Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What's with Today, today?

I have a distinct memory of being a five year old with a fistful of crayons, looking up at my parents in the living room of the home I grew up in, and telling them I wanted to be a starving artist when I grew up. I didn't know exactly what it meant, but I had heard the phrase before and knew it applied to people who made art but didn't make a living on their art. My plan was to be ridiculously famous when I was dead. It seemed a little tragic, even to my five year old brain, but at the same time, it seemed inconsequential to have fame and fortune while I was alive. What did it matter, after all? So long as people loved my art at some point in history, then it served its purpose.

But I allowed the world to slowly jade me into trying to find practical applications for my art. When I was a sophomore in high school, I met my best friend. She was an artist, too. She wanted to be a graphic designer. I had never heard of a graphic designer. All these years of doing book reports on who I admire most about Leonardo Da Vinci, no one ever gave me a talking to about what I might be able to do with my artistic talent. How I might develop my skills into something I could make a living with. So, I looked into it and this became our joint dream. We'd suffer through our Christian private high school experience and go to a glorious art school where we'd get our graphic design degrees and go into advertising. Except there was one problem: I hated advertisements.

I considered web design, but I hate Photoshop and I hate doing art on a computer in general. What appealed to me about art was the gritty feeling of paint drying under my fingernails and the feel of a palette knife on a canvas. It was graphite dusted hands and oil pastel stained clothes. It was creating something out of nothing. That's what I loved. And computer graphics just seemed like creating nothing out of nothing. It wasn't tangible enough. Sure, I could print it out and hold it if I wanted, but it just didn't feel the same as slowly seeing something take shape as it just flows from your being.

My left brain logical practicality was fighting with my right brain will to be free and to just do whatever I felt as I felt it. It always has, really. With every piece, I tried to have a vision in mind for the finish product and it stopped me in my tracks too many times because I'd always fall short either because my skills weren't up to it or I would just become afraid. Paintings that would take months and a litany of compromises to finish and large pencil drawings that would never, ever be finished, though the parts of them that are done are nearly perfect. It was the times when I had no idea what I was going to do or what colors I was going to use or if it would even have a shape that I feel like my best work would appear effortlessly before me. When I would just create for the sake of creating.

Now, as a thirty-two year old, I'm still struggling with that practicality versus creation for the sake of creation that drives me. It doesn't help that I married a staunchly left brained software developer who is constantly asking me those "tough questions" about what I intend to do with my artistic ventures, in the practical sense. He doesn't understand that sometimes, you just need to start creating and somewhere along the way, you'll begin to understand why and where it's going and suddenly you'll look up and you're there at the finish with a masterpiece. No, you have to have an endgame before you can even begin, he thinks. And he's not wrong. Most people think like him. But I don't.

I just want to create. I want to write without the necessity of publishing hanging over my head. I want to paint without having to have a gallery showing or a place to sell my work. I want to draw without needing to know if I can sell prints of it when it's done. I need to just work my hands into the flow and feel them creating something beautiful. My soul's purpose on this earth is to bring beauty into the world so that the pain of living might be eased if only for a moment.

I need to stop putting practical constraints on my art. I need to stop compromising with the way the world thinks I should to create. I need to just make stuff and worry about the purpose of it later. The doing is its own reward.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Story of Me That I Tell Myself

I began writing on Monday with this prompt. It was the idea that we're all constantly feeding ourselves a narrative of who we are and who we choose to present to the world. Immediately, the song The Best Imitation of Myself by Ben Folds Five popped in my head. I started thinking about how we withhold parts of ourselves from people and even from ourselves sometimes. I just let whatever popped up first pop up and I followed that train of thought to my sixth grade year in a hellish public school that more closely resembled a prison. I'm not being dramatic. I'm talking two police officers per hallway (six in total), a fifteen foot razor wire perimeter fence making the only accessible entrance the front doors, and just a general atmosphere of just trying to keep kids from killing each other and not giving a shit about them above that. Or at least that was my experience. My parents seemed to agree enough to put me in private school the following year. My experience there was just as alienating, but not nearly as ruthlessly cruel.

That's what has poured out for the past two days. All my experiences of being judged and seen as unworthy by others for whatever reasons they felt like finding. My clinging to life and finding inspiration in the most unlikely places. Or maybe they were obvious. In hindsight, they seem to be. But that's what hindsight is all about. I started straying somewhere around 4100 words. I was getting scattered, losing the focus of the essay. I was trying to tell how I picked up various values throughout my life and got caught up in just describing experiences. Not tying them back to a theme. Not telling them with a purpose just telling them to tell them. I know as I edit, I can create that depth and I need to just keep moving forward. Or maybe I need to edit the essays separately. Not treat it as a whole manuscript, but as installments that need to be finished enough to stand on their own. That's what I imagine the memoir to be anyway: a collection of essays. So maybe here is where I pause, go back, read, edit, add depth, remove frivolous tangents that were explored for the sake of word counts, then find my next theme and start the second essay. Chapter 2. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The point is, I'm writing. And I'm writing with purpose again for the first time in a very long time. And it's a purpose that gives all my previous unpurposeful writings purpose... if that makes any sense at all. Meaning all the 750words entries and blog posts over the past ten years are going to serve as research material for the stories I was telling at those times in my life. I've got a box full of angsty poetry and letters to my best friend in high school and a drawer full of journals. I've been writing research material for this book for years. And with every theme explored, I'm dredging up old baggage, facing it, and throwing it away. This thing is all about moving on.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Narcissism as Self-Discovery: a Poem.

It's like peering out from a tall peak with 360 degree views, but only being able to see 200 degrees of it. Something blurs or darkens past a certain point. And once we turn the view inward, there is no sight. Only sound and sensation and thought. We're blind. Like cave fish. Transparent and fragile.

There's something about turning a lens on yourself that is addicting. A sight I've craved and can't trust to mirrors is captured for me at last. Specific to the things I've wanted to see, but couldn't trust to another's eye to capture. I study them like it's a stranger. Someone I've never seen before. I discover things about my image that I never knew. Something else in each photo. I feel like the ultimate fool to not have known myself for so long. I feel like I have to chart every territory. Mark every spot as having been seen. "M.L. was here," scrawled across the small of my back where I can not reach.

Maybe I'm just a narcissist. I wouldn't argue if you called me that. But I'd also ask you why it was particularly bad to be narcissistic. Narcissus had a problem with moderation, not being self-absorbed.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A poem on grief and the evolution of a writer.

Grief comes in waves.
Like a cycling tide, it ebbs and flows;
Bringing in and carrying out.
There's a swell of love immediately following a loss
And you ride it for as long as it will carry you.
But the fear of that long stretch of forever
Where you have to learn to live without
Errodes away at you like the lapping waves on your shore
Carrying grains of your sands out into oblivion with each foaming crash.

It's all too familiar.

-M.L. Hamilton

I did it once. I can do it again.

My stepmother passed away yesterday. I wrote this on my personal blog and I honestly can't articulate it any better, so I'm going to repost it here.

She passed away at 1:50-something [yesterday] afternoon. My dad called me 40 miles from Memphis carrying a load of all that was in the apartment they kept in Little Rock while they were out there for treatments. When he got home, he called back to take me up on the offer I made earlier to help him around the house. I'm like him in that you know we really need the help if we bring ourselves to ask for it. I made arrangements right away to travel [there today].

For a moment when I hung up the phone, time stood still. In the same moment, I saw Stephen Elliott's name appear in my notification bar. I didn't even bother to read his Daily Rumpus before I replied to him to say it was a comfort to see this routine, ordinary email come at exactly the right moment to show me that while I stood frozen with grief, the world still turned and life, time, and the universe all kept going without me for a moment.

I also told him it felt like a great wave was crashing over me. Like I could finally exhale a breath I had been holding for nearly a week. I shed a few tears, and then went on half-heartedly through the rest of my day.

I broke the news to [my son] just before bed. He pretended to cry and I held him. But then he pulled away from me and said, "wait, I don't cry when people die. I cry when you're angry at me." I laughed and said that was a different reason to cry. That there are lots of reasons to feel sad and lots of reasons to cry. Losing your grandmother is certainly one of them and I made sure to tell him it was okay to feel sad and okay to cry if that's what he felt. Later, he asked me if we would have a memorial service for her. He still remembers [my brother's teenage nephew's] last summer. He asked if maybe we could bring his cousins and they could play. I said they'd probably all be there, since she was their grandma, too. There's something so endearing about a kid being excited to see his cousins under the circumstances. It's as if death can't shatter his optimism. Really I know it's that he just doesn't understand the abstract scope of it.

She fought with all she had until there was nothing left to fight with. In the end, her kidneys and liver failed and her lungs were so damaged that even if she had survived this episode, they couldn't have treated her for myeloma any longer and she would have been gone soon anyway.

She didn't raise me, perhaps, but she loved me like a daughter and I loved her like a mother. I will never be able to thank her enough for the happiness she brought my father when he thought he'd spend the rest of his days in grief-stricken loneliness. He found love not once, but twice in his lifetime. And for all the words said by each of us about how unfair it seems to suffer this loss twice, there is the unwavering fact that we're so incredibly lucky to have gotten the chance.

Be at peace, Alicia. I love you so very much. Thank you for the light you imparted into each of our lives.

My writing has taken on immense changes over the past year. I haven't really touched my fiction since last writing, but I've stumbled into accidentally writing a memoir. It's been my emancipation proclamation. I can not begin to articulate how freeing it has been to take all those experiences, all that baggage, pull it out of me and imprison it on the page. I started with working things out through 750words.com. One day, I decided to admit something to myself in the private pages I write there and before I knew it, I was outlining my sexual history and the next thing I know the document is 5800 words long. It has since doubled in size as I saved it off and continue to expound upon it.

I'm spending more time on sites like The Rumpus and McSweeney's than places like YA Highway. I feel like I fit in better there, though they're not so much writer's resource sites as they are writer's hangouts. Maybe that's why I like them. I feel like you can only read so many lists of writing dos and don'ts and so many op-ed pieces about traditional publishing vs. self-publishing and ebooks vs. dead tree books before it just all becomes noise and every possible opinion on it has been said and you've learned everything you can from that sort of avenue. I have a backlog of resources like that to catch up with, so I try to spend my time elsewhere rather than gathering more of the same.

The Rumpus has been a huge inspiration. I feel like the writers there are becoming my mentors without them even knowing it or needing to know me. The raw, honest humanity in the pieces written there has me enamored. I read Stephen Elliott's The Adderall Diaries because of his Daily Rumpus emails and now I'm reading What It Means to Love You. I'm reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed because of the amazing Dear Sugar columns she writes there. I picked up You Must Go and Win because of the really intriguing things Alina Simone has to say and because I love her music and because Amanda Palmer speaks so highly of her. I backed the pornography documentary Public Sex, Private Lives on Kickstarter because of Lorelei Lee's Letters in the Mail letter. I'd like to learn more about her and what her life is like. I have questions to ask of people I don't know and will probably never meet. Their lives are fascinating only in part because they do fascinating things. Mostly their lives are fascinating because they know how to express it in story form and not just linearly.


I keep leaving and coming back to grief. Like I take little breaks from mourning to act like it's another ordinary day.

Ebb and flow.

Isn't everything like water in some way?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The More Things Change, the More They Change Some More

I've been working my way through James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure book. I'm one of those that needs a little instruction to feel confident. So far, it seems I'm on the right track and it's forced me to sit down and ask some questions that have pulled key elements of my story out of my head. I've always known this needed to be done, but wasn't sure what questions to ask or how to go about putting the pieces together in a way that it's engaging.

An aside: when I added the book to my Goodreads account, I couldn't help but notice the first review of it was a rather dismissive one from a guy who at the time was an aspiring author (wonder if he ever got published). He scoffed, saying he believed writing comes from the imagination, not from this formulaic process of wringing ideas out of your brain and then applying a paint-by-numbers approach to making that idea a story. He sited Tom Robbins, one of his favorite authors (and mine too, the one who wrote the crazy book I blurbed last week) as saying he didn't outline. I would buy that. Totally! But, I can't possibly assume to be such a master wordsmith as Tom Robbins, with his witty and off-the-wall metaphorical prose, on my first venture out the door and this guy shouldn't either (unless he wants that door slammed in his face... repeatedly). Tom Robbins' style is something that works for Tom Robbins. It's not going to work for everyone. Not without a lot of practice. And Bell says repeatedly in his book that throwing the formula out the window is totally acceptable, but only after you understand the formula enough to recognize what exactly you're throwing and why and can defend it. Also, he says, you've got to have the talent to back it up. This guy might be the next Tom Robbins, who knows. But if he lacks rich characters, an engaging plot and an interesting setting, well he's going to have to make up for it with his writing, BIG TIME!

This sort of mentality is what bugs me the most about being a creative person and interacting with other creative people. It doesn't seem to matter what industry I'm working in, there's always this art vs craft debate going on and there is never a resolution. I just don't see why the two can't reside together, inside the same person even. I don't see why it's unacceptable to work with both simultaneously. But whatever, good on him for being such a unique and special snowflake. The rest of us are going to go take our original and creative ideas and pound them into something useful.

*steps off soapbox*

That was not at all what I wanted to post about, but it's been bugging me for over a day now and it needed to be out of me.

So what changes? Everything. If you're just joining me, I've recently suffered a catastrophic hard drive failure & am in the process of shipping it off to see if we can salvage my files. As in everything I've ever written. D'oh. So I'm flying blind right now, working on my outline without my old notes or various documents to which I can refer. Mostly it's been liberating because I can break out of that thought that I've put work into something and need to try to salvage it. Sometimes it's incredibly frustrating because I can't remember what I named my main evil dude. Also, when my head bounces around in the story, I just have to make a note in the margin instead of being able to jump to that spot in my outline and add it real quick, then jump back and continue on.

But things are changing in huge sweeping ways and I think it's all for the better. I'm even thinking of a pov change to help drive home a point that is going to be the subject of a twist in the story later. I thought I was beyond thus point in development, but I'm glad I'm doing it. My story is going to be so much richer for it. I see layers developing and themes being born. It's all very exciting. If my pen would just keep up with my head...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Off-the-cuff blurb. Can you guess the book?

It's Road Trip Wednesday again over at YA Highway & this week's prompt is:
You're re-reading one of your favs when someone asks the dreaded question: "What's that book about?" Give us your best off-the-cuff blurb of any book, any genre, and have your readers try to guess the title in the comments!
It's about this modern day European princess, whose family is displaced to Seattle. She emerges from her solitude only to go to Hawaii to see her hero Ralph Nader but instead meets an outlaw bomber & they do crazy things together. He's eventually caught back in Seattle for previous misdeeds and they're separated. She's then betrothed to an Algerian prince in an attempt to save her family's legacy (which her father gambles away). It all comes to a head when her beloved outlaw boy tries to free her from her obligation leading them to have to escape a pyramid using explosives that leave them both deaf.

So, can you guess it in the comments?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Before it's suddenly Road Trip Wednesday again...

I should check in, I suppose. I wanted to thank those who gave feedback on my last post about how I obsessively outline. I also wanted to add that I had been in the habit of not allowing myself to add new stuff to the outline until I worked through a chapter in the draft (my meager effort at pushing myself out of the nest). I'm not sure that I'm over-preparing necessarily, since I don't even really have a plot nailed down yet. And one last note on the subject before it becomes a string of excuses (if it hasn't already), I suppose saying I've been working for two years isn't accurate. It has been that long since I started, but I do a lot more than just write and I go through long spans of time when I don't even open my documents, let alone work in them in favor of other projects. I've got a spreadsheet with word counts and dates that would tell me exactly how much time I've spent on it. Unfortunately, that is all on the harddrive that died on me last week.

Yes, a day after that last post, my Linux partition where I keep absolutely anything and everything developed disk errors and no longer shows up, even in repair mode. It will not boot up, period. It's like it's not even there. The worst part is, I am an idiot and did not have backups in place. I'm sending it off to a data recovery service to see if I can get my files from that partition. They seem confident, but can't tell me for sure until they take a look at it.

That means I'm back to outline land, in a notebook, with a pen.

But it's not all bad. Facing the very real possibility that I might have to start over has made me look at my story with fresh eyes. There were a lot of things, particularly about the beginning, that were not working for one reason or another. I contemplated scrapping the first six chapters or so. Last night, I outlined the first three chapters using only the elements I thought deserved rescue from my original. The plot is coming together and I feel there is coherent direction this time, rather than just a bunch of scenes.

Another thing I realized, even before the harddrive fail, was that the early encounters between my main two protagonists were throwing the story into paranormal romance territory and that is a place I'd rather avoid at this time. So, I've given them a greater need to come together than just romantic entanglement. Something that drives the plot forward, which was not happening before. I'm very happy with the progress I've made and also very happy that I didn't waste time drafting those useless chapters.

This is why I outline. But there does need to be some balance and I have languished in outline land perhaps too long. My problem before was that I was just jotting down scenes as they came to me, which is fine. But in between that work, I need to be pushing the story along. So, my outline was turning into an unformatted draft instead of a true outline. Last night I put two chapters on the front and back of a single page of a journal sized notebook. My old outline may have taken 4 single-spaced, typed pages for that much story. My map was becoming too much of a detailed guidebook.

So, I've found my silver lining and am enjoying the fresh perspective and a truncated approach to outlining.