Monthly Archives: February 2011

Doing the Time Warp Again

            I
thought being on vacation would have made my weekly writing easier.  After all, the only schedule I’m
following this week is that of the tides (don’t want to fall asleep and have
the beach bag wash away!).  But
blogging from paradise is actually proving difficult.  I doubt that any of you stuck at home without sand between
your toes have much sympathy for me, but perhaps you can relate.  Because my problem doesn’t stem from
having no time, it comes from having too much time.  I’ve fallen into the vacation time warp.  With nothing I need to get done, I’ve
managed to stop getting anything done. 
I have yet to read a book, listen to one of the new albums I downloaded,
or write a single sentence of my current story.  Yet I’ve been on vacation for three full days.

            I
seem to be able to function on only two settings: high gear or sloth mode.  And from chatting with friends, I don’t
think I’m alone in this.  We’ve
learned to multi-task to the brink of insanity most of the year.  Even weekend days, and, for teachers,
many summer days become do-to-list marathons.  A day “off” simply means finding a new set of
must-accomplish tasks.  A weekend
no longer qualifies as good unless it was productive.  And even if we have an hour to enjoy a second cup of coffee
on a Sunday morning, half of us can’t really relax.  We sit there racking our brains for the chore we must have
forgotten, or we feel guilty that we’re not using the time to run ten miles or
organize our sock drawers by color and style.  After a few weeks, months, or years, for some poor people
who can’t snap out of this high gear trance, we finally crash like a toddler who has spent the night sucking pixie sticks. 
That’s when we spiral quickly into sloth mode.  Suddenly our disciplined ways are distant memories and
changing our underwear constitutes being productive.  Forget multi-tasking: we watch five hours of Law & Order
simply because we are too lazy to roll over and locate the remote.  This is relaxation on downers–family
and friends occasionally even stop by with mirrors to check for breathing.

            I’m
pretty sure neither of these scenarios is the best way to fumble through
life.  If I could overcome my
desire to be teacher-of-the-year, the cover model for Women’s Fitness, the
author of Oprah’s newest book club selection, and Martha Stewart all at once, I
might not actually need to spend three days napping on the beach to recover
after having a vacation less than two months ago.  (I’m not saying I would no longer want to, just that it
would be a more conscious choice.) 
I doubt any of us will look back in our final days and curse our
unorganized sock drawers, nor will we recall fondly the days wasted watching
reruns of television crime dramas. 
Because what’s really important, what makes us truly happy, is usually
not found at the extremes but somewhere in between.

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License and Registration, Please

            I
vividly remember the first time I got pulled over after getting my
license.  I had swerved erratically
at an empty intersection.  The cop
thought I was drunk.  Little did he know, I was a dork whose idea of Friday
night fun was having dinner with my best friend’s family, and really, I was just
indecisive over the best route to take home.  I held it together while the officer was at my window, but, even
though I hadn’t as much as received a written warning, I burst into tears as
soon as he pulled away.  However,
by the next day I had gone from crushed to indignant.  How dare he think I had been drinking?  Damn small-town cops just liked to pick
on teenage drivers!  My
ever-supportive friends, of course, concurred and allowed me to rant and rave
for days. 

            After
nearly fifteen years of driving, I’ve been pulled over more than my share of
times.  I’ve been issued tickets
and written warnings and even weaseled my way out of a few–the teacher routine
works nicely on occasion.  Those
blue lights are never a welcome sight, but they no longer induce panic or
elicit instant tears or righteous anger, even on the few occasions I believed I wasn’t at
fault.  I’ve even come to admit I’m
not the world’s best driver: I’ve got a lead foot (thanks, Bro), a bad habit of
tailgating (thanks, Dad), and a true Baystater’s belief that yellow means gun
it.  Citations are an unpleasant
reminder that I have skills that need to be improved upon.  I don’t like them, but I’m willing to
accept the truths they offer and learn from them.  And I’m certainly not going to stop driving altogether just
because I’ve gotten a few.

            Why
am I sharing my unimpressive driving history in a writer’s blog?  Because rejection letters are the
speeding tickets of the writing world. 
When I first starting sending out my work in high school, being rejected
seemed like the end of the world. 
Even the nice letters were hard to read.  So after a half dozen tries, I stopped sending out my work
altogether.  I wasn’t quitting, I
convinced myself, I just didn’t need the recognition; I wrote for myself and
that was enough.  In theory, that’s
true; I will write long after my senile brain has anything worth offering the
world.  But in reality, even the
most humble of us want an audience–a few people with whom to share our stories,
our imaginings, ourselves.  So
having your work rejected is like being slapped with that first ticket.  At first you’re scared and upset,
thinking, “maybe no one will ever like my writing.”  Then you get pissed, deciding the agent
or editor who couldn’t even take the time to offer a useful suggestion is
clearly a pompous jerk who enjoys the power trip offered by rejecting new
writers.  But after a few more of
these form letters find their way into the mailbox, which you now view with
about as much adoration as a plague-carrying flea, they begin to lose their
effect.  Eventually, you even reach
a place where you can learn from them. 
Perhaps your query letter lacks spunk, or your synopsis is truly a
suckopsis (a term coined by other writers, but one that truly speaks to me and
my crappy ability to summarize a four hundred page novel), or perhaps the first
novel you’ve completed and slaved over isn’t going to be the one that gets
published–yet.  But these are
reasons to keep plugging, not signs it’s time to throw away the gel pens.

            Nobody
particularly likes being rejected. 
In fact, for the most part, it sucks.  On a good day rejection makes us righteously pissed: how
dare someone tell me I’m not good enough! 
On a bad day it can strip us of our confidence and make us question our
worth: maybe I’m not good enough? 
Unfortunately, rejection is a part of life.  You won’t always get the job you want, the guy you love, or
the approval you’re craving.  You
won’t always even be able to win over the cute state trooper with your charm
and handsome good looks.  But if we
can keep ourselves from despair and self-loathing, what we might get is a
thicker skin and a lesson in perseverance.

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Lessons from My Mini-me’s

            I
had an entirely different topic in mind when I set out to write this week’s
blog (belated, I know, but I’m making no apologies for the luxuriously lazy day
of writing I enjoyed Sunday).  I
had planned to write about rejection letters and their possible usefulness in
this world, which I will get to, perhaps next week, possibly even on time.  In search of inspiration for that idea,
I unsuccessfully tore apart my filing cabinet looking for my first rejections
from back in high school.  I kept
the piece of gum I was chewing during my first kiss in a box under my bed for
over a decade, but the letters of encouragement from the few kind editors who
took the time to write back to a high school freshman with big dreams but not
quite enough talent, I’ve managed to lose.  Go figure.

            Luckily,
I stumbled upon another folder that presented a topic I couldn’t put
off.  The folder I found was full
of writing, from the first detailed story I created just for fun at age eight, to
the first story I submitted unsuccessfully for publication at fifteen, to the
editorials I wrote for my high school newspaper at eighteen.  It was my writing.  But it wasn’t, not really.  It was the loosely organized tale of a
curly haired, eager-to-impress child. 
It was the emotionally heavy narrative of an angst-filled teen trying to
make sense of herself and her world. 
And it was the cocky presumptions of a young woman who thought she had
that world all figured out.  Each
piece was a version of my writing, written by a version of me.  Reading each was like slipping on a
pair of old running shoes–familiar, comfortable, but not quite right
anymore.  But old running shoes
tell a tale of their owner: the stains speak of the terrain trampled
through, the wear on the tread tells the type of stride.  

            My
old writing told tales, too, beyond just the stories on the page.  And my old versions of me seemed to be
reminding me of lessons I had forgotten. 
My eight-year-old self reminded me I was once unabashed to share
anything and everything I had written, assaulting unsuspecting visitors by the
pool with my stories.  All I needed
was a hand-written title page and a few “good job”s from family and
friends to feel accomplished.  I
didn’t seek acceptance from the world, because, at age eight, family and friends
were my world.  And really, they
still are.  My fifteen-year-old
self reminded me that writing could be both a means of catharsis and a means of
discovery.  The end product doesn’t
have to be a great work of literature; it can simply be a quieter mind, a
deeper knowledge.  It can be
selfish.  We all need to be selfish
sometimes.  Finally, my
eighteen-year-old self reminded me to rock the boat now and again.  For a short time, I actually welcomed
controversy and tried to push the envelope.  As I teacher, I now cringe at the views I had back then
(‘sucks’ is
not appropriate in school,
young Lauren), but I admire the conviction and nerve I had at that age.  There are some beliefs important enough
to rock the boat for.  When the time comes, I want to have my sea legs.

            So while I
went looking for words of others to remind me of where I’d been, I found words of my own that helped
me see who I could be again. 
Wearing those old running shoes will only give you shin splints, but taking
the lessons from the miles they traveled will make plodding along future paths
a whole lot easier.

            So
go ahead: tear through the filing cabinets, crawl under the bed, see what

your
mini-me’s have to offer.

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