Thursday, April 20, 2006

On Writing and the Silent Treatment

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I wrote my first story, a ten-page epic in neat printing about a romance between Tom Thumb and Thumbelina. I received a Certificate of Achievement from Miss Brittingham, my third-grade teacher, for Writing Stories and I won first place.

Fast-forward a bit to my college years. While I was a fierce and loyal correspondent (the kind who writes letters, not the kind who reports from the Middle East), I didn't consider myself a Writer. But I wrote, mostly in a daily journal. And then somehow, (I can't remember how now brown cow), I joined the staff of the campus newspaper.

I was supposed to write a column about the music department, but I never actually did. Instead, I wrote essays about whatever happened to flutter through my brain. And the newspaper published them.

I wasn't very impressed with myself, though, because the newspaper was a rinky-dink operation at a rinky-dink school and big-whoop-de-doo. Then someone from the publishing department of the Assemblies of God (my denomination at the time) contacted me and asked permission to reprint one of my articles, a piece called, "Life Without Elbows." And they paid me.

I was a published writer, much to my shock.

Fast-forward a few more years. Having viewed my byline and tasted the satisfaction of publication, I longed to Be A Writer. I bought a Writer's Market. While we waited for a birth-mother to choose us, to make us parents, I puttered around at the computer and sent off queries. I went to a writer's conference in Oregon. I submitted stuff. I received rejections. I sent out more queries. And got more rejections.

Birth-mothers? Rejecting me.
Publishers? Rejecting me.
I took it personally.

I chronicled all of this in my journals, painstakingly recording in ballpoint ink my anguish and the failures and angst, the wholehearted brand of angst requiring extra time and devotion. I picked up a couple of assignments for very small publications, received checks for minuscule amounts, accumulated more rejections, both professionally and personally, kicked myself for being a failure, sobbed on the bathroom floor, and then became a mother to twin baby boys.

I still wrote, but only in letters and journals. It turned out that as a mother, I had no time to nourish my angst about writing, no idle moments to worry about whether I'd ever Be A Writer. Once or twice a year, I'd receive an assignment, send back my work and get a check for $90. Sometimes, I'd read a terrible novel and think, I could do better than that. And then I'd read something fantastic and I'd think, I could never write like that. I was equal parts optimism and despair.

Eventually, I gave away my Writer's Market. I stopped querying magazines. I set aside the whole writing thing. I had no time, no clear thoughts beyond, "Will they ever stop waking up at 5:45 a.m.?"

The years rushed by in fits and starts and then, lo and behold, my last baby stopped being a baby. I began to ask myself, Self, what should I be when I grow up? I settled on earning money, imagined having a Real Career, an identity beyond being someone's wife and someone's mother. And I hatched a plan to become a nurse.

I made my list and checked it twice. I realized it would be wise to wait another year before beginning this venture. And as weeks slipped by, I realized I didn't really want to go to school. I didn't really want to go to work. I didn't really want a boss, a schedule . . . but I wanted a handy answer to the question, "So, what do you do?" I wanted health benefits and dental insurance and a decent paycheck with my name on it.

But at what price? What would I have to give up to become Nurse Mel? Time with my young daughter and growing sons? Schooling my kids at home? Being available to help my husband during times when his schedule is erratic and demanding? The flexibility to play on sunny afternoons and to spend weekends with my family?

Just as my youngest child grows more independent, would I close the door on those long-coveted hours of solitude and blocks of time in which to write? Would I exchange my chance to write (with no guaranteed of success) for employment as a nurse with its steady paycheck?

I'm pragmatic and the silly idea of turning away from a sure thing to pursue what will most likely turn out to be an unsure thing pinches at my brain. I am sensible, low-maintenance, with an abundance of common sense. And it doesn't make any sense to pursue a far-fetched dream.

(Especially when you are me and you respond to arguments and adversity with the silent treatment. Try it. Make me mad and I'll stop speaking to you. Maybe forever. I know! It's a terrible character flaw and, being aware, I fight against it. But now I realize that when the universe argued with me through all those rejection slips, I decided to give it--the universe, writing, dreaming,the whole kit and caboodle--the silent treatment. Fine! Reject me? I'll reject you!)

I should become a nurse. Clearly. But when would I write? And could I abandon the idea of focusing on writing entirely? Should I cut loose the dream of writing like child releases a party balloon into the far blue sky?

One night, my husband and I chatted. I told him I worried about schooling and scheduling and working. He listened to me fret. And then he said, "You know, I'm a pastor. Sometimes, I think about going to school and becoming something else, but the truth is, I'm a pastor. You are a writer. You could go to school and become a nurse--and I would support you in that--but you are a writer. Even if it means we never have a new car, you should not make a decision based on the money."

He gave me permission to be what I am. And then I gave myself permission, too. I set aside the thought of going to nursing school and let myself think of pursuing writing professionally. I never mentioned it here because, really, how embarrassing is it to say, "I changed my mind. I'm abandoning my plans. I'm insane," when you were all so nice and encouraging and supportive?

And what if I fail? I suffer periods of self-doubt and eye-rolling. I comfort myself in those moments of massive anxiety with the assurance that I could still go to school--the door is ajar--starting next year, and work out the details and weave together a life that wouldn't leave too many strings dangling. Maybe. I could.

Meanwhile, I write here. Blogging has been a directional sign for me, a way to keep on the road towards writing professionally. The daily discipline of writing, the practice of choosing words, the craft of stringing them together brings me great satisfaction. I've been surprised by the joy of this medium.

Not long ago, I had a tiff with a good friend. I responded with my typical, "Fine! You are dead to me!" maturity, which was working for me, sort of. Then she emailed me and said, "Hey, what's up?" and I said nothing. The words were too big to fit into my mouth and I couldn't speak them.

She asked again. I spit out a tiny word. I might have never responded and missed out on the pleasure of a repaired friendship. The silent treatment could have been the demise of that pocket of my heart. (I am indebted to her.)

Meanwhile, an opportunity arose to blog for money. Knowing that twenty-eight million blogs exist, I snorted into my Diet Coke with Lime and closed that email. As if! Me! I've been stamped "REJECT," remember? I gave it the old silent treatment. But the suggestion spoke again. And a snippet of a voice inside my head said, "Why not you? Remember, you are a writer. You admitted it."

So I gathered my wits, wrote some samples, sent my application and waited for a response with the expectation one has playing the Lotto. One week passed. Another week. An email arrived: "We received a particularly strong batch of applications for this position and our choice was a difficult one . . . " That's right. It was not me.

(Boo, hiss, climb under the desk and weep.)

But it went on, "Your application stood out as one of the very best and we think your voice would be a great addition . . ."

SAY WHAT? From a Snoopy Certification of Achievement to this . . . and maybe more. I'm stunned. I am now a professional blogger. (The universe and I are on speaking terms again.)

Details to follow.

(This blog will remain the same. Have no fear. I'm guessing it'll be a few more weeks before I have more information.)


Blogger Jody said...

Congratulations!!!! Yeah for you!!! How cool is that!!

Can't wait to hear the details, although I suspect I know!

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lurker who loves your blog here - YOU GO GIRL!!!! Really. WAy to go!

3:09 PM  
Blogger WordsRock said...

This news does not surprise me at all. :)

Congrats Mel! Your voice certainly will be a great addition to that community.


3:10 PM  
Anonymous Amy's Humble Musings said...

Oh Mel...congratulations! It comes as no surprise, though.

I had my own depressing experience yesterday. I got my first published article in the mail...and they wrote the wrong name on it. Hope to at least get a good post about it up, if nothing else.

3:35 PM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

Well, congratulations. Take this as a compliment please: you can make ordinary and boring topics interesting.

PS: I once thought of going back to school to become a minister, but I would have been a teacher-minister. And as time lapsed and as my faith lapsed, I would have found myslef in a wee bit of a pickle.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

I bestow on you the honor of the five wows.

wow. Wow. WOW. WOW! WOW!!

I'm not at all surprised. Yours is the only blog I read every single day. And, I have excellent taste!

3:40 PM  
Blogger ~Jennifer said...

Woohooo! Congratulations! And can I admit that I'm a tiny bit jealous? Maybe a little more than a tiny bit?

3:51 PM  
Blogger Yvonne said...

Woo Hoo! And why am I not surprised - your's is one of my most favorite blogs to read (abd by the way, I know I "dooced" dooce the other day, but you I will never dooce!

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Brianne said...

Congrats to you!!!! I'm thrilled for you, and as with these others here, hardly surprised yours was called "one of the very best."

5:23 PM  
Blogger oshee said...

Yay for you! That is wonderful! You deserve it. Your blog is a pleasure to read.

5:52 PM  
Blogger The Dung Beetle said...

I think you made an excellent choice to pursue your writing.

I know all too-well the consequences of ignoring my writing passion and making the sensible, pragmatic choices that put food on the table, but leave me feeling hollow inside.

I wish you success and satisfacton in your future endeavor.

5:56 PM  
Blogger Angi said...

Congrats, couldn't have happened to a better woman.

6:09 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Blogging is decidedly less gorey and gross than nursing. Congrats!

6:14 PM  
Anonymous SMIT said...

Wow, congratulations! That's quite an honor and there are a lot of people who are really jealous of you right now. And you don't even have to change bedpans!

6:56 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

Well, I'm not sure Chris is correct, but congratulations nonetheless. Of course, none of your faithful readers is surprised....we've been wondering what's taking so long for you to be discovered.

Hey! Now that you're a working woman, you can probably indulge in more pizzas-with-everything! Woo Hoo!

7:18 PM  
Blogger red fish said...

Congratulations Mel! As Barbie would say, "When you live your dreams you'll find destiny is written in your heart."

7:26 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

AWESOME! Mel is the Queen of Bloggers!

So excited for you that you will be able to do something that gives you so much joy. And get paid for it.

Now, spill the details, woman!

7:40 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Very cool. I'm excited for you.

8:36 PM  
Blogger 3Anisah23 said...

I am beyond happy for you. Keep it up!!! You deserve nothing but good. I know I don't actually know you, but I feel you are not only a wonderful wife and mother, but also a wonderful woman. Not everyone can multitask like that.

9:59 PM  
Blogger KMae said...

C O N G R A T U L A T I O N S !!!
Wow, how wonderful for you!
Give us details. Where can we find you?!
It strikes me how GREAT your husband was with all his support. That is love.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Krisco said...

Hey, congratulations! That is so completly great!!

Your first paid writing gig. The first of many, I am sure.

I can't wait to hear more.

11:51 PM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Mel, congratulations! As I was reading this post I kept saying to myself just what your husband said: "But you *are* a writer! I'm sure you'd be a fine nurse, but really you're a writer!"

Now I will wait and see if the paying gig is where I think it is...

1:00 AM  
Anonymous edj said...

Good job! And, being a writer is such a fluid thing. Sometimes you get paid, and sometimes you don't, but the main thing is that you are a writer! I'm really happy for you!
(BTW, what is a professional blogger?)

4:03 AM  
Blogger Leslee said...

You are my hero! I'm so excited for you and I hope it's everything you ever dreamed it could be!


5:54 AM  
Anonymous Cyn said...

Congratulations Mel. Enjoy the moment, the validation, the paycheck. You have worked hard to get here. Learning how to manage rejection is part of the process. You've done your time, you've paid your dues. Now you get to reap the benefits. You've earned it. Celebrate!

6:09 AM  
Blogger Never That Easy said...

Way to go, Mel! That's just great. I hope you are doing something special to celebrate your news!

8:47 AM  
Blogger Fat Pants said...

This blog is such a great read, thanks.

9:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congrats Mel! I know nothng about the blogger world, so I don't know exactly what this entails, but it sounds good! I have been reading your blog for a while, and I love it!

10:25 AM  
Blogger Juliabohemian said...

congratulations. there is nothing more gratifying then doing what you love for a living.

12:41 PM  
Blogger dinodoc said...

WOO HOOOOOO!!!! You go, girl!

Like they say, you have to kiss a lot of reject letters before you find your Official Writing Job. :)

12:44 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Melodee, that is great news. I enjoy each post. I'm glad someone else sees the talent here.

1:33 PM  
Blogger SuperMom said...

Mel, I so relate to your post.

I started writing stories as a child and illustrated them myself. Everyone said, "Look how great those pictures are. She will be an artist one day." So I ran with that. Won some awards. Majored in Art in college.

But drawing pictures never gave me the satisfaction and joy that writing does.

Then life happened...and you know the rest of the story. Blogging has been a way for me to reconnect to my dreams and find that I'm not the artist I thought I was. Or maybe I am...just a different medium.

I'm thrilled you are ditching the nursing plans to pursue your passion. And a great, big pat on the back to your husband for supporting you in that. I wish you all the best in this new venture. Congratulations!!!

1:46 PM  
Blogger ABC Momma said...

Well I'm glad you are keeping this blog because I just discovered it for myself. Congrats!

3:22 PM  
Blogger Smoov said...

I bet your friend is glad you made up too!!!!! I bet that would have been equally as sad had your friendship not been repaired, because afterall, you would be a great loss to anyone.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Julana said...

That is great. I'm not surprised, either!

5:00 PM  
Blogger The Daring One said...

That is so awesome and unsurprised as well. Yay for you! What awesome news.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Brandie said...

Congrats!! Good luck with this new endeavor =)

9:46 PM  
Blogger Tiffany (aka said...

That is wonderful!

11:06 AM  
Anonymous mopsy said...

Belated congrats. I can't wait to see what happens next!

11:49 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Congradulations Mel, you deserve it, I love reading your blog!

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Deborah said...

Wow! that's great. I can so relate to this post. I was in the art supply store yesterday (trying to kickstart one of my past passions) and the clerk asked if I had a frequent buyer card-no, I replied. Would you like one? she asked. I said I didn't think I was quite ready for that yet. My daughter chimed in, yeah you're an artist inside a mommy suit (more like mommy armour). This is fabulous news. I'm so happy for you!

2:30 PM  
Blogger portuguesa nova said...

Ahh!!! How did I miss this!!?

Congratuatlations, and it's about time!

4:06 AM  
Anonymous Emily said...

Very excited for you! Can't wait to hear more about this great opportunity!

10:01 AM  
Blogger Shalee said...

I am so excited for you. God is allowing you to use your talents for good AND get paid for it. How much better can life get for you!

May God bless you richly with experiences for which you can blog... but not any more vomiting because, really, there is only so much spewing that you can take. Maybe he will allow you to blog about coming into lot of money!

6:14 PM  
Anonymous wendy said...

Wow! That is awesome!

By the way, love the Snoopy, the 70's and early 80's! :-) (You won your award a week before I was born).

And another thing...I totally think Tom Thumb and Thumbelina should be married. Do you still have the story? I'd love to read it.

6:29 PM  

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