Tag Archives: doubts

Girding my Loins for Rejection…

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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.

Bubbles and Wildflowers…

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On the day of September eleventh thirteen years ago I painted a picture of bubbles. I was twenty-one, still new enough to life to miss the greater significance of the day. I’m still not sure why I painted bubbles. I think I was trying to understand something that was both incredibly fragile and surprisingly strong, something like innocence.

In the same vein, there’s always been something about wildflowers that resonates deeply with me. They are delicate, inclined to fail quickly when plucked and vased. And yet, they grow in those rocky windswept places and thrive in the unirrigated fields, propagating themselves on nothing but the wind.

I’d like to think there is something in me like that.

San Francisco also continues to surprise. We went on a hike with some other Moms this week, a point on the map named Interior Greenbelt. I parked where I was told to, 17th and Stanyan.

“Is this it?” I asked out loud.

But Google maps had already told me my destination was on the right and would not deign to repeat itself. I was in the middle of a residential neighborhood. There was no park fence, no signs, just homes. I looked around until I saw it, a small wooden stair running narrowly up from the sidewalk between two houses.

And this is what was on the other side:

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Mt. Sutro is a eucalyptus forest crawling with blackberries, poison ivy, and red dirt right in the middle of the city.

This week I’ve been feeling a little mysterious to myself, discovering vast expanses inside me that I didn’t know existed. I’ve run into secret reserves of pride I thought were conquered; depths of resolve I didn’t know I had. And I am left feeling incredibly fragile and incredibly strong at the same time, like the bubble made of suds wrapped around air that somehow manages to make it past the gable of a peaked roof.

What a strange life this is. What strange creatures we are.

Discontent…

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Someone once told me that whatever hobbies you want to have as a mother need to be in place already when you start having kids. And I get that. It’s like your schedule is what it is, the afternoon jogs, the Friday morning coffee with a particular friend, Sunday morning church. Because when the first kid comes along it takes up one hundred percent of the available time. And, really, it doesn’t matter how many kids you seem to keep having by some strange mystery, they always take up one hundred percent of your time and energy.

And that’s what it felt like when I made the decision somewhere after my first son was born to really start writing, like, regularly, like it was my job. It felt like I was trying to cram another ten percent into that already exhausting hundred percent.

When I first started, I was writing on Thursday nights and I would disappear among the coeds in the quiet tower of the library at Sacramento State University. But be assured that as soon as I want to write on Thursday nights the whole of Sacramento wants to see houses at the same time and needs a realtor. So I switched my time.

“The kids don’t get up until seven thirty,” I thought, “I’ll just get up at six and write for an hour and a half before everyone gets up.”

It worked like a charm for a while, the only side effect being I got addicted to coffee for the first time in my life. I still remember waking up and smelling the automatic drip like it was the morning’s warm present to me, so thoughtful. I mean, the sunrise is good, but so is coffee.

But my daughter, who was almost two at the time, began noticing that Mommy time was being wasted on a silly computer and began getting up earlier and earlier to keep me company until I had inadvertently created a six am waking habit for us both. I don’t know how she heard me. I was so quiet. How did she know?

I wrote at my Mom’s house when I could, but morning sickness and new baby fatigue sent me into hibernation for a while.

And then, when we moved to San Francisco my husband said, “How about Wednesday and Friday mornings until 8:30?”

“Really?!” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “This is it, Barbara, we’re here. Let’s do it.”

Some mornings I didn’t make it, I needed to spend my time on sleep. Somewhere in there it was switched to Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Sometimes I wrote blog posts. Sometimes I got to stay for hours past my time. At the end of it all I finished a book. Did I tell you that I finished a book?

But now the stock market is singing its siren song and my husband is fresh out of Odysseus’s wax to block his ears. And the closing bell doesn’t ring for Barbara’s writing time.

So, now I’m back to evenings. And my daughter cries when I leave. And last night I left and forgot to nurse the baby. Fortunately, he slept through the night with no ill effects. It was strange to leave the dirty dinner table, dishes, unbathed children, and three unfolded loads of laundry to descend to the quiet of the city streets. And for the seven pm streets of San Francisco to seem quiet you understand how loud those babies can be.

So here I am, with the blade of my hand still cramming the writing into the cracks of my life.

And the rejections are rolling in and I’m trying to work up the energy to send everything out again. My blanket seems to be woven today out of the cool colors of doubt and discouragement. Ugh. Blerg. Blech.

But none of this changes the fact that I have many stories to tell. Even as I write, characters and plots are meandering around mutely in the cool dark recesses of my unoccupied mind slowly developing motivations and desires. They hold them dear like the precious secrets that they are, not knowing that I watch them all the while. They don’t see my searching eye when I check in on their growing awareness, waiting for the ripe moment to tell their little bits of truth and beauty.

So, nothing’s changed. Momma’s just gotta whine, too, sometimes, I guess.

I’m a writer. And so, I’ll just write.

Sunday Night…

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You never know when you’re going to get those big questions. That’s one of the definite perks of being a stay-at-home Mom, you’re there. In the car, at bedtime, bath time, at inappropriate times in crowded public places, you’re there.

Tonight I was reading stories at the end of a big day. I read one of our favorites from Patricia Polacco (my son’s choice) and I read ten stories from the children’s Bible (my daughter’s choice).

I closed the book. I was done. It was bedtime.

And then my five (almost six) year-old son says, “Mom, it doesn’t seem true.”

“What doesn’t seem true, honey?”

“All this, about Jesus, it seems like a myth, like it’s all a myth.”

You can imagine the tiny tired woman inside my head already sucking down a cup of chamomile sitting bolt upright and spraying it all over the walls of my cranium in surprise.

“A myth?” I said. (Good recovery, Barbara.)

“Yeah, it’s only a myth. It’s not really true,” he said decisively.

“Well,” I said, “Do you remember reading the Odyssey last year?”

“Yes.”

“That’s a myth. Four headed dogs, one-eyed Cyclops, they aren’t real. But Jesus is real. There are many historical documents that show Jesus was a real person. It just depends on if you believe what the Bible says about him is true. And I believe the Bible. Some people don’t.”

“But how can Jesus be real? Did it happen a long time ago?”

“Yes.”

“And how come we can’t see him?” he asked.

“Well, he was a real baby who grew up into a real boy and when he became a man he did very real miracles and then he really died and his body really came back from the dead. And then he rose up to heaven. The Bible tells us that he’s seated at the right hand of God right now. That’s where he is.”

“So everyone who saw Jesus is dead now?”

“Yes. You have to realize, the questions you’re asking are not new. Do you remember the story of Thomas?”

“No,” he said, listening intently.

“The disciples were in the room and they saw Jesus, but Thomas wasn’t with them. And Thomas said, ‘Unless I stick my finger in his wounds I won’t believe he’s alive.’ And then Jesus did come back and Thomas saw and believed and Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who haven’t seen and still believe.’”

My son was looking incredibly dubious.

“Son,” I said, “You have to remember that I’m thirty-four years old. I’ve been asking lots of questions and the same questions as you for a long time. If you have questions, give them to God, he’ll give you the answers.”

At this point my four year-old daughter pipes up, “But Mommy, how do you give something to God?”

“Did you know that God wants everything from you?” I said, “He wants your songs, your anger, if you’re sad or happy, you give it to God and he’ll return it as something beautiful.”

“But how do you give it to him?” she asked.

“Well, when I write a story I just say, ‘Here, God, this is for you, do with it what you want.’”

“But how do you give it to him?” she asked again, miming the very gesture of offering something up.

“Well, he doesn’t have an address, he’s up in heaven,” I say, “There’s no postal service to heaven. (Think, Barbara, think!) Well, it’s like when you draw me a picture. Do you sit over here and draw me a picture?”

“Yes,” she said.

“And is it mine, even while you’re drawing it? Even when I don’t have it my hands and I’m sitting all the way over there?”

“Yes.”

“It’s like that,” I say.

“But how do you hear God when he answers your questions?” my son asks.

“Well, it’s not talking like you and I do. But he talks to me in lots of different ways. Sometimes I pray and ask God a question and then someone comes along and answers the same question I just asked God. Sometimes God uses people like that. And then there’s the Bible. Praying is how we talk to God and the Bible is God’s letter back to us. All the answers to my questions are in there. And you’ve heard of the Holy Spirit?”

“Yeah, the tongues of flame that rested on their heads,” he said.

“Yes. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be our helper. And the Holy Spirit helps us to know the truth.”

“He lives here in your belly,” my daughter says, pointing to her adorable round belly.

I repositioned her hand, “He lives in your heart if you ask him. Have you asked him to live in your hearts?”

“No,” they said.

“Well, you can,” I said, “And it doesn’t mean you don’t have questions. It means you need Jesus. It means that when you have questions you take them to him. I still have questions. But because I have Jesus in my heart and the Holy Spirit to help me I wait for the answers there.”

I looked at my son who was wearing that face he wears when an idea is so intense that it has to soak in. The ideas that cause that particular face go deep and lead him in silence for days until they pop up again in the kitchen as I’m making dinner, or at bedtime during stories and then I know how long he’s been thinking about it and trying to work it out. Isn’t it true that the best thoughts are a result of slow contemplation?

“Do you want to ask Jesus into your hearts?” I asked.

There was a strong yes from each of them, even my son. I was thankful.

“Alright, I’ll pray a prayer and you can repeat after me. When you say this prayer you’re asking Jesus to be the king of your life. You’re saying you need his helper the Holy Spirit to help you to know truth. And it means that if you have questions you take them to God first.”

“Like how?” my son asked.

“Like prayer. You can pray without Mommy, you can talk to God anytime and anywhere about anything. If you want to know if he’s real all you need to do is ask him and wait.”

There were silence and contemplative faces.

I have always known I would never strong-arm my kids into Christianity. I’ve always just told them the truth as I know it. I want their faith to be authentic, which means it needs to be backed by the Holy Spirit not Mom. I’ve seen enough to know that God answers the questions of the seeking. But I also know that you can never be sufficiently sure before you decide. The first step is always taken in faith.

I prayed Jesus into my heart at six years-old. And I meant it. If I didn’t remember it so vividly I might have felt a hesitation, the need to wait until my kids were older, until they really understood, whatever that means. Because the truth is, you never know exactly where your vow’s going to take you and you learn what the promises mean on the way.

God honored the covenant of my six year-old heart and I knew he’d honor the covenant of my kids. Regardless, I don’t know hearts, not even theirs, the covenant doesn’t involve me. It’s between them and God. And so I gave them up.

We prayed a simple prayer.

And then I asked them, “And now where does Jesus live?”

“In our hearts,” they said.

“Yes,” I said.

And I prayed another prayer asking that God would honor the covenant my kids had just made, reveal himself to them, and answer their questions.

I don’t think my son’s questions are over. He may have voiced a doubt he will struggle with all his life. But I believe in the power of my Jesus to answer my son on any level and on any point. And I enjoyed the first hard stretch of letting him and Jesus figure it out between them together. Because my goal is not that my son would have my faith, but his own.

One more step…

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Those of you who have read my previous post know that my sketchbook was recently pooped on by a malevolent bird of evil most untold. This has me remembering.

I remember, for example, the time in high school when another sketchbook was vomited on by a sick little sister. It was mostly salvageable. The sick-covered bits of pages were cut out to preserve the precious seeds of my budding talent.

Then there was the time my husband and I came home and found our house burglarized, everything overturned, nothing taken except for a work cell phone and my laptop that contained my recently finished middle grade novel.

And it reminds me of the time my next computer, less than a year later, got a virus that wiped out another dozen small manuscripts.

And, most bitterly, I remember the time when I spent a semester in France making fat a sketchbook with drawings from every museum and café I went to and losing it on the way home. It held my sketches of “The Kiss” from the Rodin museum, the castle overlooking the beach in Nice, and a dark sculpture in the Musée D’orsay, her curves so thick with graphite I had to slice out the delicate highlights on her thighs and arms with an exacto knife. I still can’t think of where I might have lost it between Paris and San Francisco.

So, now, when something like this happens I scream inwardly something like, “AGAIN?!”

And then I wrestle. Is this a sign? What does it mean? Is this God telling me to stop? Or is this something trying desperately to make me turn back before I become too dangerous?

I mean, at this point, I think we’re getting beyond just rotten bad luck.

But I can’t stop creating. I can say, like Jeremiah, that it’s locked up in my bones like fire.

So, I imagine the redemption in my losses and keep on creating.

I imagine a group of adolescent delinquents sorting through stolen devices. Except for one in the corner, whose face is backlit by a stolen computer screen. His expression is somber as he descends into the story of four thirteen year-olds and a precocious eleven year-old as they fight the sadness and injustice of the world with humor and courage.

And I imagine a stoop-shouldered janitor somewhere in middle America sweeping out terminal A on a Wednesday when his broom nudges loose a small sketchbook. He opens it later at home as his wife fixes him a plate and all the museums of France spitting beauty and little slips of French phrases tumble all over his lap, a gift from the universe to a weary soul.

So you can steal my computer; and you can vomit on my sketchbook.

But I wrote today. So there’s that.

One more step towards dangerous.