On Grief and Writing

pic3

So take a pen to your grief.
Every word you write pours salve and healing on your wounds, whether fresh or distant.
There’s little you can do regarding the trials we endure.
So write.
Dissect them word by word, letter by letter. Be honest with yourself.
List your mistakes; chronicle your regrets.
Rage and scream and cry.
Bleed your pain on paper.
Use your pen to strip away all artifice. Be transparent with your anger, and brutal with your faults.
Let the bitterness explode onto paper, even if it is for your eyes only.
Then, you might just see the tiniest flicker of healing.
Not a fire, you understand, but a modest flame.
When the fire catches in earnest, it will burn away the anger and sadness one twig at a time, until the weight of grief transforms to mere ashes.
The ashes will always be a part of you, leaving an indelible tattoo of grief seared across your heart.
Most will not notice, but those who love you will see.
Ashes are so much easier to bear than the wildfire you survived.
But you–
You extinguished it with your very fingertips.

To Kill A Gentleman: The Murder of Atticus Finch

folders

Let’s play a game called What’s Wrong With This Picture.

Atticus Quotes from To Kill A Mockingbird

“Scout,” said Atticus, “nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don’t mean anything—like snot-nose. It’s hard to explain—ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody’s favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It’s slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody.”

“You aren’t really a nigger-lover, then, are you?”

“I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody… I’m hard put, sometimes—baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.”

Atticus from Go Find a Watchman

“Then let’s put this on a practical basis right now. Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”

“They’re people, aren’t they? We were quite willing to import them when they made money for us.”

“Do you want your children going to a school that’s been dragged down to accommodate Negro children?”

***

“Atticus, I’m getting out of this place fast, I don’t know where I’m going but I’m going. I never want to see another Finch or hear of one as long as I live!”

“As you please.”

“You double-dealing, ring-tailed old son of a bitch! You just sit there and say ‘As you please’ when you’ve knocked me down and stomped on me and spat on me, you just sit there and say ‘As you please’ when everything I ever loved in this world –you just sit there and say ‘As you please’–you love me! You son of a bitch!”

“That’ll do, Jean Louise.”

That’ll do, Harper Lee. In a time when the South is struggling to overcome a few ignorant racists, this long-awaited sequel could not have come at a worse time. I’ll never understand what Lee was thinking when she assassinated Atticus Finch’s character so.

But enough of the moral hand-wringing. I want to talk about character development.

As a writer, it’s important to maintain consistency of character. If a character is a moral compass in one book, and inexplicably becomes a villain in the next, this is simply bad writing. It doesn’t matter if it’s dressed up in pretty bows–it is more than sloppy–it’s damaging. There are no clues in To Kill a Mockingbird that suggest to us that Atticus is not who he seems. Even considering Scout’s childish point of view doesn’t explain it–she’s writing from an adult view looking back at the past.

What other explanation do we have? Was Scout somehow too slow to catch on to her father’s true character? I don’t think so. She’s sharp enough to spar with Atticus, quoting constitutional law with her daddy.

Atticus, don’t worry. I’m going to pretend this second book NEVER HAPPENED.

Harper Lee, you’ve broken my heart, and I wish I knew why.

5 Things My Mom Taught Me

11225272_10153361654685929_8936307265730583151_n

For those of you who know me, you also know this: my relationship with my mom has never been easy. Truthfully, is any mother/daughter relationship really easy? We’re so very different–in almost every way. There has never been a time we’ve  understood one another, but I think we’ve both come to accept that.As a teen, I strove to be her polar opposite. I didn’t think I’d ever want to be a wife, and I sure as heck didn’t want to be a mother. She used to drive me utterly bonkers–she didn’t understand my need for college, to get out of Springdale.  I guess she forgot that when she was 18 the very first thing she did was move to Tulsa, all by herself, just to see if she could. Nobody in our family had ever broken free that way before. In the end, she moved back to be near the family and because she loved Arkansas.

I guess I understand that part of her.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to be more accepting of my mom and who she is, and I think she’s found the same peace with her crazy, unpredictable firstborn. I’ve also learned that even though I may have resisted her advice and may have believed that she had nothing to teach me, she’s been teaching me all along. Maybe I’m the one who has changed and not she. Here are 5 things my mama taught me.

1. The value of hard work. My mother quit high school her freshman year to get a job. It wasn’t because she hated school or learning, she wanted to help her mother feed and clothe her nine siblings. . My mother worked various waitressing jobs and seasonal farm work–picking peaches, berries, etc.–to help my grandma feed those kids. Then, when my sisters and I were growing up, she worked at a chicken plant, standing for 12 hours a day in a freezer. I know she wasn’t thrilled to work there, but she did it.

As a result, I, too am hard working. I don’t know how to be otherwise. Both my parents instilled a diligent work ethic in me that sometimes threatens to cross the line into workaholicism. You know what they say about anything in excess?

2.  Unreasonable stubbornness/perserverance. This trait has both served me well and been my folly. Sometimes I take a bit of time making a decision, but once it’s made I stick to it, TO A FAULT. I will hold on with nothing but my fingernails until whatever I’ve decided has either come to fruition or is torn from under me. Either way, I rarely give in. I rarely give up. This stubborn streak runs in my blood from both my mom and dad.

 Perseverance is different from stubbornness, because perseverance is usually a positive thing. To persevere means to endure even when things get crazy difficult and complicated. It means to hang on and not give up. One way I saw her persevere was with her caretaking of my grandfather. When my grandfather became old and ill, she took care of him. Incidentally, he also was unreasonably stubborn–so much so it took FIVE heart attacks to kill him. Even though his doctors warned him to quit, he chewed tobacco and drank until his dying day–well into his 80s.  I really thought he was never going to die–I thought even death was a bit scared of him. My grandfather was cranky and hard to please–but still my mother checked on him and bought him groceries and took him to the doctor. I didn’t understand why–he was mean to her, often complaining about the brands she chose or how she paid the bills, and he was often hurtful in word and deed. Yet, she never gave up on him.

3. To not waste anything. My mom is the queen of reusing and recycling before it was cool to do so. She rarely throws anything away, which can sometimes be a bad thing, but you could never accuse her of waste.

4. How to make a meal from nothing. When I look back now, I know my family was poor, but Mom saw to it we always had food in our stomachs. I never felt the sting of poverty in my belly. As an adult, I know now that many times we probably had very little and we rarely had an excess of anything, but we were never hungry. Mom never used food stamps, though we probably qualified. We did make use of the free lunch program at school, though. Mom would make the best pinto beans, fried potatoes and homemade biscuits ever. Understand that this was before anybody cared about carbs, ok?

5. My love of writing. My mom often jotted down short stories on notebook paper, and I would sometimes find them. She wrote about her childhood in rural Arkansas, her parents, her family, working in the fields, and meeting my dad and falling in love. I credit much of my love of writing to her.

Anyway, I hate it when people blame their mothers for everything and never give them credit for what good they did. Sure, we will never see eye-to-eye, but that doesn’t really matter. My love for her remains. I will never forget the sacrifice, the hard work, the devotion she demonstrated–these are the things that endure.

Thank you, Mom.

5 Writing Opportunities for College Students

studying

Are you a college student who wants to be a published writer? What’s stopping you? Here are a couple of places you might not have thought of to break into publishing, and why it’s silly NOT to try.

http://www.freelancewriting.com/articles/ff-writing-opportunities-for-college-students.php

Want to Publish With Chicken Soup for the Soul? Here’s Some Advice!

Ever wonder how Chicken Soup for the Soul finds all their stories? I know! Read here for advice on submitting and publishing with them.chicken soup TD

http://www.freelancewriting.com/articles/ff-perfect-your-story-recipe.php

Brewing Tea — And Words

tea

It’s something to do, a way to keep my hands busy
To avoid the conversation I don’t want to have
But tea does not take long to steep
The dark liquid swirls about blending with the clear

I hold my breath for a moment searching for words
The way her eyes search mine
Looking for a hint of my awkwardness
Searching for clues in my mannerisms
This is how well she knows me

I do better with pen and ink;
I can tame my words that way
Before they spill out of me on their own accord
And cannot be replaced.

Sometimes that happens, you know.

My words remain behind the wall with a crack
And some poor kid has his finger there trying to hold it back

The pen does not betray me the way my lips do

It doesn’t quiver and misquote
It doesn’t make my heart beat so quickly in my chest
That I cannot catch my breath

I can choose each word individually, carefully
Like a florist choosing flowers for a bouquet
Each petal has meaning
Each color is on purpose

But sometimes I have to speak without my pen
Sometimes I have to take a chance
Sometimes I have to lose some control
Sometimes it just works that way.

I brew the tea instead of holding my pen
I hand her a cup full of promise
Put a smile on my lips hold my breath and say
“Let’s talk.”

5 Things You Should Know About Your Friend, The Writer

coffee in arkansas

(Commentator whispering with an  Australian accent): There’s the writer in her native habitat! Isn’t she lovely! Ah, but don’t be deceived! She can be deadly in her beauty. See the pained expression? Give her some room, Mate! You don’t want to upset her now. If you read her body language–the hunched back, the bloodshot eyes, the cramping hands, the pile of discarded Reese’s cup wrappers–you’ll know she’s not one to be trifled with. You’ll be taking your life into your hands!

So you made friends with a writer. Thank you! Now, I’m not one to make blanket statements for large groups of people, you understand. That’s how wars are started, Son.

That being said, (ok I HATE this expression!) I will just tell you this. Writers as a group can be sort of introverted and standoffish. Not because we think we’re better or anything, but just because we don’t really like talking to people. It’s much easier to create conversations with our imaginary friends than to keep up relationships with actual humans. We’re basically very weird people as a group. There’s a reason why we take a moment to choose each word to put on paper. However, face-to-face conversations with actual people? Um, no. We don’t interview well, either. We tend to say a bunch of unrelated gobbledygook that, when played back, makes Forrest Gump sound like a worthy adversary. I for one hate hearing my own voice played back–I think I sound about 11 years old.

Anyway, thank you for befriending a writer. We appreciate it. I don’t know you, but I feel a connection with you because I know you must be a patient, kind soul to love a writer. God bless you. I’m currently filling out the paperwork for your canonization. While that’s in the works, here are some tips to understanding us.

1. Writers are moody creatures. We’re up, we’re down. We love the book we’re working on today but hate it tomorrow. This is true about every writer I’ve ever met. Much of our moods are directly related to our WIP (writer lingo for work in progress). It’s very likely that we secretly think our book is going to be the next big thing late at night when we’ve barely slept, and then the next morning pronounce the exact same work the hugest, steaming pile of dog crap ever pooped. But you love creative types, right? I sure hope so.

2. Writers can be very narcissistic. The sad thing is, we KNOW this…but sometimes we just can’t help it. I apologize for all writers where this is concerned. I really don’t think that a person could be a good writer and not be a tad full of themselves. One thing about good writers is we KNOW good writing when we see it…and when we don’t (See #1 about writers being moody). We are also VERY sensitive about our writing, and if you say something that could be construed as the mildest of criticism, we will mope for days. I’m sorry! We’re just like that. It’s embarrassing to admit.

3. When we are writing, we don’t want to talk to anyone. This is often difficult to explain. Geez, when I admit all this on paper I hate me right now! It’s best to just let us write, and take out our frustrations on the blank page. There is one caveat here, though. Sometimes we need to be rescued from our self-imposed exile or we will be sucked in, much like a gambling addict in Vegas, sitting on our diaper pad for 24 hours straight, living on a diet of peanuts and martinis. While this may sound ideal, it’s not pretty to watch. Or smell. So do come rescue your writer friend if you have not heard from them in several days. Don’t let the blank stares and body odor keep you away. Your friend has never needed you so much. If you receive a phone call late at night that is basically just sobbing…it’s me.

4. Most writers are either mentally unstable or addicts (whether alcohol, drugs, reality T.V., gambling, overcaffeinated, obsessive Johnny Depp fans, etc.) Here’s the thing: we don’t really understand the words “moderation,” and if we are honest with ourselves, we are medicated for your safety. I’m just telling you this because you should know who you are dealing with. Sometimes we’re just giant a$$holes and there’s really no excuse for that.That’s one of the things that makes us so lovable, right?

5. Writers are very loyal friends, and they love deeply. If they love you, you can bet you will know it–because they will write about it. Sometimes, I think this is the only thing that keeps our spouses, friends and acquaintances around. Plus, we’re good in a pinch if you need a quick proofread for your resume or break-up letter/email. I highly recommend consulting us for this last one — we are especially talented at finding just the right word to tell that d-bag where he should go, who he should take with him, and which direction to take.

Again, I want to thank you for befriending a writer. We need all the flesh-and-blood friends we can get (and that can stomach us), lest we fall into the sidewalk art like Mary Poppins, never to be seen again.

Now, will you give me a minute? I need to finish this blog, then I’m all yours.