The Day After

Resilience

Resilience

When I posted the Summer of Suck, I had no idea what was waiting for me around the corner. But guess what? Neither do you.

None of us do.

It turns out, what I thought was the most horrible summer of my life was about to get worse. The very next day, in fact.

On the day I wrote that post, I woke up thinking my life was one thing. Believing a story I’d been telling myself about my existence on this planet.

Twenty four hours later, and every day since, I’ve had to learn to navigate a new normal.

What actually happened doesn’t really matter. We’ve all faced similar shifts in reality.

If I had to guess, I’d say it was like learning you were adopted late in life, or finding out your parents are Russian spies rather than the travel agents you believed them to be (ok, I stole that from the best show on TV, The Americans).

THE AMERICANS -- Only You -- Episode 10 (Airs Wednesday, April 10, 10:00 pm e/p) -- Pictured: (L-R) Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings, Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings -- CR: Craig Blankenhorn/FX

Pictured: (L-R) Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings, Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings — CR: Craig Blankenhorn/FX

What matters is that I’m still here. What matters is that I woke up this morning and knew that though I have to continue moving forward, it was time to take a step back. To remember things that make me… me.

It has been 36 days. I survived the first 48 hours with the love and support of family and old friends. I survived the next week with Zzzquil and walks outside and professional assistance.

Here’s the funny thing.

The status quo on which I stood so firmly when summer began, now seems like a pale imitation of a life. Something I was settling for, something I counted on but no longer treasured.

Life presents endless learning opportunities for which we’re told to be grateful. I’m not there yet. I’m hurt, angry, suffering, raw, confused, and still disbelieving.

But I’m not just those things.

I’m also hopeful. I’m surviving. I’m taking care of myself physically (although I now bear a striking resemblance to Tommy Lee Jones – damn eye bags!). And I’m writing.

Sometimes it’s just morning pages. Sometimes a writing prompt. And though the actual course of events that disrupted my life will most likely remain private, I’m processing through writing.

When my personal hell descended I was physically unable to write for a time. But my misfortune has also brought me a gift.

In the wee hours of the morning, when I’ve woken up to kiss my husband goodbye before he leaves for his downtown commute, my hamster brain spins on its wheel.

And a buzz sizzles down the line to my fingers and the urge to type, to process my thoughts through the written word is reignited.

It’s confirmation. I’m a writer. So get your lazy ass out of bed and write.

Mission accomplished. Today. That’s all any of us have.

And I guess I am a teeny bit grateful. The grenade that exploded my universe sent shrapnel flying in many directions. But it also showed me what it means to truly value something.

It blasted through a grimy layer of dishonesty.

That’s what writers are supposed to do.

Would I have elected to go through this summer again in just this way to arrive at my new found insights? Absolutely not.

Newsflash: We don’t always get to choose what life throws at us.

I’m still on shaky ground but I think that’s the lesson. We’re all on shaky ground. Only most of us don’t know it.

Whatever story you’re telling yourself about your life, whatever you’re settling for, whatever you’re taking for granted, take a good hard honest look.

courage

Put forth the effort and risk failure. Risk rejection.

Apologize for an old mistake.

Ask for the promotion.

Throw the party even if no one comes.

Write the damn story.

Tell the truth.

And do it today.

 

 

 

 

6 Thoughts on “The Day After

  1. I’m with you not-yet-met-face-to-face friend. Hug from here to there.

  2. life does absolutely turn on a dime. it’s audacity? it doesnt send a memo beforehand.
    sending good wishes.

  3. I think this is one of my favorites from you – soul stirring, and oh so true……

  4. Thinking of you and glad you’re taking steps toward writing, even if they’re timid, uncertain, shaky steps. Wishing you a better autumn!

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34 Ways NOT to be an Asshole

Call your mother

Are you one of those people?

Have you found a way to function in society—to get most of what you need and some of what you want—without infringing on, or repelling others?

If so, congratulations. It’s comforting to meet you and to know that there are still people that don’t assault, deride, or otherwise demean fellow humans.

But some of you need help.

In case you were misunderstood as a child, in case you didn’t have good examples to follow, consider these tips for getting along with others.

These are all things most of us learned by the time we got out of high school. But not all of us.

And let’s face it, times have changed. We have more opportunities to be asshole-y then ever before. (This is odd because we probably physically interact less than ever.)

Read on and try one or two of them:

Call your mother

law_keven/Creative Commons

Call your mother. Minimum once a week. If only once a week, do it on a Sunday.If your mother kept you alive and didn’t torture you, she deserves not to be left all alone on a Sunday.

Eat dinner with your family (your family can be puppies, a roommate, a gay lover, whomever) occasionally. No phones allowed.

Grow something outdoors. On a balcony, in a public garden, in your backyard. (Legally)

Hiking boot plant pots

Photo: Andrew Bowden, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Watch your child’s sport event or musical performance, or any other activity. Watch them. Put your screen, newspaper, book away. They’re watching you and they see you NOT watching.

Quit multi-tasking. You suck at it. Unless you’re a parent making dinner and folding laundry—you, we salute.

Smile at people. Especially if you were just staring at them, visually assessing them and are caught. Do not just look away.

Learn how to merge. It’s a zipper people. First one car, then the next. Don’t be the second car trying to squeeze in.

https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/blog/23-posts-on-trade-show-etiquette/

https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/blog/23-posts-on-trade-show-etiquette/

Hold the door for people.

Say thank you to someone who held the door for you.

Send thank you notes. Actual real paper thank you notes with a stamp and everything.

Stop hitting “reply all” to your work emails. You don’t need to point the public finger when someone screws up, and no one wants to see the 37th email wishing someone “Happy Birthday.”

Read the entire post or article before commenting on it.

Don’t argue politics on social media.

Mind your own business about what other people wear, listen to, eat – unless they’re minor children under your direct supervision.

Introduce yourself to your neighbors.

Worry more about the environment and less about the number of syrup pumps in your latte.

Pay attention to your friends. If you’re lucky enough to see them in person, vow to keep your face out of a screen while you’re together.

Don’t shoot people.

Recognize that religion is private and personal.

Visit sick people in the hospital.

Dive in and help someone in crisis instead of telling them you’re there if they need you. Most people won’t ask for help.

Tip your server – even the incompetent ones.

Say please and thank you to those you love.

Encourage someone in your field. Look out for the new guy, mentor a youngster.

Celebrate your parents’ anniversaries.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes (not literally).

Thank a public servant.

Police Officers

Creative Commons / Tiptoety

Don’t have sex with people who don’t or can’t say yes.

Be on time.

Return calls/texts/emails or reduce your social circle.

Teach your kids not to be assholes.

Don’t let your dog (cat, iguana, etc.) behave like an asshole.

If you mess up on any of these, apologize and try again.

www.odditycentral.com

Call your mother. Seriously!

 

2 Thoughts on “34 Ways NOT to be an Asshole

  1. Good advice, Suzanne! I’d like to think most people mean well, but lately it seems more and more people are doing “asshole-y” things. Your tips ought to be taught in school!

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Has This Ever Happened to You?

Suzanne Brazil at Haven Retreat with Laura Munson
Suzanne Brazil at Haven Retreat with Laura Munson

Me at Laura Munson’s Haven Writing Retreat in Montana 2014

Has this ever happened to you?

Life got in the way the last 10 days or so, and my writing ground to a standstill.

No novel revisions, no new words on blank pages, just lots of ruminating in my head. E-readers have evolved but I don’t believe they’re telepathic—yet.

I spent the 10 days tending to family medical issues, financial issues, employment issues, everything except writing.

That happens sometimes. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Life Goes On.

The world isn’t waiting for my debut novel or another of my essays on motherhood, marriage, body image, etc.

But maybe one person out there is waiting for something I have to say or the way I have to say it. Maybe I have the words that help one writer, sitting in their living room, wondering if they should go for it.

So, it’s time to climb back on the horse. Back to work. I’m not going to waste precious time forming the perfect post. My blogging goal was every Monday and today is a victory because I showed up.

Here are a few previous posts that helped guide me back here today:

Avoiding the drift (keeping in touch with your project).

Thinking about writing (sometimes it does count).

Establishing a fall-back point (when life forces you to take a break).

If any of these links are useful to you, I’d love to hear from you.

In the electric words of the late genius, Prince: We’re gathered here today to get through this thing called Life. LET’S GO CRAZY!

Prince

Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons, Graffiti in Vitoria-Gasteiz (Spain), 2009, Zarateman

 

 

 

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Five Words That Will Change Your Writing Life

Aha moment Do the work

Hard hat

You have questions.

And the internet is a rabbit hole of answers.

When is the best time to write? How do you tackle revision? Should you write in the morning? Do you need a Mac or is Windows still ok? Word or Scrivener? Music or no music? What kind of music?

Suggestions are everywhere.

Truman Capote only wrote lying down. Philip Roth writes standing up. Writing in long hand boosts creativity. Your desk should face the window. Your desk should never face the window.

How do you know you’re doing it right?

On a snowy night in late March, I  sat with two other writers in an Irish pub discussing our works-in-progress (all first novels, two Women’s fiction, one hard Sci-Fi).

We all needed answers.

I had a new chapter to workshop. The Sci-Fi guy, a proud new dad and entrepreneurial mogul, was making progress but wanted to write more consistently. The other WF writer, an MBA and busy VP Marketing executive by day, had just finished her rough first draft and was “stymied” by revisions.

Creative Commons: www.skinnyartist.com

We tossed around suggestions over appetizers and a vodka tonic (don’t judge—the drive in from the suburbs was horrendous).

Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” method which I saw him describe in a TV interview, struck a chord with Sci-Fi guy. I’d brought along four books on revision to help MBA tackle her second draft. Sci-Fi guy produced a three-foot long stapled printout from Scrivener illustrating how he kept track of character arcs and timelines, because I’d lost count of the draft I was on.

This was good stuff. Stuff we could act on.

Aha moment Do the work

Creative Commons: blogs.worldbank.org

Still, we pondered. Were we doing it right? Maybe we should try that new book or class! Then Sci-Fi guy said something that we strained to hear over the music and revelry of the pub:

“Or, we could just do the f$#king work.”

My eyes locked on MBA’s, and together we turned to Sci-Fi guy, not sure we’d heard him correctly.

The look on his face was what I imagine Ben Franklin looked like when his uncredited minions helped him discover electricity. It was a literal “Aha” moment.

I resumed my book recommendations, pointing out a chapter MBA might like on setting. Sci-Fi guy grinned at us (I’d say maniacally but, you know, adverb) for a few seconds. Then he interrupted, louder this time:

“Or, we could just do the f$#king work.”

No problem hearing him this time.

MBA: “Wow, this meeting just took a turn.”

Jack Nicholson The Shining

We all laughed, until he said it again.

Sci-Fi guy: “I’m serious. We need to just do the f$#king work.”

Maybe a rowdy Irish pub wasn’t the best place for a critique group, now that we thought about it.

Fast forward two weeks to a snowy April night (that’s right, snow in April . . .my kind of town, Chicago is…), MBA and I sat in the same pub and shared an order of fries.  She provided specific, generous insight that helped me interpret feedback I’d received from a professional editor

Then MBA said she had a question for me.

MBA: “What notebooks do you use? Like, how many different ones and how do you organize them?”

I laughed out loud, repeated Sci-Fi guy’s memorable suggestion and then said, “No, seriously. I have like one for the novel, and another for interviews. . .”

So what’s the point? The point is you have questions. You need advice. You need to learn craft. And you will find endless answers. That’s what fantastic blogs like Writers Helping Writers and Womens Fiction Writers and Bang2Write and are for.

The point is no matter how far you are into your essay, or memoir, or novel, you may always feel you’re doing it wrong.

The point is no matter how many books you read, or how many lists you study, or how many podcasts you listen to, no one way works for every writer.

In an interview on Writers on Writing, Author Sari Wilson put it this way:

“The process has its own intelligence. Committing to the process through all the different obstacles that are presented has its own logic and its own power, and it will take you through the process. There will be an end.”

In other words, the doing of “it,” whatever “it” is, teaches you how to do “it.” You have to DO. You have to mess up.

All the “Habits of Great Writers” lists and viral posts in the world can’t change that.

Sometimes you’re just scared and stalling. How can you tell the difference? How do you get from stalling to writing?

Just Do The F$#king Work

Here’s the best of what’s worked for me:

Set a goal. Any goal.

What should yours be? Who cares? Time spent, words added up. It doesn’t matter. My first one was 500 words a day/5 days a week (flexibility was key).

Refer to a few trusted guides (don’t overload).

Go for tried and true, review recommendations. In the end, the voice that speaks to you matters. I like Wired for Story, Immediate Fiction, and Stein on Writing.

Stay in touch with your project as often as possible.

Don’t fall prey to the drift. I like Seinfeld’s approach. When I had the flu, it all went to pot. Touching it every day makes it easier to get back in. Staying in touch can mean reading a paragraph, or rewriting a whole chapter. You decide.

Practice. Reading about how others do it isn’t enough.

Find a suggestion that resonates? Put down the damn book and go try it. Then and there. Share what worked and what didn’t with your peers.

If you believe you don’t have time to write, keep a time/activity log.

I claimed to want a writing life as I munched on popcorn watching The Voice for the third time in a week. That’s not writing, that’s lying. Make your intentions match your actions.

Make contacts with writers you admire who will call you on your BS.

Go out on a limb. Take a class. Go to a conference. Be brave. Be bold. Have business cards or a pen and notepaper (you’re a writer, after all). Get contact information. Email people. Invite them for coffee. Bam!

Eventually, as Sci-Fi guy knew, we all just have to do the f$#king work. And that’s the only answer you need.

Are you ever guilty of avoiding the work? How do you get back to it? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.

 

 

 

4 Thoughts on “Five Words That Will Change Your Writing Life

  1. How do I follow you on Word Press?

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Crying in Restaurants

Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil
Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil

Flickr: loungerie / Via Creative Commons

This is going to be my thing: sharing work that’s been previously rejected.

The following is a true story. The idea for the piece came from a writing exercise while on a writing retreat at Ragdale, an artist community on Chicago’s North Shore. Oh, and the title is courtesy of Dani Shapiro.

I submitted it twice and received two rejections: one with a personal note that they’d just published something similar; one with some suggestions for changes.

Writing is revision, and I’m arm-pit deep in revising my novel. So I’m not suggesting that we all run out and post our crappy stuff that couldn’t hack it elsewhere.

But I loved this piece. I loved that it happened. I loved writing it. I cried writing it. I’m glad it’s out of me, and I don’t want to work on it any more. I want to share it for whatever it’s worth.

The writing of it was the point. Not the publishing of it. Sometimes that’s enough.

 

Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil

My newly formed writing practice is fueled by a medium iced tea and a shortbread cookie at the local Panera coffee shop. In these two hours carved out of a busy weekend, I aim to add 500 words to the first draft of my novel, and I vow to stay off the Internet. But first, I reinforce my commitment with writing tips and encouragement from my favorite authors.

still writing

I begin with a chapter from Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro. In its pages, I see shades of myself in a description of her mother, a frustrated, middle-aged woman, clickety clacking away furiously on a typewriter.

My eyes fill with tears and my stuffy nose blocks the yeasty aroma of the café’s freshly baked bread. These hours with my laptop in the corner booth are my attempt to finally pursue a passion long denied. I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer.

I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer

Maybe the catalyst was an emptying nest, age spots on my hands, or preparing to celebrate my own mother’s 70th birthday. Whatever the cause, a few months ago, I realized I had to give writing everything I had, or regret it for the rest of my life.

Still Writing was a reward for meeting my word count goals. It joins Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and other sources of inspiration on my shelves.

For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers; living vicariously through Natalie Goldberg, Brenda Ueland, William Zinsser and many others.

For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers

Long ago, after reading Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write, I filled countless yellow pads with morning pages. There were flashes of stories in those pages I didn’t yet have the skill or courage to tell.

Back then, I marveled at King’s brazen recounting of his rejection slip collection. What nerve to believe he had something to say, and how fortunate for his “dear readers” that he never gave up.

I’m part of the tribe because I write

In a later chapter of Still Writing, Shapiro recalls sending an early manuscript to author Tim O’Brien, one of her literary heroes. His unexpected and encouraging endorsement symbolically welcomed her into the tribe of writers.

A chill passes over me. Maybe it’s the air conditioning on this hot summer afternoon, or maybe it’s that this morning my son handed me a copy of his favorite reading assignment for the semester: O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

I close Dani Shapiro’s book and open my slim silver computer, prepared to add pages to my rough draft knowing I’m part of the tribe because I write. I allow myself one foray into social media to message the author who inspired my writing session today.

I click on Shapiro’s Facebook page not knowing who manages her account or if she’ll see it. I thank her for Still Writing and confess that reading her words and pursuing my passion has unleashed a flash flood of tears in this very public place.

Hours later, my laptop timer and the condensation on my watery iced tea signal it’s time to head home and make dinner. I’m satisfied with 873 words added to my manuscript. Before packing up, I check Facebook and see the message waiting icon. It’s from Dani Shapiro.

I wipe away new tears and take a screen shot of her generous, encouraging comments. As to my crying in the coffee shop, she empathizes and says she once thought of writing a book based on similar experiences. She’d call it Crying in Restaurants.

Dani Shapiro Facebook Message

 

 

 

6 Thoughts on “Crying in Restaurants

  1. Barbara Armstrong on April 5, 2016 at 7:51 am said:

    This will be copied and added to my files from my WRITER daughter and when she has her novel published, I will show it to her and we will probably be in a restaurant and we will both be crying!!!!!

  2. This is a great piece, Suzanne! I love those seemingly random synchronicities that give you chills. They’re kind of like trail markers, letting you know you’re on the right path. …I’d say you’re not only part of the writing tribe, you’re part of that tribe of encouraging and inspiring writers who welcome others into the fold. Thank you for sharing your journey!

  3. Daisy Wawrzonek on April 6, 2016 at 12:06 pm said:

    What a wonderful story!! Thank you for sharing.

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