Glorious Messes

It’s been several weeks since I sent my manuscript in to my editor and in those weeks I’ve been doing some self-care with great results. I’m continuing to eat a plant-based whole food diet, which pleases my body and eases my mind. Yeah, I know. Weird that what you eat can affect your mental state, but that’s exactly what’s happened here.

As happy as I am with this turn my life has taken, I’m also conscious of deliberately filling the well. Reading books about and watching documentaries on the lives of other creative people, whether film, biography or memoir, is one way I recharge after writing a difficult book. Every book I’ve written has had its problems, but this last one almost broke my brain.

Yes, now that it’s over (until the edits come in) it was worth it.

One reason I’m so attracted to the lives of poets, musicians and authors is because I love getting glimpses into their creative processes. As I listen, watch, and read about these other creative types, I search for inspiration and insight into my own way of writing. Maybe I’ll pick up a trick or two, maybe I’ll uncover a danger zone from which I need to steer clear. Probably both.

I’ve delved into the lives of creative folks for decades. The sparks I’ve come away with have been like somebody up the ladder taking my hand and giving me a tug along the path. Looking into other artist’s lives is the most refreshing and invigorating thing I can do when my own work has emptied me out. Sometimes I find inspiration in unexpected places.

In the last few days I’ve been reading Charles Baxter’s The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot along with a strange book on David Bowie’s life. It’s strange because it’s a compilation of long quotes, snippets of interviews, and the author’s own inserts, so there are like a zillion authors. This pastiche is not particularly elegant, but it’s interesting. You get all these views on who Bowie was and how his personas and processes evolved through several decades.

Then I saw documentaries on the Stooges and Bowie mixed in with the reading. I’m not a huge fan of Bowie’s music or even his various incarnations, but I’ve always found him interesting. He was somebody who obviously cared deeply about crafting those personas and the music that went with each of his many stages as a performer. I was a fan of the Stooges. In my teenage delusion, I thought I Wanna Be Your Dog was romantic.

If I’d thought more deeply about it then, I would have realized what I really liked was the guitar shred in the opening bars, the dissonance of the cowbell beat, and the way Iggy did a kind of spoken word singing. He was a poet. That’s what attracted me, not the idea of being anybody’s dog.

In the Stooges doc, elder statesman Iggy came across as just so smart and not at all like someone who stage dived and rubbed peanut butter on his belly in concert. Just by coincidence, reading David Bowie: A Life, I found out that the only reason Iggy is still relevant is because David literally gave him a hand up–more like grabbed him with both arms and hoisted him into writing Lust for Life. Bowie used his money and influence and artistry to usher Iggy into his next act.

What I’ve learned this time in my deep dive is that creative lives are not smooth and shiny, but more like glorious messes. And this, above all else, is somehow a strange comfort to me.

A Delicious Debut

I recently chatted with Linda Anger about her fresh off the press debut collection of poetry and stories Sweeping the Floor at the Full Crumb Cafe.

Some of these poems and stories of the women who pass through The Full Crumb Cafe have language so gripping, words and ideas so remarkable, that the reader can rest in their comfort even as the tension of the piece moves through them. Part bright fantasy, with splashes of terror and the possibility of freedom, this solid collection rests on the final, triumphant story of Cindy, the girl who never had a chance but made one for herself out of sheer determination. Is this collection a caper or a cautionary tale? I’d say in Anger’s capable hands, it is both, and more.

You can read my full review of Linda’s collection on Amazon and Goodreads. Meanwhile, here’s what she had to say to my burning questions about poetry, stories, and the writing life: 

Cindy: When did you write your first poem?

2014 LindaLinda: 1960. I was nine years old. It was rhymed and childish, of course – something about horses. More often than not, though, I wrote short stories when I was a child. It wasn’t until I was in high school and took my first creative writing course that I began to be serious about poetry.
Cindy: Do you write/work on petty daily or consistently or is it something you need to feel inspired?
Linda: Both.  I make my living writing for others – blog posts, magazine articles, websites. For those, I am very disciplined and consistent. My poetry and fiction is a bit different. I do write every day, but it is not always a “moving forward” process. Some days I don’t work on a poem or a story, but spend time mapping out concepts I want to explore.
There are the moments of inspiration, of course, and I have pulled to the side of the road to write down a phrase or a story idea more than once in the last ten years, or forced myself out of bed in the middle of the night to copy down a conversation some characters decided to have while I was sleeping! Once those “inspired” thoughts are on paper, they may simmer in my internal cauldron for hours or weeks before I sit down to write seriously.
One poem – “Wallpapering,” which is in “Sweeping the Floors in the Full Crumb Cafe” started out as a 7-page, handwritten rant. Seven months later, after tinkering with it almost every day, I put down my pen, stood up to read it out loud to myself, and realized it was done.
Cindy: Talk more about how the short stories fit into your writing life.
Linda: Short stories were, in my mind, my strong point as a writer of fiction. I still believe that, but find that when I share my shorts with my critique partners, they all want me to keep going – they want novels based on the shorts. So I have two novels in the works right now, and I flip back and forth between them, as well as continuing to write shorts on a regular basis. I’m also in the midst of writing a manuscript that is a series of shorts that relate to each other but are complete stories in their own rights.
Cindy: You also write for others as a business. What’s that like? Does it help or hurt or have no influence at all on your creative writing?
Linda: I think the work I do through my business – The Write Concept, Inc., brings huge benefit to my creative work, and my creative work makes a huge difference in my business writing. Ghostwriting – whether it is a complete manuscript or a single blog post – requires me to listen intensely to the language, cadence, and intent of the people I ghost. This comes in really handy in writing believable dialogue! I love my business work – every day is different, every project is different, there is nothing “routine” about my work life, and that is, I believe, part of the reason I can also be successful in my creative work.

Thanks, Linda! Readers can check out Linda’s website and take a look at her Book Launch page, too.

Rose Colored Glasses

Heather Von St. James and I have both been accused of wearing rose-colored glasses. We are both optimists; others might call us fools. I think being fools might have saved our lives.

Ten years ago, I got an unexpected and distressing diagnosis: Barrett’s Esophagus, a pre-cancer condition caused by stomach acid eating away the lining of the esophagus. It is irreversible. Once you’ve got it, you can’t get rid of it. You can only slow the process of the cancer by diet and medication. I saw my doctor yearly for checks how the cells were behaving. Barrett’s is not an automatic death sentence, but I’d already had a friend die of cancer that originated in her esophagus, and I was scared. I didn’t dwell on it, though. I put on my rose-colored glasses, cleaned up my diet, and took my meds.

I usually only let myself dwell on the condition just before and after my yearly check up. If I told anyone about it, I got all twisted up in the telling, because there were other complications that made things worse, so I pretty much kept quiet about it, and kept those rose-colored glasses on. Three years in, I came out of the operating room and my doctor said “It’s gone.” I wasn’t sure I heard him right because I’m put under general anesthesia for the procedure, and when I come out of it, I’m stoned and miss a lot of information. My husband, Al, is always with me, so I looked at him. He was smiling.

“Gone? But I thought…”

“I know,” the doctor said “but it’s gone.”

Wave after wave of relief washed me clean of fear. This was a miracle. But it is nothing compared to the miracle Heather has experienced. Heather had just given birth to a baby girl, Lily, when she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is the cancer caused by asbestoes. Heather was really young to have this type of cancer, but her dad worked construction and she liked to wear his work coat, which was covered with the dust from his job. People with mesothelioma don’t usually live very long. Heather was given 15 months. But she refused to give up hope. She had a lung removed and to lighten the situation, her sister named Heather’s surgery date “Lung Leaving’ Day.” 

LLD

The original Lung Leaving’ Day was nine years ago. Every year since then, Heather and her family celebrate her wellness by writing their fears on plates and smashing them into a fire. Because even women who wear rose-colored glasses have to take them off sometimes. We fear a return of the disease. We wonder when our luck will run out. For Heather, smashing that fear into a fire with all of her loved ones around her is the way she keeps hope for a long and healthy life alive. She says “Don’t take a death sentence as a diagnosis.” Pretty rosy words for someone who’s been through cancer hell. But she’s lived to tell the tale, lived to see Lily grow, lived to start a foundation for research into mesothelioma.

LLD_plate

And personally, I think Heather turning this thing around to make it about helping others is pretty awesome. It might be why she’s still here. It’s why tomorrow I’m going to write my own fears on a plate and throw them into a fire. And you can bet I’ll be wearing my rose-colored glasses.