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Getting Back into Writing Practice

It’s been a while since I posted here. It’s been too long. I am rereading Long Quiet Highway by Natalie Goldberg, where she shares her life and her insights about the practice of writing. I’ve long been familiar with her other book Writing Down the Bones, which gives some good insight and prompts. Though I read it a long time ago, Long Quiet Highway was what I needed this week. I felt prompted to get back into practice. This is what I wrote down:

I need to make a regular practice with writing. I can take at least 15 minutes a day to write down something in my notebook. That is 15 minutes more than if I didn’t write at all. I can wake up a bit earlier to do this. My mind is fresh then. I can do this after I arrive to work from my commute.

I resolve to be as honest and as candid as I can be in my writing practice. I may not always share this writing with others, but I resolve to get to that scary place where I am afraid to articulate that story. It’s often sexual or something I’m not proud of. There are also things that may be somewhere in between, that I’m afraid I’ll be judged. I have been holding back on my stories and I resolve not to hold back anymore.

To write this stuff down is like getting naked and that’s always been scary. It’s easier in where it’s a naked space like the locker room of a gym or the sauna. It’s a little more like Black’s Beach, but more people are more often clothed than not. It’s a lot more like being on a stage with no clothes on or being an artist’s model. All is out there to see. Writing is exposing and that is scary.

Writing is more interesting when there are those details that show you’re letting the reader in. I’ve always been afraid of that. I worried about what personal detail would be out in the open. I’ve also worried about who I would hurt in the telling of the story.

I take this risk by putting all this down, to write them down in a notebook.I put those first thoughts down as well.

I want to say everything and freeze up when it comes time to. Or, I say everything at once. Here, I can take the time to say one thing at a time. I can always unpack as I go along. I can always revisit it later.

This is taking the time to write a bit every day, to get the first thoughts down.

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This was 361 words in 15 minutes. Kevin Welan resolved to write 250 words a day in his resolution, which I got from Joanne Meschery, a wonderful visiting creative writing professor I studied with in the MFA program. In any case, the word count can sound daunting on its own, but this is about writing regularly. I may post some of this pages. I also reserve the right not to share some if I’m not comfortable sharing. But it is my hope that even being honest and candid in those entries will help me in telling my stories. When I finished the first reread of Long Quiet Highway, I cried. Natalie Goldberg’s story about Katagiri Roshi was indeed moving. However, her discussion of the practice and getting to the energy of those first thoughts spoke to me about how I held back my stories and there was a lot of untapped energy there.

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My Web Presence History

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My Web Presence History

My first website was made sometime in 1997 on Geocities after a friend of mine created his own site on that platform. I started from a template that created a simple, but ugly website. It went this way for a few months until I bought a copy of Dreamweaver and created more attractive HTML files I could upload and then I updated it with an attractive portfolio with some short stories and poems I have written to date. The title was unimaginative: The Fiction and Poetry of Shinichi Evans.

I went into the Wayback Machine and, unfortunately, I could not find a copy. A few years later, I branded my site shindotv and I got a domain name to boot. Shindo came from a moniker a high school friend gave to me when he created a postpunk goth zine.

I created an artful entry page with a cross and cigarette photo made by my brother, which the Wayback Machine has an intact copy, but for the menu page that follows, the blue square graphic grid with the mouse on over squares is incomplete. It still had the portfolio of the previous page with some additions.

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It was something I could use to show others my work as I was studying in an MFA program at the time. Alas, I didn’t update for several reasons: formatting works took time, my work at the time had a lot of images at the time, and that uploading files seemed to take more work. The site and the domain name lapses and it would be some time after I graduate that I would create a blog on Blogger/Blogspot.

I would call this blog shindotv and eventually reregister the dot com I lost earlier. Even though I called it my MFA afterlife, it never had a clear focus. I wrote some grad school memoirs, rants about adjunct teaching, and soon discovered the gay blogosphere in networking with other bloggers. Some of the blog entries from the time were clearly correspondence with other bloggers, where some others were more caught up with pop culture topics like Project Runway. I also added to my blogging community when I networked with the San Diego blogging and Twitter community. By that time, I had moved my site to a hosted site using Wordpress software. I felt like I was moving on up.

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Going side by side with my Blogspot blog was a profile I created on Myspace and my first Twitter profile. I cross-posted some of my blog entries on the MySpace profile. As for Twitter, it was early days and I didn’t tweet much on it. The iPhone would come out a year later and make it easy. But at the time, it depended on either posting the tweet by their website or texting from your phone, which was more tedious with having to having to use the number keys to get your letters and then send the message to a five digit phone number. The myspace profile would eventually lapse in use, but when I got a second generation iPhone, tweeting became easy. And then it became easy to tweet too much. As I made more connections in the San Diego Twitter community through their Tweetups (Twitter Meetups), I had more of an audience. 

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I would eventually get rid of the Myspace profile, especially when Facebook made it moot. Over three years ago, I got rid of my original Twitter profile. By that time, I wanted to put the content of my tweets, whether they were in the moment tweets, mini rants, or even my annoying attempts to promote shindotv behind me. Also, I stopped being invested keeping up with the relationships on Twitter.

I joined Facebook in early 2008, which is shortly after creating my Twitter and Facebook profiles. I friended old high school connections, colleagues, and even friends of friends. Of the profiles mentioned so far, the Facebook profile is the one that’s still in existence. It’s not because I like it anymore, but it’s become a communication utility that’s become entrenched in our culture. And like most people, my usage has evolved over the years.

There were silly games and applications. Facebook was convenient for short rants, some of which I’m not proud of. It was too easy to circulate memes. I posted a lot of links to current issues over the years. I also tried cross-posting my blog and posting links to entries early on, but eventually, Facebook killed the blogs. Speaking for myself, I can say it killed mine.

A few years ago ago, when I was lamenting blog death, I tried creating another blog, which I named The Shindoverse. It was hosted on my web server and I found snazzy Wordpress templates for it. Whereas shindotv went all over the place, The Shindoverse would have fewer, but more thoughtful entries. My intent was to go for quality. I had some writerly entries and then I did discuss my cycling as a process and discipline I was discovering later. Two years ago, the site fell victim to malicious hacks. The attacks didn't seem to target me personally (like it was trying to ruin me), but it was a time when sites with Wordpress software were heavily targeted by hackers looking to hijack the sites. I copied and pasted as many entries onto a MS word file and then deleted the blog.

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I ended my account with my web host shortly after and I migrated the shindotv blog and my domain shindotv.com to my account on Wordpress.Com.

Over the past five years, I have also had accounts on Instagram and Tumblr. I posted images of bow ties, local beers, and lots of photos of San Diego on my Instagram profile. One nice thing at the height of the bow tie postings was that I developed some relationships with bow tie sellers and I got some free ties from them, which I then happily shouted out. I also posted photos of the ones I bought. Much of these images were cross-posted on my Tumblr profile, which I also used to try to get back into blogging and writing. I have tapered off from using both Tumlbr and Instagram about half a year ago.

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Two years ago, I decided a going back to a static website would be good. I created my website and this blog on Squarespace. This time, I would keep it focused on my Resplendence project from my MFA and related works. Though I named it The Shindoverse, the Gold Lady became the face of this new site. She’s always been a better ambassador of my brand than I can ever be. There’s room for other works though. 

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I put off on making the site live after I got most of the pages up as I needed to put text and captions where needed. It was simply procrastination. I finally got the text where I needed it around the start of the year and here it is. I also started posting on The Shindoverse Notebook, more or less going with a New Year’s resolution to write 250-500+ words a day. However, this also represents a step I’m taking in my creative journey, so it’s important to me.

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Last summer, I created The Shindoverse blog on my Wordpress account as a way to tell my story, whether with the creative journey or other things, like having dealt with prostate cancer over the past two years. It has recently found use as the mirror blog for The Shindoverse Notebook. It’s not completely out of line with the purpose I outlined on the blog and there’s room for discussing a wide variety of things under my creative journey or telling my story. 

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Over the decades, I have sought to present myself as a writer online, not all attempts successful. All these different manifestations on the web have also been an attempt to develop my voice, whether it has been the stories or the discussion. I’ve come back to having a portfolio. I’ve also returned to having a blog. I hope my use of these things will evolve in way that serves my intentions and my art. 

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Busted E String

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Busted E String

I've had a goal to learn how to play the guitar for a while. Last summer, I bought a guitar, a wonderful left-handed Fender model. I got some self-teaching books, but I never made it past first string. I have also felt it would be a good idea to get lessons, but it's always a matter of schedule and expense, etc.

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Since this year is still young, I figured I'd pick up the guitar again and learn it. I made music flashcards with notes and string positions, so I can arrange them any way I want: open strings, by string, sharps, flats, etc and even throw a chord or two in at a time. I came up with a way that works for me in the meantime and I was excited to try it out.

Yesterday, I came home from Guitar Trader with a tuner and strap for my guitar. I clipped the tuner to the head and started with the first string. It was very taut and I knew it for a while. I told myself the night before I needed to properly tune it. I didn't know it was so tight that it would bust with a short turn of the tuning key. And it was irritatingly inconvenient at the moment.

I felt derailed right after that string broke.

I had just come home from a several mile ride across two cities with the bulk of it spent on the freeway, and I didn't want to repeat the trip on a late Friday afternoon/early evening.

The good thing, though is I knew this problem was solvable and and that I could do something about it on a saner time. While it didn't require sleeping on, that I could put this off until the next morning was self care.

When it came to writing, self care wasn't always evident. Even with methods of backing up data, computer crashes can still take writers by surprise and it is stressful. It doesn't help for people to say that you should have backed up your files. You lost your writing and it can be traumatic. There are the times when someone makes crazy in your life and it hinders you in trying to write. When you succeed in getting them out of your life, it may take some to recover both your sense of self and the writing practice. It's not as simple as buying an E string and installing it on the guitar.

Once upon a time, I wanted to learn to write and I set about making a goal of it. It helped to have those literacy skills. I then got the education. And I got the reminder that learning writing is a never ending process.

My goal to learn how to play the guitar is a more personal one. Here, the equipment is important and there are a lot of practical solutions to problems. However, this is a process just like writing and it requires patience and self care.

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Being Present with First Thoughts

Yesterday morning, I took a cue from Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones in the “First Thoughts” chapter and wrote in my notebook, pen and paper, in five minute bursts. I used the timer on my iPhone and I started it up two times more. I spent a total of seventeen minutes more or less, which doesn't seem like too much time. However, five minutes or a group of five minutes is more than none writing.

Goldberg offers these guidelines for any timed writing session:

  1. Keep your hand moving.
  2. Don't cross out.
  3. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar.
  4. Lose control.
  5. Don't think. Don't get logical.
  6. Go for the jugular.

I used a pen and notebook because it kept my hand moving. I figured this would be a good way to start on some fiction I've been meaning to write. If I try to start on Microsoft Word, I freeze up. There's something about how it gives you a virtual page layout that makes it daunting to even start and helps reinforce the terror of the blank page. Even sitting down with a notebook with pen in hand can induce this anxiety, so having the timer on pushed me to get my hand moving.

As much as I like using the Notes app to write things out, it doesn't get my hand moving the same way. It does get my thumbs moving and the predictive text adds an element that's not present when I sit down with pen and paper, which brings me to editing issues.

I have to admit I still crossed out words in my brief morning writing session. It's a hard habit to kick. Most of the time it was the wrong form of the word or even one that was misspelled. And yes, I worried about writing down the wrong word and spelling.

I usually don't have much problems with punctuation. However, I do get fixated on sentence structure and worry about how elegant or inelegant they come out. When I am writing more quickly, my sentences do run on more. They can be long and unwieldy, which is the opposite of being in control.

It's not just spelling, punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure regarding control. It's scary to reveal things in writing, especially when it's deeply personal. Even when it's not so personal, it's easy to get caught up o in what someone might think about me based on what I say, what I present about myself. Also, style and execution at this stage can stop the process altogether.

On her guidelines for a timed writing session, regarding “Go for the jugular,” Natalie Goldberg adds the note “If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.” This where giving control comes in. In avoiding what's scary or naked in my writing, I avoid what's awkward or uncomfortable, but I also avoid material that can later on be what lets the reader in. This is the type of thing that makes personal essays compelling, but it can also add deeply to fiction. I should not avoid the things that may be difficult to discuss or things I'm ashamed of in these writing sessions. Emotions too as they can be very scary, especially in naked form.

I've often use emotion to put off writing. Most of the time, it's that I might be feeling drained or sad, so I tell myself that I will write when I'm in a better state of mind. Then I'm in a better state of mind later and I still don't get around to writing.

For this and just sitting through the writing, Natalie Goldberg discusses Zen discipline and then applies it to writing: “...you may feel great emotions and energy that will sweep you away, but you don't stop writing. You continue to use your pen and record the details of your life and penerrate to the heart of them.”

In my desire for stability and control, I found it easy to stagnate and not move. There isn't room for the energy of first thoughts, so letting go of what she describes as the ego, “that mechanism in us that tries to be in control, tries to prove the world is permanent, logical, enduring, and logical,” helps. Then there is room for the energy of the first thoughts.

I can go into my timed writing exercises knowing the value of first thoughts. I can also approach untimed writing in the same way. And being present compared to living in the past helps. This makes writing active.

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Writing Tools

A long time ago, when I first read Writing Down the Bones, I soon got caught up with fountain pens. At the time, Sheaffer still made fountain pens that were still writing pens, not just calligraphy, and they were really cheap. I remember getting clear colors like red, blue, or green, and some opaque ones like in marbled green or blue. They leaked a lot, so I took the inkstains on my hands as a badge of being a writer.

I wasn't simply content with my fast writing fountain pens, I bought fancier Cross pens several times over the years and I lost all of them. They were nice props to have.

I have consistently used Uniball pens. They are good rollerball pens, but I think I picked them up in bulk from Office Depot or in singles from art supply stores because I have gotten myself branded on them. While they're not fountain pens, they still make nice props and I'm not inclined to share them.

I should switch it up, go with the Staples or Office Depot store brand and be less fixated on what I'm writing with.

There are all the times I bought hardbound notebooks or Moleskines and never finished them. The nicer the notebook, the more daunting I find them to use.

I understand the point of the Beginner's Mind chapter in Writing Down the Bones isn't about developing writing fetishes. However, I have to admit that I have gotten caught up in some because there is symbolic value in these things. I had often hoped to benefit from their magic.

A couple of days ago, I stopped by Target and I bought a few composition notebooks for 50¢ each.

I got them for the purpose of doing timed writing and/or to get those first thoughts down quickly. They aren't great looking and they remind me of middle school and high school, so I don't take it too seriously. It's a medium where I have permission to write the worst stuff in the world. I can fail amidst all the verbal doodling.

I've never taken to using typewriters to write stories or poems. It's a much more writerly symbol (more like icon) and I have come across some attempts to recreate that experience for our high tech age, such as a word processing machine built to provide the sensory experience of the electric typewriter keyboard with an e-paper screen. One gets to have an experience that is both analog and digital. However, it's greatest appeal is that one can write without the distraction of the Internet, whether it's random Google searches or Facebook.

I have also come across keyboards on shopping searches that offer the feel of typing, like clacking keys, for use with the computer or tablets. Unlike the e-paper typewriter, it's still easy to get caught up with the Internet, especially social media. However, the typewriter-style keyboard is a seductively sexy prop that has tempted me a few times. No, I've never bought one.

Weirdly, I find it easy to thumb it out with the Notes app on my iPhone. While it's something that's bundled up in a very expensive smart phone, it doesn't feel that expensive to me. It is the software equivalent of those 50¢ composition books. Whatever I write doesn't feel so important that I get bogged down in what to say or how it looks. Also, it's something I don't take as seriously as Microsoft Word, which makes me freeze up.

After having smartphones for the past few years, I still have trouble taking them seriously. It is what I tweet and post Facebook statuses with and those are very artless mediums, no matter how clever one is on them. I have to admit I have spent too much time on those social networks and I have even felt at times that they have taken some of my best words and thoughts. So in a weird way, to use the smartphone as a writing tool is a way to reclaim my time and my energy writing.

However, I'll still go with the idea that using the phone to write is liberating because I don't take it seriously as a medium. It's not like a journal book or even Microsoft Word. It just works.

What works is going to be constantly developing. I haven't tried using any voice recording or voice typing yet. It might be a good way to get these thoughts out during a walk or if I'm doing something like making something on a sewing machine. There is still room to experiment and see what's right.

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Beginner's Mind

In the first chapter of Writing Down the Bones, “Beginner's Mind, Pen, and Paper,” Natalie Goldbergtells the writer who picks this book up, "In a sense, the beginner's mind is what we must come back to every time we sit down and write." It's easy to think about how profound this sounds. However, its a reminder of no matter how much you've written or what you have achieved, it's always a starting over when one writes. As I haven't really written in a while, this is a good place to come back to.

It's also very challenging. In my case, I've taken many creative writing workshops in my youth and thought getting into an MFA program would validate me as a writer and then I could step my way into breaking out into the literary world. Sometime later. I got a portfolio together and applied for to program and got the MFA. It didn't make me a literary star, but I did get work as an adjunct instructor teaching community college English courses. I also taught English as a foreign language. In these jobs, I've reached people in their beginner minds. It's easy to as a teacher. However, with experience and even some measure of authority, it can be difficult to get into this mindset.

With all the experience and education I can discuss, there is baggage that comes with it, whether it's the times I had a case of the Dunning-Kruger (being too confident of my abilities) or the complete opposite where I felt completely destroyed in workshops. Also, I've been frustrated with feeling that I wasn't understood by my peers from an artistic standpoint. This is all stuff that can be let go.

I can let go of my pride and my fear and my frustration. I can also let go of the experiences, good or bad. I can let go of the bad teacher who built me up until he decided to destroy me. I can let go of that student who thought she could teach my class when I was a TA. I can let go of the guy who liked nothing better than to tear his classmates down. I can let go of everything from those times.

I can check these inhibiting factors and others as I become aware of them.

Having a beginner's mind gives me the permission to fail, to make mistakes, to have what Anne Lamott calls "shitty first drafts."

I can also check whatever writer fetishes that I may have picked over the years like Moleskines and fountain pens and any other trappings and do away with them. I once had the perfect writerly apartment and it was a struggle to work in, just like those nicely bound notebooks.

I have to admit I find the Notes app on my iPhone very good for getting thoughts out similar to how Natalie Goldberg suggest cheap spiral bound notebooks. It's not an app I take too seriously as a writing tool. I can also experiment with the cheap notebooks too. Overall, whatever tools I use, it's important to have the beginner's mindset.

In conclusion, I can look at any start to writing as starting again. I may knock it out of the park, but there will be false starts and things that don't work and things I still need to learn. And if I have to learn something again or learn something I feel I should know, but don't, that is OK.

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250-500+ Words: A Daily Writing Goal

This new year, like other new years before, I made some resolutions. One of them was to write every day, or at least write with more frequency than I have before. I’ve taken writing classes and have even gone through an MFA creative writing program, yet the discipline to write can be elusive. This is something I want to change in this comings year. 

There are all kinds of reasons and excuses I find for not writing. Here are a few: 

  • I am not in the right frame of mind. 
  • I am too exhausted to think about it. 
  • Teaching exhausts me.
  • I don’t have the time as I got too much to do.
  • The blank page is daunting. 
  • I can’t translate my imagination into text. 
  • I suck at this. 

I am not in the right frame of mind can cover every bullet point above, but I’ll focus on the first three. Often, I have avoided writing because of emotional reasons and/or other mental states. My most common reason in this category is that I am overwhelmed or too hyperstimulated to focus. It is fair to say that I am actually too exhausted to think about it. This is more common for me later in the day, especially when I have been through work, taught a class, had to deal with people, or all of these things. All my creative, intellectual, and emotional energy often gets used up in these situations.

That I often don’t have time as I got much to do isn’t unique to me. Almost everyone I knew has this problem. I do need to work for a living and that takes up a lot time. Showing up takes a lot of time, but so does any obligation outside of the classroom such as preparation and meeting students and professional development. Then there is the commuting. And things that demand my time aren’t limited to work such as family, responsibilities at home, and making time to be social.

I often think that I suck at this. Whether I have internalized what someone said about my work or that language hasn’t always come easy for me, I let my lack of confidence stop me. This can manifest itself when conditions are more ideal for me to write such as it being early in the day or that I made some time in the day to sit down and write. I find the blank page daunting and I have already anticipated the criticism before I even began. And even though I know writing is a process, the idea of writing something out and having it completely suck is enough to stop me in my tracks. And this is the type of thinking that leads me into thinking I can’t translate my imagination into words.

These are the general obstacles I see in my life to writing more regularly. As I move forward, I can keep these things in mind and think about solutions and workarounds to what I have discussed. However, my goal is to make writing on a regular basis a practice. This isn’t merely writing for the sake of writing but actively creating the stories I want to create.

My goal is to write 250-500+ words a day. This fits in with Kevin Whelan’s “A Writer’s Declaration,” where he resolves to write 250 words as his daily goal and that every subject is fit for his pen. That sounds like a good plan to adopt. This blog entry clocks in at 597 words.

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Kevin Whelan’s “A Writer’s Declaration,” this copy given to me by a wonderful creative writing profesor many years ago in my MFA program.

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