I wrote a guest post for the Criminal Element blog about where my fascination with obituaries comes from and I thought it would be fun to share it HERE.
They’re also doing a sweepstakes for a free copy of my book, THE GOOD BYLINE!
R.I.P. (Read in Peace)
**Every four years, I try to get this guy in the running. Could this be his year?**
Most people would agree that the current candidate landscape for the 2016 presidential election leaves something to be desired. No matter your political leanings, most of us find the major party candidates lacking in some way. We want Hillary to be more transparent. We want Trump to be less of a bully. We want Hillary to be more open with the press. We want Trump to recognize the inherent value of women, minorities, and people who are not exclusively straight, wealthy, Christian, gun-owning, white dudes. But as Trump himself said by way of his convention song: You can’t always get what you want.
It can be a little demoralizing. So sometimes when I need a break from the election coverage, I’ll cruise the channels until I find something less move-to-Canaday. Recently, I settled on Looney Tunes, and as I watched Wile E. Coyote (Carnivorous Vulgaris) launch yet another attack on the Roadrunner, it occurred to me that Mr. Coyote might be exactly what this country needs. After all, he is clever, determined, creative, and has an unparalleled ability to focus on the task at hand. It was like a cartoon light bulb flashed above my head as I thought, “What if Wile E. Coyote threw his hat into the ring?” Everyone talks about how we need a political outsider who hasn’t been corrupted by Washington. And I ask you, who is more of a political outsider than Mr. Wile E. Coyote?
Like Trump (Narcissist Inegns), Wile E. eschews social and political norms and lives life on his terms. Like Hillary (Femina Manipularius), he works his tail off – sometimes literally – in pursuit of his goals. But this scrappy, lovable, underdog (Canis Lupis Inferius) has a few tricks up his sleeve that neither of the current candidates can match. If Wile E. were to become the next President of the United States, we could look forward to a few key changes:
- Revitalized Defense Contracting. Mr. Coyote definitely has some sort of in with the Acme Corporation. Their catalog is filled with exciting and outside the box weaponry that could really add some pizzazz to our military arsenal. They have Dehydrated Boulders, Giant Magnets, Earthquake Pills, Oversized Rubberbands, Spring Rocket Shoes, Building Disintegrators, and Giant Sling Shots (take that, North Korea!). Plus, their turn around time is second to none.
- Superior Problem Solving. Wile E. Coyote has a long tradition of coming up with creative strategies to solve problems. To be fair, so far he’s only had the one problem with the bird, but still. His resourcefulness, if applied to domestic and international issues, could completely revolutionize the way the United States approaches a number of vexing problems. Think, for example, the effect that Wile E.’s long established tactic of painting tunnels on the side of mountains could have on our border problem?
- Taxpayer Savings. No fancy suits or lavish dinner parties required for this guy. His strict clothing optional policy and limited diet would translate into saving untold dollars over the course of his term in office.
- Self-Proclaimed Super Genius. Okay, on this point he is even with Trump.
- Transparency. Private servers and email scandals would be a thing of the past if Wile E. Coyote took office. Under his administration, Mr. Coyote’s ears would tell the American public everything we need to know. Straight up: Things are good. Straight down: Things are bad. Burned to a crisp: Things are really, really bad.
- No Useless Rhetoric. Wile E. Coyote communicates largely through short messages scrawled on craggy wooden signs. Americans could depend on Mr. Coyote to be direct, succinct, and to the point. And wouldn’t that be a refreshing change? If nothing else, it would certainly make for fewer awkward debate moments.
- Likability. This is the most superficial, yet oddly essential, qualification that the electorate demands when selecting the future Leader of the Free World. And here Wile E. Coyote has it on lock. Who doesn’t love him? That impish grin, those bushy brows, the way he snickers manically to himself when he thinks he’s come up with a good plan? Charming! His appeal transcends party lines. From the staunchest right wing zealot to the farthest left leaning liberal – everybody roots for Wile E. Coyote to silence that smug “meep-meep,” once and for all. Never mind that his success rate is zero percent, his approval rating would be through the roof.
- Never Say Die Attitude. It’s going to take more than a sluggish economy, astronomical debt, racial unrest, and impending environmental doom to rattle this coyote’s cage. He has proven, time and time again, that he will not back down in the face of insurmountable odds, no matter what the personal risk. Here’s a guy who has been blown up, smashed to smithereens, gored, flattened, shattered, burned, cut in two, and fallen off countless cliffs ending in a puff of smoke, only to rise from the ashes to try, try again. (Actually, on like this point he’s not unlike Hillary.)
- Grit. Wile E. Coyote has it in spades. He has literally never succeeded at any of his plans, but has he given up? Has he closed-up shop and developed a taste for chicken? Nope. He keeps on trying. He continually comes up with new ways to attack the problem, despite the ever-shrinking odds that he will actually be able to realize his dream. And given the current political climate, this may be his single best qualification for the next President of the United States.
So what do you think? Should we start a write-in campaign?
I’ve been working on a piece for the Arts issue of the magazine I write for, and it got me thinking about an issue that all artists- and parents – have to deal with at some point: rejection. As a writer, I am rejected on a daily basis. Please do not mistake that for hyperbole. I literally receive rejection letters almost every single day for work that I have spent hours and days and months creating. I’m not going to lie, it kind of sucks. But art is a subjective business, and if you’re going to work in a creative field you have to realize that rejection is just part of the gig.
I did not, however, anticipate how much rejection was going to be involved in the parenting gig. Maybe because when you have a baby, rejection seems impossible. After all, your helpless little creature couldn’t possibly reject you because, for starters they can’t even talk, but more importantly they need you for fundamental things like food and shelter. As newborns grow into babies and then into toddlers, need is still a prime component of your relationship. They need you to change their diapers. They need you to get them dressed. They need you to give them your iPad. They need need need to the point that a little rejection would be a welcome change.
And then somewhere toward the end of elementary school, subtle changes set in. “No, mommy, you don’t have to volunteer for my field trip.” “You don’t need to walk me into school.” “You don’t have to hug and kiss me goodbye when you drop me off at Timmy’s house.” Okay, you think, my child is becoming independent. That’s a good thing, right? And during this phase they still need you, of course, because they can’t reach the top shelf in the pantry and that’s where you keep all the candy.
But then somewhere during the middle school years, their needs change again and begin to center around two things: transportation and money. These are not their only needs, but they are certainly the only needs they want to talk to you about. So that means that the other things you offer your children—your values, hopes, dreams, wisdom— are often rejected. And let me tell you, rejection from an 11 to 14 year-old who has not yet perfected the art of constructive criticism can be… severe.
No joke, my daughter asked me last week why my face was “like that.” She literally rejected my face. I wasn’t sure how to respond to this, as this is the only face I have, so I just gave her my most sympathetic look and said in a loving tone, “I don’t know, honey. We’re just going to have to get through this together.”
And I think that is the key to rejection— treating it with one measure of acceptance and two or three measures of perseverance. Because rejections will happen in every aspect of our social and professional lives whether we choose to become artists, or parents, or lawyers, or athletes, or anything other than a giant pile of cold hard cash. It kind of sucks, but there it is.
So I try not to let my kids subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) rejection bother me too much. I don’t let it stop me from parenting. I don’t let it dictate how and why I make decisions about their well-being, nor do I take it too personally. I also use my own stories of rejection to help them become comfortable with the idea that they, too, will one day face rejection, despite what all their “participation” ribbons have taught them. I tell them about all my writing rejections. I tell them how sometimes it makes me feel bad. I make jokes about this or that editor’s lack of vision. And in the end, I show them how I go back to work and try to improve. Because to quote every successful artist—and parent— ever, “Rejection doesn’t equal failure. The only way you fail for sure is if you stop trying.”
I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis nine months ago. I’ve been struggling with how to write about it ever since. I wanted to find something funny, or at the very least, insightful, to say about the experience. But so far I haven’t found anything remotely funny about it and my insights are banal at best, self-indulgent at worst. Mostly what I can think to say is that I hate that have MS. (See, I told you.)
But I feel compelled to try to write something, because writing is how I make sense of the world. And if ever there was something I needed to make sense of, this is it. So here goes…
My journey to MS has been a long and complicated one. For almost nine years, I had troubling neurological symptoms and abnormal brain MRIs. I had some, but not enough, evidence of the disease. Then last fall, I developed new symptoms that my doc thought might be coming from damage in my spinal cord. Turns out, he was right.
In MS, the body attacks itself by eating away at the protective covering around nerves in your brain and spinal cord. It interrupts the way messages are sent and received throughout your central nervous system. Because your central nervous system controls most of the functions of the body and mind, this means MS can affect nearly anything and everything you do. It can affect your ability to see, speak, go to the bathroom, think clearly, and/or properly use your hands, arms, feet and legs. In one person, MS can mean a bit of tingling. In another, it can cause severe paralysis. And no one can predict the course your disease will take. It’s a crapshoot with your quality of life on the line.
The day I went to get my doctor’s suspicions checked out, I walked out of the hospital and his nurse called before I even started my car. “We need you to come in to talk about your MRI.” You know you are not getting good news when you get a call like that. My doctor walked into the room. He told me I had MS while he was still standing up. He said now that it was in my spinal cord in addition to my brain, it was time to start treatment. I asked if I had to. I was scared. He said that the spinal cord is “valuable real estate,” and while none of the medications could stop the damage from occurring, they could potentially slow it down by 30%. Those weren’t the best odds I’d ever heard of, but I put my money on the drugs anyway.
So that is where I am now. I don’t know if the medication is working. I won’t ever really know because how do you measure a drug that is 30% effective at preventing something that may or may not happen? I do know that it has made half of my hair fall out, which I’ll admit with shame has been harder on me than I thought it would be. (To all the women who have gone through chemotherapy: Every single one of you is a stone-cold badass.)
I take my pills everyday and very occasionally try to sort through my feelings about the whole thing. Some moments I feel like this is no big deal and I’m stupid if I feel stressed about it. Other times, I feel a resigned sort of sadness. Most of time, however, I am just not sure how to feel about it. Feeling sad seems defeatest, while feeling upbeat about it seems naive. The quote I keep coming back to about living with MS is from American writer, Joan Didion. In her memoir, The White Album, she writes about her experience of being diagnosed in the 1960s. “I had, at the time, a sharp apprehension not of what it was like to be old, but of what it was like to open the door to the stranger and find that the stranger did indeed have the knife.”
Leave it to Joan to get it exactly right.
Practically speaking, I am doing fine. I have been extremely lucky so far. The worst thing I have is neuropathic pain in my feet. This pain, while not intense, is constant. Like 24/7 for months now, constant. So my feet hurt whether I’m sitting still or running around. They hurt in the morning, the afternoon, the evening, and in middle of the night. They hurt all the fucking time. And it is quite possible they will feel like this everyday for the rest of forever. Sometimes I catch myself feeling frustrated or sorry for myself about this. When that happens, I almost immediately send this transmission out into the ether: I don’t mean to complain! If this is all that I have to deal with, I’ll take it! I make bargains with my MS. I’ll take the pain, if I can keep my eyesight. I will gladly accept the numbness, if I can walk without assistance. Give me tingling in my hands, but leave me control of my bladder.
So in many ways, for me, that is the worst part. At least right now. It’s the fear of the unknown. I think we all fear the unknown to a certain extent, but in this case it’s a little different because there is a clear and present danger. To take Ms. Didion’s metaphor a step further, it’s like being locked inside a building with the stranger who has the knife. You know he’s coming for you, you just don’t know when, or how much damage he’s going to do.
This bit of writing aside, I don’t sit around obsessing about my health and I try not to give into self-pity. I am, at this moment, a healthy, active woman with far more immediate fish to fry. Like the literal fish I have to make for dinner. Or the metaphorical fish of throwing away a bunch of my kids’ junk before they get home from camp. I work every single day at making sure MS doesn’t become more important than it needs to be. This involves a healthy reliance on denial. And champagne. And Pringles. But most heavily, I rely on my husband, without whom I would fold like a cheap suit. And my dear, dear friends and family, who have made this stupid disease almost worth having by being so unbelievably nice to me these past months.
So as promised, this essay was neither funny nor insightful. It actually turned out a bit more self-indulgent and gloomy than I had hoped. I’m sorry for that. But this is just my first try and it has only been nine months (and honestly it has been a pretty shitty nine months at that). Please know I am working on getting back to the annoyingly positive attitude I once had. And next time I write about this, it will be filled with exclamation points and smiley faces. Because who doesn’t love writing filled with those? For now, I just thank you for reading. I’m not sure I made sense of anything by writing this, but I do feel a bit lighter for having shared it. And that would not have been possible without you!!!
Recently, my editor at Columbia Home asked me if I would write an article about how I came to live in Columbia. My first response was, “Are you kidding? 1300 words about myself? I’m in!” But when I sat down to actually write the piece, I felt a little stuck. It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough material or narcissism (I have plenty of both), but rather I felt a lack of momentum, of motivation, of drive. As I telepathically willed my computer to burst into flames giving me an iron-clad pass on the assignment, it hit me: I am basically a pretty lazy person. And then it dawned on me that my laziness was the very thing that brought me to Columbia in the first place! I just love it when things work out like that.
I was born and raised in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago, and like so many others, I came to the University of Missouri to go to Journalism school. Writing was the only bright spot on my otherwise stunningly average high school transcript, so I thought I’d become a journalist. I liked the way it sounded. I’d practice saying, “Hello, I’m a journalist…” in the mirror. It made me feel very Lois Lane. Plus, to me “journalist” sounded better than “unemployed English major.”
The other reason I decided to go to Mizzou was that the application was one-page long. And ironically there was no essay. This pleased the lazy girl inside me and after a fun-filled visit, I had made up my mind. So much so, that I didn’t apply anywhere else. I knew what I wanted, and my mother’s anxiety over the fact that I filled out a single college application was mere icing on the cake!
When I first moved to Columbia, I experienced some predictable culture shock. I missed the little things about urban life, like people honking at you and giving you the finger when you hesitated a second too long at a green light. Or someone rapidly punching the “Close Door” button in the elevator when they see you coming. Nobody did that in Columbia. In Columbia, people made eye contact with you on the street. Some of them even said, “Hello.” Complete strangers saying “Hello” to each other? I wondered what black-and-white TV show I’d moved into.
Whether it was because or in spite of Columbia’s friendliness, I had a great experience at Mizzou. After four years I grew to love so many things about this idyllic college town. But even still, my plan upon graduation was to head to Chicago, or Dallas, or Atlanta and get a job in Advertising (the lazyman’s sequence in J-School). I fancied myself a city-girl! But four months before graduation, fate, in the shape of a goofy guy with the best smile I’d ever seen, stepped in and changed my plan. All throughout college Jimmy Orr told me that someday he was going to ask me on a date. I’d roll my eyes and tell him that I’d be waiting. Well, one day he finally did. And I was. So that was it for Chicago, or Dallas, or Atlanta. Jimmy was going to dental school in Kansas City, and you’ll never guess where I got a job.
One Year Later…
After Jimmy’s realization that he, in fact, hated teeth; and my brief stint at an ad agency, we moved back to CoMo. Jimmy is from Columbia and the promise of rent-free living in one of his parent’s apartments was unspeakably alluring to two crazy kids who had just chucked their futures out the window. It was time to decide what to do next. I should mention that while I am lazy, I am also an excellent procrastinator. And nothing says procrastination like getting another degree! So that’s what I did.
I spent the next couple of years getting my Master’s in Social Work from the University of Missouri. This was the only period of time I didn’t really like living in Columbia, though it had nothing to do with grad school. Columbia is an amazing place to be in college or to raise a family, but not so much to be in between those two worlds. At least, it wasn’t for me. In my mid-20’s I wanted to go out to clubs and spend Saturdays shopping at trendy boutiques and go out for brunch on Sundays. (It was the late 90s and everyone wanted to live in an episode of Sex in the City.) The reality was that I felt old when I went to the same bars I’d been to in college; there was no Elly’s Couture or Girl yet; and through some deep, personal failing, I hadn’t yet discovered Ernie’s. Columbia felt really small to me, and not in a good way. So Jimmy and I spent many weekends traveling to St. Louis or Kansas City to visit friends. We saved up to take trips to both coasts. We got married. And then, for lack of anything else to do, we had a baby.
After I’d had my first child, Columbia suddenly became the perfect place to live again! I cannot stress enough what a lovely and supportive community I think we have for young mothers. I got my very own Parent Educator from Parents as Teachers who came to my house and “ooed” and “ahhed” over how gifted my one-month-old clearly was. We had drive-through dry cleaners and pharmacies, which meant I could go in my pajamas. And Hy-Vee even added two special front row parking spots for New and Expectant Mothers. My life was complete!
However, try as I might, it was very hard to be lazy and the stay-at-home mother of two young kids. It was hard work filled with what my father-in-law aptly called “combat fatigue.” They were wonderful, stressful years, and the only time in my life that I have ever been needed so completely. One of the things that got me through the hard moments were the friendships I developed in a weekly play group that we started under the guise of “infant socialization.” We were 3 Amy’s, a Beth, a Dawn, a Jill, and a Kaisa (she totally threw off our Popular Names of the 1970s motif). And these six women were indispensable to me as a new mother. We met once a week, sometimes more, for six years and together experienced everything Columbia had to offer young kids. Going Bonkers, Chuck E. Cheese, story time at the Library– if it needed anti-bacterial gel, we were there! Being a stay-at-home parent can be a lonely experience, but these ladies made it one of the most special times in my life. (I mean, in addition to my kids. Yeah, my kids made it special too.)
I wanted to mention this because I have many friends who live in larger communities who don’t have the same kind of close-knit support system that I have in Columbia. Maybe that has to do more with luck than location, but I like to think that Columbia has more than its share of kind, friendly, and supportive people. It’s one of my favorite things about this town.
Now that my children are in elementary school and gone seven hours each day, you’ll be relieved to know that I am once again back on the lazy-train! In fact, to procrastinate getting a real job, I’ve even written a novel. Because nothing says I Don’t Want to Get a Real Job like writing a book! And while it’s true that writing a novel in itself doesn’t actually bring in any income, it does give the writer the appearance of working – which ought to at least buy me some time. And who knows? If my book ever actually sells, then my laziness and procrastination can be reframed as my “creative process.”
So the moral of my story (note: having a “moral” is the laziest way to end an essay) is: Don’t ever let anyone tell you that being lazy won’t get you anywhere! It got – and has kept me in Columbia for the past 22 years. I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather live-lazy than in this friendly, supportive, drive-through-filled town.
Confessions of a Spray Tan-A-Holic.
Hello. My name is Jill and I’m a spray tan-aholic. It’s been six days since my last spray. And I’m not gonna lie, its been a hard six days.
It started out as something I just did for fun. You know, a once-in-a-while kind of thing. I was going on vacation in the middle of winter to somewhere warm and I thought I’d feel so much better in my swimsuit if I had a little color, right? (Everyone knows tan looks better in a swimsuit than pale does.) I told myself I’d just go once so that I’d feel more comfortable. I figured it was better than going to a tanning bed, and this way I could stay out of the sun, but still have a little healthy glow. I convinced myself it was a good thing.
And I liked it.
I liked it so much that I started looking for reasons to go back in and get my glow on. I’d go if I had a special event coming up like a wedding or a fundraiser. I’d look for strapless dresses in order to justify the need for a tan. My post spray glow would last for nearly a week and I loved all the compliments I got. People said I looked healthier, my teeth looked whiter – they said I looked thinner and younger. Ah! Music to my vanity! I knew I was going a little more frequently, but I told myself I had it under control. I could stop any time I wanted to.
But then, I started to need a spray before any social event. Pampered Chef party? Better get a spray! Kim’s turning 40? Better get a spray! Teeth-cleaning coming up? Better get a spray! I started thinking if a little spray looks good, maybe a lot of spray would look fantastic!
Before I knew it, I’m signed up at MagicTan for the unlimited monthly package and I’m on the stuff once a week. Sometimes twice a week. Year round.
All my white sheets are ruined. My sweat looks like iced tea. I don’t even appear to be the same ethnicity as my children anymore (despite the fact that I am). The compliments have stopped and I can’t help but recognize the look of pity in people’s eyes when they asked if I’ve just come back from the equator, and I am forced to say no. No, I haven’t. People won’t even discuss the movie Charlie and The Chocolate Factory in my presence. It’s as if they fear a stray reference to an Oompa Loompa would be hitting too close to home.
I tried to cancel my monthly package at MagicTan, but the person working there talked me out of it with a cunning and well-placed, ‘It makes you look younger by at least 5 years!’ I know I should stop. I know it. I tried weaning myself off of it by using the at-home Banana Boat, but it’s not the same. I go back to the good stuff every time.
I’ve been told the first step on the road to recovery is to admit that there’s a problem. And my mirror confirms that there is a problem. A big, orange problem. And it’s time to do something about it. Maybe there is a 12 step program for people like me (Snooki, any suggestions?) Or maybe I should just start hoping beyond hope that pale comes back into fashion like it was in 18th century Victorian England. Powdered wigs. Now, there’s a trend I could get behind…
And maybe one day, I can embrace my unique shade of cadaver-white skin and truly become proud to be pale.
My parents raised me to believe that I could do anything I set my mind to. As it turns out, however, this is not true. In reality, there are lots of things I can’t do. A few that spring to mind are: the splits (Chinese or regular); making out the hidden image embedded in one of those 3-D art posters; and properly folding a fitted sheet. Since I am neither a member of Cirque-du-Soleil nor a collector of 1990’s mall art, the first two don’t cause me much consternation. But as the keeper-of-linens in my house, it really chaps my ass that I can’t fold a fitted sheet no matter how hard I try. And believe me, I’ve tried.
In an effort to shield my delicate ego from this particular failing, I have developed a hypothesis that allows me to absolve myself of any responsibility for it. I have concluded that the ability to fold a fitted sheet is a genetic – something as out of my control as the color of my eyes or being able to roll my tongue into a hot dog. One can either do it, or not. No amount of practicing is going to help. Have you ever seen someone who doesn’t have the gene try to hot-dog their tongue? It’s just sad (and by sad, I mean hilarious). It’s the same with fitted sheets.
As with so many of my shortcomings, it is comforting when I can deflect responsibility and blame my inferior genetic wellspring (and by inferior genetic wellspring, I mean my Mom and Dad). My mother, who theoretically is responsible for at least half of my genetic material, can force a fitted sheet into a crisp, perfect rectangle just by giving it a stern look. She is the Darth Vader of folding fitted sheets. So obviously my problem can’t be her fault. My defect must come from my father who, as far as I know, has never even attempted fold a sheet -fitted or otherwise. This scientifically (and by scientifically, I mean arbitrarily) proves my hypothesis that the FFS (folding fitted sheet) gene must be recessive, passed down through the father’s side. Kind of like baldness is on the mother’s side.
If you have been genetically blessed with the FFS gene, you are probably thinking that I just haven’t tried hard enough. Or that I’ve just never had someone teach me how to do it. But I assure you this is not the case. I’ve been given at least a dozen lessons by my mother, plus I’ve watched countless helpful women on YouTube (and by helpful women on You Tube, I mean pretentious ninnies) who make me feel bad about myself by suggesting ‘it’s so simple everyone can do it!’ in their upbeat voices as they swish, flatten, and press their fitted sheets into folded perfection. Dutifully, I follow each step. But in the end, my sheet looks like something I’m using to smuggle contraband into the linen closet (and by contraband, I mean my pride).
But now I don’t have to feel bad about myself anymore. Knowing (and by knowing, I mean blinding believing) that properly folding a fitted sheet is a genetic trait, takes away all the guilt and shame that I’ve felt for years. And now when I open the door to my linen closet and it looks like a three-fingered pirate wrapped his booty in old sheets and stored it in there for safe-keeping, I am comforted by the fact that it isn’t my fault. After all, I am only a collection cells encoded with pre-determined genetic material. In other words, I am only human (and by human, I mean a superior being capable of rationalization). (And by a superior being capable of rationalization, I mean a person willing to believe my own bullshit.)
One of the most useful things I learned in Journalism School, I learned in the first fifteen minutes of my first class on the first day. The two Deans of the University of Missouri J-School stood at the bottom of the large lecture hall and tag-teamed a speech about the art and science of Journalism; the rigors and importance of its study. I remember shockingly little of what they said. I remember that one of the Deans was a lady with short red hair who wore a pantsuit. I remember I didn’t see her again until graduation. And I remember that she began her portion of the lecture with the simple truism, “Good writing reflects clear thinking.”
Over the years, I have referred back to this sentence more than any other piece of writing advice I received since. It has become my writing mantra. These words focus and tighten my work. They eliminate pages of unnecessary qualifiers and distracting tangents. They crystallize tedious, rambling diversions into concise, readable information. Good writing reflects clear thinking. I hear the Dean’s voice in my head; picture her in her beige pants suit pacing back and forth like some kind of smartly dressed caged tiger – full of pent-up insight and knowledge.
But this advice applies to more than just Journalism. As I write my first novel, this dictum serves as my talisman – sitting on my shoulder, strong and true in its own little pantsuit; a beacon of efficiency. It reminds me that good writing is more than just stringing words together in a pleasing way. The words have to say something. They can’t simply be page-candy, there only to decorate and sound pretty. Even the most beautifully written prose must earn its keep by informing, enlightening, or advancing the story.
Here is how this all works in action: I write something. I read it over. If I decide it sucks (which I almost always do on the first pass), I repeat my mantra. Good writing reflects clear thinking. I re-read what I wrote. More often than not, the problem is not with the words themselves. The problem is I didn’t know what I wanted to say. It wasn’t clear to me –so how could it possibly be clear on the page? The words never stood a chance. I focus. I ask myself what I am trying to say in this sentence, this paragraph, this chapter. And if I am lucky enough to come up with an answer, the words follow – lining up like obedient soldiers doing their duty to ink and paper. The writing becomes strong, if not good, and we move on to the next battle.
Good writing reflects clear thinking. My arrogant 18 year-old self heard this and thought something banal like, “No duh.” But fortunately my sub-conscious knew better. It stored this little nugget in the depths of my brain until I was ready to understand that no amount of clever word play will make up for a writer’s ambivalence of purpose.
I pass this on with the hope that it helps other writers as much as it has helped me.