Writing

This Is a Toe in the Water

Sometimes I have so much to say, so many stories to tell that I don't know where to start, so I don't start at all. I worry I'll hurt someone, or that a person I love very much will get the wrong idea, or that I'll be reviled en masse. Because a lot of what I want to say and many of the stories I want to tell are brutal. Some of them are all true, others are threads from several things woven together and others are pure and unbridled fabrication. (Though that last type is laregely unrepresented.)

Fear of hurting people's feelings keeps me from being the writer I want to be. Fear keeps me from writing essays like this. Teresa Finney is so brave in her piece. It breaks my heart, and that's what I want to do to you. I want to break your heart.

But what if I break my mother's heart. Or my father's heart. Or my friend. Or my favorite person.

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"If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” Anne Lamott said that. She's one of my favorite writers about writing. And I love this quote with ferocity, but I can't bring myself to be that bold. I'm so scared.

Perhaps it's because I'm not good enough. Maybe if I had the words I could tell my stories with empathy and compassion and not piss people off. Maybe.

I battle this every day, this not saying the things I want to say. Bravery, consistency and wherewithal is what separates me from the writers I most admire most. 

I am a junkie for the instant gratification of a star, a like, a re-tweet or a thumbs up. Pat my back all day and it will keep me from doing anything hard, keep me from doing anything of real worth, keep me from doing anything that satisfies this incessant need to write something that matters. To me. That makes me proud. That makes people feel something or relate on some level for even a moment.

I'm a terrible coward. Because I know people sacrifice relationships when they tell their stories. Their real stories, the deep down dark ones. How much am I willing to risk? How vulnerable am I willing to be?

This is me being vulnerable right here. This is me admitting I'm scared and not practiced enough to write the stories I have festering inside of me.

This is a toe in the water.

[photo credit: Jofin]


Bedroom

We sleep on clouds you can't reach. We paint whole rooms with promises, on our hands and knees, marking each other up.

We race backwards in time to name cereals and cartoon superheroes. We scream "Oh yeah!" and "Who knew?," and race each other up cliffs for rock candy kisses, even though we both win.

We build cities you'll never live in, big and majestic, made for two or three or four, but no more. We are so careful.

We star in our own fables, slaying monsters with long embraces, the very long kind where they can't breathe.

We write letters on skin as thin as tissue and mail them to the future postmarked "Return to sender. Always."


Writing Out Of The Panic Tunnel

Sometimes I panic. The panic is triggered and it immediately begins to spiral. The spiral can be stopped cold with the right external feedback, but I have no control over that feedback, so sometimes the panic spirals until I literally can't breathe. 

"Taking a breath using my gut feels like a five mile run..."

I'm somewhat overstating things up there. I am lucky that I don't have that many full-blown panic attacks. Instead I operate with a general, nebulous, often-present sense of dread and doom. However, my anxiety levels have dropped dramatically in the last two years, I think mostly due to just gained wisdom. I've simply been alive longer and know better what causes the fear cloud and, if it arises, better how to stop it. 

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One of the most effective ways for me to beat a panic attack to the punch is to write it out. Just fling the words, fingers flying, though still not fast enough to keep up with my speeding bullet train of a brain. But because my hands can't keep up I'm forced to slow my mind down.

By making me slow down, writing during an anxiety attack eases the suffering almost instantly, at least for me. The simple act of writing--even if I am too far into the tunnel of panic to be coherent, it doesn't matter--just getting words onto paper is the goal.

"What are you scared of? Talk yourself off this ledge."

Writing when under the siege of anxiety also forces me to be present. If I'm writing about now then I have to be here now. By its very nature it calms me. Writing about the now forces me to be present, which doesn't allow my brain to do that whirliwind business wherein if someone doesn't do something I've created for him or her to do only in my mind that it means very bad things. And that I'll die. Yes, it sounds irrational, because it is. But panic brain is very convincing; panic brain holds your breath hostage. 

"I feel ill right now. Nauseated. Like I'm going to puke. Breathing is shallow and my lungs hurt. They ache, but feel secured by nothing but tissue and so if I breathe too deeply they'll burst. So I'm just sipping air."

It takes no time before I'm writing about how I feel because I'm writing about the present. And then it happens in a gush. As I'm stringing together sentences, I see my fears made out of letters and spaces and periods and all those question marks and none of it makes sense. I can see with my eyes that it doesn't make sense. What I'm really scared of, once I write long enough, comes percolating to the surface and I see it for the first time in its true form. And it's old stuff, nothing new, nothing dangerous, not now.

"Do not let old wounds make your precious few hours on this Earth be filled with tension and worry and misery. Do not let that shit win."

My diary is for me, and I can be as mean and petty and spiteful (or as or insecure or boring or batshit crazy) as I want to be. My diary is a secret glass cabinet where I can store some of the bizarre and unsavory and otherwise unfit-for-human-consumption garbage that accumulates inside my person. The clear drawers allow me to look at what I've unpacked from my brain and see it for what it is.

I own what is in there.

(image credit: “Q Train” Nigel Van Wieck)


How to Start a Blog

A good friend of mine asked me to please send him notes on how to start blogging. I laughed because this dear friend used to give me ten tons of shit about having a blog, and so I was highly amused that he wanted to know how now. Then I was informed the info is "for a friend."

Uh huh. Suuuuuure.

Anyway, after I wrote him an email I thought it was worth reposting here. Maybe not, but I'm doing it anyway.

HOW TO START A BLOG

First, you have to put your blog posts and pictures and stuff somewhere, so you have to pick what is called a blogging platform. Plenty of them are free and awesome. No need to pay for one. There are lots of fine options. You can use Blogger.com, Typepad.com, Wordpress.com, but the one that I think is the easiest, the prettiest, the most likely to get a new blogger read and by far the hippest is Tumblr.com.

Just go to Tumblr.com. Fill out the quick three screen registration. Then it will guide you through the setting up process. You'll get to pick a category to put it in, then choose a name for the blog itself. This is pretty important. Make it unique and something people will remember. Not like, "Ashley's Musings" or anything bland like that. Then it will create a URL for the blog. It will be something like, http://mynewblog.tumblr.com.

You can pay to get rid of the tumblr part of the URL for pretty cheap by registering a domain. Tumblr makes this an option in the setting up process. That way you can have AshleysMusings.com, but for the love of God, no one should call their blog that.

Then you get to pick what it looks like. Tumblr has a buttload of themes you can pick from, half of which are free. They are very nice looking. It is fun to go and look at all the different "skins" your blog can wear. I recommend picking a theme instead of trying to design it yourself (which Tumblr allows you to do). Leave it to the pros. You can also spend like $20-$100 for a nicer theme which will be less common since, duh, it's not free. That can give a new blog a nice edge, but totally not necessary.

After that it's pretty much go time. This is the part where, after one post, people freeze. This is the part that is actually blogging.

Bloggers-blog

You have to write. Or if you're not writing you better be posting photos. Or podcasts. Point is you have to make something. This can be pretty much whatever you want. I assume if you want to start a blog you know what it is you want to publish. So, get your ass in the chair and do it. Write your first post. Tumblr will make it obvious how to do so. It's as easy as using Microsoft Word. VERY IMPORTANT: Don't get intimidated. Just write the first post and hit publish. Just get it out there. Then immediately write a better, second one. Then publish that, too.

Blogs don't have to be perfect. They are better if they are not. Publish your first draft. It's not like anyone's reading it yet anyway unless you have had some kind of ribbon cutting party where you handed out the URL on gift bags.

Then keep doing it. Then read other blogs and comment. Market your blog in whatever way you see fit. But you have to keep updating it. Regularly. That's it.

That's how you start blogging.


Current Status

Well.

Things are different now.

I'm entering my fourth week of work at CBS SF in my role as Social Media Coordinator. I'm pretty overwhelmed. 

I'm using spreadsheets for the first time in my life! I work at nights and on the weekends. Next week I begin presentations to "the talent." (Yes, they still call them that.) I can barely keep up. It's become very clear that I need better time management tools and abilities.

That said, I enjoy the challenge. My writing has clearly taken a back seat during these first three weeks at CBS, so I look forward to figuring out how to best manage the hours in a day so I can get back to what I love. I don't feel right if I don't write.

Which leads me to a little hint about something aroung the corner. I have a new reason for writing, a little deal in the works, that started with a short meeting at a publishing company in midtown Manhattan last week.

I'm very excited. And I'm going to ask you to be a part of it.


Goodbye Apron, Hello (Again) HootSuite

You either make time to write or you don't. It's a priority or it's not. Having an excess of time one one's hands does not compel one to write. I still don't have it narrowed down exactly what compels people to write, but I'm highly suspect that an excess of free time is a motivator to sit down and put words down.

Several months ago I gave up my media job in San Jose and began waiting tables. The goal was to spend a couple of years carving out a career as a freelance writer. I was going to go back to my roots to put that magazine journalism degree to good use. I was taking a leap of faith in my own abilities, discipline and drive. I was prepared to be poor. I was asked what I wanted to do, decided, then threw myself into it whole-hog. I was going to write.

I've published nothing since. In 7 months I've earned not a single byline. It's not for lack of writing. There has been lots and lots of writing. But when I began to explore what I wanted out of this endeavor, what I was best at, where my strengths were, I discovered I didn't want to write articles for newspapers, websites and magazines. I didn't want to be a freelance journalist.

I want to tell my own stories.

Whether in raw essay form or barely hidden behind the veil of fabricated characters, the power of my voice exists within the stories I have accumulated. Telling you what happened, secrets and all, is what I'm best at. Telling my tales is where all the impetus lies, the real reason I sit down to write most days. Everything else distracts from this best goal.

Of course, coming to terms with what I am supposed to be writing meant coming to terms with the knowledge that people will be hurt. Telling one's stories means being brave and taking huge interpersonal risks. It means pushing down the voice inside you that demands, "This is off-limits. Stop your story." And that voice is very loud.

Deciding to tell my stories also means finding myself in tears on a regular basis. Or as angry as hot lava as writing a passage reveals more about that incident than I had previously recalled. Or dripping in self-doubt. Telling one's stories is a constant therapy session. It's exhausting.

Much like waiting tables is exhausting. I had forgotten how much it takes out of you.

Waitress

 

I just remembered that I waited tables and tended bar while going to college. Surely, I could do that again and write on the side. Waiting tables would free me up to carve out that freelancer writer life I thought I wanted. Waiting tables would pay the bills while I created a sustainable income for myself doing what I love.

But waiting tables is fucking hard! Even working part-time, the work leaves me both mentally and physically worn out. It's stressful, high-impact and it leaves this nearly 35-year-old beat and with a backache. And it's certainly not as lucrative as I had imagined. You don't get to come back to the restaurant industry after a decade away, now living in one of the most acclaimed dining cities in the world, and get primo shifts at Michelin-star rated restaurants. I have friends who pull 80 grand a year waiting tables, but they have been working their way into these choice positions all along, and they are absolutely phenomenal at their trade.

Truth be told, I'm just a mediocre server. I was told by my dear friend Leo, a friend I made at the restaurant where I work now, "you're not a restaurant person." At the time I was offended. He refused to go into detail; that's how Leos do. But I thought about it for days: "How am I not a restaurant person?"

One beer-soaked evening (for those in the industry there are many), Leo indulged me and expounded further: "You care too much. You let people get to you. I can see you standing at your tables with Pissed Off written all over your face. If you let your tables get under your skin, you are not a great server."

He was right. And putting it that way made me feel less like a failure at serving. I'm decent at it. But I'm never going to get a gig at The French Laundry. Not happening.

And so, because freelance articles were not where I was focusing my writing efforts and because it became apparent that, for me, waitressing was a dead-end enterprise, I began to panic. OH MY GOD, I thought, I'm going to be a 40-year-old waitress barely scraping rent money together. The idea kept me up at night. How was I going to retire someday? Ever take a vacation? Have adequate health insurance, for fuck's sake?

Lucky for me--I am often lucky for reasons beyond my comprehension--a career angel came knocking at my door. A position for CBS Local Digital Media became available: Social Media Coordinator. And the guy who recruited me to come out from Tennessee in 2007 asked if I wanted to come back to the world of Twittering and Facebooking for the media.

It was an offer too good to refuse. It includes a 401K, sick days (!), vacation time and the most precious thing of all: subsidized health insurance. Mr. Dentist, it's been too long, here I come.

I start next Monday. I'll be back at Broadway and Battery where my tenure in San Francisco began. I'm thrilled. It's the smart, responsible path to take, and I'm so much more secure in my well-being knowing something more financially stable is around the corner. At present I fear a bone break or sudden illness like children fear closet monsters. A hospital visit would put me back so far I'd never recover.

And I'll make time for writing. If I want to get it done, I will. I don't need a part-time job to tell my stories, just the wherewithal to get my ass in the chair and put the words down. John Grisham managed to pump out best-sellers while working 100 hours a week as a practicing attorney. I can tell my tale and also work 40. A media career path does not preclude literary accomplishment. I'm going to prove this theory.

October 1st I'm back to an office job. My desk is huge, my co-workers awesome and my bank account is breathing a sigh of relief. I'm excited. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity.

For now, that's all the life news that is fit to self-publish.


Nodding Furiously Over Here

...the best writers left their websites for jobs with established media companies; established media companies asked these writers—along with many who really shouldn’t be in these jobs—to make content sound blog-ish; cross-site discourse fell off, with the power to shape a conversation aggregated among sites from which so much content now flows down a hierarchy; memes and traffic-generation schemes quickly eroded what had once been innovative ideas; a shared conversational tone predominated, suggesting that certain content was supposed to sound certain ways; a once open and growing system became a series of echo chambers as writers and readers congregated in various places where they could feel good about participating with each other. Websites have grown incredibly stale as a result, and most with passable content have lost differentiating elements.

Worst of all, as these changes crept across the internet and cemented a way to do business, so to speak, they reinforced the notion that everyone can be an expert while staying at home and living life behind a series of screens. [emphasis mine]

-Family Business (read more) [via Ned Hepburn]