Waiting, Not Just for the Birds

I woke up this morning, went into the kitchen to boil water for coffee, then came back bedside to open the window shade (I have a custom-designed platform bed that runs right up to and under a great big window that looks out into shockingly green woods).

Leaning forward a bit, I saw that the bird feeder was practically empty. I also saw a little guy, what I think was a Song Sparrow, perched there as if he were sleeping. “If he’s not sleeping,” I thought, “he’s the bravest bird ever. He knows I’m here, and doesn’t give a damn.”

I watched him for a minute … my cat joined me. Nope, this little bird was going nowhere. My cat and I sat a few minutes more. I heard the water boiling on the stove. The bird moved his head around and preened some, but he did not budge. I raised my phone to take video, and still, he sat, not a care in the world.

Had he hit the window? Was he stunned? Was he dying? (I know, first, I’m clearly no bird expert and second, the dark side of my mind leaps pretty quick to “Is he dying?”)

Ah! No! Phew! He poked his head in the near-empty feeder and grabbed a munchie. Cool! For the first time ever, I watched a bird from just a few inches away open a sunflower seed, spit out the shell, and nom-nom away at the juicy seed meat inside. This fellah was not dying, he was hungry and patient. I returned to my kitchen, poured water over grinds, then went outside, lowered my birdfeeder, and filled it to the brim with glossy black seeds. (Only when I pulled the feeder down did that bird fly away.)

“Tough guy,” I said. “You’ll be back.”

I returned to the kitchen, pressed my coffee and poured it, then grabbed my camera and made my way back to the edge of my bed. I sat with a blanket over my legs and my camera at the ready.

Two other birds came immediately—a Chestnut-backed Chickadee and some gorgeous blue-black-headed lean-bodied silver-grey bird (told you I’m no expert).

Then the Song Sparrow (or Pine Siskin or finch of some kind, or, or, or???) returned and I got to filming him eating a sunflower seed. You can see here, it seems he’s injured or lost his left eye. Right?

 

I should have gotten to work thirty minutes earlier than I did this morning, but who can resist birds? I wanted to wait and see what this little guy’s story was. Gladly, it was just that he wanted breakfast and is the type of bird that doesn’t flinch when other birds or giant Earth-bound creatures come around. I’m glad I sat there, waiting.

Writers are used to waiting. Specifically, we wait after we have submitted our work to a literary journal, a magazine, a contest, or a jury for a writers’ residency. We wait when we send our nine bazillion query letters out for our first novels.

These past few months, I’ve been waiting on top of waiting. Two of my memoir clients have been sending their own rounds of query letters out into the big wide agent world, and I check in, eternally hopeful, confident, and empathetic. This week, I’m helping another client with agent research and a synopsis and query letter—and I know what lies ahead for her: The Waiting.

I warn her: The Waiting. I prop her up for this: The Waiting. She’s a wise woman (and now she’s a friend), and she hears me loud and clear. She’s a writer, but she hasn’t yet taken this leap, this leap into The Waiting.

The Waiting can be hell, and the only way to survive it is to talk about it with other writers.

What do you do while waiting for an acceptance or a rejection, an agent and a publisher? 9.97 out of 10 writers will tell you to start on your next project. Not only will this keep you from plucking your eyeballs out of their sockets, but say your dream agent calls—that agent will say, “I love your book, I want it. What else do you have and how soon can I have that too?” Because agents, now more than ever, want more than a one-hit wonder. They look to build a relationship with you. You are—your writing is—an investment. You can be as literary as they come or as genre as can be or strictly business, but you cannot be a one-trick pony.

I confessed in my last post though, that I have not been working on my next novel, nor on my next short story or flash fiction piece. I have starts of a new novel, on pages and in my head, but here I am, with no next project of my own underway. I’ve recently carved out some spare time too, and what have I done with it?

You see, this winter under the Olympic Rain Shadow has been unusually rainy and unusually shadowy. We are grey-drizzle-weary. Friends have been holed up like bears. “Are you serious, we haven’t seen you since when? THEN?” we all say. And “What have you been up to? Writing?” Because yes, Pacific Northwest winters naturally feed the writers’ soul. Or, so the rumor goes.

And so, the first sunny day we had in ages came Saturday, and I was conflicted. It’s challenging to plant ass-in-chair to write when the sun is shining, and although I was working on deadline, I had to walk the dogs.

The boys and I went gently into the warm day.

As we were making our way toward a familiar field, rather hurriedly because DEADLINE and SPARE TIME to be taken advantage of wisely (by starting on writing of next novel) we heard bald eagles. We’ve got many here, and there’s a nest I know where I hadn’t seen activity for months.

I looked to the sky. My eyes burned from the brightness.

I spotted one of the eagles perched high in a tree. He was sitting close to the nest I thought had been abandoned. I squinted at the nest—nothing. Too bad. But then I sat in the grass with my dogs beneath the tree with the eagle in it and said, “I’m waiting. I’m going to catch a quick vid for friends who may not see bald eagles on the regular. I’m on deadline, I should be writing, but I’m going to catch this eagle in flight today, or else!”

Thirty minutes went by. I was lying in the grass by then, and so were my dogs. The sun was penetrating our bones. Small planes were buzzing over the bay, in and out of the local airport. A wee cloud or two passed far overhead, as did another eagle and a vulture. I waited.

My dogs were panting. It was an honest-to-goodness warm day, the kind where thirty blissful minutes could easily turn into sixty. I counted down one more minute … fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty … and stood, and then I swear, the eagles started talking. I looked up, and lo and behold, out of that huge nest there came Mama eagle. She called to her mate, he called back and ruffled his feathers. Mama took off. Time for lunch and a stretch—I feel ya, sister! I watched her circle further and further out, then turned the camera back to Papa eagle, who had not moved yet from his all-seeing protective position. And then, in one short tight circle, he too took flight, moving right into the nest.

I was glad I had waited.

The weather today? Once again, we have “broken clouds.”

It’s Spring, officially… date-wise and bird-wise… but still, we writers are waiting, hungry and patient, for the sun and affirmation.

For the hatchlings.

Note to Self: Write for Self

One of my long-time best friends in Portland has worked as a contractor for decades. He does incredible work—basement to attic, wiring to tiling to cabinetry, back decks and porches to French doors. Over the years, I’ve recommended him to everyone I know, and if I could afford it, I’d ask him to build me a sweet cottage from scratch—in France. (In fact—I did try to convince him to do this when I lived there in the late 90s/early 00s, but it never happened. We both just fantasized.)

Point is: I trust this friend’s work down to every nut, bolt, drain, and vent. He brings quality and style to everything he touches, and he builds and remodels responsibly—maintaining the integrity of older homes in Portland and tinkering with new trends in design. It goes without saying: He’s a green builder.

Now, I know there’s a joke about how contractors often let their own homes (and yards) fall into some state of disrepair. One year, friends of my contractor friend got together to mow, weed, and tidy up his yard. The house he lived in at the time was on a corner lot in a popular high-traffic neighborhood, and I guess his friends got tired of barbecuing in waist-high grass. That same year, his neighbors complained about the dumpster he had parked in front of his house for more time than is allowed (or tolerated). I don’t remember the details, but I do know the city came knocking at his refurbished front door and threatened to fine him.

I also know that every house he works on in the city turns out stunning—within months—while his home remained a work-in-progress for a very long time.

My friend is so busy because he is so good. And so what if the window in the bathroom off his kitchen might never get trimmed out.

dilapidated-983952_1280

Why am I thinking about my friend, Chris, and his building history in Portland? Why, today, am I treating myself to a mental slide show of all the projects I visited him on—to pet his dog, to drink an after-work beer out of a cooler, to ooh and aah at a backsplash or how he tossed some schoolhouse-red paint into the concrete mix for that old backyard studio before pouring the floor and damn, wasn’t that smooth and pretty?

I’m thinking of Chris because I miss him, but also because this past year I’ve been the writer version of him, somehow. That is, I look at this blog on my professional website and see that the last time I posted was when softball season 2016 was in full swing, and here I am, having just attended my first practice of 2017.

Worse, my own fiction and poetry have been sitting on the bench since then.

Okay, I took a wonderful poetry workshop and had one poem published last year. An excerpt from my not-yet-agented novel, one that won a prize in 2014, made finalist status for another prize last October. But, I have been so busy writing and editing for other people—working on their basements, attics, nuts, bolts, drains, and weeds—that my own body of work is in shambles. If my literary friends knew I hadn’t written so much as the first sentence of a new short story in over a year, I know of at least one who would come to my front door and threaten to fine me.

The thing is, 2016 was a great year (well, no, not entirely, I had to put my cat of fourteen years down on November 4th and four days later, our nation elected a hateful clown) but, professionally speaking, 2016 marked the official start of me saying YES to the most amazing people and projects ever!

One of the clients I wrote a marketing book for asked me to stay on as his blog/newsletter ghostwriter, and an article I wrote for him got shared more than any other article on the website he was guest blogging for. Currently, I’m guiding two of my memoir clients through their query letters and synopses, and I’m working with my first autistic client and my first transgender client on developmental edits.

What I’ve learned this year is that I love editing almost as much as I love writing. I can see what’s missing, what needs to go, and how to pull the pieces together. I am not a cheerleader (grrrrl, please), but I do keep the fire lit and despair at bay. I can doctor books that would sink a person if published in their current state.

I’ve learned that when I work with memoir clients especially, they inevitably have those moments—at the outlining stage or midway through the project—where they feel their story isn’t worth telling: “This wouldn’t be/this won’t be interesting to anyone else,” they say.

And I say, “Your story is interesting, inspiring, and necessary. Let’s rock.”

So, what about my own stories? Why am I not cheerleading my own damn writer self? In addition to ghostwriting, editing, consulting, and book doctoring, where does the time I could be spending on my own writing go? What the hell am I doing?!

  • Wasting too much time on Facebook
  • Falling in love
  • Learning to make the bomb pie crusts
  • Playing pétanque—I participated in two tournaments in 2016, winning a bronze medal in my first, just two days after learning how to play—BRAG!
  • Keeping a bullet journal (which is supposed to help me better manage my time, but is basically an excuse to buy fun stickers and pretty Washi tape—why?!?!)
  • Finally watching Parks and Rec (Leslie Knope is my soul sister, energetically and neurotically.)
  • Re-watching GoT S1-6 with the man I’ve fallen in love with, who had only watched a few episodes sporadically
  • Being taste tester for all the delicious meals above mentioned man makes
  • Exercising away said delicious meals
  • Caring for my animals
  • Taking well-deserved too-short trips to beautiful places

Yes, folks, this is your brain on life

images

and this is my brain on a zillion different writing projects in various stages of development.

Nikola_Tesla,_with_his_equipment_Wellcome_M0014782

But hey, I’ve got a big brain and I’ve stated before that the “OMGhelpI’mSObusy” mantra bores me. Step away from yourselves, ye who are freaking out on being so busy, in order to sit with yourselves.

Commit. And…

as the kick-ass writer Melissa Febos suggests, think about what you want to be known and remembered for!

When I work with clients, their book is often not their #1 Priority—which is part of the reason they hire me. It is my job to make other people’s books my priority. And I love my job—I know how to manage it. I don’t need to cut back on the work I’m doing for others, but on the excuses I’m making to myself. I do have the time for my own creative work—I just have to make better use of it and practice what I preach.

In the cabinet next to my writing desk, I stash heaps of notebooks filled with random thoughts. Okay, some of these thoughts I cannot decipher because my penmanship is terrible and sometimes I just don’t understand what I meant when I scribbled witch lady living in basement has a party, or have the chipotle conversation. But, browsing these old notebooks on a Saturday afternoon is not a waste of time. There’s gold in them thar hills, and it is mine to mine.

A book or a story, like a home, is a space people can live in. I hope, whether you consider yourself a competent builder with words or not, you take the time to tend to your abode and invite others inside, to share your lived or imagined experiences.

88e2d6194ce1c8be4ff6a94c44f5f17e