Writing

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Writing as light

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

The darkness of this world has been weighing me down and sucking me under, cinderblocks tied to my ankles. You know what I’m talking about; all the news is bad. Every day is full of incessant sound bites, ISIS and Syria and Ebola and child abuse and gunmen hiding in the woods. It’s enough to give even the most stalwart a panic attack.

My heart has been beating more rapidly these days, and my fingers have been twitching. It’s not that I’m necessarily afraid for myself (although perhaps I should be). But at a very physical level, this world is not a safe place – and yet here we are, living complicated lives that slap against others’ complicated lives like BBs in a pinball machine. Life should come with a warning: Brace yourself – this is gonna hurt.

Which is why this weekend meant so much to me.

I was invited to attend a workshop called the Art of Songwriting hosted by the Nashville Treehouse. It was fairly last minute, and I had to rearrange some pre-existing travel (to Seattle – which is a trip I’ll need to make up soon). But the writer in me has been in need of some TLC (not this) (or this), and it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m so glad I didn’t.

Fifteen women gathered for two days, and we had a chance to share songs, share stories, co-write, and learn from each other. It could so easily have turned into a competitive game of comparison – because shoot, these ladies could WRITE – but somehow, everyone seemed to bring their most authentic self and check any ego at the door. I was shocked. It was beautiful.

As I drove to the Treehouse, I made a conscious decision to shut the door on all of the darkness and stress and jam it with a folding chair.

And sometime during those two days, full of freedom and light and encouragement, it occurred to me that jamming the door is nothing new for me. I’ve been a professional door slammer since I was 14 (just ask my parents) – but in the last couple of years, I’ve been jamming it in the wrong direction. I’ve been doing it to my writing. I’ve blocked it out, said no, curled up in the dark closet where it’s “safe,” hoping that the boogeyman doesn’t find me.

But the only way to scare off the monsters is to bathe them in LIGHT. And that’s what writing is for me: pure luminosity.

I had forgotten. But this weekend reminded me, and I’m grateful. Kim and Paulette, thank you for hosting us – and Abby for this beautiful video!

The Art of Songwriting Sneak Peek from Nashville Treehouse on Vimeo.

All That I Want

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

It’s been awhile, but I’ve written a new song.

I love this description of the creative process, especially because it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who experiences #3 and #4. Actually, I tend to get stuck there – which is probably why I finish so few creative endeavors these days.

But I pushed myself to finish this one, and even though I want to apologize for its imperfections, I’m making myself share it. Even if it’s just a work tape and even if my guitar skills are bad and even if I’m not sure about certain parts SEE I NEED TO STOP APOLOGIZING AND JUST PUT IT OUT THERE.

Because you guys are safe, right? Thanks for listening.

:::::

[I’ve taken the track down for now. Maybe you’ll hear it again someday.]

Patience

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

“How’s your writing going?” he asked.

It’s the question I’m coming to dread more than any other (except for maybe “Been on any good dates lately?” – bless your heart), because whether songs or prose, the answer is “It’s not, really.” The thing I love to do more than anything in the world is bringing nothing but disgruntled resentment these days. Inspiration is nowhere to be found. The well hath run dry.

Of course, I’ve been through this kind of thing enough times to know that the drought isn’t permanent – at least, I hope it’s not permanent. One never quite knows for sure. Surely, at some point, writing is going to bring me joy again? My thoughts are going to arrange themselves in some sort of semi-organized fashion? Or maybe it’s going to take me grabbing them by the horns and wrestling them to the ground like a cowgirl, the kind I used to watch at the Montrose County Fair when I was a kid.

Life is fairly daily these days. The rhythm has become predictable – which, how is it that I can both appreciate and despise routine? Foxy the Wonder Pup is growing, we go on a lot of walks, I ride my bike to work, I grocery shop. There is coffee in the morning and a crock pot of food at night. I haven’t been on a plane in a month – an abnormally long stretch for me. I see friends, I clean the house, I rearrange the money in my bank accounts. And I think ahead to 2014, wondering what it might bring, praying for the things that I hope for.

Hope is hard – because I’m a person of action. If there’s something I want, typically I make it happen. Time waits for no man, and especially not a woman. But some things aren’t up to me, and no amount of posturing or positioning will make a difference in the ultimate outcome. This reduces me to – okay, tears of frustration – but also a reliance, a faith, a giving over of myself, a trust that something, whatever it is, will be.

“I have to write these things now,” I told her, frantic. “If I don’t, they’ll pass by – I’ll lose them – they’ll spoil.”

She smiled at me. “They won’t spoil. Maybe they just need to marinate for a while.”

This is an “in between” time – in between the exciting moments, in between the sowing and the reaping, in between the preparation and the meal. And in the quiet, slow rhythm of it all, I remember one of my favorite quotes by Frederick Buechner:

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

All moments are key moments. Life itself is grace. The humdrum is valuable, if only I can find the patience to sit with it for a while. And in the midst of the mundane, I want to engage with life with the same enthusiasm as this one – because she is bringing me a lot of joy.

foxy_shadow

foxy_snow

“Written Together” by Shanna Mallon

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

As is the case with so many people in Nashville, we had been sort of peripherally acquainted for a while. We had a lot of mutual friends, had been in the same room a few times, lurked around each other’s internet spaces – but I wouldn’t say that I really knew Tim Mallon.

So you can imagine my surprise back in 2010 when I had just finished running the Country Music Half-Marathon and looked up to see Tim – internet-acquainted but real-life-unfamiliar – making a beeline for me. Sweaty and disgusting is not the state in which you want to have your first real in-person interaction with anyone, man or woman, but Tim was unfazed: he gave me a hug and, after talking for a few minutes, we concluded that we should continue the conversation.

So a week later, I met Tim and his brother Nathan for coffee at Frothy Monkey. It was pouring rain that Saturday. The rain would continue for two days, and by Monday, Nashville would be under water – but we didn’t know that yet. We were just enjoying casual conversation, learning about each other’s families and each other’s work and why they had started drinking unpasteurized milk. Tim and Nathan are disarmingly genuine. I wish everyone could meet them.

Somewhere in the conversation, Tim mentioned Shanna. “We’re talking,” he said. And just as I always do when I hear about a crush, I got excited. “You’re talking?” I asked. “You’re talking to Shanna? Shannalee the blogger Shanna?”

He grinned. “Yeah! Shanna and I are talking.”

At the time, I was a new reader of Food Loves Writing – I don’t remember how I came across it, but once I found it, I was hooked. So much more than a foodie blog, Shanna weaves stories from her life into her experiences in the kitchen – her perspective is compelling, her heart absolutely beautiful. And the food that she makes – oh my word. The recipes send me into guilt spirals for standing in front of the fridge picking store-bought rotisserie chicken straight off the carcass and calling it “dinner.” Everything about her site is lovely and worthwhile. She’s one of my favorite voices on the internet.

And I couldn’t believe the coincidence: Tim Mallon, the Tim Mallon sitting right across from me, was talking to Shanna!

I’m going to spoil the ending: they kept talking. Shanna moved from Chicago to Nashville, and they got married. I met her in real life, too – a picnic lunch at Sevier Park, where we talked about struggles and faith and where this life might be leading each of us. She is every bit as wonderful in person as she is online.

And now, she has written a book – a book about that period in her life when she and Tim were talking, getting to know each other, falling in love. Written Together is a quick but gorgeous read, a story interspersed with recipes and details and hope. Last week, I put on my pajamas and crawled into bed, started reading and didn’t stop until I finished it. I loved it.

And I just wanted to tell you.

– – – – –

Written Together is available in both ebook and printed format. Shanna didn’t ask me to write about it – but if you want to support a couple who lives and loves in a way that is inspiring, I encourage you to get a copy or three.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

I’m not an expert on F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve only read one of his books (The Great Gatsby, obviously), and from what little I do know about his personal life, he kind of seemed like an cad.

But I keep running across quotes of his, and there’s no denying that I like the way he strung words together. I like the way his brain worked, the way he spun thoughts. And because this blog is where I collect things that I love, if for no other reason than so I can revisit them while sipping cocktails like Daisy Buchanan, here are some of my favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald quotes.

“A great social success is a pretty girl who plays her cards as carefully as if she were plain.”

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”

“Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go according to any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds, they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.”

“Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.”

“In the real dark night of the soul it is always three o’ clock in the morning, day after day.”

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”

What to do with this blog

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

I have a confession: I don’t quite know what to do with this blog.

The posting has been light, at best, in 2012.  I’ve thought about scrapping the whole thing, taking the site down, going off-the-grid in the virtual world.  I’ve thought about forcing myself to post more often, rehashing the meaningless minutia of each day.  I’ve thought about doing a series, dedicating each day of the week to highlighting all 5 members of various boy bands.

Instead, most days, the site just sits here.

I have so many amazing friends who are doing a great job of keeping up their writing, featuring vignettes from their lives, sharing what’s on their heart and mind.  I used to do these things, I think.  But these days, when I sit down to write anything – a blog, an email, a journal entry – it just feels flat.  It feels forced.  It doesn’t make me happy – which is alarming, since historically, writing has made me happier than just about anything else.

It’s been a long time since my heart has felt full to the point where I feel like I have something to share.

I keep trying to rally, but the truth is, I feel too tired.  I miss my friends – I really do. I miss having a sense of belonging.  The future feels big and overwhelming. I wish my family was intact.  I wish I wasn’t broken.

I know, I know – this is the point where I’m supposed to stop and say how lucky I am, how many things I have going for me, how there are good things about my life and situation (because there really are, and I know it).

But just now, as I was writing this, the tears came – and damn it, but I’d rather cry than say nothing at all.

“Loved Louisiana”

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Ugh, don’t you love songs about regret? It’s the worst kind of feeling, and the best kind of song – the twist of the knife, the sailed ship, the too little too late.

Right now, I’m in a season in which I’m thinking about the big picture – the whole of a life – the decisions we make today that could change the course of everything else. It’s a lot of pressure and weight – and I don’t like it, because I don’t trust myself to not royally screw everything up.

Ultimately, it pushes me to realize that I’m not in control (and thank God).

But my subconscious is still ruminating on the truth that our decisions have consequences – for better or for worse. And my creative endeavors – the elements of my personal life woven into sometimes fictional stories – are somewhat reflecting this.

Back in September, I was driving from Seattle to Denver. Somewhere near Bozeman, driving 80mph, I just kind of ran over this song. A chorus tumbled out quickly, and the rest of the drive was spent singing words and phrases and piecing them together like a jigsaw puzzle.

When I arrived in Denver, “Loved Louisiana” was finished.

As always, it feels scary to share. But I hope you like it.

[I’ve taken the track down for now. Maybe you’ll hear it again someday.]

Recorded with Calvin Locklear in Palmer Lake, Colorado.

“You might change your mind”

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

I’ve been thinking.

And I think… I think that Lori McKenna’s “The Luxury of Knowing” is the best song I’ve ever heard.

I mean it.

Keith Urban’s version isn’t bad, either.  Holy smokes.

[Please forgive YouTube videos – just listen.  And let your heart break.  And then get on with your day.]

Just call me angel of the morning

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Morning is my least-creative time.  I am not –  how do you say it? – PERKY.  I don’t wake up before the sun, just bursting with inspiration to get the day started.  And because I don’t work in a traditional office environment, the most “ready” I get these days is a tank top and workout pants.

My best thinking is done when I’m not trying to think.  My best writing is done when I’m not trying to write.  Inspiration often strikes in the middle of the afternoon, when I’m troubleshooting HTML code or talking to a co-worker about email delivery (don’t be jealous).  My desktop is littered with text files, snippets of sentences and scraps of songs, which I usually return to late at night as I’m going to bed.

That’s when I write.

And yet, it’s before 8am, and I’m just typing as I think.

We’ll see how this goes.

Are you ever struck with just how lucky you are?  Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had my fair share of pity parties (duh, you know this).  But sometimes, when I can take a step back and look at the good things, it’s a little bit overwhelming.

Today, my brother and sister-in-law have been married for 10 years.  They were 20 and 21 on their wedding day, and at 18, it was my first time being a bridesmaid  – little did I know how well-experienced I would be 10 years later.

When I think about Ashley, and all that she adds to our family, I just feel really thankful.  She is creative and irreverent and passionate, funny, self-deprecating, soulful.  When she really laughs, it’s this explosive, joyful sound that probably makes the angels dance.  And my dear brother loves her so well.

I look at their relationship, and at my sweet nephews (all three!), and I feel hopeful.

Unbeknownst to me, while we were celebrating their wedding 10 years ago, someone who would later become one of my closest friends was ringing in the big 2-1.  Today is Annie Downs‘s 31st birthday, ladies and gentlemen.  If you know her, you love her – that’s just the way it is.  Few people in this world have such a wide circle of influence and friendship, but Annie Downs is something special.  She is hilarious and selfless and ballsy and loyal.  If you live in Nashville and see her today, give her a hug from me.

And because it’s my unimaginative morning time and I don’t really know how to work this in, I’ll just say it: thank you, readers of this blog, for your words of encouragement and love in the past week or so.  I can’t pretend to know why people keep checking in on my little life (especially when I’m always in a tank top and workout pants – honestly, I need an intervention), but I am grateful for your companionship along the way.

Time’s up.  And in the words of Bon Jovi… have a nice day.

“The Undoing”

Monday, May 9th, 2011

It feels strange to not be writing here.

When I don’t write, I’m reminded that this blog was born out of a need in me, for myself, and not really for anyone else.  I can’t not write.  I think I have to, as a part of being the truest version of myself.

But I haven’t been writing here. And I’ll admit, I’m not feeling much like myself these days.

But here’s a new song, recorded yesterday with a stuffy nose, super lo-fi style in the living room.  It gives a glimpse into these days, the days when it’s difficult to write anything else.

Thanks for hanging in there with me.

[Song has been taken down – maybe you’ll hear it some other time.]