HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT

When it comes to any kind of success, the question to ask oneself is: How bad do you want it? With any type of creative success especially, one has to want it very badly, because the competition is fierce. Sure, if you look like Megan Fox, chances are you’ll get work in the entertainment industry, but truth is most of us resemble Zach Galifianakis, from The Hangover movies instead.

Mega-stars and bestselling authors have admitted to wanting success more than anything else in their lives—more than their families (evident by those who are on their third or fourth divorce), more than upholding their morals (casting couch, anyone?), more than success in any other area.

I don’t believe women can have it all, like the glossy magazines suggest. Unless you’re taking your child’s Adderall, something will suffer. My stepmother’s sister works as a lawyer in a “prestigious” firm. She recently had a baby. Everyone seems to think she can work from home a few days a week and everything will be fine. Seriously? Unless she gave birth to a Stepford baby, their full-time nanny will be mostly raising that child. You’ll never convince me she’ll be able to make partner in her firm AND be an effective full-time mother.

My stepmom couldn’t understand why I wasn’t willing to commute for a higher-paying job. I told her I didn’t want strangers raising my son. What’s the point of having a child if other people get to see him more than I do? Now granted, she was a stay-at-home mom for both her kids. She never had to make the dreaded Money vs. Welfare of my child decision, so as I always say, “Until you walk a mile in my shoes, shut the duck up.” Besides, who can take advice from someone who has NEVER made Mac n’ Cheese out of a box?

I find myself having to make difficult choices constantly with regard to my writing career. Writing is a full-time job. So is raising a child. Serious decisions have to made, like: I’m in the middle of my work-in-progress, words are finally flowing, my son has had only Cheerios for breakfast. It’s now 2 pm. What do I do?

Okay, so that’s a no-brainer. I haul my butt up and feed him, of course. Ah, but what do I make him? Something microwavable or chicken soup from scratch, like my stay-at-home mom friend does? You got it. And if I don’t have something microwavable, anything from a can will do, as well.

Scenario # 2: I’m trying to figure out something on the computer, like how to separate my Facebook personal page from my fan page. I’ve already spent sixteen hours on it, but I’m stubborn, so I’m willing to spend sixteen more. I hear shouts from my son’s room, obscenities being yelled. My son and his friend are getting into it over who knows what? It sounds like it’s escalating to something physical. What do I do?

Let them duke it out, muttering, “boys will be boys” under my breath, while continuing to read yet another post of how easy it is to do what I’ve been trying to figure out for hours and hours.

I’ll admit that sometimes my maternal skills are crappy. I spend more time on the computer than I do making homemade Play-Doh, or taking my son to the park. More often than not, my writing and all that’s involved with it takes precedence in my life. Does that make me a bad mother? I’m not satisfied being just a mother. And while I admire mothers who can find fulfillment in, well, mothering—who embrace and commit to it 100%, I am not one of them.

I try to be both—mother and writer. At times I fail; sometimes I do a half-assed job at each. At least I’m the one picking up my son from school and helping him with his homework, rather than a day care or a grandparent. With any luck, the only gripe he’ll have about me in future therapy sessions will be the fact that I was a crappy cook.

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LAST CALL

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about death. I’m middle-aged, after all, even though mentally and emotionally I still feel like I’m twenty-three. I read articles all the time on secrets for how to live to be a hundred and ten, even though they always say the same thing: Eat vegetables, nuts and seeds, exercise, eliminate stress, and be happy, and I think, Ok, I’ll do all those things once I retire, except by that time I know it’ll be too late and then I get stressed out over this and obsess over the fact that I could die any day now, so I eat French fries and chocolate to console myself, but then I’m not happy and I know I should work it off, but I don’t, because I feel too much like a bloated pig to exercise.

Healthy habits = 0 for me, but here’s the thing—how many people on their death bed wish they ate more veggies and omega-3s, or had tried a Zoomba class? NO ONE.

Here’s what some people did say were their biggest regrets in an article from The Guardian on Facebook.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”

Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

 

So how are you doing on these?

Living my life my way has always been singlewritermom’s biggest challenge. I already wish I could have blocked out everyone else’s expectations for me and listened to my own drumbeat sooner. When I was a wee little lass, I skipped fourth grade, and excelled at learning foreign languages. Hence I became “the smart girl,” who everyone hoped would get a job at the United Nations one day (No pressure though). I then morphed into “the pretty girl,” who no doubt would grace thousands of magazine covers and travel the world. Except then I became “the sick girl,” and nobody knew what the hell to do with me, except continually ask, “Well, what the freak are you going to do with your life now?”

Sadly, it wasn’t until I hit forty-three that I could admit to being a writer without feeling like an imposter.

As for wishing I hadn’t worked so hard? I’m pretty sure I’d wish I’d been able to work harder. I’m specifically referring to exercise, but not for the health benefits to extend my life span. I would have loved to have seen my body with muscle definition—kinda like a body-builder type, but more Rachel Mclish, then Bev Francis. Just once would I have liked to have worn spandex without an oversized T-shirt covering my ass. Running a marathon would have been pretty cool, too, except for the training and the vomiting afterwards part, since everyone oohs and aahs over that accomplishment.

Feelings…Yeesh, I actually express my feelings too much. At too loud a decibel. A filter on my mouth probably would have helped at times, because the meds sure don’t. I suppose my regret would be that I hadn’t kept my big yap shut during times I should have. (Examples: “When are you due? Oops.” and “If I could get away with it, I’d kill you.”)

Perhaps I’ll wish I’d stayed in touch with friends better, but a few really good ones dumped me for being a little black rain cloud, thus resulting in my belief that friendships are transient and fickle in general, so scratch that one.

Now #5 is a tough one for me to wrap my mind around, because happiness isn’t a choice for say, the clinically depressed. And many people choose to forgo their own happiness for the sake of others (like staying in a bad marriage for the children, or inviting the senile mother-in-law to come live with them.) This is called self-sacrifice, and will no doubt get you into a heaven where chocolate mousse and margaritas are calorie-free. Is self-sacrifice a bad thing? Depends upon how miserable you end up. If you wind up grandchildren-less or paying for your children’s therapy, because the kids are so jacked-up from your less-than-stellar union, or you keep sending your MIL out to buy milk every day in the hope that she won’t come home, that’s a problem.

Notice how nobody wished they had had more sex, or tried bungee jumping? I would have thought at least a few would have wished for better sex, or sex while bungee jumping. But that’s just me…

What’s your greatest regret so far?

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?

MY HALF-CRACKED GLASS

As a writer, I find myself insatiably curious about human
nature and what makes people tick. As a person, I’m socially adventurous, and a
bit of a deviant. People think I’m a glass is half-empty kind of girl. On the contrary, my glass is overflowing with a
hard dose of ass-kicking reality. And I expect the same when it comes to my
friends.

“You’re fine? Your marriage is fine? Your kids are all fine?” Ho-hum.
Yawn
. I really couldn’t care less. But tell me you’re secretly lusting
after the neighbor’s teenage son; you suspect your husband may be a
cross-dresser because every pair of pumps you own are stretched out; and your
nine-year-old daughter has taken to drawing penises on every piece of scrap
paper she finds around the house, and I will take notice. Then I’ll be interested in what you have to say.

Life is rarely warm peach cobbler with real vanilla ice-cream
melting on top. And the people who portray it as such? I don’t trust them. I
think they’re either severely medicated or completely delusional. You know who
I’m talking about. They’re the ones who don’t want to air their dirty laundry
in public. “Gasp! What would people think?” They’re the overachievers, the
type-As, the repressed, the eternally optimistic.

Yeah, I get the whole New Age concept of believing that your
thoughts create your reality. But if that were true, I’d have Barry Zito, the
pitcher for the SF Giants in my bed every night. I’ve seen people with the
purest of hearts have the crappiest things happen to them. Good deeds being
reciprocated with, oh, I don’t know, a drug-addicted ex who steals all your
jewelry, your rent money and threatens to kill you. Ahem.
Hypothetically speaking, of course.

I’ve lost a few good friends over the years due to my
negative attitude. I tried to explain to them that I wasn’t a doom-and-gloom
Sally; I’m just REALISTIC. And pardon me if I come across as slightly
pessimistic. I attribute it to my New York upbringing. I was raised in
Brooklyn. I didn’t grow up with a grassy front yard – hell, a cement stoop was
my front yard. I didn’t ride a quaint yellow school bus. I took the rat- and
bum-infested, urine-smelling subway. Back when subways were graffiti-covered
works of art, rather than the metallic, sleek-looking, vibrator-resembling
machines of today. There were no protective pads underneath the monkey bars. It
was hard pavement and broken glass. Nobody picked up after their dogs back
then, stray cats were everywhere, and if you were hot on a swelteringly muggy
summer day, you found someone with a wrench to open up a fire hydrant for you
so you could cool off.

Life can be gritty and awful, and majestically beautiful.
Amazing things happen, but so do shitty things. Denying the shit and only
embracing the diamonds makes you an inauthentic human being, in my opinion; a
rose-colored glasses-wearing fake, who refuses to acknowledge that they have
problems just like the rest of us.

So don’t tell me how great your husband is, unless you’re
trying to convince me to have a threesome; I only want to hear how good your
son is at basketball if he’s playing for the Lakers and can get me courtside
seats; and if you’re a Supermom, who goes to the gym every day, has an
immaculate home, with dinner on the table at six and the kids in bed by nine –
well, we won’t have a damn thing in common.

The bumper sticker on the back of my car reads: MY SON ISN’T
AN HONOR STUDENT AT HIS SCHOOL AND I’M PROUD OF HIM ANYWAY.