Monday, June 10, 2013

You, Me & Emily

(formerly titled "Demagnetize The Compass, North Is Always North.")

So, okay, I'll be honest.  I want to be liked.  I like to be close with all kinds of people.  I am always exposed and reaching.  Cruelty is a no-go characteristic, but faults draw me in as much as anything else.  It's the mystery and honesty of a flaw that I like.  Stories draw me in more than anything.  I have a very diverse family with more crazies, heroes, stories, and skeletons than I could fit in a memoir.  Does this sound like your family too?  Background stories, yours and mine, instill in me a wider world view and empathy.  I am unendingly interested in passions - any!  If it lights you aflame, I want to feel the burn too.  You can guess - I may be considered overly-sensitive in some circles.  Perhaps I would hurt less if I were different.  Some days I wish I was.  That's the truth.  The whole turtle without a shell phenomenon.  But feeling as much as I do is why I am as good a writer as I am.  Facing the world with an open heart means that pain, but also love, happiness, and wonder affect me deeply.  Leonardo DiCaprio once said that if an actor says he doesn't care about approval, he's lying.  I won't lie to you here.  I yearn for validation and approval.

Does this make me a willow in the wind?  No, thank God, no.  No one's approval defines me.  I know who I am with or without outside validation.  Whoever I owe my internal North too, I don't know.  But, boy, do I.  In my industry, you'd blow away without it.  Maybe in life in general, you would too.

Am I perfect at it?  No, God, no.

I got a review point recently.  No one else - of all my reviewers - had ever made the same point, but I knew.  It was completely, totally, exactly right.  I felt like I was tapped by a magic wand or something.  I was so grateful.

Then I lost my North.

The best of us do.  This is a letter from Emily Dickinson to a man she had never met.  He was a literary critic she'd followed in the newspaper.

Dear V. Higginson,
Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?  The mind is near itself it cannot see distinctly, and I have none to ask. Should you think it breathed, and you had the leisure to tell me, I should feel quick gratitude. If I make the mistake, that you dared to tell me, would give me sincerer honor toward you.  I enclose my name, asking you, if you please, sir, to tell me what is true?  That you will not betray me it is needless to ask, since honor is its own pawn.
Two editors of journals came to my father's house this winter, and asked me for my mind, and when I asked them "why" they said I was penurious, and they would use it for the world.  I could not weigh myself, myself.  My size felt small to me.  I read your chapters in the Atlantic, and experienced honor for you.  I was sure you would not reject a confiding question.

Doesn't she sound insecure, yearning for approval, overly eager?  I am not that woman on the outside. Not even most of me on the inside.  But aren't we all a bit of that?  Somedays a bigger bit?  Who can't relate to not being sure of themselves?

I was so aggressive in addressing my review point - for the record, it was a review point couched in heavy, specific praise - that my husband closed my laptop on me mid-keystroke.  I had lost my perspective.  I couldn't see what was good anymore.  I was Van Gogh.  I was like a lot of artists.  Without realizing what I was doing, I was ripping my canvas into shreds.  Overwhelmed by what needed fixing, I thought that my entire concept was crap.  No one could convince me otherwise.  That is the downside of the internal true North.  In a panic, the only person I can hear is me.  If I'm deluded, I'm an island.  Relate?  :)

I got some sleep.  I recalled the praise.  I confirmed I had a back-up file from before I mercilessly hacked away. :)  I read other people's books.  I took a break.  I got back to it.  It is a slippery slope back to merciless, but we have to wear cleats.

Yes, we want criticism.  Can't get better without it.  But, we can not give ourselves away.  I was on the precipice of a big problem, and I will always be indebted to the woman who told me about it.  But I am a writer.  If writing is the solution, I'm the perfect person for the fix.  When I regained my perspective I saw exactly what to do.  All it took was a few perfectly placed things here and there to be inserted, reworded, or deleted.  It was always in me.  

Be yourself.  No one else can.  Find someone you trust who knows who you are, who believes in you, who will remind you when you need it.  Even Emily needed it.  Generally, keep the study doors closed (a Stephen King reference) - I absolutely believe this - but sometimes you need someone like John Mayer's producer who says, "Calm down, man.  It's not all sh**.  There is a lot here to be salvaged."

There is no replacement for an internal true North.  But don't forget your back-up file manager, sleep, and the praise you skipped over.  Do not tear your canvas.  Compartmentalize as minutely and numerously as you need to to address what needs fixing.  Take a break.  But do not destroy the good.  You can't give yourself away.  Nobody wants us too.  We wouldn't be worth the energy of the criticism if there wasn't more to save.

Thank you for reading my blog, my lovely friends and followers!  Things are going so well, I really can't believe it.  Keep your fingers crossed and hands folded - I adore you!  I will keep you as updated as I can.

All love,

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Excerpt from Caroline Leavitt's "IS THIS TOMORROW"

Caroline Leavitt is a longtime literary idol of mine.  A mutual publishing friend suggested Caroline's novel PICTURES OF YOU as a comparative title for my own work. Since learning of this, Caroline has been nothing but lovely and generous to me. I bought her newest release, IS THIS TOMORROW, a couple days ago. I can't wait to read it. chose to highlight it by publishing a one page excerpt.  I am not sure if nonmember can view Red Room, so I am posting it here for you.  Enjoy!


"Red Room Editors Gina and Huntington selected a page from Is This Tomorrow (2013), by Caroline Leavitt, to share with you today:


She came home to find him in her kitchen, her son’s best friend, Jimmy Rearson, a twelve-year-old kid home from school, with a crush on her, reading all the ingredients on the back of a Duncan Hines Lemon cake mix.

“How’d you get in here?” Ava asked. No one, except for her, locked doors in the neighborhood. It wasn’t that she had anything to steal, but still, there was Brian, miles away, breathing down her neck with a custody threat, telling her he got a lawyer and she’d better get one, too, because he was going to file to revisit their agreement.

“Your lock was easy,” he said.

He watched as she rustled around the living room, looking for her purse. She’d wasted her whole morning running to a lawyer to talk about Brian’s custody threat. It was five years since Brian had left them, barely sending money, and all of a sudden he was telling her that she now posed a psychological and physical danger to their son.

She told the lawyer how Brian used to have a drinking problem. He’d abandoned his son—and her—after things at his job went bad. He hadn’t even seen Lewis in nearly five years, so how could he possibly think about wanting custody now?

“Circumstances change,” he said. “You said he has a full time job, but you only work part time, which puts him in a more stable financial situation than you. It could look like a better environment for a kid.”

“You’re joking. My environment is just fine.”

“Is it?” He rolled his pen between his fingers. “You said he thinks you have a lot of men coming over. Can you prove you don’t? Can you show that your bills are paid on time?”

Ava thought of the careful way she went through her bills every month. She had a whole separate bank account of money she was saving so she could buy her house instead of rent it. “I have savings. I have a house.”

“You rent the house. And banks don’t like giving mortgages to women. If you can’t prove your finances are sound, we may have a problem.”

She came home, feeling sick, and there was Jimmy, staring at her. She was a grown woman with grown up problems and suddenly she was in no mood for Jimmy’s quiet devotion.

“Lewis will be home soon from the dentist,” she said. “You can wait for him at your house. I can walk you home.” She reached for her newspaper, glancing at the headlines. Communists and the pale baked potato face of Eisenhower warning everyone about nuclear disaster. We have to be safe.. She had seen Khrushchev on the TV news ranting about Stalin and all she had thought of was Lewis when he was five and how he had had a tantrum in the middle of Better Dresses in Filene’s because he wanted to go home.

Last week, the paper had reported a car had swerved onto a curb in Belmont and frightened a little girl. The kids seemed riled up by the news, especially Jimmy, who kept asking Ava how much faster could a man run than a child? “What do they do to you when they have you?”

“That’s not going to happen, so don’t you even think it,” Ava told him.

They both stepped outside. Everything looked wilted in the heat. “Where is everyone?” Ava wondered aloud. Why was everything so empty and still, as if the air itself had stopped in place?

And then Jimmy ran, all arms and pumping legs, her son’s best friend in the world. She was shamed to think that sometimes he was the best company she had. He tore out across her lawn, to his house. When he got to the door, he turned and waved with both hands, grinning.

Later, that’s what she told the police. How happy he was. How he smiled.


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