on writing

on story: an introduction to Story 101

As a matter of fact, non-stories annoy me.

Perhaps it was Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, but–I’m blanking–whatever other culprits there were (some Sundance person or other starts to grate in memoriam), the writing world got artsy about the concept of storytelling. But in the brouhaha of feel-good artistry, the more concrete concepts behind “What Makes a Story a Good Story” were abandoned. It’s not popular to be black-and-white these days.

The problem with artsy-fartsiness isn’t the amount of white people involved. Rather, it’s the sphere of the writing world that well-to-do hipsterdom and postmodern-storytelling represents, a fancy cover on the book that is The Lack of Story. It’s intellectual to tell non-stories because life doesn’t have a meaning. Because we wake up and we make coffee and we go about our days trying to make enough money (or steal it) to accomplish the something-more-that-we-want, but always always Real Life thwarts it for all but the lucky point two percent and then we die.

I disagree with the former statements because I believe in many things, God for one and that life has a meaning, and also—stories. As soon as the answer is that we have no answer, we’ve set a limit on possibility, and Possibility is meant to be endless.

I love my dog. She makes you feel like the most wonderful person as soon as you come home from anywhere, even the two second walk to the mailbox. But this silky-eared critter doesn’t sit with a pen in hand, puzzling over the twist in a suspense novel–or wonder if she has the right to write a human character, as she’s never had such experiences. She lives to love without condition and be petted every waking moment, and as the vet told us today, that’s her job.

But as a race, unlike our animal coinhabitants, we have the unique tendency to deal with our earthy mediums in rather pointless ways. We do puzzle over plotholes and villains we’ve botched. We fresco ceilings and carve immense marble statues, and while we don’t have to do these things for our living functions of respirating and surviving to carry on, we do it because we want to. Because sometimes we feel we must to be truly living.

“We are infinite” (Chbosky), and within us is the infinite: our stories. Stories compel. Stories move. Stories shape. Stories don’t muggle about in actionless introspection unless your character is then moved to do something and fight and perhaps, at long last, achieve a happy ending. Because–as such endings lie within the realm of endless possibilities–those happen too.

Keep an eye out for Episode I — coming soon!

❤ , dori.png

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on writing

the end

Hello, friends!

Here’s a picture of me drinking from a coconut. And yes, I did cut all my hair off.

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It’s been a while since I’ve said just that–hello!–to you. During this last year, it was freeing to step back from the spotlight of this blog and simply gather portraits, like a child collecting sea shells. There’s less responsibility in that, I think. (have not created the shells!) But now, I am ready to reappear for a bit.

This is the end of my portrait series…for now.

In many ways, I feel my project was a wordy worldwide parallel to Humans of New York. Even now, though his books are published and “finished,” Brandon Stanton continues to update his Instagram every once in a while. I intend to do the same.

Perhaps the original goal of the project was to prove to myself, I could stick with something long-term besides my previous dabbling. To prove to myself I am a writer.

There is a definite difference between saying “I am an aspiring writer” and “I am a writer.” In the States, surrounded by people with leisure time and apparent dedication to their relative creative mediums, I daily questioned if I myself could even dare approach the altar of artistic expression.

Even after graduate school (the most encouraging creative community I have ever had!), my doubts remained. But then I went overseas. And it took this season of artistic solitude to realize I’ve been defining the idea of artistry all wrong.

What is art?

What makes an artist?

Who defines “the best”?

Does it matter?

One day, I realized: it didn’t.

It felt like my soul was crying out to me–when I would pick up an excellent piece of fiction or prance my way through someone’s beautiful new essay. It seemed to be saying,

Hey you.

Yeah, you. The Lonely Creative Soul with a Dream that feels too big for you.

You are a writer.

It’s what you do.

You may die with your work never having been published. (Not that you should give up all hope!) But if it’s the thing you do anyway because you love it, does it matter THE END of your creative means?

So hop to it, sister.

I dream of painting and then I paint my dream. ~Vincent Van Gogh

There were some cheerleaders in my corner, certainly. Between my grad school mentor Dale, Jeff Goins, Donald Miller, Rachael Stephen, and Elizabeth Gilbert, I had no hope of walking away with defeated hands in my pockets. But in listening to them and moving on with my life and my work, I did learn a few things:

“You can’t find your passion if you don’t push through pain.” ~ Jeff Goins, The Art of Work

“You are not Stephen King.”  ~ Rachael Stephen, “Let’s All Stop Calling Ourselves Pantsers and Plotters”

“When you stop expecting ________ to be perfect, you can like [it for what it is.]” ~ Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

“Writing is not like dancing or modeling; it’s not something where-if you missed it by age 19-you’re finished. It’s never too late. Your writing will only get better as you get older and wiser. If you write something beautiful and important, and the right person somehow discovers it, they will clear room for you on the bookshelves of the world-at any age. At least try…” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Have you been afraid of your dreams?

Let me be the first (of MANY encouragers out there) to tell you:

SO WHAT.

To borrow an idea from Gilbert’s grand creative narrative…Fear is a natural roadtripping buddy. You can’t get in the car and go anywhere without him. But he needs rules. Because he’s a wee bit of a control freak and likes to take charge of, well, anything left unattended. Don’t let him dictate where you go, how often you stop, IF you stop, what music to listen to. And by aLLLLL means, do NOT let him drive (check BIG MAGIC for a much more whimsical beautiful vision of this). 

All that to say, move forward anyways. Stop looking for approval. Stop worrying if people think you or your art is weird (weird is great!). Stop checking the stats on your blog. Stop trying to figure out how on earth your art could possibly support you (my vote is don’t; art has fragile bones and can’t take the pressure of your cushy Western lifestyle. Go wait tables or something).

And that’s why I’m here, full-time job and all.

Get to it.

Write.

 

 

Resources for the Ones in Need of Cheerleaders

Jeff Goins … I’d tell you more about him, but if you checked out that quote up there and liked what you saw, you should let him tell you more about himself. Inspiration and motivation guaranteed. (Subscribe to his mailing list!) Here’s an interview about finding your calling.

Donald Miller … Your story matters. If you’ve never read Million Miles in a Thousand Years, you need to do that today.

Rachael Stephen … If you want to laugh and get a bit of tough love in the Hunger Games arena that is FICTION WRITING, check her out!

Elizabeth Gilbert … duh. She even has a podcast.

 

 

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biovignette, life

learning

There is an art to eating with two required utensils and swatting away flies at the same time.

I have been living in Thailand for nine months now, and I believe I have gotten the hang of at least that much. A fly or five descended to feast upon my dinner of Pad Thai and sprouts the other night. Ordinarily—ordinarily for the life of stickiness-loathing and hand-washing every five seconds that I used to live in the States—this would have been cause for a gag reflex. But no noodles flew in the harming of some pesky dinner-desecrating insects.

Amazing all the kinds of flies they have here. Stuck-in-traffic-for-two-hours flies. Expensive-air-conditioning-in-one-hundred-eleven-degree-weather flies. Practice-language-forever-and-people-still-don’t-understand-you flies. The variety of shapes and sizes is remarkable, as is my capacity for violent reaction to each: swatting swatting swatting. And yet they keep coming at you.

When they told us about culture shock in my company orientation, they were not vague or unhelpful. On the contrary, the gentleman who spoke in my session was a first-class storyteller with the sort of examples that remain with you, particularly in the moment you realize you’re having a Moment. One story he shared was about the Africans who would show up at his house when he was trying to work, the same Africans who would not show up to his community meetings. The story came flitting to my mind as I sat at the dinner table of my sweltering house, trying not to be seen by the broke couple banging on my door, the ones who refused to get a job and survived by asking the farangs for money, and feeling like the farthest from a kind soul possible.

Or another story: a lady named Patsy was attacked by culture in the checkout lane of a Big C. The cashier took the bag of potatoes she was buying and let it come plunk—right down on top of the white bread. Fidgeting there in line, Patsy cried. And one does not cry in Thailand.

The first Saturday I sat in a meeting with all the Deaf I was to work with, I was still jet-lagging and getting used to the heat, even though it was cool season. I had already sweat through my jeans and been taught so many sign names, I knew, even as I was smiling and signing them back to my new friends, there was no way in any place I would retain them. I was a closet with no more stacking space.

“Why do they keep making the pointy nose sign at me?” I asked my supervisor.

“They’re calling you farang.” Foreigner. I was, as of yet, nameless. Only later would they name me, after the fashion of picking a distinguishable feature, Eyelashes.

We sat in one giant circle, Deaf-style, and Adam, the leader who was leaving for America, signed an introduction. I think. Then everyone else signed. And signed and signed. Signed until I started looking at the clock on the wall. Signed until I stopped trying to understand. Signed until I stopped trying to look like I was understanding. Signed until suddenly there were twenty sets of eyes staring at me, and I choked because apparently they had been signing their way around a circle and I did not even know how to say hi.

Turning to my supervisor, making bleary eye contact, I shook my head. Someone signed something that, in context, I guessed meant: “you guys could interpret for her.” But I just shook my head, a three-year-old determined to have his way: I’m not saying anything. I don’t want to. I have nothing to say. I want to go home. Home home.

The only other thing I remember of that night is staring at my blue jeans and thinking, Just think ‘blue jeans.’ Blue jeans blue jeans blue jeans blue jeans blue jeans…until the choking in my throat, that big knot that would burst up through my eyes at any hint of kindness, trickled away.

You learn, eventually, to master the art of shoving that knot away in Thailand. Just as you learn to eat with a fork in your left hand and spoon in your right, the fork never rising to touch your lips. As you learn to drive a manual car on the opposite side of the car in “wrong way” traffic. As you learn to give monks their public personal bubble and wai to elders. As you learn to duck your head when you walk in front of anyone, or smile with no teeth, a calm cheer. Just as you learn to learn and learn and learn and take tea for your headache after a day of feeling three years old and still learning.

I’ve decided: the fountain of youth is an eternal cross-cultural experience. A fountain of honey drawing droves of flies, and strange — the diligent product of beings other than as you are — but with a bit of smushed bread, sweet.

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on writing

The Great Big Shoes

Creative essaying, creative nonfiction, personal-writing-in-response-to-whatever, meditative prose. Many notating terms for the genre hover in the academic universe, undefined, unchosen, simply there…where the genre, of course, sits as uncomfortably as a smallish woman in her eighth month of pregnancy sits. Continue reading

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