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books

courage, depression, Gratitude, Guest Posts, writing

Navels Are Natural

November 8, 2015

By Caroll Sun Yang

Do you, you feel like I do?                                                                                           

Do you, you feel like I do? — Peter Frampton

Being an artist is like being a wrung out rag, making and mopping up messes, bunched up in the corner, oft hung to dry, wearing history on our sleeves, smelling of our own mammal ripeness and occasionally being thrown in with the real wash. We who soak in alphabets, images, and sounds know that all arts demand that we uphold a fundamental oath to act as shaman, seers, provocateurs, infants terrible, politicians, romancers, therapists, charmers, jokesters, witches, pioneers, maniacs, hookers… and all of this sexily to boot. If we fail at these tasks, oh arduous hours flecked with blessed golden play, then our lives will seem utterly wasted. Our creative callings failed. Leaks in the hot tin roofs. Ancient toilets stopped up. Lives less lived. Muzzled. We are about to blow!

If I seem melodramatic and insecure, it is because I am. In this lowly state, I let my mind wander off to pasture. Chewing the cud, metaphorical green juice dribbling down my shirtfront, prostrate in bed, covered in ancient fawn quilting à la Salvation Army, cats fighting at my feet like warm lumps of tangling frisk. My gut consists of Mr. Pibb carbonation dancing with a cheap chile relleno burrito all laced with psychotropics. I burn. I feel strong. Full of jitterbugging ideas jostling into place. Visions. Sounds. Alphabets. Maybe my aura is finally lava.

I am typing on a cellular QWERTY pad, words tumble after one another on an eerily lit screen sized smaller than a maxi-pad (great metaphors abound), my skull and brain propped up on two pillows, growing heavier with each word, double chin at attention, heartbeat slowing to a meditative rate, legs like dumb sticks. My life has been reduced to thumb typing essays on the same devices that boisterous MTV and Tyra Banks reality show participants showily make use of. Their devices announce: “Meet at the holy hell wrecking ball platform wearing sneakers and bathing suits at 8 a.m.! Get ready for a raunchy, mad blast! Today is elimination day.” Or “Be fierce! Today you will walk the runway for anonymous couture designer, winner will be treated to anonymous jeweler’s jewels and full body massages!” My humble cell announces no such sport. At 8 a.m. I am usually shuttling children to school, teeth unclean, sunglasses hiding yesterday’s raccoon eyes, donning paint splattered tee and torn pajama bottoms, breasts swinging free, naked feet, throttling through any drive-through Starbucks. My text messages read like this, “Where r u?” to which I might respond with “Ded.” Or on a decent day, “Writing. XO.”

I run with a pack that the uninitiated might describe as “eccentric” or “off” or “bat shit crazy”. We artists do not pace in straight sober lines, solving problems like accountants, optometrists or soldiers do. We professional imaginers pace the ground raw in drunken lines, darting in and out of reality, occasionally leaping from the sheer thrill of “breaking through”. We inventors, theorists, artists, writers, musicians… struggle, but in the name of what exactly? Exactly.

We are generally benign, somewhat opinionated, obsessive nerds. While the universe propels forward, infinite events occurring simultaneously, we feel caught in its sway. It is our job to mark time/space in unique ways while attempting to engage others. Sometimes we will fail at this; many hours will be lost to intense examinations of life, but some hours we will make magic- magnificently warping perceptions. On days when I feel especially wrung out, halted and alone- I seek out my fatherly path pavers. Continue Reading…

Books, Guest Posts, writing

Scheherazade’s Call.

December 26, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Laraine Herring.

The Velveteen Rabbit was one of those magic stories that saved my life. I remember the line drawings of the Bunny all alone on the hill, splashes of muted pastel colors behind him. The Bunny was so loved by the Boy that his fur was rubbed away and he was no longer new and pretty, but it didn’t matter because the Boy loved him. But then the Boy got sick and he was taken away and the Bunny was left alone.

This was the part of the story that began to take root inside of me. My dad contracted polio in the 1940s when he was the same age as the Boy, and even though the diseases were different, the story helped awaken empathy in me for the experiences of another. How scared my dad must have been to have suddenly found himself so sick! What treasured toys of his were taken away? I empathized with both the Boy and the Bunny, and I wanted more than anything for the Bunny to become real—to become loved alive—and if that could happen, maybe—even though my father’s right leg was shorter than his left leg, and even though his gaze often rested on distant things I couldn’t see—I could love my dad back alive too.

That 1922 edition of Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit was my version of the book. My rabbit. My boy. My playroom and wise old Skin Horse. William Nicholson’s illustrations helped make it mine. When later editions hit the shelves, the new illustrations (lovely though they were) were jarring. That’s not my bunny! That’s not my story.

This seems ludicrous on the surface, but talk to a fan of a book when the movie comes out and you’ll get a step-by-step guide of what didn’t match up and how the actors didn’t fit the images the reader had put in her head. Readers claim ownership of the fictional worlds they inhabit, and rightfully so—they helped to create those worlds using the signposts the author provided through text. The reader’s experience with the story is so intimate and so real that it comes as a shock when another reader has a different relationship with the same story. No one can enter the web of words the same way, and no one comes out the other side unchanged either.

Why do books matter? Why do fiction writers matter? Why is fiction reading still relevant? The world changes, evolves, and by necessity leaves behind what no longer fits. The thing is, stories always fit. They take us by the hand and pull us into worlds we didn’t know existed—not the world of the writer, but the world that was within us. Our hidden interior world, on the trigger of a turn of phrase, can expand into new ways of being in and relating to the world. Our experiences with characters and adventures on the page make us move in surprising ways. They give us a window into a way of life we’d never know or a belief system that challenges us and stretches our capacity to care. The author might have been writing five hundred years ago or just yesterday. It doesn’t matter. The readers are the wild card. Each reader co-creates her own story and makes it personally relevant and then engages with the world from that new, changed place.

Our lives are very different from when that first edition of The Velveteen Rabbit captured hearts. Much of what fuels our economy is not a physical product that we can ship and store. Our productivity is intellectual. It’s artistic. It’s creative. And it doesn’t always sit on a shelf. It isn’t warehoused and it isn’t collecting dust. This is an economy of ideas and of inventions based not on a combustible engine, but rather a combustible spirit. As Seth Godin tells us in The Icarus Deception, this is the time of the creatives, the artists, the dreamers and imaginers. This is the time for magic. But it’s hard to put magic in a spreadsheet. It’s hard to make a pie chart or a PowerPoint slide about its benefits. But make no mistake. Our modern age runs on magic. It runs on someone alone in a room with an idea to make the world a little bit better. Innovation and invention start with imagination—the world of fiction.

Who would have thought we’d go to the moon, or store our documents in a cloud, or type a manuscript from across the room from the computer? Who would have thought, until someone did, and then what had once been purely fiction became the norm. Then the standard. But before it became the standard, it was inconceivable. It was impossible and then someone dreamed it. Someone shook the fairy dust and came up with an electric car, solar power, Apple computers, airplanes and stories. Continue Reading…

Fatherhood, Guest Posts, parenting

Powder Blue Polyester Tuxedo.

October 23, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By Ben Tanzer.

There is quiet. Can you hear it? Just wait a moment. Pause. Take it in.

There is no screaming about toys, Animal Jam, showers, homework, dishes, screen time, or even screaming about why someone is screaming.

No one is complaining, crying, wheezing, moaning, grousing, grumbling, protesting, or bleating. And no one is watching Pokemon, Pretty Little Liars, Kicking It, H20, The Fosters, America’s

Got Talent, or The X Factor. It is quiet, and it is like magic. It is magic.

Noah, the little one, is lying on his back, brow furrowed, skin as buttery as ever, and he is reading Miss Daisy is Crazy!, one of the 20 million books in the My Weird School series by my new best friend Dan Gutman. Other titles include Mr. Klutz is Nuts! and Mrs. Roopy is Loopy! and on and on ad infinitum.

Myles, the older one, is sprawled out on his stomach in our bed, his spiky, mushroom cap hair flying in 50 directions, his long legs splayed everywhere, and he is re-reading, yes you read that correctly, re-reading Insurgent, a book that couldn’t be more in synch with what he loves: scrappy, underdog, outcast girl discovers she is special and then kicks all kinds of butt.

Continue Reading…

Books, Guest Posts, Truth

Inventing the Truth.

September 15, 2014

By Suzy Vitello

I’m a wanderer. I was born that way, or so I thought. But lately, I wonder if “wandering” is simply a compensatory strategy for dealing with chaos. My young parents were barely old enough to vote when they married and immediately combined DNA to form me. On paper, it was sort of a fairy tale situation. They married in August, and honeymooned in Salzburg on their way to Vienna, where my father was enrolled in med school. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, writing

Learning To Eat Bitter.

December 15, 2013

Learning to Eat Bitter by Michael Wayne Hampton

I spent most of my early writing life as a fake writer. It’s part of the natural progression. Humans are wonderfully built to pretend. We adopt what touches us. Pretending to be a writer is an important first step to being one, but it can also be an invisible trap when our imagined lives are too comfortable to ruin with honesty.

My dorm walls were covered with black and white post cards of the usual college writer heroes: Kerouac brutally sad and smoking by a rail yard, Bukowski drunk and weary-eyed in an old flannel shirt, Allen Ginsberg awkward in clothes too big for him, and Flannery O’Connor with bobbed hair. I looked at those pictures every night and felt like I was one of their tribe. I was too young and sure of myself to realize that I’d only adopted their worldview and attitudes, vices and character. I hadn’t done any writing outside of my classes because actual writing was harder than being known as a writer. I was in love with the romantic idea, and not with the work.

As an undergrad my free time was spent in a coffee shop with other writers who never wrote, and we passed our time talking about all the things we were going to do. We were a satisfied self-appreciation society, and all on the verge of great work. Nothing holds more promise than a blank page, but promise is useless.

After I graduated I was blessed to get accepted into a MFA program based on the only real story I’d written in those years. It wasn’t until I got into that program that I found out that talent is another romantic idea, and even if it exists it won’t save you. I also learned the paradox of living as a writer; that you can be live as one without writing.

Here’s the thing. You can tell people you’re a writer and they’ll believe you. You can say you’re working on something, and they’ll play along. They might even refer to you as a writer which is sweet, but also completely meaningless. Writers don’t matter. Only the work does.

There’s a Chinese saying which states, “One must eat bitter to taste sweet,” and that sums up the life of a true writer. If you’re not into eastern philosophy the same sentiment was echoed by the southern author Larry Brown who said, “If you’re willing to hurt enough, you can have it.”

I didn’t “eat bitter,” or “hurt enough” while I wrote two books and read dozens more during my MFA program. Instead I built up scar tissue during all those long fights to rearrange the alphabet until I said something that was true, if only to me. Two and a half years later I graduated with a diploma, but it didn’t mean anything either. Diplomas don’t make you a writer. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do. The reward is in the work. All the rest is performance.

And the work never gets easier. That thing you hope most for, once you have it, will feel empty. Another thing will appear, impossibly far off in the future, and you’ll burn for it until you work and hurt enough to get it. Or else you’ll quit. You have the choice, and if you can quit you should because if you can quit it’s not for you. There are countless people waiting out there for your place who are willing to take the beating.

The world is filled with fake writers just as it’s filled with all other manner of dreamers. These people who are full of promise will post inspirational writing quotes, talk about what they want to do, and tell you about all the things that keep them from the work. Those people are lost until they realize that being a writer is useless; that only the words have value.

Build your scar tissue. Forget yourself. Stay in the fight until there’s blood on the floor and know you’re always just beginning. And also know that if you give up, no one will care or mourn all your wasted promise.

If you have a friend who is still pretending, who hasn’t learned to eat bitter but wants to be treated as a writer, let them. Be polite. You who have been wounded, who’ve been restless and broken by hope, know should appreciate more than anyone how much nicer it is to live that safe, romantic dream.

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Michael Wayne Hampton is the author of three books, and his work has appeared in numerous publications such as The Southeast Review, Atticus Review, and McSweeney’s. His latest collection Romance for Delinquents is available for pre-order through his website or by visiting foxheadbooks.com. He can be reached at his website michaelwaynehampton.com.

How To

How To Make A Life

September 20, 2011

How to Make a Life

 


First:

Take everything you’ve ever learned and everything

You’ve yet to discover and place it in a box labeled Thank You.

Second:

Take a picture of your face and remember

That in many years time you will be amazed at how gorgeous you were.

Be amazed now.

Third:

Find someplace to live.

Make sure it has the ability to let light fall

Across the room in such a way that every so often,

You’ll stop and mouth the words “Ah, sunlight.”

Before you finish dusting the books.

Don’t let the books get dusty.

 

Fourth:

Fall in love.

Touch. More than you think.

Have a child if you want one.

If you don’t, don’t.

Let your child out into the world

Discovering for themselves just how magical

It is. Or it isn’t.

It’s theirs to decide.

 

Fifth:

Get a job.

Remember this job is not who you are.

Sixth:

Do yoga.

Let your body discover what it’s like to move

without your brain holding it’s hand.

Tell your brain to take a hike.

Let your body believe fully in it’s own powers.

Let every person you’ve stored inside your muscles out every so often,

to breathe.

Lastly:

Do things that make you feel good.

Let your joy be contagious and spread through

Your home, your job, your children.

Let it spread through the world

Like a virus so that when you forget it,

Every so often, you’ll catch it from someone else.

~~Jen Pastiloff, after a particularly focused Annie Carpenter class on Sep 20, 2011

Balinese healing waters Nov 2012 during my retreat