David said something to me the other night that kind of shook my world. He said, as I struggled through changes on my book and lamented how far from even decent it was, “Are you still finding any joy in this process? Because if you’re not, I think you should take a step back. The joy of writing is how you got this far, and I don’t want you to lose that. It doesn’t really matter whether you get an agent, or get published, or make any money. You’ve come this far and as long as you found it joyful, nothing else matters.”
I’m hoping you won’t be surprised when I say that the whole thing brought me to tears.
Because the truth is, I have lost the joy. I’ve been so focused on perfecting it – round after round of changes, rewriting, edits; compiling agent lists, who to query, when to query; writing the impossible query; failing to write the even more impossible synopsis – that I’ve stopped loving it. I haven’t done any other writing – it’s why I haven’t posted here in months. I haven’t even really been doing much else, because all my free time I want to devote to the book.
And I hate it.
So today, I’m letting go.
Don’t worry, I’m not giving up. I’m just letting go of my book. I sent my first query letter yesterday, and I just sent another one. The book is not perfect. The query letter is not perfect. The synopsis still is not even written. But I’m letting go.
Because the truth is, I know that finding it joyful is important. But I also know that nothing worth doing is ever easy. And that every success follows at least some struggle. So I’ll give myself a break. I’ll let it go for now. And when I find the joy again, I’ll come back for more of the pain.
Hey loyal readers! If you tried to read my post yesterday, you may have encountered a message that my domain had expired. I encountered that same message for the first time when I attempted to proofread the post after publishing. Whoops! Not sure how that happened.
But never fear, I have successfully renewed my domain and everything is back to normal. After several hours of failed attempts, help from my husband, and lots of quality time with Google Customer Support. Just kidding, Google has no customer support. At all. But that’s another story.
So anyways, if you’re still interested in reading yesterday’s post (about Archer turning one month old – complete with pictures!), check it out HERE.
Thanks for all the messages letting me know about the problem – it’s great to know I have so many readers who want to read my posts :)
“Where’d ya put my food?”
Her voice is gravelly and hot, rising an octave at the end. She stares at both of us in turn. I shake my head slightly, unsure of what to say. Allison, the other volunteer, is more confident.
“I’m not sure what happened to it. Maybe you should ask Emily.”
“No. I told you two. I told you I was comin’ back for that food.” She steps further into the kitchen, her presence imposing. I can feel her panic as her chest rises and falls rapidly and her eyes get larger.
I stare down at the lettuce I’m prepping for the salad. Too old to sell in the supermarket, they’ve donated it. Its wilted, brown ends stick to my fingers as I try to find pieces worth serving. It’s my first volunteer shift and I’m not sure if we’re supposed to err on the side of getting as much food on the table as possible or on the side of respecting the women by not serving them food that most people wouldn’t eat.
“I’m not sure, ma’am, we’ve been in here the whole time.” Allison is still talking, thank god, and I feel pathetic for making her handle this.
The woman steps up to the counter now, just a couple feet from us.
“I told you!”
She slams her hands down on the counter and for a moment, I feel afraid. Most of these women are dealing with substance abuse and mental health problems, and I know that makes it hard to act reasonably. I will myself to look at her and smile slightly, infusing my face with understanding and empathy.
Just then, Emily comes in. She takes the woman aside and the incident seems to be over.
Allison and I look at each other and laugh nervously. “I remember they warned us about that in orientation,” I say, still embarrassed that I wasn’t more helpful. Allison nods.
I finish the salad and Allison starts cooking the burgers. Soon we’ll serve lunch to the 28 women who live here, trying to break the cycle of homelessness.
But before we do, the woman comes back in.
“I’m sorry,” she says. She looks us both in the eyes. “Sometimes I just get a little panicked. And I don’t like to waste food.”
We smile – big, cheery smiles – and assure her that it’s no problem.
And I marvel at the apology. I know how hard it is. I know how an apology can sit in your throat for days, making it hard to say anything else. I don’t care if Emily made her say it, I’m still impressed. This woman has lived god knows how much of her life not knowing when or how she would eat. Now that she has some food, she wants to keep it.
Suddenly I feel even more excited about my shifts here. I know these women will test me and push me. But now I see clearly that they will also inspire me.
I sit on the floor in the Kids’ Bedding aisle at Target, nearly in tears. Pink and purple and flowers and butterflies and polka dots to my left, green and blue and orange and bulldozers and dinosaurs and ships to my right. We’re here to buy bedding for Adeline’s new big girl bed, which will arrive tomorrow. And I’m realizing that my efforts to practice gender-neutral parenting have succeeded: Adeline wants the bulldozer sheets. So why am I crying?
Why, indeed. Let’s start with the simplest reason: I don’t like the bulldozer sheets. They don’t go with the rest of her room, which I’ve carefully and thoughtfully decorated over the last two years. And personally, I just think they’re ugly. But what right have I to decorate her room? What does it matter what I think of the sheets? These are her sheets and it’s her room. If she likes them, that’s all that matters. My personal aesthetics be damned.
But I want her to like the things that I like! This divergence in our tastes is just another outward sign that she will separate from me, more and more as time goes by, one day slipping away from me entirely. Shit. Even the aesthetics point wasn’t simple.
And it only gets more complicated from here. Continue reading
Martha Stewart is a quitter. She’s a pro at giving up. Doesn’t sound like the Martha Stewart you know? Think again.
Martha was: a model, a stockbroker, and a caterer before she became the Martha Stewart. She was successful at all of those things, but she gave them up. It was precisely this – her ability to see her future potential and to stay hungry for more – that enabled her to become the incredible success she is today.
Imagine if Martha had simply been satisfied with good enough. At any point in her career she might have said, “This is enough. I’m successful. Why take risks or leave a career that’s stable and respectable?” The people around her might have been encouraging her to stay. They might have thought she was crazy for giving up something that was well-paid and that was a decent thing to say at cocktail parties.
Martha the model. She was beautiful and admired – men wanted her, women wanted to be her. Isn’t that what every woman is supposed to want? Most likely, she would have been washed out and out of work by the time she was 40. She was, I’m guessing, forward-thinking enough to know that it wasn’t the right fit for her. So she quit.
Martha the stockbroker. She was making a lot of money and working at a prestigious firm. She was a woman in a man’s world, fulfilling all the promise of the women’s movement. She was probably working long hours and not seeing her daughter or her husband as much as she wanted. And maybe she found the work dull and uninspiring. She had the courage to say that even though the job was good, it wasn’t good enough for her. So she quit.
Martha the caterer. She was doing something she enjoyed and she was becoming ever more successful. She had bounced around in her career and maybe felt that she should just stick with this. But she knew that there was so much more. She could taste the possibility. She didn’t want to be just a caterer. She wanted to be the definitive source for everything lifestyle. So she moved on.
Martha spoke to us at BlogHer’12. I had never thought of myself as a Martha Stewart fan, but she won me over. She was funny, smart, and so confident in herself that it rubbed off on a room full of 5000 women. She talked about a wide range of things, but it was one image that stayed with me. The BlogHer organizers put up a slide of three pictures of Martha: Martha the model, Martha the stockbroker, Martha the caterer. In that moment, I realized that quitting and moving on is sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself.
We all make choices and we have to live with the consequences of those choices. But that doesn’t mean that we have to stay on one path forever. Think of your hero and look back on his or her life. I’m guessing she made a lot of false starts and wrong turns before she came upon the thing that made her into a hero. Let’s embrace the wrong turns. Let’s start quitting.
I stand looking out at the crowd and I feel my heart start to race. They’re not particularly paying attention to me, but they’re still there. And of course all I can think is that they’ll judge me if I do poorly. The music starts: eight measures of intro and then it’s time. I have to start singing. By myself. It’s karaoke!
The last time I sang by myself in public was nearly ten years ago – in college. To be fair, that was to an auditorium packed with friends and fellow students for a musical/humor competition among the Greek houses. And in law school I was in the musical as well, though I don’t think I had a solo. It’s possible that I did and I was just too drunk to remember. Either way, it’s not as though I’ve never done this before.
But it’s been at least seven years and a lot has changed since then. While I’ve become more confident and comfortable with myself, I’ve also lost a lot of the bravado and sheer fearlessness of youth. I blog all the time about intensely personal things, but I don’t want some drunk strangers to think I shouldn’t be up here singing.
Too late now: the intro is over and I dive right in. I’ve picked one of my favorite Indigo Girls’ songs, I Don’t Wanna Talk About It. I know it by heart, I’ve sung it hundreds of times in the car or in the kitchen, it’s perfect for my range, and I absolutely love it. I get a bit of a rocky start, but soon I relax into the song. I stop thinking about the girls who’ve already been up here singing Adele like they deserve a record deal. I let myself feel the emotion of the song and I do my best to put it out there.
By the end, I’m in love with this experience. Instead of looking to the crowd, I look to my friends in the booth near the front. They’re clapping for me, cheering me on. I finish the last phrase, take a breath, look around, and then celebrate!
I can cross another item off my 30 Before 30 List. I have a little over three months to go and I’m about halfway done. Considering that I started three months ago, I’m calling that pretty awesome. Here’s the complete list with my progress so far. More to come soon!
- Fund 30 Kiva loans (20 so far!)
- Submit something to be published (Done!)
- Do 30 Days of Truth (In progress)
- Learn Photoshop (Done!)
- Get a new tattoo
- Write a novel (or participate in NaNoWriMo)
- Finish Project 52 (In progress)
- Get something published (Done!)
- Go somewhere I’ve never been before (Done! Maui!)
- Climb a 14K (Scheduled)
- Forgive someone
- Find my go-to Karaoke song (Done!)
- Master one yoga pose
- Do a cleanse (Done!)
- Go to an opera
- Master a difficult song on the piano (In progress)
- Find a good place to volunteer and start volunteering
- Start composting (Done!)
- Print photo albums
- Learn how to use camera in manual mode (Done!)
- Do something that terrifies me
- Write a business plan (Done!)
- Do something fun for my 30th birthday
- Audit a science class
- Take a hot air balloon ride
- Paint a picture (Done!)
- Watch the Godfather movies
- Purchase a very expensive, staple item of clothing/accessory (Chanel?)
- Get a facial (Done!)
- Forgive myself (Done-ish)
In my first “30 Days of Truth” post, I mulled over the fact that it’s so, so easy to find things that you hate about yourself. One of my perceptive commenters (from The Polka Dot Palace) noted that it would probably be much harder to find something that you love about yourself. Yes, my friend, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
But here’s the thing: there are actually a lot of things that I love about myself, when I think about it. So why does it seem harder? We live in a culture where it’s often considered a bad thing to speak well of yourself. You don’t want to seem too proud (I mean, come on, pride is one of the seven deadly sins!). Humility is a virtue, so we learn to always downplay our successes. And while this is true for everyone, I think it’s even more true for women. Little girls learn, whether from their parents, teachers, peers, the media, or culture generally, that it’s important to be demure, quiet, and self-effacing.
The problem is that when you spend your life telling everyone else that you’re not really that great, you start to believe it yourself. “Oh, that 5 on my AP test? I must have gotten lucky.” “No seriously, you’re not fat, but look at me!” “Yeah, I graduated with honors, but I’ve just always been good in school. It’s not a big deal.” We say these things to make ourselves seem humble, to make others feel better about themselves. But then we start to believe that our luck might run out, that we’re not pretty enough, that we won’t succeed in the real world.
And even worse, we train our minds to follow certain thought patterns. When someone asks us what we’re good at, we honestly have trouble thinking of something. We find the “interview answers”: I’m very organized, I work well with others, I always meet deadlines. But we struggle to dig deeper, to find what really drives us and what we really excel at.
Pride is not evil. It doesn’t make you a bad person if you celebrate your successes and tell the world why you’re great. There’s no reason that a “good girl” needs to diminish herself or be self-deprecating. Knowing what you’re good at and what you love about yourself will give you the ability to find joy and love in life. We need to teach our children to be proud. And there’s no better way than to model for them. So celebrate yourself. Start by leaving a comment telling me what you love about yourself. No one here will judge you for being too proud!
Oh, and what about me? I love that I’m not afraid to say what I’m thinking and to stick to my beliefs even in the face of opposition. So there!
Well this should be easy! I hate that I pick the skin around my nails. I hate that I bite my lips. I hate that I sometimes can’t manage to respond to emails. I hate that I drink soda and can’t make myself stop. I hate when I make stupid mistakes or misspeak. I hate that I procrastinate. I hate that I give Addie snacks to keep her calm in the car. I hate that I sometimes lose my patience when she’s whining and I yell at her. I hate that I don’t know what to do with my life. I hate that I went to law school and incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. I hate…
And that’s when I stop myself and realize the truth. The most important thing that I hate about myself: I hate that I’m so self-critical.
And the worst part is, I know I’m not alone here. Why do we do this to ourselves? Continue reading
Please excuse me while I indulge in some self-pity. For anyone who has studied for/taken the bar exam before, I hope you appreciate this. For everyone else, maybe you can just feel a little better about your own life right now?
1. I shouldn’t need to do this. It’s not just that I went to law school and practiced law for almost four years. Because let’s be realistic: law school is too theoretical and practice is too, well, practical. Neither is particularly helpful for the bar exam. But come on! I already studied for, took and passed the bar exam once! I hate that I have to do this again. Advice to new lawyers: once you’ve passed the bar, don’t move. For real.
2. Everything that matters to me has been relegated to “after the bar”. Continue reading
(This post was originally featured on Tattered Cover’s Blog Between the Covers)
A fugitive on the run from the law. An intimate portrayal of slum life in Bombay. Philosophical discussions on the origin of life and the meaning of right and wrong. Drug running, passport smuggling, shoot-em-up gunfights. A journey through the Afghanistan mountains and a grim look at war. Shantaram has it all and more.
Shantaram is the story of Lin, who escapes from a prison sentence in Australia by jumping over the front wall of the prison. He flees to Bombay where he spends time in a small village learning Marathi, lives in the slums and starts a free clinic, joins the Bombay mafia, and goes to war in Afghanistan (during the war with Russia in the 1980s). It’s a fun and entertaining read, but it’s especially interesting because it’s largely based on the author’s life.
Fiction is wonderful because it takes us to places we could never otherwise go, and it brings us deep into the minds and souls of characters we come to love or hate, or love to hate. But fiction based on real life is something even more unique: as we read it, we wonder at the man who did this, at the possibilities that exist outside our comfortable living room. We want to do more and know more. We may not want to join the Bombay mafia, but we certainly want to go do Bombay. At least I do!
You’ll be endlessly entertained as you read Shantaram. But more than that, your horizons will be broader and your dreams bigger when you put down this book.
** A collection of articles and other fun stuff from around the web. Mostly dealing with babies, parenting, moms, etc. But not always. **
The Five Best Toys of All Time (I love this! Hint, toy #1 on the list is Stick. Fantastic.)
Ten is the New Two (from Free Range Kids – on why treating kids like babies isn’t good for kids)
British Study: Half Of All Pregnant Women Could Give Birth At Home Safely (nice to see a study on this instead of just fear-mongering)
The Real Reasons Kids Shouldn’t Drink Apple Juice (We’re a juice-free household, and now I feel even better about that decision)
Don’t Call Me a Mom: Why It’s Time for Women to Drop That Identity (I’ve certainly tried to maintain my independent interests and not let being a mother define everything about who I am. This is an interesting article about that balance – although she might be a little too quick to disclaim being a mother.)
** A collection of articles and other fun stuff from around the web. Mostly dealing with babies, parenting, moms, etc. But not always. **
The era of non-invasive prenatal genetic screening has officially begun (fascinating. and scary. all at the same time.)
Babies are smarter than you think (babies can empathize and help others get what they want)
Will Smartphones and iPads Mush My Toddler’s Brain? (it’s clear that tv is bad for your baby, but they don’t really know about ipads yet – there might be some good apps that help them learn about cause and effect, etc. so it might be ok as long as you’re not just pulling up videos on it…)
BPA During Pregnancy May Impact Daughters’ Behavior, New Study Shows (this kind of stuff is so scary – but I appreciate the article’s call for balance)
Fish Oil And Health (an interesting look at the research about fish oil – she concludes that it’s probably a good idea, but an even better idea would be to just eat whole fish (who knew); also check out the related article about the pure DHA supplements that most pregnant women take)