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This has been a weird year, right? I don’t think anyone will disagree. As I came sliding butt first into December, I was already disorganized and suddenly bowled over by work. By all measures, we did triple the volume of work we usually do and it was no small bit of effort to simply make it through December. But make it through we did.
In the smoldering ashes of 2016, I am working hard to get some order back to the chaos of my life. I firmly believe that being a little bit stronger, quite a bit more disciplined (and organized) and filled with more optimism will carry me through the slings and arrows of 2017.
To that end, I have returned to Morning Pages. If you have read The Artist’s Way, you are familiar with Morning Pages. The idea, according to Julia Cameron, is to prime the pump. Write three pages of stream of consciousness words every morning to get into the creative flow.
Instead of handwriting pages as suggested by Cameron, I use an online tool called 750words. That tool works a bit differently than the Artist’s Way describes, but that is okay too.
So as I sit here now on my fourth day of vacation, hallelujah, I am working on today’s words. I have fallen out of my writing discipline and I can tell I am rusty. Lots on my mind. It’s good to get back into the habit.
The best part of the 750words is that every once in a while, while priming the pump and working through the silt to get back into the flow, some solid words, some bon mots, some worthy thoughts come through.
Wanted to share these, because they may become my motto for the new year (Warning: there is some salty language, it that offends, look away):
…doubt is a persistent little bitch. Hope slides off like you are made of teflon, but doubt sticks like tar, or used up chewing gum or one of those gluey mocos you can’t quite get off your finger no matter how hard you shake. Patience and discipline, that is the kleenex to your glue moco and allows you to fly once more. The sturdy facial tissue that brings back hope.
Yeah, I have no idea what any of that means, but it made me feel good to write it. Like I was really tapping into something, so I decided to share it.
Hope your end of 2016 and planning for 2017 has better metaphors. I’ll keep working on mine.
Inspiring flowers made of kleenex. Is that hope I’m feelin’? Image found here.
Image found here.
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On the way to work this morning, I listened to legendary San Francisco radio station KFOG. They’ve recently had a bit personnel shakeup and it turns out their new morning guy is former MTV VJ Matt Pinfield. I’m not totally thrilled with the change, but I will say this: he is able to pull pretty decent guests.
This morning it was Matt Nathanson and it was a good interview. They talked music and influences, and Pinfield asked what I thought was an intriguing question.
“What is the one song that changed your life?”
For Mr. Nathanson, it was “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls. He said it made him want to play acoustic guitar and changed the course of his music. Pretty cool answer and song.
When they cut to commercial, I was left wondering what my answer would be. What is the one song that changed my life?
Well sheesh, that’s hard question. Music is so integral to my life that it can’t possibly be one song. There have been many songs that have changed my life and there are unwritten, un-thought of songs on the path ahead that will certainly change my life again.
As I drove and pondered, I was able to come up with a bunch. Here are just four of a much longer list.
Let’s dig in:
1) It’s 1991 and I’ve just gotten an undergraduate degree and about to start my MBA program. Right before the new semester began, my boyfriend broke up with me. I was quite into that particular boyfriend, pretty sure he was “the one,” and the breakup hit me like a ton of bricks.
I wallowed deep into a lot of sad country music, but one song in particular was a constant companion.
“Are You Still Within The Sound of my Voice” by Glen Campbell
There was a place down on the Rio Grande where he and I used to go, so I would drive there, bring out a blanket and my boom box and find a place on the banks of the river. I would play that song over and over again while crying, sobbing, keening. I rose the level of that dusty ol’ river with my salty tears.
Glen and that song got me through it. I can still hardly listen to that song, it’s so etched into my memory and DNA. But that song helped me make the transition back to good. It made me stronger. It did, indeed, change my life.
2) It’s 1994 and I’m living in Albuquerque, fresh out of college, gainfully employed and living that single girl life on my own. I’d lost a lot of weight and was feeling sassy and strong.
My musical tastes still ran toward country, but I was starting to listen to a lot of other music. In fact my musical education expanded a lot since there was a whole lot of music in the 90’s that was changing the world.
I’d caught the end of a song on the radio that got my attention, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
A few days later I was riding in an old Jeep CJ that was open to the wind with radio playing loud. That song came on, those now easily identifiable guitar chords, and I asked the driver to turn it up.
I was super late to the party on this song, but on that day, really hearing the song, my life changed.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
Oh muh lord. Of course we all know the impact of Nirvana now, but back then, it was unlike anything I’d ever heard. I just knew I needed more. A lot more.
I bought “Nevermind” on CD and played it over and over and over. I had never heard an artist express themselves like that. I sang along with angry lyrics while the music (and musician) spoke to me in ways I still don’t understand.
3) It’s 1997 and I’ve moved to the Bay Area and I’m spending all of my time in San Francisco’s North Beach where my musical education took a turn toward the Blues.
There were a couple bars I knew how to get to and went to all on my own. A little girl with hayseeds in my hair, the employees and the musicians took me in. I became part of their family and they mine.
Blues music rolled in waves down Grant street back then and I’d start at the Savoy and work my way down. Grant & Green, Lost and Found, The Saloon.
Then there was a man named Willie who belonged to the street, but was still part of our family. More than once he protected me from the less kind aspects of city streets. He was a talented man with a bit of a drinking problem, but oh could he play that harp.
He’d tap his foot in time and play the blues. Then I’d go inside the bars and hear the musicians dive deep into history and play those same songs.
There was one that made me take notice, made me sit up. The beginning of what became a beautiful blues education. The door opened and I walked through.
“Matchbox” written by Blind Lemon Jefferson
On one night I heard four different musicians do the song, each putting their own fingerprint on it. This one song took a hold of me and never let go.
4) It’s 2015 and I’m with the love of my life, the one who actually is the one, and we’re attending a show at a small but awesomely funky venue in our new hometown. The act is Radney Foster and going to the show is like coming home.
I wrote a lot about why that night itself mattered right here on this little ol’ blog.
But more than that, Radney’s music was a core part of my college years and my life. A life I left when I moved to California. It was mostly the right decision, but damn I often feel like I left a huge piece of myself behind.
So many people here in the Bay Area. Crowded. Packed in. People who don’t understand the emptiness you find in New Mexico. The wide open spaces. The ease.
A lot of people here who don’t understand New Mexico, don’t understand what matters to me, and sure as hell don’t listen to country music.
And now here was Mr. Radney Foster standing on a stage in Northern California. There were even people other than me came to see the show. People who get it. It was a mind bender.
He did a lot of the familiar songs, and late in the show he introduced a new song. Told us that his wife grew up in Oakland. How he was at his in-law’s house in the Oakland hills and watched a gorgeous Bay Area sunset. Then he told his wife “I’m going to be late for dinner,” because he had to get down a song.
“California” by Radney Foster
It made me cry a little because it’s a beautiful love ode to California, written by someone from West Texas. A desert rat like me who gets it, was there back in the day, and understands why California.
It’s hard to explain to folks back home, but now I have the perfect musical explanation. In the following weeks I played it over and over again. This song let me know it’s okay to have my heart in both New Mexico and California. This song brought peace. Healing.
Truly life changing.
Whew. Yeah. Okay. I could probably go on. This list expands and grows the more I think about it.
I bet you are thinking too. Running through the soundtrack of your life and remembering the songs that mattered. The songs that changed your life.
It’s worth the journey. Feel free to share here or on Facebook. I’d love to know which songs changed your life.
Image used royalty free and found here.
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The 26th of February. That what today is. February 26, 2016.
My, my, how time does fly.
Speaking of flying time, I see that the last time words were posted to this space was in November. That was like, yesterday, right?
Nope. 26th. Of February. Of 2016. Whew.
Well, okay, gotta try to shake that off and keep rolling. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this little ol’ blog. It used to be that I’d knock out a post every weekday. Then three times a week. And then nothing since November.
Been wondering what got in my way.
Three things, really. First, I got a little worn out. I’d pushed The Muse and it was getting harder to think of interesting ideas to write about. Eventually The Muse asked me to give it a rest.
Another contributor was starting a different job. I used have a free lunch hour where I both ate and knocked out the words for this blog. In my new job, I am in so galldarn many meetings each day that my lunch break is now me eating while my staff streams in the door to grab a few moments of my time.
Finally, I started wondering a little bit about the fate of so-called long form blogs in an ever-shortening attention span world. I read an article a few years ago declaring blogs dead in favor of tweets and Tumblr. I kind of took it to heart.
So I let my word field lay fallow. And maybe that is okay. It needed some rain and some decay and some time to become fertile again.
One of the most compelling reasons that I started this blog was to be a place for writing practice.
Practice, practice, practice. When I kicked off these pages back in 2007 I felt like I had something to say and needed a venue, so I made my own.
Over many years I wrote something every weekday and watched my writing both inside and outside the blog become stronger, sleeker, and more concise.
While I still benefit from all of that work, the last few times I’ve been working on a short story, I’m noticing the flow just isn’t there. It’s always an uphill climb but without the many days a week practice to keep me limber, the hill got a little steeper (and a lot more pedantic).
There is a widely debated theory that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become a master at something. I am not sure that is true because any artist I know would say you never master your medium, no matter how much or how hard you practice.
But what I do know is that as of the moment I am putting these words into print, there are over six hundred thousand words that I created and added to this blog. That hasn’t taken me ten thousand hours to create, but it’s still not nothing. It’s something that matters and something I am proud of.
Last weekend while I was sprucing up the blog and giving it a Spring cleaning (I’m kind of in love with this shade of blue) in preparation for my return to the words, I looked hard at that number in the footer of this page and thought to myself “I’m not done.”
And so I’m not.
One added benefit is that I get to grab those crazy thoughts from my mind and get them down. There’s good stuff in there. No more trying to blog it out loud to my kindly understanding spouse or my long-suffering coworkers.
So here I am, back for today and hopefully back again soon. I want to push out my elbows and make the space in my world for the words, the practice, and the ever wonderfully agonizing quest to get better at what I love to do most.
Carnegie Hall cartoon found here.
Blogging out loud cartoon found here.
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A two pack of good news! No, not Tupac, may he rest in peace, but a jam-packed, happy, good thing, ain’t-it-grand, times two!
I have been waiting a REALLY long time to share the news that over the summer two of my stories were accepted for publication.
Now both are finally published and out there in the world, flapping their little wings and taking flight.
I am SUPER proud!
Here’s the details:
You can find the magazine cover and link to each of the stories in the first column on the right side of this page.
I’ll just tell you.
The first is a story called “When Opportunity Knocks You Down” and it’s published in The Griffin Literary Journal, 2015 edition.
I wrote this story over fifteen years ago and I have always just loved and truly believed in it. The words capture a lot of what I was feeling in those first years living in the Bay Area and prowling the streets of vibrant San Francisco.
I have edited and shopped and polished and shopped this story for so long, determined to find that one person who got what I was trying to say.
Turns out it was the editor of The Griffin, Dr. Donna Allego, who was the one I’ve been waiting for. Seeing this story finally make it into print is just beyond my wildest dreams.
It’s a real testament to tenacity and accepting that a story will get a lot of no’s (like about 150 of them) and can still eventually find a yes.
Here’s where you can go to read the story
Or go to the The Griffin Literary Journal main page for the link to download the entire edition.
The second story is a little bit of a surprise. It’s such a quirky little tale that even as I was submitting it to a lot of magazines, I was just sure no one would pick it up.
To my utter shock, it was quickly snapped up on it’s first round of submissions by Ragazine.cc, The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment.
This acceptance process was a one eighty-degree turn from the one above. Sometimes that one quirky story is just in the right place at the right time.
The story is called “The Seal” and the genre is a bit of a departure for me. It was written for the final round of the 2014 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest. I loved the story and really believed it would do well in the final round of the contest.
We were just twenty writers who made it through to the final round, whittled down from a starting number of about 1,500. My odds were good.
Turns out this little story didn’t even place in the top ten. I was irked. There and then I decided that the best revenge for that stinging loss was to have the story published. A royal eff you to those judges.
I just had no idea it would be accepted so quickly! Double eff you! LOL!
I had a lot of fun writing my story about the Inuit god of icebergs and I hope you have as much fun reading it!
You can find the story here.
While you are there, poke around the other corners of Ragazine.cc, it’s a really cool place.
So yay! Give ’em a both read when you have a moment.
I’ll be over in the corner celebrating times two!
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When I began to seriously focus on submitting my writing to literary journals, I was schooled on the concept that it takes about one hundred rejections to get an acceptance.
Since submitting to one hundred journals takes a lot of research work, I began working with a really awesome service that helps me target submissions and keep track of rejections. Over the past several years, I have found that the one hundred rejection rule is pretty much true.
What this means is that I now get A LOT of rejections. In those first years most submissions were done by regular mail so I’d often have a mailbox crammed with rejection notices.
Now most submissions are done electronically and it is my email inbox that is filled to overflowing with rejection slips. They tend to come in waves. None for a while then six or eight at a time. Rejections usually show up when I’m having a really crappy day.
Receiving a pile of rejections just makes everything SO much better.
When I started getting that many rejection notices, it hurt at first. Each one was a tiny “ouch” and made me sad. Who could reject my perfect little carefully crafted babies?
Over time, I became immune to the sheer volume of no-thank-yous. The skin hardens a bit, the outlook toughens and now I just shrug and say “okay” and move on.
It’s what makes those occasional acceptances that much more sweet. A barrage of no and then a glowing, shiny, joyful yes.
Since I have had the good fortune to receive quite a few acceptances, my submission service has been trying to up my game a little bit.
By up my game, I mean in addition to the regular submissions to a lot of fine magazines that no one has heard of, they have been adding a few more well-known and highly regarded journals to my submission list.
I’m not quite up to the point of hitting up the New Yorker for publication, but names on the list recently include McSweeney’s, Harvard Review, Zoetrope and The Paris Review.
I always giggle just a little when I hit “submit” on those queries. That’s because the odds of my work seeing the light of such highly regarded and high circulation magazines is pretty slim. That said, you don’t hit a home run if you don’t swing at a few pitches. So I swing away.
The Good Man has a different view on the rejection process. He is always happy to see the rejections in the mailbox. His firm belief is that if they are saying no then at least they considered my work, if even for a moment.
He especially loves the so-called “good” rejections. The slips that have a personal note from the editor, or say something like “while we were unable to use this particular story, we’d like to see more work from you.”
Those good rejections are a tiny bit of bread to a starving writer. Those few words are enough to keep me working hard to get to yes.
Anyhow, all of this was on my mind as this morning I sorted through a stack of mail and opened a couple rejection slips. I can recognize them right away because when I do paper submissions, I include a self addressed stamped envelope.
When my own envelope returns to me, it’s almost always a no. Almost. I did get an acceptance one time in my SASE. I’d neglected to open it for almost two weeks and couldn’t believe it when I did open it. That was a nice surprise.
Anyhow, this morning’s envelope had a postmark from New York and inside resided the tiniest sliver of paper. What I estimate to be about one-eighth of a sheet of paper.
It’s from The Paris Review. A highly revered title.
They were able to spare just a tiny sliver of paper to tell me no way, Josephina.
And for a moment, I’d like to think about some low to no paid intern reading my story, considering it and then thoughtfully sending this slip.
I’m sure they LOVED my work, it just didn’t fit the themes on their literary calendar. Right?