For The Love of Words

I spent the last 2 days hanging around writers, booksellers, and publishers.

I think, as humans, one of the very best things we can do for ourselves is find our little group of like-minded weirdos. Everybody is weird (some prefer “unique,” but whatever). Being in a group of similarly weird people makes you feel connected and understood. You don’t have to explain yourself, or search for just the right words to make someone understand your point of view. Your Weirdo Tribe is just going to GET IT.

Me, I walk through the world thinking about words about 85% of the time. See, weird. But I’m a writer and an aspiring bookseller–that’s, like, ALL the words.

But 2 things happened during my sojourn with these bookseller/writer types that gave me that blissful feeling when you see something of yourself in someone else–when the very innermost parts of you feel represented and seen:

#1: One of the presenters from Southern Fried Karma (“a multi-media production company developing projects in music, films and books”–but c’mon, isn’t that just the best name?!?) started talking about the power of books to establish community. Because we know that reading builds empathy. And empathy paves the way for community and connection. The more you read, most often the wider your worldview. The more you see similarities and understand the way other people experience the world, the less strong your impluse to “other” people. The more likely you become to reach out, to seek diverse communities, to support people–even those seemingly unlike yourself.

And that’s precisely what the dude from SFK was expressing when he told the story about white supremacists coming to his small, Georgia town to have a rally–and the black and white communities uniting to keep out the white supremacists, creating a space where hate could not thrive. And as he talked about the power of books to create this kind of empathy, to unite two seemingly disparate communities in rural(ish) Georgia, he began to tear up.

And OH. MY. GOD. Yes.

I tear up when I talk about books all the time. Because they are so powerful. And stories–every story–can change the world (that’s why the tagline for Bookish is “Every Story Matters.”) And hell yes, that’s something to get emotional over.

We need change. Books ARE that change. We just need to get them into the hands of the people and remind them about the magical ability of stories to change lives.

#2: On the Bus Tour of Atlanta Bookstores, I met an author from North Carolina who’s debut novel is coming out this Summer. That’s a BIG DEAL. We chatted about how tough the writing process can be (there are no bon-bons involved. It is NOT, in fact, a cakewalk). And I gave her the brief rundown about the progress on my middle grades novel. Honestly, I’d never talked to someone who was just a short stretch ahead of me on the road to becoming published. Most folks I meet are either established authors… or they are going to write an book someday. But this woman had just emerged from the trenches of rewriting, revising, and editing… and now she had a BOOK that other people were going to READ. I just found it all so hopeful. Like maybe it would happen for me, too.

The next day, the same woman was a presenter at the conference I attended. She spoke about the blurry line between memoir and fiction that is autofiction. And that was amazing in and of itself, because I’ve been thinking about memoir writing, but hesitating because–for real, y’all–once upon a time, I drank so much that my memory isn’t entirely trustworthy. But autofiction opens up a whole new world where things can be true AND not true. Whoa.

But, also, in describing the ways that readers react to autofiction (often by trying to determine how much of the fiction is “true” and how much authority you really have two write about certain themes), she shared part of her story with us. And I swear, it was just like my story. And nothing like my story. And the things she said made me feel so visible, and I thought she was so brave to have shared them, that I ran right up to her afterwards to give her a hug. Because how often does someone tell your story that isn’t your story and remind about so much of what was and what isn’t but what always is?

Rarely. And oh my Lord, is it a gift.

Stories are so much bigger than us. They take on a life of their own. They reach people in ways we can’t begin to fathom. And they do change lives. Hell, they can change the whole world.

(And, yes, I totally cried the whole time I wrote this. Whatever.)

Let’s Get Stuff DONE

Productivity has been taking up a lot of my brain space lately.

I know. I know. Snooze fest.

But really, it’s more about life management. And coping. Just stick with me.

I’m relatively new to planning anything in my life. I totally wish I was kidding. But I’ve always had some sort of ad hoc organization system in my head–and resisted putting anything on paper. Or into the ether on my new fangled ‘puter.

But 2019 brought me into the land of the organized with an Ink + Volt Planner (courtesy of my best friend, who really gets me, you know??). And I am totally getting shit done. It’s a miracle.

But, I’m also learning about my own work flow. And my need to shift focus when I get stuck on a project. Which means that things don’t always go exactly as planned. And that’s okay. (Right?!?)

Yesterday, I had big plans to knock out a chunk of client work. But first, I needed to clear out some of the books taking over my house. (For those who haven’t been following along, there are 3 major things going on over here: starting a used bookstore, freelance writing, and editing a book manuscript).

The books have infiltrated the kitchen! Send reinforcements.

I started on the books first thing in the morning. And totally got sucked in. Sorting and boxing the books is a process. It involves taking all the books out of the boxes I brought them home in, sorting them into categories, wiping them down with a magic eraser, scraping stickers off of them & removing goo, and reboxing them.

It looks absolutely nothing like this.

Simon, my sweet, long-suffering husband, works in the room where the books wait to be sorted and boxed. That means he’s always stepping over boxes of books to even get to his desk. So, while he was out of town for work, I really wanted to clear some stuff out of that room. Because marriage.

I was making real progress. Boxes to be taken to the storage unit started accumulating by the door. Then I looked at the time and realized I should have already started the client work*. But I also knew that, if I shoved the books back in the room without completing my sorting and reboxing task, I’d feel defeated. Like I’d wasted hours and hours and got nothing done. And Simon would still come home to a workspace that was a flaming hot mess. So, I ignored my original plan and stuck with the books. Until 11:30 pm.

Photographic evidence of the weird assortment of randomness that goes along with boxing the books: scraped stickers, a skull eraser, sandpaper, and an old hotel key used to scrape said stickers.

What’s currently blowing my mind: I feel really accomplished even though I totally blew off something on my to do list. Whoa.

Here’s something else to add to my current mind scramble: I’ve been getting up each day at 5 am to revise my book manuscript. And it’s been going brilliantly. Until yesterday. When I became convinced I was a fraud that shouldn’t even be allowed to write the copy on the back of a cereal box. Everything about the manuscript felt hollow and lame.

So, I left it alone this morning. I purposely slept in until 6:45 am.

Wha???? BUT THAT WASN’T IN THE PLAN. (Obviously, spontaneity is an issue for me. I’m working on it)

This book I’m working on is kind of a big deal to me. It’s middle grades fiction. And I love it.

And making the commitment to revise it every day felt–and still does feel–right. But I’d reached a point in the narrative that wasn’t well executed in the initial draft. So it needs a lot of work. Which requires a whole new level of focus. And I’m gonna need to regroup for that. And look at it fresh. The story and the characters deserve that. Hell, I deserve that.

So, I didn’t touch it today. Instead, I’ve had two relatively leisurely cups of coffee and am about to get around to that client work I meant to do yesterday.

So, yeah, work flow and mini-burnout and getting shit done… That’s what’s been up over here. I’m digging being in a place in my life where enough is going on that I have to learn to strike a balance. It’s carefully managed chaos. But it’s mine. And I kind of love it.

*No clients were blown off in The Epic Sorting of the Books. It was a self-imposed deadline. I’m WAY too much a Virgo to ever miss an actual deadline.

Gosh Darn It, I’m Capable

I feel all kinds of capable right now. And DAMN, it feels good.

I know, I know. I’m a grown ass woman. I should feel capable, right?? But for so long, I didn’t. Not because of imposter syndrome. Nope. That requires actual achievements first.

I didn’t feel capable because I wasn’t. Full stop.

We could have a little chat about how I got to the point of believing I wasn’t capable and, therefore, becoming a stellar self-fulfilling prophesy. But it’s really not that interesting–besides, my therapist might get jealous if I started chatting you up about that.

What I do know, 100%, is that booze kept me in that place, that I am only capable of mediocrity place, for a long time. And I wanted it to. Not achieving much of anything felt pretty blasted safe. Trying… now that is scary. It involves risk. And failure. And, oh my GOD, so much vulnerability.

Getting sober didn’t make me feel capable. It made me a lot of other things: clear-headed, introspective, thoughtful, less scared of hard work. I was functional, sure. But capable is a whole new level.

Bringing my daughter, Jane, into the world gave me a giant shove toward living that Capable and In Charge Life. I mean, keeping another human alive is not nothin’.

Sweet Baby Jane.

Once she was in the world, and with me 24/7, I started thinking about how I wanted my daughter to see me (that was easier then than thinking of how I wanted to see myself. I wasn’t quite there yet). What did I want to teach her about being a woman? How did I want her to see me navigate the world?

With that in mind, I embarked on several trial and error adventures. My first job back from 3 years as a stay-at-home mom was as the Children’s Director at a small church. Let’s just say that job didn’t play to my particular strengths. And I had such a need to be validated that I suffered through some things I’d never countenance now.

And then… Simon & I took a trip to Paris. Something about that trip changed me. Maybe it was being away from Jane for 10 days–and having to reckon with my perception of myself as something other than her mother. Maybe it was having a real, honest to God, Parisian croissant for the first time in my life. Or maybe it was that O Magazine I got a hold of on the flight home (Lord have mercy, do I love Oprah). But I came back from that trip with a full, guttural understanding that if I didn’t pursue my calling (what I was meant to do, my big dream) that it would tug at the back of my mind, linger in all my what ifs until I gave it a shot. Dreams can’t be ignored forever. And we pay a very real price for trying to stifle them. So I quit my job as a Children’s Ministry Director (it was time, y’all)…

And I started writing. For literally cents per page. About things like luxury hangers (like, clothing hangers). I shit you not. Then one of my freelance pieces got published. And then I started contracting with businesses as a writer/consultant (quick shout out to women helping other women: all 3 of my initial gigs were because other women (friends of mine) took a chance on my inexperienced writer self). Something funny–yet probably totally predictable–happened. The more I wrote, the more capable I felt. I didn’t shy away from the big clients (even an international corporation!). I dove in. I tried. Full on hard-core tried. And s-l-o-w-l-y I came to believe that I could do it. Really do it. And do it well.

It took a few years before I was wiling to self-identify as a writer. It just felt so impossible that this thing I’d wanted to be since I was 8 years old… that I’d become that very thing. Because capable. And because I finally got out of my own damn way.

I’m not world famous. I don’t have a blog following of tens of thousands. In fact, I don’t even have a byline for most of what I’ve written. But, still, writing changed everything for me. It changed the way I see myself. The way I interact with the world around me. And as I get ready to open a used bookstore this Fall, I realize that I am in this place–this big, scary, exciting, risk-taking place–because I chose to admit I might be capable after all.


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.

giphy-3

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?