Foolish Thoughts

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As we say goodbye to April, some thoughts on foolishness keep demanding my attention in their uncomfortable fashion. You can’t be an artist without feeling foolish sometimes. We put our best work out there only to find out that we hadn’t looked at it with enough of a critical eye. We misspell agents or editors names in our attempts to get something out even though we are submitting bleary eyed as a deadline looms. We find typos immediately after we have pressed the send button.

We also write about characters who live through raw emotions: love, hate, fear, grief, rejection, failure. If our characters don’t ever fail, then they aren’t very interesting. If a character is never a fool, then there is nothing for them to learn, no journey for them to go on. They have to want things, to try, to fail, and sometimes to be foolish in all these things as they follow their quest.

We fall in love with out characters because we share their shame as they make fools of themselves. We seek their redemption as if we are seeking our own. In a way, we are. Every one of us has played the fool, we all know how much it hurts and how hard it is to take that first step after we pick ourselves up, how hard it is to walk with a head held high when we’ve trusted the wrong person, or jumped a chasm we couldn’t possibly land, said the wrong thing at the wrong time, or stood helplessly when we should have fought like a badger.

But it’s just that foolishness that makes our readers fall in love with our characters, too. They don’t want characters who sit quietly and look pretty. They want characters they can relate to. Characters who make mistakes. Characters who play the fool. Because they’ve been there, too. We write so that we don’t feel alone. But we read for the very same reason.

So the next time you are foolish, be glad. There is a reader waiting somewhere out there for a character who is just as foolish as they are, and, because you’ve been foolish, too, you can give them that character in all his or her splendor.

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The Face of Institutional Racism

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The other day, my high school freshman son had a lacrosse game for school. My white son goes to an independent college preparatory school that prides itself on its diversity. As a result, his team is made up of kids from various racial, socioeconomic, and cultural groups. There are about 65 students per class. It’s not a school known for its athletic titles, but it has a few. They played a large (about 425 students per class) suburban school that is predominantly white. Despite the fact that our opponents had more than twice the number of players on their team, I didn’t see a single kid who didn’t appear to be white. They beat us by a score of, I think, 16 to three. I really wasn’t keeping track of that, I was just watching to make sure my kid didn’t get hit in the head and no one notice it.

After the game when my son got in the car, the first thing he told me about the game was that some of the opposing players had taunted his black teammates with racial slurs. One boy, in particular, they targeted with insults because he is very tall and muscular for a junior. I had heard some of the other team’s parents complaining that this boy played too roughly and that the referees needed to “do something” about him. I didn’t notice him playing all that aggressively, but he has a tremendous reach because of his size and he wasn’t letting anyone intimidate him into not using that size. It’s lacrosse, after all, a fairly rough sport. But when my son told me what had gone on during the game, I understood why the boy was so determined not to let anyone intimidate him.

This kid is really nice kid. He’s also a super smart kid who is going to have his pick of Ivy League level schools. But despite his qualifications of character and athleticism, he was made a target by some jealous kids because of his race. And then parents from that team singled him out for his play even though it wasn’t anything the refs were willing to even call.

I asked my son if the refs had heard these slurs. He said no, he didn’t think so. It’s not the first time I’ve seen something like this. My oldest played hockey with a kid of Pakistani descent who sometimes had racial slurs hurled at him. There are strict league rules about it. In one instance, my son, who was never a fighter, had stepped between his teammate and the kid targeting him. The refs then got involved and, I believe, threw the kid out of the game and suspended him. I trusted the system to take care of it.

I think most of us, in general about everything, trust the system to take care of problems of racial, gender, disability, and other forms of discrimination. But what has come to light in the news in recent years and sparked the Black Lives Matter campaign is the fact that our trust is often misplaced. Too often the system does not address the problem, and, in fact, is part of the problem. I thought about this yesterday and I became increasingly concerned that the boys on that field from my son’s school would see another instance where the adults they trust would trust a system that ultimately might fail to do its job.

I talked to one of my son’s coaches today. They were aware of the issue at the time, this coach had himself heard at least one slur. They had yelled to the refs that it was going on, but the refs said they hadn’t heard it. So, after the game, they lodged formal complaints with the other school’s athletic director and the league. They talked with our boys. I don’t know what the league will do, but I am hoping they will have an investigation and take action. The athletic director of the other school apologized on behalf of his students and has promised to take action. I worry that not much will come of all this, or at least not enough. Because the discrimination against our players was demeaning and wrong. It was demeaning and wrong for our targeted players in particular, and it was demeaning and wrong to every boy on our team. It was offensive to every boy on our team. But it matters that the process is there. It matters that the system is being used by my son’s coaches and that they will do their best to hold the kids who used these racial slurs accountable. It matters that my son and his teammates know that there are adults trying to fulfill a promise of a world in which we judge people by their characters rather than by their race or gender or sexual orientation or any other criteria used to marginalize human beings. It matters that every kid from every race on my son’s team knows that the system is going to be used to protect them and their classmates, teammates, and friends from discrimination, for every type of discrimination suffered, but especially for racial discrimination because it is so prevalent. And, most of all, it matters that we all start paying attention to whether the system is held accountable to work as it’s supposed to do.

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The Art of Letting Go

Letting go

Letting go

I’ve never been a big fan of change. Maybe because I was never very goal oriented, at least not in the sweeping sense of achieving some great feat. I was the slow and steady type, plodding forward on the path of expectations, going to school, always practical and low maintenance for the other people in my life. I suppose if you have a big dream, then change is a reflection of each little step toward that dream and so you would welcome it. But for me, change always meant uncertainty and letting go of the people and places who made up my world, for better or worse.

I don’t know how old I was when I began to associate change with letting go, but I must have been pretty young. Maybe it was my mother’s stories about growing up, and all the people she talked about who were no longer present. I never knew any of my grandparents. The closest I came was having my paternal grandfather know that my mom was pregnant with me before he died. But my mother would tell me stories about the past and I wanted so much to touch it, to touch the people she talked about, to know them and have them know me. My mom always spoke of her mother with so much love, and I heard that from all my aunts and uncles, all my cousins who had known her. My mother always would say as she told me about my grandmother, “Oh, how she would have loved you.” But things change, and I never got to know her.

As a teenager, letting go seemed to be something ritualistic. We become fully aware of letting go. We let go of high school, though for many of us it’s not much of a loss. Let’s just say that I’m among the many who can say, thankfully, those were NOT the best years of my life. But still things change and we let go. My best friend moved to Arizona and we lost touch for a long time. Our two dogs, a brother and sister born when I was four, grew up with me and outpaced me and became old. They died a few years apart. Two of my uncles died. The last family from my grandmother’s generation passed away. The landscape of my childhood began to shift and change. I became an unwilling student in the art of letting go.

Sometimes we find that letting go is the healthiest choice we can make. That guy who broke your heart? Or that person you thought was your friend? That school you didn’t get into? Like James Bay’s song Let It Go, sometimes we are the ones who need to change:

I used to recognize myself
It’s funny how reflections change
When we’re becoming something else
I think it’s time to walk away

I grew up. I went to college and law school and got married. I turned thirty and let go of unrealistic dreams that were never going to be. I had children, welcoming each as the most wonderful change in my world. But change doesn’t let you freeze-frame or pause. I learned to let go of their hands, their bikes, their passwords. I learned to let go of their choices and their time. But somehow, despite all this practice in life, I haven’t really gotten any better at letting go than I was when I was young. I’m generally an optimist, and I know that as an optimist I should say that letting go frees us up to new experiences, new hands to hold, new possibilities we can’t imagine while we are holding onto other things. But the truth about letting go is that, for most things, it’s hard. It hurts. And sometimes the fastest way to heal is to just let yourself feel the pain. I think maybe that is the lesson here. That the art of letting go is is all about walking across the coals, knowing it’s going to hurt, but moving forward anyway. Because, just like burning your tender feet on hot coals, it’s only when you have finally crossed that you can start to heal.

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Other People’s Expectations and Assorted Cosmic Mistakes

The Path of Expectations

The Path of Expectations

Today I was tutoring a kid who told me that “Meeting expectations is hard. Especially when they aren’t even your expectations.” He grimaced as the words struggled out of his mouth.

I’ve only tutored this kid twice. His mom hired me a few days ago to help him with an English paper on Hunter S. Thompson. But the first time I met with him, it quickly became clear that he really didn’t need my help to write the paper. He was articulate and labeled himself a confident writer when I asked him how he felt about writing. He was at the stage where he was writing supporting notes for the paper, and he knew exactly what he wanted to say. I told his mom at the end of the session that I really hadn’t helped him very much. She said she just needed someone to help him be accountable. Someone to give him the reason to sit down and do the work. While I was happy to help him, I suggested she find a tutor closer to her home and less expensive if that was all he needed, trying to make her life a little easier.

She texted me today and asked me to meet with him again. This time, he and I talked more about the books his paper is about, and that’s when we started talking about expectations. He wants to be a musician, but that’s not what his parents expect of him. I told him I get lots of students at the University where I teach who struggle with the same problem. And he is right. Expectations are hard, especially when they aren’t even your own.

I’ve watched my own son deal with this issue this year, as he entered his senior year full of anxiety and depression. I’ve told my kid for a couple of years now that he didn’t need to go straight to college, that he could take a gap year or two if he needed them. He and I thought those gap years would be spent playing junior hockey, but when he quit hockey last summer, we were both suddenly unmoored. He was getting a lot of pressure from school to complete his college application process. It all became too much and he ended up having to step back and take a break from the whole idea.

The thing about other people’s expectations, though, is that they’re like stars. They can guide you, but they aren’t the only lights in the sky. They don’t have to be in opposition to your own dreams. They don’t have to derail you from following your own passions. Expectations create opportunity, but they aren’t the same as destiny. The world is big enough for these things to coexist. It can take some creativity. Sometimes a lot of creativity. It can take time, and maybe some expectations get delayed or ordered into a different sequence. Maybe those expectations merge and morph into something else completely as you travel along. Some expectations may drift away like falling stars. But once you realize that expectations are nothing more than constellations to help you navigate the milky way that lies before you as your future, other people’s expectations aren’t nearly so stressful. You may even find that you can talk about them without grimacing.Because the only real cosmic mistake you can make is shutting your heart to opportunities without wishing on the stars first.

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Marketing a Novel for the Introvert

As authors, we eagerly seek the validation of publishers, sending out our polished manuscripts into a world stacked against them on the desperate hope that someone, anyone, will believe in our story as much as we do. A novel. A published novel. Rarely will you find someone writing one who doesn’t harbor the hope, secretly or openly, that his story will find an audience. Add into the equation that many writers are introverts and suddenly you have an interesting moment of truth when a publisher accepts a manuscript. An introvert with a published novel. That she needs to market. Yikes.

This is exactly where I now find myself. My young adult historical fiction novel, Leaving Kent State, was accepted this past November by Harvard Square Editions and will be forthcoming later this year. It’s a small press, so there is no massive marketing team waiting to lead me through the challenges of the debut author crucible. My publisher does have a plan in place to help me, but the more that I can do to promote the book myself, the more likely it will have a successful sales record. I’m still very early into this process, but here are five marketing tips that I’ve learned so far:

5. Check out websites for bloggers that discuss marketing. Selling a book is a lot like making a blog popular. These sites, such as The Nectar Collective, can give you  a lot of great advice about SEO, using social media as a marketing tool for your book, or organizing your marketing strategy.

4. Search for book reviewers and start making connections with them before you need to actually contact them to request a review. This isn’t that difficult. Search on Instagram, Goodreads, Twitter, etc. Once you tap into reviewers, you will see quite a lot. Notice how often they post, what kinds of books they like, and whom their audience is. These things will help you narrow a list, because you will most likely have to send them two ARCs (advanced reader copies) of your novel, and you are most likely going to be footing the bill for these ARCs yourself (unless you’ve landed a six figure deal with a big publishing house, and then you aren’t reading this anyway….)

3. Ask authors who are further ahead in the journey how they launched their first book. Take them for lunch or coffee. Writers are among the most generous of professionals with their time and ideas, probably because our journey to make a living as a writer is so challenging. There are as many ideas out there for marketing a book as there are books. Brainstorming with other writers about how you can make your marketing plan for your particular novel stand out is an invaluable resource for the debut author.

2. Contact independent booksellers. Call them, walk into their stores, email them. Because my novel is centered around the shootings that happened at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4th, 1970, I spent an afternoon looking through the websites of every independent bookstore in Ohio. Some clearly aren’t going to be interested in my book (for example, one specializes in Jane Austen and regency literature only). Some of them were listed as specializing in young adult literature, so I called to ask whether my book would be something they would carry. One of the stores, despite it’s description as a bookseller of YA, in fact only deals with books through middle grade (age 13). But when I called another bookseller and explained the reason for my call, the woman gave me a ton of helpful advice, both about independent booksellers in general and about the Ohio market in particular. I learned more about marketing my book in that fifteen or twenty minute conversation than I have from hours of my own research.

1.  Reach out to the people who have supported you and are further ahead in the journey. It took me a month, and encouragement from a friend (okay, actually two friends), for me to screw up my courage and ask for book blurbs from established writers I know. It was really hard for me to ask (I’m Italian). But everyone whom I asked was enthusiastically supportive of me. Which is awesome and generous and really, really helpful. But the point is, if I hadn’t asked, they wouldn’t have known that I wanted their help.

These are my top five marketing tips so far in my journey toward launch. What are yours?

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New Year’s Resolutions

Being a writer, I’m very aware of the semantic trappings of New Year’s Resolutions. Dictionary.com defines resolution as “the mental state or quality of being resolved or resolute.”

To be resolute in purpose is to be goal driven. Humans are goal driven creatures, and it’s only a short jump to understand why we are so drawn to making resolutions, even when we don’t really believe we can be resolute in making them come true.

But resolution also has an optical definition: the act, property, or capability of distinguishing between two separate but adjacent objects or sources of light or between two nearly equal wavelengths.

Taken together, resolution becomes an act of distinguishing between our desires and our goals, which may exist on separate wavelengths, and may carry separate obstacles and value to our lives. In this vein, New Year’s becomes a time of reflection that is inseparable from our most mindful self, and may present a mirror we don’t necessarily wish to look into. Like a magic mirror, this reflection holds not only our own image, made of the present and past merged together, but also the wake we may create with each step, every potential future ripple of that wake just beyond our reach and waiting to be examined. Our resolutions are not merely acts of atonement, an effort to “do better,” but the manifestation of the worth of our desires to impact others going forward. In thinking about our resolutions, it’s no less important to wonder how our resolve to bring together our desires and goals may affect others, how we may spin the world further on its axis in a way that improves the world, while leaving us more enlightened than we were before. Our resolutions may, at times, seem insignificant, but the ripples they create deserve our consideration in a world where wavelengths travel so very easily.

So this year I resolve to think not only about my resolutions, but also of the impact they may have on others, and my responsibility of citizenship and stewardship for them. By doing so, I hope to look at the world with more love and a little bit less resistance.

Happy New Year.

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I’m Not Sure Where November Went

November, 2015

November, 2015

The only thing I am sure of is that it’s long gone. It’s been a kind of whirl wind month for me. My first young adult novel has been accepted at Harvard Square Editions and will be forthcoming sometime next year. Last Friday, I went “cover” shopping with a writer friend of mine. We met for coffee at my local Barnes & Noble and then looked at covers from various YA genres to get ideas for what mine might look like. It felt a lot like Christmas shopping, in a very good way. I’ll definitely update on what the publishing experience is like as I go along.

Also last month, I attended my Western Pennsylvania Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators annual conference. There were some amazing and inspiring presentations by editors and agents, and it reminded me a little of being at my MFA residency, that kind of immersion in craft and ideas that makes you feel like anything is possible if you just open yourself up to your creativity. You can learn more about the SCBWI and the WPA region here. Also, be sure to check out our Assistant Regional Adviser’s blog for additional information. Her name is Kate Dopirak, and you can find her here. She’s an awesome author, too, by the way.

And, finally, my young adult short story, Honor’s Justice, came out today in Lunch Ticket, the MFA journal of Antioch University Los Angeles. You can check that out here. I’m very proud to be associated with this edition and it’s emphasis on the human condition.

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Monsters

I love Halloween. The rustle of the leaves, the cool of the night, the damp shine of a rain-slicked street, the quiet of fog. I love the flicker of candles in jack-o-lanterns and black cats (I’m very partial to black cats), the caramel apples and chocolate everything. The only part of Halloween I’m not crazy about is the scary part. I’m much more of a Disney scary movie girl than a Freddie Krueger kind of girl. I like my monsters on the light side, like mayo.
The thing about monsters, for me, is that nothing is scarier to me than what human beings can do to one another and animals. I can’t make myself believe in ghosts or sasquatches or werewolves. Even if those things do exist, how many times do they actually attack human beings? How many documented cases of murder by ghost are reported each year? Human beings, well, that’s another story completely. They scare the daylights out of me.
But monsters, the really scary kind, whether they are human or otherworldly, make for great stories. As writers, we have to seek out the monsters in our stories to create tension. Every protagonist needs an obstacle. Even if that obstacle isn’t, technically speaking, a monster, it needs to act as a monster. It needs to knock the protagonist to his knees and make him fight for his life, whether that’s literally or figuratively. Monsters are the stakes in the story, the obstacle that wants to take away the protagonist’s dreams. And every story deserves a monster as scary as Samuel Whiskers, an obstacle that can materially alter the course of the protagonist’s life for the worse. It can be hard to unleash monsters on our protagonists. We love our protagonists, because, after all, we create them. They are like our children, so we don’t really want to put them through the darkness that a true test will. Our instinct is to shelter and protect them. But just like our real children, our protagonists must face the world with all its darkness, and we can only hope we’ve given them the strength and tools they need to succeed. Okay, with our protagonists, we get to choose if they do, so it’s a lot better than when we have to watch our kids struggle through life. So bring on the monsters in your stories not just at Halloween, but all year. Your readers will thank you for it.emma
Spooky Tortie

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For Teens (And Their Parents): Shutting Out The Noise

I’ve written before about the totally real stress of being a teen: decisions about college and what you are going to do, every day, with the rest of your LIFE. Yesterday, I was reminded how that can feel when I was talking to a kid I’ve tutored. He plays hockey at an elite level and is trying to get a D1 athletic scholarship for college. He started out the season strong, but then he got sick and he’s been struggling since then. His team  hasn’t done well either, and there have been a lot, and I mean a lot, of player cuts and trades. His coaches are really big on team bonding, but the revolving door for players reminds me of that scene in Lady and the Tramp when Lady is at the shelter and we see Nutsy, in shadow, being taken out to be euthanized. Lady asks where he’s being taken and one of the dogs says in a gangster’s voice “true the one-way door, Sister. True the one-way door.”

My advice to him was that he needed to shut out all the noise that’s not relevant to his story. It’s easy to let people into our heads who don’t have any business there. The ones who detract from our self-confidence. The ones who don’t care if we succeed, or not. The ones who have their own agenda in how they deal with us, but it’s an agenda that really doesn’t have anything to do with us at all. It’s really about them.

When I was a junior in college, I decided that I should go to law school. I really had no idea what being a lawyer was about, beyond television. I knew you wrote a lot of papers. I knew some people went to court. I definitely did NOT want to do that. But the papers part sounded pretty good to me. I pictured myself sitting in an office pushing papers and getting paid decently to do it. I wanted to work in copyright law. For a television station. I wouldn’t have to deal with people, I thought, and I conjured up a pretty nice, safe, and boring life for myself. A sweet gig for a nerdy girl who loved books and words but was painfully shy with people. Anyway, when I got accepted to law school, I remember some of the boys who were in my circle of friends laughing at me, basically saying that I wasn’t cut out for law school and wouldn’t make it. I assumed they meant that I wasn’t smart enough. I still don’t know if they meant that, or if they maybe meant I was too shy. I don’t even remember them individually or what they specifically said. But they were the first people outside of my head to openly question my ability to succeed in law school. They cracked open a hole in my confidence.

When the fall rolled around and I started law school, people were talking a lot about The Paper Chase, a television drama about kids at a top law school. I think it was Yale. I had never watched it, but I knew about it the way you know about the Kardashians. Everyone knew about this show. The kids in it were put through hell by teachers who, I believe, ultimately cared about them and wanted them to succeed. But in a drill sergeant kind of way. But all the talk about the show made me nervous. Especially when, my second day of Property class, my Property professor picked me to be his that student. You know, the kid who gets picked on. Every class. All class.

It started out innocently enough. I was sitting in the back because, hey, that’s where the shy or bad kids sit. He asked me to close the door. A simple enough task. Except that, I couldn’t figure out the mechanism that released the door. Everyone began to look, then stare. My professor started to say things about how he hoped I was better at law than closing doors. My heart was racing. I was frantically looking at the door, completely clueless, like in algebra class when my teacher had asked me about those two stupid trains that are traveling in opposite directions, but somehow I was supposed to know how fast they were both going. I knew there was no way I was going to get out of this situation with any dignity, but I was frozen there, trying to figure out the door because what alternative did I have? Then, one of my male classmates took pity on me and rescued me like a prince riding in on a charger. He got up and walked over, reached up and pushed the release. The door closed and I slunk back to my seat after a few whispered, fervent thank you’s. But the damage was done. I was that student.

Then people started the law review talk. Nothing matters more in law school than who will be in the top 10%. Because, if you are in the top 10%, you basically can go work anywhere you want. The bottom 90% will be lucky to get a job that doesn’t need to be supplemented by a bartending gig on the weekend. Some people bragged that they were sure they would be law review. Others just speculated on who really had a chance. Constantly. Someone ripped pages out of books in the library that we all needed for a research project, apparently with the hope that this would make everyone else look bad. The competition was fierce, to the point that people were willing to cross ethical lines to be on top. It was crazy to me, one of the least competitive people on the planet. I just wanted to get out alive and go push papers quietly in an office with a window.

I wanted to change schools. I had been wait listed at another school, and I planned on applying as a transfer student. Finals week came for the first semester. There was so much noise in my head between my Property professor picking on me daily and the competition between my classmates that I let myself get ridiculously worked up about my Property final. I was so nervous by the time that I took the exam, I couldn’t even focus. All I could think about was getting out of the room.

When I closed my exam and walked out of the room, I felt terrible. I knew I hadn’t done well. It was an easy subject, but I didn’t even remember what the questions were, let alone the answers I had put down. I ended up with a C. I wasn’t going to be transferring anywhere.

But it was, maybe, one of the best lessons of my life, even if it came at a high price. I learned from that experience that, if I’m going to fail at something, it’s going to be for the right reasons. It’s going to be because I didn’t understand the material, or because I’m not smart enough or not talented enough. It will never again be because I let other people’s noise get in my head and psyche me out.

And that’s what I told my hockey player. Because he’s amazing, but he’s making mistakes because he’s not focused. I told him to shut out the noise of who just committed to what school. Shut out the noise of who has better numbers or which teams passed him over that he now has to play against. I told him to shut out everyone who doesn’t belong in his head. I told him to embrace the chance to fail, but only fail for the right reasons. I told him that, if he’s going to fail, fail because he wasn’t fast enough, or because he couldn’t read plays well enough, or because he’s on the small side for a hockey player. I’ve watched him play, and I don’t think any of those reasons can beat him. But, if they do, at least he’ll know he did everything he could to make it. I told him don’t ever fail because you let other people rock your self-confidence. Anyone who isn’t invested in your success should be irrelevant to you. Sometimes easier said than done, but it’s a mantra that you have to actively practice, just as you practice or prepare for anything. Just as you work on your homework or practice at a sport or music, you have to work at shutting out the noise that can derail your success. We all have enough of a critic in ourselves, constantly questioning if we can really pull off that new thing we are trying to do. Letting people outside of us influence how much power our self-critic wields is the quickest way to satisfy the doubt demon.

My oldest child is a senior in high school this year. He really has no idea what he wants to do or how he wants to do it. As I’ve talked about before, his learning disability has made his journey a pretty tough one. But I’m constantly being asked by other, well-intentioned people if he knows where he’s going to college next  year. So I smile and say no, he’s still figuring it out. And that’s okay with me. Because the frenzy of senior year is just noise, and the only thing that really matters is that he ends up somewhere where he can thrive.

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Curating Joy

The idea of curating joy has been trespassing on my thoughts lately, perhaps a little too persistently. This year has been a sandpaper-on-an-open-wound kind of year for me so far. Too many things that are out of my control have been controlling my happiness. It’s easy enough, in theory, to say “cut them loose,” but reality is always more complicated than a simple act of slicing away the infected bits. Sometimes the infected bits are essential to your survival.

So I’ve had more days than not this year when I’ve been close enough to tears that my eyes burn with them. Pushing them back is sometimes a monumental effort, sometimes a lost cause, and sometimes a barrier to some temporary relief. Instead, I try to judiciously dole them out, hiding them from plain view and even hiding them from closer scrutiny because I’m learning to hate talking about the reasons I’m sad, even with the people who love and support me the most.

Instead, I’ve spent time trying to carve out joy in a meticulous way, at times using an Exacto knife to chisel away at the barriers to happiness. It’s been pretty exhausting. Slivers of joy come, but they’re continually covered back up as if the small depressions I make are just holes to be inlaid with more pain as soon as they are carved open. So I carve a bit harder and wonder at the futility of it all.

Platitudes of finding joy and practicing gratitude certainly have their place in our lives. But the reality of finding joy when you are walking down a long corridor of darkness requires more than clichés. It requires space. It requires solitude. It requires light, even if it’s no more than a small recessed beam directed at a fragment of art hanging in that corridor. It requires moments of peace and reflection. But most of all, I believe, the effort to be joyous requires love. At every moment in this year when I have felt the burden to curate joy to be stronger than my will to be happy, I have forced myself to take a step forward with the realization that our own joy is not something we hold just for ourselves. Ultimately, when we are faced with a choice between sadness and joy, we curate joy in ourselves because of our love for others. As a curator in a museum protects treasures for others to see and enjoy, we curate our own joy for others to have peace and happiness. When I see my little girl’s face troubled because she knows I’m hurting, when I hear my ache reflected in the voice of my mother because she is worrying about me, when someone dear to me lovingly lectures me on the similarities of our problems and the need for me to find my way, I know that joy is a shared emotion worthy of protection. Joy is not an individual beast, but a communal one. The joy I am responsible for is not just mine but is shared by those who love me. And that makes the burden of curating it a little bit lighter, a little bit easier, and a little bit more sure.

 

 

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