Stop romanticising trauma and writing

I read an article today about a poet who plagiarised another person’s work and managed to get a book deal out of it until someone recognised a poem written by another and a whole shit storm happened.

Yes, that’s terrible and rude and lazy and more but this post isn’t about the plagiarising of the words but the plagiarism of the experience.

One of the phrases in question was:

Ramshackle girl

spitting teeth

in the sink. I trace the

foreign topography of

my body, find God

in my skin.

Which was “inspired” by a poem, written by Rachel McKibbens, who wrote about childhood trauma and her memories. Her words are below.

Hell-spangled girl

spitting teeth into the sink,

I’d trace the broken

landscape of my body

& find God

within myself

Her poem was a response to the awful trauma that involved mental illness in those she loved including her mother and son.

A poem is a reaction. It is a raw and real response to what is happening to you physically and mentally and is always deeply personal. It can make you feel less alone, contented, fearful, and the good ones can make you cry and learn them by heart, because you feel understood.

What I found troubling about this poet’s decision to plagiarise the poem, besides the obvious, is her taking on the other experience of the writer. She is dismissing the pain of a childhood of abuse the author suffered and she has invalidated the experience of the author exploring her life with a mother and her son having schizophrenia.

I read poetry on most days. It is my touchstone and it is a powerful tool to help me become a better writer. It is also something I like to read. Little dream like moments that swirl through my brain. I always have more evocative dreams if I read poetry before I sleep.

I have read a lot of the new what I call “Tumblr” poets. Few are amazing, many aren’t so amazing. What I enjoy is the real and the raw, and those that reflect the authentic voice and experience.

To steal Sylvia Path or Anne Sexton’s words, is to wear their coat of depression for a while but then having the privilege of taking it off when it gets too heavy. It is entitled and dismissive of the poets experience.

What this poet was really saying when she stole the other person’s work is “Can I borrow your trauma to get a book deal?”

It’s appalling and it’s happening more often. Do people romanticise trauma and writing so much they will plagiarise to succeed? It seems so.

How to balance paid work and creative work

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  I have been working full time with three jobs for a while,  because I have one kid at school and one at University in another state, which I am paying for and we need to eat, and God knows, there ain't enough money in publishing to make this happen.

This week I went to a discuss some work with the MOST gorgeous women, in the MOST fabulous office,  and they asked a lot about my writing and narrative skills and how they could utilise them for their successful business.  This felt weird because, in my other jobs, it's not mentioned at all.   It was nice to talk about it but I felt embarrassed, as though I hadn't quite been successful enough and now I'm sitting here asking for work, or is it just me who thinks this?Probably. 13 books, three publishers, two  TV shows and selling one to a large production house says otherwise, but the bank balance tells me the truth. It ain't easy for a creative bitch in this town.

Right now I have an idea for a book that I am trying to prise out of my brain and am working on TV ideas with Eddie, my script partner. I have a course in scriptwriting to finish, and I have more freelance than I can keep up with, along with a huge and demanding consulting job. So, how to do I honour the creative work with the necessary?

Not easily, but it can be done.

  1. Turn off the television. When I wrote my two first books, I didn't watch any television while writing them. If I wanted entertainment, then the books would provide it to me, as long as I kept writing.
  2. Decide what matters and then forget the rest or ask someone else to help. This includes deep cleaning, cooking complicated recipes, and ironing. No one is going to remember you for the excellent creaseless yokes of your shirts.
  3. Say no to things that will take you away from your creative projects unless of course you really want to go. If that's the case then GO! It's important to have balance, but the Year 10 Mother's Coffee Morning? Nope.
  4. Keep a pen and notebook on you at all times. You can write or makes notes when standing in a line, or when waiting in the car, or when sitting in the doctor's surgery. Tom Waits has been known to ring his own answering machine to record snippets of lyrics that pass by in his thoughts. The muse is everywhere if you are paying attention.
  5. Talk about your work with someone, so you remember you are a creative person. Find your creative partner who you can riff with about words, and art and music and inspiration. It's important to fill up the well.
  6. Commit to your writing as much as you commit to your other work. It's easy to focus on the paid work above the creative but goddammit, you aren't being true to yourself or your talents
  7. Schedule your time. Every single hour. I use a bullet journal and get an enormous amount done during a day and use my time wisely. It also means I get a huge amount of paid work out as well as creative work.
  8. Accept that sometimes life and reality takes precedence over creativity. My sister is in hospital after major surgery, so any spare time this weekend will be spent with her and that's okay because love wins.
  9. Embrace routines. I love routines, they make me relax into my day. Coffee, feed dogs, make bed, shower, clean up the kitchen, work, write at lunchtime, work, school pickup, work, make dinner, write. Repeat. It's doable.
  10. Don't take on more than you need. Don't offer to do everything or be everything. You have to find your self-worth another way and really, it should come from your creative work!
  11. Get up earlier. Seriously. 5am wake up means two hours of writing or paid work. DO IT!

This blog post isn't the complete answer and I know people's lives are complicated. When I cared for my brother when he was sick. I didn't do anything creative at all. I had nothing to be creative about and the routine kept me grounded. But you must force yourself back into finding time for your creativity. I implore you to find some time. I guarantee you can let some things go in your life. Boundaries around the creative time are necessary and might not make you popular but do you know what? Suck it up, people. You saying no doesn't mean you don't care for them, it just means you care about your creative work more.

I read a blog a while ago where a woman listed all the things she had done during the day and how she had no time to do anything for herself. When I read the list I wanted to punch myself in the face on behalf of her martyrdom and her excuses. Don't make 40 cupcakes for the school fete. No one cares. Honestly! Don't make three lasagnas for friends with health issues. Make two, one of the sickest one, and make sure the other one is for yourself. Don't make an Angelina Ballerina costume from scratch. Buy it from the $2 shop.

Just stop making excuses and start making art.

As I say to my kids all the time. Nothing to it, but to do it!

Added bonus:

Inspo for the artist- This studio. 

Inspo for the writer - This bullet journal.

 

The Stoic's Guide to 2017

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Starting a New Year is filled with anticipatory anxiety. Who will die this year?  Will I lose the weight this year? Will I find the perfect lover? Will I clear out the junk drawer? So many expectations and yet so many surprises come and smash us in the face year after year and we're in shock. This wasn't on the "To-Do list," we moan. Of course, it wasn't on any list, no one writes down:

  • Bury Dad
  • Find lump
  • Attempt suicide
  • Have car crash
  • Get robbed.

I find standard goal setting is futile in an uncertain world. My 2016 was better because I had no idea what my year would look like, instead, I just worked hard on myself and stayed open to opportunities,  and I certainly didn't have any presumptions about what the year was supposed to bring me.  I am not #blessed, as some like to write on Instagram. As though they were chosen above all other to have such bliss enter their life. I am not blessed. And for the record neither are you.

I have experienced two years of drama, and every time another blow came, I just shook it off and kept going. Not because I am so amazing but because I didn't have a choice.

So, if I have learned anything from my two years of cataclysm and calamity, it is simply that you cannot predict an outcome, you can only control your role in the process and nothing more.

This week, I spoke to a friend whose child is undergoing serious and potentially life ending treatment for cancer.

"Stoicism wins the day. You can control your part of the process in your son's life but nothing more. Stay centered and process driven. 🏹🏆"

Now here is my list on how to set goals like a Stoic and be a process driven machine.

  1. Write down what you want to do.
  2. Assess the current state of your situation.
  3. Where are your weaknesses?
  4. Where do you need to improve?
  5. What can you do to turn the weaknesses into strengths?
  6. How will your life have to change?
  7. What will you do when people question or even mock you?
  8. And finally, how will achieving this goal push you towards being the person you want to be?

Let's look at this in relation to  a real goal.

Perhaps your goal is to have a book published.

If you are setting stoic goals, the goal would be not to be published but instead, the noble goal of bringing you closer to your fated self.  To write something that you are proud of,  that you hope will help people or bring enjoyment to others.

To write something that is the result of you pushing yourself to become a better writer with each draft, to assess your writing, and your process and see where it can improve.

Take a writing course, read more, make more time to do both of these, so perhaps you have to give up watching television two nights of the week. Will your loved ones support you in this? Will they step up to help you reach the goals of becoming a focused, principled, learned writer?

Get it?

And will this bring you to the initial, naive goal of being published? Who knows? If the Fates allow, but that's not the point, is it? The point is- make the goal noble, make the process stringent, and change your life to support this. The rest is up to destiny, and after the clusterfuck of 2016 we have learned that life turns on a dime and the best we can do is just make progress however we can, with harm to none and the hope that we will be closer to our true selves by the end of 2017.

Peace to you and may 2017 bring you to your best self.

 

Kate

x

 

 

 

 

How to be good at stuff

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  I was thinking this morning about someone I know who wants to get a book published, yet they keep coming up against brick walls/rejections. While they rightly refuse to give up on their quest, they aren't asking the bigger question.

What can I do to make my part of the process better, so it's easier for people to say yes helping me achieve my goal?

The limits that this person is putting on themselves means that they probably won't be published. The publishing world has never been more competitive and difficult, and you must adapt and bend and listen to feedback from your agents, publishers, and readers.

This morning on Humans of New York, there was these two posts.

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If the text is too small, this is what they say:

“I took the entrance exam for engineering when I was 19. I knew immediately that I had failed. When I got my score, I had an anxiety attack and lost control. I began screaming and beating my head against the wall. It got so bad that they took me to the hospital and injected me. When I came home, I just laid in my bedroom for days. One night my father came in to say ‘hello,’ and when he left, I heard him crying in the hallway. He was a driver for foreign tourists, and the next day he invited me to ride along with him. He was picking up a Swiss woman at the airport. Her name was Joanna. When she arrived, we realized that her travel agency had made a mistake. There was nobody to guide her. Joanna mentioned that she wanted to go to the archaeological museum in the morning. So I woke up at 6 AM, and got to the museum as soon as it opened so I could memorize as much information as I could. When Joanna arrived, I did my best to guide her with my limited English. But she was a very smart lady, and she knew that I wasn’t prepared. But she told me: ‘Mohammed, if you improve your English, you can be an amazing tour leader. And I’m going to support you.’

“With Joanna’s encouragement, I went to school for English. When I passed the entrance exam and was admitted to university, she sent me a long sleeved shirt and $500 for my tuition. I couldn’t believe it. Then every month after that she sent me $50 and an issue of Reader’s Digest. Her only condition was that I continue with my studies and write her one letter every two weeks. She would send each of my letters back with notes and corrections. Soon I knew enough English to get certified as a tour guide. Then I learned Spanish as well. And Italian. I spoke with Joanna on the phone just a few weeks ago. She told me how proud she was of me. ‘Your English is perfect,’ she said. I started crying. I told her ‘I have so much business now. I just bought my own apartment. And it was all because of you.’”

 

I read the posts out to Dave, who commented on Joanna, whom he called an angel. While I think Joanna is the caterpillar's sneakers, it was Mohammad who impressed me the most. Because he did the work! He didn't limit himself and took the opportunities that presented to him, no matter how small they seemed at the time. He said yes by getting in the taxi with his father. He said yes when he went to early to the museum. He said yes when she presented him with the idea he could do, and be something more.

And then he did the work!

How many people do you see who bitch about not getting what they want but won't do the work? They won't listen to the feedback, or take the hint, or say yes to the smallest change.

Is it the fear of change that limits us from truly being ourselves, being amazing, letting our talents show?

Some of us are so scared of our potential that we do nothing with our lives. We are scared of what people will say, what people already do say, and of what they won't say.

"Doing the work" isn't easy. In fact, it's downright terrifying. Doing the work requires self-awareness to see where you're at right now, and vulnerability to see the mistakes you've made, and self-worth to be proud of the successes.

It doesn't matter what your goal is, doing the work is going to be hard.

Last night, I was chatting to a friend who was discussing her sister, whose husband walked out on her, whose friends have all disappeared, and whose kids don't want to live with her anymore.

'She doesn't get it,' she said to me. 'She doesn't see that she is the reason. She is the whole reason, and still she cries victim. She won't do the work.'

All I could do was shrug, 'You can't make her see herself as she really is until she's ready and she probably won't ever be ready. That's a vision she won't ever want to face.' I answered.

You can't tell people they're the unifying problem in their own life unless they're paying you $200 an hour, and you have the letters D and R before your name.

Limiting yourself means you won't do the work, and not doing the work looks different for everyone and comes in many forms

This is my high level- super, duper professional chart that I made,  for the workers and the non-workers, the limitless and the limited.

Work

 

(I know, it's pretty professional, huh?)

Right now I am in a 'work' phase. I'm doing the work in all areas of my life. I'm working on being a better friend, parent, partner, sister, daughter, writer, pet owner, house owner, cook, physical being, and samba dancer.

I have a recurring list of things I want to do and how I can make them happen. It's pretty fun to do actually. Make one for your self.

List the stuff you want to do and what actual things you can do to make them happen. Be practical and start today.

If you want to be a better cook, watch a cooking video online and follow it step by step, so you can make something new for dinner tonight.

Want to lose weight? Start with a walk today.

Want to be a better friend? Ring someone and ask them how they are.

Want to learn a language? Download an app and start learning the basics.

Want to learn to draw? Look up classes or take free ones online.

Want to be a better writer? Push yourself to read more, and learn more, and ask for feedback on your work from people you trust.

Seriously! Stop limiting yourself. Start today. It's Spring in the Southern Hemisphere. A perfect time to start anew and in the Northen Hemisphere, it's Autumn, a time to start preparing and organising for the cold of Winter. Write your list so you can start your work. Do something small today, and let me know how you go!

I'm excited for you.

:)

 

Kate

xxx