or like the countless people injured or grieving. But in my own little world, it was a tough Monday and a tough Friday.

I find that really unfair for the obvious reasons, since no one should have to be grieving right now, and also no one should have to feel grateful to be alive right now. Alive is the default, and nobody should have to spend their thoughts mentally thanking someone for only partially ruining their lives. That’s awful, and I am sorry for everyone who was at the marathon or who knew someone there. But I also find it unfair, because I had planned a really great week, and in many ways, it still was, and now I have to feel kind of guilty about that.

Monday I got to tag along on an informal writers’ retreat with Zoraida Córdova, Tiffany Schmidt, and A.C. Gaughen, and while they’re all published people who already know how to work hard and get shit done, I am not, so much. So it was amazing for me, because we got to be by the sea and do nothing but be writers. And I actually did do that. I brought the 80-90 pages of draft I had of my book and began rewriting it, and I came up with a sort-of outline that actually works for me, and I worked. And I also had nothing on my mind when I was doing it, because I took the week off from work after working through spring break, and I did no homework, and I didn’t even really read any books while I was there. That, actually, was one of the most amazing things, and I had no idea how good it was for me. In some ways, reading 200+ books per year, as I do, is not the healthiest thing. I kind of use it as a crutch to make excuses for not writing, even though I claim all the time to be a writer. Not reading or watching television (news aside) was probably the best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time, second only to going away and not having any responsibilities. Like with my stress on Friday, I had no idea how stiff and anxious and overworked I’ve been until I spent a couple days at a hotel where I had no schedule. It was unbelievably freeing.

I can’t remember the last time I worked on my creative writing for more than 10 minutes. I honestly can’t. I used to find writing easy, but I haven’t for years. I don’t even like it all that much (and I really do mean just fiction writing, not other kinds), a lot of the time. Somewhere around ninth or tenth grade, I stopped having the drive. It was my response to lots of things: the Internet being a place where I started finding more out about myself and what I liked, a social life becoming more important, school being less and less challenging and less and less interesting to me, more anger and depression stemming from growing bipolar disorder II that I did nothing about, having stomachaches and colds and allergies all the time. When that stuff started in middle school, I used writing as a place to get away from it, but then I guess it started being too hard. Or something. Who knows. I just know that I’ve had bouts of amazing writing time when I’ve been in great workshops or in other countries, and then I come back to this mental place and it stops.

DSCN1300

The earrings I made at a bead store. Nothing fancy, but definitely more me than something crazy dangly and big. And it was fun just to learn how to do the wire work.

So this was an amazing week. I did fun, lighthearted things, like make earrings and drink wine at 3pm. I was inspired by people who are working hard, and who do things that I like to do, like plan a hundred books ahead, and do things I want to do, like, you know, publish. I worked hard and got a jump start. But I also got scared.

I love research. I love ideas. I love inspiration. And I love planning. I love my stacks of books and articles that I’ve labeled as inspiration and research for projects I have in mind. But that makes me someone who should work at somewhere like Alloy or Paper Lantern Lit (both places I kind of secretly worship and would die to work at, as a matter of fact, because problematic as they are, I also think that they are great for jump starting careers and creativity, and also I would probably think differently about my own future as a fiction writer if I sucked it up and got a job as a ghostwriter at least once to learn how to go from start to finish more effectively), because I have more ideas than I could ever write, and many more than I could ever write well. And I don’t know that I totally care. Much as I like my ideas, my writing talents are best in two other arenas: scholarly writing and scripts.

Studying literature and culture has been the best thing for me. It’s the first thing I can remember since school stopped being about learning basic skills that is challenging, rewarding, and interesting. I love writing about it. And writing scripts was always the thing that came most easily to me because I’m a talker. I wrote skits all the time for drama class in middle school, and the thing I hear most often in writing workshops is that my dialogue is perfect but I don’t describe physical things. I don’t. Mostly because I come up with their descriptions once and then don’t know how to bring them in naturally, which is why writing in directions and descriptions in plays and screenplays sits so much better with me. I think those are where I’m headed, but I keep holding on to fiction because that’s the place where I would most easily break in without much previous film experience and without a PhD coming. Not that I’m not trying on both of those, but being completely honest, I have much more of a chance of publishing a novel in the next few years than being an important scholar or a successful screenwriter. So I’m hoping that first thing can help get me into the other stuff, disparate as they are.

But back to the beginning. This week was great because it got me thinking about these things, and because it showed me that even when I don’t totally want to, and even though it’s not my number one talent, writing fiction is still something I can do and can even enjoy. I just needed the time and the head space to do it. And though I wasn’t as successful as I hoped given the stressful days sandwiching the week, and even though it’s a long road ahead, I am thankful that I was given such a great week, even in the midst of such horrible things.

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7 thoughts on ““best” week ever

  1. One of the more freeing discoveries I’ve had recently is that I can just read books about the topic of my degree. I mean, I may end up in a PhD program continuing my studies, yeah, but up until recently it felt like SO MUCH PRESSURE. And when I did other things in my leisure time, I compared myself to my friends who kept on reading about the same time we were all writing theses about in their leisure time. How would I ever become Successful At This? Ugh. Anyway maybe I will maybe I won’t, but at some point I decided that I actually don’t have to make a profession out of something I’ve chosen to “specialize” in — I can just know about it. And make money doing whatever I want, really, even if it’s not being a professor of Middle East whatever stuff (read: whatever someone will hire me to do). am I making my point? Kind of?

  2. When I finish writing this, I’m going to go wake up The Wild Imp–named after my grandpa, her husband, who passed away shortly after The Schmidtlets were born– and carry him up to my room. I’ll curl myself around his warm body and hope that sweet smell of baby and innocence are enough to soothe me to sleep. And if they’re not, I’ll whisper stories against the top of his head — the time my sister and I peeled an entire ten pound bag of onions in Grandma’s basement to be “helpful” — and how she figured out ways to use them all. How she spent our teen years making up acronyms (“Don’t D.D.S. — drink, drugs, sex (smoke?)) and giving us books with titles like “Ten Dumb Things Smart Girls Do To Ruin Their Lives,” always with a cheeky grin and a “I know my rosebud knows better…” How she drank the sweetest wine I’ve ever tasted, and kept what was left from an unfinished bottle in Nalgene containers. The fact that my family decided not to tell me when she broke her hip in the hotel lobby the night before my wedding, but I knew from the moment we started “her” song — Amazing Grace — that something was off. How she mailed the twins’ birthday cards two weeks ago with hand writing that’s become so much harder to read over the past few years. But how each of their cards–just like each of the cards she mailed me, right up to this past September–contained a crisp five dollar bill.

  3. In the last 3 weeks of May, with no sort of writing structure whatsoever, I only managed to write about 6,000 words. 6,000 words in 3 weeks. By forcing a little more responsibility onto myself, and giving myself more of a structured writing system, I wrote over 5,000 words in 4 days. I think that once a few of the additional things that fell into my lap are removed, and I have more time to focus on just one project, I’ll be able to increase that word count dramatically.

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