Pulling My Head Out of the Electric Oven

Top Left to Right: Adela Florence Nicolson, Alejandra Pizarnik, Alfonsina Storni, Amelia Rosselli, Ana Cristina César, Anne Sexton, Beatrice Hastings, Charlotte Mary Mew, Deborah Digges; 2nd Row Left To Right: Inge Müller, Ingrid Jonker, Gertrude Bell, Jane Aiken Hodge, Elise Cowen, Katherine Lawrence, Penelope Delta, Robin Hyde, Pamela Moore; Bottom Row Left to Right: Helene Migerka, Sara Teasdale, Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva, Sarah Kane, Rosario Castellanos, Sylvia Plath, Veronica Micle, Victoria Benedictsson, Virginia Woolf

Writing; Death As A Possible Side Effect

“Natasha, you’re a crybaby!”

My cousins would tease when I was little. Running to take refuge in the arms of my aunts, I cried until hiccupped sobs only remained and fat tears streaked down my face. I was rocked in the comfort of their arms, quietly being assured everything would be okay.

At the time, I was the only girl in my extended family. My cousins ensured I was subjected to the random taunts most little girls at the age of seven have the pleasure of bearing. I was teased for everything I did and couldn’t do; crying only made it worse but I couldn’t help myself.

In my young mind I couldn’t understand and always wanted to know “How could they be so mean to me?” After all, I hadn’t done anything to them but trip on my own shoelace or couldn’t draw as well as Daniel. But in one thing they were right—I was a crybaby. And 30-some-odd years later I still am, sort of.

Today, I am a combination of being innately sensitive and slightly insecure. Each trait is mixed with a certain ‘awareness’ of brutal truths life imparts. In some ways because of this I do not differ much from that tanned Puerto Rican girl of my past. Creatively speaking the petri dish of my life has, at times, created a crippling affect in my ability to cope with the disappointments most of us can face. But more than that it has helped me become an intuitive person to life and people.

This complicated mix has been a curse and a blessing, both in my writing and understanding of others. For so long I felt alone in this acute knowledge. I was the only one screaming in a room of silent spectators. However, in becoming the writer I strive to be I’ve come to comprehend (some) artists and writers swim within the same realm of sensitivity, awareness and creativity.

DEATH BECOMES HER

“Artists are so sensitive.”Perhaps. And while there are many deeply rewarding aspects of being creative and highly sensitive person, it seems to me, this way of being, way of perceiving life and people can take an emotional and mental toll on writers, fine artists, actors, singers and comedians.

Each of the women depicted in the image above are Pulitzer Prize Winning poets, authors, story tellers and creators of real and imaginary worlds. They took their own lives (violently and otherwise), and the stories that still lied within them to the grave..to be forever untold.

But what makes us so different? Are we more susceptible to Mental Illness like the doctors and scientist try to correlate? Why are some of us pushed enough through the threshold of hurt, pain and disappointment to want to end it all? We want to stop asking the questions of why or looking for hope, however small it may be?

Demons.

As a writer I will take a biased stance. It seems some artists such as painters and sculptors can utilize their medium to exorcise their internal demons. The monsters they wrestle with can be force outward on a painted canvas and given a physical so that the creator can be relieve of the their burden. Writers however, can grapple with their monsters internally and dwell within this chaotic world for long periods of time before they can expulse the heaviness away from themselves.

When I write, I am always asking the question why. Why is love often pushed away? Why do parents turn a blind eye to their children in need? Why do we fail even when we work our hardest?

At times I use portions of my life to help ask and answer these questions. This seemly simple act requires me to relive some of my most hurtful life moments again and again. I do it once as I outline and another hundred times as I write and then edit. Play, rewind and repeat. Play, rewind and repeat.

The constant sourcing of one’s own life becomes taxing. It can wreak havoc on any writer’s emotional state, especially if you are close to the work of which you are writing about. It’s an issue of reliving and revisiting the monsters that have been tormenting you either consciously or subconsciously.

This is not to say all writers and artists are tormented creatures seeking the answers and meaning to life. But one cannot deny the many instances where the pain of a writers life translates on the written page affects not only the reader but writer themselves.

Take Dorothy Allison, author of ‘Bastard Out of Carolina’. Writing late nights after working all day on legal pads, writing the story of her life, and the abuse she experienced. From it came the semi-autobiographical book that became pivotal to her life and work as a writer. This constant revisiting can be overwhelming for a writer. Even Stephen King wrote a large portion of his most infamous works, while high on cocaine and alcohol. Was ‘Cujo’ a written manifestation of his own internal monsters?

Awareness.

Certain gifted writers can have extraordinarily high standards for themselves; they have low tolerance for mediocrity and develop a strong level of frustration during the execution of their work. They can have acute awareness of life’s complexities and consequences while having a strong need for self-determination and self-actualization; each ideal applying a level of pressure on them. In some cases this weight is enough to push an artist to extreme measures of abuse and suicide.

I Am Woman, Hear me Roar.

What is it about the inherent demands on female writers that lead to so many deaths of women writers? Is it the clashing of who we are as caregivers, lovers and strong holds in the home front all the while grappling with our identity and self-worth, a convergence that leads to disaster? From Anne Sexton to Rosario Castellanos, each creative maverick taking their own lives while coping with loved lost, death, abandonment and abuse; each having an “acute awareness” leading to distress over their own personal and social conditions. Quite possibly an existential dread creating depression causing their own death.

Lady Lazarus herself, Sylvia Plath, not only tried once to end her life, but it was on the dreadful third attempt did she finally succeed. At approximately 4:30 am, Plath had sealed the rooms between herself and her sleeping children with wet towels and cloth, placed her head in the oven, and turned the gas on. They found Plath dead of carbon monoxide poisoning. She was 30.

Although not suicidal, there are many times I feel the world I live in is not meant for me. When I know the heart I have easily breaks when the hope I have fails. Sometimes my active awareness is good but many more times I wish I wasn’t so sensitive. There are days, weeks and months that go by where I don’t want to understand the unspoken actions and behaviors of people or the inevitability of our lives. At times having the distinct feeling of not belonging, of feeling too different.

By no means am I comparing myself to Woolf, Hemingway, Burgos or any of our past writer heroes, but even at my level, swimming within the waves of awareness, sensitivity and creativity, has not always been easy to navigate. It has caused me to see life with a sense of futility as well as hope. And instead of taking refuge in my writing I at times become stunted. I stop completely, letting the weight of my pain, personal setbacks or hurt take over.

It isn’t until I read the work of others or speak to a caring friend do I remember what I had forgotten, that there has been and will hopefully always be calm under the words and in the worlds I’ve created within my stories. Although trudging through the unpleasant actions of my characters, mulling through the muck of the repercussions is not easy, I try to push through, always seeking out the reasons why.

Now, far from the tender age of 7; my life and its hurts have become more complex and colored within many shades of gray. Yes, it often does lead to some tears shed. I also realize my willingness to give has left me opened and exposed. I’m exposed in my writing, exposed in this post and in my love for others. In the end all I can be is myself and use my openness to help me become a better writer while hopefully achieving some internal peace.

Virginia Woolf,  Died March 28th, 1941 Drowning

** Note: This particular post was inspired by my sense of feeling overwhelmed and pulled in by the tide of the story I’m creating. At times the need to source deep emotions and feelings from my own life makes it hard to stick to the narrative thread of my story and even my blog. It’s during these times I need to pull away and regroup. This is where I’ve been the last couple of months regrouping. I now find myself in a slightly better place. A space where I can push forward with research, writing and blogging. Fastening my seat belt and turning on the ignition I’m moving forward with my narrative for the next steps towards completion. It’s my hope that this post and my blog itself helps others not feel so alone as they may go through similar experiences, because you never are.
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The Quest Stands Upon the Edge of a Knife…

FINDING A FELLOWSHIP OF WRITERS

A New Year as I Identify My Goals


In my cramped New York City apartment the clock hit 12am. As the seconds ticked down, all the images and sounds, tastes and smells of 2011 fought for a space in my mind and heart- each taking refuge.

On the first chime I attempted to drive out the not so great memories of the year that past while on the second I savored in the good ones. By the twelfth chord my thoughts blended harmoniously on the people I wish to think of while recalling the ones I didn’t, often the same between the two.

Thankfully the war that was waging in my head and the tears that began to swell was interrupted by the sight of my self-absorbed Major kissing Lady Gaga, by the embrace of Dick Clark and his wife and finally in the vain of Alfred Eisenstaedt infamous V-J Day photograph, I watched as Jenny McCarthy made-out with a NYC Police Officer.

The last two years had been hard ones, plagued with a few of life’s hardships including the death of two family members and ending with a broken heart. Suffice it to say 2012 couldn’t have come any sooner.

I immediately began to wonder what the New Year would bring while seriously contemplating what I wanted to make of it. Above everything writing was and is going to be at the forefront of my goals. At the risk of sounding cliché my story…this story will be told and I’m going to kick ass at it.

So, during one of my many late night writing sessions I had the movie Lord of the Rings playing next to my Word document. I briefly glanced at the minimized screen just as Cate Blanchett spoke these words to her ‘Ring Bearer’

The Quest Stands Upon the Edge of a Knife. Stray but a little and it will fail.

– Galadriel

Almost instantly, I realized that I am the Ring Bearer in my own life. No, I’m not trying to defeat the Dark Lord and save Middle Earth. But in my own way (perhaps you as well) I am traveling and living within my own quest. Attempting to accomplish something I never thought I would.

But with that we sometimes need a little help. A fellowship perhaps. A fellowship of writers and artists alike.

More than anything, what has helped in my writing has been the connection with others. It started with creating my blogs and signing up for Twitter. Then National Novel Writing Month arrived and I participated fully. Each provided the push I needed each day to write.

Now that NANOWRIMO is over I went scouting for other challenges to connect with. In doing so I found A Round of Words in 80 Days. Unlike National Novel Writing Month you set your own writing goal for the 80-day stretch as you connect with other writers. You identify what you want to accomplish and post it. Fellow #ROW80 participants will connect on your blog and Twitter to see your progress and give a hand of encouragement. Sounded great to me so I started.

However, this had me thinking…how many other writing/ word count challenges are there? Quite a few (I’m sure many more that I’m missing)

  • National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO): Quoted from their site “Its a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.”
  • A Round of Words in 80 Days (#ROW80): Run by Kait Nolan. Here you set your own writing goal for the 80 days. There are 4 rounds a year, each running 80 days. Thanks @JayrodPG for this one!!
  • 250, 500 or 1000 Words A Day: In this challenge you try to write 250, 500 or 1000 words a day (pick one of these goals), at least six days a week. Their website is also a great resource on Word Count meters to place on your blog no matter which challenge you participate in.
  • 100 Words: In this challenge you set out to write 100 words a day. A fellow blogger just informed me about this one. Since the word count is so small you have the time to really take a close look at what you are writing, how it is said and determine if what you have written is actually moving the story forward. In other words, does it have purpose. Thanks Nancy at http://wordsforgotten.com/ you rock!!!
  • May Novel Writing Month (MayNoWriMo) : The rules are simple: Name your word count goal for the month, begin writing at 12:00 AM on May 1st and reach your word count goal by 11:59:59 PM on May 31st to be called a winner.
  • Academic Book Writing Month (AcBoWriMo) Writing for an academic audience. Total word count goals you set – journals, book chapters, books, doctoral thesis, or academic reviews.
  • Six Sentence Sunday (SSS): BRILLIANT!! Its a way to share a tiny portion of your work with other writers, authors and readers as a means of gaining interest in your work or for feedback, support and encouragement! The idea of Six Sentence Sunday (SSS) began with Sara Brookes. Participating is easy. Pick any SIX sentences from your work from any genre, whether WIP or published (you don’t have to be published to participate) and post them on your blog on Sunday before 9 AM EST.

So, with my new writing schedule in one hand and a growing fellowship of writers in another I saddled up on my horse as I make my way to complete my ‘precious’…novel that is. ☺

I’m Not Quite a Loser

WHAT 38,344 WORDS LOOKS AND FEELS LIKE……

November 30, 2011- I didn’t even leave my desk at work because the ½ hour commute home meant I would lose more than 1,000 words in my writing. But by this point I knew I wouldn’t make the full 50,000, and honestly, it didn’t matter. What mattered was finishing and trying my best to the very end. I did just that.

Corny as it may sound….. I feel like a winner, kind of. I won’t lie as my phone alarm went off 11:59 November 30th I did feel like a loser- a big one.

But just as a fellow NaNoWriMo writing buddy said “Get as many words in as you can, especially in the beginning because life happens”. She wasn’t kidding. My ‘Life’ happening came in the form loosing a close family member 1 week before the Thanksgiving holiday. My 1,699 word per day goal was the last thing on my mind; my small world was temporarily turned upside down.

Breaking through the loss, I returned a few days before 30th determined to write until my fingers dropped. In the end I achieved something that may be small in some eyes but great in mine. I flexed a muscle I didn’t realize I had.

  • I didn’t go back to edit, edit again and re-edit the sentence I just wrote, thus wasting time and getting side tracked.
  • I didn’t stop and spend an entire day looking up a name for a character because it needed meaning in that very moment.
  • I didn’t spend hours and days researching the police radio codes for dispatching an officer to a crime scene.
  • I wrote even when I didn’t want to write.
  • I wrote when the small voice inside me said my story will never be seen or heard…I wrote.

In the end I pushed through. I made due with the temporary names, the fake dispatching codes. I made due and in return I have a story.

I’ve read countless blogs on winning and losing to National Novel Writing Month. Each an inspirational tale of late nights, blue computer screens, constant word count updates, music playlists, outlining gone wrong, story lines changed or chucked all together. I even ran into a site that blasted National Novel Writing Month. Calling it out as a dangerous community of ‘Charlie Nobodies” calling themselves authors.

For me it was one of the best things I’ve done for my novel. As I said it wasn’t a loss at all. I learned, I met great people along the way and above all I wrote. Now I need to continue….

THE BEST OF MY NANO EXPERIENCE

Some of the Best Writing buddies

@JayrodPG
@so_she_writes
@KateSpencer2go
@lumos_nox_
@raineerose
@MiykieQ
@ParentheticaLex

Best Online Writing Tool (Kicks your ass to just write)
Write or Die: http://writeordie.com/#Web+App

Best Post NaNoWriMo Blog
http://blog.deannaknippling.com/?p=3687#.TtVF_9Vksn8.twitter

Best Post NaNoWriMo Image
From @JasonRunnels http://pic.twitter.com/gWwJjNi7

Money & Fellowships: Creative Writing

Hi Fellow Artists, Writers and Creators!

As I mentioned before, I’ve been trying to transfer my skills as a 8 year grant writer and non-profit fundraising veteran to help myself obtain grants and find unique learning opportunities as I continue my path in becoming a professional writer.

Well, it hasn’t been easy. Give me 2 hours and a computer I can find a $500,000 grant for a youth program, domestic violence support services and even find donors for a community arts program; I could write the entire proposal, draw up logic models, breakdown process/ outcome objectives and create a full budget – but finding grants in the arts for individual people, well… it’s a B*#&%

In any case I found some great fellowships for Creative & Screen Writing. Why should I keep this information only to myself but share with others and save you some time? Just because they don’t work for me, they may help you.

I’m only posting updated and more comprehensive programs/ grants that I would want for myself and others. Submission dates may have passed but ALL the websites are active and grants are still being awarded. I went through each and tried to summarise to save you time.

CHECK OUT:

QUESTIONS & COMMENTS: Although I am not an expert creative writer I am however, rather good with grants and soliciting for funds, so leave a comment or send email, I will try my best to help. OR if you have info to share GREAT!!!!

I WILL BE UPDATING THIS EACH MONTH SO COME BACK !

Killing Off My Main Character…..

I guess this is a spoiler alert.  However, by the time I edit this crazy draft, find & get an agent, then  with some luck have it published you would have forgotten any of this. Why? Because I’m very sure it will be many years from now that any of this will happen  LOL!!!

During a recent NaNoWriMo write-in I met a fellow writer who asked me why was I going to kill my main character. In so many words she asked  if I was killing him because he was a ‘bad’ person.

I smiled inside because it couldn’t be further from the truth.  He is a ‘good’ person, a man deserving love and a happy life, but in this case not an ending one would expect or want in a story for their main character.  Sometimes things are too broken to be fixed.

Life and the choices we make as individuals often leads us down a path to the inevitable, in this case death.  My character’s hurt has corrupted their ability make the change needed to do more than survive—to truly live. Allowing the pain to be the only thing that defines them. It may sound harsh, perhaps it is, but it is the one truth I know in the story’s outcome I created.

I’ve spent a good portion of my life meeting all types of people from all walks- off the beaten path so to say.  As a psych major, I choose a field of study that would help give me the tools needed to empower individuals enough to help them make the choices that would improve their own lives. This lead to a 12 year chosen career path as a counselor to teens, parents, alcoholics, heroin addicts, and HIV/AIDS patients. In that time, even as I looked at my own life, I began to understand there comes a point in a person’s life where the window for change becomes narrower and narrower.

Once a person passes that “Fork in the Road” and neglected to make the proverbial correct turn,

  • not taking that Leap of Faith and trusting even when others had shown them otherwise,
  • not embracing the love they found in a place they weren’t expecting,
  • not leaving the job that has caused them more misery than the security it provided,
  • not leaving that relationship,
  • saying No instead of Yes,
  • saying Yes instead of always No.

If we didn’t step into the unknown rather than settle for the familiar, it can become too late, as in the instance of my character’s story arc.

We are creatures of habit and within that there is a layer of fear of the unfamiliar and unknown.  I believe this fear leaves us in the soppy mess that we often find ourselves in. A dirty, unhappy but very comfortable place. Why?  Because this is what we know, what we are familiar with—it therefore becomes the only truth we believe in, because anything else, anything better, is not possible or to be lived by others.

By no means am I trying to simplify our lives and say that we are filled with a multitude of  choices by which we always turn a blind eye to.  What I do believe is that there is always a moment in our lives, however small or large that we do have an opportunity to choose; a decision that can either let the door crack open just enough to let the breeze in or simply see and experience something different.

I am not an blind optimist but I am always hopeful. Innately, I have always been a person that listened and cared when others don’t. I’ve often been let down or consumed with the pain of others—of individuals when they themselves don’t seem to be aware of or want to think about what they actually might be facing. Even with this, I remain ever hopeful.

Within the story I’ve created, it is my hope through witnessing my protagonist’s death the ones closest to him will value life and learn the lessons that needed to be learned. I see the main character of my story as the visionary—the poet and the one that needs to die.

I think it was said best by Michael Cunningham in his book The Hours

“Someone has to die in order that the rest of us should value life more. It’s contrast”  – Virgina Wolf

Novel Research: Women’s Police Locker Room

RESEARCH: I couldn’t wait to share it.. Its a mini clip of me in a women’s Police Precinct locker room.  (Although I took this video last winter- I just edited it for posting) Note: its a tiny piece. I had to edit it down for obvious reasons (women were changing into their uniforms! Ha!)

MY OBSERVATIONS:

  • Dirty
  • Unmaintained by cleaning staff (lack there of)
  • Peeling paint
  • Mold
  • A foul smell I couldn’t tell and didn’t want to know where it was coming from.
  • (1) Shower and (1) toilet for over 40 women (That work 8-12 hour shifts….or more at a time)
  • A report that there were bed bugs (Thus why most of the women kept their uniforms in plastic bags)
  • Bullet proof vests that looked way too small and too uncomfortable for most of the women there.
  • Their Lockers: Pictures of their children.. husbands..wives..boyfriends and girlfriends taped up.
  • A feeling of comradery despite the circumstance they worked in….Absolutely yes.

I Wonder What People Think About When They Write

44,683  Words Left

Watching the tweets come in one after another.
600 words,10,000 and even 20 thousand words!
I check on my NaNoWriMo buddies ….the same.

The speed of which everyone is writing….so fast. From afar it seems like each 1,000 word threshold is  filled with a secure plot and eloquent language to follow.  Watching the counts come in, I’m not wondering what the story is about but what is going through the mind of the author as he/she types.  Besides the obvious… your story. What are you thinking about as you go through your process of writing?

For me it is a combination  of a few things:

Self doubt like: “Boy that was a bad sentance….What am I six years old?”  to  “He would never say that, its not part of his character”

But mostly its a stream of consciousness, one of thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions.  All in the mind of my character, my main character- the hero embarking on his journey.  I feel like I’m just along for the ride.

Now I have to pull back from the police station he works in, stop thinking about the weight of his vest on his chest as he sits waiting for role call.  I stop listening to the jokes he cracks with his fellow Police Officers.

I stop to look at the word count below my screen.  1,800 down another 44,683 to go…assuming that’s where my story ends.

I’m beyond new at writing …creative writing that is.  I’ve written for years as a grant writer but this is very different. As a first time writer with no real “Schooling” I know the 1800 words I just spewed out …..you know, the same ones that are now staring blankly at me, lifeless- SUCK…..bad.

I joined National Novel Writing Month to help me get through a first full draft of my novel.  Knowing the daily word count goal would force me to stop going back and correcting and rewording my sentences. Stop me from picking up thesaurus to find a better word for ‘stubborn’.  Frankly I did it so I wouldn’t  re-read my paragraphs 10 times and more fixing and mending my language.

Well it’s helping, but it is also creating a new  level of stress for me. It is leaving me to wonder what my ‘final’ page will look like. Gibberish perhaps? Will I have to rewrite it again? Most likely.

In the end I don’t care. I care more about my story, the lives I’m watching within the novel. I have to care more about the prospect that I just may have a few sentences out of many that maybe good enough to stay…..

                      Here’s to a Shitty First Draft!  Rock on NaNoWriMo!!