riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Dreaming of Zelda

I recently watched the Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It’s about a 1950s housewife and mother who decides to try and make it as a comedian in an extremely male-dominated field. It took me a little time to get into it, but the show’s endearing quality grew on me. And I love its style. Mrs. Maisel’s parents (the Weissmans) live in a beautiful Upper West Side apartment with multiple bedrooms, bathrooms and sitting rooms, a fireplace, a grand piano (seriously, their apartment is to die for). My favorite part of their life, however, is their Polish housemaid Zelda.

Zelda does everything – she cooks, cleans, shops, answers the phone, wraps the gifts, hires extra help when needed, and probably more. The only thing she doesn’t do is drive. I’m not sure if she lives with the family, but she’s always there, in the morning to hand them their first cup of coffee and at night to clean up after dinner. She doesn’t say much, but her presence is felt. The more I watched the show, the more I noticed her, and thought about her, and started to wonder what it would be like to have a Zelda.

In my life, I’ve experienced Zelda only fleetingly, and never at full capacity. At some point in my childhood, I remember my mother hired a woman to clean our house every other week. When Kaz was very ill, a friend sent a maid service to help clean our apartment once a week, which was extremely generous and greatly appreciated.

The closest thing to a full Zelda experience was when I went to a writing residency at the Vermont Studio Center several years ago. For four blissful weeks, my only responsibility was to clean my clothes (at the local laundromat). Everything else was done for me (and the other residents). My day consisted of walking to the mess hall for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the rest of the time writing in a private office. It was HEAVEN.

Many art and writing residencies are like this. The whole point is to provide you the time and space to focus solely on your work. It’s such a luxury.

I have a writer friend whose husband does most of the cooking, shopping and cleaning. She used to do these things when he worked, but now he’s retired and they’ve sort of switched roles. She writes all day and comes down for her meals. He takes care of the house. Luckily, he truly enjoys cooking and is very talented. It’s a beautiful thing.

In my house, there is no Zelda, or version of her. There’s only me. Before the pandemic, I had a woman come to clean my house every other week, and a dog walker come twice a week. I was working full-time and would come home on my lunch hour to walk the dog on the other days. Then I was let go. These days, the dog walker comes one afternoon a week (Fridays) and walks Ruby with other dogs, which is good for all three of us.

But if I had the money… you better believe I would hire a Zelda. Maybe more than one – like one for the inside and one for the outside (a gardener). I hope that doesn’t sound terrible – I love my house and know how lucky I am to have it. I just sometimes wish I had some help taking care of it, because everything takes so much time.

I’m fantasizing here… but if I had a Zelda, I wouldn’t have to clean the house, or shop, or do the laundry, or cook every meal, or perform any type of maintenance. I wouldn’t have to mow the lawn, or remember to take out the trash. I could sit in my office all day (writing, of course) and know that meals would be ready when I come down, the house is clean, the dog is walked, the yard is tidy, and absolutely everything is taken care of. What a dream!

This might actually be why I’m working so hard – to be able to hire my very own Zelda one day.

Then again, I can imagine having a Zelda could be a little addictive, and possibly a never-ending cycle.

Like, if I had a lot of money, I would probably get a bigger house, with land, on which I’d put a bigger garden and more animals (I’ve always wanted a horse). Eventually, I might want more than one house, or a house with a guest house. And a pool, and possibly a pond.

Who’s going to take care of all that if not a small army of Zeldas? Can you imagine? It actually sounds like a headache and terribly excessive for one person.

The irony is that, except for certain tasks, I rather enjoy doing most of the chores. I get a strange satisfaction from washing dishes, which I do first thing in the morning. It’s like starting the day with a clean slate and a sense of accomplishment. And I absolutely love to cook. It’s a hobby actually. As is gardening. And of course, you all know how much I love hiking with my dog. So, I don’t know… maybe a part-time Zelda to help with things would be ideal.

Or maybe what I’m really craving is a life partner. Someone to help shoulder the burdens of life, do the chores with, and so many other things.

If you have a Zelda, or partner who helps maintain things and makes life a little easier (btw, I’m not equating a maid with a partner), I hope you realize what a blessing it is. One day, I’ll get there.

In the meantime, I’m fine taking care of myself and my house and my dog on my own.

And to relax in the evenings, I’m re-watching the series Downton Abbey, which is, of course, completely over the top with Zeldas doing everything and then standing silently in the room pretending not to listen to your conversation (weird). But as Chance the gardener (Peter Sellers) said in the moving Being There, “I like to watch.”

Have a great week, everyone!


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Knowing Yourself as a Writer

Last week was interesting. On Tuesday, I received notes from my managers on a television pilot that I’ve been writing for several months. At the end of the meeting, they asked me if I could turn the script around by Friday. “Next Friday?” I asked. “No, this Friday.” I said Yes, even though Friday was only three days later, and I was supposed to drive to NYC on Wednesday and return on Friday. I wasn’t 100% sure I could do it, but I was pretty sure… if I stayed calm and approached the next three days with focus and discipline.

To be fair, the notes weren’t extensive. Some were just tweaks, but a couple were definitely more than that. They would require research, new scenes, and new dialogue. And the whole script would need to be tweaked to accommodate these new scenes.

I started that afternoon after the meeting by going outside with my dog and just thinking about things. I wrote nothing for the rest of the day except some ideas on a yellow pad.

Wednesday morning, I transcribed the notes from the day before (I record these meetings on my phone, so I can listen to them later). I organized the notes into “easy fixes” and “not so easy fixes,” and for the rest of the day, made as many of the easy fixes as possible, checking them off as I went. In the afternoon I drove to NYC, using those three hours to again think about how to approach the rest of the notes. That night, I didn’t write. I ate dinner, watched TV with my family and fell asleep.

Thursday morning, I got up early, made my coffee (I’d actually brought my beans and french press to guarantee there would be no hiccups), and did research for the two new scenes I had to write. By mid-day I was ready to start writing for real.

Now, I don’t know how other writers work, but before I get into my draft with any structural or character changes, I first make those changes in the outline and character breakdown. I need to see the changes from a birds eye view. Only when I’m comfortable with how the changes look, feel and flow in these two documents do I open the screenplay.

So, I spent a couple of hours working on the outline and character breakdown, then another couple of hours working on the actual draft. Before taking a break to run errands and eat dinner, I printed out the script and put it aside. After dinner, I read the new draft, made notes, then spent a couple of hours that night revising.

Friday morning, I tweaked everything again, several times. I debated sending it before leaving, partly to get it off my shoulders and out of my mind, partly just in case something happened to me on the drive home – at least the draft would be delivered! But my instinct (and several wise Twitter followers) told me to wait until the EOD. Why rush?

Friday afternoon, I drove back home, arriving around 5pm ET. I still had 3 hours before EOD in Los Angeles.

Before unpacking, I printed the script AGAIN, read it, tweaked and tweaked (it was a good thing I waited). I emailed it to my managers at 7:00 pm EST.

And that was that!

I’m not sharing all this because it’s a big deal. It’s really not. But last week showed me that I am getting better at knowing for example: how long it takes me to do things, how best to approach the task at hand, how to stay organized, how to not panic, and so on.

Will the managers like the new draft? Who knows. It’s all part of the process. I’m just happy I did what I said what I would do. And happy that I’m getting better at knowing myself as a writer.

Have a great week, everyone!


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Introducing… Nellie

Hello, people! I took a semi-break from social media in order to concentrate on writing. But I’m back now and want to introduce you to someone. We’ve actually known each other for as long as I can remember, but lately, we’ve became reacquainted. Her name is Nellie. As in Negative Nellie, and she’s the voice in my head that tells me I’m terrible!

Let’s back up a sec.

First of all, I’m pretty sure everyone has a “Nellie.” I imagine artists and creative types can especially relate – maybe surgeons and airline pilots less so (I hope). But I think everyone (who is not a narcissist) has experienced feelings of anxiety, self-doubt, nagging insecurities, that “voice in your head” that tells you you’re not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough, young enough, you have no idea what you’re doing, you should just give up on whatever it is you’re trying to do… and so on. (Any of this sound familiar?)

There are periods in life when this voice gets louder and has more control over you, and other periods when the voice gets quieter, or you’re able to ignore it better.

Like for example, when I was younger and just starting out as a writer, I was often racked with these feelings of unworthiness, even when I was receiving accolades. And in romantic relationships? Fugghedaboutit. Basically, guys were dating Nellie.

An old therapist used to try and encourage me to self-soothe by just “observing” this black cloud of swirling insecurities (I hadn’t named her yet) that followed me everywhere I went. But that felt like observing my own shadow, and often like observing my own brain, which I wasn’t very good at. Back then, Nellie actually got me to do things, nothing terrible, things like send someone too many texts, or send an email when I shouldn’t have, or get upset about things that didn’t really matter.

Then, I don’t know, things changed. Maybe it’s growing up. I know for a fact that all the losses I’ve experienced have changed my perspective. I am more driven, care less about certain things, and have tried incredibly hard to balance out my internal anger towards the Universe with internal GRATITUDE. When you’ve lost a lot, you develop an “I have nothing more to lose” attitude towards life, because… you kinda don’t. And you tend to appreciate what you still do have even more.

BUT… Nellie never went away. With all the anxiety of this past year, she’s actually had a resurrection of sorts. The difference is that now I recognize this Bitch a mile away.

Let me describe Nellie to you. Contrary to what you might imagine, my Nellie is not a chain-smoking, mascara-smudged, hard-hearted stone-cold fox. She’s the opposite. She’s a demure, cardigan-wearing, passive-aggressive, hand-wringing worrier, who likes to knit or crochet when she’s really beside herself. She loves me, or she thinks she does. So, everything she says is “out of love” and “concern.” Her main concern is that I not get hurt or disappointed.

Typical conversations with Nellie begin with her gently saying something like, “Do you really think that’s a good idea?” or “Are you sure about that?” or “Maybe you should stop and reconsider the consequences…”

When she’s feeling especially righteous and full of conviction, Nellie will say things like, “Sweetie, you know I’m saying this only out of love for you, but I really think you should consider that you’re… too fat to wear that now… too old to pursue that particular career… not quite talented enough to finish that project… ” ETC. ETC.

And when she REALLY wants to crush my soul, she’ll pause her knitting and look at me from the corner of the room with a sad but loving look and say, “Dear, I think it’s time to face up to the fact that nobody actually likes you. They’re all just… pretending.”

Oh Nellie. Bless your heart.

What I’ve learned over the years is there’s no point in arguing with Nellie. She’s always going to be there, and she’s never going to change. She is, indeed, my shadow. And just like my shadow, she is also not in control. I am.

So, knowing that Nellie is a thing, and knowing her purpose, it’s easier to deal with her. Often, I do this by lovingly telling her to Shut The Fuck Up. Or hitting the MUTE button, so even though her lips are moving, no sound is coming out.

The truth is if I listened to Nellie, I’d never put myself out there as a writer. I’d never try or start anything new. Never finish anything. Never take any chances. Most importantly, I’d never listen to my TRUE VOICE.

My passionate, wild-haired, creative, burning-the-candle-at-both-ends, work-hard-play-hard, creative spirit who is in constant motion, sometimes jumping on imaginary horses and charging ahead, sometimes diving underwater and swimming amongst the coral, sometimes just sitting quietly in meditation listening to the chirping birds and wind rustling through the trees.

My creative spirit is free, bold, loud, courageous and strong – and no Negative Nellie could ever squash it. Deep down, I think Nellie knows this, which is her insecurity.

There’s power in recognizing that Nellie has no talent of her own, no purpose in life. She’s simply a vessel for FEAR. And her fear of failure is equal to her fear of success. It’s fear that motivates her. And that’s okay. As long as that I don’t let her fear control me.

So, I don’t mind Nellie so much anymore. I mean, sometimes she gets on my nerves, and (I won’t lie) occasionally she still gets the better of me. But most of the time, I’m able to ignore her.

I yell across the room, “Not today, Nellie!” To which, she shrugs and goes back to her knitting.


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What to Write About

First of all, Hello. I am happy to report that I am still alive, living in upstate New York with my dog Ruby, and both of us are healthy (knock on wood). I do feel slightly mortified that it took an actual Apocalypse to get me blogging again, but here we are… at home for the indefinite future, trying not to go insane, ie. the perfect time to dust off this old WordPress site and hit “new post.”

Now that I have Nothing but Time, there are so many things to write about, I don’t even know where to begin.

I could write about my first ever trip to Paris in December 2019 and how great it was, and how relieved I am that I went when I did because who knows when it’ll be safe to go back and leisurely walk around museums and eat all the things in restaurants like one does in Paris.

I could write about the new screenplay I recently completed and sent via the matrix to Los Angeles, what it feels like to wait for feedback, how I’m trying to not count the days (7 so far) or analyze what each additional day with no feedback could mean, how disappointing it is that I’m not as over this kind of angst as I thought I was, and how I’m now questioning whether I was I ever cut out for this in the first place, and what was I thinking trying to be a writer?

I could write about the trip I was supposed to take to Los Angeles (after a 5-year absence) last month that got postponed (not canceled!) due to the pandemic and how much I was looking forward to it, especially holding a reading of the screenplay with actors. I’m trying to wrap my mind around doing the reading via Zoom.

I could write about how obsessed I am with gardening and how I can’t decide whether this is a healthy hobby or an expensive distraction from dealing with my actual life and all the projects I want to write but don’t seem to be able to concentrate long enough to actually begin writing.

I could write about how, in addition to how hard it is to start something new, it’s also extremely challenging to finish anything, which is a particularly frustrating conundrum.

I could write about how listless I feel these days, and how simple things like going to the grocery store totally exhaust me,  which of course leads to my using and eating everything in the house until there’s only one cup of rice left, a few condiments and one roll of TP (donated by friends) to hold me over until I can muster the strength to go back out to the store.

I could write about how my mood has apparently become totally dependent on the weather; on cold rainy days I can barely get out of bed, on warm sunny days I am manically working on outside projects like erecting a fence around my property and painting said fence, all by myself, which is equal parts self-sufficient, frugal and insane.

I could write about how when the pandemic began I obsessively begged my relatives who live in major cities to leave their homes and escape to the countryside before the authorities closed the bridges and roads, and how, six weeks later, they finally did escape, and now they’re marveling at the relative quiet (bird chirping having replaced ambulance sirens) relaxed atmosphere and green lushness.

I could write about how my community has come together to make masks and start food bank initiatives and other do-good projects, but I feel apart from all that and pretty isolated even though I’m only three blocks from Main Street.

I could write about how it’s been 9 years since Kaz died, 4 years since my father died, almost 2 years since my brother died, and almost 28 years since my mother died, and I’m still not over any of these losses, nor will I ever be, but I’m grateful at least that my parents aren’t here to witness the madness and dangers of this current U.S. administration and global crisis.

I could write about how much I’ve grown to admire Governor Andrew Cuomo and can’t decide whether I’d prefer him to be my President, my adopted father, or my new husband, but his daily press briefings are one of the few things keeping me calm and giving me hope these days.

I could write about so many things… but for now, I think I will just say

Hello. It’s nice to be back. I’ve missed this blog, and I’ve missed you bloggers and readers.

What are you up to?

What are you writing about?

How are you doing?

Talk to me.


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Why Am I Not Writing?

I heard today on the radio an interview with someone who wrote a successful (NYT bestseller) memoir. After hearing a few excerpts read out loud, I exclaimed to myself and my dog, both of us in the kitchen, “I’m a better writer.”

It wasn’t jealousy or bitterness that motivated me. It was absolute clarity and self-awareness: I know what I’m capable of. I know that I’m good. I know, if I put my mind to it, I could write my way into the hearts and minds of millions of people.

And yet, I am not doing what needs to be done.

I can no longer blame grief. On the contrary, grief seems to be a muse of sorts. I wrote feverishly after Kaz died five years ago, and again after my father died this past February. But in the last few uninspired, exhaustive months, I’ve just been “living life.”

Oh, I’m writing… press releases, bios, web copy, articles, interviews. But that’s not me. That isn’t my voice. That’s the voice of the publication, or the person I’m interviewing, or just a blank impersonal corporate voice that we read online every day and sounds like no one in particular.

I’m trying to wrap my brain around why I haven’t been writing for me lately.

I could blame “writer’s block” but that’s not entirely true (and anyway there is no such thing). The truth is this writer’s brain is always writing – dialogue, scenarios, fantasies, entire plot lines – using real people as characters, actual events as inspiration. Maybe the difference between sanity and insanity is knowing when to take your inner dialogues seriously, and when not to.

Then again, my inner dialogues have become louder lately, which can happen when I don’t write for a long time. I start to feel less grounded… as if writing is the lighthouse and my center is the shore.

I could blame my PT job, which has been FT demanding lately.

I could blame my freelance career, which has also been demanding lately (not complaining)… and (even more dangerous) gives me the false illusion that I am actually writing.

I could blame the weather, which has been beautiful for most of the summer and therefore the antithesis to staying inside and writing. I have actually thought, “I write better in the winter.”

I could blame my dog, the ultimate joy… and distraction.

I could blame my new workout regimen, or my new obsession with re-watching HBO series like Deadwood, The Wire, Rome, Game of Thrones, House of Cards and Boardwalk Empire (drama is my thing, clearly).

All true. All bullshit.

Something else is holding me back.

Rather than self-analyze or berate, I’m writing this post to remind myself how much I love to write, how I need to write like I need air to breathe, that writing is the power that lights up my soul, and when I’m not writing that light is literally diminished.

When I don’t write, I am no one. Rather, I am just like everyone else. Time passes without meaning, without contribution, without voice, even though I am living and talking and communicating on a daily basis.

When I don’t write, something – thoughts, emotions, ideas –  accumulates in my brain, like so many marbles, bouncing around frenetically.

Writing calms me down, makes me feel purposeful, fills me up like nothing else.

A man recently said to me, “You can never know who you are if you don’t know where you’re from.” When I hear that I think not of a place, or a people, or a religion… I think of my passion.

Writing is what I enjoy most in the world.

Writing is torture, the only kind worth enduring.

Writing is power… not over others, but of expression.

Writing is freedom.

Writing is ultimate vulnerability, also the most powerful shield.

Writing is courage, love, heart, soul, music, rhythm, sex, nourishment, LIFE itself.

The only thing more powerful is Nature… the most prolific writer of all. And Nature never stops.

So, here I am… middle of the night… pleading with my inner soul…

Love yourself enough to write something every day for you.

Be disciplined and/or selfish enough to write no matter what the fuck else is going on.

Don’t ignore or be afraid of your voice, let it say what it wants and be heard.

Know that you have a story inside you that only you can tell.

And, most importantly, never ever ever give up on your dreams.

 

 

 


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Putting It Out There (Are You Listening, Universe?)

Loss is a beast. I’m not sure I’ll ever truly understand or be free of it.

I have felt somewhat distant from the losses I experienced earlier this year, partly because they both lived on the other side of the country. Partly because I’ve deliberately kept myself busy these last few months, with work mostly. It didn’t occur to me until just now, but I did the same thing after Kaz died.

Which is not to say that good things aren’t happening. All the hard work seems to have created some momentum.

I have been writing on my book, and it’s going really well.

I just started a new blog series for a large company – to be announced soon.

Ruby is healing beautifully and as beautiful as ever.

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I am taking the first steps towards buying a house – finding out what I can afford and looking around my area. I hope to buy something toward the end of the year.

I have stopped eating meat and am trying to avoid dairy – the former a lot easier to do than the latter!

Things are going well at my PT gallery job.

IMG_20160425_151435I spent a very special weekend at a conference at West Point Military Academy recently, and am about to attend a prestigious writers’ conference in NYC.

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I’ve made some wonderful new friends and connections.

Still, there is a layer of loneliness to life. This is more of an observation than a complaint. I don’t think it has to do with the rural area where I live. I see plenty of people through my job and social life.

No, there is loneliness because I am alone at home (other than the dog). It was a necessary cocoon, of sorts and not in a bad way, as I healed. Now I miss having another person around to share moments and conversations.

There is so much life still to live.

But it has to be the right person… someone who doesn’t need much, someone who is intelligent, intuitive and kind. Someone who has a good sense of humor, a passion for something, is artistic but not egotistical, talented but humble. Someone who understands what is important in life and isn’t afraid to live it.

Am I asking for the stars? I hope not. I used to think it impossible to meet someone as cool as Kaz. Now I feel more ready to accept what a friend once told me, “It won’t be the same. It will be different.” I also feel like I’ve learned the lessons I needed to learn, and I’m ready to apply them should I get the chance.

The idea of going on a dating site does not appeal to me in the least. I’d like to meet someone in an organic, no pressure kind of way.

It’s been 5 years since Kaz died. Strangely it feels both like yesterday and like a lifetime ago. I’m proud of how I’ve changed my life – moved across country, started a new career and a whole new social life.

What’s missing is a partner… and a house.

Not sure in which order they will come to me… but I am putting my desires out there into the universe.

I hope the universe is listening, as I listen to it.

candles2

 

 

 


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Get Ready to Rumble (day 1/30)

Greetings, people. Can you believe it’s November already? I can’t.

I have been sorely remiss here on the blog lately, but no more. In fact, the blog is about to go from feast to famine – rather, from famine to feast, as I am joining the NaNoWriMo bandwagon train and committing to writing every day for the next 30 days.

As of today, November 1, the train has left the station.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a month-long writing extravaganza whereby writers all over the world attempt to write a 50,000 novel in the 30 days of November. This means an average of 1666 words per day, which is a lot when you count the million and one distractions called LIFE.

Like most things that sound impossible, it CAN be done. It can even lead to published work. Here’s a list of novels that started off during NaNoWriMo. Here’s another list. And here’s a list of novels that are around 50,000 words (Fahrenheit 451 among them!).

All that to say… (surprise!) I will not be writing a novel. But I am committing to writing every single day for the next 30 days.

I will write on the blog. I will write creatively. But I will write. Where I am in 30 days is still TBD. I want to finish my memoir, but I’m not setting that as the only goal. Most importantly, I’m going to write EVERY DAY.

If it sounds weird that I keep repeating that, it’s because I am fairly certain that writing every day will be extremely difficult.

As you can see from the month+ since my last post, I am an inconsistent blogger. “Write a blog post” is always at the top of my To Do list. Yet it’s the first thing that I ignore when I get busy with work and life. This past month I was hustling for work, renovating my apartment, updating my website (check it out!), traveling to the city… blah blah blah. This coming month I’ll be doing more of the same, PLUS dealing with a little holiday called Thanksgiving where (like many Americans) I’ll be driving many hours to eat an enormous sleep-inducing meal with family.

I know I don’t have to blog. But honestly, when I don’t blog for a long period of time, I really feel it. Which is to say, when I don’t write for a long period of time, I don’t feel like myself (writing for work doesn’t count).

So, I’m doing this crazy thing called NaNoWriMo… and these are my personal goals:

  1. Write every day. This is the greatest challenge for me.
  2. Write faster. I’m a terribly slow writer, which hurts me financially and professionally. If I can learn how to write a story in fewer hours, I will make more money per hour and be able to write more stories. My brother is a professional journalist and writes up to three stories a day!
  3. Write more freely. Part of the reason why I’m a slow writer is my tendency to second guess and edit as I go.
  4. Finish a writing project. Another huge challenge.

And that’s it. (haha)

I’m feeling nervous, excited, determined and proud. I CAN do this. I WILL DO THIS.

To all my fellow writers on this crazy train, WE CAN DO THIS!!

Hoorah! Hoorah! Hoorah!

Incidentally, this is how Ruby feels about NaNoWriMo (and most things).

Ruby asleep


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Rejection Can Be a Good Thing

Shortly after my last post, in the beginning of June, my book agent called with her response to my memoir draft. She had read a few chapters before, but this was the first time she’d read the whole thing. I was anxiously awaiting her opinion and held my breath when her number appeared on my phone. Then I heard her say, “I’m sorry to say this, but it’s not for me.” 

My heart sank into the pit of my stomach. After four years of hard work and getting my hopes up that I might actually be able to take my book to the next level, I was being shown to the door. I was crushed. 

After further reflection and lots of encouraging emails/discussions with fellow writers, I realized that she had done me a favor. It’s like when someone breaks up with you… at first it hurts, then you realize, “Wow, I dodged a bullet!” Because clearly that person isn’t the right person for you.

And clearly, this agent wasn’t the right agent for me.

When you read the Thank You’s at the end of almost any book, the author inevitably thanks his/her agent for their tireless help, encouragement and championing. Case in point: at the end of her memoir WILD author Cheryl Strayed writes to her agent, “Janet, you are my friend, champion, and literary kindred spirit. I will always be grateful to you for your support, smarts, and love.”  

A champion is someone who believes in you, will fight for you and stick with you through thick and thin. I’m sure this agent has been a champion for others (she was highly recommended to me), but she was obviously not going to be my champion. How could she be if she didn’t respond to the material?

So, I’m glad that she was honest with me. She basically set me free to find my true champion. 

The other gift, though, is that by rejecting my manuscript, she gave me a chance to make it better. The little feedback she did share with me basically let me know that the book isn’t ready yet. One could argue that just because it didn’t do it for her, doesn’t mean it won’t do it for others. I’ve had several people tell me they loved my manuscript. I also know I’m a good writer. But I’m not beyond seeing that my work could be further refined and focused. To think otherwise would be foolish. It is my first book, after all. I want to get it right!  

So, for this I’m also grateful. Eventually, when I go out to other agents, I’ll do so with a manuscript that’s gone through another round (if not multiple rounds) of drafts, readers and feedback. I’ll know that what I’m putting out there is  the absolute best it can be. 

Writing a book is hard. It takes years. There are many stops and starts, a lot of bad drafts before a good one, and a lot of rejections.

If you don’t believe me, take it from these veterans:

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.” – Barbara Kingsolver

“Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.” – James Lee Burke

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” – Sylvia Plath

“I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, ‘To hell with you.’“ – Saul Bellow

“Often, you have to fail as a writer before you write that bestselling novel or ground-breaking memoir. If you’re failing as a writer – which it definitely feels like when you’re struggling to write regularly or can’t seem to earn a living as a freelance writer – maybe you need to take a long-term perspective.” – J.K. Rowling  

For more inspiration, read the rejections of many best-selling authors here: http://www.literaryrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/

The point is, rejection is part of the game. Even if you’re not a writer – it’s part of life. But it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Learn from it. Sidestep it. Step over it. Inspect it if you must, but keep moving forward.

By all means, don’t let rejection stop you. Don’t take it personally. And never ever give up on your dreams. I’m not giving up on mine!

Happy creating.

 

 


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Writers and Dogs

Ruby snow cone nose

My dog, Ruby

I think every writer should have a dog (if possible).

Dogs are the ultimate companions for people who like to be alone. They’re quiet enough to let you work, but active enough to unglue you from the chair every now and then. They’re more demanding than cats, but less demanding than children or other adults. You can concentrate with a dog in the room. You can read with a dog outside (I do this every day). They open your eyes to things, and take you outside of your head. They keep you grounded.

Dogs also give us the opportunity to love and nurture another being. Initially, I was worried that owning a dog might be too distracting, but I actually enjoy the responsibility. Sometimes it’s frustrating, like the other day when I had to stop a really great writing flow to take her to a vet appointment. But ultimately, it’s always rewarding (I was glad I took her to the vet).

Their loyalty is good for the soul, perhaps even the ego, which we all know is fragile with writers. Dogs never get mad at you, or criticize you, or even question you. All they want is to please you, to be near you, to love and be loved by you. People have told me that when I leave a room, Ruby will stare at the door until I return. That loyalty is another reason why she’s allowed to be off-leash so much. She might run off to chase something, yes. But she would never just run away.

Ruby and farm2

Ruby brings so much into my life, it’s hard to put it into words. She has helped (and continues to help) me heal from loss. She makes me laugh. She reminds me to play and be curious, to stretch and get plenty of rest. She provides me with companionship and affection. She protects me better than any alarm system. She also provides structure to my day, which is broken up into three-hour stretches of work followed by a 30-minute break outside (longer when it’s warm out). She sleeps while I’m working, but when I’ve worked for longer than usual, or past a certain hour, she will come over and put a paw on my leg, like “okay, it’s time to stop now.” Sometimes I feel like I belong to her, not the other way around.

The other day I told a friend that “if I were to die before my dog, she would be my main concern.” I try not to think about it very often, or of the more likely scenario that she will go before me. But every now and then I remember that Ruby and I only have a relatively short time together (hopefully, the long end of short). My next thought is always the same, “That’s why I’m giving her the very best life I possibly can.” Whenever that day comes, I will mourn her terribly, but I will also know that she lived a great life, full of fun and love, and we gave each other all that one could possibly give to another.

Here are some photos of other writers and their dogs (many of which I got from here):

Amy Hempel

Donna Tartt and Pongo (photo by Jill Krementz)

Dorothy Parker and Misty (photo by Roy Schatt)

E.L. Doctorow and Becky

Edith Wharton and her pups

John Steinbeck and Charley

Kurt Vonnegut and Pumpkin

Maurice Sendak and Herman (photo by Tim Knox)

Maurice Sendak and Herman (photo by Tim Knox)

Stephen King

Virginia Woolf and Pinka (photo by Gisele Freund)

William Faulkner and pups (photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson)

For those of you who own cats, you’re also in good company.

Tennessee Williams and Sabbath

William S. Burroughs and Ginger

William S. Burroughs and Ginger

More pictures of writers and dogs: https://www.tumblr.com/search/writers%20and%20dogs

A fun post about pets who were loved by famous authors: http://www.brainpickings.org/2013/04/29/literary-pets/

A site that shows writers at work – some with their pets: http://writersatwork.pfauth.com/

Happy creating!


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Demeter and The Seasons of Grief

The thing about grief that most people don’t understand (unless they’ve experienced it) is that it never goes away. Time allows new experiences and relationships to naturally fall over old ones, causing grief to recede deeper and deeper within. But it never leaves us completely. And like with events that happen in nature that cause the earth’s inner core to come bubbling to the surface, so do things happen in our emotional lives that trigger grief – however old it may be – to the surface.

The irony here is that I’m constantly underestimating grief and being caught by surprise.

This past May 3 marked the 3rd anniversary of my husband’s death. It was also the first year that I didn’t do anything specific. The first year, I honored the day by going to Joshua Tree National Park, a place where we’d shared many good times. The second year, I went to the mountains where we’d dispersed his ashes. Both times I took the day off from work.

This year May 3 was on a Saturday. I told myself I wasn’t a fan of this day and therefore wasn’t going to give it any energy. I went to the horse races with my good friend T. Only at the end of the day did I remind T that it was May 3rd, at which point she apologized profusely for not remembering.

“I know yesterday was tough for you,” she texted me the next day “We should have done something in Kaz’s honor. ”

“I’m not a fan of May 3,” I responded. “I rather be out with you and not thinking about it too much.”

A week later I fell into a deep depression, deeper than I’d felt in months. I didn’t discuss it on the blog in part because I’d just written about not complaining. Plus I wasn’t sure if it was directly related to the 3rd anniversary because it didn’t feel like typical grief.

Though I was crying and moping about, I wasn’t always thinking specifically of Kaz. Rather, I was thinking about life in general. I wrote to my sister: “Generally feeling like my life has amounted to nothing. No career, no kids, no husband. Lots of ideas and unfinished work, but nothing major to speak of. It’s killing me that I’m still an assistant at 43, and have been for the past 4 years. Filmmaking feels like a far off distant memory, something I used to love and now…”

I was also feeling frustrated because I couldn’t get anyone on the phone. It might be my imagination but it seems like phone calls are getting rarer and rarer. Letters are almost extinct. Are we getting more disconnected, or is everyone simply busy with their own families and lives? Either way, not being able to talk to someone simply drove home the fact that I am alone. I was missing my mother and my husband, and nothing seemed to have any purpose.

One friend I finally managed to get on the phone asked me what had changed in the last few weeks to bring on this bad mood. I admitted that I had fallen off my diet wagon, and this seemed to have a domino effect on the rest of my life. Also, the 3rd anniversary had came and went but with little fanfare

“Grief is a sneaky, wandering thing,” my therapist told me later. Then she reminded me of the Demeter and Persiphone myth.

In ancient Greek religion and myth, Demeter was goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains and the fertility of the earth.

Demeter’s virgin daughter Persephone was abducted to the underworld by Hades. Demeter searched for her ceaselessly, preoccupied with her loss and her grief. The seasons halted; living things ceased their growth, then began to die. Faced with the extinction of all life on earth, Zeus sent his messenger Hermes to the underworld to bring Persephone back. Hades agreed to release her, but gave her a pomegranate. When she ate the pomegranate seeds, she was bound to him for one third of the year… There are several variations on the basic myth… In all versions, Persephone’s time in the underworld corresponds with the unfruitful seasons of the ancient Greek calendar, and her return to the upper world with springtime. [Wikipedia]

I related to so many aspects of this story: the wandering, searching, preoccupied phase of grief; the madness that comes with no longer being able to place the lost loved one; the unfruitfulness of loss vs. the harvest and fertility of love; the seasons of grief.

What pulled me out of the slump was (once again) writing. I had to deliver a personal essay by the end of the week, and was forced to concentrate on that. The topic of the essay was the Memorial Day weekend a few weeks after Kaz died when two childhood friends came to visit me.

Though it was a bittersweet memory, writing about it felt good. I suppose writing is my fruitfulness.

"Persephone and Demeter" by Susan Seddon-Boulet

“Persephone and Demeter” by Susan Seddon-Boulet