Saturday, July 8, 2017

Live Event: Creative Mornings in Charlotte, NC

Before I left for Creative Mornings in Charlotte I dreamt about my older sister.

We were getting ready together in the bathroom we used to share as kids. Both of us planning to head to Charlotte on separate trips. As I descended the stairs, I noticed her bag sitting beside mine. It was one of those rack-mounted hiking gear things packed full. Mine was just a small duffle.

“Why don’t we ride together to Charlotte?” I asked her.

“Because I’m not coming back,” she said.

I haven’t spoken to my older sister in more than four years. We are estranged, to put it mildly, over some family business that others pretend never happened.

Dreaming about her is not unusual, she frequently appears in my dreams when I’m anxious or worried. Our estrangement is the biggest failure of my life.

What set this dream apart is that it preceded my drive to Charlotte for the July session of Creative Mornings, a gathering of creative professionals where one community member gives a talk on a global theme. This month’s theme was Equality and the speaker was a 19-year-old actress from Charlotte who is now touring with a Broadway show.

Her story of equality was that she was born a twin and her twin sister has Down’s Syndrome. She spoke candidly about the comparisons people made between the two of them and the ones she’d been making her whole life and how those comparisons always left her lacking in some way. They didn’t quite tell the story.

So, from my dream about my sister being on a longer journey than I to listening to a sister tell her story of equality, I felt there must be some greater order of the universe at work.

The truth is I never liked my sister very much. I loved her because she’s my sister but we could not be more opposite. There were a thousand little failures and fuck-ups that eroded my faith in her early on and I never trusted her to get anything right or do anything of value.

The truth is I never respected her enough to allow that her own opinions and ideas might be informed by her education and experience and that she had just as much right to them as I had to mine. I never respected her enough to allow that her mistakes are her own and she has every right to make them.

We are equal but we are not the same. That was the message from the “normal” twin Friday morning to a room full of creative-types in Charlotte, N.C.

We are the summation of our experiences and our hopes and our desires and our failures and the bloody cuts and missed opportunities and moments of joy and captured moments in photographs. We are all these things in our own myriad ways.

Imperfect and inimitable.
Equally able to hurt and love and dream. Out in the world as ourselves. Only ourselves.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Just Keep Writing

The best thing about submitting your work to a publication is that queasy feeling of sharing something important with strangers. 

The worst thing is a rejection email.

On the list for the 41st year is 40 submissions to literary magazines, agents, and small press publications. That means putting myself out there 40 times (at least) and the inevitable rejection that comes therewith.

Yesterday “Off the Shelf” got rejected. Again.

I can’t help but think those people who reject this story don’t have an Elf on the Shelf that fucks with their Christmas.

The story is from the elf’s point of view. Patrick Henry hates his job and is trying like hell to get the kid he’s supposed to scout to touch him so he can be ruined, shamed, and released from servitude. This story is my first Joss Whedon-hates-The Incredibles story: It’s me looking at something other people take a certain way and taking it a totally different way.

I love this story.

I love the urgency Patrick Henry has and the drama of trying to escape. I love the exposition of the list elves who act like the DMV and the way Patrick Henry sees Santa as a slave owner.

Alas, the story has been consistently rebuffed.

When I drag Hollie to swim practice every day, I tell her she’s learning things through swim team that I can’t teach her. The 41st Year list is teaching me, too. Submissions mean rejection and rejection teaches me to persevere, to revise and edit, and to keep writing.

Just keep writing.

The only way to produce good work that people read and love is to PRODUCE. I wake up in the morning and I race down stairs to write. I spend most of the day with my head in earphones and my fingers on the key board.

While I am in-between major work, I am writing my way out. Out of rejection, despair, and self-doubt, out of financial insecurity and uncertainty and failure. I am writing my way out.

Friday, May 19, 2017

You Are Loved

I know two little girls who are burying their mother today.

Well, I don’t really know them and I didn’t really know their mother, either. She was in the same group of friends as me when we lived in the Upstate. We enjoyed one another’s company and chatted in that friendly, “how ya been?” kind of way.

She’d had cancer for some time. She’d been in and out of treatment and tests always waiting for it to reoccur. Then it did and this time there was no treatment.

Our friends have rallied around that family for a long time. They’ve cooked meals and cared for the girls and given spa days and date nights and dinner parties to show that family just how loved they are. Charlie and I have been absent for five years but I keep up with that crowd through Facebook. It’s been over a year since I last saw Joyce.

This morning I’m wondering about her girls. I know people will say, “thank God she isn’t sick anymore,” and I wonder if those girls will agree. I know people will say, “she loved you both,” and I wonder if they’ll believe it.

I wonder what I’d want people to say to Hollie at my funeral. Especially if I left her now, before she’s become a woman, before high school has tested her and some boy has broken her heart. I wonder what people should tell her when they know she won’t have her mom to help her get dressed for her wedding or get ready for a new baby.

I think I’d like for her to hear this:

I loved you before I even knew you were coming. I loved you because I loved your daddy and being his wife made me proud. Sharing you with him has been the greatest joy of my life. I loved you when you were helpless and needy and waking me up in the middle of the night. When you didn’t have the words to explain what you wanted and you tantrummed and screamed and misbehaved. There were moments when I got so angry with you that I had to walk away. It’s called justifiable rage and you’ve felt it, too. I walked away because I loved you. I loved you when you made silly jokes and when your laughter hit that spontaneous note, the one I imagined bursting into bubbles and fairies and dandelion seeds on the breeze. I loved you when you sang and danced along with whatever you were watching on TV. I loved you in costumes and pajamas and dressed up for the daddy-daughter dance. I loved you when you said you wanted to be a writer and an entrepreneur and when you asked if that would leave time for also being a rock star. I loved you playing cards and eating chicken nuggets at Beef O’Brady’s and riding in the front seat of Brandi on the way to school. For every minute of my life I’ve loved you and that love has changed me. It’s made me a better person. It’s made me want to be a better person. It’s made me want so many things. And I want to be here with you. Forever. But I can’t be. And that’s got to be okay. You’ve got to be okay. No amount of time with you would ever be enough. So the time I was granted, that has to be okay.

The most important things my Hollie needs to know I wouldn’t be around to teach her. I’d depend on the people in her life to remind her of them. Here they are so you’ll all know what I want her to hear every single day:
  1. You are loved.
  2. You are exactly who you’re supposed to be and you are wonderful.
  3. Be yourself. Always.
  4. Have ambition. Let it lead you, let it motivate you, but don’t let it consume you.
  5. Love wastefully. You’ll never run out and the hurt is always worth it.

When I think of those girls knowing these were the last few months they would have with Joyce, I imagine them snuggling with her and breathing her in. The way all of us moms hold our babies tight and breathe them in.

No amount of time is ever enough. But it’s what we get. I have resolved to be grateful for it and to make the most of it. That’s the only thing I can do for Joyce now and the lesson I’m so glad she taught me. 

Thank you, Joyce. Rest in peace, sweet lady. You will be missed.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Ambition and a visit to the South Carolina State House

Somewhere in my past, ambition became a dirty word. I kept it inside of me like a stain I tried to hide. It is the secret I pretend I do not harbor, despite its persistence and resilience within me. This week, however, I let it show.

My first trip to the South Carolina State House was on Equal Pay Day. A local advocacy group, the Women’s Resource and Empowerment Network (WREN) held their first annual summit and I attended. The conference centered around a study on women in the workforce that WREN had sponsored at the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business.

The three categories of findings were the gender pay gap, labor force participation, and the distribution of employment. The study found that a 22% pay gap persists in S.C. despite our women being, on average, more highly educated than our men. How can our ambition be so widely disregarded and our abilities be so undervalued?

Ambition manifests in action and my actions have been rather modest.

The snort of disapproval my doctorate has received, the dismissal of my fiction work as a hobby, the intentional misunderstanding of what it is my company does; I let these offenses slide. Then there are the specific phrases that hang on me like graffiti on a storefront. Phrases that remind me how difficult it is to be a writer, how inevitable it is that I’ll fail, how many businesses never make any money, and how na├»ve it is to still have dreams.

Phrases that are not my own insecurities, but the failures and doubts of others being projected upon me.

I stood in the State House and asked myself, “What right have I to be here? Am I doing good work? Can I do more? When will I?”

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Not Exactly Barefoot in the Park

We walked the 12 blocks to Central Park on Thursday morning. It was crazy cold.

On the list, visit 40 new places is one of the most challenging items. While it's easy enough to rack up restaurants, bars, and stores especially when traveling, I'm not really in this for the check list.

So from the NYC trip, I'm adding just Central Park as "new places." Hey, I've got a whole year to get 39 more. I also visited the Richard Rogers theatre and bought some Hamilton swag from the Hamilton store. We ate in three different restaurants and hit four bars. I even had one of those 2 a.m. skin-flap pizza wedges folded in half for eating.

I've been to NYC three times, twice in the last six months. I don't think I'll ever get enough of the city. It has its own pulse.

While I don't think I'd like to live there -- it's way crowded -- I do enjoy feeling at home there. Whether it's the East Village with my friend Carrie or Midtown with my sister, NYC and me are cool. Or I like to think we are.

On Friday, I ventured out to cold call on some potential customers. I took the wrong train from Midtown to Downtown, got turned around in Tribecca, and walked about 50 unnecessary blocks in the pouring rain. Another train, another wrong stop, another train, and walking in the wrong direction, two blocks past where I need to be, one street over. More rain.

All that misdirection and I ended up back at the hotel an hour behind schedule. I left for LaGuardia at 1:15 for a flight meant to board at 2:15. I raced through the TSA Pre-Check line and down the terminal, barely making the flight. Damp, cold, and hungry. By the time I landed in Charlotte, I felt like NYC had kicked my ass.

A good night's sleep later and I forgive the city for showing me who's boss. Respect, New York, respect. See ya again soon.