Going to the Bathroom and Other Guilty Pleasures

Last week, my son Angus came to wake me up.  It was 11:30 p.m. and he had a fever.

Then, in the curious way kids have when they are feverish, he talked to me about the most random things – while I struggled to stay conscious – for two hours.  Finally, mercifully, he drifted off to sleep.

As I crawled back into my own bed, right around 1:30, I thought to myself, Guess he’ll be staying home from school tomorrow.  Before I had time to panic, something wonderful happened:  I remembered.  And it was like forgetting it’s your birthday until the moment someone brings out your favorite cake.

I realized that I was not going to have to write sub plans.  In my recent past life, as a teacher, taking care of my sick kiddos meant an intensive amount of planning: Which parent would stay home from our teaching jobs?  Which of us would get the car?  What would my substitute teacher do?  When could I get into school to drop off sub plans?  Were there even subs available, or (as happened on multiple occasions), would my sick child have to survive in the back of my classroom on a nest of pillows and blankets?  What would I do about the carpool after school?  Etc., etc., etc.

When I woke up, rather than feeling sleep-deprived, I walked around in a haze of gratitude all morning.  I didn’t have to worry about any of that.  It was a pleasure (almost) caring for this febrile kiddo, just for the novelty of it all.  This freedom to be a more flexible mom is one of my favorite things about my new job.  I can’t believe I get to do this, I say as I pinch myself.  Every.  Single.  Day.

My other favorite thing is that I can go to the bathroom whenever I want.  If you’ve never been a teacher, or the subject of evil government experiments, you have no idea.  Teachers all have bladders like balloons that have been blown up too big too many times, and are now deflated, wrinkly, and without any elasticity whatsoever.  I am sure that, in autopsies, coroners say things like, “Well, I don’t know what killed this gal, but I bet she was a teacher!  Check this out!!!”  And then all the interns laugh as they watch water dribble out of something that resembles a mostly decomposed sandwich bag.

So, yeah, I like writing.  It, um, “fulfills me”, and all.  But I love, really and truly love, have in fact developed a deep and profound passion for, going to the bathroom the minute I have to go.

In fact, pardon me, please.  I have to go see a guy about a wallaby.

In Which the Heroine Admits She Doesn’t Know Everything Yet

In my new life as a writer, I have two challenges that I am not sure how to meet.  These are my next big obstacles to overcome.

  • I don’t know how to figure out what a market wants
  • I don’t have a writing group

For the first one, the general pattern for a writer is to 1) read several issues of a publication; 2) assess what type of writing the editors prefer; 3) submit work if and only if there is a match between the work and what the editors are publishing.

For me, this breaks down on step three, almost every time.

I do, in fact, read the publication, and almost every time, I think, “Hey!  This is something I could write!” and then I merrily submit my own work.  Turns out, I am not a very good judge of writer/publication chemistry.  I sort publications and my writing the same way I sort my socks: randomly.  Except, I think they match – it’s just everyone else who disagrees.

While “I do what I want” works when it comes to fashion, my opinion is, in fact, the least important one when it comes to getting published.  To illustrate: I recently received a very helpful rejection letter which said, “[T]he stories I accept need to be told from the child’s point of view and I look for stories where dialog tells the story instead of the author preaching the lesson.  Look at some of the stories that are posted on the web site. It will give you a better idea of what that means.”

The crazy thing is, I did look at the stories on the website, and I never once noticed they were all from the kid’s perspective, or that they used more dialogue than my story did.  How could I not have noticed this?

I know I will develop this skill over time, and I am intensely grateful to every editor who takes time to teach me – instead of being annoyed that I am not doing my research first.  I’m trying, babe, I’m trying.

As for the second piece, I know I need a writing group.  After fifteen years teaching writing, where I would sacrifice content for time spent in feedback groups, I cannot overstate the value of this for any serious writer.  In fact, this is why I am so excited to work with editors.  A friend of mine asked me how I feel when an editor asks me to make changes to my piece.

I clapped my hands.  I skipped joyfully in a circle.  “I feel encouraged!  I feel a sense of clarity and purpose!  I love it!” I shouted.  Or, something to that effect.

Most recently, editors Julianne Palumbo from Mothers Always Write and Kim Winternheimer from The Masters Review have given me such helpful feedback that I watched my writing transform from something good to something with an edge – an edge I couldn’t hone by myself.  I needed their insight, from things like, “Please strengthen the opinion here,” to “Give the reader access to your emotions” – these comments helped me see places where my writing moved too quickly over something the reader needed in order to be drawn into the piece.

But now, of course, I am hungry for more.  I have built a webpage, established a presence on LinkedIn and Facebook, have a Duotrope account; I know how to write a query and how to submit an essay, poem, or story; I write a lot and work hard to revise my work so it feels “finished”.

Now, I need the help that only a feedback group can give.  It is time for me to venture outside myself – stay tuned for this next part of my journey.[1]

[1] If you are a writer yourself and have overcome this obstacle, I’d love to hear how.

I’m Dressing up as Facebook for Halloween

Oh!  I feel as if I am emerging from the worst haunted house of all time.

You see, I’ve just been over at Facebook.  And it was scary.

For years now, I’ve been the digital version of Boo Radley[1]: I disabled my Facebook account.  I had a cell phone that couldn’t text, or search the Internet.  I used an answering machine.

But, now that I am self-employed as a writer (current salary: approximately $2/hour), I realize that social media is an important tool.  So, making sure to carry my pepper spray, I ventured onto Facebook this morning.

It was exhausting!  I love my friends and family, but I am just saying, I think I could have done very well 100 years ago, when you knew that if you moved away, that was pretty much it.  Goodbye, Mom; Goodbye, Dad.  I’ll see you in heaven and all that.  I once read a Dave Barry essay, where he likened Facebook to mailing out hundreds of postcards, every day, with messages like, “Peach Cobbler!  Yum!”

I feel that, you know?

So, please pray for me.  I need to harness its mighty power for good, and not for evil.  And, if you notice something wrong on my Facebook page, feel free to message me.

(Or not.  I have all the notifications turned off.)

[1] A famous recluse from To Kill a Mockingbird.  It hurts me that I had to insert this footnote.

The Worst Kind of Rejection

So, today I got a rejection that stung in a special sort of way.

First off, I was really excited about hearing back about this particular essay.  In my mind, it was the essay that is destined for greatness, the un-rejectionable piece, the editor’s dream.

Apparently, not everyone agreed with me.

Once I got over the disappointment and disbelief, I got a closer look at the subtext in the letter – or, really, the blatant, you’d-have-to-be-dead-to-miss-it text.  Check this out:

“The best way to know what we are publishing is of course to read the magazine, which we hope you will continue to do.”

Did that just happen?  Girl, you just been told!

 It feels a bit like when Dave W. (and Dave, I hope you’re reading this) told me the day before homecoming that he had decided not to be my date, after all.

 It’s not as if I clenched half-moon cuts into my palms all day, but I did think about this letter a lot.  It’s like being called a moron, only more snobbish.

Once I got over some rebellious feelings, I realized: they are a little bit right.  (Oooh, I did not enjoy writing that.)  Here’s the thing – I did read several issues of their publication.  And, to me, what I was writing looked exactly like what they were printing.

But, and this is important: I.  Do.  Not.  Know.  What.  I.  Am.  Doing.

Yet.

Okay, so I submitted something they aren’t looking for.  Now I can cross that marked off my list.  Which is a relief, because there are literally thousands of markets out there.  I feel bad for wasting their time; except no, not really.  Everyone has to learn somewhere; this is my where.  I am happy to accept this rejection as a learning experience and move on.

And that feels really good.