Category Archives: words

White Space Poetry Project

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I am thrilled to announce two of my latest poems can be found in the White Space Poetry Anthology, which has a beautiful cover (inspired by my poem “Learning How to Go”). 

white space cover

Pick up your copy of the anthology HERE.

Beyond that, the short film they produced is incredible—a gorgeous, tender crossing of the bridge between deaf and hearing people through ASL poetry.  Watch it HERE.

And a big thank you to Maya Washington for making it all happen!

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words of wisdom

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Sometimes I’ve found it to be important to write down inspiring words from friends or fellow writers.  Even just short little things like, “you only live once,” or “every dark cloud has a silver lining.”  It doesn’t matter how many times they’ve already been said, or how cheesy they sound when you’re feeling positive already and you don’t need more positive affirmations.

When I’m depressed, these little bits of sunshine give me hope.  And when I have writer’s block, they can sometime act as wondrous prompts.

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At AROHO’s retreat this past August, I was able to meet Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint it Black.  

She sat down across from me during lunch one day before I realized who she actually was, and then I proceeded to tell her how much I loved White Oleander and I was nervous to talk to her.  We did speak, though, many times during the week, and my silly nerves went away quickly once I realized how down to earth she was, how friendly and sweet, and all the little things we had in common.

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{Janet and I at the dance on the final evening of the retreat.}

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Janet said so many wise words during her presentations that I found myself, for the first time, desperately attempting to write down or paraphrase everything that was particularly awesome WHILE watching my interpreter interpret her words into ASL.  Janet did give me a typed sheet of the main part of her talk, but a lot of the things she said before and around it were the kinds of things you say spontaneously, while staring into the eyes of almost a hundred women looking back at you.  I added them, in red ink, all over the margins and the back of the paper.  Messy little scratches of inspiration.  And then when I got home, I copied them into my journal, so that I’d always have them in a place where I can find them easily.  

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Now, I realize, I should give them even larger lives than that.  Right now, I wish to give them to you—to the world—because I know they will help some of you just as much as they’ve helped me.

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  If you look for the miraculous—you will find it.

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Live slower, more child-like, like a poet.

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You are where you should be.  

You’re always in the right place.

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You can catch the beauty in life without being the beauty—you can see it, and it’s yours.

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Write from the neck down.

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Let things happen, don’t force anything.

Allow it to happen.

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We can use our “imaginary friends” and discover things we didn’t know we knew!

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I also wrote other more personal notes like:

Janet was a child liar (told stories), like me!!!

As a teen (and sometimes later on, too), I often wrote into the margins of my favorite books, and my comments were usually things like:

“Me, too!!!”   “YESYESYESYES!”   “F**king LOVE THIS!!!!!”   “I’m like him/her!!!”

Now, thankfully, I can just highlight the phrases I love in my Kindle (though I can still add extra exclamations —or exclamation points—when absolutely necessary).

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I’d like to offer up this writing assignment to everyone:  

When you hear a phrase you love, write it down in your journal or a notebook, quote it on Facebook, scribble it onto a napkin.  

Save it’s wisdom for later.  You never know when you might need it.  And I honestly believe words can be saviors, to non-writers as much as writers.  

Words can heal.  And when you hear something that sings to you, words that empower you to do something you’ve never done, or say something you’ve never said, then it might do the same to someone else.  That’s when you know you should probably share those words of wisdom. 

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Sometimes I wish words could fall from the sky like autumn leaves.  

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{I love the shape and vibrant yellow of the fallen cottonwood leaves at Ghost Ranch.}

Here’s another writing (or life) “assignment”:

The next time a leaf falls on you when you’re out walking or hiking, or just standing under a tree, catch it!  

Close your eyes with the leaf in your hands.

And listen for the word it could be telling you.  

Listen for the word you need.

(In times of desperation, or for variation, please feel free to just go and find a leaf already fallen, a leaf waiting for someone to rescue it

and give it new meaning.  

This, I believe, is yet another way of going out and finding the miraculous.)

If leaves don’t “speak” for you, find a stone, a shell, a button, a penny.  

The objects we usually overlook might hold the most meaning,

because honestly, the miraculous really is everywhere.

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magic, deafness, being divided, and dogs

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(what else happens in my life, besides the intersection of these things?)

I was speaking with a close friend and cousin today about magic: Not the witchcraft kind (not exactly), nor the sorcerer either.  How sometimes, things just all come together magically.  It’s not just the big things that do this, but the little things, too.  Like when I get just enough writing done to go for a run and then cook dinner, and the baby sleeps for just long enough for me to get everything done that I want to get done.  Days occasionally go perfectly.  And there’s so many beautiful accidents that happen in the world.

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I believe this happens when we are feeling particularly positive, flexible, and open.

When we have nothing against the Universe, and the Universe doesn’t seem to have anything against us.

I think this happens for everyone, though I’m sure there are exceptions.  But THIS—this exact feeling of:

Positivity.  Gentleness.  Awareness.  Friendliness.  Kindness.  Hopefulness.

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THIS is a GOAL for me.  This is something I try and wake up every day to feel, but of course, I might start days like this sometimes, and other times, I’ll feel an entire aversion to everything having to do with the morning (having to get up, make coffee, walk the puppy, feed the toddler, start working) from the first second I open my eyes (and those days usually go badly, from those first seconds).  Life happens in between these two opposite situations: the positive and negative things that revolve around us throughout our days.  And I think it’s hardest in the middle, divided between opposing reactions, opposing feelings, essentially stuck with a love/hate feeling for the whole world.

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Deafness does this.

Though more specifically, the kind of deafness I mean is, having spent the first decade or so of life hearing mostly-everything, and then within a decade, hearing a lot of noise, but no words, not anymore.

I hear a lot, but it’s a lot of “nothing”—groaning, yelling, car engines, boat engines, toilet flushes, crying, rushing wind, and my own voice.

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I wonder if that’s why I still do LOVE the sound of my own voice, and I love to give public readings or tell stories to my child in spoken English, even though I also sign stories to him in ASL.  I love the poetry slams and cafe poetry readings, even though, unless the poet gives me a copy of their reading beforehand, I can’t hear them.

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I love all these things, but I hate them, too.  I hate them because of the words I can’t hear anymore, and I hate them because they make me feel selfish, they make me feel disabled, and they make me feel divided (between hearing and deaf cultures, two vastly different entities that I didn’t even realize existed before I crossed from one of them to the other, and back, and forth, and back).

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So what do I do here in this middle ground—this place between the positive and the negative, the two cultures, the love and hate?  I’m not calling hearing positive or better, I’m calling it different than deaf, equally positive and negative on its own.  Just like Deafness.  There’s no path that is better, but being deaf in a group of hearing people feels exactly lovely and awful at the same time.

Lovely, because they are my friends or my family, and awful because they are speaking a language I can’t hear anymore—so it’s not like the English I can speak myself, it’s like they’re speaking Arabic or Mandarin.

I love all the new things I notice because I can’t hear anymore: like new outfits, the look of guilt or sorrow someone’s trying desperately to hide, new hairstyles or the way someone’s standing and what it might be showing of their deeper feelings, or the way the wind is moving over the water or through the leaves.

Some people might think it’s romantic and dreamy to be deaf, and sometimes on t.v., we are shown as this: a dreaming angel, eyes noticing everything and mind constantly thinking about “romantic” things.

And some people think its the most horrible thing in the world: “Oh, my God, you can’t HEAR ANYTHING?  I don’t know what I’d DO without my HEARING!  Oh my, can you actually drive a CAR?!  How do you go to a RESTAURANT?!”

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But really, my deafness often feels like, every day, I wake up and people have decided to speak a new language, and everyone knows it except ME, and by the end of every day, I think, “Maybe by tomorrow, I’ll understand more of it,” but then tomorrow comes, and it’s a whole NEW language all over again.

And honestly, some days I’m too tired to even TRY lip reading.  Or being in a group of people speaking this “new language.”

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And through all my changes, I’ve learned the language of deafness, which in this country is called ASL or American Sign Language, and I’ve learned that I feel closer to dogs than humans.  The language of dogs, their whining, their barks and groans, the way they roll on the floor or wag their tails, has not changed!  Dogs have always spoke this way to me, and they always will. It’s the sort of “constant” that’s a blessing in my life, something that helps me on the path towards being more positive (which is one reason I have Hearing Dogs).

I’ve also learned that some humans have a strong sense of community and generosity, and some do not.  (Or in another words: Not all humans are as sweet as dogs.)

The language of the wind has remained the same, too, though that dialect is the most exciting when you live on a sailboat.

And humans are the most interesting to me when I wake up in an “actually different country,” not America, and have difficulty hearing Hindi or Thai or Tibetan.  (I feel less disabled in India or Kenya, than I feel in my hometown.  Could this be WHY I’d rather be in India?!)

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It’s strange, what the body can remember of our history. (Read: Body, Remember, a fantastic memoir by Kenny Fries)

Or is it, when something dramatic happens that changes how everyone must relate to us and causes us to be a little more difficult to communicate with, it’s then that we see who our true friends and family are, and what they each will do to meet us in the middle ground, in this divided, blessed space?

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This blog post is partly inspired by my dear friend and previous advisor: Bhanu Kapil (read her blog), who I will see in two short weeks, on Ghost Ranch, in New Mexico for AROHO’s 2013 Women’s Writing Retreat!  If I am ever out of ideas for a blog post, I will read her blog.  It’s filled with “Prose Incubation.  Social Theory.  Dogs.” and so much more, from the everyday to the sublime.

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To those caught in the middle, however you might be divided: good luck to you.

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draft 5…draft 6…draft 15…?

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One BIG QUESTION for all writers is – how many drafts do we really have to write for our manuscript to become that elusive “DONE”?

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I’ve been struggling with that question for years, but I think with the completion of each project, the answer gradually gets clearer.  I would now advise any new writers (those without at least one published book-length manuscript, in Prose or Poetry), to do at least 10 drafts of their project before submitting it to publishers/agents or self-publishing.  I thought that might be the “rule” to always follow, but I’m realizing, at draft 5 of my newest manuscript, that the more books you write, the more “finished” your writing is from the start.  It’s all about practice, though there will always be those books or poems that take ten years or longer to finish, or twenty revisions before they get to the point that feels like they have hit their true form.

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I am a firm believer that no piece of writing (or art) is ever “finished.”  We can always always revise it more, go deeper, let it grow, evolve, dream itself into new forms, but there is a point where something has taught us as much as it possibly can teach us—the point where our journey and the journey of a manuscript has certainly reached the point of parting ways.

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It’s terribly hard to know sometimes, when we are done, or even just—when we need a break.  I get obsessive with my writing, I dive into it like it’s a parallel world, and if I don’t have the right goal/dream in mind, sometimes I carry a project to a place I didn’t mean to carry it, a place it shouldn’t be.

I thought draft 4 was DONE for my latest work, so I sent it out, and sure enough, it wasn’t done yet.  It was missing the deeper energy and lyricism I think of as my own personal style of writing.  And I realized, that draft was missing something because I was just trying to get it done fast—I was rushing it.  Rushing the first few drafts of something is absolutely FINE, though.  It’s the part where I thought they were DONE that was wrong.  So now, with draft 5, I’ve started over completely.  I’m telling the same story, but I’m changing a lot of the world facts, some of the plot, some of the characters, etc.  And I’m writing it slowly—I’m not forcing myself to write every day, and I’m only letting myself write when I NEED TO WRITE, when the desire to write surpasses every other feeling in my heart.  Because then, I’ll know, I’m writing from the right place.  I’m writing from my heart.

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I’ve so far written almost 5,000 words, some of them taken from the 4th draft, but most are new.  And it’s been one week (which means, I’m writing in pretty much half the speed I wrote the first 4 drafts, where I wrote 10,500 or so words a week for 6 weeks).  So, really, I’m still obsessed enough to make good progress, but I finally feel that amazing, mysterious sensation that my story is telling itself.  I think that happens when the words are flowing exactly the right way—it doesn’t mean I’m writing the final draft, but I’m writing the real story, and my characters are speaking from their hearts, too.  It’s the most incredible feeling and probably my favorite part of writing.

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So, in speaking to new writers, and writers everywhere—remember that deadlines are nobody’s friend.  This is a sailing lesson, too.  If you rush a boat, you might wreck your boat.  The same is true for our novels and poems and memoirs, but thankfully, with our writing, the repairs are easier.  Of course, writing “repairs” are less tangible, they’re only words, they’re not a hole in your hull, or a torn sail, or broken mast, but they might feel that way.  When we work so hard at something, when it takes over our lives, and we find out—alas—it’s NOT DONE YET, that can be devastating, but when we get over the initial shock, the initial feeling of loss and emptiness (because I have felt empty of words), we realize that we CAN ACTUALLY REVISE, that the words never leave us.  The words never leave at all.

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I’ve heard some people say that “writer’s block” is a myth, and we can always get out of it, we can always free write ourselves out of those kinds of blocks, and sometimes I believe it.  But sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes, I think it’s okay to take a break, feel the emptiness for a while, and then let the words come back slowly (or quickly), like wild animals we might meet in a forest, or on the water.  You can never predict when a dolphin will decide to play between your hulls when you’re sailing a catamaran, just like you can never predict when a fox might step towards you, might even walk straight up to you, and look you in the eye—when the words just appear seemingly out of thin air, and it’s like floodgates opening.

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Part of me is writing this to tell other writers: don’t despair when you realize you’ve revised your work to death and it STILL needs more revising.  Or when your work gets rejected.  I don’t yet have an agent (though I feel absolutely blessed to have one published novel out there circulating in the Universe), but I’ve heard that even when you do have one, you’re still going to get rejected, or be forced to revise things so many times, you might find yourself going crazy.  Take a breath, and keep going though, this is our dream job, isn’t it?

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Wishing everyone the best of luck in their endeavors, whether they are writing or sailing, and remember, two things from this post:

DON’T RUSH.

THE WORDS NEVER LEAVE US.

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