Category Archives: Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff

Writing in the Time of Weirdness: How to Focus in Chaos

Bad Omen Bird

Creating art—any kind of art—demands two things: time, and focus. Right now, time, for many of us, is no longer a factor. We’re working from home or in half-empty offices where no one is calling, there aren’t any social obligations (except virtually), activities and trips are cancelled, and we’re not spending hours in the car commuting or running errands. If not all the time in the world to write, we at least have more than we did before. But what I’m hearing from many of my writing friends is this: “I’m like that guy in the Twilight Zone episode who finally had all that time to read … and his glasses broke.”

Why?

Because right now, there is no routine, no stability, no telling what the hell is going to happen tomorrow, and no hope of it ending any time soon. Anxiety, even in those who aren’t chronic sufferers, is taking over. For artists of any kind who need to have stability in the rest of their lives to create, it’s debilitating.

But there are some things writers can do to get themselves back on track.

I grew up in a completely destabilized household. Between the ages of 8 and 18, I lived my daily life at the level of anxiety, dread of the scary unknown, intense worry, and constant distraction that most “normal” people are feeling now. While my mother was dying of cancer—and then following her passing—I would come home from school every day, stand at the bottom of the porch steps, and think, What fresh hell is going to be beyond that door today? Death, contagious illness, cancelled activities because of whatever was going on, lack of food, a giant mess the kids made, the news that we had to go to Yale New Haven and sit in waiting rooms for a week, we were leaving our church and going to a different one, your brother burned down the woods again and is in jail—there was no routine. Not ever. That was my daily life. I’d wake up and have absolutely no idea what was going to happen to me or those I loved. Quite frankly, the only thing I could count on was the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head.

As C-19 began to spin out of control, I was, at first, in the same boat as everyone else—unfocused and crippled by the terrifying uncertainty. Then, one afternoon, I suddenly recognized what I was feeling—and it was familiar. I realized that I was uniquely qualified to keep focused and working when others couldn’t. I said, “Holy s***. I’ve been here before! I got this!” After all, despite all of that, I graduated from high school with fantastic grades, participated successfully in several after-school activities, kept up my personal hygiene and always looked put together, and managed to not only write, but complete many creative projects.

How did I do it?

I learned how to shut everything down.

If you’re a writer, I hope these tips on how to get back to work will help you. We are the chroniclers of these extraordinary happenings, the people who will tell the tales of what this was like to live through it, the people who will tell the first-person stories of the nurses, doctors, truck drivers, and others on the front lines while the rest of us were quarantined, the people who will share the stories of tragic loss and heartbreak. Our fiction, drama, poetry, and creative nonfiction will, one day, provide a snapshot of this historic event on a personal, emotional level. Honestly? Some really f***** good work is going to come out of this, whether it is actually about this situation or not.

TIPS

1 Find, or make—yes, even if your home life is now disrupted by children—the time to go into your writing office each day (if possible) and shut the door. Light a candle, put on your music, whatever it is that you normally do, as though the world isn’t losing its mind. Think of the closed door as that barrier between you and chaos. Whatever is going on beyond it? Not your problem until you emerge. You see, hear, smell, and are distracted by nothing while you are behind your door. If your “office” is in a shared space in your home, then make a temporary place in a closet, laundry room, or wherever. But it should have a door that closes. That part is very important. Also, tell the people in your household you cannot be disturbed for the hour. There is nothing that could happen in an hour—short of burning the house down or someone getting sick or bleeding to death—that they can’t handle. It can wait.

2 Set a designated time to watch the news or get C-19 updates, but don’t be checking all day long. I was writing in the early 1980s, and we didn’t have the Internet, but man, did we have TVs in every room and Atari video game systems, and believe me, it was just as tempting. This is an upsetting thing to watch unfold. Just step away from it—twice a day for ten minutes is enough to get the important things you need to know. It’s not necessary for it to be in your face every waking minute.

3 When you talk with your friends on the phone or through video conferencing, don’t dwell on what’s happening in the world. Talk, instead, about anything but: what you’re writing, what you just bought online, how your family is doing—whatever—just NOT the C-word. It’s important to feel as though life is going to carry on as normal, even if, deep down, you know it won’t. Dwelling on it makes it worse. When my mother was sick and I was living in that hell, only a handful of my closest friends knew what was happening at home, and none of us talked about it. When I was with them, when I was at school, I wanted things to feel normal. It kept me functioning and hoping for a brighter future.

4 Indulge in fantasy—check out when you can. That’s right. Sit around and day dream, think about being someplace else, and if you get the urge, write stories in which you’re the main character doing all of those things you wish you could do or being a different version of yourself. Your imagination is a powerful tool. Use it to go live the life you’ve always wanted (when I was 15 I was spending a lot of time with Indiana Jones).

5 When you’re tortured, get it out on paper. You’d be surprised how awesome spewing a bunch of emotional garbage onto a piece of paper or on a blank document makes you feel, and you might even get a story out of it.

6 Step back and realize that this, hopefully, will never happen again in our lifetimes, and watch the drama unfold as though it were not happening to you. This requires an almost disassociation with that of your physical body, but it can be done.

7 Frame the future and know that you’ll feel good again someday. Look at this time as a gift, and know that everything you do now is going to prepare you for something exciting later. Trust that the work you are doing now is important, and make it as much of a priority as you can, even as the world is heaping new demands on you and saying it isn’t. Never give up on your work or your vision of success, and believe that it will happen. All things come to an end—bad things, too.

Merry Christmas! Here’s some Christmas Tree madness to brighten your day!

My husband Nathan picked me up a couple of pairs of these glasses that turn your tree lights into funky things. Well, I promptly needed to “collect them all”—or most of them, anyway! I’ll be giving these out at my New Year’s Eve party, but I wanted to share how much fun these are with all of you.

Have a blessed Christmas and an amazing 2020!

Love,

Kristi, Nathan, Charles, and Poe and Mikey

Read the rest of this entry

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Rockettes kick lively 2012 Parade

The Radio City Music Hall Rockettes kick lively during their Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 2012 performance. These were my favorite outfits from the last decade.

For lots of people the highlight of Thanksgiving is the turkey … mine is watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (usually while I’m on the phone with my sister, who’s watching it, too) … and, specifically, the Rockettes.

My parents, who were in theater, always used to say “if the show’s going terribly, just get everybody up there for a chorus line kick and that’ll fix it.” While I’m sure that was an exaggeration, I know that every time I see those Rockettes do their famous kick, the happy tears start flowing. It’s the most exciting moment of the day. And what girl doesn’t want to wear those adorable costumes and shoes? (Take a look at some of their favorite outfits from parades past here: https://www.rockettes.com/blog/five-iconic-christmas-spectacular-costumes-we-wore-for-the-thanksgiving-day-parade/)

From our house to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

Krissi, Nathan, Charles, and the cats (Poe and Mikey)

The things that haunt you: HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

When I was eight, my mom made me a Cinderella dress. I wore it every day, and I cried when I grew out of it.

I have been waiting, like a princess for her Charming, for another version of that dress for 40 years, and today, my husband, Nathan, made it happen.

Cinderella 2019

I feel like that innocent little girl all over again. So, here’s to getting the opportunity to relive your childhood–and put those ghosts to rest.

Happy Halloween!

22 - Cinderella dashes down stairs

This is one of my favorite images from the Cinderella album, mostly because I love the way her skirt is drawn.

Wait long enough and it’ll show up: Sister Janet Mead’s “The Lord’s Prayer”

45 Album of Sister Janet Mead's "The Lord's Prayer."

This is what my 45 album looked like.

I’ve written about finding lost things from my childhood before, among them, the short stories “Obstinate Uncle Otis” and “The Light of Other Days.”

Also on my list of “long lost things to find” has been a song I played on a 45 album repeatedly when I was between the ages of three and five. I recalled it as a sort of “disco” version of The Lord’s Prayer, and I assumed it was probably called “The Lord’s Prayer.”

 

Even though the last time I’d heard this song was probably Read the rest of this entry

Special extended TWL episode: Howe was the book signing?

 

I had a blast last week up at Howe Caverns for a signing of my new collection, The Shadows Behind. Rather than put up a bunch of pictures, I decided to do a special extended episode of my This Writing Life series. Enjoy!

 

Sinister Settings: THE HANA HIGHWAY

Palm Tree Clip Art

Even palm trees can be creepy.

It’s often been said that anything that is stunningly beautiful is also incredibly dangerous, and that’s probably no more true anywhere in the world than it is on Maui’s Hana Highway.

Built in the 1920s, the nearly 65-mile road takes almost a full day to travel from end to end. Along the way Read the rest of this entry

Apparently…

…I didn’t like being interrupted while I was writing back then, either. This was taken in the early 1970s. I wrote my first “short story” when I was about five (which I might still have someplace–it was about a tree who killed itself and consisted of a couple of drawings and three sentences), so this photo makes sense for that time frame.

1973KristiWritingHeyWhat'stheBigIdea

 

Wandering through the past with Weird Al

Weird Al cassettes

My original Weird Al cassettes. Missing from this photo is WEIRD AL YANKOVIC IN 3-D. I’m pretty sure it’s down there in those bins, but I couldn’t find it. Now that I think about it, I also have ALAPALOOZA. I didn’t see that one down there either.

It’s been said that smell is the strongest of the human senses in terms of its connection to memory; that a smell can bring back a person, place, or emotion more effectively than any of the other senses.

But I’d argue that music is right up there with smell in terms of evoking certain memories. How many times have you heard a song and thought, “oh man, every time I hear this I think of [insert memory here]”?

While my mother was a musical person (this is really an understatement since music was her career), she was also very careful about what kinds of music she’d let her kids listen to. We were pretty much relegated to show tunes, orchestral and choir pieces, film scores, and the Maranatha! brand of Christian music that was on the rise in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Anything outside of that—and especially secular rock music—was pretty much a “no-no.”

This doesn’t mean, though, that we kids didn’t find clever ways to get everything from Madonna to Def Leppard into the house. We used to put the stuff on cassettes and give it some moral-sounding label, like “Children’s Hymns.” No one had any idea.

Until one of our babysitters gave us the cassette Weird Al Yankovic in 3-D and someone didn’t hide it well.

Weird Al cassettes

My original Weird Al cassettes. Missing from this photo is WEIRD AL YANKOVIC IN 3-D. I’m pretty sure it’s down there in those bins, but I couldn’t find it.

Somehow—perhaps it was because I was the oldest—I was the one that was responsible for smoothing the waters. I explained to her that this was funny; that it was completely innocent because it made fun of modern songs. She not only bought it, she was open to listening to it.

To my surprise, she enjoyed the album. What shocked me most was that her favorite song was “Nature Trail to Hell”; the tune not only had the word ‘hell’ in it, it was pretty graphic in skewering the gory slasher movie phenomenon that was all the rage in the mid-1980s.

There was some kind of irony Read the rest of this entry

What I learned as an obit writer

Mass cards

My first job out of college was as an obituary writer for the Putnam Reporter Dispatch in Carmel, NY.

Obituary writer! You’re thinking, “like someone who writes those long things in The New York Times!” Well, you’re right, but not really. I was more of a compiler than anything else. Nowadays, it’s more common that the families write up a tribute, give it to the funeral home, and then get charged to run it in the newspaper.

Back in the early 1990s, nearly all obituaries were put together Read the rest of this entry

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