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faithfull

I was watering my store-bought tomato plants a few days ago when these common words hit me in an uncommon way:

It’s hard to believe.

It wasn’t that the tomato plants were so remarkable (though they are) or the weather so fine (though it was). The sentence was whole and entire in its four words, with nothing to lead or follow.

Because it’s not hard to believe that this virus continues to literally plague the planet.

It’s not hard to believe that people would rather party than prevent its spread.

It’s not hard to believe that colored folks are (still) killed by those who’ve sworn to serve and protect.

It’s not hard to believe that all kinds of people are rising up and pushing back.

It’s just hard to believe, period.

That’s because I’m the worst kind of pessimist – a disappointed optimist.

I used to believe wholeheartedly in the good in people, used to focus on the positive whenever faced with negatives, used to excel in silver-lining finding.

But I got knocked on my ass one time too many and recently woke up to much that I’d set aside before. It was as if a lifetime’s worth of pain, resentment, grief, and ugliness caught up to me in just a few weeks.

Now I’m furious and bitter and breaking apart, barely held together with duct tape and spit.

Now I’m just waiting for it all to fall apart, which is safer for my tender heart than anticipating something great, or even better, and being disappointed. Again.

It’s not a wise choice, I know. Pessimism devours joy and shits cynicism; it’s a valid response but an extreme one. Somewhere between Bliss Bunny and Brittle Bitch lies a better way to be.

But that requires practiced discernment, and I didn’t have that kind of time. Last month, I was hurting badly and needed quick defenses, and it was fast, easy work to give up on the world and everything in it with a huff of righteous resignation.

And yet…

There I was, just a couple of days ago, carefully watering my tomato plants – plants I bought from our local nursery when the ones I started from seed grew too slowly and fell out of sync with the weather.

Fortunately, the greenhouse sent out a last call for their remaining organic tomato plants, which were buy-one-get-one-free and a good bit worse for wear…

I found them far too large for their containers, droopy with pale, wilting leaves, yet bearing bright yellow flowers and tiny green fruits like a wink and a grin and a promise.

Thanks to my patrons, I got a variety of 20 tomato plants, which filled a raised bed and four containers on the side.

As I placed each plant – freeing it from its pot, splitting its rootbound soil ball, and nestling it into the earth – I could feel it stretching with a sigh as I talked it into the ground: “Oh, you poor thing! That looks so uncomfortable. This should feel better; there’s lots of room for you here.”

If the plants were going to fail me (or me them), it would happen quickly – I’d wake up the next day and know. But they were standing taller in the new sunshine and look a bit better every day.

In the meantime, only one corn stalk in 18 came up, darnit all to heck. The golden rule of corn is “knee-high by July,” which was just a few days away at the time, and there I was with near to nothing.

And so, I got down on my hands and knees and poked at every pocket with a pencil to see if they were even trying to come up, and I found that all but two holes were empty – no plants, not even their seeds.

The pheasants at work, probably. There are dozens of them on the property, and I’ve heard that they’re snipers with seed sonar … one cunning peck and – poof! – so much for your plant and your plans.

I found deflated corn kernels in those other holes, their shells empty with nothing to show for it.

All the seeds were viable, and there’d been plenty of sun, so what went wrong? Was it the soil’s texture or its temperature or something else entirely? And whichever way those went awry, why did that one, single plant do so well?

I had no answers, so I did what any cynical, fed up and faithless pessimist would do…

I planted more. In every hole.

Two seeds per. For emphasis.

And to double my chances for success, I guess … or to fail twice as badly.

Whatever.

Because, apparently, I don’t know when to quit. Or how, even. And that’s why I’m a tangle of discordant feels these days…

I feel sure I’ll be dead of the virus tomorrow (though I’m not even sick), yet I make a grocery list. I expect I won’t live to see autumn (though I barely leave the house), yet maintain a vegetable garden and am eager for the next James Bond movie (November 20!).

I tell myself we’re doomed, but still pay my bills. I tell myself nothing matters but client work gets done right and on time. I tell myself no one is paying attention, but then send word to you.

I want to believe that all will be well, but I don’t, because it’s damned hard to believe, and I’m not as strong as I was. And now I’m angry. And so, so weary.

So I tell myself that the world is coming to an end, and I’m not wrong – just turn on the news and you’ll see! But apparently, surprisingly, maddeningly, that notion is also hard for me to believe.

And so, I’m stuck in this messy middle: faithless and hopeful, hopeless and faithful, a traitor to both camps, simply because I don’t know when to stop. Or how.

I want to, though. I so want to. And I wish I had the words for why and why not. But I don’t, really.

So I wake up in despair then plant seeds by the double, talk them into growing, and keep an eye to the weather.

Because it’s hard to believe.

But I do anyway.

Dammit. 💚

Crystal

photo by henry perks on unsplash

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articles

Bring Your Best Words to Life

Here’s one small thing worth doing after you finish recording your podcast or writing a blog post (or an article or a chapter or even a meaty Facebook post)…

For a few of my clients, I get to read through writing I’ve just edited or a piece they’ve already published, find the sentences that shine brightest, and then make social media posters from/for them.

This is way fun because it’s easier than it would have been just three or four years ago, as now there are vast libraries of free, no-attribution-required photos out there, like Pixabay, Pexels, and my favorite, Unsplash.

It’s danged satisfying when shiny words meet the right photograph.

The words become even more impactful, and the photo gains a context that may be totally different from the moment in which it was shot. I smile a lot while I play with these, and not only because it’s a pleasant break from working word-for-word.

And, ya know? When I can’t find a photo that fits, or I sense that the words would be somehow diminished or overshadowed by imagery, I create a blank canvas and let the words stand on their own. A simple layout with a good font and the text or background in a signature color can be just as impactful — and sometimes more.

Which is all to say: Sometime after you’ve recorded your podcast or written your blog post (or article or chapter or Facebook update), listen and look for those shining lines, yeh?

Don’t worry, you’ll know them when you see and hear them.

They’re the ones that carry an entire theme all by themselves. They raise a flag or ring a tone in your mind. You may even realize that the whole piece depends on that single sentence, that all you said leans on that one line.

When you find them, tuck them somewhere safe, make them into something, or both.

Those savory sentences are precious, really, and no less rare for writing more or more often. More writing doesn’t increase the odds of writing one, just the opportunity.

And if you re-read something you’ve written and don’t see even one great sentence, then pick a good one and rewrite it until it becomes great or compose something fresh and add it where it’s most needed — a powerful hook at the beginning, a powerful punch or twist in the middle, or a strong finish at the very end.

A reader will remember your work forever if you offer them just one great line to hold dear.

One of my favorites is from Josh Bazell, and it may not make sense out of context, but it’s stuck with me for years, particularly because of the compelling narration of his Beat The Reaper audiobook

Ahhh, youth; it’s like heroin you smoked instead of snorted — gone so fast, you forget you have to pay for it.”

There’s an entire book wrapped around that lament — his transgressions, the penalty, his penance, the payback, and his second shot at revenge. And, to my mind, the other 6 hours and 45 minutes (or 415 pages) are in support of that one line.

You have the whole story without having to read the book.

So.

In whatever you’re writing or recording, however long or short, find that one prized sentence (or create it) and then hold it high.

Your readers will be compelled to read the rest, or they’ll know what they need to know even if they don’t.

Crystal

Originally published on FB among Friends on May 1, 2018

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articles

the last minute

If you’re ready and willing to write, give this third warm-up writing exercise from the RE«MIND workshop a try.

The Why

Why am I sharing this writing prompt at this moment?

Because a family friend died over the weekend, and while we weren’t close, we knew each other for 25+ years, and I once helped her translate the terms of a too-good-to-be-true bank loan — which turned out to be both good and true — and then design the house she built with that funding.

So, Geri and I weren’t close, but the part of me that participated in her dream-building experience was tied to her forever, and I feel cheated on her behalf. She worked long and hard for that Caribbean home, and she’d enjoyed just a few years of full-time living there when cancer came out of nowhere and killed her within a month.

To add insult to injury, Geri was careful about what she ate, exercised regularly, did all her wellness checks, and her annual bloodwork results were perfect just 6 months before. It feels like her conscientiousness was worthless and wasted, but who can say? It might be why she lived as long as she did.

I’d write more about that, but 1) I need to save that juice for the workshop’s next writing prompt, which I get to conjure up today, and 2) I already wrote a letter about it for my patrons, and there’s not much more to say.

That letter writing relieved the paired pressures of grief and disappointment. I’m still deeply saddened and totally, totally pissed, and that’s valid and okay. The writing, the pressure, the pissedity — they’re all part of making my peace with it.

And as often happens, grieving the end of someone’s life got me thinking on the end of mine and, after a moment, yours.

The Writing Prompt

That brings me to the memoir workshop’s writing warm-up #3, which prods you to uncover what matters most and shape it into fewer than 400 words.

If you could use some focus or need to reset your priorities, this might help…

RE«MIND Warm-up #3:

When I heard this, I immediately thought of you—

“You’ve got a minute to live, fill it with words.”
~Tony Stark, Iron Man 3

In the movie, that line was delivered with great urgency, and the fellow on the receiving end was facing a loaded weapon.

Fortunately, we’re not that pressed, and the stakes nowhere near that high. We have some time to work and, compared to the Play With Your Food warm-up exercise, a heckuvalot more space!

Your eat tweet had room for just 15 or 20 words, but this time you can write up to 400 words, and I’ll explain why in just a bit. For now, here’s your exercise—

Your life will end in 60 seconds.
In the minute you have left to live, what would you tell us?

Say what needs saying in 120-160 words
or 200-250 words or around 400 words.

Download This Writing Prompt (Free!)

sample pages with click here to download button

Click here to download the PDF of the writing prompt package, no sign-up required. It includes—

  • The writing prompt
  • Some guidance on collecting secret messages
  • A second approach to the prompt, and
  • A level-up to the writing exercise

Write on 💙

Crystal
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letters

the middle bit

A few things have come up for me since I wrote that piece for Kerstin Martin’s Asking for Impossible Things project…

When I say to myself: I don’t know what to do.
What I often mean is: I don’t know what will happen if I do this.

When I say: I’m a nobody.
What I mean is: I’m scared of being seen.

I say: I don’t know what I’m doing.
But I mean: This doesn’t feel easy. (Or good) (Or right)

I say: I hate this.
But I mean: I don’t understand this.
or This isn’t what I expected.
or This isn’t what I wanted.

I say: This is going to be harrrrd.
But I mean: This already feels uncomfortable, and I haven’t even started.

I say: This is impossible.
But I mean: I don’t see a way through.

I say: This is fucking impossible.
But I mean: This is gonna take a long time.
or This is gonna take more time than I have.
or This is gonna take more time than I wanna spend.

or This is going to take a lot of energy.
or …more energy than I have.
or …more energy than I want to spend.

I say: This is so damned fucking impossible – shit! What the hell was I thinking?
But I mean: I need help.
or I need more time.
or I could use some tea.
or I need a hug.
or I need a nap.
or I need another nap.

I say: I can’t do this.
But I mean: I can so totally do this, but I don’t know who I’ll be after it’s done … and I don’t know who I’ll need to become to get it done.

***

Ya know, I try to be careful with my words, and yet, this is what’s come up for me in the past two months, and especially these past few days.

Those things I say to myself, sometimes on infinite repeat, are both absolute and absolutely unhelpful.

They don’t allow any room for something different to happen, for something to change, and, at least for me, I’m realizing that’s what they’re designed to do.

So, I’m really glad I dropped everything this morning to translate those roadblocks and STOP signs into something meaningful, something I can use, something I can do something about.

***

I’ve been having the most draining anxiety dreams. The usual: having to take a final exam I haven’t studied for or for a class I haven’t attended, going back to college to finish a project to get my diploma (which I’ve had for 25 years), or simply looking for something I can’t find.

It makes me want to skip sleeping altogether or drink myself dreamless, but those don’t work, and they make things worse.

I wake up semi-fetal around my pillow with clenched fists and every muscle aching from a long night on guard.

On days like today, I wake up and try to meditate or have a Think, and my hands won’t stay still … they grab-grab-grab at the covers, tap-tap-tap my leg, flutter like they’re going to fly away. I can’t unclench my jaw.

I feel crazy.

And the even crazier part is I can’t tell if this is all because of what I’ve done so far or what I’m doing right now or what I intend to do next – perhaps all of the above.

But the craziest part?

The craziest part is I’m going to keep going.

And that’s not because I’m brave, but because, for me, this time, it would be stupid to stop. There’s nothing for me to go back to, and there’s nothing for me here in the middle bit.

Everything worth having is on the other side of this moment … a moment that started, I think, when I got on the plane for Minneapolis back in July.

I made new things and learned new things and saw new things, and I met new people who liked me just as I am, and they still do.

I started something that grew bigger than I intended or expected or imagined and continues to surprise me in every way.

I found that I’m still in here, despite all.

And somewhere in there, I started calling in all the parts of myself I’d thrown away or set aside or hidden or hidden from. Everyone’s been coming home from wherever they’ve been all this time, ready or not.

It’s awful. It’s wonderful.

And I blame Staci. And Nona. And a lot of other folks whose names I can’t recall right now, but if you’ve talked about truth or trauma in the past 6 months, consider yourself named and blamed, too. 😊

I feel stranded at times, as if I’m nowhere and don’t know which way to go. I can guess when this moment started, but I have no sense of when or where it’s going to end.

And then last night, these words from an old song came to me…

“I was bruised and battered; I couldn’t tell what I felt. I was unrecognizable to myself…”

They ran through my head a few times, and by a few, I mean 9 or 10, and I sighed long and deep and hard over and over, and I finally felt some relief.

Because Bruce Springsteen. And that dear moment before that heartbreaking movie, with his rough croon and its city visions, which I saw with my first real boyfriend about a million years ago. My cheeks were smeared with tears before the opening credits were even over, and the song has owned me ever since then.

This is only the second time it’s come for me, though.

***

So, anyway.

This is my long and meandering shout-out to anyone who’s feeling lost and stranded in that in-between place, where nothing’s wrong, really, but it doesn’t feel right, either.

Where there’s an alarming amount of work to do, it’s all important, and it’s all worth it.

Where you can’t see how it’s going to turn out, but you’ve come too far to turn back, and there’s no place or time to stop.

It’s pretty uncomfortable, here in the middle bit. At least for me.

If it’s the same for you, I can only offer you what I tell myself:

Keep going.

And when I say: Keep going.
What I mean is—

You can do this.
You’re not alone.

This might help.
This could work.

Be patient.
It will come together.

You’re my girl.
You’re the best.
You’re not alone.

You’re never alone.

Courage.
Courage.

I love you.
I love you.

I love you.

xo

Crystal

p.s. If you haven’t yet, do sign up for Kerstin’s Ask project (it’s free, it’s delicious, and it won’t sign you up for anything else) » https://kerstinmartin.com/impossible

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letters

the worry box

My gramma, who is quite Catholic, had some interesting things to say yesterday about what to do with our worries, and they were right on time, as it turns out.

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letters

the long view

A year ago, as we recovered from the 2017 inauguration, I posted this on Facebook to help my friends (and myself) along. A year later, much of it has proven true, even and especially the part about things getting worse before they get better.