Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Slogging Forward

So, I risked being uncool and got my copy of Happy Baby signed by Stephen Elliott last night after asking him a question that I'd wanted to ask during the class but was just not in my strong place, so I couldn't. But afterwards I did. I asked him "how do you get past the fear" (or something like that) and he said "you already know the answer" (or something like that) and ya know, he's right. Part of what he wrote in the book was this - "Don't question, just go forward."

Ha - I have a poem with the following lines:

I will not question


yet I always question

Today was one of those days when bad news just seems to show up with a gleeful grin on it's face. A kick 'em when they're down kind of day. My husband makes his living in the publishing biz. The sinking in quicksand publishing biz. Today he got unpleasant news about health care coverage. It basically amounts to a huge pay cut. We're trying to figure how to manage this. Yeah, and I feel silly complaining - at least he has a job. But things are so different from just a year ago (for us and just about everyone we know) that the mind reels at times.

So, I of course go to a very negative place. I'm trying to be a "writer" and right now it feels self-indulgent. Especially because I'm a "stay-at-home mom" - a luxury right? Who am I to complain about anything? We've managed this long because we have always managed to make do. Oh, I've gone out into the work world on occasion - but it was always something to tide us over or give me a little spending money. I have a college degree (in Geology of all things) that probably wouldn't do me a lick of good these days. I don't have any real marketable skills and very little experience. My husband would argue with all these, but then he's a glass half full kinda guy, while I on the other hand see the glass as empty and smashed on the floor. I've made a little bit of money with my writing, but not enough to even pay for the paper and pens I've used at this point.

Many people start writing when they're young and keep at it. I stopped at about thirteen/fourteen and didn't start up again until I was in my thirties and really didn't get serious until about ten years ago. I'll spare you the math - I'm fifty-one. That means I can't waste any more time. I need to write. And now (and probably always) the only person stopping me from writing is me. I have to admit that. Oh, I can complain about time suckers and stress and whatnot, but when it comes down to it, I'm the only one that can pick up my personal pen or tap my own keyboard. Or not.

When I first started doing this erotica writing thing it was because I'd written some stuff in the past and wanted to again. The stuff I wrote before was "sweet" and though one piece has been published (and I've yet to hear of anybody reading it unless I showed them the story) - it was an old one - written 18 years ago during one of my brief forays back into writing. Now though I find that the erotica (or whatever you want to call it) I'm writing is much darker. Sex is a fraught subject for me. And like Donna has been blogging about, it's not always happy and "sex positive." I want to be able to write honestly about whatever I write about, even if I'm writing fiction. But also, I (god this is hard to write) want to write my own story. And as soon as I even start to think that, the tabernacle choir in my head starts up with all the reasons why I shouldn't and why nobody could possibly be interested and they never shut up. This is something I've been struggling with for several years (or my whole life, take your pick). It's why the novel I've tried to write several times runs off into a ditch.

So when I saw this class I immediately signed up. "Writing From Experience" from Stephen Elliott in NYC. I was in a funny place for most of the evening. Wish I hadn't been, but that's what was.

One reason was I was suffering from what I term environmental whiplash - walking the streets of NYC when 36 hours before I was in Maine, helping clear our land and peeing in the woods. Hell, it's hard coming home from there anyway and we don't live in the city. I love NYC (more so than my husband) - I love the woods too. Well, I love them much more.

Sometimes it's hard to reconcile my conflicting loves/desires.

Anyhow, I sunk into my shy place for most of the evening. Just listening mostly. Silly (hmm, why did I say silly?) observance: his little notebook had a cool kink.com sticker on it. I noticed that. I took a few notes, did the couple of brief writing exercises. Interesting where I went with them. I didn't read any of mine. Some highlights - things that either I made note of or Stephen mentioned they were bolded in his notes so they were important. They're almost quotes, though maybe not exact - I'm bad at notes.

- The filter is your most important tool after your pen. Your own experience processed through your own personal filters are what make you unique.
- Never let the truth get in the way of the story.
- A book that everybody likes, nobody loves.
- Write it and then worry about it (publishing something that someone might not like).
- You might not have another story if you give away your story (by not writing it or not writing it the way you need to in order to protect someone).
- Who owns the story?

If any of that interests you, you might want to check out his "Why I Write" - available to download for a few bucks (if you're impatient like me) or soon on The Rumpus for free.

Afterwards most of us went around the corner to a bar and it was hard for me to hear anybody - my hearing is funky when there's a lot of background noise. I used to pretend I could hear what was being said, but anymore I just zone out.

I did write four pages of stuff on the train ride home. Not about to write it all down here - I go off on some tangents that I ain't about to put down here - for some of the reasons that were talked about in the class. But I will put down this part even though I worry some of it may sound stupid and self-absorbed:

Had an attack of shyness. I was just the second person to introduce themselves so I didn't say much - just my name and that I was down from CT - nothing about my writing or why I was there. Most folks were considerably younger than me, in fact, I may have been the oldest there - or close to it. I don't want to disparage anyone, including myself, but I kept thinking "these are real writers" and then would immediately castigate myself for such thinking. I was back in the space I used to be in writing classes/workshops - afraid I don't belong. I don't need critics, I'm my own worst.

I liked him - would have liked to have a real conversation with him about writing - not a shouted over a noisy bar me afraid of sounding stupid one. And I had to guzzle my beer to get the nerve up to say anything - but I did because if I had of left without asking the things I did I would have been kicking myself. Had my chance and blew it. I don't know why I feel so strongly that Stephen Elliott's writing is going to be critical to what I want to do - but I do.

I don't hear well in crowded noisy places. Can't pull the conversation out of the swarm of sounds. So I just tend to hang back. And I realize that my hanging back could be - probably is - interpreted as standoffishness. That my natural shyness is mistaken for snobbyness. When in reality I'm again the little girl standing on the edge of the playground, lonely and wishing someone would come over and be friendly. Unable to walk up to another kid and say hi. And I'm here on this crowded train and I want to cry. But I can't. Why do I want to? Because ... go ahead, be brave - I wanted more. And not in that way. I wanted what I'm always searching for - sometimes getting a slight taste - but it's always gone so fast I often can't believe that it even was real.

What I'm talking about here is connection. I go off and talk about specific people and our conversations or lack thereof. And that includes written conversations - emails and such. I think I'm much better at communicating through written words (or typed) than talking. I stumble over what I'm trying to say and I usually end up feeling stupid.

There was a lot of talk about communication in the class - or at least it seemed that way to me. It's funny though. I've taken lots of classes/workshops/whatevers and one thing that seems to enhance the experience for me is if there's time to talk to other participants beforehand. You can get that at workshops that last long enough - like weekends - so that there is connection between the folks when they go into the class. I wonder if there's a way to bring that to shorter classes. (okay, this is just me thinking out loud right now).

Anyhow. I liked the class. It was worth the time and money and effort to get into the city. I'm glad I didn't chicken out and not ask him my question afterward and I'm glad I got my book signed (and my copy of Why I Write). I found it odd that nobody else seemed to have one of his books with them to get signed. Was everyone else too cool for that? Hmm. That's an interesting topic. Maybe I'll blog about the whole book signing thing another time.

There's a shitload more I could write, but it's after midnight and I really need to sleep. It will be interesting if anyone reads this fucking long post. I've had to go back and fix a few typos (the ones I never seem to catch until after hitting publish).


Danielle said...

hey robin...:-) havent been here in a while since the kids kept me so bussy..

another interesting, deep and thoughtfull post that you share with us..love to have this view on your mind..something that makes your entries so special for me is that they are like pages ripped from your private diary..i like that style a lot.

i think its awsome that you had the possibiolity to be at this workshop and also that you went there..

yes, please write about the book sining thing..seems an interesting subject to me...i usually only get books signed by the writers i know...the last writer i asked to sign anything for me was donna...i asked her to sign my old copie of her really wonderfull novel and she send me not only a new signed copie but also a lot of book-matching goodies...which was really wonderfull:-) so yes..please write about the book signing subject..right now i d like to ask again someone from our blog land colony..but i m to shy..lol

Erobintica said...

Hey Danielle! Thanks for slogging through this long ass blog post. :-) I've been enjoying the pics at your blog - the night walk pics were particularly interesting.

I will write about the whole book signing thing - especially since this morning I came across another blog talking about them pointing to others. So, it's in the air.

You? Shy?

Jeremy Edwards said...

Ooh, you were just reading my blog while I was reading yours!

I wanted to say, having hung out with you in person in a group, that I found you to be a very articulate, friendly, interesting, and puts-the-group-at-ease presence. I know you're shy 'cause you say so above, but I never would have known.

Isabel Kerr said...

It sounds, Jeremy, that Robin's shyness really comes across as poise and elan.

Patience Robin. That is the one thing that we need. Patience with ourselves and the self understanding that we work at our own pace and that every step is a step forward, however small.

Set up a file for accolades and copy Danielle's, Jeremy's and everyone else's words of praise and support and it will give you insight into what's working in your work as well as inspiration.

I wrote somewhere (?) recently Art and writing are an end in themselves and the world benefits and so do you. Ah yes, about Gina Marie's ex. It doesn't sound like you have her ex problem of lack of support for her work, but the first person who needs to believe in and support your work is you.

Even one piece published and in such a wonderful collection is a great start.

Writing is not self indulgent, for some of us it is survival.

Keep writing, it's a great distillation process to focus your thinking and writing.

Donna said...

Oh, Robin, I so relate to pretty much everything you've written here. The guilt about my self-indulgence as a stay-at-home mom and writer (although the mom part is tons of work and someone has to do it, why not the person who loves it best?). But yeah it does make me feel guilty to have chosen a job just for love and little money while my husband has to deal with all the crap in the real world. But you are also right that at this age we can see time is precious. On your deathbed, would you rather look back and say you did what you loved or what "they" thought you should do?

Ditto on the shy thing. I rarely spoke up in my classes unless I really trusted the teacher and creative writing classes were the worst somehow because of all the coolness and posturing. I much prefer writing to speaking, cause I feel like a blithering idiot. But I always think of Cynthia Ozick who was being interviewed by someone and insisted on typing out her answers rather than speaking them. It's a writer thing, so if you're ever in doubt if you're the real thing, remember you're in the same club as Cynthia!

Finally, I'm so glad you shared some of the highlights of the workshop. I can never get enough of inspiring wise words. This line jumped out at me:

A book that everybody likes, nobody loves.

One of the many demons I think I need to conquer in this game is the specter of "cool." Not that I ever was, but seriously, do cool people ever really get to have fun? They're too busy posing to ask an author to sign a book, something they can cherish and something I am absolutely positive Stephen Elliott noted, remembered and was flattered by.

Please do blog about the signings!

And btw, we all want something more. That's why we write, isn't it?

Erobintica said...

Jeremy - golly gee wiz, thanks. The thing is, I knew folks then - yeah, maybe hadn't met you & Helia in person, but you weren't strangers either. Put me in a room with strangers and I try my best to become just another mussel on the rock.

Isabel. You are so right. I have sometimes infinite patience with others and none for myself. I don't know, the file of "accolades" (why does even typing that word make me feel sick to my stomach?) doesn't sound like something I'm ready to do yet. But thanks for the suggestion. I'll let you know when I get brave enough.

Erobintica said...

Hi Donna. You all packed? ;-) Am so looking forward to meeting you.

Yeah, the mom guilt thing. I think that part of it is because of when I "came of age" - and I think I better not go any more into that or it'll turn into a rant.

I NEVER raised my hand in class. How did I get through school, including college, like that? And I'm glad that I went the science route - I don't think I could have survived writing classes (I've heard all about them from my daughters).

One thing I realize is that I got amazingly lucky falling in with the group of poets/writers I have here in CT (and also here in blogland) because though we all have our issues and egos, we also aren't ... I can't think of the word right now (god I hate that) - cut throat comes to mind, but that's not quite it.

Thanks and have a great trip.

Oh, you'll like this - he said (when we were talking in the bar after I got my liquid courage) - that I looked (or seemed?) West Coast. I thanked him. LOL.

Scarlett Greyson said...

I have tried to get back here all day to comment and am just now making it! Tells you what kind of day I've had here ;)

It's hard on artists, creative types in general, to give themselves credit. Society and the media have painted those people in unflattering lights. It's like the disappearing blue collar class - does anyone think of a plumber any other way that the butt crack baring overweight bubba? What about mechanics, carpenters, and so forth?

Well, the creative community has the same problem. If you accept accolades, are proud of what you do, they you're a egotistical high on yourself "arty-farty" person. If you don't, you're the foolish, short-sighted starving artist.

It's stereotypes that are ingrained in our psyches and they're quite difficult to overcome!

I'm terrible about doubting myself. I write something, and think it sucks. Guranteed. And if someone else says it's good...well, they're just being kind or whathave you.

So if you're shy...well, I talk to much, so we'll get together, sit next to each other, and you can tone me down while I help get you to open up. How's that?


Donna said...

West Coast is a real compliment, or so I'd like to think ;-). Looking forward to seeing you, too!

Erobintica said...

Hey Scarlett,

Sorry for taking so long to respond to your comment. ;-)

I will explain why in my post after I write here. It's funny, I have a lot of respect for "blue collar" workers (and really always have) - and yes, they're disappearing - mainly because most of our schools have no interest in introducing students to those possibilities. Okay, don't wanna go off on that rant right now (too bad my husband's not a plumber right now).

And yeah, creative types are thought of the same way - "that's no way to make a living" being a commonly held belief. Oh, I could get started with this one too. But, I need to go vent about something else.

Thanks - funny thing is, I may be shy, but when I get going....


Erobintica said...

Yup, I agree Donna - for way too many reasons to elaborate right now.

Alana Noel Voth said...

R, thank you----thank you---for this post. Thank you.