The Critique

Today I had planned for a post on short chapters and how I really prefer them. I sent it to the Editor like I do almost every other post and after reading it. She basically thought it was a pretty drab, weak read.

This sounds really harsh, and to be fair she was very gentle in her presentation which I appreciate. But, honestly, this was the best critique she has probably ever given me.  Because after re-reading it, she was right. It wasn’t my best. It wasn’t even very good.  This made me really happy for two reasons.

Firstly, I’ve always been concerned that the critiques I receive have been too nice so as not to hurt my feelings, and I totally get it.  I have the stereotypical writers’ sensitivity. But this honest critique made me know that I’m getting truthful opinions and that’s what I really want. They may be hard to hear, but I need them.

Secondly, and even more importantly, how am I ever going to get better if I’m constantly babied?  I want to get paid for my writing someday. If everybody reviewing my work tells me my writing is better than it really is, I’ll never achieve my dreams.

Thus, I will take this crappy post on short chapters and re-work it. And hopefully form it into something that I can feel confident about when I put it out there for the world to read.

Writing is a learning process, and today I learned that I have an awesome editor, a thicker skin than I used to, and the opportunity to do better.

Happy writing!

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First Anniversary

Holy Smokes! Can you believe it? I’ve been doing this blogging thing for a year.  It’s been a whole year of reading (about 62 book in total), writing (104 posts), and learning (such as blogging is so much more than writing something and posting it).

It’s been an exciting year.  I’ve had the opportunity to read a lot of great books.  I’ve found so many wonderful blogs.  I’ve greatly enjoyed the discussions, book recommendations, blogger knowledge, etc.

I’ve grown in my writing.  I’ve gotten far more serious about it, and I believe blogging has a lot to do with that. Since I’ve started, I’ve posted two blogs per week every week. It’s made me be more dedicated to my writing and in doing so I’ve generated a lot of ideas. I’ve played with many different forms and styles.

My blog has caused me to look at writing and reading differently, but in a good way.  I’ve tuned into things I’d never noticed before. I’ve also learned to adjust my perspective on what blogging success looks like. I’ve realized my blog is a place to play and experiment. Some of those experiments will be hits and others won’t, but the only truly bad posts are the ones never written.

I’ve excited for the year to come.  I’m excited for the books and the writing and the learning. I’m excited to try new things, make new friends, discover new blogs and keep this first-year mojo going forward.

Don’t Sleep- Tap Dance

I recently finished Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes by Dan L. Everett.  It was one of those books that was thrust at me the last time I saw my grandfather-in-law. It is the story of Mr. Everett learning one of the most unique Amazonian languages. It’s a language which nobody outside of this specific tribe has ever been able to successfully learn. It was a really fascinating read. It gets a bit heady in the second half, but the overall story is gripping.

Everett spent years studying their language and culture in order to successfully communicate with them.  Naturally, there was a lot of miscommunication, misinterpretation.  He made errors.  He got laughed at. But he would try to use all of these things to learn and get better. Part of these errors came from a cultural standpoint, such as Westerners do a lot of small talk.  This is a kind of speech where we aren’t gathering much useful information.

For instance, if you need to borrow a co-worker’s stapler. Unless you know that person really well you probably aren’t going to just walk up to their cube and say, “Give me your stapler.”  You would most likely start off with at least a “hello” or “good morning,” followed by a “could I borrow your stapler for a moment?”  And then once you return it, there will be a least a “thank you,” perhaps a follow-up nicety asking them how they are doing, which social norms say that they are to reply to with “fine” or “well” whether this is true or not. An individual in polite society is to keep their troubles to themselves. Directness is considered on most accounts rude.

Other cultures don’t always operate in this manner and can have vast differences that lead to difficult and awkward situations. Everett learned that the Amazonian tribe had no mechanism for small talk.  It simply wasn’t useful.  To understand the language of a people, you need to understand the people and how they tend to operate on a day to day basis. I have found that since reading this book that this philosophy applies to other things as well.

For the past two years, I’ve been taking tap dance lessons.  While there are many specific steps to learn and master, a big part of it is improvising. Yes, it’s as terrifying as it sounds.

Like Everett, I fail a lot. To clarify, one can’t really “fail” in improv, but I do blank out on steps or get off beat. To me, this is what I classify as failing.  The first time I was a part of an improv circle I found that people would mimic other people’s steps. I saw this as copycatting or in some ways “I can do it better than you can.” I later learned that in tap improv circles mimicking is encouraged.  The concept of improv in a circle is to watch everybody and get ideas, try new things, and actually, repeating what someone else has done is a kind of compliment.

Improv circles are not a place to see who’s better than someone else, although talent does become apparent.  It is a place to learn and grow. This was a bit of a foreign concept to me having participated in competition sports and competing for the best grades in uber-academic classes in high school.

As I struggle through two songs of improv that feel like they go on forever every week in tap class, I try to think of Everett and his 20-plus years of struggling in the jungle to learn bits and pieces of a rare and baffling language along with the culture of its people.  I’ll improve through error just like Everett did to understand this new fascinating community that I’m slowly becoming a part of.

The Write E-mail

There is a writing organization in Chicago called Story Studio.  They host classes, write-ins, etc.  I’ve participated in one of their write-ins, and I attended a class.  However, I mainly just get their e-mails about updates and happenings. I see them in my inbox and think I really ought to read them, but rarely do I actually find the time or make the effort.

Was it fate? I don’t know. I can’t tell you what possessed me to read this one e-mail out of all the other e-mails I received from them, but I did.

A few weeks ago, I saw one of their e-mails come through about new classes and decided to click on it.  Their selection has really expanded over the years, and one of these new classes was on freelance writing.  Now, if you remember, one of my life goals is to get paid for my writing.  The fastest and easiest way to do this is freelance writing, which I happen to know nothing about.

I clicked on the class and discovered it was open to everyone, and I instantly signed up.  I didn’t want to have time to talk myself out of it.  Because, as anticipated, by the time I got home that evening, I had come up with 99 reasons why I should not do it and told myself I was in over my head.

However, since I know myself, I know that I won’t cancel.  I might think I’m totally goofy for signing up, but I’ve committed. I won’t back out even though a part of me thinks I should. The angst that I feel is due to the idea that I don’t belong in these classes. I feel like I’m a kid who accidentally found her way to the grown-ups table.

After some pondering, I’ve decided that I am a good writer or at the very least have the potential to be a good writer.  I’m just as deserving of a spot at the table as other people. If I don’t have a little confidence and faith in myself, why should anyone else? Particularly a prospective publisher. I need a new approach to thinking because my past ways just aren’t working. If anything, they are more harmful than helpful.

Yes, I have a great deal to learn.  It won’t be easy, but I’ve got to start somewhere and this opportunity dropped right into my lap.  I mean I haven’t looked at the class list in years, and this one random day, I did. The only way I’d be truly goofy is not to take it.

I’m not sure what to expect, and I’ll be nervous. In order to learn and grow you have to get uncomfortable and not get discouraged when things get rough. Whether that’s by trying something new, making mistakes, or asking questions even if they seem idiotic. So, here goes nothing!

A Post Involving a Book and Running 13.1 Miles for a Sweatshirt

Tomorrow I will be running my first half-marathon.  This is something I never imagined doing.  When I started running about two years ago, I did it because it was an inexpensive way to get a good cardio workout. But as with anything in life, I needed a goal in order to keep motivated.  My first goal was to complete a running podcast.  I then worked on increasing my speed. I signed up for a 10k and set a goal to run 500 miles in a calendar year.

After I accomplished these, I decided it was time to try a half. Initially, the goal was just to run a half-marathon distance.  It didn’t necessarily have to be in a race setting.  However, I saw a race with a really nice tech material sweatshirt as some of the swag, so I signed up.

Yep, I signed up to run 13.1 miles to get a sweatshirt.

I’m feeling confident about tomorrow and after reading Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard I feel really inspired. It is the story of Leonard running an ultra-marathon in the Gobi Desert where a little dog starts to follow him, and his subsequent journey to bring her home with him. The book also gives some of the high–and low–lights of ultra-marathon running. The book showed me that there’s still a lot out there for me to achieve.

I honestly don’t know if I want to run a multi-stage ultra, but I do want to do a 50-mile race in Antelope Canyon someday. I know that this is a long way off, but reading a story about perseverance on so many levels is a really great inspiration and motivator to get out there and work towards it.

This is the first book I’ve read on running, but I’m really looking forward to finding more to learn about different races, opportunities, and people’s stories of overcoming some really crazy odds to partake in these extreme runs.

Running, as I’ve discovered personally, and through other people’s stories, has a huge impact on life. Its positivity is more far reaching than just increasing personal fitness. Running helps in a mental way that I didn’t know was possible.  It trains you, and it tests you; almost more mentally than it does physically.  It helps build determination and positive-thinking.  It builds confidence and stamina.

Dion Leonard highlights all of these aspects in the book; not only in his races, but in his struggle to keep Gobi. Even Gobi herself shows these in her fight to survive.

It’s a great book; so tomorrow as I’m plodding out mile after mile, I will think of these two and how my journey across the finish-line is a piece of cake compared to their journey from China to Scotland. However, my journey is really just beginning as this is just one more step that gets me closer to my ultimate goal of taking on the canyon.

Killer Non-Fiction

I see my uncle and aunt-in-law a few times a year, and anytime we find ourselves together we swap book recommendations.  They are both retired chemistry professors and tend to read mostly non-fiction.

I love this because good non-fiction can be difficult to find. In spite of this, these two not only find interesting stories, but ones written by people who know how to write in a readable, engaging way. History and science can be riveting.  It just depends on how you package it. It doesn’t need to be dull and dry, and I do believe non-fiction is starting to take off more because we have learned this as readers and writers. Nevertheless, finding them can still be a challenge.

Last spring, we had all traveled to California to see my husband’s grandfather.  He, too, is an abundant reader, and I figured I was bound to go home with more books of the non-fiction variety. I did.

As if all my new reading assignments might not be enough, Scott’s aunt asked one afternoon if I had read Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann.  I said that I hadn’t.  She told me it was about the Osage Native Americans. I had a momentary let down.  I’m not super into Native American history or history of the western United States during pioneer days.

But she described that the book discusses the Osage reign of terror which led the FBI to become the investigative force we have today.  She had my attention again.  She said it was really well written, so I thought maybe I should give it a go.

I put it on my Christmas list and was lucky enough to get it in my annually gifted box o’ books.  When I started reading it I was shocked at how gripping the story was.  I finished it in just a few days which is quick, even for me.

It is a story with so much tragedy and yet so much intrigue.  At times it was hard to believe I was reading a non-fiction tale.  It seemed like it should have been a novel.  It is one of the few books I’ve read where I totally get the hype and I understand why it was named one of Amazon’s best books of the year for 2017.

At this point, I want to read all of Mr. Grann’s other work.  He is a remarkable writer who is actually giving my favorite non-fiction writer, Sam Kean, a run for his money. I’m eagerly awaiting my next visit with Scott’s aunt and uncle to not only tell them how much I loved their latest recommendation, but to ask about what others they have found in the meantime.

Have you read Killers of the Flower Moon? What did you think?  What non-fiction books do you recommend?

The List

Ladies and gentlemen, we are going a bit off the reservation; however, I feel that it is necessary for me to publish this.  It creates a level of commitment that I won’t necessarily experience if this stays tucked away in my journal. For today, we talk of life goals.

I read about and experience how my favorite fictional and historical characters reach their dreams and meet their goals and all the hardships that come with these journeys, but what about my own?

I was recently watching a YouTube video where this guy asks his audience, “What are your life goals?” The question startled me because my only answer was: I don’t know. I don’t really have any.

This was shocking and upsetting. I used to have life goals, and the reason I don’t now is because I reached them! That’s great news, but now what? Is this where regret and complacency set in?  Do I spend the next 50 years coasting?  I’m too young to not do more or go further, but what is the “more” and where is it?

I set yearly, monthly, and weekly goals.  These generally consist of finishing an afghan, trying a new recipe, and saving x-number of dollars.  These are not things to sneeze at.  I will be super proud of myself when I complete my half-marathon and save the $6,000 I’ve set out to save.  But these are not life goals.

When I was younger the goals were simple but big:

  • Graduate High School
  • Go to college
  • Graduate college
  • Get a job
  • Make it on my own in the big city
  • Find someone to spend the rest of my days with.

And to an outcast 16-year-old girl in the backwoods of Iowa, these were very daunting, but by the age of 28 I had accomplished them all.  I honestly accomplished them a lot sooner than I thought I would, particularly the last two. But I’ve realized that this means it’s time for a new list.

When I sat down to create this list I realized that I actually already knew what I wanted to do for life goals.  They all just required either a lot of work/learning or conquering a fear.  Putting them all on one piece of paper was exhilarating and terrifying, but absolutely necessary. Because up to this point I had been ignoring them. So here is what I’ve creatively dubbed “The List” in no order of importance:

  • Run the 50-mile ultra-marathon in Antelope Canyon
  • Run a race in a different country (the crazier the place, the better)
  • Get paid for my writing
  • Tap dance in an actual tap show
  • Have a life where waking up to an alarm is unusual or unnecessary
  • Kayak in the Mediterranean
  • Kayak in the Amazon
  • Get a tattoo
  • Learn the violin
  • Learn French (as in actually speak it)
  • Take voice lessons
  • Successfully graph a tree
  • Sell a painting
  • Travel to Morocco
  • Visit Tibet
  • Pick a vacation spot either by throwing a dart at a map or taking the next available flight at the airport
  • Drive a super car
  • Learn to drive a manual transmission
  • Go SCUBA diving
  • Hike a volcano

I can see many viewing this itemization more as a bucket list than a life goal list, but to me they are all life goals because I have to research, plan, save, learn, work, and/or conquer a fear to complete them.  For instance, simply writing down “take voice lessons” seems easy enough.  You live in Chicago.  All you have to do is find a teacher, agree on a price, and show up.  However, it’s not really that easy.

My biggest fear is singing in front of other people especially with the concept of actually trying to be on key.  I like singing but being comfortable enough to do it on my own with a stranger to get better is fucking terrifying. And learning a language well enough to have a full-blown conversation is not a small task.

So, this is my life goal list. It will evolve and change.  I will hopefully add to it and subtract from it as the years go by. While I love reading other people’s stories it’s high time I start living my own as well. I don’t want to spend my life wishing it was something else or have my only goal be to make it through to the following Friday.  I genuinely want to live my life in a way where adventure and new things are the norm not the exception.

Okay your turn, what are you life goals?