Posts

Why everyone needs a crap-detector friend

This story starts before Hurricane Katrina. (And, yes, even though it’s been nine years and nine months since the bitch hit New Orleans, it remains—like it does for many New Orleanians—a seminal event in my life…but that’s a post for another day.)

I called Carrie Randolph and asked her to meet me at a local coffee shop because I had something I wanted to show her. She didn’t even ask why or what. She came. Because that’s what friends of your heart and soul do. They know you teeter between sanity and craziness, but they trust and love you anyway.

Carrie taught Spanish at the same school where I taught English. It’s where we met and how we came to be friends. To say Carrie is “just” a teacher would be like saying Barbra Streisand is “just” a singer. I admired, appreciated and respected her for her excellence in the classroom, and for her enthusiasm and passion as a reader. We both breathed books.

Her opinion as a reader mattered to me. It mattered so much that, when we both settled at the table with our coffee that evening, it was as if I slid the pages I’d written across the Red Sea. I trusted that the walls of fear wouldn’t collapse on me, and one way or another, I’d come out on the other side. Watching her read, my heart wrung its hands and my brain paced across the coffee shop. She read often and enough to know if it was crap. I knew she’d tell me the truth.

I don’t remember her exact words when she finished the pages. I do remember, all these years later, that she gave me what I needed to keep writing. And I did. Those first pages eventually grew to my first novel, Walking on Broken Glass, which was published five years after Katrina.

What difference does a reader make?

For me, it was the difference between seeing myself as writer and an author. In one of her blog posts, Jami Gold, a paranormal author, said: “I am a writer because I write, but ‘author’ embodies my goals, my actions, and my attitude toward writing.  So I swallow the self-doubt that plagues most of us writers and strive to live up to the word ‘author.’ “

One reader made a difference. A life-changing difference.

 

 

 

 

Is your passion worth sacrificing?

Perhaps if I wore a latex bikini and waved around an oversized foam finger with one hand while I tapped on the keyboard with the other. . .I could make money as a writer. The first two seem to be working for Miley Cyrus. And she probably doesn’t have a clue that twerking became popular while she was still in diapers.

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - Show

(Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for MTV)

I seem to have a knack for choosing creative pursuits that aren’t lucrative…like teaching high school, bagel-dipping in Nutella, and writing. Maybe I should have actually read the book Do What You Love, The Money will Follow. But since I’d already discovered outlets that “fulfilled my needs, talents and passions,” I didn’t require direction, just affirmation, so I didn’t read more than the title.

Maybe I could write Fifty Shades of Blue Because I Didn’t Think of Fifty Shades of Gray Before She Did. Or The Sun Before Twilight. Or a prequel to the Harry Potter series. But that would be as successful as me at the age 61 attempting to twerk on-stage with Robin Thicke.

Word to the unwise…back away from your laptop if you’re pursuing fame and fortune as an author. I’ve experienced the wiggling excitement of being offered representation by agents, book contracts, seeing my name on the cover of a novel, finding myself in a bookstore and on Amazon. Yet I’ve invested oodles more in marketing, classes, and conferences than I’ve earned.

So, why do I continue to write?

Because I can’t not write, and that’s never been so clear to me as it has recently. I’d been officially retired for five months after having taught high school English for 25 years when my husband decided to open his own business. He’s a veterinarian.

This is what I do while I’m at work: I smile and say, “Hello. How are you?” or Hold on” and/or “I’ll find someone who can help you.” I’m entering inventory and clients in our database, shelving drugs with unpronounceable names, counting pills for prescriptions, mopping the floors every morning so the clinic won’t smell like the population it serves, answering the phone, leaving the house every morning at 6:30 and not returning home until after 7:00 pm, taking emergency calls with him and working almost every Saturday and often going in on Sundays to catch up from the week.

My consumption of Blue Bell ice cream is increasing in an inverse proportion to my hours of sleep and direct proportion to my depression. I went to bed at 7:30 last night and woke up at 4:00 in the morning to write this post. It’s the first writing I’ve attempted outside of chart notes and prescription labels in over thirty days.

When your passion is suddenly taken hostage, you eventually find a way to survive. To entertain it in your mind where it can’t be constrained. I mop and spin ideas of women once wealthy and powerful who assume false identities and hide out in low-end jobs to escape someone or something. I devise stories around clients who own ten dogs and/or cats. I name future characters after some of the clients’ pets. . . I try to not dwell in the land of, “if I’d written a blockbuster before this, I wouldn’t be wiping up unknown glick on the floor.”

I hope to be ransomed one day. In the meantime, I’m following the advice of my writer friends and keeping a journal. Maybe the glick on the floor will lead to a break-out book. Maybe not. But this I’ve learned: you can’t sacrifice your passion on the altar of someone else’s dreams.

Do what you love. If the money doesn’t follow, your sanity will.

What about you? Doing what you love?