504 ideas

Poetry makes me incredibly nervous.  Oddly enough, of the work that I’ve ever read aloud, or had read for me….the first piece was a poem I wrote about an ex-boyfriend.  Weirdly enough, current boyfriend at the time (or rather, rebound guy) was in the audience for this reading.  It was awkward.  I was sweating. A lot.  My mouth was dry.  And I’m sure my face was beet red.  Either way, I got through the poem without choking and people seemed to respond to it in a positive way.  I even had two women come up to me and said it was their favorite piece of the night (it was a coffee shop poetry reading).  But anyway, yeah….poetry makes me super-awkwardly-nervous.

That being said, here’s a poem I’ve recently finished.  I’ve been having a lot of dreams about New Orleans lately, so I wrote down some words.

It’s called “504 ideas”.New Orleans

Everywhere else is Cleveland

Here’s the thing, I didn’t go to New Orleans to change up my entire life.  I really didn’t.  The trip was intended to be a writer’s retreat / solo vacation / mental health break.  I didn’t even have it in my mind that I wanted to make life-altering decisions while I was there.  The only decision I thought I would make on this trip was whether I should have the seafood gumbo or the crawfish etouffee.  That was it.  I set a goal of writing at least 5,000 to 8,000 words of my book.  Do you want to know how much writing I actually got done?  How many words I wrote?  Exactly zero.

What did happen, though…what I never, ever expected to happen…

I fell in love.

Completely, utterly, absolutely head over heels in love.  Love like I have never known before.  I didn’t see it coming; I wasn’t looking for it. It took me by complete surprise.

I fell in love with New Orleans.

Understand this:  I grew up two hours away from New Orleans.  Currently, I only live three hours away from there.  I have been going there my entire life, and honestly, it’s never been one of my favorite places to go except for concerts and theater.  It’s overrun with tourists, it’s HOT as hell, crime can be an issue, and driving and parking are an expensive pain in the ass.  But the food is exceptional and the people-watching is second to none.  And quite honestly, there is no other city like it in the world.

IMG_1810Only recently has my attitude about this city began to change.  Once you step away from the heavily populated drunk-tourist area (Bourbon Street), you get to experience a bit more of a local flavor.  I discovered Magazine Street last year and that’s when I began to soften my attitude a little.  There are still tourists, but it’s not the same.  It’s not a street that is synonymous with drunken debauchery.  There are eclectic shops and restaurants and everything has an artsy, creative vibe about it.  This soon became my favorite street to visit.

This past year, I decided to start getting serious about writing that book I’ve been talking about writing for the past 10 years.  The story of the book I’m currently working on takes place in New Orleans, so I thought a writing retreat there would be a good idea.  I had never been to New Orleans alone.  This is when I decided that as a first-time solo traveler, I would go for something a bit homier than a hotel; I would stay in a bed and breakfast.  I had never stayed in one before, and this seemed as good a time as any to cross out two “first-time” events in one trip – a solo vacation and a B&B stay.  IMG_2765When I googled New Orleans Bed and Breakfasts, I came upon a place called House of the Rising Sun.  It had great reviews, the price was right, and it looked adorable…I was sold.  The only thing was, it was in a part of New Orleans that I was not familiar with – Algiers Point.  I researched it as best I could online and went ahead and booked my trip.  I still wanted to see this area, though.  I was going with some friends to New Orleans for a concert in September, so we made a plan to take the ferry across the river to eat and bar hop and investigate this place.  I found it charming and incredibly friendly.  I liked it, but at no point did I think, “yeah, I’m gonna move here.”

Everything that happens next can only be described by one word:  serendipity.

Once I finally get to NOLA for the weekend, it was almost dark.  I called a friend and had him come over to my side of the river so we could have dinner and some drinks.  I pre-gamed by having two snakebites at the Crown and Anchor English Pub that was a block from my B&B.  I love this place…I came here when I investigated the town in September.  It’s the type of local place where everyone knows your name *cue Cheers theme song*.  Charming and friendly, just like the whole damn town.  It’s fucking Mayberry, I swear.

The next morning, I get up early so I can walk on the levee and see the sunrise.  This is when my heart exploded and I fell in love.  (That sky is not photoshopped, by the way.)

IMG_2662

It was just so beautiful and relaxing to walk down the levee, along the Mississippi River, with no busy city sounds.  Just the sounds of the lapping water, passing ships, tugboat horns, and later in the day….the calliope from the Steamboat.  Everyone was walking their dog or their kids or both.  Everyone had a smile and a wave as they passed me by.  This was when it first went through my head that I could live here.  But, don’t we always do that when we go on vacation?  Anywhere you go away from the stressors of “real life” seems like a quiet paradise, right?  I didn’t give it much consideration at the time.  I assumed I was having normal vacation thoughts.

And let me just add this – I have lived in Mississippi my entire life.  We’re known as the hospitality state.  It’s literally our nickname.  But I can tell you this, I was spoken to, chatted with, and waved at more in my 5 days in Algiers Point than I have been in the last 18 years that I have lived in my current little town in Mississippi.  True story.

Eventually, I ventured across the river into New Orleans proper.  It was nice to just walk around, people watch and pretend to be a local.  It was pre-Halloween weekend and VooDoo Fest was happening, so there were a LOT of interesting characters to feast my eyes upon.  I take that back, there are ALWAYS a lot of interesting characters to feast one’s eyes upon in New Orleans. It is truly one of the things that make this city so amazing.  Diversity.  Eccentricity.  Creativity.  Multiculturalism.  Joy.  Harmony.  Around every. single. corner.

Ok, I realize that I’m idealizing this town to the nth degree here, but I really do feel like this trip pulled the wool from my eyes and I saw this city for the first time through the lens of the new little hamlet I discovered across the river.  By day three, I knew something had changed and this wasn’t just a vacation anymore.  This was me exploring my new home.  I’ve always wanted to live in a little village where I could walk to a restaurant or bar to meet friends, or I could bicycle to the local market to buy some groceries. I’ve also wanted to live in a place where I could experience all the art and entertainment that comes from living in a big city, but still have my quiet little home to go back to after the party is over.  I honestly never thought I would find that kind of thing outside of the suburbs of New York City.  I almost moved there after I graduated college in 2000.  I stayed a month with a friend that was already there, and as much as I wanted to be there….it just wasn’t for me.  I realize now that I’m a true Southern gal that really likes it down here, despite all of our flaws and often incorrect stereotypes.  I didn’t want to leave my Southern home.  Why New Orleans never entered my mind as an option until now, I’ll never know.  Maybe it was just too close to home?  Maybe it was my uneasiness of the city passed down from my mother who once got her purse snatched on Bourbon Street in the 1980’s?  Who knows what the reasons are or were; I’m just glad that I’ve had my epiphany.

The remaining days there were filled with walking. Walking. Walking.  Walking.  So much walking.  I never walk this much at home.  I initially started this as a way to think about my book, characters, possible plot twists, etc.  Very soon though, my walking had turned into me thinking of all the new possibilities I had just created for myself and figuring out how I was going to make this move possible.  Once I made up my mind that I was going to do this, I felt energized in a way that I haven’t felt in quite a while.  I felt my creative juices flowing again.  I felt like I was breathing fresh air for the first time in a while.  (Well, that part is probably literally true.  I work 12-hour shifts as a nurse, so when I’m not working, I’m sleeping.  What I’m trying to say is that I’m inside A LOT.)  Over the course of my 4 days walking that levee, I walked almost 30 miles.  This is not like me.  I’m not the fittest individual around.  I get little to no exercise outside of walking the halls 12 hours at work.  So this feat alone was amazing to me.  It all goes along with my feeling so free and unusually happy in a way that I haven’t felt in such a long time.

I ended up staying a day longer than I originally intended to.  I simply could not stand the thought of leaving just yet.  I needed one more sunrise walk and one more sunset walk, one more trip on the ferry across the river to the sounds and smells (and food) of New Orleans proper. I needed one more walk around the neighborhood that I knew I would soon make my permanent residence.  And even as I packed my car and drove out of town, I could feel the town calling to me and telling me to come back home.

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“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans.
Everywhere else is Cleveland.”  ― Tennessee Williams

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Jenga

The more I work on finding the voices of my characters, the more I am delving into myself. I’m sure all of the characters in the book will take on bits and pieces of me and others I have encountered in my life. It’s odd and really refreshing (if I’m being honest) to look inwards and look and the flaws and attributes of yourself. I really haven’t done much of that outside of therapy, and I haven’t seen my therapist in quite a while. So, in my pursuit of a fictional character’s flaws and inner demons….I’ve been introspective and inventorying my own.

I have struggled with depression for as long as I can remember – way before I had a name for it – probably since junior high. I was always the chubby kid with a chubby mother that made her chubby kid feel as bad as she possibly could about herself in hopes that she would feel so bad about herself that she would lose weight. I’m not making that up. Sometime after I graduated from college and before I started seeing a therapist, my mother and I had a big argument about how she could literally never say anything positive about my looks. It always centered around my weight. That’s when she told me she always tried to make me feel so bad about myself in hopes that would make me lose weight. Yep. Apparently, her subscription to Parenting Magazine ran out a loooong time ago. (This was something I would say to her all the time, to laugh off the hurt and lighten the mood, which is always how I have handled pain – with humor.) Anyway. Needless to say, it never worked. I’m still chubby and I grew up depressed, anxious, and incredibly self-conscious. I was also incredibly shy for the longest time until I discovered self-deprecating humor.

Once in junior high or high school, in the heat of an argument, my mother told me I was crazy and that I needed to see a psychiatrist. I know she meant it as a threat, but I was thrilled. I was like, “really? Can we call one NOW and make an appointment?”. I never heard another word about a psychiatrist ever again. I was never threatened with one again. I never saw one until I was 32 years old, and even then I received negative blowback from my mother about my need for a therapist. I was an adult, living on my own, and my mother was shaming me for wanting to talk to someone about my mental stability. I can’t imagine why I grew up thinking I was crazy. To hear her talk, normal, decent people didn’t need therapists. Depression wasn’t a thing that normal people went through. I just needed to get right with the Lord and talk to a preacher and that would fix everything. Honestly, I was embarrassed that I needed a therapist because up until this point in my life, I thought I had coped with my mental illness pretty well (I hadn’t). But due to a devastating breakup with a boyfriend, the delicate Jenga tower that was my mental stability came crashing down around me. That one little piece of the tower that was keeping all of the other pieces in balance was knocked out by my asshole of an ex and suddenly every coping mechanism I had no longer functioned. I had panic attacks, I cried all day for weeks….to the point, people at my work would just try to ignore me because if they asked me how I was, I would begin to cry. I was glass, constantly on the verge of shattering. I lost 40 pounds in the course of a month and a half. This says a lot about how I wasn’t coping with things AT ALL. I had always turned to food for comfort. But like I said, every coping mechanism I had was thrown out the window. I cried so hard I would vomit if I ate, so I just quit eating. My mother was thrilled I was losing weight, no matter how I was doing it. I bought so many self-help books that I was embarrassed to keep going to the bookstore to buy them. People would know I was broken….as if my red, tear-stained face wasn’t all the evidence they needed.

When I started having thoughts of hurting myself, that is when I knew I needed to ask for help. I would never have done anything to harm myself, .but I’ll admit that I thought about it. A lot. I knew it wasn’t the answer, but you can’t stop those thoughts from entering your brain when you’re lost and hurting the way I was. I never told my mother about that part of it. Some things she didn’t need to know.

Flashback to about 2 or 3 years before my breakdown. I was watching Oprah, and there was a celebrity on there that shall go unnamed at this time. They discussed their own battle with mental illness and how they sought help to get past it. This person was someone I was familiar with, who I was a fan of, and who was known for playing strong, badass characters. This person, this BADASS, was on TV discussing their mental illness. Little did I know when I was trying to convince myself to go into therapy….and not having the support of my own mother….that this person would be the who would give me the OK to do what needed to be done to heal myself. I had mentally filed that episode of Oprah away in my mind and when I started doing research on depression and therapists, I remembered it and googled this person. I read up and learned more about their struggle and how they overcame it. I’ve never told anyone this story before, and I don’t intend to, and I will not mention the celebrity’s name until after I’ve had the chance to meet them (if I ever do). I need to tell them, in person, how they basically saved my life. Or rather, gave me the encouragement and strength I needed to save my own life, just because they were brave enough to share their own story on national TV.

I went to therapy as often as I could. My insurance would pay for once a week. I sometimes went twice a week and just paid out of pocket. After my mother saw how therapy was helping me, she gave me some money here and there to pay for extra sessions. She came around, mostly because I told her that therapy wasn’t about her. It wasn’t me talking about her. At all. I was talking about me….my thoughts….my pain…..my feelings. She had nothing to do with it. (Being the narcissist she is, she assumed that I would just be discussing her and her parenting failures with the therapist. She couldn’t fathom that this had nothing to do with her. I saw that as an admission of guilt that she thought she had a hand in my damaged psyche. She did…but honestly, I never once brought her up during my sessions. I probably should have, but I needed to fix the ex-boyfriend problem first. I needed to put myself back together and then I could deal with my mommy issues. I never got around to discussing any of that like I intended to, as my job changed insurance companies and it no longer covered my therapy sessions….and I simply couldn’t afford to keep going. I haven’t been back since. It has been almost 9 years since my last session. On the plus side, I got on antidepressants and I’ve been on them ever since. They literally changed my life. I lucked up in that the first one I tried worked for me with no side effects. I’ve changed the dosage a time or two, but I’ve never stopped taking them. My mental foundation was rebuilt from the ground up and is stronger than it was before. It’s no longer a teetering Jenga tower, thankfully. Bad things still happen, but I’ve coped with them without my entire universe falling into chaos. I was fired from the job I’d had for almost 10 years. I’ve been through other breakups, including an engagement to a man I was with for 5 years. (I did the breaking up this time….). I lost my father to cancer. I went back to school and got a second college degree.  I completely changed careers. I’ve changed jobs three times. And now I’m back to doing what I truly love – writing. I gave that up for a long time, too. I had a lot of shit on my plate for so long, but I’m finally at a place where I feel the words building up and I have the need to release them. It’s such freedom to be able to express myself with writing, whether it’s my book or this blog.

It’s cathartic.

It’s everything.

Stuff and things

I’m struggling with my book in so many ways.  I know how it begins and how it ends….the rest is all mush.  I haven’t figured out how to get from A to Z yet.  I’ve done an outline and changed that 17 million times already….so much so that I could just throw the whole outline away.  Then there’s my serious case of ADD.  While writing, suddenly YouTube becomes the most important thing in the world.  And once you go down that YouTube rabbit hole….there’s no coming back for several hours.  You go from cute kitten videos to conspiracy theories on Area 51.  Then when that gets old, I shop online.  That’s actually worked out pretty well for me, though.  I bought some writing books from Amazon that I think will help me flesh out and focus my characters, find their motivation, and hopefully their conflict and resolution.  The conflict between the two main characters is proving to be the most difficult thing of all.  I know I want them to clash at some point, but finding that trigger point to make them clash is proving to be harder than I expected.  I don’t want their story to be a cliché.

I know writing a book isn’t easy; I never expected it to be.  But when you read a great book, you don’t get to see the struggle that goes into it to get it from “meh” to “amazing”.  I need to read more writer’s blogs to see if any of my favorites discuss their process and struggles.  Maybe it would make me feel better about my own.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

But seriously

So, I’m pretty much the laziest writer ever.  No, really.  I totally am.  I have a bazillion and one unfinished projects of all different kinds.  And I will make any and every excuse for not finishing any of them.  One of the main excuses is that I’m pretty fucking busy with my actual job and/or exhausted most of the time.  Depression, anxiety, and a heaping helping of self-doubt factor highly in my procrastination as well.  I sort of gave up writing a few years ago when I got fired from my old job as I was just getting started back on my way to a new career.  (From marketing assistant to nursing school student – DUN-DUN-DUUUUUN).  And I was in a serious relationship with a live-in boyfriend who contributed nothing to the household except a stinky boy smell in the guest bathroom and a trash can that could legally only be emptied by me, apparently.  I had no room in my life anywhere for any creativity.  I had no inspiration.  I was a swirling ball of stress, anxiety, schoolwork, textbooks, and my boyfriend’s laundry, that could legally only be put away by me, apparently.  (I’m a touch bitter.)  My writing, whatever form it took, has always been incredibly important to me.  And I cut it completely out of my life.  With the exception of school papers, I have written exactly zero things in the past 5 or so years.  Cue sad violin sounds.

I started this blog at the beginning of 2017, with the intention of getting my shit together and writing again.  I turned 41.  I was single again and living alone.  And I had a steady job as a nurse and making decent money for the first time in a long while.  Then my father died in February.  Well, fuck.  Now here it is, 20 months later, and I’m just now making my first blog post.  So yea, laziest. writer. ever.  But one with some valid excuses.  I’m sure I’ll elaborate on more of them at a later time.  (A lot happened in those 20 months, folks…A LOT.)

Inspiration to write again struck me on Oscar night this year when Jordan Peele won for his surprise hit “Get Out”.  I loved the movie, but mostly I loved that NO ONE saw this movie’s success coming…..much less the Oscar love that it was showered with.  When he won the Oscar for writing that film, he said he gave up on it 20 times before finally finishing the script.  Damn.

Persistence > Self-Doubt.

It’s just to me, writing is blood and life and it’s almost embarrassing how much I need to do it.  These are things I can’t openly say to people without feeling weird about it.  I hide my passion for it.  (WHY??) . Most people don’t even really know I write. It’s a weird thing I’m just starting to come out of the closet about.  I hide it because my writing, in whatever form it takes, is a release of everything going on in my brain, my heart, my gut, and nobody wants to be judged like that.  You could tell me I’m a shitty person and it will probably hurt my feelings, but if you told me I was a shitty writer, you would probably hurt my soul.  (Constructive criticism doesn’t count.  That’s always welcomed.)  I really don’t mean to wax poetic about writing as some sacred act akin to a religious ceremony or something.  I kinda feel like that’s what I’ve done.  But in reality, it’s the only thing I’ve ever felt like I was good at.  I can’t sing, dance, play an instrument, but I can write.  Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve won awards (toot), I’ve gotten positive feedback from professionals (toot), and I’ve been told by professors in the past that I’m good at it (toot, toot).  And for what I lack in self-confidence in literally every other part of my life, I make up for in confidence about my ability to write shit down and people that have read it seemed to enjoy it.

This blog is going to be my stepping stone to becoming a better writer, hopefully, a more dedicated one, and maybe one day….a professional one. Current projects won’t be posted here, obviously, but all my struggles, frustration, and randomness will be.  A writer has to write, and if I’m stuck in a hole with my current project…well…I’m probably gonna work it all out here.  This little blog project isn’t about proper grammar and punctuation; it’s not about writing well.  Fuck, it may not even be about making any sense at all.  It’s just about a struggling to exercise and exorcize the writer part of my brain.  I’m throwing all the shit here and hoping what falls away into my current projects is the stuff worth keeping.

Fingers always crossed.