Ten Tips for Writers

By alexkerhead, Flickr Creative Commons

Writers see this and know exactly what it means. Horrors!

1. Take Notes

Lots of them. All the time. Then, when you finally sit down to write, you already have words to work with.

2. Talk it Out

Start blabbing out loud. If you haven’t yet written anything, tell someone (even if it’s your cat) what you want your writing to say. Or, if you have some words on paper, read it out loud to yourself. It’s the same as looking at a painting from another angle…you start “seeing” things you didn’t before.

3. Write Sloppy, Edit Clean

When it comes to a first draft, put down any words that run through your mind. Even if it has nothing to do with the topic at hand. I’ve started art reviews with, “Holy shit I don’t know what the hell I’m going to say about this and I thought this would be easier because I really liked the show but why? why? why?” etc. Once you remove the fear of writing the wrong words, you’ll keep writing until you get the right ones.

And then edit out the evidence of your messy process (very important).

4. Feel the Burn

Writing is hard. Like, really hard. Sometimes, it actually hurts. It’s just like exercise…if you’re feeling the burn, you’re probably doing it right. The only thing that gets better with time is how you cope with the pain. Because it never goes away.

5. Embrace Procrastination

During my first year writing professionally, I’d spend the seven days leading up to a deadline emotionally abusing myself for not writing ahead of schedule. By the time it was the evening before a deadline, I was so worked up with self-imposed anxiety, I couldn’t even see the words I was trying to type.

Commit to a start time that butts up to your deadline and stop feeling guilty. (I usually started at 8 p.m. for a 9 a.m. next-day, 1,000-word deadline and figured if I got really stumped, I’d just stay up all night.)

6. Say Goodbye

Each time I write a fantastic first sentence, I know I’m going to have to cut it later.

Typically, if the piece ends in the same place I started (in other words, if that first sentence still makes sense after I’ve written 1,000 more words that should explore the concept further), it usually means I haven’t pushed hard enough. Yes, it hurts to cut a good sentence but…see #4.

7. Take a Shower

You can afford the five minutes it takes for a quick rinse. This solitary activity allows your mind to wander quietly without the glowing screen of your laptop burning into your eyes. If nothing else, you’ll feel nice and clean when you have to get back to the Hell that awaits you.

8. Commit

Sooner or later, you have to decide the piece is done. Editing yourself into oblivion means your hesitation will translate to the reader. Then they’ll stop reading. How do I commit? I force myself (see #5).

9. [Try to] Accept Criticism

If you’ve signed up for a project, career, or life’s work that involves creating things and then putting those things (articles, books, songs, paintings, etc.) out in the world for others to experience, know that people are going to hate it. Some will love it, sure, but receiving criticism (and, occasionally, an online comment in which somewhat might refer to you as a troll) comes with the territory.

The only way you can truly avoid this is to quit. And that’s not what you want to do, is it?

10. Make Conversation

You have a voice and you know how to put it in writing. Congratulations. Unfortunately, this does not mean you have the final word. You’re just one piece of a large conversation among other thinking people. And this is where #9 comes in.

I Don’t Want To Do This

Let's trade lives. Just for an hour.

I am flippin’ exhausted and now I must be creative on this blog.

And you know what that means…it’s time for a list!

Top Ten Wishes for Today:

1. I wish that I will be able to pick up my mom and take her home.

2. I wish that when I get home, we can start this.

3. I wish I had the energy to change out of this dirty shirt.

4. I wish I had some socks on because my feet are cold.

5. I wish Lou’s wrist would stop hurting.

6. I wish Lou’s wrist would stop hurting so he wouldn’t have to complain. And then he wouldn’t have to apologize to me about complaining.

7. I wish homophobia didn’t exist.

8. I wish I could be my cat right now…sleeping on a pillow.

9. I wish LGO wasn’t so dang loud and annoying when all I wanted was a convenient breakfast. What was I thinking?

10. I wish this blog was more like this blog.

My Mom…Sew Awesome

Use these on paper and you will FEEL Roxana's wrath!

I saw a meme today about the consequences of using fabric scissors to cut paper. I laughed.

I laughed because it reminds me of my mother, Roxana. She’s a remarkable seamstress and, though my brothers and I were a rowdy bunch, we knew to stay the f*ck away from the fabric scissors.

Build a fire in the backyard and you will be scolded. Use the pinking shears on your construction paper and you will be so passionately shamed that the mere memory of the incident will bring you to tears decades later, when you finally have the strength to face it.

Roxana never played with dolls as a child. Instead, she designed and sewed little outfits for them.

In her childhood photo album (an absolute treasure not only because all the photography, layout, and captions were compiled by a 12-year-old, but because we lost the majority of our family photo albums earlier this year in a tragic fire), there are a series of photographs of young Roxana in half a dozen outfits. A play jumper, a formal dress, skirts, blouses…these were my mother’s summer vacation projects.

Once in high school and already an expert in clothing construction, Roxana asked the school counselor if she could register for the Introduction to Architecture class.

“Oh, I don’t think you want to do that,” the counselor said. “You’ll be the only girl there.”

It was back to the sewing machine for Roxana. A few years later, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Home Economics from UC Davis.

Then, many years later, she had a little girl.

She taught me the basics but I never really took to it. Not like her.

Instead, I would sketch designs for the clothes that I wanted (mostly my Halloween costumes) and she’d make the pattern and sew it. Decisions for color, fabric, and closures were a collaborative effort.

She made my punk-rock-inspired prom dress out of pleather. She made my beautiful satin gown when I was a bridesmaid in my brother’s wedding.

And, of course, she made my wedding dress.

We both knew this was the project we had trained for. We found a Vogue design that was perfect…simple and elegant. The dress had no need for beading or boning and my mother was thrilled.

“If you wanted all that sparkly stuff, I would’ve done it for you…but I would not have been happy,” she said.

What we thought was simple turned into something more complicated.

“Stop losing weight!” my mother told me as she had to take in the dress for the twelfth time.

We didn’t finish the hem until the day before the rehearsal dinner.

I was hunched over in the sewing room, sobbing with my face buried in my hands. To add to this humiliating scene, I was only wearing my nude-colored Spanx and bustier as my mom spread my dress on the floor.

“Oh, Lilia,” she said. “I’m so sorry…I didn’t want it to be like this.”

I reassured her. I wasn’t mad. I was just overwhelmed and probably suffering from malnourishment.

Today, we laugh together about the whole thing.

“I’ll never sew another wedding dress again,” she always says.

Good.

I want this one to be just for us…

Photo by Ryan & Denise Photography. ryananddenise.com

"Phew! We made it!"

Photo by Ryan & Denise Photography. ryananddenise.com

My mother's brilliant work.

All wedding photos taken by ryan & denise photography. Hire them because they are totally the best ever in the world, I promise.

Has-Beens

My happy place.

I posted this photo on my Facebook page a few weeks ago and it got a lot of attention.

“What was that all about?” asked my father-in-law, who hates Facebook so much he doesn’t even have an account.

I was a little thrown by the question.

It’s pretty simple. This is what Lou and I do on our weekend evenings. Usually on a Friday night.

While I chop veggies and roll the dough for our pizza, Lou uncorks one of those practical-joke-sized beers for me. I used to only drink Delirium Tremens but now I’m enjoying La Fin du Monde.

Wow, I really want one right now.

Anyway, he plucks at his guitar while I assemble the pizza and we chat. Or, more accurately, I blab like crazy and he goes into that spacey musician place as he tries to figure out the next chord to whatever song he’s writing.

Once the pizza’s in the oven, we head outside for a few rounds of Gin Rummy. I taught Lou how to play the game on our honeymoon and we’ve had a running competition since we picked the cards back up a couple months ago. Our scores are in the thousands and he’s usually in the lead.

Lou smokes a cigar and we put on the latest album we both enjoy (lately, it’s been Smile by The Beach Boys or Crazy for You by Best Coast).

I couldn’t really tell you what we talk about. Work, music, writing, family, marriage, whatever.

We’re usually having so much fun, it’s a little disappointing when the oven beeps and we have to eat the pizza.

Recently, I got a little sore at Lou for writing (what felt like) the fifth song in a row with lyrics about getting old.

I suppose he’s right. We are old.

Because playing cards with my husband over a few beers is absolutely the most fun I’ve ever had.

Especially because on those nights, I’m in bed by 11.

Survivor

By BenedictFrancis, Flickr Creative Commons.

Each day is a gift!

I often wonder how I managed to survive my youth.

Here’s a delightful run-down of all the things I did that could have got me killed or, at the very least, arrested.

When I was 15, a group of us explored the legendary underground tunnels of Phoenix. We sneaked into the Hyatt through a utility entrance, climbed through a wall, and shimmied down some pipes to get there. The “tunnels” are really just a bunch of depressing and abandoned offices. When we surfaced, we were in a completely different building.

Shortly after, this same group of kids decided to visit the abandoned dog tracks off the I-10 West. It was Thanksgiving night. We arrived and there were three unmarked vans (the kind without windows) parked by the structure. We could see flashlight beams coming from one of the upper levels. My friends insisted we were safe. I feared rape and torture. I ran back to the car and they followed.

Desperate for any chance to drink beer, my fellow 16-year-old pals and I spent an evening in a South Phoenix apartment drinking cans of Bud Light. The electricity had been turned off and there was no running water. As we gathered around a fire in the middle of the living room, someone came in and pulled a gun. No big deal.

Speaking of fires, my mischievous older brother got in trouble for building a small fire in our backyard when we were very young. There was a bucket filled with water nearby so my mom gave me permission to pour the water on the fire. I dumped it over the flames and then I was violently jerked away. It wasn’t water. It was paint thinner.

I drove drunk. A lot.

Lou and I didn’t pay attention to the instructions in my hiking book and went on a four-mile trek to Picacho Peak without recommended supplies or a proper meal in our stomachs. By the end, we had dangled from wires on the sheer sides of rocks. Multiple times. Luckily, we avoided falling to our deaths. Instead, we walked away with sunburns, the need for a tetanus shot, and the memory of multiple emotional breakdowns.

Baby, Baby

By Chalky Lives, Flickr Creative Commons

"No more pitocin!" says this kid.

“We bought it from the original owners,” we like to tell people. “It was built in 1951 by a man named Dude Coffey.”

Dude constructed our house and raised his family here. I didn’t bother to ask the seller for a detailed run-down, but it was clear that Dude’s kids and grandchildren took turns living in this home over the 60 years it belonged to the family. Some of his kids, now in their 50′s and 60′s, still live in the neighborhood.

It feels good in our house. I didn’t even have to do a sage burn when we moved in — which is something I’ve done in almost every apartment or house I’ve ever rented.

On our big moving day, as I scrubbed the walls and lugged boxes, one of the “kids” stopped by. I could overhear her talking to the realtor as they shuffled up the driveway.

“It just feels weird having other people live in our house!” she said.

I rolled my eyes. But, I was happy to know that our new home was always loved.

About a year later, Lou and I watched a documentary titled The Business of Being Born.

The film summarizes the history of childbirth practices in America and encourages women to consider natural labor, at home or in birthing centers with a midwife. Aside from Lou cringing at Ricki Lake’s naked body (she produced the film and shares her own at-home labor with the viewer) we’re happy we watched it. We decided that when we have baby times (whenever that is), a natural birth will be our preferred plan.

Then Lou disappeared outside to mow the front lawn.

As he finished the yard work, a car pulled up to our house.

“Do you live here?” asked the driver. “Mind if I take some pictures of your house? Today’s my daughter’s 18th birthday and she was born in your master bedroom,” he said, pointing to our bedroom window.

I may as well go out and buy the kiddie pool today…there’s no way I can back out of this now.

Lilia Menconi, The Original

Lilia & Lilia, Aug '82, San Francisco.

I never thought I’d change my last name. Because Lilia Menconi sounds really pretty.

Especially when you pronounce it properly: “Lee-lee-ah Men-cone-ee”.

There was another Lilia Menconi. She was born in San Francisco in 1917. Her parents (my great grandparents), Levantina and Carlo Menconi, came to the United States as young teenagers.

Levantina (we called her Nona) was killed in 1986. As she crossed the street at the top of a San Francisco hill during a particularly blinding sunset, she was struck by a car. She was 90.

The family believes she would have lived beyond 100 had it not been for that accident. From the stories I’ve heard, she was a pushy old lady and an intimidating matriarch.

Her daughter, Lilia Menconi, did not share this temperament. She was warm, sweet, and genuine. Particularly among the women in the family, I believe we each felt we had our own unique friendship with our Aunt Li.

We visited Aunt Li and Uncle Fred (her football star husband who suffered an injury and then had to support his family as a delivery truck driver) frequently when I was a small child. She’d expertly produce monstrous Italian feasts out of her teeny-tiny kitchen in their San Francisco house.

During one visit, I wore a special skirt that flared when I twirled. I must have been twirling all over the place as my Uncle Fred and I hunted for Snoopy, who lived in the garage.

On the last morning of our visit, Aunt Li was in her miniscule kitchen, managing multiple boiling and sizzling pots.

“Lilia!” she cried, “Look!”

She majestically spun in place and her full skirt flared beautifully. I remember the fabric hem kissing the counter tops and fanning the steam from the stove.

I was amazed.

The last time I saw her, I was 16. I had jet black hair, wore black eyeliner all the way around each eye, and clunky Doc Marten boots.

True to form, she was sweet as ever in spite of my frightening appearance. She cooked my dad and I a delicious hot soup from scratch on the rainy afternoon of our visit. Well into her 80′s, she decided to skip treatments and chemotherapy for her colon cancer.

At her funeral, my grandmother dragged me around to friends and relatives I’d never met before.

“I want to introduce you to this girl,” she’d say, “Her name is Lilia Menconi.”

“Take care of that name!” some old guy said to me. I promised him I would.

When I got married, I legally changed my name to Lilia Katherine Menconi Kummerer. Menconi is now my second middle name.

Ridiculous, I know.

I took Kummerer (pronounced “coo-mer”) because I wanted Lou and I to officially exist as members of the same family.

I figured I could use Lilia Menconi as my byline.

And I will.

An Extremely Exciting Blog Post About the Photos in My Wallet

These are with me at all times. For no good reason.

These are the photos that are in my wallet.

They are with me all the time. Because they are wallet-sized and I don’t have any other place to put them. I also like them and I’m short on ideas right now so here’s a brief explanation for each.

1. My adorable nieces from years ago. They wear bras and braces now.

2. My other adorable niece from Lou’s side of the family. Last time I saw her, she looked like this.

3. Anthony Hart and I at the Brophy prom in 1999.

4. My mother and us kids at my oldest brother’s wedding in 1997-ish.

5. The Menconi children. Taken at an Olan Mills studio (where else?) in 1987.

6. Cousin Kirsten’s senior photo. Sorry, Kirsten!

7. Lou and I at the Heard Museum. This photo was printed in Java Magazine. I gave this to him and wrote, “That’s it…you’re stuck with me.” Then he gave it back to me, apparently.

8. My father as a baby with his parents. Somewhere in Illinois.

9. Taken at month #2 of dating Lou. I was brunette and he was shaggy.