Here she shares music, poetry, and prose; she has the ability to dig up some of the most inspirational words and images some of us have ever seen, and she spends every day making others feel good with her findings.
I was honored to include one of my own poems in the first edition of the site, alongside several other talented writers and artists. So I urge you all to mosey on over and click “follow” – if you like to smile, you won’t regret it.
Ah, twenty-five. It stands alone, that number, unsure of whether to take a step forward or back. It shivers in the cold while everyone else has it figured out already; twenty-five is just now finding solid ground, settling in for the night, closing its eyes and dreaming about the future. My twenty-five’s pavement may be a little rocky, but both feet are planted as firmly as they can be. This next year is all about change, and it’s all good.
Somewhere during twenty-four I lost it – motivation, I mean. I started with it packed tightly away in my chest but somehow it managed to escape and the end of twenty-four faded into a blur of day-to-day dullness and routine. The color has drained from my kaleidoscope eyes and suddenly I’m seeing the world in honeycomb shades of black andgray. But I have big plans for twenty-five; twenty-five is going to be splashes of color and light and inspiration in gusts of wind and night air. What does all of this translate to? Writing, people. Lots of it. I temporarily lost the spark, the energy, the emotion…and this has to end now. These past few weeks I became best friends with my couch and my wine glass (nothing new there), and abandoned something very, very dear to me.
So twenty-five – ahem, tomorrow – marks more than one special occasion. One year older, (hopefully) one year wiser, one more year of love and family, of life, of breath, of the chance to become who I want to be while enjoying every step.
Oh yeah, it marks one more thing too.
My Bachelorette Party.
Guess who has two thumbs and eleven tattoos and a blog and is getting married this June 22nd to an amazing man? THIS girl. I was waiting for the perfect time to tell you guys. And now that my head has momentarily stopped spinning, here I am. I can’t wait to post pictures, and share more details with you guys. And my epic ’80’s inspired outfit for my party tomorrow night is the kewlest. Photos to come, duh.
India Arie is on repeat on our computer right now. The image of myself, something I have always, always struggled with; what do others think of me? What do they see when they look at me? What do I think of myself? How do I look in those skinny jeans? Some days I’m thin. Most days I’m fat. Every day it’s on my mind. Am I beautiful? Inside? Outside? What are my goals? I accomplished this, I didn’t accomplish that. I lost a pound. I gained a pound. I ran. I didn’t run. I wrote. I watched television instead. I ate that piece of cake.
So here’s a stream of consciousness post, very true to what races through my mind each and every day, a sort of pep talk mixed with a few I-can’t-help-it downers. My thought process in all its vulnerable glory.
I hate how I look in the morning I love how I look in the morning, fresh faced with blemishes and eyeliner streaking down one cheek am I gaining weight? My face looks puffy but that’s just the sleepiness doing its thing, you won’t think the same way later, stop poking at yourself in the mirror. I’m in the shower do I look thinner today? You haven’t eaten breakfast yet it’s all empty I almost don’t want to but the hunger, the hunger is stronger than the thought of giving in to some disorder, he tells you you’re crazy every time you say it but does he really feel that way? You’ve come such a long way, a long, long way don’t do this now, she tells you, he tells you, what is there to be but happy. Either way I cannot win, too thin you’re disease, too fat he doesn’t want you, you can’t fit in, to clothes or crowds or friendships and you’re pregnant, they’ve whispered it so often you may as well be, I’m afraid they’re all thinking it. It’s the one way to stab at me to pull the tears out to force it all to the surface. Forcing off the layers I can’t even look I turn the mirror as I move and bend I closed the door I lock it so he doesn’t see but he has seen, he’s touched, he’s kissed, but mostly with the lights low a bulge here or there it lessens my value, my arguments can’t hold up my opinions do not matter I fade into the majority next to others, firm and uninhibited and strong and standing straight I am pathetic, I am lessened, I don’t know my way around it all, what good am I? You’re well-spoken, you are a graduate, you are valued, you are loved, you are looked at, really, really looked at when you catch him staring at you even in your pajamas, no bra on, no lipstick, stubs of eyelashes poking out from above those green eyes, sorry nothing on for show today, am I still me? Something else? But you like how those collarbones show themselves, I’m afraid they’ll disappear tomorrow, but do your pants still fit? They aren’t snug yet, stop paying attention to the number, how do you feel? I am broken, I am fixed, my mind is in shambles, my mind is piecing back together, you are not the only one. Never, ever alone. Don’t believe everything you think, repeat it back, go through the motions, feel everything around you, don’t waste a single second. Swallow the air and dance in the kitchen and kiss him on the mouth and force his hand around your waist at night and don’t worry about those layers of blankets in between it doesn’t matter, you are here, he is here, they are here, you’ve come such a long way, keep going, push, keep fighting, you are your own guide, you are your own destiny, you have the will, you look so good in that red lipstick.
So last week, I attended the Philadelphia Stories dinner celebrating our 2012 winner of the Marguerite McGlinn Prize for Fiction! Winning author Adam Schwartz gave an amazing speech that brought quite a few of us to tears. He was so humble, so overwhelmed with gratitude and emotion. Now that is the ultimate rewarding experience for a writer. He talked of how we work our behinds off in solitude, maybe showing our work to a family member or a friend. But for a group of strangers to recognize your work, celebrate it, and throw a dinner in your honor where we hand you a fat check and talk about how great you are for 3 hours?
Yeah, I can only hope I’m in his shoes some day. The choked up part came when he tried to do something as simple as thank his wife for all of those hours he was allowed to “go off and tinker with his story”. He paused for quite a while, gathering himself, and when he started again he wondered out loud why he couldn’t get out a few simple words. The best part was during his moment of silence, when his wife – who was seated somewhere in front of Joe and I – leaned over to a friend and whispered, “this happened at the wedding too”. About 30 seconds later, when Adam started again, he said “this happened at the wedding too”. That’s when I got all teary eyed. The next morning at Push to Publish (where I had the pleasure of spending most of the day talking with Adam about our writing, our jobs, etc.), we agreed it must have been the idea of sharing such a personal emotion with a crowd of people. That was it.
As I said I’d be doing in my previous post, I whipped out my little pink notebook and spent a lot of time scrawling things down all Saturday afternoon. After bagels and coffee, we gathered into the auditorium on the always beautiful Rosemont College campus (I really suggest looking at pictures of this place, it’s like a mini Hogwarts), to hear keynote speaker (and this year’s final judge to choose Adam’s story) Kevin McIlvoy get us all revved up for the day with an opening speech. I scribbled furiously while this man talked about things I never even imagined. For 30 years he has studied language, recording the voices of men and women 70+ and obsessing over each recording, considering how “several streams pour into each other to make the voice that has developed over the course of a long life”. Kevin said “an old voice has more moments of emptiness that are full”. He made my brain hurt in the best way ever. While I always thought I paid close attention to the way each of my characters speak, McIlvoy pulled me up to a whole other level of thought as a writer of dialogue.
Kevin continued into something I understood immediately: “It’s astounding, how many selves we have. Writing exposes our most secret selves.” As writers, we’re all a little Bipolar, a little Schizophrenic, aren’t we? Morbid, romantic, hilarious, thoughtful. There’s things we can write down or type out that we would never allow out into the world in any other way. It’s a therapeutic release of sorts.
Things got weird again (but in a crazy genius sort of way) when McIlvoy started with the bird calls, and even invited us to join in. But, it served its purpose. He compared the call and song of the Common Yellowthroat to the way a persondoes something called “think-sounding”(following the sound of one’s thought to the next thought). He spoke of “rhythmic syn-crony” and all sorts of other things that sounded lovely, even if I had to give them a little extra thought. This man certainly has an iron grip on language and voice.
Kevin ended his speech with something every one of us understood as we nodded our heads in agreement: “We are engaged in writing as an act of faith….It takes stamina and courage…We are here because we are believers…[The] artist life is questionable as a career…Be attentive to all [writing] offers you. It will bring more of you to the world.”
Then came the speed dates. That agent I met with last year that I was hoping to meet with again this year? Yeah, writers tore through her signup sheet like wildfire. So I sadly signed my name under the open times of a few others I was hoping to meet with, and decided I’d have to awkwardly corner her somewhere on campus before the day’s end. But on a positive note, I think my speed dates were all a roaring success! I shoved my Honorable Mention-winning short story, “Sirens Underwater” into the faces of three published writers. Alison Hicks gave me a few very nice compliments, and told me if Glimmer Train gave it a thumbs up, then it has a home somewhere. She then rattled off about ten literary journals I could try, and I struggled to write them all down before my hand cramped up. I thanked her, and moved on to a very nice chick from Apiary, and finally the bad-ass and wonderful Aimee LaBrie, who ran the 8-week writing course I took last winter. We talked, mostly about my story and a little about life in general. She scrawled several helpful notes and comments and question marks on the edges of every paper and I had to be kicked out so the next writer could meet with her.
Then there was lunch. Then workshops about selling genre fiction, the pros and cons of e-publishing, and a Q&A with agents and editors. And somewhere in there, I was able to corner agent lady without too much awkwardness, and she handed me a fresh business card and told me to query her.Score!
Watch this and you can totally see my head at 0:30 as Aimee pours over my story (with agent lady in the background!).
Happy Friday, everyone! It’s rainy here in Jersey and I tripped up the stairs this morning.
The delightfully morbidSeverance – by Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Olen Butler – has quickly become one of my favorite short-story reads. One of my writing professors mentioned it somewhere down the line of my college career, and the idea of recently beheaded characters sharing their final thoughts before the lights go out…well, obviously it sparked my interest. So I scribbled the book’s title in a corner of my notebook and searched for a copy on Amazon that day.
It’s a very quick and very interesting read, some characters real, some fictional, each story appearing almost as a poem. I’ve always been a huge fan of the stream-of-consciousness style, and at times even try to work it into my own writing.
Butler’s book was inspired by two concepts:
1.) “After decapitation, the human head is believed to remain in a state of consciousness for one and one-half minutes.”
2.) “In a heightened state of emotion, people speak at the rate of 160 words per minute.”
So, of course, once each character is presented and their cause of beheaded-ness is explained, their final, headless thoughts are given to us in the form of 160 words. My personal favorites (with brief excerpts) are:
“Valeria Messalina: wife of Emperor Claudius I of Rome, beheaded by order of her husband, 48”
“we are panting now we are the Circus Maximus we are the rush of wheels the wild breath of horses on the throne room floor the bright expanse of marble I shift my eyes and I see us both in the mirror of stone”
“Dragon: beast, beheaded by Saint George, 301”
“my wings are still, I close my eyes and open them and all around are the quivery greentops and the great ball of breath above, I will fly up that high sometime but now I am in a peaceful dawdle that I don’t understand, full in the center and sweet heavy in my legs and fluttery of the wingtips”
Yes, there is a dragon. There’s a chicken, too. Butler even ends with himself! And so, laden with inspiration after reading these very interesting pieces, I’ve decided to try recording my own final thoughts.
Nicole Marie, decapitated by a crazed fan of her award-winning debut novel, 2014 (wishful thinking.)
but everything is so bright, turn out the lights and come to bed, I whispered, why can’t you hear me? it’s that dream again, the one where I’m running but not getting anywhere the one where I see you then I don’t it’s dark, it’s so dark and I can’t back out of this tunnel before the cold comes again the whiteness of the highway always bothered me, the clips that were supposed to keep us awake and now it’s Christmas and the fan is buzzing and my head is in your lap while you pull that blanket to my chin you kiss my forehead, it’s a bad hangover or something worse I’m nauseous that pit is in my stomach again why do I have to leave you’re transparent I feel the sweat on your face your jacket smells like fire they never were proud of me were they? i’m so proud of you, you said, get some sleep now
It would be pretty awesome to see what you guys could come up with. Any takers? Post and link back? Anyone? Is this thing on?
“You can sit there, tense and worried, freezing the creative energies, or you can start writing something. It doesnt matter what. In five or ten minutes, the imagination will heat, the tightness will fade, and a certain spirit and rhythm will take over.” – Leonard Bernstein
A few days ago, bright and early, I set out to my local Starbucks for a morning chai and some writing. Yes, I sat myself down amongst the other hipsters with their laptops and cotton blouses while some sort of depressing folk music played softly from above and I opened up my tiny Netbook, ready to rock. Did I mention the turkey bacon-egg white-and cheese-on a whole wheat english muffin as well? Delicious.
Still slightly high off of my Honorable Mention I opened up a fresh document and expected the words to start flowing from my fingertips. I mean, duh, it should have been easy, right?
Of course not.
I tabbed back and forth between two separate paragraphs – containing two very separate ideas – for a while, growing more and more frustrated, sipping more and more frequently on my tea instead of typing furiously, until finally I was relieved to see the clock tell me it was time to go. As I packed up my things I felt guilty for the relief I felt.
While I am well aware that it is pointless to wait around until some type of inspiration presents itself – it seems this is not typically the case for us writers – it never gets easy, sitting down at the keyboard and starting something fresh. When I am at work, or the gym, or shopping, I constantly people watch, praying for something to stand out, something worth building a story around.
Maybe everything and everyone around me is just too boring. Yes, of course, that must be it.
My point here is that I – and others like me, who find writing to be more of a struggle than something therapeutic, at times – need no excuses, no distractions, just myself and the keyboard or pen or Sharpie or stick of eyeliner. Like Bernstein’s quote says, even if those first few minutes spew out nothing more than nonsense, eventually a rhythm will take over and things will fall into place, and the ideas will churn and a story of some kind will appear on the page. But writing takes dedication, it takes patience and passion. Even those athletes who have made it all the way to the Olympics have days when quitting sounds easier than pushing on. But the ones who are truly dedicated respond to those emotions by training just a little harder.
I am currently working on a short story I will be entering in yet another Glimmer Train contest, due by the end of the month. Fingers crossed. A solid block of time put aside for writing each day is in order. Randomly choosing a time each day has proven unsuccessful in getting any sort of solid writing done! What sort of writing routine works best for you? I’m curious to know how others manage their days while still finding time to write.
Now to shift gears a bit, unfortunately Joe’s side of the family lost someone early last week. Joe’s sister’s father-in-law passed away as a result of Cancer. We attended the funeral, about an hour and a half from where we live here in South Jersey, up to a wooded part of North Jersey where he and his wife lived together in a beautiful home in a gated development. A beautiful service – filled with quiet tears and plenty of hugs – was followed by a delicious meal and good company at a nearby catering company. Family talked – he was Spanish, so a beautiful mix of languages flowed throughout the day – and reminisced over wine and coffee. Even a few laughs could be heard.
The short story I entered to Glimmer Train, “Sirens Underwater”, focuses on the “proper etiquette” and common practices of funerals and the gatherings that follow: the whispers, the “I knew him or her for this long” conversations, the idea that happiness or noise of any kind is a disturbance of the memory of the deceased, and how a father and daughter break through those barriers following the death of a wife and a mother. While these scenarios are true in several cases, it was so refreshing to see the opposite following the death of Perfecto (what a beautiful name, is it not?).
While a few tears still wet the countertops and beautiful wooden floors of their home, the rooms were also filled with colorful Spanish music – I believe Joe’s brother-in-law, Dave, referred to a band called The Gypsy Kings, his father’s favorite – more food (even though we had all just eaten a three course meal), and plenty more wine. Dave gave me a quick tour of their home, and stopped in his parents’ bedroom to run a hand along a framed black-and-white photo of the two on their wedding day. My heart broke for a son who had lost his father. But he stayed very strong.
Dave’s brother – who I had never met – and I also had the pleasure of talking family, and he even asked me about any wedding plans Joe and I had in the works. Very generous of him on a day which was definitely not about us. The rest of the day was spent celebrating a life with noise and laughter and music rather than quiet reflection. And I’m sure Perfecto wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
After a quick You Tube search, I’m fairly certain this is one of the songs that shook the walls that day.
I’ll end this post with a small excerpt from that story, “Sirens Underwater” (I’d like to avoid posting the story in its entirety since I am still hoping to have it published elsewhere). Feedback is always appreciated.
Happy Tuesday, everyone. And thank you for reading. 🙂
I hugged tighter. Memories of my mother climbed from my eyes and jumped downward onto my father’s slacks, my dress, the wooden floor she’d polished, his spotless shoes. His larger hands had to pry mine away before he could scoop me up from my underarms, like thousands of times when I was much smaller and grabbed at him because my own legs were too tired, or I was just pretending. As my feet left the floor so suddenly did my strength, the burden of the day, the responsibility I’d been handed for hours on a Tuesday when I was seven.
As soon as I’d reached eye level I pressed my face in the crease between his neck and shoulder, into the warmth, into the faint smell of the cologne she’d make him wear on special occasions, and I wailed. It left me louder than I’d thought it would, in undulating pitches, in pauses filled with coughing fits or the need for more breath. Soon my father had joined me, his face buried the same way in my collarbone, his tears soaking the collar of my dress.
I didn’t know it at the time but it had grown to a deafening silence in every room: the whispers gone, the silverware put down, the flipping of pages or fluffing of pillows disrupted as everyone looked to each other, to the ceiling, or the walls, trying to make out where it was coming from, the sound of two sirens underwater.