Tag Archive | writer

Six Degrees of Intimidation

There are people out there who set a course for their life early on, keep their sights fixed on that goal, and never waiver.  My husband, Kevin, is one of those freakishly focused people.  He knew the answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” when he was in the third grade.  I think that fact bears repeating – THE THIRD GRADE.

When all the other little 9 year-old boys were dreaming about becoming astronauts, magicians and professional baseball players, Kevin knew he would grow up to be a math teacher and from that point on he pursued his studies like a demon.  He landed his dream job when he was 22 years-old, and has been happily teaching in the same school district for more than half his life.

Now let’s take a field trip to the other end of the ambition spectrum and visit me….

I wanted to be a Harlem Globetrotter in the fifth grade.  I never took into account that I was about 4 ½ feet tall and had the athletic ability of the Pillsbury doughboy.

I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast like Mary Lou Retton in the sixth grade.  Still not paying too much attention to my athletic ability, but at least my height would no longer be an issue.  And I could do a mean summersault.

I wanted to be a veterinarian during my middle school years.  Although I was a C student in school, I thought my love of all things fuzzy and cute would surely make up for my lack of academic acumen.  I really just wanted to play with puppies and kittens all day long.

In high school I took my love of animals one step further and decided I was going to save the planet…. maybe not single-handedly, but I was going to lead the charge against animal cruelty.  I wanted to join up with Greenpeace and become a marine biologist.  Save the whales!!

I wasn’t really allergic to water…. just dying.

In my second year of college, I came up against a harsh reality – in order to save the whales, I would first have to sit through a lot of REALLY boring science classes.  I spent an entire semester in a class called phycology.  Do you know that that is?  You shouldn’t.  I sure as hell didn’t.  Phycology is the study of algae.  And as titillating as algae can be, I nearly fashioned a noose out of seaweed by the end of that semester, unsure of whether I wanted to hang my professor or myself with the slimy green rope.

I suffered through those science classes for nearly two years, barely scraping by academically.  After my first organic chemistry class, I decided enough was enough – the whales were going to have to suck it up and save themselves.  I marched myself up to my academic advisor’s office, changed my major to psychology, and never looked back.  Save the psychotics!!

No one told me that without a Masters degree or a PhD, my BA in psychology was about as useful as the decoder ring found at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks.  So I worked on the outskirts of the psychology field for a few years, and then did what any sane person with no goals or ambitions would do – I had kids and became a stay-at-home mom (cue PTA mom hate mail…… NOW).

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom and gain a lot of satisfaction from molding my kids’ young (thanks to me, probably also warped) minds.  But my cup-of-joy was far from running over.  It needed a little something extra, but what would make me happy?  Normally I would say a shot of tequila, but I didn’t think that was going to work this time.  Though I did give that option a try.  Repeatedly.

I like my cup-of-joy with salt and a little lime.

There was one thing that always made me happy – writing.  Even though I had many pursuits in my life, writing was my only true passion.  I wrote it off as a hobby for years because I thought I had about as much chance of becoming a professional writer as I did of becoming a ballerina…. and that wasn’t going to happen because I look completely ridiculous in a tutu.

In the past, I pacified my writing bug by keeping a diary, writing insanely long emails, and composing clever facebook status updates; all the while telling myself that I didn’t have the self-discipline and perseverance to sit down and write everyday.  What a dumbass.

But the older I got, the more my dream of becoming a professional writer kept needling me.  There was one serious problem I couldn’t get past though – in my mind, I wasn’t a real writer.  Between all the professional writers of the world and me, there seemed to be six degrees of separation intimidation:

  1. Real writers get their degree in English literature from ivy-league colleges.  I already told you about my Cracker Jack prize college degree…. what I didn’t tell you was that I got my degree in psychology because I wanted to get school credit for learning about serial killers.
  1. Real writers can dissect novels to find the deeper meaning behind the plot and characters.  The only thing I ever dissected was a frog in the sixth grade.  I don’t think there was any deeper meaning behind it.
  1. Real writers publish articles in influential magazines like Time and The New Yorker.  I don’t even read the articles in those magazines because they make my brain sweat.
  1. Real writers make millions of dollars writing boatloads of best-selling novels.  I wrote two half-finished novels then quit because I realized I have the attention span of a squirrel.
  1. Real writers count William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, and Charles Dickens among their favorite authors.  I thought Stephen King was the only author out there until I got a job at a bookstore at age 27 and learned otherwise.
  1. Real writers live in trendy cities, wear trendy clothes, and eat trendy foods.  I live in the boring suburbs, wear boring “mom jeans”, and eat the same boring food I did when I was 10 years-old.  Sushi makes me want to gag.

I thought I was screwed because I had nothing even remotely resembling the qualifications of a real writer.  And without them, I was sure I would end up one of those sad, middle-aged people flipping burgers over at the local McDonald’s just so my husband and I could afford to put our kids through college (cue McDonald’s employee hate mail…. NOW).

 

Did somebody order the McBitchslap?

Then six months ago, I had a WTF moment – which is kind of like a light bulb moment, but feels more like a kick in the ass than an epiphany.  My thirties were coming to a rapid close, and before I hit the big 4-O next year, I wanted to stop all the dumbassery (Urban Dictionary says that’s a word), and start running down my dream.

A little inspirational Tom Petty moment for you.

I knew enough about myself not to attempt writing the great American novel, so I started a blog instead.  I’ll never forget the very first comment made by a total stranger– I squealed like a 10 year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert and then danced around my living room.  Real writers probably didn’t do that either, but I couldn’t help myself.  It was a high unlike any other…. except maybe that one night of experimentation back in college, but that’s a story for another blog entry.

I didn’t think that high could ever be topped – until I got Freshly Pressed two months after starting my blog.  When I realized what had happened, I cried like I had won an Academy Award.  I gained 200 followers in one week, and I wasn’t even related to most of them!

But despite the outpouring of positive feedback from my readers, those six degrees of intimidation still haunted me and made me feel like my success was a fluke.  I reasoned that someone on WordPress must have gotten drunk and made a clerical error when they picked me.  It would definitely never happen again.

Then it did.

When I saw my blog on the Freshly Pressed page for the second time in six months, two things happened:  First, I nearly peed my pants…. okay I did pee my pants, but only a little.  Second, I had hundreds of people telling me that I was a good writer and for the first time, I actually believed them – that was a game changer for me.  In that moment, my cup-of-joy was not only running over, I was positively soaked from head to toe (the pee had nothing to do with it).

And I have all of you guys to thank for it.  Thank you SO much for believing in me before I was able to believe in myself.  Your words of praise and encouragement mean more to me than I could ever express in words.  Remember, I didn’t get my degree in English literature (like a real writer), so my vocabulary is really limited.  This picture kind of sums it up….

This was how I felt, but a little less Shawshank Redemptiony.

I came to a conclusion that day.

Even if I never get paid a dime.

Even if I never publish a best-selling novel.

Even if I never figure out what the hell William Shakespeare is talking about.

I am now, and will always be, A REAL WRITER.

My Two Left Thumbs

While texting was technically invented in the early nineties, it only started to gain widespread popularity in the last six years (or so).  For five out of those six years, I was perched high atop my soapbox, proclaiming that texting would be the death of all meaningful human interaction.  If someone had handed me a megaphone, I would have shouted, “Why don’t you people ever talk to each other anymore?!”

As a writer, I also saw texting as a personal affront to the written word.  Grammar, spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure were all scrapped in favor of the English language’s newborn bastardized son – the short message service (SMS), also called text speak; a language full of acronyms, abbreviations, and numerical inserts.  So, it seemed texting was not only replacing our meaningful face-to-face interactions and phone calls, it was also responsible for creating an entire generation of crappy writers.

When my thirteen-year old daughter wrote “u” instead of “you” in a rough draft essay for her English class I nearly had a brain aneurism.  I knew she was only using the shortened version of the word because it was a rough draft her teacher would never see, but I still lectured her (ad nauseam) about the importance of spelling and grammar, and about how crucial it was for her to differentiate between her schoolwork and the texts she sends her friends.

Don’t roll your eyes at me.  I stop being a self-righteous asshole in just a sec….

On the rare occasion I texted someone, I stubbornly dug my heels in and refused to use text speak, despite the fact that it took me ten times longer to text someone using proper English on my dinosaur of a flip-phone (sans keyboard).  Probably would have been quicker to communicate via homing pigeon. But I had my principles, no matter how asinine or antiquated.

I was teased by friends and family about my novel-length texts (complete with proper capitalization and punctuation), and frequently asked, “What are you writing, a book?”  Sadly, no.  It seems I’m as easily distracted writing a real book as you seem to be reading my text-books (text-books…. get it?  Hahaha).

*Side note:  if you happen to be a book agent, believe me when I say that I will buy out my pharmacy’s entire supply of Ritalin and start popping them like tic-tacs if it means landing a book deal.  Okay, moving on….

But then about a year ago my husband and I decided to get our (then) twelve-year old daughter, Meghan, her first cell phone.  And at the same time, I decided it was time for me to upgrade my cellasaurus.  I knew I wanted a touch screen and keyboard, but I wasn’t anywhere near ready to take on the iPhone.  The salesman took one look at the flip-phone in my hand and suggested I buy the “Pantech Ease” – a phone clearly designed for the technologically challenged.  I didn’t know whether to be insulted or relieved.

Before taking two steps outside of the Verizon store, my daughter had already sent me several text messages.  As we walked through the mall, I tried not to run into a wall or another shopper while my clumsy thumbs attempted to keep pace with her rapid-fire text messages.  She only had the phone for five minutes and she was already fluent in text-speak, and could move her thumbs across that tiny keyboard with unnatural speed and agility.

During the course of the next week, Meghan sent me hundreds of text messages – most of them while we were within speaking distance (curse you, unlimited text plan!)  I was reluctantly transformed from a mom who sent less than ten texts during the course of a week, into a piss poor imitation of a teenage textaholic.

As the month wore on, I could feel my resolve starting to weaken; slowly acronyms and numerical inserts began to rear their ugly heads.  Meghan forced me to end my war on text speak, and brought me over to the dark side – the land where spelling and grammar go to die.  I rationalized that it was better to raise the white flag and surrender, than to have both my thumbs fall off.

Meghan schooled me in acronyms, and let out an exasperated sigh whenever I didn’t know what one meant.  She once sent me a text that read, “DTB.  TTYL.”  Umm…. what?  I stared at the screen totally dumbfounded.  Without my acronym decoder ring, I had no idea what it meant, so I used the next best thing – Google.  Google told me that she was trying to say, “Don’t text back.  Talk to you later.”  It was my turn to let out an exasperated sigh, and wonder why the hell two English-speaking people needed a translator.

Just so you don’t run into the same problem, I’m posting this link.  If you have a teenager, I suggest you bookmark it….

Acronym Dictionary

I still hated all the short-cuts, but at least I understood the necessity for them.  What I couldn’t understand was why teenagers made shorter words longer or misspelled them for no reason.  Words like “hey” became “heyyyyyy”, and “ok” became “kk”.  It was obviously no longer a time saver, so what was the reason?

Meghan gave me a blank stare when I asked her, so I once again turned to Google for the answers.  After checking out various websites on texting, it seemed the added letters or purposeful misspelling indicated emphasis, coolness, and/or drunkenness. So my daughter was either trying to make a point, fit in with her peers, or she was ready for the Betty Ford clinic. Awesome.

Thankfully, since last year Meghan has filled up her cell phone address book with numerous friends and family members, and no longer relies on me as her primary texting buddy.  My thumbs are eternally grateful.

The Birth of a Blog

I’m not starting this blog because of a New Year’s resolution, which is good because most of mine don’t live much past the month of January.  And it’s not the product of some epic brainchild or epiphany – years of being a stay-at-home mom have dulled my ambition to ponder ideas too grandiose in nature.  In fact, after thirteen years of parenting, my only dream of grandeur is finding a single moment of blissful silence where I don’t have to listen to my children fighting or hear myself repeating the same phrases over and over again like a demented parrot.

This blog is strictly a means of quieting the voices in my head, or at the very least pacifying them.  Not the kind of voices that will get you put on medication or committed to an insane asylum, but the kind that just won’t shut the hell up about life’s little observations, experiences, or pet peeves.  Every time something happens that evokes an emotional reaction, good or bad, my brain begins to mentally write lines of descriptive prose as if that one thought will be the start of the great American novel.  Often times, whatever kicked my brain into typewriter mode will wear itself out in a paragraph or two, and since there’s no such thing as the great American paragraph, my thoughts have often gone unwritten….until now.

After making two separate attempts to write a novel, I realized a couple things about myself.  First, I have the attention span of a squirrel.  So, anything that can’t be accomplished within an afternoon will often be put on my future ‘to do’ list… which is where most of my good ideas and intentions go to die.  Secondly, I have commitment issues.  I can stay married to the same man for over fifteen years, but apparently I can’t stick with the same idea for more than a month.  How can my heart be so devoted and my brain be such a slut?   It wants to jump around from idea to idea like it’s residing in the mental equivalent of the red light district. Thank God there’s no such thing as MTDs (mentally transmitted diseases), otherwise my brain would be a veritable Petri dish of infections.  Perhaps I took that metaphor one step too far….

So, what can you expect to find in my future blog entries?  Little snippets and observations that will hopefully entertain you for the ten to fifteen minutes it takes to read it… if you can’t devote that kind of time to me, I understand, my fellow squirrel.  But if you can, I will make you a couple of promises:

I will not use this blog as a forum to ramble on about my entire life story, mostly because of the aforementioned commitment issues, but also because it would potentially bore you into a coma (and coma patients don’t make for a solid foundation on which to build a successful blog).  Besides, my life simply isn’t tragic or inspirational enough to write about in its entirety.  Readers either want to hear life stories about how some poor girl spent her entire childhood forced to live inside a shoebox or about how the lower half of some guy’s body was eaten away by piranhas, but (after a short stint in physical therapy) he managed to run the New York City marathon.  Train wrecks or triumphs, right?  The same compulsion that makes us want to read those kinds of stories is the same one that makes us rubberneck at roadside accidents and cheer on the sidelines for the athletic underdogs.  It’s an inexplicable part of the human condition – we love drama.  We feast on it… kind of like the piranha on the lower half of that guy’s body.  But I stopped being a drama queen sometime after high school, and without the fuel of hormone-induced rage that my tumultuous teen years provided, I seem to have lost my flair for the dramatic.  So, I’ll save the drama for the pros, like Oprah and the Kardashians.

The other promise I will make you is that I won’t preach about religion or politics – not because I don’t care about those issues… well, yeah actually it is because I don’t care….but more because I don’t presume to hold enough influence to sway anyone on those issues one way or the other.  Either you believe the same things I do, or you’re wrong, no further discussion necessary.

So, sit down with me before you have to fight the road-ragers during your morning commute, or in that moment you’re debating whether or not to strangle one of your kids, and I’ll see if I can talk you out of committing homicide.  Because that’s what I’m all about here at Get Write Down To It –  saving lives, one blog entry at a time.