Achieving Brilliance with One Simple Word

Writing for Fluent Magazine has allowed me the privilege of meeting some pretty exceptional artists. Their stories, like their disciplines, vary, but one thread binds them. They all WORK. That’s it, the dirty 4-letter word that separates the wannabes from The Masters. W-O-R-K. Every day. Passionately. Without distraction. Without fail.

Shepherdstown artist Michael Davis drove this great truth home: you don’t pick up a brush and paint a masterpiece the next day. Or the next week, or the next year. It takes YEARS of training, years of practice, and yes, even years of failings.

“Everybody wants it to be a very fun, creative process,” Davis said, “but a lot of it is just sitting down and working when you don’t want to work. People that make it are the ones who do that. People that don’t are the ones that only work when they feel like working.”

There are people who like to paint and there are painters.

There are people who like to write and there are writers.

Fill in the blanks: dance, swim, sculpt, figure skate, sew, run a 5K, lose 15 pounds…. There is a point of separation between the casual and the committed. The amateur and the pro. The successful ones, the masters in their field, are the ones who realize that whatever the dream, whatever the passion, it’s not going to come easily.

Of course, talent helps. But talent is only part of the equation. Einstein (and a thousand others) said it, but in the quick-fix, instant-gratification times we live in many people still ignore it.

“Genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work.”

Yep.

But here’s the thing: if it is truly your passion, your calling, it is not going to feel like work. It is going to be FUN. It’s going to excite you, inspire you, make you ignore the housework and television, make you send your children away, text excuses to your friends. That’s when you know you’re doing what you’re meant to do.

Even when it gets hard, when you think it’s not worth it, when you’d rather play Spider Solitaire, DON’T GIVE UP.

And trust me, you will find your reward in the work.

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Some resolutions worth keeping

First, the usual resolutions:

*Less binge watching; more writing.
*Less wine; more walking.
*Lose 20 pounds; gain more Twitter followers.
*Feed the kids more vegetables.
*Keep the bathroom cleaner.

Now some special ones:

I have a new book to write. Chapter One. . . . two exhilarating/terrifying words. After a year of editing and plotting, I feel like a bull behind the gate, one foot kicking at dust to bust out of the stall. This new book is number three of a trilogy. The beginning of the end.

*In 2016, I resolve to write the first draft.

Speaking of terrifying words: Querying. It’s time to knock on agents’ cyber doors again. Nothing makes you feel more like a real writer than receiving a form rejection letter in your inbox.

*In 2016, I resolve to be tenacious with my querying.

Finally, there are four words I’ve had enough of: Fear, Outrage, Judgment, Complaints. The biggest of which is FEAR.

Yesterday, my daughter asked, “Mom, what are you going to hashtag leave in 2015?” Those four words sprang to mind. Though they weren’t always spoken, they ruled 2015, the instigators behind breaking news, trending social media, inciting political rhetoric. Enough.

nofear

*In 2016, I resolve to:

1. Reject the onslaught of fear mongering.

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
—Isaiah 41:10

2. Ignore the new fad of being outraged.

“Seal up the mouth of outrage for a while,
Till we can clear these ambiguities.”
—William Shakespeare

3. Withhold judgment.

“Love is the absence of judgment.”
—Dalai Lama

4. Swallow complaints.

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
—My mother

Wish me luck.

And have a blessed and joyous 2016!

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A Belated Thank You

I’ve had many blessings this year, many things to be thankful for, but my thoughts lately circle back to my grandparents. They were immigrants—refugees from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, escaping political persecution and seeking economic opportunity. Interesting coincidence: both of my grandfathers were named John. Both grandmothers, Catherine. John and Catherine Macinga, and John and Catherine Menosky. The inspiration for my name is no secret.

John and Catherine Menosky on their wedding day, September 17, 1928. Catherine was just 17 years old, 8 years younger than John. She came to the US on the Queen Mary when she was 9 years old.

John and Catherine Menosky on their wedding day, September 17, 1928. Catherine was just 17 years old, 8 years younger than John. She came to the US on the Queen Mary when she was 9 years old.

My maternal grandfather, John Menosky, died when I was six months old, but I was blessed to have the others in my life, to know them and hear their stories, and to witness their hard-work ethic that made it down the bloodline to me. They came to this country as farmers, but became steelworkers in Northeast Ohio, in the rust belt where an influx of mostly Italian and Slovak immigrants settled. During World War II, my grandfathers made steel for tank treads and ramps for landing crafts. Catherine Menosky worked as a welder during the war, even though she had six children at home. Catherine Macinga took on laundry and sewing jobs. At one point, when the steel mill issued layoffs, John Macinga dug graves at a cemetery—whatever it took to make ends meet.

John and Catherine Macinga were married in Czechoslovakia on June 28, 1928. Catherine was actually born in Michigan, but her family moved back to Czechoslovakia when she was a baby. She had to come back to the US before her 21st birthday to retain her citizenship. John followed when he had saved enough money for the trip.

John and Catherine Macinga were married in Czechoslovakia on June 28, 1928. Catherine was actually born in Michigan, but her family moved back to Czechoslovakia when she was a baby. She had to come back to the US before her 21st birthday to retain her citizenship. John followed when he had saved enough money for the trip.

Along with their work ethic, my grandparents brought their traditions to this country. I grew up eating kolachi (nut or fruit rolls), haluski (cabbage and noodles) and halupki (stuffed cabbage). The smell of boiling cabbage always takes me right back. John and Catherine Macinga had a plum tree in their backyard on Youngstown’s Northside, and I remember seeing them in their basement taking turns stirring a huge kettle for 24 hours to make lekvár filling for kolachi. Both families also had small gardens in their backyards, with clinking tin cans on strings to keep the animals away. I have yet to taste any tomato or cucumber that is their equal.

I lost my grandfather John Macinga in 1988, and both grandmothers have also passed. The family is scattered now, but I remember spending the holidays at my grandparents’ homes, cousins playing, chicken soup simmering—and cookies! Plates and plates of cookies. Thinking of all of my first cousins, second cousins, nieces and nephews, I sat down and did the math. Combined, my grandparents had:

  • 8 children
  • 31 grandchildren
  • 44 great-grandchildren
  • 14 great-great grandchildren

That’s a total of 97 descendants and counting. It’s not just a number, of course. Out of that 97 came teachers, doctors, nurses, soldiers, accountants, a police woman, large and small business owners. And a writer. Blue and white collar workers, all contributing somehow in their communities.

My grandparents lived simple lives. Went to church every Sunday. Hung their sheets to dry on the clothesline. Grew their own vegetables. They were law-abiding citizens who cared for their families and neighbors. They weren’t seeking fame or fortune when they came to this country. They sought a fair wage for honest, hard work, and freedom from ethnic tensions and religious repression. They sought a country where their children would be born with those freedoms. I didn’t understand this when I was growing up. They were just my grandparents who spoke funny words every now and then and had bottomless candy dishes in their yummy-smelling homes. I never got to thank them for their courage to leave their homeland, to get on a boat and travel across the ocean to a start over in a country that didn’t speak their language. How many of us would be brave enough to do that?

So thank you, John and Catherine Macinga and John and Catherine Menosky. Your courage, hard work and sacrifices are the reasons I live this blessed life.

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The Shared Lunacy of Writing

The cold depths of winter? Rain-soaked days of summer? On social media these extreme weather days elicit nothing but frowny faces and gloom. Facebook complaints rise tenfold. Whiners rejoice.

For writers, these days are gold.

At least for me they are. I can huddle inside with no guilt, without sun deprivation, cozy with my laptop and the myriad of characters holed up in my brain. “At last,” they say, “we have you all to ourselves.”

They can direct me, persuade me, do things I never before conceived they would do. They tell me about their pasts, share their secrets. They twist plots. Sometimes, they even kill each other off.

Of course, if I give these characters too much time, they can become the Company That Won’t Leave. They get too comfortable, come out of their world and nose around in mine. This past winter one of them followed me every time I got distracted and clicked over to Facebook.

“You’re wasting time,” he would warn. (Or she—I can’t tell.)

“You don’t NEED to watch ANOTHER cat video!”

“Who cares which Friends character you are?”

“The clock is ticking, sweetheart. The kids will be up soon.”

“GET OUT OF THIS TIME-SUCKING PLACE AND COME BACK TO US!”

But then something—someone, actually—caught his attention: Ginny Fite, a woman I had only met in person once, but who lived in my neighborhood and was a Facebook friend. Did I mention she is an author? Every time a post of hers appeared on my feed, the voice perked up.

“Ginny Fite? You should talk to her.”

“Hmm…maybe you should have her over for coffee.”

“She’s a writer. You can discuss writerly things.”

“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, TALK TO THIS WOMAN!”

So, I did. On a snowy February day I had Ginny over for coffee. We did discuss writerly things. Turned out she’s just as smart, witty and interesting as her Facebook posts led me to believe. And she’s a WRITER. We share the same disease.

On her way out that day, Ginny stopped and turned to me.

“Are you in a writer’s group?” she asked.

My heart skipped. “No.”

“I have to clear it with the other writers first—we like to keep the group small—but maybe you can join us…”

That little voice gloated. “I told you so.”

The rest, I’m optimistically saying, is history. Once a week for the past five months, I’ve met with Ginny, Katherine, Tara, and Karen. Through winter’s slow thaw, the bright green spring, and now this wet, wet summer. Every week we sit, take turns reading aloud, critique, and most importantly, support. This group has taken away some of the loneliness of writing. They offer what no queried agent ever has: actual constructive feedback. I feel like I’ve met kindred spirits. We understand each other—the insecurities, the inexplicable compulsion to write and face rejection, the dogged search for one perfect word—in ways only fellow writers could. It’s almost as if in another life we were inmates in the same asylum. The best part of all: they’re making me a better writer.

My husband eloquently put it in football terms: “You got the ball to the ten yard line…they’re helping you get it in the end zone.”

In June this group of women (with a couple more who are on hiatus) held a joint book signing. The event garnered some press in our local media, including this article in the Frederick News-Post. The article perfectly defines the work we do and the benefits of belonging to the group. I am so proud to be the “she” in the last paragraph.

In addition to the inspiration, discipline (once a week means a deadline—not much time to waste on Facebook), the camaraderie and friendships, one other great thing came from listening to that voice in my head. One day Ginny asked if I would be interested in writing for Fluent Magazine, a gorgeous online magazine “covering the arts and culture in West Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and neighboring regions.” Long story short, this happened:

My first article for Fluent appears in their Summer 2015 issue! (See page 10)

The moral of the story? Trust your instincts. Listen (discriminately) to the voices in your head. I did, and wonderful things have been happening ever since.

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Resolutions? What New Year’s Resolutions?

Sunday, February 01, 2015

January, or as I call it, Resolution Month, is over.

What resolutions have you stuck to? Which ones have not been so easy?

Congrats on what you’ve stuck to! An entire month is quite an accomplishment. And about those things where you’ve caved? Don’t sweat it. It’s a new month, a new day, a new chance to try again.

As for myself…

The no gluten, no dairy, no sugar resolution was a breeze the week I had the flu. After that, well, I gave it a serious go until the Parenthood finale did me in. I had to seriously eat some emotions away.

The blog more resolution? It’s February 1 and this is my first blog of the year. That’s all I have to say about that.

Read more? Check

Write more? Check (just not blogs)

Tweet more? Check

Less television? Check—although, Downton Abbey AND The Walking Dead will be on next Sunday. If zombies attacked Downton my dilemma would be solved.

There are a couple of things that were not on my resolution list that I’m happy to report on:

First, I’ve been doing more yoga. It’s helping my back and my stress levels. You should try it. Really.

Second, I’ve joined a book club at the yoga studio. The book is Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton. I saw the title and immediately thought: I want to be warrior! I NEED to be a warrior. You see, the flu, my aching back, and a month-and-a-half-long battle to fix the internet issues on my laptop have left me feeling rather helpless in 2015. Not to mention the fact that I handed off my manuscript—my baby—to a beta reader. As a writer, there is nothing like waiting to hear back from a beta reader to make you feel helpless, insecure, and generally bat-shit crazy.

But you can’t keep a good warrior down. I just keep reminding myself of one notable accomplishment I had in 2014: I wrote a book.

The Wexbury Trilogy, Book 2, draft one.

I repeat: I WROTE A BOOK

I AM a warrior.

Of course, finishing the first draft of a novel is like finishing the first leg of a triathlon. Celebrate, re-hydrate, and go go go! There is much work to be done. And I can’t wait to do it. As Glennon says:

“Reading is my inhale and writing is my exhale. If I am not reading and writing regularly, I begin to suffocate.”

So I’m not the only one! Yeah!

It’s February 1. Push the reset button everyone. Try, try again. Don’t give up on what you want to accomplish this year. I didn’t in 2014 and guess what? I wrote a freakin’ book!

If I can do it, so can you.

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