Thoughts and provocation: March 1, 2013.

Writing is a very personal thing.  And because of that, it is ironic that most writer’s attempt to publish.  To sit down and pour your heart and soul into a piece and then risk the utter pain associated with being cast off, cast aside, told you are not good enough, is devastating some times.  Unless you learn to take criticism as a tool for improvement.  There are some people I know who, after countless writing classes, and many short stories, cannot take any negative criticism, even if laced expertly with constructive comments (i.e. constructive criticism).

Writing classes teach us to not take everything said about our written work as a personal attack, because the writing itself is a life form.  It holds the energy we poured into it.  It can speak for itself, come alive on the page and in our imagination.  Words are coy and shy, subtle and secretive, or blatant and boisterous.  When we critique it is to improve on the craft, to improve the work, to improve the process, to improve the outcome, not to bash the author.  Or even the subject.  There is a fine line between critiquing the process, the way we get from point A to point B, and then completely disregarding what a person wants to write about.  You can have opinions about whether they will have any success in translating subject to story form or memoir form or poetry form, but one should not critique the heart of the piece.  I must say, it has been rather humorous to see how some of my younger counter-parts address this particular fine line in class.  Which is to say that they are not kind.  Nor particularly helpful.

It is amazing (and yes, I realize that is a very abstract word) what energy can create inspiration in you.  Coming to a conclusion and feeling the relief associated with it, keeping you buzzing for days on end.  The spark of new versus the monotony of old.  The hope for the future versus the daunting depression associated with the past.  Or simply the decision that you will be happy, no matter what, because to let yourself completely fall into unhappiness and sadness and worry is the quickest way to ending any possibility for something else, something other, something bigger, and above all, something better.

Life is our best teacher.  Experience can bring something fresh, new, innovative, and something wholly unique to any piece of writing.  We all possess similar stories, with similar themes, but like a snowflake, no two experiences are the same (despite what déjà vu tells us).  How conflict arises, how our protagonist handles the situation, what climax brings about resolution, or if there is any resolution.  Life is the same way.  It is ironic and wonderful that we use writing (and movies, music, and games) to escape from the perils of life, because these things echo what we experience.  Though sometimes in hyperbole.  Even science fiction or fantasy novels discuss very common, though very genuine and complex ideas, like love, liberty, happiness, and progress.  Though I am writer, and I would love my work read (which is to say, to have someone remain motionless or indoors), I cannot advocate fully enough the need to go out and live.  Some of the most memorable and best times in my mere 26 years involve going and doing, not sitting and waiting.  At times it was exhausting, and I would drag myself home and literally crawl on hands and knees to a bed, but what I received from those experiences far outweigh the physical stress.  To look at it metaphorically, the scales between physical and emotional rewards, the emotional outweighed, and therefore justified, the physical.  (Now, please understand this is not an advocacy to do something wholly stupid like get yourself addicted to heroin or methamphetamine, but to encourage those people sitting on their couch to get up, open the door, and step into the world.)

It is easy to preach about these things.  It is easy to stand on a soapbox and wax on about the need to live.  It is also somewhat awkward coming from someone as young as I am.  Even though financial burdens do weigh heavy on possibilities (unless you are well accustomed to the gypsy lifestyle) do not let them control every decision.  I know I did for years.  Until I found myself in a place where I literally did not have a single cent to my name and it provoked me to take any job I could find.  Even though that job was not enough for the bills (even as an adult living temporarily at home), it was worth the months of experience.  Not everyone will have that luxury, I understand.  But I do have one important argument: where there is a will, there is a way.  I, of all people, know the difficulty of the job search.  I was without work for over a year.  And when I finally found something, it was an unpaid internship, but it opened doors, pushed my boundaries, and taught me valuable lessons.  And then when I finally did get a job that paid, it was well below the minimum needed to survive without the generosity from my parents.  But the lessons I learned from this experience are invaluable.  They have propelled me to put myself in different situations and come out with something.  Maybe not the highly coveted or desired outcome, but one that acts as a stepping stone, or a starting off point.  And maybe that is a lesson in itself.  When we aim for a goal, it is rare to reach it immediately.

Random Thoughts on February 23, 2013.

I dislike that when I have a job, my writing goes to shit.  Luckily I am taking a writing class, which forces me to practice, but if I did not have that constant push each week, I am not sure I would write nearly as much.  And, to me, that is unacceptable.  The problem still is, though, that I would not write if there was not a reason to write.  Not because I don’t have ideas, not because I don’t like it, but because at the end of the day I am typically so exhausted that my brain feels like a big, heaping pile of oatmeal.  There are some days with this class that when I attempt to write a scene (and believe me, it is reflected in my “grades”) and I sit and stare at the screen for what seems like hours without producing something.  Or I’ll start six or seven different possibilities and stall, miserably, in the middle of them.  Though I love fiction (to read), I am not sure fiction writing is for me.  Non-fiction, however, suits me well.  I like all non-fiction, ranging from memoir to (gasp, shock and awe!) textbooks.  That’s right people, I enjoy reading something as dry and non-imaginative as a textbook.  For example, I kept some of my academic books from undergrad and they sit on my bookshelf.  I was an English major, so of course there are fiction books (more Virginia Woolf than I would care to ever reread), but I also kept some of my general education class books.  Knowledge is sexy, people.  Big, beautiful brains outweigh brawn in my opinion.  Intelligent conversations with someone are far more stimulating than to sit and drool over someones six-pack or hair or whatever (I know, strong way to end that statement).

I am sitting on my couch, cat pajamas still on (yes, its middle morning, but I’ve been up since six this morning getting stuff done), massive mug of coffee (from my infamous Iowa Hawkeyes mug, which I think is actually a soup bowl), dog at my feet, and cat curled up on the sofa leaning her butt against my neck (she is a built-in headrest).  Music is coming out of my iHome (I know, fancy, right?), and I feel very content.  Though content implies a deeper serene with everything in your life.  I am not that content.  I wish I was in a bigger place (though I am on my way to procuring that), I wish I was in a different place (i.e. geographical location, like Portland, OR), and I wish I had… I don’t even know how to articulate what I wish I had.  The best I can think of is “calm” — not constantly wishing for something, not hoping to find something, I wish I had that settled feeling, not this restless, listless nagging in my gut about everything.  Should I stay in Iowa?  Should I move to Portland?  I have something good going with school, but does that outweigh what I could have in another part of the country?  Can I stand three to four more years here when every time I drive to class I go past the place Jonathan proposed and still feel this twinge of …hurt, pain, anger, sadness, guilt, self-flagellation.  It’s been almost two years since we broke up, and I can safely say that I know it was for the best and that I think we are both on positive paths for our own lives, and it’s sad that after five years together we realized that our lives are separate, but I cannot say that it wasn’t the right thing to do (which is to say that our break up was the right thing).  And I always feel guilty saying that, because I know if I was in Jonathan’s shoes, it would feel like a slap in the face.  Or at least that is how I would feel, not saying that’s how he does feel.  However, I look at my dog, my cat, and my apartment, and think, “I would have none of these things, my life would be so much different, I would not be pursuing my goals,” if we had remained together.  And even more, I am not sure I would have discovered those wants or fulfilled those desires.  I was living in a shell, and it fractured, and now I am learning how to walk, opening my eyes to the brilliant sun, and ready to try to fly.  (Wow, okay, over dramatic metaphor aside, I am just hoping to find my path.)

To jump from thought to thought, in my writing class we do these in-class writings with prompts and every time someone shares what they’ve written I always make notes and typically one of the notes I write in the margins of my own in-class writing is “clichéd,” or “over-dramatic,” or “too sappy,” and even one time I wrote, “you think that’s what love is?!?”  (Yes, even with the question mark, exclamation point, question mark punctuation.)  I feel like I am in the depths of lost love and I really don’t even want to claw myself out.  I was somewhat romantic, asking to find a Darcy to my Elizabeth, but as time passes I feel like it is bullshit idea.  There is romance in small things, like someone bringing you a coffee when you have to work early, or letting you have half of a carrot cake pastry, or giving you eighty-five cents to eat a bag of Doritos when you feel like your stomach might eat itself, and those gestures are wonderful, but when I see people get all worked up over things like Valentine’s Day it makes me gag.  I was never one to truly get into that holiday to begin with (even when I had a fiance and thought he was the end all, be all), but the idea of going all gooey eyed over a box of chocolates makes me question a lot of relationships.  A better present would be a sheet of paper that says, “Hey, I love you.  And to help you out, I will walk the dog, do the dishes, and make the bed for a week.  Boom.”  Partnership, camaraderie, and mutual respect means far more than a heart-shaped balloon and chocolate to me.  Though chocolate can go a long way when you are PMS-ing on that day.  Just saying.

I feel like life has jaded me.  There are certain things and beliefs and ideals that I had as recently as three years ago that are gone.  They disintegrated as my life kind of fell apart.  It’s grand to believe that you can find love, and absolutely an attainable idea, and emotion, but I think I have shut myself down so much that I am finding it more difficult to come out of that hole.  Every once in a while I will get that rush of emotion, but I have become so self-contained that I am not sure I can support it for any length of time.  Bottom line, truth of the matter, any other cliché associated with this subject: I am scared.  It’s such a typical response, but it’s the truth.  There is time the fear is paralyzing.  Everyone always comments that I am strong person, but all I feel like is a quivering lump of anxiety and fear.  Like negative reinforcement, it always seems that when I begin to get attached, when I begin to let the wall down, something happens that devastates me.  Even if I never let on.  Even if I don’t show it.  Even if I remain silent or say everything is okay.  And the sad part is that is becoming exhausting.  To hold that shield up takes some effort, but it is just as exhausting when you let the shield down and get volleyed by different emotional arrows.  (If you can’t tell, I’ve had a week of I don’t even know what.)

I’ll leave you with those thoughts.  Right now a pile of laundry the size of Mt. Kilimanjaro is requesting my attention.  Along with Chewbacca and Auri.  And more coffee.  And a myriad of other things that I haven’t gotten done (even though it feels like I have worked, and in fact have worked, for hours).

The fatal flaw.

I have discovered the fatal flaw in my plan re: going back to school.  It’s the paper writing.  It’s as if my mind has completely wiped the how-to knowledge.  I wrote an outline yesterday, and was, I hope, fairly successful in adding what I needed, cutting off extraneous thought, mixing idea with fact, have the flow of the paper seem natural, it’s just the actual writing the damn paper and filling in those blanks with other words that is befuddling me.  I seriously sat in front of a blank screen for over thirty minutes last night before forcing myself to shut down and “call it quits” because sometimes over thinking a paper is just as detrimental as thinking too little on a paper.  (My mom has an awesome story she likes to tell about that train of thought.)

I am currently trying to warm my brain up (i.e. mental aerobics) by writing this as I play with Chewbacca.  Though his desire to eating his rawhide on my computer is not benefiting anyone, least of all him.  I live in a tuna can and over half the floor space is taken up by cat and dog toys and sleeping spaces.  I just keep thinking I need a bigger place.  A tuna can for one adult can sometimes feel too small.  Try three inhabitants, one of which has a play area full of toys that mysteriously end up sprawled across the apartment, reaching under couches, bookcases, television stands.  You name it, Chewie has probably managed to squeeze a toy there and then whine until it is found.  I also find it humorous that his two favorite toys are Auri’s.  Auri is not too amused, though.  

When things begin making sense…

The saying goes that things happen for a reason.  There is a similar saying that states things happen when meant to, not necessarily when we want them.  I feel like my life for the past two years has been an experiment in these common thoughts.  Hell, probably even longer than that.

I have been meeting with different individuals in the academic world, and in the process explaining my personal academic history.  I graduated in 2008, half-assed attempted to apply to graduate programs knowing full well that the effort I put into the process was half, if not a quarter, of what was needed to fully impress someone, because at the time my goal was to stay with my boyfriend, soon to be fiance, of the time.  In retrospect it is obvious that I blew whatever chances I had at graduate programs because my sole concern was making sure Jonathan and I remained in the same town, in the same place, glued together like I thought relationships should be.  It has taken four years, a rather unconventional job (for a mid-twenty woman), and unknown, but really known, support of family and friends.  I don’t have fear to hinder me, aside from that positive fear that floats in your belly; the kind that you get before making a big move to a different and wholly new place, or the fear that excites you because you are beginning a new relationship and you have no idea what will happen.

My first fledgling steps into academia include applying, getting accepted, and registering for non-degree graduate work.  The longterm plan is to take classes that can aid in applying to the Nonfiction Writing Program at Iowa.  When I was an undergraduate with the University, the course work for those interested in creative fiction and nonfiction was slim.  I was a year or two too early for the advancements they have in place now.  I took full advantage of what they did offer, though, filling my class schedule with fiction and nonfiction writing workshops, as well as taking a multitude of English course work that spoke to my interests.  In the end I found the ability to take criticism like a pro, to give positive criticism (like a pro), and the knack to speak about tough stuff to a wide audience.

My nonfiction teacher was the one who thought I should approach a nonfiction program.  He encouraged me more than any other professor and even tried to hook me up with classes that could aid a potential graduate writing student.  I, of course, was flattered, but did not take full advantage of his kindness, because of the aforementioned naivety.  If I could go back and kick 21 year old me in the butt, boy would I ever.  But, I must live in the present to make sure I have a future I want.

This morning I had a meeting with an individual from the NWP at Iowa.  I came away from the meeting with this energy, these positive vibrations.  When I was 21, I would have been too afraid to set up a meeting with anyone, I would have gone in acting nonchalant (and therefore, I assume, appearing very disrespectful), with no questions ready, no thought to what I actually wanted or how to get that, and probably would have come across like just another undergrad going through the motions.  Life and experience have proven a wise teacher.  You can be book smart, educated and well versed in what the latest academic journal says, but there is no single greater instructor than experience.  Something that was wonderfully confirmed this morning.  That’s not to say what I did at 21 was right, but it definitely help proves the theory that things happen when they’re meant to, not when we want them.

I have a great support system of family and friends to push me through the insecurities, along with lessons learned from my job with Public Outreach.  Always an extremely nervous and shy girl, the ability to walk up to anyone on the street and start talking to them was an important lesson.  When fear about your next paycheck, how you will pay your next bill, where you will get your next meal pushes you forward, you can accomplish anything.  There are no barriers unless they are the barriers you create yourself.  This learned (or maybe nurtured) ability has given me the confidence to reach out to people I would have, at 21, shied away from.  Canvassing, my job with Public Outreach, also coached me on how to communicate points effectively.  A skill learned in my undergraduate work, but refined, highly refined, as a canvasser.  Talk, get to know the person you are across from, standing next to, or sitting with, mention your goal or objective, but do so in a relatable way.  Don’t go straight to the point outside of letting this person know upfront there is motive, but it’s not as important as talking with them, getting to know them, listening to their likes, dislikes, and finding ways to relate your message to them in a way they would understand.  These benefits may be diagramed, but there is no better educator than going out and performing them.

Also, learn to pick your battles.  Completely unrelated to my future hopes with the NWP, but a valuable lesson nonetheless.

It has felt like my life has been one large jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing and gaping holes obscuring the finished picture.  Don’t get me wrong, the picture is still incomplete, but that one area I was stuck on because everything smeared and I wasn’t sure where the delineation was, is getting better.  I am starting to see the fine lines and put the puzzle pieces into spots.  It’s helping form the larger picture, not necessarily complete it.

Be the change.

 

I think I am at a crossroads.  I need to make some decisions and I truly do not know if I can swallow my fear and take the leap I believe is right.  I want to go back to school.  I desperately wish it.  I want to study public policy or women’s rights, try to combine these interests with my writing.  It’s hard to imagine what I want to do in life because aside from living by my pen, nothing sounds appealing.  But, despite writing and trying to keep up sufficient practice in that art, there are some days where I drop like a dead weight from all the physical and emotional stresses of the day.  I have a paycheck, and it’s easy to succumb to comfort, giving in to the knowledge that I will have another paycheck, and another, and another… what will it take to break me from that pattern, and take a step towards creating something new and better for myself.

I have never been good at climbing out of the ditch, so to speak.  I get stuck in a rut and even though I know I have to move forward, anxiety, fear, and stress all consume me until they paralyze me and I stay repeating over and over the actions that made me unhappy.  It’s always inevitable that something happens to tear me from the cycle, and it is usually something life altering and scarring.  I just wish it wouldn’t get to that point.  And believe me, I know I have the power to change it or create the change that needs to happen.  But there is something inside me that gets tongue-tied and immobilized by fear.  And now, this instant, what stops me from moving forward is the lack of confidence in myself.  I worry that I don’t have what it takes to get a certain job, to apply and get into a graduate program, or to even pack up and move.  I have a life, though I can admit that there are parts I wish were drastically different, but it’s a life, it’s something, it’s independent.  I truly don’t believe that is enough to sustain me mentally, intellectually, and emotionally anymore, though.  I need a challenge, I need to grow, I need to continue towards certain goals.  I feel like I have stalled in my progress.

The ultimate goal for me still lies in Portland.  It’s one of the few places, like Chicago, that has called to me as a place to live, to settle, to start a life.  Everywhere else seems like passing glances.  I need to make sure, though, that once I am in Portland that I will have the money to plant those roots and the wherewithal to get a job or start a business to help water those roots and help them blossom into something truly wonderful.  Despite knowing that is what I want, the road feels like it is getting longer and longer until I reach my destination.  And without a doubt, it is the most frustrating thing in my life now.

They say, whoever they are, and I agree, that good habits are hard to come by, and bad ones are hard to break.  We are naturally inclined to do what is easy, and what is easy is not always right.  It is also said that the things in life worth having do not come easy, that we must work to achieve our goals, which will then make the outcome that much more satisfying when we finally accomplish what we set out to do.  These lessons are important.  The tutelage of time and life experience are priceless assets when growing as an individual.  Every time you fall, you should do everything in your power to stand back up, and keep trudging on.  There are so many things worth moving towards.  It is important to keep that at the heart of every action you do.  I know I sometimes forget, I sometimes let negative emotion carry too much weight, and I know I have let fear lead me on occasion, and it is usually those occasions that have cost me dearly emotionally.

I just have to remind myself to dig, take deep breaths, and to never stop moving forward, no matter how comfortable I might feel in the present, and no matter how scared I am to take a step into the unknown.  I think daily affirmations are a spectacular idea, and I wish I said mine with more conviction than what I feel.  I just need to remember that strength cannot come from anywhere but from within, and it is I who has to take the first step towards my future, not someone else.  I can make opportunities, I can embody the change I want to see, and I shouldn’t sit and wait for the few and far between moments.

Who is you?

I was re-reading some posts of mine and realized that none of you know who “you” is.  There are times when I leave messages to those I know read this blog, and therefore will write some cryptic message like, “Thank you – you know who you are – for doing…”.  But then I started to think, what if YOU doesn’t know who YOU is.  What if YOU think it’s HIM, but really it’s HER or maybe even YOU, but you’re too busy thinking that it can’t be YOU and really, really, really think it’s HIM.  I try to make it obvious, but there have been moments when I know YOU didn’t know it was YOU because you pretty much said so when you talked to me, making me believe you thought it was HER or HIM.

Pronouns are tricky.  But, I don’t always want to say who it is.  There are secrets in my life still, things I hold close to my heart.  I know I share quite a bit on here.  I wrote out the heartbreaking experience of ending a five year relationship, an engagement, on this blog, and did so without much care in the world, because quite honestly, it was the only thing that made me feel semi-sane.  I know he reads this blog, or he said as much when we last discussed it.  And I know it has to pain him to see the realizations that I come to.  I imagine it hurts him just as much as it hurts me to realize things long buried, things I would rather not admit to, things that define me as a person, and a not-so-good one at that.  But in those moments of self-realization I have made leaps and bounds in discovering who I am and what I hope to become.  And because of that, I thank you for putting up with my biographical rantings and awakenings, even when I am sure they pain you to read.  And this time, I hope I have made it clear who “YOU” is.

Though it seems like I am writing freely for the world to read my most inner thoughts, there are still things I keep close to my heart.  Things I refuse to share.  These are the things that give me light in the darkness.  That soft glow that I keep tending, so it will roar to life.  To quote a video-game, “Hope is what gives us strength.”  Fragile at first, brittle and weak, it can grow to be a beacon in the darkest times.  2011 was a dark year.  It saw the end of a cherished relationship, the death of two very important people, work troubles, a cross country move, and a variety of other negatives.  But it also brought the desire to be happy, the hope that I can be, with myself and the life I chose, and the chance to become self-sufficient and follow dreams to fruition.  I once asked how much do you give of yourself in a relationship?  I gave so much of myself that I didn’t even know who I was when I looked in the mirror.  I was, for all definitions, Jonathan’s fiance, to everyone we knew in Davis.  Though it was not noticed by Jonathan, I was all too aware of the fact that many introduced me as, “Jonathan’s fiance, Stephanie…” leading with his name, and a title solely glued to him.  Though I cherish my memories with him, and I hold them close to my heart, I cannot lie and say that I am relieved to have the chance to find out about myself and define myself on my terms.  I am Stephanie.  I may stand alone in that, but there is a freedom, a strength, found in truly discovering who you are and what you are.  I hold on to that, and that is why I am thanking 2011.  Through trials, tribulations, deaths, and romances ending, this year has been a great teacher in self (thought, action, definition, and discovery).

I hope YOU have a better understanding of who YOU is when I write to YOU.  There are times when it is to YOU, but it can also be to HER or HIM or any number of pronouns and to any number of people who have impacted my life and touched me, taught me, or loved me.  Or who I love.  And also realize, there are things that this blogosphere will not know.  Secrets that I hold close to me, that light the path when I look around and see darkness.  To the numerous YOUs out there, know YOU are part of that warming glow.

An avalanche.

Have you ever had moments in life that stick with you.  When you pull up the memory, you even have sensory recollection?  The smell, the taste, the temperature, even, how warm you felt, flushed and blushing versus the sun pouring down on you, even the beats per minute that your heart hammers out.  There are instances where you know something profound and life altering has happened, albeit small, but you aren’t sure how it will change you, why it is changing you, and when it will come to fruition, but you know, somewhere deep within, that moment was the moment, the tripwire, the beginning of an oftentimes difficult, but ultimately rewarding, journey.

The last couple months have left me contemplating such moments.  Discussions, glances, smiles; a vast array of fleeting images that I know stacked up to become the burgeoning life changes assaulting me now.  (Pardon my use of the term “assault,” as it implies some type of violent act, but it’s the best thing I can think of to say; life is bombarding me with choices and decisions and although they do not carry threat, the swiftness to which they come to my door is somewhat unnerving.)  I have goals, ones that I feel confident in for the first time in years.  They inspire me to keep going when the going gets tough (oh, sweet clichés).  I can picture my desired future and know that one more whispered insult is something I can take, because those end goals are more important than words bullies use.  And I feel, maybe for the first time since Jonathan and I broke up, the hope for a real future.  It makes me nervous to think about, genuine fear blossoming, but it’s that good kind of fear, like that good kind of burn after a work out, the ache that goes deep but you know it’s worth it.

I truly believe there are small blessings in difficult situations.  Recently my friend broke up from her fiancé, just as I had with Jonathan, but not for the same reasons.  In an effort to move forward and not become ensnared in the what if’s, the could be’s, and what were’s, she has taken to seeing the silver lining in situations,  great and small.  Whenever her situation challenges her, she picks the things that will make her happy and tries to focus on those and not sink in the tide of depression that ultimately comes with these situations.  I commend her for this, because I was definitely not as strong.  I tried to take my pain and deal with it one day at a time, but in the end found myself staring into the neck of a beer bottle or looking at my reflection in the pool of Grey Goose in a martini glass.  We all deal with defeat and hurt in different ways, but I can honestly say that had I not had these experiences, I wonder where, and who, I would be.  Is this an overarching silver lining?  Is this one of the plethora of lessons that come from these moments?

It hurts that we broke up, but at least we weren’t married yet, and there were no kids.  He seems so much happier in California than he ever was in Iowa, and that’s a blessing.  Just like I have opportunities in front of me that I would have otherwise lacked.  I can see friends again, be with family, enjoy those small moments of walking in Chicago with K, getting coffee with Mom, eating with my twin, and seeing my sister and joking about the most random things.  And then there are even more personal blessings.  Ones that I want to keep to myself.  That make me glow with happiness.  And those are the moments I have contemplated.  A small stone can create a large avalanche.  An image typically about impending doom, something crushing and destructive.  But I am spinning it positively.  A small thing that can change the tide, a small moment that can alter a life, a small instant that create something new and powerful.  And I can’t stop grinning thinking about it.  I am settling into something new, a life that is mine, with my own choices, my own moments, and most importantly, my happiness.