Thanks For the Reminder, Ira Glass

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Video by David Shiyang Liu, Words by Ira Glass

OK, I’ve been waiting for this moment. You know, that moment where you open your brain and the words pour out onto the page. Fully formed ideas and sentences, complete thoughts. You see, I’ve had a little writer’s block.

I just heard this little piece of recorded wisdom by Ira Glass. I don’t know if, when he was speaking these words, he was thinking, “Oh shit, this is brilliant. I gotta share it so I can inspire people and change the world.” But really, it is. And he actually might.

I, like most of you other writers out there, love that moment when I write something wonderful, and it feels like I’m really a writer, you know? Like I know what I’m doing, and I am so witty and funny and poignant, and all that. I love how it feels to pour my emotions into my prose. It’s like a massage, or a balm, a good drink, a long hit of weed, great sex. It. Just. Feels. Good.

But you know what? That good feeling you get from writing? It doesn’t always translate. I’ve gotten high and been inspired by my chemically induced visions to compose poetry, and when I’m writing it, I feel like I’m touching the stars. OK, I’m high, so that kinda figures. But the next day, I read it, and it’s crap. Utter rubbish. It’s like an attempt to capture the brilliance of a sunset on a cheap, disposable camera – the kind you used to be able to buy at a drugstore at the cash register for five bucks, and sometimes they’d put a whole bunch of them out at the tables at a wedding, and you could get the pictures developed in the mail. And when you got the pictures back, your thumb covered half the shots, and the ones that did come out are in this weird shade of orange, out of focus, and the crap on the front lawn is taking up most of the frame. That. The crappy writing the day after a good high is written in some cryptic code that is only readable by other high people. It’s worthless.

Then there’s the other kind of writing that feels so good to get out of your body. It’s like a good purge. It’s the kind of writing that’s tantamount to sticking your finger down your throat and vomiting up the contents of your stomach. The acid, the bile, the half digested chunks. It’s pretty disgusting, really. Who wants to read that nonsense. Go to therapy. It belongs in your journals, your morning pages, your private notebooks. Aaah, blogosphere, you went and gave us permission to publicize all of this private processing. That was one boundary that would have been better left undisturbed. We’ve all done it. The Facebook rants. The confessional blog posts. The public sharing of private feelings, the exposure of raw nerves. Yes, we’re all in it together, we are the world, boo hoo, I’m sad too. It’s not good writing.

Then there are the online articles that start to pick up page views, and likes, and shares. Oh, the stat whore in all of us comes to life. They like me, they really like me. I’m popular, I’m getting more hits, I’m driving traffic, I’m a thought leader, I’m getting more followers, they’re pinning me. This roller coaster is exhausting, it’s illusory, it has no meaning. There are no standards, just the winds of popularity blowing in your direction. Keep it up for a while, make it consistent, and then perhaps you’ve got something. A brand, a platform, a voice, a career, an ad magnet, a source of income. Maybe. Good writing? Who the hell knows…

They say in order to build your brand online (dig the etymology there, as though our identity is valued by its ability to be properly sold), that you need to maintain a steady presence, a regular, consistent output of material. I confess, I haven’t been very good at that type of regularity. For a while there, I was cranking out regular pieces of experimental fiction and with a couple of deadline type assignments, a consistent level of output on several blogs. But things change, and now it’s all on me to make sure you don’t forget me. Now I need an internal clock, like an animal responding to the cycles of the seasons and the rotation of the planets around the sun, and sometimes, well, the cycles don’t coincide with the working week and the optimal posting times, and all that jazz.

But mostly, there’s my realization that more important than regular output and steady presence and recognizable brand is the need to write well. If you google me, you will find a boatload of stuff I’ve written. Some of it is good. A lot of it is uneven. Much of it is crap. I am still in process as an artist, as a writer, as a human being. My shortcomings, thanks to the lure of the internet and the need for public reassurance, have become part of public record. I hope they make you feel better. Feel free to trash my early efforts, or even the recent ones, if they serve to prop up your own sense of relative artistic capability.

But really, I hope that my willingness to fail in plain view will be a reminder, mostly to myself, that this writing thing is a craft. It’s a learned skill. Sure, we bring to it a certain amount of inspiration, a bit of  spirit and courage, and a bunch of bravado, but all of that is but a small portion of the process. Mostly, it’s hard work and doing it again, and again, and again. And again.

It’s being willing to tear apart the passages we thought were genius and throw away the pieces that don’t work – maybe even the whole thing. It’s being willing to learn craft from others who are really good at it. It’s being willing to acknowledge that I will never stop learning, and I have to keep practicing, every day. Even when I feel hopeless, that everything that comes out of me sucks and I would rather scratch out my eyes than read another cliché ridden, hyperbolic, melodramatic, narcissistic passage of my so-called memoir.  When I think everything I know is wrong, and I will never know what it feels like to be recognized for what I know is the pretty damn good writer lurking inside me, just out of view of the webcam.

Thanks, Ira, for reminding me that it’s OK to suck, because it won’t stay like this forever.

ONE DAY ONLY – Download Some Wisdom

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Dear readers, I’m excited to share the news that tomorrow, 12/12/13, for one day only, the e-book One With All of Thee: Growing Your Sacred Connection, will be available as a FREE download on Amazon. I wrote the introduction for this very special collection of writings by Celine Koropchak. The book was edited by Lillian Ann Slugocki and myself. The cover art was designed by Jennifer Dopazo.

I’m very proud of this book, and I hope you’ll check it out. Let me know what you think!

Deborah

Selfie

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Here’s the picture. There’s a woman. She is reinventing herself as we speak. She is figuring out who she is and what she wants. She has realized that doing what other people want her to do, or trying to please them, is not really going to get her where she needs to go. There is a little glint in her eye, as she has decided to dare to make her own way. She’s narrowing her focus, streamlining her daily activities. She is taking control of her destiny.

She’s making some difficult choices, and people may feel hurt. She never wants to hurt anyone. But you know what? You can’t please everyone. Sometimes, people won’t be happy with your decisions, and you can’t necessarily prevent that from happening. You can be as tender and sensitive and caring in your communications as possible but a) that may not make a difference if you aren’t giving others what they want – they may be pissed, disappointed, or hurt just the same, b) you may think you are communicating one thing, but you may be sending other messages alongside the ones you intend without even realizing it (yikes) and c) sometimes life is just hard.

I’ve seen people reveal some really personal things on Facebook and other places online – stuff about disintegrating marriages and other relationships, devastating news about illness and death, and sometimes, just a harrowing look at their own messy emotional journey as they publicly fall apart or otherwise splatter. It’s a reality of our time that we now have successfully dissolved the boundaries between personal and public.

I’ve traversed these boundaries numerous times over the last few years, trying to find my comfort and safety zone in the wacky world of extended family fellowship, public creative platforms, marketplace of social commentary and the readily available space to practice being funny, daring, snarky, incendiary, boastful, benevolent, informative, kind, or just plain mischievous. I am sure we’ve all been guilty, at one time or another, of the dreaded overshare, of being the one who posted something that made someone else think eeew. It happens. We are a messy bunch, and the rules out here are fairly amorphous.

So, the trial and error of comporting ourselves with dignity or being entertaining brings up a whole lot of stuff. I can’t say that my life is necessarily better or worse now that I have an active social media footprint. Yeah, I’ve engaged with a lot of people all over the world, and for that I am so grateful. It makes me excited to see where things will go with some of these relationships. I’ve also learned how to use a lot of these tools to their best advantage, and yeah, shameless plug, I know how to work them on behalf of clients who pay me for my services.

And, there are those moments when I feel utterly exposed and vulnerable. I wonder about the public image I’m creating for myself and whether people think I’m naïve, gullible, annoying, inappropriate, talentless or completely self-involved… until I remember, with great relief, that you’re all pretty busy worrying about yourselves, and not really giving me that much thought, thank goodness!

That woman in the picture – she is keeping more to herself than you can imagine. Because sometimes it’s more important to save some things for your private world.

Random After Thanksgiving Thoughts

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mr t and nancy reagan

In no particular order whatsoever.

Stewed prunes. Just because.

No Black Friday shopping. Ever.

I feel an urge to send letters to friends, but not to report every single thing that happened this past year. I’m pretty sure they don’t care. I don’t even care. I’m talking about handwritten notes that just connect us in a way that email or Facebook cannot. Share some feelings, a few stories, some good thoughts about one another – that sort of thing… and if I can’t muster the paper and pen and stamp thing, then at least a private FB message, or a personal email. It doesn’t have to be a public display. I will probably make a bunch of phone calls, too…

I can’t wait until after December 20th, so I can know that the shortest day of the year is behind us. That thought will help get me through January and February.

Around this time of year, the sadness seems sadder, the desperation seems more desperate, and the pressure to feel happy feels abnormally explosive. I really want to just cook a few nice meals and write some stories. Is that so much to ask?

I ate way too much on Thursday. Friday morning I didn’t feel well. End of story.

I saw many people jogging around my neighborhood this morning. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

When we think about tragedies around the world (or in our own backyards – there was a deadly train crash in my neighborhood this weekend…), somehow they seem more tragic at this time of year. Or at least, that’s the perception. Many of our senses are heightened right now, because there is this sort of pressure to be grateful and observant and mindful of how we want our lives to be better (those new year’s resolutions will be upon us before you know it). How would it be if we just pretended that each day was as important as the rest? How about we be as mindful of the suffering of others throughout the year as we are now? Of course, we have to focus on the good things in life, but we can also do our part to share our love and bounty with others whenever we can.

Have a look around. Someone, maybe more than a few people in your life are really having a hard time right now. Take a few moments to check in on friends. It will make you feel better, too…

I just heard a flock of geese flying overhead. It reminds me about all the animals in the world, continuing on in formation, despite the interference by humans in their lives. It’s amazing that we all get to share this planet. I’d like to be more mindful of that…

I’m pretty sure Santa is on a budget this year. Time to start extolling the virtues of homemade gifts.

I can’t help it. I LIKE having Chinese food on Christmas Eve.

Happiness is present in the smallest moments that sometimes get strung together like jeweled necklaces. I love how shiny happiness is. It’s always with me.

Cool Things From the Web This Week

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Each week I get sent a bunch of great links from the web via Facebook, and this week I decided that it’s time I start sharing some of them with you.

Enjoy!

The Amazing Emotional Baby

What started out to be a home video shared with family and friends has turned into an internet phenomenon garnering over 21 million views. Mommy sings. Baby cries. She certainly is emotional. Some say she’s an old soul, perceptive beyond her years. Or maybe she’s an empath. Or maybe it’s gas. We don’t know. We don’t care. People are watching it and sharing in droves.

The Not Crying Cat

Things are different with cats. 67 views. No tears. You do the math.

These Girls Are Monsters

When did the women’s Halloween costume market transform into a completely sexualized affair? I must have not been paying attention. Do female firefighters really wear such short skirts?

Uganda’s Got it Going On

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10152017315483474&set=vb.715293473&type=2&theater

If this doesn’t make you feel good, I don’t know what else to say…

Flash Fiction Highway

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If you are a writer of short, short stories, there’s a name for that – flash fiction. And if you are writing flash fiction, then this is the place to be.

Threw it On the Ground

First time I saw this, I thought, hysterical. What a fantastic satire on the angry rapper. It’s catching fire among the kids now. Ever seen a bunch of ten year old boys getting excited about a video that shows someone throwing everything they can get their hands on to the ground? Uh huh. Did I mention I’m a mom? Feel sorry for me yet?

The Peculiarities of Being A Single Mom

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I love my son. With all my heart. He fills me with joy… and frustration, fear, anger and impatience. Having previously had a partner to help me raise him, I know fully well the benefits of co-parenting. There’s the tag teaming, and the dual perspective. My reactions can be so deeply colored by emotions, that it was often helpful to have a buffer, a touchstone, someone to help take the edge off, offer a sober alternative to my highly charged first instinct.

But now it’s just me. And though I have a boyfriend (a psychologist, no less…), and he offers me keen insights and helpful advice, he’s also really careful not to insert himself into my parenting process with my son at high energy moments, which I really appreciate. In other words, he stays out of our arguments! Which means, I am left to make my own mistakes and then deal with the consequences. It’s a humbling, often painful process, but it’s me, walking the walk and taking responsibility for my actions.

As a single parent, it’s tempting to rely on my son’s strength in ways that have a more adult dimension. It’s easy to forget that even though he is confident and secure in his sense of self, he’s still relying on me to enforce the boundaries in behavior, communication and daily routines that will give him a sense of his own responsibility in the world – accountability for his emotional responses, his actions, and his interactions with others.

Here are some lessons I’m learning through my experience. Perhaps you recognize one or two of them from your own?

1) Children are not our little spouses. Oh, the temptation is great to rely on “my little man.” But as precocious and insightful as he may be, he’s not a man, he’s a boy. And he needs to know that, and know that I also know that. I’m the adult, and he’s the child. I’m in charge. What I say goes. We may share in certain activities, and we can have fun together, telling jokes, cuddling on the couch at night while we watch a movie or reading a good book before bed, but that does not take away my essential role as his primary authority figure.

2) Kids respond to positive reinforcement and encouragement. Its amazing how much they flower under our approval and support. I’m currently dealing with a ten-year-old, rapidly approaching that pre-adolescent phase where he wants to exercise his independence. He likes to be helpful, show me he can handle responsibility, but he’s not quite old enough yet to do certain things without at least a small measure of oversight. I try to give him chores I know he can do well, where the level of detail may not be so essential. That way, he can have the satisfaction of completing the task, and I can have some real assistance. Making his bed, folding and putting away his own clean laundry, scrubbing the bathroom sink and toilet – these are all tasks he can do in his own way and it works for both of us.

3) We (my son and I) do better when I keep my emotions out of it. OMG, this is the single hardest thing of all for me. I’m an extremely emotional person. I can go from 0 to 10 on the fury scale in the blink of an eye. But the release I get from expressing my anger in a moment of impatience or frustration is never worth the look in my boy’s eyes when he’s been stung by my harsh words.

4) Sometimes Mommy needs a time out. Yeah, when I feel that rush and surge of adrenaline that often comes with the anger mentioned above, I am sometimes able to catch myself. If a deep breath will do, I am lucky. Otherwise, I may need to remove myself from the room for a few minutes, have a good cry, get a hold of myself, let my temperature cool down, and then re-approach the situation with a clearer perspective. Or at least, without smoke pouring from my ears.

5) It helps to remember specifics about your kid’s personality. My son doesn’t respond well to sudden changes. I know this about him. Last minute cancellations of plans, especially something he has been looking forward to, can be really disappointing, and sometimes they can’t be prevented. He can usually manage the transition, but it makes it easier on both of us if I am gentle, give him a little time, and don’t try to shove him through it too harshly. I have learned the hard way that often my own guilt about the situation can make me impatient to push through to the other side of the difficult moments. I get annoyed when he pushes back, and the results can be quite explosive. Afterwards, there are tears, hugs and words of forgiveness, but it often feels like the wear and tear on both of us wasn’t worth it.

6) Especially if you only have one child, you may end up feeling very close to one another, for better or worse. And if you’ve suffered the loss of the other parent, well, that brings a whole other dimension to your bond. It’s just the two of you, day in and day out. You will fight a lot, because again, it’s just the two of you. I try to build in ways to blow off steam. Trading off play dates with other parents is a godsend, and it’s often easier to take care of two kids than one (oh right, THAT’s why parents have more children). I try to take full advantage of the times when I get a break, and embrace the moments when another child is around. Having a buddy to play with takes the heat off me to constantly entertain him, and alleviates the guilt of not having the kind of free time that he craves to spend with me. Plus, I learn so much about my child observing how he interacts with his friends.

7) I think it’s always important to recognize that we are definitely going to screw things up. There’s no way we are going to get it right 100% of the time, and maybe not even the majority of the time. There’s just too much on-the-job training in this gig. I think the best we can hope for is that someday, when our kids are in therapy, they will look back through their anger and confusion with a certain amount of kindness and forgiveness towards us, because they know that through all the screw-ups and do-overs, we really did love them. I, for one, am banking on that.

 

I’d be curious to hear from other single parents out there with your own words of wisdom! What unique lessons have you learned parenting your children?

Photo courtesy of essie82

How to Chill Out and Enjoy Life

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It’s not easy, I’ll tell you that. I can’t tell you how much guilt and aspiration I’ve accumulated over the years. It’s a toxic mix. And a stimulating one. So yeah, it can get confusing.

I start off thinking about all the people I know and love. The ones in my family, and the ones I grew up with, and the ones I met along the way. The ones I remember, and the ones I’ve forgotten. The ones I tried something with. The ones I just watched from afar and wished to be more connected to…

And that’s where it starts to go off the rails. The minute I get sucked into the past and start to attempt rewriting the story. At a certain point, it ain’t about rewrites, I’ll tell you that. It’s about being in a different place now, and just owning that. Seriously..

It’s not about being mad and harping on all the shit that has happened to me along the way. We’ve all got our shit. Lord knows. It’s about just watching it float by in that river of memory and being soothed by the bouncing, bobbing current of yep, there it goes…

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Bruce Lee chilling out in a meditative pose (figure by Eric So)

And OK, now this part is important, so pay attention. I am learning to stop myself from just making up scary stories. You know, the ones that block you from saying yes to yourself.(Note: I do NOT have this part completely worked out, so please don’t ask me for advice. This is a total work in progress.) I refer once again, to the great words of my therapist, Roberta, who said, many years ago, in response to my inordinate concern over what other people were thinking about me at any given moment: “You’re just not that important.”  Thank you. I am forever grateful.

OK, would you prefer a list? I know that’s more the common parlance these days.

(sigh)

If I must…

1) Quick tidbit of advice for parents of pre-adolescents: Tell them that the more they do for themselves, the less they have to rely on other people. That ought to chill things out a bit and maybe motivate them to take a few steps away from you. Or make you feel better. Either one.

2) It’s almost impossible to not come across as snarky in writing these days. Everything is sarcastic and referential and mostly detached – it’s in the air. It’s the style of our times. How did all this unchecked psychic disassociation develop such strong literary and pop cultural roots? Is it even literary? Or is it just ubiquitous? I think my head is pretty far up the ass of social media, so I’m not sure.

3) When you look at your child, and you see the awkwardness of a mature soul struggling with a half-formed body, you realize how far you’ve come as an adult. Imagine, having survived all that, made a ton of mistakes, and still come out halfway cool.

4) It’s funny to me that there is this whole science of being “queer.” There’s an academic discipline built around the concept of not being easy to categorize. I should have majored in queer studies.

5) OK, to be clear. It’s not that I don’t recognize the need for boundaries. Quite the contrary. It’s just that the kinds of boundaries we’re fed as the important ones may not necessarily be, if you know what I mean.

6) Recognizing the inevitability of interruption is essential to inner peace. You will never have the amount of unbroken time you desire. It is impossible. Life is infinitely more unpredictable and challenging than any of us imagined. Even more than that. Deal with that, accept that, and you are halfway, no make that most of the way there. Seriously.  

7) Put 5) and 6) together and you have what is known as “controlled chaos.” Learn to love it.

8) When you give things away, they’re not talismans. They don’t give you power over the current owners. You let them go, and they go on to their new place in the universe. It’s a beautiful thing.

9) Just shut up about it already.

10) You might need to take a nap.