One Bright Thing, day 7

#OBTChallenge Day 7

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day…or at least most days. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression. Last week, I was feeling especially down, so I asked myself how I could turn those feelings around and put some light out into the world. The OBT Challenge was born.

Today, because I’m tired and need a quick smile myself, I’m going with a staple. Cat pictures. I take a lot of those. 🙂

This is Fergus. He’s photogenic, largely due to his funny face. (Hover over each pic to see its caption.)

As always, thanks for visiting, and stop back again soon. If you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share! If you’re not on social media but would like to share something with me to post, crediting you of course, please email me at kfaatz925@gmail.com.

One Bright Thing, day 6

#OBTChallenge Day 6

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day…or at least most days. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression. The ordinary day-to-day gets complicated by the weather, the increased hours of darkness, the post-holiday slump, and very often, the news in the wider world.

A few days ago, I was feeling especially down, so I asked myself how I could turn those feelings around and put some light out into the world. The OBT Challenge was born.

Today’s post (which might also be tomorrow’s, since I’m putting it up late 😉 ) breaks from the music string of the past days and instead is just a short line of thought.

I was teaching a creative writing workshop this afternoon, in which we talked about how pretty much any storyline you might think about writing – a love story, a war story, a heist, a quest, anything really – has probably been written before, lots of times. The one unique thing any writer can offer is our characters, the people who live our stories, because our characters come from ourselves and who we are.

This morning I got up feeling pretty down. Sometimes I get very much into self-comparison, and I usually decide I’m not doing nearly as well with my life as this or that other person, or doing as well with my life as I “should be.” In those times, I start to wonder what exactly I have to offer at all.

But this afternoon’s workshop reminded me that, just as any writer’s unique offering to the world of story is their characters, so any person’s unique offering to the world-at-large is themselves. There’s no one else quite like me. There’s no one else quite like you who are reading this. We might be doing things, or trying to do things, similar to what other people are doing, and we might be inspired or daunted by the achievements of others: but no one else can be exactly like us. No one else thinks like us, talks like us, loves or cheers or cries like us.

And no matter how we sometimes feel, the world could not be the same without us, exactly as we are. No one else could shine the unique and specific candles we light in the world every day, just by living and doing and being.

So if you need a good thought to hold, maybe this one will help. And this seems like a good place for a picture of one of my critters, who absolutely knows that there is no one else in the world like him:

Fergus piano

As always, thanks for visiting, and stop back again soon. If you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share!

One Bright Thing, day 5

#OBTChallenge Day 5

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day…or at least most days. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression. The ordinary day-to-day gets complicated by the weather, the increased hours of darkness, the post-holiday slump, and very often, the news in the wider world.

A few days ago, I was feeling especially down, so I asked myself how I could turn those feelings around and put some light out into the world. The OBT Challenge was born.

Today’s post features music by Felix Mendelssohn; not my own playing this time. 🙂 This is the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 49, as performed by the Zukerman Trio.

I’m currently learning this piece, and it’s a big challenge. If you’ve read about me here on the site, you know I’ve been balancing work in music and writing for a number of years. Sometimes that balance leans more one way or the other. Lately, I haven’t been as much of a “real pianist” as I trained to be, and this Mendelssohn is definitely pushing me to get my chops back.

Learning it has been a mix of fun and frustrating. Over the past few days especially, I’ve caught myself getting really impatient with my own limitations. Why can’t you remember those notes? Why can’t you get that passage up to speed? I know the real issue is that I’m scared I “can’t do it well enough,” that I’m not enough of a pianist anymore. But if I let myself get impatient and angry, it only makes the work harder. If I try to keep a sense of humor about it and let myself learn and grow at my own pace, things happen much more easily.

It’s hard for me to be patient and accepting with myself and to honor when I’m trying my best. If I want to be able to do that with others, the buck starts here. This piece is teaching me lessons about more than music. And it’s a wonderful piece too: full of drama and fire and all shades of expression.

Please enjoy the video and visit back again soon. If you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share!

A New Daily Challenge: One Bright Thing

#OBTChallenge Day 1

To bring in 2020, I’m repurposing the blog for a while. Let’s see how long I keep it going…

It’s already a tough year. A lot of us are probably struggling with more anxiety than usual because of the headlines, especially the news out of Australia and Iran. January is often a tough month to begin with: after the holidays, when life goes back to normal, but the days are very short and it’s often cold and dreary. All of this gets compounded if you already struggle with mental health challenges.

That’s exactly where I am. So I decided to give myself a new kind of challenge, in the spirit of lighting a candle rather than letting the darkness take over. My goal for myself is to post one thing on the blog, every day, that puts a bit of light out in the world and maybe makes someone smile. One bright thing.

My first one is some music, a recording I made of three of my favorite sonatas by Italian Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti. (I have a feeling music will be a frequent go-to in this project.) I love these pieces for their clarity, peace, and joy. Other days, I might post a photo – hopefully not always a cat photo 😉 – or a short piece of writing, or even a sketch or watercolor.

I invite you to enjoy the music here and visit back tomorrow. I also invite you to post your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. If you post it on Twitter, you can tag me at @kfaatz925, and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge.

I’d love to see what you come up with. Let’s put some light into the world for the New Year.

 

 

Season’s Greetings and Thoughts

Merry Christmas! I sure didn’t think I was going to write a blogpost today, but the brain came alive this morning with some percolating ideas…

Christmas can be a strange day. We know about the amazing pressure and busyness leading up to it: only X more shopping days! What’s on your dinner menu? Did you put up your lights? Is your tree camera-ready? Sometimes it feels like we race through those last couple of weeks or so with barely a minute to call our own, and then suddenly, you wake up and it’s Christmas morning, and everything seems to stop. All the preparation, and now here’s the day itself stretching out in front of you, and it can feel somehow…empty.

For some of us, this is a very tough time of year. We might remember folks who aren’t here to celebrate with us anymore. We might think back on past Christmases, which might not have seemed so perfect at the time, but seen through that backward-looking lens, are full of nostalgia and carry a sense of loss. For me, growing up, Christmas Day itself usually wasn’t the happiest, but the leadup sure was. I remember baking spritz cookies and gingerbread men, hanging foil icicles on the tree, helping my dad set up the electric train and the Dickens Christmas village. I remember A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life, carols on the record player (yes, I’m middle-aged 😉 ), and, maybe best of all, the Christmas Eve service at church, with the music of a magnificent choir and the light of hundreds of candles filling a space that echoed like a cathedral. There was beauty and joy, solemnity and peace that seemed to come at no other time of year.

As I said, Christmas Day itself wasn’t the happiest. In our house, there was a definite sense of frantic leadup to an inevitable letdown. We didn’t have much family, and the day could feel lonely. You get up and have breakfast and open your presents and then…what? There are no relatives crowding the house, no bustle to greet people and get a big meal ready for a dozen mouths or more. You know you’re “supposed” to be happy, this is “supposed” to be a day of celebration, but you aren’t feeling it. (And maybe you wonder what’s wrong with you that you aren’t.) You’re just marking the hours until you can quit pretending. I think all of us also have known the feeling of comparing what we actually have to those rosy Norman Rockwell images of the perfect tree, the pile of presents, the laughing kids, the big family around the dinner table. In every store we venture into, and in the car when we turn on the radio, we hear the relentless songs about “the most wonderful time of the year” and whisper to ourselves, “Really?”

For a lot of us, Christmas simply doesn’t look like that. Some of us are alone, by choice or because that’s the way things ended up this year. Some of us have a partner but no kids; some of us don’t have the money to make a big splash; some of us just don’t want to tap into all the craziness that goes with the season. It can be hard to be okay with what we have when society tells us we “should” have something very different.

My husband and I used to have a big get-together with his family every Christmas. After his grandmother passed away a few years ago (at the amazing age of 104!), the different branches of the family separated a bit and got into their own traditions. Christmas for us is now the two of us and our three cats. Today we’ll probably go for a walk and maybe watch a movie. I’m going to cook a chicken in the crockpot and serve it with rice and salad, and strawberry pie for dessert. It’s not a Norman Rockwell Christmas, but it’s ours, and I’m glad we have it.

Last night, we had our Christmas Eve service at the church where I work. When I first started directing the choir at First Presbyterian, six years ago, I wanted to make their Christmas Eve service look like the ones I remembered from the church I grew up in. But First Presbyterian is small and homey, where Bryn Mawr Presbyterian was the afore-mentioned cathedral-style building with a congregation that numbered somewhere around two thousand. It took me a while to realize that, in a smaller church with smaller forces at hand, I wasn’t going to be able to re-create the services I’d loved. It also took me a while to learn that simplicity and friendship can count for as much as formality and display.

But more about last night. Our new pastor delivered a homily in which she talked about how Christmas is a season of suspending disbelief. Everything from the child in the manger to the man on the sleigh seems wildly improbable, but for a little while, we let ourselves take in those so-familiar stories and delight in them. And if we can forget our skepticism about those stories, she said, maybe we can suspend our disbelief about other things. For instance, that such a thing as “peace on earth” could exist. And that we as flawed and uncertain individuals can do good and important work in the world. And that the small things matter and add up to create much bigger things than we can imagine.

I left the service thinking about light. If you’ve followed my blog, you know that 2019 was very far from being my best year; I’m sort of staggering up to the finish line, annoyed about all the time that got eaten by mental health struggles, looking forward to shutting the books on this year and hoping maybe for better things in 2020. I’ve wondered an awful lot about what I might actually have to offer, what kinds of constructive things I can do in a world that seems to need so overwhelmingly much. I’ve thought about how messed up I have felt, and still feel many times a day, and I’ve felt just tired and way out of the energetic and productive mainstream. At this time of year in particular, I know I’m definitely a far cry from those people who do have Norman Rockwell Christmases.

After the service, though, I was thinking about how, yes, maybe I can suspend disbelief for a while. Long enough to believe that I carry a light of my own, and I can do something with it in the world, in the days and years to come.

So whatever your Christmas Day looks like, I invite you to find the light in it, and in yourself. Know that it’s there. Honor it. If you’re like me and tend to find the flaws in what you have and who you are, try to suspend any disbelief you might have in your own power, and honor that too.

As always, thanks for reading. Wishing you a day of peace and beauty, and all good things in the year to come.

Christmas tree 2019
Our tree this year. With cats, smaller is better…

 

 

 

Old into New

Thanks for visiting again! Today’s post (I think) will be short: an apology for the unintended hiatus over the past couple of weeks, and a note about the upcoming (probable) hiatus until the New Year.

I didn’t plan to miss last week’s post, but a pre-Thanksgiving cold has been hanging around, making any extra work a challenge. Now, as we’re going into the extremely active holiday season, I’m expecting my brain to shut down a little over the next couple of weeks.

Can’t believe 2019 is already almost over. I thought that for this short post, I’d mull over the transition between the old and New Years a bit.

To be honest, I’ll be glad to see the end of 2019. It’s been a tough year overall. To begin with, it was a year of saying goodbye. Here, on a personal note, I remember Lee Abbott and Van Reiner, two bright and brave souls whose passing this year has left things a little darker. Lee was an extraordinary writer whose gifts touched the lives of countless students and colleagues. Van was a scientist and one of the warmest and most genuine people I’ve ever known. It was too soon to lose them both.

While I tell myself to remember their light and carry it on in my own life as best I can, sometimes that feels really hard to do. Sharing a link here to Maroon 5’s “Memories,” which has resonated with me a lot over the past few months:

 

**

Shifting from the personal to the professional, the past almost-six months have been pretty disappointing. Anxiety has kept me mostly in survival mode since early July, and as I look back on all that time, it feels like far too many weeks that I won’t get back. None of my 2019 goals really came to fruition; I didn’t have the energy to work or hustle the way I needed to. While I know I did the best I could, given how I was feeling, I still don’t like seeing all that blank time in the rearview mirror.

On the other hand, things are getting better. Mornings, especially, have gotten a lot better over the last couple of months. If you’ve dealt with anxiety, you know that mornings can be the absolute worst, because your cortisol levels are high after the night. Sometimes it can be impossible even to sit down for five minutes to eat a bowl of cereal or drink a cup of coffee (and that’s if you don’t swear off coffee for a while, as I did). It’s been good, lately, to sit down and eat breakfast the way I used to, and yes, savor that cup of coffee. The agitation is still there, but it doesn’t run things anymore.

And though the last five-plus months do feel like a professional blank, I also have to see them as a time of growth. My anxiety forced me to look at some big, deep-seated issues I have with the way I feel about myself: the roots of what I’ve always experienced as chronic depression. As I’ve written about before on the blog, I’ve gotten used to depression, but the anxiety of this summer was a real wake-up call. It’s made me see that taking a different view of myself wouldn’t just be helpful: it’s actually necessary if I want to continue to work and do the things I care about. Before this summer, I didn’t know that self-directed shame could explode into something so destructive and inhibiting. I don’t want that to happen again, so I have to work on the shame.

Going into 2020, I want to let go of my disappointment about that big piece of 2019, learn what I can from it, and hopefully come out stronger and more ready than ever to work. Whether you have goals for the New Year, or prefer to take things as they come and focus on the day-to-day, I send you all positive energy and good wishes for the holiday season and the year to come. See you in 2020!

Back to Work

Yesterday I wrote a little over eight hundred words on what I think will be my next book (Number Three 😊). This feels like a big step in the right direction, because part of me has been avoiding writing, and/or struggling with it big time, for a while.

If you’ve been following the blog, you know I’ve been wrestling with pretty severe anxiety since early this summer. This is a big reason why I haven’t been writing much (when at all). It’s not the only reason for the slump, though, as I’ll explore a little bit farther along in this post.

The anxiety first. Folks who have dealt with it know how, initially, you get scared of something, most often a perceived malfunction in your body or mind. Nobody else, not doctors or therapists or family or anyone, can see or confirm the malfunction, but you can’t explain the fear away or reason yourself out of it. Then, insidiously, you get scared because you’re scared. You think things like, If something wasn’t really wrong, I wouldn’t be this scared, or The very fact that I’m scared means I’m hopelessly messed up. The fear goes around in circles, escalating and dragging you with it.

Anxiety can also leave you confused about yourself. You spend so much time hyper-vigilant, watching yourself to make sure you’re still operating okay, that you kind of forget how it feels to just be in your own skin and your own mind. You might feel like you’ve turned into a different person, or you’re not really sure who you are anymore. It can feel terribly risky to trust yourself.

6.26.19 post - Pine Creek falls (2)

That’s how anxiety has been for me, and it made writing feel frankly dangerous. I felt like had to hold on super-tight to the objectively real. Otherwise how could I be sure I was still functioning okay? I couldn’t let myself escape into a fictional world, especially one of my own creation. How could I believe it was okay to imagine things? How could I trust myself to walk that balance between the world in my mind, and the one I lived in?

I hated feeling like I couldn’t write. (Talk about not being sure who you are anymore!) The good news is – as I read when I was learning all I could about anxiety – that the mind will heal and get back to its accustomed way of working, once you figure out how to get out of its way. Hyper-vigilance doesn’t help. It only keeps the fear-cycle spinning. The best thing you can do, I read, is get on with your life as well as you can. Do the things you want to do, even if anxiety tells you that you can’t or shouldn’t.

This gets me back to writing, and to the second piece of the creativity slump. I call this piece the Why should I? phenomenon.

It was easy to say that I should write, to ground myself, to help with recovery from the anxiety, and because, when you get down to it, writing is what I love to do and the one thing I most want to do. But it was hard to get past the fear that it was somehow dangerous, and on top of that, there’s the uncertainty in the act itself. Why should I do it, when I don’t know if it’ll be any good? Why should I do it, when I have no control over whether anyone likes it, or whether anyone sees it, or whether it gets out in the world at all?

river 1

When I found myself starting to feel like writing again, it felt like deciding to go down with my colors nailed to the mast. Maybe diving into a fictional world was the wrong thing to do, even though it never had been before. (Anxiety also likes to tell you that no matter how many times you do something with no trouble at all, next time might be different.) I figured that maybe my brain just couldn’t handle it. But I was sick of not doing it, and I found myself wanting to get back into the world of my second book, Fourteen Stones.

Well. My brain fought that idea as hard as it knew how. You can’t do that. Who knows if Fourteen Stones will ever see the light of day? How can you possibly justify writing a sequel (editor’s note: it’s actually a prequel) when nobody might want the first one? Why do you want to waste your time? That’s stupid!

But the mind does heal if you can figure out how to get out of its way. In spite of all the messages about danger and uncertainty and the possible stupidity of the whole idea, I found myself putting a toe back in that fictional world. First I was thinking vaguely about my favorite character again. Then I was going back to a period in his life that I’d dreamed up while writing Fourteen Stones, but that hadn’t needed to go on the page in that book. And then – glory be – I was back in the farmhouse where he grew up, and I could practically smell the fire on the hearth in the front room, and run my hand along the generations-old wooden beams and floorboards.

It still felt like a huge risk, for more than one reason. It still does. But I’m learning that my writer-mind is stronger than the other stuff, and for sure, if I was going down, I would want to do it with my colors nailed to the mast…except I’m not going down. I’m off to the races.

After a couple of weeks of sketching and brainstorming, I figured out where this prequel-book needs to start. Yesterday I wrote the first couple of pages of Chapter 1. When the anxiety was at its worst, I thought I might never be able to do this kind of work again, but the words are coming back, and the story is already unfolding in shapes I hadn’t considered.

Getting back to work, for me, means coming home. I’m so glad to do it. Let the new adventure begin!

minebank view

 

 

 

Teaser 2

Thanks for visiting, as always! Today I’m sharing another teaser from a new project I’m working on: a collection of very short, fable-like stories about the experiences artists face. As a short intro, Vera is an artist, in any discipline you’d like to imagine – whatever resonates most with you. Lia is one of her three feline-shaped muses.

If you like this excerpt, you can read another in my post here.

**

It’s raining today, a steady thin drizzle. Vera sits under a spreading tree, leaning back against its broad trunk. The leaves make a green cave to shelter her. Now and then, collected moisture drips off a branch here or there, splashing softly on the grass.

Vera would like to be walking again. Sometimes she welcomes the time to think and be quiet, but right now isn’t one of those times. She’s been thinking too much lately about her art. Sometimes nothing about it seems right. The quieter her mind is, the more she sees problems and mistakes, and the faster they grow.

It’s a little too wet to walk, though. Aurelia-who-is-called-Lia, sitting in the grass beside her, agrees.

“Wait for the sun to come out,” Lia says. She lifts a dainty front paw to her mouth and smooths a few hairs down with her tongue. “We should only walk when it’s nice. Much more comfortable.”

Lia is small and striking. Most of her fur is black, but with enough ginger and beige mixed in to give it a marbled look. One hind leg is orange with tabby striping. Her paws and chest are white. In sunlight, her fur has the sheen of velvet.

Vera fidgets. “When is it going to get nice again?”

Lia cocks her head. “Why are you in such a hurry?”

Vera doesn’t answer. She drums her fingers restlessly on her knee, not looking at Lia, but she can feel the grass-green eyes studying her.

Lia gets up and comes over. She climbs into Vera’s lap, pushing her uneasy fingers aside. Her claws come out, just enough to prick Vera’s leg and get her attention.

“Hey,” Lia says. “Don’t ignore me.”

Vera looks down into the small face. Lia’s ears are mostly black, mottled with a little bit of orange, but she has a mask of ginger around her eyes and a splash of white and beige on her nose. Vera can’t help smiling. “I can’t ignore you,” she says. “You won’t let me.”

Lia arches her back, purring. “That’s right. I get attention when I want.”

Vera runs her hand down Lia’s sleek side, feeling the texture of the glossy fur. The purr is a noisy rumble now as Lia presses against Vera’s hand. Then the purring stops and Lia sits back on her haunches.

“You know you’re just the way you need to be,” she says.

Vera shakes her head. She’s used to the way Lia thinks. “Maybe you are,” she says.

“Maybe?” Lia’s green eyes go wide. “There’s no maybe about it.” She lifts her chin proudly and swishes her tail, displaying the tiny white point on its tip. “Look at me,” she says. “How could anyone be prettier?”

She’s right, of course. Nobody else could look quite like her, with her mix of colors and the funny patches on her face that are somehow perfect. Vera rubs the top of the small round head. “It’s true,” she agrees. “Nobody can match you.”

Lia looks satisfied to the point of smug. “Same for you.”

Vera thinks of a lot of things she could say about that. The whole world can see Lia as lovely and delightful; Lia knows it’s her due, and anyone who doesn’t agree isn’t worth her worry. But Vera is different.

Lia rubs her face against Vera’s hand. “You’re mine,” she says. “That’s all you need to know.”

Because Lia doesn’t have time for anyone who isn’t worth it. Vera can hear that, loud and clear. She’s still not totally sure she believes it, but she smiles.

Lia curls up in her lap. The two of them sit quiet together, listening to the soft rain.

Alafair portrait
Alafair, aka Smidgen, the original Lia

 

Alafair nap
She’s not very fetching…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buried Meteor

Apologies for the lack of post last week. After Tuesday went by, I thought maybe Wednesday or Thursday I would put up a late one, but then it was the end of the week and I still hadn’t gotten my act together. 😉

But I’m glad I waited, because this week’s post probably needed the extra “mental digestion” time. This week I’m thinking about my creative work: ways I’ve avoided it, and why I’ve had such a hard time getting back to it after a rough summer.

If you’ve been following the blog, you know the summer was very challenging for me, involving lots of anxiety and panic. Naturally, doing creative work under those circumstances gets to be difficult (“I can’t sit down long enough! I can’t concentrate! I can’t…”). With the start of fall, I’d hoped and planned that things would get better. Time had passed since a couple of the events that kicked off the panic. I was on a new med. Surely, I thought, come September I’d be able to turn things around and get back to my “normal” self.

The process of re-normalizing has been a lot slower than I’d hoped. Over the summer, I spent a lot of time avoiding any thoughts of my writing or what I want to do with it. More recently, I’ve been thinking about it again, and sometimes actually getting some words on the page…but it always seems like the anxiety is hovering in the background, ready to knock me down again. You’re trying that? You must be crazy. And then I’ll find something else to do instead: laundry, random errands, unnecessary baking (which has its benefits, I admit), or any other kind of busy work to get away from what scares me.

river 1

Avoidance is normal and part of the artistic life. We all know what it’s like to feel intimidated by that project we want to work on, but aren’t sure we can really do “well enough.” For me, though, it’s gone a little deeper than the usual resistance I know. It’s like when you’re clearing a piece of ground in your yard to put in a garden. You dig down and your shovel hits a stone that doesn’t look like much at first, so you try to find the edge of it so you can flip it out of the hole…but you keep digging, and digging, and your shovel keeps hitting it, and it turns out this thing is huge. It’s as if there’s a buried meteor down there, and you can’t put your garden in on top of it, and you don’t know how you’re going to get it out.

In my case,  the buried meteor – the biggest source of my resistance to digging into my creative work, getting back to that so-important piece of life – is my own view of myself. I’ve always known I had some, let’s call them self-esteem challenges. The past few months have shown me exactly how big they are.

waterfall pic

If you were reading the blog during the summer, you know that in June, I had a string of tough writing-related news that culminated in a rejection of my novel Fourteen Stones by an agent we’ll call Agent X. I’d liked Agent X a lot; they’d spent quite a bit of time with the book, I knew that folks on their team really liked it, and they’d been respectful and communicative throughout the submission and review process. Unfortunately, as can easily happen in this process, the book turned out to be not quite the right fit for them. Instead of saying to myself, “Hey, you got really close with Agent X, they were really nice and they did like the book a lot, so you just need to keep trying and you’ll find the right agent for you,” I let my disappointment turn into crashing shame. All the time I’d spent working on Fourteen Stones suddenly seemed like a total waste. It was no good. I was no good.

This might seem unreasonable if you’re not familiar with the process, and especially if you don’t happen to look at the world through the truth-distorting lens of anxiety and depression. Even I knew it was over the top, but I couldn’t seem to control it. I spent the rest of the summer and well into the fall wondering what was wrong with me, why my head felt so messed up, not knowing how I could ever get myself back to a productive place. Sometimes I got more angry than scared, and sometimes – despite how nice they’d been – I got really pissed at Agent X. More than once I wanted to sit down and write them a furious email about how my whole summer had been ruined, four months of my life I’d never see again, because they just couldn’t give me the answer I wanted and it wasn’t fair!

Of course this isn’t an ideal career move. 😉 More importantly, though, very lately I’ve come to understand something else: really understand it, rather than just being aware of it. Of course it isn’t Agent X’s fault that my book wasn’t the right match for them. And it wasn’t their fault that I had so much trouble with that rejection: that I let it take me into such a bad place, and that I then stayed there. The problem, which I knew in my head but had never internalized, was that I was giving away my power.

Let’s say Agent X had wanted the book. I’d have been thrilled, of course. It would have felt like a huge validation…and that’s exactly the problem. I would have decided that Fourteen Stones had been worth every hour I’d spent on it. Not because I’d created something that never existed before; not because that creation was exciting and beautiful and I was proud of it; not because all those hours of work on it had been filled with delight and joy. Fourteen Stones would have had worth, in my eyes, not because of what knew about it, but only because someone else found it acceptable. 

Dangerous, right? And that’s my buried meteor: the belief, lodged somewhere deep in my hindbrain, that I have no worth until someone else gives it to me. The more I dig at it, the more I understand how that belief has affected everything I do.

Having that deeply-internalized self-image has meant that I’m reluctant to take risks. I’m scared to put my work out there, so even though I do it, I do it in a small and limited way. I’m always waiting for rejection, not because it’s statistically likely in this business – which it is – but because I believe that’s what I deserve. When it comes, I take that as a confirmation of my belief that I’m “not good enough.” I’m scared to start new projects because I’m firmly convinced I can’t succeed. And then I avoid work entirely because I’m scared of being scared.

Agent X’s rejection – though I don’t like to admit it 😉 – was actually a gift. I just turned forty years old a few weeks ago, and I’m finally starting to get a good look at the buried meteor that’s been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I want to build a garden in that spot. I know it can be beautiful, but that rock has to come out first.

It’ll take a lot of work. It’s hard for me to imagine really dragging it out into the light and getting rid of it. I can see it, though, and I know what needs to happen next. That’s a start.

waterfall

 

 

 

Coming Back Changed

I didn’t think I was going to write a post this week. My husband and I are spending a couple of days at the coast, so I’d planned on a blog hiatus until next week, but somehow this evening – as I’m sitting in the living room at our rental, listening to the ocean outside – I’m finding myself inspired.

Time away from home can be a terrific way to recharge, but it can also be stressful, as I found somewhat to my surprise earlier this summer. I love traveling, especially with my husband. (Solo, not so much. 😉 ) Usually, I’m able to let my worries sit at home while we’re away, and let myself breathe freely while we’re checking out new places. This past summer, though, anxiety really got in the way of that kind of release during the couple of trips we took. These two days might be different. I’m hoping they will be.

I need some time out of my head and away from the worry. Especially, I want some time to re-ground myself as a writer. This summer was very challenging on that front, and I’m continuing to struggle with questions about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and sometimes whether I can still do it at all. (Anxiety is weird that way. You can prove to yourself a hundred times in a row that you can do something – write a few sentences, come up with a halfway-decent paragraph, brainstorm for a story – and anxiety will still insist that, when you try to do it for the hundred-and-first time, you’ll fail. All you can do is keep showing it, again and again, that it’s wrong. Eventually it’ll wear itself out and go away, or so I’m told.) Thinking clearly about the things I want to think about, instead of getting caught up in loops of panic, seems to involve a kind of end-run around that unwelcome “guest” in my brain. Not easy, but possible.

prettyboy view
Loch Raven Reservoir, Maryland

So tonight I’m listening to the ocean and thinking, again, about why we tell stories. Stephen King said that storytelling is “telling lies about people who never existed in order to learn the truth about ourselves” (paraphrasing a bit, but that was the gist of his quote). We create these imagined places and people; we as writers pour ourselves into our fictional worlds, and then we translate all of that onto the page and send it – hopefully – into the minds of other people who may never see or meet us in their lives. And somehow, through this work of the imagination, we create a real connection between people.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post here on the blog about how I’ve struggled with the value of what my imagination creates. I’ve worked through at least some of that, but I continue to ask myself what my work as a writer really consists of, or what I really hope it can achieve. It seems to me that writing can do a lot, it can have a great deal of power…but what, exactly, does that power look like in my own work? What am I, as a writer, seeking to do?

I’ve often thought about how writing can let me show a reader a perspective, a situation, a set of circumstances they may not have thought about before. Beyond a doubt, that can be valuable: show a reader a character whose life is very different from the reader’s own, and maybe you’ll help a perspective shift, just a little. But there’s another piece to this too. As a writer, I want my readers not just to follow my character through their his or her story, but know what it’s like to be that character. Inhabit that character’s heart and mind so deeply that, for a moment, those experiences become personal. After all, isn’t that why we love to read? To taste a different world and a different life, while the pages last?

ocean view 2
The Bold Coast, Maine

When I work on any project, but especially a book, I have to have at least one character I feel in love with. That character becomes my motive power through the project and beyond, when it’s time to talk publication: if I’m in love with that person, I can’t let him or her down. I have to see the project all the way through until it’s out in the world. When I’m writing that character, I’m writing as deeply from the heart as I know how to. My hope, then, is that those words go straight from my heart to the reader’s. And when they do, I hope the reader steps into my character’s life and experience, his own heart and mind, and for those pages, actually tastes what it’s like to become someone else.

If that happens, is it valuable? I’d say yes. It’s actually a kind of magic. The reader moves into a place that never existed until I thought of it; the reader looks out through eyes that never existed until I imagined them. And – if I’ve done my work well enough – by doing those things, the reader has an experience that changes him or her somehow. Can you really go away somewhere and come back exactly the same as you were before you left?

I like to think not, especially tonight, by the ocean. I like to think I’ll come back from these couple of days changed, just a little, with something to help carry me along and maybe make it easier when anxiety gets up to its tricks. And I like to think, too, that my words on the page do something similar for the people who read them. That, having read them, they feel a difference – however small – in their lives and themselves, and that when they come back from the place where I’ve taken them, they’re changed, if ever so slightly. That’s what this work is all about.

rocky point view
Rocky Point State Park, Maryland

Maryland photos by Kris Faatz; Maine photo by Paul Faatz