Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dr. Temperance Brennan's Advice to Writers

It seemed like hours that Erin was flipped upside down on her brim.  Her legs kicked and swung around helter skelter.  She was wishing she had worn pants to bed instead of a nightshirt, since now her legs were not only cold but her backside was improperly revealed in this position.  On the plus side, her cup rim was nice and wide and it supported her perfectly; headstand was now much more comfortable than it had ever been before.

She reflected on the previous day, as their was nothing much else for her to do upside down.  She remembered the episode of Bones, her favorite TV show, that she'd been watching. She loved David Boreanaz but, then again, what woman didn't? His character, Seeley Booth, was so appealingly heroic. That's what she needed, Seeley Booth to come rushing in and tip her up onto her legs and turn her back into a woman.  She was pretty sure David Boreanaz could turn a teacup into a woman anytime with just a smile.  Maybe he could even connect her with a literary agent or a publisher.  Surely David Boreanaz must know people who know people...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Keepers - Laura's Secret Stash

When I first began teaching music, I went in to observe a friend of mine from college who had been teaching for a few years already. At lunch time (omg, only halfway through the day and we were already exhausted), we sat down at her desk to eat our squares of pizza from the cafeteria and she opened up one of her bottom drawers. There, behind important files having to do with continuing education, IEPs, and emergency procedures, was a thick manila envelope. She tugged it out, tossed it at me and said, "This is the most important thing you can do for yourself as a teacher."

I set aside my cardboard slab of pizza and opened the envelope with no small amount of curiosity. Turns out, the seemingly average envelope was a treasure trove, full of little gems like cards made by students, letters from parents expressing their gratitude, drawings from children, and pictures of my friend with her students on production days.

I raised a brow. "What's this?"

"I call this my Keepers folder," she said through a mouthful of cheese and dough. "Look, some days you're really going to hate this job. The kids are going to act up, the parents are going to bitch about stuff; your principal isn't going to support you. No matter how hard you work and how well you do, your students and their parents will seem whiny and ungrateful, and will ask for more. You're going to go home feeling frustrated and exhausted. You're going to question why the hell you decided to be a teacher."

She leaned over and tapped on the folder in my hands. "This...this will remind you why. Every time a parent writes you a good note, every time a child draws you a picture, every time you receive anything that tells you you're touching lives, put it somewhere safe. Then, on those days when you can't remember why you're a teacher, take it out, open it up, and see all the good you've done."

In my classroom, back behind a bunch of books I don't use, I have a Keepers folder of my own. Every year after the musical, I write a letter to the 8th graders in the cast, telling them how much I enjoyed being their teacher. Some of them write back, and when they do, those letters go in the folder. Drawings from the little ones go in the folder. One I particularly love is a picture a little girl made of me holding her hand that says, "I love you" on it. I have cards from other teachers and parents, telling me how influential the theater program is on their student's/children's lives.

And those hard days, the ones where an angry parent has me in tears or hyper children have worn me out, I pull out that Keepers folder and remind myself exactly why I put myself through this. Not only do I get some perspective, it's a great boost of confidence for when I'm questioning my abilities.

I started a Keepers folder for my writing as well. It's a Google doc, that way I can keep things from online. What do I have in it? You might be surprised. I have emails from friends with their reactions to my novels. One in particular is from my friend Mel, who told me how richly I'd drawn my characters in REFUGE. I have comments from my beta and editor. I have rejection letters. Yes, you read that right. Some of the rejection letters I've received are wonderfully complimentary of my work, though the agents expressed their fear that the books just weren't good fits for them in particular. I have comments from the only fanfiction story I've posted in the last 6 years, a fic that was over 65k long and had an intricate plot that I was very proud of. I also have quotes from other writers that I find especially inspiring.

The crown jewel of my Writing Keepers folder, however, is an email that my favorite author in the world sent me, two years ago. I wrote to Anne Rice, explaining that I used writing as a way to better process my faith and beliefs, as she does, and I asked if she would be willing to look at my work and offer advice. Here is the lovely email she wrote back, which I hold very close to the chest. Enjoy it as I have, and I hope you start your own Keepers folder today, so that on the days when writing seems futile and you think you're never going to be good enough, you can look in that folder and see just how you've already affected those around you.

From Ms. Rice:
I have only just reached your email and you can see, I think, that I am backlogged and overwhelmed.  So please understand when I decline to read your work.  Also you do not need me to read it.  Move on ahead with it.  Have faith in yourself and in your own voice, and move towards getting the book published.  I know nothing about publishing, so there is nothing I can offer there.  But I can urge you to keep the faith in yourself. At some point, every published author was a nobody.  I was certainly a nobody.  I moved ahead. I refused to be stopped.  I wish you every blessing with your work.  Take care, Anne Rice.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dr. Green-Bash Thinks Like a Sad Country-Western Song

Lady Fanga was saying something like, "And Doctor, then, you won't believe this, he actually rubbed his nose sixty-three times at dinner. Sixty-three! And I was counting, so I know! And it was not a quick little rub that a person could ignore. It was one of those," and she took her elegant fingers and pinched her own nose firmly to illustrate, pulling her fingers down her nostrils as though trying to squeeze toothpaste out of a used up tube. "Long, coke addict type rubs. I'm sure he has no idea he does it, but still, a person can't be expected to stop their habits. It's hopeless."

Doctor Green-Bash wasn't listening. Truthfully, since Lady Fanga's failed first marriage she had found something wrong with nearly every man she'd dated. She was saying something like, "And can you believe the next guy I dated said I was beautiful twenty-four times at dinner? Twenty-four! And that just isn't going to work for me at all." Not that he was fully listening, but Lady Fanga was a beautiful woman, tall and impeccably dressed, waves of dark hair and big brown eyes, but she was never going to find love if she thought she could check it off on a list of boxes.

Dr. Green-Bash was still thinking about Erin. He realized she needed to read some books but of course all writers had a stack of books they needed to read and many never got to them. They did read of course; all good writers were readers. But the process of selecting the one thing to read in the pile of books was complicated. He couldn't just recommend to Erin a list of books that would help her. That just would not work at all. She had to decide, as though the idea was hers. Otherwise there was no hope for it. She'd take his advice kindly and even take a book he offered to her but it would sit on her stack or on her shelf and never get touched if she didn't put it on the reading list by her own Divine inner magic.

And that was it, wasn't it?

You imagine that you see me but I no longer exist: what remains is the beloved. The words startled Dr. Green-Bash out of his revelation. He could have sworn they came out of Lady Fanga's mouth.

He shook his head vigorously and glanced over at her but she was sobbing and saying, "Why can't it be like in stories? I want a handsome prince to come to my town and lay eyes on me from a distance and just know I'm the one!"

Dr. Green-Bash thought about The Story of Leila and Majnan by Nizami. Sufi alchemical romance: NOT what Lady Fanga wanted but it certainly was a powerful love story about a prince and a princess. Of course they were never to be together in life:

Two lovers lie awaiting in this tomb
Their resurrection from the grave's dark womb.
Faithful in separation, true in love,
One tent will hold them in the world above.

No, she wanted a lover in this life. A perfect lover. He sighed. "Lady Fanga, please have a sip of this nice calming tea." And he poured her a cup. She looked down her nose at the teacup he offered her as though their was something unacceptable about it. Probably she did not approve of the floral print his wife had chosen at the department store. No matter. It took all the strength he could muster to force out the words, "Lady Fanga, just keep doing what you are doing and one day it will work for you." Of course, he didn't believe his own words, but she got really irate if he suggested her process of searching for the perfect mate might be flawed. Her reasoning was that at her age the pool of possible male partners was just so limited now: all the good ones were snatched up. He was thinking, "Dear Lady Fanga, people are people and they are all worthy of deep love... even the ones that rub their nose." But he didn't say it.

There was something in this line of thinking, however, if he was able to get through Lady Fanga's impenetrable advice shield he would tell her and Erin the same thing. Keep working on your goal, yes, but relax about the outcome - don't search for the perfect man or the published bestseller... just live for the process. Work on your Self as you do it so that you grow more and more from inside with each passing day. Work on your Self... that is the true work of Alchemy and of this life, isn't it? Oh, he was so brilliant. If only he had a way to bottle it and pass it on to Lady Fanga in her tea...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

When I grow up I want to live someone else's dream...

In my comment to Laura's post I mentioned a quote that I got out of a youtube vid shown to me at Pacifica by Jennifer Selig.  Here's the vid:

I show it now because when the path you are on seems especially tangled and challenging, that is when you need to remember the message in that video.  My love to all of you and I hope you will follow your dream to completion.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I Must - Laura's Tattoo

I've thought about getting a tattoo for years. The thing is, tattoos seem a little out of character for me. I'm not the type of girl who would get a tramp stamp, and I'm most certainly not the type of girl who would decorate her whole body with colorful sleeves and murals. (Although, that is TOTALLY my type of man. But that is neither here nor there...)

I wear jewelry that represents certain ideals I value or even moments in my life I consider milestones. I wear a Tree of Life necklace every day; I have an owl necklace that my two best friends on the planet also wear; there is a ring on my left middle finger - right next to my wedding ring - that signifies the moment I finally forgave something I'd been holding onto for years.

But the convenient thing about jewelry is that I can take it off at any time. Decorating my body with ink, quite frankly, scares the bejeezes out of me. A tattoo for me, then, would have to be something so meaningful I will never regret its presence.

After years of thinking about it, I know now that if I ever get a tattoo, it will be the simple words, "I must" written like the print of an old fashioned typewriter on the inside of my right wrist.

"Why, Laura?" you may ask. Quite simply, because of the following excerpt from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet:

There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity….

This is possibly the best advice I've ever heard, and since I've already told you what I'd have tattooed on my wrist, you know my answer to his question.

I must. I must write. That's why I do this. That's why I stay late at school or don't go to the mall with friends. It's why my husband sometimes has to take a backseat to my characters. It's why I push myself, why I feel human, and why I dream.

And it is, above all else, the thing I need to remember most when I question myself. When the rejection letters come, or the agent who requested that full says it isn't for her, when the doubt and the "I sucks" and the "I'll never be good enoughs" seep in, the voice inside my head should say "I must." It should remind me of the real reason I do this - without writing, I am not ME. Writing is essential to my being, my wellness, and my identity.

If you haven't read Letters to a Young Poet, do yourself a favor and get a copy and a few Post It tabs and highlighters. You'll need them. Seriously great advice packed into every page.

I'm really curious, readers... tell me what you think of Rilke's words. OR tell me what tattoo you'd get. (I'm so curious about your tattoos, readers. I'm curious about what you think of Rilke too. But mostly the tattoos.)

(Also, the story will continue. Erin is away at the moment and has left me to my own devices. MWUAH HA HA. While the cat's away...)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ellen DeGeneres Interviews Laura (In Her Head)

"Drinking wine and thinking bliss, is on the other side of this
I just need a compass and a willing accomplice
All my doubts that fill my head cascading up and down again
Up and down and round again, down and up and down again."

Pink's rough voice crooned to Laura out of the car stereo.  She turned up the volume, loving the music and the words. She imagined herself with Erin, toasting to writer's bliss. Publication at last! It was a sweet fantasy.  
"Oh, I've had my chances and I've taken them all.
Just to end up right back here on the floor.
To end up right back here in on the floor."

Ugh, that's how Erin was all the time these days. On the floor. It was pathetic, though Laura loved her anyway, of course. In fact, just yesterday evening, Erin had Skyped that she couldn't go into bookstores anymore without hyperventilating because of all the people who had been published when she hadn't even queried an agent yet. Laura snorted. She was on her way to Erin's right now, actually. Her friend just didn't seem well, that girl. Somebody had to check on her.

The song kept going and Laura used it to forget Erin for a moment. 

"Pennies in a well, a million dollars in the fountain of a hotel.
Fortune teller that says maybe you will go to hell.
But I'm not scared at all...hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm
The cracks in the crystal, the cracks in the crystal ball."

She started to sing along.  Her voice began perfectly on key, "Pennies in a well...."  but the song just dropped too low for her as Pink dove into her lower range and Laura was left in the soprano dust with her lovely but high Disney princess voice. "Oh, well."  The lyrics made her think of the future again, though.  Erin sometimes talked about tarot and psychics these days - the girl was seriously having issues - but Laura didn't need a crystal ball to tell her they'd make it. She new they would.

Smiling she imagined Ellen DeGeneres inviting her on to her show. Laura, a young author, with her new successful bestseller, Perfect 10. A real hit. It had everything that made a best seller...  a young handsome hero, looking for his perfect boyfriend.  "Okay, so maybe it's not the classic plot exactly," she said out loud and giggled.  "But that's what will make it a hit. A hit that is needed in these times." 

Her imaginary Ellen, complete with her crooked smile and even more crooked blond hair asked, "Well, Laura, it's a long road to becoming a published author. Did you have doubts? Was it a struggle for you?"

"Actually, Ellen, it was. It was tough keeping up my morale. But deep down inside, I knew that I'd make it." Laura said.

"Really? Wow, Laura, I admire your confidence. Usually my guests say they were shocked by their fame and fortune. How did you know? Did a fortune teller predict it or something? Cause I know I'm still waiting for that postcard from God explaining it all to me."

"Yeah, you know, I do believe talent, creativity, and the support of your family are all essential to making any risky venture pan out. I really do believe that. And working on your skills, well that's key. Don't mistake me there. But, thing is, I knew because I think it's mostly sweat. It's mostly the long haul you have to be into.  You have to be completely committed. And, well, I was. I always was. I knew that no matter what happened I would, 'Just keep swimming!'"

Imaginary Ellen looked at Laura and grinned, nodding. She patted Laura on the knee from where she sat in her comfortable, imaginary armchair and said, "That's a catchy phrase, Laura. I'm sure I've heard that somewhere before...  but I just can't place it."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Enter Dr. Gonzo Green-Bash

Dr. Green-Bash tapped his fingers on the desk as he watched the clock.  He was thinking, "Erin's even later than normal today."  In front of him on his desk was her file.  He had been reading over the notes of her last therapist, the one who she had "fired."  The notes read: "MIT. Clearly thinks a lot of her intelligence."  "Talks too fast.  Nearly impossible to follow." "Hormonal issues. Consider prescribing zoloft."   The last bit was circled four times and underlined.

Shaking his head, Dr. Green-Bash said to himself,  "These western doctors are so quick to prescribe."  After spending seven years in quiet meditation in Puna with Swami Dharma of the Heart, Dr. Green-Bash knew just what Erin needed.  He tapped his heart absently. But she wasn't ready for that, first he had to calm her, to center her. Right now she was far too frazzled for any kind of heart work.

On his desk he had printed out a few things he was sure would help her. He looked carefully over them and his eyes settled on his favorite one:

Top Five Things to do When Feeling Frazzled

by Swami Dharma of the Heart

5.  Watch: "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge." I laughed until my chime bowl tipped over.

(Watch "The Blues Brothers." Yes, my friend, not only is this an hysterical movie, it is also a great example of alchemy.  Very good training for a writer.)

4.  Go to the Bangalore Channapatna Wooden Toy store.  To be a child again, this is the secret joy of life!

(Spend a few hours at the lego store, pick out a set, take it home and build it.  I would recommend Lego Hogwarts if your budget allows.)

3.  Get your hands painted in henna.

(Go for a pedicure.)

2.  Chant: 

"Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare"

(Go to the piano bar with friends. Definitely "Benny and the Jets" and "Hotel California")

1. Do yoga.

(Do yoga)

The items in parenthesis were his own additions. He had a gift for translating Eastern wisdom for Westerners. It was why he had such a following among the royals. Oh dear, and look at the time! Speaking of royals his next client, Lady Fanga Sandwich, would be here soon. What had happened to Erin? She never missed her appointments.