Kim Triedman

poems & other disasters

Posts Tagged ‘writing’

21
10/13

Learning How To Blog — The Hard Way

(This post was first published by Writer Unboxed, 10/13/2013)

 

hairpullingout

 

So it’s T minus 4 months and counting. The manuscript’s finalized, your cover’s been designed, and the ARCs are ready to send out. Even the launch venue has been booked—you childhood bookstore!—and all your favorite people have promised to be there. Your debut novel—the culmination of so many years’ hard work—is fast becoming a reality, and you’re walking on air… right?

Ok, let’s run that one again: So it’s T minus 4 months and counting. You’ve been tweeting inanities, bothering friends with email updates (It’s coming! It’s coming!), and checking your author page with such pathetic frequency that you feel like your own best stalker. You haven’t had a creative thought in months, and your writing output has been reduced to 140 characters a sitting. Your debut novel—the culmination of so many years’ hard work—is fast becoming a reality, and you’re ready to poke yourself in the eyes with a shish-kebab skewer…

Sour grapes? Maybe.

Accurate depiction? Absolutely.

It’s no secret that the road to publication is a bumpy ride for first-time novelists. Gone are the days when in-house publicists beat the path so writers could be writers and their books (like all good things) could magically emerge nine months later. Today, debut authors—from the self-published to the A-lister—must take a leading role in self-promotion, which means doing things most of us never imagined would be part of the job description.

I’m a poet and a novelist, a woman of a certain age. I’m also a Luddite, by default and by temperament: I have a long-standing aversion to social media. Until 6 months ago, I didn’t even know what a tweet was, let alone where you heard one. For me, coping with the reality of pre-launch imperatives has been a mostly demoralizing ride. After much deliberation I decided to hire a publicist—which really helped—but in the end it was still up to me to network, to tweet and post, to book my own readings. To blog…

Which brings me to where I am today. Of all the overwhelming, unnerving, brain-scrambling tasks I’ve had to set my mind to these past months, none has prompted as much visceral resistance as blogging. Why? At the start I wasn’t sure—I only knew that on some level I felt I had no right. I was not an expert on anything. I didn’t teach or have an MFA. I had no experience in memoir or nonfiction. There was no reason to assume I had anything to say that people needed to hear. The whole thing felt presumptuous—unseemly—and as far as I could tell I had absolutely no business throwing my voice out into the ether, and yet…

My publicist sat me down—pleaded with me just to brain-storm. I stared at her glumly. She waited, so I started telling her about my resistance: how false and out-of-character all this self-promotion felt; how I was an introvert, how I needed time for reflection. I told her how social media made me feel manic and unfocused, and how deeply embarrassing it felt to call attention to myself in this way. I told her I’d lost the ability to be still.

Write it down, she said simply.

So maybe I don’t have anything to offer beyond my own anecdotal experience. But what I’ve come to see is that writing it down helps me—helps me to explore it, and make some kind of sense of it, and pull it together in a way that just might be meaningful to someone else. By untangling the cross-currents of this strange and frenetic time, I’m discovering things about myself and my writing that I didn’t know before, and I’m learning that blogging is no more and no less than any other kind of writing. In the end it is all about honesty. Perhaps this alone may resonate, in much the same way a well-wrought poem or a scene or a character may communicate some tiny commonality of experience.

And what I’m finding is that just writing again, just the fact of slowing myself down and allowing words to dance with other words, has been its own best reward. I get to stare out the window at my Japanese maple again, let my thoughts deconstruct until something drops into my mind like a perfect plum. I get to feel that odd thrill of tripping down a sentence which seems to know just where it wants to go, and to play with the sounds and texture and rhythm of the words that go into it. And I get to reclaim—for part of each and every day—that person I was before.

 

For those who’ve had some of the same hesitations as I’ve had about blogging, I can only say that it may actually surprise you. It may, in fact, give you much more than it takes away. During the long dizzying months of social media overload, it may actually prove to be an anchor of sorts—a stabilizing force in the storm of trivia. The key, I believe, is finding those things to talk about that are already there, occupying your heart or your head, bobbing around every day just beneath the surface.

These days I actually look forward to blog-writing, not because I have a story to tell but because I have a story to uncover. Often I may only see as far as the first few words. Even today, with this post to write, I had no idea where I was going until that first sentence hit the page. And though frequently I revisit my old insecurities, worrying for the hundredth time that I have nothing important to say, I’ve created the space to explore what my mind’s been quietly minding—what’s happening down under, just out of sight.

I still remember what it was like writing my novel—those stretches of time when I’d lose myself so totally in the writing that hours would pass unnoticed. I remember how hard it was to let it go when the sun had finally faded from my office walls and the kids and dogs started clamoring for dinner. Blogging may never feel quite that rhapsodic, but right now it allows me to remember that, yes, I am a writer, and yes, this is where it all begins.

13
10/13

Writing Out of Middle Age

(First published by Beyond the Margins, October 8, 2013)

other_room

 

SO apparently I’m what you call a “bloomer.”

An about-to-be-debut-novelist at 54, I’ve been tripping across this term more and more lately, much the way a mom-to-be starts noticing that all of a sudden pregnant women are everywhere.  I’m quite sure the moniker didn’t exist a decade ago, and now apparently there’s a whole website devoted to us (bloom-site.com), not to mention recent column inches in the likes of The New Yorker and The Guardian.  In any case, it’s a stunning discovery.  Apparently, in some critics’ estimation, by the time we hit our 40s we “writing-elders” are creative dust bowls:  any real contribution to the world of letters we might have made would have been written ten years ago.

So yeah, I’m a bit of an outlier, falling somewhere between the MFA-bearing-hipsters and the…well…deceased.  But while I’m still here, and I can still grab the microphone, I’d like to say a few things about what it is to start making art in the middle.

I didn’t actually write a creative word until I was approaching my fifth decade.  Throughout high school and college, I gravitated toward courses which afforded me the opportunity to select right from wrong, true from false; multiple choice over essay.  I was not a comfortable public speaker; I was terrified of venturing any opinion that might provoke incredulity in my peers or even outright dismissal.  When given the choice I shied away from English and history and philosophy, preferring the safer terrain of the social and physical sciences, subjects one could master given the basic ingredients of time and will.  Years went by, and I did this with life, too.  I lived it safely.  I mastered it.  For nearly two decades I felt like I ran a marathon every day just trying to keep all the right balls in the air.

I was nearing 40 when it all came tumbling down, the weight of all that “rightness” suddenly too much to bear.  One Sunday afternoon I sat out on my front stoop and forgot how to breathe and watched my life snap cleanly down the middle.  A nervous breakdown, in old-timey parlance; a severe depression, I would learn soon enough.  The best piece of advice from that time?  “Write it down,” my mother said.

And I did.

So for me, writing came not so much as a choice as an imperative.  Once entered, it was a place I found I couldn’t leave.  My guess is that this applies to many late bloomers: people who’ve somehow found it necessary to step away from the harsh geometry of their constructed lives – which no longer seem to fit or sustain – in favor of something which yields and bends, carries life’s ambiguities in flexible arms.  There is urgency to this kind of writing. There is a sense that there is so much to say and not enough paper in the world to say it on and not enough time in which to say it.  Once I started, it became the most real of places: the most authentic, the most heady and, in its way, the most life-giving.

I expect for younger writers it’s hard to conceive these days that a person could just pick up writing in the middle of life.  For me it was not only that simple, it was an answer I didn’t know I was looking for.  I’d already accumulated a lot of life behind me: I’d married, had a career, raised three children most of the way up.  I had felt my way through 40-odd years of living but never allowed myself a place to process all that life-stuff:  to unwrap it, sift through it, hold it up to the light of day.  Writing gave me that space.  That stillness.  And what a bounty – like discovering an old box of photographs you never knew existed.  Suddenly, worlds opened up to me, my own worlds, distilled and exquisite.   At just that stage when so much in life seemed to be receding, it was like looking up and seeing things in color, for the first time.

Writing very quickly became my default method of processing my world, something I hadn’t previously built into my life.  I was happier, and saner, for it.  It created a need for itself, and the act of capturing a thing in words – pinning it down precisely – became my way of accommodating it in my mind and in my life.  Interestingly, my identity was not at all wrapped up in this.  I didn’t have anything to prove.  It was just mine, more privilege than responsibility.  Perhaps we late-stage writers may be somewhat less caught up in wanting to be writers than our younger brethren.  Many or most of us have already had (or continue to have) other careers.  Our identities may not be so tied to the idea of being authors as are those who’ve gone through graduate school (often at great expense) with that specific goal in mind.  The writing itself, coming often as a complete surprise in middle life, is its own best reward, giving us a vital new piece of ourselves which never before seemed within reach.

Whatever it was that I somehow couldn’t find in myself in my earlier years – eyes; wings – I have been able to reclaim here, now, in the desert of the long-middle, where I can savor it like a tall glass of cold water.  There is joy in it.  There is celebration.  There is an unmitigated sense of possibility.  And during the long haul that is the latter half of the journey, there is perhaps nothing more welcome than that.

 

08
07/13

Serious Sex! How to Prep Your Loved Ones.

(First published by Beyond the Margins (www.beyondthemargins.com), June 26, 2013)

grandma1The countdown to launch has begun – your first novel! – and everyone around you, from your hair-stylist to your therapist to your Zumba instructor, is hopped up and ready. Your kids are actually telling you how proud they are of you(!), and people you haven’t seen since childhood are suddenly friend-ing you on Facebook. The principal from your old high school just called: he’d like you to come give next year’s commencement address.

And your parents! Oh, God, your parents are kvelling. The Amazon page is up. They’ve pre-ordered 30 copies and invited both the family Rabbi and Great Aunt Ida to the launch. Their daughter, the poet, has finally written something their friends will actually read! It’s everything an author could hope for: the buzz, the goodwill, the respect from friends and colleagues far and wide – that sense of having finally reached some long-elusive station in life…

And yet…

“So, there’s this little scene on page 45,” you stammer.

Your father says he knows the owner of a local TV station.

“You know, the book may not be for everyone.”

He smiles, hard and bright. “We’ve scheduled a small party for you at the club.”

“I mean, there’s some serious… sex in it.”

Still with the smile, but just a heartbeat too long.

So. There’s sex and then there’s sex. We all know this. There’s the quiet grazing of a moonlit breast and then there’s the—

Well, we don’t have to go there.

But the point is, many of us do go there, at least in our novels, and it’s often so counter to what our friends and loved ones may be expecting from us that dread can appropriately be added to the long list of pre-debut emotions. But isn’t that what story-telling is all about? – that freedom to imagine ourselves into anything, or anyone, or any situation. It affords us the opportunity to expand our own physical/emotional boundaries, combine one truth with another, take the measure of what we are and what we know and jumble it all up like so many Sunday casseroles. Take your sexual inhibitions, add a little of his passive-aggressiveness and her flat feet, throw in my tattoo. Toss them all together and what you come up with is someone authentically other, behaving – and canoodling – in ways that only this new individual can behave.

Admittedly, it’s hard for readers not to impose their own knowledge of a writer on the reading of his/her work. How many people are able to read Sylvia Plath without bringing her tragic life-story to the task? And the closer the relationship with the writer, the trickier it gets. When the writer happens to be you and the readers some of your nearest and dearest, the dynamic can be downright explosive. There will be those who automatically equate your narrator’s voice with your own and those who see themselves in what you’ve written. Still others may feel scandalized by your character’s behaviors or hurt by their words. Imagine, for example, that you’ve chosen to read a passage about a character’s nasty break-up with her husband and your newly (messily) divorced neighbor happens to be at your reading. Or your main character has an affair with his hot-looking sister-in-law and your hot-looking sister-in-law’s husband shows up?

I’m just sayin’. There’s plenty of room for simmering indignation. People will take umbrage at things you never even imagined could be offensive. Your agent will quietly bristle at the way you describe the inner workings of the publishing world. Your neighbor will take offense at the ugly living room furniture you describe, recognizing it – correctly or incorrectly – as her own. Your sister will assume that all the emotional dysfunction you’ve heaped on the fictional sister in your book is your way of getting back at her for being the free-loader in the family.

Your husband may want a divorce.

The thing is: fiction liberates us to be NOT who-we-are. Or to be who we might be if only our hair was red or our mother was an opera star or the chickens were dying of swollen head syndrome…if our guilt wasn’t crippling or our cancer had metastasized…if our father was Haitian or our house was condemned or our sinuses blocked. In other words, fiction invites us to step away from our earthbound selves and take flight – in the bedroom or on the soccer field or at the top of the Empire State Building. And while there’s no way to side-step all of the misunderstandings and misapprehensions that may arise, it’s helpful to remember that nobody but you – and sometimes not even you – will ever know for sure just whose bad breath has been paired with whose overbearing boss.

So go ahead – read that sex scene. Read it loud and clear. Read it ’til you blush and your audience starts to look at their shoes. But when the Q&A comes around, do yourself a favor. Ask yourself your own first question – How do I come up with my characters? – and then answer it!

28
05/13

Living on Both Sides of the Brain

(First published by Beyond the Margins (www.beyondthemargins.com), May 15, 2013)

 

 

Shortly after I started writing poetry, in my mid-40’s, an editor looking at my work asked me what it felt like, to write a poem.  At the time it seemed like some kind of test.  I was not a student of poetry, and he was clearly looking for a certain kind of response.  But I answered in the only way I knew how: “Like falling backwards off a cliff,” I said.  The words formed themselves, much as the poems I’d been writing had:  a rush, breathless and terrifying, something that happened to me rather than by me, something I couldn’t stop and couldn’t see coming, like the end.  And when I finally landed after all that free-falling, I’d find the thing I didn’t know I was looking for in the first place.  Not just the poem but the answer to the poem, the final puzzle piece.

This, for me, has always been the ecstasy of writing.  I write because it is the way I come to know who I am, where I am in the context of my experience.  It is my portal of entry, my journey down under.  In post-Freudian psychology, connections abound between the underworld and the subconscious, that domain of the psyche that lies beneath the surface.   The Ancient Greeks believed that our very dreams ascended from this lower region, even though that world itself was off-limits:  the portals were secret – hidden deep in caverns and lakes – the descent itself arduous and forbidding.  Hercules did it, but then he was Hercules.  As writers, our own downward paths can also be hard to find, bedeviled and fraught.  Often we follow them at significant emotional and psychological costs.  But they are our way in, our route to what James Hillman would call our “authentic selves.”  And while the descent is both terror and rapture, the completion then becomes the resolution of the two, a kind of deep knowing that brings its own deep satisfaction.  It is a funny kind of paradox: in order to know, we must walk into the unknown.

gates-of-hell-open

And up until a few months ago these were the places I’d go.  Just about every day I’d sit back in my chair and stare out at the trees and wait for something to happen.  It didn’t matter what was out there; I wasn’t really looking.  I’d film my eyes, wait for the thing to slide slantwise into view.  That was all it took, really – that quiet, the stillness.  Those first few accidental words.  And once they’d found me I was off, tripping down the ladder of the poem like water down a sudden, steep outcropping of rock.

But lately the trees out my window have receded.  In their place I see only my own reflection.  With a first novel and two poetry collections out this year, I have been trying to do what writers also do these days – the other work.  At the suggestion of my publicist, I am on Facebook and Goodreads, tumbling and tweeting, trying to “connect” with “friends” I don’t even know.   I have “followers” – a term which never fails to crack me up – and for the most part I have no idea who they are or how they found me or why they’re tracking me in the first place.  (One recent follower on twitter is listed as “Redhead.  Massage therapist.  Healer.”)   I don’t know what Pinterest is, but somehow I have a feeling that somebody’s going to fill me in.  These things are important, I am told, and I am smart enough to understand that what I saw fit to put out into the world deserves the chance to find its readership.  Yes, I write for myself, but yes, I also write to communicate.  The words emerge with some unspecified “other” in mind – some distal ear at the end of the connection.

But here’s the hitch:  I am not this other person.  I do not like social media.  I don’t like how it makes me feel (oily) or how it makes me act (manic).  I don’t like that when I’m “in it” I exist wholly on the surface of things, or that my sense of my own being has somehow gotten tangled up with endless threads of following and being followed, friend-ing and being friend-ed.  I am patently ashamed of all the checking I now do: checking my email, checking my Facebook, my Twitter, my Goodreads; the activity on my author page.  I have found that there is a grotesquely addictive quality to these rituals, as though with each “Like” or “ReTweet” or “Share” I garner, microquantities of high-grade narcotics are somehow dripped into the feel-good section of my brain.  Twitter, of course, is the most addling and addictive of all.  It makes the world both so big and so trivial you could drown in all that truncated verbage.

I hate that when the first real spring day happened just a week or two ago, I never even set foot outside.

But perhaps worst of all, I feel the need to apologize to my friends and colleagues for taking up their i-space, wasting their time with endless iterations of “Here I am!”  I want them to know that living on this other side shortens my attention span and steals my stillness, dashes any hope of slipping down into my own private underworld.  But I also want them to know that writing is my job, that I see it that way, that I do it with diligence and with ardor, that I wake up every morning and sit in my chair and put words onto page and that for many, many (many) years, I’ve earned virtually nothing for it.  That my husband has had to shoulder the load because this thing I do does nothing to pay the bills.  That publicity may be the seedy underside of writing, but if we believe in what we write – believe that it matters in some way to someone – we have no choice in this bewildering world of publishing but to push it out there.  That this is not what we are – not even what most of us are remotely comfortable with – but that it is the other half of the job.

So these days, I rarely stare out my windows or fall backwards off cliffs.  For the time being I am not looking to be transported, and I worry sometimes I may not even know how anymore once this is all over.  The trees are still there, dressing up and down as the seasons change, but they will have to wait a while longer.  I have not stopped loving them.  I have only learned that every once in awhile I must make certain offerings to them.  And I feel hopeful that after a year or so of this, they will open their arms – and welcome me back.

01
04/13

Hello world

I am Kim Triedman, and I am a blogging virgin.

You’ll have to bear with me. I’m inclined to take this a little slow at first. Put on a little Al Green maybe, even a glass of wine to calm the nerves. The year is young. We’re just on the right side of winter. There’s plenty of time yet to get down to the nitty gritty…

The fact is, this is not what I’m supposed to be doing. This is not who I am. I am a writer, and like many of you out there, I could argue that my passions are being subverted. Certainly I am submitting to peer pressure of the highest order, putting the right side of my brain on sabbatical to humor the left. Compromising myself for the sake of the almighty…….book? It doesn’t take much squinting to see myself lemming-like: joining the ever-ballooning ranks of the newly-published, spinning blog entries like so much cotton candy, filling my head with that quick, nasty sugar-high of immediate gratification.

Now here’s the place where I could blame my publicist. (And maybe I will…just for a minute…I mean, Twitter?? Platform?? Reaching out to my audience??) But truth be told, this is not where I want to go with this. My publicist, Sharon Bially, is nothing but smart and savvy, and I am nothing but glad to have her save me from most of what she spends her days doing exceptionally well on my behalf. I appreciate the learning curve I’m not having to scale on my own by virtue of her instincts and know-how. And in some dark place I have to admit that I signed onto this unholy task when I wrote that first word I wanted someone someday to read. When I conjured up a whole world from one childhood summer. When the first page of my novel insisted itself onto the page. When a poem fell like a perfect plum into my lap. If you’re a writer, you can fill in your own blanks – that moment when you realize that you’re throwing your voice out there into the world…in search of someone to hear it.

So no, I’m going to stop complaining about the fact that I have no time to sit on my front stoop and hear my voices anymore (that sounds more alarming than it is!). And I’m going to stop ranting about facebook and twitter and visibility and reach and target audience and just being that person I don’t want to be. I’m going to try and be gracious now and appreciate the blessing of my forthcoming books.

I’m going to do up my hair and gloss my lips and break out the hooker heels.

I’m going to write a blog.

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