Storm Clouds in Lalaland

I’ve been residing in Lalaland for many years now. It’s fabulous here–the weather’s warm, but not too warm, there’s glitter in the tree bark and no one ever has intestinal problems. The fishing is excellent. People are kind. Here, IRS stands for “I’m Reading Salinger.” Bills are the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. In Lalaland, I sit at my desk and write stories (that are sure to be best-sellers), while the laundry magically washes itself.  I sort of look like Gisele Bundchen.

But I have to admit, despite living in this zip code (which, by the way is !!!!!), I sometimes get discouraged. Writing isn’t just an occupation, it’s a lifestyle choice, one that sometimes involves isolation, frustration and a smattering of poverty. It’s okay-we’re good with it. Amadeus believes in me and I work hard to earn the honor. But sometimes it rains, even in Lalaland.

A week and a half ago, clouds began to form. I sat upstairs writing, a pursuit which I live in hope will someday increase our income. Optimism is a huge part of the Lalaland experience.

Six weeks earlier, I’d sent a story to Salon.com, and never received a confirmation or a reply. I wrote back to the editor–you know, just a “Hello how are you did you read my story do you like it will you publish it” thing. I never heard a word back, which to me, is more of a rejection than a rejection letter. Note to editors: It takes less than thirteen seconds to type “It sucks” into the body of an email.

A bit of self-loathing starting glomming onto me. What the hell am I doing? I asked myself. Why am I wasting my time? I’m a hack. I’m not making any money at this. And why is my hair so frizzy? It was the end of the month, a tough time for us financially. Thunder began to rumble in Laland. Physically, I was feeling like a baked potato–sort of lumpy, untalented and unattractive. In an unfortunate cost-cutting move, I went into the bathroom and hacked off a bunch of my hair.  It looked awful, but it took my mind off of writing for a while. After a few more hours of aimless typing, combined with three rounds of Candy Crush Saga and some moping, I went to bed.

The thing about storm clouds in Lalaland is that they move quickly. Sun rays start peeking out. I woke up the next morning, and boy, howdy, were there rays. I went downstairs, chugged some coffee and started a glorious new week. Here’s how things progressed:

Sunday: Checked my e-mail and found that one of my stories had been accepted for a regional NPR radio program! A special live, one-hour broadcast–the first in the show’s eight-year history. The producer wrote that it would be streamed around the world via satellite radio and would be podcast too. I almost tinkled from joy. Oh my gosh, you should have seen Amadeus. He was so proud.

Monday: Got a t-shirt in the mail from a musician friend of Amadeus’, along with two of his CDs. This was, I think, because I told him I love Jack Handey. That night, I had a lovely phone conversation with a blog friend in Portland, our first. It was so nice to hear her voice after so many years of typing to each other.

Tuesday: Freaked out half the day about the radio show. What would I wear? What about my hair? How could I lose ten pounds in five days? Was a face lift possible? The show was in front of a live audience, and was to be videotaped. I told Amadeus, “It’ll be fine. Surely I’ll find something in the closet that will work.” Between you and me, I was a little sad, but what could I do? As I’ve said, I chose this lifestyle, and it’s just not a hair salon, new dress type of deal.

Wednesday: Opened e-mail. Received notice of a PayPal donation from a friend/reader in New Zealand, the largest in the history of this blog. He wasn’t aware of any of the above–it was just a huge, serendipitous act of generosity. It still overwhelms me to talk about it, but you can read about it here.

Thursday: Bill paying! Shopping! Later, a friend came over with a miraculous hair straightening tool. I modeled my beautiful new copper-colored dress, and she and Amadeus oohed and aahed. Later, I went to hear my hubby make music with some other seriously talented musicians, and a drunk lady gave me her bracelet. I’ve since returned it, but it was such a nice gesture. Plus, it went with the dress.

Friday-Saturday: Insane non-stop fidgeting, worrying, stressing, but in an upbeat way. I asked Amadeus to take a pic of me in the new dress, so I could see what it’d look like on stage. I discovered I bore a striking resemblance to a Tootsie Roll. I rummaged around and finally found something I felt comfy in.*

Sunday: The Radio Show!** And another t-shirt! Followed by lovely people who told me how much they enjoyed my story! Followed by a margarita! Followed by a nap!

Monday: I was in the newspaper! Because of the above thing! I can’t stop typing exclamation points!

Tuesday: Another sweetheart of a blog friend, this one in New Hampshire, e-mailed to say that, in honor of the NPR show, he was sending me a gift–an entire mess of garlic from his garden and a new CD. It arrived today. Seeing that box of thoughtfulness sitting on the doorstep made my heart all melty. By the way, “a mess” equals fifteen bulbs.

There was so much goodness woven into the week, so many great moments. Songwriting with my hubby. The company of friends. Words of encouragement. Laughter. Little miracles here and there that let us know things are going to be okay.

The weather continues to improve. Life gets rough. Things gets tough. Then the world becomes beautiful once again. Rinse and repeat. That’s the way things work in Lalaland. I’m so fortunate, and so grateful. 

 

*It’s something I later discovered looked like a festive mumu on film, but living in Lalaland allows me to stay in denial about it until I see the video.

**I’ll post links to the podcast as soon as they become available.

 

 

 

For A Week I Was A Wreck

vintage micSo on Sunday, I’m sitting in this big conference room at the local library. I’m a total wreck. I’m one of four writers who’ve been selected to read on a live broadcast of an NPR program called “Tales From the South.”

Chairs have been set up–rows and rows of them, enough to seat 150 people. We’re told that 100 more are in the next room, watching on big screen monitors. In actuality, over 400 people have shown up to watch.

For an entire week, I’ve been a wreck, ever since I got the e-mail from the show’s producer saying that my story had been chosen. It’s one thing to sit behind a keyboard and write, or to do open mic readings at our indie bookstore in front of twenty people or so. I never tell locals my pen name–I just go and read. It gives me an idea of the way my words flow and helps me see how people respond to my stories. But I’m shy when they ask where they can read my work, and evasive about revealing anything about this blog. This has been my oasis for six years. It’s the place where I can be creatively brave without worrying about what people might think. It’s sweet here. There’s no pettiness or gossip. I can be myself. Somehow, it seems to contradict the harshness of the real world. For six years, I’ve been protective of this part of my writing life.

I’ve spoken a couple of times at WordCamp about the beauty of personal blogging. In my presentation, I try to convey to the audience that by taking on this little hobby, you discover that your life changes in incredible ways. The world expands a gazillionfold. You have a place to fully express yourself without judgment, without whispers. Blogging enables you to find your tribe, the people who “get” you. They cheer you on and encourage you in your endeavors, and hopefully, you do the same for them. No one’s looking at your zits or your sweatpants or the kind of car you drive. A trailer park resident in Omaha is on the same playing field as fashion model in a New York penthouse or a denizen of Bangladesh. It’s hearts that matter here, and minds. People who follow your blog are there by choice. They’re interested in what you have to say for the purest reasons–they’ve connected with you. They like you. I often prefer it to the “real world.”

As I flip through slides on the screen, I discuss anonymity–that it’s a personal choice, and one I prefer. When they ask me for my blog address, I typically don’t give them this one. Somehow, it feels as though I’d be handing my diary key to the world. With few exceptions, I’ve gotten to choose who I hand that key to. This is one of the kindest places I know. You are some of the kindest people I know. Miracles have occurred here because of you.

For a week I was a wreck, considering how all this might change. I was going to be on National Public Radio. My story was being broadcast worldwide. I’d submitted it using my pen name, because that’s what I use for all of my writing, but that pen name originated from this blog. For two days, I angsted. I squirmed. Few around here know me by that name. Amadeus was proud that my story had been accepted and told all of his friends. But how in the world would they know it was me, if I was introduced as MB McQueen? How would my family know? I wrote back to the producer and asked her to change it to my given name, then I angsted some more. I work hard. I write hard, damnit, and I do it under a name that’s come to feel more like me than the one my parents gave me. I wrote the producer again and asked her to change it back. “It’s the name my readers know,” I told her. I also added, “Yes, I’m a little nutty, but I promise, I’ll do just fine.”

Poor Amadeus. Poor, sweet, adorable, talented, amazing, cute-as-hell Amadeus. He has to live with me during these meltdowns. For a week, he’s listened to me gripe about my post-marriage weight gain. Watched me try on twenty outfits. Listened to a hundred curse words as I’ve attempted to do something with my awful hair.  He’s had to hear me fret about everything I’ve written above. But he’s always believed that I should just share everything I write with everyone, and he gets frustrated by my desire for privacy. He also thinks I’m pretty, so I can’t completely trust his judgment. We both know that there are locals who’ve lurked here for years, and not all of them do it because they want to wish us well. It sometimes makes opening my heart to the world a tough prospect.

So on Sunday, I’m sitting in this big conference room at the local library and I’m as nervous as a death row inmate eating his last meal. We do a run-through of the radio show, and my hands shake as I get up to read. The place is packed. The producer (an incredibly nice woman) reads us some information about the show. I kind of blank out after she says, “15 million listeners worldwide.”

The band played, some announcements were made and the show got underway. Writers went to the platform and began telling their wonderful tales, musicians played their songs. Suddenly, a calmness floated over me. As I sat there, I thought, “I have the most beautiful life.” There was a time when my chances of survival were pretty iffy. My world was small and crazy and sad. But here I was, about to read one of my stories to millions of people.

I thought about Amadeus, a man I love more than I ever thought I could love anyone. He was sitting behind me, somewhere in the crowd, proud as hell and cheering me on. Somewhere out there, my daughter was listening, and I could feel her near me too. I thought of the people who read my work and encourage me to keep writing. I felt happy.  I felt confident. And I went up there and did my thing. 

Yikes

This is an embarrassing admission, but since I’m kind of the queen of embarrassing admissions, I’ll just spill it. My custom design upgrade expires today, and I’m going to have to let it go for now. I’m not sure how this change will affect the appearance of my blog, but I’m pretty sure that it will look messy for a while, until I can make adjustments.

I’m telling you this only because it’s not going to be as easy on your eyes to read my posts (which is why I upgraded in the first place). I feel bad about it–you have such nice eyes. But–I don’t run ads on this blog, and I generate no income from it, save for the occasional very beautiful, kind, generous, big-hearted, sweet, much-appreciated PayPal donation. I simply can’t justify the expense right now, but I promise that as soon as I can, I’ll return you to your regularly scheduled font. This is not a hint or a plea for donations, by the way–it’s just the way things are at the moment, and it’s certainly not a huge dilemma. I wanted to explain though, and give you a heads-up.

So, thanks for understanding. I’m sending out big mushy hugs, and will be putting up a new, slightly uglier post soon.