Remember when you made the jump from elementary school to middle school and recess became a class known as physical education?

I hear many high schools have gym class as little as twice a week if at all. Of course, we kids complained like crows about having to go down into the sweaty locker rooms and slip into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt (not even ones of our choice but ones we had to pay for). We whined about how unnecessary the whole concept of gym was.

Thinking back, however, gym class is where I did most of my physical activity in high school. It was where I socialized the most, even had some intimate conversations with friends and potential (always potential never realized) girlfriends. Gym class had some of the stupidest rules—you had to walk or run this many miles, your grade was contingent upon participation, which included donning the sacred shorts and t-shirt branded with the school mascot—I can’t tell you how many times my friends and I received deductions for not having our t-shirt or for wearing shorts other than the school appropriate wear. That was the stuff that made us hate gym class. Truly, however, we enjoyed the competition, the days when we got to go outside and play whichever sport we desired.

Enough nostalgia. This still doesn’t explain where recess went—well, maybe it does. Recess went from unadulterated, slightly chaperoned fun, on tire playgrounds with cedar chip bedding, to a mandatory course that has more to do with letting kids blow off steam rather than focus strictly on health and wellness. Now, people are capitalizing on recess. Putting aside equipment costs, memberships and league fees add up.

I digress. In fact, this whole blog is a digression and could benefit from some sound structure, but maybe today I just feel like dabbling in some free play—kind of roaming wherever I please. This leads me to my final thought. Recess is now also lunch. Living in Savannah, I take as much as my hour-long break as possible outside. Recess is not always physical, by the way. Remember the days it rained and you had to stay in the classroom? Teacher usually had a Tupperware bin of second-hand toys tucked away somewhere.

I read. Go for walks. I even (as drab as it sounds) run errands, which can be fun when it is made into a game of dodge the disrespectful cars while you ride around the city on your bike.

So, I implore you to think about your idea of recess and its current place in your life. Is it but a fond memory or some pigtailed girl on the monkey bars? Or is it your afternoon run when all the work is done and the weather is right and there is just enough light for the local park not to be sketchy yet?

I’ve done it!!!

I’ve finally figured out what this fucking blog is about. Not sorry about the cursing because I want to curse and this blog is about indulging that inner rebel as known as our inner child. You know the little boy that curses even though it is wrong and he will regret it later, but it feels oh so good to say so long as mommy is not around.

What the hell is he saying?

Easy. Climbing Tree, I thought, was about my writing life, but it’s not (besides there are enough writers out there writing about writing).

While riding my bike downtown today the lightning bolt of obviousness struck me—which was better than the actual lightning that middle-fingered the sky all afternoon. My blog is about retaining one’s child-like awe for the world and all its experiences.

In short, I will now use this blog as a forum to explain and share how I try to keep things youthful in both body and mind. Everything from riding my bike to work to (oh you guessed it) losing myself in story. Only now I will focus less on the writing aspect. Why? Well, for me discussing writing, as I am sort of doing right now, distracts from the actual act of writing. How’s that for some post-modern essaying?

Rest assured that I will continue to blog out on a limb (and maybe I will literally do so, in the name of blog posting research).

Stay tuned folks. Things could become interesting. Or extremely uncomfortable.

Yesterday afternoon, it occurred to me that I hadn’t written a blog post in a few weeks.

So, I was going to write a post about why I chose to call this blog climbing tree.

It was going to be a well-written expression of how I, during my youth, used to climb the pine trees in my backyard and outline stories in head with the rust of sunset as my table lamp. I was going to explain, without explaining, how characters would take shape amid the branches and the bark. How my mother would step outside and call and call for me. Miscreant that I was, I watched her from above. Watched the panic rising in her body as she rose to her tip toes as if being taller would help her find me in our otherwise wide-open backyard. How her voice strained trying to reach higher decibels, trying to spike my eardrums at my friend’s house, perhaps, or catch me on the bike path, or rollerblading on the next street over.

She never did look up. Though, the pine needles, surprisingly, might have blocked me from her sight anyway.

So, I was going to write about all that. How the trees were my space, my room of one’s own, to write the scripts, draw up the characters before descending and calling for action on the battle grounds of crabgrass beneath me. The script changed constantly—characters surprising me at every turn, catching me off guard with a revealing line of dialogue or an uncharacteristic choice.

I was going to talk about how I often took on the roles of both hero and villain—often simultaneously—Batman and the Joker. I was going to discuss my overall love affair with the Dark Knight…

Until this morning, when I woke up to make a strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, banana smoothie for breakfast. Chocolate almond milk mixed in.

In the middle of blending, my fiancée turned on the television and began calling to me over the hum of the sharp blades in the Magic Bullet blender. “Someone shot people at the Batman movie.”

And so we sat, morbidly enthralled, for ten or more minutes. 14 dead. We listened. Now, they’re saying 12. Nothing but speculations and missteps on the parts of the solemn newscasters as they pounced upon every new piece of information that flashed across their teleprompters.

In the end, it was revealed that a 24-year-old man, wearing an outfit similar to characters in The Dark Knight Rises, unleashed his plot on theatergoers in Aurora, Colorado.

And here is where I am at a loss. What do I say now? About youth, all its joys and frustrations? About creating fantasies and acting out stories? Living in the mind of fictions?

Are the movies to blame? Too easy. Was the gunman making a statement similar to those made by characters in Christopher Nolan’s movies by implementing the same violent tactics? Maybe. Although, while savvy enough to orchestrate such an attack, I doubt the gunman has the ability to have intended more than senseless massacre. I believe this because if he had had the ability for such thought, he would have had the ability to step down from his tree—with toy guns and fake smoke bomb—pulled on his costume and indulged his longing for unreality on the screen, not in the seats.

As an artist/writer/dreamer I know there is a fine line between madness and sanity, just as there is a fine line between reality and fantasy–both pairings are not mutually exclusive, I suppose. How does one walk that line? What would it take to push you into the abyss of chaos?

And now, no words to offer those who experienced the tragedy in Colorado, nor to those family and friends who are only beginning to experience it.

No words, only my heart.

  • Toothbrush/paste
  • Shaving cream—razors have to be bought on arrival
  • Deodorant
  • Glasses
  • Contact solution/storage case
  • Notebooks/journals
  • Pens/highlighters
  • Underwear/socks/t-shirts/shorts
  • 2 pairs, maybe 3, of shoes
  • USB drive/computer
  • In-flight reading—will it be O’Brian, Eugenides, Brady, or McCann?
  • Lack of confidence in my abilities concerning this whole writing thing (a.k.a. that which drives me to be me)

Check off all of the above. That is if you are a low-residency MFA student about to embark on the final residency of your grad school journey.

This will be my 5th residency. Each time one nears it is a scramble of Financial Aid applications, revisions to creative or academic writings that just never seem to become what you want to be, plans for how use the itsy bitsy amount of free time to see family, and the list goes on. It is also a time of great anticipation topped only by the stomach flurries that Christmas morning once caused.

This Molotov cocktail of excitement and dread explodes in an 8-day marathon of writing, talking, learning, commiserating, whining, bitching moaning, complaining, crying, and overcoming of any excuses for self-doubt.

If you haven’t noticed, this post is all about long, meandering lists sprawling out from one another into other long, meandering lists like a network of roots torn up from the earth. The roots contain the memories of tasks needed to be done in order to keep the whole looking verdant and feeling nourished. Right now my roots are dry and brittle from lack of attention.

 

As much as these residencies can be draining experiences, they also flood writers with the juice to persevere because I realize my cohort is also another network of roots shooting off one another into their own communities, families, and friends on top of tangling into back into Wilkes-Barre for another go at the mayhem and the beauty of the writing life in the mountains of PA.

For those of you who aren’t low-rez students, where is your writing community located? And where, if you have one, do you partake in a writerly retreat?

 

For non-writers, or even non-artists—who and where are your people with whom you share a passion?

Ah, the uncertainties of life. Whether weather, health, or tragedy interfere with the best laid plans or provide one with a much needed reminder of the important things in life we writers should take a moment to consider the elements within our control. Anyone whose tool set includes language should read Strunk’s and White’s The Elements of Style.

As a student of creative writing and avid reader, I am ashamed I remain only loosely acquainted with many  of the rules in this book. Many of William Strunk’s rules on brevity and conciseness I have intoned from my reading life. The language of using language, however, still stymies me on occasion. 

Appositives. Gerunds. Antecedents. Even predicate and nominative grapple me in a I’m-a-fraud-and-everyone-who-has-ever-read-any-of-my-writing-knows-it sweat. (The long-winded, compound adjective from the previous sentence probably broke about ten of Strunk’s rules.)

Yet, when I take a breathe and read Strunk’s example sentences I realize that I know this stuff. So I need some work as far as learning the language of language, but I smell what he is cooking. As I mentioned,  my more visceral understanding of what sentences work opposed to those that do not can be attributed to my reading life.

Sure every rule can be broken, but only mastery has been accomplished. As Strunk says, rather succinctly, “The best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules.”

So, those of you out there in bloglandia, what grammar or usage issues, if any, still throw you for a loop?

Admittedly, I have to pause whenever a who/whom, which/that situation arises. After reading The Elements I learned I am guilty of another blunder. One of those men is a phrase that actually calls for a plural verb. I had been going with one as the subject, but, go figure, I got Strunked.

Those of you expecting some drug-addled rant (a la Hunter S. Thompson), keeping flipping through the blogosphere.

The influence I am alluding to in the title of this post is the all-powerful influence of what the great J. Michael Lennon refers to as Literary Lions. Those writers whose work a young writer, like myself,  may indulge and from whom I receive the greatest gift given to any writer: inspiration to sit down and write.

The trouble with reading (and, even worse, REreading) too many excellent works of literature is the spell they cast over those still searching for their voice.

I am rambling about all of this because this past semester I have a tremendous amount of brilliantly crafted novels that constantly have me questioning the choices I’ve made for my own fiction. Everything from point of view, to verb-tense, to use of magical realism.

What am I to do? How am I to keep from being seduced and drugged by the hallucinogenic properties of the prose one can find in Song of Solomon, Tinkers, Love Medicine?

Any advice is welcome. So far this is what I’ve come up with–take the hits of good literature and let them flood your veins for a little while, but then there comes a time to detox. Detox can be accomplished by putting down others’ words and pounding away at the keys on your own. Only then will all the experience swallowed up during your literary stupors manifest itself in your own story, in ways totally different from those of the great writers.

Am I on to something? Or teetering on a week branch, prone to snap at any moment?

The time has come to speak of other things

of shoes and ships and ceiling wax

of cabbages and kings…

The insanity was fun, but it has stopped. My computer is running again. A new hard drive and a new battery have appeared to have done the trick, which is great. I can use my tax refund as savings and to get some other much needed services–like new glasses and contacts, or pay to take my teaching certification  test.

So, in the short, the rains are plentiful and the roots have been drinking up. The book has been untouched for over a month and may remain that way. I have tried to take this whole computer crashing experience as an omen or a cleansing. Honestly, it may have worked. Without easy access to a computer (save for the public library, which is really a haven for homeless people who desire air conditioning during hot Savannah summers) I have been forced to focus solely on the MFA paper. The unintended consequence has been more time to slow my reading down and let the words of some great writers inundate me with ideas and provide me with examples of brilliant writing.

Who are these brilliant writers and what are their works? Paul Harding’s Tinkers is a fine example of contemporary American literature at its finest. No finer model for multiple PoVs exists (in my mind) than Louis Erdrich’s Love Medicine, when it comes to telling the story of an entire community. Faulkner’s As I lay Dying flings back the curtain of family and tears through a tale of life and death that rides like a backwoods trek on a horse and buggy.

What am I getting at here? That even in these dark hours of self-doubt, halfway through my pen-ultimate semester of grad school, one thing holds true: reading and reading and reading strengthens the structure of ones own work in this crazy endeavor known as writing.

While reading W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants, I discovered a syndrome that led me to a word that led me to my thesis. That word (it shall remain a secret as of now, because I plan to unfurl it to the world in a kick ass paper and presentation come this June at Wilkes U) encompasses all that I have been trying to cram into this paper.

So there may be no poignant point to this weeks blog. Simply letting it rain up in here. Spilling out some nonsense so I can make way for the more important writing.

I am curious to know, dear readers, if you have ever been down in the dumps, doubting you ability and talent and drive to the point where the end of a knife looks just as good as the bottom of a fifth of rum. But, maybe, you kept at it and discovered an author, a book, a story, a paragraph, a sentence, a new word that crashed upon you like the reservoir of a broken dam yet somehow you wound up down stream all the better for the torrent as you came to rest upon the banks of a calm creek with a wide-as-a-vulture oak tree begging to lean up against its bark and soak up its wisdom.

In other words, who inspires you? Or who did inspire you when you least expected it and most needed it?

Keep climbing, folks. You may still be far from the top, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see it from where you are presently.

Ah, Facebook other than your marketing and networking capabilities (and wealth of useless self-indulgent fodder), you do bring people together. Loyal reader, trust me this is going somewhere related to the writing life.

Because of Facebook, I am able to stay in touch with my fellow Wilkes U cohort members. (I will not stumbled into a rant about how Wilkes has misspent our precious graduate funds on an online education program that has its students opting for a Facebook group rather than a discussion board.) The ability to share, commiserate, and encourage each other through this crazy, whirlwind process known as the CW MFA is utterly priceless. Gone are the days of writers locked away in dark chasms complaining that “No one understands the suffering I face at the keyboard everyday.”

I could wax poetic all day about the benefits of our Wilkes group on Facebook, but rather than meander on and on,  I will give on Grimm example of how invigorating communication with one’s fellows can be.

Rachel Altizio (a Wilkes cohort member) pointed out that we have arrived at the mid-term for this current semester. Next followed the usual banter of jumping off bridges in an Amoeba-like fashion. This is quite different than a lemming-like fashion because we would leap all at once, not one after another increasing the value of the resources for those left behind.

What I am trying to get at has finally arrived: Tyler Grimm’s response to our need for a mutual jumping ground for our mass (if only metaphorical) suicide. It has become what I will call the unintentional profound statement of the day/week/month. “We have to find some place in the middle of all of us…”

With all the recent heat on issues like racially incited hate crimes and other hot-bed topics filling up the trash bin of political and social conversation, I think we all could benefit from a moment of reflection on Tyler’s accidentally astute choice of words. Let me know, if the mood strikes you, what you might think they mean. Perhaps I am looking too deeply. Forcing meaning on the meaningless, or corrupting his words in order to inspire myself after what has been a rough month (financially, personally, and in the way of my writing life).

Talk to me. I’m lonely on here folks.

What’s that sound?

The echo of your soul being chopped down?

Writers out there (or anyone who has important files on there computer), ever wake up in the middle of the sweating with your hands pantomiming the proper sequence for CTRL+ALT+DELETE in order to reboot your frozen computer so you can save those precious files?

Well, that nightmare was my reality this past Monday. No, not a virus. We’re always so fearful of those, yet I was informed that the most common malady facing PC owners is a corrupt operating file system. Windows XP basically supernovaed on me. Taking it with it all my files and documents.

The Good News!! I was smart and backed up my files on two separate jump drives (the day before actually).

The Bad News!! I wasn’t smart enough to back up my MS OneNote files (out of sheer laziness really. I mean if I’m going to be open and honest with this blog). OneNote, for those not in the know, is a Microsoft program that basically lets you keep a bunch of digital notebooks on your computer. It is actually a great organizational tool. Rather than get into some of the sentimental and valuable info that I lost, I will pull quite the rough Louie (or left turn for you laymen out there) and roar down the road of journaling!

Not blogs, not computer notebooks like OneNote, not Dear Diary shit (though it may seem like that some days). What I am referring to is good ol’ fashioned handwritten journals. Thanks to my penchant for penning my thoughts on a daily basis most of what I stored on OneNote (minus weblinks and google images that helped with my story) I was and am able to recover by flipping through the inked pages of my Moleskines.

As the brilliant National Book Award nominee for poetry William Heyen said to our Wilkes U cohort last June, in a master class on the art of journaling, no less, “The journal is a recording of your personality as well as an invetion of it, even by omission. It is about exploring, evoking the landscape within.” He also stated how many writers use journals for different things–i.e. some only use journals for the projects they are working on, others use them as records of their writing life, some use journals for recording little tidbits of reality they can go back and mine later for their fiction. I use journals like a mine. Luckily, for me this past week, once a gem is extracted and placed on the computer it does not simply exist in the ether of Windows XP (which has proven to be quite unreliable); that gems imprint remains on the page, in the journal, on my shelf labeled on the binding (in white out) with the dates it encompasses.

The tangible. So rare these days, which is ironic because this blog is a WordPress blog and they have a link for “Freshly pressed” blogs. Even many of our foods have become (through man-made processes)  facsimile of what nature offers us.

So how and why is any of this important enough to talk about or read in a blog? Well, for me, it is what my novel is about in many ways. The tangible. A relationship to the real without an iota of virtual filter. Yeah, maybe I lost some stuff on my computer and I should have been smarter about backing it up, but because I didn’t I am able to go on this journey through the first inkling of ideas for revising my draft. Or find out exactly who told me about a great book I should read.

As friend and fellow penman Zach Powers said, “Think of it as an adventure.” And I am. A trail through the lines of pages of journals filled to the brim with words by me–good or bad.

I’m curious to see if anyone else has lost files and been devastated by it or took it more as a cleansing experience. Your two cents can be donated in the comment section. Also, does anyone out there still journal? If so, what is your medium? journal? blog? Word Files?

Cheers and be well.

Hello once again ladies and gents. I have made a conscious effort to blog once every two weeks. I have figured out, more or less, what this blog is supposed to be about: The writing life.

In keeping with that theme, my writing life kicked into overdrive this weekend with the Savannah Book Festival. Granted, I am none too happy with ye olde festival—though it’s actually quite young, just 5 years running. I used to be all about the festival but I’ll not get too much into bookie politics. I must note, however, that the new tag line for the festival made very little sense. Lose Yourself in Books has nothing to with Savannah and barely anything to do with a book festival, which is actually more about the authors than the books themselves. Not to mention a more poignant tag line (and, I daresay, a more boisterous rallying cry for lovers of brick and mortar books) would have been Find Yourself in Books.

I digress and digress and digress. On to much more positive topics…healthcare.

Just kidding.

My day at the book festival consisted of volunteering at the Telfair Square Tent. It had pretty much doubled in size compared to last year’s venue. I agreed to volunteer all day long—lucky me, I thought. Turns out, however, that I met and thoroughly enjoyed hearing authors speak that I otherwise would have skipped in lieu of more “appealing” names. Spencer Quinn (whose first person dog-narrated crime novels are about Chet the dog and his detective master, Bernie Little), I must admit did not look so intriguing on paper. Once he got to talking, however, and even read from his book, I found myself engrossed in his discussion. The next author, Craig Johnson, did not disappoint either. He blew me away with his stage presence and his good ol’ boy Wyoming swagger that I bought the first book in his crime novel series—something that isn’t typically a flavor found on my reading palate. Patricia Cohen’s polemic on the mythology of middle age proved provocative, and even Sonny Seiler’s bullet-pointed presentation about his Damn Good Dogs book (the long and storied history of the UGA bulldogs mascot line) entertained the crowd.

After my duties at the tent were fulfilled, I was free to choose between which of the last two presentations I wanted to attend. I had already read an article about S.C. Gwynne’s Pulitzer-prize nominated non-fiction tome called Empire of the Summer Moon—the short of it is, that the Comanche’s were some bad ass Indians who forced the creation of the fabled Texas Rangers. It was refreshing to see Gwynne (who obviously spent years and years doing research) so animated when talking about his book as if he was just finding out all these new facts as he served them to the crowd.

My highlight of the day, however, had to be Taylor Polites’ reading. It was an honor to introduce Taylor to the Telfair tent’s stage. I throw a shout-out to Wilkes University, since Taylor is probably its most famous graduate at the moment. His novel The Rebel Wife came out this February to rave reviews from all over including in O Magazine. He was gracious and genuine. He even talked about his appreciation for the Wilkes program. Many people may not know this about Taylor, but he quit his job in NYC in finance to “devote my life to writing novels,” he said. He quickly realized that was a ill-thought decision, but soon applied to Wilkes and the rest is history—which is one of Taylor’s favorite subjects.  I had no idea of his background in history. No wonder his book—set in Reconstruction era Alabama—has been so well-received.

I could go on and on about the festival there were so many great moments and I haven’t even mentioned Stephen King’s reading this past Sunday. I was lucky enough to attend and was presently surprised by his witticism. He managed to have more personality than I ever imagined possible for him, he took jabs at the Twilight books, and he rolled off some great anecdotes about writing, fame, and infamy. Best quote from him came when he talked about Jack Nicholson’s performance in the film version of The Shining, “You’re crazy at the start and you’re crazy at the end? Where’s the arc in that?” The audience was also graced with a reading of the first few pages of his latest project, a sequel to The Shining, which follows the boy, Danny Torrance.

All in all a great weekend filled with books and ruminations on the writing life.

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