This photograph my mother took symbolizes my mood from over the last few days. If your life right now could be captured on a playground, what would we see? You swinging high or thudding to the ground on the teeter-totter? Dangling from the monkey bars? Zipping down the slide? Bawling over a skinned knee? Playing tag with the other kids? Sitting under a tree with a book? What do you think?
For a while now I’ve been dragging out stories from the past to wrap them around some writing idea. Recently I’ve begun to wonder, however, if I’m not too stuck back there, feelings that should be over and done still right under the surface. What’s it mean to be over something anyway?
Should writing be therapy? How can you tell when it is and when it isn’t?
I plan to keep the adventure stories over on facebook, but this image captured the mood of my creativity these days. And I don’t know what is going to happen next.
I read this article about memoirs and several comments there have stuck with me. And so…
This is just to say I have finished the stories that were in my head and which you were probably reading for entertainment. Sorry. They were fun. So good for me. And so draining.
I wait until the house is empty because I don’t want anyone to hear what I’m going to say. I sit at the dining room table and open the address book to the letter A. It takes me a few minutes to dial the first number even though I’ve want to finish the book before my dad gets home.
I don’t recognize the first name, but I ask for it when a voice answers the phone. “This is she,” the woman says.
I tell her my name and realize that she is going to think I am crazy. But I can’t stop myself. “Your name is in my mother’s address book.”
There is a pause. I think about hanging up. It is 1989. There is no caller ID. “Yes, I know your mom,” she says. “How is she?”
“Um…” I say. “Well…”
“Is something wrong?”
It is like I’m listening to my own voice come through the phone. “I didn’t know how else to let people know,” I say. “She. She passed away. Last week.”
I repeat this conversation for every name that answers the phone all the way through Z. Sometimes I know the person I talk to. Many times I do not. Each time I think I’m going to hear what I want to hear even though I don’t know what that is.
When I write fiction, I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I don’t have a message. I never think–Such and such issue is really important to me and I want to explore blahty-blah. When I finish a novel, I flip through the pages and wonder, why did I write this? What was the point? What am I looking for from people?
Do you have to be able to answer these questions to write well?
Change came in a tiny box. I registered for the SAT and somewhere on the paper was a box to order a book of colleges and universities. Sure that I was destined for community college, I got out my lunch money that I hadn’t spent on lunches and ordered a copy.
The massive book arrived and though I told myself it was a waste of time, I spent hours reading about other school in other states, all they required and offered. And how much they cost.
I started circling schools. Dream schools. Cheap schools. And each school I circled was far away. Out of state. Out of the South. I wrote letters asking for applications. And while I either wiled the money out of my dad or from my lunch money, I came to believe that I was going to leave home. I didn’t ask the school guidance counselor or my dad. I showed my acceptance letter to my dad and told him this was where I was going. Indiana. Cheap and far away enough from my Florida town.
“Why can’t you go to PCC?” he asked.
“This is better,” I said, not knowing if this was true. Not wanting to confess that I wanted to leave everything. Clean slate. New me. I’d left my dad once before. I hoped he wouldn’t realize I was doing it again. “If that is what you want, Marta,” he said. “You’ll be very far away.”
I nodded and bit the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling. “But it has the cheapest out-of-state tuition,” I said. “And you did it. You left home to come here. And you were 17 too.”
“You do what you need to do,” he said. “You can always come home if you need to.”
How much experience do you need to be a writer? Do you need to leave home or can you stay in your room? Do you need to experiment, take risks, be wild, to be a writer? Is your own imagination sufficient? Eventually the experience has to stop and you need to sit down and write. And some experiences could kill you. And experience alone won’t put the right words on the page.
What experiences have you missed that could make you a better writer? Or is there any such thing?
I had to post this link. Had to.
We were in the dark. I needed a place to stay for one night and my friend had an extra bed. He was on one side of the room and I was on the other. We were talking. The room had narrow windows, heavy curtains, and a low ceiling. I could tell where he was only by the sound of his voice. We’d been talking for over an hour in that darkness.
There is something about not being able to see…
He asked me a question I didn’t want to answer. I rolled over on my side and looked into the dark center of the room. It was one of those questions you can’t answer without sounding like a slut or a prude. I wanted an answer that will give nothing away, but I’m no Mae West, no Dorothy Parker. “I’m not going to answer that,” I said with an effort to laugh.
He was my best friend. We spent every day together. And he was engaged to a girl several hundred miles away. With every grad school failure I cried on his shoulder. He had amazing moods–dancing wildly in the center of the dance floor to nearly unable to crawl out from under the blankets. “That means no,” he said.
“You think what you want,” I said. The blanket scratched at me and my heart picked up speed. From across the room I can feel him thinking. I tell myself I’m imagining things. Reading too much into things. I was forever doing that.
Then he suggested what I had willed him not to. For a moment I thought of saying yes. Call his bluff or see what would happen. I laughed. “Oh of course not,” I said. “You just stay right over there where you belong and enough with the crazy talk. I’m tired and need some sleep.”
“Marta,” he said.
I rolled over to face the wall. “I know. I know you’re kidding. Honestly, you’re a nut sometimes.”
“Good night, Marta,” he said.
“Good night, ________,” I said, wondering if I’d said the right thing.
I have a hard time believing what people say to me about my work. Are they just being polite? Are they kidding? No. They’re honest. Why would they make that up? But maybe I want it to be true. Maybe they’re wrong. Why couldn’t they be right? Maybe I’m thinking too much of myself. Surely they are being nice. Nobody wants to say bad things to anyone. They like me. They think I’m crazy. I’m being overdramatic. I’m not crazy. But maybe I’m in denial about being crazy. I want them to like me. Maybe I should nod my head and go with whatever they say. Accept it. I can’t think straight. God, I can’t write.
Putting your work out into the world is so much exposure. And who wants to see this side of my brain? Some you have said that you don’t mind sharing or that you even like to. I know people who can’t wait to wave their manuscript at you and get an opinion. Some people don’t care what other people think. It must be nice to be them.
But then in spite of feeling panic, exposure, and uncertainty, I hand my work out anyway. Except to my husband. I told him once he could read my novel and then I had to take it back. I couldn’t handle the panic attacks.
What, if anything, scares you about writing? What makes you doubt yourself? What do people say that you can’t quite believe? How do you deal with doubt?
The possibilities are endless. Right?
1. A young woman, an aspiring writer, goes to her friend’s wedding. She has a nice time. She goes home.
2. A young woman, an aspiring writer, goes to her friend’s wedding. She gets drunk, makes a pass at a groomsman and is rebuffed. She goes home and cries herself to sleep.
3. A young woman, an aspiring writer, goes to her friend’s wedding. She gets drunk with the groomsmen. She stumbles out into the hotel hallway with one and they kiss. A group of people get off the elevator and they stop. She says goodbye. She leaves. He promises to call, but of course, he doesn’t.
4. A young woman, an aspiring writer, goes to her friend’s wedding and gets drunk with the groomsmen. One groomsman convinces her to go look for some other friends and she wanders the hotel hallways with him until they get tired and sit on the floor where they pass out. In the morning they are teased endlessly by their friends.
5. A young woman, an aspiring writer, goes to her friend’s wedding and gets drunk. She finds herself alone with a groomsman in the hotel hallway where they kiss. A lot. They go downstairs and ask for a room. When they are told a dental convention has taken all the other rooms, they lean against each other and laugh. They go to the bar, get coffee, and talk all night. After the day they never see each other again.
6. A young woman, an aspiring writer, goes to her friend’s wedding. Drunk, she keeps dancing with a groomsman until they have left the reception and kiss in the hotel hallway. They try to get a room but the rooms are filled with wedding and dental convention guests. They laugh and stumble into the parking lot. He suggests they find his car but he doesn’t have his keys. They go to the Denny’s across the road and share secrets all night. They never see each other again.
7. A young woman, an aspiring writer, gets drunk at her friend’s wedding. She dances as long as she can and then leaves with a groomsman. They kiss on the hallway floor and in the stairwell. There are no rooms available. They go to the parking lot where they dance between the cars and kiss again, but they can’t get in his car. He doesn’t have the keys. They give up and go to the room she is sharing with another friend. The two of them fall on the bed, and she with her head on his shoulder falls asleep. He strokes her hair. They never see each other again.
How do you know when a story is true? I don’t mean–it really happened that way. You may know well a story is fiction, but it rings true in your head or your heart or your gut. Wherever it is you feel such things.
One of the above stories may be true. Which one feels that way to you and why? Or perhaps they all fall flat. Why then are they unbelievable?
“That’s not the name I wanted,” my mom told me. “We fought about it. Your father won.”
They were either going to name me after her and my father’s mother or after my dad and my mother’s mother. My dad wanted the former–Marta Irina. My mother the latter–Lara Margaret.
“If you’d been called Lara, it would be more like your own name instead having sharing someone else’s. You ought to have a name that belongs to you.”
But I can’t imagine being a Lara Margaret. Who would I be then?
My parents ended their disastrous marriage in 1972. I’ve never asked dad how he felt about choosing to call me by the mother’s name. He refuses to talk about her. He can tell the entire story of my birth and not mention her. And yet every time he speaks to me he must use her name.
Once my step-mother tried to change my name.
Choosing a character’s name is important. A way of life, a world is in your characters’ names. How do you decide on names?
What about your own name? Would you use a pen name? Have you ever changed your name? What does your name say about you? Would you be a different writer with a different name?