Failure: Succeeding In The Opposite Direction

This is the time of year when many folks begin to think of ways to improve their lives when January 1st rolls around.  Many resolutions are made, and then broken before midnight February arrives.  I don’t make resolutions – especially for exercise or diet (been there, not done that.)

Can't see where we're going while looking over our shoulder

I do think it’s healthy to examine the year gone by to make sure we are moving in the right direction.  If not, this is a great time to reorient our life map and chart out a new course.  Reorienting can be done any day of the year, but for those motivated by the freshness of a different year, it can spark revived purpose.

What is not particularly useful is rehashing all the perceived failures of the past year.  (I say ‘perceived failures’ because our failures are often not failures at all…they are valuable experiences that just didn’t lead us in the direction we planned to go.)

Zeroing in on every face-plant only increases the likelihood that emptiness will be drowned in copious amounts of alcohol.  I’ve seen the aftermath of New Year’s binge drinkers and they are a miserable bunch.  I guess dehydrating your brain until it feels like it is being beaten by four thugs in a dark alley doesn’t foster human decency.

Of course I’ve had my share of perceived failures in 2011; I’ve had goals I never reached and dreams that weren’t fulfilled.  But I choose to focus on what I have done rather than what I haven’t.  I’ll use writing as an example, since that’s why I started this blog (even though it now blurs into other areas of my life.)

In 2011, I didn’t complete my second novel as I had hoped.  In fact, I haven’t written a single word of it, but I’m not discouraged.  On the contrary, I’m thrilled creativity hasn’t robbed me and dumped me beside the road on this writing journey.  And 2011 has been a journey….I have:

  • Read 22 novels
  • Written 7 short stories
  • Completed character development short stories for 3 of my novel characters
  • Written 13 poems (links to poetry and short stories are on my Random Writing page)
  • Written about 160 blog posts
  • Read and commented on I-don’t-know-how-many blog posts
  • And…here’s the big one:  I’ve ‘met’ so many interesting blog friends that my writing journey doesn’t feel like the solitary trek that some writers bemoan.  I’m having so much fun!  Thank you 🙂

As I already mentioned, I don’t make resolutions…but I do set goals.  My one goal for next year is simple:  I will feed my spiritual self by setting aside fifteen minutes each evening to read a devotional page or scripture.  Life is about balance, and that is the one area where I am deficient.

My relationship with God is the glue that bonds me as a wife, mother, friend, writer, employee, leader, and compassionate human being. Sometimes I feel like parts of me threaten to peel away, but I want my life to be held tighter than crazy glue between fingertips.

Um, not that I have experienced this, or anything…

How do you approach the New Year – with a bottle of Tequila and 100 of your closest acquaintances, or with quiet reflection and a good night’s sleep?

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A Christmas Past, And My Christmas Present

FINALLY Christmas!

As a child, the week before Christmas seemed to drag on ‘forever’.  Each evening, I would torture myself by staring at all the pretty wrapped presents under the tree, scoping out the name tags to see which ones were mine.  Then, I would shake each box and try to guess what was inside.

When I was 11 or 12 (I can’t remember which rotten age I was at the time) there were identical large boxes under the tree – one for me, one for my brother.  I had already guessed the other boxes held a sweater with an encyclopedia (‘C’ was missing on the shelf), a shirt with some nuts and bolts, and a shoe-box sized box that I suspected held something small, like a necklace or earrings.

My parents liked to make the gift-guessing game challenging…they always added something to a box so shaking the box wouldn’t reveal the contents.  We loved the challenge of trying to figure out which of my dad’s tools gave weight to the boxes.  We rarely guessed what caused the rattles…could be nails, nuts, bolts, wall plates, outlet boxes, or a myriad of other goodies housed in his tool boxes in the garage.

After what seemed like months of staring at the big boxes, we finally got to open them on Christmas Eve.  I tore the paper away and saw a picture of a TV on the box.  Not trusting that’s what was in the box (they were also famous for reusing boxes), I yanked the flaps and busted the staples out – it really was a 13” black and white TV…for MY ROOM!  I squealed with excitement – it was the best gift EVER!

Next to a tablet PC, iPod, Kindle, or any of the current gaming systems, this gift seems like the punch line to a bad joke.  But back then, we didn’t have home computers; portable music was on a Walkman radio/cassette player; paperback and hard cover were the only book reading choices; and we played Breakout and Pong on our Atari console.

Of course, the TV was more than just a TV.  It meant security and hope for better times.  Even as a child, I knew my parents wouldn’t spend money they didn’t have.  I never asked if we were broke, but I got my answer with every “we can’t afford it” my parents said.  After several lean years, the TV seemed so lavish; I almost forgot we weren’t wealthy.

This year, Christmas is coming up like a jet touching down on a landing strip.  I want to clinch my eyes shut so Christmas doesn’t run right over me.  Instead, I stand my ground, wide-eyed and ready to take it like a mom (ha, ha).  I swear I went to sleep on December 17th and woke up to find it is December 22nd.  How the days in between passed so quickly, I don’t know.

This time of year is just an exaggeration of how time passes the rest of the year.  As I get older, the hands on the clock seem to move faster.  Sometimes I feel like I’m scrambling along on the treadmill and someone keeps turning the speed dial up.  My feet move as fast as I can make them, but I get further behind.  If it cranks up any more, I’ll surely drop my bowl of ice cream.

I have the perfect gift for myself this year:  time.  I can always use it, and there is no chance of returns, exchanges or do-overs.  Not just any time, though…no, this time is special.  It’s writing time.

Ever since I finally finished the story I posted last week (The Collector), I’ve been disturbed by the amount of time it took me to get to that point (over 3 months).  I’ve been discouraged about my lack of progress on my novel writing (um, none).  I know life still happens and I’ve a lot to do, but surely I can do a better job carving out writing time.

I’m going to start by using three hours the day after Christmas, with the goal of writing the backstory for the 3rd character in my novel.  With my hot beverage on my desk, to warm my fingers and my brain, I’ll see if I can lay out the first draft.  (If my brain functions well, I’ll stick to hot tea; if I need a little kick start, I’ll go for spiced cider…and if my brain and creativity abandon me, I’ll drown my sorrows in a mug of hot chocolate with extra whipped cream on top.)  One way or another, words will get on the page.

It may not be a black and white TV, but this gift will make my heart happy this Christmas.

What was your best Christmas gift ever?  What would you like that you have not received?  Are you doing anything for “you” this holiday season?

Strange…But Is It A Sign?

Two weeks ago, I answered a call on my cell phone from an unknown local number.   The caller asked for me by name and asked me if I went to a writing seminar last year. (I did.)  She told me her name (which I did not remember) and asked me a few questions to make sure I was the person she intended to call.  I hesitated, but confirmed that I did write a novel and have two young children.

She asked if I was still writing, and I told her mostly short stories.  I didn’t mention the blog.  Perhaps I should have, because if I added the word counts of all my blog posts, I’ve got a couple novels here.  I know, a string of incoherent posts does not a novel make, but I’m still writing words.  In my delusional mind, it counts as writing.

I asked about her projects – she is writing mostly short stories and a trilogy of novellas.  She told me she was retired and with that clue, I thought I may have a vague picture of her in my mind.  The problem is, I’m not good with names or faces.

She proceeded to tell me about a small one-day writer’s conference being held next month.  I was skeptical, but I researched the conference and it looks legitimate.  Here are the topics I found interesting: Elements of Plot; How to Get Your Book Published;  How to Develop Believable Characters; 3 Deadly Sins that Will Keep You from Getting Published;  What New Writers Need to Be Aware of In Publishing; and Query Letter Writing Boot Camp.  There are not enough hours in the day to attend all of these, so I need to nix two of them.

I hadn’t planned to go to a conference until at least 2013 because of the cost involved (and the fact I haven’t started novel #2.)  This one-day conference is something I can work into a budget.  There are no hotel costs, I can bring my own snacks, and I don’t need to take time off work to go since it’s on a Saturday.  Oh, and hubby said I should go – he could take care of the kids’ activities that day.  His support of a passion he doesn’t understand is encouraging.

The strangeness of the path that led to this encounter stayed on my mind.  A year ago, I attended a writing workshop offered by the city.  The eight of us wrote our names and contact info on a sheet of paper and we each left with a Xerox copy.  I’ve had no contact with any of the other attendees until this one call from a woman who said she’d intended to call me all along to see how it was going.

Is it just strange, or is it a sign that this workshop could be useful to me?  Of course, I don’t know for sure, but I do believe that people come into our lives to guide us in one way or another, even if we don’t recognize it until after the fact.  It’s possible that the purpose of our contact isn’t related to writing at all.

I will see where this experience takes me, because I registered for the conference last night.

Have you had similar strange encounters?  Have you looked back and recognized someone’s purpose for being in your life?  If you’ve got a story, I hope you share 🙂

The Hungry Hiker

A Short Story by JannaTWrites:

September 2002

Darrin Yarling drummed his fingers on the steering wheel while he waited for the stoplight to turn green.  He was three miles away from his parents’ house and nervousness permeated his entire body.  Even as he lived it, he knew the previous night would change the course of his life.  Last night, he had proposed to his girlfriend, Trish Howe, and she accepted.

His parents would be surprised and confused, so he wanted to tell them in person.  The last they knew, he and Trish were no longer dating.  They had split up three months ago because she thought they were getting too serious.  After bumping into each other in the Home Depot plumbing aisle, and sharing one dinner together, Darrin proposed.  The words tumbled out before he could stop himself, but it felt right.  At twenty-five years old, he didn’t need their permission, but he wanted their blessing.

Darrin rolled the car to a stop in front of his parents’ house and stared at a man in overalls sanding the wood slats of their gate.  Since his dad was a carpenter, Darrin found it strange to see someone else doing work his dad had always done.  He noticed the man didn’t have a shirt on under the overalls.  And he looked quite dirty; and rough.  “What have they done now?” he muttered as he shifted the car into park.

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A Different Kind of Rebellion

I’m not getting a tattoo, running away from home, or telling my boss off Johnny Paycheck style (as in his 1977 Country song “Take This Job and Shove it”.)  I have no desire to ‘stick it to the man’ or break laws just to see if I can.  The only authority I challenge is my own.

I have been afflicted with writing rebellion; specifically, the disregard for written deadlines.

You might be skeptical, but I can explain.

I finished the character research for novel character #3 over a month ago and wrote down a goal to have her short story completed by August 31st.  It’s an emotional story and I want to get it right.  For several weeks, I’ve waffled about where to begin.  A part of me wondered if my procrastination was caused by avoidance (to delay feeling her pain).

Yeah, I hear what you’re saying:  “Oh, boo-hoo, quit sniveling.  Suck it up and write the stinkin’ story if you want to be writer.”

You didn’t say that?  Ah, must be my inner voice of encouragement again.

I was ready to go with the avoidance of pain theory, until I realized that my progress came to an abrupt halt as soon as I wrote a “deadline” for completion of this story, as well as the remaining three character stories.  A more disturbing explanation came to mind:  perhaps I’m subconsciously sabotaging myself by rebelling against my self-imposed deadline.

If that’s the case, it’s a puzzling personality development because I’ve spent my life avoiding rebellion.  I turned down party invites because I knew my awkwardness had no place at rowdy gatherings.  I sensed that just being in a “cool” place would not make me “cool,” unless it was air conditioned.  Oh, and I knew my parents would ask too many questions for me to get away with anything.

To eliminate any doubts of the uncool aura that surrounded (and still surrounds) me, I should fess up that I only got three invitations, and I decided to go to the last one – at the age of twenty.  I shouldn’t tell you that I stayed at the party for fifteen minutes before beating a hasty exit, but I just did.

When I arrived at the party, my olfactory nerves were assaulted by a wretched smell.  A haze hung in the room, worse than Phoenix smog during a High Pollution Advisory.  And I couldn’t figure out what the funky plastic things on the tables were.  Finally, the fog of naivety cleared:  my co-workers were potheads.  And this fish was out of water.

Like a poker player hides any reaction to a dealt hand, I attempted to play calm.  At the same time, I imagined my brain cells suffocating.   I had a big Abnormal Psychology test on Monday and a 3.75 GPA.  I didn’t want to blow either one, so I took in as little air as possible.

I’m not sure if my dizziness resulted from the weed-filled air in the room, or lack of air.  My ultra-geek mind imagined the police busting the party at any moment.  I knew they would single me out of the group of sixty or so people and take me to jail and then I would have to call my parents to bail me out…and that was enough – I left the party.

It wasn’t a “cool” exit.  There were no excuses, no thanks for the invite – nothing.  I literally ran out like someone set my skirt on fire.  When I got  far enough away, I sucked in gulps of weed-free air, thankful to be on the right side of the law again.

Freedom (Golden Gate Bridge)

My brush with youthful rebellion ended up being the uprising that wasn’t.  Now, I have a chance to redeem myself.  This is why I must rebel against writing rebellion and finish that story by August 31st.

This is why, if I had the dexterity, I’d give myself a swift kick in the rear.

What’s your biggest roadblock to accomplishing your writing goals?  How did you do youthful rebellion?  How are you rebellious today?