Wednesday, January 1: Happy New Year!! It’s that time of year again, time to get on track with life! I’m always enthusiastic about turning the calendar to an untarnished new year, and getting a fresh start on what I hope will be the life of my dreams. However, I know it’s a challenge to keep myself disciplined. Accomplishing my New Year’s Resolutions in past years has always been a mixed bag. I achieve some of what I set out to do, and other things I don’t even touch.
“If you have the capacity to be more than one thing, do everything that’s inside of you.” ~ Bishop T. D. Jakes
This is the problem. I want to do everything that’s inside of me. And because of that, I actually never get anything done!
I am like the Cathy in the cartoon of the same name. I’m the Cathy of a million brilliant possibilities.
I am pretty good at many things, but not great at any one thing. I can write fairly well and I can do statistical or financial analysis. I can figure out Excel spreadsheets or Word documents. I can live abroad or at home. I am filled with wanderlust and, alternately, with homebody tendencies. I love solitude and intimate social gatherings. I can help organize U.N. delegations to Middle East Peace Conferences (Annapolis 2007) or help organize events for the Secretary of State (Condoleezza Rice 2008) or organize debates among students. I can teach adults or children; I can teach Koreans, Omanis, Saudis, Vietnamese, Americans or Mongolians. I can do diligent research and draw overarching conclusions, or I can wander around dreamily through foreign lands. I can exercise religiously or I can lazily sit around reading a good book for hours. I can take pretty good pictures, but I’m too impatient to actually learn how to improve. I can be incredibly organized, or I can be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants operator. I can study a foreign language until I’m blue in the face, scoring well on written tests, but I can never gain any facility with the language. I am an excellent student, always. I have been a reporter, a banker, a stockbroker, an intern (State Department), an intern again (MSI), an English teacher and an ESL teacher. And of course a mom. Let’s not forget that.
I have a B.A. in English and an M.A. in International Commerce & Policy. I have ESL and Virginia teaching certificates. I have written a novel from start to finish. I have written short stories and poems and research papers and blogs. I have worked as a cash control “banker” at Busch Gardens and as a bank teller, a loan officer and a credit analyst. I am pretty good with numbers and pretty good with words, but not great at either. What does one do with such a broad sweep of mediocre abilities, and such a variety of interests?
The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone. It also means that you can invent the language to say who you are and what you mean. ~ Toni Morrison
I admit now to stealing a great idea. I read about this idea on someone else’s blog. This person, I can’t even remember who (sorry!), advised people to choose a word for the year. After a great deal of thought, here’s what I’ve come up with:
“What you focus on expands, and when you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it. Opportunities, relationships, even money flowed my way when I learned to be grateful no matter what happened in my life.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
When I met Annette of Beauty Along the Road in Monterey, Virginia this fall, she inspired me to give some serious thought about what I really want to do. Annette and I brainstormed many ideas and when I left her, a lot of possibilities were floating through my head. At the time we met, I was feeling frustrated with my teaching job, and felt horribly depressed at the thought of continuing to teach. The college-level students I was teaching were immature, disrespectful and entitled, and I frankly hated teaching them. I believe I shouldn’t have to deal with classroom management issues in college-level classes; the classes I taught felt like teaching middle school, and if I wanted to teach middle school, I could go to work for Fairfax County Public Schools and make a lot more money. Not that I want to do that, believe me. Not only was the pay extremely low after being paid well working abroad, but the hours were longer and the job was more demanding, thus leaving little time to devote to what I really love.
If you cannot hear the sound of the genuine in you, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls. ~ Howard Thurman
What I love is writing.
Now of course I know that trying to become a published writer is a difficult road. Most people have to have a day job to support their writing habit. But I was inspired by Ann Patchett in her fabulous book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. She always knew she wanted to be a writer. She built her whole life around that purpose, and looked for a job which would pay the bills but not impinge on her free time. She knew teaching would drain her of her own creativity, so she became a waitress, and then a freelance writer for Seventeen. That was how she paid her bills, until she made it big with her novel Bel Canto.
She has some words of wisdom for aspiring writers: “Even if I don’t believe in writer’s block, I certainly believe in procrastination. Writing can be frustrating and demoralizing, and so it’s only natural that we try to put if off. But don’t give “putting it off” a magic label. Writer’s block is out of our control, like a blocked kidney. We are not responsible. We are however, entirely responsible for procrastination and, in the best of all possible worlds, should also be responsible for being honest with ourselves about what’s really going on.”
I have to stop procrastinating (though I’ve never called it “writer’s block,” because I don’t believe in it either).
Besides my desire to write, I also have the desire to travel. The one good thing about teaching ESL, the only good thing, was that I was able to live abroad, and to travel extensively. But am I willing to put up with one to have the other? Maybe I have no choice, but I’d like to create another option. Carol of The Eternal Traveller inspired me to try a Travel Writing Course from the Australian Writers’ Centre in November. I completed it and now am armed with some knowledge about the process. I know, I know, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
I loved living and working abroad, but now, I can’t do that because of family matters. So, I would like to use my hard-earned Master’s degree to find a job in international development. At least I could feel like I was contributing to something I care about. So if I need to work to pay the bills because I can’t make any money in writing, then I need to find a job I love, a job that has meaning to me, and a job that I don’t have to take home with me.
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dream of meeting your heart’s longing. ~ Oriah
With all that in mind, I’ve decided to take off from teaching next semester. Yes, I’m quitting my job, at least for spring 2014. That gives me 6 months to be FOCUSED. Because if I don’t get something else going here, then I’m doomed to continue teaching. That is NOT the option I want for myself.
Ultimately, I know I don’t have control over whether I get anything published or not, but I do know that I will certainly never get anything published if my work is sitting on my computer unseen by anyone else. I also know that I will not get a new job unless I am applying for jobs. I just can’t see strangers knocking at my door begging me to come to work for them. I have to actively sell myself, sell my writing, sell my ideas: a very unpleasant business all around, and a terrifying one.
I went through this business of applying for jobs in 2008-2009, for nine grueling and demoralizing months. I had just finished my Master’s and I thought I would easily get a job. After all, before I became a full-time mom for 15 years, I had never had trouble getting any job I wanted. However, after 250 job applications, I had 5 interviews and 1 internship, which lasted for 9 months at Management Systems International, until I got hired to teach English in Korea. Believe me, I don’t relish the idea of doing this again. But my alternative is to stay stuck in a job that pays nothing and goes nowhere and drains me of all my energy. I have to do it again. I have no choice.
In order to stay focused, I need to cut back on my blogging because, although I love blogging, it can be addictive and time-consuming. I’m addicted to it because it gives me immediate gratification; I can see the stats and encouraging comments that push me to write more. Blogging serves one purpose in that it gets me writing, taking photos, pushing the boundaries of my world by trying to see it in a different light. It also gives me encouragement and helps me gain confidence, something I find hard to come by. But. It isn’t contributing to my goal of getting articles, or my book, published. And it certainly is not going to get me a job.
So, to keep things simple, here are my seven FOCUSED resolutions for 2014.
1. Pitch a travel article to at least one publication every week, beginning after January 13.
2. Finish revising my novel by the end of February. Spend March figuring out what steps to take to get it published and take those steps. Begin a new book after I get that process underway.
3. Apply for at least 3 jobs a week in international development until I get one (Painful).
4. Post no more than two posts a week to my blog. (This will be one of the hardest to keep!)
5. Continue my explorations of the East Coast over the next year, after my trip to California in early January. Venture to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware, Tennessee (Ann Patchett territory!). Take a road trip. And if I can get a job, or make some money freelancing, go to Costa Rica or one of the Caribbean islands. Pitch local travel articles to publications further afield.
6. Read a lot: short stories, novels, the craft of writing, travel writing.
7. Walk at least 5 times a week and eat healthier and smaller quantities of food.
At first dreams seem impossible, then improbable, then inevitable. ~ Christopher Reeve
“If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say.” ~ Ann Patchett
“Forgiveness…it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life. Every time I set out to translate the book…that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper, … I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. … I do believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing.” ~ Ann Patchett in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage
Ultimately, my dream is to combine writing and travel somehow, either by planning and offering writing retreats in far-flung parts of the globe, or by going abroad for several months at a time and writing like my life depended on it. Writing retreats would combine my natural teaching ability, my wanderlust, and my writing dreams. However, I feel the first step is to get published, so I can establish some credentials, and some credibility. One step at time…..