Write What You Don’t Know.

Teachers and professors tell young writers, “Write what you know.” And there’s a certain truth to that idea. If I try to write about a cricket match, but I don’t know anything about the game, have never played it, have never watched it, don’t know the rules, and am not sure I can name 5 countries where the sport is played, I’m not going to write an excellent scene that includes the sport.

In the same way, being a high school teacher and having a teenager myself, I recognize when “young adult” authors clearly don’t know much about teenagers and are too far removed from the personal experience to do the subject justice. Their “teenagers” – for example – never swear or only think & act in culturally competent ways.

So writing what you know is a good piece of advice. Or maybe it’s not…

Recently, an editor told me that I couldn’t have a Latino narrator in one of my stories because I wasn’t “Mexican enough.” That’s a strange thing to say in any context, but especially odd since my grandmother is Mexican and I do speak and read Spanish. But apparently – in that editor’s eyes – this piece of fiction was an example of me trying to write what I didn’t know.

I recognize that politically correct mores have permeated everything in our culture – and I’m sure that this particular editor is simply a politically correct conservative – but her command (her imperative?) made me think of the idea on a larger scale.

Should Margaret Atwood not have written the science fiction novel within The Blind Assassin?

Should Cormac McCarthy not have written John Grady’s Mexican prison scenes simply because McCarthy had never been incarcerated?

Should Toni Morrison not have any Caucasian characters or narrators in any of her novels or stories?

Again, I could go on and on.

And where would this idea stop? What would be its limit? Why would we allow for this type of censorship of creative possibilities?

So – to keep this piece short – I’d say that instead of the old “write what you know” adage, I’d say it’s fine (and good) to write what you don’t know as long as you’re willing to learn about it.

With encyclopedias, empathy, books, neighbors, friends, coffee shops, Youtube, relatives, films, traveling, and curiosity as basic starting points, what can we not learn? What can we not write about?

A Found Poem From The Book “The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People”

The seven habits.jpg

I pulled four-word phrases from Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, and found this amazing poem hidden inside the self-help guide:

Maneuvers in heavy weather

the next new pleasure has to be bigger,

better, deep,

lasting satisfaction or cries for

more, and more.

Last too long? Too…most significant and seductive

up and down in it,

like Satan,

what Pascal called licking,

going to and fro,

more exciting, with a bigger…

quietly, slowly, imperceptibly expanding

circle of influence

with a ground-swell of magnificent

emotional strength.

How he worked on the inner circle.

“Love her,” I replied. “Love is a verb.”

Love – the feeling – is a fruit of love.

So love her. Serve her a greater

longer-lasting experience.

You just can’t imagine the ability

to subordinate.

Live like animals, out, this map

doesn’t describe the territory.

Rats, monkeys, pigeons, dogs,

to use a computer metaphor

the egg is pure gold, tremendous

gravity, pull, the lunar voyage

of Apollo 11, superlatives such as “fantastic”

and “incredible”

I know they can be broken.

It’s sometimes a painful process.

Teenagers In Real Life (irl) – A Very Short Story

This actually happened:

Two seniors walked into the school courtyard yesterday. They were both holding their phones out in front of them.

Senior 1 said, “Who’s your best friend?”

Senior 2 said, “I’m not sure. Lemme check…” Then he looked at his phone. “Oh, it’s you!”

“Wait, what?” Senior 1 tilted his head his head to the side. “That’s not right.”

“No, it is. Look, you’re my best friend. It says so right here.” He tilted his phone’s screen so his friend could see it.

“Nope,” Senior 1 said. “See this?” Now he held his phone up to his friend’s face. “You’re not my best friend. It says so right here.”

The Internet Ruins Lives

love-of-the-internet

I’m trying out this new idea, an hour at a time:

Zero internet.

For an hour.

No checking email, no Twitter, no Facebook. No CBS Sports, no New York Times, no CNN. No following a rabbit trail from Eugene’s 10-Day Forecast on the Weather Channel’s site to Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live fiasco to Youtube’s “The Netherlands Welcomes Trump In His Own Words” (which, trust me, is worth 4 minutes and 4 seconds of your life).

But it’s SO difficult. Especially while writing on a laptop. I go to research something related to my writing, say, Hiroshima 1945, and suddenly I’m reading about how to make sushi with Willamette Valley trout, then off to a fly-fishing trout video filmed in western Montana, then how to pack raft down the Escalante River in Utah.

Wait, what was I talking about?

Right, the internet.

Yes, I recognize the irony of writing about no internet while posting on a blog…on the internet.

Meta.

But this is real. The addiction. The distraction that is the little guiding Safari compass or gorgeous little orange Firefox wrapped around a globe of pure, pure blue. I want to click them. I want to click them so badly.

Yet, I’ve found a way not to be on the internet, using a mantra. Each morning – when I get up to write, to write a real book, a manuscript, not a post or status update, but a real book – I say this to myself:

“The internet is broken. The internet is very, very broken right now.”

But sometimes I don’t believe myself, so I have to be emphatic:

“The internet is broken WORLD WIDE RIGHT NOW!!! So there’s no possible way it’ll work for the next hour. You can’t search or click anything. You can’t check your notifications.”

The only thing is, sometimes my finger acts of its own volition, just drags that little arrow down, down, down – to the toolbar at the bottom of the screen – and sometimes I even click that internet icon without meaning to and a page pops up, and…

I yell: HIT “COMMAND Q” BEFORE GOOGLE LOADS!

Damn. What is this internet thing, anyway? This vapid little pill?

I used to have a wrestling teammate in college who’d tried crystal meth once – only once, back when he was seventeen years old – and he talked about it for the rest of his life. He said, “There’s nothing like it. Nothing at all. And all I want to do is do it, do it all the time, every single night. I think about it all the time.”

I nod and smile. Say, “Yes, I know what you’re talking about. I too have this little addiction.”

Huff Po – The Soundtrack To My Novel

Music inspires so much written art, and it’s fun to think of the music that my characters might listen to. With that in mind, the Huffington Post just published my soundtrack written in the characters’ own words (Natalie, Travis, and Creature from This Is The Part Where You Laugh). Read here, and click the links to listen to each song:

A GIFT FROM THE CHARACTERS – THE 11-SONG SOUNDTRACK

Paddling North Five Days On The River – Day One

Mary_S_Young_Park_3633_Swart_ODFW

Plate-glass morning water with fish shatters. A hummingbird drops over the tent and hangs in the space created by the rain.

I read a Carol Shields novel and the daylight sneaks through the leaves of the cottonwood, white and green.

It rained steady all evening, and starting a fire was like baking without sugar or flour. But now the sky is striped by blue between clouds, and I think, “How many people in history have tried to write about clouds?”

Nubes como las olas…

Nubes sin mala intención…

Drifting thoughts of clouds…

Or some other cliché…

Better ideas waiting that I’ve never had…

It would be easy to steal. To Thomas Edison. To feed an image of greatness. “Look at me, a worker, a brilliant mind.”

But I am not brilliant. My mind is not a rare jewel. I only observe what is around me. Seeing the green grasshoppers collecting on my legs at the river’s edge. The blue heron shushing across to the other side. The osprey sitting sentinel on the fence-post above the cutbank. Flipping my spinner under the branch in four feet of water and the rainbow trout hitting the Rooster Tail in the first rotation of the reel.

We use two rocks as a plate and eat the fish with our fingers. Skin salted with Johnny’s, MSG, meat blackened over a stick-fire. Hot Tang and Folgers from boiled river water.

These are no proverbs.

These are no parables.

This is only the first day. How it is. How it was.

Poetry Illuminated – Whitman & Neruda

Reading the poetry of Walt Whitman, Song Of Myself Illuminated, by Allen Crawford (Tin House Books):

neruda-and-whitman

Neruda’s Love Sonnet #17 on my arm. Feeling poetic today. Inspired.

Whitman: “Electrical, I and this mystery here we stand.”

Neruda: “te amo como se aman ciertas cosas oscuras…”