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On Writing

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I think I’ve finally discovered my problem with writing…or at least what caused my problem with writing…

Let me take you back.  When I talked about my life, I thought it was normal.  Overly normal. I thought everyone worked summers in factories and shot beebee guns by firelight and wore patched jean jackets.  NORMAL.

Joe Mackall

The Great Joe Mackall

When I went to college at Ashland University, magic happened.  I somehow wound up in the English 101 class of Dr. Joe Mackall.  His first assignment?  A personal narrative about whatever we wanted.  So on a hot August night in my dorm room, I sat down and wrote about attending a KISS and Aerosmith concert–about how the grass felt on the lawn that night, cool yet sticky.  About how I somehow felt a kinship with people I didn’t know, and people I’d never really know, and how I felt more comfortable in decades prior to my time than in my own time.  I wrote about the chains that bounced off my hip as I climbed the hill of Germain Amphitheatre in Columbus, Ohio, and how I held the callused hands of a boy who kept me at skin’s length even though I wanted more than anything to be a part of him.

I turned in the paper.  The next class, Joe kept me after.  The humid air had crept in through the windows and the sweaty plastic of the desk stuck against my forearms.  I felt like I was suffocating.  “What’s your major?” he asked.

“Undecided…but leaning toward education?” I half-asked.  Was there a right answer?

“No.  Creative writing.  You have something here,” Joe said.  Apparently there was.  When I left Miller Hall that day, two weeks into my college career, I felt like I had direction for the first time.  The flowers were brighter and the sky was bluer, and I felt like Joe had uncovered a part of me that I didn’t even know existed, like he had peeled back my own calluses and exposed a raw, undeveloped part of me.

As with any “new skin,” this part of me was sensitive.  I babied it, wouldn’t fully walk on it right away.  It was an odd sensation, having someone believe that what I had to say was worth something, that my insights meant something.  That my story was one that people might want to hear.

I spent many nights at the computer, my chair tilted back on two legs, trying to find my reality.  Reality.  It felt so foreign then.  It felt like a thing of value.

All through college, I pecked away at my keyboard.  When I couldn’t write, I turned on Metallica, turned off the lights, and hung upside down on my futon.  I tried.

Four quick years later, I was getting ready to graduate when Joe asked me, “What do you think about grad school?”

I shrugged.  After a barrage of questions from my mother about what the hell I was going to do with a Creative Writing degree, I decided that grad school would only be a waste of money.

University of North Carolina at Wilmington.  You should apply.  A friend of mine, Philip Gerard, is down there.  You’ll learn a lot from him,” Joe said.

So I applied. I got accepted. I didn’t respond until they started calling me and asking me what I was going to do.    I decided I wouldn’t take it without a teaching assistantship, and the next day, I got the assistantship.  So in August of 2007, I moved to North Carolina with a fire in my hands to write.  I had managed to keep the skin that Joe revealed open–vulnerable, yet livable–everything that a writer should be.  Because if a writer is not vulnerable, are they really a writer?

The truth was that Philip Gerard was wonderful.  I felt comfortable with him much like I felt comfortable with Joe. I felt that I could learn something from them.  But, as I’ve mentioned, I could never fully enjoy grad school because I’m not sure I ever fully acclimated.  The place itself was wonderful, minus the humidity, and I ran into a few great people.  But most of the people there ruined it for me.  Remember that time I said “gypped”?  With everyone trying to be so politically correct, there was too much sameness.  People were letting go of their own identities so not to offend others.

But there was something else.  Something bigger.  Before I went to North Carolina, I found beauty in everyday things.  I saw beautiful, wonderful creatures in the people I worked with at Whirlpool, and I saw meaning in a dead-end bridge and a four-stroke engine.  I lost all that in North Carolina.  In North Carolina, I no longer felt like anything I had to say had meaning.  It felt like I was too normal.

This may or may not be true, and it may all be my own misconception, but it seemed very much like the only thing that was celebrated in my graduate program was the writing that was “different.”  And I understand that writing should be original, but when I say different, I mean crap like the lyric essay.  I mean taking so many risks with the format of the writing and the content that it no longer made sense.  It seemed like that was the stuff that was praised in grad school.  All I could think was, “Oh, you put a sentence four spaces down at the bottom and that space represents the emptiness you were feeling?  Shut up.”  When it came to writing, I always thought it was the truth behind it all, the crafting of the story, the reality that made it good.

I also suffered from what I call “The Plight of the Happy Writer.”  You see, all of the people I went to school with had some huge issue that they were dealing with, either from childhood, an ongoing battle with themselves, a sickness, a something.  I felt like I was at a disadvantage (in writing only) because something horrible hadn’t happened to me, because I wasn’t molested as a child, or struggling with my sexuality.  I had never been paid for certain sexual acts or had a horrible disease.  I hadn’t traveled all over the world and saw the beauty and devastation. I was just an Ohio girl who was realizing she didn’t really have anything to say.  And I became wonderfully happy with my lack of traumatic events.

So I let that callus that Joe so easily ripped off grow back over, and I hardened myself to writing.  I was surprised that this hurt more than when Joe ripped that callus, and more than the period of my life before I even knew I could write.  I was (read:  am) purposely suppressing something that came naturally to me in response to something that seemed unnatural to me.  I gave it up.

I haven’t been able to write since, but standing in the bathroom this morning while I was brushing my teeth, I saw that thing of beauty reemerge.  That simple, everyday beauty that comes from an overused toothbrush and a paste-flecked mirror.  I saw the imperfections, the reality of life creeping back in.  So I stuck my fingernail underneath the callus to see how easy it would be to lift away again.  Did I even want to? Baring one’s soul is not a decision that should be taken lightly.

But until then, I’ll enjoy the bent bristles of my toothbrush, the blue flecks on the glass, the cold tile underfoot, and I’ll keep picking at that callus to see if it’s ready to come off.  I hope that it will be soon.

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Posted by on June 3, 2013 in Daily Happenings, Fremont

 

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My favorite parts of North Carolina

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Sometimes, it takes some time away from a place to truly appreciate what it was and what you enjoyed about it.  When I left Fremont, I longed for the place that I came from, and I still look at it with a nostalgic eye.  When I left Ashland, the nostalgia set in immediately and I looked upon my college years fondly, even though they were mere hours behind me.

But Wilmington, NC–I loathed it while I was there, and for about three years (OMG it’s been 3 years since I finished my Master’s), I couldn’t see why anyone wanted to go back.  I think I hated Wilmington so much because I didn’t like why I was there.  I hated grad school and I didn’t get on well with the people around me.  I felt so different than everyone else–and I really was.  I am Midwestern and fairly conservative (but socially liberal), and I thought they were all a bunch of crazy hippies.  There were maybe 5 students I connected with, and I only made about 4 true friends down there.  And that’s good enough for me.

But now one of my coworkers is on a cross-country road trip, and mentioned on his blog that he was on his way to Wilmington, NC.  I immediately had the urge to tell him where to go.  It was then that I realized a small SMALL part of me missed CERTAIN PARTS of North Carolina.

So to those of you who are going to Wilmington, NC, here are my Midwestern suggestions:

You MUST eat at Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn (on Oleander).  You must big the Big Jerk or the Thai Me Up.  And you must must must try every salsa, especially, the pineapple jalapeno.

Go to the Battleship North Carolina.

Go downtown and walk the streets (mainly Front, Market, and Water).  

Go to the Barbary Coast on Front St. It’s the oldest bar in Wilmington.

If you make your way to Carolina Beach, go to The Fat Pelican. Just walk to the back of the bar and into the cooler and pick whatever beer you want. Pay at the register and then wander around the bar and look at the walls. You’ll ALWAYS find something new. And if you see a black lab, his name is Atta Boy and he loves Cheez-Its.

And if you’re really feeling adventurous, go a little further south to Fort Fisher–old war monument. The trees are gorgeous, and if you look hard enough, you can find the bunker of the Fort Fisher Hermit

 

Proof that I didn’t hate Wilmington as much as I thought. 🙂

 

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Daily Happenings

 

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Sure, I’ll Talk About Amendment One in NC

But only because I’m a former resident.

I think you all know how I felt about my time in Wilmington, North Carolina.  I enjoyed certain parts of it, but when it came down to brass tracks, I always wanted to go home to the north coast, to Ohio.

I was continuously yelled at and reprimanded for my views, for the men that I dated, for the way I asked about the gender of an unborn child.  My views on sunscreen and the word gypped pissed people off.  Wilmington, North Carolina was a little too willy-nilly for me…and it’s apparently one of the more liberal towns.  Yet everything I said was judged and taken to be offensive, when it reality I think more tolerance could have been practiced.

I’m told that I’d love the western part of the state…which is where I think the majority of the 60% that turned down gay marriage live.  Perhaps I would like some parts of western NC, but I belong in the North.

Sure, I’ll lose some followers when I say this, but I think it’s worth being said.  While I am conservative in many aspects of my life (government, money, etc.), I am much more liberal in the social aspect of things.  And while I may not be way off to the left socially, I do believe that we need to loosen up.

So when Amendment One passed in North Carolina yesterday, I can honestly say I felt some sadness.  I knew plenty of gay and lesbian couples when I lived there.  And while I refuse to get preachy and talk about rights, I will say that I have no problem with the civil union of gay and lesbian couples.  Now, I will also say this–I was raised a Catholic…and I am a conservative…and I AM from Ohio.  It would be dishonest of me to not say that the thought of church weddings in this respect does make me a little antsy.  But gay marriage in general does not.

My friend Daniel married his partner of 15 years on May 8th, 2012 in Washington, DC.  It wasn’t a destination wedding for fun–it was a destination wedding born out of necessity.  And that kinda sucks.

I’m very happy for Daniel and Ben, and for any couple that can unite in love legally.  Someday there will be tolerance.  I believe that whole-heartedly.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Daily Happenings

 

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Mike Blair & the Stonewalls

I know you’re dying to hear about my Valentine’s Day weekend (har har har), but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow. I haven’t had a chance to upload the pictures.  But it’ll be quite a saga, don’t you worry.

However, today, I want to introduce to you (maybe reintroduce for some of you?) my friends and a really great band called Mike Blair & the Stonewalls.

When I was living in North Carolina, one of my favorite escapes was to go downtown to 16 Taps and listen to these guys on open mic night.  I don’t know all the new members of the band, but I do know Mike Blair, his sister Sarah Blair, and resident hardass David Graham (yeah, he’s the one in the sunglasses who isn’t smiling).

Sarah Blair, David Graham, Mike Blair, and the ones I don't necessarily know...

I smoked many ‘a cigarettes and drank many ‘a beer listening to them play.  In fact, I’m in a bootleg recording yelling, “God I need that song!”  No, I will not share it with you.  But I can say this about the three members of the band that I do know:  Mike, Sarah, and David were there for me a lot.

For my birthday, they got me coffee and peanut butter cookies because I came to their show.  Mike offered to come over to my creepy house in the hood multiple times when I heard scary stuff going on and the helicopter was looking with a spotlight through my neighborhood.  Sarah was always there for giggling and talking.  And David gave me Slippery When Wet on vinyl before I left.

Not only that, but the band learned to play Mike’s and my song, and they did it for a lot of Mondays in a row when I was missing Mike.  They’re great people, and great musicians.

The point is this:  They.  Are.  Awesome.  They just released an album and you can buy it on iTunes or on Amazon.  It’s WELL worth the $5.  I promise.

And you can always preview the music…but beware, you’ll want it after that.

See the band’s profile at reverbnation and at bandcamp, and like their Facebook page.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2012 in Daily Happenings

 

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Jumping on the Bandwagon

When something big happens, we all want to be involved.  Even if it’s something unfortunate.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It is this desire to be involved that spawns compassion among human beings.  It’s because we can imagine what it would be like if it HAD happened to us.  So we reach out.

I am lucky enough to have never been in danger because of the weather.  I’ve never seen a tornado, been in a hurricane, or felt an earthquake.  I’ve never suffered through a tsunami or ran from an exploding volcano.  I just haven’t.  I like to think that I live in one of the safest areas in the world.  I live in the United States.  Safety #1.  I also live in northern Ohio.  So no hurricanes, no fault lines, no tsunamis, and rarely a tornado.

I am lucky.

But here’s the thing:  I’ve always wanted to see a tornado–just not have to worry about it harming anyone or anything.

And when I lived in North Carolina, I so badly wanted to experience a hurricane.  Not a horrible one–just a hurricane.  I wanted to see the rain and watch the trees bend, listen to the wind howl and hear the windows shake.

And when the earthquake hit yesterday, I wanted to feel it something fierce.  But I didn’t.

I want to experience these types of weather–I just don’t want to deal with any of the negative effects.  I’m stuck somewhere in this thinking that this makes me a bad person.  I want to see these things that ruin people’s lives.  But I don’t want them to ruin people’s lives.  And I certainly don’t want to be in danger either.

I just want to see it, you know?  Bah.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2011 in Daily Happenings

 

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Wilmington Vacay Recap (WITH PHOTOS!)

So I promised photos.  Surprisingly, I didn’t take that many.  And most of them are of Mike and I.  They are in the gallery below.

We got to Raleigh after a deafeningly quiet drive and slept on Hope’s couch for an hour.  It was so good to see her!  And then we drove the rest of the way to Wilmington, dropped off our things, and hit the beach.  It felt so good to be in the Carolina sun again.

That night, we ate Flaming Amy’s with Scott and Michelle, our wonderful, gracious hosts and incredible friends and then they took me to my first stand-up comedian at a club in Wilmington.  It was HILARIOUS.  🙂  After that, we went to the Black Sheep for an MFA party, and then home to sleep it all off.  And dang was I freakin’ tired.

Saturday, Mike, Michelle, and I went to the beach and got some more of that Carolina sun, and swam in the water.  It felt AMAZING.  We also watched a sailboat launch from the beach, which was pretty exciting if you ask me.  Saturday night, we watched the Trailer Park Boys and ate amazing chicken from Scotty’s grill.

Sunday, Scott and Mike went fishing and Michelle and I went and rounded up food for the 4th of July cookout our friends Brian and Chris were having.  We ate lunch at the Mellow Mushroom where I saw my friend and old student Erica D.  Then Mike and I buzzed around and went shopping where we both got some awesome deals at Belk (I miss that store) and Mike got new flip-flops which were sorely needed.  After that, we went to the cookout and then Mike and I sneaked away to Wrightsville Beach where we drank a bottle of white wine and watched at least 7 different sets of fireworks going off all around us.  It was really a nostalgic place for us to be at night, and it felt really good and new at the same time.

Monday was the actual 4th of July, and I woke up early and went fishing with Mike.  He looked so darn cute catching little spotty fish, and again, I got a little more sun.  Then we had lunch with my buddy Harden at Two Guys Grille and relaxed.  When we got home, we drank some beers before heading downtown to eat dinner at a German restaurant and then watch the Wilmington fireworks.  I got a little sketched out because there was no cell phone reception, so I didn’t get to see everyone that I tried to call, but it was okay.  The fireworks were awesome and there were tons of people down there.

Tuesday morning, we woke up and left the house by 6:30a.m. and took a leisurely ride home, where we stopped at the Tanger outlets, in Marietta, Ohio, and finally in New Philadelphia, Ohio to see my friend Shelley.  🙂

It was an awesome vacation.  Click the pics to make ’em bigger!

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2011 in Daily Happenings

 

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Thankful

So we’re back from Wilmington.  🙂

I got to see a ton of people that I wanted to see, and unfortunately missed a few.  Lindsay, Carmen, Sarah, I really wish I could have seen you.  Our hours were full trying to fit three years of memories in only 4 short days, and downtown at the fireworks, I had no reception to be able to find some of you.

I am incredibly busy playing catch-up at work, but I will post pictures tomorrow.

Cheers!

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2011 in Daily Happenings

 

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