Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mindful Writing

Pondering life's mysteries
Keep St. Pete Lit offers free (yes, free!) writing classes (, so on Saturday, I hustled down to the Morean and spent a couple of hours on the 2nd floor in the library talking about writing and doing a few exercises. Anda Peterson did a lovely job of being both encouraging and practical, and I was reminded of some good advice, from Annie Lamott's instruction from Bird by Bird to write a "shitty first draft"  to Faulkner's counsel to "kill your darlings" in writing (that is, to edit out those bits that are overly precious to you because they are, well, precious in an annoying, eye-crossing way to your readers).  Largely, however, we talked about writing as it relates to paying attention. Being mindful of the details and the senses, employing that specificity, and withholding judgment can and often does lead to richer work.  As Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones (and as read to us in class),
We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn't matter. . . Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency. A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp's half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. It is not a writer's task to say, "It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a cafĂ© when you can eat macrobiotic at home." Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.
It felt good to do a little writing, easy throw-away exercises simply for the fun of it.  For the prompt to describe my morning (a semi-dangerous prompt, as it can lend itself to pointless list-iness - but that can lead to good insight on editing down), I focused on the morning cat feeding ritual.  There wasn't anything earth shattering, but I ended with, "I drink my water and look at my favorite carnivores with bleary and affection-laden eyes" because you know, I'm a cat lady.  My description of the ceiling fixture while mostly dull did have, "the thin, flat metal bars covering the bulb are tooth-like, reminiscent of a small farming combine about the plow the ceiling."

Perhaps most illuminating was the exercise in writing down what, exactly, my nasty little inner critic says to me.  That crabby little voice sounds something like this: "Other people will read these things! How can you talk about these things in public? It will embarrass us. What will the neighbors say? Polite people don't talk about those things. You're wrong - that's not how it happened at all. You're too sensitive and you are the crazy one, not us. Never us. Certainly not me. We won't love you if you tell."  My inner critic is about as sophisticated as an eight year old on a playground, but is still surprisingly effective in shutting me up.  To which I say: fuck that.  That reminds me of one of my favorite Alice Walker poem that starts saying:

Because women are expected to keep silent about
their close escapes I will not keep silent
and if I am destroyed (naked tree!) someone will
mark the spot
where I fall and know I could not live
silent in my own lies
hearing their 'how nice she is!'
whose adoration of the retouched image
I so despise.

Read the rest here:

Write on, people.

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