Monday, March 27, 2017

For your safety, remain seated with your arms, hands and feet inside at all times, sensitive groups and those with neck or back problems should not ride.

I'm trying very hard to write a post on feminism, and it is not working.  

I have started and deleted it now four times, I simply don't think I'm getting it right.  The words are wrong, the quote doesn't match, it feels weak or unclear. There is a tangled ball of passion inside of me that wants to do this really well, that wants to write a post that will make someone stop and listen...but every time I start, I feel like I am blithering like an idiot. I am terrified that someone will read it and shake their head saying this is a stupid cause, that I am just making a scene, that I should be less sensitive, that everyone is always getting their panties in a bunch about all sorts of ridiculous things these days, we are not special snowflakes, can't we all just learn to be polite and get along, and why am I even bothering when I don't really have anything new or intelligent to say...or even worse they will misunderstand me, be offended and think I am attacking them personally or forever think I am an idiot just because these things are important to me

And so, I am silenced. 

I am silenced because there is a voice in my head that tells me that I am not capable of saying anything worth listening to on this subject. That I am not good at this, that I should leave it to someone else that has more experience, more expertise, more education, more authority. 

But you see, I don't follow instruction very well. So that voice creates in me a movement that forces out the words, clumsy as they may be. THAT is why I must write, because of the voice inside. So I blither, because I truly believe that this is so very important. And that voice, the one that tells me I cannot write well enough for anyone to stop and listen, the voice that says I should just let someone else do it - that voice is the very one that I am fighting against. So I will write, I will un-ravel, one strand at a time. Clumsy as it may be.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a die-hard feminist. In the spirit of full, full disclosure, this is what that means:

Or, in case someone is confused and needs it simplified:

If you are still confused and need it explained again (which is ok, there are a lot of misconceptions out there):

Everyone clear? Good.

Being a Feminist does not mean that I think women are better than men, it means I believe they are equal. 

It does not mean I think men and woman are the same, it means I believe they should be treated equally. 

It does not mean that I think there are no differences between men and women, it means I believe that everyone should have the same opportunities, regardless of gender.  

And again, it does not mean I plan to burn my bra (though I have considered it) it means that I believe that I should not be discriminated against based on the fact that I have breasts.  

It does not mean that I believe all women should be climbing the corporate ladder, it means I believe that if climbing the ladder is something that a woman wants to do, she should be encouraged to do so.  It does not mean that I don't think women should be stay at home moms, it means that if staying at home with kids is something that a woman wants to do, she should be encouraged to do so...see what I did there?

Ok - this is where I get a little passionate, so for your safety, remain seated with your arms, hands and feet inside at all times, sensitive groups and those with neck or back problems may wish to not ride. And if you find yourself disagreeing, I want you to stop for a moment and look up again at the picture posted just above and remember, I will fight just as hard for your right to think differently than me, as I will for my right to think differently than you. THAT is what being a feminist is to me. 

I've been standing at the edge of the water
Long as I can remember
Never really knowing why
I wish I could be the perfect daughter
But I come back to the water
No matter how hard I try

See the light where the sky meets the sea
It calls me
No one knows how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I'll know
If I go there's just no telling how far I'll go
- Moana

So I guess you could say this is the real start to my post today - quote and all.

I heard the music for Moana way before I actually saw the movie. Most of that was just lack of good timing on the part of Disney in releasing their movie at a specific point in time that worked with my own personal schedule. It is almost like they don't pay attention to that, can you believe it? They dare to release a movie that I want to see, when I have absolutely no time in my schedule to go and see it! I know, terrible.  

When I first heard this song, it made me stop and listen. Because I understood so very much the feeling behind it. I have very strong memories of standing on the balcony of my house, looking over the edge into our box of a backyard and thinking "this is it. This is all the space I get." We had a great backyard, full of dirt and rocks, very little grass. But I longed for open air and space to run. (One down-side of growing up in Los Angeles, not much running space unless you actually get into the car and go looking for it.) 

As a child I had the amazing opportunity to travel for a weekend (twice) on a small sailboat out to Catalina Island. We ate when we were hungry, slept when we were tired, laughed at the dolphins racing our little boat, watched the flying fish, collected beautiful shells on a tiny sprig of an island, dipped our feet into the ocean, fell asleep in the sun and adventured to our hearts content. I cannot put into words how amazing it was. But I am sure it is one of the reasons I love the sea so much. To me, the sea has no limits, no expectations, no obligations. It is simply The Sea. No strings, nothing. That was freedom to me. It is probably very closely linked to why I have always loved pirates, and for those that are always asking - why I chose a ship as a tattoo. 

Because of the adventures.

I have three girls. No sons, just girls. People like to point that fact out to me, you know, in case I have not yet noticed it, or maybe forgotten. Being mom to a significant amount of the same gender makes random people feel like they should give you advice/their opinion on that particular gender and the stereo-types they adhere to...a lot. I'm talking about strangers, acquaintances, the check-out person at target, the lady in line behind me at the bank, the eye doctor, the other parent on the field-trip...well, really anyone. I know some of that is simply a "having kids" thing and usually the reason is simply someone trying to find something to small-talk about, but I get it every time I take all three out in public with me, almost without fail. 

Because of this, it has made me stop and pay attention a little more. I watch how little girls are treated vs. little boys; in classrooms, at parks, at the grocery store, really everywhere. I pay attention to what is/is not said. I notice the gaps, the discrepancies, the subtle messages or lack there-of. I was the mom buying T-shirts from the "boy" section because my girls loved super-heroes, Star Wars and TMNT and there weren't any in the section I was "supposed" to shop in (to give credit, there is now. But I would say only just now, for the first time...ever). I make constant mental notes of those differences, and specific mental notes when the differences are uniquely absent with a particular person or environment. Sometimes the differences in how boys vs. girls are treated is needed, most of the time, it is not. 

I am an analyzer, it is how I live, how I view the world around me. So when my girls started getting old enough to ask real questions - old enough to start creating hopes and dreams, I started doing my best to shape their world into something that was nurturing to that. When they started developing a sense of self outside of our close-knit family circle, I started paying attention to where they were getting their messages and what those messages were saying. The result was my present die-hard feminism - I watched their world and decided that for me, if I was going to raise strong girls, I had no choice but to bring that into my parenting. Equality needed to be threaded through all parts of our lives, however much I could.

Being a feminist parent has meant that there are things I actively do and do not do. Sometimes I am curious how my language would have been different if I had all boys instead of all girls, or perhaps a mix of them both. I would like to think that I would parent the same way...well, as much as you can when kids are so unique unto themselves. 

Paying attention to the world around my kids has also made me stop and take a good solid look at the world/culture in which I grew up, and what messages spoke the loudest to me. Some of those messages were life-giving and have made me a stronger person, such as body image. I have zero memories of my mom complaining about her weight growing up. I do remember a few times when she made an added effort to eat well and exercise, and now I can look back and assume that weight loss was likely at the root of it. But wanting to be healthy over-all was always the message that was presented to her kids.  

I believe that attitude is directly linked to the fact that my siblings and I have all grown up with solid, positive body-images. Sure I have my days where I am certainly not happy with what I see in the mirror. But it does not affect my self-esteem much, those things are not really connected. All it does is give me motivation to fix what I am not happy with, and thanks to being taught how to eat well and exercise, I know how to do that.  

However, growing up in the eighties in the midst of conservative culture has also given me insight into some things I do not want to pass on to my children.  

To give you an example: M*A*S*H is one of my favorite TV shows. But I am not ok with my kids watching it - not now, not as teenagers, maybe not until they are adults. Why? Because my oldest daughter wants to be a zoo-ologist, my middle daughter wants to be an entomologist and my youngest daughter a doctor. And you know what? I believe that they will - if they continue to desire it. I also believe that watching a show, (you should have heard the disclaimers I would add when we were watching the Andy Griffith Show!) no matter how brilliant that show may be, that only ever shows men in dominant roles is not healthy for their future aspirations. I believe seeing these cultural norms, however outdated they may be, creates habits in the brain that are hard to reverse. I believe for myself, growing up, where every single adult female in my close, personal circle was a stay at home mom was not good for me. I grew up assuming that was what I would be – that was what I SHOULD be, even though a part of me screamed in protest. No one told me this, but it was all around. And it created a culture where when I had my own kids, I felt incredible guilt when I wanted to do something for myself, as if the fact that I was not fulfilled just being mom to my children made me wretchedly broken. That guilt was all-consuming and I had no tools on how to manage it. I truly believed that there was something wrong with me. Sometimes I still wonder...

I know everybody on this island
Seems so happy on this island
Everything is by design
I know everybody on this island
Has a role on this island
So maybe I can roll with mine

I can lead with pride
I can make us strong
I'll be satisfied if I play along
But the voice inside sings a different song
What is wrong with me?

I want to be clear, I do not necessarily regret staying home with my kids, I cannot say what challenges we would have faced had it turned out another way. When it comes down to it, I feel that me being a stay at home mom was a good thing for them. However, I do not think it was the best thing for me, and I wonder sometimes how much of that bled through. When you are forced to re-live the same childhood routines over and over again for years, there is a part of you that stops growing. I had to put myself on hold, because in order to give the best for my kids 24 hours a day everyday, I had to be able to relate to them. I'm not saying this was healthy, but it was all I knew how to do. I lived in “coping” mode for 10 years. And now that I am moving out of it, now that they are all in school full-time and I can slowly unwrap the layers of "coping" and start to re-learn how to be a person again – I feel I am paying for it. Somewhere along the way I have developed what is sometimes crippling social anxiety - I battle depression, a lack of emotional response, a lack of empathy, I cannot relate to other women, I've forgotten how to talk to adults. I can't always recognize nuances in conversation, I simply don't have the experience - which can lead to some very awkward conversations and has in the past led to some very devastating miscommunications.

If I think about it, there is not one time that I was actively discouraged from working outside the home. I have no doubt that if it was something I desired, my husband would support that 100%. The idea to do it (outside of a handful of MLM "businesses") just never occurred to me. Because if you CAN stay home, you do...right? That is the culture I was raised in, like my mother before me and her mother before her and on and on and on. And I am not in any way saying that being home with kids is wrong, for many many people it is exactly right, just what they need, perfect for their families and I am so very glad of that...but now, I can look back and see that I think it was wrong for me.

All of these things have become shockingly clear as I try to re-enter the "real world" by going to writing conferences, attempting critique groups, selling myself to agents and "shmoozing" as the term would be, with publishers and editors. So the cycle establishes itself: Sign up for a conference, get physically ill knowing I will have to be in a group of people, go to the conference/group meeting, stumble over my words hoping I am making sense, try to make eye contact while my heart is beating out of my chest (because real people make eye contact right? I can't remember!) but not too much eye contact or they will think (know?) I am a crazy person. Laugh in the right places...I think. Take a thousand notes, submit my work for brutal and honest critique, grasp desperately at any shred of encouragement I can catch, return home to yet another "we regret that your manuscript is not right for us at this time" form letter. 

Cry. Write, Cry (in that order). 


The anxiety never gets better, but I am sort of getting used to it now as the cycles repeat over and over.  I have only been doing this "for real" a year or so, still a beginner. Lots of time to work through it all. Perhaps it is a mid-life crisis. Perhaps it is a psychological breakdown. I'm not sure – but it has this weird feeling of swimming through mud to get to the air that I KNOW is there, that I have forgotten about for years. And now, finally it is in sight and it is all I can think about. But I am not sure I remember how to breath it.

What do I know for sure?

My kids are turning into the most spectacular people, despite my blundering as a parent. Perhaps I even helped a bit?  I do not miss the baby/toddler phase, at all. AT ALL! despite what I was told by all the old ladies at the grocery store. I love that they grow fast, because it means we can have real conversations now. I love the people they are growing into, and so far...they still seem to like me. I'll call that a win. Watching them grow into fantastic people, that is so fulfilling. I can't wait to watch them wade through the deep waters of teenage-hood. I think they are going to rock it. (Did I sound old right there? I did didn't I...)

I get a paycheck every month because I did some work to establish myself in a MLM business (I know) a few years ago, and I was in the right place at the right time and it payed off. The fact that I can help out financially, even a drop in the bucket - is more fulfilling to me than I can express. 

And...I got my first acceptance letter for one of my poems last week!

These words: 

"Hello, and thank you for submitting "I Think That I'm a Dragon" for our consideration. I’m happy to report that we would like to accept your delightful poem for publication in SPIDER magazine" 

These words filled me with a life, with a joy that I have never before experienced.  Someone who is not my family, not my friends, someone who is not invested in my life in any way thinks that my writing is worth paying for?!? I cannot even describe the feeling (which as a writer may be a bad thing. I'll be working on that one.) But I am pretty sure that this is air, this is breathing! Sure, they added this: 

"At this time, I am unable to tell you when your poem will appear in print. Due to our rather full poetry files, it could be two to three years before the poem would be published. Please be assured that we will make every effort to see that your wait is as short as possible." 

But...I got a yes!!!

I think I've got this...I think I'll be ok. This, this is what I was made to do.  I just had to go through some hard things do we all!

See the light as it shines on the sea
It's blinding
But no one knows how deep it goes
And it seems like it's calling out to me
So come find me
And let me know
What's beyond that line
Will I cross that line?

Does all of this make me a terrible stay at home mom? Does the fact that I have to ask that question mean that I am still hopelessly broken, that there is something tragically wrong with me? Maybe, probably - we all are broken in our own unique ways. But I am trying to shift my thinking to see that as simply being human. Our broken-ness does not define us, but it can be a part of who we are, and that can be a positive thing. It's ok that even after almost 11 years, I still suck at the "stay at home mom" thing.  I think someday my kids and I will be able to laugh at all the blunders, they are a part of both of our stories. 

I hope you can read all that, if not let me know and I'll type it all out. Jenny Lawson is my spirit animal. If you have struggled with anxiety or depression, (or know someone who does and want to understand them better) have a good sense of humor and do not get easily offended - READ HER BOOKS. I cannot recommend them enough. 

I am a Feminist. I'll admit - I don't always wear a bra, I can't remember the last time I shaved my arm-pits and I truly believe that if it is legal for men to walk around topless, that women should be allowed to do it too. But that is not what makes me a feminist.

I am a feminist because I teach my girls that they matter beyond their girl parts, beyond their ability to reproduce, that I want them to dream big and I will do everything in my power to make their dreams come true.

I am a feminist because I teach my girls that their opinion matters, politically, socially, economically. That their ideas are just as valid as the boy sitting next to them, just as his ideas are just as valid as theirs. That they both have the right to fight for what they believe in, no matter who tells them to sit down, shut up and let someone else with more experience, education or authority do it.

I am a feminist because I teach my girls that if they want to get married someday, they can. If they don't want to, that's fine too.  If they desire children, that is great - if they don't, that doesn't make them less of a woman. If someday they wish to devote their lives to working a job that they love, that sounds amazing - if they wish to be a stay at home mom, that is great. If they want to do both, and find a balance that works for them, they can do that. The important thing is that THEY get to choose and they feel zero pressure either way.

I am a Feminist because I no longer have to place clauses around the line “you can do anything you want to do” while speaking to my kids. They can, and they will change this world, and they won't be an exception, because they will have the support of thousands of other woman at their side, changing the world right along with them. 

I am a feminist simply because we are still having these conversations, and that breaks my heart. Because the numbers reflect that we have not come as far as we should have by now. I am a feminist because there is a movement to fix it, and that makes me so very happy! I am a feminist because I can now buy superhero t-shirts in the "girls" section of Target, and that feels like a huge step foreword. Because my kids have an amazing world that they are growing up in, a world where changes are being made for the better. A world where they will get more opportunities than ever before. A world where their hopes and dreams and ideas are encouraged and even requested!

I am a feminist because I believe it to be the right thing.

See the light where the sky meets the sea
It calls me
And no one knows how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I'll know

How far I'll go

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 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, 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 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 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." 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.