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.

Mom’s Annual Back-to-School Nag

short-school-bus-Creative-Commons-Infrogmation-of-New-Orleans-e1437698238555

Crayons

Each new school year brings with it a desire to set a new course, to orient our family and our kids on the right path. Nowadays, we’re beyond choosing the right markers and school box. But the urge to guide persists.

With a newlywed daughter who graduated in 2013 and a son in the middle of earning his degree, I find myself thinking about bigger things than the right binder to finally keep them organized. That battle has been fought and lost. Still, a mom’s got to do what a mom’s got to do.

I wanted to write this as an open letter to my kids but I no longer hold the power to make them read my ramblings. So I offer up the following thoughts to the universe: my kids, your kids, and even adults contemplating new beginnings.

While taking a walk through the neighborhood the other night, we ran into some parents we knew from our kids’ high school.  We shared the normal updates on how the “kids” were doing in college, their chosen majors and eventually, the exorbitant costs and declining value of a bachelor’s degree.

Then the dad surprised us by saying he was disappointed his son wanted to change majors from accounting to something much less lucrative.  The father’s reasoning?  His son had already decided on the model of car and the size house he wanted, and he wasn’t going to get there with this new major.

Wow.

We walked away and I felt a little sad and vaguely guilty.  Why?  Because I fear that during leaner years, in an effort to hang on to our comfortable surroundings in a highly desired school district, we may have given our kids the impression that a nice car and house were the desired outcome of a worthwhile life.

I’m haunted by the idea that we would instruct our kids to spend four of the most formative and exploratory years of their lives studying for a job they might hate based simply on the type of car they would drive and the square footage of their first house.

“We may have given our kids the impression that a nice car and house were the desired outcome of a worthwhile life.”

After 49 years on this swirling blue marble, I’ve spent many joyous moments traveling ‘round it.  I’ve experienced thrills, excitement, rapture, passion, kindness and many other positive things. Not once during joyful times did I ever think to myself  “This would never have been possible without that BMW or McMansion.”

I’ve broken down on the highway during a Chicago Winter because of a crappy car (1977 Green Mustang II – not one of the cool ones).  I’ve also been the proud owner of a brand new car (once) and now drive what most would consider a nice SUV—bought used, without a lot of bells and whistles.

We live in a modest, older ranch home that we’ve spent our free time and money working to improve.  I’ve often complained about the outdated kitchen (somehow lost that renovation battle to the garage).  I’ve also been proud to help install our own wood floors and design a custom vanity with soapstone countertops.

These “things” have made us more comfortable and made our surroundings more aesthetically pleasing.  Yes, they would have happened faster had we deeper financial resources.  To paraphrase some wise folks “money can’t make you happy but the lack of it can make you miserable if you let it.”

So why this particular nag, this particular school year? Because my used car and still unfinished home are worth every second I got to spend with them after school, making lunches on days off, picking dandelions at the bus stop, and thousands upon thousands of other moments we’ve shared.

Making the decision to give up one income so our kids wouldn’t have to go to daycare for 10 or 12 hours a day has cost us financially.  There were some pretty lean years, and retirement is a distant dream at this point.  A financially secure future is a worthwhile goal, but should it be the sole purpose in choosing what we study or do for our life’s work?

I sure hope not.  Security can be a prison.  Some parents spend more time commuting than they spend with their families each week.  Trying to keep up with the Jones’s rarely brings true happiness.  I am not naïve enough to suggest that having enough money to live comfortably is a bad thing.  It is my assertion that a picture of the vehicle you use to run errands is a sad goal if it’s the only goal.

Why become an accountant/dentist/engineer/teacher/belly dancer?  It should be because we love numbers/teeth/equations/children/bare midriffs; not because we want the super X version of the latest model car.  Unless your passion is cars, that just seems sad.

Go, be free.  Make mistakes, change your course of study.  Take a year off.  Write bad poetry and sing off-key around a campfire.  Grow your hair too long and take a smelly backpack somewhere off the beaten path where I will worry about your safety.  You will get a little hungry, you will waste a year of earning power and lose compound interest.  You will meet fascinating undesirables.

Please come back (don’t miss Christmas!) and finish college.  Not because I think your degree in contemporary art history will get you that car or house.  Finish so you learn to complete things.  For those recently graduated: go, be free; make mistakes, take more courses if desired; take a year off; write bad poetry and sing off-key around a campfire.

One strange wild ride on the blue marble – that’s what we get.  Make sure to grab for something that matters.  A nice car and a nice house for those without may mean all the difference in the world.  For most of us, they shouldn’t be the only stuff dreams are made of.

When you graduate and go to work, if you have a 401k, please promise to contribute the maximum.  But in the meantime, reach for a bigger goal.  Explore a more profound dream. Do scary things.

9 Thoughts on “Mom’s Annual Back-to-School Nag

  1. CathyS on August 31, 2015 at 10:20 am said:

    My family and I have travelled a similar road as yours, from the ranch-in-need-of-updates to the used SUV. lol There are many ways to reach a desired destination and I wouldn’t want to judge the choices of others. I’m simply grateful to you for expressing so well the motivations and sentiments for the decisions we’ve made along the way. I needed the validation today. 🙂

  2. Inspiring, honest, and very human; as per! 😉

    *LIKE*

    Happy new school year, one and ALL!

    love from The Hedgehog. xx

  3. I love this, and I completely agree. While of course it’s important to be financially responsible, there are things in life that are worth more than money. If we relinquish life in pursuit of material things, as you said, “Security can be a prison.” By the way, I think you’d love the poem “The Dash” by Linda Ellis. It’s a beautiful expression of what you’ve related here. You’re right on. Keep living life to the fullest, and God bless you! Audrey

  4. Very inspiring – I would like to use it as an open letter to many people — not just kids. Thank you!

  5. Hi Suzanne,
    I met you in the Community Pool. Megan recommended my blog to you. I would love to help. I help bloggers at my site. I brought you the link to my About page, so you can read about why my blog can do for you. http://wp.me/P6x6vQ-89 I hope you will check it out. There are three incentives for signing up.
    Nice to meet you.
    Janice

To All the Doubters, Disbelievers, and Fraidy-Cats: An Open Letter

cinderella getting dressed

Dear Undecided:

I can tell you you’re a writer, and your bff, mother, or creative writing teacher can tell you you’re a writer. But that doesn’t count for anything. That uncertainty about whether or not writing is the thing or your thing, whether or not you’re really “called” to do it, “driven” to do it, etc., is all the inner gremlin.  It just is. It’s the voice of doubt and fear masquerading as a logical, practical mind-friend helping you not to waste time.

For example: If writing were your thing, you’d wake up with fully formed stories in your brain and bluebirds would remove your nightdress and usher you into your writing sweater. The friendly cat would rub your ankles and nudge you to your gold-plated writing chair where with ink and parchment or blood and rice paper, you would let flow all the fully formed, writerly thoughts that would bring instant fame and gratification.

cinderella getting dressed

Or, if you really had a passion, surely you wouldn’t hem and haw or see and saw or procrastinate or start and stop or leave things unfinished.  Surely, if writing were what you were called to do, you wouldn’t go months and days and weeks and hours without writing and you wouldn’t feel like you had to push yourself or make yourself do it. If you loved it, you would be doing it.

That is all self-doubt, commonly known as the inner critic. By now, your mid-40’s, or your mid-20’s or late 70’s, you know you have a way with words. You’ve impressed enough customers, friends, relatives, etc., by your ability to craft a well-turned phrase or disarm someone with wit. Not knowing if it’s your thing is really just fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear that you won’t be good enough. Fear that you’re not far enough along.

Meow

 You have much to say. You have a unique way of saying it. All of your characters will be you at least a little, at least at the beginning. You are protecting your squishy milk-chocolate center with a hard candy coating of “I’m not sure I should be writing.” But you have something to say or you wouldn’t be reading this.

Or, you’ve already written many things but not submitted. Or submitted but haven’t been published. Or published but not by a “real” publisher. Is this you? Moving the measuring stick as soon as you reach it? Or maybe not finishing things. Filing them away in the drawer or on a bad day, in the trash.

It isn’t perfect. It can stand a good edit. It is emotional, evocative, descriptive, intriguing, surprising. Don’t be a chicken. It’s time to do some writing every day or five days a week or one weekend every month or whatever works in your life.

#BAWKBAWK

Most “real” writers aren’t all called to write. They make themselves write. If I’ve read anything consistent in all the different methods of world-famous writers that is it. They force themselves to go to the desk, cafe, kitchen table, etc. No bluebirds drop a quill in their itchy palms then dart out of the way of their brilliance. They commit to skipping The Good Wife until they hit the 750 word mark. They cancel lunch with their friends and keep the bottle of wine chilled until they end that chapter.

OK – I realize now I’m ranting….but I had to call you out on the “not sure” thing. You say it comes and goes. Hmmm – is it possible that it comes when you’re actually writing and goes when you’re actually not? If so, you’re not alone.

 

epiph·a·ny noun -i-ˈpi-fə-nē-

I found that I had all this longing surrounding writing. I wanted to know that I had talent or that I could write or that it was just a pipe dream. So I started keeping a mental accounting of when I felt least fraudulent or most like a writer….and I had an epiphany.

I felt most like a writer not when I saw my name in a magazine, not when my uber-talented sister told me I was brilliant and not when I got a laugh sharing a piece in a workshop.  I felt most like a writer during the act of writing. If I was sitting at my laptop typing or with a notebook and a pen and words were coming out of my fingers – I felt like a writer.

SECRET TO WRITING

Now it’s much less dangerous and we’re less vulnerable when we’re thinking about writing or talking about writing or any of the activities that aren’t really writing. To quote Amy Poehler “The talking about the thing isn’t the thing.The doing of the thing is the thing.”

Don’t wonder or wait for any kind of confirmation that it is your passion. Just do it passionately and you will have your answer. From the outside looking in, I know you haven’t been able to live without it for very long. If that’s not the definition of a calling I don’t know what is.

Thanks for listening. Now go write something. Start here…send me a note.

 

 

3 Thoughts on “To All the Doubters, Disbelievers, and Fraidy-Cats: An Open Letter

  1. Pingback: If You’re Doing This, Knock it Off! | Suzanne M. Brazil

  2. Suzanne – You continue to impress me with your words! I’d say this idea could be applied to a lot more than just writing! Keep up the good work.