Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.

I've never read a character analysis like yours. Many, yes, have been good; some have had moments of eloquence or panache. 
But yours is exceptional from the first to the last word.  
Not only do you expose Howard's character, but you do so in a clever, astute, and stylish way that rivals the novel's own distinctive flair and intelligence. 
I hope—I really hope—that you work as a creative writer, Alyssa, because you sure have a gift. 
A remarkable pleasure—really fine work.

The assignment was to analyze a character from one of the novels we read in Contemporary British Lit in question-and-answer format. I chose Zadie Smith's On Beauty and its protagonist, Howard Belsey. Because I'm lazy and I think rules are for suckers, I wrote a story at the last minute.

I teared up reading this response in class. I almost got hit by a car in the parking lot, trying to read this and walk to my car at the same time.

I took another class from this professor, and not just because his response to my paper was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.

We were assigned another character analysis in this class, Modern British Lit, and again I chose to write a story instead of write the paper as assigned (boring). This time, I chose Richard from Mrs. Dalloway.

Here is the response:

I would've liked to have seen a preamble and analysis, but that wish amounts to mere carping in the face of this extraordinary, compelling work of imagination and critical thinking.  
You've got sure talent, Alyssa.

I have no idea if he was just being nice, my professor. I have no idea how much merit he really saw in my writing.

I worry that he really thought that most of it was crap, but saw that I was a bit shy and reserved and decided to save me from self-destruction by praising me, incessantly.

But for a few moments at least, while I read those responses from a professor I greatly respect and admire, I feel amazing. I feel like a talent that the world should know about.

I feel so much like a writer.

So thank you, nameless professor. Thank you for making me recognize something within myself that I should have seen all along. The need to tell stories, the need to say something, say anything, the need to be read.

The need to write.

I will never get over it.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Are you there Muse? It's me, Alyssa.

There are a lot of different ways that people describe inspiration.

It comes from a muse, like Stephen King's guy in the basement. It comes from a genius, a fleeting spirit, like Elizabeth Gilbert explains in her awesome TED talk. It's something that you're born with. It's something that you look for, work for, sweat for.

These days, I feel like my muse is a toddler, an a-hole that flips people off on the freeway for no reason, a rabbit in a snare, and an overall terrible human being/spirit/mysterious entity... depending on the day.

Example: I set aside a few hours to write. I pick up a book and read for inspiration. I try to jot some lines. I read through a million blogs about the writing life, character development, and how to create a believable villian.

But I don't get much done. This time is pretty much wasted.

Another Example: I sit down on the couch to work (I write blogs like this from home for a living... doesn't sound so cool now, does it?) I tell myself I won't stop until I'm done for the day. I will not write. I will not get sidetracked by writer blogs or book reviews or try to place another 12 books on hold at the library.

I tell my muse to sit in the corner, be quiet, pencils down, do not talk to your neighbor. I tell it to save its ideas for later. I tell it not to bother me.

What happens then? The muse is quiet for awhile, I get some blogs done. I blast the new Sleigh Bells album and am pretty productive, if I say so myself.

Then the muse raises its hand.

I ignore it.

It starts jumping up and down like Hermione in Defense Against the Dark Arts. I tell it to shut up. I put on blinders and headphones and turn the music up too loud. I ignore it.

It jumps up on the desk and shouts the most spectacularly tempting crap. "What if you changed the point of view on that story you've been trying to write?!" It yells. "What if everything you say was recorded in your brain and you could read through the transcript of your entire life?!"

I sit and stare at it. I am so pissed off that the muse chooses this moment to bring me the most excellent ideas. The type of ideas I was hunting during the set "writing time" I had yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.

I pull off my headphones and I think about shouting to the muse, "Where were you yesterday you lazy piece of crap?! That was your designated time and you were giving me the freaking SILENT TREATMENT."

But the ideas are too good. I put the laptop away and I take out my notebook and I choose an especially colorful pen (hot pink) and I start to write.

I don't work for the rest of the day.

Now I have no idea how to set aside time to write when my muse/annoying-kid-in-the-corner-with-Great-Ideas-at-all-the-wrong-times refuses to obey. Maybe I'll try to trick it next time. I'll sit down to write a blog about "real estate West Newbury" when I really mean to get an idea and work on those stories that just aren't looking great right now.

What does it say about me that I need to use freaking REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY on a possibly non-existent spiritual thing to be able to write?


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Song of Myself

Who are you?
Well isn’t that a loaded question.
Find some courage,
Buy and frame a unique motivational poster.
Get a haircut,
Switch from glasses to lenses.
Refuse to be called by your real name.
Call me Ally.
Someone tells you not to be afraid to make mistakes.
Take this as an invitation to disregard all rules.
Join a book club or a yoga class or a new church.
Have an extramarital affair.
Paint the dining room red.
Paint the front door red.
Paint your lips red.
Buy an expensive, impractical car.
Tell that guy you liked in high school the truth,
Ten years too late.
Go backpacking through Europe, alone.
Solicit the help of a beautiful Parisian.
Find yourself to be strong.
Find yourself to be weak.
Find yourself to be just as confused as you always were.
Then sit down and get back to living.


Friday, March 9, 2012

forever, forever, forever

There was this time at a concert when the people to my right parted and in the open space I saw a girl standing alone, crying while the band played my favorite song. I understood those tears because I also had a deep, inexplicable connection with the song, the lyrics, the melody that was both terribly sad and uplifting at the same time.

I watched her.

She was a motionless piece of art amongst the swaying bodies, clapping hands, waving lighters. And when she parted her lips to mouth the lines that I had scribbled so many times in my journal, I felt weak, like I was on the edge of this huge precipice and had to jump to see if I could fly. But it was so, so far to the bottom and my fear felt like a tangible thing keeping me firmly in my place.

I imagined approaching her, grasping her hand wordlessly and we would be like rocks parting a river around us. Or grabbing her face with both my hands and giving her reason to believe in destiny with a kiss that echoed in our skins like heartbeats, two heartbeats.

But I was tethered to my place on the floor by fear--fear of rejection, of my friends watching me, of the faceless bodies in the crowd that seemed menacing, yet transfixing. As soon as I lost sight of her, I felt a giant chasm open up in my chest, because I just missed the chance to share in haunting, ethereal beauty with a complete stranger in what could have been the most defining moment in my life.

If I was the universe and decided these things, I would make sure that the boy in the checkered shirt who had the weight of fear on his shoulders never received such an opportunity again, because these moments didn't deserve to be squandered by indecision or simple cowardice.

I realized then that the girl might go the rest of her life feeling that no one understood the wordless language of her tears or the way her chest constricts in a pleasant but unforgiving way when the singer says forever, forever, forever and the loneliness might cripple her like fear has crippled me.

The guilt of this was an almost audible wave flowing over me, crushing me, and my blood felt heavy in my veins.

But to anyone watching, I was just kid at a concert who didn't know how to dance.

(The song: "All I Ever Wanted" by The Airborne Toxic Event)