Sorry, We Already Have One of Those

Motivation & Inspiration

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It’s been a few weeks since I sent off a query for the latest version of the restaurant book. 30K slimmer with a new antagonist and new ending, I am completely confident that this is it. I wrote a good book. Dare I say, a great book. It is ready. I am ready.

And yet, one nagging thought has been tormenting me, clawing its way out of the depths of my own psyche and whispering in my ear: Sorry, we already have one of those.

In other words…

We already have one Latinx author. We don’t need another one.

We already have a book featuring Latinx characters. We don’t need another one.

We already have a POC book about a restaurant. We don’t need another one.

I’ve gotten much better at recognizing my own irrational fears and using facts and other context to talk myself out of them. But this fear, no matter how irrelevant it is at certain agencies or publishers, is still not elusive enough to land it on my crazy list. Because the truth is, it does happen. The same way it happens in every other industry.

If you’re a POC and you’re the only one in your entire department or the only one in your entire company, you know what I mean. Tokenism is celebrated as “diversity” but only by the ignorant. Tokenism is still racism. Patting yourself on the back because you have one marginalized person on your team and therefore have met some socially imposed “quota” is not social justice. It’s lazy. It’s cruel.

So my fear this time of…lets’ face it, not mattering, is not entirely in my head. I feel like educationally and socially I have been conditioned to believe that there is only ever one spot for a POC. And worse, that the person who gets that spot is the one who can best adapt to whiteness.

This time, with this story and these characters, I am not watering things down or slipping on that mask I know so well. I am not apologizing for being another Latinx author who wants to break into publishing even though the gatekeepers just let one in last month and isn’t that enough diversity already?

But choosing to be defiant, to believe in myself despite the odds doesn’t get rid of the fear. It’s not something I can talk myself out of with facts and figures. It’s something that, if I want to keep going, to keep trying at this, I have to accept. I have to accept that I may experience rejection simply for being me. But in the midst of that fear I am also allowed to hope. That the industry is changing and that I myself can be a part of that positive change. I am allowed to celebrate the authors, agents, editors, and other industry professionals who are already doing that work.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I am allowed to reach for it with everything I have. But that doesn’t change the long trek through the darkness that I have to make first. Luckily, I am not alone in this. The more of us there are moving through the darkness the more ground we cover, the stronger and braver we become, the more light we cast in the other direction. Light that might inspire someone else to reach for what they want most, to believe that they deserve to get it.

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Your Heart’s Desire

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration, Self Publishing

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About four years ago I was working in a public library, earning $12 an hour, all while cultivating this secret online identity as a self-published author. I was writing and creating constantly but something didn’t feel right.

Writing books was challenging but it had been a long time since I’d experienced a creative growth spurt and the itch to stretch myself, to learn, to grow became agonizing. So I did the only thing I knew how to do and I went back to school.

That’s the place where you learn new things, right?

I enrolled in a graduate program, stupidly took out student loans, and studied my ass off thinking that by graduation day I’d feel like a new me. A better me.

And it worked. At least for a little while. I completed my courses, survived student teaching, and got my first teaching job. That first year was a whirlwind. Every day, I showed up an hour early and stayed an hour late. I worked in the evenings and on weekends. I truly did stretch myself, learning so much about my content area, language learners, and the public education system.

Year two was also difficult. I was never short on challenges, on opportunities to grow.

Year three and the itch returned.

What am I doing here? I mean really doing? I’m not making an impact. I’m not even making a dent. The public education system is so broken. It’s so broken that no matter who you are–teacher, student, admin–no one enters this system and comes out unscathed. We are all hurt by it. Broken in ways we can’t even see.

I was starting to feel it. The weight of all of those systemic problems I would never be able to solve. The guilt and regret of allowing fear to choose this career for me. The work I do is meaningful and I’m grateful for this experience. But I’ve learned something about this feeling–this itch for something more. It doesn’t go away just because we want it to. Just because we’re living a life that is socially acceptable, adulting on a level comparable to our peers.

That feeling doesn’t go away until we ask in earnest: who am I and why am I here? And we open ourselves up to the reality, to the truth that the answers will be much bigger and much scarier than we want them to be.

But we don’t get to choose. The second we slipped into this skin we made an agreement to have the human experience.

This is the human experience–a million acts of bravery in the direction of our soul’s desire. And maybe we don’t get to decide that either–what our soul wants. But we can’t ignore that it wants. And it will continue to want, that desire beating, throbbing like a second pulse, until we give in and listen. Then follow.

And if we don’t, that spiritual nagging doesn’t just intensify. It hurts. In the places where we are supposed to be growing and changing we will begin to atrophy. We will begin to disappear.

I don’t want to disappear.

So I’m not just seeking out opportunities to be brave. I’m creating them. That means committing to a half-baked idea on a massive scale, telling people about my plans so they can hold me accountable, and creating my own curriculum for artistic growth. I’m acknowledging old fear-based patterns and disrupting them every chance I get. I’m speaking my mind more but also listening and I’m throwing money at opportunities I don’t yet feel good enough or worthy of taking advantage of.

I am following this ache like a siren song.

But even though I’m still not certain of where it leads, I must let it lead. Because the destination is my heart’s desire. It doesn’t matter if I don’t even know what that is yet. It doesn’t matter if I don’t think I deserve it yet. All I need to know is that it is mine.

Mine.

True North

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

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When I think about those two big scary questions–Who am I? Why am I here?–clarity usually comes to me in flashes; in fragments I try to force together like puzzle pieces. Sometimes the burst is so bright, everything illuminated, that I feel a sense of purpose and conviction so supernatural in its potency that I know for a fact God is speaking to me. Other times, the glimpse is so brief that I feel more lost and alone than before.

Which has led me to ponder new questions: How do I find my North Star? How do I keep it in my sights through the storms, the darkness, and the doubt that follows?

For the past month these questions have consumed me and I’ve let them. Even though I’d committed to daily blogging, as long as these questions were on my mind, I felt like I didn’t know what to say. Even though I desperately wanted to finish my current WIP, as long as these questions were on my mind, the act felt useless.

Because I need to know the why.

Why was I telling this story and all the others that have been fighting for my attention lately? Why are these characters so important to me? What do I want my readers to know and feel about them? What do I want them to do with those revelations? Are there other ways I can spread my message? Am I really even clear on what that is?

Some people just want to be writers, putting out a book as often as they can, whether that’s once a year, once every two years, once every ten. Pen to page, day after day. For them, that is the work. And that is beautiful. That is admirable.

But I’ve been feeling this pull lately, this stretching of my spirit to do something…more. Not something else. Not something that isn’t still storytelling. But something more. Bigger. Greater.

For months, I’ve thought that it was my fears that were getting in the way, that my anxiety was the distraction, that my problems were caused by a lack of stamina and focus. Instead, what was getting in the way was this other voice. So faint I didn’t even realize it was there.

Maybe it wasn’t even a voice. Not in the beginning. Maybe it was more like a nudge. Move. Grow. Change. It’s okay. I am with you.

But I wasn’t listening. Because I thought I already knew the answers to those big, scary questions.

Who are you?

A writer.

Why are you here?

To tell stories.

Those answers are beautiful. They are admirable. But they are also wrong. Because they are incomplete.

Usually, when we think about our life’s purpose, we start at the macro level. We approach it with giant expectations and then we crush ourselves beneath the weight of never meeting them. If we’re a writer, we might think that we have to write a book as influential as Harry Potter. Something that cultivates the values and beliefs of an entire generation. Something that reaches the far ends of the earth. That makes us rich and famous.

But what if the key to unlocking our potential is thinking much, much smaller? Not thinking that our potential is small. Not thinking that our gifts are small. But small in the sense that we are snowflakes. That the pattern of purpose alive in me is different from the purpose that’s alive in you. That it’s the subtleties and nuance of our nature that allows us to have the greatest impact because that’s what allows us to connect with the specific people who need our gifts the most.

I think I’m starting to figure out my true gifts, and more importantly, who needs them the most. In other words, I am inching towards the real answers to those big, scary questions and as the answers loom on the horizon, I can already sense that they will be much bigger and much scarier than anything I could have ever imagined. But big and scary doesn’t always mean bad. Sometimes big and scary means joy. Sometimes big and scary means freedom.

Big Scary Questions

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

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There are two questions we must pursue at every stage, every crossroads, and every pain point of our lives.

Who am I? Why am I here?

These are big, scary questions, not because of the possibility that we may never find answers to them but because of the possibility that we may find answers that are just as big and scary. We are terrified of finding out we are powerful beyond our wildest dreams. Because somewhere, deep down, we already know it, and our fears, our pain, every ounce of our suffering surrounding our identities comes from regret. Our regrets about snuffing out our own greatness, of running from our destinies, of secretly wanting to be small because that’s where we think we’re most safe.

If the purpose of life was to stay safe then the Universe wouldn’t have zipped us into these flesh pockets that can be cut open and crushed, broken and bruised, burned and diseased. Instead, the Universe would have fashioned us out of something indestructible.

But walking that fine line between life and death is too important. It’s the predator lurking in the trees that makes our heart race, that spurs us forward, that forces us to run, run, run. Into the unknown. Into those big scary answers to all of our big scary questions.

Over the past month, I have been asking a lot of questions.

Who am I? Why am I here? What is that special gift that only I have and that the world so desperately needs? Why am I making art? Who am I making it for? What does my audience need? How can I use my unique skills and talents to solve their problems, to show them I care, to make the world a better place?

What I’ve discovered about myself and my meditative practice is that I love the big, scary questions. Do they terrify me? Absolutely. But rather than making me feel inadequate or insignificant, mulling over these questions has reminded me that I am neither of these things.

I am powerful. I am purposeful.

The daydreamer in me loves to ponder these things. To imagine all of the awesome ways I can use my gifts to help others. The daydreamer in me loves to visualize every detail of this potential. The daydreamer in me loves to distract me with these daydreams instead of pushing me to use them as fuel.

So, while the daydreamer in me is essential to helping me answer the big, scary questions, she is also my enemy when it comes to using those answers to take action. To live out those revelations in the here and now.

It’s not entirely her fault. My brain is an endless, awesome playground where I can easily get lost in my own ideas and innovations. It can also be a black hole of despair, the skies overhead darkening so fast that I don’t even realize there’s a storm until I’m drenched. It is a place to imagine, sure. To experiment. To test ideas. To ask those questions I want my work to help people answer. But it is not a place for building. There is no solid ground on which to construct anything real.

It’s not enough to find answers to those two big, scary questions: Who am I? Why am I here?

We must manifest the answers in the real world. We must take action and create in a tangible way that impacts people. We must live out the promises that have been planted in us, sowing the seeds of our gifts in places where those flowers can actually bloom.

Sewing the Perfect Safety Net

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

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Leaps of faith into the great unknown are necessary. But that doesn’t mean we don’t anticipate the leap or prepare for that moment in advance. It sounds good, in theory, to proceed with reckless abandon. Like the lead in a Hollywood blockbuster who tosses a grenade into their old life and then steps out of the wreckage shiny and new.

Unfortunately, real life is different. And if you suffer from anxiety like I do, real life isn’t just different, it’s also much more terrifying.

When Twitter exploded with commentary on this topic a few weeks ago, I felt incredibly validated by all of the working writers who basically said, “you don’t have to leap without a parachute to be brave.”

I’d been grappling with this notion for a few months. While I want to be stronger in my convictions and braver in the pursuit of my dreams, I also don’t want to put myself in emotional or psychological danger.

So, here’s what I’ve decided–I will leap. When my 18 months are up on this invisible contract I have made with the Universe, I will leap. I will trust. I will try at this thing in earnest and I won’t give up when things get hard. But in the meantime, I will do whatever I can to create a safety net for this proverbial leap. I will pay off my debt. I will save up a 6-month emergency fund. I will finish several books. I will take care of my physical and mental health.

In other words, I will work to mitigate as much risk as possible, not because I think all risk is bad. But because I know how too much risk affects my body. It makes me worry, which makes me sick, and when I’m in that state of mind I can’t create. Which totally negates the goal of being a full-time creative.

Mitigating as much risk as possible does not make me any less committed or any less brave. It doesn’t lessen my chances of success. In fact, it bolsters them. Because when you have a plan, a map, a step-by-step guide leading to your destination, you’re much more likely to actually get there.

Sure, we may take a few detours, get lost a few times along the way. But the path doesn’t disappear just because we wander off of it. Especially, if we’re the ones who laid the track in the first place. When we lay the track it becomes ingrained in us and when a thing is ingrained in us we can always find our way back to it.