How I’m feeling on the eve of the rescheduled critique session.

I just listened to a great podcast on Dear Sugar radio with Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond about how to survive the critics.  The full episode is available here:

I really appreciated the knowledge that after a while, the hurt feelings subside, and you kind of go back to feeling normal.  After my challenging week in a debate with an editor, I am finding relief and getting back to a good place.  I feel lighter inside, and I’m sure this has something to do with the fact that I’ve started spring cleaning.  I’m on day three and feeling light of heart.

I’m starting to contemplate the idea that criticism is kind of like accepting a bag of used clothing.  At one level, all of the items reflect someone’s past choices.  In the entire bag, there may be one piece you really love, making it sort of worth the effort to accept and live with the rest, or make the effort to pass.  But in order to go forward independently and with your own beautiful mind, you must at some point stop accepting the entire bag and say to yourself “I can clothe my own bones.”

I’ve always had trouble being a “pleaser”.  So this is a challenge for me not to accept everything.

This idea is also helpful because I’m participating in critiquing other’s work too.  It reminds me to give away more good items and fold away what is unusable, to discard what isn’t helpful.  Namely, judgement about the person who has worked to write their piece.


The Beautiful Now

When I wrote a sensitive and painful experience for my first chapter, I dared to press “send” and share it with the complete strangers of a critique group.  I thought it was brave and worth doing because of the challenge.  And in my frustration with a suggestion that some of my piece suggests I’m an “unintentional unreliable narrator” I sort of came unglued.  Anger and defensiveness ruled my days, wasting more of my energy that I need for taking care of our home education, my business and my relationship with a grieving spouse.

It was pointless and wasteful to be so upset.

I felt caught in a trap, tangled in a power play, the victim of a senseless intimidation game.

And all of a sudden, the story that came marching out of my heart crept back inside the tortoise shell where I lost the threads of the narrative.  I gave away my powerful writing momentum because I was hopeful about the experience of social connection during the writing process.

Nothing is worth letting the writing die, no matter how educated, insightful, harsh or off base the critique may be.  I don’t even know yet what specific words, phrases, lines or paragraphs are causing this response.  So all of it is senseless to me.  I was hopeful for a supportive community, but I’m just now thinking that I may need more time to develop the actual narrative without concern for how it’s written.  Maybe the critique part only needs to happen after the entire story is complete.

But is that just the perfect out for me, an excuse to avoid the discomfort?  I’m not sure.

What I do know is that when you’re struggling with a difficult, uncomfortable situation, salvation lies in the beautiful now –where the story of the past is put away and the expectation of the future is silent.

Here in the present moment, we are given sunlight sparkling on a lake in spring with the sound of insistent crows overhead, a sound that feels like the drumbeat of ‘warning! warning! warning!’ to all who travel in the trees.


In this moment, my beautiful son.


And the moment when we notice brilliant moss at the base of a towering pine that makes us think of the Emerald City of Oz, in miniature.

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The beautiful now when spring is just beginning, when you can still see everything in the woods.  When it’s not too heavy with humidity, when walking feels like lightness and freedom and active presence in your life.

Nature cures my insane need to express my worry.  It is so quiet and accepting of the animal that is me.


There’s another language to be found in the clinging fungus, a language that has no words but speaks to me with patient, delicate growth.  These mushrooms are not as temporary as spring blooms, bursting in color and dropping in a week.  They don’t attract the bees and butterflies.  They grow on dead logs, finding valuable nutrients on decay.

In the beautiful now, I find comfort in their existence.  And that is enough to go on.

I think I’ve found a deeper fear than bears in the woods

Getting out of my comfort zone isn’t something I enjoy.  Just now I submitted my first few pages to the critique group I made myself join.

I had to make myself join it, or else put off writing the real things I long to write for another decade.

Because the business of life ends up filling in all the writing hours, covering up the stories with to do lists.

I felt I needed some kind of accountability.  So I wrote.  And then, just now, with a shaky hand, I pressed send.

And it scared me more than the first day of kindergarten– without the nice smells of crayola and modeling clay to comfort me— a person who always feels like an oddity in a new group situation.

Will I now be strong enough to go to the next group meeting and read my first paragraph?  Will I be strong enough not to cry knowing that there are all kinds of things wrong with it?  With me?

I did the first hard part; the danger writing.  But to share this vulnerable part of my life in a writer’s group feels scarier to me than when my husband took me into the backcountry of the Virginia wilderness and we encountered seventeen bears near the trails.

Why are writers at the same time brave enough to name their weaknesses, yet so completely fragile when it comes to the idea of having their intimate lives picked over, discussed in a room, edited for mistakes?

I Am Writing

I am writing.

Not reading about writing or thinking about writing or imagining myself in the future as a writer.

I am writing.

And it’s the kind of danger writing that shows me how much self-pity I’ve entertained in my life.  It’s showing me how the things that went terribly wrong could have been catastrophic, but weren’t.  It’s showing me how amazingly awesome my life is right now, even with some of my expectations unmet.  Even if I am still at home with no career after investing in college, even if my daughter still doesn’t live with me.  I am not perfect, but actually,

my life sort of is.

It is fuller and free in a way I never imagined I could live, even with all the obligations and responsibilities that arrive to frustrate and challenge and interrupt me.

I wake up at 4:30 am for no good reason. My writer’s-mind dialogue begins to kick in before I even open my eyes.  Sentences flow and I have to run downstairs, start the water for tea, grab my pen and notebook. But getting to the notebook is physical comedy.  I walk downstairs with a dog and a cat who are dying to be fed, who nudge my legs, who dash under my feet while I grip the handrail and pray I make it to the bottom without breaking my legs.  Once I make it to the sink, Ozzie does a sniffy whiny jumping dance, herding me to the dog food bag.  Sabrina, our new cat, is just as beggy.  Annie cat, who is usually the most un-needy, low maintenance pet, asks to go out, then in, then out, then in, for the first hour of the day.  I clean the litter box while the three of them wolf their kibble, just in time for Sabrina to do her smelly damage in the fresh box. She scatters the litter so then I must get out the vacuum.  By this time my husband is getting ready for work, and we chat before he walks out the door.  Alone for ten minutes with my hot tea, I often feel so distracted that I’ve lost the early morning dialogue and choose to sit in front of my monitor and enjoy the morning scroll through fb land.  Usually someone will pop in to chat.  By then, Elliot comes down and is ready for his turn at the desktop, and breakfast.

When my mind is most needing to write out those pure clear thoughts, I lose them with the morning drama.  It doesn’t matter if I get up at 3 am, the whole operation is triggered by a single action; me walking down to the kitchen.

But lately I’m finding that it doesn’t matter.  The story is still arriving in bits.  One day I procrastinated writing the one scene I’d promised myself to write.  And it nagged me all day.  When I finally got it out, the satisfaction and relief was immense.  One little paragraph, one tiny scene.

Sometimes I find myself writing long into the morning while doing school with Elliot.  I find that more often I’m discussing the storyline with my husband in the evenings while we make dinner.  Sometimes I sneak in a line or two on scraps of paper when the ideas arrive while I’m doing ordinary things, like showering or sweeping.

I am writing.

And spring is near.

And anything is possible.

And right now I’m not even blocked by the fear of someone not liking what I have to say.  Everyone can write their own memoir and tell their own story.