I can’t be who everybody wants me to be. I’m skilled not brilliant. I’m passionate not a force. I have energy for now. I am creative but slowly. I’m disorganized. I can’t multitask. I’m not big BIG picture. I’m not fine detailed. I’m Barbara. I draw pretty pictures not daring ones. I love showing people the love of Christ. I want to live every moment. I hate not having enough energy. I hate letting moments slip by. I hate thinking about the hours of television that could’ve been a novel. I hate leaving art projects undone. Why can’t all the projects be finished instantly? I’m disgusted by the idea of leaving something undone when I die. But I find it improbable and most likely inauthentic to who I am to ever finish everything at the same time. I want to meet Jesus now. And I’m frenzied for living another day. I love my bed. I love to climb in. I hate to get out of it. I love being in my mind. I love being creative, letting my mind work. I love it when my thoughts keep me up till four solving problems, unable to rest when beautiful visions are being built. Yet I scroll down my phone clicking back and forth between email, facebook, twitter, and wordpress, just to make my mind be still so I can sleep. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what God wants me to offer. I find out in the second. This is it. This is what you have to give. I’m tired. I’m crying. I wish others could see life as I do sometimes. It’s a gift this, the view, the creation, never bored in my mind. What would I do without characters talking, images parading. Just images, just stories, nothing grand, nothing that will affect the tides of politics or social justice. They’re not even true. They’re fiction as true as I can make them. I love stories. Some crazy story this, me, here, now.
Oh my goodness, people.
I was in charge of blocking a scene today. One whole scene and musical number, one hour of rehearsal, all mine.
I was bold. I was confident. I went over it. I went over it again. The director called. I told her I had it.
And I totally and utterly bombed, failed, miserably, absolutely miserably.
I’m not sure what happened. For one thing, the stage was much smaller than the one in my mind. Everyone was terribly squished. And then after I blocked their song I realized – they’re just standing there.
It was the most uninteresting thing I’ve ever seen.
And my chest starts to tighten and they’re looking at me as they say their lines and their parents are all lined up against the back wall watching me.
And a voice in my head says, “Barbara, I think you’re supposed to be telling them something right now.”
But I can’t open my mouth.
And then the voice says, “Oh my gosh, you have no idea what you’re doing.”
And then the voice begins calculating, “You have volunteered to be the assistant director and you know they have no director next year. You have as good as doomed yourself to this sensation for the next ten years until baby graduates from fifth grade …”
The voice was very unhelpful. My mouth had gone dry and I wanted to cry. I’m pretty sure what I had was a panic attack.
The director was there. She stepped in. She was having trouble reading my expression. She kept saying, “I don’t mean to step on your toes here.”
I shook my head. It was all I could do. Holy hell!? Was that a panic attack.
The director was very kind. She appreciated my “framework” and filled in the details. She fixed it. And she gave me a pep talk.
It is now 7:30 and I am curled up in bed in my pajamas. I will be watching a French movie and falling asleep soon after. Nothing else is getting accomplished today, nothing.
And tomorrow I’m preparing the crap out of my script for Wednesday.
And here comes the unhelpful voice, “But you thought you were prepared today.”
Well, I just sent off a query e-mail with picture book manuscript attached.
There you go, little bird. I have chopped you, trimmed you, cut off your wings and reattached them in different places.
I have sat on you, exposed you to critique, and shamed you publicly in front of my writing group.
Honestly, we’ve kept such company these past few months that I’m not sure I can look at you for a while.
So, go fly little picture book bird and find an agent.
If you don’t come back, well, I’ll patch you up again and try someone else.
… so much hope for 872 tiny little words to carry.
You know the scientific symbol for female, the one that’s the circle with a cross coming down from the bottom. And then, there’s the male symbol, the slightly more wonky circle with an arrow flying out of the top. The female one is steady, anchored down, because our reproducing tidbits stay put. It’s the male bits that leave and fly all over the place, hence, the wonky arrow.
This is how they define male and female in organisms with different more unrecognizable features. The male flower spreads, the female flower stays, anchored and waiting, in fish, in mosses, in humans.
In some ways I feel like this is accurate. I stay … at home. Daily life mostly revolves outside me, kids leave for school, husband leaves for work and I am anchored somewhere in the middle. People return to me.
But in most other ways I feel that this is highly inaccurate.
Because if there is one thing we women do, it’s change.
We get our periods. And we keep getting them. Then we have babies. Our bodies change and our bodies go back, or don’t quite, as the case may be. Then we lose our periods and, according to many trusted sources, continue to deal with ebb and flow of hormones … FOREVER.
We change. And most of this volatility is within us.
Pregnancy for me is pervaded by a sense of betrayal. My body becomes a mysterious stranger waiting to sabotage me with a heavy club of nausea around any appropriately smelling corner. Three times now have I been amazed anew at the way my body stretches, the way it opens, and stunned at how stinking long it takes to get back to normal!
I say it when I’m pregnant. I say it at least once a month, “What is happening to me?!”
I’m a woman. I change.
Perhaps this is why men are known for their distinct mid-life crises and women are not. We do it by bits. We aren’t overthrown by time all at once. We get it in phases.
Phases! Everything since my first son was born has been a “phase”. Sleepless nights, clinging babies, teeth razoring their way to the surface have all been “phases”. I have been beset by so many phases that I don’t think I’ve had a lick of normal in six years. Do we talk of phases to make each other believe that there is a normal somewhere? Thinking that there’s a normal somewhere that I’m missing is rather depressing. Do we want to believe that things will go back?
I can never go back to many things, my old bra size, my ability to sleep through anything, my ignorance of four other peoples’ bowel movements. I am more efficient, more ambitious, and I’ve learned how to work. I don’t want to go back.
I, then, hereby vow that I will not utter the deceptive phrase “It’s a phase” to any Momma, anymore. I will instead choose to believe that we are in a boot camp of the most intense kind.
I will learn to duck and weave and roll. I will become a delicate ballerina. I will let it make me a master of change. Like anything else in life that’s well practiced it will become a habit with me. So, when the gray hairs come and I find my shirt still clean at the end of the day; when it’s finally time to get off this crazy monthly roller coaster of fertility, I will not be overcome. I will be anchored in something steadier than myself.
It’s what we’ve been given to practice, Ladies. Let’s do it well so our sisters, daughters, and daughters-in-law can do it better.
Our new mantra can be, “Normal is not a thing!”
For the first writing workshop I took in my young adult novel and fielded some pretty good questions regarding my manuscript.
For my second workshop I took in a picture book and its accompanying query letter.
This particular book began six years ago at about fifteen hundred words, well too long for a picture book. At the time I was going for a story book kind of vibe. After ten rejections or so I sat on it for a while, you know, had some kids, moved once, etc.
The second cut brought it down under a thousand. I was much happier with it, but it went through another ten rejections or so. I sat on it again through another move and another baby.
The third cut brought it down under six hundred words and was about as bare bones as I could get it and still leave it complete. I did a little more research on query letters and cut a couple of sentences that evidenced my novice status. But I still felt the silent dagger as the six weeks slipped by as one and another forewent claiming my little work.
So, to the workshop I carried my little book.
I believe I threw it down and said something like, “Please, tell me what’s wrong with it!”
For starters, the woman who read my piece out loud could hardly keep from laughing from one sentence to another. Everyone around the table was near riotous when she finished. I was not expecting this and it shook me a bit. It was pleasant, but surprising. I mean, I had thought it was funny, but this funny?
And then the feedback came. One lady wanted to hear more about this, another wanted more about that, and so on, naming almost every piece I had cut out over the previous six years.
I confessed, “Well, yes, originally this was followed by a bit that went like this.”
Riotous laughter! Everyone loved it! “Why would you have left that out?!”
So, I’m getting slowly frustrated because how on Earth am I supposed to squeeze all this into a picture book? And if it is indeed this good already then what on Earth am I doing here?
And then someone asked, “Have you considered making it an early reader?”
A light bulb clicked on centimeters above my head.
I didn’t hear anything after that. My little manuscript would lend itself well to the playful vignettes of an early reader. The only problem is that this would change my writing style. I couldn’t use any of those long elegant sentences I was so very fond of. Sigh. I love commas if you haven’t been able to tell. And the story vocabulary would need to be altered. My story may live, but in a drastically different manifestation.
So, I’ve been playing with it and I think I like where it’s going. It does appear I have signed on for a few more years, though. And I’ve heard early readers are harder to sell. Is this true? Anyone?
At any rate, she loved my query letter, so that’s something.
Chip, chip, chipping away!