In the End

On Saturday night, I got a voicemail from a writing contest coordinator. I’d entered a big thing and, it turns out, my novel made it to the semi-finals.

I cried.

The writing life is one in which a person can go a long time without any kind of outside validation. It’s hard to tell whether your writing is “good enough,” hard to find an agent, hard to break into traditional publishing.

Hard to keep going, sometimes.

So the news about the contest came at a good time. It made me feel I’m on to something, that my story resonates and is well-written. Four days later, however, I got my first ‘no’ from a major publisher. They asked if I had any other novels to show them (which, I guess, is a kind of compliment since it means they liked my writing). Still, a rejection.

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It made me feel like I might have been kidding myself, that my story is confusing or weird, that it’s poorly written.

I didn’t cry, but I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.

But then two creatives whose careers I’ve followed died this week. They were young. One was a multi-published author with a big following. I felt sick and unsettled.

In my grief and shock, I decided, once again, that I’m not going to allow my life to be consumed with things that don’t matter in the end. I’m not going to be ruled by the ups and downs of the writing/publishing life.

I refuse. (Of course, I’ve refused before, so I’ll need to be reminded when the next big thing happens).

I’m here to say: I have an agent who’s great, a novel that is winning awards and is on submission to big houses, and I have a growing platform. These are the things I would have salivated over last year. Now that they’re my reality, though, I’m no happier than I was. I still worry about the next thing. What if a publisher doesn’t understand what I’m trying to do? What if I get published and no one buys my book? What if they buy my book and hate it? Or worse, don’t care at all?

My life could be over tomorrow. Or today. I refuse to spend it hand wringing about things I cannot control.

In the end, there are more important things than whether I’m published or not. And being published will not end up making me happy.

On Not Having a Plan (Or How Not to Quit Before You’ve Started)

Blogging is kind of like writing a novel.

Wait, I said kind of.

When you’re trying to nail down an idea for a story, one that will resonate with readers and have enough heft to be worthy of all those pages, your brain tells you to quit immediately. It tells you your ideas are, at best, lame, and, at worst, absolute garbage.

It’s not so different when you’re trying to think of things to blog about. I mean, really. What do people care if you can’t stop missing your grandmother–the one who wrestled with pancreatic cancer and taught you how to die? Or about the grit it takes to keep working on a project, day after day, when you have no guarantee it will end up being interesting or good. Or that when your Taiwanese neighbor collapsed suddenly two weeks ago, it changed your life.

adult agriculture alone attractive
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So, okay–

If I were to write a post about the top ten ways to manage your mornings, I might get some views. But I’m not interested in telling adults how to get things done because 1). they’re adults, and 2). everyone is doing what they can to get along.

Some experts say if you can’t think of ideas for your blog, you shouldn’t have one. That makes total sense. Except I write novels, and I know that if I were to quit because I don’t always know what I’m doing or because ideas slip out of my grasp like greased eels, well, I’d never write.

I’d never write.

Maybe you want to write, but the you feel like you can’t nail down a plan. I say, sit down and blog about the process of not knowing until things come into focus. Even if you’re the only one who reads your work (plus that one follower in Finland), you’re moving in the right direction.

Everything is Story

The Wangs aren’t the kind of people you wave to as you pass their house on the way to yours. Not because you don’t want to wave, but because they turn their backs when you try to make eye contact. They put orange cones at the edge of their driveway, and after they mow their lawn, they use salad tongs to pick up clumps of grass.

close up photography of mshroom
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Tonight there are so many police cars and ambulances in front of their perfect yard that we collect on the front porch and squint. The neighbors across the street do the same thing, and we end up congregating.

Mr. Wang was a Taiwanese refugee a long time ago, someone says, but I think they mean immigrant. He got a job with a big factory in town and did pretty well. He and his wife don’t talk to people in the neighborhood except to the lady across the street. They have brilliant kids who didn’t know to roller skate when they were little. They’re grown up and living in California now. One became a doctor, maybe? Anyway, they’re smart.

Mr. Wang had, has? cancer. He’s small to begin with, but now he weighs 98 lbs, a lady says. He still worked in his yard up until two days ago, though he started sitting on a low seat under the Japanese maple a lot and wore a surgical mask.

My husband walks down to the Wangs’ house, though neither one of us has ever so much as said hello to them.

EMT’s carry a gurney out of the house, a tiny shrouded body on it. We can’t tell if the face is covered from where we stand. Someone says he’s gone already. But then the ambulance turns on its siren, and we figure they wouldn’t do that if he was already dead, would they?

When my husband returns, he tells us Mr. Wang had died, that the emergency people broke his sternum trying to get him to breathe again. His chest caves in at a steep angle, but he’s alive, for now.

I helped Mrs. Wang into the ambulance, he says.

This morning, one of the neighbors from last night’s huddle tells us Mr. Wang died again at midnight, but not before he became responsive in the hospital. That’s what he said: became responsive. We imagine him grasping his wife’s hand, telling her it’s okay, to let him go. But we don’t know anything for sure. Or at all, really.

Mrs. Wang is out in her yard exactly five and a half hours after her husband died. It’s trash day, and she moves her cans to the end of the street so the trash man can do his work without walking on her driveway. Then she gets out the salad tongs and cleans up her grass.

And I can’t help but wish I’d said hello before.