All posts by ashleymcarmichael

Believe

Image

Believe

I am a realist.

Throughout my life I have struggled to grasp the concept of belief without proof. I need facts, I need evidence, I need witnesses, I need explanation. My brain thinks logically, linearly and rationally. Now before you start thinking I’m a robot, let me assure you I have my fair share of emotional entanglements, but when it comes to the concept of believing I struggle painfully to the point that I have daily apologies to God about my disbelief as I am constantly asking Him for explanation to that which I don’t understand because it frustrates me to no end.

For day two, Goins suggests that a writer should master the art of believing in herself as a writer (http://goinswriter.com/believe/).

I scoff.

Didn’t I just declare myself to be a writer? Now I need proof! I don’t need an esoteric exercise exploring my inner self. Now is the time to collect evidence to support my declaration.

Irritated, I ruminate on this suggested day two. I do believe I’m a writer, don’t I? I declared it.  But is declaring something and believing it the same thing?

What does it mean to believe that I am a writer?

I start to dig deeper into what belief is and I recall an NPR series entitled “This I believe…”. Over 200 segments made up of this series, and I use it in my classroom. I love listening to the creeds of various people from across the world, some famous like Amy Tan or Tony Hawk, and sometimes they are high school students just like the kids I have in class every day. Each and every one of these essays are filled with belief, deep rooted truths that people hold dear to their hearts for various reasons that show what unite us as humans.

So maybe there is something to this idea of understanding what you believe about yourself. If I believe I am a writer, what does that mean for me? The easiest way to answer that question is with a creed similar to NPR.

I believe that as a writer I am capable of producing works that people will want to read.

I believe that the more I write the more comfortable I will become as a writer.

I believe that to be a writer you have to commit to the craft and surround yourself with support even if inside you have screaming doubts.

I believe that to silence the screaming doubts you have to keep pushing forward and continue writing and that is the only way to truly accept your belief.

I believe that saying you are a writer is only part of the battle; to truly believe it you have to act on it.

Writing is like any other profession; you have to actively pursue your goals to believe that you can be anything at all. Tomorrow’s challenge is to get up 2 hours earlier to write. That means I will be getting up at 4 am to write before going to work. Better set the coffee on now, because I believe that determination is key to helping you believe that anything is possible. 

Declare

Image

As a part of a 15 day challenge I found on this website http://goinswriter.com/great-writers/. I am officially starting day 1.

DECLARE

Let me start by reflecting on the importance of declarations. To declare something means that you make it public, but you do so in a strong, impervious, confident way. In 1776 a group of men, rebels, got together on a spit of land that was savage and wild and they decided to hell with the rules and regulations they’d been following according to the government they’d known their entire lives. They were tired of maltreatment (ironically since they weren’t exactly treating everyone equally, but that’s another blog post in itself) so the DECLARED their independence. This was a ballsy move. It was treason. Had they lost the war, this declaration with their names so clearly written and penned on this official document, publicized for the world and specifically for their King to see, would have gotten them killed in a horrific many (drawn and quartered…entrails cut out… the whole nine yards!). My point? Declarations are a serious business.

So, when I read that the first step to “15 Habits of Effective Writers” according to this website is “Declare” I do feel some sort of connection between my own experience and this advice.

I’ve been writing my entire life and throughout this time I’ve been praised for my talent and for my creativity. I enjoyed writing and took every chance that was thrown my way to practice the craft. I wrote short stories when I was little. I wrote two hundred pages of a novel when I was in middle school before my floppy disk (yes, a floppy disk) was destroyed by kool-aid and the hard drive burned out in our old computer in the same week–destroyed, but not forgotten. But it was always something I did, it was never who I was.

Oddly, that wasn’t the case with my career. If someone asked me what I do, my immediate response is: I am a teacher. I don’t say “I teach” I say “I am a teacher”. Because I am. I spent a lot of time becoming a teacher and it is a part of who I am inside and out. It is second nature to claim the title. It’s not what I do, it is who I am.

With a little prodding from friends and family this past year I came to realize that writing is no different. It is a part of me, and published or not, I AM A WRITER. I made this declaration several months ago, but I make it again now as a part of this challenge and as a challenge to anyone out there who may be searching for something to declare. Find out who you are. Don’t just do it, but be it and declare it. Own it, because you will start living your life in a completely different way the more you come to understand who you are, not just what you do. 

On the Road Again

Image
Image credit to Google Maps

One of the best parts about my job: the unique opportunities  to do something new and exciting each summer. And God bless the summer for it too, because the good Lord knows I need new stimulation or I might just go crazy doing the same thing year after year. A common misconception held by many people is that teachers get paid vacation during the summer. That is untrue. I am a 10 month employee and as such, I spend two months of my year unemployed. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds either. I spend a lot of energy each year trying to make sure that my summer is not wasted, and as a result I do end up better off for that energy well spent.

A couple of days ago, my time and preparation finally paid off. I moved out of the alternate position for an NEH summer institute and became a recipient. In the course of two days, I was congratulated and presented with a number of documents to sign to accept the award. I did so immediately, because it meant I would spend 4 weeks in Santa Cruz, California studying Charles Dickens and adaptations of his works with 15 other educators from across the country at USC. I booked a flight and started to dream.

And with those dreams came infinite possibilities. That’s what I love about traveling. While it is unpredictable in a lot of stressful ways, it’s unpredictable in a lot of beautiful ways too. And ultimately this new experience will give me, you guessed it, something else to write about.

I have never been to California, but when I participated in an NEH summer program a few years ago in Colorado I fell in love with the West, so pushing further into the western part of the US is not at all distasteful. In fact, it makes my heart race with anticipation. Not only will I see things I have never seen, I will learn so many new and wonderful things and meet fascinating people who, hopefully, will be friends for life (Marjie and Jan—we still need a reunion tour; Alisha and Noelle—let’s do it, okay?).

The last two summers I spent working at a pool. I managed it, worked with teenagers and learned things about myself I didn’t know; this summer I’ll expect just as much, but in a uniquely different way. And that unique opportunity to discover more about myself and others is what is so great about being unemployed for two months

And I will write about it all.

The Writer I Want to Be

20140518-185547-68147152.jpg

At my last critique group we all decided we were going to write 10 minute plays.

Immediately, I felt a challenged, but not inspired. I’m long winded. I need space to explore my emotions and thoughts and feelings, to establish my tone and to set up my characters, plot and mood. I’m not a playwright. How on earth am I going to not only condense my thoughts, but transfer them to a play format?

And I begin to wonder, are writers limited in their craft or can a true writer mold herself and adapt to new challenges such as this.

Michael Jordan was a phenomenal basketball player. One of the best in history. Few will every live up to this legend. But he made a name for himself in baseball. Was he as good in baseball as he was in basketball? Never, but he didn’t embarrass himself either. He put his mind to it, put himself in a position to be successful and didn’t look back. Sure, he went back to his first love, and his stronger sport, which I think supports my point.

Writing different genres is a lot like playing different sports. There are poets, novelists, playwrights, short story writers, essayists, flash fiction experts, children’s book writers, young adult writers, and the list goes on (just as in sports: basketball, baseball, football…). You need a basic skill set, conditioning, and practice, but just because you are a superstar at one genre, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will be in another genre. However, it also doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. Ultimately, they’re interrelated at a fundamental level and by practicing another set of skills for a little while you are not necessarily hurting your previous skill set. In fact, you might just find that by focusing on another area for a little while, you’ll make a comeback in the first with sharper skills having benefited from the rest and revitalization your time on another field brought.

Keeping all that in mind, I am looking for ideas about how to start, plan and execute a 10 minute play. It may or may not be successful, but I decided that ‘s not the point. The point is that I keep writing. The more you write, the more you become the writer you want to be.

 

People vs. Characters

In teaching Of Mice and Men this week, I came to the startling realization that I have a crush on Slim. Yes, Slim. Why Slim, you ask? Well, it’s quite simple, really. I love a real man. As far as fictional characters go, Slim as about as manly as it gets, and though he is idealized in a lot of ways, he is also very real.

Slim isn’t the only character I’ve gotten attached to over the years. There have been many. Fitzwilliam Darcy (what woman hasn’t fallen in love with this terrifically flawed ideal?),  Theodore ‘Laurie’ (Teddy) Laurence (I was devastated when Jo said no; though it was really the only answer she could give—I still felt it deep), Tom Shaw, among a myriad of others. And what is about these characters that attract my admiration?

Loyalty. In a world where people flit from idea to idea, object to object, relationship to relationship—loyalty has become old fashioned. Call me an Old Fashioned girl, but I find loyalty to be a honorable quality that few people can truly define, but most men in my “literary crush” repertoire possess. We need more people in the world who feel a deep sense of loyalty not only in relationships but to other aspect of life as well. Because, after all, if you can’t be loyal to something or someone, what purpose do you live for?

As an avid reader, I’m often invested in characters on levels which are borderline unhealthy. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grounded in reality, which is probably why I’m still single. I realize that no matter how much I want them to, the men I date don’t stand a chance when compared to my ideal built up in years of reading and building a personal character study. And maybe that’s unfair, but it’s out there and like it or not, it’s a real part of who I am.

So what do I do with this realization? Do I stop reading? No, I don’t think so. I think it’s actually becoming more of a challenge for me. Instead of focusing on how people (myself included) do or do not meet my qualifications for the ideal, I wonder if I can’t start treating them as characters in my own story.  If I start viewing people as terrific, albeit flawed characters, maybe I can begin to judge less and accept more. That is, after all, what I should be doing all along.

Art mimics life; life mimics art—it’s all entwined.

So here are my questions for you:

Can we see people as characters, or will they always just be people? Is there even a real difference?

Who are the people of your literary dreams that cause you to ponder, wonder, and question the world?

20140509-202616.jpg
SE CCA building in Winston Salem