Archive for the tag 'writing'

The pain of art, the joy of living

NS June 14th, 2010

You know how some artists (whatever their medium; painting, music, writing, what have you) depend on being miserable, sad, angry, depressed, lonely, frustrated, misunderstood, tired, undervalued or oppressed (or all of the above) to create their art? And how when they’re happy, busy, valued, surrounded by people, encouraged and clear-headed, with a joyful, fulfilling and healthy personal, professional and social life, they sort of lose their edge?

That feels like me right now. I’m flailing. I’m losing my ‘art’. I’m losing my blogging mojo. I’m losing interest in fighting the fights I’ve been fighting for so long. I feel less and less inclined to come up with topics to write about, things to get incensed about, news to devour and dissect. I haven’t read the papers but one time since the British elections on the 6th of May. I have read articles that would normally have me writing lengthy screeds in opposition or approval and felt nothing but the briefest glimmers of interest. I log in then I log out. I stay up late trying to figure out why I’m drawing such blanks and get less and less sleep. I become more irritable.

But then one day I just stopped for awhile. I had other things going on and didn’t have time. Normally I’m itching to get back to my ‘online life’ after a brief spell away; this time I had to force myself to log in. I felt bored. I felt restless.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve recently taken up running. I’m doing a 5k at the end of next month and have been going three times a week fairly faithfully. Yesterday my regimen notched itself up from 8 minutes at a time to 20. I looked at what the running app on my iPhone screen was commanding me to do  and gaped. Go from an 8-minute run to 20 with nothing in between? No gentle breaking-in, no gradual increase over a long period of time? Who the hell did this running app think it was, bloody Richard Simmons?! I gave it a wary eye and told myself that if I couldn’t make it, so be it. It was too much to ask, anyway! It would be a miracle if I didn’t need to stop due to bursting lungs or cramping calves or some other such affliction.

But it turns out, I did it. I did it and it wasn’t even that difficult. I could do that run all along but I was holding myself back. I didn’t think I could do it so I didn’t even try.

For the last few years, ever since I had my daughter, I’ve been waiting for my life to find its niche, its groove, its upward trajectory towards success and happiness. But it turns out that you can’t wait for this shit to happen; you have to make it happen. You have to pour your heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into it and then wade head-first, eyes open, into the mix instead of standing on the sidelines feebly throwing cups of water at those racing past you.

Right now I am going through some intense transformations; from couch potato into runner, from a frustrated writer and stay-at-home mum to an independent businesswoman and running-three-websites mum, from distant, grumpy wife to more engaged partner and from a mother unhappy with her parenting practices and interactions with her children to one taking control and doing things to rectify those negative practices, ones that stem mainly from that discontent I spoke of earlier.

Needless to say, something has got to give.

So while I love my art and I love my little corner of cyberspace and the friends, opportunities, emotional and intellectual growth it has provided me, I am beginning to feel that I may be done with Noble Savage. I’ve been going for over five years and I’m not sure what else I can say, really. I’ve poured my heart out, written my fingers to the bone, researched, read, reported, raged, ranted, laughed, cried and gone a little bit loopy in the process.

Maybe I’m not going to get that book deal or journalism job or freelance gig after all. Maybe all I was ever destined to do was write this blog to meet the people and read the things that grew my mind and fed my soul enough to get me on my life’s true path, one that will make me happier, more fulfilled, more at ease and successful than my years-long dream of being a published author or  respected hack ever would have afforded me.

Maybe I just need a break, with no defined return. Maybe  a complete release from the pressure of a blank screen and a full RSS reader will do the trick and when things have settled down with the doula business and the running and getting my marriage back on track, I will have more to say, and better. Hell, maybe tomorrow I will wake up having completely changed my mind and be ready to tear the shit out of some article in the Times or wax lyrical about the highs and lows of parenthood.

But for now, the joy of living is overriding the gut-wrenching pain and time involved in creating my art. And this time, I’m going to let it.

Writing Workshop: House number six

NS April 15th, 2010

The following was written for Josie’s Writing Workshop #20, using prompt number one: ‘Tell me about a time you decided to move house’. I may write a second part to it, describing more about the house itself (which was fascinating in its own right, and just as dear to me as the farm).

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Of the seven houses I lived in as a child, number six is the only one that ever stole my heart.

It was called Shadow Lake Farm and was off a country road, in a country town. We rented the farmhouse which sat on a 362-acre plot of land and could only be accessed by the winding, gravel path that twisted for a quarter mile from road to hearth. I walked up that lane on the way home from school many a time, kicking up gravel dust with my school shoes and shouldering my heavy backpack, unable to even see the house until I was almost upon it. At the height of summer the corn on both sides engulfed me, making it seem as though I was in a crop tunnel. Just the crickets, the corn and me. When I got to the top of the lane I would often turn, one hand shielding my eyes from the golden sun, and look all around me, at the corn and the waving wheat, the scattered masses of grazing cows, and the grain silos that punctuated the cloudless blue sky like exclamation points, clinging on to the remains of an era slipping by. My heart swelled with a quiet joy and sense of pride; ‘This is my kingdom!’ I wanted to roar. And it was.

I never needed to go to theme parks or petting zoos or hiking trails to get my fill of adventure and nature. It was all around me, every day. Anywhere my legs and imagination could carry me, I went. Book and apple in hand, head in the clouds and calloused, bare feet dangling on either side of my horse, Applejack, I could do, go and see anything I wanted. I secretly fancied myself a female Huckleberry Finn.

The land, owned by a renowned surgeon in the nearest city, included three fishing ponds, a disused cottage and an old abattoir, its red-streaked walls and rusty meat hooks evoking in me a sense of fascination and sadness on the few occasions when I stacked up bricks to peek inside the barred windows. In my younger years I often sat on a rock by the side of the pond, casting my rod into the water below, hoping to catch one of the fish darting between my submerged feet. I used worms I dug up in the gardening patch. Failing that, I would borrow my dad’s tackle box with its vast, colourful array of lures and bobbers, hooks and lines. He was usually too busy cutting the endlessly-growing grass surrounding the house to even notice. I remember looking at him on the riding lawnmower executing sharp turns, narrowly avoiding trees and rocks and forming neat rows of shorn lawn for us to enjoy for a whole week before he had to do it all over again. I sometimes wondered if he ever felt like throwing his hands up in the air, saying, “I give up!” But he never did. Instead he mopped his sweat-soaked brow with his red bandana and then headed inside for a large glass of iced tea and a rest in his favourite chair before getting up resignedly to confront another vast expanse of grass.

Down by the pond, my yellow labrador, Dino, often sat beside me, occasionally jumping in to cool off and then splattering me with the droplets when he decided to shake dry. We’d had ducks at one point but Dino, being a fowl hunter by nature, had taken them out one by one, often depositing their heads in odd places around our house. I used to joke that he was like a one-dog mafia. As far as the fish went, I rarely caught anything of size and even when I did, rarely kept it. Gutting and cleaning fish was not something I’d ever been particularly fond of, though my fishing-crazy cousin had patiently shown me how many times. One would think I’d be tempted to go vegetarian as a veterinarian-wannabe with all this animal killing going on around me, but it was just part of life at Shadow Lake Farm.

As I got a bit older and outgrew fishing and playing in the fields, I took instead to one of three favourite ‘hiding spots’: in the tree house, at the top of the hay stack in the barn or underneath a grove of pine trees near the abandoned cottage towards the back of the property, where I could sit for hours on a bed of soft, fresh-smelling needles, protected from the sun and the eyes of anyone who wanted to find me. If I grew tired of walking or taking Applejack (who often dumped me off and raced back to the stable to bury his nose in the oat bucket) to the far corners of the farm, I would sometimes hop in the golf cart or red go-cart that were kept behind the barn, alternate modes of transport for those of us who couldn’t drive cars yet.

When I ventured home, hungry for lunch, I could usually find my older sister sitting on the sofa, flipping through magazines and listening to her favourite radio station. Her allergies and asthma prevented her from pursuing many of the things I did so she was always more ‘indoorsy’ than me. I sometimes wished she could come out and go on one of my adventures with me, but at the same time I relished the independence. In retrospect, it did me a lot of good. Perhaps that is why, even today, I crave solitariness when I need to get out of head for awhile. To be joyful with other people is lovely, of course, but to be alone and happy is a gift, one I feel that time alone on the farm gave me.

On warm nights when we had company, my dad would get the grill out and barbecue some burgers or chicken. I’d always volunteer to pick a few ears of corn from the field to add to our meal. I loved standing on the edge of those majestic plants, like so many soldiers in neat rows, before stepping into the maze. I never ventured too far towards the middle, being too nervous of getting lost, but the fire flies, always thick in the sky at nightfall, lit the way home. Back at the house, I prepared the corn with my sister. Peeling away the outer layers (called ‘shucking’) to reveal the sweet, golden kernels within was almost as enjoyable as slathering the finished product in butter before it hit our plates. Oh, how I loved summer on that farm.

My childhood was a charmed one in many ways, despite its sorrows and hardships, not because we were well-off (we weren’t) or because I had a perfect family (we weren’t), but because I had the gift of space and time. Space to roam and explore and time to be and do things on my own. The land we lived on wasn’t mine, we didn’t own it, but it was just as much a part of me, and I of it, as the seeds were part of the soil.

When we left Shadow Lake for a much smaller house on a much smaller plot of land in the middle of town, I was heartbroken. Leaving my horse, the ponds, the fields, the lane, the house….it was almost too much to bear. In retrospect, it was the perfect time to leave as I was entering into my teenage years and the new house’s more central location was ideal for getting lifts, going to friends’ houses and so on, and I probably would have quickly outgrown all the wonders of the farm, but at the time it felt like a loss; another loss on top of the one we’d already suffered.

But as with many things in life, I adapted and moved on because I had to. Like a childhood friend who fades from your life but never your thoughts, this house, number six, will always live, perfect and true, in my memory.

Wordless Wednesday: This about sums it up

NS April 7th, 2010

Ad seen on the ‘Writing/editing jobs’ section of Craigslist this morning:

Click to enlarge

From Screen Captures

It’s kind of hard to read, even once you’ve enlarged it so here’s what it says:

Hi guys,

I need some excellent copywriters but I can’t afford to pay you or anything crazy like that, so I’d like you to work for free to help set up the business that’ll make me rich. At this point, we’ll *definitely* pay you, or give you credit, or something.
You must submit a minimum amount of work, be in contact 24/7 and give up all rights to your writing.

Also I’d like someone to do my tax returns. Again I cannot afford to pay you but I’ll make sure your name goes on the bottom of it.

(p.s: This could definitely/possibly lead to regular work in higher paid markets, where you can earn up to £0.30 per 20,000 word article!)

  • Location: UK
  • Compensation: Don’t be silly!
  • Telecommuting is ok.
  • Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster.
  • Please, no phone calls about this job!
  • Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.

Genius.

I can haz a MAD Award?

NS April 5th, 2010

My lovely friend Josie is part of a small group of bloggers who have put together some fantastic awards for sites written by UK mums and dads, aptly called the MADS. Now, I’ve never won an award for anything in my adult life, least of all for my writing, so I was surprised at how nice it felt to learn I’d been nominated in three categories: MAD Blogger of the Year (“For the blog that has most amazed and entertained you over the past year”), Most Inspiring MAD Blogger (“For the blogger who inspires you with their courage, humour and insight”) and Best MAD Blog Writer (“To celebrate the blogger who deserves a place on the best-seller lists”).

As lovely as it was to be nominated, I was a bit embarrassed and unsure how to react at first. I thought, “There’s no way I’m going to ask for votes and get embroiled in a competition,” but I snapped out of that pretty quickly and told myself to stop being so bloody British about it. I’m American, for god’s sake! I should be making up t-shirts, slapping bumper stickers on my car and throwing a ticker-tape parade in my own honour. Maybe I could even get hats for my family to wear that say, ‘My mama got nominated for three blog awards. Your mama can SUCK IT.’ I’m sure it’d go down a treat at the pre-school gates.

Kidding aside, I am actually very flattered to have been put forward and decided that, you know what, I’m NOT going to just sit here and be all humble about it and hope that a few people throw some votes my way via osmosis. I work damn hard on this site and have been at it for five years; I’m not a real old-timer like Dooce (NOT ENOUGH USE OF CAPS FOR THAT) and I may have grown a bit cynical after having been around the bloggy block a few times, but I’m still a person. A person with feelings. A person who feels things deeply.

Um, yeah.

What I’m trying to awkwardly say is that if you like what I have to say and/or think I’m a competent writer, I’d be honoured and grateful if you wanted to vote for me here, in any of the three categories I’ve already been nominated in. You can also get to the nomination page by clicking on the MADS badge in my sidebar.

The winner of the Blogger of the Year award gets a new iPhone, laptop and digital camcorder. I could use the latter two items desperately but since I already have an iPhone I would probably give it away in a contest held on this here blog, for my dear, sweet readers. Just sayin’.

All right, I think that’s it. I’ll go eat a big slice of humble pie now.

Tiring of aspiring

NS April 3rd, 2010

By now I thought I’d be a writer. A ‘real’ one with a regular byline or a book jacket, my name in ink stamped upon the printed page. So far, the name that has gotten me the furthest, the closest to my dream, is not my own but this one — Noble Savage.

It’s a great name, isn’t it? I read it or say it and I feel more confident. Noble — grand. Savage — grrr! It makes me feel smart and unique and clever. But it’s not me, it’s the spinner of this particular tangle of web here in cyberspace. As Noble Savage, I can tell you my darkest secrets,  sweetest moments, most haunted memories and things that make me laugh until my atrophied stomach muscles collapse into puddles of quivering mirth. I can write off the cuff with little self-censorship and press publish before a clearer head, a red pen or a no-nonsense editor can tear chunks out of the sometimes nonsensical and emotionally-overladen projectus that spews forth from my brain, dribbles down onto my keyboard and then out onto the information superhighway. This freedom of self-expression can be a gift but perhaps it’s also a bit of a curse.

Am I actually bettering my writing by blogging or am I, without any structure or professional feedback, actually distancing myself from my dream of being published? Does blogging make me a lazy writer? Should I be taking my ideas for posts, all those raw emotions, and pour them into the articles, essays and book proposals that swirl around my head at any given moment, or am I selling blogging short as a real avenue for creative and professional fulfilment? Maybe being a middlin’, indecipherable and often-times apathetic member of the blogging community is as far as I’m going to get. And maybe I should stop fighting that and just accept it.

After all, blogging is New Media. It’s the wave of the future! It’s what everyone wants a piece of, right? Except that very few bloggers actually ‘make it’ so I’ve never really taken it too seriously. But is getting published any easier? Is standing out from the crowd clamoring to get their names in ink any different, less competitive or easier to crack than the elusive blog success story most of us secretly dream of from time to time?

I know this is all going to sound really self-pitying and melodramatic; I don’t mean it to be. I’m just trying to sort the wheat from the chaff and which bits of my words are me and which bits are Noble Savage and whether either have any hope of success. Am I a blogger or a writer in the more traditional sense? Can I be both or does one always have to be done well to the detriment of the other?

For those of  you looking to become published authors or journalists (or who already are), how do you balance your professional aspirations with your blogging? Do you think they complement each other or do they compete for your attention?

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