The End of Being Chicken Sh*t or Why I Self-Published

To celebrate my 50th birthday I jumped out of an airplane, got a tattoo and self-published my first novel. Of the three, publishing was by far the scariest but they were all part of my midlife journey, my campaign to live my life differently, more deliberately, for the second fifty years (give or take a few).

The night before my skydive a friend asked me why I was doing it. I told her that I couldn’t live as a chicken shi*t any longer. There were so many things that I feared, irrationally, at that time. I was scared to death of heights, but I knew that statistically skydiving was pretty safe. I was scared to do much of anything permanent, because I was scared of making a mistake and scared of regret. My tattoo is permanent and a constant reminder that I can trust my gut and the choices I make for myself.

And I was scared to death of anyone knowing me, who I really was, what was in my heart. Writing “Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks: a love story” was me leaning into that fear and pushing past it. It was me giving it the finger and saying that maybe I did have something to offer.

At first I was defensive of my writing and the topic, young love. But reviews told me that a lot of people really enjoyed reading the book because it mirrored their own high school experience and they loved reliving it. I began to apologize and back peddle less and own it. I showed up at writers groups and proclaimed that I write romance.

Other fantastic changes also happened when I hit publish. I was forced out of my very small world. I had to interact with other authors and ask tons of questions because I was so incredibly lost. I met amazing friends, people who are stoked about life and writing and helping others reach their dreams. My world expanded and filled up with great people. And I reconnected with others from my past. They read my book and contacted me to say they liked it and played the guessing game of who from our high school inspired certain scenes or characters.

A few days after publishing I created some flyers and carried them around with me (because I was still too chicken to ask to hang them). I had lunch at a local coffee shop and my friend/editorial goddess, Chrissy, pushed me to ask to hang one on the bulletin board. I can still remember how I described my book, with a long list of everything it wasn’t and a promise that the owner didn’t need to read it if she didn’t want to. Leanne, the owner of Pinks coffee shop is one of those really sharp, funny people who read people well. She welcomed my flyer (it’s still there now!) and read my book and recommended it to others. I have lunch there frequently because the food it really good and the coffee and hanging around Leanne reminds me how far I’ve come. I tell her all my writing plans now and I’m open to having a book signing party when I publish the Vivienne series in a few months, something that sounded absolutely painful two years ago.

This past Wednesday, February 4th, was my two year writing anniversary. I realize that in some ways two years isn’t a lot. I hope its the start of a very long career. But I’m commemorating it to celebrate just how far I’ve come. My bravery level is through the roof compared to back then. I do things daily that I would have been absolutely traumatic to the old me. Right now I am planning to teach a class on self-publishing locally starting in April. Going through all the steps to make this happen I still feel fear–fear of failure, fear of rejection. But I’m not the chicken shi*t I was in my 40’s because even if I am afraid, I do it anyway. I tell the negative voices in my head to shut the F up and I do it. And it feels amazing, life-affirming, crazy powerful. I’m pushing forward, past my fears because I want others to get a chance to feel the same thing.

I’m going to end with a quote from one of those amazing, stoked, life-affirming people I’ve discovered along the way. Danielle LaPorte creates Truthbombs, daily smart thoughts. This was one from the other day, yet another that nailed exactly what I was feeling. If you like it you can subscribe to them here.

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Running To Stand Still

When my kids were little and we would go to the park I was constantly stopping them from taking time to stand on the edge of the pond and watch the ducks, or climbing on rocks. I wanted to keep moving on our walk and get home where, ironically, we really had nothing pressing to do. I was on self-imposed White Rabbit time, always late, always busy to get to … what? The end the walk? The end of my day? The end of my life?

I’ve been reading “The Skinny, Sexy Mind: The Ultimate French Secret” in preparation for the next novel series I plan to write. The book’s title really doesn’t describe the content well. I’m almost finished and still not sure what a skinny mind is. The part that has made sense, and made this a book definitely worth reading, is the American author’s analysis of how two years living in France helped her to overcome a long history of eating disorders. It has a lot to do with the rushing, racing to nowhere mentality that is so common in the United States and that I describe above. 

What she discovered in France (and I am rediscovering through her book) is an attitude of joie de vivre or joy of life. Americans think they get the concept, but what we really get is something like french fries, we think it’s what they have in France when it’s actually an Americanized version. Joie de vivre done our way is streamlined and fast and as copious as possible. Which is absolutely silly when you know the true meaning. 

The true meaning has to do with pleasure and guilt. The author, Trish Blackwell, learned to give herself lots of the first with none of the second. Generally, French women don’t do guilt, because most of them really don’t give a damn what you think about them. Their focus is on living their own life and getting as much pleasure and joy from it as possible. It’s summed up in one of the many quotes I highlighted, “When the focus of your life is more directed towards impressing or competing with others, you have sacrificed your ability to live your own life.”

Trish Blackwell’s eating disorders were the result of her competing, in her mind, with every other female around her. No matter how hard she tried the woman she saw in the mirror was in some way physically inferior to some other woman. She was literally running as fast as she could to a finish line that she was moving closer and closer with her actions, her own death.

It takes guts to for an American woman to declare that she is living for pleasure and has sworn off guilt. It flies in the face of our puritan work ethic and ultra competitiveness. Other women will be the first to pin scarlet letters to your chest: bad mother, selfish, indulgent, lazy. At a party recently I admitted that I have no interest in a mega cardio workout because I happen to like my curves and really don’t want them to disappear (plus is sounded like a horrid form of torture). Most struggled for a response to that announcement. 

And joie de vivre is about so much more than food and weight. It’s about slowing down and saying no to stuff that adds nothing to your life. Today the morning news show was one guilt ridden statement after another about not finishing Christmas shopping or decorating on time. Guilt is the national conversation and obsession but does it really add anything to your life? Would anyone on your gift list think less of you or reject a gift because it showed up late? (I know I accept gifts anytime someone wants to give them–day late, year late, it’s all good.) 

I celebrated the solstice yesterday, slowly, quietly, with no agenda but my own. It was fantastic, a true slice of joie de vivre. It’s an overcast day today but my little dehydrated orange slices look sunny and sweet hanging in my window. I love them because they are a reminder to slow down or even stop–all my competing and obsessing–all my running to stand still.

Much Joie

I have no idea what luck star I am hanging under today, but I’ll take it.  It’s easy to note everything that goes wrong on bad days, but here is everything that has gone right or is awesome about today (and it’s not even noon yet!)

1.  I slept last night!  (Any woman around 50 understands my sheer joie that this happened.)

2.  I had $3 off on a sandwich on my Panera card.  OK, actually it’s my husband’s card, but it is one of the reasons I love him so much, he shares his Panera points with me.  

3.  I got my kids to school just in time to not have to sign them in as tardy.  Feels a lot like sliding into home plate and just beating the ball.  

4.  I lost another pound.  My smoothies are doing their magic and I am loving them.  Had a choco, banana coconut one the other night.  Mmmmmmm.

5.  Almost every song on the radio this morning was a great one.  I was Shazam-ing all over the place.

6.  My hubby is on his way home to me from another business trip and it’s going to be a scary stormy night (you can put two and two together 😉 )

7.  My sorority sister posted stuff on FB that was so funny I laughed till I cried.  Made me remember college when I laughed till I cried almost everyday.  

8.  I got to go for a walk in my favorite park and it was almost deserted.  The trees were budding, the weather was perfect and the frogs were signing.  

9.  I get to spend time today in fantasy land with really fun, cool characters that I made up.  Writing really is the best job in the world. 

And that is what I am going to do right now, ’cause book two isn’t going to write itself.  

I just found this pic when I Binged “joie”.  I may have to find a bottle of this.


Jaded

On a continuum there is uncool, cool and jaded.  There were times I wished I were more in the cool zone than the uncool, but I’m glad to say I have yet to fall into the jaded.  Because jaded is just sad.

I first recognized these categories when I was working at Busch Creative.  It was the funnest division of (what was) an already fun company.  Our group was in charge of things like spring break activities and conventions for a company that sold FUN.  You would think this would be staffed by a bunch of really fun people.  

Some were, but most were at least too cool and quite a few fell off into jaded.  They had an attitude of ‘been there, done that, nothing exciting’  (said in a monotone voice).  Most were not old, but they were worldly.  For them this was the job they got after traveling the world running tours for bands.  They had seen a lot and done a lot by the time they were 35 or 40.  So maybe they were justified in being jaded, but that didn’t make it all any less sad (and a memorable lesson for me.)

I was 25 when I started working there, so I had youth combined with a natural joie de vivre that stood out in stark contract to the others.  They laughed at me for getting excited about any and everything.  I would be like, “we get to go out to lunch on the company dime — WooHoo!!”  and they would counter by complaining that there wasn’t a single good restaurant to go to in all of St. Louis.  Wherever we all ended up eating they would have to tell me what was wrong with the food there and how you could get much better (insert name of food) in Shri Lanka or Prague.  Each of them carried a big bottle of Tabasco in their briefcase which they would use to liberally douse on their lunch before ever taking a bite to see how it tasted.  It was almost a contest of who could be the most blase and jaded while having this amazingly cushy, fun job.  

I was young enough that I considered becoming more like them, acting too cool just to fit in with the group.  But it was just too much against my nature.  I was super excited by everything that happened there.  I traveled, met celebrities, and had swag coming out my ears that I could share with my friends and cute guys.  There was too much to like not to be all happy puppy about it. When I left I had a swag-filled apartment and a promise to myself to avoid ever being jaded.

Generally I think I’ve kept that promise.  I still get ridiculously uncool and overly excited about small things:  a new restaurant, a new store, a new flavor of pop tarts, the movie theater that is opening near me.  I’m working in another environment where too cool is in.  University instructors who get all excited about cookies at the faculty meeting or a small bonus check are seen as something less (usually less smart).  But I am standing firm in uncool and unjaded.  It works for me.  Big joy over little things gives me a fuller life, more fun along the way, more joie de vivre.