Your Life in Words – A Guest Post

creativity man dancing

Welcome back! I’m celebrating my return to the blog with my first guest post from a writing colleague and friend I met over a year ago at a writing retreat. Jaime is working on her first novel, and I’ve had the pleasure of reading a portion of it. 

After a tortuous summer—during which I found writing difficult at best—it seems fitting to look at this often dark side of the creative arts. 

Mental illness

Staring at a blank piece of paper or the insistent blinking of a cursor on the computer screen is a tortuous business. We’re supposed to be writers, or aspiring writers, at least. That means we must actually write something, anything, to fill the page, meet the word count, beat the deadline.

But as all readers of writing blogs know, writing is hard. Taking the same 26-letter alphabet that’s available to everyone and creating something new, different, moving, evocative – not so easy.

Sometimes I wonder if the “torture” we put ourselves through is self-inflicted to draw out our angst and emotion. (*Please note: I understand that true mental illness is not self-inflicted.)

Think about it: many of history’s greatest artists across all genres have been truly tortured ones: Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace. And that’s just the writers.

The worlds of dance, music and painting can claim their fair share of men and women burning from the inside out to communicate and, possibly, rid themselves of their demons through various forms of visual, musical or physical expression.

creativity man dancing

Creative Commons: https://vimeo.com/groups/weekendchallenge/videos/135494749

I’ve been a journalistic writer most of my life; fiction is new to me and I’m not very good at it. So to better understand and learn the craft, I follow a few blogs, read or listen to the occasional tutorial, and twice have attended weekend writing retreats (where I met this blog’s host).

Without a doubt, the two most innovative, wrenching and electric pieces I heard during those getaways where written by people who’d endured life-altering loss, neglect or disappointment.

These writers utilized their damaged psyches to thread words in combinations that, like a poke in the eye, force you to see the possibilities you’ve missed but they found. Their pain is a tool they wield to create.

Which makes me wonder: do we have to be damaged to produce great work?

A quick google search of “writers mental health” generates 12.6 million results in less than one second, with a Wikipedia article on “Creativity and Mental Illness” leading the pack. One Indian study from 2007 intimated that writers are more in touch with their feelings than “noncreative” types; perhaps those of us who sit before a keyboard are more sensitive and empathetic than our left-brain peers.

A 2003 article from the American Psychiatric Association goes so far as to investigate the “Sylvia Plath Effect,” essentially saying that yes, there’s a link between mental health and creativity. One blog noted that writers “were found to be 121% more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder than the general population.”

Eek! Which comes first, artistic virtuosity or intellectual/emotional instability? Does that mean that a well-adjusted, reasonably happy person should lose hope? If your life isn’t ping-ponging from one crisis or drama to the next, should you shelve your dreams, unplug your computer or toss your journals?

No way.

Because in my decades on this fine planet, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that life has a way of evening-up the score, no one gets away unsinged. I doubt that the intensity of injury or history of hurt matters. Whether it was being ostracized at the high school lunch table, weathering a bitter divorce or caring for someone you love who’s in pain, everyone gets burned.

Let’s be honest, pursuit of this craft is itself some kind of crazy – we write for months, edit, revise and re-write with the understanding that rejection is far more likely than acceptance. We’re all a bit nutty.

Our minds are fertile ground. Chances are you don’t have to dig too deep to come across an emotional scar or unresolved personal trauma.

And while it’s doubtful that I’ll ever achieve the agility of language that seems to flow from my favored authors Amy Tan or Ann Patchett, I can still mine the joys and sorrows of my life experience to put words on paper.

I am a writer, beckoned by the blank page and demanding cursor, not tortured by them.

Jaime guest blog

 

Jaime Baum is an aspiring fiction writer and recovering journalist. Currently a media relations consultant for a national PR firm, in the past she’s written for Make It Better magazine and the Sun-Times News Group as a features and business writer.

2 Thoughts on “Your Life in Words – A Guest Post

  1. Great post, Jaime & Suzanne! I’ve also wondered about this connection between personal trauma and creativity. Do you have to have suffered in order to have something to say? Can you still write an interesting personal essay, memoir, or even fiction, without having a defining tragedy in your past? I love your conclusion: as humans, we all experience pain at one time or another. The relative intensity doesn’t really matter. It’s more about how you draw on it and express it. (Of course, I can also relate to the nuttiness of simply being a writer!)

    Good luck with your writing projects!

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34 Ways NOT to be an Asshole

Call your mother

Are you one of those people?

Have you found a way to function in society—to get most of what you need and some of what you want—without infringing on, or repelling others?

If so, congratulations. It’s comforting to meet you and to know that there are still people that don’t assault, deride, or otherwise demean fellow humans.

But some of you need help.

In case you were misunderstood as a child, in case you didn’t have good examples to follow, consider these tips for getting along with others.

These are all things most of us learned by the time we got out of high school. But not all of us.

And let’s face it, times have changed. We have more opportunities to be asshole-y then ever before. (This is odd because we probably physically interact less than ever.)

Read on and try one or two of them:

Call your mother

law_keven/Creative Commons

Call your mother. Minimum once a week. If only once a week, do it on a Sunday.If your mother kept you alive and didn’t torture you, she deserves not to be left all alone on a Sunday.

Eat dinner with your family (your family can be puppies, a roommate, a gay lover, whomever) occasionally. No phones allowed.

Grow something outdoors. On a balcony, in a public garden, in your backyard. (Legally)

Hiking boot plant pots

Photo: Andrew Bowden, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Watch your child’s sport event or musical performance, or any other activity. Watch them. Put your screen, newspaper, book away. They’re watching you and they see you NOT watching.

Quit multi-tasking. You suck at it. Unless you’re a parent making dinner and folding laundry—you, we salute.

Smile at people. Especially if you were just staring at them, visually assessing them and are caught. Do not just look away.

Learn how to merge. It’s a zipper people. First one car, then the next. Don’t be the second car trying to squeeze in.

https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/blog/23-posts-on-trade-show-etiquette/

https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/blog/23-posts-on-trade-show-etiquette/

Hold the door for people.

Say thank you to someone who held the door for you.

Send thank you notes. Actual real paper thank you notes with a stamp and everything.

Stop hitting “reply all” to your work emails. You don’t need to point the public finger when someone screws up, and no one wants to see the 37th email wishing someone “Happy Birthday.”

Read the entire post or article before commenting on it.

Don’t argue politics on social media.

Mind your own business about what other people wear, listen to, eat – unless they’re minor children under your direct supervision.

Introduce yourself to your neighbors.

Worry more about the environment and less about the number of syrup pumps in your latte.

Pay attention to your friends. If you’re lucky enough to see them in person, vow to keep your face out of a screen while you’re together.

Don’t shoot people.

Recognize that religion is private and personal.

Visit sick people in the hospital.

Dive in and help someone in crisis instead of telling them you’re there if they need you. Most people won’t ask for help.

Tip your server – even the incompetent ones.

Say please and thank you to those you love.

Encourage someone in your field. Look out for the new guy, mentor a youngster.

Celebrate your parents’ anniversaries.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes (not literally).

Thank a public servant.

Police Officers

Creative Commons / Tiptoety

Don’t have sex with people who don’t or can’t say yes.

Be on time.

Return calls/texts/emails or reduce your social circle.

Teach your kids not to be assholes.

Don’t let your dog (cat, iguana, etc.) behave like an asshole.

If you mess up on any of these, apologize and try again.

www.odditycentral.com

Call your mother. Seriously!

 

2 Thoughts on “34 Ways NOT to be an Asshole

  1. Good advice, Suzanne! I’d like to think most people mean well, but lately it seems more and more people are doing “asshole-y” things. Your tips ought to be taught in school!

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Mom vs. HuffPost: Mom Wins

Fried eggs in my restored Iron Skillet

I spend half my time trying NOT to become my mother, and the other half wishing I were half as good as her at some things.

For example, I didn’t want her wide hips and flat chest, but no one asked me. Likewise, I’d have loved her singing voice and brilliant blue eyes; again, no one asked me.

So when the potato and sea-salt video from HuffPost lit up Facebook last week, I hitched up my britches and decided it was time to rescue my rusty iron skillet from the bowels of the garage.

Iron Skillet Potato Sea Salt

My Actual Pan and Potato (eyes removed): A smidge of rust is visible to the right, but the entire bottom was flaking and rusted, too.

After all, my mother and all of her ancestors wouldn’t dream of cooking in anything but an iron skillet. She bakes in them, fries eggs in them, makes cornbread in them.

I’m a decent cook and can follow a sewing pattern, both things my mom excels at. But I’d burned something in our one iron skillet over a decade ago, and let it soak and rust.

Oh, the shame.

When the magic video made the rounds, I thought I’d redeem myself and my pan. Thank God for HuffPost, right?

I called mom to ask about the potato and sea salt method.

She scoffed.

I told her I’d heard I shouldn’t use soap.

She scoffed.

We had two potatoes. Well, there were two slightly mushy, alien vegetables with tentacles in a basket on the counter. And, I had purchased a new box of kosher salt in December.

(I’d had an Etsy-spasm a month before and was determined to make organic olive oil facial scrub to give as gifts. Instead, I bought anti-bacterial soap and tubes of Chapstick in bulk.)

The box of salt remained full.

I sliced off the bulging potato eyes and filled the pan with salt and water and started scrubbing.

And scrubbing.

And scrubbing.

For 90 minutes.

Until the skin peeled back from my cuticles and the potato was mashed.

Still, rust remained. I watched the video a second time.

sos pads

The part of my brain that is like my mother’s kicked in. I chucked the slimy potatoes, recycled the empty $3.50 box of salt, and reached for a .30 cent SOS pad.

Fifteen minutes later: Voila, my pan was restored.

Skillet after

I spent the rest of the day seasoning it. Baking in it. Fried two eggs in it. Took selfies with it. Compared it to my hips and chest and then called my mother.

Fried eggs in my restored Iron Skillet

She was proud. My family’s bellies were full. Mom: 1, HuffPost: 0.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Thoughts on “Mom vs. HuffPost: Mom Wins

  1. colleen on May 29, 2016 at 12:08 pm said:

    Ha ha ha! Good ol’ SOS pad. Mama so often knows best! :O)

  2. Too funny, Suzanne! That sounds like something I would try. Good to know it doesn’t really work! 🙂

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