Thursday, September 2, 2010

It's My Birthday and I'll Cry if I Want To

So today I turn 27. I feel 30 around the corner. If an age can stare at you and accuse you of all your shortcomings...30 is doing that to me right now. I can't get that Simpson's kid's voice out of my head "Ha-ha!" and the feeling of his accusing finger.

I woke up depressed. I've learned a ton this year, but I feel like I'm in the same position I was last year. I know I'm not. But when I mark my list of goals I have so many "In Progress" and so few "Achieved." How would I explain myself to the person I was ten years ago?

Ten years ago, I felt that I had a lot to prove. Not to my parents. Not to my teachers, and not really my peers, but to myself. I externalized it as "society" as if I could somehow collect that whole abstract notion and bundle it in a bag. Then give it the finger.

I would show them all! I would write 40 novels! I would read tons of advice by published authors and do everything they said writers had trouble doing! And then...I'd be successful. And along the way, I'd get a BA.

Relationships were an amorphous thing. They never factored into my goals concretely. Clothing had always been an expression of my inner eccentricities rather than a genuine effort to attract a date. I had no real interest in dating, though felt insecure at times for the lack of attention I received. But I was also clueless about the whole thing.

And, I was painstakingly shy. I was phobic about talking up in most classes. I hung back with my friends, and when called on my voice hovered a little over a whisper. I was most comfortable with my friends. And my friends had a massive network around them, into which they roped me. Not intentionally. It just sort of happened.

That girl wanted nothing more than to write short stories and novels and be published. She expected to be there by my age. She expected to have been further in life when she turned 27. What would I say to her?

"You are resisting the Internet, and that is a mistake. You will find, in time, that the Internet will determine more of your future than that novel. You have read that first a writer must master the art, then learn promotion because she cannot expect the publisher to do it all. But you have yet to see the impact of the internet on the industry, and how hesitant that will make you in publishing your short fiction. Don't sit on that short fiction. Sword and Sorcery, MZBFM won't be around next year. Realms is going to have a fight ahead. Dredge up those old Asimov's and go for it! In a year, the press is going to be so limited, the editors won't give you critiques. Now, right now, it's 2000. The next 10 years will be so very different...

"Learn LiveJournal, like they tell you to. You don't know how it'll come in handy. And know isn't orderly. It's messy. You have to write one million words of crap before you put down that golden phrase leading you toward true art. Craft. Publication. And don't devalue life experience, there are some hard knocks ahead."

And boy were there. My dad's family business went out. My mother's heart condition appeared. I started dating, infrequently. My brother's teens sent the family into turmoil. I wrote rough drafts of three novels before I even mastered revision. I thought writing was simple. You have an idea, you write it out. You tweak the wording, maybe a little structure--clarify a ton, because that's important--but basically, basically, you stick with the original.

Ha! Such ignorant thinking. The more you try to clarify, the more you learn about the characters. The more you learn about the characters, the more you learn about their world. Then the story changes. Because as the factors you juggle become more specific, and more suited to the story, the greater the diversion from the initial intent. And I thought, then: "I'm not a bad writer! I'll get better, I'll learn more, and I'll publish!"

If it were really that simple, I wouldn't have a little rejection card from a literary agency nestled amid the pages of Arrelle. Hidden in a box. A big box. That card is 7 years old. "I'm not ready," I realized, and threw myself into the process all over again.

I didn't realize that there would be other goals that came to share my life. A relationship that meant the world to me, and my guys' goals nearly as important as my own. I didn't know about conventions. I had no idea about the value networking actually played in making it as an author. I didn't know about the rise of POD. I didn't know how much upper division courses would detract from my writing time, but inform my storytelling when I returned to it. I didn't realize that my parents' expectation for me to get through college alone would lead to me doing it...slowly... and when I graduated, with the need for a back up career, I would stand in the wilderness empty-handed.

"There's only one thing I want to be!" Cries the 17 year old: Drea Davis.

"Tough luck. That's impractical," returns Drea Moore. "You don't get anywhere by wishing it. You can't flaunt your difference and expect acceptance all at once. In the future, acceptance will be more important to you. Then it will remind you what you know now: it's not easily come by. But you can't be a writer, only. You can't be any one thing, only. Humanness doesn't work that way."

"But I am going to work hard! I'll get there!"

"Sure you will, but it'll take a lot more time than you expect. And that's okay. So figure it out if you really want your feet under you before your thirty."

"You don't have any faith in me!"

"You don't have faith in yourself. You are expecting to magically gain confidence at 18? When you start using my name?! You'll get it in time...but you aren't over those other things...the things that got you writing in the first place..."

"I made my peace with that."

"But there will be instances in the future that will remind you of the past.Return you to the old patterns. It isn't about the person, it's about you."

"But I've-"

"Left one phase. You're headed to another...but the dark spaces will be back."

And here, in the present, dragging into the future toward 30...I wade in my private darkness, seeking the light. The hope, the confidence to return to the willful spirit I had at 17.

"It isn't about hoping," Drea Davis reminds me, "It's about doing. What did I do my senior year?"

"You pieced the Creative Writing club from nothing. Created a Literary Newsletter that was read and exchanged around the student body. You were the treasurer of the Vietnamese American Society and helped Yen and Mary Ly, who becomes the president of the Chinese Culture Club, run all of the fund raisers for the year. You got your theater techie friends to run the lights and sound for the Asian Assembly, helping the others put it together."

"See? Look at what I did. Behind the scenes I hope?"

"Yes, back then, definitely. You were good at taking direction."

"And at 27?"

I laugh. Oh how I laugh! "Your goals will change. You will want to set up something that fosters others creativity."

"What about my own?"

"It'll always be there."

"Of course it will!"

Of course it will...but I need a back up plan...and all I ever wanted was to be part of the field. If not working toward my own goals, then inspiring others. Fostering community, support. All I ever wanted...but when I wait on others I'll never see that light. I don't have the community support I once did, 10 years ago.

Who would know that as I turn 27 I would know so many people and spend so much time feeling so isolated? So much has changed...and I must believe in three years more will. But three years no longer feels very long. So little has happened in the past year. At least I might have a hint how to move into a more uncomplicated future. So I try. I move forward.

Soon I will stare 30 in the face. I have three years to get my feet under me. Set up my foundations, change "In Progress" to "Achieved" so I can set my eyes on more goals. A house. Family. But I need my foundation in place before I can get to those. I will do it this year, make all the strides I need to get started and lift myself from this dark mud.


Anonymous said...

This was a very inspiring birthday manifesto. I think the next three years might see more progress than you fear. :)

And I tossed my rejection letters. Didn't feel the need to look at them. But I copied their contents into a journal just so I'd have a quote for the papers when I prove them wrong someday. :D


Steven Sylva-aRT said...

I've been to all those places of the unsure and unknown about the self and one's destiny. In many cases, I'm still there. Yet, as nearly all of us so often forget, I have accomplished a lot. But it's so easy to forget when you're thinking about what you haven't accomplished which is still the case with me many times. We need to stop and think, reflect back on what we have accomplished so as not to be so dragged down by our shortcomings in which many of are temporary. And in the blog entry you've written, Drea, you've done exactly that--reflected on the past accomplishments of your life which you seemed to have had a lot of. Perhaps writing helps us to do that more than just thinking about them.
Hang in there, girl.
Great job!
And, oh, yeah . . . Happy Birthday!

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