The Myth of Success

Recently, foodie influencer Alison Roman gave an interview to The New Consumer that can only be described as a “shit show.” While talking about her own Zen-like journey into fame, she performed an epic racially tone-deaf (I’m being kind) take down of Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo, calling them sellouts while she remains pure as the driven snow because she doesn’t have a line of cookware at Target.

What bothers me, other than the latent racism of her entire platform (until this episode she used her whiteness to omit how different cultures influenced her food – just so you know, she is not the person who discovered garlic, turmeric, coriander, and cardamom create outstanding flavor), is that she is making her success seem like something that just happened to her. Like she didn’t try *at all* to become The Foodie with The Stew and The Cookies and The Whatever. Which we, as people who had found a modicum of success, know is not true.

It’s like beautiful people acting like they just always look that way naturally, when in reality it takes a twice daily application of cleanser, exfoliant, toner, serum, lotion, hair dye, and Botox to maintain those looks. It is a lie that inadvertently discourages people from trying – making success feel as if it will always be woefully out of reach.

That is bullshit.

You have to try in order to be a success. You have to try really, really hard. When I started writing articles, I got a hundred “nos” before I got one “yes.” I am still getting rejection emails from a manuscript I sent out six months ago. But I keep trying, because one day I will get a “yes.”

Bon Appetit and the New York Times didn’t pluck Roman off a subway platform one bright spring day, hand her column space, and say, “You look like you could be successful. Write about food for us.” She pitched them ideas and used the incredible amount of work she has done on her Instagram account to get in the door. (Those pictures don’t just happen, people.) She didn’t just luck into those recipes, either. Those were developed with intense hard work and repetition built on the knowledge from years of experimenting with flavor and spices and, yes, food from other cultures.

One quote in particular from the article about how she creates a recipe gets me completely worked up.

“You’re overthinking it. I think people would be fucking shocked at how little — There’s no formula. There’s no strategy. There’s no, like, “gotta have this, gotta have that.””

Actually, there is a formula. One she learned through years of tasting, learning, and cooking. One she developed through years experimentation, seeking out the flavors of other cultures, and through failure. I would bet a plate of cookies that none of those dishes in her cookbook came out perfect the first time. To admit to anything less is disingenuous at best and killing the career aspirations of thousands of young cheflings at worst.

The tone of her whole interview is why people hate Millennials. She is perpetuating the myth that success just happens to people. No effort is required. You are given what you get in life like a participation trophy handed out at a soccer tournament. Failure happens to other people, not those blessed to succeed.

That is a flat out lie.

Anyone can succeed if they try hard enough. I’m not saying that luck isn’t a factor, but as the Roman philosopher, Seneca, said, “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.” Alison Roman is successful right now because she was ready with all the tools she needed when the opportunity came along.

As I said above, she did issue an apology on Instagram for her horrible treatment of Teigen and Kondo; however, Roman needs to learn a larger lesson about owning the effort it takes to make it and honoring the work of those who have gone before you that makes your path to the top possible.

In the Midst of COVID

COVID-19 is here. We are in the thick of it in Maryland. Our governor has just announced we will be at home and schools will be closed until May 15th.

I highly doubt that, come May 16th, we will be free to join crowds, hug strangers, and go back to our favorite restaurants. I think it’s going to be longer than that. A lot longer.

And it will be okay.

Would I like to go out and get sushi with my friends? Or go and see the new Marvel movie in the theater? You bet I would. But there will be other times for that. Right now, we need to listen to the CDC and stay away from each other. COVID-19 is highly dangerous and very deadly. As much as I would like to go back to my parents’ house and use this time as an extended vacation with them, I can’t. It’s too dangerous to their health.

But I have a secret. While my friends are posting about the horrors of having your kids around you 24/7, I have found this time of enforced togetherness a kind of blessing, similar to our time in Switzerland. We had nothing to do, nowhere to go, nowhere we have to rush to be. Instead of rushing, my family has gotten a chance to breathe and just be together. We are playing games, having reading time, adventuring in the unknown of online learning, and getting to experience the regular occurrence of family meal times.

It turns out I like my kids. They are turning into neat people to talk to. I hope they think I’m a pretty good listener with a few cool things to share.

Please stay well and healthy. Be safe and be smart.

 

Hello, 2020!

Welcome to the New Year, my friends. We’re only a couple of weeks in and I can already tell it is going to be a wild one. At the start of every year it is commonplace to start assessing where we are at and where we want to go. Particularly this year, as we are ascending into a new decade.

For me, I’m ascending into my identity as a writer. Part of that is to have goals and ideas of where I want to be by 2021.

Something I’ve been doing for the last year and a half that has really helped was to have A WORD. A word that themes my entire year. And it’s not just for writing. It’s frames my other goals as well.

Continue reading “Hello, 2020!”

Thanks a lot, 2019.

2019 was a pretty fantastic year, personally. For a lot of people 2019 was fraught with hardship and drama. My life was far from drama-free, but, overall, the good outweighed the bad.

My brother and his came to visit for the first time, and it was brilliant! I flew to Denver to visit my BFF. My oldest is finally taller than I am, much to his delight. The garden went bonkers and produced about a gallon of tomatoes per week for four months. We went to the beach before heading back to the Midwest for a summer visit. Pretty dreamy.

Then the best thing happened. I committed to a writing retreat for outlining my next book. That outline gave me the solid foundation I needed to churn out 63,543 words during National Novel Writing Month (November), and complete a first draft of my first mystery novel.

To top it off, I decided my first book – a women’s fiction piece – was ready to be seen by agents. I have sent it off to about eighteen so far. The best moment was when an agent wanted to read my first 100 pages. I was elated. I sent it off and then waited, like a girl waiting for that special someone to call her.

They didn’t call. They emailed back with a “no thanks.” While they found my voice “approachable and engaging,” they just didn’t feel passionately enough about it.

I was crushed. Eventually, I understood. Getting an agent is just the beginning. Like getting pregnant is just the beginning of being a parent. There is a ton of work that begins once an agent says yes. Then once you find a publisher there is even more work. The agent has to love the book if they are going to toil over it for an entire year.

I was not so graceful that day, however. I moped and sulked. Mark brought me flowers and I could barely bring myself to look at them. I hardly got any sleep that night. So, while I was busy not sleeping I decided, fuck it – I was going to send out my manuscript to even more agents. I research the details of 10 more agents before forcing myself to go to bed. After a busy morning at the preschool, I tweaked my query letter and sent it out to six of the ten agents I’d researched.

Within 2 hours I had 2 requests for the entire book!!

I am really proud of myself for not letting my disappointment crush me. Sometimes you have to pull yourself out of the mud and keep moving forward.

The greatest thing was telling my kids that more people wanted to read my book. They were so proud of me, and, I think, a little impressed. They looked at me like I was more than just their mom, and that made me really happy.

Now I am waiting to hear back from two more agents. Let’s hope it’s a phone call!

In the meantime, I will be starting the editing process on my mystery and formulating new goals for 2020.

Writing Retreats in Order to Advance

Somehow fall has happened. I have no idea what happened to September.

Well, that’s not strictly true. I spent it sending my kids back to school where others could try to teach them something while I traveled. Before you call me a bad parent, I was traveling for mostly professional reasons.

I actually went to a writing retreat. It was my first ever. It was amazing.

Continue reading “Writing Retreats in Order to Advance”

I’m in the Washington freakin’ Post!!

Today I reached a major milestone. Something I wrote has been published in the Washington Post.

It was a short piece. 100 words or less defining motherhood. Out of who knows how many submissions mine and nine others were selected to run in the Style section under the On Parenting heading. You can read it here!!  Read Me!!

I’m the last one on the list. Best for last, right? LOL.

I am giddy.

When I started writing as a profession I never thought an outlet like the Post would publish little ole me. I stuck to submitting to smaller publications; places I was sure would publish my work.

When I made my goals for this year I looked at the writing I had done. I was/am proud of it. I decided I needed to push myself. One of the goals I set was submitting a piece to a Big Name Outlet. And at the end of April I did that. I was proud of myself just for that. For pushing the “send” button and putting my work out there to be judged on a wider stage, by lots of eyes and people that know what good writing is.

That they liked it enough to publish it is icing on the cake.

Lateness and Effort in Writing

I’m a bit late on this, but lateness seems to be one of my main characteristics recently.

I am late for lunches out, late to appointments, late in getting my children to bed. I’m just late.

I am also late in my own personal deadlines for this book I’m working on.

I am writing a book. A fiction novel about a woman who loses her sense of who she is when her husband dies and has to go back to her hometown in order to finally find out who she was meant to be.

I meant to get my first draft done by December 31st. However it is now January 14th and I have at least a solid week of writing left to go.

I could have had it done by December 31st, but my own entire sense of self slid off the map and I was completely overwhelmed by what it would mean to finish this book. Because finishing the first draft is so not the end of writing a book. Even finishing the last draft is not the end. Nor does it end with finding and agent or getting the book really and actually published. And that is overwhelming because I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just a woman with a story that has been bouncing around in my head for a few years and I finally took the time to sit down and try and get it out.

And it has poured out of me. I have over 95,000 words right now and I’m still not done.

Oh, I know that there will be some major rewriting happening. And I know for sure that a whole section is going to be cut and buried in the boneyard. That is daunting, too.

People think that writing a book is a piece of cake. I know that as a reader I devour books in just days. Sometimes even as little as 1 day. So far this book as taken me 375 days to write. And I’m not done yet. I feel close to finishing my first draft – like I said, I think I can be done in a week, but then there are the second, third, and fourth drafts, too.

I hope one day you will be able to read this book in 2019. And then the others that come after this first effort. Because I have more stories that are begging to be told.

Summer Writing

This summer has sucked for writing. Absolutely sucked.

I have gotten nothing done. I wanted to have a draft of my book finished by the end of this month, but I am miles away from that now.

I’m trying to write today, but am finding it impossible. Why?

The kids. The house. The garden.

I have discovered that I need to be alone and away from people in order to write fiction. Writing fiction requires that I disconnect from the world around me and complete immerse myself into the world that I have created. This is impossible with the kids around.

They aren’t even necessarily coming to me directly with questions or requests. They are in their own worlds – and they are incredibly noisy about it. I was attempting to write a romance/romantic tension scene the other day and the 9 year old started doing armpit farts in the other room. Do you know how hard it is to write about gentle caresses and toe-curling kisses with armpit farts going off in the other room?

Plus they have their own schedules for which I need to play taxi. Not to mention the dreaded summer homework where I am required to provide interpretation and assistance. Weekly I am ferrying them to the library to pick up books for their reading lists.

Then there is the garden. A huuuuuge work in progress of two enclosed gardens where we can plant vegetables and have a perennial fruit bed without accidentally establishing a salad bar for the local deer. And that isn’t even mentioning the flower beds that ring the house and produce mind-blowing amounts of weeds.

And the house. With 2 children and 2 cats the house always needs to be cleaned. And the populace fed. Which requires trips to the grocery store. And before you say “you can always order your groceries” I know. I pioneered that in Switzerland. I have run into stumbling blocks with bugs in the computer system that I need to devote some unknown quantity of time into conquering.

Not that I really mind any of that. I love going to the library. I love reading. I love cooking. I love my children. I tolerate weeding.

But any notion that I had of a summer free from work obligations to “just write” was a fantasy, at best.

I really did have the best of intentions. I brought notebooks with me on vacation. I set up daily word count charts. I cleared my calendar and put my two other part-time jobs on hold. It turns out that parenting duties ballooned up to fill the void.

While the balloon was filling I was stuck. I was spinning my wheels, not accomplishing anything. The garden is full of weeds. The house is, well, it’s clean, but I have boxes of stuff to go to charity and no pictures on my walls yet. The only thing that was getting done was the boys’ stuff and that’s because all the kid-stuff is like a raging river sucking you downstream with it. It was easier to just go with the flow.

It is a hard and stinging lesson, but if I want to finish this book I’m going to have to be (a) really disciplined about my schedule, (b) very firm about my needs, and (c) learn to say “no” and “I need help.”

“Pfft. That is basic! Everyone knows that!” you say.

That is true. Everyone does know that. On a hypothetical or theoretical level. But it’s not until you have sat there looking down at a word count chart that is virtually empty that you really learn the lesson. Failure is the best teacher, you know.

Tonight I am going out to write. I am taking myself to a little cafe for dinner, then I’m going to pull out my laptop and write until my fingers cramp. Or as my friend Diana says it “WRITE ALL THE WORDS!!!!”

Until then, I am going to be with my children, my house, and my garden.

 

Prince is Dead. Long live Prince.

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
  To get through this thing called life

Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after-world

A world of never ending happiness
  You can always see the sun, day or night

Prince is dead, my friends.

Tragically, inexplicably, unfairly, cruelly dead.

He was only 57.

I had to tell my children who Prince was, exactly. They’d heard his music, but I hadn’t really talked to them about who the artist was. So this is what I came up with:

If you took James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis, Robert Johnson, George Clinton, and Liberace together you’ve have something close to Prince.

Prince always appeared at significant moments of my life. I first saw him on American Bandstand on a Saturday morning.  When I saw him perform I thought “That guy is going to be huge.” I was 6 at the time, I think.

Raspberry Beret hit when I was tween. It was played on every radio station and at every school dance. I sang it on a continual loop. I remember being absolutely delighted when I found a real and actual raspberry colored beret. I wore it for months.

And if you saw Tim Burton’s Batman you also got to hear a lot of Prince. He did the entire soundtrack and provided a strong musical esthetic that just made the entire film.

Do I even have to mention (Party like it’s) 1999? I think that song was on continuous loop on New Year’s Eve that year.

He was also a man of few words. Have you ever watched a Prince interview from the 1980s? He was monosyllabic. He makes a monk under a vow of silence look like a chatterbox.

Dick Clark says of his Bandstand interview with Prince, “Probably the single most difficult interview I ever did in my life.”  He answered in single words and hand gestures.

His acceptance speech when he won the American Music Award for Favorite Black Single is legendary. As his name is read off Prince gracefully sails up on stage wearing a purple sparkly coat with the high Austenian collar, a side cape of purple ermine tails, a ruffled white shirt, and a sparkly lace bandana made into a make-shift eye patch. He is followed by a Nordic giant of a bodyguard. He hands his award over to the giant, says, “Thank you very much,” and leaves the stage to go back to his seat. Keep watching. No one knows what to do. Lionel Richie who is hosting cannot believe it. There is a bead of sweat that start to bubble up on his left temple and it takes him a second to process and carry on with a wonderful exclamation of “Outrageous!”  It’s here at the 1:51 mark. 

I loved it.

He was doing everything that I, as a surly teenager, wanted to do. Monosyllabic. Check. Insanely talented. Check. Independently wealthy. Check. Amazing fashion sense. Check. Badass. Check and double check.

He was pushing social boundaries as well as musical boundaries. He was singing about stuff that I was thinking and feeling. People loved him for it and because I was thinking and feeling the same things I didn’t feel so odd or alone.

Plus he came out of Minnesota! I mean Minnesota of all places. Nothing great ever comes of Minnesota or Iowa except for I-35 going south. To have a rock star of this magnitude rise up out of where I came from and then decide to make it his home forever is unheard of. That right there earned him a million devoted fans.

I got to see him perform for the first time when I was in college. I was selling pizzas for Domino’s at the concert in Ames and got to stand at the door to watch when the stand was slow.  I almost got fired right there for getting so into the concert I was late getting a pizza pickup.

But my stand also happened to be right next to the doors down to the underbelly of the stadium where Prince’s staff was hanging out. So where do you think they were all coming for pizza?

That’s right. To me.

So I got to meet all of them. They were some of the coolest, chillest people ever. They never expected anything for free and did actually pay for pizza.  And at the end of the night they invited me and a co-worker down stairs to drop off the fresh pizzas they had ordered from us.

We sat around the table and hung out while they – about 10 of them – casually ate pizza and drank sodas and talked with us like we were human beings and weren’t wearing the tackiest uniforms in the history of fast food. This is what happens when you are raised in Minnesota. You end up being a decent person even if you are in the music industry.

Or maybe just being part of Prince’s crowd kept you grounded. Like all extremely creative people, he could be very “out there” and I think maybe the staff were the counterweight. But, really, watch some of his interviews. He has very little patience for ass-kissing crap, sub-par music, or getting personal at all. He wants to talk about his music and what it takes to make great music.  He doesn’t want to talk about how he’s a sex symbol or popular or an icon. He did an interview on The View and when Sherri Shepard said she’d wanted to have sex with him since forever he dropped his mic and waved them a goodbye as he left.

Some of the rumors about the extent of his eccentricities were true.  His staff confirmed (this was in mid-1990s when he was fighting Warner Bros and became TAFKAP) that when you walked down the halls of Paisley Park and he was coming down the hall sometimes, if he made a signal or wore something I can’t remember what, you had to stop and look at the wall until he passed. That sounds crazy and dictatorial, but he just wanted privacy and not to be stared at every second of every day.

And by the way, did I want a job?

His head of staff was serious. Did I want a job? With Prince. At Paisley Park. We had been talking for about an hour and I have evidently impressed him as being sharp and friendly. Apparently those were the two most important qualifications to be a runner or junior junior assistant. And I was from Iowa and if you couldn’t trust an Iowan who could you trust?

That moment between his question and my answer is frozen in my brain. What if I had said yes? What if I hadn’t insisted that I had to finish college? Where would I be? What would I be doing?

But I decided I had to finish college and so here we are.

I’m sorry if you never went to a Prince concert. I saw him in Washington, DC one day after having surgery. I basically told my doctor to stitch me up good because I was going to a Prince concert.  I danced so much I had to call my friend Sabrina, who is a doctor and Prince fanatic, for medical advice from the bathroom half-way through the concert. (It was all fine.)

He was electric on stage. Electric. I’ve never seen a performer like him. He was playing in-the-round and was all over that stage. Nobody had his back for more than 2 minutes. He was everywhere all at once. His fingers and feet never stopped moving. It was clear that music was his everything. He lived to play that guitar and sing. It was almost like he didn’t need the audience. We were a bonus to him. He just needed to play.

This little piece from the NFL talking about Prince’s halftime show (called by some as the best halftime show in the history of the Superbowl and possibly his best performance ever) will give you an idea of what performing meant to him.  It was raining at that Superbowl. The organizers called Prince to make sure he was okay with the rain and he asked, “Can you make it rain harder?” And he just made the weather his. He owned that rain.

We have lost something, people.  Some of us know what it is. Others don’t quite understand yet. But it will become apparent in the years ahead that a certain something is missing.

I will close with one of my favorite songs that he wrote. He barely performed it and so it’s hard to find a good version so I have opted to post Chris Cornell’s cover of Nothing Compares 2 U.  Yes, Prince wrote this. Enjoy it.