Wednesday’s Word/Nonfiction: Writing as a Way of Being

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Marc said, “Writing is your therapy, I guess.”

I thought about that a moment. It rang predominantly false.

“No, that’s a whole other thing. Of course I journaled for decades, starting with little, gilt-edged diaries as a child that I could lock with my own tiny key… I doubt it was helpful in a significant way; I was noting very little, the day was three sentences. By adolescence, maybe all the scribbling out feelings and events was semi-therapeutic. I had a private place to share the reality of my life. But was it writing? No. Not to me even as a teen. It was dumping emotional excess at its best and obnoxious perseveration at worst. True therapy exists in another realm.” I thought a bit more. “Maybe there is some crossover. But I think I write best when there is much less emotional excoriation…and more inquiry and imagination.”

Marc nodded. He knows better than to expect an abbreviated answer when he brings up writing. And I do like to talk, if not as much as I do writing.

We agreed that all sorts of creative action can be therapeutic. It certainly is a lifeline in troubled times, as well. And I have always liked to make paintings, collages and drawings to clear and liberate my mind. For decades I made music via guitar and cello, and wrote songs in small part because it was an emotional outlet…and dancing, acting and so on, to a degree. Because creative activities do help people expand intellectually; move past emotional blockages; explore more modes of experience; interpret worlds around and within; recover from woundedness; clarify needs/wants; gain self esteem; develop a deeper sense of soul. It figures prominently in wellness regimens the world over.

But a strong creative urge is primary in and of itself, and can be far removed from therapeutic intent or result. It is an energy, a movement that comes from a deep wellspring, from passion for what is undertaken. It is the moment-by-moment action that draws me, not the finale. It includes the design process, but it is the act of writing and seeing where it goes that is most powerful viscerally, intellectually, spiritually.

Writing, then? This is just what I do. It has come first as long as I can remember, back to early childhood. Music was the most important creative mode in my family but for me, despite my adoration of music, writing won out. It was such a strong urge that it started my day and ended it before I entered. I wrote little plays for the neighborhood gang and poems for fun. I wrote on scraps of paper, in cheap spiral-bound notebooks and on clean white paper on the ancient Remington manual typewriter. In school, my writing was often pointed out; a poem I wrote in third grade was published and presented at a state conference on children and creativity. I found it funny my teacher would do that. It had nothing to do with my desire to keep writing.

I had no clear sense of whether it was “good” or not, and even now don’t think it is worth the effort to try to rate it. I write and rewrite and write some more, then see how it stands up to my own interest during more reads and rewrites. It is necessary to improve but not for someone else–for myself, for the work I labor over. Being self-critical is necessary as I delve into exposition of a piece. It spurs me to design sentences that better deliver ideas and experiences. I can do this for long hours and do it alone. Marc’s voice is unheard or jarring when he speaks to me as I work. My dinner goes cold; other pressing duties fade. Time disappears; the written words engulf me.

I do, however, miss face-to-face interaction with other writers–conferences, workshops, writing sessions/sharing with one other writer, talking with editors at presentations, participating in public readings. These educational and fun events help me grow as a writer and as a human being. Both roles benefit from redefinition, willingness to learn. And I am not reluctant to get down to business.

I was having that earlier conversation about writing because I have been thinking about writing an ever greater amount of time. And this blog. I’ve noticed recently that though I have over 15,000 followers–a deceptive number, who knows what that quite means?–I have very few views, overall, in comparison to other weeks, months, years. There are also much fewer “likes”. Especially in the last weeks. This has not been the case, generally. I have had high numbers and moderate numbers and low ones, all. But 6? And practically no one comments–and is likely telling…of something. What is the data worth to me? Not that much, in the end. It doesn’t stop me from posting thus far. But I am curious, since I have had better statistics much of the past eleven years.

Yes, that’s a crazy long time to have a blog. Do I write here because it is not truly as rigorous as writing for other venues and platforms? If I even ask that, it must have bearing. Yet, I clearly am hooked; I enjoy myself.

But back to readership: the lag of viewers may mean people don’t relate to topics I am writing about lately. Or, as one reader says, many pieces are longer than most blog posts–I guess that can turn people off. It might mean followers just got tired of my blog–there are countless fascinating blogs to check out. Or it could even be the quality of my offerings has been in decline and I’ve failed to see it. I naturally consider that. Whatever the reasons, it gives me something to mull over.

Ultimately, it is about keeping on writing. I think it, dream it, wake up in the middle of the night and do it, phrases and characters run about my brain in the shower or store, while driving or walking, listening to people talk or seeing them play or work, when hearing music or sitting outside watching leaves shimmy, reading something else–any time at all. I take small breaks when feeling emptied out of good words or distracted by events in my life. There are times I feel like what I write is lacking oomph and just needs to be dumped. But there is always another concentrated attempt, and a fine word comes to me on the next wave of language rising, unfurling on a page. I can’t not write for long, even if it is a quick phrase on an envelope or receipt.

I have notebooks of listed ideas, many starts and stops. And mounds of sticky notes plastered on my desk with notes on reference material, titles that come without anything attached to them, quotes from other writers, literary mags to check out. And print outs of articles that demonstrate fine wordsmithing. I can’t keep up with it all but it isn’t daunting, it’s invigorating. It inspires me. And I am not a writer who stares at the screen or page a long time. I like prompts to get started for fun, but don’t need them. For some weird reason, I can sit and begin immediately; I write fast for a first draft. The deeper, better writing comes with revision. That takes much more time, is harder. A great deal harder. Even for this blog, I am often writing at midnight–and still miss necessary editing.

So it is not that I want to stop writing–I cannot imagine it–or even take a break. (I had some of those with the death of our granddaughter…and car accidents, illness, vacations, etc.) It’s about what I want to do with it next. I believe I must make changes. I don’t spend enough time revising my posts, and my proofreading needs attention. I easily spend 4-6+ hours working on them but I should clean up more. Including any photographs demands more time and labor. The truth is, I might make many improvements, even the design of my site; maybe readers would appreciate that, come back more. Or maybe not.

I also think it would be fun to start a new blog under a pseudonym. What, exactly, I’m not yet sure, but it would be entirely different than this one…Maybe satire. Maybe vignettes of real people whose names are changed, or stories of the most harrowing or spiritually intense moments in my life.

But beyond writing for the blog three times a week, several hours a day, what else might I want to do?

~I love to write poetry. For decades that was my genre, my preferred way of being and doing creatively with words. I write free verse but have written other kinds of poems. I can spend months on a poem that pulls me in and shine it up. I have published more poetry than anything (and under various names due to marriages). I quite like its economy–perhaps surprising for me, who tends to verbosity–and potency. Its elegance and truthfulness.

~I love fiction writing. I fell for fiction as a kid but felt intimidated by writing it until I kept working at it, reading and learning more, trying things out. In time I came to understand it better. It still is a form that seems complex and demanding, yet I love stories so much that I pursue them to the page, anyway. It is more like a story arrives, grabs and takes me to the page. I enjoy all the walking about in unknown places with strangers who become friends or curious bystanders or witnesses via the written word. It fulfills me immensely to complete a decent story. Or a series of short stories; I’ve written one grouping that takes place in a small northern lake town with many recurring characters. It is a collection I love to work on.

But then arrives the question: which genre would I like to explore next besides dabbling in mainstream, literary or women’s fiction? Psychological suspense? Fantasy? Old fashioned mystery? And flash fiction intrigues me, too. The only one I can’t get excited about is popular romance. Maybe a different angle on romance would be interesting.

Then there are novels. I have written two but only one may still have a drop of lifeblood. But I would rather begin a new one than return to those that I have worked half to death. I have ideas that come and go. If there is a really good idea it sticks– so far nothing has stuck well again. But this doesn’t mean I won’t begin another novel. Maybe not just today. I am stimulated by the work on very long projects. They require discipline, stamina, optimism, ruthless editing, and deep faith in the story–as with everything else, I suppose, but for much longer periods of my life.

~ Nonfiction, including memoir, is newest to me. I began working on it more seriously as I wrote for this blog. Then I published a couple pieces in collections so was encouraged. It was a challenge I enjoyed tackling. I appreciate its brevity requirement–though I have much to learn about that! I like to ask questions, search for answers whether a factoid or greater history or a recollection in family history. It moves quickly– or should. Succinctness is something I crave to master…and keep working on in nonfiction especially. I also love that it offers truth in a very direct way. The more stripped down the better; it generates more power.

~This is an addition since I initially published this post: I also have written (and published two pieces) young adult and children’s short fiction. It was also a pleasure taking months of classes on writing for children and applying more skills; I had the bonus of a children’s author providing great critiques. This genre remains of interest to me.

I have so many choices, that’s the issue. I have profound attachment to the written word, and respect for the value of language well crafted. But there is not enough time to do all I want to do, even in retirement. I need to heed these questions about what I will write further. There may not be another ten years left for me–or perhaps there will be, but time is not endless on earth. Some days I have a stronger tug to submit my work again for possible publication. Other times I want to dive right into that story collection, revise and polish until it is finished–then perhaps submit it. Or get back to more serious poetry writing, just because it is a beautiful form and it speaks to me with such grace and comfort. And it is good to know life most vividly, tp draw closer to God and maximize my compassion for the earth, the world–poetry is a good way to do all that.

The last question I ask myself tonight: do I keep on with this blog? Have I said all I have to say here? Does it matter if anyone reads my posts or not–or is it primarily an exercise in creativity, as so much of what is meaningful is to me? I do care about writing for others though I have written in solitude all my life, for the sake of the writing–that is what most writers do–and for myself, also. I need to write. I am entirely in love with the process, even during uncertain and self-doubting times or days of stalemate, or when I am fed up with the grinding work of eliciting the best words so they will cohere and open new doors… that I can walk through and so, too, the reader, into the next ones.

But it matters to me that I can send out my voice, and the voices of characters, and believe they may be heard. To be a small conduit of creative energy, of discovery. That I can offer up my vulnerability and then readers may open and connect more fully to themselves and others. That what I offer in words has meaning, even though fleeting. And that human language once more gives the gift of expression, that tool of powerful searching and finding, giving and taking, hoping and healing. Because language speaks the story of humankind. That is what matters to me, for this is what we all offer: astonishing stories of magnitude. So whether I write here or elsewhere, the stories will guide me faithfully. For this, I am grateful.

Part 1: A Most Excellent Gift and Part 2: A Writer’s Resolve

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Mt. Hood 12/ 2017, Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Part 1

It was all done in utter secret. I, who have taken some pleasure in being intuitive or at least canny and a reasonably good study of character–having long been a writer, a counselor and a very visual person–I was blind-sighted as surely as if I had no skills, at all. Or as if I did not even know my daughter or my husband. But I was caught up in a whirlwind of preparation for Christmas and shopping for others. When my eldest, Naomi, flew in with her friend, A., I wasn’t thinking of anything but being a welcoming hostess and a loving mother.

Christmas morning was defined by overlapping shifts of adult children and grandchildren coming to our home. We nibbled food, opened gifts, chattered away. There was an hour or two when all four of our kids (a fifth not present) plus two of the grandchildren (three absent) were gathered in the living room. I watched them open bright packages, enjoying the ebb and flow of unfolding events. Tired but content.

I was finally urged to open my gifts. I reached for one but Naomi insisted I start first with a smaller item from her. I noted it was the size of a padded envelope that had arrived days earlier as had all her mailed gifts to us, but I had no sense of it being anything unusual. So I was startled when inside were two gold elastic mitten clips, the type one attaches to a child’s coat sleeve  and then to a mitten or glove.

I burst out laughing as I examined the flashy things. Naomi likes good gags and this was just the clever, goofy thing for me. Turning to my spouse I wagged my finger.

“I see what you and Naomi are up to!–you told her I have lost a couple good gloves over the years! They’re a tad gaudy but I might even use them!”

Naomi was chortling over the good surprise. “Found them online–pretty fancy grown up clips, huh? They’ll look good with your jackets!”

“You sure better use those,” Marc said, “as you just lost your favorite glove again not long ago!”

Everyone agreed as I proceeded to the next gift.

When the tissue paper was opened to its hidden treasure, I took a sharp intake of breath. And was struck dumb. The room filled with questions as I stared, mouth open. I gingerly touched the items now in my lap as if they were precious things, then pressed the two velvety gloves to my chest and my face, the softness sweet against my cheeks. I looked at Naomi as she leaned toward me. sitting on the edge of her chair, her intent blue eyes sparkling.

“What…? How…?” I asked.

When I put them on a surge of joy mixed with disbelief rose up. “But it isn’t even possible, Naomi! My very own gloves! Where did you find my gloves? They don’t even make them, anymore–I went back to the shop at Canon Beach and we looked and looked online!”

“I researched until I did finally find them on Ebay! The very last pair anywhere, I think!”

Tears came in place of words as I jumped to my feet,  my eyes on hers, the eyes everyone says we share. We folded each other in our arms, hugged long and well and just cried. This daughter who holds her emotions deep within her, who doesn’t frivolously share them…she knew. She knew me better than I thought,  she knew how much such a simple kindness would mean.

I finally let go. “Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to find these for me. Just perfect.”

Sound a bit excessive? I do admit I’ve had an unusual attachment to these gloves for years. Sometimes we just feel what we feel about our stuff.  And many readers have already heard of their loss and retrieval. The first post on losing one glove then serendipitously finding it was posted in 2014, here: Case of the Velvety Glove .  The second was about losing one a last and final time and can be read here: The Magnitude of Small Things .

It may make more sense if you know I have Raynaud’s disease, causing reduced blood flow to extremities so that my hands, particularly, deeply ache and feel frozen a long while (then burn as they warm) if I even briefly hold something chilly–an ice cream carton, for example. This occurs in as warm a temperature as 55-60 degrees. (I blame this on repeatedly cold hands, even frostbite when figure skating as a kid and youth– without mittens… And later, years of smoking, sadly.) Having a pair of good yet not cumbersome gloves or mittens makes a vital difference since I am an outdoors enthusiast.

The pair I purchased on a beach trip as winter fell upon us a few years ago were just right for most circumstances where I live. I fell in love with for the combination of warmth plus beauty, their luxe practicality; they’re made of stretch velveteen with a layer of fuzzy insulation. I can wear them casually or  to dress up a bit. Nothing beats usefulness joined with attractiveness. Thus, I was quite unhappy when I lost the second glove the last time. I’ve tried other gloves and not been satisfied. My hands have gotten too cold this fall and winter. So my daughter finding the one pair I loved and used often meant a great deal to me.

Really, though, my anecdote is about love. I suddenly and fully felt her thoughtful, persevering love for me. The fact that she also made it fun is just like her. Here are some pictures to show them to you as well as those darned elastic gold clips–I use them, as you can see. Leaning over a bridge on a recent hike, of course, they dangle quite safely as they cannot jump out of pockets! (Please click on the photos for captions and bigger pictures.)

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Naomi and me (fuzzy pic by hubby, ha)

 

Part 2

New–really, revisited– writing goals were to be the topic of my first 2018 post when the glove incident took top billing. I have been cogitating about plans since attending a good writing conference in Washington last October. And there are still some fledgling ideas from then, more ping-ponging about my brain and so much the better.

The old year has passed, another has begun and I find it is high time to get back to work on writing projects I’ve been putting off. There are always so-called good reasons–devotion to this blog three times per week, health and family needs, and at times a monstrous lack of confidence that can strike right in the middle of fevered or serene writing. The kind that creeps in like black mold, felt as a perverse cynicism fought off anyway I can–fervent prayer, research on topics that attract for an essay or story, long walks that shake the oppression right off–or even superficial distractions like my magazines.

However, I am more akin to a sturdy work horse whose blinders help accomplish the job: I stick to my tasks, look neither left nor right, keep moving and writing and thus experience the fulfillment wrought of labor’s comfort…though mixed with bumptious moments. And occasionally an outright exhaustion of hope. Then I rest, begin again.

I keep on since there isn’t much I can do but write. Sure, there are a variety of interests,  proclivities, abilities. But writing is the thing that most shapes and energizes my learning and living and being. Aren’t those microscopic letters hitching a ride on cells in my blood stream?…It started at least by fourth grade when a poem was published then read for a state educators’ conference. I found it surprising that what I loved to do might matter to anyone else. (It wasn’t music, the fine art choice of my family. ) Writing was story/ It was also a natural way to access thought and feeling–it was not a mere daydream, and not some mighty goal I had to achieve.

But there came a time I sporadically submitted stories, poems and essays. Finally, it was more regularly most years. I’ve received many expected and far more unexpected rejections; I’ve also been pleased when submissions have been printed in anthologies and journals or published online. I tried my hand at very minor journalism. It was a series on domestic violence for a college newspaper that impacted many (there was a lot of data; it was then also reflective of my own life). Short stories and essays have become surprisingly appreciated, while poetry has appeared more often under three–okay, four–last names depending on changing marital status. A young adult short story was published and I’ve written several others, another genre that interests me.

I worked on a first novel, completed it over a span of ten-plus years only to have a fine and renowned editor tell me it was “overly ambitious but you are a real writer”. I felt depressed, then a little happy and quite right, that criticism. I published an excerpt from it, however and it was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and have used chapters as springboards for stories I’ve posted here. For now I’ve put it away but it tends to return to me in other forms. (A mute widow who is a dancer–and keeps secrets about her drowned husband–meets a photojournalist, bereft after a mentor and friend disappeared in the Amazon.)

There are also two well developed but unfinished collections of interconnected stories and characters. My longer fiction has not been submitted since the first novel  gave rise to interest from two agents– who later bowed out.

You never know. Sending out writing is like launching a handmade paper boat with a small lit candle in it and watching to see if it capsizes or returns with candle snuffed out or gone overboard. Of if the little oat ends up reduced to ash. You make another and send it out as it is an adventure of sorts, in any case.

This is a shortened litany of efforts and projects and small successes laced with many rejections. I took a long break again; it has occurred many times over 60+ years, but not yet for forever. The last time I submitted was two years ago. The most recent pieces are in Spark: Anthology II–that was 2014. That is, I think. It’s been too long to recall clearly what went where without checking my files; there was another poem plus a photo published somewhere in the last 2-3 years. I hope that online journal is still going strong…must check. Might be another place to submit once more!

Meanwhile, I’ve tiled over strengthening what works and learning more of what does not, slowly putting the demanding, sensitive ego aside and giving stricter attentions to word and line. I try to cut back on verbiage, even improve typos but it takes more work.

This is what a writer does, of course, and is not noteworthy except when you’re doing it yourself and sweating it out.

The point is, I’ve been writing quite awhile. And barring a period from age thirteen to perhaps twenty-one, my goal has not been to be a noted author as much as to be a worthy writer, one who stays true to herself and offers nourishment of many sorts. Just as I’ve been nourished by diverse writers whose works I’ve read over decades. I can only hope born of sincere desire that what I write has value beyond my personal passion for language and story. Nothing can stop the writing, but can I publish more? Can it be read and enjoyed more often? Do I care most about writing for its own sake? Can I also manage to care about and work on becoming more widely read?

Time ticks away. My mirror confirms this if the mind knows only this moment being lived. I have much more to access via imaginings or night dreaming or life’s small sparks, the inspirations discovered courtesy of places and people. There are ideas that barge right in, or create a steady beat of melodic words that stir in my innermost ear. A hunger seizes me as mysterious intentions of language erupt and flow. And then I am brimming once more.

I have to make room for these pressing wants and needs, just as I have made room in my life agenda for the joy of this blog three times a week. And so, to the point!

I’ve decided to post fiction or nonfiction on alternating Wednesdays and a poem or photography on each Friday. The mid-week post will be entitled “Wednesday’s Word” (fiction one week, nonfiction the next) and the Friday post will stay “Friday’s Passing Fancy” for poetry but the following week will be “Friday’s Quick Pick” for photography. I also plan to refresh graphics of the blog soon. It’s good to engage in positive transformation!

It is motivating to determine that just one more day can aid in researching markets, preparing pieces to submit, and exploring greater opportunities in literary communities/publishing worlds. Opening rejection letters and perhaps now and then an acceptance. Risk is good, I remind myself.

Not the first time I’ve reworked the format of Tales for Life, this likely won’t be the last. It is part of the fun of blogging, how much freedom we have here and control of the work we share. But I appreciate being spurred on with comments and “likes”.

I hope you will enjoy what’s yet to come here at Tales for Life. I’ll continue to peruse and absorb as many of your unique offerings as I can. Thank you for being part of the huge creative community at WordPress. May your 2018 be sublime of soul, heart, mind, and your health robust–or good enough to carry your forward as is, gratefully, my own.

Below: two of my photos from the first posts, Oregon shots shared in 2011.

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