Last weekend I finished editing the fourth draft of my novel. Which means two things. One, I don’t want to look at it anymore. And two, that’s good because it needs to cook for a while. I need at least a month between drafts to let the yeast rise—or fall, depending on how badly the revision went.
In between drafts of the novel I usually focus on my picture books. This week I re-read some of the manuscripts I’ve been working on this year. A few months ago I thought they were great. I read them again a few days ago and became transfixed with my own mediocrity. I thought the sudden wave of self-loathing would zap me of all creative ambition, but the opposite happened. I became possessed.
Perhaps because I’m a glutton for punishment, I went to my bookshelf and pulled out This is Not My Hat. I wanted to read something by someone who actually had talent and knew what they were doing.
Again, if removed from this situation and asked to bet on my reaction, I would have bet that reading Jon Klassen in my current state would have sent me into a pity spiral, knowing I’d never be able to write anything as good, funny, or original. But no, I opened my computer and vomited two new picture books onto the screen. Then I revised an older one. Then the next day I wrote one more. I think they’re pretty good. Don’t worry, in a month or two I’ll think they’re total spit wads. They probably are; I don’t know.
It’s mid-September now, which means I’ve been in Halloween mode for two weeks already. I can never get enough. Bring on the pumpkins. Bring on the scary movies. Bring on the chill in the air. The decorations. The costumes. Monster Mash and Thriller on repeat. Bring. It. On.
What I’ve really always wanted to write was a Halloween book, but an idea eludes me. Let me preface that by saying that I don’t normally have blocks on ideas for picture books. Perhaps that well will run dry one day, knock on wood, but I currently have a list at least twenty ideas long that I haven’t even touched. Not a spooky one in the bunch.
I think I want it too much. I love it too much, maybe? I don’t get it. This morning I sat down and simply started to write down the things I loved about Halloween. That has turned into a decent poem, which could be a rhyming picture book. Who knows, maybe it will one day see the light of day, but my intention was to write something in prose. Something with a beginning, middle, and end. That, I still can’t do.
I have cherished memories of reading “scary” books in my childhood. I devoured everything from The Berenstain Bears (well, it was Berenstein in my universe), to Goosebumps, to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Stephen Gammell’s illustrations still haunt me in the absolute best way.
I could actually draw a direct line from my current love of writing back to my childhood love of reading scary books. I would have thought I was destined to write kids horror, but I just can’t get it out of me. It feels stuck. Like I can actually feel it, in my stomach, a big stuck thing.
What do you do when you have a creative block? How do you get unstuck?
I really do love making lists. Lately I’ve been so tickled to share picture book recommendations with friends that I got the idea to compile a list of my all-time favorites. This list could go on forever, so let’s see if I can limit the number to fifty—for now. It should be noted that I haven’t included any Dr. Seuss books here, as the Doc really deserves his own list. Also not listed here is Winnie-the-Pooh, which falls somewhere in between picture books, chapter books, and middle grade, but just know that no matter what, Winnie-the-Pooh is always on the top of my list.
I do so deeply love picture books, and not just because I write them. I love them because they introduce human minds to the concept of reading. How weighty is that? I love them because they are a perfect marriage of the written word and visual art. We don’t get that enough in the “adult” world. Much of the art you’ll find in picture books is daring and experimental. I love them because when you condense storytelling into such short form, you often can’t help but end up with myth and fable. To read a brilliant new picture book is to witness a fairy tale being born. It’s exciting.
If you’re wondering about my taste, okay I’ll tell you. I like books that pull on specific strings in the old heart. I like books that make me cry hard, laugh hard, or feel weird inside. It’s like I’ve got these book-shaped holes in my heart and my favorite books are the ones that were meant to fill those holes. I’m not one for lukewarm books. That sounds negative, but I don’t mean it to be. There are plenty of books in the world that are solid from beginning to end and I read them and I didn’t necessarily cry or laugh or question much, but I liked it a whole lot. Knuffle Bunny comes to mind. It’s a great book. It’s charming. It’s lovely. It’s solid. You should read it. I just wouldn’t put it on my fifty list.
Here they are, in some particular order but certainly not in any sort of scientific ranking. My favorite picture books:
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett illus. Jon Klassen
Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood illus. Don Wood
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett illus. Jon Klassen
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard illus. James Marshall
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown illus. Clement Hurd
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick illus. Sophie Blackall
A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers
Penguin Problems by Jory John illus. Lane Smith
Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
Dream Snow by Eric Carle
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman illus. Adam Rex
This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown illus. Christian Robinson
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka illus. Lane Smith
Waiting by Kevin Henkes
Egg by Kevin Henkes
Tough Boris by Mem Fox illus. Kathryn Brown
Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt illus. Oliver Jeffers
Flotsam by David Wiesner
The Friend Ship by Kat Yeh illus. Chuck Groenik
A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier
Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett illus. Adam Rex
Otis by Loren Long
Lon Po Po by Ed Young
This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary illus. Julie Morstad
Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett illus. Christian Robinson
The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin illus. David Shannon
The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks by Katherine Paterson illus. Diane Dillon
The Snurtch by Sean Ferrell illus. Charles Santoso
Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming illus. G. Brian Karas
Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds illus. Peter Brown
Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett
Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds illus. Matt Davies
Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto illus. Ed Martinez
Old Bear by Kevin Henkes
Tea Rex by Molly Idle
The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch illus. Michael Martchenko
Aberdeen by Stacy Previn
President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett illus. Chris Van Dusen
Journey, Quest, and Return (Journey Trilogy) by Aaron Becker
The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski
Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum illus. Keika Yamaguchi
Guess Again! by Mac Barnett illus. Adam Rex
Oh goodness there are many more, but I promised to stop at fifty. There are lots of books that I love for specific reasons, e.g. how they address a certain issue, but for this list I tried to stick to my general favorites. What do you think? Any big ones that I missed? What picture books would you add to the list?
top illustration from A Child of Books, by Oliver Jeffers
I look into my tea leaves and what I choose to see is the life of a writer. A quiet house by the sea or in the country, a child playing in the living room, a husband editing in the study or rehearsing for an audition, and me in a nook with a computer diving deep into other worlds. In Maui we dove down to 120 feet at Molokini Crater—the deepest we’ve ever gone. I swam at the bottom of the sea with eagle rays and octopus, but writing feels deeper. In a marathon writing session the real world melts away and suddenly I am through the sea, on an adventure with Niguel, Iris, and Gus, trying to escape the vengeful Callum before he gets to Iris’ father, Peter Applegate.
You have no idea what I’m talking about, I know. These are characters in my book. They’ve become close friends of mine, and I know they feel neglected.
The neglect is making my wings hurt. I feel them pushing hard against the chrysalis that has protected them for 32 years, and if they don’t make it out soon the bones will break. I know this to be true, so why am I making it so hard to break free?
In writing the first draft of my novel, several challenges emerged, one of which was knowing when to finish a chapter. Often, it was clear. The chapter finished itself and I sailed on into the next. Sometimes, though, sometimes, I’d want to stay in a chapter for reasons that were perhaps unclear, but what was clear is that I knew it was going on too long. The third chapter of my novel was such a one. I kept writing and writing, knowing that nothing about the chapter was helping to move the story along. I loved the characters in the chapter. I found the action of the chapter humorous and charming (if I do say so myself), even though I knew it was irrelevant to the ultimate motor of the book. In my heart I knew I should end it, perhaps even cut out the whole thing, but I liked it too much. It was comfortable. It was clever (if I do say so myself) and it had the desired effect of distracting me from making the book truly great.
I wonder if I’m a bit stuck now, in my life, spending precious time in a chapter that is comfortable and full of clever characters. It’s hard to know when to move on.
That’s not true, I suppose. Knowing is the easy part. It’s the moving on that is hard.
Growing up makes moving from chapter to chapter effortless in a sense, because the pages were turned for me. I was born. I started school. I twirled baton. I survived middle school. I went to high school. I got into college. I studied in London. I graduated from college. I moved to L.A. The outline was all there, and then—suddenly—the outline stopped. Suddenly it was up to me to structure the chapters. I’ve done pretty well so far. Chapter 10: Rebecca gets a job. Chapter 11: Rebecca joins a theatre company. Chapter 12: Rebecca gets married. Chapter 13: Rebecca works at jobs and produces plays and spends a lot of time on Facebook and watching Netflix.
In revising the third draft of my book, I got wise and removed the chapter that was gumming up the action, but I didn’t delete it. I moved it to my “Some other time” folder. I’ll bet the characters and the very humorous dialogue (if I do say so myself) will appear in a future book, but they will only find their right place and time if I let go of them for now.
My wings hurt. Soon, very soon, I need to decide how important it is for me to fly because wings can break and wilt. Of course I know how I feel. Flying is the only thing I’ve ever truly wanted to do. If there is a heaven, I know it involves flying.
It’s time to write the next chapter. Like a mystery shape on the horizon, I’m not sure yet if it’s a ship, a whale, a lighthouse, an island? Time to grab Brad’s hand (Brad is in every chapter you see), and swim out there to find out. Time to let go of this chapter that I’m in—turn the page. Come back perhaps “Some other time.”
I have questions about rejection. I do hope you’ll bite and share your thoughts in the comments. As a student of the arts, I met rejection at a young age. I’ll never forget silently weeping in the back seat of our car when I found out that I wasn’t cast as a Von Trapp child in The Sound of Music when I was 12 years old. I was relegated to the chorus of nuns—or, rather, novices. Not even a full-fledged nun. The dealer of rejection in that instance was the director, aka my mom. I don’t blame her. She was my director and she made the best casting decision for the show. In hindsight that was a very important lesson for me to learn as an artist; nothing has ever been handed to me. But yeah, rejection was personal from early on.
We’re told repeatedly that rejection is an unavoidable element of our artistic lives, like a smelly beast with whom we must learn to live. I get it, but man, some days that beast is smellier than others. On those days I stop and ask myself in earnest, why? Why am I doing this? Will the glimmers of success or artistic satisfaction make the years of rejection bearable? I mean really, this is haaaarrrd. Will it be worth it? I don’t know the answer, but I theorize that even with “success” the beast will not leave me alone. I imagine it will change shape, change color, change smells, but the rejection will continue at every level in different forms, won’t it? In the form of bad reviews, higher stakes losses, chronic self-doubt, disappointing second novels, etc. So why? Why the torment?
Then I started asking more questions. Is this beast unique to the arts? Is there something about artistic fields that lend themselves to more rejection? Or does rejection exist equally elsewhere? Do my friends in STEM fields, or law, academia, business, entrepreneurs—do you experience the same frequency of rejection as my friends in theatre, film, TV, visual art, music, publishing? Are you as well-acquainted with the beast? Maybe you’re just better at keeping him on a leash. I’m genuinely curious because I’ve been so entrenched in the arts for so long that I fear my field of vision has become quite narrow. I also want to feel less alone. I want affirmation that I should not abandon my art for another path because a new beast will in fact be waiting for me on the “easier” roads. Is that true? Or is there a less painful but equally gratifying way to walk through life other than that of a perpetually rejected artist? My non-artist friends, enlighten me.
He shouts and hogs the bed. He never bathes. His claws are sharp. No I’m not talking about Brad! Brad is an angel and takes very good care of his nails. It’s the beast. My invisible housemate. On the other side of my horrible beast is a tiny promise of glory. Is it real? A trick? If it’s not a trick, is it worth it? I don’t know, but beasty and I know each other so well at this point, even without the taste of glory . . . I’d probably miss him. And that, my friends, is the true madness of the arts.
In fifth grade I became a competitive baton twirler. It was fun, until I threw up in the middle of my routine at a regional competition—but that’s a story for another time. My specialty was two baton. That’s twirling two batons at once. I was the only member of my team that did two baton. You throw one baton in the air, twirl the other one under your leg then spin around a few times and catch the first. That type of thing. It was almost impossibly hard to learn, but I stuck with it and finally felt the magic click. You know the one. That click you feel when something awkward turns into something effortless. The moment your muscles remember something for the first time. Magic. Once that happened both batons glided around each other like pieces of a puzzle doing a dance. I won’t lie—it was impressive.
I guess I’ve always done a lot of things at once. I don’t even realize how many things I’m doing at any given time because the choice isn’t usually a conscious one—I just do things. A friend of mine often comments on my time management skills and how amazed she is that I do so much, and I’m always surprised to hear it. Why should I be surprised? Why don’t I see the impressive motion of all the batons I twirl at once? If asked to describe myself I would use terms like lazy, master procrastinator, laid back to a fault. But if I objectively look at my docket I must admit that I too am surprised by all that I do.
Last Monday I felt unproductive for what reason I can’t remember other than it’s become a state of being for me at this point. I always feel unproductive. I can never do enough. There’s never enough time. I paused and took inventory of what I actually had done that day and my jaw sort of fell open a little. I rehearsed for The Designated Mourner, got lunch with Brad, went grocery shopping, did some laundry, squeezed in a photo shoot for Whimsy Do, went for a three mile run, cleaned out our closet, all with time left over to veg on the couch watching Bloodline. That’s kind of a lot. So why the heck did I feel so useless?
I can’t answer that. This particular entry is not for dissecting that neurosis. This post is meant to rattle me, wag a little finger in my face and say, “You better accept that you’re good at two baton, because you’re going to have to keep juggling if you want to do the things you want to do.” I act, run, clean, and make Whimsy Dos at the same time because I like doing all of those things and the stakes are relatively low on each of them. They’re recreational and relaxing for me, so I just puzzle them together somehow and make it work. When I look at my goals that have higher stakes, I freeze.
I wrote a novel that’s desperately waiting for revisions, yet there it sits in my Dropbox, rough and sad. I have career goals that need outlining, nurturing, executing. I ignore them because they’re hard. I want to be a mother.
Here we get to the hardest puzzle piece of all.
After thinking about this rabidly for the past several weeks I feel like I can map out the next few years of my life. Once the play is open I can carve out time to write. I’m putting pen to paper when it comes to planning my career. I’m laying out the steps. Brad and I have a new savings plan in place to build our dream tiny home here in L.A. The problem is that these things happen one after the other in my grand plan.
Then there’s a baby. I can write a novel, make career moves, and build a house in some semblance of succession. Baby however? I can’t stop everything to have a baby. I also can’t wait until the above items are complete to have a baby. I’ve given myself a headache analyzing my timeline to figure out where a baby best fits, and the answer is nowhere. There is never a good time to have a baby. Maybe retirement. You’ve done the big career stuff, hopefully, and now you can just have a baby and focus on that. I guess this is why being a grandparent is so awesome.
But I’m never going to be a happily retired grandparent if I don’t take up the parenting thing first. If I want to be a mother, I’m going to have to have a baby while I’m doing something else at the same time. That’s a fact. I turn 32 in two weeks. Still viable but the clock is ticking. I don’t know how long it will take me to activate my career goals, to finish my book, to build a house. I have no idea, but I’m guessing it’s going to be more than three years and if I wait until after I’m 35 I’ll be starting a vicious game of roulette with mother nature.
There is never a perfect time to have a baby, so if you want to have a baby you have to learn two baton—or three or four baton—and hope that eventually you’ll feel that magic click. And at some point I’m sure I’ll drop all the batons but if there’s one thing I learned from my competition days you always pick that baton back up and keep going—even if you dropped the thing in a puddle of your own vomit. (I did keep going by the way. Took home 3rd place).
I’ve been so terrified of juggling high stakes items for so long that I’ve been blind to the fact that I’m actually really good at juggling. It’s just that I’ve been juggling apples. They fit nicely in a hand, they have a good weight to them, they’re kind of fun, you get to eat them after, and it’s not the end of the world if you drop them. Maybe a bruise or two but they’re just apples. Apples are simple.
I need to conjure the bravery necessary to juggle fire.
Maybe it’s time to take up fire baton.
Unfortunately I don’t have any video of me twirling at competition. I guess that puking incident made my mom a little video shy. Check out this clip for a representative two baton routine. This girl reminds me of—well—me.
This funny thing happened in Tahiti where time stopped. We were ensconced in a tropical paradise bubble where the sun rose and set but time didn’t actually move forward. I don’t think we aged the 10 days we were island-bound. Really, quantum physicists should check this out. It’s weird.
You see, time in my life has always been in relation to my goals. I’ve felt the clock ticking feverishly since I was a child.
How many days until Christmas?
How many days until school gets out?
I want to lose weight. How much time do I have before prom to do that?
I want to be an actress. How much time do I have? Let me stalk IMDB and see what age other actresses were when they got their breaks and I’ll compare myself until I’m satisfied.
I want to run a marathon. How much time do I have to train?
I want to get to the weekend. How many days until the weekend?
I want to leave work. What hand is on what number on that clock?
I want to be a writer. How much time will it take me to finish this manuscript? How early do I have to get up to get decent writing time in before I have to leave for work? How long will it take me to write 10,000 words. How long do I have to wait before I can resubmit to a different publisher. How long should I wait before I follow up about my submission? How long does it take for a manuscript to make it through the editorial pipeline and onto a bookshelf? How much time do I have left to do all of these things? Do I have enough time? Am I running out of time?
Oh screw it. *Goes on Facebook*
On October 5 I stepped onto the soil of Moorea. Time faded away. No change of seasons. No change of tides. No weekends. No happy hours. No deadlines. No race days. No age limits. No pipelines. No time. Just peace. Quiet. Adventure. Fun. Experience.
Here’s the thing though. I missed time. After 10 days I looked forward to stepping back onto my matrix of timelines. I didn’t want to leave paradise but like some sort of junkie I wanted the pressure of a clock ticking toward something, even if that something was just Halloween in two weeks. Am I crazy? Maybe it’s my Western-wired overly ambitious American brain. Probably. I left Tahiti grateful and rejuvenated by the extended pause. Now I’m ready to start the clock with a healthy perspective that my timelines are made up, they are relative, and they can change in an instant.
Tahiti gave my imagination an oasis to which I can always retreat. When time moves too quickly I will close my eyes and fly away to our beach of coral bones, and our Polynesian pups, and the night-light water and wise manta rays. I will go there and I will feel the clock slow. Thank goodness.
So I’m 31 and I’m not a published author yet. I will adjust my timeline. So it’s Tuesday and I’m facing four more days until the weekend. It’s just a day in time and space and the weekend is made up. I will do one thing today completely for myself that makes me feel free and suddenly I’ve turned Tuesday into a weekend. I’ve let time feel like the enemy in my life. I had to run 4,000 miles to discover that he was a villain of my own creation. Aren’t they always?
Our second to last day in French Polynesia I experienced a perfect moment. The sun sat low in the sky on the other side of the lagoon, shining a glorious warm pink light on the main island of Maupiti. It stood there, the mountain, basking in the warm pinkness of the sunset. Brad snorkeled by the reef, beyond where I could see him. I had just finished a good book. The Polynesian pups slept by my feet and roused as I stood to watch the sun go down. I could not see or hear another living human anywhere. For a brief moment I stood alone on this island with my Polynesian pups and the water and the mountain smiling into the sun. Everything felt warm in a sleepy ember sort of way. A perfect moment. The spirit moved me and I sang Never Never Land to the pups and to the mountain and to my husband out in the sea beyond where he could hear me. I stood there and sang at the top of my lungs as the sun set on our last day. It slipped behind a cloud, into the ocean, and as if on cue I felt the clock start ticking once again. Tick. Tock. Suddenly I understood what sort of vicious creature that Captain Hook was really running from. Brad came in from the sea. My siren song worked. He grabbed my hand and we retreated into our bungalow. Time to go home.
I have a place where dreams are born, And time is never planned. It’s not on any chart, You must find it with your heart. Never Never Land.
It might be miles beyond the moon, Or right there where you stand. Just keep an open mind, And then suddenly you’ll find Never Never Land.
Whenever I talk to my husband about something I need to do, the conversation usually veers towards me finding a way to procrastinate. “Oh I’ll do it tomorrow,” “I’ll call them tonight,” “We’ll deal with it later.” This came up time and again throughout the wedding planning process. We’d talk about a vendor we needed to contact and I would say, “Ok we’ll call them tomorrow” and Brad would reply “How about right now?” He would almost always follow this up with the quip “No time like the pressure.”
Isn’t that so true? Obviously we’ve seen ‘No Time Like the Present’ plastered across multiple self-help platforms, but I love Brad’s little adjustment. Because the present is very beautiful, there’s nothing like it, I appreciate it, but the present is in fact accompanied by pressure where dreams are concerned. The present is lovely, but pressure is active. Do things right now.
This morning I ran 5 miles along the Venice Boardwalk; a route that takes me past my dream house. My ABSOLUTE DREAM HOUSE! I love it so much. It is everything that I am. It’s a two story craftsmen right along the beach, accented with a sort of Indiana Jones adventure vibe. Jungle flora fills the yard (there’s a yard!) complete with yeti-like footprints through the grass. Tiki torches and palm trees line the house. But it’s classy. It’s beach, mountain, adventure all wrapped up into one house. It is MY house. Today as we ran past we noticed the house had a For Sale sign out front. You’ve gotta be kidding me. It’s for sale! Damn! It is actually possible to purchase this house… if only I were someone else. After all it’s only 10 million dollars. Now, the point of this story is not that my life’s goal is to obtain a ton of money and a big house. Sometimes I wish that was my life’s goal because it would probably be easier, but it’s not. This house represents something and today that For Sale sign brought everything into focus. The house is a dream. I’ve run, walked, or biked past it repeatedly throughout the years and every time would dream to myself “one day…” with a sigh. “One day” is so safe. Kind of like saying “we’ll call them tomorrow.” This morning the universe gave me a gut check. It said, here you go, and I wasn’t ready. You have no idea when opportunity will present itself to you but one thing is for sure, you can be ready.
The truth is I will most likely never live in that house. No matter what I do I will most likely never be financially successful enough to justify the purchase of a two-story double-plot dream house along the sand in Venice Beach. So that will probably always be a dream, and that’s ok because I don’t actually believe that things like dream houses would make me happy. BUT, as far as metaphors go, message received loud and clear. Thanks universe. There’s a lot of other stuff I dream about that I’m realizing I’m not ready for. Real stuff that I could actually have.
I think I want babies. I’m not positive but I’m pretty positive. When you get married it’s funny that you do start to think about things like that in a more realistic way. At least I do. I fantasize about a growing family. No matter whether we end up childless (save two furry faced kitties), Brad will always be my family. I love our little family of four (the kitties of course), but I won’t deny that I dream about reading to my kids before bed, and trips to Disneyland with offspring, and Halloween costumes, and seeing Brad teach our kids how to snorkel, and rubbing the backs of babes with upset tummies, and bake sales, and soccer games, and all that jazz. It sounds appealing to me as a dream. Like a house I can’t afford. Just like my bank account prohibits me from purchasing that house, my emotional account is not ready for an extended family. I don’t know what’s going to happen to our finances. I hope they improve but who knows. However, if I feel like I’m really living the life I was meant to live, if I’m telling MY story, then I think I could be ready to help a little one into the world to tell his too. But I have to get my story ready first.
The past couple of years I’ve had a realigning of my personal priorities. If you’ve been reading my blog then you know I’ve become rather disillusioned with the industry of acting. Although I still do it, and I still love it, I don’t feel compelled to throw my heart and soul into “making it.” It would be nice if it was just, y’know, handed to me. That’s not how life works for most people. You have to work for your dreams and if they are the right dreams the work will pay off. Not sure acting is the right dream. I still struggle with this, and my split focus has me a bit paralyzed and discombobulated. What do I throw myself into? Whimsy Do? Acting? Writing? Or should I work my way up the ladder of non-profit administration? It’s important to have many interests but dangerous to attempt pursuit of them all at once. Success requires focus, so what should I focus on? I try to listen to the little God voice in my head about this and still she whispers to me about writing. She doesn’t seem to denounce the others, but writing sings a little louder in my heart.
So today I finished a story. It’s one I’ve been working on since my friend Scott McKinley passed away and although I have dozens of story ideas and rough sketches for manuscripts, this is the first one that feels really incredibly close to finished.
So there you have it. I wrote. And I feel a little bit more ready to buy that dream house, metaphorically speaking.
I leave you with this article I read on Huffington Post this morning. It’s a good-bye letter from a woman who died two days ago. She asked that the article be published posthumously. How odd to read the words of a ghost.
It basically broke my heart and lit my fire. There really is no time like the pressure you guys. Between my dream house being on the market and the words of this dearly departed writer, the message is clear. Let’s love each other, love life, “Take it by both hands, grab it, shake it and believe in every second of it.” Go get that house.
Hi there! If you haven’t heard, I’ve given up Facebook for Lent. This means I’m going to have a lot more time and focus devoted to my writing. I’m so excited! While I compile all of my new though currently scattered thoughts and plans for future posts, I want to share with you the latest from the greatest Brad Light, my one and only. While I document the written account, Brad has the visual component covered of our journey to Tahiti. The latest offering is a video recap of the Tinker Bell Half Marathon which we ran in January of this year (2014). Judging from this awesome video, you’d never know I was completely and utterly exhausted! Well, you kind of get an inkling that I’m hurting from the brief and blunt interview at the end. Just speaking my mind 🙂
And no, Brad is not dressed as a dinosaur or an alien shark. He’s the Crocodile people! Tick Tock!
Did you run the Tink Half this year? How did it go?
Welcome to the Running to Tahiti Book Club! I don’t intend to actually start a book club. I’m already trying my damnedest to get momentum going on a book club in the physical world. Lord knows I don’t have time to start one in the internet world. So I suppose this is more of a Book Corner. A corner of my blog dedicated to books pertaining to the journey of running. There are so many great ones out there! I will read them. Hopefully some of you will either have read them and start a dialogue in the comments section, or you will be so inspired by my brilliant reviews that you will dash out to the library and get a copy for yourself. I wrote about this idea several months ago, and I’m picking up the mantle, as I just finished one of the books on the list.
I recently went through a literary drought. It was awful. The problem was, I started to read a book that, truth be told, did not captivate. I love the author so much that I couldn’t bring myself to quit the book. I felt I owed it to him to stick with it and give the book a chance to measure up to the author’s previous brilliant works. It never did; and it took me almost 6 months to finish! So awful. I just didn’t want to read, but I also didn’t want to start a new book until I finished the current one. Long story short, I finally finished this book that shall remain nameless, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. Finally I could get started on my running book list!
I decided to start the RTT Book Club (or corner) off with a bang and picked up a copy of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. I have so many things to say about it, the most important being that it was fantastic and you should read it.
I believe Haruki Murakami might quickly become one of my favorite writers. I say “believe” and “might” because I’ve only read one of his novels, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and this memoir. His writing is whimsical, yet concise. His ideas are fantastical, yet stark. There is a sub-conscious to his writing; an underbelly like a nihilistic wonderland. I could not say that I “liked” The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, because I don’t particularly like to feel unsettled and morose; but it made me feel those things in such an understated, subtle, and inviting way that I felt compelled to investigate the darkness it welled up in me.
But this isn’t a review of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I only give that back story so you have a little bit of an idea as to what kind of writer Murakami is. He’s not generally a first-person memoirist. Certainly not in the traditional sense.
Let me start you off with the biggest selling point. This book is short. I read it in one day. I believe it’s only 180 pages (not exactly sure of the printed count as I read it on my Kindle), and it’s a quick read to boot.
Murakami is honest. He begins the book by stating that he doesn’t really know exactly what he wants to say or how it will manifest, but he feels compelled to write down his thoughts about running. Running has been a huge part of the author’s life for 30+ years and he feels he can’t really talk about himself without talking about running. How many runners out there feel this way? Raise your hand. Am I right?
If you’re looking for a time-lined account of the author’s life, this isn’t it. This is a lovely patchwork quilt of running anecdotes and musings on the greater implications of endurance sports. Murakami runs 6 days a week, usually 6 miles a pop. He has done so for decades. One of my favorite aspects of this book is how he illustrates his running discipline as an active metaphor for his accomplishments as a novelist. He points out how people always ask him, how does he keep up that running schedule when he gets so busy? His response is so simple and true, it hits me in the gut. He points out that if he used being busy as an excuse not to run, he would never run. He requires the same discipline as a writer. He has to write everyday. Even on the days he doesn’t feel like it. Even if he just sits in front of his computer and doesn’t type a thing. He has to sit there. He has to be present. He learned that discipline from long-distance running.
How many of us can relate to that? How many goals in my life could I substitute for running in that sentence? If I used being busy as an excuse not to paint, as an excuse not to write, as an excuse not to eat healthy, as an excuse not to be creative. If you let being “busy” get in the way, you will excuse yourself right out of living. It’s not a valid excuse. There will always be obstacles that get in the way of the things you love in life, the things you want to do. You have to jump over them, or run through them. Being disciplined enough to run everyday (or run to Tahiti) is not easy, and some days I don’t want to do it. But you must, and if you do, you will reap the jewel-encrusted rewards of your hard efforts some day.
This is the kind of metaphorical-speak that Murakami does SO much better in his memoir than I am doing right now. I think the best thing about this memoir is that it’s not flowery. He’s so conservative and blunt with his prose. This book inspired me deeply, and yet is the farthest thing from self-help or motivational speaker type fare. It’s a practical no-nonsense love letter to the sport of running, and to the value of setting aside time for yourself to reflect and to make plans that will take you in the direction of your destiny.
Highlights of the memoir stick with me, like the time he ran a 62-mile ultra-marathon in the very northern tip of Japan. Imagine running for 12 hours straight! His experience was transcendental and not altogether inspirational. Another highlight was when he decided to run a solo marathon in the place where marathons were born, the road from Athens to the town of Marathon. We all dream of such a trip to “Mecca.” However, my favorite images from the memoir have to be his stories of running along the Charles River in Boston. A month ago I would have said that this was simply a personal treat; a nostalgic jog along the running path of the dirty dirty Charles that I frequented so often; but after what happened last month I think we could all appreciate his passages about running in historic Beantown. This book was published several years ago, long before runners had to worry about explosives going off during a race. Murakami resides in Boston when he’s in the states, and talks a great deal about the city and its running paths. He talks briefly about the Boston Marathon specifically and what a carrot it is for so many runners all over the world. I read this book very shortly after the Boston bombings and my heart broke to read his comments about what the marathon means to that city. It made me want to fly back there and run from the Boston Harbor all the way to Brookline, via Boylston Street, like I used to do 7 years ago. It’s a privilege to run in such a beautiful city.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running gets 5 out of 5 running sneakers. If you’re a long-distance runner, and if running means more to you than just exercise, if it’s a part of your DNA, your fabric, I highly recommend this book. I’ll finish by sharing a few of my favorite passages:
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.”
“For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level. I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary – or perhaps more like mediocre – level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.”
“So the fact that I’m me and no one else is one of my greatest assets.”
“People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any length to live longer. But don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life — and for me, for writing as whole. I believe many runners would agree”
“Of course it was painful, and there were times when, emotionally, I just wanted to chuck it all. But pain seems to be a precondition for this kind of sport. If pain weren’t involved, who in the world would ever go to the trouble of taking part in sports like the triathlon or the marathon, which demand such an investment of time and energy? It’s precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive–or at least a partial sense of it.”
“I’ll be happy if running and I can grow old together.”
Have you read Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running? If so, share your thoughts in the comments below! Also feel free to share recommendations for the next book we should read in the RTT Book Club (or corner :))!
I sympathize with the thousands upon thousands of people out there to whom “writing a novel” is an expressly important line item on the old bucket list. Me however? I’m not one of them. I love to read. I devour novels. I am the wormiest of book worms. My Kindle is my most prized possession and when I thought I lost it last week I wept for 2 days nonstop. Seriously. Ask Brad. I never had the itch to write my own novel, though. Don’t know why. I certainly fit the description for the type of person I’m referencing in that first sentence. Creativity, intelligence, art, beauty, all huge priorities to me. Perhaps I always worried that trying to climb that mountain myself would destroy the joy I get out of reading. There’s a great line in a Billy Bragg song: “The temptation to take the precious things apart in life to see how they work, must be resisted for they never fit together again.” God I love that line. It’s like going backstage at Disneyland. You think you want to, but the second you see Mickey Mouse with his head off smoking a cigarette you regret the decision. I don’t know what it took for F. Scott Fitzgerald to write something so elegant, so brilliantly threaded together and evocative as The Great Gatsby and I’m not sure I want to know. I like to think it was magic.
I am, however, a writer of children’s stories. Writing children’s books is something I’ve aspired to do since I was 7 years old. I loved to read at that age, and I had a vivid imagination of my own so writing stories seemed accessible, easy, something I could actually succeed in doing. I had plans to be published by my 8th birthday. Of course, I wasn’t. That plan fell into the trap of something one always *talks* about doing but never actually does. Allow me to quickly share with you the story of the The Little Red Toolbox:
I have very few crystal clear memories of my childhood. I don’t know why, I had a happy one, I just have an absolutely terrible memory. I do remember a small handful of moments incredibly vividly as if they just happened. One such moment was the day I realized it would be “easy” to be a children’s book author. I was 7 years old. My mom was driving me to school in the morning and I sat in the backseat quietly daydreaming to myself, as I was wont to do. I had already discovered my love of reading and writing but I wanted to take it to the next level. I wanted to be published by 8. It just seemed so easy. I had this great idea for a book about a toolbox, a little red toolbox to be exact. I practically had my pitch to Random House completely worked out. Each page would have a description and illustration about different things one can find in a toolbox. It would target the pre-K to Kindergarten age group and would be very simple, elegant, and educational. My little 7 year old brain thought to itself on this morning drive to school “This is going to be so easy. I’ll just write, draw the pictures, send it all off to a publisher and voila! I’ll be published by the time I’m 8!” I kid you not. I thought that. No fear of failure. No struggle. No bellyaching about how hard it would be to succeed. A sentiment that we adults seemed to be plagued by from our peers as well as ourselves. Pure, innocent, beautiful childhood delusion.
I never wrote The Little Red Toolbox. I suppose even as a child I had a penchant for becoming easily distracted. I’m sure as soon as Thaddeus from the 2nd grade class walked by I forgot all about my career goals and became consumed with whether he would sit next to me at lunch that day. I never wrote it, but I also never forgot it. I’ve conjured up that memory and thought about it constantly over the years. I never let the idea go. Somewhere in the back of my mind I figured someday I’d write The Little Red Toolbox. Someday.
2 years ago I’m in a Barnes & Noble shopping for a gift for my little cousin Ian. I’m browsing through all of the children’s books. I turn a corner to look at the Pre-K reading level and, oh my god, what is that? Oh my god it’s impossible. It was a book called My Little Red Toolbox. And every page had a description and illustration about what one might find in a toolbox. I couldn’t believe it. My jaw dropped, my stomach turned and my heart broke. Someone did it. Someone stole my idea. Someone stole my childhood dream. In fact, he did not. I know for a fact that no one could have stolen the idea from me because I never told anyone about it. I kept it to myself. Someone just did what I was too lazy, too scared, too apathetic to do. In that moment of frustration and heartbreak, a cloud over my head cleared away and I had one of those whatchamacalits, those moments of clarity. The truth is, our ideas are not our own. They are gifts to be used and if we don’t use them, someone else will. Creative people are merely vessels for stories and ideas to flow through, but the stories existed long before us. If Herman Melville had not written Moby Dick I’m certain someone else would have come along and written, not the same novel, but a similar one that filled that same needed hole in the canon of great literature. No, an idea that’s just an idea does not belong to you until you claim it, and more importantly share it with the world. Then it becomes yours forever. I could say that I had the idea first, but who cares? That person discovered the same idea. The difference is that he had the guts to write it down. He had the guts to share it, and now it’s his forever. He didn’t steal it from me. I let it go. I know why I never wrote The Little Red Toolbox. I was afraid. As I got older I lost my sheen of childhood optimism and became afraid that, oh, maybe it was actually a stupid idea or, oh, maybe it would actually be kind of hard to get published. Maybe people would judge me. I was afraid and creativity has no patience for fear. The idea lost patience with me and left to go find someone who would have the guts to realize it.
I realize we’re talking about a pre-school book about a toolbox. We’re not discussing the lost text of War & Peace here, I know. But god, that little red toolbox meant a lot to me. The profundity of the moment I discovered that book opened my eyes to the potential I was neglecting in myself. I have a million other ideas in my head to accompany The Little Red Toolbox. Better ideas. I made a promise to myself that day that I would not let anyone else take those ideas away from me simply by writing them down first. Standing in that bookstore amidst the likes of Dr. Seuss and R.L. Stine, I wanted to be there too and I knew that I could. I was right about everything when I was 7. I did have a great idea, I could have been published. I was right about everything except for one thing, the easy part. The truth is, it would not have been easy, and the day I realized that is the day I gave up. Such a shame.
The moral of the story: All of the great ideas in the world are like fairies flying around in the air. Not everyone can see fairies. Special people can. Artists. Dreamers. The passionate ones know that fairies exist. But you have to figure out how to catch them, make them your own, and send them back into the world as something people will recognize, will see, and will believe in. If you don’t, someone else will.
So what does this have to do with NaNoWriMo? (National Novel Writing Month)? Everything. If you don’t know what it is, click on that link. I’m not going to become a novelist and I’m pretty sure the novel I started yesterday is going to be an embarrassment to the English language, but I will write everyday. Writers have to write. Every. Single. Day. That much I’ve heard from the best, and I believe them. I look at the next 30 days (29 now) as writing boot camp. This month is going to discipline me beyond belief and whip my lazy Say Yes to the Dress/Roseanne/South Park-watching butt into creative shape. Come December 1st 2011, I will be so used to sitting down with a pen and paper everyday, the rest of those Little Red Toolboxes will finally start to flow out through my pen and into the world. And I will accomplish my childhood dream of being a published children’s book author. You just wait and see. I missed the 8 year old mark. Let’s aim for 30.