Sunday Brunch: Method Writing

Meclizine last night left me groggy for most of today.

As well, I’m still in recovery from a really dark piece that I wrote – it involved a character being raped. (I should add that I don’t think rape should ever be used to entertain, it was something that was integral to the story I’m telling.)

I’m writing the aftermath now, and I suddenly understand why friends refer to me as a ‘method writer,’ because I’m having a difficult time separating myself from the material.

After all, when I’m writing, I play all the parts.

Sleep and chocolate have helped immensely.

I Hate Blank Books

Coffee and Notes

I’ve been in love with reading ever since I can remember, and in love with writing since at least the age of five, if not earlier. For the sake of the argument, we’ll say five, because that’s when I “published” my first work: a collection of poetry that my mother mimeographed and send ’round to all the relatives. Somewhere, some aunt or cousin probably has a copy of those purple-stained pages covered in my childish scrawl, and I just know it will come back to haunt me someday, but that’s not really the point.

This is: for as long as I’ve been writing, people have been giving me blank books. Well, okay, sometimes they’re not entirely blank. Sometimes they have lines in them, or grid squares, but even when the insides are completely blank, they all have one thing in common: they have been presented to me with the expectation that I will fill them.

There are three problems with this:

  1. I’m not a diarist. If I want “something sensational to read on the train,” to borrow a phrase from Oscar Wilde, I have a Kindle full of books. I have no interest in writing down every tiny detail of my life, and even if I did, I don’t believe in writing things with the intent that they remain private. This blog is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a diary that I’ve managed to sustain, and it’s both open to the public and infrequently updated, Holidailies notwithstanding.
  2. They’re never what I would choose. Honestly, if I were choosing a blank book, it’s more likely to not be a book at all, but a spiral notebook (college ruled, green lines, 500 pages preferred, but I also like those top-bound ones). But no one ever gives me those. Instead, I get gilded pages, stiff bindings, and once a picture of cats. I am so not a cat person.
  3. They won’t get used. Even the moleskines that I did choose are rarely touched anymore, first because I do upwards of 90% of my writing on a computer, and second because anything other than a spiral notebook makes me feel like whatever goes in it has to be good and perfect and ready for publication. To me, those pretty books mean that I’m banned from writing what Anne Lamott calls a “shitty first draft.”

Despite this, and despite the fact that blank books and journals are never on my Christmas wish-lists, I keep receiving them, and then I either have to pretend to use them, re-gift them and hope I don’t give them back to the original giver, or keep them around and call them “art.”

If you really want to make me happy, instead of a blank book, give me candles, bath bubbles, and lotions, because I write better when I get to enjoy long soaks in the tub. Coffees and teas and the associated paraphernalia are always welcome, as are baked goods and homemade art. I’m also a sucker for pretty pens and stationery – I still write actual letters from time to time – and I never turn down chocolate.

Look, I know it’s rude to refuse gifts, but I just can’t handle any more blank books. If you must give me something to write on, a ream of printer paper would be much more sensible, and I promise, it wouldn’t get tucked away in a drawer until the paper crumbles. It would actually get used.

This year, I’m actually PODCASTING my holidailies entries. Go HERE to listen to yesterday’s selection.

Holidailies 2014

Image Copyright: karandaev / 123RF Stock Photo

WOW: The Invisible Picket Fence

Becca, who I count among those “friends as yet unmet in person” is hosting a summer writing roundtable called “Write on Wednesday.” Today is Saturday, but she assures me it’s not a problem, and her first question has been tumbling around my head for a few days.

She asks: “Why in the world do you come to the page?”

At first my answer was flippant and terse: Because I have to.

But it’s a question that deserves more than a four-word answer.

I write to explore, to create, to still the buzzing of ideas in my head, to give other ideas new life. I write because sometimes a conversation overheard on line in the grocery store or in a cafe is just enough to spark a story. I can’t follow a stranger home to observe the next part of their life, but I can imagine what might follow.

Did the mother of the five teenagers like whatever chocolate they chose at Tom Thumb while their harried father gave advice, at nine PM on the Thursday before Mother’s Day? Did the kids get stuff THEY wanted after all? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that there was something about this poor man surrounded by gangly young people trying to make sure his wife had a present from every child without blowing their budget that touched me. He had a story, and I wanted to know more.

Or what about the poet I used to chat with when I was 19 and working at a bookstore/cafe in San Jose? He let me read some of his work, asked me advice on word choice and comma placement, and never guessed that almost twenty years later I’d be thinking of him in his ratty fisherman’s sweater and jeans, scribbling in what I now know was a Moleskine notebook, and sipping slowly on latte after latte, as I worked on my novel. I don’t remember his name, but I remember the angular script he used, and the soft grey of the pencil strokes on the unruled paper.

In one of my favorite books ever, Outside Lies Magic, the author, John Stilgoe, mentions that if you’re riding a bike along-side a picket fence, and manage to find just the right speed, the fence becomes essentially invisible. The rational part of me knows that it’s just an optical illusion, that the fence is as solid as ever, and that the right speed simply synchronizes our active vision with the gaps between the slats, so we’re never looking at solid boards.

The more fanciful part of me – the observer, the writer – that part of me accepts that sometimes you can find magic in ordinary things.

For me, those things are words.

I write so I can see – and share – what’s behind the invisible picket fence.