Writing, With Guys Named Dave

Dave...... to Infinity!!

Another 37, Day 4

This is harder than it looks.

I remember that, about doing regular blog posts. Aside from the fact that a 500-1000 word post takes about 90 time as long to write as it does to read, it’s surprisingly difficult to find something to say. Normally I’m not comfortable with just rambling out whatever is on my mind. I realize a lot of my blog posts amount to that anyway, but I at least try to make them about something. I don’t just sit down at a keyboard and write whatever comes to mind. That feels pointless, as if somehow blogging about my  deliberately uninformed theories for how they manage to squeeze all that air into a compressed air canister is so much better.

But this is harder than it looks. Why is that? I spend most of my time thinking about or, on those occasions that I can get someone to listen, talking about the kinds of pointless-but-interesting things that so characterize existence for the modern overeducated and under-utilized denizen of the developed world. Which is a term I hate, by the way, because it implies that we are somehow finished, while the developing world hasn’t gotten to our state of completion yet.

Maybe it comes from a desire to actually be a good writer. I’m not saying that everyone who blogs doesn’t have that desire. I’m just saying a lot of people who blog aren’t focused on craft, and wouldn’t cringe at, say, that last sentence I wrote, or consider taking it out. I did cringe, and I am considering its removal, but then the two sentences after it wouldn’t make as much sense, and I’m fonder of them. Except for that use of the word “fonder.”

There’s a big difference between actual stream of consciousness and a structured article that has the appears of stream of consciousness. They look similar, but one is rambling, and the other is, or at least can be, art. This, right here, this is actual stream of consciousness. It’s something that I usually avoid because I think it’s less compelling and it doesn’t take as much effort as a writer. Like anything else, if you want to improve as a writer your practice has to be not just extensive but deliberate. Just writing words down isn’t going to make you much better.

It can be pretty hard to identify the difference between the two. Some writers telegraph it more than others. Some Dave Barry articles are written to sound like he’s just saying funny things as they come to mind. But the embedded structure and writing techniques are obvious if you even kind of know what to look for. On the other hand, if David Sedaris’s technique is something other than pounding on a keyboard on the way to the kitchen to indulge in some late-night chicken wings, I sure as hell can’t tell. Which is not necessarily a condemnation of Sedaris work. But writing like that, funny or engaging or otherwise, looks a lot like a Jackson Pollock.

I’m sure a lot of that is jealousy on my part. I don’t have the skillset or the patience to write something like Game of Thrones, but I could write about getting nervous about going to the dentist with my boyfriend. Although I suspect my wife would have a few questions.

But that’s the point. Just because I think I could write like David Sedaris doesn’t mean that I could match his success even if I had all of the same opportunities. I couldn’t necessarily hit those exact notes of humor and relatability. I might publish a million words and never strike the same chord in my readers that allows him to make a living over dissing the way his father treated him when he was a kid. I definitely couldn’t do it if I continue to rely on clichés like “strike a chord.” Jesus Christ, what was I thinking?

Writing always looks easy because we all know how to do it. Most of us couldn’t even start to build a microprocessor or translate that as-yet untranslated Aristophanes play about cheese balls. But we can put sentences together. It’s part of why so many people think they could be great actors or football stars. It’s doesn’t look out of reach because the basic elements are accessible. Because every dreamer can perform the easy version of those tasks, and so it makes sense that with a little elbow grease they could perform the hard version. I don’t know if there’s as much of a gap between “See Dick Run” and Infinite Jest as there is between legos and a microprocessor, but I know that you won’t have a serious idea of how many rockets you’re going to have to attach to your skateboard to leap over that ramp until you actually sit down and start jesting.

Because, after all, this is harder than it looks. Which is why, sometimes, for my own sanity, I just have to sit down and blog.

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Queen Anne’s Lace

Queen Anne's lace, July 30

 

Another 37, Day Two

“Kids, wake up. I have a great idea.”

My dad was a morning person, and he just didn’t get that there was never a good reason for waking up. Sometimes there was a good reason for being up, but that came later. Somehow he expected us to be enthusiastic. My brother was better at that than I was, but not much. My mother was, if anything, worse, which I loved because she understood. But she wasn’t there, this particular morning. She couldn’t have been, because this was about her.

Once we were awake enough to care, dad explained what we were doing. It was a good idea. A really good idea. Perfect. That’s how we ended up on the strip of tattered grass in the median on the highway just outside of Pier 1 Imports. And along other weathered, neglected patches of greenery usually only traversed by kids jaywalking across traffic, or work men in orange vests and just the wrong among of stubble on their perpetually surly faces. But the patch outside of Pier 1 was the best. A diamond mine.

And we were searching for diamonds, rare and precious, uncut and indistinguishable from common rocks unless your eye was equally rare, and you knew how to spot that which was precious. We were spice hunters, sailing to the places on the map marked with dragons, looking for the nutmeg trees but harvesting only the mace. We were in the wilds of the South Jersey suburbs, and we were searching for Queen Anne’s Lace.

“What’s Queen Anne’s Lace?” I remember asking my father once.

“It’s a weed,” he told me, “but don’t tell your mother.”

“Maya, what’s Queen Anne’s Lace?” I asked her. I called her Maya, because I liked to play with words, and because “mom” and “mommy” were too prosaic, and she was too special to my child’s eyes.

“A flower,” she said, in that far off voice she sometimes had, the voice sprinkled with faerie dust. “The most beautiful flower in the world.”

Maya could talk about flowers for hours. With the voice of an expert, and the passion of a poet describing her children. Whenever spring bloomed she spoke of nasturtiums and hydrangea and bleeding hearts, how they grew, what they needed, their personality quirks and their deepest fears. She had a story about every one.

“Impatiens are the most dramatic of all flowers,” she used to say. “When you haven’t watered them they sag and droop,” here, she would sag and droop her arms down herself. “’Water us!’ they say. ‘Water us or we’ll die!’ And then when you water them they spring up and spread out, and say, ‘Look at us! Aren’t we beautiful?’”

I never understood beauty. Not really. I understood ideas, words, the wild, frayed colors and sounds at the edges of abstract imagination. But not pure beauty, purely for it’s own sake. Sometimes I’m staggered by it, but even then I over think it. I try to tell a story, but sometimes you don’t need a story. Sometimes beauty is wine, and a story just waters it down.

Both of my parents were artists, but for my dad beauty did something. The most passionate I ever saw him was talking about some scientific breakthrough, or some revelation about how things worked. For Maya beauty just was. Powerful and intense and meaningless in the most meaningful of ways. I never understood beauty, all by itself, and that means I never understood perfection. I never touched it. But she did. To her it was everywhere.

“Do you think we have enough?” Dad asked. We looked in the back of the Suburban. It was full of clods of dirt pulled up from the ground, a dozen flowers and their accompanying roots. It was a hot day, and my brother and I were both dirty and sweaty, and neither of us had realized we were going to have to give up our Saturday for this. We looked at each other. We looked at the flowers. We both agreed; we didn’t have enough. Time to get back to work.

You couldn’t buy Queen Anne’s Lace. Of course you couldn’t. It was a weed. It grew wherever no one paid anyone pluck it up and make things more presentable. Did that make it more beautiful? I heard once that most people who visit the Louvre only look at the Mona Lisa and then leave. What other works of transcendental beauty line those halls, that everyone walks past? And what might be growing in the cracks between the pavement just outside, torn up by the gardener every morning, that could be just as beautiful?

As a teacher, Maya would sometimes get into arguments with other teachers about some of the students. The bad kids. The ones who spoke too often and too harshly, just so someone would see them. Maya loved them, not just because she could love everyone, but individually. For who they were. For the way they flowered. Other people saw weeds; she saw Queen Anne’s Lace.

Her face when she came home to see the flowerbed full of white flowers was as wondrous as we could hope for. More wondrous than you are probably imagining, because she had no filters in moments like this. She was always everyone’s favorite person on Christmas Morning, because you could hand her a present, watch her open a bottle of the kind of $4 perfume little kids think makes a fantastic gift, and watch her explode into joy. She might not like the present, she might never use it, but her joy was utterly genuine, because the moment was genuine. Because the act of giving her a gift filled it with magic, to her. You could hand her a package of weeds, but she always opened Queen Anne’s Lace.

She ran up and hugged us and exclaimed and bubbled over with joy. It must have been Mother’s Day, because her birthday would have been too cold. But I don’t remember what day it was. I don’t remember the details. I just remember her face. I’ll always remember her face.

I have no idea if all of this is entirely too sentimental. But sometimes you have to not care about that kind of thing. Sometimes you just have to blossom when someone waters you, and declare to all of the world that you are beautiful. Sometimes you have to tell the woman who raised you that she’s amazing, that she taught you about beauty and love and art. And about how, sometimes, there aren’t any weeds. There’s only Queen Anne’s Lace.

Where Chipmunk Song Is Beautiful

Rainier'14

Right now there are tears covering my face. The reasons are almost as beautiful as they are dumb and embarrassing. I wept because of beauty and sadness and the wonder that is in the world. And I wept because I am very silly. And because of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

The day started off rough. I couldn’t wake up. I cut myself in a dream and it hurt dramatically for a dream. I woke up nursing the finger, wondering how it could have hurt so much when it didn’t really happen. Then I hit the snooze for an hour and a half.

When I finally got up my back hurt fiercely. The upper back, right between the shoulder blades. I took some pain killer and sat down to write, but nothing calmed down.

For the last few days I’ve been in an okay place mentally, but unstable. Liable to get angry or sad with only a tiny stimulus. Worse than that, I’ve had no motivation at all. I’ve wanted motivation, but my ability to give a fuck about anything is completely off. Nothing seems to matter.

I started to write this morning and it just wasn’t happening. I tried a writing prompt. It told me to act like a two year old. So I wrote for ten minutes as an unnecessarily articulate two year old with an evil older sister named Anna who stole her bunny and a nice even older sister named Girl. I don’t think she was actually named Girl. I think I was going for something nuanced there, but I didn’t write long enough to find out what it was.

I gave up on the prompt and went back to my writing journal to wax about how uninspiring I found that prompt. I clicked over to my countdown timer. It moved very, very slowly. It does that when I’m in these moods. Like it knows.

I came up with a plan to get some work done today, even despite my mood. And I kept writing even though I was in a lot of pain and every keystroke bored and annoyed me. I didn’t care about anything and it annoyed me that I didn’t care and I didn’t care that I was annoyed and that, too, was pretty annoying.

Then it happened.

I had put on a children’s music station to get inspiration for the prompt. It mostly played Phineas and Ferb music, and it wasn’t helping. Then came that voice. That beautiful, silly, ridiculous voice.

It was Alvin. It was Alvin of Chimpmunk fame. I recognized the song but I could place it. But it tugged at me. Right from the first few bars of that squeaky voice it moved something in my chest. It made me Feel Things.

It was a cover of Daniel Powter’s Bad Day. By the time Alvin stopped singing the song was so intense I had to keep it going. I went to Youtube and loaded the original video for the song. A video I had never seen before.

It’s about two people in a city who are having bad days while everyone around them goes about not caring. They are sad and lonely and disconnected. Throughout the video, they come together, through tiny moments and coincidences. It ends with them standing in the rain, huddled under an umbrella.

Now I’m covered in tears.

I’m sensitive, right now. In this place where nothing matters. Because when nothing matters I no defenses. I get angry when something goes slightly wrong. I become deeply sad when I hear about the tiniest suffering.

And beauty annihilates me.

If I see Mount Rainier on a clear day through by car window while I am in this place, sometimes I have to pull over because the feeling in my chest overwhelms me. In this place, every silly love song with a hint of power fills me with life and longing. I become a teenage girl who bawls at romantic comedies because they prove true love can exist in the world. I might go to pieces if exposed to too many Hallmark cards. I don’t know. I’ve never tried it, and I never will, because eventually the state will end and I’d have to live with that.

This is a place with no ironic distance. Where poetry has the power to reshape reality and bring me to my knees. Where clichés like “bring me to my knees” have all of the strength they had when they weren’t clichés. When they were just beautiful.

Some people live here. People like me make fun of them for being simple, or pretentious, depending on the flavor. But this is a beautiful place. Beautiful and painful and inspiring and terrible. I can’t exist here for long. The air is nectar and I nearly drown with every sublime lungful of breath. This is where Artists come from, and the intensity of every raindrop is why they cut off their ears. How could they do otherwise, when the world is like this?

I can’t stay here for long. The more beautiful it becomes the more difficult it is. I have to leave. I always have to leave.

But hopefully, I can always bring something back.