22 March 2006

Sometimes Eleanor speaks to me...

...And she sounds a lot like Anne Lamott !

[Editor's Note: When I returned home from work this evening (March 23rd), it would seem that some jokester in my family, and all signs point toward my Daddy, placed a Mason Jar, complete with a lid, in front of my keyboard. Cute Daddy, but you were never one of the mice people I metaphorically lifted by the tail and tossed in the jar. You've just never been obnoxious - nor has anyone in my family been placed in there. Good try, though and I'll keep that Mason Jar on my desk as a reminder to shut out those "others" who've earned a rightful place and need to be shut up from time to time. Thanks!]"

No one can make you feel inferior without your permission" ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Who can't relate to that? C'mon, how many of us have had what feels like a billion things to do and only a million minutes to accomplish it? May I see a show of hands? I thought so.

This past week has been a challenge. There have been moments when I felt as if a few of these challenges were getting the best of me, but I'm so stubborn that, while I might have felt a little dizzy by it all, I wasn't about to grant that permission. I couldn't control every situation that felt threatening, I was reminded time and again by dismissing those "stinking thinking" tapes that I did have control over what my reaction could and should be. Thank God for tapes that allow us to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. I have had quite a few assignments lately and several editors to answer to, all of whom I enjoy working for, but there are instances when I can be my own editor, particularly when feeling a bit on the overwhelmed side, so I just called for a rewrite. And it worked. In fact, it worked very well.

Right now, I feel like I'm working several jobs and of all the "bosses" I have, I'm probably the most difficult and perfectionistic of the lot. I sometimes find that I'm harder on me than anyone else. When I am difficult with myself, I don't even have the decency to send myself flowers with a gracious note of apology, as one of my bosses did this past week when, following a tense moment, he sent me a vase of tulips with a note of congratulations and expressing, "sorry you have to work for a jerk". I had to admit that it took a pretty big person to do that and I appreciated the sentiment. Being the compliant, eager-to-please employee that I am, I didn't try and tell him that his assessment of himself was wrong. I called and thanked the man and, I even kindly pointed out that he's not a jerk...all the time. I mean, he spends a great deal of time out of the country and I've never found him to be a jerk when he's overseas.

This weekend, after completing my series of interviews for a feature story with a deadline that was fast approaching, I got up Sunday Morning to try and add all of the ingredients together and do what I was being paid to do which was, of course, something I passionately enjoy very much, especially when I get paid to do it. It was time to write.

That's when those annoying tapes started playing in my head. You know, the ones that tell you that you have no business sitting down before the keyboard and hammering out sentences that will no doubt be completely stupid and nonsensical and only provide final proof that you shouldn't be allowed to even write your name, much less a feature story on a very important topic.

My "pre-writing" exercises are wildly productive. I do every single little job that I would be loathe to tackle at any other time. I clean my keyboard with Q-tips and alcohol (Purell). I turn my CPU off and get all of the dust that's covering the pretty colored wires snaking through the guts of my Dell Computers. I take everything off my desk and actually dust it and then rearrange it all, usually placing everything in exactly the same place, but for some reason it feels more orderly. Probably for no other reason than at least the dust is cleared and I can't "finger dust" on the surface.

I clean my coffee maker, taking pains to make sure all of the stains are removed and restoring it to "almost new" condition.

I surf the web and visit all of those sites that I think to visit when I'm busy doing other stuff, you know, internet sites extolling the joy of jasmine tea, or maybe looking for great rates for weekend getaways that I'll never take and, were a deadline not looming, would probably never opt to go anyway. Sometimes I finger my passport, look longingly at the French Customs Stamps and that leads me to check on the current temperature in Paris and imagine French people sitting down to dinner as I sit down to a steaming platter of fresh fear before my flatscreen monitor.

I go back and read old E-mails - some that make me laugh and some that make me angry - anything to get my mind off the real task before me - the thing I'm trying to forget that I have to do. I work about 20 Sudoku puzzles, many times without even cheating or clicking the "hint" button - and then I wonder if I have an addiction to Sudoku and, if I do, is it healthy or unhealthy? Should I be worried?

I read passages from David Sedaris books that I could probably recite without even looking at the pages. It still elicits a giggle. And then I wonder if I should have exposed my children to quirky writers like David Sedaris, Jack Handy (Deep Thoughts) and I seriously become concerned that too much Al Franken might not have been in Katie and Justin's best interest, but then I quickly dismiss that concern because, let's face it, it's too damn late and even though he's way too liberal for my middle of the road tastes, he's just so "laugh out loud" funny.

I clean out my wallet and arrange everything in almost perfect order, with the full knowledge that I'll mess it all up within 36 hours after the deadline has passed and I've submitted my assignment. But that's OK - it's proof that the act of cleaning can sometimes unclutter my mind even more than it unclutters my desk.

I'll decide that we need a new comforter - one with daisies on a blue background, and I'll surf all of the websites that pop up when one enters the words, "daisy comforter with blue background" in the google search box. I never for one-second entertain the thought of actually buying one. I just like to surf-shop.

Then I'll get really irritated because I'll look at my walls and wish someone would have given me a framed copy of one of the most beautiful prints I've ever seen - "Daisy on Blue" by Jennifer O'Meara. I first saw it in the ladies restroom of "Howard's Pub" on Ocracoke Island last July. I love that poster and I have to believe that just gazing at that exquisite print for a few minutes might have inspired me to the point I wouldn't have to waste time surfing the 'net to see how much it would be if I just bit the bullet and ordered it.

I make a couple of phone calls, usually to people I wouldn't really think I had the time to call under normal circumstances, but suddenly feel compelled to ring up because it buys me more time to procrastinate.

FINALLY, after I have gone through my litany of time-wasters, I reach for my faithful, and most favorite, Anne Lamott book, "Bird By Bird", and I turn to the same pages I read everytime I hit a writer's cement block.

Maybe you can relate to this. I KNOW I can. It's aptly placed in the chapter entitled, "S***** First Drafts" :

"I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said you can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all of the same people you do.)."

"Very few writers really know what they are doing until they've done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow. One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, 'It's not like you dont' have a choice, because you do - you can either type or kill yourself.' We all often feel like we are pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid. The right words and sentences just do not come pouring out like ticker tape most of the time. Now, Muriel Spark is said to have felt that she was taking dictation from God every morning - sitting there, one supposes, plugged into a Dictaphone, typing away, humming. But this is a very hostile and aggressive position. One might hope for bad things to rain down on a person like this."

I especially like the suggestion she makes on page 27 of "Bird by Bird":

"Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail and drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in any high-maintenance parental units, drop in any contractors, lawyers, colleagues, children, anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away, trying to make you feel like shit because you won't do what they want - won't give them more money, won't be more successful, won't see them more often. Then imagine that there is a volume-control button on the bottle. Turn it all the way up for a minute, and listen to the stream of angry, neglected, guilt-mongering voices. Then turn it all the way down and watch the frantic mice lunge at the glass, trying to get to you. Leave it down, and get back to your shitty first draft."

"A writer friend of mine suggests opening the jar and shooting them all in the head. But I think he's a little angry, and I'm sure nothing like this would ever occur to you."

Don't you just love that and in your most honest moments, don't you sometimes feel like doing just that? You don't have to be frustrated by a deadline to find some solace and completely inappropriate satisfaction by engaging in just such an exercise. I think it's brilliant. I'm happy to report that it works very well, because I've done it a time or twenty. For now, I won't reveal the names of the mouse people in my mason jar, but you know who you are. ;-) If you're not sure of your place on my list, E-mail me privately at: susiewrites@gmail.com and I'll let you know your ranking on that particular day. The queue changes just like the price of an airline ticket on any given day.

After reading what I need to read everytime I feel stuck, and I can get really stuck now and again, I realize that my feelings and fears are completely natural and familiar and somehow, simply acknowledging them seems to take the power out of them and, after looking around and realizing I've done all of the little tidying up things I'd never stoop to on a "non-deadline" day, I get down to business. I look over my notes, and somehow it really works and the stuff begins to take shape. Of course, it's usually five or six in the morning when I'm finished, but it works. It works very well.

And so it did again this past Sunday Night/Monday Morning. I met my deadline and then, last night, I met two more. And tonight, when I swore I would stay as far away from my computer as possible because I think we both needed the break from each other, what do I find myself doing? Writing. OK, I did play two games of Sudoku, but then I decided to blog and I have no idea why, because it's not like I have a "blog entry deadline". Probably if I did, my desk would look a lot more organized because, predictably, it got all messy again, just like I knew it would, although the keyboard is still shiny from the Q-tip/alcohol treatment, though I do notice some of my letters are starting to fade just the tiniest bit. I must have been rubbing too hard.

15 March 2006

I finally get it...

I've always heard it said that when you have the opportunity to do what you love most, to delve into your passion, that it isn't work at all. I understand that today.

I'm working on a feature story for a local magazine, and the theme of the issue will be "Legacies". My feature story focuses on Organ Donation. I was excited when handed the assignment because I have always been a huge proponent of organ donation, both living and after death. Talk about leaving a legacy!

I had the privilege today to meet with an incredible woman who, unfortunately, lost her husband to complications following a kidney transplant. The kidney was donated by a friend of the couple and the procedure itself was successful. The patient passed away due to an opportunistic infection that struck his compromised immune system. Of course, his immune system was compromised due to the immune-suppressing medications essential in order to prevent his transplanted kidney from being attacked and rejected by his body's built-in defense system.

The interview I conducted today gave me the opportunity to meet a very strong, kind, empathetic woman who managed to rise above her fresh grief in order to publicly express her support for organ donation and to encourage others to recognize the need. She wasn't bitter that her experience didn't quite turn out as she hoped it would. This woman cared enough about raising public awareness and, perhaps, changing some attitudes by offering information on something she still believes in.

I know it couldn't have been easy for this gentle lady, having to revisit the entire experience with me as we talked about the etiology of her husband's disease, the point where it became clear that his body required a new kidney and how touched they were when friends stepped forward to offer up a very personal, physical piece of what makes their own body's function.

And then we discussed the post-transplant crisis that resulted in a return to Duke University Medical Center and the subsequent rollercoaster ride she and her husband endured has his condition flickered optimism from time to time, but ultimately dwindled into unfortunate demise.

I love to write and it has always been such a wonderful outlet for me and, from time to time, I've actually got paid to do the thing I love doing most and what I eventually hope to transition to full-time. One of the best caveats of writing is that many times it affords the opportunity to meet some amazing individuals who might not normally cross my path. Such was my experience today.

Writing also has the bonus feature of educating both the intended reading audience, as well as the person penning the piece. During the course of our two hour interview this afternoon, I learned a great deal about the "before, during and after" phase of an organ transplant. But even more importantly, I was granted the gracious gift of learning not only about the topic at hand, but of the quiet dignity and gentle spirit of a woman who has had a pretty challenging time of it. She probably had no idea how much I was gleaning by simply sharing time with her on this bright, almost spring day in Wilmington, North Carolina.

To be sure, the theme of our discussion was fascinating, but the physical and almost spiritual presence of this woman was what affected me even more than the facts of her experience. I am so grateful for that gift and that our paths intersected.

Later this evening, I had another wonderful opportunity of interviewing another subject for my feature story. This time, I had the pleasure of meeting and learning about the experience of a gentleman who donated one of his kidney's to his 33 year-old stepson. Once again, I listened to a quiet, unassuming hero share his experience with the transplant process - what it felt like to learn he would be the donor, and how he gathered the courage, though he would never term it as such, to donate a living piece of himself to a young man he has raised as his own. Unique circumstances. Ordinary folks facing extrordinary life and death situations with grace, generosity and immeasurable strength, touching countless lives - among them, the person taking down their story.

To write of such people and be privileged to hear very personal, private pieces of their life story is a most humbling experience. Rather than be given a paycheck to be in this position and learn exquisite facets of the human spirit, I almost feel as if I should pay for the opportunity. However, since I have bills to pay, I will accept that check, but researching this genre of story can't help but make an indelible impact on the messenger and, if I do my job well, the folks learning from my selected words expressing what I have learned from others.

And in between these two interesting interviews, my son popped into the salon and Vanessa got snippy again. The results were so great that, about an hour later, she got snippy with my husband. Both results were perfectly executed but, then again, she is a professional snipper.

To round out a nearly perfect day, I got a call from NY and an invitation to do a feature story for a national magazine. I'm beyond excited and looking forward to this most welcome challenge! I must thank my dear friend for recommending me to the editor and paving the way for me to play with my passion some more. Thank you so much Bruce! You rock!

Today was a good day. Tomorrow should be lots of fun because a surprise is in store for someone very dear to me. I bet I have new photos to post and I'll finish with...the rest of the story tomorrow...

01 March 2006

Memoirs of a Vida Diva...

No matter how much I may not always be completely thrilled to walk into work - it's utterly impossible to go five minutes without smiling or laughing in the company of this Long Island lady who joined us at Vida last November. She has a ready smile, an infectious laugh and can completely disarm the most "high maintenance" client who might walk through our door.

Along with Vanessa and my wonderful, desperately brilliant and beautiful daughter Katie, makes up one of the best parts of my day. As long as there is peroxide and several shades of Wella color at the ready, these "Vida Divas" have got it going on - in spades.

I never fancied myself the "administrator" of a salon and I'm still learning mostly by trial and error, sometimes it strikes me as incredible that I get to share many hours of my days with women who shoot holes through the myth that blonds are of very little brain.

I never realized just how much artistry and creativity and sheer chemistry goes into practicing the fine art of hair taming, but let me tell you, these are highly trained professionals who know exactly what they are doing. Without fail they go way beyond what the job description demands and if they were paid what they were worth, the rest of us lesser mortals could not afford their time and attention. They don't come cheap, but as with everything else in life, you get what you pay for and these divas deliver! Some of the best looking heads in Wilmington are coiffed to perfection and no one is allowed out of their chair, until every hair has been scrutinized and passed their seasoned and well trained eye.

In a strange sort of way, this job kind of fell out of nowhere. I'm so glad I landed among people who were destined to become close friends. I am grateful to know each of them, though I have a special affection for Vanessa and, of course, Katie. The one thing I know for certain each morning, is that there will be lots of opportunities to learn and to laugh. To get a paycheck with those caveats is a beautiful thing indeed. Thanks ladies, for making my life so darn much fun.