Filling in the Blanks

Like many of my compatriots here in Bloglandia, I chose to close my awards-acceptance shop after having been gifted with a generous helping of them. We all learn very quickly that this is an incredibly open-hearted and open-handed community, and the reassurance of being recognized in this way is a grand encouragement to keep working. It can also demand a fair amount of work and dedication just to go through the proper procedures each award requires for acceptance and the passing of the torch to other deserving souls, this on top of the way that the regular work of producing the blog not only continues but tends to increase if one wants to ‘grow’ the blog in any significant ways regarding its style, content, purpose, and so on ad infinitum. On top of that, there is the increase of comment correspondence that, in turn, inspires other changes and improvements along the way but also means one is devoting larger and larger amounts of time to the correspondence itself.

That is all good and great stuff. Really. Even if I were to quit blogging cold turkey this very moment I would say unabashedly that it has been wildly enriching, educational and happy work for the last nearly three years in ways that I couldn’t have imagined or replicated with any other kind of activity. I’m still almost entirely income-free in every way, though I’ll admit I’m starting for the first time to consider advertising here onsite for commercial partners in addition to the previous, occasional tiny plugs for my ArtSparks store at Zazzle.com or my book on Amazon or my Pinterest accounts, all of which combined make me an amount of money that I assume would send any self-respecting modern teenager into tizzies of fiery revolution if offered as their allowance. Again, not a complaint, as I am a happily kept woman whose partner willingly arranges his life to do the income earning while I blog, tend the household’s needs, and accompany him when I’m able. A surprising twist (to me) is that leaving a full-time job teaching at university and becoming a homemaker in a one-car family didn’t turn me into a hermit and a fearful little creature who hides in the hedgerows, but rather brought me out of my shell in developing and sharing what skills and arts I like to cultivate and in corresponding with and befriending a slew of people doing similar things all around the world.

digital drawing (BW)

Not a fearful little creature who hides in the hedgerows.

Whether this work of mine benefits anyone outside my household is a matter for all visitors to decide for themselves, but I know that I derive both pleasure and growth from working here, in one way and another. I think I lead a far more colorful and expressive life internally, and that has external ramifications that effect useful change and direction in what I do—and how and when and why and with whom.

So I was happy to be tagged in a recent round-robin writing meme that requires little labor I wouldn’t already be doing and offers in return an opportunity for thinking about what does happen hereabouts and for learning how that is similar to, and different from, what happens in others’ blogging territories. I thank the marvelous Rosemary, whose blog is full of constant delightful, piquant artworks, brain-stretching turns of phrase and ideas that get my gears turning each time I have a chance to stop by there, for inviting me to be another participant in these collective ruminations.

Part of the meme process is to publish on the Monday after being tapped, and ask your nominees to do the same. I failed to get even close to the right timing, being on my own weird schedule as always. It didn’t, however, prevent my thinking further on the topic, so I’ll just pretend I was timely and wax philosophical when I’m good and ready, and if you need to, you can pretend it’s Monday the 28th of April all over again.

The rules of the process that I can follow merely require that I answer four questions about how I write and nominate three others. My nominees may well be no-award bloggers, too, (always or by now) but might find the questions worth asking themselves yet again, for these are questions we all ask or are asked often enough, those of us who write regularly whether for self alone or with wider purposes. Have fun with it, or if it doesn’t in fact offer that possibility to you, just ignore it while digging through the big basketful of thanks I’m sending your way for what your writing means to me.

What am I working on at the moment?

I’m working on blog posts, books, art commissions, planning for other posts-books-artworks, and doing what reading and research I need to inform and guide all of those things. The book of art and poetry I published in January used about a tenth of the content I’ve been creating and amassing over the last decade or so, leaving bunches of other books to be refined from the collection. I’m currently compiling sets of related, somewhat thematic poetry with which I intend to combine my visual art and texts as in the other books, but in these particular instances will collaborate with composers to set the texts to music. The art projects include a piece for a friend and former university colleague’s change of job celebration and a companion artwork for one of my graphite drawings that was bought at a fundraising auction. The latter won’t engage my writing skills, but the former is going to be a mixed-media piece that will allow me to play with textual content, another element I greatly enjoy incorporating quite often in my visual work. One feeds the other, always, just as my reading and correspondence inform what I do here.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I have no idea what genre my work actually fits. Seriously. This has been a problem as long as I can remember: it seems no one else knows how to classify me, either, and if I can’t be conveniently and recognizably enough pigeonholed, apparently no one can figure out any ways to market my work. I’ve posted about it before.

I roam down so many strange little byways every time I stop to write that if “genre” applies, I suppose I must move from one to another regularly. I consider myself an essayist, artist and short fiction enthusiast in what I typically do here; my self-selected projects, like book number one, virtually always have substantial overlap somewhere between those. Adding to the oddity is the spill-over from my personal blend of contented immaturity, constant rambling from piquancy to pathos and beauty to the bizarre. If I can figure out how to make a one-page piece that combines visual art with text and ranges from terrifying to hilarious, tenderly thought-provoking to ridiculously unexpected, then I am likely to be truly happy. And oh, so un-sellable. Blogging at least allows me to practice, enjoy, and air out whatever variety of my inclinations and artistic urges I choose, so it doesn’t merely stay bottled up, endlessly mouldering.

Why do I write what I do?

It may well be that I’m driven by forces far beyond my conscious choices. I’ve never embraced nonfiction much when choosing my reading; maybe that made it seem too much like work, like required reading, and you already know of my deep aversion to Effort. So no, I wouldn’t have chosen to write nonfiction any more than to read it. But of course, it could be argued that blog autobiography of the sort I practice, barring my being obviously delusional, is a generally factual forum in itself. Very much on the other hand, I have always loved goofing around with wild and outrageously unlikely fictional and fantastic ideas, subjects and stories. It’s so much fun to invent and flesh out my fantasies with all sorts of odd details and unexpected turns of phrase and plot and character development, the best of those in my practice being the ones that can develop in extremely short and shallow tales that fit into a single blog post or book page. I have a short attention span, so I prefer to treat even pretty sophisticated topics with this kiddies’-picture-book approach, quite often, knowing that it’s what will appeal to me first, and any somewhat like-minded reader after. If there are any such readers.

How does my writing process work?

I am, and have long been, a scribbler. Everywhere I’ve lived I’ve kept notebooks, scratch paper, and notepads stashed everywhere I’m likely to come to rest for even the shortest time: bedside, by my reading chair, on the kitchen counter nearest the table; next to the toilet, in the glove compartment of the car, on my desk. When the tiniest idea pops into my head, I’m likely to grab one of these and whatever pen or pencil I’ve put with it and scrawl as fast as I can. Story, drawing, list, note, sketch or poem? Maybe a combination of them. I might have my laptop or iPad handy and go directly to digital, but the medium matters less than grabbing hold of the idea while it lasts. I can always transcribe, scan, photograph or otherwise capture my paper scribbles, and those stashes of mine are much easier to access in most of the places where my day and night find me, so part of me is still very old school in this regard.

PS—I know there’s a long and honorable tradition of early morning writing—really early morning writing, by my standards—being a great and grand way to produce fabulous stuff and have a lasting career and all of that. I am not in that tradition. When I write in the early morning hours, it’s because I’ve been writing late and am still at it at 3 a.m. I would rather sleep ten or eleven hours a night, every night, than be a great writer. If that’s what it takes. Until I have confirmation that early morning writing is the only path to artistic excellence and writerly happiness, I’ll keep writing in snatches and patches of day and night that leave me free to sleep when and as much as I want and need. That’s my process, for good or ill. So far, it keeps me mighty happy. And happy to be here.

And now, I nominate these three writers to participate in a Writing Process Blog Meme:

Diane @ http://bardessdmdenton.wordpress.com

Christine @ http://journeyintopoetry.wordpress.com

Jim @ http://gingerfightback.com

If you accept my nomination, you will write an article prompted by the following four questions and post it on your blog on Monday, April 28, 2014. Just like I did! Wink-wink. The four questions (just to jog your memory from the above bits):

What am I working on at the moment?
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Why do I write what I do?
How does my writing process work?

I completely understand if this ‘isn’t your thing’. No obligation. Just having fun!

digital illustration

Even for a shy little goof like me, life can get pretty colorful when I plunge into writing wholeheartedly.

‘On Pouvait Dire . . . ‘

‘Ah! non! c’est un peu court, jeune homme!
On pouvait dire…Oh! Dieu!…bien des choses en somme…’

digital artworkWould that I had the miraculous gift of the silver tongue–it’s said that the genuine Cyrano de Bergerac, the writer and duelist enshrined in fiction as some sort of demigod of dramatic speech, was in life something quite near to it as well. As a youthful admirer of the romantic dream, I memorized Rostand‘s most famed soliloquy of Cyrano’s (in English, naturally), but what remains after so many years have passed is not so much the poetry of his slick speech; it is instead a deeper sense that for all my staring at his nose along with everyone else I managed to miss the point.

The story is told in fictional form to so exaggerate the majesty of his nasal promontory that all we see in most readings and performances onstage is a caricature or cartoon man, led by a nose of bowsprit proportions and foolish improvidence to oversized action and wildly improbable joys and sorrows as a result. These kinds of things do happen to real people in real life, of course; even the real man behind the character was larger-than-life in both nose and existence, according to what we know. He did, if his contemporary portraits are anything near the truth, have a substantial prow, and we have his writings–satirical pieces to classical tragedies–to prove that his wordplay was quite substantial too.

But what perhaps ought to be said of him–whether real or imaginary–is that he was a bit of an outsider by virtue of looking Different, and his response was to fight for respect, both with his rapier and his rapier wit. [Given the historical man and the possibility that he was (not surprisingly, given the era and culture and his reputed exploits) syphilitic, he may well have experienced life completely without a nose if he lived long enough.] It’s easier to label and classify others on the basis of unpopular appearance or differing from the currently decreed norms than it is to cultivate what we have in common. Yet we can learn from some of our outlier counterparts if we will stop, for a moment, being so mesmerized and distracted by what makes them seem unlike us, what it is that we have and value in common. Best if we do that before losing the duel.

Though at least, if the duel is purely verbal, there can be some entertainment inherent in getting taught a lesson. I can live with being the unarmed woman in a battle of wits, as long as I get to keep living long enough to laugh about it. I may not be a genius, but that, my friends: c’est mon panache!

Little Mysteries and Big Adventures

graphite on paperIt’s kind of odd, when you think about it, that we readers and writers and storytellers and listeners have such an affinity for mystery and adventure stories. Life itself is so full of both that it could be argued there’s no need to entertain or challenge, frighten or amuse ourselves by inventing yet more. But besides the obvious pleasant aspect of fiction that it remains under our control in ways that real life cannot, there is much more reason that the appeal remains just as strong as it has for ages.

For starters, it gives us a forum for posing questions and answers that can’t always be simplified enough to solve any real-world conundrum puzzling us. It’s both potentially a problem-solving process and a bit of creative play that can lead to greater flexibility and insight when we do get around to solving the problems with which we’re faced. If I can metaphorically bump off the villain that has been making my life such a trial, perhaps the metaphor can be extended to show how I can cope with him or her in actuality in a more legal and humane manner. If not, at the very least (assuming the real person behind the fictional stiff is fully enough disguised so that s/he cannot sue the socks off of me and make my life miserable in new and legal ways) I got the satisfaction of offing said offender in effigy. On paper I can exert all of the cruelty my heart secretly harbors, without ever lifting a physical finger, even that uniquely expressive one, against anyone at all.graphite on paperMostly, in the fictional world it allows a vicarious thrill for both creator and reader or listener that few of us dare or have the wherewithal to experience in three dimensions. Being a very ordinary person, I have little to no likelihood of the kinds of outsized adventures and brilliant insights that would make for a good, cracking read, but I’ll happily devour such stories and envision myself in their midst when it suits me. In fiction, I can do all sorts of athletic and impressive things that there isn’t the remotest chance of my accomplishing with my feeble skills and lethargic attitude, but there’s something rather bracing in even the imagined high-speed sculling through the black waters of a swift river, the steeplechase saddled up on a magnificent pedigreed mare, or the vaulting over crevasses with rime in my eyelashes and ice axe gripped in my gloved hand, when they’re well written.graphite on paperIn fiction, I can commit the perfect crime–or solve it. I can be the heroine of the story or an innocent bystander. I can follow all of the clues, absorb all of the details of the characters’ lives and loves, interests and actions, and guess what comes next or just roll along for the ride and see where it takes me. Sometimes, admittedly, I don’t have complete mastery of the fictional world because a tale becomes so gripping that I can’t put down the book and go to sleep, turn off the television and leave the room, or avoid re-reading parts just to see if I missed any exciting details. I should note that I am also often driven to this latter end by my dyslexic reading and the way it requires frequent repetitions of phrases and paragraphs to ascertain that I’ve kept true to the thread of meaning, so perhaps it’s not exactly a universal approach to reading! That is, as you would guess, a part of my reading process that makes me very slow to finish a book or article, even if in practice I am a reasonably fast reader. A bonus of dyslexia, conversely, is that things I have read before become new to me again almost immediately because the arrangement of words and elements of the tale might become slightly different each time through.graphite on paperWhich, in turn, is a good reminder of one of the other joys of reading: each of us brings filters, viewpoints, experiences, beliefs and interests that flavor each reading, for good or ill. We are so distinct in this that the best of friends and the most like-minded people can easily love or hate quite opposite stories and versions of them. And that makes the mere act of writing or reading a story that much more of a mystery and adventure in and of itself. All the more reason to keep writing and reading and telling . . .