Category: Blog

International Women’s Day

In small ways, at small times, when I was small and insignificant, women who were large, so large they obscured my vision, annihilated the darker parts of me and taught me something new.

From the first woman whose brown eyes were the largest portals to truest love that I could conceive of, gracious receiver of Crayon pictures and macaroni glued to paper, humble cook, hard-working co-bread-winner, independent woman, I learned that I must not throw my pearls at swine and that loneliness is not forever. I learned that compassion is dangerous, but I am good for it. I learned that I can do anything, but that I must try. I learned that I need no one, but my Creator, to conquer the world and to do right. It is you who teach me that I am worthy, and that is the most important lesson of all, for a small girl with sensitive ears, in a loud world with no discretion.

English teachers, my English teachers, receivers of early-dated manuscripts whose stories were wrought by inexperienced hands. You cherished and read them, you smiled, and encouraged. It is you, the Kosechatas, the Swanns, the Eddlemans with your mighty endurance, your kindly tongues, and your incredible brains that brought to budding, no–flaming vividness my passion for writing, for intelligence, for womanhood.

Friends, friends of many ages, abandoned, moved and displaced, torn by hurt, but never forgotten. You have shaped me, and you I thank for gouging out the bigotry in ever small, but earth-shattering waves.

It is the Elizabeths who breathe only patience, kindness, and acceptance for the unloved and unexalted, willing to be hidden so others can be lit up.

It is the Hollands who feed their brains with books and poetry, with politics and social justice, small remarks of Democratic ideals, long tirades of dissatisfaction with the way things are; it is you who teach me not to be satisfied, to speak up, to not give up, to remain vigilant, so all may receive compassion.

It is the Samanthas who cook, who pay, who listen, and show up. It is loyalty without many words, but by actions that scream and resonate in my eardrums. It is you, who teach me that I need not say anything, if I am there, if I am breathing, if I am willing to be human to someone in need, then I have done great things.

It is the Lexis whose attentive listening, surging, beating heart, ripe with desire to love and be loved, ripe with sensitivity to the hurts of others, ripe with forgiveness for those who have never asked for it. It is you who teach me to humble myself, to remember God’s grace in the face of inexplicable betrayal.

It is the Stepmothers: carepackages, assumed role, second mother. It is expenses given in times of need, clean room, stocked refrigerator, exclamatory texts at the most timely opportunities. It is you who teach me that family is chosen. It is you who teach me that love cannot be bought, cannot be tossed aside, cannot be beaten into submission. It is you who teach me steadfast and resilient love in difficult situations, never giving up hope, always offering that foundational love, even when my heart aches.

It is aunts. Many aunts whose indelible marks print continuously on my being. It is an aunt who is also a friend. Sailor Moon posters, four-poster bed with cats the size of me, giggle-writing sessions at the computer, sketch book full of wonders. It is a horse play set, and a generous heart, a laugh that is boisterous and beautiful. It is you, your talent, your patience, and your persistence through abuse, hurt, abandonment, and trial that inspire me to be more. You inspire me to hold on, to push through, to keep trying at myself, at my writing, my art, my human essence. You, a figure, a fascination for the one who I shall also list:

cousin, best friend, oldest accomplice–It is you, strange and creative mastermind who teach me to laugh and never stop laughing.

You, hard-earned laugher, reader, writer, lover of people in need, are my oldest friend, and most forgiving of all wrongs. You, my confidante, butt-kicker, and inside-joke scribe, teach me that life doesn’t have to be grim, and I do not have to forget myself to the chaos. I may look to books, to movies, to friends, to Nature, to myself for the humor to break the despair. My laughing friend.

Women-shapers, women. Teachers, all. I love you for your interest, your fortitude, and who you are.

Mental illness and creative writing

                          **The grumpy bird on the windowsill is me.** 

As someone studying both English and Psychology in college, the idea of the aspects of our disturbed minds influencing our art is very interesting to me.

Last semester, I wrote a long symposium paper on Lord Byron’s Manfred and the reflections of Byron’s mental health problems in the play. To me, it was clear that Byron’s art was influenced by and perhaps was given more meaning in context with his mental health problems, specifically what I believe to be Bipolar 1 Disorder. There was quite a bit of research involved in this theory that I don’t have time to go into here, but I will say that I’m convinced on an intellectual level that both the correlation of mentally ill people having artistic ability is high and the correlation of people with artistic ability being mentally ill is high. Those don’t seem to be different on a surface level, but in fact, there is research that indicates genetic correlations between Bipolar 1 disorder and artistic ability. This is subtly different from people who are artistic being more inclined to feel deeply, to experience mental illness in a way that only artists can.

I hope that those seem distinct to you, reader, and I don’t sound like a driveling moron.

The reason I bring this up today is because I have some input into how this is significant on a layman’s level, how this is significant to me, Taylor McCoy, a writer.

I’m currently working on a novel with a protagonist who has anxiety. This should be fairly easy for me seeing as I experience anxiety almost daily, but still I doubt the legitimacy of the experience and the way that I’m relating it. I didn’t realize until today exactly how deep my abnormal pscyhology influences the way that I write.

For example, I believe that I have undiagnosed sensory processing disorder (SPD). If you don’t know what this is, I don’t blame you. The occurrence of SPD is correlated with people who have generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety and was once (and in some circles, still is) associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Someone with SPD experiences sensations much differently than what most SPD-ers call “Neurotypicals” or, those who don’t experience these intense sensations (or in some cases, lack of sensation).

For me, sitting in a room full of people can be either extremely relaxing, if my brain chooses to filter those sensations properly and it all becomes white-noise, or it can be infuriating, perhaps terrifying. For me, when I was sitting in a room with my boyfriend and several of his friends and there was a TV playing the Simpson’s theme, one roommate singing a different song than the theme, another roommate coughing loudly, my boyfriend talking close to my ear, and another roommate crumpling up a plastic bag in another room, I was suddenly quite certain that I was about to set myself on fire and take down whoever I could with me. I was overwhelmed to say the least. It makes me angry, sad, and felt like the physical sensation of a migraine without an actual headache.

Imagine what someone who experiences things like this with all their senses would notice about the world that a neurotypical would not.

For example, I can call to mind sensations that are vivid for me that I haven’t felt in 15 years. I can feel on the inside of my brain what a rusty mailbox feels like and it makes me want to throw up. I can’t even pick up a newspaper or a paper bag without the fear that I will want to promptly wrench my hands off my wrists and never experience the pain of that sensation again.

So, it seems strange to me to try to write without description. If you ever get the chance to read a novel of mine, you’ll probably notice the high amounts of description, the possibly irritating levels of description. But, how else would I get across what I was meaning to without relaying these things that are so central to my experience in great detail, and at every important opportunity. I feel that I have a distinct skill in relating detail because I experience things so intensely and so differently than normal people do.

It’s fairly uncommon to have a disorder like SPD, but many writers can relate to depression, anxiety, alcoholism and other addictions. When I approach a novel from a writer that I know to suffer from these things, I think it’s hard to wrench the writer from the character because usually the character reflects many of the same struggles, and that’s what makes them different. A writer who suffers from depression, Bipolar disorder, or suicidal thoughts is likely to create a memorable character who can’t contain their own snarkiness. They are dark and brooding. They are sarcastic. And you can’t help but love them, right?

I’m not saying that all dark and brooding characters are the product of a depressed author, but I think that we, as writers, have the unique ability to create memorable characters because of our experience with mental illness. We can write the outcasts who go on the grand adventures we long to have. We can write characters who have deep and meaningful relationships that we are dying for, or perhaps the opposite, the loner character who we intensely relate to and can imbibe with our longing.

I don’t at all think that being a mentally healthy writer is reflective of a poorer quality of work. However, as a writer who has a unique experience every day, having constant internal dialogues about my actions because I’m hyperaware of avoiding anxiety, avoiding certain pathways so I don’t have to fear with every step that I will trip in front of a crowd of strangers, or avoiding certain people because I know they’ll want to hug me and I can’t take that today, I might just retaliate and punch them in the face, I think that embracing these dysfunctions might just be the saving grace of our writing.

It’s undeniable that mental illness and artistry correlate, that the correlation is strong. I think the point I want to make here is that our writing is meaningful because of our struggles. Not to exclude the mentally healthy, again. To us, to those who suffer in similar ways, to a world that doesn’t adequately comprehend mental illness, our experience is important and should, it should come out in our writing.

Thank God we can write. Thank God we can turn to words to express what comes out in jumbled pleas from our mouths without proper rehearsal. Thank God the only way I can make the world understand my mind properly is through the beauty of language.

And thank you for reading.

Experience and the Sponge

Sometimes, when the thick gray air of winter sits on brick towns with painted windows, when old courthouses with cylinder blocks for foundation and the smell of restaurant food and newly paved roads tickles my nose and forces me to imagine worlds into existence, I think:

How wonderful it is to be an artist.

Small things…

-the way the leaves twirl around moving cars in wind shapes like the faery world’s gentle collision with reality

-the way the clouds project the moon from out of the black carpet behind it, concealing, revealing, concealing, so dark they look like midnight dragons on a run through the heavens

-the way caterpillars float, transcendent, I imagine, ecstatic through the air on their silky strings, totally carried by their ingenious invention…and their weightlessness

They make me proud to be an artist. It is these things which fill me up like a thirsty sponge, squeezed dry from the harshness of the atmosphere, from the constricting agenda of hate, smothering, smothering. I eagerly fill myself up on this holy water of this world’s majesty. I drink and drink until I am contentedly wet, ready to purge these beauties out onto other things that are dry.

Yet, sometimes, as I am a sponge, and I absorb, I find that even the filthy water gets in, and I’m already too soaking wet with filthy water to take on anything else.

Yesterday, I printed pictures of a dead woman. Her car was like a flash-frozen, half-melted conglomerate of metal with blood spatter on the ceiling. Children’s toys stretched out over the car, through the air, nestling near the railroad tracks and lying down to rest in the dead, winter grass, broken, wet with mud, dislodged.

I printed pictures of little girls and boys, of big girls and boys, of mothers, of fathers, of friends. Little girl in a blue dress with frills down the front, clippies in her hair as numerous as the twirling braids which stuck off her head like antenna.

I ached. I ached. I ached.

Drunk driver. Too fast. Satin coffin. Orphan family. Orphan friends.

I ached, and I ached.

I found that when I tried to draw breath, my chest was shallow. There was no more room in the cavity which held my non-compliant lungs. I found tears with no logical explanation breaking through my resisting eyes, I felt that the toxic water was so deep in my tissue that I was about to rip myself open to get it all out. I wanted to scream, to scream so loud that it would all come spraying out of me and I would be dry again.

Unfortunately the toxic water didn’t come out. It did, some, purify for a brief moment in the company of friends and laughing and story-telling, but when more toxic water lay itself down on top, urging itself into my widened pores, settling in with the rest, I decided to shut off the tap completely. Nothing will try to fill me up again. Not today and not for now.

So today I am empty. I covered my face with pure bath water so hot it scalded the infection off. I watched videos of things which normally fill me up with healthy water from the world, hoping it could sit on the surface and not move in just yet. I need to be empty for now.

Just let me be empty for now.

Ten feet

10 feet, three bodies, six eyes.

Sniffing noses, up-down, up-down, sniffing noses seek out bits of swept away hay, tiny chompers slowly pull them in. Ears, like satellites, twist and turn to catch the slightest noise, the smallest breathy tremor. Hop, shuffle, run, these tiny feet gain a lot of ground

in a small space

less wonderful than they deserve.

I sometimes let them get close to my face, allergies and all, their slick fur smelling like the stuffed air of the room, yet those silky fibers brush my cheeks with the softest hello, the kindest I love you. I watch them, the two four-footed ones, and I imagine that there cannot be a day when they don’t exist in this world with me. Their hearts, as innocent and as short-lived as the wispy seeds of a dandelion in the spring, touch mine with a permanence I’ll never forget.

The two-footed one…he’s another story. Wrinkle-eyed hazel winks. Walk, pace, sit. His nose sniffs, too, but probably for pizza and beer. He explores the inner worlds of dimensions beyond the screen, his fingers guiding his way through a technological masterpiece. He perks his ears for bits of stories that intrigue him and his heart…oh, his heart. His heart isn’t the dandelion of the others. It’s more of an oak tree. I hope that it lives long, that it only grows taller, that its tender roots envelop me whole and never let me go for as long as the Earth draws breath from the ether. It’s not innocent, he isn’t a child, but the strong beating of it, the persistent search of his heart for truth, it only elongates him until his spindly, unsatisfied brain reaches the heavens.

Ten feet, three hearts, six ears.

He once told me that love is a choice. I didn’t believe him much because no one had ever made that choice in my experience. I told him, love is like that Koolaid stain in the carpet. Sometimes you mistake it for blood when the shadows hit just right, but if you apply enough elbow grease, it’s like it was never there.

I think now, it helps when you’ve got these particular three hearts, but I sometimes need the choice. I pour more koolaid on the carpet, let it seep through to the floorboards beneath, further even, all the way to the foundations of the house until it’s all a part of it. Can’t get it out then, I’ve worked too hard to put it there, strong, and it looks like blood when the light hits it.

I sometimes forget love is a choice when it’s convenient for me. When I’m tired, I can’t imagine getting on my knees and pouring one more time, they ache after all, and I’m tired. I’ve got other things to do than nurture that stain, things that will make me a lot of money in the long run, things that distract me from real-life priorities.

Yeah, I think the two-legged one has a point. Love is a choice, but I’m certainly glad I made the right one.

Fantastic Beasts, Creative People

I had the utmost delight of going to see the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them today.

Movies are incredible. I’m actually a book person, but only because movies effect me too deeply, too all-at-once, they are too sharp and pointed for repeated sittings. With a book, I may slowly marinate on their magnificence for 200 pages or so. I may let the ideas, the scenery, the characters slowly infiltrate my mind and touch the creviced, receptive landscape of my brain. Not so with movies.

Movies are like crowbars to me. They are so much. They are images, they are music, they are talent and creativity. They are ideas, they are change, they are incredible, and I only have 2 hours or so for those things to break into my skull and fiddle about inside me, uncareful hands and unquiet voices. Often, I am deeply affected by them. People astound me. They astound me!

I place such a high value on J.K. Rowling, her works, and on movies which win me. I cried through half of it because of how strongly it wrecked about inside of me just by its association with Harry Potter which was a powerful transformative force for me as a person. I cried because I am frequently in awe at the creative capabilities of human beings and the amount of collective creativity it takes to go into a movie like that…creation is probably the most pure, God-given force on the planet. If anything in this world can save humanity, it’s art. It’s creation. It’s because of the gentle touch of books and the forced-entry of movies, the confused flutter of breath from a painting or drawing or sculpture, the delicate dab of a kiss from a photograph, the feather on the back of the neck from a poem…it’s all of these that grip people by the heart and tell them to learn. It’s all of these that have the capacity to save, change, and to destroy.

I may be one of few crazies that derive so much from a movie, imaginings of a revolution of art from a story about magical creatures, but art has always made me crazy. And hopeful. It is perhaps strange to witness, me, throttled and ready to erupt after a short sitting through a film. It is like this balloon of feeling frequently wells up inside of my stomach, nudging my heart until there’s no room for it, it envelops it, overwhelms it, and it comes spewing out of my mouth and fingertips when I can’t hold it back anymore. Movies are like an air pump into that balloon, already packed so tight with feelings, sometimes hopeless ones, sometimes ecstatic, awe-struck ones. It, I think, is the experience of an empathetic person to find things so common to be absolutely exhausting simply by their manipulation of emotions, their collection and use of the witness’s participation in their world. Oh, but I do it so willingly.

What fun would a movie be if that world were shattered, if I didn’t offer it everything I had for the short time I payed to be enraptured by it? It would be shallow, and there’s nothing I despise more than a lack of depth, a lack of investment.

Despite the fact that movies have frequently broken an entering into my mind and heart, I hold them in high esteem. I hope that as the art of other incredible humans transforms me, saves me, and inspires me, that my creation may do all the same for me, and perhaps, if the world sees fit to accept it, it may be that force for others.

To you creatives, your art means the world. It is that important. It means the world.

The Wind, The Trees, and Me

The wind is not soft, here.

In the tree-dense state of Arkansas, moisture sits on the wind, ready to soothe its subtle attacks to your person. The summer purges impurities from you by a step out of the door, yet the winter, inexplicably kissing your nostrils and bitten lips with its frost is intolerable. Neither, exactly welcoming, are better than the dry, merciless wind of the panhandle where trees don’t greet you on your walks and tumbleweeds are as common as crows.

I used to miss the mercilessness of the wind, drying whatever perspiration touched my brow before it had the chance to peer out onto my face. I used to think that perhaps the wind kept me from the claustrophobic stillness of a state which must rely on only their own movement for the cooling of their sweat. Now, I am not a friend of the winds here, and they aren’t mine. Even the water is dry enough to scrape the oils from my hair, to prick the sensitive skin on the ends of my fingertips so that I must suck on them just for sake of picking up a bottle of lotion.

I used to think, and perhaps still do, that the vast openness of the sky was a comfort. The endless expanse of light blue, often barely spotted with clouds, more beautiful cover having been blow away by a gust, experiences the greatest chameleon color change on the planet, as far as I’m convinced. At the rising of the sun and the melancholic setting of it, the peace of the vast skies remedies its day-time largeness. Its largeness, too long and too wide for my human eye to feel comfortable with.

At least in Arkansas, one can only glimpse the sunset over the dimmed silhouettes of houses and trees. Everything is colored and swept over in darkness, and I am cradled in the middle of it all, not to be lost in the largeness.

I am diversified–I am cultured by my landscape. On whims of magnificence, I write poems about frogs which sing loudly into the night, I smile at memories of rocking chairs out of reach of the fat droplets of rain, and I attempt, often in vain, to do justice to the wildlife which take shelter in the lush grasses and healthy trees of the state. I glimpse them crossing into our urban storehouses for abandoned food. I glimpse them, dead, pancaked on the pavement, and I weep for them. Because, how beautiful? Not their deaths, nor their humiliation, no. It is their majestic creation, the tightened band of black across their eyes and stripes down their tails, the skittering about in fallen nuts, our paranoid squirrels, gathering and eating like mad to make way for a long winter, the galloping, entrancing doe whose white, cotton-ball tail waves goodbye as it leaps in front of my car to join her mother…I praise the environment which spawns such works of creation for me to glimpse, to write of, to attempt to understand.

I wonder, as I leaf through my poems, cringing at some, dog-earing others, what a habit we have of dependence on the world to reveal itself as our muse. These glimpses, to me, are God-borne revelations as to the surprising authority of our scavengers, our wild. How desperate I am for these revelations, because, what of me is magnificent enough for paper? What of me is authoritative enough for immortalization? For those times when I find myself bereft, empty of the things which I see in the fruitful landscape, for those times when I feel like the dry wind, the yellow plains with only fat, flying balls of dead matter…I try to find that authority. I write it down. I mark it out. I never breathe a word to anyone.

Definitely, I never breathe a word to anyone.