Taking Matters Into My Own Hands

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Breaking news! This blog post was recently featured on She Writes. Click here to read the same thing there.

Before I became a writer (or a wife or a mother), I was a ballet dancer. I danced in Europe for most of my career—in Iceland, Italy, Germany, and Austria. For nearly six years I stitched together gigs here and there, which required a mix of talent, timing, and connections. I thought I’d finally cracked the code when I landed three great jobs that would keep me employed for the next year.

But then, all in the same week, the three companies contacted me again. I sat on the couch with a letter from Austria, a fax from Germany, and a telegram in Italian—all informing me of the same news: they were rescinding the job offers. None of the companies was willing to file the paperwork to extend my EU visa. It had nothing to do my dancing.

This is the scene that came to mind this summer when I read email after email from the agents, editors, and publishers I’d come to know in the six years since I started writing the memoir about my identical twins boys who’d been born three and a half months premature.

“The writing is lovely,” they all said in one form or another. “But we don’t know how to market your book” (which, I realized, is code for “we don’t know who will read this.”) The emails wished me luck and sometimes even said that mine was a story that deserved to be told (after, of course, informing me that they would not be the ones helping me tell it.)

I had a choice. I could continue to fish for agents. I could send out a hundred queries to find the one agent willing to go to bat for me and hope that she would have the same persistence looking for editors and publishers.

Or I could take things into my own hands.

I didn’t have to go back to America all those years ago. I could have stayed in Italy and appealed the decisions. But I didn’t want to spend months writing letters in languages I didn’t quite know, filing papers and calling offices when I could just go back home and dance.

That’s how I feel about my memoir. These last six years I’ve learned a lot about writing and the publishing industry. I’ve learned a lot about building a writing community. I even helped found a nonprofit writing group for moms. Three years ago, we self-published an anthology of our essays. When I realized that I knew who to contact to edit my work, who could design the book cover, and who would be my publicist, the decision to publish my book myself was as easy as boarding the next plane for home.

Which brings us back to me crying on the couch with three rejection letters. The week after I flew home from Italy, I was offered a job dancing with a ballet company in San Francisco. Shortly after that, I met my future husband. The friend who introduced us is now godmother to my daughter.

I still wonder what might have happened if I’d tried to keep dancing abroad, just as I might always wonder what would have happened if I kept querying agents. But I also know that leaving when I did helped set the stage (no pun intended) for future accomplishments—a college degree, a family, a new career as a writer.

Sometimes it’s up to you to shape your own destiny. And when you recognize that the time is right, it’s up to you to make it happen.

 

 

Gratitude in a Brave New World

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This weekend, inspired by those who have been relentlessly calling their representatives on every issue from the ACA to the EPA, I sent 56 Valentines to government officials on behalf of my friends.

Each thank you Valentine is unique with cutout hearts on the envelope and card and a personal message on the inside. THANK YOU each one reads on the back of the envelope as well as on the front of the card.

I’ll admit I made the project more elaborate than it needed to be. Either because I harbor a nostalgia for handmade Valentines or because I really really like glue sticks.

“John McCain is never going to see this Valentine,” I thought, as I picked the perfect shade of metallic blue to address his fourth envelope, a different gel pen than the one used to address the next card I wrote to him.

Likewise, Congressman Jason Chaffetz will probably never see his purple-and-green hearts and with gold lettering thanking him for suggesting that a commander-in-chief who is mentally sound is a really good thing. If the DOJ doesn’t forward Sally Yates’ mail, those pink-and-silver hearts will probably just end up in the trash.

But with each card I wrote, I thought of all the people who would see them—from the mail carrier in Oakland, to the mailroom in Washington. Whether the envelope has been discarded or not, THANK YOU and a heart from handmade paper is sure to be visible.

So if you’re assigned to open mail for Rep. Beth Fukumoto or Rep. Barbara Lee you might feel a twinge of pride that you work for someone who stood up for what’s right and was acknowledged for it. Or perhaps you’re an aide for Senator Graham and you walk into the office of an aide of Senator McCain to work out the agenda for that investigation on Russian interference. The paper heart catches your eye and reminds you of the one you saw on your boss’s desk. You are making a difference. People are noticing.

Maybe you’re part of the custodial team and you see glittered envelopes in the recycling. THANK YOU. And it reminds you that you are a part of something bigger. Something that is changing. Whether that change is positive or not, that’s up to the people taking action.

Moreover, the ripple effect of thank-you card goes beyond expressing gratitude. These cards were a group effort. Chiara wrote “THANK YOU” on all the envelopes. My friend Fionnuala looked up addresses and wrote them on the all the envelopes (with the appropriately colored metallic gel pen, of course.) On top of all that, she donated all the stamps, too.

It was an opportunity to talk about the marches we’d both participated in and how empowering it was to take action. It was a chance to explain to Chiara why Senator Collins’ speech on Wednesday, coupled with Senator Murkowski, was so important.

This is how you become the change you seek. This is how a drop in the bucket becomes a splash.

Thank you to Leslie Ayers, who gave me the idea in the first place and thank you to all the Facebook friends who sent me suggestions.