On Being a Writer

I always harbored romantic notions of what life as a writer would look like:

I thought I’d live in a cabin in the mountains. I’d leisurely make coffee each morning, warming my hands on the mug, preparing for another day of brilliance. I’d walk my Irish Setter, Maggie, unleashed along the sun dappled mountain trails, wearing a sweater (both me and Maggie), still holding that cup of coffee. Then I’d settle down at my desk overlooking the forest and a small creek, and begin to write. I never envisioned a computer, so God only knows what I was writing on. A typewriter, maybe? Which would work. Because writers never make mistakes and they never have to revise. Not really. Just an added comma here and there. Brilliance would emanate from my very being. And my sage wisdom about life, my tremendous insight into the inner working of the universe, would flow into my characters with ease. People would clammer to buy my latest work. I’d be revered and mysterious.

Here’s the reality of my life as a writer:

I get up at 5:30 a.m. not to write, but so I can grab a minute to myself for mindfulness & meditation–which is key to my being able to write later on. I do get to sip a leisurely cup of coffee as I bask in my morning quietude. That’s about the only similarity between the romanticized version of me and, well, ME.

I do have a dog. She’s a bouncing, drooling mess who I adore but who will never, ever go anywhere unleashed. And I can’t have a cup of coffee while I’m walking her, unless I intend to rejuvenate my skin with the wonders of caffeine. Because you know I’d be wearing that cup of coffee.

I write at my kitchen table, while telling the dog to stop barking at passersby and intermittently throwing a toy for her to keep her entertained. I have written a middle grades novel, which felt brilliant as I was writing it. But now it needs revision. As all writing does. And that doesn’t feel brilliant or romantic. It feels like work.

I write not serenely staring out at the lush mountainside but casting sidelong glances at the mountains of books that need to be cleaned, scanned, and sorted–inventory for the used bookstore that became part of the dream. Because every story matters. Mine. Yours. The ones in books and the ones yet to be told.

Writing involves practice. It’s the constant jotting down of thoughts and ideas. It’s grabbing a minute to write a blog post. It’s revising for the good of the story–because you believe it deserves to be told and is therefore worthy of your work, your effort.

Writing is messy. It’s not linear. But that makes it a lot more like me. I can relate to its ever evolving nature, its immediacy, its fits and starts. Nothing is more rewarding to me than immersing myself in stories.

But I’m going to be honest: my dog hates wearing sweaters.

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of The Little Tragedy

The Little Tragedy presents some big existential questions. And delivers them in a fast-paced narrative that I couldn’t put down.

Ever worry about the state of the world we’re passing along to our children?

Yeah. Me, too.

Which is why The Little Tragedy, by Jeff Haws, freaked me the hell out. Seriously.

It’s science-fictiony and dystopian–and probable enough to be deeply disruptive. This novel managed to make me pick apart and analyze the reasons I chose to have a child, my believes about the sanctity of life (and what actually constitutes life), and whether only having a limited amount of time with my child would change my choice to bring her into the world.

On top of all those existential questions, destiny also plays a significant role in this novel. Can we escape our destiny (either through denial or foolish choices)? To what extent do universal work to ensure we fulfill our destiny? And (probably my favorite) do we ever truly understand our importance in the world?

Haws writes multi-dimensional, believable characters. He creates the kind of scenarios that play out in the world every day–ones that have no clear hero or villain. Just folks acting shockingly human.

Toward the end, the narrative becomes incredibly fast-paced. I skim-read because I needed to know what happened. Like RIGHT THEN.

I was left with some unanswered questions. But it’s impressive that Haws created a novel that made me want to know MORE about the fictional world he created. I like being left with a few questions nagging at my mind. Because that’s the sign of a story that just won’t let go.

 

Know-it-all-ness + perfectionism = the death of curiosity

Developing good listening skills is a top priority for me in 2019. I know some folks who will be REAL thrilled about that.

I’m kind of a shit listener.

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Trust me, this is as shocking a revelation to me as it is to you. I thrive on interpersonal connection. When someone is telling me about the stuff that drives them, shapes them, makes them them, then I excel at listening.

It’s the other 85% of the time that I’m falling way short of the mark.

But being a good listener is a trait I really prize in other people. Good listeners are the folks I usually consider wise and insightful. Other people gravitate to them. Because you know what people want more than almost anything else? To be heard.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I started sorting through my listening problem. Being an abysmal listener isn’t a space I’m willing to dwell in–now that I’m aware of it. Nope. Onward and upward.

Here’s what I found:

  1. My not-so-good listening is connected to my know-it-all-ness. True, in daily life, I’ve tamped down my need to act like I know everything. Because that’s all kinds of of annoying. But there’s still this underlying thing: when confronted with information I know nothing about, I simply gloss over it in my mind. It’s a mental version of yeah-yeah-yeahing. I just assume I kind of know what’s going on and can make educated guesses about the rest of it. And I do this with topics I know nothing about.  You can imagine how effective that might be. giphy-4
  2. This mental yeah-yeah-yeahing relates directly to my lack of curiosity. I’ve realized recently that I don’t ask enough questions. I don’t ask why or how enough. And this is precisely why I suck at small talk. I just assume I’m not interested in “surface topics.” Which is some bullshit that means I don’t want to mentally engage about things that may not be in my wheelhouse. I don’t want to dig deeper–and leave my comfort zone. But lately I’ve been watching Simon communicate with people–and I’ve realized he really excels at this. He asks questions about things that are obviously important to the person he’s talking to. And then he gets these really interesting answers. Because he’s curious. I need more of that in my world. giphy-5
  3. Ultimately, I think all this–the know-it-all-ness and the lack of curiosity–finds its root in the perfectionism that’s dogged me since I was a kid. I know some folks roll their eyes at the idea of perfectionism. I mean, who doesn’t want to be perfect, right? But I was the kind of kid who wouldn’t do something if I didn’t know I could do it right the first time. Anything less than a A on a test made me want to give up (see: high school Trigonometry and Chemistry). I’ve worked hard to shake this nonsense. Because–hello–I believe life is a continuous learning cycle. But I also wrote a novel that I thought I got perfect on the first try. And I was kind of crushed when someone told me it, in fact, needed work. Even though I should’ve known this right away because a) I am a writer. I revise things all the time and b) I taught college writing for 5 years. Which means all I did for 5 years was read student revisions, while constantly reiterating the benefits of revision to said students. But suddenly, I wrote a book and I forgot all that. I needed the project to be perfect to be worthwhile. Which meant I didn’t want to listen. To anything.giphy-6

Good listening is top on my list of priorities in 2019. At 43, I’d be a fool not to admit how little I know. The universal well of knowledge is so vast that the mere thought of how much I don’t know can completely paralyze me. But the easiest way I’ve found to let knowledge flow into my world is simply acknowledging that everyone I meet is my teacher. Which means I have to be humble enough to admit that I don’t know everything, and then open myself to the knowledge people are willing to impart if I’m just curious enough to receive it.

I write because I believe that stories matter. That they can change the world. I think it’s time to really open myself to the stories around me–even the ones that present themselves in the most ordinary of ways.

If I Was A Character In A Book…

Play along! If you were a character in a book, what would you be like? Leave your description in the comments.

If I was a character in a book, I would be…

40 years old. Single, but in an on again off again relationship with a woman I loved but just couldn’t quite seem to commit to. And I’d have a perfectly trained German Shepherd, named Jack, who seemed to be able to read my mind. He’d ride everywhere in the passenger seat of my pickup truck. No leash necessary for Jack. He’s a good boy.

I’d live somewhere in the mountains, where I could hike and camp often. And I would. I’d be the kind of woman folks would refer to as fiercely independent. I’d be able to set up a campsite in my sleep. I’d know how to make the best damn coffee you’d ever had, just sat the sun pushed it’s way into the morning sky (I’d definitely be an early riser). And I’d be able to catch a fish, clean it, and cook it over the campfire on a moment’s notice. I’d spend a lot of time in the woods because I’d enjoy the time to myself, in the quiet, where I could think (Jack, the German Shepard, would always be with me, of course). I’d be both deeply spiritual and deeply insightful. I’d cuss like a sailor at the drop of a hat. But I’d be unfalteringly kind and patient, especially with kids and animals. From adults, I’d take no bullshit.

I’d be a straight-talker. Unafraid of speaking my truth. My mom would be my best friend–and we’d spend lots of afternoons fixing up her house or baking together. She’d always get after me to settle down and have kids. I’d tell her to go get her a dog to keep her occupied.

A journalist by trade, I’d get to travel all over the United States. Intrepid reporting, that’d be my calling. Readers would call me fearless. My editor would call me a pain in the ass. But I’d always come through with the story. And sometimes those stories would actually change things.

I’d have blondish curly hair that hung past my shoulders, which I’d usually pile into some crazy ass looking bun on the top of my head. I’d be not quite tan, but definitely sun-kissed. With lots of freckles and luminous green eyes. Jeans and cowboy boots would be my go-to, along with well-worn button up oxfords. And I’d never, not once, be caught dead in a dress.

I’d be completely devoted to helping LGBTQ kids in crisis that sometimes passed through my small town on their way to somewhere else, often letting them crash in the studio apartment adjacent to the barn. Of course I’d have a barn. And a horse. Named Clyde. The kids would come and go as they needed. They’d know I was always there for tough love and compassion. I’d love each of them more than I’d admit to myself. I’d end up adopting one, a young man named Miles, right before his 16th birthday. Because when people are meant to be family, they just know it.

I’d be happy and strong. Independent and kind. And I’d never give one flying fuck what anyone had to say about me or the way I lived my life. Because I’d be absolutely sure, 100%, that I was loved by the Universe. And that life was a grand adventure, and I was lucky to be along for the ride.

If you were a character in a book, who would you be?

Big Plans, Y’all.

WTacualF do folks mean when they tell me to “get organized”?!? Shouldn’t this organization stuff come with an instruction manual or something?

Know what my 4th grade teacher said about me? That I needed to be more organized. What a weird thing to say about a 9 year old. Or, more to the point, what a confusing thing to say with no further instruction on the matter. She might as well have told me to make my freckles disappear. Because I was just as likely to do that as to get more organized out of the blue.

As I made my way toward adulthood, my mom hopped on the organizational bandwagon, too. She and my father bought me a very professional looking bonded leather planner with my initials engraved on a gold nameplate in the bottom right hand corner (90s chic, for sure). But I had no idea how to use the damn thing. I’m sure I made an attempt. I’ve always made (half-hearted) attempts to “be more organized”–for real, what does that mean?!?–to satisfy the people around me. But it never sticks.

Simon really wants me to use the calendar on my phone. (No.) He’s been butting his head against that wall for years. Poor guy.

But so constant is the organization refrain that it’s seeped into my self-narrative. I am unorganized, I think. I should get a planner. So I do. And I used it for approximately one week. Same thing with blocking time on my calendar. One week is the lifespan of my organizational endeavors.

But, y’all… New Year, New Me! I know, I know. I just told you that it’s hopeless, this quest for organization that’s been happening since I was 9. But 2 things happened recently that caused an epiphany of sorts:

  1. Simon got all geeked out about Michael Hyatt, who’s apparently some sort of organizational & leadership guru. Or something. You know this stuff makes me roll my eyes (interiorly, of course. Outward eye rolling is just rude). But Simon was so excited about goal setting and organizing and blah blah blah that somehow I agreed to watch some videos about a planner Simon is using in 2019. And–lo & behold–they made sense. Things like breaking down projects into smaller goals (wait… what?!? Is that what people have been asking me to do all along? Because NO ONE SAID THAT.) and checking in frequently to make sure daily activities are moving me toward a weekly goal, that supports a monthly goal, that supports… you guessed it… an ANNUAL GOAL. Well, shit. I could’ve been getting more stuff done ALL ALONG, if I’d known this crazy alchemy for productivity!
  2. My best friend got me a planner for the new year. She handed it to me and said (and I quote), “Because you’ve got a lot of big goals this year, and you don’t always remember things as well as you think you do.” This is obviously the Universe conspiring to make shit happen. Because, although I am resistant to taking direction from most people, my BFF gets Platinum Status in being able to gently direct (read: boss me around) in a way I can actually hear.

So, where does that leave me for 2019? Well, right now, with  annual goals, goals for January, and weekly goals written out in my rad planner in pink pen… and possibly a roadmap to opening this bookstore I’ve been talking about and finally publishing that middle grades novel I wrote almost 2 years ago.

But, mostly, it leaves me with more faith that the Universe is working together for my good. Because it seems like the entire UNIVERSE is conspiring get me organized. And who am I to back-talk the Universe?

Good Enough

I am a master at self-sabatoge. I’m a hard worker. But I like to work right up to where I want to be, then decide I just can’t do it. That I don’t deserve it. That I can’t handle it. And then, I just …. stop.

I’ve spent a lot of time convincing myself I’m not good enough. Like most folks who excel at alcoholic-type behavior, I am a master at self-sabatoge. I’m a hard worker. But I like to work right up to where I want to be, then decide I just can’t do it. That I don’t deserve it. That I can’t handle it. And then, I just …. stop. No dramatic flame out. Just a quiet deceleration that takes me back from the precipice of success and puts me on the slow track to just-good-enough.

But…

About a year and a half ago, I realized I’m guilty of holding myself back. On so many levels. Emotionally. Spiritually. Professionally. And I realized that this is my next hurdle: to embrace real, substantive growth on all levels. To allow myself to change and explore new territory, whatever that looks like.

Today, I sat in a meeting with a big, international client. Which I never would’ve allowed myself to do just a few years ago–I would have been so consumed by anxiety that I wouldn’t have been able to hear the conversation around me over the roar of “don’t fuck this up” in my own head. But this morning, I sat there. Cool as a fucking cucumber. I munched on a bagel, offering my opinion when it seemed relevant. Otherwise, I was just  being. Being comfortable in my own skin. Being worthy just because.

If this doesn’t seem revelatory, I’m so glad. I love that not all people struggle with self-worth. I hope my kid never has to. But I had to sit through a few rounds of therapy and lots of AA meetings to get to a point where I got it: that I am okay. That I am MORE than okay. That my brilliance comes just from being–not because of anything I do or don’t do. I am worthy just because I am.

I’ve surrounded myself with people who believe that miracles happen on a daily basis. I’ve jumped whole-heartedly into the belief that we humans habitually limit ourselves–that we are capable of so much more, that the possibilities are so vast and endless that I can’t begin to even imagine them. I’ve begun to trust my own intuition. To listen to my inner guide. To be open to the Universe (God… whatever…) in whatever way it presents itself.

And, more than anything, I’ve embraced my own divine spark. My own self. My own worth. It’s freeing. A little scary sometimes… there’s just so much POTENTIAL here. But the view from here is peaceful and hopeful.

A friend today told me that I sparkle. And it’s possible that she’s been a bit mesmerized by my shimmery eyeshadow & lipgloss… But the current around me feels electric with joy & possibility. I am deeply content. Not because everything in my life is perfect. It isn’t. I still fuck up. I still fall into old habits. I still have ultra-petty moments. But none of these things define me anymore. They never did. But now I know it. And that kind of knowledge ripples out to the folks around us.

That’s the kind of energy I want to put out to the world. The kind that sparkles. (The shimmery eyeshadow doesn’t hurt, though)

Kids Will Totally Eat Your Plans for Breakfast

Kids excel at two things:

  1. Making sure their parents can never, ever again have sex without subconsciously (or, too often, VERY consciously) listening for the sound of little feet approaching the bedroom door, and
  2. Waylaying even the best laid plans.

Fortunately for you, this post is about the waylayification of expertly laid plans.

I work from home as a writer/writing consultant. Which means that I plan my own schedule. Folks hear that & they’re all: “COOL! That must be so great! You can do whatever you want.”

Yeah. No.

I write for other people. I write this blog. I send in submissions for publication. I’ve got a manuscript that I’m (supposed to be) editing. I manage clients. Attend meetings. And do the everyday shit that makes life run.

Same as everyone else.

Except that I suck at time management. I mean, I never miss a deadline. For real. BUT, I have no idea how long the average task will take me. Not a clue. And, if something happens in the middle of the day–like a client meeting or an doctor appointment–it can throw my day into a spiral of UNproductivity. Simply put: I never learned to maximize my time to achieve my goals.

And, y’all, it’s holding me back.

So, after two days of Simon listening to me kvetch about not getting done what I need to do because THERE IS NOT ENOUGH TIME. THERE’S NEVER ENOUGH TIME, he gently suggested that we watch this video:

When I say “gently suggested” I mean he sat me on the couch with a cup off coffee, put the computer in front of  me, and pressed play. He watched too, you know, so he could drive home the finer points. The man loves an organizational system more than most. More than anyone, really.

Amy Landino charmed me with her wittiness and her warmth. And her togetherness. I mean, I was watching in boxer briefs, a taco cat t-shirt, with my hair looking like a wild tumbleweed on my head. I was vulnerable. And halfway through, she had me. I was all: Shit’s gotta change.

And so, I did this:

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I KNOW, right? I’m obviously winning at scheduling.

Per my new bestie Amy Landino’s suggestion, every minute from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. got scheduled. Even though you can’t see a lot of it, there’s totally self-care stuff scheduled. But that’s not really my problem. My problem is working the things that make me ME (like running, reading, walking the dog, writing) into my day in ways that make me feel productive. Instead of like I’m floundering around aimlessly. Because that sucks all the joy out of having freedom in my schedule in the first place.

Because I wanted to be valedictorian of this newly scheduled life, I popped out of bed this morning at 5:30 (there’s that “me time!”), had coffee, centered myself. Then I heard it… the sniffles. From Jane’s room. I went in to find a variation of this:

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Isn’t it just the saddest? 

Jane never asks to stay home from school. Like, ever. In fact, any suggestion that she stay home is usually met with weeping & gnashing of teeth. Except for today, the day of my perfectly laid plans. When I asked if she should stay home, she nodded, sniffled, and crawled back in bed.

Well, I’ll be damned. The kid is actually sick. And hear me when I say I KNOW how blessed we are that she never gets sick. But it also makes her a HORRIBLE patient. She’s baffled by this cold. She doesn’t know what to do with herself. She just feverishly pouts about being sick. It’s A LOT.

And, remember that lovely, color-coded calendar of all that I was going to accomplish today? Well… I had to improvise. (Most of) the things got done, albeit wildly out of order. I managed to get dressed and put actual pants on (this is apparently something successful people also do). And when I had a moment where I didn’t know what I should be doing with myself–between pitiful moans from the kid and whines from the dog because she didn’t understand why we couldn’t go for a walk LIKE WAS SCHEDULED–I could just glance at the calendar, pick a task I hadn’t finished yet and go from there.

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This is the look of someone who feels accomplished–AND is wearing pants.

On a day that could’ve gotten sucked into the void, I managed to make meaningful use of my time AND be there for the poor, sick bunny. And it felt good. And productive. And like I was actually living toward my best life.

That feels like something, for sure.