May 16, 2022 § 11 Comments
By Nina Gaby
There’s so much to do, “real” stuff, the endless “real” stuff of life that we feel we have to finish before we can go do the unreal stuff. Before maybe a stroll, or writing an observation about that stroll, or scribbling a color found on that stroll. Whatever. We put all that aside so we can finish the vacuuming or the taxes or the real stuff of the day job. Maybe because we feel lucky that we have a day job or a floor to vacuum, we pay penance and we disregard the stroll and the scribbles even though we know they’re important for our health. Then we even pay penance for our health.
And yet today I succumb to the pull of my studio to continue an old series of artwork for my own personal comfort. I don’t even take the time to justify this (after all I’ve had six months of medical tests that included a needle to my head and January’s Covid and February’s GI Flu and March’s Upper Respiratory Flu) so I could have excused myself for my own personal comfort. For a day.
A spate of stinging rejections has left me in front of the TV watching the news with bags of Skinny Pop strewn at my feet, thrilling the dog who licks up the wayward kernels so I don’t have to drag out the damn vacuum cleaner. I simultaneously scroll Instagram for images of others; others who probably don’t have that spate of rejection. I watch them cavort at AWP, which I could have of course gone to, but why.
I finally jump up and announce to the dog, “I’m going to the studio.”
I sit at the table my grandfather made for my grandmother a hundred years ago, in front of the scattered mess I left months ago. The dried up glue, the X-acto uncapped, gorgeous rolls of imported paper unfurling, the blade of the trimmer left upright. So much to get back to.
I tell myself, “You don’t have to listen to the news, you don’t have to witness everything.” So no news while I’m working, just old singer-songwriter playlists with words about Christopher Robin and two cats in the yard, ghosts and empty sockets. No paragraphs, just sentences that I like from old paragraphs maybe in that pile of rejections, in old notebooks, on old artwork that didn’t sell. I think of Sarah Manguso’s comment on the back cover of her 300 Arguments –“Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages.” And I laugh. Maybe I’ll use no words at all.
I smear some gesso and burn the edges of the tiny Italian cards that I’ll use for pages, sticking them, accordion style, in vintage mini-envelopes from the basement of a dead neighbor, and give myself a hint of migraine from the blending stick I use to do a design transfer. Little books emerge from the mess.
Before I know it I’m singing my heart out to “Graceland.” Yelling a bit, maybe. I love it all so. Again.
Nina Gaby is a writer, visual artist and psychiatric nurse practitioner who has contributed often to the Brevity blog. In June she will be displaying her little artist books and mixed media collage with Abigail Thomas and Beth Kephart in a pop-up exhibition — Writers as Artists: Showcasing the Handwork of Abigail Thomas, Beth Kephart, Nina Gaby, and Friends — in Woodstock, NY, at Nancy’s of Woodstock Artisanal Creamery, Friday, June 10th, 12 PM to 4 PM.
February 23, 2017 § 41 Comments
By Annie L. Scholl
I’m not sure how I got the message that I had to write every day to be a “real” writer, but I’ll blame it on Julia Cameron and her book, The Artist’s Way. I read it when it came out in 1992. Cameron suggests a daily practice of “Morning Pages:” Three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing you do first thing in the morning.
To be fair, Cameron makes it clear that your Morning Pages don’t have to be “high art.” You can rant, write your shopping list over and over, whatever you want. She does insist, though, that you fill three pages—every day.
I did Morning Pages religiously—for about a week-and-a-half. Over the years, I’ve tried again and again. Although the daily practice of Morning Pages didn’t stick, the idea that I had to write every day to be successful did. After all, Ernest Hemingway, E.B. White and Maya Angelou did.
To actually write daily, I knew I had to do it first thing in the morning, before the day got away from me. But to write “at first light,” as Hemingway did, actually requires getting your ass out of bed at first light.
Only one problem with that: I didn’t want to.
Now and then, though, I willed myself out of bed at the crack of dawn. With hands on the keyboard or pen in hand, words mostly landed on the page. “This is easy!” I’d think. “I’ll do this again tomorrow!”
But like the promises I made to myself about getting on the treadmill, “tomorrow” never consistently came.
That year I attended a memoir-writing workshop in Colorado with author Abigail Thomas. After that workshop, I was on fire. Fueled by the workshop and a writing group that grew out of it, I wrote nearly every day—until 2016. One day of not writing turned into another and another—and then I was out of the routine.
Nine months into 2016, my writing software gave me the cold, hard facts: I had worked on my manuscript exactly seven times.
That little voice—the one that said I had to write daily—was now screaming at me. But instead of believing it, I decided to question it: Was it really true that I had to write daily to be a successful writer?
Writers like Khaled Hosseini say yes. In a 2012 interview with Noah Charney in The Daily Beast, the international best-selling author of The Kite Runner said: “To be a writer—this may seem trite, I realize—you have to actually write. You have to write every day, and you have to write whether you feel like it or not.”
Cue the self-flogging.
One especially grumbly not-writing day, I reached out to author Beth Kephart, who I’d studied memoir writing with last fall.
“Annie, I go months and months without writing,” the award-winning author of Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir told me. “And so when I do write, it all feels brand new—again.”
Kephart said she has never had the time to write daily.
“What I believe in is the power of holding one scene or moment in your head for a long time, before writing. I believe in urgency—that urgency must fuel the process and the page.”
To hell, she said, with writing an hour a day. “Go with fervor once a week or once a month, or whatever your life yields.”
Buoyed by Kephart’s response, I contacted Abigail Thomas, whose writing workshop had fueled my five-year, near-daily writing practice.
Do you write every day, I asked?
“Not unless I’m already engaged in something, then I write all the time,” said Thomas, whose most recent memoir, What Comes Next and How to Like It, was published in 2015 by Scribner.
“Mostly I’ve no self-discipline unless I’m already in gear. Then it’s all I do,” she said. “It has nothing to do with discipline then. It’s a hunger.”
Bar Scott, author of the memoir The Present Giver, said she only writes daily “when I’m writing something that I’m on fire about and that my whole body needs and wants to express.”
“When I get like that, whether I’m writing a song, a book or a blog, I write non-stop,” she said.
But most days, Scott doesn’t feel like writing. So she doesn’t.
Kephart’s good friend, author Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, doesn’t write daily or weekly either.
“I wish I did,” said Rizzuto, whose memoir Hiroshima in the Morning, was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. But instead, she said, “writing comes in waves—in and out.”
Still, Rizzuto, who teaches at Goddard College in Vermont and conducts writing workshops, recommends her students engage in daily writing practice.
“When you write every day, you do capture more of those stray ideas that are waiting to be used, and you avoid the fear—writer’s block is fear after all—that you can’t write, that you won’t be able to write ever again, or at least not anything as good as what you have written.”
Rizzuto nails what’s been my greatest fear: That if I don’t write every day, the words won’t come when I do sit down. But I’ve learned over the past several months of non-daily writing practice that the words actually do show up. Especially if I don’t chase them down.
Annie Scholl is a freelance writer who frequently contributes to Huffington Post, Unity Magazine, Daily Word, and unity.org. A native Iowan who graduated from the University of Iowa, she moved to North Carolina in 2013 with her wife, Michelle. Annie is finishing her first memoir. She blogs at www.anniescholl.com.
February 26, 2016 § 19 Comments
By Lauretta Zucchetti
It started with the discovery of a sock.
I found it in the garage, tucked behind a box of empty Pellegrino bottles I’d been meaning to recycle and several books that were overdue at the library. Just one baby sock, its partner lost, this teeny thing no longer than the length of my index finger, no wider than my palm. Pale blue, with a bright goldfish embroidered on the heel.
This damn sock socked me in my heart.
It was a fragile time, every morning as delicate as glass. My daughter Isabella had just left for college. Life had taken on an unfamiliar routine in her absence, meaning there was no routine at all. With her arrival in the world, I had given up my career and had essentially taken on one role: that of a mother. With her departure, I was jobless and irrelevant. Adrift.
Hour after hour of unstructured time awaited me when I woke up. Rising from bed seemed pointless. Getting dressed felt futile. I was no longer needed in the demanding way I had known for over eighteen years.
I floated through the house, shuffling through the rooms with the hope of hearing Isabella call out my name, asking what was for dinner or where her cleats might be. Hearing nothing, I lumbered to the next and searched for her in an oblique way as I cleaned and organized my way through loneliness and angst.
The pale blue sock I found in one of my cleaning frenzies did not belong to my daughter. It belonged to the ghost of my son, whom I had lost in childbirth. I had known him for less than a handful of minutes, when the nurses finally obliged and allowed me to hold him. I had named him Luca—which means Bringer of Light in Italian—when he was still in the womb. He died on his way out. His death brought a darkness so complete you could have pointed out a star in a clear night sky and I wouldn’t have seen a single thing.
Loss overwhelmed me as I stood there in the garage. I had lost my son. I had lost husbands, friends, lovers, car keys, investments, jobs, homes. My daughter had grown and flown, and was lost to me in the way I had known for so long. And somehow along the way, I had lost myself—the child I once was, and the woman I had known to be me.
Not knowing what to do, I drifted back into the house. I opened my laptop. I created a new document. I started with the beginning, and wrote a single sentence: “My mother was the first woman in Florence to own a car.”
From that moment on, I began writing furiously. I wrote as soon as I woke up in the morning, and just before bed. I wrote during those long, unstructured hours in the middle of the day as my marriage ended and my dog passed away and my uncle committed suicide. I kept notes on my phone, and a tape recorder in my car. Sometimes I scribbled down no more than a sentence or two: An image of my grandmother Ida holding her hand-embroidered purse as she went out for the evening, a ribald joke my father once told, an insight I’d gleaned from watching a child mature and leave home, a snatch of a scene that detailed my mother, obliterated by addiction, in the final hours of her life. I examined my life and the events that had shaped me from every angle—backwards, forward, sideways, and upside down. Word by word, and brick by brick, I began understanding the foundation of myself—of where I had been, and where I would go—from previously unseen angles. In the process, I learned to be mindful of details, blessings, discoveries. And in the process, I felt the raw pain of loss loosening its grip on me.
“We exit ourselves to locate ourselves,” memoirist Beth Kephart remarked in her keynote address at the Bank Street Mini Conference. “We journey beyond so that we might know the delirium and triumph and ache and wonder of return.”
I had exited myself—from knowing who I was, from knowing where I was headed—when I left my career, when I became a mother, and when I endured tremendous loss, but through writing, I was returning to someone I didn’t know existed. And I was happy to meet her.
Lauretta Zucchetti, a former award-winning executive at Apple and Xerox, has a number of brag-worthy stamps on her passport and a set of drums in her office. Her work has been featured on Scary Mommy, The Shriver Report, Literary Mama, Tiny Buddha, Purpose Fairy, Blog Her, Lifehack, and in NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH SO HELP ME GOD: 73 Women on Life’s Transitions. An author, life coach, and motivational speaker, she splits her time between Italy and San Francisco. To learn more about her, visit www.laurettazucchetti.com.
September 11, 2013 § Leave a comment
Happy to announce that our September 2013 issue will be up and running next week, with fine new essays from Jill Talbot, Sejal Shah, Amy Wright, Cris Mazza, Garnett Kilberg Cohen, Mary Jones, Scott Russell Morris, Kathryn Miller, Lisa Knopp, Karen Salyer McElMurray, Kent Shaw, Sally Ashton, Tami Mohamed Brown, Paul Crensaw, and the dashingly handsome Ira Sukrungruang.
Plus craft essays from Beth Kephart, Joe Bonomo, and Chelsea Biondolillo. Also interviews with Susan Kushner Resnick and Harrison Candelaria Fletcher.
Oh, yes, and book reviews too, from Deborah Thompson and Amye Archer.
And the stunning photography of Joel Brouwer.