The first thing I discovered is that I’m extremely hard on myself and one of the side effects is a paralyzing self sabotage. At least I recognize it now and am doing something about it – namely writing.
Then tonight I came across a wee gem that really resonated with me; perhaps because it echos Liz Gilbert’s TED presentation. Or perhaps I
needed a reminder to not take myself so seriously….
I don’t have to be perfect,
All I have to do is show up
enjoy the messy, imperfect, and beautiful journey of my life.
It’s a trip more wonderful than I could have imagined.
- Kerry Washington
It’s 1.47am and I can’t sleep. TMoTH is away at a family wedding. The Offspring are asleep. Even the critters are asleep. Only I am still awake – and really I shouldn’t be, since I need to be up in a few hours for boxing training…..
I didn’t intend to still be awake at this time. I watched DVDs with The Offspring then came to bed thinking I would check my email and turn out the light. Then I remembered I hadn’t watched the keynote speech from SXSW . Why would I want to watch that you ask? Well, because the speaker was Bruce Springsteen.
The key note speech is amazing - it’s funny, it’s touching, it’s smart – and so much more. In it Springsteen talks about the things that influenced him, the things that made him want to do what he does. He talks about hearing The Animals and how, when he listened to them, he wanted to do what they did. He wanted to make people feel the way they were making him feel.
I sat here in bed, listening to the wind drive leaves around our front lawn, my mouth open in amazement. You see I’ve heard those words before – except usually I’m the one saying them and I’m talking about Springsteen.
When I was 12 we lived on a farm in a fairly remote area of the east coast of the north Island of New Zealand. My father had died the year before and my mother was working every hour of daylight to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table while lawyers do whatever it is lawyers do with wills and estates.
We had no television and our nearest neighbour was about two miles away. We did however have a radio and every Sunday afternoon I would sit at the table with my ear pressed to the radio listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40.
This particular Sunday, not long before my 13th birthday, Kasem announced a new song from some guy I had never heard of. As the song began to play I remember very clearly being mesmerised and forgetting completely about my French homework.
The singer was Springsteen and the album was The River. Springsteen wasn’t big in New Zealand at the time and I was only 12 – too young to really understand the themes in his music – so it’s not surprising I didn’t really know who he was. But I loved what I was hearing and by the time Fade Away was released I did know two things: a) whoever he was, I was hooked and b)I wanted to do what he did: I wanted to write things that made people see images in their head and feel something they didn’t know they felt.
That was 33 years ago – and today I feel exactly the same way. There is a joke in my family that Springsteen is ‘the other man’ in my life and luckily for me my partner Dennis is as big a fan as I am – although he does have a rule that there are to be no pictures in the bedroom. I have no idea why….
Springsteen’s lyrics inspired me- and still inspire me – to start writing. My dream is to one day interview him – if only to get the chance to thank him for all the joy his music has brought me over the years. So it felt a little surreal to hear him say the very things I’ve been feeling all these years.
Many of Springsteen’s songs have inspired in me ideas for stories – both short and long – but I have never had the courage or the confidence to write them down. They are, afer all, his songs. His stories. I have this weird, unwritten rule that while his music and lyrics are possibly the greatest influence on my creative writing, I can not use them as a spring board for that writing. Why? Who knows?
So, when he went on to not only explain, but demonstrate, how “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “Badlands” were (and I quote) “the same fuckin’ riff, listen up, youngsters — this is how successful theft is accomplished.” I, unlike everyone else, did not just laugh.
I got excited.
Not that kind of excited – get your minds out of the gutters. Okay maybe a little but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
I got excited because Bruce Springsteen gave me a green light to use all these characters who have been living in my head all this time; he may not have looked up and said “hey, the loopy red head down there in New Zealand, get over it, it’s just the same fuckin’ riff, write it already” - but he may as well have.
It’s funny, his new album Wrecking Ball makes me feel that same breathless wonder I felt when I was 12 and hearing him for the first time. I sit and listen to it, sometimes (often) in tears, and I wonder “how does he DO that? I want to do that.”
My next thought is invariably “I am so grateful he does that.”
For so many years, his music has held my hand and my heart, and played the background music to my life. Like I say, since the age of 12 I’ve wanted to interview him - partly so I could say thank you for all his music has brought to me.
But maybe the way I say thank you is to use that riff…
Or – why you should only do One.Thing.At.A.TimeDISCLAIMER: This may only be funny to the two people involved. For those of you left scratching your head and muttering “huh?” when you get to the end, I apologize.
For someone who makes their living writing, sometimes I’m not very good at it all. I mean that quite literally. My handwriting is shocking, especially if I’m tired or the arthritis in my wrists is playing up. And while I am (usually) an excellent speller, I am A Very Bad Typist.
Unlike my handwriting, my typing does not vary according to my fatigue level. It is simply bad. I have in fact an extremely well developed ‘backspace’ action – to be honest it is one of the keys I can find blindfolded, in the dark without having to think….
What I should never do, however is try to type with a touchscreen or while moving or a combination thereof. Should the day ever come that I am the proud owner of a iPad, you can guarantee I will be one of the real geeks with a wireless keyboard – at the request of anybody who has to read Facebook updates, Tweets, or LinkedIn messages.
Multitasking is overrated
This was proved today when I tried to post a Facebook update, be romantic (what? it happens), and display my admiration for Springsteen – from the touchscreen of my iPhone, while waiting on a moving dock for my ferry home. As the ferry docked, thus making the dock move even more, I raced to finish my transcription of a verse from Springsteen’s Land of Hope and Dreams, get my ticket clicked and find a seat.
Seeing the problem yet?
“You must be a whizz.”
As I slid into my seat the lady across the table smiled and said “gosh you type so fast on that, you must be a real whizz.” That alone should have made me sit up and pay attention, but no I was too busy basking in the glow of her admiration. Right up until Patti sent me a message on Facebook asking if I had meant to make her laugh or did I need to install spell check.
Oh no; this couldn’t be good. I clearly had a spectacular typo in the middle of a public, romantic, Springsteen message. Did I mention public? On Facebook? I tapped on the screen – that I can do without too much disaster – and pulled up the post. And promptly dissolved into loud giggles (my ferry companions are quite used to my weird behaviour – but that’s another story).
Bug in the USA?
What should have read ‘Big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams’ read Bug wheels through fields…BUG? Where did BUG come from? It took most of the remaining trip to navigate the delete buttons, find the lyrics on a website, copy them, paste them, and repost the status. This time it had nothing to do with the ferry and everything to do with my manic giggles.
Quit while you’re ahead
Still sniggering to myself I sent Patti a DM designed to deliberately make her smile this time. What I meant to write to my fellow Springsteen fan was “You know given some of the things I’ve been known think about where that man is concerned, it could really have been so much worse lol.” By the time I had managed that, it was time to disembark and I thought no more of it, until a chime told me Patti had replied. I clicked on my phone and before I could read her reply saw what I had actually written: “You know given some of the things I’ve been known think about where that man is concerned, it could really have been south worse lol”
Yes folks I am a professional writer and editor. Scary isn’t it?
I have been a very good girl this year – honest. Of course our definitions of good may vary slightly….but hey details, details. At the end of the day I’ve tried to be good – and that has to count for something right? (Someone, anyone, help me out here….)
So, my Christmas list.
This year it’s short, sweet, and simple. Yes, I want my family to be happy, healthy and safe. My kids to do well in whatever they choose. People to stop using each other as punching bags. Finally get my book published and yes I realise that might involve me finishing the damned thing first. The usual stuff you want by the time you get to my age.
But this year there are two things I’d really, really, really, really like just for myself.
1 – See Bruce Springsteen in concert. There was talk that he will make it down this way during next year’s tour, then it was announced that it wasn’t happening. And we’re still waiting for confirmation one way or the other. Please Santa – please – and if you think that sounds desperate now, wait till the tour begins up in the States, Santa my friend. Give a girl a break and bring him down for one more concert. I’d love to take my kids to see him, I’d love to see him with The Bear of my Heart. I’d like to hear Promised Land live - one more time.
2 – Interview Bruce Springsteen. Now, Santa, this is obviously related to Number 1, mostly because in order to interview the man I do need to be in the general vicinity and the most likely way for that to happen is for him to be appearing in concert. Logical yes? You see, Santa, I became a writer because of this guy. I wanted to do what he does for me - and Bruce fans the world over – I wanted to paint pictures in people’s heads with words. And from the time I’ve known I wanted to write, I’ve wanted to interview him. He’s 62, I’m 45 – let’s be honest, time is getting short….so Santa, please, I really could use some help here.
Santa there will be chocolate cookies and milk on the table come December 24 – I”m not above bribery. There will be happy children come the morning of December 25 - after all whatever age your kids are why you get up on Christmas Day. And whatever you do leave for me for the coming year, Santa old pal, I’ll smile and be happy.
That concert and that interview though….well they’d really be something you know….
And that’s all there is to it. Ellison, I am convinced, was being more than a little tongue in cheek with that last comment. Because although there is no midnight magic in writing (which is not the same as there being no magic, but let’s leave that for another day shall we?), writing is damned hard work.
I know my family, in particular The Man of The House (TMoTH), think I have the world’s best job. After all, what do I do all day apart from sit in front of my computer, drinking countless cups of tea and coffee, tweeting and putting words here and there on pages. Obviously, this is the cushiest number in the world folks.
HA! I wish.
First of all – my job doesn’t have a regular pay check…yet. I work but I don’t get paid until I do enough job of it that someone feels the urge to pay for it. Whereas in my old working life, even on a bad day I took home pay.
Nor is writing physical work. Rarely does my pulse start pounding a tango (unless I’m writing a particularly exciting scene – and since exciting has so many definitions let’s just move on). TMoTH is quite right on that count – I’m never going to burn a thousand calories a day in my job. Consume them maybe, but burn ‘em – nu-uh.
That doesn’t mean I don’t work hard. On a good day two thousand words can pour on to a page in a few hours. Then another couple of hours to make them readable – moving them around, cutting them, pasting them, moving them back to where they started. On a not so good day, lunchtime is there and that cursor is poking its tongue at me going “nyah nyah nyah – told ya it was impossible Ms Smarty Pants.” On a really awful day Internal Editor wakes up and starts ordering me and the story around, isn’t interested in what either of us has to say on the matter and the day ends with me scouring the Situations Vacant for jobs at K-Mart.
Rather than working out the muscles on my body, I work out my imagination and just like a physical workout it can be exhausting. By the end of the day, I really just want to forget about writing and have a nice meal with my family then vegetate while reading a book and listening to Springsteen. Or watch a movie.
I’ve read enough How To Write books and sites to know this is part of being a writer and is unlikely to change. Stephen King might be a best selling, multi-millionaire author – it’s still hard work every day. The only difference (well apart from the obvious ones) between him and me (and you if, like me you are starting out as as writer) is that his surroundings are comfier and he probably has better coffee. It’s still hard work.
Now just for the record, I can see you rolling your eyes while you hunt out that dusty old copy of Money for Nothing (song by a band called Dire Straits for those of you under 20 - give ‘em a whirl – you won’t be disappointed). I can also hear you muttering about me not knowing a real job if it bit me on my rapidly shrinking butt, so I’d just like to clarify that I’m not complaining.
You see the point I’m trying to make – as much to myself as to anyone else – is that, even though writing can be challenging (especially when you are trying to make money from it) I can’t think of a single thing I would rather be doing. It’s the one job I’ve had (and I’ve had a few despite what you may think) that I’ve felt I was doing well. I’m not trying to create great literature, I just want to write a story (or three or four) that someone will enjoy.
And like any job that requires effort, if at the end of the working day you can put down your shovel, scalpel, or pen and feel satisfied with your work – then you’ve done a good job.
Let the broken hearted love again
On June 18 one of the shining sounds of this world went silent when saxophonist and E Street Band member Clarence ‘Big Man’ Clemons died.
With his passing came the end of something that was a massive part of my life – and the lives of many, many fans the world over. Many people reading this won’t get it – but that’s okay. Springsteen fans are used to it. Either you get it or you don’t – and if you don’t get it, there’s no point me trying to explain it. Like I say – it’s okay, you don’t have to get it.
I heard my first Springsteen song when I was 12. Sherry Darlin’ is hardly the most profound song in the songbook, but it’s fun and it was a great introduction for me, even if for the next couple of weeks, until I heard Hungry Heart and Fade Away I thought this Bruce Springsteen fella must play the sax…..I was 12, what can I say? If Sherry Darlin’ caught my attention, Fade Away turned my world upside down- and I became a lifetime member of the E-Street Nation.
Oddly enough the day I first heard Sherry Darlin I was reading my first Stephen King book – yes at 12, yes precocious – and I’ve been hooked on both men ever since. They both painted pictures in my head, made me feel things just with their words (and while I was way too young yet for half of what Springsteen’s music was going to make me feel over time, what I did feel was real). I was too young to really understand most of what I was reading and listening to, but I was old enough to understand that I wanted to do what they did: I wanted to use words to paint pictures for people.
One of the things I loved about Bruce’s music was that it didn’t seem to conform to anybody else’s ideas of what music should or shouldn’t be. One minute it was fun, the next it was sad, then it was inspiring, then it was profound. There were guitars and drums and accordions and organs. And a saxophone.
The music stood alone but the saxophone made it something – not better, just something more. Maybe it was the relationship the two men actually had that was what made it so special, I don’t know.
When I decided I wanted to be a writer, one of the top things I wanted to do was interview Springsteen and his band and write about them. I wanted to be able to thank them in person, in some way, for all the pleasure their music has brought me over the years, the friends I have made because of their music- and also for all the times Bruce and his heart stopping, pants dropping, groundshaking, Viagra taking E.STREET.BAND held my heart and my hand – through good times, bad times, dark times – even though they didn’t know it.
I wish could return the favour, and I pray they know that millions of people the world over feel the same way and that it brings them a little comfort to know they are so loved.
Suddenly I feel as though the show has got to the encore, they’re preparing to bring the curtain down and I’m not ready. I’ve not got my interview, I’ve not written my article. Worst of all, I’ve not said thank you.
Whenever I feel down, I listen to Bruce - it’s a 32 year habit I’m hardly likely to kick. Usually it breaks through my funk and helps me figure out what to do next. It makes me feel better. It’s taking a bit longer this time though.
Clarence Clemons is gone. Sherry Darlin’ will never be the same again. Things I should care about or even worry about – like my missing Kobo e-reader, deadlines, and that pile of overdue bills in the corner – just don’t seem to matter. Other things that are of no importance, suddenly seem to fill my vision. Like where the spinning wheel in my writing room should go. I’m not even sure why I have the spinning wheel in here, other than it reminds me of my mother and when I look at it, I feel …comforted.
And today, comforted is good.