The Dream of Being a Writer

“Everyone thinks they’re a photographer just like everyone thinks they’re a writer.” My coworker said this to me casually as we exited the conference room at the conclusion of our project meeting.  I nodded to her with a knowing smile of agreement on my face. As soon as we parted ways, however, my face fell as I acknowledged the sinking feeling in my stomach. Her statement bothered me. I felt disappointed for some reason. Why?

What defines people as writers (or photographers or any other label for that matter)? Do they have to be published? What about the people who spend countless hours laboring over writing projects only to never publish anything?  Are they officially considered to be writers, and who decides? These are just a few questions that manifested in my mind as I returned to my desk at work.

I do not think of myself as an “official” writer. I do not refer to myself as much to others or in my own mind. To me a writer is someone who pursues the art relentlessly and formally as a profession or as a means of livelihood. A writer to me is someone who feels compelled by an unseen force to put pen to paper and release the perfect words like a waterfall. I write as a hobby. I write because I enjoy it. I have been doing so since I was a little kid just learning to write her letters and mix them together to form words and meaning.

So why did my coworker’s statement bother me?

At a small company holiday party some years ago, we kicked off the festivities with an ice-breaker question: What is your dream job? There were some fantastic and surprising answers, such as a ship captain and a concert pianist. My answer was a writer, historical fiction to be exact, although the genre is mostly irrelevant when it comes to this dream.

I have thought about being a writer in accordance with my own definition of such for years, for as long as I can remember. I have never given it a real shot. I have not tried to write about the hard things but only focus on what comes easy to me. When I go to the bookstore and wander the endless rows of books, half of me feels inspired to know that so many people have become true writers because it makes me think maybe I’d stand a chance if I gave it a real shot. The other half of me is disheartened by how many writers there already are. There isn’t enough room for everyone.

Dreaming of being something reinforces the belief that I’m not that thing already. Sometimes a dream becomes a crutch. We dream of something for so long that we become the dreamer and accept the identity rather than attempting to become the thing in the dream. We find comfort in the certainty of the dream and grow too afraid to confront it and to try to make it reality. What if we try and fail? Then we have no dream to fall back on but instead have to face a harsh and brutal truth. In our dream we imagine whatever we want.

My coworker’s statement bothered me because it reminded me of my dream. It reminded me of the thing that I’m not. I cannot even feign blissful ignorance and be one of those people who identifies as a writer simply because I have a blog or because I write copy for corporate communications. My definition of what it means to be a writer prevents that. I’m too honest with myself to be one of the people to whom my coworker referred.

I do not think I am a writer. I know I am not. But perhaps I could be.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

We have beliefs about ourselves to which we hold on tightly. We build a sense of identity around them as if they are truths set in stone. We tell ourselves stories that support our identity and behave in ways that support what we believe to be true, even if that truth is a dark one.

After high school I left home, embarking on a new journey. Many of my friends did the same, scattering to new places all over the country. The path my friend P took however could not have been more opposite from mine. While freedom and possibilities stretched out before me as I started college, P faced five years of imprisonment in the state penitentiary.

P grew up without much parental guidance. His father was often absent from his life. His mother struggled to make ends meet and to care for P’s much younger sisters. P helped his family out by stealing and selling drugs. He dropped out of school at an early age, opting for a street education instead. His lawless activities gradually escalated in nature, as did his mentality. It shaped who he was, who he believed himself to be.

P was a good and loyal friend, and he had a big heart.  While he was in prison, we corresponded through written letters. He always decorated the envelopes with intricate drawings, often of flowers intertwined together by vines of sharp leaves and thorns. I got one every couple of weeks and wrote him back almost immediately. His stories about life on the inside were minimal, but the darkness and hardness of the place emanated from all of the things he didn’t say.

More importantly though, were our philosophical discussions about human nature and being positive and optimistic. P’s life in prison was exposing him to time and experiences that made him seriously question who he was and who he wanted to become. In every letter I wrote, I poured out an immense bounty of positive messages, energy, and encouragement. I wanted desperately for him to change for the better, to emerge from prison with the intention and the willpower to turn his life in a positive direction, and I knew he wanted that, too.

His letters indicated that he was hearing me, taking our conversations to heart. But then he sent me a letter that woke me to the truth. P got a tattoo while in prison. It was of a demon, and it covered his entire chest. When P looked in the mirror every day, he saw his own face, and then he saw the face of the demon, reinforcing what he believed to be true about himself – that he was a bad person.

Sometimes we believe something to be true about ourselves for so long that it feels too hard to test that certainty and see if our belief is still true. It’s easier to simply go on believing and existing in the reality we have constructed for ourselves in our own minds. I could not change P with a handful of letters. I could not unravel the story he had been telling himself for most of his life. Only he could change that story.

The news of P’s tattoo broke my heart. I felt like I had lost him. I continued my letters of positivity and encouragement, however. Once he was released from prison, he never went back. I’m glad for that, but his internal struggle didn’t end there. After he was out, we talked regularly about his questionable ethics and morality evident by the choices he had made and was still making. Eventually it became too much for me, and as I pushed to keep that darkness out of my life, our friendship faded away.

What are the things about yourself that you “know” to be true? Ask yourself why you believe these things and question their validity. We should always be questioning ourselves and the truths we hold so close. After all, we are the ones that constructed them.

We decide what defines us and what we see when we look in the mirror every day. Some of us see a demon, like P did, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We decide our truths, the things that define who we are, and we can decide to change them. We can change the stories we tell ourselves and be better.

Trying to Judge Not

I judge others, sometimes quickly and harshly. As my time and experiences in this world have expanded, my cynicism towards and judgment of others have as well. I realized recently that my judgment and the anger and frustration I sometimes feel as a result was holding me back and hindering me from being the person I needed to be, and I had to let it go to move forward.

A couple of weeks ago I stood in the kitchen, my arms crossed with a scowl on my face, in full judgment mode. I was irritated and trying to wrap my head around the situation K was presenting to me. Our friends had decided to give up their dog Juno after five years, and they planned to take her to the shelter, simply because she had become an inconvenience.

IMG_0708This dog is timid, quiet, mild-mannered, well behaved, listens, is house trained, and gets along with anyone. She is a dream dog! Her shy personality in conjunction with her age and large size would work against her in the shelter, not to mention her physical characteristics indicate that she is likely a mix of multiple breeds associated with aggressive behavior. There was no way we could sleep at night while this sweet dog sat in a cold, dark cage cowering at the shelter, alone and heartbroken.

So I was angry. I was angry that someone would do this, that people I know would do this. I was angry that they could so easily shirk their responsibilities and cast their dog aside without any accountability. I was angry when I learned that the dog was flea-infested and hadn’t been to the vet in years. I was angry that they were making their problem our problem. We already have three dogs of our own!

But this was the reality of the situation. I had to move on from my judgment and anger in order to show feelings of love and acceptance when K picked up the dog and brought her to our house. Dogs are sensitive to human feelings and behavior. The last thing this dog needed was to feel like she is just another problem. I wanted her to feel safe and comfortable and welcome. I also did not want this situation to drive a permanent wedge between our friends and us. I realized that my judgmental attitude had left no room for empathy, and as hard as it was, I tried to see the situation from the other side in an effort to be more understanding and forgiving.

Many people are not responsible pet owners. I have had my own learning experiences as IMG_0744a pet owner and I understand the challenges. Many people do not form bonds with their pets the way others do, the way I do. This doesn’t make them bad people.

The lifestyle of our friends is very different from my own and is one to which I cannot relate. Much has changed for them over the past five years, many of those changes leading to added stress and overwhelming obstacles and obligations that I know would be difficult for anyone. I would like to think that I would continue to care for and nurture my dogs no matter what happens in my life, but I suppose I cannot be sure until something truly challenges that value. I hope something like that never happens.

Despite my disagreement with their overall care of Juno, our friends did call K and I before opting for the shelter, and we are grateful for that. We have had Juno for just over a week now. She is still adjusting, but she plays with our other dogs and likes to run around the yard. I think she’s homesick and maybe a little sad, but we try to mitigate that will lots of love and attention, and of course, treats.

K and I are thankful that we have the means to provide a home for Juno to keep her out of the shelter. We hope to find her a new home soon where she can live out the rest of her years with a loving family who will love and cherish her. In the meantime this is her home, and we dote on her as much as we can.

I know that I make mistakes. We all do. We all face situations in our lives that are hard and in which we make less than ideal decisions. We can judge each other for our actions, but those judgments reflect back on us as well, often in the form of anger and frustration. Letting go of those feelings allowed me to move past my judgment, keep my friendship intact, and focus on the more important tasks of making a positive difference, showing kindness, and providing a home for Juno.

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Getting Past a Rough Start

Do you ever wish you had a rewind button? Do you ever wish you could simply go back to the beginning of your day, to the moment you first opened your eyes, and start over? In the absence of a magical button, I recently faced this dilemma and I realized something: wishing only makes it harder.

Last week I had one of those mornings. Mondays are notoriously hard, but Sunday night I felt prepared to start my week and fell asleep without any concerns. Suddenly, my alarm clock was going off all too soon! I barely remembered silencing it before I fell back asleep, only to have hear my husband’s alarm go off a short time later. Already I was running late.

As I pulled myself out of bed, I went through the routine of my morning in my head and silently cursed myself for oversleeping. It was going to cost me. I was not going to have enough time to do everything I needed to do. Or was I? I tried to pick up the pace but eventually found myself standing in the living room immobilized. I was dressed for my morning workout, but it dawned on me that I didn’t have the time nor the focus to workout at that point given how much I was fretting. In that moment, I felt a wave of regret.

My morning workout is what really wakes me up. It’s the source of my energy that fuels me and rockets me through the day, at least until lunchtime. It’s what gives me the endorphin boost I need to keep moving. Not having the time to workout immediately put me in a sour mood. I thought about how the morning and possibly the rest of the day was shot. I immediately wished I could start over, and the fact that I couldn’t made me feel frustrated and trapped and then angry.

While anger may be helpful in some situations, it was not helpful to me in that moment as I locked myself in a pessimistic mindset. It started to overflow into my attitude towards my husband and the day’s outlook as my irritation escalated. I didn’t want to feel angry at the very start of my day and my week, especially over something so ludicrous! So why be angry then? I asked myself that question, and then I decided to let go.

Rather than holding on to my irritation at myself and at the day for already not turning out the way I had planned, I decided to let go and give myself a break. Rather than being angry, I decided to take it easy on myself and take my time through the rest of the day. There were no lives at stake. There was no reason to foster such negative thoughts and emotions. So I just let it go. I stopped making such a big deal out of it, and in that moment, I felt free and relaxed.

Yes, I still wished that my morning had gone more smoothly, but turning my thoughts around towards positive acceptance set the tone for the rest of my day. At work, my team meeting started with friction and a misunderstanding, but again I decided not to let the frustration and the wish that I had conducted the situation differently affect my overall attitude and the rest of my day. I made note of the experience, what I’d do differently next time, and then moved forward. After all, that’s the only direction we can go. We might as well go with intention.

When things aren’t going our way, we can wallow in pity and frustration that there is no magical rewind button, or we can accept the situation and move consciously though it, perhaps even learning something along the way or resolving a way to avoid similar situations in the future. We can sink into the negativity and let it define us, or we can recognize it, see it for what it is, and just roll our eyes at the setback as we move on. Accepting and even embracing a rough start to the day or a rough day as a whole is the best way for us to take control and move on with our lives in the most positive way.

Book Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

“A fast didn’t go fast; it was the slowest thing there was. Fast meant a door shut fast, firmly. A fastness, a fortress. To fast was to hold fast to emptiness, to say no and no and no again.”

4.5 out of 5 stars 

TheWonderAn English nurse, Lib, travels to a small town in Ireland for a two-week job. She learns up on arrival that she was not hired to be a caretaker but to simply be an observer of an 11-year old girl, Anna. Anna’s family claims that Anna has not eaten for four months and is instead sustained by divine will or influence. The Catholic priest and a local committee have sanctioned a 24-hour watch to find out the truth. Lib is confident that she will discover evidence of a hoax before the end of the two weeks, but she soon realizes once the watch begins that this puzzle is more difficult to solve that she anticipated.

I devoured this book. It was so intriguing that I struggled to step away from it even for a little bit as I wanted to keep pushing through the story to get to the bottom of the mystery. When I first started reading it I thought I was going to get bored. I mean, how complex could this story really get? I never got bored. It is a mystery that kept unraveling, and when I thought the protagonist had figured most of it out, the story would unravel even more and lead to more questions. I found myself asking questions alongside of Lib’s inner dialogue as she worked through all the possibilities and tried to consider all the angles.

The Irish history and landscape painted a vivid backdrop, and the insight into Irish Catholicism and the culture of the time made the story even more intriguing. I felt emotionally invested in Anna’s situation and felt anxious about the actions or lack thereof from all the adults around her. I gasped aloud in frustration more than once and felt genuinely concerned about how this story was going to end. The book also made me very hungry. 🙂

 

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

“Hope is a powerful thing. Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether. Elusive, difficult to hold on to. But not much is needed.” 

Caraval is a wonderous place of magic. Scarlett has always dreamed of going, but her Caravalcruel father will never allow it. When she receives tickets to Caraval as a gift from the infamous Caraval Master Legend himself, Scarlett and her sister Tella run away to attend the show with the help of a handsome sailor. Shortly after their arrival however, Legend kidnaps Tella, and Scarlett soon learns that Tella’s disappearance is part of the Caraval game, and whoever finds her first wins. With the help of the mysterious sailor and other characters of intrigue along the way, Scarlett embarks on a dangerous adventure into the heart of Caraval to find and save her sister.

I am not a big fan of young adult novels (yet I somehow keep reading them), so my expectations of this book were somewhat low simply based on the genre, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I really enjoyed this reading experience. Yes, the protagonist is frustrating in her naïveté at times, but I understand that’s part of her figuring things out and growing as a person in the YA experience. Despite that, I loved this book and could not put it down! It is captivating and imaginative and kept me wondering and guessing at every twist and turn as to what would happen next.

Marketers have heavily compared this book to Night Circus, and there is a little bit of truth in that, mostly in the sense that there is magic and mystery and secrets. There are also complicated relationships, both romantic and familial, but the premise is not so much a competition between star-crossed lovers but rather a race against time for a girl to find her sister as part of an elaborate game.

The descriptions in this book of the many sights, sounds, and characters conjured fantastical images in my mind. I loved imagining all of the costumes and dresses specifically. The story is visually very interesting, and I can easily see this book made into a movie.

The story is magical, creative, dark, and even a little racy via the dark allure of some characters and some passionate romantic scenes as well. There are endless twists and turns that play out in a magical world so you can never be sure what is real and what is true. It is a fun and exciting read that kept me guessing and wondering to the very end.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Book Review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

“We wear clothes, and speak, and create civilizations, and believe we are more than wolves. But inside us there is a word we cannot pronounce and that is who we are.” 

The setting is war-torn Chechnya in 2004. Explosions and disappearances are a way of life. After watching the Russian feds arrest his friend and set his house on fire, Akhmed is relieved to find his friend’s 8-year old daughter Havaa hiding in the woods and knows he must take her to a safe place. Sonya, a talented and overworked surgeon who is Constellationhaunted by the disappearance of her sister, agrees to take in Havaa in exchange for Akhmed’s help at the hospital. Meanwhile, someone is still looking for Havaa.

The heart of the plot takes place over only 5 days, but the whole story unfolds through various character perspectives and flashbacks throughout the previous ten years. At first the setting distracted me from everything else. I knew next to nothing about the Chechen wars and paused in between chapters to do some research and get a better understanding of the history. I was shocked to learn how much of the historical context of the novel is true, but it helped me grasp what the characters were facing and trying to endure.

The book gracefully dives head first into the strength and resilience that people are capable of when duty and dignity calls for it while highlighting the lasting effects of traumatic experience.  The story comes full circle, intertwining together the fates of the characters, materializing meaning in unexpected ways. While there is some hopeful resolution, there also remains a sense of emptiness and loss, which solidifies the book’s powerful impact.

In this book war is life. It’s a haunting story that transported me to a place I’m thankful I’ve never actually been, but it’s important to have exposure to perspectives and experiences different from your own to see what the world for others can be like. This book provided that for me, and it still left me hopeful.

4.5 out of 5 stars