Friday, February 26, 2010

Write or Die

Today, I officially became a freelance writer, and I owe it to insanity.  
I was too insane to quit.

I was a hustler by day.  Sales.  Straight commission.  Even though I enjoyed my job, the economy was not conducive to selling anything.   While I wasn't making enough money, I was still afraid to leave the job for the unpredictable world of freelance.  I also recognized I’d never make it as a writer until I knew more about the industry.

So there I was, working the day job and writing whenever I could squeeze in some time.  Sometimes, the lines blurred.  Last spring, I was at a convention answering questions from potential customers as they passed by our booth.  I gazed at them as they strolled by, wondering who they were, what their wounds were, what kind of character they’d make in a story.  My mind was on anything but my “job.” 

Then, the “ah-ha” moment hit.

A woman approached, picked up our brochure and asked about our company.  I jumped into my sales pitch, “blah, blah, blahing” her the spin.  During our chat, I asked, “what is it you do now?”  She answers, “Oh, I’m a writer.”  My heart sank.  I wanted to yell, “I’m a writer too!”  But I couldn’t.  I stuffed it down and presented her with my card of my false life.  She was a writer.  I was a salesperson.   I vomited in my mouth. 

The next week, I met my writing partner for breakfast.   He noticed my distraction.  I shared my frustration of living a dual life.  Would I ever be free?  He reached across the table, looked straight into my teary eyes, “Jeanne, I am your biggest believer.  You are a writer.”  You’d think, coming from a Pulitzer Prize winner, I would believe him.  I wanted to believe him.  

I kept working the job, writing blog posts and connecting with writers.  I soaked up information anywhere I could find it.  I simply wouldn’t give up.  I was readying myself for the opportunity.   When that opportunity finally arrived, it was in the form of Jane Friedman, publisher of Writer’s Digest.

I met Jane on Twitter and pimped out her links and those of her colleagues.   She knew my day job was based in Cincinnati, so when Writer’s Digest had its 90th Anniversary Party, she invited me.  I used my last airmile to get there.

It was a dream come true.  I had found nirvana in that crowded bar full of hippy writers.   I was the real me.   I was smiling so brightly, my face hurt.   Jane opened her arms, literally and figuratively and changed my life.  While drinking and chatting about Twitter, she nonchalantly said, “You should write an article for us on the value of Twitter.”  She was dead serious. 

Before my plane took off, I started writing.  I submitted a classic, conservative article along with a how-to list to tweeting.  Jane sweetly replied the article was “solid,” but she wanted a personal essay of my journey through Twitterverse in my own unique voice.  I rolled up my velour sleeves and gave her the pure, raw Twitter Pimp Angel that is Jeanne.

Today, I got an email from Writer’s Digest, making an offer to acquire my submission.   Within two hours, I had the contract signed, scanned and back. 

I still don’t know how I did it through the tears.  Yes, tears.  I was bawling.  I’m still crying.  I wish I had the words to describe the validation coursing through me.  It’s more than validation; it’s relief.  All the tension, anxiety, fear, and insanity that is being a writer is pouring out my eyes as the words fly out my fingertips. 

The irony is the editor probably has finalized offers with hundreds, maybe thousands of writers.  Today was just one more writer providing the article to fill the empty slot.  But for me, it was a day I will remember forever.  A gift.  A blessing.  A moment of hope.  I am a writer.  I am free.   Freelance.  Damn.  I did it!  

What Jane didn’t know was just hours before I walked into that party, I quit my day job.  It was time.  Write or die.  

I pray I never forget this feeling or ever take it for granted.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Honest Scrap Award

I click a link and BAM – I discover I have been awarded the Honest Scrap Award by Brittany Landgrebe aka @lights_aurora.  I look closer. This must be a mistake.  Perhaps it reads “Honest Crap Award”… yeah, that would be more like it.

I have no idea what this award means, but it comes with rules.  I knew there was a catch.  Why couldn’t it come with unicorns, candy and sparklers?  I read closer. 

The rules? Simple. Reveal ten things you likely don’t know about me, then pass the award on to someone else I admire. They shall do the same, and it’s just a whole big pile of Honest Scrap!

She admires me!  She admires me!  I felt like Rudolph.

Once the happy dust settled, the rules sunk in.  I’m to unleash 10 sins to cyberspace and do the work for TMZ.   Afraid?  Hell, no.  I’m very competitive, therefore the thought of beating a reporter hiding in my shrubs and sifting through my garbage for an award-winning expose of my life has my sin-riddled skin tingling. 

Go to fullsize imageI need to channel a reporter to get into character.  But who… or is it whom?  If I were Walter Cronkite, I’d know the answer.  He was my fraternity brother (see #7 below).  I even shook his hand while wearing a very ugly 1980s puffy dress.  I was in the dress, not Walter.  Just wanted to clarify, since I’m a top-notch reporter and all. 

Does that count as one of the ten?  Nah, I’ll give you that one for free.

1.  Jackasses make me laugh.  In the 60s, my parents decided to move to the country in pursuit of a simpler life.  Intellectual father.  Hippy mother.  They found an old run-down farmhouse on 150 acres where the animals roamed free… inside and out.  Flies.  Oh man, were there flies.  The sale came with a horse and a jackass.  I always giggled when my daddy said, “jackass”  *giggle*.  I was four when a scary man came and took them away.  They either became my school glue or my dog’s dinner.  I hate the smell of both.  

2. I didn’t like to play with the girls in kindergarten.  I wanted to play with the boy toys… oops, I mean boyS' toys.  My kindergarten teacher didn’t know what to do with me, since all the other girls were fighting over the only cute doll.  At first, she tried to conform me into a proper girl, but I always ended up on the sidelines starring at the boy’s fascinating toys that made noises and turned into buildings and magical structures.  These girls bored me.  One day, the teacher knelt by me, took my hand and said, “Go ahead.  Show me what you can do.”  She unleashed my creativity in that single moment.  I ran straight to the Legos and found a quiet, shy boy who became my best friend.  I remember building a duck with wheels for feet.  I still have some clay ducks we made together. I guess we liked ducks.  

Go to fullsize image3.  I have always been unlucky in love.  My Lego duck buddy came to class with cupcakes.  I was confused.  I knew it wasn’t his birthday, but was convinced he did it just for me.  He knew the way to my heart.   He liked ducks, after all.  As I joyously gobbled my chocolately goodness, he sadly announced he was moving away.  My heart was pounding so hard I thought I’d throw up… but I never let chocolate out once it was in.  I held back tears all day.  As we lay on the mats for our daily nap, I let the tears fall.  He crawled closer to me and held my hand.  I squeezed his back.  When it was time to say goodbye, he leaned in and gave me a kiss.  My first kiss.  Then he ran out the door and never looked back.  I don’t remember his name... but he loved me.  I didn’t play with Legos the rest of the school year.  I tried to conform… because playing with the boys hurt too much.

Go to fullsize image4.  I was obsessed with babies.  I cut baby pictures out of magazines and hid them in my room.  The Vietnam War was always on the news.  I’d watch people bringing home Vietnamese babies, praying my parents would adopt one for me.  Being the youngest of four, I wanted a little sister.   I cried when the war ended, and no one understood why.

Go to fullsize image
5.  I am a murderer.  Back on the farm, we replaced all the farm animals with forty-five cats.  Yes, you read that right.  The previous owners would let their pigs in the house, but we changed that rule.  Our cats were never allowed inside unless one was about to give birth.   Grumph gave birth a lot.  She was a kitty slut.   I used to curl up with my kitten on the couch and fall asleep.  When I woke from my deep child-like slumber, I found her lifeless, fuzzy body and panicked.  I squashed her.  I ran to the fire and laid her on the warm hearth, hoping to bring her back to life.  I don’t remember anything other than being alone in the living room with the dead kitten and feeling empty.  I think I left her there and ran upstairs.  I wonder what my parents thought when they found her.  They might have thought I was the next Ted Bundy.  Yikes.  I should really ask.

I need a part two to #5 because now I’m depressed.  Let me share a really cool kitty story:  my siblings’ kittens were always healthy, but my kitties often fell victim to amputation.   No, I didn’t amputate them.  I just had bad kitty luck, remember?   I will never forget picking my injured kitten up from the vet only to be terrified to hold the now "broken" kitten.   The vet heartlessly shoved the kitten into my 6-year-old arms, with still-bleeding stump, and told me I was selfish for not loving her.  He was a mean prick.  I had no idea how to handle a three-legged cat.  I ignored her for weeks.  She hobbled around the house crying for me.  I hated her.  I missed what she was before… perfect.  Then one day, I was playing with my matchbox cars on the square-patterned rug, and she came bouncing over.  Without even thinking, I swept her up in my arms and kissed her.  A moment passed and I froze, holding this imperfect cat that I had hated.  An enormous smile swept my face, and I went running out of the room, kitty clutched into my chest, yelling, “Mommy, mommy… I DO love her!”  That kitten taught me great lessons in loving the imperfect.   I don’t remember her name… but she loved me and I loved her.

Go to fullsize image6. We never bought new clothes as kids.  Our “shopping sprees” were always at Salvation Army – $1 for a paper bag of clothes.  Sure, my dad had a great job, but my mom was a hippy and a Depression-Era kid.  I think she felt guilty buying new things.  Once, she drove in the yard in her hippy van, jumped out, and yelled for us.  She whipped open the back doors like The Price is Right curtain, revealing hundreds of jeans!  Fat jeans, skinny jeans, straight jeans, and bell-bottoms.  She paid $100 for the van load.  We were set for life.  I made purses, stuffed animals and my own bell-bottoms with flowered-patterned triangles.  Man, my mom was cool.  She picked up hitchhikers too.

Go to fullsize image7.  I never joined a sorority.  I went through the whole rushing process.  Even got a bid to the most popular sorority on campus.  But when it came time to accept, I felt like that little girl in kindergarten.  I just didn’t get it.  I didn’t want to fight over the pretty doll.  I became a little sister in a fraternity instead. 

8. I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and even fix the broken shelves.  I was 29 when I got married and managed a motel and restaurant.  I had all the girlie things I needed at that age, but I didn’t have tools.  For my wedding shower, I registered at True Value Hardware Store.  There was even a picture of me in the national True Value newsletter.  Before you assume I’m a complete tomboy, you should know I’m also a gourmet cook.   I would have dinner parties with five-course meals.  I once broke up with a guy because he wouldn’t eat Coquille St. Jacques.  I’m sorry, but if you were too scared to taste a scallop, you’d be boring as hell to live with.

Go to fullsize image9. I gave birth like a monkey.  When I was pregnant with my first child, I was a tad nervous about this whole birth thing.  I’m gonna push this kid out of there?  Really!?  Yikes.  As my belly grew, I searched for any answers I could find on how to make this hurt less.  I flipped to the Discovery Channel and found a show with two monkeys giving birth – one via cesarean and one natural.  Excellent.  All the research I needed.  The mama monkey who had the natural birth was amazing.  No humans helped her.  She delivered her baby all by herself in her little cage.  That monkey never made a peep.  Not one little groan, moan or complaint.  I was going to be that monkey.  And I was.  Three days of labor, and not a peep out of me.  I quietly pushed my baby girl out without even an aspirin. 

10. I got fired only once in my life.  After both my kids were in school full time, I decided I needed a new career.  A friend convinced me to try medical transcriptioning.  Being a competitive freak and all, I was top in my class.  I started working for a hospital in Massachusetts, getting all my files online.  Every few days, this one doctor would dictate with the most pompous voice, and he’d make up big words that didn’t exist.  Now, I went to Cornell.  I’m no moron, but I am a perfectionist and stickler for detail.  At first, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt and search for the words, but when I was finally satisfied they didn’t exist, I’d flag the report.  After several weeks, my boss told me I was pissing off Dr. Pompous.  In fact, the doctor’s words were, “Who does this glorified secretary think she is?”  I may have given birth like a monkey, but I wasn’t going to put my name to a report dictated by one.  He fired me.   I wish I could find him and thank him.  He was the person who finally gave me the confidence to write. 

There you have it.  Ten things about me you probably didn’t know.  Is your life better for knowing them?  I’m sure not.  But at least I beat TMZ to it. 

I now pass the Honest Scrap Award onto a person who I admire but don’t know enough about.  This was very difficult to choose.  There are many I admire, but today, I am choosing @slushpilehero.  Oh my God, I don’t even know her real name!  Actually, I don’t know the name of my dead kitten or the boy who gave me my first kiss.  This is perfect.    

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

save Karen... I beg you

When I started blogging, I made myself a simple promise to post every two weeks.   Doable, right?  Wrong.  Real life gets in the way.  Specifically, the current script we’re writing.   Oh, I’ve thought of at least half a dozen topics, but I can’t afford to miss this deadline.   Completed script or blog post?  The tipping scales have spoken. 

While lamenting my blog constipation to Karen Quah, Penny Ash and Carrie Brozovic tonight, we came up with a super-silly-crazy-nutty-psycho idea:  a blog to create a new bio for Karen.

Why does Karen need a new bio?  Because hers sucks.  Specifically, it just says “writer.”  That’s it.  Writer.  Man, I could have written that.  What Karen needs is a bio defining her true glorious skill set.  This woman is a goddess.  A writing phenomenon who is stalked regularly… by none other than herself.  

This is an official intervention to cure her bio boringness.  

You don’t know Karen?  Have no fear.  No suggestion you leave could possibly be more boring than “writer.”  You have nothing to lose.  But if you’d like to get to know her, read the great post she wrote on Tyler Weaver’s Multi-hypenate site.   You’ll have all the ammo you need to kick her boring bio to the curb.

So grab your tequila and give it a shot.  You truly can’t fail.

P.S. Wow, I even made a post about Karen's bio a pimp out for Tyler Weaver.  Maybe I'm the one who needs an intervention - #pimpaholic.