G – The Art of Going

“Let us go then, you and I . . .”

—T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

A character in my novel-in-progress has an inner universe filled with a series of gray, crumbling skyscrapers. But they don’t fall down, they decay slowly, sideways, glass and concrete and beams splitting from the foundations and simply extending. In a world of continuous motion—of people coming and going, places growing and disappearing, names and faces that simply cease to be—the sideways city is the one constant in her life, a place that time and gravity do not touch. That is, until an event finally causes it to come crashing down.

When my own inner world imploded last year, and I lost the one person I didn’t think I wanted to live without—I turned to words, and more specifically to poetry, to restore some sense of order. Poetry offers more questions than real answers normally, but at least it tends to keep me busy in the search.

I did this for days, trying to figure out where I should go next. Where I needed to go. I had to rebuild my city, sideways or not. One that could grow from the knowledge I’d acquired throughout the preceding year, however painful. Something more solid for the future.

One poem that I turned to was T.S. Eliot’s, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and I have returned to it—or a part of it—for this post. I think the poem speaks the most about the way we move within the shifting time-place dimensions of our lives—the way we are always in a momentum of no-return, with people and even ourselves. I have always thought of myself as a point within this coming-and-going paradigm, occasionally intersecting with other people and places at the crossroads. Sometimes these encounters end in “Let’s go, sometimes in let go.

In a rare stroke of luck, I found the answer I was looking for from the first line of the poem: Let us go then, you and I . . . Let us go, let us go. Let go. Life, like love songs, like love, ends. And indeed there will be time / to wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ And ‘Do I dare’. Indeed. Time until time is no more. So: Do I dare / Disturb the universe? The answer is yes. Always. Dare to being. And to end. To go, then.

Either way, we are our own sideways cities; it’s up to us to choose how to rebuild. We’re at the mercy of motion and at some point, for us, it will end.

However, no matter what may come of the crossroads, we still must step forward. We are going; and in going we learn to be.

What is the poetry that inspires you? What gives you a sense of motion?


E – Erase the Public Other to Emerge in Your Writing

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

The only reason I ever became even semi-comfortable writing in a public venue like the Sarcastic Muse is because I have always carried the above-mentioned quote with me.

Given the volatile nature of the Internet, the multitudes of trolls, and even the expectations of the writing community itself, I always want to edit my work, especially when I know that others may be reading it. Of course, editing is an important step to putting a piece before the public, as it generally makes elements better, but for those who worry about public opinion (and in some respect, this means everybody), editing can just as easily turn into over-editing, filled with self-censorship and self-doubt. Even the other Muses have taken the embodiment of our readership—the others—into consideration before formally scheduling some of their own posts, asking: Do you think readers will be offended by my talking about this subject? Do you think this is too forward to post? Am I on my high horse?

And before you know it, we start removing our original thoughts, replacing them with ideas we perceive as less radical, less forward, less open to controversy, less offensive, and so on and so forth—all because we want to avoid conflict with strangers.

I disagree with this, of course. As a principle, I believe that if I have something worth writing about, something I feel strongly enough to write about for the public (even while trying to imagine—for sanity’s sake—that no one will bother to read it), then I should believe in it enough to post it.

To write the truth, you must assume no one will ever read it. In the end, you cannot make everyone happy with your words. Undoubtedly at some point, you will get a troll comment or maybe a reader will (hopefully) politely disagree with your ideas. And that’s okay. That is the point of expressing ourselves to others: to open ourselves to the perspectives of other people, even those who may not think like we do, and in turn to be opened by others.

As long as we can express ourselves tastefully and respectfully, we are at the helm of our own creative work. We must imagine we are erasing our thoughts into cyber-space, rather than generating them—that in erasing the notion of the unseen other, we are actually emerging in our words. And we should be proud when those others, the unknown public eyes, take the time to read our thoughts and even to comment their own in return. Because in doing so, we grow: as a community and as individuals.

Good writing should be honest. Even if the truth belongs only within the realm of our own understanding. So speak boldly and emerge.

Assume the only person in the world you’re writing to is yourself.

What do you think? Do you censor yourself before posting anything to the public?

C – Chaos

“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” 

― Friedrich Nietzsche

Stardust dancing. Chaos splitting. We’re spinning, spinning . . . And I once pondered—am still pondering: What are these symbols—these words—that grow from those moments of connecting the disconnected? What are we if not the clearest representation of the beauty of a broken world? We are writers. We endure our inner-workings falling apart—falling together. Falling, all the same.

Falling . . . words often give me that sensation, as if I am falling up, toward a far-away point-of-no-return. Toward a reality that’s waiting just around the corner. My reality, a star—or dust—or some flickering light in between.

I have always seen words through gradients of potential: my potential savior, my potential weapon, my potential pain, my potential voice, my potential a glimmering supernova: the death of a star, not the birth of one. Go out with a bang, right?

Chaos doesn’t require a map. Neither does writing. That’s my problem. I’m always trying to define it: this wordy existence. But words often define themselves in layers (more gradients). I once analyzed poetry as a connection of systems: weave together unrelated systems with metaphor, build these abstract and complex meaning patterns (that probably no one else but me understands) based on the familiar systems we interact with on a daily basis. But words, though systematic in nature, are derived from something more illusory and subtle (or not-so-subtle, depending on your muse), from meanings we grow from ourselves and then define for others. The goal is simply to contain the energy enough that at least one person sees the burning mass at the center.

And that’s why I write, why I’ve always written. Not necessarily to create—to give birth to new stars—but to write about the dying ones, the chaotic universe in my own head. To write about the in-between places, to create my own internal systems.

Words give me the means to evolve—to make potential my reality: spinning spinning and stardust all the same.

How does chaos find its way into your writing? Let me know in the comments!


A – Alive

 “Unbeingdead isn’t beingalive.”

― ee cummings, “POEM(or”

I haven’t been doing a lot of pondering lately, which is probably a reflection of my (non-existent) creative climate. We all have our cliché highs and lows, and I can honestly say after an all-time staggering low, my writing life has all but disappeared.

Normally when I find myself among the soil in those trenches, digging up worms, kicking rocks, trying to find a ladder, or a vine, or a hand, recreating wings, I have turned to words, not away from them. I have always written myself into life again, sustained my sanity, uncovered answers. I have whined and rejoiced and pondered my way into some form of better, hopefully more coherent me. Always. With words.

And then I quit. Suddenly those words, which had always sustained me, gave me no pleasure or respite or even pain. In a lot of ways, they had betrayed me, or I them. I had squandered them on an unbeing. I felt as if I had been erased. Or as if in writing those words to define this other person, to write them into beingalive, I had started unwriting myself. I was lost. Something was missing. A word or a letter or a sound. Some voice in my head had just fallen silent. So I did what I imagine some proud, annoyed writers do. I quit.

I quit writing on The Sarcastic Muse, I quit writing my own work, I quit writing myself.

I found other outlets, albeit not creative, to distract myself. I’d hear echoes sometimes, characters whispering. Sometimes I’d pause long enough to listen, catch a remnant of a conversation, distantly waiting, but I’d catch myself. Turn away. Resist.

I don’t have a solid reason or an excuse or even an understanding as to why I have avoided words. All I know is that they have sat in waiting, like a reflection on a dark pool. My ghosts. Writers can’t stop writing. We die. Or something in us does.

ee cummings wrote that “unbeingdead isn’t beingalive” and I find it linguistically interesting that he compounds two synonymous words in order to form an antithetical meaning that clearly forms yet another parallel antithesis: unbeing [the act of not being] + dead [not being] == [the act of not being not being] =/= being [the act of being] + alive [being] == [the act of being being].

In the act of not writing, was I unbeing dead rather than being alive? And in writing this now, writing a bit of myself for the first time in months, am I beingalive and burying a little more of the unbeingdead back into history? Is this the notion of rebirth?

I have started this A-Z challenge with Robyn. I am writing myself into Alive, a tiny stumble into the beginning, a swim-upstream kind of challenge, but I am relieved, almost, to feel beingalive: to feel Alive like a small particle in the river, to drift, to rush, to maybe hit a wordwall waterfall. Or to drown in that smooth river way.

But to be

Or unbe—


Are you writing yourself Alive? 

Editing Advice: Find a Proofreader for Your Story

I’m going to start with a rather bold statement today:

Writers cannot edit their own work beyond a certain point.

Yes, we may be able to fix crucial plot problems and catch quite a few spelling and syntax errors on our own, but after a while, no matter how sharp our eyes, how well-trained we are, how many times we read the story, we’re going to eventually stop seeing the problems.

How do I know this? Well, I see it a lot even in heavily edited manuscripts. But also, it just recently happened to me.

I gave one of my short stories to a friend a couple weeks ago as a sort of introduction to my writing. Since this story is currently making the submission rounds, I figured it was a good place to start. I’ve edited it to death, after all, so I was confident in sharing it. However, a few paragraphs into it, he looked at me and said, “You wrote the wrong ‘coarse’. ”

In other words, I’d written the wrong homophone.

At first, I thought, “I’ve already submitted it! What am I going to do?” (The answer is: nothing.)

Then I thought, “I’m an editor. How could I have missed that?”

Then I laughed. All of the Muses had read this story at one point or another and yet not one of them caught that mistake either. I myself have combed through the piece a thousand times.

But my friend—a non-native English speaker, in fact—saw it within seconds.

So what’s the moral of the story?

Get other people to read your work. Not just your writing buddies, not just your critique group. Find an assortment. Non-writers, for instance, may see the story more as a reader would see it. A programmer (as my friend is) is accustomed to noticing small errors and may be more detail-oriented (but in a different way than your average writing editor). Different people will see your story in different ways. You’re not obliged to implement all of their advice, but fresh perspectives may offer new insights. They may also save you from small embarrassments.

Now, if the literary magazine truly wants to publish my story, they’ll probably overlook the “course” error and allow me to fix it later, but proofreading is an essential part of the manuscript preparation process. When you think your work is as perfect and shiny as it can be, find someone who has not yet read the story to read through it again for you. The more people who read it, the better your chances of finding those lingering errors you no longer see.

Even editors need editors, after all.