Some Days Are

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Let’s be honest. I had a crappy day.

I woke up cranky, I stayed cranky, I’m still cranky.

I don’t like hosting yard sales. Not even a little bit. There is nothing about hosting a yard sale that I like. Not even the money because who are we kidding, $0.35 an hour is a crappy rate. But the kids have been pestering us for years to have a yard sale, and the husband thought our recent move provided a good reason to do it.

So we’re having a yard sale. Tomorrow. We spent the entire day moving things from one place to another, cleaning it up as necessary, pricing it, and displaying it so people can come through and say, “This fine art print from the National Museum that you paid $45 for and that’s listed at $2. Would you take 50 cents for it?”

And I’m writing a stupid blog entry at 10pm the night before because I said I would do it every day and by gum I’m doing it. But I am NOT happy about it. For the record.

I’m exhausted and tired and worn out and cranky. Oh, and in the midst of all the clean-up and clean-out, Gunner’s leash & training collar somehow got misplaced and I am HEARTBROKEN over it. Gunner and I run together every morning, despite the fact that Gunner cannot keep himself together at the sight of another dog, and that training collar is what keeps us sane. We’ve turned both houses and both cars upside down looking for it.

I’m also heartbroken over these things:

  • My grandma
  • My grandpa trying to go on without her
  • A little boy in Charlotte who died yesterday after jumping in a culvert to save his sister who had fallen in (she lived)
  • A little boy in my network whose cancer returned
  • All the trees in the yard at the old house that the children will never climb again after this weekend
  • My back (it hurts)
  • Getting up at 5am tomorrow and not even having enough time to write, because that’s what time I have to get up to have our stupid yard sale ready in time
  • Writing this blog entry

So, basically, ALL THE THINGS.

And I’m just not even going to apologize. I’m not going to say anything to make it all better, or to give it meaning, or to make it so that we all feel better about it in the end.

Because sometimes life is like this. Sometimes it’s just not all better at the end of the day. Some days you just hate everything, and that is just how it is.

Wait. Crap. I just can’t do it. Okay, so. I was at the Walmart picking up things we need for our yard sale (because you gotta spend money to make money. For a yard sale that translates to: “You gotta spend $70 to make $0.35,” in case you didn’t know), and muttering under my breath (by which I mean saying quite loudly because what point is there in griping if no one can hear you?) about how much I hated this day and how much I hated yard sales and how much I hated Wal-mart, and meanwhile I was trying to shove a carton of water bottles up under my cart and it just would not. Go.

So there I am, everything short of swearing, fully aware that everybody in the store thinks I’m a terrible parent because half of what I’m muttering loudly about is directed at Everett who is of course being EXTREMELY ANNOYING by standing beside me and existing. And I’m really hating these stupid water bottles and my stupid inability to get them into the cart and the store’s stupid inability to be less aggravating.

And a guy comes over and takes the water bottles from me, and puts them under my cart for me, and says he doesn’t understand why the carts have to be so low you can’t even fit things under them.

Just like that.

And I’d like to say that I thanked him and was inspired to an attitude change, but that would be only half true. I did thank him, but I still had a crappy day full of craptastic attitude (my own).

But I guess I’m just a TEENY bit grateful that there are people in the world who look at a shabbily dressed woman (did I mention that in my hair I have, no lie, dried bird poop AND dried goat cud? Don’t ask) griping at her 6-year-old and muttering (not-quite under her breath) hateful things about the world, and think: Hey, I bet there’s a lady who could use a little kindness in her day.

So I lied. I don’t hate ALL the things today. Just most of them.

Good night.

What Do Your Dreams Look Like These Days?

There’s a woman up against a wall. Facing her is an old man, a beggar. He’s huge and ragged and bloody, and he’s just gone on a rampage and killed all the men in her banquet hall.

And now he wants to talk.

He’s saying crazy crap, talking about her son, and monsters, and gods.

She thinks he might be her dreams come true at last. Only, he doesn’t look so hot.

Do you remember that scene? I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since I read it as a teenager. Odysseus comes home after twenty years to find his house overrun by men trying to steal his wife and kill his son. He’s faced monsters and witches and angry gods, and now that he’s finally home he’s got this: Rude guests.

That’s what growing up is like. As a kid, you think life is going to be all big glorious battles, important challenges, and working hard for your dreams: The great odyssey of your life. Maybe you even have some of those adventures. Then you grow up and realize life is mostly laundry and what to do about the rude guests messing up your banquet hall. I mean kitchen.

So here’s Penelope, and for her it’s been *all* laundry and rude guests, and in comes her husband, late as usual and caked with mud from his exciting adventures, and no wonder she’s sitting against the wall trying to decide what to do with him.

Lately I feel like Penelope, up against that wall, staring at this big ragged hulk of a thing in front of me. It’s saying crazy crap, talking about my sons, and my book, and God. I think it might be my youthful dreams come back to me, and they’ve been having an awfully exciting time without me.

Of course Penelope didn’t know what to do. She’d been bogged down for twenty years in drudgery, entertaining guests, protecting her son, and attending to clothes. It was hard to believe the miracle she’d been hoping for had actually shown up. And he didn’t exactly look the way she remembered him, either. Well, maybe a little, if you could get past the blood. Could she trust him?

Penelope did ultimately figure it out, what with her brilliant intellect and all. It helped that Athena cast a glamour over Odysseus right about that time, making him taller and goldener and “crisping curls”ier. Didn’t hurt a bit. Convinced at last, Penelope threw herself into his arms.

The Embrace

But what about me? What am I supposed to do with this thing in front of me–my book, my business, my family, these ragged things that look like they *might*, if you can get past the blood and sweat, look a little like my youthful dreams? I’m not as clever as Penelope, no olive-trunk-bed tricks up my sleeve.

And last I heard, Athena quit her job as a glamour caster.

And what about you? Has life turned out the way you thought, all adventure and excitement? And has it paid off like you expected? Would you recognize your youthful dreams if they showed up in your banquet hall covered in blood and asking you to embrace them?

Well, maybe this thing in front of me–my almost-finished book, my on-the-cusp business, my half-grown family–doesn’t look quite like I expected. Be that as it may. What with Athena having quit her day job and all, I guess if somebody’s going to polish these dreams up, it’s gonna have to be me.

Embracing.

P.S. I’m at page 149 of 294 in the final edits on my book before submission. The halfway point. Yah, still kinda sweaty and ragged, but it’s starting to shine just a little. Maybe.

P.P.S. HEY. I’m nearly at the halfway point in my 30-Day blog challenge too. Halfway points suck, btw. All slog no glory. Embrace, Heather. Embrace.

What I’ve Been Reading (The Good Stuff)

Yesterday I introduced you to some really fabulous well-known authors and their social media/blogging platforms. It was easy and fun and I like easy and fun, so today I’m sharing some of my favorite YA authors and their books.

 

I read a ton of YA literature, and most of it is mediocre at best. These are a few (not exhaustive) who rise to the top. The good stuff.

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Kristin Cashore, author of Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue. Her worlds are interesting, her characters are fun, and her romance turns traditional gender roles on their heads in a way that I find delightful–imagine strong, interesting, sexy male characters who treat their love interests with genuine respect and admiration. It’s hard to find, even in fiction, but Cashore delivers. The stories are well-told page-turners directed at a young adult audience but with enough energy and depth to entertain any reader. Cashore is young (younger than me by THREE YEARS), which is a good reason to hate her for her success, but I can’t bring myself to do it. She’s wonderful. She also blogs, much more regularly and apparently effortlessly than I do. Maybe I *can* hate her, even if it’s just a little bit.

Michelle Hodkin, author of the Mara Dyer series. Delightful and funny person who also writes page-turner novels. If Twilight turned you off of paranormal YA romance… well, Hodkin will turn you back on again. If Twilight did not turn you off of paranormal YA romance then please stop talking. Find something to read and keep reading until you develop taste. Hodkin is also young but I can’t hate someone I’ve had coffee with, especially if I’ve examined her boobs for chocolate. Hodkin gets a pass. The third book in the Mara Dyer series comes out later this year.

John Christopher, author of The Tripods series. I have no idea whether Christopher is delightful or funny, and he is certainly not young. I’ve never had coffee with him and never seen his boobs. He died two years ago at the age of 89. But I can tell you that his books are very, very much worth the read. They’re the rivetingly well-told story of a world ruled by giant machines, written before stories for young people were labeled as “YA.”

128px-Montreuil_-_Salon_du_livre_jeunesse_2012_-_Ransom_Riggs_-_002Ransom Riggs, author of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City. The first is a must must must read book. The second came out in January and I haven’t gotten to it yet, mostly because I only realized today that it’s even out. But DON’T WORRY. As soon as I realized my oversight, I placed a hold request on it at the library. Disaster averted. Miss Peregrine’s Home is one of the most interesting and innovative YA books I’ve read. Riggs wrote the story around a bunch of weird old photos he collected, which are reprinted throughout the book. Creepy but not scary, a wonderful and delightful read. Riggs also has a great sense of humor and is married to the MOST ADORABLE woman ever, Tahereh Mafi (and no, I don’t know how to pronounce that), who also writes books, none of which I’ve gotten to yet (hm. I wonder if they’re available through the library… hold on a sec… … YES. Awesome). Together they are like the modern literary world’s cutest couple. He has a blog.

What are you reading?

Round-Up: Authors Who Talk to Their Fans

It’s been a heckuva couple days, and I’m phoning it in with an introduction to three amazing authors who, despite enormous success, continue to communicate with fans on a regular basis. Three authors, three genres, three media platforms.

Lev Grossman, Fantasy, Blog:

128px-Lev_grossman_2011Lev Grossman is the author of the New York Times Bestselling Magicians trilogy (final book coming out later this year). One of my favorite current authors and a kind and generous human being. His blog, infrequently updated though it is, provides a rare, raw insider’s view into the life–and struggles–of a successful novelist. He’s also the books editor for Time Magazine, and, most impressive of all, the sort of guy who offers his time generously to help new authors and communicate with young fans. If you haven’t already, please read his books (I’d loan you mine, but they’re signed SO KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF you can’t handle that kind of responsibility I don’t want to).

Anne Lamott, Nonfiction, Facebook:

Love me some Annie.

Anne Lamott is the author of the wonderful guide to writing that every freshman writing class reads, Bird by Bird, as well as several other laugh-out-loud funny and simultaneously profoundly inspirational books, of which my favorite is Operating Instructions. She’s also a lovely, warm, beautiful human being whose Facebook feed is one of the things that makes Facebook worthwhile. And also makes me cry. Every. Single. Time.

 

Anne Rice, Horror, Twitter:

Anne_RiceAnne Rice is the author of Interview with a Vampire and of course many other masterful books. I admit that her genre is not my favorite and so I’ve only read the one book of hers, but she herself is most definitely among my favorite people for her warmth and her helpful advice for writers. Plus, her Twitter feed is just amazing–constantly filled with weird science news, book discussions, and even links to critical reviews of her work.

 

 

Check ‘em out. You’ll find something worth reading in all three places. Enjoy.

 

Play Along

I am bent over a piano in one of the soundproof rooms of Smith Hall. I’ve been here for hours. It’s Jan Term 1993, and I made the mistake of enrolling in Music Composition as my elective. Our assignment: Write a piece of music.

I want it to be beautiful. Perfect. Amazing. I want it to be unique and original. Wow-worthy. I want to impress Dr. Rohlig. It is way more work than I expected.

I enrolled in the class for two reasons:

1. I thought it would be fun and easy.
2. I wanted to spend more time with Dr. Rohlig.

1. I was dead wrong.
2. It was worth it.

I stumble into the classroom the next day clutching my music score in my hand. It’s six hard-won bars, hand-written on a blank printed staff. Dr. Rohlig comes into the classroom with his rolling gait, head tucked down, smiling.

“Ohkay, how are you? How are you? It’s good to see you, Oh, hello,” he says in his deep, rolling German accent. He takes attendance: “Heather, are you here, Heather? Oh yes, I know you are. Hello,” and on down the roster.

When it is time, he asks who would like to show their work first. I raise my hand. I always like to be first. He looks over my score, pleasure etched in his features:

“Oh, very nice. Shall we listen?”

He sits down at the piano and plunks out the notes written on my paper. It sounds pretty good, actually, not bad, for several hours of agonizing work. It’s nice, you know.

Then he adds a few chords. Really nice. A moment later, we are all listening to him run riffs and variations, up and down, adding harmony and sub-melodies until my music, my six scruffy hand-written bars, sound like something that ought to be performed in front of hundreds.

When he is done, we applaud loudly. I am so proud. He talks about the piece as though it were a great work of art, adding layers of depth and meaning that I didn’t know existed in it. It’s a beautiful moment.

Then the next person gets up. Now I KNOW this next guy is here for the easy credit. He’s a slacker, lazy t-shirt, lazy hair, lazy posture. He ambles up to the front and sits down at the piano. He doesn’t even have anything written down. It’s like he’s not even trying.

He throws out some chords, obviously making it up as he goes, so much bull crap. Dr. Harald Rohlig writes intricate and esoteric modern classical music that is renowned around the world, so I know he knows exactly how much this thing sucks.

His smile never falters. Dr. Rohlig survived Hitler, he can deal with this. He walks over to the piano. He stands over Mr. Lazy-Pants, still smiling. Just smiling and smiling. You know this is going to be good, right?

And then he sits down and starts to play, right alongside the kid. He plays a counterpoint, adds some chords, takes over one portion. He makes it beautiful. It’s beautiful. Stunning, actually.

I am agog. This is so. not. fair.

I adored Dr. Rohlig. We all did. A child prodigy, he survived the Nazi regime, came to America, built a world-renowned reputation as a composer, and settled in humble Montgomery, Alabama to compose and teach, and touch the lives of lowly students like me. And, apparently, slackers like Lazy Pants.

Harald Rohlig

It was Dr. Rohlig to whom I turned when I was torn up inside from an abusive relationship, Dr. Rohlig who always understood, always knew just how to talk to me. When Dr. Rohlig spoke, a person listened, because whatever came out of that brilliant, profound, loving heart was worth hearing.

So it bugged me that he treated us all the same. His smile was not reserved for the hard workers, the good kids, the talented ones, or even just the ones who actually cared. He treated us all as though we were all equally worthy of his attention and time. Not fair. I wanted to be special.

I’m still that way. I think it’s part of the same drive that pushes me to perfect. If I’m just good enough, if I just try a little harder, shine a little brighter, the important people will notice me. Hey Dr. Rohlig, look! Look at meeeeee! Maybe God Godself will look upon my countenance and smile (a special smile, just for me): Well done, my good and faithful child, God will say. If I just try hard enough.

It’s a sickness, actually. And wrong-headed. We are all beautiful sparks, children of God, no work required to belong on this train.

And whatever gifts we bring, God does just like Dr. Rohlig. All we gotta do is show up and bring something, and God will sit right down beside us and play along, turning whatever we’ve got, whatever lazy pants piece of bull crap we’ve brought, into something beautiful.

Well, I guess I can live with that.

P.S. Dr. Rohlig, despite the fact that he was already a triple bypass survivor when I knew him, is still alive and composing in Montgomery, Alabama. The wikipedia article about his life and work does not do him justice.

First It Gets Dark

As a child, I was a perfectionist. I stressed over whether my story was good enough, whether I was smart enough to be in the advanced math class, over whether the teachers at my new school would like me. I was a rules-follower, because if I ever broke a rule, it might damage my perfect, permanent record.

I had to be perfect, you see, so that I could be good enough. If I slipped up, made a mistake, received a reprimand–it would be a terrifying chink in my armor, a crack that might let someone see just how useless and unworthy I really was inside.

I grew up in a society–our society–that is obsessed with perfection. Perfect skin, perfect legs, perfect school records, perfect behavior records, perfect everything. That’s what it takes to be good enough.

Make a mistake, do something wrong, get a blot on your record: Damaged goods. Next.

It was not always so, and is not always so in all cultures.O.P.W. Fredericks of The Lives You Touch reminded me recently (on It’s How the Holy Gets In) of this quote (sometimes attributed to Barbara Bloom):

“When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”

One summer, Carey and I attended a camp-out in the mountains. I’ll admit, I was worried: All of the attendees except us were from a church, and I could not see myself wanting to spend 48 hours in company of perfectly perfect churchy church people.

A few days before, however, I found out that this particular group was mostly made up of “recovering” folks. Recovering alcoholics, recovering former prostitutes. Damaged people, learning to fill their gaps with gold, their dark with light. Suddenly, the weekend looked a lot brighter.

There’s something about a person who has BEEN THERE. Who has been down THAT road, the road with the holes in it and the dealers on the street corner and the gunshots and the desperation. The road that puts holes in tires and holes in hearts. There’s just something special about a person who has been there and is coming back out again, toward the light.

I believe God is like those Japanese artists, that (if we ask for help) God takes our broken tires and our broken hearts and puts them back together, mending the cracks with gold.

Or maybe God mends with crystal. You know, to let the holy in.

I started this essay thinking about the lessons I’ve learned during the first 10 days of my 30-day one-hour-only challenge. The biggest thing I hoped to learn from it, is letting go. Letting it be okay if my work isn’t perfect. Letting good enough be good enough.

So that’s where I started, and the entry went somewhere else entirely. And that’s okay too. Good enough. Better than good enough. It’s yours now, and you can mend its many holes and imperfections any way you like. I hope you’ll choose something beautiful.

(If you Google “How the Holy Gets In” in images, the first several pictures that pop up look like this:

Holy-Ghost-It-Gets-Dark-artwork-400x400

(Look, I know that’s probably some pop cultural reference that Heather-With-Her-Nose-In-A-Book doesn’t get, but it doesn’t matter. It’s like Google knows. This is how the holy gets in: First it gets dark.)

Dreams of Flight

In my dreams, airplanes fall out of the sky. Sometimes I watch in horror, stunned to witness such tragedy. Sometimes, though, I remember what it means: That I’m asleep, that it’s not real… I struggle to free myself of the illusion.

Sometimes when I’m awake, I look for airplanes, watch for them to fall out of the sky. They’re like an Inception totem, but in reverse: They only ever tell me for sure if I’m sleeping. So long as they stay in the sky, I might be awake, but how can I know?

I don’t know. Sometimes I am overcome with the sensation that everything around me is unreal, like I’m walking through it in a dream. This is not always an unpleasant sensation, but sometimes… Maybe I have a near miss with something traumatic–an oncoming truck swerves into my lane and barely misses me, or I happen upon the seconds-old aftermath of a gruesome accident. After an event like that, the sensation of unreality becomes intense. It feels as though the universe has split in half and I don’t know which half I’m in: The one where I died, or the one where I didn’t. Am I a ghost, wandering through a landscape to which I no longer belong? I am dead, perhaps, and just don’t realize it yet.

I may walk into a store a few minutes later and talk with someone, wondering all the time, “Does she hear me? Does she know I’m here? Or do I just imagine she is speaking to me?” Perhaps I arrive home and my sons come running out to greet me, and one of them throws his arms around me. Is it only wishful thinking that makes me feel his little arms around me? Perhaps he too is dreaming of me after my death, and that is what this is: His dream.

I am a ghost wandering through a landscape to which I no longer belong.

The sensation eventually passes, but I am lucky. For some people, the nightmare continues. A person suffering from Cotard Delusion believes himself to be dead, or to be missing some vital part of himself. He believes, perhaps, that he is rotting.

Science does not yet have an explanation for this rare and bizarre condition, though certainly there are theories.

In one theory, the condition is related to another disorder in which a person believes her loved ones have been replaced with impostors. This condition appears to be caused by a disconnect in the brain between the portion that recognizes patterns, and the portion that signals a sense of familiarity. By the same token, the theory goes, a person with Cotard Delusion perhaps recognizes patterns in the world, but the part of the brain that signals familiarity has turned itself off, leading to a sense of unreality. The patient then interprets the bizarre sensation as a symptom of being dead.

Cotard often co-presents with schizophrenia, which is characterized by a loss of mental filtering, and a lowering of boundaries between different types of input and mental processing. For instance, a schizophrenic may fail to distinguish between internal stimuli and external stimuli, and thus interpret a thought as though it were someone speaking to them: In other words, as if she were hearing voices.

For centuries it has been noted that schizophrenia frequently co-exists with creativity. This article in Psychology Today explores the connection, saying in short, that just as the schizotypal brain experiences the lowering of boundaries between one type of stimulus and another, so too the creative brain. When in a state of creative “flow,” an artist or writer or mathematician experiences new and exciting combinations of thought and stimulus as a result of this lowering of boundaries between different forms and types of thought. She may even hear voices or express the experience as a sense of some outside force acting upon her.

So the chief difference between schizophrenia and creativity, then, is the ability to slip in and out of the altered state of consciousness in which the boundaries are lowered–a state many creatives refer to as “flow.” Some creatives are able to do this more or less at will (though few claim to be able to slip into deep flow without considerable effort and/or luck). Others become alternately trapped in one state or another, which may perhaps explain the “agony and ecstasy” expressed by many artists as they fly from pleasurable, manic creativity into a depressing state of being “stuck.”

I think that I am among the lucky ones. Occasionally some deep insight–or one of my characters–grabs me by the gut and drags me to my chair and speaks through my fingers. I love these moments, and nearly always give in to them. But I can resist them if I must–if I am under deadline for some other project, for instance. And most of the time, I’m able to distinguish between what is outside myself and what is a product of my own internal state.

Other times, though, I’m not so sure. Sometimes I watch the sky for airplanes.

DakotaPlaneCrash-TailSection

 

At The Fulcrum

The room is dusty. In one corner is a sagging plant, leaning sideways. If a plant in my book looked like this, I would say it was depressed. Maybe it is.

There’s a dilapidated sofa against one wall, with cigarette burns in the fabric, and the smell of stale smoke wafting from its cushions. A couple of half-broken but still comfy chairs face it from two other walls, and in the middle there’s somebody’s discarded coffee table with an overflowing ashtray at one corner.

I love this room.

The window opens onto a rickety fire escape where I am currently sunning myself, waiting for something. I’m not sure what, but if I stay here long enough it will be something.

Is there some place in your life that you can’t ever fully escape, and maybe don’t want to? Some place you think of as a fulcrum? Maybe something crucial happened there: It’s where you were when your girlfriend agreed to marry you, or you learned someone precious to you had died. Maybe it’s where you met your best friend for coffee every day for thirty years. That’s what this place is to me, a fulcrum upon which balances my life: Before English Lounge and After English Lounge.

Through the open window, I hear Anna and Dr. Deal enter the room. I climb through the window and step past Anna to perch on the couch. Anna lounges across the coffee table, her hair pooling in dark puddles on the surface. She’s holding a giant furry acorn from the college’s storied oak tree. Dr. Deal has settled into one of the chairs, the orange one, smoking and pushing his lank black hair back with the palm of the hand holding the cigarette. They’re having an argument about whether the acorn is phallic or not. It most definitely is, though at this time in my life I have no idea that “phallic” is spelled with a ph and most definitely not connected to the root for “false.”

Remember, I’m at the fulcrum, and the balance has not yet tipped from Innocence to Experience.

Ms. Morton and Dr. Anderson join us. Ms. Morton sits next to me on the couch. They want to talk of cabbages and kings, and so we do. How many kings can you name? Do queens count? And what do you think of cabbages–good with corned beef, or better in soup? Dr. Courington enters, long-strided and tall, asks if I need anything before The Gargoyle editorial meeting.

Before English Lounge I was a social misfit, Heather-with-her-nose-in-a-book, Miss Pig Pen Christmas, slow as Christmas and dirty as a pig pen. Heather the new girl what-is-the-matter-with-her?

The English Lounge opened a new world for me, a world full of people who think like I do, who care about literature, who see the meaning under the surface of things, who couldn’t care less if your hair is brushed or your shoes match your purse. It taught me to look for the meaning behind the sadness of that plant, the lesson and the story it tells about the world, about the state of Things.

I had some of the best conversations of my life in that room. And some of the worst, like the one where I found out my laziness and lack of communication had cost someone else the chance at entering a coveted writing competition.

I laughed there, cried there, yelled and screamed there. I made out with my boyfriend. Had a fight with my mentor. One night I slept there.

I would wish such a room on everyone, at least once in their lives. Someplace where the only thing that matters is the quality of your thought, the viewpoints you bring, your willingness to engage. A place that challenges you and changes you.

I close my eyes and I can see that room, smell it, feel the sagging couch under my hips. I cry. Miss Morton (later Dr. Morton) is gone now, a victim of breast cancer. Dr. Deal (later Ken, to me) is inaccessible short of a many-hours-long drive into the backwaters of Alabama. I still see Drs. Anderson (Rick) and Courington (Chella) on Facebook now, along with many of the students who frequented the room with me, but I don’t think you can quite recapture something like that, not now that you’ve all passed fully into the realm of Experience.

I remember one time Dr. Deal told me that colleges don’t exist for the students, that even if the students stopped coming, the professors wouldn’t. They’d still come. I believe it.

huntingdon

Look to the right. On the side of the building, there, at the top–see the gable windows? You can’t tell, but one of them has a fire escape attached to it. That’s it.

What about you? Where is your fulcrum? Tell me about your English Lounge.

Why I Write Junk

I read my first Shakespeare play when I was eleven. My family took a day trip to Hay-On-Wye, the famous city made almost entirely of used bookstores, on the border between England and Wales. In a dusty old shop, I found an antique copy of All’s Well That Ends Well still with uncut pages. It had never even been read! On the long drive home, I hunched in the corner of my seat, tearing open each page as I got to it, devouring the story the way my dog devours his breakfast.

For years, I was in love with Bertram. This may explain a little something about that abusive boyfriend in college… but I digress..

As a teenager, I read War and Peace end to end, mostly for the bragging rights. Ultimately I was pretty ticked off that Natasha got such rough treatment.

In college, I read the predictable roster: Paradise Lost, Canterbury Tales, most of Shakespeare’s plays, all of Homer, and so on. For fun, I read To Kill a Mockingbird (several times), A Separate Peace, Kurt Vonnegut, and yes, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and the entire Dune series as well.

I went to graduate school and studied the Greek classics, in their original languages: Homer, Aeschylus, Xenophon, Thucidydes, Plato, Euripides, Sophocles, Sappho.

So forgive me if I’m a bit of a snob, but I don’t think my book quite measures up.

It’s a story about a bunch of kids, written for kids (with my kids specifically in mind), and worst of all, it’s in English. 20-21st century MODERN English.

As if that weren’t bad enough, I’ve been working pretty hard to make it actually marketable. A hack, I believe, is what we call it in the literary world: A person who writes for money and not just the art of it. That’s me.

And you know what? I’m okay with that.

I’m okay with library shelves filled with mostly “mediocre” work that doesn’t “measure up.” At least those authors are trying something, writing something, speaking their piece, telling their stories. Which is more than 99% of the people in the world who think they have a story to tell and might want to be writers–but never actually finish something. Maybe what’s stopping them is thinking they have to do something “great.” Well, if that’s you, don’t. Don’t let it stop you.

Sure, some of that “mediocre” work is going to be forgotten in a few years, a few decades, a couple centuries. Most of it, by then. That’s okay.

Here’s a picture for you. One kid. He’s about five feet tall and kind of scraggly. There are holes in his shoes. His mom doesn’t have a lot of money, but lucky for him there’s a library right down the street, and its shelves are packed full of books–worlds upon worlds of magic, and zombies, and kids with super powers. Most of those books are pretty mediocre, but he doesn’t know that yet. He just likes to read.

Belmont LibrarySo every week, he fills himself up on books and stories. By the time he hits junior high, he’s read plenty of junk and a few good classics too. He’s starting to develop taste. By the time he’s a senior in high school, he’s visited so many worlds he’s long ago lost count. It doesn’t even matter that his backpack’s been repaired three times and his shirt is some hideous orange thing Mom picked up at Goodwill. It doesn’t matter that nobody in his family has ever been to college. He knows what’s out there. And he knows he wants it.

Maybe someday that kid will walk into the library and check out my book. Maybe it will be only one of hundreds he reads that year. Maybe he won’t even remember it later. You know what? It doesn’t matter. Because for the length of the two hours or four or six that he is reading my book, he gets to live in my world, the world I created just for him. That’s an honor I’m willing to work for, even if it’s the only honor my books ever receive.

Nowhere But Boring

Fearless_FreddieSo, Day Six. This is going to suck hard. You’ve been warned. It’s now been very nearly 30 minutes and what I have right now is a massively screwed up mess. Hey, here’s a sample:

Stop trying to make it good. Let it suck. Let it suck hard.

Listen, I know it really matters to you. I know you want it to be good. You want it so hard it hurts. You want it so hard it’s not going to be good, because you’re trying too hard.

Just let it go. Let it go let it go let it go. What the heck ever, let it go.

I really can’t do this tonight. This sucks.

K, right? This is what writing is like sometimes. Sometimes it just sucks. Remember yesterday how I said that writing a book turned out not to be very much like I expected it to be? This is one of those things I didn’t know: That more than half the time I would sit down at the computer and think, “Wow, this sucks. I don’t even want to be here.”

And then I’m there anyway, and sometimes it turns out really well despite how much it sucked doing it, and sometimes it sucks really hard and I throw it all away later.

So here’s the thing, folks. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Nobody does really. Ever. Not this blog entry, not my book, not my business, not my kids, not my life. We’re all operating like blind people, peering into the darkness of the future looking for answers. And the future is kind of a jerk, you know, just keeps saying, no, sorry, you have to make all the important decisions blind. That’s kind of the rule. Sorry.

Some people do the logical thing and say, fine then, future. I just won’t play. And they sit in a corner watching television, watching sports, surfing youtube, making safe choices and numbing themselves with food and alcohol and television. Some people spend their entire lives thinking, “I could do that,” but they never do because first they have to make hard decisions without ever knowing the outcome, and that sucks.

A few people, though, a few people step into the darkness and say, “You know what, future? Screw you. I’m going to just do it. I’m coming in, I’m putting it all out there, I’m going to suck but I’m going to do it anyway.”

These people make mistakes. Lots of them. They get dirty, screw up, make messes. They’re weird and they’re out there and their moms deeply disapprove.

Here’s an interesting tidbit. Did you know that in the Bible, one sentence is repeated more often than any other? It’s two words: Fear not. Motocross, look out. God had dibs on it first. Expect a call from his attorney. Oh, wait. No attorneys in heaven.

Carry on, Motocross.

Point is, fear gets you nowhere but boring. If you want to do something, you’re going to have to be willing to screw up, because that’s a part of the package. The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone. We’re all groping in the dark trying to figure out what’s next.

And sometimes the best things happen when we stop trying so hard to be good, and just decide to be what we want, no matter how much we suck at it.

So, to wrap it all up because my time is about to wrap up. If there’s something you’ve been wanting to do–write, or draw, or run, or act, do it. Jump in there, all out. Go for it. No fear.

You’re almost certainly going to suck.

But the difference between you and the guy on the sideline watching life go by is that you are living. And if you keep getting up, keep living fearlessly, eventually you’re going to not suck anymore. No, that’s not right. You’re always going to suck sometimes. But those little flashes of brilliance that shine through every once in a while? Those are going to happen more often, last longer, have more impact the more you do it. And eventually the brilliance is going to outshine the suck.

Go.