September 26, 2022 § 13 Comments
By Becky Jo Gesteland
I ponder this question and peruse my blog to see if I have an answer. I find several relevant posts.
November, 2019 Time to myself.
I’ve been writing about my lack of time since July. Not sure why I felt I had so little time then, because I have even less now. Shifting priorities? New medication to combat depression?
Women writers have always struggled to find time to themselves to write. Right now, I’m writing at 6:23 a.m. when I really wish I was still sleeping. The time change helped me wake up early. That and the cat. So, for the next week or two I’ll take advantage of my messed up sleeping schedule to arise early and write a few words.
But then what? When my body and cat adjust to the new schedule, when NaNoWriMo is over, will I continue? Surely part of the struggle is priorities. Because unlike some women, I have a supportive family who would help protect my writing time if I simply asked. I think part of the dilemma for women is this ingrained sense of “needed-ness.” That is, we need to feel needed. As mothers, wives, bosses, daughters, aunts, colleagues…our relationships with others dominate our lives. So, we drop whatever we’re doing to help someone else. I interrupt my grading to feed the cat; I shorten my writing time to check email; I pause my Netflix show to listen to my daughter; I stop reading to talk to my husband; I walk back from yoga with a colleague rather than enjoying the post-practice peace. Choices sure. Priorities yes. But also, a culturally ingrained sense of needing to be there for others. At someone’s beck and call.
September, 2020 Reflection
What? After feeding the cats, before anyone else wakes up, I sit at the kitchen counter as daylight begins and the room becomes brighter.
So what? Observing my movements. Noticing my environment. Describing the scene. To what end? So that whoever someday reads this may know my state of mind? Why would they care? I live in a house with two people and two cats. It’s turned fall–September 22–and tomorrow I turn 58. The world still roils with COVID-19. Angry politicos battle for power. I’m tired, sad, listless.
Now what? I’m borrowing words from my syllabus, the questions that guide students to reflect on their community-engaged learning experiences. What? So what? Now what? At least those are the ones I recall. But I can’t answer “now what?” because I’m trapped in this space and time of pandemic. Still living one day at a time.
I can feed the hummingbirds, until they leave for the year. I can water the flowers, while they continue to bloom. I can wash dishes, fold laundry, mend shirts, knit shawls, read books, practice yoga, drink coffee, eat yogurt, type letters on a keyboard and watch them become text on a page and posts on a blog and artifacts of a moment in a day from a life of a woman passing time.
March, 2021 Lack of sleep.
The precious commodity eludes me today, of all days, the first weekday after the switch to daylight savings time. Wide awake at 5:45, which was actually 4:45 two days ago. No, the cats did not wake me. Perhaps I slept too long on Saturday. Maybe I have too many puzzles racing around in my brain. I did four yesterday: the Spelling Bee, the mini crossword, the Sunday, and a jigsaw puzzle. Or it could be my body’s adjustment to the missed SSRI dose on Friday night. Still finding a balance.
Today I receive my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and I’m a bit anxious–especially after my “mild prolonged response” to the first one. It will be a relief to be protected. By March 22nd. Just a little over a year since we shifted to remote work. The year that time stood still.
August, 2021 Observation.
To watch the mother and baby deer graze in our front yard, to listen to the silence of the house, to read book reviews and craft advice in Brevity, to lie on the couch with the cat and try not to fall asleep, to solve spelling bee or crossword puzzles, to read and perhaps write, to keep the world at bay for a few hours…before the sun comes all the way over the horizon, before the air conditioner kicks on, before my work emails start to ping, before my family wakes up, before the news of the world rushes in.
Becky Jo Gesteland lives in Ogden, Utah, where she is a professor of English at Weber State University. Her work has appeared in Gravel, Palaver, Role Reboot, Plateau Journal, So to Speak, Visitant, Weber: The Contemporary West, and various scholarly books and journals. She blogs at https://jomamabecky.org/
May 19, 2020 § 11 Comments
As a widely published writing coach, NYU writing professor, and assigning editor, my current and former students have been sending me pitches, op-eds and essays about why they are “breaking the rules of quarantine.” Sometimes they offer the justification that they have health, mental or emotional issues, and that’s why the rules shouldn’t apply…not to them.
In the midst of this crisis, it’s not the time for writers to grasp for splashy pieces founded on flaunting their ethical failures or illegal methods to sell their memoirs or build their platform. It will backfire.
As a writing teacher, a big part of what I do is save people from their worst instincts on what stories need to be told and how they need to tell it.
Students share their darkest moments with me and I help them craft their pain into stories that are published in top tier publications. I believe that care is a key reason I have been entrusted with training teens in journalism in NYU’s summer program.
What I don’t do is encourage them to exploit their pain to get a quick clip. Let me break it down for you:
We tell our kids with social media that once it’s up, it’s out there forever. So let’s take a slice of our own advice. If you broke the law, faced down a cop, stole money, betrayed your marital vows, or played a prank on someone that ended with tragedy, why would you want to advertise that? It can’t possibly benefit you or your family. People will get mad, and may want revenge. Whether they send your essay to the cop you proudly thwarted, testify against you in a child support hearing, or take action to have you pay what you took back to society, think twice about writing about it.
Instead: If you’ve done something that shouldn’t be publicized and you are compelled to share it with the world, write it into a novel. You will get points for imagination, even if it is the truth.
Let’s also not confuse revealing, first-person pieces with clickbait. I have noticed that many writers make the mistake of producing humiliating stories that never take their careers anywhere.
The reason that happens is that those clickbait stories—even those written well—shared damning details of something that happened to the writer, but offered no further insight beneath the events. The writer didn’t dig deep.
I’m all for a revealing, first-person piece and have written many of those pieces myself. But those pieces need to do something important: the reader has to relate to the writer and to do that they have to understand the emotional underpinnings of why the writer did what they did, and then some transformation or learning has to take place.
Anecdotes need to have a broader focus. Vivian Gornick’s brilliant book The Situation and the Story references the external—the logistical situation; and the internal, which is the story. The story is the heart, the part that shows the emotional underpinnings which make up the narrative arc of an essay. Without it, the essay is simply a situation, or clickbait.
Bottom line: This is a fraught time and there are people suffering, so please think twice about sending essays into the world that open you up for many legal and emotional ramifications and attacks. There is no smart way to sacrifice your integrity to get that byline. You may get notoriety—but not for your work. Just for being a jerk.
Estelle Erasmus, an award-winning journalist and writing coach, has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Week, Insider, The Independent, Parents Magazine and more. She is an adjunct writing professor at NYU and an ongoing guest editor for Narratively. She also teaches for Writer’s Digest, writes a column for Forbes and hosts/curates the podcast ASJA Direct: Inside Intel on Getting Published and Paid Well. Estelle can be found giving publishing advice on her website, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.