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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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Portrait of the Writer as a Li’l Whippersnapper

j3black in 1974, age 5.

j3black in kindergarten (1974, age 5)

This kid was a real pip. I liked being him/her/me.

The picture was taken when I was in kindergarten. Life was already starting to wear me down, but I still had some fire. By third grade, I’d be lost for a while as I did a slowburn implosion for about ten years, until I came out, which sparked a slow-motion explosion that is still affecting the universe.

But then, at five, in my dissheveled red/pink (what color *is* that?) leisure suit, I was thrilled to be sitting there to have my picture taken. You can see my excitement to have woken up that day. Anything was possible.

I love looking at my eyes in this photo. I was already experiencing anxiety at that age. Before that photo was taken, on my first day of school ever, I weeped when Mom dropped me off. I didn’t want to go to school. Others felt the same way, including my friend Jan, who cried harder than I did. I remember feeling that my pain couldn’t compare to hers, so I let mine go. The first few weeks of kindergarten were pretty good.

But after this photo was taken, at the Halloween party, I completely lost my shit when The Wicked Witch of the West showed up. The other students taunted her, which riled her up, and I ran screaming to a corner of the room. She came to me, and I screamed harder until I realized she was a room mother hiding behind green makeup and a black, pointy hat. Continue reading

Are You Making This Up Just to Make Me Feel Better?

My week at Wellspring House is over.

The retreat was an opportunity to be a character as well as to write about characters. It was like being in a little play. My role was that of a writer getting away from my hectic schedule so I could work on The Next Big Thing, and every word I laid down had the potential to fascinate.

I usually don’t deal well with being in the middle of nowhere, and at the retreat wondered if I was perhaps visiting the capital of Nowhere, or one of its major cities. But it was an ideal setting to play my character, and over my time there the vitality of the setting became more obvious to me. There was little to distract me, which was in itself a little distracting at times, but that created the kind of slow-burning tension that makes improvisational theatre in isolated settings with no audience such an underappreciated style.

I flailed about, doing my best to crank out as many words as possible toward The Next Big Thing. Somehow I got pulled in by the desire to blog. It was an important, not entirely distracting move, allowing me to reflect on writing product and process. But I quickly became a little too obsessed with blog stats. On Thursday morning, I fretted about not having many views.

“Thursday mornings are usually slow,” said Jane, my co-star, who is a veteran blogger.

“But my stats went down yesterday, too.”

“Wednesdays tend to be slow, too.”

“Are you making this up just to make me feel better?” I asked, accusingly.

“No,” Jane said, calmly, so it was hard to tell if she was telling the truth. She’ll probably get a Tony nomination.

In a different scene, we started talking about injury while walking through the capital of Nowhere. Perhaps the symbolism was a bit heavy-handed, but it seemed important to talk about suffering for our art.

“I like to look at bruises,” Jane said. “But I don’t like looking at eczema.” It wasn’t offered for a laugh, the way some wacky supporting character might have tossed it out while scratching her head and shrugging. Rather, it was the kind of observation she offers a lot, offstage and onstage. After my initial response–a chuckle while thinking, “That’s so strange”–I realized how much the line fit her character, who juggles her practical nature and the ability to puzzle over details, finding the obvious in what’s strange and the strange in what’s obvious.

When it was time to leave the retreat, we packed up our cars and drove toward the interstate. It was Jane’s suggestion; she said it would help us make the transition out of retreat mode. We ate lunch, shopped for used CDs, and bought coffee for our trips home. All the while, we reflected on what we did and what we learned. We couldn’t come up with any big lesson or revelation. We didn’t learn much we didn’t know before, but it helped to have some time to focus. And it’s not as if we won’t keep talking about our writing, although it’s more fun to be in the same place at the same time.

It started to rain, so there was no time for a long goodbye. After a quick hug, we jumped in our cars and drove separately south on the interstate, talking by phone until we got to the place where she had to go her way and I had to go mine. At that point, our little play became a big movie, ending with one of those aerial shots that remind you how big the world can be.

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