Until almost bedtime last night, I had not done a lick of work since Wednesday the 23rd when I drove to NYC to pick up my little sister at Penn Station. That was an 8 hour day in the car.
Driving in NYC is not like other driving, and being a good city driver is a skill set that makes you suck at driving in, say, Williamsport, PA.
I love Williamsport, but this town is full of deeply defensive drivers and SUVs and Fracking trucks which is a recipe for total frustration and potential disaster. There are also too many blue hairs driving Chevy Cavaliers, ancient Buicks, and Cadillacs.
In an unrelated aside: Child is watching a cartoon on Netflix that has a theme song by The Cure. Catches me off guard every time.
Back to driving: going because you have to, and driving at the maximum possible speed are invigorating habits, and ones I forgot I had. Driving in NYC was illuminating. I acquired city (and New England) driving habits when I was a pretty young driver. These habits are why Fella (and others) say I am a bad driver, and why people in college used to talk about what a good driver I am. I am not a bad driver, I am a misfit driver. This place isn’t city enough for my driving habits. Realizing this, however, has made me cognizant of the different driving behaviors I need for Williamsport, and I’m working on it.
In another unrelated aside: Child is reading now. She has shut off the TV of her own volition and is reading to herself. Every fifth word or so, she shouts in here, “What’s K-N-O-W?” I am totally proud. (Before you judge me, it’s a sick day, too. She’s got a fever and a cough.)
So Child is home today because it’s the first day of Buck season. Another thing that is silly about PA that is not silly about other places I have lived and visited.
Fella and I had a lovely long weekend of cuddles and beer and too much eating and breaks for coffee and kisses. Child was visiting Grandma.
Thanksgiving as a vegetarian is only nice if you have an accommodating family. I happen to be lucky in that way.
I am tired but renewed, and glad glad glad the holidays only happen for 1/12th of the year.
I started watching 30 Rock. I admit I didn’t get it at first. But two people whose taste I trust kept telling me how farmin great it is.
So I believed them, and I started watching episodes systematically on Netflix Streaming via Xbox. (All of this is thanks to Fella. I didn’t used to have a TV that did anything but play DVDs.)
I viewed it as medicine at first. Kept telling myself, “who cares if you don’t like it. It’s good for ya’!”
By episode 6, I started to see the funny. By episode 10, Fella was laughing, too. And now, in the middle of the second season, I get little flutters of admiration for Tina Fey in every episode. She is so cute! I want to buy her book. I want to go to lunch with her. I want us to be BFFs, but not the creepy version like with her mentor who is played by Carrie Fisher in season 2.
We watched the LudaChristmas episode (s. 2, ep. 9) last night. And this morning, when I hugged my kid and told her I was proud of her for reading Fella the book about soccer, both he and I laughed.
Child asked why, and he said, “Mommy and I watched a funny show last night.”
“Oh.” She said.
And so Tina Fey came to breakfast at Chez 30RockHaters. <— that was us, before.
The best thing about the show is that Fella (who is into video games and sci-fi/fantasy geekery in ways I simply don’t get) and I (who read books by authors nobody’s ever heard of and digs grammar jokes and puns, English major nerdery) both laugh.
As I write this, I am working to launch a fundraising project on Start Some Good. I have a great idea and the expertise to make it go if we can raise the cash.
The Folks over at StartSomeGood.com like the project, and they’ve approved me to utilize their site.
You, good blog readers, get to have a sneak peek of the project, and to follow the progress from day one.
I’ll admit that I’m both insanely excited and scared to death about this thing. I am excited because I want to serve authors and my community, and I think there are a lot of folks who will be as excited about this project as I am.
I am scared because of the possibility of failure, and because I have a fairly long history of people showing up to tell me how my big ideas are impossible/bad/wrong. I have learned to sidestep them, but they are sneaky and they affirm my inner editor (who is a massive bitch) who wants me to believe I’m horrible and will always fail. Of course, that possibility always exists, but you can see here why I think the insecurity it causes should mostly be ignored.
I need your help. Once my fundraising campaign is live, I’ll tell you about it, and I’ll ask for your support. But for now, what I need is help with the video, recommendations of (preferably local to Central PA) attorneys and accountants who work in the nonprofit sector, and good writers of literary fiction. And I need more ideas. Ideas beget ideas.
I need you to tell your friends about this project.
I’ll be telling all of my friends and posting updates here, at twitter and–once I hit my tipping point–on the Billtown Blue Lit website, which will be designed and hosted by local web professionals.
I’ll need to form an unpaid board of directors within the next several months, so if that’s something you’re interested in, or to help with anything above (or below), email me at AprilLineWriting@gmail.com or comment here.
Williamsport is a great town, I’m proud to live here. This project is a great match for our already arts-centered community.
Here are the 12 things that are up at the Start Some Good venture as things I’m aiming to accomplish.
1. Bringing the writers to town will provide an opportunity for Blue Lit to contract with local hotels/B&Bs to board the writers. Blue Lit will ONLY feed the authors at local, independently owned eateries.
2. There will be an opportunity for folks in the community to hear these authors read their work, get exposed to new authors, and to meet them and ask questions at the reception and Q&A that will follow each event. The events will be free and open to the public.
3. Blue Lit will work with The Pajama Factory (local artists’ haven) to start a writer-in-residence program which will provide an opportunity for a writer to work on her stuff in a place that’s designated to artists.
4. Farther down the line, Blue Lit will host a writer’s workshop (like the one Tin House does, that’s what I’ve linked), and provide more culture and commerce to the independently owned businesses in the town.
5. Blue Lit will consistently fund-raise to provide a scholarship fund for deserving, gifted writers of single mothers.
6. Blue Lit will employ local college students as marketing interns, and eventually as office personnel.
7. Blue Lit will work with Otto (independent book seller) to feature the books by the visiting readers, and with the community library to feature the same books.
8. Advertising is key. I’ve been in touch with the local radio folks and they said that they’re willing to tout the series throughout their entire listening area which spans a huge portion of central PA. I’ve also done some research about print advertising and will run twitter, facebook, and blogging campaigns.
9. Blue Lit will provide a stipend that’s on the high end for visiting writers ($1,000), and we will encourage the visiting author to sell books at the event.
10. Blue Lit will work to give writers additional venues by launching an online literary journal, and contests that award cash prizes to new writers. (á la Glimmer Train)
11. I will contract with local freelancers with whom I already have a working relationship to put together the marketing materials (brochure, flyers, website, etc). These will be printed at the local print shoppe.
12. Blue Lit will do a book group focusing on the most recent work of the visitng writer. This will generate hype, and will also raise funds.
Child is a really sweet kid. Her birthday’s late summer, so she’s one of the youngest in her class.
Her BFF is one just a few months shy of being a whole year older than she is.
The girls met at Little Lambs, the preschool to which they both went, about 2 years ago. It’s a great place, even though it’s parochial. Aside from that I got an incredibly good vibe from the place, it was affordable, and all the other places I visited were scary for one reason or another, my thinking was that knowing stories from the Bible can be a real help when one is writing college papers in literature courses.
When we moved this fall, we moved so we live around the corner from BFF, and Child opted to switch elementary schools from where she went last year so she could go to the same school as BFF.
Our school district lets us pick to an extent.
Child and BFF played together a lot this past summer. BFF came over to our house a lot of days, and the girls had sleepovers and Child went to the lake with BFF and her family. They go to each other’s birthday parties and have had a really good friendship.
In a happy twist of fate, Child wound up in the same class as BFF.
And all was beautiful and harmonious until yesterday.
Child said, “I want to play with BFF today.”
Since it’s child appreciation day, and Child will have no homework, I say, “Okay, I’ll text her mom.”
So I text Mrs. BFF, and she says of course BFF can come play.
I go to pick up Child and I’m herding Mrs. BFF’s kids, too, because she’s going to be a few minutes late. And I say, “Hey BFF, wanna come over and play at our house for a while?”
BFF says, “No.”
Child immediately starts weeping, but she’s hiding her face in my hip. BFF does not see her weeping. My heart breaks a little bit, even though I get it. I remember.
BFF’s tastes have matured to the point where Child–who is just not mature in any respect–does not interest her anymore. Sure, if she’s thrust into a situation where she has to play with Child, she will, or if it’s between Child and her brothers. But she’d rather play with the girls who are those 6-10 months older.
Plus there’s the brutal social stuff: BFF definitely has what it takes to be a cool/popular kid. Child is sensitive and strange (no surprises there), and I am not the kind of mom who refuses to let her go to school wearing insane things, or who tells her not to be weird.
Maybe that’s a failing as a parent, but the best people I know liked the learning parts of school but could’ve done without the social aspects.
And Child will be better off socially than I was. They have become insanely aware of bullying and its dangers, and Child is gregarious and funny and coordinated. I expect that she’ll play some sort of sport, and that’s a social network built in.
She’ll meet new friends and adapt.
But part of me wanted to say, “Hey Mrs. BFF! Tell BFF she has to play with Child!” Even though I recognize the myriad problems with such behavior.
On the rest of the way home without BFF, Child alternated between weeping and telling me how BFF won’t play with her at recess anymore. How BFF plays with M__ and K__, but not with her.
I asked if she knew why, and she said, “she just won’t.” I’m certain there’s more to the story than I’ll hear. But still. Sad, sad stuff.
And it didn’t occur to me until right now that Child’s exceedingly poor behavior last evening may have been a result of this tragedy. In fact, Child said another thing that saddened and angered me in equal measure.
We were on our way home from Zumba and I told her that she was not allowed to stay up because she was being highly snotty, she said, “Maybe I should just kill myself.” Which she then tried to deny saying, which is good, I think? But still. Caught me totally off gurad. Rendered me speechless. Made me angry in ways I was not expecting.
I sent her to bed and did not tuck her in or read her a story. I do not know if that was the right tack, but she was asleep instantly. And now I will be vigilant.
What kind of six-year-old even suggests suicide? Is this foreshadowing of dreadful teenaged years to come? Will I be one of those tragic, 40-something alcoholic moms with a dead kid?
I hope not. But this is one of those times where having her sperm donor’s input might be helpful. I think that he felt sad about being alive from a very early age.
He said, when he found out I was pregnant, that he didn’t want to be a father because he always felt like he shouldn’t have been born, and he didn’t want to put another person through that. Strong words, but felt ones nevertheless.
I was too busy pitying myself at the time to notice how sad that was, but I’ve thought of it often.
When I was in college, I took this class called “The City in Western Civilization.” It was taught by an art history professor and an history professor.
We read some excerpts from this book called Suburban Nation that extolled the virtues of urban living, its efficiency, relative safety (because if you scream your neighbors can hear you), and the lower cost to sustain it.
Later I bought the book and developed a composition course around it, because I found the idea that the notion that suburbs represent an American Dream is flawed to be liberating. Gosh that was awkward.
What I mean is that it was freeing to consider the fact that maybe the “American Dream” as I understood it was not so dreamy after all.
Of course we talked about “Bowling for Columbine,” and the phenomenon of extreme isolation and dangerous behavior from anti social personality types. I was in high school when all that was happening, so it was still timely only a few years later.
But while it’s great to have facts and statistics and green values to support my love of cities, I don’t care a lick about any of that.
Here’s my roundup.
1. Ethnic Food. I live in a sizeable town now. The best ethinc food around is Joy Thai, and it’s not that great. I miss access to Ethiopian, Thai, Japanese, Indian, so on. I miss the ethnic markets where none of the packaging is in English so you know or you gamble.
2. There’s always somebody around to notice when I’m amusing. I narrate my life. I am often funny. Where I live, I drive around in my car by myself, and so does everybody else. In cities, I take busses and trains and subways and whenever I crack wise, even though they don’t look directly at me, someone usually snickers. That is affirmation, and it brings me joy.
3. PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. It is so much easier to hop on a bus that you know will run at 3 a.m. if you want to go drink a little bit too much. It’s nice to let someone else buy the gas and pay for the tires and maintenance.
4. Even if you live in the same place for a lot of years, you can still do and learn new stuff. When Child and I went to NYC, we rode the tram (image above), and it was our host’s first time, too. Even though she has lived in the city longer than a decade. Here’s a picture of her and child.
5. Constant Live Entertainment. Some guy will be telling jokes on a corner. A few other guys will hop on the train with their guitars and serenade the riders. Somebody will be juggling in the street, there will be a troupe of contortionists performing in a park or public courtyard.
6. Nobody moves slowly. I love the pace. I love that if you slow down, you get trampled. I love that scampering rat race, dog-eat-dog energy. It makes me feel good at things.
7. I will be surprised if nobody argues this with me in the comments, but people are friendly in cities! You bump into someone, they say excuse me. People smile as they pass. They get doors. They help folks who are lost, engage with people who’re clearly tourists. I feel safe in this environment.
How could you leave us, Regis?
Your quitting is simply egregious.
We need your banter with Kellygis.
You two make us laugh till we Peegis.
Child and I were in the car after Zumba at the Y, and I’m vaguely amused by this poem, but Child is guffawing. She’s laughing so much and so hard there’s no way she can hear what Adam Sandler’s saying.
She laughed because the studio audience was, which I realized today, while I re-listened, which basically ruins the impetous of this post.
Because what I was going to say is how Adam Sandler must be preternaturally funny, if Child knows he’s funny just because he’s talking, especially since I’m sure that egregious is not yet in her vocabulary, and since she doesn’t know Regis from her grandfather.
But now I’m listening to Regis talk on the edition of Fresh Air, and looking at this picture I stole from People Magazine, and thinking about what a deeply down-to-earth guy Regis must be. Does it look like he has plastic surgery? His teeth are magically more straight, but dentures maybe?
I remember watching him on TV when I was a kid. I remember thinking Kathy Lee Gifford was a witchy, shrewish, obnoxious woman, even as a little girl. She made this record, and I liked it okay. My mom listened to it kind of a lot.
Then, I watched a few times after Kelly Rippa took over, and she made me want to vomit with all of her completely ridiculous warbling about her fatness. But Regis seems like a totally genuine fellow, but I found the women on his show to be horrifying.
And this picture makes me think that he’s as he seemed: A very sane, thoughtful, deep, down-to-earth person who was paired with ninnies on TV because watching two sane, thoughtful, deep people talk about something is not really compelling TV. That’s what Fresh Air is for.
And as I listen to this piece, he has these really normal-people kinds of thoughts about himself, and he is really gracious about all of these things people are telling him about himself, even though it’s clear that he’s not supremely comfortable with all the accolades.
It seems like he just shows up and acts like himself. I like that. That’s what I want to do. I want to show up and act like myself. Maybe Terry Gross will let me be her apprentice.
She told me I need to focus. She’s right, sort of.
But today I had an epiphany. I can make not focusing focus.
1. Virtuousity is good for business.
I can write about anything. Recently, I have written about Radon and Fish. These were both paid jobs. I have sold stuff, so I can write sales copy. I am smart and I read well. I mean that I can interpret and extrapolate from what I read, and I can compress a lot of information into a little bit of copy. I learn while I research, and if there’s something missing, the client asks me to fix it, and I usually have an answer. If I do not have an answer, I know where to find one.
2. Even in my lack of focus, there is focus.
Most of these posts are about writing, parenthood, books, and other media. Soon, there will be posts about using Kickstarter or Start Some Good (.com) to fund and start a nonprofit that benefits my community and a larger community of underrepresented writers. These things are all, in a sense, related. They appeal to a similar sort of person: writers, parents, entrepreneurs.
3. Writing stuff that people read is focus.
I am interested in lots of things. Telling myself that I can’t blog about something I’m interested in because it doesn’t fit into my self-mandated set of rules about what I blog about seems contrary to the idea of blogging, entrepreneurship, and having a broad skill set. I like it when people read my posts. I notice when they spot a theme they like, and I make other posts like it. I also notice what gets found by pedophiles, and I try to write less of that.
4. I have done a lot of things, and I almost always do them the hard way.
Before I was 20, I’d had two dozen jobs or so. I’m not advocating for this method, but it has worked for me better than it probably should have. I would get one, decide I didn’t like it, or get a new opportunity, or create a new scheme to be happier and better fulfilled, and switch, or work a couple of jobs at a time. I liked having the freedom that money provided. That money allowed me to escape my home life that was full of differing ideologies and world views that I found to be limiting. Because of my career ADD, I can now write about food, books, publishing, teaching, cell phones and/or technology, and to a lesser extent about cars and life insurance. I have always been a quick study, and that’s a real advantage for a writer. I am not intimidated by new, unfamiliar information. I thrive in it.
5. Being entertaining is focus.
Penelope said that people like to be around other people with interesting ideas. I have lots of interesting ideas. I have interesting ways of saying things. Sometimes I’m funny. I recently told facebook that I felt like I was getting boring. My friends and acquaintances assured me I am wrong. See? So even if there’s something here that you find to be boring, there’s probably something else that you don’t find to be boring. Even Penelope sometimes writes about stuff that I don’t care about. But I bet somebody else does.
Tell me what’s wrong with this picture. No, never mind. I’m going to tell you.
1. Everybody is smiling.
2. That teacher is wearing Ann Taylor
3. There’s a child there
4. They don’t show you how your kid can read at conferences.
5. Those chairs are grownup sized
I had Child’s parent-teacher conference last Thursday.
I love her teacher. She called herself a bitch because she demands excellence, and she doesn’t let those six-year-olds rule her. She is legitimately awesome.
But as I walked to the school, my palms were sweaty and my heart was racing, and I was experiencing intestinal distress.
Outside Child’s classroom, this chair that’s like three inches tall is designated as the waiting area. There are sweaty moms in pink track suits and gaggles of young children exploiting the halls while their parents get their talking-tos. There’s a book fair.
I am so nervous I don’t even look at the books. And I love books. I sit in the stupid short chair and sweat and listen to my tummy gurgle.
I feel like I am on parenting trial. I have these shuttering visions in which a white-wigged principal slams his gavel and sentences me to mom prison for not reading Child enough books.
Child is without question one of the best things about my life, and she saved me. I love her more than I ever thought it was possible to love anything. But I never wanted to be a mom. This mommy thing stresses me out. It is exhausting and hard and anybody who says otherwise is either preternaturally wired for parenting, or lying their faces off.
So even though the conference is all good news, or at least nothing terribly surprising, I feel like I’m on a first date. I keep making bad jokes and interrupting her teacher. Her teacher has a sexy voice, so I try to concentrate on that, then I try to figure out how her teeth are so great, and how much shorter than I am she is. She is a short woman. I think about her prettiness.
I have this unique-to-parent-teacher-conferences ability to hear myself as if I am talking into a jar. I sound like I’m begging for approval; I sound defensive and desperate and like I am making excuses.
There is nothing to make excuses for. My kid is developing well and doing great. She’s got some problem areas, but every kid does, and anybody who says their kid doesn’t is setting herself up for eventual, certain parent-ruin.
And Teacher notices. She likes my kid and she talks about how neat she is, and how even her trouble spots are reasonable for her age and developmental prowess.
I feel the need to apologize for being a bad mother.
I curb it.
Teacher seems pleased that I anticipated the only complaint she had, and was already working to address it at home.
I latch onto that unstated encouragement and start this narrative for myself about how Teacher tells other Teacher at a water cooler how “If only every mom could be like Child’s mom.”
I leave the conference feeling nervy and pleased. After I pick her up, I tell Child that she has to work harder to focus, but that she’s doing well and I am proud.
But I don’t want to go to another parent-teacher conference. I want to have coffee with Teacher and tell her how pretty I think she is, and how glad I am she’s Child’s teacher. I want to meet her in a normal place without dwarf chairs and with coffee or something else to put in my mouth so I don’t open it.
I wonder if I could break up with parent teacher conferences: “Teacher, I think you’re excellent, but I hate parent teacher conferences. No, no. It’s not you. It’s me. I’m anxious or something. How about we just get coffee. I have bad hips. I can’t sit in those little chairs. Oh, against the rules, huh? I swear I won’t tell…”
I’m putting together a budget and looking for readers. I’ll be launching a kickstarter page in the next few weeks.
I want to raise the money for the first six months. The ultimate goals are lofty and include promoting literacy through community involvement, hosting a writer’s workshop (like this one), and starting a scholarship fund for writers who are children of single moms.
But in the short term, small scale, immediate vision, there are readings that are free to the public, high quality readers who get paid to be here, and another aspect to the already rich cultural presence here.
I read job boards like Freelance Writing Jobs, and recently I discovered Blogging Pro. I check out Craigslist for larger areas than mine. I am on the email list for Virtual Vocations, though that is my least favorite. I belong to two discussion boards relevant to my field on LinkedIn, and I very occassionally troll CareerBuilder and Monster, though these almost never have relevant results for me. Invaluable, however, is Writer’s Market. Subscribe. You’ll pay yourself back. They’ve done all the heavy lifting for you.
Reading job ads, writing an engaging cover letter or pitch (I like to be funny in mine), digging up relevant clips, and the requisite follow up take a HUGE amount of time.
Each opportunity has specific needs, and these need to be specifically addressed in the cover letter. I like Kristen Lamb’s thought that form letters should never be used when approaching someone who has the power to honor, publish, and/or employ my work. Lamb is talking about winning the hearts and minds of bloggers, but it’s my contention that editors and developers who employ writers are equally appreciative of original queries.
I used to apply for and/or query anything for which I felt even remotely qualified. I used to sell cars, so I applied for automotive writing spots, even though I haven’t followed the auto industry since 2009. I used to sell cell phones, so I have applied for technology writing gigs. I am slightly more qualified for tech writing because I use and enjoy gadgets, technology. But I love these for their productivity, efficiency, and how cool they make me look. I love them less for their layered processors, unbelievable software, and operating systems. Technology, though useful and exciting, is not my passion.
I wasted a lot of energy asking for jobs I was sure I could do, but for which I was not adequately qualified.
People want you if you have proven skills relevant to their needs, not if you are sure you could do the job, but can’t show them any proof.
I have learned some things that save me time and self-esteem. Here they are.
Follow your passion
Only apply in subjects about which you would consider yourself an expert, or to which you have easy access to research. Don’t apply for work you wouldn’t do for free. There are ways to identify what kinds of writing for free are worth the time and effort without monetary compensation. Take a look at CopyBlogger‘s blog for tips about how and when writing for free can be a benefit to you. But if you write a food blog and you love food, apply for writing spots about food. If you read Engadget every day, and you never keep a computer longer than 6 months because something new has come out that you must own, apply for tech writing jobs. If you’re not an expert, you’re not a competitive candidate.
Try to sell articles and get positions that will be either re-sellable, or that will give you a new nuance of your topic or skill. Look for jobs and publications for whom you’ll get a bunch of practice writing about what you love that you can point potential clients or employers to. If you write for a section of your local paper, re-tool your material and market it to other publications. Other local publications may take it as-is. Too, if you do interviews, ask your subjects who else has interviewed them. Maybe you know of a publication or blog that hasn’t featured them, but should.
If you’re spending 2-5 hours applying for jobs, cut that time in half, and go read somebody you admire’s blog. I have found an unending source of amazing content from the folks I follow on Twitter. I have gained huge insight, access to career-enhancing information and tips, grown my network, and I have a sense that I belong in this world, doing what I do. When my inner editor is screaming about what a crappy writer I am, and how I should just give up, I go hang out with Twitter for a minute. Read and comment on some blogs consistently. Be courteous and thoughtful. Knowing what other people are saying about your field means you won’t repeat them. Being informed is a huge competitive edge.
Be nice, follow up
If there’s an editor with whom you made contact, but who didn’t offer you any work, or who didn’t accept any of your pitches, reach out to her once a month or so, just to say hello, remind her that you exist. Maybe she’s forgotten. It’s likely that she works with tons of freelancers, subjects, and editors. If an editor declines a pitch, or you get a note saying you won’t be considered for the position, think of it as a victory, a success. If the editor took the time to reply to you, that means she liked your stuff. That means she’ll probably look at more stuff from you in the future. Always send a note or make a call thanking her for her time. Never react defensively. Don’t give up. Keep sending pitches, queries, and checking in. It’s much easier to get work from people with whom you have established a relationship.