Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Writing Resume Effects

I constantly review my writing resume.  This morning, while reviewing it for the thousandth time, I thought “Am I obsessed?”  The answer is yes!  I am an obsessed writer.  Naturally, the unpublished pieces list outnumbers the published pieces list, but I still keep track of everything I write and everything I submit for publication. 
Do other writers do this?  I don’t know.  Yet, I find it an excellent way to view my progress and success if you want to call it that.  Then I think, “What is success?”  This can be measured in so many forms and it subjective to each of us.  Yet, when I view my published list it solidifies my efforts, boosts my confidence, and reinforces the fact that I am a writer!  Those are my successes.
            The unpublished list actually has a positive effect as well.  It gives me motivation to submit pieces that were passed up by one publication with the hope of another publication running them.  I do this quite often.  Call it resubmitting, call it not taking “No” for an answer, or call it stubbornness.  I call it diligence!  Along with persistence, determination, perseverance, and a hundred other adjectives I can use to describe myself, diligence is at the top of my list.  Do you know how many times James Lee Burke was rejected?  I actually read somewhere that Stephen King has a pile of rejection letters too! 
            Am I saying I’m the next best-selling author?  Of course not!  I am saying that a rejection letter isn’t personal.  The publication business is just that – a business!  While my piece may not work for one, it may be a perfect fit for another.  How will I know unless I submit? 
            Like I said earlier, I keep track of everything I write and everything I have published.  So, just for the record, this blog piece represents the 70th piece of prose I have written.  “What is prose?” you ask.  Prose is anything that is not poetry. 
If you don’t have a writing resume, let me encourage you to start one.  Keep track of it all.  Although your list may never impress anyone else, pretty soon it will impress you!  After all, that is the only thing that really matters.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Finding Your Voice

Another first in my life came today at my father-in-law’s funeral.  Some people can count on one hand the number of funerals they’ve attended, but not me.  I don’t know how many funerals I’ve attended.  My parents took me to funerals when I was little and growing up it was a normal but sad affair.  We all know the service routine:  visit, sit, listen to a few sad heart-wrenching songs when our emotions are raw enough, listen to someone speak about the deceased, listen to the preacher, hear another song or two, view the body, console the family, exit, wait outside for the body to be brought to the hearse, then finish up at the cemetery.  It is all so daunting and emotionally draining, but all of those things are part of the grieving process to say goodbye for ourselves because the deceased is no longer in his or her body.  We go through the process to respect their life and start healing our own life.
            In all the funerals I’ve seen, I’ve always wondered how family members of the deceased found the courage to stand up and speak.  My husband’s cousin did it at his own mother’s funeral.  When my brother died, another brother stood up, found his voice and spoke.  He had strength that day that I did not have.  I’ve always been too overcome with grief to utter a single word.  Oh, one time I really tried, at my dad’s funeral.  But failed when it came for me to stand because my legs wouldn’t work and my voice wouldn’t come.  I wanted to with all my heart, but physically and emotionally I failed myself.
            Today though, I overcame that.  I composed something and distributed it to family and friends.  It was a short piece, around 150 words.  I made a homemade brochure and thought it would help others the way it helped me.  When Mr. Curt Iles, a very special friend of our family who performed the service, asked me to read it aloud to the audience I made up my mind that I would really try, again.  Although I knew the words, I went outside and read it aloud to myself one final time.  As usual, I choked up.  A few minutes before the service was to start, I was still unsure if I could follow through.
            1:00 came, the first song started, and as I sat there and glanced down at the paper in my hand, silent tears flooded my eyes and a lump formed in my throat.  I fought those things the best I could, wiped my eyes, and tried instead to concentrate on the words of the Merle Haggard song playing softly overhead to get my mind off of what I was about to do.  The next thing I knew, the song ended, Mr. Iles introduced me, and I stood.
I wasn’t nervous to speak in front of people.  That has never bothered me.  Inside, I was battling a fear far greater than public speaking.  My heart is so sentimental and tender, I knew I would cry and be unable to finish once I started.  Then, there I would be standing like an idiot with people waiting for a sound, a word, a sentence that wasn’t coming.  That was my fear!  Yet, I stood at the podium and looked down at my piece.  My legs jumped with nervous anxiety and my heart raced.  Still, my mouth did not open.  I stood there for a good thirty seconds staring at my paper in silence.  It was probably really only ten seconds or so, but it was a noticeable pause; the whole time I was trying to subdue the enormous lump in my throat that seemed as stubborn as I am.  I won!
Finally, softly I spoke the first word.  Wanting to do it right for my husband, my mother, my father-in-law, and the rest of our family and friends, I knew I must read slowly, use proper inflections when necessary, and look up periodically at the audience staring at me.  I did all those things.  I did lose my voice a few times.  I also paused at one especially touching place for what seemed like forever.  I finished the piece with tears in my eyes, a cracking voice, and a courage that came with finally being able to speak at a funeral.  It was one of the emotionally hardest things I’ve ever done, but I did it.  I did it.  I found my voice!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Too Many Irons in the Fire

How come some are more prone to getting involved, NO overly involved, in everything than others?  Is it my fault I was born under the astrological sign of Aries? 

I have so many irons in the fire, it gets overwhelming at times.  For example:  Along with having a full-time job, I am a writer (and actively submit and pitch my writings – only to receive rejection letters for half of what I submit); I am the president of East Beauregard Little Dribblers in Dry Creek (and coach two teams); I am also the president of Bayou Writers’ Group in Lake Charles; am a member of the Beauregard Writers’ Guild; I donate monthly to the United Way campaign for Abraham’s Tent in Lake Charles and the Council on Aging in DeRidder; each year I take an angel from the Angel Tree in DeRidder to buy an unknown child gifts for Christmas (which I must do soon before they are all gone!); and I even submitted a slogan to the city of DeRidder when they asked the public to participate!  (Mine wasn’t chosen, but I participated.)  Plus, I’m usually an avid deer hunter, but this year too much is going on and I’ve only been once!  Every few months, my husband and I find time to visit the Humane Society where we adopted two Persian cats a few years ago.  I don’t really know why we keep going back when two cats are enough! I follow all of that up with constantly having my nose in a book, and am now reading Gone With the Wind (again!).  Not to mention trying to remember to pay bills ON TIME – notice I said trying, unsuccessfully keeping groceries in the house, and needing to buy a few Christmas things which I have yet to do!! Amongst all this, throw in a 13-year-old and I tell you “SOMEBODY SHOOT ME, PLEASE!”   

If I was only wealthy, I shutter to think of the things I would do for my community and those in it!

How does all this happen?  At times I get so frustrated at my own motivation I could strangle me, or even lock myself in my room and never come out!  But, if I had it to do all over again I’d do the same thing.  It’s just the way I am.  I get involved.  I told someone the other day, “We only go around once, so we need to make the best of it!”  She smiled and naturally agreed.  Yet, I think there are only a handful of us that over do it.

Just wondering why we all can’t be born an Aries?  We’d all be stressed out, but it’s worth it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

When Confusion Reigns in a Teenager's Life

Why is it when we’re a teenager, everything is so life and death dramatic?  I remember when I felt like I carried the weight of the world on my shoulders, and NO ONE could understand me.  My hormones raced.  My view of the world was shielded with sunshine and rainbows and I could not understand the full effect of things, like I do now.  Well, today, my husband and I confronted the same fears and confusion by another teenager, only this time it was his 13-year-old daughter.
            For the first time in her life, she felt real pain, confusion, and disappointment when she returned from a week-long visit with her mother’s family.  You see, since the summer she has been living with us.  In August, my husband was awarded custody of her.  She has not seen her other family since May and six months to a child might as well be an eternity. 
When we met to pick her up, she was crying that she wanted to stay and not return “home” with us.  After several minutes of coaxing and trying to talk peacefully, she finally relented and came with us.  She cried the entire way home.  I tried to think of intelligent, comforting things to say, but shamefully all that came to mind was “I wish she’d stop crying,” and “How silly is this?”  Then, I realized she had never gone through anything like this before.  How awful for a teenager who is trying to adjust to a new life.  First, leaving them on her own will to come live with us.  But, the real thought of “living with daddy” never set in until she went back to visit.  Her world had a veil of sunshine on it, and today that veil was sadly lifted even if for only a little while. 
Her dad and I explained to her that now she has two families.  We explained that it is normal to miss them.  We explained other children feel the same way.  We explained, “As bad as you feel, it will all work out.”  I knew those were clich├ęs, but I also knew she was 13 and not 40, and had limited experience with unpleasant things.  Did we say the right things?  Probably not.  Did our words come out sarcastic or phony?  Probably.  After all, we have no experience with 13-year-olds, but we did our best to ease her pain and her confusion.  I explained “You are not in a tug-of-war.  You have two families that love you and want the best for you.  This is part of growing up.  We all face things that aren’t fair.  We get over them and move on.”  “I won’t get over this,” she said.  Wishing I could fill her mind with all my bad experiences of life and the feelings that come when you learn to get over things, I only listened.
Life is full of facing things that aren’t fair.  Like Rocky said in Rocky Balboa, “It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you can get up and keep moving forward.”  Regardless of our millions of situations, which may seem hopeless at the time, such as leaving family and friends, switching schools, gaining a new family, or even losing a loved one like I’m about to lose my father-in-law, as long as we continue to move forward the best we can we will always become better for it. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Inner Demons

A forewarning:  this is a somber and sad piece, so if you’re having one of those days where everything makes you cry, you may not want to read it.

As my father-in-law lies in the hospital with his bones full of cancer, I have no words of comfort for my husband.  Twenty years ago, my husband watched his mother go through the same agonizing pains as she withered away from breast cancer.  Now, he has to witness the same thing happen to his father.  How I want to wave a magic wand over my father-in-law, and my husband, and make it all better.  I know this is part of life, but it is so difficult to bear.  I have no words of encouragement, no hugs full of magic, and I surely can’t click my heals together and make it go away.  We all must face death when it comes for a parent.  I did when my dad died.  Thankfully, though, my mother is still here.  Through broken words, with eyes full of tears, fighting against all of his emotions and losing, my husband said, “I’m lost.”  Knowing no one can do anything for his dad, and I can’t do anything for him, I felt lost too.  I had no words, only silent tears and a lump in my throat. 

I guess the point of this blog is that there is no point.  I only write it to get these terrible words and feelings off my chest.  Writing is my therapy.  I only wish my husband had a way to release his inner demons.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My "Work Family"

I think I have a cool job.  While my official title is “Accounts Clerk” for the Beauregard Parish School Board, my unofficial title is administrative assistant, or secretary, reservations clerk, accounts payable officer, time and attendance person, supplies orderly, dispatcher, public relations liaison, memo and letter writer, and all-day-long coffee maker.  Since our department consists of only three mechanics, my supervisor, and me, sometimes it gets overwhelming.  However, we do our best.  For the most part, it is an awesome, encompassing, fun, always-something-going-on kind of job.  Now, the last thing you may think of when I say job is family.  Here is a story about my “work family.”
            There are many ways to describe a family.  For example, some have an extended family while others may have a traditional or nuclear family, and more may even have a long-distance family.  Let me tell you about my “work family.”  My work family is a mirror image of my real family.  I am blessed and grateful to have a “grandpa,” a “dad,” an older “brother,” a younger “brother,” many “aunts,” “grandmas,” and “cousins.”  Like a real family, each offers different personalities, mannerisms, ways of thinking, opinions, gestures, and religions.
            Well, today was one of the lesser hectic days and my work family and I were treated to a Thanksgiving before Thanksgiving.  The Special Education bus drivers and their aides invited us to a pre-holiday dinner.  When we arrived, they welcomed us with such delightful manners and a fabulously decorated table.  Each place setting was perfect.  From the matching plates, to shiny silverware, to cloth napkins and goblets all arranged on a fine tablecloth that could impress even Martha Stewart.  Their combined efforts were evident.  So much food lay out before us that is was hard to decide what to get.  Naturally, my plate miraculously became overfull and I could not eat it all. 
            Sitting at a neatly arranged table, with a finely prepared meal, surrounded by the best people in town, was very special to me.  It was relaxing and peaceful.  We laughed, joked, stuffed our faces with great food, and enjoyed ourselves just like a real family at a holiday dinner. 
            Then I got to thinking.  Was the occasion fun only because it was a special get together, or was it because we were all Baptists?  I don’t know.  Don’t being Baptist and overeating go hand in hand?  (Wait, there may have been one or two “other” religions there, but hey, we Baptists love everyone even if they are weird!) 
            Thank you to my “work family” of Mr. Newsom, Mr. Darrell, Randy, and Dan.  Thanks to yall I look forward to coming to work and actually like my job!  For the great company and excellent food, thank you again to Ms. Jackie Cole, Ms. Sharon Chevalier, Ms. Mitsy Fuller, Ms. Shelley Songer, Ms. Lou Slaydon, and Ms. Tanga Warner.  I hope each of your holidays are filled with the same joy all of you bring to me.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My First Conference

Let me encourage anyone who has never been to a writing conference to find one and attend.  It was an awesome experience and I am so glad I went.  From meeting different people, to listening to the guests' presentations, to buying books and getting them signed, to reading all the wonderful "On the Wall" submissions, and even watching others win door prizes, my spirit was uplifted and my eyes became more opened to the business in general.  There was even a young student from Sulphur High School who attended. That must've been a big step for her.  She was delightful and asked questions.  I'm sure her writing career will go far.  I can't wait to go next year.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Don't Wait for a Birthday

We all struggle with the notion of what to get our mother’s for their birthday.  After so many presents, don’t we run out of ideas?  My mother’s birthday isn’t until December, but when I came across something on the Internet, I immediately knew it was going to be an early birthday present for Mama. 
            In August, I bought tickets for a concert in Houston, Texas, for November 6th, 2010.  Although her birthday was months away, there was something in me that said, “Don’t wait for her birthday.  Do it now!”  So, I printed out the tickets, made a homemade birthday card, (which to me is always the most special) and brought them to her four months before her birthday!
            You should have seen her face when she read the “introduction.”  It went something like this:  Since we’ll never get to Tennessee, the closest we’ll ever come is Houston to see (then she had to flip open a folded sticky note to expose the words) Mrs. Loretta Lynn.  I thought she would faint!  She was as excited as a kid at Disneyland!  She laughed, grinned, and jumped up and down with a child’s excitement.
            Last night, she and I sat on the fourth row at the Arena Theater in Houston and watched Mrs. Loretta Lynn walk down the aisle and get on stage only a few feet from us.  The entire experience was amazing.  We took turns taking pictures left and right with her digital camera.  The experience is one that will stay with me for years to come.  I not only heard the legendary Loretta Lynn sing, and at one point even spoke to someone in the crowd saying, “Thank you for coming to see me.”  I also sat right beside my mother.
            Mama and I have experienced many things together, some with wonderful excitement, others with dreadful sadness. What another magical moment that was between mother and daughter.  Even though birthdays come once a year, this experience was once in a lifetime.  The point of this story is to urge you to make your own special days whenever the opportunity presents itself, because you never know when that once in a lifetime experience will come.  I didn’t wait for the “important” calendar day!  I made my own important day, just as I made my own special birthday card.  After all, aren’t those are always the best?