Tag Archives: Writing about writing

Never “too wordy”

Tink fills pages with words. She explains and expounds and exclaims. Her words are boisterous and vibrant, so eager to tell her stories that I can hear the notebook paper crinkle under the weight of their ink.

“Too wordy” is something Tink’s 5th grade teacher has taken to writing on her school work.

Those words make me angry.

“Too much detail” writes the teacher.

“More detail!” I write on my students’ papers. I want them to tell me their stories. Their stories. Their thoughts. Their ideas. What makes these stories and ideas unique? Their details. I ask for them, beg for them. The details make the writing come alive. “Make your paper crinkle under the wiggling weight of your words,” I want to tell my students.

Tink doesn’t need to be told. She knows how to write. I haven’t taught her. She just feels the story in her bones. She understands how to hook a reader, how to pull you in. She finds just the right word, just the right phrase. She knows that the story is in the details, and she uses them.

It upsets her when her teacher writes, “Too wordy.”

“I don’t understand,” Tink says, “She tells everyone else in the class to use detail, and when I use detail, she says I’m too wordy.”

“She’s wrong,” I tell Tink. “Tell your stories. Use your details. You know how to write.”

Tink smiles and bends over her notebook. She touches her pen to the page and the words begin to unwind across the paper. All the glorious details of her story stream out onto the faint blue lines of the college ruled paper. I hear the crinkling begin and soon that sound drowns out the teacher’s “too wordy.” The criticism is lost in the rush of glorious descriptions and details pouring from Tink’s pen.

 

 

NaBloPoMo Can Goooooooooooooooo

This post is the last. I did it. I finished @&#*!(*@&&!! NaBloPoMo.

I feel that finishing with a post where you declare that you finished really is cheating a bit, but I DON’T CARE. I did it. 30 posts in 30 days. (Even if one of those posts only happened because IT Guy wouldn’t let me quit.)

I’m not sure what was so hard about this year. In years past, I’ve enjoyed NaBloPoMo. It’s pushed me to find a daily writing rhythm that has served me well. I’ve generally been happy with most of the posts.

This month was just rough. I think it’s partially because I often felt I couldn’t write about what I was really feeling. Sometimes the story wasn’t mine to tell. Sometimes it would just come off as whining. Sometimes I didn’t have anything to say (like this entire past week of continuous plague.) I’ve often been exhausted to the core of my being and that’s just not good for writing. You have to be able to think to write. My thinker has been overworked and in the shop a lot this month.

No matter how many days passed, I never found my writing rhythm.

Ah, well.

Despite all of it, I finished. NaBloPoMo, we are done this year. I’ll see you next November when I forget how much I didn’t like you this year and take you up again.

I finished NaBloPoMo. It's over! (Thank god.)

The most boring blog post ever

This blog post is going to support all those criticisms that blogging is self-indulgent navel gazing by people who mistakenly think that others are interested in the dull, daily minutia of their lives.

Except I don’t actually believe you are interested in the dull, daily minutia of my life. I usually try to have something worthwhile to say here, and if I don’t have something worthwhile to say, I don’t post.

I’m stuck right now, though, because of NaBloPoMo. I said I would participate and post every day for the month of November. This is my fourth year doing NaBloPoMo, and I don’t want to blow it now with only a few more days left to go. I am bad at quitting.

Unfortunately, I have been home sick in bed today. I have done nothing worthwhile. I have thought nothing worthwhile. I have nothing but feverish, hacking, dull, daily minutia.

Feel free to stop reading now. I would, if I were you.

Here comes a dull list of the dull things I have done today:

1. Taken my temperature a million times

2. Coughed up my lungs at least 200 times

3. Finished watching the last season of The Tudors on Netflix

4. Eaten stuffing

5. Graded 10 papers while feverish. (Most of my comments make sense. I think.)

6. Taken my temperature a million more times

7. Sweat. Shiver. Sweat. Shiver. Sweat. Shiver.

So there you have it. I am beginning to seriously rethink the wisdom of NaBloPoMo, at least in terms of turning out quality work. It certainly leads to quantity, and sometimes you need that to break out of a rut.

But, sometimes, it leads to blog posts like this one – the most boring blog post ever.

Don’t worry. NaBloPoMo is almost over. I am counting the days.

NaBloPozzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

This is me right now. I’ve been awake for 46 of the last 48 hours.

(You can tell because I am wearing my glasses. I only wear my glasses when I can’t pry my eyelids open enough to get my contacts in. I guess you can also tell because I look comatose.)

Too tired to blog. Words are hard.

I’ve been sitting here trying to do that thing where I put words in a particular order that says something meaningful. You know that thing? That blogging thing?

Yeah, well, hour 46 and wordz iz hurd.

That thing where I put words in a particular order that says something meaningful is not happening. What IS happening is I keep dozing off and drooling on my keyboard.

I think everyone gets one pass during NaBloPoMo when they can just post a picture and babble and call it a post. Today is that post for me because if I sit here much longer I am going to have a keyboard pattern imprinted on my face.

Goodnight, NaBloPozzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

I’m watching Buffy save the world for a little bit longer: Warning – angst ahead

This is the first time I have sat down at my desk in two weeks. I’ve been online using my iPad and iPhone, but I have not sat down at my computer to write at all.

I haven’t had anything to say.

I’m not sure I have anything to say now, but it’s been almost two weeks since I last posted, and that post didn’t even count as writing. I have to write something, so I can move forward, and I have to move forward again.

The past two weeks have been bruising. First, I found out that I didn’t get either of the full-time faculty positions for which I had interviewed. I wasn’t surprised about one of the positions, but the other . . . well, even though I know how impossible it is to land a full-time faculty job teaching English, I had started to believe I had a chance. I made it through two rounds of interviews and the field was down to 3 from 170 applicants. I was one of those three. My interviews went really well. I’m not sure I could have done anything better. I began to think that maybe, just maybe, it was my time.

And then it wasn’t.

I just started to write “I’ve been taking it hard,” but I stopped myself and thought, “I need to find a better, more descriptive way to say that.” Then I stared at the screen for 5 minutes without any words.

I’ve been taking it hard.

I haven’t been writing or thinking or even talking much. For the first few days, there was a great deal of crying. Lately, I’ve been rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. All of it. I’m on the last season now. Maybe I’ll switch to Angel after Buffy saves the world one last time. That’s about the extent of my current planning.

Last week, IT Guy’s grandfather died. He was a wonderful man – kind, gentle and generous. He was 97 when he died. He was the beloved patriarch of IT Guy’s family. His life was an example of a life well-lived, and he was adored by his siblings, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It’s been hard on everyone to have him gone.

Then Friday night, the derecho came through, knocking out power to pretty much everyone including us. We are fortunate in that our power came back on on Sunday, but most of our area is still in the hot, July dark.

Between Buffy episodes, I wonder why I am having trouble starting up again. Why can’t I find my footing? I think about IT Guy’s grandfather. He was a wonderful man who lived long, full and happy life. He made his family his focus and that is what made his life worthwhile. I think about that as I drive my kids to camp or swim team or martial arts. I think about it when we eat dinner together or I toss them around in the pool. What IT Guy’s grandfather did for a living didn’t really matter much. It wasn’t what defined him. His love for his family did.

Perhaps that is enough?

Either way, here I am stringing out words again – moving forward. I’m going to need a new plan eventually . . . . soon . . . I’ll figure it out . . . maybe after Buffy saves the world just one more time.

I’m still here.

Anne left me a comment on my last post today. Since I wrote that post on March 24th, it was surprising to get a comment on it. It was surprising to get a comment at all because I haven’t written here in . . . what is today? . . . oh, wow. . . 4/27. It’s been a month since my last post. It’s been more than a month. How did I let that happen?

Anne wrote:

Where are you?  I can tell by your photos that life continues on, but your posts have stopped.  Are you done with your blog?  I hope not.  I may not comment much but I read you regularly and miss your voice.

I miss my voice, too, and I don’t think I realized how much until I read the question, “Are you done with your blog?”

No, I’m not. I’m really not. I think about this blog everyday. Everyday is going to be the day that I write . . . and then I watch old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix instead. And then it’s the next day that’s going to be the day I write  . .  and then the next.

Here’s the thing. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say; it’s that I have too much too say, and I’m not sure how to say it. Some heavy things happened in the last month. Actually, they have been happening all year, but I couldn’t write about them after awhile.

To avoid being cryptic, I’ll give you the cliff notes version. Ace continued to be bullied horribly at his middle school. By the end of January, I was done, but Ace didn’t want to leave. We had a brief period of calm, but then things got worse again. Ace wanted to leave. Three weeks ago, I applied for a transfer. My application form included almost two inches of documentation of more than seventeen separate bullying incidents this school year alone. Four days later, we got approved. Right after spring break, we moved Ace. The new school has been great so far. He already has friends. He’s on the stage crew. He’s happy. This story has a happy ending (I hope anyway), but the process of getting here has been nothing short of horrifying and I’ve been wrung dry by it all.

See, that’s not even the beginning. There is so much more to say. I have so much more story to tell, and that’s why I haven’t been writing. How can I write about anything else until I’ve written about how Ace was literally bullied out of school?

I can’t because it’s been too close to write about, and I feel like it is so important to tell this story – so important to tell it well – that it was overwhelming. So I stopped writing and I started watching Buffy. Things are simpler when the bad guys are vampires and all you have to do is stick them with a wooden stake.

But today Anne’s comment made me realize I have to start writing again. I need this space. I need to start writing again even if it is going to take me some time to tell all of the story about the bullies and the school and my incredibly resilient and amazing son.

I’ll tell it in pieces, and weave it through the rest of my life. Honestly, that’s how it has been – woven through everything, absolutely everything, for all of us.

Thank you, Anne, for telling me that you are still listening. I don’t know if anyone else still is, but I’m so glad you’re here. And I’m back here now, too.

Stay tuned.

A post about a post I can’t post: You probably just want to skip it

The post I can't post

I wrote a post for today about all the crap that has been going on today, but I can’t post it.  And I have absolutely nothing else I can possibly write about. There isn’t room left in my head for any other images or words or ideas. I’ve got nothing but this and I can’t post it.

We’re okay. We’re all okay, but the bullying situation has taken a rather alarming turn and we’ve spent all day trying to handle it. Ace is okay. He’s safe. He’s going to school tomorrow and maybe I’m making this way more dramatic than it needs to be. I’m sorry. If it wasn’t November, I wouldn’t post at all, but I don’t want to fail out of NaBloPoMo just because of some idiotic 12-year-old bully with a Google Buzz and Twitter.  So you get a cryptic photograph of the post I’m not posting and a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing below it. It sucks. I know. I’m sorry. Maybe I can post it tomorrow.

Move along, nothing to see here.

Another poet in the family?

I was recently listening to an episode of This American Life about middle school. It was incredibly enlightening. All these things about that have been driving me crazy about Ace lately turn out to not be uniquely Ace. Instead they are middle school issues and all middle schoolers are acting this way. If you have a middle school child, I highly recommend this program. It really gave me some insight into what Ace is going through.

One of the revelations in the program for me was  how much brain growth kids experience at this age. Apparently, Ace has more gray matter in his head right now than he ever will again in his life. He is literally becoming the adult person he will be right before my eyes. Things he practices now and parts of his brain that he uses heavily (like the Be Loud part of your brain – I’m sure he has one of those) will stick around and become move developed, and what he doesn’t use will just go away. His brain matter will whittle itself down based on how much of it and what parts of it Ace uses. He is sculpting the adult Ace out of his brain right now. It’s mind-blowing stuff, don’t you think?

Because of this brain sculpting process (that’s my phrase not theirs. I just can’t think of a better way name for it), it’s really easy for middle school kids to pick up new skills. People also tend to hold on to the skills they learn during middle school.

So I started thinking, what did I start doing during the middle school years?

Writing poetry. I started writing poems in middle school. My first poems were school assignments, but then I began to do it on my own. I liked crafting images, frozen moments in time, with nothing but words. I kept journals that I filled with poems, and I did this for years and years.  Honestly, I haven’t written a poem in awhile, but I do write, daily. Writing feels like a hardwired part of who I am. Writing is a big part of what makes me Megan. I am writer; it’s who I am and it started in middle school.

I thought about this yesterday when Ace came home from school and handed me a poem he wrote for English class. This poem . . .

A school assignment is how I got started, too, once upon a time in a land far away. I wonder if this will be a start for Ace.

If you ask me, it’s a pretty good one.

Forgive me, Internet. It has been 10 days since I wrote a blog post

My new full-time teaching status is very good thing for my career and my bank account,

but I afraid it is a very bad thing for my blog.

I feel like I’m going to confession, “Forgive me, Internet, for I have sinned. It has been 10 days since I wrote a blog post”

And, really, if we’re being honest, that last blog post was just pictures of my new shoes, so it doesn’t really count as writing. I don’t even want to try and figure out when was the last time I actually wrote something (and I won’t be changing that situation here and now either.)

It’s not for lack of desire. The word are tumbling around in my overcrowded brain in a frantic, roiling heap. The stems of the Ts and the slants of the Ws are getting tangled in the the Os and the Ps. The lower case i and j keep tossing their dots around like playground balls. Everything is bouncing and ricocheting off the walls of my brain, and I can’t make sense of any of it. I can’t get the letters to line up into words and the words to line up into sentences and the sentences to line up into ideas.

I just don’t have time to think because I am working constantly. I’m working constantly at teaching other people to write, so I don’t have time to write myself. (Ironic? Don’t you think?)

I have 16 credits divided into 4 classes. That doesn’t sound like too much, but they are 4 different classes. I have 4 completely different preps. It’s not classroom time that can kill you as a teacher; it’s all the time it takes to prepare for the classroom time. Oh, and the grading. I have almost 100 students this semester. They’re all writing students which means they are each writing a minimum of 4 papers plus a portfolio. That’s 400 papers between now and December. (whimper)

Also, one of these classes is completely new. I have never taught it before. I was assigned the class a week before classes started. I cobbled together a syllabus by borrowing from every other professor I could convince to send me their stuff for the class. I haven’t even read most of the textbook beyond a cursory skimming. I’m reading it for the first time along with the students. I am staying one class ahead of them and making it up as I go. I swear my years of improv experience as a Renaissance festival street performer has proven to be the best training possible for being a teacher. It’s not an argument class; it’s improvisational performance art, baby!

Oh, and did I mention this is the semester that I decided to go paperless? Because I didn’t have enough new stuff to deal with? So far, half my class can’t figure out how to sign up for a Google Docs account and properly name their documents, even though I showed them how to do it in class, wrote up a detailed list of specific instructions and made them a FLOW CHART. (Ok, IT Guy made the flow chart, but the point is they got a flow chart.) There is a whole blog post I need to write about how resistant/freaked out my students are about turning in work electronically. They want paper! They’re supposed to be the tech savvy generation, right? Anyway, I have a lot more to say on this subject, but it needs its own blog post, along with a list of about 15 other things that need blog posts (including the epic quest of getting a key for my office . . .  and how I have an iPad now and  I love it . . . and how I feel like I’ve been unfaithful to real books because I read an ebook on said iPad and didn’t completely hate it . . . and I had to take 4 months off from teaching dance because of my knee injury and I have very conflicting feelings about that . . . oh, and so many other things.)

I need to write blog posts!

I have worked almost every waking moment that I’m not taking care of my kids since the first day of the semester, and I don’t see that slowing down. I’m not actually complaining. I love this job and the fact that I’m actually making a living wage for doing all this work makes a tremendous difference. I would prefer not to have 4 completely different classes at the same time, but other than that, yeah, I’d love to do this full-time permanently.

But I also need to find a way to write while I teach. I’m determined to keep posting here.  It probably won’t be coherent or any good, so maybe you don’t want to hang around. Lord knows there will be no time for revising or editing. I’ll try and manage spell check . . . maybe . . .

But if you want to check in, I’ll be back here with all the musings of my incoherent, exhausted, full-time writing professor brain very soon. I hope.

Fireflies in a jar: A Living Out Loud Post

As I pulled the van up to the curb in front of our house this afternoon, Tink chirped from the backseat, “What else are we doing today, Mom?”

We were both in wet bathing suits and sitting on our beach towels after a long morning at the pool for a swim meet. I put the car in park and turned off the engine. “I have to work this afternoon, sweetie. I have a two blog posts I have to write. One is for my blog, but the other is for a client. I have a deadline on Tuesday, so I have to write it if I want to get paid.”

“You get paid to write blog posts? Why? I thought you just did it for fun.”

“I do write blog posts for fun on my blog, but sometimes someone hires me to write a blog post on their blog and then they pay me. It’s a good thing.” I gathered up the pool bags, got out of the car and walked around to the sidewalk. Tink was still sitting in the car with both the car door and her mouth wide open, staring at me.

“Mommy, are you a writer?!!”

————-

First, there was a small, red, blank book with gold edging in which I wrote stories of mice and toe shoes. I was 6.  Then came illustrated stories on notebook paper about cats who were princesses. I read Harriet the Spy, and, while I didn’t start a spy route, I began to keep a notebook where I wrote daily, making note of my observations about the world. Harriet the Spy taught me to become a watcher, both of myself and the world around me. I saw the way my mother flicked her middle finger against her first finger in a dry, raspy rhythm when she was thinking. I took note of the freckles that flooded across the backs of my father’s hands and down onto his fingers. I observed my sister’s left hand, fingernails bitten short, the pads of her fingers dented by violin strings. Writing is in the watching. You have to watch for the quick flash of the small things, before you can catch them up, and set them down on your page.

After Harriet, I began to write poetry – small snapshots of my world. I will admit to starting with unicorns. What is it with young girls and unicorns? Then I moved on to the thing every girl goes to after unicorns – fan fiction. (What? You didn’t?) In those awkward preteen years, my friend and I wrote “stories” together. We immortalized our love of the band Duran Duran by creating elaborate tales about our idealized and older selves meeting the members of the band, who would, of course, fall madly in love with us. I was Meg Dobbs, dark-haired and fiery. I drove a 1960s red Mustang. I wore a fedora and jazz shoes. (It was the 80s.) Simon LeBon could not resist me, regardless of the scenario. Sometimes we lived happily ever after; sometimes our love was doomed. I passed my 9th grade English class by turning in notebook after notebook filled with these stories. I can’t imagine the teacher ever read any of it. He must have just flipped through the pages, densly packed with words in blue ballpoint pen, and put a check mark in his grade book.

After unicorns, after Duran Duran, I moved to boys – real ones. I began to write poetry exclusively because I couldn’t really understand what was happening to me. The rush of emotions and hormones made it impossible to catch more than a moment in words. I wrote short bursts of overwrought images to match my overwrought and overwhelming thoughts. I wrote for the school literary magazine. I took creative writing classes. I went to writing camp. I met a different boy. I wrote more poems to catch my memories like fireflies in a jar.

I remember:

the smell of sweet mowed grass,

the heavy wet heat of being wrapped in a sopping towel,

the acoustic guitars stumming on a balcony and the accompanying voices,

as light as a birdsong,

as soothing as a mother’s lullaby,

floating on opalescent bubbles and cigarette smoke.

In college, I filled more notebooks, majored in English and minored in writing. I published poems in the literary magazine. I envisioned a life as an academic – teaching college English to support my writing. I met the boy who would be my husband. I went off to grad school in literature. I wrote papers on literary theory. I fell in love with autobiography. I wrote more poems.

After grad school, I taught other people how to write. I learned to write scripts for television and I began to get paid for those words. Then I became a mother. When I had my children, my words, my observations, dried up like breast milk. I didn’t use them, and they slowed down to a trickle and then they were gone.  One journal lasted me for years – full of pristine and reproachful blank pages instead of words.

Never, at any point in this journey, did I say, “I am a writer.”

———————

“You need to write,” my husband said, and he was right. It was an effort not to write. I could hear the words skittering and scattering in their jar, their lights barely flashing. I had to intentionally ignore them. I added more and more observations to the jar until it was thickly abuzz with words, but I would never let any out. “I don’t even have time to think,” I said. “I don’t have time to write anymore,” I said. “What’s the point? It’s not like I can make any money at it,” I said. I transferred all the effort I once put into writing into not writing. It was hard not to write, and, if I even looked at the blank pages of the journal on my nightstand, I felt bottled up myself, trapped.

“You need to write,” my husband said and he made me this blog. This one you’re looking at right now. He made me this lovely space and I named it and then I sat in front of it with my fingers poised over the keyboard. It took a long time – 2 years really – before I felt safe enough to write more than an occasional entry about what my kids were doing. It took 2 years before I cracked open the lid on the jar and let a few fireflies out to crawl into the text box here and blink at me. “Look!” they blinked. “This is what you are meant to do.”

Once I started, I kept going. Post after post, this blog brought my words back. Six years. Six years of posts about anything and everything. Six years of my life are all lined up here in tidy lines. The more I write, the more I write, and the more I write, the more I am sure of one thing.

——————-

“Mommy, are you a writer?” Tink asked me.

“Yes, I am.” I told her without hesitation. I stood on my front lawn in a dripping bathing suit and declared, “I am a writer. Of course, I am a writer.”

I am not a writer because someone pays me to write (although I certainly enjoy it when they do.) I am not a writer because I have published a book. I am not even a writer because you, my dear readers, come here to this blog to read my words.

I am a writer because I write. It is what I do. It is part of the fabric of who I am. I have always been a writer since I first learned to arrange letters into words. Even when I wasn’t writing, I had to actively keep myself from it.

You may never see my name in the New York Times Book Review. You may never order my latest work off of Amazon. Or maybe you will one day . . . . it really doesn’t make a difference.

I am a writer and I’ll be out here, catching fireflies, always.


****This post is an entry in this month’s Living Out Loud project – Volume 29: On Writing. Follow the link to see the prompt and don’t forget to check back with GenieAlisa at ….in a Bottle to see the the recap of all this month’s entries.****