So… I got a story published.
As part of The Learned Pig’s editorial called ‘Wolf Crossing’. Check it out if you’d like, and give some of the other contributors some love!
My Story ‘Were’
The whole of ‘Wolf Crossing’
I’m not sure what possessed me, but I seem to have started NaNoWriMo this morning. There was only minor peer pressure, and there is peer pressure every year, yet this is the first time I’m going for it. I don’t have a clear idea of what I’m writing, and I’m not signing up officially either. So, really, it’s not NaNoWriMo so much as just Write-A-Fuckton-Of-Words-All-Month-And-See-What-Happens. I think I might just be desperate for a project, a project that involves writing new stuff without any pressure to publish or end up with anything in particular (other than a word count of 50.000). This will be good for me, I hope, after three months of doing nothing but editing my own writing.
So far, I’ve written 1300 words. It felt bizarre to flex those muscles again, to write spontaneously in a way that isn’t a diary (or blog) entry. To write fiction without any idea of what the story is or who the character might be. But as the morning progressed I got into it. It helped that I had a 1h break between writing sessions in which I walked in the cold air and took a couple of trains to meet up with friends for our weekly writing session in a café. The break and walk allowed me to think through what I’d written earlier in the morning, shortly after waking up, and see themes emerging already.
I think I might actually be excited about this. Let’s see how it progresses. But to have a project, a set of creative tasks, in November, especially a November as cold and grey as this one promises to be, has got to be a good way to keep any weather-related sadness at bay.
On Sleeplessness and Things that Help*
A writer friend of mine recently complained of an inability to fall asleep due to a restless mind, so I decided to compile a list of *a few things I have tried that have helped me. I have had insomnia on and off for a lot of my adult life, much of it related to stress as well as the consumption of caffeine, although it’s hard to say which of the two is the underlying issue; my bet is on stress, personally.
So here they are: feel free to pick and choose, but bear in mind that most of them are long-term commitments rather than quick fixes. Most of them are directed in particular towards people who sit a lot, stare at screens a lot, and worry a lot, aka writers.
I hope this helps anyone, but if nothing else I will have typed out a bunch of advice that I need to take as well, so… yeah. Sleep is good.
The only song that matters this week.
During this research I began to suffer from an affliction I came to call “murder mind.” I could work all day on my project with a certain distance, blithely looking up “bullet” or “skull” in my rhyming dictionary. But in bed at night I found a smattering of sickening images of violent acts ready and waiting for me. Reprisals of the violence done unto Jane, unto the other Michigan Murder girls, unto my loved ones, unto myself, and sometimes, most horribly, done by me. These images coursed through my mind at random intervals, but always with the slapping, prehensile force of the return of the repressed.
I persevered, mostly because I had been given an end-point: the publication date of Jane, on my thirty-second birthday, in March 2005. As soon as I held the book in my hand, I would be released. I would move on to projects that had nothing to do with murder. I would never look back.
Maggie Nelson on writing Jane. A Murder. in The Red Parts. Autobiography of a Trial.
Over the past year and a half, Maggie Nelson has gone from being a writer I only really knew as a poet (Something Bright, Then Holes) to one of my favourite people in writing; I love her for her honesty, the way she doesn’t seem to write in order to put herself or her subject on a pedestal but out of a compulsion to write out the many dimensions of her experiences. She writes and admits to being scared of what it means to write, and she does so with vulnerability and strength, in a way that makes me feel less alone in this odd world of storytelling.
There is something I haven’t fully considered about writing, which is that every time I work on a story I do so in streaks: for a few days, all of my mental (and –to a certain degree– physical) energy is focused on this one story, on existing in its universe, responding to its demands.
It is like getting on a ride of sorts and my body and psychology are set to the movement of the ride, responding to its rise and fall, orienting me based on where the ride takes me. Or perhaps more like climbing aboard a ship.
But then, after a few days, or even a week (depending on how lucky I am with stamina, with the length of my streak), I climb back out of the story-ship’s bowels and return to the motionless shore of non-immersion, the basic state of living when I am not thinking my way through a writing project. Even if I haven’t finished the story I was working on, adapting to the shores of non-immersion takes me a while: I need to regain focus and balance.
The feeling is the same as being lost but feeling the need to keep moving: the same hectic pull.
Every time, I climb or fall out of the story onto sold ground and it feels like sea-legs; I feel dizzy, disoriented, but also angry with myself for feeling this way; I tell myself,
‘What do you mean? You are a terrestrial creature, not a fish: you belong on the land, this is your home, where you were born. And yet only after a few days or weeks at sea you mean to tell me that you suffer from a sense of disorientation on the very ground your legs have evolved to tread?’
This is, of course, only a metaphor – and I like to stretch those a bit. But it puts into words the feelings I have been battling for the past few days. My disorientation makes no sense to me: all I did was climb on a boat/story allow the motion of the waves to carry me, affect my sense of balance for a while, and then climb back out onto a shore that should feel stable and firm, a ground that isn’t supposed to be spinning, a horizon I have convinced myself should the straight and clear.
But here I am, without focus and, most of all, berating myself for it instead of accepting that this is simply part of the process.
But here I also am, writing it out, making sense of it for myself so that I may eventually learn to accept it.
A Word-Doodle for Eight.
You are a writer and you feel sad: you’re not an artist. You’re useless at wielding paints or plasters or colours. In general, you are prone to tears; in German, they say you’ve build your home close to water, which makes sense, which atones in some way for the guilt you feel for crying so often, and so abundantly. It must simply be where your bodily home was built – a matter of infrastructure reacting to environment.
Past boyfriends –the ones who were aspiring artists and academics– have told you that crying is useless: a waste of minerals, and the quickest way to drive someone out of your home, our of your life.
In a single month, you use up around three boxes of tissues, family-sized. Your eyes have a permanent pink rim. Although blue, your irises begin to look green in the mirror. The things that make you cry are manifold, but mostly you cry at the sound of yourself, at things that seem poignant leaving your mouth, your own voice revealing things about what feels like your true self. That which sounds like a key to your fundamental self, no matter how plain a thought, has the power to make you weep. Or anything about children reconnecting with their parents.
So you are a writer, and you wish you were an artist because the things you are not always seem easier, more rewarding. Being an artist looks to you like a way to express yourself more fully, more directly, without having to trip over language, this loaded thing. But the thing is: you have stuck with language and learned to express yourself in this medium, not another. And it might not matter, because there is another problem: you don’t feel worthy, worthy of ease and reward, worthy of attention or respect. Long story short, what do you do? You cry.
I’m not an artist, you sob into your tissue. I can’t come up with anything that feels or looks like art.
You forget to think that this might be something many others sob about. It might be the main propellant behind many other ounces of snot and fluid. You didn’t go to art school, so you focus on this as a regret. Not going to art school, as we all know, bars you for life from producing anything not the art world won’t laugh out of the room at first sight.
Even writing now feels like a foreign language, which, you suppose, it is.
When you cry, it’s all about what you’re supposed to do, what is right and what is wrong. Because those concepts are confusing and never lead to happiness, you cry.
You get your box of tissues and you fill each sheet with snot and wipe your stupid tears and you sit there feeling sorry for yourself until it feels like something has been lifted, like an idiotic valve has opened to release the pressure, and you crumple up the three-four-five tissues you’ve used, some wet with snot to the outer edges, some dryer as the phlegm ceases to come out, and you line them all up in front of you, little white nests sheltering your body fluids, the ones we link to sadness.
You’re done crying but you don’t throw the tissues away.
You put them aside, in a drawer; the next day you feel bad about yourself again –something, something, always something– and you cry and empty the contents of your empty knee-jerk sadness into a tissue again, and this becomes a kind of ritual.
You begin to milk the fluids of sadness from your body every day, as a kind of hygiene. Something healthy, you tell yourself, like Medievals covering themselves in leeches once in a while to clear the blood. Except this is like Medievals collecting the leeches in small jars afterwards, leeches filled with their ‘bad blood’, so as to hold on to what was removed from them; it is like someone collecting their nail clippings to remind themselves of this process of mindless growth that will continue until a few days after their death.
You collect your snot-filled paper tissues, wondering sometimes if this is just a less upsetting version of collecting your discarded bodily tissues –like skin flakes, hair, nails– and at the end of the year you line them all up on a large wooden plank in a warehouse somewhere. You don’t remember the specifics of how you got access to this warehouse, or behind which dumpster you found the plank, or why the walls are white and wide enough to encompass large crowds; you simply line up your tissues on the large wooden plank –roughly 10m long, 2m wide– and an assistant hangs a little plaque on the wall with your name and a title:
A Year of the Artist’s Tears.