The Pressure to Be Something

I went to the same school as Stephen Colbert and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I’ll pause to give you time to look up which school they went to. (If you are a follower of this blog, you already know which school.)

You’re back? Okay good. The first thing you’ll notice is that they are celebrities and I am not. Not everyone who went there is. But while I was an undergraduate, and even after graduating, I felt the pressure to live up to the prestige of the university. During my time there, when I chose to major in writing, many people gave me the stink eye. “Major in something useful,” I was advised over and over. (Code word: more prestigious, at least in their eyes.) “In that way, you can make a lot of money and be an alumna the school can be proud of.”

   

The pressure to be something.

(Though nowadays, the latter message comes through in the frequent invitations to donate to the alumni fund. The pressure to give something.)

Ever feel the pressure to be something others have decided is the definition of success?

As a writer, I definitely feel the pressure. My grad program has turned out graduates who have won major awards and who have sold many, many books. Even the organization of children’s writers and illustrators that I belong to routinely sends emails about those who have “made it,” while extending the invitation to “Send us your success stories.”

But what if you’re the writer of some books that went out of print within two years? Or you’ve racked up 89 rejections for a book?

The pressure to be something.

Ever feel like you didn’t measure up somehow? Maybe like me you even fell into the funnel of comparison recently, and felt yourself squeezed out of the small end.

Comparison—the bane of our existence

Thoughts like that swirled through my head as I drove to Wal-Mart the other day. Yeah, I know I shouldn’t let such thoughts hold sway. I’m trying to get my mind right and defeat negative thinking. But for some reason, I thought about the sister who had died the year before I was born. I found myself crying and wondering why she was stillborn, while I lived. Not that I’m ungrateful for life. But because I lived, was I really being all I could be? Was I living up to the potential teachers and others had told me I had over the years?

The pressure to be something. The pressure to make my life count because my sister was dead and I was alive.

But after prayer (because I was really getting worked up), I realized, Wait. I could silence that nagging voice in my head—the one that caused me to feel the pressure to measure myself against someone else’s ruler. I could silence the strive, strive, strive, you’re not doing it right, make things happen and just be.

Be . . .

Content in who I am—someone who persists past rejection and failure.

Joyful regardless.

I’m not Stephen Colbert. I like the guy. I really do. But I don’t have to be him or Julia Louis-Dreyfus to be somebody. I already am somebody. I might not do life like them. But I do what I do, because I like doing what I do, whether that fits someone else’s protocol or not.

Pressure dispelled.

As Nancy Hatch of Spirit Lights the Way would say, “Aah, that’s better.”

And now, I’ll leave you with a Lindsey Stirling video, suggested by a friend who went to Lindsey’s concert the other day. It’s for anyone who needs to get out of the pressure and into joy.

Marsha Mello likes being with the Unfinished Tiger. His chill approach to life—that all of us are works in progress—soothes her.

Stephen Colbert photo from enspireusall.com. Julia Louis-Dreyfus photo from popsugar.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Marsha Mello and Donatina Shoppie dolls from Moose Toys.

Time to Play!

My brother and his family used to live in San Diego. I wrote that just to give you a little context. One day when I was visiting, I had ordered my nephew, then five years old, to do something. You know how much fun it is to order kids to do stuff for you—tasks you’re perfectly capable of doing but are too lazy to do. While I can’t recall exactly what I wanted him to do, I’ll never forget his response.

“I’m busy,” he said.

“Busy doing what?” I asked. Obviously not busy doing what I’d just told him to do, which annoyed me.

“Playing,” he said.

I was so taken aback by his answer, and the seriousness in which it had been uttered, that I just stood there, staring at him. Finally, I said, “Okay. I can’t argue with that.”

His response might not seem profound to you, but it was to me. My attempt to interrupt his schedule had been met by a rebuff I couldn’t refute.

Lest you think I’m one of those adults who think children should do whatever they want whenever they want (newsflash: nope), let me just say that this is not a post about teaching children responsibility or anything else. You see, my nephew taught me something that day: the value of taking playtime seriously.

Oh, I see that look. Adults have to behave responsibly. We’ve got mortgages, car insurance, and other bills. Can’t always sit around building with LEGOs, right?

Right?

Playtime is even better with a crowd.

I’m a better writer when I take time to play, when my nose isn’t always to the grindstone and I’m trying to force myself to write something whimsical and delightful. How many people know that you can’t force yourself to write anything with that description if your attitude is, “I MUST do this. I MUST suck it up and put words on the page because, y’know, that’s what you’re supposed to do”?

Yeah, yeah. I totally get the need to sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Sometimes, you have to do that. But sometimes, you have to allow yourself time to just play, whatever that might mean for you.

Playtime is like ma space, a rest (or space) between periods of action. (Look here for the Wikipedia article on ma space or here for a post on this blog about ma space..)

My friend Jill puts puzzles together. My friend Sharon takes photographs and draws. My friend Laura hikes or kayaks. My friend Lyn builds awesome things with LEGOs. Some of us play videogames or crochet lambs. (Yes, I consider crocheting playtime.)

What do you do to play?

Here in America, today is a holiday called Labor Day. What is Labor Day? According to this website on the history of Labor Day, “It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

What better day to kickback and play? I have deadlines tomorrow, yeah. But today, I’m gonna play. Today’s playtime could usher in tomorrow’s inspiration.

Hopscotch anyone?

Donatina Shoppie with mini Donatina and locket by Moose Toys. Hopscotch photo from toysperiod.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Time Out

On July 21, I headed with some friends to a cabin near Danbury, Wisconsin. The cabin is owned by the family of a friend and sits above a private lake. Sweet. We spent the weekend lounging on the deck with our favorite books, playing games (dominoes, bean bag toss, badminton), swimming, and touring the lake via pontoon boat. I don’t have permission to show the cabin. But here is the view from the deck.

  

In the mornings, I sat on the dock on a chair that swung out over the water, sipping my coffee and listening to the occasional call of the loon. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of loons. They kept diving underwater.)

  

Loons were particularly active at dusk. This is the cry we heard over and over.

While on the boat, I saw a bald eagle soaring high above. He never flapped once. Just glided across the sky. But he moved fast. I was never quick enough, and he never came low enough, for me to get a closer shot. So, here he is.

On July 23, we headed to St. Paul, Minnesota, with a brief pit stop at Stillwater. I deeply appreciated this city because of the large amount of bookstores encountered in just a few blocks. The photo at left shows the Stillwater Lift Bridge.

  

We visited the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul.

   

   

Our main objective was to check out the Japanese Garden. So lovely. The bonsai trees were amazing.

  

Later we checked out other sights around St. Paul.

   

We couldn’t get inside the James J. Hill House in St. Paul. It was closed when we visited.

   

On Tuesday, we headed to the Mall of America—the biggest mall I’ve ever seen in my life.

  

That afternoon, we headed to downtown Minneapolis. Yes, the statue below is from The Mary Tyler Moore Show from the 70s.

   

If you’re a Vikings fan, you know what this building is (below).

All in all, a good time was had by all.

Photos by L. Marie.

What Is a “Real” Job?

I’m a freelancer. Under my given name or other names, I have

• Proofread books, articles, legal material
• Copy edited books


• Line edited books
• Written short stories, books, and curriculum
• Ghostwritten books


• Helped other authors develop their books
• Reviewed manuscripts
• Written standardized tests used in various states

For years, I worked in an office as a part-time or full-time editor. But as a freelancer, I work at home. For all of the above tasks, I have been paid by publishers or book packagers working with publishers. Yet, I can’t tell you how many times people have hinted at or even said outright that I don’t have a “real job.” By that I infer that people mean a job you do away from your home, one that pays benefits.

  

Is this (photo at left, representing someone working in the food industry) a “real” job? So, working on a computer at home isn’t?

I know people who have jobs outside of their homes but lack benefits, because their companies chose to avoid those. Would their jobs fall under the umbrella of “real”? I have also heard stories of people working in the food industry who complained about their jobs. They leave home every day to go to their places of employment. Does that mean their jobs aren’t real, if they say on social media, “I’m not gonna work here forever. Someday, I’m gonna get a ‘real’ job”?

When I searched for images to use with this post, I found a meme that discussed YouTubers. I chose not to use that image because I was not sure about copyright issues. Suffice it to say that some YouTubers make a large amount of money working at home making videos. Apparently, some people take issue with that.

Many writers are well acquainted with this sort of comparison. Some don’t think they can call themselves “real” writers because they either aren’t compensated for their work or are not compensated to the degree that authors like John Grisham or J. K. Rowling enjoy.

Still others have been told that they aren’t “real” writers, because they write books for children or teens. “Real” writers, according to those naysayers, write for adults.

Suddenly, I’m reminded of a conversation from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. You know the one.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day. . . . “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

The comment that really struck me was this by the Skin Horse:

Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.

When I struggle with being labeled as not having a “real” job or being a “real” writer, this conversation from The Velveteen Rabbit helps me move past the negativity of those who deem what I do as “less than” based on a subjective standard.

How about you? Ever been told, “You’re not a real [fill in the blank]”? What did you do?

Editing illustration from clker.com. Ghost writer image from seoblog.com. Chelsea Cheeseburger Shoppie and Petkin by Moose Toys. Pinkie Pie Equestria Girl doll by Hasbro. Photos by L. Marie. Velveteen rabbit illustration by William Nicholson found at commons.wikimedia.org.

Kitty on the Lam or: How a Tiny Car Is Not the Best Bet for a Getaway

Welcome, July! In the last post, a certain Kitty not only forced her way on to my blog, she made off with my change (though she won’t get much with $4.57) and escaped before the police could apprehend her.

She made off on this Cutie Car. Obviously, she didn’t get very far. Would you, on this thing?

But she managed to get some distance away at least. To help the police, I set out to discover her whereabouts. First stop: Kitty’s parents. A bewildered Ken and Barbie had this to say:
Ken: First of all, the fact that she’s our daughter is news to us.
Barbie: All we can say is, we’re very disappointed that her life has turned out this way.
Ken: Is she really a supervillain? They’re supposed to be rich. She never gave us anything.
Barbie (disapprovingly): Ken! . . . Anyway, she came by here after slipping off that Cutie Car. It was the banana one after all. What did she expect?
Me (crickets chirping)
Barbie (slightly embarrassed): We told her to turn herself in to the police.
Ken: Especially since she never gave us a dime for rent after moving back here.
Barbie: Ken!

They weren’t much help. But an astute person snapped this photo of Kitty scaling a bureau.

Oops.

Her dangling escapade must have ended soon afterward, because the next Kitty sighting took place in a patch of flowers. Maybe she thought she wouldn’t be noticed.

She was wrong.

The last sighting took place on Brush, a tree you might recall from this post.

   

But when the police converged on that spot, Kitty was gone. No one knows where she is now.

Meanwhile, Lyn Miller-Lachmann asked about Jordie. Life has been up and down for him. Having always believing himself to be straight-up gangsta, Jordie decided to acquire some molls just for the look of the thing. But things didn’t work out. This photo was taken seconds before the would-be molls beat up Jordie, and made off with his wallet. I was told they went on to a successful, but short-lived bank robbing career. (Hmm. Guess it wasn’t so successful, if they were caught, though I heard a movie is being made of their story, even as I type this.) After a stint in prison, they headed to Hollywood, where they’re working as stunt doubles.

Weary of the laughter and jeers of others (ironic, considering his outfit), Jordie gave up his life of crime. (He wasn’t good at it anyway.) He’s peddling ice cream somewhere.

Lemony Limes also decided to give up the lackey life and go straight. She applied for an internship with the Avengers and is now being mentored by Captain America. And even Goldie the goldfish, still shocked at having been chosen to be one of Kitty’s lackeys, has realized that crime does not pay. What would a fish do with money anyway?

   

Hello Kitty was made for McDonald’s by Sanrio. Jordie is a LEGO minifigure. Barbie and Ken are registered trademarks of Mattel. Cutie Cars, Lemony Limes Shoppie doll, Snow-Fro and Kissy Boo Shoppets are registered trademarks of Moose Toys. Captain America Lip Balm can be found here. Photos by L. Marie.

Gotta Grab Peace and Hold On

In the last few weeks, my life has been one of frantic haste with new projects due, ongoing projects needing my immediate feedback (“could you respond before tomorrow”; “look at this video ASAP”), meetings to attend, and back pain demanding I take some sort of relief measure.

I so wanted a vacation. The vacation destination of choice would have been Boston. I wished I could have attended my niece’s graduation from Boston University, like others in my family did (including a side trip to Martha’s Vineyard). But not being able to afford airfare or the days off, I could only watch online and look at texted photos (which I will not post here; sorry).

I couldn’t take a vacation, but I could take a walk as a mini “stay cay”—stay-at-home vacation. The other day I headed out around 6:45 a.m., basking in the cooler temperatures, enjoying the twitter of birds. (#Morning gossip) The day was not a picture perfect, sunny day. In fact, I didn’t see the sun all day. But it was peaceful. I was the only human outside. The temperature was around 56. Not bad.

    

I could feel my blood pressure decreasing as I walked, drinking in the solitude, admiring the green leaves now in full force on the trees. Ahhh. Just what the doctor ordered.

But when I returned inside, life intruded as several people texted or posted online, asking the same question: “Did you see the Royal Wedding?”

The sense of frantic haste returned. Oh no! I’d forgotten about that! I quickly clicked on YouTube, only to find Prince Harry and his bride, the Duchess of Sussex, riding in a carriage, waving at people. I immediately thought of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy riding in a carriage after their wedding. But alas I’d missed this wedding! You snooze, you lose, I guess. I quickly combed the internet to see what videos I could find that showed the wedding—even a piece of it.

But then I stopped the search, realizing how quickly I’d thrown away the peace of the morning. I clicked off the internet and leaned back in my chair, letting go of what I hadn’t accomplished, and grasping what I had—the sense of peace in a quiet day.

I grabbed my crochet hook and set to work on an owl. Crocheting always relaxes me. On a gray, overcast day, working with colorful, soft yarn was very soothing. (All the colors and textures you see on the owl below, with the exception of the white, come from one bundled ball of yarn. Owl crochet pattern by Sarah at Repeat Crafter Me.)

    

Peace had returned.

When you’ve had a frantic week, what do you do to gain or maintain peace?

Lemony Limes is drowning in leftover yarn. Oh well. I can’t think of a better way to go.

Photos by L. Marie. Lemony Limes Shoppie Doll is a registered trademark of Moose Toys.

I’d Like to Thank My Parents Again

    

I had a lovely birthday last week, which was celebrated through phone and Facebook greetings, dinners, breakfast, and a tea party. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for having me! #Blessed

Yes, you really are seeing glowing flamingos decorating that present above. Fun, aren’t they? I’m not sure where they were acquired from by the friend who gave the present to me. If you are really curious, I will make inquiries.

As is my tradition, I’m giving away a present to a commenter. Here are a few of the ones I received.

  

While I won’t mail you my actual present, natch (the presents were given to me after all), you can choose an equivalent gift: the book, Stash Glazed Lemon Loaf tea (tastes just like the lemon loaf you might get at Starbucks), or a $15 Amazon gift card or its equivalent at Amazon UK. Just say which one you would like in the comments and you will be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced next week (probably May 7)!

Eye see you!
Yes, this creepy tree is a haven for squirrels nearby. #Random

Babette is a little huffy, because she did not receive any gifts. So, she refused to pose for the camera, and instead gave me her stiff profile. If I didn’t already know she was an owl, I would swear she was a cat.

Photos by L. Marie.