Monday, May 22, 2017

Use What You've Got, and Do What Feels Good

It's the Monday after my favorite writer's conference. That feeling of joy and excitement lingers, my commitment to writing renewed. The weekend was wonderful - I met new people, learned new things, and had a great time bonding with my friends. The blog is about to experience a re-launch, as I work to build my writer platform. In the meantime, some reflections.

Not everything is sunshine and roses. I entered two contests and lost. Received feedback in my email this morning and as feedback tends to be, some was positive and some soul-crushing. The book is at a place where it is good, but not quite good enough. One of my friends and I talked about how we can receive twenty positive comments, but then one negative comment sends our brain into a tailspin. The thing is, everyone experiences the same thing. Even if you have written a best-seller, there is going to be a reviewer that didn't like the book, and as writers we have to find a way to incorporate the useful, constructive feedback and flush the mean stuff down the toilet. So this is me, mentally flushing the things that make me want to cry and set my manuscript on fire.

Writers, in general, are awesome people. Talking to strangers is so very hard for me, but I've figured out how to talk to other writers. It's like we have this whole, "I'm a slightly odd introvert who creates worlds with my fingertips, oh really me too" sort of thing going on. It bonds us. We've survived the above mentioned criticism. We've experienced first conference jitters. We've sat for hours staring at the computer screen wondering if perhaps we can just will the scene to life. (That's not just me, right?) The PennWriters community in particular is a great group. They are supportive and welcoming, and they bring in industry professionals that want to see writers succeed. It's why I feel like I can conquer the world after each conference.

Fear is okay, but don't let it become the enemy, and don't be afraid to ask for help. Life is overwhelming. And one of the topics this weekend was how we often make excuses for not writing. Why? For me, a lot of it is fear. Fear that no one will want to read my work, that it will never be good enough, that I will never be good enough. In writing and in life. But hey, I'm here to say that I am officially tired of being afraid of failure, of rejection (both personally and professionally), of not fitting in, of anything else that's holding me back. Still afraid of snakes, though. Can't seem to get over that whole forked tongue thing.

My friends put up with my weird personality, and I am incredibly thankful for them. Honestly, I can't imagine being on this journey without them. I laughed until I cried on multiple occasions this weekend, something I desperately needed. It is important to surround yourself with people who love and support you, that you can love and support in return. Writing can be lonely, and while that's okay sometimes, it's also okay - and necessary - to have people in your corner. Cheerleaders. Brainstorming partners. People who make you laugh and hug you tight.

Thank you, friends, family, fellow writers, and followers. Out of respect to my soon to be teenage son (ack!), I will be closing down The Family Van soon and starting a new, more writing focused blog. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Incarnation of Love

In honor of Valentine's Day, or perhaps in protest of it, here's a little flash fiction piece I wrote a few years back. And by "fiction" I mean a version of this actually happened to me, which I suppose technically makes it flash memoir. Or something like that. Names have been changed to protect the people whose lives turned out exactly as I expected they would.

THE INCARNATION OF LOVE

As if it isn't miserable enough to be a twelve-year-old girl, add some jealousy and humiliation and you've got the makings of the worst Valentine's Day ever.

The year:1988, the object of my affection: a boy named Matt, part rebel and 100% flirt. In math class he would reach into a tiny Ziploc bag, pull out a miniature rubber band, and instead of slipping it onto his braces he would shoot it across the room. Right at me. From what I had been told about preteen boys, this act was a sign of affection. I would laugh, whisper a flirtatious, "Stop it" and smile inwardly.

He obviously loved me.

When Valentine's Day rolled around I took a chance and confessed my feelings via a student council carnation. My tiny act of adoration paled in comparison to what Matt did to show the world which girl he truly liked.

Spoiler alert: It wasn't me.

It was Kara, who had recently moved from Tennessee and had a sweet southern drawl and beautiful golden flecked hair. I had been one of her first friends when she arrived, but as we approached teenage-hood she began to pull away and associate herself with the popular crowd, destined to become a cheerleader in high school and date all the best looking jocks. Matt, of average attractiveness (a hunk by my standards), did not even blip on her radar. But that did not stop him from sending her a dozen red roses. Roses. That he ordered from a florist and had delivered to homeroom. Their appearance made a mockery of my single white carnation. And dashed any hope I had of Matt becoming my Valentine's Day sweetheart.

What a sad, sorry tale of woe. So what? Heartbreak happens all the time. But it didn’t end there. On a dare, Matt decided to eat my carnation. Chomped away at it during first period as if it were an ordinary breakfast sandwich. Did I mention he was a bit of a class clown? Oh, yes, the rubber bands. An act I had mistaken for affection, one that was carried out simply for a laugh. And there I sat, once again the butt of his joke. If that hadn't humiliated me enough, he proceeded to draw a flower onto a piece of notebook paper, staple it onto the last two inches of stem that hadn't ended up in his stomach, and place it on my desk. Desperate, I took it as a sign that maybe I did have a chance with him after all, and saved that pathetic spit covered stem for weeks. On the paper flower he had written, in scrawled boy handwriting, "Sorry I ate your flower. Love, Matt"

Love! I held onto that hope way past its expiration date.

Meanwhile, Kara threw her flowers in a nearby trash can, unwilling to give any indication that she returned Matt's affection. The path of rejection drew a straight line to her, the one with the most power. It taught me a valuable lesson in the hierarchy of love and showed that taking a risk does not always pay off.

As for Matt, he ended up in the hospital with stomach distress. Turns out the chemicals florists use to dye and preserve carnations make them inedible.

Love hurts, but karma is a beautiful thing.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Measuring success

Per the advice of my wise spouse, I decided to change the way I approach goal setting. Instead of vague ideas that never get fully accomplished and result in an endless spiral of self-doubt, I set out to be specific in what I hope to achieve and establish solid, realistic plans.

The house is better. Most of the time. We spent an afternoon purging the back room of our basement, which mostly contained empty boxes and other random things that never quite made it to where they were supposed to go. I cleaned out J's closet and donated several bags of winter clothing to a local charity. (SMART goal: to organize one space in the house and carry at least one bag/box of things out of the house). I've been consciously trying to end each morning and evening with a clean counter - which has been great for my psyche, but I haven't quite been able to get the rest of the family on board with helping out in that arena, which leaves me a bit frustrated. So that one is a work in progress I guess.

My health is better. I decided to do a thirty day yoga challenge for the month of January. It didn't start out so well, however, because I spent all of January 2nd in bed with a stomach bug. Determined to get back on track, I did days two and three on day three and managed to finish out the month strong. In fact today is the first day I haven't gotten up to exercise, but I gave myself the day off as a reward. My body is sore, but it feels good overall and I'm proud of myself for sticking to the challenge and actually getting out of bed with my alarm. Hopefully that feeling will keep me motivated to continue.

My writing.... oh dear. We seem to have arrived at an impasse. The good news is that I put myself out there for an online writing conference and with my critique group. They've even offered to workshop my entire novel. !! The bad news is I've been riding that annoying emotional roller coaster again, you know the one. Where you feel like you could conquer the world one moment and the next you are doubting why you ever tried to put word to page. Maybe it's because I am no longer drafting in the quiet silence of my office, surrounded by post-it notes and a sense of purpose. Now I am sending my baby out into the world to be picked apart and analyzed, and while I know it is a necessary part of the process and I NEED HELP fixing elements of the story, it does not make it any less terrifying. I much prefer the creative, locked in the room part of this journey. New projects swirl around in my head, but getting them down and going in a direction of some sort, well that's another story. In order to accomplish my SMART goal of sending out (some number - silly me wrote it in the letter, then stuffed it into my stocking without writing it down anywhere else... 20 maybe?) queries, I need to get DOW into better shape. Particularly the query letter, which currently stinks. Sigh. I did enter one writing contest and will receive feedback in May. And I'm trying to be helpful and encouraging to other writers. I really like my new critique group and am making new friends online.

My life in general is... better I guess? I decided to try acupuncture again and went for my first appointment last week. No overnight miracles, but I am hoping it will help get me on a more even keel. The new job is going well, although I feel a little overwhelmed by all there is to learn. Very much loving the shorter commute and lack of stressful traffic!! But I miss my old co-workers and students. Working in a cubicle is strange - kinda like sitting alone in an airport terminal. It can be incredibly lonely despite being able to hear the conversations of people all around you. Maybe even because of them? I don't know exactly... it's an adjustment.

Faithful readers: I hope 2017 is going well for you. It is not an easy place to exist right now, but I hope we can all find positive things to focus on. In an effort to help spread love instead of hate, our family committed to supporting a different local charity each month with both our time and resources. And here are a few more things I'm committing to this month:

  • Send entire MS to critique group
  • Plot new story
  • Try a different exercise video series each week - and work out at least five mornings
  • Recycle old/broken electronics
  • Give myself credit (not measurable, I know... but something I need to work on)

I'll pop back in with an update next month, and hopefully will have a post or two in between. Cheers!