Thursday, April 19, 2018

Audience Versus Critic

"So, I've been thinking lately," a client who is starting her first novel said to me during an appointment the other day. "I need to start thinking about my audience - who they are, what they want to hear, what voice works."

I had just finished Jen Louden's newsletter on realizing her memoir doesn't work, after working on it for 100,000+ words. I understand - you can't just write the whole thing without thinking about audience. But thinking about audience too soon can really cut you off from the actual voice that is still finding its way out.

"Sounds good," I replied. "Any ideas?"

She went on to express that her mind had started offering feedback from a potential audience.
"Oh? What kind of feedback?" I asked.
"No one is going to want to read about this character if she x, y, or z's," she replied.
"Oh honey," I said to the client, "That is NOT thinking about your audience. THAT is your inner critic."

So how do we know the difference?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Unedited Selves

Do you have any space in your life where an unedited version of you can appear?
In a friendship? A romantic relationship? At work? In nature? On the page?

Recently, a long-term participant in my contemplative writing courses noted that this is what she appreciates most about our practice together. I had mentioned that I first appreciated this practice because the writing is unedited - not the "finished product" we usually see (though that has changed over time with the proliferation of social media and blogs), but a more raw, direct, unedited version of writing. It helps calibrate shame we have over performance, continuity, how our minds actually work, and natural creativity. Of course, what this shows us is an unedited version of our MIND, which is something most of us are afraid of seeing, as if we will find only dysfunction there.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Watching My Speed

Well hello there.
It's been a few months.
Where have I been? All over. Too run down. Too occupied. Also happily engaged, but overall, too too much, and too fast.

So I am back now. Memoir Mind has a post this week, too, and I am going to work at posting again regularly. So hi. Nice to see you again (or meet you the first time).

This week I've been thinking about transitions and expectations, and about speed and pacing. The image above comes from my annual coaching program, Return, and is an example of the weekly forum where folks can post on their intentions.

For me, I most recently noticed this in my transition from non-exercise to exercise.

Last year I learned to run again, and really (gulp) enjoyed it! Someone I was running with joked that she never thought of me as a runner - I seemed too, well, cerebral for that. I laughed too - though I now understand those two to not be in competition with each other, I was raised with that belief, too. I had intellectual parents and one older brother who thought and talked a lot and didn't exercise; I had another older brother who ran and did triathlons but didn't do a lot of philosophizing.

Where did I fit in?

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Mourning in a Culture that Denies Death

For years now, I have visually tracked the differences between Day of the Dead and Halloween. I started doing this one year, when I was traveling a lot to the Southwest, because I noticed there was a huge difference in the felt tone of visual representation of death in the two main cultures I was witnessing. I hadn't noticed Halloween decorations that directly - not their violence or oddness - because I grew up with them. More noticeable to me were the relatively new-to-me symbols and representations of Day of the Dead. After being immersed enough in those, turning back to Halloween felt like culture shock. Sickening culture shock. I started to photograph that.

1. Most of my life, I have hated Halloween. Resented it, even. As a kid, I occasionally liked costumes, but once I hit my teens and twenties, that no longer suited me. I take the "holiday" too seriously. I am irritated at the college girls dressing up in sexy versions of working costumes, annoyed with the massive consumption of alcohol and resulting noise and violence, and at best, find decorations amusing. It's helped a lot to have a way to photograph Halloween decorations, one that reveals the edge of how it seems to force our faces into horror and death, without ever dealing with it directly. This is actually what I think about the most with Halloween - how it represents white North American culture's avoidance of actually dealing with death. It leans into horror and humor without any nod to actual impermanence. Ugh.

I hate horror movies for the same reason. I've dealt with a lot of death in my life - though little of it has been violent, it must be said - and it feels almost offensive to me how I was not, as a teenager completely freaked out by death, able to share my feelings or be heard, but my peers and adults I knew would flock to horror movies and happily dress as ghosts, zombies, skeletons. How come there's so much focus on that and not on real loss?

I was into horror novels in my teens. I only realized a few years ago this was because I was looking for something more awful, more horrific than losing my dad when I was twelve to cancer after a multi-year battle. So when I'd see kids get a kick out of a horror flick, I'd cringe.

"Have you ever been haunted by your dead father?!" I wanted to scream at them.

The answer is: even if they were haunted by something, no one was talking about it. All metaphor or secret, as kids, as adults. That bugs the fuck out of me.

2. Day of the Dead is a holiday I can sink my teeth into. It is honest. It honors those we have lost, encourages us to discuss them and make connection with them. I am very, very careful about appropriation. I was not raised in any of the cultures which celebrate this holiday. But over time, I have collected experiences, images, and objects that help me lean into the reality of death around this time of year. Most of those come from Mexican culture. I've also been influence strongly by Tibetan Buddhist culture, which uses the reality of death constantly in liturgy and images to help fuel the fire of our practice, and remember to celebrate life as we are living it.

On Day of the Dead, there's room for celebration of someone's life, and for community with others who live and remember those we loved and lost. These were all things I missed as a teenager and person in her twenties mourning my elders. I felt alone. I felt isolated. I felt out of my element, and, at times, like a weirdo. As if I were in the wrong culture.

I am not claiming I should have been born in Mexico. Not at all. But something feels at home in Day of the Dead than in Halloween. I can bring my adult self to it, and I can bring my kid self, the one who felt so adrift for a decade, trying to find a place to both mourn and celebrate those she lost.

3. I have only realized recently how angry I am about this. Enraged, really. It is most accurately directed at whiteness. Whiteness, in the North American form I best know it, required - and requires - of me and mine to overlook impermanence. To leave behind any rituals acknowledging death and focus only on life, in a sick, confused way. When we discuss death, it should be in hushed tones, mocked, or exaggerated to horrific proportions (not just for Halloween; look at the way media deals with death on a daily basis).

In my experience, the "mainstream" white approach is to not discuss death, to use euphemisms and hint at things without stating them directly. To channel all our fear about death into an absurd day that involves extreme comedy, degraded social norms, candy, costumes, and scaring the shit out of each other in hyper unrealistic ways.

4. I'll be keeping an eye on all of this in October. Noticing my anger, tracing it, as I prepare to re-bury the ashes of the seven elders of our family who all died before I turned 22. As I insist on talking about death with myself and those I love, not to horrify, but to acknowledge. I'll be leaning into altars and shrines, candles and food offerings, blending my Tibetan Buddhist beliefs with Day of the Dead in a way that attempts to respect the fact that I was raised in neither.

The culture I was raised in doesn't mirror the truth my face was forced into by circumstance. No one in the communities I have practiced observing death with in a real way has been bothered by me dropping in and taking part. They don't want me to be alone in death. I don't want to be alone in death - not when I know full well I am not. This incidental isolation has done more damage to me than all the grief. This is what I need to return to when I feel the loss - we will all die. All of us. I find comfort in the universality of this, relief in the honesty. I wish more folks did. I wish they could.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Labor of Love

This last Monday was an American national holiday - Labor Day. For my writing classes this week, I had students write about the overlap between love and work - if it exists for them. It was powerful to experience such a wide-range of histories, hurt, joy, and intersectionality. I wanted to do a wrap-up of shorts to share all the wisdom and direct humanness I encountered where these topics overlap in a prompt.

A few people spoke to the work that is inherent in loving itself - a wonderful twist on the given prompt. Marriage is work, having children is work - not just the laundry and bills, but the work of loving itself - relationship building and repair and sustaining. Not to mention the work of loving or even simply caring for the self, which, for most of us in a capitalist society, is an epic full-time job. When we already work for money, these kinds of unlabeled labors can cripple our ability to function.