Writing space, not a group, is what I need

IMG_6530
“I believe in empty spaces; they’re the most wonderful thing.” –Anselm Kiefer

This week I said goodbye to my writing group. I have trouble adjusting to groups. This group was a good group, however. It was hard to say goodbye. While I feel like sometimes I need accountability, I realize I just need to write and I need to write on my own terms. The truth is, since leaving my MFA program nine years ago, it’s been hard to find solid ground. It’s been difficult to grasp who I am as a writer and to find the routine and find solid footing. I thought I needed to force myself into a literary community or something. I guess I created a picture in my mind of how the post-MFA me should be and I was not finding my post-MFA life living up to that.

Leaving the group is not about the group members. It’s about casting off the expectations. It’s about finding myself as a writer again. Admittedly, I felt lost. My novel manuscript I left the program with seemed on its way and then it floundered. It had gotten beaten up by some of the communities I thought I needed, and I stowed it away for another day. I made fits and starts on other projects. I cut those off at the knees with other communities I thought I needed.

To be fair, my kids were growing up while I was trying to find myself as a post-MFA writer and they needed me. I worked a full-time job as a writer and then as a teacher of writing. It left little time and energy to find myself. I had a nurturing community in MFA program and then I didn’t. I was doing the nurturing and trying to find a rhythm again. It has been difficult, but the other day I realized that I just needed time to write. I needed to create a routine. I needed space. I needed to breathe life back into this thing that I love to do so much. That routine meant I didn’t want to fit into any kind of shape that the group formed for me. I wanted to be free to work on the projects that I wanted to work on. You see, I write literary stuff, but sometimes there is magic in it or ghosts or whatever supernatural thing that pops up, but it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, it’s just literary. I just want to write what I want to write.

It turns out, I don’t really need a group right now. I could use a good reader or two, but not a group. I do have a group of sorts, the kind of group that I figure works best for me to stay on task, a goal setting group, a kind of support group for writers. I meet once a month with them, talk about what’s frustrating me about writing and what’s going well, and that’s good enough, but the critique group always seems to stop the writing its tracks rather than feed it.

Today, I embrace the space, the space I finally realize I have needed more than the community. This space has helped me look back at that manuscript I shelved with fresh eyes and with a fresh approach. I can see those characters again. I see them in a new way, and I am excited. I need to sit with this excitement for a while, be happy that it’s back. I’ve missed this.

Advertisements

Emerging From the Divide

 

I see a lot of mountains. I love mountains. I feel at home near the mountains. Some people feel at home near water. I like water, too, but I love the mountains. They represent so much. They are vast here. They are hard and beautiful. Here it is easy to leave the business of life and hit a trail for a while where there is no chatter. It’s easier to see there are bigger things than us.

There is no good segue from that to this, to discussing the way I have begun to let go and let myself dive into writing again. Maybe the mountains just represent the letting go for me. Maybe this picture of a great divide represents my own divide, or the process of dividing in half the way things were and the way things are now with something new emerging from all of it.

The way things were were tense and serious and hard, not that things shouldn’t be hard. I lived by a book that someone else had written. I learned from that book. Yes, I am talking about writing. I was serious about it. I wrote serious stories about life. My first book, which is in a drawer, is a serious story about a life I once knew, a life I needed to release in some way, maybe that way.

There is no good way to say this, but I the floundered. I floundered after grad school as I tried to figure out what to do with all of that. I jumped from writing group to writing group trying to find a good fit. I tried to find beta readers for stuff that had grown stale a long time ago.

Here, by the mountains, I found a little writing book, Benjamin Percy’s book Thrill Me. I hadn’t read a craft book in a while. I was pretty down on craft, confused about it. Percy gave me permission, permission to go where I wanted to go, to take my serious writing learning and find the holes in reality I was always looking for. That’s what I am doing now with the very real, very big mountains in view.

I’m in the midst of marketing my first book of poems, but already my focus is shifting from poems to time and divides and mountains and things that as I write I can’t really explain, and it feels good. It feels right.

The Quest for Re-Inspiration or the Importance of Stopping the Quest and filling the Well

img_5769I suppose I have been on a quest of sorts. It has been a while since I have felt the connection I used to feel to the world of words. It has been a while since I have had the time, space, etc., to fill the well. I take the blame for that. I have spent a better part of the past many years wanting, wanting to be a writer, wanting not to have screwed up my undergrad experience, wanting to have a career that offers some kind of stability, wanting, wanting, wanting. I used to feel like I was treading water, biking up a steep, steep hill, whatever the overused metaphor, perhaps you get the idea. I internalized the stress of thinking I needed to be something other than what I was or what I am, and I ended up in some kind of endless cycle of doing all these things I felt I should do to meet an end that was abstract at best. Of course my creative suffered. I shoved it aside with the thinking that I could create the perfect scenario to be able to create.

Not so long ago my husband and I did something nothing short of crazy. He being the Trekkie that he is would call it blowing up the Enterprise, and I would agree that it was a blowing up the Enterprise of sorts. We quit our jobs. We sold, donated, or tossed out nearly three quarters of our stuff, sold our home in Michigan, and crammed what remained of our belongings into two U-Haul trailers that we hauled across three states to Colorado.

Here I am. I finally have space. I have some job prospects, but I am learning (not so naturally) to embrace the space and time. I am using it to write again. I started this blog as one step, and I have been engaging in some writing-related activities in my new home. Bit-by-bit I am connecting with writers in my new home state. I even took time to take a real vacation, one where I could explore and be inspired. I visited San Francisco to hand out with family and to explore the city that has such a storied literary tradition.

I came away with the understanding that what I really want is to embrace the process now rather than to push it away. Part of that is due to the trip, but part of that is also because of the time I am taking to read more than I was able to before, at least read the things I want to read. The trip, though, is where I found The Poetry Deal by Diane di Prima, a book I read cover-to-cover while on the plane ride home. Some books appear at the very time I need them and this book is one those and it did appear. Out of all the books I could have come away from City Lights Bookstore with it was the one I needed most. Her inaugural address for her term as San Francisco Poet Laureate, her subsequent poems, should be read out loud everywhere right now. Something in all the poems touched me. Maybe because she dared to do so much of what I was afraid to do. She dared to be her strong, amazing self. She dared to commit to the poems and not much else except for her children.  “Memorial Day, 2003” is one poem that comes to mind with lines like “Remember it’s not a safe time & all the more reason/To do whole-heartedly what you have to do” and “remember/that all you need to remember is what you love/Remember to Marry the World.”

So, I’ve learned from di Prima and from blowing up the Enterprise that the quest is not important, the journey is. Now, I just need to keep remembering that.

We Are Here, Here being City Lights Bookstore

Yesterday was exhausting in all of the best possible ways. It was just me and my mom, though having my siblings along would also have been fun. We decided to hit North Beach because that is where the Italian section of the city is and that is where City Lights img_5685Bookstore is, but that all sort of comes a bit later in this post. This post really begins at Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture.

Our intention was to be dropped off somewhere near Fisherman’s Wharf, but we saw a sign on the way that read something about an Italian American Museum. My mom had been telling me there was a museum. I wanted to check it out, but the sign was small and it was a bit hard to tell that Fort Mason was anything but a giant series of warehouses on a pier that jutted out into the bay. We had to check it out, so we explored and found that the warehouses did in fact contain some pretty cool cultural things that included the Italian American Museum, an art space that features works by Italian American artists and offers cultural events such as lectures and Italian classes. If that wasn’t enough, next door was the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Bookstore, where I scored books on wet felting, something I’ve dabbled in and want to explore further, and for my mom there was a wonderful art supply store that carried all the paints she uses for her work.

That was the first part of our day. We had a great bit of lunch at the Goody Café, which is adjacent to the library bookstore. After lunch we made the long haul by foot to Columbus img_5697Ave. and then all the way down following the lampposts painted with the colors of the Italian flag. On the way, I saw a trolley, the first an only trolley I’ve seen while here, though I have ridden quite a few busses. My mother wanted to show me the Italian part of town, because she knew I’d love seeing it and she knew I’d want to see City Lights Bookstore, which is right there as well. We walked a long way. We were pretty beat by the time we reached the Italian section. We stopped at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Café for an espresso and a short rest before moving on to the candy shop and the deli where my mom bought salami for sandwiches we ate later that night.

The last stop was City Lights Bookstore, the place I couldn’t wait to see, though by then I’d blown my book budget at the other three bookstores I’d already been to in my jaunts around the city with my mom and sister. Really, the store came upon us more than we came upon it, and there was a man in a white beard standing casually out front kind of chuckling at us as we realized we were there. “This is it,” my mom said. “Oh, this is it,” I img_8096said. “This is it,” the man said. In my exhausted, overwhelmed delirium, I knew on some level I recognized the man, but in that moment I admit it didn’t register that it was Lawrence Ferlinghetti talking to me. I said to him, “This is all there has to be.” He sort of chuckled and we walked into the store. Inside, I was still overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to begin, especially with the vast poetry collection upstairs. Ultimately, in a relatively short amount of time, I found a new collection of poems by Diane di Prima. I knew I’d likely never find it anywhere else, and I thought it fitting that I buy her book of new poems at City Lights, so I did and that was our day, exhausting, fun, even a brief moment with Ferlinghetti. I won’t soon forget any of it.