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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Day 29: Blink, Breathe, & Don’t Let ‘Em Poison You…, or, How to Prevent Computer Headaches

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Day 29:  Blink, Breathe, & Don’t Let ‘Em Poison You…, or, How to Prevent Computer Headaches

MY JUNE GOALS FOR LIFE FULFILLMENT

1. Draw something every day

2. Learn about art

3. Read blogs and learn how to promote my own

Apparently none of my bathing suits are any good. I know this because I’ve been going to the pool a lot recently, and every time I go off the diving board, I nearly lose my top, or my bottoms. Usually I’m good about tugging everything back into place while swimming to the surface, but there was definitely a nip-slip incident the other day, and a little boy with a water gun saw a little more of me than he should have.

I’ve been feeling a little guilty about going to the pool on weekdays, when everyone else is at work. But usually, by 3pm, after I’ve been on the computer for nearly seven hours, I feel like taking a break from the glowing screen. I tell myself that all good writers read a lot, and therefore reading by the pool counts as working. But still, it feels lazy.

The other day, I did my usual routine, which goes like this: get up, take a walk, tutor on Skype, write on my novel, eat lunch, write a blog entry, do some online research, work on math curriculum. By the time I had finished all of this, it was three o’clock, and I really wanted to take a break from sitting in front of the computer. Except I felt guilty about going to the pool. I’d gone to the pool the past three days in a row, and I worried what the other people at the pool would think of me if I showed up there again. Probably that I was a good-for-nothing lay-about who lives at home with her mother.

“No pool today, Eva,” I told myself. “Let’s push on until five o’clock and get some more work done.” So I opened up my novel draft and decided to revise the first fifty pages.

I was only fifteen pages in when my vision started to go fuzzy. I told myself it was fine, but deep down I knew. I had been looking at the computer screen for too long, and now I was getting a migraine. Ten minutes later, there was a throbbing behind my eyes, and I closed my laptop.

Ariel's bathing suit always seemed to stay put.  (Drawing by me!)

Ariel’s bathing suit always seemed to stay put. (Drawing by me!)

The first time I got a migraine was my first year of teaching Algebra at a low-income school in New Orleans. Makes sense, because migraines are often brought on by stress, and that was a stressful year. Besides the long hours, overcrowded classroom, and lack of resources, the biggest source of stress was that my students didn’t respect me. They were more likely to talk over me and get into fights than listen to me explain the distributive property.

Once, when I wasn’t looking, they took my water bottle from my desk and filled it up halfway with Windex. Luckily when I went to take a sip, I noticed the blue tinge and the chemical smell and put it back down on the desk. “Are you guys trying to poison me?” I asked cheerfully, my hands on my hips. I was in an oddly jovial mood that day. “You’re going to have to try a lot harder than that!”

Later, I regretted those words.

One afternoon, at the end of a particularly long, stressful day, I sat in my classroom next to a short, buck-toothed boy I’ll call Fred. I was showing Fred how to solve equations with variables on both sides of the equal sign.

“Okay, let’s try another one.” I got out a fresh sheet of blank paper and wrote down an equation. But, weirdly, I couldn’t see the equation. I could see my fingers gripping the pencil. I could see the paper itself. But I couldn’t see what I had just written.

Fear gripped my bowels. What was going on? Was I going crazy? To test myself, I wrote another equation halfway down the page. My fear mounting. I couldn’t see this one either.

My very first thought was that I had accidentally taken drugs. Maybe the students had dropped tabs of LSD into my water bottle, and now I was starting to hallucinate. I was freaked out, but I didn’t want to alarm Fred, so I just sat there like everything was fine.

“Can I do ’em on the board?” he asked, grinning his snagglepuss smile.

“Sure.”

Fred went up to the green chalk board and picked up a piece of chalk. He wrote the equation on the board, but I couldn’t see it. What was going on?

“You know what, Fred. I’m not feeling very well.” But just as I said this, the equation he had written appeared, like magic, on the board. “Let’s just do a couple and then we’ll be done for the day,” I told him, feeling relieved.

By the time Fred left the classroom, my vision had returned to normal, but I was developing a headache. One of the very worst headaches of my life. I managed to drive home, but then I spent the rest of the evening lying on my bed in the dark, moaning in pain. I realized that what had happened with Fred was an aura, and I was having my very first migraine.

Don't worry, I'm not trying to poison you...  (Drawing by me!)

Don’t worry, I’m not trying to poison you… (Drawing by me!)

So back to the other day. I’d been on the computer for hours, and now I was rapidly developing a migraine-like headache. I quickly popped some meds then I headed out of the house. I needed to get outside in the fresh air; I needed to get away from the glowing computer screen. I drove to TJ Maxx and walked around the store like a zombie, the fluorescent lights pounding into my skull. I tried to find a bathing suit that fit, but all the tops were too big and all the bottoms were too small, so I wandered back to my car and drove to yoga.

I was a little worried about doing a yoga class in my condition, which was sort of woozy with a throbbing headache. But I laid out my mat anyway.

“It’s been shown that when you are on the computer all day you forget to breathe,” the yoga teacher said as class began. “Well, you’re breathing, but your breath is shallow and disconnected.” She led us into downward-facing dog, and we started our ujiayi breathing. The long, purposeful breaths started to make me feel better almost immediately.

And what she had said made sense. We sit at the computer hunched over, living inside our minds instead of paying attention to our bodies. We forget to take deep breath, and without enough oxygen, the body begins to suffer. This can happen when we are concentrating on anything — like reading, writing, or watching an intense movie.

These are also times, I’ve read, that we “forget” to blink. When we are working on the computer, we tend to blink five times less than normal. “To keep your eyes from suffering, you need to remind yourself to blink,” an optometrist once told me.

I came into plank and moved into upward-facing dog, breathing deeply the whole time. So basically, when I’m on the computer all day, I’m forgetting to breathe and forgetting to blink. No wonder I had developed a migraine!

There’s always more and more to do on computers and devices – so much of our lives are online now. It’s difficult for writers, and for other people whose jobs involve being on the computer a lot, to figure out how to get their work done without spending too much time staring at a screen. I know I’m still trying to find the balance.

When I got home from yoga I decided that when my body is asking for a computer break, I need to listen. In fact, once I get to Seattle, I plan to scale back on the online tutoring and math curriculum and get a part-time job outside of the house, to get me away from the computer. When I am sitting in front of the screen, I will remind myself to breathe, and to blink.

And you know what? I’m not going to feel guilty about going to the pool. Now my only problem is finding a bathing suit that fits.

RELATED READING:
When did YOU forget how to breathe? from Living Yoga with Stella

Ujiayi Breathing from Leela.com

Don’t Forget to Blink from PopSugar Fitness

6 Tips to Improve Eyesight for Freelance Writers

Eva Langston is an aspiring writer. Read more about herhere.

Drawing by me, Eva Langston.

Drawing by me, Eva Langston.

Day 27: 7 Embarrassing Mistakes to Avoid When Submitting Your Writing

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Day 27:  7 Embarrassing Mistakes to Avoid When Submitting Your Writing

MY JUNE GOALS FOR LIFE FULFILLMENT   

1.  Draw something every day

2.  Learn about art

3. Read blogs and learn how to promote my own

Back when my boyfriend and I were looking for an apartment in Seattle,I got an email from a man with an apartment to rent in North Greenlake. I forwarded it to Paul, typing, “Hey baby, what do you think about this place?” After I hit send, I realized that I had not, in fact, forwarded the email. I had hit reply, effectively addressing my possible future landlord as “baby.”

Gaffs like these are embarrassing enough, but they’re even worse when you’re submitting to a literary magazine, journal, or agent. The little mistakes can have big consequences, like your work not being taking seriously. Here are some mistakes I’ve made (and some I haven’t) and what you can do to avoid them.

#1 Copy-and-Paste Mistakes

I start off pretty much every cover letter the same way. The first paragraph looks like this:

Dear Fiction Editor:
 
Please consider my short story, “Four-Handed Dentistry” (4,887 words), for publication in The Paris Review.

I’ve definitely made the mistake where I copy-and-paste my cover letter and then forget to switch out “The Paris Review” for the new magazine to which I’m submitting. Of course magazines and agencies realize that you are probably submitting to others besides them, but they don’t like to be reminded of it. It’s sort of a double slap in their faces. It says, “you’re not the first place I submitted to,” and “I don’t care about you enough to proofread my cover letter.”

The solution? Proofread your cover letter!

#2 Sending the Same Piece Again

Here is an actual email I had to send recently:

Dear Editors,

I’m so sorry — I just realized I already sent you the piece “Drawing with Crayons” back in September, and you already rejected it!

Oh dear.  I’m terribly embarrassed.  Please withdraw my nonfiction submission.

Yeah. Embarrassing. Unless you’ve made really significant changes to a piece, you don’t want to send it somewhere that has already rejected it. Nor do you want to send a piece to a place before they have responded to your last submission.

The solution? Keep a detailed list or spreadsheet of all the magazines/agents you have submitted to, what you have submitted to them, and what the result was.

#3 Sending the Wrong Piece

I don’t just mean attaching the wrong document to a submission, although that can happen, too. I mean sending pieces that are wrong for the magazine or the agent. Recently I got an email back from FLASH Fiction Online, saying I didn’t follow their guidelines and that my piece was being rejected.  I felt stupid.

You have to be careful. Maybe the magazines only accepts stories 5000 words or less. Maybe they do not accept poems, or maybe they only accept poems about cheese. And then it gets even trickier. Maybe your piece fits within the guidelines, but it’s just not the type of stuff they publish. For years I submitted my realistic short fiction to the literary magazine, Fence. When I finally subscribed and started reading Fence, I realized why they kept rejecting me. All of their pieces are super experimental/weird poetry/prose, and not at all like the types of things I write. I’d been wasting my time and making myself look like an idiot to the editors of Fence.

The solution? Read the submission guidelines carefully. Also, if possible, read back issues of the magazine to get a sense of the style. If you are submitting to an agent, read the authors the agent represents.

Oh no!  Don't do that!

Oh no! Don’t do that!

#4 Sending Pieces in the Wrong Format

Some magazines want your name on your piece, some don’t. Some want it in pdf, or doc, or some other weird format you’ve never heard of. Some want you to paste the story in the body of the email. Some don’t want you to email them ever. Some use online submission managers. Some still make you do snail mail.

And that’s just the magazines. Agents are even more complicated. Some want only a query letter. Some want a query and the first 50 pages, or the first 3 chapters, or the whole shebang.

No matter what they’re asking for, you better send it, and you better send it in just the right format, or you may be discounted completely.

The solution? Try to find the most up-to-date guidelines.  Read and follow them very carefully.

#5 Spelling/Grammar errors
Of course you spell-check and proofread the piece you’re about to submit. (And if you don’t, then O.M.G…you’d better start.) But sometimes we forget to spell-check and proof our cover letters. I’ve made the following embarrassing mistakes in some of mine:
Reivew
Sincereley,
Eval Langston
And probably others I never noticed.

The solution? Read over your cover letter before pressing send/submit

#6 Making Your Cover Letter Too Long
From what I gather, most magazine and journal editors don’t really care about cover letters. Let me show you my standard letter for a short story submission:

Dear Fiction Editor:

Please consider my story, “Four-Handed Dentistry” (4,887 words), for publication in The Paris Review. 

My fiction has been published in The Normal School, The Sand Hill Review, and The GW Review, among others. Currently I work as a math curriculum consultant and a Skype tutor for Ukrainians.

 Thanks so much for your time. 

Most Sincerely,
Eva Langston
inthegardenofeva.com

You can make your letter a little more in depth, but anything much longer than that, you risk being found annoying by the editors.

The solution? Let your piece speak for itself.

 

#7 Mistakes Involving Simultaneous Submissions

There are a few journals/magazines out there that state in their guidelines, “no simultaneous submissions.” I find this really annoying. I’m supposed to send my story to you and only you, and then wait three plus months for your response before I can send it anywhere else? Lame. But the fact of the matter is, if you choose to submit to these “no simultaneous submissions” places, you have to abide by their rules or risk being found out and being blacklisted from the literary community for the rest of your life.

Luckily, most magazines, journals, and agents allow you to submit the same piece to multiple places at the same time. Great. Now, when a piece does get accepted, you must contact the other places you submitted to and let them know that your piece is no longer available. Editors spend a long time deciding which pieces to accept. Nothing pisses them off more than when they contact you with a “Congratulations! Your piece has been accepted” and you say, “oh, well, actually, it’s already been accepted by such-and-such Review.” You do that, you’re going to make some editor enemies who will badmouth you all around town.

The solution? Again, keep a detailed list or spreadsheet of all the magazines/agents you have submitted to, what you have submitted, and what the result was. As soon as you find out a piece has been accepted, contact the other places you submitted it to and let them know (nicely) that it’s no longer available.

Good work.  You get a nice, red shiny apple.  Drawing by Eva Langston.

Good work. You get a nice, red shiny apple. Drawing by Eva Langston.

Eva Langston is an aspiring writer.  Read more about her here.  

RELATED READING:

8 Mistakes Made When Submitting Stories Online

5 Common Mistakes Writers Make

Day 25: This Is the End, or, Write Like It Really Happened

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Day 25:  This Is the End, or, Write Like It Really Happened

MY JUNE GOALS FOR LIFE FULFILLMENT

1. Draw something every day

2. Learn about art

3. Read blogs and learn how to promote my own

*Check out my poem at Pif Magazine!*

On Saturday night I went to see the new apocalypse-bromance movie, This Is the End. The plot is pretty simple: Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel (playing themselves) head over to James Franco’s mansion for a celebrity-filled party. Then the Biblical end of days comes, complete with fires, earthquakes, and people getting sucked up to heaven.  The actors (none of whom were beamed into heaven) have to figure out how to survive.

Ever since the 1999 TV show Freaks and Geeks, I’ve had a place in my heart for Seth Rogen and James Franco. I also feel special affection for Jay Baruchel because I was an extra on an episode of Undeclared (a 2001 TV series in which Baruchel starred), and at one point between takes, he smiled at me, said hello, and asked how I was doing. (Actors don’t normally do this; they usually treat extras like pieces of furniture.) So, as silly as Rogen and all his man-child friends can be, I like them.

I went into the theater less with thoughts of “this is going to be the best movie ever” and more with the feeling that I would be spending time with old friends. And that’s pretty accurate. If you don’t know who Seth Rogen and James Franco are, you probably shouldn’t see this movie. Likewise if you’ve never heard of Jonah Hill or Michael Cera. Because most of what’s fun and funny about the movie is not the crazy apocalyptic antics (although there are many of those, too, and I found myself saying “this is insane” out loud more than once) but the fact that all of this crazy shit is happening to people you “know.”

cast of Freaks and Geeks from http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesfranco/

cast of Freaks and Geeks from http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesfranco/

Though slow at times and silly at others, I thought the movie was entertaining and clever. By having the actors play themselves, it made everything seem more realistic. Normally, when watching a movie, you can take a step back and say, well, these are just actors. This didn’t really happen. In This Is the End, the actors are themselves, or, at least, a version of themselves. You find yourself thinking wow, this is actually Los Angeles being consumed in fire. This is actually Rhianna falling into a fiery pit. And this element of reality made the movie crazier, funnier, and, ultimately, more engaging than other apocalypse films.

“Well, you know, Seth Rogen and James Franco were on Freak and Geeks together,” I told my boyfriend in the car on the drive home, “and then Seth and Jay were in Undeclared together, so it’s like James and Jay are Seth’s two oldest friends, but they’re not friends with each other, so it’s awkward.”

“Oh really?” he asked.

“Well, I don’t really know, but I sort of got that from the movie.”

This is the End made me feel like I was getting to peek into the window of famous people’s private lives, and I liked it. Other movies delve much deeper into friendships and feelings, but because I know that Seth and Jay are real people, who really are friends in real life, it made their on-screen relationship so much more interesting.

Cast of This Is the End.  Photo courtesy of www.joblo.com

Cast of This Is the End. Photo courtesy of http://www.joblo.com

I’ve just started reading the new novel by Jeannette Walls, The Silver Star (look for a review on Burlesque Press, coming soon!) Walls is the author of a memoir, The Glass Castle, about her experiences growing up dirt poor with bipolar parents, as well as Half-Broke Horses, a book she calls a “true-life novel” about her grandmother growing up on a ranch in Arizona. The Silver Star is her first “regular” novel, and although I was excited to read it, I was also a little nervous that it wouldn’t be as good as her first two.

The thing I loved about Walls’s first two books, besides all the crazy, wild things her family members did, was the jaunty, humorous, and matter-of-fact style in which they were written. “So, I’ve had a crazy life, people. Let me tell you what happened,” her narration seems to say. I worried that when she stopped writing about real people and real events, and started making up a story, her voice would change.

I’ve noticed that there is often a different quality between my fiction writing and the writing I do on my blog. My blog style is more casual, more humorous. I’m not trying so hard to describe things beautifully or sound “literary.” I only want to share my opinions and experiences in an entertaining way.

And now that I say that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people seem to respond favorably to my blog. Isn’t that what I want all my writing to be? Sharing opinions and experiences in an entertaining way?

“You’re so open on your blog,” my mother said to me the other day. “You tell all these intimate details about your private life, but that’s why people like it. They can relate to it.”

Let’s be honest for a second. A large number of people who read my blog are people who already know me. Is that what makes it interesting — that they are reading about someone they know? Or is it entertaining because my blog allows readers to peek through a (rather large) window into my private life?  Is it the reality that makes my blog engaging? And if that’s true, what about writing fiction? Is it worth my while?

A realistic teapot?  Drawing by me, Eva Langston

A realistic teapot? Drawing by me, Eva Langston

I’m about one-third of the way through The Silver Star, and I’m happy to report that I’m enjoying it as much as Walls’s other books. One could argue that I like it because I can pick out some autobiographical bits among the fiction. The characters move from California to western Virginia, and I know that as a child Walls lived in California and then West Virginia. In The Silver Star, the mother is a selfish aspiring singer, and I know that Wall’s real-life mother was a selfish aspiring artist.

But really, I’m not enjoying the book because of the bits of reality. I’m enjoying it because of the voice. Walls uses the same casual, confident, sometime humorous narration for her fictional tale that she did for her true ones. “My sister saved my life when I was just a baby,” is how The Silver Star opens. “Here’s what happened.” Even though it’s not real, she makes it sound as if it were.

There have been times when I’ve considered giving up on fiction writing. When my blog gets positive feedback, I sometimes wonder if maybe I should stick with nonfiction. But on second thought, I don’t think so. There’s a place for both fiction and nonfiction.

Take This Is the End, for example. It wasn’t funny just because the actors played themselves.  It was funny because they played fictionalized versions of themselves in a fictional situation. In the same way, Jeannette Walls didn’t choose to write a straight biography of her grandmother’s life. She wrote a novelized version. She wanted to be able to embellish, make things up, create a story.

The truth is, I’m not always that interesting, and I’m not sure I have enough crazy true stories (yet) to make a memoir. So nonfiction is fine for my blog, but I need fiction to write a novel. The question is, how can I get readers to truly care about my made-up characters? I think the trick might be this:  write like it really happened.

Eva Langston is an aspiring writer. Read more about her here.

RELATED READING:

13 Outstanding Performances by Actors Playing Themselves

Jay, This Is the End Star, on His Friendship with Seth Rogen

How Jeannette Walls Spins Good Stories Out of Bad Memories

Flaubert’s Kettle

20130625-074930.jpg

A picture of my real cat.

Day 22: How to Avoid Flat Drawings, Flat Characters, & Flat Hair

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Day 22:  How to Avoid Flat Drawings, Flat Characters, & Flat Hair

MY JUNE GOALS FOR LIFE FULFILLMENT   

1.  Draw something every day

2.  Learn about art

3. Read blogs and learn how to promote my own

 

NO MORE FLAT DRAWINGS: 

I have taken a step towards maturity! Maturity in drawing, that is. The other day, I completed a realistic, 3-D drawing with shading and highlights, which is something I have never tried before.

It wasn’t too hard, thanks to the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I followed her step-by-step instructions to create a drawing of my hand.

First, I had to use a “picture plane,” which, in this case, is a piece of plexiglass. I balanced my hand underneath it and traced all the edges I saw with a dry-erase marker. This helped to “flatten out” my three-dimensional hand into a two-dimensional shape. If I had a bigger picture plane that was mounted vertically, I could place whatever I wanted behind it and trace the shape, thus reducing any three-dimensional object or scene into two-dimensions.

The picture plane is not a new concept. There are dozens of picture plane devices on record at the U.S. Patent office, and many famous artists have and do use them – Vincent Van Gogh, for one, but there are many other examples.

Edwards claims that once I have learned the process, I can get rid of the plexiglass and use an imaginary picture plane. This is a “transparent plane, like a framed window, that is always hanging in front of the artist’s eyes.” It helps the artist to see a scene “as through it were magically smashed flat on the back of the clear glass plane.”

So that was step one, which helped me understand the shape of my drawing. Step two was to “tone” my paper by shading it with a soft pencil and rubbing with a paper towel to achieve a pale, even gray. I drew the basic shape and looked at my own hand to add in all the wrinkles and details. I then darkened in the shadowy parts and used my eraser in places where I saw highlights.

The result wasn’t perfect, but it’s probably the most realistic drawing I’ve done so far. And it makes so much sense! How could I have ever done highlights if I started the drawing on white paper? Starting with a gray tone and being able to dial up or down the shade makes all the difference!

finished drawing, by Eva Langston

finished drawing, by Eva Langston

NO MORE FLAT CHARACTERS:

Of course, as always, I started to compare drawing to writing. (I compare everything to writing on this blog.)

In drawing, we take three-dimensional objects and represent them on a two-dimensional surface using nothing but pencils or pastels. In writing, we take a multidimensional world, a world of sights and smells and sounds, a world of emotions and relationships, and we represent it with nothing but words. How do we do that without flattening the experience?  How can we make sure our characters are fully realized?

I guess one trick has to do with what I learned using the picture plane: sometimes the things you know exist are not visible. In drawing my hand, I knew I had five fingers, but my ring finger was mostly hidden behind my thumb. In writing, you as the author know things about your characters that perhaps aren’t visible to other characters, or to the reader. Be subtle. Don’t show everything up front.

A second trick for three-dimensional characters also comes from my new-found drawing skills: use a gray scale. You can’t draw a character in black and white. Every person and every life has shadowy parts and bright spots, even the vilest villain and the saintliest hero, so decide where to darken your characters. Decide where to make them lighter.

My original hand drawing.  Not bad, but definitely not as 3-D.

My original hand drawing. Not bad, but definitely not as 3-D.

NO MORE FLAT HAIR:

As many of you who read my blog know, I have a tumultuous relationship with my hair, and I’m afraid that learning to draw better has not really helped me solve these issues. Except this: drawing in gray scale was something new for me, and I have found that sometimes trying something new with my hair can lead to positive results. I fixed my bangs differently the other day and was pleasantly surprised (see below). Otherwise, these are the only recommendations I can think of:

1. Fancy volumizing shampoo doesn’t work. It just doesn’t, so don’t spend your money on it.

2. Don’t let your boyfriend fix your hair if you’re planning to go out in public. He has a shaved head. He doesn’t understand.

3. As much as it annoys you, use mousse and blow dry your hair with a round-brush. It does actually add body. Now I use a blow dryer with a round-brush attachment, which is much easier to manage.

4. Stick your head out the window of a car like a dog while going down the highway.

5. Don’t wear a hat unless you plan to wear it all day.

6. Time travel back to the 80’s and get some tips from pretty much anyone. On second thought, I think the 80’s was all about teasing your hair. Don’t do that. Gives you split ends.  Take it from one who knows…

7. Write a story or draw a picture in which you have huge, voluminous hair. That’s the great thing about writing and drawing – it can seem realistic but still be fiction.

Me and my hair.  You probably shouldn't take styling tips from me...

Me and my hair. You probably shouldn’t take styling tips from me…

Eva Langston is an aspiring writer.  Read more about her here.  

RELATED READING:

The Complete Bad Guy on Fictioner’s Net

The Best Hair Products for Maximum Volume on Beauty High

Day 20: Angelina Stress Dreams & What’s Hiding in My Blind Spot

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Day 20:  Angelina Stress Dreams & What’s Hiding in My Blind Spot

MY JUNE GOALS FOR LIFE FULFILLMENT   

1.  Draw something every day

2.  Learn about art

3. Read blogs and learn how to promote my own

Last night I dreamed about Angelina Jolie again. I swear, I hardly think about her in my waking life, but somehow she and her big lips and her hordes of babies find their way into my dreams. The Anglina Jolie dream wasn’t a nightmare, but it was sort of disturbing, and I woke covered in sweat and twisted in my sheets. I couldn’t fall back asleep and ended up tossing and turning from 4 until 6 am.

I’ve been having some trouble sleeping lately, and both my mom and my boyfriend, Paul, insist it’s because I’m anxious about the upcoming move to Seattle. It IS a big deal – moving cross-country, moving in with Paul, etc. etc. It makes sense I might be stressed. But, “no,” I tell them, “I’m not anxious about that.”

I don’t know why I can’t sleep…

My first commissioned drawing!  Melissa asked me to draw the robot from Short Circuit playing table tennis with Seymour Hoffman, winning, and looking smug about it.

My first commissioned drawing! Melissa asked me to draw the robot from Short Circuit playing table tennis with Seymour Hoffman, winning, and looking smug about it.

My birthday is coming up, by the way. (“How old are you?” my friend Kimberly asked me the other day. “I’m thirty,” I said. “No…Wait. I’m thirty-one!” My god, I’ve hardly gotten used to thirty-one, and already I’m turning thirty-two. I now understand how old people can lose track of their own age.)

When I was a kid, I would get so excited about my birthday that I couldn’t sleep. I remember the night before I turned ten. I was in my bed – again covered in sweat and tangled in the sheets, but this time because we didn’t have air-conditioning and because and I was thrashing around with giddy anticipation. “It’s my birthday tomorrow!” I squealed at random intervals when I could no longer contain myself. “Yippeeee!”

“Eva, be quiet and go to sleep,” came my mom’s groggy voice from her room. It was past midnight.

I clapped my hands over my mouth and kicked my legs in the air with uncontrollable excitement. And geez, all that was going to happen the next day was a backyard birthday party and a homemade ice cream cake. Sometimes I think being a kid must be like smoking crack and doing Ecstasy – everything is just so intense.

I don’t get excited like that anymore, unfortunately. Now, when a major event, like a cross-country move, grows near, I plan for it and look forward to it, but the closer it gets to happening, the more blasé I become. People ask, “are you excited about (fill-in-the-blank),” and I either fake it with a big grin, or I tell them the truth: I’m sure I’ll be excited when it’s happening. Until then, I can’t really wrap my mind around how it’s going to be.

009

Drawing by me, Eva Langston

Yesterday I was driving home from yoga. I needed to get into the right lane, but I knew there was a car there. I couldn’t see the car because it was in my blind spot, but I’d been watching it approach for quite some time in the rear-view mirror.

I started waxing philosophic about this phenomenon. How poetic that I could see something at a distance, but now that it was so close, it had disappeared from sight. And yet, even though I couldn’t see the car, I knew it was there, and I knew that soon, it would come back into view at my side.

On the phone later, Paul told me that the shades in Dante’s Inferno are sort of like rear-view mirrors. They can see the distant future, but not the near future. I guess, when something is so close, it can become distorted and hard to perceive, like looking at your own hand through a pair of binoculars.

My big move (and my 32nd birthday) is in the near future. I’ve been watching it approach and preparing for it, but now it’s so close it’s slipped into my blind spot.  Is that why I can’t admit to having anxiety and Angelina Jolie stress dreams?

What will it be like?  Living in Seattle with Paul?  I don’t know.  I guess I can only prepare so much for the future.  Now that it’s so near, I’ll have to wait and see what slips into view at my side.

I’m sure I’ll be excited when it’s happening.  Yippeee!

Eva Langston is an aspiring writer.  Read more about her here.  

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Drawing by me, Eva Langston

Day 18: Camel Spit & Llama Sex, or, When It’s OK to Break a Writing Routine

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Day 18:  Camel Spit & Llama Sex, or, When It’s OK to Break a Writing Routine

MY JUNE GOALS FOR LIFE FULFILLMENT   

1.  Draw something every day

2.  Learn about art

3.  Read blogs and learn how to promote my own

At Safari Park in Natural Bridge, Virginia, for a mere $17, you can drive through 180 acres of rolling hills, feeding zebras, llamas, bison, antelope, camels, ostriches, and a whole lot of other strong-jawed and large-beaked animals that are not afraid of people and that come galumphing up to your open windows as soon as you slow down.

Yesterday, I went to Safari Park for the second time, with my friends Cory and Melissa, and my boyfriend, Paul. Upon driving into the park, we were immediately accosted by yaks, emus, and watusi (1500 pound cattle with 10-foot long horns).  Our safari began with screams of laughter (and terror) and lots of flying food pellets. (I apologize again to Melissa for all of the feed and yak saliva that is now covering the inside of her car.)

“Oh my god, we’ve only gone five feet!” Cory laughed maniacally. “This is crazy!” By this time the watusi had surrounded us completely, making it impossible to drive. Their gigantic horns threatened to scratch Melissa’s car and/or take out one of our eyes.

“Oh no! Here come the zebras!” I yelled. The problem with the zebras, and most of the animals at Safari Park, is that they will try to eat all of the feed in your bucket in one go, despite your protests that they save some for the others. When you try to take the feed bucket away, they will either attempt to wrestle the bucket out of your hands, or they will stick as much of themselves as possible through your car window to get the bucket back.

“Drive, Cory, drive!” Melissa shouted as a zebra stuck its entire head into the car. We all screamed and laughed hysterically, and Cory drove on.

The watusi coming to get us.

The watusi coming to get us.

From my last trip to Safari Park.  Me and a greedy zebra.

From my last trip to Safari Park. Me and a greedy zebra.

On Friday afternoon Paul and I had driven to Roanoke, Virginia, my hometown, so that Paul could meet my dad, as well as my dear friends from high school, Degra, Melissa, and Cory. We spent the weekend going for hikes and eating at restaurants and sitting around visiting. On Monday, we went to Safari Park before heading back to Richmond.

Although I was able to keep up my drawing routine over the long weekend, I did absolutely no writing. I felt like I didn’t have the time or the mental space.

I felt a little guilty, though, especially when I thought about Huruki Murakami. In my last post I wrote about famous authors’ writing rituals (see The Writing Rituals of 5 Famous Novelists), and Murakami says that when he is working on a novel, he gets up every day at four am and works for five or six hours.  He does this without variation and keeps up this routine for six months to a year – I suppose, until the novel is done.

Well, I’m working on a new novel. I actually have an agent who is interested in it, which should motivate me to be really serious and dedicated about my writing routine. And all last week I was following a good routine, getting up somewhat early and writing from 8 am to 11, which is usually my optimal writing time.  But because I was in Roanoke, I didn’t keep up this routine on Saturday or Sunday or Monday.

And maybe I could have. Maybe I could have told my dad, “hey, sorry, I can’t be at your house until 11:30. Gotta do my writing in the morning.” Maybe I could have told Cory and Melissa, “hey, sorry guys, can’t sit around on the sun porch and chat. I need to hole up in the guest room for three hours to write.”

Is this what a truly professional and dedicated writer would do?  Is this what separates the successful from the wannabes?  Maybe I shouldn’t worry about seeming rude. Maybe I shouldn’t worry about missing out on fun stuff. Maybe I shouldn’t worry about getting a hike in before the heat of the day.

The question is, how much, and how often, is it okay to deviate from your writing routine? Should you do it for friends and family?  Should you do it while traveling, or for the sake of fun?  Or should you never break routine if you can possibly help it?  How many days is it okay to go without writing one single sentence?

I did stick to my drawing routine over the long weekend.  For example, I drew this gnome.

I did stick to my drawing routine over the long weekend. For example, I drew this gnome.

As we continued to drive through Safari Park, things calmed down a bit.

“Oh, is that good? Is that delicious?” Paul baby-talked to a pair of antelope, holding out his bucket of feed.

“Hey friend, hey there,” Cory said, petting a brown and white deer.

“It’s Bambi! It’s little Bambi!” Paul reached his arm out of the car. “Let me feel your antlers.”

Meanwhile, Melissa fed a surprisingly gentle eight-foot-tall ostrich, and I sternly rationed out my feed to a pack of llamas, rewarding a black and white one with an extra mouthful because he’d been so polite.

“I love you, Bambi. You’re so cute,” Paul said to the fly-covered deer.

“You’re my special one,” I said, petting the llama’s matted fur. “I’m going to call you Oreo.”

It was downright serene… until we got to the camels.

Last time, a camel had come through our sun roof and stolen my entire bucket of feed with one chomp of his slobbery mouth. I swore I wouldn’t let the same thing happen this time.

As we slowed down, and the camel came over to investigate, I prepared myself to be strong. I held out my bucket. He bowed his giant head, opened his rubbery lips, and suddenly half the bucket had disappeared into his mouth.  He pulled at it aggressively.

“No!” I screamed, holding on for dear life. He gnawed down on the plastic of my bucket (nipping my finger in the process). “Ahhhh! NO! You can’t have it!” I gave one good yank and ripped the bucket from his mouth. Camel drool and wet, mulchy feed sluiced down my arm, and everyone laughed.  “I did it!” I cried, wiping the drool onto the front of my dress.

Unfortunately, while I was gloating, the camel had noticed the reserve feed buckets between me and Paul. He lurched his head through my window, and now the camel was inside the car, smothering me with his giant neck.  Paul screamed, trying frantically to   save our buckets of extra feed.

“Oh my god!”  Melissa yelled.  I was somehow screaming in terror and laughing hysterically at the same time.

“He’s eating all the food!” Paul cried, pushing at the camel’s head with his open palm. Cory tried to entice the camel with his feed bucket, and then the camel was sticking its head through Melissa’s open window, causing her to scream in terror. The camel reeled its head around in the car, knocking into Melissa and sticking his crazy, sideways-crewing mouth into Cory’s face. Camel spit and dreaded hair was everywhere, and everyone was screaming.

“Drive, Cory, drive!” Melissa yelled,  Cory stepped on the gas, and the camel had no choice but to withdraw his giant head from the window.

Melissa and the camel attack.

Melissa and the camel attack.

The camel attack was only one of the many exciting adventures during this latest trip to Safari Park. After the drive-through portion, Cory, Melissa, Paul, and I walked around the rest of the zoo. We watched llamas having sex, we fed rainbow-colored parakeets and got them to land on us, and we saw pot-belly piglets that were less than six hours old, suckling from their enormous mother’s teats.

More importantly, Paul bonded with my good friends, and we all spent a few hours in the mountains, in the sunshine, laughing so hard our stomachs hurt.

If I’d stuck to my writing routine on Monday, we wouldn’t have had time to go to Safari Park.

Murakami may disagree, but I think there are some things worth breaking your routine for.

Drawing by Eva Langston

Drawing by Eva Langston

Me and Paul and our little budgie friends.

Me and Paul and our little budgie friends.

Eva Langston is an aspiring writer.  Read more about her here.  

Day 14: The Writing Rituals of 5 Famous Novelists & When Enough is Enough

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Day 14:  The Writing Rituals of 5 Famous Novelists & When Enough is Enough

MY JUNE GOALS FOR LIFE FULFILLMENT   

1.  Draw something every day

2.  Learn about art

3.  Read blogs and learn how to promote my own

My boyfriend, Paul, has a PhD in Physics as well as a Masters in Applied Mathematics, and though he’ll deny it, he’s obviously super smart. (At least, he’s super smart about science and math and philosophy; I often have to school him on things like literature and pop songs.)

Last Sunday, he had to leave a really fun cook-out early in order to drive to Philadelphia for a conference. He had to be there by nine because he was slated for a “poster session” from nine to eleven pm. (I put “poster session” in quotation marks to emphasize how ridiculous I find the image of scientists walking around a hotel conference room, looking a posters set up on tables, like they’re at a middle school science fair.)

I was sad he had to leave. And nine to eleven on a Sunday night – seriously? That would never fly at a writers’ conference – them’s drinkin’ hours. But, I kissed him goodbye, and off he went.

The other day I decided that coloring counted as drawing.  Hey, I was studying the lines as I colored them in!

The other day I decided that coloring counted as drawing. Hey, I was studying the lines as I colored them in!

Sergey (my Ukrainian tutee) and I are working our way through a new ESL book – American English File Level 4. We’re both really happy with it, and the reading and listening exercises are interesting for both of us. The other day, we read mini-interviews from five famous novelists who discussed their writing habits and rituals.

Toni Morrison, for example, wakes up around five in the morning and writes everything first in pencil. “Much later,” she says, “when everything is put together, I type into a computer, and then I begin to revise.”

Luisa Valenzuela wakes up early, too. She says she enjoys “jumping out of bed and onto the computer – from dream to word, with no time to repent.” Haruki Murakami says that when he is writing a novel, “I get up at four am and work for five or six hours. In the afternoon I run for 10 kilometers or swim for 1,500 meters…I keep up this routine every day without variation.”

“Wow,” I said when Sergey was done reading.

“Is that what you do?” he asked me, grinning.

“Well, I like to write in the mornings,” I said. Of course, for me that means sitting down at the computer at 8:00 and working for two or three hours. “I don’t think I’m quite as strict with myself as Murakami is,” I said.

So I’m not as disciplined as Murakami. I’m also not as zen-like as Rick Moody who says, “I always write with music on… I sometimes meditate before starting work, to make sure there is the potential for calm.”

I definitely don’t write by hand like Toni Morrison. Paul Auster (one of my favorite writers), also says he writes by hand because “you feel that the words are coming out of your body, and then you dig the words into the page.” If I write more than half a page by hand my fingers start cramping. I write everything on the computer these days – even poems. Is that my problem?

One thing is for sure: I’m certainly not as confident as these famous writers.

As Sergey answered the comprehension questions, I started to feel, as I always do when I read interviews of writers, that I’m not disciplined enough, smart enough, passionate enough, etc. to be a “real” writer.

“Let’s move on to phrasal verbs,” I told Sergey quickly, flipping to the next page in my teacher book. (“Move on,” by the way, is a phrasal verb.)

I drew this upside down.

I drew this upside down.

On Monday night, Paul called, and I asked him how the conference was going.

“Good,” he said. “But I sort of feel the way you did when you had your melt-down the other day.” (See My Complete Melt-Down post.)

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. Everybody here is so smart, and they’re doing really important work. I worry that maybe the problems I’m working on aren’t meaningful enough, or maybe I’m not smart enough to tackle really important questions.”

“Well that’s absurd,” I told him. “You’re insanely smart. And you have your whole career ahead of you to work on all sorts of things.”

He laughed.  “Haven’t I told you that exact thing?”

“You can’t compare yourself to others,” I went on. “I mean, of course we all do. It’s human nature. But very little good can come out of it.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said.

“Just work on the problems you want to work on. Maybe it’ll turn out that they’re super important down the road. Or maybe it won’t, but it doesn’t matter, because you’re working on problems that interest you.”

It’s amazing how I can give such good advice to others, yet never take the advice to heart. HEY EVA, guess what: Don’t compare yourself to others!  Just work on the type of writing you want to do and don’t worry whether or not it will ever be “important.” It’s important to you. That’s enough.

Enough is enough.  Go sit down and write.

 

Related Reading:  

Should Fiction Writers Train Like the Spanish Football Team? (from The Incompetent Writer)

Top 10 Things I Do to Avoid Writing by Jen Violi, Writer & Book Coach

This Week’s Top ESL Blogs from Teaching English in a Foreign Land