As I’ve mentioned, I just passed the one year mark as a full time employee with Tripepi Smith. Well, tomorrow my boss and I are going to visit a client at 1, so he proposed we meet early for lunch to discuss my first year with the company.
“Sure,” I said, and then got the Google calendar invite for a lunch that is slated to last an hour and a half. The restaurant is only five minutes from the place our meeting is after, so I got to thinking, what are we talking about for 85 minutes?
Not one to wonder in silence (or at least, without writing) I drafted a long email asking what to expect, and how to prepare. I wanted to be able to organize my thoughts, maybe make lists of my accomplishments this past year, my goals for the future. You know, that kind of corporate stuff people do.
This is what he wrote back (copied directly)
no prep. we can talk about where things are at and where they are going.
I swear, if he hadn’t blocked out an hour and a half I would think I was getting laid off. Am I being paranoid?
You have to admit, that’s pretty vague. Where things are and where they are going…
So naturally, I’ve been googling phrases like “employee annual performance review,” and journaling away my ideas, just to be prepared for any question he can throw at me. I’m probably being really over the top about it, but this seems like a real opportunity to discuss what I feel I’m doing well, and what I could do better. If I don’t prepare, I’ll be driving home tomorrow night kicking myself for all the things I forgot to say (which is hard to do while you’re driving).
Also, I will admit, this is the first time I’ve had a performance review (aside from a very awkward hour spent in the back room at a Starbucks in San Francisco with a male supervisor who had a crush on Daniel). I have always worked freelance, or temped, or waitressed while working freelance/temp. I’ve never been a corporate type. This is all very new to me. Until I googled the topic of performance review, I didn’t even know that this was the time of year that employees sometimes (usually?) get raises. That’s a thing.
Anyhow, I’m nervous. And I’m trying not to be nervous which just makes me anxious. Which just leads me to drink. Just kiddding. Kind of.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
A journalist friend of mine emailed me earlier this week to tell me about the launch of Beacon, a new publication platform she’s a part of. I opened and read her email immediately because 1) she’s a great writer and 2) she manages to get herself into some seriously sticky situations while investigating her stories so her material is usually pretty juicy.
Most writers complain about not getting paid enough, but Jean Guerrero (that’s her name) and her fellow investigative journalists win this one hands down. They are getting paid next to nothing for pieces that take weeks of perilous work to research.
Beacon is this incredible new journalism platform by Dan Fletcher, the creator of Time Magazine’s NewsFeed and a former managing editor at Facebook, meant to change the fact that some of the best reporters today risk their lives in war zones just to make $70 for a single article — all thanks to the current failing business model of journalism. I’m one of 30 journalists worldwide that you can directly subscribe to on Beacon. By subscribing to me for $5 a month (with a free trial and easy cancellation any time), you instantly get access to ALL of the OTHER great writers on Beacon, as well. I’ll be covering human rights issues in Latin America — the kind of really human-focused, heartbreaking stuff that I couldn’t cover for a news corp that relied on advertisers’ dollars.
Support quality investigative reporting for $5 a month?
Yes, thank you.
I‘ve opted for yoga, talk therapy, and wine. It’s nice to know I have the prescription if I need it, but I really think it’s jumping the gun a bit. (If my posts start to get too dour, please tell me, and I’ll revisit the idea of medication.)
While I’m updating, I feel compelled to admit that 1) I have not been writing every day like I swore I would and 2) I have not hit my 1000 words a week goal (since the second week).
I did however have one week recently where I managed to get up early EVERY DAY, which I’ve never actually done before. Usually I wuss out on Friday, if not Thursday too. But I still didn’t hit my word count goal. I needed to take some time to work out the plotting of my story, and I’ve been dabbling with a new idea, so some mornings I just write in my journal to see where that takes me. I’m pretty sure it’s the next novel, but I’m also trying to not over-think it just yet. I already have one project I’m over-thinking. This new one is just a story I’m interested in. I play with ideas, do research on Google. It’s a shiny new toy.
I’ve reached a strange place with the novel where I’ve been working on the story for so long that I’m actually growing less attached. This draft is bringing some radical changes to the storyline. The whole tone of the story is shifting. It’s better, but it’s definitely different. At least, I’m hoping it’s better. I’ve decided to just keep writing, which sometimes feels good, like I’m hiking up a hill and will eventually get there, and sometimes feels futile, like I’m walking in circles.
Anyhow, that’s all the news from this end.
I have a question.
I was at a doctor appointment (my GP) last week and happened to mention that I was feeling tense, stressed. I have a lot shit going on. I worked a 15-hour day yesterday, all in. Between family, and work, and writing, and exercise. Life is busy.
Well the doc whipped out her prescription pad and wrote me a note for Zoloft. Just like that. I had no idea it was so easy.
The question is – should I take it?
Part of me is thinking why not? If I have the option to take the edge off life, to calm this buzzing that has me always a little tense, why would I not give myself that rest?
On the other hand, since when do I need medication just to get through the day? Isn’t that what alcohol is for? Just kidding. But seriously, if my life has me that stressed out, shouldn’t I try to make some changes that would help feel a little calmer without the meds?
I don’t know. I guess I worry it might crush my creative drive, or kill that basic artistic dissatisfaction that keeps me writing. I really don’t feel depressed, just stressed out.
So should I stick with wine and try to find myself good therapist?
Or should I take the drugs like its 1999?
I‘m applying for a writer residency program. It’s one of those magical opportunities you hear about as a writer – two weeks in a private cabin, all meals prepared for you, totally free of cost. I mean really. Who gets to do that kind of thing?
Of course, to be accepted I have to apply. As these sorts of things go, the application isn’t too extensive. Four essay responses to questions (limited to 1200 characters each), some basic personal info and a writing sample. No biggie. But still, I have spent way too much time finding the perfect sample and trying to write awesome responses.
If I get in, every second is totally worth it. If I don’t, I’ve wasted hours that I could have spent writing.
This is why I almost never apply to these sorts of things. But a friend of mine (an alumna of the program) encouraged me to do it and it does sound incredible. And I guess a residency would look pretty sweet on the old resume (not that anyone is looking at my resume these days).
Anyhow, it’s due this Wednesday. Notifications go out in December, so once I hit “submit” I will just do my best to put it out of my mind.
On Sunday I was super lucky to attend an event hosted by my former thesis advisor Gina Nahai. It seems that back in July when the book ZealotLos Angeles Review of Books
So this was their do-over event. Gina had already planned to have an alum event on the same day, so she just invited all of us (her former students) to attend. It was awesome.
This guy is one of the most well-spoken, thoughtful, and interesting authors I’ve had the pleasure of hearing speak.
The afternoon began with a discussion of this Fox interview wherein Lauren Green asks why he felt he was qualified to write a book about Jesus (as he is Muslim), and he lobs a response so far over her head intellectually that she is forced to simply continue reading from her teleprompter like and idiot. (It’s a fun 9 minutes if you can spare them).
Anyhow, back to Sunday’s event. Once we got past the Fox thing, someone asked a question that sparked a discussion of truth versus fact. He explained that up until about 200 years ago, it was truth that mattered. People told stories to impart truth, and that, more often than not, fact had little to do with it.
This is why so much of the bible contradicts itself. He made the point that the four gospels of the new testament were chosen from about 20. They were chosen because they were believed to be the most truthful.
Now we look at the bible, with our microscopes and carbon dating, and we look for fact. The way Aslan described it, the question of fact would have baffled the theologians of old. It makes sense really. Without all the scientific resources we have these days, the thing that would be the most important would be the truth, not the fact.
And actually, one could argue, that the same holds true today.
The literary world is always bickering over how much fact there is in any best selling memoir. But isn’t it the truth that matters most?
When we gather around the campfire and tell stories about our grandparents, or other lost loves, the details may get exaggerated, the facts may be distorted, but the truth is passed on through generations. Did Uncle Art have five girlfriends at any given time? or fifteen? The truth is, he was a bit of a scoundrel, and we loved him for it.
Now, don’t quote me as saying fact doesn’t matter in non-fiction. I’m just saying, I love the idea of separating truth from fact. The words even sound like they mean different things. Truth, with it’s soft, soothing taper. Fact all hard and concrete.
Personally, I chose truth. But then again, I write fiction.
If there’s one thing that can really make LA look like a smoggy pit, it’s 10 days in the Pacific Northwest.
The family and I just got back from vacation. We spent the first five days with my dad in northern Idaho to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday (that’s a picture of him with the cool shirt we got him), and then met up with some great friends we hardly ever get to see to do some camping just east of Mount St. Helens. The air smelled like cedar, and there were so many stars I gave myself a neck ache looking up.
As always, I carried my little notebook with me everywhere to jot down ideas and observations, but the thing is, I’ve realized, I didn’t jot down a single thought. Great details kept catching my attention, but they never made it into the notebook. I kept beating myself up for it, every time I didn’t pull out my notebook, but if guilt actually got things done, there would be a lot fewer to-do lists in the world.
The thing is my kids are still young enough that I have to keep a pretty close eye on them, especially when we’re out in the wilderness, or by a lake, or a road, or well, really anywhere that isn’t our home. The only time I don’t have an eagle eye on them was when they’re strapped into their car seats (but I get really car sick, so even if Daniel is driving that’s not a good time for me). I continue to carry that notebook, but it’s always so buried under diapers, peanut butter sandwiches, and random lego pieces that I just don’t ever bother to dig it out. Instead, I keep telling myself I’ll write it down later, but I never do.
Like everything else in this life, I’m starting to realize that taking notes is a matter of practice. Just like exercise or eating well, you have to keep doing it, or the inclination to do it at all will slowly fade.
It’s not like I need another thing to do, but this is important. It’s those little details that make stories great. Writing them down is a way of not only reminding myself to be a keen observer, but also for remembering them later.
The details are already starting to fade (sadly), but here’s one little gem I will always remember: At one point my step-mom was describing a friend of hers that we were heading out to visit and she said “just wait until you see how she walks.” I thought that was such a funny thing to say about someone, but you know what – her friend actually did have a lovely walk.
It’s been almost a year since I took this full-time writing gig and I have to say, my ass is getting bigger.
I mean it, my pants are all much tighter than they used to be. Last August, while I was moaning and crying about finding enough freelance work to pay the bills, I was also taking an hour every morning to do the Insanity work out, which basically involves jumping around the bedroom like an injured crane on meth. I was great shape, and I felt it.
So now I have all the work I need, but I have to use my new found stable income to go buy some new jeans.
And it’s not like I don’t exercise. I’m running three miles, three times a week, which is more than I have ever run in my whole life, but I also have a serious cookie addiction, and it is finally catching up to me.
This is how it happens folks. A few pounds a year. A new pair of jeans, just one size bigger, every so often.
I keep telling myself it will get easier when the kids are a little older and can get themselves ready for school, but really, that could be another 5 years at least. I dread to think the kind of damage that can be done in that time frame.
I either need to find more time to exercise, or eat fewer cookies.
Neither option is terribly appealing.
A computer geek friend of mine has a daughter who just turned ten. She asked if she could have her own email account, so he help her set one up, and then, without telling her, he adjusted the settings so that he would be bcc’d on every email she sends. It’s a big scary world out there, and he just wants to keep an eye on who she’s emailing with, and what she’s saying when she does.
I’ve been mulling this over since he told me about it a few weeks ago. My daughter is only 6, and has not, as of yet, expressed any interest in email. When she does, I know I will worry about who she is emailing and what she is saying. We (my friend and I, and well, everyone we know) didn’t grow up with email. Introducing it to the lives of our young ones is admittedly scary, but does that give us the right to invade privacy, to betray trust? Am I being overly dramatic?
When I was in sixth grade my dad got a word processor, a Brother, with a giant body and a tiny little screen (ah, the eighties). He set up a file for me and told me it was my personal, private file. He encouraged me to write every day, to record my thoughts. Even back then I loved writing so I took right to it.
The first thing I wrote about was how much I hated my teacher. She was pregnant and prone to outbursts, followed by tears, and I think I used the words “fat cow.” I know, I know. But I was 11.
Anyhow, I finished that first entry, saved it to my private file and went about my business playing with my sister. Not two hours later my dad came in to talk to me. He was concerned about the language I had used. How would my teacher feel if she knew I had called her that?
My face burned and I felt so embarrassed. It took me years to come to the realization that I was not the one who should have been embarrassed. My privacy had been invaded. I had been set up. (Dad, if you’re reading this, I love you, but that was lame.)
To this day I don’t store my thoughts digitally. I write in a journal that I keep with me at all times, and if I want to call someone a fat cow, I do, because it’s my private journal and it’s nobody’s business anyway.
Which brings me back to hacking your kid’s email. On one level I totally get it. On the other I really think no good can come of it. Emails are private, unless of course they’re not because you accidental reply all or your ex forwards them on to your friends.
It’s a complicated life. Parenting is hard.
Any thoughts out there from parents of kids with emails?
When it comes to tools for writers, there’s a fine line between increased productivity and total waste of time. There are all kinds of programs that exist to help us map ideas, structure outlines, even format our manuscripts for publication, but assuming you have a finite amount of time to spend on your writing (and who doesn’t) you have to be careful that you don’t let these tools suck you in and keep you from actually writing.
For that reason, I actually use very few tools, but I have recently discovered one that is totally worth the time. It’s an iPad app called Index Cards
I’m a big fan of using index cards to organize (and reorganize) my story. I even use different color cards so I can see at a glance where my flashbacks are or when certain characters dominate a scene. I find them wonderfully useful, but they are not very transportable. That’s why I’m loving the Index Cards app.
It took me about 20 minutes to enter all my cards, and now I have them with me where ever I go. If I have an idea for a scene, I can add it in immediately. It even lets you color code them. I also love that if I’m writing somewhere like a coffee shop, I don’t have to bring my giant stack of cards with me. I carry my iPad with me everywhere anyhow (it’s a mini and it fits in my purse so perfectly), so I always have my story map on hand.
I know a lot of you out there are writers too, so I thought I’d share.
What apps/tools do you use in your writing? Or are you above such inane distractions?