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Thursday, September 25, 2008

It's Like Never Getting Past the First Date

Well, I've been wincing from the sting of rejection this last month. It's like a bee, a really massive bee, that hovers around me everyday, picking the most inexplicable moments to attack. When my guard is down and I forget, for a moment, that I wasn't good enough, the bee, with an inflated sense of duty, dive-bombs me. I find myself in the middle of the parking lot on my way out of class, cursing the air.

Here's the story. For the first time ever, I had two queries accepted this last month, as opposed to straight manuscripts. I was thrilled! Finally I've learned how to throw out the bait. But with both publications, they requested more of my writing. The minute I sent them that writing, they fell silent and I haven't heard anything from them since. This is the long silence before rejection. In my limited experience, if a publication is going to use my writing, I hear right away.

It's kind of like going out on a date, getting a kiss, and then never hearing from him again. I have a very witty friend, Amy Klein, who says that if they don't call in the first 24 hours, they "ain't never callin'."

It's just painful, there's no two ways about it. You meander through your days wondering, "What if I should have left out that anaolgy?" "What if I should have written in third person instead of first?" "What if my whole future as a published author rested on that comma?"

Dwayne pointed out that this may actually be the levels of acceptance. First round is a blanket "no." Second round is initial interest followed by a "no." That makes me feel good on some level; however, I think the second "no" is worse than the first, because it's a bit more personal.

It reminds me of the two producers I worked for at Nick Movies. One producer, R~, hated interns, as a rule. She didn't want me in her office, ever. If she had her way, I hid under the desk just so she didn't have to look at me. Funnily enough, I wasn't offended by this, because we had never even been introduced.

Compare this then to J~, another producer at Nick Movies who rejected me. She interviewed me for a full-time job. My supervisor sat in the very same room as us literally begging J~ to hire me. "She's superwoman" my supervisor said, pressing my application against her heart. "She'll be so good for the office!"

J~ talked to me a bit, got to know me, and then showed me out the door -- without a job. I obviously hadn't captured her imagination.

And I haven't captured the imagination of these two publications either. As cool as I try to be about it - "yeah this is the writing life" - it still stings. Most of the time I just ignore it, but ever now and then I just have to stop and say, "What a crock!!"

The First Step

Well, after pouring through the Central Asia Institute website (Greg Mortenson's Foundation), and reading as much as I can find about the war in Afghanistan, I've decided the first thing I can do to help contribute Greg Mortenson's cause is to raise awareness among the people who HAVE to listen to me three times a week - my students.

I designed their next writing assignment around a comparative analysis of Greg Mortenson's methods for fighting terror and the US government's methods. We'll see what they come up with. They'll be reading these two articles in Parade and Time.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Rant Against This War

Upon the recommendation of my friend, Nick Briejer, I started reading _Three Cups of Tea_ this month. It's about Greg Mortensen, a remarkable man who has been building schools for children in the Karakoram Mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan since 1996. Not only is this story inspiring, it's unnervingly pertinent to the current state of affairs here in the US given the war on terror and the upcoming elections.

A brief recap of the premise of the book: Mortenson began building schools in the tribal region of Pakistan on accident. He was a climber and during a failed attempt on K2's summit, he stumbled lost, malnourished, and nearly delusional onto a small village called Korphe. After several weeks recuperating in the village and building relationships, he discovered the children attending classes outside at the mercy of the elements, scribbling their homework in the dirt, without a teacher. He promised the village mullah (chief) that he would build them a school.

And he did, with remarkable tenacity despite morale crushing obstacles. But once the school in Korphe was completed, he went onto build several more schools all across the mountains. The very part of the world that gave birth to the Taliban.

As you can imagine, when 9/11 happened, Mortenson was sucked into a vortex of need. While every other American and foreigner was fleeing Pakistan, Mortenson went right back in to battle terrorism the right way. By building schools that offer non-extremist education.

Reading Mortenson's account I can't help but feel desperate. What he is doing is so right. Is so absolutely dead on. But his work is eclipsed by the US government's war on terror.

The problem: poor, uneducated children in Pakistan have been failed by the Pakistani government, which does not build schools for them, or provide teachers. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia with all it's oil money is pouring money into the tribal region of Pakistan. Madrassas that teach nothing but the Koran and jihad are popping up all across the area like "cancerous cells." These families who are desperate for an education send their children to the Madrassas. When the kids graduate they are offered money to fight in the extremist movement.

Greg Mortenson's solution: Since 1996 he's been building schools that offer a non-extremist education. The villagers love him. He operates within the systems and social norms of their culture and has risen to a near god-like status among the Muslims there who long for education but despise the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The US Government's solution: war.

Who has more money? Who has more power of these three? Mortenson fades quickly into the background when you line them up.

Today while listening to Fresh Air, I heard an interview with Dexter Filkins the author of "The Forever War." He has spent the last several years in the same region as Mortenson and was telling the host that Al Qaeda has in fact regained it's strength in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

I think we've all known this, but I had never before had any frame of reference for the area he was talking about. Immediately I thought about _Three Cups of Tea_. The host and Filkins discussed the options the US had in dealing with this problem. And it's a big one because at this moment Pakistan is our ally. I was so troubled as I listened to Filkins say that the US Government was going to have to turn their bombs and fire-power on Pakistan.

I nearly started shouting at the radio. I wanted to stop the car and pull someone over and tell them how terrible this situation is! How absolutely devastating this war is.

Why is it that the US government can think only of war? Why is death and destruction the only answer to this problem? Who over there at the Pentagon will stop and listen and think reasonably for just one minute?! Why must we pour our money into war? Why can't we pour our efforts and money into education?

The majority of Pakistan and Afghanistan is not extremist. They simply want the same freedom that every human craves. Freedom to learn, to make their future better than their past, and to leave a legacy for their children. If we help build a strong, efficient education system over there than these people will have options. They'll vote with their feet and I truly believe they will walk right out of those Madrassas and extremist movements.

In my opinion, THAT'S how terrorism will end. It will shrivel up and whither away. If not forever, than at least it will be far weaker.

I really must do something. I can not just read this book and write a blog about it. This feels too important. This is too critical a moment in our nation's history. But what? What can one woman do in Azusa, CA?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Letting the Self Rest

Today, I wish I could hang a sign above my head that says, "Not myself today. Please don't take any first impressions."

It's been a whirlwind month. We moved, we went camping, we started work and school, my lovely mother came to visit, and I was actively involved in an artisan retreat. All this to say that I've expected not to be myself one day. I've been waiting on all the hype and excitement to die away and leave me feeling a little deflated, and finally after a couple weeks, that day has arrived.

It's a long day because Dwayne is at work and in class from 9 am until 10 pm. So it's just Noelle and me non-stop from morning 'til evening. Also, Noelle's top teeth sprung out last night, making their debut this morning. Cute, yes, but it's causing lots of strife. She is clingy, whiney, and easily frustrated, requiring more attention than usual.

To help us get through the day she and I decided to go visit Dwayne for lunch. She came out in all of her sunshine at the sight of new faces. Truly her father's daughter! But I couldn't muster the same brightness. My spirit was dragging and a pall was cast over my general area.

I felt it especially while talking to one of Dwayne's friendly supervisors. She was so nice. We discussed similar acquaintances, and shared a bit about our lives. For most of the conversation I couldn't help but feel drab and uninteresting. I felt as captivating as a rock, and this bothered me because I genuinely enjoyed talking to this woman. I wanted her to know how much I was appreciating her warmth and generosity of spirit, but I couldn't seem to get it together.

The blues have followed me home, and I'm left feeling a strange sense of loneliness. The sort of lonliness that comes from a spirit trying to recuperate from so much exertion and change. For me, I've realized that this is the cycle of my emotional life. In one hand, it feels good to be at my age and able to understand the ebb and flow of my emotions. I remember when they used to sweep me off my feet and carry me far out to sea, gasping and gulping to stay afloat. On the other hand, knowing myself a bit better doesn't make living through the weariness any more enjoyable.

I'm reminded of one Saturday afternoon during the summer before I got pregnant. My sister and I went body boarding at Manhattan Beach. I had been playing in the ocean alot that summer and so was pretty confident and easy in the water.

Annie and I pushed out a few yards into the lip of the Pacific, then coasted back to the beach on our boards. We did this a handful of times until unexpectedly I wiped out. The water grabbed me and turned me over in that laundry fashion that pushes water up your nose and leaves your sinuses stinging. I popped up gasping. I hadn't expected to wipe out because the wave wasn't that big.

I had played in waves much larger than the ones at Manhattan, but suddenly I found myself caught in a current. No matter how hard I tried to get back to shore, I couldn't do it. The board flipped again. So I decided to walk, but each wave, no higher than my waste, nearly capsized me and kept me from moving more than a few inches at a time.

I remember being exasperated by the whole thing. It wasn't like I was battling these mighty white caps to get home. But the more I pushed forward the more exhausted I got and the further away the beach looked. Either the waves were stronger than I realized, or I was more tired than I realized.

Finally, I stopped fighting the waves. Instead of battling my way through them, I stopped and ducked beneath the surface, letting them roll over my head in silence. Once they past, I popped up and began inching my way toward the beach at a diagonal. Walking nearly parrallel to the sand. In this way, I made my way back.

In this way, I hope to make my way back to a happier self. I'm trying to let the waves of weariness wash over me. Rather than fighting them off with relationships, fun, or activity, which might only exhaust me further. For now, I think the best thing is just to keep the beach in sight and let my soul float silently just beneath the surface. I think soon, I'll be able to start walking in.