The contract is signed! The short story collection has a new title–Crosscurrents and Other Stories–and a publication date: November 1!
So the whirlwind begins. I’ll be working with Kevin Watson, the fabulous editor at Press 53. I’ll be acquiring blurbs, proofreading, helping to decide on cover art and layout design, and fighting off bouts of anxiety (will the book sell three copies, or maybe thirty? Will anybody actually read it?)
I decided a long time ago that I wanted to go the traditional publishing route, which leads to lots and lots of submissions, re-writes, long waits, rejections, more re-writes, and more submissions and rejections. But this round (I entered the collection in Press 53’s short fiction contest where it was a runner-up), something clicked. Kevin, God bless him, gets these stories. I’m so proud to be part of the Press 53 family of authors.
So let’s raise a glass, friends and fellow writers, in celebration of this one small thing. A book. Of stories. And I’m going to be able to hold it in my hands.
Did somebody say launch party? I certainly hope so. Complete with bubbly. Come on down to Jackson and join us in the fall. I’ll let you know when!
Gretchen Rubin has a way of getting my hackles up (that’s Southern for irritating/ annoying/making me angry), and I’ll tell you why: I think I’m a lot like her.
No, I’m not a commercially successful writer. I’m not a young woman balancing career and home and young children. I’m probably—well, no probably about it—I’m not as smart or well-read as she. But here’s what she and I have in common, and here’s why, I think, The Happiness Project has gotten under my skin more than once.
Convicted, Count # 1
In Chapter 10, “Pay Attention: Mindfulness,” Gretchen writes:
I have several tendencies that run counter to mindfulness. I constantly multitask in ways that pull me away from my present experience . . . . I tend to dwell on anxieties and hopes for the future, instead of staying fully aware in the present moment.
I know that woman. She looks back at me from the mirror every morning. High on my list, if I were to embark on my own Happiness Project, would have to be Pay Attention. Be Still. Don’t skip life. Be in the moment because, as trite as it sounds, that’s what we have.
If I would pay attention more, be still more, listen more, be open more, live in the moment more, laugh more, I would, no doubt, be happier.
Convicted, Count #2
And in Chapter 11, “Keep a Contented Heart: Attitude,” there’s this:
Did I have a heart to be contented? Well, no, not particularly. I had a tendency to be discontented: ambitious, dissatisfied, fretful, and tough to please.
Gretchen goes on to say that in some instances, these qualities serve her well, but in others, her “critical streak wasn’t helpful.”
I can vouch for that. I am quick to criticize, I sometimes speak without thinking (and regret it), I’m often fretful without knowing exactly why. I can be tough to please. I’m a perfectionist. I keep a low level of anxiety most of the time.
Procrastination feeds anxiety. I can be the world’s greatest procrastinator, when not procrastinating–knocking out some of these tasks and marking them off the BIG LIST, or sitting down and writing for an hour without worrying about the outcome–would make me a more relaxed, contented, and yes, even happier person.
So there are practical aspects of Gretchen’s “truths” and strategies I can’t ignore.
I’ve resisted her idea of the Resolution Chart, but making a list, at least, of areas where I might improve the quality of my life (and therefore improve my level of contentment) would be a good starting point. Initially, the goals will be nebulous: Organize, for example. Or Stop Procrastinating. Until they’re accompanied by concrete, measurable steps, those goals will never see daylight. So I might start organizing by cleaning out one file cabinet drawer a week. Or going through only one box of old photos and dividing them into folders by relationship (said sorting to be continued, photos scanned, etc.). Yes, that might do as a start. But only one concrete goal at a time. Schedule them, yes, but leave time for some spontaneity, some laughter.
That’s where my procrastination hits hardest: I must have done fifty things this morning rather than write. The trick is to own the flaw and consider ways to change. In some ways, I’m a person who loves structure. In others, I’m very free-wheeling and creative. Can the two parts of me coexist? Yes, I believe they can, and they deserve to do so.
One final “Gretchen truth”
Rubin writes about “negativity bias” which simply means that people, especially women, are more geared to be negative than positive:
One consequence of the negativity bias is that when people’s minds are unoccupied, they tend to drift to anxious or angry thoughts. . . . [O]ne reason that women are more susceptible to depression than men may be their greater tendency to ruminate; . . .
Oh, my: a ruminator. That’s me. Gretchen goes on to offer the idea of a “mental ‘area of refuge.'” Areas of refuge can be just about anything we can call to mind–a favorite passage or quotation; a person; a memory; a phrase–that triggers good thoughts or soothes us so that when negativity threatens, we consciously call up something to take its place. Which, of course, requires discipline.
I think, for me, I should take the “area of refuge” more literally. I dream of building a little studio in our back yard–a place where I could go and write, away from distractions. That may never happen, though, so I want to consider where I might literally create a space of refuge inside the house. I don’t yet know where that might be or how I might make it work, but such a space would enhance my writing life and my levels of attentiveness and contentment considerably.
So this final Happiness Project post has been less book review than personal reflection, but maybe that’s not a bad way to approach any book. At some point I realized that I became impatient and irritated with this book when I saw myself in Gretchen Rubin’s attempts and especially in her failures. That’s an important “something” to carry away.
Thanks to Joy Weese Moll for the challenge to “read along” with The Happiness Project, and thanks to Gretchen Rubin for doing what I could never do: devoting a year to creating more happiness in her own life and then having the courage to write about it. She’s a modern Benjamin Franklin (whom she acknowledges). Old Ben set his eyes on perfection, and even though he found it unattainable, believed he was a better man for having tried.
So I should try, too. So might we all. What can it hurt?
If you have followed these Happiness Project posts, I thank you! They were a kind of discipline practice for me, actually–a way of getting back into the blog in the new year. Now for new topics, new territory, maybe even a new look! Come along and see.
Joy poses interesting questions for this week’s chapters:
1. Of the three topics covered in chapters 7, 8, and 9 (Money, Eternity, and Passion), which area would you like to improve the most in 2014? Why? Would some of Gretchen’s techniques work for you?
My most needed improvement? I stand convicted, Gretchen: I’m an “overbuyer” and my husband is an “underbuyer,” for sure. I tend to buy on impulse whereas he looks, walks away, and looks and looks some more before he makes up his mind. I’m not sure whether Gretchen’s techniques will work for me, but she’s made me more aware.
2. What idea from chapters 7, 8, and 9 could you use today that would likely make you happier?
I like Gretchen’s concept of “spending out,” not clinging to things. She confesses to being a “saver”–holding on to things for later or for a special occasion. I can relate to that. My grandmother owned a lovely robe she never wore because she was saving it for her burial! I occasionally tried to get her to wear it, but she refused. Now and then she would have me take it out of her closet and check its condition. Satisfied that it was still pristine, she’d tell me to put it away. She got her wish.
More importantly for me, Gretchen goes beyond the idea of not clinging to things. She says, “The most important meaning of ‘Spend out’ . . . is not to be a scorekeeper, not to stint on love and generosity.” She describes how easy it is to fall into a pattern of keeping score: Well, I did this, so he/she should do that. The key, Gretchen says, is “Don’t think about the return.” She quotes Sarah Bernhardt, the great actress: “It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.” Spending out relates directly to a generous spirit, and that is something I want to cultivate!
3. What idea from chapters 7, 8, and 9 are you pretty sure wouldn’t make you happier at all, even if it seems to work for Gretchen?
In chapter 8, “Contemplate the Heavens: Eternity,” Gretchen tackles spirituality and mortality. I appreciate her quest for spiritual wholeness—every person is entitled to approach her spiritual journey as she sees fit. But as a person of faith, I don’t think I would ever pursue finding a spiritual mentor as she does. Nor would I set out to read about others’ catastrophes in order to learn from them, as Gretchen describes it–a kind of vicarious experience of tragedy:
I went to the library and checked out an enormous stack of books. I started by collecting accounts by people grappling with serious illness and death, but then I broadened my search to include any kind of catastrophe: divorce, paralysis, addiction, and all the rest. I hoped that it would be possible for me to benefit from the knowledge that these people had won with so much pain, without undergoing the same ordeals. There are some kinds of profound wisdom that I hope never to gain from my own experience.
It’s one thing to feel deeply for the plight of someone else. It’s a fallacy to believe that we can know what another person’s trials and sorrows feel like.
Let me tell you a story:
When I was a young wife and mother, an older woman I admired very much lost her only son. He committed suicide. I went to that heartbreaking funeral, and after, I knew I wasn’t done. I felt compelled to visit her. I dreaded it, but one afternoon, I got a sitter for my two young sons (oh, imagine the death of a son!), picked up a plant or something, I don’t remember, and went. I remember walking up to her front door, practically trembling, my heart racing, a huge lump in my throat. What could I possibly say?
I didn’t have to worry about it. She saw my helplessness. She consoled me.
What did I learn? The important thing is to show up. Speechless, empty-handed, it doesn’t matter. A hug, a grasped hand. Offer what I can.
But, Gretchen, there’s no “learning about pain” without going through it. And all of us, most likely, will at some point experience our own.
4. I suspect all of us share Gretchen’s passion for books. How do books make you happy?
Books do make me happy. Or sad. Or angry. Books are so much a part of my life (and always have been; see the photo, left), that I can’t imagine life without them. The two novels I’ve written, although they’re unpublished at this point, fill me with pride. I have labored and laughed, bled and cried all over those pages. They are my own, which brings an entirely different perspective to the word book.
Have you read The Happiness Project? If so, please share your take on Gretchen’s ideas (and mine, too)!
If you would like to read the earlier Happiness posts, you’ll find them here: