Huge storm last night–sorry I didn’t post. No excuses, I just spent the night watching the storm and spending time with my love. Hope you all had sweet dreams.
This weekend I heard an interview that have really resonated with me. It was a clip from a 1985 Terry Gross interview with jazz great Artie Shaw on NPR’s Fresh Air. In it, he discusses his famous rivalry with Benny Goodman.
And so I said finally, Benny, you’re too hung up on the clarinet. And he looked at me, and he says, that’s what we do, isn’t it? I said no, I’m trying to play music. I’m not interested in clarinets. It’s a means. It’s an instrument. You use an instrument to do something with.
And I saw a tiny light bulb go on in his eyes. I don’t think he ever seriously considered the idea that the clarinet was a means, not an end.
This quote hit me like a bullet in the shoulder, knocking me completely off balance. When you ask someone what they do, they say, I’m a writer. I’m a mechanic. I’m a doctor.
We identify with the means, not the end.
We get so hung up on what we do, we forget to figure out why we do it. Why are you a plumber? Why are you a photographer? Why are you a politician? To make money? To pay the bills? To gain status?
For years, I tried to figure out a way to get myself writing on a regular basis. Nothing ever worked. And the reason, in retrospect, is pretty clear. I was too hung up on the writing, without ever wondering what story I wanted to tell.
Back in my fan fiction days, I would get obsessed with writing a particular story. I remember once leaving a party halfway through, pulling my floppy disk out of my purse, and working on a story on the computer in the host’s bedroom. Rude, yes, but it proves a point. That story was burning inside of me, and I had to tell it. Writing was the only means I had to tell that story, so I wrote with fury and passion and single-mindedness.
When I decided I wanted to be a “real” writer, everything stopped up. I rarely if ever had those moments of obsessed, burning productivity. It was because I was pursuing writing, and not a story.
Barring the occasional amazing thunderstorm or computer mishap, I’ve been very good about keeping up these blog posts. These days, I rarely if ever have to force myself to the computer, and when I start writing, it’s almost always easy to get words on the page.
I think the reason is that I no longer care if you call me (or if I call myself) a writer. Writing is a means, not the end.
The end is my message, which is that we are more than our jobs, more than our self-images, more than animals on a sickly planet just waiting for everything to die off from our own stupidity. We are connected. We are powerful. We have everything we need to transform ourselves and our world right at our fingertips, if we only have the courage and grace to reach out for it.
Writing is my means. The end? For everyone who encounters my words to wake up, take a moment, reassess, and then commit to doing everything in their power to make this world a better place using any means at their disposal.
The end is a beginning, a chain reaction that spreads like healing wildfire across our planet. I’m not silly enough to think that I’m the only spark. I know there are thousands, maybe millions of people like me out there, each sending out their own spark. The world is a big place, but someday, our sparks will collide, and we will transform the world.
So, what spark are you sending out into the world? Are you living to the means, or moving towards an end?
Live fabulous dreams, my friends, and send out sparks of love that blow our freaking minds.
Hola, peeps. Just wanted to check in and let you know what’s going on in Soapboxville! I am currently up to my ears in writing projects–I’m finishing up my second novel, Fairville, which is an old-fashioned ghost story set in a small Louisiana town. I’m also working on a non-fiction project to submit to Hay House Books upcoming Non-Fiction Book contest! Added to my pro-blogging and 40 hours a week at The Research Lab (formerly known as The Day Job), I’m seeing a significant increase in claims on my time.
I haven’t abandoned this blog–I hope you are all doing well, and I look forward to getting back to you soon!
Just wanted to post a quick note to let you know that I’ll be changing the focus of this blog slightly in the future. I have been pondering how I can bring my readers more value, and I think I have a really good plan. It’s in the works, and I’ll be posting more details soon. I’m really excited about this plan–keep watching this space!
Also, just a reminder that there are only 3 days left to order the Kindle version of All the Back Roads Home: Little Girl Lost at the special rate of $0.99! The Print on Demand version will be available next week.
Inspired by Emily Anne Shaffer and her new e-book, I’ve decided to release my novel All the Back Roads Home as a two-part e-book! I’m looking for a little help, though–mainly, a title for Part Two! I’d love to hear some ideas. So far, I’ve come up with the following titles–some good, some not so much. Please, help me name this puppy!
- All Roads Forward
- Where the Road Leads
- Any Road Forward
- Where All Roads Lead
I’m sort of leading towards Where All Roads Lead, but I’d love any suggestions you have to make! Please comment and let me know what you think.
Today I sent off a check for $47.13 to the United States Treasury. Normally, that would be a cause for Not-Happy-Making, but I see it as a personal and moral victory. You see, that money was my estimated taxes for my earnings at Blogmutt, the blog writing service I’ve been working for since April. Now, getting payments sent to my PayPal account every month or so is one thing, but nothing says “I’m a professional” anything like sending taxes to the Feds. So today, for the first day since I started there, I truly felt like a Professional Writer. No, it’s not my day job. Heck, I couldn’t last two weeks on what I’ve earned so far. But I’m getting paid for my writing (with the occasional by-line), and it’s really freaking awesome.
I want to get this plug out to anyone who is interested in getting started as a freelance writer. Scott Yates has put together a wonderful group of writers who are supportive and fun to work with (the micromobs email threads are often hilarious). He’s a very hands-on boss, encouraging and knowledgeable about his business. The company’s structure (from the writer side) is designed to promote experience and growth, with perks offered for quantity and quality of posts.
Of course, the best thing about being a Blogmutt writer is that it has given me carte blanche to indulge my research addiction. In fact, these efforts have opened up a whole new world for me: Twitter, LindedIn, Mashable, and Pinterest, to name only a few areas of the Interwebs I’m now exploring. I’m falling in love with learning again, and getting paid for the privilege.
That being said we are still talking about the Internet, and I’m still (as Fey calls me) a FaceBook whore. The giddy combination of News from Home and social activism has sunk into my bones, evolving me from a reluctant beginner to a true believer. Maybe it’s my flighty Gemini nature, or it’s the fact that I can now get multiple daily doses of George Takei‘s wicked sense of humor, but for better or worse, FaceBook has become my new go-to place online.
So what does my site look like? LGBT rights, personal development, news news news, and of course the beloved picture memes. For some reason, these visual koans have become a new sort of online language. What a person shares often tells more about them than the scant words they type into their status bar. Here are three memes I’ve shared on my timeline, and what they mean about me.
Be Weird. Be Random.
For so much of my life, I have felt like an outsider. Unable to alter my personality to meet societal norms, I gave up on “fitting in” very early in life. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized what a blessing this was for me. I never had to unlearn the bad habits of masking and fake personas so many of my friends did. Granted, my personas exist, but they are all me—just fragments I choose to share or hide at my whim. The idea of creating a false persona to meet societal norms never really seemed plausible to me. It was too much work, too much to remember, and just too difficult to pull off. Fortunately, authenticity is coming back in style with a vengeance. Who knew I was a trend-setter?
The Notion of a Radical
I was raised in a very conservative culture, where problems were not discussed publicly and maintaining the status quo was the goal. No matter how wrong something was, the message I got was that Nice People keep problems to themselves and Don’t Make Trouble. The thought of being a radical was outlandish—protests were for New York and San Francisco and all those other liberal places.
So many years (and two states) later, I’ve finally discovered my Inner Radical. I’ve found my voice again, and I’m not afraid to be disturbed when the status quo is completely FUBAR. In my capacity as a Muck Relocation Engineer (Rake Dept.), I’ve learned that speaking up, sharing ideas, and disturbing the peace can sometimes be a Very Nice Thing done by Very Nice People (even Christians!).
The Power of Motion
These last few years have been an education in action for me. For years, I kept myself back for fear of offending, for fear of failing, for fear of being attacked for my beliefs. But I’ve learned that the worst thing you can do in life is nothing, and the worst thing you can feel is nothing. Even the tiniest action can have enormous consequence over time, if it is done with intention. As I have grown stronger and braver, I find myself taking actions that would have terrified me before. I keep putting my foot out there, and when the shoe doesn’t drop I take it as a sign to continue. It’s frightening and exhilarating and exhausting at times, but it sure as hell beats stagnation.
A Little Lady
I have never been much of an artist. Coming from a family of painters and sculptors, this was quite a disappointment to me. But what I could do was doodle, and I’ve been doodling this little pachyderm (I call her Penny) for years. Last month, inspired by Steve Pavlina’s Passive Income Series, I decided to try my hand at a true Penny graphic. Pavlina says your best way to earn income is to provide value. Well, Penny is my little contribution to the world. With the help of some gorgeous public domain artwork, Penny has embarked from the world of pencil doodles to an adventure in art and nature. I’ve even opened up a little CafePress store where I could sell the design.
This took quite a bit of courage, but I’m glad I did it. I’ve also started an Affiliate Program on Ten Thousand Soapboxes. Initially, any funds earned will go toward buying the 10KSoapboxes.com domain name. After that, who knows? Either way, I only affiliate with progressive, forward-thinking companies. So I’d appreciate if you took a moment and checked out some of the folks listed there.
This week on FaceBook, a lot of cool things got posted. And one wild flash from my past!
This picture was taken by my dear friend Marla Stein DeWitt, who in 1989 joined me on a Star Trek cruise out of Miami. And no matter how strong my voice becomes, or how far I come as an activist or writer, there will always be that girl inside me who squeed at meeting Gene Roddenberry, Majel Barrett, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and tons of other Trek stars all those years ago.
And OMG—I was soooooo skinny! (Check the purse and 80s haircut!) 😀
Contacted Balboa Press to learn more about self-publishing. Stomach is in knots, especially since I don’t have a finished product. On the other hand, making a start at something puts me ahead of 90% of the rest of the people.
There is a little slip of paper I have taped to my desk with a quote on it from Martha Graham:
“There is a vitality…a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
I read the first chapter of Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones” today and had to reach desperately for that Martha Graham quote. The writing in this book is so clean, so real and present, that it sort of blew me away. Of course, the first thing any writer does when they read really great fiction is to compare it to their own work.
I truly believe my 45th year is going to be about finding my own expression–that quickening that is translated only through me into action. “It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.” I should have that tatooed on my wrist.
I wonder how artists do it, all the time? How does an actress get through her day without looking at others and thinking that other actresses do it better? How does a sculpter fire that piece without thinking another sculpter could have been more true to the subject?
Is it simply the lot of the creative soul to constantly self-judge? Or is there some way out of this quandary?
“It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
It is my business to say my peace, whether in fiction or nonfiction. It is my business to tell my truth, and never worry that my truth is somehow less important than that expressed by others.
We only have a short time on this planet. Why not tell the truth? Why not be brave? Why not live like an artist, creative and passionate and honest?
There is nothing to be gained in comparison. Comparing my writing to Alice Sebold’s is like comparing a penguin to a volcano–both are important, interesting, natural…but they’re nothing alike.
If you read this, and you’re feeling the urge to compare yourself to someone else, please just stop. Stop for a second, or a minute, or as long as you can resist. Don’t kick yourself if you fall and compare again. Just pick yourself up and try again.
Don’t close the channel. Keep it open. The universe needs every expression of truth it can get.
Peace to you,
I just finished reading Anne Lamott’s remarkable book, Bird by Bird, which was sent to me by a dear friend who is also a writer. I’m not sure where she got the idea that this book would resonate with me–it’s not like I have sent long, needy emails to everyone I know, begging for reassurance that I am not a complete hack and that my writing is not, as I have been known to describe it, “worthless drivel perpetuated by a slug with delusions of grandeur.”
No. Not me.
Reading Lamott’s book was a godsend for me. Not only did it give me permission to be completely mad (which I assume most people who identity as serial writers are), but it gave me permission to write, even if I never become a Rich and Famous Writer.
What a glorious release it is, to know that I am a writer because I write. Because I choose to express my understanding of this admittedly disturbed cosmos through words. No agent, editor, publisher, or bookseller can tell me whether or not I am a writer.
After finishing the book, I did a couple of things. First, I handed it to my beloved partner Fey, so she could get a glimpse into what she’s dealing with. The madness, the insecurity, the complete and utter intellectual neediness–these are all part of the game when you’re with a writer. But the glorious observation, the joy of being able to express things in a way that’s wholly unique–these are the flip side of the equation.
After securing from her a promise to read a chapter a day for me, I then went to my abandoned diet book and started reading. I’d given up the whole idea of writing a diet book because, a) I gained back half the weight, and b) I’m not An Authority on anything. But reading the first chapter, I realized I had something to say, and I was saying it in a funny, honest sort of way.
Finally, I started a new blog, called Ten Thousand Soapboxes, where I could publish some of my essays. I have not abandoned fiction, because I feel I spin a fairly good yarn. But I am not going to limit myself to what I write anymore, just because that is what I think it takes to make me An Important Writer.
The only important writer is the one who’s writing.
Everyone else is just taking up space on the book shelves.
Remember a billion years ago when Art Instruction Schools used to put those ads in the back of magazines? You may have the aptitude to be a Serious Artist, so apply to our school and we’ll Make You Famous(TM).
Sometimes that’s how I feel about writing.
Can you write a sentence? Have you had a single good idea in your life? Subscribe to this blog/magazine/online course/writers conference, and we’ll Make You an Important Literary Figure (or, we’ll Make You Filthy Rich, take your pick).
At some point in my life, I thought, wow, I tell a really mean story. I Should Be A Writer.
Then reality hit. This isn’t just aptitude. There is a lot more that goes into writing professionally than just telling a kick-ass story. The more I read, the more I learn, the more I realize that I have to learn about the craft of writing.
Oddly enough, instead of making me depressed and discouraged, I find this incredibly exciting. As I pore through the pages of books on the mechanics of producing stories, I find myself more enthusiastic about writing than I have been for years. AND I’m actually writing–not just reading.
It’s a good day to be me. It’s probably a good day to be you, too. Especially since you were kind enough to read this post. (Yeah, I’ll suck up for readers. I ain’t shy.)