This Is Not A Political Post

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My first political debate took place in the back of the school bus in First Grade. My friend and I had started arguing about the upcoming election. We were going at it pretty hard over Reagan v Carter. We were spitting out words and throwing around phrases we had heard but didn’t really understand. But we both sat firmly in our separate corners, glaring at each other and sizing each other up.

It got a little intense. Other kids joined in and took his side. I was alone. It became clear that I was the only person on team Carter. They were yelling at me about the Iran Hostage Crisis and the gas shortage. I felt myself shrinking into my seat. Mercifully the bus brakes squeaked and I was able to make my clumsy exit. I walked home with tears stinging my eyes.

The next day I got on the bus and sat next to my friend and we were back to making plans to catch crawdads in the creek that weekend. The harsh words and heat of yesterday’s debate was forgotten as we compared scuffs and scrapes from our most recent bike accidents (that were accidentally on purpose to get the scars that we wore like a badge of honor.)

I still care about politics. But these days I avoid the debates. College was the last time I felt free to engage in the healthy exchange of ideals and positions with anyone outside of my innermost circle.

I’m a liberal who’s lived in the South my whole life. In the Bible Belt.

I’ve had a lifetime of listening to listen to viewpoints I disagree with. And that’s completely fine. In fact, I think it’s been healthy for me. It’s made me realize that sometimes it’s better to just listen. Sometimes I can learn from someone who holds a radically different view from me. It’s shown me that political disagreements are just that. I can have many other more important things in common with someone and care about them even if we disagree politically.

But sometimes I’ve also had to hear things that grated my senses, things that were known falsehoods and sometimes things that  were tinged with racism or homophobia but passed off as political opinion. I usually held my tongue except for the few occasions where I trusted a healthy debate could be had. I sometimes seethed that others could just spout off when I had to stay quiet for the sake of not ruffling feathers, being of minority opinion and all.

I’ve marveled at how freely people would speak their mind, not concerned that they might be speaking to someone who disagreed- not inviting debate or discussion- just spouting off because it feels good to unleash a little political fervor every now and then. I’ve found myself a little jealous of the people I would encounter at school/work/in my neighborhood/on the playground/at the store who felt entitled to go off on a political rant without any concern.

Such is the privilege of living some place where your politics are the widely held ideology. The privilege of majority opinion.

I’ve become an expert at changing the subject. Or smiling politely. Or redirecting a red faced diatribe. Or just calmly walking away because I don’t need to listen to anyone’s one-sided viewpoint when they only wanted an audience, not a discussion.

So when I started this blog three years ago, I vowed to never write about politics. I knew it would only bring drama and that is not what I wanted.

I write about the things that matterto me. My first post was a response to a blogger who slut shamed her son’s social media girl friends. My second post was about a 7 year old girl who got kicked out of her school because she had dreadlocks. And I wrote about grief and life and a random assortment of things. Not political, but sometimes still controversial. And sometimes I get a fierce backlash. Hateful comments. Private messages saying vile things. I have learned to ignore them. I’ve had to delete violent comments attacking me or other readers on my blog. My skin has developed a tough shell.

Writing about the things I care about has caused plenty of drama, even when politics aren’t involved.

I’ve always said that writing about social justice or inequality isn’t political. At least it shouldn’t be. These issues definitely seep into politics sometimes, especially when racism or homophobia or sexism motivates legislation.

But this year, this election, is different. I’m no stranger to my “team” not winning.

This isn’t about liberal vs conservative.

This isn’t Reagan vs Carter.

This isn’t politics as usual.

This is about racism and homophobia and fascism. We are faced for the first time in our political history with someone who threatens everything our country stands for. There is an enormous swell of people, conservative and liberal, politicians and pundits, academics, historians, economists, psychiatrists… who are all ringing the alarm bells.

People who have never come together politically are saying This man is dangerous.

Telling us that this is repeating, eerily repeating, the things said and done in Germany while Hitler was climbing to power. This is not exaggeration. This is not people just offering political opinions. These are people from all walks and all persuasions trying to warn the rest of us that history, the absolute worst of our world’s history, is repeating itself right here, right now, in the United States.

So, yes. I will write about politics this time. Because this time it IS about racism and homophobia and civil liberties and the very life we all know. And because I am still intent on keeping this blog politics free,  I will be publishing political posts on other sites.

This week, I am at the Good Men Project, where I will be appearing weekly as a columnist.  This one is a dating advice piece, having a little bit of fun with a serious issue. More specifically, why you should not date Donald Trump.

I hope you go over there and read it. I hope you like it. If you don’t, that is fine. I am comfortable with people disagreeing with me. I’m kind of used to it. And I don’t mind if you want to have a debate either. As long as tomorrow, when I get on the bus, you and I are still cool.

https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/4-ways-to-know-if-hes-the-one-presidential-edition-kelly-jrmk/

 

When Someone Is Hurting You Don’t Throw More Punches

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I have not lost a child, but I know grief.

I know what it’s like to have a community come together to offer support and comfort and to celebrate a life taken too soon. I know that this comfort can be the thing that holds you up and keeps you from falling apart when you’re hurting.

We could use a little more community these days. We could make an effort to judge less and love more. We are more connected than ever. Some use those connections to support and build others up. Yet others use the access to cast about blame and condemnation on broken hearts.

If you fall into the category of blame and shame, if you find yourself reacting to a tragedy with judgement instead of compassion, please listen to my story…

I have not lost a child, but I know grief.

My brother’s 16th birthday was followed by a cancer diagnosis. A few months after his 18th birthday he lost his battle with cancer.

I know what it’s like to watch your parents say goodbye to their son for the very last time. To hear pain in their voice so palpable you could reach out and touch it. I know what it’s like to feel sadness turn into agony and take over your whole body and make you feel weak and broken down. I know what it’s like to look through eyes clouded with tears and see your parents letting him go. Watching as they have a part of them ripped away forever. I know what it’s like to feel unspeakable pain in your heart and know that it doesn’t even come close to the pain they are feeling.

I know what the aftermath of losing a child looks like. I know the shock that descends upon you. Making your movements slow and heavy, shutting down a part of your heart. And I know that that numbness is only a thin veil. That at any moment a fissure could slowly creep across that veil until there’s an opening big enough for the pain to come rushing out of you. And I know that you hold tightly to that numbness as long as you can, because you know it’s only temporary. You know you could crack at any moment. At any place.

I know the thoughts that go through a parent’s mind after losing their child. The questions they ask themselves. The what ifs, the hows, the blame they will heap upon themselves every day. Self immolation of blame and shame. I know the rationalizing, the thoughts of wanting to welcome their own death. Of not having to walk one more minute on this earth without their child. The warped reasoning that tells them their other family members will be fine without them. They’ll understand. They still have each other.

I know what it’s like to call your mother from your desk at work, every day at the same time. To make sure she made it through another torturous night of nightmares and flashbacks and anguish. To force her to meet you for lunch so that you could try to distract her from the suffocating pain she feels every second of the day.

I know what it’s like when she doesn’t answer the phone and you panic. And you call again. And again. And you call your sister and your Stepfather to see if they have heard from her. And maybe you leave work to go to her house and knock on the door and the relief that you feel when she answers the door in her bathrobe. And you want to curl up against her soft robe like you did when you were little because you’re scared too. And you’re hurting too. And you know that this time your parents need you more than you need them.

I know of the incredible amount of effort it takes to get out of bed every morning after you lost a child. The struggle to find the will to keep going. The struggle that never really goes away. Because even though years have passed and you’ve found ways to stay busy and even ways to find joy, there are days where you are right back where you were that first year. And you find yourself not wanting to get out of bed. You start having the nightmares and the flashbacks again. You start blaming yourself, again. You replay every doctor’s visit and every decision made and wonder what if… I know that this carousel of grief and nightmares and pain will be spinning for the rest of my parent’s lives. That it will slowly ebb up and down for years to come.

And that some days the pain is just as fresh as it was the day we found out it was cancer…

The day they told us it was Stage Four…

The day they told us their were no other treatment options…

The day we had to call Hospice…

The day we had to say goodbye even though we couldn’t imagine ever saying goodbye…

This is just what I know of losing a child, what my parents have experienced. There are many reasons they are still here 16 years later. Still functioning and thriving. They have me and my sister and six grandchildren. They fought through so much of their pain for us.

But it’s also because of my brother. He was very clear about his wishes, in the days and months before his death. There were quiet moments, in the middle of the night at the hospital, when he would tell me and my sister to take care of my parents. To make sure they would be ok. I would nod, a huge lump in my throat because I didn’t want to believe he’d ever be gone.

There was the time that he told my mom, You and Dad have to stay together. You have to take care of each other. He knew. At the tender age of 18, he knew what was coming and how hard life would be for my parents after he was gone. He knew that they needed each other and that so many parents don’t stay together after losing a child.

He knew that it would take all of us to get through it.

He knew that none of us would get through it alone.

At the age of 18, with tumors eating into his bones, causing unspeakable pain, he was thinking of us and looking out for us. He was a beautiful soul who loved even as he was staring death in the face. His words and wishes are the thing that kept my parents going. He’s the reason they are thriving today.

If we could all find a little of that love, a little of that giving and selflessness… if we could all do just a tiny bit of what my brother did and look out for others. If we could think about what they are going through… maybe we could help instead of hurt. If we could all follow his reasoning… that none of us can get through it alone. That we all need each other… maybe we will build the community I think we all really want.

If we could all look past our own pain and fears for just a moment, maybe we would help each other instead of throwing hurt on top of scorching pain.

I promise that you will feel better if you reach out in love to those are hurting. That your heart will be nourished every time you turn to someone with compassion instead of judgement. I promise you that these parents, and every parent who’s lost a child, is beating themselves up in ways you can’t even imagine. What they need is someone to step in and stop the beating. Not throw more punches.

I promise that feeling love and compassion towards others feels a lot better than feeling anger and judgement. You will be happier for it. You will be doing good instead of spreading hate. Let’s try love… just try it on for a little while and see how it feels.

One day, you may find yourself in pain and needing a loving hand. And you will be glad that you extended yours when someone else desperately needed it.

I promise you that love wins, if you let it. Let’s build a community, not burn down the village.

It’s Time To Fight Hate. It’s Time To Get Loud.

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raised fist patterned with the rainbow flag, symbolizing the fight for gay rights

“Darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable,

And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear”

Closer To Fine, The Indigo Girls

I believe that love always wins, that love will always defeat hate. This week that belief has been shaken.

Last Sunday, hate opened fire on innocent souls in their sanctuary. A gay night club was attacked. Hate drove murder into a place where love reigns.

Our nation is mourning. We are asking how this could happen. Why this would happen. We are trying to believe that love trumps hate. We are clinging to the feel good stories of heroes and community support. We are left wondering what we can do. Wanting to extend our love, to lift up the victims and the community, but feeling helpless.

Because our love is not enough. Yes, love can win. I still believe this. But love alone is not enough, not now. Not after hate came storming in on a Sunday morning.

So, it is with love that I say the following:

We need to fight.

We need to fight the hate that is becoming all too familiar in our country. Love won’t win if the loving people curl up on their couches and stay quiet. Not if we wrap our arms around each other but don’t raise our fist in the air in protest.

Now is the time to get loud. To get our hands dirty. To do some serious soul searching. To dig in and refuse to allow hate one more inch.

It means things are going to get uncomfortable. It means challenging beliefs and social norms. Norms that have been accepted in our country for too long.

The norms that say that being gay is a sin.

The norms that say that being gay is “unnatural.”

The norms that say that LGBT people are “freaks.”

“Mentally ill.” “Sick.” “Deranged.” “Deviants.”

Norms that say gay people shouldn’t get married.

Norms that give cover to parents who disown their children because they are gay.

Norms that say it’s ok for a clerk to refuse to grant a marriage license in the name of religious freedom. As if steadfast beliefs could actually be shaken by doing one’s job. Norms that allow good people to stand behind the clerk and support her bigotry.

Norms that have politicians saying that gay people adopting would be a social experiment.

Norms that have large religious organizations condemning a population of people.

Norms that have evangelists saying that hurricanes and natural disasters and even murder is the price to pay for homosexuality. Norms that allow these things to be spoken without widespread condemnation. Without their followers leaving their flock en masse.

Norms that repeat “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” A phrase used as a band aid for bigotry. Because bigotry is what it is when people themselves are classified as sins.

Think about that. A person is a sin. 

That is hate. That is demonizing a whole population.

Apparently these things are ok to say.  To say it as a “belief” makes it ok. Hate cloaked in ideology. Hate under the veil of spirituality.

But make no mistake, it’s hate.

I have heard these words sitting in a church pew. I have heard them shouted on the playground. I have heard them in casual conversation with adults. My kids have come home relaying stories of kids repeating these hateful words. I have read them in the comments section on my own blog post.

Words matter. Words spoken in houses of worship of many faiths matter. These words may not be said from a place of hate, but once spoken they become permission to condemn. To judge. To look down upon.

To hate.

And for some people? To kill.

Hate is swelling as we speak. Hate is running amok out of fear, fear of progress and fear of change. We see more hate when rights are being given to people who have been oppressed. As we progress and we give more rights to LGBT, as most of us welcome and love our brothers and sisters regardless of who they are, without any concern for who they love, as we move forward and make progress on being a better, more inclusive society… we see more hate.

Hate doesn’t like progress.Hate will always try to stop it. Hate will try to keep things stagnant. To regress. To make America great again. Progress is the antidote to hate, so hate will call in the reinforcements and do everything it can to stop forward motion.

Hate needs fuel. It needs people to buy into it. It needs people to repeat tired and senseless words of oppression and judgement. Words repeated so often over the years. Repetition. Routine. Tradition. Hate that survives in our modern day out of tradition. Is that a reason to allow hate to continue? Is tradition so important that we won’t stand up to words that speak hate? Hate infiltrates the routine. It repeats softly, sings it’s hateful words with a sweet melody. Repeat after me… 

I’m sick of hate. I’m tired of seeing it when I read the news, tired of hearing it from people who aim to be our leaders. Tired of hearing it from people who think they have the right to pass judgement. I’m tired of hearing kids spout off the hate they are hearing in their homes. The DNA of hate being embedded in their young bones. I’m tired of reading it when I write about LGBT rights.

I’m just tired.

But I refuse to give in to hate. I refuse to concede. I will call it out every time I see it or hear it. I will defy the sick social norms we’ve all become accustomed to.

Whether the hate comes from a twisting of an ancient faith, whether it comes from self loathing, whether it comes from fear of change, whether it comes from ignorance, I will not let hate go unchallenged.

Hate under the guise of beliefs has a long history. It was hate when interracial marriages were considered against “natural law.” It was hate that allowed Nazi Germany to commit genocide. It is hate that radical Islamic extremists employ to stone gay people to death. It is hate when Vladimir Putin jails people for being gay. It is hate when the influential American Family Association advocates criminalizing LGBT, advocates abducting the children of gay couples, among other despicable things. And it is hate when fundamentalist Christianity decries homosexuality as a sin.

It’s time to challenge some antiquated, misguided, despicable norms.

It means challenging people you may respect. It means calling them out. Saying “No more.” It means not tolerating hate speech.

Love sometimes means fighting. Hate doesn’t play fair. We can’t hug our way to a better place. The Civil Rights Movement didn’t make groundbreaking progress by disassociating and only looking at the positive. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought hate and injustice. He challenged notions that were being defended as faith. He advocated for love and peace while fighting oppression. He did it eloquently and fervently and loudly.

You can fight in the name of love. Change doesn’t happen with a whisper.

There’s much work to do, my friends. It’s time to challenge norms, change mindsets, change the words that are acceptable to say. It’s time to change what we accept. We have people who have been attacked. They have been attacked with hateful policies, with ignorant laws, with slurs and bullying.  And now they have been attacked in cold blood.

It’s time to shine a hot, glaring light on darkness and hate. It’s time to stop it’s angry feeding, to cut off it’s food supply.

Carry love in your heart while you shut down the hate you see and hear. Let love be the reason you decide No more. No more hate under the guise of faith. No more co-opting something we hold sacred to further an agenda. No more tolerating bigotry, no matter where it comes from. No one is above reproach in this battle.

No more staying quiet.

Let’s get loud.

 

Your Silence Is Deafening: An Open Letter To the Target Boycotters

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I hear you.

You’re angry.

I get it, I’m angry too.

I’m not talking to the people who are angry at Target because their Pro Transgender bathroom policy flies in the face of their cherry picked moral compass. I’m not under any obligation  to respect their beliefs. 

I’m talking to you… the people who have no issue with sharing a bathroom with LGBT people. I’m talking to those of you who are speaking out about this bathroom policy, expressing concern over the women and children who you fear will be in danger because of this policy.

You’re reasonable people. You aren’t expressing hate or bigotry. You just worry. You worry about your kids, your wives, your sisters. I worry too.

I probably worry too much. I have always accompanied my younger kids to the bathroom in public places. When my son was too old to go into the women’s room, I would stand right outside the Men’s room door. If he was taking a while I would yell through the door, asking if he was ok. So, yes, I’m that mom.

I worry. I have always been a little leery of public restrooms.

But I’m not boycotting Target and I’m no more worried about my kids’ safety than I was before.

Even though I’m a worrier, I read and I research. Facts help to calm my fears. Facts that show that in states with pro-Transgender bathroom policies, there has been no increase in assaults. Research that leads me to find an article by a Sexual Assault Victim’s Advocacy Group that is stating very clearly that pro-Trans bathroom policies do not increase the danger of sexual assault for anyone. They in fact minimize it for LGBT people.

What I see is a lot of fear mongering going around. Stories of men sneaking into the ladies room, emboldened by these laws. Stories that have proven to be false.  And some that are orchestrated to incite more fear.

So, I’m going to try to say the rest of this gently because to be honest, it’s all got me worked up and more than a little angry. It’s got a question bouncing around my head for the last few days… one that makes me angrier every time I think it…

Where have you been?

You say you are concerned for women and children. That the thought of sexual assault in a Target bathroom is so concerning that you may boycott, that you are forgoing your usual pleasant FaceBook anecdotes and memes to shout about the new policy…

Where the hell have you been?

You, the protectors of women and children. Where have you been when we’ve been writing and talking about rape?  When some of us have been shouting about these things for years, begging for people to listen, to care. To see the pain and destruction of these things that plague our society.

When we’ve been the ones to make you feel uncomfortable because we are invading your mindless FaceBooking and Tweeting with rants about injustice and startling statistics of rape that should have any sane person’s hair standing on end?

Where were your angry voices when a Presidential candidate suggested that women who don’t want to be raped shouldn’t go to parties?

When actual real life Congressmen claimed that rape victims can’t get pregnant because their body “will shut that down.”

When a court rules that oral sex is not rape if the victim is unconscious from drinking?

When a state legislator in Tennessee is ordered by the TN Attorney General to stay away from women at work because he is a danger to them?

Where were your petitions? Where was your concern? WHY AREN’T YOU SHOUTING ABOUT THESE THINGS???

Where were you when yet another woman was killed by her abusive husband? When a mother was beaten repeatedly. When the “system” that is supposed to protect her allows her violent husband to keep his gun , which he then uses to kill her and her children? Where has your concern been for the 3 women murdered every day by their intimate partner?

Where were you when your favorite college or professional sports hero was accused of rape? Or caught on video beating his wife? Are you still a fan of some of these guys? Do you still cheer them on? Where was the moral outrage to a society that looks past it because he can throw a ball and win games?

Where were you when R.Kelly was allowed to perform, put out another album, collaborate with famous pop singers? Even though he was accused of raping minors and committing cruel acts and even video taped himself doing these horrific and illegal things? Did you stand up and protest then? Did the account of a 15 year old girl’s “disembodied stare” at the video camera as he assaulted her not make you angry?

Where was your angry voice when a rapist was sentenced to 45 days for raping a 14 year old girl?

Where were you when girls were slut shamed after coming forward about their rape?

Where is your loud voice standing up for the homeless women and children? When the U.S. has largest number of homeless women and children among industrialized nations? Is the Target bathroom more of a concern than a mother and her children sleeping in their cars? Or on the street? Or bouncing around homeless shelters?

Where was your self righteous indignation when a child was killed at a park playing with a toy gun? When the police officer who shot him within seconds of arriving on the scene was let off without being charged?

Where were you when a child was shot because his radio was too loud?

Where were you when a child was killed after walking home from buying Skittles? When his murderer was acquitted and went on to make assault two different girlfriends and threaten them with his gun. That he’s still allowed to own.

Where were you when these children were killed? Because I didn’t hear any of you then. I didn’t hear a whole lot of yelling and hand wringing for these children who were mowed down by white male outrage and misguided fear.

When we speak or write or Tweet about everyday sexism and rape culture -that you damn well better believe gives rise to rape and assault- you shrugged. Or rolled your eyes. Or looked away. Or clicked “Unfollow.” Did we make you uncomfortable? All of our ranting and raving about the insidious nature of a society that views women (and hell, children too) as commodities, did it make you feel icky?

You see, I care about women and children (and boys and men) outside of the Target bathrooms. I care about them at home, at school, on the bus, at work, on the street. I care about them regardless of how they’re dressed, regardless of their economic class, no matter their sexual orientation. I care about them when they are being victimized and the world just looks on in apathy.

Those predators you’re so worried will sneak into the Target bathroom? They’re all around you.

They are your Priest, your kid’s coach, your neighbor, your uncle, your youth group leader, your United States Speaker of the House.

They are a savvy bunch, these sick bastards. They flock to places where they can gain your trust. They go to great pains to appear normal and friendly. They don’t sport a beard and a dress and waltz into the bathroom to attack your women and children.

And I can’t help but question concern that only seem to flare up when it’s anti-something. When it’s an “alternative lifestyle.” I question the motivation. I wonder, where the hell have your morals been? Where was your moral outrage when kids were gunned down and college girls were sexually assaulted and women serving in the military were being raped? When women and children were murdered by angry husbands? When restraining orders were granted but in reality offered no protection. When women were threatened online with violence. With rape. With comments like “I know where you live and I will find you and kill you.” Comments that are generated because the woman had the audacity to speak up or write or actually just do her job.

Because I haven’t heard from you about these things. I haven’t heard of petitions or moral outrage from the masses on these things. I haven’t heard much from you at all.

Until now, your silence has been deafening.

So excuse me if I find your newfound activism a little disingenuous. Excuse me if I am rolling my eyes over the furor over using a public restroom. Excuse me if I’m a little worked up over the idea that the “problem” is a Target policy but not the fact that women and children have to be careful and on guard because of a culture that has encouraged male entitlement and subversive sexism and blatant sexualization.

The “problem” you’re screaming about is not the problem. The problem is your apathy all these years to the reality that you refuse to see or acknowledge. It’s a lot easier to believe in the boogey man in the Target bathroom than the real threat that is woven into the very fabric of your Made In the USA security blanket.

Excuse me if I’m a little put off by a flurry of chicken scratched signatures on a fear mongering petition. Excuse me if I think your priorities seem a little slippery.

Because until now? Your silence has been deafening.

I’m An Imposter.

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Imposter Typewriter

“When you wake, levitate

Ideas pouring out.

Then you set out to make 

something great,

But nothing comes out.

Are you quick on your feet?

It’s time to dig deep.”

This is it. The part I hate. The part where the words won’t come.

The part where the thoughts keep poking me, hot daggers of biting accusations.

You’re a fake. You don’t belong here.

Your words. Recycled regurgitated garbage. Repurposed and rearranged to fool everyone. To fool yourself.

I tilt my shoulders, arching away from their pointy barbs.

The words. They’re there. I can feel them twirling around in my mind, taunting me. Sing-songy tunes luring me to reach out for them. And when I do they dart away in cruel laughter. Imposter they squeal in sinister delight.

There is darkness inside of me. There is ugliness. It’s curled up right next to laughter and joy. Arms and legs wrapped around each other in a corrupt entanglement.

There is angst and fear and fire and passion and turmoil and sweat and blood. Coiled in an incestous tryst. There are screams of rage and tears that have plunged the depths.

And it all wants release.

But self doubt reaches out. It’s long, bony fingers crawl through my conscious. Slowly making it’s way, blithely flicking away any thoughts of creativity. Finding every seed of inspiration and pressing it’s dark fingertip down until there’s nothing left but pulp.

“Guardians at the gate let you in, 

into their mansion,

I’m the acidhead homeless man

Who demands 

an explanation.

Can you be wise if you never leave the room?”

The same question haunts me over and over.

Who the hell am I? To think my words matter? To think they are worth putting to paper?

This is not romanticization of the tortured artist.

This is not a decadent serving of indulgent wallowing.

This is not splashing around in artistic misery.

Self doubt is not unique to writers and artists.

We are not alone in this suffering.

We just talk and write about it more than others.

Soliloquies have been penned about the war of art. Hemingway and Anais Nin spoke of bleeding on the paper. We write about our limitations and doubts and fears. We all sing the slow-hand blues of writer’s block. We put our thoughts and words and vulnerabilities out there for the world to gawk at. It’s what we do.

It’s not just writers. Everyone suffers from the same thing. Everyone has moments of feeling like a fake. Of doubting their expertise or ability. Most just do it quietly. Alone in their bed at night. Or in the cozy confines of their therapist’s office. Or they whisper it to their lover when they need reassurance.

Does everyone feel it?

Do surgeons wrestle with self doubt over their craft? Do they spend sleepless nights worried that their skilled hands might falter?

Do lawyers question every word and twist themselves into knots? Do they worry that they could have argued more convincingly?

Do electricians walk away from wiring a house and question whether the house will go up in acrid flames?

Isn’t it just part of the human condition? To doubt ourselves and our talents or skills?

Could it be that self doubt serves a purpose? That it pushes us to try harder? That without that push, without the nagging questions, we may never hone our skills or get better at whatever it is that we do?

Maybe the whole point of the cruel exercise to fight the demons in your head.

Could it be that self doubt is the drill instructor screaming in our ear, trying to break us down. Waiting until that determined voice in our head responds: Fuck you. You say I can’t do this? Just watch me.

Could it be that the lack of self doubt is the thing we should be concerned with? The surgeon who thinks he’s god? The leader who never questions his decisions? The electrician who shrugs apathetically when the breaker trips? Wouldn’t we rather have more  introspection and thoughtfulness than ego and hubris?

The absence of doubt does not give birth to greatness. It creates dictators and megalomaniacs and careless, uncaring practitioners. It is not a sign of confidence or aptitude. Doubt is the thing that makes you better. The thing that makes you change, grow, evolve. There is an unseemly rigidness in those who don’t ever question themselves.

What if we embrace it? What if we give it a nod the next times it’s bony fingers curl up and beckon to us? We see you. Thanks for showing up.

What if we recognized that when those feelings creep in, that it’s not a bad thing. That it’s our minds way of giving us a little kick in the ass?

Maybe today’s the day we need a little push. The day we need to wake up from our reverie and pay a little more attention to what it is we do.

As long as we don’t give in to it.

As long as that doubt doesn’t cripple us. Stymie our forward motion. Let doubt serve a purpose. Let doubt be the catalyst for making us practice, toil and sweat more.

Let doubt make you better at whatever it is that you do. Welcome it and use it. If you harness it, the doubt will be fleeting. It will serve it’s purpose and then crawl back in it’s hole.

It won’t always be easy. It can be insidious. It can infect your progress and make you want to quit. It can break you down.

That’s when you remind yourself why you’re here, doing what it is you do.

Remind yourself that for every day of stymied creativity, there are days of ideas flowing and words tumbling out effortlessly.

That for each day that your curse your need and desire to do whatever it is you feel compelled to do, that there are days that you revel in it. That it brings you satisfaction or joy or gratification.

I know that I’ll still have moments, days, where I feel the building frustration. Where my words won’t come and I’ll question why I even try. I’ll feel like quitting and erasing every word I’ve ever written.

You’re a fake. You don’t belong here.

I’ll push through it. I’ll try to remember why I’m here. Not for any grandiose notions of greatness. I’m not here thinking that my words will set the world on fire. Those kinds of thoughts belong to the tyrants and the narcissists.

I just know that I love words. I just know that it’s something I feel compelled to do.

I just know I’m incomplete if I don’t write.

This is simply my thoughts, spilling out of my head. Maybe they don’t really matter.

Maybe that’s ok.

Maybe I’m not an imposter.

I Don’t Need To Respect Your Beliefs

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Right now everyone’s talking about beliefs. Beliefs that prompted the infamous Religious Freedom Act in Indiana last year, and last week’s Georgia’s Religious Freedom Bill and most recently North Carolina’s wide reaching and shocking HB 2, along with other similar initiatives that are peppering the country. Laws and bills aimed at limiting or taking away rights.

It’s supposedly all about beliefs. A conversation that has echoes of the not too distant past. Beliefs that are being recycled but not repurposed. A hand me down with historical context.

Beliefs are being held up and declared all while clutched in sweaty, angry fists. Beliefs are being trotted out like a prize pig at a State Fair.

So much talk of beliefs. And we all know that talk is the cheapest currency.

All of this talk is treading on some sacred ground. Beliefs (especially the religious kind) are for most of us a taboo subject. We don’t discuss them, we don’t engage in debate about them. Just try to bring it up on FaceBook and watch the insults fly and the defriending begin. No, we prefer to leave others to their beliefs and quietly go about living our lives guided by our own.

Most of us, that is.

Others? Well, they like to scream their beliefs in the faces of those who dare stand up to bigotry. Spittle forming in their taut mouth as they spout their reasons for the taking away of rights from others.

So what’s a respectful equality loving person to do when we see beliefs being molded into a vehicle for injustice and discrimination? What do we do when we see someone using their beliefs to leave people out, to treat them differently? When it’s affecting people’s rights to rent an apartment or a home? People’s rights to access to anything and everything that most of us take for granted. People’s rights to patronize a business? Sound familiar?

Do we sit quietly out of politeness and deference to said beliefs?

I have been struggling with this. I don’t want to step on anyone’s faith or beliefs. It’s not my way. But this conversation needs to happen and it doesn’t have to turn into debates over beliefs.

I don’t care about your beliefs.

I’m not here to trample your beliefs. I’m not here to comment on anyone’s beliefs.

I don’t feel like your beliefs are any of my business.

I don’t feel the need to say that I respect your beliefs.

It’s not my place to evaluate or determine whether your beliefs are worthy of respect.

Because I don’t care about your beliefs.

I care about your actions.

I care about how you treat the people you come in contact with every day.

I care about how you treat people you may not agree with.

Your beliefs? Who am I to judge them? They are for you to wrestle with and to determine.

If you are my neighbor, my friend, my boss, my congressman? I don’t care if you’re Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or Atheist. Your beliefs are not my business nor my concern.

Beliefs are something that may guide you to live life with integrity and compassion. Or beliefs can be something you can carry around in your back pocket and pull out at any moment to justify actions. The difference boils down to character.

I’m interested in the fairness and compassion and empathy you do or do not express to your brothers and sisters of all faiths, all sexes, all races, all sexual orientations.

If you have to justify your behavior with your beliefs? That I can’t respect. Your beliefs are inconsequential. Your actions are the mark of your character. Making excuses or justification is just a lazy way to explain bad behavior. To pat yourself on the back as you step on the backs of others. If that’s your standard operating procedure, then I don’t respect you.

If you think you are better than others because of your beliefs? Then I can’t respect you. If you judge the lifestyle of other good people just trying to make it in this harsh world? Then I can’t respect you. If you cloak your compassion in judgmental pity? Then I can’t respect you. If you only lend a helping hand to others under the condition that they have to listen to your beliefs and subscribe to them? Then I can’t respect you.

If you are using beliefs to justify inequality? Then maybe you should check your beliefs. Because this is an old song and most of us are tired of hearing the tune. There was a time when beliefs were used as justification for unequal and in-humane and degrading treatment of black people in our country. Looking back I think we can all agree that it was a perversion of the beliefs that were held up as testimony. I think we can all agree that the beliefs that were co-opted and intertwined with vitriol were being abused and used as a cover for fear and hate.

Using beliefs to take away rights? Using beliefs to make a group of people less than? That’s ideology cloaked in fear and hate’s clothing. And it has the faint smell of disingenuousness. Don’t hide behind the safe and untouchable veil of your beliefs. Own your actions. Don’t pass the buck or the blame on to something you claim you hold sacred.

Here’s a little of what I believe.

I believe that equality is equality is equality.

No prerequisites. No conditions. No parameters.

I believe that compassion and caring and empathy for people who are not like you is one of the most important elements of our character.

I believe that actions speak louder than beliefs.

Equality.

It’s really not that complicated.

I believe the loving people in this world far outnumber the fearful and hateful people.

I think most of us want to live peacefully and harmoniously with our brothers and sisters who are just trying to make it in this harsh world.

I do not buy into the politicization of beliefs. The co-opting and the twisting of ideals. The cult of fear and judgement.

If you look upon everyone who is different from you with contempt and fear and condemnation? Then you are going to be spending a lot more time in a dark place my friend. Because our world is becoming smaller. We are connected and exposed in ways never before possible. Thanks to our digital age, we hear from and see and meet people from all over.

Along with this connectedness comes lots of new. New ideas, new lifestyles, new perspectives, new experiences. There’s no turning back from the world we now inhabit, one that is becoming increasingly… one. So maybe now is a good time to open our minds and open our hearts. To accept all the differences that come with living amongst other people.

Maybe now is a good time to embrace the differences and learn to adapt to our changing world. Maybe now is a good time to operate with an open mind. To realize that your way may not always be the best way. That change is not always bad.

Maybe now is the time to stop using your beliefs as a shield against all that you fear. Maybe now is the time to realize that your beliefs belong to you. No one can take them from you. The lifestyle of others does not impact or change your beliefs. If someone else’s way of living affects your beliefs? Maybe now is the time to check the shaky ground upon which your beliefs are tenuously perched.

Maybe you will find that your beliefs shouldn’t cause you to mistreat or discriminate.

Maybe you will come to the conclusion that no good ever comes from taking away rights.

Maybe you’ll see that it’s not even about your beliefs.

It’s about your actions.

Maybe you’ll realize that it’s time to leave beliefs out of the equation.

Maybe we’ll all be better off for it.

 

** Author’s Note: This is a post I wrote last year in response to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law. I am re-posting it today given the recent legislative actions in Georgia and North Carolina. If you would like to make your voice heard, use the hashtag #WeAreNotThis on Twitter and Facebook (hashtags and social media have proven very effective in raising awareness and enacting change.) If you are still concerned about Transgender people using the same restroom as you, please read these articles and learn more about what the NC law entails and what it is to be transgender. 

http://www.upworthy.com/heres-what-itll-look-like-if-trans-people-arent-allowed-to-use-the-right-bathroom?c=ufb7

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/king-n-passes-anti-lgbt-bill-country-article-1.2576194?cid=bitly

How Music Saved My Writer Soul

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I think I must have always been a writer. I think it’s something you’re born with. Part of you that is lying in wait. Patiently, quietly, waiting. Eventually, it awakens, stretching it’s arms and looking around, bleary eyed… blinking in confusion before the realization settles in… I am home.

I was in the third grade. Her name was Ms. Abraham. She was the anti-teacher. She was a rebel in a school of proper, southern, cardigan-wearing teachers. She was statuesque in front of the green chalkboard. Gum popping between her red painted lips. She was loud. Brash. She would roll her eyes and tease us while still commanding our respect. I felt more at home in her classroom than in any other. Her unique brand of sarcasm and affection and high expectations were both exhilarating and comforting to my eight year old brain.

She introduced me to writing. Creative writing was a staple in her lesson plans. The rules were simple. Use correct spelling and grammar. Other than that? Write about whatever you want. We would cut pictures out of magazines and use them for inspiration for a story. The lack of rules was confusing at first. The freedom to do whatever we wanted was unsettling. It was perfect.

My writing soul was born in that classroom.

I didn’t keep extensive journals or write a novel on the rainy summer days of my youth. I spent my free time reading, listening to music and running around the neighborhood with my friends. But I was writing, constantly writing in my mind.

I would lay on the floor of my room and daydream for hours while I listened to my favorite albums. I would concoct stories inspired by the songs. I could spend an entire day like that. Lost in my own mind.

I would rest a dog eared book on my stomach after devouring it and replay words and phrases over in my mind. Marveling at the sequences that rolled off the page and became a part of my thoughts, seeds of future inspiration.

I would lay in bed at night, never able to fall asleep at a decent hour. I would stare at the streetlight that filtered through my metal blinds and replay events of the day, editing and re-phrasing conversations, scripting and narrating.

I had scribbled notes and half stories and partially filled notebooks. But most of my writing took place in my head. Permanence was not a concern. It was the exercise that I was seeking, not documentation.

In college I slid between majors looking for my place. I dabbled in Biology and Journalism before finally settling on an English Major. My desire to indulge in classes that involved reading and writing drowning ideas of practicality. I told myself I’d get a job writing after college. I pictured myself working in a busy magazine office, surrounded by people who loved words as much as I did.

What I found was that getting paid to write usually involves paltry freelance fees that wouldn’t support a broke post graduate.

My desire to write became a notion. A luxury that would have to be set aside while I paid the rent and student loan bills and tried to avoid eviction from my apartment.

But it was still there. I was still narrating in my mind. I was still daydreaming and imagining how I would “write” whatever was happening in my life. I would relish road trips. Hours to drive with nothing but music and the wind and my thoughts.

Then life started moving fast. There was no time to actually write. There was work and marriage and then children. I thought less and less about my dreams of writing and focused fully on raising my children. Instead of listening to music for hours, I consumed parenting books and studied learning techniques and tried to create a warm home for my family. I could have made time to write. But for the first time since third grade I had little desire.

That all changed a few years ago.

I was driving by myself, I had the windows down and the music turned up. My music was on shuffle when the song shifted. An abrupt shift in tempo had me reaching to skip the song, but I paused.

Slow streams of music filled the car, begging me to listen. I slipped into a warm bath of words and sounds. I was transported.

I was back in third grade, running through neighbors’ back yards. I was back in my bedroom laying on the floor with my headphones on listening to music. I was back in the woods lounging in a makeshift fort telling stories with my friends, making plans for mischief.

The lyrics broke through the veneer of mom and wife and carpool driver. I listened to poetry playing out in haunting melody, the words swirling through the air like blue smoke, the tendrils finding their way to me. I breathed in the words and felt my eyes burn. Tears started spilling over, trickling down my cheeks. I laughed as I wiped away the tears. I hit repeat and took the long way home, not ready to let the feeling go yet. The song… the words… they stirred me. They opened up a part of me that I had filed away for future use.

My writing soul had been gently nudged awake.

I needed to have words in my life again. I needed to write. I needed to take the voice that had been accompanying me all these years and put it on paper.

I started writing. I wrote chapters that I had been composing in my head for years. I started writing for an audience and terrified myself with the thoughts of eyes reading my words. I started fretting over cliches and phrases and obsessing over what to write about. I felt nauseous the first time I hit Publish.

I still do. I feel nerves and fear and extreme vulnerability every time I publish.

But I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep listening to music that inspires me. Music that is written with pain and passion and longing. Artists that turn phrases that have my head spinning in admiration and envy.

The more I write, the more I find myself returning to what always sustained me. I will lay on the floor after my evening workout with my headphones on, lost in a song. I’ll brush off the thoughts of dishes piled in the sink waiting for me. I’ll take the long way home to feel the wind on my face and absorb the music. I’ll brush off my to do list for a few more moments of nourishment. I sit at my laptop and shuffle through my music until a song plays that has me feeling… something.

Music has always been my compass. It’s guided me through pain, through heartbreak, through grief. It’s been the salve for open wounds and the outlet for seething anger. It’s been the inspiration I was seeking.

It woke me from a long sleep. It reminded me of who I am. Of where I belong.

I am home.

 

 

 

 

Sex, Art & Rock and Roll

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Have you ever been excited about something, only to be let down? You feel energy firing up your senses and you give yourself over to the moment. But then the moment feels… dull. Boring. Lackluster. You’re left wanting. It can be a detached lover or a singer on the stage just going through the motions. When complacency resides where passion should burn, the disappointment floods you.

But… when there’s passion? When a singer looses his mind on stage? When art is inspiring? When someone’s words touch your soul? Those are the things we live for. That is what drives us to do great things, to connect with others. Beyond merely surviving in this world, passion is what gives us life.

Today, I’m on Elephant Journal writing about Sex, Art and Rock and Roll. I would love it if you would join me there:

Sex, Art & Rock and Roll: How Passion Fuels our Inner-Fire.

The Day I Prayed For My Brother To Have Cancer

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I don’t know how long I sat there. My hands were clasped in sweaty-palmed desperation. My eyes were shut and my jaw clenched. The office bustled around me and phones rang. I ignored the morning commotion of the sales office and concentrated. I was praying. Bargaining, really. I was cutting deals left and right with God.

I was praying so hard I was sweating. I was praying with my whole body, physically willing God to listen to me. I laid everything I had in me on the table.

I was praying for my brother to have cancer. To have a specific type of cancer. We already knew that he was sick. We already knew that is was malignant and that it had spread. We had been told that it was cancer. We just didn’t know what type. We were given two probabilities. One awful, the other devastating. I was praying for my brother to have the awful kind of cancer. The one that had a slightly better chance of survival.

And even though every muscle in my body was tense with fear, I had to resist the urge to laugh. The absurdity of my feverish praying. Please God, please. Let my brother have Rhabdomyosarcoma. Please. We will fight it and we will make something good come out of it. Just please, if you can’t make this all go away, please let him have this kind of cancer. 

I don’t know how long I sat in my cubicle going round for round in the deal making. At some point, I unclenched my hands and loosened the lock in my jaw. It was time to leave for the hospital. I took a moment to assess. I decided I felt good. Optimistic. Strong. I was sure in that moment that we were not going to hear fantastic news, but it would be something we could deal with. I relied on this gut instinct to get me out of my chair and out the door.

I stood up and steadied my shaking legs. I had to pull myself together. I ignored the stilted air escaping from my lungs, and walked to my car.

Driving to the hospital I almost felt a sense of peace. It’s going to be ok. With deliberate casualness, I made my way through the sterile halls to my brother’s room. I must have been late, or the doctor was early, but when I opened the door the heaviness in the air spilled out the doorway and almost took my breath away. I took in the scene. Everyone was expressionless, listening to the doctor speak. I looked over at my brother, leaning against the propped up pillows in the bed. When I saw him I went weak with fear. His face said everything and nothing. Stone faced, eyes dark. He didn’t move. He stared at the wall and I felt terror at what he might be seeing. I felt any bit of hope drown in the heaviness of his empty gaze. I swallowed hard and turned my attention back to the doctor as he finished his sentence…

“We have seen some cases of survival.”

Some. Some cases of survival. What does that mean? But I knew what it meant. He had deliberately and carefully emphasized the word “some.” He was going to great pains to not give us false hope. I heard a blur of words as my head started spinning, “Stage four.” “Aggressive treatment.” My brother didn’t have the awful kind of Cancer. He had the devastating kind.

The nightmare we’d all been denying was playing out.

I wanted to scream and rip out the blinds and throw stuff. I wanted to run out of the room and escape. I wanted to run to the doctor and shake him and beg him to make it go away, to take back the words he’d just said. I wanted to run to my brother’s bed and hold him. To tell him that it would be ok. That it was all a mistake. Please don’t be scared. Please don’t give up. Please tell me you’ll fight this and win. I didn’t do any of that. I couldn’t move. He was my baby brother, the annoying kid that teased me and played pranks on me. The brother that I was supposed to protect and look out for. And I felt like I was letting him down, just standing there doing nothing. I didn’t know what to do, how to make this better. I was lost. Completely, fully lost.

We all were trying to process what we’d just heard. We were all doing our best to keep it together and be strong. My brother didn’t move. Didn’t acknowledge that he’d heard a thing. He just stared at the blank wall with a dullness I had never seen in his eyes. The look on his face broke me.

I think I may have let out a whimper. I ran out of the room, disgusted with myself even as I was doing it. Fleeing. Avoiding. I exploded into violent sobs on the floor.  My mind was racing while my body was revolting to the news. I tried to imagine what was going through his mind. Was he thinking about dying? Was he scared? Was he pissed? He just stared. I couldn’t stop seeing his face.

I worried that they could hear me, but I couldn’t control any of it. I was helpless. My body was reacting physically and bearing witness to my lack of control. I couldn’t control the manic sobs any more than I could control my brother’s cancer. It was the first time in my life I had no idea how to proceed. I had never not known what to do next. I had never not been able to find some sliver of hope. I had nothing. I was empty.

My brother began chemo and radiation immediately. Our lives became littered with new language. Words we’d had the luxury of never learning the meaning of before. We learned about the limited options of being diagnosed with a rare pediatric cancer. We learned about the lack of treatments tailored to my brother’s disease. We learned that Oncologists had to get creative when it came to treating diseases like Ewing’s Sarcoma. Our roles changed. My mom had to become a nurse to her 16 year old son. My sister and I took to researching and reading and digging to find any treatment or obscure therapy that could help. We all fought.

My brother fought. He fought with an easy grace. The stone face with the dark eyes I saw in the hospital that day- they were replaced with the laughter and mischief that always played on his features. He joked his way through treatments, he kept us all laughing and strong. He did stuff that teenage boys are supposed to do- hang out with their friends, cut up and get into trouble. I don’t have time for cancer he would say as he would head out the door and brush off my mom’s concerns about him over-doing it. He gave us all a little hope while he did the heavy lifting. We occasionally even felt joy that wasn’t laced with fear.

Eventually, the cancer had it’s way. Cancer took his life from us a few months after he turned 18. The shock of loosing him wasn’t dulled by knowing it would happen. I still have trouble comprehending the fact that he won’t be walking through the door.

I still feel my heart stop when I think about that look on his face that day in the hospital. It’s a memory I don’t visit often, but when I do I’m right back in that room. All of my fears live in that room still. When someone in my family gets sick repeatedly. When my four year old son had an unexplained illness that wouldn’t go away. When the doctors were running test after test. There are many times I’m right there, standing on the edge of panic and despair. The reality of a devastating diagnosis too real, too fresh in my mind.

I have had to learn to fight those fears. I have learned to walk out of that room calmly now. I think about my brother. His fighting attitude. Every time my thoughts and fears threaten to take me back to that place, I remember his words.

I don’t have time for cancer.

 

Today is Rare Disease Awareness Day. Please consider, when you decide where your charitable dollars are going, that some diseases don’t get much attention or research. That parents are spending hours raising money for treatments and clinical trials when they should be able to focus on spending time with their child. That approximately 50% of the people afflicted with rare diseases are children and of those roughly 30% will not survive. That 95% of rare diseases don’t have even one FDA approved drug treatment. 

 

 

 

Giving It Away For Free: Writing For The Huffington Post

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The drums are beating again.

The anger has swelled and keyboards are being pounded in condemnation.

It’s a fury that’s been simmering for a while. The Huffington Post is under fire for not paying for content, for not paying the bloggers whose words beef up their site. And people are pissed. This time their hackles have been raised by the Editor of the UK Huffington Post, Stephen Hull. In an interview he commented on being “proud of not paying for content” and then went on to say some epically stupid stuff about the integrity of writing being corrupted by payment, or some kind of nonsensical bullshit that I still can’t wrap my brain around.

I get why people are angry. His words were insulting and his reasoning absurd. Hell, I’m angry. This man took the very thing that feeds the machine that pays his “authentic” salary and flicked it off the bottom of his shoe like something he stepped in.

Angry blog posts ensued. You could almost hear the zip and zing of paper being ripped out of typewriters as these denunciations were fired off. They rightly took Hull to task. They thrashed his reasoning and his gall and had me raising my fist in the air in solidarity. Calls for all out war were screamed through key strokes. (You can read those posts here and here and here)

But my fist slowly dropped to my side as I continued to read.

Boycott The Huffington Post. Don’t read it. Don’t share it. Don’t support fellow writers who publish their work there.

I love a good fight. I will always be on the side of the underdog, the down trodden.

I am all for raging against the machine, but I won’t be lacing up my combat boots for this one.

This is not me bowing out. Nor am I taking up the cause for the Huffington Post. I don’t do their bidding. But this is not a situation of the unsuspecting innocents being manhandled by the cruel machinations of a huge corporate conglomerate.

No one is under any illusions that they will make any money or make a living by posting on HuffPost. Unless you’re one of their 200+ unionized employees (who do, in fact, get paid to write/edit/promote/distribute) you are not pulling in a paycheck. But guess what? You’re also not under a contract. You don’t have to show up. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t like the HuffPost model? Don’t send them your content.

But the fact is, a lot of bloggers do like it. They like it so much they send their blog posts there. Often.

I  happen to be one of those people. It works for me. I don’t write original material for HuffPost. I use it to syndicate my work. I only send them previously published blog posts. And I have yet to meet any blogging or media entities that pay for syndicated material. If I’m going to write an original blog post for money I have a list of sites that I can submit to. Huffington Post is not on that list. They are on another list.

They are on the exposure and influence list.

Before you start telling me that exposure won’t pay the rent, a la Wil Wheaton, let me assure you that I know that. But I also don’t buy into the idea that exposure = selling out.

Exposure = marketing.

Let’s be real. If you’re writing beyond your own private diary, you need to be in the business of marketing. And marketing in all its forms is part of the deal. Let’s not play silly games pretending it’s not. Why else would we spend countless hours building our Twitter/FaceBook/Pinterest/GooglePlus/StumbleUpon followings? Because we’re all Social Media whores who are desperate for attention? Well, maybe. But mostly because we want people to read our words. None of us are here to shout into the abyss. We want views, clicks, comments, shares. We want exposure.

Yes. Exposure. It has value. Does it pay my bills? No. Maybe one day it will, but until then my bread is buttered elsewhere. I may not be filling my belly with that sought after exposure, but I am not starving because of it either.

Exposure. After a blog post of mine went viral, Huffington Post grabbed it and put it on their front page. Three months later I’m still getting steady traffic. And more eyes on a topic I care about.

Exposure was crucial for my friend who wrote about her daughters terminal illness. After being on HuffPost her FaceBook page swelled to over 10,000 likes. She was able to raise awareness and money for the devastating rare disease she and other families are fighting to fund a clinical trial for.

Exposure resulted in an invite for a fellow blogger to appear on The Jenny McCarthy Radio Show.

Exposure has resulted in bloggers being contacted by Agents and Publishers and regular paying writing jobs in some cases.

All of this was exposure from “free” non-paid writing that was published on Huffington Post.

But artists shouldn’t work for free, right? I’m not suggesting they should, unless they want to – and some people do art for the sake of art. Struggling artists all give their stuff away. It’s networking. It’s publicity.

An up and coming singer may do a free radio show. Clear Channel can probably afford to fork over some cash to the newcomer, but not too many wannabe pop stars are going to quibble over dollars if they can reach a massive audience in a one-off opportunity.

Photographers show their work in a gallery just to generate buzz.

Authors give away their books on Kindle for free to boost their Amazon rankings.

Hell. Sometimes bloggers pay for exposure. They “Boost” their post on FaceBook.

Bloggers do guest posts for exposure. All the time.

But…  you’re telling me that I shouldn’t do it on a site with 100 million readers because the corporate fat cats that run said site are fat? Because one of their editors spouted off some ridiculous dribble? I am not concerned one bit with their personalities or their wealth. I’m happy to take full advantage of the system. I’m grateful there’s a place that allows me to publish my posts with no concerns for whether it’s been published here, there or everywhere.

I’m looking at the long game. And for me that game involves writing for exposure, writing for money and ultimately building a strong portfolio that will get me to my ultimate goal of having my novel published. Or a steady writing gig with The Atlantic. Or both. I’m not picky.

You see, I have a plan. And I get a little testy when someone tries to tell me how to play it.

So these posts, these stormy words that are intended to galvanize us and demand our worth? I get it. I do. But syndicating a blog post to the largest digital platform in the world isn’t decreasing my stock value. And these people calling for a boycott? They are bad ass writers. They are the people that most of us look up to and learn from. And I know their aim is true and their passion fueled by camaraderie for the writing community as a whole. And I appreciate that. I have huge respect for them.

But don’t tell me what’s best for me.

Don’t tell me to forsake my place at the table, I don’t care how crowded it is. I worked to get to that table. I’m not giving up my seat just yet.

Don’t tell me that exposure is overrated when you have book deals. When you’ve made it in the publishing world. When you are a famous actor who’s fame garners you a heavy following. Don’t dismiss the value of a large platform when you’re yelling through a megaphone from your own lofty perch. You made it. I have immense respect for the ass busting it took to get where you are. But excuse me while I make my way.

Huffington Post may be using me by accepting my words on to their site. That’s fine by me. I’m using them too. There’s no sweat furrowing my brow. Not to copy and paste something I already toiled over.

And giving it away for free does not a harlot nor a victim make. I’m getting mine, getting it in SEO advantages, followers and readers.

All I’m saying to my fellow writers and bloggers, is you do you and I’ll do me. Your path to get to where you are wanting to go is yours to decide. I won’t judge you for it or try to tell you how to do it. I will applaud you, read you, support you. You see, I believe strongly in this community of writers. I have learned and grown from reading and in some cases knowing you. If you don’t want your words published on The Huffington Post, I respect that.

I’m just saying don’t try to burn down the house before you consider all those who are taking shelter.

And for those of you who are staring at a shelf of books with your name on them or drying the ink on your own book deal, those of you who’ve “made it”…  you guys are my heroes. You guys give me hope every day that I’ll one day deserve a seat at the cool table. And when I get there I’ll shake your hand and thank you for being an inspiration to a thirsty writer. When I get there, I’ll lend support to my fellow writers, both big and small.

Until then, I’ll be here. Pounding away on my own keyboard.

 

 

 

 

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