Posts Tagged writing
This morning, I really, really wanted to chew a head off, or at a minimum, a hand. This is the absolute bane of all small business owners, particularly artists and writers: setting up a new business. Yeah, yeah, it’s exciting and I’m grateful and, well, yada, yada. But when three children are yowling, busting heads and basically working through their Ophelia, Hamlet and Polonius routine and the man is conducting scientific experiments in the kitchen, the whole process of arranging a freaking PayPal button on WordPress becomes more a bloodletting experience than anything else.
And no decent mom refuses to take a child to the library, right? Right, but only after I get my new page set up on WordPress: this one. But right now, I gotta confess something: I’m not feeling like a decent mom. I’m trying, but I’m also working as hard as I used to work when I practiced law. Don’t get me wrong: this time around, I love my job, but I’m getting too obsessed with line edits, double spaces after periods (damn my eyes, I’m switching to single spaces), proof copies, mailing advance reviewer copies, and a plethora of other small details.
You see, even though I’m self-publishing, I refuse to compromise quality. I’m rolling the dice on my own name and reputation, and it’s not like I can blame a secretary or intern or junior associate or asshole client if anything gets messed up. This book must look as good as anything that is traditionally published.
And you know what’s getting sacrificed right now? Sigh. Yep. My family. Or as Helen realizes in Ripple:
Excellence may not be about making beds and cooking brownies, but excellence was about more than rising to the top of your profession. She’d fucked up. She hadn’t meant to. She really hadn’t meant to hurt her daughter, but she had. Her own excellence had been achieved by sacrificing her family and now she was paying the price for it. No, now Phoebe was paying the price for it, she realized, and she winced.
Sometimes fiction mirrors life; other times, life mirrors fiction. All I know is that I need to find a balance, somehow. It doesn’t mean that I should give up trying to create the best product I can, but I need to try harder here on the home front. These twelve and fourteen hour days, after all, are nothing to be proud of—not when those hours take too much time away from my children.
How do you all do it, your working moms and dads? Do you feel trapped between work and home? As if you constantly fail work or family at the expense of the other?
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.
My daughter gripped her pen and hesitated. “So Mom, how’s your writing going?”
I sighed. I was tired. “Good. I’m in the middle of a scene.”
“What’s it about?” Her voice rose. “Is it inappropriate?”
“Oh, does it have people, like, kissing?”
I rubbed my face with my hands. The muscles around my eyes felt tight. “No!”
“Is it like when the mom murders the father?”
“Sort of, but it wasn’t murder,” I started to explain. And then I laughed. “I better go write hun.”
I could not talk about the scene with my daughter; indeed, I cannot discuss much of my novel with her. It is not written for children. When she asked the series of questions above, I was struggling yesterday to write a scene about one of my lead characters. A 16-year old girl named Phoebe White must identify her rapist, who is a close family member. And writing about it triggered my own memories. It hurt. I hurt. And when I hurt, I want to turn to alcohol.
I knew I could not. It is an old urge, born of desperate times and a need to numb myself against pain. The reason I dropped my first novel so many years ago is that I could not resist the siren call of drugs and alcohol. I am not sure why exactly, but I think it is because I obey one rule and only one rule when I write: I tell the truth, and my own truth is hard for others to read and for me to write. Once my fingers tap the keyboard, I cannot hide behind my easy laugh, broad smile and dark sunglasses.
When I started Ripple last year, I had been clean and sober for such a long time that I forgot everything I learned. I started drinking again, late at night, alone, and while I wrote. And then I realized that I alone could stop the downward slide before I hit rock bottom, taking my family with me.
I’ve been clean and sober (again) for a few months now. When I feel shaky, I get help, but to get help, I need to figure out what the problem is first. That brings me back to Phoebe’s scene, where she must face her rapist. I never got to face mine, and to put my character through this seemed cruel. I could not imagine how she would cope without numbing out her pain because that was what I did so many years ago.
So I asked my therapist, and first she said, “Ah, good, you’re working your stuff out in your novel.” I put my head in my hands and sighed. “Yeah, I guess, except this is more like a fairy tale. She gets the help she needs; the support and therapy and it’s going to turn out okay.” My grizzled, aging therapist nodded and neither one of us finished my thought: “Phoebe gets the help I didn’t get.” Instead, she gazed at me with a gentle half-smile and I continued, “How can she do this without using? Just writing the scene made me want to use.”
Her half-smile broadened. “But did you use?” I shook my head. “Nah, I went for a walk and just put that desire on the shelf, knowing that it would pass. And it did, it passed. “ Silence fell and neither one of us spoke. I took a deep breath. My jaw twitched and the muscles in my face flexed as a rapid-fire string of emotions coursed through me. I felt proud and a little sad but not ashamed. She uncrossed her legs and wrote something down. “Then Phoebe can do the same thing, yes? Set it aside, and wait, until she can tolerate the pain without being self-destructive?” I sighed, relieved. “Yeah. She can.”
When Phoebe faces her rapist and identifies him for the Commonwealth’s Attorney, it won’t be easy. My first instinct as a woman was to let her follow my own troubled slide into substance abuse. Yet Phoebe is her own character, with her own story to tell.
Meanwhile, I write my own song. I’m in recovery and I am standing tall, hanging tough. It won’t come easy; it never does. I didn’t drink yesterday and like Phoebe, I am fighting through whatever comes my way, day by day.
The other day, an acquaintance of mine sent me one of the coming to Jesus corrective notes, and I never feel good when I receive those. I was feeling pretty shitty anyway, and then when I read what she wrote, it tapped into my inner hater. Some people have inner critics but I have an inner hater and when she gets going, she’s a bloody beast. Even as I felt shitty about the things she said about me, I couldn’t figure out what the hell she was talking about because she called me arrogant. She also called me phony and hypocritical and condescending, and I think I am guilt of the latter but never of the former two characteristics. But the thought of seeming arrogant made me want to laugh, but I was too depressed to laugh, so I smirked a little bit. If only she knew. If only she knew about my inner hater.
You see, the fucking God’s honest truth is that I am one of the most insecure, sensitive women I know. I almost wrote “in the world” but that seems vainglorious, to think I’m the most insecure women in the world. That takes effort and skill, or at least notoriety to reach “most” anything status does it not? I can’t really claim most insecure or self-destructive woman status, but instead of reassuring me that I’m a little bit okay, it sort of pisses me off. Come on! Can’t I be special even in my failure? No, I joke! That is my dark sense of humor. I swear. Maybe. Sort of.
What makes me so difficult to comprehend is that I hide my feelings so tightly. My therapist says that I lock my feelings away as if I were running a nuclear containment facility, as if I fear that any tear or show of vulnerability will prove poisonous to those around me. Okay, so that’s why she’s got the sergeant’s stripes and gets paid to analyze cocky, insecure, smirking writers for a living. And now that I am chipping away at the fences that guard my inner core, I am feeling like a hurting, frightened, and very vulnerable little girl most of the time. And I hate it.
Maybe it’s not such an auspicious time to admit that I’m all insecure and neurotic about my writing. Hell, I’m insecure and neurotic about almost everything, but for the first time since I kicked my legal career to the curb like the plague-bearing rodent that it was, I am receiving edits and criticism. And it’s good, helpful, constructive stuff from the very best writing partner in the world. See? It’s not vainglorious to use the modifier “in the world” when you’re talking about someone else, right? No? I didn’t think so either.
The thing is, I know this is what I need. I don’t need for someone to keep telling me I’m brilliant. Secretly, I swear to God, I think I have talent. I think I can write the doors off just about anything, and nothing makes me happier than spinning a perfect paragraph. My shit is raw and real and deep, but it is far from perfect. The problem is that when I see the words “far from perfect” what I read is “it sucks.” I suck. And it doesn’t take me more than a second or two before my inner hater takes that shit and runs with it. I don’t want to talk about my inner hater too much. She likes attention but I am going to walk her over to the rocking chair and give her a few coloring books to play with while I work.
Okay. There. She is sitting by the window with a black crayon, doing her hating thing. And I have a plan. I want to say a few words of encouragement to myself. It goes like this.
“Keep writing El. Stay true. Be real. I can’t wait to hear what you come up with next. To get better, you need to keep throwing more and more words on the canvas, and don’t get frustrated when you don’t capture it all exactly right on the first draft. Treat those edits like scraped knees; roll your sleeves up and get back to work. You can do this. It’s lonely and it is hard but you’ve never been afraid of hard work. What you were afraid of was failure, but fear is crippling. Love is invigorating. Love the work you do each day. It’s going to be okay. I promise. I love every word you write, even the words that get deleted. You know why? Because I love you. “