Archive for category Philosophy
Hello friends! This may be my last blog past from this platform. I’ve signed up with Hostgator and am moving on to the brave new world of self-hosting, which is both exciting and freakin’ awful. Seriously, I’m somewhere between creatively technical and technically crazy, so the process of setting up my new website, which will be elfarris.com, has been one that would invite much hair pulling if that didn’t give me such a bad headache.
Why a new platform? Maybe because it’s just time for a change, as a ballplayer in many a city has said. I love WordPress. I love what blogging has done in terms of helping me hone my voice and meet other bloggers and writers. Recently, though, my heart hasn’t really been in it.
With one book published and another on the way this spring, the honest to God’s truth is that marketing these two titles, and writing a third, with an expected release date of fall or winter this year, is leaving me very little time for blogging and commenting on other blogs.
And I’m okay with that. Well, no, it makes me feel a little sad, because I hate goodbyes and I’m about to enter a brave new world but I don’t feel very brave. So I am trying to be okay with it–trying really hard. My deep-down intuition tells me that this is the right move for me at this moment in time.
As far as marketing, I’m relying a great deal on advance reviews (34 and counting), word of mouth, and my flagship platform, my Facebook Page, Running from Hell with El. I am also hoping that some of you will invite me to chat on your blogs and will buy a copy of Ripple. The support I’ve received from fellow writers has been astounding me, and I don’t know where I’d be without your help.
One of the things I’ve been doing a lot of is creating posters, and each poster contains a hyperlink to Ripple on Amazon. One of the posters, for example, has been share 160 times on Facebook. I read somewhere that a reader must see the name of a book four times on average before they purchase it, so I’m hoping that as my page-friends and author-friends and regular just awesome as-is friends share these posters, enough readers will see it in order to decide to click over and buy it.
Well, I have lots more marketing tips, and would be happy to ask any questions from anyone, especially in a Q&A, but for tonight, I’m going to close with a gentle fare thee well, and let the characters from Ripple have the last word. I’ll make sure I leave my forwarding information, but you can always find me on Facebook or Twitter, or in the pages of my books. xoxo
Last week, after I wrote a post that referred to my own elbow-throwing, competitive propensities, a woman who skates by the name of Molotov approached me on my Facebook Page, Running from Hell with El, to see if I was interested in sponsoring a growing derby league, Portland Renegade Roller Derby. We started talking, and this Q&A is what resulted. Oh, and my answer is yes, hell yes I want to help support this league of hardy souls!
El: I just think roller derby is the coolest, most fascinating thing!
Molotov: It is pretty great. And seeing how it can bring a community of women together is kinda amazing too. My league is a renegade league, which means we broke off from a bigger league here in our town.
El: Ahhh–I was wondering what the renegade meant. I mean, I see renegade and I automatically smile!
Molotov: It was too big and micro managed and became for profit and lost a lot of its community feel. What they are doing is great for a lot of people, but we just wanted something different. So it thus has became a lot of hard work starting a league and team from the ground up!
El: Grinning. How long have you been playing roller derby (is “playing” the right word?)?
Molotov: I’ve been skating most of my life, but only have been skating derby since November.
El: So it’s called “skating” derby?
Molotov: Most of our coaches and base teammates have been playing for four to six years. It’s called “bouting.” Once I made the mistake of calling it a “game” the first time I went to a bout. And I was very embarrassed.
El: LOL–I can imagine.
Molotov: But we say skate usually.
Molotov: Just roller skating and blading.
El: This is fascinating! And you were a runner before?
Molotov: Yes, since I was 18. I still want to run again. I haven’t really since last June.
El: I don’t think we ever lose that desire. Did you suffer an injury?
Molotov: I have anemia and it was too much. I was getting out of breath and really sick. My 7 year old beat me in the last 5k we did together.
El: Shaking head–that’s rough.
Molotov: So I knew something must be wrong then.
El: Yes for sure. How did you find derby?
Molotov: I wanted to play derby for a long time. My kids and I watched Whip It back when it came out.
El: That was awesome!
Molotov: My best friend is involved in another derby group in our town.
El: That’s the main league right?
Molotov: she has been skating with them for years and still not on a team. I went with her to a bout a couple of years ago and met the person who is now the ringleader of our group.
El: The ringleader–is that the league commissioner of the renegade league?
Molotov: Yes, our president. I just call her ringleader to be silly.
El: LOL! What does roller derby do for you?
Molotov: I always wanted to do derby, but always thought it was too expensive, too much time, I didn’t deserve to spend then time on myself, etc etc. I was in a very unpleasant marriage up until just a few years ago and never would have been doing this if I was still married.
El: I’m so glad you’re out of that marriage hun! I was talking about derby tonight with my husband, and he grinned at me.
“You know Cutie, if you were younger . . .”
” . . . Yep. I’d do it for sure! Nothing more fun than throwing elbows and hitting people, lol.” I replied.
does that sound familiar?
Molotov: Lol! Totally.
El: Grinning. I thought so!
Molotov: We have people of all ages.
El: What’s the range?
Molotov: 23-43, currently.
El: How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking?
Molotov: I’m 32.
El: Oh you’re just a kid!
Molotov: Ugh–wish I felt like just a kid.
El: Are you kidding me? 32?! You’re in your athletic prime!
Molotov: So I met this crazy, fun, positive, happy gal at a bout. Her name is Julie Locktress and a year later (last November) she invited me to be part of what we are calling the Renegade movement. At first I thought I was too weak and tired to even skate because of my anemia. I hadn’t ran since June or May. I hadn’t been on skates in two years, since I had taken a fall and hurt my tailbone. But I was depressed and anxious and needed a cause for myself other then just raising my kids and carting them around to their sporting events and working 50 hours a week to keep a roof over their heads I don’t get any child support from their father and am basically on my own.
El: Oh man–50 hours a week and no child support? And hun, we all need something greater than ourselves, you know?
Molotov: Yes, exactly. So I figured at least I could help with the admin part of it.
Molotov: But then I started taking derby classes and I went broke and ate Top rRmen and oatmeal packets for lunch to buy skates and gear
El: that is *awesome* good on you!
Molotov: And I’ve been working ferociously to get better and stronger and raise awareness and get sponsors and skaters. I got in touch with a friend I had not seen for 10 years and now she is going to skate with us. And she brought another girl, who also brought a friend and so on and so on.
Molotov: So we have a mix of new skaters and older experienced skaters. we are from all walks of life
El: Like what careers?
Molotov: One is a Native American and she is a licensed Drug and alcohol counselor.
Locktress is a hairdresser.
Molotov: We have a waitress/model, a graduate student, a nurse, a logistics worker/liberal arts major.
El: A nurse!? LOL!
El: And what’s your 50-hour week job?
Molotov: I work in shipping/receiving/inventory control for a laser test equipment company. I was a full time student too up until a couple of years ago . . . I’m hoping to get back to school one day.
El: (nodding) I hear ya.
Molotov: Yes . . . no time to be sad or feel sorry for myself. When I am not busy that is when I start to fade. So I work hard, love hard, play hard.
El: Seriously I get that. And don’t think too hard or too much (that’s my problem lol).
Molotov: Mine too.
Molotov: I wanted to be a philosophy major.
El: And that’s where sports and competition help me. Who is your favorite philosopher?
El: Loved War and Peace. Why Tolstoy?
Molotov: His writings on women and love really speak to me for some reason. I like a lot of the less known ones too… like Karl Marx. Economics and philosophy are very closely related.
El: So as a philosopher, what does derby signify to you?
Molotov: Oh wow . . . that is very deep . . .
El: that’s where I abide lol!
Molotov: I suppose it lies in the theory that we must make today count . . . and each moment . . . and I want to inspire and help others the way that I have been inspired and helped by so many. If I had know that my life could be as good as it is now, I would have chosen a different path very long ago. But it matters not now, because here I am and I am what I do with it. I got a tattoo on my back a year ago that reads ” take the pieces and build them up to the sky” its a line from my favorite song and summarizes the journey of my life.
Molotov: It’s a most beautiful song . . .
El: Biffy Clyro?
Molotov: YES. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0q2iXlsKNA
El: Listening now. OMG if I were building a soundtrack for Ripple this would be in it. It’s profoundly moving to me, in ways I can hardly explain. There’s a scene in Ripple when Phoebe, the rape victim, is falling apart, but her friend talks to her, helps hold her together, and this song, it could be playing.
Molotov: I’ve had a lot of people who have helped hold me together . . . so yes.
El: Same here. This song, the one tattooed on your back–is this what derby kind of means to you?
Molotov: I think what derby means to me . . . is a dream that I had given up on coming true. And an exciting journey just beginning. One I am so honored and proud to be a part of.
El: That makes me so happy to hear, almost happy tears, you know? Because we should all find those dreams and take part in those journeys.
Molotov: It’s easy to find excuses not to follow our dreams. The hard part is doing what we really want.
To support these great women, please follow them on Facebook. If you’re interested in sponsoring them, as I sure am, please contact them here:
email@example.com. Sponsorship packages start for as low as $50.
I grab my jacket and my wallet and my cell phone and my room keycard and my Sportsband and I head out of the Clarion Hotel, down a hill or two, and walk for about a mile until I spot an old white building which is almost blocking traffic. It’s the old library here in Shepherdstown, West Virginia and as crazy as it sounds, the damn building was not so much built around the street as the street was built around it.
I peer into a window of an old red brick building and try to make sure that Hypnocoffee is open and it is, so I open one door, step into a vestibule, and open another door, which takes me into the best coffee shop I’ve ever visited. Maybe that doesn’t sound right; after all, this is a small town and a small shop that lacks name brand recognition, but it’s the truth and I swear it.
I’m on a working vacation with my husband. He’s working, that is. I’m supposed to be working too, but I’m a writer and I spend most of my time walking around and taking the sights in and trying to find stuff to write about. Travis is busy from eight to five. Anyway, this leaves me lots of time to search for stuff to write about and to me, that’s another way of saying that I’m going on an adventure.
Before we left, that fine man of mine spent hours researching coffeehouses in Shepherdstown. “Cutie, I just want to make sure you’re really comfortable,” he explained. He’s either really solicitous or I’m a pain in the ass when I travel, or it’s a combination of both. The truth is, he researches coffee as if he were the coffee version of an oenophile and I’m downright picky about what beans I drink.
There is a really popular coffee house here, called Lost Dog Café. Fortunately Travis warned me that there baristas were rude; their coffee, bland, so I didn’t take it personally when the young woman at the cash register tossed an empty cup at me when I ordered a large brew. She barely made eye contact, and I felt out of sorts and shy as I paused and looked around. Lost Dog is a cool place. It’s all funky, with lots of color, a kaleidoscopic array of chalk scrawled all over chalkboards, t-shirts and mugs for sale, and a directive to be artsy-cool or drink coffee somewhere else. That made me laugh because I’m making my living as a writer. I write real stuff. But looking at me, in my 41-year old mother of three very imperfect body, baggy jeans, running t-shirt and Brooks running shoes, well, no one would ever know that I’m a creative type. And that’s all right with me.
After all, it’s what you do, what you create, not how you look when you create it, that really matters.
And that brings me back to Hypnocoffee. They are first, and above all else, a coffee roastery. You won’t find any t-shirts in here, or fancy mugs, or poseur political slogans. And that’s okay with me. Because what you will find, or what I’ve found, is the best cuppa Joe I’ve ever quaffed.
“Woooo, Cutie. Check this out. They employ the pour-over approach.”
I glanced at my husband, barely paying attention. “Uh-huh.”
He shifted his iPad in his hand so that I can see it. “Look. Check it out.”
I nodded, and he showed me what looked like a giant hourglass, with a white paper filter filled with fresh-ground coffee and almost boiling water on top.
“They say this makes the best coffee, ever. It’s the latest thing, and it’s taking the coffee house by storm.”
“Mmm, nice,” I murmured, my eyes searching for the pages of my book.
“So you’re going to like, no, love this place.”
And you know what? From the moment the coffee hit the roof of my mouth yesterday, I loved the dark brew and the place that brewed it.
The barista is a young guy, and yeah, I’ve reached the age where all creatures under thirty are young guys. Getting old can be a bitch, you know? This young guy wears a bow tie and his eyes twinkle when he talks, especially about coffee. “Yeah, you’re going to love the pour-over,” he predicts, with a smile that starts near his eyes. “It blows the doors off French Press coffee. And I know French Press coffee,” he adds, in response to my own benchmark for comparing coffee brewing methods. “I used to work at a place where we made coffee out of these industrial size French Presses.”
I take a sip and smile, again feeling shy. It’s hard for me to know what to say to people, so I usually stop trying to figure it all out and just tell the truth. “It’s awesome. Great coffee.” I tip my 12-ounce white cup at him and smile, crossing the small shop in about seven steps before I reach the inner door.
That was yesterday. It’s Tuesday, and I’m back again. It’s my kind of place. As Hemingway would say, it’s a clean, well-lit place, and I’m comfortable here. I’ve met Tony, the owner, and he’s a runner and a father and a busy man who, like me, is doing what he loves, loving what he’s doing, and doing it pretty damn well.
Bob Costas stared at the camera with a steely-eyed glare, and then used the entire ninety second halftime segment of last night’s Cowboys vs. Eagles game to argue in favor of stricter gun control laws in the wake of Kansas Chief Linebacker Jovan Belcher’s murder suicide. Costas paraphrased and quoted from a piece by Fox Sports Columnist Jason Whitlock:
How many young people have to die senselessly? How many lives have to be ruined before we realize the right to bear arms doesn’t protect us from a government equipped with stealth bombers, predator drones, tanks and nuclear weapons?
Our current gun culture simply ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy, and that more convenience store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead.”
Costas went on to say that has Belcher not possessed a gun, both he and Kasandra Perkins, the mother of their three-month old daughter would be alive today.
At this moment, I shrugged and turned off the television. The last thing I want to think about while I’m relaxing on a Sunday night is gun control and the Second Amendment. For me, football and politics should not mix unless the issue, like regulation of performance enhancing drugs, is germane to football. Costas’s rant felt like a low blow, an abuse of his invitation into my cozy family room, and like all guests who overstay their welcome, I showed him the door.
And yet . . . his words remain with me. I am angry as hell that another woman has died at the hand of an abusive man. It sickens and infuriates me that because he made a decision to murder a woman in cold blood, a little girl, no doubt once much loved, now faces an uncertain and tricky future. It’s a tragedy and my prayers go out to that little girl and to the family of the deceased.
My anger, however, is centered on the perpetrator. No one forced Belcher to murder his girlfriend. Nothing excuses his behavior. Nothing, and I mean nothing, mitigates his dastardly deed.
It is often said that guns kill people. Having taken a self-defense training course, and having learned more about handguns than I ever thought possible, I think this is overly simplistic. I can say for sure that in order for guns to kill people, a finger must pull that trigger.
While I appreciate and respect those who argue that the proliferation of guns increases the incidence of crimes involving guns, I’ve heard from police officers that criminals will always be able to obtain guns, lawfully or not. As the female police officer who trained us opined, “I want for as many good citizens as possible to arm themselves in a responsible way, to learn how to use those firearms responsibly, and to assist us in making the world a safer place from the criminals.”
This police officer went on to tell us some scary stories about criminals and would-be extreme right-wing members of local militias. “Please,” she added, “We need all the help we can get from the good citizens of the world. We’re fighting the good fight, but it’s dangerous out there.”
Her words chilled me a bit. And handling the pistol frightened me. She warned us, over and over again, to be careful, and to realize that a single mistake could result in serious injury or death. I felt empowered but also sobered after I fired the Glock on the firing range. And it’s unlikely that I’d ever own a handgun.
But I like being able to buy a firearm should I judge it in my best interests to own one. For sure, there are and should be some limits on the application of the Second Amendment to our modern life. I’m no firearm zealot. I believe a firearm can be both a tool and a weapon, and that in the wrong hands, a firearm can do much harm to the innocent.
Perhaps Costas is right. Perhaps we need to better enforce the current gun control laws. Perhaps Belcher should not have owned firearms. Or perhaps Belcher is yet another victim of the epidemic of concussions and perhaps the rash of violent acts by past or current football players is connected to this epidemic. Perhaps Belcher was using performance-enhancing drugs that affected his personality or made him mentally ill. Perhaps.
You see, we don’t have the answers, but the best way to find answers is to pursue them with clear minds and calm discernment. Costas’ rant from the bully pulpit struck me as ill-timed and misguided. Rather than solve a problem or encourage reasoned debate, he inflamed hearts and incited passions with his self-righteous anger.
My prayers go out to the family the Belcher and Perkins families, respectively. May Kasandra rest in peace, and may Jovan find in dying the peace that so tragically eluded him.
I’d love to hear your views on this issue. Please keep it civil and respectful.
Stephanie Saye is one of my friends. She’s also the author of Little 15, which tells the story of a high school girl who has an affair with her basketball coach. Little 15 raises a number of provocative issues, like: whose fault is it anyway? What sort of moral culpability, if any, does the teenager bear? What kind of girl gets involved with a married man? What kind of married man violates all moral and legal precepts by sleeping with a child?
The plot of my upcoming book, Ripple, does not shy from difficult subjects either; indeed, by chapter eight, the main character has killed her child-molesting husband with a golf club, and yes, friends, Helen Thompson would do it again. Why? Because he had it coming to him? Or because he had threatened to rape their daughter again? Did the main character act in self-defense? Could she have prevented the rape from occurring? How does a girl heal after having been raped? How does a girl overcome the pain and stigma of rape and incest?
Like Stephanie Saye, I write about subjects that are taboo–that make grown men cringe. When I first pitched my book to friends and acquaintances, many people gasped, winced, or simply stared at me slack-jawed. Soon enough I realized that many people couldn’t get past my one-sentence synopsis. I know that Stephanie has encountered similar resistance. But you know what? If people can find the courage to read our books, and to delve into the deep issues we explore, they might find the tools they need to carve a path out of their own darkness.
But there’s the rub: our books must reach the public. And so when Stephanie dropped me a line the other day to let me know that Little 15 had been banned from a private literary event in Houston, well, I got fired up and asked her to write about her experience here. Without further ado, I present–
• • •
Do you know what sometimes happens to fearless authors who write controversial books?
Their books get banned.
And that’s exactly what happened to my book just last week.
Long story short, I was uninvited to market and sell my book at a high-profile literary event this week in Houston.
I’m not going to tell you the event name, because I’m not devious and I don’t believe in revenge. But I will say this: the keynote speaker for this event is a best-selling author (I’m talking New York Times Bestseller list here), whose blockbuster novel was recently made into a hit movie.
Up until a few days ago, I was one of a handful of authors selected to sell books before and after the big name author’s speech, which based on ticket sales, is expected to draw a crowd of over 1,000. And for an indie author hungry for sales, that’s like striking gold.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve worked diligently back and forth with the event coordinators on copy and images for promotional materials, including the event program that would feature a write up on my book. I did exactly what they asked of me every step of the way. I made travel arrangements. My husband set me up for wireless credit card processing. I ordered promotional materials for my booth, along with a couple hundred copies of my books from my publisher, which were delivered to my door step in six separate boxes that have since taken over my living room.
Everything seemed to be falling in place for this event, until I opened up my email one morning and found the following message:
Good Morning Stephanie,
Thank you so much for signing up for the 8th Annual [HIGH-PROFILE PRIVATE LITERARY EVENT]. After further review with administration, we feel that your novel is not appropriate for our event. Due to the nature of the book, we just do not feel comfortable including it at the event. I apologize for the late notice and decision. We thank you for considering to join our event and again we are sorry to have to decline.
We wish you the best with your future endeavors!
All my best,
[Event Coordinator Person]
Are you kidding me?
The thing is, the event committee APPROVED my book almost two months ago. As part of the selection process, I was required to send a copy of my book and a sample of reviews. Shortly thereafter, I got an official letter inviting me to promote and sell my book at the event.
So here’s how the cookie crumbled. When the copy for the event program went up the ranks for approval, a chief decision maker apparently stopped on the description of my book and took issue.
Little 15—a riveting story about a girl, her coach and their torrid affair.
“This points to a major breakdown in our selection and approval process that we will be sure to correct moving forward so this never happens again,” one official assured me over the phone. “We are so very sorry, but given the nature of your book, we just aren’t comfortable having it at our event.”
Fine. I know my book is edgy. I know it’s risqué. But as I told the event official, my novel is intended to be a cautionary tale—one that is helping to raise awareness of an issue that happens all too often in our schools. In fact, if you look at some of the reviews for Little 15, readers have said that my novel has inspired them to sit down with their kids and talk to them about this kind of abuse.
I used that and other reader feedback as the basis for producing a book trailer for Little 15, which I scrambled to launch last week on the heels of having my invitation revoked. Psychologically speaking, it was what I needed to do to move my artistry forward in the face of what some might consider a failure or loss. But in my mind, having my book banned from an event because of the nature of its content underscores my purpose as an author: to write books that move me, no matter how off color my stories might be in the face of mainstream societal beliefs.
On the other hand, I understand how the topic of my novel could be offensive. Literary works of art often are. And that’s OK. I knew that going in. But to change your mind a week before the event? When I’ve already invested in promotional materials and 250 copies of my books?
So now, as I reflect on the events of last week, I find myself asking the question: “Is there a silver lining to all this?”
Oh yes, my friends, there sure is.
As it turns out, having my book banned puts me in a category with some pretty famous authors like Vladimir Nabokov, Toni Morrison, Shel Silverstein, Maya Angelou and Judy Blume to name a few.
All of these authors, and many like them, have had a book—or in some cases, books—removed from school or library shelves.
This sort of thing still happens all the time. I realize that my book wasn’t actually removed from a library or school, but having my invitation revoked to a private literary event gave me a taste of what censorship feels like.
In Good Company
To give you some background, each year the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom receives hundreds of reports on books and other materials that were “challenged” (their removal from school or library shelves was requested).
Not surprisingly, J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series (which is one of my family’s all-time favorites) draws the most complaints, commonly from parents and others who believe the books promote witchcraft to children. Other frequently challenged titles include:
- “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, for its use of language, particularly references to race
- “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, for the description of rape she suffered as a child
- To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, for offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group
- Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer, for religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, for offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult, for homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
That’s a pretty impressive list, if you ask me. And I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t aspire to be a part of it. So why this allure to be part of the banned?
Because to me, being a banned-book author is more of an accomplishment than a drawback.
It means not being afraid of tackling hard-hitting topics that might make people uncomfortable. It means not shying away from writing about real-life drama that sometimes exposes the dark side of our human character. And it means having the courage to write for one’s self instead of being driven by what people think.
That’s what I did when I wrote Little 15.
And that’s what I’ll continue to do over and over again.
• • •
***Stephanie Saye is the author of Little 15—a story about a high school basketball star, her coach and their torrid affair. When she’s not writing novels, getting a wax or spending time with her husband and two sons, you can find Stephanie on the street corner trying to hock the 250 copies of her book that she’s now stuck with after getting banned from a recent literary event. A recovering corporate suit and a native Texan, Stephanie surprisingly does not own a horse, a gun or even a pair of chaps.
What do you think about censorship, banned books and controversial topics?
Last week, as part of my ongoing spiritual journey, I embarked on a systematic rereading of the New Testament. I took a break from reading Mark and read Deb Bryan’s post about learning compassion from a woman who massaged the head of an old lady whose skull was covered with lesions. I mentioned to Deb that this reminded me of Jesus touching lepers in books Matthew and Mark and that I’d struggled with the same sort of aversion to illness because it taps into my fears of mortality.
Also this morning, a dear friend posted this on my wall:
When you have done all you can, Jesus will do what you can’t.
And she added that “certain things seem like they are for you.” I took from this that all I need to do is my best—to keep my head down, and God will take care of the rest.
Then I got on the phone with my coach, and I admitted that my fear of failure is paralyzing me. I’ve been comparing myself too much to other writers, just like I used to when I was a lawyer. Some of these comparisons serve me well. I need to establish what my market is, for example, in order to package and sell my book to agents. She asked me if there was something—anything—I could do to help me with the pain this causes and very quietly, I replied, “I’m trying to put it in God’s hands. The answer lies in God. In my faith. I can’t get my worth from how many books I sell or how much money I make.”
What does this mean? I need to realize, as Coach Carrie said, that God loves me no matter what, and I need to accept His love. Also, I need to realize that my writing comes in part from Him, or as I read in another blog post today, God is in some respects my muse.
Here is what the writer, Rev. Danny Crosby says:
[There is] a creative process that begins and ends beyond the individual; it speaks of an alchemy of brain, experience and wisdom that adds up to more than the individual who created the work; it speaks of a greater mystery.
Crosby goes on to explore how artists create. Are we inspired by a muse? Why is it that so often, some of our best ideas come to us while we’re sleeping? How much of what we create is truly ours—how much of it comes from our own minds, and how much of it comes from God?
There is something divine occurring in the process; there is something at work here that calls the creation out of the individual; there is something going on here that is more than self, that cannot be controlled. I know myself that some weeks I am so full of ideas that they are seemingly bursting out of my ears and yet other weeks the well is dry. Some days I am completely blocked then suddenly, as if something had just whispered in my ears, the idea just comes bursting out of me and I start writing again. Could this be God? Is God controlling this?
I ask the same questions all the time. Sometimes I wake up after having written a piece late at night, and I stare at the keyboard and cannot remember typing the words I see in front of me. I reread a passage I’ve written the next day and find gem-like clarity and it looks and feels both familiar and yet completely new to me. It’s like running into someone in a bar, and they look familiar but you’re not sure if you’ve seen them before—that’s how I feel when I come to one of those passages that seems divinely written.
I don’t know what God has to do with it all. Often I dream up things that I later write about. Dialogue and plot twists come to me when I sleep. And as I walk this earth, things I see, hear, smell or touch stimulate ideas, feelings and even memories, and all of this feeds me. It becomes a part of me and a part of what I write. And sometimes I suspect that God places some of these voices, thoughts, visions, and even apparitions into my path in the hopes it will lead me where he wants me to go, both as a woman and as an artist.
All I know is that if God is using me as a channel, then He will be pleased by what I write. Or if my work represents the deepest, best part of my soul, then He will be pleased with what I create. Or if my work serves him and serves others, or helps them, then He will be pleased. And in the final analysis, that’s all that really, really matters.
As I was contemplating all of this, Deb sent me a blog post from My Shoegaze Faith titled, “The Sound of Generosity.” It’s based on Mark 10:35-45. This chapter tells the story of how all the apostles were arguing for the right to die with Jesus. The apostles argued about who could be the best martyr. Who could suffer the most? Who, in other words, could be the most generous?
The blogger, an Episcopal Priest, wrote the following:
If we listen . . . we hear the sound of Jesus pleading with His disciples to be humble, not to be great. The greatness they all . . . doesn’t come to us because we gamed the system or we tried really hard to earn it.
The mistake all of the disciples make is that they are all jockeying for position, trying to order themselves and figure this out. They are still stuck in the last argument over who is the greatest [servant].
When Jesus says, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” I no longer hear Jesus ordering anybody, but compelling everyone. If you are to follow me, then you must be a servant. If we are all striving to be servants, then there are no masters.
So what does this mean for me? I keep worrying that my writing won’t be good enough. And if it isn’t good enough, then I’m a failure. If I’m a failure, then I deserve to be punished, and if I deserve to be punished, then at least I should issue the punishment. I can feel a certain weird pride in the depth of my suffering, and I can control my fate, my destiny, even if by controlling it I simply go about the process of destroying myself. Control and destroy rather than surrender to the natural order, to the world, to how the world will take my stuff . . . to God.
Doesn’t God love me no matter what I write? Doesn’t He play some role in what I’m doing? Doesn’t He want me to do something special? Oh no, I don’t mean I’m more special than anyone else. He loves all his children the same; He loves me no more and no less than He loves everyone else. But in writing, I am using the gifts He’s given me, and if I try hard, I can use these gifts to help the world become better. I can be a servant. I can choose to create according to the best inside of me, which is what He has created.
I don’t need to figure out if I’m the best of his servants, no more than I need to prove that I’m the best of writers. It doesn’t matter and in fact, He doesn’t want me to spend all of my time worrying about it. It’s not for me to say and it doesn’t matter how well received my writing is. All that matters is that I do the best I can with the gifts given to me. I’m not even sure if everything I write is supposed to be about Him. I think not. I think I’m supposed to do my best with my talents, and in doing so, with the caveat of course that my work can’t go against His main teachings, I will fulfill my human potential. And THAT pleases Him.
I can’t sleep tonight. My husband, a Den Leader for my son’s Cub Scout Troop, is out at Burke Lake on a campout with our two sons. My daughter is asleep and I am approximately 393,234 sheep from sleep. Here are a list of things keeping me from sleeping tonight:
1. Is the new air mattress comfortable?
2. Are the boys too cold?
3. Did Travis take his meds? Did I?
4. Will Ben’s scar go away soon? Damn. We forgot to put on the scar-reducing lotion. I need to buy some Vitamin E from Freshfields.
5. Did I really shut the garage door? Would it be neurotic to check it for the third time? If I went and checked it, I could get the clothes out of the dryer but I can’t find the brown laundry basket and the white one is full of clean laundry.
6. Will my headache ever go away? I think I gave myself a mild concussion when I knocked the contents of the top shelf of Ben’s bookcase on my head. I cradled my head in my hands, sunk to the floor, and called for a medic, or the chief medical officer of our household. That’s the Cup Scout leader of course. I’m so grateful it was only a passing head wound. I lay there on the floor thinking about all the doctors and nurses who have taken care of me in the past. They comforted me each time and promised me I’d be okay, and I was. I could tell from their faces that they’d seen far worse injuries than mine.
7. Is lip balm addictive? What if it is found to cause cancer, like saccharine? Oh crap. How many bottles of diet coke have I had over the years? How about regular soda? Coke is usually too sweet, but I love Slurpees, especially with Coke mixed with Cherry and that blue stuff. How many calories does a regular sized Slurpee have? And why do they have to make them with Aspartame in the lemon-lime flavor?
8. What if the anti-diarrheal tablets are expired and I get diarrhea? That makes me giggle.
9. It’s so quiet I can hear my heartbeat. My resting heart rate should be 60 BPM or lower but I’m not resting. I should check it right now but if it’s above 60 BPM, I’ll stay up all night wondering if I’m going to get a panic attack. If I get a panic attack, I’ll have to call Travis on his cell phone and what if his cell phone is out of batteries? Will that mean he doesn’t love me enough to keep batteries operational? Crap. Did he replace the batteries in the black flashlight?
10. Did the boys brush their teeth?
11. It’s too quiet. Why are the frogs gone? I miss the frogs and they won’t be back until spring. In spring, the pollen returns and Maddie is allergic to pollen. Remember when she had to take Xopenex 3-4 times a day for months at a time? Or the time she had to stay on the Nebulizer for the entire winter after I took the kids out in the rain in December and all three of them got pneumonia . . . man was I scared. And I was secretly convinced thay it was my fault they all caught pneumonia. That had to have been my fault, right?
12. How far away is Florida from Seattle? Baltimore is what, 2,700 miles from Seattle? Remember when they showed the flight plan in Harry Met Sally? And can men and women really not be” just” friends? What’s my friend Sam doing right now? I should text her. It’s only 9:30 in Seattle.
13. The Marine Corps Marathon is in seven days and seven hours. This time next week I’ll really be freaking out. Damn. My heart just sped up.
I should stop at 13. Wait. I’m supposed to write out “thirteen.” Speaking of number thirteen, I refuse to believe in silly superstitions. So does my Maddie. Obdurate and strong, she wears the number thirteen. That is one of the many things I like about her.
She and I watched A League of Their Own Tonight. It’s the first time she’s seen it, and the fourth time I’ve seen it. I still cried at the end, and after it was over, we talked about it. She wanted to know my story.
I grew up as a serious ballplayer . . . but tonight was the first time I could really explain it to my daughter. We talked some, and then she hugged me and gasped, “Wow–so that’s the sport you grew up playing?
“Yep. I won championships. I was a pitcher, like Kit.”
Madeline stared at me, a little breathless. “You were?”
I grinned. “Come on Maddie. How many moms throw like I do?”
With her arms wrapped around my neck, she replied, “None. You throw like Dottie.”
I nodded. “And I can teach you how to throw like that too.”
Goodnight friends. It’s one a.m. here in Northern Virginia. I’m not going to bed yet. But I hope you are sleeping in the arms of the person you love most.
And if you’re in the mood to chat, please tell me some of the things that keep you up at night.
This is an excerpt from my final chapter from I Run: Running from Hell with El
Many people have asked me, often with great exasperation, what I was running away from. For years, friends told me to stop. Over and over and over again, people told me to rest, to stand still, to stop. But I was too scared. I was scared of myself, of the demons that danced and pranced inside me. I was scared of dying, perhaps by my own hand. I was scared I’d end up in Hell. I was scared of my past. I was scared of facing my pain. I was scared I wouldn’t survive whatever I saw when I finally faced it—all of it.
And I’m still scared. I’m fucking terrified. Really, I am. I’m at this crossroads, and I gotta decide which way to turn—which path to take. If I keep running away from my pain, something really bad is going to happen to me. I don’t know what that is, and in the past, I’d just keep running for miles and miles, one day, one horizon, one sunset fading into the next, until my legs could carry me no farther. I’d follow one path, then turn down another one, hoping that I could drink in the adventure of it all and find my way back home someday.
I don’t like to give up. It feels like surrender. And surrendering means making myself vulnerable. All my life, I’ve gritted my teeth and refused to stop moving. God tried to get my attention more than ten years ago. The seizures almost killed me. And I heard Him loud and clear. I had given up on Him and then, all of a sudden, well, I needed Him. I realized how much I loved being alive, and every night before I fell asleep, I thanked Him for another day, and begged Him to let me see the morning light.
And yet I kept running away. I waged war against myself; I plotted my own downfall; and I teetered on the edge of living and dying. He was patient with me. He gave me three beautiful children and they loved me. Through them, I felt the first glint of self-love. Because of them, I fought . . . I hung on. I tried to find my way through the darkness inside; I tried to live a good life but I kept running away from my past. I remained a stranger and too often, an enemy to myself and thus to Him.
The bus collided with our SUV and my life as I knew it ended. I knew He kept me alive that night for a reason. I felt His grace inside me as I screamed with a mother’s fierce love, “NO!! Don’t hurt my children!!” For once, I stood still for a little while. And I felt a pain unlike anything I had ever felt before. I ran to Him; sobbing, I collapsed in front of a priest and confessed not just my sins, but the sins others had done to me. I tried to find my way to Him through my childhood Catholic faith, but the church would not have me as I was—the Catholic church rejected my Protestant marriage.
I staggered and fled again. I was trying to find my way but I managed to get lost again. I ran and I ran and I couldn’t stop running this time because I was running to stay alive. You see, I was running back through my past. I was running right through the gates of Hell and the only way to get through Hell is to keep moving until you’re safe again.
It took me two years of intense therapy to get out of there alive.
This year, for Lent, my therapist ordered me to stop hurting myself—to stop even wanting to hurt myself. I couldn’t do this alone. I needed God’s help. He filled me with His light and I turned that light on the demons, real or metaphorical I do not know, that were lodged inside me. I don’t care how this sounds. All I know is that after two decades of wanting to hurt myself, of sometimes hurting myself, I stopped. I didn’t overcome this on my own. I worked hard that day to channel light and goodness and most of all, God’s will. You see, He helped me do it.
Since this day, this miraculous day, I haven’t wanted to hurt myself. And yet, I still wasn’t listening very well either. And He kept trying to reach me. He sent friends to talk to me, friends who told me they carried His message. It’s true. I sort of listened, but I also kept running, but slower. Not as far. And every so often, I would pause, look around, and listen. I started to read the Bible again. I started to listen when He talked to me, and I’ve been trying to figure out what He wants me to do.
Then He spoke to my friend. This is part of what He told her:
A: He says you are running from Him, too…and stop it sooner rather than later.
A: Run to Him, not away…Run to Him…
El: I hear Him. Chills are running up and down my spine.
A: Then listen…be kinder to yourself and trust Him to get you through the process. You cannot hear Him when you are constantly going 100 miles an hour. And your body won’t hold out if you do not slow down. He will get your attention, and He will slow you down. It’s entirely your choice which way it goes.
El: Wow–is this Him or you–the tough love thing?
A: Him. I just type it.
A: Once He wants your attention, He will stop at nothing to get it but it is done out of LOVE—not sickness like all of the past people because he is not a people…He is God! And if He has to inflict pain to heal, He will do that—with love.
El: I hear.
A: It is easier if you surrender…but I know that is hard for you.
… … …
I do have a choice, apparently. I can listen to Him, or I can keep running. If I keep running, and don’t listen, I’m going to get injured, again. And it ain’t going to be pretty. The thing is, some people I love very much depend on me. And if I can’t get my shit together for myself, I can do it for them.
I wasn’t 100% sure what I was running to when I started writing this book, but now I know. I knew I was running away from Hell but I didn’t quite grasp where I was supposed to go. But now He has spoken and I’m listening. No more running away. My safety lies in Him and deep inside of me–that place we all have if we can get very, very still, and hear Him. I hear Him. I’m on my way. I’m on my way home.
It’s been raining this morning since I woke up. The house takes on a grayish tint without sunlight and I’m thinking about grabbing my red running jacket and heading out to run over tree roots and through mud and into puddles. That will come later. For now, I grab a sweatshirt, my husband’s thick black fleece one, and edit and write and think and create, hoping to sculpt some beauty out of the uncertain edges that make up my rainy morning.
I don’t write to anyone else’s requirements anymore, and I love that. I love the freedom of crafting words according to my own artistic needs. For far too many years, I wrote what and how and when I was told . . . by partner, court or client.
Please forgive me, kind friends who have bestowed lovely blogging awards on me, but I simply cannot spend time writing to spec, so to speak. What I love most about this writing gig of mine is I can blaze my own trail. I have total and complete artistic freedom, and this is more precious to me than almost anything else, save my family.
Artistic freedom is a beautiful and mighty thing. I was thinking about this last night while talking to a dear, dear friend of mine. You see, I will never work for anyone else again. I’m going for it. I’m all in, as far as my choice of vocation. I am blessed to be doing for a living the one thing I love most: writing.
While I don’t write to spec, I love to riff off other writers, and my favorite source for improvisation material is my dear friend, Deborah Bryan. A few weeks ago, I received her post, Let’s Get Real, in my in-box and I sat there, all hunched over my brand-new Macbook Pro, reading the results of five minutes of unfiltered, fearless, straight up “this is what I’m thinking and fuck it all I’m going to tell you what’s on my mind” writing. And I grinned and howled and felt at home, as if she and I were sitting on her balcony drinking tea and watching the cars race past on the freeway overhead.
So here goes.
I know I write well. Am I arrogant or just honest? I suck at a lot of things and am average at best at many more.
For example, I strive to be a good mom. In truth, I think I’m a mediocre mom, but that’s better than telling everyone who will listen that I’m a great mom and consistently proving otherwise.
I’m mad at Facebook. My friends call Mark Zuckerberg something different. They switch the “Z” with an “F” and I think it’s funny but then I feel guilty for calling him bad names even after I use his product all day, every day. That said, he is trying to make page owners like me pay for what was once free. My friend, D.Z., explained that he should be paying us, the content creators, for what we do. We get Facebook users to linger more online, and the more our followers linger, the more likely they are to click on the paid advertising links.
I’m bored with this rant.
I’m bipolar and hyper and unable to sit still. I interrupt people too much; smile when I’m sad; giggle when I’m mad; and hate to wear dresses or uncomfortable shoes. In fact, the real reason I’m a writer is so that I can wear athletic shorts and a t-shirt every day.
I love my hair. It’s long and sort of dirty blond, not quite auburn, and not yet silver. It makes me feel feminine and pretty, which is hard for me. Usually, I don’t feel pretty or even feminine. It isn’t safe to be soft and pretty. It scares me. And typing that makes me wanna cry . . . but I don’t cry much and I don’t feel like being sad today.
Loud noises give me a headache. Violent TV shows give me nightmares. Every time I see a gratuitously naked woman in a movie, the little child in me screams in pain and fury. Shades of Grey’s success infuriates me. What the hell is wrong with people anyway? Why is this book popular? The book celebrates abusive sex and the writing sucks.
This world we live in is so awful. Damn it all.
But this world is beautiful too. I hear the raindrops hitting the leaves in my backyard. It’s raining harder and harder and not every drop makes the same noise as it hits the green and yellow leaves. It doesn’t sound discordant, and I wonder how many raindrops it takes to create harmony.
I laugh too loud. And so do my kids. Sometimes I worry that they laugh too loud. I worry that I laugh too loud and too much so that people will like me more.
I’m terrified to publish I Run because I’m going balls to the walls and telling my story, my real story. What will people think? What will my birth family do to me if they find out about what I’m writing?
Did you know where the phrase “balls to the walls” originated? It comes from the aviation world. On an airplane, the handles controlling the throttle are often topped with ball-shaped grips, referred to by pilots as balls. Pushing the balls forward, close to the front wall of the cockpit increases the amount of fuel going to the engines and results in the highest possible speed.
In other words, balls to the walls means giving your maximum effort. That’s the way I live and love and write. Consequences be damned.
And that, my friends, is a wrap. I’m going to write like this more often because it feels good.
I’m heading out for a run in a few minutes. While I’m gone, please feel free to tell me something unfiltered about yourself in the comments below.