One Year

A year ago today, the view outside my window was a mess of green: loose branches on unkempt trees and tall brown/green shrubs filling the plot of land between my house and one of the main boulevards of Guatemala City.

Today the view outside my window is a mess of a different kind: the cluster of downtown Chicago skyscrapers with the Hancock Tower peering above the others; a curving Lake Shore Drive that is never free of cars; a small harbor; and the vast blue of Lake Michigan.

A year ago today, I was listening to Brandon Flowers’ The Desired Effect, which had just come out in May. Its generally happy, earnest sound was the perfect accompaniment and source of inspiration for my own earnest, daring-to-be-hopeful start.

A year ago today I launched this blog. It was my “I’m-finally-going-to-do-this” moment of finally taking a step, however small, in the direction of achieving the biggest dream I have, of being a full-time, published author.

As you can read in that first post, I was earnest and hopeful and actually happy. I was full of the initial momentum good change brings. For once I was being brave and trying to do what I really wanted to do. It was wonderful.

Now it’s a year later, and writing for my blog has been wonderful in many ways, and certainly in terms of moving me forward in writing. It’s kept me writing steadily (for the most part) as week by week I am forced to sit down and come up with an arrangement of words that is honest on a personal level but also crafted well enough to be put before the public (that is, if less than 80 subscribers can count as “public”). Writing for my blog has brought me a type of soothing, enjoyment, satisfaction, and motivation that nothing else in my life has brought.

Today as I sit down to write I am listening to Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, which just came out in May. Its generally subtle, pensive, sensitive sound is the perfect accompaniment for my own pensive and emotionally-weighted reflections. Even though this last year has been the best year in writing for me since I started writing when I was 15, I’m not as earnestly hopeful as I was last year. I still want to be writer, more than almost anything else, but that initial momentum is gone. The optimism of starting something new and exciting has faded. I went for almost a full year making at least one post a week, until the last two weeks when I simply…just…didn’t. I could have. I had plenty of time to. I thought about it. But I let the thought come and go, just like the days, and now it’s been 20 days since I’ve sat down to write.

Yet, I’m OK with this shift. I’m OK with starting another year of writing less optimistic and less giddy about the whole thing. Because what I started in earnesty and determination a year ago is still real and at the forefront, even if it’s no longer shiny and new. I had momentum and not-like-Liza discipline for a year. Now comes the hard part, the more realistic part, of continuing what I want even when motivation isn’t flowing on its own and the discipline fairy dust has settled. I still want to be a full-time, published writer, and it’s certainly going to take more than a blog post per week to accomplish that. So, momentum or no, here I go.

(P.S. Since it’s been a year since they were published, my “about” pages needed refreshing. You can check out the new versions here and here.)

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Gutless

There is nothing left to say
And I am blank.

The words had spilled out so freely,
Tumbling forward together,
Racing and shoving to form a thought.
There had been so many thoughts, for so many years,
Now all dried up in months.

She had sat for endless nights
Through endless notebooks
And endless made-up lives.
She had burned,
And singed and bled,
And had had the happiest nights of her life.

But now the words were silent
And her mind only echoed voices from the past.

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A Thank You

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I — like hopefully all of you — have a lot to be thankful for: There are people in my life who really love me and whom I love. My body is healthy. I have an income. I have no real unmet need of any kind. I have the possibility of tomorrow, and, unlike other times in my life, I’m actually excited about that possibility.

In addition to all these things, this year I am also thankful for this, this blog and what it represents.  When I started ToHearLife.com back in June, I had two main goals: to make writing an integral part of my life, and to get over my fear of other people reading what I write. These were for the purpose of the greater goal, which is to one day be a full-time writer. While I’m still millions of words and countless submissions away from that goal, I’m grateful that I have achieved the first two goals of making writing an essential part of my life and being, not only unafraid, but desirous of people reading what I write (cut to me checking my blog stats every night before bed).

But beyond helping me meet my current writing goals, this blog has also been helpful in ways I hadn’t foreseen. It’s pushed me forward, not only in my literary aspirations, but also in the mental, emotional, spiritual, and even social aspects of my life.

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At the Top: In which you are now safe

One day, maybe after many years, you reach the top of the mountain and can finally rest. As you stop your running feet and wipe the sweat from your eyes, you can for the first time catch your breath. There’s no danger here. It’s just you and the cool wind, the soft grass, and nothing lurking just out of sight. You’ve reached the place you were aiming at for so long; now you can revel in the relief of having arrived.

At the top, you can look back down the hill and across the valley below where you’ve come from and from a safe distance survey all that was once a deadly threat. The rocks that tripped your step, the tangled branches that blocked your way, the wolf eyes that continually hunted you through the darkness are now blocked by the wall of time – they’re in your past, you’re in your present, and nothing can join the two.

So with the dangers far below and the instinct to flee now unneeded, you bring back your gaze from the bottom and take a look around. Below, the trees grew so closely together you had to constantly tear at branches and fight with roots to get by. At the top, there is flat, broad space. Below, the air was thick and sometimes putrid. At the top, it is fresh and gentle. Below, you had to kill other living, sprinting things for food to stay alive. At the top, fruits and vegetables naturally come up from the ground at the right time. Below, there was only wildness, peril, running, hiding, escaping. At the top, there is ordered nature, calm, steady breathing, sleep.

Here, at the top of the mountain, you can finally make your home.

If Only Alive and Well: In which my goals are in proper order

One of my closest friends is going through a really great time in his life. More than great, it’s seminal for his life being just what he wants it to be in the very near future. As he’s shared with me the steps he’s worked so hard to take that are leading him to the future he wants and will soon have, I’ve been thinking about what my own life being just what I want it to be would look like.

I know I want to someday make my living as a writer. I know I want to someday find someone I love who loves me back. These are fine, perfectly normal goals. The second one is virtually universal. The first one may not be as common (and will require millions of words more to accomplish), but neither are impossible nor out of the ordinary. If 10 years from now I am a professional writer in a healthy, long-term relationship, no one will stop and stare in wonder.

These are my two goals when I am well and stable. This is what I want for my life when my thinking is clear, my mind is healthy, and my view of reality is un-skewed. This is good because it means there are attainable desires I’ve pinpointed that I can work and hope for. What’s not so good is that my thinking many times isn’t clear, my mind isn’t always healthy, and my view of reality often is skewed, as though I’m looking through a sheet of cracked glass. These two goals I have – writing and love – are my goals only when I am well, and that hasn’t usually been the norm.

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I Can Change: In which I’m inspired by Brandon Flowers’ enthusiasm

As I write this post, Brandon Flowers’ new album, The Desired Effect, has been out for about a month. I had been waiting for this album since it was announced in February. Like a lot of fans, I took notice of The Killers (the band of which Flowers is the leader singer) when their single Somebody Told Me hit radio in 2004. I was immediately hooked on the song and liked it unequivocally.

Unequivocally perhaps, but silently. One of my best friends at the time (see Lost in Zooropa) was as obsessed with music as I was, and we both prided ourselves in having really good taste. Although we didn’t always see eye to eye on specifics, we did agree that the other had a good ear and trusted each other’s musical judgment.

But with Somebody Told Me, and its album Hot Fuss, I felt hesitant. The Killers’ sound was different from what was being heard in alternative rock at the time and, while I liked their first singles, I was unsure of how they would hold up to the critics, including this friend, Doug. I thought he would ridicule their synth, ‘80s sound. There was an emotional element in the music that took me back to junior high in Miami that I knew he just wouldn’t get. And so, as I listened to Somebody Told Me on repeat and reveled in the swell of All These Things That I’ve Done, I kept silent about my new discovery.

Fast forward to a few months later. Doug and I were talking, as usual, about music, discussing new bands we were listening to. He mentioned this new, up-and-coming band, The Killers. Had I heard them? I should really give them a listen because they’re one of the best bands to come out in a long time and they’re going places musically that no one else is going. I really should check them out.

I was…surprised, yes. But mostly I was mad, at myself. Here I had been listening to this band for months already, and Doug was taking all the credit for discovering it first. I didn’t say much beyond, “OK. I’ll look them up,” because there really wasn’t much to say. I was just angry with myself at the missed opportunity of being the one to have introduced Doug to The Killers (who would become one of the best bands of the 2000s and one of Doug’s all-time favorite bands), and I was angry at the pattern this revealed.

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