Scaredy L. Marie

This is one of those days when I had to put my Scaredy Squirrel hand puppet on and point the finger at myself. 011

Don’t worry. I don’t do this in public much. But once again, a post at Nancy Hatch’s blog hit me where I live. It’s this one: https://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/calm-self-awareness/

She featured a video that I won’t post here, since you can find it at the end of her post. Feel free to head there and check it out. I won’t mind. Honest. It reminded me of something that has plagued me for years: status anxiety. Can you relate?

In the video the narrator discusses the question most of us ask each other: “What do you do?” Jobs I’ve had with regular paychecks like book or curriculum editor at various publishers, senior project writer at another, or production editor at the American Bar Association made that question a lot easier to answer. But when the regular paychecks stopped, well, I squirmed a lot when people asked me, “What do you do?” Even the answer, “Um freelance writer” seemed lame, especially when it gained me follow-up questions like, “Oh? What are you working on? Do you have a contract? When will the book be published?” I’ve had work-for-hire projects, so the assumptions behind the questions are valid. But when I lack a project, I get rather tongue tied.

I wish I didn’t find a response like, “I’m writing my own books” or “I don’t know when they’ll be published” so difficult to utter. All due to pride I guess, and the status thing that the video points out. After all, both responses fail to point to a tangible source of income. Yet I love the stories I write and the characters I’ve gotten to know. And I betray them every time I keep silent out of fear.

006

Status seems a silly thing to stress over. But we do anyway, don’t we?

Another thing I’ve squirmed about is where I live—an apartment. Over the years, I’ve faced the “why rent when you can own” remarks or even disdainful looks because I’m not a homeowner. Really, the fact that I’m here and not homeless is an answer to prayer. I love where I live, though, because I can look out and see this tree.

012

For some reason, I think of this tree as Wesley. I’m not sure why. (And it has nothing to do with The Princess Bride.) Wesley reminds me of me. He’s old and has a broken limb due to a bad storm. But he’s still standing and producing leaves. I’ve been broken by life’s storms too. But who hasn’t been? Maybe you have too. But we’re still standing. . . .

So I can’t make a proper pretense at status. Even my car gives me away. It’s as old as Methuselah. But I still zip around in it. I even give dudes revving their engines in the lanes next to me a run for their money. (Never challenge a Honda Civic—especially one driven by me. I didn’t get three speeding tickets in one year for nothin’.)

1998_honda_civic_4_dr_lx_sedan-pic-5805229955496057718

Um, this is not my car. But it has the same make and model.

Let’s see what else I’ve been afraid of. Oh yes. In the past, I’ve worried that this blog isn’t “status-y” enough. I don’t have the readership that many bloggers have. I don’t have a plan for it. Don’t want a plan for it. I love the randomness of it, though some readers might run for the hills. I can write nonsense about hand puppets whenever I get ready or post interviews and cover reveals to support authors.

By the way, I’m giving away a number of books in June. The fact that I can do so thrills me to no end.

books1

So that’s me. I’ve got a load of clothes in the dryer, so I’ve got to skedaddle soon. If I have a takeaway to add to this, I would say that if you and I meet, I won’t ask you, “What do you do?” As if you have to prove your worth by that question. Instead, I’ll just say, “I’m glad to meet you.” Because that’s what it’s all about, really, isn’t it? Who we are, not what we do.

After I take my clothes out of the dryer, I might get all fast and furious on the road in my old Civic. The sun is out and I have a horizon to find. (Yes, that is an allusion to one of Captain Jack Sparrow’s lines in the first Pirates of the Caribbean.) Maybe I’ll see you on the road. But if you rev your engine at me, watch out.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this.

024

While the others at the party discussed who was who and what was what, Gandalf took a nap. I can so relate, Gandalf.

Honda Civic from cargurus.com. Book stack from blogs.mtu.edu. Other photos by L. Marie.

The Creativity of Desperation

Loki: How desperate are you, that you call on such lost creatures to defend you?
Nick Fury: How desperate am I? You threaten my world with war. You steal a force you can’t hope to control. You talk about peace and you kill ’cause it’s fun. You have made me very desperate. You might not be glad that you did.—Conversation from The Avengers (2012)

1ad6dc97f8f4a88a8f643e68e0036c40If you’ve seen Marvel’s Avengers movie, you’ll know just the scene in which this conversation takes place. (Click on conversation above to get more of the context if you’re wondering what they’re talking about.) Fury’s words ran through my mind today as I drove home. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

While waiting for a meeting with the pastor at church, I picked up a magazine and read part of an article about a woman in Zimbabwe. With nine kids to feed and no money, this woman knew the meaning of the word desperate as she struggled to put food on the table. She developed innovative ways to grow crops and was soon able to feed not only her kids but others in a similar desperate situation. I wanted to jot down some of the quotes she used and other specifics, but my meeting began, and I had to put down the magazine. I didn’t get a chance to grab it afterward to finish reading the article. But during the half-hour drive home, I thought about how often I’ve felt the ragged edge of desperation.

Looking back, I can see a trail of desperate situations like bad breadcrumbs. Were any of these situations a matter of life or death like that of the woman in Zimbabwe? No. But desperation has many faces. Here are some of them:

My undergraduate years at Northwestern University, A.D. some year (I’m not saying which year): Having partied way too heartily, my GPA plummeted. One afternoon, the dean of my program called me into her office and demanded to know why the school should allow me to remain. Academic probation was a possibility, but that was the dean’s decision, based on how persuasive I could be at that moment and how willing I was to prove myself from then on. How desperate was I to get my act together and avoid expulsion? Very.

bad_gpa_neck_tie-r9ec82e46d8dd4a18a6ed18fc1ec0a6b6_v9whb_8byvr_324

First apartment: My roommate and I weren’t getting along and I had just been dumped by my boyfriend, even after we talked about getting married. I came home one night around midnight to find my boyfriend with my roommate. They were just talking, I was told. But when I said, “I’m outta here” and grabbed a suitcase, neither tried to stop me. In fact my boyfriend asked if I needed help getting my stuff to the car! I spent the night at my old home—with my parents. How desperate was I to move out of that apartment though I lacked the money to do so? Very.

rejected-love-2

Grad school, Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2011: I’d been failing miserably at my essay writing (keep in mind that my master’s program is a writing program) and barely squeaked out 14 pages of fiction, though I was supposed to turn in about 30 every month. My advisor at the time wrote a letter to me stating, “You might feel that the wrath of God has hit you, and it has.” She proceeded to tell me what I needed to do to remain in the program, which included scenes to write (which would total about 60 pages—double the amount I usually needed to turn in) along with new essays to make up for the crap essays I’d handed in the last couple of months. How desperate was I to once again get my act together academically? Very.

October 2012: At the company I worked for, the bosses called a meeting. The news was bad: the whole staff would be laid off before Thanksgiving—the start of the holiday season. No severance pay. How desperate was I to find a job to meet my monthly obligations? Very.

Last year: I submitted a novel to agents for representation and faced rejection not once but 16 times. (And no those were not my only rejections. I’ve acquired many over the years.) Some agents did not offer feedback. How desperate was I to write a novel with a sound structure and a marketable concept? Very.

rejection41

As the old saying goes, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” (And this saying might have derived from something Hippocrates said. See here for details.) In each case, I had to overcome my natural reticence, fear of failure, or inertia and get creative about finding a solution.

Desperation still pushes me down the path of creativity. But what about you? When was the last time you felt very desperate? What did desperation drive you to do?

I would’ve stopped this post at those questions, but a discussion in the last post about Bumble the Abominable Snowman from Rankin/Bass’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer prompted me to show a photo I took of Bumble on top of my wardrobe.

002Samuel L. Jackson and Tom Hiddleston photos from pinterest.com. Bad GPA tie from zazzle.com.au. Novel rejection image from baneofyourresistance.com. Love rejection image from slices-of-life.com.

Arise!

I read a post today which discussed heroes giving noble speeches to hearten people, and whether that’s effective today. When I commented, I cited King Théoden’s speech in The Return of the King, little knowing how much I would need that speech five minutes later. While I thought of the stirring speech from the 2003 movie directed by Peter Jackson, what’s below is from the book by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

220PX-~1Bernard Hill as Théoden. Photo from Wikipedia.

I always loved that speech, because Théoden and his army rode toward a battle none was sure he would survive. But they went anyway.

I think about that speech now, as I contemplate an emailed rejection I just received. I wasn’t going to post today. I was going to huddle in a ball in the corner. Yet I felt that I need to write this while the feelings are fresh and raw, not just for myself, but for anyone who has been rejected and now wanders lost in the fog of confusion and “what next?”

Some days writing seems like a battle I’m not sure I’ll win. Maybe like me, you start to second-guess yourself, thinking, Am I a total loser? If that’s you today, look at Théoden’s speech. I don’t know exactly why I get totally pumped when I read those words or hear them in the movie. This is an example of persuasion, spoken by a man who wasn’t content to hang about his halls while his army swept into battle. He went with them.

People tell you that rejection is par for the course. Yeah, it is. It hurts, because you’re left reeling. Others tell you to get up and try again, but you feel like a newborn foal standing on shaky legs. That’s how I feel right now.

Is that you today? I don’t have words of wisdom. I just have that speech—those gorgeous words of Tolkien. And I take heart. And I cry. And I scream:

Fell deeds awake . . . a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!

And I go into battle once more.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Return of the King. New York: Ballantine Books, 1955, 1965. Copyright renewed 1983 by Christopher R. Tolkien, Michael H. R. Tolkien, John F. R. Tolkien and Priscilla M. A. R. Tolkien. Print. 123.