"Make no mistake, my friend, your pointless life will end, but before you go, can you look at the truth? You have a lovely singing voice."

-Morrissey, "Sing Your Life"

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I decided recently that it’s been quite long enough, and it’s time for me to get back into the writing game. Of course, the decision to begin writing again is one thing, and the actual beginning of writing again is another thing altogether. It was necessary, then, for me to formulate some sort of plan to ease myself back into the world I used to live in so completely.

I made the goal that during my winter break from classes (which lasts a paltry three weeks), I would write every single day for at least fifteen minutes. “Fifteen minutes? That’s nothing,” you say. “Not even enough time to really get the fire going.” True enough, but I settled on this goal for a reason: it would be easy for me to keep it. Anyone can scrape together a measly fifteen minutes a day, and because I would be on break from teaching, it would be even easier for me to make it work. 

My hope is that writing at least a little every single day will help get the wheels turning once again, after which it shouldn’t take me too long to get back up to speed. My break only officially began this past Monday, so it’s difficult to assess too thoroughly how well it’s working. I can tell you that on day two (Tuesday), I forgot to sit down to write. Forgot! I was so frustrated with myself on Wednesday when I realized my mistake, but on Thursday I wrote for a little over half an hour and made up for it.

I also contented myself with the knowledge that forgetting to write one day is not the same as choosing not to write. The fact is, I’m no longer so mired in the writing world that going a full day without writing could never escape my notice. Writing used to be, for me, like taking a shower: you do it pretty religiously every day, and if for some reason one day you can’t, you survive it . . . but you’re very aware that you missed a day. I’ll get back there, I know I will, but it’s going to take a little time.

In addition to the day I completely forgot to write, on Friday I didn’t get a chance (sort of). Even though the ideal time for me to write is fairly early on in my day, right now, with a three-month-old baby and a husband who doesn’t get a winter break from his main job (working as the Managing Editor of New Ohio Review), I’ve been taking my fifteen minutes at the end of the day, just after Amalie goes to bed. I probably could find time earlier in the day, but the end of the day thing was working well enough. Until Friday. The day Amalie, for whatever reason, simply would not go down without a fuss. She kept falling asleep, but the second I’d lay her down she’d wake up and start crying. Finally, at around 1:30 AM, she drifted off, but I was too tired to even think about writing (plus, it technically wasn’t Friday any longer).

Other than those two slips, I’ve enjoyed my few minutes of writing time each day, and am already finding myself thinking about this piece or that idea when I’m not physically writing. I may have to flush all the brown water out of my system before I can write anything very good, but still, writing at all again feels pretty great. It’s like I’ve been wandering lost for what feels like a very long time, but now I’ve stumbled upon an overgrown path that looks vaguely familiar. I have to beat the weeds and tree branches out of my way, but I feel fairly positive that if I keep heading forward, this path will let me out somewhere I want to be.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I thought it might be nice, since my Ami B. will be three months old this Tuesday, to take a look back at how things have changed for me, as a writer, since becoming a mother. Much to my surprise, for the first couple of weeks, I actually did have plenty of time to write, or at least, I would have if I had chosen to use it for that. I did not. Ami slept most of the time, and she hardly ever cried. But rather than using her sleeping time to write, I tried to rest as much as I could, too. I was, after all, on the mend, in more than the usual way, since I got very sick immediately after the delivery and was bedridden in the hospital for a few days.

Then, just when I started getting my energy back, Ami started staying awake more and more, and spending, as it turned out, the majority of her waking time crying. She started wailing when we tried to lay her down in her crib. To increase my milk supply, she started eating more and more frequently—sometimes as often as every hour, which meant I sometimes spent most of the day and night with her attached to one breast or the other. That free time of the first two weeks, which I had wasted sleeping or staring blankly at some crappy Netflix reality TV show or other, was gone, and I resigned myself to the fact that I just wouldn’t be able to write, probably, for several months.

But I’m happy to say that finally at about two months old, my Amalita started fussing less and less. Her prolonged nighttime fussiness—called unhappy hour or the witching hour, depending on which book you read—pretty much went away altogether, and when she does fuss, now, we sort of know what to do most of the time. On top of that, her sleeping habits have gotten more predictable. She still refuses to sleep in her crib (from talking to other parents, I’m beginning to think that no baby in the history of babies has ever willingly slept in his or her crib), but she’ll go down for a good five hours at the beginning of the night and then wake regularly ever three hours after that for a little nighttime snack. I’m actually getting a reasonable amount of sleep again . . . and having dreams! Oh, sweet dreams. Even when they’re nightmares it feels so good to wake up and know that I was sleeping deeply enough to have them.

And though she’s awake and alert most of the day now, which means she needs almost constant attention, the time to write is there if I take it. Damien and I have both started to get the hang of this whole parenting thing, enough, anyway, that we’re not convinced we’re doing everything wrong and damaging her in some irreparable way. As a result, he can take her when I need to get something done, and vice versa. Still, I haven’t really been writing. It would be a lie to say I haven’t written at all since she was born, but still, I haven’t written more than maybe a total of a couple pages, not counting blog posts and a book review. The time is there, in other words, but just like that first two weeks after Amalie’s birth, I’m not using it to write.

But I do have plans to slowly get back into the writing game during the winter break. I’ll tell you all about it next week.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

This holiday season I strongly urge you to buy small press books and literary journals for the people in your life who enjoy reading. I made a resolution last year to buy people small press books as often as possible when it comes time to buy someone a gift, and it’s worked out very well. Here’s why:

Small presses and literary journals need your support. Some of the best writing out there is being published by these venues, but a vast majority of the reading public doesn’t even know these books are out there. Small presses and journals usually operate mostly or entirely using funding from grants. They don’t have much money coming in, and they NEED people to buy copies of their books to keep themselves afloat. But with little or no budget for marketing, every single copy sold is a triumph; every book you or anyone else buys goes to a very worthwhile cause.

That’s right: buying these books is doing a good deed. It is! Small presses and journals are important from a cultural and artistic perspective. They take the chances that major publishers don’t take. They publish work based on its artistic and literary merit, NOT based on how much money it’s likely to rake in. Without these publishers, we would live in a world in which mostly all that’s available to read is the literary equivalent of big budget Hollywood blockbusters. Can you imagine a world without independent films? If the small presses were all to go under, that’s exactly the literary world we’d be stuck with. Sure, there would be a small selection of higher quality books, just like the Hollywood studios put out a few decent movies for Oscar consideration each year, but major studios and publishers alike are driven by the bottom line, and so the bad far, far outweighs the good.  

And if you’re a writer, I shouldn’t even need to explain to you why it’s in your best interest to keep small presses and literary journals out there. Unless you plan on getting really lucky, you’ll likely need to publish in these venues before you can hope to land an agent or a two book deal with a major publishing house (and those of us who are really being honest with ourselves know that the likelihood is that we’ll publish in these smaller places forever).

But culling gifts from small presses and journals is not just a good deed; it also makes for some genuinely awesome presents. Buying small press books or literary journals for your loved ones who enjoy reading will most likely expose them to authors, stories, and books they would never otherwise have heard of. It doesn’t mean you just buy something random that the recipient of the gift won’t even want. There are so many varied small press books and journals out there, you’re bound to find something for every reader on your gift list if you just take the time to look. I LOVE getting a book that looks good but that I didn’t even know existed for a gift. It’s an unexpected treat; it gives me something I never would have known I wanted and often opens up a whole new world of books I want to read when I find a new author whose writing I love.

So why not give it a try this year? To get started, you can find a good list of small presses and literary journals, complete with links to the press and journal websites, at NewPages.com. NewPages also posts book and journal reviews, which might help you pick out what to buy for whom, if you’re having trouble. Go here to look for small presses, and here to find a list of literary journals.