December 5th, 2014

Talking About Police With My Daughter


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If you follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ then you probably already know that an essay of mine was published on The Washington Post on Wednesday. If you didn’t already know, that essay is about how I’m learning to talk to my four-year old about police. It wasn’t an easy essay to write. Whenever I write  about things I’m doing as a parent, I always feel terribly naked. Parenting is such a personal endeavor.  What we do with our children is such a personal and living process. To be a writer is to make our “personal” consumable for everyone else, however. When you do that, when you tell your story for an audience, you open yourself and story up their interpretation.  As a writer, there’s no greater agony than this. But there’s also no greater joy. There’s agony is living naked on paper. There’s joy in being able to hear your thoughts re-told by someone else, someone with their own story that will make them more inclined to  agree or not agree with what you’ve said. This is the power of writing.

So, here’s the essay. I hope you read it and share it and take something meaningful from it. Have a great weekend. Love, Jessica.

p.s. If you live in the DC/MD/VA area, you can also read my essay in the The Washington Post this Sunday. It will be in the Outlook section.


November 20th, 2014

Just keep writing


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Note to self:

Stop

overthinking,

stopping,

wondering what this all means,

rewriting,

editing,

twittering,

talking for hours on the phone,

gossip site reading,

Facebooking,

Instagramming,

Paying too much attention to what every other writer is doing,

Eating chocolate as if eating chocolate is doing something

Doubting

Not believing

Watching too much TV

Making excuses

Blogging about why I have not been writing and just write.

 

Keep

believing,

going,

taking myself serious enough to send that pitch email to that publication that I once thought I’d never get in,

paying attention to my journey,

learning,

not over-checking my email inbox,

making my own opportunities and just keep writing.

Just keep writing.

***

What do you tell yourself to stay motivated to continue writing or doing anything that gives you joy?


November 18th, 2014

How I Made Room For Mother Writers In “The War of Art’


 

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If you are a writer. If you are a blogger. If you have a social media account, then you have likely heard of a book called “The War of Art” by Steven Pressenfield. If you’ve never read this book but have only read reviews of this book, then you likely have already been mentally trained to favor this book as THE BOOK that every REAL WRITER MUST READ to take their writing to the next level. I know I did.

So I wanted this book a year ago and I got this book a year ago on sale at my local library for $1 dollar. And I read it, took notes on it, but didn’t write about it because I didn’t want to speak prematurely about THE BOOK until I was sure I really felt what I thought I was feeling about THE BOOK. You know?

But it’s been almost a year since the bandwagon of talk about “The Book” has traveled upward and onward to new places. So now I am really sure what I was feeling about the book is what I feel about the book.

Now I can write this post and say, honestly, I liked THE BOOK.

I like this book.

I find Pressenfield’s personal story as a formerly failed screenwriter who courageously continued to “do the work” of being a writer to be inspiring and encouraging. You can almost feel him working through his own writer-demons with this book, proving with each written page that the “work” of which he speaks is possible.

I like the idea of Resistance, or the idea that we are all called to do something great. I like the idea that we are, however, most resistant to do those great things because we are afraid.  I like that and I believe that resistance as Pressenfield presents it is real. I believe that it’s ultimately resistance that makes artists not take their art seriously. It’s resistance, more than anything else, that makes a small life of comfort feel okay. It’s what makes it so hard for us to reach the finish line, not to quit.

This part, this part about resistance is my life story, so you can imagine how I felt in reading this. Likely like every writer, blogger, artist online who wrote about this book as being “their” story.

But then, something happened for me around the part where Pressenfield starts talking about what we need to do to defeat resistance.

“Go pro,” he says. This means showing up everyday and taking our pursuits and ourselves seriously.

And this is where that song by Carly Simon, “You’re so vain” started playing in my head. “I bet you think this book is about you,” I could hear this voice in my head saying as I tried to think about myself and my life and my sometimes not so serious pursuit of writing.

I am not a pro according to Pressenfield. I am not , in his estimation, serious enough about my craft. I accepted this in my first reading,  and I started to think that this book is not really about me. But I kept reading anyway. And in reading I formed some opinions which may or may not be fair about Pressenfield’s ideas about defeating resistance.

I didn’t like Presenfield’s idea that being pro, defeating resistance, means that pursuing one’s art must trump all other worldly constraints. I guess since I am a mother, too, this idea can’t be my truth. If it were I guess I would just take Mr. Pressenfield’s words and cry myself in a corner about how my wordly constraints, namely my children, figure far too prominently in my life. But I don’t think that would be productive.

I do think that art is best purposed by those with the ways and means to as Mr. Pressenfield does, rise early and go to the mountains for inspiration, returning only for the dinner his wife has kindly prepared.

Except that’s not my life.

It may be Tiger Wood’s life, Lance Armstrong’s life, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s life (three male “heroes” referenced SO many times in this book), but it’s not my life. I doubt it’s anyone’s life, let alone any woman’s life, especially so if that woman happens to have children.

I do rise early. But I can’t leave my children to go to the mountains. Even if wanted to. And unfortunately, I don’t ever come home to dinner, since I’m usually the stand in for “the wife” that Pressenfield relies on to make that little detail of his life “work.”

There were other parts of the book that I didn’t get, like the religious and philosophical “trip” that happens at the end of the book, but mainly it was this part about where real life and art should meet that got to me and made me even think that, after a year, it’s worthy to write this review.

The message of The War of Art, it’s central message, is, I think, worthwhile. But in order to make the “whole” of his message work, at least if you’re a woman or 21st century man with children (particularly in a place like America in which parenting is articulated as a purely personal effort) ,’you must take it all with a grain of salt.

He’s not really talking to you, you can tell yourself. “This part of the song is not about you.” And that’s okay.

History is littered with stories, after all, of excluded groups reading “great texts” in spite of their exclusion from those texts.

You can take to heart Pressenfield’s talk of resistance and think about it when, for instance, you feel a tug to not submit a pitch letter. You can think about how fear and ego block you from pushing yourself more as an artist. But you should also remember, when reading books like this one, that your life need not fit into a paradigm of his ideal in order for you to “do your work” as a writer, painter, etc.

I think since I am the dreaded, waste of time “hobbyist” writer that Pressenfield writes against I can say this, too: The work of art and family can be balanced and in real life there are no highly or lowly pursuits. From our children to our novels, in real life it’s all meaningful work that we must do. I think like this because if I don’t I’d be sad about the impossibility about this possibility.

In my world, in my song, this balance is not as either-or as Pressenfield presents it. Again,  it is great and ideal that artists pursue their craft fully without distractions of family or society, but that is not possible for us all.

While I may not have been able to know this at 28, I know this now. I know, now, how to read “great” books and not hate them just because they aren’t written from my truths, my multiplicities as a woman, a writer, a woman writer, mother, a colored mother woman writer. Women, mothers, we need not reduce ourselves, I think, to one-dimensional versions of ourselves so that our art may ring purest. We can be multi-dimensional and still create and be artists and be wonderful. Is it harder to do this? Well, yes. But it’s not impossible.  And I would dare to say that it is that it is still possible in spite of the challenges that will always make it (with it being pursuing our “art”) feel more worthwhile.

Have you read The War of Art? If you are a woman who read this book, how did you make sense of the book’s heavily masculine leaning? Or did you no see it as having a heavily masculine bent? Really, I want hear your thoughts even if you disagree with me.

 


November 6th, 2014

very “deep” reflections on my very broken Kindle


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The odd thing about loving something when you’ve loved it is this: It’s not until it’s gone that you realize how much you really loved it. I had this old shirt metaphor in my head at my dad’s funeral. I likened, then, my dad to an old shirt in the back of my closet that I never wore and didn’t really care about until I couldn’t find it. Then suddenly, you love that shirt. Yes, I loved my dad, I realized that then at his funeral. But this idea of loving something and not knowing it until it’s gone has been on my brain recently or every time I walk by the now broken Kindle that sits on my dresser.

I didn’t know how fragile those things are. I didn’t know that if removed from their cases, these things called Kindles, these digital libraries can so easily be broken. But I found this out last week when after a good three months of constant use, my Kindle stopped working. Or, it works. But the screen’s broken making it impossible to read books. It was only three months of constant use, but what an amazing three months it was. I haven’t been online much because of my Kindle. I recently discovered that books could be purchased for free so it seemed everyday I had a new delight, mostly romance novels with predictable plot lines and mystery thrillers. The books I read on my Kindle weren’t always good but they were all entertaining and made my children’s naptimes seem like private escapes.

But now it’s broken. After three months.

You know what’s funny about my Kindle that no longer works? I had it for two years prior. I got it as a birthday gift but never used it because I was snotty about it not being a book. It was that plus I couldn’t find the Kindle’s charger which made using it seem like an impossible task. In the two years of it being in my life, my Kindle was used as a cell phone by my toddlers, wedged in a jammed packed office desk, and neglected on shelves. But it lived on. But I didn’t care because I didn’t have a use for it then. So whether it lived or died seemed all so inconsequential.

But then I found it three months ago. I discovered, too, that my old Android charger could charge it and we were in business. And I fell in love. For three months. But then it died and now I’m sad that the thing that I once neglected then loved is now gone.

So everyday I walk by that broken Kindle and think about how funny (or maybe how predictable?) love and life are. I think about how important it is to take care of people, to love them when they’re alive and to love your things when they are working. I think about my dad. I think about my Kindle. I think about how I miss them both.

Are you a Kindle or Nook reader? What are you currently reading?

***

This post began as a Short Little Bit post. Or it began with me thinking I would be reviving that now defunct blog I started three years ago, the one where I wrote for five minutes and didn’t edit afterwards. This is a short little bit 2.o, meaning it wasn’t written in under 20 minutes and was lightly edited. :)

 


October 27th, 2014

5 Things Learned By Committing to Something New


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I have a friend who is really good at something. She’s so good that she could, if she wanted, quit her job to do it. Easily. She’s been talking about “just doing it” for a year but still hasn’t just “done it” because she is afraid she’s not ready.

I can relate to her story. For much of my life, I’ve been afraid of branching out and committing to new things, too. Out of this fear, I have often, in my life:

1) Turned down or delayed starting really good opportunities that I didn’t think I was “ready” for

2) Prematurely quit at things that I thought I would one day fail at

3) Engaged in self-sabotaging behavior to control my failure at new things

Writing these truths about myself feels strange and kind of sad. But they are all true for me. And, I realize just in talking to friends and family (who are usually female), so many others.

It was these ugly truths and many others that inspired my commitment this year to courageousness. My vision for a courageous life included this, or a life in which I would be more open to allowing myself to take on new opportunities that I could be good at but that, at the same time, terrified me. I wanted not only to grow myself by branching out and trying new things, I wanted to be bold enough to see them, my new endeavors, through until the end, i.e., not quitting when things get tough.

So a month after declaring allegiance to “courage” for 2014, I got my chance to be courageous with a new opportunity via an email from a client with a long-term writing opportunity.

Without going into too many details, I’ll say that I very reluctantly said “yes” to the offer only after narrowing down all my reasons for why I thought I couldn’t do it (“I don’t have time,” “My kids need me more,” “I am not that experienced”). I told myself then that if anything changed in the future, or if any of my “reasons” really did come to fruition, then I’d stop. But until then I was going to, no, I had to, continue on with it.

I’m writing this almost a year later because I really did “continue on with it.” I stuck with that writing opportunity and learned some valuable things about myself and committing to new things in the process.

1. Most of us are so afraid to fail. I think one of the things that prevented me (and prevents so many others) from taking chances on new opportunities or potentially life changing events is that we’re afraid of failing.  Failure, we think, or perhaps we’ve been told, is a sign of the weak. But, really? Failure is just a part of life. It’s the getting up part that gives context to our great stories. Rather than being afraid to fail, I’ve learned to be afraid not to try.

2. We are often are own biggest critics. I realize now that I’ve often said “no” to new opportunities in my life because I was worried what others would think about me.  Like most, I didn’t want to look unprepared, stupid, or out of my league and more than that, I didn’t want to be called out for any of those things by someone else. But there’s an unfortunate and odd truth about this way of thinking.

Usually all the things we imagine “they’ll” say (with “they” being our bosses, strangers, peers, colleagues, friends, etc) are things that we have already told ourselves. These are things that we believe ourselves. We believe these things to be true, and we live in fear of someone else seeing and believing these things to be true, too.

Instead of being your biggest critic, I’ve learned (and am learning) it pays to be your biggest cheerleader.

3. It’s okay to be vulnerable. So a big part of the failing thing is this desire not to be vulnerable. We, or I, was a perfectionist who was afraid to try new things because I wasn’t comfortable living with vulnerable feelings. I wasn’t comfortable with not knowing everything, with possibly not always being prepared.

But this isn’t life. I’ve learned this year that it’s okay not to have all the answers when you start. It’s okay to admit when you’ve made a mistake or have questions. It’s okay to be imperfect and to work your way through uncertainties in front of others. It’s okay to be human.

4. Don’t count yourself out before you even start. All of my life, I’ve approached each opportunity with a list of conditions that had to be met for me to stay motivated to continue. If things weren’t going according to plan, I’d quit. I’d count myself out likely after a few weeks or months because all along I had in my head that “this opportunity” wasn’t meant for me anyway.

Now instead of focusing my energies on why an opportunity won’t work, I focus on why it will. Not every opportunity that comes your way that seems like a great thing will pan out as a great thing. But….you have to give yourself enough time in actually doing the opportunity to figure that out. You have to allow yourself to commit mentally to doing your best and seeing where your best takes you. If things end up not working out, that’s okay. But only make that determination after you’ve given each new opportunity your very best shot.

5. Patience and longevity bring reward. Because I’ve always been a quitter, I’ve never really had the joy of experiencing the rewards that come when you are patient and stick to things. I’ve always over-anticipated and counted myself out and made excuses. But this year when I decided not to do this anymore, I learned the true value of patience and longevity in life pursuits. And this lesson is one that I carry with me in motherhood, marriage, friendships, and so much more.

The client that I’m working for sent me an email last night saying how happy she is in working with me. I was thrilled to hear this not only because I like hearing nice things being said about my work. I was happy because it was not from being perfect that I earned this feedback. It was from what I’ve done all this year. It was from working hard, counting myself in, making mistakes and fixing them, believing in myself and what I was doing more than not believing.

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Over to you. Do share in the comments below something you’ve learned by committing to something new.

Love, Jessica. ♥

PS If you enjoy this post, and you’re so inclined, please share with your friends or online.