Week 5. Guard your ears

When I first began training in the martial arts, I had to learn to trust my teachers–when they said I could do something I didn’t think I could do, I had to try. Then I would discover that I could do the thing.

As I became more accomplished in the martial arts, I realized that often my teachers’ faith wasn’t even in me–it wasn’t that I, personally, had some special knack or skill. Their faith was in the process. If you did it right, it worked.

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of teachers, not all of them positively inclined toward me. And one thing I’ve learned is that some teachers want to keep out everyone except the special people and other teachers want to welcome everyone in.

It’s the second kind you want and should trust, not the first. It’s the second kind you should listen to. Guard your ears against the first.

I got to thinking about this last week because some quotes from famous writers showed up on my Facebook  newsfeed. You know the kind, all related to the idea that only certain special Anointed Ones are writers and everyone else ought to just go home. That you can’t learn to be a writer, it’s innate, a gift and if you don’t have it, you may as well not try.

Which is just so absolute horseshit I can barely talk about it without losing my temper.

I get that some people want to be writers and some people don’t. But that’s about as far as I’ll go with predicting who will succeed and who won’t–even the very word succeed is problematic because what does it mean? Writing popular books doesn’t necessarily mean you know the craft, so is that success? Writing award-winning books that no one reads doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve succeeded, either. Writing good books that win no awards and aren’t particular popular isn’t necessarily failure. Nor is writing something that is outside what is socially agreed-upon to be “good” always failure.

I get tired of people bleating out discouraging adages as if they were certainties. I’m sure the people who bleat them out think they are part of the chosen group and they want the group to be special and if everyone can be in it, then the group’s not special. To which I say, grow the fuck up.

I agree that not everyone is at the same point in the journey. And I agree that gaining an understanding of any art or craft requires a certain aha! moment. What I object to is the idea that only certain preordained people will have that aha! moment.

The aha! moment is different for everyone. It comes at different times and places. I didn’t like or understand math until I got to college and met a teacher who unlocked the door for me. Then I felt competent. But it wasn’t until I was in my forties that I saw how math can be beautiful. But if I had decided ahead of time that only special people can understand math, I would still hate it and suck at it.

Maybe you’re not as good at your craft as you would like to be. Maybe, like me, you’ve spend the last two months trying to figure out how in hell to fix this manuscript. But that doesn’t mean you’re missing the fingerprint of god or something. It means you’re trying. And the only way anyone gets to the aha! moment is to try.

The idea that there are chosen people–in any field!–is offensive, disrespectful, and disempowering. But we idolize the teachers who say these things, as if they somehow know.

But they don’t know.

A good teacher isn’t one who discourages you from trying, from reaching, from pushing your limits. A good teacher trusts the process, not the student.

 

Alicia Thorne is finally happy

passionandpleasure bundle

All of her sexytime romances have been bundled into one big package (hee-hee) for one incredibly low price. For less than the price of a latte, you can snuggle up to four of Alicia’s favorite heroes. Okay, “four of” suggests Alicia has more heroes, but she doesn’t; she got into a snit last winter because she thinks I like Jenny Jacobs better and now she won’t produce. But if you buy her bundle and tell all your friends about it, then Alicia might get over her snit and write a new book! Here’s the Amazon link.

On the limits of poetic license

Jessica (looking over my shoulder at a blog post): That is not exactly what we said.

Me: You know, someday I’m going to win a Pulitzer and you’ll be telling the committee, “It didn’t happen exactly like that.”

Jessica: Yes. For example your hair is not that curly.

Me: I exaggerate it for effect. You know, to communicate a point.

Jessica: I see. It is sarcastic hair.

 

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My alter ego Jessica Starre loves her newest release, Lessons in Magic, and maybe you will, too.  Also, Jessica has some lovely new glass from her recent firing up on her website.

On what I learned at the art fair

This past weekend, Jessica and I showed her glass at an art fair, the first time we’ve done something like that. She was anxious because she knew that people would want to talk to her and she wasn’t sure what she would say to them, and while she can talk your ear off if she knows you, she has trouble engaging when she doesn’t.

So she and I practiced ahead of time, and I made my many lists, and I didn’t forget a single thing. Once we got set up, we walked around and looked at what the other vendors were doing, and I talked to people to get their best show tips.

All along the story about Jessica’s glass has been that she makes something beautiful, that this is her thing, the way that words are mine, and that my job is to support her, and stay out of the way, and see where it takes her. We all need that thing, that special whatever-it-is that people will pay us to do, or makes life more interesting, or sets us apart. Maybe it’s folding origami swans or speaking French with a passable accent or remembering the names of every person you meet. The thing.

So I thought what I might learn at the fair was how to support her in the thing, like I might figure out a better way to display the glass, and get the name of someone who runs a local gallery, the thousand little details that turn a thing into a vocation instead of just a clever party trick.

The girl who showed me otherwise was about seventeen, Jessica’s age, with dark hair and lots of eye makeup that she didn’t need because she was so pretty, and she had that edge of sharpness that you get to protect the vulnerability; if you weren’t so damned vulnerable, you wouldn’t need the sharpness. She stopped, and she touched a piece, the tray the color of flames, and she didn’t say anything except, “Can I take one of your cards?”

“Of course,” I said.

She nodded, not looking at me, and touched the blue-gray candleholder, the one Jessica calls Overcast.

“Have you ever been downtown? To the this-and-that shop? They have antiques and everything,” she said after a while.

“No,” I said. “We don’t live nearby.”

“I love that place. I’d love . . . .” She didn’t say what she’d love, she just opened her coat for a second to show me the logo on her shirt. “I work at the pizza place down there.”

This was sort of important but I didn’t know why or how. Seventeen year olds often work at pizza places and there are many things they would love to do but their parents won’t let them or their grades aren’t good enough or they don’t have the money.

“How do you even make it?” she wanted to know, her fingers trailing over the glass.

“Well, I don’t make it,” I said. “Jess does.” I gestured toward Jessica, who was sitting forward in her chair, anxious; she didn’t know what to say, and so I spoke in that slow and easy way I have learned, with lots of pauses so she can jump in when she’s ready. Sometimes she isn’t ever ready.

The girl looked up then, her dark eyes flashing, surprised; until I said something everyone who stopped at the booth assumed I was the artist and Jessica was only there because she had nowhere else to be.

“Really?”

Jessica nodded, her own dark eyes watching and watching.

“You made all this? How?”

Jessica didn’t answer right away; the answer is complicated, and people mean different things by the question, so I said, “It’s all kiln-formed glass, except those couple of blown glass pieces there. The kiln-formed glass is worked cold, and you use these glass tools—” I couldn’t remember their names and I looked to Jess and she said, “Glass cutters and running pliers.”

“Right. Glass cutters and running pliers, and you arrange the colored pieces of glass on a base. Jess usually uses clear or white glass as the base though sometimes she uses black.”

The girl touched one of the black glass vases Jessica had made, the one with bright green and blue pieces.

I went on describing the firing process, how the piece is fused and then slumped, but she wasn’t listening and when I trailed off she said, “Can I have more cards?”

“Of course,” I said.

“Because people should know about this.”

She sounded fierce, and I was once a fierce teenager, so I just nodded. She wasn’t paying any attention to me anyway; something had lit her face, something from inside her and it wasn’t the chance to hand out some business cards to people. That was just the symbol.

I have seen that look on other faces, students of mine when I taught at the university so many years ago. I hadn’t seen that look in a long time, that sudden knowing, what happens when your soul catches on fire and you get it. It isn’t so much that other people should know about this, it’s that you finally do, and you feel like you need to share it with someone else but you’re not really sure who or how, you just know, in your bones, that there is more in this world than the pizza place. No matter what anyone says, no matter how practical you think you’re trying to be. Sometimes all it takes is a girl your age sitting behind a table with a glittery pink tablecloth, too nervous to speak for herself, to show you what possibility is.

“Thank you,” she said, and turned away, cards clutched hard in her hand.

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The Kindle version of Dojo Wisdom for Writers is part of a special promotion of books for writers. It and other great titles are just 99 cents (just for a brief time!)

Happy NANOWRIMO

The title to this post will make no sense to you if you are not a writer, and if you are a writer, it will probably make you flinch, although it is true that some people enjoy torturing themselves.

The last time I did NANOWRIMO, I learned five things:

1. Writing that many words along with parenting, doing the day job, and etc. is damned hard exhausting work. I need a nap.
2. I get grumpy when I have to write the emotional scenes. I hate crying. But putting them off till later just means I’ll be basketcase when I have to write them all at once. Lesson: Do them when they arrive. No being a weenie.
3. Cutting back on sleep to get more writing in is counter-productive.
4. Having Jessica sit next to me saying, “Aren’t you supposed to be working?” is an amazing motivational technique.
5. I’m never doing this again. Maybe.

This year I’ll be revising my current WIP, so I’ll be doing NANOREVMO instead. I’ll be focusing on pesky things like filling in all those plot holes.

To celebrate NANOWRIMO, I’m giving away some goodies, including books (the new editions of Dojo Wisdom and Dojo Wisdom for Writers) and some glass by Jessica but you have to be signed up for my newsletter to find out about that! Just go to my home page and put in your email address there, or use the handy form below:

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