Just Breathe…

Nothing that is complete breathes.  ~Antonio Porchia,Voces, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin

I have to keep reminding myself of this. I’m not “done” until I’m dead…and neither is my story—the most important one I’ll ever be a part of. Due to the nature of time, we never quite know where we’re at in the plot of our own lives (though some have a better idea than others). But, I know this much is true—there is conflict. And like any good story, there will also be set backs, red herrings, lost time and disappointment. I don’t know what kind of story this is and I’d love to be in the mood to make a witty joke or two about it having something to do with satan wearing designer duds.

But, I’m not in the mood. I’m breathless.

My first novel, as most of you know, debuts in a few months and I’m experiencing what all new authors (and seasoned) go through: cold sweats, tears, laughter, woe, etc. I’m learning to develop, as Ien called it, a filter. It’s tough. I don’t know how to avoid the media and yet maintain a presence in it all the same. In but not of, I suppose.

It will always be Fable to me. And now, as I feel the heat inherent in public viewing, I resort back to that title in my mind. Guardians, is what has been picked up and published. Guardians is what will be reviewed and pulled apart and critiqued—for better or worse. Guardians is what will either sell or not sell and what will ultimately bring in royalty checks—or not.

Fable is the story I fell in love with long ago—the characters who rest as much in me, as beside me on the page.

The decision to step out in faith and welcome a career as an author, instead of living that calling without the professional validation, feels a little like dying inside. And perhaps that is also what Porchia was referring to. In an effort to move closer to completion, you lose a little of who you once were. You die a little. But, so long as you’re still breathing, you’re not done yet.

Your first crush took your breath away. Your first real, deep, chest rattling cry, took your breath away. Your first love took your breath away. Your first loss threatened to take it away permanently. Your first rejection did the same. Your first job interview, your last day on the job, the birth of your children…all the important stuff, whether good or bad, mimics death in part because it is a birth of sorts. A new beginning. And don’t newborns cry? Perhaps my response to this isn’t so unusual after all. Maybe no one talks about this internal struggle because they feel obligated to express only sheer elation over being published.

Allow me, if you will, to once again be transparent. Yes, there is a wonderful, magical sense about all of this. But, like cracks in glass, I feel the cold seeping in. It keeps me real and makes me who I am. I’m not complaining. But, if anyone else is feeling this and thinks they’re alone…rest assured…you aren’t.

So I guess this isn’t it. I’ve still some story left in me. And there’s only one thing to do…

Guest Blogger: Ien Nivens

Falsetto   ~by Ien Nivens

Play nice with the other toys!

Every so often, I come across an old piece of advice that writers like to pass on like a bad gene. It usually goes something like this: “Has someone done you dirt? Get even! Use the anger you experience to fuel your writing! Maybe you were rendered speechless at the time, but you thought of the perfect retort an hour later or the next morning. Get it out of your system! Give yourself permission to retaliate in writing by casting the offensive person as the villain who gets his or her comeuppance in a story!” It is this last bit, the idea of disguising the bully-victim of your wrath in fictional clothing, that makes me cringe. The temptation to dehumanize, to humiliate an enemy in effigy because we can’t do it for real is, to my way of thinking, not something to encourage. Not in group therapy. Not in private. Certainly not in writing.

I know. I know. We like getting special indulgences for acting out, for being “bad”. It seems edgy, this kind of advice. It’s not, though. In fact, it only gives a writer permission to act like a coward, to snivel, not to confront an issue and to process it but to whitewash pain with a weaselly form of vindictiveness. If you need to stand up for yourself, why are you sitting at your desk? No, I’m sorry, but it’s just bad advice. Let me say why I else think so.

It is true that retaliation can release some pent-up energy. So can drilling through the sea floor and tapping into a deep reservoir of fossil fuel. The problem with it is two-fold. Not only does it tap a limited supply of energy, but the potential for creating a personal and professional disaster is always going to be with you. There are cleaner, more durable sources of energy that can be easily replenished without picking fights or prospecting for old injuries, figuring out who was to blame for them and working yourself into a lather, or even a fit of impish glee over a clever revenge.

It is OK to experience pain, envy, disdain, hatred, despair, dependency, despondency, anger and any other honest emotion triggered by living in a human body among others in a human society. It is also OK to practice self-defense, to stand up for what you believe in–in or out of writing–including your own right to respectful treatment. What is not OK, in my opinion, is to willfully provoke those emotions, to savor them, to provide occasions for them in your own life by doing unto others under the cover of fiction. It is not OK, I say, to use your art to serve a petty, personal vendetta. I have no respect for back-biting and sucker punching, and even less for ineffectual writing that does nothing whatsoever to heal a wound or to prevent further injury, since the original offender is not likely to recognize himself or herself in your fiction anyway–not if you follow the standard advice and camouflage the stand-in character well enough. If the original offender does see what you’re up to, you lose everywhichway. You can be called out. You can be sued, even. But worse than that, you will have given evidence of your own cowardice.

In any event, you will know.

Instead, tell the truth. Say what happened, if you need to write about it. Play witness, not victim. Name names if you want to (if it’s both safe and legal to do so) or write it as fiction. Change whatever superficial thing you feel like changing, but resist the urge to get even, to turn an inglorious and painful situation into a moment of choreographed triumph. Resist the urge to give your character the perfect, off-the-cuff rebuttal, because readers aren’t stupid; it will only give your roar of righteous indignation a lingering falsetto whine.

Guest Blogger: Ien Nivens

Chasing the Source: Ien Nivens

Sinner Identity

Creativity happens.  It is a fact of nature, and you, as another natural fact, participate in it whether you will it or not, whether you witness it or not, whether you write, paint, sing, dance or sit idle.  Creativity flows ceaselessly through us in the form of unbidden dreams, spontaneous thoughts, ambitions, intuitions and paranoid ideations.  We invent ourselves and the world we inhabit moment by moment without pausing for inspiration.

We often speak of The Source as if it were a synonym for God (or a code word, maybe, for Goddess) and we seek to align ourselves with Its Purpose, as if it were an entity apart from us, a higher form of sentience from which we find ourselves somehow separated against our individual wills whenever we don’t feel like writing, painting, singing, dancing.  While this view is not entirely baseless (we are able, after all, to see ourselves individually as a part of the whole of creation and therefore both less than the whole and distinguishable from the rest of it) the concept is misleading nevertheless in that it continues to misrepresent the whole as a hierarchical system that flows from a single, grand, unified Source.  We like to have something to worship.  We like to feel awe.  And we get nervous when we begin to suspect that we are not only the adorers but also the adored.

If we think of ourselves as channels through which creativity flows and if we look for the source of that flow, we might imagine a spring bubbling up through the ground.  We want to encourage that flow, naturally, and so we try to be pleasing to it in order to curry favor with it.  Or, if we are New Age in our thinking, we seek to align ourselves with the spring in order to invite its flow into our lives.  This is propitiation, whether it is dressed in Christian, Bhuddist or Wiccan robes, and I do not say that it has no effect.  It works.  At least sometimes, for some of us.

But the spring is not, in fact, the source of anything.  It is just another conduit that links us to a deeper channel or repository where the flow has collected, as in an aquifer or an underground stream, and has now moved to the surface.  We have been fooled by appearances.  It is tempting then to imagine that deep space underground as the source of inspiration and to try to get in touch with it through dreams and trances, tapping into the unconscious as one drives a well in order to maintain access to the flow.  This, too, works.  Sometimes.  For some of us.

But the flow does not originate in the unconscious, either.  It is not created out of nothing.  It does not issue from the void.  We realize, when we stop to think about it, that we have confused a repository for a source.  We know that, just as rain falls and soaks into the ground to nourish the soil and trickles its way under or over the ground to join with other tricklings to form little streams that run into larger and larger ones, so inspiration seems to fall into our laps like grace from above, and we cast our eyes to the heavens, seeking faith in something higher, better, nobler than ourselves.  We walk with our heads in the clouds, thinking that at last we have seen clearly that the source of inspiration is to found in the formlessness of visions bestowed upon us from above.

Then the skies clear, the bright sun beats down, the stream dwindles and leaves a bed of caked mud, and our tongues turn to dust again, because heaven–even heaven–it turns out, is not the source we thought it was but only another vaporous form that inspiration takes sometimes, for some of us.

So we look to the sea, to the vast terminus of life.  We imagine that death must represent the ultimate source of invention, that our mortality is the cause of all our explorations, after all, the force that drives us to create, to leave behind us something of value.

But we know better, even, than that.  Death is, in fact, just another impermanent change of state, like water to ice and back to water again, another expression of the onward flow of life.  Creativity does not cease.  We come to the conclusion, sooner or later, that there is no source.  And yet, true to the cyclical nature of all that is, even that hard-won conclusion unravels.

We see that everything is source material.  It works to go deep, and it works to stay on the surface, to pay religious attention to detail, and it works to look high and low and to feel the pressures of time and change and to know that death stalks us, and it works to align ourselves with a higher sense of purpose.  But no one thing, no single approach works for all of us in the same way every day or under all circumstances.  And so we have to supply our own consistency, and that consistency is to work.

The flow is always there.  It exists in the way a drop of sweat glistens on the back of a mans’ neck.  It soaks into the crew collar of his red pocket tee and it leaves a rime of salt behind as it evaporates.  It is in the dream he had last night of a woman not his wife but with the same kind eyes and the same way of leaning on a door into the light of day.  It’s in his parched waking from that dream, in his thirst and his need, at the same time, to relieve himself.

Inspiration is in everything we do, and if we want it to take the form of writing, then we have to take it where we find it, in the images that flow ceaselessly and without source or meaning or the validity that we seek in them unless and until we invest in them the equity of our time spent dragging ass to chair and pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, understanding that we do not, cannot, never will command the flow of inspiration until we realize, as we live and breathe, that we are it.

The Living

“At first sight experience seems to bury us under a flood of external objects, pressing upon us with a sharp and importunate reality, calling us out of ourselves in a thousand forms of action.”  ~Walter Pater

There is a moment in every woman’s life, where she’ll realize that she isn’t the young woman that she once was. There is a face that she’ll always expect when she looks in the mirror, regardless of what is there in reality. This might hold true for men as well, but since I’m not a man, I can’t very well assume. That moment, for me, came this past saturday. I was dressed up in a fur bikini for a photo shoot, traipsing around Flat Rock park on crutches, when it hit me: I’m too old to be doing this. It  might have been the shot where I was told to lie down on the rocks that did it. Whatever it was, I suddenly felt less like a contestant on America’s Next Top Model and more like Janice Dickinson:  Waaaaay past my prime.

Per usual, this got me thinking about how I’ve changed as an author, how experience and time affect my abilities and my confidence. We reach a stage where we question everything about ourselves…and this stage often brings fear with it, which in turn erects a writers’ block. We see black balloons and feel like the luster of our youth is forever behind us. We’re sort of bitter, sort of experienced, sort of terrified. We’re bombarded with everything from everywhere—blogs, news articles, commentary, societal pressure, internal pressure…a thousand voices all at once.

That’s when we’ve got to step back, take a breath, and regroup. We have to shut our eyes and our ears to everything going on around us and listen to the writing—to that ever present being inside of us that will still be able to channel a 20 year old even when we’re 97 because it’s what the story has asked of us. That being, our voice is immune to the effects of time. I don’t mean that it doesn’t change as we mark the years off of our proverbial calendar. But, it changes like we do…we’re still us. I will always be me, no matter what I go through…I will never be anyone else. No matter how hard I try…

Your voice will always be yours and yours alone.

I came home and washed the make-up off, sat on my couch and had a good laugh at myself. I have been thinking a lot about age lately, and family and what it all means in the grand scheme of things. Everyone likes to ask me when I’m going to have children, when I’m going to “start a family.” I have a family and we’re complete just as we are. I’m not saying that I’ll never raise children—it’s in the cards, I’m sure. But until that moment comes, we’re still a family. Nothing is missing. Our writing is no different. If you’re unpublished, the question is always, when are you going to get published? Once you’ve accomplished that, the next question is, when are you going to make a movie? As if writers whose books are sold as movie rights actually make the movies. Still, you get the drift. Aging, life, writing, it’s all the same. Everything is in stages and the world will forever be on your case about what you’re doing next and how. You’ve got to ignore this and learn to listen to yourself again. Remember that post from awhile back, Evergreen? This is what I was talking about. No matter where you are in the process, nothing is missing. It’s the being—the living–that matters, not your surroundings. You are a writer. Period. Nothing else about your ‘career’ matters at the end of the day. Not fame. Not fortune. Not accomplishments. You don’t need any of the things that society has told you that you need in order to “succeed” as an author.

Live…write…because what you do need, what we all need, is truly limited: time. And there will never be enough to say it all, so say what you can…pen the worlds that you can…and pray you’ve time enough to get onto paper all the important bits. At the end of the day, fame, fortune and accomplishments won’t have gained you one more second to write. Isn’t that why we’re doing this to begin with? Because we love it? Yes. It is. And our living is the proof of it.

So live already…