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Honesty time.

The last couple of months have been hard slogging, and I realize that my Blog has suffered somewhat under the onslaught.  Digital Dame commented, in a conversation at another blog site, that she misses the weekend challenges.  So do I.  I also miss the long, unscheduled days off, a sense of freedom, and uninterrupted time to write.  

A week ago, my favorite public horoscope said something like this:  you’re trying to look relaxed while standing on a dock with one foot on a boat.  The boat is moving away from the dock, and you’re going to have to commit to either the boat, the dock, or fall into the water.

Which is a pretty accurate description.  Unwilling to abandon either the boat or the dock, I have predictably ended up thrashing about in cold water, still undecided whether to swim for the safety of the dock or the adventure of the boat.

Actually, it’s more complicated than that, but at least it’s an image to begin with.

Emotionally, I’m still struggling with the suicide of my very good friend.  My job brings me into contact with other suicidal people on an almost daily basis so there is no way of avoiding or silencing my grief.  And as a professional the questions I ask myself  involve more than the usual “how could he do this thing?” and progress to the “how come I didn’t stop him?”  My novel in progress, Swimming North deals with suicide, the type of work I do, and contains a character, Zee,  loosely based on my friend.  He and I had long talks about this novel.  He introduced me to Vivian the Penguin who inspired the whole thing, as well as Escher and certain interesting concepts of reality.  So, while the man is dead, the book and the ideas live on.

What is difficult, apart from the emotional process of grieving, is this: the book is a novel.  The character of Zee is fictional, whatever might have inspired it.  And this conflicts with a tendency to turn it into a monument to the real man and a discussion of philosophical ideas, both of which will kill the fiction dead if I indulge.  So, there is that.

As I mentioned before, a couple of good and insightful readers of my once completed novel Remember made comments which inspired a complete revision.  I’m about halfway through this process.  It’s been painful at times – a rather bloody and ruthless slaughter of hours of hard work and polished words.  And uninterrupted stretches of writing time have been at a premium.  But I do believe it will be stronger in the end, so it’s worthwhile.

On the home front, my partner is still unemployed.  My job is becoming increasingly difficult as the economy calls for tighter budgets.  Over the last couple of weeks as I’ve been working on the newsletter for my association – Washington Association of Designated Mental Health Professionals – I’ve been becoming increasingly angry regarding the lack of value that is placed on the mentally ill in my state.  Not something most of my readers will care about, I suppose, but Washington has less psychiatric beds per capita than any other state in the nation.  Since a big part of my job involves trying to put people into non-existent beds, this is a constant cause of frustration.  I spend hours with vulnerable, hurting, sometimes dangerous people, and expend a great deal of creative energy attempting to solve problems that are simply not solvable.

Which leaves precious little creative energy for writing and blogging.  I resent this.  And so sometimes when I open my Blog and click on New Post, I often look at the screen blankly and can’t think what to say.  There is simply too much.  Weekend challenges, the last few times I’ve tried, simply added to that sensation of one foot on the dock and one in the boat.  Writing has to fit into the corners and crevices of my life right now. Always crowding out some other thing that needs to be done.

Don’t get me wrong – I make time for it, as my family could tell you.  Today I really must find time for some household cleaning activities.  I plan to carry on with the revision of Remember.  There are errands to be run in town.  And, I’m on call again, meaning whatever I plan is likely to be interrupted by the ringing of the phone.  

It’s not all bleak in my world, I must point out.  Outside my windows, spring has finally managed to break through.  It gets so green up here sometimes it seems unreal, a Hollywood set design with special effects.  I’m going to my first writing conference in a couple of weeks.  I’ve refrained from taking on extra shifts in May, so hopefully will have a little more time for writing and relaxation.

As always, please feel free to use this site to share how your writing and querying and living is going.  Inquiring minds want to know.

“I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather, I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths.” Martin Seligman

I love this idea.  Society has a tendency to work the other way around.  If you have a weakness, it will be pointed out to you by teachers, friends, parents, and certainly enemies.  Your perception of reality can easily be distorted, so that whatever this weakness is, you begin to see it as your defining characteristic.

An example.  Suppose you have the world’s most gorgeous eyes, but somebody has just told you your nose is too big.  When you go look in the mirror, what are you going to see – the beautiful eyes, or the ugly nose which has suddenly overtaken your entire face and turned you into a troll?  Remember the teen years, and how one zit could render you socially inadequate for a week?  (I’m assuming all readers of this blog are not supremely enlightened beings who are beyond this particular problem).

We tend to allow ourselves to be defined and limited by the things we don’t do well, and that focus keeps us from building on our amazing strengths.  This is what the Ugly Duckling story was all about.  The swan made a lousy duck.  It would have made an even worse chicken – imagine if it had never even found its way into the water, because it was busily trying to figure out how to scratch around in the barnyard.  Everything has an intended purpose – a spoon doesn’t work well for eating spaghetti, but it sure beats out the fork when it comes to soup.

When it comes to writing, we all have strengths.  Yours might be characters, or plot, or making music with words.  And I believe it is important to build on those strengths, rather than devoting all of your time and energy toward fixing what you think are your weaknesses.  Think of your favorite authors: what comes to mind is not their weaknesses, but whatever they do that shines.  

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that grammar and punctuation are not important, or that we shouldn’t work to get better at plotting or character development, or whatever it is that weakens our work.  I’m only saying that if you spend all of your time trying to correct what you’re not quite as good at, you don’t get to shine in the area where you have true brilliance.

That said, if I don’t find some time for writing soon, I’m not going to shine at anything.  It’s been a week of distractions and time consuming reality based living.  Time to get on with building on my own writing strengths.

As always, keep your fingers moving, and may your muses be easily accessible and full of ideas.

A few days ago, Cliff responded to my bee analogy with the following comment:

 “The term “author” is an “honorific” and unless you’re willing to dedicate yourself utterly to the calling of writing, don’t bother applying for membership. I think it was Thomas Carlyle who called writers a “priesthood” and he wasn’t far wrong…”

This comment bothered me immediately, and I’ve turned it over in my head a lot over the last few days to sort out exactly why. I now have a not so humble opinion to offer in response.

 

As it turns out, I don’t aspire either to the priesthood, or to membership in an elite author’s club.  I am first, and foremost, a human being, and like other members of the human race I am a beautiful mess of gifts and ineptitudes, fatal flaws and incredible potential.  Much of the time I am simply bewildered and confused, trying to make some sense out of what I’m doing on this planet and how it fits in with all of the other human dramas I see playing out around me.

 

Other people turn to art, or music, or work, or sometimes to the time tested and always inefficient method of alcohol or other chemical sedation.  I write.  Something about the way I am wired, something in my genetic code or my upbringing or some combination of the above, makes me more at home with words than any other outlet.  And so I write – to understand, to heal, to change, to accept.  Maybe in this process I’ll write something that sings to somebody else.  Maybe I’ll write something that gets published, and if I do, and if I experience some success or even some financial benefit from this, I will be ecstatic!  Or at least, I think I will, but no success will ever be enough, because that is another part of how I am wired.

 

I’ll keep writing, anyway, published or unpublished, because it’s the only way I know to be in this world.  I’ll write in the middle of homework questions and the building of snacks, through the latest guitar licks performed by one child while the other works out a difficult riff on the piano.  I’ll write early in the morning and late at night.   I’ll also go on hauling trash to the dump, vacuuming dust bunnies off the floor, cleaning toilets, and wondering why, oh why, is there toothpaste on the floor between the toilet and the tub?  And, what sort of magnetic attraction causes inert substances like dust and hair to make a dust bunny in the first place?  I’ll continue going to my job and trying to remain open to the incredible pain my clients and their families face on a daily basis.

 

Some days I’ll be too busy or too tired or too discouraged, to either wonder or write, but I won’t give up.  I hope this gets me published some day.  I hope even more that it makes me a better human being, maybe even one who can speak in a limited way for those who haven’t got a voice.

Nothing today has gone as I planned. 

In my head, that sentence was profoundly insightful.  Once written, I recognize the reality – nothing ever goes the way I plan, and normally I know better than to make plans in the first place.  That way, when the plans (don’t) go awry, I’m not surprised, irritated, and consequently bitchy.

Yep.  I said the B word, which is exactly where this day has left me.  Not a bad day, if I’m honest – just not the day I wanted it to be.  I had visions of writerly sugar plums dancing in my head, and only got in an hour or two of mediocre work.  I could be working now, but instead I’m Blogging about nothing in particular, sharing not very inspiring thoughts that would probably be better kept to myself. 

In reality, I’m happy with my life.  I just want more of it.  (“life piled on life/were all too little”…) More time to write, more time to sit in the sun, longer hugs, a larger stomach capacity so I can enjoy more food, a higher tolerance for alcohol.  Oh, a way higher tolerance for alcohol. One glass of wine nearly puts me under the table, a limit I am rapidly approaching.  More money, with which to do more things.  More time.  More years, more days, more time to sleep, more time to play.  More words.  More motivation. 

Ah, motivation.  Kind of related to planning, that word.  I prefer intention.  Not the kind of intention that’s going to pave my way to hell, either.  I’m talking about Intention with a capital I, the way the New Agers use it.  Sort of a cosmic destination point.  The logistics don’t matter so much at this point, all those details that the devil is always wreaking havoc with.  I am still writing.  I am writing now, I will be writing when I have posted this Blog, and tomorrow morning when I regret posting it.

I will be writing tonight in my sleep, as those endless plot dilemmas play out in my dreams.  I am making progress on Filling in the Blanks, even if it’s not as rapid as I like, I’ve only got about 100 pages to go on this third and hopefully final revision.  I will be writing as I craft a synopsis and a query, and then I will journal my hope and despair as I send my baby out into the cold cruel world of the publishing industry.  With, of course, the Intention of finding it an audience.

And I think, now that I’ve written away the unrealistic guilt of a day spent doing necessary tasks not involving my novel, maybe there is a little energy reserve left to address at least a page or two before I make an end.

Tomorrow, as they say, is another day, with no plans in it as yet.

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