Sunday, June 07, 2015

How is it that birds can fly?

"Why are you working at Walmart?"

I get this question a lot. People find out I have a couple of college degrees. They find out I used to be a teacher. They find out I used to be an opera singer. They find out I am a published author. They find out .... well, you get the picture. 

Apparently there is a model for Walmart workers. GED? Yes. College degree? Not so much. Able to speak English without sounding like I belong on Duck Dynasty or Honey Boo Boo? Again. Not so much. No real discernible job skills? Yes. Experience as a high school teacher, college professor the night manager at a funeral home, a toll bridge manager, officer manager of a temp agency, veterinary technician, and full-time opera singer in some of the most beautiful opera houses in the world? Again. Why the hell are you working at Walmart?

The answer is fairly simple. I even have a fridge magnet that sums it up perfectly. 

Why I Work
A short essay
I like food.
The End.

I was forced to contemplate this subject recently after dealing with a customer at the bakery. My cake decorator was having trouble understanding what a lady wanted written on her cake. The decorator asked me to speak with the lady, who had a thick Russian accent. I was able to understand her and we took care of her cake. When she thanked me for my help I told her "you're welcome" in Russian. One thing you must know about the Russian people. They LOVE it when someone learns their language, no matter how little or how much the person has learned. (The French, on the other hand, despise it no matter how perfect your accent.) She and I began to converse in Russian, much to the surprise of my coworkers, and the lady asked the question. "Why are you working here?" I said "It's a job." She said "But you speak Russian." (Don't get excited. It has been years since I studied Russian and mine is terribly rusty. I wish I had the time to brush up on it.) 

Trust me. There are days, weeks, even months when I ask myself "Why are you still working here??" I hate my job, but I do it well because that is how I was raised. I hate most of the managers as they drink at the company kool-aid fountain and tend to work from the "A**holes R Us" Management Handbook. The job is an 8 hour a day, five day a week soul-sucking, monotonous descent into hell for anyone with even an ounce of creative yearning in their body. And there are days I come home with no desire to write because I have allowed my day job to deaden my passion for it. 

At least once a day I tell myself if I had any guts at all I would tell Walmart what to do with their job, cash out my meager 401K and spend the next six months writing like a fiend in the hope I can parlay my skills into a full-time, able to feed me and the furry kids job. Sounds like a great idea, right? It does to me too, until I look at the ledger I keep of the bills I have to pay every month. Reality is a big, fat, Bertha Butt, hairy *itch when it comes to launching a career as a full-time writer. And there are days I ask myself why on earth I am even bothering to try. 

Are you depressed yet? I sure as hell am.

And then I look at the framed picture of the cover of Christmas Revels hanging on the wall. I look at the framed certificates from all of the contests in which I have finaled. I look at the framed photo of the Holt Medallion Finalist banner on my wall. (Because yes, I am really that lame.) I look at the stack of index card boxes - each one containing a book idea and all of the little bits and pieces about each story I have jotted down on index cards. Those are my stories, given to me by the people in my head and if I don't tell those stories nobody will. I look at the old Smith-Corona typewriter my Nana gave me when I was nine years old and told her I wanted to be a writer. 

I have printed out every nice comment from contest judges, every nice review, every nice thing anyone has said about my writing. I have them all in a notebook so I can read them when I need a boost. Lame? Perhaps. Helpful? You have no idea!

I've been doing this for nearly eight years. I've published exactly one novella. There are days I sit in front of the computer for hours and don't get more than a sentence written. And still I refuse to give up. Even when my mind tells me I write too slowly and too inconsistently and too whatever else. (If I ever catch that heifer that lives in my head she is in for an All-Day-Alabama-A**-Whoopin' !)

I was reading over my pages from a few days ago and this little passage struck me. I didn't really remember writing it. Now I believe I wrote it for me and for anyone else who struggles with the "why bother's" of life.

Courage isn't always about facing death, my lord. Sometimes it is about facing life. Knowing you will rise to a day of misery, or abuse, or being ignored or having tiny bits of yourself torn away by the cruel words of others. Knowing it because every single day is the same and has been as long as you can remember. Knowing it and getting out of bed anyway. A dull sort of courage in your eyes, perhaps, but courage nonetheless.  

In all of this rambling (yes, I know I'm rambling!) I have discovered a few things I want to share with you in case you get to that "Why am I even bothering with this!" stage. If you are one of those writers who never gets to that stage please tip-toe away quietly so the rest of us are not forced to duct tape you to a bed and shave your head. (Not that I'd know anything about that sort of thing happening at an all girls college in Alabama mumble mumble years ago.)

1. The only person who can stop you writing is you. Success or failure, readers or no readers isn't
    always in your hands. Sitting down day after day and putting words on the page is. 

2. There is no one on earth who can tell your story in your voice. The story is given to you to tell
    in your voice. Doing so is never a waste of time. It is the fulfillment of a promise. 

3. Do not belittle, berate or beat yourself up. There are people lined up to do that. That is their job.
    Your job is to write. Leave the other crap to someone else.

4. If someone does belittle, berate or beat up your writing the response is the same whether the person
    is in your head or posting on Amazon. Do. Not. Engage. Ignore it. Leave it on the side of the road
    in a brown paper bag and watch it grow smaller and smaller in your rear view mirror until it is out
    of sight. And, Don't. Look. Back.

5. Allow yourself to write for no other reason than the sheer joy of doing so. Write it all down. Get it
    down and revel in the fact you are creating something that has never been seen before even if no
    one ever sees it. Remember, for all intents and purposes Michelangelo was painting the roof of
    some guy's house. He created something unique because he could and because he enjoyed it. He 
    had no idea he was creating THE Sistene Chapel. Harper Lee had no idea she was writing one of
    the greatest books ever written. To Kill a Mockingbird was simply a story she had to tell. Tell your
    stories because you have to, because it is in your heart to tell it. Do that and trust me, the readers
    will know it. 

6. Every now and again read some books on craft that are more than just how to write conflict, or a 
    great scene or great sex. Read something that makes you think about what writing means to your
    soul. Those books will come back to you like a favorite song when you are down and those words
    will lift you up and plop your butt back into that chair. Some of my favorites are :

On Writing - Stephen King

The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell

A Writer's Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Writing is not a career one chooses. A great deal of the time, the writing chooses. It is rather like the Hotel California.

You can check out, but you can never leave ! 

How is it that birds can fly?
They can because they think they can. 

Every single one of us has had days, weeks, months even years when we did what we had to do to survive. Some of us are still doing it and trying everything we can to keep our writing alive. With all of the inspiration of great words, and all of the help of fellow writers, and all of the support of friends and family - ultimately it is still the writer and the words sitting together in the dark making magic, joining a long line of human experience, and making something immortal out of lives meant for mere mortality. Words, like love, are stronger than death.

How do you survive those "why bother" days? Or, if you have reached the stage where you are a full-time writer, what did you do to keep going? Do you still have those "why bother" days? Please share your tips for going on when that heifer in your mind starts talking smack!    



Helena said...

I suspect that when people ask why you are working at Walmart it's not so much "why are you working?" but "why are you working *there*?" that they mean. They are assuming that you had a choice, given your qualifications and experience, and could have done any number of other jobs instead. If that is the case, would the answer be that you wanted a job with fixed hours and a known wage, so that you could focus on your writing in your free time? I suppose most jobs would sap your mental energy and creativity, but at least you know you can clock off from this one.

I think it's very sensible to keep very visible those reminders of how good you are at writing, to pep you up and keep you going. We readers want you to do that!

Ella Quinn - Romance Novelist said...

Great post, Louisa. Just remember, the more you write and publish, the shorter your sentence at Wal-Mart will be. Loved the snippet. I want more. Shared.

Louisa Cornell said...

You have hit upon some of the reasons I have stayed at Walmart, Helena. In the current economy many jobs - especially in the teaching profession - are disappearing or becoming part-time positions. Music teachers' positions are being cut in favor of computer teachers and other positions teaching science, math and technology. My biggest problem is I refuse to spend my time and talent teaching students who put forth no effort or see what I teach as unimportant. I decided a number of years ago not to waste my hard-earned education on people who aren't really interested.

I live in a small rural town on a piece of property I own. No rent payments. No house payments. No land payments. I own it. There are a great many advantages to that. And unfortunately the most secure employer in this area is Walmart. Sigh. And as you said, no matter how bad the job gets (and it is getting worse every day) I can clock out at the end of the day and walk away. My free time is mine to write in as I please.

Thank you so much for the kind words! They mean a great deal to me!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks so much, Ella! You are one of those people who serves as an inspiration to me. I'm working on picking up speed and getting more books out there so I can "make parole" from Walmart.

Glad you enjoyed the snippet! It is from the novella which will appear in Christmas Revels II and it includes some of the relatives of characters from A PERFECTLY DREADFUL CHRISTMAS.

Amy said...

THANK YOU. My current job isn't quite so soul sucking, but my previous one was. Because I want to retire someday and be able to afford food, a house, etc., I work. Writing is my therapy. I can't give it up.

If I do go through a mood where I'm not writing, my coworkers know. I get 'bitch' whispered behind my back. My friends will politely ask, "Trouble with your stories?"

Vicky Dreiling told me one time that the moment you are ready to throw in the towel and quit, proves that you are so very close to reaching your goal. She's right. You are an amazing author. I read your work and want more, more, more. The rest of the world will catch up. Hang in there. I need something good to read!

Carla Swafford said...

You amaze me all the time, girl!

When it comes to picking myself up, I do the same by looking at contest finals, wins (only 2 for me) and reviews from strangers (ignoring the bad ones). But the thing that pulls me out of it is realizing -- I MUST write. It's part of my DNA, the air I breathe, I love everything about men, I'm in love with love. What better way of expressing that than to write about it, heh?

Louisa Cornell said...

Aww, thanks, Amy! That's going in my pep talk notebook! And you have hit upon another reason I still work at a sucky job. I want to be able to retire, really retire and do nothing but write!

Vicky D is one smart lady!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Carla! You're pretty damned amazing yourself!

YES !! I have written stories as long as I can remember. I don't know how NOT to write them. I may go a while without writing one down, but the damned things write themselves in my head. Explains a lot, doesn't it. :)

And those lovely, lovely, hunky, hot MEN !! Sigh. Spending hours staring at inspirational pictures of men and then writing about them is a tough job, but SOMEONE has to do it!

Collette Cameron said...

Sweetie, this brought tears to my eyes!!
Someday, you'll be able to tell them to shove a cake where the sun doesn't shine, and when I see your name on the USA and NYT Bestsellers lists, I can puff out my scrawny chest and say, "I know her!"

Louisa Cornell said...

ROFL, Collette! Do NOT give me any ideas, my sweet friend! I can only hope to be half as successful as you are. You and the other writers in our group are a daily inspiration to me!

Ali Hubbard said...

So much goodness. Where to start, where to start....I share the opinion that you do your absolute best even when you don't like something. It's not a universal concept, but I wish it was. Because it's not about that something you don't's about who YOU are. I hated school, but I got straight As because my parents said liking it was irrelevant. It was a good lesson for other things in my life.

This is timely for me because I'm going through a "maybe this isn't for me" phase. Not fear of failure or rejection. Nothing so deep. Just looking at it as a career and wondering if I can do it long term. I'm hoping to self-pub my first book early next year. I've written it, but there are 2 others in the series I need to write. Frankly, it feels overwhelming!

I recently said, "After those three books are out, I'll evaluate if this is something I want to continue as a career." My husband looked at me like I had a second head because I've been wanting this for as long as he's known me.

I think the lesson is twofold for me: first, there is a rainy day. Always. And you just have to get through that. Just like any job. Or any part of life that's unpleasant.

It becomes especially difficult when there is nothing tangible to books on Amazon, no money in the bank. I think you are smart to have encouragement printed out. And congratulations on your release! I have no doubt that you will have many others. Your voice is amazing.

The second part of the lesson for me was that you have to find the desire to continue/make it work inside yourself. Nobody else can do this for you. I'm frustrated a lot by the lack of support at my home (apparently NOBDODY understands how a stove works but me). I try to understand that they don't understand. I joke with my sister that I'm dedicating my first book to her and not my immediate family, but that's not really fair to them. Nobody is going to put my writing first but me. And I need to be better at demanding that and making them understand. They want me to succeed. They really do. But it's like someone wanting you to succeed with weight loss but then bringing home a bunch of unhealthy food and interrupting your workout schedule. lol.

Great post and one of the many reasons I need my writer pals. You DO understand.

Gina Danna said...

Louisa - I totally relate!! Even now, I face similar issues, most interesting is in this relatively new job, where I'm drinking from the firehose to learn it, I have co-workers asking me why am I working for the Company if I'm a USA Today author. Ummmmm - gotta eat, pay bills, pay mortgage & got a family of furkids that rely on me & now trying to get my house ready to sell. And yeah, trying to write, to find that verve again, has been hard. Then I ask myself, how is it that I wrote 5 novels, one that went to USA Today list while working 1 full time job w/ 2 part time and now have 1 full time gig, no part time & can't seem to write? My muse left at first but now she's back with a vengeance and it's hard to get a word written at all, let alone in 1 manuscript when I've got 2 others vying for attention. And then, some days, I run across something I've already written, feel elated over it & wonder if I can ever do it again. So hard!!!

Thanks for writing this cuz I'm right there with ya, sister!

Louisa Cornell said...


I am so very glad this post spoke to you! One of the reasons I felt led to write it was because I was certain many of my fellow writers have these very same feelings. And if you talk about quitting and someone who knows you as well as your husband does looks at you as if you are nuts, pay attention. Because at this point writing is more than what you do. It has become a part of who you are and he sees that in you.

Yes, those of us who were raised not to do anything unless we strive to do it well have a tendency to do so no matter how much we hate what we are doing. Sigh. It can be a giant pain in the a** at times too!

Hang in there, honey. Celebrate your successes and keep writing. You only fail if you quit trying!

Louisa Cornell said...

Gina, you've got this! We all have these days and weeks when it seems as if we are wading through quicksand in concrete galoshes. It is so hard to put the day job in its place and keep the writing where it belongs - first. You have written some awesome books under circumstances I could not even think of writing under. I am in awe of your ability to take a hit from life and just get up and power through. That's what makes you a great writer!

elf ahearn said...

Louisa, I have a friend who's an amazing playwright. He's been produced Off Broadway in NY and garnered a great reputation in the theatre. He works on the floor of a bookstore. At one time they promoted him to writing reviews--he quit and went back to the floor. Writing reviews was an elevated position, but it stole all the creativity he used in his plays. By the time he got home, he was tired of writing.
Walmart sucks, but maybe because you're decorating cakes all day, it leaves intact that chunk of your brain needed to write. If you cared about your job, you'd devote all of your energy to it. Think of how many romances you wrote while singing opera. Personally, I'm glad Walmart is feeding you because it means you're sharing your brilliant, creative mind with the world. Maybe you're exactly where you need to be right now... just saying.