I Told Myself I Would Be Real

I never felt known as a child. When people looked at me, I felt they saw the shell but nothing underneath. I became what people wanted to see when they looked at me; in this way, I created the shell of myself that no one could see beyond.

I hid inside the shell. Instinctively I protected my tender core, the real part of me that I felt was not known. I wanted to be known. But being known felt dangerous. Yet over time, not being known also hurt me. I felt intensely lonely. Alone in the world, as if no one could understand my language.

I believed that my real mother would understand me. This was the story I told myself: My real mother somewhere out in the world loved me, and one day she would find me. She would know me without my having to explain anything at all about myself. She would know the colors and flavors I liked, she would know why I needed to have long hair, she would know why walking barefoot outside was the best thing and why I couldn’t see the world the way the people I lived with did. She would just know.

I didn’t have to create a fiction for myself because I knew somewhere in the world there was a woman inside whom I had become real. It was just that we weren’t together. I told myself we would be, and then I would become real again. I didn’t come from thin air, I couldn’t have, because I couldn’t fly. I came from water, just as everyone did, and I would swim again.

I didn’t want to be this mystical creature inside my shell. I wanted to be normal. Normal seemed good to me then, desirable. Born of a body. How odd I must have seemed, without a solid form. Without matter. I wanted to matter.

I knew my mother was somewhere out in the world loving me because I could feel it. We had a bond that could not be broken. And if I was with her, she would care about the core of me, the real me that no one cared enough about to even miss. I would be important to her, I told myself over and over, and this story gave me hope, and hope kept me going all the way out into the real world.

 

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I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #9 of 52. 

 

 

A Year of No

I committed to myself in 2016 that I would make more of an effort to get my writing out into the world. I submitted my work to publications more often last year than ever before. For the writers among my readers, here’s a breakdown of how that went:

I submitted individual pieces (poems, essays, and stories) 70 times, to 25 different outlets. Twice I submitted directly to an editor; the other times, I submitted via whatever means the publication specified on their website—Submittable, some other system, or email. I drafted multiple versions of cover letters as well as my biography, tailoring them for specific markets. I reported most of my submissions on Duotrope, which I’ve been using for several years. I also began keeping track of my intentions and outcomes for specific pieces and markets on a spreadsheet.

In some cases, I responded to calls for themed submissions; other times, I fervently searched for the best home for a piece; occasionally, I entered contests. I spent $12 on sample issues and $15 on contest fees.

I’ve now received answers for all but one of those 70 submissions. The one that is outstanding is a contest entry for which I paid a small fee; I’ve been waiting over 7 months for a response that was due before autumn. All of the responses I have received have been rejections, except for one. A poem was accepted, then the editor requested an edit, and in the course of our conversation about the edit, the editor requested more edits, and it got to the point that if I made all the edits requested, the poem would no longer be what I wanted it to be, so I withdrew it. I withdrew an essay because the market I submitted it to unexpectedly went on extended hiatus. I withdrew a set of poems after waiting 9 months for a response that never came. I received two personal notes; all the rest were form rejections. Most markets took 2-3 months to reply.

Early in the year, I applied for a grant and was turned down, although the rejection letter included some kind feedback about my sample piece. The application cost me $15.

I also put together a chapbook of poems that I’d written over the previous several years and sent it out to some chapbook contests. Most of the contests I researched required a fee, some as high as $28, so I had to be choosy in order to keep the cost down. I settled on 7 contests, with fees ranging from $10 to $20; in total, I spent $101. Only one publisher promised a copy of the winning chapbook to every contest entrant—you rock, Gold Line Press! One press responded after only 2 weeks and I waited on another for over 8 months; most returned a decision in 4-5 months. I didn’t win any of the contests I entered, nor did anyone agree to publish my chapbook, but I did earn one honorable mention, from Concrete Wolf.

What do I make of all this?

If nothing else, this past year was a lesson in how to handle rejection. The hard truth is that either I chose markets that weren’t the best fit for my work or my work wasn’t good enough to wow an editor. I suspect that some of both was true, depending on the work and market in question. Having my writing turned down so many times brought on waves of depression. But I expected rejections to get me down, and I worked through it. It’s hard not to doubt yourself when you keep hearing “no.” I gave myself plenty of pep talks throughout the year, and I also made an effort to connect with other local writers so that I wouldn’t feel too hopeless. It always helps to be reminded that all of us who write will have work rejected, and that this doesn’t mean we should give up.

A lot of positives came out of this year of no. I’ve created a system for keeping track of what I’m working on, what I’ve completed, and where I’ve submitted. I’ve become much more familiar with literary publications that feel like homes where I’d want my work to live. I’m doing more deep reading and I’m understanding better what I want to achieve in my writing. I’m learning to let go of my ingrained need to impress in favor of striving to make myself proud. I want to feel satisfied that the work I send out into the world accurately reflects what I hoped to achieve and is the best that I could have accomplished at that moment in time. I want to slow down when I’m creating, but be brave in sending out work once I’ve decided to call it done. Rather than viewing this past year as one of failure, I’m embracing my rekindled desire to continue learning and developing my writing craft. I’m more determined to push myself further when that instinct to play it safe and hold back tries either to sabotage my work or to convince me to hide it away.

But probably the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that I need to let go of so many expectations. It’s more important to allow myself time to dwell in the unknown, to sit with questions and to give myself permission to follow my curiosity wherever it goes. I must let go of what I imagined a writing life would be and embrace the reality of what this particular writing life needs to be for me.

 

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I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #8 of 52. 

 

 

 

 

Mother Love

Last week I got sick with a nasty cold, and I wanted badly to check out of my life for a few days. There were things I should have done that I didn’t do, as happens when one is sick. The hardest thing about being sick, though, for me, as a mother, is letting down my kids. I got to thinking about this after I blew up at them one evening when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself and wanting to be the one cared for instead of the one who always has to do the caring. The incident itself was unremarkable, but for days afterward, I ruminated on our relationship to each other, on the roles of mother and child.

Mothering is more difficult than I ever imagined it would be before I became a mother. The first few weeks after my son was born, I remember being in a state of shock over the fact that I could not go anywhere ever again without either taking him with me or arranging for his care while I was gone. This should have been expected, but it was something I’d never contemplated previously. I had been a singular, independent being, then suddenly I was one half of a conjoined duo. Another being was completely dependent on me for survival. Yes, sure, I had help from my husband, who is a very hands-on dad, but that didn’t change the fact that primarily it was me who had the responsibility of making sure our son’s needs were met.

It is still me, the mother, that my now teen and preteen kids depend on. Nothing is right in the world if I do not listen to their stories, if I do not help them with their school projects, if I do not counsel them on their friendships. I am expected to provide them food and remind them to eat it. I am the one they need to take them shopping when they outgrow their clothes and shoes. I am the one who calls the right doctor and gets them the right medicine and holds them close no matter how contagious they are. My husband is still the hands-on dad he’s always been, but I am always the one my kids need above all others.

I am the mother, and mothers are supposed to care for their kids before anyone else, including themselves. I know that my kids love me, but I understand also that their love is based on my satisfying the need they have for a caring mother. Last week they knew I was sick, and I know they cared that I was sick, but that didn’t stop them from needing me to care for them. When I lashed out in protest, they experienced, for a brief moment, the despair of not having a mother who cared about their needs. Shortly thereafter, I apologized to them and, within a few hours, they had recovered from their brief despair and our relationship was back to normal. That was only possible because I have proven to them repeatedly, through our daily interactions, that I do care about their needs.

This is the natural order of life. I cannot ever expect my children to reciprocate my love in the exact way that I love them. I cannot ever expect them to put my needs above their own, because to do so would be a reversal of what our relationship to each other should be. When my kids are grown and have experienced the world on their own as adults, they might understand why I would suddenly lash out at them on a day when I felt in need of care myself. They might have compassion for the inner child in me who remains needy to this day because she never received unselfish mothering way back when. But even if they do, even when they are adults themselves, I know they will still need me to care for them in the way a mother should. They will always need me to be their advocate, to be on their side, to have their backs. I cannot ever expect them not to need me this way. This is my role as mother.

I am a mother, yet I have another role, as a child, in another aspect of my life. As a child, I still need my mother, as all children do. This is how I understand why it’s okay for my own children to love me in the selfish way that they do. If I were to stop caring for their needs in favor of my own, I would create in them an aching despair. When my child needs me, no matter how small the need, that need is real and important, and it is my responsibility and obligation to respond because I am the caregiver in our relationship. I cannot turn things around and require that my children take on the responsibility of giving care to me. That is not their role. It never will be.

Having someone need me all the time as my children do is at times exhausting. Some days it’s hard not to lose hold of who I am besides being a mother. Yet, I believe that being a mother is the most important work I do. And I recognize that my mother love is also a selfish love, because my children are a dream I had for myself that I chose to make come true. I indulge my mother love by giving first to them and what’s left to myself; in doing so, I satisfy the need I have to love someone completely, without expectation. My children owe me nothing for this love I give them. Someday not too far off they will leave me behind to go out into the world, and this, too, is the natural order of life.

 

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I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #7 of 52. 

 

No Time to Waste on Haste

I find it difficult to give up on anything I’ve written. I don’t like the feeling of putting time and effort into a piece only to see it fail, so I tend to stick with crappy older work too long.

I’m reminded of college, the first time, right after high school. Before I got there, I’d decided to major in computer science, but before I finished, I knew I’d made the wrong choice. I didn’t stop, though. I didn’t change my major. I felt too invested in it, in terms of both time and money, to start all over. I was impatient to begin my adult life. Never mind that I’d been an adult already, working a full time job, for several years. I’d assumed the identity of computer-science-major-who-will-graduate-and-get-a-high-paying-job-with-a-guaranteed-pension-and-medical-insurance. Not because I cared very much about computer science and not because I couldn’t make a life working the job I already had. I built my identity around what I thought I was supposed to want and do as a high school honor student whose parents preached stability. To not finish college, or even to prolong my time there by changing my major, would be to fail, in my mind. I was determined to finish what I’d started, and I felt I was running against the clock of my life.

What followed was nearly a decade of heartache. I graduated and I got that so-called great job, but the longer I had it, the more miserable I became. By not giving up on a poorly chosen college major, I’d given up on myself. Continue reading “No Time to Waste on Haste”

Combating Chaos

Too much is happening too quickly, and every day I feel sucked into the chaos. This is a bad time to be a worrier.

On Friday evening into Saturday as the effects of the new president’s travel ban became apparent, I could not force myself away from the news reports. I could not escape the sense that I was witnessing all that I so loved about my country slipping away. The laws we enacted to protect the vulnerable are proving to be much more tenuous than we assumed they’d be. It’s been too easy these first two weeks for the new administration to annihilate laws. And there seems to be no one with any power willing to be a hero of the people.

By the end of the day on Saturday, my joints ached and my chest felt tight. All I wanted to do was cover myself with a blanket, have a stiff drink, and detach. And I’m not an immigrant or a refugee. My skin color is the same as that of the men who penned our Constitution. I will not be personally violated by the ban or the wall. But I am a citizen of this country, and I care.

I am a person who often feels too much. When I read about people being put on planes and sent back to dangerous places where they have no home or resources, I cannot be neutral. When I read about children unable to be united with their parents, I am reading as a mother, and I know the pain I would feel if I was helpless to keep my children out of danger. I don’t understand how anyone hearing these stories cannot feel this pain, how anyone can turn their back while people are being treated this way. Continue reading “Combating Chaos”