I just nailed the prologue. I nailed it! It’s right! It’s like I met the man of my dreams, except it’s a prologue. I just swore repeatedly out loud to myself. The dog thought I was talking to him whoops! But I nailed it! I did it! I wrote the real prologue to what might now be a real book! A real book!!!!
I have to tell myself this out loud sometimes, which isn’t something an easygoing person does. They would just think it, but maybe they’d get distracted.
Today for the first time this year I forgot about an assignment. It wasn’t life-threatening. The assignment is due Thursday and I have done half of it. Still.
Last week, I watched a TED Talk by Amy Cuddy (watch it! watch it!) where she explains that through power-posing (literally standing in a powerful position) you become more relaxed and are judged better in an evaluative situation. Because I am someone who smiles at myself when I pass by a mirror, I am always in an evaluative situation. I’ve been taken to standing in odd power poses in bathrooms over the past few days, repeating I Am Easygoing, I Am Easygoing, certain I am not.
Oh but how I want to be. Imagine a sunny day if you were easygoing. Imagine a rainy day. Imagine having children and being easygoing. Imagine being a teacher and a writer who is easygoing.
I’ve been living with a dog for five days now. I do this periodically, sit in for people who are away. I take over their lives and try out what it would be like to be any notch more easygoing than myself. This dog I am staying with is so easygoing. Sometimes he gets a little whiny, but it’s just because he wants you to tear this mauled toy squirrel out of his mouth like you mean it. He just sits outside the house most of the time, or wanders around the neighbourhood. He is so casual. Even this morning his brother cat joined us on our walk. This family is so easygoing that their cat goes on a walk with their dog.
So this Amy Cuddy says to take every talk you’re asked to do. She says to fake it until you become it. She says that after a while you will forget you were ever faking anything.
So I will keep repeating this mantra to myself as I run, then stroll for a missed bus. I will keep repeating it to myself as I check my oil and I worry I put the wrong key in my shoe on a run. I will keep repeating it to myself as I spend days not writing and forgetting to even think about writing. I will repeat it over and over as I begin to teach, as I begin to learn that 22 kids cannot and will not and should not do what I say. I will repeat it as I learn that teaching is not at all what I just said it was. I will repeat it as my unit plans and lesson plans and maybe a student go flying out the window. I will repeat it as I do this presentation thing I signed up for and am already scared about two months in advance. I will repeat it as I go through life hardgoing, thinking everything is so hard, only to realize that, at some step along the way, I did start strolling and stopped running (I hate running), and there is a cat and a dog by my side and we’re just hanging out.
I keep one notebook by my bed (night thoughts; quotes from literature) and I keep one notebook in my purse. Both get soaked with water and crusted with coffee, but the one that travels with me rarely gets read. I read my bedside journal because I find it soothing to look back through old dreams and the words of literary sages. I can’t bear to read my travelling notebook. It holds urgent notes – scribbles encased in black boxes, surrounded by stars – that I should be looking at, but that when read together overwhelm me too much.
Here I bring to you a few thoughts from my travelling notebook, with the intention of making myself read some of the important things I have written between January – March 2013.
drink water and exercise and hug throughout the day
one student draws robots on all his work
faire moins et faire le moins plus bien
“It takes 3 weeks for students to stop talking about marks once you stop using them” (from an education workshop by Jonathan Vervaet).
“Has anyone here ever been to school?” (from a 2006 TED Talk whose name or speaker I didn’t write down)
other people’s problems look like challenges. Look at what I consider my problems the same way.
Did Mea steal all these artifacts from her parents before their road trip? (pictures, family trees, letters)… THIS IS CLOSE: did Jillian steal them AFTER?
one physical activity but not 2 (not act like cats – just suggestions of what cats are like)
the ability to see another side of an argument is too kind for a character (Gil)
we learn a lot when things don’t work
kale, beets, quinoa, tomatoes, avocado, cereal, choc. ice cream, granny smith apples, +
severity without raising voice
ecstasy: to stand to the side of something
I will soon be able to stand to the side of the ecstasy that is my travelling notebook, but for now I am still in January 2013- March 2013, so feel simply overwhelmed by these notes. 9 articles!!!! How can I achieve severity without raising my voice?? The beauty of notebooks is that there will come a time when these notes apply themselves osmotically to my day-to-day life. There will be a time where I look back and it seemed obvious that it was good when things went bad and that of course you should not get the kids to act like cats, just to give suggestions of what cats are like. But for now, I will set my travelling notebook to rest in a drawer and fill a new one with messages to the ether.
I have big problems with correcting grammar. I don’t have problems doing it – I’m really good at it – I just have problems with the concept, with the purpose of it. I love correcting my own grammar. It’s a part of the art; it’s the journey toward the right sentence. What I don’t think is right is correcting someone else’s grammar, at least when I’m looking at their writing.
When we correct grammar, we are saying that the work is almost perfect but only the grammar needs to be changed. Once someone has corrected my grammar, I’m scared to touch other sentences for fear they were perfect before and now will only be messed with. This is especially true for writing in French, where I’m less sure of myself and more convinced that I might happen upon a beautiful sentence and not even know it.
Grammar is like a mark on a test. If you see a number, you’re not going to worry about anything else. If you got a 60 and the word excellent and the person next to you got an 85 and the word fine, you would wish so much to be them. What the 85 must mean about their writing! What the 85 must mean about them! And that word, excellent, it gets lost.
photo from amdesignstudios.net
I shouldn’t say I’m especially talented at grammar because maybe you will start correcting me on this post, but I will say that grammar has never been my enemy. I think grammar is a lot of people’s enemies. To me, grammar is a set of expectations that, once understood and internalized, can help communicate a message effectively. The avoidance of grammar is the avoidance of your message. So I pay close attention to my grammar already. I need it to tell you a story.
Then when somebody steps in and puts my story aside all for the sake of a missed preposition – or worse, the rephrasing of a sentence – I get offended. I am the one delivering the message, so I am the one who will worry about how it is delivered. You must worry only about my message.
A recent movement in education is towards formative assessment, a type of feedback method that allows both teachers and students to evaluate where they are at in the learning process and what they need to do to reach their shared objectives. I think of editing this way. If I am to edit a student’s work, or a fellow writer’s, I am doing it so that person can move forward with their work. Will helping them change a capital letter do that? No, it will distract them. It might actually convince them that everything, all the big details, were so spot on that all I had to worry about what that tiny (but very wrong) minuscule letter.
It’s only by reading to grasp the message and then commenting on that message (the presentation of it, the ideas behind it, the possibilities of it) that anyone moves forward in any piece of writing. Grammar is the tool that lets them get the message out, but never controllable by anyone but the person who has the message to begin with. That’s why I love grammar: it’s a personal affair, a love connection between a writer and their writing.
Sometimes I can write a page of words without them meaning anything. It’s a problem (or blessing) that arose from the take-no-prisoner’s writing style I used as a kid: I must write a story, no time for thinking. Sentences would drop out of the sky with fully-formed stories behind them. The fully-formed stories would turn into my story. But since I hadn’t written a story yet, since I only had one page of words in front of me, it was meaningless, all nonsense.
Sentences like “she walked through mud without caring about the time that she had been dragged through it.” Sentences like “she believed in the worst of times.” Sentences like “she lived in tribes, she ate in a cafeteria.” Nonsense sentences like these all mean something to me when I write them down, the same way dreams make sense when you are in them. Then you wake up and you remember that there was a whole story behind that part of the dream you can remember. Then you try to tell somebody about the dream and it all falls apart. That wasn’t real. I dreamt that.
I taught myself to write by writing non-writing, by writing fake prose. I did a first draft of a novel this way and got a nasty shock when I revisited page one. But having gone through that unconscious writing phase where everything and anything meant something and should be written down let me get to where I am now: with a novel that’s actually a story. The holes are filled in and sentences are now used intentionally.
(photo from West Island Gazette)
Then a few nights ago (fake prose is always written at night) I lay down (fake prose is always written on one’s back, with a computer up against the knees) and hammered out a two page story that I’m sure isn’t a real story. I have yet to read it again, but I know it contains sentences of the aforementioned kind, where things are suggested and things are interesting, but they’re coming from a place inside my head that isn’t really me.
If it’s not really my thinking process coming up with the prose, then the writing process becomes an interesting one. It means that I am interpreter, rather than a composer. It means I’m looking for meaning in language rather than trying to use language to expose meaning. It acknowledges the notion that stories fall out of somewhere complete unto themselves and that it’s the writer’s job to mine them. And since that’s what I believe about stories, then I’m happy that I write in a way that can deliver them.
I hope that when I think I’m writing fake prose I’m really writing magical prose. We all know I’m just writing bad prose and trying to pass it off as something else, but there is something undeniably magical about a first draft, before the words realize where they are.
Running hurts my knees. It leaves a wheeze in the back (and front) of my throat. It makes me give up, often. After a run, I’ve probably given up double my quota of times I should be giving up on anything in a day. I’ll run to that lamppost – no, I’m going to stop here, a meter from that lamppost.
I always sign up for runs, thinking it will make me run. Why do we do these group runs, when none of us really want to run? Running is to get away from something. I understand that if we’re in a big group crossing a start line we want to get away from one another so we run faster, but why do we meet here in the first place?
I got new headphones for my running. I thought this would help me run. They block out noise so I’m more afraid of running, paranoid of being near the edge of a street and darting out in to it with a spurt of energy. I shouldn’t be afraid of that (it doesn’t happen). I should be more afraid of running near a street at all, with how likely I am to simply buckle over on to it.
Anything that isn’t reading something or writing something or spending time with people I like feels like wasted time to me. I don’t know what to do about that except feed the beast. Going for a run will only happen if I have something to think about (which could be time okay spent) and if I have music to listen to (check, I listened to music today, something got done). Other than that, I’m trudging myself through quicksand. I even got new shoes that don’t make me feel like I have vices for knees. I still don’t want to run.
I am someone who has thought for so long that the sound of my voice complaining is funny that this is my go-to coping strategy for running. I think I need to reimagine this. I’ve at least once before had the experience that if you say something positive instead of negative you actually change your opinion on the matter. It’s cognitive dissonance theory; it’s stop being an asshole theory.
So I changed the name of the post and I’m going for a run. I’m not going to update this blog after the run because we all know it’s going to be a horrible run. I will be out of the house for fifteen minutes. I will return with a headache and a lifelong smoker wheeze. I might not even go for the run at all. I might go straight into the shower.
The bright side is I have something to think about on the run. I submitted a first chapter to my writing group yesterday. I say “a first chapter” because it’s only the latest version of a series of first chapters I have created for my already written novel. This, of course, is the best version yet, or at least I have to believe this to live on. I now have to reinvent a second chapter that fits the first, and still leads me where I want to go with my novel.
I will hate myself for being on a run when I think of the magic formula, because I’ll have nowhere to write my ideas down. I’ll also be wearing noise-cancelling headphones that won’t let me hear any ideas other than my scraggly breathing, and I’ll be on a run.