Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My Missing Virtue

I am a lot of things, but something I am NOT is patient. I want everything yesterday. That's probably why I always feel like I'm in a hurry, even when I'm not. Life is so short to be waiting. 

Unfortunately, life is also made of many situations that require waiting. Right now the area of my life that has me waiting is hearing back from my agent about what editors think about my novel. She has been sending it out in batches to editors with an interest in something with which my work can align. Some are into diverse characters and authors. Others are into stories with strong female protagonists. There are editors who prefer sports stories, and those that like a gritty story with an urban edge. She made a list and started with those who had the most in common with my work. That was round one and so on.

While I love my work, it's not for everyone. It is going to require a special editor who loves it and sees its marketability. That takes time, and that is where this process drives me crazy. 

I trust my agent and her contacts in the publishing world. She's been there a long time, and from what I hear from others, she is highly respected in the field. She was an editor for many years, and she knows how they operate. Editors know that she has polished the work she sends them and that her clients' work doesn't require months and months of revising and editing, which makes their job easier. What is not easy, is waiting for their replies. 

Every few months my agent sends me an update on where she's sent my manuscript, what the response has been, and what her next steps are in relation to their feedback. Most of the feedback has been positive with many stating that they like my voice and style, but are not fans of the violence, or of the sport. Some have passed for reasons that have nothing to do with my writing, like they have all the titles their house can take on for now. While these replies aren't ideal, they aren't devastating. But, they do mean that I have to wait for the next step in the process. That's where I have to remember this:
Patience is not about waiting, but the ability to keep a good attitude while working hard for what you believe in.
Those are not my words, they are from an article, but they capture the place I am on my road to publication. My agent tells me to keep writing and I am. So far I am about 23,000 words into a new novel, which is about the point when I start to stress over whether or not my novel is going anywhere, and answering that question certainly keeps me busy. 

However, that doesn't negate the fact that I suck at being patient. While I continue to work hard and dream about publication, I can't help but wonder why editors aren't liking what I poured my soul into for over 2 years. There are parts of me in that novel that the editors are not interested in, and it's difficult not to take that personally. Aside from all of life's regular hassles, I battle to keep positive and remind myself that their lack of interest is not a reflection of my talent, nor does it mean that I am not a writer. This mentality isn't easy to keep up, especially when I'm stumped on other work and wonder why I even bother when no one wants to read it anyway. That's a crappy attitude to have, and I battle it all the time, even as I am excited about the new story and characters. 

In the end, this process is like everything else in life - a lesson. If I'm smart I'll learn some more about patience that will apply to all other facets of my days. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


I don't understand hashtags. I was told to use them when I post stuff on Instagram for work so I've used them, but have no idea what they are supposed to do for the messages I want to relay. It's been explained that they lump together ideas so they are easily found via social media. Sounds like a label, but maybe I am just dense when it comes to their ultimate purpose.

Because of my lack of understanding of hashtags I ignore them. In fact, I cringe inside at the run-on words, especially when they are misspelled, but misspelling bothers me whenever I see it, not just in hashtags. However, there is one that often catches my eye:


This one gets me because it reminds me of what I should be doing, but am not. It brings on a case of writer's envy. In many cases writer's envy can be described as wishing you'd written something someone else has written, as in, "That’s such a good novel/article/blog post. I wish I’d written it." While I've gotten a case of that a few times, my envy doesn't come from other writer's ideas. I believe that stories can be told over and over again in various styles and have distinct affects on their readers. We each tell stories in our way, through our personal lens and so even if I write a story with an idea that's been done before, my take will be unique. I get a different kind of writer's envy. 

When I see the above hashtag, I feel envious of those who are doing something I love. At that moment when I read it, I wish I could be writing, too. I picture the person sitting comfortable at a desk or with their laptop propped on them, words flowing flawlessly onto the page, a peaceful setting that allows for thought and creativity to stream freely. I imagine the tranquility of their lives at that moment when they are ignoring the real world and building their own. What I am most envious of is that they have the time to be writing.

As I've blogged before, I can't write every day. I am not whining about it, it's just how my life is right now. I have 2 jobs, am raising a daughter on my own, have a plethora of people who count on me, and limited energy to do it all. I have to consciously carve out writing time and on average, I get to it about once a week on a good week. But, if I could squeeze out a few more hours in the day and some more mental energy, I'd write every day. Ideally, I'd have a big desk overlooking an inspiring landscape, my books spread around me like tools and companions. My space would be quiet, except for chirping birds outside my window and the sound of my dog napping peacefully at my feet. My iced tea would sit beside me, and maybe a bowl of pistachios for a snack. The walls would be covered in quotes by other writer's, writing prompts and pictures that bring me joy and provoke thought. A candle burns emits a musky, mild aroma, and my seat is comfortable and supportive of my posture. I could escape to this space at will, and daily. This would be my sanctuary. Maybe from there I'll start to love #amwriting.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In my Hands

Yesterday I got to do something for the first time. I held a book that contained my writing. A few weeks ago I blogged about the book and I was excited and incredulous, grateful and humbled that it was going to happen. In the weeks following the news, I got busy and didn't think much about it. When the package arrived last night, the feelings all came back to me. My daughter opened it and I half expected to look through it and not see my name anywhere, let alone my words. I braced myself as she flipped page after page looking, and breathed a sigh of relief when we saw it. 

I held it together as she and I read my excerpt, and the pages surrounding it. However, that night, as I held the book in bed, in a quiet moment with no one around, it was a different story. 

Writing the original essay was not that difficult. The subject matter was intimately close and familiar. I can talk about Warren for hours, and write about him for days. On various occasions I have written out the details of the night he died, the moments before his final breath, what went down at the hospital, the last time I held him, how my daughter reacted when I told her he had died. I inked out details like the sounds and temperature of those moments, the loud silences and the overwhelming dread I felt as I waited for the doctor to tell me what my gut already knew. I have written Warren letters filled with ramblings of my frustrations and fears, catching him up on life since he left, asking for his advice. I have notebooks of poems that document the struggles of coping without him, and chronicling the things that I miss from our life together. Writing it out for myself is almost habitual. Seeing it in print for others to dissect and ingest is much more harrowing.

Dedicated to Warren - officially in print!
Reading my words in print made a greater impact than I expected. Even though they were my words, it was visceral. I felt as though the story came from someone else's pain, but I could relate to them in from a place of epic pain. My name was written beneath my words, but they were no longer just mine. I had set them free for others to relate to, and feel. They belonged to readers, not just me. My goal was to share about Warren, but also to help someone out there who feels alone in their grief, while my heart aches for the person who needs healing. I am still in the midst of that process and I do not wish the pain of soulmate loss on anyone. 

The happiness and excitement of being part of this publication were mixed with so many emotions. It's not how I wanted to be published for the first time, but it makes sense that it would happen in this way. It gives me hope that my other writing will become books one day that can be shared, while serving as a reminder that while I wish it were not so, widowhood is a part of my story I will never escape. I always knew that, but seeing it in my hands, in black and white really solidified it in a way that was more real than my thoughts, more real than hearing it. Perhaps the impact is because books are such an important part of who I am, and who I want to be. They have shaped me more than any other material thing. Having my most painful times immortalized in this form strikes at a part of me that I have never met, but I will have to get used to.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

That Nagging Story

Maya Angelou once said: There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
These words have been ringing true for a few weeks, and it brings a heavy feeling of responsibility, excitement and urgency.

When a story brews inside me, it nags at me throughout the day. It doesn't matter what I'm doing, it's simmering in the back of my mind. Often it feels like a pressure. It wants out, and I have to find the time to get it to paper. But, my Type-A tendencies kick in and I stall because I want to write the best I can. Spilling a bunch of out of sequence ideas feels chaotic to me, unnatural. One side of my brain wants order, the other side fights me to get the words out. It's a constant battle. Yet, I have proven time and time again that I am not a linear writer. I don't write the beginning, middle and end in that order, even though I want to every time. I have trouble letting myself write as it comes, and figuring out the order organically. Perhaps its my impatience. Waiting for a story's plot to unfold takes a level of patience that I struggle with. My way is to get things done as quickly as possible. 

Stories don't work like that. At least, not for me. My stories take time to grow into themselves. Outlining, character sketches, and plotting morph, and when I look at where I started and thought it would go, I find that it has veered into something else. Sometimes that other direction is correct, other times I have to re-route and find the correct path. Characters develop in ways I hadn't expected, or become irrelevant. When that happens, it's like starting all over again because it re-shapes the entire manuscript. I have to have patience that allows me to see it as part of the process, which is very difficult for me. That is even harder when the story is pressing on my brain, demanding of my time and energy, which is often in limited supply. 

Ignoring it, or forcing it to wait is scary. It fosters a slew of crazy thoughts and questions.
  • What if the idea vanishes and it's the last good idea I will ever have?
  • I am a writer. Shouldn't I be dropping everything to write?
  • How do I expect to be published if I allow life to come before words? 
  • You're not writing. You're not a writer. 
  • Write or you'll never get an ROI on your MFA. - this one appeals to my frugal side.
  • All the good stories have been told already. Why would anyone want to read my rendition?
On the other hand, there is excitement to having something so pressing pushing you forward. When I finally get it on paper it is euphoric, like weights are lifted, air is crisper and life feels on the correct orbit. Writing releases endorphins that bring me joy and peace in a way that very few other things can. It takes me to a place of control, away from reality and resets my energy. The sound of my fingertips clacking at the keys is like a melody, an orchestra of a beloved sound, and the solace of releasing new friends and places that I can visit and love. 

Very little compares to that feeling. It gives me a sort of high that comes with the added bonus of feeling like I accomplished something, even as it reminds me that I am embarking on a path that comes with hours of work and frustration. I have never been one to shy away from hard work and doing what has to be done, but when it comes to writing, there are so many stories I want to tell, characters I want to get to know, and ideas I want to explore that it feels urgent, like a full bladder. The more I write, the stronger the urge to write.

Every minute that I'm not writing, or planning out the plot feels like wasted time, like I am stepping farther and farther from my dream. It allows doubt and self-mockery to take root, a dangerous concoction that leads to writer's block and discouragement. The story permeates my thoughts as I do other things. I can carry on a fully logical conversation with someone, while clearly picturing the next scene that is percolating in my head. It's not that I am not an engaged listener, but I don't know how to stop it. 

Writing is a roller-coaster. It takes me on quick highs and drops me into scary lows. It gets my heart racing, and calls for me to slow down. Above all, it reminds me that I have a purpose, and that words are my way. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Why Ask Why

Honesty is always the best policy, but sometimes it doesn't help parents. This was most true for me during the pre-school years. It's a time of endless questions that come at the most inopportune times, like when you're in the middle of a million things. That wasn't when my mind was in the place to answer questions like "Why am I not blonde?" and, "Can we get a pet kangaroo?" Sometimes the questions were less complex, like, "Why can't I have hot Cheetos for breakfast?" But, the pace and quantity felt relentless so I came up with a few ways to buy myself some sanity. I look back now and think that my kid will probably write a NY Times best-seller titled Absurdities I Believed, Thanks to My Mom the Liar.

I'll share a few gems in case they can be of help to other parents.

Question: Can we go to Chuck E Cheese? 
Answer: Chuck E Cheese is by invitation-only. 
For a good two years I saved myself from spending time and money in this cesspool of germs and bad food by asking her if I could see her invitation. She had been there for parties, so she had experienced the place via invitation, so it made sense to her. It saved me from having to answer that question every time we drove by, heard a commercial, or saw an ad. One day my sister took her there on a whim, and my cover was blown. How did I recover? It went something like this:
Her: Mom, Titi took me to Chuck E Cheese. She didn't have an invitation, but they let us in. You don't need an invitation to get in anymore.
Me: Interesting. I didn't know that rule had changed. When I was your age, it was only by invitation. 
Lucky for me, by the time this happened, she had outgrown most of their activities.

Question: Can I put glitter on this?
Answer: I'm allergic. If I touch glitter I will get all itchy and blow up like a house.

Before you label me a fun-hating mommy, can you recall the last time you had to clean up glitter? Was it a good time? Did you find glitter for weeks after? Did you have glitter in your hair, on your face and in places that shouldn't shimmer? Feel free to use this one. It served me well for projects where alternatives like rhinestones and beads were easier to clean, and saved me money when she'd want glittery shirts that were way over-priced and left half their sparkly design in my washer and dryer.

Question: Why do some people have babies and some don't?
This question gave me pause. I wasn't sure if she was asking me how babies came to be, and she was five, so that question seemed premature. Then I remembered something I learned in a parenting class about kids her age asking exactly what they mean. I realized that she wasn't asking about the birds and the bees, but rather why she saw some women with babies, but not all. 
Answer: Because having a baby is a choice. If you don't want one, you don't have to have one. If you want one, sometimes you have to wait for the right time. 
I had already gotten flack from people for saying that I did not want to bare children and I knew the stigma attached. I wanted her to know from an early age that child-bearing did not define her as a woman. Also, I wanted to be sensitive to situations of infertility, adoption and the multitude of ways families come to be. That conversation came back many times in various forms. In one, she asked me how a woman can choose not to have a baby. It led to a conversation about birth control and family planning, that ended with her understanding that she could one day take a "vitamin" that would stop a baby from growing inside her until she was ready. She went on to ask my friend if her dog took the special vitamin so she wouldn't have puppies, and I knew she understood the concept. It has since made it easier to talk about changing bodies, protection from pregnancy and STDs and other topics that most parents cringe thinking about. 

This one came a few years after pre-school:
Question: Is Santa real?
Answer: He is for those who believe, but mostly up to age 10. After that, it's up to the parents to create Christmas for their older kids, and adults to do so for each other.
It surprised me how easily that was accepted. She shook her head, and said that made sense because someone at her school had told her that Santa wasn't real, but that kid was a bigger kid, so Santa was no longer real to him. What was more surprising was that she was not yet ten, and seemed relieved to know that she still had a few years of Santa left. When she turned ten she asked if she could help choose gifts for the adults in the family. Once she realized that Santa was never real, she took it in stride and we started new traditions of giving in place of long lists of what she wanted.

By all means, I am not advocating lying to kids, but sometimes a parent needs a quick out, so I offer you some of mine, and hope they serve you as well as they did me. Here are some others that bring me solace knowing I'm not the only parent out there who needs to get creative in order to keep their sanity.

Note: No young minds were tarnished for eternity in the making of this post. 

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