Copyright 2013 Pacific Northwest Writers Association. All Rights Reserved
Balancing With My Eyes Closed: Facing Reality
by Jennifer Paros
Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it.
~ Lily Tomlin
When my youngest son was three years old, at the suggestion of his concerned preschool teacher, we agreed to a state assessment of his “needs.” But after the evaluation, the specialist’s observations sounded like a scientific field log – as though she’d been in the bushes with binoculars. The subject thumped his chest repeatedly and ran back and forth. The more she shared, the clearer it was that the observed facts were only leading her further from understanding him.
What I learned in the next round of evaluations was: if my son was disinterested in doing what was asked of him and opted not to do it, the observer concluded he was unable to do it. I learned that what he did at home, he wouldn’t necessary perform during a test at school. I learned that the observer and the observed have an influential relationship on each other that affects results and data. And I learned that, though his behavior seemed to be the problem, observing, labeling, and trying to alter that behavior did nothing to serve him, because the focus wasn’t actually on him, it was on identifying what was wrong with him.
I grew weary of the facts, and of the conclusions drawn from those facts. Beyond observation, there was something more important about my son and his story that would never be grasped through a pair of binoculars. I felt confounded by the contrast between my knowing sense of him and external evidence of his behavior. The process of “facing reality” was leaving me out of balance and feeling unstable – not because I had a son with a diagnosis, but because stability comes from the inside, and all my attention was on the outside.
The Productivity of Letting Go
by Carol Coven Grannick
The day I stopped caring whether or not I ever got a book contract was the day I began to be the writer I wanted to be.
I’d had sporadic publications of poetry, articles, and essays, but began writing for children consistently in 1999. I’d fallen in love with picture books and middle grade novels, and my first story was accepted immediately for publication. I worked hard and hoped for the next. I had no knowledge of the business when I began, but set about to learn. I knew that the advice on the street was to “keep your head down and do the work,” to think about submission and publication only when the work was polished. I knew it was “the journey that counts”, but it sure felt great to have that first story snapped up right away.
Not only that, but publication was an integral part of every discussion, workshop, conference, and listserve, and it was impossible not to write in tandem with the pull of it. What was a writer, after all, without his or her words reaching others? I didn’t question it. As I polished works, I began submitting, waiting, recovering fairly quickly from rejections, and then repeating the process. I began to receive an occasional encouraging personal responses, some requests for more work, and gradually, requests for revisions.
I wrote tender, funny, or lyrical first drafts of middle grade fiction and picture books that had heart, but needed lots of work. As a new writer for children, I felt that I knew nothing and everyone else knew more, so I took every suggestion I was given, and too often end up with manuscripts I didn’t quite recognize. I saw improvements, but I didn’t always see me. I grew increasingly frustrated with the inability to sort out conflicting critique and felt alienated from some of my work.
Do You Speak IT
by Cherie Tucker
I taught a class at the University of Washington last quarter and had to learn a computer program called Canvas. I had to call the IT folks a couple of times to find out how to do something, and what I discovered is that the language they speak in IT is not quite conversational English.
My first question came when I wrote an announcement to my class, and then searched the screen for something (anything) that would say “Send.” I looked from top to bottom of the screen and from side to side. Nothing. So I called IT and told the fellow who answered what my problem was.
“Oh,” he said, “just click ‘Save.’”
Save? That to me said that that page would be there if I ever needed it again, but it didn’t seem to mean that anyone else would get it. But “Save” worked, and I nearly made it through to the end of the quarter without having to call them again. When I had to turn in my students’ grades to the UW, however, there wasn’t anything on the screen to tell me how to do that. more...
Blasting Through Writer’s Block
by Victoria C. Leo
You know how suddenly it can strike. Sometimes with a creeping paralysis, sometimes like the blow of Thor’s Hammer. You can’t write. You can force yourself to go through writing exercises, but the clear, beautiful, inspired prose or poesy that you are used to just won’t come. You get panicked; it doesn’t go away. You bribe yourself; no luck. You get drunk, go shopping, or eat a pint of premium ice cream. Nothing is working.
What causes it?
#1 Cause: Fear
When the underlying cause is fear, it can be fear of what success might bring. No one who loves me now will love me then, because I will be a published author while they are still struggling. My family will think I am “showing up” my dad, who could never get his poetry published.
But fear is usually fear of failure.
by Claire Gebben
At the age of eighteen, I entered Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan as a declared psychology major. In truth, I wanted to study creative writing, but my parents had a different idea. They’d pay my college tuition, they said, as long as I majored in something practical, something that would land me a job when I graduated.
So I chose psychology. I thought of myself as a good listener who might one day make a good counselor. Besides, learning about human behavior, I reasoned, would deepen my understanding of the characters in my stories and novels (regardless of the fact that, during that first semester away from home, I barely understood myself).
From the first day at Calvin, I felt out of place. To my dismay, my assigned roommate loved listening to country music and enjoyed shopping at the mall. Worse yet, I hadn’t attended a Christian school. The other students in my dormitory all seemed to know one another, or at least have Christian school in common. I read the bulletin board announcements seeking a place to fit in, but nothing presented itself. I began to feel odd, like a stranger to myself.
That first semester my most memorable class was Psych 101, an entry level curriculum on the various theorists then in the field, Skinner and Freud, Rogers and Jung. The professor, Dr. Mary Vandergroot, wore woolen skirts and sensible shoes, her curly, brown hair showing some gray at the temples. She had a patrician nose, near-set dark eyes and ample hips: physical features that did not exactly inspire. Yet as she presented the material, her passion for psychology lit up her eyes and made her pointed, angular face glow. more...