Archive for October, 2008
The hardest part about writing a book—or creating anything really—is knowing that not everyone is going to like it. It is physically (psychologically / philosophically) impossible to please all of the people all of the time, or even most of the time. It’s a hard pill to swallow especially because you want to please people not necessarily for yourself (although that certainly comes into play) but also for them. You (er, me anyway) long to inspire readers the same way you’ve been inspired as a reader. You hope they’ll laugh, cry, and get a kick out of life the same way that you have.
Needless to say, you’re bound to come up short sometimes and disappoint the paying customers.
A few months ago I attended a Jennifer Weiner reading at the Philadelphia Free Library. One of the audience members asked if she read her reviews. Her response surprised me. She said no. She went on to say that she doesn’t want to get ahead of herself by reading the good ones, but she also doesn’t see fit to subject herself to the negativity of the bad ones. I thought that was incredibly mature. Now, Jennifer Weiner’s work is reviewed more often than mine will ever be, so she has to come up with a strategy to deal with a flood of opinions. Me? Well, I still get excited if someone mentions my books in a blog, so I do still read my reviews. But I promised myself I wouldn’t read the good ones unless I was willing to read the bad, too.
So I came across a bad review earlier this week. The title alone made my heart sink: Note to Self: This is Not What You’re Looking For. But I’ve been blessed with many positive blog reviews over the past few months, and I was due for a negative one. I started to read with my hands over my eyes and my fingers spread apart—as if I were watching a horror movie. I discovered that for a bad review, it’s actually not that bad. Reviewer Traci writes:
O’Shea’s writing is at once conversational, luscious, and funny, and the excerpts chosen for each chapter—both from her own diary and from those who’ve gone before her—are beautiful and expertly chosen. The reading itself was highly enjoyable. I should just be happy with that…bathe in O’Shea’s lovely words and leave it alone.
The bad part begins as she goes on to explain that she found my book lacking in the way of actual guidance on how to keep a journal. Of course it disappointed me that I disappointed her, but I quickly reminded myself that, again, I can’t please everyone AND I’ll go crazy if I try. Another one of Traci’s comments that is seemingly but not really all that bad is this:
O’Shea’s journal excerpts are so well-written and so nice to read, that I fear reading this book has done nothing but give me a whole bunch of fodder for undue comparison. Couldn’t she have found just one crappy entry to include for the rest of us?
That’s mighty flattering that she thinks all of my entries are top notch, but there are plenty that I included in the book that make me squeamish. Eeek! Did I really put that pathetic piece of writing in there? So it all depends on your perspective. As life in general depends on your perspective.
I won’t wax poetic about all of my bad reviews. I just found this one interesting and, ultimately, not so bad. Now I feel like I’m due for a really bad one. I’ll just hold my nose and dive in I suppose.
I’m trying to clean up my desktop (even computer screens can be messy!), and I just came across my X-tra folder. This folder is filled with journal entries that didn’t make the final cut of Note to Self. I went so far as to type them, so I might as well make use of them right? Here are three (more to come. . .)—one very long entry and two very short ones. They were pulled for a chapter called “People, Places, and Things,” but the chapter itself didn’t make the final cut either. The dates here reflect how they were originally written in my journal.
January 1999 (At the Age of 19)
My first memory of Miss Yvonne formed in the gather area of the wing. I was watching TV, and she sat down beside me. I can’t remember who began the conversation, but it was most likely her. We skimmed the surface a bit with questions about majors and original habitations. Then we moved to foreign lands, England specifically. Talking to Yvonne was like talking to myself. It was relaxing and she put me at ease. She’s wholesome and happy to listen. She was comfortable on the couch with her hair pulled back and a makeupless face. She didn’t strike me as especially beautiful but her look was undoubtedly unique. She had a clean complexion and her cinnamon color skin appeared exuberant and healthy.
Later that evening the wing was clamouring* with hairdryers, aerosol cans, and girls thinking aloud about what they’re going to wear. I absorbed it all. At this time I got my first glimpse of Yvonne the beautiful. She emerged from her room in a female frenzy. She was clad in sandblasted jeans that looked like a part of her body. She had a tiny waste that would have made Scarlett O’Hara cringe with ardent jealousy. She wore a cotton white shirt that was lined with black lace. It too appeared to be as much a part of her skin as the jeans did. It was low cut and crisscrossed in the front revealing the soft skin of two perfectly sized, beautifully rounded breasts. She told us to take note of the shirt. Then she returned to her room and reappeared seconds later in a different shirt. This one was equally as tight but sleeveless. The color was a simple black. This one revealed the shape of her breasts but not the cleavage. Both ensembles flattered her immensely, but I preferred the first one. Something about pure white next to her savvy olive skin was distinguished and classy. Then the question was asked: Which one do you prefer. I was the first to speak and express my satisfaction with the first shirt. Everyone else followed almost simultaneously with a bias toward the second shirt. When girls and clothing are concerned the majority always wins, so my humble proclamation was overruled. But she was attractive and vivacious nonetheless and I enjoyed watching her scurry around. I suppose delightful would be the most appropriate word to describe Miss Yvonne.
* I used to like spelling things the British way.
8 / 3 / 01 (At the age of 21)
I enjoy giving money to homeless people. Especially the musicians. The street saxophone players give New York its flavor.
February 10, 2004 (At the age of 24)
My relationship with time is changing. I can’t explain it. Time dizzies me in a way it never has before. I’m more aware of her. Aware of time my friend and time my enemy.
I have a copy of Sylvia Plath’s unabridged journals on my nightstand. I leave it there with the intention of reading an entry or two every night. More of often than not though I head straight to sleep. That’s actually a good thing for you; otherwise I’d be tempted to post every other entry of hers, and this blog would be all Sylvia all the time. I’m consistently taken aback by the way she describes the simplest things. Little acts. Passing thoughts. All-consuming emotions. I identify with her on many levels. Maybe too many levels—do I really want to identify with someone who committed suicide at the age of 30? Well, I am 29 with no sign of depression in sight (thankfully), so that sets my mind at ease a bit.
The entry below was written at the beginning of Sylvia’s second semester of her Freshman year at Smith College (she was 18). I’ve had days like this where I’m feeling jealous of just about everyone. Jealousy is one of those standard emotions that can get really out of hand—as anyone who’s had an overtly jealous lover knows. I pride myself on not being that jealous of a creature, but even I’m not immune to grinding my teeth occasionally when someone else has something I desperately want. The thing is, you can have everything and still want more. We’re humans and it’s our nature to never be completely satisfied, so it’s best to love what you have and send jealous tendencies to the wayside. I’ve found in the past few years that the best way to deal with jealousy is to admit you have it. It sounds strange but often times we live in denial about being jealous of someone. Denial in jealousy looks like this, “I don’t like her. I don’t know why I just don’t!” If you can’t put your finger on a reason for not liking someone then jealousy is usually the culprit. I find when I admit to myself that I want what someone else has (whatever that may be) then I can shrug my shoulders and follow-up with, “Okay but you don’t have it, so don’t worry about it.” And that’s that. Here Sylvia readily admits she’s feeling jealous, I wonder if the act allowed her to let some of it go . . .
I am jealous of those who think more deeply, who write better, who draw better, who ski better, who look better, who live better, who love better than I. I am sitting at my desk looking out at a bright antiseptic January day with an icy wind whipping the sky into a white-and-blue froth. I can see Hopkins House, and hairy black trees; I can see a girl bicycling along the gray road. I can see the sun light slanting diagonally across the desk, catching on the iridescent filaments of nylon in the stockings I hung over the curtain rod to dry. I think I am worthwhile just because I have optical nerves and can try to put down what they perceive. What a fool!
I had a wonderful radio interview last weekend with Kathleen Adams. She’s a pioneer in the world of journaling having written Journal to the Self and Scribing the Soul: Essays in Journal Therapy amongst others. It was an honor to speak with her (as I’ve used her books as a guide for my own), and we had a lot of fun during our hour together. The good news is you didn’t miss the interview! It will air on November 6th at 5 p.m. (EST) on Exceptional Wisdom Radio.
At the end of every interview Kathleen (Kay as she prefers) asks her interviewee for a “Pen Tip,” in other words a journal-writing technique. I told her about one that I’ve been toying with lately. The source of the technique is a little strange. It’s inspired by Facebook.
For those of you not familiar with Facebook there is a featured called “Status Update.” This is when you literally fill in the blank as to how you’re feeling—or how you want your friends to think you’re feeling because it becomes public once you type. It can be as profound or mundane as, well, your feelings. Some examples:
- Joe Schmoe is disappointed with the Dodgers
- Anne Clark just finished the bar exam!
- Jake Paine is falling in love
- Lisa DiCostanzo hates the new 90210
- Katie Tally thinks now is a good time
You get the idea. For no good reason one day I felt compelled to write a list of Facebook-style status updates in my journal.
- Samara O’Shea is dancing in the dark
- Samara O’Shea believes in fairies
- Samara O’Shea wonders why she is waiting by the phone
- Samara O’Shea is ready to spit nails
Of course in my journal they were much more personal and arguably strange. What surprised me was each time that I wrote one status update another would come to me—and another and another. I was literally letting myself in on how I was feeling. Third person writing does this. It invites you to step back and look into your life from the outside in rather than first-person writing which looks from the inside out. They are both beneficial, but it’s been a while since I’ve done any third person writing so I found this to be an especially helpful exercise.
I was invited to be the guest blogger for Fab 5 Friday at Rare Bird Finds . . .