Monthly Archives: July 2012

False F(r)iendship, Feeling Unseen, Unheard and Dressing Very Old Wounds

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This is gonna be one of my deeper “self-knowing” posts.  It is the culmination of a learning process I’ve been consciously on for almost 10 years. Don’t worry, I include typical moments of humor, to deflect what I’m really feeling ;), so you’re safe.  I propose that you leave only if you’ve never had a friend show you that you don’t matter to him or her anymore. This post also efficiently shows you how to be immature about it if you’d like to do the same (or to serve as a reality check if it’s happening to you).

5….4….3….2….1

I thought so.

OK. I started a post about a month ago, it started with the line, “Sometimes deciding to dislike someone isn’t enough.” Where I was going wasn’t pretty. It involved fantasies of freak and extremely isolated tornadoes, an unexpected job transfer, a mystery case of amnesia, a diagnosis of multiple personality disorder, imprisonment, even winning the lottery if it meant the person would move far away. Hey, I’m not moving.

The post was a knee-jerk reaction to seeing someone I don’t like anymore on my online space, despite the fact that we’d been out of touch and blocked by each other for months. Oh, yes, I have a few of those. I actually find it a badge of honor to be blocked by someone, and I feel that same special endearment for those I block.  Here’s my take: my Facebook experience is like a deck party.  People can come, everyone’s invited.  But if you’re gonna be a dick?  Or nice online but a freakin’ douchebag in person…?  Here’s the gate, use it. So regarding this online-generated froth I had, I had two choices: deal with it because they don’t like me either or quit being online.  I like being online. It’s no secret that I prefer life off the grid, but I like the social “pokes” and kindnesses I see via social media.

So I must put on my big-girl panties and deal.  That’s OK. I will. I am. I do.

I decided to wait on that post, because I wanted to step back, assess my feelings and not let it get the better of me. I’m glad I did that because it turns out I “wasn’t mad at what I was mad at” (thank you dear Fr. John J. O’Connor for that life-learning phrase) and what I was really feeling was jealousy and I got over it.

I stopped in that post before I got to talking about the feelings –emotional and physical– I have when I encounter a former friend or significant other. I get a pain, or more likely, a sensation that rises up in my very lowest gut, almost in the pelvic region.  The only thing I can equate it with for many of us who speed in our cars, is the sensation felt when the Five-O pulls us over.  What the what is that?  What is that feeling and where does it come from? I know I’m not alone in this; I’ve talked to other people about it — I won’t divulge my sources. But it’s a fantastically primitive sensation. Is it guilt? It sucks, whatever it is, and I know it means something, likely knowingly doing something wrong and doing it anyway and then getting busted.  Must be guilt.

But why do we have that feeling when we see those people again? Read on…  

I’m writing today because I got burned recently by someone whom I thought was a near-and-dear, but someone whom I realize was just as messed up, if not more so, than I was when we met.

I wrote this as my status on Facebook yesterday, “the lessons will continue until we learn them. then we become a teacher; then we will be free.

Carl Jung, the brilliant father of theory of archetypes, the collective unconscious and his studies of the human psyche has said many amazing things; I have thought that maybe I will write a blog post per my favorites. “A month of Jung…”  His most personally frustrating quote, which is indelibly written on my brain, is this: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Gah! I even hate seeing it!

I have lots of people in my life whom I’ve either pissed off or whom have pissed off me. You can’t be who I am, or someone like me: scarred, learning, fearful, bold, tenacious, loyal and quick with the biting wit and slicing tongue and not have a few foes.  Hit one of my pressure points, the unseen or unheard thing, and I can become unholy. Most of those foes have become so because I have either recognized a part of myself in that person and denied it or I have let the other person deeply into my heart and soul and they exploited my soul like a … a … cockfight trainer. Sad and true.  I know it, I see it and I usually work on it. You can’t get off this bus of self-awareness once you’re on it.  It’s like a case of … herpes, I guess (not that I’d actually know…): it has flare-ups.

Such is the beauty of the universe: its magical insistence upon flare-ups balance: You can’t have hate without love first. You can’t have spite without benevolence. You can’t have scorn without admiration. You can’t have silence without sound. It just doesn’t work. Jung said this too:  “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”

Whatta know-it-all jerk.

Anyway, I have been on a journey for many years shedding toxicity (sometimes that means I have to shed entrenched behaviors) from my life.  This shedding means owning things: my temperamental tendencies, my reactivity, my fears of inadequacy and how those feelings transmute into trying harder, working harder, pushing harder, pulling harder, jumping higher, shouting louder, crying longer, hurting longer and just generally over-performing. It was part of my elemental and deeply primitive “see me, hear me, notice me, don’t leave me, i’ll do better” and layers-deep behaviors left over from growing up in a multi-generational dysfunctional trend in a family of truly gifted and brilliant people.

And guess what: it was bloody exhausting. Nothing quite like working your ass off to have someone notice you (bitter irony alert) who’s totally self-involved (too) because of shit that was also done to them when they were younger.  Boy, that was hard to admit. 

It’s an old habit with many people like me who are Adult Children of Alcoholics (I love my parents, so don’t think I’m being a brat, I’m just being honest). It’s also something that can come up from being a child of a mentally ill parent.  One of my sons had a preschool teacher who grew up in a world where her mother was so emotionally fractured and reactive that this woman as a child had to learn to show no emotion, none at all, so as a result she was like Spock. But she loved being around children because of their raw emotion that it sustained her, even though she was fairly ruined. I asked her about it one time and she said that getting help from a psychiatrist or other professional would be admitting that her mother did this to her… and I said, “so… uh, … what’s the problem with that?” and she simply couldn’t do it.

This journey of mine will continue and I’m grateful for it. I see the lessons now and I can write the lesson plan: listen to and feel the intuition, my true inner teacher, telling me what to do: “OK… here we go. Here comes one, feel that prick in your gut? that’s me (you, actually) telling you to … NO. Ugh… don’t make eye contact, don’t talk, dammit, ok… don’t talk much more. Shit! You shouldna said that, now you have a con-nec-tion, remember those? Ok, don’t say anymo– alright… reroute: look at your watch, look over the shoulder, there’s Bipsy, by the window, go to her.  Really?: ‘Why won’t she come over here?’ She’s not stupid… Don’t resume contact with this one …no. NO, don’t say THAT… Gaaad, OK, we can still save you.  You still have time to NOT SAY THAT… you’re on your own now… good luck with this stray… you now have a new project… initiating ‘fix this person’ mode. I’ll be here … in the corner under the dark felt blanket… being ignored by you for the next, oh, six years…”

But I am closer now. I think I’m really getting it. No, I swear!  In fact, when those relationships go pear-shaped now, I’m fairly ready and waiting. Sometimes I’m the dumper, others, the dumped. Despite the sting and the big hole, it’s OK though, because the lesson has been learned.

Feeling unseen and unheard for the formative years of my life has definitely had an impact on how I relate to people.  My mother used to tell me that when I was in kindergarten, I came home with “Five Steps to Making a Friend.” I believe it was a simplistic list adorned with my potato(e) (hahah, I miss me some Dan Quayle, anyone else?) people.  My mom said it went along the lines of,

1: Say hi to the person.

2: Tell the person you like their hair or clothes.

3: Ask the person their name.

4: Tell the person your name.

5: Ask the person to be your friend.

I think it worked. I remember many friends when I was little. I hope we all did. I don’t know what’s happened since kindergarten, but it seems that it’s harder to make good friends as an adult and the ones I have, I really want to hang on to. There’s the one I’ve had since 8th grade CCD and she won’t let me say how long that’s been… There are the built-in friends: cousins, and they are truly, anchors. My cousins have never let me down.  The adult / married built-ins, in-law siblings and their spouses have also been a blessing to me. And then there’s the cousins of the spouse which have also enriched my life.

There are a couple friends that I thought I had for the long haul, despite my intuition tsk-tsk-tsking, rolling its eyes and filing its nails the entire time.  The friendships that go from:

A: hi

B: heeeeyyyy…

A: i never knew my father.

B: my mother was an arsonist.

A: i was raised on dry dog food and two hours of sunlight a day.

B: i ate canned cat food and peed outside near a tree.

A: let’s go on vacation together.

B: i’ve got clothes in the car, i’ll drive.

within the first hour are likely doomed.  It’s sorta like dating: the people who are ready to jump in the sack within the first sip of the drink are probably not gonna be able to make the relationship stick without some serious attention, slowing down and patience.

The ones that seem to last are the ones that are slow to percolate (she knows who she is if she’s reading this, the poor thing) and that’s what my lesson has been: the people who take a while to get to know me and let me get to know them are the ones who see me, who hear me and who know that it’s important to take time.  It’s a lot like how I met my husband. (I started a blog on that too — how my life has been saved, so vibrantly enriched and blessed by simply having him near — and I put it on the back burner because I really wanted to honor it; he has been in my life longer than out of it now.) We weren’t hot and heavy for a while (you can come back out, Dad) as we spent many months talking and getting to know each other.  We let each other be seen and heard (even though I didn’t know it was happening) over years, and it’s still going on. Good! It has to.

If you’re incapable of having a mature, face-to-face conversation about the state of your relationship, here’s how to show a friend who trusted you that s/he doesn’t matter to you any more (or: Here’s how to mess with someone who trusts you):

1. Pose: frequently and openly preach authenticity, but don’t dare actually practice it.

2. Control: be reactive and maintain the friendship on your secret terms; expect your friend to read your mind.

3. Betray: tell your friend you don’t have time, but be openly friendly with others and definitely be friendly with people whom you know have hurt and don’t like your “friend.”

4. Confuse: when things are awkward and you’ve walked out on that “friend,” definitely dance around the perimeter of the friendship but don’t make meaningful contact (Facebook “likes” are an excellent tool for that).

5. Ignore: be unresponsive to your friend’s apologies, heart-felt vulnerability and soul-baring attempts at reconciliation.

Yes, this still happens to people at 44. Feeling invisible and feeling unheard is a very deep wound with some (most!) of us. It can have some good side-effects: ambition, success and audacity and guts.  It can also have some really (swear alert) fucked-up side-effects too: unrelenting flamboyance, outrageousness, loudness, larger than life-ness, chips on the shoulder, anger, disregard for how we appear to others because, dammit, we’re gonna LIVE, BABY!  Here’s a concrete example: I think almost all of The U.S. House of Representatives and New York City feels unseen and unheard.

The physical “guilty” feeling and getting that “I told you so…” tug in the belly must come from ignoring our intuition. It’s the knowing disobedience we inflicted on ourselves and the crash of “oh shit, now we’ve done it; mom’s gonna kick our butts” in our souls.

Those of us who feel (deeply) unseen and unheard are likely drawn to one another so so so strongly that we don’t realize we are simply repeating the pattern. Consciously we think, “This person gets me, s/he knows what it’s like, we’re gonna get along great!” but unconsciously, our bodies, hearts, spirits and souls are saying, “You’re gonna get ignored again. You’re also likely going to ignore this person when s/he needs you desperately not to.”  We might feel a “connection” but it’s really an attachment, which is waaaaay super-duper, I-can’t-tell-you-enough-or-how-very-deeply unhealthy.

We are lining up with people who are very likely to never see us and never hear us because they, themselves, are too busy working very hard to be seen and to be heard, hence betrayals and other acts of desperation to be seen and heard.  This was my pattern and that was my lesson to learn: I can not have an earnest and healthy relationship with another person who is as wounded as I am if that person isn’t working as hard as I am to beat the inner feelings of invisibility and irrelevance and truly listen and see the other person.

What’s worse than any of this? I’ll tell you: being rejected by someone who is totally vapid and self-involved. Why is it worse? Because that hits the unseen and unheard nerve like a cannon ball.  And if you’re asleep spiritually, you’re gonna do one thing and one thing only: GO AFTER THAT PERSON MORE. I’ve done it myself, but I stopped about two months ago and I see other people do it all the time.  In fact, I saw someone do it yesterday.

It’s a deeply old pattern and it’s gonna keep happening until, and ONLY until, I (you, we) stop it. Yesterday, I stopped it. I showed someone the gate. Lesson learned. I am free.

Did you know that band was all white guys? I had no clue!

Thank you.

Now I Get It: What it Means to Me to be a (Stay-At-Home) Mother

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I recently quit training for a job I thought I’d want.

I don’t like that I “quit” something; I am tenacious. Sometimes to a fault. I wrote my observations about over-performing in a post called “The Law of Diminishing Returns” and it’s a law I like very much, unless of course, it applies to me.

It’s a long post, as many of my posts tend to be. I examine things to the Nth degree at times. If I don’t I discover I go back and tinker until it’s done, so for me, it’s best that I beat the crap out of a subject so I can move on.

I’m a Stay-At-Home Mother (SAHM). I’ve often been not proud of that. I grew up in a family whose extended / generational culture didn’t really shine on those who sat idle.  For years, I considered my own mother’s SAHMness as weakness.  Now as I’m in those shoes almost 14 years, I chalk it up to insanity: those cute cherubic children lulled me into believing I’d be good at this. It was easier when they didn’t talk. 

I’m not going to pretend I give a hoot about  the Mommy Wars and the self-perpetuated pseduo-drama stirred up by Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s pregnancy disclosure, her letter to her staff or any of that crap. In the final analysis: I don’t give a shit about any of that.  You think I should? Oh, double: I don’t care.

My blog, my rules.

I started this post about six hours ago and I’m clearly having an evolutionary process through it. Usually, I can write a post in about two or three hours and I enjoy writing them.  This one is taking so long because I’m learning a lot about myself today as I type away.

Almost every job I’ve had, I’ve loved. And if I didn’t love it at first, I did eventually or I left.  I had a great job for three years with a publishing house in Virginia and I look back on those years with great fondness. They were bought by Pearson. The next job was with MCI and I SO LOVED THAT JOB. The next job I took was after the MCI/WorldCom merger and that was a disappointment.

Today, I have learned that those two jobs — MCI and the next one were two awesome (or potentially awesome) jobs that I left unwillingly or unhappily. And that’s sorta hard to admit. We like to think that when we leave a job it’s because we wanted to because THEY SUCKED, MAN! But, no. I left with disappointment in my heart.

We’re gonna go in reverse for a moment: Fourteen years ago I was laid off. Whew. Processing. That was the first time I’ve written “I was laid off.”  That’s how it was described in the paperwork anyway. It was sort of worse than that. I was screwed.

The job I was laid off from was with a major (then) internet player.  I’m under a non-disclosure and I can’t say which one until the company becomes defunct, which shouldn’t be too long from now. After ten months of frustration and blatant set-ups for failure at that job, it turns out I was brought on board by incoming management after a big corporate re-org, to keep the legacy employees from smelling a rat. The offer letter was as a manager but they billed me to the legacy team as a seasoned director from MCI to demonstrate to the legacy team that I, as part of the incoming team, was neutral, non-legacy incoming management. Although we settled amicably, I left that job tricked, bruised and ego-beaten. I really wanted it to work out.  They had an awesome café. Oh, my replacement: she was with the incoming management before the shake-up.

The job I had before that was as a corporate communications professional at my beloved and stripped-apart MCI. That job was head-spinny fast, lucrative, fun and exhausting, but I was newly married, I had no kids (well, none that I knew of*…) and I loved it. I grew professionally, I won awards & trips, earned great raises and promotions and was exposed to C-level executives who knew me on a first-name basis (not always a good thing…).  We had an insane production budget which allowed us to really shine and then WorldCom bought MCI.

After WorldCom bought tookover destroyed MCI, my previous ivy league -educated senior manager was replaced by none other than WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers‘ executive assistant, a sugary-sweet Mississippi girl who aspired to edit a press release. She became my manager and my copy editor and she knew nothing about my job. It’s one thing to have a new boss who’s accomplished and can train you. It’s quite another to have to train your boss about what you do and why. WorldCom wanted to clamp down all talent and work; all previous publication styles and C-level treatment was upended: instead of listing the executives in the flow of a photo’s caption, we were to list execs first. The content was all about the stock and our previous Q&A section was quashed. Gone was the transparency and pride.  For almost five years I had worked for and with and on behalf of some of the world’s finest people (in my very humble estimation) and I missed them, and the old days, something awful: I had identified myself with my work.

My beloved job was invited to a secret party, drugged, beaten, stripped out of its Anne Taylor duds, dressed in a clown suit, shocked with a defibulator, and pushed out to a stage where a 60-watt spotlight shone from the bed of a dilapidated pick-up truck in a desert.  I was orchestrated like a marionette.  Even though I worked for a breathing Barbie doll, I left that job under duress too, especially when I remember where I went next (the coup), where I thought I’d be treated better.

Ebbers is currently serving a 25-year sentence in a federal prison on charges of conspiracy and fraud. Good. He ruined several companies, including MCI, and totaled my stock and savings plan. Here’s something he wrote on my final edition of “WorldView Today” the corporate newsletter I managed:

“Molly, thank you for the great job you have done. BJ Ebbers 2/2/99” scrawled on the MCIWorldCom “WorldView Today” — little did I know that Adolf Hitler had a “world view” called the “Weltanschauung” — his blueprint for world domination and power. We all know what happened to Hitler. And Ebbers is in prison now.

I see the irony now in both those shake-ups. At MCI, I was the legacy employee distrustful of the new incoming management. At the next job, I was the neutral incoming management and treated like chum.

I don’t think I’ve ever properly grieved either of those jobs. They were both sort of stolen from me. I felt as though I’d failed. By leaving them both and then deciding to stay at home, where I clearly took on “the work” because (I realize right now) that I desperately wanted to feel needed, I felt like I went from the frying pan into the ashes. But I know now that I went to a high-class chafing dish. And I mean that sincerely.

So now I’m a SAHM. For some husbands of SAHMs, there’s a subtle classism to say with élan that their wives are at home with the kids. For me, my husband used to be able to say this while I was wearing day-old clothes over a seldom-showered body under stringy hair with great élan. The kids are older now, so now I have drool cups. I bump into things. I speak incoherently for months, I’m sure. I have felt like that clown on the stage in the desert many times. There’s nothing as effective as your own child screaming, “GAAAH! YOU’RE LIKE THE WORST MOTHER EV-ERRRR!” to make you wonder why the hell you’re doing anything. Ev-errrr.

I’m gonna tell you nothing new: this SAHM shit ain’t for the weak of heart. It is WORK, it is at times, a corporal work of mercy, to be home with the kids. It is mind-numbing, pedantic, hypocritical, frustrating, puzzling, taxing, loud, white-knuckled, depleting, shockingly hard and exhausting at times.  I’ve written a few posts (“Perfect Mother? No, Not Even Close” and “You Have To Have Something for YourSelf“) on how I feel at times about being home.

Back to the training for the job I walked away from.

So I applied for this job about three weeks ago and I suspected it would be easy-peasy lemon-squeezy. Question: How hard can it be to work at the front desk of this place?  Answer: A lot harder than it needs to be. This organization is a local home-grown shop.  I’m not gonna knock the organization, other than to say this: Get with the program, computers are not evil. We are located 20 miles from the capital of the free world and 30 miles from one of that free world’s technology hubs.

To still be using PAPER and PENCIL to make appointments and other operating functions and denoting those place-holder appointments and reservations which are made “out of the box” with arrows pointing to the box which means “temporary” and “inside the box” which means “committed: deposit made”; and making “a shiny super-dark triangle in the upper right corner to denote ‘a pre-made reservation, so no discount'” and a “C with a circle around it to denote a ‘same-day discount coupon rate'” is (I’m gonna swear, so prepare yourself) FUCKING INSANE, STUPID AND BLOODY RIDICULOUS. When I heard that, I was like a Warner Bros. cartoon character when the “NO SALE” signs go up in the eyes after knocking back a shot of absinthe.

I felt like getting out my colored pencils and saying, “Ooh! Pre-tt-y pic-tures! Did you know that yellow, this color… and red, this color toGETHer make ORAnge?” I honestly could not believe I was speaking with an erect, live, sentient adult.

I learned about this sanskrit reservation system on my eighth hour, on the third and my decidedly final day of training. This “system” was the nail in the coffin for me. After my trainer explained, in “a matter of life-and-death” tone, tempo and detail about the circle around the C and the triangle in the corner, I said in an equal but slightly more optimistic cadence,  “OK. So then the triangle and circle-C things are place-holders, so to speak, for putting it in the computer (of which there is only one) when I’d get off the phone or turn away from a client…?”

There was no verbal response.  Instead I got Owl Stares: stares which she previously explained to me on numerous times when she gave them to mean, “Don’t go there.”

And I squeaked, as innocently, hopeful and wide-eyed as possible: “Com-pu-ter?”  Which was met again with the stare and a very slowly, grievously pursed mouth, locked jaw and head shake.  As an Owl, she was perched on a branch and her eyes never moved from her target. Her head slowly turned from side to side with the intensity of an FBI agent telling an armed suspect to NOT point his gun, that the suspect would be far better off dropping the weapon, kicking it down the alley, stepping away from the weapon and getting on his knees with his hands placed behind his head.

The Owl gave me so many of those stares, in response to what I thought were reasonable and progressive questions, that I know she tired of me too. The whole time she was talking about the triangles and the circle Cs, I thought to myself, “surely my husband knows someone who can build a macro on Excel for this…” 

I shrank inside; I knew that stare was the last one I’d tolerate. I wanted this job to be mindless, not brainless. I wanted it to be a job that would get me out of the house for just a spell a couple days a week while the kids were in school. It was paying minimum wage, so clearly it wasn’t about the money, even though I’d love to contribute to something around the house.  I realized that even minimum wage would be cool because I could pay for gas for the cars every month. Or I could treat the kids to a movie or something more often without it affecting our household bottom line.

It wasn’t just the lack of a computer system and automated processes that threw me over. It was the fact that I would endure these obstacles, and a few truly toxic idiosyncrasies about the organization, at the risk of my principles. I reconciled the decision to not continue with the basic personal and American right that I am allowed to have standards and to me, staying on in an aging organization that desperately needs an overhaul meant I was compromising those standards. I mean, if the wheel has been invented: USE IT.  Their wheel is to use a computer.  My wheel is to walk away.

But I got an unexpected gift in return: I accepted that I add value to this family.  It’s not about a paycheck. My interest in being a SAHM was ignited. I came home from that silent owl / FBI and armed suspect in the alley -shift unsure of my next steps — even though I knew it was not going to work — but I was planning to force it… that’s what I do.  But once I’d accepted that I was not able to fix that place and made the phone call and returned the 200-page training binder, I gained a sense of purpose for my home and family, something that was already there.  I didn’t drop everything and mop the floor in my heels and pearls, but I did cheerfully throw some laundry in the washer and looked with pride on my circumstances and home because I accepted, finally!, that what I do do around here is important. My kids need me, we are a team and I know that my effect on the children is positive, profound and sometimes a mess, but I do my best and they let me make mistakes. It doesn’t matter what jobs I left — what matters is the job I have, the one I co-created. I can write my own ticket, so to speak, and I never figured that out until now.

I feel as though this most recent (front desk) job experience was instrumental in helping my heart form a scab to protect a cut that came from the feeling of failure from the two bigger jobs. The pain from leaving those jobs, from surrendering to the inability to go on, was never healed.  It’s one thing to decide to be a SAHM because you’re crazy about the idea of SAHMness, it’s quite another to decide to be a SAHM because you’re having to accept that you aren’t valued as a quality performer at doing what you love. For me it was as a writer.  That pain had never healed.  But now, it’s healing and I can feel it.

Will this post affect my marketability in the future? Who knows… but anyone who knows me truly as a performer with my writing jobs, knows I’m reliable and an eager writer. I know that people / recruiters frown on employees badmouthing their employers, but I didn’t really. I knew in my heart after the second day that we were not going to be a good fit. Because I’m principled and tenacious, I needed a reason to not stay on as I don’t walk away from responsibility much at all or with any ease.  Plus, because they didn’t collect any paperwork from me at all (I-9 or W2) I told them to keep their training wages. It was a learning experience. The Owl and I were at odds; she was exasperated with my questions about processes and I was exasperated from the lack of automation.

I realize now that the only truly impactful and lasting job at this point when my kids are still quite dependent on me is the job as a Mother.  This job needn’t the classification of  “SAHM” or “worker.” I made serious money at the companies I worked for before I left them. But those companies now are gone, mostly useless, and / or totally redundant.  My children are not redundant; nor is the arduous task of molding them into progressive, honest, civil and decent human beings.  My father says “all work is honorable” and I agree with that.  But I’ll still hang on to my drool cup.

Thank you.

*Credit: Carol Leifer

Step Two: The Unvarnished Truth About the First Page of My Novel

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Hiya! I’m back after hearing from my writer mentor friend about my first page. And I’m actually gonna be alright!

First, if you didn’t see my post yesterday flaunting the first fabulous page of my fantastic fledgling novel, click on the not entirely obvious link highlighted in red above.

Today’s post, is a combo guest blogger / writing review from my writing mentor, the esteemed Ms. Josephine Carr, whose blog for writers of all shapes, sizes, genres and ambitions has been very helpful to me as a hopeful professional writer.  Please check her out. There are other very kewl things about Jody, as she’s also known, that you will find out when you “meet” her.

Per yesterday’s post on my blog, Jody has graciously offered to review my first page and without further ado, I’ll stop stalling, shut my trap and get going. Here’s what she had to say about my page one.

Bravo to Molly!  She’s got the chutzpah to allow me a “live” critique and analysis of her new novel’s first page.  Of course, I would never have suggested this post if I didn’t think there were many things to praise in her writing.

So let’s start with kudos!

Her voice is excellent.  It dances along, swift and humorous, and the prose suggests (rather than tells) Miriam’s character.  I plan to publish a column on “Tips for Finding Your Writer’s Voice” at Elizabeth S. Craig’s blog (http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com) on Monday, July 30th.  In truth, Molly doesn’t need to worry about finding her voice — it’s done.

Her pacing is also spot-on.  In the final sentence of the first paragraph, the reader gets this wonderful suggestion that this story is unfolding because of a dream.  You’ll note that Molly doesn’t relate the dream, and this is a key reason the sentence works.  As with the voice of the material, she is suggesting an intriguing motivation, but she doesn’t belabor it.  We’re not thrust into trying to work our way through the description of a dream.

Her internal monologue in the final paragraph is also well-done.  Because the voice is already interesting to the reader, we enjoy jumping into her quirky mind.  It’s also clear that Miriam’s mind is, indeed, a rare place:  allowing the reader to be a part of it so directly is an excellent idea with this particular character.

Okay, now let’s discuss where Molly has some work to do!

Too many words.  In the hurly-burly outpouring of words in this first page, we do get a distinct and effective voice, but that voice is almost lost in the crowd of words.  In general, I believe Molly could effectively cut two to three words per sentence.  As an example, here’s the second sentence, and following that, the same sentence with fewer words.

She would have sent a smaller car into next week had that driver’s preternatural instinct failed to moved forward at the precise divinely inspired moment.

She almost shot a smaller car into next week, except the car’s driver was divinely inspired to move forward.

“Too many words” also factors into the crucial mistake of telling instead of showing.  In the sentence beginning, “Resigned to reason, Miriam unlocked her door –,” Molly is telling us what Miriam is feeling.  I would cut “resigned to reason” entirely.  Let her actions describe and suggest her feelings, whenever possible.

Finally, “too many words” relates to more description than is necessary for the reader to visualize the scene.  If you continue that sentence beginning with “Resigned to reason,” you get Miriam “…stepp(ing) on to the running board and then to the pavement.”  This isn’t moving the story forward and it’s not showing the reader anything important about Miriam.

Contrast this with the detailed description in the first paragraph, where she’s noticing the ornate “E” on the funeral home (hinting at death) and the internal monologue in the final paragraph where the details pile up as evidence of Miriam’s anger and reveal clues to her angst.  Both of these paragraphs use important descriptive details.

Punctuation.  Molly underuses commas (example, the sentence, “The awning belonged to –” needs a comma after “Home” so that the words as fate would have it become entirely parenthetical).  She also misused a semi-colon.  (The rule is that whatever comes after a semi-colon must be a complete sentence, even if you’re choosing to link it to another complete sentence.)

These final points direct us to a great conclusion.  How important are the niggly bits like commas, semi-colons, and too many words?

VERY IMPORTANT.

This isn’t because it’s difficult to fix these sorts of mistakes.  In fact, it’s quite easy.  But if you’re attempting to grab the confidence and interest of a literary agent, or a reader, you cannot make mistakes, particularly on the first page.

You can see, I’m sure, that moving through an entire manuscript with an eye to these details is time-consuming and moderately oppressive.  Yup, she said cheerfully!  That’s what it takes.  When you get the hang of it, the process can actually become quite addictive, however.

I recommend all new writers buy a book called Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Dave King (http://www.amazon.com/Revision-Self-Editing-Write-Great-Fiction/dp/1582975086/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1343312126&sr=1-2&keywords=self-editing+for+fiction+writers).  Indeed, if you can muster up the money, you’d do well to hire Dave (http://www.davekingedits.com) as your editor, something I did with my first suspense novel.  It went on to sell nearly 100,000 copies with HarperCollins.  Much of the credit goes to Dave’s work with me.

My thanks to Molly for hosting me today, and for her magnificent show of courage.  I hope the process has been useful and not too painful.

First: My thanks to Jody for her freakin’ awesomeness.

Second: She’s absolutely right about a lot of it and I’m gushing with pride and all sorts of good feelings about the nice things she said.  It is the motivation I needed to pick up and get going.

Third: I thought I overused commas! But I do suspect I could be indicted for contributing to the delinquency of semicolons, so I appreciate the reminder.

Jody is Lou Grant to my Mary Richards. If you don’t understand that reference, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I make this analogy to suggest that she’s the tough mentor I need to keep me straight.  And if I’m gonna stay in this game, I must grow a thicker skin and get to work.

Too many words? SIGN ME UP! I am the queen of overcoating. I know this. Anyone who knows me personally knows this; I LOVE detail and probably so much so that I’ve killed simpler cleaner thoughts in the process.  Jody is absolutely correct about shortening the sentences by at least a couple words each, and lucky for me, that’s something I like to do.  She cleaned up my first paragraph about that smaller car something awesome brilliantly and it was something that I knew had to happen.  I liked the visual of the near-accident, but the verbal was killing me all wrong.  The good news: I can edit a lot,  I am eager to edit. With enough time / distance, I’ll be able to hack at this motherfucker book (sorry, Dad) with a vengeance like how one of the Grimm brothers’ fabled woodmen does in a fabled bad guy.

I’m going to buy Self Editing for Fiction Writers for sure and maybe, if I win the lottery, I might bankroll Mr. King’s services.

I’m not going to make any excuses; my mistakes are totally fixable and I look forward doing it (I say this now).

But again, I want underscore how wonderful Jody is.  I strongly suggest you follow her blog (she’s very brief and to the point) and she’s a great writer too (100,000 sold under HarperCollins ain’t too shabby). I’m in the middle (well, at 79% according to my Kindle) of her book, “Evil Does It” which is about bad guys going after a scientist’s amazing discovery which leads to a pharmaceutical that can end all addictions…

In the meantime, I clearly have some work to do. But first… for Jody, a little song:

Thank you.

No, DMV. Lie to Me. Oprah Was Wrong. I’m Not Ready…

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This came in the mail today:

 
When is it ever a happy time to hear from DMV?

 

I have been saying the past few months that I’m 45 (except when I feel desperate enough to cling to 44). I do this to prepare myself for the inevitable crest of the iconic Hill that I am supposed to be going Over.

Sneer.

In Virginia, when you’re 45, you have to get your driver’s license renewed. When I turned 40, I was very excited. I still desperately believed in Oprah then.  I can’t anymore.

I stopped in 2008, I remember the day, I joined a Facebook page called “I Bet This Goat Can Get More Fans Than Oprah.” I think I’m still a fan of that page. Oprah became a caricature of herself — first it was the meat wagon and the skinny jeans, then it was the car giveaways, then it was the roadtrip with Gayle and then it was for me… the ultra slap in the face of being out of touch with her fans: the “Oprah’s Favorite Things” list in which she pimped a $300 Coach leather dog collar. She had 5 dogs at the time. $1500 in collars. She built a school in Africa when Chicago’s are in the crapper… not sayin’ the school in Africa isn’t a good idea, just sayin’ some help in her own backyard woulda been nice too.

But I’m not going to make this about Oprah, she has enough problems and I certainly don’t want her to hear about me bashing her.  If she had a Book Club anymore, my book would definitely not be in it, simply because of this stance, nothing else.  My point (which completely derailed itself) being that I was still YAY!, naïve and OK with turning 40, because Oprah idealized it by saying turning 40 was one her Favorite Things (but she couldn’t hawk an age so it didn’t make the actual list) because she said all the falseness dies away.  Really?  Methinks the lady doth protest too much.  I still know a few false people in their 40s, Op-RAH.

As I said to one of my beloved sisters-in-law, whose birthday is exactly a week before my own, that “40 is the new 30.” And that was exciting then, but if 40 was the new 30 then that could mean that 45 is the new 35 now and that’s… not really gonna do it for me anymore.  I desperately want to go back to 23. CARD ME! I’ll buy booze! Card me! Look at me being irresponsible and immature in the cigarette section… CARD Meeeeeee!

I loved going to the DMV when I hit 40, because of Oprah.  I enjoyed having my picture taken then: I was in excellent shape and had treated myself to a new yoga hoodie which I wore in the shot.  I know this year, DMV doesn’t take a new pic, but they might have to because I smiled in the last photo and smiles aren’t allowed when you drive in Virginia. I do know they want to take other information from me: such as my pulse and my ability to stay awake and also see things with my eyes open.  So I get to get my license renewed by the end of September. These are two months that I am going to savor, desperately.

Thank you.

ps – tomorrow: the follow-up / guest-blogger review of my earlier post about the first page of my novel.