Doubt

•April 27, 2014 • 2 Comments

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Doubt

 

I don’t want to talk about talent. I want to talk about skill. Skill is different than talent because talent is like crude oil. The resource is there. It’s deep in the ground (or deep inside you, to continue the analogy), but the drilling of it—the refining of it—that is where the knowledge, the craft, the skill comes from. Just being a “talented” person isn’t enough. A talent is considered something you are born with. (Or call it “aptitude.”) But if you just leave it in the ground, if you refuse to drill it, to refine it—it just sits there, unused. I feel like I was born with a modest amount of talent.

 

My interest in writing, my passion for it, found me early. I come from a long line of memory-keepers, journalers, amateur geneaologists. So, I suppose it isn’t surprising that writing is the thing I love the most. But my skill… I feel I have a great amount of skill. I can turn a phrase, rock the grammar, and turn out pages of type that is compelling. But my belief in my skill, my trust in my refined talent, is limited. It’s like having a large reservoir of oil beneath the ocean—so far beneath that no equipment could ever sink down low enough to mine it. And I’m afraid that this failure to believe in my ability to succeed has made me an unpleasant person.

 

I wonder often how people with less skill, who have worked less at honing the craft than I have, who misspell frequently and avoid grammar entirely , can be so successful as writers, while I, full of self-doubt and angst about my skill, despite the number of man hours and the amount of money spent for the credentials and study, essentially fail all the time.

 

I have become close friends with failure. Failure greets me every morning when I wake up. It’s my constant conversant in dinner conversations. It showers with me, sleeps with me, works out with me. It’s the critic in the back of the room while I teach students about grammar and the importance of its everyday applications. It’s with me at the law firm, when I’m translating the honest answers to discovery questions into passive voice designed to lessen the impact of a client’s culpability. It’s with me when I meet people who worked at the job I was considered “unfit” to do. Every day, failure and I play a little game where I try to tell her my successes, and she lessens them into dog shit on the bottom of my shoe.

 

The problem with skill is that it opens the way for doubt. And the problem with doubt is that it’s the byproduct and evidence of failure. There is always something else to learn, some aspect of writing to refine. If the poem is great, its performance is likely to be sub par. If the plot is fantastic, the dialog needs work. There is always some skill to hone; there is always some voice to disrupt the confidence gained from mastering aspects of the craft.

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So, while others are succeeding because their belief in their skills outweighs their actual skills, here I sit, glass full of skills and with nothing to show for it. I wish I could step outside myself, discover my brand, become “accessible.” But, I fear that my version of accessibility will never be suitable. I talk too much. I tell corny jokes. I love puns. I use big words. Not because I’m trying to confuse, but because that’s how I talk. I don’t realize that I sound inaccessible.I don’t realize that the way I am isolates people.

My belief in being the best you can be makes anyone who might show me their work feel like I’m going to rip their self-esteem apart and tell them they have no talent. I won’t. Because this isn’t a question of talent. Everyone has talent. Maybe it’s unrealized, but it’s there. This is a question of skill. I might say that something could be more skillful, but I’ll show you how you can make it so, if I know. I don’t always. I have some benefit of experience. I don’t have ALL the experience. And I am surprised by the massive amounts of failure I face every day. I want people to write. It’s an amazing activity that we have been using for centuries to share our feelings, to make sense of our lives and our environment. But personally, I do want to be rewarded for my skill, and for the time I’ve put into crafting writing. I don’t want to play the trumpet. I don’t want to advertise on a bullhorn. Unfortunately, before I can get to the point of reward, I have to silence my nemesis: myself. My doubt-ridden self. I have to make friends with failure, to dismantle doubt, and to say, even if it’s only for a minute, that where I am right now, what I’m doing right this minute, is enough. That even if no one ever notices how skillful it is, the writing and the expression is beautiful and worth doing. Undoubtedly.

 

 

Well…you win some, you lose some.

•April 24, 2014 • 1 Comment

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So, I tried. I stepped out of my comfort zone and I tried something new. And I failed. Failure has become quite a friend of mine lately. So, instead of being afraid of her– this big, smelly, obvious friend failure– I’ll just embrace her, and eventually, try again. What am I talking about, you wonder?

Well, a while ago, I decided to change my blog’s presence from WordPress to my personal website. I suppose for some folks that idea would work fine, like for my friend and fellow writer, Maisha Z. Johnson. However, Maisha is infinitely more popular than I, and so, for her, I’m sure success was inevitable. For me? Not so much. 

The truth is, I absolutely SUCK at social media. I’m awkward, and half the time, the things I want to talk about just don’t interest people. When I blog, it doesn’t seem to encourage people to want to talk about things. Rather, they simply passively sit back and read without letting me know if I’ve hit the mark, or missed completely. To hell with it!

The truth is, whether other people read my writing or not, I still enjoy doing it. I’ve missed blogging in the way I miss journaling when I don’t do it. I’m a writer, and a thinker, and as such, I must write and think. Still, it’s the dialogue I am missing. As a writer, life can be lonely. I don’t mean personally. I mean, I have a wonderful partner who fulfills me in so many ways. But as a writer, I yearn for other people to reach out, to embrace the writing and the conversations the writing strives to introduce and talk to me. Not just as a writer, but as a person, as a thinker, and as a fellow human being. My desire for interaction is biological. As a social creature, I can’t escape from the desire for engagement. Every day, I am writing or thinking about writing. I journal my days, I write poems, I write novels, I edit and proof copy, write on student papers. Writing is such an integral part of my life that I can’t imagine my life without it. Not sharing that thing that I love so much, that thing that I must do, is very lonely and isolating. 

I post pictures that look like the places I have invented in my book on my Tumblr page. I post parts of the story. And still, there’s no one who seems to enjoy reading these posts. I don’t think it’s that they’re not interested. I just think that it’s not promoted well enough or visible enough for most people who would enjoy such things to find them. Thus, my thesis statement above: I suck at social media. 

I will concede, though, that it’s not about how social my media is or whether or not people like what I write that drives me to do this activity. I’ve said over and over again that I write because I must. Because it’s integral to who I am. I will say, though, that my faults regarding blog postings are that I don’t open up enough about my own vulnerabilities. When I do, I feel stupid and self-conscious, which is exactly the reason I must learn to open up about those things.  Because it’s honest. Because it’s normal. And if we writers don’t do it, no one else will either. 

So, I’m opening up about this now. I make so many mistakes every day. I’m silly. I’m awkward. When I talk, I’m quite certain that people just nod and say “uh huh” and “yep” because they have no idea what I’m talking about. Especially my students. But everyone is quick to indulge me. Quick to try to make me feel like the things I say make some kind of sense or resonate. And I appreciate that. 

I wrote all this to say, I am returning my blog from my website to WordPress because I feel that the platform is easier to interact with. People know it’s here and they can avoid having to navigate through all the other things on my site that may not be placed with easy access in mind. So to those of you who have subscribed, but have not gotten anything from me recently, I’m sorry. I suck. It’s out there in the open now. Thanks!

Alaska

•December 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Alaska

Waiting for Sunset

Grand Tetons

•December 4, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The Majestic Grand Teton National Park

GT024 WMK

Obama, Don’t Take My Gun!!

•February 13, 2013 • 1 Comment

Here’s a copy of the Smith & Wesson Newsletter I regularly receive in my email:

Contact your elected officials now!

Smith & Wesson is an American company with a 160-year history that is woven into the fabric of this great nation. We are proud to employ more than 1,600 people who manufacture our products right here in America. We are a strong and proud supporter of the U.S. Constitution and its amendments, particularly the Second Amendment and the rights that it affords U.S. citizens. We support a comprehensive approach to preventing violence in our communities and a thorough evaluation of the challenges we face. However, like you, we do not support an erosion of fundamental rights in the process.

If you share this view, join with us and our law-abiding customers as we stand up and make our voices heard. This issue affects each of us, so please do not delay in letting your elected officials know that you value your rights, and they should as well.

Let Your Voice Be Heard: Please click on one of the buttons or links for an easy way to tell your elected officials that you care about the right to keep and bear arms. The Take Action Now! button allows you to send a prepared email letter quickly and easily. The Find Your Representatives button has detailed contact information for each of your legislators so, if you prefer, you can call them or write a personal letter.

Help Others Generate Support: Forward the link to your friends and ask them to register their support and send letters as well. Click here to email this web page to your friends.

Please take action now.

And here is my response to it:

Dear Smith and Wesson:

Would you relax? No one is taking away anyone’s right to bear arms. I love my firearm. I enjoy having the right to carry it. But, seriously. A ban on automatic assault weapons (which are unnecessary to the average American) is not a ban on all weapons. Requiring people to prove that they are responsible citizens before they are allowed a firearm is not a bad idea. Requiring special hoops for law-abiding gun collectors to go through is not persecution. Updating the database of gun owners and making the information therein more effective to use and access for violence prevention is not an assault on America’s second amendment rights. Why don’t you just stop freaking out and admit that you are worried about how not being able to sell automatic assault weapons will affect your bottom line? Why not just tell the truth that you feel worried your company might lose a little money in the process of making America safer from people who shouldn’t own guns? Quit trying to make everyone freak out about the non-issue of regulation…WHICH even the NRA itself supported in the late 1990’s! Become a part of the national conversation and stop trying to make this common-sense regulation a national debate. Seriously. Enough is enough.

Best Regards,

Heather K. Rainey
Proud Gun Owner and Political Moderate

I love my gun. I really do. I enjoy firing it. I like its heft. I like the way it feels in my hand. And I appreciate my right to carry it. But what’s the deal with so many people freaking out and thinking that just because the government wants to put some limits on what is acceptable that you are no longer going to have the right to own a gun? Obama has said that he’s not taking your guns. So stop freaking out. Everyone needs boundaries and limits. Parents do that for their children (if they’re any good) and the law does that for the rest of us. So really, stop losing your head over this. And if you don’t like the law, EVERYONE, stop committing crimes. But we all know…THAT’S not possible.

Tomorrow!

•February 7, 2013 • 2 Comments

Sometimes, staring at a blank screen in wordpress is more intimidating to me than the blank page at the start of writing a novel. I’ve been away from blogging since last year! Granted it was “only” November, but to the seasoned blogger, it might as well have been a year. It’s not that I’m not serious about blogging, it’s just that I’m serious about every other thing I do. I have to distribute my passion evenly, and with my job being as emotionally demanding as it is, I have been displaying more passion there than anywhere else.  But, tomorrow, it’s finally here! My first community education creative writing class! I have my first lesson planned, but I’m still nervous about whether or not anyone is going to come and whether or not things are going to go smoothly. I feel excited about all the things I can do if I get a chance to rocket this class into success. I haven’t had many email responses regarding the class even though I’ve put up posters and the like. Most of my interest has been through word of mouth,but I won’t know who’s planning to show up until tomorrow when I’m standing in the front of the class. Wish me luck!

Symphony for the Derelict

•November 22, 2012 • Leave a Comment

First Movement: The Train
 
 
The imbroglio thickens
to a new strain in the orchestra.
Moderato: the train

weaving a silver ladder into the city.
Dove sono i bei momenti?

 

Where are the beautiful moments?

 

A wife, no breath for the reed pipe.
A son, never a son.
But a daughter, yes. I have a daughter
making a mess of her life.
 
The imbroglio thickens
to a new strain in the orchestra.
 
the Derelict is going to Denver.
He’s high
and he’s going to the Mile High City.
 
But he reeks of despair
and his bags and grey-wire beard
say he’s going to 24th and Mission.
Say he’s going to have another drink.
 
Don’t go there, he says,
Pretty lady like you. All
the bums go to the Mission.
 
But I am going to the Mission
to a new strain in the orchestra.
On the train that weaves a silver ladder
into San Francisco.
 
Dove sono i bei momenti?
 
The sun over the shipyards,
a herd of steel dromedaries
(some bending over the bay
bowing their industrious heads for a drink)?
A lexicon of litter, bandied about
on the pavement like parchment
 
where something about ourselves is written?
How we buy—how and what?
How we hear—but never listen?
 
Where are the beautiful moments?
When he says opera and nods
like he knows I have a satchel full of poetry.
 
The train screams,
the hobo still eulogizing.
A wife, no breath for the reed pipe.
A son, never a son.
But a daughter? Yes. I have a daughter.
You remind me of her.
 
Dove sono i bei momenti?
Where is my daughter?
 
 
Second Movement: The House
 
 

On Marin, the house is sinking
in to blue flowering waves,
bowsprit sunk into the garden,
foundation into foxglove,
stairway into scarlet leaves.
 
Upon the catstep of the steep hill,
crow’s nest and cupola, fallen.
 
On the prow, half-submerged
in green-electric grass,
the poet, wave-hounded from his cabin,
himself lashed to the mast,
and over starboard side looked out
upon the billows.
 
On Marin, the house is sinking.
 
The joists unseal,
the ceiling peels
The Poet’s rib bones brittle.
 
The plumbing clotted
in the brain
copper-piped and aged;
under façade, under skin:
 
decayed.
 
On Marin, the house is sinking.
Upon the catstep of the steep hill
into blue-flowering waves
crow’s nest and cupola,
fallen.
 

Interlude

•November 22, 2012 • 1 Comment

Wow! I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted anything! It’s amazing how fast time slips away! Just yesterday, it seems like I was getting back from traveling across the U.S. on my way back from a 3 1/2 year long stint in California. And now it’s been over a year since I’ve been back in Alabama, changing the course of my life yet again… This time, my adventures have taken me towards community service: finally giving back. I have become a member on the Volunteers in Public Schools board as well as the secretary and mentor administrator of VIPS’ Hanceville schools. I’ve also become an advocate for the Youth Advocate Programs, in which I work with everyone’s favorite age group: TEENAGERS. The first few weeks of working with them, I could understand why no one seems to like them. They were moody, loud, demanding, and materialistic. They needed to be entertained every second. And no one reminded me so effectively of how irrelevant these life forms consider adults to be. And yet, it has gotten much easier to deal with them since I’ve been on the job a few months. Teenagerhood is a difficult time. Seeing them every day for my job reminds me of how little I can recall from that traumatic period of my life. That’s what my brain does to trauma. It shuts down. Doesn’t remember a thing. Except for a few random images. It is interesting to watch them formulate new thoughts. To see them come around and try to get to know you as a person. It’s pretty neat to watch them grow. I like my job, even though it’s tiring sometimes. I’m quite far behind in my intellectual pursuits, such as applying for the Ph.D program, writing my book reviews, blogging and updating my website. I have writing samples to do, poems to write, pictures to take, a book to edit, and a whole slew of other intellectual pursuits just begging for my attention. And yet, sometimes, the hours are so odd or my brain is so drained I don’t feel like I have time to do anything. When I do have time, I simply don’t want to. But I have promised myself I will get back into the groove. I spend so much of my life starting over, beginning again. What’s one more time? I’m sure it won’t be the last…

Machinery

•September 21, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Fort Payne, Alabama

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Whatever Happened to My American Dream?

•August 24, 2012 • 2 Comments

So, I realize it’s been a while. I got into a writing bender last weekend, as some of you know, and I finished my novel. Being on a bender is a bit like doing drugs, but without the drugs. Instead of being awake because of meth, I’m up because my brain just won’t shut off. It keeps my fingers typing and working out the last chapters. I couldn’t have slept if I wanted to. I feel lucky to be living out this part of my dream. But there’s still something…something missing. Money. I’m always conscious of the fact that if my book doesn’t make it, if writing doesn’t eventually turn a profit for me, I’m never going to make a cent and I’ll die a pauper. The problem is that so much money has gone into preparing me for life as a writer, so much of my time adding to my qualifications that has been unpaid, that the return on investment is not even close to making my decision to go to grad school any where near financially appropriate. I read an article, a link to which I posted on my Facebook, and will post again below, that states how little “adjunct” faculty are making for teaching. This article strikes me hard because it shoots down everything in my life that I have been striving for. When I was younger, I used to believe that there was a place for me in this world. A place where, if I nurtured my particular set of skills and truly devoted myself to my cause, I would eventually be able to earn a living doing it. That’s the American Dream, isn’t it? You grow up relatively poor, lower middle class, and you work really hard. You take the opportunities that are given to you and maximize them. Then, society rewards you by paying you for your contributions. Right? Wrong. Especially if you’re a writer.  I suppose there is some kind of belief that because writing is fun and glamorous, it should be done for free. The countless hours I’ve spent novel writing, writing reviews, writing essays, critiquing work to make it better, teaching classes to the public, reading poetry aloud for entertainment, putting on literary shows and   studying to become better at my trade has been entirely uncompensated. Out of the sixty thousand dollars I owe so far, from my work I have made a total of $245. That’s less than I paid the cellist who accompanied my poetry reading for Works in Progress at Mills College. That’s a Return On Investment of…well you get the point. I’m not that good at math, that’s why I write! Science would probably pay more, though it’s hard to say for sure since our society seems to have a real hatred for reason and scientific theory. Then, I read this article stating how little those in the profession who have actually “made it” earn and it makes my heart skip a few beats. I feel like I’m dying inside really. For those of us who write, there are very few professional options. There is journalism, but the printed word from newspaper is dying, taken over by entities like AOL and Huffington Post, who can’t even be bothered to spell check, much less fact check. There is the writing of human interest pieces, but good luck getting into a magazine with so many people beating at the doors to get in. There’s blogging, but it’s mostly unpaid, unless you can get popular enough to be noticed by anyone with the power to help. There’s writing books, but only fiction pays anything. A good print run for poetry is considered to be 3,000 books, and even if you get that, there’s no telling whether or not you’ll really make anything. Fiction writing might get you something, if you can get anyone to invest in your book. That will undoubtedly take a lot of investment by yourself first. Today, not only are writers expected to write (which requires sitting for hours alone in the room at your computer), but they are also responsible for their own marketing and audience building as well. That could mean investments in book trailers, website hosting, self-publication costs, costly contests, and more. Not to mention, all those uncompensated hours of your time. So, sometimes it’s no wonder that I think, “What’s the point?” And here’s where the language poets have a point in that not everything has to have a point. Were we, as students, expecting closure? Were we expecting things to make sense? Even when I finished my thesis, I had the anti-climactic feeling that the amount of work didn’t match the eventual outcome: a single bound book in a library that I paid $40 for and the final question boiling down to, “Did you sign the right line?” I confess, I didn’t feel much different than I assume a person would feel after having purchased a masters degree online. I shell out the money, and you give me the paper. Only, mine required more work. I don’t mean to say that it wasn’t worth it, but to be honest, education these days doesn’t mean the same thing it meant back then. It used to mean an edge, a step up, the walking through a door to success. Now, education is a luxury purchase. It doesn’t actually give you anything. People look at you and think of your status, monetarily, how you were able to afford it. But it doesn’t make you more marketable. It doesn’t bring you closer to a profitable lifetime career. These days, we succeed in spite of the degree. Not because of it. Since I’ve received my Masters degree, I haven’t gotten one job interview in all the times I’ve applied. Do the employers look at my education level and automatically assume they don’t have the money to pay me? It’s a sad day when I’m considering leaving off my hard-earned and hard-bought degree, because having it makes me LESS attractive to employers, rather than MORE. The fact of the matter is, unless some miracle happens, like the hand of god, I’m more likely to fail at my endeavors than I am to succeed. The deck has been stacked against me, and even the university system, which used to protect the academic and nurture literary endeavors, has become part of the issue. Can we really, in light of all these sad truths, still argue in favor of the existence of an American Dream? Frankly, as much as I love my work, when I look too closely into the abyss of money I’ve spent to get here, and the likeliness of my future failure, it feels more like a Great American Nightmare. 

 

To read the article, click below: 

http://www.alternet.org/education/professors-making-10000-year-academia-becoming-profession-only-elite-can-afford?page=0%2C0