Monthly Archives: April 2013

a free write about writers

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Sometimes, when I read something particularly impressive, I free write.  My “response” isn’t always about what I read, or even about writing, but I feel that free writing is something that helps me step over blocks in my writing process.  (Or it just helps me spill out words onto a page without worrying about grammar, metaphor, plot continuity, etc., etc.)

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I wrote the following free write after reading a chapter of my friend Sean Jackson’s manuscript about rivers.  I just found it on my computer, because I was in a space where I couldn’t work on my latest project and I didn’t want to watch Netflix or read…I was in a blogging mood, but I couldn’t find the right words to say—or any words to say.

I’m happy to have found this and be able to share it…

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There is a particular space where writers exist:  half-way between the sensation of being in love, of being so full we are flying, and of losing everything, that potent feeling of emptiness.

Maybe everyone is here, lurking or lusting over some new shiny thing discovered.  But writers do this in a sort of half-dream state.

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I’m starting to realize we might never leave the page—the real writers—the ones who write because we can’t do anything else, because it’s common and because it’s compulsive to us.

We write because we need.

We write while speaking, while drinking, while sitting around the table watching everyone else.  We bring our writing realm everywhere—because that’s what it is—another realm, a parallel world to the one every human inhabits, a place of refuge, a place we run to as often as we run from it.

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When there’s another writer in the room, the air changes.  I can feel the nudge of their invisible pages while stepping across the floor.  It’s like being home and being in a foreign country at the same time.

And I want to dance.

I want to stay awake until dawn, mingle, cross the room again and again, because each time, there are new pages on the floor, slipping under the table, rising up and getting caught in the lights.  New dreams that make me dream more, too.

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Writers don’t always need words to communicate.

We have our eyes, our eyebrows, the corners of our mouths, the angle of our bodies, the careless movements of our hands.

There is a kind of soul synergy between writers that I’ve not found anywhere else—even amongst other Deaf people.  Writing is a way of seeing and translating what we see at the same time, somewhere along those invisible pages that make the air so much richer.  Full.  In love.  In loss.

As we walk that tightrope together across the sky.

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Okay, here I am again (in real time, April 21st).  I’d like to add that this was a hard thing for me to write, the admittance that writers feel more like family to me than other Deaf people.  Because most Deaf people who identify as “Deaf” with a capital-D, which means they use (or prefer to use) American Sign Language as their primary form of communication and they feel part of Deaf Culture, wouldn’t dare say what I am saying about feeling closer to other writers than other Deaf people.  The Deaf community is a very close-knit, defensive family.  Because their culture is threatened by the Hearing world, by audism (the mentality that to be able to hear and to speak is necessarily better and leads to a higher quality of life), and their culture is largely diluted (the only place in America where there is a HUGE Deaf community is within the only University for the Deaf in the world – Gallaudet University in D.C.).

I do feel a similar sense of being “home” when I meet other Deaf people who are able to sign with me, but Deaf people are still people who all have different jobs, passions, and interests.  It’s surprising when I meet a Deaf person that I ALSO have something else in common with—and that’s the root of why I feel more of an immediate sense of being in tune with other writers from the start.

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Writers can be introverted or extroverted, and I fluctuate between those two polarities on an almost daily basis.  But we all know what it’s like to WRITE—to be so caught up with typing or scribbling across a page that we forget to eat or drink or that we’ve had to pee for the past hour.  Because we get lost in our words.  Because we LOVE words.  Because sometimes, words are better than a sunset, or a cookie, or even another person.  Words sustain us, and writers know this (and that’s where I’m coming from with this post).

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love and bombs

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DISCLAIMER:  The following post is a reaction from reading countless Facebook posts and Media online.  I didn’t actually get the chance to have signed or spoken dialogue with people, or to hear any radio shows etc, that would allow me to phrase my words in a more compassionate manner.  One of my best friends has also reminded me that being deaf does cause my access to information to be slightly different than the average person.

I haven’t changed my opinions below exactly, but I would say them differently in hindsight (wouldn’t we all?).  I’d like to just say that I felt the way that I did because of my own personal fears and in reaction to posts from people who are filled with anger and desire to kill after such an event.  I had real fears that the Boston Marathon bombing could potentially start a war if people didn’t keep their heads on straight.

So, I’d like to preface my post with this, instead of deleting it, because I do feel that if you are able to read my words with compassion of your own, that you might see the point I’m trying to make is that we as humans should love each other, not bomb each other, and all bombings are tragic—but each one is also an important time for people to come together and help one another.  I have been really touched by some of the ways that local people are taking that kind of action, and my heart goes out to everyone involved.

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I feel the need to admit here that the bombing at the Boston Marathon did not surprise me and it didn’t fill me with sadness.  I don’t know if it is because I realize there are countless bombs going off, every week, around the world, and to fill myself with sadness every time it happens would certainly make for a depressing life.  Or maybe it is because I’ve seen real poverty in various cities of India and Kenya, from dying dogs to humans suffering from leprosy on the roadsides.  I don’t actually feel desensitized as much as I feel like I understand our society.

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Humans are so intense at times that we confuse ourselves with the outpouring of our rambling thoughts and emotions.  We fear death, we fear each other, we fear ourselves.  I think fear is the culprit here more than anything else.  If we don’t help each other when we are able to, it’s usually because we are afraid of something, whether it is catching someone’s disease or opening ourselves to a stranger, or we are just caught up with self-preservation.

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Something we are missing when we try so hard to protect ourselves is that we are the same as everyone else – not the same, meaning, we aren’t all unique and beautiful and ugly in our own particular ways – but EQUAL.  I see dogs as equal to humans, because I honestly believe that dogs are better humans.  Dogs help remind me to cool my own anger when I’ve been hurt; to turn from pain, and instead of lashing back out against someone, my dogs have reminded me to give them love.

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Love is just as powerful as a bomb, and once more people realize this, maybe there will be less bombs.

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For now, though, I’d like to end this with the post my partner put up on a social networking site (okay, on Facebook…), because what he is saying needs to be thought about and heard beyond “Facebook”, because too many Americans are feeling such outrage, anger, and pain, but honestly, I am sitting here thinking, “Why NOT America?  Why should only places like Iraq, Kenya, India, Thailand, Pakistan, etc, etc, get bombed?”

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Here is the post:

“My heart goes out to the victims from all over the world who were affected by the bombing in Boston, USA. I will continue to think of you, Boston, as well as other cities that have suffered none too distant attacks of this nature. Baquba, Iraq. Jurf Al-Sa, Iraq. Bagdad, Iraq. Khalis, Iraq. Mullazai, Pakistan. Madre Muerta, Columbia. Taloqan, Afghanistan. Yathrib, Iraq. Kirkuk, Iraq. Rural locations in India. Rural locations in Afghanistan. Rural locations in Pakistan. Damascus, Syria. Josefina, Philippines. Landi Kotal, Pakistan. Mubi, Nigeria. Hawija, Iraq. Wajir, Kenya. Loti, Pakistan. Mukalla, Yemen. Taloqan, Afghanistan. Dujail, Iraq. Mogadishu, Somalia.Fallujah, Iraq. Garma, Iraq. Sitamarhi, India. Abu Gharaib, Iraq. Madalla, Nigeria. Jos, Nigeria. Gadaka, Nigeria. Damaturu, Nigeria. Tank, Pakistan. Mussayab, Iraq. Parta, India. Sapele, Nigeria. Peshawar, Pakistan. Tambon Al Yer Weng, Thailand. Karachi, Pakistan. Hangu, Pakistan. Tambon Katong, Thailand. Geedam, India. Mosul, Iraq. Ban Klang, Thailand. Rural locations in Somalia. Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Chandanigahapur, Nepal. Orito, Columbia. Salarzai, Pakistan. Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan. Raman, Thailand. Ban Ton Phai, Thailand. Essai, Pakistan. Quetta, Pakistan. Dibis, Iraq. Rural locations in Chile. Jamrud, Pakistan. Tathong, Thailand. Khan Bani Saad, Iraq. Landi Kotal, Pakistan. Boya, Pakistan. Buenos Aires, Argentina. Locations in Senegal, Kenya, Russia, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Indonesia, Greece, Italy, West Bank and Gaza Strip, Mexico, Ivory Coast, Germany, Honduras, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Turkey, Portugal, Congo, Mali, Ecuador, Myanmar, Ukraine, Indonesia, Sudan, Kazakhstan… I wish I could add more to the list, but I only have time to review one and a half months of statistics. Let us always keep those hurt by these heinous acts in our thoughts, and learn to love each other just a little more.”

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I concur with the above and I share it with you, because I haven’t taken the time to research and I cannot myself name all of those places.  But they should be named and lamented along with Boston.  Because the world is much bigger than just America.

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I’ve recently had my first child and many people seem to think I should stay here in my birth country, but I don’t agree.  I don’t plan to stop traveling, or put off traveling, because I want to raise my child knowing places like India and Africa as closely as his birth country.  I want him to know other cultures, other languages, and to return to America and share that knowledge.

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If we feel like we know each other a bit better, I can only hope that loving each other will be easier, too.

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a broken thing

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I was sick this morning, so my partner took our son out somewhere.  I was planning on curling up on the couch and eating breakfast while drinking coffee out of a mug that I got in South India back in 1999.

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The mug was made in Auroville, the International Community where I spent more than a year of my life.   I volunteered there, helping stray dogs in the community and within the neighboring villages.  The woman I worked with, Ann from New Zealand, was like a mother to me.  She taught me how to give homeopathic and other natural medicines to the dogs.  We also fed them leftover food from Auroville’s solar kitchen, and I gave the animals love, because Ann was too busy sometimes to do that.  She also gave rabies shots and treated distemper and other diseases.  I worked with her for months at a time, in 1999, then again in 2001 and 2005.

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In 2005, Ann died of colon cancer while I was there in India with her.  It was one of the most intense and depressing experiences of my life.  The world (and the dogs) lost a beautiful, amazing spirit when it lost her.

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I left Auroville (and India) the day after she died, and since then, I’ve only returned to North India.  I have journeyed to New Zealand twice since Ann’s death, to spend time with her mother and meet her sisters.  I’m so thankful to be able to know them all, and one day, I do hope to publish my story of my time with Ann.

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This morning, I knocked over that mug I’ve drank from every morning I’ve spent in America since 1999.  I cried and screamed.  I shattered a plate, because I needed to break something less important to me.  I played out the experience over and over in my head, trying to understand WHY I broke it, WHY it happened, HOW I could glue it back together.

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It’s just a mug, right?  Sure, it was crafted by an artist’s hands, and it was a beautiful mug, but things break in life.  They shatter.  And sometimes we need that catharsis to remind us of the things, the often intangible things, that are REALLY important.  Like the work I did in India with the dogs, and the love I have for Ann, the love I have for her family.  My mug reminded me of that, but the mug wasn’t a dog.  It wasn’t Ann.

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Sometimes, telling the story of an object we lose can be a way to release that object into space.  Let go.  We’ve all broken something, haven’t we?  If you’d like to comment on this post, I invite you to tell me a story of a broken thing, and what it meant to you (or at least, write the stories of your broken things for yourself, it can be therapeutic, I promise).

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how much of our fiction is “true”?

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I was once asked during a reading if some of my fiction novel, Makara, actually happened to me.

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 My answer was complex, because some exciting events in the novel were stories that a friend told me about his own life, and many of the locations were places I’ve lived in for a period of days to years.  And the myths I stole from?  The myths were real one day, long, long ago, weren’t they?!

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In all honesty, all of my characters were probably people I knew at some point in my life, and it’s like my brain was a blender, and I threw in a little of my dad, an ex lover, a close friend, mixed it up and got one character.  Then I did another blend for someone else.  I don’t always know I’m writing about specific people at all—until someone I am close to notices it, and then tells me.

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I love writing fiction (and poetry), because we can be artists with our memories.  We can write very close to a real story, but surround it with something different, another country or make it happen to an old god or goddess.  We can do anything with our writing.  I believe fiction is more true than non-fiction, or memoir, because we aren’t limited by our realities, and our emotions themselves can be allowed to speak unrestrained.

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One of my favorite books as a college student was The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, where he often blurs fact and fiction.  He wrote an amazing passage about killing someone, then later, he actually admitted that he didn’t kill anyone in Vietnam, but his experience was so vividly horrific, that it FELT like he did kill someone.  He describes that feeling as “story-truth” in these quotes from the book:

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“I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.”

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“It wasn’t a question of deceit.  Just the opposite; he wanted to heat up the truth, to make it burn so hot that you would feel exactly what he felt.”

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His words were—and are—incredibly powerful to me.  I realize that through my fiction and my poetry, I am perhaps telling a deeper “memoir” of my life than the actual memoirs I’ve written.  If you ask two or three siblings to tell a story about the same event of their childhood, you will probably get two or three different stories that may not even appear related.  I don’t think any of us truly remembers things that happened in our past accurately.  But I believe the way we remember is more true to our hearts and minds, because that’s the scene that plays over and over in our heads, that’s the memory we are haunted by, that’s the memory we grow and learn from, that’s the memory we believe.

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What O’Brien is talking about when he describes how one of his characters liked to “heat up the truth” is the importance of writing an exaggerated story in order to make the reader FEEL the intensity of a moment without actually being there in the jungle with him.  I’ve done the same thing in my own writing, where I describe something with over-dramatization so that it brings the action right into someone’s mind and makes them feel what the characters are feeling.  Jeanette Winterson does this via magical realism in The Passion, when she describes a woman sneaking into her lover’s apartment to steal back her own heart.  We don’t physically give our hearts away when we fall in love, but we certainly do it emotionally.  Magical realism is all about emotional truth.  In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez uses magical realism like a literary  surgeon:

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“He pleaded so much that he lost his voice.  His bones began to fill with words.”

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“Wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end.”

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I believe in all stories—even the ones about dragons, unicorns, or shape-shifters, because they may be fantastical or unrealistic, but they come from someone’s memories.  All of our myths and fairy tales come from a blend of our lives, our dreams, and our nightmares.  We are emotional creatures who are rarely limited by our bodies.  Through our stories, we tell each other about what has already happened to us and what we wish would happen or what we don’t wish would happen.  That, to me, is much more valuable than simple facts, or what O’Brien calls “happening-truth.”  I want the “story-truth,” the emotional tales we can only tell through characters, through dogs or gods, through twisting the facts into something we can sing, weep over, or shout out in prayer, because we’ve taken a memory and we’ve transformed it into a legend.

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Four books you should read if you liked this post:

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

the dog I am haunted by

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My first dog, Willow, was named for my favorite tree and favorite character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I was twenty-one when I adopted him at 8-weeks from the Concord NH SPCA.  He was like a “son” to me, just as important as any human being.  I trained him as my Hearing Dog when he was five, and throughout his life, he helped me to feel less anxious in social situations (where I can’t hear the words around me) and he helped remind me that I feel part-dog way down in my soul.

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Willow was by my side every moment of my adult life, except when I was traveling abroad, and sometimes I took that for granted.  I assumed he would live at least fifteen years, not almost eleven.  I assumed he couldn’t possibly get cancer, or die before my child would be able to remember how wonderfully they connected, that Willow was his brother, not just a dog.

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But last year, he did get cancer, suddenly, and months later, he died in my arms.

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I made photo story books to tell my son Ronan about Willow’s life and their experiences together.  I made collages of Willow photos to hang around our home.  In every room, there is a picture of Willow.  These things are necessary.  They are soothing.  But they don’t make the pain any less.  They don’t bring back the smell of his paws, or the softness of his tongue licking my tears, my lips, my cheeks, or the wisdom in his eyes.

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Willow understood me in a way that no one else has ever understood me.  And now he’s gone, at least physically.  Like our home, No Smoking, Willow has left a great gulf inside me that will never be filled.  In the language of one of my favorite books, The God of Small Things, there is a Willow-shaped-hole in me.  There is a No Smoking-shaped-hole, too.  But these vacancies are inescapable.  As we grow and age, things around us disappear, crumble, and die.  Yet still, we have to go on growing and learning and finding other ways of being happy, other creatures to love.  The holes, the things that haunt us, make us better writers and probably better humans.  I have to think of it that way, or else, I’ll crawl into those holes and just stay depressed.  Sometimes, I do that, but I do my best to turn those holes into tunnels with light at the end.  An opening to crawl back out into the world.  Because there are millions of beautiful things out there, a million ways to love.  But remembering is important, too, even if it makes us despair.  In writing, every emotion, every thought, every desire, is a tool we can use to connect to someone else, to share our sorrows, our ecstasies, and to help others feel less alone in the world the way that Willow made me feel less alone.

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In the vein of sharing my brilliant, beautiful soul-dog and son with you, here are some of my favorite memories of Willow:

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