When Writing is Painful

So, I’ve been procrastinating on my draft lately.

I know, right? I hate myself, too.

This time it’s not because of plot, or writer’s block, or an excessively busy life outside of the writing realm. It’s because what I’m writing is painful.

For this particular project, I’m drawing on a lot of my own experiences and while that’s good in some ways, it’s hard in others. I find myself unable to separate what my characters do from my very vivid memories of intimate moments and it sends me spiraling. I curl up in the fetal position or crawl under the covers and refuse to write until I pull myself back together. It’s kind of sad and pathetic.

I honestly don’t know what to do when it hurts to write. Perhaps I play through the pain, or let myself crumble and then reassemble like I always have or I just avoid it and don’t write about it. Will that work? Or will my words sound hollow and forced? Do I shelve this project until it hurts less?

Or…do I simply tell myself that it’s okay if it hurts, but it’s in the past for a reason?

That last one seems ideal…hard to say if I follow through though.

I’m exhausted. Tell next time, I’m out.


Your town doesn’t suck— you suck

Recently I’ve been making lots of trips back to the Midwest (aka Mid-best) and this gets some eyebrows from my friends. “Really?” they’ll say, “you’re excited to go back to Cincinnati?”

This sort of comment rubs me the wrong way for two reasons. One, I am only allowed to give Cincinnati a hard time because I’ve been going there at regular intervals since I was six months old and I lived in the city for five years. I earned it. The rest of you are not allowed to diss Cincinnati.

The second is because I think people don’t give places like Cincinnati and any other Midwest city any credit. I knew this guy in college from Indianapolis and he had no qualms about expressing how much he hated it. Because I used to treat his word as gold, I believed this until I myself went to Indianapolis a couple of times. This meant doing more than going to the airport. It meant actually getting out and seeing the city.

Turns out Indianapolis has cool outdoor art, restaurants that serve good food, bike paths, canal streets and a brewery or two. I was pleasantly surprised.

Indianapolis is no New York City, not even close, but I don’t know why this guy was complaining so much about it. Did he see an ugly side to it? Every city has an ugly side. In fact, the cool hip area in Cincinnati used to the be the “ugly” area. I’m wondering if he said this because he didn’t take the time to explore where he was. When I was briefly in Indy I took the time to go places. I did the same whenever I went to other Midwest cities like St. Louis, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Madison and I had a wonderful time in each place. Granted, I had great company, but we went out and did things, exploring what was exclusive to these towns. I went to Michigan on vacation last spring. I’d only ever heard negative things about that place and lo and behold I had a wonderful time and saw one of the most beautiful sunsets ever…and I live in a state famous for beautiful sunsets.

“Life is what you make of it” is a cliche for a reason: it’s up to you to make your experience where ever you are worthwhile. If you don’t, it’s not the city’s fault. It’s yours. Don’t blame it, blame yourself.

For a while I had the itch to leave Colorado. I know, right? I’m so proud to be from this state and I’m in love with it, but I went through a period where I was jaded and applied to MFA programs that weren’t in Colorado with the sole purpose of getting away. In hindsight nothing was wrong with Denver. How could there be something wrong? I live in one of the happiest, least obese states in the country that has beautiful scenery and over 200 breweries . Something was wrong with me. I was restless and fed up with my job situation and I took it out on Denver (I’m sorry, Denver. I’ll never think about leaving you again). Instead of directing my frustration outward, I should have looked inward to solve the problem.

Moving to Bloomington or Chicago or Portland would not have solved my problems. They would have followed me to all corners of the US or even the world. The dark cloud would be above me no matter what and only I could banish it. Storms travel, after all.

Lo and behold I did put my life back together and I started to go out more and spend more time with people who, like me, enjoy exploration and adventure. In fact, I don’t think I just enjoy it—I need it. If I don’t have the appropriate balance of that in my life it makes me crabby.

That being said, I know I’d go nuts living in a small town. I’d drive past those weary Kansas towns on my way to Ohio and wonder why anyone would ever live there. America is built on the small town, and big city life isn’t for everyone, but it’s still something I can’t ever relate to. Even so, I see my small town friends exploring the things around them, having gatherings, and doing whatever they can to be happy. They’re making the most of what us city snobs would call a bad situation, so props to them.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a change of scenery or getting away from difficult stages in life. That I can totally understand. However, if you find yourself complaining about where you live, perhaps you should find out if it’s really the city that’s the root of your unhappiness.

The Maroon Bells.

Dabbling in Graphic Novels

FullSizeRender-2 Up until this year, I had never read a graphic novel. Not that I hadn’t heard about any. In fact, I seemed to stumble upon the four pictured above quite often in my studies, whether it was teachers recommending ‘Maus’ in history or literature classes, or seeing ‘Persepolis’ at the Academy Awards, or watching reviewers gush about Craig Thompson and his memoir ‘Blankets’ on YouTube. I finally gave in and decided to investigate and see if these graphic novels were worth the hype. I knew they were like comics, which I read every Sunday as a kid (Garfield was my main staple), but there had to be something more to them, right?

Well, of course.

First of all, the novels I selected are all called graphic memoirs and they range on various topic. ‘Maus I’ and ‘Maus II’ were incredibly famous when they debuted and gave Art Spiegelman a huge career boost. The novels focused on his father’s experience as a Jew in Poland during WWII and contrasted it with the way his father was in his own adult life. Spiegelman was not afraid to expose the ugliness of both war and what it’s done to his father, never portraying him as perfect. The metaphor of Jews as mice and Nazis as hideous cats speaks volumes and gives the story it’s power.

‘Persepolis’ swept me off my feet. I loved the story and the narrator. It was told so simply, just using the colors black and white and it included powerful, thoughtful dialogue. It tells Marjane Satrapi’s story of growing up as a young woman with liberal values in Iran during the 1980s. It reminded me a lot of ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran,’ but I loved it’s youthful point of view.

My favorite of these novels was Craig Thompson’s ‘Blankets.’ It’s his coming-of-age memoir that details his first love, school, and the first time he started to question religion and his aspirations in life. It was such a simple story, but so emotional and beautifully told.

What I appreciated the most from these novels was how there wasn’t as much room for dialogue, but the story was still powerful. They could still turn a beautiful phrase even with limited space. I grew to appreciate how the authors evoked setting as well. Because of the visual component, they can do things that straight up novelists can’t, and I felt such a great sense of place with every turn of the page, as if 1980s Iran, 1930s Poland, and a snowy Minnesota landscape were all tangible. I read these four each in one sitting, able to breeze through the pages, but the experience required total emersion. I would resurface from those vivid worlds carrying the emotions and experience with me. Though I don’t see myself trading in the novels I cherish, I find that my appreciation for this art deepened with each passing panel.

September Book Haul!

Uh…where did September go?

My first month of teaching flew by. Actually, as I type that, I realize what a gross exaggeration that is. It broke the sound barrier. I not only started head first into a new job, but I also was in two weddings, finished a class on plot, and climbed a mountain. Phew!

I also bought books. Here are the five beauties:


Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya von Bremzen- A memoir I got for free from Blogging for Books. It’s gotten good buzz and it satisfies my interest in all things Russia.

Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London- I’m teaching these two books to the 6th graders and we’re enjoying them. I hadn’t read either from cover to cover so I picked up this awesome Vintage Classics edition.

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood- I flew through Year of the Flood and desperately wanted to finish the trilogy. It’s the book I’ll probably pick up next.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie- I’ve never read any Christie and she’s the queen of mystery, something I’ve been wanting to get into as a writer. Plus, I love these editions of her books.

The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey- I’m trying to temper my excitement and expectations for this sequel. I loved The Fifth Wave last year and I’ve been hearing mixed things.

That’s all from me! I have to go back to writing (or buying books on Book Depository now that I got paid). Until next time, I’m out.