Friday, August 26, 2011

Camping Part 2: The Writing

How could you not be relaxed?

One would think that being out in all of that wilderness, the peaceful sounds of nature surrounding me, that I would have a million ideas flowing through me. Some of you probably had romantic images of me, pen poised, notebook full of scribbles and scratches written in haste. It's ok, I had the same adorable day dreams. It didn't go down like that at all. In fact, it was the opposite.

See, what happens when I have these lofty ideas about my creativity is that I completely psyche myself out.  I envisioned quiet nights that would lend themselves to a deep slumber full of vivid dreams and rich tapestries of scenes for my manuscripts. Instead, I was met with a chamber of echoes filled with self doubt. I suffered terrible insomnia, waking every hour or two, at best. Every time I awoke, I was greeted by a nagging voice asking me why I wasn't writing. What was holding me back? Maybe I wasn't really a writer? Maybe I wasn't cut out for this? Maybe, just maybe, this was another one of my lame attempts at becoming something, when I was meant to be nothing. I was paralyzed with fear that the lack of creative energy was a sure sign that I was going to fail at this endeavor.

Self doubt is a nasty bitch. I should have kicked her ass when I had the chance.

Yeah, that's what I should have said.

She took me down and knocked the wind out of me when I hit the ground. Gasping for breath, feeling the weight of her girth sitting on my chest, I fought to regain my strength. (Yes, I personified my self doubt. Work with me here.) It wasn't a fatal wound, but I was incapacitated, to say the least.

She won the battle. I am slowly putting myself back together. Every little piece I write, every drabble, every paragraph, every freelance article, rebuilds my strength. Next time, I'll be prepared. I'll have an arsenal of weapons and an armor of steel. Because, my friends, I fully intend to win the war.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Camping Part 1: The Experience

I've just arrived home from a four day camping excursion. After sifting through nearly one hundred emails and countless voicemail messages, I came straight here to share my adventures.   I'll never understand why people don't like camping. There is something so beautiful about having a breakfast of coffee and Swedish Fish, wearing nothing but a swim suit, slapping on a baseball hat instead of washing your hair and being totally unapologetic about it. Camping food, in general, is pure indulgence. How can anyone resist the allure of Easy Cheese and beef jerky? Not together, though. We tried that last year, it's not a good combo. Don't forget S'mores. Gooey, chocolatey, crispy S'mores. Yes, camping is heaven.

Of course, it's not all fun and games. We fought perilously against a multitude of Yellow Jackets, with some casualties along the way. Us, not them. Incidentally, I really wanted to call them tracker jackers, but knew that this would only cause the people around me to take away my Swedish Fish, so I refrained.
We also survived living in a trailer, a fifth wheel really, for four days. We had running water, a real toilet that flushed, and a kitchenette (because I'd go bankrupt eating out every meal). It's better than actually sleeping outside in a tent (eeeeffffff that) but still hard with three kids and two adults.  I'm small but my husband is a cross between Andre the Giant's height and the Jolly Green Giant's physique.  I lost count of how many times he hit his head on the trailer doorway.  Add to the physical challenges, the mental derangement of three kids, ages seven and younger, having little to nothing to do, save for bugging the hell out of each other. When I was lucky enough for them to be separated by way of geography, I was typically subject to my son's endless planning of which Transformer he would buy next and exactly how many chores he had to accomplish to reach his savings goal or my baby girl singing Paramore...endlessly.

There is a fantastic balance in life, though. Even the knowledge that I will suffer through the previously mentioned hardships, along with various other trials and tribulations, won't deter me from making this trip every year. The moments of awesome are too heady, too enriching to be overshadowed by giant, aggressive, attacking wasps or impossible sleeping arrangements.

This year did not disappoint. We spent the days fishing with a cheap cartoon themed fishing rod and more  light beer than should really be considered acceptable in public. Somehow, we fell into ridiculously traditional rolls, meaning my husband drank beer and fished but I didn't drink a single beer. Instead, I drank cans of soda with reckless abandon while I doled out sandwiches and snacks to the kids. How did this happen? I have no idea. Although I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I don't like beer.

My husband caught four trout, three of which escaped our pathetic excuse for a fishing rod. I also reeled in two sucker fish. I swear, if there was a World Championship of Sucker Fishing, I would own that every. single. year.  At the end of two very expensive days of fishing licenses, we caught exactly one fish.

One Rainbow Trout, about yea long,  was our boon. I was extraordinarily excited to walk our children through the realities of from where and how food comes to our plates. I grew up with fishermen and huntsmen. I have vivid memories of watching one of my uncles practice archery in my grandmother's back yard. The very woman who regaled me with stories of how she was cleaning a turtle for soup when she met my grandfather.

There is such a disconnect in modern culture between meat in the shiny plastic packaging and the animal who has given it's life. I know what you're thinking, but I am not a vegetarian and have no interest in being one. Rather, I am concerned about sustainability, about waste, about first world entitlement and about mass consumption at rates which are both shameful and unhealthy. My children were involved every step of the way with the journey of this fish, from reeling it in to cleaning it to watching me fry it up for dinner. We talked about how the fish gave up its life so we could benefit from the nourishment of it's meat. It was a important lesson. One I hope to repeat often and that they will carry with them throughout their lives, passing down that knowledge to their children, too.

Then there is the river. The river is beautiful. The noise of the rushing water and the wind rustling the trees, coupled with the simple silence being so far from the din of urban life, is breathtaking. To sit in the early morning light and take in the sweet smell of the earth under your feet and the musky scent of the previous evening's camp fires is to experience the perfection of man meshing with nature. It's how man was meant to live. And the crickets. The crickets are a symphony of happenstance that you  must experience at least one time in your life. If you're lucky, the sky might be gloriously clear and you can see the constellations mingled with millions of other stars as they blanket the velvety indigo above you.

Go camping, my friends. If not for you, then for your children. It's one of the most enchanting ways you can remind yourself what it means to truly be human. And don't forget the Swedish Fish.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Universe Called, was I Listening?

*ring, ring*

"Hello? Oh, hey Universe! How's it goin'?"

~silence~  (this is all you can hear, 'cuz you're not on the phone with me)

I chew on my thumbnail, listening intently while the Universe rips me a new one. It finishes with some nice stuff though, you know, to be encouraging.

"M'hm, okay, yes, I understand. Well, great to hear from you. Talk to you later."

My head falls and smacks against the keyboard. I'm utterly spent by the roller coaster of emotions. 

~ ~ ~

Okay, obviously that's not how it really went down. It was more like this. I woke up and checked Twitter. In my feed was a constant drip of actual quotes from editors as to why they had rejected particular manuscripts. I was so stressed out by this, you would not believe it. I felt like each comment was one that could be directed at me. Now, take note, I have not submitted anything to this publishing house. My manuscript isn't even done with it's first draft. Therefore, it's ridiculous that I had any emotion about these tweets at all. I tell myself that it's such an advantage to have these insider snippets of information. That I will be better because of them. Still, they scare the shit out of me.

That's the thing about writing. You can try so hard, but someone is still going to think it sucks. You have to write for yourself first, and your audience second. Maybe to give the finger to an old college professor third, you know, if that's what you need to do. I digress. You have to have thick skin, or be incredibly resilient, or both. Because the honest truth of it is, you will have WAY more rejections than requests. Even if you become a best selling author, some jackass at some newspaper is going to say your book wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. What people like, and don't like, in the way of literature is vast and varied. One person's Anne Rice is another person's Stephenie Meyer : ascribe to those authors what you will (I like vampire books, so sue me). See, that's my point exactly. I like vampire books, you don't. No biggie. The thing is, as writer, it can be really hard to retain your perspective on the situation.

Just as I was feeling like my manuscript was a lost cause and was I contemplating throwing in the towel because "who wants to read my stupid stories anyway." Just as I was ready to skulk back into the recesses of my mind and take up residence in the Land of Hopeless Dreams, I saw a new tweet. This tweet reassured me that someone, somewhere, enjoys the way I tell a story. That's reason enough to keep writing. If I can't write for me, then some days I will have to write for my reader(s).  Even though we have to write for ourselves, sometimes you need to believe someone else out there cares. So, thank you to the people that bother to read anything I write, including the postal worker who sent back the envelop that was illegibly addressed last week.