Oh, free WiFi, joy of my
How I appreciate you…
When I’m in New York.
Where you aren’t.
Or if you are,
You’re unreliable and
Much like Myself,
But I’d hoped better from you.
Yesterday afternoon, in a soaking freezing spring rain, I sat alone in a wet stadium chair and watched 30 minutes of Kid 2’s track meet. I watched kids run their guts out in 100 meter increments. I watched them pump and stride and hustle past. I was proud to be there, proud to know so many of those strong, fast kids.
And then one of them, a young lady I’ve gotten to know a little through school, came up into the stands. She stopped a couple of rows above me, a couple of rows below her parents, laughed, and said, “Did you see? I came in third.”
And I sat on my hands so I wouldn’t clap for her. She wasn’t talking to me, after all.
And I heard her dad do a “Pssht” noise. He said, “Third from LAST, there were only five girls in your heat.”
I shook rain out of my ear, hoping I’d heard wrong. The young woman laughed it off, shrugged her shoulders and hopped down the cold metal steps of the bleachers.
Is it possible that girl knows she ran fast? That she is good, strong, capable, even if two other beautiful, strong, capable girls outran her in the freezing rain? I hope she knows. Young lady, I hope you know. You ran like a beast. Good hustle. Way to push yourself. And to her dad, is it possible that you don’t know what a soul-crushing thing it is to speak words like that to your little girl? To anybody? Ever? Shame on you. I wish I’d had the guts and the crazy to turn around, walk up several steps, and tell it to you yesterday. I am proud of your daughter for doing a hard thing. I wish it mattered to her what I think, but how can it? I am a vague, shadowy adult on the outer periphery of her world. An occasional substitute teacher. YOU ARE HER FATHER and you made her accomplishment worth nothing. Shame on you.
I recommit now to be more vocal in congratulating the kids who work hard and the dads who support them.
I want you to see this video, but remember me and linkablities? I have issues. Anyhow, here is the YouTube address for the loveliest message.
It’s by the Cleveland Clinic, and technically it’s about medical treatment, but essentially it’s about being alive, being human, and sharing this planet with people to whom life is happening, constantly. If you have 5 minutes, see it. Then see all the people around you in a gentler light.
Serious writers outline. Everyone knows this. They create visualization boards and put awesome color-coded cards on corkboards with pushpins. They keep character bibles. They plan out Three Main Points of Action, they catalog the Try-Fail cycles, they draw sweeping character arcs.
I try to do these things. I try to be an outliner.
I write like a toddler playing with shiny glass beads. I play at it, which I am aware is not the world’s best work ethic. But it’s fun, and sometimes I allow myself to remember that writing is fun.
When I try to write like someone else, I find that less happens on the page. I think I finally figured out why. Here’s today’s epiphany. I love the discovery parts of writing. The starting from a point of conflict (usually emotional, but physical works, too) and growing a character inside a situation that will become clear later, when I feel like writing the scene where that stuff gets decided. The beginning with a conversation and building out into an interaction that grows into a written relationship… that’s the kind of writing that I love to do. Discovery-work.
Which still somehow feels LESS than it should be. So I try the other ways. I write an outline, and I make scene cards and they’re numbered and they have handwritten notes about what should happen in scenes, and then I put those cards up on a corkboard with red pushpins. And it looks really pretty, and I have NO FUN writing those scenes.
I think it’s because I already did the discovery-work part, and everything left over is work-work. And the rest of today’s epiphany? I don’t have to eliminate discovery-work. I don’t need to write like anyone else does. I don’t have to keep the charts, or learn how to use Excel, or color code my world (as much as I would love to do that part). I can write the way I write and take as long as it takes and put the words on the page as they come into my heart, and not worry so much that my mind doesn’t have a plan. Because the words want to be written. They want to exist on pages. They want to be shared, and they’ll come, even if it’s all out of order and skeewampus for a few drafts. The characters want to grow and become and flourish and try and fail and succeed and love and laugh, and they will, even if it’s in a different way than most people make it happen.
My way isn’t the best way to write. It’s not the fastest, or the most organized, or the smartest, or the most teachable. But it’s my way, and I can do it my way if I want to. And I want to.
A few months ago, Lovely Agent told me I should do Twitter. As in, “Well, yeah. Of course you should do Twitter.” Except she’s much more lyrical in all her speech than I ever am in my reporting thereof. So I signed up. For Twitter. And I’ve spent some hours over the past few months watching Twitter. Enough to recognize that there’s a Cool Kids’ Table on Twitter. Possibly I’ve posted once or twice.
BUT I DON’T KNOW HOW TO USE IT.
There. I said it. I don’t get it. I know that all four of my followers can see my twitterisms, and I am almost certain that they don’t care. I know there are people who are really good at it, and I know that they have jillions of followers to read their wit. And I know that there are people who send out messages like this ALL DAY “Buy it! I have a new product! You want it!” in 140 characters or less.
I theoretically understand that if I retweet something, someone else might see it. And I already know that the more I talk about someone else’s stuff, the better, because, see above. I find myself unable to fully commit to this practice, probably because I don’t know Real People who do it well. So, do you? Do you do this well? If you do, tell me who you are over there in Birdie-Land, and I’ll come read your twitterisms. And maybe I can learn the Right Ways to do this Twitty-ness.
(I’m @beccawilhite, because I’m terribly clever and stuff.)
When my Kids were little, I heard my brilliant sister say these words to a starting-to-melt-down toddler (hers, not mine) : “You don’t have to worry about that. Just worry about breathing in and out. That’s your job right now.”
And I went, “Huh? You can say that to a kid?” And then I hugged my brilliant sister, decided to be exactly like her (this lasted about seven seconds until I lost my cool, imagine that), and tattooed these words in my soul (my soul is full of tattoos — my skin? not at all)
“Just breathe. That’s all you need to do right now.”
And I used those borrowed (stolen) words for years. I used them a whole lot on Kid 4, who had this tendency to hold his breath after hitting his (admittedly way too big) head, which would cause him to pass out for minutes at a time. “Breathe, Kid.” I would say. “Just breathe in and out.” And I’d hold his little self while he went limp and bluish around the mouth.
I admit that occasionally I’ve used them on other people’s children. Nicely, of course, and simply to remind those kids that they didn’t need to get completely worked up about whatever was The Big Trouble of the moment — keep on breathing and I’ll handle the issue.
Then we moved out of the toddler years, and I said those words very seldom. Hmm. Interesting to me that they needed to hear them less and less as they grew into people who could manage things. (Strangely, I told myself those words ALL THE TIME. Still do.)
But do you know what happens these days? I find myself saying variations of those same words, out loud, on an almost daily basis. My Kids are Big Kids now — only one is in single digits, and not for long. But my Big Kids tend to hyperventilate with the looming list of Must Dos. Especially Kid 1, as she has some Real Life Decisions to make coming right up here.
“Which universities should I apply to? Look at all these mailers. Sacks full of mailers. I want to apply everywhere. NYU, mainly. Also I want to attend everywhere. NYU, mainly. Also, school is expensive. NYU, mainly.” And then the inhaling increases, but maybe she forgets to exhale. You know this? And so I say, “I will happily pay your application fees to 5 schools. All you have to do right now is choose those 5,” and then pet her shoulder until she breathes out.
Then this. Her: “I’m accepted to them all.” Me: “Yay! Enjoy that for a minute.” Her: “But I need to choose. But I need to apply for more scholarships. But I need to decide where to live if I go here or there or over there. But it’s all awesome. How do I choose one? But, but, but, but…” Me: “Breathe for a while.” Her, possibly scowling: *breathing in, breathing out*
And I kind of think that this reversion, this going back to my brilliant sister’s brilliant advice, is going to help me do my momming business for all the years to come. Yes, Kids, your schedules are full. Yes, you can handle the things (all the things) on your lists. And yes, you’ll be able to juggle the ones that overlap. But only if you keep breathing. In and out.
The breathing? It matters. Keep doing it. All day long.