Category Archives: Life

A Tale of Two Twitters

Today is #pitmad day! If you don’t know, #pitmad is a bi-annual (I think? Maybe it’s four times a year…) Twitter hashtag party wherein authors with completed manuscripts can post 140-character pitches for their novels, and agents indicate books they’re interested in hearing more about by “favoriting” the pitches.

This has been incredibly terrifying and unbelievably edifying. And by edifying I mean, per yesterday’s entry, character building. Because rejection is good for your character, and going completely unnoticed is even better.

Actually, it’s been a ton of fun, so maybe not so character-building after all. Authors retweet each other’s pitches (and I’ve had plenty of retweets, which is loads of fun!), and we get to know each other and build our little writerly communities. Good stuff.

So that’s one Twitter world. The, ahem, “best of worlds” if you will. (You know, the whole Tale of Two Cities theme? “Best of times… worst of times…” If I have to explain it it’s probably really not worthwhile but there it is. I’m attached to it now.)

Then there’s the other world. The worst of worlds. (ha ha. Now the humor turns dark.) This one kept me up all night because I couldn’t stop reading. That world can be found on Twitter too, by keying in hashtags #EricGarner #ICantBreathe and #CrimingWhileWhite.

I’m too tired and sad to explain, but you can click over there and check it out. But you probably already know.

I’ve posted so much on FB about it, I’m wrung dry. And the sad thing is, I don’t even *have* to live in the #ICantBreathe world. I can duck out any time I want. Go back to my blissful #pitmad world and pretend #EricGarner never happened.

And that’s partly what’s so unfair. Because for my POC friends, ducking out isn’t an option.

Sometimes I have profound and pithy things to say at the end of my entries. Sometimes I’m just rambling and too tired and sad and confused to wrap it all up. Guess which one this is.

What 300 Calls a Week Taught Me About Rejection

When I was young and hungry and the mother of a newborn, I bought a book called “How to Make Money as a Writer.” It sounded like a pretty good idea to me. And it was–the book worked. It’s how I got my start.

But here’s the thing. What it asked me to do was hard. It asked me to make 300 calls per week. Cold calls. To people in the phone book who had never heard of me.

And that is precisely what I did. Out of those 300 calls, I’d get maybe 10 people to agree to meet me. Of those 10 people, I’d get maybe one of them to agree to pay me to write for them. Of that one, about half of them actually treated me with respect and paid their bills.

It sucked. Hard.

It also taught me a lesson that has served me well (and that I’ve had to re-learn over and over again, btw):

Rejection is not the enemy. Fear is the enemy.

If I had let my fear (and trust me, there was plenty of it–I know I seem pretty fearless from the outside, but inside I’m a quivering mess of jello every time I open myself up to rejection) get the best of me, I would never have made those 300 calls. I would never have gotten those 10 meetings. I would never have gotten that half a person per week to pay me for something. And I would not be a professional writer today.

This lesson has served me well throughout my career. I no longer make cold calls (thank all that is holy and good in the world because cold calling is the worst job ever), but my ability to embrace rejection continues to play an important role. I’ve learned to quote my work at a rate that will get “rejected” regularly… and as a result I have better clients who respect me more, and I get paid enough to make my ends meet. In other words, those rejections are what pay my bills.

Now, as I embark on the part of my novel-writing career that involves putting my work in front of people who have the power to accept or reject it, my comfort with rejection is a powerful ally. When you consider that even the most successful of novels can be rejected dozens of times by agents and publishers before finally finding a home, one has to be completely fearless (or at least fake it pretty well) to make it.

And what about you? Can you let go of fear and embrace rejection? You won’t regret it.

#fearless #orfakeit

Not sure I did the right thing…

img 0238 Not sure I did the right thing...
Monty and Goats

Splitting my personality into three distinct blogs may not have been the best choice. It’s too confusing. Should I post this here? Or there? Where does it belong?

Anyway. Had an interesting day. Mostly work and taking Eli to the doctor and starting him on new diet & supplements for his tummy troubles and anxiety…

And then that little thing about Animal Control coming by to investigate negligence complaints.

It turned out okay. He was really, really super nice, and seemed apologetic about having to investigate at all. And of course he found no evidence of negligence and just some minor code compliance concerns (there are WHAT kind of animals in the backyard?). But it did spur a final decision on something I’ve been hemming and hawing over for months.

But because I split myself into several different blog locations, you’re going to have to click through to find out the rest of the story.

It has a sad ending. But it’s kinda funny in the middle.

(And in other news we had a great time in Alabama a really terrifically wonderful relaxing and fun time and Gunner had fun with our friends while we were gone and it’s almost midnight so I’m closing this post now.)

30 Days of Gratitude, Day 13, Part Two*

30 Days of Gratitude, Day 13, Part Two*:

Grateful for Gratitude. Cheesy, I know. But here’s the thing. Last night (and for several days, heck several weeks) I was feeling out of sorts, down, dare-i-say-it Depressed with a capital D. Have been trying and couldn’t figure out how to snap out of it. So I did what I always do when I don’t know how to do something: I googled it.

“How to feel cheerful again” turns up some pretty interesting results, and some really great tips. And of course one of them is “gratitude.” Which always sounds really depressing when you’re Depressed. The fact that I have more than the starving children in Africa have does not help me feel better. But I tried it anyway.

I opened a Word document (because my brain isn’t engaged if my fingers aren’t moving) and started to type lists of everything I was grateful for. But every so often a thing I was grateful for would remind me of something I was sad about, or worried about, or afraid of, and all the joy would go out of it and I would be back to square one. And then I thought about the concept that every problem holds a gift in its hands. So then each time something sad came to mind, I’d look for the gift and then be grateful for that.

For example:

* The soap elephant my mother made when she was a little girl and that my grandmother left me when she died, and then it was stolen when our house was broken into a few years ago, because I kept it in my jewelry box and now it’s probably long ago dissolved in some ditch. The gift? My mother, of course. I don’t have that darn elephant but I still have MY MOTHER in all her artistic, elephant-loving (she still loves elephants–at least, she has a bunch of them around her house), simple and down to earth beauty.

* This leads to a whole cascade of sorrows–the class rings my grandmothers each gave me from their high school graduations, the butterfly ring my aunt gave me when I was a little girl, the birth stone ring my grandmother left me with hers and each of the children’s and grandchildren’s birth stones in it… all stolen in that same jewelry box. The Gift? The lesson that stuff is just STUFF and the memories are what matters. And maybe the recollection that I still have a ton of STUFF they each gave me, some of it even cooler–the quilt top my great grandmother gave me made from my grandmother’s & her sister’s dresses; the dinner bell that used to hang outside my great aunt’s house; the plaid shirts from Grandpa’s closet that still, eight years later, smell like Grandpa. You get the idea. And the cool thing? Those items aren’t worth anything to a thief, so I don’t even have to protect them.

Not having to protect stuff is awesome.

And that exercise is why I feel just fine today. Well, that and a bunch of meditation and some fun Facebook conversation last night. Which led to finding Google Street Views of one of the houses I lived in in England as a girl (it’s the yellow one):

Moulton House 300x164 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 13, Part Two*
Moulton House

But mostly it’s the gratitude. And right now, I’m grateful for warm brown afghans, a printer at work that works reliably, client work that means I get paid sometimes, coffee, almonds, and friends, both those who read my long and introspective posts and those who don’t because they’re so long and introspective. Of course, the latter aren’t reading this, but I’m grateful for them anyway. Because the more grateful I am, the happier I am, and happiness is a prospect I can really get behind.

* 30 Days of Gratitude is a thing going around Facebook. For Days 1-12 and Day 13 Part One, check out my Facebook profile.

Defining Evil

 Defining Evil

Me: What do you do?

Guy at Networking Event: I’m in a creative think tank at (shall-remain-nameless) bank (that was recently re-branded after receiving government bail-out funds). We generate ideas for ways to increase revenue.

Me: Sounds interesting–what kinds of things do you come up with?

Guy: We pioneered the practice of crediting withdrawals from an account in order from largest to smallest, instead of the order in which they arrive. That way, if an account becomes overdrawn, we get to charge the account holder for as many late fees as possible. This can account for millions of dollars in earnings per month. Things like that.

Me: Oh. That must be… soul-crushing work.

Guy: [Blank stare]

Different Guy Standing Nearby: [Laughs nervously] She’s got a point.

Guy: Well… I did tell them once that they might get sued. We do get sued sometimes. But we still make more money this way, so I guess it’s worthwhile. [Swigs beer]

Me: [Blank stare] Clearly, we have differing views of what constitutes “worthwhile” work.

Okay, I only *wish* I’d said that last bit. The rest is absolutely true. I had that conversation. For reals.

I like to think that the world is populated entirely by good people, even those who are difficult to love, that underneath it all they are basically good, caring people.

Sometimes I meet someone who challenges my ability to believe that. Sometimes I meet someone so blandly unaware, so pointlessly devoted to a course of harm, that I cannot think of any better word to describe it than this: Evil.

It’s not the obnoxious drunk guy in the check-out line, or the abusive spouse screaming outside the neighbor’s window, or even the child predators in the news who define evil for me. Somehow, I still find their humanity, can feel sorrow for their miserable lives.

No, to me, evil is defined by this: It’s the corporate Joe, with his buttoned up shirt, his conservative haircut, the beer in one hand. It’s the bland pride he takes in finding ways to make his government-bailed-out employer rich again at the expense of ordinary people. It’s not just a lack of remorse: It’s the lack of awareness that remorse is even necessary.

In my book, evil is not a genius. Evil is not ugly. Evil is not even aware that he is evil.

Evil sells himself to a faceless giant. In exchange for a paycheck, he offers up clever tools to squeeze profit from the lifeblood of struggling citizens. For 30 shekels of silver, he sells out his fellow man, and then stands around boasting about his worthwhile work. It’s his obliviousness, the blank stare. The swig of beer.

What is evil to you?

Four Children, Two Arms

 Four Children, Two ArmsShe watched them sleep, their eyelashes dark against their cheeks, bright with the day’s sun. Peter’s soft full lips parted slightly in a dreamy smile. He was young enough still not to understand. She remembered him turning away from her that afternoon, late evening sunlight gleaming redly in his black curls, the laugh upon his lips as he ran to carry her message.

The other boy’s brow was furrowed even in sleep. His arms were wrapped protectively around his little brother. Her firstborn. Little Leven. She held the sprig of goldenrod, twisted it in her fingers. She fixed in her memory the sight of his earnest, shining face when he had returned proudly from his day’s work in the field to hand her this prize.

So far, she had been able to shield them both from the worst. But tomorrow, they would find out what it is to be a slave. In the morning, Peter age 6 and Leven age 8, would wake up motherless.

Charity leaned over them, her lined face shining wetly in the moonlight from the narrow window above the thin mattress. She had long ago learned to cry silently in the darkness. Her masters had taught her that. Her lips moved without sound, repeating the words of the hymn, “Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come,” and as she noiselessly sang, the tears streamed faster down her face.

The face was ancient, though her years were few, and her arms were strong. Strong enough to carry the little girls, just two and four years old. Strong enough to carry them toward freedom. They, at least, might never know what it is to bend to a master who holds life and death in his hands. They would never know what it is to be watched by his cruel, sly eyes. Nor, finally, what it is to submit your body to the pleasure of that same master’s hands.

Perhaps they also would never know what it is to stand over your beloved sons and know that you may never see them again this side of the Jordan River. What it is to leave them in the hands of the master who will vent his potent rage upon them tomorrow. To know that you will not be there to protect them nor even to comfort them, that your hands will not ever again wipe away their tears.

Earlier that morning, a stranger, an itinerant preacher, had visited the plantation and changed everything. He had made merry with the master, flirted gently with the master’s daughters, and sweet-talked with the mistress. Following the afternoon tea, he had smacked his lips and thanked the mistress for the delicious cakes. Carelessly he handed his empty plate to Charity.

Charity’s face did not reveal her curiosity at the soft scrap of fabric he handed her also, concealed beneath the plate. Only in the kitchen did she dare examine the token, a swatch of fabric, two different weaves sewn together. She recognized her own stitches. She recalled the evening she had sewn the patch onto her husband’s britches, bent over her work before the fire. She remembered the heat of his smile as he watched her, the gleam of his legs, the dark skin bare in the flickering firelight.

Her face flushed with the memory, even as her heart raced with anxiety and equal measures of joy and terror. As far as she knew, Lev lived still in sweet freedom, far away north. What could be the meaning of this? A message, surely, but how, and what did it mean? Was he here with her in this dangerous territory? Perhaps he was only a moment away from whisking her into his arms once again. She felt she could almost taste his lips on hers.

It was old Paul who brought the whisper to her ears. “Tonight,” he said, as he leaned over to take the pot from her hands, “When the moon is high, by the old oak tree, bottom of the big field. Bring only what you can carry.” And then he was gone, walking away with two pots of grits balanced on his broad shoulders, whistling the cheerful notes of Nelly Gray. Walking away from the devastating choice she must make. Bring only what you can carry.

Tonight, she would carry the girls out of this desperate dark place. She would carry them toward freedom. Tonight, she would say goodbye to the boys she would leave behind. She placed the sprig of goldenrod in Levin’s sleeping hand, and kissed each boy one more time. For the God who granted Charity four children did not also see fit to grant her four arms.

__________________

[Inspired by the true story of Levin and Charity Still, and their four children born in slavery: Leven, Peter, and two daughters. All had previously escaped to Maryland, but Charity and the children were re-captured and returned to slavery. Not content to stay, Charity found another opportunity to escape and successfully made her way with her daughters back to Levin, but at a terrible price: She had to leave her young sons behind.

The oldest son, Leven, died a slave in his mid-40s, beaten to death by his owner. His parents had never been able to locate nor communicate with him in all those long years. Peter, however, purchased his own freedom in 1850 at the age of 49, and found his parents in Philadelphia. Sadly, Peter had to leave his wife and children behind and never saw them again.

Charity and Levin went on to raise eighteen children, the youngest of whom, William Still, became known as the “father of the Underground Railroad.”]

On Breast Cancer and Dying and Other Brutal Truths

Read this first

My beautiful friend Jill died from breast cancer eight years ago, leaving behind her husband, two small girls, and a devoted step daughter. Jill ate well, breastfed her babies (one was still breastfeeding when she was diagnosed), did all the “right things” and was diagnosed early. These things were not enough for her.

Based on the type of cancer she had, the doctors at diagnosis said her chance for survival to 5 years was around 5%. With those odds in mind, she made a mindful decision: Skip the surgery-chemo-radiation route, and instead spend her last good months on the beach in Hawaii with her beloved daughters and the husband she would leave behind.

She got a lot of flak for that, for not following the doctor’s prescription, for not “fighting.”

I’m saddened to think that women like Jill often feel alienated by the happy-happy-joy-joy celebrations, the talk of “ta-tas” and “early detection!” and “wear pink!” that runs rampant during October. The article I linked has a point: Is our focus on being upbeat and optimistic obscuring the hard reality that cancer is, seriously, really really bad news? Is it possible that we use the upbeat images of proud survivors to hide from the fact that some of us will die, 40,000 of us this year to be blunt, from this disease?

I can’t help but think about the implications for other parts of life too. We spend so much of our time trying to “prevent” accidents and “treat” illness that we forget that sometimes really sucky things happen, and there’s no freakin thing we can do about it. Life can be brutal.

When we ignore that truth, we may shield ourselves from its brutality temporarily. But at some point we’re going to be slapped in the face with it and then what? If we have not talked about the possibility, the very real reality, of death, of leaving family behind, of orphaning our children, of separation and loss and grief… then what will we do when we are faced with it?

While Jill was dying, before they moved to Hawaii, I sometimes sat with her daughter Laurel during Jill’s doctor appointments. I remember Laurel asking me to play make-believe with her, and repeatedly these games kept ending up with her mother dying. I kept trying to make them end well, to make her mother okay, but Laurel kept insisting on going back to that place. I was trying to do her a favor by reassuring her that things could end well, that they WOULD end well.

Looking back, I realize I was trying to shield her from reality, while she was trying in her child-wise way to do what she needed to do: Accept the brutal truth and figure out, through play, what happens next. What does it mean. What is it. To face it. To learn what to do when the worst thing we can imagine happens.

Perhaps the biggest reason I tried to protect Laurel from the truth is that I didn’t believe it myself. I did not believe Jill would die. I did not believe it until I got the call from Meredith that it had happened. Even then I had a secret theory that it was all a put-on, that one day I would run into her somewhere and she would laughingly explain that it was just a big joke, sorry to have bothered anyone. Crazy, I know, though I suppose a psychologist would describe it as a natural part of the grieving process: Denial.

The point is, I did her a disservice. By failing to face the reality, I did not provide her the support I could have otherwise. I was not fully and PRESENTly there for her.

I’m not saying that Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a bad thing. Or that pink is a bad color. What I’m saying is that perhaps we will do well to avoid sugar-coating the issue, and instead to face it head on: Cancer blows. People die. Young mothers die. This is serious stuff. And we can’t fix it, we can’t stop it, at least not yet.

So what is there for the moms, the aunts, the grandmothers, the daughters, who are dying? What is there for their families? In all the time that we are spending buying pink bracelets and racing for the cure, are we also letting a friend cry on our shoulders, sending soup to the woman down the street who is going through radiation? Are we letting the children affected by this disease begin grieving and are we helping them to understand what will happen for them next?

Or are we too eager to reassure everyone that it will all be okay to stop and realize, that for some people, it will not. It just will not.

____________

Update: I posted this originally on Facebook, where I am connected again with the beautiful young lady little Laurel has become. And here is what she wrote in response.

“Jill Butterworth was my mother she was strong she was brave she fought cancer with love and peace she came to terms with the fact she must leave her daughters, Me and my little sister and our dad but she gave us something even though she left this earth she left behind her love, her strength and her dreams I will never forget her…..I cant she is me she lives through us the ones she meant something to……the ones she touched.”

And then:

“she was the strongest person I will ever meet”

This is Laurel. Beautiful Laurel who looks so much like her mother and in whose soul Jill lives on.

186723 100004215761537 1986537932 q On Breast Cancer and Dying and Other Brutal Truths

So here is the thing. Sometimes it is not okay. That is true. And also: When we have the courage of little 4-year-old Laurel to face that truth then, well then, in a way, it IS okay. It really is.

And THAT is why we must not hide behind pink and ribbons and the faces of survivors. Because only when we face the other side, death and loss and grief, can we reach this powerful deeper truth. The one that sometimes we need a 4-year-old to teach us.