I never had that dream where you show up for class and there’s a test and you forgot to study, but last night, I had the writer equivalent: I showed up at a book event, and I didn’t have a price sheet. (For those who have never done this kind of event, allow me to provide a smidgen of context. The price sheet is the sign that tells prospective buyers how much your books cost. Most people want to know this information, and not everyone is comfortable asking. If you don’t have a price sheet, you are left with two choices: either put price tags on every single copy of your book and hope the buyer doesn’t mind having to scrape off the adhesive, or spend the day repeating, “Nineteen dollars, including tax” like a mantra.)
In my dream, the person in charge—a writer I’ve met in real life who is actually very kind and supportive—frowned at my lack of preparedness. I left my spot (in the very back of the venue) and sought out various ways of making the sheet, from accessing the complicated computer setup of dear friends who looked thirty years younger than when I’d last seen them to availing myself of paper with decorative borders and trying unsuccessfully to write the necessary information with a gold Sharpie, except that I couldn’t spell “Books.” (This, at least, was familiar since I’ve dreamed many times that I was unable to punch in a phone number accurately.)
My dreams aren’t usually this vivid or specific. It’s rare that I remember them more than a few seconds after wakening. But this one has stuck with me. The strangest part is that when I woke, I wasn’t thinking about my dream-self’s failure to be prepared. Instead, I found myself shaken by another question that arose from seemingly nowhere: what if I have no more stories to tell? What if the reason I’ve struggled so much with this book is that I know it’s my last one and I don’t want it to be over? What if I have nothing else to say?
The person who said this to me is an aspiring fashion designer I’ll call “Jon.” We have never met in person. I have never seen his work. Our sole contact to date has been one telephone conversation that started out in the context of both of our day jobs. And yet. . . .
“You’ve inspired me today.”
It all began when I called the appellate clerks’ office to find out whether an appeal has been filed. In the course of the conversation, Jon asked me to spell the name of the potential appellant. I did so, and he reported that no appeal had been filed.
“Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.” ~ Flannery O’Connor
From the time I was twenty until I was forty-six, I barely wrote a word of fiction.
God, what a waste.
A devastating college workshop experience left me convinced I had nothing to say and didn’t know how to say it anyway. On that dark February evening, I sat in stunned silence at a conference table as a handful of seniors mocked my story mercilessly. No one else spoke up (although one student told me later, “I didn’t think it was that bad.”). The professor did nothing to stop the train of ridicule, nor did he ever say anything to suggest that my writing wasn’t hopeless. He gave me an A in the class, but I’ve never believed it.
Last night, I discovered a streaming series entitled, “The Movies that Made Us.” In its first season, the series explored the making of “Dirty Dancing,” the iconic coming-of-age story of a young woman who falls in love with a dance instructor during her family’s summer vacation at a Catskills resort.
“Dirty Dancing” was released in 1987. I had just moved to Stamford, Connecticut, when the movie came out, but I didn’t know that the studio responsible for “Dirty Dancing” was also based in Stamford or that this studio was known at the time for adult videos, not feature films. I also didn’t know the driving forces behind the movie were two women, or that at least part of the movie was based on the experiences of one of the women, or that they’d ended up with the now-defunct Stamford studio because literally every other studio had turned it down, many claiming it was “too girly.”
In its way, everything we write reveals us. Not because we’re naming names, but because who we are—what we think, believe, and have experienced—comes through in what we choose to create.
Here’s an example. The novella I plan to publish later this year arose out of the juxtaposition of two very different elements. One element was my beloved Bonanza; in fact, the original version of the novella was created as fan fiction. The other element was my long-ago experience directing a high school drama club, where the kids were talented and enthusiastic and I was utterly clueless. Put the pieces together, revise the living daylights out of them, and voilà! It’s a lighthearted tale about siblings and community theater: My Brother, Romeo, slated for publication this fall.
As I write this on the evening before Thanksgiving, 2020, I await the results of my COVID test. A year ago, that sentence would have made no sense; today, a large portion of the population is the same position. But because scientists and technicians and engineers researched and experimented and invented, we not only have the capacity to know what (if anything) we have and what we can do about it, but we can take steps to manage it.
As we reflect on all the inventors have done for us, say it with me:
Somewhere, amid the darkness, a painter measures a blank canvas, a poet tests a line aloud, a songwriter brings a melody into tune. Art inspires, provokes thought, reflects beauty and pain. I seek it out even more in these times. And in so doing, I find hope in the human spirit.
~ Dan Rather (via Twitter)
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The past couple of weeks have been unusually insane.
From the delightful (taking a dear friend out for his birthday), the exciting (joining a new singing group) and the thrilling (some news you’ll hear about in a later post), to the aggravating (a longtime client who was refusing to honor his promise to pay me at the agreed-upon time), the heartbreaking (my elderly aunt, who lives about 500 miles away and may be in her final days), the frustrating (an as-yet-unscheduled meeting, the scheduling of which I cannot control in any way), and the stressful (a brief to be prepared according to unfamiliar rules and filed in a court I’ve never dealt with), it’s been a whirlwind. So, on Friday night, when I finally received confirmation that the brief had been filed, I declared a holiday weekend. (Since I worked most of Labor Day weekend, I viewed it as comp time.) Continue reading →
So I said to myself, “What better time that New Year’s Day to begin a writing challenge?”
Forget the details, like the fact that I didn’t actually start writing this until after midnight on January 2. As far as I’m concerned, until I go to sleep, the calendar doesn’t turn over. (An exception exists when I work all night, but I didn’t do that with this post. Instead, I reached a stopping point and went to sleep, and now I’m back again on the “second” day of the month.) Continue reading →
“Being centered to write is accepting the mess, loving the mess, celebrating the mess, and writing about the mess.”
~~Dacia R. Ball
A few weeks ago, I posted about solitude. As one who lives alone, my perspective was obviously limited. Today, poet Dacia R. Ball offers insights about balancing the call of the creative life with the demands of motherhood. Welcome, Dacia!
by Dacia R. Ball
I was a floundering mother with fears and self-doubt who carried within me an ardent need to understand life in all its intricacies. This was a blessing and a curse. I saw the other side, the transcendent parts of living not visible to plain sight, but I was contained within the physical demands of feedings, dirty linens, and a body fighting postpartum depression.
Through the encouragement of a community of fellow writers, I was able to return to a craft I began in my twenties and had set aside while becoming a mother in my thirties. Poetry and essays became an outlet for my musings. My sporadic blog posts ranged from theological rants to accounts of spontaneous road trips. Continue reading →
For everyone (like me) who’s ever wondered how composers create pieces with all those different parts, here’s your chance to watch it happen. In this video, the Artistic Advisor for the National Symphony Orchestra, Ben Folds, composes a song – including orchestration – before a live audience in ten minutes. Enjoy and marvel!