I had a fellow writer friend chat with me recently. They felt all sorts of down because they didn’t feel like their work was worth a damn. We’ve all been there, right? You look around you and see how different your writing is from someone else’s and a bad case of Imposter Syndrome crops up. In this particular case, we have this one thing in common: we tend to let our natural poetic instincts take over and bleed into our creative writing rather than go for what’s trending now: which is to write in a clean, clear-cut way. We had a bonding moment because we were poets first, short story authors and novelists later.
This reminds me of the story of how I came to be a poet. Do you want to hear it? Well, keep reading if you do.
Imagine a twelve year old me, attending sixth grade in a small town in California. In English class, we came upon the chapter known as Poetry. We all had to study poetry in California back in 1986. I remember reading Langston Hughes’s “Hold Fast to Dreams” and Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Mermaid” among other various poems. Then one day, we were promptly sent home with an assignment: write a poem. I went home and tore through several sheets of notebook paper because I was dissatisfied with everything I wrote. I even changed rooms in which I did my homework, hoping that a change of scenery might spark some inspiration. (Sound familiar?) My self-loathing chased me outside, to the garden in the back, where I finally, finally wrote a poem that kinda-sorta resembled what I saw in my textbook. (Do you see where this is going? I didn’t. Not at the time.)
When I arrived in class the next day and we turned in our homework, I was shocked to learn our teacher would be reading our poems aloud. I was downright mortified when I realized while I wrote a page-long poem about a unicorn in rhyming couplets, my classmates all wrote something along the lines of “the cat/sat on the mat.” While everyone was laughing and having fun, I was dying inside. Please let the bell ring, do NOT read my poem, I thought.
But Fate had other plans.
The teacher read my poem. I paled and shrank into my seat trying to become One with the Chair and Desk if not the Universe. By the time she finished, you could have heard a pin drop.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, this short girl who had always bullied me asked the teacher, “Who wrote that?”
My nemesis turned to face me. My heart stopped. I expected a jeer. But she smiled and said, “That’s beautiful.”
That moment, right there, changed my life forever.
I don’t know why we compare ourselves to others. I don’t know we try to “fit in” and the moment our writing style doesn’t match the work of others, we automatically assume what we did was wrong. There was a documentary I remember watching that claimed Mona Lisa caused a stir because before Da Vinci’s famous painting, all portraits were done indoors. I read that before Sappho, all poems were patriotic in nature but she chose to praise her deity, Aphrodite and wrote love poems instead, inventing even her own form: the Sapphic stanza. Byron invented the Byronic hero. So with all these people doing their own thing, finding their own greatness, why do we allow others to try and mold us to their own style? Granted, I understand we’re not all going to end up Da Vincis, Sapphos, and Byrons here, but goddamn it, I’m going to try.
Lush language and imagery might not be for everyone but I don’t think that should stop a writer from expressing what’s in his/her heart just because it’s not popular at the moment. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and the novels of D.H. Lawrence was a hot trend once. Styles come and go. And likes attract likes. I don’t think we’re such special snowflakes that we won’t find an audience who appreciates what we do. For fuck’s sake, if Ed Wood can get a cult following even after being nominated the Worst Director of All Time, (winning him a Golden Turkey award, I might add), then I say there’s hope for the rest of us.
Oscar Wilde said it best: “be yourself; everyone else is taken.”
Author’s Note: Special shout-out to author Colin B. Leonard for catching a few errors. You’re a doll! Thank you!
“My Most Painful Howl”
My most painful howl is not
The sound of the wind
Beating its fists against the windowpane
Begging sanctuary from the rain.
My most painful howl is not
A dog calling to the white-faced moon,
An emptying, echoing, hollow bay
For a lover who never learned to stay.
My most painful howl
Is a whisper to my pillow
Where tears—how sharply they grieve me—
Cannot even be held, and they, too, leave me
“The New Cage”
I twittered nervous as a bird
Nestled in the jaws of a cat.
And you, you tossed me a word
Purring gently this way and that
And told me that the sharp teeth that I felt
Was the new cage and its ivory bars.
How could I listen and not melt,
Nor fill my eyes with twinkling stars?
In the end, there was but one feather,
The tell-tale sign we were together.
Was it worth it, was it fun? Very.
At least for the cat that ate the canary.
You were a doorway I crawled through,
But I wouldn’t call you ‘Mother,’ no.
Every shackle dragged me back to you.
Your chains weighed me down, kept me low.
With metal teeth and metal claws,
You ripped me apart, exposed my flaws.
Oh I know why you sliced into me
With cutting words and gutting sarcasm.
You never meant to set me free.
You slid within this bleeding chasm
To hide inside a life you couldn’t fake.
My life, dear Mother, wasn’t yours to take.
You were a woman, loud and broken
Screaming for the world to hear her worth
You handed Charon some small token
And sailed upon the boat ride of my birth.
Whatever it was in life that wrecked you,
Know, dear Mother, I’ll never respect you.
I was the one who pulled myself through,
Crawling across your splintered floor.
I separated the me from the you.
I birthed myself while you waged war
On the daughter you were meant to praise,
On the daughter you were meant to raise.
And you raised me all right: you razed me to the ground.
But I endured, dear Mother, every hell
Beat into me, pound for pound.
But I got out and I’m doing quite well.
And though one day, I may forgive you,
It’s only because I learned to outlive you.
Author’s Note: Yeah, I’ve got mommy issues. In one of my writing groups, we had a challenge to write a Mother’s Day poem. I didn’t want to spoil anyone’s mood but obviously this had to be said.
“A Nameless Face”
Walking through another dreamlike street
Where faces burn cold, cold as meat
And those eyes look beyond your flesh and bones
And those voices hush down in dusty tones.
A nameless face, a little boy
Cold as fine satin, insignificant toy
Eyes of lost sapphires, hair like desert sand
If he could grow into a child, he wouldn’t be a man.
Love in a box, fast food is popular of late.
Someone’s heart lies on a paper plate
His lies somewhere on a silver moon
Would the gods grant a nameless face a boon?
Lover unknown who has no choice but to care
Against the world’s clothed souls, your body is so bare.
Walk through the streets, everyone’s face is a trout.
Dead cold fish people, in silent bubbles they shout.
Paint me a sad picture, I’ll have the color of your eyes.
If I understand you, don’t be so surprised.
Remember, we’ve met before
Behind a different door.
Nameless Face or Faceless Name,
I am the jigsaw, play my game.
Two champagne glasses, the table I don’t see.
You are half-full, I half-empty.
A nameless face
I can’t replace
But among the dead in the vault
We’re both alive and it’s nobody’s fault.
*Author’s Note: republishing this from the book Waves From My Oddest Sea. This is one of my older works, written sometime before 2004. Please don’t judge me too harshly! But why post this now, you may ask? Well, I just figured out the Twitter thing (please don’t judge me again–technology may be fun for you but it’s magic for me, and I don’t do magic), and on a whim, I looked up my own hashtag, #rebeccarpierce. Two lines from the poem came up! Someone quoted me–in a Tweet! I am beside myself with joy! So, here it is, the poem in its entirety. ❤
“I Knew a Woman”
I knew a woman, lovely as a tree.
Her skin was polished white like birch,
Her hair ablaze like autumn leaves.
The only thing green was in her eyes,
The last remnant of spring remembering.
Her hardened limbs upheld the sky,
A woman Atlas or Tree of Life.
Her head bent back, her back arched,
And shook when the wind
Went through her careless hair.
It was a shiver down her spine
That drove deep into her roots,
And still she stood her ground.
The sun was melting, saying goodbye.
It was only then, in the dark,
When I could not see her eyes
That she looked like a ghost in the graveyard
Standing over the bones
Of what used to be.
Even as I sit down to begin this blog, my toddler toddles over with a high-pitched squeak to protest. Writing is difficult work no matter what medium you try to birth into the world on a good day when you have peace and quiet and you’re alone. It’s just you and your computer in the ultimate showdown. Cue the theme to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly here and toss a few tumbleweeds down the lane. Yeah, even on a day when you set aside time to write, it seems like there’s a struggle to get the motivation or inspiration to write. There’s dishes and laundry staring at me accusingly, waiting to be done. Then add things like Facebook or Twitter notifications, the phone ringing or text messages going off, and a toddler to top it all off.
People have often asked me, “How do you do it?” I understand this one thing: life goes on.
I write around the distractions. Nap time becomes my favorite time of the day and I write then. I set my daughter down to play or watch her videos. She has a little bit of independence and I write until she wants my attention, for food, a changing or play. I download apps like Google Docs or EverNote on my phone and I am able to write on my phone if baby wants to snuggle or sleep in my lap. These apps sync up or are cloud-based so no worries there.
I also don’t mind writing in small bursts. Actually, I’ve found that I’ve made fewer mistakes writing this way. If I only have time to write one paragraph before it’s time to make dinner, hey, that’s one paragraph more than I had yesterday. Do I feel cheated? Not really. Looking back, there were times I’ve scored about four thousand words a day everyday for one to two weeks. And then nothing for months. So, OK, maybe I don’t write like I used to–that is to say, in bulk–but in a way, the old saying “slow and steady wins the race” applies here.
I switch between stories. A lot. Tired of writing horror, I’ll switch to writing erotic romance. Or if my creative side has flat-lined, I head over to edit my novel. This helps make the most of my time so I’m not stuck twiddling my thumbs hoping prune juice will help my writer’s blockage.
Lastly, I remember that it’s OK to actually live. I don’t make myself write when I don’t feel up to it. I know you have to step outside of writing to sometimes get perspective on what it is you’re trying to say. If the purpose of art is to imitate life, then it’s important to remember what living looks like. Guilt-tripping myself that I’m not writing is just going to give me performance anxiety. And then I end up with a bad case of exposition dysfunction and that’s always embarrassing. 😉
I realize I’m a day late to post these for Mother’s Day but I wanted to share them.
You tuck me in bed and I am made safe,
A kiss to carry me to the land of dreams.
Hold tight to dear teddy.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Mother.”
Days go by like every other.
Words of fire and ice and warm wind.
Do we stop to think that our footsteps are erasing behind us?
Would we love differently if we knew it then?
Sing a sweet lullaby, fill my head with memories
And I will place you with dreams you set me so safely before.
Touching you now, my ghost to yours
It’s a silver mirror we see through
Reflecting back our sensations but giving birth to none new.
I’ll tuck you in bed and pray you are safe.
A kiss to carry you to the land of dreams.
Hold tight to dear God.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Mother.”
“Happy Birthday, Mother”
Happy Birthday, Mother,
My one-time universe!
There was a galaxy in your womb, once
—Did you know that?—
Where I was a star:
Falling, bawling, crawling,
Crawling to where you are.
How you must have held that belly-ful world
And marveled that
Though you cannot see me, you know
That I am there.
Just as I, beholding heaven, marvel
That though I cannot see you, I know
You are there,
Holding me like a womb
Where I am a star,
Still falling, bawling, crawling,
Crawling to where you are.
Happy Birthday, Mother!
In order for me to get into the mood of writing, I often refer to my favorite scenes from horror movies. On this lazy Sunday, I’m going to share with you a rather inconclusive list of what made my heart race in both the best and worst way. In no particular order, I present to you segments that hit high on my creepiness factor and made me run straight for Nopesville.
- Phantasm II (1988): Plot Holes. Cemetery after cemetery is emptied. We know from earlier that our “dearly departed” will return and not as we last remember them. Whether they are diminutive versions of themselves or not, they have one thing in common: they’re homicidal. And while one could argue that the Flying Orbs of Certain Death is rather gruesome, that didn’t bother me nearly as much as the empty graves. After all, it begs the question, “Where are the bodies?” This scene makes you look over your shoulder, wondering when you might see an army of the dead. (There’s a Sam Raimi reference in Phantasm II, so you may wonder even more.)
- In The Mouth of Madness (1994): “I’m Losing Me.” It where character Lydia Styles (played by Julie Carmen) grabs John Trent (Sam Neill) and tells him she has read the book and What Was Seen Could Not Be Unseen. Something from beyond space and time entered her, was changing her and there was nothing she–or anyone–could do about it. This, to me, more than anything else, exemplified what it was like to be in the mouth of madness.
- The Others (2001): Picture Perfect. When Nicole Kidman flips through this macabre photo album, all the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. The fact that Victorians actually did take snapshots of their deceased only makes it worse. I can’t do my usual routine of telling myself, “This isn’t real. This isn’t real. This isn’t real.”
- Poltergeist (1982): This one movie gets THREE scenes (because it’s that awesome).
- The Fucking Clown. This joker is no joke! I don’t have coulrophobia but this toy looks so sinister, you just know the parents must have been stoned out of their minds when they bought it. Short of Chucky, I don’t think there’s a scarier toy out there. What possessed mom and dad to think this was a good idea? The only thing that made sense was the toy came to be in their possession because it possessed someone into bringing it home with them. Either that or it was a gift from an aunt. One that hates children.
- Face Off. The grisly scene really starts with the maggots in the meat which grosses the man out enough that he runs to the bathroom to wash his face. And then he ends up tearing himself apart. Literally. I watched Poltergeist when I was seven years old but I couldn’t fully watch this scene until much, much later. Even though it was nothing more than a hallucination, the fact that this guy nit-picked his own face off down to the bone had me cringing and gagging long after I turned away. While the special effects look laughable by today’s standards, it was very effective in getting the point across and deliver the intended results.
- Tonight, She Swims With the Corpses. What the hell?! We’ve heard of “out of the frying pan and into the fire” but out of the haunted house and into a swimming pool of decomposed bodies?! And I know she’s drinking in all that water while she screams and splashes in place. No, no, no thank you! (I may just be a germophobe.)
- The Fog (1980): A Hello to Arms. Ghosts that resemble the lovechild between a mummy and a pirate seek the death of the descendants of those that wronged them. The way those arms smash through the glass to reach the occupants inside had me backing away from all windows for a week. This movie scared the fuck out of me as a child and yet again as an adult. I will say this: that’s no easy feat. I’m not easily scared by horror movies these days. Many of them are either full of jump-scares or with so much over-the-top gore that I’ve become desensitized. This movie has a slow build but the payoff at the end is huge. If I have to pick one movie as my top favorite horror of all time, this one is it.
- A Haunting in Connecticut (2009): Up Close and Personal. I don’t like people up in my personal space on a good day. I’m the kind of person that, if I’m shopping and someone stands too close to me, I will get up and go to an entirely different aisle. So imagine my terror when the protagonist is stuck in a circle of the lidless dead in the worst stare-down in the history of stare-downs. And since none of these other motherfuckers have eyelids, it’s safe to say we know who is going to blink first. I almost wanted to see an impromptu mosh pit ensue because the tension was so great. (Though I’m sure it would have ended poorly for Matt Campbell.)
- The Grudge (2004): That Fucking Kid. OK, the Grudge might not make it as one of my favorite horror movies but that kid is too memorable for me to leave off this list. He’s like Pet Semetary’s Gage but so much worse. While no less deadly, he seems happy to be murdering you, like he truly wants to play. Moreover, this boy is like American Express–in the sense that he’s everywhere you want to be. In particular, I was bothered by the scene where he is on every floor the elevator passes. While his mom is also freakish with her over-the-eye hairdo and unsettling walk, it’s the boy that disturbs me the most. Perhaps it gives me flashbacks to my teen years where children chased me around for an impromptu babysitting session. Whatever the case may be, his character hits high on my “oh, hell no” scale.
- The Changeling (1980): Hell On Wheels. Only this movie could make something like an empty wheelchair frightening. While there are plenty of movies with ghosts occupying rocking chairs (i.e. The Woman in Black) or moving chairs in general (i.e. Poltergeist), as far as I know this is the only one that contains a wheel chair chasing a man around his own house. I have to remind myself that Joseph, though a ghost, is still a little boy. And kids are jerks when they don’t get their way.
- Psycho (1960): Just a Normal Talk With Norman. Perhaps the granddaddy of all horror movies, Psycho hits every little nerve with the precision of acupuncture. It’s subtle at first so you don’t notice. You just sort of nod here and there and maybe seconds later you feel the effect. For me, the most frightening thing isn’t the iconic shower scene and it isn’t the big reveal of Norman’s mother: it’s just a chat with Norman. It’s…off. Surrounded in a room of dead and stuffed animals and chatting about his love of taxidermy, you get the impression Norman has a hard time letting go. And he is getting a little attached. It was time to go sometime yesterday. Rain or no rain, you really ought to hop in your car and drive off. It would prove to be the less deadly of the two showers.
Well, that’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed this list. If you have a favorite scene that I didn’t mention or you want to chat about one I did, please leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!