Trashwalk Dancing

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Usually when I sit down to write, I have a general idea what I’m going to write about. Maybe a story or theme is rattling around in my brain. Usually it’s something on my heart that I want to get out. But I thought for a change of scenery I’d write about what I’m doing in one particular moment in time, without any idea of what might come out and with little editing. It will be like we are old friends and you’re just sitting here with me hanging out.

So at the moment I’m writing this useless bit, I’m sitting at a Greek Café, eating a salad without any component parts of a Greek salad since I’m on a stupid diet and can’t have all the good stuff. The guy behind the counter was like “NO OLIVES OR TZATZIKI SAUCE?” It was like I was offending his mother. Also, I had to look at the menu to see how to spell tzatziki because how genius that you can have a “z” so superbly placed in a word. But who wants to hear about all that when there’s more important things to write about. Like dancing.

It’s awkward. It makes my palms sweat right now just thinking of dancing in front of people. It’s embarrassing, and I’m not good at it, and yet right now blaring overhead in this Greek cafe is dance music, of all things. Adorable peppy your-eight-year-old-would-love-it dance music. The type of thing you sing out loud in your car and move your shoulders and tap your feet to, but of course we are in public where people are located. So I’m typing and clicking my keyboard looking very lawyerly in my pearls and answering emails from colleagues about the term-extension on a contract. BUT OH MY GOSH HOW I DIG DANCING.

So I’ve made a decision that, in an effort to carry my chipped blue tray with half-eaten salad to the trash, I shall walk-dance my way over. Do you think people might think I am ill? Like the gyro meat is causing too much gas? Maybe I’m trying to free pent-up underwear or just learned the discovery of a new planet and I can’t contain my excitement? Not that I’d be that excited about a planet, who are we kidding.

I will do it. In a minute, after I talk about capri pants.

Ya’ll seriously. There are very few times in life people should wear these atrocious shortened pants. Unless you have fabulous legs and are paring those bad boys with stilettos, you best wear your pants long as to avoid the inevitable staring at your ankles. Unless you have a thing with ankles.

Okay, I’m not really going to walk-dance to the trash. For the love. There’s a dude here in a hoodie and a girl in a bun and some old lady wearing plaid. Why do I make myself these stupid little self-dares anyway? My Type A personality is taunting its own self, like “you a sissy? Can’t freaking dance to the trash can? Little Amanda can’t handle it?” Damn you, body.

My palms are sweaty. I am so doing this.

OH MY GOSH YOU GUYS. I did it. I picked up that tray and be-bopped to the rhythm of thumping base over to the trash and the employee at the cafe was all “uh, you can just leave that at the table.” Naturally. But I don’t want to leave it at the table. I’d instead prefer to waive my arms around and thump my hips back to my booth like I forgot to take my medication. How stinkin fun. I encourage you to get up right where you are right now and dance-walk to the trash can. It’s a bit humiliating, I ain’t gonna lie. Did I say humiliating? I meant liberating! No one looks at you because they are vicariously embarrassed for your poor soul, but you end up laughing and all these fun endorphins rush into your system and you sit down in a heap in a Greek café booth spewing laughter like bubbles across the table. Laughing only at yourself, being such a foolish zany character and all.

Do it. Life is to be lived. Dance that half-eaten salad to the trash can, even though in reality you can just leave it at the table. Because honestly.  What’s the fun in that.

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photo:

(three-w’s)flickr.com/photos/lostprophet/9923312183/in/photolist-g7TyZn-9sHvNQ-8eMHsK-9ip5jm-dmFpU4-63DDqm-63DLNY-7cPL8h-7YGSp4-9sKPgs-64hbeF-7FT31K-8fJPfS-63DJWS-63qNpY-a6G8HK-63qKS5-aE5EaW-4Ezc39-7c6Yyo-67vjgK-ajwDA1-7oqCB-63DJhy-62T9Cx-62Tcjt-7uUS6e-9g5uxW-dmGa2s-63mcEt-62TfDT-62Tb2F-3Nutqx-63m9UX-62XoEC-63mbKM-63zyq4-63zzGk-8XAyWX-dmEP4h-63DFY7-61N3uo-9ikWBc-iwqsfM-9oMJsT-9jwAjd-9JeCbQ-9GcfJG-5son4a-9g2VVj

 

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/

Art without Ego


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If an author is passionate about sharing words to motivate or inspire, he writes.  He hides in an upstairs guest room converted to an office with computer cords and plastic cups of water and a few used Kleenex wadded up and thrown down by his feet. And he writes – when his kids are asleep and his wife is asleep and the whole world seems to be asleep but his own overactive mind – accelerating past words like a stallion.  Because it’s not about being sexy, it’s about the story that is escaping him soon enough.

And if a singer wants pull at heartstrings, she starts to strum on her guitar and raises an arm and pours our her soul into the microphone like she’s praying out loud.  Nobody knows she wrote that song after her mom died and that was the only way she could stop drinking and pick herself up off the pavement.  And she didn’t care if she looked too religious or not religious or just plain silly perched on a stool with her eyes closed singing about a man named Jesus, but through her mascara she drug it out anyway, weeping and exhausted from the energy it took to retrieve.

I’ve seen artists sit by water and in damp dark studios wishing for a better place to paint, but there’s no luxury for more than the canvas they re-purposed from Goodwill.  Their hands are moving to the imaginary sound of wings that are beating from doves that are landing on a fence that has yet to be formed in oil.  And as they draw the brush they think of money they don’t have and laundry they need to fold and a life that was only half-lived, but this fence and these birds, they are liberating.

And God is sewn through these artists, a tapestry woven and stitched.  It’s the outpouring of love, blanketed around the world like a slow burn.

But then the author gets a book deal, and a media page, and begins to focus on the reality of publishing.  There are hits and strategies and followers and clubs. They are campaigns and tours and the advance for another manuscript.  And all of a sudden the writer is not creating, but churning, and expecting, and beginning to think of himself as One Who Writes that needs to be on a podium with a microphone.

And the singer gets discovered. After the tears of joy, she gets a label and an agent and a manager and a road crew.  And she starts to care what her hair looks like and what her friends look like and feels the naked skin of the roadie.  She can’t make it for Christmas or Mother’s Day either because she’s got a gig in Nashville and what’s more important, really?

Ego ruins art.  It’s the quickest way for our ministry to become our biggest liability.  We start to falsely believe we’ve earned the right, and earned the fame, and begin to tell others how to do things instead of praying that we are doing them well.  When the urge to create is overshadowed with the urge to be successful, we’ve lost it.  It’s the moment when the spirit leaves and we’re left focusing on ourselves, and a void grows in our heart where love used to live.

Let’s not become Martha Stewart, who runs an entire empire based on hospitality and craft but might lose sight of being hospitable.  Let us instead find our inner-Julia Child, captivated by the wonder and joy of it all.  Let’s undo the shackles and focus less on publishing, recording, speaking, and signing.  Let’s create for the sheer pleasure of worship, and using our talents for a higher purpose, for when we write well and we sing well and we paint a masterpiece on paper, we are lifting up and pushing out and sending beauty into the world.  That’s an honor, and a privilege, and one to be taken seriously.

Go out and create, artists of the world.  With messy hair and messy hearts and shaking fingers.  It’s not for your glory, because you didn’t create it to begin with.  It just so happened to be found within you, and you are simply releasing it back into the kingdom from which it came.

 

Letting Go

my daughter, now six

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Being a writer is hard.  I love the feeling late at night when I finish an essay, like I crossed a finish line or finally caught a breath of mountain air.  I like getting positive feedback as a balm to my itchy insecurities.  And when I sent my novel – my baby child that stole nights and weekends and so many rivers of tears– off to my editor, I was grateful when she said it’s good.  It’s actually really good.  And yet agents email me saying “it’s not you, it’s us” and “we are so sorry for this rather impersonal rejection.”  It’s a literary black hole, and you have to hold onto the railing to keep from being swept under.

I wish I could roll up my sleeves and go have a meeting with someone.  I wish I could just go make something happen. I’d curl my hair and put on my heels and pound my fist on a desk.  Progress will be made.  Things will crawl off dead center because I know how to make people jump.  I got a job once by making an appointment with the CEO.  Somehow a job was created.  A job I dreamed up in my head and convinced them they needed.

And yet here I sit alone, eating pistachios and drinking coffee and reading other people’s words.  I try and let writers inspire me, and be thankful for their successes, and try and feed on the natural creativity that follows.  I tell myself that God is listening and my blog followers are listening and these things matter.  And yet my mind wanders off to bad places – dark caves where I’m nothing and my life is insignificant and my words are just cheap imitations.

I think about that time six years ago, when I lay in a hospital bed staring at the ceiling tile.  After a prolonged labor and emergency c-section she was finally given to me, this beautiful gift from God that I didn’t deserve.  She was so white and angelic and I wouldn’t let her go.  But days after arriving home with my first-born they came to take me away, on some damn stretcher that held heart victims and dead people.  There were doctors and surgeons and tests.  There were re-incisions and pains and organs being shut down.  I just kept looking at that ceiling tile, thinking God just wouldn’t do this to me and he couldn’t possibly let me die.  Not now.  Not like this.  I’ve worked so hard, remember, Lord?  I make things happen. Are you listening up there?

I asked for the breast pump, my body filled with drugs and steroids and horrible chemicals of all types, and forced that milk out through excruciating tears as each surge of the pump caused my scarred and infected abdomen to seize.  But I was a fighter, and this wouldn’t break me.

See, God?  This is what you’d be saving. 

One night, a nurse came in.  She looked right through me. You need to let go, she said.  You need to let God to take over. I was angry.  I was pissed off at her accusations.  Who the hell are you, all up in my business about faith?  Have you not seen how hard I’ve worked?  Have you not seen my tears and heard my prayers? I am dying here, woman, with the fever and the infection and the chills.  Can’t you see that I’m trying?  Can’t you see I’ve not seen my baby’s face for weeks and this just isn’t working like I planned and I’m so damn sick of this place?  Can’t you see that I have this tube in my throat and my husband isn’t eating and it just never ceases?  Can’t you see that I don’t want to see a picture of her, my perfect three-week-old daughter, because it fills me with rage and sadness? Isn’t this enough?

You have to let it go.

I think about that night when I get this way.  When I think I’m in charge.  When I keep pounding away on the keyboard like the surging breast pump.  When the devil whispers in my ear that my words don’t matter and a book deal is the brass ring and all this is just a big vat of wasted time.

Stand back, Devil. 

It all matters.  My words matter.  My life matters.  Whether it’s typing or living or birthing or dying, we all just have to let go.  We aren’t the one making things happen. God makes things happen. We are just the instruments of his peace.

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. . .

A decade of milestones

Yesterday was my ten-year cancer anniversary.  Those who have been in my shoes understand that it’s a day of reflection.  A day where you review all the milestones that have occurred in the last decade and wonder what will happen next.

A few to mention:

(1) I was on national television.

(2) I got to live in New York for a while.  I survived the subway and tag sales and bad Mexican food.

(3) I have been to many cancer screens, visits, and appointments, but my cancer has not metastasized.  Survival is just as good as the next test.  So far I’m hanging in there.

(4) I had many interactions with Martha Stewart.

(5) Got to eat at a fancy NYC restaurant with Donald Trump

(6) I wrote a children’s book on contract for a company in California

(7) We had a baby girl, who is so precious

(8) I had a life-threatening infection after the birth of our little girl.  I was in the hospital for a month.  I survived.

(9) I wrote a novel about the extraordinary friendship between two women.  One woman undergoes a battle with cancer, which was cathartic and memorable to write about.  Part of it’s very funny, and I like funny.   After tears and late nights and edits and hundreds of pages thrown out, I did it.  I survived the novel-writing process.

(10)                I got on facebook and connected with old friends I hadn’t heard from in years

(11)               We had a baby boy. So love that little guy.

(12)               My heart stopped right before the c-section when my son was born, as I was lying on the table. They had to do resuscitation measures.  Miraculously, I survived.

(13)               My husband and I went to Maine, and as we were on a yacht off the coastline, I was so glad he married me so many years ago

(14)               I worked as General Counsel to a large medical group, a job I never thought I’d attain and was so thrilled to have.  Being a lawyer is quite fun.

(15)               I quit said wonderful job as described above to stay home

(16)               We moved into a wonderful limestone house.  We have a garden and land to roam.  Next up is chickens.

(17)               I started a blog

(18)               Our house was struck by lightening.  We survived.

(20)               My novel is not yet published, but I’m still trying

By His mercy and grace, I keep surviving.  Here’s to the next decade.   Let it be as rich and wonderful as this one.  Let me live every day with compassion and curiosity.  After all, I want to do more than survive.  I want to sing.  I want to write.  I want to thrive.

ribbons

I have articles from the Department of Justice sitting all around my ankles, sprayed out like a fan in neat little piles.  I haven’t strayed far from the computer for hours and a babysitter is attending to my daughter.  A half-started and half-witted attempt to summarize the laws of Medicare fraud lies unattended on the screen in front of me as deadlines await.  Deadlines that amount to paychecks, that amount to more gardening supplies and summer sundresses and art camps.  I will finish it on time.  I will somehow find the energy.  God let me finish.

It’s not that words are hard to come by.  I live in words. I both admire and abhor them.  I want to stomp on them like ripe grapes and feel the juice squirting out between my toes. The problem with words is that I simply can’t escape them.  I am drawn to words that make me laugh or cry or feel something different.  Legal writing doesn’t invoke that same emotion, which is why I drift into my daydreams.   Dreams of stories and beauty and adjective-filled rooms filled with light.

When I lie in bed at night, with dishpan hands and a tired back, my fingers tap away at some imaginary keyboard in the sky.  I can hear the repetitive sound of my hands striking the letters like summer storms on a metal roof.  Rapping and pelting and beating down while I’m trying to sleep or pray or just lie there in peace.  I try to shake them from my head, but like the ringing in one’s ears, it’s a fool’s game.

So I keep driving to the grocery store, or to the bank drive-through. I drop off my husband’s dry cleaning and help my daughter cut out caterpillars out of yellow construction paper. But sentences keep forming like ribbons out of my brain, some constant output I can’t seem to shut off.   My daily life is so busy I don’t often do  anything with them.  They are just mental litter, thrown away like discarded trash. There are times I just want words to leave me be.  To allow me to sit silently without thinking, or hearing that incessant tapping of the keys, or the phrasing of sentences.  I want to scream at them to shut up already.  Sometimes, I just want to sit and not think of all those stupid, stupid words.

But we all have our gifts, whether we are paid for them or not.  We all carry with us some unyielding urge to create, albeit in different forms.  I firmly believe that God chose to give each of us the gifts that we were meant to have, and there’s little way around it.  According to Exodus, the Lord told Moses that he chose Bezalel, son of Uri, to oversee the task of building the tabernacle. “I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts — to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship.”  Exodus 31:3.  Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 12 that all the gifts we have been given “are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one just as he determines.”

I may, or may not, ever get paid for my words.  The novel that took me years to finish, with nights of sobbing and mornings of great exaltations, might never be read by the New York Times or by a single woman in the suburbs of Chicago.  The words that plague my sleep and dominate my fingers might be small to most.  But they are ultimately from God.  They need to be used and cultivated so that when they spring forth from my head, they are as tulips rather than dandelions.

I thank God for words, even though sometimes they feel like a burden.  But when the burden is for a higher good, and the purpose so great, can one really complain?

Lord, please let my words and the aching of my heart be acceptable to you, in your sight, and in your most perfect glory.  Thank you for these ribbons that flow from my thoughts.  Help me piece and string them all together as jewelry fit for a king.   

Ah, Writing

I think there’s some mystique about writing in the general public, like authors have golden keys to secret cabins in the woods where they can brew hot tea at ten in the morning if they darn well feel like it.   Being an author is carefree.  It means independence and wild frizzy hair, where writer’s block lasts minutes, not hours, and words flow like warm maple syrup over porous paper pancakes, soaking in sentences with gratitude.  It’s a free life, not being chained to corporate America and doing your own thing.  Ah, to be a writer. I have a book idea in my head, people say.  I’ve started a few pages.  How hard can it be?

I’d guess running a marathon backward is hard.  Or cooking a soufflé on a yacht with a hand beater.  Getting the president on the phone is probably a challenge.  Scaling a mountain.  Singing an aria.   Living with your mother-in-law. All tough, I imagine. But writing a book – a really good one at least – is much harder than these things.   There is a reason people give up too easy.  It’s easy to give up.

In my mind, no one chooses to be a writer.  No one longs to work a day job and cook supper and put two exhausted kids to bed, only to trudge upstairs and write.  At least not me.  I’d rather be watching television or eating ice cream.  Going for a walk or laughing with my husband.  Anything but writing.  Or worse, editing words that you’ve seen so many times before.  Cutting out hundreds of pages.  Re-writing entire chapters.  Reworking and rethinking and getting no feedback but your own self-doubt.  You’ll never make it.  You’re a failure.

But there’s a voice, way back in my head in some dusty place, that won’t shut up until my fingers start clicking on the keyboard.  Only then, when I’m unleashing the characters from their prison, does it cease screaming at me.  Finally, at 2 am when tears are pouring down my cheeks – big fat ones that come from grinding out my heart on paper -do I feel somewhat normal.  When I’m finished, exhausted and dehydrated, I can finally rest in peace.  The voice is stilled.

Being a writer is not something I necessarily wanted to do.  I think it chose me, like love or static cling.   Stories nag at me until I listen.  Sometimes characters appear in dreams or situations pop out their ugly faces at me in the shower. Often, plot ideas dangle in my view of traffic like little spiders as I’m driving to work.  I hate spiders.

I occasionally hang out with other writers so I don’t feel so crazy.   Even though deep down, I know I am.  I was talking to a writer friend the other day about how stupid we are for going down this road of writing and editing and rejections.  She got a rejection letter at 6:00 am on a holiday.  I mean really.  Can’t agents at least wait until we drink our morning coffee?

And yet despite it all, I go back.  My secret love.  Sometimes I lie and tell my husband I’m just checking my email when I’m really going upstairs to work on a paragraph.  A sentence here, a chapter there.  After all, it doesn’t edit itself.

I went to a writer’s conference a few weeks ago, which did nothing but fill me with dread and fear.  Agents get so many manuscripts – hundreds a week – that they are forced to be competitive.  “Start off your book with fireworks,” one agent said, “because if the writing doesn’t capture us in the first few pages, it’s going to be rejected. “ I went to Barnes & Noble after work the following week and leafed through the first two pages of every women’s fiction piece I laid my eyes on.  I was a crazy woman, opening and reading the first two pages and then throwing one down and picking up another.

“Can I help you find something?” a saleslady asked. She looked at me like I was off my medication.

“No,” I said.  “Just looking.”  I tried to giggle but it just came out like a squeaky crazy-person grunt. I forced myself to set the books down more gently.  I told myself not to sigh and mutter things like “damn you Brunonia Barry!” and “well sure, start off with a cigarette burn why don’t you, Kristin freaking Hannah.”  My hair was wild and tangled, my hands shaking from the large amount of ingested caffeine.  An empty Starbucks cup was balanced precariously in my purse and I noticed later I had a pair of reading glasses perched on my head as well as balanced on my nose.  I think I took my shoes off at the end of the NYT Bestseller rack and hadn’t noticed that I was barefoot.  Whoops.

I got up the next day and furiously re-wrote the first two pages of my book six times.  “How about this version?” I asked one friend.  “What about that?” I screamed at another.  I was like a gopher, popping up out of holes with a new novel version every time.  Finally, when I was reduced to a ball of tears, feeling like I wasted three years of my life that could never be regained, I went home early from work.  I was so focused that I didn’t even turn on the air conditioning, and in an eighty-degree house, I marched upstairs with a firm resolve.

I can’t live like this, I thought to myself.  I barely had the patience to wait until my computer booted up before firing my book off to ten more agents, sweating and cursing.  Screw the consequences.  So the intro doesn’t have firecrackers or start off with a death or the baking of a lemon pie. I’ll just get rejected anyway.  Why does it matter so much?

It’s not always romantic, this writing thing.  I just have to keep listening to the voice, the one who tells me to keep on writing.  To keep remembering the stories, and the dreams, and the visions.  I have to tell myself that there’s a reason this chose me.  That God put this burden on my heart.  Someday, an agent will say yes.  Hell yes! Absolutely yes!

Then, and only then, I’ll fall down in tears of joy and realize the voice is not a crazy hallucination, but a blessing.  Until then, bear with me.  I’m the one in the corner typing. Without shoes.  With two pairs of glasses and shaking, medication-seeking hands.