On Being Human and a Writer Plus Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links

multiple identitiesBeing human is complicated. And, being a human who writes adds a whole other layer of complexity to your existence.

Unlike animals who live simple lives that inhabit a single identity, we humans must constantly shapeshift between myriad roles, sometimes changing who we are multiple times over the course of a single day. In any given twenty-four hour span, I am mother, lover, daughter, sister, neighbor, mentor, and friend. I am a professional freelance content creator, an aspiring fiction writer, and a nascent entrepreneur. I am a caretaker, housekeeper, and accountant, a cook, laundress, and student.

We slip in and out of these skins in a matter of seconds, like chameleons adapting to the colors, textures, and shadows of a rapidly changing environment. With each transition, we must rebalance ourselves around a new set of expectations and priorities. We change our behavior and make choices based on new criteria, which are defined by a reordered set of obligations and responsibilities.

I wonder sometimes if writers, and perhaps actors, are better suited than other humans to the constant “costume changes” of life. We are, after all, used to creating characters and stepping into their lives as if they were our own. Our vocation requires that we regularly shift out of our own existence and preconceived notions, letting our words carry us to different times, places, and situations so we can see the world from a different perspective – explore, imagine, and experiment.

But, even if our writing does make us slightly better suited to the life of a quick-change artist, it also puts extra strain on our most precious resources: time, attention, and energy.

And so, I sometimes wonder if my life would be simpler if I didn’t write. I wonder if my days would feel more manageable if I didn’t insist on cramming this “extra” identity of “writer” into the limited number of hours available to me. I wonder if I would feel “lighter” if I could somehow turn off the part of my brain that is always running in the background – processing every experience and feeling through the lens of my writer’s mind, squirreling away story ideas, wrestling with my inner critic, and constantly bearing the heavy weight of guilt about the writing I’m not doing.

Because trying to blend and balance all these identities can be draining and frustrating. We cannot have it all. More to the point, we cannot have it all at the same time. As my dad is fond of saying, “You can have anything you want. You just can’t have everything you want.” Every accomplishment demands its pound of flesh. The road to any goal is paved with sacrifices and compromises. You cannot simultaneously pursue two different goals any more than you can simultaneously inhabit two different identities. One pursuit, one role must always take center stage while the others temporarily fade into the background.

Whenever I try to be and do two things at once, I fail miserably. When my daughter is home sick from school, for instance, I repeatedly make the mistake of trying to combine being a doting mother with being a dedicated freelancer. The result is that I am, in those misguided moments, terribly inadequate in both areas. There is no such thing as multi-tasking. We simply aren’t wired that way.

So we are left to try and figure out how to build lives that can accommodate all our identities and goals. Maybe we adopt a big-picture, phases-of-life philosophy that requires us to set certain roles aside for years at a time while we focus the lion’s share of our resources on another role. Perhaps we take a more granular approach that structures each week or even each day into separate blocks of time in which we can inhabit each role.

Whichever strategy we try, we will doubtless still have challenging, heartbreaking days that make us question the sanity of continuing to fight for our writer’s identity.

But even on my worst days, even when I feel like an utter failure in all my roles and am so tired and worn out by the effort of shifting back and forth that giving up seems like the sanest choice, even on those days I know in my heart that I turning away from being a writer is never really an option. Because being human is complicated. And being a human who writes is the only way I know to navigate the complexity of life.

_jamie sig

 

 

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What I’m Reading:

While I’ve been racing to keep up with client deadlines, I have had precious little time to inhabit my Reader identity, but I did complete two books a couple weeks ago that I haven’t yet had a chance to share:

Clariel by Garth Nix

book clarielHaving recently finished reading the third book in Nix’s Old Kingdom series, Abhorsen, I was delighted to discover that he had written a prequel: Clariel. I chose, as I did with the others in this series, to listen to this story via Audible. I was slightly disconcerted in the beginning because the audio version of this fourth book in the series is narrated by a different voice artist than the first three. I had so enjoyed Tim Curry’s performance, that it took me a while to get used to Graeme Malcolm, but I eventually came around.

I don’t have much experience with prequels, but I enjoyed this one very much. The protagonist is a complex character whose nuanced inner conflicts make it difficult if not impossible to draw hard lines between good and evil, right and wrong.

I recommend this whole series, and would almost say that this was one of my favorite books in the series. It doesn’t follow all the rules, and I liked that. I also liked discovering that Nix has a fifth Old Kingdom novel set to release this October. Goldenhand will continue Lirael’s story, and I can’t wait!

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrick Backman

book grandmother sorryThis book took me by surprise. It was yet another serendipitous find at the RiverRun bookstore in Portsmouth, NH. I have the best luck there, discovering new books. Here is the description of My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry from the publisher’s site:

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy—as in standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-strangers crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s instructions lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and old crones but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

This book has so many endearing and admirable qualities that it’s hard to know where to start. It left my heart feeling a little more opened and my soul feeling a little more comforted. It wove the magic of story and the complexity of love into a warm and protective blanket of understanding and hope. I am glad that I chose to purchase this one, rather than borrowing it, because I have a feeling it’s one I’ll return to.

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My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin writing heals

Here’s to embracing being human and a writer, crafting a life that encompasses all your identities and your goals, and never giving up on any part of yourself. 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Photo Credit: Paris Seawell via Compfight cc

Weekend Edition – Truth in Blogging Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Truth in Blogging

writing mask smSometimes, I feel like a fraud, like one of the shiny, happy people who populate the Internet with grievously sparkly accounts of their perfect lives. (Those people make me crazy.) I hope I do not actually do that, but sometimes I feel like certain omissions in what I share make me less authentic, even slightly dishonest.

This is mostly ridiculous, of course.

The world of digital publishing – blogging and social media in particular – puts writers in a strange new land. I sometimes feel like we’ve been pulled out of our cozy writing caves and plunked down on a stage in front of an audience we cannot see beyond the bright footlights. Dazed and blinded, we take out our notebooks and laptops and start, tentatively, to scribble and tap; but the experience is different in front of a live audience. Before, there was only the work – the words. Now, we are up on the stage with our stories, expected to share not only our work, but ourselves.

But, the reality is: no one is obligated to share anything. As the sole curator of our online persona, each of us has the right to pick and choose what we show and and tell, and what we leave unsaid.

Though I shared a little about my situation, history, and fears in A Writer’s Circle (and, was delighted that so many of you reciprocated by sharing details about your writing lives), these days I usually steer clear of putting too much personal stuff into the ether. I save that for my private journals. But, sometimes I wonder if I’m either missing out myself, or shortchanging readers by holding back.

There’s a scene from the first season of Desperate Housewives that still makes me tear up after more than a decade. In the scene, Lynette, played by the fabulous Felicity Huffman, is an overworked, stressed out mom of four who has become addicted to her kids’ A.D.D. medication. She feels like a complete failure because she can’t do it all herself. She doesn’t understand why everyone else makes it look so easy. When she finally crumples – literally – to the ground, her friends come to her side, and admit to their own messy lives full of failures and fears. “Why didn’t you ever tell me this?” Lynette asks, choking back sobs.

Why don’t we tell each other this stuff?

Well, as one of Huffman’s co-stars says, “No one likes to admit they can’t handle the pressure.” Nope. We sure don’t. We want people to think we’ve got it all together and know what the hell we’re doing. We don’t want to appear weak or stupid or needy. And with the digital window the Internet gives the world into our lives (if we choose to open the blinds), the pressure to project perfection (or something close to it) is exponentially greater than ever before.

If you blog, you’ve opened the blinds. The question then becomes, what are you going to share? How transparent and vulnerable are you willing to be? And, why?

I haven’t yet figured out where I sit on the spectrum of transparency and vulnerability. Most of what I publish online is, I think, more professional than personal. Even though my first foray into blogging came when I unintentionally became a mommy blogger writing about her divorce, I would still call myself a “careful” blogger. Though I readily share my thoughts, musings, and opinions, I rarely “let it all hang out,” as they say.

But, I wonder if maybe I should.

I write to connect with my own thoughts and emotions, with the world around me, and with other people. How deep can those connections be if I keep everyone at arm’s length? How integral are these connections to my identity as a writer? And, conversely, how important is privacy to my writing? Exactly where does my personal identity meet my writer identity, and how do I successfully blend the two? Is that even the goal?

I am always so touched and flattered when someone compliments my writing or tells me how impressed they are by my ability to make a living writing. I am gratified when someone acknowledges my hard work and perseverance. Making time and space to write is not an easy task for any of us. But even as I glow, for a brief moment, in the kindness of someone else’s words, I want to reach across the digital divide and confess that I’m just winging it. I want to admit that there is no grand plan. I don’t have the answers. I do so many things wrong. I miss so many opportunities. I run in the same damn circles year after year, fleeing from the demons of fear and procrastination.

But, instead, I just smile and say Thank You.

For now.

What I’m {Learning About} Writing: When you feel you have to write a certain way to be taken seriously

cemetaryI’m really enjoying the flash fiction course I’m taking via Grub Street Writer’s online classroom. Despite being up to my eyeballs in client deadlines, I’m managing to keep up (mostly) with the reading, assignments, and peer reviews. One thing I’m struggling with, however, is my own perception that Literature (with a capital “L”) has to be dark, tragic, or otherwise show the ugly underbelly of human existence.

My life is neither dark nor tragic  (touch wood). I’m all for stories that put the protagonist in a sticky spot, even in mortal danger, but I am not typically drawn to stories that focus thematically on the evils of human nature. It’s just not my thing.

But, I have this perception (and, it may be a misperception) that only “dark” stories are taken seriously by Important People in Literary circles. (We won’t even get into why I care one whit about what Important People think – that’s another whole post.) It’s kind of like the Oscars (ahem, Academy Awards). Very rarely does a comedy, musical, romance, or other “light” genre film win top honors. Culturally, we seem to consider stories with humor and happy endings as less important, somehow. Perhaps we (mistakenly) think that they are easier to write. Perhaps we think that enjoying them makes us “light.” Whatever our reasons, we definitely do not (in my humble opinion) give the non-tragic stories their proper due.

So, as I’m working on my flash pieces for class, I feel like I ought to be writing in a certain way about a certain type of sad or dark story. (It’s important to note that this is my baggage. The instructor and students have done nothing to make me feel self-conscious about this issue. That’s all me.)

But then I read a piece by Stephanie Vanderslice called The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life: Having Something to Say and Saying It. It was exactly what I needed to hear:

But most importantly, giving yourself permission to write what you need to write will, eventually, lead you to the next thing you need to write. Maybe not right away — sometimes after you finish a big project you need to let the well fill up — but soon enough.

That’s how it works.

Each of us has a voice that deserves to be heard. Tragic or elated, serious or irreverent, cynical or mystical, all our stories deserve to be told. Doesn’t that make you feel better?

What I’m {Learning By} Reading: Two Things You Must Do to Engage Your Reader

book changerAlas. I have abandoned another book.

Though I know, intellectually, that my time is precious, and should not be squandered on books that fail to move me, I still feel guilty when I leave a book unfinished. As a writer, it’s hard to give up on a story that you know a fellow writer slaved over.

Setting my guilt aside, I am making an effort to pay closer attention to exactly why I abandon a book. In the case of the latest casualty, Changer by Jane Lindskold, it came down to two faults: un-relatable characters and a lack of tension.

Before I go any further, I just need to say that I feel like an absolute heel for criticizing this book or Lindskold’s writing. I do not usually post negative reviews. If I don’t like something, I just don’t write about it. Making this even trickier is the fact Lindskold’s stories are very appealing to me in terms of subject matter, themes, and concepts. But, try as I might, I just couldn’t find an emotional foothold.

Changer is about a group of immortals called the “athanor” who live among us. Each athanor has a sort of “core identity” as a character from one of many world mythologies – Anansi the spider, King Arthur, Neptune, Merlin, Lilith, etc. But today, each takes on a contemporary identity that changes every few decades in order to avoid detection by humans. The novel is described by the author as, “a story of revenge, of political intrigue, and of adventure,” and I think the concept does have that potential.

Unfortunately, though I read nearly half the book, I didn’t identify deeply with any of the characters. Wendy wrote about the importance of creating this reader/character connection in her post, Frank Underwood Saves the Human Society. I think that part of the challenge may have been the multiple POVs. There was no one voice to draw me into the story, and something about moving in and out of different characters’ heads created a narrative distance that made me feel one step too far removed from the story.

The second problem – the lack of tension – also took me by surprise. After all, we have a story that starts with a heinous murder, involves a colorful cast of gods and demi-gods, and – when I left off reading – was building towards a political coup. All the pieces are there. It seems that we should be on the edge of our seats, turning pages frantically. But, something was missing. The progression of events moved too slowly (pacing), and the energy of the conflicts seemed to lose something in the telling. The language did not stir me; again, it seemed a bit too removed. It reminded me a little of journalistic coverage – kind of detached and impartial. Just the facts, ma’am.

I did not hate this book, and I may return to it one of these days. But, even if I never finish it, I’m grateful for the lessons it’s helping me learn about how to capture a reader and keep her engaged.

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

dangerous masks

Here’s to writing, connecting, and always being true to who you are.
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Cemetary Photo Credit: Roger Smith via Compfight cc