No good reason to write

I hate when I get out of the habit of writing. I feel life’s pointless; I feel I will never catch the momentum of my creative life again.

It’s like the train is idling in the station and I have to run and catch it. This has happened a million times when I drove down from Lake Champlain to Albany-Rensselaer. I had to run to catch the train, back to the city, back to work.

Once I missed the train and I was so pissed. Couldn’t they have radioed down to tell the conductor, “Wait one minute!” I watched the train pull away.

I digress. I was writing about writing. And how hard it is to write.

I have been preoccupied with winding down from my day job; vacating up in the Adirondacks; teaching my first boot camp workshop; caring for kids, spouse, family; trying to get my freelance biz going; and now organizing the Adirondack Memoir Retreat (Oct. 25-28 – Please come).

The point of my life is to make stuff.

Yet all things conspire to get in my way when I sit down to to write. Everything and everyone. And they don’t even mean to. And besides, I tell myself there’s no good reason to write. No one’s asking me, “Can you please blog?” (But kids ask me, “Can you fix some dinner?”)

There’s no good reason to blog because it doesn’t make any money. And why do anything but make a buck? our capitalist society asks.

Yet our souls hunger for art. Our lives need to make things of beauty or else it’s all for nothing. It’s all spent grasping for the stupid gold ring on the merry-go-round. And you can never grasp it. You can never have enough. Money does not satisfy.

Art satisfies. Creativity gives back. Handmade dinners, crafts, and poems thank you. If they don’t, well, then you have something to write about then too. Write about the disappointment and the tragedy of all that lack of return on your investment.

Most of the time, you get the return, you catch the train. The conductor waits.

I have caught the train more times than I have missed it. I hopped on. I watched the cities roll by my window. I opened my laptop. I caught my breath from the run to the train and started writing.

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This picture has nothing to do with this post. But yesterday I went to the Staten Island Yankees game. On the free ferry, you pass Lady Liberty. You are free and at liberty to pursue your happiness.

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Starting Anew

Elaeocarpus holopetalus - Mount Imlay Rainforest

Elaeocarpus holopetalus – Mount Imlay Rainforest (Photo credit: Poytr)

I have loved my job for so many reasons for so many years. Just because you love someone or something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let it go. Like parenting. My kids want to go to camp or on school trips. I love them but let them go.

Without going into all the deets, my workplace has offered a voluntary severance package to everyone. And I’m taking it (effective within the next couple of months).

Sometimes work grows around you like a vine in a tropical rain forest, hitting the top layer and you’re still on the forest floor. Or sometimes work’s part of the undergrowth. And you’re reaching for the sky.

According to the internet, (which we all know is NEVER wrong!) there are four layers to the rain forest (and these coincide with where we are on any given day):

  • the emergent layer
  • the canopy
  • the understory
  • the forest floor

I think the point of life is to grow wherever you are. Life is only about growth. Or maybe the pursuit of happiness. That’s all.

And I need to grow. And pursue my happiness. We all do.

To such an end I’m starting some projects such as offering a querying and getting published workshop in New York on August 16 in partnership with Kelly Wallace who’s offering the workshop in Portland on August 18. We’re working on the website. We’re onto something.

We’re on the forest floor or the emergent layer, continuing to grow, starting anew.

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Revising

pages from my art journal

I love the creative process. I love the brilliant idea as bright as a candle flame. The revision process? Not so sexy.

I wish I could fall in love with rewriting. These tips for writers as they revise at Necessary Fiction really got me thinking. Here are a few useful ideas from the post:

  • write the plot on sticky notes then organize in columns
  • retype the whole thing
  • change fonts
  • make sure what your character wants is an impediment to what others want
  • raise the stakes
  • get rid of introductory clauses

I am in love with the short form. I love blogging. I sit down. Write for 20 minutes. Add a photo or two. Hit publish. Done! Go about life.

For me revising is endless. There’s no Done!

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I now have two half-baked novels written during the months of November (2011 and 2009). Due to their unwieldy length, slightly more than 50,000 words, I can’t bear to open the first chapter. Just maybe if I set out the plot on colorful sticky notes or cut up my scenes with scissors, the story could emerge more like a work of art, a collage, than a mess of incomplete plot points.

collage – perhaps upside-down?

I have been crazy making collages lately. I get into a Zen mode and throw paint and color and images down on paper or on discarded library books.

Done! I love the haphazard process and the chaotic result. Maybe I could see the process of revising my writing as a visual art project.

As the blogger Matthew Salesses says, “a lot of these thoughts are about seeing. Remember: re-vision.”

I, too, can repurpose, rewrite, rethink, rewind, rework, and revise. Re-vision.

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WordPress WordCamp

After last weekend’s workshops, I felt a swift kick in the pants about my blogging habits. I realized I need to up my game and move from amateur status to pro. I’ve been dabbling and I need to commit.

In the workshop, “Triple Your Post Frequency,” Andraz Tori of Zemanta said blogging is like working out — You need to make it a habit, break a sweat, and sometimes hire a coach.

The workshops opened my eyes to the number and variety of people working with WordPress, our blogging home. A ton of hat-wearing dudes and chicks are using WordPress as a platform to develop websites. (I love the word platform, I always think of the public park district pool and the platform from which I jumped (and others dove) into a cool summer pool.)

The pre-party for WordPress WordCamp speakers and organizers at the Mad Hatter.

My workshop was on the topic of Social Media and Social Movements. When I saw my time slot, 9:30 am, I worried that it was too early to get enough activists to make the workshop lively – as I’d built in time for small-group discussion.

Thankfully, about a dozen bloggers showed up — including Ron Suarez, an Occupy Wall Streeter.and Yangbo Du, a global social media guru.

At the end of my workshop, a bunch of people started trickling in. Cool! Had word gotten out through Twitter how much fun we were having? How awesome my workshop was? No, Frederick Townes, lead techy for Mashable, was speaking in the room after me and people were jockeying for a good seat.

No matter. I’ve committed to posting more regularly. I am going to post on this blog every Sunday and post on MBCoudal My Rules every Friday. And then post on My Beautiful New York and Health and Fitness whenever the spirit moves me.

Because, much as I try, I cannot schedule or legislate my creativity. My muses are wild; they cannot be tamed.

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My Country Song

At our lunch time creative writing workshop, Dan Licardo, an awesome musician and novelist, talked about songwriting.

He said a song can include rhyme. The message of a song can be more direct and easily understood than other types of writing. So I tried my hand at songwriting on my lunch hour. Here’s how my song went:

creative commons

Your face reminded me of the sun
Bright and sweet and always on the run
You run so fast, you run so far
You run and steal my Chevy car
I called my daddy, I called the cop
But they couldn’t find you
Not even in the hills of Vermont

I took my gun, I went on the run
I run down to the Virginia-ay shore
And there I found you with a two-bit whore

She had her legs and arms around my baby
I squinted my eye, I pulled the trigger
But you said, “Honey, Honey, I mean maybe?
Give me ‘nother chance?”

I’m seeing red,
And that floozy in the motel room
She got up and fled
But you lay there all weak and sad and mad
Like the moon, behind a cloud,
You went all bad

Honey, you went bad on me
Now I’m going bad on you
Because there’s just some things
My man ain’t supposed to do
The first is steal my Chevrolet car

That’s the first step you took 
just a little too far
The second is you left me all alone
With the babies and the dishes
You think you really flown? 

Ha, you ain’t seen nothing
Sniveling on that bed
Pale and begging and, oh so red

Caught red-handed, I put down my gun
I take my car keys, then take your clothes
Just for fun

Don’t come back like the morning sun
Don’t come back when you’re broke
‘Cause my babies need a pappy
Not a two-bit joke

Plus I’m a little honey 
who needs a little bit a love
So I got me an ad on Craigslist
Gonna find some new sun shining from above

So that’s the woman’s part of my song. And then the man’s part comes in:

In the field there was a daisy
But you only saw me like I’m crazy
Yes, honey, I did you wrong
I took up with a honey on the wrong side of town

But you knew I loved the nightlife
I loved the song and the show
I told you that when we married, oh so long ago

When the babies started coming
And you just wouldn’t stop
I tried to re-enlist in the Army
And head back to Iraq

But they didn’t take me
You know I loved your hair, long and red
And I’m sorry that you caught me
With your sister in that cheap motel bed.

We thought we were done for
But you spared me and that debt I will repay
Just one more thing
Can you send me some bail money?
And then I’ll be on my way

My Salon

I never asked what all these commenters thought. I never really asked what anyone thought except for the writers in Joanna’s and Charles’s classes, where I had workshopped the story.

And yes, I wanted to know what an editor thought.

I’d sent the story to the Salon editor late Wednesday, thanks to the query challenge from Robert Lillegard. (See the comments at: https://gettingmyessayspublished.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/the-westport-workshops/)

SH replied on Thursday over my lunch hour. I got her email while sitting in the hairdresser’s chair. She said my story “had potential.”

Nice! A new hair cut and a potential piece at the best literary and intellectual site online.

SH asked if I’d intended to publish under a pseudonym. No. She’d begun a line edit. She had legitimate questions about chronology and adding a “message moment.” That is, a moment to give the experience a meaning, an Aha! She was right.

I worked on the story; she worked on it. In a few hours, we were done. But commenters don’t take hours, months, years to write their comments. They dash them off.

I was surprised by the comments. At seven am, on Friday, I read the first seven. Then I stopped reading. I have very little experience with negative comments. The people who’ve commented on my blogs may spin out their own thoughts, but they don’t rip me.

I asked a couple of people what the comments said. My aunt (Ellen Wade Beals) emailed me; she said some of the comments were funny, some complimentary, and some snarky. One friend told me a lot of the commenters are commenting on each other’s comments. I didn’t need to go there. (And my sister emailed me with one direct message: don’t comment back!)

My only experience with negative comments was long ago on my article in the New York Times City section in the form of a letter to the editor. It was from an ASPCA representative quibbling with the way I’d represented their agency in my funny essay about the squirrel trapped in my airshaft. Fair enough.

At that time I took pride in the ASPCA’s letter to the editor. Aha! A letter to the editor meant my NYTimes story hit a nerve or was controversial. And now, I’m trying to take pride in the comments (that I’m not reading) on my Salon.com story. It’s a badge of courage to be criticized, commented on, and then survive (to blog about it.)

My cousin Susan Elster Jones sent me an amazing email last night. She said, One of my best professors once told me that the work isn’t really finished until you share it. And the more uncomfortable that feels-probably means the work is really strong. Thank you for sharing!

So, go ahead, comment away. Sure, I’m feeling defensive, sensitive, uncomfortable, but also proud, strong, happy. Uncomfortable.

I Search Myself

I google my name. And I find myself. Here’s what else I find:

Sites I have quoted quote me. Like the Poverty Initiative: http://www.povertyinitiative.org/news The internet is an echo chamber.

I am the only me. I love having a unique name. I don’t know if I’m one word or two — Mary Beth, MaryBeth or MB. I think I should go with MB because look where it got JK, better than had she been Kathleen.

I have no secrets. When I tweeted from the emergency room, yup that tweet remains google-able. While the internet remembers, I want to forget.

I have secrets. I actually have a secret garden — It is one of my 7 Rules: http://mbcoudal.wordpress.com/2010/06/07/214/

Google refines its searches of me in two other ways:
1. “gbgm Mary Beth Coudal” makes sense since I’ve published hundreds of articles at gbgm-umc.org. But the other search prompt is a bit of a surprise.

2. “mental illness mary beth coudal” Yes, I’m matched with the vast category of mental illness. Is the internet trying to tell me something?

(I think it is because one of my most reposted articles was on how church people could/should/might treat mental illness the same as they treat other illnesses — that is, with help, dinner deliveries, prayers, empathy, love…)

Those are a few of the things I learn when I google myself. What do you learn when you google your name?

Social Media Mania

I’ve been trying to post on one of my blogs every day for the month of June. Yesterday I was dragging. I didn’t have anything to say, couldn’t come up with a good idea, had too many social occasions to attend. One of those occasions was our monthly Lunch and Learn workshop which is a venue for our brilliant Communications staff to share their expertise.

At yesterday’s lunch, Beth Buchanan of the web team gave an awesome Prezi.com session. The title? Social Media Mania. It inspired and informed the two dozen of us there, half of us experts (ahem! like moi?) and half beginners (moi aussi!). After Beth’s session, I felt energized to get through my slog of a daily blog.

Here are a few take-aways from Beth.

Beth's profile pic!

How do we get into social media?

  1. Sign in
  2. Listen
  3. Engage
  4. Evaluate

I’m not particularly good at Numbers 2 and 4, but I am going to be!

Buchanan emphasized a few best practices for social media. Such as “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, think before posting.

Social media is a conversation, not a monologue, she said. So don’t swamp people with your point of view without taking an interest in theirs.

Another novel concept — and why haven’t I thought of this? — Have a social media strategy and make it work for you. To get thinking about this, start with the question, Who is my audience? (How am I supposed to know!)

I loved some of Beth’s quotes (and did tweet them during the session), like this one: “You establish who you are by what you post.”

On Twitter, Beth said if you’re tweeting for a company — for every three business posts, include one personal post. Duh! I microblog on Twitter for New World Outlook magazine @NWOMag and for myself @MaryBethC but I don’t cross-over; personal is personal and business is business. But I’ll try to cross-pollinate, just like Beth Buchanan, the social media maven at Global Ministries, does. Thanks, Beth! @BJBuc and @connectNmission !

Beth is the friend and colleague who got me started on blogging, Facebook and Twitter. And now there’s no stopping me! At least for the month of June!

More Friends

I’ve been trying to drive up my number of Facebook friends to surpass 1,000.  I believe the more friends you have, the more you achieve.

There are studies to bear this out. UCLA researchers studied LA high school students and discovered More school friends?=better grades. I like to think that the study goes for more adult friends too. More work friends?=better work.

Journal of Research on Adolescence — adolescents with more in-school friends than out-of-school friends had higher grade-point averages and — complementing this finding — that those with higher GPAs had more in-school friends. (from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100603172221.

It fits in beautifully with my Rules for Happiness #1 — Pile on the People. http://mbcoudal.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/pile-on-people-and-activities/

The key for me is to draw the circle wide. My friends are varied in status, age, race, gender.

I learned a long time ago, especially as a writer, that the person to befriend is not the CEO but the CEO’s assistant. He or she is the one who really knows what’s going on and can get you the good story.

I love that FB has made the word friend a verb as well as a noun. It’s no secret that I’m in love with social media, especially blogging on WordPress.

One of my real (and FB) friends mentioned that she’s concerned that by blogging we’re creating a false sense of intimacy. Maybe it’s true we reveal a little too much of ourselves. I’m not sure — to figure out what I think about this, I’ll have to talk it over with one of my friends. Or maybe I’ll just instant message them.