“ You must remember to make promises to yourself and work hard to keep them.”
--Baseball Umpire Doug Harvey, in his Hall of Fame Induction Speech
"Auntie’s lost her balance,” my niece remarked in mock formal tones as I uprighted the swivel chair I’d just piloted into a mid course crash-and-burn at a family food function. Her remark was met with instant laughter, not just because of the uncharacteristic way she pronounced “Auntie” as if it began with an “o,” or her wonderful timing but also the because everyone present knows this auntie is seldom sure and steady.
I’m the kid who instantly became public enemy number one in first grade when I tripped over a cord in our darkened classroom, sending the film projector and class expectations of a media-enhanced lesson into irreparable wreckage. Growing up, I was just as likely to fall up the stairs to my room as down, once even doing hard time with my head stuck between the banisters of the same staircase as the result of a failed rescue of a stray marble. Even now, the quickest route to finding me is following the Hansel and Gretel-like trail of dribbled latte.
Which makes my present announcement unremarkable: I’m completely off balance, and it’s killing me. Last August, when I got my job as a part time art teacher, I wrote of my excitement about getting back into art, of having an artistic outlet. But in the same post, I also mentioned the need for corresponding good news in my literary pursuits in order to feel complete.
Ten years ago, I made a decision to become a working writer and made some concrete, relatively bold moves. With both my kids now in school, I quit a part time job that was no longer going well and dedicated several hours of every day to typing words into blank documents and then—get this—sending those words to editors with wildly varying results. Some ignored me. Some sent me notes, politely passing on my work (which, at the time, I was too inexperienced to recognize for the encouragement that they were). Others sent along suggestions for improvement (some I considered, and least one, I completely blew off—that story was immediately entered in a contest where it took first place. In a wonderful twist of fate, the cash award and the accompanying silver bowl were presented to me by none other than the editor who had suggested I ax most of the first page.) And other editors? They sent money. One, at my local paper, offered me steady work, which I relished for nearly three years.
In other words, I took risks. I wrote two entire books, and went into business with my husband to promote them. I went to book signings, and library programs, and school and girl scout programs, and got reviews in tiny little publications. I wrote a nonfiction book proposal and got polite replies passing on the project from all three agents I sent it to (which I was now experienced enough to recognize as the encouragement that it was). Some days I cried. Some days I laughed. Many a day I threatened to quit the entire enterprise, But never, at any point, did I lose sight of the fact that I was doing everything I could do to flesh out a dream.
So what happened? For one thing, I got a little comfortable writing for the paper. They loaded me all the work I could handle and sometimes let me shoot my own stories, too. I wasn’t bringing in anything close to a stand-alone income, but at any given time I was juggling 2-3 stories with no question on whether they’d run or if I’d get paid and when I got to shoot, I was making almost as much on my photos as I was on my text. What’s more, I was happy. I told my sister several times during this period that I was never so happy as I was when I had a story in the works, one in the wings, and my classes to teach on my “off” days.
Then, the state of Virginia offered me cash to get a masters degree, and I decided that the smart money was on education. Although the degree and accompanying teaching certification I earned is the next best thing to insurance that I won’t go hungry, it did nothing to forward my real dreams.
Meanwhile, the paper went bankrupt and fired all the freelancers. It would have broken my heart, especially because I'd let all my other contacts go stagnant while reveling in the coziness of the paper's steady work-- but I was up to my eyeballs in writing of a different, not-so-enjoyable-or-profitable-academic- kind. Somewhere along the way, I convinced myself that all of this was OK, because I had a blog.
I graduated last June and figured I’d find my way back into the game. I submitted a piece I thought was a sure thing, and got easily discouraged by a rejection from a magazine who’d published me in the past— and no bites from the handful of other suitable publications (one of which went out of business between my send-off and the rejection). I fell into an online gig that promised to be “the best writing job of my career” but barely cracks the double digit mark for most of their most lucrative articles and is evidently run by robots. I eventually settled into my blog and dubbed it a career move.
I’m a year out of school, and none of this is OK anymore. I love my blog, and I’m not—I repeat—NOT shutting it down…but I can no longer go on telling myself that it’s a ligit gig. I know some people have pulled it off—a couple who even read me. It just hasn’t turned out quite that way for me.
I want my dreams back. It’s time to take some bolder steps toward my goals. I need to take risks again. Some of those risks will be visible here. It’s likely this space will morph into the story of how I find my balance again. Of how to remember a dream and work hard to make it come true. It probably won't be updated as frequently, or with lengthy, polished work--unless I'm sharing a chapter or piece of published work. But that's OK. This space is mine, and it has never failed to expand or contract to fit me to a "T".
A couple weeks ago, Doug Harvey, an 80-year old retired baseball umpire was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Along the way, he happened to remind me about the importance of keeping the promises we make to ourselves. I tried to find a video of his speech on youtube, but came up short. Track it down if you’re more savvy than I am—it’s well worth the effort, regardless of your baseball interest level. Harvey’s remarks—even this excerpt-- were relevant to anyone who has ever had a dream. His just happened to be umpiring, and he worked for it day and night—through broken teeth, months on the road, and memorization of a thick rule book he can recite in his sleep. He endured all that and more--gladly at that--because he made a promise to himself. I did, too. It is time to find balance once again.
On Friday, I’ll be giving you a little glimpse into one new direction the blog will be heading this fall. In the meantime, please give some thought to what you’re doing to nurture your own dreams. I’d love to hear about it in your comments. And just a reminder—my Tiny Little Auction for a Great Big Cause is still up and running through noon Friday, and it’s a great opportunity to give someone else the gift of a dream (and score a bag or a bangle to boot!)