Stuck

Dave's kissing spotWhat happens when the old ways of tricking yourself into action no longer work? I promised my writing group that I’d send them a new piece by the end of this month. I had been feeling stuck and needed some deadline, however fake, to get myself writing again. It usually works.

Not this time. I can see too easily through the ruse, having tried it too many times, I suppose. Or maybe this time I’m up against some questions I cannot avoid and still hope to get unstuck.

One: Do I really want to be writing? True, I have enjoyed five years of it. I like it as a means to express myself, to get my thoughts together and out in front of some people (a few, anyway). On a good day I can even convince myself that it is doing some potential good, helping people, teaching, healing wounds.

I like the craft and the challenge of it, and I can see myself improving. People seem to like my writing, unless they are just being nice, and I think that I actually am becoming a pretty decent writer. But, as with the visual art I used to do, I have never felt like it is something I am so driven by I could not stop doing it. Do I keep on? I’d like to.

The next question, one that has really got me stuck, is this: What do I write about? I am thinking in terms of writing fiction, mostly, and that has usually been about making stories out of my lived experience—more specifically, my love life. Those were the stories I wanted to tell. I could never figure out what else to write about, and could never understand how some writers seem to have a magical ability to write of things completely outside their lived experience. I am in awe of that skill. I don’t seem to have it. Not yet, anyhow.

This brings me to question whether I have anything new to say or any desire to make up new stories. And it makes me realize, slightly shockingly, that I have almost no interest anymore in the stories I’ve been working on for the past few years. They don’t seem to matter much. This feels suddenly not so much about my writing, but about my life.

You are the love of your life...yes youThe thing is, sometime in 2015, I stopped being interested in my romantic life. I stopped dating, stopped pursuing relationships, stopped caring if I was single, stopped getting crazy over sexy boys, stopped having sex, stopped even thinking about it, any of it. It just all went away.

This is partly a good thing. A big part. My obsession with being in relationships, in having a boyfriend, in having sex, had been a constant in my adult life from the time I came out more than 30 years ago (and there were quite a few torturous years before that as well). For all that time, I remained aware of my status as single or partnered, getting some or not, of keeping my body in shape, of pursuing constantly, of doing crazy and risky and ridiculous things, and judging myself for all of it.

What a heavy thing to carry for so long! Upon discovering I’d put that burden down somewhere along the way—not sure where or when exactly—I felt immense relief.

So much of my happiness and sadness had been tied up in the question of my coupling, and it became clear I had been living with a lot of mental pain for almost all of that time. Sure, I was happy in the moments things seemed to be working great, but those were fleeting. How much did I invest in the pursuit; and worse, how much in the trying to hold onto or recapture something good?

I came to realize the most basic of truths: This was not a source of happiness for me. It just wasn’t worth it.

Thinking back, I can remember starting 2015 with the idea in mind that it might be the year I gave up sex and romance. This was at a time I was still ostensibly happy seeing someone I liked a lot, mind you. It wasn’t about that. For some strange reason, I just got the idea in my head that it no longer mattered. It wasn’t important. I’d had a good run, and now I might want to stop working at it. Maybe forever, maybe for a while. It was not a concrete goal, just an idea, and I didn’t share it with most people.

Do You Want to Sleep with Dave X Robb?I did joke with a friend that I should have a going-out-of-business sale, and that showed I was maybe not so ready to give it up after all. But I didn’t announce the sale, or the plan, if there even was one; I just gradually stopped thinking about the same old things.

A few big things happened last year that no doubt supported this wish I’d planted in my own head—losing that guy, having big health problems, making huge leaps on my spiritual path—and it kind of happened without effort. It’s easy to not have sex, a lot easier than needing to have it.

I’d certainly entertain the idea of dating or partnering with or just having good sex with someone, and chances are I will do at least one (maybe two, probably not all three) of those things again someday; I’m just not willing to put in the effort. I don’t care that much. I like not caring about it, I really do.

Which brings me back to the writing. I find that I don’t care about my characters. Their problems seem relatively meaningless. Stay together, break up—I don’t care what they do.

A wise teacher once said to take the thing that is stopping you from writing, and make the writing about that. Well, I guess that’s what I’m doing right here. How this translates to my fiction, I’m not quite sure, but I am starting to form some ideas. I’ll send this to my writing group and see what they say.

 

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Leap day

pool_closedAT SOME POINT, I’M going to have to admit that I have crossed the line between recovering from surgery and being a normal person. (Well, my normal.) How do I know where the line is and when I’ve crossed over? I feel like I have. Not in every way, but in most ways. I’m no longer in pain, aside from the near-constant muscle ache associated with rebuilding my sliced-through abdominals. (It’s amazing how much those muscles do for us! I never realized.) My stamina is good, not great. No swimming or yoga or long bike rides yet. My body is not the same as it was, but it will never be the same.

My stream of visitors wishing me well and bringing me food and flowers and driving me to appointments has dried up, as it naturally should, leaving me with boatloads of gratitude and friendships old and new that I’ll have to take an equal role in sustaining. Oh yeah, that. This is a good development. It means I have to start actively participating in my life again.

I’ve been passively social, you might say. For so long, I was waited on, pampered, treated so well, with no need to make plans or decisions for myself, with no calendar day holding more than one or two easy things to do. I was healing, and that was enough. Now, I’m not only tying my own shoes; I’m doing pretty much everything I need to do to get through my suddenly busy days. This is good, too.

GameOfLife1How did I get so busy so fast? I went back to work two weeks ago, a little sooner than originally planned. I was kept busy with a big freelance copy-editing job and studying for an exam. I sorted through a lot of medical bills. I did the laundry and cleaned my house. Life, in other words.

I’m done with the freelance job, and the test was taken last night, so I suddenly find myself with time opening up again on this, the “free” day we’re given once every four years, possibly to make more room for squeezing in the summer Olympics and a presidential election.

I know it’s not really an extra day, it’s just how we name things; but it can be fun to think of Leap Day as a freebie, just as we can celebrate that extra hour we get with Daylight Saving Time. Thinking, What will I do with my extra day? is a good way of reminding ourselves how precious our time on this planet as human beings is. I’d rather do that than treat it as just another day. Don’t we do enough of that already?

Leap-Day-CalendarSo, I’ve decided to use February 29 to get over the idea that I have no time for writing. I’ve been keeping my hand in it over the last few months, what with the Caring Bridge website and, okay, two blog posts on here and some writing in my journal and even some writing at work. I’ve also been reading a whole lot of good writing and sent a couple of short pieces out and edited my friend Alan’s novel.

All of it counts as something—inspiration or contemplation or learning or honing my craft—but the harsh judge within me feels like I’ve not done a lot of “real” writing in all this time, by which I guess I mean fiction. I’ve not worked on my novel or written any new stories. I’ve felt a little stuck in that sense. Maybe I need to find an online course.

But then I tell my harsh internal judge to shut the fuck up. (Applause.) I’ve been busy healing my demolished body, growing a liver, and gaining back (so far) 20 pounds. (More applause.) And nurturing the most wonderful connections with friends and family and my  cat, Emma, studying and teaching Dharma, vacuuming, and working in the yard. The weather has been wonderful!

How we spend our days—yes, this is life.

My Writing Process

Dave X Robb in the kitchenHELLO THERE. THIS POST is part of a blog tour called My Writing Process. It’s kind of like a chain letter for bloggers, but without the annoyance of having to send something in the mail in the hope of receiving back 1,000 of the same kind of thing, which of course never seemed to work as planned anyway, but it never mattered because you didn’t want all those recipes or pot holders or post cards or whatever it was in the first place.

This is about sharing information about the writing process in a personal way, and I recommend you do it too if you have a blog or even if you don’t. It’s a good exercise to do just to learn more about yourself as a writer. The sharing makes it even nicer. Here are the official My Writing Process Blog Tour instructions:

Step 1: Acknowledge the person (and site) who involved you in the blog tour.

Step 2: Answer these 4 questions about your writing process.

Step 3: Tag another writer or 2 to answer the questions the week after you. Give a one-sentence bio of each, and link to their websites.

WHO TAGGED ME? I was tagged by writing coach, blogger, grammarian, writer, lunch-companion-cheerleader and friend Kristy Lin Billuni, aka the Sexy Grammarian. Sex and grammar–what a great combination! Her answers to the questions can be found here. Kristy was tagged by incomparable, inspirational writer-teacher-friend Minal Hajratwala, whose answers are here.

I’M TAGGING: Next week (or so), you’ll be able to read #MyWritingProcess posts from Chauna Craig, a wonderful writer-educator-imagineer (to borrow from her website; the “wonderful” is mine, though) and inspiring, supportive long-distance friend with whom I’ve had the pleasure of taking a couple of online writing courses; and Katayoon Zandvakili, an absolutely amazing poet, memoirist, blogger, and painter I also met in an online class, but have since met in real life…and she’s just wonderful!

I’ve asked a couple of other terrific bloggers I’d love to introduce you to and will add them to the list when I hear back from them, if they’re willing. If you’re a blogger or writer and want to post your own answers, please do! Just follow the instructions above, use the #MyWritingProcess Twitter tag or link to your blog post from your Facebook page or do both. Also ping me on Twitter, Facebook, or in a comment below so I can help you spread the joy.

Here are the questions and my answers:

1) WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?

I’ve been blogging for a little over three years now, try to write a daily 1000 words or so on whatever is on my mind, and am getting my feet wet in the poetry pool. The blog started as musings on the intersection of 1970s music, grammar, and my love life; it has since evolved into something a bit more introspective, with a decidedly Buddhist tilt, but it’s still fun (for me, anyhow) and still ties in with pop music much of the time.

The project I am most excited about at the moment is weaving a collection of short fiction pieces into a novel about love and sex and heartbreak and healing that is hopefully going to be a lot more interesting than I’ve just made it sound. It’s sexy and sad and hopeful.

2) HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS’ WORK IN THE SAME GENRE?

Well, by saying “genre,” there’s already an implication that my work fits in with other work out there, and I would say that’s true. I think the difference is in how I present it personally, which is of course something we can all say. So, I don’t worry about being different because I automatically will be. If you take my genre to be “gay fiction,” or maybe “gay erotic fiction,” you could say that the stuff I’m writing is not just for gay men, but could appeal to anyone who has been through the kind of emotional stuff I’m writing about. The feedback I’ve gotten so far seems to confirm that. And, I know I’m not the only one doing it, but I do think it’s less common to find people writing about sex—maybe especially gay sex, because of the trauma we’ve all been through—in a way that isn’t just about the physicality of it. Mind you, I don’t shy away from that stuff; in fact, I like hardcore sex description a lot, but it’s not enough. It’s hard to get turned on by descriptions of sex without there also being some strong element of emotion, some connection to the characters and what they are feeling, in both their bodies and their minds. I think that’s why the vast majority of gay porn and erotica (and sex apps, for that matter) leaves me cold. And I have a feeling other people feel the same way. They’re looking for something more human, for feeling and connection, in real life and in what they’re reading.

3) WHY DO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU DO?

I like this question. I do it both for myself and for others. My initial motivation for writing was not so very profound; it was just something I thought I’d like to get good at because I loved reading so much and admired how writers could work their magic. I’ve always loved language and grammar, and I was already an editor, so it wasn’t a great leap. I thought writing was something I’d be good at because people liked the way I told stories and encouraged me, and so I started the blog.

The more I wrote, the more I saw a real value in it for myself. It became my way of working things out. I guess that was the case even before I published anything online. I’ve written journals for 30 years, off and on, so I already knew writing could help me. I’d never thought of it as potentially helping other people until I started posting things.

I especially like writing the gay love stories. Because the stories are so close to me and my lived experience, I feel like I can write them with some kind of authority; I’ve lived them, and so I know what I’m talking about. It’s easy for me to understand my characters’ motivations and reactions when I can connect them to real people, myself or others, and real things that have happened. The writing also forces me to see things from others’ points of view, which is immensely valuable and sometimes tough work psychologically. So, that is an added benefit for me.

The more honest I can be emotionally, the more real the stories feel, the easier it will be for readers to connect and see themselves in what I write. One of my motivations is to try and heal the trauma that so many gay men have lived through, both in the struggles of coming out and facing hatred and abuse, physical and psychological, self-hate in many cases; and in having come through the AIDS war, the loss of so many lives, so much potential, friends and lovers gone, having to change our way of loving each other, survival guilt and burnout, issues of trust and intimacy getting overrun by the necessities of safety and survival, all of that.

Gay men are so amazing for the strength we’ve had to develop, but many of us are also deeply wounded by what we’ve been through. I want to begin to point the way toward uncovering and healing some of that and showing how to love. I’m such a big love-pusher. If I had a mission statement, that would be in it.

4) HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?

I’m pretty messy about it. I don’t know that I even have anything you could call a process, so my answer here won’t be very helpful. You just have to write. I find that my best writing comes out of freewriting, keeping the pen going and not stopping, just getting a whole lot on the page. A lot of times, my journal writing will uncover ideas that I then decide to turn into poems or scenes or blog posts, or sometimes a short piece will inspire a longer piece. Eventually, I accumulate enough bits of things that kind of go together, and I start looking for ways to connect them into something bigger, building that way. That’s the plan, anyhow. We’ll see if it works.

But I don’t have a lot of good advice. Just keep writing. Write a lot. I find that I have to write a lot to get a little that I like. And you have to live, and pay attention to what you’re living so you’ll have things to write about. Keep a notebook handy at all times.

For me, writing is a discipline. I don’t naturally make it a priority. I need projects and deadlines—most of the time fake, self-imposed deadlines—for me to get anything done. That’s why I love taking online writing classes with Minal and meeting with my writing group once a month–those things keep me writing and make me accountable to others. I can’t do it myself. Individualism is such a horrible thing. I know that goes against the writer stereotype.

I also struggle with how to know when something’s done. One of my vices is perfectionism. I worry over things too much. I sand off the rough edges and polish so much sometimes that I like the end product a lot less than what I started out with. So, part of my process is noticing when I’m dallying rather than sending something out into the world where it belongs.

Poetry is like jazz

Grateful Dead: Skeletons from the ClosetTHERE ARE THREE things top of mind these days that I could talk about: my poetry month challenge, my fiction and how it messes with my head, and how sexual attraction works and if we have the power to change it. Three good topics. Let’s start with poetry. I can tell you about the other two things another time, if you want. Remind me.

I like these challenges that are all over social media nowadays, where you’re supposed to do something every day for a month. As April drew near, I was faced with two choices: write a poem a day for National Poetry Month or do the 30-day Rewild Your Life challenge. They each sounded like good ideas, but I knew I couldn’t do them both. And I wasn’t sure I could actually spend 30 minutes every day out in nature, much as I’d like to try. I decided to do the poems.

I guess I could post some samples, but the truth is, I’m afraid to. Poetry seems even more personal and revealing than fiction. At least my poetry does. And if you’ve read my fiction, that’s saying something. Most days, I’ve written about whatever had the strongest emotional pull on me that day. Some of it’s pretty raw, diary-like stuff, including one poem that references Bread’s “Diary,” come to think of it. Does that make me a bad poet?

Which brings me to the other reason I hesitate to post my poems: I am not at all sure they’re any good. When it comes to poetry, I have to admit I haven’t the slightest idea what I’m doing. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s even a good thing. Or maybe my poems are just not so hot.

Why the self-doubt? It’s not like me, I know. Truth is, I have always had an uncomfortable relationship with poetry. For many years, I just didn’t get it. I didn’t like it, quite honestly. It always seemed a little loosey-goosey, like you could make mistakes and say “I meant to do that,” kind of like jazz.

I was young and stupid. My ideas about poetry (and jazz) have changed. Lately, I’ve heard some very, very good poetry, and I am frankly mystified at how it’s done. Great poets amaze and intimidate me. I aspire to learn what these geniuses are doing.

I will admit I like some of what I’ve written. I went back and reread it all, 27 poems so far, and there are moments. I don’t know if there are whole poems that work, but they almost all have something going for them. Isn’t that what writing is so often about? Finding the gems.

I’ve shared a few poems with people for whom they were written, and their reactions have been good. That could just be gratitude at having had a poem written for them. Maybe they’re just being nice. Or the poems could be good.

Diary by BreadAs with any kind of writing, it takes skill honed through a lot of practice to get good at it. I know this. It doesn’t just happen. And maybe that’s where my doubt comes in. When I write poetry, it’s kind of like freewriting, where it flows out of me and onto the page uncensored. It does just happen, in other words. There can often be something very special in that kind of writing, I know. I just don’t always trust it.

When I write that way, sometimes I feel like I’m in a trance. Does it sound any good to someone who’s not also in a trance? This might be one of those things like the Grateful Dead, who—no offense—sound extremely awesome to stoned people and just all right to the rest of us. But then, does any group have more dedicated fans?

It is always going to come down to connecting with some people and not with others. If I write honestly from the heart, it’s likely someone will read what I’ve written and feel a resonance. What is good writing anyway? To me, it’s writing that makes people feel something. It happens or it doesn’t. When you know you’ve connected as a writer, there’s no better feeling.

So, yeah, maybe I’ll post a few things once the month is over. I’ll sift through it all again, find the gems, and polish them up. Just so long as I don’t smooth out all the rough edges.

 

 

 

 

Effort

flowers_sTEN DAYS ON, AND I am feeling good. It started with my decision to start writing on here again on a schedule; my blocking out on the calendar a full day a month to write—yes, a writing retreat; getting all my materials from last year’s online writing classes together; and recommitting to writing, at least some, daily.

I also have been going to yoga and meditating regularly again; and working in the yard, going to the movies, and playing again. I’m reading more. I’m doing nice things for myself. Even work is sort of better. Basically, I have gone back to applying some effort toward being mindful of how I spend my time. Life. It’s an unfinished project, but I am getting better at it.

Since my last post, I met with my biggest writer-cheerleader friend and was greatly encouraged. I got a facial. I met with my new writing group and was encouraged even more. I worked in the yard. I did fun things with friends. I had my writing retreat! I’ve kept busy (but not lazy busy) and haven’t been able to do everything I’d like to—that would be impossible—but it’s a nice feeling to know that my time is being well spent.

What works best for me when I feel like I can’t get a good grip on my time is to make a list. I write down those things I want to get done that day or that weekend or that week or that month (it can be good to have a few lists going for the different time frames). Then I prioritize the list, roughly.

There’s always more on it than can possibly be done, but that’s actually a good thing. Why? Because that gives me ideas of things to do—and permission to do them—if I don’t feel like doing the other thing on the list that I thought I should be doing. As I see it, as long as it’s on the list, I can do it and feel like I’m spending my time well. If it’s not on the list, I don’t do it; either that or I realize it should have been on the list and I just forgot or changed my mind.

Dave X Robb in Munich AirportFor me, there’s this delicate balance between structure and fluidity. I want to put some effort into life, using my time wisely; but I also want to be supple in the way I go about it, feeling free to change course, to have options, to follow my mood if it changes, as it inevitably does.

And I don’t want to do too much. I want to feel good about being productive, but I also want to feel good about everything, including those times when I’m needing a break from getting so much done. That happened to me last weekend after I got home from class late Sunday. I’d had two busy, productive, and immensely fulfilling (not to mention sunny) days in a row, with back-to-back trips to Oakland and lots of emotion (mostly happy, some sad) and crushing on guys and overlapping appointments and all whatnot, and when I finally landed at home on the couch, I crashed.

With ice cream. And backgammon. And it was good.

A writing year

Dave X Robb on retreatI FEEL LIKE MY life is all about writing these days. And so, why haven’t I posted anything on here all month? Fair question. The short answer is, I’ve been busy doing other writerly things. In just the last couple of days, I finished a new story, did lots of work in my online class, read a piece at a wonderful party, and attended a writers’ mini-conference, part of Litquake.

I miss blogging when I’m away from it, but sometimes there just isn’t the time. If only I could crank these posts out in an hour! But no, I fuss over them. I know what Julia Cameron would say: fuss less. But then I’d end up with a blog with as many typos in it as The Artist’s Way. I love The Artist’s Way—I credit that book with inspiring me to devote so much time this year to my writing—but man, does that book have typos!

It’s hard to believe it was only a year ago that I took the plunge, launching my fiction blog with a sexy, sad short story (on National Coming Out Day, as it turns out, though I didn’t notice that at the time) and started calling myself a writer. Since then, I’ve posted some more stories and a little poetry, I’ve read some of it publicly, and I’ve made good progress toward combining it all into a novel. I feel like my writing has gotten a lot better.

In the past year, I did half a NaNoWriMo (November), went through the 12-week Artist’s Way (January–March), got into the habit of writing at least 1000 words a day (most days), ramped up my editing business, and scaled back my day job to 3 days a week (March). I bought myself a laptop (May), saw my fabulous writing coach regularly, and took 2 great online writing courses—Writing from the Chakras (June–July) and Blueprint Your Book (September–October) and a few writing workshops.

I’m not bragging. We all do a lot of amazing things in a year. I’m just taking stock. But damn, that’s a lot of writing-related living. Best of all, I feel so supported, having made some wonderful connections with other writers in the process.

Dave X Robb at NaNoWriMo party 2011And so I’ve been posting on here a little less often. Time is loosening its grip on me—I finished a great big editing job a few weeks ago, and Blueprint Your Book is just now wrapping up (Litquake is in full swing, but that’s just a week)—just as NaNaWriMo looms again, but guess what? I’m going on vacation.

Things have been going full-tilt for so long, I am really craving the time away. You may hear from me while I’m in Portugal and Spain. I am going to take the laptop, and I will almost certainly do some writing. I may blog, I may not. We’ll see.

Pull up the roots

The Roots - Things Fall ApartTHE FIRST WEEK OF my Writing from the Chakras workshop is wrapping up, and it has been an eye-opener…or a something-opener. Taught by the talented Minal Hajratwala, this 9-week online course is meant to get us in touch with our body’s life energy, chakra by chakra, and writing from those places rather than just from our heads, which is where I usually get stuck. So this feels to me like the perfect workshop at the perfect time.

Week 1 is all about the Root chakra, the foundation. It’s where we find stability and history. It can be grounding, but it can be the source of intense struggle.

Everything about the root is, for me, loaded with contradiction. I find comfort and stability in my rootedness. It keeps me afloat, bringing home a paycheck, out of jail, off the street, sane. As in the plant world, roots nourish us. They keep us anchored, safe, and secure, all of which enables a certain amount of freedom; at the same time, roots can be limiting, stifling, suffocating, the source of strong inertia. They hold us back.

Safe.

In the historical, familial sense, roots can be similarly stabilizing, a source of comfort and pride, giving us direction and a sense of connectedness; and there is the side to family roots that can feel oppressive. We can get stuck and spend a lot of time and energy breaking free, unlearning, pulling up the roots.

For me, this root stuff is complicated, but it seems to boil down to a question of risk-taking versus control. I have a tendency to take and hold control with so tight a grip sometimes it hurts me. I get tired. Sometimes I feel like I’m slipping, like I can’t hold on much longer, and then what? I wonder.

Roots by Alex HaleyMy need for control chokes me, but it protects me as well, like a warm embrace. I’m comfortable in it, in the big, protective hug I maybe never got as a kid, that I too rarely get as an adult. I feel loved by myself in those times. And I feel smothered.

How can something have such opposite meanings? I want to be in control. I want to be set free. I question if I’m strong enough to break free of my own gravity, the strength of these roots. And I wish for someone to help, to push me, to pull me out of the groove, the track worn deep over so much time and habit, and set me free.