Saturday, June 29, 2013
They say you need to write every day. Now, who "they" are, I've never been quite sure, but I've heard multiple "them's" talking about this practice and how important it is to keep your mind alive, your fingers nimble at the keyboard and your creativity flowing. "They" also say that about 3 pages, or roughly 750 words is optimal. Well, there is website that has taken this idea and run with it. A website I turn to when hand writing just seems too tedious, too boring, too whatever.
Above is my world cloud from 750words.com. I recommend the site for any and all writers or people that need some sort of outlet that is sometimes faster than sitting down and journaling for an hour or three pages or whatever you feel you need. I don't know about you but sometimes my hand cramps, I can't find my journal or a working pen or a pen I particularly care for or I am simply too bored to stare at a blank page. But, I always know where my laptop is. It is (almost) always charged or close to an outlet. And from years of practice and 8 years in some sort of college setting, I've become a very adept and quick typist. If only secretaries made millions - I'd be rich! Anyway, 750words.com is amazing. It is a website that gives you a blank page with the goal of reaching 750 words per day. It is completely anonymous, no one else can read your entries and there is no way for anyone to access it. It is basically a virtual journal that will stay hidden beneath the metaphoric bed of your desk or laptop. It records your time and your previous entries and the best part is it generates stats about each entry. It tells you if your post was predominantly positive or negative, if it was dealing with yourself or concerns about others, if you were dealing with the past, present, or future. It tells you if you were introverted or extroverted, if you were talking mostly about body image or preoccupied with wealth and success. It rates your post in terms of parental guidance, PG, PG-13, or explicit if you swore a lot or wrote about sex, drugs, and/or alcohol. And it generates a word cloud, a grouping of words most often used during your post, the larger and bolder they are, the more often those were used compared to others. At times, you will feel like quite the narcissist as sometimes "I" and "me" occur in glaringly large and bold frequency. The grouping above was mine for today. I was mostly concerned with the present, the sense of sight and myself. It was introverted, positive, uncertain and dealt with feelings. According to my stats, I was feeling affectionate and concerned mostly with success. My rating was PG-13 and it took me 27 minutes to write.
It is a beautiful and wonderful tool, a website that allows you instant insight into what you may be struggling or preoccupied with at the time of writing. Almost like a free therapy session, a computer program that looks through all of your bullshit and free writing about whatever your silly little head comes up with and tells you what you're really talking about, what you're really worried about, what is coming up through your writing even if you didn't intend for that in the first place.
Try it. No one is there to read it or judge you. If nothing else it gets you going, gets your hands moving and your mind wandering.
Friday, June 21, 2013
I took several personality tests one afternoon while visiting home in South Bend. I had explained to my mother why a certain man I was dating was frustrating me. He had been attributing his still-single status to his INTJ diagnosis. He was forever over-thinking things, bitter because he was always trying and misunderstood, and was always ten steps ahead of everyone else. I didn’t buy it. So, with nothing else to do, I googled what it actually meant to be an INTJ and one thing led to another and both my mother and I found ourselves on the patio, sitting in the mid-June Midwest sun taking personality tests. Her results were spot-on. After answering about eighty multiple choice questions, the personality type that it generated matched her perfectly. Not a single description fell short of the mark. She was labeled an “Artist” with a giving and charitable spirit, steadfast and strong in her beliefs, forever kind, and believing the best in everyone. Perhaps the man wasn’t wrong about being a “type” if my mother was so easily able to fit into one of them. I took three different tests all resulting in different answers. Unsatisfied with the somewhat-correctness of one and identifying a few familiar attributes of another, I began reading the descriptions of every one of the sixteen "kinds of people out there" that Carl Jung had coined so many years ago hoping to identify one that outlined me and my behavior and tendencies. I thought surely that I had to be found in one of the sixteen.
But none did. I could relate to and identify some of my behaviors and attitudes in most of the different personalities, but no single one was most definitely “me.” I felt fractured and disjointed, but mainly I felt disappointed and discouraged. Had I answered the questions honestly? Had I understood the format? Was I answering the questions so that I would get a certain result or was being honest about whether or not I preferred being the center of attention or just one in the crowd? The more tests I took, the worse I felt about the results I was given. It was like opening the paper and suddenly finding your astrological sign removed from the list. Everyone else seemed able to fit in somewhere, but I was left adrift, floating in the space where children still believe they can be princesses and astronauts.
Naturally, this led to a crisis of identity.
I have often joked that I have identity issues because my mother called me by the wrong name for the first two weeks of my life. My father named me, and my mother accidentally (and continuously) referred to me as “Victoria” both in the hospital and after I had been brought home. This story has become a sort of individual urban legend and personal punch line, one meant to alleviate the guilt of new acquaintances calling me by the wrong name and to illicit a chuckle, always seeking to amuse and please. However, I wonder if there is some truth behind the polite smiles.
DO I know myself? I would like to think that I do. I would like to think that here, now on the other side of my mid-twenties, I at least have the majority of “me” figured out. But I’m not so sure.
The frustrating part is how badly I want to be sure. I want to be sure that I do not want to get married – ever. I feel approximately 98% positive that I do not want children, unwilling to share and transform my body to host what I consider an infection and shackle myself to a gamble of a person for the next several decades, knowing myself unable to leave well enough alone, forever trying to ensure they are taken care of emotionally, financially and physically.
But then I recall that small voice at the tender age of thirteen thinking that I couldn’t bear the idea of having children past the age of twenty-six, not wanting to be an “old mother” or one that wasn’t able to enjoy life after they had graduated and gone off on their own adventures. I wanted to be just like my mother, pregnant with me at twenty and my sister at twenty-two, both of us graduating and out of the house, the smoke still visible from her 40th birthday cake’s candles. I was proud to brag how young and fun and likable she was and is. Now I’m here, twenty-six, the age and point of no return where the self-imposed clock has run out, and wonder if my decision to avoid procreation is in fact that – a decision. Or, if I am deluding myself into thinking that this is something I’ve said I’ve chosen to avoid the grim truth that I have not found a mate, found some “one” or some “where” or some “way” to start a family. Like the man’s personality moniker, are my principles and tenets for my life just another excuse and coping mechanism for my own extended single-status?
Growing up, I was always too nervous, too insecure, and too shy to date and enter that social sphere of boyfriends and girlfriends until I was in my sophomore year of college. All I wanted to do was be good at everything I tried. I wanted to be the smartest, get the highest grades and earn enough to pay for everything I ever wanted. But despite my interest in books and school and careers and success, all I really wanted was a boyfriend. Look at any number of my journals from the age of eleven to eighteen and page after page pleads to the invisible and silent confidant to explain why I was still alone, ignored, and rejected. Coping with these insecurities I would imagine what my future boyfriend/husband would look and act and sound and taste and feel like. I would imagine what he would do for a living, where we would go on dates, how we would look when we grew old together. Rereading these lonely entries I often think how truly pathetic I was. But I supposed locking myself up in my own imagination was easier, safer, and I felt better thinking God had someone perfect, tied up in a ribbon, waiting for the right time to reveal himself.
I went on to date every possible alternative to what I had imagined in my journals. None of them were charming, and none of them were particularly attractive. None of them inspired greatness or encouraged me to be any better than I already was. None of them inspired a picture in my mind of us as an old couples walking side-by-side. And I don’t know if it was because I didn’t think I deserved better, or I was so eager to latch onto every loser because I was too tired of waiting for anything.
With each disappointing and failed relationship, I became more and more cynical. I began to believe and tell every man I met that I was bad at commitment, that I would close myself off, become distant, and shy away from their affections and attentions. I retreated under the cloak of independence and feminism and “fear” of relationships and unconventional and un-conservative opinions about marriage and children so that I had a ready reserve of reasons and explanations for being alone.
And there were some good ones. There were some heart-breakingly beautiful men. There were some that were intelligent and accomplished and responsible and funny. There were some that brought me to my knees with the smallest glance and perfectly crooked smile. But for some reason or another, those good ones didn’t last any longer than it took for me to get my hopes up. I met them while studying abroad and didn’t have the direction or emotional capacity to sign up for an international relationship at nineteen-years-old. Or they were graduating and moving across the country and we hadn’t had the opportunity to advance to the discussion of whether or not I should follow – that happened twice. Or I was already dating a loser when the gift of one of these gleaming, golden gems of a man was dropped into my lap. And forever unable to avoid the guilt and shame of disappointing someone in favor of my own personal and assured happiness, I allowed that chance to slip through my fingers alongside my hope and optimism for other possible chances.
So, now here I sit, still alone and unable to determine what it is that I want to do, follow my own advice and invest my energy into everything and anything else or continue to obsess and fight against everyone’s opinion that I will eventually come around and want the life and the marriage and the babies that I wanted as a teenager.
Maybe my mother wanted me to be Victoria (and maybe in a small way still does). Maybe, if I had grown up under a different name, I would have a different outlook on life. Maybe I would have been more outgoing, less dreamy and more eager to make friends instead of imagine the ones that were waiting for me in the perfect life I thought I deserved or could earn. Maybe if I was Victoria, and not Veronica, I could give my mother grandchildren. Maybe Victoria could meet a man and imagine weddings and white dresses and fences and open herself up to the possibility of a happy and wholesome future. Maybe Victoria would be pregnant with her second child by now. Maybe Victoria would be happy.
That is a lot of maybe’s.
And I can’t go back. I grew up Veronica. All I can hope for it to learn from the ghost of my eleven-, thirteen-, and eighteen-year-old self. I must learn from her obsession and blindness and stubbornness about the way things should be and accept things as they come.
I pity her. I wish so badly that I could go back, put my arm around her and tell her that it didn’t matter that I hadn’t been kissed yet. The world would not come to a screeching halt if I went to college without having ever been on a date. I would pat her thick hair, smooth the unruly cowlick parting her bangs down the center of her forehead, and cup her chin, lifting her desperate eyes up to mine. It doesn’t matter. I would tell her that I’m still in the same place – wondering what I’m doing wrong, why men aren’t breaking down my door. Focus on absolutely everything else, it doesn’t get any better. I would tell her to stop waiting around for her life to start. You will get better. I would encourage her to study even harder than she already did, put more effort into her reading and writing, redirect her energy from worrying about the timing of life and actually start living it. It will help. And I would hold her tight, letting her know that all she needed was me, her, us together. You’re all you need to be happy. I would tell her that she is complete and not lacking. You are enough.
We filled our backpacks with rations for a two-day journey. Cheese sticks, flashlights, a ball of string, carrots to lure rabbits, a picnic blanket, Kipling’s Just So Stories (for me), a Barbie (for my sister) and Oreos. We called out farewell to our mother as we walked out the back door, through the wash room, down the stairs and across the back yard.
“Shush, Charlie!” we said to our golden lab who barked at us, his dark eyes grinning, tongue lolling out of his mouth and his creamy tail wagging, wishing he wasn’t tethered to the old magnolia tree. He could not come with us on this journey. He would scare away our game.
We had just studied Lewis and Clark and their trek across the country with Sacajawea. We had no Indian guide, but we figured we were just as good as the two men who wanted to seek out new places and an adventure. The grasses were hip-high to our five and seven-year-old selves, and it felt like twenty miles to the forest’s edge. We stopped halfway and ate part of our cheese sticks, proud we had the discipline to save the rest for dinner. After all, the Cheerios from breakfast were still full in our bellies.
Once we crossed the tree line, the harsh Alabama sun was blocked by a vast canopy of leaves, dappled and streaking in here and there. We swerved through young, thin trees for hours, heading for the creek that we had found last summer. We knew we needed water, having forgotten to bring anything to drink. We had also learned that if it was running, it would be clean. Cupping our small hands, we scooped chilled mouthfuls, the grittiness of the sandy bank crunching between our teeth. We drank our fill and decided to make camp for a while.
We found a large oak with its roots exposed and raised high above the ground. It was like a massive cage, the cracks just wide enough for our tiny bodies to fit through. We could find no better place to claim for shelter and squeezed in to sit beneath its protection. I wanted to make sure we would be safe beneath this tree so I looped the string through, round and round, in and out of every branch until we were even more caged in, a string web of safety to eat our Oreos and wait for rabbits in peace. We began setting about making rabbit traps, using the remaining string to tie to a stick box held up by another branch waiting to be pulled down and on top of a hungry rabbit. Surely this was learned by watching cartoons as we were without guns or foraging knowledge given by Sacajawea to Lewis and Clark.
Hours passed and we never caught anything, never even spotted a puffy white tail. I grew bored with my book and Hilary could only pretend for so long that Barbie was on a safari. Eventually we broke camp and headed back home, our bellies urging us towards hot dogs and macaroni and cheese promised to us for dinner. We packed everything up but left the string. It was too tangled to recover but we justified its abandon with the vow we would return the next day to resume our hunt. Months later the string would turn yellow, the roots stretching it out as their arms and fingers grew larger. Autumn rains weighed the twine down, becoming dirty from the elements until it looked like some foreign vine claiming a space among the tree’s roots.
Saturday, June 1, 2013
*Disclaimer: Extreme amount of self-pity and doubt to be found below. I am aware that this too shall pass.
But not yet.
But this week, this past week, I've been struggling with a nagging feeling that starts at the pit of my stomach and reaches up and around settling in the tense part between my shoulder blades. And it doesn't make sense. I am about to begin my third week of a 10k training program. I've been eating regularly and healthily, and I've been doing a decent (though not incredible) amount of writing. I'm doing well at work. I was asked to allow part of a paper I wrote last year to appear in one of my professor's articles. All really good things. But I'm not happy.
For every positive, I feel there is a negative. Today marks the day in which I was planning on beginning the great submission process, sending out drafts and query letters and essays to journals and literary agents. I've got nothing. I don't have a single piece, let alone a series or collection of pieces that I would be willing to send out. The feeling of failure is suffocating. I'm finding it difficult to breath and my eyelids feel heavy, physically willing me to shut out this day that will pass like any other, and in no way closer to the fruition of my dream of becoming a published writer.
I turn 26 in eleven days. I wanted to do and be so much at this point. I trembled at the turn of my 25th year, but now, now that 25 is ending and 26 is beginning, I feel the pace of time accelerate, the belt quickening, the lapping dog snapping at my heels of goals unmet, and achievements incomplete.
I have always had very high expectations of other people. Those closest to me say this is one of my biggest flaws, not allowing for missteps in friends and family. I demand perfection. And so many have failed, so many have caused me to sit up waiting, pay for things that are not mine, do things that do not fall under my umbrella of responsibility. But, at the end of the day, at the end of this difficult week, at the beginning of this loaded month, no one can, nor ever will disappoint me as much as I disappoint myself. There are so many things that I'm doing right, so many brave and smart choices that I've made. But none of it feels like enough. None of them feel any different than what I was doing a year ago. Why bother at all?