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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Success Lesson from Chipmunks

Readers, I forgot to write a blog post last week. Crazy, huh? But I was busy and I was frustrated with my book draft and as I said I was just plain busy and I forgot. Not totally forgot. I remembered too late, which is just about the same thing, except that I couldn’t do anything about it because I had to get in the car and drive to Cambridge to see the college student perform in a dance. In literally one dance. A three minute dance out of a program of ninety minutes. But that’s the kind of mother I am. Since the driving took about three hours, that was a pretty incredible ratio of driving to dance, wouldn’t you say? I’ll let you interpret “incredible” as you think best….
Hey, cut the eye-rolling. You would do the same thing. You know you would. 

Anyhoo, now to this week. Which has still been frustrating in some ways. It’s been one of those phases when every time I need a tissue, the box is empty; the toilet paper needs to be changed; I reach for a paper towel and am met with a cardboard tube. It’s always the last dregs of the soy milk when I’m making my coffee. You get the idea. Life is out to get me. 

I may be more attuned to these frustrations because of the difficulties with the writing. That can lower the threshold for total meltdown considerably. But no more. Today, things are better. Even though chipmunks destroyed the styrofoam cooler I set outside to get at the half bushel of apples we picked this weekend, I am nonplussed or plussed. Fine, in otherwords. They did not get to the apples. Perhaps they were scared away by our fierce dog. 
He's a terror. 

I simply swept up all the styrofoam crumbs while muttering, “Not this time, little beasties.” And turned their ubiquity and persistence into a lesson. Here it is: like a chipmunk, I have gnawed my way through the block with my manuscript and now I’m steadily eating away. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Fasting and Awe, Flakiness and Gratitude

I’m hungry and want to cram food in my mouth. But it’s Yom Kippur and the 9th grader decided she wanted to “be Jewish” this year. Far be it from me to dissuade her from exploring her religion, so I took her to temple today. And since she wanted to fast, I am fasting, too. I’m drinking tea. I haven’t eaten a thing yet and it’s mid afternoon. Honestly, I don’t know how long I’m going to last. 

But I’ve had a sad realization about myself that I wish to disprove. I am kind of a flake. Yes, I have had to admit that. Last weekend, in fact, the sad truth obtruded into my life. I forgot that I was supposed to help someone at a table at the farmer’s market. First, I said I would - my first mistake, since I am a flake. I signed up on a sheet saying I would appear at 8:45 am. Then I put the information in my calendar. Then I forgot about it. Meanwhile, the husband had to go in to work, which left me to drive the 9th grader to her morning activity. This had to happen during the time I was to sit at the farmer’s market. However, since I am a flake, I had forgotten all about it. Not until my phone reminder popped up at 10 minutes 'til tee-off did I give it another thought. 

My table mate was a good sport about it, but I had to admit, at my ripe age, that I am a flake. And I should have known better than to sign up in the first place. Because - flake. 

Which is why I am trying this Yom Kippur to be as non-flakey as the daughter, who is fasting, in order to prove to her, and to my table mate, that I can follow-through. And also to myself. To prove that, yes, I may be kind of a flake, when it comes to things that aren’t that fun to do, like sit at the farmer’s market at a table handing out flyers for a good cause, but that I can overcome my flakiness. It’s good to know. 

Is it cheating to drink tea? Is it cheating to drink tea with cinnamon when you know that cinammon is supposed to suppress appetite? 

Let’s assume lapsed Reform Judaism isn’t too particular. Let's not delve into it, in case cinnamon tea is not, as they say, kosher. 

Anyhow. The service today was interesting. Or rather, the first two-and-a-half hours of it. Or rather, the first hour of it. Somehow, today, I learned something meaningful about my religion from the rabbi. This hasn’t always happened, although I like this rabbi. Today, though, I felt like she provided context to the prayers. And the context was kind of fascinating. There is a new prayer book in the Reform synagogue. Perhaps it was because of this new prayer book. And yet, I think perhaps it was just the rabbi being interesting. Or perhaps it was me being interested at this ripe age. 

When I gather strength in my famished body, I will ask the 9th grader if she noticed. Although she hasn’t had any interest in services for several years, so she’s not going to have a basis for comparison.

Anyway. I definitely learned this from the prayer book in a footnote to the opening prayer: That the Hebrew term chesed, which is "God’s abounding love" or something, stands for 
  • steadfast love
  • kindness
  • loyalty
  • responsibility
  • and care

I thought that was a nice definition of love - as I always do when reminded that the Jewish view of godliness is not all justice and revenge, although it’s often construed that way. An eye for an eye and all that. No, it’s about kindness and stuff that usually only Christianity gets credited for. 

So that was in the new prayer book.

But the context thing was this. The service starts with prayers of thanks for the body, mind, and soul. Apparently, this is meant to be a daily ritual, for people who observe daily, as opposed to twice a year Jews like me. The rabbi said that this sequence of prayers is to do first thing every day. Upon awaking, give thanks for the body, for being able to rise, for the mind, for being able to comprehend, and for the soul, for obvious reasons. Which is a facile way of glossing that I’ve forgotten that third prayer exactly. 

Fun fact, per the rabbi. The body blessing is meant to be said after going to the bathroom! 

The rabbi also said that as long we stood up at the appropriate times during the service, we should feel free to be "people of the book," and to flip through the book and read the commentary and footnotes (already done - check) and just think about whatever we want. Immediately, my mind began to wander. I remembered a memoir I once read about a woman who learned about being Jewish through cooking and how she realized that Judaism is all about about blessings and celebrations. 

Gratitude, in other words. Gratitude. Expressing it. But also cultivating it. This is something I’ve come across in so many books and articles about success and happiness. It's about developing a good attitude - right thinking in Buddhism - a success mindset. We are to cultivate gratitude to develop our potential. And there it is, right in the liturgy of my own religion, too. Thanks for waking up (again), soul intact. Thanks for having a body. Thanks for being able to read and study. Thanks for being able to enrich mind and (if you believe it) spirit. 

It’s kind of nice. Many paths, one mountain. (Buddha) Happiness is wanting what you have. (Inspirational meme). 

It’s five pm and I’m hungry! But I am not a flake!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

To Thine Own Self Be True

Nora Ephron’s voice reminds me of mine. It’s a lot stronger, more confident, more full of panache, but the inflections and repetitions are like mine. I was thinking this while reading Heartburn in my Nora Ephron reader instead of writing this morning. It’s a funny book. I was listening to the sounds in my head. It read like a movie script. It read like her essays. Her voice came through even in that novel, which I think was her only novel, published in 1983. She wrote most everything she became really famous for after that novel, for which she became famous, and which she published at 42, if Wikipedia is correct. I was lying in bed in my fuzzy bathrobe with my feet under the quilt thinking my writing sounds kind of like Nora’s. Then, before I could stop myself, I was also thinking about the article I glimpsed in the  Sunday paper but was too traumatized by to actually read. It was an article, probably in the Book Review, about an author who was a huge bestselling writer in the 1950s, a huge - yuuuuge - success in other words, but who is now forgotten. I’m sure it was about how often that kind of thing happens. The being forgotten part, I mean. It’s about what I aspire to, isn’t it? I mean, it would be foolish to aspire to more than being forgotten. I mean, no one thinks they’re going to be Jane Austen. Or Jane Jacobs. No Janes. The most people think about when they think about writing success is The New York Times Bestseller List. No one thinks beyond the list. Everyone wants to be on it. But how many people on it today will be remembered tomorrow? 

Just glimpsing that article and skimming the first paragraph was enough to trigger a total confidence meltdown and an upsurge in my sense of futility. This coincided with me coming across a job opening at a good non-profit company that does Important Work. They are looking for a manager of the communications department, which reminded me that perhaps I would have been and maybe still would be much better off with some kind of office job involving writing, no matter how boring, because I would be able to look people in the eye and say I was something and did something. And prove it. I could wave a pay stub at them. Or maybe an employee identification card of some kind. Plus I would see other human adults every day. And I would have to get dressed. Lately I am interested in both dressing nicely and also remaining attached to my fluffy bathrobe. When I say attached, I mean inside it. Like, wearing it. 

Why was I lying in my fluffy bathrobe on my already made bed instead of working on my book? Well might you ask, Readers. After all, I have had a discussion on a telephone involving an agent and an editor at a reputable publishing house that has resulted in an invitation to submit more work. So why am I not scrabbling and scrambling to pull together more work? 

Two reasons. One, I have an overly expansive view of time. I’m “taking a couple of days”, suggested by my agent, to think over the conversation with the publisher before fishing around in my book drafts for more material to revise. A couple of days from the conversation would have brought me to Saturday. Today is Wednesday following. See - expansive. But I don’t think my agent meant to include the weekend. I went away for the weekend to visit family in Washington. So how could the weekend count. So, really, it’s only been four days….

Two, I am procrastinating. 
Look how cute my dog is.

The shade of Steven Pressfield holding a copy of The War of Art in one hand and Do The Work in another is looming. I suppose this means there is a third reason why I’m bathrobe reading. It’s called resistance. This is Steven Pressfield’s big thing. His hook. His battering ram. Artists must battle the forces of resistance before creating art, and resistance takes many forms. Resistance is the obvious, the procrastination, for example, which bleeds into that overly expansive view of time that stretches a couple of days into several, then weeks, months, and years. Resistance, I’m sure Steven Pressfield would say, is also the sense of futility and the fear underlying the futility. So in a sense, there is only one reason I’m not working on the book. Resistance. It’s kind of the alpha and the omega of excuses. 

Maybe this is a good moment to mention the episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in which Titus gets back out there and goes on auditions for bit parts. Titus comes across an older actor, kind of his nemesis. Nemesis is the wrong word. This actor is the thing Titus fears turning into if he actually gets out there and tries. An actor whose most prominent roles have been as corpses on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. An actor who has been attending the same auditions for the same bit parts as Titus - for fifty years. Titus is depressed by this. As am I. 

This actor has attained kind of the level of success I have as a writer, in other words. Only this actor is pretty happy with his career and his life. He’s satisfied. 

And then he dies. And Titus goes to his funeral. And all the other bit actors on Law and Order are there, and Ice T, the rapper/actor gives a eulogy. Ice T says this guy, this older actor, had a full and happy life. Ice T says this actor was a success because “he was to his own self true.” Which brings me back to Nora Ephron and her voice. Which is really about me and my voice. Which is really about you and your voice. Voice here represents not just expressing yourself in writing, but expressing that thing that is most you. To do that - well, it’s a deceptively simple thing to do. It's also the thing that will fill you with purpose, and therefore, it is the thing you must do.

But to get back to me. In writing, the voice is the thing that brings readers. Nora Ephron found her voice and she expressed it in novels, essays, and on film. It’s a consistent voice - because it’s hers. And who the heck knows if anyone will remember any of it in fifty or a hundred years? The point is not to think about that. (She said, reminding herself.) The point is that if you need to express your voice, you gotta to thine own self be true. Forget about who said it (Polonius to Hamlet) and therefore whether it is actually good advice. Sadly, or happily, that is me. I’ve found my voice these last few years, through my blog. I have the need to be true to it. It’s similar to Nora’s (maybe), but also different, since it’s mine. Sadly, Nora isn’t here anymore to write in her funny, wise voice. I’m here, though. I’m available to write in mine. It’s a bit grandiose and presumptuous to think this - and yet, splayed on the bed holding the very thick compendium of her writings, which includes her screenplay for When Harry Met Sally, I did think that perhaps I can pick up her baton. Since she’s not here anymore, I mean. There’s room for my voice. I intend to use it to carry my book. There’s room for my voice.