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Archive for the ‘people watching’ Category

This Saturday, I went to the Orange County Christian Writer’s Fellowship Conference. I’d been nearly coming out of my skin for weeks, excited at the prospect of my first-ever real writer’s conference. I told you about submitting the first 20 pages of my manuscript into their contest back in February, and although I’ve managed to contain myself somewhat, I’ve been alternately excited, terrified and like a little kid on Christmas Eve for months. There would be experts! Editors! Agents! Helpful talks! Sweet people! Gobs of inspiration! I couldn’t wait.

Luckily, I wasn’t the only crazy one, since Sam registered with just as much gusto, gamely sent her writing in to be reviewed and contested and met me at her front door in a barely post-dawn sunshine, giggling like no one should before 7 a.m. on a Saturday. Her husband sleepily smiled at our fervor, reminding me of my own husband’s excited grin – the smile of a man who’s not sure why we’re so jazzed at the idea of taking notes all day, but who loves us enough to humor our wild whims. After the obligatory stop at Starbucks, we were off, Venti lattes in hand and jabbering away like two kids on the first day of school. Who would we meet? What should we say? AAAAAAAHHHHHHSOEXCITED. (That could have been the Ventis talking).

We arrived and found our monthly writer’s critique group, a lovable bunch of journalers, poets, writers and bloggers from all walks of life and every generation. After hugs and exclamations we settled in, and one of the veteran conference attendees told us what to be prepared for and how to pick out our consultations – 15 minutes of fame with the agent, editor, or writer of your choice.

I picked an agent and one of the women at our table – a passionate, empathic prophet – said she got a “witness” when I said the agent’s name. I grew up in a church that swung wildly between being slain in the spirit and contending that logic conquers all, so I could only assume this was a good sign. We sat through the first session and ate our mass-produced pastries in silence until one of our number returned from a consultation with tears in her eyes and a potential book deal.

Decorum was long gone and the excitement only bubbled at a more fevered pitch.

The morning wore on and I headed to my consultation. I had started to feel a bit nervous – writers are not always the most joyous bunch – eyeing each other critically from our sensible shoes and making snap judgments from the long practice of being more frequently watchers of people than lovers of them, and I’d started to feel both judged and judge-y myself.  Iwalkedinandsatdownallinarush, spilling out my words with eager enthusiasm. I have a dream and story to tell, see, and I blog and I write and I’ve yearned for this chance and now I’m laying my soul bare, like me, won’t you?

She didn’t.

There are a host of totally legitimate reasons why she wouldn’t take a chance on an unknown author with a harebrained idea, but what I heard was, “Nice try, but you’re not enough.”

I left the consult with a host of solid pep-talks in my head. I’m pummeling my dreams into submission, dammit. One agent doesn’t speak for the whole industry. I write because I must, and that is enough. I walked around the beautiful campus at Mariners Church, soaking up the springtime warmth and allowing hot tears to well up behind my sunglasses, in a moment of freedom. After a brief indulgence, however, I pulled myself together and went back in for another session, finding Sam again as my rock. “How’s it go?” she asked. Well, bummer.

She didn’t have any way of knowing that such a supportive question would send her into a solid hour of therapy for her needy friend, but I am sorry to say that it did. We both pitched ourselves to the sweet editor who taught our class and we both got very kindly shot down. The editor said something to me, however, that particularly stung. “Just write your blog as yourself. If you’re authentic, readers will flock to you.”

It almost got nasty, y’all. WHAT DO YOU THINK I’VE BEEN DOING FOR THREE YEARS?!

I shook her hand and said thank you and walked outside with Sam, only to surprise my kind friend with “Maybe I’m done. I’m not enough, my blog is not good enough, and I personally have been rejected as not fun enough to read/hang out with/support. I think I’m not supposed to tell this story, and I think maybe I’m done trying.”

I wouldn’t have blamed Sam if she’d said, “Well, NOW that’s certainly the case, way to go, Sunshine. I’m going to go talk to someone who hasn’t jumped off the Crazy Bridge.”

But she didn’t, sweet friend that she is. She stayed with me as we ate our lukewarm pasta with hundreds of other hopeful writers, and helped me stay afloat in multiple conversations when I would abruptly drop out in order to Not Cry. She and Todd, one of the guys from our critique group, both nodded knowingly as I told my story and encouraged me not to give up, honestly being so kind that it almost made me cry again, because here I am being so lame and needy and everyone is SO FREAKING NICE, how did I deserve this?

I finally rallied enough to help her hone her own consultation pitch, and continued to tell myself to quit being ridiculous already. (Berating myself usually works well. Sarcasm intended.) After lunch, they announced the Memoir Contest winners. As the judge preambled, Sam squeezed my arm and the other sweet people at the table grinned knowingly at me. I shook my head as they did so, snorting a little bit to myself in my self-deprecating wisdom. “It’s not me,” I thought, “because I’ve already been told multiple times (by the experts) that I suck.”

Third place.

Second place.

The people at my table are in a frenzy of winks and smiles and shoulder rubs.  I don’t know why they’re being so nice, it’s obviously NOT ME.

First place.

DANI NICHOLS.

Sam squealed, Todd said, ” I knew it!” and I burst into tears.

I walked up in a daze and collected my prize money, shaking the judge’s hand clammily. I shakily stumbled my way back to our table, hid my face in my hands and tried not to sob uncontrollably. Someone was saying something on the microphone and I have no idea what it was. The unbelievably kind woman who won second place came over and gave me a tissue, and the lady seated behind me handed me her napkin. Our table was in an uproar, giving me winks and smiles and being SO GENEROUS with their congratulations.

Then Simon Tolkien (J.R.R.’s grandson) got up and spoke, and it finished off the surreal sense of the day. The judge of the memoir contest wants to help me polish my book and publish it. The editor who had (in a nice way, but still) shot me down earlier shook my hand and said congratulations. My friends did not begrudge me my victory but wholeheartedly rejoiced with me. Sam’s hugs sent me soaring.

I’m so blessed, you guys. Even though I, once again, foolishly allowed self-doubt and crippling despair to grab my soul, I got an umpteenth chance to persevere and do it right. It seems silly to let another person’s opinion crush or validate my dream, but it just reminded me of how fragile the creative process is, and how jealously I have to guard my hope.

I’m not done. I have tons of work to do, loads of edits, hours of continued doubt and dreams and sweat.

But I WON. And for today, that’s more than enough.

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I have some very stylish friends. I always have, and I have always been a bit behind them. Every decade or so the rest of the world likes what I like, and the rest of the time I trip along my merry road, wearing cowboy boots with everything and loving plaid, anywhere, all the time, no matter what you think of me.

Don’t get me wrong – I DO love trends – I just love them about two years after everybody else does. You know what this gets me, though?

I’ll tell you.

Amazing, phenomenal, unbelievable DEALS. I don’t buy wrapping paper before Christmas and I don’t buy skinny jeans when Lucky tells me to, thus saving myself much emotional and monetary pain. Allow me to illustrate:

  • Roughly four years after I saw my first skinny jeans with my virgin boot-cut-only eyes, I bought a pair with a free Rock and Republic gift card from a blogging contest.
  • At least 18 months after telling friends that I “might take the plunge and buy leggings” – I bought them. For $10. They are adorbs.
  • Two years after seeing Holli rock a tuxedo jacket, I bought one yesterday. For $7, on sale from $65.

I may not watch trends like the proverbial hawk, but sales? They are ALL MINE.

*All of this talk of shopping and cooking and homeyness lately has made me consider a new feature to this here blog. Should I write some reviews of cooking stuff? Perhaps home stuff? Maybe style stuff several years after it’s popular? My home and kitchen are smashing, even if my legs are still clothed in decades-old boot-cut light-washed jeans. I promise. You tell me, would you be interested in any of the above?

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snowshoeing southern oregon

The Crew.

There is nothing better than snowshoeing, dreaming, shooting guns, playing games and laughing heartily to fill the soul. The fella and I just got back from a week in Oregon, and I was feeling a tiny bit melancholy about it, when friends stopped by and ate some grass-fed Oregon beef with us and I remembered how lucky we are, wherever we might live.

Also, on a less sappy note, I am uncoordinated.

On Friday night, Adam and I started dancing in the kitchen, which set off a swing-dancing free-for-all in my parent’s house. (By free-for-all, I mean that Brudda and Sista and the Fella and I were desperately trying to remember cool moves while Mom and Dad smartly and sedately twirled each other about.) After seeing Brudda effortlessly hoist athletic Sista over his back, Adam and I decided that this was a good idea for us to try too.

In theory, it sounds quite wonderful. I can even show you how great it looks. Watch:

Notice at about 1:40, when the tattooed artsy man lifts the pretty coordinated girl over his back and she lands gracefully on her feet? Well. One of my continual downfalls is that I, unlike cats and athletic people, very, very rarely land on my feet. My family knows this. I was the kid who was finally convinced to roll down a small hill on rollerblades only to crash into a tree, the one who finally got up the courage to jump off of a swing and busted my lip, the one who was convinced to be goalie only to have a hockey puck stick my lips to my braces in a very painful and unattractive fashion. This is why I stick to snowshoeing and other slow-moving sports, people. Many bruises have conspired to teach me that I am not built for challenging terrain. At any rate, I still foolishly attempt things like skiing and flipping upside-down whilst dancing, and I was assured by my family that they were looking out for me, so I felt somewhat safe sacrificing my body for the cause of family fun and good dance moves. However, this is an artist’s rendition of what happened, when my non-tattooed artsy man lifted me over his back:

Ow.Except I did not have on a skimpy sequined dress, and I’m fairly certain that my ENTIRE body weight rested on my head. No graceful help from manicured fingers or strong shoulders, here. I hit square on the thinker.  Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. WHERE ARE MY FEET?! I don’t know, why did I catch a hockey puck with my face? Why don’t we say “thither” any more? Why are Honey Nut Chex so addicting? These are questions that will always haunt me, my friends. You’re welcome.

After the significant crack of cranium on hardwood floor I looked up to see much concern, but not much action happening on the part of my “spotters”.

“Why didn’t you catch her?!” wailed Mom, looking at both Dad and Brudda with the disdain that mediocre spotters receive. They probably gave a reason. I don’t remember much these days.

Anyhoodle, I once again proved to myself that I have a hard head. And that heating pads are gifts from the Lord, Amen.

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Katie wrote a lovely post on this today, as did Sam.

Both of which got me to thinking about slowing down, “being still and knowing that He is God”, taking walks, taking time, sipping life instead of gulping it down in rushed chunks. This time of year, with its early mornings and chilly nights, lead me to contemplate, to write, to yearn and to dream.

I’m striving to pay attention to everything: my little cowgirl’s posture,  the deep crushed-velvet blue of the stormy Pacific, my husband’s needs, his arms reaching for me at the end of the day; the laughter of new friends, the nearness of stories told by old friends, the beauty of well-written prose, the truth in a song, the struggle to be truly good at my profession – to write and teach and live like someone with purpose.

What are you paying attention to?

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I love social media. I’m a complete junkie for Facebook, and now that I’ve finally allowed Twitter into my life – well, dear ones, you are never safe from 140-character ramblings and the complete oversharing of everything I love/hate/thinkisfunny/yougetthepicture. But as awesome as it typically is,  sometimes social media can be hurtful and weird, too.

Like that one time that I realized I hadn’t been invited to a party and saw pictures later on Facebook, or when an inside joke starts up and I feel out of the loop, or when, heaven forbid, I start comparing myself and my followers and friends to other people and wondering how on Earth they got to be so popular and what on Earth is wrong with my effervescent ramblings (Editor’s note. see “oversharing” above for a clue) into the virtual universe. (Not that I would EVER do that, of course. How petty! Pish tosh.)

But then again, quite often all this social media stuff is really amazing.

I saw a friend of mine’s Facebook status simply read “heartbroken” the other day. I immediately prayed “help, Lord” (the prayer of anybody who has ever been faced with life smacking them upside the head) and noticed the dozens of caring notes on her wall within minutes. Today, she revealed why: all of four months ago she was in her best friend’s wedding, and this week that same friend lost her new husband, who was serving in Afghanistan.

Holy snot-nosed tears, people. Since I am a world-renowned Facebook sleuth, I uncovered some wedding pictures of this couple that I only very vicariously know, and within minutes was bawling my eyes out – big, rolling tears and sighing sobs – the kind of crying I did for our Aunt Linda and 100-something gut-wrenching minutes of P.S. I Love You.

I am so aching for this girl I don’t know. I can’t even imagine myself as a widow, or one of our many young military friends in the same situation that her brave husband was in.

I am praying for her, even though that feels so empty and Christianesey to say. I know it’s the only thing I can do – not just the only thing, but the best thing. Even now, my eyes are brimming as I imagine a life without Adam’s strong arms around me every evening and whiskery kisses waking me up every morning, without the shared hopes and dreams of building a life together, the nurturing and growing that comes from loving someone more than you ever thought possible, making one another better as iron sharpens iron. There are countless sweet notes and prayers on her Facebook wall, and plenty on our mutual friend’s wall as well.  It’s a reminder that even in the cold dispassionate world of “The Social Network” there is love to go around, compassion and hope and empathy, even for someone who we barely know.

My heart and prayers go out for you, Kristen. There really aren’t any other words to say, nor anything else to do. I know none of this is the same as a real hug, and I hope you are getting lots of those. But know that there’s a great cloud of witnesses even in this virtual age, one that lifts each other up when life feels insurmountable, and one that is lifting you up, even we as have no other words to say but “help, Lord.”

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So, I’ve mentioned my blog-crush on Annie Blogs. So when I saw “Annie Blogs” show up on my email, it was like a celebrity sighting for my little email account. wranglerdani (at) gmail.com was flabbergasted and really wanted to squeal, but I restrained her from doing anything too fangirly and embarrassing. Except for shriek off and tell Val, who responded as kindly as is possible when your best friend is irrationally freaking over a blog comment.

Anyhoodle, the comment that got me all a-twitter was on Annie’s fantastic post about how to have community, after which I commented a silly story about Awkward Girl, my alter-ego. I’ve learned many things from my dear Holli, but one of the best tips she’s ever given me was how to laugh at myself when I feel out-of-place (which is often). To do this, she invented an alter ego named Awkward Girl.  Awkward Girl carries her otherness around like a cape and joyfully traipses around, aware of her awkwardness but not allowing it to hold her back. She rolls off of exercise balls, squeals at shadows and gregariously introduces herself without worrying about the potentially painful consequences.

Despite my natural shyness, Awkward Girl was one of many forces who finally gave me the courage to be awkward, to step out past my safe bubble of friends and shake hands with somebody new.

Because I can’t really get away from it, anyway, right? Life is awkward isn’t it?

Community is awkward. People are awkward. I am especially awkward. (The word “awkward” is awkward. Just writing it over and over is making me want to play with it. AwkWord. Awwwwkward. Awkwarrrd. What a weird word. What? Anyways.)

I’m excited about introducing myself now, about new friends and new faces and community that cherishes and loves despite our awkward tendencies. Thanks, old friends, for putting up with Awkward Girl. Hi, new friends… you’re in for an offbeat treat.

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On Saturday, the Girls were laying on the sand, getting super tan and sexy, while the Boys stood a ways off and talked masculine things and watched the waves. Apparently they didn’t watch the waves close enough, as the only thing we heard was “AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH GIRLS GO!” before we were wet, our towels were wet, and my poor, sad, innocent little very ancient flip-phone died a very salty death.

He lived a full life. RIP, Mickey.

(Oh, also, until Adam spoils me with A DROID, don’t try to call. Mickey has many amazing qualities, but answering calls from beyond the grave is not one of them.)

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