My August Break

So, when I talked about retiring from the position of perfectionist writer on my last post, I wasn’t talking about retiring from this blog entirely.  Really, I wasn’t.    

But, whoa.  Has life hit anyone else like a ton of bricks?  I may write more about what I’ve been through soon, but, for now, I just want to get back here.  I want to just visit this space again.  I’ve struggled with how to do that after so much time away, and then I saw the August Break from Susannah Conway and I decided I could try that.  A photo a day without the stress of words seemed doable. 

And then I go and write a post anyway.  :)

Well, maybe not a post.  More like a quick list.  When I was reading over my journal entries for blog fodder, I was happy to read over the epiphanies I’ve had recently, like reminders of how far I’ve come in the last few months.  It hasn’t been easy, but I’d like to pat myself on the back for a minute.  I’ve learned so much.  And maybe, I’m just a little bit proud of me.  Here goes: 

  1. My best friend and counsel is always, always my intuition.  There are no exceptions to this rule.  (However, the trick is apparently in being able to hear your intution over the fear.  I’m getting better at that.) 
  2. Facing demons isn’t nearly as exhausting as maintaining the facade that I’m okay.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said the word “amicable” I wouldn’t need to sell website design.  Here’s the deal: a year ago last month, I ended an eighteen year relationship.  I’m not okay.  And that’s just fine.  It’s not easy.  It’s not supposed to be.  Sometimes, I get to be pissy, and lazy, and immature, and fat.  And I’m okay with that.  Because sometimes I’m going to be brilliant, and beautiful, and amazing.  That’s just life.  It’s traumatic for everyone.  And it’s not about how well you sell it, it’s about how well you live it. 
  3. Life is actually different now. 
  4. Opening myself up to the role I played in the toxicity of my marriage was one of the most difficult and liberating things I’ve ever done.  There is such power in admitting your humanness. 
  5. It is okay to be firm, loving, compassionate, and completely unapologetic about what you need. 
  6. Finally figuring out why you’re here is way more important than when you figure it out.   
  7. For all of its drama, for all of its significance, the divorce was never what I was running from.  It’s older, and deeper than that, which means that right now–this moment–isn’t “starting over;” this is beginning.
  8. It is never, ever one person’s fault.  No matter how many or how grievous the sins committed against you, there is more at play than you can imagine, within you, and within them.  Even the ugliest people have pasts and presents that are often filled with misery and loss. 
  9. Breathing makes things better.  Complaining makes things worse. 
  10. Be yourself.  Tell the truth.  And be very clear about what you want. 

So, here I am, at the beginning of the month of my thirty-sixth birthday, and I’m taking an August Break.  I’m taking a break from expectatations, from worries about money, from punishment for not being thin enough, young enough, together enough. 

I’m taking a break from shoulds–the shoulds that tell me I should be writing more, working more, working less, more patient, more compassionate, less angry.   

I’m taking a break from my past. 

I’m taking a break from judgment, from any pattern of thinking that’s inhibited me from living right now inthisverymoment.  I’m taking a break from neglecting my art and myself. 

I’m taking a break for breath. 

And so, my pic for today is a teacup from a teacup collection I saw at a B&B I stayed at over the weekend.  It’s the same set I had as a child. 

And because, when I went to Susannah’s blog to get the badge, I saw this video and it completely swept me away I’m sharing it, too.

Watching that every day may be another part of my break.

Re: My Official Resignation Letter

The Universe, Inc.

Dear Board of Directors:

Please accept this letter as my official resignation from the position of Perfectionist Writer.  I have enjoyed the time I’ve spent here.  It’s been an enlightening position.  However, I feel I’ve learned all I can from it. 

There’s another position, one down in the mailroom in the basement, that I think is going to suit me much better.  I’d like to officially request a transfer to the position of story clerk.  Apparently,  there are hours and hours of stories down there, provided by muses, that need to be transcribed.  

As I understand it, there’s very little work involved.  I’ve heard that the muses know what to do and the stories know where to go, and the characters tell you exactly what to write.  This sounds like a position I’m much better suited for. 

Please understand, it’s not that I’m lazy.  I did enjoy the ruthless work ethic and punishing discipline of being the Perfectionist Writer, but I’ve discovered that I’m just not good at it, and I’d much rather do a simple position very well, than a very prestigious one not at all. 

I’ll miss the ambience up here–the view, the leather chair, the massive desk, the heady feeling of superiority–but I hear that down there they have beanbags, great music, and an endless supply of green tea and Milk Duds.

Since perfection will no longer be a qualification for my work product, I understand that I am no longer required to write brilliantly, elegantly, or even well.  Apparently, the stories themselves are none of my business, really, and I can control neither what the muses dictate to me, nor how they are received in the world.  I know that this may sting a bit–after all, I won’t be able to take credit for the really great bits of literary brilliance, but I’m happy to hand the credit over to the muses, particularly if that means I can just sit in my beanbag and write freely, without judgment.   

If it’s all right, I’d like to start as soon as possible.  Would today be acceptable?  You don’t need to worry about issuing me a uniform.  I have my own pajamas.  And I understand that the uplink to listen to the muses will be provided once I show up to work, is that correct? 

Thank you again for the opportunity to learn from this wonderful place of employment.  I’m happy to continue to contribute; I only wish to change the nature of my contribution.  I look forward to many more years of employment and opportunity within this wonderful and exciting company. 


Diane Whiddon

Writer and Storyteller

Choosing to be Good Enough

So, it’s been a tough week.  I do believe I’ve hit what is called Rock Bottom.  You see, I need to write.  No, not just want to write, need to write.  And submit.  And get paid.  I don’t have my husband’s cushy income to rely on anymore and suddenly, after way too long, I’m finding that I’m almost completely dependent on no one but me.  And I’m scared.  No, not scared. It’s more like bone-deep terror.  I keep telling myself that writing is what I want to do, what I’ve always wanted to do, but somehow, it’s been hard to believe.  And, shamefully, the security of a forty hour a week job shackled to a computer in a cubicle somewhere has started to sound pretty good. 

And that’s just bullshit. 

So, I’m not going to talk about my writing today.  I’m going to celebrate the coping skill of avoidance and talk about pole-dancing instead.  As it turns out, I’ve been having a problem with that, too. 

Here’s the thing:  I have cellulite. 

I know.  Shocker.  I’m female and over thirteen.  Cellulite is just going to happen.

And until now, I really didn’t care too much about it unless it was bathing suit season.  I just never wear shorts.  Never.  I have a closet full of capri pants and long skirts, but no shorts or short skirts.  I just don’t wear them.  So, I just figured I wouldn’t wear them when I was dancing, either. 

I go to class and wear my long yoga pants and a tank top and I get along just fine.  Mostly.  When it comes time in the class to do some of the more complicated stunts where I need skin friction, I just roll up my pants.  Dorky, sure.  But functional.  Mostly. 

Well, one of the girls I met at the studio has a professional dance troupe.  (Which is pretty much the coolest thing ever.)  A few weeks ago, she asked me to do a number with her dance troupe in an upcoming show.  (No, I’m sorry, that’s the coolest thing ever.)  She wants to do a number where the two of us will do some joint choreography and tandem stunts on the pole. 

Obviously, I said, “Yes.”  Actually, I think I fainted a little bit and said, “OMG!  OMG!” and then began to mumble something inarticulate.  (I mean, she used to dance and choreograph professionally, in L.A.)

So, we’ve been working on choreography (which is just a treat in itself) and after a while she started talking about what we should wear, which kind of came as a surprise to me because I naturally assumed that I’d be wearing the same thing I wear to class, but when I told her as much, she simply said, “Um, no.”  Then she told me that she wants us to wear–get this–booty shorts. 

Um, what?  Booty shorts?  There is no way.  No way in hell.  Then she tells me that since our choreography is so pretty and the song is so slow and beautiful she wants them to be sparkly.  Sparkly booty shorts.  I cannot express to you my horror.  Sparkly booty shorts will draw people’s attention to the exact area I’ve spent a decade trying to hide. 

Let the panic attack begin.   

So, I’m in a store, frantically looking for anything that I could possibly wear–latex?  A full-length wetsuit?–when I made my decision … (and this is probably the only thing more embarrassing than sparkly booty shorts) … I was going to back out. 

There was just no way I could do this.  I had my excuses all ready, “Oh, well you know, the divorce … and my biz … and I’m just so busy….”  And I rationalized it by telling myself that I wasn’t chickening out or anything, I’d just back out of this one performance, and then, after I’d lost some weight and improved my skill level, well …then I’d approach her again when I’d be good enough–good enough to perform in public, skinny enough to pull off the costume, talented enough to not be self-conscious–then, and only then–would I do it. 

And, I know I wasn’t going to talk about my writing, but it’s the same thing there, too, right?  Everyone says that writing is hard, but really, it’s not.  I know the truth.  For a select few, writing is easy, effortless.  And if I can just do enough self-work, if I can just get happier, wiser, more confident, more talented, more disciplined, whatever–then the writing will just flow out, beautiful and nearly perfect.  Not quite perfect, obviously, but close.  Even Shakespeare probably had to do a little editing.  But not much, right?


Why is it that a line of bullshit like that is so much easier to believe than the simple truth that we’re all good enough, that we’re all simply magnificent? 

And so, standing there in that store, with my lungs collapsing from the pain of the decision to give up the chance to dance again, I realized that she wouldn’t have asked me to dance with her if she thought I was going to embarrass her.  I mean, she’s my dance instructor, so she’s seen me dance and she’s seen my body and she asked me anyway!  So why, if I was good enough for her, was I not good enough for me?   

I know how I look.  I have some good stuff and some stuff I’d like to change.  Big deal.  Everyone does.  And I have the choice to focus on that and tell myself the lie of what I’d need to be good enough, or I can simply choose to be good enough right now, right here, with what I’ve got.   

I can look like this and dance, or look like this … and not dance. 

And you know what I’m going to do every single time? 

I’m going to dance. 

And the writing?  Well, writing is always going to be hard.  It’s scary.  It can also be exciting, maybe even be thrilling and fun–I sure hope so–but the scary, the unknown, will always be there. 

So, I can either be scared and write.  Or be scared … and not write. 

I’m damn sure going to write.    

I’m tired of telling myself that it’s hard.  I’m tired of telling myself that I probably don’t have what it takes.  I’m tired of listening to my inner critic so intently that I can’t even hear the music.  I’m exhausted by it, in fact.  I’m going to start telling myself another story.  Does anyone else get those little Notes from the Universe?  That’s what I’m using as inspiration here.  Mine will go something like this:

“Greetings, Diane.  This is the Universe.  I just wanted to tell you something because it seems like you’ve forgotten it:  writing is really pretty fun.  Do you remember how much fun it was to write when you were a kid?  Well, it’s still like that, and it’s still that easy.  It’s a lot like dancing, and you know how much fun that is, right? 

And it doesn’t have anything to do with skill or talent, really, it simply has to do with the Awesomeness of You.  We call it the Pink and Silver Diane Sparkle Effect.  It’s impressive.

So, just do your thing.  I’ll take care of the rest.  I mean, six months ago you couldn’t even envision a life where you danced every day and now look at what you’ve got going on.  You’re welcome.  I’ve got your back, sweetpea.  I’ve got your whole Writing Life here to hand over, you just need to begin.  And beginning isn’t really so hard.  You’re right there.  You’re already doing it.  You see that, don’t you? 

Just focus on having fun with it, Diane.  That’s all you have to do.  After all, that’s really the whole point. ”

Okay, Universe.  I’ll give it a go.  I’ll keep you posted. 

New Beginnings…

So, a month ago I turned around and it was suddenly December.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was all, “What happened to 2009?  Did anyone see where it went?  It was just here a second ago.”  But it was one of those years that seemed to go by at either warp speed or a glacial crawl, and sometimes both at once.  It’s been rough.  Has it been that way for anyone else?  Sometime around February my life began to fall apart and I’m just now picking up the pieces.

So yeah, I’m getting divorced.  From a really wonderful man who’s been my best friend for the last thirteen years.  It simply wasn’t working anymore.  That sounds almost glib, but it’s the truth.  We wanted totally different things and finally realized that hoping the other one was going to change wasn’t fair to either of us.  It took us a while, but I take that as a sign of our commitment to and love for each other rather than confusion or weakness.  We did a really good job, overall.  I’m proud of us.  But it was, and is occasionally still, awful and painful and lonely.  I imagine that starting over always is.

Anyway, I’ve been going through some tremendous changes.  And just a quick note to those of you who have sent me emails or Skypes or Tweets over the last few months, (or even in the last twenty-four hours).  I love you all.  I cannot tell you how much those little notes or long conversations helped me.  I think I’m actually going to be okay, and those kindnesses helped me through it.  You guys rock my world.

Okay, so since this is a blog about writing, I should probably tell you about what’s been going on with my writing.  Not too much.  All hell is breaking loose in the rest of my life, but the writing?  Well, the writing has stagnated a bit.

It’s definitely easier for me to write than it was several months ago.  I can read the first few entries of this blog and see that I’ve come a long way.  And it’s not that I’ve been writing nothing.  I’ve filled pages and pages of journal entries.  And actually, the mere fact that I’ve found such solace in journaling is a really huge, wonderful step for me.

But the book?  Oh, hell no.  The book has been sulking in the corner, greedy for my time, tugging at my pants leg, and whining when he doesn’t get all my attention.  He’s bossy, my book, and selfish.  I can’t decide if I like that about him or not.

But, things have been happening.  Slowly.  Under the radar.   I’ve learned a lot about self-trust (who knew I had some?) and what I want (um, yes the silver platter is fine), and who I am (why, hello there, Self.  Nice to meet you again.  It’s been a while.)

I’m getting better at keeping steady.  I don’t really know why this one is, it’s just happening.

Then, a couple of months ago, the writing began to shift.  In a really huge way.

And here’s the cool part: it all happened because of a pole-dancing class.

Oh yeah, you read that right.  This blog is about to get a lot more interesting.

I haven’t taken a dance class in fifteen years.  Yes, there’s a story there.  I’ll tell you about it soon, but not today.  Today, I just want to tell you about the first class.

So, I went to a class.  We did a really excellent warm-up.  I got re-introduced to hip rolls (hello sexual repression.  Didn’t see you there.  Have you been here all this time?)  Then at the very end of class, we moved to the poles and she showed us a little bit of our first turn.  It wasn’t easy.

“Thwack!”  My leg hit the pole with a lot of pain and not much grace.  I tried it again.  And again.  And wondered how much abuse my body could take.

And then, after watching the instructor a few more times, I tried again.  This time, something happened.  Somehow, my feet were right, my balance was on, and I just … took off.  My feet left the ground, my body began to spin and the eight-year-old inside of me threw her arms over her head and went, “Wheeee!”  Then, I landed…on my ass, but grinning.

I realized pretty quickly that there was a reason that this place is what got me back into dance, that after years away from it, the Universe led me to this studio, this class, right now.  It goes without saying that I got my own pole.

I installed it smack dab in the middle of my living room and turned up Fall Out Boy as loud as I thought the neighbors could handle and began to dance.  Just dance.  I can’t even tell you what I was doing because I was just doing anything.  Suddenly I was ten years old again, playing A Chorus Line over and over again and dancing around my parents’ living room until I burned up the tape.

Are you familiar with the yogic idea of rasa?  It’s the concentrated essence of something.  The juice.  The plasma.  It’s where the energy is.  And there’s this idea that if you can find it–the juice, the plasma, the golden thread–and tap into it, listen to it, then your creativity will just flow out, if not effortlessly, then at least energetically.  (If you’re interested in this, Chris Zydel’s entire blog over at Creative Juices Arts radiates this idea.)

I love this idea, that in order to do any creative endeavor well (or at least to have any fun with it) you go where the energy is–where the plasma, the blood, the heart of it–is.  I relish the idea of just jumping in, of diving into the plasma and feel it split at my feet and then engulf me like warm jello.  I imagine that it’s rainbow colored, and it smells like strawberry Starbursts.  I want to gather it up around me and hold it close to me while I write, write, write, while I get the story out, while I invite my characters to swim with me.

Is that self-actualization?  That same heart-warming energy, that joy, that I feel when I’m dancing–just dancing–for the fun of it, to music I love?  Without worrying about who is watching?  Without caring if I look stupid or silly or scared?

That’s what I want from my writing.  Hell, that’s what I want from my life.  Can living be like that?  Like dancing to my favorite song–heart open, hair flying, feet off the ground?  Is it too much to ask?  Is it too late?  I don’t think so.  I hope not.  Here’s to new beginnings–to blogs, to novels, to dances.  Happy New Year, everyone.  Let’s rock it out.




Discovering My Writing Process

Okay, so I’ve had the kind of crazy weekend that makes me want to lie down for a few days just to absorb it all.  Major shifting of patterns and stuff.  Some good, some bad, but all for the greater good, I think. 

So it started last Thursday when I had my session with Joely Black, The Most Excellent Writing Coach, who is not only the most generously supportive coach on the planet, but who can also do a kick-ass Cartman impression. 

Anyway, we’re having the session, and she asks me if I want to talk about my characters, which is pretty great, really, because she lets me lead the sessions.  If I want to talk about characters, that’s what we talk about, but I can also choose to talk about plot, or writing, or other blocks I have.  She’s flexible, and that makes me think I can be, too. 

But, my intention was to talk about the idea of identity and how I think I need to change–or maybe reframe–how I approach my writing and how I think of myself as a writer. 

Instead, I heard myself say, “Yeah.  I want to talk about my characters, but I want to say something that’s really hard, so give me a minute.” 

There was a soft and supportive “Okay” on the other end of the line. 

I took a deep breath and I began to tell her what I’ve been thinking lately regarding my characters and my process, mostly that I just need to write the scenes that I’m interested in first, and trust that the rest of the story will unfold from there.

For several months now–I know.  I’m slow.  It’s all good–I’ve been thinking that I need to sit down and write the really important scenes, the scenes that gave me the idea for this book in the first place, the scenes where my characters come up against their greatest fears, or find out some awful secret or whatever.  There’s really only a half dozen or so of them, but they’re the scenes that really pull me to the story. 

And I’ve been thinking that maybe I should just trust that if those are the scenes that gave me this story idea in the first place, that they’ll take me where I need to go to tell it. 

But I haven’t allowed myself to write them.  I mean, I won’t know the details!  I won’t know what to write!  I’ll have to change stuff later!  I’ll get it wrong

And so we get to the heart of the matter–I can’t get it wrong.  I can’t make a mistake.  Ever. 

And because the stakes are so high, and because my childhood bar for excellence is so ridiculously unattainable, “getting it wrong” means “getting it anything less than perfect.” 

I can’t delete stuff.  I can’t do it the Wrong Way.  I need to do it right the first time. 

Part of the reason that I’ve been ignoring this niggling thought at the back of my head is because I really think that this is my process, not just for these few scenes, but for the whole book.  Dive into the scenes I care about and before long, the other scenes will crop up.  I’ll write those, and before I know it, I’ll have pieced together the entire story, the whole book, just from those first few scenes. 

So why am I not doing that? 

Because if I jump in and it doesn’t work, I’ve got nothing left.  I’ve got nothing left to fall back on. 

I’ve tried every other process on the planet.  I’ve read a hundred books on how to write, which is both enormously helpful and incredibly damaging.  I’ve learned a lot, including lots of ways to avoid listening to myself.  If I do whatever someone else tells me to do and it doesn’t work, then I have someone to blame.  Then it’s not me who’s completely fucked it all up. 

And I’m in the middle of telling Joely all of this when I realize something else:  the reason I’m telling her this now is because I want her to tell me that this way is The Right Way.  I’m telling her that I think I need to start with these scenes that I love and somehow trust that the rest of the book will follow because I want her to validate it for me. 

Then I realize that Joely might not know what’s right for me.  Even with all her experience and brilliance, even with seventeen books and all her self-awareness and writing talent, and the fact that she knows more about Buddhism than anyone else I’ve ever met outside another religion major, she still doesn’t know what my process should be. 

And that’s when things finally clicked into place. 

And I said, “You know, I think I told you all of this because I wanted you to tell me that it was Okay for me to do this, but you know what, Joely?  (clears throat and coughs) I…I don’t care what you think.” 

There was silence for about half a second. 

And then wild cheering and applause from Manchester.  “Yaaaay!  You’re there!  You’re getting it!”  And then we laughed together and she cheered for me some more and I rested my head on my desk because slaying dragons is exhausting. 

And I’m just trying to settle into this idea.  I know I should probably just start writing, but it’s hard.  I’m taking it slow.  And really, I don’t have a lot of time right now.  I’m slammed with website work.  It’s funny, I start opening myself to my writing and my process and all of a sudden, my website business is taking off. 

It’s good.  I’m beginning to believe that things are going to be Okay, even if I don’t yet know what Okay is going to look like. 

I’m excited about this week.  I don’t have a lot of time, but I’m going to treat myself to writing those favorite scenes.  Did you hear that?  “Treat myself.”  That’s what it is.  I might not write the whole book this way.  This might not lead to more scenes.  I may write these few and the rest will just fizzle out, or I might write myself into a big, black hole, but that’s okay.  I’m just not going to worry about that right now. 

Right now, I’m just going to write what I want to, what I care about.  And I’m going to do it as well as I can.  And next week?  Well, I’ll worry about that next week.

More meditation wackiness–oh and my rock says Hi

Status: Steadier this week.  I’ve tackled some big dragons.  This is actually something I wrote a couple of weeks ago and I’m just now feeling like I can post it.  (And I just posted this and saw the length–whoa.  I should probably apologize, but you know what?  I’m just not going to.  My space.  My writing.  My stuff.  I only post every other week anyway.  Break it up into chunks.)

So, if you’ve been following my blog at all, you know that I’ve got a rock, and lately, it’s been changing.  So many people have come by to chat with it or talk to it that it thinks it gets to talk, too, which of course pisses me off.  

Here’s the thing:  It’s not the perfectly shaped egg that it used to be.  It’s …collapsed somehow.  It looks more like a rock.  A rock that’s been through a tumbler.  It’s got some angles and flat places, but they’re tied together with all these soft, rounded corners. 

And the teeth …well, the teeth are still there, but they’re softer, too.  They’re not metal anymore.  And since they’re so tiny, they look a bit like peach fuzz.

And that’s something else.  It used to be really pretty–beautiful, in fact.  It was all glossy and sparkly and perfectly formed and just really, really gorgeous.  But now, with all the awkward edges and the fuzz that strangely resembles mildew, it’s ugly.  Gross.  Really, really repulsive. 

But, that doesn’t much matter to me, because I hated when it was beautiful, so I don’t like it any more or less now. 

Because I know why it’s here. 

See, I’ve got some Stuff.  And it’s not all my stuff.  Some of it was handed down to me.  Some of it was done to me.  Some of recent.  Some not.  And a couple of months ago I had a really nasty realization:  I realized that I couldn’t write because I couldn’t forgive myself for not being perfect, and the bad part was that I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself for not being perfect until I’d forgiven Those Who Had Hurt Me. 

Yeah.  Not gonna happen. 

But, I tried.  At the very least, I was finally able to see TWHHM with some compassion and understanding.  Miserable people do miserable things.  That’s just how life is. 

But the only reason I was able to do that was because I promised myself that I could keep the resentment.  I was able to forgive because I promised myself I’d never have to forget.  I could acknowledge that they were bitter, miserable, unhappy people.  And I could let go of some of the anger and pain.  But the resentment?  No way.  I promised myself I could wrap that around me like swaddling.  It would hold me up and keep me together.

And then my rock showed up. 

And told me that I’d have to let the resentment go.  That scared me.  And then, a few weeks ago, it pissed me off.  A lot.

During a meditation, I ran out into the field where my rock sits with my inner critic, which startled them both because I usually don’t go out there.  I’m only a guest, after all.  And I dragged that rock out from under that tree and into the middle of that field and I started looking for the biggest, heaviest branch I could find so that I could beat the shit out of it and make it leave. 

And I started shrieking, “I hate you!  I don’t want you here!  I didn’t invite you here!  This wasn’t part of the deal!  I don’t have to do anything.  I get to be resentful!  And pissed!  And I want you gone!  And if you won’t go, I’ll damn well run you off!” 

And when I found the branch I was looking for, I turned back to my rock, expecting to find it cowering against the grass, or maybe already gone because it could see how serious I was. 

But it wasn’t scared.  It wasn’t trying to hide or flee.  It was just sitting there in the grass where I’d dragged it, looking up at me and blinking. 

I didn’t even know it had eyes. 

I raised the branch over my head.  “Do you see?  Do you see me?  I hate you!  I can’t have you here any more!  And I’m going to drive you from here if it kills me!”  All I could feel was my own hatred and resentment. 

And it just blinked at me. 

Then, it sent a quiet little voice to me in my head, “That’s okay.  You can hit me with that branch.  I’m a rock.  I can take it.  And I know you need it right now.  And that’s okay.  You’re okay.” 

I stopped, but I gripped that branch as tightly as I could.  I know a sales pitch when I hear one.  I didn’t back down. 

Until it said the next thing to me. 

“You can hit me all you want.  I can take it.  But I’m just going to stay here.  And you can hit me for as long as you want.  What you’re doing is really hard.  And you have a right to be angry.  So, I’m just going to take it.  Because I can.  And because I still love you.” 

And I simply broke. 

I collapsed to me knees on the grass and the branch fell away.  I bent over and I started to cry.  And I couldn’t stop. 

I stayed that way on my mat in my office for a long time, sobbing into my hands. 

A while later, I felt brave enough to look up.  My rock had moved closer to me.  I turned my hand over and it crawled up into it.  I lifted it up to my face where I could get a good look at it. 

It just looked back.  It was still ugly.  Fuzzy and mildewy and imperfect.  And I kept waiting for the reproach.  For the acknowledgment that I’d fucked up big time.  For the judgment.  But it just sat there. 

So finally, exhausted and broken, I said, “Okay, so what are you trying to tell me?  What wonderful bit of wisdom are you here to share?  Please just tell me so I can get it over with.  I can’t take this any more.” 

And it blinked at me.  But it said nothing.  And eventually, after a moment, it slowly turned around and turned its back on me. 

A horrible sense of dread that this wasn’t over–that even after all of this self-work, my damn rock wasn’t going to help me out at all–swamped me.  All my fear and insecurity came rushing back.  “Wait!  What are you doing?  I’m here.  I’m listening.  Just fucking tell me already.” 

I waited. 

But my rock didn’t move.   

“Look at me!  I’m here.  I’m doing the damn work!  And I can’t heal unless you talk to me!  What the hell do you want?”  By now, I’m crying again.  “Please.” 

It turned around again, giving me it’s full attention, but still not speaking.  Eventually, I got the distinct impression that it was saying, “Are you done?” and looking at me like I was a doofus. 

Finally, at a complete loss, I sniffled and said, “What?” 

It blinked at me again and slowly, like it wanted to make sure I got it this time, it turned back around and faced the field. 

For the first time since I’d run out there, I looked up. 

And gasped. 

It was beautiful.  The sky was a vibrant, gorgeous blue, and the sun was shining so brightly that I was surprised it didn’t hurt my eyes.  Everything shone.  The grass, the trees, the lake in the distance all seemed to sparkle and shine with color.  Even my inner critic was looking up, Milk Duds momentarily forgotten. 

I sat there for a long time and watched it.  I felt delight and wonder.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, it registered that it had been a long time since I’d felt those things, a long time since I’d given myself permission to just be happy. 

Slowly, everything began to fade back to normal.  It became simply another field again.  And I’d almost missed it all because I’d been so wrapped up in solving my own anger and resentment.

I looked down at my rock in my hand and saw it looking up at me.  That little fucker was smiling. 

I lowered it back to the ground and it made its way back to my inner critic.  I was astonished to see her lower her hand to the grass and help it up onto her shoulder.  As far as I knew, they’d never even acknowledged each other.  But apparently, now they were friends. 

That’s how I left them.  My inner critic, perched on her favorite root, looking down into her box of Milk Duds, my rock sitting on her shoulder, looking at me and smiling. 

And I suppose that that entire experience was very profound somehow and should have left me with some kind of brilliant insight, but all I really feel is shaken and unsure, like I’m walking across an ice rink in sneakers.   I don’t know how to live without the swaddling of resentment and anger.  I don’t know what’s going to hold me up or keep me together. 

Maybe my writing.  Maybe me.  Maybe all of you.  I guess we’ll see.  Thanks for being here.

A Note from the Grammar Mafia

I know that, from time to time, I make some grammatical mistakes.  I start too many sentences with And and So.  I have tense issues.  I use the wrong pronouns.  And sometimes, sometimes, I even use the wrong “their.”  There are three to choose from.  It’s going to happen. 

And if this matters to you, then you should unsubscribe immediately because here at Outdriving My Headlights, we value story–your story, my story, the stories we’re sharing with each other.   

“But you’re a writer,” I hear you saying.  “Isn’t grammar important to you?  Don’t we need grammar to be able to communicate?” 

Well, yes, we do.  That’s true.  The better we can wield the tools of grammar, syntax, vocabulary and spelling, the better we can craft our story. 

But here’s my problem:  when we’re all standing in line at the post office, tentatively chatting each other up to pass the slowed-to-a-crawl time, and the lovely lady in the green dress begins to captivate us with tales of her family’s recent safari in South Africa, you do not stop her to correct her pronoun usage

I mean, you understood that she meant that her daughter and her were left on the bank by the boat, right?  You didn’t think she meant her daughter and a lawn chair?  Or her daughter and an eggplant? 

I didn’t think so.  So why are you correcting her? 

a) You’re insecure enough to judge the sweet, well-traveled lady who was brave enough to share her story with you.
b) You’re selfish enough not to care that you’ve made her uncomfortable.
c) You’re a jackass.
d) All of the above.

And so here’s my point:  if you’re already understanding the story, if you’re already communicating, and you’re still correcting grammar, then your primary goal isn’t to improve the communication at all.  It’s to assert your own superiority and draw attention to yourself. 

This provokes me to start a movement–a movement against the Grammar Police.  This is for everyone I’ve ever met in my life who has stopped me right in the middle of my story to say, “No, it’s whom,” for all the writers I’ve known who use the rules of grammar to judge others, for that dumbass in the post office for stopping the nice lady’s story because I wanted to hear what happened with the snake and the sunglasses and now I’ll never know.  

If you’d like to join my movement, consider yourself a member.  We shall call ourselves The Grammar Mafia.

To all the Grammar Police out there, here is our letter to you. 

Dear Grammar Police,

We see you.  We’ve met you.  We know you. 

You correct your grandmother at the Thanksgiving table.  You scoff at the television.  You laugh at “supposeably.” 

You judge us by our typos.  You use silly words like “masticate” and “utilize.”  You never use “lie” when you mean “lay.” 

We are not impressed. 

We are not impressed by technical knowledge spewed out by rote.  We do not value the judgment of others and we do not care for your self-righteous superiority.  We believe that meaningful human communication depends more on honesty, transparency, and earnestness than on the correct conjugation of “to swim.” 

As long as communication is made with respect, kindness, and a genuine willingness to share, we will honor it.  We will value it.  We will reach out to it so that it can bring us closer together, regardless of whether or not someone says “less” when he or she meant “fewer.” 

And if you show up here with your judgment and superiority, we will fight you with Tommy guns loaded with self-acceptance and tolerance.  We will bootleg compassionate curiosity.  We will beat clever metaphors to death. 

Consider yourself warned. 

Just know that we are out here, waiting on you to out yourself at a party when someone says “irregardless.”  We won’t take kindly to your grammatical suggestions.  We will stand up for everyone who has ever made a silly mistake because they were caught up in the story. 

And (in the Godfather voice, lightly scratching our chins) we just might make you an offer you can’t refuse. 

Seriously yours,
Diane “Bugsy” Whiddon
Head of the Denver Outfit
The Grammar Mafia

The Muse, Alcohol, and Attendance

Status:  Really not in the mood to write today.  Feeling a bit chewed up and spit out.  Which I suppose makes today’s topic fairly ironic. 

Okay, so this talk from Elizabeth Gilbert has been circulating the tubes for a couple of weeks now.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a look.  She talks about a different way to think about creative genius. 

Watching this really got me to thinking about writing, and how hard it is, and how often it feels like a flogging. 

She mentions how many authors have died by their own hand, either deliberately, or by the slow deterioration caused by constant self-abuse.  It should come as no surprise that some of the greatest writers of our time were alcoholics.  Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and so many of the great writers in the early part of this century were drunkards as much as writers. 

And I’m not above it.  I know for a fact that the words flow more quickly and easily if I’ve had an extra glass of wine or a long conversation with my friend, Basil Hayden.  I know that alcohol quiets the inner critic, as does any other vice that temporarily reduces cognitive dissonance. 

There are lots of explanations for this phenomenon.  Anne Lamott talks about the warping that occurs when one person spends so much time in their own company, inside their own head. 

And we’ve all read the books and articles, and gone to the workshops where they tell you that you can’t just write anything, you have to tap into your inner most stuff, your core.  That’s the only way to write well, to write what people will want to read, what will resonate with them.  So, you can’t just sit down and do it by rote, like it’s analyzing a balance sheet, you have to turn yourself inside out and put what used to be wrapped tightly around your bones onto the blank page. 

That’s enough to fuck up anybody.   

Here’s the beauty of what Elizabeth Gilbert says.  She argues that the reason all these artists are going crazy is because they feel the complete and utter burden of creation all on themselves.  She suggests that perhaps there’s a better way, a way that includes a psychological construct to carry the burden of creative genius, in other words, a muse.

She refers to the ancient Greeks and Romans and their belief that creative genius happened outside the author or artist.  The artist was simply the vessel. 

And it immediately made me think of my muse. 

Yes, I have one.  Now, for those of you who know me, this should come as no surprise because you know I have an inner critic, a rock, and a field where they both like to sit.  What you might not know is that my muse is occasionally out there with them. 

Now, my inner critic showed up in my life first.  And I’m convinced that I gave her this beautiful field to sit in because I was trying to show her love and attention so she’d lighten up on the That’s Not Good Enough Talk. 

One day, I noticed that I had a muse as well. 

She has this long, flowing hair and a really pretty summer dress that sparkles.  She kind of looks like a hippie fairy godmother. 

She usually hangs out in the forest that runs alongside the field.  I don’t look over there very often, though.  I keep it in my periphery because it’s got a whole Fire Swamp thing going on.  I don’t know what she does in there, and I don’t care to know.  Mostly, I just leave her alone.

In fact, the only time she ever shows up is when I write something particularly brilliant. 

I’ll have this great epiphany and think, “Yeah!  I’m awesome.  I can totally do this.  I’m a writer.”  And she’ll suddenly appear over my shoulder and say, “Mm-hmph,” really quietly, just to let me know that the idea was hers and not mine. 

Which always seemed rather obnoxious to me, but after watching Elizabeth’s talk, I realized something.

Maybe she’s just trying to help. 

Maybe all this time, she’s been telling me that I don’t have to take it all on.  Maybe I don’t have to feel so responsible. 

Elizabeth made the point that all we had to do was show up.  Just show up and let go. 

I like that.  That way, the only thing I’m responsible for is attendance. 

I don’t have to write the Great American Novel.  I don’t have to write the next Twilight.  I don’t have to write a book that’s going to make all the bestseller lists next year. 

I just have to show up. 

I think I can do that. 

And I’ll come prepared. 

Do you hear me, Muse?  I’m here.  I’ve got tea.  I’ve worked out so that I feel healthy and ready to sit and churn for a while.  I’ve had a good breakfast so I feel nourished and energized.   

And I’ve got a pristine white screen in front of me, just waiting for words. 


Are Online Friends really “Friends”?

Okay, so I was talking with an acquaintance of mine the other day, trying to tell her about how cool my blog is and how much I enjoy Twitter.  I happened to mention something about my “friends” online, and she freaked out. 

Her:  Well, it’s not like they’re really your friends. 

Me:  Um, yeah.  They kind of are.

Her:  Well, I mean sure, you have stuff in common with them, and you like them, but they’re not your friends.

Me:  (silently)  Well, what the hell is your definition of “friend”?

But I didn’t say that.  I just murmured something to her and went on about the conversation and then got the hell off the phone. 

Then, I started thinking about my friends In Real Life, the people I knew in law school and from before.  People I’d talked to, shared with, leaned on.  People I’d had drinks with, people I’d bail out of jam, like if their car didn’t start in the morning.   

And I thought about what most of those people said to me when I told them I wanted to become a writer.

A writer?” 

Like I’d said “car thief.” 

Them:  What on earth are you going to do with that?

Me:  Um, write books?

Them:  What makes you think you can do that?

Me: ?!?

And if I mentioned writing romance?  Forget about it.  My “friends” have said everything from “Well, I won’t read a romance novel, but if you ever write a real book, I’d read that,”  to  “Well, good for you.  I mean, somebody’s got to write the trash, right?”   

Oh.  My.  God. 

Oh, and I’ve heard every Fabio joke in existence.   

They just don’t get it.  They don’t understand why I want to be writer.  They certainly don’t understand why I quit law school to do it.  And to write romances?  Or some other vile form of genre fiction? 

“Not something worthwhile, like Angela’s Ashes?” 

Um, no.  Writing is hard enough.  I don’t need to write a story that makes me want to snort my printer toner. 

So, when I actually joined a writer’s group, I was elated because I thought these people will get it.  They’ll get me.  They won’t be like my judgmental friends.  They’ll understand my love of writing and words.  They’ll read all the time like I do.  And they’ll be just like me!

Or not. 

I should have realized that my expectation was a little off when I went on a retreat with my critique group and one of them actually bragged about how it didn’t matter how you dressed for an agent interview at a conference, to which they all nodded and made disparaging remarks about all the poor losers who actually wore suits to conferences, like it would make a difference in their careers. 

All I could think was, I wore a suit to Conference, because this is my job.  And if you don’t think an agent is judging you for wearing a muu-muu to your interview, you’re crazy.  And, If you’re saying that about them, what the hell were you saying about me?

I’d never felt so alone in my writing career. 

It really, really hurt, because writing is hard enough, but trying to do it in the midst of a toxic critique group, or all by yourself, is almost unbearable. 

I’ve been trying to reconcile myself to that.  To writing alone.  To being the only person like me.  Someone who genuinely wants to write, who sees a critique group as more than a social gathering.  Someone who wants other people to do this with so I don’t feel so crazy and so I have someone to root for, to cheer for, and who can maybe cheer for me, too. 

And not just when I get published or get The Call, but when I simply manage to write another page, another day.

Then I started this blog, and my heart began to give way, because I began to meet so many wonderful, beautiful people who seemed to be just like that. 

Then I spent an evening on Twitter.  (At some point I’m going to have to write about the Awesomeness that is Twitter, but this post is already long enough.) 

So, anyway, it was about three in the morning my time and I started chatting with the awesome and always interesting Seth Simonds and I found out that he’s a writer, too.  He read my  previous post, and we laughed and talked about how difficult it all is, and when I asked him what he writes, he said, “Freelance pays for the food that fiction causes me to cry into” and I laughed hysterically and sent him a big, empathetic, internet hug because I could so relate. 

Then I thought that maybe I needed to stop wasting time on Twitter and get back to my work when he sent me this DM (reprinted with his permission): 

“You know the feeling of standing right beside somebody and having them reach out and take your hand with a firm squeeze? The feeling of facing the “oh shit, who knows what’s next” but being okay with it because its somehow turned into a sort of team effort?

Empathetic hugs aside, I hope you can get a sense of the hand clasp. ::there::  I write thousands of words each day and I bleed for them. But I’m constantly learning more about myself.” 

I read that.  And then I read it again.  And one more time.

And something inside me slowly unfurled.  And I realized … 

I’m not alone anymore. 

Because there are people who get it, people who get me.  And they’re wonderful, beautiful people who are here with me while I’m trying to do this crazy, insane thing. 

People like Joely, Chris, JoVE, Stacie, Emma, Gina, Mary, Eileen, TheGirlPie, and Leah, and so many more of you who don’t always comment, but who lurk, or chat with me on Twitter. 

And, of course, Seth. 

And even though you all are probably not going to show up tomorrow if my car breaks down, you’re here with me now.  You understand the fear and angst involved in the creative process.  And you can lean on me, even while I lean on you, too.  

And I think that makes you guys the coolest friends of all.

Writing Every Day

So, I’ve had a hard few weeks.  (And I’m really waiting for the week when I don’t start a post that way, but for now, well …that’s where I am.) 

Anyway, I’ve been away.  I’ve had a few of my patterns show up to wallop me, and so I’ve been hibernating.  And I’m still tired.  So tired.  My body effectively shut down last weekend, and even though it was almost certainly food poisoning or some kind of stomach flu, I couldn’t help but feel like I was being told very loudly to Slow. Down. 

And so I’ve drawn inward.  I’m licking my wounds.  I haven’t tweeted, I’ve barely emailed.  I’ve worked, but I’ve written next to nothing.

And then Chris Brogan wrote a post a couple of weeks ago that bothered me.  He talked about writing, his process, and how he basically writes all the time, even if it’s in his head.  He talked about he’s always reading or writing, whether it’s books, blogs or Twitter.  He’s apparently always writing words.  Because it’s so freakin’ easy

And that pissed me off.  Because for me, writing isn’t something I can just do all the time.  It’s not easy. 

It’s a bloodletting. 

It’s exhausting.  And it hurts. 

Now, the writing in my head thing, I’ve got down.  I do that all the time.  I’ve been doing it all my life. 

It’s  the putting it on paper that gets me.  The translation of thoughts to words that flow down my arms and out of my fingers onto the blank page is where I stop dead. 

Because the blank page is where I go to fail. 

Yeah.  At least with fiction.  Research papers, case briefs–I rock those.  And essay tests were always a dream come true.  Because all I had to do was be someone else.  I just took whatever the professor gave me and reflected it back to them.  I’m ridiculously good at that.  It’s not something I’m proud of. 

But where my writing came to a grinding halt was where I needed to be myself–my fiction, blog entries, even letters to friends.

Then someone told me that writing is all about discipline.  And when the chips were down, I simply needed sit down and do it. 

I wanted to flick him in the forehead. 

Because I’ve got discipline.  I got into law school.  (A good one.)  I’ve made straight A’s.  (And not just in the third grade.)  I’ve started my own business.  I do yoga every day.  And I always, always eat my vegetables. 

But I just can’t write all the time.  Three hours and I’m tapped out.  Four and I have to lie down for a nap. Because writing isn’t about discipline.  It’s about self-care

Let’s say that again.  Writing isn’t about discipline.  It’s about self-care. 

You cannot force yourself to write, or at least to write well.  Writing (and I believe, any creative endeavor) is about kindness to yourself, the gentle release of perfectionism, extreme self-care, and a tremendous pair of hairy cahones for boldly risking creating crap. 

And that?  Well, that I’m just not so good at. 

But, self-loathing?  Suck-it-up talk?   “Get Off Your Fat Ass” and  “You’d Better Do This Right Now or You Will Be a LOSER the Rest of Your Pathetic Life” lectures?  Hell, I could teach a class. Maybe even a whole damn conference.  But that stuff just doesn’t help. 

And that pisses me off, too. 

Because no one ever told me that.  No one ever said that not only was I allowed to take care of me, but that I was supposed to.   In fact, until I read Anne Lamott, no one even told me that I was going to be Okay.  It was all news to me. 

And all this crap makes me think of my rock, and all the resentment that I’m holding onto.  I imagine it’s not going to get easier until I can release some of that.  And that pisses me off, too. 

Apparently, I have issues. 

I may deal with a few of them next week.  We’ll see. 

In the meantime, I’ll just try to remember that someone great and beautiful told me that I’m going to be Okay, even if I have no idea what Okay is going to look like.

And I’ll do the best I can.  Even if that’s only another hour of writing tomorrow …