Pep talks and perfectionism

Well, August is here. It crept in all slow and stealthy, like the fog over the Richmond District. This would be about the time when I’m worrying that I’ve wasted the summer as the beginning of a new school year approaches, but there will be no school for me this fall. It’s kind of strange. I’ve been a student nearly my entire life and I still feel like a student, so I guess August without school will remind me that I’m not right now. I’ll have to figure out another meaning that August can have for me, besides scrambling to have last-minute adventures and finish some leisurely reading before the school year. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

Yep, it’s August, and according to San Francisco weather, summer has yet to begin.

Anyway, I mentioned that I’ve been working on pieces to submit. I’ve only recently, and very tentatively, begun the process of submitting my work to places like literary magazines and readings.

I find that I have different relationships with different pieces that I’m working on. Some will sit quietly, waiting for me to return to them, even if I never do. Others call out to me, demanding attention, usually at inconvenient times like when I’m traveling between places or trying to sleep. They usually have the best intentions in mind, I think, like reminding me of looming deadlines or keeping me committed when I’m feeling discouraged, but sometimes they’re just being obnoxious. Here’s a conversation I’ve been having recently with a newly “finished” piece:

Finished Piece: Okay, what’s the problem?

Me: What do you mean?

FP: I finally get you to come back and work on me, and now you’ve been sighing and shaking your head at me for the past hour.

Me: Yeah, I know. Okay. The truth is, I know we’ve spent a lot of time together, but I’ve decided that you suck.

FP: Well, if I suck, you suck. Besides, I’m the best you’ve got, and I’m not getting any better.

Me: Forget this. I don’t have to settle for you.

FP: Yeah? What are you gonna do, abandon me to go write the next great queer girl novel?

Me: Maybe I will.

FP: Ha. I’ll believe that when I see it. And I’ll be here waiting when that falls through.

Me: Not if I get rid of you.

FP: Tell me again what’s so wrong with me?

Me: Your dialogue’s all wrong. You’re way too sentimental, and I don’t know what I was thinking with the setting. And I’ll never get that last sentence right, I know it.

FP: Here’s some news for you: everything you write is sentimental.

Me: Don’t go there.

FP: Anyway, you felt okay about me a week ago. I think this is just you being afraid to submit. I think this is you being crazy.

Me: I’m not afraid. And I’m not crazy.

FP: Girl, look at who you’re talking to, and then tell me again you’re not crazy.

Me: There have been plenty of successful writers who are crazy.

FP: Not your kind of crazy. If they were your kind of crazy, nobody would’ve ever seen their work. They’d still be sitting at home talking to it.

Me: Well, there’s no way I’m submitting you as you are! I’d have to cut at least a hundred words. And I’d have to change that last sentence, dammit. I’ll get it right if it kills me.

FP: You’d die for me? I’m touched.

Me: Not really. It’s more likely that I’d kill you first, so you better help me with this last sentence or you’ll never get out of here.

FP: The word you’re looking for is “destiny.”

Me: Bullshit. I never use “destiny.”

FP: That’s not what those papers in the trash bin say.

Me: Yeah, and if I use “destiny” with you, that’s where you’ll end up.

FP: Geez, again with the trash threats. What’ll it be after you fix the last sentence?

Me: What do you mean?

FP: You know what I mean. After you fix the end, it’ll be the beginning that’s not good enough. And after that, you’ll need to change the characters’ names. And you’ll just keep fixing and fixing until you give up, and we’ll never get anywhere.

Me: Well, I have to get it right…

FP: Listen. Isn’t it the journey that counts? You’ve learned something while working on me, yes?

Me: Yes. Something about not having conversations with pieces of ficiton…

FP: And you improved your writing?

Me: Oh, yeah. You were atrocious when I first started working on you.

FP: And you had a good time? You remembered the whole reason you started writing, because it’s something you love to do?

Me: Yeah, we had some pretty good times together.

FP: Then it doesn’t matter what happens now, does it? Look, I might not be what you envisioned when you started writing. I may not be the piece that changes the world or touches lives. I might not ever get published. But I’ve been a part of your journey, and you’ve grown as a writer in the time you’ve spent with me.

Me: I hate it when you’re right.

FP: Hey, I come from your mind. I’m not saying anything that’s not already in there somewhere. Give yourself some credit. If I’m right, you’re right.

Me: Sure.

FP: And that last sentence? Switch the clauses, and it’ll be perfect.

Me: Wow, that is perfect. You’re brilliant!

FP: And if I’m brilliant…

Me: Then I’m brilliant?

FP: Don’t give yourself too much credit. I was going to say that if I’m brilliant, then it’s time to send me off! I wanna see the world.

So, this is what happens when I’m in need of encouragement. I turn to my writing, and it… talks to me. Hmm. This seems to be another one of those things that I meant to keep to myself, and ended up blogging about instead…

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Published in: on August 3, 2010 at 1:18 PM  Comments (3)  
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9/11 stories

I’ve been writing September 11th stories. I’m not sure why. I don’t tell my own, or stories of people I know, but stories of people who are strangers to me. Of women waking up from one night stands to find the towers falling, watching it all on television as they hold on to the strangers they’ve just met with more intimacy than before. The stories are all beginning to sound the same, of people who are close enough to one of the crash sites to spill their coffee when they hear the boom, or of someone who’s across the country finding out he has HIV right before it happens. I started to write one set ten years later, in some apocalyptic future, before I realized ten years later will be just next year and the world’s nothing like that now. Not yet.

For some reason the one about the kid keeps coming to mind. It’s nothing elaborate, just a short, simple story about a little boy who stays home from school with his parents to watch the towers fall on the news. He finds a new game to play as he watches, putting up makeshift buildings and having his G.I. Joes knock them down, over and over again. The buildings are made of legos and cardboard, and each time he knocks them over, the multi-colored blocks scatter like fireworks and the cardboard wears down a little more, making each new building a little weaker, a little easier to destroy than the one before.

He plays this game until his father breaks his locked gaze with the television, looks down and yells at his son to tell him that that’s not what G.I. Joes are for.

I’ve been thinking about that kid all morning, about where he might be now. He might be old enough to be considered an adult now. Old enough to sign up for the military. I wonder what messages from that day and the days that followed helped make him the person he is today. If he learned not to trust brown people, to hate the enemies of the U.S. I wonder if he decided to enlist, or if he decided that that’s not what his body is for.

I feel, somehow, that this isn’t my story to tell. I hope he’ll tell it someday.

Published in: on July 28, 2010 at 11:25 AM  Comments (2)  
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Bus beauties

Another one of those uncategorizables. Or maybe that’s just me trying to hide. Either way, much of my writing happens during SF Muni adventures so I thought I’d share one such piece.

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There’s a woman sitting in front of me on the bus. I can’t see her face, but the back of her head is the most enthralling I’ve ever seen. I say these things often, I’ll admit. Once a week or so I’ll see the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen, and forget all the others who’ve had that title before. But I won’t forget this one, I think.

Her hair is the color of the rotting wooden fence in my backyard. That doesn’t sound pretty, I know, and I never thought it was pretty before now, before I recognized it as the color of nature when it wants to reclaim something as its own. The faded black tips of her hair tell me she once tried to be something she’s not, only to have her roots grow back, her natural hair color refusing to be denied. There are also threads in her hair, dark orange ones braided like ropes. Way in the back are a few purple ones. They look loose and forgotten, like they found their way in and she still doesn’t know they’re there.

Every now and then she turns and I can see her profile. I start to predict it after a while; if there’s a big dog or some little kids playing outside, she’ll turn and look. Her eyes are brown and crinkled in the corners, and they look kind to me, like Bob Marley’s eyes. Or maybe I just think that because I’ve got my headphones on and Bob Marley’s singing “Stir It Up,” the acoustic version.

At one point her cell phone rings from inside her knitted bag. Her ringtone’s a fast-paced song I don’t know but recognize from the radio, and before she answers, I turn my headphones up so I can’t hear her voice, in case it ruins how I imagine she speaks. I don’t think she has the voice of an angel or anything. I imagine it to be very human, maybe sort of androgynous, the kind of voice that makes her cringe when she hears it played back on a recording because she thinks she sounds like an old  man.

I turn to my book until she’s finished with her phone call. I’ve mastered the art of pretending to read while looking at pretty girls. And soon it’s all the same, the lines on her face shape the letters on the page and I think I know her name because I’m reading a book by someone named Michelle and the name seems to fit her, Michelle. She starts to look familiar, too, like the pretty girls often do. I feel a little guilty at this point, like it’s just me being a pervert, the “hey, don’t I know you?” kind of pervert. But it’s just that each time I glance over, she looks more and more like someone I’ve met before, so I think maybe I have. Maybe I’ve met her, maybe her caramel skin looks familiar because I’ve touched her, and maybe I’ve kissed her, because I’ve had many nights kissing in dark corners, many faces I couldn’t really see, many that faded into dark nights I don’t quite remember. Maybe she’s one of those.

Though I didn’t think she was one I could forget.

But at the next stop, she gets up and walks down the steps, orange threads bouncing as she goes out the bus doors, and when she’s gone I find that I’ve forgotten her already.

Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 12:08 PM  Comments (2)  
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Blogging in public places

I’m trying something different today. I’m blogging from a public place. It feels a little like getting naked in public, except the woman at the next table isn’t shielding her children’s eyes and the police haven’t arrived yet.

I don’t know how this is supposed to be any different for you, the reader. I imagined there’d be something interesting about saying, “blogging live, from Bazaar Cafe!” But so far, I think, it’s only different for me. Not that I’ve never written anything in public, but so far I haven’t done a blog post this way.

Allow me to set the scene for you. Maybe that’ll make a difference. It’s a cold, gray July winter morning in San Francisco. For those of you from outside of the Bay Area, that description may have thrown you off a bit, but just use your imagination, from whatever enviably sunny place you’re in right now.

The dim lights and low jazz music are helping the scene come together. It also helps that I’m wearing a hat. I feel that this is an important part of setting the scene, or at least I did this morning when I decided I’d at least have to wear a hat if I was going to blog in public. That was silly, of course, thinking of it as a matter of appearances, because I’d look more like an authentic writer if I wore a hat to peer out from. I’ve since discovered that the hat actually serves the purpose of allowing me to hide beneath the brim and avoid eye contact when the employees stroll around to check that you’re paying for refills or buying your Internet use’s worth of food.

I’m just kidding about that last part. This is one of my favorite local independent coffee shops, and I wouldn’t cheap out here. It’s not like this is Starbucks or something, where I can stick it to the Man and make a slight dent in their profits, until they make it up moments later. I’ll make note of this for my next public blogging event.

I’m sipping coffee, even though I’m usually a tea drinker. See the above reasoning about authenticating the scene. I’ll be jittery soon, but at least I’ll know I did this right.

It’s feeling a little strange, addressing “the world” here but not interacting with folks in the public space around me. I’m trying to figure out how to connect this world and that one. Perhaps I’ll write my web address on some napkins, or on the dollar bills I’ll use to buy a refill. I’m trying to look intriguing enough, with my coffee and my low-brimmed hat, that someone will be unable to resist leaning over and asking what I’m doing.

If that happens, of course, I’ll have to come up with something more interesting that I’m blogging about. More interesting than “You’re asking what I’m blogging about? Ohmigod, I was just blogging about that!” Something like world peace, thrift store shopping or the plight of baby sea turtles in the oil spill. And if I hand them a napkin with my web address while I tell them this, then I’ll probably have to actually make a blog post about it. So if this post is followed immediately by one about baby sea turtles, you’ll know why.

Everybody else seems too worried about keeping up appearances of what they’re doing, though. Like the guy in the corner, whose jiggling leg keeps catching my eye. He must not be a regular coffee drinker, either. But he’s wearing a collared shirt and won’t take his eyes off his computer screen, so he must be running a business. Either that, or looking at porn. And the two women a couple of tables over, one of whom seems much more enthralled by their conversation than the other. The one who keeps glancing at me is clearly more intrigued by the idea of what’s going on over here, beneath my hat. Maybe I’ll drop off a marked napkin as I leave, to satisfy her curiosity.

I wrote some fiction while I sat here too, but I’ll spare you that. I tried to match appearances with that as well, writing the type of fiction one might write while sitting at a coffee shop listening to jazz music and wearing a hat. You can imagine the pretentiousness that resulted.

So that’s all, for now. Signing off, live from the Bazaar Cafe. Tune in next time, when I might try blogging live from the gym. Not working out, of course. Just sitting in the corner. Towel on my shoulder. Brooding. See you then.

Published in: on July 21, 2010 at 10:42 AM  Comments (1)  
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What the hell am I writing?

What the hell am I writing?

I think one of the reasons I’ve been feeling so strange about my writing lately is that I’m having trouble identifying what it is. I was once a poet, see, and then I became a fiction writer and I was comfortable with that title. Comfortable, at least, with calling myself a fiction writer who sometimes writes poetry, but always able to identify it as one or the other.

Then, in my last semester as an undergraduate Creative Writing major at San Francisco State, I decided to take a poetry class with the incredible and talented Toni Mirosevich. Partly because Toni is so incredible and I didn’t want to graduate without ever having taken a class with her, and partly because I thought that reconnecting with poetry would help me think outside of the box with my fiction.

Well, the class helped me think outside the box, all right. So far outside that I didn’t know what to call my writing anymore. If you’ve ever read Toni’s work, you might know that she’s the queen of creative non-fiction and you might have expected that I’d end up writing some kind of poetry/fiction/non-fiction fusion that could never be categorized.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I’m all about letting go of labels, after all. And I have great respect for writers who can pull off these sorts of things. But with my writing, of all things, I’ve always been something of a control freak. I like to go into it knowing that I’m writing fiction, that my paragraphs will begin with capital letters and end with periods. That it’s fiction because it’s not true and it doesn’t rhyme and there are no line breaks.

Right?

Then I find myself writing pieces like this, and when I go to post it I have to tag it as something, so I have to decide: is this fiction? Is it poetry? What about that truth element? Does that make it creative non-fiction? Can I call it poetic non-fiction, prosey poetry, poenonfiction? And what about when I write something that’s not true for me, but it’s somebody’s truth, and that’s why I write it? And what happens when I rhyme?

According to Toni, this is a good place to be in my writing. I’m on the edge of discovery, on the verge of… something, I suppose, though I’m not sure what. To me, being on the edge of something unknown feels like I’m about to plunge. I ask myself what’s the worst that could happen if I wrote something that can’t be categorized, and my mind goes to all kinds of illogical places, like the crumbling of the universe as we know it.

Then again, I wrote a few uncategorizables this morning and the world seems to still be in tact. For now. We’ll see what happens.

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‘Til Morning Comes

We know morning will come

but we try to carry this night together

by holding our breath

keeping darkness in our lungs

to release

when dawn begins

its painting of the sky.

I’m holding on until

your breathless laugh

makes me sigh.

I watch the air from within me

move to you

and I hope you’ll hold my breath

‘til morning comes.

Published in: on July 17, 2010 at 10:42 AM  Comments (3)  
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Another me

Sorry, I took a break from writing for a couple of days. Now I feel guilty for neglecting the blog. Here’s what I wrote this morning, after an odd experience the other day…

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I was downtown the other day when I saw myself. Or rather, I saw another version of me. I’m sure of myself enough to know that I was me, standing on the corner, but I’m pretty sure that was another me, sitting on the outbound 5-Fulton bus that went by.

Needless to say, it was a strange experience. I don’t even take the 5.

I couldn’t really see her very well, just the outline of her hair and her shadowed face, and I wouldn’t have been so sure that it was me if it wasn’t for the fact that she was facing me, staring too, seemingly equally enthralled. And there was that strangely familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I was reuniting with a long-lost soul. If you ever come across another version of you, know that it’s not like looking in the mirror, knowing it’s a reflection of yourself. It’s more like watching a video of yourself that time you got blackout drunk at your cousin’s wedding, and you don’t remember it at all and you’re sure you’re incapable of such behavior, but there it is on the video, a person with your face and your voice, smashing things with strength you never thought you had, until your uncles subdues you. And you have to admit that it could’ve only been you.

Only it wasn’t me, there on the 5. I figure that momentarily she or I crossed into some parallel universe, the Other Me existing in a universe where I take that bus. I’ve seen it in the movies so I know it must be possible. In the movies, of course, there’s always a good guy version and a bad guy version, and while I’m used to thinking badly about myself, I’m trying to change that, so I decided to think badly about the Other Me instead.

She must be the bad version. I bet she didn’t even pay for that bus ride. I bet there’s an old lady standing there, hanging on to a pole for dear life, wishing she could sit down, but the Other Me is only sneering at her as she sits comfortably in her seat.

Sitting on that bus going in that direction, I bet the Other Me lives downtown and goes to school at the local private university, instead of the public one I graduated from. I bet she affords it by selling out to some corporate place, getting on her high horse every day as assistant manager at some place like Pottery Barn, decorating her downtown apartment with the same pastel colored rugs she sells to ten customers a day.

I bet she has a dog, instead of a cat. I bet it weighs 8 pounds and lives in her purse.

Then I start to wonder about her writing. I can’t imagine a version of me that doesn’t write. She’s bold enough that I’m sure she’s already gotten at least two books published, because she wasn’t afraid to break into the business writing something like erotica. I bet she puts her writing on a self-indulgent blog.

Now, of course, the lines between good and bad are beginning to blur. Nothing wrong with writing erotica, and at least she’s gotten published. So she’s bold. So what? I bet her boldness is good in some situations. I bet she’s unafraid to speak her mind. I bet she doesn’t do things like shrink away from confrontations or apologize to the guy who runs into her. I bet she’s unapologetically out about being queer, in all situations, like making the most out of Mother’s Day at her grandmother’s church by taking the pastor’s daughter home without even trying to pretend it’s for further “Bible study.”

I think maybe I’m starting to get down on myself again, thinking this other me is so much bolder and more self-assured than I am. Or maybe she and I aren’t so different after all. Maybe she just didn’t have to wait until she saw another version of herself to realize the possibilities of who she could be. Or maybe that’s not true at all. Maybe she was staring in awe of all that makes me, me. Maybe she didn’t know what was possible until she saw me.

I just hope that from now on she sticks to her own universe, or at least she stays away from my buses. I can only imagine what we might think possible if we put our heads together.

Published in: on July 14, 2010 at 10:49 AM  Comments (5)  
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Words

I’d like to think none of my words have gone unheard.

Even the ones I tucked away into files I never intended to open have slipped away when I wasn’t looking.

They’ve found their way into tattoo parlors, where the artist, shaking his head as he inks “trash” on the customer’s body as requested, is surprised when he finishes to see that he’s written respect yourself instead.

Some have stopped violence, finding their way to a man who’s shouting at a stranger, fists clenched, ready to taste blood. He finds himself tasting the word peace instead, and he thinks it tastes like his mother’s blueberry pie.

The daredevil words, like fearless and powerful have gone on adventures, holding on to the bellies of planes, letting go and skydiving when they’ve reached their highest point. They split open when they hit the ground, then put themselves back together letter by letter and do it all again. The exception is powerful — I wrote that so it’ll never come apart.

Even words I’ve hidden away in diaries written at thirteen years old have gotten out, coming alive again by finding the diaries of those who are girls today, giving them words for their feelings so if they can’t hurl them at the world, at least they’ve written them somewhere.

Some words wrap themselves around the ankles of children who pass, like stray kittens who have found a home. Many are too big for the children, like oversized hand-me-down pants, but they’ll grow into them eventually. Like the little girl whose teachers won’t let her speak. The word oppression enters her mind, and she doesn’t know what it means but suddenly she understands how it feels. Her mother is surprised to find queer girls’ stories among the bedtime tales, but she reads them anyway, wondering why they haven’t been told before.

There are words that steal away into the night. Some settle into the craters of the moon, finding their way into the dreams of anyone who gazes above before sleeping. There are words that add light to the stars, and hop upon falling stars to give words to wishes.

My words bleed ink through paper, and rip through pages. Even the words I mean to keep to myself won’t let me be so selfish. They set out to fall upon the ears that need to hear them most.

Published in: on July 8, 2010 at 9:53 AM  Comments (2)  
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