Driving Alone at Day’s End.

Somewhere around mile marker 43, my heart and the road finally meet. Slow, numb tears fall, expelling breath in relief, sticking to my cheeks, pooling at the cleft in my collarbone.

I look at the clouds. They float softly alongside me, great and quiet companions of grief thrown in high relief by the setting sun we leave behind us. They gather rain but don’t know how to release it.

And it is no particular thing; today is not an anniversary, nor a first, nor a last.

It is everything and nothing all the same. It is the world, which unfurls, vaults and slowly spreads itself to the thin horizon of a flat Wisconsin plain, wheat waving in the dry heat. Another day is ending.

[Photo.]

Kerouac The Poet.

Kerouac’s On the Road is a crazy trip of people and places and substances and Sal Paradise drinking it in like he’s been thirsty all his life, but there are these paragraphs where you can feel Kerouac sink into a rhythm of writing and you feel real, honest longing. Poetry pours out of him and it feels like time and madness have stopped for a brief moment, and then you’re off and running again, to the next town and party and the madness of the road goes on. I have a feeling that whichever book I choose next, I’ll still long for the crazy whirl that is Kerouac The Poet…

These are my favorite passages :

“Trains howl away across the valley. The sun goes down long and red. All the magic names of the valley unrolled – Manteca, Madera, all the rest. Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.”

“I wished I was on her bus. A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world.”

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

[Image.]

Inspired By.

It is Friday, and for the first time in two weeks, it’s raining. Ripples of thunder and warm rain are a thrill after the dry, dogged heat of summer thus far.

Peace and relief are returning to me as I move back into a well-worn rhythm of full-time office work and put the freelance debacle behind me. In a weird way, things feel right again. I don’t think it’s because of the return to routine and stability and the known near future as it were, but rather, a result of my own acceptance and resolve to move forward. I struggle with this mightily in most areas of my life. My sense of justice keeps me clinging to what I want instead what I have, what happened instead of what will happen if I just let go.

So instead of resenting the ways that things have not changed this year, I’m choosing to be thankful for what I have and for a little rain to go along with it. Today is enough.

Thanks so much for all your generous and smart comments on yesterday’s post (and on Monday’s!) Have a lovely weekend.

This week’s good reads :

Maybe that’s why God met me in my neighborhood.” Love in a Taco Shop.

These three posts spoke to me this week about disconnecting and finding space in my life for quiet : On Mindfulness, Living a Rhythmed Life (online), and Nothing is Something.

What she wants is for him to be willing to take the small risk, not because she feels like she’s worth it, but because she wants to know that someday, when the risk is bigger, he’ll take it.” – A Pre-Engagement Question.

I’ve been turned up from the dirt, washed in the water, and called by a name I’m certain I did not and do not deserve.” Things Treasured and Things Not Remembered.

And when it’s hard and scary and it just plain sucks, I’m taking Melissa’s advice.

 [Photo and lovely recipe I'm drooling over.]

Confessions of a Fledgling Freelancer : It’s Not Always Win, Win, Win.

It’s not always win, win, win.

Sometimes it seems that way, and you make a mad dash forward, swiftly lifting your foot to kick the ball and make the goal, hoping and straining every muscle and ounce of energy in your body to make it to that moment when your hard work will pay off.

And then you bite it. Hardcore. Face in the dust. Knees and elbows skinned. Completely humiliated.

So this is me, getting up and dusting myself off after a hard fall. And here is what I’m learning from it :

I have to set a precedent.

Setting a precedent is necessary to anything we do in life – in work, in relationships, in physical health – because precedent communicates our worth. It communicates our standards, our work ethic, our values. When we don’t set a precedent, we leave ourselves vulnerable to others who want to set a lower precedent, one that puts their needs and values (or lack thereof) before our own.

Setting the precedent has to be communicated in tangible ways – a sturdy contract, a timeline of work, a paper trail. For fledgling freelancers like myself, subcontracting with the right agency can help set that precedent so that I’m not fending for myself with taxes, invoices, and my clients’ unruly administrative assistants who resort to excessive profanity over payments due.

I did not set this precedent for myself this time around, and I did indeed bite it hardcore.

Face in the dust. Knees and elbows skinned.

I learned the hard, humiliating, broke-ass poor kind of way that I wasn’t communicating my worth effectively.

Gritty details spared, my freelance client and I did not work with a contract, we parted ways, and there’s an invoice with my name on it that has not been paid.

You’re cringing right now, I know. I am, too.

I have read blog after blog after advice-giving blog about working with iron-clad contracts and adhering to strict deadlines and being firm about my hourly rate and when it came down to it, when someone began to question whether I was worth it, I eased up and compromised when I shouldn’t have. And it made me look cheap and naive, and therefore vulnerable. Easily manipulated.

I have questioned myself in a myriad of ways in the last few weeks.

Was this whole freelancing thing bravery or stupidity? Confidence or arrogance? Faith or false hope?

Why, when I’ve come this far and worked this hard, did I wind up in this situation?

What does that say about me and my work when I am so easily coerced into relinquishing my standards?

And what does it say about how I value my own work?

Am I just not ready for freelancing?

The thing is, there is value and then there is value.

There’s a dollar amount for the time and effort we put into work, but there’s also work ethic. In the midst of this conflict I was hit with the realization that it is not just about what my client owes me or what I am worth per hour. It’s about the fact that we have different work ethics. We have different value systems and they are not compatible. She set a precedent for fast, cheap, just-get-it-done work, and my desire to do things completely and correctly was irrelevant to her because it cost more than she was willing to invest.

It’s about self-worth.

Mother Teresa said,

If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”

As painful as it is to admit, it was a lesson I needed to learn in knowing who I am and what it costs me when I compromise that. I’m wiser and smarter for this experience, but it still stings a little, knowing that I am back where I started, that the invoice is still unpaid, that the conflict remains unresolved.

From here on out, I know how it works and that for every talent and opportunity given to me, I have to steward it more carefully than I did this one. I know now that if I want to be a writer, I have to start valuing my work and believing that yes, I am worth it.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you compromised the value of your work?

Freelancers, what is the hardest lesson you’ve learned when working with clients?

What is the best advice someone has given you about valuing your work?

[Image.]

Poem : My Cocoon Tightens…

Emily Dickinson isn’t always my favorite poet. As I’ve grown older and explored my taste and the wide world of poetry, I’ve found other poets who use language like sharp knives that cut straight to my core – Mary Oliver, Mary Howe, Julia KasdorfWalt Whitman. Dickinson’s words often need deciphering, and I’m not always patient enough for that.

But this poem spoke to me when I was sixteen, barely out of my own coccoon, wings still wet with adolescent angst. I even wrote an essay around it for advanced composition, which is hiding somewhere in an old desk drawer.

Pulling my small collection of Dickinson off the shelf last night, the page fell open to this and her words, like they did nearly a decade ago, reach the deepest parts of me. I cloak myself in the imagery, remembering who I was and how I related to it then – like my pink converse sneakers and endless supply of black t-shirts. Somehow the poem feels a fitting reminder that while she was not yet me, I am her; I am the sixteen year old me that still roves over this particular passage of Dickinson, wondering at my own wings and what it all means.

Time and Eternity, LVIII

My cocoon tightens, colors tease,
I’m feeling for the air;
A dim capacity for wings
Degrades the dress I wear.

A power of butterfly must be
The aptitude to fly,
Meadows of majesty concedes
And easy sweeps of sky.

So I must baffle at the hint
And cipher at the sign,
And make much blunder, if at last
I take the clue divine.

 

[Photo.]

book·ish : Twilight, Fifty Shades, & Feminism.

Confession : I’ve read all four Twilight books. I picked them up so that I could see what all the hype was about, and thankfully, my interest in them stayed there.

Reading the reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey, my first thought was of surprise that this hot new trilogy is published fan fiction of the young adult series. I mean, they really produce bestsellers of fan fiction? That someone finds value in that kind of writing scares me a little.

My second thought was that if Twilight itself was the basis for a BDSM novel series, then Fifty Shades was doomed from the start.

If you’ve never read Twilight, I would actually encourage you to pick up at least the first book. The writing is terrible and the plot is disturbing, but it turned out to be an interesting social study on women.

From my brothers’ teenage girl friends, to the college age girls in my dormitory, to the thirty-something women I waitressed with, they were all obsessed with the series. I discovered in Bella Swan something of an archetype that contemporary women love to indulge, a deep departure from feminism and gender equality that we want to believe has flourished in the last fifty years. Bella’s sole desire, absolutely singular from any hobby or personal interests, is to be with Edward. Bella is not interested in finishing school, going to college, getting a job, having a hobby, making friends with other girls her age, nothing. Twilight author Stephenie Meyer indulges Bella in all her fantasies and creates a world in which her complete lack of self-worth reaps positive results.

Fifty Shades author E. L. James takes this whole concept of a submissive, dreamless young woman to a deeper level with Anastasia Steele. She gives up her virginity and enters into a BDSM-style relationship with a manipulative, deeply disturbed partner and in the end Christian Grey is a changed man because of his relationship to Steele. Again, an extremely negative reality reaps positive results in this kind of fiction.

Without being too cliche or preachy, I have to say,

It’s a slippery slope.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this – pun intended – but really… on a micro level, it begins with a girl who doesn’t understand her own value, who doesn’t believe that she is capable of being whole and happy on her own, and this lack of self-worth manifests itself in literal ways in her relationships to men. On a macro level, millions of women vulnerable to this kind of story – who see themselves in Bella and Anastasia – read these books and the erotic fantasy of it seduces them into believing that this is how relationships are, that this is an acceptable role for them as women.

What is worse is that this is not subliminal messaging, but blatant acceptance. Fifty Shades has been hailed as “mommy porn,” fiction that can “spice up” women’s sex lives.

I don’t believe in censorship, but I do believe in smart consumerism. I believe that what we consume – what we eat, wear, watch and read – says something about our self-worth, about how we value our selves.

I believe in being one lessone less woman indulging in “harmless” fantasy that she subconsciously measures her love/sex life against, and one less royalty to smutty booksellers. It may seem to some that “casually” picking up a copy of Fifty Shades isn’t a big deal.

But I think that fact that so many readers find this kind of content casual and mainstream speaks to what our culture really thinks of women.

So let’s rewrite this portrayal of women – and of men, too. Let’s boldly face the reality that sexual abuse is a lot less gray and a lot more black and white than what certain books and movies would have us believe. Let’s read something else and be one less.

A few good articles on the subject :

Fifty Shades of Sexism.

When Sex Goes Grey.

Your ability to read an erotic book, see a movie that makes a joke of a male stripper, laugh about the idea of prostitutes, is not a decision that only effects YOU anymore. Was it ever? No… But what I can tell you is that there is a very real commercial sex industry out there, and it’s not ‘over there’ or ‘somewhere else’ it’s EVERYWHERE, and everything that we do that makes light of sex, of purity, of temptation, of pleasure, of monogamy, all of it perpetuates a societal blind eye to global sexual exploitation.” It IS a Big Deal.

And just for fun, the difference between Ginny and Bella and Hermione and Bella.

~

book·ish/ˈbo͝okiSH/Adjective

  1.  (of a person or way of life) Devoted to reading and studying rather than worldly interests.
  2. (of language or writing) Literary in style or allusion.
  3. (of art and all manner of lovely things) devoted to the written word as a form of art and as a way of seeing the world.
  4. (of BethanySuckrow.com) anything of the aforementioned characteristics as they are found on the interwebs and reposted by Bethany, because bookish and writerly things always give reason for amusement.

Inspired By.

It’s Saturday, and I’m a day late in posting this – and if I’m being really honest, a dollar short in very literal ways.

I’ve been questioning myself a lot lately – why things seem to be so out of order; why the steady rhythm I held early in this difficult year seems to have disappeared; why week after week goes by and at the end of it my anxiety has snowballed into itself and all the things I didn’t want to happen have occurred; why I surrender my self-worth so easily when someone questions it, especially when it comes to my work; why I haven’t been ready to come out and talk about it openly here on the blog.

But I think I’m finally in a place where ears and heart are open to the truth that everyone has tried to tell me, patiently, lovingly, in this season : it’s okay. It’s okay to stumble and learn from this, it’s okay to not have it all figured out, it’s okay to ask for help. I am enough. As a writer, as a wife, as woman.

And so I finally give in and let go, acknowledging that nothing is certain, that worst case scenarios are a disguise for the best opportunities, that the whole world spins on without my hypervigilance to help it along and so the real question I need to ask myself  is this : why am I pushing so hard to get my way?

More thoughts to come next week, in which I will actually come out and talk about it all more openly. Until then, happy weekend reading.

The best part of my week. Love you, Daddy.

It’s not until I walk out of the door that I see her pick up a pen and start to write.” Conversations with Ourselves.

I’m not going to give in to the cultural pressure that says women’s bodies are only beautiful when they’re very, very small. I’m going to take up every inch of space that I need, even though our world is obsessed with the idea that women should only take up just the tiniest bits of space.” Swimsuit Ready or Not.

Art is faith. I am a believer.” The Shadow Artist Emerges.

The magic of July : spacious skies and fireflies.

10 Rules of Good Writing and the biggest freelancing “do.”

And finally, a sneak peek at next Monday’s bookish post.

[Image.]

Guest Post | Writing Poetry with Andrea Beltran

This is part 2 in a guest series featuring Andrea Beltran. Yesterday she shared her poem, Finding Baby. Today she shares thoughts on the process of writing poetry. Thanks again, Andrea! 

While in college and really tapping into the world of writing poetry, a few of my professors repeatedly told me,

Read, write, then read some more. The writing will come to you.”

I didn’t listen. I would read a few pages of the books they gave me and classify it as read. I didn’t allow myself to be immersed in poetry the way I should have been, but there is a lesson in everything, and now I know better.

These days, I read, read, write a little, then read some more.

The more I read, the more I find myself sitting in front of a clean sheet of paper with pen in hand.

I don’t have those moments of not knowing what to write as often. I don’t feel myself forcing myself to write something down on the page. I always start and end the day with a poem.

I begin each morning with some light reading. Taking a cue from Jack Myers, my poetry professor in college, I write something every morning after my reading period. I don’t force a poem out onto a page. If a poem isn’t ready to be written, I write a few notes down about what I’ve read, moments that stood out to me from the day before, or thoughts about certain things or people in my life. Sometimes, it’s only a few lines. Other times, it’s a few pages. No matter the volume, I’m grateful for the words, as I can come back to them later and maybe weave them into a poem. Oh, and there is always a cup of coffee and music involved.

Revision is something I never did, but that’s because I didn’t fully understand poetry. It used to pain me to do massive revisions on a piece. Now, I’ve found that revision is key to writing. One needs to learn to look at their work objectively to make it better. A few close and honest writing friends help.

The writing process for me has become a habit. It’s ingrained in my eyes, my hands, my mind.

Read, write, revise, listen. Repeat.

Focus more on the reading and listening and the rest will find you.

Andrea lives in El Paso, Texas and moonlights as a poet. Her poems have recently appeared in flash quake, Rose & Thorn Journal, and Referential Magazine. She blogs about poetry and writing at andreakristen.blogspot.com.

Above photo taken from Andrea’s Instagram. Don’t forget to follow her on Twitter.

Guest Poem | Andrea Beltran

Today’s guest poem is Part 1 in a 2-part guest series featuring the lovely Andrea Beltran. Folks, she is the real deal – a wonderful wielder of words for both prose and poetry, and I love following her on Twitter for her positivity and kindness. I followed her tweet to this poem she wrote for Pyrta Journal last week, and was captivated by it, so I invited her to share.  Don’t miss tomorrow’s post, where she will share thoughts on the process of writing poetry.

Finding Baby
He’s not in a basket wrapped
in blue and white blankets
at our front door nor in the screen
we glare at during the first ultrasound
unable to translate letters and numbers,
notes the doctor makes without elaboration. He’s not
in the six vials of blood they take from my right arm or the eight
removed from yours. He’s not in
the second ultrasound or your biopsy
nor in the parenting magazines
we never ordered coming in the mail.
He’s not in the silence growing
in between bread loaves
and pot roasts in our poorly lit
home. He’s not here but I can hear him
calling from different rooms,
this unending game of hide-and-seek.

 

Andrea lives in El Paso, Texas and moonlights as a poet. Her poems have recently appeared in flash quake, Rose & Thorn Journal, and Referential Magazine. She blogs about poetry and writing at andreakristen.blogspot.com.

Inspired By.

I’m skipping town this weekend to visit these lovely, goofy college roomies of mine. There will be river floating and farmer’s markets, juicy stories and maybe a little dancing. I can hardly contain myself!

In case you couldn’t tell from yesterday’s cynicism, this week has not gone as planned (full explanation is another post for another day), but this plan that we’ve been anticipating for six months is happening, and for that I am relieved and deeply thankful.

I am also thankful that in the years since we graduated from college and ventured out on our own I have found another community of lovely people that have helped me thrive. Most of them I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting face-to-face, but there is deep joy with every exchanged word – the blog posts and tweets and emails are a growing history of love letters and real friendship, I believe. You know who you are. Thank you for filling my heart with laughter and rich words.

A purpose to unfold.

There is one thing you can do in a valley you can’t do on peaked mountaintop: you can walk a level path, a flat one, one made for the weary. And I’ll take it. Today I’ll take it.

Joyous congratulations go to Sarah for her first book deal and to Preston for his fully-funded kickstarter to write his book! I eagerly anticipate holding both.

Death by Cuteness.

Good-bye, sweet Nora. Your witty dialogue and beautiful words will be forever cherished.

And lastly, did you hear? You could be the next face of The Write Practice. Get on that!

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