First of all, I want to give myself a huge pat on the back for reclaiming my "reader" label this year. We're halfway through 2013 and I've logged nine books so far. That's more than my number for the last few years COMBINED. I've read a writer's manual, spiritual books, memoirs, business manifestos and children's lit (with Kara and Nathan, making them even more fun), and I've had an on-again, off-again relationship with the Bible. My commitment to read more has officially become a habit. Welcome back, words on paper, I missed you.
Second, one book I've been thinking about buying is Ctrl Alt Delete by Mitch Joel, who's part of the elite group of thin, bald men in glasses who wax poetic on marketing and business. Last night I spent almost 40 minutes watching a video where he and Seth Godin, another brilliant baldie, talked about ideas in the book, including re-imagining how companies conduct business, how working folks manage their careers and finding your place in the idea business.
The link to this video sat in my inbox for two weeks, so if you're pressed for time, here are a few quotes from the beginning that really spoke to me.
"You as individuals are solely reliant on yourself for your financial success."
"We've never lived in a more interesting time for people to be more than their job titles."
"I'm somewhat frustrated with people who don't love what they do for a living."
That last one is the most interesting to me, because it reminds me that we are in the driver's seat of our own lives. Not every person has the perks and flexibility of a mid-level, white collar job, so it's also a tad naive, but I get it, Mitch. It's up to me.
The bit about doing what you love reminded me of my senior year in college when I was choosing a grad school. I had been accepted into two very different writing programs in Chicago: an MFA degree at a fine arts college where I would learn alongside budding novelists, painters, dancers and fim directors, and a more academic degree from a prestigious university whose name would look great on a resume.
It's how I made my choice that tugs on my heartstrings a little.
I spent my entire childhood writing and illustrating short stories. I gave them to my teachers with pride, and they wrote comments in the margins and branded the covers with As because they wanted to encourage me. One of my teachers, my beloved Mrs. Erber, set aside 10 minutes after lunch one afternoon so I could read my stories out loud to my classmates. Public speaking is on my LinkedIn profile for a reason, people!
In seventh grade I tied for first place in the Chicago Young Authors Contest. In eighth grade, my homeroom teacher signed my memory book with, "One day I know I'll pick up a book and you will be the author!"
I have accordion folders filled with poems and song lyrics I wrote in junior high and high school. As a teenager I spent hours at a time on the floor in my bedroom, boom box blaring, writing furiously in my notebooks.
My whole life, I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write powerful, beautiful words I would unleash on the world. I majored in English as an undergrad with no plans to teach. I was going to write and publish books.
And then I actually went through college, and I accrued a hella amount of debt, and once I graduated I wanted to be on my own. I didn't want to live with my parents. I didn't want to be a starving artist who waited tables by day and labored over book proposals in a studio hole at night. I was ambitious, and I already had a job with my alma mater where I would be writing feature stories and editing the campus magazine. I felt pretty lucky to get such an amazing job straight out of school and wanted more jobs like that in the future. I thought the academic route was the way to go.
I didn't want to suffer for my art. So I set my lofty creative ambitions aside and played it safe. I went full-force into a publications, marketing and communications career that allowed me to spend my days writing and oh, yeah, pay my bills.
Looking back, I feel like I betrayed lil' Frema a bit. Now I see that the best time to suffer for your art is at the beginning, where you have little to no responsibilites: no car payments, no mortagage, no family to support. No material wealth to speak of, just a love for what you do and willingness to do the work.
Just like I don't regret my degree path, I do not regret my career. The last eleven years have been so good to me. I've learned so much, and met so many people who are now part of my life forever. And I may not have written a book, but I've produced many things I'm extremely proud of.
On the other hand, I want my kids to take more chances than I did. I want them to see the starving artist and think of her as brave, not foolish or scary. I want them to find what they love - what they TRULY love, not a second cousin twice removed - and go after it with all they have.
On a somewhat related note: Before I watched Mitch and Seth's video, I read Mitch's latest blog post on the end of writer's block. It very much reminds me of my dear writing mentor, Anne Lamott, and her encouragement of shitty first drafts.
"Not every word is gold. The words don't always flow easily, on a consistent basis on every day. Sometimes it seems so easy. Sometimes nothing could be harder. But a blockage? Nothing? I don't believe it."
"Force yourself to write anywhere and everywhere. It's going to be hard. It's not going to feel right. Keep at it. You will get there."
I'm terrible at this, agonizing over this word and that to the point that it's no longer beneficial, and meticulous editing become a means to avoid starting something I may not be brave enough to finish.
But on Saturday night I tweeted this:
At 33, I'm finally getting braver.