An unexpected challenge of calling myself a writer

Writing at the airport, a few months before finding out I'd been accepted to graduate school.

Writing at the airport, a few months before finding out I’d been accepted to graduate school.

When I was younger, writing was easy. I was always naturally talented when it came to putting words on paper (or typing them onto a screen). I didn’t learn how to revise until graduate school, and even then, it was only my creative writing; the critical papers I turned in were always first drafts. It might take me half an hour to write a paragraph, but when I had it, I had it—though it was more usual that I’d write much more quickly.

But before then, before I began my work toward a graduate degree in writing, before I switched to studying a writing-related field in undergrad, writing was just a hobby. One of the reasons I did switch to professional writing in my third year of college was because I spent more time writing then I did studying for my engineering classes. There were no stakes when it came to telling stories like there were when I completed a problem set of studied for an exam, and in the fall of my junior year, I “won” National Novel Writing Month by writing 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. Despite feeling increasingly lost in my major (I switched from engineering to microbiology, something I’ll never understand since I’d hated the one bio class I’d taken), writing felt increasingly safe and wonderful.

It stayed that way even after I became a professional writing major. I took classes on grammar and editing, on visual rhetoric and web design. I turned in first-draft papers and received 4.0s, even when I wrote them in their entirety the same day they were due. (This is the point where I hope none of my students are reading this….) My creative work was still kept separate. Even when I began applying for MFA programs (and yes, the “revising” I did on my writing sample before sending it off amounted to changing a few words and fixing a few commas), writing remained a place of glorious refuge.

And then I got to graduate school, and suddenly things weren’t so easy. Some of my classmates were so very talented, and for the first time I wondered about my ability to live up to that level of skill. My first short story, one I was really pleased with, was politely but poorly received—I didn’t realize just how poorly until we workshopped my second story and everyone exclaimed how much better it was.

I started sending out work to be published, and like an idiot, I sent my first piece to Tin House. I told myself I wasn’t surprised when I was rejected, but in some ways I was (I was still learning the crazy level of competitiveness at literary journals, especially the ones in the upper tier). I began to wonder why I’d given up my highly lucrative future as an engineer to do something I was only okay at, and because I didn’t know how to revise (that lesson didn’t come until I started working one-on-one with my thesis advisor), I started to lose my nerve. I only wrote when I had to. The rest of the time I was too scared to open up a Word document and see what type of crap I’d spew onto the page. Instead I threw myself into editing—both critiquing my classmates’ work and through my work with Willow Springs. I began to wonder if it had all been some big mistake, if I was a better editor than a writer, and if my professors had been wrong to let me into graduate school. I worried so much about this, in fact, that I called my mother crying a few weeks before my thesis defense and told her I couldn’t do it, that I wasn’t good enough to get the degree. That I passed my defense easily and enjoyably—it’s one of the times I had the most fun in all of my MFA program—only temporarily stilled my worries.

Since then, I’ve had ups and downs with writing. I had my first short story accepted at PANK, one of the journals on my list of dream-journals, and I wrote a handful of book reviews for The Collagist. But I’ve also had frustratingly long droughts during which there weren’t any nibbles, let alone bites. And in these times of rejection rejection rejection, I find myself wondering again: am I good enough? do I have what it takes?

I’m in one of those droughts right now. Aside from a few spurts in December when I was laid out with a broken foot, I haven’t written, revised, or submitted any fiction. I haven’t even opened the files to look at my work. I’m so afraid. So very afraid of what I’ll find. I know I can write stories that are good, but being a good writer isn’t enough for me anymore, and while I know that only practice can take me from good to great, I haven’t yet figured out how to handle all the disappointment that comes with getting better, because you can’t get better without failing. And I don’t know how to fail.

Sometimes I still miss those days when the writing I did came without consequences, when I could write and write and write and still think highly of myself—highly enough that I thought, yeah, I can do this for the rest of my life. There was no risk then, but no reward, either, and I crave that reward more than almost anything else in the world. At some point, I’ll have to decide if my risking my pride and facing my fears is worth having a shot at getting what I want.

Writing tip of the week: keep your focus

A few more days of headaches and general sickness means I’m a day late on this week’s writing tip.

My first student papers come in this week, and though I haven’t started the grading yet, it seems like a good time to talk about one of the top issues I see with student papers.

First, let me say that I get where this comes from. Students want so much to impress, and they want to be seen as smart and intelligent. They are smart and intelligent. I haven’t yet had a student in my classroom that I don’t think that about, even though they have smarts and intelligences in different areas. It breaks my heart when so many of them tell me that they’re bad writers, that they hate writing. It’s clear that they don’t think they have it in them to be good writers. If there’s one thing I want to change in them, I want to disabuse them of this notion. They might not be superstar writers in every situation, but each student has situations in which they are capable of being superstar writers and communicators.

But back to focus. So many writers—not just student writers—think more is better, but in writing, it’s usually less that’s better. Staying focused on one thing, or a few things, allows you to go deeper into your subject, to explore it in ways that are interesting, that are new, or at least new angles. When writers stay off focus, when they reject depth, they have to go for breadth instead.

The trouble is, when we, as writers, go for breadth, we spread ourselves thin. We don’t go past the surface, which means we don’t move into originality. We don’t move past summary.

Now, on the one hand, that surface information is often essential. We have to start from somewhere, and what good is it to know, to pick a random example from my science days, how electrons affect bonding if we don’t first know what an electron is, or an atom, or a molecule. However, if all of the papers—or talks or whatever—on electron bonding first explained what a molecule was, then an atom, then an electron, readers would get bored pretty fast. Every time a reader picked up a piece on electron bonding, they’d get the same information, over and over, rather than learning about something new. Maybe the end of each of those pieces would do something different, but it’s a lot of breadth—a lot of surface, a lot of repetitive stuff—to get through before getting to the meat of the matter.

Now, we can think about this from a creative writing angle, too. Readers want to get into the complexity of a plot, they want to see the depth of characters. Think about Harry Potter, for instance, with just the surface plot. Where Harry, Ron, and Hermione just go after Voldemort. Where they don’t have deeper interactions with each other, or with any of the other characters. There’s no complexity of character. Harry doesn’t feel mixed feelings about his father, Dumbledore doesn’t end up being more complex, and Neville doesn’t shift from feeling scared and unimportant to brave and full of self-worth. It would be a different kind of series, then, and way shorter. It probably also would be an obscure series, not one beloved by millions. Depth is what makes those stories stand out, what makes them catch our attention, and it’s the same for most types of writing. There are of course some exceptions, but then again, there always are.

Why I’m terrible at writing nonfiction

When I was young—high school, college—my writing came from a place of pain. I thought I was in touch with some larger wisdom when I let the words just come, trying to talk about my pain as if I had felt things no one else had, things no one else could understand. “I have seen too many changes, too many unfortunate circumstances,” I wrote. “I have experienced them.” As if I were the only one.

At the time, some of those things were serious, but most were mundane, and none were unique. Still, writing was how I communicated to the world, since I wasn’t sure how to do it any other way. When I blogged about being depressed, I thought I was being honest; when I poured my heart out to the pages of a secret diary I kept on my hard drive, I thought I had found release. When I wrote an essay about losing a man I’d loved, I called him and asked permission, pretending that I hadn’t written a word yet and that I never would if he said no. I had dreams of getting it published, then of someone stumbling across it and sending it to him, saying, here, Alex, see what you mean to her. But even then I was a fiction writer, shaping my life on the page into something it wasn’t: I was less interested in the truth of any given situation and more focused on trying to create the truth I wanted there to be. I made up for the lies by putting into my nonfiction every detail I could think of, relevant or not, as a way, I suppose, of trying to prove it was real.

I always was a terrible nonfiction writer.

These days the only creative nonfiction I venture into are these blog posts, and I still can’t fully commit, but while in the past I over-shared, giving away details of loss and heartbreak on first dates or even before, these days I protect my own stories. Some days I break down and sow tiny clues (or occasionally large ones), but when people do ask, I tell them it’s nothing. And it is nothing—or at least it’s nothing I can’t get through on my own. I made the switch to fiction long ago, but these days I write about things I dread rather than things I want. Instead of giving my characters the traits I wish I had, I give them the ones I’m afraid I already possess: cowardice, naiveté, greed, fear, selfishness, and, above all, a complete inability to be agents of change in their own lives. In some ways, I’m still looking for myself in every single thing that I write. I just do it with lies rather than with half-truths.

I haven’t written anything serious in a month again. I sat down tonight to start a new story, but after listening to a horribly wonderful sad song on repeat for twenty minutes, I finally had to admit that I had reverted to my old habits, and I simply don’t allow myself to do that anymore. Writing isn’t therapy, after all, and I’ve rejected more than a handful of pieces because the writer’s emotion was too fresh for the writing to do anything other than bleed. I want to write stories that make other people bleed, but if I’m the one feeling the cut, that becomes next to impossible.

I pulled out that essay tonight about the man I once loved. I haven’t looked at it in nearly eight years, and originally I was just looking for humorously bad quotes to include in this post, but then I read through it in an objective way I never could before, and I realized it’s not really that bad. Oh, it’s cringe-worthy at times, and it sacrifices heart for pain, leaving it feeling more like a plea than an essay, but parts of it might be salvageable. Just not as a piece of nonfiction. I need some new story ideas anyway, and as I tell my students, I have an advanced degree in how to lie.

Another collection of things I’ve been saying about France plus some updates

journal entry, May 24
[My hosts] left for Madrid on Wednesday morning, and the weather has pretty much been awful since then, [but] I have gotten out a bit every day. Three times now I’ve walked to the bakery for croissants, and yesterday I also went to the tabac (for postcards) and got some groceries. I especially like the fresh produce market. Maybe I’d eat more fruits and vegetables if they all looked so good.
*Note: a few days later I had zucchini! Baby steps!

email, June 4
Today I went into Toulouse all by myself! I bought a bus ticket, caught the right bus, made the right transfer at the metro, then explored the city. I got kind of lost a few times, but I was always able to find my way back to somewhere I recognized (even without using my map). I did a lot of walking, and I did some shopping, too. I bought a crepe for lunch (ham and cheese), then I found a cafe where I could sit out in the sun and have some ice cream (raspberry sorbet). I did all my communications (in the stores, getting food) in French, and I only screwed up once. I’m getting much better! Then I walked to the Pont Neuf, found a new metro station, and headed home.

tweets, June 2 through June 5

  • Oh, you know. Just going to throw together a dinner of duck confit and roasted vegetables.
  • Five oz. cans of Coke. Who knew?
  • Even when you primarily speak, read, and think in English, it will get difficult to write in English. Seriously. It took me four tries to spell “passionate” this morning (and two to get it right in this tweet).
  • Today, I heard a word that I didn’t understand. “It’s either ‘salt’ or ‘room,'” I thought. Turns out it was “bowel movement.”
  • Honey as a savory pizza topping. Weird. (I had ham.)

in other news
I’m finding all these wines I just love, and so far I’ve had my dad checking for them at Dusty’s, but they’re so far unable to find distributors in the US. The one I’m drinking tonight was described to me as being halfway between a rosé and a red (it’s a Mauzac). It’s delicious. The wine region I’m right next to (in?) is called Gaillac.

I’ve tried a ton of new foods since being here: scallops, duck, zucchini, couscous, sundried tomatoes, and pine nuts (I think there are a few more that I’m missing…).

Going into Toulouse by myself was a big deal for me yesterday. I’ve never done anything like that before, not even in the US. It was strangely exhilarating, and I came home again feeling as if I could do anything in the world. It was a bit like how I imagine Felix Felicis is. Yes, I’m a Harry Potter nerd even in Europe.

I’ve finally been able to do a bit of writing. I’ve been trying some prompts with a friend, and between that and the ways I’ve been getting out of my shell, I’m finding that I actually do have some things to say again. Right now I’m working on a how to piece, and I’ve gotten some work done on a piece that has the same characters as “The Woman Next Door” (in PANK 7). With any luck, I’ll actually have something to bring to my writing group in a few weeks.

One week left here. Time really does fly.


Yes, writing and editing are real jobs, and they deserve real compensation

This post is in response to some requests I’ve received recently from friends and acquaintances, requests that I’m sure to receive again. What happens is this: I get a Facebook message or email—usually from someone I haven’t spoken with in years and with whom I was never very close—asking if I will perform some editing and/or writing work. Usually, after exchanging a few messages, in which I ask about the project, it becomes clear that I am being asked to do this work for free. The one time I was offered any type of payment up front it was in the form of “I’ll buy you lunch at this beloved but very cheap local restaurant,” which I interpreted as, “In payment for the work you will do for me, I will take you out on a date.”

I always turn these requests down—politely at first, as I tend to operate under the assumption that these people honestly don’t realize how rude they are being—but if the person persists, I stop caring so much about being nice in favor of caring about being valued as a working professional in a very legitimate career field.

For those of you who don’t know, I freelance these services. I have worked freelance or contract projects on web design, writing, developmental editing, copyediting, and consulting. The lowest amount I ever charged was $15/hour for web design work while I was still a student (and even then I short changed myself fairly severely). Now I primarily write and edit for freelance work. I charge between $40 and $65 per hour for this work.

If you have never worked as a freelance writer or editor, or if you have never hired a freelance writer or editor at a fair wage, these prices may seems exorbitantly high. They aren’t. I actually tend to charge on the low- to mid-end of industry standard rates ( I have never had any professional client balk at these rates. In fact, the rate I pitch is usually accepted right away, without any type of negotiation, which tells me that I still could (and maybe should) make more. Continue reading “Yes, writing and editing are real jobs, and they deserve real compensation” »

This writing shit

I’m finally back and (mostly) decompressed from AWP, which means I’m ready to start harnessing the energy and motivation I acquired while at the conference. Most of that energy comes from guilt, and from seeing so many successful people (and wanting to be like them). I figure it’s still good though, no matter where it comes from.

But I realized something at this year’s conference, something that I think I’ve slowly been figuring out over the last year or so: I’m good at writing.

It feels odd to say that considering that the reason I started this whole MFA-business in the first place was because I knew I was good at writing. Before graduate school, I’d never once done substantial revisions on any piece of writing, be it creative or academic. My idea of revision was rereading my work, deleting extraneous commas, and changing a few of the more awkward wordings. There was only one time in all of my pre-graduate school years that I got below a B on a paper, and I was so offended by my grade that I dropped the class rather than have to figure out what I’d done wrong. But even considering that one time, I never had to pay the price for not improving my work. I got 4.0s on papers I wrote, start to finish, two hours before they were due. Even my graduate school writing sample was a rough draft.

That began to change in graduate school, of course, but in a lot of ways, it was too late. Rather than learning the value of hard work, I’d learned over many years that the good thing to do was to give only 50-80% of my effort to any given project. That way, in the event that I did fail (and for me, failing has usually meant anything that is less than perfect; seriously, ask me about the time I got grounded for getting a B+ in math), I had the ready-made excuse of having not given everything I had. That way my problem could always be defined as lack of effort rather than lack of talent.

But writing is turning out to be different. You see, I am good at it, and I’m good without trying too hard. But good isn’t enough. Good doesn’t get you to the level I want to be at. Good won’t get you a book published, won’t win you any prizes or contests. Luck might, but not being good. You have to be great. And to be great, you have to work.

People ask me sometimes how it feels to do something I love. I tell them I don’t love writing but that I love having written, that I love the power of a good story, that I love creating a good story, or a good character. These people are usually shocked to hear this attitude, but I don’t see why they should be. When writing is such a huge part of your life, when it’s another job—one that never ends—it’s hard as hell. And at least so far, it hasn’t gotten easier. Oh, I get better at it, but it’s still not any easier. It’s hard work.

And I’m finally ready to work. I’m ready to stop making excuses about why I haven’t written in two days, ten days, three weeks. I’m ready to take a chance for once in my life, to risk giving everything I have and still not being enough. But I want more than I have, and I’ll never get it sitting here talking about someday. This starts now. Wish me luck.

Performing an identity

The AWP conference started yesterday, and the last twenty-four hours have been a whirlwind. For those who don’t know, AWP is an annual writing conference, with panels and a huge bookfair (think hundreds of tables to visit). This year there are (I believe) seven thousand writers in town for the three days of the conference.

So far it’s been good. I’ve bought more books than I probably should have (and will most likely acquire a few more before the conference ends on Saturday), and I’ve met and reconnected with some truly awesome people.

It’s also been stressful. I’ve done one previous AWP conference (2010 in Denver), and in the two years since, I apparently forgot how crazy, busy, and overwhelming it is. More than all the people and booths, however, what exhausts me is the constant need to push my introverted qualities away and pretend like I have more extroverted ones than I do. It’s a performance for me, and when that needs to go on all day, it becomes more than a bit wearing.

The problem (or, perhaps, just one of them) is that I don’t find myself very interesting, and while I genuinely like many (most? all?) of the people I meet, I can’t get rid of this lingering self-doubt that tells me they find me horribly boring. I don’t worry that people actively dislike me, but rather that, once I walk away, they don’t think of me again.

I don’t know what to say in groups. I don’t follow group dynamics. I alternate between not knowing what to say and so saying nothing and not knowing what to say and so saying the first thing that comes to mind until I’m babbling. I smile a lot, and nod when I don’t necessarily understand. I ask questions, but often struggle with articulating them. I do this even with people I know fairly well.

Usually, I prefer sitting at home to going out. I prefer solitude to groups, even when I’m feeling lonely. The one real exception is my immediate family, and they don’t understand why I’m not as comfortable with others as I am with them.

Yesterday, I found myself in conversation with someone I’d been really looking forward to seeing, but it was a group conversation, and I mostly just stood there mute. The girls on either side of me talked freely, jumped into the conversation in a way that felt natural, unplanned. Close to interruption, but in an intimate rather than rude way. I walked away from this group feeling dejected. There wasn’t any reason I should have been given a one-on-one conversational moment, but I still felt cheated for not receiving one (because, you know, I didn’t ask for one).

In my hotel room hours later, I lay staring at the dark ceiling, and realized my disappointment stemmed from wanting to feel special, important, and from the fact that I have a hard time feeling special or important of my own right. Usually those feelings only come from external forces. I think this is why I often miss school so much—I received these types of confidence boosts without having to seek them out: a good workshop, a good grade on a paper, a verbal compliment during a thesis meeting. Now, I’m floundering. Except at twenty-seven, it’s not supposed to be like that, and so I perform—or try to.

Like in my writing, I excel when given a specific task. I do perfectly well sitting behind a booth talking about a literary journal, or in front of a classroom when following a lesson plan. I feel comfortable when someone points out the flaw in my writing that I should fix, but I still struggle with finding the flaw myself. I still struggle with knowing what to do in non-scripted encounters. On the whole, the issues with my writing are improving faster than those with my personality. I suppose I should consider that a good thing.

10 things I would do with more hours in the day

I’m departing from the usual in this blog, and especially the tone of my most recent post (though perhaps recent isn’t the best word) to bring you something silly and fun. Silly and fun? you ask. Why yes, I am capable. I know it might be a surprise. So without further ado, here are ten things I would do if there were one, maybe two more hours in the day.

1. Exercise more: I’m trying to be more active, to do at least one physical thing each day. Mostly because I miss the way certain parts of my body used to look, no small bit because it’s rather embarrassing when I’m winded after two flights of stairs (and I NEVER take the elevator), but also because I spend way too much time sitting each day. With more time in each day I would go on more bike rides, go on more walks with my dogs, finally start an ab program that I stayed faithful to.

2. Learn more: It’s no secret right now that I’m learning French (I try to spend at least 15 minutes a day on it), but less well-known is the fact that I have a stack of old textbooks that I have every intention of reading. Sitting on my shelf right now I have books on chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, linguistics, feminist theory, and literature. And yeah, when I do find the time to pull one of those out, I do the exercises.

3. Bake more: I love to bake, especially bread. And not with a bread machine either. No, you’ve got to get your hands in there. It’s the physical connection, the smell—the absolutely yummy food you get to eat. I can’t even think of the last thing I baked, though. Maybe those ginger molasses cookies at Christmas?

4. Play more video games: I really try to make an effort to not spend too much time in front of the television—TV doesn’t interest me all that much unless it’s the Food Network—but I do have a soft spot for certain video games. But right now I do limit my time rather severely. Plus—and this has nothing to do with how much time there is or isn’t in the day—my Xbox is broken right now.

5. Sleep more: I like to sleep, I do. But I also am not a fan of sleeping in until 11. I like to be up by 9:30 at the latest, but when I stay up reading until 4 a.m. some nights, I end up really tired the next day. I really do need my full eight hours.

6. Be more social: Sometimes I think my friends must think I don’t want to hang out with them, because I’m very good at being busy when they call. With more time I could better show them that, yes, I care.

7. Straighten my hair more: Okay, I know this one sounds silly, but I stopped straightening my hair regularly about the time I started graduate school. There were just other things that needed to be done—it felt silly to spend half an hour with a straightening iron in front of the bathroom mirror. But—call me vain—I really do love having straight hair.

8. Spend more time on forgotten or new hobbies: I’m really, really good at filling my time. And there are so many things in life I wish I could try, could be good at. Take my guitar playing. It was a hobby for a few years, but now I hardly ever touch it. And I’d really like to finish that one cross stitch piece I started four or so years ago. And I’d really like to learn more about history. And I wish I knew how to use Flash. I wish I could identify the birds that come to our bird feeder without looking in the book. There’s so much knowledge out there, and I really do want it pretty much all of it.

9. Read more: I have so many books that I want to read, and yet I don’t often seem to have the time to really dive in to books. Oh, I read pretty much daily, and I do spend some nights reading when I should be sleeping (see number 5), but I wish I had time enough that I am able to read faster than I buy books.

10. Write more: Too much lately this has been the first thing falling off my plate. I’ve got work, I want to write a book review, I try to stay networked, I’ve got errands to run, I’ve got to plan for that community ed class I want to teach in the fall… I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that. My family/friends want to spend time with me. The dog is lonely. I’ve got another darn migraine. And somehow, too much of my writing is being done in my head. Despite being number 10, this is the number one reason I’d like more time. Though I do worry that even with all the time in the world, I’d still find reasons (numbers 1-9 for starters) to put off writing.

But I’m working on it. I promise.

I don’t know when to speak, when to stay silent

Lately, I’ve been considering backing out of a writing commitment I have. I’m feeling threatened, taunted, and ridiculed in a space that should be safe. I don’t want to give up the exposure or the experience I’m getting, but I’m also getting tired of the mini panic attacks I’m starting to get with each new instance. What’s worse is that I know most outsiders probably won’t see what I see and will be of the opinion that I’m making a big deal out of nothing. In some ways, I can’t disagree with that. Going by the actual textual evidence from the last few weeks, there isn’t much there, but once you add in the weight of my experience, the history, it grows. And as it’s not a history I’m willing to talk about to the greater Internet, I will continue to look like a drama queen.

But there are always some things that can be said, some things that can be done. In the last few years I’ve realized I do have a voice, one that matters. But the best option isn’t to always say what’s on your mind. Sometimes speaking only escalates things. And besides, my mom taught me that often, in these situations, the bigger person is the one who lets it go, who walks away.

The problem comes up, though, when part of the original problem was in having your voice silenced. When someone starts to tell you what and how to think, walking away silently can send the message that you give in, that the other person wins. That there’s even a game that can be won, in some way. It’s a balance that’s almost always on my mind, going back to the first time when I realized that I didn’t deserve to be treated this way. I don’t want to let others silence me, but I don’t want the situation to be any worse. Maybe there’s not a correct balance, or maybe the answer is one I don’t want to hear, but I’m wondering, and testing, and trying to find something that works. Worst case scenario, I excuse myself from this writing gig and move on with my life, finally free from this person. But still, I don’t like the idea of giving up something I enjoy, something that helps me, because of the presence of someone else.

Your life—fictionalized!

This past weekend, my family cleaned out the basement. This meant I spent approximately 24 hours of my weekend going through boxes. As could be expected, I found some interesting stuff: my old yearbooks (signed by someone people I can’t place in my memory, by other people I’m [sadly] no longer friends with, and still other people I’m [gladly] no longer friends with), my 6th grade diary (so unbelievably embarrassing), all my old soccer cuttings (I was in the paper a lot, or at least that’s what it seems now).

As I said, most of it was interesting. There were, however, moments that were much more sad. A graduation card from a friend that I’m pretty sure I drove away through early college selfishness, a yearbook signature from someone who I didn’t even realize was a friend until she’d moved away—and a host of pictures that meant nothing to me at the time but that, nine years later, I’m able to see from a different perspective. You see, at the time, I didn’t think I meant a whole lot to anyone. I didn’t think anyone noticed me. But someone had, it turned out. In every group picture that we’re both in, this person is next to me. Leaning in. It’s so obvious now. But it’s also too late. By years. You see, we don’t even speak anymore.

And this was the point when the fiction writer in me realized that, as a writer, I have the ability to recast my past. Yes, things happened a certain way. I know that. I’m not trying to pretend they didn’t. But I have a new understanding of that past now, so in a way, I’ve recreated it. It’s like looking at the same scene from two different vantage points—the same things happen, but it all appears slightly different to the different observers.

This came up again earlier today, when I was being pushed around by someone online. This person had said some things to which I took offense. Most upsetting, he’d seemed to take credit for something in my life that had absolutely zero to do with him. Not wanting to be silenced (I’ve had enough of that over the years), I responded. But then I wondered, how can I let this go? How can I not end up shaking from anger and fear while hundreds of miles away? He won’t let me have the last word—he’s always right, you see. But then I realized, I can recreate this situation. I can refuse to acknowledge (or even notice) any response. Yes, he probably will respond, but in my reality, I finally had the last say, because that’s all I’ll allow.

I don’t exactly know where I’m going with all of this, just that these revelations have seemed—to me—to be directly related to my growing skill of a writer. I’ve noticed that I see the world differently these days, and not in a way that can be explained by the mere fact that I’m growing older, experiencing more. But I’m beginning to see that this is my life, and, to a certain extent, I can write it how I want it.