Monthly Archives: April 2013

in which I accomplish 101 things in 1001 days

Right  now, I am sitting out on my porch in the sunshine, listening to She & Him’s new CD, drinking lemonade in my pajamas.

Look at me. With all this free time. Blogging without guilt. It is a beautiful thing.

In all the excitement of the last month (finals, bombings, and what have you) I forgot to talk about something mildly cool in my life. So backtrack with me for a moment.

A little under three years ago, I started a project called 101 in 1001. This was where I sat down and made a list of 101 things I wanted to do in the next 1001 days. Some of them were silly. Some of them were serious. Some of them were travel related, since I had just found out I was about to jet set off to Europe for a year. Lots of them were theater related. Some of them were weird and random. But there they were, 101 things I wanted to do.

My 1001 days ended on April 14 of this year. I did not accomplish everything on my list (partially because some of the things were really stupid and others were impossible, for financial reasons or other), but I’m proud of what I did accomplish. It’s a weird list though. It makes me aware of just how much I’ve changed since I wrote it and how different my priorities are. And it’s weird to look back and think about where and who I was 1001 days ago, before I had done any of these things, and how that version of me doesn’t exist anymore.

But I like me better now. A lot of these things made me much more awesome than I was before.

So here is my list! The things in bold are the things I did accomplish. I took off a few that were rather personal, so as not to make anyone feel uncomfortable, so if you count them, you’ll realize there’s not 101. I also added commentary and photos to a few. Because that’s more fun.

Mackenzi Lee’s 101 in 1001

Bake a pie
Read Gone with the Wind
Direct a play

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this play! Coriolanus! Aw Coriolanus….

Visit the Bronte home
Read the complete works of Shakespeare
Pay my own rent
Go to Paris

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tiny, but it’s me!

Read the Book of Mormon
Visit three new statesMassachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut
Watch an Academy Award-winning film
Swim in the Mediterranean – I waded. I’m not really a swimmer. 
Apply to grad school – I am shocked I had enough foresight to put this on my list 1001 days ago. Back when I had no direction.
Volunteer for a cause I believe in
Vote
Plant a gardenwhen I worked at This is the Place Heritage Park, which feels like lifetimes ago rather than just 1001 days ago, I planted a vegetable garden, which yielded watermelon, gourds, and beets. I had to leave for England before most stuff was ripe, but I harvested and ate the watermelon anyways. It was not ready. But it still tasted like victory, because I had grown it and it was not dead.
Write a novel
Buy red high heels (and wear them somewhere)
Go to Italy

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Not sure why Italy got preferential treatment on this list.

Fly a kite on the beach
Get a new and different hair cut
Go on a date with a man with facial hair you may remember this story
Go to a Kate Nash concert
Go to a She & Him concert
Go to a castle

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one of many. But Conwy was my favorite!

Drive on a motorcycle/scooter – while I did not technically do the driving, a friend of mine gave me a lift through Logan a few days before I graduated      
See “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” live ah, three years ago Mackenzi. Little do you know that one day, you will not only see Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me live, but you will be part of creating it.

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can you spot my name? Of course you can, because it’s fifteen letters longer than everyone else’s.

Buy a reliable messenger bag Duluth Packs. Seriously.
Make a friend at a coffee shop I’m not totally sure why this ended up on the list. Probably because I was kind of in my hippie phase, and I thought hanging out at coffee shops was hip. Either way, my antisocialness won on this one. 
Ride in a hot air balloon – I obviously had no sense of how much this cost before I added it to the list
Do service outside of the US – When I wrote this (again in my hippie phase) I was envisioning Peace Corps or something. But instead, I did service while I was living in England. I’m counting that. 
Drink a pina colada  virgin pina colada. I didn’t know what alcohol was when I made this list.

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Go backpacking
Read a book in a day – yeah, I’ve only done this ninety-five times since starting grad school
Enter a poetry slam – alas, I am shy and my poetry is terrible
Go to a temple outside of the US
Learn 3 guitar songs – lol nope. 
Attend a ballet
See an iconic movie – Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I had never seen it until last year. It’s now one of my favorites.
Go to a pub
Go to a midnight showing of a movie
Go on a road trip – Scotland! Lake District! Wales! Woo!
Buy a whole outfit in one shot
Take a great photo and frame it – Special thanks to 14 on this one.
Go boating  – I’m gonna go ahead and count kayaking down the Chicago River and cruising down the Rhine
Go to a classy party
Enter a photo contest – luckily I did not write “win a photo contest”
Buy a crèche
Sew a dress
Spend a day at the Louvre

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this photo could technically also be proof of the “new and different haircut” item on the list. Because have you seen my hair now?

Go on a cruise
Be in a Shakespeare play
Learn to change a tire
Write a song – I was going to do this after I learned the guitar. 
Kiss in the rain
Be in a musical – Jane Eyre woo!

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that’s me. Lighting Rochester’s house on fire. As one does.

Climb a tree
Visit Stratford Upon Avon
See a Royal Shakespeare Company show

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or four

Pay for someone else at the drive through
Buy a vintage bike – this was nixed when I realized how bad I am at biking.
Take a dance class
Draw a chalk mural

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though I did not draw the Tree of Life in the corner. I’m not that religious.

Sleep outside (without a tent)
Build a snowman
Meet a celebrity

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Authors count. This guy especially counts.

Go to a fashion show
Have a garden party
Start a blog
Go to an amusement park
Write to someone I admire/who influenced me
Learn to do the splits – ha. right. 
Do something that scares me – every time I sit down to write, I accomplish this
Read a Sherlock Holmes book – and to think I put this even before I was obsessed with Sherlock
Graduate from college

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I realize this proves nothing. But I did graduate.

Learn how to properly apply eyeliner – this was long overdue three years ago
Go a month without facebook
Visit the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Garden
Overcome my diet coke addiction – I have actually done this! In the last month! And I am REALLY proud of myself.
Make a film – this film!
Get a short story published
Cook a whole dinner by myself
See a Broadway play

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among a few others.

Get a job
Go to a national park I have never visited before
Go to a film festival
Go horseback riding
Live abroad
Choose a career path
Visit ten countries – England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Estonia, Latvia, Turkey, Greece…did I miss any?
Sing karaoke
 Ride a train
Read 100 books – ha. Yes. I did this.  
Lose 15 pounds
Move out

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in which I complete the first half of my degree

As of yesterday, I have completed my second semester of grad school.

I turned in my last paper. Gave my last presentation. And walked out of Simmons College half a master.

I feel like this:

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happy giff

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I thought about crunching the numbers and doing some big final wrap up of how many books I read, how many papers I wrote, how many pens I chewed to pieces over the course of the year.

But after all those books, papers, and pens, I am understandably burnt out.

So no to the number crunching. Just me saying that I have completed my first year of grad school, and I am now going to take a well-deserved few days to read whatever I want1, watch some TV, and eat celebratory frozen yogurt2.

Here’s me saying I am done. And I promise I will be more interesting when the blisters on my fingers from excessive typing heal.

  1. Speaking of books I’m reading, I just finished the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld and OH MY GOSH I AM OBSESSED. They are outstanding pieces of fiction with one of the greatest heroines in YA and one of the most engaging and creative premises of all time. READ THEM.
  2. I had a cold this week—my first cold in three years. Fortunately it was extremely mild, but I did end up with a nasty sore throat for the last three days. This has resulted in me making five trips to the frozen yogurt shop across the street from my house in the last three days. And the same clerk has been working every time. He finally asked me if I wanted a frequent buyer card. I said no and ran away.
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in which I celebrate world book night

Happy World Book Night, everybody!

Today, on the birthday of Miguel Cervantes and William Shakespeare, thousands of people all over the country and across the pond are giving out free copies of twenty-five outstanding books by twenty-five outstanding authors, graciously provided by the organization World Book Night America. I’ve spent the day handing out copies of Looking for Alaska by John Green1. Not sure how many of the people who I gave books to will actually read the books I give them, but still. I enjoy spreading the gift of reading.

Yesterday, in honor of World Book Day, I got to meet Neil Gaiman. This was a big, star-struck moment for me, because he is basically a literary god2. I was surprisingly coherent as he signed my book—we talked about children’s lit and Doctor Who.

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that is Neil Gaiman, and that is me.

He also said something wonderful during the Q&A, when I asked him how he approached writing children’s lit differently than writing adult lit. He said something to the effect of how he takes writing kid lit much more seriously than he takes writing adult lit, because of how immediate the possibility is that a children’s book will change someone’s life. When you write kidlit, you are writing stories that children are going to be carrying with them for literally the rest of their lives. It will always be stored somewhere inside of them, and a part of them that influences who they are. Children are so moldable, and the books they read have the potential to help them create person they are going to become.

All the while he was answering, I nodded and smiled while he answered, pretended like I was totally cool with the fact that NEIL GAIMAN was answering MY QUESTION and looking me RIGHT IN THE EYE. But really, I thought his answer was brilliant, and it reminded me of the following quotation. Which I found yesterday. On tumblr.

“They are not just simple kids’ books. They are stories that we are continuing to read even today. They’re stories that we remember years later, even when other stories fade from our memories. They’re stories we will never forget, and for good reason! They’re stories that helped shape our childhoods, through well thought-out writing, imaginative drawings and endearing morals…Maybe these “simple kids’ books” are far more adult than you give them credit for. And…years from now when kids AND adults will still be reading these “simple kids’ books.” Good art doesn’t come from focus groups and statistics. It comes from people who share how they see things in their own unique way.”

I love being part of this community of book creating and giving children books that will change them. I hope you all take a moment to think back on your favorite books as a child, and celebrate how they made you what you are today3.

Happy World Book Night, all. Now sit down and READ!

  1. While this is my least favorite of the John Green novels, even the least of John Green is excellent.
  2. He is also, as I learned last night, incredibly kind and humble. Which just makes him all the more awesome.
  3. Even if it’s in a negative way, like the fact that I still have stress dreams where I’m trapped in the cover of a Goosebumps novel. I never read Goosebumps, because the covers were too scary, but they still scared the crap out of me when I saw them displayed at the library. I was a very impressionable child.
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in which I meet the comfort dogs

Today I felt good.

Like actually good for the first time all week. Usually my happiness level on a scale of one to ten is about a seven, but ever since Monday, for pretty justifiable reasons, I’ve been sort of a four.

But then today, things got better.

The first reason for this was because of the Comfort Dogs.

The Comfort Dogs are a group of five golden retrievers that are trained to give emotional support to people who need it. Basically they just sit there, so calm you’d think they were sedated, and let you love them and pour all your emotional baggage into them. These dogs came down from their usual job at Sandy Hook Elementary to give their love to the city of Boston.

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I sat on the pavement outside the First Lutheran Church with the dogs for about an hour, talking to other people who were feeling down and needed a lift via these canine companions. And it felt good. It made me happy, both the people and the dogs. Dogs always make me happy, but these guys were particularly helpful to me at this time1.

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After leaving the Comfort Dogs2, I walked around the Public Garden. It was kind of a beautiful day today, and I thought it would be nice to walk through on my way to school.

When I walked into the Public Garden, the first thing I saw was this beautiful view of the Boston skyline, brownstones surrounding skyscrapers and the gold dome of the statehouse shining in the sun. Then there was the pond, with the swan boats gliding serenely across it and the weeping willows waving in the breeze. The trees were blooming pink, people were everywhere, happy and laughing, and George Washington was sitting atop his horse, watching over it all3. And the new-blooming flowerbeds were lined with messages from people to each other. From Boston to Boston, messages of peace and love and support.

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And it was all so beautiful, it was overwhelming. I just stood there and cried behind my sunglasses for a minute4. And this song I learned in Primary kept running through my head—“I Think the World is Glorious.”

Really terrible things happened this week, but out of it has come so many beautiful things, and so many examples of how wonderful, wonderful people really can be. Light drives out the darkness, bad brings out the best in us, and life always finds a way to continue doing the only thing it can: living.

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And no matter what happens, I think the world is glorious, and nothing can ever make me believe that that’s a lie.

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  1. Also, the dogs all have their own facebook and twitters. Which makes the social media geek in me really happy.
  2. Also the name of the gourmet hot dog truck I am someday going to start.
  3. He’s a statue. In case that wasn’t clear.
  4. It should be noted I am not an emotional person. It was just a moment of transitory peace in the midst of a turbulent week.
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on the Boston bombings

I’ll keep this quick, because I don’t have much to say on this subject, and I know there are a lot of other people who do.

First of all, thanks everyone for your messages and calls yesterday. I’m safe and fine. I was in my apartment when the bombs went off in Copley Square. For the first time in my life, I was grateful that too much homework kept me indoors. I know people who ran in the race and people who were at the finish line when the bombs went off, but they are all safe.

Second of all, I want to add my sentiment to everyone else who has been saying that Boston is a tough city that is going to rise above this. One person set off a bomb yesterday, but there were hundreds of people who rushed to help those who were injured. And 1 to 100 ain’t bad odds.

Third of all, this is the first time in my life I’ve been this close to a tragedy of this scope. My apartment’s about two miles away from Copley Square. I walk through there all the time to go to the Boston Public Library. I get my hair cut a block away. I’ve eaten at restaurants that now have their windows blown out. I stood in line on that street where the bomb went off to see Buddy Wakefield perform a few weeks ago. But for me, the most lasting impact and the saddest thing is that this incident stole our feeling of safety in our own city.

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When I was a junior in high school, there was a shooting at Trolley Square, a shopping center near my home in Salt Lake. I love Trolley Square, and I’ve been there many times since the shooting, but every time I go, even years later, it’s still the first thing I think of when I’m there, and it makes me a little uneasy. I hate that one person and one senseless act of violence was able to steal that feeling of safety from me, so that even walking around a shopping mall makes me nervous. We saw the same thing happen this past summer in Aurora, Colorado, and this winter in Newtown, Connecticut. Beyond the direct victims, the entire country was robbed of feeling safe in their movie theaters and schools, and that to me is so tragic.

And now my entire city feels like it is walking on eggshells. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little jumpy getting on the train today. But here I am at school, and tomorrow I’ll go to work, and my week will proceed just the same as it would have if the bombings hadn’t happened. Everything there is to know about life can be summed up in three words: it goes on. And Boston will go on too.

Because Boston is freaking awesome.

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in which I see Book of Mormon: The Musical

Last night, I won the lottery.

The theater lottery, which might actually be better than the real lottery. I was one of 25 lucky people who had their name picked out of a recyclable bag and got a $25 ticket to see the touring production of Book of Mormon: the musical at the Boston Opera House, making me the first person in history to see this show for less than ten million dollars.

I asked the box office if I got a discount for being an actual, real-life Mormon. They said no.

There’s a high chance that I was the only actual, real-life Mormon in the crowd, mostly because this show, written by the guys who write South Park, has a reputation for being irreverent and offensive. Maybe not the most orthodox choice for someone who is about to be the central focal point of all jokes to attend.

But I really, really enjoyed it.

And here’s why.

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First of all, I think it’s important not to take yourself too seriously in anything, and religion is no exception. It’s important to be able to laugh at yourself, and that’s exactly what the show gave me the opportunity to do. It also helped that I knew what I was getting myself in to. I was prepared for offensive content and excessive language. Were there some parts that still made me squirm? Absolutely. But not because they were slandering my faith.

While the show is wildly offensive, it isn’t mean. I never felt like the show was attacking my beliefs1 or saying “Look at how stupid these Mormons are!” Instead, the show is universally offensive to everyone—organized religion in general, rich, poor, minorities, men, women, children, whites, blacks, Americans, Africans, Asians. Really, nobody gets out of this one without a few blows landing. It is a satire, and satire by nature is biting. But I never felt like it was mean2. And it was never technically wrong about any doctrine3. There were actually jokes I felt like I got that no one else did because I was a Mormon, and I certainly related in a way I’m sure most people didn’t.

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Here’s why I loved the show: it weirdly had a great message. The whole show culminates in the idea that if you find something you believe in, whether that’s “right” or “wrong,” if it makes you happy and makes you a better person, who cares? Believe in things that make your life better. For me, the LDS Church has always been one of those things, and for the characters in the show, it’s the same.

So we think the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri. Okay. Moving on.

Being part of this Church inspires me to be a better, more compassionate person, and gives me direction. And that’s what matters.

I think the LDS Church also deserves points for how well they’ve reacted to all this. When the show was first announced, there was a lot of whispering and wondering if the Church was going to react the same way the Catholics did to Da Vinci Code. Instead, the entirety of the Church’s response was, “Meh. Okay.” Not only that, but the playbill for last night’s show featured three very prominent ads for the Church, tagged, “You’ve seen the play, now read the book!” and “The book is always better!4” It takes a lot of confidence to react that well, and I think the Church’s response should guide it’s people’s response. This show is not intended to undermine us, or to make Mormons look like fools. It’s a loving satire, and we should make the best of it5.

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In the end, I saw Book of Mormon: the musical. Did I love it? Yes. Did I walk out of it with my faith still intact? Yes. Would I recommend every Mormon go see it? Absolutely not. But I don’t think they should waste time being offended by it.

And in the end, being offended is just a waste of time. Save your venom for something that really matters.

  1. They just phrase things in a way that provides for maximum ridiculousness. That being said, my favorite line in the show is still “And I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people!”
  2. I really appreciated that they didn’t take any cheap shots—no mention of polygamy or abstinence or green Jello.
  3. The only line I took issue with was “Those we’re Christian missionaries, we’re Mormons.” Because Mormons are Christians. Duh.
  4. Which I thought was hilarious and brilliant. Also, if you’d like a copy of said better book, please send me an email!
  5. If I had thought of this ahead of time, I would have worn a sign that said, “I’m a real Mormon—ask my anything!” Missed opportunity. But the offer still stands.
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in which I fight to stay focused

I don’t know if you’ve ever written a novel, but in my experience, the process of writing a first draft for any novel always goes down about the same way.

Stage 1: The Brilliant Idea
It can come at anytime, anywhere. On the bus to work. In the shower. In the middle of the night via a dream. But when it comes, it hits you hard, and you become jump-up-and-down excited about it1.

Stage 2: Wild excitement
You are in overdrive. Envisioning scenes. Shaping characters. Perfecting witty dialogue in your head. It is all you think about, and the more you think about it, the more sure you are that you have the next Harry Potter on your hands.

Stage 3: Frenzied writing
You begin, and it is glorious. The words flow like something that flows really fast and awesomely2. You’d rather be writing than doing anything else. You forgo social situations to write. You stay up late into the night working. You think, ‘Writing is easy!’

Stage 4: The sagging middle
This generally happens for me when I hit the places in my outline that I filled in with phrases like “and then stuff happens.” You encounter plot holes. Questions. You get stuck. Things start to move a little slower. You find yourself compulsively checking facebook in the middle of every other sentence, and you find you’re tweeting more about writing than you are actually writing. Things are getting hard, and so much less fun, and you will basically do anything to avoid writing3.

Stage 5: Totally stuck/abject despair
Needs no explanation

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this pie chart, while slightly off topic, is depressingly accurate.

Stage 4 is usually where something enters the picture that Laini Taylor calls “The Slutty New Idea.” That’s technical writer talk.

The SNI is a brand-new idea that calls to you from the dark corners of your mind and says, “Come write me, I’m so much easier.” And because it is currently occupying stage one, it is bright and shiny and looks just so pretty that you cannot resist its siren song, which is why most novels are never finished—they are abandoned in favor of other projects that, from a distance, look easier and better.

The problem with the SNI is that as soon as you start working on it, it becomes your work in progress, and the whole darn thing starts over again.

Right now, I am in the throws of stage 4, the least fun stage of writing. I have hit the sagging middle, the place where I start to see all the holes in my current work in progress and use them as an excuse not to press onward. And from the dark recesses of my imagination, the SNI is calling to me. Come write me, I’m so much easier.

The last two novel-length items I have written did not make it past first draft4 and in all likelihood, never will. I don’t regret writing them, because I believe in a habit of completion, but after two projects dying as infants, I’m ready to finish something and do something with it. Writing first drafts is too hard to just let it die afterwards. So the SNI is looking particularly appealing of late. It looks easier to finish. Easier to revise.

But I am resisting! I am trying really, really hard to not only to finish the current first draft, but to finish it as something that can be revised and later actually finished5.

Any writers out there have any ideas about how to get over the hump and resist switching projects? Because right now, it’s harder than giving up diet coke6.

On a separate note, my blogging is going to be sporadic and infrequent over the next month, because finals are making me want to Sherlock-style throw myself off a building. I shall return to normal programing once April is over. I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel7.

 

  1. If you are not jump-up-and-down excited about any idea, it’s not worth writing a novel about. Because writing a novel is too hard.
  2. I am clearly not in this stage at the moment.
  3. This is why our kitchen is really, really clean right now, and why I’ve been doing an uncharacteristic amount of cooking lately.
  4. You may remember the famed Mormon hook handed zombie killer novel. While still awesome, it is inherently flawed, and whipping it into anything usable would require basically starting over.
  5. Those of you who think writing a novel involves one burst of brilliance and then instant publication are incorrect.
  6. Which I am doing. And it is a lot easier than I expected it to be. Though the constant exhaustion and caffeine-withdrawal head is less fun.
  7. And that light looks like the new Star Trek movie, and the Great Gatsby movie, and the new season of Arrested Development. So close…and yet so far away…
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in which I try to conquer a mental block

So it’s been two weeks since I blogged. Not too much has happened in those two weeks. I did stuff. I went places. I wrote stuff. That’s actually what I want to talk about. Writing stuff.

This past week, I turned in my thesis proposal. My thesis is going to be a young adult novel. It will also probably be awesome. Here’s hoping for that, anyways. But this past week, when I’ve talked to friends and relatives about what’s going on in my life, I’ve said, “Oh, I’ve been working on my thesis proposal.” To which everyone immediately asks, “Oh, what’s your thesis about?” And I panic and say, “Nothing,” and then I go hide until they go away.

Because I really, really hate talking about my writing. This is a terrible thing for a writer just starting out, when you are basically the only person who talks up your own work. But I have some mental block against talking about it.

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I think this is a two-pronged problem. First of all, telling people about my writing freaks me out, because it’s like putting the concoctions from the weirdest corners of your brain on display for everyone to judge you by. Can you imagine if fifteen years ago you met a woman in a Scottish coffee shop and said, “What are you writing about?” And she said, “A kid who goes to wizard school who kills this bad guy when he’s a baby, and there’s earwax flavored jellybeans and owls deliver the mail!” You would have said, “Okay crazy,” and left. My point is that out of context, all books sound like insane ravings. And I won’t have you judging me based on my insane ravings1.

The other reason I hate talking about my writing is because I don’t really feel like I’m actually a writer. Anyone with a blank word document can call themselves a writer. So what sets those people apart from the actual writers? In my mind, it’s always been publication. I don’t like telling people I’m a writer, and I like even less telling people that I’m trying to get published. Because then I feel some sort of accountability to them. I don’t want anyone coming back to me in a year and saying “What happened to that thing you wrote you were trying to get published?” And I have to say, “Yeah, about that…I’m a failure.”

But then it was pointed out to me last weekend that saying you’re not a writer until you get something published is like saying you’re not a parent until your child moves out. And that made a lot of weird sense. I want to talk about my writing. I want to be proud of the thing I do. So my spring/summer goal is to be better at talking about my writing. This does not mean that I am going to start blogging about it in any sort of detail. And if you ask me about it, I’ll probably still run away. But here I am acknowledging that I am writing something of novel length. And I will someday maybe try and publish it. And I am hoping it won’t suck.

  1. Seriously, sometimes I say them out loud and even I think I sound insane.
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