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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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MIA

I’m still here, all.  Do not worry.  And no, it wasn’t the housework that was keeping me away all that time.  But instead of boring you with a picture of my calendar…wait.  Can I do that?  No no, it would be so pathetic.  To make a long story short, I’ve been creating fiction with myself about this housegirlfriend thing.  Have no fear;  Mike still loves me, and I him.  We are in love.  There is love flowing from the apartment above the antique shop.  No fears.

But this housegirlfriend thing just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  If you’ll remember, I talked a little about the panic attacks I’ve been having.  I’ve realized something.  It’s because I spend TOO MUCH TIME with myself.  I feel bad for my college roommate, Kay, as she spent this much time with me, too.  Mike gets an 8-hour a day break.  I’m obnoxious!  I drive myself crazy (tell me you didn’t think of N’Sync, teenyboppers), and it got to the point where I was able to talk myself out of it.  So no more sweaty runs, except for the sake of sweating.  Oh, and losing pudge.  🙂

I am obnoxious, though.  I mean, I overthink everything.  Irrationally.  Like…okay.  I got a scratch on my leg, probably from rummaging about on the bike trail chasing that adorable chipmunk, or hunting down that cardinal I heard.  I honestly do not know.  But I was so sure an axe murderer was in my room at night, running his hooked hand up my leg and giving me these scratches.  And did you know I like to eat frozen semi-sweet chocolate chips out of the freezer at night?  Well, I do.  And I went through about twelve bottles of wine in a month.  Maybe that’s not so bad?  Glass a night?  On average?  Alcoholic?  Whatever.  Don’t judge me.

So Mike looks at me one night, frazzled, in ratty sweatpants and a glass of wine in hand (me, not him) and says, “Why don’t we go to the mall and see if you can at least get a part time job, you know, just to keep you from losing your mind here all day?”  A novel idea!  So we drove to the Cranberry Township mall, and I grabbed an application from every store.  Remember, this is a small town, so I drove away with maybe ten applications.

Aaaaand…are you ready for this?  I got a job.  I HAVE A JOB!  Now mind you, this is not something I want to do for the rest of my life by any means, and this is not something I think will turn into anything more.  It is a job simply to give me something to do.  It’s the type of job that this housegirlfriend would get once she was a housewife, and her children were in school at least all day, and the charm of bonbons, soap operas, and sleeping late wore off.  I wear an orange apron.  I smell pretty.  And I work at Bath and Body Works!  I’ve never worked retail and they’re letting me come in as a manager, so that’s pretty exciting.  And after one face-to-face interview, and two over the phone while I was bustling around Ohio from Mansfield to Fremont to Columbus, back to Fremont, I got a job.  So woot!  And that’s pretty good, because they didn’t call me till yesterday, and I spent all weekend buying clothes that fit the uniform…sooo.  🙂  SHOPPING!

And so this is what I’ve realized from this:  Being a housegirlfriend is fun, and I love having Mike’s lunch ready for him when he comes home, and I love working out when I want to, and pajamas all day, and frozen freaking chocolate chips, but one begins to feel useless.  Herein lies the problem of the ’50s housewife.  There’s no point of a housewife, if there are not housechildren.  I mean, kids.  And seeing as I am traditional (pfff) and don’t want children until after I’m married, those children aren’t coming until I am a housewife.  So housegirlfriend…well, does housegirlfriend really exist?  I took care of myself and inanimate objects…and Mike sometimes.  But for the most part, and I hate to say this, there is no point in being a housegirlfriend.

I felt guilty, really.  Because Mike pretty much funded everything.  And I didn’t get to take care of anything.  Now, if I had to have one kid to soccer and one to ballet and had to get them ready from school and buy Almond Milk for the lactose intolerant one, that would be a different story.  But I don’t.  I have to wake up, work out, and make sure my day goes quick enough that I don’t drive myself insane between periods of Mike.  So I got a job.

Job.  That word is frustrating in itself, and that’s part of why I was in Ohio for a week doing interviews over the phone.  I’m damn lucky enough to have made friends with my professors from Ashland and from UNCW.  My professor Mike, not to be confused with live-in boyfriend Mike, now works at OSU-Mansfield, and introduced me to an incredibly helpful resource named Norman, who assured me my life and my decisions weren’t a complete waste of time, and that I had potential beyond a housegirlfriend, even if it meant working at Bath and Body Works until I can find a job in higher education, which is truly my dream.  That last sentence is in past tense, simply because today is one of those days that feels like I’ll never make it out of housegirlfriend.

And on Friday, I drove to Columbus, more specifically Pickerington, Ohio, to meet with a woman with whom my mother’s boss recommended I meet with.  She is an incredible grant writer, and someone to surely look up to.  Problem is…I’m not competitive enough to write grants full time.  I’m just not into tiny deadlines and playing bad cop.  I’d love to be on a team sometime…just not heading it up.  I feel more schooled in grant writing, and that’s exciting because who doesn’t want someone who can write a grant?  And thanks for this woman for her innumerable helpful documents and immeasurable expertise.

So this is what I learned:  right now, with this economy, and with an English degree, it’s all about networking.  So I intend to network.  And I intend to send out pieces to be published, and to continue to apply to jobs in higher education.

Because let’s be honest:  until I have a bun in the oven, there is no point in being a housegirlfriend.  Speaking of which, my homemade pizza is done.

Bath and Body tomorrow.  🙂  I GET TO TALK TO PEOPLE!

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2010 in Daily Happenings

 

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