Still Tapping Away. (with frustration.)

My goal is to learn to write. Not just postcards, journal entries, and “honey-do” lists for Jim. I want to write a book. Toward that end, I’ve been studying. Here’s what’s happening: I’m spending all my time studying and very little time writing.

I figured out why. I dunno’ what the heck to write. How does an author yank a work of fiction out of the ether? I seem only able to write about my personal experiences.

I’ve had oceans of experiences I’d relish sharing, but other participants in those adventures might end up suing me for libel. Anne Lamott of Bird by Bird tells me to turn the law-suit worthy stuff into fiction. She suggests changing enough details of the romps the actual players would be unlikely to recognize themselves. I suppose I could try that. However, those incidents are merely moments. I’d need to figure out what story strings those random snapshots together. That’s the hard part.

Stephen King’s On Writing suggests I play a “what if” game.

What if a short round middle-class housewife found herself in prison for a murder she didn’t commit? Or maybe she can’t remember committing.

What if a floorboard slid aside to reveal a never before seen staircase? Where does it lead and who follows it?

What if I fell asleep here, in the twenty-first century, but woke up three hundred years in the past. Or the future?

Stephen King also told me (yes, we are close) not to speak in a passive voice. And not to use adverbs. Those two things will reveal me as a beginner. They will also expose me as timid.

He suggests writing in a genre I enjoy reading. I like historical fiction and non-fiction. And pretty much everything else as long as the writing is good. I did not like Bridges of Madison County. Sappy. I steadfastly refuse to read Jacqueline Suzanne, or bodice ripping romance novels. I do confess I succumbed to reading the Fifty Shades of Gray series.  Embarrassing admission, but I wanted to know what the fuss was.

I’m obtuse when it comes to poetry. I think poetry is for people far smarter and deeper than I. Unless Dr. Seuss wrote the poem. I get him.
(FYI: At first I wrote, “Unless the poem was written by Dr. Seuss” then realized that’s passive. Fixed it. No rookie mistakes for this old girl.)

Yesterday I went to the library and picked up other books about learning to write. There is a shelf full of them. Dewey decimal system number 808. The librarian recommended a couple of DVDs along with the books. I brought those home too. The writer, Anne Perry, narrates them herself. She has a British accent. I’m deaf. Couldn’t understand a word she said. The DVDs go back to the library tomorrow. I’ll try to exercise self-discipline and not check out six more “how to write” books.

Natalie Goldberg says she often wool-gathers. She stares into the distance then goes for a snack. So far I’m best at following Natalie’s suggestions. I often I find myself staring into space or standing in front of the open refrigerator, unsure how I came to be there.

I just had a Natalie Goldberg moment. Wandered to the cabinet, pulled out our blue and white Graceland mug, sprayed it with Pam, beat an egg and microwaved it.
While eating, I read a bit more of Stephen King.

He told me to write what I see. Right now what I see is a sixty-five-year-old woman who is procrastinating. I’m supposed to write 1000 words a day, eventually working up to 2,000. Here I’m at maybe 600 words.

What else do I see? I see the egg crusted Graceland mug in the kitchen sink. To my left, I see an Oceania cruise brochure Jim says he will read, but I suspect not. The booklet has been gathering dust for a week. On top of the brochure is a scratch pad with a leopard print cardboard cover and on top of that is a solar-powered calculator.

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To my right is a black Pentel .07 Energel pen. I buy those from Amazon even though we have drawers full of ballpoint pens. Jim’s travel hobby is stealing pens wherever we go. However, they don’t write “fast.” Natalie Goldberg told me to use fast pens. Pentel .07 Energel’s are my favorite. They are speedy, yet here I sit tapping on the keyboard instead of scribbling with a Pentel in my composition book.

Behind me, sacked out on our area rug I see a drugged brown dog. Due to storms, I gave Bronson Xanax about an hour ago. Loud thunder turns him into drooling, trembling, tail tucked between his legs mess.

I see a big metal spoon and fork hanging to the left of the kitchen door. On another wall I see three mammoth cows, gazing at me, asking, “What are you wasting your time for?”

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On the floor below the cows, I see a green dog dish, a stainless steel water bowl, and one slightly deflated soccer ball.

Picking up dog toys is the story of my life. I gathered seven from the dining room this morning and dropped them into the sturdy brass bucket my parents got as a wedding gift in 1939. Since then Bronson has retrieved all seven as well as about four more and happily littered them around the house. That was before the Xanax. Now that he’s stoned it might be a good time to clean up again.

Okay, Stephen, I’m up to almost 1000 words, and I’m boring myself. Odds are my six regular readers nodded off 717 words ago.

So with that, I’ll sit my ample backside in my swivel chair, meditate and pray some brilliant book idea manifests itself into my weary gray matter.

What I should do is what Faulkner suggested: “*Murder your darlings.” But I won’t because with this very sentence I crossed the 1000 word finish line! Whoooo Hooooo.

* A Google search revealed Arthur Quiller-Couch was the first to use this phrase. 

Cherishing the evil within

Bird by Bird author Anne Lamott tells me to look within to create a character. Today, while meditating, I did that. And I stumbled across bitchy Alice.

Usually, I try to stuff Nasty Alice. I pretend she doesn’t exist. But today I embraced my wicked. I let that vile woman out of her box and said, “GO FORTH AND SPEW YOUR VENOM!”

Rotten Alice is a lot of villainous fun. She curses like a sailor. She is catty. Her claws are long and sharp. Here are some other embellishments I’m adding to Evil Alice.

Tattoos. Lots of them. Sleeves on both arms. And a mullet. Atrocious Alice has a pierced tongue. She spends afternoons in dark, empty bars, the only patron on a stool keeping the bartender busy pouring shots of tequila served with salt and lime.

She has a swagger. And possibly a dagger. And indeed a handgun in her fringed purse. She wears frayed too tight jeans with 1970s crocheted vests and Hendrix T-shirts.

She steals from friends. Goes through their medicine cabinets and lifts their Hydrocodone. She grows pot under black lights in her basement.

She drives a Harley way too fast, veering in and out of lanes, flipping the bird at cars as she cuts them off. And she spits great gobs of phlegm on grocery store parking lots.

However, even obnoxious people have a bit of decent buried deep within.

Evil Alice is kind to animals. Even at her most heinous Cruel Alice could never hurt a dog, cat, bird, horse, or rabbit. Although she can and does happily kill gnats and mosquitos. Further, she’s unfailingly gentle with children.

She bakes peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses in the middle. She serves them with cold whole milk. Her kitchen table is from the 1960’s. White Formica with gold flecks. Her dishes are Franciscan Desert Rose.

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Do you want to know this person? Perhaps I need to give her a husband. Or lover. Or kids. Does she have a pit bull or poodle?
What is her home like? A double wide trailer backed up to a chain link fence? Or possibly a Cape Cod with white cafe curtains in the kitchen.

On her windowsill is a Magic Eightball. She shakes that black orb several times a day, looking to it for answers. Usually, it responds “Reply hazy, try again later.”

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She smokes Marlboros. Before opening a box of cigarettes, she tamps it on the kitchen counter, packing the fag tightly. Her ashtray is red plastic. Her gums are receding due to the smoking. Her home, possibly a mid-century split level, smells like smoke and fried fish.

I like her in spite of her nasty mouth and tobacco breath. I will explore her later. I need to know her friends, her job, her tics, and obsessions.

But for now back to Anne Lamott. After that perhaps I’ll color more of Where the Sidewalk ends for my grandson Tate.

Related Blog posts:

Positive thinking, Shel Silverstein, and my marvelous Book Club.

Attempting to reinvent myself at Sixty-Five. What am I doing?

Attempting to reinvent myself at Sixty-Five. What am I doing?

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I am reading Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird. Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  She is a master with language and peppers her writing with terms both wise and witty.  Sometimes she grumbles and whines. I like that.  Today is a grumbling, whiny day for me.

She tells me I am to simply bang out my first draft, have fun, be crazy, play.  It will be shitty, she assures me of this.  But in the shit, I might find a sentence, one little line or maybe only one tiny word that will dredge up….Oh for phuck sake.  Today I can’t get there from here.

I meditated.  I’m kinda’ centered.  Blah Blah Blah.  Yet I find myself with nothing to say and who the hell am I saying it to anyhow?

(Alice, dear, you know you are supposed to be thinking only positive thoughts in order to attract positive energy into your world.  Pretend all the stuff you want already exists and it will magically manifest as your “new reality.”   Yes, Random-Whispering-Voice in my head, I know, but some days it’s easier than others, so just shut up about all the manifestation crapola for twenty minutes.)

What the heck am I doing this for?  At sixty-five I’ve decided to reinvent myself as an author?  On good days I think, “Hey lady!  You got this.  You invented yourself into a product designer at fifty.”  But on days like today taking my past-middle-aged self and turning into a writer seems a preposterous dream.  As if I could become a bagel just by breathing, believing and thinking, “I am a bagel. I became a bagel the day the local bakery spotted all my warm potential bagel deliciousness.”

Okay, Alice…think about Grandma Moses.  I just did a Google search.  Old Granny Moses didn’t get serious about painting until her seventies.  She lived to be 101.

I will channel Grandma Moses, replacing her brushes with a keyboard. I’ll keep slamming on the keys, making shitty first drafts. I made a boatload of shitty paintings when I first began working with watercolors.  I actually sold some of those dreadful pictures and gave several away.  One particularly embarrassing piece comes to mind.  A raccoon wandering a snowy field under a full white moon.  He casts long blue shadows as he roams in front of a weathered barn.  Herbie and Barb were my victims. I’ve pleaded with them to toss that painting out, but they’ve refused.  Your crap paintings live on to haunt you.  The good news is after a while, my watercolors improved.

As a fledgling product designer, I had no idea what I was doing.  I just doggedly kept at it, drawing lines on paper.  Boss Mary Beth said she gave me a box to grow into.  My first box was the size of a Sunkist raisin single serve container. When I outgrew that box she gave me a full-size Honey Nut Cheerios box.

Ultimately I outgrew all of her boxes and went on alone to design for a Chinese factory, walking the design wire without a net.  The earliest product I created, a classic fountain made of resin, got a roll-out at Costco.  It was carried in every Costco Warehouse from the here in the USA to Canada, United Kingdom, and Mexico.

Now, I will occupy writing boxes.  My current container is as small as a ring box.  I’ll keep pounding keys until this one becomes too snug.  Then I’ll crawl into a larger carton, dragging my laptop along with me.

For today, I’ll quit beating my head against the keyboard. I’m doing a drawing of peridot eyed, gray and white Smokey the cat.  He had to be put to sleep last week.  Perhaps the drawing will be a nice keepsake for Smokey’s owner.

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I painted Mike the pitbull for Mo.  I think I did it a bit too soon following Mike’s passing.  She opened the gift box and immediately burst into heartbroken tears.

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I won’t write today.  And that’s good because I will get to spend the day coloring and reading my book club book, Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child.  It’s a spellbinding story set against the icy backdrop of a 1920s Alaska winter.  A despairing childless couple, in an unusual moment of levity, builds a child out of snow.  In the morning the snow girl is gone, but they glimpse a young child running through the woods.  It reads like a frigid fairy tale.