Yeah, TOAST! (Because sometimes writing is a right pain in the…)

I am currently hard at work on my memoir. It has been slow going for the past year–partly from good old-fashioned procrastination, but mostly because it hurts to write. Not the emotional kind of hurting (although there definitely is that!), but the physical, hands cramping, wrist and thumb feel like they’re on fire type of pain. After several doctor’s appointments, my general practitioner thinks I have some radial nerve damage from my day job (I work at a psychiatric hospital and she thinks the pain is from the physical management we have to do). But, whatever the cause, I have had several days where I’ve sat down to write and had to stop because my hands hurt too much to hold a pen or press a key on the keyboard. I could get small bits of relief from wrapping a heating pad around my hands and wearing a neoprene brace, but those are temporary solutions and neither is much help when I have a looming deadline.

Because not working and not writing are not options, I had to find other solutions. My first solution was switching from predominately using a laptop to a desktop computer with an ergonomic keyboard (see below).

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Rocket and Groot approve of this keyboard

I went to several stores and “typed” on the tester keyboards before settling on the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000. It took a little while to adjust to the different key placement, and I am still slower on it than on a traditional keyboard. It’s also much larger than my laptop keyboard, and the spacebar is less sensitive than the other keys, but I can use it for longer (around a half hour) before my hands start to cramp too badly.

Still, a half hour is not long enough when I have to have half the memoir completed for my first packet of this MFA independent study, so I had to get creative. That’s when I stumbled upon these little gems: Smoko’s USB Handwarmers.

Yay for toast-y hands!!!

Yay for toast-y hands!!!

Meant for people who work in cold office environments, the handwarmers are small heaters that wrap around your hands and plug into your computer’s USB ports. I like fun, toy-like office supplies (as evidenced by Rocket and Groot above!) so these are perfect! When they’re on, my hands are free to type without restraint (I am wearing them as I type this post, for example) and the constant heat makes for a pain-free writing experience. I may have to dedicate my memoir to Smoko!20150711_06543520150711_065414

What about you guys? What solutions have you found for writing pain?

Me, Authentically

A couple years ago, I didn’t believe in marriage at all. To fully explain my reasons for not believing would take much more space than I have here. Part of it was because I was a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of a boyfriend many years ago, so romantic relationships scared the hell out of me. But part of it is because my romantic feelings never felt quite valid.

I grew up ignorant about homosexuality. “Gay” was a punchline, a joke. I didn’t know what it meant to be attracted to someone of the same sex, but I knew the slurs. And I knew I thought boys were cute, so it didn’t seem to matter.

Until I got older and realized that I thought girls were cute, too. But even after I figured out what “homosexuality” was, I didn’t know what it meant to like boys and girls. I thought it meant something was wrong with me, or that I was confused about my feelings. I mean, “gay” meant liking people of the same sex, and “straight” meant liking people of the opposite sex. And because I wasn’t gay, I had to be straight, right?

I met some people like me in high school, and I learned what bisexuality meant, and suddenly everything made more sense. But once there was a term for who I was, it meant that there was something different about me. And different felt very, very wrong to a girl who just wanted to fit in and be liked. I remember sitting in church pews and hearing that homosexuals are damned to hellfire, and I remember quaking in my seat in fear. The fear didn’t change me—it just made me hate myself. So I pretended it didn’t matter.

Some of my friends came out, and I was happy for them, but because I predominately dated boys (even though there were some girls in there, too—I just didn’t talk about them), I figured I didn’t need to come out. Some people knew. Close friends, some boyfriends, but not many, and definitely not my family. I never brought girlfriends around—hell, I barely called them my girlfriends.

And then after the abusive boyfriend, it definitely didn’t seem to matter. I mean, if I had decided that romance was not for me, then what did it matter who I was involved with if it wasn’t going to end in anything serious?

Don’t get me wrong. I have always supported LGBTQ rights, and I’ve always been an outspoken advocate for marriage equality. I just figured my own story, my own struggle, didn’t need to be added to the noise. But, if I am honest, a big part of my silence was because of the hate I heard from those closest to me. The continuous message of sin, damnation, perversion, evil, dirty… I felt dirty enough. I didn’t need to hear those messages directed at me.
Almost two years ago, I met Jason, and I fell in love with him. For the first time, I started to reconsider my feelings on love, romance, and marriage. And rather than not believing in marriage, now I actively look forward to planning a wedding. I even have a dream wedding pinterest board! So I stayed silent even longer. I mean, he’s a boy—obviously!—and I’m planning to spend my life with him, so what does it matter that I find girls attractive, that I have been involved with girls in the past?

Around the same time, I started working on a memoir, and some of the chapters deal with my own sexuality. I saved those chapters in a separate file, figuring I’d handle them eventually. And while I started sending many chapters out for publication, I did not send those chapters out. I wasn’t ready to hear the backlash. A couple months ago, I decided to not include those chapters at all.

But the times, they are a changin,’ and so must my silence. After SCOTUS approved marriage equality yesterday, I saw my friends celebrating, and read their messages of engagement with joy, and with tears rolling down my cheeks. Some of those tears, though, were from posts from those I love, my family, some friends, who shared a lot of hate. And then I read a post from a friend about how hurtful her family’s disapproval was to her growing up, how it led to her hating herself, and I realized that I felt the same. I realized that I have been wearing a scarlet letter of shame for far too long.

If I am going to be an authentic memoirist, then I must write the truth. And if my struggles with my sexuality have been an integral part of my story, then that struggle must be included in my memoir. And if I am going to be an authentic human being, then I must accept and love myself for who I am—all of me, not just the parts that are acceptable.

I can no longer hide who I am. Even though I plan on being with a man for the rest of my life, my sexuality still matters. It is still a part of me. It can no longer be a secret.

My name is Karyl Anne, and I am bisexual. And it feels really good to finally be open about that.

Pieces of Me

A personal essay about body image, “Pieces of Me” Received first place in so to speak: a feminist journal of language and art’s annual competition, and was published in the Spring 2015 issue. The essay is unfortunately unavailable online; however, the journal can be purchased at http://sotospeakjournal.org/

Judge's comments for "Pieces of Me"

Judge’s comments for “Pieces of Me”

I love the cover art for the issue! (please excuse the lack of cropping)

I love the cover art for the issue! (please excuse the lack of cropping)

“Words and Ideas Can Change the World”

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”–Robin Williams as Professor Keating, Dead Poets Society

When the clock struck midnight–well, flashed midnight; in our digital era, clocks don’t really strike anymore–and everyone was kissing loved ones, my mind turned to my craft. I had a few grandiose plans–write every day, finish my memoir, etcetera–and while the memoir might still happen, writing every day has not. After all, the real world still comes crashing in at unfortunate times. However, those were not my only resolutions. My biggest one, and most important one, was to make sure that I use my craft “for good,” to mean something more than expressing my own inner angst or whatever emotions I happen to be feeling at a given moment, but to somehow make an impact.

The year is young–only 25 days old–but I am off to a decent start. Last Saturday, I was blessed enough to be able to read my essay, “When Mountains Were Mountains,” as part of a celebration for the 2014 New Southerner Literary Edition. (The essay can be read online at www.newsoutherner.com). “When Mountains Were Mountains” was written as a response to the first time I saw a mountain that had fallen victim to mountaintop removal mining, how it seemed like its soul was sucked out along with the coal. It’s a terrible practice, resulting in deaths, cancer, loss of natural waterways, and severe environmental damage that can never be recovered. People have been forced from their homes, sometimes at gunpoint, so their ancestral land can be destroyed.

It’s a controversial topic, especially here in Kentucky where you can purchase a specialty license plate for “Friends of Coal” but not one for any of the groups fighting to end mountaintop removal. But it’s an important topic, as well. As a result of the reading, I was able to talk to people who had no idea that mountaintop removal was a thing, or who didn’t realize how detrimental it is. And, something I am still in shock about–a woman in the audience pulled me aside after the reading and asked if she could use my essay in a class she is teaching. I cannot express how honored I am to have been asked. Of course I said yes–not because of the exposure of a classroom of students reading something I wrote (although exposure is always good!) but because maybe those students will decide to act against MTR as well.

Words feel small sometimes, especially surrounded by so much white space on a page. But they’re important. They have power. And I want my power to count for something.

I’m Writin— Wait, look, a shiny!

First off, it has been forever since I’ve added a post here–sorry. I was teaching last semester, on top of working on my MFA and working third shift full time, so a lot of things fell by the wayside. Unfortunately, the blog was one of those things. I’m back, though.

“To pay attention, that is our endless and proper work.”

–Mary Oliver

I’ve mentioned this before, but I have Attention Deficit Disorder. I take medication twice a day to stay focused, and generally do quite well, but sometimes I get overwhelmed and wait too long before something is due, and my ADD kicks in full-gear.

This semester, I’m writing an extended critical essay–essentially a research thesis–and was still teaching around the time the first draft was due. I worked on it when I could, but one of the symptoms of my ADD is that when there is a lot to do, I freeze up and do very little. So the ECE got put off until the week before the due date. I’d been working on it–researching and outlining and all that jazz–but hadn’t put in the steady writing and revision time that I like to do. However, I did finish and was able to submit a draft on time.

Then I got feedback on the draft. Much of it was positive, but toward the end of the draft–i.e., where my medication was wearing off!–there were several sentences that made little sense. There was one entire paragraph where even I couldn’t figure out what I was trying to say!

This is why I love revision. If it wasn’t for the revision process, I wouldn’t be able to be a writer. Or, rather, I could write–I will never NOT write–but there’s no way I could publish. Nothing would be readable.

I used to hate my brain. I hated how I would know what I wanted to write inside my brain, but it never translated on the page. I hated how I would hit a good flow, and something would distract me, and I would lose the flow of what I was trying to write. I hated that I came across as scatterbrained and ditzy (well, sometimes, I still do!) But I’m learning. I’m learning that I need to give myself time to complete a writing project, and that I need to forgive my imperfections and shortcomings; otherwise, I’ll never improve. But most of all, I need to allow shitty drafts early on, and ample time for revisions.

I have another week before the next draft is due, and I’ve revised twice already. Here’s hoping this one makes sense!

“Excuse me, my Kentucky’s Showing”: A Writer Sinks Her Toes in Bluegrass

I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky

–Abraham Lincoln 

 

Cliches become cliches because they’re true, and for me, “sometimes you can come home again” is that cliche. I’ve lived my entire life in Louisville, KY, and I spent a great deal of my adolescence and early adulthood despising my home state. Tired of my accent marking me as ignorant, and of saying “yes, I’m wearing shoes” to not-so-funny jokes, I tried to exorcise the twang from my voice and the bluegrass from my blood. Longing for a home to make my dreams come true, I thought I needed to flee. 

You see, I’m a writer. And when I was growing up, local history wasn’t covered in schools, and local authors were never read. I was in college before I discovered Robert Penn Warren, Wendell Berry, and Bobbie Ann Mason, and even then I thought they were anomalies. I thought that in order to be a writer, I needed to be where “culture” was, somewhere like New York or at least somewhere with an appreciation for the arts. I never moved, but I dreamed of the day I’d leave it all behind and find the place I was meant to be.

I didn’t realize I was here all along. 

A couple brief examples from my most recent MFA residency: in workshop, any time my accent “slipped out,” I apologized. “Excuse me, my Kentucky’s showing.” It was a joke, but not really. Another example: One of the faculty members, Fenton Johnson, related that when he travels throughout Europe and says he’s a writer, he is immediately given respect. In America, it’s the opposite–he gets the question “What do you really do?” As if writing is just a hobby, and one cannot really write as a lifestyle. There’s one exception to this, however–Kentucky. This is the only place where he has seen writing receive any respect in America. So I guess we’re doing something right!

I’ve also been fortunate enough to sit in lectures and readings by Kentucky writers like Crystal Wilkinson, Frank X. Walker, and Silas House, all of whom are proud of their Kentucky heritage. By hearing their Southern voices drawl out words that ring with beauty, I began to hear my own accent as less embarrassing. 

This past Friday night, I emceed a reading at Louisville’s Local Speed Art Gallery, “Spalding at the Speed: A Gathering of MFA and Community Writers.” The series was my brainchild but I’ve never emceed it before. It was scary, especially when there were so many writers who I deeply admire reading (Kirby Gann, Debra Kang Dean, Sarah Anne White Thielmeier, Bernard Clay, Sean Patrick Hill, Justin Dobring, Kimberly Crum, and Bobbi Buchanan). I should mention that any time I’m nervous, “my Kentucky slips out.” “I” becomes “ahh” and not “eye,” “get” becomes “git,” etc. 

Normally, I would cringe. 

Normally, I would be embarrassed.

I wasn’t. 

I heard my twang, and I realized something: I am proud. My state is not perfect. We’re blowing up mountains for coal, and there is discrimination here–but we’re also working to save those mountains, and I watched as a small Appalachian town passed a fairness ordinance. There is poverty and illiteracy, but there are grassroots organization, a concern for one another, and so much literature. 

My Kentucky’s showing, and I’m damn pleased that it is. 

Wait, wait, wait… Come back here!!!

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(Comic from http://phdcomics.com/comics.php–my favorite way to waste time, err, I mean, laugh about procrastinating. Something like that).

So, let’s talk about my biggest struggle lately–motivation. I’m not working on a thesis, per se–I still have two more semesters before my thesis semester–but I am working on pieces that may become part of my creative thesis. My MFA program is low-residency, which means that each semester, I work with a faculty mentor. Every three and a half weeks, I send her a packet of around 35 pages of creative writing, two short analytic essays, and miscellaneous assignments. This is a blessing and a curse: a blessing because it means I receive feedback from a well-accomplished, talented writer in my field, and because it forces me to write; a curse because it FORCES ME TO WRITE.

I’m a writer because I love to write. But sometimes, it’s so damn hard. And lately, I feel like I have a million things on my plate: work, MFA responsibilities, submissions for publication, organizing a reading series, an assistantship, running a writing group, and trying to somehow fit in time with my boyfriend (who is wonderful and supportive and understanding) and keeping the house in order. I admit, I usually fail at the housekeeping part. But recently, I feel like I am not giving enough of me to any of these things, and then my motivation to work on ANYTHING suffers. I have a packet due in less than a week, and I still need to draft one analytic essay (it is, for the most part, outlined at least) and finish the book for the second one. I also have a reading that I am emceeing on Friday that I need to prepare for. I am woefully behind. This is not like me–I am a perfectionist and am usually really motivated. I get everything done early and then agonize over revising it all until I turn it in. But the past couple weeks, I have found myself hating the sight of my computer or my notebook, because they remind me of everything I’m not doing. And I get farther and farther behind.

I know, rationally, that I will pull it together and get everything done. I just hate this feeling of wading through jello to get there.

Anyone out there struggle with a lack of motivation? I would love to read how you manage to stay afloat. Leave me a comment below!