Archive for the ‘community’ Category

You’re A Writer

December 26, 2012

You’re a writer, Jonatha said, as if I had asked.  Although maybe I had, not directly, but with that sappy ass look I had been displaying every day since we arrived.  Do you like me, the look asked, as if that’s what’s I was here for to begin with.

Esalen.  A summer camp for adults.  Complete with the ice cold glasses of milk poured from white plastic utters of stand alone fridge at the side of the dining hall.

There’s a darkness around you, she said.  I feel bad for you, but it’s good for your writing.  And then she was gone leaving me standing next to a toasting machine in constant motion as if waiting for someone to feed it a slice.

There had been lots of lonely that week.  Those pacific coast cliffs carving out endless space around me, tearing up the edge of the ocean and raising up into the night holding up that endless matt of stars.  My mouth gaping open that first night, head cracked back, like I could catch one in my mouth as it fell, splattering bright marks across the sky.

I talked to everyone but got to know no one.  Except Sam. I had wanted to braid my hair with hers the instant she spoke up in our group.  I’m throw up in my boot nervous, she had said by way of introduction.

We sat in that fish bowl of a room, all twenty-seven of us.  One set of windows pointing out onto the ocean, the other up into a small sharp shooter poking lodger set in the hills. It wasn’t unusual to walk into a room like this one in the evening and find a figure communing with the dark.

I had driven up with a thin gray-haired woman, small and stylish, with a fresh flower set in her tightly wound bun.  The car had no AC and she did not give a damn.  I was late meeting her and so was the other woman who drove up with us, a cafe owner.  The fourth woman was just married and enthusiastically signed up for courses, first this one and then one at the French Culinary Institute of New York.

When we arrived on the campus our driver unpacked the trunk and told us all to have a good week, even though we were bound to meet each other again on the expansive sun covered deck where everyone from all classes would meet for lunch, to drink garden herbed water from palm sized glasses with salads of lettuce and figs grown on the grounds.

It was that kind of lunch that made me hungry.  Drew me to that late night snack table to begin with.  Something feeling scratchy and unsatisfied, yearning for comforting foods, pasta, pizza, things that get at the surface level of hunger but never underneath.

So I had walked into the dark dining room late at night, through which one would pass on their way to the moonlight sulfur baths set on the side of the mountain.  I had skulked around that snack table and slathered some peanut butter on whole grain bread with a mini-spatula made to pull alternative butter out of buckets when Jonatha had arrived to do the same.  She in her Emily doll like outfit, her black rimmed glasses, her dark banks heavy across her forehead.

I’m sorry, I think I said, before she left.  Feeling like I must have been a burden to them, the real writers, who I loomed around, in hopes that I could lap up the edges of their confidence by sitting next to them in the heated pools.

Trust me, I’m not wrong about these things, she had said over her shoulder. On the last day of our workshop she left in the morning.  Something about a cat who would need an appointment on the same day when we would sit together on the floor on those oversized pillows and say our thanks to each other, and our goodbyes.


Write Like The Wind

November 5, 2012

Heads up everyone,  it’s Nanowrimo!  That’s short for National Novel Writing Month, for those of us who haven’t already taken the 50,000 word challenge. And for those of us who have, let’s everyone have another go this year.

The call for professional writers to commit to finishing a draft of their novel in thirty days started over ten years ago with a mere 140 people.  In 2011 over a quarter of a million people participated in the event.  But not everyone ends up a winner.

In order to win you must log into the NaNo website and make yourself a username and password.  Use NaNo’s super fun word counter to keep a running tally of your progress throughout the month. That’s 1,666 words every day to you, Mr.

Getting stuck?  Try out the community forums and talk with other members who are well on their way.  Ask them anything from character tips to plotting techniques or just get some extra support if you are falling behind.

Even NaNo knows that a draft is only the beginning.  Don’t just send that sucker out with a agent query until at least the start of 2013.  And if you spend December congratulating yourself for finishing a draft, you may have to wait just a little bit longer.

I had a stand off with a man who came to the library and not for the books

September 7, 2012

First I found out how easy it is to reserve a book. Just enter the name of the book you’re looking into a form field on the internet and click to hold the book at the library closest to you. The all you have to do is go to that library and head on down to the hold section and the book is waiting there for you. With your name on it. This is a regularly scheduled public service announcement.

Then I was reminded that there are not just books at the library, oh no.  You’ve also got access to you lastest magazines  wrapped up in plastic covers and red bindings out on display, like in the subway station, only you can look inside. I picked up whatever latest dish there was on Suri and Kate and trekked it along with me into the philosophy room just for a little peak before I started writing. Did she sign a contract to keep quiet about scientology in exchange for a quick and easy divorce?  We may never know.

Finally, it was nice to learn that the library is up date, technology wise.  Can I plug in somewhere, asks a woman standing at the info desk with a laptop and an ETHERNET cable coming from the side. No, you have to use the air, says the man behind the desk, giving a little wave with his hand around his head to demonstrate.  Ok, it’s a little spotty, but who needs the internet when you’re surrounded by knowledge already!

But just as I was getting comfortable downstairs in the fiction section, sitting on some cozy cushioned chairs I found over by the circulation desk, a guy sat down across from me. Or not across from me, rather, but across from the girl that was sitting next to me, also in one of the six cozy living room like chairs. And when he did, he started to moan like there was something down his pants and he liked it.

My neighbor seemed to disagree. Did you hear what was going on, I asked him, after the man got up and left. The man shifted in his seat and seemed like he wished I would go away. Because I wasn’t sure what to think about what was going on, I said. So I was wondering what you heard.

He was talking to himself, my neighbor said, and he shrugged.

Like, no big deal. The moaning didn’t really distract him like it distracted me. For me, I started feeling gross at the bottom of my stomach like I needed to find a new room. When I got up to leave, the moaner got up too, and gave a little laugh like he had won.

Listen. I went back! Because when you need inspiration, and not the kind that involves a sinking feeling in your gut, they’ve got shelves and shelves of the stuff. On one break I picked up Eckhart Tolle’s, A New Earth, from the shelves and found the perfect quote to start a post on my addiction to knowing the future before it’s arrived:

But also because the library is a place I can go to hear myself think.  And for someone who likes to listen more to what people say about me than what I think about myself this is a gem of a situation.  So much so that I’m not going to let a little moaning get in my way.

Here’s the quote for those of you who can’t wait for after the weekend.  The gist of the story will be something like how I started reading Susan Miller one day and ended up as one of the people who would justify your crazy stories by telling you that’s just what someone with your rising sign would do.  That’s right naughty Scorpios, I’m talking to you.

Gnothi Seauton—Know Thyself.

These words were inscribed above the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi, site of the sacred Oracle. In ancient Greece, people would visit the Oracle hoping to find out what destiny had in store for them or what course of action to take in a particular situation. It is likely that most visitors read those words as they entered the building without realizing that they pointed to a deeper truth than anything the Oracle could possibly tell them. They may not have realized either that, no matter how great a revelation or how accurate the information they received, it would ultimately prove to be of no avail, would not save them from further unhappiness and self-created suffering, if they failed to find the truth that is concealed in that injunction—Know Thyself.

Did you make it to the end of these five paragraphs or more?  I’m dying to know.  Leave me a note to say hi, or tell me the NYPL you like to visit best.

Stay Friends, Critique Well

October 12, 2011

It’s not every day that a friend trusts you enough to send you some of their writing for review.  If you’ve been put in this privileged position, congratulations – you’ve earned a deep level of trust.  Now don’t mess it up!

On first read you’ll most likely get distracted by where your thoughts and feelings are different than the thoughts and feelings of the author.  Keep those to yourself. Now, read through a second time to find the parts where there’s a dissipation of difference – where they made a connection with you – and highlight those parts instead. The challenge for the writer is admitting where she’s just like everyone else.

When you start your critique, note the greatest strength first.  You’ll want to tell the writer that you see their creative voice so that they trust you when you tell them what’s not working – in the next step.  But we’re not just buttering up – we use what we’re good at to compensate for what we struggle with the most.

Next up, be specific about when are where you felt confused when you were reading. Pull out a part, extrapolate for the writer and see if you’re right.  The writer will have to refine in order to say what they really mean, even if they slay you with curses under their breath a few times first.

If you think the work needs restructuring, ask questions that will help the writer rethink how they’ve presented material – instead of suggesting specific structural changes.  Unless the writer has asked for specific structural changes that is.  If that’s the case suggest a few possible ways of approaching the structure instead of explaining what you would do.

Your written response is only your first step.  Your writer  will likely not want to make the changes you suggest, especially if you’re right on.  Offer to read the next version and follow-up till you get the next draft.

Now you’re friends for life.

Warning, Fiction tk

October 7, 2011

I started fiveparagraphs so that I could publish an idea every day. It turns out that it’s hard to do writing when you don’t know exactly what you’re writing about. You spend lots of time reading other people’s blogs about writing and do little writing of your own.

At some point I will transition the writing here to fiction writing. But I’ll keep writing about the craft of writing. And the craft of making things in general – like great installation based performance work.

There are lots of blogs dedicated to the craft of making things though. So in order to offer something different,  I’ll write about the cast of characters that sometimes speak up if I wake up early in the morning.  When they are unhappy I’ll try to quell their fears, put them at ease on the page and deliver them to you.

I’ll also read or listen to a piece of fiction, a poem and an essay every day; as prescribed by Ray Bradbury. Live in the library, he says. And also: if you complain about how hard it is to write, than do something else.

If you stay with me, I’ll be happy. If I lose you, I understand.  But when you’re still here I’m looking to know, with each post whether you think:

Good for you, who cares, save it for therapy?
Fun, thanks, I feel better now and not in a misery loves company kind of way.

Voting functionality to come.

Today’s Ray:
Playboy Interview: Steven Jobs (1985) From Longform

Audio file of Flannery O’Connor reading A Good Man is Hard to Find

The Journey – By Mary Oliver









Every Day Reads

September 9, 2011

Each morning I open a few browser tabs with sites that I’ll refer to throughout the day.  Just having the tabs open serves as a reminder of my ever changing relationships with work, money and opportunity.  Without each of these sites I’d think differently about myself than I do today and for that I am very grateful.

Penelope Trunk’s blog contains a wealth of information about career management, life struggles, happiness research and most recently – homeschooling.  Some day I’ll devote all five paragraphs to Penelope because every post is a gem that has dislodged a new paralysis inducing mind-block.  Rationally minded fuel for a barrage of comments that are as enlightening as the original posts.

Learn about how to come back after bottoming out from a man who cooks crock pot dinners, reuses ziplock bags  and makes friendships that are mutually beneficial.  Longevity and behavior change are themes at The Simple Dollar – a blog about how to have fun being frugal.   Readers write in with detailed life scenarios to get advice on personal finance.

Entrepreneurship has a lot of different facets and most of are covered somewhere in a question or an answer on Quora.  The contributors know a lot about tech start-ups but also are helpful when planning trips, researching job descriptions or discussing the NYtimes paywall.  Treat the format like a micro-blog with writing prompts or comment on other users’ answers to make connections.

All three inspire me to explore myself frequently and with dedication. Even when I don’t agree with a particular idea I admire the evidence of self-interrogation.  Brave work and worthwhile no matter what the cost.

Finding A Teacher

August 23, 2011

One meditation practice is to imagine a person who you respect sitting in front of you, ready, available and waiting: a teacher.

When I’ve practiced this meditation I’ve tried to imagine different teachers in my mind at different times, depending on what’s challenging me.

Sometimes I’ve thought of entrepreneurs who’s blogging on start-ups seems solid and reliable.  In this case, I usually feel like I’ve missed something in my job that was important and there’s been a negative impact on me or the people I work with.  I try to remember that failure in work is OK and that each time there’s something worth learning from the experience.

Other times I’ve imagined a writer who’s perspective I respect.  Usually during these times I’m stuck thinking that writing is too difficult or too risky and I wonder whether or not the practice is worth pursuing at all.  If thinking of someone successful feels too scary I just think of someone who loves writing to remind me of my purpose.

Often just a friend with a good heart will do the trick. Other people have struggled just like me, so it’s no big deal to remember that there are people who just care, without any requirements.

If you want to know the steps, here they are: First you give the teacher a gift. After the gratitude comes discussion: you tell your teacher the things you’ve done that day that helped or hindered someone else.  Finally you make a commitment to doing something as penance and ask the teacher to stay with you as a reminder of your promise.

There are moments though, when the exact challenge is unclear. And it’s hard to problem solve, or ask for help, when the problem itself seems to be hidden.  The most difficult thing for me to do, in this case, is to leave this spot entirely blank – to know that there’s an absence.

When The Going Gets Rough

August 22, 2011

In September 2009, I was hired as a project manager at a start-up.  The timing was right: I had been unemployed for about six months, and I wanted to get back to a regular paycheck.  Plus, there was my career to attend to.  Enough dilly-dallying I thought: it’s time to get back in the game.

Almost as soon as I arrived though, I noticed that teams had a bad habit: they frequently made promises to their financial backers that they weren’t able to keep. Each month the leads would go to the board and present what they were working on and each month their delivery fell short. The funders were getting frustrated with the teams inability to deliver and the team was anxious to produce something.

As the tension grew, the project began getting more and more convoluted.  The busines party began to focus on their priorities: a product that would certainly make money.  The creative party spent their time working on making something cool that would blow everyone’s minds.  In truth, neither team had a strong solution because a successful product needs to have a little bit of both.

I’m still struggling to understand how to find the balance myself.  When things get particularly stressful I want to just pick one side or the other: either go all creative and be willing to live on the edge, or be all business and be happy without creativity.  I think that it’s probably the tension between the two that keeps us all honest.

As for the start-up, I should have known better.  The project goals were lofty and the track record of success was already spotty before I arrived.  I imagined though, with the right management; they’d have a decent shot at survival.

Words, Words, Words

August 19, 2011

For anyone looking to make a habit out of writing, I’d recommend trying out – created by Buster Benson.

The journaling application and community encourages participants by tracking the number of days you’ve written, sending daily reminder emails and counting the number of words displayed on the page as you write.  Once the day’s writing is complete, supportive messages appear.  With each day that goes by and each word that gets entered, writers get closer to collecting coveted badges that represent different levels of success.

There’s also the opportunity to take on a monthly challenge to write 750words each and every day for thirty days in a row.  When you make your commitment to do so, you sign up with a promise to yourself along with your own self defined stakes.  Each month you complete the challenge, your name goes on the wall of awesome – or on the wall of shame, if you miss your goal.

Buster himself is an expressed self-tracker.  His personal website displays places he’s been in the past eight days, graphs of his emotional and internal life for the past week and the number of posts and updates he’s made since 1999.  And on his blog he writes about his propensity to track all his habits over the course of many months in order to find what kind of behavioral changes improve his life and happiness.

At 750words though, there’s no requirement for people to share their results, although you can make your accomplishments known on twitter.   For writers that do have a public profile – the only bits that are shared are the levels of achievement, common words or phrases used, and some of the statistical results of the writing.  The writing itself is not public in any way – the words are just for you.  There’s also no explicit communication between writers, at least not at the free level of participation.

If you give it a try – see if you can keep going until you’ve completed 30 days in a row and given yourself whatever you committed to when you made the promise to try the challenge.  And be sure you make it something you’ve really wanted for a long time.  The sense of accomplishment will feel real and you’ll get a bald eagle badge to boot.