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“Insanity: repeating the same action over and over again, and expecting different results.”  Einstein

“But the worst enemy you can encounter will always be you, yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caves and woods.”  Friedrich Nietzsche

 

Insert image here of Wiley Coyote flattened against a wall, or falling over a cliff, or blowing himself up one more time and appearing singed, hairless, and dejected.

This, my friends, is me.

Reality is a locale that I avoid.  It is an inhospitable world, one in which I feel alien and outcast.  But every now and then, my Muse gets together with whatever demon was charged with tormenting me into personal growth, and they drag me, kicking and screaming, through those oh so solid gates and lock me in.  My repeated head plants into the wall do nothing to extricate me from the situation, and eventually I figure out what it is I need to learn.

In case anyone has noticed, I have been increasingly frustrated with my writing of late.  I angst over lack of time, over slow progress, over my inability to write what I think I should, or could, be writing.  The sheer pleasure in the act of creation, in mastering this craft, got lost somewhere along the way.  Over the last two days, after dashing myself repeatedly against the very solid walls surrounding the land of reality, a certain amount of logic has finally pierced my slow and unwilling writer brain.

Things have changed.

Once upon a time, not that long ago, when I got up at 5 am to journal or yoga or write, I was alone and undisturbed, with at least an hour and a half before anybody else dared to enter my personal space.  On my days off, I was alone and free to write or do whatever else I wanted after the kids went off to school  All distractions, digressions, and procrastinations were at my own discretion and under my control.  Until one day, both of my darling children announced that they wanted to be in jazz band – a zero hour class that started at 7 am.  This shortened the morning solitude significantly.  Child #1 then decided that 5:30 was the optimal time for him to get up and have a shower.  My wonderful and beloved partner, who used to leave for work at 4 am, got laid off and began getting up with me at 5.  Days off involved the presence and distraction of somebody I love to spend time with; somebody who needs an extra pair of hands for a project here, and wants to go for lunch there, and is just generally bored and wanting to go do things. 

My response?  Going on as if nothing had changed.  Getting up at 5 and expecting alone time, despite repeated proofs that this just wasn’t in the cards for the day.  (Speaking of cards, the tarot tried to help me out, repeatedly giving me advice and sneaky little hints about change, and the end of something, and letting go and moving on to something new.)  On days off, I continued to expect long, unbroken stretches of writing.  Rather unrealistic, considering that the house we live in is completely open, and anybody else inhabiting it, unless locked in a crypt, is going to make appearances and engage in conversation and want to know what happened to those left overs that got shoved into the back of the fridge last night.

I ceased to enjoy anything.  When I was writing, I felt guilty that I wasn’t engaging with my partner or my children.  When I was hanging out with various family members, I felt guilty that I wasn’t writing.  I would set improbable goals and then beat myself up for failing to meet them.  More recently, I sank to beating up my very supportive and dearly loved man person.  Okay, I didn’t hit him or anything, but I did blame him for something that is in no way, shape, or form, his fault.

Insanity.  What my brief sojourn in the town of reality has taught me is that it is time to accept the changes and adapt.  Writing time may need to be more scheduled, with clear and explicit boundaries.  I can’t expect people in my world to know whether I’m twittering or blogging or deeply involved with a difficult scene if I don’t tell them.  And my usual writing station at the kitchen table, in the center of an open plan house is just begging everybody to interact at will.

Thus it is that I have moved my desk and my computer into the mud room.  Not the room of one’s own that every writer dreams of, I suspect.  There is a huge window and a french door between me and the rest of the house.  The sound of pianos and guitars and TV sitcoms is dimmed, but not shut out.  I’m surrounded by shoes and there is a definite traffic flow pattern of people entering and exiting the house.

But there is a boundary in place.  When I’m in here, I’m writing and everybody knows it – a signal of intent.  So it is that out of the tears and emotional flailing of yesterday, a peace is born.  I can work here.  And I will try to remember, as I flee the harsh reality world back into my softer and much more entertaining lands of fantasy and conjecture, that there is more to life than writing. Not much, maybe, but if the writing work gets done then the rest of life holds so much more pleasure.

Over the last month I’ve watched with a sort of horrified fascination as Queryfail morphed into Agentfail, and all of the agent bashing that has occurred as a result.   I’ve resisted blogging about it because I didn’t  want to get caught up in the sound and the fury, but here I am this morning anyway, because the storm seems far from subsiding and has given me pause for thought.

In my day job, (and often night job) I work as a Mental Health Crisis Response provider, dealing with people who are under duress.  One of the things I have noticed, is that powerful emotions bring out the ugly.  It’s easy to begin slinging mud; to distance ourselves from a perceived threat by spewing vitriolic blame.  And the natural reaction, when somebody spews vitriol at you, is to either suit up in vitriol proof armor, or sling it back.

The result?  Nobody hears what anybody else is saying, because everybody is on either the offensive or the defensive.  

What I hear, when I take a step back to listen, is this:

All of us, writers and agents, are human beings.  All of us are in this business because we love books. All of us are splendidly flawed and carry emotional baggage, and here is where I think it all blows up.  Every human being on this planet sees the world through a unique lens created by experiences, emotions, and beliefs.  Which means that there is not One Reality, but many, and when we try to communicate we always assume that we are talking about the Same Thing.

Usually we are not.  Some of us live on adjacent planets, so to speak, and we manage to come close enough to a common reality to have a meaningful exchange of ideas.  Some of us dwell on far flung solar systems and the frame of reference between one galaxy and another is so vastly different, that although we use the same words we are not speaking the same language.

When you look at the comments somebody has written with shock and disbelief, and find yourself asking, “where did that come from?”, my guess is, a place far, far away from you.  One insightful blogger, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, made a very apt point: many authors want to see agents as larger than life, archetypal representatives of something.

They are not.  They are not archetypes, but human beings, and they have problems just like everybody else’s:  they have kids and pets, car trouble, financial difficulties, and complicated schedules.  Most of them receive hundreds of queries a day, most of which do not follow recommended guidelines, some of them not even written in acceptable English; many of these queries are sent by writers living in a far flung reality with a language all it’s own.  I’m not surprised if agents feel a bit snarky from time to time about the junk they are expected to wade through in search of the occasional piece of gold.

As a writer, I sometimes feel like I’m playing the lotto when it comes to publishing.  I’m guessing it feels a lot that way to be an agent.  In all honesty, after following Queryfail and reading the Tweets of various agents, I feel less hopeful than ever about getting published:  I’m honestly amazed that with the onslaught of trash that agents are expected to deal with they are still speaking in complete sentences and able to uncross their eyes to read the good queries when they come in.

The good news is, I no longer take rejection personally.  This system, like the social services system that I work in, is entailed in unsolvable knots (to quote Dr. Seuss).  It’s a miracle that writers manage to complete a manuscript, given all of the forces that work against creativity and writing time.  It’s a miracle that agents find and recognize the rare jewel in the trash heap.

Agents are not enemies, they are allies.  I hope, when I find representation, to have a partnership with respect on both sides.  I hope, when my destined agent and I finally connect, that we can work as a team, that our worlds lie close enough together for us to have meaningful conversations and get books published.  And I think that is the whole point of the query process: finding the agent who speaks your language.

That said, I’d better get back to writing, or there will be no queries for me to add to the slush pile.  And while I’m writing, believe me, I’m looking for the alchemy that makes my manuscript the chunk of gold that someday makes some agent’s day.

Last week, during the Wonders Blog party, I began wondering about “words, and the fact that any of us manage to communicate with each other at all, given our incredibly different world views and the shades of meanings words carry for all of us.

I’ve been thinking about this all week, in fact.  I’m a writer.  Words are my world – for me every single one has its own shades of meaning, sometimes an actual color or smell or texture.  Putting the right words in place, making sure they all play nicely with each other, that there is harmony and balance as well as meaning, becomes an artistic challenge.   Sometimes the music the words make wins out over meaning for me, and I’ll change what I thought I wanted to say in order to accommodate the demands of the language.

However.  Presumably, I’m trying to communicate something – to cross the divide of space and understanding that separates me from everybody else on this planet.  I have come to believe that putting across any precise or exact meaning is probably impossible.  If you doubt this, go sit in a college Literature class as a once beautiful poem or story is dissected.  Everybody has an opinion about what the author meant, most of the time probably light years away from what the author intended.  

Now, you might say that this is the fault of the author – that she was not specific enough, detailed enough; that she failed in her task of painting her reality for others to share. 

I disagree.  It occurs to me that what I mean by red and what you mean by red, are probably two completely different things.  You might be seeing drops of blood, while I’m seeing a sunset.  And no matter how specific I try to be, however I try to paint the color of that sunset for you, we’re still going to run into difficulty.  Sunsets are different on the prairie, in the mountains, by the ocean.  And even if we are, say, brother and sister, growing up in the same house together, who can say that what I see as red and what you see as red are exactly the same thing.

When I read a beautifully written book, I’m totally unconcerned with what the author intended.  All that matters is my experience of the book, what sense the words make to me.  Something has been created that speaks to something in me, that strikes a chord that engages my emotion, my interest, my imagination.  When I write, of course I consider my audience.  Some.  I’m more concerned with orchestrating the words and ideas into a pattern that makes sense to me, and then trusting there are others out there who will take interest in the same pattern, even if it speaks to them in a different way.  

The same problem, of course, occurs in everyday conversation, only then I’m much more concerned with meaning and don’t care a great deal whether the words are musical or not.  And yet the simplest messages go astray.  Everything we hear is filtered through our experiences, our beliefs, our understandings, so that what was said and what is received are two entirely different messages.  This distortion is abundantly clear to anybody who has ever facilitated a marriage counseling session.  She says, “I really need to get out of the house more,” and he hears, “You aren’t helping me with the children.”  Now, maybe she meant this.  Maybe she was thinking about getting a baby sitter, or taking the kids to the park.  You all know what I’m talking about.

Maybe this happens because words are only representations, and never the thing itself.  A tree, for example, is not really a tree.  We call it that, because it is convenient and that’s the word we were taught as babies.  A chair is not really a chair, a cat is not a cat… you get the picture.  It gets even more complicated when we move into the realm of the abstract.  When we speak of love, for example, how do we know we are talking about the same thing?  Even if we refine this, ruling out maternal love and platonic love and settle on romantic love, how do I know that the feeling I get when I think of love, is the same feeling that you experience?  At the least our experiences of love are similar enough that most of us can say, “ah, yes, I know what you mean.”

In reality, we probably don’t, but if we believe we do, that has to suffice.  We come into this world with a built in need for connection, and spend our lives trying to attain it.  Some of us come close.  There are people whose experience, whose perception, is near enough to ours that we are confident that we have been understood.  With other people, no matter what we say we’ll never get it right.  Some of us strive endlessly against the odds, trying to reach people who are fundamentally incapable of understanding what it is we are trying to tell them.

So where am I going with all of this?  Nowhere really.  Just thinking out loud.  One of my novels in the works, Swimming North, deals with this issue and so I am grappling to understand what my book is trying to tell me.  Any thoughts on this?  I’d love to hear your opinions on the matter.

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