Category Archives: For Good

Oh, George, you took the words right out of my mouth

I went to see George Strait in concert many, many years ago in Boise, Idaho. It was the mid- or late 1980s. He was (and still is) lovely, and he can sing so beautifully, so perfectly country. The concert was wonderful. And I fell asleep. He stood on the stage with his band at his back, white cowboy hat on his head, and played the guitar while he crooned. And I nodded off.

George Strait, playing guitar and crooning (2008).

George Strait, still playing guitar and crooning (2008). Image source: Wikipedia.

That’s not to say I don’t adore him still. I do. I just recently discovered a CD of his hits and loaded it onto iTunes, then saved a few on my “Bring It On 2013” playlist. I’m listening to him croon right this minute (he looks good in a black hat, too). “You’re Something Special to Me” is playing as I begin writing here. George and this song have got to be the equivalent of Frank Sinatra singing when he was younger, like this with Tommy Dorsey, “I’ll Never Smile Again.” Can’t you just see the women swooning for both/either? I can.

In fact, as I started thinking along these lines, heaven help me, I recalled a Looney Tunes cartoon where a Bing Crosby-like rooster and a Frank Sinatra-esque rooster sing to help the chickens lay more eggs for the WWII effort. It is called, I swear: “Swooner Crooner.” If you ever have a chance to watch it, dear reader, you’ll see how I feel about George Strait (except for the egg laying bit–that’s just, ahem, gross).

I’m so sad I fell asleep during his concert, but he lulled me. JUST like he’s doing right now. I am being lulled this instant. I just want to curl up into his voice and remember how good I have it–how grand and filled with joy my life is–because it is.

As I approach 2013, this George Strait song reminds me of all the special people I have known and loved and who have loved me, have gifted me with their love. Life is hard, but when love is the thing we remember fills the core of our lives–what ill could bring us down?

I’m just happy I found you again, George, you are something special to me.

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Filed under All the Way Open, Celebrate Like There's No Tomorrow, Digging Deep, For Good, Music is Love, What I'm Thinking

NO! No! Don’t leave me alone with words, please! Not that!

I spend a lot of time alone writing. It’s easy to do. I work well by myself. In fact, I’ve grown to really like quiet time as a writer. I can still write in the middle of noise, chaos, and seemingly disruptive activity, as long as I am not interrupted (give me a coffee shop with no one I know around and I can crank out the text). I trained myself years ago to work in the midst of conversation, phones ringing, loud music, and a lot of visual disarray. However, if someone speaks my name or actually makes me stop thinking, I’m often peeved. I want concentration and when I lose it, I can be irritated–it can feel like a burr under my saddle, and I’m as likely to pitch a fit as anything.

And worse yet. My train of thought gets derailed a lot easier these days than it used to. I know that is partly because I’m torn between several obligations that really tug at me which include small humans dependent on me, cherished colleagues, students, writing deadlines that matter to me, and more. I feel a tension in my upper back that rarely abates. It’s the muscles that hold up my arms and connect in complex ways to my hands and make them function as writing tools on a keyboard. I recognize the pain from having to hold my arms in second position FOREVER in ballet classes as a young woman. I certainly don’t have a physical center like I did then, but I can feel the similarity in the action after 10 hours at the computer–I ache.

I’m not complaining–really–this is so much better than dancing with a dicey hamstring and two broken toes. And there’s something incredibly deeply satisfying about dancing around with words on a page, making something of nothing for a reader which doesn’t put my body in harm’s way… much. And there’s no music to stay in time with. That’s a relief, too. Can you imagine if I had to write to the accompaniment of a live band? So much pressure to keep up or slow down. And how would I account to the conductor/musicians for jumping around and changing my mind, backspacing, adding/deleting? What a nightmare.

Writing makes me sore after awhile. Truly, it actually hurts sometimes, but it’s so much less painful than ballet slippers (torture devices), I can’t even explain–no words for that sort of pain. Even writer’s block isn’t so bad. I just walk away and think about something different knowing that the words will come. Sometimes talking is my way out of a rut. Usually a few conversations and a thing I need to write will just come to me. Miracle. And then, tension, pain–all gone.

And while I do most of my writing by myself, the act of thinking which inspires the writing, almost always comes from conversation, collaboration, my interactions with others. I couldn’t be a writer without my friends and colleagues. I need someone to talk to, to listen to, to think with (as much to work as I need it to break me out of a dismal place of non-production). I need collaboration in order to think. I don’t think very well by my lonesome. Sure, I come up with some whopper-cool ideas when I’m alone, but that generation is made possible by others–in books, in passing, in quick emails, glancing at magazine articles, and more. It’s the exchange that makes me what I am, or rather, enables what I can do in text.

It all really comes back to my core belief that education is worthless until it’s shared. The years and years I spent filling my intellectual baskets with knowledge were going to be wasted unless I shared in some way. I might as well just tump over my baskets if I’m not going to share, throw everything out–it’s no good to me unless it’s good to someone else. I chose to be a teacher of writing, and the reading of writing, because I couldn’t stand to be alone with knowledge. Too dull otherwise. I love reading and learning and thinking alone, too, but I also need talking with friends, students, colleagues, too–which means so much to me as a writer. The eighth rule of open source software development is: talk. I’m so hip to that. (Caveat lector: if you talk too much to yourself, though, others will wonder, and eventually, the others might lock you up. Sssssh.)

So. I want to be alone with words, but not all the time, not exclusively. I don’t want to eliminate the human factors that keep me alive and kicking and questing. I want words to enrich me, because they do, but collaboration is the most important element in making me want to write and think and spend time writing. It might could be that my experiences with Writing Spaces (which I’m missing a lot right now–I’ve been on a hiatus of a kind this fall–not intended, but there it is) have changed who I am, or I was changing anyway and that experience only revealed that which was happening or going to happen: me writing a lot and all over the place and finding a way back into writing after years of doing it but finding little joy in the experience.

Or maybe that’s not what I mean. I always found joy in writing, but rarely did I find joy in writing and not sharing with someone. I love having others read my writing in workshops. I felt that I learned so much from having many readers with many ideas inform my text. When I lost that, I really missed it. Editing is a collaboration I missed, too. I love to muck around with the words of others–with them as collaborators–to find solutions to communication. Being with others in the midst of words and ideas is glorious, as a writer or an editor–it’s like a stunning kiss.

The kiss that is always more than a kiss.

Do you remember the last time you were kissed like this? That’s what writing can be like, the fooling around with language, the kiss that embodies so much more than a kiss. Writing can be breathless, unexpected, thrilling–and such work can leave you dazed (in the best possible sense). Writing as a kiss can stand for so much more–the writing kiss is a metaphor for the collision of ideas with words, with images, with oneself and others. Silly romanticization of writing? Oh, so what. SWAK.

If you’ve ever been kissed by words, you know what I mean. You can stand back and gasp at what you’ve written and think: wow, I did that. I wrote that.

You read someone else’s words and are moved to laughter, tears, sadness. Did you ever read anything and whip through pages with your heart racing, in your throat, choking you so you could hardly breathe? If you haven’t, then you really need to step up your reading game. Try LOTR, Harry Potter, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, The Hunger Games, and anything by Robert Ludlum (the early stuff).

As a writer, the wordly kiss is so much better when you can also stand back and say: I wrote those words that thrill me because I talked about this idea, or that idea with my writing group, or ran that phrase by this friend who loved it, or told that friend about what I wanted to consider through writing. I shared and I got feedback that empowered me that made it possible for me to think beyond where I could get alone. That’s how it’s done, baby. SWAK again.

The kiss in the above photo (sometimes referred to as “The Kiss”) was taken in celebration of the end of WWII on 14 August 1945. It appeared in Life Magazine shortly after it was shot. Of all the iconic images of postwar celebration, I like this one the best because it reminds me so much of writing. The kissers are not totally discernible just as the process of writing is sometimes not discernible. But one thing is clear: it’s a grand kiss. And if writing could always be like this, everyone would want to write–shoot, everyone would write all the time. (It’s not always this earth-shaking–I know. Sometimes it’s like a kiss where noses bump and someone goes for the cheek as the other heads for the lips: awkward.)

Perhaps, I protest too much about not being left alone with words in the title of this post. I might be a bit like Br’er Rabbit, a trickster, in this respect. If you threw me in a patch of words, I would be just fine. I might, in fact, find a way to turn it all to my advantage, mine some terrific metaphor from the depths of the word pit, and celebrate with a fabulous kiss in Times Square, or by writing a blog post that links “The Kiss” with collaboration and talking about writing. Or lacking that, I might just be able to hack my way out of a wet paper sack with a sharp pen.

I could totally do that. But I’d rather do the hacking with someone rather than without.

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Filed under All the Way Open, For Good, Writing hurts so good

Dear Open: I have been changed for good

Dear Open Movement,

Over a year ago I wrote about how I was transformed by my collision with you. I had an moment last night that is oddly linked with how I feel about you, the commons, Writing Spaces, teaching, learning, friendship, love, and more.

I watched an episode of Glee last night at 10 pm on Netflix. Why I did that I have no idea. I am not a Gleek. I’m not anything because I rarely watch television while it’s happening. I have about a ten-year lag most of the time for watching something popular, but I have seen Glee several times (the Rocky Horror Episode I watched three times on, and I love it. I love musicals. I used to sing and dance in musicals–and never was quite as happy as I was when part of a cast, even in a dinky town in a dinky production (you know it’s part of who I am to want to be part of a commons rather than working alone, though I love being alone–you get that). I haven’t done much of the singing/dancing thing at all lately (for a long, long time), but it’s not a thing that’s ever left my soul, though the act of doing it has left my life. So I’m a fan of Glee when I get to see it.

(Not like how I feel about you, Open. You are part of me all the time. We’re simpatico, one, inseparable, in it to win it, together, linked, connected at the hip.)

There is no good reason that I watched the last episode of the second season. I might have been scrolling through the options and was tired of 19th century British dramas. Or perhaps I was weary from watching hipster comedians riff on various issues of the day or their lives. I couldn’t find any SciFi I wanted to see. I desperately want to re-watch Farscape, but that’s for my Christmas holiday (and about a 90 hour commitment).

The Glee episode is titled “New York” and aired originally on 24 May 2011. (I was busy then. I’d just come back from a conference in Michigan and was into the second day of the summer session… and still dealing with the fallout from the spring term–no television for me.) In this season finale, the kids in the glee club travel to New York City for the Nationals–a sing off for show choirs. In one moment of sheer silliness and loveliness, two characters sneak onto the stage of Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, to sing “For Good,” the last song of the musical.

I haven’t seen the musical Wicked, but I have read the book and another by the same author. Beautiful writer, beautiful story, beautiful concept. Naturally, I know of the musical and its success and have a six-degrees-of-separation connection with the woman who first played Glinda. As much as I’d like to see Wicked, it’s never been in my path. I’ve heard one of the songs sung a few times: “Defying Gravity.” A student did a brilliant presentation on that song and Victorian poetry in a class I taught a year or so ago.

So… I don’t know a ton about Glee and know even less about Wicked (the musical), but something compelled me to watch that episode. To say I was stunned by this song is to undervalue the stun factor. “Tasered” is a better word to describe how it felt. Like many things I do, I jumped in, all in, all the way, all the way open and embraced the moment for what it was: fully cool.

I woke up this morning and knew I had to write and share this with you, Open. It’s important for me to be open about this fully cool moment with you as I know you’ll appreciate it.

I’ll never find time to follow a show or go to a musical… or not this year. But this simple homage to Broadway and to music and to learning was just right, right now.

The way I feel about you is the way the characters in Glee and Wicked feel about each other. I thought about that all the time they were singing. The way you and I collided, leaving me breathless and wrecked on the shores of the future, was nothing short of spectacular, the doings of Fate. I’m still reeling. But “who can say if I’ve been changed for the better” by knowing you? I’m sure that you happened into my life for a reason, to teach me, to help me grow, to make me see the world differently. In return, I will give to you in some way, always. When you need me, you only need call, and I will be there. I am who I am because I have known you: “because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

Quoting the lyrics of a song is weak sauce, some might say, sentimental claptrap (even if it’s a Tony award-winner). Some might even say, “don’t quote, but paraphrase or summarize–use your own words, man, you’re a writer” but sometimes the words are perfection that someone has already said or sung before. Let’s not ignore the history of writing in general, or the writing of mash notes, in particular, eh? Mashing up songs/poems and letters is not news. I say I’m living the serendipity dream, the open dream. I’m remixing and mashing up (literally a little “mash,” right?), and doing my dance. I’m always doing my dance, thanks to you.

You get it, don’t you, Open? You get me and like me anyway. Thank you. You’re so exquisitely open.

Yours truly, ever open, E.D.

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Filed under All the Way Open, For Good, Magic and Writing