Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Because you matter to me...

I could find the whole meaning of life in those sad eyes
They've seen things that you never quite say but I hear
Come out of hiding I'm right here beside you
And I'll stay there as long as you let me

Because you matter to me

    - Waitress, by Sara Bareilles

I never stop writing.  You just don't always get to see what I write.  

Sometimes you don't get to see it because it is too deeply personal and honestly, none of your business.  Sometimes I bury it because it is too controversial and for some reason, I feel the need to protect those that would disagree with me by not sharing - which probably says more about me than them. I find I am becoming more Aaron Burr-like as I age ("Talk less, smile more, don't let them know what you're against or what you're for.") I think it can be a good thing sometimes. Other times it feels cowardly of me, like my ideas must not be worthy of scrutiny, or I doubt their ability to hold up in debate. So I chicken out, preferring to keep my own views private, all while watching the world burn around me.

Sometimes you don't see it because it's un-polished, un-finished or I've said it a hundred times already. I repeat myself in this blog a lot, I notice that more and more as Facebook shows me "time-hop" posts that almost always say the same thing, day after day.

Sometimes you don't see it because the posts are too sad, or angry, or too scattered and jumbled, a mess of words and ideas with no perceivable goal.

I don't get much out of writing when no eyes but mine ever see it, I am a public writer.  Anything I have written that never gets to breath real air never truly lives for me.  It stays paper and ink, a shadow of what it could be. Sometimes, honestly, that is where it belongs.

I think I've mentioned before, that contrary to the (self-proclaimed) majority of people on social media, I love reading political/controversial posts, from all sides.

I love seeing strong opinions presented, passionate rebuttals and well researched debates.  I love watching and listening to people that care deeply, defending what they love. Those that feel the compulsion to argue, even when they know they are the minority, even when they know that what they say will make absolutely zero difference in the minds of those they fight against. But they must speak, or they will fly apart.

I love hearing the resolve in the voices of those that believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are right, even when the evidence against their claim is piled a mile high. I am entertained by the ignorance, I am fascinated by the idiocy, I am blown away by the stubbornness. It is so incredibly human it makes me want to laugh out loud in glee.  I am fascinated over and over again by humans, by minds, by belief, by the power of family, of habit, of religion and community and how it all shapes us. I smile every time someone goes against the grain no matter the direction, because the pull of "how we are raised" can be so incredibly powerful, and it takes a completely different kind of strength to stand up against that.

I am in awe of the greatness of education, its power and what it does for the human brain. I stand equally in awe of the freedom that ignorance can give the mind, unhindered by previously decided limits, free to think beyond boundaries. I marvel at the questions asked by those that truly want a real and unadulterated answer - and at those bold enough to ask them.

Because you see, you matter.  Your thoughts, your words, your ideas, your humanity. It all matters. I don't think we get told that enough.  So let me say it, and for a moment just listen: YOU - individual you.  You matter.

I love hearing from people that are talented in presentation.  Those that can speak so eloquently that before the eyes of the anxious listener, a tapestry of literary strength, ideas and belief simply appears, seemingly without any effort at all. I love hearing from those that know exactly what they want to say, but stumble, falter and stutter their way through it, the passion evident, the word-smithing not so much...

I have such respect for those that spend their time doing real research: peer reviewed journals, double blind case studies, articles written by true experts in their field.  And I have a soft spot in my heart for those that think they are doing real research, only to link to opinion articles written by bloggers and self proclaimed specialists.

I love it all.

This is humanity, this is freedom of speech, this is how we learn, how we grow, how we evolve.

I can't look away, I could spend all day just watching. I can't explain why I love it so much, I simply do. I absolutely love the fact that my kids get to grow up in a world where they have so much knowledge at their fingertips - that we all get to live in this world!

Am I alone in this? I'm really asking here. Because so many people complain about the political atmosphere of social media and the world as a whole right now, as if it is a bad thing. But then no one seems to really be stopping their tirades...  I don't think people can physically stop.

Ok - now I'm just stirring up trouble. Which I also love to watch by the way...

I think if nothing else, these last few months have proven that humanity is not by nature, an indifferent breed, and I think that is a good thing. Because indifference means that no one cares enough to get excited about anything.  No one believes in anything strongly enough to fight for their own perceived truth, their own perceived goodness, for fairness and equality. These are important things, and we have people in all walks of life fighting for them, despite being told to just sit down and shut up already.  Indifference means we sit back and live life not caring about those around us - shutting it all out and simply taking care of our own basic needs, not caring so long as it does not directly affect us or those closest to us.

Indifference means nothing really matters.

We want to matter. We want our lives, our opinions, our hopes and our dreams. We need it to matter, to someone.

Deep down, even those asking, begging for all of us to "just get along" I don't think they want to live in an indifferent world. And I have a feeling that at the moment, indifference is our alternative.  Sure, respect and general manners are important too - but these issues go beyond that. They are too deep, too raw, too human.

 And I think that is fantastic.

I've mentioned before my obsession with the musical "Waitress."  The story is hard, it is not pretty. The show is about someone who is stuck in a life that is damaging to her because of choices she made when she was younger. Throughout the story, many hard things happen (as they do in stories, and in life) most of it the direct result of choices made both intentionally and unintentionally. She crosses some moral lines and eventually comes to the conclusion that if she can make easy choices that result in what she does not want, she can also make hard choices for what she does want. In short, she wants to matter. It is messy, people get hurt – innocent people even. But in the end, she is free. And in this particular story, when she is in the midst of all the pain and heartache, baking pies is what keeps her grounded. She pours her energy, her pain, her hopes and dreams into baking.

Now, I don't bake pies, but I do bake bread. And I would do it all day, every day if I could. Next to writing, it is one of my very favorite things to do. So I understand the need to be covered in flour with dough under my fingernails. She creates pies that represent her chaotic world, like “deep-shit blueberry bacon” or “the dark, dark chocolate pie.”  

Anyway...all that to say, the show has lots of layers, lots of meaning, while at the same time being incredible simple, incredibly human. It shows the damage indifference can cause and the cuts and bruises that we get when we stand for what we believe to be right, when we decide that our voice is worth being heard. And through-out all of it, the question is asked: is all that pain, all those scars, are they worth it in the end? 

Does it matter?

It can feel like a hard question to answer, especially when we are buried up to our eyeballs in "deep-shit blueberry bacon."

So i'm going to simplify it for you.

You matter. Simple and plain, you matter.

It's addictive the minute you let yourself think

The things that I say just might matter to someone
All of this time I've been keeping my mind on the running away

And for the first time I think I'd consider the stay

Right now, in this moment. You matter. 

Your race, your ethnicity, it matters. Your view of religion, it matters. Your gender, your political ideas, your sexual orientation. It matters. Your hopes, your dreams, your pain, your ideas, your priorities, what you want to be when you grow up - it matters. 

You see, I never stop writing. I can't. You just don't always get to see what I write.  

Sometimes you don't get to see it because it is too deeply personal, sometimes I bury it because it is too controversial and for some reason I feel the need to protect those that would disagree with me by not sharing.  I think this may be something I need to work on changing.  Because we need deeply personal, we need controversial, we need to know that the things that we say, matter to someone. We need to be raw, we need to be everything but indifferent. We need to know that the cuts and bruises we get from taking a stand are worth it, that in the end it is all battle scars and stories - and that it mattered. 

Because you matter to me

Simple and plain and not much to ask from somebody

You matter to me

I promise you do, you

You matter too
I promise you do you'll see
You matter to me

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

So you want to be a writer huh? Good luck with that!

"Rarely do you tell the would-be wordsmith: This is a hard road you are taking. Are you sure it is the the one for you? Is there anything else, anything at all, you'd also enjoy doing?
                  If so, go and do it.   Spare yourself the agony."      - Nicki Porter         

The average acceptance rate for a writer trying to publish is 5.087%*.  That means on average, for every 100 stories, poems and manuscripts I send to agents and/or publishers, I will get a hard "No" on 95 of them.  And that is the average rate for those that are firmly in the industry, those that do this for a living. So, I think it is safe to assume that for a writer that has not yet gotten that elusive "yes" the actual rate is far lower.

I've been getting a lot of questions lately, asking why I am not writing on this blog much anymore. First, it means so much to me that you all notice and miss it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. The answer is: I have not had time for writing, because I am writing too much. Not writing here is a good thing, it means I am writing more for real. But, because I value you very highly my beloved reader, I decided to take a small break from writing, so I could write just a bit...about writing. Perhaps not what most of you had in mind, but it's what is on my mind lately.

Warning: This post is a bit sarcastic and dry at times. If that bothers you, don't read it. I mean no disrespect. PLEASE know that I am not writing about anyone in particular. No one I know and love that is, all "you"s are general. I often use sarcasm as a coping mechanism to cover up my deep-seated insecurities. Don't take that away from me!

I first decided that 'when I grow up, I want to be a writer' about 4 years ago when I still had very small children at home. As an escape, once a week after dinner I would go and read in a coffee shop for a few hours alone. It gave me some time to remember who I was, and let my family do without me for an evening. Good for all of our sanity...or the very thing we needed to tip us over the edge? I'm never really completely sure about that one.  Anyhow - one night, instead of bringing a book to read, I brought with me a few hastily scrawled-on pages and a laptop.  I'd had verses of a poem scattering about in my brain, and I wanted to write them down where they would not be lost.  

I sat and wrote for 3 hours. 

What resulted, was a poem titled "I think my mom's a pirate." It was (is, it still exists. I could never destroy my first born) way too long, it had no direction or story-line and some of the rhymes were pushing the laws of meter and rhythm.  But oh I was proud of it! 

While writing, the stresses of my world had not mattered anymore.  I felt an inner joy that I didn't even know existed, a tightness in my chest had released. It was as if I had forgotten to breath for years; writing made me remember, and it was life-giving.  The more I poured myself into the writing, the more I felt was being poured back into me. This, THIS was what I wanted to do. I was giddy when I finished that poem. The world felt like a wonderful place, full of colors I had never seen before.  I'm not exaggerating, I may even be down-playing. It was like a drug, the high was intoxicating.

And so began my insanity. 

Because, really - you have to be insane to do this job.

When my youngest turned 2, I enrolled her in a preschool program that occupied her for 3 hours, twice a week. During that time, I would pack up my laptop and take it to a local coffee and pastry shop. There I started to learn just how this whole "writer" thing works. I would spend some time researching, learning the trade.  And the rest of my time would be spent writing new stories, poems and lists of ideas. I loved it.  The first time I submitted a story to an agent I was physically shaking as I sent off the email.  The rejection form-letter that followed several months later felt like a milestone.
I was doing this for real!

I took a year off when my family moved 200 miles to a new city.  By this time I had about 3 stories completed and several more partials, plus a dozen or so poems of varying lengths. When my littlest went back to preschool in 2015, I was very eager to get back to work. I rejoined SCBWI (The Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators),  I attended several writers conferences, bought books, read magazines, blogs, really anything I could to learn how to be better, how to make the system work for me. I squeezed every bit of "work" I could into those measly hours.  I had to take a break over summer again, I simply cannot write when kids are around. I am a terrible mother and not a great writer when I try, my kids (and I) deserve better than that...so I simply stop when they are home.  It is better for all of us. 

Six weeks ago my youngest child started Kindergarten.  I now have five mornings a week to do this writing thing. I love it more than I can put into words (and that means something!) I now have six completed stories, and a solid handful of poems and partially finished manuscripts.  I started my first novel and I have about nine rejections under my belt, a solid start to my anticipated 95. 

I don't have any "yes" responses yet - though one children's magazine has had one of my better poems set at "in-progress" in their system for over a year now.  That has got to mean something right? At least they didn't mark it "declined" right away like they have for several of my other poems/stories.  So I am hopeful.  Someday I will make money at this, I am just that stubborn!  And according to my research, stubbornness is almost just as important as a talent for writing...almost.

In the past couple of years, I have learned a tremendous amount...and yet I still feel very much like a beginner, perhaps that never really goes away. I think I have learned enough to call myself a writer (a writer that knows how lucky she is to have helpful editors to fix all my grammar faux pas) though I am not yet to the point where I can say I am an "author." I still get a thrill when I imagine the day that will be true.

I have learned enough now, that I feel I am at least semi-qualified to offer words of wisdom to those that think they might want to be a writer someday. Ready?

There are "writers" EVERYWHERE.  It's true. It's an epidemic, perhaps rivaled only by (but in the same stream as) "there are photographers everywhere."  You know the ones, they get an SLR camera for Christmas and take a few "artsy" shots, get some well meant, genuine compliments on their photo's (usually from extended family) and immediately make themselves a watermark, create a facebook page and start advertising themselves as a "Photographer."

You know what I'm talking about.

And honestly, it's great. I am never one to criticize when someone has a passion. But you see, I really am trying to do this for a living. That is my end-goal. that is what I am working towards. Writing for me is not a hobby, this is my chosen career. So, while I may understand on an intellectual level that comments made on, or about my chosen career are not said with malice,  I have had to become very good at smiling and nodding.

Because people are...people.

So! In the spirit of all of us learning, I have compiled a list.  '5 things never to say to the want-to-be author in your life.' Or, alternate title: '5 things you will hear constantly, if you ever decide you want to be a writer.' Or, third alternate title: "So you want to be a writer huh?  Good luck with that!"

5. "You are a writer? That's great! My cousin's, nephew's, neighbor is a writer!  He self-published a book like...5 years ago? I'm sure he would love to help you if you want any advice.  Do you want me to give you his information?"

No. I...I really don't.  It is not that I'm not happy for your cousin's, nephew's, neighbor...really.  But self publishing and standard publishing are very different, especially in the picture book world.  I know how to self-publish, it is really REALLY easy.  And because it is so very easy, it is not especially respected in the big world of author-dom. Sure, there are stories about people that made it big going that route, but there are also stories of street performers being signed to a record label just because an agent happened to be walking by and loved what they heard. It's basically the same thing. I may try self-publishing sometimes, just for the experience and to test out an audience (just as a wanna-be performer might spend his Saturday playing in a park...just to see if anyone will stop and listen).  But ultimately, self-publishing is not my goal. I would consider it a resource at best.

4. "You write picture books? That is great! My niece really loves drawing, want me to see if she would be up for doing the illustrations for your book? She wants to be an artist someday, and since she is in high school, she would probably be really cheap.  You guys could be a team!"

Have you seen the "How I Met Your Mother" episode where there is that one girl they call "Honey" because everything she says is just a little bit...clueless, and it makes you want to response with "Awww, honey!"  People can really be so...helpful?  They have such good intentions, they get so excited, they have such grand plans.  And all I can do is let them finish their fantastical story, smile and say "Awww, honey...it really doesn't work like that!"  Even authors that are also illustrators don't usually get to pick who does the pictures for their manuscript, not until they have established themselves fully within their trade. However, my sisters are both artists, so that makes me a bit of an expert on critiquing art...right?  So you can tell your niece that I would be happy to review her portfolio and give some helpful feedback, for cheap! Oh wait...you say that having artists in the family doesn't make me an expert? Oh, your niece doesn't have a portfolio yet? Yeah, she should probably get right on that if she wants to be an artist someday...just my "expert" opinion.

Can you tell I get this one a lot?

3.  "You're a writer? That's great!  How many books have you published? Would I recognize any of your books? Do they have them at Barnes and Noble?"

Ummm....thanks for the vote of confidence. Really! It means a lot, it really does.  But no...you won't recognize any of my books because...well, no one but me, my critique group, and a handful of grumpy agents have read them. I love that you assume I have been successful, but it is kinda a rough answer to back into. I get that this is my thing, and I have to learn to deal with it - and it has nothing to do with the person asking the question. But it is still a hard one to hear!

2. "Oh, you write books? That's great! I have thought about writing a book, I'll probably do it someday, you know...when I'm old and I have nothing else to do."

Ok, I may be paraphrasing that last part a bit, but it's what I hear.  And please don't get me wrong, I LOVE to learn that people have a passion for writing. The thing that makes me want to shake my head and groan, is when people talk about it entirely without passion.  As if writing a book is something that wrinkled crones take up as a hobby when there is nothing else interesting in the world to do. Not only that, but it is implied that as soon as they are properly decrepit, their book will immediately be discovered and published.  After all, that is how this all works...right?

1. And perhaps the worst of all: "You write kids books? That's great!  I am writing/wrote a kids book!  I've been thinking of getting it published, just haven't gotten around to it yet."

Ha....yeah...me too.  Just haven't gotten around to it yet....  (I feel like I should have a sad emoji face here. You know, to illustrate the whole curl-up-in-a-ball-and-cry thing that I secretly want to do every time I get another rejection.)

Because you know, just "getting around to it" is all it takes to get published. That's what I've been missing all this time, no wonder no one has published my books yet! Silly me forgot the most important step! Ok, ok, I'll try to cool it on the sarcasm.

Honestly though, I do think it is great that you have written/are writing a kids book. Truly. If I am being honest, I think at the root of it all my biggest fear is that it really will be that easy for you. I am terrified that you will write a book and then you will just happen to have the right conversation, with the right person, in the right coffee shop...and BAM! You will get your book published.  And I...who have spent years researching, reading, highlighting agent's information in books, going to conferences, writing, sending out manuscripts, writing, getting rejected and writing some more will be the one that has to get 100 no's before I see that first yes.

But really - I do understand that 99% of the time, these questions are well-intentioned.  And every time I hear them (which is several times a week) I get to imagine the day when I can answer confidently, as an author and not a wanna-be-writer.

To tip the scale, just a little, I will tell you one of my favorite things to hear when I talk to someone new about writing, being published and what it all boils down to - my hopes and dreams.

"So, are you going to put me in your book?"

The answer is: Oh, probably!  I love learning about people.  I love hearing stories, adventures, watching personalities interact. I love watching body language, how it coincides with what people are feeling, saying, projecting. I love knowing histories, hearing about how people have walked through hard times, easy times, what sustained them and why.  I crave stories, in all shapes and forms. And I think every single person with which I have ever interacted, is knitted together to form every single character I have ever created.

I picture it like a giant spider web, glistening with dew.

Every thread is someone I have met, known, cared about, watched, lived, read, seen, hated, fought and loved. And always, more glistening strands are being imagined. They make up all of my characters; old, new, never forgotten. They are all woven together to create something breathtakingly beautiful, and just a little bit terrifying.

That is why I do this.  Because after all, at the root of everything...

*Keysha Whitaker. The Science of Submission: The Writer.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

She is all of this mixed up, and baked in a beautiful pie

"Words, is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life. So you must simply try to be patient and stop squibbling. As I am telling you before, I know exactly what words I am wanting to say, but somehow or other they is always getting squiff-squiddled around.   - The BFG, Roald Dahl

This week, I have been bad at...well, at pretty much everything.

I'm doing the wrong thing, I'm saying the wrong thing, I'm over-reacting, I'm missing important deadlines, I'm responding poorly to my kids, I am tripping on things and breaking things and I am trying, TRYING so hard to be better...and yet no matter how hard I try, I mess it up again.  I tripped and fell, I yelled at my kids, I accidentally set dinner on fire, I brought out the wrong size silverware to the table. I exploded the coffee pot, I may have terribly offended someone on accident,...but maybe they didn't even notice so why would I bring it up again? So I wallow, and I churn and I mentally pace back and forth. I stumble on my words, I trip over the cat, I forget ice at the grocery store...twice.  My nerves are raw, my head hurts, I forgot the wet clothes in the washer overnight...again.  I feel alone, again.  I am worn out, again. My back hurts, my ears ring, my feet are tired.

I am not handling life well!  Nothing huge and monumental has happened, it's all small, all insignificant, it's just putting it all together into one perfectly wretched week that makes me want to go back to bed and stop talking to people, or seeing people, or dealing with anyone at all anywhere ever again. Because bed doesn't judge, bed understands!  It also doesn't need it's butt wiped, or hair brushed, or floor vacuumed, or laundry folded, or breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, afternoon tea, luncheon, supper, dinner...and it very rarely loses it's shoes.

When I was a kid, my family used to laugh and say that they lived in fear of what I would say next. It's funny, as a kid growing up, knowing you often say the wrong thing, yet never really knowing what that wrong thing was. I remember several situations where there was a hushed, awkward silence centered around me - but I also remember being absolutely puzzled as to what exactly I had said that caused said hushed silence. I felt I should be embarrassed, that everyone around me seemed to be, but I didn't know why, and so I just sort of shrugged, smiled weakly, and moved on. Perhaps I have a terrible memory, maybe I just wasn't paying close enough attention. But apparently, I have a very specific skill that has been continually honed:

I can take a perfectly normal conversation, and make it awkward and uncomfortable without hardly lifting a finger.  It is this skill that is making me more and more of a recluse as I get older. Because you see, I should have grown out of this by now...and while I don't necessarily think that I have gotten any worse, I do think that more and more I am aware of the fact that I don't have great social skills, I just don't get interpersonal cues like I should.  And where I would typically just blunder all willy-nilly into any conversation, often monopolizing the attention of everyone present - I am growing more and more annoyed with myself and simply don't think I am funny anymore.  It's like an old joke that has been told one to many times.

Some of it is my own dwindling confidence in myself.  I have changed a lot in the last few years, some of it has been simply growing up, some of it has been growing down.

My philosophies have changed, how I see myself, how I see other people.  I have different priorities, different passions.  I am a cynic, a realist, an artist, I see the world differently than most of the people around me see it. I have learned this, I have learned I have to be careful because of this, it limits my conversation options with most people. I don't say this to be mysterious or vague, I am simply stating a fact.  A fact that as I age has become increasingly clear.

I have been terrible at life this week - and because at my very core, I am a writer, this is how I fix the broken things inside my head.  I write. I write so that at the end of my writing I can look at myself on paper. This week I have been very blurred, on paper things are much more clear.

I need clarity, so I write.

There is a new musical out - no, not that one.  Another new musical.  It is called Waitress.  I first saw it on the Tony Awards where I'm not sure it won anything, because that other one took them all (fully deserved, just so we are clear).  But it wasn't until it came onto my Pandora station that I actually sat and listened to the words.  The first line of the song?

"It's not simple to say
That most days I don't recognize me..."

I heard it and stopped, it was enough to make me stop.

It's not easy to know
I'm not anything like I used to be
Although it's true,
I was never attention's sweet center
I still remember that girl

She's imperfect, but she tries
She is good, but she lies
She is hard on herself
She is broken, and won't ask for help

She is messy, but she's kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up,
And baked in a beautiful pie

She is gone but she used to be mine

I sat when I first heard those words, and realized I had tears streaming down my face.  And then I laughed because I would change the line to say:

 "She is all of this mixed up, and kneaded in beautiful bread."

This song has haunted me, I sing it in my sleep, I sing it during the day.  My kids are fully sick of it.

The mirror that music can paint for us is simply remarkable. There is a part of me that longs for a time when I was younger, prettier, more outgoing, confidant in my belief that x + y = z. Ready to take on the world, never doubting that I could.

A part of me that wishes:

For a chance to start over
And rewrite an ending or two
For the girl that I knew

Ah yes - don't we all wish there was an ending or two we could re-write.  I know that we learn things in life from the hiccups - from the bruises and battles.  But so often there are stutters or even deep deep sorrows that feel so very meaningless. I try to see the bigger picture.  And sometimes I can.  Sometimes I can say that this, this moment taught me a lesson that led to maturity and purpose.  And sometimes, everyone is sitting around in a hushed, awkward silence that I am pretty sure I caused, and I feel like I should be embarrassed and ashamed, but I simply cannot figure out why because somehow, I missed what went wrong and I have absolutely no idea what I am suppose to learn from this situation.

I think, sometimes, it is just a hard week, full of hiccups, bruises and battles that have little to no purpose.  I'll blunder, I'll say the wrong thing, spill the coffee, trip over my own two feet or catch dinner on fire. But I think, sometimes we need a little break, we need to say without guilt and with full confidence, that this week had absolutely no purpose! No lesson, no moral. It was wretched and I want to forget it all happened. I'm not missing anything, nor will I get so caught up in the awkward silence that I forget to look foreword.

It's ok, to learn nothing sometimes.

So I take this moment as it is - no filters. To laugh, to cry, to pray, to sing, to dance, to rest. There is beauty in the bruises, there is magic in this mess, but sometimes we need to forget all that, and just...breath.

I sometimes still miss where I used to be, but I think I'm ok with where I am going.

She is messy but she's kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone but she used to be mine