Art, Life, & Writing the Hard Stuff

maya angelou, bearing an untold story, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

Being a writer – particularly one who writes novels about love, family, and relationships – is a double-edged sword. Though I wish I could say it’s not always the case, sometimes my best writing comes through pain and heartbreak. I know I have some fellow writers that follow my blog. Can I get a witness? There are times when I write something that doesn’t fit my situation or experience exactly. That’s very true. But often, the richness and depth in my writing just wouldn’t be possible without heartbreak and loss.

Writing about grief, in a novel about losing a child, came from a few different experiences for me. But the bottom line is, that when I wrote Chasing Hope, a novel about grief and family – I couldn’t write about grief without experiencing it. I can’t write about heartbreak, without experiencing it. If there could be a little less of it, however, that would be cool. Ha. I wrote a novel that isn’t my story, but I certainly know how to write about the protagonist’s heartache. The new novel I’ve started (temporarily being called Sea Glass Hearts), is probably a little closer to my story than A Thousand Years.

Nonetheless, writers can be known for being a dark sort of soul. While not all of us are empaths – I think many of us probably are – even if we’re closeted empaths :). We can easily put ourselves in other people’s shoes. We can feel what they feel and we take on their experience. As an artist, I sort of live in places like that, in order to keep writing. Which is rough when then you go through your own painful experiences, losses, or heartbreak. Not everyone writes novels that have painful or dark themes of course. I wish that was true for me. But no matter what I write, it will always factor into my writing in some form or fashion.

I’m feeling it today, folks. I don’t want to write today. Today, I want to focus on what’s happy and good. Because in my real life, my heart is taking a beating. It’s hard to focus on what I think makes my writing better, when personally I am bearing the agony of an untold story and trying to be okay with hurt I can’t make sense of. It sucks. In one of my favorite movies of all time, Something’s Gotta Give, Diane Keaton – a playwright – famously writes her greatest work, while heartbroken and literally crying every step of the way. It’s one of my favorite movies. But she’s also one of my favorite actresses and I adore her portrayal of the life of a writer. And while the crying scenes are utterly ridiculous, they crack me up. I might relate a little is what I’m saying.

As I gear up to enter a writing related contest – with a deadline that’s just a week away – I’m struggling ya’ll. I don’t want to dig into this now. But in my heart of hearts, I know I must. For my writer friends, what do you do, to work on and keep up with self-care and healthy habits if you’re writing the nasty shit that’s just hard to face? What about those of you who write really dark stuff? How do you find yourself able to balance what you write with real life?

But here’s the thing, the agony of not telling the stories is far greater. So here I go . . .

Sea Glass Hearts

elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos, sea glass, sea glass hearts

~ One ~

“She reminded me of the sea; the way she came dancing towards you, wild and beautiful, and just when she was almost
close enough to touch she’d rush away again.”

―Glenda Millard

I am made of salt and sand and the deep jade green of the Atlantic. The salt air courses through my veins. This place, these waves, the sea glass, and shells with rounded edges, beaten constantly in the surf, are the pieces and places of my very soul. The heady scent of the ocean air tells me I’m finally home, though I’m not at all conscious of having lived near this shore. In the setting sun of a July evening, the billowing thunderheads in the distance play with the sun. Shadows and light dance on the surface of the ocean at once bringing out the sparkle, and then moments later shrouding the light in darkness. “So this is it?” I ask no one. Home. The word and all of its implications fill me with competing emotions. I look back toward the car, parked a hundred yards away, in the parking lot of the town’s traffic circle. It’s the center of this beach town, on the Southern Outer Banks of North Carolina.

I turn back to the ocean and breathe deeply, taking it all in. Just up the road is the house I bought, sight unseen, sitting first row, pointed towards the sea. I have spent a lifetime, nearly forty years, dreaming of what it would be like to find the place where I began, to return to my beginnings. To the place where I had been knit together in my mother’s womb. When I was a child, before I had been adopted and floated between countless foster and group homes, I made day trips to the beaches of Southern California. In the course sand of those crowded beaches, I convinced myself that I might as well have been a mermaid for all I really knew. One thing I knew for sure, in the deepest part of my being? I belonged to the sea. Somehow, as I would stand there, as a kid, wearing my church charity last year’s style bathing suit, I knew that the sea called me, and would continue to call me . . . home.

Written by Elaina M. Avalos

**This is from my new work in progress – waiting for me once I’m finished with A Thousand Years. I’m currently doing a little work on it this week, while I take a mini-vacay from A Thousand Years.**

Forty-Freaking-Five

north topsail island, north topsail beach, pink moon, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos
North Topsail Beach – One of NC’s Barrier Islands

It’s hodgepodge of random this evening.

– I have spent countless hours writing & editing my novel A Thousand Years, since October/November of 2020. I ran into some major plot issues and needed to re-work a ton of stuff in the novel (long story). It took me months to figure out how to make the edits work and how to still keep the soul of the story in place. I finally figured that out. What I have now – is a written and edited novel – that is waiting on just a few remaining things before I can call it done. I decided to put it on the back burner this week while I wait for my trip to Western NC. I’ll come back to it with fresh eyes after my trip and a little Graham Ford & Birdie Langston vacay.

– Obnoxiously, the moment I decided to take a little breather from these two characters, and as I walked the beach last night, I decided to start working on a novel I started ages ago. I cannot help myself. I shared the opening lines here on the blog a couple of years ago. But I started writing long before that. You can see it, here. It’s all new and fresh and I don’t 100% know where it’s going, yet. Well, sort of. But not really. #WriterGirlProblems

For instance, I’m still fighting over the protagonist’s name (that’s how new it is).

– I love the simple things in life and finding joy & delight wherever I can. These last couple of years, phew. It’s exhausting for someone that just wants to write, take care of the people she loves, and enjoy the little things in life. I’m so ready for what comes next. I would love to have someone join me on my next adventure. But, I’m ready to do it alone, too. Life is just too short to not chase down what you want. #BirthdayThoughts

– I turned 45 today & it’s a little ho-hum. Haha. I head out of town next weekend for my road trip to wine country & the mountains. Just three days until I leave! I can’t wait. But here’s what turning 45 looked like today (the photos uploaded catywampus):

– Music making me happy or inspiring me lately:

“Know you’re coming from a bad place
Honey, I was there just yesterday
So I know the time it’s gonna take
For you to feel like you again
Wonder if you’re seeing colours yet”

“There are no wrong roads
And no window stays closed
Love is always sad when it fades
The glass is better stained anyways
If never you find what you’re looking for
Come on back to the front porch
Say my name through the screen door”

Making a return . . .

How does anyone not love this man? Here’s an honorable mention: https://youtu.be/wGyh_53ecgg.

Now that I’m working on a new novel, I’m gonna need to start working on a new playlist. While I work through some details & it takes shape, I’m listening to this and this (from my OC pal Suz Moshenko). OC means Orange County, dudes (where I’m from).

I have big things ahead. Cheers to 45!

Come Live This Wild Life With Me

You can’t tame wild things. Who wants to be tamed, anyway? Certainly not me. When I was in high school, I camped with friends, amongst the sequoias and redwoods. They towered over our primitive campsite. I woke up on the first full morning there and looked out toward the Pacific. If you stood just right, the waves, perpetually crashing against the shore, were a distant song, floating through that canyon where we were nestled into our campsite. There in the abandoned woods of the central coast of California, like so many other times in my life, I knew I wasn’t made for normal. The fog had settled in overnight, in an almost disorienting way. It was deeply and wildly comforting. The cold, in spite of it being summer – chilled me to the bone. And I was perfectly content in that wild place. That summer, we camped all over northern Cal. I swam in the “Delta” and wandered around San Francisco and Santa Cruz. We camped on a golden hill – oak trees and wildflowers around us. Those chilly nights by the fire, our feet dirty in our flip flops, as the embers swirled above us – settled deep into my soul.

I grew up on the beach – sand in my toes and wild hair blowing every which way. Between the beach and the pool, I was incredibly tan all summer – so dark you wouldn’t believe. My hair was almost blonde from the sun. The dirt or sand in my toes version of life, my hair wild with sun and salt, and the adventures of a life filled with creativity encouraged and unleashed – was a beautiful way to grow up. I lived for camping near my Grandparents. And then our parents would leave us (my brother & cousin would be left by my Aunt & Dad) after our camping trip and we would stay with Grandma in that trailer on the beach – napping with open windows, the sea breeze blowing and swirling through their tiny home away from home. My Grandma was precious, wild, and terribly inappropriate. I got most of my wild from her. She was an artist. And in spite of the fact that their home during part of the year was a trailer, owned by the state of California (Grandpa was a caretaker at a state beach), it was decorated like a mansion – with her paintings of oceans and flowers and the pretty things that inspired her – on the walls. Her bed was covered in the prettiest lace and she could hunt out the loveliest of trinkets, hidden to everyone but her artistic eye, for her art-filled home. In the morning, we’d hike down between the craggy, sun-bleached cliffs, to the beach. We’d walk for miles, laughing and telling wild stories. She’d pick up seaweed and tell us magical things about the sea. Except I’ll never know if half of what she told us was true – all I remember is she told wild stories. She found seaweed – mustard yellow and squishy – beautiful. She’d talk about it as if it were a treasure from the sea. She taught me, my entire childhood, to take care of and cultivate the wild girl that lived deep in my heart.

I have been caged for a while now. I’m a wild thing, longing to be free again. There are unrestrained words to be written (words others won’t like), mountains to climb, beaches to camp on, and wild love to cultivate. There are places to live from – not physical places – that the average person never reaches and doesn’t even desire. We (me & you – the man I’ve waited for, for so long) are not those kinds of people. I’ve found that version of myself again. The real me that’s been hiding – held back by the fears and clouded by a drive to be accepted. I don’t need that and never have, I just got lost for a bit. What I need, what I’ve always needed – is the kind of deep living that sucks life from the most colorful, juiciest, soulful places. It’s the kind of life that gets you dirty. You know how when you eat the most delicious piece of watermelon, on a hot summer day, and the juice drips down your hand and arm and you don’t care for one single second? That. The sweetest days are the ones that get you real dirty – sticky with sweet and dripping honey. I live for this version of life.

I know it when I see it. I was made for it. I saw it in you. I see it in you, at your best and your worst.

I’ve written so many words to you – my wild thing. I’ve never written so much. The words flow constantly. I can’t turn them off. When I tried to bury them from bubbling up and over, they dried up. And then, in the way that wild things do, they seeped up, from so many holes in my heart. I couldn’t stop them. They rocked my foundation – in spite of my attempt to live a quieter, more acceptable life. I’ve learned my lesson. I don’t want a quiet life that makes sense. I don’t want to write quiet words that feel safe. I want to write words that are drenched in the sticky sweet wild, that remind us of the way that’s not for everyone.

And now here I am standing on the edge of this cliff yet again, more uncertain than I was on a humid summer night, when I wrote these words – visions of what I was made for, in my mind.

I love you and all of your wild things. Come home to me & live this wild life. I’ve been seeing visions of it, for all my years. I know it when I see it. None of it has to make a damn bit of sense. Grace, His grace – it’s wild enough to sustain us on this rocky path. It can be a path that doesn’t make sense. I don’t need to make sense. I don’t understand most of life. No one ever said we needed to. Come live this wild life with me. We’ll figure it out along the way – even when it’s hard.

Creating a Space to Write

I made a little writing nook for myself last weekend. I knew creating a space to write would help me focus a little more on doing just that. Confession though – I’m currently writing from the comfort of my big, cozy bed (but whatever). But my mini-office will be where I write most of the time. For the longest time, I’ve put off creating a nook to write – because, well – I’m not a fan of apartment living (at least not in the city I live in). I kept telling myself I’d move soon enough. But here I am, 18-months later, still in my apartment. Going from a 4-bedroom house to a 2-bedroom apartment was a big adjustment. As such, my spare room has been filled with boxes all of this time. I decided to create some space in my “dining room” to write. Folks, my dining room is big for an apartment. And it’s now the space I’ve created to write.

If you’re a writer following me, what’s a must-have for your writing space? One thing my nook is missing is space for a large white board that I’d like to use for mapping out dates and timelines and some inspiration. I’ll use a small corkboard for a bit of that now. But the novel I’m currently editing has a lot of moving parts and spans a 20-year history between my protagonist and her long lost love. I’d like to have a better visual of that than my Scrivener notes.

I keep some of my favorite books (and my first book) around for inspiration. The black notebook was my Grandpa’s. He used it to write his memories of growing up in upstate New York. We have all of his writings in a binder (that each of his daughters and grandkids have copies of). He was actually quite the writer – but didn’t know until he was at the end of his life. These scribbled words are treasures to me. I hope someday to have one or two of these handwritten notes replicated and blown up as posters I hang up in my future office.

I have all sorts of thoughts about what I’d like my someday office to look like. This isn’t that. But it’ll do for now. When I run across images on Pinterest that fit, I save them. Someday, I hope to write full time with a real office. My absolute favorite writing space comes from the movie Something’s Gotta Give (one of my favorite movies of all time). Diane Keaton writes from her bedroom, looking out at the Atlantic Ocean. Keaton, a screenwriter in the movie, is hilariously writerly (Dramatic, artistic, a little neurotic, and adorable – I don’t think we normally call writers adorable. But I’m a writer and I’m adorable, so there you go.) and her home is a dream. You can see an example of her writing space, here. In the movie she writes her next big Broadway hit, crying and furiously writing, after a break-up. It’s a ridiculous series of scenes as she furiously writes her new screenplay. It’s also very realistic. 🙂

The photo below, of LOST show forerunners, is what it’s in my head for plotting out this novel, by the way. I’d love to have photos and all kinds of stuff plastered everywhere as I change all kinds of things around in the book.

LOST = Favorite TV show of all times.

When I was at Home Goods not too long ago, I found this glittery, shiny thing and brought it home. I couldn’t believe – of all the things to find in a home decor store – a print of typewriter (that says “write on”). I mean, it was made to come home with me. I don’t see things like this too often.

I also made sure to add some things to the walls that (totally don’t match) but I love just the same. I have spots for a couple more things that I hope to add this weekend. And yes, this is also where my bar is. To the left of my Grandma’s desk is a cabinet I store my mid-century modern glassware.

Except for the cookbooks (that somehow made it to the wrong place), I’ve tried to keep this bookcase favorite novels, writers, or writing references.

In addition to adding a space for me to write, I’m also continuing to make some adjustments here on my website and blog. In the near future, there will be a single static page and then links to blog content. I have a lot of different interests and I’d like to keep them more organized into separate categories instead of having everything on the main page. My goal right now is to focus on my writing as much as humanly possible and to make this space part of that. At one time, I was a very active blogger (on another platform). I miss those days, regular commenters, and the community I developed there. I stopped consistently writing almost 11 years ago in that space and I’m making it a priority again. In addition to the writing space for working on my fiction, I’ll be transforming this space a little more too. Hopefully it will be more user-friendly after organizing into various categories.

So, writer friends – I know you’re out there – what are your writing spaces like? Share here or on your own blog/website and send me the link so I can see! I love being inspired by what inspires others!