Saturday, June 25, 2011

Solace in Goodbyes

I wasn't going to go hiking today, but I felt like I had to. The traffic on the 110 and the 5 agreed with my first inclination to simply crash in my hotel room after attending my last residency seminar. I didn't care. I kept driving to Griffith Park because I needed to relax after an exhausting 10 days filled with doubt, laughter, discoveries, hellos and goodbyes. It was too hot to make it to Dante's View or the Hollywood sign this time, but I met a stranger named "J." His one year old pit bull wanted to say "hi." It's the second pit bull who has wanted to say "hi" to me in the past month. Maybe I have some sort of "dog aura."

We talked for awhile at one of the rest areas, in the shade, as the breeze blew softly through the leaves of the trees above us. I was crying because I'm not good with goodbyes. Just as this residency began to end, I started to feel home again. I wasn't really crying about leaving tomorrow because I know I'll be back in roughly 5 months and see most of the people I just met again. I'll see and feel this City of Angels another time, which strangely feels older and older each time I set foot on its streets. Today as I drove past a section of La Brea I could have sworn those were the houses and buildings from one of my dreams. No, I've never driven that section of street before in my life; at least not this one.

I began to cry underneath those trees in the park because of another type of goodbye. My heart is heavy at its possibility, as if it were my own pain; my own struggle. I've seen too many of them-the goodbyes that don't end; the kind of goodbyes that take away any physical possibility of connection, of taste, of sight, of smell, of touch. It's not enough sometimes that you can still feel the spirit and still talk in dreams. It doesn't seem fair to me that some of the world's most beautiful souls have to endure repeated suffering. Some would say that's what makes them so beautiful. I still don't like it.

I didn't get to see my biological father before he "died." He could still be out there somewhere, living under a different identity. I don't think I'll ever get to know. I've seen my adoptive father whittle away to nothing within the span of five short months, finally expiring in the middle of the night; confirmed by a long distance phone call. I've attended the funeral of a co-worker, killed in a car crash on the icy back roads during a Colorado winter. A childhood schoolmate died while on a family vacation, the victim of carbon monoxide asphyxiation. My high school friend "B" recently passed because he choked and no one was there in time to save him. To me the process of elimination is so random that you can't waste the gift of life brooding about inconveniences, hurt feelings, setbacks and negativity.

But we do. Because we're human. We are dark and light, male and female, a conglomerate of opposites, as my writing mentor would say. I hate the concept of karma or sin, because then there would be a concrete explanation for suffering. Each one of us would have to acknowledge that the dark exists with the light. It is our final choice that releases us from one of those.

The only thing we can do is dig deep enough to find the strength and the will to make the choice that releases us from the one that we no longer want to be. I know that those of us who form bonds with each other don't really say goodbye, ever. I just don't like the fact that it feels so empty when we think we do.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Shitty First Drafts

Over the past week I've been exposed to unfamiliar terminology and concepts that got buried under such a thick web of cobwebs over the years that I'm not sure exactly what they mean anymore. I've attended a bunch of seminars and lectures where my brain felt like a deer caught in headlights. The few readings that I've managed to attend have been filled with tales of sexual exploration, head injuries, Appalachian family dynamics and a dog named "Bob" who suddenly dies at the doorstep of a stranger who just happens to have the same name.

There's been people who actually complain about fluorescent lights and talk openly about their psychic abilities as if they were as common as brown hair and blue eyes. I've survived my first writer's workshop where I didn't have a clue what to expect or how to evaluate the work of my fellow students. I didn't realize that submitting a "shitty first draft" would garner such a response. Hell, I wasn't even aware that there was such a thing as a "shitty first draft." In the business world and in many business educational programs, a first draft is all you need as long as it sounds halfway thought out. In my "writing life" all I've ever come up with are "shitty first drafts."

It seems absurd to me that writers work so hard to get abused by editors or peers and get paid so little. Should it really take 70 hours to work and re-work a poem until it's in a good enough state to be worthy of publication? In the corporate world 70 hours would get you a lot more money in the bank than one poem.

I realize that everyone gets criticized as well as praised in a workshop and my peers and leader have been helpful and nice. When my leader realized just how green I was, she stopped me on the stairs to make sure that I was comfortable. The criticism doesn't bother me because there's plenty of praise too and the "negative" is delivered in a soft, very helpful way. It's the process. Everyone else writes narratives on each other's work, with reading suggestions and well-thought out responses. I write out lists in bullet point style and have no idea what I should and shouldn't find "wrong" or "right" with a piece. And a reading list? Please. I've read more non-fiction, dry business textbooks and Wall Street Journal articles in the last 14 years to be bothered with most fiction.

Besides the lectures given by working writers who show up with holes in their shirts and champion the lesbian themes in Mary Oliver's poetry, there's been the sound of jet airplanes flying over my hotel room every two minutes. This is not a good environment for a sensitive to try to get a good night's sleep or work on the writing that she gets paid for, which thankfully is business and technical. I'm finding solace in it this week because it's something I'm comfortable with and good at. I even got hired on as a contributing writer for another web site. Ironically it's an educational site, which is the field that I just got offered a job in back home.

So far I've been getting on the 405 each day and making the drive to Culver City to sit through a day that's focused on writing and what I need to know to make it through this MFA program. I've met a lot of people and talked on a more personal level with a few. Everyone is really nice here. Everyone understands that writers get nervous, need a bottle of water nearby when speaking in public, tend to be "quiet," and need that one-on-one interaction to begin to open up. There's nothing abnormal about seeking a place under the trees or at a table alone to read a book or work on "a piece."

In spite of this, a big part of me feels out of place. Second and third term students tell me that's normal, no one really talks about it, and it will go away with the second residency. Peers in my workshop tell me to keep writing, the story is really good and that it's a very good start. My first term writing mentor brings a bottle of tequila and limes to her lectures and tells me to "surrender" to my characters. She says it was a courageous act to go from the MBA to the MFA. I tell her that the decision didn't really feel that way. I just made it-without any real expectations. Last night I went out for dinner and drinks with another first term student from Colorado Springs. We ditched the campus event at Shanghai Red's in Marina to discuss our common bond of not being supported by our mothers in our writing endeavors.

Then I drive the 405 back to the hotel and have a dream about my dog and his dog girlfriend shitting all over the floor of a room they've been locked up in. In the dream I let my dog, Scruffy, out of the room. But then Chloe starts speaking to me. In a real voice. Like she's human. She watches me clean up the mess on the floor and asks me if I'm male or female. I tell her I'm female, obviously. She escapes from the room after that and I later see Chloe and Scruffy driving past me on the other side of the road. I'm blaming this dream on the key lime and coconut martinis I drank at dinner.

At this point I'm still the former MBA who compartmentalizes, who is logical, who makes decisions mostly based on the bottom line, who feels completely lost in an unstructured, studio, creative environment full of the "types of people" she hasn't been around since she was 18, and who is wondering if this idea to get an MFA isn't just a "shitty first draft."

But then there's this other voice, this "young dreamer who is being awakened and called back," as my mentor told me. She still wants to clean up the floor. She still feels the desire to pull up the "shitty first draft" on her laptop, slow down, expand, be less concise, and effectively juggle multiple points of view. "If someone brought you here, you should be here," said one of my workshop peers. It's just going to take a few revisions before I feel the same way.

Friday, June 17, 2011

This Will Change Your Life

It's funny the way we experience life in circles sometimes. One of the more interesting aspects of being sensitive is that you get these feelings that "something" is about to happen before it does. Some of us "receive" thoughts that later manifest or just "know something" that we shouldn't. So it shouldn't surprise me that I heard the words "this will change your life" this evening. But, I found them to be profound and I found myself responding strongly to them because they represented one of those circles we sometimes encounter.

A long time ago I knew that my life was going to change, but I didn't know exactly how yet. It sounds crazy and there are times when I've wondered if I'm not just a little. But sometimes we forget just how powerful the trait of sensitivity can be. It doesn't always have to make sense. In fact, a lot of times it doesn't.

We think we have control; some sort of direction. Three years ago I was sitting on the balcony of a beach condo overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. I had just attempted to take the GMAT to get into an MBA program. I'd gotten a perfect score on the writing portion, a respectable score in the verbal portion and a dismal score on the math. At that point I'd been out of school for eight years so I knew that getting any kind of decent score on a standardized test was a long shot. I thought, so I still suck at thinking quantitatively when under pressure and can write like a pro even though I'm completely out of practice. As I watched the sun set into the blue green waters along the beaches of Treasure Island and felt the nightly breeze brush up against my bare skin, I resolved to go to school anyway. I was going to get that MBA no matter what and achieve my goal of opening up the doors to the rest of the corporate world.

At the time I didn't know that the decision to get that MBA was really an interlude that made the next act possible. Without that program I wouldn't have met the three professors who I worked with individually over the course of eight weeks of extremely challenging course work that involved a mid-term project paper, a final, weekly class attendance, heavy online discussion and a 20 page term project paper. These are the professors who praised my work, selected one of my final projects as an example for future students and who called me "one of the most outstanding students" they'd seen in the program. These are the individuals who wrote my recommendations so that I could pursue another graduate degree that I wasn't really sure about-until tonight.

This evening I finally sent them an update e-mail as I promised I would. I am grateful that I get this chance, even though I know it is going to be far from easy and I have a lot of growth to do. It isn't going to be easy because I'm going to have to change as a person. I'm going to have to keep changing my life. I don't quite fit in just yet, but I'm not a complete stranger either. This wasn't the plan I had in my mind three years ago. But everything we do, every choice that we make ends up changing our lives in some unforeseen way.

No one can guarantee the finale. Few of us stick to the original script. And I think it would be an awfully boring play if we did.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


A few evenings ago I turned on the television to watch Homeless to Harvard while attempting to make some headway through one of the required readings for my upcoming MFA seminars. It wasn't the first time I'd seen the movie and for some reason I'm more productive when there's something else going on in the background. It's one of those made for TV movies that are based on a "true story." It’s a story about this young girl who overcomes a childhood and background filled with despair, disease, dysfunction and adversity. She decides she's going to make a better life for herself no matter how much she has to push her own spirit.

It got me thinking about what makes some of us persist while the rest choose to accept less than what we are worth. Where does the drive to be something other than what we currently are come from? You look at some people who have made something out of their lives and there's nothing too adverse about their backgrounds to motivate them towards greatness. It may be because they don't tell the truth; the entire picture of their lives. Their former circumstances may become rearranged into a more presentable picture so that there aren't any uncomfortable questions or an end to the game of pretend.

Because I think that adversity is that "thing" that drives us. We can create illusions about ourselves and our environments, but the believability of those illusions rarely lasts for entire lifetimes. I think we spend the majority of our lives always looking for a new one. An illusion is something to hold onto; some idea to believe in. It's something that says there's more to what we see. There are the ideas of hope, faith, and love. Are they too illusions? Or are they something more? Can they last? Are they real? Sometimes it's questionable. You don't have to have had a rough childhood or a series of setbacks to understand those concepts.

Sometimes you wonder what you're doing with your life. It doesn't seem to matter that you're treading water because it keeps coming at you. And there's so much of it so you can't see anything else-or know anything else. And you're alone. There's no one in sight to help or comfort you. There's no answer.

Someone like me spends an entire lifetime trying to become someone they're not, because at least the illusion has tangibility. It has boundaries; an identity. But what happens when those boundaries start to constrict and suffocate what we feel? What happens when that illusion starts to become more of a fishbowl than a spiritual lifeline?

What happens when we're not really sure who we are or if we "fit" into a place that feels safe, neat and comfortable? I suppose some of us are more vulnerable to this "tragic state" than others. Astrology would say that those born under "dual" signs such as Libra and Gemini feel this way because they're really two people. We feel like Buddy the Elf after he goes to New York to meet his biological father because we've got two separate identities.

One of those identities pulls us in one direction while the other is screaming "no, go backwards." It becomes difficult to achieve "something" because you're diverse enough to want a piece of "everything." The illusions that we hold onto sometimes change. Sometimes we put them into boxes inside our hearts and our psyches and we leave them there. Sometimes we revisit them to remind ourselves of something that we used to know and that we need to relearn in order to move forward. Sometimes they become so ingrained in our personalities that we become just like them; a reflection of what we once garnered inspiration from.

Then there are those that invisibly hold our hands the entire time that we exist. They never leave even though at times we may want them to. Full of shadows or light, they shape who we think we can be. But underneath all of that we are all really just nothing. Not anything in the sense of unimportant but in the sense that we are just a series of breaths that doesn't seem to make sense or have any particular meaning.

Definition becomes an escape; a crutch; an excuse to avoid facing that we are indefinable. Our journey is whatever we wish it to be. A series of roads that are parallel and yet each one represents a different color; a different possibility. Each one its own illusion that makes us feel less afraid.