How Not to Be a Writer

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  1. Never write. Anything. Ever. But if you do happen to break this first and most integral rule, make sure that you at least follow the next four without fail.
  2. Remember that whatever you write absolutely must be perfect. And brilliant. And stunningly original. It must make everyone who even glimpses the title weep over the emotional resonance of it. It also must make you millions, and very, VERY famous.
  3. Care, deeply and desperately, about what every single person in the world thinks about you and your writing. It is essential to your self-worth.
  4. Never try to be published. That’s so gauche. You must be discovered by accident, preferably by someone stumbling upon one of your throwaway, scribbled poems on a paper napkin. No name, of course, but they were so enchanted by your unusual way with words that they spent six months and a small fortune tracking you down.
  5. Give in to fear. Fear knows best. And whatever you do, never ever try anything new, for God’s sake.
  6. And play it again, kids, once more with feeling: the Golden Rule of How to Not be a Writer is never ever write. 
How Not to Be a Writer

Poem: The Fall Fade

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***

Already, autumn has come to claim the year.

I’m trying to force these rhymes

to illuminate these grey-washed streets

and the ache in my chest at the death of summer.

The slow fade of the childish glee of sun-soaked

days and languid nights, of all the time in the world

to do whatever we please. Autumn heralds crisp winds,

shorter days, the contracting of time and the slowing

of my blood, preparation for a long hibernation.

I love the sparkle of fresh fallen snow, the deep, sweet

comfort of being warm indoors while frost steals over

the world outside, the crack of a fire, and the rest

for my bones, but I long to be alive, and part of me

fears the deep stillness of winter. It fears that I will never

wake up. So I walk these damp fall streets with wistfulness

and joy and not a little bit of dread.

Poem: The Fall Fade

Short Story: On a Beach Far, Far Away

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The beach. Sundown. A cool breeze lifting my hair. A tight pain in my chest, the twisting ache of nostalgia. Worse yet, nostalgia for that which has not yet passed.

A hundred yards down the beach, firelight flickers, shadows dance, laughter echoes. It touches me, but barely, like a ghost trying to make contact through the veil. I am here, but I am removed, hugging the edges. They have all submerged themselves completely, and I just can’t. I hug my sweatshirt tighter around me, let the ocean nip, playful, at my toes. The heavy crash of distant waves is a comforting infinity, endlessly repeating itself, never tiring.

Stars scatter overhead, a goddamn cliche, but they’re so bright and close I could lick them like rock candy. In the city, you sometimes forget that they exist at all, but out here, they are the prima ballerinas, en pointe at centre stage. I suddenly don’t ever want to go home.

I have known this time was coming. It is why I’m not at the bonfire, drinking and dancing and laughing. It’s why the romantic spark between Peter and I fizzled almost immediately. It’s why I feel sick to my stomach and currently contemplating wading into the waves and allowing them to pull me away from shore, to join them in their tireless, rhythmic eternity.

Tomorrow, this all ends, and I must return to my real life.

But I am different now; I am deeper, I am more fully human, more fully me, more fully awake than I’ve been in my life, and I don’t know how that fits in back home with the soulless 9-5s and the desperate, scrabbling consumerism. The well-worn path that I am expected to trod now that I’ve “got all this out of my system” – my mother’s words, not mine. I’m petrified that I will be sucked right back in without much of a fight, and I’ll wake up twenty years from now to find that the grandest, riskiest adventure of my life amounted to nothing. Meant nothing.

The tears threaten. Strains of garbled song drift on the breeze; I curse myself for the sentimentality that is causing me to mourn for this night before it has died, to weep for it rather than embrace it. I try to drag myself out of the malaise but it is like swimming against a rip current. I stop.

A distant light glimmers on the horizon. A boat way out there, reminding the world that they are alive. I wonder how long they’ve been out there, if it’s a cruise ship or a fishing vessel. If they miss their families.

The crunch of feet on wet sand, then a shoulder brushes mine. “Deep thoughts?”

I manage to dredge up a smile from somewhere. “Deep and meaningful.”

Peter sprawls out on the sand next to me. Tall, gangly, not particularly beautiful, he carries himself with a kind of grace and good humour that immediately drew me to him. The tattoos don’t hurt, either. I’ve always been a sucker for a man with some ink.

His eyes glitter in the dark, bright with alcohol and the hint of ‘this could be our one last chance.’ Things have been cool between us since that night in Belize. Not hostile, just lacking in the warmth and security that I had grown accustomed to between us.

I open my mouth to speak several times but can’t think of anything that doesn’t sound trite and insincere, so I opt for silence. Peter’s eyes are closed, his arms folded behind his head. I think he’s fallen asleep until –

“You’re missing the party, you know.”

“I know.”

“Don’t do this to yourself.”

“What’s that?” A slight defensive edge.

He cracks one eye open. “Deny yourself the fun because its easier to inflict the pain on yourself than feel it afterwards.” He props himself up on one elbow, all earnestness now. “Seriously, April. You’re only hurting yourself. You can either enjoy a great party and be a little sad later, or you can just be sad. I’d rather have the party.”

And he is gone, brushing his hands on his shorts, casting a smile over his shoulder, retracing his footsteps across the beach.

I sit there awhile longer, arms wrapped around my knees, arguing with myself. It is the most Herculean effort of my life to pick myself up off the beach and follow him. My heart rages in my chest, but I console myself with the idea that maybe my plane will crash before I ever have to deal with all the big questions weighing on my mind.

And then I am engulfed in voices and arms and light, and I forget to think about tomorrow, or anything much at all.

*

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Short Story: On a Beach Far, Far Away

I Have to Stop Running

I run from words.

I live for them, too, but mostly I run from them. I run from the stories that live inside of me and beg for escape. I run from what I feel called to do. I fear failure. And success. I fear losing the love that I have for writing, like if I submerge myself in the deep end, get really messy, really try, and succeed, I won’t love it anymore. Like it will be tarnished somehow. But even if that’s true, how is this constant shying away any better? This constant excuse-making and distraction-seeking? This constant ache in my chest that knows I am capable of more. That I owe myself more.

Ashlee Gadd once told me, “Be generous with your gift. Unfortunately, since getting that email, I have gone the route of fear and hoarded my gift instead. I’ve barely written anything. I’ve let my blog lapse. I’ve backed away at warp speed from my professional aspirations. I feel like something inside of me has started to rat and fester. Probably my dreams.

I’m not going to live forever. Sometimes I think that I have all the time in the world to decide to pursue my dreams. But I’m reading Marina Keegan’s book right now. She was an incredibly mature writer for 22. Her stories in particular are beautiful. She had a buttload of potential, and she was on her path, and then she died, and not a single one of us knows how much time we have left. The thought of dying with all of my words still inside me makes me sick with fear.

So I have started noticing that tug of resistance that means I want to write but I’m finding excuses not to. I had just sat down with Marina’s book, in fact, when these thoughts swirled inside my head and my hand itched to hold a pen, and I nearly cracked the book anyway, but I forced myself to write instead. Because how will I ever know if I can make something of this passion of mine if I don’t lean into the fear and actually do it?

I have to stop running from the words.

I Have to Stop Running

Found Writing

From last year, three weeks out from leaving Ireland. 

* * *

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A cool breeze lifted the leaves on the trees. the sky was grey, not steel grey or threatening grey, just unassuming, dreary grey. It made the multri-colored buildings all around stand out like brightly packaged litter in the gutter, but with more charm. There is the hint of rain in the air, just a hint, because there always is in Ireland, even on the sunniest of days. Rain lingers, like a thought in the back of your mind, present in its absence.
*
She stood by the railing on the little bridge, one of many in the city. It was so different from home, where the river rushed by through a deep-cut valley, inaccessible, unless you wanted to tumble in. Unless you knew where to go to access it. it was wide and daunting and could be crossed by only a few bridges throughout the city. Here, the river was close, like a friend. You could reach out and touch it at high tide, when it could reach as high as the bottom of the bridge. It glistened, reflecting back the rundown, quirky buildings in its surface, looking like an oil painting. Bridges crisscrossed all over the place, one every 500 meters or so. The city was so walkable because of this.
*
Thinking of home was painful. She longed for it like she had not known she could long for anything. She longed for the comfort of her own bed, the warmth of her boyfriend against her back in the night, the familiarity of streets she had walked for years, the accessibility of food items she loved, like peanut butter and perogies. She had been dreaming of going home since she had landed in Ireland, and now she was going, in three weeks exactly, and the pain that thought engendered had  little to do with longing for home and everything to do with the confusion of feeling  like she had found another home and had to leave that too.
*
She loved the warren of streets that comprised downtown, alleyways veering off into wide sweeping streets that branched off into other side streets, all packed with stores and restaurants, pubs and cafes, tattoo parlors and gift shops. Every inch bursting with character in its brightly painted facades, brick faces, run down wood and ancient majestic stone. Turning a corner was an adventure, where you were sure to come face to face with something interesting, whether it was the grand columns of the courthouse or the chrome and glass monstrosity of the Topshop store. She loved that there was a point less than a block from her apartment where she could stand on a bridge and see the imposing spires of three different churches in three different directions, all within a five minute walk.
*
She loved the way things glittered at night, reflected like magic in the river. She loved how the night felt safe, even in the sketchiest areas. She rarely clutched her bag protectively, only in moments of personal anxiety that had little to do with her surroundings.
*
She loved the friendliness of the Irish people. She hoped she would never forget the night in Cissie Young’s pub when the bartender, laughing and friendly and open, had offered to charge her iPhone for her because he noticed it was low. She walked back from the pub in a light drizzle, stopping at a chip shop for the best french fries of her entire life.
*
She felt a deep connection to Ireland. She felt like she could belong there, like she could have a life there, like it would embrace her as much as she had embraced it.
*
But she was going home. She knew it was the right thing to do, she could tell by the way her heart sang at the thought. But part of her felt bereft too, like an infant being pulled from its mother’s breast before it is done suckling. She wasn’t finished here. She did not know if she would ever be finished here.
*
Staring moodily into the river, she promised herself fervently hat she would come back. She would make sure that she set foot on this amazing island again one day in the future, and maybe this time she would have Bryan with her and all of the things she needed to make a real go of it here. Not forever, but for a year or so.
*
The thought made her smile, and she pushed off the railing and turned to go home. She looked back in the direction she had come, tracing every detail with her eyes, committing it all to memory, stamping it upon her heart. Still smiling, she walked home, eagerly observing everything, remembering the absinthe green glow of the pharmacy across the street, the rush of traffic, the quaint delight of walking down her tree-lined street and seeing all of the colorful doors waiting to admit people. She let herself in through her own red front door and let it slam shut behind her.
Found Writing