The Road Forward

Black is an odd color choice for a toilet. To be fair, going alone to a crowded bar on a Friday night and hiding in the corner bathroom stall is an odd choice too, but there I was.

It’s been a long and windy road that my dream has taken me. It’s taken me to Amarillo Texas.  It has taken me to a police station, a recording studio, and a lawyer. When I set out to follow my dream of being a writer I expected a lot of pajama-wearing laptop-staring afternoons.  Instead, I’m staring at a gurgling toilet in a bar because I’m afraid of what I have got myself into.

I wonder if this happens to other people who have crazy dreams.  One thing just leads to another.  The only path is forward -or quitting.  You usually learn this the hard way.

When I set out to record a trio of short stories, I supposed all I needed was a recording device.  I was wrong.  I was really, really, wrong. Soon I learned I needed to be in a professional studio. That may seem quite logical and glaringly obvious, but it wasn’t then. I was confronted with a true test.  Was I willing to invest in myself?  That’s a very hard question. I’m not a risk taker, I’m not adventurous. Self-doubt is my demon. He doesn’t just vacation in my brain he owns condos. He’s running for mayor. 

I had to decide if I thought what I wrote was worth it.

I did.

What I didn’t know then was that all kinds of things would pop up on this journey.  I learned that the best avenue to put it out in the world required it to be in print first. I had to hire an editor. I had to find a cover artist. I had to get a professional head shot. Good God, who would want a picture of me?  And I had to pay for the evidence that it happened! The list of requirements kept spreading like a rash, with little end in sight, constant irritation, and no relief.   

Writers have to be on social media.  I don’t like social media.  I like staying in and wearing slippers and writing stories about worlds that exist in my head.  Each challenge posed a new opportunity to quit. 

Do it or quit.

I did it.

That’s why I hid in the toilet at the bar.  I was afraid that I wasn’t a good enough story teller, that my story was not interesting, or funny, or worthy of their precious free time. 

I never imagined I’d join a group of storytellers.  I never imagined I’d have a blog where I create those stories to tell.  But I do.  And maybe if they like my story they might like to read my stuff.

I took a deep breath, told the mayor to take five, and reread my notes. I had to decide if what I wrote was worth it.

 

EyeLashgate

First of all, I blame this whole thing on Megyn Kelly.  Second, I do not believe the decisions that I make deserve the outcome that they get.   

Back in October a writing colleague suggested that I look into Storycatchers, a local live story telling event.  An open mic night was scheduled for a Wednesday at 6:00 PM, hardly convenient for any woman between the ages of 25-55. Nonetheless I decided I must try it, and two of my friends wanted to come along for support.    That Wednesday afternoon out of the blue at 2:00pm like a lightning bolt to my neck, I was struck with spontaneous laryngitis.  Panicked and desperate I sucked on lozenges and drank tea with honey for the next four hours, with no sign of abatement. By 4:00 my voice catapulted over the sexy Jessica Rabbit stage and landed squarely on Marge Simpson.

I really wanted to give up, just say forget the whole thing because I’d probably embarrass myself anyway, but my two friends inconvenienced themselves and their families just for me.  I would have chickened out but the wheels of babysitters and microwave meals were already set in motion. Marge Simpson or not, I was taking the mic.   

I croaked out a version of a story despite the iron grip fate had secured upon my vocal cords. Surprisingly, the coordinator of Storycatchers said she definitely wanted me to perform at the next evening event.  That she liked my voice.  Fully confident that she meant my writing voice and not Marge Simpson, I agreed to do it.

Then I went home and thought about what I had agreed to.  A seed of panic turned into an unwieldy weed garden.  I couldn’t do this.  What would I say?  It was scary up there.  So I decided to do what I normally do in the face of something unpleasant.   I buy lipstick.  Only this was really scary and lipstick alone was not going to do the job.  So I’m doing what I do best, which is being paralyzed by fear, and on the TV is Megyn Kelly promoting her new book.

Now, I don’t care what your political leanings are- the fact is Megyn Kelly is cute as a button.  And I notice when they show her from a side angle that she is wearing false eyelashes.  That’s it, I declare to myself and the dog – I am getting some false eyelashes.

And I did, I bought the best ones I could find.  The saleslady put them on me and I felt like a diva.  I texted all my friends.  Forget Botox, you gotta get yourself some false eyelashes. 

One of my more grounded friends reminded me that I better practice putting them on before the big event.  And I knew just the place I needed the confidence boost. Earlier in the week, when I was submitting my idea for the Storycatchers event, the coordinator, Tara, asked if I would be interested in recording my blogs for her website.  This would be the perfect trial run for my new “lash on life.”

Tara had also suggested that she would be willing to record anything else I might have.  I aim to please, but I don’t have much else.  Most of my other projects are lengthy and they are spoken for.  But I did have another story.  It was older, not my usual flavor. I wrote it when my Dad was dying of cancer.  Here’s the tricky part, I have never been able to read that story aloud.  I just can’t get through it. A lot of time has passed since I wrote that story, and I’ve done a lot of live readings and audio work since then. I was certain I could do it. 

With my blogs, the story, and my super eyelashes, I headed for Storycatchers. I met with Tara and told her I had the blogs and one other story.  I cautioned her that it was not the same as my other pieces and perhaps she would like to read it first to see if she would like to include it. She read it and agreed it would work. We got to recording the blogs first.  All went smoothly and when I was done, she handed me the story.  Now the story doesn’t start off sentimental, in fact in the beginning it’s sort of funny.  I’m reading fine, giving no indication that I might have some sort of breakdown.  Well, then I get to the part where the Dad comes into the story.  And what’s weird is that this Dad is not at all like my Dad – still the words will not come out.  They are stuck in my throat.  I can see the words but my heart, my mouth, is seized by an overwhelming emotion.  My eyes well up. 

As you can imagine, this does not go unnoticed by someone sitting next to you, let alone someone who is recording you.  I turn to look at her and apologize. I repeat that I am sorry.  I confess that I just can’t read this story aloud.  I apologize again for my complete, as it must appear, spontaneous onset of insanity. 

It is just at that moment that I notice a grayish cloud in my vision.  My false eyelash is dangling vertically over my right eye. I ask, “Is my eyelash falling off?”  She nods her head, no doubt rendered speechless at my emotional ungluing and cosmetic malfunction. I peel the eyelash off and grasp it firmly between my index finger and thumb.  Just then, her famous brother walks in.  (Really, he is a local celebrity.  He can put asses in seats.) The whole scene is awkward and is in dire need of clarification, I’m looking like Clockwork Orange, the air is charged with grief, empathy, and embarrassment, and it would be rude to ignore people right in front of you. 

He may have went to shake my hand in the introduction, quite honestly I’m not sure.  In the confusion, we explained that I had lost an eyelash.  Being a gentleman, he starts scanning the floor not sure what to do in this kind of lady emergency  to which I show him the furry caterpillar looking thing that is my eyelash clenched between my fingers.  I think Tara at some point explains who I am and either she or I mention how I lost my voice at open mic night.  He asks, “Was it nerves?”  It’s a perfectly normal question, not loaded or accusatory but when it gets to my brain which contains a Rube Golberg type contraption that runs on neuroses, self-loathing and low self-esteem a normal question sounds like an attack on my talents. No, I declare with unwarranted indignation I had a legit cold.  I had mucous. 

These are the types of introductions that I make, a veritable roadmap on  how to win friends and the respect of intelligent people.

All this from eyelashes. Darn that Megyn Kelly.        

 

     

A Heap of Hope

I live on the edge of town, five more miles out from here and you would be in a place where post office boxes are necessary to receive mail and cows outnumber people about ten to one. It’s pretty quiet, and other than a roaring milk truck, traffic is sparse. That’s why what I’m about to tell you is so remarkable.

The other day I set out to walk my lazy Labrador.  It forced me to leave my placid dead end and traverse a long stretch of back country road where cars generally zip along at fifty to sixty miles per hour because the landscape generally looks the same in a blur as it does at a resting glance.  So there we were, my faithful pooch and I strolling along when we came across this. 

And I thought, as you are probably thinking, well, who the hell would want that heap of junk? Why would someone even bother to offer it up to the world?  We walked on, baffled. 

Then, a mere twenty minutes later, back from our loop around the block, a car was stopped at the pile of stuff and a woman in denim shorts and bright purple sneakers was lifting an item from that same garbage heap.  She smiled at me as she hopped back into the driver’s seat as if it were my tough luck that she saw it first.

Suddenly this pile of junk got me thinking about my writing.     

If someone liked that pile of garbage enough to stop, get out, lift it, and bring it home, then surely there is someone who would like my writing.  And this stuff wasn’t even reaching a vast and wide audience. It wasn’t like this garbage was on the endcap at Target.  This was a far out country road, in a far out small town, in the far out edge of nowhere. What are the chances someone found it, let alone found it and liked it? So could there be someone out there who likes my stuff?   

Yes. 

May you find hope on your creative journey.  Don’t pay attention to all the cars that speed past you. Focus on finding the driver that slows down and decides that what you have to offer is a treasure.

Technology, Litter Boxes, and Heroism

 

I’m like a black hole of technological skill.  To be honest, I’m not sure that’s even an accurate description.  People who understand black holes are not generally the kind of people who are befuddled by multiple hash tags, the concept of google docs, and the like button on Facebook.

Nonetheless, I have a dream of writing, scratch that, I have a compulsion to write.  The problem, the main antagonist to my life’s narrative is technology.  I wrestle with it daily. Social media gives me sudden onset diarrhea.  Facebook gives me high anxiety, and the internet exhausts me. Yet, these are all necessary to get my writing out in the world.  It’s so frustrating.  I find it akin to cat ownership.  I love kitty cats.  They balance statuesque majesty with adorable cuteness like a tight rope walker.  They are purring snugly little balls of soft fluff. Yet along with all their furry magic is a shit box in your home.  The writing is my cat, the technology is the shit box.  Unless the cat is dead, I need the box.  And I don’t want to author a dead cat.

I’m making peace with the stinky clumps of technology that are yoked to my writing adventure. Sometimes I even find humor and happiness in them. For example, when I check into my blog, inevitably I have spam. I’ve come to appreciate spam in all its absurd glory.

Here’s an example that delighted me beyond what the spammer could ever imagine.  “I am impressed, I must say.  Actually hardly ever do I encounter a blog that is both educative and entertaining, and let me inform you, you may have hit the nail on the head.  Your concept is excellent; the issue is one thing that not enough people are speaking intelligently about.” This was the comment on They’re Out There, an unhinged malediction of house dwelling arachnids.  I can’t help but wonder what part deserved the “educative” qualifier.  Could it be the part where I plead to my readers to be wary of a spider’s cognitive capabilities and even more so a spider’s undying devotion to complete evil?  Perhaps it was how to properly dispose of a dead spider given their ability to reanimate like a science fiction villain.

I also love the idea that not enough people are speaking intelligently about this issue. Could you imagine a world where the fear of spiders drove policy making decisions and curtailed daily events?  To be honest, my posts are hardly scholarly, unless one was looking to demonstrate the mental health void in our country.

Sometimes spammers appeal to my vanity. On the post The Pet Equation a spammer left a comment with a very serious call to action that “your authority on this subject deserves a wider audience and I can help” Yes, I agree I am an authority on how my mathematics education has led me to an equation about stink and pets. And I’m quite sure this post would find a comfortable place in scholarly discussion, perhaps right next to Newton. The fig, not the man.

So my journey with my nemesis, technology, has forced me to grow, compelled me to learn, proved that I can do some things that I never imagined I could – and made me realize I could be the hero of this narrative.  In fact, that sounds like the perfect fodder for a story.

 

Beware of the Banana


I almost took a picture of a homeless man. And it wouldn’t have been of the empathetic National Geographic kind.  It would’ve been the self-indulgent kind.  It started off innocent enough.   I encountered this fella on a city side street, not far from the library.  He was scruffy, but not in an outstanding way.  He had Einstein hair, a baggy pair of khakis, a Walgreens bag, and he was eating a banana. At first glance, he fit in with the locals. There’s a college nearby that hosts many harried academics who forgo meticulous grooming for the pursuit of the higher mind so the only thing that stuck out about this chap was the banana. And let’s face it, banana consumption is comedy gold.  Somewhere between the garish yellow and the simian similarity- dignity is lost and any trace of seriousness is transfigured to silliness. This is why I love gorilla suits and never eat bananas in public.  The light turned green and I never had a chance to unearth my phone from the bowels of my handbag.  All night long I put banana eating and blogging in the writing rock tumbler.

The next day I drove the same route and there was the same man, on the same corner.  It was blogging serendipity.  Was he eating a banana?  Yes! What “fruituitous” serendipity. This was the best of luck.  Then I noticed that he still had the same Walgreens bag.  It sagged with the weight of its contents which were now visible, a browning bunch of bananas.  Something was amiss.

This was a homeless man.  My God, I had almost taken a picture of a homeless man.  Am I the kind of person who takes pictures of  homeless people for the amusement of others?  What a sickening thought. The light turned green and I drove away ashamed of myself.

Every time that I write I learn something.  Sometimes it’s about writing, sometimes it’s about myself, and sometimes it’s about the world.  This was the trifecta. I do not write to denigrate other people, I do not want to be someone who finds amusement in the misfortune of another, and I do not want to forgo my moral character in the pursuit of content.

That is a New Year’s Resolution I will work hard to keep. That and wearing a gorilla suit with some regularity.    

Writing Stumbling Block #1

 thg22bddbt

 

Family is one of my biggest impediments to my writing.   I ask that my family not read anything I write.  In fact, my husband has never read a word that I’ve written, and I would like to keep it that way.  It’s not that I exact revenge on my loved ones by recording and embellishing their flaws and foibles, but they are in there. Of course, they are part of my experiences.  I cannot create while I worry about their reactions or my guilt.

I think people who don’t write don’t really understand writing. They probably do not cultivate the voices they hear in their heads, let alone admit to having them. They probably do not hoard and catalog moments, details, and phrases that stick onto writers as if they are giant Velcro poster boards that wander through life.  It takes a level of practiced and skilled derangement to create characters. People I know do end up in my writing, but they show up in fragments and composites.  My stories are a mosaic of everything I have experienced.

Another aspect of creativity that non-writers may not understand is that sometimes writers just pull things out of thin air. Sometimes I write a scene and I have no idea how it got on the page or where it came from.  It’s like there’s an invisible jet stream of ideas coursing over our heads and if you are still, quiet, and listening you might be lucky enough to hear it.

I don’t want my loved ones to read something and then wonder what the hell is wrong with me.  I wonder that about writers sometimes.  Does Gillian Flynn, the author of Gone Girl, belly up to the Thanksgiving turkey while her family discusses how they never knew what a sick fuck she was? Does her husband upon finishing the novel decide it best to be the one to carve the bird while he declares from now on the Flynn’s are a plastic flatware family?

If you met Stephen King would you agree with everything he says not so much because you find him delightful, but because you were so terrified by Salem’s Lot that you had to remove your copy from your house and throw it in a commercial dumpster?

Inspiration is hard.  Writing when I should be living is hard.  The fear that I may hurt someone I love is paralyzing.  That’s why I tell my family that writing makes me happy, and if you love me, don’t read what I write.

Tech No

pencil_color1

I don’t like computers; I like pencils, tall and sharp Ticonderogas with enough eraser on top to really go after a big mistake.  I like the sound of paper. I like the satisfying scratch of crossing something off a list.  I’m quite convinced my printer is in league with Satan. And to be completely honest, my laptop gives me diarrhea.

And so, I am often at the mercy of my husband and my son.  They come to my rescue with incredulity and annoyance at my lack of knowledge and efficiency. “How could you not know this?” they ask.

Why don’t I know this!  I don’t know this because I spent the last ten years wiping asses and making pancakes.  I don’t know this because it wasn’t covered on Blues Clues.  It wasn’t an integral part of carpools.   I leaned all the way out.  That’s why I don’t know it!

Of course, I can’t tell them that because I might have to save the file to a pdf or post a link or some garbage like that. Instead I smile and try to see how and where their fingers landed when they produced this technological magic.

Maybe Sheryl Sandberg who wrote Lean In should expand her generosity to moms who stayed home.  It could be like the kind of training prisoners get when they reenter the world. A reintegration program.  This is how adults talk to one another.  This is a sampling of a non-animated television series. This is a small stylish hand bag.  And this is what happened with computers.