Here’s the draft book cover for Patchwork and Ornament:
Here’s the draft book cover for Patchwork and Ornament:
Yesterday we found one of NYC’s great bargains: the Fringe Festival of plays and musicals, a massive undertaking involving several venues and a plethora of new and emerging work. We went to see Mom: A Rock Musical by Richard Caliban, one of Henry’s playwriting teachers. For $10, we were enthralled for two hours by the story of a group of moms who form a rock band and find unexpected success, along with the challenges of sudden fame.
As a middle-aged stepmother, the story hit home. It’s so easy to take care of other people and to not nurture our own dreams. I’m getting better, but it’s still a challenge. I find comfort and motivation through music, often in the musicals that we attend in our visits to New York. One of my favorites is “A Way Back to Then” from Title of Show. And, as of yesterday, I have a new song for when I need that extra boost. It’s called “Don’t Hold Back,” from Mom. It’s a tear-jerker, a song about what a middle-aged woman would sing to the five-year-old version of herself if she had the chance.
All of us who create, whether through writing or other arts, have to deal with those days of sinking spells, discouragement, and frustration. A little bit of music, whether it’s heavy metal to shake us out of lethargy, or lullabies to soothe our nerves after a rejection from a publisher, goes a long way to heal wounds.
Some time ago I pondered when and how to let go of a task and allow someone else to do it. I think I’m getting the hang of it! And it only took 50 years! Part of the problem is that I love to learn, and thus sometimes get into the weeds of projects that take me away from my primary purpose.
This time around, I caught myself after viewing a photograph, before and after it had been worked on by a Photoshop guru. Given that Patchwork and Ornament is full of color photographs (images of artwork, travel, and family), this particular photo caught my attention. It was a picture of a little boy next to someone dressed in a bunny suit. In the after photo, some of bunny’s ears were cut off…and the photo looked great. I never would have crossed such a line. This is when I knew I was out of my league.
My husband, Henry, sensing my panic, swooped in and found a guru on Craigslist who, for a reasonable fee, could remove shadows, lighten dark areas, and brighten colors. All the things I don’t know how to do and don’t have any business learning in this lifetime. We met with her, and I felt instant confidence in her abilities. Moreover, she cares about the project, which is important to me.
Henry also re-shot photographs that I had taken. His equipment and skill level are both well beyond mine.
In less than three weeks, I will send all of this to the printer. I’m confident with my layout–I think I’m doing a darn good job. But it feels good to let work go that someone else knows how to do. My job, I remind myself, is to write, edit, and publish. I’ll have to remind myself again and again, I’m sure, but for today I get it.
by Jeanette Feldman
Dear friend, I have your recent letter in hand and have read it several times.
You ask how is it that I can write a vivid, positive, hopeful poem like Hans Hoffman’s House and yet write intensely, bitterly, negatively about my career failure as a painter, work so painful that I cannot read it or show it to anyone, not even my family. I find that this question has provoked some thought, a question that I can answer only with visual images.
Picture a ballroom in an old and seedy hotel in a small eastern city. It is a high school reunion. The people at the reunion are near the age of fifty. Their high school prom was held in this ballroom. It is bittersweet for them to listen to the musicians play Glenn Miller and to understand that the men and women they are now were boys and girls of years ago. They dance stiffly and formally on the wooden floor.
Above their heads, a great ball of small glass squares revolves. The great ball turns slowly, catching light from little spotlights trained on it. The couples dance, the ball revolves, and the images reflected on the ball are never the same, as both ball and people are always in motion. Their reflections move across the mirrored squares from dark to light, above and below, and back into dark nothingness.
I see myself as one of the people dancing my dance of life under the slowly revolving ball, sometimes in the dark, sometimes in the light, my reflection shattered in many pieces but never the same, never in the same place, many parts of one being never the same twice but always in flux, always in change. I too dance at times in the dark, an then there are times I dance in the light.
“Is that all you’re doing?” asked a former co-worker when I explained that I was writing full-time. My French teacher, when teaching the term femme au foyer (housewife), pointed me out as one of the femmes au foyer in the room. “I start writing at 8:00 a.m. and work all day,” I complained. “Well, you’re not making any money, so you still fit in the housewife category,” she suggested. I don’t believe her. I love her dearly, don’t get me wrong, but her attorney husband also writes poetry, so she sees writing as a bit of an indulgence.
Now, I have nothing against housewives, and a creative homemaker deserves a great deal of credit and honor that she often does not get. But that’s not what I do. Right now I am producing one book, getting another ready for reprints, and writing a third. In addition to the writing, I am starting to gear up the marketing machine while I coordinate with cover designers, photo editors, and printers. I am waiting to get my novel back from my editor in preparation to do substantial rewrites. My days are busy and full, and often I work on weekends to keep up.
Yet somehow in my home, no one else is capable of filling the water jug in the refrigerator or restocking the soda. Toilet paper rolls remain empty until I fill them. When it’s time to do dishes after I have cooked a meal, people scatter. I could go on and on. In short, I seem to have become the family servant.
So, like a good femme au foyer who believes that her dreams are also important, I went “en grieve.” Like the French, my strike lasted a specific amount of time (one evening). I refused to cook. Instead, I sat on the sofa and played computer card games with my feet up. My husband decided that the recipe I had chosen for the evening was something he could handle. As dinner wound down, I made my grievances understood. My writing, my work, takes time and effort. I root for everyone else to make their dreams come true, and I want support with mine as well.
We writers sometimes have to get tough with those around us to protect and value the time we need to do our work. It’s all too easy to give away our valuable energy to others, leaving ourselves depleted and unable to create. When that happens, we need to get a healthy dose of indignation. We may need to go en grieve. Our work matters. Our dreams matter. Our creativity brings joy, entertainment, and maybe even hope to others, and we need to see it that way–and make sure we communicate that to others.
A year ago, I pulled a novel draft out of a drawer and began retooling it. Blood and Loam, as I call it, tells the story of a confused, dysfunctional young woman who must find her inner strength to save a small farming community from a villainous “land vampire.” The idea has haunted me for years, and I am pleased to have finally found the path of the story.
Writing this novel has been a real education on what not to do, and even after a year of dedicated, hard work, the story still has problems. Part of me has wanted to put the story back in the drawer and write it off as my “practice novel.” It may still end up that way, but I’ve had enough good feedback on the story to not give up just yet.
Earlier in the year I submitted the first few chapters for critique in a novel writing class. I also submitted the first ten pages to a contest. In both cases, I received helpful feedback. Problem is, the story careens off track later on, in places no one has yet seen. I have bumped up against my limitations as a fiction writer, and I realize that I need help to take it to its next level…help that will allow me not only to improve my skills with this story, but also to make writing the next novels (I have three more ideas so far) easier, faster, and better.
This week I took the brave step of hiring a freelancer to provide a manuscript evaluation. I went through Elance, and I was impressed to find several bidders with impressive qualifications, including published and well-reviewed books of their own. It was tough to make the final choice. The woman who won the bid not only is a published author, but also has a mental health background, which I thought would be a great bonus for the psychological elements in the story. In about two weeks, I hopefully will have some guidance on what to do with my story.
I had mixed feelings about taking this approach, but seeing the quality of some of the bidders has changed my mind. I’ll pass along the results of this venture once I get them, and we’ll see if it was worthwhile, but in the meantime, I feel like I have taken a positive step with my writing. Stay tuned!