SUCCESS SUCCHMESS

Success means something different to every writer. For some it might mean earning a million dollars, being on the NY Times Best Seller List, or simply being published for the first time. Others may define it as getting a favorable review from the snarky gals over at Smart Bitches,Trashy Books, having more than five people unrelated to you attend your book-signing, or just being able to buy soft, name-brand toilet paper on a regular basis.

For me, success means having at least fifteen people (who don’t know me) purchase and read my book. Even better would be if they were to like it. That’s it. Modest, no?

It satisfies the Validation aspect of success for me: that a completely objective third party can find my work enjoyable –work I’ve spent enormous amounts of time and energy on; work that has finally come to fruition, and been recognized in a fiercely competitive business.

I always smirk when the average person mentions they’d like to write a book. Go ahead and try it, I think to myself, feeling slightly superior. They think it’ll be a piece of cake. Until they sit there, in front of a blank screen and actually have to string words together that make sense. Kinda like the romance reader who foolishly believes she can easily write what she’s been reading all these years. Structure, characterization, motive, plot, tension, a beginning, middle and end? “But it looked so EASY.”

Money was never my motivator. If it were, I’d have become an investor or married rich. Doing a job solely for the money always left me feeling like one of those sad ponies at the fair, going round and round in circles. Talk about an utterly void existence. Yet when I was doing theater in New York and getting paid nothing, I was the happiest I’d ever been.

What other profession is one willing to do for zero money in return? That is the definition of a true artist. Yet the payoff one gets is usually worth more emotionally, mentally and physically than all the earnings of Jay-Z and Beyoncé put together.

I recently posted an announcement on Facebook of being offered a contract for my first novel. My stepmother called me immediately. “It’s so great when we, as parents see our children succeed!” she said.

What about all the years when I didn’t succeed? I wanted to ask. I was treated like a leper. When the blaring insinuation was that all I was doing was sitting on my unmotivated, “wasting my college education,” “expecting things to be handed to me” ass? Ah, yes – where was the love then?

Simple – there was no love, because I hadn’t SUCCEEDED at anything. See, in some families, if children don’t succeed at what the parents determine is “success worthy,” then it reflects poorly on said parents. Like they must have done a crappy job at raising their kids if they haven’t grown up to amount to anything.

I remember when I worked retail and all my father kept telling me was “It’s not like your job is hard. A monkey could work retail, for God’s sake.”

I wouldn’t care if, when he grows up, my son wanted to be a doctor or a mechanic; made a million a year or minimum wage. Sure, the amount of his salary will ultimately affect the quality of the nursing home he’ll stick me in when I’m old, but it certainly won’t make me love or approve of him any less.

I wish some parents would learn the obvious: That by giving their children unwavering and unconditional love and support in their choices – whatever they may be – it allows them to succeed a helluva lot more effectively than when they have other people’s expectations shoved down their throats.

What is your definition of success?

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REJECTION SHOULD BE A FOUR-LETTER WORD

The word Rejection should be right up there with:

ACNE

LOSE

DUMB

…and all the other four-letter words that make us feel bad
about ourselves. REJECTION SUCKS. There’s no other way to say it. I am a
writer, trying to get two novels published. Combined, my rejection letters
total way over a hundred, and that’s not even counting the non-responders where
silence in and of itself equals rejection.

Do I take it personally? Of course I do. I interpret the
rejections as: Your writing sucks! Your concept sucks! And by the way, you suck too!

I was also a commercial and theater actress for many years –
another profession not unlike publishing that vomits rejection. “Not young
enough, pretty enough, skinny enough…just not enough…

It takes a thick skin to deal with constant rejection. I
should have given up long ago. Anyone with self-esteem issues knows that these
two professions, writing and acting, will tear you up inside if you don’t have
an ounce of self-confidence.

And yet I persist with the writing thing. Granted, I’ve
tried to consider many, many other professions in the hope that one will club
me over the head and drag me onto the Stability bus I’ve been chasing and missing
for so many years.

Dental Hygienist — Hey, they make decent money. I roll it
around in my head, and try not to gag on the idea of what it would be like to
probe plaque-and disease-ridden mouths…

Medical Assistant — Now there’s a profession that’s always
in demand. Maybe I can ignore the fact that I’m not very nurturing, nor can I
stand bodily fluids or the thought of wiping a stranger’s ass…

Any 9-5 office job — So what if my varicose veins get worse
and my weight triples from sitting at a desk all day? And really, who needs to
see the light of day anyway?

“Think of your son and what you need to do to support him. Forget what you want to do.” I hear that a lot.
If I thought I could excel at anything else, or retain my sanity doing something else, I would run to it. I
wish I was able to keep a “normal” job like 98% of the population. The journey I’m supposed to be enjoying has
left me stressed-out, broke, and queasy from motion sickness.

Numerous actors have said they fell into acting simply
because they couldn’t stand the idea of doing anything else. Or weren’t capable
of doing anything else, for that matter. They had literally sucked at every job
they attempted.

When actors accept their Academy Awards, singers accept
their Grammys, or best-selling authors who, after 1000 rejections FINALLY get
published, they all say the same thing: “NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAM.” It’s
easy to spit out “never give up” in hindsight, while you’re holding that shiny
statue, or signing a 3-book deal.

But how long does one stick it out to pursue the dream? How long does one pick half-eaten hot dogs
out of the trash, sleep on a futon, drive a 1986 car?

How many writers out there have received one rejection too
many, and have chosen to bow out gracefully because they’re tired of seeing
those form-letter words?

“Your work is not the right fit for us at this time…”

“Your project isn’t quite right for me…”

“Please know that this business is highly subjective…”

And yet, all it takes is a single yes from one
person and the dream will have come true. That is what keeps us going.

IF STEVE JOBS HAD BEEN MY DAD

A few days ago, I listened to the commencement speech
Steve Jobs had given at Stanford University in 2005. In addition to being a
technological genius who masterminded some cool gadgets, he understood our
proclivities as human beings to settle in life, to please others before
ourselves, to doubt that there’s a higher purpose for us.

Years ago I copied down a quote by him from that very
speech:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone
else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of
other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your
own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and
intuition. They somehow know what you truly want to become. Everything else is
secondary.”

If only I had taken those very words to heart, instead of
pasting them, then forgetting them on my already-crowded wall of cutesy
platitudes like “never (x3) give up” or “No boy is worth crying for, and the
one who is won’t make you cry.”

There’s something to be said for being encouraged to follow
your dreams. My own father’s response to, well, anything I wanted to pursue was
always, “That idea stinks. It’ll never get you anywhere and there’s no money in
it.” So short of becoming a doctor, lawyer or successful entrepreneur, I was
pretty much doomed for failure in his eyes.

Every Thanksgiving, my father toasts to his children’s
accomplishments. My half-brother and sister, that is. He also toasts to my
stepmother’s sister, who came to live with them when she was thirteen. A
straight-A student, she was accepted into Princeton and went on to Pepperdine
law school. My father takes full responsibility for her success. After all,
she’d still be living in the ghetto of East LA had he not invited her to come
live in rich, white suburbia.

I was always the glaring omission at the dinner table,
because anything I did wasn’t up to
Thanksgiving toast standards.

“Guess what, Dad? I landed the lead role in a lesbian
wedding play.”

“I’ve decided to go to beauty school, Dad.”

“Dad, I’m working in a retail store…coffee bar…nightclub…

“The business went under, Dad, and now I’m unemployed.”

I’ve since been banished by my father from all things
family-related. I believe it has something to do with failing to live up to his
expectations. Oh, and him feeling like he didn’t get his money’s worth for my
college education. No matter, since he has another business-owning daughter who
suits him much more.

I always knew what my strengths were growing up, and they
were in the arts. By telling my dad I wanted a career in the arts, I may as
well have said, “I’ve decided to become a nude contortionist and I’ll be
performing in the middle of Times Square.” I would have gotten the same
reaction.

I spent years doing the
corporate thing even though I hated it, simply because I wanted my daddy to be
proud of me. At the same time I tried to pursue acting and writing, in the hope
that it would save me from falling into the vapid corporate hole.  Because of not committing fully to either way
of life, I succeeded at neither. And Daddy never failed to remind me of that.

To quote Vivian in the movie, Pretty Woman, “People put you down enough, you start to believe
it.”

I think of how different my life might have been if I had
grown up with nothing but unwavering support and encouragement from the man who
is supposed to love me unconditionally.

Perhaps Mr. Jobs wouldn’t have been that enthusiastic over
me playing a lesbian, or pouring coffee in Northern CA for eccentric
schizophrenics, but I’d like to think he would have “walked his talk.” I’d like
to think that instead of attempting to verbally beat me into conventional
submission like my father always did, he’d have supported me regardless of
whether or not he agreed with my choices.

By not having the courage to follow our heart and intuition,
we wind up in sexless marriages, dead-end jobs, drinking too much, and having
mid-life crises.

Seems like a lot of people are 4 for 4 these days.