Tag Archives: Writing
“Where My Books Go”
W.B. Yeats speaks to the greatest wish of all writers – and eloquently so.
All the words I gather,
And all the words that I write,
Must spread out their wings untiring,
And never rest in their flight,
Till they come where your sad, sad heart is,
And sing to you in the night,
Beyond where the waters are moving,
Storm darkened or starry bright
London, January 1892
What Tully is Really About
When I saw the first trailer for Tully a few months ago, I was excited. A full-length feature film that portrayed the real story of new motherhood? The heartache, the frustration, the despair? I was ready to book my mom’s night out right then.
What Tully is not about – or only part of the picture
But something stayed my hand from hitting the share button. Even in a thirty second promo, her night nurse seemed too good to be true. How could she possibly say the right thing at the exact right time every single time? And do it all with the Zen voice of a life coach? Or not even. Like a lover trying to woo Charlize Theron’s character, Marlo. I wasn’t sure what, but something was off.
A few days later, a fellow maternal mental health advocate sounded the alarm. Read Graeme Seabrook’s take here. More problems arose as the days went on, though. Apparently, Tully is not just a flawed character; she does not exist at all. She is entirely a creation of Marlo’s mind. No wonder she was too good to be true.
In the film, Marlo apparently does receive a diagnosis of postpartum depression. The plot does admit that her behavior and experience are not ‘normal’. She does suffer from a condition of mental illness – except postpartum depression is not what it is. Marlo suffers from postpartum psychosis.
As explained in a recent HuffPost article on the subject:
Postpartum depression is characterized by feelings of anger, irritability, guilt, shame, hopelessness, and sadness, but delusions, strange beliefs and hallucinations are symptoms more in line with a diagnosis of postpartum psychosis, as are cases of infanticide, according to Postpartum Support International (PSI).
The fact that the extreme separate reality Marlo has created is attributed to postpartum depression is dangerous. If we take this film at face value, which many viewers will if they have no experience with maternal mental health, two things may happen. One, women who do not have hallucinations will not seek help because they don’t feel they’re that bad. Two, women who do not have hallucinations but suffer from debilitating depression (or anxiety or OCD) will be seen as mothers who will harm their children. Women are already afraid to seek out the help they so desperately need when suffering from maternal mental health issues. If they also have to fear being deemed unfit to care for their children, they will even less likely to obtain and benefit from treatment.
Society already sees every mother with postpartum depression as one with those who desperately drown their children. As recently as this January, police were called to a California emergency room when a mother requested help for postpartum mental health concerns. There is enough stigma to fight without movies like Tully perpetuating myths and muddying the water advocates fight daily to clear.
A star-powered film in mainstream cinema has tremendous potential to slay such myths and spread awareness. What a squandered opportunity. Many mental health advocates are asking, why didn’t they ask us? If only Jason Reitman or Diablo Cody had consulted professionals and organizations for the full picture. But honestly, I don’t think the Hollywood players working on this film are concerned with the women who will come to this movie looking for a funny cathartic look at their real life, but instead get sneak-attack triggered by the surprise turn of events. They are more concerned with plot; with a compelling, unexpected story. They are dealing with fictional characters, after all. Except that they have failed to take into account the devastating effect their largest imaginary character will have on their very real viewers.
Even writers of fiction must research their topic, their time period. Even in fiction, world-building must be believable. Egregious errors ruin the integrity of the world, the characters, the entire experience. Not only did those responsible for Tully fail sufferers and survivors of maternal mental illness, but the standards of good writing as well.
From the moment this film was named, it took power away from mothers – the very first being Marlo. It’s not her story. It becomes the story of her illness. Maternal mental illness does overshadow the mother in its darkest depths. But it does not define the woman. The most compelling part of the story should be the journey out of those depths. A mother’s eventual triumph, not her despair. Tully totally misses that.
Another great discussion of the film from Motherly here
How does one bounce back?
A perfectionist prolongs her reentry, waiting for the perfect post, story, sentiment; making her grand reentry so untenably grand, it may never happen. Or be such a tremendous let-down, it truly disappoints.
A dweller in the present seizes the few minutes’ pocket of silence to write like her life depends upon it; easing back into life with the monotony of a moment, a microcosm of her world, the gentle ebb and flow of everyday.
If the procrastinator gets a hold of either of these two, nothing will ever be written again. Too many of the dweller’s moments will pass, needing explanation, analysis. Explanation and analysis swoop in upon the perfectionist like the ugly albatross.
As the sun warms my legs and slowly melts the snow outside, I sit at the center of a circle drawn by these three.
At the Intersection of Love and Passion
If a human being closes her eyes hard enough and for long enough, she can remember pretty well everything that has made her happy. The fragrance of her mother’s skin at the age of five and how they fled giggling into a porch to get out of a sudden downpour. The cold tip of her father’s nose against her cheek. The consolation of the rough part of a soft toy that she has refused to let them wash. The sound of waves stealing in over rocks during their last seaside holiday. Applause in a theater. Her sister’s hair, afterwards, carelessly waving in the breeze as they’re walking down the street.
And apart from that? When has she been happy? A few moments. The jangling of keys in the door. The beating of Kent’s heart against the palms of her hands while he lay sleeping. Children’s laughter. The feel of the wind on her balcony. Fragrant tulips. True love.
The first kiss.
A few moments. A human being, any human being at all, has so perishingly few chances to stay right there, to let go of time and fall into the moment. And to love someone without measure. Explode with passion.
A few times when we are children, maybe, for those of us who are allowed to be. But after that, how many breaths are we allowed to take beyond the confines of ourselves? How many pure emotions make us cheer out loud, without a sense of shame? How many chances do we get to be blessed by amnesia?
All passion is childish. It’s banal and naive. It’s nothing we learn; it’s instinctive, and so it overwhelms us. Overturns us. It bears us away in a flood. All other emotions belong to the earth, but passions inhabits the universe.
That is the reason why passion is worth something, not for what it gives us but for what it demands that we risk. Our dignity. The puzzlement of others and their condescending, shaking heads.
from Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
Driving Blind But in the Moment
“[Writing is] like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
– E.L. Doctorow
A few summers ago, I sat in a writing workshop with the inimitable Kelly Easton that unexpectedly turned into a therapy session – perhaps most unexpectedly for her.
We’d been given an exercise to write a scene from our work in progress from the point of view of a secondary character rather than our protagonist. I love Ant. He’s so fun to write. His humorous and outrageous comments flow from a place that’s cheesy and cathartic at the same time. So he was my target voice.
When I read back my piece to Kelly and the others for feedback, she said she loved the energy and spontaneity of the beginning, but that lessened as it went on. It was, she said, as if I didn’t trust his voice, myself; that rather than letting the story go where it would, I clicked on that control switch, molding the plot to the overall plan I had in mind. That I was afraid to relinquish control.
The critique hit me like a ton of bricks. Not because she was wrong. Not because I can’t take criticism (at least from a trusted source 😉 ). But because Kelly’s critique applied to my entire life – not just my work in progress.
How often do we follow some preordained plan rather than functioning within and through the essence of our being? How often do we tick off the to-dos to achieve a goal rather than burning and glowing with the initial desire for it? How often do we rein ourselves in rather than galloping exuberantly forward?
Unless we’re acting recklessly, we will not crash. There’s a fair distance between joy and mania. Why are we so afraid to inhabit our joy? Are we afraid to feel it in advance of our perceived loss of it?
What’s the worst that could have happened in my story? Anthony would’ve surprised me? Would’ve taken the plot in a new and exciting direction? The writer me could’ve certainly looped him back around to my original story – or marvelled at an even-better blossoming of the plot.
The same applies to life. Long ago, a wise friend reminded me that when your dreams haven’t come true or prayers answered, perhaps it is because God has something even better in store for you. We need not see further than our headlights illuminate. Stubborn human nature makes us want to, but it’s not necessary to survival and success – and certainly not to our happiness.
For the Love of Ove
“And when she took hold of his lower arm, thick as her thigh, and tickled him until that sulky boy’s face opened up in a smile, it was like a plaster cast cracking around a piece of jewelry, and when this happened it was as if something started singing inside Sonja. And they belonged only to her, those moments.”
– from A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.
~ Pablo Picasso
Pablo frowned on me as I fell asleep on the couch beside my daughter watching Nick Jr. Strains of the Bubble Guppies floated in and out of my consciousness as I fought to open my eyes. It was not a restful sleep.
I’d already tended to the water needs of my newly transplanted shrubs and vegetable garden. We’d seen her two elder sisters off to the bus stop. I’d ordered groceries online. I’d done stuff. But I hadn’t made my cup of tea and parked my keister at the writing table.
Which makes me nervous for this summer.
Right now it’s only one kid; in a week and a half, it will be three.
How do I write when they’re all here? Or to distill it even further – how do I keep them busy to buy myself writing time?
Don’t want to plop them in front of TV – because I still have that whole ‘rotting their brains’ hang-up and they’ll most likely pinch and poke each other while they watch and I don’t want Donald and Daisy counting their Toodles options as a running soundtrack to my work.
I’d rather have them invested in a somewhat productive, independent venture – but what would that be? Or to distill it even further – what would actually stick and buy me a solid chunk of uninterrupted time?
Writer moms and dads – preach! Please!
I have a feeling it will take a little bit of neglect, ignoring, and nasty sugar-laden treats. Or a trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Only hot, sticky summer days will tell.
I am sitting at my desk for the first time in a long time. At least to sit and write. I’ve sat a few times to check email or Facebook, but haven’t sat here in a long time for its meaning and purpose.
As I sorted piles of dirty clothes by color in preparation for laundering last night, I saw the top of my writing cabinet rolled back just enough to reveal the rocks I’ve placed there as talismans. The ones chosen for memories: one thrown by a dear friend barely missing my head, one from a bright, beautiful day at the beach, others for their touch and feel. All within smelling distance of dirty laundry. All untouched, robbed of their potential for healing or inspiration.
During these last few cold months, I’ve set up camp by the wood stove. A stack of books on my daughter’s miniature rocking chair on one side, a stool with a mug of tea on the other, computer in lap, feet on ottoman, aimed at the stove. Not bad, I must say.
But – if I sat at my desk on my ergonomic chair, I might not exacerbate that crick in my neck. I might not strain the shoulders I tweaked in frenzied shoveling yesterday. I might not draw the ire of said daughter for thieving her miniature rocking chair. I might stick to the task at hand. And – AND – I might be inspired by the lovely things around me.
Since it’s been awhile, things other than my work have inevitably piled up on my desk. My daughter’s outgrown ducky slippers. A pair of fleece pajamas I’ve yet to exchange for the right size. My middle daughter’s class portrait grasped from her little sister’s tight fist at just the last second. There’s a colored pencil that doesn’t belong to me. A bathing suit I still haven’t decided if I want to return. There’s the goody bag from my friend’s burgeoning business of skin care products I’ve yet to put away – but this is a lovely procrastination; for the smell of sea foam has provided the most uplifting aromatherapy.
While putting off and getting away from routines or rituals can be detrimental, it can also give the chance to come back with new eyes. Had I sat here every writing session, every week of every month, perhaps I wouldn’t appreciate the little corner I’ve carved out for myself. Perhaps I wouldn’t remember to hold that solid hunk of earth in my hand, wrap my fingers around but one chunk of the infinite space around us.
Does that mean I will sit here each time I write now and be incredibly prolific? Probably not. But the space is readied. For now, the mind is readied. My spirit is ready.
2014 in review
Thanks to Wordpress for this informative and humbling report on the chopping of potatoes this year. There is work to be done – but only on my part. You, dear readers, have always been the bomb!
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,400 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.