No Big Deal-itis

I’m beginning to see a pattern in the conversations I have with people. All people about all things. It’s very late of me to notice this, I know. And it’s not for a lack of people pointing it out my entire life, (see: any conversation with my mother), it’s just that I wasn’t listening. Sorry Mom!

Here’s an example of my self-diagnosed No Big Deal-itis :

Grover listening to all these conversations in utter disbelief...

Grover, on my office floor, listening to all these conversations in utter disbelief…

Agent: Here’s news about this really great thing!

Me: Meh.

Agent: Exciting right?

Me: Yeah.

LATER…

Me: Hey friend. My agent told me this nice thing.

Friend: Amazing! You worked so hard for that. You totally deserve it.

Me: I guess.

Friend: And how did your surgery go yesterday?

Me: *shrugs* I’m totally fine. Let’s do something strenuous that will not at all put me back in the hospital.

Friend: Umm…

Women tend to downplay their accomplishments (see: impostor syndrome). Women who are writers are probably the worst at this, because all (most?) writers have impostor syndrome. Women also tend to downplay their weaknesses. Like that time I was building an 8-foot tall dollhouse for my daughter WHILE going through chemo when what I should have done was my lie my behind down.

I’m not saying this to make any profound statement about women or even myself, other than: I’m going to try not to be so hard on myself. And since I have the opportunity right now, I’m going to take a nap. Or at least sit down and try not to think about all the things I have to do. For like, 10 minutes.

Baby steps.

What are you working with?

We all deal in language, us writers. We are limited by the alphabet, by punctuation, and the curve of the font. Yet, some vowels, commas, and deckle-edged pages come together in such a way as to produce magic. Spun gold that leaves the rest of us wondering if some people are working with better materials than others.

You might argue that artistry is about innovation. And that’s true. But isn’t artistry also about availability? You have to work with what you have, but what if you don’t have everything you need to elevate? To wit:

gold insect

I came across this image today. It’s fly larvae that made cocoons out of gold leaf and precious stones that were provided by a forward-thinking artist. Ever thought fly larvae interesting? Me either. But suddenly….

I realize there is no way to literally gild writing. But writers sometimes short-change themselves of the most precious of all commodities: time. We rush, we waste, we stall, and all the time, that material is slipping through our fingers.

Honey, your aura don’t look so good

Alicia, Lois (who prompted me to write Ma Laja), and me at age 13.

When I was about thirteen, my best friend, Alicia and I met an older student on the steps outside of Chemistry class one day. She was probably only sixteen, but to us she seemed sophisticated and mature. She told us that she could see our auras. We believed her–or more likely, I believed, while Alicia reserved judgment. She told us that our auras were pretty. And then one day, she told us that something had changed. Alicia’s was green and splotchy, while mine had turned dark and grey.

“Have you been studying?” she asked.

Alicia snarfed. Me, study? I was flunking pretty much everything–especially Chemistry. It was right around the time I discovered that I might be good at writing novels, so naturally, schoolwork just got in the way of my career path.

“Yeah, I’ve been studying,” I lied.

“That’s what it is, then,” she said. “That’s why your aura is so dull.”

I remember this story because my work schedule has been brutal the last few weeks. While I’m thrilled to be writing for people, and editing client manuscripts, the pace has left me totally exhausted, to the point that at some point yesterday, I could actually feel my  body shutting down on me. I could feel my aura dissipate.

At about the same time, my friend Alicia called. Seems we’d both been thinking about each other for the last couple of days, and both feeling exhausted, had reached for the phone a few times, but never managed to finish dialing. She beat me to it. I reminded her of when she was an over-scheduled kid and she had said, “The more I have to do, the more I get done.” Present-day Alicia doesn’t remember ever saying such a thing, and was surprised that thirteen-year-old-Alicia had. She certainly didn’t feel that way any more.

We got off the phone still resigned to our respective over-scheduled lives. And then I remembered that I’m trying to listen to the Universe these days. So come hell or high water today, I am going to find some time to coax my aura back around me, and generate a pretty color straight from my soul. Something in a pink or purple. Maybe with spots of yellow. Because I may not be able to do anything about how much work I have, but I can definitely take a moment to spruce up my own aura.

The write mindset

Kids building their own cupcake toppings at the Lego party. Can you see the Lego brick candy and minifigure candy that my husband made himself? I hope you can cuz it was awesome!

A friend invited me to join her at the gym this morning. I usually workout at home (and by workout I mean stare at my stepper and eat a cookie) so I figured I’d be social and get in an actual workout at the same time. The thing about knowing that you’re going to the gym right after dropping off the kids is:

1) After making 2 chocolate milks for the kids, you do not make a 3rd for yourself for your morning beverage.

2) You do not eat the last cupcake form your son’s birthday party for breakfast.

3) You get dressed appropriately and don’t bother to put on makeup.

So here’s the thing. While prepping for going to the gym, I started to feel energized about doing something good for my body. I read somewhere once that just getting dressed to workout, because your mind is already in that mode, you start to burn calories. (No, you can’t just get dressed for the gym and then go eat a cookie. It doesn’t work that way. Nice thought though!)

Getting in the right mindset for going to the gym made different choices necessary for me this morning. The choices affected me both physically and mentally. Just as knowing that I’m going to write makes certain choices necessary, like clearing off my desk, making sure the phone is nowhere near me, ensuring the kids are otherwise occupied, wearing something that resembles real work clothes (I don’t write in sweats… well I am right now, but I just came from the gym!) and turning my mind on to the work ahead.

Every day, you’ve got to get ready to work, and in getting ready, you get energized for it.

How do you get prepped?

Talismans

Artists start off with optimism. We stand at the edge, open hearted, reaching out. In that act is the hope that someone will understand. Do you get it? Do you see what I see? What often happens though, is a lack of understanding (rejection) and after many, many failures to communicate, we stand at the edge, open hearted, reaching out, with our hearts full of hope, but our minds full of fear.

And that’s where the crazy sets in.

It’s no secret that artists are a little off. The range is anywhere from a little quirky, to stark raving mad. Because it’s our vocation to examine life, we think we see signs everywhere; in the sky, in an untied shoelace, in the way a leaf rests when it falls in a rain puddle. We think. Only we don’t know. And the uncertainty drives both our creativity and further madness. So we create signs that we can control, ones that we know precisely their meaning, because we have imbued them with the meanings ourselves.

And so I give you my talismans. (Well, three of them, anyway.)

I use these and I feel like a writer. I feel like anything I write, you’re going to understand.

Your talismans may be different. A favorite pen. A necklace. The quote you have tacked up on your bulletin board. But we all have them. They are things that give us strength when we start to falter, when the crazy gets a little too much, when the rejections roll in, when we can’t believe our own good luck. They ground us and keep us focused lest we go jumping off that edge we live on.

Only, talismans have a funny way of occasionally turning back into regular objects. I’m not sure if they do that on their own, or if we occasionally lose trust in them as magical objects. Either way, we’ve lost our anchor, and that edge is right there. … So be careful.

 

Under the radar

Today, I am being featured on The Brown Bookshelf as an “under the radar” author. They do a lot to promote African-American authors, as they’ve rightly observed that our books don’t go mainstream that often, and there’s a lot of undiscovered talent in our ranks. I’m quite honored to be on the same list as many of the authors they are featuring, like Nikki Giovanni! You can find the post here. It’s a little about my background, and how I write, and how Angel’s Grace came to be. Enjoy.

Online Life vs. Real Life

My son, who fell asleep doing his Spanish homework knows all about fatigue. Who doesn't want to spend more time with him? Even if it's just snuggling!

I haven’t posted to this blog since August 19th. It wasn’t a conscious decision to take a hiatus. I stopped because I have been dealing with a serious illness that has taken me out of my life for most of this year, and will continue to do so for many months. Being forced to stop my regular routines has  made me think about what’s really necessary in my life. Besides the obvious: more time with family, more time working on my passion, less of the people/things that cause me stress, I’ve had to think about how I spend my time online vs. my face time with Real Humans and the blank screen, or unedited page.

I’m not  alone. Nathan Bransford recently discussed “blog fatigue” and said that he’d be posting less. J.A. Konrath is on hiatus for an indefinite time. Like him, I also thought about opening up this blog to guest posts. I posed the question about blog fatigue to the people in my G+ writing circles and the “likers” over at Tracey Baptiste Writes on Facebook, to similar results.

For me, cutting back is a necessary, and welcome, change. I’ve enjoyed not having to post every day. I didn’t even realize I’d put so much pressure on myself. It also frees up my time to read and knit more. And the blog didn’t hurt because my blog stats actually went up. Why? Who knows?

And since I’m not alone, I’m throwing the question out to you. How do you deal with balancing your online and real life? Have you also cut back on blogging? How big do you think this trend is?

Life on the back burner

At my last author event for a while.

Camp NaNoWriMo started on Friday, and I was really looking forward to it. I even had a story idea lined up, albeit a half-baked, very nebulous one, that I knew was probably not quite ready to be pinned down to the page. But I’ve always liked to push myself. And I tend not to fail at things I set out to do. Today is Day 4 of NaNoWriMo and I haven’t written a single word yet. There isn’t even a title. I haven’t even come up with the main character’s name. Now normally, that would drive me absolutely insane. But I’m not worried.

Sometimes it’s good to stop.

I find myself in the interesting position of having Far More Challenging Things to deal with right now, which means that my writing life is on a back burner. For a writer, that sounds pretty terrible (and damn near impossible), but there’s a funny thing about being stopped on your normal course: you either realize that everything will work out fine, or you panic and worry that it won’t and use all your energy to stop it. I’m fortunate. I’m in the former group. Because so far, no matter what else has been going on, things have been somehow (magically?) worked around my current challenges.

My mother would say it’s a matter of faith. And that’s all fine and well, but for me, it’s a little lesson in letting go. After all the work I’ve put in to my career, my writing, and crafting a writing life for myself, what exactly is going to happen now that I’m not able to manage it as intensely as I have before? Maybe it’ll shrivel up and disappear. Maybe it will stagnate, and be there for me to brush it off later on when I’m able. But maybe it will buoy me now that I need it to, and carry me for a while.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be interesting. And I’m not going to worry about it. Life on the back burner is actually kind of relaxing.

The 1st 1,000

YOUR DAY: The alarm goes off. You hit snooze. And snooze again. You finally get up. Brush your teeth. Wake the kids. Make breakfast. Pack the lunchboxes. Iron the shirt you meant to iron last night. Get dressed. Yell “we’re leaving in ten minutes!” Get in the car/bus/subway. Go to school. Get to work. Deal with someone else’s idea of productivity.

BUT WHAT IF YOUR DAY STARTED LIKE THIS: The alarm goes off. You hit snooze. And snooze again. You go to your desk. Write. 1,000 words. Afterwards, you get the kids up. You make breakfast…

I like these muses better than the traditional ones.

There’s a big difference in starting the day with your own work. Your own idea of productivity. Your words. Your dream. I’ve heard a lot of writers say that the best time to write is at 4am, when the world is quiet and the muses are unfettered. But waking at 4am is not my idea of a good time. I’m sure muses are around at other times of the day despite the traffic noise and the sounds of pesky children. Maybe we have to work a little harder to catch them, but honestly I’d rather put in that work than wake up at some ungodly hour. I really can’t write before I get the kids off to school, but since I work from home, I can still have the 1st 1,000 words I write be my own work before I start doing any freelance stuff, or even writing this blog.

It’s important to start with you. It focuses your mind on your own intentions. It sets the precedent that your work is more important to you than anyone else’s. It makes the muses stand up and pay attention. They know that you mean business. And then maybe you won’t have to work so hard to find them. If they know your schedule, they’ll come to you.

[Image from Disney.com]

Life and other plans

STRUGGLE.

This is me, struggling.

I had a whole bunch of lofty plans this year, which is pretty normal. My plans are always lofty. But the list came to a sudden pause a few weeks ago when life got in the way. What was that John Lennon said? “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Yeah. That.

Sudden unexpected craziness in your life can do one of two things to your writing. It can be inspirational. It can also bring your work to a grinding halt as you try to deal with the craziness. And what you need to know when you’re dealing with sudden and unexpected unpleasantness is that either route is fine.

If whatever happened is sufficiently difficult, you need to deal with that, and put all the other stuff on hold. You’re a person before you’re a writer. If you’re in no mental state to write, it’s going to be totally useless anyway, and it’s not like the writing is going anywhere. So you deal with working through the rough patch.

If you’re inspired and it only fuels your writing, that’s also great! I’ve written awesome things during terrible moments in my life, moments that now that I look back were the times that I learned so many things about myself, and now that they’re over I’m grateful that some of them happened. I said SOME. I’m looking at you, broken heart of 1997.

Life can be like that. Unexpected. Awful. Fantastic. Inspirational. And as writers, we have an advantage of being able to use our innate creative forces to help us muddle through the mess, and then when it’s over, make it more meaningful with our words.

But the most important thing to remember, whether you’re writing through the rough patch, or you’re putting your writing on hold, is that whatever you’re experiencing, it will be over at some point. And then you can get back to that list of plans.