A Good Clearing Out

In the cool mornings preceding the sunny dog days of August, I can sense a hint of autumn. This spurs me to give the house a good once over before school starts, before I find myself with hours of solitude for writing once again. Sometimes the mind needs a good clearing out as well. My brain is a jumble sale and this blog post represents a little pre-fall cleaning.

Gratitude is always a good start. I have a lot to feel grateful for from this summer. The large tumor discovered in my daughter was benign and despite the frightening time in the hospital, she has recovered enough to scare me with driver’s training. Friends and family came out of the woodwork to be supportive and kind as our family went through this.

canstockphoto32749113I am grateful to the friends who went on walks with me, exchanged emails, sent cards and in general, knew how to be comforting without being irritating. I am grateful to my writing group who kept me in the loop, even as I was frequently absent. I am grateful to my friends in the League of Women Voters who took up the slack of my volunteer activities when I couldn’t follow through. I am grateful to my friend and Army buddy who makes me regularly laugh during our Skype calls. I am grateful to my friend and life coach who offered to be there in any capacity, even as I had trouble processing coherent thoughts.

And thank you to the readers here, who offered kind words and empathy. And stuck around to read my messy, emotional posts.

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canstockphoto17270046The garden took a hit this year, but nature did its thing and the few moments I was actually at home, I enjoyed seeing the bees and butterflies flit through. A writing friend of mine attended a climate change leadership conference and asked to write about my bee-friendly yard. You can read that here. I had a mind-boggling conversation with my neighbor who acknowledged that lawn chemicals were not a good thing – while standing on his treated lawn. There is a serious amount of cognitive dissonance between our habits and the changes we need to make to ameliorate the damage we’ve done.

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My writing is beginning to ramp up to a period of productivity. Call it the autumn effect or the going-back-to-school effect. I’ve been experimenting with a few writing practices, as well as regularly submitting work. I picked up one of the practices from Benjamin Dreyer, author of Dreyer’s English. He suggested copying passages from great writers, or writers you admired. I was curious about this and when Toni Morrision died earlier this month, I pulled out my copy of Beloved. This is one of the novels that made me want to be a novelist. It’s the kind of book where you have to sit for an hour after reading the final page. It felt like a spell had been cast on me and it took awhile to shake it off.

6149I’ve begun copying a page a day and I see Mr. Dreyer’s point. The way we process language is much different when we write it, rather than when we read it. From the standpoint of writing, you start to feel the bones of the book when you write out each word, sounding it out in your head, acknowledging punctuation and phrasing. I’m finding it useful and improving my longhand writing while I’m at it.

I got rejected by a novel-writing group I applied to and I’ve decided to take it personally. Not really – just ran into some virulent genre writers. I write literary fiction which apparently is code for I write whatever the hell I want and is unappreciated by those who have staked a claim in sci-fi, romance, or mystery. Not to cast aspersions on those particular markets, but there is something easier about being able to say I’m this-kind-of-writer or that-kind-of-writer. You have lots of company. It must be comforting.

Rejection is my theme this year, but I’m glad of it. It means that I’m working at things, being more brave than I’ve been in the past, and pretty much living outside of my comfort zone. I’ve also applied to a writing mentorship program with slim odds. I’ve reached the point where being mentored instead of mentoring might be useful, at least in terms of getting through novel revisions and rewrites.

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canstockphoto4930986As I approach my eighth year of blogging, I think about the fact that it’s amazing we blog at all anymore. The instant pithiness that feeds some social media platforms has changed how we communicate, how we use the internet, and what we’ve come to accept in terms of context and nuance. I have a personal resistance to simplicity and am immediately suspicious of messages that are reductive.

It’s perhaps made me less vulnerable to worrying about stats and more concerned that what I write adds value. It’s added less value than I’d like, with so much self-referential writing and something I will be looking at moving forward. Of course, I think this same thought every year. And here I am. Still writing. Still blogging.

13 Comments on “A Good Clearing Out

  1. Beloved was assigned reading in a college class. What most stood out to me about her technique was the way Toni Morrison so effortlessly shifted between past and present scenes. The transitions were almost invisible, and I don’t recall ever being confused about whether I was here or then. As for the onset of Autumn, no thank you!! I dread the coming of winter every year. I want my summers to be as long as they can be (which down here in the South is pretty long, but never long enough). 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I read Beloved many years ago, just to read, so I read non-critically (which I don’t do now). It felt like some sort of alchemy, how a writer could so completely draw me into an unfamiliar world and make it hard to re-emerge. I think of it as a reading coma. Sometimes I wish I could still read that way, but I always have to know the magician’s secrets now.
      I am a cool to cold weather person and hate late summer. Of course, the way the climate is changing, I’m going to have to move farther north! Minnesota winters have seemed relatively mild the last few years.

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  2. I’m over due for a good clearing out myself — mostly my external surroundings, but my mind could probably use a bit of a cleanse too. Maybe a bit more than a bit. So thanks for the reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I get energized by the prospect of cooler weather, open windows, chilly nights. My brain has been so overwhelmed the last few months. I really need to things and clear the slate – it’s like working at a clean desk. Although Toni Morrison said something funny in a Paris Review interview – that all writers end up working in a small space, no matter how much space or what filing system they have. I think that’s true!

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      • I think it’s true too, it certainly is for me. I’m smiling as I read the bit about working at a clean desk. Hard as I try, mine is always a mess, but I know where everything is and it works for me. I can’t function in a pristine space.

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  3. I think that writing, without fitting yourself into a specific genre, shows authenticity in your work. If you try and write something that is for the masses and not within your heart, people are going to see that it’s not authentic. Oh and I need to do a big clear out around my house but, as the weather is still really hot here, I think I will just wait another couple of weeks until things cool down!

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  4. So glad that you are still blogging – and that you will continue –

    Intriguing strategy, copying out another writer’s work by way of learning the skills – not unlike copying a painting of the masters, eh?

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  5. Delighted to hear the good news about your daughter, Michelle, and to find you approaching your eighth year blogging in such buoyant spirits! Completely agree there’s a process of ‘dumbing down’ on much of social media where over-simplification feels like a mass intellectual entropy. All power to your proverbial elbow … 🙂

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  6. Dear Michelle, you’re quite inspirational! Stay LOVELY through and through!
    ❤️💕🌷❤️💕🌷❤️💕🌷❤️💕🌷❤️💕🌷❤️💕🌷❤️💕🌷❤️💕❤️💕🌷❤️💕🌷

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