“Don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid not to try.” I learned this week that I am an honoree in the Impact category of Blogher’s Voices of the Year. I received this honor for the essay I wrote for the Washington Post on talking to my then four-year old about police. I’ve mentioned this great news everywhere else on my social media accounts, but I know so many who read this blog only read this blog to know what’s happening with me so I thought it write it here, too. Happy Friday. Love, Jessica ❤︎.
They don’t have any luck in the closet, but they do in the dryer. Still in the laundry room, all three girls huddle in a circle to help get their sister dressed. “We must hurry!” says my oldest, helping her sister’s arms into the unforgiving sleeves. “The ball, the ball is starting soon!”
Once she’s in her dress, they stay in their huddle. Now in silence, they admire each other with slow nods and winks.
I welcome this kind of play because it doesn’t always happen. Just two hours ago, they were fighting over breakfast. Competing for the pink spoon with hearts on the handle, the princess cup that had only the illusion of more milk, the chair that wobbles, my attention.
With my daughters who are 5, 3, and 1, there’s a pecking order. Fights over territory usually happen between the daughters who are closest in age. I read once in a magazine that the reason for this is simple. Like in the wild, they’re competing for the same resources they think they need to survive.
“I don’t like my sister!” This is what my oldest screamed at me after breakfast. “She won’t let me read my book in the corner, and…she’s so yucky!” she said, staring in her 3-year old sister’s direction. Then, for what felt like an eternity, they bounced back and forth with “No, you’re yucky!” “No, you are!” “No, you!”
You can read the rest of the essay here on The Washington Post.
Every so often, I am asked how I decide what to “share” online, in my writings. Usually, the person asking this asks this because they have things they’d like to write about, talk about online. But they don’t write or talk about these things online or anywhere public out of fear over people knowing too much about their “personal” lives, their personal “selves.
“But I don’t share everything,” I often tell them.
Sometimes when I’m going through something in my life, I don’t write about. I just live it. And if there’s a story worth sharing, a story that needs to be shared, I’ll share it.
But sometimes I don’t write about some things. Things that may negatively impact others in my life? I don’t write those things. Things that I am not certain how I feel, things that I have feelings about but feelings that I know are premature? I don’t write those things. Things that may hurt someone or things that I know are written from a wrong place or with poorly conceived intentions. I don’t write those things.
But I do tell lots of stories in my writings, stories mostly about me because I think speaking out loud, writing things down is how I feel most real to myself. I think so much of our world is fake: fake food, fake hair, fake butts, fake smiles, everything can be faked but the truth.
So when I write, when I live I hope to “be” from that place. I hope, often, when I write things that feel uncomfortable or that hurt, that in living from a real place, others will come out from wherever they are and live there with me if not for forever then just for some moments. This doesn’t always happen. But it’s my hope to make human connections that mean something because at the end of the day, in spite of all that may be fake amongst us, we are still real. I hope we may never forget that.
To the woman (or man) trying to make everyone else happy:
This is not your job. It’s not your job to make everyone happy. It’s not your job to live a life that everyone will connect with, understand, or get. It’s not your job to worry so much about how everyone else feels that you forget about how you feel.
In every relationship, there must be some give and take. You should give but also take. Have you taken anything lately? You should consider your happiness, too. You should do what feels right for you, too. Say “no” if saying “no” is what you need to do.
It’s not your job to make everyone happy. You can’t make everyone happy. You can’t be everything for everyone all the time. Or even half the time. So don’t try. Just be yourself. Speak your mind because what you have on your mind is worthwhile. Be yourself because everyone else is taken and because no one can be you better.
Make yourself happy. This is your job.
Forget yesterday. It has already forgotten you. Don’t sweat tomorrow. You haven’t even met. Instead, open your eyes, and your heart to a truly precious gift; today.
I have been meaning to write here more often about how I writing more often. But I have not found the time to say these words. Or I have found the time, but so often I’ve been filling my time with ‘something’ else.
I’ve been filling it with new books.
Anna Quindlen is currently my cup of tea, so I’ve been drinking her slowly every afternoon while my children sleep.
I’ve been filling it with writing essays.
Essays are my new best friend, so we’ve been sharing deep secrets in any moments in between.
I’ve been filling it with exercising.
Barre workouts are my life line, so I do them often to remind my body to feel alive.
Then there’s this blog. This two-year old blog.
‘Where does it fit into all this?’ sometimes I wonder. If my life is a closet, this blog is currently on the floor.
The hangers are all occupied with other fabrics. ‘Is it time to throw you out?” I ask when I’ve picked it up from the floor and studied it more closely to see it’s worth to my today.
But then I’ll think of the history, of all the places it’s been worn, of all the potential for what it could be if only I got rid of something else, made room somewhere else, paired it with something else. Something new and bright, that would give it new life in my today.
Alas, I always keep it. I pick it off the floor. Remove any lint that may have gathered and wear it like it’s the first time I’ve worn it before. ‘It looks good on you’ some will say in seeing me. And ‘you really should wear that more often!’ I agree and in doing so I remember why I still hold on. I hold on because every time I wear it, it looks so good on me. It feels so good on me.
So when I’m done with using it, I delicately fold it into a square. There’s no room on a hanger, but there is on the shelf. I place it on a shelf and smile about keeping it for so long.
You know the saying, “If it’s important to you, you will find the time”? It’s true.
If something is important to you, you will make time to do it.
I want to do a lot of things.
I want to write more on this blog and elsewhere. I want to exercise everyday, eat healthy everyday, be present in my relationships every day. I want to read everyday and do interesting things to my hair everyday.
But I don’t do these things everyday. I do try to do some of these things everyday, but other things are often put off until another day.
When December 25th came and went, I wanted to write about my dad’s death. It’s been six years now. I wanted to write about how grief comes and goes in often tumultuous waves and how you never really get over feeling like crying when you think about how continual this process will be. But I didn’t write that. I wrote something else. I did something else. I bought a cup of hot tea at Starbucks and cried a few tears in my coat sleeve and did something else.
I felt better when I did something else.
On January 1, I wanted to do a fun craft with my toddlers, something about New Years around the world. But I didn’t do that. Instead I went to a restaurant with my husband. I ordered ice cream and talked about that craft I didn’t make and all the other things that happened and didn’t happen this past year and how this life goes by so fast. “I never feel like I have enough time!” I said then and so often this past year.
But I get all the things done anyway.
Yesterday, I celebrated a birthday. I usually write something about that on this blog and I take a picture of myself to document where I was and what I looked like that day. But I didn’t do that. Instead, I called friends, ate cake with my children and watched the snow fall. I did other things, too.
I did what felt right to my soul.
My grandmother is 96 years old. I went to see her last weekend. “Hi, grandma,” I said to wake her up. She was falling asleep in her wheel chair, so I said “Hi” to wake her up. She said “Hi” and we talked about all the same things we always talk about. She has Alzheimer and dementia so she forgets things often and remembers things from a long time ago as if they happened yesterday. She doesn’t always know that I have three daughters. She usually thinks I have boys. I don’t know why but I think this happens because she’s remembering her own life. She had two boys. They have both died, but she remembers that someone had them and only sometimes does she remember that that someone is her. “How are your boys?” she says often. “I don’t have any boys, grandma. Just girls.” “There was someone I remember how had boys…. ” she’ll say then. I just can’t think of their name right now.”
She never remembers their name.
I wanted to write a week ago about my how I hardly ever introduce myself as a writer. That part usually just comes out when I’ve gotten into talking about my days. “When do you find the time?” is usually what comes next and answering this is also interesting because I don’t ever really have the time. But I do write. I write when I’m watching TV and the children are napping and it’s the afternoon time and I have something to write. I write when I’m eating and not reading when I’m a passenger in the car to some destination that feels familiar. I write when I wake and before I sleep and in between making dinner and drinking tea. I write at playdates and the library and on notepads on park benches.
I write whenever I can.
I think that quote should say, there isn’t always time to always do what we know to be important. But there is always time. So long as we are alive, we can use our time to live our lives however we want. On my birthday, I thought a lot about my time and how I use my time and I realize how thankful I am to just have the time to use. I am thankful that I can do my important things and can remember them when they happen. I am thankful to have the time to write and talk and cry. I am thankful I have the time to be present in my relationships and if I forget, I am thankful I can remember to do it next time.
I am thankful for all the “next times” I used in my lifetime, all the “next times” I’ve used to do all my important things.
How are you using your time today?
Over breakfast this morning, my older daughter had a pink spoon. A pink spoon with raised shapes on the handle. That pink spoon wasn’t all that special. But this morning it became “all that special” because her littler sister didn’t have the same one. “My spoon is pink,” said my oldest out loud, looking at the spoon and mostly at her sister who was more interested in her cereal. “And it has hearts,” she said looking more at her sister now. Her sister was, however, still more interested in her cereal and the lone morsel that had fallen on her lap. “Ooops!” she said when it fell. “Yours is blue,” continued my oldest daughter. “And it has spikes like a dinosaur.”
There weren’t spikes on her spoon. They were more like raised polka dots. But my older daughter had to tell her this so that her sister wouldn’t want her own spoon and would instead want the spoon she had. And it worked. Finally. “Mommy, she said my spoon has spikes,” said middle sister. “But it doesn’t have spikes, right?” I said. Those are polka dots, right?” “No,” said my older daughter. “They look like a spike tail. See,” she said. Her sister was crying by then so to settle the score, I told her something I find myself telling them often.
”Worry about yourself. If you like your spoon, then, well, that’s great. Celebrate that. You don’t need to say how great something you have is every single time. You don’t need to compare something you think is wonderful to something someone else has. Just love it as it is and let that be enough.”
The older you get the more you align self to the thinking that “who cares?” Because really, who cares? Just celebrate what you’ve got. Marvel in what you think makes it amazing and that is enough. It’s enough to think your spoon with shapes rather than spikes, I mean, polka dots is the best thing in the world. And it’s okay if no one else agrees. And it’s okay to love that spoon, marriage, bra size, life even when it’s not what everyone has got.
2014 has gone by so fast and so slow for me. In a year, I’ve learned how to write with a calligraphers pen and paint pretty things with watercolor paint. I did a TV interview this year and wrote for The Washington Post and spoke in front of an audience about my daughter’s hair, about my hair. I’ve learned what it’s like to use mostly dull cut your own hair into a bob. Sobering. I’ve learned what it’s like to see a therapist and how to and how not to respond to lingering political debates about hard things like race and gender. I’ve learned to be quiet and when to speak and how paint tall walls without smearing paint on the ceiling. It’s called “cutting in” if you didn’t know. I learned to wear eyeliner and say I’m sorry and say “no” rather than “yes” when I really need to say “no.” Oh, and I learned to use a dishwasher and almost do a headstand and more promptly respond to text messages.
I learned a lot this year but mostly I learned to be myself. I didn’t become anyone else just the version of myself that was lost along the way to me trying to become everyone else.
Last year my word was “courage.” And it was a grand plan of mine to document this journey online. I didn’t really know what courage was when I made that my word. I didn’t know that while courage can be big and loud, it most usually travels in packages that are small and quiet.
The hard part of courage for me was the small and quiet part and figuring out what to do with that. Courage was a series of acts I did that resembled my everyday life. Courage was all the small things I did this past year, normal and ordinary things–my pink spoons. Courage was all I did this year and it was deciding that it is okay, worthwhile even, to love my spoons without sharing or comparing them to the spoons of anyone else.
I don’t know my word for 2015, but I do know I have to keep being myself because really there’s no other way to be.
Do you have a word or any resolutions for 2015? What are they and how did you come up with them?
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.
To any writer (and, currently and usually, myself) who needs help getting inspired to write when it’s hard. This is our note to self. Refer to it as necessary to get through any blockages and just keep writing. Just keep writing.
Note to self:
wondering what this all means,
talking for hours on the phone,
gossip site reading,
Paying too much attention to what every other writer is doing,
Eating chocolate as if eating chocolate is doing something
Watching too much TV
Blogging about why I have not been writing and just write.
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,
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?
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.