Monthly Archives: December 2010

#7. Get Published: 12 Words Count

I know a lovely lady who started one of these lists, and she included some alternates, because she recognized that there were certain goals that were out of her control.

I never thought about this.

Getting published is not something I can make happen through sheer will – someone has to like what I write enough to stand behind it and put it out into the world. I publish myself on my blogs.  I’m looking for outside validation.

Which is never a good thing. But is always a human thing.

Pursuing a creative life is fighting my nature. You see, I:

like routine/stability

do not have a thick skin for handling rejection

have no capacity to pimp/market myself

So what am I thinking?

I’m of course thinking there is nothing else I can do.  This is all I’ve ever wanted.

I’ve been rejected a lot in the past few years. I’ve submitted plays everywhere – plays I loved and believed in. I was a semifinalist once for a conference. That and a dollar will get you exactly nowhere.

No one seems interested in what I have to say. It’s broken my heart.

For various reasons my focus has been shifting into short fiction, personal essays. Forms that have a bigger market, and theoretically more income. Forms I don’t love passionately, but are more gratifying, because I don’t need money or people to “PRODUCE” what I’ve written. Writing plays to be read is…dumb. They only live off the page. I like creating worlds that can live fully and contentedly as I type them. It’s more self-reliant.

But the submission process is not any easier, trying to determine who might like your voice.  Following submission guidelines to the letter, chasing deadlines.

The guilt monster is never satiated, and feeds on not-enough-ness: I haven’t submitted ENOUGH, I’m not writing ENOUGH. Submitting work is a full time job – that doesn’t pay. The guilt monster definitely won’t starve: writing is time spent not earning money or looking for legit ways to earn money, and I’m damn near broke. But how can I ever make money writing if I don’t write?

aaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…………………………………

I’ll stop whining now because…

I got published!

Me being me, it’s taking every fiber of my being not to put quotations around published. It’s a 12 word story. That is slightly risqué. On a website that no one has heard of. Which did not pay me.

Does that count as…”published”?

I was really excited when I found out this submission was accepted. Like, jumping up and down excited.  I had literally gotten six rejections in the previous week. This was a candle flicker of – gulp – validation.

So I was happy. Tremendously happy.

And then that very same day I found out that a beloved friend (who must forgive me if he reads this) had just received a substantial cash prize and staged reading at a legit off Broadway theatre.

And, oh how my tiny, dirty story seemed even tinier, dirtier.

The universe is so funny that way. I couldn’t even have 24 hours to revel in my accomplishment before it had to slap me down, remind me that 12 words doesn’t even propel me to stand beneath the bottom rung of the ladder.  I’m still looking up up up, a battle every step of the way. To have a career.

To say, without embarrassment, that I am a writer.

Please don’t misunderstand: my beloved friend so completely deserves this. I don’t begrudge him it. He is talented, and disciplined, and good – the bestest person I know. He has been writing more steadily for much longer than I have. His success brings me joy.

I just wish my successes didn’t have to come in such absurdly meager baby steps.  You know? Like maybe one of my 100 word stories could have been published – that’s 88 more words of me-ness out in the ether. Maybe I wouldn’t have to feel slightly ashamed to ask my mother to read this mildly pornographic thing I’ve written.

My beloved friend’s success put mine in horrifying perspective. But maybe – goddammit, universe – this is my valuable lesson in not comparing myself to others, which is a terrible habit I have. His trajectory was set in motion well before I met him. I’m the first to admit he works much harder at his craft than I do. There is no comparison.

So I’m going back to dancing about my 12 words. I was genuinely pumped when I found out, and the email said they “loved” my story. With 10 days left in the year I unexpectedly managed to knock something off the 30×30.

And baby steps eventually stop being so wobbly, gain confidence, balance, momentum. I assume this baby step will lead to skips and leaps, if I work my ass off and submit submit submit. I WILL make the guilt monster (and my ass) skinnier.

So, now go read it. It’s 12 words. You’ve got the time. Scroll all the way down to December to read mine: Dirty Dozen

And by way of explanation: Vestal Review is a flash fiction magazine that runs a feature called the Dirty Dozen, telling a complete sexy story in a mere twelve words.

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Categories: 30x30 | 1 Comment

#4. Take a Class at Trapeze School: Time to Let Go

A minute before I panicked.

Who knows why I wanted to do trapeze school.

Carrie Bradshaw delusions of grandeur? Because the trapeze act was the most beautiful to me when I spent several summers working for the circus?

Or because my masochistic streak is far wider than I realized?

Because trapeze involves a lot that amounts to self-torture:

I am terrified of heights.

I am in no way athletic, flexible, graceful.

Dangling by your legs upside down leaves your neck pretty vulnerable. I have a problem with exposed neckage. (I cannot possibly explain this so it will make sense, but trust me.)

And…I am really bad at letting go.

Trapeze is all about letting go.

Can you smell the metaphor?

Trapeze School offers safe entry into pseudo-circus life. You aren’t more than forty-ish feet off the ground.  There’s a giant net that you can’t possibly miss if you fall. You are safety cabled as you climb the ladder and as you fly. There’s a guy on the ground who basically controls your swing, who can pull you in any direction, who can stop your motion.

I climbed that ladder. I got locked in. I grabbed the bar. There was an eighty-pound girl holding my safety belt with authority, speaking soothingly to me about the exact steps I needed to take to get off the platform. My lovely friend was cheering me on from the ground.

And still: I panicked and backed off while a frickin’ ten-year-old took her turn.

Oh, yes. I am more of a pansy-ass than a pre-pubescent girlie.

The thing is: no one can jump off the platform but you. It is entirely in your control. Which ordinarily I like, control freak that I am. Yet this was too much power. I needed to be a snowflake picked up by a snowball already rolling down hill: once set in motion you can’t stop it. Unfortunately, I was the snowball. I had to roll myself.  And that meant a whole heap of letting go.

Letting go of solid ground, of control once that leap is taken, of community: flying through the air by myself, supported but not…companioned. No one to share the burden of terror.

It took a while to reign in every ounce of courage I could wring from my trembling skeletal structure.

But I did it.

I had to fight myself tooth and nail. Every step was battling my demons. It took two tries to jump, to hoist my legs over the bar. It took multiple attempts to let go of the bar and allow myself to dangle upside down, to trust my knees. It took two rounds to try to backflip off the bar (which I failed at). I didn’t make the catch with a partner until the second try.

Let’s not kid around.

It is awesomely fun. Once you stop cringing and open your eyes. It’s swinging: who doesn’t love to swing? But it happens so fast, you almost can’t fully experience the experience of it. To really know what it feels like to be upside down, flying in midair – I can’t really describe it adequately.

But I want to.

I want to go back. I want to get better. I flew five or six times and each time I improved. Each time I let go a little more. Trapeze is such a gorgeous act of discipline, fluidity, trust – all the things I lack.

What a perfectly wrapped package of a metaphor for me as this year comes to an end. The thing I struggle most with – letting go – physically forced upon me. I’ve tried so many new things this year, and I wonder if any of it has really changed me.

Obviously, I still can’t let go easily. If at all. There are several things staring me in the face right now, begging me to let them go. And I just keep wrapping my fist tighter.

As I stood on that platform forty feet in the air, I honestly thought I wasn’t going to do it.  I felt like I would climb off that wooden dais without leaping into the void and I’d be perfectly fine with it, there would be no self-recrimination. I felt I had reached my threshold for overcoming fear.

But. I did it anyway. There are so many things I kinda didn’t want to do even though I wanted to do them this year…and I did them “anyway.” And it felt good.

This was the same: finally letting go felt good: to fly, to overcome my inhibitions. Why can’t I remember that from one scary moment to another? It always feels better to give in to the new experience than to battle it.

At least I always do give in.  Even if I constantly work myself into a lather beforehand, I have yet to actually chicken out on something I set my mind to. So I have hope that I will eventually shake open my fist on what I want so badly to hold on to. And let myself swing free into other, less metaphorical, more nebulous, but absolutely necessary new experiences.

I’m still Sisyphus pushing the boulder. I think I just figured out that rather than fighting it, I have to find a way to enjoy, to embrace, to love the roll back to the bottom of the mountain.

[Insert that’s how life rolls joke here…]

Categories: 30x30, Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | 4 Comments

#17: Now Substituting an Elephant for a Dolphin

It’s a funny thing, life.  #17 on the 30×30, swim with a dolphin, got thwarted twice: I was supposed to go on a cruise in January that offered it as an excursion. When I got laid off in August 2009, that got scrapped. I wanted to go to Discovery Cove in Orlando this summer, but they were booked.

Me and Poon-Sop, bringing sexy back

I did ride an elephant in Thailand. I figured, the 30×30 being a breathable entity, as previously discussed, I could substitute the elephant for the dolphin. I got a little closer to the wild, right? But I’ve been putting off writing the elephant blog for no more discernible reason than laziness.

And then I watched The Cove last week. And the two points above converged in my mind to frame this blog.

Have you seen The Cove? It’s a horrifying look at dolphin enslavement and slaughter in Japan.  These intelligent and compassionate creatures are sold for $150,000 to aquariums/trainers around the world. Those that aren’t bought are massacred and sold for meat.

I’m not an animal person.  I’m not against them, but I’m not going to lie: sometimes animal rights activists annoy me. There are humans starving and dying of horrible diseases. Why don’t we take care of them first? And I know someone will come back at me with Jesus and “whatsoever you do for the least of my creatures” but…I don’t know. People have been eating and wearing animals for a really long time.

I know, have no heart.

I’ve become fascinated by documentaries lately, and how filmmakers choose to tell a story. Documentaries are basically propaganda for someone’s agenda and The Cove definitely has an angle. Still, even my heartlessness can’t find a way to spin jabbing at trapped dolphins with a harpoon in a positive way.

Dolphins in captivity can get depressed, and even possibly kill themselves.  Maybe there’s a reason my two opportunities to swim with a dolphin this year fell through. The universe was mollifying my guilty conscience before it had a chance to be culpable.

I did, however, ride that elephant: Poon-Sop. And I wonder how many of the same issues exist: The Cove has ramifications for any interaction with wildlife from zoos/aquariums to safaris to owning pets.

Elephant trekking is a huge tourist attraction in Thailand.  You pay, you climb into a little two-seater wooden bench on the elephant’s back, and the elephant traipses along a pre-existing track in the “untamed” jungle.

Trying to stay off the beaten path, I discovered the Elephant Mahout Project through my BF Lonely Planet.  This is a more in-depth elephant experience, spending a day with a mahout (trainer), learning about the elephants, feeding them, washing them, communicating with them, and yes, riding them – but on their necks, like the pros do.

She's shy. I climbed on SO WELL the first time. The next two times were much less graceful

This experience is eco-tourism, which is a funny subcategory of the industry.  As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, I find tourism slightly uncomfortable, a battle between tourist and local to exploit each other – and I’m not sure who “wins.” Eco-tourism exists mainly to appease the guilt travelers may have for invading (destroying by their very presence) the space of people who are just trying to live their lives.

I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. It probably is better for the environment. But it’s so politically correct, and…you ARE still taking advantage a culture you don’t fully understand. Or care to fully understand. Not to sound judgmental. I do it too.

I felt misled by the Elephant Mahout Project. My mahout, Non, was cool but didn’t speak much English. The only thing he could say was “Do you have a camera?” He took 200 pictures of me with Poon-Sop. So…I didn’t really learn about elephants.  I didn’t discover why elephants are so important to Thai culture, and why the mahout lifestyle NEEDS to be preserved. I know elephants were pivotal in the Thai lumber industry and since that industry has collapsed, the elephants’ place in “society” has faltered: but huh? The elephants were being used to haul heavy stuff and now…we need a new way for them to “earn their keep?” A new way to continue using them?

I don’t know. It’s complicated.

I sat on Poon-Sop’s neck while she ate. That’s it. She walked around until she found some branches she wanted to gnaw on, and then we just stood still in the hot Thai sun for hours.  We weren’t forcing her to do anything.  It was serene. A valuable lesson learned on an elephant’s back: find some food and just be. Stand still. Exist in the moment. Elephants in their natural state are very Buddhist, I guess.

Bath time

View from the top

(Another valuable lesson learned from Poon-Sop: you CAN shit where you eat. But I digress…)

To be fair, the camp is set up for travelers who stay longterm. I think in those conditions, you develop a relationship with the elephants and mahouts, you live the lifestyle. But this camp still has the OTHER kind of elephant trekking, as I saw when a busload of Chinese tourists arrived and dutifully took their thirty minute circular ride. I could see them mentally checking it off their Thailand “to-do” list.

I don’t regret it.  It was a beautiful day and it was nice to get out of Bangkok.  Non basically lives in a hut without walls, so it’s not like anyone’s getting rich off the bit of money the day cost me. Poon-Sop was a lovely, gentle, communicative creature. It was, as they say, an experience.

The touristy version of elephant trekking

I’m just not sure I wasn’t exploiting the poor thing for my own “experience.” Where do you draw that line?

And let’s not kid around, I may be substituting this for a dolphin ride right now, but…

I still want to swim with a dolphin. They are elegant, amazing creatures. THAT would be an experience to remember: I have a bias for sea-faring activities. The Cove is so fresh in my head right now, but eventually, that memory will fade.

Because isn’t that the human way: forget what you know so you can do what you want?

self photo on an elephant head

Categories: 30x30, Thailand | 1 Comment

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