365 Project – Day 283 – __________

It’s days like these when I begin to question myself.

Am I really a writer?

Because I’ve been staring at the blankness in front of me for well over 2 hours now and nada, zip, zilch, zero, a bit fat void of nothingness stares back.

I try to get myself going, try to think up some interesting topic, try to think of something that happened today that might be worth mentioning, but the thinking is just making my head hurt even worse than it already was and I’ve already taken 5 Extra Strength Tylenol. At this point, my eyes are starting to cross and tear up from fatigue and I am seriously considering just calling it a night and going to bed and congratulating myself on making it through 282 days of a 365 Project before I gave up.

Ah, but I come from a very long line of very stubborn stock. I started this project wanting to get back in the habit of writing, and so far it has been working. Of course, I should expect the occassional hiccup. So, I must press on.

I dive in tonight the way I have for so many years, free writing, just letting the thoughts flow from my brain without purpose, without direction, without a well-formulated plan. And when I get stuck…

Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing. The mantra has pushed me through so many difficult assignments, so many bottomless pits of self-doubt over the years. It’s that repetitive voice that has kept me from giving up on this dream of being a writer. Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing, because the words are always there, if I can just find them.

So, what is it about writing? Why does writing survive? Why does it move us? Inspire us? Anger us? Bore us? Why do readers keep reading? Why do writers keep writing? To me,  it has always seemed that life, and writing, is all about reactions. Every day, we are faced with dozens of conflicts and situations that we must react to and deal with and sometimes even overcome, and the best writing reflects that. Writing connects us to our fellow human beings, and helps us make some sense of the choas.

Just think of how different our lives would be if there were no surprises, no conflict, if we could move through our daily existence like robots, never having to respond to anything out of the ordinary. But it’s not so easy. At some point, we are all faced with monumental moments, grand life-changing events in which our lives suddenly do an abrupt about-face. Just think how different life would be if we could somehow be notified of these changes. What if there were bells, whistles, phone calls to alert you of the impending doom? What if we could receive a note, something to tune of:

Please take a moment to stop what you are doing and prepare yourself. Today, your life as you know it is going to change completely. Take a deep breath and sit down if you feel faint. Thank you for your attention.


                                                The Management

Would writing or poetry or art have a place in such a world? If there were no glitches or conflicts or surprises in life, would the writer find it more difficult to create? I think that it is life’s unpredictability that gives writers the freedom to ask that all important question, “What if?” And a writer is only restrained by the power of his/her own imagination. There is not a simple formula to explain what it is that writers choose to write about. There is no list of acceptable or interesting topics for a writer to choose from when they write. Instead, each writer tells a unique story each time he/she sits down to fill a blank page. Topics, themes, characters, style—the choices are infinite. One poet may write about the beautiful sunrise he witnessed that morning, while another writes about a world ravaged by war. For me, that is the most exciting thing about writing—anything goes. And there is always a new story just begging to be told.

It’s not an easy journey, the journey of the writer. As a child in elementary school, I remember how everyone used to say it was so cute the way I was always imagining and writing stories, the adventurous webs I would weave with my closest friends in the starring roles. But sometime around junior high the novelty wore off, and writing wasn’t so cute anymore. It was something I began to hide like a dirty secret.

Later, in high school, I remember vividly the first time I told someone that I planned to be a writer and major in English and Creative Writing in college. She just nodded and smiled blankly with an “Oh, that’s nice, but what are you going to do for a real job?”

Yeah, that one hurt. And I still hear that voice sometimes when I meet someone for the first time and they ask me what I do. As a writer and a photographer, I’m just picking my poison when I introduce myself.

But is writing any less “real” than building houses or waiting tables or selling insurance? Does writing really have a purpose? Or is the writer just a child chasing an improbable dream? And, if writing truly serves no purpose, why does it survive? Why do we still pore over Shakespeare’s plays or analyze Yeats’ poems? Why do people spend so much time debating books like The DaVinci Code or spend so much money collecting every book ever written by Stephen King or J.K. Rowling?

During one of my poetry classes in grad school, we started talked about the narcissism of the writer, and it really got me thinking about the motivation behind writing. Is writing really a selfish act? Does the writer simply seek attention, using words as a peacock uses its brilliant plumage in an attempt to dazzle the audience?


But there is also something more to it.

For me, reading gave me glimpses into other worlds, allowed me to walk in someone else’s shoes for awhile. Reading even altered my beliefs and opinions a few times. On the other hand, writing allowed me to share pieces of myself with other people, allowing them to take a moment to see the world from where I stood. Writing gave this somewhat shy, introverted girl a voice when she was too scared to say the words out loud.

I’m intrigued by this idea of the writer constantly delving into the psyche in an attempt to dig deeper and deeper into his/herself. Just what is it that the writer is digging for? What rare jewel lies buried, waiting to be discovered? For me, writing has always been an emotional excavation, a way to work through pain, to capture joy, to dilute anger, to clear up confusion. Is it healthy, all of this digging and purging of emotions? Or is the writer a tortured soul, destined to self-destruct and die prematurely from stress-related illnesses or self-inflicted means? Is writing therapy, or something more akin to a medieval torture device designed to break down destroy?

For me, writing was always more of a therapeutic adventure. I always had a much easier time expressing myself in my writing. It seemed whenever I would try to speak, the words would get tangled somewhere between my brain and my lips. I could just never quite get it right. But the opposite would happen when I would sit down with a blank notebook and a pen. Suddenly all of the right words seemed to materialize, sometimes faster than I could write them. Writing was always the one thing I was sure of in my life. Even if I never “made it” as a writer, even if no one else ever read or wanted to publish anything I ever wrote, just holding one of my own stories or poems was the closest I could ever come to seeing my own soul, to actually holding a piece of it in my hand.

I was always drawn to literature and poetry for the same reason. By reading the works or other writers, I felt a deeper connection, not only to the authors, but to myself and the world around me. Writers and poets have a way of capturing moments in life that are universal, that we can all relate to in one way or another.

Somehow, the best writers are able to see into our souls and record our own feelings on the page. Like a kindred spirit, the writer holds up a mirror into which we can gaze and see pieces of ourselves. Reading a good piece of writing can be an exceptionally intimate experience, and yet it somehow also helps us feel more connected to the people and the world around us.

Yet even as some pieces of writing seem to speak directly to my soul, I wonder how much of the writer’s message has been lost in translation. And I’m not talking about just the translation from one language to another. There is also the translation from the page to my brain, and the translation from the writer’s own mind to the blank page before him/her.

Words, though they have a recorded definition, remain somewhat ambiguous. Readers are given the opportunity to explore and imagine and create within their own minds. The true beauty of writing lies in the infinite possibilities. And perhaps that, above all else, is the reason that writing survives. In this lightning fast, digital world where we are spoonfed ideas and opinions through radio, television, internet, and media, writing is the one place where we are only bound by the limits of our own imaginations.

And so, tonight’s 365 Project is dedicated to all of the writers out there, all of those courageous souls who dare to dream and to share their unique vision of the world with everyone else. As long as there are writers who scribble words upon pages, there will be readers to read them. And that is enough of a reason to keep writing.

Keep writing.

Keep writing.

365 Project – Day 214 – This Just In…Cell Phones Do Cause Cancer

My friend Christin called me out of the blue today, excited to tell me about what she had just seen on a movie marquee while driving through Yonkers. I don’t know what made me happier–having an impromptu chat with a friend I haven’t seen in ages, or the fact that she immediately thought of me and my blog when she saw this…

See, Christin knows me well enough to know that, had I been driving past that very same marquee, I probably would have stopped to take a photo myself, so that I could talk about the ridiculousness in my blog. This is why I love my friends. It’s nice to know they are always looking out for me.

Okay, so let’s get down to it, shall we?

I won’t lie and say that I am a big fan of Harry Potter. I am married to a big fan of Harry Potter though, so I’m not totally immune to its charms. I’ve read exactly 1 1/2 of the books, and that was only because I wanted to use some examples from the text in my master’s thesis. I didn’t hate it, but I am not compelled to drop everything I am doing to sit down and read the rest of the novels either. Sure, they might be on my long list of things to read, but there are just a whole lot more books I need to finish first.

That being said, I will admit that I do appreciate and applaude the fact that J.K. Rowling captured the hearts and minds of millions–childrens and adults alike–with her novels. That is the kind of literary success that I can only dream of. And what I respect most about series is the fact that it got people reading again.

In our age of computers and video games and cell phones and televisions with more shows and channels than you could ever watch in your lifetime, Harry Potter got kids to put down the Playstation controllers and pick up books again. Hell, it even got them excited about books again, so excited that they would beg their parents to stand in line for hours outside bookstores, just so they could get in and buy a copy of the newest release and read it before the glue on the binding even had a chance to completely dry.

That, my friends, is worthy of knighthood, or a Nobel Prize, or perhaps we should just go ahead and petition for Ms. Rowling’s sainthood.

For someone like me–a writer, an avid reader, and a lover of words–the world is a downright dismal place these days. While television and movies and video games and the internet have all contributed to the decline of reading and writing, nothing has been quite as detrimental cell phones and texting.

Don’t get me wrong, I like texting as much as the next person. In fact, I much prefer texting or emailing  to actually talking on the phone. When Steven and I began dating and sending each other hundreds of text messages while we were away from each other working boring college fairs, we finally caved in and just got unlimited texting on our phones. We haven’t looked back since.

But, for all of my texting, I refuse to give in to the text message language. You know, all those abbreviations and acronyms that people use. Things like u intead of you. Pix instead of pictures. OMG.  SMH.

I’m pretty sure that people cringe when they carry on any sort of lengthy texting conversations with me, because this is usually the extent of my abbreviating…

Papa Shawn is actually lucky that I even abbreviated “G-ma” in that particular text, because if I hadn’t, he might have received four separate texts instead of only three.

I don’t think it really bothered me all that much when the texting language was confined to the world of texting, or even something like Twitter, where you only have a limited number of characters that you can enter at a time. Sure. Okay. Abbreviating under those circumstances makes sense. What I can’t handle though, is the way this texting language has begun to infect our everyday language, slowly seeping from our texts and tweets and into our classrooms and our offices, and sometimes (gag me) even into our speech. There have been several people that I had to refrain from slapping when they actually uttered OMG in the middle of a sentence.

Some teachers and administrators have even begun to embrace text language and use it as a teaching tool in their classrooms, arguing that it is necessary to get the kids’ attention and get them excited about learning.

I say bullshit.

There are too many kids today who can barely read, can’t spell a word correctly  to save their lives, and who wouldn’t even know how to correctly identify a prepositional phrase if it jumped off the page and sat in their laps singing showtunes.

Somehow, between the time I graduated from high school and the time I started teaching high school English, the whole system imploded.

Instead of rote memorization and lengthy reading assignments and cutthroat spelling bees and diagramming sentences until you swear your eyes are beginning to bleed, kids today are babied and coddled and passed through the broken systems until they somehow graduate high school without being able to write a coherent 5-page unplagiarized essay.

In short, we’ve gotten lazy.

It’s easier to abbreviate than to spell things out. It’s easier to pass kids through the school systems than to actually teach them and hold them accountable and mold them into productive and responsible members of society. It’s easier to do the minimal amount of work to get by than to actually put your heart and soul and blood and sweat and tears into something that you can really be proud of. And it’s a whole lot easier just to sit back and let it all happen than to actually go out and try to make a change.

It’s hard to change, but it’s not impossible.

And so, I’ll keep writing, keep writing, keep writing. I’ll keep reading. I’ll keep annoying all of my friends and family members by spelling out all the words in my text messages. I’ll keep reading to my daughter. I’ll keep hoarding books like they are gold. And I’ll keep praying that more writers like J.K. Rowling come along, writers that catch our attention and ignite our imaginations and challenge us to keep on reading and wanting more.

Tonight’s 365 Project is dedicated to finding ways to revive our love affair with words, and to stop the annoying text language from taking over the world. Who’s with me?!

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