Audio Blog

 

I have an audio blog at soundcloud.com/cmmounts

When I told friends that I would produce this audio blog, this podcast, a lot of people got excited. I have posted my written work on my blog for over two years, but I never recorded any of it. It seems we are in the midst of yet another generation gap. I am generalizing here so please forgive me, but my older friends prefer to read my blog while my younger friends have asked for a podcast. They say they don’t have time to read it, but they can listen on the commute.

So, here I am.

In March 2018, I had my first official poetry reading. I say official because I have read at my writers’ group meetings and events for years but was never included in a show as a featured writer before. The truth is, I never actually tried to get a show. I asked a friend to record my performance and I posted the two rough videos that came out of that on Facebook to many positive comments. 

That night, I made a decision to record my writing. I sought out help but then life happened as it does. I got lost in a software implementation at work. I found out my mom had terminal blood cancer. I felt very lost, didn’t know how to move forward. I languished. The best I could do was just keep my head down and keep writing…

I know that my strongest skills are public speaking and writing, probably in that order. Public speaking comes naturally to me. As a small child, I would talk to anyone. In grade school, I excelled in declamations, which is an artistic form of public speaking. And in high school, I fell in love with theater. But the hard realities of life derailed me for many, many years.

Around age 30, I was lucky enough to find my writing mentor Susan who finally helped me to recognize and accept that yes, I am a writer and yes, it is OK to be a writer. And from then on, I was on fire with the written word. But I never shared any of it outside of reading at my writers’ group. People told me I was a good reader, but I didn’t pursue it. As dumb as it sounds, I didn’t really know how.

Around age 40, I was asked to give presentations at software conferences for my job. And it was here that my public speaking skills surfaced. People told me I was an excellent software trainer. But being asked to present at regional and national conferences really boosted my confidence. I remembered how much I enjoyed it.

In 2014, a friend and fellow writer urged me to attend the poetry open mics around Minneapolis. Once again that damn sense of not belonging, not being part of the group, not being a ‘real poet’ stopped me from attending.

Oh lord, who cares! It’s an open mic! Anyone could stand up there and read the phone book and would be allowed to do so provided they could actually find one these days. Maybe a dictionary would suffice. But really. Why did I think I needed permission and who was I going to get it from if not myself?

I went to those open mics. And eventually, I was asked to read at a show.  And I got the fire to record and post my work. It’s weird, I know. The psychology we must overcome sometimes…

As a new year resolution, I decided to figure out how to record and where to post it. I needed help. Who could I ask? As dumb as it sounds, it didn’t occur to me that I work for what is essentially the AV department. The software I support, supports a group of audio and sound engineers. I have coffee with the senior engineer almost every morning.

Duh.

What the hell is wrong with me that I am always so blind to the forest for the trees in front of me?!? I asked him in February for a recommendation on a home podcasting studio and he provided one- both the equipment to buy and the software to use. And another friend whose education is in media production helped me to set it all up and work with the software.

So, I printed out my poems and organized them as if I were organizing a book. I decided on themes and order, what was in and what was out, and I came up with five collections of related work. I was ready. The computer was on, the microphone was set, and the mouse hovered over the record button.

And full stop. What is this I am feeling?!?

I can speak in front of a room full of hundreds of people. I know I can because I’ve done it. But speaking to this silver device with its blue light… why should this cause me stage fright? Why should I now be imprisoned by an anxiety attack? I paced my home. I shut off the microphone. I couldn’t record anything…

Here’s what I know: some people fear public speaking more than death. Everyone gets nervous, even me. But what I do with the anxiety of public speaking is transform it into performance. The more nervous I feel, the bigger the ham I become. I need an audience to perform to. I am a conduit and I need the receptacle of another person to focus this intense energy I pump out whenever I read my writing. I need the connection. I need their response, good or otherwise.

Performing to a steel microphone is like performing to a dead room. It’s like telling a joke and have it bomb, like having nothing but the crickets singing when you thought you were so clever. So, when I tried to record my poems my anxiety stayed put. There was no place for it to go and suddenly I was frozen, unable to speak my words, terrified of the consequences of having a permanent record of my public performance.

I figured this all out when my friend helped me test my equipment. I didn’t have trouble reading when she was here, only after she left, and I was alone. I was assured that I don’t have to post anything unless I want to. I don’t have to post a recording until I am ready. But given this anxiety, when am I ever going to be ready?

So, here I am meeting my self-imposed deadline of the first weekend in May. I am good at that, having this weekly deadline for my written blog posts. I just now have to force myself to also create the podcast. I am posting the recordings of my essays first, not my poems. They feel less threatening. I will share my opinion freely… but the poems are more like art, more tender, more vulnerable. I practice with them and they will come. But for now, this is what you get.

It has been such a delight after all these years to finally have the courage to share my written words on my blog… I am excited to finally start the second half of this journey… the performance…

I hope you enjoy it.

 

2019-05-05 Audio Blog 1

 

-Copyright C.M.Mounts, May 2019

Public House

A friend texts and asks if it’s true: Do writers write drunk and edit sober? I tell her what I know. Those are drinkers with writing problems. I can’t write drunk. All that will do for me is limit my vocabulary. But I suppose it’s a method to loosen the tongue, release the tension and anxiety that often comes part and parcel with bearing one’s soul to the page.

But it is Friday night. These are my coordinates. I am in this bar with all strangers.

The bartender knows me. I recognize a regular, the waitstaff. It is the beginning of patio season and there are people laughing outside. I sit at the bar inside in the hope of being left alone. Yet, I am here to be among others so that I am not at home alone at the end of the long work week.

Across the bar, there are women eating dinner together, buddies drinking, a gay couple on a night out. There is a lonely, run-down man waiting for takeout. My side is full of solitary people. Exhausted, broken, searching- and I am the only woman, my face buried in this journal. It is uncommon and I get noticed. I’m not here to drink and I’m not on the make. Occasionally, they are suspicious that I am writing about them.

What of it.

I don’t want to cook dinner. I am lonely and trying to have some company outside of my home and my cats. I’m working through my feelings about all that’s happened in my life over the past year: mom’s cancer, career upheaval, casual sex… what a mess.

People don’t talk to me. I actually don’t want them to. How many times have I tried to fit in and failed? I do not accept their social pecking order. See and be seen. I don’t really understand the unspoken rules of human social interaction. Spit it out asshole. What are these weird social constructs, weird class issues, weird ideas about who has and who has not, what’s in and what’s out?

I’m out. Period.

At times, I feel everyone’s defeat, the long slide off broken dreams into mediocrity, the surrender to aging and lost purpose. Longing for days past. Occasionally, people will try to figure out who I am. I have been asked if I write for the paper by fame seekers. I’ve sat in places where it is not uncommon to see local celebrities. Who are you? No one. But I am trying to go for it as if writing books meant anything.

I am clearly a professional here for happy hour on the occasional Friday. The bartender likes me. I tip. No trouble and deep in thought. But also, he thinks I’m cool. Maybe he’s a writer too or a musician or an artist of some other flavor. Like it or not, I have become a regular, a neighborhood fixture. I am part of the scene.

Lady, loner, writer.

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, April 2019

Months in review: Jan-Mar 2019

One of the most challenging aspects of writing books is the stamina it requires. There is a trick to writing. If I am happy, that feeling will come through and imbue my work. If I cry, you will cry. If I laugh… well, you might laugh. Comedy is hard. But my deep, turbulent, and powerful emotions are often quite clear to my audience. So is my boredom and stress.

So how then does one sustain the excitement through years of writing and revision?

It’s a lonely life, living with all this ink and paper. Last year, I finally got out and socialized with other writers at various events around town. I met a lot of people and had a lot of fun but quickly realized that the hours I spent out were hours spent away from my writing desk. Everything takes time. We have to make hard choices. And while I enjoyed supporting other writers and listening to their work,  I could no longer justify blowing a whole night to read one lousy poem.

“Solitude sometimes is best society.” -John Milton

Writing is an extremely isolating life simply because it takes hours and hours of concentrated alone time to produce anything of quality. I know this is the reason I was out. I got too lonely. Being among other writers can be a shot in the arm. You can steal their excitement and inspiration.

The best readings I have attended over the years were authors who spoke at the UMN as part of the English department reading series. I got to see Denis Johnson, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Natasha Trethewey read live- in the flesh!!! Absolutely inspiring and breathtaking…

I’ve talked to my mom about writing novels. This is roughly how that conversation went:

Mom- “Have you ever considered writing a romance novel?”
Me- “No mom. If I did, people would think I had been hit over the head.”
Mom- “Really?”
Me- “Yes mom. Really.”

*SIGH*

Sometimes, you just have to make the road by walking. There are no rules about how you get a novel written and really the only way to learn is to do it. I once read that there are two kinds of novelists- architects and gardeners. Architects already know exactly what the structure of their novel will be and fill in the prose. Gardeners have a handful of seeds (ideas), throw them, and wait to see what grows. I am a gardener. I have spent the last three months figuring out the architecture buried within the blob that is my current draft.

A former teacher once told me, “a book can do you in” and it’s true. If you intend to do it right, to cut up your soul and smear it on the page… I never have to look too far to know what makes me burn. I know what my calling is.

But writing a book is a slow, slow grind. You give up one day, only to return to it the next. I often ask myself, “Who is going to want to read this crap, anyway?” But whether it has an audience of 15 or 15 million, I am in it for the work, for the creation, for the birth of whatever *IT* is. Once it’s done, it will find that audience and it will no longer be mine. It will have a life wholly its own and there will be as many versions of it as readers.

How fucking amazing is that?

This past quarter, I posted 11 blog posts- 9 essays and 2 poems. I submitted some poems for possible publication. I got rejected from another submission (it wasn’t my best work). All the usual writerly stuff. And I have an enhancement to my blog in the works… to be launched in May.

Stay tuned!

  

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, April 2019

Months in review: Jul-Oct 2018

It’s November and this post was intended to be a quarterly Jul-Sep check-in but then life happened… I’ve had celebrations, out of town visitors, and/or business travel every weekend for the past five weeks. Since I mostly write and blog on the weekends you can understand my absence this past month. But really, who’s keeping track?

I submitted a piece for publication. It’s been over a decade since I last tried. Back then, I was writing children’s stories. If you know me, this fact may come as a bit of a shock- but it’s true. In the early days when I was first breaking out and sharing my work, they were simple, funny stories and did not disturb the deep fibers of my soul. Fast forward to today and you can read the lyrics that erupt when I strum those fibers.

I submitted the story after a friend and someone I consider a writing mentor urged me to do so. It feels like the natural next step to my writing career, such as it is. I have been asked by others why I am not published. And the answer is easy: because I don’t try. But the natural progression of questioning leads to why I don’t try, which I don’t have a good answer for.

You can chalk it up to laziness or perfectionism, but the truth is that it’s just the constraints of a professional working life. Consider our 168 hours every week, minus 56 of sleep (if we are lucky), minus the 60 hours dedicated to weekday work prep, commute, meals, and work day. That leaves 52 hours to rest, clean, shop, exercise, socialize, read, write, etc. Now add in the random universal chaos generator and there you have it. It’s not an excuse, just reality.

There is writing and then there is writing business. Searching for appropriate markets takes time and effort I am not willing to dedicate to my poetry and short fiction. So, I blog it here dear reader. I did manage to post ten times in the last four months, as well as attend open mics around town. This blog is my own magazine, entirely constructed of my work, for free and for my true fans.

But… what are my writing goals? What is it that I want to have accomplished by the end of my days? It’s not fame and fortune. We all know that is the same dream as winning the lottery. Still you can’t win if you don’t have a ticket, right? But I really don’t want that anyway. My dream is more about making a living outside the cube farm from the fruits of my creative writing. Maybe it’s my retirement dream, I don’t know.

My mission in writing is to make my readers feel the way I feel. I want others to know that they are not alone in this world. That the feelings and longings that they are ashamed of are a natural part of this human experience. I find life to be incredibly isolating- some of that by choice and some by circumstance. The difficulty of finding kindred spirits is universal. There are so many paths through life and different kinds of people navigating them. We often face the same trials with different responses and perspectives. I can learn from your experience and maybe you can learn from mine.

But those deep fibers have not rung out yet and finding markets for such stories will require fortitude, energy, and faith that I can and will find my place. That last one… that one fails me too often. Who exactly wants to read about all this crap rattling around in my head and heart? I have no great ego around my writing that makes me think the world needs to hear me, yet I am angered by the suggestion that I am not trying hard enough. I have fantastically wild dreams about my ideal writing life even while I still punch the time card…

The question I ask myself is why publish? Why not remain safe, pouring my guts out in anonymity? Why not leave all the notebooks behind and shock whoever is tasked with putting my final affairs in order? When I was first published in the Journal of Ordinary Thought back in 2002, a publication of the now defunct Neighborhood Writing Alliance in Chicago, I simply could not believe it. Yes, this was the parent organization of my writing group and yes, we were all guaranteed publication (unpaid) once per year, but there was still nothing else like seeing my writing in print. Some unknown someone was going to read it and react to it for good or bad. And in 2003, when I finished the first draft of my first novel, it felt as great as my college graduation. I felt like I could fly to the moon and back again.

Maybe that ride is reason enough for me.

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, November 2018

Usual Early Morning Stuff

It is 5am. I fight with the alarm. I fight with the cat. It is hard to leave the bed soft, fresh sheet, downy blanket hugging me back to slumber. He won’t let me sleep in and the 10-minute snooze won’t either. My choice. I set the alarm. I keep feeding him.

I sit up. I strap on the robe and sandals. I set about the usual early morning stuff. The cats weave around my legs as I pee. There are two cats, but she is much quieter, so I don’t complain about her in the morning. The gurgling coffee pot calls to me from the kitchen. I set about feeding us.

Shredded fish and gravy for them, OJ and coffee and ink for me. He eats, and naps curled in the chair next to me. She disappears again. The coffee has been poured into a weekday cup of average size. I put on a blanket against the chill from the degrading kitchen windows.

I begin to empty my mind of anger or poems or scene sketches for a novel I am months from completing. It is slow at first, unsure of my characters. What if I make bad choices for them? These are someone else’s kids in my care- no? They’re mine? Even worse. The white space fills with black ink, mostly legible, with circular patterns of character self-discovery and bad descriptions.

The paper and ink raw messy dirty dish reality of my kitchen conjures the best times of my life- food and wine and people I love. The space I write and create, the space of warm ovens and cold drinks, of turning spice into curry and flour into bread. It is fertile ground. It soothes my aching soul when the pen digs too deep into the flesh of all that is hidden.

Later the computer will sterilize this but not too much. Only enough to make it appear I am not completely uneducated though my reading list is long and impossible. Writing my flesh then clothing it in gauze. My living room editor life of electronic square blinking screen, cold and efficient, symbol of productivity and work.

The alarm on the stove beeps. The pen and paper are closed. Night clothes come off, day clothes come on, different. Hair different, hot and pasted into place. Breakfast, commuter bag, lunch bag, journal, calendar, coat, hat, boots, mittens… power off, locks on, out into the ally to the street to the bus to the bumper car traffic to the place I spend most of my days, not writing, in a cube farm.

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, February 2018

Morning Light

I see it appear
Every morning
Early sunlight

Some have suggested
Cycle before dawn
But I write not ride

I don’t trust drivers
In the dark
I don’t trust listeners
With my words

I ride in the light
I hide in the light, too

If you read this
You have no one to blame
but yourself

I exist, I am
I wake early
To put pen to page

It helps to light
The way home

It helps to keep
Moving forward

It helps

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, September 2017

Artist Life

Success comes from years of failure and practice and headache and despair. When you finally succeed at whatever it is, there is often a surprise as if you popped out of a magic hat that way. I feel the real danger for artists is to compare themselves to commercially successful artists, assuming they did it all on their own- Maverick with little more than grit and determination. While that is true, they did not start out successful and back then, back then they didn’t have staff. There was not a whole team of corporate paid handlers, marketers, cleanup crew. Yes, the artist has the raw talent but their team polishes them. So please, for the love of God, do not give up on your art because it is not perfect. You don’t have staff to help you. Not yet.

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, May 2017