writing with a missing piece of the self

graffiti: "whoever is reading this is Georgeous"

graffiti from the Mills Lawn girls’ bathroom

( Of necessity, This blog post was drafted with the assistance of Google docs voice typing. Please excuse Associated errors.)

January 12-21, 2020

On Monday evening, January 6th, I tripped and fell backward and tried to catch myself with my right hand, but broke my wrist. Dominant hand. Parentheses people keep asking about that. Which hand? end parentheses.

 in the middle of that first night, I was awake a lot, worrying, wondering when I would ever be able to use my right hand to do everyday things, like the morning pages.  since 1993, pretty much every day except some weeks following the birth of my child in 2007, I have handwritten 3 Pages first thing in the morning. the morning Pages have been a way of keeping in touch with myself, keeping myself sane.  That Monday night, my lower arm and wrist in a splint, unable to sleep because of the discomfort and the shock, I worried about when I would ever be able to use my hand again with such fluency. I knew that I could dictate text and email messages into my phone.   but this would not suffice for my planned January writing project.  

My intention  had been to spend this month putting together  many messy, complicated, and disparate files on my computer to  submit a manuscript in progress to The graywolf Press non-fiction prize contest. I had planned 2 submit my work last year, but this  Contest is only open every other year.  in the dark on that Monday night, I despaired, realizing I couldn’t imagine the way to do this as I planned.

 The contest is very competitive, and is a huge long shot, and I knew that, but it  seemed like an important thing to do anyway. there’s no reason to disqualify yourself by not trying.

it’s Sunday now, and I have let go of gray wolf for this year. But I’m learning other ways to do the physical act of writing, even if it’s not quote unquote anything beyond process. In other words, even if it’s not something I will publish some day  Beyond my blog.

 I got my notebook out, realized quickly that my fountain pen wouldn’t work in my left hand, got a black Flair pen. wrote down the date.  Stated the facts about my right wrist, in very scrawly, funny lettering. everyday I have written with my left hand in that notebook, and it’s interesting what I’m learning.

 I also got on the internet and discovered that Google Docs has a voice typing feature which I am using to draft this right now. It’s been very helpful to use that feature for emailing on my laptop as well. So I’m not just limited to my phone.  hooray for Adaptive technology. and here I want to acknowledge that I am a baby in this land, and many people have been dependent on this technology for their lives, sanity, and livelihood. at any rate, I am very grateful that I can speak words and have them typed in front of me, even with typos and mistakes, some of which are very amusing, sometimes hilarious.  sometimes I have to slow down and speak again. To avoid typos, I have to push the words carefully out of my body, and even then, you see what you get. 

 As a writer who has always been very careful about correcting typos Etc and very hard on myself, with high standards about what my words look like when I share them with others, this is a humbling time. I am letting myself go. I am not sweating typos errors Etc. (I am learning that it is okay 2  eschew perfection. I had to type the word eschew, for instance, because the machine was not getting it right.) I’m just getting the words out. But when I dictate words that are typed on the screen as I am doing right now, I can only go in One Direction, my brain can only move step by step, word by word, mindfully, and it feels very limiting.  I must speak my punctuation. Of necessity, I am learning about slowness.

Similarly, when I write with my left hand on paper, I find that my right hand sometimes does what seems like a sort of lip syncing: my right hand sort of mimics my left hand, or tries to. Very interesting. I would love to see a functional scan of my brain during this process. But in the same way as when I speak words that then get typed on the screen, when I write with my left hand, I can only move forward,  only move in One Direction. My brain has to slow down. so that I can get the letters shaped, even messily or with errors, onto the page or screen.

 I have  taken for granted my way of writing until now. That I can write things in the margins, that I can zoom around in my head, have three or four things happening, or way more than three or four, in my brain while I’m also writing has been a luxury. I know that handwriting even with my dominant right hand makes me focus in a way that is linear, that is one step at a time, but this is very different. I’m not even sure how to describe it. All I can do for now is pay attention, try to learn something from this painful experience. 

As I form my scrawlin shapes with my black Flair pen on paper, sometimes I skip a line, sometimes I have to slow down and  print Or reprint words, sometimes writing cursive is easier, and in almost every way, I feel like a monkey. nothing against monkeys. Just that I’m  Not thinking in the way I am accustomed to thinking, but only doing what a body does. As well, I have been thinking about the Lynda Barry Workshop that I attended at Omega Institute. Lynda Barry talked about how when your brain starts to speed up while you’re  writing, try slowing your hands down. I tell my students this sometimes. slow down. I tell them to not Worry about catching the words, but slow down and focus on the shapes that your pen makes across the paper. 

(this is funny to me:  as I speak the word p e n,  repeatedly, Google Docs voice typing will only type the word  pain.) 

 following  Lynda Barry’s advice, I slow down on purpose sometimes when I’m  Writing with my right hand. It’s somehow reassuring and feels good. Right now, with my left hand, I have no choice. I have to slow down or else it will be completely illegible.

 And maybe legibility is a questionable pursuit. Maybe legibility isn’t even the point.  Like when my daughter was first learning to form letters from shapes. Maybe right now the thing is just the physical  attempt, getting words out of body.

I imagine, or hope, that my brain is making new associations, new wirings.  that this accident will somehow change me in a way that makes me wiser. this does not mean I think everything happens for a reason. I do know that  Since January 6th, as I navigate the physical world, I think about ableism, ableism in myself and others, and about those who struggle with physical tasks for various reasons.  It had been an intellectual sense previously, slow down, let the person with mobility issues safely pass, let them have space to pass. let them not be invisible. Rebecca, you are not the only person in the universe.  There are others here too. 

 

(in which I am allowed a handful of occurrences)

 

IMG_5235(Serious word nerds, keep reading. The rest of you, go do something productive or take a nap.)

Final combing through of my novel, in hopes it will emerge between portable covers sooner than later.

Meanwhile, there’s a file on my computer called “overused words checklist.” It includes words I use too frequently, & passive or lazy phrases to comb for, such as “very” or “and then.” I consult this oracle when I’m nearing the end of the process. Search/replace/omit (or keep, if they seem to need to be there).

Selected statistics that impress at least me:

  • Just 1 occurrence of the word “tendril.” Because that word is at the top of my list—I used to use is excessively in a previous novel—and it’s apparently my thumbprint.
  • “Very”: Pared down from 30 to 6 “very”s, all of them falling within characters’ dialogue, sounding better left there.
  • “Thought”: pared down from 48 to 19. And zero “thought about”s. !!
  • “Felt”: down from 38 to 8. (And some signify the fabric.)
  • “Little”: Oy vey! From 64 down to 41. (In case you ever read this novel: I’m sorry. I did what I could do.)
  • “Seem” (and its variants): 54, down to 14! Some of which are parts of other words.
  • “Sigh”/ed: Bonus points for only having 8 occurrences to start with! Hell, I could leave them all in there. But why not pare down. Except I had to add 2 more. Still, 10 of 79,000 words is not that bad. (She sighed.)

 

The work of today / (Onward!)

 

 

scribbled-on page of my novel

page of my novel, under construction

Whenever I’m staring at something like this mess, there’s an urge to whine (and brag?). Both.

The writing process. The glamour.

Ninety more pages like this, single-spaced.

The tired eyes.

This page isn’t even the worst of it!

But I know if I just take the time, nip and tuck, and keep moving onward, the novel will emerge stronger for it.

Onward!

Because, by Joshua Mensch

Because, a lyric memoir by Joshua Mensch

Because, a lyric memoir by Joshua Mensch

Because, by Joshua Mensch, is a devastating and beautiful lyric memoir. I can’t recall why I picked it up to read, but I’m so glad I did. It was rough going because of the subject matter (childhood sexual abuse) but the language, its incantation and repetition and just plain brilliance is so well suited to how memory and trauma work that the writer’s work (processing the devastation, and crafting language to approximate it) pulled me through.

If you have a history of sexual abuse, you might only want to read this book if you feel sturdy in your recovery. I’m sure it could be very triggering. But I also found it very healing to read.

I won’t soon forget this diamond.

Crooked Deals, by Hafiz

Before an inner critic workshop with my 9th grade class, I thought I’d look for a poem to read while we did power poses—something to fill the awkward moment of power posing in a room full of teenagers, something for inspiration. I took my copy of The Gift, by Hafiz, and I opened to this poem.

This was not active looking. I had not read this poem before. I could not have found a more perfect poem if I had actively looked.

The universe will provide! (And I’m eternally grateful to my friend Pegah for giving me this book!)

CROOKED DEALS

by Hafiz

(translated by Daniel Landinsky, in The Gift)

There is
A madman inside of you
Who is always running for office—
Why vote him in,
For he never keeps the accounts straight.
He gets all kinds of crooked deals
Happening all over town
That will just give you a big headache
And glue to your kisser
A gigantic
Confused
Frown.

 

Sex Object (by Jessica Valenti) (& walking down the street)

Sex Object by Jessica ValentiI’m woefully behind on posting about books. There are piles of gorgeous books waiting for me to have time to tell you about them. (I hope the books forgive me!) Catching up a little, at least today.

I don’t even recall how long ago I read Jessica Valenti’s book SEX OBJECT—it’s been months and months, maybe a year. My friend Ashley loaned it to me a long time ago. (Thanks, Ashley! I can return it to you now.)

So much within these pages resonated. Here’s one passage from p. 64 that articulates how it can feel to walk down the street—not just in NYC but also in my small, friendly home town—while female.

“There is a look that comes over men’s faces right before they are about to say something horrible to you.

Or make a noise at you, or whistle in your general direction.

By the time I was fourteen years old I could spot this look a half a block away. In the same way I can tell if someone is a tourist by their shoes or if a person has recently done heroin, I can predict that a man is going to be an asshole on the street—sort of like a depressing New York City sixth sense.

And the moment when you take those few steps before crossing paths with the man who you know is about to say or do something is the moment when you look down, or turn your head to face across the street, or put your earphones in—as if to signal that you won’t see them no matter what they do. That they are invisible to you.

Of course, they do it anyway. And you see it, or hear it.

Sometimes it’s not as bad as you thought, it’s a Hey, beautiful or a simple hello. But more often than not it’s a lascivious intake of breath or a clicking noise, or sometimes just a smirk while they stare at your breasts as you walk by. Once it was a man who came close to my ear and said, I want to eat you. No matter the content, the message is clear: we are here for their enjoyment and little else. We have to walk through the rest of our day knowing that our discomfort gave someone a hard-on.

We are trapped in between huge bodies unable to move, too afraid to yell or bring attention to ourselves. We are trapped on the train, in the crowd, in the street, in the classroom. If we have no place to go where we can escape that reaction to our bodies, where is it that we’re not forced? The idea that these crimes are inescapable is the blind optimism of men who don’t understand what it means to live in a body that attracts a particular kind of attention with magnetic force. What it feels like to see a stranger smiling while rubbing himself or know that this is the price of doing business while female. That public spaces are not really public for you, but a series of surprise private moments that you can’t prevent or erase.

And so you put your headphones on and look straight ahead and don’t smile even when they tell you to and just keep walking.”

 

Antioch University LA Literary Uprising (May 7, Columbus, Ohio)

Rebecca in Glen Helen

always trying to fly

Thrilled that I’ll be reading in Columbus on May 7 at the Antioch University LA Literary Uprising!

Check it out:

Tuesday, May 7, 2019
7:00pm-9:00pm
Hosted by Barbara Fant, the Antioch University LA Literary Uprising will feature readings from Erica FloydJake BaileyMelissa BentonRebecca KuderChristine Waloszczyk, and Jahzerah Brooks.

For more details, please visit the Two Dollar Radio HQ website at https://twodollarradiohq.com/events/

It’s going to be a great night, so please join us!

CALMS (helps calming anyone, not just babies!)

check in with yourself, allow a breath, listen to your baby, make contact, mirror feelings, soothe your baby
Recently, I recalled something my amazing beloved doula-sister Amy Chavez gave me when I had a baby (maybe she gave it to me before I had a baby). When my child was a baby, this image was on the wall in at least one room of my house, maybe more than one room. (You can see a slice of aqua bathroom wall of our old house behind this image.) At that time, it was extremely helpful. It’s a good reminder, still, always—whether there’s a crying baby in your midst or not—it occurs to me now that anything or anyone needing our kind attention can be substituted for the “crying baby” on this CALMS list, actually…
Thank you, dear Amy, for this wisdom, which still applies!
And may this be a blessing to anyone who needs it.

(consider the commas, etc.)

Revising rough paragraphs from the house memoir…realized it was actually a handful of deflated, sad sentences wanting to be a poem so I wrote them into a poem. And right now, I’m in love with the poem.

…revision’s cool heart, still to come, and time, will tell. (But for now it’s fun to fall in love with this unplanned poem.)

5 minutes of inner critic love

graffiti di Venezia, summer 2017

graffiti di Venezia, summer 2017

Dear readers,

Here’s a little something I did with the middle school students this week. I thought you might like it, too.

You can do this exercise as often as you want to. Also, you can take more time with any step if you would like to, but the idea here is that you don’t need a lot of time to have fun & decrease the self-doubt.

Love,
Rebecca

p.s.If you try this, let me know how it goes! And to read more about my work with the inner critic, go here.

**

5 minute Inner Critic exercise
by Rebecca Kuder, M.F.A.

INTRO: What is the inner critic? (Because people sometimes ask.)

It’s fine—and sometimes helpful—to have the part of yourself who edits, who helps make sure you are safe. But we’re dealing with the part that isn’t helpful: that voice that gets in your way, or makes you feel small, or stuck, or makes you doubt yourself. Sometimes my inner critic tells me I’m not good enough. Or says, “Who do you think you are?”

Exercise:

1. Take a piece of paper. 30 seconds: Imagine the inner critic as a character. It could be a ball of cat hair, a building, a monster, whatever—take 30 seconds to draw a picture of the inner critic. Keep drawing for the entire time.

2. 30 seconds: (As you are able) Stand up, close your eyes, do a power pose—WONDER WOMAN is one option (feet shoulder width apart, hands on hips)

3. 4 minutes: Turn the page over: Write a letter: Dear Inner Critic…and keep writing for 4 minutes. You can say anything! You can use bad words! If you run out of things to say, write the words tick tick tick until you think of something else to say. You never have to show anyone this letter unless you want to. At the end, sign your name.