I've written a lot about the courage of American World War II nurses, but this week I discovered the heroism of a Canadian nurse, and learned the story of her valiant effort to save a friend after a torpedo attack by the Germans.
I also discovered how taking a step or two out of my comfort zone can generate courage, and I witnessed an amazing step toward peace and reconciliation. It was quite a week after last week's violence combined with my historical photo research.
In ten years as a television news reporter I attended scores of demonstrations.
Often when there was a protest, there were protesters protesting the protest.
Never once did I see the two sides come together as I did last week at Spokane, Washington's #BlackLivesMatter rally. But that's what's happening in this photo.
An African American pastor asked the crowd to stop reacting to a heckler, then invited the heckler up for a hug. Later, the head of the local NAACP offered the protester the mic and him speak, while the crowd listened respectfully.
Before the end of the rally, those who came to say #BlackLivesMatter, walked to police headquarters and gathered at the memorial for fallen police officers. With a moment of silence and a prayer they demonstrated #BlueLivesMatter, too.
The spirit of the rally moved me. I found myself in tears several times as speakers talked of justice, and of healing divisions, of valuing all lives, of ending violence and working toward understanding.
I came away empowered, empowered not to be silent in the face of trouble, but also, not to be strident and not to be judgmental.
Opportunity immediately presented itself!
Empowered not to be silent in the face of trouble, but also, not to be strident and not to be judgmental.
Isn't it funny how that is? This week my personal life offered me the chance to climb down off my high horse, lay down my sword and shield and make the first move toward dialogue. Yes, it was scary. I was afraid I might makes things worse. I was afraid I might get hurt.
But at the rally, I had joined the chant silence is consent to the status quo. And I found myself braver than I ever knew I could be.
Which brings me to Canadian WWII Nurse Margaret Brooke and the fact that sometimes you can summon your greatest courage and still fail in your task.
When the German torpedo slammed against the passenger ferry, the SS Caribou, in the early morning darkness of October 14, 1942, Margaret and Nurse Agnes Wilke were asleep in their bunks.
Margaret and Agnes made it to the deck, but their life boat was gone.
The ship, crossing Cabot Strait off the coast of Newfoundland, sank in just five minutes, taking the women into the water.
"We were just busy staying afloat until an overturned lifeboat came along and the people on that helped us," Margaret said later. They grasped ropes, "and we just hung there."
It would be nearly two hours before rescuers arrived, and before then Agnes' strength collapsed. With one arm Margaret clung tight for her survival, and with the other she held onto her friend.
"I held her as long as I could," Margaret says. "I failed. I couldn't hold her any longer." Agnes slipped into the cold depths, one of 137 passengers and crew to die that night.
For her selfless act, Margaret Brooke was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire, and the Royal Canadian Navy has named an offshore patrol boat after her.
Okay, I'm not saying I'm a hero like Margaret Brooke, far from it. What I'm saying is that whether it's a large step or a small one, when we venture from our comfort zone, we risk failure.
And often there's a lot of failure before big change is achieved. But no matter how small, every successful step toward dialogue moves us closer to peace. Small steps also give us hope and strengthen us to take big ones.
I've been doing photo research for my upcoming book about African American women in the 1940's, and the racial prejudice they suffered while serving in the United States Army.
The lynching of blacks was a fact of life for these women, and though it happened mostly in the south, blacks were lynched in northern states, too. I'd been putting off choosing a photo for this part of the story, but finally had to face the images and they left me depressed for days.
Especially after stumbling across a new study that documents the number of lynchings in America is 700 more than previously believed. Titled Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, the report says 3,959 lynchings of African-Americans took place from 1877 to 1950 in states across the South.
I'll spare you the images, but take a look at this bit of my research.
An African American in the Women's Army Corp spent a week in the hospital being beaten by a civilian cop for sitting in white waiting room at the bus station in
The cop smashed Private
Helen Smith over the head with a blackjack, dragged her across the bus station floor and threw her in the town jail.
When she was handed over to military police at Fort Knox, she was ordered to face court martial for disorderly conduct and disobeying Kentucky Jim Crow laws. Two other WACs, beaten less severely were similarly charged.
The three service women were eventually aquitted when NAACP lawyers argued Kentucky didn't actually have Jim Crow laws written in the books.
The civilian cop faced no repercussions in the case.
The news of two black men killed by police this week and at least four police officers shot to death overnight has added to my very heavy heart.
People have very strong feelings on both sides of this issue, but I wish we could create a safe space to talk about violence in America.
Since writing the adaption of IRENA'S CHILDREN last year, I've been much more tuned into Polish history, and the atrocities Poland suffered under the Nazis.
This week I stumbled across some haunting color photographs taken by Adolf Hitler's personal photographer, Hugo Jaeger, in occupied Poland in 1939 and 1940.
They are heart-breaking, but I looked at each nameless person and envisioned
them beyond the photograph--as flesh and blood, with loved ones, with a life of joys and struggles-- all cut short by the Nazi regime.
See the photos here, in a piece called The Brink of Oblivion. Does remembering the victims move us closer to peace? I don't know. But it's something.
Click here to check out an interactive database with information
on police killings in the last eighteen months. There's tons of information, and you can decide for yourself what you think.
Police have a dangerous job. They are often on calls where they fear for their lives.They are human and vulnerable to mistakes when they have to make split-second decisions. Here you can see the honor roll of law enforcement officers killed this year.
Information, talking and listening don't kill anyone. Let's give it a try.
I read the The White Rose when I was eleven or twelve years old. Ten days ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you the title or name of the protagonist. But then I stumbled upon the story, a story I had not heard in more than 40-years, a story that often came to mind, but blurry in my memory.
I stumbled upon a live wire stretching back to my childhood and the shock and horror of that particular story surged up to the present, as fresh as the day I first felt it.
For many, it's The Diary of Anne Frank that brings Nazi Germany up close and personal for the first time. For me, it was The White Rose and Sophie Scholl. Sophie set the standard for courage, both consciously and unconsciously throughout my life.
read practically a book a day in my pre- and early-teen years, and I liked nothing more than a chilling adventure story that kept me reading well past my bedtime.
The White Rose was such a story, though it was not fiction, as were most books I read. When I reached the last chapter and young Sophie and her brother Hans were executed, I was caught by complete surprise. Nothing in my short life had prepared me for Hitler.
The siblings, 21-yr-old Sophie and 24-year-old Hans printed and distributed literature denouncing Hitler and the Nazi government. The pamphlets called on Germans to "cast off the cloak of indifference" and engage in passive resistance to topple the regime.
Hans and his friends went out at night and painted slogans on buildings at the university they attended: Hitler the Mass Murderer and Freedom!
This photo shows the group at the Munich railway station in 1942, the summer before they were arrested and put to death. Sophie is behind the fence, Hans in the center facing the camera, Christoph Probst to the fore, and Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf to the right.
Since I rediscovered Sophie's story in the book Women Heroes of World War II, by Kathryn J. Atwood, I've had a sick-to-my-stomach feeling of fear and dread off and on, as well as finding myself close to tears in unguarded moments.
As my childhood experience of this story revisited me, I realized I had often measured myself against Sophie. Holding my whiny self up to her light, I always fell short. Below, Sophie Scholl's mug shots.
When I first came across Fannie Sellins’ story, (which is now my forthcoming book) the title of the article was In the Midst of Terror, She Went Out to Her Work. I pursued details as if they were an antidote to my fatal condition. How had Fannie found the courage to go out on the picket line day after day when violent men had threatened to kill her?
When I discovered the American military nurses that had been captured POW by the Japanese in WWII, (the subject of Pure Grit) I went on a mad search of the internet for details. I ordered every book I could find that had been written about them. How had these women survived starvation, sickness, isolation for three long years in captivity? How had they kept courage when day 930 in prison camp turned into day 931.
As a girl, I could imagine myself bravely printing forbidden pamphlets to protest an unfair government. But I only identified with Sophie to a point. I did not have the courage to risk my life as she did.
Sophie’s conviction never left her. She and Hans were executed three hours after their sentencing for treason. The prison guards reported: “They were led off, the girl first, she went without the flicker of an eyelash. None of us understood how this was possible. The executioner said he had never seen anyone meet his end as she did."
Sophie told her cell mate the day before her death, "It is such a splendid, sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young promising lives... What does my death matter if by our acts thousands of people are warned and alerted."
Today, I am not measuring myself against Sophie's courage. I'm accepting myself for who I am, and I'm freer to see Sophie more clearly, too.
When her story is no longer tinged with my self-judgement, I have greater capacity to be inspired by her integrity, to marvel at her valor, and to believe in our human ability to act with virtue in depraved and brutal circumstances.
Any thoughts? I'd love to hear from you. Leave your comment below.
As many of you know it's been a rough week saying good-bye to my brother-in-law Javier. When you lose someone you love, you wonder how the world can just go on like it does. The rain still falls, cars go by, people haggle over the last piece of bacon.
The gift of grieving is the compassion that comes with the realization that it's not my grief. It's our grief. In every small town and big city, someone's heart is breaking over the loss of a loved one. In every language spoken on earth people cry out in sorrow.
Grief is born of love. Can we let our hearts be tender to its touch?
Everyday life is full of contradictions, situations where opposites are true at the same time. Practicing our ability to hold opposing truths builds resilience and lies at the core of a full and healthy life.
After Javier's accident and traumatic brain injury, my sister Virginia lived with contradiction for seven-and-a-half weeks. She held hope and belief that her husband would recover, and she knew it was possible he wouldn't survive.
Virginia cried in anguish, prayed with faith and she also laughed with joy. The staff at the hospital loved her. (As do we all) They continually spoke of her courage, her warmth, and her commitment to Javier. In between helping with Javier's therapy, she crocheted scarves for other patients! She attuned to joy in the midst of deep sorrow.
Virginia also juggled the contradictions innate between the needs of her husband and the needs of her young children. I love to see her smile and talk about her children. She told me a story about her five-year-old who said, "When Daddy comes home, I'm going to teach him his numbers and colors. Ten plus ten is twenty. Daddy's brain doesn't know that. But mine does." Virginia's practice of holding both joy and sorrow has strengthened her for the days of grief to come.
This ability to hold and feel the opposites of joy and sorrow is critical to resilience. To cling only to sorrow, even though sorrow is true, leads to depression and/or bitterness. To cling solely to joy and not acknowledge the depths of pain and loss leads to numbness.
Most days, we will not deal with the extremes that Virginia faces. On the periphery of her story, I have practiced being present to her and to my own grief, while at the same time celebrating the launch of PURE GRIT and my joy in work well done.
Grasping such contradictions helped the American WWII nurses survive combat and prison camp. In the midst of danger, fear and death, cracking jokes was one way the women stayed centered. For instance, when nurses couldn't bring themselves to eat due to anxiety during the air raids, one joked that if hit, their chances of survival would be better on an empty stomach.
After nearly three years in prison camp, the nurses continued to find humor in their situation to help keep their spirits up. Despite the hardships they suffered, the women grasped any excuse to celebrate.
Army Nurses Rita Palmer said later, "The birthdays and anniversaries of the members of each one's family far away in the United States or some country were duly feted with a special tablecloth and a cake.” They continued to celebrate when they no longer had ingredients to make a cake.
In late 1944, as many as five people were dying each day of starvation related ailments in Santo Tomas Internment Camp. The nurses were as sick as their patients.
Army Nurse Frances Nash was so weak, her legs swollen with beriberi that she could hardly walk to the hospital. She wrote in her diary, “We had stood more than I had ever thought the human body and mind could endure.”
She also wrote, “There was nothing beautiful in our lives except the sunsets and the moonlight.” Frances saw beauty in the midst of unimaginable suffering.
If we open ourselves to what is true moment by moment, we will experience contradiction. Embracing the contradictions builds resilience and invites the fullness of life to flow through us.
I'd love to know, what's your experience with these difficult contradictions in life and how we give them their due?
When I started research for PURE GRIT—I wanted to know one thing. How did these women survive combat and prison camp? What kept them going for three long years never knowing if they would see their loved ones again? How did they keep hope alive?
I discovered the different nurses had various ways of keeping their spirits up and coping with the challenges that came on almost a daily basis. But one thing they all had in common was a greater purpose.
They were strong, independent, adventurous women, but they were also caregivers. Their mission was to treat the wounded and sick, to save lives if they could and to bestow comfort on the dying. When they were captured POW and separated from the wounded soldiers in their care, they set up a hospital and cared for civilians in the prison camp who needed medical attention.
This purpose helped sustain the women. Though weak from hunger and diseased from malnutrition, they got up each morning and reported for duty.
Army Nurse Eunice Young wrote in her diary, “Our chief concern is food. People are actually dying of starvation….Haven’t the energy to write much for days…but we have to keep going to take care of the others.”
In November 1944, Navy Nurse Edwina Todd wrote that the hospital staff worried because they no long had strength to push the gurney used to move patients. “…carpenters were no longer able to make coffins, the grave-diggers to dig graves, the nurses literally pulled themselves up the stairs…When you bent to rub a patient’s back you wondered if you could straighten up again. You fell down a couple of times en-route to and from work.”
Navy Nurse Margaret Nash said, “We kept busy all the time and we didn’t have time to think about ourselves.”
I’m not a caregiver type and I doubt I will face the hardship duty these women did. But I have learned from them. They’ve inspired me to give thought to my own purpose. Not just broad overarching ideals like “make the world a better place” or “be loving and kind.” These nurses got down to the nitty-gritty of their mission, dealing with bodily fluids, sores that wouldn’t heal, children that cried and begged for food, and at one point, rats chewing on the dead bodies no one was strong enough to bury.
Working on a tough revision pales in comparison. On the other hand, writing well means cultivating difficult habits, like confronting what others shy from. Being still in a world of cacophony. Seeing the brokenness in a human life and letting it touch me.
It’s no good comparing another’s purpose. Each of ours will bring enough challenge to last a lifetime. But knowing your particular purpose and believing it is meant for you, will help keep hope alive in the tough times.
The core themes of my writing delve into the qualities of human courage and resilience. My stories are often set amid historical events which have required people to reach inside and find depths of strength they never knew they had. We can look back dispassionately at the trials of history and see that people survive great suffering and go on to find meaning and joy in life.
But sometimes the story intertwines with our own lives. It reaches out, clutches us and yanks us unbidden into a heartbreaking stream of events. We bob along trying to regain our equilibrium, but up is down and down is up and it seems a real possibility that we will drown in our sorrow.
A week ago my sister's husband fell on the asphalt of a cul de sac and bumped his head and he's remained unconscious. As my sister goes through these days of uncertainty and suffering, her courage and resilience have amazed me. Filled with anxiety and facing the possible death of her husband she has stood at his bed in the critical care unit and spoken words of love and encouragement in a calm, strong voice. In private she has let go into weeping and raging, then walked into the next room and shown her four young children a face of normalcy, sitting with them to fill pages with bright colored drawings, taking them to release their energy at McDonald's Playland, helping them make their small painted handprints on a canvas surrounding Daddy's large handprint.
I do not want to need courage like this. It's easier if courage is some noble action far removed from everyday life. And yet time after time we see that courage is wrought in our own personal dark places. We let down our defenses, our need to be in control, and we accept that pain is as much of life as joy.
Tell me your stories of courage. Whether large or small, the instances when we find our way to the light serve as inspiration for others.
PS-One more day to enter the drawing for a copy of PURE GRIT. Sign up for my newsletter before February 1st and you could hold in your hands one of the very first copies released! Plus, get a sneak peek at all new videos!
It’s been one of those days when nothing went as planned. Come to think of it, it’s been one of those weeks. Just five days before my manuscript was due at the publisher, I discovered a new piece of research. This detail means the beginning of my book must be totally rewritten. I had carefully crafted the beginning to set the tone and conflict for the story. And I was really looking forward to being done with this draft.
I’m sure you’ve had days like that, when all your plans go awry, or something you’ve worked hard at falls apart. It’s life. We know it, but we don’t like it.
This time instead of jumping right back into work, I’m taking a breather. Look at this photo I took. I find it really amazing and beautiful seeing the crystals of frost coating every blade of grass, even the spider webs. Nature clears my head. Pause for a few minutes and enjoy my pictures of Jack Frost’s handiwork.
Life is beautiful. Tonight as I write this I am grateful for too many things to count. Thanks for stopping by and sharing a few moments with me. I'd love to hear what you do when your day falls apart. What? That's just me? Oh, well, humor me.
As the new year begins I settle on a slogan to help me form a positive habit over the next twelve months. For 2014 my slogan is a question. What would you do, Mary, if you weren't afraid?
I know this isn't an original thought. Do something everyday that scares you, is a similar quote I hear a lot attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. But often with common sayings we don’t pause to consider the meaning.
If I've stopped to think about these sentiments at all, I've discarded them out of hand. I’m not scared of anything. Okay, I am scared of snakes, but I can live with that, and I see no reason to delve into it or sign up for a snake handling class. My life is fine, thank you. I don’t need to sky dive or swim with sharks.
But what hit me this week is that the things we are most afraid of are not exotic feats of nerve. They are things very close to us. Things we encounter without straying from our daily routine.
What would you do today, Mary, if you weren't afraid?
It took less than three seconds for me to realize the thing I’m most afraid of right now is resuming work on my novel. I legitimately put it aside to work on a manuscript already under contract, which will be finished soon. Very soon there will be no reason not to open that novel document and begin revising.
Why is that scary? You might ask, isn't that what you do every day, Mary? Write stories?
It’s scary because it matters so much. There in lies the clue to discovering what scares you the most. I guarantee, if you’re honest, it’s those few things that matter most to us that generate our fears.
The scariest things of all are love and creativity. Unconditional love strips us naked. Funny thing, it’s scary whether you’re giving it or receiving it.
Love never stands still. By nature, love grows. Growth is change and love insists we grow along with it. What true thing would you say to your loved one if you weren't afraid of hurt feelings? How would you interact with your children if you had no fear for the future?
Out of love for yourself, what would you stop putting off, if you weren’t afraid?
Like love, creativity urges us to change, to shake up the status quo. If we don’t think about it we realize our natural inclination is to try to keep things as they are, to hold on for fear of losing what we have. This effort toward stagnation strangles love and creativity.
It’s amazing what we will do to stop creativity from blooming, to stop love from flourishing. Sometimes all it takes is turning on the TV or checking Facebook, but sometimes we go to elaborate lengths to thwart intimacy. For creativity is nothing if not intimacy with our very selves. The key to intimacy is vulnerability. Getting back to that being stripped naked—that’s what I’m afraid of. That’s what must happen if I’m to finish my novel.
Is it love or creativity that scares you most? What would you do today, if you weren't afraid? Come on...tell me I'm not alone in this.
Leaving Everest Base Camp, the first stretch toward the peak takes climbers through the Khumbu Ice Fall. In 1.62 miles they gain two-thousand feet in elevation, snaking over deep crevasses and between tall seracs, which are huge columns of ice towering overhead.
Climbers (and stray dogs like Lucky Luke) cross the crevasses on aluminum ladders strategically placed early in the season. We don't know how long Lucky had been climbing up and down the ladders en-route to Camp 1. He earned his nickname due to the fact he had not yet fallen.
Near vertical walls fall away to a drop of a hundred feet or more. Some mountaineers refuse to look down into the abyss. Kay LeClaire took a peek between rungs. The ice is a beautiful blue, but one must not gawk for long.
More climbers die in this ice fall than any part of South Col route up Everest. But Kay started preparing for this moment years ago...
Excerpt from JOURNEY TO THE TOP OF THE WORLD:
One cold, gray Saturday, our class meets at a rock-climbing park to practice. My heart sinks when I look at the steep cliffs. At five foot, one inch tall, often I cannot reach the hand and foot holds used by taller climbers. I must grope for my own.
Before long, I’m clinging to the sheer rock, unable to reach any hold. My heart hammers. I’m gasping for breath. Rope anchors me to the rock from above. If I peel off, I won’t fall far. But I freeze.
“What should I do?” I whimper like a toddler.
“Go up,” says the instructor, not a shred of sympathy in his voice.
Get a grip, Kay. I scold myself, then scrabble for a hand hold. Up I go.
I feel great when I reach the top, but that success didn’t dispel my fear forever. The panic can return anytime. Mountain climbing is dangerous, and there have been times I could have died. Sometimes a climber gets hit by a rock fall or avalanche. That’s just it.
When the panic comes, I’ve learned to take a deep breath and focus. Focus on the job at hand. I’ve trained. I have the proper gear and knowledge. I don’t take unnecessary risks. The rest is out of my control.
Thanks, Kay. It sounds like good advice for life as well as mountain climbing! I've felt panic sitting safely in my chair facing a day of writing. My life is not at risk, but something sure is, or it wouldn't feel so scary.
What about you? What makes you quake with fear and need to remind yourself to focus on the job at hand and let go of the rest?
Click here for more about
JOURNEY TO THE TOP OF THE WORLD.
Look to proven psychology to help you stick to your writing/ illustration goals in 2013.
Breaking old habits and building new ones is difficult because we pit our will power against our subconscious mind. That’s like trying to hit a bulls eye by throwing darts faster and harder while the target is in another room.
Habits live in the subconscious, which helps us brew coffee in the morning while still half asleep. When we’re walking along dreaming of making the New York Times Bestseller List, it’s the subconscious that turns our eyes both directions before we step off the curb. This mechanism makes habits hard to break.
One simple technique can help. When trying to break old habits and make better ones, the key is identifying the triggers that prompt the subconscious into action. For instance, what is getting in the way of your writing time? The dirty dishes in the sink? Fear of failure? A need for excitement? Discover what triggers your bad habit and you’re on the way to changing it.
Form an if-then statement linking the trigger to your old habit with your new goal. Something like, when I see the dirty dishes, I will go straight to the computer and write. Or, when I feel the need for excitement, I will turn that energy into drafting juicy conflicts for my characters. Each time you follow the trigger to your new goal, it strengthens a new neuro-pathway in your subconscious mind.
It take time for the old path to give way to the new, so don’t be hard on yourself when you fall into your old unconscious habits. Accept that the old habit is strong and do not resist it. Research shows, what you resist, persists. Fighting the old habit with will power, actually strengthens it.
Don’t fight nature. Work with your subconscious mind. In 2013, I am working on identifying what triggers my self-critic into revving up. What about you? Do you dare take a peek under the waters of your subconscious?
Thanks to lavanyashukla.com for the image today.
The falling leaves outside my window are ripe with metaphor for the creative life. As the tree lets go its leaves to go dormant and prepare for spring growth, a writer must let go of many things for her work to leave the dormant stage and flower in the light of day.
Fear is one thing I must let go over and over again.
“Face your fear!” I heard this advice a lot, but I had absolutely no idea how to do that. My fear paralyzed me every time I sat down at the keyboard. I couldn’t sit and face it– I had to produce. I had to get words on the page. So for many years I ignored fear. I resisted fear. I buried fear under a huge pile of leaves in the backyard of my brain. I wanted to get rid of it for once and for all.
One writing book suggested I whisper “shhh” whenever I felt fear. My fear was not like a crying baby. My fear was like a hurricane. I needed a stronger weapon than shhh.
Another writing book suggested taking off all my clothes and writing naked. I did it. That’s how desperate I was to be free of my fear.
Finally, I realized my fear is not some alien force out there waiting to pounce. Fear is embedded deep in the cells of my blood and my bones. Fear kept my ancestors alive. Denying, hiding, ignoring fear is akin to denying, hiding, ignoring my hazel eyes or my love or words.
It’s impossible to lop off a basic part of oneself and try to move on in a creative endeavor. Often we think we can create just by using our brains. Writing, illustration, cooking, juggling or whatever your creative work happens to be–requires whole-hearted attention.
Being whole-hearted means laying down our weapons. Instead of fighting parts of ourselves, it’s more helpful to accept what is.
Invite fear in. See it. Feel it. Know it for what it is. A single leaf, one of many we can let go. All the better to reveal the strength of the trunk and branches.
What strategy helps you deal with fear?
Yesterday, I read a blog about boredom being part of the creative process.
This so describes me. When I am trying to grind out the first draft of something, I sit in front of the screen and feel BORED. I hadn’t seen this before. I had sometimes labeled it fear. At times it definitely was fear. A lot of the time it was fear.
Over the years I have come to peace with the fear. I had not previous recognized the boredom except to the extent that what I was trying to write seemed terribly boring. How could I write something that others would want to read, if it was boring me? I saw this as a weakness on my part. It’s is hard to accept weakness and not feel badly about it. It’s hard to write anything of value when I am feeling badly about myself. You can see were this spiral is leading.
Today when I sat down to write, my first reaction was boredom. Seeing it as part of the creative process tells me it’s not a problem, tells me I will move through it just as I move through all stages of the creative process. Makes a huge difference.
Does boredom figure in your creative process? How have you dealt with it?
Ate my first tomato from the garden!
I know, can you believe how tiny it is?
I love digging in the dirt and planting seeds. I go crazy at the nursery over the colorful pansies and begonias. And I feel great satisfaction transplanting tomatoes from the local greenhouse and seeing fresh, green shoots come up.
But we usually have a long, cool June here, and waiting for everything to grow, I grow impatient. Definite parallels exist between gardening and the writing life.
Same time I planted my garden, I polished a draft of my next book. When the pub date shifted from fall of 2013 to spring of 2014, my impatience...well, it had a growth spurt.
“I’ll probably be dead by then!” I wanted to scream at my editor.
But my tiny and fragile basil seedlings sat under a grow light next to my desk. I couldn’t raise my voice in their presence.
Gardening requires diligent work: preparing the earth, planting seeds, watering and fertilizing. But there’s a point where the gardener must let go and wait. No amount of effort will make the plants grow, bloom and produce. Same with a book. Once it’s been written and sent off to the publisher, it’s out of my hands.
In the next month I’ll go out to my garden, pull a few weeds, stake a few vines, pinch off extraneous shoots. But I recognize a lot depends on the weather, whether the bees come round and pollinate, and the pests and diseases that threaten my crops.
With a book, there’s always more a writer can do in terms of promotion, but you can’t force a publisher to publish it, and you can’t force people to buy it, anymore than a gardener can force a tomato to ripen.
This season I’m bringing my green thumb inside to my writing desk. I’m letting go of the anxiety, and the mistaken notion of control. I’m choosing to trust that my hard work and attention to the details of the craft will flower and fruit.
Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the lettuce.
What do you do to carry your excitement through while waiting...and waiting...and waiting?
I needed a relaxing break from my WIP yesterday, so I went to the dentist for a filling and a crown.
which is worse?
A shot of Novocain, or realizing you were way too desperate when you signed that contract promising to write a novel in six months?
Seriously though, these days, a visit to the dentist is relaxing. They put you back in a soft reclining chair with a comfy pillow. You don’t even have to hold you own mouth open. They have this new apparatus, nice soft plastic, no sharp edges, that props your jaw wide, retracts your tongue and vacuums spit. Not an ounce of effort.
The work will be trying to find a second job when the bills comes.
You know, I used to feel badly when I needed a tooth repaired, like it was a moral failure. But now I’m thinking about how many years my teeth have been chomping away....Just think if I had a car that lasted that long. Almost makes you want to brush and floss.
No, the real reason I like going to the dentist is the nitrous-oxide. For a girl who always “said no to drugs” it’s quite a trip. This time I came back to reality with the entire plot for a paranormal trilogy. It’s about a demon dental hygienist who tortures her victims by forcing them to choose a fluoride rinse—wintergreen, cantaloupe or bubblegum?
When I was kid I always picked the flavor I liked best. I went though several flavors before I figured out you pick the one you like least because whichever it is, you’ll never enjoy it again.
Actually, my favorite thing about getting a tooth filled—eavesdropping on the person in the next chair. I swear some people must think the dentist is their hairdresser. Talk about plot material!
So next time you need inspiration, take a break and go to the dentist. But don’t imagine you’ll come out with the perfect smile advertised in the office photos. If you’re a writer, you’re in the wrong income bracket for that.
But they say good fiction taps into universal feelings. Maybe you can turn a root canal into the next Hunger Games.
Today's cartoon thanks to Kurt Melander and the US Air Force
Today I am guest posting over at Tracy Barrett's blog Goodbye Day Job! Tracy is the author of nineteen books for young readers and her blog chronicles her last year in her day job teaching Italian at Vanderbilt University.
My experience is not about quitting my day job, but about withstanding the pressure to get one. It’s about going for years between book contracts, making no money and still believing in myself. Hop on over to Goodbye Day Job! to read more, and leave a comment to let Tracy know you visited.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories from history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
Occasionally, I share what makes me happy, pictures of my garden, recipes I've made, events I've attended, people I've met. I'm always happy to hear from readers, in the blog comments, by email or social media.