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.

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.

The New Dinosaurs

Recently, I got around to reading an article in the Winter 2017 SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Bulletin—a quarterly publication. It had been in my bathroom for, oh, at least seven months. The title of the article—“Signing Books in Cursive?”—has a subtitle, “Children Might Not Be Able to Read It.” In the article, an author mentioned how she stopped signing books in cursive after her daughter and other teens warned her that kids wouldn’t be able to read her writing. The article went on to discuss how many teachers have stopped teaching cursive writing.

As I read the article, I was a little dismayed. I wondered how children who aren’t taught to read cursive writing would ever sign a check. And then it dawned on me: many people don’t use checks. They pay online with a credit card. Maybe by the time these kids grow up, they won’t even order checks.

I still use a check to pay rent and some bills like car insurance. And I sign the back of a check when I deposit it at the bank. (Beats chiseling rocks like we did back in the Stone Age.) And—something else that’s new—I don’t have to physically go to the bank to deposit checks. I can deposit them through my phone. (Though I choose not to do that. I’m still old school in some ways.)

It’s interesting to note what is now considered a relic of the past like the dinosaurs. I never imagined that cursive writing would be considered a thing of the past.

Contracts have changed also. Twelve years ago, I received a book contract in the mail—ten pages of legalese on 8½ × 14-inch paper with spaces for me to sign in cursive. Last year, I received a contract attached to an email that required a code to open. I “signed” it on the document (printed my name, really).

How times have changed.

What are some things you’ve been made aware of recently that are considered to be relics of the past? How do you feel about that?

Cursive writing image from handwriting8.blogspot.ca. Photos by L. Marie.

It’s a Matter of Perspective

It’s Labor Day here in the States. On this day, we cease from our labor and go to the home of friends and enjoy fondue.

Oh wait. That’s just what I plan to do today. But for many of us, this is part of a much-needed three-day weekend. (Unless you work in a hospital, store, or restaurant and have to work on Labor Day.)

Before I head off for fondue, take a look at this photo. What do you think it is? You can see what it is if you scroll down to the end of this post. How close were you in your guess? Does the photo below change your perspective?

So many things in life are a matter of perspective. Ever reread something you wrote but put aside for years, thinking it was a lost cause then, but now discovering a treasure? Or perhaps you recently took another look at a DIY project you finished years ago. What did you think of it when you first finished the project? What do you think of it now?

Time can change your perspective. Think about all of the books, TV shows, or movies you loved or hated when you were a kid. Do you still love/hate them? Case in point: my parents loved documentaries. But when I was a kid, I thought documentaries were too serious and were super boring—unless they had something to do with predators like lions or sharks. Then I was interested. But now I love documentaries of all kinds.

Anyway, I recently reread some poems I wrote years ago, when I first began a daily poetry challenge. Now, I don’t consider myself a poet at all. Andy of City Jackdaw and his new poetry-centric blog, Coronets for Ghosts, is a published poet. Charles Yallowitz regularly features poetry on his blog. I just dabble at it, thanks to the assignment of a grad school advisor (also a published poet), who told me to get The Aspiring Poet’s Journal and do the exercises in it every day to inject more whimsy into my writing. I was a little resentful of the assignment at first. But I soon grew to enjoy it. I now look forward to my daily sessions.

When I first began writing poetry, I was convinced that a kindergartner just learning his or her ABCs could write better poetry than the ones I churned out. But last week, when I reread one of my earlier poems, I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t as embarrassed by it as I’d assumed I would be. Time had softened my perspective. And no, I don’t plan to post it here. I don’t have that much nerve.

Off I go for some fondue. Before I go, let me ask you this: What perspective shift, if any, have you experienced recently?

Labor Day image from wallpapercave.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Life Off Camera

Happy Eclipse Day—the first total solar eclipse in 38 years that we’ll be able to see here in the States! Some friends traveled to Carbondale, Illinois for this occasion since that’s the place where it can be viewed the longest.

Try as I may, I’m not always able to capture, via my phone’s camera, all of life’s amazing moments. Like the time aliens took over New York, but were stopped by the Avengers (thus freeing us to all have shawarma at the end). Or the time when the evil peace-keeping robot (what an irony) threatened to destroy the world, and the Avengers had to help out again.

Okay, those events happened on the big screen, instead of in real life.

But I can’t help thinking of last week when I witnessed a territorial fight between two male hummingbirds. I immediately thought of Jill Weatherholt, a blogger/author you undoubtedly know. Lest you get the wrong idea, I didn’t think of her because of the fight. Jill has shown me photos of the hummingbirds around her house.

I was seated near the balcony at the home of some friends after their hummingbird feeder had been refilled and placed on the balcony. The usual ruby-throated hummingbird soon landed on the feeder. Let’s call him HB-1. I mentioned “usual,” because one of my friends told me this hummingbird usually came to the feeder. But this day, a rival came too—HB-2.

Oh no, he didn’t!

Oh, yes he did!

Pretty soon, tiny wings beat the air even faster, while long beaks jabbed. After a bob and weave, HB-1 got the better of HB-2 and forced his rival to fly away. Sadly, my phone was nowhere near me at the time, so I did not get pictures.

Nor was I able to capture something that happened at a birthday party I went to recently. The birthday child was a little girl who turned one. Over forty kids were present. One of the games they played was one involving a box wrapped with about fifty layers of wrapping paper. The kids sat in a circle and passed the box around, each unwrapping one layer, hoping to be the one who reached the last layer. That kid would have the privilege of claiming what was inside the box.

The kids gave that box the care and attention a neurosurgeon would give a patient. Every time the kids thought they’d reached the end of the wrapping paper, still more layers would appear. Without knowing what was in the box, they were fully invested in solving the mystery of what was inside. I was the one tasked with picking up the discarded wrapping paper, so I didn’t have a free hand to snap a photo. But I loved the fact that the kids were riveted by a wrapped box, rather than some expensive video game. (Lest you think I dislike video games, let me admit to you now that I play them. Just sayin’.)

Neither of these moments has the awe-factor of a solar eclipse, I know. But life has these little moments of mystery and wonder—moments too quick or too powerful to capture on film. Like the time a two-year-old hugged me around my knees. Like the laughs I shared with friends last week. I’m glad I was fully present, enjoying those moments, instead of fumbling for my camera.

But I was able to capture this butterfly not too long ago. He sat still, allowing me time to photograph him (though I wish I’d managed a closeup).

What moments have you enjoyed recently that took your breath away, but that you weren’t able to record on your camera?

Solar eclipse image from Wikipedia. Avengers poster from nzgirl.co.nz. Hummingbird from free-background-wallpaper.blogspot.com. Wrapping paper from zazzle.co.uk. Monarch butterfly photo by L. Marie.