Mental Practice: I’m Never Not Writing

This morning, it had been more than two weeks since I put my butt in chair and added to the word counts of either of my works-in-progress. I didn’t feel too great about this. As many, many articles on writing will tell you, writers write! Many insist that real writers write every day. And here I was, not writing. Not only was I not writing, but I wasn’t even opening up the Word documents on my computer to reread the last paragraph I wrote or to stare at that dreaded blinking cursor.

Instead, I used my computer only to check the weather, my email, and to update my Goodreads account (all things I could do on my phone but prefer to do on my laptop. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only Internet-dependent thing I prefer on my phone is Twitter.)

I like using my phone for phone things–like talking to my best friend. And by talking to I mean talking at, because we mostly communicate through the app Voxer and rarely catch each other in real time. And lately, most of my voice messages have been like, “I’m not writing. I’m thinking a lot about writing, but I’m not actually writing. Like, at all.” And “I have so much time now that I’m not writing. I went to the Sunday market, hula-hooped with a stranger for 20 minutes, and then bought the hula-hoop for $40.” Because I thought it would be good to have a hobby that isn’t writing for when I start writing again. Followed by, “I just spent three hours outlining for the eighth rewrite of my novel and everything is horrible.” And, “Never mind. I had the most restless sleep of my life, got out of bed early, and rewrote the outline before work and now everything’s gonna be fine!” 

And she puts up with me because she’s a fucking saint.

My best friend also reminded me that mental practice is a thing; she’s a musician, and she says she often plays music in her head, or reads music. I first learned about mental practice in an interpersonal communications class in high school– what I read suggested that the same areas of the brain are activated by mental practice as physical practice.

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Of course, I think it’s a little different with writers and writing because there are so many people who go around saying they’ve got a book in ’em and that they just haven’t written it down yet. (Spoiler alert: ideas are the easy part.)

Fortunately for me, I not only had a book in me but also managed to wrestle it down onto paper (well, an electronic Word document). And it’s good! It’s just not great yet.

So my mental practice has mostly been problem-solving:

A lot of, “Is this a darling?” “Yes?” “. . . yes.” “Kill it.”

And a little bit of reading:

Follow me on Goodreads, maybe?

I also think there’s something to be said about distracting myself from writing–by giving myself mental recesses. I’ve found that the most successful way for me to do this is by taking little trips to places, because I’m not very good at hobbies. Having a hobby just makes me feel like I’m half-assing two things (for instance, hula-hooping and writing) instead of whole-assing one thing (writing!), which is a thing Rob Swanson warns us never to do. I honestly don’t think I could ever whole-ass hula-hooping, no matter how rewarding the hip bruises are.

Of course, maybe the point of hobbies isn’t to be good at them. It’s just to do them. Because doing the thing feels better than not doing it.

(I started rewriting today! I’m doing the damn thing.)

WIDWIWW: Week 7

Monday and Tuesday I was sick as a dog. Tuesday night my body kept me up until 3 in the morning when I had to be up for work at 7. Wednesday night I was asleep by 8, and Thursday I just couldn’t be bothered. Friday I watched a play-through of To the Moon on YouTube, and on Saturday I upgraded my Steam and bought it so I can play the game myself. And yesterday, Sunday, I went on a much-needed day trip out of the city.

My word count for this week is shit, but I did handwrite twenty pages of notes.

It’s just about time for another rewrite.

Which is my favorite part, even if it means putting my current WIP on hold.

WIDWIWW: Week 6

Here we have a repeat of Week 4—that is, four zero word count days in a row.

Tuesday, May 17th:
After work I had just enough time to pack an overnight bag and run to the bus stop if I wanted to make dinner with my boyfriend and his friend by 7 o’clock. I ended up sitting on the sidewalk for twenty minutes waiting for my bus to show up. At 7:30 I hoisted myself up and over the railing of his balcony to be let inside. (Unfortunately, I wasn’t all that hungry since I’d inadvertently eaten chocolate-covered hazelnuts and cilantro in an Asian pasta dish set out for staff at lunch. Teacher Appreciation Week! Sometimes I eat things I’m allergic to knowing that I’m allergic, and for that, there’s Benadryl. This time I didn’t know. I thought I was biting into a piece of chocolate-covered fruit. And I thought the green flecks in the pasta were basil. Or parsley. Or some other green herb that doesn’t cause my mouth to itch and swell.) Luckily, my boyfriend and his friend were enthusiastic enough and drunk enough when I showed up to remedy my sour disposition. I had some catching up to do, and because I’d already resigned myself to not writing for the night, I drank past the point of productive drunkenness. So it goes.

Wednesday, May 18th:
I spent the entire day at work tired and haggard, which is what happens when you drink booze, sleep in your makeup, and then wake up early to figure out how to self-measure your bust, waist, hips, and hollow to hem so you can call a place about a bridesmaid dress on your lunch hour. I spent the morning trying not to fall asleep while feeding and diapering infants. Then, on my lunch hour I called the place about the dress and had a woman tell me that I’m between their size 2 and size 4 (when I’ve never worn bigger than a size 0 and haven’t grown since I was 14) and that I should go with the size 4. I agreed with some serious reservations, because, hey, she’s the expert. Then I took a twenty-minute nap on what reminds me of the couches in school nurse’s offices (except it’s teal instead of beige).

After work, I met up with a friend from freshman year of college and his girlfriend, also from our college. We went to a burger joint and then out for beers at the brewery located a convenient 450 feet from my apartment. They even briefly got to meet my boyfriend, who swung by to return the sunglasses I’d left at his apartment. My friend agreed that he doesn’t seem like a serial killer, which is the kind of reassurance I’m always looking for.

I set my alarm for 7, and fell asleep by 10. Praise be!

Thursday, May 19th:
I woke up tired still and delayed my alarm until the last possible minute. I decided I must be fighting something off—a cold or maybe even a plague*. I had just enough time to get dressed and make my bed but not enough time to do the dishes, which somehow managed to pile up even though I hadn’t cooked for days. And I had really wanted to do the dishes, not just because that’s what good adults do, but also because I needed to make something for the Teacher Appreciation party on Friday. Something = puppy chow. I didn’t bother trying to nap on my lunch hour. But I did have to return a phone call about the bridesmaid dress after getting a voicemail from a woman with a gut feeling that we should order me a size 2. Go figure. So after work, I dragged my laptop into the kitchen, played The Smith Street Band on Spotify, put on my green rubber gloves (because I cannot do dishes without them, especially dishes other people have touched), and then once I finished, pulled out my bag of ingredients, grabbed a Schilling grapefruit cider from the fridge, and got to work.

The boyfriend asked if he could stop over for a bit, and I said yes. (Duh.) He came bearing chocolates and affection. I didn’t want him to leave, so even though he said to kick him out at any time to relax or write, so I kept him until it was like 10 and neither of us had had dinner and were kind of lightheaded and famished.

So I didn’t write, but I did compose a text about the perfection of avocados.

Friday, May 20th:
I woke up a little early and I didn’t write so much as I rearranged a few words and adjusted some phrases before work—nothing that affected word count much. Then I spent the day with toddlers instead of infants. The main difference between toddlers and infants is that toddlers are heavier, faster, louder, and more defiant. By lunchtime my energy was spent. I wasn’t hungry. I couldn’t fall asleep. I still had half a day to go.

Sometimes it’s difficult to discern mental exhaustion from physical sickness. Could have been either/or. Or both/and. It is an adjustment—being an introvert with such a social job. It’s a balancing act. I’m still figuring it out.

At 6, I pawned my puppy chow off on a coworker and told her, “I meant to go to the party tonight, and I made this, but I’m not going. I’m going home. I’m going to bed. But I think that you should take this and that people should have it.”

I caught my bus home and collapsed on my bed still wearing my coat, one backpack strap still slung over my shoulder, and aggressively cuddled with my cat. (He honestly deserves to be registered as an emotional support animal.) After a while, I changed into pajamas, made chamomile tea and crawled into bed with a mug of it and my laptop. I put Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix, had myself a good cry, and thought about how funny it is that my old, comfortable show is set in a fictitious version of my city that’s always falling apart: sinkholes and plane crashes and tunnel collapses.

Guess it isn’t just me.

*This is being published on Tuesday instead of Monday because it turns out I was coming down with some sort of plague.

WIDWIWW: Week 4

May started out strong . . . and then I went on a four-day writing hiatus.

Tuesday, May 3rd:
My landlord had the bed bug detective dog come back to my apartment for a follow-up inspection after heat-treating my place back in March. I was hoping for an all-clear, but instead received a text that began with, “So the bad news is . . .” The good news was that the only piece of furniture the dog seemed concerned about was the spare, red mattress underneath my bed. I gave him permission to dispose of it–I had bought the mattress back when I had a studio apartment and no couch for guests–uninvited or welcome–to sleep on.

So I counted out getting a good night of sleep for the next three nights, and I cracked a beer open as soon as I got home for work before bussing over to my boyfriend’s to meet a friend of his for a movie night. We watched Jacob’s Ladder, which was a lot less scary than bed bugs.

Wednesday, May 4th: 
Because I had meant to write Tuesday night but didn’t, I decided I’d give myself Wednesday night off, too. Why? Well, I did finish 30 Days of Yoga! But really I gave myself Wednesday night off, and fuck it, why not Thursday, too? because I felt so damn defeated. I needed some fun in my life, so I made plans to go over to a friend’s after work, which involved a ten-minute walk to a bus stop downtown after work.

I LOVE walking. It’s one of my favorite things about city living. What I didn’t remember is that I don’t love downtown Seattle. I should have. I really should have. At lunch one of my co-workers was telling the tale of how just that morning she bear-maced some hateful Russian man at the train station, and I remarked on how little street harassment I’ve had to deal with since moving neighborhoods, from Pioneer Square to Fremont.

However, on this ten-minute walk, about 50-minutes removed from cleaning up a whole lot of child vomit, I had to deal with three too many man-children. The first asked me to smile–“just a little smile?” And then a block or two down, a man walking just behind but completely in-step with me remarked, “Damn, you’re really making me walk,” alerting me to the fact that he’d been following me for god-knows-how-long. Finally, there was another man who muttered I-don’t-know-what-nor-do-I-want-to as I slicked on some lipstick at the bus stop. Luckily, I only had to wait five minutes for the bus.

Then my friend and I ate all of the Thai food and I finally got to watch Mad Max: Fury Road.

Thursday, May 5th:
I took on an early shift–at first excited because that generally means also getting off early. Except we had a two-hour staff meeting, so it didn’t.

But at least I had an hour between when my shift ended and when the meeting began. Except that I ended up clocking out with only 50 minutes to spare.

So what did I do? I went speed-shopping for the sake of retail therapy. Because it’d been a long week and an even longer day. Somehow in twenty minutes I ended up with a more successful haul than I usually do after an entire day dedicated to buying clothes: four camisoles, three skirts, three pairs of socks, a romper, and a dress.

And you know what? I did feel better.

At least until I ate the dinner provided at the staff meeting–Qdoba, cilantro–and my lips swelled up and I had break into a First Aid kit and drink a child’s Benadryl.

After, my boyfriend picked me up, because commuting by car is almost always faster than commuting by bus, and he’s nice like that. And when I got into the car, I noticed it smelled like LUSH and I had to make sure I didn’t step on a giant paper bag at my feet, but I pretended not to notice until he said something. Because it turned out that he’d gone shopping, too. So now I also had bath bombs, beer, baked goods, and tea.

So I took an hour-and-a-half long bath, complete with a Twilight bath bomb–Lush’s “gentle, reassuring hug for the bath,” drank a beer, and watched Autism in Love on Netflix.

Friday, May 6th:
I planned on writing Friday night. I really did.

But . . . it was hot as hell in my apartment when I got home because while the day’s high only reached 77, my apartment’s temperature reached 140. I decided I should wait for it to cool off some. And then I decided I should probably do laundry. And return my library books. And have a cold drink. And a phone a friend from back home and talk for an hour. And reorganize my closet. No, not just my closet. My dresser drawers. Why should my sweaters take up residence in the top drawer when I won’t have reason to wear them again until November? So I emptied the entire contents of my dresser drawers onto my probably-bed-bug-free-bed and hit play on some Spotify playlist until I ran out of clothes to put away. And then I thought I ought to make some dinner, and what’s dinner without entertainment? So I put on an episode of The Secret Life of the American Teenager.

And that’s when I finally decided, fuck it, I’ll write tomorrow. (Which for the record, I did.)

WIDWIWW: Week 3

No zero word count days this week! (Just one less-than-satisfactory word count day.)

April 28th: I have a good enough excuse: I graduated from therapy! After just twelve weeks, my progress graph shows clinically significant improvement. I celebrated with my boyfriend, beer, and a second-rate horror film starring Julianne Hough. Between my day job and the appointment, I managed to put my butt in chair and type out an acceptable paragraph. Progress is progress, right?

May 2nd: If I fail to make my word count tonight, it’s because my roommate took me to Trader Joe’s for the first time ever, poured me a glass of red wine (which I refilled three more times) and chased with chocolate coconut almonds while watching stand-up comedy (Louis C.K. is my boy). And I’m now about to go do Day 29 of 30 Days of Yoga even though I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be on Day 28. Surprise, surprise! I’m no good at math.

What I Did When I Wasn’t Writing: Week 2

For the sake of brevity, let’s shorten What I Did When I Wasn’t Writing to WIDWIWW from now on. By the way, my all-time favorite acronym is IITYWYHM: If I tell you, will you hug me?

April 20th, 2016: 
The day started off promisingly enough–I did my yoga practice in the morning, which required that I get up a full 35 minutes before getting dressed and ready for work. Then, after work, I scrounged up some leftovers and fruit from the fridge to eat while I had my weekly FaceTime date with my parents. I called them 15 minutes earlier than usual in hopes that the call might end approximately 15 minutes earlier than usual. It did not. And after we hung up, I decided the dishes in the kitchen sink needed doing. And that in order to do them, I required beer (as well as my dish-washing gloves, but I always need those because I have texture issues and dishes are bad enough without adding vomit into the equation) and Melanie Martinez on Spotify. Once the dishes were done I declared that my motivation bar was at about -22 as I packed the necessities for an overnight stay at the boyfriend’s. I then managed to spit out one hundred and fifty words (words that I ended up cutting and pasting into a separate word document far away from my precious WIP).

April 21st, 2016:
You’d think a girl would learn. Two poor word count days in a row. But, admittedly, this time I didn’t even try. Again the day started out promising: I got to wake up next to my boyfriend, go on a field trip with the kindergarten prep kids to the Seattle Central Library, and there was even a fucking taco bar for lunch! I also got approximately seven compliments on my Cats on Saturn dress, which makes me feel like Jessica fucking Day every time I wear it. My last job made me feel like Betty Draper at best.

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I finished my work day with infants, where I witnessed my first baby blowout. And about an hour later, I witnessed my second baby blowout; I’d just changed the little guy’s diaper about half an hour before and he was now comfortably in my lap drinking up his bottle. I repeat: he was now comfortably in my lap. Luckily, my dress wasn’t a casualty, but I still couldn’t help thinking about how I didn’t pack a change of clothes (like we early education teachers are advised to do just in case) and would’ve had to ride home that way on public transit. Granted, I probably wouldn’t have been the worst smelling person onboard.

By the time I got home (my bus was late!) I had a headache and just enough time to feed my cat and grab something to eat myself before therapy. But then Sawyer ate his cat food entirely too fast. I know this because he then jumped up on my bed immediately after and puked on my blanket, which I had no way in hell of laundering because I was out of quarters and time. So I caught a bus to my therapy appointment (with five minutes to spare!). My therapist’s office is conveniently located next to Walgreens, where I used my five spare minutes to buy two bags of Haribo gummy bears and a chocolate bar.

Fortunately, therapy redeemed at least some of my day: when I got home, I did my yoga practice for the day (it helped that it was a shorter practice: 21 minutes) and made a healthy, nutritious dinner. Then I dumped the healthy, nutritious dinner into a Tupperware container, put it in the fridge, made enough mashed potatoes for four people, drenched them in Ranch dressing, and ate them with my fingers in front of the TV (Netflix, The Secret Life of the American Teenager) followed by an entire bag of gummy bears.

And I still call myself a writer.

What I Did When I Wasn’t Writing

Back in March, I earnestly began writing my latest WIP. I even made a fancy spreadsheet in which I keep track of my daily word count–because my goal is to write every day. Note: my goal is not to write for an allotted amount of time per day nor is it to write a certain amount of words per day. It’s simply to write something, anything on a daily basis. (Preferably towards my WIP, but hey, words are words/practice is practice.)

March ended with a total of eleven days in which I wrote absolutely nothing. Nada. Zero.

I highlighted each day in red, which Excel already has conveniently labeled as “Bad” with a capital-B. (To be fair, I also highlighted the one day I wrote more than 1,000 words in green for capital-G “Good.”)

Why didn’t I write a goddamn thing during those eleven days? Life, I guess.

So I excused myself, and on April 1st I wrote 1,000 words! (Not of my WIP, though. I wrote part of this, which at least does a pretty good job accounting for why I didn’t write at all on caucus Saturday.) On April 2nd, I wrote a whopping zero words. Even though it was a fucking Saturday, and I don’t have a day job on Saturdays. But on April 3rd, I managed to put my butt in chair and also decided to set my alarm clock for 35 minutes earlier than usual to begin a 30-day yoga challenge on a Monday morning. I even tweeted about it Sunday night in order to hold myself accountable (which probably worked mostly because Adriene of Yoga with Adriene liked my tweet/tweeted at me in return).

April 4th – April 18th: 15/15 days of yoga.
April 1st – April 18th: 16/18 days of writing.

But honestly, it’s more like 14/18 days of writing, because any word count of less than 250 words (approximately one full published page) really makes my soul hurt, because writers write, dammit!

So here’s where this blog comes in: When I don’t write, I have to blog to the Internet about why I didn’t write. On Monday. Because Mondays.

Forget about March. (I already have! Repression > Depression, amiright?)

Let’s start with April!

April 2nd, 2016: 
What was I doing when I wasn’t writing? I ate brunch at a diner like a white girl with my boyfriend. I even wore yoga pants. I ordered quiche and fruit. And a cinnamon roll. Naturally the waiter came back and told me they were out of cinnamon rolls, because for some reason restaurants are out of what I first order approximately 90% of the time. I ordered coffee cake instead. Then I ate half of my boyfriend’s potatoes. Then I had to pick up rugs I ordered for my kitchen and bathroom because the UPS men refuse to dump things on my porch when I’m not home even though I’d much rather risk mail theft than inconvenience myself by visiting a UPS Access Point. Next, we drove out of the city to find a place to hike because it was sunny and not raining and Saturday, which was the same idea pretty much everyone else in the Pacific Northwest had.

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Sure, it was a zero word count day, but it was also a zero regrets sorta day.

Later, we ate burgers and milkshakes and watched Zombeavers on Netflix (69% on rotten tomatoes).

April 8th, 2016: 
We had a “Spring Fling” event at work, which meant I had to stay an hour late before commuting home. Which was totally cool because they bribed us with food (even though the tacos definitely had cilantro in them and incidentally I had to pop an antihistamine after eating) and BUNNIES (even though they pooped everywhere, no shame)! But after all that I had to wait around for a bus, and when I got home at 7:45 p.m. I tuned into Netflix, started up The Secret Life of the American Teenager, made myself a cup of chocolate chai on the stove, ate three bars of chocolate, and promptly fell asleep on the couch by 8:30 p.m. When I woke up an hour later, I managed to wash my face before dragging myself to bed where I officially fell asleep for the night.

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BUNNIES!

As for the not-quite-0-word count days:

April 10th, 2016:
The boyfriend and I woke up early and headed out to a tulip festival at Mt. Vernon, where we watched everyone in Tulip Town crouch in between the rows and take pictures with selfie sticks. Except me. I took pictures of those people. And then in the gift shop I actively resisted buying lavender everything by buying edible things that aren’t flowers and pretty coasters that aren’t really coasters because they’re meant to hold things like tea bags and earrings. Back in Seattle, we stopped at Fred Meyer to buy baking ingredients for cookies. It was my second time in a Fred Meyer in my whole life. Can you say sensory hell? I almost had an anxiety attack. You see, I was already having an anxiety day, because it was also Meet-The-Boyfriend’s-Parents day. Not just parents. Family. Just the whole family. No big deal. NBD. *cough* Ahem. Yeah. I nearly took off with the platter of cookies to some place where I could hide and stress-eat them.

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April 12th, 2016: 
My roommate texted me about ten minutes before I got home to say that a friend of a friend was coming over to cut her hair. So our living room became a salon, and I retreated to the kitchen to make dinner. I sometimes cook things that don’t require a microwave and aren’t Hot Pockets. Dinner involved fresh vegetables, blood orange olive oil, and quinoa. Ignore the fact that two years ago I didn’t know what quinoa was (is that a type of fish?) or how to pronounce it. I ate three-fourths of my dinner at the kitchen counter and finished the rest of it in the living room while attempting to be social. With a migraine. Did I mention I also had a migraine? Because I did. And then I did my yoga practice (which seemed to help the migraine) and the boyfriend came over for about 20 minutes because we missed each other after one whole day/are disgustingly cute (and he tried to take credit for relieving my migraine, ha!) and then I took a hot bath that looked and felt like magic. Not just magic. Sorcery.

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Blogger’s Note: I don’t advise shaming yourself for not writing, or not writing enough. Whatever enough means. This article does an excellent job of explaining why.

 

Off Talent

It’s among one of the many lies they taught us in elementary school, tucked in between “Christopher Columbus was a nice guy” and “We totally know how the Egyptians built those pyramids.” The lie goes like this: talented is something you have or you don’t, and gifted is something you are or you’re not.

Our elementary school had a T.A.G. Program: a program, you guessed it, for the Talented and Gifted. It felt less like the acronym and more like the game, where somebody taps you on the shoulder and says, “You’re it!” I had no idea who decided these things, and even though I got straight E’s (where E stood for Excellent), I didn’t feel validated until my fourth grade teacher placed her hand on my shoulder and sent me out of her classroom to one of those mysterious meetings.

The T.A.G. Program is still a mystery to me. The point seemed to be to gather all the “smart” kids in one room, and then what? Once after school we split into groups to shoot what would become a 30-second commercial with the help of video editing software. That’s the one activity I remember. We met so irregularly it might’ve been the only activity.

I wouldn’t feel the same sense of validation until 6th grade parent/teacher conferences, where my teacher told me that I had “more potential” than most of her other students. Again, I felt smart.

After that, validation came in the form of getting called into an attendance meeting my sophomore year of high school. A number of teachers had formed a committee because so many students, myself included, failed to show up to classes regularly.

During my meeting, these teachers pulled up my grades on PowerSchool. I wasn’t the first of my friends to get called to one of these things, so I’d been prepared for as much. I wasn’t intimidated.

“Oh,” they remarked, looking over my scores. I had A’s in all my classes and no missing or incomplete assignments. They told me as much. “Why have you missed so much class?” they asked.

“Why does it matter?” I answered. “I can’t get better grades than I am already.” And it wasn’t like they were paying me to be there.

Making good grades was obviously the whole point.

The thing is that in high school, we students generally understood “smart” to mean “gets excellent grades with minimal to no effort.” Studying in study hall or god forbid the library meant that you weren’t actually smart, naturally smart. You were a lesser kind of smart, the kind that tried too hard and cared too much.

Being smart meant when someone asked you how you did on the test, you answered, “Terrible, but it’s whatever,” flashed your B+ at them, and shoved it face down into the pocket of your folder.

Being smart meant finishing the project/test/assignment and reading the rest of the hour, or propping up your book in a way that hid your face and sleeping through the rest of class.

The epitome of smart was more than not studying; it was calmly but swiftly filling out each answer for last night’s chemistry homework in the five minutes before that class. It was turning in the assignment sheet with a shrug, not giving a shit how you did, and getting an A or a check-plus anyway.

But soon after the attendance committee’s inception, the school implemented an “effort grade” to supplement students’ academic grades, which counted for 10%. The logic behind this was that students who had trouble grasping concepts and articulating their knowledge and ideas could redeem their class scores by showing up, asking questions, and working hard.

Just before the end of a term, I got a tentative grade report from my art teacher. My academic grade was unsurprisingly an A; however, my effort grade was in the C-range and brought my overall grade down to a B.

This would not do!

I confronted Art Bohlen (who was sometimes referred to by other female students as Hot Bohlen) after class.

“What’s the deal?” I asked him. “Why is my effort grade so low? How can my effort grade be lower than my academic grade?”

And he told me: “You’re talented, and because you’re talented you don’t have to try as hard.” I stared at him blankly. “You almost always complete your projects early and then you work on homework for other classes or you read or you talk to your neighbors.”

I didn’t see why I should be punished for being talented.

Besides, I told him, “I thought the effort grade was only meant to help your overall grade, not hurt it.”

He told me he’d reconsider—likely because he realized that in the context of high school I was right. I completed every assignment within the timeframe allotted and met (if not exceeded) expectations. A number of my projects, most of them still-life sketches, were on display in the hallways. Senior year, my class voted me “most artistic.”

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I deserved my A, effort grade be damned.

But in the context of real life? Art Bohlen wasn’t full of shit.

The thing is, the real world doesn’t want your “good enough.” The world won’t accept your first attempts and rough drafts, and the world doesn’t hand out A’s and scratch n’ sniff stickers.

If there’s any truth to the lie, if there’s anything good that comes of the myth of “talent,” it’s this: it gets you started; it gets you interested enough to do the real work.

Because without your honest-to-God effort, without putting in the work, your “good enough”—the product of your supposed talent—won’t ever become your best.

The other thing is, sometimes your best won’t be good enough either. Sometimes your best will herald nothing but rejection letters that read like half-assed apologies.

Where’s your talent then? I don’t have the answer.

But your work? Your work will still be there.

Suggested reading: “The Toxicity of Talent” by Chuck Wendig

 

Book Recommendations 2015

Of the 63 books I read this year, these are top 5 picks (in no particular order):

1. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Close Contender: The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

This novel is many things: beautifully written, haunting, dark, lyrical. It’s told in first-person omniscient, which is as interesting as it is ambitious, and it really amplifies the magical realism at play. The story, told by the novel’s namesake Ava Lavender, is a generational saga of women who are losers in love.

Trigger warning for violent sexual and physical assault. 

2. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson did for me in this novel what I’d hoped Cheryl Strayed would do for me in Wild; I’d gone into reading Wild with more interest in the journey than the personal (the memoir was more about her dealing with grief and kicking heroin). Anyway, Bryson is a helluva guide! He’s personable, funny, and informative. He’s somebody I’d want to join on a hike.

Psssst! I would recommend reading Strayed’s essay “Heroin/e“.

3. Reunion by Hannah Pittard

I have a thing for dark comedies, and I happen to like unlikable characters. I think it’s all the wry observations and unapologetic poor life choices and increasing self-awareness that sells it for me. Kate Pulaski, the novel’s narrator, delivers all of these things over the course of four days as she reunites with her siblings (and many half-siblings from her father’s five ex-wives) after her father kills himself.

4. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

While I didn’t find this laugh-out-loud hilarious, I found myself grinning and nodding a lot; it is funny. It’s more satire (at Seattle and Microsoft culture’s expense) than mystery as we learn about Bernadette Fox (and a cast of other characters) via emails, documents, and other correspondence her daughter Bee assembles when Bernadette goes missing before a family trip to Antarctica.

5. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Close Contender: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Despite the fact that the chapters are only a few pages long each, this is a slow-burn narrative. Each word deserves to be read carefully, lovingly, not just because the writing is so tactile and lovely (which believe me, it is; I felt like I could reach out and touch each scene) but because there are shifts in time and frequent switches in perspective; it’s a must in order to appreciate the interconnectedness Doerr has crafted in this novel featuring a young German soldier and a young, blind French woman against the backdrop of World War II.