WRITING

AN EVENING WITH PAM HOUSTON

I was meditating this morning as I have been doing almost every single morning for four months now. I sat cross legged on the hard surface of the floor, small pillow slightly under my behind for some added support, palms resting on my knees, open to the sky, open to the possibilities of what lies ahead and above. As usual, my mind drifted in and out of future and past thoughts, then back to center, to the glorious now, weaving in and out of the traffic of my busy brain.  Sometimes this is all meditation is for me, a busy freeway of past and future thoughts with bursts of the present. Through this practice, I have learned that this is the practice.

On many occasions though, ideas and thoughts start snap crackle and popping just as the ads for a bowl of Rice Crispies proclaimed back in the days when kids ate cereal as a nutritious breakfast. Do kids still eat cereal for breakfast? I don’t know since my son is mostly on his own these days away at college. I can wager a guess that the only cereal consumed is the type that gets gobbled down after a night out on a college weekend. But cereal or no cereal, meditation along with almost daily writing have become a nutritious healthy breakfast and I am more grounded and sane because of this practice. This is the pleasant and surprising outcome of this discipline I have added to my mornings.

This past week I had the pleasure of taking a writing class from a woman named Pam Houston sponsored by The Cardigan Connection, my new-found friends Robin and Emily Homonoff of the famed Reading With Robin in Providence, RI.  Twenty-five bright eyed women sat together in an odd venue choice, kind of a bar, music space, sitting with pens and paper or laptops eagerly waiting for Pam to shine her expertise on our aspiring writing lives. Most of us were in our forties and above, I am guessing that the price tag of the class deterred the twenty somethings, but there we sat all hoping to learn another nugget about the craft we love.

Once I made the commitment to writing, I have been inundated with the business side of writing, advice, workshops, blogs, events endlessly abound most with a hefty price tag. Like Alanon has taught me for over twenty years, I must be disciplined enough to take what I need and leave the rest. Between reading, doing my morning writing and taking writing classes I have come to realize that some of these activities, though valuable, are distracting me from actually writing the historical fiction book I have in my heart.

The only way a book is going to get written is to sit down and write it. No amount of classes, trips to the library to read more historical fiction and daily blog writing will make my book come alive. Surely it is helpful and  I am humble enough to know that this is all part of the process. Slow and steady, no rush. I don’t think this book will come from waking up in the morning, locking myself in my house and writing for forty-eight straight hours. On the other hand, it is surely not going to write itself.

What Pam Houston spoke of was her own writing style, how she has written for decades and the results of her writing actual books. She said something that surprised me, that she does not write every day, that in fact she can go weeks or months without writing. This gave me a sense of relief in some ways because two things happen to me when I am not writing. One is I feel absurd pressure to write, all self induced, but still there taking up brain space and time. Two is guilt, surely not a good attribute to become a better writer. I love to write, but sometimes the tank is empty and it needs refueling. A break is often the best solution. Pam saying this a loud was both reassuring and calming to this overactive overachiever brain in my head.

The other offering I received from Pam was what she called Glimmers. Of all of her presentation that I loved, this was my favorite as it gave credence to the pictures I see wherever I go. Some people who take photos for a living see scenes and snap pictures of them, for me I see the same scenes and stories unfold at the speed of light. Many writers would say this, I am sure. Pam used the word Glimmers to define this and it resonated with me immediately.

For example, I may be walking down the street and I see an old woman struggling with her groceries. I offer to help her and she smiles with a bright welcome relief eagerly accepting my gift of help. I notice her coat is bright red as are her pants, her blouse, the buttons on her blouse. So is her lipstick and her nail polish which immediately makes me curious about her life. It is here that a story unfolds, just not yet. I write the few sentences down. This is what Pam referred to as a glimmer. This short experience may not be the story or a story in itself, but may eventually become part of something later. Or it may become its own story or nothing at all. Regardless, the picture needs to be captured and developed so it is not forgotten.

I see glimmers constantly. Pam gave this experience of mine a voice and a house for them to reside in. Her presentation was a short one; we were only there for two hours and we wrote for about forty minutes of that time. Glimmers. I could have sat for two days listening and writing more with Pam as a guiding force. As it turns out, Pam does these hiking writing combo workshops in places like Colorado and France that make me want to charge up one of these on my beautiful balance free credit cards. Instead I call upon that deep meditative breath that has become my new best morning friend and acknowledge what I need to do is simply take all I have learned from the five or six writing classes I have taken in the past few years and seriously continue to schedule the time to write. To actually write and research my ideas. No writing class is going to do this for me at this point. Later yes, but right now, I must work on developing my own writing practice. What I learned from Pam Houston in the short time I had the privilege of her time this past week is we all have our stories. There is no perfect way to write except to actually write them.

In my meditation this morning, the idea that every day is Groundhog Day popped into my head. One of my favorite movies where Bill Murray gets a do over every day, over and over again until he learns the lesson. Right in front of all of us if we have the luxury of waking up today is a new day, our own Groundhog Day where we can start fresh like it is the first day. The hell with a new year, how about a new day? Isn’t this amazing to think that every waking day is a chance to get it right? Whatever your it is? Mine is completing my idea for a historical fiction novel. What Pam Houston taught me is every glimmer that has come into my viewfinder may end up being a part of this story so today I roll up my sleeves and get to work like it is the brand new day that it is. #luckyindeed.

Cheers to a new year and another chance to get it right.

oprah winfrey

I think I would say Cheers to a new day.

WRITING

Why I Write.

I was recently asked, “Why do I write?” I just started my adventure with WordPress, the way out of my comfort zone attempt at designing my own missalayneous.com website. Deciding to jump into WordPress University, I immediately found a writing class that I clicked YES on promptly. The first prompt came to my inbox like magic. Why do you write?

This is a question I can easily answer.

I write because I have to. Because if I don’t, I am in spiritual agony. Because not writing is simply not an option for my health, my soul, my mind. When I write, I feel good. When I don’t, I get jammed, and clogged like a kitchen sink drain that has backed up because a chicken bone from dinner the night before found its way in. Writing helps me move ideas, feelings, thoughts and musings up and out. Writing creates open space in my heart so my creative brain can have the room it needs to get shit done. Writing is a force to be reckoned with and it shows up every day like a loyal friend.

Since my first journal in third grade pen to page, fingers to keyboard have never let me down. I feel calm and on purpose when I write. Just like a good workout, there is a steadiness and a purpose to my mornings giving me a fresh perspective on the day before.

I used to only write in a unlined notebook, with a sharpie, then a smooth uniball pen, then that changed to a lined notebook with a pencil. I soon realized that in order for all of this writing to become something, it needed to be saved on a computer so I started to type on my laptop and organize my writings more formally. Then I started typing occasionally on a typewriter. This led to becoming an avid and manic collector of portable typewriters. Each mode of writing makes me write with a different personality. I love the various themes I come up with depending on what I am writing on.

Writing feels like what I imagine photographers feel when they see an image. Instead though, while they have the need to capture the actual image with a camera, my image is a story that unfolds with a sense of urgency that I must sit down to write about it. Words to paper, adjectives, adverbs, nouns, run on sentences, verbs, pronouns and prepositions all come spinning at me as I sit there with my influencers of yesteryear.

Miss Foley, my mean first grade teacher who created writers block until I set her free and now she has become my friend who sits nearby when I am about to make a grammatical error. Mr. Chase, my seventh grade teacher who was of great encouragement to this hormonal twelve year old girl he recognized as a talent for writing. I before e except after c and Neck-eccary to remember that the word only had one C in the beginning. Mrs.Nixon, my freshman teacher who taught us Tess of the D’Urbervilles and turned us on to the human injustices in books like The Invisible Man, The Jungle, and female power imbalances that permeated our lives in 1980 we had never considered until she brought it up.

When I write, I am joined by my past teachers and am also joined by great women who have shown up in my adult writing life screaming from the sidelines WRITE WRITE AND WRITE! Hannah Goodman at her first writing class as a young teacher who brought meditation to my writing party and planted the seed about actually thinking I could not only write, but maybe even write a book.

Why do I write? This is why. Because I can, i must, I need to, I want to, I have to. Lucky to be alive and I don’t take this privilege and gift lightly.

Uncategorized

DEAR OLD GAL

DEAR OLD GAL

The timing couldn’t be better for my new obsession. Yes, I have another one. In the early part of my years, when I was in my teens, no joke, it was vintage canister sets. Chrome, red, yellow, turquoise and pink — flour, sugar, coffee, tea, (two of the four basic food groups back in the fifties, the good old days). I had them everywhere and I am surprised that my former husband even wanted to marry me with the amount of sets that was part of the package called my life. After this, because let’s face it, how many canister sets does one person need let alone be able to house, it was tacky salt and pepper shakers. You know the ones, like strippers from Las Vegas where the salt and pepper were each of their boobs and they sat in the upper half of her body, hips emblazoned with the words Viva Las Vegas. Really, I had these. Perhaps these in particular were a little foreshadowing of my own upper half as the left one actually broke in transit. Weird.

Those got out of hand with the final ones being Ayatollah Khomeini, former Supreme Leader, (it is hard not to laugh writing that one) of Iran after my Iranian friend and colleague brought them back from Tehran after visiting his father. I wish I still had these; they were one of my favorites, but like many collections, the dump likely has them now or some other collector scored them after many yard sales later. I have collected old cookbooks from the depression era because it is a window into the lives of housewives pre processed food, pre frozen dinners, pre disposable income. These are the real moment in time history books in my humble opinion. We are so often intrigued by what is happening in the worlds outside our homes, when there are lots of more interesting stories inside them.

I have a love for turquoise and pink vintage kitchen anything and when I streamlined my canister collection, I decided to just go turquoise. Telephone, mixer, Pyrex bowls, spice racks, serving pieces. Because I have a neat little pantry off of my kitchen that looks like a mini store, they all take up beautiful residence on the white shelves in the sunny light filled no larger than four by four square foot space. Any woman who comes into my kitchen pauses when she gets to the glass door and peers in taking a trip down her own memory lane. This gives me great joy and makes me happy I have hung on to the collection especially after my recent and apparently short lived minimize phase.

After all of this collecting and cleaning out the basement, one would think I would be swearing off collecting anything with any size component as its personality. I thought so too until I walked in to one of my favorite stores in Bristol, RI, Second Helpings, and found my new love. A Royal Typewriter, circa 1947ish weighing in at least thirty five pounds, a virtual beast or rather beauty of a machine that needed an extra set of hands to help me up the stairs. Portable nothing and I quickly created a space for it in my kitchen in the office the previous owners had designed. This area, as convenient as its intent was had really become more of a junk collecting space over the past five years and I had been thinking about taking the whole built in desk ensemble out of there. That is until this Royal typewriter I now call, Dear Old Gal, and I made our acquaintance. Dear Old Gal is part of my soul now and I will refer to her as my first love because like anything I get into my addictive traited soul, one is simply not enough. I must have more so I can come outside like I do almost daily with my laptop and instead pound away at real keys that have no delete button, no distracting apps that take me away from pure beautiful composing.

I didn’t realize how distracted I get when I am writing until I started my relationship with Dear Old Gal. When I type on my laptop, I check the spelling of a word on the convenience of the online dictionary, or a synonym on the thesaurus so readily available at the click of a button. Often this leads me to the brief shift to check my email for the fifth time or a review of a Yelp review that popped up in the right hand corner of my screen. Next thing you know I am off and running replying and reading reviews and forwarding and deleting emails taking me away from the slow creative ritual that has become my morning wake up. Typing on Dear Old Gal slows everything down for me.

First off, actual typing and thinking tempers my high speed moving brain down to a snail’s pace. Words have to be considered, letters because of the absence of that way too easy delete button have to be thought about before tapping my short nailed fingers on the small circular glass keys. The realization of what a bad typer I am is blatant as my head bobs up and down from looking at the keys to the winding paper and back again. Frankly it matters not because the evidence of errors is all too obvious since I don’t have any whiteout, white strips or any of the inventions created to correct this very problem. I just chug along, making mistakes, feeling clever when I figure out how to just cross out the mess with a nice happy strike-through (to the right of the zero just like on your keyboard, no shift required).

As on may imagine where this story is headed, a second typewriter would be next on the list, a Hermes 3000, bought on Ebay for a ridiculous sum becasue I lost my mind. “The best portable ever made,” to quote my new best friend, Ray who owns a typewriter repair shop in Pawtucket, RI. called Marr Office Equipment. His tagline is actually office equipment and repair, but when I did my handy and all to available search on Google, “typewriter repair shop, RI,” Marr came right up with pictures and everything. Of course in true lunatic aka alayne fashion, off I went the very next day to bring Old Gal, who I have now named Old Bess, for a visit and a mini ribbon threading lesson. When I got back home as luck would have it, my newest addition had arrived in the case and it even came with its original manual to which I immediately dove in.

Two typewriters in two weeks, and with my fresh new Ebay account happy to have me, more on the way because I am basically addicted to the ease, the happy way it helps me write and most of all, zero distractions. Though I have become perfectly addicted to writing on Dear Old Bess, and have been typing at least two pages a day, no small feat for this amateur, I needed a portable and lightweight. Hence the Hermes which despite the exorbitant amount I paid for it, it is basically like new and I have no regrets. It will easily make its way to my front porch sooner than later.

My overall plan for all of this wackiness is to sit outside with my new portable and offer free short stories to anyone walking by who cares to throw me a word or two, connecting, gathering, talking and looking up and at. I like shaking up the new normal with my own version of it. I also like the challenge of having to create on the spot for a stranger. Apparently unbeknownst to me, there is a bit of a typewriter movement going on. Like the words journey and gift when it comes to cancer, I am starting to feel the same way about the word movement so I prefer Renaissance. If I start my own typewriter Renaissance then I have done my part with the, unbeknownst to me at the time, nudging I needed from an Old Gal waiting for me at the consignment store to walk in be reminded of my Grandmother and take her home.