“To find the journey’s end in every step of the road...is wisdom.” - Emerson
I wrote my first historical fiction when I was eleven, about 15 handwritten pages that each contained a chapter with a different narrator. All lived around Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1889, and each witnessed an event attached to the flood that destroyed the town. The sixth-grade teacher who oversaw the writing club was deeply impressed. That story, now lost, represents my first writing. I choose it for my origin because I had never before put so much effort into a piece of writing, or experimented with a narrative in any way, or put written anything I would later remember. Since my first novel (in-progress) is also historical fiction, recollecting my Johnstown flood story also feels like drawing a circle.
It is a circle with several missing pieces and drawn over many years, though. In high school I wrote some poetry and in early college some short stories (hopefully unremembered by anyone, as they were awful), and then I did not write anything for a long time. I never took a creative writing class. Five or six years after graduation I picked at an abortive attempt at a novel for a few months; a couple years after that I labored on an essay that I submitted to a few journals, but I understood too little about both writing and publication to succeed. In the years after that piece, I dabbled with ten-minute plays.
In all these phases, I hoped for an editor to accept my work for publication. I have never expected to make a living with writing – I am a teacher, and happily so – but I wanted validation and an audience. Those desires, in hindsight, missed the point of writing because I valued the goal above the process.
Writing has provided me with a place of escape and control. I resumed writing in October 2019, and when March and the pandemic struck, writing became vital in ways I had not expected. It provided me with an ongoing project when so many aspects of life had ceased, and with time eddying endlessly and case counts swallowing attention and energy, writing presented a solvable puzzle. A sentence must be rearranged, a paragraph shortened; a bit of description must slow the pacing of the dialogue, or a word switched to further shade the phrase’s meaning. A story is unlocked one absorbing step at a time, and entering into this work with all my mind brings a clarity and a freshness that I treasure.
My writing goals have changed. I received the publication I sought: I’ll confess that valuing the process over the prize became a great deal easier with that particular primate wrested from my back. I have stories and poems still looking for homes and currently under review by editors; I hope they find the light of day soon, but beyond my willingness to prep more submissions, that is out of my control. I have 68,000 words of a projected 90,000 words of that novel written, and I want to finish. I anticipate writing the final sentences of The Ghosts on the Glass early in the summer of 2022. I’ll spend the remainder of the summer editing and sending out my first queries to agents. I do not know what will happen, but I will take my shot. Perhaps stars will align and a press will publish my novel; perhaps my search will end a couple years and dozens of rejections later, and I will publish myself. Regardless, the experience has been a rewarding one, and I will have received no less pride and no fewer moments of calm and clearness from my writing.
Interview with a Scribbling Sanguisage
1.) When did you begin to write?
To be horrendously honest, and even after embarrassingly painstaking memory-wracking, I don't recall when I began writing specifically. Must've been way back. Before sanguisage was an obsolete word, at least. I don't even remember why I started writing, or whose metaphorical blood I sucked to get to this point; engorged and swollen with the half-forgotten passions of thousands of scintillating thinkers who came before my senseless floundering. The enterprise of writing anything at all seems futile at times, in the face of so many linguistic geniuses, both archaic and contemporary, to whose heights I cannot hope to aspire. But that's the thing about writing, isn't it? More of a compulsion or an instinct; seldom ever a rational choice. Like love in that respect.
2.) What does writing give back to you?
Life. The universe. Despair and bliss. Everything in between. Indeed I have spent many a lengthy insomniac night yearning for the touch of words upon my blank but intrinsically-lecherous mind-canvas. To pass the time, I grow fat on the thoughts of past masters, taking months to digest them fully. But, tumescent as I am, I still hunger; to connect, to understand, and to play with new thoughts; each elementary phrase and far-grasped-at wording a precious gift from unknown philological deities (or the past-imbibed blood of romantics) which I regurgitate here in my shamefully egotistical ductus.
But if you'll allow me a moment of simpering cheesiness:
I was lonely you see, before this. I still am (it's incurable) but it's not nearly as bad as it was. You've nourished me. Writing, here, on Prose, has given me the best friends a sybaritic leech could ever dream of. Better in fact. It was through your hopeful and courageous eyes that I have for the first time been viewed as a possibly medicinal curiosity instead of purely a pleasantly self-effacing parasite. And, though some newfangled scientific advances might at any moment prove me obsolete without a shadow of doubt, it is still a thing of beauty; a fleeting touch of ecstasy; to entertain the notion that something about me could be healful or otherwise pleasurable to you; that my slimy introspection could be let loose upon your exceedingly generous souls and result in such fun and worthwhile banter. I thank you, fellow Prosers, sincerely. I thank you.
3.) What is your ultimate writing goal?
The impossible. To have and effectively (or at least enjoyably) communicate an original thought or idea. We all know this goal is preposterous. Why, even this post (and to a larger extent this very answer) was heavily influenced and shamelessly inspired by the other entries to this same challenge. But I don't want to attain my unattainable after all; I want to admire, to aspire, to reach, but not to reach, if you take my meaning...
For, original thoughts are like virgins in a way; as soon as you have them you defile their defining characteristic.
1. I grew up with a brother who wrote and gained some fame at The Writers Workshop as a founding member of the Actualist Movement in the 1970s graduating with the first ever degree in poetry from The University of Iowa. I was always considered the graphic artist in the family. I began writing in high school and in college took on English as a double major but hide it as my brother's fame flared bright for a momentary decade then fizzled as he refused to be anything but true to his art. I got into a marketing career in the 1980s for my graphic background but then was recognized for my versatility being able to write advertising, technical manuals and things in between. My brother said I was a sell-out. My parents died and never knew my secret.
2. Writing is my midnight friend. Putting swirling emotions down and reading them back to myself seemed enough until I found Prose in 2015. Here you can not only say it loud and uncensored - vomiting out your heart to bleed writhing on the page - but if you keep at it being true to yourself, you'll get feedback. Prose a video game where you get to arrange the letters and sometimes bells ring and hearts fly...or at other times you just get to toss your thoughts, feelings, opinions out of your head and only get crickets...but no matter...the real prize is that you become better in every way with every word you write. The truest beauty is when you feel words flow from someplace outside yourself, linked into the great creative oversoul where you indeed become just the conduit.
3. Goals change as you and the world around you changes. In marketing, my words have been published countless times without attribution. In an effort to bouy my brother, I published tangible books for him and older poets. I also worked with a foundation that published real books for those with savant talents trapped in profound mental and physical disabilities. There is nothing like presenting someone with a box of their work published into small but spined paperbacks bearing their name to change them instantly from an outcast to an author. Now the age of affordable short-run publishing has dissolved and I've retired to just a on-again/off-again presence here to enjoy simple freedom of expression...and perhaps scatter some seed on good soil.
I put this off long enough
When did you begin to write?
I have always written. And I don't mean since I started writing the letters of the alphabet or my name or something obvious. I'm talking 7 or 8 years old. It was around the time that I remember I started doing any sort of debating and public speaking that actually made sense. I wrote all of the things I said myself. And there have been many more speeches and logical papers after that.
So the question I want to answer is when I started doing creative writing.
It was in grade 9. I remember I started to write a play, but then some mean senior, in pretense of being interested in my work, acted my play out for me to see how stupid it was. You know all those bracketed details, like (light dims, she exists)? Yeah, I didn't really pay attention to those. So if my character was standing by the door at the start of the entire play and I didn't mention that she moved, this senior remained by the door. They had a good laugh about that one. So I quit and only did creative writing when it was an English assignment.
Anyway, the fact that I'm here right now is pretty much proof that I got over that.
What does writing give back to you?
I hate to say it but I'm going say it. I've achieved many things in my life, and it feels I only care about those things that I've achieved because other people care about those things. What I'm saying is, I've never been scared of failure. When I fail, I personally don't care, I just want to learn and move on. But then what I wind up doing is beating myself up because I know that the people around me, that "believe" in me, would be disappointed. I don't know if you understand what I mean, but yeah, that's it. Writing is that one thing that I can fail and succeed at for myself, and not for other people. And that's what writing gives back to me, the ability to openly not be scared of failure. Then there's the satisfaction when I get it just right. It makes me feel good about myself.
What is your ultimate writing goal?
My ultimate writing goal is to never stop writing. I know how I get with things that are constant, I start wanting out and drowning my mental health in far fetched dreams. I don't want writing to be like that. I don't ever want to stop writing.
My ultimate SMART (specific, measurable, realistic and time-bound) writing goal is to get published, and to be part of turning my books into movies. I love watching the movies of books that I've already read, even though some of the movies suck. And photography is a major interest area for me. So my goal is to one day combine my two major interests and make something great out of it.
Yeah, that's it.
I began writing as soon as I was able. Making up songs. Stories. Characters. Worlds.
I enjoy the craft, adding my faith and message into every piece and sharing with others. Even if I am the only one who ever reads, hears, or appreciates my work, it is indeed a joy.
My ultimate goal is to finally get myself to a position where I am not frantically running around every which way putting my own projects on the back burner. Somehow, I wish I could catch up with everything and then have a nice, quiet time where I can write out what's floating around in my brain, edit the words that are already out, organize it all, and publish to be read, even if for free, books in every genre. Something for every soul. Even if no one picks up a single page, I have these stories bursting at the seams of my brain and clawing at the cusp of my heart to be released out into the world. This is why I publish short stories. Snippets of works that have been dancing along in my infinite imagination for years. They've grown with me and matured with me. Often I find new friends or things I've never seen before. Other times, I unearth tales long lost from childhood. All genres. All stories. A host of characters.
Even other types of writing... songs, for example. I have hundreds of them, but I hardly have time to stop and actually record my voice singing them, or compose the music and piece together the track. But I love music, and these songs yearn to be propelled into the flow of the wind as it wisps through the leaves of trees on an autumn day. They cry to be carried along with the smell of marshmallows being roasted at a winter bonfire. They desire to join the tweets of birds in spring and chirp with crickets in the dead of a summer night.
I once kept a journal, and many believe I should keep a blog... oh, but dear time. Dear time eludes me. Even now, when I am penning this rant, there are things to be done. I shall end here. God bless you all, and one day, perhaps, my dream may come to pass.
Until then, be it short stories, quick poems, social posts, or rants,
I must write.
I must write.
I must write.
vomiting letters into words like a monkey mashing into the keyboard
1. i guess i began when i wrote my first word. it was likely my name, in barely a scribble on a page that had the letters in a connect-the-dot fashion.
2. writing has given me ability to connect dots. like how similar societal progression is to dna. first, it is replicated. then transcribed. then translated. then, it is destroyed. first, we had fire. which we shared and replicated for others to benefit from. then we had drawings on walls, based on stories told by the fireside. then we had intellectuals gather and people transcribed their conversations, and this has stood as the basis of government and law making. but the way it was written then isn't understood now, so we need classes to translate it into modern tongue. and soon, it will be destroyed.
3. i want to write a sci-fi.
writing writing writing
i) when i began to daydream
ii) as someone with sever depression and memory loss, concrete memories that i can visit no matter how long it's been
iii) to create an art that outlives me!
I was twelve and submerged in the hormonal morass that is adolescence. I was an overachiever - exceptional student (adored by teachers, cursed by my peers), a ballerina studying at one of the best ballet schools in NYC, a model, an actress, an avid reader...and I was rapidly becoming a loner full of self-loathing.
I was the only child of color in my elementary and dance schools. The only child of a single mom in a neighborhood where large families were the norm and divorce was taboo. The little-me of an alcoholic father who could not love himself. I was too sensitive, too emotional, too concerned with what others thought of me.
A marble black and white, college-ruled notebook (the first of dozens) became my confidant, my holder of secrets and fears, of dreams and desires. Of sappy, lovesick poetry. Of philosophical musings and political reflections. My writing became a source of both self-discovery and catharsis.
As an adult, my journal writing transitioned to creative writing, especially after I married and my husband thought he should be able to read my journals. I kept a journal of my son’s life from birth to eighteen, but have not kept one of my personal journey in thirty years.
Instead, I have boxes full of novels I spent some fifteen years writing and re-writing, as I wrestled with the myriad trials of career, marriage, family, and child-rearing as well as mulptile suicides that somehow stayed the razors in my hand while lighting creative fires.
Writing made my life bearable.
It still does.
Earlier this month, I made my mom cry after she read a piece that had won a challenge on Prose. Her response made me happy. It was the first time she reacted so strongly to one of my stories.
I'd like to do that again.
My Anchor, Words
I haven’t always loved words. I was homeschooled my whole life, and without the comparison of other kids my age, I didn’t know what I was good or bad at–a double-edged sword, to be sure. To me, writing was not a joy but merely a dull task to be gotten through. And it was many years before I would recognize the potential in my own work.
Then, at age fourteen, I started a blog–mostly inspirational-type stuff written for other teenagers. It felt like a calling. As I published more and more posts, I began to recognize the sacredness of what I was doing. My readers were encouraged by the things I wrote, and it seemed to make a difference in their lives. But the person that was changed the most by my writing was me. People were going to read what I wrote, so it mattered that I wrote truth effectively and elegantly. My communication skills grew by leaps and bounds.
Four years later, I was a freshman at college in an English class. I had not yet learned how to cram, so I stayed up half the night working on that first essay with little success. The next morning, when I woke up and returned to it, the words finally flowed. But I was so tired I hardly knew what I was saying, which made me think it must not be great. To my surprise, when my professor gave back my essay a week later, he told me that it was a solid paper. I was elated.
That first essay went well, but it was the best one I wrote all semester long. What I would later learn was a severe bout of depression–a battle I’ve faced since I was ten years old–swept across my life, fogging my mind and making it impossible for me to think clearly for months. In class discussions, I struggled to form sentences–only to forget them when they were halfway out my mouth. Writing essays was a nightmare, as I stared at my laptop screen for hours, trying in vain to put my jumbled thoughts into words.
And yet, it was words that sustained me in those days–not my words, but the words of others. I might not be able to put a sentence together, but I could still quote Bible verses, bits of poetry, and lines from movies that I had once memorized. What others had written, giving their souls on paper, anchored me. Their labor was what kept me from drifting away.
At the end of the semester, I was diagnosed with depression and prescribed some tiny white pills that I still take two years later. The medicine cleared the fog in my mind, and finally, I could glimpse the light. I started my second English class, and this time, I could finally find the right words and put them together in a way that was satisfying. My professor encouraged me and helped me to improve, and for the first time in my life, I realized that my writing might actually be good.
Regardless of whether or not I’m a good writer today, I still love it. It isn’t my goal to ever make any kind of money off my writing, but that doesn’t matter to me, because the words are still intrinsically valuable. They gave me life when I was drowning, and now, I have found my own words and use them to ground me. And I hope that, as I write and share more, my words might be the lifesaver that gives hope to others.
Why I write
I'm sitting here, in the office, waiting to go teach the cannibals. And I come across yet another 'why do you write?' Challenge. It's not the first time this has come up, and perhaps this is the unanswered question, that constantly pushes itself to the foreground.
Why do I write? Why should I write? Why must I write so terribly? Why do I have to write, if there are alternatives?
Modal verbs are wonderful things, each one steers the question in a totally different meaning.
Maybe this is part of the appeal of writing. This ability to play and tinker.
Another thing about writing, is 'the zone' . When you are writing and you are in the zone, then you feel nothing, and focus all you have into what you’re doing.
Much of what I’ve produced is terrible. I am not capable of inventing the wheel, everything is a mix of odd experiences and earlier thoughts that get synthesized into something new. Which of course means that it’s not really new at all.
Synthesizing things is what it’s all about. If reality is a river, then we are very aware of the banks; all those tensions and limitations. All that changes are the details, but the form and our limitations are not.
Maybe I should tell you how it started for me...
One day, I was slithering in the ashen residue of the swamp, out where the freshly dumped canisters were glistening with irresistible radiance. It was there that I saw the poet.
He was burned and bruised, and his bones were broken. He was clearly suffering and hopeless. Normally, such unfortunates who find themselves in such a way in the swamp were set upon quickly. Devoured were they with greed. I must confess that it was not my intention to be different that day. I salivated in joyful expectation and was about to engulf the man. But ...
Well, ‘but’s and ‘however’s are conjunctives and I merely need to ‘But’ you, to have you understand and anticipate that for some reason I did not put the poet out of his misery...
What I found , which prevented me from having an easy meal, was clutched in terror in his hand. It was a simple yellow note. The words "please forgive me" were written in a shaky hand, no doubt just a short moment before my arrival. You'd be surprised to know perhaps, that by that time, I was quite capable of reading, as I often found printed media strewn about.
And a ‘please’!!
Written in shaky hand....
What was there to forgive? I wandered.
why ask for it politely? What would it matter if he wrote it with or without the magic word? Who was this message directed towards?
Why was there no further information offered?
The possibility of intimacy, between the writer and his appointed reader was remarkable and yet a torture- I could not bring myself to let he thoughts it evoked go once they rose.
The poet did not stop there. On the other side of the paper square, was a short poem.
The imagery and alacrity in it, moved me so, that I have since memorized it. The powerful wording goes like this:
Eggs, not the cheap kind!!!
Tomato paste, 2X
pigs in a blanket
So much information is missing, and yet so much is said. When I looked at the work, I noticed that the poet capitalized some words, while neglected others. Then there is the criptic '2X', and the visceral hatred for cheap eggs. Think about it- He used three exclamation marks!!!
I tried my best to nurture the man back from the brink, figuring that I could always eat him later. And giving him all that I could. But his situation deteriorated rapidly. The broken bones hurt his every movement and he moaned and cried from the pain, and screamed in terror a the sight of his benefactor.
Clearly he was not going to answer any of my questions. He just got weaker and weaker until finally, one morning, his breathing stopped and I knew that his time had come.
Out of respect for his talent, I did not eat him, though I could not fend off the scavengers for long.
I kept the note among my folds and on occasion, read it, and read INTO it. trying to gleam insight into the artist's soul. There was much that I could not understand about the piece, but perhaps that was the attraction.
You must understand; the swamp creatures are not without cunning and many are quite sociable, but we do not have much sophistication. We do not dabble in riddles, we do not make abstractions. The few symbols we make are visual and mostly done for practical considerations, like marking territory.
No. Ours is a more simple, perhaps innocent life .
but once you are exposed to the possibilities of poetry, of narrative, you can never live that sort of life again
As you can imagine, it did not take long for me to try my hand at writing.
I took paper and pen and composed my first poem, which was sadly lost over time. I only recall that it dealt with the poet. An elegy if you may; the pigs in their blankets mourn the passing of the creator. They weep at the passage of life, but it is not an abysmal dirge. The poem closed with hope and the comforting abundance of brillos and shaving gel and with that, the grief is overcome.
What a process it was!
How the mere writing of words somehow lessened the doubts, the anguish, that I was feeling. How with the crafting of symbols out of objects, one somehow cushions for himself the harshness of it all.
Enticed by the possibilities of poetry, I asked myself, what if I could tell stories. Perhaps tales similar to those that I read in the past?
True, these stories were not as poignant in their emotion as the desperate poem that I found. But stories are not without beauty and sincerity.
I tried my tendrils at writing a brief story of one of my hunting forays. And found that my language was not adequate . it was not that I did not have a good story to tell. But that the breadth of my expression failed to produce a story that would be pleasing. I took the paper and made a ball out of it and threw it in to the murky depth. Many more paper balls followed. Frustration is a terrible thing. But lucky for me, perhaps, I am stubborn.
I did not give up. The story was good enough so I worked under he assumption that it COULD be represented in a story.
I tried a different approach: Taking the story from the point of view of one of the salamanders that frequent the location, where my coup occurred. I found it more pleasing to tell the story not as the hunter but as an observer. Marvelling at the rapidity and violance..
Indeed , as you know, many stories are told in this fashion; from the point of view of a salamander.
I tried to imagine how the incident could be told in such a fashion: the ambush, the chase, the bristling of the barbs in a last stand...
it failed again!!
how things can be so difficult?!
Narrative writing must be such a waste of time!!
I gave up the pursuit and took up to my usual habits of habitation and economy, attempting to forget all the recent literary unhappiness.
But the story did not die within me. It was as if the creature I had captured was demanding that its story, and its final moments be brought to life.
I tried again to write my tale, this time in a poem. Longer and more detailed than my mentor’s for sure, but with intent and a goal in mind.
Here I approached satisfaction. But when the poem-saga was complete, I was yet again unhappy with the result. the story was told and yet wholly untold.
It then struck me, that the story of myself, or the prey or the salamander for that matter, were inconsequential. The writing I was doing was done not to record some great event in history, which this was surly not one. It was to give voice to my state of mind, to the emotions that I was feeling. Writing a story from a point of view of an outer observer would be too detached, too empty of meaning.
What I needed, was to make a story about my search for sustenance, the emotional stakes that were involved with failure, the intensity of the pursuit, the overwhelming triumph of success and the ambivalence that I experienced after.
In other wards, for the success of telling the story. It had to be about The ME that existed at the moment.
I have since written many things, some from my point of view, some from the point of view of a salamander. All of them though, contain this self-recreation of an experience and what it stirred inside.
Without that, it does not work.
I slither onward to more ambitious goals and projects, but ingrained in this is this desire, to discover what I am, was or shall be..
So to return back to the question of writing. Why do it?
The truth is, that I still don’t know.
You may say it is some exhibitionist thing, where I feel compulsion to show others what happened in order to get validated.
But if that was the case, why continue in his fashion once some reaction was achieved? How much of a reaction will be enough for me to stop writing?
It must be something else.
The zone that I was talking about; this moment of eagerness to throw everything I have into things is unexplainable. the muse overwhelms much of other desires. It overrides better judgment, it overrides even aesthetics. It’s a very capricious thing, and yet it comes at moments where I apparently need it.
Maybe I come to the zone at extremes. Periods of time when I am feeling the world closing in. Times when I feel that life itself, is reducible to nothing, if I let it.
It is at moments like that, when if I am able to fulfil my desired goal, mainly the successful completion of a story, poem or essay, than despite all other things, I am not totally meaningless.
Perhaps, this is what the final words of my poet-mentor were for;
Forgive me please.