Spines and Stories

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The Brattle, Boston

I picked up “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion in the Brattle Book Shop in Boston.  We were the last ones in the store, my love and me, with no plans but to walk atop the bricks until our feet ached and our hands grew chilled.  I tend to gravitate to bookstores, so many spines holding up bodies I want to know, lines of old friends with yellowed paper and curled edges, beckoning me to know them.  The smell always settles me somehow, mildewed paper and brewed coffee, the soft hum of words printed and set.

I opened it up on the plane from Hartford to Atlanta, and finished it while my son slept curled up on airplane sheets in Austin, Texas.   And after I closed the last page I thought to myself, “why just yesterday I pulled you from a shelf, and now I have woven you into my soul.”

The book was about grief. Joan journeyed through it as she lost her husband, just months before her only daughter’s treacherous stint in multiple hospitals that nearly cost her life.  It was not a lofty attribute to the dead, nor a heavy rendition of loss. It was not spirit-rich and syrupy with comforting words.  It was real.  And friends, that’s something we fail to write about well: the authenticity of pain.

Life changes fast.

Life changes in an instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

Those were her words, after her husband of forty years had a heart attack and the traveling of the mind set in.  It made me realize we can’t escape it, hiding in tight boxes as if they will hold us.  For the walls are cardboard and melt with the pummeling of so many tears. There is no preparing for death.  One thinks that a golden path can be laid so that the entry into the beyond is smooth, but that is fiction like so many pages I flip past at night.

I’ve come to realize how much I appreciate honesty, the way someone says something crazy and knows it.  Whether it be through a taco or boarded-up window or the sickening sweet of wisteria, memories burst through our boxes and start stabbing at our heart.  You can numb it or avoid it or push against it or scream at it, but despair from grief or divorce or a tangential loss comes at us at times like a black hole that sucks and does not give back.  It pulls at our inner parts no one is supposed to see.  And in the end we find comfort in strange things.  Not sappy songs about Jesus.  Not cards from Hallmark.  But the way a neighbor drops off Chinese soup every day for three weeks, since that’s the only thing one’s stomach can handle.

As I reflect upon life and death, about joy and pain, about the fragility of our stint on this earth and the tenacity of the human spirit, it makes me appreciate how people write.  The opening of the mind to share with our fellow cohorts, so we don’t feel alone.  Isn’t that the purpose of our communities, our families, and our deep-seeded friendships? To feel less alone? To have someone to hold at night and say “I’m here, with you, right now and forever?”

I continue to duck into bookstores whenever possible.  I get lost in the walls of stories, of beauty and suffering, of how one processes things.  Sometimes I sit on dirty floors and dive in, while others I just touch like friends I will someday meet.  Often I take books off shelves and run my fingers across the various covers, because someone spent many hours and months of their life pouring over this particular collection of words.  How glorious.  I like new books and old books, funny and poignant.  I read words of Saints and sinners, the ancient creed of apostles or quirky wit from mommas. Words provide an opportunity to see things I cannot see.

Life changes fast.

Life changes in an instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

This may be.  Your heart might be broken, or empty, or in my case full of new love and promise to the extent that my eyes well up at the happy.  But in all cases, words provide clarity and community, reinforcing that we are all in this together.

Don’t hold back.  Share your words with the world.

 

 

 

How I Write

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My friend Missy sent me the online version of a chain letter today daring me to document my process of writing. I tried to hate her and crumple her threatening seven-year-old writer chain dare into a wad of trash but she’s so funny and awesome and we are all going country dancing in a few weeks and I need her to be my wingman for hot cowboys.  So now I feel compelled to write about writing, which is the lamest thing ever.  Blame Missy.

What dare I say about this messed-up process? It’s like asking me for the secret of how I do laundry, which is composed of very ingenious piles of generally-the-same-color-things, some of which are white and are now the opposite of white and others I confuse between those boring labels such as “clean” and “dirty” so I stick my nose in a pair of underwear to see how that turns out and then react to myself like I did something revolting when I clearly did by sticking my nose in underwear but it was next to the wadded up clean jeans so I thought maybe miracles happen (?) and I throw a wet towel into a dryer of already dried crumpled-up kids t-shirts hoping the moisture plus an extra 20 minutes will equal all things right and beautiful.  So most days I survive with lots of heaping, wrinkled, and/or moldy piles in various stages of being half-folded.  But occasionally, when the stars align and it’s a breezy beautiful Spring Saturday I lay out all the whites that are cleanly bleached and fold them so gently and put them all away in their rightful homes whilst singing Over the Rainbow in my very best soft soprano wearing a flowing lace dress with cowboy boots and this is how I imagine laundry days in my brain for all eternity DO NOT MESS WITH MY DAYDREAM, PEOPLE.

And so. My answers to the How I Write questions:

1. What are you working on?

I’m working on staying sane.  A lawyer by day, trying to battle a commute and post-divorce dating, with two small children who live in a delusional far-away land that “when momma sells her book in New York she’s gonna quit her job and we’re all gonna get a pool and eat ice pops.”  So I manage to lower their expectations and make spaghetti that no one will touch and deal with laundry (which I’m a pro at) and fall asleep in my son’s little bed with dinosaur sheets and then trudge upstairs at 11 pm to crank out an essay that I often can’t publish because it’s too personal or too awful and I’m writing in a half-dazed state of exhaustion.  I work on what’s in my head brewing, and writing it down helps me work through it and make sense of it, which is why my essays are sometimes weepy and other times flippant.  I try to not let guilt seep into my consciousness for not writing more often. It never works. You could swear I was Catholic with the guilt.

2. How does your work differ from others in your genre?

I write about funny and I write about faith and occasionally slip into cliché issues facing us mothers so basically I’m like every other blogger on the planet except that I have better hair.

3. Why do you write what you do?

If I wrote what I did I’d be dissecting the art of drafting contracts and the complicated world of healthcare regulations, which is about as interesting as a lawn chair, so I write mostly about my struggles with life and God and relationships. And I consider myself a very positive upbeat person, so I suppose I try to convince myself that life always has a sunny side.  I always and in all things try to encourage others to be bigger, bolder, and love God more fiercely.

4. How does your writing process work?

I have no freaking idea.  Something just plagues me and follows me around like a bubble cloud over my head.  I swat at it and it keeps raining down words and then I get in my car all pissed off about this idea that won’t budge so when I drive or walk or fold laundry (ha ha ha) my brain starts spitting out these words in order and I re-arrange them in my mind until they form some sort of essay and then I sigh and trudge upstairs and put all the words on paper.  That’s how it mostly works (sorry to disappoint). But regardless of whether I write during the day or at night or whenever in whatever fashion, the minute I’m done I sigh deeply, like I had all these truths bearing a hole in my soul and I finally found a release valve, and they all poured out on the page, and I want to cry and sleep and curl up in a pile on my down comforter because my work here is done.  When I finished my novel I felt like I had run a marathon, because it was like a life that I birthed, and a extrication of pain that I didn’t know I was grasping onto, and a release of joy that I didn’t know was even lingering.  And it’s a beautiful thing to find release, and feel you are living your truth, and you just have to do it in whatever sloppy way that happens.

Writing is like laundry.  Some days are wadded up piles and others are flowing silk.  Whatever you do, just don’t stick your nose in it.

 

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Photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/nanagyei/5199156473/sizes/m/in/photolist-8Vr35R-6UZ3eh-9281YT-9282ee-8kvbUC-9282Ax-8kvbSL-uwiZT-8sTBte-6v7u9r-7c3uUc-7Lqvbq-dNfJmV-4hBu4N-4sLmMw-dyJTAj-bbpCVP-4hycTx-3sv7z-8XBY9H-9X5niu-cXaXY-4P9kgS-6zHzXB-3RvkeN-f7UKY8-fg4MTo-5qh5N-nvafDc-6mCxRA-78pxKM-61i1L3-4KzKAF-6oddDy-5R2xos-6r8Ety-4zXNZJ-4zTnAx-4zXASY-7pDY19-4zXsQy-6nFDAi-4zXC5s-6mRXVC-4EcJzg-4zTmQk-4AsBqv-4zTuSF-4zXME7-4zXHJd-6qqTra/

Use it or lose it

 

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There are times I want to write but the words freeze like cold air and what was once winsome turns rigid, just cracked brittle words falling down like chunks of ice instead of snowflakes.  Fear enters my fingers because it’s not good enough or not worthy enough so I fill my time sulking and texting girlfriends who would rather watch Modern Family but humor me out of obligation. I rattle on during the dinner hour about online dating or my love of roasted kale or the fact that some store clerk told me that my new boots weren’t going to last more than two years and I might as well just buy the six-hundred-dollar ones but I looked her straight in the face and said “I ain’t ropin cattle in these fancy things so I’m sure it will all work out.” 

My brain crescendos into a fury with words, and they must escape somehow, even at the most inopportune times.  Singers sing and trial attorneys litigate and engineers create and painters color and we all just have to do what we are built to do.  So I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to all my best friends’ husbands who have to tolerate my incessant and time-consuming word dumps because they alone allow me to live a relatively normal life without the need of asylum.

But there are times when they jumble, my thoughts, like scattered stamps on the floor. I must gather them and press them into ink and secure them in some form of order on the page with no one around so that I can turn out the lights with a sigh that matters.  Because falling in bed at the end of the day without worthwhile word order is cheap and thin and I like my days to be thick like French bread, rich and ripping apart with a jagged edge.

But there are days I feel like a failure.  Failure at work, mothering, writing, home.  Failure to be thin and keep my perspective and to be the perfect image of who I want myself to be.  You know what I tell my kids? We are all failures. If not for that, what’s God’s love for anyway? 

In the depths of our fear, when we slam the phone down and there is no centering stone and we feel lost and trapped and frozen – when we feel like peeling off our very own skin and we can’t move or breathe and just want to invert into ourselves and be invisible and we are so weary of throwing down dirty cold ice– that’s where we pray.  We cry out from our deep places and ask God to take it, bear it, and hold it.  Because Jesus, we are not enough. We are never good enough.

That, my friends, is truth.  Words stick in my throat like peanut butter and I fear what might come out, and there are times I can’t move forward because I’m afraid of where I might land. I don’t want to face a future alone and I don’t want to cry any more tears and there are times I want to fall down and rip my clothes and never write another word.  But then I hear the words of Isaiah pulse through my veins: “Be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  And I lesson the grip of fear, and the words come out easier, and I can feel a lifting. And the gift that God gave me resonates, and penetrates deeply, and I thank Him for this ability to speak when others cannot. So I trudge upstairs and write, because what the Lord gives  is right and true and it feels good to be following the yearning of your heart.

God has given each of you a unique gift.  Use it.  Nurture it.  Support it and pray about it.  Realize that your gifts are like an oiled slide that allows you to fly sometimes, and even in the midst of winter tragedy you land like a sunny afternoon at the bottom, and for just a little while here on earth, you were free.

 

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomsaint/2923173128/sizes/m/in/photolist-5sj2wG-d32a5b-aN1GpT-catm93-aoxyFG-9MLCso-sLt62-9bojCy-9bojxf-7jK2dp-eFjCYL-5oiRLb-LPn9H-62Yv2h-gJ5aHT-gJ5E3X-gJ5BiZ-gJ4HJu-gJ6zyK-gJ5xu6-gJ4Rc3-gJ5i9c-gJ5Kgx-gJ4QyS-gJ5jmf-gJ5Mmz-gJ53Q5-gJ5a9N-gJ5bZQ-gJ592Y-gJ5YJz-gJ5GcB-gJ5mQ2-gJ4BBs-gJ55ty-gJ5piZ-gJ4fvu-gJ5Mvz-gJ5iJc-gJ4UBu-gJ4sXA-gJ4yft-66s5Ly-c6e1Rf-cihsbN-x2XfK-dTav48-5PWc59-83KUrK-3AawJw-5tXr65/

Pearls of death: a poem

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The plastic curves, they pant

in tulle and diamonds bright

For kitchens gleaming of soapstone

Buying and baking and wasting.

It’s a water-soaked culture

and fear is a droplet of oil

so blend and buy and lust and smile

sail on past the wrinkled lines.

Sleep is hard and mean and honest

It forces waking from dreams of white

Drug it where it bleeds clean

Back to fluff and saccharine.

Freedom’s not a pinning board

Where all is neat and robin blue

It’s standing under columns wide

with open, dripping hearts

where sprinklers click click back and forth

Soaking the stilettos.

We’re all equal, she and I

The one who can’t get off the lines

The one who says she’ll finally get clean

The one who prays to Jesus.

In the waiting room of the psyche ward

or in the house of all that’s holy

Money’s no good here, my friends

Ain’t nobody cares about expensive shoes

or breakfast at tiffany’s.

Be gone, ye life of privilege

You fool me with your opulence

The rusty tin of jewels

Choking my neck whilst nearest death,

 

Rip off the pearls

photo credit:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/megyarsh/2873940330/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Fan Mail

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So the big important news this week was that Taylor Swift’s fan mail was found unopened in a dumpster.  All those glittery heart raspberry letters wasted, dumped by the used syringes and old saggy diapers.  Someone found them, and THANK HEAVENS alerted the appropriate authorities.  It just really makes me teary-eyed that we Americans [that haven’t a clue about starvation or submission or selflessness or hunger or political issues] stand up for what’s right. Because these letters were found, ya’ll. It’s a miracle. 

So it made me think about what it would be like to get a bunch of fan mail from 14-year-old girls that include pictures of their grandmothers and boyfriends and are sprayed eerily with Bath & Body Works perfume.   I mean, who really likes the smell of sun-ripened raspberry? I say no one.  In an imaginary world, letters to me would go something like this:

Yeah so Amanda:

I like it when you write about your kids throwing up, so if you could tone it down with the Jesus references that’d be cool.  K?

My Dearest Amanda,

Get over yourself.  My kids were killed in a horrific accident and here you go rambling about how you can’t find concealer to cover up your dark under-eye circles and how whiny-bad your cute little life is.  Are your children alive?  Okay then. Find some priorities.  Included with this letter is a bottle of Raspberry room spray to remind you to be freaking happy about your life.

Manda Panda,

I’m 13 years old and live in Nebraska and I just don’t understand all these references to macaroni and cheese, peas, baking bread, and Neimans.  One minute you’re all fun and bubbly and then you’re all “let’s rise from the ashes” and “oh, the suffering.”  And OMG did you really include a recipe for bran muffins? How old are you? Can you have a theme or something? Because I’m getting confused.  #hillpenblog #randomnthoughtsareboring #macaronirocks #ilovehashtags #callme #sunripenedraspberry #Gohuskies!

Amanda:

I think your photo is manufactured and you’re really a robot. Can you meet me Friday in person so we can pick berries together and I can see if you have real teeth?  I’ll borrow a car and we can eat at ihop after.

For the record, I’d be so happy to get these letters to I could personally respond.  After wading through the glitter, I’d write this:

My dear friend:

I hate raspberries.  I don’t like the way they taste or the way they feel in my mouth and if I’m forced to smell one more sun-ripened raspberry I’m going postal on you and writing about squirrels for the rest of eternity.  You’ll have to go through some sort of unsubscribing process, which would take you like 2-3 long minutes.  You want that?  Huh?

And about Jesus.  Well, he’s a dear friend and rules my life and carries me on days I can’t stand, or bake bread, or cover up the circles.  So it’s hard not to talk about Jesus, or God the Father, or how the holy spirit fills up my empty spaces.

But now all I feel is bad because I went crazy on you about raspberries.  And you were so nice to send me the scratch-and-sniff stickers.  Just for being so hateful I’m eating a handful of them right now as my penance, and spraying my 7-year-old’s room with some sort of [insanely awful] spray sent to me from a grief-stricken woman, and hoping that the smell of cinnamon buns comes back into favor. #cinnamonbun2014

So go huskies.  And grief counseling.  And perspective.  Go Jesus and letters and kids throwing up and even raspberries.  It makes up the big basket of life, and that’s good no matter what it smells like.

Love and kisses,

Me.

P.S.  I’m not a robot.  Hence the dark circles.

P.P.S.  I only ate one raspberry, because I accidentally spilled the carton on the floor and I couldn’t stand to pick up their hairy, spiny, squishy little bodies.  So I swept them up and smeared red all over the travertine like blood and now I’m angry again.  But I ate one, so let’s just stick with that.

photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/7162961683/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Wedging in the practice


Write, write, write, they say.

They meaning writers, and agents who represent writers, and anyone who likes to sound important. Steven King says that writers must be readers, always absorbing words.  At a bus station or waiting for a train, we must all be carrying books and appreciating the written voice.  He’s right, of course.  They are all right.  And yet I spent two hours today fighting with a two-year-old to go down for a nap, and washing dishes, and planning my daughter’s birthday party.  I went to the mall and debated for at least ten solid minutes whether I should spend a hundred bucks on a lamp at Pottery Barn.  I’m ashamed to admit that I dug into my garbage pail of a purse today at the grocery store to find a pair of reading glasses in order to study a full-length essay about exactly why Katie Holmes is leaving Tom Cruise.  I was just standing there reading People Magazine while other normal people whizzed by to stand in the Express Lane, or head on over to the fresh strawberries.  They were all getting their stuff taken care of so they could get home and read Sherlock Holmes, most likely.  All I read these days is Nancy Drew Mysteries to my six-year-old.  And People, apparently.  It’s disgraceful.

I write.  Sure.  At the trail end of the day when I’m supposed to be paying bills.  I write after everyone has gone to sleep.  I write despite my feet going numb and my hair a big greasy mess because it’s the way my brain processes things, and lately I’ve begun to not care how it comes out.  It’s not disciplined.  It’s not crafty.  It’s sloppy and mushy like a Days of Our Lives re-run.

Maybe it’s no surprise that I don’t have an agent, or a publisher, or anything really, aside from a handful of dear friends and online followers who read my blog to laugh about my bad days.  The fact is – I’m so good in person.  Presentable and tall and fun to be with.  When I give speeches, I feel the energy radiate around the room. My pitches to agents in person are always met with yes. A “send it right over to me/I’m running to check your email right now” type of yes.  And then I do.  And it’s forever stuck in a black hole.  Or worse, rejected.  Then I wallow in self-pity for not writing more, or reading more, or not working on my damn craft.

I’ve intentionally avoided looking at my novel for some time now.  It’s saved in multiple places in my documents folder.

            Final Draft for Agent X. 

            First Fifty Pages. 

            Edited.Long.Version.With.New.Intro.

Some for agents, some for myself.  They are all just sitting there, untouched.  Silent.  Forgotten.

I’m moving my focus to a new novel.  A story about a disjointed family with a hidden secret.  But let’s not kid ourselves.  My focus is mental, meaning I think about the plot, characters, and setting while in the shower or driving the kids to the library or buying ground meat.  But I’m not writing.

It took me four years to wedge a book into my then-busy life.  The late nights and sparse weekends.  The early mornings and babysitters.  And now it just sits there in a dusty, online shelf.  I have one more child now than I did then, and the thought of starting over is depressing.

I’m not sure why being published is such a brass ring.  It’s the thought of being heard, I suppose.  That’s what Rachelle Gardner suggested.  She’s a solid literary agent that has never responded to my written query.  I don’t blame her.  I don’t blame any of them.  I don’t fault Jenny Bent or Joe Veltre or Rebecca Oliver for saying no, even thought I wanted so very badly for them to like me.  There are dozens of agents I still highly respect that rejected my novel. There are just so many writers, and books, and voices.  It’s the Tower of Babble out there with all the yelling and begging.  A person can get lost out there.  They can get overrun.

That’s what I tell myself, at least.  How does a girl have time to write, or be heard?  But then I look down and see evidence of Katie Holmes in my hand, like a bloody knife from a crime scene.  I stuff the magazine back in between the metal bars before I’m discovered.

But life is life.  There’s no use piling a heaping scoop of guilt on the top of it.  Amidst lessons on how two-year-olds should not hit or scream and between multiple requests for more Thomas the Train, this type of undisciplined writing is all I have.  My second novel will eventually explode from my brain, and I’ll have no control over its movement onto the page.  Then, once again, I’ll find the stolen moments, or times without children, or late nights, so it can find it’s way into the world.

But for now, this is practice, or something close to it.  It is all I can muster.  And it will just have to do.

Goliad

A second novel popped into my head today.  We were driving back from the beach, a hair north of Goliad and a million miles away from our vacation.  My husband was tired, sipping on Whataburger coffee and rubbing his eyes.  I was thinking of the week ahead.  Of laundry and swim lessons.  Of sunscreen and fruit salad. My husband was no doubt thinking of work.  Meetings and time entry and upcoming cases and such.  But there it was, a grand oak tree standing alone in the middle of a field of hay grazer.  A beautiful plot, springing up from nothing.

Sometimes stories are buried, like hidden treasure.  They surface when the wind changes and they start to bore a hole inside of you until they get out.  A story was buried there, outside of Goliad, Texas, where the Texas Revolution first began. Maybe ghosts of fallen soldiers whispered it to me, their words trapped inside twisted mesquite trees, floating around grain silos and rusted barns.  Theirs is a story of a deeply tangled family and what really matters. It all starts with a dying man, and goes from there.

I will write that story.  Amidst the diapers and the “stop throwing a fit right now or there will be no television” lectures and the defensive driving classes and the leftover macaroni-and-cheese.  Somehow I’ll find a way to run upstairs like a quiet attic mouse and start tapping it out. Character by character, chapter by chapter.  Novels aren’t born in a day.  They unfold slowly.  After all, the author has to fill in the color to characters they have only sketched in their mind in charcoal.

I told my husband about it.

“Sounds great,” he muttered.  Sort-of like if I asked him whether my shoes matched my dress or whether he wanted to eat tacos food for dinner.

But this story is beautiful.  I wish others could see it, intricately stamped and burned into my soul like a tooled leather belt.  They will.  Years and years from now, they will.

Letters to my agent

Dear Literary Agent,

I wrote a lovely novel, and I have no doubt you’ll clamor over your desk and spill your morning coffee just to reach the phone to hear all about it.  It’s about anonymous letters and love and friendship – tantalizing themes that have never before surfaced in the history of fiction.  I just know you’ll say yes.  I’m at the gym, so if I don’t pick up my phone just rattle off a message.

Love and kisses,

Me

Two months later. . .

Dear Literary Agent,

It’s the strangest thing, because I didn’t hear back from you.  That’s odd.  Did you get the World’s Greatest Manuscript as an attachment to the email I sent? Oh, wait.  Maybe it’s because I work on a mac and it didn’t convert.  And if you’re like all those other fancy-pants agents, you’re probably just on an extended vacation to Italy.  I’ll await your reply, about how much you love my writing and want to meet up for tea.

Best,

Me

Six months later. . .

Dear Literary Agent,

It’s me again!  I never so much as received an out-of-office message, or a rejection, or a kind brush-off from you, so I don’t know if you received my novel or it landed in some spam slush pile, never to be revived.  I can’t possibly imagine that four years of my life were wasted, and that you read it but didn’t actually like it. That’s so absurd I’m cracking myself up!  See how good I am at humor?  Well here’s to perseverance.  I’ll try and track down your personal cell phone number and pretend I’m you at the dog groomer to get your home address.  Toodles!

Me

Two years later. . .

Dear Literary Agent,

You didn’t have to get a restraining order, for goodness sakes.  That was a bit extreme.   I was only papering your front lawn with the pages of my manuscript so you’d notice me.  So you’d read my words.  So I wouldn’t be invisible. I love what you did with your spare bathroom, by the way.  White subway tile is really a good choice regardless of your personal style.  And the towels were so nice and thick. Were they Ralph Lauren?  I know I wasn’t technically invited in, but I just really needed to pee so I found an open window.  But we’re old friends, right?  So why in the world did you find it necessary to send me all those strange legal documents about keeping fifty feet back?  What’s that all about?

Me

Well into the future . . .

Dear Literary Agent,

As it turns out I did need all those medications you suggested.  Thanks to your referral to the police, the mental hospital, moving, and for changing your identity.  Finally, I sought the help I needed.  I’ll never again send you a manuscript, because I clearly see now that you don’t appreciate my writing style.  I know it’s not me, really, but it’s just my genre’s really not your thing.  That being said, I do have a project in mind that I’d love to tell you about sometime, if you’re willing. I can tell from your silence that you’re dying to hear more.

You know what’s odd?  This email bounced back the first time I tried to send it, like the address doesn’t work anymore.  What’s up with that?  No worries.  I’ll figure something out.  You know, I might just try another agent.

brown paper stories

I hate to use the word artist to describe myself.  I’m not covered in tattoos and don’t work a night shift at IHOP.  I’m not struggling to make ends meet, recovering from a drug habit, or walking around with paint on my elbows.  I’m a lawyer, for goodness sakes.  The amount of artistry it takes to craft a well-rounded, persuasive argument is only appreciated by a select few.  To everyone else, lawyers are just suits whose mouths open and shut and money comes funneling into their pockets every time they answer the phone.  As if.

But even now that I’ve made a conscience decision to walk away from practicing law, it’s hard.  Hard to call myself a writer.  Hard to create things simply for the pleasure of creating them.  I feel a need to aim that ambition, the same one that fueled me through honors classes and bar exam courses and clerkships, directly into the heart of the creative process.  It’s not good enough just to write.  Any fool with a laptop can do that. I need to be validated.  I need to be paid.  I need for this to mean something.

But art is subjective.  What makes one person laugh or cry or want to call their mother might be pure drivel to another.   My husband read a blog post once that I found particularly emotional and decided to point out an inverted quotation mark.   Thanks, dude.  Glad that hit you right there in the ticker.

When I was writing my novel, I stayed up into wee hours of the night pouring my heart into the story.  I went away for writing weekends.  I traveled to Upstate New York and rode cabs alone in Manhattan and hired babysitters in the stale Texas heat just to finish.  It took almost four years of painstaking rewrites and hundreds of deleted pages.  An editor helped me comb out the background narrative and useless rookie mistakes.  But then, I expected my hard work to pay off.  I would find an agent.  I would get published.  My words would matter.  

And yet here I sit, after putting two children to bed and wiping off kitchen counters and throwing in yet another load of whites.  I don’t have the look of an artist, sitting here in black-rimmed glasses and an oversized t-shirt, with a box of triscuits and a jar of peanut butter by my side.  I instead resemble a slightly-crazy person, ignoring reality and doing what I didn’t think possible:  I’m giving in to my instincts. I’m not published.  I don’t have tangible validation.  And yet I keep on going because I simply cannot imagine a world in which I have to stop.  I put my hands over my ears when that small little voice starts screaming in my head.  No one cares.  Quit while you’re ahead.  You’ll never make it as a writer.  Damn you, little voice.  You are meaningless.

I thought perhaps I’ve not been praying enough, or listening enough, or being present enough in this writing process.  I stopped myself tonight, standing right in front of the microwave, and prayed that God would reveal to me the best path.  How I should be reaching people.  Or perhaps learning not to care so much about what those people think.  After all, I can’t move mountains.  My name might not be in marquee lights. But I can certainly speak with passion – words driven straight from the heart that was formed and blessed by God in my mother’s womb.  My heart is ravenous with emotion.  My soul is aching to be heard.  My hands tremble at the thought of writing about sadness and joy in a way that has never been done before.

And then it comes to me: God’s listening.  I create simply for the joy of creating.  My words are an offering and a sacrifice, and I can imagine no other audience that matters more.

I am an artist. I offer up these small gifts, my brown-paper stories filled with sparkling words.  And that matters, even if no one else is paying attention.

Odd and Curious Thoughts of the Week

  • Recipes are helpful.  Like telling me to use large eggs when making a Bundt cake.  I was just about to grab those tiny little quail eggs that I keep in my refrigerator when I had the forethought to double check.  Large eggs.  Wheh.  That was a close one.
  • I abhor having to type in those random letter combinations when I comment on another blog.  The caption always says something like “Prove to use you’re not a robot!”  Who came up with that phrase?  If a robot is smart enough to surf the web, come up with an email address, and put snarky comments on someone’s blog post, shouldn’t we be encouraging it?  Wouldn’t that be utterly awesome?  The phrase should instead read, “prove to me you’re not an internet scammer who wants to download a virus and steal my bank password.”  Or,  “enter in this stupid combination of letters because it’s automatic and I don’t know how to disable the damn thing.”
  • To prove my point about eggs, I went to the grocery store.  They have large and extra-large, and they are all the same price. I think we can quit referring to egg sizes, recipe people.  For those who actually live on a farm where the small ones are common, figure it out.
  • My sweet son is running a fever.  I feel just awful because he was extra cranky a few nights ago and I just might have made statements at dinner with friends similar to “that is so annoying” and “seriously, kiddo.  Deal with it. Just let me finish eating already.” I am heartless.
  • Tonight, our daughter came into our bedroom an hour after we thought she was asleep, lost in hysterical tears.  “I love my last name,” she sobs.  “I love the way it sounds when you say it all together, and someday when I get married I’ll have to change it.”  Uh, okay.  You’re five years old.  Most kids worry about getting a new backpack, and my daughter worries about losing her identity to her future spouse.  “You don’t have to change it,” my husband says, as if he’s disclosing some big secret.  “It can always be yours.  Love’s not found in a name, anyway.”  She is thrilled.  All is well again in the universe.
  • Last weekend, when we were working in the yard, my husband asked me if I’d seen the garden hoe.  I told him we shouldn’t discuss her in public, and especially around the children, for crying out loud.  Show some respect. 
  •  I get so excited when I hear the little ding on my iphone because I just know it’s the sound of an email – THE email – from the one literary agent who loves my novel and thinks it’s a bestseller in the making.  But it’s from Shutterfly, stating that they have new portrait mugs.  Well then.
  •  I thought about changing my blog name today to something whimsical like “graceful waters” or “she who runs with kitchen shears” instead of the super lame hill + pen. It’s like I am a caveman, beating my chest. I am hill.  I use pen.  I don’t even use a pen since I type everything.  But I was lazy and had laundry to fold.
  • Writing can be torture.  It’s lonely and sad, and you feel at times that it has no meaning.  But then you start envisioning someone laughing, or crying, or changing their behavior after reading your words, and you feel like a superhero.  At least that’s what you tell yourself to keep on writing.
  • This afternoon as I went to check the mail, I saw my neighbor and his wife standing in their front yard.  “Nice weather,” I shouted.  It’s what you say to be cordial.  It’s the neighborly thing to do. “Not if you’re digging a hole,” she yelled back.  I smiled and waived.  Yup, it’s no fun digging a – what?  Huh? Should I be concerned?

And it’s just Monday. . .