Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Election Year Lessons for Young Adults

It's taken me awhile to get to the point where I can respond to the results of this year's presidential election with anything other than revolutionary fervor, but I'm ready now. (Make no mistake: the anger is still very much alive in me, as I am one pissed off nasty woman.)

If you're anything like me, you were raised to be polite, not to discriminate, and to treat everyone with respect. But on 8 November, half of our country seems to have forgotten those lessons, and now we are facing institutionally-approved rudeness, bigotry, and disrespect from our neighbors or family members. This, undoubtedly, is a difficult upheaval to endure.

But sometimes, the world is going to disappoint you. It's better to learn this lesson as a teenager than an adult, because it comes at the best possible time, so I speak now to the youth of the nation.

The upcoming transfer of power is a scary prospect, yes. And yet. In a year or two, you young people will all be able to do something powerful, something American: you'll be able to vote. In this way, you can participate directly in our representative democracy. Until then, there are so many things you--and the adults in your life--can do to ameliorate the situation we're facing.

Volunteer your time, your enthusiasm. Find an organization you think will further your cause and ask them how you can help. Or if that proves to be difficult, given your busy and sometimes stressful lives as students with extracurricular activities and college applications to worry about, simply offer assistance to your classmates and peers and listen to them when they need to be heard. Hug them, tell them you love them, make sure they know how valued they are in the community.

At the same time, don't be afraid to reach out and ask for assistance. This is the moment when we need to come together, raise each other up, and prove that love is stronger than hate. That will sometimes seem impossible, but the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had some excellent advice on that front. He paraphrased a passage from Isaiah, saying, "If you can't fly, then run. If you can't run, then walk. If you can't walk, then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."

We will accomplish our goals through doing good things for our countrymen, and in time, we will be able to fly like the bald eagles who symbolize our nation.

Stay cool. Stay safe. Stay awesome.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Adventures in Rejection: Writing, Merritt Tierce, and Reality Checks

Once in awhile, an article comes along that resonates so profoundly I have to share it and add my own thoughts. In this case, it's Merritt Tierce's September article for Marie Claire, "I Published My Debut Novel to Critical Acclaim--and Then I Promptly Went Broke."

Tierce is the author of Love Me Back, a novel that was well-received by critics and blurbed by the likes of Roxane Gay. According to Tierce, she sold around 12,000 copies in two years, which was not enough to earn back her advance. Now, she is struggling to pay her bills and is suffering from self-doubt and lack of writing time while "hustling" freelance pieces to the best of her ability. Tierce has no desire to work in academia, which she is qualified to do but might tear her even farther away from family and writing.

This is the stark, terrifying truth of life as a writer in this day and age. Even when the acceptance letters arrive and the publication contracts are signed and the galleys are approved, there is no guarantee that your book will find any sort of success. If you primarily write poetry, your audience is exponentially smaller and the chances of earning money from your work are so slim as to be nonexistent. To date, I have made somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 total across ten years of actively seeking out publication.

But those of us who are serious about it--that is, the craft of writing--have accepted these facts, as unsavory as they are. If you are very lucky, you will see a handful of novels or poetry collections published in your lifetime and perhaps win some awards. If you are less lucky but still diligent, stories, essays, and poems will appear in any number of print or online literary journals, and perhaps even be anthologized. Even if you take steps toward publication, you may be able to achieve little more than one or two placements.

Do I dream of winning a National Book Award, being touted as the next Sylvia Plath, or being legitimate enough to have someone like Nikky Finney blurb me? You bet your ass I do, and if any writer tells you they don't have similar (hopeless) aspirations, they are lying. But for the sake of my own sanity, I have to shelve those fantasies. If I didn't, I would descend into despair with each new rejection letter and give up hope altogether. And I've worked too long and too hard to abandon the written word. 

I commend Merritt Tierce for telling the truth, and I wish her all the luck in the world. Her struggle is that of most writers, and I don't want that for any of us.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

On Perfection

Am I perfect? Hell, no. 

If this unfiltered picture of my feet with flip-flop lines and cracked nail polish isn't evidence enough, here's another example: I ate pineapple with a knife last night because I haven't gone out to buy plastic forks (real flatware requiring too much effort for my life). And yet another example: I called AAA awhile back to ask for help with a flat, as I could never be bothered to learn how to change a tire myself. And those are only two instances. Extrapolate out and feel your brain melt from the sheer amount of failure.

However, no one feels my shortcomings more keenly than I do, and I know when I have done wrong. Because I have an anxiety disorder, my brain quite literally will not allow me to stop thinking about anything I have done to fuck up. But also know this: what may seem like a character flaw to some--my chronic inability to keep my mouth shut on occasions when something is really, truly problematic--is an asset, in my view. 

Without it, I would be unable to determine which people are toxic and which are worth fighting for, and I would be unable to live with my own self for the shame of having stood idly by. Whether the situation is political, professional, or personal, I am--not proud, exactly, but certainly willing to face the consequences of this quirk of mine. Whether I inspire or infuriate you, I don't think I could ever be anyone else.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Book (Buying) Ban

On 16 July, I declared to the world that I was going on a book-buying ban, and I asked everyone to wish me luck. Book-buying bans are, of course, unnatural to anyone with a preference for reading over anything else. But there came a point when I desperately needed to do something. 

This crisis was triggered by the state of the bookshelves I maintain at my parents' house. The bulk of my reading material resides there, far from my actual residence in Louisiana. It, of course, pains me to be separated from my books, but needs must. During my summer visit to Michigan, I became overwhelmed by the disarray and the fact that so many of my tomes remained boxed up in the basement, victims of both multiple moves and a lack of shelf space.

And then I went on a rampage.

Every single book I had access to came out and was stacked, sorted, and rearranged in the living room. Little Dog was so freaked out that she went and hid in my bedroom to avoid the chaos. I toiled for the better part of a week, until I had weeded out volumes I no longer wanted or needed, things I realized I would never read, or duplicates I'd collected over the years.

The bulk of those discarded books were either donated to the local library for their thrice-yearly fundraising book sale or shipped out to three of my friends who were fascinated by my stash and not averse to their own piles growing larger. This worked out in everyone's favor, which relieved me.

At that point I reorganized, reshelved, and reboxed as necessary. Things I had yet to read were all put out on the bookshelves so I would have easy access to them. The problem with this strategy was that I then came to the realization that I had a huge "to be read" stack. Big enough that I might possibly have enough to keep me going for the rest of my life. (As if that's even possible. Please.)

I blame my mother, who taught me to read when I came home disgruntled that I hadn't learned in school. I blame my father, who has never not bought me a book when I asked for one. I blame Visa, which company should have cut me off long ago when they saw how many transactions I was making at bookstores. And I blame myself, for not having the self-control to say, "No, I do not need to buy these seven books at once."

Hahahahaha, no. That last part isn't true at all. Vive les livres!

And yet. I was--and remain--absolutely serious about this. But I admit that I have broken twice so far. Still, two books in three and a half months is not bad. I am trying my best to focus on the books that are already at hand, and I hope I can stay strong.