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Daddy, I Can Hear You Now

In this age of cell phones that are supposedly great technological advances over the land lines of the past, I am the Luddite who bemoans the fact that our connections aren’t always easier now.  It seems as if two people on a cell can’t talk at once, so there’s a lot of talking over one another, and some awkwardness as we miss parts of each other’s sentences. There are dropped calls. There’s a heck of a lot of voicemail. Mobile means the phone’s got to go with you, always. A landline phone stays nicely rooted to one part of the house and can be left behind. Listening today can be harder.

My little rant against tech might be analogous to how a parent must feel about the connection with a teen. You try to tell your child to watch out for this, be sure to do that, appreciate what you’ve got. The child nods, “Uh-huh,” with a glazed look in her eye and goes her merry way. She assumes that some things just grow on trees. She thinks she’s a free agent and in charge of all her decisions. She takes parental care, and concern, and money, and love for granted.

My favorite history teacher, Dr. Jack Barnwell, shared some of this parental truth about disconnected kids on my friend Jennifer’s wonderful book blog, Bacon on the Bookshelf. His musings on whether his daughter’s listened to him over the years remind me of my dad’s experience with his daughters. I thought I knew everything at 18 and felt driven to inculcate my dad in all my wisdom once I came back from one year at college. I didn’t think to ask him many questions until later in life.

It’s as my friend Tracy said to me recently, “It wasn’t till my twenties that I realized my parents were human beings.” I knew exactly what she meant the moment she said it, after having raised a teen-ager (or having tried, shall we say). My parents having concerns or troubles? Having private, personal lives? Them feeling exhausted at night? Not really on my radar.

It’s not till I have become a stepparent and witnessed my husband parenting his son that I’ve come to fully appreciate what my father has done for me.Daddy_Lyn_June_2013

My dad has given and given to me with great generosity for all my forty-seven years. He gave me a peaceful, secure home.He’s put me first so I could have the best education. He’s offered me all kinds of travel experiences. My father has never ceased working hard and being there anytime I needed to talk. He’s always valued my views, my thoughts, my hopes and ambitions. It wasn’t till I got older than I learned how many people don’t get this gift in their lives.

Watching my husband try to guide his son away from assumption and presumption, which is some ways are the flaws of every child, toward awareness and gratitude, I am struck by the incredible grace and generosity of dads like these wonderful men. I don’t think I thanked my father much when I was growing up. I just assumed Daddy would always be there, and presumed he would provide for my needs whenever I asked, or even if I didn’t. I do believe I ordered whatever I liked when we were out at a restaurant, without a second thought as to cost. I shopped for prom dresses and rushed off to college not thinking how anyone would pay the bills.

Dads like mine and Jack and my husband don’t mind that we’re so oblivious in our constant requests and expectations. They love us that much. And that, I think, is pretty amazing.

Thank you, Daddy, for not asking for all you gave me in return. For giving and giving without any promise of return. For making your girls a priority, and loving us in this unconditional way. And thank you for not saying, “Now you’re getting it?” when I came telling you of all my new, late-found wisdom in the last year.

The least I can do for my father is remember how he’s given to me all these years. I can pass on the same unconditional giving to all who are young and assuming. It’s their job to grow up, and it’s my turn to try to be at least half the grown-up my father has been.

The giving is the message, and it will stick in our hearts in ways our words never will.

I might not trust in my mobile phone, but I can trust in this.

 

Filed Under: Dad, gratitude, Stephen Fairchild  

When Other People Get Good News

The other day, I rejoiced for several hours at someone else’s good news. It was fantastic and well deserved. A friend who has labored long and hard got his brass ring: a publishing deal. His humor, wit, and intelligence have finally been recognized by gatekeepers who know what can sell. I had some flashbacks to our shared misery over the last five years while we both strived after agents, publishing contracts, and our work to be known. Recently he told me he wasn’t sure he could survive another slew of rejections. Now with an advance in hand and a two-book deal, he can finally say he’s arrived.

As the joy has faded, I’ve felt twinges of wistfulness for the road I hopped off and what it might have offered me if in 2012 I’d said, “I’ll stay the course.” I wonder what it would be like to work with distributors that could get my book easily to brick-and-mortar stores. I’d love to give a publisher’s name to ensure a book signing. I’d love to have a marketing team set up interviews, conferences, and events.

I chose a different route. I decided after 14 months with an agent to blast myself into the self-pub universe. I’ve had nothing but fun and autonomy doing this, with a lot of blessings from good friends, family, and strangers who took the chance to invest in my work. I assemble a support team for all projects and make all the decisions. I’ve got a great website, good reviews, and a monthly newsletter. I have a beautiful book trailer. I’m blessed with the remainder of my “advance”—a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation—that allows me to plan to self-publish my next book.

My sales remain small and occasional because I rarely promote. With a fulltime job and a family, I only have time to write my next book. I have a 10-year plan, one that involves writing several more books, playing with prices to give my readers good deals, and hiringa publicist in order to increase my reach. All in good time, I keep telling myself when vaulting ambition threatens to flagellate me and when others’ good news makes me wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong road.

Over a decade ago, I went to a dear friend’s baby shower that happened the same week as another dear friend’s wedding. In a weak moment, I confessed to one of them, I feel you all have moved on. It felt very childish to admit at the time, but I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes, a lot of change hits all at once, where you think everyone else is grown up while your own future stays blank and unscripted. There are moments where you not only can’t predict the future, you sometimes think there might not be one to get excited about. My friends’ news didn’t leave me wanting something different for them, just for me to join them in the same headlines.

The self-pub lifestyle is a lot like being single: in order to survive it, you gotta build your own tribe. Just as I left these celebrations and got back on Match.com and made plans with friends, today I have to hire editors, graphic designers, filmmakers, book formatters, and web designers so I can publish a book. In the same way I couldn’t magically expect a social life to appear, I can’t expect a book to be born on its own. I can’t feel sorry for myself if sales don’t happen; I need to regroup, strategize, and keep working.

I never would have predicted that three years after the wedding and the baby shower, I’d be married at 37 in a boots-and-jeans wedding12wedding with a pig-pickin’ to follow. I couldn’t imagine that my beloved friends would suffer sorrows I’ve never had to bear. During that week of celebration, I could have told you they had a better deal than me, with a case of grass-is-greener kind of sadness. I can tell you now, I was foolish to focus on what I didn’t have and believe others had their happiness set.

My friend’s good news meets me wiser today than I was in 2002, when I believed there was a timing and momentum in life that I must follow or else I was somehow less than. My friend’s great news assures me there is justice and reward for some who keep trying at the traditional route, and that good stuff does indeed make it into print.  My friend’s amazing news gives me hope that legacy publishing might be a route for me to someday try again, that perhaps could get me the agent who is that awesome advocate, brilliant negotiator, and savvy adviser. This event in someone else’s life reminds me to stay my current course with persistence and integrity, check my gut when necessary, and never say never to self-pub or traditional success.

I trust in the rightness of what is right now. The joy I have for my friend mirrors the joy I feel when I open the file to my manuscript in process. Isn’t this fun, my whole body says. For in this moment, I get to write.

 

 

 

Faith, Hope, and Dad

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13: 13

My dad thinks I’m awesome.Daddy_Lyn_June_2013

Before you question this narcissistic start to a Father’s Day post, bear with me. I believe there are two types of people: those who are successful with the help of their dads, and those who have achieved in spite of their dads. I am blessed to say I’m successful thanks to my father.

A male role model must be many things: forthright and honest, loyal and dependable, driven and persistent, and vigilant and protective. It’s a bonus if he is fun, kind, and excited about life. I got the complete Dad package.

During a self-publishing journey, you need a lot of support. You need a cheerleader with faith and business sense. My dad has been at my side throughout this process, suggesting new ideas and sending me the latest updates from bloggers and industry experts, doing research, building Excel spreadsheets, and asking sales and marketing questions. He has my back in an enterprise that has no clear or “right” trajectory. There are some parents who might say, “Are you really sure you want to do this? Isn’t it a lot of work? Why don’t you wait it out another few years (never mind the three spent querying the industry and working with an agent) because the traditional path seems like a safer bet.” Instead, my dad captures all the confusing Excel data from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Smashword and brainstorms how a developer needs to create an app to automate such a process. He compliments my writing efforts and sings my praises to friends and family. He loves to see me shine, and with that special Dad pride, he can make me look even brighter.

My father’s actions relay to me that no matter what I attempt, I can do it. A daughter needs that kind of optimism if she is to undertake an artist’s life.

My dad modeled risk-taking to me since my childhood. We moved from Southern California to Northern, to Belgium, back to Northern California to North Carolina as he pursued various opportunities with his work. I learned that new places hold possibility, that people of other states and countries have fascinating histories, and that there are good people and new friends everywhere. I learned that over time, one can adapt to new situations and discover new sides to oneself. My dad thrives on meeting new people, making new friends, and trying new foods. He handed down to me that same zest for experimentation and newness.

In the ed world, one will often here the phrase “lifelong learner” as a descriptor for a teacher’s ideal persona. Ever curious, open, and excited, this kind of teacher inspires his or her students to embark on the learning journey. That phrase fits my father perfectly. This is what he’s taught me: to treat each day as a new opportunity and an ambitious adventure.

My dad is a man of many gifts. He knows people the world over who are grateful for his leadership, mentorship, and business savvy. With all these talents he’s always been extremely humble and does not call attention to himself. He is the kind of worker right in the trenches with everyone else. It wasn’t until I was out of college that I began to appreciate all he had done and was pursuing. And he still thinks my little business enterprise is worth his time and attention.

Love is reliable and shows up every day, just like a good dad. It is consistent, persistent, and trustworthy. A great father’s love is full of faith and hope. I will be forever grateful for my wonderful father who has shaped me, my view of myself, and my happiness.

Writing Prompts:

  • What is a line your father often said to you, and when would he say it? Why do you think you remember it now?
  • How much are you like and unlike your father?
  • Have you been blessed by a good father, or challenged by a non-father? Have you survived a bad father? How do you know what good fatherhood is?
  • What are your paternal instincts, and how do you pursue them?
  • In How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought, Wendy says, “Funny how the potential stepdad gives so much more of a damn than the biological mother, who can’t even remember I’ve got this project, much less any major exams.” Wendy is charmed by one of her mother’s boyfriends, Shaye, who seems to be the first with stepdad potential. She has no compass for what a dad’s behavior should be like, and so she is easily misled by seemingly dadlike behavior. What other charismatic ways does Shaye appear to have Wendy’s best interests in mind?
  • What do we know of any males in the story who might be father figures? What conclusions do you draw about this woman-centric, fatherless world Wendy lives in? Does this world have Wendy’s best interests in mind?

Blessed By a Mom Like Mine

This Mother’s Day, I’m thinking of those who are unable to celebrate. Those who never had a mom to begin with, even if technically, there was a mother in the house.

In my novel, How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought, Sunny Revere is not a good mom. She is a classic narcissist, obsessed with finding and keeping boyfriends.  And there are many–a “revolving door,” as her daughter describes it. Also top of Sunny’s list is the pursuit of her own happiness–political dreams and artistic interests. In between, if her daughter happens to cross her path, Sunny will occasionally parent. She thinks she’s a great mom because she strives to be Wendy’s BFF.

At 16, Wendy is well aware of these stark facts. She has accepted and so far, survived her mother’s weaknesses with a certain amount of stoicism. She says, “With Sunny it’s best to sift out troubling information, as she’s flummoxed by most facts. Facts require decisions, and Sunny’s best at dithering.” Sunny has spent a lifetime flitting from one location and job and boyfriend to another, dragging Wendy along, and never facing the black-and-white truth of parenting: sometimes, you have to put yourself last.

Wendy’s built the necessary walls to handle the perpetual transitions. But the one thing Wendy finds she can’t face so easily is abuse at the hands of her mother’s boyfriends. She will spend a lifetime overcoming these traumas.

“My mom forgot to get me a birthday cake.” “My mom didn’t show up for the one award I got in middle school.” “My mom pretended the abuse wasn’t happening.” Over the years, I’ve heard such stories from students or friends, or I’ve seen them happen without the person complaining. It was just assumed Mom had too many things to do, or that she had a date, or that the house is always a little bit crazy or chaotic whenever mom is there.

Those who grow up with a non-mother can turn out to be many things. They might be resilient, persisting no matter what life hands them. They may be possessed by their own victimhood, demanding much from a world they feel owes them something. They may be hardened, even flat-lining, or addicts, liars, and cheaters. They may be loving and embracing caretakers, giving relentlessly to others, swearing to never inflict on others what they suffered. They can be so busy trying to prove they are worthy that they achieve great success. However they evolve, the mark of the bad mother stays with them.

When I write about a situation like Wendy’s, it’s out of sympathy, not empathy. I try to relate, but am blessed to be a spectator. In my book, I was able to write a dedication to both my parents: 

All I know is, I am so loved I can’t measure it. I am able to write today because you always gave me hope and space as a child to l1_Maman_and_meet creativity flourish. You gifted me with trust that my ideas matter.

My mother, Katherine Fairchild, is a loving, brilliant, and beautiful woman. She is incredibly selfless, having sacrificed herself for me countless times. My accomplishments, my hopes, my joys, and my sorrows have always been of great interest to her. She is delighted for me, concerned for me, and willing to listen endlessly. She is happy to spend time with me, anytime. She has never been one to ask, “But what about me?” Unconditional love is my mother’s specialty. I credit her with being the mother of my inventions.

Now she is gradually doing more and more for herself. We call her the best writer in the family and celebrate her occasional focus on herself. She recently published a story called “Sunday at Aunt Seri’s,” a vignette from her childhood that captures the beauty and strangeness of a visit to an aunt’s hardscrabble farm where turkeys swarm her like oncoming and relentless waves. My mother is gifted at capturing images and moods, and her characters are authentic. She has also crafted several stories where oddball characters muddle their way through life in great seriousness that turns slapstick.

For someone who never has said, “I deserve,” my mother deserves far more than she’s ever given herself. I hope this Mother’s Day weekend she will take a note from her daughter who has been allowed to grow up self-directed and self-confident, without someone else’s black hole of neediness interrupting her development. In other words, I want my mother to give herself the same attention she always gave me.  Meanwhile, I have a role model who inspires me to ask how I can be less self-focused and more selfless.

Not everyone gets a mom like mine. Today, I celebrate Katherine Fairchild and the blessing I have in her. I also celebrate those who have overcome their mothers with grace and courage. 

Writing Prompts:

  • What is a line your mother often said to you, and when would she say it? Why do you think you remember it now?
  • How much are you like and unlike your mother?
  • Have you been blessed by a good mother, or challenged by a non-mother? Have you survived a bad mother? How do you know what good motherhood is?
  • What are your maternal instincts, and how do you pursue them?
  • In How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought, Sunny yells at Wendy, “No one gives a damn how I feel!” Should mothers say this, and if so, when? If not, why not? Why does Sunny Revere say this?
  • How does Sunny’s mother and Wendy’s grandmother, Virginia, relate to Sunny? How does their relationship explain some of how Sunny turned out?
  • How does Virginia relate to Wendy? How can grandmothers be better and worse at motherhood, when it comes to their grandchildren?

 

Thankful


Today’s Word Count for the Novel: 258,384. 3035 words gone!

Page Count for the Novel: 916 pages. 15 pages gone!

Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.
— Albert Einstein

Thankful, I am, and not just because it’s a ritual of Thanksgiving. It’s because all I have right now is this moment of writing.

Writers are the sort who rise with stories on the brain and wander through the day seeing stories in everyone else. Writers invent new outcomes to events and wrestle with what if’s no one else bothers to indulge. It’s a natural state of imagining and analyzing, a tendency that feels just right to those of us blessed with it. If you are called to write, you do it easily as breathing some days. That’s the Muse – the genetic fire starter. (We won’t get into what drives revision — maybe sheer will and our better angels?)

I attended a talk by Tom Wolfe a few years ago to hear him confess he despises writing. He said it was a source of torment. It made me wonder if I wasn’t missing something, the horrors of a boot camp never attended. Perhaps I’d squirmed my way out of duty? Since then, I’ve decided that I will define my writing process. I may not make it as a card-carrying member of the Suffering Writer Clan, since I’m not sure my slogging through crytiques, rejections, and years will measure up unless I hated every second. But that’s okay, because I’m happy. I really love this gig.

I love disappearing into language and story. It’s the same fun as storytelling at age nine, when I invented new people and landscapes for the sake of fun and games. Today there’s still no end to ideas and creating. As a teacher, I’ve celebrated this ability in all of us, the infinite and abundant creativity we all possess. That’s why the scarcity model of some artists and many critics – those who feel compelled to slam others’ work and reinforce hierarchies – doesn’t make sense. Yes, there should be a measure of quality. Yes, not just anyone can write a classic or join the canon. Let’s keep standards and celebrate the greats. But there is enough money, attention, and enjoyment to go around. It’s okay for us all to love writing.

So if writing is my cornucopia, my feast this Thanksgiving, I don’t have to peer much beyond all the fruit and fowl spilling out to see what I’ve taken for granted. I have time to write. I have eyes-ears-fingers to make the recording easier; the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly should humble us all. I have belief in my writing, even when others may not. I also have a writers’ community of support – both former and current friends who have guided me along the path. Finally, I am grateful for family and husband who get why I write. Thank you to all of them.

So in this spirit of thankfulness, I refuse to define my writing success by a big book contract. I refuse to rail against myself for not having finished the novel years ago. I am thankful that this year I’m in a third draft of it; that two short stories were finalists in contests this year; that one short story was accepted to a journal. If today’s work is a joy, a chance to disappear into the fiction I’ve created and make it better, then why give myself fits? We will write no novel before its time. What’s Your Hurry, my husband sings. Is it worth your worried mind? When it’s over, it won’t matter. Tell me, are you satisfied?

Today’s Writing Goal: Continue editing up to page 450, cutting words, and removing any passages that slow momentum.

Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.
© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.
Elementary, Secondary, and Adult
Thankfulness
What things and people make you happy? Who or what are you grateful for? Make a list of ten people and things – places, objects, events – that give you joy.Choose one and write a poem, a song, a letter, or a prayer (or a combination of any of these) that explains why you are thankful for this part of your life.