Monday, March 27, 2017

Knee-Deep Prayers (Welcome to Church)

The local licensed café is narrow and dim, deliciously warm, splashed (in the evenings) with a red light that calls you in off the street like a crackling fire. It's not pretentious or intimidating, and though I know it best as a place to sit during daylight hours, tapping away at my laptop, making friendly small talk with the owners who always seem happy to see me, it's just as kind a place after nightfall.

A friend and member of my regular Monday night Writer's Jam invited me out to the café to see her workshop a performance art piece she'd been piecing together with a small crew of other creatives. I didn't know what to expect and I'm certainly not prone to venturing far outside my comfort zone (though I'm getting better at it) but I wanted to support her.

And I was curious. With her in the mix it was guaranteed to be wonderfully weird. (I say that with true affection!)

And it was a night out.

Win win.

I arrived a few minutes early (with another Writer's Jam friend in tow!) to be wrapped up in a crushing hug by the aforementioned performing friend who's face, when she saw us walk in, told the kind of humble story that began with: I can't believe you actually came! 

"Is there going to be audience participation?" I asked as she hugged me.

"No," she promised. "Someone might just come up and whisper in your ear."

Her revelation meant I could sit wherever I wanted instead of the inaccessible back corner. I'm a wallflower by nature. Don't ever think of pulling me up on the stage as a "volunteer".

People filtered in, filling the space to capacity, chatting in the heightened tones of those hoping to be enlightened. Wine was poured and ginger tea steeped. I love that about this place. It's not like the times when I approach a bar and ask for an orange pekoe—when they look at me like I'm a totally lame, boring prude—here, no one lifts an eyebrow. Coffee, vodka, tea, wine...we're all the same.

The lights dimmed and the crowd hushed and so began the wonderful weirdness...

During one of my high school English classes I had to do a presentation on a theme from whatever piece of literature we were studying at the time. I don't remember if it was Shakespeare or Richard Adams, but I do remember I chose to present FEAR. And (because I obviously didn't yet know myself) I did a performance art presentation in the mini amphitheater of the basement drama room. It included the first eight notes of Beethoven's 5th Symphony played upon a single octave toy piano at intentionally sporadic intervals throughout the presentation; a flashlight held beneath my chin; a long strip of newsprint upon which we would all leave our fears behind in varying strokes of fat crayola markers; angsty original poetry; and a moody recitation of whatever passage was most drenched in FEAR.

It was brilliant.

And it was a disaster.

It was a brilliant disaster.

But only because I was preaching to a room of non-believers. Those kids...they didn't speak my language. They rolled their eyes and drew orange stick-men on my canvas of catharsis.

So, instead of feeling affirmed and powerful, I felt embarrassed and sad and even less sure of who I was and where I fit into the world.

Last Thursday night, I sat at a café table and watched all that bravery spill out from the stage, washing over a crowd that nodded along and mmmhmmmm'ed when they really liked a statement, that clapped like they meant it; a crowd who recognized that despite technical glitches and long awkward pauses there was a magic happening there. A magic that's made of freedom and the willingness to be vulnerable—the strength to refuse invisibility and I thought, 'Oh, this is strange.'

But I also thought, 'THESE ARE MY PEOPLE!'

Those brave souls up there, they were preaching to the choir. We all got it. Even if we didn't 'get it'. Somehow they spoke the language out loud that I've always been speaking inside.

I once stood along the wall at a Niagara Falls dance club while Vanilla Ice served drinks behind the bar. I hated every ugly second of it. The sticky floor, the violent strobe lights, the music that vibrated in my chest. I feel anxiety even in the remembering of it. The best moment of that night was the moment we were back out on the street. I didn't care that my husband's friend knew a guy who took us through the V.I.P. entrance so we didn't have to pay the $50 cover charge. I didn't care that Ice Ice Baby was close enough to see the pores on his nose, or that this club was tagged as that night's 'place to be'. I only cared that I was dreadfully unhappy and that the whole experience made me feel wildly inadequate and dull.

But this...this was warm and intimate and spiritual.

A friend recently returned to church after staying away for a while. He later told me how happy he was to have been welcomed back so warmly. My response was: Of course! That's what church is! It's relationship. It's connection. It's working together towards a shared purpose.

And that's what I found in that little café. Church.

Genuine relationship. Honest connection. A passionately shared purpose.

"Midnight stroll through knee-deep prayers." 

They mentioned that more than once...knee-deep prayers. And as I listened to the words of the poetry they spoke I recognized the psalms within them and immediately knew that every poem/prose/song/art is a prayer and prayer is the only language that everyone speaks, no matter their religious affiliation.

Midway through the presentation, the performers left the stage carrying tubes, the ends fitted with some kind of headphone. They moved through the audience, pausing by various people, placing the headphone against an ear while they spoke through the other end. I, having sat in the aisle, provided one such ear. "This is the most intimate our relationship will ever be," he said. "You don't have to tell anyone what I say to you here tonight. I love you, sister." And then he moved on to the next person.

First of all...very intimate! And second of all...awwwwww! Because that's all anyone wants isn't it? And it's ultimately why we try our hand at creating anything. To spread our heart—for good or for bad.

My last swallow of coffee was cold but my spirit was warmed having discovered this community. They left a little of their weird glitter on me so that when I went home later that night I did not feel dull, nor did I feel embarrassed or inadequate. I felt affirmed and empowered. I felt accepted.

I felt exactly like one should feel having found their church. I felt like I'd come home.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What Margaret Atwood Said (and what Cormac McCarthy helped me do)


"A word after a word after a word is power."

That's what Margaret Atwood said. There are many ways to interpret this statement—some petty and some profound—but what I know when I see that phrase is this: write it down and watch the magic that comes of it.

This is why there is such therapy in writing. Such cathartic cleansing. Sometimes, in releasing a thought through written word, you rid it of its power. Like when I type: I'm struggling. I can't write—I'm effectually proving myself wrong by the very act of declaring said struggle. Or when the power is proven, like when I typed (as a cry for help and encouragement): book me a week in an adorable cottage on a secluded, pretty lake—and less than twenty-four hours following that publication I had an offer of a cottage on a lake! True story, I swear—and you can bet I said YES YES YES!

What I'm trying to say is that allowing yourself to be heard is opening yourself to be a conduit for tremendous power—not in a witchy, hootchie-cootchie way—in a soul altering/affirming way.

We are our words. Our words are us.

In grade school there was this outbreak of playground chanting. You were to sit cross-legged, staring steadily into the eyes of a partner, holding hands, knees touching while reciting in unison I am you and you are me and we are each other in a creepy monotone that would have made Joss Whedon proud. Over and over—I am you and you are me—until a wave of The Powers Of The Universe rolled over you and shocked you apart, after which you'd lay back on the concrete and yell, "did you feel that??!?"

I never felt it, I just didn't want to be the one kid in school the universe decided not to embrace. "Yeah, I felt it! That was a BIG one!"

Ridiculous right? Silly kids who watched too much Tales from the Dark Side or thought the Beatles' lyrics to I Am The Walrus were something more profound than an LSD trip.

Still, with words we fought to force change. They have always been my weapon of choice. Which may be why it so pains me when they seem to elude me in those moments I feel I have a project worthy of their attention.

Following last weeks whine, my mother emailed to say she'd read that writer's block was like trying to push a ton of raw liver uphill by hand. Gross! Then she encouraged me to take a break. To accept the season and to enjoy my time off without the self-applied pressure to produce what wasn't coming naturally.

And I heeded her advice. Because you should always listen to your mother. And because that same post was featured on a different site and received a comment that signed off with the statement: don't expect to succeed. I was so ridiculously mad that I had to step back {because I desperately wanted to take the bait and engage but knew it would be a choice that would not well represent who I want to be}.

I had all of March Break off. I went into it with the romantic notion that I'd accomplish much and finally beat down the wall that's been hindering me. A fellow creative told me that when she's not feeling the writing vibes, she reads. I took that to heart.

Over the course of the week I read 2 books to completion and one to within a few pages. I let myself become fully absorbed in the story of Piper Kerman and her year in a woman's prison in her eye-opening memoir, Orange is the New Black (way better than the Netflix version!}. Within hours of finishing her story I was so captured by Cormac McCarthy's The Road that I could barely do anything else...including sleep. This book. It's gorgeous and devastating and it is everything I want to do when I set out to write something myself.

One of the early readers of The Church in the Wildwood told me my writing reminded him of Cormac McCarthy. And friends, if someone compares you to a Pulitzer Prize winner, you take notice! I had little experience with McCarthy. I'd read No Country For Old Men but I hadn't liked it. Of course, this was before I knew he was the old man version of me. I bought The Road because I was curious to see if I agreed.

I did not. I mean, the beauty of his words within a subject matter so tortured...I was flattered—oh yes!—but I also felt so so small. Because who in the world am I to think I could ever create something that another person held in their hands and thought, I wish I could write like this? Who am I to think I could succeed?

WAIT!

The only unsuccessful people are the ones who stop reaching.

What is success? Success is keeping your nose to the grindstone. It's not money or fame or any other empty pursuit, it's doing what you love and never stopping! 

Cormac McCarthy knocked a brick loose. I closed the final page, tears still on my cheek as I rushed to my computer and opened a project that's been sitting dormant, just waiting for me to find my way back to it. And I was in it. Really in it. For hours! And it wrapped itself around me and I couldn't stop and suddenly I was alive and it wasn't until I took a break to use the bathroom that I realized those tears had dried on my cheeks, crusty little trails that meant I'd rediscovered who I was through the heartbreak and searing victory of The Road.

And when I picked up my third March Break book, Yes Please by Amy Poehler, the opening forward was all about writing and how HARD it is. I laughed right out loud!

See? The universe does actually speak to me!

I couldn't sleep that night. How could anybody sleep if they're trying to lie down on a crumbling pile of broken bricks? It's uncomfortable in the most delicious way. You don't break down a wall to lay on it—you break it down to get to the other side. At 3:00 a.m. I was in my writing room, wearing a bathrobe, scribbling down all these ideas that wouldn't leave me alone.

Remember what I said last week?

I want to be eyeballs deep in something that makes me desperate—something that wakes me up at night...

Yeah.

So go forth. Put words to your dreams and then watch them happen. Maybe not quite how you pictured it. Maybe not how it happened for other people. Maybe not on a silver platter. Maybe on a timeline you didn't expect. Maybe so far into the future that you can't see the 'why'. The only thing that matters is the 'Why Not?' And yes, it will scare you; and yes, it will stretch you; and yes, you might want to quit and you might wonder why you ever wanted it in the first place.

But if you stick with it—if you accept the struggle as part of your journey—there's no way anything's going to stop you.

Because you are already successful. Because you earn every little victory. Because there is no joy in giving up.

Because a word after a word after a word is power.


*this post contains Amazon Associate links

Monday, March 13, 2017

Why Aren't You Writing?

It happened today.

Fresh returned from the dentist, my mouth sore {but feeling smug because I have very healthy teeth!}, I plopped down on the couch and just...nothing.

"What are you doing?" my eldest son asked.

"I'm on holidays," I said. A whole week. Beautiful!

"Yeah...?"

"I should be writing."

"Then why aren't you writing? You have time. You have all week."

why aren't you writing? you should be writing

OKAY...

First of all, when did he become a grownup?

And second of all...nothing.

I'm wearing this author-guilt like a cape. It hangs on my shoulders and gives me bad posture and poor sleep. I want to be writing. I swear I do.

But I can't.

I think I'm broken.

And there ain't no band-aid to fix a broken writer.

I'm trying to find the reason but it's like digging for treasure without the 'X marks the spot'. And I wonder who I am and I look at all I'm doing and I'm like: I'M DOING THINGS!!! 

But it's not enough.

Because it's not all me. It's a lot of a whole lot of other people. Which is AMAZING...

BUT

I want to be selfish. I want to be eyeballs deep in something that makes me desperate—something that wakes me up at night—something that makes it impossible to waste three hours on episodes of the X-Files {true story}. 

And the most frustrating thing of all? I have things to work on! It's not like I'm running on empty. I've got jerrycans all around me. It's about figuring out how to pour that gas into my tank, crank the engine, and hit the open road.

I'm telling myself this is just part of the creative process. I've done this BIG THING* and I need a little dead-in-the-water to recover from the blissful agony of making that happen. I'm like a fish, flapping on the shore, gasping, mouth gulping at air that can't sustain, praying for someone to take pity on me and toss me back into the sea where I will rediscover the joy that makes the BIG THINGS happen.

So if you've been wondering why little blogging has been happening, this is why.
If you've noticed the crickets chirping on my Facebook author page, this is why.

If you want to know what kinds of things I've actually been busy doing, visit the Blank Spaces website. I promise I haven't been lazy {when it comes to other endeavours}.

If you want to know how to encourage me you could:


     a.) send me a care package of dark chocolate and/or really good coffee
     b.) leave a friendly 'you got this girl ' comment below
     c.) pre-order a copy of The Church in the Wildwood
     d.) book me a week in an adorable cottage on a secluded, pretty lake
     e.) all of the above

I promise I'm okay. This is just part of the journey. It will make me stronger in the end.



*My novel, The Church in the Wildwood is set for release on May 8, 2017!


Powered by Blogger.