Writing as Interaction

A little about me. Or more directly, the writing side of me. I see writing as an interaction, an interaction between words, an interaction between ideas, and an interaction between people.

I remember when my best friend and I were in spelling bees and book writing competitions in every grade in school. She’d always land first place, and I would come in second. Every now and again it occurred to me that winning first place would be nice, but never at the expense of the joy I got from sharing a creative activity with a friend.

Now I am settled happily into a writing group of three individuals. We meet once a week, every week. One of us has a masters in creative writing. One of us has a degree in music performance. One of us works as a copywriter. One of us works as a crepe slinger. One of us is the main caregiver in the family. One of us has too many plants. We all love writing.

More often than writing, we are talking. We share about our experiences, our processes, our reflections, our dreams, our fears, our imaginations, and our ideas. We feed off of each other in a way that results in more than what we started with. We are writers. Each in our own way.

Writing is interactive. In my opinion, language was designed for communication. The art of it spans from plain to flowery, casual to professional, and origination to invention. Words are collaborative, even amongst themselves, built upon one another.

I am a writer. I have been since “Hooked on Phonics”, I suppose. My search history is a rabbit hole of etymology and translations. I will prefix, suffix, and root myself into the grave. When I do, I want a tree planted on top and please leave out the formaldehyde. I’d like to decompose. Let the earthworms make dirt of me. With all the coffee I drink, my musk must already be akin to the dark fruit of a cocoa bean. I imagine I’ll dissolve into the aroma of the earth, relaxing into my last resting place. I’d like to be dirt someday, breaking down into the basic building blocks of life. Become nothing and everything. As I always was. As I am. I am a writer.

I am fascinated by words. One of my inspirations was shared with me through a friend, a quote he found in Tom Robbin’s novel “Still Life with Woodpecker”:

“There are only two mantras, yum and yuck, mine is yum.”

Yum. If words do not nourish my mind, I spit them out. I will keep reading and writing. I want yum. I want words. Perhaps I am the last believer now…*

*reference to “Say More, Speak Like Rain” by Arne Ruste

I am Listening

Listening is not a reaction, it is a connection. Listening to a conversation or a story, we don’t so much respond as join in — become part of the action.”  – Ursula K. Le Guin

 

Last week I dropped by my local Goodwill in hopes of finding some supplies for crafting letters to send out to friends and family members. The last time I was there, I noticed stacks of construction paper of various colors and thought I may have similar luck again. Not so. When I got to the craft supplies aisle there was only one stack of brown paper. Not what I was hoping for. However, I decided to make the best of already being there and stroll the store looking for other creative ideas. As I was considering the alternative functionalities of baking dishes, I was addressed by an older gentleman walking by. He had grey hair and a beard to match, and was dressed in something that reminded me of Mister Rogers and a snazzy suit one would wear to a speakeasy on a blues night. I noticed a frostiness to his eyes as I looked up at him, and he said, “I just can’t help but saying, I just love your bright red hair.”

I thanked him and assumed it was a passing comment one makes to a stranger, so I went back to my activity. Except, he went on and started telling me a story. There was something to the quality of his speech that gave me cause to attend. After all, I was looking for something creative to do and here was a truly spontaneous opportunity. I decided to lean into it and listen.

“One day I was walking on to the train,” he said, “and I felt that tickle on the back of my neck and it was saying ‘look behind you right now’ and so I did, and you know what clouds look like when they are rolling into more clouds? Well, you wouldn’t believe it–” he took out his phone and started explaining that he had been a photographer, “well, these clouds, they were turning into hearts!” He showed me photos of these clouds on his phone. Just as he had said, in the photos the clouds were rolling along the horizon, transforming into hearts one by one.

“That’s unreal!” I said. He brought his hand to his chest. “You don’t know it yet, but you just broke my heart. And I’ll tell you why. For me, life is about love. Let me tell you, life is about love. Everything I do is about love. For example, one day I was walking down the street and thinking of all the people I love and who love me in my life and out of nowhere I felt that love fill me up from my crown to my toes. That’s how magical love is. Love is real. And it’s about being. The most powerful phrase in the English language is ‘I am’. Muhammad Ali knew that. He told everyone ‘I am the greatest’ and they tried and they tried to beat him down, but you know what we call Muhammad Ali to this day? The Greatest. That is why what you tell yourself you are is so important. If you go along in life saying ‘I am an artist’, like I do, then you are an artist! And you don’t know this yet, but it’s true. That’s how powerful words are. Words are magic,” he said. “That’s why it’s called spelling.”

What he said reminded me of Ursula K. Le Guin, a brilliant mind who wrote about the power of words. I was introduced to her through her short story “Schrödinger’s Cat”, a story where the perception of words has a direct effect on reality. From there I was drawn to her poetry and nonfiction, finding myself mesmerized by the way she communicated thoughts on a written page. In her book “The Wave in the Mind”, she says: “Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; … They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.” I sure felt that way just then. As I’d listened to these stories, I felt more and more inspired in my own sense of being. I felt motivated to see into myself and be who I imagined I was. I felt full of creative energy.

Before I parted ways with my new friend, I thanked him with a hug for sharing with me. My eyes were glossy from the hope he had imparted to me. The idea of being loving, of being who I am instead of focusing on what I do was a perspective shift I needed. I was surprised, because a solo walk through a Goodwill had turned into a creative act: a reminder to me that people can be wonderful, and words are magic.

 

“So one thing about listening — generous listening — one really simple characteristic of it is that the generous listener is ready to be surprised. You go into [a conversation] with an assumption that you don’t know everything or understand everything, and you’re truly curious — which means you’re open to having whatever assumptions you do bring unsettled, and you’re going to be graceful about that and kind of curious about that when that happens.”  – Krista Tippett

Life Strategy: A How-To Guide

Life Strategy, a how to guide:

First, assess your tools and materials.

What do you have to work with?
This includes things like: energy, strength, education, community, etc.

Second, figure out how to apply those tools to any given situation.

I have X amount of energy for large crowds, and I really really wanna go to a music show, but I know I’ll run out of energy. Maybe I can phone a friend to go with me? Maybe I can plan to go for just the good bits and then politely bow out when I need to?

Third, pretend you can, until you actually can, and then find something new to pretend at until you learn that!

No one was born good at everything. I don’t even think I believe in talent. Maybe some people have genetics that make it easier for their brains to figure a thing or two out, but when it really comes down to it, anything I have learned was figured out by doing it. One foot in front of the other. Making it happen.

I remember the first time my dad told me to call a friend on the phone to hang out. I was petrified. I felt stunned to silence. I refused. I cried. I was so scared. And he just stood there holding the phone out to me, saying, “I want you to have friends. I want you to be able to pick up the phone and call them. I want you to do this.” I dialed the number and after two rings, I hung up. Panicking. My dad handed me the phone again. I dialed the number, made it through the rings to the voicemail. I stammered and stuttered a message. Something about wanting to play with my friend Taylor. I don’t know if I even took a breath. When I hung up, I felt terrified and accomplished.

That scenario is one I have played out so many times in my life, whenever I need to do something that scares me to achieve my goals.

Writing Group Road Trip

Dear World,

Good to see you here! I am writing to you from Portland today. After many miles of driving, we landed here just in time for Wryly’s reading of their first published book: My Ugly & Other Love Snarls.

As far as I am aware, Casey is an expert driver. When we got downtown, she parallel parked with more dedication than I’m used to experiencing in most human beings. We were centimeters away from the cars sandwiching us in.

I quickly established myself as the navigator and organizer of time and how to get from here to there and back again. Since I was thanked for this by Casey, I have carried on in this role happily.

The venue for Wryly’s reading on Friday was full to bursting, as were our bladders, and the lines to the restrooms were of similar capacity. This evening, Wryly was a voice among many readers from University of Hellpress. They purported themself before the crowded audience with confidence and ease, which I hope they felt in earnest.

After the readings, we wandered for food and found a Little Big Burger that offered lettuce wraps for burgers, and we tucked into devouring our first real meal of the day. The burgers were as the name suggests, little and big at the same time. I had two, all on my own. Wryly’s sister had joined us, and there was much sibling nonsense to watch as I filled my belly with monstrous haste.

Goodbyes were said to Ariel, and then a short drive, and we rolled into our resting place after only three confused drive bys, lost in the dark. We were welcomed warmly by our host, Mindy, who showed us a variety of sleeping options. Of these, we chose a room big enough for the three of us to pack sleeping things into, for a proper sleep over.

Mindy helped us arrange bedding and chatted with us, and then decided to head out dancing in hopes of catching some babes. We all settled in with tea and blankets, took some photos of our silly faces to commemorate our sleep over, and then chattered into the night until we dropped off into slumberland one, by, one.

Today we are in a world of overcast weather and occasional rain. Later there will be more readings, but for now, we write, and we wander.

Genuinely,
Monica

 

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