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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Your Life in Words – A Guest Post

creativity man dancing

Welcome back! I’m celebrating my return to the blog with my first guest post from a writing colleague and friend I met over a year ago at a writing retreat. Jaime is working on her first novel, and I’ve had the pleasure of reading a portion of it. 

After a tortuous summer—during which I found writing difficult at best—it seems fitting to look at this often dark side of the creative arts. 

Mental illness

Staring at a blank piece of paper or the insistent blinking of a cursor on the computer screen is a tortuous business. We’re supposed to be writers, or aspiring writers, at least. That means we must actually write something, anything, to fill the page, meet the word count, beat the deadline.

But as all readers of writing blogs know, writing is hard. Taking the same 26-letter alphabet that’s available to everyone and creating something new, different, moving, evocative – not so easy.

Sometimes I wonder if the “torture” we put ourselves through is self-inflicted to draw out our angst and emotion. (*Please note: I understand that true mental illness is not self-inflicted.)

Think about it: many of history’s greatest artists across all genres have been truly tortured ones: Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace. And that’s just the writers.

The worlds of dance, music and painting can claim their fair share of men and women burning from the inside out to communicate and, possibly, rid themselves of their demons through various forms of visual, musical or physical expression.

creativity man dancing

Creative Commons: https://vimeo.com/groups/weekendchallenge/videos/135494749

I’ve been a journalistic writer most of my life; fiction is new to me and I’m not very good at it. So to better understand and learn the craft, I follow a few blogs, read or listen to the occasional tutorial, and twice have attended weekend writing retreats (where I met this blog’s host).

Without a doubt, the two most innovative, wrenching and electric pieces I heard during those getaways where written by people who’d endured life-altering loss, neglect or disappointment.

These writers utilized their damaged psyches to thread words in combinations that, like a poke in the eye, force you to see the possibilities you’ve missed but they found. Their pain is a tool they wield to create.

Which makes me wonder: do we have to be damaged to produce great work?

A quick google search of “writers mental health” generates 12.6 million results in less than one second, with a Wikipedia article on “Creativity and Mental Illness” leading the pack. One Indian study from 2007 intimated that writers are more in touch with their feelings than “noncreative” types; perhaps those of us who sit before a keyboard are more sensitive and empathetic than our left-brain peers.

A 2003 article from the American Psychiatric Association goes so far as to investigate the “Sylvia Plath Effect,” essentially saying that yes, there’s a link between mental health and creativity. One blog noted that writers “were found to be 121% more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder than the general population.”

Eek! Which comes first, artistic virtuosity or intellectual/emotional instability? Does that mean that a well-adjusted, reasonably happy person should lose hope? If your life isn’t ping-ponging from one crisis or drama to the next, should you shelve your dreams, unplug your computer or toss your journals?

No way.

Because in my decades on this fine planet, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that life has a way of evening-up the score, no one gets away unsinged. I doubt that the intensity of injury or history of hurt matters. Whether it was being ostracized at the high school lunch table, weathering a bitter divorce or caring for someone you love who’s in pain, everyone gets burned.

Let’s be honest, pursuit of this craft is itself some kind of crazy – we write for months, edit, revise and re-write with the understanding that rejection is far more likely than acceptance. We’re all a bit nutty.

Our minds are fertile ground. Chances are you don’t have to dig too deep to come across an emotional scar or unresolved personal trauma.

And while it’s doubtful that I’ll ever achieve the agility of language that seems to flow from my favored authors Amy Tan or Ann Patchett, I can still mine the joys and sorrows of my life experience to put words on paper.

I am a writer, beckoned by the blank page and demanding cursor, not tortured by them.

Jaime guest blog

 

Jaime Baum is an aspiring fiction writer and recovering journalist. Currently a media relations consultant for a national PR firm, in the past she’s written for Make It Better magazine and the Sun-Times News Group as a features and business writer.

2 Thoughts on “Your Life in Words – A Guest Post

  1. Great post, Jaime & Suzanne! I’ve also wondered about this connection between personal trauma and creativity. Do you have to have suffered in order to have something to say? Can you still write an interesting personal essay, memoir, or even fiction, without having a defining tragedy in your past? I love your conclusion: as humans, we all experience pain at one time or another. The relative intensity doesn’t really matter. It’s more about how you draw on it and express it. (Of course, I can also relate to the nuttiness of simply being a writer!)

    Good luck with your writing projects!

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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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Not Sorry About Mother’s Day

The Mother Shot

The Mother Shot

How was your Mother’s Day?

Mine was sunny and warm. Freshly picked lilacs filled the kitchen with my favorite smell. I received funny and heart-felt cards from both kids and Tim, my husband.

The family had asked what I wanted several times leading up to the big day. I hemmed and hawed.

Several pieces on the internet referenced women really just wanting to be left to use the bathroom alone.

A piece in Salon heralded non-mothers and chastised any who claimed it as a virtue, calling it the “cult of motherhood.”

Motherhood to me is both a crushing burden and a weightless joy. I’m not unaware that many choose not to experience it for themselves and that many want it desperately and are denied.

It’s been said that having a child is to feel your heart walking around outside your body, but that doesn’t quite capture it for me.

It’s more like having your heart stomped on, thrown down the stairs, and then when you least expect it, dipped in chocolate and rolled in fairy dust.

Motherhood is an awful paradox. We see toddler cheeks in the faces of our adult kids, yet are denied the full memory of their physical weight in our arms.

We want desperately to be left alone for one minute—I used to say I was going grocery shopping, then I’d park under a tree with a magazine and an iced tea—then we cry the first time one of them doesn’t return home for a holiday.

And it’s never really over.

Not all mothers feel this way, and not all moms are saints. I’m certainly not.

I’m lucky to still have my mom who made me believe I was smart and beautiful. She taught me to never give up and made me feel someone was always in my corner. She still does.

I had a lot to be thankful for yesterday, as far as moms go. I’m friends with some terrific moms, and both of my sisters are great at the job.

I have my big sister, whose gorgeous, loving, hardworking kids first gave me the awesome job of “Aunt.” She taught me how to get my firstborn to sleep and taught me to trust that no one knows my kids as well as I do.

I have a younger sister with a creative, funny brood of three, who makes me believe my parenting experience is worth sharing.

Most importantly, I have my husband and two healthy, witty, loving, hilarious, and challenging children who support me, my writing, and try not to complain too much about my singing.

They are good. They are generous. They make me proud. They make me fear that the world isn’t good enough for them. I always knew I’d be a mother. I just didn’t know we’d all be such a good fit—most of the time.

lilacs

Shortly before the big day, I decided to tell them exactly what I wanted. I wanted two donuts—one glazed, one chocolate—and a strawberry milk for breakfast.

Then, I wanted to go on a hike in the forest preserve with my husband. Next, I wanted two or three hours alone to write.

All of that happened in exactly that order. Amazing!

Later, all four of us plus my new son-in-law went to see Captain America: Civil War in the big reclining seats at the mall. Every year, the latest superhero movie is released suspiciously close to Mother’s Day.

I like these movies but in the past they weren’t my first choice. There was a twinge of resentment that it was my special day, and I was sharing it with The Hulk or Batman.

But in the strange way of traditions, it’s become something I look forward to. It was a given that we’d make it our family movie this weekend.

By nightfall, we were well-fed and relaxed. I opened gifts (liquor and bubble bath . . . awesome together or separately), and we shared texts and phone calls with those far away.

My mom did not have a great mother, but she became one. I had a great mom, and I worked very hard and consciously to follow most of her examples.

Not every woman wants to be a mother. Not every woman gets to be a mother.

I certainly don’t feel like I joined a cult, even if I didn’t think of becoming a mother as a deliberate choice. My path seemed clear. I would raise a family. Biology cooperated.

Yesterday was a great day . . . the weightless joy kind of day and I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Thoughts on “Not Sorry About Mother’s Day

  1. This is so lovely Suzanne. So nice to read a positive post for a change. Will share on #wwwblogs tomorrow.

    Hedgey xxx

  2. j baum on May 10, 2016 at 12:38 pm said:

    Great post. Beautiful writing.

  3. Sounds like a lovely day and well-deserved day. 🙂

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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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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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REJECTED: Too Tired to Inspire

Tired kid
Tired kid

Creative Commons Image – Click on photo for source

For about a week, I’ve been contemplating an inspiring post about things that amaze me. But here’s the thing, I have a full time day job, and I’m committed to finishing this latest draft of my novel sooner rather than later. I’M TIRED PEOPLE.

Especially today. My husband and I dogsat last night for my daughter’s two dogs. We love these rent-a-pet opportunities. Throw a stick, scratch a belly, and then wave goodbye.

Thor and Ruger

Last night, her slightly neurotic boxer and fluffy mixed-breed slept over. Thor, the boxer, decided that 2:30 a.m. was a good time to slink over to my side of the bed and lick my hand. I was up Netflix-ing for the next four hours.

But writing this book is something I want to do, so instead of catching up on sleep, I brainstormed the rest of my outline.

All of this whining brings me to the topic of my post today. Sometimes writing things and flinging them out to the universe isn’t always gratifying. Sometimes we’re rejected by the very people who once accepted us and validated our writerly existence.

But I’m trusting all the legends out there,  all the novelists who tell us persistence is the key. So I’m persisting. And yawning. Which is why today, you’re getting a previously unpublished essay instead of my amazingly useful post on wonderous things that amaze me.

This essay was my second submission to Chicken Soup for the Soul. It was rejected. The essay made my sisters cry which is one of my litmus tests. It did not make me cry. Maybe it will make you cry. Maybe not.

Maybe you’ll instantly know why my first submission to the Soup people was accepted and why this one was rejected. Maybe not. Probably not.

I don’t have the energy or desire to resubmit or rewrite this particular piece. I got it out of me and—to paraphrase a lovely novelist I interviewed this week—made it an artifact. This time that was enough.

It’s a true story. Names changed, etc.. I hope it speaks to you.

Remember to just keep “making stuff.” (Yes, that’s from Big Magic by our friend Liz, and yes, I resisted reading it because everyone’s reading it, and yes, now I have bent over every other page because it speaks to me…damn you, Liz!)

Here’s my rejected piece:

Lessons Learned

Had I known that sunny September day would set a course for the next 17 years of my life, I might have thought twice about attending the Parent Volunteer meeting. My brown-eyed girl was starting Kindergarten and I was determined to get involved. I left her two-year-old brother with a neighbor and dressed in my best mom uniform, khaki capris and sandals.

The gymnasium was set with folding chairs and long tables littered with sign-up sheets. There were paper cups filled with lemonade and rows of sparkly sugar cookies and grownups having conversations! I’d escaped the confines of stay-at-home-mom, venturing into the land of Moms Who Help. It was a vast land with its own politics and customs. Our comfortable community in a desirable school district had the unusual problem of fielding too many volunteers. Assignments filled quickly.

Our leader for the afternoon ended her welcome speech by reminding us that there were always areas in need of more help such as the Read-A-Book program. We had a diverse student body many of whose parents did not speak English in the home and did not have access to reading materials. Those volunteers selected would choose books and read aloud weekly to children in need of special attention.

It seemed like the perfect fit. We’d read to our kids from an early age and my daughter would see me helping her classmates. I put my name at the top of the list and selected a few other events as well. I would help stock the Book Fair and come in once a month for Art Parent, whatever that was. I also filled out a lottery form for Room Parent, the most competitive category. Those lucky folks that planned all the classroom parties were chosen in an annual drawing clouded with rumors of fixed entries and other shenanigans.

Throughout the next 17 years, I read to many of my children’s classmates and served as room parent more often than not. I chaperoned field trips to museums and zoos, spotted climbers on the knotted rope in P.E. classes, filled water balloons for orchestra camps, fed referees at wrestling tournaments, grilled bratwurst at football games and demonstrated sculpture to third graders using Hershey Kisses and toothpicks.

The assignment that resonated the most was the reading. It seemed such a simple thing. Each reading day, I’d choose a book from a cabinet in the volunteer room. I’d pull the pocket folder belonging to my student and record the book title. After reading, I returned the folder noting any comments the child made about the book or any requests they had for the following week.

We sat wherever we could find a spot. We’d plop down on big bean bag pillows in a carpeted hallway, a corner of the library, or a special sunny nook with no lockers off the office corridor. Most of the children spoke English but didn’t read much at home either because their parents didn’t have the time or didn’t speak English.

Each year, every session started out tentatively as I got to know my students. They’d ask whose mom I was and slowly, over weeks, they’d relax, revealing their personalities. Some demanded the same book each week. Some wanted me to scour the library to find a special title. Then there was Jake.

Jake was in my daughter’s fourth grade glass and according to other classroom parents, was likely to end up in juvenile detention before making it to high school. He was always in trouble. He swore. He was high energy. He received poor grades. He was troubled by most every definition and was assigned to read with me as his parents didn’t speak English at home.

The first day I called his name, he slapped a book off a classmate’s desk on his way out to join me in the hallway.

“Hi Jake,” I said.

“I hate reading.” He said.

“Good, you don’t have to read. You can just listen if you want.” I slid down the wall to the carpet wondering how I got so lucky to have him on my list.

“Maybe.” But he also sat down, three feet away from me as if he might bolt at any minute.

“I heard you like Goosebumps?”

“Whatever.” But he wasn’t punching anyone or trying to run away.

I opened the book and began to read. Occasionally, I’d sneak a peek at him. He had the spiky bangs in fashion with a lot of the boys. He had giant brown eyes and an 18-inch tail of hair down the middle of his back, the rest of his hair cut short to match his spiky bangs. The tail definitely stood out and I learned other students often teased him about it. The radical hairstyle contributed to his aura as the bad boy of the grade school set.

Our first meeting was deemed a success by his teacher. I could see a change as I called him each following week. He no longer acted out on his way to greet me. Instead, he practically ran and sat so close I could feel his warm skin and smell the baby shampoo his mom used on her special boy. He was always cheerful and seemed well-cared for. I didn’t understand the source of his behavior problems. I was just there to read.

One late spring day, we were finishing our last book of the year. I’d bought each of my students a book as a parting gift and I handed him a new Goosebumps paperback. He didn’t say much just twirled the long tail of hair. I took a risk and asked him about it.

“That must have taken a long time to grow, huh?”

“Yeah, my mom won’t let me cut it.” He didn’t let go of it and rubbed his other hand over the book cover.

“Really? How come?” I didn’t want to be nosey but I was intrigued.

“I was really sick as a baby and my mom told God if he let me live, she’d never cut my hair.”

I swallowed past the lump in my throat and finished reading. When I got to “The End” I closed the book and listened as the muffled sounds of a busy science lesson drifted through the closed classroom door. Other than that, our little alcove in the hallway was silent.

Then I heard Jake clear his throat, “Thanks for reading to me. Maybe I’ll get you next year.”

As my tears threatened to overflow, I risked possible rejection and hugged him. He hugged me right back.

My volunteer efforts on behalf of my two children and several school buildings have had splashier successes. In truth, I’m not even sure that my reading with Jake made any impact on his life other than those few hours we spent together in quiet enjoyment of a good book. What I am sure of is the valuable lessons Jake taught me.

Everyone you meet has a story and usually, you’ll never know what that story is. Secondly, any effort expended on behalf of another human being has the capacity to improve a life. In this case, that life was mine.

11 Thoughts on “REJECTED: Too Tired to Inspire

  1. Well, I liked it Suzanne! A valuable lesson to be reminded of. Who knows what the peeps at Chicken Soup were looking for, anyway? Doesn’t mean they didn’t like it, just that they liked something else better!

    A lovely story, though. <3 🙂 <3

  2. ksamudio on February 29, 2016 at 4:01 pm said:

    Yes, I love it; yes, I did get teary (even before the vow his Mom made to God – it hit me when he sat so close you could feel his warm skin/baby shampoo/Mom’s special boy); yes, I feel confident that you did have an impact on Jake – I’m betting he has never forgotten you, Suzanne the kind reading Mom!

  3. As we ride the life river we pass over stones we may never see again, unaware that our motion has changed their position forever.

  4. That’s a sweet story, Suzanne. I was still thinking about it the next day and the day after that. I think that’s the mark of a good story–one that stays with you! I bet you could find another outlet for it.

    I can also relate to your tiredness and your faith in the power of persistence… in spite of the tiredness and occasional disappointments. It’s all part of the process.

    P.S. I look forward to reading about things that amaze you some other time. 🙂

    • Thank you, Jennifer! I know we all have this limited time and energy quotient to spend on our activities, thoughts, pursuits. How we allocate it can affect what we finish, submit, etc. Pondering the “amazement” thoughts some more. Many thanks for chiming in, especially on the persistence and the process!

  5. Hi Suzanne! I’ve been getting many rejections lately as well! I have to remind myself how many times I have been lucky to get acceptances, which means someone else got the rejections! So I rejoice for those who are getting the “yes” this time around!

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9 Ways to Waltz Write in to a Better 2016

The King and I

The King and I

When I was 13, my mom took me to see Yul Brynner in The King and I at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago. She’d been flinging us around the kitchen, belting “Shall We Dance, da da DAH,” for as long as I could remember. Seeing him twirl his co-star around the stage, along with every ballroom scene from every Disney Movie ever made, ignited a lifelong dream of mine to ballroom dance.

So what does this have to do with writing? Turns out, just about everything.

Most creative pursuits happen in the face of fear; all are driven by action. Whether you want to dance, play an instrument, learn to draw, or write, here are a few things you can try to jump start your 2016:

Action 1: Identify Resistance and welcome it as a guide. According to Stephen Pressfield in The War of Art:

The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

Resistance manifests as procrastination, doubt, and sometimes physical anxiety. Treat yourself to Pressfield’s book and learn to recognize resistance as a sign you’re on the right track.

Action 2: Make a Vision Board. Sure, might be corny, but research proves we’re more likely to achieve things we’ve envisioned and documented.

Neurons in our brains, those electrically excitable cells that transmit information, interpret imagery as equivalent to a real-life action.

There are many ways to practice visualization. Doing something concrete matters. Here’s a picture of my vision board for 2016. For some other great visualization techniques, check out this article in Real Simple Magazine.

Vision Board

Three days after making my board, I received an email announcing a humor essay contest. If you zoom in, you’ll see the following on my board: laugh, contest, we have a winner!

Action 3: Choose a word of the year. I first saw this on Author Jennifer Davis Hesse’s blog and I thought it was genius. She cites Christine Kane as the inspiration behind this movement. Did you know that by January 17, most of us have abandoned any resolutions we’ve made?

Go with Kane’s plan and pick a word or theme instead. Easier to remember. My word for 2016 is “Do.” It appears prominently on my vision board.

Action 4: Leap. In Tara Mohr’s Playing Big, she encourages readers to take an action for which they believe they’re not quite ready. Hang gliding might not be the best example of this.

Instead, send a story to that lit mag you’re not quite ready for, make one call to volunteer to teach a class, or sign up to read a poem in public. My January leap was to lead at least one friend in a visioning exercise. It was a blast!

File Folders

Action 5: Take up space. Claim a spot for your writing. Stock it with colorful files, inspiring quotes, and your favorite books. I love TJ Maxx for great deals on journals, note cards, and unusual office supplies.

Action 6: Schedule Your Year. Hang a calendar and load it with writing events. Block out time for morning pages or your work in progress. Schedule at least one weekly writing-related activity such as a class, a live reading, a retreat, or if you’re on a budget, a podcast or video lesson. Again, better to have too many things to choose from than too few.

Action 7: Develop a Growth Mindset. Read Mindset by Carol Dweck. Seriously, or get the Audio CD. We all have the ability to substantially improve in any area, provided we foster a growth mindset.

Change your mindset, change your life. It helped me to earn my degree, complete my first 5k, and get off the junk food. Writing my first novel was just a bonus. It’s not magic, it’s hard work. But it’s possible.

Action 8: Pick a number, write it down. Send in that many submissions this year. Better to shoot high and fall short than to aim too low. Shoot for the moon and all that but really think about it. If you write down 10, and you do 9, not bad, right? But what if you write down 25, and send in 11? That’s more than 9. See, I’m good at math!

Action 9: Find Your People. Contact one new acquaintance each week this month who shares your passion. Call them, email, or connect via social media. Invite someone for coffee. Exchange links to helpful articles. This is a trial and error undertaking but we all have to start somewhere.

Boldness required. Don’t worry about how others respond. Just do the action. Check libraries, the local paper, bookstores, online groups, or form your own on Meetup.com

Broadcast your desire for a network and you’ll manifest one. Tinker, revise, and keep building. Groups have a shelf-life. There’s one out there for you.

Dream, but don’t stop there.

You don’t have to try all 9 actions. Even doing one or two will propel you into motion. Don’t forget to celebrate each attempt.

Sleeping Beauty

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/292030357059749178/

If you look off to the right on my vision board, you’ll see a picture of dance shoes. Last Friday, I waltzed. Sure, I was wearing jeans instead of 500 yards of satin, but I waltzed.

My husband and I never got around to ballroom dancing lessons before our daughter’s wedding last June. A few months ago, I asked him if he’d be interested in going. He was less than enthusiastic, and it was my dream not his, so I went without him.

Voila, within 40 minutes, a charming instructor named Zach had me twirling around the dance floor, making another of my visions a reality.

I perspired a little, I cried a little (happy, joyful tears). I think I made him nervous, but he hid it well. My audition for Dancing with the Stars is a long way off, but I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. (Turns out, I’m “advanced.”)

imperfect-action-better-perfect-inaction-motivational-daily-quotes-sayings-pictures

We’re all energy in the universe, and I believe that Law of Attraction stuff is for real. DO ONE SMALL THING.

And don’t forget to pass it on. Encouraging others and celebrating their successes will bring you closer to your own dreams. You never know who you’ll inspire. Someone is looking up to you.

What will you start today?

7 Thoughts on “9 Ways to Waltz Write in to a Better 2016

  1. Uplifting and thought-provoking as always, dear Suzanne! Or should I call you ‘Twinkle-toes?’ 😉 xx

  2. YES! This all rings true. There’s a lot here to consider and delve into. I need to claim and pretty up my writing space, schedule my year, and network more…among other things.

    Good luck with the humor essay contest (I see you have comedy on your vision board too!), and congrats on following your dream to dance! That’s awesome.

    Thanks for the shout-out too. 🙂

  3. Thanks for remembering, its one of my very favorite memories!!!! Love you….Mom

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Why It’s Always This One Thing, And It Sucks

fear

fear

I was sitting in my car on my lunch hour last Wednesday and I couldn’t figure it out. Not only did I not think I could figure it out, I was convinced I would NEVER figure it out.

No, I wasn’t searching for a cure for cancer or even wondering where my next mortgage payment was coming from. My crisis was trying to put my main character’s want into a single sentence. That’s it. Earth shattering, right?

My eyes watered, I started breathing heavy, and finally climbed out of my car to walk it off. This writing thing was supposed to be fun. I’d been devoting hours and hours to it because I was finally admitting to myself it’s what I felt called to do.

And here I was, not working on the third in a series, not posting my NaNoWriMo word accumulation, not shouting on Facebook about my two book deal with Random House (no, Mom, there’s no deal . . . yet). I was struggling to come up with ONE . . . FREAKING . . . SENTENCE.

Here’s what I learned about the novel writing process last week:

  • The middle is hard.
  • Quitting is not an option.
  • You have to welcome ALL feedback and get tougher.

I found some inspiration in Heather Seller’s Chapter After Chapter:

What is really happening is a giant fear attack. you wish you were done—that it was good just like it is. You are scared to look at it again deeply, because you are afraid you’ll find hideous flaws . . . You are afraid you won’t know how to fix these things.

Some people call it writers block. Sometimes we think its our inner critic. Self-doubt. There’s only one thing wrong with any of us and there’s only one antidote.

Fear is the root of all the world’s problems and action is the only cure.

Maybe you’re 3 drafts in (or 4, like me) but have you really torn it apart? Or, are you just smoothing the edges? You just want to be done. But you’re not. You need more versions. It’s what writers do.

Suck it up, buttercup. (That’s me talking to myself . . . and you . . . if you needed that.)

 

 

 

2 Thoughts on “Why It’s Always This One Thing, And It Sucks

  1. I’ve had a short picked up by elephant journal that is about The End Result. Controlling it, wanting to control it and needing it to look like the picture in our heads. I’m on the 6th or 8th rendition (depending on who’s counting), of a memoir. I feel your pain/aggravation/desire, This thing we intend “I am a published author, my words are heard!”, is a fey witch who gathers us in with a sweet smile and then reveals the rocky road we must walk barefoot.

    • That’s exciting news, Deb! Congrats!! I received an acceptance last week on a piece I submitted in May. Then my fear was having it out in the public and it being judged. Even when we think we’ve captured the fey witch (love that by the way), she jabs us with her pointy wand. Onward. Onward. Nothing to do but go onward.

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If You’re Doing This, Knock it Off!

Strong Women

Strong Women

Update: Author Kristen Lamb wrote a kick-ass blog post about this very topic. Need a nudge to take more risks and go for the big thing you really want? If so, check it out here.

Hard to believe women are still doing this, but we are and it’s affecting our success.

In one day, in a private Facebook group with many successful, published authors, I saw the following posts:

“I know it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to what you’ve all done, but I just got my first review and I’m so excited!”

 “Granted, the category is really narrow, but I just reached #1 on such-and-such list!”

“This is just a short story, an easy read.”

These achievements are impressive and should stand on their own. No misplaced modesty or qualifiers of any kind!

Each of these statements appeared in a group for women only. You don’t see a lot of this from men.

Study after study shows that men project more confidence, whether or not they have the stuff to back it up. Strangely enough, when you project confidence, success often follows.

In fact, according to this article in The Atlantic, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Even when their performances do not differ in quality.

“Study after study confirms that it is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer, we don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam, and we don’t sign up for that triathlon unless we know we are faster and fitter than is required.”

The article goes on to indicate that regardless of ability, confidence breeds success.

In Submit Like a Man: How Women Writer’s Can be More Successful,  a former literary magazine editor, female, confirms that women publish less in literary journals, largely because of how they do or don’t react to editor feedback.

Yes, the title may rankle, and not all women still have this issue. But in one day, in a supportive, safe, professional group; the apologizing and qualifying were commonplace.

Let’s try something like this instead: “I wrote this. I’m proud of it. Let me know what you think.”

Slip a rubber band on your wrist and if you feel yourself downplaying an accomplishment or apologizing for having an opinion, SNAP! Resist the urge.

If you know you have a problem with confidence, check out Confidence Breeds Success– And it Can Be Taught from Forbes for a start. You might like this post on self-doubt.

Maybe raising awareness will help us all to project more confidence, and in turn increase our own chances for success.

 

 

2 Thoughts on “If You’re Doing This, Knock it Off!

  1. Awesome Suzanne. I’ve been passing around a Ted Talks video on body language with similar findings https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc . Thank you for this post, it’ll be there like the rubber band to remind me of the importance of owning my value.

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