Sunday, December 7, 2014

Bloodletting and Other Lessons about Rejection

My daughter is twelve, and it's been a hard year for her navigating the shark infested waters of friendship. I want to tell her that it will get easier, that when she gets older, she will be able to tell a "true blue" from a "roller coaster" friend on sight. (She made up those categories when she was six.) But the truth is, it's been a hard year for me too.  I don't want to tell her that friend break ups, or more accurately, rejections, are even more painful than lost loves sometimes. I don't want to tell her that no matter how old you get, when someone you think of as a friend doesn't think of you that way, it will feel like you've been sucker punched in front of the entire school.

So I've been trying hard to find a way to quantify and categorize the experience in a way that might make the pain manageable.  Here is what I have come up with:

People, potential friends, fall into two general categories: Cat people and Dog people (I am not talking about pet preference). Cat people want every relationship on their terms. They warm up slowly if at all, and generally remain detached unless something strikes their particular fancy. Dog people are the opposite, they approach every potential friend with open heart and open hand. They are enthusiastic about sharing their lives, perhaps to a fault. These two types of people rarely mix well. Dog people jump all over Cat people with their tails waging, and Cat people retreat horrified to hide under a bed.  (That's what happened to me anyway.) Or a cat person will carefully select a dog person to rub up on, and after a good romp, the dog person will bound away in search of their next playmate (that's what happened to my girl).

When it comes to friendships, I'm a dog person. I bring my friends food, send them text messages to go outside and look at the harvest moon, and invite them to join me for coffee and other events. I love my friends with a passion that is blind to their flaws and champions their efforts. My "true blues" love these qualities in me. The "roller coasters" however find me invasive and annoying, as I was reminded in no uncertain terms recently.  It made my ears go back and set my tail between my legs for days.

My daughter is a Cat person. She is careful and reserved. I won't speak to her experience, but I can imagine that a friend rejection is even harder for her because when she gets smacked down and feels humiliated, she will go into hiding for what would be an interminable amount of time for me. I don't have the attention span for disappointment. At the end of the day, someone else will walk in the room and I will forget all about the pain of the last rejection no matter how hard I try to hold on to it so I can be more like a Cat person.  Because I am a Dog person, I can't help but slobber all over and hope that the next one is a "true blue." She on the other hand will just assume that true blues are extinct or imaginary like unicorns.

Not much help. I have one more bit to offer her, though. The best way to get out from under the bed, the only way to get your tail up is to use the experience in your writing, in your art, play through it in your music. It's a little like bloodletting. Use every chance you can to drain the experience and the pain. Remind yourself that all experience is valuable. More importantly though, let it drain out and away. Look in the mirror or call a "true blue," tell yourself or let them tell you that the loss is not yours. The person who rejected your friendship is the one who missed out. Too bad and good riddance. Better to have found out sooner than later that you were unwanted. "Roller Coasters" are so tiresome and not worth the cost of the ride in the end. But life is such that you may have to ride a lot of "roller coasters" to find the "true blues." In the meantime don't ever doubt they are out there, and every bit as magical as unicorns.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Marriage and Collaboration, a Misconstrued Metaphor

All Writers talk about and maybe even dream about collaboration (writing is so painfully solitary sometimes), but few actually take the plunge. Most cringe at the thought of pure collaboration, seeing it as the relinquishment of absolute control over their plots and characters to another, either because they believe that the other writer will subvert their story and make it worse, or, even scarier, the other writer will take over the story and make it better. In truth both will probably happen in equal measure in any given collaboration and in order to truly collaborate you must let go and open your world to you collaborator.

I, however, (being the extrovert that I am) see collaboration as supreme adventure or fantastic journey, perhaps because I have had some amazingly positive collaborations. In graduate school I teamed with another fiction writer, two poets, and a playwright to produce a series of audience participation performances that used found objects, ritual masks (that the audience sometimes made during the performance), movement, improvisation, and scripted writing. People filled the Café des Artistes in Lafayette, Louisiana on Thursday nights and more pressed their faces to the window to join us in these raucous creative experiences. The collaborators (or conspirators, as we preferred to call ourselves) met on Wednesdays with objects, ideas, and written word in an empty classroom. We let our imaginations fill the space. The energy was intoxicating, and we passed it to our audiences. The coolest part was that no matter what direction I imagined we might be taking when I walked in Wednesday; I never walked out with the same limited vision. And frequently Thursdays ended up in an even more divergent direction.

Years later I taught a writing class once a week after school with a group of 4th graders for the whole year. We created quirky character put them in sensational settings and provided them with a comedic conflicts. I never planned on writing a play with these kids, let alone performing it, but somehow that’s just what happened, and it was phenomenally creative and funny. I gave the kids complete creative control, and we worked through conflicts in vision more or less democratically. I never could have written a play half as amusing as the one this group of eight kids came up with.

In both cases the collaboration worked because no one got married to his or her own ideas. Instead we were all married to the experience. I’m sure there isn't a collaborator out there who has not heard collaboration compared to marriage, and I wonder if I had approached my marriage with the same spirit as I did my collaborations if it would have ended differently. But the metaphor is lacking and limiting taken the other way around. Writers grow through collaboration, even bad collaboration, and it opens our minds to points of view that we couldn't see through our own limited experience. Collaborators don’t share a bathroom; they share ideas, words, a world that only that combination of people could create. I suppose that like a marriage collaboration takes work to work, but cooking up a character or story is so much more exciting than cooking dinner, and the sex . . . well, . . . imagine the best you've ever had; now imagine how much better it could have been. You get the point.

So with these thoughts, I put on my psychological backpack (leaving the toothbrush behind) and enter into the (possible) journey of collaboration again, this time on Book Three of Geodesy Series – Gravitational Forces (Ethan's story) with my friend Jeremy Leavell, who coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidentally) is also the face of Ethan on the Geodesy covers, website, and upcoming book trailers. I am excited to see where the Geodesy journey will go with Jeremy along, and I look forward to growing as a writer in the coming months. I will keep you posted.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear about your experiences with collaboration, good and bad. Comment below!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Just Tempting Fate

The summer has flown by in a blur of action and writing. Stellar Navigation is coming slowly but surely. I haven’t experienced the same sense of urgency and, dare I say it, obsession that I experienced with Safe Distances. Yet I’m writing nearly every day and the writing has been good, satisfying, and intense, but for some reason I feel oddly separate from it. The real world is intruding far too much.

Which brings me to the point of my post. A friend of mine, Cathy Lott, who is a writer on the cusp of finding her voice asked me the other day, “How do you come to work and concentrate every day when your head is with your story?” I seriously have no earthly idea, but I wish more than anything I didn’t have to, and lately I’m finding it hard to find my portal to my story world. I joke about living in my alternate reality full time, but truly it is not a joke. I am more and more unsatisfied with my techy job, and I dream of the day when I will be teaching again – part time, and writing all I want. I long for mornings of sitting in cafes with Amie (my wonderful publicist and a writer in her own right) and Jen (author of The Crossing and I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden) as we pen our ways toward destiny.
So many of my friends are in the same boat with their music and art and writing. It’s absurd that we live in a societal paradox where we value our artists, but only a few lucky ones, and the rest of us languish in the ranks of “productivity.” Why is designing software systems for ecommerce considered productive while writing books isn’t necessarily? And if my techy job is more important than my writing, why does it leave me empty and underwhelmed?
As humans (at least the ones who travel in my circles) we crave creative expression, long for it like a lover. It gives us a completeness beyond productivity. It validates our existence. I know I am not doing what I am here in the world for when I am sitting in that sterile sad little cubicle. Ironically, I only know that I am real when I’m living in my alternate reality. It’s a messed up a world y’all.
In June my wonderful psychic and reiki practitioner, Melissa Jacobsen, told me that I was unhappy in my job, and it was sapping my creative energy. At the time I thought she had missed the mark. I was still convincing myself that I liked my job. But she hit the bullseye. I wonder if I put myself out there, cast myself over the edge and quit my job, would the universe rise up to meet me? Would I find that my writing reached a wide and enthusiastic audience that paid me well to do what I love like JKR? Can one actually help destiny along by trusting in it? Or is quitting a lucrative “productive” job just tempting fate? What do you think?
By the way join me and my destiny by following me on Twitter at geodesyseries. Then you will be the first to know the answers. Amy is tweeting away for me now and so many incredible things are about to happen!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Hamster Sex and the Illuminati

I have a day job. I guess most writers do. But the thing about my day job is that in general I really like it. It’s analytical and challenging. I like the people I work with, and in general I think they respect me. Here’s the thing: lately I can’t shake this feeling that everything we all do at our day jobs is pointless and designed only to make us have somewhere to go during the day so we feel productive.

So like one day the Illuminati or whoever looked up and saw all the people fucking around doing nothing all day. Some of them slept and some played games while others got food and fought off invaders. The hunters and fighters were so much happier than the fuckers who did nothing that they decided to create other jobs. They said something like, “If we make it so people want STUFF, then we can make them do shit to get it. Not only that but making STUFF and moving the STUFF and fixing STUFF and getting better STUFF will create lots of useless activity that will make the lazy people feel productive.”

SO that’s how I became one of the fuckers who moves STUFF. But what does any of the STUFF and STUFF WE DO really amount to? I think I would have been happier killing things to eat or invaders. Maybe. But the sad reality is that I am nothing more than a blind hamster running on a dirty wheel all night long, dreaming that I am moving far away down some road to a place where I can feel the sun on my face and soft grass under my tiny paws. A place where I can sip water from flower pedals and make love to some other lucky hamster. After a long night of running toward this dream, I wake up, step off the wheel and stumble into the same wooden house I was escaping from last night. I am of course shocked every time it happens, and all I can do is collapse in a heap and sleep off my grief, so that I can awaken and jump on that wheel of hope all over again the next night.

What does this have to do with writing you ask? Well, think of writing as the artistic equivalent of killing things. It feels like it has more of a purpose than the other shit I do that feels like running on the hamster wheel. Instead of buying into the lie, I’m scratching and clawing at the bottom of the plastic cage. And maybe I will claw and scratch all night long every night for the rest of my life until my nails fall off, and all I will have to show for it is a piece of scratched up plastic, but maybe I will bust a hole right through that pink plastic and if I am very very luck or blessed by the Illuminati, the hole will lead to grass and sunlight and blissful sex rather than another level of the same fucking cage.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Weird things happen to people who don’t experience fear in a normal way. One of those things is that they develop a nearly constant ache for some kind of adrenaline rush. When I was sixteen-seventeen, I was obsessed with jumping off cliffs. I made my friends drive to outlandish locations far and wide in upstate New York and dragged them on endless hikes miles into the wilderness to feed my need for freefall. (My parents would not sign a consent for skydiving or bungee jumping, so I had to improvise). Now, a million years later, I am restless and desperate for that sensation again (and again and again).

There is a moment, a split second really, that happens between the safety of the ground and the plunge downward. Maybe other people don’t feel it because they are too filled with fear. But in the blip, my mind gives up, goes completely blank, my emotions are numbed beyond numb as I surrender to fate. As soon as I register that I am falling, reality rushes in to kill that peace, but an echo of it returns deep under the cold water where everything is silent and slow.

As a writer there are moments when I experience this too. There are rare and sublime moments where my ego is so obliterated by a character, a scene, or an interaction that I can let everything else go. In these moments my writing is more than good. I had one of those moments this week and I want to share it here so badly, but then again I don’t. What I really want is to pass it on to the other writers in and should-be-writers in my life, especially Cathy and Jeremy. I want to take them to the edge of the cliff and like Elena heal them of every vestige of fear and self-criticism. I want to show them how to fall, ugly and ungraceful, but most of all uncaring, through the air. I want to pull them down deep into the muck at the bottom of the river where light cannot filter in. I want them to fly.

Postscript: This post comes with a warning. There is a distinct downside to flight. Once you take to the sky, walking and even running seems so ordinary, slow, and pedestrian. The higher you go, the further you fall. Gravity is inevitable and unalterable.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Mirrors and Love

My friend and fellow author, Jen Hritz, did the coolest thing last week. She put up a quiz that tells you which character you would be from her novels. If you haven't read her books you need to (not just so you can take the quiz) because you will fall in love. I fell in love with Joel and coincidentally Joel is the character I would be based on Jen's quiz. Here comes the point of my blog today. There is a saying that opposites attract; I say not so. We fall in love with our mirror. It is always about the mirror.

Think about your friends, the ones you love so much that you would go out and rescue in a driving snowstorm in the middle of the night an hour away. The ones you call when you need to cry or talk about an impossible crush that can never really be anything, but who tell you anything is possible (trust me anything is NEVER possible, but it is so nice to hear that it is). These are the people who inform your identity. And in a sense I am in love with those friends (like Jen) because I see something of me in them. It works with those crushes and the ones who become lovers too, but for me (like Joel) we always end up mirroring some dysfunction rather than something positive as with my friends.

In a book I fall in love with the character who is most like me. In my books I don't need a quiz to tell me I'm Sage. That's why she told the first story. Now to extend this idea to the characters in my books I have to be honest about who each character really is. Elena and Sage could not be more different, and Elena's love for Sage is really more of hero worship; she wants to be like Sage, but Sage is not her mirror. Finn and Sage are definitely mirrors though. And many of my readers are rooting for them to be together. That leaves Ethan. Ethan. Ethan. Ethan. My sweet and powerful enigma. I will not give you any spoilers today.

The closer I get to writing in Ethan's voice the more nervous I am. In my mind I am nothing like him, but I love Ethan the most, so if my hypothesis is to prove out, he must be my mirror in some way. I have a feeling that when I figure out how, not only will his voice and story come easily and powerfully, but I will learn something very valuable about myself through the journey.

So go read Jen's books, I Too Have Suffered in the Garden and The Crossing.  Take her quiz and fall in love with your mirror.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Strength it takes to be Vulnerable

I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability lately. I mentioned it in my interview with Jen Hritz. I think about it in terms of my characters in The Geodesy Series. I’ve seen it in my brave friend, Aideen Walsh who published her autobiography. I watched one of my actors embrace it in the photo shoot for the book covers and trailers. I even counseled a single-mom friend to accept it on the day she moved when she went outside to find her truck had two flat tires. And yet NOTHING makes me so uncomfortable.

I like to think about life in terms of Strength and Weakness. I have described Stellar Navigation as Elena’s struggle with those opposing forces, but now I think that description is inaccurate. Elena’s problem is that she feels vulnerable, and she wants to feel strong. She thinks that one precludes the other. Poor Elena (poor Sue)! It took me half my life to figure out that weakness and vulnerability are not synonyms.  In fact nothing takes more strength than allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

 Let’s take my friend Aideen’s book as an example. She is not a writer by trade, and if you met her on the street, you might notice her Irish brogue and the twinkle in her eyes, but you wouldn’t walk away thinking she was particularly strong or terribly weak as a human. But her story is an intense demonstration of human strength and vulnerability (not weakness). Furthermore, the fact that she has put her story out there for the world to see a testament to her strength because that kind of exposure leaves her so vulnerable. Yet she has embraced that exposure rather than shying from it. Amazing! Poetic!

 And I appreciate it, but ARGH it makes my palms sweat and my head spin to think about the world knowing any details about my life aside from the externals. And being in the presence of vulnerability makes me . . . hide. Bear with me while I set the scene. At my photo shoot this week, I sent all of the actors out of the room except Jeremy (the actor playing Ethan). I needed shots of Ethan sucking his thumb since that is such an integral part of the character, but I didn’t know how to ask my actor to do that. I hemmed and hawed and fumbled. Finally, my photographer, Paul Woodruff, stepped up and explained what I wanted in the gentlest and deepest way. Not only did my actor get it intellectually, but he proceeded to really get into the character and demonstrate the vulnerability that I desperately wanted to capture for this character. It was so achingly honest that I couldn’t watch while Paul took the pictures. In fact it took me two days to really look at the proofs, which left me breathless.  It must have taken a lot of strength for Jeremy to be that exposed.  (I don’t think I could have done this in a million years).

And yet I admire vulnerability. It’s an elusive lesson that has dogged me my whole life. My friend Lacey, who is frighteningly like me, woke up on moving day to find her truck with not one, but two flat tires and an empty bank account. I saw her two days later and she said, “It all turned out fine thanks to all my friends who came to my rescue, but damn I hate to be rescued! And I just wonder what I am supposed to be learning here.” I jumped right in, like I do, to explain how vulnerable we all are and how it’s hard for people like her (and me) to admit that by asking for help. Her eyes lit up and she thanked me for my take. I walked away and thought about how awful it must have been for her to make those calls, how much strength it takes to be vulnerable.

 Now to the point: I am here writing this, making myself vulnerable only because it is so damn hard and it takes so much f_ing strength to do it. I am here growing as a human and a writer because of the people who so beautifully and poetically trust me (and the world) enough to be vulnerable. I will pass this one to Elena and all my readers now. Thanks Aideen, Jeremy, Lacey! Lesson learned.

Read the Interview with Jen Hritz at:
See the photos of Jeremy as Ethan at:
Get Aideen’s Autobiography at: