What Brand of Crack Are People Smoking?

I’ve tried keeping my blog on the up-and-up with perspectives on the writing life and such (the such is supposed to be my breakfast-food-loving slant, but those posts have been in the making for a while). I’m trying to keep it light and positive, motivating fellow writers and encouraging others to find and harness their creative energies.

But in the past week, my patience has been tried. Really tried. I don’t know what brand of crack some people are smoking, but some of the things people have said and done to me in recent weeks have left me very irritated.

I try to be a very giving and supportive person. If someone asks me (nicely) to do something to help them out, within reason, I’m going to do whatever I can. I’m not one to hoard information or advice; if I come across something that would be of benefit to anyone in my network, I’m more than willing to share.

But there are those who have pushed me to limits beyond what a normal person can take. If you are a rude, arrogant, impetuous, demanding, ungrateful idiot with a bloated sense of entitlement, then stop reading now unless you want to get your feelings hurt. Click another tab on the menu bar, or the big ‘X’ at the top of the screen and have a nice day.

Now that they’re gone, I can tell you how I really feel.

I got a text message the other day from a college classmate with whom I had lost touch. They live in another town, and I’ve only seen them on rare occasion since we left college. So imagine my shock and annoyance upon receiving this seemingly random text message: “I’m looking for a job in the Chicago area. If you know of any jobs or leads in the area, hit me up.” That’s a WTF moment if I’ve ever seen one. Now don’t get me wrong, in this economic climate, desperate times call for desperate measures. But that does not preclude the need for basic communication etiquette. A simple “Hello” or “Hi” prefacing the message would have, perhaps, made me more open to responding. Instead…

A day before that went down, I got a phone call from an acquaintance. “What are you doing on say, next Tuesday?” I knew this was a setup. And I knew I not to make myself available. Usually I hear from this acquaintance when they have an emergency or an alleged dire need. I would much rather the person had started off the convo stating what they needed rather than trying to work me into a corner. Instead, they’ve established a pattern with me, and thus have set themselves up. Every good and working Caller ID is a gift from the Lord.

The other day, an email showed up in my inbox. But not just any email. It was an “Urgent, Call Me ASAP” email with an all-caps subject line. Obviously the sender didn’t trust that the word ‘urgent’ would ring true enough on its own merit and thought it needed to be shouted. I figured the person didn’t have seriously urgent life-or-death news, for if they did, they would have called me. And so I responded accordingly: “When you decide to tell me what is so urgent, then call me at 777-9311.” (Just kidding about the phone number. I couldn’t resist.) The person called to ask for my urgent assistance with their latest urgent pipe dream. (I should note here this person is notorious for their get-rich-quick schemes.) Now this person wants to write a book on “successful career planning during a recession”. I know what you’re thinking: “Duh, Kim. They asked you to help because you’re a writer.” True. Also, I have a 9-to-5 job…something the pipe-dreamer seems to be allergic to. I’m still trying to figure out how or why they’d feel qualified enough to write or co-write a book about the job market.

Which leads me to the last offender. Before I get to them, let me give you a little backstory. Years ago when I was laid off and looking for work, a dear friend of mine asked me to send her my resume. I presumed she was going to forward it on to colleagues and associates. A few hours later, she emailed me back and told me she revamped my resume. Revamped wasn’t even the word. She rewrote it and redesigned it in such a way that I was rendered speechless. I was humbled and grateful; my eyes welled with tears as I called her to thank her. Not only did she give my resume a total rehaul, she took the time to explain to me what she did and why. For her time and her energy, I thought it only fair to offer her payment for what she did. She refused and said, “You can pay me back by paying it forward. Use what I just showed you to help someone else.” I’ve been rewriting others’ resumes since then.

Fast forward a few years. A former colleague was out of work and reached out to me for job leads. Of course, I took a look at her resume, rewrote it and sent her some job listings, a few of which were affiliated with my job. What she did after that left me speechless. She called not to thank me, but to ask me if I had applied for those jobs for her. She didn’t ask if I had referred her resume to a recruiter; she wanted to know if I logged into the job application system and went through the process of applying for these jobs (plural) for her. Talk about unmitigated gall! What is with wrong with people?

Now my phone’s ringing. Again. And I don’t like what I’m seeing on the Caller ID. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.

Finding Inspiration

As a person who thrives on creative energy, I’m always intrigued by what inspires people to create art. I’ve been inspired to write poems by just a single word. There have been buildings, names and experiences that inspired my writing (including the novel I’m currently working on). There is just something invigorating and phenomenal about the fact that a tiny seed — a thought, an idea, a vision — can spur someone to create art that amazes, entertains and inspires.

Just like 96.99997% of people out there, I am a fan of Beyoncé‘s music. By no means am I one of her crazed stans, but I do enjoy her music…well most of her music. There are some songs of Beyoncé’s that I just don’t like. (Sorry, people.) Some songs of hers seem to come off as manufactured, formulaic, uninspired fluff. Beyoncé and her creative team of collaborators undoubtedly have their fingers on the pulse of whatever’s hot at the moment. Now that’s not a bad thing. But I have a greater appreciation for art that is organic, and not borne out of a trend or some commercial objective. There’s a distinct difference between “art for art’s sake” and art fueled by profit. I know I’m probably going to incite the wrath of a few stans, but Beyoncé’s proven that she’s a master of manufacturing wildly successful commercial radio-friendly hits. New York Magazine’s Amos Barshad seems somewhat disappointed that this time around she wasn’t trying to go the hit-making route. I am glad she didn’t. When I read about the what inspired her to create her latest album, 4, something clicked with me.

In a recent interview in Essence magazine, Beyoncé said she took a year off from music to live her life and be inspired by the world around her. She said that by working with the musicians from Fela!, the Tony-award winning Broadway musical her hubby Jay-Z produced, that she allowed herself to get lost in the music. “What I learned most from Fela,” she said, “was artistic freedom.”

I loved the fact that she stepped away from the commercial music machine to “have life experiences” to inspire her new project.  “Having time to grow as a human being was really inspiring, and gave me a lot to pull from,” she told Essence.

(If I may digress here, I do believe that Beyoncé severing professional ties with her father, the Machiavellian Mathew Knowles, was the best thing she’s ever done for her career. I’d like to think that with her father no longer ruining managing her has contributed to the artistic freedom that was the guiding force on her new project. And now back to our regularly scheduled program…)

Listening to 4, I can feel Beyoncé’s newfound artistic freedom. The fact alone that she wanted her project to have “vibrata, live instrumentation and classic songwriting” (as told to Complex mag) was enough to make impress me. Yeah, I know she doesn’t singlehandedly write her own music, but she contributes to the making of her music, and she served as executive producer for this project. There’s something beautifully raw and honest about 4. To me, it doesn’t come off as a bunch of gimmicky, pre-fabbed hits. It sounds like it’s just music for music’s sake. And I like that.

And speaking of inspiration, Beyoncé’s “Love OnTop”, an infectious up-tempo song with a distinct old school vibe, inspired Heather Traska (@heathertraska on Twitter) to do a mind-blowing a cappella version of the song. Check it out here:

My Multiple Personalities…

I have a confession to make. I am a madwoman.

I have another confession to make. I’m an architect and a carpenter, too.

And even though I don’t have a law degree. I’m also a judge.

It’s all very true.

You see, as a writer, I like to create with reckless abandon. I like to put characters on the page, move them around, give them words to say, thoughts to think. I give them dreams then I might crush them. I create worlds for my characters, sketching out visions in words. Sometimes I go to extremes, creating lavish settings or paltry spaces depending on what I want.

It’s a beautiful thing to write freely. Writing without being tethered to guidelines and restrictions allows for maximum creativity. For me, writing with such abandon is probably the most enjoyable part of the writing process.

According to the Flowers Paradigm created by Betty Sue Flowers, I am in touch with my madman (madwoman, as I prefer to call her). Flowers, who taught English at University of Texas at Austin, says that the madman is full of ideas, writes crazily and perhaps rather sloppily, gets carried away by enthusiasm or anger, and if really let loose, could turn out ten pages an hour.”

But the madman competes with other characters during the writing process, and many times, that conflicting energy brings us to an unpleasant halt. Sometimes my madwoman gets stopped in her tracks, and I get a case of the “red pen-itis” and start striking words. The sketch of my masterpiece isn’t even done and I’m already desecrating it before it’s even done. When that happens, my madwoman gets really pissed. Indignant, even. Before I know it, my architect with her nosy self shows up, trying move things along.

The Flowers Paradigm explains that there are four personalities that show up during the writing process: the madman, the architect, the carpenter and the judge. I’ve already introduced you to the madwoman, the one that writes all the great ideas and crazy stuff. Then there’s the architect that takes the great and crazy ideas and structures it to try to make some sense. The carpenter takes the plans developed by the architect to build the masterpiece. Finally, the judge shows up and gives your writing a careful review, polishing up the grammar and syntax, making sure everything is perfect.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’m very much in touch with my madwoman. We hang out often. If you haven’t connected with your inner madwoman (or madman), now’s the time to embrace her. Take her to lunch. Give her time to go wild on the page. Let her do whatever it is she wants. Don’t question or criticize. When your madwoman is completely out of steam, let her go take a nap, or get a drink. Or ice cream (if she’s not lactose-intolerant). Celebrate her accomplishment. Be sure not to invite the architect, or carpenter or judge yet. They’ll set the madwoman off and kill the mood for sure. Trust me, I speak from experience.

After your madwoman is satiated, invite your architect over for coffee. Show them what your madwoman has done. Then let them get to work. They’ll take everything, create a blueprint for the carpenter to work from. Trust them to get the job done. Now’s not the time to let the madwoman sneak back in and cause a bunch of ruckus. I’ve done that before and all she does is kick the architect out and take over. Before I know it, I’ll have pages and pages of great ideas, but nothing close to a finished product. If you find yourself in that situation, give your madwoman a notebook and a pen and tell her to go sit down somewhere.

Once the architect has finished, thank them for their work, and escort them out the door. Now it’s time for the carpenter to come over and get to work. Your carpenter is fully capable of building a masterpiece with the architect’s blueprint. Trust them. They will build just what you envisioned.

So now, your piece is finished. It’s built. You like it. Time for the judge to review your work thoroughly and carefully. They will give it the polish it needs, and then make a ruling letting you know that you’re done. Case closed.

It’s important to recognize these different personalities and give them space when appropriate, or suppress them when they’re not needed. Understanding these roles, and working with them will improve the writing process. Flowers wrote, “Whatever joy there is in the writing process can come only when the energies are flowing freely — when you’re not stuck.”

Gotta go. My madwoman is calling…

Plate Sharing

When I decided to get off my duff and start my blog, I turned to my dear friend, fellow writer, my Twitter brother, graphic designer and Broadway star Clay Rivers for advice. Clay has his own blog (which is magnificent and a must-read, by the way), so I figured he’d be the ideal person to help me navigate the blogging waters.

Over a series of tweets, DMs (that’s direct messages for you non-Twitter types) and emails, I shared with him a few ideas for my blog. As is typical of most creative geniuses, Clay told me he’d take what I had given him and get back to me with something. I shared with Clay that my experience as a blogger fizzled when the old school AOL Journal went out of style and out of business. (Side note and shameless self-promotion: my two now-dormant blogs The Cicada Files and The Carb Lover’s Notebook are still out there.)

Clay (Dr. Rivers as I like to call him) created a blog that captured my style and my personality. He did all of the grueling work in WordPress to get it set up for me. Then he told me he had an idea for a custom header. Custom header? Shoot, I was happy to just have a blog.

Then one hectic Saturday afternoon, I got a phone call. It was Clay. He had another idea. Considering that I am unashamedly obsessed with breakfast food (hence the “Writer. Teacher. Breakfast Food Maker” tag line), he thought it would be cool to use the header to “set the table” for my blog. He asked me if I was game. Of course I was! It turns out that Clay had a photographer friend in NYC (the fantastically gifted Russ Rowland) who he said could bring this idea to fruition. I trusted that what he would come back with something that would be brilliant.

The end result wasn’t just brilliant. It was delicious. And cute! It was perfect.

Thank you, Clay & Russ!

Bon Appétit!

Photography by Russ Rowland