Losing Robin

rw standing on desksI was on my way to buy groceries last week when the news came over the radio.  Robin Williams was gone.  I cried in the grocery store parking lot.  I was struck so deeply by it, that I had to find an excuse for my reaction–why mourn so deeply for a celebrity? A person I’d never met.  A man who brought joy with his comedy and movies.  A man who was manic and candid and childlike and brilliant.  He made some of my favorite movies.  I remember watching him on a late night show with my mom in the 90s–we laughed so hard, we fell on the floor, wiped tears from our eyes, laughed just as hard 15 minutes later in remembering to one another what he had said or done.  He was a bringer of light, even as he dealt with his own darkness.

I have purposefully avoided reading the negative commentary that inspired Zelda, his daughter, to leave Twitter with a bitterly sad note that she may never return.  Who feels they should speak ill of the dead in the moments after they have passed, regardless of how they passed?  Who thinks it’s justified to spew negativity at a person they’ve never met in the wake of her father’s death?  Who does that?  Only monsters, in my mind.

I cannot admit to living with monsters, though the evidence is all around me.  I have to believe that people like the ones Robin Williams portrayed in his movies are still all around us–John Keatings and Patch Adamses, Adrian Cronauers, Morks, and Chris Nielsens.  Teachers who make us think and step out of the cadence and stand on desks all to gain our own perspective.  Doctors who see the patient as a human, not a disease, not a problem to solve, not a thing, and who values laughter as a healing tool.  Radio deejays who play us the music, who tell us the jokes, who bring us the news, who buck the “man” while still sharing the unifying magic of song.  The outsiders who bring us their unique perspective and humor and wonder.  Dedicated spouses who will walk with us into hell and back, no matter how challenging the lives we share may become.  Those are the people I want to believe are the majority.

And though it is hard to talk about, and though some of us cannot understand the reality of depression, and though we can never know what kind of life another person lives inside their own minds and hearts, we CAN have compassion for another human being who struggles, who battles, and who loses that battle.  It’s not easy, and I am sad that this is how Robin left this planet, and I pray for his family to find their way to healing in the days and months and years to come.  And for those of us who can imagine the struggle, who can identify with the pain, please know that there is help, there are people who love you, that even though it seems as if there are no more choices, there are.  There are. Call 1-800-273-8255 if you are in distress.

Robin Williams, I thank you for the happiness you gave me through your art.  You made my life happier and brighter.  I stood on my desk in my high school English class to prove a point because of you.  Farewell for now.  I hope I get to meet you someday.  Thank you.

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Taking Your Art Seriously

I write. I am a “writer.” I am, however, not what I would call an “author.” The distinction in my mind is the difference between being published and not being published. Authors are published. Writers write.

I have a good many friends who are authors, though, and if I am being honest with myself…I am jealous of their success. I am truly, truly happy for them, but I confess that I am also covetous of their ability to win the acceptance and approval of whatever powers that be that decide: “YES! You! This work you have produced–it is publication worthy!” Huzzah for them. Sincerely.

AND I know I have no room for grousing about feeling jealous or depressed about my own lack of authorhood BECAUSE it’s my own fault. I haven’t *really* tried to become published in the traditional way since I left grad school. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I put a short story on Amazon (about a year ago) to be sold like a Kindle “single.” For 99 cents. And of all the people I know who know I did this…let’s say something like 100 people (a low estimate)…7 of them dared to spend less than $1 on a story I wrote. And these are people I know. It’s demoralizing.

So yeah. Boo hoo. Pity party for me. In all honesty, I wrote a supremely snarky “nobody loves me” blog about the whole debacle, but wisely decided not to post it. Although, in retrospect, it’s pretty damn funny. I mean, if you like snark.

But now that party is over. I am just done wallowing. Because I decided, “If I don’t take my own art seriously, who will?” Self-publishing is one route to take, but just plopping something down on Amazon isn’t going to turn me into an author because I wish it to be so. It’s time to go back to the basics of becoming an author and go about it in a different way.

First, obviously, is writing.

Second, just as obviously, is attempting to become published by TRYING to become published. There is no wishing in publishing, dear self.

Third, is to return to my old methods that allowed me to gain insight and growth as a writer…by reaching out to my friends who are/were writers and get them to share work with me. And if they won’t/can’t, then it’s time to find a new group of writers to bounce ideas off of, and to serve as a voice of reason when I want to put a sasquatch in my short story. Or maybe they will say that sasquatch should stay. You just never know.

And I’m going to take this little gem from my cousin. She is a painter, and recently she quoted a friend of hers who said, “art is an equation; the more you put in, the more you get out.” Such a simple adage, but a good one to remember.

So. Here goes. Taking my art seriously.

Tweaking or Just Tweaking Out?

Tweaking words is the name of the game.  Like a sound engineer with one of those giant soundboards of nobs and levers and sliders and digital output, I am constantly trying to nip my writing into something better, something perfect, something *just* right.

At some point, though, you have to stop tweaking.

My current battle is with this new publication I have on Amazon.  It is the short story “Church of the Palomino.”  I can’t post a link to it here, but you can search by the title and find it.  Please go…search, find…and do what you will (i.e. buy it)!

So, the object of my tweaking has shifted from the story itself to the description of the story.

It used to say this (a blurb I fashioned around midnight one night in a feverish attempt to meet my self-imposed publication deadline):

A widower finds solace at The Palomino. Or thinks he does. The object of his worship is an exotic dancer. Circumstances draw them together one fateful night, but things don’t turn out as expected.”

When I read it the next day, my reaction was, “WHY did I start my description with “A widower?”  A WIDOWER?  Really, what was I thinking?  That’s not going to sell a story!

So, then I started using this hashtag in a handful of tweets about the story: #everybodylovesastripper.

Much better, I think.  More light-hearted anyway.  And everybody DOES (or should…strippers are people, too).  So, I updated the brief description to this:

“Everybody loves a stripper, right? Well, formerly puritanical Max does. As a widower he finds solace at The Palomino. Or thinks he does. The object of his worship is Lexi–self-described as “a stripper with a heart of stone.” Circumstances draw them together one fateful night, but things don’t turn out as expected.”

I also managed to introduce the characters by name and include some meatier descriptions of them aside from “widower” and “stripper.”  The problem with describing a short story that has a twist at the end is that you don’t want the brief description to give it all away.  I am so tempted to have this whole diatribe about the relationship between these two characters and what they effectively do for one another, quite by accident, just by having a conversation and living through a couple of strange experiences together.  And it really has nothing to do with who they are or sex or any of the stereotypical things you might think when you put “a widower” and “a stripper” together.  He is not a dirty old  man.  He is lonesome and sad and desperate.  She is a girl (not a woman) who has been driven to this way of making money, because it is her best bet, given her circumstances, for survival.  They are just two people.

But I want people to get that for themselves when they read the story.  Someday I will put down my “English professor” agenda and just let my writing live on its own.

Back to tweaking…out.  I am a watcher and a hoverer.  I can admit this.  The number of times per day that I check my “Amazon Best Sellers Rank” is almost equal to my rank, which is, as of this moment: #152,433.  Woo hoo?  It has gone from 196k to 98k and back again in a matter of hours.  It kind of freaks me out.  And considering how little this story has sold, I know that this number is mainly dependent upon the success (or lack thereof) of others.  So, I’m easing off of the watching, because you know what they say about a watched pot…

As hard as it is, I have to just let it be, and hope that it does well.  And stop tweaking out.  And start working on the next thing!

NaNoWriMo: Five Confessions!

Sigh.

Confession #1.  My word count, as of today, is 10,017/50,000.

This is good, because it’s better than nothing.  This is bad, because the goal for this day, in the middle of the month, is more like 25,000/50,000.  I’m only 14,983 behind.  Unfortunately, this is more than I can make up in one night.

Confession #2.  I am tempted to quit.

See?  This is where I was each of the previous years I decided to partake in NaNoWriMo.  Two weeks in and already so far behind that I feel like I can’t catch up.

So, let’s see if I can talk myself out of it with some rational numbers.  If I can write 2,665 words a day from here on out, I can still hit the goal by November 30th.  It’s not out of the question.  There may be hope?

Confession #3.  I am a really slow writer when it comes to writing in longhand.

Even when I pick up the pace, it takes me about 2.5 hours to write the original goal of 1,667/night with my pen and paper.   Actually, it ‘s pencil, but who is keeping score on that?  So…I have got to turn to typing.  As if with fingers ablaze!  I acutally type about 60 wpm, so with *that* math, it should only take me about 44 minutes to write that much a day.  Easy, peasy.  Right?

Sigh.

The problem with typing is that it doesn’t, for whatever reason, incite the same sort of creative spark that writing on paper gives me.  I wish it did…I really, really do!  But, gosh darn it, it just doesn’t.  At least, not yet.

Confession #4.  I am not in love with my character anymore, and I want her to hurry up and get where she is going.

So…yeah.  I have been writing this story chronologically.  I am stuck in El Paso with a runaway.  She is 18, but kind of…too methodical and beseiged by guilt/sadness to “get a move on.”  Plot twists present themselves and I think, “No, not this girl.  She wouldn’t take that bait.  She is too ____ to do that.”  Or I might think, “I should just skip her out of El Paso to someplace more interesting.”  But then I tell myself I am getting ahead of myself.

I think it is time to give myself permission to write whatever part of the freaking story/character I feel like writing and stop being so…controlling…about it.  Just putting that thought into words is like a little golden apple someone just dropped into my pocket.  How exciting!

Confession #5.  I can’t stop thinking about all the other stories on my “to do” list.

I think it’s because I’m getting into writing again, those favoritest characters of mine are just piping up in the back row of my brain with arms flailing, screaming “pick me! pick me!”  Or maybe it’s a grass is greener in the other story kind of thing.  Or maybe this whole NaNoWriMo method of bucking the system and “focusing” on a single project is difficult for my brain to catch hold of.  I mean, I literally have an excel spreadsheet with like 10 tabs in it to capture story ideas and character details so they won’t float away.  It’s a good exercise, though.  Deadlines and the like.  I get it.  I even want to do that.  It’s just hard to keep the creative juices flowing with just one flavor.  I don’t really have a solution for this confession except to tell myself, “Sit! Stay! Work!”

I’m sure we’ll all survive.  Somehow.  Hopefully, not by quitting.  Again.