Porches and Last Lines

I closed my eyes, head drooping, like a person drunk for so long she no longer knows she’s drunk, and then, drunk, awoke to the world which lay before me.’

Kathy Acker, Don Quixote (1986)

Most of my friends know that I have some hermit tendencies. I am socially anxious before I go anywhere. I’m fine once I actually get there, but sweet mother of big foots, you do not want to see me right before an event. I am a pacing, fast-talking bundle of angst with stage fight. It never stops me, but it’s a pain and I’m pretty positive it’s the reason I never went into the performing arts even though I adore the performing arts.

Anyways, the weird thing about Covid-19 in Maine where we are all still pretty good about wearing our masks and socially distancing is that our front porch is now cool. 

No Anxiety

And I don’t have time to get social anxiety and stage fright because people are suddenly there.

Seriously. We have a big-ass front porch and people are stopping by and talking. We maintain more than the six-foot distance, but we are hosting people in a way that we have never hosted people before. 

On our porch. And sometimes in our driveway, honestly.

This is not the scene I dreamed of. Like much else nowadays I leave it feeling stupid, like a man who lost his way long ago but presses on along a road that may lead nowhere.

J. M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians (1980)

And every time people leave, I want to hug them goodbye, memorize their faces, make sure that I have them ingrained inside of me, their stories, the sound of their voices, their laughs, just in case I lose them. I memorize the things they say as they leave. What I say. Our last lines.

Every moment, every line, feels like a gift.

About ten years ago, The American Book Review, published what it determined were the 100 best last lines from novels. And the books are mostly adult novels, written mostly by white men. It made me think about that dominance in the industry, but also about all the last lines out there. Do you have a favorite? Please share it with me. The Review’s list is here if you want to check it out.  

It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.

Toni Morrison, Sula (1973) 
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What Was It Like To Get a MFA When You Are From Maine and Have Social Anxiety

If you guys don’t know, Vermont College of Fine Arts offers a master’s program specifically for writing for children and young adults. This is a very cool thing. They actually accepted me and I got a degree there. Eventually, I was even awarded a Distinguished Alum degree at a surprise event in D.C, which was ridiculously cool and a great line for my obituary.

But when I started? I didn’t think I would ever get that far. That’s because I get super shy and social anxious about public events. I present an extrovert, but I basically have stage fright about things like singing in public, or going to board meetings or parties. I still go, but I get anxious ahead of time.

I was so anxious about going to Vermont. I was a newspaper editor. That is not the same as writing books for kids and I would be surrounded by people who were devoted to the craft of writing and that seemed so scary.

What was going to Vermont like?

Um…. It was great. No plots were stolen. I did not go to jail or die. All in all? I’d say it was a success.

But when I first got there it was a more than a little scary. I was petrified. You know how when you go into the cafeteria and realize that you know absolutely nobody. No, seriously, and everyone else looks like they know everybody else and so you just stand there with your tray … wondering how you can go into the kitchen and eat with the cooks because they seem really nice … the cooks. 

And then you meet all the other people in your class and it feels like everyone is SOOOOOOOOO much cooler than you are and they all sort of have roles.

There was HE WHO WRITES YA SEX SCENES and SHE OF THE PEACEFUL POETRY and MAGICAL URBAN FANTASY WOMAN and PICTURE BOOK GURU and I AM FLUFFY and then of course, THE ONE CUTE GUY. This is a children’s writer’s program. There is usually one cute guy. There is also usually one ridiculously beautiful woman.

(Note: We were a rocking class because there were actually three cute boys out of our 18 writers. There was also three beautiful women. This made our class ultra-cool.)

Anyway, I felt like I didn’t fit in because everyone else was so cool,  and basically I almost had a complete nervous breakdown the first residency until Lisa Jahn Clough talked me down and said, “Carrie, writers never feel like they fit in. That’s why we’re writers.”

And I said, “But I’m from Maine. I’m not used to all these people talking everywhere about writing. Actually, I’m not used to people, which is part of why I wear a parka inside buildings at all times. You can hide in a parka and pretend to be a snowman or something.”

And she said, “I know. I’m from Maine too, but it’s good. Really. It’s sometimes overwhelming, but it’s good. And parkas are fine.”

And it turned out she was right. 

Everyone in my class at Vermont helped each other and HE WHO WRITES SEX SCENES eventually WROTE PEACEFUL POETRY, occasionally and MAGICAL URBAN FANTASY WOMAN wrote an occasional picture book, and everyone in my class just basically loved each other, creating a happy ending much better than any 1980s teen movie and we eventually all crunched up together and looked all emotional and dramatic but right together. And we connected and learned.

And I kind of miss it because as Molly Ringwald (1980s actress always wearing pink or black) said in the movie, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone“Us loners got to stick together.”

And you know? Writers wrote that line. And they also wrote that movie. Which is why we all need to support each other because sometimes… well… we writers stink.

Anyway, I really miss learning about craft instead of teaching about craft and becoming an exponentially better writer because of these other amazing writer/teachers.


And I really miss throwing cookies at people in the cafeteria and then looking all happy-faced.

Us loners got to stick together, baby, and that counts for writers and readers both, and writing programs give us writers a place to do it. So congratulations to all my friends who are starting programs, and to all my friends who aren’t. Because, basically, we all have our own paths and they are all cool. 

Well, almost all of us.

As C. JoyBell C. says,

“Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.” 

This week’s episode link. 

Last week’s episode link.

Last week’s interview with writer Jordan Scavone! 


Continue reading “What Was It Like To Get a MFA When You Are From Maine and Have Social Anxiety”

Fear, Criticism, and Social Anxiety

Only my closest friends know that I have a ton of social anxiety. I don’t present that way. I present super extroverted actually.

One Rotarian told me last week, “Carrie. If I had one word for you, it would be engaging.”

That’s a pretty interesting word for someone who has massive social anxiety, right?

Almost every time I enter a room, I stand outside the door, stare at it, and whisper to myself that it will be okay.

Another kind person said, “When you entered the room, everyone got so excited. It was like a celebrity was there.”

I laughed and told her she was a liar, but it was such a kind thing for her to say, and it really meant a lot to me because of my fear.

My social anxiety tells me that I’m invisible.

Or my anxiety tells me that nobody wants me there.

Or my anxiety tells me, “Run! Run! Be afraid. You don’t belong. They will know you don’t belong. You will say ‘pubic’ instead of ‘public.’ Get out now!”

Gandhi was afraid of public speaking, another Rotarian friend from India told me, but he overcame that and started social change that lasted. By overcoming his fear, he changed the world.

Social Anxiety

The way my anxiety works is that it happens ahead of an event. It’s like stage fright. It happens about the simplest things. It can be about going over someone’s house even when that someone is my bestie. It’s like stage fright about having someone over my house, too.

I’m lucky.

My anxiety stops when I arrive at a conference to speak or get to my friend’s house or a party.

I’m lucky.

Because even though I do panic, I always make it inside the room or the house or up on the stage. That’s because I am so hard on myself that I know I’d never forgive myself for letting other people down or letting myself down because I’ve missed out.

All my mom’s responsibility lessons worked.

What does this have to do with writing?

Writing is about showing up. Writing is about communicating. Writing is about submitting your work.

But more than that, writing is about showing up, communicating, and submitting your work even though you are afraid and even though people will criticize it.

So how do you get over that?

You have to remember that fear isn’t the same as danger and that anxiety isn’t the same as danger either.

I’m not going to run into a flesh-eating manatee zombie at my friends house. If I fail as a speaker? Nobody will die or go to jail. If someone rejects my book or gives it a one-star review? It will suck, but I’m not going to die from it.

Anxiety and fear of rejection and criticism have something huge in common: They both deceive us into thinking that something dangerous is happening.

But when you overcome that fear?

Your book gets published.

You have a good time at your friend’s house.

You get to be engaging and speak and inspire other people.

Sometimes you even get fan mail. How cool is that? Super cool.

WRITING NEWS

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, ORDER NOW!

My new book, IN THE WOODS, is out!

Gasp! 

It’s with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed! 

You can order this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

In the Woods
In the Woods


ART NEWS

You can buy limited-edition prints and learn more about my art here on my site. 

PATREON OF AWESOME

You can get exclusive content, early podcasts, videos, art and listen (or read) never-to-be-officially published writings of Carrie on her Patreon. Levels go from $1 to $100 (That one includes writing coaching and editing for you wealthy peeps). 

Check it out here. 

WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you.