Renewal

The annual invoice from WordPress sits in my inbox. It assures me I don’t have to do anything, that my plan will renew automatically, billed to the credit card on file. But I know have to do something. That credit card was 86’ed last summer, when someone skimmed my number and posted $2000 worth of charges in an overnight online shopping spree. There were a couple of runs to a mini-mart somewhere in New Jersey that night, as well. Likely snacks to fuel the freeform larceny. At any rate, should WordPress try to charge the card that end in the digits 0824, it will be sorely disappointed. And I’ll receive another e-missive telling me the attempt failed.

So, the invoice sits there, sandwiched between a recall notice from my local Subaru dealership and an invitation from Shelf Unbound to enter my small press-published novel in their annual literary contest.

 

My plan was to cancel my WordPress account. After eight years, it seemed time to dismantle this blog. Who blogs anymore, anyway? I have so little time to work on my novel-in-progress, why waste a moment here, strokes on a keyboard that could be, should be, directed toward a word count in Scrivener, churning through plot holes and character development? I took the renewal notice on my defunct credit card as a sign. It was time to leave the blog world behind.

 

That was three weeks ago. Yesterday morning, in a fit of industry, I caught up on my expense reports, tracked down how much I have left in a long-forgotten HSA, figured out what I need to do to change the beneficiary on my 401(k) (which is strangely far simpler to do than changing the street address associated with my account). I have yet to deal with the car recall or enter that literary contest, but I have decided to keep this blog.

 

I’ve said goodbye to so much that has brought my writer a sense of clarity and forward momentum since the publication of my first novel in 2016. In two messy, wearying years, I’ve gone from writing full-time, coexisting joyfully with my words, to wondering if I still have the right to call myself a writer because I’m not at it every day. There was a time I published a blog essay every Monday. The more I wrote, the more the words flowed. I had the space in my brain and guts for all the words: the novels-in-progress, freelance editing projects, essays, newsletters, short pieces, classes to take, classes to teach. Now I despair of ever getting back to that sweet spot. I mourn what was.

 

Perhaps that’s the necessary part of the process to get at what’s newly possible.

 

I began this blog eight years ago simply to have a place to write that wasn’t a journal, where my words weren’t hidden away. I hadn’t yet begun to write creatively, but the need to release the words was visceral. This hasn’t changed.

 

Giving up on this blog means giving up yet one more thing that defines me as a writer, one less place where my words fit and mean something, at least to me. I won’t put the pressure on myself to be here in any sort of regular capacity, at least not until the other parts of my writing self get the full attention they deserve, but knowing this space is here, when the mood fits the time available is a comfort. A shout.

 

re·new·al
rəˈn(y)o͞oəl/
noun
noun: renewal; plural noun: renewals
  1. an instance of resuming an activity or state after an interruption.
  2. the action of extending the period of validity of a license, subscription, or contract.
  3. the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken.

 

And the Winner Is…

And now I break from my regularly-scheduled programming to accept the honor of the Versatile Blogger Award.

Blogs are strange little creatures. I wouldn’t be a writer without mine, for I started it with the sole intent of forcing myself to write as if I had an audience. Of course, I had not a single follower when I started, which was the ONLY reason I began to blog. Much to my mortification, people— strangers, friends, colleagues—began to follow and comment. I still babble away to myself here and I’m still astonished that anyone reads, but as long as you do, I hope I say something of value every so often.

But awards such as the VBA aren’t about the blogger herself. They are an opportunity to recognize and spread the word about a valued community. Many supportive, creative, passionate souls have appeared in the time I’ve been filling this space and getting settled into this writer’s life. We blog in isolation but if we keep at it, we’ll be rewarded with feedback and followers who assure us our voices are heard and appreciated.

Accepting the Versatile Blogger Award means following the rules. I’m not so good with rules, but in the spirit of this great community, follow them I shall. The most important rule is to call out and thank a few of the bloggers I follow. Their words, appearing in my e-mail or blog reader several times a week, remind me how and why writing changes lives. Y’all are so great.

 

Thanking first the blogger who nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award: 

Anawnimiss  Thank you and Peace.

 

Blogs I Follow, for Inspiration and Empathy:

Writing and Other Forms of Suffering

Kev’s Stuff

Dragonscale Clippings

Highland Hind

Grace Makely

Sylvie’s World is a Library

BG Bowers

Claudia Cruttwell

Velvet Skies

Journey with Julia

Mag Offleash

Celenagaia

An Amateur Author

Ordinary Canary

Unexpected Paths

 

And Those Seven Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me. For Good Reason.

  • Introvert that I am, I’m quite good at public speaking. In fact, I love being on stage.
  • Dancing makes me outrageously happy. Me, dancing I mean. Not watching other people dance. That’s nice, too, but not the same.
  • I have a potty mouth. Particularly when driving. It’s best I drive alone. You would be shocked.
  • Clumped-together seeds in or on fruit give me the heebie-jeebies. Like the inside cores of bell peppers, or seeds on strawberries spaced too closely together, or seeds inside gourds. Oh, I just get the willies. Does this make me completely insane?
  • I weep easily at movies. Or touching commercials. I’m a weeper. Completely sentimental. “Titanic”? Fuhgedabboudit. I bawled.
  • I hate going out at night. And for me, night starts at 5:30. I’ll do it, for your birthday, or a concert, or for Lord of the Rings. But mostly, it’s torture. I just want to curl up and read, then go to bed at 8:30. Leave me alone.
  • It took me a week to come up with this list. Who wants to talk about themselves? That’s why I write stories about other people.

    Impromtu Improvisation
    Impromtu Improvisation ©Julie Christine Johnson 2014

The Things That Come In Threes

1) I fear driving at night. Sweaty palms, racing heart, clenched stomach fear. I’m not a fan of driving in general; how I managed four years as a study abroad road warrior cruising the freeways of northern and southern California, Colorado, Washington, Arizona and several states that start with an “I” in search of institutions of higher education – all in the days before GPS and the Mapquest Lady – baffles me. Who was that intrepid chick in the rented Ford Focus, clutching printed Google driving directions to the steering wheel, hopping across the Bay Bridge en route from the Academy of Art in San Francisco to Cal-Berkeley? That’s right. Yo.

Screwing my courage to the sticking place, I registered for an evening information session about an MFA in Creative Writing offered by a local university. It was the last session before the early February application due date. The session was held way the crap north of Seattle, in the suburban hinterlands beyond the tip of Lake Washington. At night. You got that part, right? Rain showers. I gave myself an hour to get there. I’d planned for rush hour traffic, but silly me, I forget that Seattle drivers are touchingly unaccustomed to driving in the rain. Because, you know, it’s such a RARE occurrence here. I also hadn’t planned for the thirty-seven Metro buses which apparently had the same destination as mine. The drivers took great glee in pulling out in front of me at every opportunity, then stopping. The confused and snotty Mapquest Babe took equal pleasure in shouting from my iPhone: “Make a slight left onto Lake City Boulevard. NOW!” I could hear the smirk in her voice as she occasionally muttered “Recalculating.” Ironic Bitch.

I don’t do “Late.” Teutonic blood runs thick in my veins. I do “Early” and “Stinkeye at people who can’t organize themselves to be on time, the fools.” By the time my trembling hands turned the steering wheel into a parking space, I was fifteen minutes into stinkeye territory. Then I realized I had the correct general location, but the wrong end. Back into the car, I flipped a U-turn (and a finger at Mapquest Bimbo), found where I thought I should be, had a minute of indecision whether to pay for parking, got the parking spot number wrong (it was dark, it was raining), finally got the pass attached to my window… Christ, I am so late. Then I pulled a Quasimodo limp-run up a hill and three flights of stairs. Did I mention I’d run a half-marathon on Sunday, in total pain, on a bum right leg? No? Well, it hurts to walk. Hurrying brings tears. At this point it was closing in on 30 minutes past the hour. Perhaps there would be enough people there that if I did happen to apply to the program, my crashingly late entrance wouldn’t be remembered.

Two women were seated at the tables arranged in a square in the large art studio: the academic director of the MFA and the program’s administrative manager. Just waiting. On me.

Forty-five minutes later I floated out of the building while visions of sugar-plum seminars and symposia danced in my head. The drive home was peaceful; I sang along to The Head and the Heart. I knew my route home, so I muffled the Mapquest Wench. Even the rain eased to a sparkling mizzle.

In the cold light of the following day I knew the whole proposition was folly. What the heck would I do with an MFA? Provided I could pay the tuition. Provided I had more than a snowball’s chance in hell of being admitted.

2) I swam that afternoon. Sitting in the parking lot of the Queen Anne Aquatic Center, smelling like chlorine and hair conditioner, I checked e-mail. There, in the little inbox displayed on my phone’s screen, was a subject line which read “Your fiction submission.”  Great. Rejection. Bring it on. I’m curating a personal collection.

The opening word of the message’s body was “Congratulations.” People. Who needs the winning Powerball Lottery ticket when they have a publication acceptance from a national literary magazine?  I write because I don’t know what else to do with stories that press at my heart. But I submit my writing because I believe as Priscilla Long does: the story is not finished until you have attempted to share it with the world.

3) Saturday I attended the semi-annual Write-O-Rama at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House. This is a day-long series of writing workshops with super-serious writerly themes like Genre Variant: Essays & Found Material and less serious but equally compelling topics such as Build a Killer Author Platform. You listen, discuss and write in hour-long blasts that challenge, engage, terrify and inspire. Most sessions have one or several periods when attendees write to a prompt(s) and opportunities to read their work to the class. This was my fourth Write-O-Rama in two years and I think I might be getting somewhere with output and courage.

I have never written easily on demand. I freeze, my mind a sheet as white as my face. Spontaneity is not my strong suit. Remember that Teutonic blood? Deliberative, thy name is Julie. Yet, because I’m now in the habit of timed, non-stop writing every morning on my manuscript, either freely – to work on a scene, or to a prompt  – to generate new material, I found the challenge of writing in the fast and furious atmosphere of Write-O-Rama playful instead of Purgatory. I could write without lifting my pen to stare into space or to run a thick line through the drivel I’d just penned. No, I wrote with confidence and purpose, accepting the silliness and magic that is birthed in the pressure cooker of a group write. I even sucked it up and read a few pieces aloud. I’m sure my voice trembled and my face flushed, but who cares? My street cred was tucked away in my bag, on my phone, where an e-mail read “Congratulations.”

That MFA? The classes are held at night.

The Things That Come In Threes.