Poem: Melancholy Embodied

by A.M. Lynn

 

My body, betrayal is like
car hoses leaking in a drive,
ship hulls cracking at sea,
horses’ spines stabbing the riders.

My mind, failure is like
trash in the desert,
books misshelved,
paper notes burning.

My spirit, loss is like
waiting hours for pickup by dad,
defending against sis,
learning I’ve long strangled myself.

 

 

Author’s Statement:

Recently, I dreamed at night about riding a horse (not one I’ve known in the waking world) whose spine felt as if it was about to burst out of its back to impale. The hard ridge of vertebrate jabbed up into me. I was scared.

That ridiculous fear is not one I’ve had before, even in the distant days of riding my father’s horses and ponies bareback (as in, without a saddle or blanket). What did the dream mean?

I figure that fear was the translation of the threat from my own spine. Because dreams allow it, I existed simultaneously as the horse and rider. In reality, my back has been hurting nonstop for years now, and on the worst days, I feel as if any movement will destroy me.

That self-analysis inspired this poem, made up of memories and nightmares.

Publication of “Guts to Moon Dust”

I’m thankful that my poem “Guts in Moon Dust” has found a home. You can visit it at Polu Texi: A Magazine of Many Arts.

This science fiction poem might reflect today’s world events.

A more personal experience from almost three years ago is also reflected in it. While moving long distance for a new life, my health failed. Because so much was dependent on my ability to work, or at least to negotiate, my vague dreams were quickly destroyed. With intimidating debts and what felt like no way to escape a hostile environment where my disabilities put me in danger from the apathetic people and organizations I needed for survival, I could feel almost no hope. In attempts to rise beyond feelings of hopelessness, I frequently wondered if, on my death, my body would return to my childhood home.

I have written several poems and a short story from my feelings at the time. Each goes into a different genre. “Guts to Moon Dust” was a near-future imagining of the ageless story about a dangerous journey to what was promised to be a better life, but which ends with entrapping disappointment.

I would very much like it not to be anyone’s future.

The Importance of “So What?”

My goal is for you to take away at least one new idea….

This phrase must be taught to presenters, because I’ve heard it many times in seminars and classes. I walked away from each presentation with a new idea, so I think it’s a good phrase.

The new idea doesn’t always stick around for long, though.

There’s one idea for writing that stuck around for years after my college Technical Writing instructor drilled it into me: “So what?”

You’ve chosen a topic. So what? What might your writing on that topic do for a reader?

You’ve added a sentence. So what? What does that sentence add to the sentence before it? After it? Would it matter to a reader if it didn’t exist?

You’ve used a semicolon. So what? What would happen if you used a comma instead? A period? Are you even using the semicolon correctly?

Okay, my Tech Comm instructor didn’t go into the so what’s of punctuation. I expanded on the lesson he provided. Isn’t that what every instructor desires?

My point is everything written should answer the question, “So what?” Most of the time, answering the question doesn’t involve thought. When you write a note to remind a friend to feed your cat while you’re on vacation, let’s hope you don’t need to ask yourself, “Why am I writing this?” You probably knew the answer without your conscious mind getting involved.

However, if you write a note to a coworker, a research paper for a class, an article for a magazine, or anything else and get stuck with the nagging feeling that something’s WRONG, then reach for the caged So-What to throw at your writing. Allow So-What to nibble on your words, sniff at your concepts, and claw at your intentions.

Use So-What to expose where you haven’t shown remarkable talent at predicting readers’ thoughts and feelings. Indeed, So-What is the helpful offspring of Who’s-Your-Audience. When So-What turns from your words and could-become-words to bark its question, it’s really telling you to remember what your audience wants, needs, and expects. Those are what define your audience. Acknowledge So-What’s mommy by answering its question.

If you remember this, I’ll be happy. After all, my goal is for you to take at least one new idea from this blog today.


A similar post with the same title was published in 2009.

 

IWSG: To Live the Writing Dream

Let’s play a game. Imagine. Role-play. How would you describe your future writer self, your life and what it looks and feels like if you were living the dream? Or if you are already there, what does it look and feel like? Tell the rest of us. What would you change or improve?

Imagine a better future. That’s an interesting challenge.

For me, part of the challenge is to decide whether or not to imagine I am living with all of the disabilities and marginalization of today. Politics will obviously play a part in the reality. We are not supposed to discuss political topics within IWSG, so in this post, I will simply imagine a political environment that has not significantly worsened so that where I live in this future scenario can provide my preferred social services.

My Successful Future

In my ideal future, I am living in comfortable home. Perhaps it is a 2,000-square feet house on a sizeable piece of property, enough for watching the wildlife in mature trees. No smokers live in the neighborhood, as far as I’m aware. I can walk during writing breaks around my property or down the street without worrying about attacks from dogs or humans. A bus or light rail stop is nearby for errands, because a writer needs groceries and meetups.

The city where I live contains restaurants where it’s safe for me to eat. I meet up with critique partners for coffee (or their drink of choice). Writing groups organize regular gatherings. Bookstores–and there are several–and libraries–including one where I am a frequent visitor– hold wonderful events where I can give readings, sign books, and talk to audience members.

I’m making enough money to attend a few literary conferences or conventions a year.

The cause of my perpetual back pain and fatigue was identified and treated. I have access to decent healthcare and use it as needed. What this means for my schedule is that I can write everyday at the most efficient times for creativity, such as from early morning to lunch then in the late evening, instead of squeezing in lines at the least agonizing times. Most likely, Mondays through Fridays, I start with novel scenes, tackle poetry in the transition to making lunch, and end the day with short story

Mid-afternoon is when I check social media and take care of household chores. The early evening and weekends are when I can give the most attention to my child.

My child, by the way, attends a safe public school where the teachers prioritize her (and all the students’) well-being. We do not need to spend too many hours each week on educational projects. She can play without having to compete, as she friends who we both can trust. We create together.

I write everywhere on a tablet in my home and while on trips. However, I keep a clean desk with a computer in my home library (perhaps 20% of the house space for all the bookcases).

What Am I Writing?

Novels. Short stories. Poems. A mixture of mundane fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and horror (because I appear to be incapable of avoiding it). The occasional autobiographical piece, and related essays.

Not all of what I write is published, yet enough goes out to an eager audience that I can talk with confidence about my projects.

My novels and/or short stories are nominated for awards. When I release a poetry chapbook, someone I have never met both buys it and reviews it.

Changes That Lead to This Future

In our present time, my house is about 1,200 square feet on a nice property in a relatively peaceful neighborhood. This residence is considerably safer than our previous house, which had been lacking modern air conditioning (problematic for concentrating during record-breaking heat waves), had been surrounded by cigarette smokers (troublesome for allergy management and infant care), and periodically swarmed by loose, aggressive dogs that would provide a distraction during writing breaks but not allow for any rest. There has been progress, in that I can now sit either inside or outside at home most days without fearing an attack.

Part of that safety comes from remaining reclusive, however. My current community is poor, conservative in the rural “We want to return to the 1950s!” kind of way, and unsupportive of authors. We have no public transportation, no restaurants or coffee shops that can accommodate special needs, no bookstores, one small group of mostly transplanted and cautious writers, few medical resources, and not the best shopping options. (Supplies and new clothes for public events are purchased online when the internet connection isn’t too slow.) Not mentioned above is that the literary conventions I want to reach would be either in a nearby metro area or easily accessible through that city. Where I live is several hours away from those options.

The hard truth is that for part of my dream, I will need to move, again. My happiest dreams are in the Pacific Northwest, close to where I grew up. That is on the opposite side of North America, and that will be expensive move. My spouse might not go with me.

There is no guarantee that I will be able to access healthcare before it’s too late. I will continue looking at options, but life is unpredictable. So are death and disabilities.

The struggle to reach my dream that I know how to control at this point is to write everyday. When I can’t work on novels, I try to focus on short stories. When those are overwhelming, I strive to complete poems. Anytime the physical acts of writing by hand or typing are too painful, I aim to read. With too many distractions to read a complete work, I squeeze in writing analysis in my mind.

I am a writer. That one part of my oldest dream has long been achieved.


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Writing as Self-Harm

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has started.  Already, the event has been educational. This post is about what I learned on the first day of November.

I must make begin by making an awkward confession. Looking through an old novel draft helped me understand the strength of my self-loathing.

Writing novels has been intensively painful for the past ten years, despite the previous years of study of the craft. The reason why appears to be in how I latch on to the most difficult stories I can conceptualize–stories that require literary techniques that only the greatest writing masters might use successfully–then tell myself the story should be easy to write.

I was a high jumper way back in high school. If you don’t know the sport, it’s basically sprinting a short distance to jump over backwards over a high bar. Before my time, high jumpers used what’s known as a barrel roll to face the bar during the jump, but people nowadays go over backwards to land on a thick crash mat. The biggest risks of botching a jump are in hitting the bar, usually when it’s too high. Training involves moving the bar an inch higher each time a skill is improved.

The bar could be higher for this jumper.

Writing can be similar to high jumping. For example, the primary skill that NaNoWriMo is meant to develop is working out a routine for quick novel draft writing.

I have won NaNoWriMo before. Pushing out 50,000 words for one project in a month was tiring and frightening at times. However, making a mess with an unusual book I intend to never share in its entirety was fun, overall. That project felt like jumping without any major disabilities over a series of low foam hurdles.

Every novel-length projects intended for publication has been like a bar on top of a wall that’s taller than my head. I’ve slammed against the wall and scrabbled at it, fallen at bad angles and refused help in recovery, all while insisting that anyone who deserves to jump could make it over. I couldn’t see until now that the skills needed for each wall are beyond what even brilliant writers start out with. Talent only gets one over the lower bars.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had much talent, anyway. Innate skill can’t be as easily measured in writing. There’s no actual bar in publishing with a measuring stick of success beside a story. Competition isn’t the same as in sports. Success is too varied; though, on a personal scale, injuries will interfere in almost any activity.

Working on novels has caused me physical harm that I won’t describe at this time. The emotional toll might’ve also cost me a paying career or two. I don’t want to go into what I’ve tried to write, because those are explanations for another time.

I will give a vague but serious warning that throwing yourself into obstacles that are not yet the challenges you’re meant to take on is dangerous. When you’re waking from nightmares with thoughts about how life would be better if you could only figure out the problems in a story, that story was a wrong choice.

Writing, supposedly, is supposed to fun, or it’s fulfilling. Hitting a wall over and over again means you’re facing the wrong direction. It means the wall needs bars as footholds for climbing.

I haven’t been building up for the climb.

What does this new understanding mean for my partially completed novels? I guess that if I were to assume that my advice is good enough that even someone with low self-esteem and weak assessment ability can follow through on it, then I need to focus on building the needed skills one by one.

The walls are for climbing, for play and for work, not for abuse.

IWSG: Early Experiences with Words

Happy May Day! I shared a simple card on Twitter. Oddly, I forget the flowers. What is May Day without flowers? 💐

Blog Notice:

Another thing I forgot was to check last week for the close of Ad Hoc Fiction‘s “Switch” ebook, which included one of my stories. The anonymous contest voting typically lasts a week. I had figured posting a week and a half after the contest start would be safe. However, the period for that edition lasted two weeks. I took down the story when I noticed.

A version of my Ad Hoc story will post again to my blog this Saturday.

IWSG Prompt and Answer

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

When I was in elementary school, likely somewhere within third to fifth grades from what I remember, I sat in the parking lot of Walmart in the back seat of the car waiting for my mom to return from shopping.

She returned in a huff. My dad asked from the driver seat if she bought a pair of glasses.

No. All of their glasses are atrocious.”

Dad was prone to arguing at anything my mom said. This time, he accepted her answer with a shrug.

Atrocious. I collected that word in my mind, holding onto it. Atrocious. I looked it over and felt its points. What a word. A new favorite in my vocabulary but special, a word that needed to be stored away from daily use. Atrocious.

The hundreds of the glasses in the store were all wrong for my mother. They were too ugly for her to show Dad. She’d looked in the mirror and saw conflict, the way, unknowingly at the time, I would through my teens for similar reasons.

The word sounded more mature than ugly and more intense than horrible. Other kids might not know it, but I could consider it as a tool for talking to adults. It had more power in uneven relationships that mundane, egocentric phrases such “not for me” or “I didn’t like them”. The value in the word avoided monetary cost, a topic that always seemed like a jab at a cancerous wound when mentioned.

Despite the appalling feelings associated with it, the word is also beautiful. I’ve wondered at the leading “a”, the “t”  at the leader’s side like shelter, then the rowing to a delicious finish.

Atrocious. That word is as protective as a dagger flashed at predators who need reminders to respect others. Like any knife, it could be used as a weapon to harm someone, but I continue to marvel at it in my collection.

Like an ornate dagger, that’s a word better stored than needed.

dagger

 

 


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The Insecure Writers’ Support Group aims to inspire writing and sharing. Writers are encouraged to express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who “have been through the fire” can offer advice. It’s set up to be a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.

See a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

Tarzan and Victor, Kings of Mystery and Memory

What follows is all true.

The Mystery Cat

Tarzan’s fur grew thick and long. He smelled wild. He had unusually wild traits:

Short legs. A stocky tail. Opposable thumbs. A habit of dunking food in water before eating it. The ability to strategize and lead a group of domestic cats.

We believe he was raised by raccoons.

But Tarzan was a cat.

My sister-in-law’s family lured him away from a city pack of raccoons who’d been stealing trash. He adjusted well to eating cat food (dunked in water as needed), sleeping indoors, and playing with toys.

Years later, one of my nieces was flipping through a book on wild cats. I glanced over her shoulder, amazed at all the unfamiliar species, then stopped her on one page. The photograph of the European wildcat looked exactly like her Tarzan! She agreed but kept on flipping through the book.

I’ve since learned he might have been not only raised by raccoons, but part raccoon. Maybe. Raccoon-cats are possible. That would explain the physical features not reportedly shared by wildcats; also, it would explain why he lived so far from the wildcats he most resembled.

The Talking Cat

Ultimately, it might not matter what Tarzan was, other than a member of the family.

We tend to accept that our pets are whatever they are.

Several years ago, I kept a domestic cat who could speak English words. We didn’t teach him how. We don’t why, but he conversed.

The most consistent words were “out”; “why”; “momma”, for someone he’d once know; and “carpet”, for when he needed to vomit. (He had allergies and a sensitive stomach that took us a couple years to figure out).

We would warn everyone who agreed to cat-sit that Victor could talk. However, no one fully understood what we were warning them about until they witnessed his conversations for themselves.

Tuxedo cat with cream-colored fur stacked on his headVictor, a tuxedo ragdoll cat © A.M. LynnSometimes it was annoying to deal with a back-talking cat.

“Out!”

“No, Victor, you aren’t going outside right now.”

“Why-y”?

“Because it’s not a good time for me to go out with you.”

“Why-y?”

“I said so! Find something to do inside!”

To his credit, he would listen to me.

Sometimes it was annoying to deal with a back-talking cat.

I understand why Tarzan’s family didn’t make a big deal of their incredible pet. When friends or coworkers asked why I wasn’t taking videos of Victor to promote him on YouTube, I’d shrug. It didn’t occur to me while I was at home to video him.

One reason might’ve been that he was what he was–a member of the family. The idea of trying to gain popularity or earn money off a member of the family who can’t consent to it, all while I couldn’t predict what negative consequences would come of that, was uncomfortable.

What mattered to us was how we could take care of Victor. He was what he was–a talking cat, but also, a loving, intelligent cat with fur that felt like a rabbit’s and an unfortunate beef allergy.

Tarzan was whatever he was, too.

I’m grateful to have known them both.


Thanks go to John Lynn for corroborating the facts in this post. Happy #Caturday.