Belated is better than be-not-at-all-ed? Okay, I’m a little loopy from a day of summer kick offs and emotional rollercoasters from various areas of my life. Here’s what I got. They can’t all be pretty.
Don’t forget to send me your stuff…seriously. I will print it.
Hey friends. This week is a little hectic with projects, both nearing completion and those just getting started, so today’s blog will be short.
I just wanted to let you know about an awesome conference coming up in Laramie in June (the 7th-9th) hosted by Wyoming Writers, Inc.
Though I’m based in Fort Collins, Wyoming is my home state and I’m excited to be returning there next month to meet new friends and writers as well as attend some stellar classes.
Some of you have heard me talk about Jovan Mays and Angie Hodapp (Nelson Literary Agency), two of my favorite presenters. They will both be there and giving inspirational and technical advice for all levels of writers.
In addition to a seasoned and talented lineup of presenters, I have snuck in as a presenter on Saturday and will be giving a little intro on which publishing path is right for you. (Ahem…the official title is: “Out In The World: Publishing Your Novel in Today’s Market” Fancy, huh?)
Registration is still open and they have several options to choose from, depending on your budget and time. Local authors’ books will also be available for purchase (if you’re in the market for some steamy paranormal romance…along with I’m sure much higher-quality books).Here’s the link if you’d like to check out what they’ll be offering, from classes to the Keynote speaker (the talented Brad Watson).
John Lennon’s quote is the basis for my Tuesday soapbox.
Listen, I do write about writing. I do want to inspire your creativity and help you along with your craft. It’s integral to my purpose in life.
But part of inspiring creativity means reminding you of the massive computer sitting atop your shoulders and why we should neverforget to use it.
This week I’ve been researching statistics, studies, and references for an article (probably a book one day) on the staggering racial disparity present in our privatized prison systems, in particular, how it affects young black men in our communities and the short and long-term damage it causes to their families as well as to our society as a whole.
So you know… a real fluff piece.
The problem with scrubbing off a bit of dirt from the surface of something like this is that you expose a teeming cesspool of disease and horror beneath. And once you look into that darkness, falling ever-deeper into that rabbit hole of associated cultural setbacks, systemic traps, and loopholes for those in power, you CAN NEVER NOT KNOW.
You’ve opened your eyes.
You swallowed the red pill.
You know the truth and life becomes difficult.
(Well, if you’re a human being with a heart and a decent-sized sense of empathy, and compassion, life becomes difficult.)
Suddenly, with your eyes open, you see it everywhere.
You see it in the unarmed black woman body-slammed by an officer twice her size, when she wasn’t even fighting back. You see it in the teenagers of color who are convicted of crimes while their white counterparts go free. You see it in the wary HOA’s that lodge baseless complaints against a family because the color of their skin makes the neighbors ‘nervous’, and cause entire families to lose their homes.
I’m not talking about 1955 Alabama here… I’m talking today, here. In our city. In our community.
And I’m ashamed of us, and I’m shaky, and I’m pissed off.
I feel like if I were the mother of dragons…I might pull a Season 8 Episode 5 and burn it all down to rebuild from the ashes.
The problem is too big.
That’s what we’re told right?
You can’t fight the system! It’s so much bigger than us. We don’t have the power. The government controls it. The rich control it. The churches, the states, the universities, the public schools, the whole of American culture…
But if you will remember…
The computer on top of your shoulders. The big 10 pounder. The one that processes thoughts and emotions, chemicals and body regulation, the one that creates poetry, writes novels, formulates complex plot and character design.
That’s not nothing.
That’s a powerful weapon in the hands of an informed public. And the way I see it, once we open our eyes, it’s our duty to shake as many egg pods as possible, peel back some eyelids and make the world pay attention.
Two open eyes becomes four. Becomes eight. Becomes sixteen. Becomes hundreds…
The Beautiful Stuff has everything to do with facilitating the best version of humanity we can muster. The most compassionate, fair, and just human we can be. And when we are faced with a hard and ugly cesspool, teeming beneath a society built on the death and destruction of so many lives, we can no longer live easy.
So neither should the powers that be.
My eyes are open and I will do my damndest to keep those that benefit from the broken and ugly system from covering them up.
We may not have the money. We may not have the loopholes and congressmen in our pockets. We may not have law degrees, or time, or the power of influence on large groups of people.
But we have our words. We have our minds. We have our actions and, I hope, enough anger to bypass our fear. Pay attention and acknowledge that this is a problem. Shine a fucking light on it so the rest of the world can’t ignore it anymore.
Find that spark in your chest. That pinprick of light that knows every human deserves to be safe, to be heard, to be healthy and fed, and treated with respect. Find a way to make it grow. Let it lead you to do what you can to change the inequality of the world around you.
You can always do something. Little. Big. It doesn’t matter the size of the action but the heart you put into it.
One water droplet may not have much impact, but a rainstorm can change the landscape.
Go out there. Be bold. Be heard. Stand up for each other.
In the karate school where I volunteer the word of the month is courtesy. It’s not a new concept in martial arts. Courtesy and respect are two of the most fundamental principles of the art. Respect for each other, respect for the rules, respect for the art and for the generations that came before us. Courtesy to our sparring partners, our instructors, and people in general.
The basics of courtesy often start with the ‘magical words’:
I forgive you
These words are like leaves and branches of language that convey the deeper roots of courtesy and respect. Simple polite words that are just the beginning of a much bigger lesson wherein we acknowledge the validity of other humans as equal and important by showing them kindness, compassion, and empathy; the cornerstones of living a beautiful life.
By this time in your lives you have probably all been taught about the “Magical Words”. Magical because they can open doors, springboard friendships, heal broken ties, and encourage smiles.
The typical phrases your parents and grandparents tried to instill greased the wheels of everyday interactions but also taught you something much more.
By saying “Please” we are acknowledging that we need help, and that we aren’t afraid to ask for it.
By saying “Thank you” we acknowledging that the action of giving requires another’s time and effort and we understand the amount (small or large) of sacrifice involved and are grateful for it.
By saying “You’re Welcome” we acknowledge that the favor was done willingly and we are happy to help where we can. This can leave a lasting warmth between people that perpetuates reciprocity and trust.
By saying “I’m sorry” we acknowledge that our actions or words have harmed someone else. That we have done damage, either intentionally or not, and now regret the pain we’ve caused. Showing regret shows that we are empathetic to what the other person has gone through on our account.
I’m saving the hardest one for last.
By saying “I forgive you”, I acknowledge that you hurt me and I am choosing to let it go.
Forgiveness goes beyond common courtesy. Forgiveness is next level stuff, and it’s the hardest thing we’ll ever have to learn when it comes to compassion and empathy.
Pain serves as a powerful teacher. It reminds us to not make some mistakes over and over again. And when we are hurt we want to hang on to it, for the stupid reason that we don’t want it happening again.
But that’s the thing. We hang on to it.
And by remembering we relive, and by reliving, we stay hurt, we stay angry, and the pain is done to us over and over again, not by the original perpetrator but by our own insistence to keep it close to our hearts. That’s how we build walls against compassion and empathy to others.
So here’s what I offer instead:
By saying I forgive you, we are also showing courtesy and respect to ourselves. We are choosing to acknowledge the “I’m sorry” (even if there isn’t one) by letting go of the harm so we can keep our hearts open for something better than pain to fill it with.
And to those who are truly sorry, who offer up their apology from a place of genuine desire to make right a wrong, we give a gift that is priceless with our forgiveness. We acknowledge to them that we are human too.
All of these phrases can be used without thinking. They are often just little idioms of our nature; thrown around without realizing we do it.
But this week I’m challenging you to think about them, consciously. Understand them before you say them and mean them when you do. It will make a difference. It may only be a difference in your own mind, but that’s where the power of those words really comes from anyway.
So, please…do something kind and courteous to yourself and others today. You’re welcome for the reminder. Thank you for reading this blog; it means the world to me that you do. I’m sorry if I tend to wander in thought and subject from time to time. But I forgive myself and the creative process that demands a little haphazard chaos in the order of life.
Sometimes, as a poet and writer, it behoves us to stretch ourselves and try out new forms, word use, and technique. I encourage you all to step out of your normal patterns of verse and play with alliteration, assonance, and the ever-popular to say but disastrous to spell: onomatopoeia.
Enjoy this little experiment of mine and pass it along.
DON’T FORGET TO SEND ME YOUR OWN POETRY TO BE ENTERED INTO THE ANTHOLOGY AS WELL AS TO BE FEATURED AND PROMOTED HERE ON THE BEAUTIFUL STUFF!
I am the marksman and martyr
The ever-present effervescence.
Symbiotic soul-light, illuminating illustriously
Black nebulous annihilating, extinguishing entirely
Let’s talk about fear and how it changes us, how our fear changes over time, and what purpose it all serves.
This all began in yesterday’s yoga class when we were told to try a handstand, with and without the use of the wall. The instructor is amazing and even at 5:30 in the morning, she’s been able to get into my pre-caffeinated head and merge my body and mind in a beautiful symbiosis of breath, and heat, and general bendy awesomeness.
Yesterday I began the morning by suffering through five miles of a run I didn’t enjoy. The week itself had been long and the weekend was short on sleep…yesterday was a cumulation of unhelpful factors.
So even though I was on my mat, carving out my own space in the universe to detach for an hour, I was still too much in the world. And watching my tiny little guru flip herself upside down effortlessly, knowing that my ass is WAY bigger, and understanding that I wasn’t on the most solid of ground emotionally, didn’t help my middle-age sense of insecurity.
While hopping up on one leg repeatedly in a effort to find balance the thought of “Why is this so hard, I’ve done cartwheels, I’m tough…my ass is big but I’m a sturdy girl all round, I got this…why, can’t I just–“?
*grunt*, *groan*, *heave*, *plop*.
It came down to fear.
I was afraid.
I was afraid that my own body would overcorrect. That to avoid pain, I’d swing my pendulum too far to the other side and really end up in a mess. Even though the wall was right there to catch me and there were no demands for me to even achieve the pose.
My physical fear was manifested out of my emotional fear of going too far.
Sure I worry for my rotator cuffs, and I don’t like the idea of barreling into the wall, but I think I was more afraid I would leap out into the world, heart on sleeve, hope in eyes, and fall off the edge. The headstand was a metaphor, for the cyclical “Why bother–you’ll just end up hurt” pattern that affects so many of us.
I held myself back physically. Because I was trying to protect myself emotionally.
I gave it effort, but not:
I knew I could do it, if I’d let go of the expectation of perfection and the fear of falling. Just like anything in life.
But humans are funny creatures and we spend a lot of time trying to protect ourselves from past physical and emotional pain by avoiding the effort that resulted in that pain.
Yesterday’s lesson brought up an honest question about my fears and where they came from and how they became so entrenched beneath my surface.
Fear serves the purpose of protecting and defending your life and your livelihood. But it also cages you. It stops attempts before they start. It can even set you up to fail.
Now failure isn’t a bad thing. It helps us grow and learn. And it’s not as Churchill so aptly said, “fatal”.
So why can’t I put my ass over my head?
Maybe the answer lies in the day I was having, maybe it’s that I wasn’t physically stable enough yet…maybe it’s because I’m afraid I’ll get it right.
Because sometimes failure is more easy to accept than success.
Why is it scary to succeed? Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do, in life, in our writing, in our day to day?
You’d think that’s what we want for the effort we put in. But self-sabotage is something most of us have done before especially at that hair-breadth distance away from obtaining our goals.
Maybe it’s the unknown aftermath of success…or the expectation to always be searching for the next success, climbing ever farther, faster, higher. If we stay mediocre. If we give up or don’t try…then we can stay nicely tucked into our pajamas on the couch midday, and no one would expect anything more.
Maybe if we start off mediocre, then any effort or tiny improvement we make seems like a mountain climbed.
And that’s just us lowering our standards.
Is it good to let our fear pigeon-pose…er…hole us into mediocrity?
I dunno. I think that’s something you need to talk to yourself about. Maybe it’s a good measurement of what we really want in life, and what we really hold dear.
If you no longer want to give it your best then maybe it’s not worth doing all
Thoughts and comments appreciated on this discussion.
Until I hear from you, I’m going to go find myself a wall and see if I can hoist this ass over my head, in the privacy of my own home where my grunts and groans will be mirrored in the aging basset taking over my yoga mat.
Nope, that’s not a typo. You’ve all heard the adage (or if you’re a writer worth their Peter DeVries salt you have…)
“Write drunk, Edit sober.”
I’m not going to recommend you write drunk. You can… It’s totally possible, and more often than not, highly amusing the morning after. Unlike the headache you’ll be nursing.
DeVries’ meaning was simpler. Write with abandon, in love, fervent and without inhibition. Lower your boundaries and kiss the words you wouldn’t normally, dance with phrases you’d been afraid to hold in your arms. Grab the lampshade of crazy plot twist and wear that son-of-a-bitch as a hat while you twirl through the story.
But in the morning…edit like you’re highly regretful and aiming to pinpoint every mistake you’d made the night before so as to never repeat the debauchery again. Be remorseful. Be judgemental, and like the Spanish Inquisition, show no mercy.
I’m in, let’s say the twelfth round of editing on my WIP. A round that was inspired by a recent submission editor’s advice. This time I’m proceeding with a more somber attitude, one that knows I wrote it, in part, like a drunken idiot and now have dropped my ego enough to be receptive to the advice.
Never before have I been so close to getting a traditional publishing contract for one of my books. Part of this is due to a more polished product (it’s not my first rodeo…or book kids), a more general genre and subject (why do people shy away from paranormal romances and hot ghost sex?), and, I like to think, a cute, relatable plot that’s just enough dark to be interesting.
So, I’m buckling down and doing what I was told to help get this baby off the ground. I’m about thirty pages in and catching some of the ‘problems’ that were brought to my attention. But as I work, I have a concern:
How much of myself and my voice am I taking out of this thing to appeal to the personal likes/dislikes of one editor.
So we come back to somber. Serious. Earnest. Grave. Unsmiling.
Sometimes there are hoops we have to jump through to get to where we want to go. Sometimes we have to shelve our pride and ego and be willing to see past what we love about our work to what could be better.
How do we make sure it’s not just some dime-store novella like the fifty other ones on the shelf? How do I make sure, with all the dead darlings lying beside my computer, that its still my story?
I don’t know those answers exactly, but I’ll tell you what I do know.
I know my characters and the way they react to situations and each other. And where my grammatical prowess may be lacking, I will always stay loyal to them first. When the critique is centered on prepositions or wordy description, I can be earnest in cutting it clean. And not only will my story be stronger, it will be easier to read…hopefully to the point where hands don’t want to let go of it until they finish “just one more chapter”.
So my advice for this week is this:
Take good advice from people in the industry who know when it comes to the technical mishaps of your work. Take the advice to tighten your writing from people who have to spend hours of their lives sifting through the slushiest of slush piles.
But always keep true to the drunken passion of your story that made your heart dance and giggle while it awkwardly pulled that plot line in for a kiss. Keep your story’s heart, but don’t be afraid to pluck it’s wayward eyebrows and wipe its nose.
Good luck, in whatever step you are of your process. Editing, writing, or contemplation of either.
Next week is my homage to writer’s conferences, with some good advice on how to spend your time and get the most bang for your buck.
Okay, that title makes it sound way more important than it is. It’s really just a normal weekly blog post, but I thought I would make it sound more official. It’s “Inaugural”…makes it sound like a need a fancy dress and an invitation… neither of which I have.
From now on, my weekly blog will be posted on Tuesdays. I wanted to spread The Beautiful Stuff out a bit more and appreciate your continuing to follow me.
Let’s get into stuff.
You all know I love this lady…and this is one of my favorite quotes from her:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou.
I never expect perfection from myself or others. True beauty lies in the quirks of our imperfections, after all. That being said, our larger-than-comfortable-for-birth brains have no excuse for not changing behavior that is damaging. We have this funny little thing called foresight and allows us to think ahead, from the point in time we’re at to where our decisions can lead.
Learning is one of the greatest gifts we were given. Learning from others, from books, from experiences; our mistakes, our pain. We learn most from struggle and strife…and hopefully use that knowledge to do better the next time around.
Think of the amazing things that have come from this process!
As a species we’ve made great advances in society with science and medicine, saved species, and ended disease. Now…that doesn’t mean we don’t fall in equal and terrible measures and sometimes fall back into dark areas of ignorance and inflexibility.
We’re still losing species, spreading old diseases that used to be nearly eradicated. Some of us are falling off of the edge of a misconstrued flat world, it’s true. Idiocy is a hard condition to fight and I don’t have enough words to do it today, so let’s just focus on the theme.
Do your best. Until you know better. Then do better.
Our survival depends on the constant improvement…the evolution, if you will, of our knowledge.
When you become aware, when you wake to a cultural fallacy or the inconsistency of a prescribed “truth” don’t stay stagnant. Don’t support the norm out of fear, or worse, laziness. Ask the questions, the hard ones, and when you see the dark lying beneath, use what you know to bring it to light, and fix it.
This is a large scale hypothetical and it feels overwhelming to the small human. So, I urge you to think about it in terms of your own life. It doesn’t have to be vast, sweeping, cultural change to make a difference. Sometimes changing ourselves, piece at a time, can be the spark that starts the big fires. So start with you. What can you do today to “do better”?
Standing up for the fallen? Extending a hand to the broken? A kind word? A donation of time or money? A voice against injustice?
It doesn’t even have to be something so altruistic. What about an acceptance of your own happiness? Saying no to what you don’t want, or to that which makes you heart or soul sick? Letting go of the habits and addictions of your past to do better for you?
Taking a goddamn nap when you want one, eating that piece of chocolate cake, saying no to that glass of wine, or yes to that bourbon. I’m not going to tell you what you can do to “do better”, but I will tell you this;
Sometimes “doing better” is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Because better is often a rocky path, a steeper hill. It’s so much easier to falter, to roll down that hill, to let yourself go…and we’re all going to stumble. That’s ok. Remember? Imperfections are beautiful.
Just keep on, doing your best, until you know better…then do better.
Let me know what ‘better’ you’ll shoot for today? What about for the week? Year? Longer? I want to hear it all, throw some inspiration my way.