Monday, December 30, 2013

How do you spell S U C C E S S?

I have a wise and wonderful friend (actually I have more than one) who asked me some really hard questions a couple of weeks ago.  They were as follows:

1. Do you gain a sense of accomplishment/identity from Skye's (my daughter) achievements?
2. Do you lover her whether or not she achieves or succeeds?
3. Is your identity derived from your accomplishments?
4. If all of your success and accomplishments were stripped away would you still accept and love yourself?

Those of you who are smarter than I am will see from question one what my friend was driving at, but it took me an hour of discussion and a week of contemplation to come to the AH HA moment she intended.

At first I felt a little defensive. Of course I do not define myself through my child's success. I know parents who do. Too many of them.(You know them too. The only topic of conversation they have is their kids and nothing happens in their house from the first poo in the potty to the last race ribbon won that doesn't merit a braggy Facebook post, Instagram photo, or phone calls to anyone who might listen) Truly, I take no credit for the wonderful kid who happened to be lent to me by the gracious universe. She has been her own creation from the first breath. I am honored to be along for the ride, and if she wants her successes broadcast to the four corners, she isn't waiting for me to do it. My friend knows this about me. She knows that my love for my kiddo is unconditional. If gets an A or an F, my reaction is the same. If she is first chair or last in band, matters not a whit. If she wins or loses a race, whatev! She is always my awesome Skye and I couldn't love her more or less.

Follow me now; this where the whole thing got hairy for me. I got to question 3 and said, "Huh? Of course, Yes! I am a writer not because I write, but because my scribblings have been selected by random publications and individuals to be read. If I had never been published, I would not call myself a writer. My degrees - four - count them make me an academic. My awards not my experiences in theatre as a writer, actor, and director make me a thespian. What a stupid question? My accomplishments make me who I am. Right?"

Question 4 hit me like a ton of bricks right in the middle of my chest. The honest answer is NO. Sadly in capital letters. I mourned for my shallowness and lack of personhood for 3 days. Then I woke up in the shower one morning and asked, "WHY?" The answer is simple and shallower than my own personal pity puddle. My parents (my mother really) only noticed my sibs and I when we achieved something. We were and are constantly pitted against each other in an unspoken race for maternal recognition based on the number of letters following our names and our spouses', the number of zeros in our paychecks and savings accounts, the numbers appearing on the scale in the bathroom. It's sick and sad.

So success this year will be spelled out not in book sales but in how much I love myself with or without a place on some arbitrary list. I will love myself the way I love my characters with all their flaws and foibles. I will (as my wise friend Susan Jarvis wanted me to) find a way to define myself more deeply and meaningfully and afford myself the same generosity that I afford my child without question. I love you, Susan, for loving me enough to want that for me!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Taking Stock of What's in the Stocking

So the web is abuzz with stories about Christmas wishlists from a century ago. All that talk has made me take stock, not of my own Christmas desires (which consist of more than nuts and fruit, but far less than diamonds and real estate), but of my bucket list. I realize this is just a millimeter short of a quantum leap, but this is how my twisted mind works.

A million years ago when I stood at the edge of the wood and took the proverbial path more or less travelled, I had some kind of pie in the sky wish for fame that would last beyond the grave. In my ninth grade journal I think I said something about wanting kids to read my books in school after my romantic and untimely demise. (gag me with a spoon)

Fast forward to graduate school where I was doused in the cold hard reality of probable literaty obscurity. I scaled my wishlist back to a thin sliver of hope of publication in esoteric literary journals with a readership of several. Those were the days of nuts in my stocking.

Last Christmas I hadn't finished Safe Distances yet and my carefully worded and thought through desires ended with actually finishing a novel, having it read by more than 12 people, and maybe (hope against hope) seeing it find a home in a library. Check. Check. And as of yesterday, Check! I should feel vindicated, done, sated and proud. And I am - to a degree.

My bucket list said nothing about fame, fortune, or the New York Times Best Seller's list. So why am I querying agents and bloggers till my fingers bleed? Why am I spending every spare minute directing and crafting book trailers? Why am I trying to conquer the Twitter in some vaguely desperate and almost certainly futile attempt to make my hashtag go viral (is that even possible?)? Why? No, really, I need you to tell me.

So this is me taking stock. This is me taking this Christmas to be grateful for a story (or two) to tell, characters I love spending time with, and mostly friends who read my book(s) (and blog) and still love me. Am I going to stop querying? Am I going to stop Tweeting (and bloging)? Probably not. But I am going to stop envying the crappy romance writing indy published shedog, who supposedly did nothing to promote her books and ended up on the NYT Best Seller list - 5 f-ing times. (Okay, I'll work on the bitterness too). I am going to accept that fate is a fickle mistress with no taste and enjoy the check marks in the margin.

This Christmas I am going to write because I love it. I will plant myself at a table in the public library across from the shelf that would hold my book if it hadn't been checked out and be grateful for words.