Archive for ‘writing’

Emptiness

May 26th, 2009

Sometimes when I write an entry in this blog or the publisher’s note in the magazine I started, I feel like I’ve lost my voice. That I’m just an empty chair at the dinner table of life. In this blog, I often adjust my voice for the readers I want,  and I unconsciously strive for niceness or spirituality or thoughtfulness, when really I am just fucking confused or pissed off or randomly human. But I am constantly visiting sites that have a “nice blog” icon, and there is so much adorableness and cuteness and wonderful parenting in the blogs I read that I wonder where the messy, smelly humans live. In the magazine, I also tailor what I say–snipping off an angry opinion (God forbid I should come across as bitter or aggressive) or sewing up an editorial into a nice, neat conclusion. We all crave tidy Oprah closures, but how many of us can say month after month, “This I Know” for sure? To tell you the Truth, my life has not been tidy or neatly stitched. It’s a patchwork of regrettable relatives, death marches, bad decisions, loose ends, shouting matches, psycho lovers, lost chances and lasting regrets–as well as bone-shattering beauty, hopeless love, yearning for the impossible and some amazing improbable luck. I can dress up my past as yaya sisterhood, sounthern eccentricity summed up in some cute after-dinner stories (yes, my aunt kidnapped my mother and kept a gun on top of the refrigerator in case the sheriff called), but really it is also badly dressed, redneck, real-life Walmart sadness. All of which is to ask–am I the only one who has a blog life and a real life? 

On the Verge

May 9th, 2009

Everything in my amateurish little garden patch is budding or blooming or getting ready to break through the earth, climb, entwine or simply rise. I love that moment of possibility before the southern sun sucks the energy out of every living thing, before it’s a fight to keep the juices flowing. Right now, the sun is gilding the edges of the garden instead of giving my plants the third degree. The morning glory seeds have sent up actual shoots, the rose bush keeps putting out and we have lift-off on the tomato plants, Houston. I feel like I’m on the verge of  a new season as well, but I know that I often manage to stunt my own growth by not giving my ideas time to germinate or by not watering and feeding them enough. I grew up in a family of farmers, and I know it takes constant attention and hard work to make things grow. Sometimes I’m just too lazy to tend my garden, to get up early and write, to set aside time simply to mull. My morning glories and tomatoes need sturdy fences and cages to support them as they start  to blossom, and my writing needs a daily structure and discipline in order to bloom. Send some good vibes to all of us in this little garden of earthly delights.

I told a friend this weekend that when I go to New York my inner GPS stops working. I’m like one of those sad bees whose radar malfunctions for some mysterious reason and they can’t find their way back to the hive. In New York, I can read a map repeatedly before I go out the door, but I still can’t make sense of a city that is actually laid out in such a rational way. I buzz in aimless circles and constantly have to readjust my sense of direction. Did I turn left or right? Am I going north or south? Is that the same corner I passed 15 minutes ago? Where the hell is my hotel? My life is like that right now…I just can’t find way my way home. Home being my sense of self, my sense of purpose, my sense of Nikki-ness. For weeks now, I’ve been flogging myself, looking for my next big idea, my next project, my next passion. Looking for me. Tonight I started to wonder, though, if it might not be better to accept that my GPS is broken for now, that I don’t have a destination and that my definition of home might be changing. And just explore the world with no purpose in mind and let the ideas and projects come to me if it’s meant to be. To be a passenger for awhile instead of the pilot. 

What’s Holding You Back?

March 28th, 2009

I started writing Morning Pages this week after a long absence, because as an editor, my first instinct is to edit myself as I write instead of letting the ideas flow unchecked and unjudged. I don’t use a journal for Morning Pages, only legal pads, because I don’t want it to seem formal or finished. It’s my version of homework. Someday I’ll go back and circle any sentences or phrases that I might use in essays, but for now it’s just three pages of freeflow thoughts/gibberish/worries/fears every morning. Eventually, a nugget of important information sometimes emerges. What rose to the surface today is that my life feels painfully fenced in. By my job, which used to be a passion and has now evolved into a boring marriage between parties who have nothing in common. By my writing, which has become a chore because I feel as if I should be trying to writing a book and maybe–gasp!–I don’t really want to. Or at least not the kind of book other people want me to write. By the predictability of my days. Not that I want a tornado to touch down in my yard in order to shake up my life, but I would like to stir up a creative tornado to blow down the fears and laziness that keep me immobilized. I’m going to try and hang some lights on that fence to remind me that I’m lucky I recognize I need to change, lucky I didn’t become so accustomed to this comfortable little cage of home/work/tv/bed that I failed to see it could become a prison. But when I try and think of ways to stage a break-out, I know it will take more than having an artist date, starting a hobby or thinking happy thoughts. I need to rediscover the single-minded fire and ambition I used to have. I’ve never been the kind of rebel who dances on tabletops or rides a motorcycle across Australia, but I’ve always had an outlaw outlook that now seems to be behind bars. Have you ever found yourself in this state, and if so, what got you over the wall?


But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us–to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.
[from The Buried Life]

When I was walking across the drawbridge to the barrier island near my house, I stopped to take a photo of the marsh and Intracoastal Waterway and the scene suddenly made me think of “The Buried Life” by Matthew Arnold. How strange to have words from a Victorian poet time travel into such a setting, but somehow it seemed perfectly fitting, absolutely right. When I first read his poem in an English Lit class years ago, I felt an immediate recognition, as if someone had a key to my heart, and I could feel the tumblers clicking into place. I wasn’t alone in being overcome by some “nameless sadness” when I was with a lover; someone else had wondered if one’s deepest self could ever be fully known, even by those we love the most. It seemed a wholly modern poem, remarkable for its insight into the human psyche, the hidden self we all long to reveal, to share with another. Reading it again recently, it seems as fresh and moving as it did the first time I discovered it. We all have that longing to be known, to be recognized for who we really are, not what we seem–the constant hunger for it can drive us to God, sex or celibacy, work, food or drink, NASCAR, politics or piling up money–the substitutes are endless. Lucky Matthew Arnold, that it drove him to poetry. 

Asking Myself…

January 4th, 2009

Amazing, the things we pass day in and day out and never notice. This is carved on a bench set into the side of a fountain in a park by my office. I’ve walked by it dozens of times and never noticed that the sides are incised with questions. I think they’re related to some sort of civic organization that paid for the fountain, but when I finally “saw” them, they seemed like gnomic questions designed to probe the conscience of a passerby. I know I should ask myself this much more often than I do. Is what I’ve written authentic, or just easy filler that approximates the truth? When I have a difficult conversation with my one of my adult children, do I say what’s on my mind or bite my tongue in order to maintain the peace? Do I turn the light on my own behavior or do I automatically think problems or disagreements are my coworker’s fault? Do I love unselfishly enough? I need to stop and sit on that bench every now and then.

The View I’m Craving

December 3rd, 2008

Lately I find myself thinking a lot about living in the country. I fantasize about a cabin in the mountains, a farm at the end of a gravel road, a cottage on a lake. To throw open a window and look out on moonlight and mist, to be able to hear silence instead of sirens and static. It’s fairly preposterous, because dark nights alone in the mountains would probably make me obsess about serial murderers, and I can’t make anything grow, so I would starve to death on a farm. But I think it’s important to pay attention to odd, extravagant cravings of the soul because it may mean you’re pregnant with a desire that needs to be born. In my case, I suspect I need to make more time to be alone without distractions, and I’m so undisciplined that the only way I can force myself to do that is to remove myself physically, to enter a convent of the mind.  In the course of daily life and work, it’s so much easier to fritter away my time than it is to focus my mind. There are ideas for projects that I toy with but never follow through on, creative itches that I scratch by watching television or snacking or talking on the phone instead of sitting at the computer or opening a sketchbook or signing up for a class. My daughter thinks it’s a case of attention-deficit — I’m so impatient and incapable of being in the present moment that I unbuckle my seat belt half a block from home just to be ready to get out of the car– but I suspect it’s more like having a slothful spirit. Could I be rehabilitated by putting myself in solitary confinement?

Stop, Drop and Curl Up

November 19th, 2008


I’ve been lying in bed for four days with a tooth implant jammed into my jaw bone and throbbing hard enough to launch itself out of the top of my head. I considered calling my friend Joe the Contractor to come over and pull the implant out with a pair of pliers, but thank god the dentist ordered up some drugs before things got out of hand.  Between doses of hydrocodone, I managed to get the cover prose written for my magazine day job right before deadline or I expired. Type type type/doze off/type type type/doze off. The art director loved it, so maybe I should always write high. I can see how Rush Limbaugh became a junkie, because I couldn’t WAIT for my next dose and I loved how slow and easy it took me under and made both my physical and existential pain go away. I cocooned in my bed with a novel by Wendell Berry (Hannah Coulter) and slid in and out of soft sleep and a slow journey around Hannah’s Kentucky farm that was so like the one I grew up on, only more prosperous and peopled with kindly characters who were close to the earth–okay, so it was more like the farm I wish I’d grown up on. Then being all doped up, I shed a tear or two about my vanished past and then got really depressed (more side effects of the drugs?) about how tractors made horse-drawn plows obsolete and then decided to text coworkers with garbled instructions about god knows what. Text text text/doze off, doze off, doze off/text text text/dose up, dose up, dose up. Today was my first day back at work, back to “normal,” and I’m grateful to feel so very much better. But a little part of me misses locking the door on the world, with no alarm clocks, nowhere to be, no expectations to meet because I was an invalid. This little interlude made me realize that I’m so hungry for a respite from the bullshit that bombards us day and night that there was an up-side to taking sick days. Just think of how many things during an ordinary day keep us running away from ourselves. Toward what? I’ve always been a ferociously ambitious person, partly because I felt invisible during so much of my life. Everything I’ve achieved had a goal of giving me an outline–“look at me, I’m here, I exist”–and of making sure I didn’t miss anything. It was the path I had to take and I learned a lot and it shaped me into the person I am, a person I mostly like. Now, though, I want to stop/slow time so that I can just sit still long enough to think. It sounds so frivolous, doesn’t it? But I am ever on the move, like a gadfly, and I crave a long stretch of time to stretch my mind. I want to light somewhere and sit a spell. Do you ever feel that way?

That’s the title of the poem I read today by Mary Oliver. It’s about not living life at a safe distance, about being present right now, here, this instant to this world, this neigborhood, this street, this leaf in front of your face.  I took this photo (oops, a kind of distancing in itself) on my walk today down to an old burned-out bridge that has been turned into a kind of park/promenade that stops halfway across the water. The sun was out but the breeze had a cool serrated edge, warning that winter is coming winter is coming. I passed people walking dogs and fishing, sails bellied out like laundry, marsh opening into a view of the Intracoastal Waterway and the harbor, a few white clouds on a clean blue sky. All of us in a little snowglobe without snow, a Sunday afternoon bubble of timelessness. 

Speed Racer

September 14th, 2008

My life has been going over the speed limit for a long time…no rest stops or pullovers allowed. I refuel, but I never recharge. My daily map? Driveway to Starbucks to work to Whole Foods to driveway. Sometimes there’s a detour to yoga but not nearly often enough. My car is me on wheels–full of dry cleaning that never gets dropped off, cds out of their sleeves, Goodwill donations piling up in the back, dried up pens on the floor–I’m surrounded by broken-ness and unfinished business every day. I hate to give anything up at work because people might notice I’m not indispensable, but I’ve been letting go lately. And that doesn’t just mean giving up tasks I hate, but also a few that I really like. Because there are other things that I want to do that I love even more–or at least, that I hope I will. For instance, I’ve been writing a short daily email that gets sent out to readers of our magazine, and it meant I got to recommend all my favorite things–music, books, websites–to a wider audience every day. It was so much fun and an ego rush too, but it was not only distracting me from my real work but also starting to substitute for it. Crafting daily short blurbs relieved enough creative pressure to keep me from building up a head of steam to go deeper in my own writing. I love any excuse possible to avoid the hard work of writing, rewriting, editing, deleting, and starting over, but I want to flex those muscles again.  I want to draw more, take more pictures, notice more. That’s why I keep coming back to this blog; it’s my laboratory, my writer’s workshop, my journal of possibilities. Maybe I’ll find out that I’m destined to be a writer of paragraphs, not pages, but there’s also a chance I’ll string those paragraphs into pages someday and pages into chapters. I don’t think it will matter to the world whether I Twitter or tell some stories, but it makes a world of difference to me.