RSS Feed

Posts Tagged ‘writing’

  1. How to Go Down When the Ship of Life is Sinking

    May 28, 2017 by Diane

    For the love of God, jump!

    I can’t remember the last time I laughed. I mean one of those stress-busting hearty belly laughs where tears stream down my cheeks and I can’t breathe. In a good way.

    My workplace took a turn for the serious. The ship is sinking. At first it listed. We added more weight to even things out, but all that weight filled the ship with water, and now we’re going down like the Titanic. Some people jumped overboard. Others were pushed, gently and with great sadness, to lighten the load. The rest of us are bailing water like crazy and occasionally getting into catfights.

    There’s a rescue ship on the horizon. We can see it, but it’s not here yet.

    So we offload more weight and strap on life preservers.

    This is the third sinking ship I’ve been on. The first was a travel adventure company that adventured it’s way straight into bankruptcy. The second was a nonprofit that managed their books so badly they didn’t realize they were out of profits until I developed a budget, brought in an ace accountant, and pointed out: the money? It’s gone.

    What’s the common denominator?


    Am I the hex that brings these ships to their nautical knees?

    Or am I just boarding the wrong ships?

    At a writer’s conference one summer, a respected writer/teacher/book reviewer brutally edited my short story. The first paragraph alone was so bloody from the red pen, the page sobbed in pain. I told myself, I’m not a writer, I’m an actress, and marched across the quad to the empty theater, sat in the back row, and cried.

    Wrong ship?

    On Saturday nights, KQED airs movies. This week, it was the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. As I watched, transfixed, I remembered working on that show in college, watching from the lighting booth every night while lusting over the set construction manager who lusted over one of the dancers. I remembered dancing the ballet sequence in another R & H musical, Oklahoma, when my partner almost dropped me into the orchestra pit. I remembered shimmying on the grocery store checkout counter as Babe Secoli in the musical Working, and belting songs with a cockney accent in The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd.

    I remembered those smells, those roars. My heart yearned for what was missing, like a long lost love. I told myself, that’s the ship I belong on, not this sinking tub I’m on now.

    Here’s the thing. I could bail, but the lifeboat is sinking too.

    It’s not a matter of finding the right vessel for my voyage. It’s a passenger issue.

    I was one of those cats fighting last week. That isn’t me. The real me finds humor in the nutty stuff that drives us nutty. But there I was, snarling, showing my claws, ready to jump. Stress will do that to me.

    I haven’t found the humor in the situation yet.

    However. Until the rescue boat arrives (and it will arrive), I’m committed to going down dancing and singing. I’ll be like those musicians on the Titanic who refused to abandon their instruments, sawing away on their violins as screams filled the air, because as long as they still had breath, nothing had the power to take away their music.

  2. Speak now or forever hold your head in your hands

    April 23, 2017 by Diane

    It seemed like a good idea at the time.

    After all, I’ve survived haircuts in the past. It goes like this: I show the stylist a photo, say, “I want this cut,” and my stylist says, “Your hair won’t do that. You’ll look like a man.” We dicker, I give in, and she gives me a cut that makes me look like a conservative middle-aged woman.

    Which I am.

    Minus the conservative part.

    My hair has been earlobe-length for twelve weeks. Well, not the entire twelve weeks. It took twelve weeks to mosey to my earlobes, and I would have let it mosey to my shoulders, but it was starting to straggle, not mosey, so I decided to go for pert and fun instead.

    I decided to get a pixie cut.

    I scoured the internet for photos of pixie cuts and printed them out, including one of an older woman with a severe style that was the perfect example of what I didn’t want, and showed them to my BFF, Dave.

    He liked the manly one.

    “You’re taking beauty advice from a man, because…?” My old stylist said. I trusted her opinion, so popped in to get her feedback. By the time I’d popped out, I’d committed to an appointment with her, three weeks in the future, at a price I couldn’t afford.

    Why didn’t I tell her the truth? You’re worth every penny, but I don’t have that many pennies to part with!

    After squirming for days, I sent her a text message. I need to get my hair cut sooner rather than later, and since you’re totally booked, I’m going to have to cancel our appointment. It was the truth. I was attending a networking event and wanted to look professional, not scraggly.

    My new stylist, the one I can afford, doesn’t know how to be brutally honest. When I showed her the photos, saying, “I want it short at the sides like this, with longish bangs, full in the back, and cropped close to the neck at the bottom like this,” she said,

    “We can try that.”

    I looked up. “But can you do it?”

    “It will be very short in the back, but we can try.”

    There was that word again. Try. I looked at her long Asian hair, with a wide strip dyed a sort of orangish-blonde, and put my head in her hands.

    It seemed like a good idea at the time.

    Until she brought out the clippers.

    I’m not talking about toenail clippers. I’m talking about those electronic razory things that teenage boys use to buzz-cut their hair. The gizmo barbers use for a manly cut.

    She brought out the clippers and started buzzing the back of my neck. Waves of hair plopped into my lap. I squirmed. What have I done? The more she buzzed, the more I squirmed, until finally, she put the clippers away and finished up with scissors.

    The front looked great. Pert, the way I wanted. Maybe I was overreacting. I felt cautiously optimistic.

    Then she brought out the hand mirror. She held it up so I could see the back.

    I was speechless.


    I thought I might be sick.

    That’s not me. That’s…a BOY!

    “Let me take a picture,” she said. She took several shots of the back of my head with her smartphone and showed them to me.

    I batted it away.

    “I’m sorry,” she said. “Don’t worry, it will grow.” And then, “It’s cool!”

    I managed to write a check and drive home.

    I stuffed a chocolate truffle in my mouth.

    I called my mother.

    “Just don’t turn your back on anyone,” she advised. I pictured myself backing out of every room.

    I jammed the movie Sabrina into my DVD player and watched Julia Ormond dazzle Greg Kinnear and Harrison Ford with her girly pixie cut, and tried to drown out that inner voice screaming, WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY SOMETHING WHEN YOU SAW THE CLIPPERS?

    Why didn’t I?

    Why didn’t I speak my truth?

    Because I didn’t trust myself to know the difference between a clipper cut and a scissor cut, even though past experience had shown me that razoring fine hair is always a bad idea.

    The truth is, I sat on my truth.

    What other truths was I sitting on?

    Here’s one:

    Writing a humor blog seemed like a good idea. A way to amuse myself, and, hopefully, others, while pushing my work out into the world. A world of seventy people, but still, my corner of the internet universe. And it was a good idea. Fun. Until I latched onto the crazy idea that a humor blog would be a terrific platform for literary fiction. All I needed were, oh, 10,000 subscribers, and I’d attract the attention of an agent or publisher, followed by a big fat cash advance for my novel.

    Which meant attracting another 9,930 readers to my blog.

    Piece of cake.

    I hopped on Twitter, and tried to entice followers to my website by sharing my blog posts, a form of virtual arm-twisting of strangers. Which is just…icky. Aaaand, to get those 9,930 blog subscribers, I needed like a million Twitter followers, and I had about 1,600. So Twitter, which started as a platform for my platform, became a bad math equation and a popularity contest gone haywire. It brought up feelings from high school, when I was lousy at math and anything but popular.

    Yes, my amusing little blog had morphed into a full-blown Twitter addiction.

    Every time I wrote a post with the goal of getting more subscribers, every time I checked my stats on WordPress and my followers on Twitter, every time I considered setting up a Facebook page, and, oh, how about a page on Medium?—which I did—I squirmed inside.

    So I meditated on the question: to blog, or not to blog? I begged my higher self to give me a clear sign, first thing in the morning when I woke up.

    And I got a sign.

    An image.

    Of me in a straightjacket.

    It made perfect sense!

    I’m hampered by the blog’s name: Squirrels in the Doohickey. I’m boxed in by the theme: writing about the nutty stuff we do, say, and think when confronted with the stuff that drives us nutty. I tried sneaking non-humor pieces on: Before the Bulldozers Came, When Innocence Wore Your Brother’s Baseball Glove, even the early Only the Lonely. These were some of my favorite posts. But they weren’t keeping with the theme. An agent or publisher would raise an eyebrow and tell me, gently, that a humor blog is not a platform for literary fiction.

    I know that. Like I know clippers are razors in disguise.

    So, what is my truth?

    I remember why I enjoyed sharing humorous anecdotes in the first place: hearing my mother’s laugh. She has a great laugh. When I tell her my latest squirrelly encounter, she gives a sort of choking, squeaky laugh, then says, “Another one for the book.”

    But that’s not the book I want to publish.

    I was talking to a co-worker about Steve Martin. There’s Steve Martin the comedian. Steve Martin the film actor. Steve Martin the writer. And now, Steve Martin the banjo player touring with his band. Steve does it all, but not necessarily at the same time. He chunks his life into whatever pulls him, and I envy him that focus! At some point, when he was doing stand-up, he held up a mirror so to speak, and said, that’s not me, I’m an actor. And off he went.

    In the mirror, I see a humor writer. Fair enough. Part of me is a humorist. But lately it feels like that’s not me. I’m a fiction writer.

    So my truth, right now, is to blog for the joy of it, with no other outcome than this: if I make one person’s day, get one person to smile or chuckle or shoot coffee out their nostrils, it’s worth it. No pressure to attract more whatevers. No pressure to churn out a post every week on the dot. Just blog when something amusing strikes me, and leave it at that. So I can focus where my heart is leading: writing fiction.

    One thing is certain: whenever I feel uncomfortable, unsettled, and I start squirming, it’s a clear sign I’ll soon be holding my head in my hands, muttering, “That’s not me.”

    Although, truth be told, I am a bit of a tomboy. With this new pixie cut, jeans rolled at the cuffs, sneakers and a sweatshirt, I have the urge to shoot spit-balls at strangers, and make farting noises with my armpit.

    And I have an extra bounce in my stride.



  3. Discouraged? These three magic words will make you feel better

    March 19, 2017 by Diane

    Words have power on wooden table

    Do you ever tell yourself…

    “I’m a failure,”


    “My work is mediocre at best, I’ll never measure up,”


    “I can’t make a living doing what I love, I’m wasting my time.”

    Do you hear words in your head that sound like your third-grade teacher, your high school coach, your fill-in-the-blank who doled out messages back in the day when you were a tender young sprout building dreams, words like:

    “You might fail, so why even try?”

    Those are words of envy, of someone who’s faced failure, cringed, and retreated. Those are words you absorbed and squirreled away and overheard in your head when you sat down to rewrite that novel, or compose that blog post, or start that home business, or face that empty canvas, or practice that trombone.

    Spit them out.

    They’re bitter. They need to be boiled down to an edible consistency so they’re easily digestible.

    Sometimes, those words are offered as a way to protect you from disappointment, like when you announced: “I’m quitting my job so I can write The Great American Novel, and I’ll support my family on the advance check alone.”

    Oh, come on. Don’t tell me you’ve never said that to yourself. Or something like it.

    “I’m going to open a food truck, get discovered on Shark Tank, and open a fleet of food trucks.”

    Okay, somebody actually did that.

    The point is, sometimes our dreams get too big for their britches. Doesn’t mean we should stop dreaming them. We just need to decide where to best focus our energy.

    As a good friend recently told me, quoting the author of Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System:

    And then there are the little dreams, like…

    Getting picked for the high school basketball team. Not.

    Getting that part-time job that paid more than your full-time job. Think again.

    Getting the lead in the local community theatre production. Know how to carry a spear?

    Disappointing, right?

    Makes you want to sink into the sofa with a Cotsco-size bag of Cheetos.

    Here’s another quote, from a Buddhist nun:

    When there’s a disappointment, I don’t know if it’s the end of the story. But it may be just the beginning of a great adventure. – Pema Chodron

    There will be times when we dream big and fall short, or try something and fail. Rather than wallow in discouragement, I’ve found the antidote. Three magic words. Three words so powerful, they erase any self-doubt, unstick any stuck places. Words so powerful, whenever you use them, you’ll shoot past that naysayer, you’ll straighten your spine and look that doubter dead in the eye and smile with knowing, then spread your fingers on the keyboard, the trombone keys, around that paint brush, and do what you were meant to do.

    What are those three magic words?

    At. This. Time.



    I’m doing the best I know how, AT THIS TIME. With the skills and knowledge I have AT THIS TIME, I’m doing all I can do. As I acquire more skills and knowledge, I’ll do the best I can to at THAT time, which will be THIS time, only THEN.


    Yeah, me too. But that’s okay.

    Those three magic words act like jet fuel when you’re on the fiftieth rewrite of a ten-page story.

    Oh, you don’t rewrite fifty times?


    Well, anyway, instead of rewriting fifty times like I do, you (or, ahem, I) can stop at the tenth time, saying, “Let it go. You’ve done the best you can do at this time,” then submit it to a literary journal. Off it goes!

    AT THIS TIME keeps you in the moment. Not somewhere in the future, or with Joe Schmo the bestselling author, or with Lucky Leo the ace tennis player. It keeps you with you, at your current level of experience.

    Now, that’s not to say you stay stuck in this moment forever. This moment becomes the next, and you flex your muscles a bit more, stretch a bit further, and take the next step into the next moment, building your skills as you go. You’re in competition with nobody but yourself. Nobody else can fit in your shoes as long as you’re wearing them.

    So the next time you give your heart to a project and it doesn’t pan out, or your kid does something that leaves you doubting your parenting skills, or the cake you bake for your spouse’s birthday falls flat; the next time your blog post is anything less than stellar, or your rewrite is going badly, or your trombone-playing makes your brother lob a ball at your head; the next time your cold-calling results in a dozen hang-ups, or you slave over a report and your boss makes you do it over–don’t despair. Take a deep breath, straighten up, and say, “I did the best I could do. At this time.” And pat yourself on the back.

    Because the truth is, we’re all on a learning curve.

    And next time, we’ll do better.

    Now that you have those three magic words to propel you onward, what dream, big or pint-sized, will you take on this year? Tell me in the comments.