Sunday, April 16, 2017

Kids off the street

This is not a picture of my old
boss Frank's hand. It's a picture
of  writers getting their
"kids off the street."
My first serious boss, Frank, used to say, when he was getting ready to shake up management for some reason, "Okay, kids off the street." 

Maybe he meant it was time to get those hooligans back in line. But I prefer to think he was getting ready to duel in front of the executive management saloon. 

"Kids off the street. This is going to get serious."
I don't get enough opportunities to use that fantastic expression. I search for them. 
It's challenging for me to write some perspective pieces and not feel I'm oversharing. As much as I love to write "worked for me" or "what I learned" stories, I hate oversharing. However, I know that insight you want to share often comes from experience you'd rather forget. You have to find the "sweet spot" (a term that will be featured in next week's pet peeves post). 

It doesn't always mean discussing the underwear of your life (parents, kids, husband, friends or anyone who done you wrong), but what you do choose, you have to write in full if you don't want your followers to be only blog hackers in India and family members who have loved you since your teeth were too big for your face.  
I see some writers do this as easily as they breathe. Not me. Mwriting leans toward the anodyne, a word I'm pretty sure I also learned from Frank.

Still. As life shows you more about what really affects people, and as you gain confidence in your skills to write about it, you can grow tired of being so close to the vest. 
Write real, or stay home, right?

You want those kids off the street so you can duel it out with the person in the way, which is writer-you.
I faced this recently when I wrote about the empty-nest marriage, which, in my opinion, rivals new parenthood and retirement in terms of shared events that can affect two participants differently. The empty nest marriage, for better or worse, is not the one you started with.  
Ask me how I know. 
For twenty-five percent of couples, the empty-nest marriage doesn't even occur at all. The kids leave Mom and Dad and Mom and Dad leave each other.    
For the other seventy-five percent,  the empty-nest marriage is a new town. It can change everything from the way you eat and entertain yourselves, to the type of conversations you'll have, to the friends you see more of because your kids no longer have to be in the same math class for you to find common ground. 
This topic is close to my heart because one of the finest things my husband and I have accomplished was to make our lives into a story of us again. But I appreciate it most because it didn't happen without our share of, as my daughter would say,  "honest moments." 

Those moments did not urge us back to the center of our old relationship, but to the middle of a new one. 
The new one  is better. We have more fun. We laugh more. We have new jokes. We go to Lowes together to buy plants. He talks to the dog to entertain me, and I do small things to make his life nicer. We both look younger. 

It's lovely.

But the happy ending wasn't what readers wanted to know about who contacted me after I wrote that piece. They wanted to know about those "honest moments."

What's my point? 

I have two.

Balance is everything. I mind my own business the way I don't let my undergarments show. But once in a while, someone will need to know you understand their discomfort because you've talked about your own. 
  

Someone will make you remember you have good reason for the thing or two you have to say. 

Someone will need you to get the kids off the street. 

You know who you are. Thank you, and you're welcome.

And second, if you really want to, you can find a way to use the expression: "Kids off the street," and you really will feel a little like a badass.

Ask me how I know.



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Write like nobody's going to read it.

I love this book more
every time I write it and
my book knows it
.
Recently, I was talking to my husband about the novel I began submitting a couple of years ago, and then put on hold pending I don't know what; maybe one of those epiphanies I have when I'm applying mascara.   
I just stopped sending it out. 

It didn't seem worth the trouble.

But, it didn't seem right to desert it, either.
"Why don't you take out everything that wasn't fun to write and start over?" asked my husband. 
As many of you know, I have been writing this novel for – I'm not kidding – ten years. 
It is my third. It has been the most difficult to write. It is the most well written. It was the least fun to write and rewrite and rewrite again. 
The first novel was squeaky clean. There was not a single F-word, not the hint of a sex scene. The plot, a stretch to begin with, was layered with so many contrived, improbable twists it was like one of those houses with too many additions that sprawl in all directions.  
The second novel was better but had "pacing" issues which, for a reader, is like a non-reader watching a moderately interesting two-hour movie for eight hours.   
But book 3, this is the one that has been there all along saying, "Hot! Warm, no, no, COLD! COLD! Here! I'm RIGHT HERE!"
I dance with it, I fight with it, I yell at it, I ask it what it wants from me, I stare at it, and then I say  "Maybe we need to take a break,"  and I put it away and think about non-fiction. 
I tell everyone I've-stopped-writing-fiction-and-this-time-I mean-it, and they look at me the way you look at someone who's finally broken up with an asshat and say,  "It's probably just as well." 
Then I write it some more. 
Why can't I stop?  
I took my husband's advice. I dumped a third of the book including characters that even I started to dislike as I wrote them. I started over, writing it like I was creating a movie one scene at a time. The process seemed too easy. It seemed novice. It seemed unsophisticated. 
But mostly, it was fun. 
It was fun to play with an idea, and not develop it, and then delete it. 
It was fun not to wonder who else would like this story. 

It was fun to write like nobody would read it. 
It was fun the way skiing or driving with the top down is. It doesn't make you richer or more attractive, it's just easy. You don't do it because you hope to be famous or competitive. You do it because it's fun.
It's fun. 
I've been having more fun than I expected to since that chat. I'm happier, I look better and have been laughing more. This made me think of people who don't have enough fun. Is that you?

If it is, consider this:
If you were told that a person you love needed to have more fun for their mental health, would you not do everything to be sure they did? You'd be creative. But you'd try. Because it was important.
Be the person you love, have fun before you forget what it feels like.

But mostly, have fun before it becomes not worth the trouble.


Love,
Susan 




Sunday, April 2, 2017

What's happening to us?

"Really?"
                   ---Gus Bonifant

"The final straw was a little girl using an iPad with the volume on high, a device her parents refused to turn down despite repeated requests from the staff at Caruso’s, an upscale Italian restaurant in Mooresville, N.C."
---The Washington Post, reporting on a restaurant that banned children under five, and doubled its business.

There are people, many of them, who feel the restaurant's position is anti-child. There are, or will be others who will feel this is a violation of a child's rights. 

There are others, like me,  who know small children should be allowed to be small children, and see this as a ban on inconsiderate parents who don't care if you planned your expensive date night two weeks ago and hired a sitter. 

What happened to the rights of people who are just minding their own business, or maybe just trying to steer clear of the ones who demand their rights and some of everyone else's?

Not long ago, I sat down on a plane next to a man who had already taken off his shoes, opened a fragrant stir-fry meal of steak and peppers, propped open his tablet and tuned into an episode of Orange is the New Black which featured a protracted scene of prison you-know-what, right there for me and the small children across the aisle to behold.

Last week, I ate lunch with my father in a bar, a nice one with windows and landscaping. A man was at the bar with friends telling a loud story so laced with the f-word, I started to think I wouldn't mind being punched if I could just go over and say,  "Excuse me, every woman here would like to meet your wife who 'makes a big f****** case out of everything,' and fix her up with a guy who at least knows how to act in public."

What's happening to us?

Everyone – male, female, child, adult, gay, straight, big or little, of all colors – deserves the right to be who they are in peace. But too many assert their right to do what they wish, irrespective of the needs and comfort of others who share their space. It's always been that way, but now we have the opportunity to sound off from the stands, whether we understand the whole story or not.  

Last week, the United Airlines leggings issue hit the internet because of a bystander's swift and incendiary tweet which reported, falsely, that two passengers were refused passage because of their wardrobe choices. Quickly, we learned that these were family members of an employee who are, like the employee is, expected to represent the airline in behavior and dress while traveling (for free) on an employee pass. They had violated the dress code.

This went on for days. Delta made fun of them, celebrities weighed in. There was abundant talk of body-shaming, and discrimination, and unfair this, and unfair that, and rights, rights, rights. 

I wondered, why are we still on this?  I have no doubt that this confrontation at the gate happened between an unknowing traveler and the kind of recalcitrant gate employee so many of us have had the misfortune to observe, but it's still beside the point. 

It is the airline's "right" to project what the airline considers a professional image. Employees or family of employees traveling (for free) are not told what to wear, but what not to wear. Have a problem with the gate agent for not seeking an exception if it was called for, but don't have a problem with an airline's stated expectations that their professional image be upheld by anyone acting as a representative. 

I sat next to a pilot once who was traveling to see family.  He had a few days off, he was looking forward to seeing his old neighborhood. He was dressed in his uniform, and he was unfailingly sweet to his seatmate, man who talked for several years (in a monotone) about how to make maple syrup. 

Shouldn't he have been able to wear jeans and an every day shirt, have a few pops, talk too loud on his cell phone, and let his hair down on this first day of his vacation? His airline-employer says no.

How is it different from banks who want their male employees to wear ties, or doctor's offices that don't want their employees to have facial piercings, or restaurants who don't want their employees to come to work unwashed with dirty hair?

We have become so preoccupied with self-centered living, so concerned that our own needs are met first and foremost, and so willing to believe we've been discriminated against when we've simply not been given our way. We are becoming a nation of spoiled, entitled, pajama-wearing, stir-fry-eating plane people. And, I'm not just saying that because the power went out this morning.

It isn't that examples of genuine consideration for others aren't everywhere. If you look, they are. What's happening to us, is that you have to look past so many other me-first behaviors to see them.