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.

When Bad is Good: A New View on Your Inner Critic

Choose Your Thoughts

Several years ago, I won a free consultation from a professional home organizer. Embarrassed but desperate, I revealed the clutter in my disorganized kitchen wondering what, if anything, could be accomplished in one 30-minute session.

This domestic genius took one look around and said “Why don’t we just put this here, closer to where you use it.”

She said it about three times—it sounded more like Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo to me—and soon, papers piled on the table, spices jumbled in a crowded cabinet, and CDs splattered with orange juice, miraculously migrated to their new, logical locations.

I watched in awe and could only think Of course that belongs there. It seemed so obvious once she pointed it out.

Bibbity Bobbity Boo

So what was my problem? Why did this expert instantly see a solution where I saw only frustration and mess?

Perspective. Her view was new and different from mine.

Perspective is everything. This became crystal clear to me recently, during a discussion with a writing mentor.

Rehashing my goals one day, I confessed that I loved the attention that came with publication. How needy and pathetic, right? I even told her my best friend had once called me an attention whore.

My mentor’s reaction changed the way I react to the negative thoughts that come with writing, or any pursuit of passion in life.

“What if your craving for attention is what’s allowing you to do what you feel called to do? What if it’s that drive for affirmation that wakes you up at 5am to work on your rough draft?”

It happened again when I told her I sometimes found myself jealous of the talent of other writers. I didn’t begrudge them their success, I just coveted a smidgen of the talent I witnessed in other, more accomplished writers.

Her response: “Excellent! When we’re jealous, it shows us we’re on the right track. We know what we’re shooting for. So many people don’t have a goal in life. Congratulations, your jealousy is pointing you in the right direction.”

Hmmm . . . maybe there’s something to this. Maybe I had been looking at my negative thoughts and labels the wrong way. As long as my thoughts weren’t manifesting in undesirable actions, maybe they weren’t so bad.

“Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”

~ David Foster Wallace

I decided to test my theory. In a post in one of my favorite Facebook groups, a member asked if any other writers sat down to work on their manuscripts each day, riddled with fear.

My response was “Fear is good!” Fear sent a message that what you attempted carried weight and importance in your life. When I mentioned the interaction to my mentor, she practically jumped for joy. “Yes! That’s exactly what it means.”

Of course, fear is also a life-saving emotion pointing human beings to safety and survival. But we’re talking writing here folks, not hiking in the Alps.

This is more than a lame “think positive” mantra. Changing your position and perspective takes practice. Maybe it’s all B.S. but I don’t think so. It’s worked for me.

Time and energy spent doubting abilities or fretting over perceived character defects keeps us from giving 100% to our creative projects.

Next time you’re ready to label yourself, take a minute and question the label. What are the benefits of being afraid, jealous, attention-seeking? Make a list.

Domestic Goddess Kitchen

My organized kitchen (I wish)

Fifteen years later, my spices, CDs and papers are still stored where the expert suggested, I still like attention, and I’m still not-so-secretly jealous of favorite writers. I’ve learned to question my negative thoughts and labels when they pop up.

Rethinking them has made all the difference.

Don’t be so quick to beat yourself up. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Don’t waste time fretting over imagined inadequacies, and instead, get down to what’s guaranteed to make us all better, no matter the endeavor: practice and hard work.