Tuesday, October 28, 2014

On Inspiration, and How the Three Day Guest Rule Doesn't Apply.

It never ceases to amaze me how inspiration strikes. Of course there are all the usual places (like sitting on my couch and drinking coffee, which seems to be a standard for artists) but once in a while, inspiration happens in such an awkward way that you can't help but take notice.

I just got back from a stellar trip to Auburn, Alabama, where I attended a writing conference for the first time and totally got back into student-mode faster than you can say "MFA wanna-be." In particular, I loved my short story workshop and my poetry workshop; both the instructors were really cool; I bought their books and got them both signed. It was a great trip, and I'm thankful for all the interesting trips I've taken this year -- Nashville, Florida, Charlotte, Auburn -- but when I got back, my friends kept asking me what I wrote while I was in Auburn. And the truth is, I didn't write much, except for workshop notes on how to craft poems and stories. I was like a sponge there, soaking it all up so I could wring it out later when the time was right.

One incident of this "wringing" came a week later, when I had the annoying and disappointing experience of driving 40 minutes in traffic to see this dude I was quasi-interested in, only to have him announce to me that he was "smitten" with someone else. It was not a big deal (I barely knew him) but really, what a waste of gas -- he could have texted that before I got on 526 during rush hour, right?!?

Anyhoo, so I went and had a drink by myself, feeling sulky. And lo! before I knew it, I had my phone out, typing an entire section of my memoir on the bar top, wishing I'd brought actual pen and paper so people wouldn't think I was texting someone with that furiously engaged look on my face.

Another time in the last week, I was fretting over the fact that I had not written so much as an introduction for a magazine article that was due right away. Then, Saturday morning while I was babysitting my best friend's son, I had this incredible first sentence pop into my head while I was lounging in their front yard, soaking up the autumn rays. Again, I got my phone out and typed a few lines (I've become quite the pro at emailing myself phone memos) and felt thrilled to have the hardest part of the article finished. Because, really, once you write a killer first paragraph, the rest just tumbles out.

For as many years as I've been a writer, none of this should surprise me. I know good and well that inspiration is like a butterfly, true love, boiling water or anything else that arrives when you aren't watching the doorway like an overeager freak. So maybe it's not surprise I'm feeling after all. Maybe it's joy at inspiration's arrival.

She's one guest in my life whose welcome is never worn out. In fact, I think I'd let inspiration rent my walk-in closet or couch-surf for as long as she wants to stay with  me.

Auburn's campus. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Could E.T. Phone Home Now?

The other day, I was using my "phone" to make a call for something or other and I received the following message:

We're sorry! Dialer has stopped.

In other words, my phone application on my pocket computer had stopped working for a bit.

It got me thinking, rather wistfully, about phones. I've always loved to talk on the phone, long before I became a busy magazine editor and HAD to talk on the phone 24/7. In those days, of course, there was no such thing as texting or carrying around a phone in your pocket -- but I still managed to keep in touch with my people most of the time. I would drag the phone from the hallway in my grandmother's house, where I was brought up, into my bedroom. It reached only so far that I could sit on my floor, head propped against the foot of my bed. For hours I'd sit, tracing the patterns on the rug with my finger, talking to my best childhood friends about crushes, music and the woes of school. I'd talk until it was time to go to sleep or someone asked me to hang up; I never had my own private line as a teenager.

My favorite aspects of phones hardly exist now, thanks to technology. The other night while I was in Edisto, I was both amused and baffled to find a landline phone inside the condo, complete with push buttons and a cord. You couldn't even walk around with the thing. I picked up the receiver eagerly, ready to hear the dial tone.


But, really, all the sounds that we once experienced with our phones -- from busy signals to dial tones to that obnoxious beeping when you left it off the hook -- have almost disappeared. I never gave it much thought, since the real point of a phone is to keep in touch, and I've done that part well enough as phones have evolved. But this week, I find myself a little nostalgic for these old phones. Maybe it's because I've craved a source of comfort during the last few crazy-busy days. Maybe that old phone in Edisto reminded me. These pocket computers that we call phones just aren't the same. I suppose it's almost like music -- we still have the songs. But we're missing the CD cases, the artwork, the lyric sheets, the stereo plugged into each kid's bedroom wall.

It's weird, the way so many forms of art have become just another computer application. But my grandmother, for one, has never given up her regular phone, nor her regular stereo that plays classical CDs each time I visit her. No matter how many times I power up Pandora on my Android, those Beethoven compact disks are still important ....and I still love picking up her old-school phone in the kitchen, saying "hello" and feeling surprised at who's on the other end of the line.

Saturday, October 4, 2014


"Genuine beauty is always quite alarming."
--Donna Tartt, The Secret History 

I just got back from my first ever trip to Edisto Island. Yes, I'm a South Carolinian who'd never ventured to this quaint, quiet beach until now. My experience was ...interesting. I guess what I'm trying to say is, after my CRAZY week of work and juggling a million things at once, I found the snail-like pace of Edisto to be slightly maddening when I first arrived. I checked into my eerily quiet condo all by myself on Thursday, found that the television didn't work (there wasn't any wi-fi either!) and tried to figure out what to do with myself. The obvious answer would be to read something or write something, but it wasn't that simple. 

For those of you who don't know, I struggle quite a bit with anxiety and panic. It took some work to calm myself down that night (a little bit of song therapy, if you must know, and a well-timed visit from my roomie, John, who was concerned after my phone call about how "SPOOKY" my accommodations were) but by the next morning, I was quite all right. I figured out the pace of Edisto, and darn it, I embraced it the best I could. I poured myself a cup of black coffee and walked to the bookstore, where I purchased a book of the island's history and another novel by Donna Tartt, since I loved The Goldfinch. I met a few of the local business owners and chatted them up. I swam in the ocean. I took a post-beach nap. I rode in a boat. I ate plenty of fresh seafood. 

In the end, Edisto turned out to be a beautiful and serene place. I just had to ...dial it back a bit. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Be Careful What You Wish For --


It's been forever since I've blogged. Maybe you guys haven't been thinking about it, but I have -- and I've missed it! But honestly, I've been incredibly busy with work and winding the summer down and a whole slew of other projects. That's why I am setting my alarm for 6:30 a.m. these days.

Anyhoo, I thought I'd share the good news that I am hard at work getting my byline elsewhere in the region. I've been pitching a few new magazines and lo! -- I'm getting assignments. Hooray! I have an assignment to write a piece on fashion illustration for Eide Magazine; an assignment to write a piece on the rise of e-cigarettes in culture for The South Magazine; an assignment to write a piece on adult enrichment classes for Grand Strand Magazine and two articles coming up in Celebrate Hilton Head.
I'm pitching national magazines as well, but the region is a good start.

I'd like to point out that preparation for getting what you want in life is important. That might seem like a weird thing to say, because we're so conditioned by society to think that if we work for a goal, and the goal is met, everything is suddenly peachy. But I've discovered that you have to be ready; getting what you want is hard work!

Yes, I've gotten new assignments, and yes, I'll have new magazines to put into my family's hands this holiday season and show them that my English degrees were NOT in vain, but from now until about Halloween I'm pretty much booked. That's right -- none of these publications gave me any TIME to write anything. They all said: "Great, Denise! Welcome aboard! Can you turn it in by October 15th?!" or whatever. And as y'all know, I also deal with the deadline of my beloved publication, Mount Pleasant Magazine, where I'm the editor, in addition to side projects. So I'm pretty dang busy this month. To top it off, I'm going to a conference in a couple of weeks in Auburn, called "The Inspired South!"

But of course, none of these new editors knew that I was pitching my face off to multiple zines, all the while getting ready for my own magazine's deadline or other ventures. It's kinda like when you're in college and your professor doesn't give a hoot about what your other professors are assigning you -- only THAT paper matters.

In conclusion, I couldn't be more excited about the new opportunities. This is a real exercise in time management, and I'm up for the challenge. And when I say up, I mean it literally. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go chug my coffee and email a few people.

Happy Fall, my lads and lassies!!