Saturday, November 27, 2010

Achieving More Than Mediocrity

            I read a lot of books.  While I read, I need noise, so I usually turn on the TV.  I don’t really watch or even listen.  I just need the company, especially when I’m alone.  During the long Thanksgiving holiday, I was rooting around the TV for something to keep me company while I read another Greg Iles book, Footprints of God.  Nothing looked very interesting, so I selected a documentary on Capitalism by Michael Moore and settled in to read.  I peeked up to see what was happening and was pulled into the scene.
            Three older men and a younger woman, all white, were video taping themselves as seven police cars approached their modest home and proceeded to bash their door in and forcibly remove them.  Then it cut to another scene where a black man and woman protested while a stranger boarded up their modest home.  In both cases, the evicted homeowners railed at the invaders, screaming that they had no right, that they had no heart. 
            I realized that in both cases, the homeowners had fallen behind in their mortgage payments and the banks were foreclosing.  While I felt badly for them, it kind of pissed me off, too, because it symbolized everything that is wrong with our country.  Too many Americans want something for nothing.  Too many feel entitled.  I wondered why this could be so.  Why did they think they should be granted a home for which they refuse to pay?  Quite simply put, it’s all a case of trying to keep up with the Joneses.  Because they want to appear to be successful.  Because they place their own value on what they possess.
            Now Michael Moore wants us all to believe that these poor people were the victims of corporate greed, which I do not disagree with entirely.  I know that the banks were not forthright in disclosing everything they should have, that they granted loans to those who had no place expecting one, but these people wanted to have a something which they could not afford, yet felt entitled to, nonetheless.  I won’t go into the Democrats creed about how they believe every American deserves a home of their own or how the Republicans, in their own best interest, refused to regulate the industry.  What I will say is this:  regardless of the ignorance of the potential home buyers, they went into a situation that was too good to be true and they knew it. 
Saying that the banks didn’t disclose the details of how an adjustable rate mortgage works does not release the buyer from responsibility.  They should have researched the situation themselves.  They should have realized that the rates could and would, most likely, go up, as would their payments.  If they couldn’t afford those payments under the most difficult of situations, then they never should have proceeded.  Ignorance is not an excuse.  Either is a lack of education.  My own husband lacks a formal education, but he always feels the need to educate himself on the risks of each loan we apply for and proceeds accordingly. 
            So why would these people put themselves and their futures at risk like this?  Because they want what they want.  End of story.  They wanted what they thought they were entitled to, regardless of their ability to pay.  Why?  Well, I put a lot of the blame on how American’s perceive themselves through the eyes of others.  Americans watch too much reality TV and put too much value on what they see there, especially when it comes to sports figures. 
These figures, often young men from poor backgrounds and broken homes, feel they can afford to buy anything they want and they do, in excess, to show how well they are doing, how far they have come in life.  It’s a bit irresponsible, yes, but it’s their life and they can live it how they want.  They’ve worked hard to get there.  What makes it so bad is the TV producer who records bits and pieces of their lives, edits then presents it as reality.  That is so far from reality as to be laughable.   
            Those athletes or celebrities have managed to turn a skill into gold.  It is a rarity that many aspire to, for sure, which is not a bad thing in and of itself.  Ambition is good.  It inspires us to try harder, to achieve a life greater than we have ever known.  But it also means hard work.  It means educating yourself or seeking some kind of training or working diligently to sharpen an already special skill.  It’s not something for nothing.
This is where I have a problem.  Americans, once the hardest working people on the face of the earth, have become lazy.  They no longer feel the need to work for what they want.  They feel entitled to whatever they see on TV or in the movies or on whatever gadget is relevant in that moment.   
            Parents these days spoil their children into thinking they are uniquely special, that they should expect everything they want, but they often don’t teach their kids how to achieve it.  They hear their kids screaming or throwing a tantrum and, in their need to calm the kid down and ease their own guilt at working too much and not being there enough, throw some new toy or electronic babysitting device at their kid and call it a day.  They are not doing their kid any favor by giving them everything they want.  And they are certainly handicapping them, and in the long run, the country, by taking the easy way out and handing over what the kid is demanding because they are too tired or unable to cope.
            What is that kid going to do when its time for college or time to start their career or provide for their own families?  They will have no real idea how to cope with real reality, real disappointment, real misfortune.  They will run back to mommy and daddy and demand another handout because that’s what’s always worked for them before.  It’s no wonder the rest of the world is passing us by, why they see us as spoiled, entitled bigots.  We simply do not aspire to anything more than what we can buy, for what will present us in the best light to our friends, family and neighbors. 
            Now, I’ve known both poverty and wealth, not that I’ve experienced either at its most extreme, but moderate versions, for sure.  I’m in a down cycle right now, and have been for over three years, with my business collapsing and all my clients shutting their doors, but I’ve adjusted.  I never buy clothes or take vacations or make unnecessary purchases.  In one week, I’ve had to buy snow tires and a new fridge and it’s killed me to spend that money with Christmas around the corner.  But they were necessary and I will adjust to accommodate them by giving something else up. 
Luxury for me is taking one day in Portland to see a basketball game or going out to eat Mexican food once every other month.  Those little luxuries help me cope.  I’ll never live outside what I can afford because it means I will have to give up my son’s college education or my retirement.  Instant gratification and seeking the adulation of those around me means my life will be that much more difficult later on, when all those who I try to impress will be long gone and better forgotten.  Yeah, live for today, but plan for the future, as well.
I realize many people will not agree with me and I certainly am not looking for a fight, but I do want people to be responsible for themselves, to think for themselves, to be original and have ambition to achieve something.  Don’t fall back on the tried and true.  Push yourself.  Dream big.  Work hard and long to achieve it, but know the future lies in the children and if we do not set them up for success by allowing them to fail or be disappointed, then we are all doomed.  Teach them that the world is what we make it and can be what we dream it to be, but we need to have a realistic, attainable dream to begin with.  And the only way to get there is with hard work that is not always going to be successful, but with each failure, we learn a better way.  Know your limitations, but push against them…AND STOP WATCHNG REALITY TELEVISION!                                 
(This was originally supposed to be a blog about how we’ve become complacent and accept mediocrity, or worse, as the norm, as exemplified on reality TV.  I wanted to say how our skewed vision of reality has crippled our ability to be original.  Those thoughts are expressed in here somewhere.  I think you will just have to work a little harder to find it…sorry…not!)           

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Having Faith

As some of you might already know, I’ve been having trouble of late, and by that I mean in the last four or five months.  I’ve been edgy and moody, unlike my usual self which is chipper and forever optimistic.  I’m not really sure of the reason why, but I suspect it has something to do with writing.  Now I’ve read about how moody and introspective many writers are and I’ve just been chalking this all up to that, but how can an errant desire to write, something I’ve never experienced before, all of the sudden throw me into an emotional tailspin?  It seems a bit of a stretch to me, but there haven’t really been any other changes in my life this year besides the writing so what else could it be? 
When I get into a serious funk, which seems to happen every few weeks or so, I bear down and keep reality in mind, after all, there’s nothing really wrong with me, just my flaky brain trying to pull one over on me.  I’m healthy, as is my family, including my dogs.  I have a roof over my head, a lovely one, too, which is not in danger of being lost in the mess that is the US economy and has, in fact, retained a strong value.  I have a running car, a really nice one, in fact.  My husband is gainfully employed and earns enough that I don’t have to work, though I wish I did.  My last client, however, just closed up shop this week, putting a final nail in the coffin that is my design company of the last fourteen years.  But I haven’t really worked much in the last three years anyway, so why should that make much of a difference?  
Even still, I have a difficult time holding onto that reality sometimes.  So what I’ve come to rely on more than anything else is faith.  Now I don’t mean spiritual faith.  That’s a given.  I have such a strong, unyielding faith in God.  It never wavers.  And I mean never.  If I let it waver even for even a moment, I would be crushed.
The faith I’m talking about is the one I have in myself.  I suppose that faith has wavered a great deal of late.  I had a strong, thriving business and earned a good reputation.  Now that it’s more or less gone, I’m not sure how to identify or define myself.  And I don’t really know what to do with myself.  My husband told me last night that I don’t have to work.  How generous is that?  He worries about money constantly, but he tells me not to sweat it.  What a fabulous guy, my greatest blessing.  So without the work and business to keep me going, I’ve turned to my writing, but what does that mean if nobody reads it?
I’m a hair’s breadth away from putting the very final finishing touches on my novel and start the querying process in earnest.  THAT scares the hell out of me!   Why?  Well for a couple of reasons.  First, what am I going to do everyday if I’m not working on my novel?  I do have a cool idea for a new one, but the thought of starting from scratch scares me.  I don’t think the second time around will be the same as the first.  When I got the idea for my first novel, The Mistaken, I just poured out of me in some weird, surreal experience I cannot even describe.  It was like I was possessed by someone else.  All the plot twists and characters just worked themselves out in one endless stream of thought.  I don’t know where in the hell it even came from.  Could I ever expect that to happen again?  I doubt it, but I do know how to write well this time, from the very start.
Second and most importantly, from everything I’ve ever heard or read, the querying process is an endless road of waiting and rejection.  The thought of it makes me want to puke.  From what I can tell, most writers never find an agent and therefore never get published.  You can’t imagine how discouraging that is when I haven’t even really started yet.  To make it all worse, so many literary agents are dropping out of the race because the publishing business is so demoralizing.  With book sales doing so poorly, publishers only seem to want to sign well known celebrities who have experienced their tantalizing fifteen minutes so that they can cash in on it.  But what about the storytellers?  And fresh ones, at that?  Are the e-readers destroying one of the oldest businesses on earth?  Although I would like to make some money being a writer, it’s more about having people read and enjoy my work than anything else.  
I can’t help but think this experience of writing my first novel means something, like someone else, some being greater than me, uh, that would be God, is somehow pulling the strings and has sent me on this path for a reason.  I’m trying to have faith in that and let it unfold as it was meant to.  Why else would something like this have happened to me?  I mean, I’ve always been a spiritual person, but it is ridiculous how out of body and surreal this has all been.  All can do is have faith that this is meant to happen, that I was meant to write this book, that I was meant to struggle with my demons and push forth and not give up until I find an agent, and hopefully a publisher, too.  It has to have meant something.  This must be the new way in which I define myself.

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FYI:  On the right side of my blog you will see "Pages".  Click on "The Mistaken" and you can read through chapter 17 (out of 49) of my book.  I'd love to know what you think.

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's a Sad Day for Me

When I started writing last spring, I began researching all the standards for submitting a manuscript and querying for an agent.  There's a great deal of information out there in the blogosphere and elsewhere on the Internet, but the best source I found, by far, was Nathan Bransford's blog.  He worked for Curtis Brown out of San Francisco.  He blogged about everything you could ever think of in regards to writing, querying and publishing and was probably the most sought after agent out there, the most popular at the very least.  

He always seemed so approachable and made the formidable goal of getting published somehow seem attainable.  I read his postings every day, searched back into all his old archives, read all the forums and followed him on Facebook.  I was thrilled for him when he got his own book deal.  His blog is kind of like home base for wannabe authors.  
Well today, those of us who consider Nathan to be a sort of god in the literary world we so greatly aspire to be a part of received just about the worst news possible, second only to him kicking the bucket.  Nathan has quit his job as literary agent to join CNET.  My first response was to lay my head down and cry my eyes out.  
Last night, after all these longs months of writing, editing and critiquing, I finally reached that point where I thought "I'm done!  I'm ready to move on and start querying agents." And Nathan would have been numero uno on my long list.  Actually, I did send five queries out last summer when I first finished and thought I was ready.  I did send Nathan a query, but received no response, which was strange because Nathan always responds to queries.  It's one of the reasons we love him.  
Of course, I regretted sending him that query because I realized a few days later that I was not actually ready.  So I was pumped to see a posting from Nathan informing those of us who had sent in queries within a small window of time that his server had been down and we should resend our queries.  I thought it was serendipitous that I was included in that group because I could query Nathan again when I was ready.  Which is now.  Only today I hear he's left the business!  UGH!  Talk about bad timing!
I know, I know, there are hundreds of other agents out there and the chance that Nathan would have picked me were minuscule, at best, but I was actually looking forward to that rejection letter since he is well known for personalizing his rejections and giving great feedback.  So at least I would know how to revise my query.  But no, he's gone and I feel abandoned.  I do have other agents whose blogs I follow, but there is simply no one out there quite like Nathan Bransford.  I am going to miss him so much.
And it's pretty bad timing, too.  During all these months, I've become very attached to the characters in my book.  They are like family to me.  I could have a love affair with my male protagonist, he's so yummy, though in a flawed, sad kind of way.  I'm finding it extremely difficult to be away from their world, even though it's scary and tragic.  I feel like I've lost them and Nathan in one fell swoop.  It's depressing in a schizophrenic kind of way.  Those four other heads I carried around on my shoulders for the last eight months are gone and the one person I looked most forward to sharing them with is gone, too.  It is a very sad day for...very sad indeed.  

Goodbye friends...I miss you all already (sniff, sniff).    

FYI:  On the right side of my blog you will see "Pages".  Click on "The Mistaken" and you can read chapters 1-18 (out of 50) of my book.  I'd love to know what you think.