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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Day 221: 7 Ways Music Can Help Your Writing

Day 221:  7 Ways Music Can Help Your Writing

Special Announcement:  For those of you in the Boston area, or attending the AWP Conference next week, come to the (free) Burlesque Press AWP Kick-Off Reading on Wednesday, March 6th at 8pm at Crossroads Pub (495 Beacon Street, near the conference hotel).  I will be reading, along with some other excellent Burlesque Press contributors.

7 WAYS MUSIC CAN HELP YOUR WRITING

1. Music can set the mood. Trying to write about something beautifully mysterious? Listen to the French group Air, or your own favorite ethereal electronica. Trying to write about something terrifying or angry? Listen to some death metal.  Once you’re in the right mood, you’ll be ready to write that moody scene.

2. Lyrics can be the jumping off point for a story. I was always intrigued by the line in Nirvana’s “On a Plain” that says “my mother died every night,” so I wrote a story about a girl whose mother who fakes her own death in a variety of ways. Listen to a song and think about what stories might be hidden in the lyrics. Then write those stories.

3. Music can trigger memories. When I hear the Color Me Badd song “I Swear,” I’m flooded with images and feelings from an awkward eighth grade pool party. Many great stories, both fiction and non, begin with a memory, and music is notorious for helping us remember, whether we want to or not.

4. Music can help you get in touch with your unconscious. Here’s an example:  All week I’ve been brainstorming about how to end a story I’m writing, but I haven’t been able to think of anything. Then yesterday I was driving, spacing out and listening to Ke$ha on the radio when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the perfect way to end the story popped into my brain. I wasn’t thinking consciously about my story (or anything, really, which is usually what happens when you listen to Ke$ha).  Since I wasn’t thinking consciously, my more creative, unconscious brain took over the brainstorming and came up with something good.

5. Listening to music is intellectually stimulating. There are a lot of studies concluding that listening (and playing) music is good for your brain. The stronger your brain, the better your writing (and writing stamina) will be.

6. Music gets you moving, and moving makes you creative. It’s no secret that you have more energy on the treadmill when you’re listening to your jams, but there’s also a lot of evidence that we are more creative when we are in motion. Not only does exercise increases blood circulation, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to your brain, but simply being in motion can activate creative hotspots in the brain. I know I’ve come up with a lot of story ideas while at the gym. And I was almost always listening to music at the time.

7. Listening to music can reduce stress and increase positive feelings. Writing is dang hard. It comes with a lot of rejection and self-doubt. So listen to your favorite music to ease your stress and boost your self-esteem.  Then get back in front of the laptop for another go.

I'm obviously listening to some good tunes in this picture.

I’m obviously listening to some good tunes in this picture.

Day 218: Fake It ‘Til You Make It!

Day 218:  Fake It ‘Til You Make It!

TODAY’S STATUS:  

I have a poem in the final issue (#10) of Black Lantern Publishing.  You can download a FREE pdf of the journal!

 

On Saturday I went to a party celebrating a friend who had recently defended his thesis and earned his PhD. “How does it feel to be a doctor?” I asked him as we drank some of the weird lambic beer he’d brewed himself and opened for the occasion.

“Sometimes I get terrified,” he said. “I have this fear they’ll realize I don’t actually know anything at all and they’ll take my PhD away.”

So after years of work and hundreds upon hundreds of hours of study and research and writing, he worries that he doesn’t deserve what he got…

*   *   *

Last week, I was walking around at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference, wearing a special blue faculty badge, and feeling like I was tricking everyone into thinking I was something that I’m not. I worried I didn’t have enough experience or knowledge to teach a class about getting published in literary magazines. In fact, I never would have put in a proposal to teach at the conference except that my friend Tawni encouraged me, saying that if they let her teach a class, they’d let me teach one, too.

“Wow, you guys are faculty this year, huh?” our friend Christine asked me and Tawni the first day of the conference. We were all sitting outside by the hotel pool, drinking wine before the opening address.

“Yeah, but it’s only because I know some of the people who organize the conference,” I said.“There’s no way I would have gotten in otherwise.”

“Same here,” Tawni agreed. “I feel like a fraud.’”

We asked Christine what she’d been up to, and she told us she’d recently gotten an agent for her memoir. “It’s dumb luck,” she said. “I keep worrying he’s going to change his mind.”

This is when Tawni slapped her hand on the table. “Listen to us,” she said. “We’re sitting here saying we don’t deserve the good things that have happened to us.”

She said it was “imposter syndrome,” a psychological phenomenon in which people can never accept their own accomplishments. Tawni said it’s a largely female problem. When men have success, they embrace it – they internalize that it’s because they’re smart and worked hard and deserve it, but when women have success they don’t own it. They think it was circumstantial, that it didn’t have to do with them.

Of course, now I realize this isn’t solely a female problem.

“We’re saying it’s luck, or because we know people, or that it shouldn’t have happened,” Tawni said, swinging her wine glass passionately. “No. We deserve these good things because we worked hard and we’re awesome.”

I deserve to wear this giant sombrero!

I deserve to wear this giant sombrero!

As a faculty member, I got to sit in on other workshops, and one of them was “How to Go from Blog to Book Deal.” The woman teaching the class was an intense ex-journalist who was the leading “expert” on blogging a book.

Blogging a book, she said, means that as you write your book, you blog sections of it, so that by the time you’re done writing the book, you already have a following of people who want to read it, and because of this, you can convince someone to give you a book deal. I’m not sure how well this works for fiction, but it’s an interesting concept.

The way that the woman became an expert in blogging a book is interesting, too. She noticed that there were no books or website about blogging books, so she started writing a book called How to Blog a Book, and she posted sections of it on a blog by the same name. By the time she finished blogging the book, she had gained number one google status for the search term “how to blog a book,” and therefore, she was the leading expert on the subject, and therefore she got a book deal.

“So basically,” she said, “I blogged a book, and in doing so, I made myself the expert on blogging books.” Fake it ’til you make it, I guess.

In fact, there were lots of signs at the conference that faking it was a perfectly acceptable way to get started in the writing business. An author of a series of books about Nashville musicians told us she got interviews with Stevie Ray Vaughn and Willie Nelson after concerts because she didn’t realize that she couldn’t. “I didn’t know it wasn’t done, and so I did it, and it worked out.”

And then, of course, there was my workshop. It went great. Even though I felt like an imposter with my blue badge, people told me my class was incredibly helpful and inspiring and one of the best workshops at the conference. So maybe I wasn’t an imposter after all.

A lot of times I worry that I’m not a “real” writer because I don’t have a published novel or a number one google status. But once I get a novel published, might I feel like it was dumb luck and I’m still a fraud? What exactly will it take to make me believe in my own accomplishments?

I guess I’ll keep faking it, and one day it’ll dawn on me that I was the real thing all along.

001

Day 215: The 50 Names of Death, or, Happy Birthday Edward Gorey!

Day 215:  The 50 Names of Death, or, Happy Birthday Edward Gorey!

Today is Edward Gorey’s birthday.  A man who is probably most famous for his little illustrated book of twenty-six children dying sudden and disturbing deaths.

Of course, Edward Gorey is much more than the author of The Gashleycrumb Tinies. He was also a prolific playwright, renowned artist, cat lover, ballet enthusiast, and delightful eccentric. He did the illustrations for Bram Stoker’s Dracula and H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds as well as the intro for the PBS series Mystery! He lived in Cape Cod for many years, and this past fall my friend Bernard and I went to his house-turned-museum and marveled over the intricately decorated envelopes in which he sent letters to friends, as well as his favorite raccoon-fur coat.

I first saw a poster of the Gashleycrumb Tinies on the wall in my English classroom, sophomore year of high school. A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears… I fell in love with it immediately, and to this day I’m still trying to figure out exactly why. Was it the dark, outlandish humor? The fanciful Victorian style? The fact that Gorey had taken something disturbing – the death of children – and made it delightful?

basil

I just got back from Mexico, and the souvenir I’m most excited about is my set of Loteria cards and boards that I bought for eighty pesos. Loteria is a game much like Bingo, except with pictures instead of numbers, and this set features “Los 50 Nombres de Muerte,” or “The 50 of Death.”

I gave my boyfriend two of these cards, along with some weird Mexican candy, as his present. One of the cards featured the sassy La Dama de la Guadana (the Lady of the Scythe): a lovely skeleton wearing a hat and pulling up her skirt to reveal a naughty pair of garters.

“Do you like your death cards?” I asked him, as he examined a piece of Mexican candy that looked like poop. He laughed and said he did. (I’m lucky to have a boyfriend who thinks death and poop are as interesting as I do.)

Death cards and candy that looks like poop.

Death cards and candy that looks like poop.

And so here I am, on Edward Gorey’s birthday, looking at another set of black and white illustrations of death. Certainly, this invites a compare and contrast.

Of course, the most obvious difference is timing. We see almost all of Gorey’s buttoned-up children in the moment before death: James as he reaches for the bottle of lye, Victor standing stupidly on the train tracks. In the 50 Nombres, however, we see death itself: dancing skeletons and crying skeletons and skeletons wearing hats.

Gorey’s children are totally oblivious to their inevitable fate (much like many Americans), and their stories end abruptly.  But, it seems, the Mexican culture is never surprised by death. They know it’s coming, and they can imagine what happens next.  For them, the story continues.

My 50 Nombres cards are filled with joyful (and strange) versions of death. Death is creepy, they seem to say, but it happens to everyone. It’s a mystery worth celebrating.

And so today, I will celebrate Edward Gorey. And I will think about how, like him, I can take something disturbing and write about it in a new and delightful way.

For writing exercises, click here!

Day 213: 8 Writing Exercises to Make Your Mind Sweat

Day 213:  8 Writing Exercises to Make Your Mind Sweat

I was recently at the San Miguel Writers Conference, and I felt that some of my workshops needed to include more writing exercises. I want to be forced to write about things I wouldn’t normally write about. It’s like going to those body-pump classes at the gym. They’re annoying in the moment, but afterward you feel energized (and sweaty…but in a good way.)  After all, the brain is a muscle, and the more writing exercises you do, the stronger your creative mind becomes.

Since I didn’t get as strenuous a work out as I would have liked, I made up my own writing prompts. I look forward to assigning these exercises to myself over the next few weeks. Why don’t you pick a few to try as well? Or, come up with your own and share them with me!

8 WRITING EXERCISES to MAKE YOUR MIND SWEAT

1. Pick a word from the following list and free-write about it for at least five minutes:  ghost, separation, slimy, forbidden, fireplace, tonic, chest, desperation

2. Write a first-person narrative in which the narrator is the opposite sex as you and fifty years older or younger than you.

3. Write about a terrible thing happening in a beautiful place.

4. Describe (both physically and behaviorally) your first boyfriend/girlfriend/crush

5. Write out a scene from one of your favorite books/stories/movies. Don’t read or watch the scene first – just do it from memory.

6. Write about one of your earliest childhood memories from the perspective of someone other than yourself.

7. Write about a person doing something he/she really doesn’t want to do.  (You could write about yourself.)

8. Pick a character and a place from the lists below. Then write a scene. (You can pick two characters if you’d like)
Character: flying trapeze artist, retired military officer, single parent, pregnant teen, socially-awkward professor, one-armed woman
Place: dentist’s office, airplane, hiking trail, football game, fast food restaurant, side of the road

It's like this, but for your brain.

It’s like this, but for your brain.

Also, I found this random word generating website.  Might be helpful for a writing prompt.

Day 211: Making Friends with a Mexican 5-Year-Old, or, All We Have is Story

Day 211:  Making Friends with a Mexican 5-Year-Old, or, All We Have is Story

Yesterday I taught a workshop at the San Miguel Writers Conference then went strolling around town in the hot sun.

After hours of walking the cobblestone streets, my feet throbbed and my throat stung with the dry, dusty air. I stopped to buy a paleta de coco and sat in a little park to read.

As I was finishing my popsicle, a small Mexican girl wandered over to me. She was about five years old and wearing a long-sleeved Snow White sweatshirt, despite the heat. She smiled, and I saw the nubs of two over-sized front teeth just beginning to emerge from her gums.

Paleta?” She handed me a stick she’d picked up from the ground.

Gracias,” I said, accepting the stick. I handed her my popsicle stick in exchange. Then I looked around nervously. Would her mama be offended? Technically I was handing her daughter my trash.

The little girl went back to a patch of dirt where she’d been playing and dug around in the mud with my popsicle stick. She held it up and began to speak to me in Spanish.

No hablo espanol,” I said. It wasn’t the complete truth, obviously, since I’d just said that, but it’s true that my already weak Spanish seems to get worse every time I go to a Spanish-speaking country.

She repeated herself, and I caught the word paleta. I hoped she wasn’t thinking I was going to buy her a popsicle. She held the mud-encrusted stick up to her mouth and pretended to lick it.

“Ew.” I made a funny face at her.

She laughed and spoke a string of Spanish words to me, still holding the dirty popsicle stick close to her mouth.

“Ewwwww,” I said again, making even more exaggerated faces.

“Ew,” she repeated, giggling.

Mexico 2012 023

I was having a good time, but then I got worried. Women in the U.S. are suspicious of adult strangers interacting with their children. Was I about to get the smack down from a Mexican Mama?

Donde esta tu madre?” I asked the little girl.

Alla.” She pointed at a group of people sitting on a blanket in the sun, eating from a central plate of chicken.

She began talking to me a mile a minute. I could tell by the inflection of her voice that she was asking me questions, but I didn’t know what they were.

Si?” she asked. “Si?”

No se,” I told her. “No hablo espanol.”

Still, she persisted, talking animatedly and sometimes gesturing towards her family. I caught the phrase mi casa and wondered if she was inviting me to her house to play. After all, we’d had a good laugh with the mud popsicle joke.

She continued to babble in Spanish, looking at me expectantly, and a part of me hoped that if I listened closely enough, I would be able to understand her, and suddenly Spanish would flow out of me from some secret treasure trove inside my brain.

The girl became more insistent in her questioning, and now she stood in front of me, tapping my shoe impatiently with her dirty sandal. “Si? Si?”

Finally, I couldn’t handle my lack of understanding any more, so I stood up and waved. “Hasta luego,” I told her.

Hasta luego!”

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende

On my walk home I was still sort of pleased. I’d managed to make friends with a little Mexican girl. We’d shared a joke about a mud popsicle, and she’d invited me over to her house.

Maybe.

Or maybe I had misinterpreted the whole interaction.

One of the things I’ve heard repeated several times at this writers conference is the idea that events happen, and then we each create our own unique stories about them. When I have an experience, everything is filtered through me so that it is no longer the actual event that I hold inside me but only my interpretation of the event and what it means to me.

There is no reality, only the stories we tell ourselves. In my story, I made friends with a Mexican five-year-old. Who knows what her story might be.

What is your story?

Day 207: Anti-Romance Novels, or, 8 Books for People Who Hate Valentine’s Day

Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

I am at the San Miguel Writers Conference in Mexico, which, ironically, means I have little time to write.

Lucky for you, I had this love poem published on Burlesque Press, and I had time to write the following list:

 

ANTI-ROMANCE NOVELS (okay, they’re not all novels, but these are books that poo-poo traditional romance):

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – A wild-ride thriller about a psychotically dysfunctional marriage

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham – A classic:  adultery, revenge, and death by cholera

Wild by Cheryl Strayed– Girl gets a divorce from her loving husband and has one-night stands, while hiking the Pacific Coast Trail.

Invisible by Paul Auster – A twisted post-modern tale involving murder and creepy love affairs.

On the Road by Jack Keroac– The beat boys treat women like crap, then they go to a brothel in Mexico.

Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill – A collection of stories about disturbingly dysfunctional relationships.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld– Lee’s secret relationship with Cross will make any girl cringe — especially the humiliating way that it ends.

Nobody Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July – a collection of quirky stories about sad, weird relationships and lonely people looking for love (and never finding it).

Day 204: Forget About the Fear, or, Why the Trapeze Lesson Made Me Cry

Day 204:  Forget About the Fear, or, Why the Trapeze Lesson Made Me Cry

TODAY’S STATS:

# of pages written today on new project: 0

# of literary mags submitted to: 0

Since I will be in Mexico on February 14th, my boyfriend and I and decided to take flying trapeze lessons this past weekend as a pre-Valentine’s Day date.

But the day before our lesson, Paul sprained his wrist rock climbing. The trapeze school website claimed you had to give at least seventy-two hours notice to cancel or reschedule.

“Let’s just go down there,” Paul said.

“Yeah. We’ll make them feel bad for us,” I agreed. “I’m sure they’ll let us reschedule.”

And they did let Paul reschedule. But they wouldn’t let me, even though I tried to explain that this lesson was supposed to be our romantic Valentine’s Day date.

“It’s okay,” Paul assured me. “I’ll watch you and take videos. It’ll be fun.”

“Yeah. But it would be more fun if we could do it together,” I said.

As it turned out, it wasn’t much fun at all, but not because Paul was on the sidelines.

*  *  *

The first time I did trapeze lessons was two and a half years ago. I was both incredibly nervous and incredibly excited. Everyone in my class was a beginner, and at the start of class the coaches introduced themselves and explained everything we would do in detail. All the students giggled nervously, and we cheered each other on as one-by-one we climbed to the platform, grabbed the bar, and jumped.

The coaches were encouraging and supportive and wonderful. When it was my turn, I climbed up the wobbling ladder and stood on the platform, my toes over the edge, trying to breathe normally and keep my legs from shaking.

“You’re awesome, Eva,” the coach told me. “Just remember to keep your butt tucked in and listen for the calls, OK? You’re gonna be great.”

And I was great. I hung upside down from the bar by my knees, I did a flip dismount, and when one of the coaches started swinging on the opposite trapeze, I reached out my arms and he caught me easily. I was so proud and excited I could hardly contain myself. At the end of class, one of the coaches told me I was natural and hoped I would be back soon. Maybe they said that to everyone, but I took it to heart. I was a girl of the flying trapeze!

knee hang - my first lesson

knee hang – my first lesson

After that first lesson, I was less nervous, but the tricks got harder. On my third time I learned the set straddle. I swung in the air upside down while one of the coaches screamed at me, “lift your butt higher! Butt up! UP!”

I didn’t learn set straddle well enough to try getting it caught that day. “Just do a knee hang,” the coach told me when it was time for catching. I felt bad. Knee hang was for babies. So that feeling of failure, coupled with the fact that trapeze is ridiculously expensive, was the reason why I didn’t sign up for more lessons until several years later, when Paul decided flying trapeze would be the perfect first date.

And so, on my fourth lesson, I worked on set straddle again, and this time I got it caught. And although I was proud and excited, there was also a feeling of relief – thank god I had gotten it caught. I could go back to feeling like a carefree girl of the flying trapeze.

attempting set straddle - my third lesson

attempting set straddle – my third lesson

And now it was my fifth lesson. Everything was so different from my fist lesson. For one thing, no one in my class was a beginner. The coaches didn’t say hello to us or give us a pep talk at the start of class – people just started swinging. And when they weren’t on the trapeze, the other students were doing ab exercises or looking at their smart phones. I longed for the encouraging group dynamics of my first lesson, but then again, I wasn’t exactly a beginner anymore, even though I still felt like it.

I approached one of the coaches – a tall, skinny boy of about nineteen. “Um… Hi. I’m not sure what I’m going to be learning today,” I said.

“What’d you do last time?” he asked.

“Set straddle.”

“Start with that, then.” He started to walk away.

“Wait!” I called. “It’s been a few months. Will you remind me how to do it?”

“Yeah.” He glanced up at the platform. One of the students was swinging back and forth, pumping her legs vigorously. Her rainbow-striped kneesocks flashed. She’d been taking lessons for three years and didn’t even need safety lines.

The boy looked back at me. “You just put your feet on the bar and do froggie legs,” he said. “Remember?”

“And keep my butt up?” I asked, but he had already climbed the ladder to the platform.

*  *  *

When it was my turn, I climbed the ladder, figuring it would all come back to me when I was in the air. The young boy-coach was on the platform now, pulling off his t-shirt and letting it flutter to the ground. He clipped me into my safety lines and handed me the bar.

“Hands together,” he admonished. “Your feet have to go on the outside.”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “I forgot.”

“Set straddle,” he shouted down to the girl-coach on the ground. She would be giving me my calls. I didn’t know her name either.

“Ready. Hep!”

I jumped from the platform and flew through the air.

“First position!”

I put my feet on the bar and did froggie legs.

“Second position!”

My brain squealed to a halt. Second position? What was second position? The boy had told me about froggie legs, but now what?
The ground coach was yelling something at me, but I couldn’t quite hear her.

“What?” I shouted.

“Straighten your legs!” she yelled. “Your legs! Straighten!”

“Oh yeah!”

I straightened my legs into a straddle-split, but my timing was messed up now, and I was wobbling on the bar. My butt was sagging, and

I couldn’t get my legs against the insides of my arms.

“Hep!” the girl-coach yelled.

I fell awkwardly into the net, feeling embarrassed.

“I’m sorry. I totally forgot what I was doing,” I said. “Should I do that one again?”

“Uh, yeah,” she said.

“I’ll get it perfect next time. I promise,” I said. I smiled and tried to stay cheerful, but I was beginning to feel worried. I knew they wouldn’t let me learn a new trick unless I could prove proficient on the old one.

And so when it was my turn again, I climbed the ladder, trying to swallow down my anxiety. I wasn’t nervous about heights anymore – I was nervous about not doing a good job.

“Ready. Hep!”

I swung into the air. This time I followed all the calls and straightened my legs against my arms just like I was supposed to. When the coach called “hep” a second time, I let go of the bar and reached my arms out, smiling. I landed hard in the net, my teeth crashing into my bottom lip. I tasted blood, but I didn’t care. I’d done the trick correctly.

“You need to flatten out more on hep,” the coach told me as I jumped from the net onto the mat below.

“Oh, OK,” I told her. “Can I still learn a new trick?”

“Did you catch that one last time?” Her voice made it clear that she doubted I had.

“Yeah,” I told her.

“You did? OK, then. You can learn something new.”

second lesson

second lesson

The boy-coach came over to tell me about my new trick:  set-split.

“I’m really stupid,” I told him. “I need you to explain it to me really well. Like, over-explain it to me.” I didn’t want to find myself again hanging in the air, unsure of what to do next.

“I will,” he snapped.

He grabbed the static trapeze, which hung at eye-level. “First you bring your foot on the bar, and your other leg goes like this.” He demonstrated. “Then you straighten your leg and arch your back.  You got it?” He let go of the bar.

“I guess.” I frowned a little bit. “Can I try it on the bar?”

“No,” he said.  “I can’t let you do that for safety reasons.”

“OK, so which foot do I use then?” I wasn’t sure I quite understood the mechanics of it all and wished that I could watch someone do the trick in the air first before I tried it.

“It doesn’t matter,” the boy-coach said. “Just don’t think too hard about it.” He turned and climbed the ladder.

*   *   *

My first attempt was a disaster, with me swinging about crazily, confused about where to put my legs. But my time after that was better.  And the time after that a little better. I was learning it. But I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was anxious. Not because of normal trapeze fears like height or speed or injury. I was anxious about failing. I was worried I wouldn’t do the trick well enough and the coaches wouldn’t let me catch it and I would disappoint Paul, who was watching me, and my family, who would be anxious to see the videos, and – of course – I would disappoint myself.

I knew it was silly for me to feel so anxious. I kept trying to smile and chat with people.  I kept trying to lighten my mood. This was supposed to be fun, after all!

When it was time for catching, though, I was a bundle of nerves. I knew that I would only get two chances to get caught. And when it comes to catches on the trapeze, perfection is everything. If I made even the tiniest mistake in timing or position, I would fall.

The boy coach climbed onto the opposite trapeze and started swinging. When it was my turn, I stood on the platform, trying to relax, but all I could think was: do it perfect, Eva. 

“Ready. Hep!”

I jumped. I got into first position. Then second position. I arched my back and saw the boy flying towards me on the other bar. “Hep!” he yelled.

I let go and reached out towards him, but somehow our arms swooped passed each other, and I fell to the net.

“What did I do wrong?” I asked the girl-coach when I was back on the ground.

“Reach out for him quicker and keep your arms still,” she said.

“OK,” I said. “I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it perfectly.” I tried to sound confident, but I was beginning to doubt that I was going to get caught. And yet, I knew I had to. This was my last chance, and if I didn’t get caught, I would feel terribly disappointed.

I climbed up to the platform again, running through my mind everything I had to remember. First position: Lift my legs at the same time. Second position: Straighten my legs and arch my back. Push my hips forward. Look at him. Wait for his hep. Reach out fast and steady.

“Ready. Hep!”

I jumped. Everything was going perfectly, but as I arched my back and looked towards him, I knew that it wasn’t going to happen. He wasn’t going to catch me.

“Hep!” he said. I shot my arms straight forward, but they just went right through his outstretched arms. I fell to the net. I had failed.

“I’m so sad,” I said, slinking over to Paul, who had been taking videos of me the whole time on his phone. There was a burning feeling in the back of my throat, and my heart felt heavy as lead. “I’m so sad,” I said again, pouting. Paul laughed, as if I was kidding, but I wasn’t. I felt terrible.

fifth lesson - set-split

fifth lesson – set-split

On the drive to go get lunch, I tried to sound cheerful, but the only thing that came out of my mouth was bitter complaints about the boy-coach. “He just didn’t seem like he wanted to be there,” I said. “He didn’t explain the trick to me well enough…. I told him I liked his socks, but he just ignored me.”

We parked, and I went to the machine to pay for parking, but the machine wouldn’t accept my credit card. I kicked the machine, and suddenly I was crying.

“Eva, what’s wrong?” Paul asked, coming up beside me.

I knew it was silly to cry about trapeze lessons. I didn’t make my catch. The nineteen-year-old coach was a jerk. These were not things to get upset about. And yet the more I tried to stop crying, the harder I cried.

“I just felt so anxious the whole time,” I told Paul. “Because I wanted to get the trick right, and I wanted to get caught, and I knew I only had two chances. And I told myself to just have fun, but I couldn’t stop feeling anxious.”

“Oh, Eva,” Paul said, wrapping his arms around me.

“There’s the expectation to get caught – that’s what the whole class is leading up towards – and if you don’t get caught… I don’t know. I wanted to enjoy myself, but I couldn’t stop worrying about messing up.”

By this point I was crying really hard, and my mascara was running down my face.  Now I was comparing trapeze to writing.  In both cases I’m no longer a beginner.  In both cases I’ve put expectations on myself — I’m expecting certain outcomes and I’m afraid of not achieving them.   “I think I’m crying about more than just the trapeze,” I said after a moment.

I was feeling overwhelmed by a fear of failure.  I’m trying to enjoy writing, but the enjoyment is often marred by my fear that I’m letting go of the bar of stability, reaching out for a career in writing, and finding nothing to hold onto.

And the more I cried, the more I realized that life in general is like my trapeze lesson. We all want to enjoy it, but we’re constantly worried about messing up, about falling and failing. We’re constantly judging ourselves for not doing things perfectly.

“I don’t think I should do trapeze anymore,” I told Paul. “Or if I do, I need to find some way to not judge myself and not feel so anxious about whether or not I’m being perfect or whether or not I make the catch.”

Paul agreed.

And I thought, the same is true for writing. I have to find a way to not worry about whether or not I get caught by an agent or publisher.  I should remember that not everyone even has the courage to climb up to that platform in the sky and jump off the edge.  I should feel proud no matter what sort of trick I accomplish – even if it’s just a simple knee hang.  It’s exciting that I’m in the air, and I want to enjoy flying.

second lesson - getting caught

second lesson – getting caught