Writing

Leave a Note

MailboxEven though I live just a few hours away, I don’t get to the beach enough. I resolve every so often to change that, and keep failing to make it happen. So sometimes it takes a friend to get you where you want to be, and I was lucky enough to be invited by a lovely person to spend “Flotilla Weekend” at Wrightsville Beach. I went for just 24 hours, due to schedules, but it was a wonderful blend of old and new friends and surprisingly perfect weather.

The thing that really topped it all off was the mailboxes. My friend Bill is generous beyond what most of us can imagine, and opened his rental home to a large group of friends for Thanksgiving and the weekend after. While we were there, he told us about “the mailbox.” It’s north, he said, just keep walking on the beach until you find it. You see, there’s this mailbox, right on the beach, and people leave notes and the stories of their lives there. The mailbox has been there for a long time, and was once lost to storms and relocated slightly for safety. The museum in town is now home to many of the filled-up notebooks, because people keep coming, and they keep writing.

They write in the notebooks or on loose paper about their loves, their losses, their hopes, and their pain. Bill told us, when he caught up with us at the mailbox, that he’s read several suicide notes there before. There’s no way to tell what happened to the authors. We have to fill in the blanks for ourselves. Some notes are signed, some just left behind. Some are funny – one couple had each made lists of the annoying things the other did (“You talk too much.” “You’re always eating tacos.”) and ended each with an “I love you.” People leave their stories in the mailbox facing the water, no return address. They likely say things they haven’t said before and don’t want to say anyplace else.

I was so grateful that my traveling companions were more than willing to go on the way out of town. We found the mailbox, and they began to dive in to reading the notebooks while I waited a minute just inhaling the salt air. I am recharged by the beach, and sometimes just taken with the beauty of it all, and I tend to just stop like that sometimes when I’m there. A lovely older woman stopped to talk to me about my Maurice Sendak shirt. It’s from In the Night Kitchen, and every single time I wear it, I meet somebody interesting.

Me in my Sendak shirt, my friend Bill, and the mailbox.

This woman told me that Maurice felt like an old friend because he’d helped her teach her daughter to read, and I said, yes, me too, my kids too. She told me her story, how her daughter in the 8th grade had vowed to go to college right there by the beach, and how it had come to pass, how she’d visited the area first in 1980 and decided she wanted to retire there. How she’d wisely invested then, thinking it would all be ready for her later that way. How her mother had moved in when she was still living in Raleigh “just for a couple of years” and had stayed for 27, delaying the beach by a lot. She’s been living at the beach for five years now, and she looks wonderful, at peace.

“There’s another,” she told me, another mailbox, just a little bit farther north up the beach. She wasn’t sure which came first. When she turned back around to tell me one more thing, she laughed and said “Can you tell this is my people time?” I laughed in delight and recognition. I was having my people time too, and enjoying it while I was there, even though I was already longing to get lost again inside my own thoughts.

I read the notebooks then, and wrote one sentence, and Bill showed up, and we all read together mostly quietly. It was almost anticlimactic for me, I’d just had a great story from a nice lady, and I was already feeling filled up. It was time to go and find the other mailbox, one that Bill wasn’t sure existed, but I was. I was absolutely sure it would be there.

Mailbox1 Mailbox2

And so it was.

Even after Google searches, I can’t really tell which came first, just that there have been iterations of mailboxes. There’s another, as well, somewhere on Bird Island to the south, called “Kindred Spirit.” At any rate, to me, this one was the “second” mailbox, and I loved it totally just for being there.

Sadly, it was mostly empty though, with just a simple card inside. It was a funeral card with pictures and a short wrap-up of a life well-lived. There were other notes scribbled on the card; it was the only paper in there. This mailbox needed paper. I remembered then that I’d told my friends on the drive to the beach that I carried a small notebook that I’d been sent as a gift after donating to NaNoWriMo, but I never wrote in it. I send myself emails instead, odd cryptic things often sent in the middle of the night, to remind me what to write about next, what matters. I’d been carrying this notebook unused for months. And so, of course, of course, I knew the notebook belonged here in this mailbox, facing the waves and collecting stories.

Mailbox3Sometimes I get caught up in telling my own story. I’d written almost 55,000 words in November, all my own story. I still have more to write, and someday it will be a book and that will be a great day. But in the frenzy of all this writing, I realized I’d been closed off from the stories of others. I had joked with my travelling companions, truthfully, that my counselor ordered me to socialize during that wild month of writing madly. She said I needed a “tether” to keep me from floating off into my own bubble. She was kinder than that in her phrasing of course, but that was the point – I need people, connection, to remind me that I’m on earth, to keep me grounded, at least a little bit.

So when I left that notebook, feeling very touched by serendipity, I felt more connected to everyone than I have in a good while. We are human beings, and we are made of stories. Sharing them is such a huge part of what makes us whole. So please, like the mailbox says, leave a note, and don’t worry if anybody reads it, because you are here, now, and you have a story to tell.


Thank you to the friends who keep me attached, albeit a bit loosely, to this crazy spinning marble. I am truly grateful to share so many stories with you.

NaNoWriMo, Incoming!

NaNoWriMo badgeHere’s the thing about the truth. We think we know, but we don’t really have a clue what it is. We can only do our best, groping in the dark with what little light our perceptions can cast, naming the shadows we make and claiming them as our story. In the beginnings of great loss, the shadows are strong and terrifying, and of course we cast ourselves as the hero of the piece. It’s us against the villains. But if you sit there long enough in what you thought was your story, looking around, letting your eyes adjust, you start to see things you didn’t notice before. The shadows adjust themselves to accommodate your clearer vision. If you’re curious, you start to see places where you made assumptions, or maybe took some shortcuts. You start to see the grey areas. Eventually, you see your own shadow, and you have to face the truth you see, the one that’s closer to the real truth, hopefully. And maybe you even learn to understand the villains too.

I’m learning to hold myself accountable for my shadow, while not blaming myself for having one. We all have shadows after all. So, I have to say to myself, after all this time, after all the blaming and the shame and the honest vows of innocence: “Hey self! Welcome to the human race. You messed up. You fell on your face, but you’re okay. Let’s get you cleaned up.” What, were you expecting a bunch of self-loathing? I went there for a while I suppose. But really, what would I tell someone else who was suffering? Don’t I deserve the same acceptance and forgiveness I’d give to you? Of course I do! Of course I do. We all do.

And now, I think I’m ready to tell the story that is my truth. Because my heart is open, my mind is open, and I’ve forgiven myself and others for the pain we’ve caused, the damage done. It doesn’t mean things are better, they aren’t, in a situational sense. But I am. And I’m ready now, in time for NaNoWriMo, that glorious, torturous month of writing 50,000 words. I’m ready to write about my life as an alienated parent, keeping the goal of helping other people in my heart, and with the idea of casting light on our shadows. And hopefully mixing some joy with sorrow, some hope with loss. I’m starting a book, called (for now) “Mom, redacted.” It’s non-fiction, memoir I suppose it’s called. I know, I know, it’s not a novel, but they’ve changed the rules at NaNoWriMo to accept rebels, and even if they hadn’t, I’d move into this project because it’s time.

As usual with this crazy month, I won’t see much of my friends, but I am already building in a little time, because of that whole needing other people thing. I expect to cry a lot, but in a good way mostly. I expect to make up as many excuses as I need to for avoiding phone calls and requests. I expect not to update this blog much (hell it’s been a month anyway!), but you never know. Please know that I’d really love your support. But if you want to tell me I shouldn’t, or it’s a terrible idea, or any other nay-saying stuff, just shh. I’m doing it. I just am. Happy almost-November.

Golden Handcuffs

Colorado

So I went to Colorado to be with family and fresh air, and it was wonderful. Maybe a little too wonderful, because as lovely as it is here in Raleigh, I’m having a hard time settling back down to this ordinary life that I honestly resent living sometimes. That isn’t a complaint, just the simple truth. Life is about compromises, and that pretty much always means we’re left wondering about our choices.

Every big decision I’ve made has been fairly well thought-out, and yet when I look at the path I walked to get here, it sure seems random and strange. Like everyone, I enjoy the What If game, even though time has tempered the urgency of it all. I understand on some basic level now that things are the way they are and that’s more than okay. I love life and find many things to enjoy every day.

But on a less basic level, I sense that my life is passing me by while I spend most of my waking time sitting at a computer writing about things I don’t care very much about. No, not this blog, that’s different! This is about work.

We all need some kind of work. I’ve done a bit of everything from fast food to corporate fancy. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, a home-schooler, an advocate. Some jobs were incredibly fulfilling, some soul-sucking. And honestly, the best ever was while I was recovering from a severe bout of depression and my first marriage was falling apart, which is pretty hard to explain even to myself. But I here’s why.

It’s because I was writing. I was still home with the kids, who were in school. I wrote every day as soon as they were on the bus, and watched as most of a novel stretched into life. I had an active writing partner who kept me going and tossed ideas my way. I wrote and we reviewed, and then played games until the kids got home. I drank coffee out of giant vessels and refilled frequently. I laughed every day. It’s kind of crazy to me now that I was even able to pull that off for a little while. Yes, my house was messy. But hey it still is anyway, and no new novels so far.

In this new(er) life, I get up early, but as late as I can manage, and get ready for work while my wonderful husband makes me coffee (coffee is my soul-mate). I go to work and think about what I’m paid to think about, and try to squeak out the rest of my thoughts the best I can around that. Often I feel stifled, rushed, panicked, and always insufficient. I’m basically suffocating myself creatively so that my family can have food, clothing, shelter, and most of all, health insurance. I don’t come cheap in that regard; doctors find me fascinating. Health insurance is mandatory.

Years ago when my career was just beginning and I had no children yet, the direct employees where I worked referred to the Golden Handcuffs. This meant a job they didn’t love with benefits they simply couldn’t live without, a captivated style of working. I remember thinking that those problems seemed a million years off, but I suppose I was off by most of a million. And here I am handcuffed to my desk by ideas that weren’t my own.

And so now, back home and noticing my patterns, I’m faced with trying to either find peace with this arrangement or change it. I’m not a tree, and I don’t have to bloom where I’m planted. Eight years ago I started life over with almost nothing. I traded my slow and lovely writing days for the career I’d left behind. I’d left it happily really, thrown out my watch and my badge and walked on out. Walking back in was hard as hell, in spite of the amazing luck of a fast hire into a great team. That was two companies ago, and I work for an amazing company, with amazing benefits, and a great team yet again. It’s all amazing. So many people I know want to be where I am.

Now, how do I convince myself that I do as well?

The utter delight of neighborhood bookstores

bookstoreThere’s a smell when you first walk into a small bookstore that reminds me of the homemade cookies my grandmother never actually used to bake. Ah, but I’ve read about those cookies in so many books. I’ve tasted them, wrapping myself in the loving embrace of sugar and unconditional love that has always existed for me in fiction. Walking into the bookstore is coming home.

All of my crazy relatives are here. My ancestors, the classics: Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Dickens, Twain, standing straight and reliable and in-charge after all this time. The crazy uncles: Stephen King, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, always ready for a laugh or good scare. My mysterious aunts: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Patricia Cornwell, leading me with wicked smiles wherever it pleases them. My sisters: Alice Walker, Barbara Kingsolver, Maya Angelou, helping me see into the souls of others, and into my own. Hundreds of family members waiting for my visit.

And there are always new friends to meet. I never know where to start and I sometimes wonder why it should matter, because honestly, my reading pile is already longer than I can expect to get through in my lifetime. But it matters, and I want to read them all. I always find something to sneak to the top of my pile. I hope that never stops.

Small bookstores are usually arranged like a home too. No giant sections with perfectly flushed covers and neon lights here. Instead, rooms to visit, with carefully arranged books organized to catch the eye and imagination. Thoughtful sections containing books that have been read and loved, set aside in careful groups with notes telling me why I will love them too.

As an aspiring writer, I also experience this amazing sense of my own smallness. It’s okay, I like that feeling. It’s like visiting the Grand Canyon. It gives you permission to just get on with being who you are. I am a speck of dust in the canyon, and I am so happy to be here. In many ways this is my church.

There is never enough time to spend here. Or money if I’m being honest. I wander around and back again, touching, reading, smelling. Some of these books I have on my Kindle. Yes, I have a Kindle, and yes, I use it. A lot. But I still enjoy visiting those same books on paper, touching them, taking in the covers and contents all at once in a lovely package. There is nothing like a bookstore, and nothing like the smell and feel of real pages in my hands. Cookies and milk. And I don’t ever want to leave.

 

Sometimes

[Part of a five-day art challenge in February]

Sometimes you have to
Put away the thesaurus
And put away the rhyming dictionary
And just let the words
Bang
Into one another haphazardly
Like a tangled knot of puppies
Wresting feverishly until they fall
Exhausted on the ground
In need of a healthy helping
Of mother’s milk
And a nap

Sometimes you have to
Let the storm happen
With the sky dark and swirling
And just let the words
Crash
Violently on the shore
All criss-crossing chaos
Full of push without pull
Until the moon reaches out
And stills their defiance
Bringing them to heal again
In waves

~ Liesl Dineen 2015

New home, same address (on moving to WordPress)

file000830955921Okay, so here’s where my true geek shows:

I’ve spent a couple days moving this blog from Weebly to WordPress, and I’m having a ball. All the Googling, all the cursing (it’s like swearing at video games, we all do it – right?), all the near calamities, and even 10 honest-to-goodness PLEASANT minutes on the phone with a tech support person from my hosting site – how could I complain?

So, one thing that worked well once I hunted enough was transferring the whole RSS feeds from my previous two blog pages on my old site into one blog site here at WordPress (they are now separated on two pages using categories that I already had, yay!). This is how I did that: http://weeblyrss.appspot.com/

Issues? The learning curve was a touch steep and I’m still learning the UI, but the power is awesome! I first moved to the .com site instead of .org, that took some repeated steps. My graphics didn’t come along of course, but when I used the recommended plugin, nada. So, I’m still painstakingly grabbing images from my old Weebly blog and placing them manually. Also, the fonts came in a mess in many poems, so each of those needs attention as well, and I’ve written a lot more than I thought! And the old RSS feed doesn’t match, so anyone who was using that has lost me. :(

But it was time. So, please, pardon the mess as I move in, decorate, toss the boxes, and fix the broken stuff. And welcome!

On larvae and growing wings

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Cocoons aren’t just for butterflies you know…

My ex-husband used to occasionally spend a week or so just reading and absorbing things. He called it “going larval” and while pretty much most larval forms of creatures give me major willies, the idea is pretty cool. It means you’re not quite ready to emerge yet, you’re developing, in the process of becoming.

I haven’t written anything much since one poem on 9/11. Well, I’ve written tons of sentences down for later. I email myself in the middle of the night. And during the day. I leave digital post-its on my office computer, notes jammed in my purse. If I carried a Sharpie, I’d have words written on myself most days. But I think I’ve been in a month-long larval stage myself (only without the icky squirming thing with too many legs, or with none at all).

I know I’m no butterfly. Those days are behind me I think. Maybe I’m more luna moth, those things go through so many stages of being, it’s amazing. Of course, they’re much faster at it than I am, but they do a lot of waiting to become. I feel something like that, like there’s so many stages to life, and I’ll never truly be “done” anyway. I mean, the adult luna moth lives only one week, and doesn’t eat (doesn’t even have a mouth!). It reproduces and dies. So here’s where that metaphor dies too, heh. I hope to at least get to fly awhile longer than a week.

And I’m getting closer, I’m figuring things out. I’ve been reading so much my eyes hurt. And I’ve done a couple of websites for other people too (my husband’s latest musical project for one). I think now I need to find a nice leafy spot to chill out, to take some extreme quiet time in a cocoon of my own. I know there’s a project for me on the other side of this, and I can’t wait to see what that becomes. Or, really, I guess I can wait. I guess that’s the point.

July 24

Not a-mused

I don’t think I have a muse
At least we’ve never met
I mean, I’m pretty sure
That I wouldn’t just forget

So I sit sometimes in rooms
With writers praising theirs
Naming them Calliope
Or Fred, let’s not split hairs

I sit and listen closely
Until I realize I’m lost
I notice all my tees are dotted
And that my eyes are crossed

The point is I’m unworthy
There’s no one to leave me clues
I stumble through my stories
Just a fool without her muse

~ Liesl Dineen 2014

July is for poems…

So in honor of Camp NaNoWriMo I’m doing another month of poetry writing, I’m not limiting it to one per day, so I’m just going to label each entry by day.

They’ll be just next door on the Poetry tab. Happy July!

Also, I wrote this one a day or so before July started and I can’t cheat, so here it is…


Hail

Hail to the hippies and drop-outs and drop-ins
and has-beens and seekers and mystics and sinners.
Hail to beginners and winners and losers,
to boozers and dosers, to artists and posers,
to starving musicians and chaos and cowards,
to mathematicians and the under-empowered.
Hail to the poets and potheads and freaks,
to the geeks and the meek and the ones who check Other,
to mothers and queens and in-between teens.
Hail to protesters and graffiti art vandals,
to scandals and weirdos and schemers and dreamers.
Hail to the artists, to buskers and roadies,
to the lonely and bullied and mostly forgotten,
to the rotten and punks and those on their ass.
Hail to the students who don’t learn in class,
to newbies, cosplayers and first-time-offenders.
Hail to transgenders, peacemakers and bakers,
to the dredded and shaved, to the pierced and tattooed,
to the crude and the rude and the uncomprehending.
Hail to the masses, and hail to things ending.

~ Liesl Dineen 2014

Into the arena

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Sometimes we set ourselves on a path and walk so slowly we don’t even notice we’re moving at all. So it’s good to have landmarks and road signs, and maybe a compass to make sure you’re still headed where you intended to go. This year, I have walked with intention toward conquering my fears and gaining my own voice. There have been a few roadblocks, but I have just hit a pretty major milestone.

I’ve been terrified of reading my own words out loud, alone, to friends, to strangers. I knew a year ago, really well before that, that I wanted to stand up and speak my own words at least once in my life. All this time I’ve been telling myself how scared I am, how I lose the breath from my lungs, how my throat squeezes the words back down into my belly. And it’s been true. So I decided to aim for it, attack it slowly, carve out small pieces, look at things from all the angles, and get through it somehow.

It was slow work. It took months before I could even admit to what I wanted to do. But the act of saying it out loud helped tell my feet where to point, and the rest of me followed. I set a goal. I would read at least one poem out loud in a public setting before the end of 2014. This may sound pretty feeble, but I really didn’t know if I could do it. Of course, there’s been a lot of other goals going on in my life at this same time, a lot of work on myself, my journey, living an authentic life, coping with grief and anger, and hey, actually writing the poems too…  And I’ve been working through Brené Brown‘s The Daring Way program with a great group of people on their own journeys. There is a lot of work on the arena, and those who enter it. The arena can be anything you are daring to try. It can be as simple as a conversation.

When I think about speaking my words out loud, I think very often of my old college friend Gabe. We weren’t really close, but she kept appearing in strange and seemingly unrelated parts of my life, and she was so strong and we had a lot in common. I hadn’t seen her in years, and when I found her again, she was active and amazing, and doing things I only dreamed about. She was running poetry slams and working on burlesque shows, writing poetry and loving life in spite of the crap it had dumped on her. And then suddenly she was dying of a rare form of cancer. She was my age, it was beyond crazy and horrible. She didn’t usually do the actual speaking at the poetry slams, but she had something to say, and I’ve never forgotten it, and it’s here for you too. And I knew as soon as I found her again, months before we had any idea she was dying, that I wanted to speak my words out loud. Someday.

So yes, this has been calling me, longer than I want to admit. And last night I answered, and I went  to a poetry gathering and I read not one but three poems in a room with somewhere between 15-20 people, only one of whom I knew at all. They were poets, and kind beyond words, and they clapped, and they made me want to sing with joy. All it took was months of work, and then the realization last night that the only one in the room who was looking forward to me failing was me. And so I realized I didn’t want me to fail after all, and the only way to fail was to be silent. And then I got up with my heart in my throat, and opened my mouth and my voice came out.

And yes, I’m going back next month.

httpv://youtu.be/0rRwaPkfwo4
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