Day 3: Flirtation – lily rap

Here’s an admission: I may be a bit of a wallflower, but my little red journals are chock full of flirtation. I always thank my lucky stars for writing. Something about those scribbly vowels and stretchy consonants, sprinkled through with spry commas and peppery periods, that makes me feel, well, flirtatious. I guess you could call it my guilty pleasure.

Wordplay, unlike much foreplay, is so portable. And who can deny the thrill of saying “now I’m drinkin’ all this lilac wine with an urchin slurpin’ turpentine, you know you’re never gonna be my valentine!” C’mon, you know you wanna. . .

 

Aphorism #14, advice for new year

“Celebrate messes — these are where the goods are. Put something on the calendar that you know you’ll be terrible at, like dance lessons, or a meditation retreat, or boot camp. Go to a poetry slam. Go to open mike, and read the story you wrote about the hilariously god-awful family reunion, even though it could be better, and would hurt Uncle Ed’s feelings if he read it, which he isn’t going to.” Anne Lamott

On Procrastination and Discovery

Overdue!

Overdue!

Despite the luxury of twofold renewal (totaling a span of 9 weeks!), today I found these two books unmistakably due. With no reprieve in sight I did what any laggard bookworm would do – I opened them!

Priscilla Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor, A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life, is a practical gem. In Part I, she urges aspiring writers to write every day without fail for 15 minutes; the value of staying in touch with one’s writerly obsessions is priceless. One can use daily exercise to work on sense observation, or to start on a draft. I liked her tips such as labeling journal entries for future gleanings, and making a point to type out a handwritten draft right away for potential revision. How often do superb first-takes languish between the pages of a journal until some impossibly late date? She also champions a healthy balance between free writing and writing into a specific structure to create a finished piece. She promises that in the course of her book, she will help the aspiring writer develop a strategy to find structures for his or her work.

In my other neglected tome, The Theater of Maria Irene Fornes, edited by Marc Robinson, the first essay opens with a story of Irene and her roommate Susan. The girls are at a cafe in Greenwich Village in Spring of 1961. They plan to hang around and see if anyone invites them to a party. Then Susan discloses that she is bummed because she hasn’t been able to start on the book she wants to write. Irene says, you just need to sit down and start writing! Then, determined to encourage her friend, she turns down a party invitation and insists they go back to their apartment and commence writing. The procrastinating writer is no other than Susan Sontag and her helpful friend, Maria Irene Fornes, changes course that afternoon from painting to playwriting. “I might never have even thought of writing if I hadn’t pretended I was going to show Susan how easy it was.”

Even if I don’t make it past the first essay in either of these books, my take-away is huge. The secret of becoming and remaining a writer is spelled out as clear as day. Write! I wonder what else lies in wait for me to discover in the final moments as my time for exploration runs out?

Spotlight: White Girls by Hilton Als

whitegirls2

Whenever I read excellently penned memoirs, I entertain the idea that my own life could be written in a similarly hypnotic vein. Then I remember, being more mouse than girl, that I shy away from trend-setters and starlets; on the whole I have avoided more often than collided with life. But then Hilton Als, in his essay, Tristes Tropiques, describes himself as “half living life so I can get down to really living it by writing it”, and I think aha! just watch me!

My raison d’être is to be where no one notices me like in a bookstore on a saturday night just before closing. Which is where I was when I saw White Girls with its capitalized title, defiant and oddly familiar. Not being able to pinpoint the arc of his story – messy, contradictory, and addled with cultural references – I was drawn to it.

From Tristes Tropiques, “what is grace but the desire to forget one’s body, or share it with others?” Als describes a need, a craving for love which transcends ownership, or even, at times, touch; our search for a “we” or a “I” that acts like a mirror, reflecting back our double, or twin.

He describes a white girl (one of many in the book) he calls Mrs. Vreeland because “she was stylish, and everything she wore was unfussy and the opposite of fashion and what did the first Mrs. Vreeland say about style? ‘It helps you get down the stairs’.”

These days, I yearn for the time to write the essays, poems, plays whose bits rattle about in my brain. When I was young and had the time and money I worked grunt jobs instead of pursuing my craft; I felt that I had no right to write, I had to live first.

Now, I try to imagine what this new ideal would look like. If I wrote all day, would I dress up my limbs and paint my face to go out to the bars and cafes at night?

Because writing often flits between subjective and objective desire. We are so much in our own heads, we have to feel the world’s eyes on us in return, to feel desirable, and to make the isolation of the work worthwhile. When Hilton Al’s muse says, “what readers crave most, what fills them up, is the story of love, and how it ends,” she speaks for all of us who are watching our lives and loves take root and unravel, while simultaneously putting it all down on paper.

Flashdance: what a feeling!

November 11, 2014 is significant for me. Today marks my acceptance into the NW institute of literary arts residency program (quite a mouthful!). My first round of courses will include the study of short prose forms such as flash fiction, prose poems, and brief literary non-fiction, just the kind of thing I’ve been tinkering with this autumn on my blog, Heart Improvement.

I’m quite bowled over by this turn of events. It has been a few months since I started pushing the publish button to see what would happen, to find out how presenting my writing might change me, and therefore transform the world.

When I casually mentioned my blog to a friend who runs a performance venue, she insisted that I come to the shows and blog about them. It was thrilling, like I was on assignment! The first time, I stayed up until 4 am writing my piece, even though I had to wake at 6 for work. I felt that a suspension bridge had unfurled before me, providing the opportunity to connect my imagination with something of merit and weight in space and time.

On the subject of time, I have had the boldness lately to watch movies previously unseen. Thelma and Louise, viewed 23 years after its release, moved me, and filled in pieces of my back story. Like why I purchased for my first car, a turquoise 1963 four door Ford Falcon, and posed behind the driver’s wheel with blue eyeshadow and curlers. And savored the desolation of late night excursions through backwater haunts and train graveyards.

Why did I wait so long to watch a film so seminal and thematic to my generation? I don’t know; though, perhaps like a bottle, waiting brought out the complexities in the wine, and in me, and in our secret, overlapping histories. Why does it take many of us so long to pursue our dreams?

Last night I watched Flashdance, the movie. I had never seen it, though it came out when I was in high school and I was one of the trailblazers who took scissors to the neckline of her sweatshirts in response to it. That movie lodged itself inside of me, sight unseen. I knew it was about a dancer, that she lived in a warehouse, that she worked as a welder. I also may have heard that there was some sex, though I would have turned 17 shortly after it came out in 1983, so I could have seen it despite its R rating.

It is like me to choose the route in the dark where you just have to feel your way. It’s not as if Flashdance is a flawless work of art, but in some ways it was the manual for folk like me, who quit formal ballet and worked as a cook at the OK Hotel, then as an industrial tile baker, living in a warehouse above train yards and fruit trucks and horse carriages with a midwestern photographer, both of us supplementing our day jobs with nude modeling.

And the guy in the movie, he’s really a dud, though he does have the pivotal line, “When you give up your dream, you die.” I guess that’s reason enough for him to exist.

The movie’s climax is the try-out at the stodgy ballet school, when Alex goes berserk and delivers the performance of a life-time, the new-wave music blaring and the old farts’ feet tapping. In spite of the long-shot of achieving her dream (and why she would give up her bad-ass, decadent life-style for the prim world of the academy is beyond me and beyond the scope of the movie), she is going for it with every fiber of her hard body. “Take your passion and make it happen!” It’s a message worth revisiting, or, if you’re like me, it’s not too late to take it to heart.

Flashdance-not-ballet-shoes

Seven things to know about me

Seven things to know about me (you probably know most of them already):

1. I come home after my day and have to, how do I put it, stitch myself back together?
2. When in the throes of #1 I am not usually amenable to company
3. I sometimes feel envious of others’ successes, not taking into consideration the incredible effort and sacrifices made
4. I resemble someone who has been deprived of life’s luxuries, so I act quickly to amend the situation
5. It sometimes feels like writing this list is the thing I anticipate the most, like Sisyphus and his rock
6. The only way to truly shift the whole damn thing once and for all would be to move somewhere like Iceland or Australia
7. Even then, it would probably catch up with me eventually, I mean, once the novelty wore off