Monthly Archives: October 2011

On Being Awesome

(This isn’t necessarily about writing and publishing, but I think it’s relevant on this blog, and to anyone going after their dreams.)

The word “awesome” is something that has been thrown around haphazardly but consistently for the last fifty years or so. That new band you discovered? Awesome. That sandwich you had for lunch? Awesome. That dog that barks “BATMAN”?  Awesome. The feeling you got while watching a meteor shower streaking across the heavens? Actually, that’s kind of what awesome was originally reserved for.

I’m not going to even touch the subject of whether or not we’ve watered down the original meaning of the word, or whether or not we throw it around too frequently, because it is what it is. And guess what? Awesome people don’t bitch about dumb shit.

And no, I’m not saying the evolution of language isn’t important (I think it’s fascinating, actually!). What I’m saying is, we pick our battles. We pick our concerns. And the only thing an awesome person is really concerned about is… well, not much. Have you ever met someone who was worried and anxious and a little neurotic and thought, “Man, that guy/gal is awesome“? That is because awesomeness, like the word “awesome,” is fluid. And that is something you don’t often hear about in the ubiquitous “how to be awesome” blog posts all over the interwebs these days. But this is the truth:

You will never be or feel like you are awesome all the time,  and you will never meet someone else who is or feels like they are awesome all the time.

You will meet plently of people, or hear about plenty of people, or maybe even be one of those people who you think are pretty fucking awesome. And maybe those people even feel pretty fucking awesome most of the time. But you know what? They will have their less-than-awesome days. They might face the world with their same “yes I’m awesome” demeanor, but on those less-than-awesome days they will feel pretty fucking shitty.

But that’s okay. We all have those days–sometimes weeks–maybe even months or years. No one expects you to be awesome all the time. And besides, without the lows we wouldn’t know what high is. Those terrifying slips that send us back down the mountain serve to train us–they give us the strength to climb to those soaring heights we enjoy so much.

And when we find ourselves slipping, we’re reminded that to stay at the top–that place where we feel and we know how awesome we really are–we need more than just strength and determination. We need balance, and faith, and we need to not fear slipping again.

Because you will slip, again and again. There is just no avoiding it. But when you stop fearing it, you’ll find you can catch yourself quicker, before you fall too far from the top of your mountain. When you begin to wobble, you’ll learn to look for things to ground you instead of turning around to stare down the dizzying drop.

When you stop being afraid of falling, then you will have mastered one of the biggest tricks to longer, more thrilling, more awesome stretches at the top.

I’m working on that. How about you?

Things Never Said

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.  ~Meister Eckhart

I was inspired by a post on twitter that my friend Sarah Diemer made about writing to her old college professor, the one who helped her to believe in her writing. It reminded me of the people in my life that I have wanted to thank for a long time, who always believed in my writing even when I couldn’t find a way to believe in it myself.

Two of those people are dead, unfortunately: my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Gauger, and my paternal grandmother, Florence (to whom The Poppet and the Lune is dedicated). My grandmother always knew I’d be a great, best selling, prolific author someday (I’m being patient), and I didn’t get to thank her for her confidence in me before she died. But I loved her and would miss her for so much more than just being my cheerleader. And besides, I like to think that she hears my gratitude now even better than before.

For a long time after I got over my massive creative block (after high school), I wanted to write Mrs. Gauger a letter, but I hesitated. She had retired the year after I’d been in her class, so we weren’t able to stay in touch. And, to be perfectly honest, I have a lot of awful memories associated with my middle school and high school (a lot of it contributed to that massive creative block mentioned earlier) so I never wanted to contact them. I would occasionally Google her name, or look in the phone book, but that never yielded anything useful. I sat on it for a while, every now and then feeling really bad about not being able to contact her. Then, finally, I just wrote the letter.

It was short and sweet and honest, and everything I wanted to say just poured out onto the page. I hand wrote it. Who hand writes letters anymore? I thought she’d appreciate it, since she taught me how to write in cursive (I know, fifth grade is late for that apparently, or so I’ve been told). I talked about how she had taught me to appreciate good stories, to explore genres, and to believe in my love of telling stories, and my talent for it. (She was so impressed with a short story I wrote back then that she read it to all of her other classes, and actually called my parents to tell them what an excellent writer I was ;-;)

Fueled by my overwhelming gratitude, I finally mustered the courage to call my old middle school and ask them what I could do to contact her. They said they had her last known address, but they couldn’t give it to me. They could, however, mail the letter for me if I dropped it off in a stamped envelope.

So I did that. I went back to the school, went into the main office, was startled by the faces that seemed completely unchanged from when I was fourteen years old, and handed my letter to the receptionist who was expecting me.

A week later I got a phone call from the school. They were unable to deliver the letter for me, because unfortunately, Mrs. Gauger had passed away six years prior. “Would you like to come by for your letter, or should we recycle it?” she asked me. “No,” I replied after a moment. “Yes. Please recycle it.” I felt that, if the words were just out there in the world, they had a better chance of reaching her.

I have to admit I was a little heartbroken. The part of me that lives in stories imagined a lovely correspondence unfolding between us, getting to know each other better, me now as an adult, she now as a friend instead of a teacher. Now, not only would that never happen, but I would always carry this feeling of unfinished business between us. I don’t think she knew she was my favorite teacher of all time, that without her I may have always wanted to write, but I might have never really believed I was any good (teachers don’t have to tell you nice things about your writing, unlike friends and family, and it is an early writer’s natural inclination to mistrust all compliments).

I’ve come to terms with it, now. I do believe she knows how much I loved and appreciated her in life, but still. It makes me realize how important it is to tell the people in your lives what they mean to you, even though a lot of times that can be an awkward, blush-inducing experience.

Who are the people in your life that you want to thank? Who has encouraged or inspired you to become the person you are? Let them know. And if you can’t because you’re too shy or you don’t know where they are now, just write them a letter anyway. You might be inspired to find a way to send it. You might be inspired to tell the people who support you every day how much they mean to you. Don’t be afraid to tell the world you are grateful.