What is it about writing fiction that makes us feel like inept, clunky idiots? Why do we second guess every single thing we write? Is it because we don’t “know” everything we’re writing about? Is it because we’re afraid no one will believe it? Is it because we’re doing what we love and if everyone hates it, we’re spectacular failures?
Or, more to the point, I’m a spectacular failure?
I very recently went back to writing long-hand, in mechanical pencil, on legal pads. It’s for a few reasons: 1) I feel like it activates a different part of my brain and 2) it gives me a special sort of freedom from my own Type A, obsessive need to edit everything I just wrote.
Sentences, paragraphs, pages…I’ll second guess everything I ever produced that you put back in front of me. I’ll second guess things I’ve finished. I’ll second guess things people love. I used to post chapters of a story on my blog. People are still wondering what happens in that story. I’ve promised I’ll finish it. But in the more immediate sense, I couldn’t take posting my rough drafts of chapters. I couldn’t handle posting anything but my anal-retentive, over-analytical best.
And so I have to ask myself: “What’s the difference between ‘good enough,’ and ‘good?’”
I ask myself that all the time. ALL. THE. TIME.
Do you want to know why I haven’t finished a novel yet? I’m afraid. I’m afraid no one will believe me. And if I just keep pretending to try to write, that’s good enough. That’s enough to convince someone that someday I will produce something whole.
I honestly don’t know why they still believe. How many times have I cried wolf? How many times have I said I’m working on a new idea, only for that idea to languish and die in a swamp of fear and laziness. Honestly, I don’t deserve for anyone to believe in me anymore. Not when it comes to publishing a novel.
You’d think that’s a negative thing. But really, it’s when I feel like people shouldn’t believe in me anymore that I try harder. That I have to prove them, and myself, wrong. Especially when it comes to something I love.
Sometimes what you have to do is determine what your idea of failure is in any given situation, and then tell yourself you’re not allowed to quit. Not until you fail. Not until you fail according to your rules.
My idea of failure? Having to self-publish a book. Having to self-publish a book that only friends and family end up reading. That’s my idea of failure. That’s my nightmare. That only the people I love will think my work is worth anything.
But it’s my nightmare. And I’m not allowed to quit unless it happens.
I know it’s not just me. A lot of women are the same way: they only go shopping for cute underwear on special occasions or when they have a new boyfriend.
Being in the latter category, I found myself wandering into the pink, glittery, overly scented black hole that is Victoria’s Secret a few weeks ago. And while I genuinely do love cute underwear (because what woman doesn’t?), I hatehateHATE Victoria’s Secret.
Upon walking in, you are accosted by no fewer than three women.
"Hi, how are you today?"
"Can I help you find something today?"
"Our signature fragrances are on sale, would you like to try one?"
The answers to those questions are “Fine,” “No, I do not need help picking out my own underwear,” and “No, I prefer not to smell like a Parisian whorehouse.”
Once I’ve made it thoroughly clear that I wish to be left alone, I begin to shop. And by shop, I mean become filled with all consuming rage and frustration.
Here’s the deal, children. I’m a size 2. I’m not trying to be a braggadocio (braggadocia??), but that’s fairly small. And yet, according to Victoria’s Secret, I’m a “medium.” Fine. Whatever. If they’re cute and they fit, I don’t care what the tag says.
But then when I trudge over to the bra section (followed by more chirpy badgering), I find that only a fraction of their bra designs are carried in my size. Now, listen: I’m 31 years old and have come to terms with my bra size. That’s not the point. My point is that there are a lot of gals like me who have no boobs, but would still like to wear a cute bra. And even the ones that are supposedly in my size gap horribly and make me feel absurdly inadequate.
I’m standing in a disturbingly pink dressing room, frowning at my thighs when I realize: according to Victoria’s Secret, the perfect woman has a size 0 waist and a 34C bust.
WHAT PORTION OF AMERICAN WOMEN LOOK LIKE THAT?!
This isn’t feminist rage. If it was, I wouldn’t shop somewhere like Victoria’s Secret at all. I like pretty underthings.
My point is that they’ve made their size standards so absurd that only small percentage of women can fit into their wares correctly, both top and bottom.
My point is that they’re marginalizing small-chested and/or big-hipped women.
Don’t give me that crap about how it’s a “luxury brand.” Luxury brand my left butt cheek (which is only half-covered, because yes, I ended up buying underwear anyway). If VS was a luxury brand, there wouldn’t be one in every mall in America. A huge part of luxury is scarcity, and you can’t walk into a shopping center without seeing some girl’s bedazzled pelvis sticking out at you from a VS store window.
And don’t give me that crap about how it’s all about the fantasy. Women with those proportions don’t need help looking hot in their underwear. It’s the average woman who’s hoping to spice up sack time with some cute undies.
For the love of boyshorts, I just want Victoria’s Secret leadership to do some research on what the average woman looks like. Their ridiculous prices are enough to keep them relatively exclusive. If they were more realistic, a lot more women with disposable income would shop there, instead of buying their bras in the little girl’s section at Target.
Like someone I know…
The word felt heavy, coming out of my mouth.
Which is to say it stumbled out like all of my spoken words do, only this one landed harder. This, my lovelies, is why I prefer to write.
There was no letting it go unnoticed. His head whipped around in surprise faster than a dog tracking a squirrel. I kept talking, pretending it was a natural thing to say.
"I told him it was fine to meet for a beer or two, as long as he realized I had a boyfriend."
That last word is what almost gave the boyfriend himself a case of whiplash. I hadn’t used it before. We hadn’t had “the talk.” But I’d been around the block enough times to know when something stuck, and when it didn’t.
This was sticking. In a way I hadn’t experienced before. Hence, “boyfriend.”
I have to stop and say how ridiculous it is, at the age of 31, to call someone my boyfriend. I feel like I’m past that, but I can’t for the life of me come up with a suitable substitution.
Anyhow, I waited for “the talk” to come. Instead it was followed by the admission that his ex-girlfriend had texted and called him over the holiday. He hadn’t responded.
We’re really communicating, I thought. Offering sensitive information without even being asked. How cool is this? How grown-up and honest is this? How flat-out amazing is this?
You won’t see me changing my status on Facebook. It’s not something I need the world to know. Just something I wanted him to know. Boyfriend is, indeed, a heavy word. Oh, I know it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But to me, it means:
"I choose you. Today. And tomorrow. Probably next month, too. And the month after that. Maybe the whole year."
I don’t plan much further than that. But if I did…
I just want to sit down. No…
I just want a hot shower. No…
I just want to eat something with bacon on it.
This was my train of thought after the marathon.
I hurt…during the last six miles, a stabbing pain had developed in my right knee every quarter mile or so. I’d stop, walk it off, then run until *stab* it stopped me again.
I was cold…they give you those foil-like capes afterward, but my body heat had started escaping at a rate I could no longer compensate for.
I felt sick…I’d eaten nothing but Skittles and Gatorade for the past 5.5 hours.
So, all things considered, it really wasn’t THAT weird that I ended up sitting in my shower, eating a turkey club from Jimmy Johns afterward. Inevitably, I ended up poking bits of shredded lettuce down the drain, which was specifically engineered to catch loose objects (though I suspect they had hair in mind when they designed it, not shredded lettuce).
Sandwich finished, I sat back and stared at my battered feet, propped up on the far end of the tub. I tried not to think, but I couldn’t help it. And I knew it was coming, because this particular thought always comes after I accomplish a goal.
"Now what?" a voice whispered in my head.
It’s a bad habit of mine. Or…maybe just a habit.
I read somewhere, several years ago, that you should write down your goals. It makes them much more likely to get done. I’ve found that in my experience, writing down goals is almost a guarantee they’ll get done.
A few years ago, when I was in the middle of a miserable existential crisis and living Kansas, my boss had caught wise to my bad acting and called me into her office.
"You’re not as good at whistling in the dark as you think you are," she said. "I can tell something’s very wrong."
Those were her exact words. Then she told me to go home and do some dreaming. She told me to go do some dreaming and come back, and she’d help me figure out what I could do to make those dreams happen.
(She was wonderful. She still is.)
I came back to her and told her that I wasn’t really sure I was meant for the lives my friends all had. To be married, have children, make failed attempts at gardening. I explained that I didn’t view those choices as wrong. That in fact, I admired my friends who were so very wonderful at it. But at that point, it just wasn’t in me. And that, in absence of a home and a family, I needed to live a life bigger than what I’d created up to that point.
So I’d made three goals: 1) Run the Chicago Marathon. 2) Become director of communications for an organization. 3) Write a novel.
I told her that I felt that, in order to do these things, I needed to move away. And that I’d picked Chicago.
As I sat in the shower and stared at the blister on my heel, I realized…they might not look exactly how I thought they would, and I may not have hit them all out of the park, but I’d now done each of those things.
It was time to do some more dreaming.
Only good Lord, was I tired.
What was more was that I’d started to feel as though some version of a home and family — my version — might be possible. But how do you dream about creating something you have no control over without it making you at least a little sad? Or starting to feel as though the life you’ve built isn’t enough? You can’t just write, 1) Publish a book, 2) Become a self-supporting author, 3) Find soul-mate and have baby.
That’s not how it works.
I can work toward goals one and two, sure. If you don’t know me very well, you could try to convince me two goals is enough for now. But if you do know me well, you know I’m ever-so-slightly anal-retentive, and must…must, I tell you…have three.
And honestly, I can’t think of a third thing I want more.
So I got out of the shower and wrote those things down, as foolhardy and naive as it may be. Then I closed my notebook and hoped that, just as it was before, writing them down and working toward them would be all the magic needed.
"Are you ready?"
That seems to be the one question everyone is asking me about the marathon this weekend. Am I ready? Uhhhhhhhh…I guess? As ready as I could ever be to run 26.2 consecutive miles, sure.
Long distance runs are kind of like life, though. No matter how much you prepare, something can still spring up and catch you unaware, making all that preparation, all those endless hours spent squinting and sweating under the sun, seem pointless.
That is, if you have a specific goal in mind.
I don’t. Not really. Just the finish line. If you were to press me harder, I’d tell you that I hope to finish in under 5 hours. And if all goes well, I’ll come in well under that. But that’s not why I’m doing it…to race against myself. I’m running the marathon for a lot of reasons, but not that one.
I’m running to raise money for a charity that I believe is truly beneficial to the young girls in cities all over the country. And even though Girls on the Run loves to use pink in everything, and I happen to hate pink, well…what they do is awesome. To those of you who donated, you have my most sincere thanks.
I’m running to check off one of my top three life goals. One of the top three I have right now, anyway. I suppose I’ll have to find a replacement for this one once it’s done. I haven’t a clue what it will be.
I’m running for the experience of making my way down empty Chicago city streets. Streets that would normally be filled with Sunday morning traffic, but are instead lined with tens of thousands of spectators screaming their lungs out in support of their loved ones.
I’m running to feel that moment at the starting line, when my wave starts running and and I feel as though I’ve been swept into a sea of humanity…all of us a collective of breath and footfalls and heartbeats.
But I think most of all…most of all I’m running to prove to myself that my will is stronger than 26.2 miles of asphalt and concrete. That despite my many, many failures, I can finish what I’ve started. That if I really want to, if it’s under my power to do so, I can surmount any obstacle. It’s a lesson in the extent of my own capabilities. Something that makes any other wild, seemingly impossible dream…like publishing a book, or actually becoming an author…possible.
If I just try.
And then keep trying when I fall short.
Yes, this is simply a time to finish. No matter how long it takes.
I will finish.
For that? Yes. I am ready.
Guess who’s online dating again?!
After going out for drinks and then not hearing back from my work crush, I got all antsy-pants. But rather than relinquish my dignity and try to find out why, I decided to relinquish my sanity and once again signed up for an online dating site.
"Just one month," I told myself. "That’ll cure me off it for a good six months afterward."
Seriously, I know myself that well.
I was going to get on the OkCupids again but when I logged on and saw virtually the same crop of dude-bros on there from six months ago, I figured I’d head for (hopefully) greener pastures.
True to form, I’m already regretting my decision to spend $35 on a month’s membership on Match.com.
Only one day in, and a 44-year-old guy named Val has already gotten snippy with me and my ageist ways. When I told him our 13-year age difference was a bit too much for my taste, he said:
"Love is blind and quirky and doesn’t come to those whose minds and hearts are not open to it. Good luck finding love in the 29-35 year range!"
Thanks for that. By the by, nice Ed Hardy t-shirt. Knob.
This past Sunday morning, I was standing ankle-deep in Lake Michigan, flip-flops in one hand, over-priced mocha latte in the other, watching the waves roll in.
Feeling the sand escape from under my feet as the water went back out.
And I can’t tell you how happy I was. So happy, I wished everyone I loved was there to see it.
Not for a moment. Just wanting to share. Wanting anyone who ever mattered to me to see the world through my eyes for a few minutes. Because what I was seeing and feeling was so perfect.
Watching a pair of yellow labs bound in and out of the surf, chasing tennis balls.
It’s almost fall.
Fall is at once the most beautiful and the most painful time of year for me. Beautiful because it’s when all my favorite smells and tastes and sights and sounds come rushing up to me. Painful because that time of year brings forth memories of some of the worst things to ever happen to me.
Maybe it’s the mixture of those two things that makes the season so amazing each year. The height of senses. The depth of feeling. And the wonder that time after time, I’m there to experience it at all.
It’s when I feel the most alive. When my mind seems as sharp as the bite in the air. When my body feels like a miracle instrument I’m blessed to have control over. When almost everything…everything…seems possible.
Yes, fall is coming.
And as it turns, I’ll wish that peace and plenty be bestowed upon everyone I love. Then I’ll rush into the falling leaves, laughing at my own name.
Today, a funeral is being held for a man who worked as a pediatric surgeon here at the hospital. He saved two children from drowning in Lake Michigan, then was pulled away by a powerful under current, and died.
I didn’t know him. But I do know this:
Heroism is rare.
On most days, we walk around acting as if nothing can touch us. And we’d like to believe that, were we faced with a life-or-death situation, we would do the noble thing.
It reminds me of a quote from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. Father Christmas gives each of the children their special gift. And when he gives little Lucy Pevensie a dagger, she looks up at him and says:
"I think — I don’t know — but I think I could be brave enough."
We’re all cowards. Most of the time, anyway.
We do what’s best for ourselves more often than not. It’s why the world is the way it is, I think. Everyone’s swathed in their cocoons of self-interest. So much so, that when someone loses their life in an act of real bravery, it’s not just sad.
We wonder if we’d ever be capable of doing something like that.
We’d like to think — we don’t know — but we’d like to think we could be brave enough.
It’s terrible that there are too few people in this world like this man. But the tragedy is when, in a truly selfless act, they are lost.
I have the sense to get up and take my empty wine glass to the kitchen, instead of leaving it next to the bedside lamp.
I can already see it breaking.
Silly girl, always staring ahead. Who put the blinders on?
It wasn’t me.
Ask questions like the answers will answer anything. You don’t know.
You never do.
Madly in love with anything and everything. Let it spin.
Until the dust settles.
Until the buzz mellows.
And at break of day, we’ll see who rules what in a kingdom that never sleeps.