Writing space, not a group, is what I need

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“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 in 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.

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Will Ferrell is Will Ferrell: Making a Case for Shelving the Fallback Plan

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Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life. There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure. –Paulo Coelho

This thing, this calling, chose me. That’s how it feels, anyway. I have tried other things, other somewhat more lucrative things, other somewhat less risky things, but none have really given me more stability, per se. None have been lucrative enough or stable enough (or even stimulating enough) for me to say, “Hey, it’s been so worth it to spend my entire life working on a fallback plan,” but that’s what I have done.

I went to college on a fallback plan. I went to college again on a fallback plan. I finally went to college to focus on that thing, but have used the degree more to build the fallback plan than the actual thing. I even went to college one more time, trying yet again at a fallback plan. The point is, I have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find a good fallback plan. In fact, I have spent the better part of the last 26 years trying to find a fallback plan instead of giving that thing the time it deserved, the time it wanted, because in that 26 years, when fallback plan after fallback plan fell apart, that thing was always there. That thing was building and growing and building and growing, because it chose me. It nags and won’t let go, and yet I am happy that it does so. While fallback plan after fallback plan has fallen apart, I have found minutes, scraped together minutes to give to that thing because I had to, because I wanted to so much that I had to. In those scraps of minutes, seeds were planted and gardens have grown. That’s not to say there aren’t moments when no matter how much I think that thing chose me, I doubt it and feel like an imposter. Still, that thing nags at me and won’t let me go.

Sometimes, I wish when it first began to nag me that someone would have said, this may be your thing. Listen to it, but I was told it’s best to have a fallback plan. I am a mom now. My kids have their things, and their things, like my thing, are not things that people readily tell them they should bet their futures on. In fact, I remember sitting in one my daughter’s IEP meetings where her teachers and counselors encouraged her thing, but also told her she should have a fallback plan and she should spend more time thinking about that fallback plan. I get what they meant, but I still should have said no. I didn’t say no. Back then, I was in the midst of trying yet another fallback plan that I didn’t know was destined to fail. That’s not to say I don’t say no now. I know better, I guess. I hear my daughter daily through the vent, in her room playing ukulele, singing, and composing original songs. I have seen my son spend hours reading waves, getting back on his surfboard after a fall, trying again and again because it is his thing. Maybe they will find something else. Maybe the thing will be the thing in some way. I don’t know. It’s really not my business to tell them they need to do it any other way. That I do know for sure.

I recently watched Will Ferrell’s 2017 USC commencement ceremony speech. Say what you will about Will Ferrell (I personally find him funny as hell), through his humor he delivered a profound message, at least that’s the way I heard it. He spoke of darts and in the face of his risky, frightening, “I may never make it” calling he kept throwing darts at the target hoping that one or two might stick. I get that. Only, unlike Will Ferrell, I threw them secretly or stole moments to throw them and really only gave myself the chance to throw relatively few darts. Still, some have stuck, like the one I threw at Finishing Line Press in May 2016, and now I am weeks away from the publication of my first book of poems. I am not going to imagine where I would be now if I just spent the time throwing darts instead of trying and failing to find a good fallback plan. I am just going to start throwing fists full of darts now.

Ultimately, though, we spend a lot of time telling dreamers they need a fallback plan, and they need to spend more time figuring that out that plan than doing that thing. We usually give reasons like “It’s hard to make it doing that” or “Not everyone can be Will Ferrell.” Yes, it’s hard to make it doing a lot of things. I know. Yes, not everyone can be Will Ferrell, but then Will Ferrell was once just an unknown guy who kept throwing dart after dart.

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.

Exciting Publishing News

Trapani-Scott_Cristina_COV.jpgThis is the cover of my forthcoming chapbook of poems The Persistence of a Bathing Suit. The getting here has all been kind of crazy. The short of it is in Spring of last year I submitted my manuscript to Finishing Line Press for their New Women’s Voice competition last spring. At the same time my husband and I were in the process of selling our house and moving to Colorado. Flash forward a bunch of months and, on a whim, I happened to look at my submission manager site and noticed the manuscript was accepted, but I had not heard anything. I went to publisher’s website and also didn’t see anything.

As it turns out, I inadvertently opened two Submittable sites, one through the email I always use and one through the “login with Facebook” feature that is connected to my old email I rarely look at. All info on this had gone to my old email. The short of it is that the manuscript was a semi-finalist for the award, and I was offered a contract. Now, I am here looking at a tentative May 2017 release of my first book of poems. Here is the most amazing cover with photo taken by my talented pro photographer brother Paul Trapani and featuring his beautiful wife, my sister-in-law Leeann Berry.

I dig that the publisher has given me the freedom to make my family a part of this project. My family is a huge inspiration for this project. The poems explore what I call the “the in-between space” that for me emerged between surviving breast cancer (being a young survivor) and coming to terms with how to survive breast cancer. Most people think, “Yay, you survived and that’s awesome. Now you can move on.” It is awesome, but it also creates a starkly different space that for me meant a long period of adjustment. The journey is different for everyone. This is my journey and these poems examine the different perspectives of my journey throughout that space.

I am excited that these poems will be out in the world in some small way. Right now, the book can be preordered. The preorder period is key to the book’s release. I do have to sell a minimum of 55 books in presales for the initial press run. If you would like to order the book, you can order it here or by clicking the title of the book above or the link attached to the publisher.

This is the start of an exciting and incredible journey all its own. I’ve been working toward this goal amid all kinds of distractions for the better part of my adult life. I couldn’t have done it without my family and my mentors.