Permission, Persistence and Partners

I just finished Big Magic over the weekend. Big Magic is Elizabeth Gilbert’s love letter to creativity. Or rather, her soul whispering (and sometimes shouting because the world can get noisy scaring our souls into hiding) to ours that the thing inside us – the thing that burns and tugs and bubbles just under the surface – is an okay thing, perhaps the best of things, and should be let out to play. Whether you want to write a book or weave a basket or collage or paint or invent or photograph the supermoon, we all have a creative being inside us that deserves our acknowledgement and attention. It doesn’t need to pay the bills or fold the laundry or earn its keep. It simply deserves the opportunity to exist. And through its existence, it will more than likely refresh you or change you or simply open up your perspective and empathy to the surrounding world.

The book arrived in my mailbox at the perfect time. I’m currently querying literary agents – a soul sucking process where you boil your creative work into a three paragraph letter that needs to encapsulate the story, its tone and demonstrate your abilities as a writer so hopefully this agent (or, more likely, their overworked assistant) will continue past your signature line in the email to read the first ten sample pages and will then request a partial or full manuscript and then (maybe, perhaps, fingers crossed) love it so much they offer representation so they can begin their own soul sucking cycle of trying to sell the same pages to a publisher. Fun, right? Needless to say, her section titled Persistence particularly resonated.

But as I go through this process of trying to secure third party credibility for my work, the Permission section also spoke to me.

I am currently being bothered by the next idea. Three unique souls, very different from the group in my existing manuscript, are pestering me, talking to me, pointing out things that are bothering them and asking me to help them out a bit. It’s reassuring that the well isn’t dry, but frustrating in that I’m not sure when to start allowing them completely in when my head is still so crowded with my current cast of characters (heaven forbid they start talking to each other). To top it off, we are starting a kitchen renovation in the next few weeks that only further sends that damsel doubt into a whirlwind of activity that typically starts with “Works in progress don’t buy subway tiles, honey. You spent how long writing that first book and not working a real job? What if it never sells? What makes you think it’s okay to just start another book that may only live on your laptop?”

Because it is.

Because it’s what I’m doing.

Because I don’t need anyone’s permission but my own.

What I’ve learned from the last year and a few months of writing this book is that I am a writer. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever hold down another day job. But it does mean that I won’t be able to stuff that part of myself back into Pandora’s box. The lid has been opened and the spirit it released in me is entirely too much fun to lock back up. Even if my words never see more print than what comes out of my very own printer. It won’t matter if it fails to publish, it doesn’t mean that I failed. Because I wrote it. I already did the thing I set out to do. Does that mean I won’t fight like hell to get it published? No. It just means that if my persistent efforts come up short, it isn’t a rejection of my permission slip to continue doing the thing.

Permission and Persistence. In this creative life they are the two things I can control.

As I read the book and sent out my queries and pondered my next steps, there was another theme that resonated with me this weekend that is not a part of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, at least not in an outright way.

Partners. (Might as well keep it alliterative, right?)

I recently swallowed my nerves and asked a local writer I very much admire and had met several times before if she’d be willing to get together and share any advice on the business side of writing. It was terrifying to ask and just as terrifying when she said yes! We had a lovely dinner, however, talking about books and publishing and writers and MFA’s and Oprah’s book club and e-books and careers and permission and persistence (although not in those specific terms). I came home invigorated and inspired by our conversation.

The next day, I had lunch with a neighbor friend who, after decades of working with the same company, is now looking for a new job. We both find ourselves in places of reinvention, of soul searching and an attempt to take our life’s work and find the rare matching peg — me the right agent, her the right job.

I felt bolstered by these two women. In their own ways, they both provided support and encouragement of my journey. I hope, in some small way, I was able to do the same for them. These two conversations opened my eyes to the other partners I have on this creative walk. In just the last week, there was the friend who again offered her guest room to me for a visit and a bit of writer’s retreat; another who shared my excitement of the arrival of Big Magic and is my feminist soul sister (as well as birthday twin – coincidence?); another who asked for book recommendations on Facebook that turned into a quick, yet no less fascinating, exchange about books and their impacts; the fellow writer who is also shopping her book and our quick email exchanges sharing our frustrations with the process, rejections and words of support.

I told the universe (and anyone who would listen) that I was committed to living a creative life not in order to save the world, not as an act of protest, not to become famous, not to gain entrance into the canon, not to challenge the system, not to show the bastards, not to prove to my family that I was worthy, not as a form of deep therapeutic emotional catharsis…but simply because I liked it.Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

I have been very vocal about my creative journey here on the blog, on my Facebook page, and recently in cocktail party conversation (New acquaintance: What do you do? Me: I’m a writer.). I don’t do this for attention or for ego stroking (although, who am I to turn down some ego stroking?). I do this because this is where I am. This is the messy, anxiety-prone, solitary task I am undertaking. I do this because we are all trying to live a creative life somehow. In our jobs, in our hobbies, in our craft projects with the kids, in those new coloring books for adults. We should talk about it more. We should be open to it. We should open ourselves up in a way that allows us to create and to create deeper relationships with each other.

Sure, I like that photo of your cat or your kid or that gastronomic feat you are about to ingest for dinner. But I am also excited by your new studio, your completed art project, your honest and thoughtful response to an event in your life or in the world. When I see these creative moments peek their heads up out of my friends’ and readers’ lives, I find that my soul has found another partner. And when you spend most of your day alone in your home, in front of a blank screen, with only a silent fish making bubble nests in the tank on your desk, it’s incredibly important when your soul recognizes another mate.

With a holy host of others standing around me… — James Taylor, Carolina In My Mind. 

I couldn’t do it without you.

And so it is with Permission, Persistence and Partners that I am on this writing journey. Here’s hoping for more magic.

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Remembering and Sharing

As parents there are certain conversations we dread: explaining divorce. Explaining sex. Explaining death.

They strike fear in our hearts and send shivers up our spines. We avoid them until we can’t. We try to water down topics to age appropriate language and comparisons in order to tell just enough without guaranteeing our children are blaming us for their future adult therapy. Some go better than others and some are told out of necessity. We offer the comfort we can and we love our children through it all, hoping it will be enough.

I had one of these conversations this week.

My third grader came home with an “I Survived” book. These historical fiction vignettes take a moment in history and retells it through the eyes of a young boy survivor. T loves facts and adventure and escapes, so I wasn’t surprised to see the “I Survived the San Francisco Earthquake 1906” come home from the school’s media center. I was, however, surprised when “I Survived 9/11” appeared on my dining room table.

I read it while he was at school. It stuck to the facts. It focused on the firefighters and their bravery. And I died a little inside knowing that if he could read this book, I needed to talk to him about it. I needed him to know things. Understand. This wasn’t just another adventure some fictional boy survived. This one touched his family and this nation in unique and permanent ways.

And so while the little guy was at a play date, I sat my nine year old down and we talked. I let him ask me questions. I had to explain why the plane crashed in Pennsylvania. I had to confirm that no, it didn’t just land nicely when the good guys took over the plane. That they died. That they were heroes. That they saved so many more people.

I shared what it was like to leave DC. That people helped each other. That my friend took me home with her when I didn’t want to get on the train. That I saw the smoke from the Pentagon. That firefighters and police did their jobs in New York and went in when everyone was trying to get out. That people helped carry colleagues and strangers down numerous flights of stairs. That someone that went to my high school helped people. That he lived. That he helped other people live, too. That they have built a museum where the buildings once stood to honor the lives lost. That there is a new building there now that is taller and stronger and maybe one day we’ll go see it. That they fixed the Pentagon. That planes are safer now.

Then I showed him pictures of a trip I took on a high school band trip to New York City in 1992. We went to the top of the World Trade Center. It was a cloudy day. In the photos you can see the heavy mist hanging in the air between where I stood on the top of the world in that observation deck and the tops of tall buildings below.

We talked about doing something on 9/11 to honor the day. And so we are making brownies today that we will take to our local fire department this afternoon.

And then I cried. Alone. In the bathroom. The farther away it gets, the easier to distance myself from the visceral memories. But honestly, I don’t ever want to lose that pain, that grief. I can’t afford to. None of us can. We have to remember. We have to honor those we lost.

This year, in addition to remembering, I am sharing it with my child. Not sharing too much. He doesn’t need to see too much, understand too much. But now he knows. He knows that 9/11 was real. That 9/11 is still real. And as hard as that conversation was, I’m glad. How we teach our children what we learned that day will define how they handle their generation’s event in the future. Because it will come. Whatever it is. There is no stopping it. Something horrible will happen. And if my guy remembers the kindnesses, the comfort and the bravery that outweighed the fear and mitigated the tiniest speck of the grief in one of our nation’s worst moments, then he will be well prepared.

Remembering and sharing.