the lonely writers' club


Six years is a long time. Long enough to land a job, get promoted two or three times, meet friends, lose friends, move houses, move cities, move countries, and either give your personality an overhaul or completely come to terms with who you are and what you can offer the world. But when you’re single, six years feels even longer, time stretching out like your delicate patience, weighed down by your earnest, hopeful waiting. To me, six years of being single meant six years of making mistakes, sending and receiving mixed signals, navigating rejection, giving the benefit of the doubt only to be proven right, overthinking, forgiving and being forgiven, and learning and unlearning and relearning how to be alone. It was also six years of honest, heartbreaking writing flowing freely from my soul. In those six years, I wrote all six of my novels and short story collections under Summit Books, and while coping with a particularly devastating heartbreak in 2011, churned out my favorite project, From This Day Forward, which I still can’t revisit today without shaking my head in disbelief at how all of that had actually come from me. I was lonely, of course, but I figured I had my words, and I had people who were willing to read them, and perhaps that was always going to be enough.

Then in the final weeks of 2012, I fell in love—spontaneously at first, then carefully and deliberately—and everything changed. I thought my newfound romantic happiness would inspire glorious, romantic pieces on soul mates and destiny and puzzle pieces finally fitting together, but most of the time I was left staring at blank screens and empty pages, frustrated, wondering where the girl who used to spend her Saturday evenings cradling a soy latte and writing poetry in bed had disappeared to. (No, actually I knew where she was: out on movie nights and dinner dates, busy soaking up some seriously addictive relationship bliss.)

“I think we should break up so I can start writing again,” I told my boyfriend. I was kidding, obviously, but secretly I thought, what if that was the answer?

Spoiler alert: There is no concrete happy ending to this story yet, at least not as far as my writing is concerned. But there are promising little flags leading toward that happy ending, none of them involving any sort of breakup, and I am picking them up as I go along. This summer my friends and I worked on a short story collaboration, Sola Musica: Love Notes from a Festival (which you can purchase on Amazon and Buqo right now), and while I am not proud of the fact that it took me months to write a 10,000-word story, I did finish it, and I do like how it turned out. During the last few weeks before the deadline, my boyfriend would sit quietly beside me while I typed furiously on my laptop, patiently answering questions and giving me honest feedback on whether or not a paragraph made sense, or if a sentence sounded awkward, or if the characters were being weird, or if a plot twist felt like a copout. When I was finally done, he was the first person I asked to read it, the only person I trusted to be truthful but gentle with me. (P.S. He loved it.)

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned from this is that you won’t derive inspiration from the exact same source all your life. You can’t. If I was deeply inspired by my solitude and longing and sadness when I was single, maybe now it’s time to be inspired by things outside of myself: bigger, happier things. Things that are better when shared. Things that spread out easily like smiles across faces. Things like traveling. Or making new friends. Or building a profound, genuine, comfortable companionship. Or sincerely supporting each other’s dreams. Or collecting memories and experiences and, yes, stories together. Or all the times you look at each other and just know you’re both thinking, “I get you. I really do. We can do this.”

The well of loneliness may have run dry, but in its place there are pools of possibilities, lakes we have yet to dive into, oceans we can allow ourselves to drown in. Most of the time it still feels like the current is against me—there are still a lot of blank screens and empty pages—but on some days, good days, I can float on the assurance that my words are still safely within me, only swimming in a way that’s different and exciting and daunting and new.

wake

When a man dies, his loved ones take turns trying not to fall
asleep. They sit in front of a coffin keeping their eyes wide open
and their hearts firmly shut to any slivers of pain that might
slip in through the cracks—not tonight, please. Not tonight.
They pass around coffee cups and stories; it is a competition
on who knew him best, who collected his secrets
like blood-soaked possessions from the passenger seat
of a crashed car. When a man dies, his loved ones gather
in a funeral home in a quiet part of town, away from
skating rinks and bowling alleys and pizza parlors, and think,
Here is our life. And here is yours. Someone will keep
an eye out for a beautiful woman dressed
in black, sobbing silently in a corner, avoiding conversation
and questions. This happens a lot in movies but maybe
there are plenty of real-life thieves who are brave enough
to show up, too; maybe what was stolen is returned
once it no longer belongs to anyone. Someone will barge in
and throw himself onto the floor, and someone else will offer
a box of tissues, a glass of water, still, a paper fan, calm
in any form. Someone will bring cookies, gingerbread and butter.
Someone will eat all the salted peanuts from the bowl
on the table; someone will finish the last can of Coke.

When a man dies, there are things that have to be said.
“He was a good brother,” for instance, or “He was the best father
a daughter could ask for.” There are things that have to be decided:
who will put all his clothes in a box, who will pick out a tie,
who will cancel his flight to Hawaii in the summer, who will settle
the remaining credit card bill, who will call his employer,
who will write the obituary, who will take care of Mom.
There are things that have to be remembered. “He watched
all my ballet recitals,” for instance, or “He had the heartiest laugh,”
or how about “He told me once to think of his love
as a campfire song, a bag of candy, a stack of new books, a puppy—
whatever makes me happy.” There are things that have to be said
again: “He was the best father a daughter could ask for.”
There are things that have to be forgotten.

When a man dies, his loved ones take turns trying not to fall
asleep. Here is another cup of coffee. Here is a slice of banana loaf.
Here are flowers from the first company he worked for—can you
picture him in his early twenties, all ideals and hope?
Here is money folded into squares. Here is the grieving widow.
Here is a row of children, all too young. Here is a girl
in a pale pink leotard. Here is a smile that will never
be the same again. Here are more flowers. Here is a photo, look:
look how handsome he is. Here is our life. And here is yours. Here is
the night. Stay. Don’t close your eyes just yet.


overnight

     The sun sets and rises on our resentment, and there are sheets
     of ice between us and not enough blanket to cover our limbs,
     spent and sullen. No breakfast today, just coffee—black,
     strong—and silence served on a chipped dish. (We try not
     to mind the mess in the sink, the broken saucers and shards
     of glass hastily swept up before they can cut through soles.)
     It is a contest on who can look away longer, but beyond our
     own faces there is not much to see in this place. I want to
     tell you about the dream I had, the spinning rooms and the
     windows opening up to reveal red leaves and blue-stained
     petals falling from the sky, a strange bouquet shedding parts.
     I want to tell you that your hair is sticking out all funny, that
     there are angry pillow marks on your otherwise smooth cheek.
     I want to tell you that maybe we should take a walk, breathe
     in the flecked clouds and scattered puddles. Sooner or later
     one of us will have to speak, and though I never want to
     be the first, maybe today I will. Fine. I want to tell you
     that I understand things won’t always be clear. Right. That
     sometimes the walls will be delicate and the corners will be
     sharp and the floors will strain under our weight. Good.
     I want to tell you that in the middle of the night it is hard
     to be forgiving, but in the morning it is so much harder
     not to be.

foreign

When I meet you in the middle of a snow-lined pavement my skin
will still be as brown as fertile soil. I will know the names the sun
has christened all its rice field sons and mango tree daughters,
and yet I will struggle with mine, try to find the easiest way for you
to remember it when you can’t even say it right. My name will feel
strange on your tongue, like a fleece coat draped over your arms
in July, or that buzzing at the back of your head when you step out
of a plane after a 16-hour flight. You will ask me to write it down.

When I meet you in the middle of a snow-lined pavement my skin
will still smell like garlic, vinegar, whole black pepper—all the things
I used to hand my lola as she stood in an open stone kitchen cooking
adobo for supper, her long hair in a bun, a swirl of black and gray.
When I meet you in the middle of a snow-lined pavement my skin
will long for sweat dripping down the small of my back or collecting
on the bridge of my nose, as I help my mother sweep and scrub from
top to bottom a house that we would soon leave behind. I will fold
my arms across my chest, protect my fluttering heart from frostbite.

When I meet you in the middle of a snow-lined pavement my skin
will still buzz with a tropical warmth and you will not recognize this
sound, mistake my loneliness for anger or resentment or perhaps
something else that cuts, bleeds, hurts. But my loneliness has no
sharp edges, no jagged rims; it is not a weapon against the cold, hard
streets and the dark, dark nights and the towering silver walls and the
shrill scraping of ambition and the dreams I will chase until I die.

When I meet you in the middle of a snow-lined pavement my skin
will still be as brown as fertile soil. Sometimes when the stars are not
harsh and the days are gentle, I can imagine my body stark against
seas of concrete and sheets of white, and I swear I almost shine.

today the world

Today the world will tell you about the fault in your scars. It will tell you to keep 
them hidden, beneath a shirtsleeve or under the covers on a Friday evening,
when everyone else is dressed to let their skin breathe, let their youth roam
free, like paper planes and fairy wings, delicate things designed to take flight.

Today the world will tell you about the fault in your scars. It will tell you to keep
them hidden, or else it will tell you to brandish them about like swords, and if
you are brave enough to ask what you are fighting for anyway, or fighting against,
the world will tell you that perhaps you are brave enough to figure that out
on your own, too.

Today the world will tell you that your scars are a part of who you are, like your 
legs and fingers and nape and chest, like that mole just below your left cheekbone
or the birthmark tucked underneath your chin. Like your eyes and hair 
and spine and lungs and heart.

Today the world will tell you to take a good, hard look at your scars. Count them,
it will say, the big ones and the little ones and even the ones so faint and faded
nobody else can see them but you. Count them because you need to keep track
of how many there are, and where they've settled on your body. Count them
because tomorrow someone might ask you for your number, and you have to
be ready to say five or twelve or twenty two. You have to know
where each one belongs.

But someday—I don't know when, you'll have to be patient—the world will
tell you, enough with the scars already. Enough with things that have already
healed. Enough with things that no longer bleed. Someday the world will
tell you, hey, let's talk about music. Let's talk about poetry. Let's talk
about art. Let's talk about the things pain does other than leave scars, greater
things, hopeful things. Someday the world will hand you a fresh serving of
sadness or betrayal or disappointment or hunger or grief, along with a pen
and paper, a guitar, a paintbrush, a camera, a drum set, a microphone stand, 
and you'll know these aren't weapons; these are tools, these are companions,
these are your new friends.

And the world—this magnificent, magical, 
terrifying, looming, spectacular span
of earth and water and sky—
will look you straight in the eye and say:
"This is your hurt.
Learn to use it well."

All text original work by Marla Miniano. Powered by Blogger.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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I write books and edit a teen magazine for a living. I also: take photos, attempt poetry, make travel plans, snore, do the dishes, daydream on the treadmill, and dress like a loose grandma. For feedback, questions, and invitations, email me at marlaminiano@gmail.com.

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