Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Day at the Ocean (Or Writing Myself into Obsolescence)

Today is our 28th wedding anniversary. Ron got a friend of his from work to loan him their studio apartment in Fort Bragg for a night. Here we are. There’s nothing like a day at the ocean, with no internet connectivity or microwave, to put life into perspective. And, ironically, I’m blogging about it, eh? Looking out at the Pacific, I remember when my life was simpler and I miss that simplicity. I want to get back to the basics, to the values with which I started out in life and the goals I set way back in the day, because they (mostly) still apply. I am always complaining about not having enough money, but lately I believe that if having money was my highest priority then I would have it by now. I received other things; things that were always more important to me.

I suddenly have this wave (get it, “wave”?) of revulsion at the thought of owning a home, which I have done since 1984. But I am starting to wonder what the point of home ownership is, in fact. So your landlord can’t make you move at the drop of a hat? That would be an inconvenience, not a catastrophe. To plant things in the yard? There will always be places to plant things. The purpose of having a house, to maintain, to insure, to pay taxes on, to clean, at this juncture in my life, is mainly as collateral to generate the funds to put my children through college. And after that is accomplished, why not sell the damn behemoth and rent a cottage by the ocean? That’s the ticket. Let someone else worry about the plumbing and the painting and the price of paying interest on a loan. Blech!

And I suddenly have a wave (that pun is probably getting old by now in this blog, puns have as short cyber shelf life) of regret for all the hours wasted doodling around on line, on Facebook, on Netflix, on Amazon, on Google looking up information that I actually could have lived and died without knowing. I would get a lot more written if I wasn’t so busy reading so much mundane blah blah blah (like the stuff I write on Facebook about the weather and the most recent scrap of fluff that has floated through my brain). Like this blog, I guess. I’m going on an internet diet. Less time reading useless passing infobites. Have I written myself into obsolescence?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mango Lemonade

Just for fun. A silly story. Yesterday at the grocery store the bagger put too many glass bottles into one of my canvas shopping bags. She loaded the bags into my cart, I paid for the groceries, and then I discovered that sticky orange liquid was pouring from my cart and making a huge puddle on the floor, splattering everywhere. Baggers and checkers descended on my cart as if it were the invasion of Normandy. They took the remaining bottles (balsamic vinegar, wine, and juice) and divided them into two plastic bags (since they were covered in icky sticky juice). They hurried the leaking canvas bag to the trash can where they dumped out the last of the juice, the broken bottle, and the small piece of glass that had been knocked out of the bottom of the juice bottle and caused the spill. Someone went to get me a replacement bottle of juice.

In the meantime, the lady behind me in line commented, “That smells so yummy. What was in that jar?” And I told her “Mango Lemonade.” In an instant, the words started to spread down the line like a blessing whispered down from the Temple Mount. “What did she say?” “That smells heavenly, what is that stuff?” “I have to get some of that.” “Mango lemonade from the health food juice section.” As if it was the answer to the question of why humans exist on the planet, the words “Mango Lemonade” were murmured reverently from one person to the next. And soon checkers and customers were heading over to the health food section and coming back with their own jars of Mango Lemonade. A run on Mango Lemonade. It really did smell yummy. All the way home. My shopping bags were drenched in it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What Luck Has to Do with It

I subscribe to several different writer’s e-zines, including the weekly email notice from Writer’s Market. This week Senior Content Editor Robert Lee Brewer wrote a short piece slamming writers who “are convinced that finding success is like winning the lottery,” writers who think their struggles as writers are at the whim of good or bad luck. He basically says these writers have not met with success because they are lazy, have not invested the time and energy necessary on revision of a manuscript or that they didn’t work to “build a platform.” He claims that “Most success stories come from writers making their own luck through working at their craft, networking , and persevering.”

Give me a break, Brewer! It most certainly is like winning the lottery. It has everything to do with luck. I spent years marketing my self-pubbed book The Call to Shakabaz and I have still not sold out the first printing, despite the fact that it’s a damn good book that has won a heap of awards. But let’s face it, without money to invest in marketing, there’s only so much a person can do. Marketing is a bottomless pit. Building a platform? Working hard? I built my hands raw. I have blogged, social networked, produced an e-zine, written for online media outlets, followed leads, posted articles, pulled content out of thin air to draw traffic to my website. I have mailed promotional copies of that book all over the universe, followed every lead, gone the extra nine yards a million times and I have not won the lottery with that very excellent book. So don’t talk to me about making my own luck.

Mr. Brewer, I got up at 5:30 AM every morning Monday to Friday for six years to work on writing a novel before waking my children and getting them ready for school and going off to my 9-to-5 job. I have now spent over 15 years working on that novel. I have revised that manuscript more times than the Raiders have bungled a football game. I could wallpaper a house with my rejection notices from agents and publishers for that book. Finally, last year, I placed the book with a publisher and it is now in production to be published in 2012. Trust me on this one, Mr. Brewer, it has everything to do with luck. The market is so saturated with good writers jumping up and down and screaming and yelling and shooting off flares while trying to get someone to look in their direction that it takes way more than talent and perseverance to get noticed. Do I feel lucky that one of my books was finally discovered by a publisher? Hell yes. It is like winning the lottery.

Don’t tell me Mr. Brewer that you really believe that people who work hard and persevere will get published. How can you be that naïve? That’s the American Dream myth. And you know what George Carlin says about that: to believe it you have to be asleep. It just doesn’t happen for everyone. It doesn’t happen for a lot of everyones. So quit telling people that luck has nothing to do with it. You’re telling a lot of people who have worked really hard that they bungled it and deserve to fail anyway.

Mr. Brewer will never read these words because no matter how much energy I have put out to the universe to “build a platform,” I’m lucky if even a handful of people read my damn blog each week. And none of you are Mr. Brewer. (I couldn’t even find contact information at Writer’s Market to send a link to my blog. Well-insulated.) I can testify that sometimes people take a leap of faith, shoot the moon, put their heart and soul into it, and they don’t meet with success. Just working hard doesn’t necessarily land the prize. Doing all the right things doesn’t necessarily make it happen. A lot of people have mortgaged the house to market their book and then lost their house. And I would be terribly bitter about that if not for the fact that I learned long ago to appreciate the wonder of the journey itself and to stop placing so much emphasis on “success,” which is all relative anyway. Even so, I still have my moments when I pray for that elusive miracle lurking around the corner. So count yourself lucky, Mr. Brewer, and don’t tell me I have not reached my goal for lack of effort.

You handful of people who read all of this blog, I love you. Thanks for listening. You are my wonderful journey.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Remembering Elena -- August 9

I just got back from the Bay Area where we went to the annual picnic to remember our friend Elena Castañeda who was killed three years ago (Aug. 9) when she was hit by a truck while riding her bike to work in Oakland. I want to write a little bit about her to remember her on this anniversary.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Elena traveled around the world for two years before settling in Berkeley and eventually attending college. She received her master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language in 1999. Elena did not grow up speaking Spanish, but she studied Spanish as an adult and became fluent in the language. Seeking to learn more about her cultural roots, she traveled in many Spanish-speaking countries, including her family’s country of origin, Mexico.

During her more than 30 years as a Berkeley resident, Elena worked at the organic urban farm in Berkeley, as a member of a collective that refinished wood floors, and as a college English teacher (teaching ESL students). She counseled high-schoolers while working at Job Corps and considered this her most rewarding job. She loved making a difference in the lives of the young people she touched with her work.

She lived in a housing cooperative and was a master at group process. She was a true political activist (who walked the talk) and was committed to social justice. For instance, she traveled to a remote region of Nicaragua to build houses for single mothers and their children. She was an environmentalist, who chose to ride her bike as often as possible in order to help prevent climate change. She lived lightly on the earth. She did not hesitate to speak up, even at the risk of endangering herself, when she witnessed a wrongful action.

She was greatly loved and is remembered by all who knew her for her generosity, her sense of humor, her commitment to peace and justice, her creativity, her green thumb, and her wisdom. She was Sudi’s godmother and she adored him. I sometimes think that she was such a fully evolved individual, that she had no more work to do on this plain and therefore it was time for her to leave, despite the grief she left in her wake. I set in motion the work to establish a scholarship fund in her name. We call it the Elena Fund. Last year we raised nearly $10,000, which was awarded to 5 hard-working Spanish-speaking young people in Berkeley to assist them with their college education. Our beautiful Elena, you are not forgotten, your work continues.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Music Power

Music stories have been following me around lately. Here is an old Hasidic story I recently read.

The great Hasidic rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, was traveling with a group of his followers. They stopped for a drink at a tavern. While they were drinking, a group of local rabblerousers entered the tavern, looking for trouble, maybe some Jews to bully and rough up. The Baal Shem Tov sat a young boy from among his followers on the bar and ordered him, “Sing Boy.” The boy chanted a “nigun” (a wordless melody). The Baal Shem Tov and his followers clapped along and soon began chanting as well. In no time flat, the local rabblerousers clapped along too, then joined in with the singing, then danced, until the two groups, brought together inside the music, had a jolly time.

The young boy grew up and became a merchant. One day he was traveling with a large wagon full of goods when he was ambushed on the road by a band of thieves armed with guns. The leader of the thieves was frightening, clearly vicious, and obviously dangerous. He had his gun trained on the merchant, and then he recognized him. “Sing Boy,” he commanded the merchant. The merchant sang the same wordless nigun that he had sung all those years ago as a young boy in the tavern.

The leader of the thieves had been in that tavern on that night when the Baal Shem Tov’s followers and the rabblerousers had danced and sang. The leader of the thieves ordered his much-surprised gang to let the merchant pass in peace and safety.