Punch that Clock. Die “Team No Sleep”. Die

Happy New Year folks! Most of us are headed back in to work after a beautiful, long, amazing break in pajamas for the Holidays. If you’re like me, you probably gave yourself the returning to work pep talk last night. If you teared up a little bit, it’s OK. I know I sure did!

I connect people to jobs for a living. It’s a pretty fulfilling profession and I get the chance to work with diverse people and learn about a lot of different industries. Being in this line of work I meet the best of people and the worst of people. I’ve literary sat in meetings with some employers and taken notes on how to properly run a company that supports a healthy work environment. On the other hand, I’ve sat in meetings with others that make me want to run to the nearest Department of Labor office. It gets bad out there.
the_real_story_behind_black_guy_on_the_phone_meme-500x500

Recently I met with an employer who, in our first email, ran down a laundry list of qualifications and attributes that their potential employee needs to have. Must be well spoken, great communication skills, positive attitude, computer savvy…the list went on and on. I was with it, all standard stuff. I read on to the end. Immediately my brow furrowed. “Must not be a clock puncher.” I scrolled back up to the beginning of the email to check the hours. The shift is 8AM-4PM. That’s eight hours. I scrolled down. “Must not be a clock puncher.” Commence stank face.

Now, I get the idea of not wanting an employee who isn’t committed or dedicated to the job. An employee like this does not benefit the company and it doesn’t benefit an employee who hopes to advance in their career. However, I do believe that you can be a dedicated, effective, and committed employee and still finish your job within the hours outlined. Eight hours is a long time. Forty hours is a whopper and yet that’s how much time we spend at work each week, if not more. I did the math.

post-58712-hangover-zach-galifianakis-cal-a7dnGiphy.com

I’m awake approximately sixteen hours a day. That’s one hundred twelve hours a week. I spend forty hours a week at work. That’s a little over 35% of my waking hours spent at work. And those are dedicated, uninterrupted hours for my employer. The rest of my waking hours are split between my children, volunteering, household errands, family, friends, and pursuing passions i.e writing my book. If it sounds crowded it’s because it is.

That’s seven other things that I have to split the remaining 65% of my time between. Meaning each of those things gets a minuscule nine hours of my time each week. That’s nine hours for my kids. Nine hours for my family. Nine hours to write the next great American novel (le sigh). I’m not in this boat alone. It’s what a lot of us are dealing with as we work toward success, and fulfillment, and roofs over our heads, and eating meals regularly. Literally just to make ends meet. For the most part we’ve accepted that as a necessary duty. We’ve even created a movement if you will. “Team No Sleep” has been become not only a popular hashtag but a glorified way of life. Working so hard that you literally cut adequate sleep out of your life to compensate. This is unhealthy. Operating on no sleep has been likened to walking around completely tipsy off the sauce. It’s dangerous and is not at all a sign of, nor attributed to,  increased success. Instead it’s simply putting “team no sleeper’s” at a higher risk for chronic health problems like high blood pressure, even heart disease, and stroke. Is balance too much to ask for? Can we be super productive for a predetermined, measured, and reasonable amount of time and then call it a day?

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are times that I’ve been so involved in a project that I’ve looked up, surprised to see that it was well past midnight. These are moments of inspiration that should be capitalized on. BUT making yourself work harder or longer into the wee hours of the morning when you’re brain and body are all but screaming for you to stop is punishment, not pleasure.

Which is why the whole “clock puncher” comment got me all in feelings. If you’re a good employee you give the best of yourself to your job and it’s only decent that an employer respects your time in return. An employee should be able to complete the core duties of their job within the time allotted. When clock out time comes, you should be able to bid adieu to your post, grab your bag and hit the doors with no worry of being judged or labeled. Long story short–I love my job. I love what I do. I’m damn good at it and when it’s time to leave at the end of the day, I’m gone. You’ve had your time dear job. Now, it’s time for me to spend nine hours killing off characters that I’ve made my readers love.

ydzjyvvimgur.com
Advertisements

I Used to Love It

I’ve had a difficult time connecting with my characters lately. I started my project so long ago (back in 2008) that I’ve had to reintroduce myself to them several times. At times I’ve felt like I’ve outgrown them. Like my thoughts and beliefs have evolved so much since I first started writing that these figures are akin to a high school sweetheart. They were my figurative world, as long as I was home, but once I traveled and saw the actual world they seem so small and unfulfilling. I still remember what it felt like to be with them but I’m struggling to develop a future with them.

I thought of scrapping the project and starting something different. Something new, intriguing, different, and exciting. I’m still attached to the story and with enough attention i’m sure I can revive it and make them relevant to today and who I’ve become. I’ve spoken before about my difficulties with follow through and committing to a set schedule. But like any relationship, if you cherish it you have to make time for it. Right?

But you know what I love about writing? It has the ability to grow with you. As long as you’re, I mean actively engaged in it, writing you can always tweak it. The only way it stays the same is if you abandon it. In that way you force it to stay put. Stagnate and lame. Writing is a beautiful creative process but it’s just that; a process. It’s something that at times you will not feel like doing and we run into trouble when we become satisfied with the desire to do something but never actually take the steps to do it. As the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

This relationship with my work is so similar to my relationships with people and I have to remember to apply the same care and time and attention to nurturing this book as I do to my own friends. My family. My husband. My children. I wouldn’t dare give my son two years of my time and then suddenly drift off onto things more stimulating. Even when he’s droning on. I listen. Even when he’s not understanding. I explain again. Even when he’s upset. I calm him. And while writing can be complex and challenging I don’t think it’ll ever been as challenging as the strong willed individuals that are my kids.

With all that’s going on in the world today- the murder, the terrorism, the politics, the discord- I’ve become hyper aware of my humanity. My time here on earth is limited. It’s precious. Instead of allowing lethargy to lull me into my bed or guide my finger toward that next Netflix original I will work on creating something that will provide an outlet and a perspective for others. Books, to this day, help me escape, learn, empathize, and hope. As my ode to the art I will get this done marriage therapy style. I am going to reconnect, put in the time, and remember why I fell in love with you in the first place.

Is anything original?

I have a belief that there are no original ideas left. This is my inherent suffering as a writer.

My writing time goes a little something like this…

Maybe I should write a novel about a slave who tries to rebel and escape but is wounded by…nah, that’s “Roots”.

Perhaps, my literary prowess can take me on a magically journey. A kid, grows up orphaned. Raise by his relatives buts discovers he is speci…Hello “Harry Potter”.

A young woman meets rich man with a kinky fetish who.. that’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” …and my Daddy would return me to the earth.

I even tried to stop reading for a while. I thought that by reading I was shoving their awesome stories into my head and by some new medical miracle pushing out my original thoughts. But my reading strike didn’t work. I’d get through writing a few chapters of a new story that had me excited…but then I’d think “This is too good. Someone MUST have written this already.” Pencils down. Test over.

So, what do I do when I want to know if my plight is unique to me? I Google it to see what other people are thinking about what I’m thinking. Sly little minx aren’t I? To no ones surprise there many people who feel the exact same way that I do. That all the great American novels are already on bookshelves. On high school reading lists. In people’s hearts and minds. There’s no need to waste more paper.

But I enjoy wasting paper. Writing my words and having other people react to them and connect. What do I do with this feeling that was put here? I’ve written fan fiction since I was a child. Crouching low in my desk during Social Studies. Instead of taking notes, I was writing the next great saga about B2K. My friends taking notes and letting me peak at them for the answer if I got called on by the teacher. These stories were real to me. Until I got older and writing couldn’t just be fun anymore. It had to provoke change. It had to entertain. Most of all it had to make money.

For me that’s when the pressure set in. I need to be unique. I need to unravel a plot line that will have people taking extra therapy sessions to work through all the buried issues in their lives that MY BOOK unearthed. I was going to be THAT DEEP y’all. And I mean, if i’m reaching for that, no wonder my engine conked out under the pressure. No wonder I stalled.

But lately, I’ve done my share of complaining, Prayer, and Googling (the millennial Trinity. Amen.) I’m chasing the wrong thing. I’m chasing uniqueness. Something that I don’t have to chase because I already am. What I actually am looking for is authenticity. See, even great stories like Harry Potter and Star Wars have the same plot line. Think about it. It’s true. Orphaned kid, raised by relatives, discovers he’s the second coming of badassness and vows to avenge his parents deaths. Yep, thank you Google (and Melissa Donovan).

Aren’t these stories still epic? It’s because they are rooted in an authentic feeling, a heartbeat that we can all sync with until the last scene in those stories. The anger. The confusion. Hurt. Happiness. It all flows through. That’s why we soak it up. That’s why it is celebrated. Because it’s real and authentic. Human. It’s the human experience and it was written well before I came into existence so I can’t hope to rewrite it any better. What I can hope to do is keep connecting with the source and keeping connecting with others. This will keep feeding the well. There will be no need to search for it because it will already be full and waiting.

I’m not going to worry if the next words I write are unique.

Whatever I write will be unique because I am but it will be authentic because of who we all are.

“Before I created you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I made you a prophet to the nations.”

‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭1:5‬ ‭CEB‬‬

In the Absence of Hunger

Scene: A writer locks himself inside his small studio apartment. He works vigorously on his novel day and night. He pounds away on his typewriter even though we’re well into the 21st century. The unpaid bills pile up at the door. He ignores it all; blocks out everything and survives on cereal because his soul simply can not rest until the world consumes his words. End scene.

This isn’t me. I wish wholeheartedly it could be. I am not a starving artist. I’m well fed. My bills are paid and I don’t own an antique typewriter. I do like cereal though. I work tirelessly at a job I love and when I get home the last thing I can muster the energy to do is write the great novel that’s been swirling around in my head, itching to spill out. I wish I were hungrier. Instead I’m well fed comfortable and distracted with day to day rituals and responsibilities.

Whenever I delve into the worlds of my own creation I feel that perhaps I should be resting up for the long workday ahead instead. Maybe I should preparing my sons lunch for tomorrow. Picking out what to wear. Cuddling with my husband. Watching reality TV. Working on my presentation. Anything but writing about Bridget and Yuri, characters that have become so much a part of my life over the last six years that I should’ve sent them an invite to my wedding. I shouldn’t be wasting time on something that may never see the light of day. A hobby.

I’m well fed. My bills are paid. All responsibilities of mine have been handled by me helping others pursue their dreams. But when I sit down at the table to pursue mine I feel selfish and indulgent. I’m not hungry. My life and my well being do not hinge on meeting a deadline or getting these words out of my head and on to paper, and getting that paper onto an executives desk so they can tell me whether missing my rent payment or eating ramen for months was all for a good reason. I’m not a starving artist and I’m not I always feel that I’m at a disadvantage.

I sometimes drift off in my cubicle staring over the Manhattan skyline and think of
an alternate universe where I have unkempt hair, ripped jeans, and a backpack that carries only the few essential items I need to survive. Holding my thumb out as I hitch rides and weave through different cultures. Different realities. I use everything I experience to pour my soul into the next brilliant American novel. I can almost feel the dirt under my hands as I learn how to plant vegetables from the natives. That hunger feeding me and driving me to greatness.

But I’m well fed and dirt makes my skin crawl. My hair is neatly coifed. My suit jacket tucks neatly around me in all the right places. Writing in my world means sitting down with guilt, waning drive, and disinterest and humbling myself to my inner author. Giving the old typewriter inside of me a chance to whir and click because it can’t in the real world. I write for the feeling at the end. When the writing process is over and I’m a few letters closer to my goal. I’m not a starving artist but have one inside of me and for periods it goes ignored. But it’s always been patient with me. It’s always there whenever I’m ready to resume my work and that’s why I remain loyal.

I don’t have the luxury of abandoning my day job and writing to my hearts content and I’m not sure if I even want to. I enjoy my full tummy. But since I don’t have that hunger in my gut I need to keep it in my soul. “Never stop writing” is the best advice I’ve received from seasoned writers and I’m keeping that close to me. I could feel bad about being inconsistent but instead I’ll just pick up where I left off. Thankfully my characters don’t move forward without me. 🙂

What the Comments Section Taught Me

cs

 

There is almost never a time that I read a great article online and don’t scroll down to the angry pit of despair known as the comments section. It’s like a car crash. I know that what I will see will assuredly disgust me and depreciate my faith in the human race but I can’t help but crane my neck and take in the full breadth of mayhem. In person people can be mean. Online people are demonic.

I’ve typically operated under the notion that negativity is the minority. I believed that most people’s natural inclination is to be kind to others and that only a select few deviated into the bowels of evil. The select few being those who were teased a little too much in school, or whose Mom locked them in a basement while she had wine with the girls, or whose Dad threw a baseball at their head at supersonic speeds in the name of teaching them sports. I am wrong. Very wrong. The comments section on social media websites have taught me that the first reaction to hearing a heartwarming, life changing, humanitarian effort or a heart wrenching tragedy that someone is facing is typically to be a sarcastic, ruthless, mean bigot. Of course it’s easy to be mean while safely tucked away behind the illuminated screen of a jizz stained computer but why would anyone want to be?

What the comment section has taught me is this; Positivity is a skill. It’s not something that comes naturally. Positivity is an active choice. It’s a choice that we make several times a day. I can’t count how many times in one day my mind switches over to self-loathing and harsh criticisms but there’s something, a little annoying voice that pipes up, screaming, “This is not helpful! “and I switch back to clouds and rainbows. Clouds and rainbows lead to positive thoughts and forward movement. But sometimes it’s just easy to sit in a Pret A Manger and pick apart random strangers in my mind. It’s easy to see a person or observe a situation and just draw a conclusion. And it’s even easier for that conclusion to be vile.

Positivity is a skill that I’ve developed to keep myself from feeling like poop. It’s developed out of my need to evolve. Negativity in itself is stagnant. It may change but it never really progresses. There’s a cap on evil. The worst thing you can do to another human is torture or kill them. That’s as far as it can go. Death is inevitable anyway so when you really look at it negativity loses a little more of its edge.

On the other hand, there is no cap on positivity. The innovation that positivity nurtures is powerful and on my worst day I’ll chose it. The most powerful tool in our belt and yet still so many ignore it and opt for the flawed, capped, and truncated weakness of negativity. It makes sense, positivity requires work. It requires inward reflection and not outward criticism. Out is easy isn’t it? I’ve always heard from couples who have many years under their belts that walking away is easy. Leaving is easy. Staying requires work and compromise. Only the strong survive the stay. Only the positive ones.

I Don’t Know Someone, Who Knows Someone

I’ve been thinking a lot lately. Mostly about working and making a living at what you’re good at. When I decided to finally get serious about this writing thing, being the compulsive researcher I am, I delved into finding out what it takes to make it in the literary community. I found a wealth of knowledge. Workshops to improve writing skills, techniques to improve discipline (still trying that), and how to choose the right agent. Most articles gave all this great advice but typically surmised it all with something like “Many writers get rejected 300 times. Don’t expect to have your pitch or manuscript even be considered unless you have loads of experience all ready (I do not) or you know someone who knows the business well but GOOD LUCK! :-)”. I imagined the smiley face but it wasn’t actually there. It’s my attempt to soften a definite blow. The blow that is all boiled down to a single hard pluck in my forehead. You have to know somebody, who knows somebody, who can make your dreams come true. All the studying and preparation in the world cannot replace the value of a well-placed friend in a position of influence.

My eagerly inflated balloon popped and whizzed around the room before landing squarely on my head (where I’d just been plucked). I was deflated. I was defeated. I don’t know someone, who knows someone. This was going to be a task.

Almost in direct response to my defeat, the universe, as it continually does, began to show me little nuggets of positivity to guide my way. My husband and I share an insane love of all things music. We’ve been glued to the television all year watching all of the awards shows for new sounds and talent. In true groupie fashion we were front and center (in our bedroom) for the Grammy’s this past Sunday. As usual there is always one artist or group that cleans up at the Grammy’s and walks home with a mob of tiny gramophones. This year one of those groups are an independent duo by the name Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. They are currently shutting things down in a huge way and changing the music industry in the process. They won four Grammy’s off of their independently released studio album “The Heist”. Yes, INDEPENDENTLY released. No major record label backing whatsoever. Intrigued? So was I.

Everything always comes back to writing for me so instantly my brain perked up. What about writers? Are they doing it for themselves? Of course! Google couldn’t get me the information fast enough. Big name authors that have become household names started out via the self-publishing route. E.L. James, author of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy first launched her novel from a self-published platform. John Grisham, acclaimed author of “A Time to Kill” and “The Firm” also self-published and later rose to success (understatement of the decade). I could feel my fingertips tingling as I scrolled through story, after story. I was inspired. Maybe I don’t have to know someone, who knows someone, after all.

The idea of networking is not foreign to me. I know that socializing and making connections is just as tantamount to a career as education and raw skill. BUT I always thought, rather naively, that the job would always ultimately go to the person/people best suited for the position. Oh how the stark realities of adulthood have reared their ugly head! I’m realizing that, in reality nepotism is a four letter word, and the CEO’s nephew who got three DUI’s last year could possibly be signing my checks for the rest of my life. In the words of TV personality, Nene Leaks (RHOA), “Chile, bye!”

When did we stop self-endorsing? I get, on a quintessential level, the need to have a body of work recognized by one’s peers. I think it’s become more than that. It’s not just about recognition, it’s become about validation and that’s a dangerous game that I’d rather not play. All artists should feel validated by what they create. The sheer effort it took to sit down and commit to completing something that comes from the soul. Completed with a concerted effort to make a statement, or bring joy, or change society, or just make a ripple that may cause a tsunami sized shift in humanity holds within itself an instant validation.

I want to get back to artists simply creating and sharing. Allowing the masses to dictate what it wants instead of a few choice executives in those few top publishing firms…or record labels…or museums…studios. That’s why I’m completely in love with this social networking and advanced technological age. I get to go on blogs and get passion from its source. Not watered down or truncated but real, and raw and I can tell those artists that they are amazing and they can REPLY directly to me! What a gift. This, what’s being created in this generation, is the birth of a movement that I’m proud to be a part of. In this generation, this new wave, I guess I do know someone, who knows someone, who can give me my dream. Me.

 If it’s been a white boys club for 70 years, that’s a lot of white boys hiring one another. And I don’t believe that happens out of any specific racism or sexism or prejudice. People hire their friends. They hire who they know. It’s comfortable. You want to be successful, you don’t want to take any chances, you don’t want to rock the boat by hiring people of color because, well, look at us. Both Betsy and I like the world that we work in to look like the world that we live in. Different voices make for different visions. Different visions make for something original. Original is what the public is starving for. – Shonda Rhimes (Writer & Producer, Scandal)

I’ve Been Writing a Book for Six Years

IMG_0516

I’ve been writing a book for six years. You may think you know how long six years is but you don’t. It’s not just 72 months, or 2,190 days, or even 52,560 hours. It’s my sons first birthday. An undergrad degree that’s a measly year away from being achieved. Adventures into online dating. A wedding that consumed my every thought. My mom’s cancer scare. And now I’m here. Writing about writing this book for six years.

Just finish the damn book already! I hear your screams of annoyance. Maybe those are mine actually (sorry). The truth is…sometimes I just don’t feel like writing it. Sometimes there are other stories in my bones. Nonfiction stories that I like to call life. These stories have sometimes gotten in the way. They are oh so entertaining, heartfelt, and real that sometimes my main character has to wait to find out the big secret because I can’t get around to putting that sordid scene down on paper. So, in an effort to discipline myself where my writing is concerned, I’m reading several articles about building discipline as a writer instead of actually writing.

Did I mention I’ve been writing this book for six years?

When the distractions of everyday life are not throwing pebbles at the window of my writing study, I haggle with more internal conflicts. Some professionals say that you can’t rush the artistic process. This is true, but, you can stifle it with worry and doubt. You can sadden it by being underwhelmed by your unique story; even though it’s all you have. I worry that I don’t know enough to contribute anything of substance to the literary community. I haven’t traveled the world. I don’t have a refined palate (Burger King anyone?). I’m not exceptionally good at science or finance (overdraft fees can be avoided? Stop kidding!). I’m not even close to being in shape and my baby carriage came way before the marriage. But, I am good at a lot of things and great at a select few.

I’m great at conveying human emotion through written word. I’m great at it because I find joy and peace in it. I’m a great writer because I worry if my contribution is enough. That’s fantastic. It means that I respect the art of story-telling, chronicling real life in real-time for future generations, and the innovative and passionate desire to entertain the masses. I’ve loved the sound of a ball point pen on crisp paper since I was a child. That hasn’t changed. And it is because of this one constant — this vein that just keeps on streaming passion in– that I’ve been writing my book for six years. I refuse to stop until I have a finished product that I can present to the world. Until I have perfectly bound copies of my thoughts and my imagination floating bi-coastal on iPad’s, smartphones, stuffed into purses, and carried in back packs I will not be fulfilled. Which is why…I’ve been writing this book for six years.

I’ve started the book from the top again. I’m going to share it with you; it in all its glory BUT I’m also going to share the detours. Those wonderful detours of a wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend and I’m going to have fun doing it. The beauty is in the balance and even though this can’t be the right way to go about it, it’s the only way I know how. Lord have mercy on my writing soul.