Saturday, January 06, 2018

BIGGEST FAILURE IS MY GREATEST SUCCESS




We interrupt this blog, which had been focusing on mental health and my own journey into mindfulness and inner peace, to report:

Hell has frozen over (literally, because it’s about -5 degrees here in Rhode Island) NOT ONLY is Donald Trump still president, BUT ALSO I just signed a contract with a publisher for one of my books!

2018, so far, has exceed any expectations, which isn’t hard, since I, long ago, gave up on believing in expectations, especially when it comes to writing and publishing.

My publishing story is long and sad and funny. If I ever get it together enough to write a memoir (terrified), I would call it Failing Forward. It’s not that original or clever but, then again, titles are NOT my forte—see all of my previously (self) published novels.  

I’ve detailed my story in various writing forms and across various blogs. A year ago, I tried to cram it all into what I referred to as a “blogmoir”. Click here to read.

I only reached chapter four, but with this recent turn of events, let’s skip all the way to chapter…let’s say, ten.

Failing Forward: Chapter 10

It’s the end of 2015, and I break up with my agent, but we are still “seeing each other”, so-to-speak, as we await to hear from some publishers we had submitted to prior to our break-up.

By early 2016, I receive the final rejection, and so begins a new journey in writing and publishing. One of total and utter, delicious FREEDOM!!!!!

For the first time in 10 years, I will be completely and totally free from obligation to someone else about MY writing. From 2005 to 2009, I was signed with my first agent (actually, she was my second, but like many “firsts” in life, that one didn’t actually count), which resulted in countless misses and a few near-hits. From 2009 to 2011, I was at the Solstice MFA program where I was (albeit happily) beholden to multiple mentors and deadlines. Then, from 2011 to 2015, I was signed with this most recent agent, a relationship that wasn’t right for me—though she was a funny and interesting woman—it wasn’t a match. I knew this from the start, but back then, I was desperate for a book deal…about as desperate as I was in high school for the attention of a certain soccer player…so desperate I allowed him to drunkenly slobber all over me at the homecoming dance my sophomore year, even though he already had a certain cheerleader girlfriend…desperate was a theme for me for a long time.

[By the way, that story was fictionalized and featured in volume three of Sucker Literary—shameless plugs will begin now!]

Anyway, after the break-up, I am lost but in a really good way. I go back into therapy (What else do you do when you have failed at something for almost 20 years, that is your passion for your entire life?) and together, my therapist and I come up with a plan: instead of the goal being success, it would now be FAILURE.

My shrink, a total CBT kind of guy, believes that I need to become desensitized to failure.

The objective of this plan is to seek out as many publications as possible, big and small, and submit…anything. Articles, manuscripts, whatever. Submit and get rejected. He even advised for me to send out some really bad writing to increase the chances of FAILURE.  

So, I go NUTS with my submissions…old blog posts, old short stories, new pieces, bad pieces and good pieces. The rejections come flying in pretty quickly. Sometimes I don’t even read past the first line of, “Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately…”  

After about the fifth rejection, the sinking sensation of failure in my stomach is gone. By the tenth, I don’t even care. At some point, I start to write new pieces about failure and mental health. I begin to realize that I actually don’t want to be the next Judy Blume (somebody once referred to me this way). I just want to be me, a woman who writes about whatever she wants.

By this point, my success or failure to become a published writer no longer defines me. I devote my time to my family and to finishing school for mental health counseling. Along the way, I also encounter some major health issues in both 2016 (a colon operation for a noncancerous yet sizeable tumor) and 2017 (a small bowel blockage). Each moment in the hospital reminds me of what I really value, and it isn’t a book deal with Random House.

In between hospital stays, summer of 2016 and then summer of 2017, something amazing and unexpected happens—success. One after another, over the span of about a year, I have some first-person essays published by internationally read mental health sites (The Mighty, MindBodyGreen, and OC87 Recovery Diaries.) I even get a nice check for one of those essays. Every one of those pieces had been previously rejected, multiple times by multiple places.

Yet, suddenly, it is my time.

And then, just this week, the most significant success of all—a book contract from Black Rose Writing. Mind you, this is a place that I previously received one of those rejections from, a rejection that, for all intents and purposes, I sought out!  

I want to take a moment to underscore this story with the fact that I had EVERY reason to believe that I would be successful as an author. Whether it was creating a literary magazine that landed me in Publishers Weekly or winning first place of a Writer’s Digest contest or simply that both agents I had sought me out, rather than me seeking their representation. So, my failure to launch as an author was all the more depressing because the expectations were so very high. Everyone—from mentors to fellow writer friends to agents—thought I would make it.

But I didn’t make it.

Yet, that failure has been my greatest success.

Check out this piece from NPR about a man who sought out rejection after a break up. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Being in the Moment

Check out the whole series so far on Medium.

I haven’t blogged in a week because I was really living in the moment each day, focusing on my commitment to the free mindfulness course, which trickled out into my daily life with work and family. It seems like a subtle shift, but when I am working with a student or client, I am really there, connecting with him or her. If I’m with my kids or husband, it’s the same thing; being there, hearing their voices and engaging in what they are saying.

Like week 1, week 2 revolved around a daily commitment to both a formal and informal mindfulness exercise and to log both experiences. The formal was to continue with week one’s body scan meditation but alternate it with another meditation called the sitting meditation. The informal was to notice how we experience and process pleasant events.

I honestly wish I could just keep doing week 2 and not move on from it because it is providing me with these very grounding and positive elements of my life that require no purchasing and no evaluating. Especially the informal exercise of how we experience pleasure. One that I logged was from early in the week when I found myself crying and hugging my daughter in a spontaneous moment of realizing that she is now taller than me and, thus, growing up. This moment occurred as we were rushing around the super market and hurrying out to the car with the cart, my daughter ahead of me, almost at the car, when I noticed a baby and her father. The baby beamed at me and I said something that I used to hear over and over when my girls were little, “She’s so beautiful…Savor the moment! It will go by so fast.” The father nodded and let me know that this was “number three” so he knew exactly what I meant. By the time I reached the car, my daughter was impatiently waiting for me, but I was already crying. I grabbed her into a hug, and she let me, she even soothed, “It’s okay, Mom” even though I don’t think she knew exactly what my tears were for. That moment of releasing the tears and hugging her was such a rush of pleasure and contentment, and I don’t think I would have been able to fully rest into that moment had I not been doing these exercises all week. Just like what happened this weekend, with the kids being home on Friday for a PD day from school and my youngest and I having some time by ourselves. The weather was summery, and so we went outside, did some basketball, our own version of tennis (see the pic above), and some wiffleball. Running and laughing with her was perfection…and something I’m not sure I would have slowed down enough to even think of doing just two weeks ago. My stomach muscles felt worked in a familiar way—that bellyache you get from laughing too hard. When I logged that moment, I wrote, “I had forgotten how good that feeling is.”

I had other moments I recorded and the feeling I had each time the actual sensation in my body was described each time as “a rush” or “relief” or “warm” or “connected” or “fulfilled” and these were all moments I had with others, co-workers, children, spouse, and even by myself—during a meditation where the window was open and the breeze was brushing against my hands.   

So, it’s no wonder that for this week, I really looked forward to the exercises—based on everything so far, they made me feel good! What I also notice, as I look back on week 2, is that I’ve managed to embed the mindfulness practices into my daily routine so that even when it was a day that was so full I couldn’t fit in meditation until the end of the day, I still wanted to do it; it wasn’t a chore. One day, I came home from work and everyone was out at an activity so I just went right into my bed room, stretched out on the floor and did a ten-minute body scan. I was interrupted when my husband came barging in, but I just told him I needed 10 minutes and I started again. I think because I told my whole family that this was a commitment I was doing for the next 8 weeks, I have been able to make it a priority…but not in a rigid or perfectionist way. The gift of this practice is that it has allowed me to learn how to be flexible and realistic in my expectations of myself and others. I allowed myself to kind of “rest” into mindfulness instead of, as I call it, “trying to get the A” (i.e., be perfect). So, if that meant not meditating at the same time every day but rather allowing myself the freedom and self-trust fit it into the day as it unfolded, then so be it.

Some other ways in which I “rested” into the mindfulness are that I decided that meditation works best for me if it is between 10 and 15 minutes as opposed to 30. I also realized that guided meditations are fine if the voice feels soothing and doesn’t distract me from the actual mediation. So, what I did was find some alternatives to the mediations that are utilized in the course. I used this for the body scan meditation and I used a script that I tailored to my own needs for the sitting meditation. I also allowed myself a day off this week, and I am allowing myself to do week two for a few more days this week…mainly because of Mother Nature who decided to surprise New England with a bit of a Nor’easter that has rendered us without power. I type this in the candle light as my girls play Uno for the millionth time saying, “It’s like old fashion times!”

As we set off into this old fashion evening, with candlelight and flashlights (yes, and the winking and blinking of iPads and laptops), I wonder if I will begin week three or let myself linger in the loveliness of week 2 a little longer…