For the Love of Chrome

My teenage years were a decade past the death of the muscle car era. I lived within driving distance of a handful of racetracks, one of them, Daytona International Speedway. It didn’t matter if it were cars or motorcycles; where I grew up racing was a part of life. The sound of a high-powered high-performance engine has always caught my attention. I dreamed of having a car like a 1969 Pontiac, a 1968 Charger or any year Chevelle—but never did because of the expense. My draw to these high-powered machines is still present.

The first time I rode on the back of a bike I was about 8 years old. The experience was, at that time, the scariest and the most thrilling of my life. My next real automotive thrill came when I was 14. My step-dad had just finished rebuilding his AMC AMX. We had gone into town and on our way back he pulled off the side of the road and made me get into the driver’s seat. I was thrilled and scared as he went over the basic things that I should always check before pulling out on the road. The mirrors, my seatbelt, verifying the car was indeed in park.

He had me pull out on the road, which was at least a ten-mile straightaway, and I tried to drive like a young person who is trying to show responsibility and maturity— driving very slowly. However, that was not the scenario I found myself in. Instead, I think he wanted me to experience the power of a strong engine and also see how I would react to it. He instructed me to gas it. I gave it a little gas, exceeding the speed limit by about ten mph.

“No!” he said, “Put the pedal to the floor.”

When I didn’t respond quick enough, he reached over and pushed my knee until the pedal did indeed hit the floor. Holding on to the wheel with both hands in a death grip, I was thrown hard against the seat, shock tingling through my body. I glanced down at the speedometer as it crested 90 mph. And instantly, the ride was over. He made me pull over as we entered the 25 mph zone and switched places with me again. He never explained to me why we did that. I thought it was some sort of test concerning my license but there was never talk of that.

With that brief few moments behind the wheel, my love of engines and muscle cars grew but I kept myself at a distance. Girls didn’t drive them or work on them. I was allowed to hand tools over and ask questions, but with the impression that I wouldn’t understand these things anyway. And even if I did, they would do me no good.

I had one car that was barely considered a muscle car and that was my orange Datsun 280Z. God, I loved that car. The two-seater coupe was fast. Ridiculously fast. But the engine wasn’t modified for it to go fast for long and I repeatedly blew the radiator doing over a hundred leaving radiator fluid all over my windshield and having to pull over until the engine cooled. I had to have the block fixed once from when I cracked it. It needed a dual over-head cam to keep it from overheating (or just me to not push it anymore). Over time I couldn’t justify the expense and that car was always costing me something (everything from car parts to speeding tickets).

The world of cars is still a mans world and most likely will always be. But there are girls out there who dream of pushing the limits—not just of society but of big V8 motors. There are those of us who love the smells of the racetrack and garages. There are those of us who turn our heads to the sound of a beefy engine or do a double-take when we see a truly beautiful car. There are those of us who love to drive fast but hold back because it’s unladylike. We are closet gear-heads who have learned to love from a safe distance. I recently started writing a novel in which my main character is a teenage female mechanic back in the 1980’s. Her setting is different than mine as she is allowed and encouraged by her father to pursue her love of engines, fast cars, and racing. She gets to live my dream.

hosea-georgeson-671468-unsplash

#52essaysnextwave

Advertisements

Difference Between being a Writer and an Author

I miss when my writing was easy. I miss the days of not caring whether or not what I wrote was all that good, since no one saw it but me. I miss when I could just write randomly and inspirationally without giving it focus or being complete. I miss “just writing”.
However, those moments of just writing never fulfilled me. I missed out on the joy of sharing my work with others, my work lacked its other half, the reader. My work was bland without editing to make what I wrote better. My writing lacked a great many things and yet I was content with that. Since I always felt better just being able to write what was in my heart and get it on paper. I rarely tried to see if it could become anything. Most of the time what I wrote just sat in a notebook or drawer and did nothing but take up space on the page.
Those moments were easy compared to now when I have to think of things like Character Arc and Plot. Now I have to actively ask myself “and then what happened?” and “how can I make things worse for my character?” The days of random non-scenics storytelling are over for me. The days of hard work and hard writing are here to stay.
Hard writing used to be me writing about difficult things about my past or trying to muck through my feelings. Now I can include bits of those things in my stories and make them mean something. I’ve learned that writing through my feelings is often the only way to get to the heart of things or to remove my own personal obstacles. Hard writing used to be sitting down to write when I didn’t want to (oh wait, that is still a thing). Hard writing is still writing under pressure. Sometimes that is when the most precious gems appear though.
I still get to revisit the days of not caring if my writing is good in every first draft. While every first draft has it’s gems, it is usually surrounded by a lot of shit and that is the beauty of writing first drafts. You get to revisit that place of just writing whatever shit pops out of your head and get to run with it no matter how awful it is. One of my favorite mentors, Anne Lamott, recommends allowing yourself to “write shitty first drafts” as it is one of the best parts of the writing process.
To the joys of not finishing? Ah, well, there is no joy in that. When I go back to stories I started and left unfinished, they almost always remain that way. I try to finish and figure out where I was originally going with the story and I rarely can figure it out. These stories sit as dead soldiers in a to be done pile and we stare blankly at each other, never knowing what to do next. I can’t throw them away. I still hope these endings will find their way to me so that I can catch them and write it down.
So, every day I find myself “just writing” isn’t the same now. I have to do more and I now start with better ideas than before. I ask myself questions about what I am writing. I dig deeper than just the surface scratch and see if I can find fertile ground to work with. I push myself harder to get started but once I am going I can be unstoppable.
I know what I want to say or at least what I am trying to say. I told a friend of mine once that “Writing is like photography, you have to write a lot (take lots of pictures) and then even after you get something good, you still have to edit it and maybe it will look like what you envisioned in your head or with your eyes.” These things don’t always transmit well and it takes time and patience.
So while I might miss the old way, the new way is more satisfying and more complete. It is always a pleasure when someone reads what I have written and tells me they really liked it. Their whole face lights up much like mine when I write. It lets me know that my hard work is worth it and that no matter how hard it can be, it is a worthwhile thing that I do. Good writing will always be appreciated, by both the author and the reader. I am glad to be both.

photo-1537490613201-cabe37b1bf52
#52essaysnextwave

A Jealousy of Dysfunction

I’m going to admit something I’ve never admitted before. I am jealous of people who possessed a good, decent, and normal upbringing. I’ve spent some time wishing I had that one key thing which ripples across the surface of so many facets of a lifeline. I know that having a normal upbringing wouldn’t have guaranteed me success. I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my flawed upbringing. There are some wonderful things I might have missed without that dysfunctional sidecar.

I’ve had to learn interpersonal communication skills as an adult that I should have been taught as a child. These things would have helped me with everything from developing and keeping friendships to being successful in the workplace. Some of these missing skills would have made me a better parent. These tools would have helped me make better decisions and choices in my life. I would have avoided some heartbreaks.

I would have succeeded in life much sooner.

Yet, when I look back at my life, I am grateful for the things I went through and the things I experienced growing up. Yes, life could have been easier for me. I have mostly learned the hard way, sometimes the hardest way. I am glad that I’ve made it as far as I have and wonder if I had been brought up differently if I would have been able to reach the same level of experience that I currently have.

So, while I wish that my growing up had been in a nurturing, close, loving and supportive environment and while I wish that I had been taught all the profound moral values while being surrounded by knowledge and diversity, perhaps by being the child of University Professors or Business Professionals, I accept that I was not involved in any of these things. I accept that what I wanted and what I needed were two different things. I’ve accepted the life and challenges that life has brought. Rarely has my life been easy but neither has it been so difficult that I couldn’t figure it out.

While my upbringing lacked, my adulthood has been an active process of learning and growing and creating the life I want. My adulthood has been the classroom where I taught myself, searched for truth, filled the voids, fixed the holes and learned to develop a resilience to my dysfunctional sidecar. I’ve learned to grow through what I go through. I’ve learned that a lifetime of self-improvement is more valuable than having a cookie cutter foundation and wasting it anyway.

I feel like in the end, I probably turned out the same. I just have a heavy rich suitcase full of unique experiences that are better than any I come up with for one of my fiction stories. These experiences will pepper everything I write, every character, every scene, every motivation and for that I am grateful. So, while a part of me is still a touch jealous or envious of those with great childhoods, I am glad for the variance in our society, knowing each of us can take control of the handlebars and lose the sidecar, anytime we want to.

photo-1535086065667-3adb824a8585
#52essaysnextwave

Writing Allies

Writing is perhaps the greatest love of my life. I estimate that I have been writing regularly for twenty years. This is a solitary practice for me and something I can do anywhere I go. While I have shared snippets over the years, including college papers and a short stint as an editorial columnist, and exchanged letters with dozens of people, I am still shy when it comes to sharing my work.

Within the last two years, between blogging and writing groups, I have managed to not only share my work but openly embraced criticism and in doing so gained new perspectives. Seeing my work through the eyes of others is thrilling to me. Listening to fellow writers read their creative versions of the same writing prompts is absolutely mind-blowing. The communities that I have found myself in elevate my soul in ways that I cannot express on paper or even verbally.

I have gained these “writing allies” through my connections with writing and the sharing of ideas. I am encouraged and supported by these other writers, these other amazing souls who speak the same language I speak and allow me to be myself and explore my writing possibilities. They are great companions to my personal studies of character arcs, mirror moments and plot points.

I am grateful that I now have a strong circle of amazing writers around me. Their verbiage is like a secret language that beacons me to open my imagination to the possibilities around me. When they can relate to something I have written or find the beauty and depth in the smallest seed of my writing, I feel as though I have won some grand prize. The fodder exchanged between writers contains a fertile space where the cross-pollination of opinions and ideas becomes an accelerator. We are all steering the craft with each piece we read and every project we write.

It is also a relief to hear how another writer’s struggles against their inner critic, their worst enemy, their inner naysayer, their impostor syndromes. Even for many published writers the criticism of family and friends, critics and reader’s reactions can all be cruel or overwhelming. It is nice to have others to turn to who know and share the pain of rejection and criticism. It is comforting to hear another person who says, “yes, I can relate to that.” I don’t know that there are many other communities like this one. Ones where the souls are connected and tug on emotional strings. It’s good to know that I am not alone as I sometimes feel.

Yes, I want nothing more than to be a professional full-time writer, being paid to do what I love, working from my cozy little room surrounded with my armamentarium of books, word-processors, paper and pens, supportive quotes, special red editorial pens, and desk mascots. I would love to churn out amazing stories that my readers love, can’t put down and can’t get enough of. I long to mingle with masters of the craft at writer’s conferences and go on writing retreats. My biggest and most ambitious dream is to become a successfully published author who can churn out a best-seller every year. I don’t know if I can really make any of these things happen for myself but I am damn sure going to try and enjoy doing it. I know I couldn’t do it half as well as I do without the assistance of my writing allies.

DSRLQUZWAAAiKxv

#52essaysnextwave

Wild Failure

I’ve been thinking about failure and mistakes lately.

During my formative years, the mindset in my house was that making mistakes was a sign of weakness, leaving me terrified of any possible failures and petrified to make mistakes. It took until later in adulthood to realize that this lack of experimentation left me with limited experiences and rendered me maladapted for personal growth. My belief in this negative notion shadowed many choices in my life.

I felt so lost. I was Alice, asking the cat which way I ought to go but never caring where that was. I moved forward in life and always made it somewhere, but not necessarily where I really wanted to be. And definitely not where I needed to be most of the time. I was stuck in the place between back there and my wildest dreams.

I think this feeling of being so scared to fail or do anything wrong, it prevents one from even trying. How can you learn new things if you never try? How can you learn what doesn’t work if you never fail?

I’ve been a keen observer of this within my writing. I started off failing and could see it plainly on the page but least I was trying. So I wrote and wrote and wrote. And some of it was good and some of it sucked. But I learned. Every day I write, each new story, scene or essay; I improve. I smell the fertile words and plant the seeds that I will get to blossom later. I smile when my writing comes together and makes sense. I am proud when I see it shine and glow, my own private magic on paper. I love the writing process. I might not get it right the first time and maybe not even the second time I revise it. Maybe the third time though. Some days I feel like I am painfully ripping the words from deep in my chest and other days the words flow from my fingertips like a powerful stream. I can empty my mind on the paper and analyze what is there. I feel blessed to be able to create like this. I am grateful for the teachers who have encouraged me to go wild and make mistakes. I am grateful to have listened to them.

I feel this change occurred because of my writing or because of getting through my writing or perhaps it is simply a huge coincidence. With my writing I am now willing to make mistakes, realizing that any mistake I make, I can fix. This has been a vital component of my personal growth as well.

While I aspire for perfection, I know I am far from it. I know that I will continue to make mistakes along the way. I also know not all of those mistakes will be bad. Some of them might just become exactly what they are supposed to be… such as a fresh new insight or a fresh new idea.

I think it is vital to look at and talk about what works and what doesn’t work. I think it is nice to chew on new things and to play with new ideas and test different ways of doing things. That is the coolest thing about writing, everything can change or be changed. A word here or there can change the entire feeling, the meaning or even the readers’ expectations. Like an attitude or a favorite piece of wardrobe, writing is so mutable. So diverse. So integral. Mistakes and failures are clay in the author’s hand, illuminating around an idea, building through alchemy.

DTcRLnkX4AELelO

#52essaysnextwave

Writing is Easy, Submitting is Hard

Writing is easy, submitting is hard.

 
Although, actually, it’s more like preparing for submission is hard. Most submissions can currently be done over the internet and the guidelines, requirements, and expectations are all clearly laid out. It’s as easy as attaching a file and hitting send. The harder part is deciding what to send and where to send it to. It is a lot like dating, no matter how good your profile is you might be swimming in the wrong pond. Finding the perfect match usually takes a lot of trial and error.

 
I recently sent out my very first submission. It seemed like a good fit, a contest for emerging writers. My story was good, had an interesting topic and was very unique. I wanted so badly for this to be my first published piece (and I still hope that it will be). The deadline loomed and I panicked, rushing to have other writers read my story and give me feedback. Waiting for their feedback was like watching the clock, painful at times. I did finally get some amazing feedback and rushed to make the necessary changes. Scrambling for last-minute advice, I asked a handful of people read the story and their reactions seemed fairly positive. None of the reactions really glowed. I knew right then that my story was lacking or missing something but I sent it in anyway.

 
The waiting for a response to my submission was arresting. I could hardly write at all. I checked my email constantly and stalked their online submission tracker. I waited for any kind of update or anything that would clue me in to how I did. I have never been that kind of anxious besides during pregnancy. It became long brutal weeks of waiting, wondering and worrying. I started reading my story over and over again and continued to let others read it, listening to their comments. I even took the piece to my new writing class to enlist their opinions on the story and my writing.

 
I started to feel the weight of jumping in too fast. I began to see all of my stories flaws waving at me like giant red flags. My dreams sinking heavily. The writing was good. The story was good. I had done a good job: but that is all, it was not great. There were some key elements missing. There were glaring issues that needed my deepest attention. I continued to languish in my writing depression.

 
Then the results came in. My story was not chosen. I faced my first rejection. I won’t lie, I cried (I am an emotional creature so I was not surprised). I was also relieved. I knew that the story still needed work and I was determined to bring those areas out of the woodwork and begin a new.

 
I admit I am still having trouble. I have written very little since that submission at the end of July. I still languish in the feeling of hopelessness. Yet, I know I must keep writing. I know how to reconcile the problem but have not the fire or the desire to see it through. This essay is possibly the longest thing that I have written since and I am hoping that just forcing myself through this wall of self-doubt will somehow manage to take me to the other side. I cannot indulge this feeling any longer. It is time to dust myself off and get back in the saddle again and this time find the mark.

 
I know in my heart that I will never give up writing as it gives me something that I cannot get from any other source in my life. It is like water, I can live without it for a while, but not for long. Writing keeps me grounded and centered and allows me to blossom. It adds it’s own fuel to my fire. Without writing, my life is dull and dim. I can’t live that way.

 
So, today, I will begin the revision. I will allow myself to put my heart and soul into this story I love so much and see what comes out on the page. I will jump back in and enjoy the crisp cold shock of the water and let it wash over me and renew me once again. I will glean through all my notes and comments as I strengthen my story and make the beginning clear and the story concise. This time, when I send out the story for submission, I will let it go, knowing I did my best and will not rush it out the door. I will pick up the next story in earnest and give that one all that I can give and continue to keep the ball rolling back and forth until I finally score.
Keep writing. Keep submitting. It’s all part of the process.

 

600_468892021
#52essaysnextwave

The Winning Team

It’s election season and I started to notice something I hadn’t noticed before. Politics is very similar to organized sports. You have two main teams to root for. People get all riled up about who will win. Some teams that have a large following also have a large base of haters. These confrontations between the two are always a shouting match of who is better and who will win. “Your team sucks” is the equivalent of “crooked Hillary” or “dumpster Donald”. Although, up until these last few years, it was safer to have a favorite team than to pick a side in politics. Being a Raiders fan wasn’t going to cost you any friends and didn’t impede your ability to get hired at your dream job. The competition was all in good fun. No lives were on the line. Freedom itself wasn’t being challenged. The only chance of a riot was after the championship game and even then, it was in the hometown and only for one night. Now we have “demonstrations” between opposing groups and clashes with tear gas and riot police on a regular basis. We now have confused children that don’t understand why no one can have a civilized talk with grandpa anymore because he is always spouting off about liberals trying to take his guns. There are so many problems and divides now that have made us all reactionary. Everyone has an opinion and we are bombarded by them through all forms of media, traditional and social. Everyone thinks they are on the right side of the fence and that only their team’s actions are for the best interests of the general population. No one wants to lose what all is at stake. Everyone wants to celebrate a victory. But are we heading in the right direction? Are conflict and a championship necessary? Or are we simply doomed to repeat old ways over and over?

lubo-minar-736214-unsplash
#52essaysnextwave