Tag: writers

Teaching Myself Joy

Poetry is purposeful. It’s like a very long breath after having been underwater. One doesn’t write poetry like prose is written, or at least, if they do, they’ve ascended to a level of existence that I won’t understand.

Poetry is not the quick-fingered composition of a novel or a blog post at the keyboard. Sometimes, it is a pen-in-hand, blank-stared emptiness that is only broken by the first stroke of ink on the secure page of a journal. One must slow down to a quarter the speed of life to process what needs written, to place words precisely at the end and the beginning of each line like the zig-zag thread of a repairing stitch on the heart. One must write to the rhythm in their heads, lest it get over-excited and run off the page and into their life.

I find that when I’m not writing poetry, I’m not slowing down. I’m not processing, not enjoying, not being grateful for the minutia of a life as blessed as mine. I once wrote an entire poem about Parker’s freckles, another about the fans of wrinkles beside his eyes when he laughs. I’ve written pour-me-out poems that delve deeper than I wanted to be dug into, that extricated the tumorous glob of untapped bitterness that turned into some of the greatest works I’ve ever made. But, to find that tumorous glob is pain.

I feel that every writer, once something good is written, fears that they will never again write its equal. They’ve finally hit the bottom of the well, and no more magic waters will fill it. There is nothing left to draw on. Of course, sometimes, when the poet feels as if the well is empty, they stand on the porch in the west Texas summer, they see a bird that dips, hovers, and spins, its fan-shaped tail like the oar of a boat, and the sky is its ocean. A poet looks at a bird, painting the sky with movement and the delight of freedom and finds that nothing within herself matters more than the flight of a bird in summer time. Not in that moment.

I think the key to being joyful is pausing. Slowing down. I may not even realize that Parker has freckles on his cheeks until I stop and trip, mentally, on his bodacious eyelashes. Then, a whole epic could be written about the construction of those freckles into constellations, map-markers of adventures in the sunshine.

Of course, sometimes poetry is like drawing blood. The blood that’s tainted that keeps pumping back through the poet’s heart cannot continue to live in the bloodstream. It must be drawn out and given its place on the page. Once the cancerous blood is allowed its seat of honor on its own page in the journal, the joy returns then, too. I paused and respected the wish of the pain to be let loose, and it respected me in return.

I, the poet, and many other pausers and writers do not often give enough effort in our emotional extrications. We may glimpse the cancerous tumor and allow it to continue blowing itself up like an alcohol-imbibed liver because it will not be fun to really give it the attention it asks for. We also do not want to be joyful in our writing because it would require that slowed down time. It would require the effort of scavenging for the satisfactions that lay like perfect autumn leaves on a bed of lesser ones.

I wish to pinch the red maple leaf with its fine points and webbed veins in between the pages and preserve it for another lifetime. It is beautiful, after all.

Losing Sight of the Point in Charlottesville

I recall a Parks and Recreation episode when Leslie was trying to help Ben run for office as his helpful, strong-willed, outspoken wife who had political experience. As was typical for the show, there was a surreal moment when an anti-feminist group came to this pie-baking contest that was traditional for the wives of running officials to participate in. Instead of making Leslie, the forward-thinking, 21st century minded female do it, Ben took over the task.

However, present at the contest was this group, this anti-feminist group that was shouting things about how women need to stop oppressing their husbands and Leslie was actually forcing Ben to do things he didn’t want to do.

While you watch this and think, “That’s ridiculous, no one is actually like that,” while at the same time taking into mind that they’re tackling a real life problem, you have events that break the News such as our most recent Nazi breakout into the streets of Virginia.

Here’s a bit of a brain twister for you. My husband is a recovering conspiracy theorist addict. It’s one of his most beloved quirks, and at the same time, not a quirk at all because some of the most relevant concerns he brings to me about our democracy aren’t so far-fetched at all and have had a lasting impact on the way I think about things.

While I’m somewhat of a progressive liberal, my husband leans conservative. Where I tend to wish that Hillary Clinton had been elected, even for the sake of saying that an intelligent female had beaten out a mysoginistic business man for the most important office in our country, he would say that Hillary Clinton is a murderer. I don’t know if that’s true, but anymore, WHAT THE HECK IS ACTUALLY TRUE?!

My point in offering that information is to pose something that my husband has brought to me before. First, that we are all participating in this crazy game where elected officials are playing a role, and the script is written by the highest bidder. The second would be that, and this isn’t actually all that conspiracy-like, there are parts of the opposing political parties that actually stir up strife just to divide the country.

These thoughts make it very difficult for me to articulate blame because I’m ever conscious of how I’m being manipulated to think certain things.

Just a year ago, I was in an office with some conservative women. There was a particular person who was against the BLM marches on overpasses. I love these women, so I won’t say too much about it except that I disagreed that there was anything wrong with it. Our very own MLK Jr. had taken to busy streets to peacefully protest the wrongs and injustices our country was committing.

It was in times like these that one of the women would bring up news articles about how the BLM protesters had gotten violent, or that far left protesters were burning down businesses, and all the while I’m thinking, “I didn’t hear that! How could I not have heard that?”

Well, while that’s a whole different can of worms, my point here isn’t that news media is all bent to suck your brain into its manipulative portal and bend you against your loved ones who think differently than you, it’s that we need to be conscious of the fact that we’re being manipulated. We need to stand on the side of the victims and of justice, and we need to condemn evil, no matter from which political standpoint it comes.

I read two articles just this morning, one about the hit-and-run driver from Charlottesville during the alt-right rally who killed one person and injured 19 others. One article said, “They’ve arrested the driver from Charlottesville, and it’s not who you think!” and the article went on to explain that the driver was a left-leaning democrat who was trying to stir up more hatred against the right by posing as an alt-right angry person. The next article I read was three stories down and it was about the identity of the driver as a military personnel, radical republican.

What’s wrong with this picture, I ask you?

First of all, why are media outlets unveiling the identity of the supposed murderer before the trial and conviction? Second of all, how is it possible that I don’t actually know what’s true because people can publish whatever they choose to manipulate the masses? Third of all, how is it possible that I haven’t seen one article on the identity of the person that was MURDERED?

This isn’t about the driver. It is not about him. This is about the victims of a hit-and-run. This is about the students at UVA who stood up in front of grown men to fight racial intolerance. And you know what, I can’t actually imagine how scared they were. I can’t imagine!

This is about inequity, inequality, oppression, and silence.

You know what else? Don’t detract from the issue by blaming our (admittedly incompetent) POTUS. It’s not about him, either. Because, you know what? I don’t think he cares enough to try and stop this at the source, and I don’t think he understands that at least part of what he stands for or says is being written down in the textbooks of alt-right crazy people who bring guns to a college campus.

This is about us. It’s about sane-minded people looking through the crud. I will not be manipulated. I will not give murderers their day of fame. I will not detract from the purpose of these learning moments by casting out blame for a group of people. I will target this issue at its source.

Systematic Racism. Anti-Semitism. Hatred. Intolerance.

I beg of you to ask questions about what you read. Ask questions about who should be the focus of our news outlets. We need to take back our brains and think for ourselves, throw out our political thinking boxes, and demand that justice is seen from all sides. Stop telling your internet browsers to give you spoon-fed political sow feed. Seek out answers! Seek out answers!

Change starts with you. Change starts with me. Look your black friends in the eyes, look your Muslim community members in the face, look your Jewish, Christian, Republican, Democrat, Hispanic, Latino, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, South African, Ugandan, Puerto Rican friends straight in the eyeballs and understand. Understand.

We are all humans and we have to share this Earth. So let’s figure out how to do it sooner rather than later.


Silence is sacred.

She is a ready patience, waiting for the opportunity to be allowed in; She is healing that permeates every clogged, porous cell, stamped dark with the noise of fruitlessness; She is cooling breath on the back of a hot neck, pulsing with angry blood, emotional blood which runs through the brain and into impetuousness. She acts like a cool rag, dampening the heat, healing the visceral wound. She settles over you like calm, blots away impurities like peace. She is sacred. She is ignored.

Though she vies for entry into the collective mind, it buzzes too loudly to sense her outside. It plays its music over the loud speakers in an attempt to numb the perpetual turnings of the sharp cogs, rusted and wretched for revolving too hard and too fast for too long.

She waits, still, outside of bookstores when even the monologue of a well-written page isn’t loud enough to overcome the music. She waits, where grocery carts and milk cartons need distracting from: music is the new silent. She waits, replaced, as desperately churning brains pump music in, trying to focus harder, trying to focus better, while she wishes so fervently that they would know she could do better. She would do better than the noise.

For those that sit, for those that find her in her readiness, they find her inextricable other face. They find that they can listen, that they hear themselves clearer than they ever have, and that they are smarter and more creative than they thought. She reminds them that they are worth listening to, as are the people around them. She reminds them that they don’t need to be afraid of her, for she is not ominous. Silence is accompanied by many noises which make up the panoply of life.

While one shuts off her own voice long enough to listen to the crooning of the world, Silence delights in her tearful acknowledgement of Nature’s music. Silence watches her breathe deeper and steadier, and to the girl, all worldly noises seem louder, seem unnecessary after their brief, but poignant encounter. It is sacred; it is claimed and protected; it is not to be brutalized.

Those that commune with Silence find the world raucous and disrespectful. To find one’s voice so pleasing that it can’t cease is an egregious crime. To find music so necessary to comfort in a quiet room is an expression of fear.

Silence does not blame the wounded for being fearful of the quiet, but she does wish them to give it a try and rediscover their own genius in the stillness.

Writing Exercise #1


I recently bought a book full of writing exercises. The first exercise encourages a James-Joyce-like internal monologue writing session. I thought I’d show you the bulk of the internal monologue I wrote down, and the monologue of a character I adapted it to. It was fun and enlightening to transform my own strange ravings into the even stranger ravings of a potential character that I’d very much like to explore later.

My internal monologue : Pre-transformation

The crows caw loudly, and I think of raw meat. Footsteps nearby, a clopping horse’s gallop. It is a strange turn taking between the birds and the clopping, the whirring of a pair of wings above and the response of a locking-car horn nearby. The carts, the wheels and rattles, moaning wind, echoing laughter.

I do feel alone here, but delighted by it. I think “what atrocious handwriting you have,” but still, I write my head down. Voices distract me and the heat sits like spring, jet engine blanket on me. I want to lean back and sleep.

Sickness shares the air with beauty. Trollopsing wasp, buoyant and disturbed by passing cars and their boom-boom hello. I still hear its thunder. Whoosh. Whir. I shouldn’t be stopping, but often if I don’t try to, my head stops thinking—goes blank and silent and comfortable.

A muscle is twingeing in my arm. Phone buzz and I see spots on my vision. Bleep. Caws sound jolly—not so argumentative. Red-headed angel trollop, over-the-shoulder bag—hello, parking lot visitors, I can ow hear your music. Turn it down. I take these things like invasions of my privacy, my personal space.

Ha, I can tell you BUZZ BUZZ dropped your phone. the crows are HAW HAW, laughing at you, too, but you don’t hear them. There’s so much noise and sometimes it smells like spring time, but often they disturb me. Do I hear singing? Sounded kind of ghostly.

Adapted character monologue using details from the exercise

The crows caw loudly, and I think of raw meat. Footsteps nearby, a clopping horse’s gallop; there are no horses near, but shoes are hooves when passages like wind tunnels carry noise beyond its half-life. The carts, the wheels and rattles, moaning wind, echoing laughter, they are carried one painted brick too far.

I do feel alone here, but delighted by it. I think “What atrociously un-hemmed pants you have” as I look down at my swinging legs, dangling from the garden wall. Still, I let my head silt its voices out. They distract me as the heat sits like a jet-engine blanket on my shoulders, persuading me to lean back and sleep.

I resist as I hear a tuberculoid cough wrack the dewey air. Sickness shares the air with beauty as before my eyes, a trollopsing wasp, bouyant and disturbed by mournful winds and its schwoop schwoop “hello” makes arcs and dips with its top-like body in the air. Whoosh, whirr, I hear the wind and wasp exchange their matter in a short flight to nowhere, and for a moment, the heat wins out as I stop and think of nothing. Often, if I don’t try to, my head stops thinking—goes blank and silent and comfortable.

A muscle is twingeing in my arm as I lean. I can’t move yet. I must observe. Twinge. The crows still haw haw; they sound more jolly—less argumentative. Maybe I only thought they were arguing when the mist was heavier and it felt like an evening for a murder.

The trailing end of a measure of a song drifts from the tunnel now, and its half-life turns it ghostly. I shiver, but my twingeing arm reminds me that it’s still not time to go.

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.