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Life is Hard. So What? Write.

Life is fucking hard. It’ll eat you up like a rabid dog chewing at your exposed ankle. Make a mistake or a wrong choice or find out cancer is riddling your bones and things get really difficult, real quick. God, or whatever fuckery created us, didn’t create a smooth path forward (well, apparently that god did and Eve decided to cast us into sin—let’s not talk about how that vilifies women, k?). If you make it any length in this life, you’re going to be bloody and beaten and broken.

Americans seem to make this even harder. Our independence just might be our downfall too. We sure like to blame other people for their problems or predicaments in this life. Social programs and a crumbling health care system set us up to fail harder if we fall on difficult times. But, we don’t worry about those people because that will never be us. Read More

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A Wild Heart Yet Practical Mind

The tattoo I had inked in Prague is just about healed. The memories grow fainter each day. The habits and monotony of pre-Europe continue to fall back into the slots they have claimed in my life. The joyous bits—the bits I wanted to pull from my chest, place them on a table, and point to each one exclaiming my happiness—are giving way to the anxiety of hour-long commutes and troublesome clients. The excitement has faded to the juxtaposition of that feeling.

We all knew this would happen. That high you get from extricating yourself out of yourself, out of the comfort, out of the dullness, is inevitably replaced by the ghost of your life from before. The more significant problem is now you know what’s out there. Now you know that the life you’re living isn’t as big or as lovely or as fulfilling as the life you had a glimpse at. The life that is just out of reach. Yes, this may be dramatic, but I’m a girl with wild emotions; indulge me, please.

I tried to get back to that life. I decided to move to Prague on a more permanent basis. Yet, I failed at an interview with a tech company over there. The kind email that came back from the HR department said I was a lovely human, but my technical skills weren’t in line with their needs. Admittedly, it was a blow to my ego, to the dreams I had been living in my head. And I knew, just as soon as the tech portion of the interview was over, that I wouldn’t be offered the job (tech interviews are funny; they rarely indicate how good of a programmer someone is). I’m horrible at coding while being watched and critiqued.

My hopes had been raised. I thought of how much writing I did on the Europe trip. I thought of how inspired and joyful I was to be in that city. I thought of how utterly crazy and amazing it would be to entirely pick up my life and move to a country where I didn’t know the language, didn’t know the culture, and couldn’t wait to meet it all. Plans cannot be made around dreams, this I know. But it was a way to hold on to those fleeting, effervescent memories from a few weeks ago. It was a way to picture my life so different than what I had come back to, to what I am currently in the middle of.

Funny how a rejection, even one as nice as the one I received, can still mow me over. It’s that proverbial ball that got kicked and builds up speed and dirt and grime and detritus. That ball is at my feet, and each time I look down, there’s a memory of feeling useless and unloveable and unwanted and a bunch more uns that I don’t have names for but instead just have the feelings of.

I am not a depressed woman, but my worth is always up in the air. It is still something I have to battle with to remind myself that I am worthy of a self, that I am worthy of someone else to love me, that I am worthy of a job, a career. Or hell, just that I’m worthy of a warm bed with the Pugger nestled against my side.

My thoughts now, instead, turn to the tunnel vision of my life here. No, I haven’t given up but haven’t I made it clear that my highs are high and my lows are low? I have a wild heart yet a practical mind, for the most part. This too shall pass, as it has been told to me. Everything is temporary, and the only constant in life is suffering; isn’t that what the Buddha said? Or was it change is the only constant in life? Either way, it’s still shit. I want change. I want something different. And once I get my feet back under me (hey, I’m headed to DC this weekend), I’ll get up, figure out the next step, and move forward.

For now, I will sit with the disappointment and the lost dreams. Because I know I will find new ones. They will take the shapes I have yet to find words for. They will appear in perhaps a few days, in a few months; please God, let it not be a few years! This I will sit with, amongst the detritus and filth and observe it all. It’s okay to get knocked down, to have something not happen (or something happen when it wasn’t expected or wanted) because our characters are defined by how we react to outside events.

Disappointment hasn’t ever stopped me. It’s given me pause, for sure, and even questions. But it’s never stopped me (well, at least not in my more mature years. I can’t be too harsh on my younger self; she was one fucked up kid).

Here’s to sitting with the icky bits. Let it fuel the next—well, next whatever!

Image of a sunset outside my front door, taken by me.

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You Need to Write, the App

(Hop on over to the app, if you like: You Need to Write).

So, I built something yesterday. Something digital; it’s not like I can hand you a spice rack and exclaim, “Look what I have built! Look at those butt joints with squeeze-out and crooked brad nails. I built that!” (Yes, I watch a lot of This Old House episodes, and I Like to Make Stuff and frank howarth YouTube videos).

I am motivated by numbers. Depending on the context, they are lovely when going up, rising by the power of compounding interest or more lovelier when they are falling, as with the twenty-four pounds I’ve lost over the past few months. Numbers give me a tangible goal; something to focus on when the doubt and monotony and emotional fluctuations that I tend to harbor kick up and I’m blinded by the doubt and monotony. Numbers are absolute, infallible, immutable. They are something that can be trusted (where numbers get hazy are when the math behind them are incorrect, and that’s usually due to the fallible human behind the math).

Now, I have a goal of writing a novel by the time I’m forty. That’s the first number in this equation. There are 105 days between now and then; the second number. After researching how long a novel should be, I decided on 80,000 words to be my rough goal. The third number for our equation leads to the fourth and final number: how many words I’ve already written, which clocks in at a scant 1,883 words as of this morning. Now, given all those numbers, the question arises:

How many words do I have to write today?

It plagues me. This minimum number of words that I need to write today is a motivator. I am finding out that no one likes the actual act of writing; we all like having written (I don’t know if this is true for everyone but it is indeed true for me). As long as I know what the minimum number of words that have to be eked out of my sleepy brain is, that’s all I have to focus on. 80,000 words are much too daunting!

As of this morning, I know that I have to write 744 words, every day, to meet my goal:

(80000 - 1883) / 105 = 743.971428571

It’s a relatively easy equation but one I have to do every morning. And, when I get up in the morning, make my cup of coffee and pop open my novel, the last thing I want to do is a calculation to figure out what the minimum number of words I need to write for the day are.

So, being a software programmer, I made a little SAAS (Software As A Service) product. It’s an MVP (Minimum Viable Product – Jeebus, don’t you love tech and all of our cutesy acronyms </sarcasm>). You Need to Write is something I built yesterday. The weather was overcast and misty when I started. I didn’t shower. I drank my coffee. The Pugger hacked and coughed and pooped and slept while his momma coded.  Now, when I get up in the morning, I open that website, and it tells me how many words I need to write. Simple. Don’t even need to start my computer; I can view it on my cell phone.

Feel free to use it. I hope you will. I’m not selling you anything or trying to goad you into buying my book (because I haven’t even written one yet!). I just had an itch I needed to scratch, and I imagine other people have the same desire. You don’t even need to log in or share your email address or click an affiliate link. Nothing of yours is stored on the server, and I have no way of knowing what your word goals are. Although, I’m thinking of implementing a login system because I hate that I have to re-enter my settings for each new device and browser. I’m also contemplating adding the ability to enter how many words you write on a given day so there’s a history of your writing schedule, which will also update the current number of words written. Please, give it a test drive and, if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it. Even if it’s negative feedback—especially if it’s negative!

Tomorrow, instead of writing here on the blog or writing code in my text editor, I’ll get back to writing the novel. And, I’ll pop open You Need to Write to see how many words I’ve got to bang out to keep pace with my goal. And, by the time my fortieth birthday comes around, I’ll have given the gift of a novel to myself.

Image of a farm in Carlisle, Massachusetts, taken by me.

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Permission Into the Unknown

I’m currently reading A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit. I started it the night before we left Prague, while I lay in bed, windows open, listening to the sounds of the city fall asleep, a warm glow of whiskey sours emanating out from my belly and the low, rumbly gloom of an escapade coming to a close shadowing my eyes. I am only into the second chapter—essay, really—but something she wrote at the beginning echoes within me:

Three years ago I was giving a workshop in the Rockies. A student came in bearing a quote from what she said was the pre-Socratic philosopher Meno. It read, “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?”…The question she carried struck me as the basic tactical question in life. The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration — how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?

Knowing what I want has been a rare occurrence. Quite the opposite is true: knowing what I don’t want is much easier. The good bits of my life—those greasy, grimy, sublime pieces that stay in my washing machine of a memory—are the ones that I hadn’t planned, hadn’t known I needed, hadn’t seen coming. Those are the times that have shaped me.

And becoming someone else? I have always liked starting over, taking on a new persona, discovering parts of myself that I didn’t know existed. Well, parts where I had a hint of who they were but either I was too afraid to crack open my skin and let them venture out because it ran perpendicular to who I currently was or the resistance coming from those who already knew me. Moving, physically transporting yourself to a different city where no one knows you, allows that reinvention of soul and self. Starting over, starting fresh, shaking off the shackles of familiarity, this is how we grow. This is how we find strength in the unfamiliar and the unknown.

Life has become dull and rote lately; more than lately actually (um, hello? Bear rising has been a common theme on this blog). I had known this before leaving for Europe. I kept it at bay by watching my net worth and career grow. It was easier to make excuses than make change; isn’t it always? Yet, at the end of the day, I still come back to an empty life, a solitary life, a life of ones (one desk, one chair, one bed, one pug, ones…). Looking back through my journals and mining the memories I do keep, not once have I wished for the picket-fence life. I don’t need or particulary want a man; truth be told, I think it would just mask my unhappiness here in Boston for another year. The trip to Europe has made it much harder to continue ignoring the bear.

So, maybe it’s time to get lost. Maybe it’s time to permanently let the bear out. Instead of being in my head and writing about how I’m biding my time, I will write about the great, wide world. Maybe the characters in my head will become flesh and bone on the page with more experiences and quirks than I can come up with by sitting in a cottage a stone’s throw from Walden Pond. Maybe, by losing myself in a different culture, a different city, a different job…something different, I’ll shake loose the stakes and find “love, wisdom, grace, inspiration.”

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The friend I went to Europe with took this photo on our ferry ride from Denmark into Germany. We had been in Europe for two days and the newness was intoxicating. I felt alive there on that ferry; tired but thrilled. I felt wild. I know there was quite a bit of a traveller high going on and maybe I am naive for comparing my everyday life to the life I lived for ten days over there but fuck it, I’m naive. It’s one of the few traits I actually love about myself (that and my ass, ’cause a girl’s gotta love at least parts of herself if she can’t love it all, not yet, right?).

I don’t know what the future is going to hold for me but that feels a hell of a lot better than knowing that I’ll be in Boston for the next ten years of my life, working to increase my bank account and completely depleting my soul. On the return trip from London to Boston, I re-watched Eat, Pray, Love (which is a good movie but nothing like the book). Liz says, “Do You know what I felt when I woke up this morning, Delia? Nothing! No passion, no spark, no faith, no heat, absolutely nothing! I think I’ve really gotten pass the point where I could be calling this a bad moment. And it just, it terrifies me. Jesus, this is worse than death to me. The idea that this is the person I’m gonna be from now on?!” And Delia, her friend, basically says that is what happens to people.

Not this woman. I have healed from my divorce. I have healed from being beaten and smothered and having to always be the responsible one. I have done my time. I am ready to fling myself into the next big adventure, whatever that may be, wherever that may take me. I have learned that I am a capable, smart, and gregarious woman and that I do not need to be afraid of what I do not know. My beautiful, lovely, fat bear is getting a permanent reprieve from her cage. This is not a mid-life crisis; this is a mid-life shake-up, shake-down explosion.

It’s permission to step into the unknown.

Top image of Prague from the Prague Castle, taken by me.

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Untethered

We left Berlin just over an hour ago and are hurtling toward Prague at 160 kilometers an hour on a train. I sit alone, a tiny sliver of the outside landscape blurring past my eyes in the smidge of a window available to me. It’s chilly here on the train, as I’ve come to notice that most of the trains and planes I’ve ridden in these past few days are. The down jacket I have stowed away in my backpack remains packed; I need to toughen up.

I have learned a few things in this past week of traveling and being upended regarding ritual and habit and pattern and consistency. I have been untethered from my mooring ball, adrift out here in the cities of Copenhagen and Berlin. An unsettling feeling was what I imagined I would feel, like being seasick and hurling my lunch over the side of the boat rail. Yet, I have found it feels more like floating in a hot air balloon: weightless and enthralling and terrifying and vast.

There are still three full days left before we take the plane back to Boston and my old life. How distant it seems now. How sad I feel when I think about driving on my old roads, laying in my bed, and living the kind of monotonous life I left behind only six days ago. Can life be altered in a blink of an eye? Can you become sick of who you were when you experience a new way to interact with the world? Can ten days and three countries actually be a life-changing experience?

You who read this blog, you lovely few, know there is a bear inside of me, scrambling to be freed. Her cage is my bones. I have the key. I can allow her out. This trip, I let my giant, slumbering beast of a bear out for a walk, on a leash, tethered to a stake in the ground almost 6,000 kilometers away back in Boston. It was here, in the middle of this trip, that my bear smiled for the first time in a long time. She breathed more easily. She also may have drunk a bit too much those first few nights.

Back in Boston, I have succumbed to ritual and convenience and the trappings of a comfortable life. This trip has allowed me to see what’s beyond the comfort and the fear. The bear, my sweet, giant bear, has to go back to her cage. I know she won’t be happy about it. I have promised her though that this will not be the last time she is let out. It may only be for a weekend here or a week there, but she will feel the grass under her paws. And, eventually, when Pugger is no longer part of my life, she may run free, and the two of us can smash that cage and let all that confined angst blow away.

I don’t know how it will be to go back to the day-in, day-out life of an existence that isn’t particularly happy for me. I’m afraid that it will be easy to forget my time here, the excitement I feel at living a different life, of looking back at the photos I took and just seeing them as another photo album from some distant cousin. I’m afraid the siren song of high pay and predictability will lure me back to the saccharine existence I’ve subsisted on for the past eight, ten, twenty years.

What I want, more than anything, is to stop living inside my head. I want to be out here, trying new things, moving out of the comfort and control, living boldly and without borders. And writing about all of it the entire way, breathing life into characters informed by these new experiences, lit up by the sun in different locales. I know if I bring this up to friends or family, it will sound ridiculous. The wanderlust that has often plagued me like a virus since I was young causes my irrationality. I don’t know how to convey the necessity to step outside of my life. Does anyone else feel like this?

A week from now, as I walk into the office for our staff meeting, my coworkers will ask how my trip was. I can’t pluck this bundle of wishes and dreams and silly ideas from my chest, unroll it on the table, and point to each bit, exclaiming, “This! This right here! I felt alive! I felt whole! I felt like I actually liked myself here!” Instead, I will tell them that it was a lovely trip. What else is there to say?

Make no mistake though. My bear has had a taste of freedom. And she won’t be silent for much longer.

Photo of the Brandenburg Gate by yours truly.

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In the Moment Feels

In between the staccato voice of the announcer, in between the different languages (of which I only understand English), there is the absolute tiredness that comes from being up for twenty-six hours straight, and the sheer joy of lifting away from the ground, the green of London falling behind, and blinding white clouds laid out like a rollicking, frothy sea. I have never seen the lush greens that encircle London. I thought New England was green when viewed from the air, but the green here bleeds into the waters where it’s a paler green. I have traveled internationally now. I have moved beyond the shelter of Massachusetts, out of the comfort of New England, out of the bubble of the United States.

To say spending three hours in London Gatwick Airport now classifies me as an international traveler is to take things just a bit too far, wouldn’t you say? Yet, at the tender and ripe age of thirty-nine, this is the first journey I have taken across the ocean and into unknown territories. I have traversed many a journey in my lifetime, but they all spanned interior spaces and the shattering of long-held beliefs. I have journeyed into different professions, different personas, different parts of my own country. They served their purpose back then. Now, my purpose is to be humble, soak in other cultures, and come away with different perspectives that I had never considered.

Perhaps I am making a bigger deal of this than I should. It’s just a plane ride across the Atlantic, is it not? Honestly, what is remarkable about it? It is a big deal for me now. After a dozen crossings and thousands of miles by plane, train, and feet, it will become old hat. Then again, the naivety and gaiety of my personality haven’t been displaced in all my years on this earth; I still find ridiculous joy in Christmas mornings, in a lingering glance from a good-looking man, playing tug-of-war with my pug. I still cry easily at sad, sappy commercials; tears come quickly and plentifully. My emotions are forever on my sleeve, and there is usually ease in expressing the rawness of whatever emotion is in my heart and soul at any time.

This past Friday, I went out with a coworker who is a logical creature. She admits to weighing the pros and cons of each decision. It is difficult to ascertain how she feels about one thing or another. Another coworker, from years ago, kept an even keel. Never too excited, never too sad. The decisions he made made little difference one way or the other because it was never too much or too little.

What about me, you ask? I am an emotional creature. I am a plane in the midst of a turbulent sky (it so happens we are experiencing such turbulence right at this moment, and I feel like I’m going to lose my breakfast; have I mentioned I’m a bit fearful of flying?). My feelings run scalding hot to bitter cold, full and robust to flat and feeble. You will always know how I feel and where I’m coming from. This is both lovely and horrendous. This fact was brought up as an issue I needed to improve upon during last year’s annual review (“You’re a manager, Selene. You can’t wear your heart on your sleeve.”—I don’t disagree but fuck it’s hard to rein those feelings in).

So, while this trip may be a hum-drum, been-there-done-that for many people, even for those that are experiencing it for the first time, these emotions run quick and deep in me. I feel the weightiness of this moment while I am in it. I can understand the significance it represents to me. I am no longer scared of the world (or, if I still am, then I have chosen to experience it in spite, or because, of that fear). I am opening myself up, becoming vulnerable, learning to live with an imperfect me, smelling like twenty-six hours of plane air and a face grimed with airport foulness.

As I wrote yesterday (was it yesterday? The days feel off right now), I am learning to flow through the fuck-ups. And I am going to fuck up so much more. I will misstep and say the wrong thing and be too honest and love the wrong man and worry that I’m not good enough. This will not stop me. This will not prevent me from living a more full life.

Photo by Nils Nedel on Unsplash.
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Managing the Missteps

I didn’t write yesterday.

I missed another day of writing my three pages or 750 words somewhere. I completely forgot, to be honest. I usually write in the morning: pop up out of bed, make my coffee, and then bang out my words. It’s usually an hour of writing for those 750 words, sometimes less, oftentimes more. But, since I have started my vacation, I woke up later than usual, and the day just got away from me. Oil change for the car, packing, dancing to loud music as I do pack, errands to run. By the time I knew it, it was 9:30 at night, my body was tired, and I just wanted to succumb to the siren song of my bed.

Packing for #europe!! #travel #toomuchstuff #toomuchfun

A post shared by Selene Smith (@wildmindwriting) on

These things, they happen. I am honestly not that upset about it. It’s not that one day of sans-writing is going to prevent me from finishing my novel, writing this blog post, writing my morning pages. One misstep does not need to derail the whole expedition, correct? I wouldn’t turn around home after hiking the first 250 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago and then, when I take a day off to bask in the sun of Spain, call it quits and end the journey (I haven’t walked the pilgrimage yet, but this is high up on the bucket list).

I have come up with a new motto, and since it is me that is writing it, of course, there’s foul language in it:

Flow through the fuck-ups.

How many times have any of us allowed a missed day of exercise to derail our training regiment? Or had a smoke during a night of drinking after two years smoke-free (for those of us reformed smokers)? Or we’ve gained a couple pounds after losing a dozen? Why do we throw up our hands in exasperation and proclaim the end to doing something good for ourselves? I can’t be alone in this, can I? I can’t be unique in this human trait.

And, do you ever notice how we only give up on the positive things? We never think, “I’ve been drinking straight for three years and seventeen days. And then I go and ruin it by being sober for a day. Well, I fucked up. Might as well stay sober.” When it comes to bad things for us, it’s so easy just to keep going.

As a younger lady, I’d let every fuck-up just stop me in my tracks. It would be the end of whatever good thing I was trying to do. I needed a straight run of clean living to consider myself a success, to have accomplished my goal. But holy hell, I’m a human being. I am oh so fallible (oh lord, am I fallible and a complete fuck-up and have done so many things wrong in my life. I’m okay with it. And, if you are like me, you should be okay with not being perfect too).

No more though; no more allowing the mistakes to derail me. Flow through the fuck-ups. It’s my new mantra. I know myself well enough—I should hope so after forty years—to understand that I am, most certainly, going to fuck up along the way. My notebooks have helped me come to terms with this. Not only in the contents of what I write but in the actual notebooks themselves. There are missteps and wrong words and crossed out gibberish littered throughout those pages like New York City streets are after a raucous New Year’s Eve party. I leave them in there. I love them in there. I celebrate their presence; signposts of my journey through this life, head-nods to a more naive Selene.

I leave for Copenhagen tonight. And over the next ten days, as I bike around Copenhagen, write in the Paludan Bogcafe (thanks to Eva for the suggestion!), view the places where the Berlin Wall once stood, stand under the Brandenburg Gate (can I stand under it?), and finish up with bouts of coffee, beer, and writing in Prague, I know I will miss days of writing. I know I will say something incorrectly. I know I just may be a stupid American (does the rest of the world blame all of us for the ridiculousness that this nation has become?). But I am going to flow through the fuck-ups.

Say it with me.

Flow through the fuck-ups.

Doing so makes us more resilient (my most favorite of traits of any human). We become stronger when we move through the mistakes, especially mistakes of our own making. We may not handle it with grace—I always picture myself, arms flailing, swearing up a storm, looking like a gutter girl; I will never be poised and perfect when stepping in doo-doo—but pushing through the mistake, moving through the conflict, flowing through the fuck-up is what matters in the end.

Photo by Daniel Garcia on Unsplash.
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Persistence, Pertinacity, & Patience

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Just outside the Lincoln Center Theater

I’m back. A whirlwind trip to New York City to celebrate an old friend’s fortieth birthday and Broadway debut as part of the ensemble cast of My Fair Lady. What a joy! What an accomplishment! What a long time coming.

My friend, the lovely and talented Christopher Faison, has been in the performing arts ever since I met him back in 1995. For as long as I have known him, he has had one guiding…principle? Focus? Direction? I’m not entirely sure of the word, but he has never wavered in what he has wanted: to perform, to make his living in theater, to get to Broadway. And finally, just before turning forty, he gets cast in a Broadway show at the Lincoln Center Theater.

As I watched him on stage, singing with Lauren Ambrose—a phenomenal performer, by the way— I was struck by a thought. There’s Chris, singing with performers at the top of their games, undeniably talented and skilled, after years of auditions. He has had rejections aplenty. He has supported himself with waiting tables and performing on cruise ships. Yet, this coming week, Chris and the rest of the cast will record the songs on the cast recording, which will be released out into the world.

And it hit me then. It took over twenty years to get where he is. He was persistent, pertinacious, and patient with his career. The boy never stops singing (we lived together in our early twenties and listening to him shower in the morning or making dinner was a treat; that voice of his).  Chris has practiced his craft over and over; it is part of his daily ritual, it is a core component of his personality. Chris IS a performer, no matter if he is on the stage or not.

The realization that I have not done this with my life as a writer also hit me in that theater (well, perhaps a few hours later while I was happily tipsy at the birthday party). Regardless of where that realization popped into my brain space, it became the thing I pondered on in between sips of beer and gasps of conversation with actors and performers and people I had only just met.

Side note: As someone very much an introvert, in a room full of exuberant extroverts, I was drained and gutted at the end of the night. As much fun as I had, I could not do that every weekend.

As a writer, I gave up in my late twenties. It is only now, in my thirty-ninth year, that I’ve written with any consistency. The doubt and fear crept in early the morning after the party as I packed to take—what turned out as nearly missing—my train from NYC to Boston. Am I willing to write for twenty years without any success, without being published, without feedback that I’m a halfway decent writer? What about feedback that I’m a hack? That I’m no good? That I’ll never be a real writer? Can I put the same effort that Chris has put into his career, into his craft? Is my devotion to claiming writerhood as strong and stalwart as my dear friend’s devotion to performing?

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As Chris calls us, “The Home Team.”

The answer actually came surprisingly easy to me. Yes. A complete and resounding Yes. I’m done weighing things by their expected outcomes. I’m done calculating the return on investment I’ll get for putting in number of hours. I’m done thinking like a programmer (“If X happens, then Y will follow, else Z does”). I will write even if the only thing I ever publish is here on this blog. The act is fulfillment enough.

Over these past four months, as I’ve kept my commitment to writing every day, I have learned two things. The first is that I genuinely enjoy writing. I’m enamored with creating characters, with writing here on this blog, with building worlds and fake lives on the page. Something is enthralling about sitting at my desk, throwing a scene onto the screen that is the complete opposite of what I see out my window.

The second thing I’ve learned is that my commitment to writing 750 words a day is not enough. It’s scratching the surface. It’s paltry. It’s a child pretending to be an adult. To claim writerhood, I need to shit words out like the morning after a debaucherous night of sucking whiskey through my nostrils, and a greasy, grimy breakfast vacuumed into the roiling, rumbling confines of my bloated stomach. I need to take my lunch breaks at work, head down to the miserly cafe at the bottom of my office building, and ravage my notebook like a sex-crazed lover. I need to stop playing it safe. I need to pry open my chest like a cadaver during an autopsy, pull out and weigh my organs, and cut the words afraid to leave the confines of my body out from the sinewy tissue.

The plan is to double my efforts after returning from Europe. The goal is the first draft of my novel by my fortieth birthday. The method is to eschew everything that isn’t writing. Double the words, each and every day. It’ll be like NaNoWriMo for the entire season of Summer.

Feature photo by Jordhan Madec on Unsplash.

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Bear Rising

This past weekend, I began purging. It started when I was cleaning the bathroom in anticipation of my mother coming to stay here and watch the Pugger while I’m in NYC. I had allergy medicine that expired in 2016, shampoo bottles half empty tucked into corners, and multi-vitamins that had never been opened (and yet were still expired). Many of these things came with me when I moved from Dorchester to Lincoln, after my divorce and the terrible roommate experience of 2014.

It was time to expunge.

After the bathroom, I moved onto my desk and documents, throwing everything I hadn’t touched in six months out or shredding it. Who really needs eight different micro-USB chargers?! Why did I have three doorstops when I only ever need one at a time?! How many stuffed toys does Pugger really need?!

After an hour going through my desk and accumulating a small, tidy pile of financial documents I needed to keep in the safe, I opened that up and found my early journals in there. I forgot I keep the earliest journals in there. Spanning the few months in 1999 before I moved to San Francisco, California until a few weeks before I moved to Denver, Colorado in 2002, they chronicle a most tumultuous time in my life. The oldest journal is stained with some sort of liquid, and the words can be difficult to make out at times.

I stopped cleaning and chucking and shredding and sat down in the middle of the mess, crossed my legs, and read from the first year until the last. Just three years, from twenty to twenty-three. Let me tell you, I forgot how sad and torn I was at that time. I forgot I had thought about suicide so often. I forgot how wrong I had been about the people around me. I forgot how hesitant I was to move to Denver. I forgot how entirely lonely and terrified I felt during those years. I forgot how much drugs I consumed or how much I drank, to the point of obliteration and a DUI. I was one fucked up kid during these years.

Again, the bear that I write about here on this blog has always lived inside of me. I can see that in my journal entries from twenty years ago. She had been restless since coming back from San Francisco. The time spent on the ranch in Linden, right after San Francisco, had temporarily cleared my head. But now that I was back home in Southeastern Connecticut, she roared to life. I knew I had to move. I knew the mountains called. I knew that I could not be who I was in my hometown. I knew, in my core, that my life did not lay in the daily monotony of southeastern Connecticut.

Yet, entry after entry shows that I was afraid of leaving a financially secure existence. I was working two jobs (a dog kennel and a residential advisor for people with mental problems), I was saving money, I had a trajectory of a career path. I had GOOD THINGS™ happening for me. Why would I give that up, each entry posited, for a life I was unsure of? For a life that may be harder and worse than the one I was currently living?

I knew I’d be dead if I stayed though. I’d either blow through too much coke or drive into a wall inebriated as all hell. I had already had one friend die from a heroin overdose, and that was a significant enough warning for me. I figured that I would move and if things didn’t work out, I’d move back and take the same path as my deceased friend. But, I was going to give myself a chance; a chance to be happy, a chance to be relatively sober, a chance to be a different person than the one I was known as. From the moment the train I was on a few years earlier stopped en route to San Francisco in Denver, I knew that my next life was in the Mile High City.

And so, five days after turning twenty-four, I arrived in Denver. The first few years were hard, getting my shit together, moving forward, embracing my mid- and late-twenties. I stopped trying to escape from my life by drinking and drugging it away. Life became remarkably better. Since my move out west, life has only gotten better every year. Even during a disastrous marriage and the—thankfully amicable—divorce, life has been on an upswing. It is like the population graphs that show an explosion in the number of people born each year.

This life wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t given myself permission to go against what everyone thought was best for me. Those that know all of you still don’t know everything about you. They don’t have the full picture. They don’t know what it’s like to have your soul scream for the mountains. They don’t know what it’s like to feel such hatred for yourself that death is more welcome than another day on this earth.

Looking back through those journals, I wish I had listened to myself sooner. This is a trait I seem to still possess. The bear is rising in me, has been for months, and I still ponder the stupidity of a move when so much is going well for me here. Is a non-committal unhappiness justification enough to uproot one’s life? Is this an inevitable result of a divorced, childless, single lady of the Gen-X generation? Is this just who I am; the feeling that I will always be restless? In twenty years, will I look back on the journals that I write now and wish I had listened to myself sooner?

Do I listen to the bear?

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A Dream Almost Fulfilled

When I was a senior in high school, the movie Kicking and Screaming was released. My best friend at the time and I went to see it at the Niantic Cinemas in Niantic, Connecticut. The movie, about a group of friends having graduated college and resisting becoming adults, became my most favorite movie of all time. Of the two DVDs I still own, this movie is one of them (the other, The Princess Bride, comes to a very close second as favoritest movie).

The movie did alright. It was Noah Baumbach’s writing and directorial debut. But, I could care less about how the movie did. For me, it was a view of my future. I had just been accepted to Concordia University, in Montreal, Quebec as a Creative Writing major. Me, a kid from a middle-middle-class family, having only visited Walt Disney World, now got to leave the country, write every day, all day and, at the end of it, travel to Prague to write.

Where did this idea come from?

Olivia d’Abo’s character, Jane, and her boyfriend Grover, are both writers in the film. But Jane, oh Jane, Jane is going to Prague to continue writing while Grover moves to Brooklyn. I fell in love with Jane. I wanted to be her. When the movie came out, I was in the running for “Class Writer” of my 465-person graduating high school class (of which I received that lovely title and is forever emblazoned underneath a most horrid picture in the high school yearbook).

Jane reflected who I wanted to become. A smart, sassy, talented, young woman who could sort of handle her liquor, unafraid to give hard feedback, aware of her own shortcomings (and pays people for listening to her bad stories!). And Jane was going to Prague. She was following a dream, a desire, a will to write the world from a different city.

I was almost there! I promised myself that I would find a graduate program in Prague for writing. I promised myself that I would write a novel there, amongst the coffee shops in the early morning light or sipping beer after beer in the waning hours of the night. As you might have already figured out, I never made it. After my failed university attempt and succumbing to life in dilapidated and impoverished southeastern Connecticut, I just sort of gave up on writing. Gave up on living too but that’s not what today’s post is about.

Sometime last year, my best friend and I decided to take a Europe trip. We’ve both never been across the pond, as they say. And, later this month, we’re hopping a plane for Copenhagen, then a train to Berlin, and then a train to Prague, where I will spend four lovely days drinking, sipping, and writing. I will write little sketches about the trip; write about my life, my hopes, my dreams, my regrets; write about seeing the Brandenburg Gate for the first time; perhaps even write about falling in love in the city I have longed to be a part of for twenty-two years (although, four days to meet and fall in love with a man may be asking too much; what do you think?).

The excitement that wells up in me every time I think about this trip is almost too much to bear. The novel I am currently working on takes place in the future, but I am using what happened in Germany after World War II, until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, as an example of extreme regimes. It is fitting that we’ll get to see these sites, learn about the history, experience the atmosphere and then, then we head to Prague, and I get to write and sip and drink and fall in love (with the city; I’m not holding out hope for a boy to come along).

In addition to the Europe trip, I’m headed down to New York City next weekend to celebrate my oldest friend‘s fortieth birthday and his debut on Broadway in The Color Purple. Excited to meet a bunch of new people at this party, spend time with him in his element, and just get out of Boston. And then, in late May, I’m headed down to Washington, DC to run a marathon, again with my bestie. These trips are making me anxious for the days to rush through until I get to them. It’s been hard for me to sleep these past few nights.

So, here’s to fulfilling a dream, even if it doesn’t take the shape you thought it would. Here’s to stepping outside of my comfort zone. Here’s to being more than a dumb American (oh no, what if people assume that I voted for that ogre of a president?!). Here’s to learning more about our world, other cultures, and myself. I wonder if I will have changed when I get back?

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Is Social Media Necessary to Be a Writer in the Modern World?

I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I believe that’s the case with most people. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m on the tail-end of Generation X or that my career is smack-dab in the middle of technology, but I am wary of social media. This is especially true after the recent revelations around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. I knew the data that Facebook had on its users was immense; anytime I’ve had to build something with Facebook’s API, I am astounded by the amount of data that comes when a user connects the app I developed to their Facebook account. For this reason alone, I’ve never had a Facebook account (I use the company’s Facebook account when building with their API).

At various times, I have had Twitter, and Instagram, and Vero, and various other one-hit wonders of social media. One of the perks of being a software engineer is that I often hear of new products or services before the general population, which includes social media. It’s also expected of software engineers that they have an online presence and are active in those services. But, I’ve become less enthralled with all these different apps. Maybe it’s getting older or the dialogue that happens on the apps, I’m not as involved or excited about it all.

So, it was with trepidation that I created Instagram, Vero, and Twitter accounts for Wild Mind (I still abhor Facebook and refuse to open an account). I thought it was necessary to establish my online persona as a writer, a want-to-be author. I’ve heard in various podcasts or read in articles that publishers want authors who have a large following online. Look at Chuck Wendig; he seems to be killing it in that space.

As I started following more people on these accounts, I began to get sucked in. Waking in the morning, I’d find myself scrolling for an hour looking at the latest posts, following links, and my emotions would escalate before I even had my first cup of coffee. Instead of writing, I wasted time in a sort of haze of other people’s thoughts and best versions of themselves. Comparing that to me, still in PJs with a stinky pug’s breath in my nostrils, I came up short.

The recent disclosure of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, as well as the State Department now requiring all visa applicants to disclose their social media usernames for the past five years, were the last straws for me. Why am I worrying about a social media presence when I have yet to even write my novel?! About the only thing I keep up with and brings me value is here on WordPress. I follow a few other writers and a few exciting and inspiring blogs. I’ve had the chance to interact with them. Reading them inspires me to continue writing. Mindlessly slurping up Twitter and Instagram only makes me feel less than or bored with my own life.

I am an all-or-nothing kind of gal (have I said that on here before?). I’m awful at doing things half-way, partially, or incomplete. Kind of how Yoda states, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” This is another philosophy of mine. Yet, I don’t know where I fall with social media. I’ve deactivated my Instagram account. I’ve left Twitter alone but no longer have it on my phone. I still sort of use Vero. I’ve turned off the Google Assistant on my phone, disabled location tracking, and stopped all kinds of notifications.

Is it necessary to have social media accounts if you are a budding writer? If I removed them all, would it harm my ability to write? I believe the answer is “No” but maybe that’s not true. It’s easy to make the excuse to use social media as a way to stay informed and up-to-date with authors or as a way to galvanize my will. Maybe the daily reminders from various Twitter users kept the fire on my ass (my favorite was Daily Death Reminder).

But, none of those reasons will put words down on the screen or pen to paper. Masked in my New Year’s resolution of writing every day is that I want to stop being a content consumer and become a content creator (I know, I know-way to use the buzz phrase du jour, Selene). Creating content is more meaningful and is active instead of reactive. I don’t want to add to the noise of social feeds; it all gets lost anyway. I find writing here once and a while more fulfilling. I find writing about Peri and Hyde and Jane and now Gray a more exciting way to spend my time (these are characters in my budding novel, if you weren’t aware).

So, I may just remove all the social media accounts. If some publisher is thinking about buying my book after I finish writing it, I doubt it’ll come down to whether or not I have a Twitter account. Then again, that may be the case. I’m not going to make decisions on something that has yet to transpire, though. I’ll remain content by owning my little virtual slice of land here at Wild Mind and call it good enough.

I’m curious as to what everyone else thinks. Has social media been helpful? Do you find value in it? Does it take up too much of your time?

Photo by ALP STUDIO on Unsplash.
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Writing the Other, Becoming the Other

My grandmother was a devout Catholic. Each morning, she celebrated Mass at her local church. Each evening, she whispered prayers to her God. She kept a rosary in her pocket. Since I was the first grandchild she had, the name I gave her when I couldn’t pronounce grandma stuck with her until her death: Mumma. As a child, I loved visiting her. She was kindness and love wrapped in a ball of sunlight. She is much of the reason I became so involved in the church as a teenager. In my family, it was expected for one to become a confirmed Catholic. Perhaps it’s the Irish upbringing, eh?

But, when I grew into who I was, and my lifestyle became that of a sinner’s, I wasn’t permitted to see my grandmother, not without changing who I was. I have no way of knowing if she would have accepted me; thinking back on it, I doubt it. Rather than cause angst and a rift between my mother and her mother to find out, I stayed away. My grandmother died a few years after the last time I saw her. I did not attend her funeral. The things we do to stay true to ourselves.

It is my grandmother’s undying love for God, her unfailing devotion to the sacred laws, that fuels a few of the characters I am currently working on. For me, I try not to judge someone based on my own values or rules (hey, who the hell am I to impose what I think on you? Do you know how often I change my mind?!). We each come to the spot we are at, right now, through different experiences. And those experiences define how we view and interpret the world. With the experiences I have had, though, I find it hard not to feel certain ways about the Catholic church or judge them.

I grew up in the church. Mass every Sunday, catechism each week, reading one of the first or second readings at Mass. I became involved in the youth group and went on one religious retreat after another, proclaiming the word of God. I’m not sure how much I believed in it all, but my worldview had been handed to me, which as a lost teenager was a welcome reprieve from trying to navigate the world. The Catholic church gave me a framework from which to interpret the events and people around me. The church gave me rules by which to live life. Thank God and praise the Almighty!

Yet, as I grew and learned more and had friends that did not fit into that worldview, I realized this framework was built with rotten timber. God’s rules didn’t allow for anything that wasn’t in His image. Or, at least in the image portrayed in the book that had survived almost 2,000 years. I knew that I was different. I knew that God would not love me for being different. My God doesn’t judge, doesn’t value one life over the other. So, I left the church, haven’t been to a Mass in decades (I do, however, think of attending the Saturday Mass at the local Catholic church in the center of town; I miss feeling the comfort of God’s love and belief that He was always there).

I don’t know the extent to which my grandmother felt this way, felt that anyone outside the box of Catholicism was a sin. But I do know her God and her religion are deadset against anything progressive. Women are still second-class citizens in the church. LGBT people are a blight on the human race. Abortion is a slap in God’s face and having one is a great, big ol’ Fuck you! to the big man. At this point in my life, the Catholic religion stands in opposition to almost everything I believe in.

Using that, knowing there is a dissonance between two sides, is what creates conflict in my novel. There is no right and wrong. In real life, there are many things we can agree on. How to get there though, that is where the opposition comes in. I’m looking forward to writing characters that are different from me. Peri, my main character…she’s been reasonably easy to write so far. I know where she’s coming from. I know what she feels and cares about because there is a lot of me in her. When I get to the point of writing my villian—a loose term here—and I get to think in the opposite direction, that is an exciting challenge.

This is the great equalizer of fiction, is it not? We are given the opportunity to see other’s viewpoints, whether reading or writing. Fiction is empathy embodied in book form. The sign of a good book is one where a reader can still feel the feels for a character that they couldn’t relate to at the beginning of the book. The book is successful when we, the reader, can recognize the motives of a character and empathize with them while still disagreeing with their premise.

Like my grandmother, I go to mass every morning. Except my church is my desk and the gospel is my notebooks. This is my worship. In a way, I am following her devotion and partaking in the same rituals she did. Instead of an external God and prayer, I talk to myself and write. We both believed in something greater than ourselves, which created these rituals to get us closer to our respective gods.

I keep this in mind when writing about why the opposing side did what they did or the motives of individual characters. I remember Mumma and her smile, a white crown of hair, and her fingering the rosary beads in her pocket when she became anxious. I remember her love for her grandchildren, Christmas’s at her house, and the adoration we all had for her. And I place that inside characters that think differently from me. I make them human. I learn to love those who think differently of me, those who actively want to take away my rights, those who think of me as inhuman. I remember that we are all fallible and history will prove that restricting freedoms always ends badly*.

*How do I know this? Much of my novel’s world is based on the history of the Berlin Wall and how that came to be. The restrictions the Soviets and German Democratic Republic (East Germany) placed on its citizens, the amount of pain and suffering they caused, all in the name of Communism and an egalitarian society, is just absurd. Do you know the GDR actually sold political prisoners to the West to save themselves from financial ruin?! Learning about the history of that time is fascinating. And I even remember the day the wall came down so it’s not like it’s ancient history.

Photo by Fischer Twins on Unsplash.
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Move Slow, Find Balance

Finding balance is not something I am particularly good at. For the most part, I am a woman of extremes. All in, fast and furiously committed, singularly focused. When I get bored or tired, or things don’t happen fast enough, I move onto another task with the same ferociousness. The cycle repeats. We are cyclical creatures, are we not?

My attempt at living life this way has proved useful and a bit successful. My career has been a good one, and that wouldn’t have been possible had I not spent sixteen hour days coding. When I am obstinate and persistent in my desires, things move fast and easy because of that lack of balance. I am finding it hard to continue on this path though as work demands (learning new software and impending deadlines) and personal demands (writing a novel and my attempts at becoming a published author) are now a bit at odds.

Within the writing context of my life, there are tasks that I must balance as well. There are finite hours in a day to write (having hours with which to spend writing is quite a lot, I know). Do I write here on this blog? Do I plan my novel? Do I write scenes? What of the morning pages that seem to clear my head and gather my thoughts for the day? Typical me would eschew everything for one singular thing, whether that’s the novel or the blog or even chucking it all to focus on the career.

That, however, is not balanced.

This blog is a way to feel part of a community. It is a way to keep myself accountable, I suppose. There aren’t many visitors or followers; I wish WordPress had a way to hide the Stats page, so I am not incessantly drawn to viewing it (“You like me! Right now! You like me!). What do I care how many people visit and what posts they are reading? The comments mean more to me. But comments infer a dialogue and that conversation can’t start without writing. It’s sometimes hard to bang out 750 words a post (as is the case today). Blogging allows me to take a break from speaking with characters and living in this world entirely made up by me.

This is a balance, yes?

rocky-mountain-cabin

Rocky Mountain cabin, ca. 2009

The mornings I’m not planning out the novel or writing scenes, I write in my journal, which is a lovely break from having to be coherent. The page’s topics jump from the Nor’easter on Tuesday, which bleeds into the storm that locked me inside for almost a week in the Colorado Rockies. Which then gets me thinking about the man that lived next to me and fondly remembering the slightly inebriated, sticky, sweaty night we had a few weeks before I moved. Writing stream of consciousness, sussing out the many and varied feelings I have over a span of time, and gaining tiny insights into how I operate is a valuable experience.

This is balance too, yes?

Then the actual writing and thinking of my novel. If I’m honest, it’s an almost constant thread in my mind; this world I have created and the characters in it. They’ve been trying on different clothes, speaking their truths, telling me about their pasts, letting me know how they feel about the world I’ve built for them. I outline and re-outline the novel and, since this is something I’ve never done before, I think, “You’re wasting time Selene!” I have discovered though that I need to know the major plot points before diving in to write the first few chapters, lose interest, and abandon it. Deliberate action to bring the characters that only exist in my head to become real people with real needs.

This is the balance.

Finding balance means that I will probably not move at the breakneck speed I am accustomed to. My achievements will come more slowly. But maintaining this balance preserves desires. I am less apt to burn out and give it all up. As in my last post, I must practice patience.

(Why must we relearn each hard-fought teaching? Why, through countless days and fretful nights, do I tend to forget? Each lesson is new, over and over again. I am an amnesiac upon waking every morning, fumbling through the same mistakes, seeing the world with new eyes. Being an eternal optimist, at least I don’t hold grudges.)

So it goes. Balance begets patience. Patience begets results. Results beget fulfillment, in one form or another. Maybe that’s all smoke and lies. If so, I’m okay with the balance.

Featured photo by Brunel Johnson on Unsplash.