Yearly Archives: 2012

A Real-Life Banned Author: Stephanie Saye

Stephanie Saye is one of my friends. She’s also the author of Little 15, which tells the story of a high school girl who has an affair with her basketball coach. Little 15 raises a number of provocative issues, like: whose fault is it anyway? What sort of moral culpability, if any, does the teenager bear? What kind of girl gets involved with a married man? What kind of married man violates all moral and legal precepts by sleeping with a child?

The plot of my upcoming book, Ripple, does not shy from difficult subjects either; indeed, by chapter eight, the main character has killed her child-molesting husband with a golf club, and yes, friends, Helen Thompson would do it again. Why? Because he had it coming to him? Or because he had threatened to rape their daughter again? Did the main character act in self-defense? Could she have prevented the rape from occurring? How does a girl heal after having been raped? How does a girl overcome the pain and stigma of rape and incest?

Like Stephanie Saye, I write about subjects that are taboo–that make grown men cringe. When I first pitched my book to friends and acquaintances, many people gasped, winced, or simply stared at me slack-jawed.  Soon enough I realized that many people couldn’t get past my one-sentence synopsis. I know that Stephanie has encountered similar resistance. But you know what? If people can find the courage to read our books, and to delve into the deep issues we explore, they might find the tools they need to carve a path out of their own darkness.

But there’s the rub: our books must reach the public.  And so when Stephanie dropped me a line the other day to let me know that Little 15 had been banned from a private literary event in Houston, well, I got fired up and asked her to write about her experience here. Without further ado, I present–

• • •

Stephanie Saye:

Do you know what sometimes happens to fearless authors who write controversial books?

Their books get banned.

And that’s exactly what happened to my book just last week.

Long story short, I was uninvited to market and sell my book at a high-profile literary event this week in Houston.

I’m not going to tell you the event name, because I’m not devious and I don’t believe in revenge. But I will say this: the keynote speaker for this event is a best-selling author (I’m talking New York Times Bestseller list here), whose blockbuster novel was recently made into a hit movie.

Up until a few days ago, I was one of a handful of authors selected to sell books before and after the big name author’s speech, which based on ticket sales, is expected to draw a crowd of over 1,000. And for an indie author hungry for sales, that’s like striking gold.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve worked diligently back and forth with the event coordinators on copy and images for promotional materials, including the event program that would feature a write up on my book. I did exactly what they asked of me every step of the way. I made travel arrangements. My husband set me up for wireless credit card processing. I ordered promotional materials for my booth, along with a couple hundred copies of my books from my publisher, which were delivered to my door step in six separate boxes that have since taken over my living room.

Everything seemed to be falling in place for this event, until I opened up my email one morning and found the following message:

Good Morning Stephanie,

Thank you so much for signing up for the 8th Annual [HIGH-PROFILE PRIVATE LITERARY EVENT]. After further review with administration, we feel that your novel is not appropriate for our event. Due to the nature of the book, we just do not feel comfortable including it at the event. I apologize for the late notice and decision. We thank you for considering to join our event and again we are sorry to have to decline.

We wish you the best with your future endeavors!

All my best,

[Event Coordinator Person]

Are you kidding me?

The thing is, the event committee APPROVED my book almost two months ago. As part of the selection process, I was required to send a copy of my book and a sample of reviews. Shortly thereafter, I got an official letter inviting me to promote and sell my book at the event.

So here’s how the cookie crumbled. When the copy for the event program went up the ranks for approval, a chief decision maker apparently stopped on the description of my book and took issue.

Little 15—a riveting story about a girl, her coach and their torrid affair.

“This points to a major breakdown in our selection and approval process that we will be sure to correct moving forward so this never happens again,” one official assured me over the phone. “We are so very sorry, but given the nature of your book, we just aren’t comfortable having it at our event.”

Fine. I know my book is edgy. I know it’s risqué. But as I told the event official, my novel is intended to be a cautionary tale—one that is helping to raise awareness of an issue that happens all too often in our schools. In fact, if you look at some of the reviews for Little 15, readers have said that my novel has inspired them to sit down with their kids and talk to them about this kind of abuse.

I used that and other reader feedback as the basis for producing a book trailer for Little 15, which I scrambled to launch last week on the heels of having my invitation revoked. Psychologically speaking, it was what I needed to do to move my artistry forward in the face of what some might consider a failure or loss. But in my mind, having my book banned from an event because of the nature of its content underscores my purpose as an author: to write books that move me, no matter how off color my stories might be in the face of mainstream societal beliefs.

On the other hand, I understand how the topic of my novel could be offensive. Literary works of art often are. And that’s OK. I knew that going in. But to change your mind a week before the event? When I’ve already invested in promotional materials and 250 copies of my books?

Judy Blume: Banned Author

*Inhales* *Exhales*

Moving on.

So now, as I reflect on the events of last week, I find myself asking the question: “Is there a silver lining to all this?”

Oh yes, my friends, there sure is.

As it turns out, having my book banned puts me in a category with some pretty famous authors like Vladimir Nabokov, Toni Morrison, Shel Silverstein, Maya Angelou and Judy Blume to name a few.

All of these authors, and many like them, have had a book—or in some cases, books—removed from school or library shelves.

This sort of thing still happens all the time. I realize that my book wasn’t actually removed from a library or school, but having my invitation revoked to a private literary event gave me a taste of what censorship feels like.

In Good Company

To give you some background, each year the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom receives hundreds of reports on books and other materials that were “challenged” (their removal from school or library shelves was requested).

Not surprisingly, J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series (which is one of my family’s all-time favorites) draws the most complaints, commonly from parents and others who believe the books promote witchcraft to children. Other frequently challenged titles include:

  • “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, for its use of language, particularly references to race
  • “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, for the description of rape she suffered as a child

    Harper Lee: Banned Author

  • To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, for offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group
  • Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer, for religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  • Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, for offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  • My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult, for homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

That’s a pretty impressive list, if you ask me. And I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t aspire to be a part of it. So why this allure to be part of the banned?

Because to me, being a banned-book author is more of an accomplishment than a drawback.

It means not being afraid of tackling hard-hitting topics that might make people uncomfortable. It means not shying away from writing about real-life drama that sometimes exposes the dark side of our human character. And it means having the courage to write for one’s self instead of being driven by what people think.

That’s what I did when I wrote Little 15.

And that’s what I’ll continue to do over and over again.

• • •

***Stephanie Saye is the author of Little 15—a story about a high school basketball star, her coach and their torrid affair. When she’s not writing novels, getting a wax or spending time with her husband and two sons, you can find Stephanie on the street corner trying to hock the 250 copies of her book that she’s now stuck with after getting banned from a recent literary event. A recovering corporate suit and a native Texan, Stephanie surprisingly does not own a horse, a gun or even a pair of chaps.

To purchase a copy of Little 15, please click on the link HERE.

What do you think about censorship, banned books and controversial topics?




My Faith: Why I Cannot Do Otherwise

I wrote the following last week . . .
_______________

I’ve been thinking about my presence on Facebook. As my page has gotten bigger, I’ve met more and more lovely people. Unfortunately, a few folks have said some unkind, sarcastic or even abusive things on my page. It got so bad the other night that I thought about changing the way I talk to you. Maybe, I thought, I should try harder to build an audience of potential readers by developing more of a persona. Maybe I should not be so raw and real all the time. Those of you who’ve been around for awhile know the good, the bad, and for sure the crazy about me. If I’m struggling, I talk about it.

But I’m about so much more than my struggles. I’m about joy and persevering and romantic ideals and kindness and seeking the good. After all, if I’m running from Hell, I’m heading towards Heaven, right?

But heck, I thought, maybe I need to view this as a business. I should conduct more giveaways and promotions and use my influence to make a dollar . . .um no. Hell no. I honestly believe my writing will sell on its own, without me wasting my time and your time with whine-beg-sellathons.

Then, I thought, maybe I should put on some armor and stop talking about my personal issues so much. Maybe it’s time to put on another one of my many personas. But you know what? I’m done with armor, personas and masks. I don’t have the desire or energy to hide behind some fake persona. I’m daring to write and live in my own clothes, using my own words, and I refuse to compromise.

When I thought about it, I realized that some people just aren’t going to like me. And you know what? I like being liked, but at what price? I mean, should I change how I act just so more people will like me? No. I must take heart, respect myself and do my best with the gifts, talents and imperfections that God has given me. And if some people don’t like the authentic me, then that’s okay. Really—it’s okay.

I’m grateful for those of you who enjoy following my stuff. I’m also grateful to those people who gave me a shot and decided I wasn’t their cup of tea. Sometimes I learn the most from the times I’ve failed or, in this case, from the people who have not stayed with me. I’ve learned that I can’t change what I do or how I act to keep from failing or to convince someone not to leave me.  I’m going to keep being E. L. Farris (hey I love going third person lol). I will keep doing my best as a writer and as a human being. That’s all any of us can do.

_________

The thing is, I’ve been thinking about a lot more than my presence on Facebook lately. I never thought I’d be a born-again Christian. Seriously, I never thought I’d say the words. I never thought it. I’m a woman of reason–really, I am. But I have always been profoundly religious, too.

I grew up in a family where there was much religion but almost no faith.  More than faith, religion or even reason, there was confusion and noise and anger. Amid all of that, I searched for Him, but when I walked around studying the Bible alone, they laughed at me. Called me a wanna-be Saint, a pretender, a phony, and an idiot.

My birth family calls themselves Catholic. I left the Catholic flock but since then, I did try to return. I fell on my knees and confessed my sins to a priest . . . I even confessed the sins done unto me. Despite the best efforts of that priest, the Catholic church would not take me back unless I recanted my marriage in a Protestant church. I could not do this, and so they cast me out.

That made me want to give up on religion. I didn’t, but I wanted to.

I kept searching.

I have no idea what’s really the right religion for everyone else. Each one of us needs to find his or her own road, and wherever it leads you, I hope that God’s love will be with you. Always. All I know is that God never gave up on me, even when I wanted to give up on finding Him.

I’ve been searching for so long. I’ve been searching for so freakin’ long, and every time I was close, real close, something or someone knocked me off the road I was on. But He never left me.

What pains me today, and I’ll be honest with you–the pain of rejection cuts way too deep still–is that I will lose friends. I think I may have already lost some. It hurts. It hurts that even as I will not judge where they walk or what road they’re on, they will hear the words “Born-Again” and slam the door shut on me. I’ve lost so much in this life. I don’t want to lose anymore or anyone.

It hurts. Because I cannot do otherwise. I cannot choose between friends and my faith. It simply is no choice. I’m quoting Martin Luther, by the way. When he attached his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the Church Door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517, he explained, with an anguish I can all too well understand, that he could not do otherwise. Here are his words:

Unless I am convinced by Scripture or clear reasoning that I am in error – for popes and councils have often erred and contradicted themselves – I cannot recant, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against one’s conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. So help me God. Amen.

Like Luther, I stand where I stand. I am impelled to state my faith. It will sadden–it does sadden– me if I lose friends because of this, but this is my faith. I cannot apologize for it. I should not–must not–apologize it. My conscience requires otherwise. As Martin Luther said, so help me God.




Service, Talents, Self and God

Last week, as part of my ongoing spiritual journey, I embarked on a systematic rereading of the New Testament. I took a break from reading Mark and read Deb Bryan’s post about learning compassion from a woman who massaged the head of an old lady whose skull was covered with lesions.  I mentioned to Deb that this reminded me of Jesus touching lepers in books Matthew and Mark and that I’d struggled with the same sort of aversion to illness because it taps into my fears of mortality.

Also this morning, a dear friend posted this on my wall:

When you have done all you can, Jesus will do what you can’t.

And she added that “certain things seem like they are for you.” I took from this that all I need to do is my best—to keep my head down, and God will take care of the rest.

Then I got on the phone with my coach, and I admitted that my fear of failure is paralyzing me. I’ve been comparing myself too much to other writers, just like I used to when I was a lawyer. Some of these comparisons serve me well. I need to establish what my market is, for example, in order to package and sell my book to agents. She asked me if there was something—anything—I could do to help me with the pain this causes and very quietly, I replied, “I’m trying to put it in God’s hands. The answer lies in God. In my faith. I can’t get my worth from how many books I sell or how much money I make.”

What does this mean? I need to realize, as Coach Carrie said, that God loves me no matter what, and I need to accept His love.  Also, I need to realize that my writing comes in part from Him, or as I read in another blog post today, God is in some respects my muse.

Here is what the writer, Rev. Danny Crosby says:

 [There is] a creative process that begins and ends beyond the individual; it speaks of an alchemy of brain, experience and wisdom that adds up to more than the individual who created the work; it speaks of a greater mystery.

Crosby goes on to explore how artists create. Are we inspired by a muse? Why is it that so often, some of our best ideas come to us while we’re sleeping? How much of what we create is truly ours—how much of it comes from our own minds, and how much of it comes from God?

There is something divine occurring in the process; there is something at work here that calls the creation out of the individual; there is something going on here that is more than self, that cannot be controlled. I know myself that some weeks I am so full of ideas that they are seemingly bursting out of  my ears and yet other weeks the well is dry. Some days I am completely blocked then suddenly, as if something had just whispered in my ears, the idea just comes bursting out of me and I start writing again. Could this be God? Is God controlling this?

I ask the same questions all the time. Sometimes I wake up after having written a piece late at night, and I stare at the keyboard and cannot remember typing the words I see in front of me. I reread a passage I’ve written the next day and find gem-like clarity and it looks and feels both familiar and yet completely new to me. It’s like running into someone in a bar, and they look familiar but you’re not sure if you’ve seen them before—that’s how I feel when I come to one of those passages that seems divinely written.

I don’t know what God has to do with it all. Often I dream up things that I later write about. Dialogue and plot twists come to me when I sleep. And as I walk this earth, things I see, hear, smell or touch stimulate ideas, feelings and even memories, and all of this feeds me. It becomes a part of me and a part of what I write. And sometimes I suspect that God places some of these voices, thoughts, visions, and even apparitions into my path in the hopes it will lead me where he wants me to go, both as a woman and as an artist.

All I know is that if God is using me as a channel, then He will be pleased by what I write. Or if my work represents the deepest, best part of my soul, then He will be pleased with what I create. Or if my work serves him and serves others, or helps them, then He will be pleased. And in the final analysis, that’s all that really, really matters.

As I was contemplating all of this, Deb sent me a blog post from My Shoegaze Faith titled, “The Sound of Generosity.” It’s based on Mark 10:35-45. This chapter tells the story of how all the apostles were arguing for the right to die with Jesus. The apostles argued about who could be the best martyr. Who could suffer the most? Who, in other words, could be the most generous?

The blogger, an Episcopal Priest, wrote the following:

If we listen . . . we hear the sound of Jesus pleading with His disciples to be humble, not to be great. The greatness they all . . . doesn’t come to us because we gamed the system or we tried really hard to earn it.

The mistake all of the disciples make is that they are all jockeying for position, trying to order themselves and figure this out. They are still stuck  in the last argument over who is the greatest [servant].

 When Jesus says, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” I no longer hear Jesus ordering anybody, but compelling everyone. If you are to follow me, then you must be a servant. If we are all striving to be servants, then there are no masters.

So what does this mean for me? I keep worrying that my writing won’t be good enough. And if it isn’t good enough, then I’m a failure. If I’m a failure, then I deserve to be punished, and if I deserve to be punished, then at least I should issue the punishment. I can feel a certain weird pride in the depth of my suffering, and I can control my fate, my destiny, even if by controlling it I simply go about the process of destroying myself. Control and destroy rather than surrender to the natural order, to the world, to how the world will take my stuff . . . to God.

Doesn’t God love me no matter what I write? Doesn’t He play some role in what I’m doing? Doesn’t He want me to do something special? Oh no, I don’t mean I’m more special than anyone else. He loves all his children the same; He loves me no more and no less than He loves everyone else. But in writing, I am using the gifts He’s given me, and if I try hard, I can use these gifts to help the world become better. I can be a servant. I can choose to create according to the best inside of me, which is what He has created.

I don’t need to figure out if I’m the best of his servants, no more than I need to prove that I’m the best of writers. It doesn’t matter and in fact, He doesn’t want me to spend all of my time worrying about it. It’s not for me to say and it doesn’t matter how well received my writing is. All that matters is that I do the best I can with the gifts given to me.  I’m not even sure if everything I write is supposed to be about Him. I think not. I think I’m supposed to do my best with my talents, and in doing so, with the caveat of course that my work can’t go against His main teachings, I will fulfill my human potential. And THAT pleases Him.




Sleepless in Virginia

I can’t sleep tonight.  My husband, a Den Leader for my son’s Cub Scout Troop, is out at Burke Lake on a camp out with our two sons.  My daughter is asleep and I am approximately 393,234 sheep from sleep.  Here are a list of things keeping me from sleeping tonight:

1. Is the new air mattress comfortable?

2. Are the boys too cold?

3. Did Travis take his meds?  Did I?

4. Will Ben’s scar go away soon?  Damn.  We forgot to put on the scar-reducing lotion.  I need to buy some Vitamin E from Freshfields.

5. Did I really shut the garage door? Would it be neurotic to check it for the third time?  If I went and checked it, I could get the clothes out of the dryer but I can’t find the brown laundry basket and the white one is full of clean laundry.

Ben’s scar

6. Will my headache ever go away?  I think I gave myself a mild concussion when I knocked the contents of the top shelf of Ben’s bookcase on my head.  I cradled my head in my hands, sunk to the floor, and called for a medic.  I’m so grateful it was only a passing head wound.  I lay there on the floor thinking about all the doctors and nurses who have taken care of me in the past.  They comforted me each time and promised me I’d be okay, and I was.  I could tell from their faces that they’d seen far worse injuries than mine.

7. Is lip balm addictive? What if it is found to cause cancer, like saccharine?  Oh crap.  How many bottles of diet coke have I had over the years? How about regular soda?  Coke is usually too sweet, but I love Slurpees, especially with Coke mixed with Cherry and that blue stuff. How many calories does a regular sized Slurpee have?  And why do they have to make them with Aspartame in the lemon-lime flavor?

8. What if the anti-diarrhea tablets are expired and I get diarrhea? That makes me giggle.

9. It’s so quiet I can hear my heartbeat.  My resting heart rate should be 60 BPM or lower but I’m not resting.  I should check it right now but if it’s above 60 BPM, I’ll stay up all night wondering if I’m going to get a panic attack.  If I get a panic attack, what will I do? There’s no one I can call! I’m all alone!

10. Did the boys brush their teeth?

11. It’s too quiet.  Why are the frogs gone?  I miss the frogs and they won’t be back until spring.  In spring, the pollen returns and Maddie is allergic to pollen.  Remember when she had to take Xopenex 3-4 times a day for months at a time?  Or the time she had to stay on the Nebulizer for the entire winter after I took the kids out in the rain in December and all three of them got pneumonia . . . man was I scared.  And I was secretly convinced that it was my fault they all caught pneumonia.  That had to have been my fault, right?

12. How far away is Florida from Seattle?  Baltimore is what, 2,700 miles from Seattle?  Remember when they showed the flight plan in Harry Met Sally?  And can men and women really not be” just” friends?  What’s my friend Sam doing right now?  I should text her.  It’s only 9:30 in Seattle.

13. The Marine Corps Marathon is in seven days and seven hours. This time next week I’ll really be freaking out.  Damn.  My heart just sped up.

I should stop at 13.  Wait.  I’m supposed to write out “thirteen.”  Speaking of number thirteen, I refuse to believe in silly superstitions.  So does my Maddie.  Obdurate and strong, she wears the number thirteen.  That is one of the many things I like about her.

She and I watched A League of Their Own Tonight.  It’s the first time she’s seen it, and the fourth time I’ve seen it.  I still cried at the end, and after it was over, we talked about it.  She wanted to know my story.

I grew up as a serious ballplayer . . . but tonight was the first time I could really explain it to my daughter.  We talked some, and then she hugged me and gasped, “Wow–so that’s the sport you grew up playing?

“Yep.  I won championships.  I was a pitcher, like Kit.”

Madeline stared at me, a little breathless.  “You were?”

I grinned.  “Come on Maddie.  How many moms throw like I do?”

With her arms wrapped around my neck, she replied, “None. You throw like Dottie.”

I nodded.  “And I can teach you how to throw like that too.”

Goodnight friends.  It’s one a.m. here in Northern Virginia.  I’m not going to bed yet.  But I hope you are sleeping in the arms of the person you love most.

And if you’re in the mood to chat, please tell me some of the things that keep you up at night.




Running and Mom Guilt

One kid, then a second, and then a third jumped-tumbled off the high bus steps and gang-tackled me.  After hugging them back, I walked behind the boys with my daughter, who chattered about her day.

“I have something I want to ask you about,” I began, my arm resting on her shoulder.  “All of you.”

She squinted up at me through the afternoon sunlight.  “Why?  What?”

I started to explain what was bothering me as we kicked our shoes off by the steps to the laundry room.  Standing there, with my fingers wrapped around the door frame, I felt off-balance.  One time, years ago, I had shut the door on my son’s little fingers when he used the frame to maintain his balance, and since then, I’d been afraid of sticking my fingers in the space between the door’s edge and the door frame.  And yet for some reason, I still did it every day anyway.  Once I got my purple and bright yellow running shoes off my feet, I breathed a sigh of relief that my fingers were intact, and slammed the thick white laundry room door behind me.

I removed lunchboxes from backpacks, stacked the three backpacks in the space between the china cabinet and the dining room wall and set snacks in front of the kids.  For a few minutes, everyone talked at once about their day, three overlapping voices forming the ever-shifting mosaic of our life as a family.

 I leaned against the kitchen counter top, which is where I usually stand when I’m in the kitchen.  Since the accident, I almost never sit down at the table.  It’s become my new normal and no one thinks anything of it.  When my husband isn’t around, sometimes I jump up and sit on top of the counter, right near the spice drawer, which is where I used to sit as a child.  This annoys my husband.  He thinks it’s going to break the counter, so it’s one of my many guilty pleasures, I guess.

“So, guys, I need to ask you something.  I have this race tomorrow, but I’m thinking it’s going to take me away too long from you.  That’s making me feel really bad.  It seems unfair.”

“Yeah, Mom, you are gone a lot on the weekends.  Why do you have to work so much?”

I sighed and looked at Maddie.  “I’m writing a novel, hun.  And it’s important.”  I took a deep breath.  Was I really gone that much?  “Anyway, I would be gone, like, the entire day, from before breakfast to dinner.  And so I wanted to let you decide.  And whatever you decide is fine with me.  I’ll honor it.  If you want me home, I’ll not go to the race.”

Jim’s eyes brightened.  He didn’t need to speak.  I had his answer.

Then Maddie did one of her smile-shrug-hair flips, with a dozen other facial expressions thrown in for emphasis.  She’s able to convey more without speaking than any other little girl I’ve met.  With her voice rising to a higher pitch as she spoke, she spoke.  “I want for you to do what makes you happy, Mom.”

I sighed.  “No, I’m asking you what makes you happy.”

She twirled her hair.  “Well, it will make you happy to run the race, won’t it?  You’ve trained for it.  You’d be disappointed if you didn’t run it, wouldn’t you?”

I felt like Hell.  She cared about me—that was obvious.  She wanted me to be happy—that was also obvious.  But did she just not want me around?  I tried to pull it together.  “I don’t want you to miss me while I’m doing something that will make only me happy.  What you want is very important to me.”

She shrugged.  Her faces twisted in concentration.  “You are gone a lot on the weekends.  But we’re okay with Dad.”

“So you want me to be gone then?”  It was a stupid thing to say, but before I could right the ship, Ben, with a bored look on his face, swung around in his chair and exclaimed, “I want you to go run it.  We’ll hang out with Dad.”

That stung.  I tried to inspect him, to understand his words, to find the hidden resentment, but I think he was just speaking without filter, saying what he really was thinking, which he usually does anyway.   Tears were rising, but I pushed that back down.

“Am I really gone that much?”

Maddie wince-smiled, and I tried to read everything she was thinking, just as she was trying to read me.

“Okay.  Maddie.  Please.  What do you want me to do?  I want to be here and I want you to be happy.  That’s job one.  Be a good mom.  Take care of y’all.  That’s my job.  What you need to concentrate on is not what makes me happy.  I want to know what makes you happy, okay?”

She nodded.  I could almost see the gears moving in her head.

“So, do you want me to stay home tomorrow?  You have the deciding vote.  And it’s perfectly okay.”

She smile-shrugged again, and twirled her hair.  “It would be nice to have you around.  But what about all of your training?”

I breathed.  Finally.  “The training is fine.  There will be other races.”

“Are you sure?  It’s okay if you want to run it.”

I crossed the room and opened the fridge door.  As I pivoted, slamming the door shut behind me, I thought real fast.  This was absurd.  I was being absurd.  This wasn’t really their decision.  It was my decision, all the way.  Even if it hurt me that Ben didn’t seem to want me home, I wasn’t going to run from my responsibility.  Even if staying home meant admitting I’d been gone too much, I wasn’t going to run from this.  Even if it meant facing my guilt, I could do that.  I could even face my guilt for being away too much and being too busy and too absorbed in my work without turning it into a shame-making session with my past, present and future ghosts haunting me.

Because, you see, I thought to myself, I can control how the future works out with me and my children by slamming the door shut on this race, and this disengaged parenting, right here, right now.  They won’t remember the Saturdays I disappeared, or at least won’t be haunted by them, if I change–if I manage to be here going-forward, most Saturdays and Sundays.  I’m in charge of how our family turns out, and all I got to do is be here, and when here, actually be present.  I can do all of that without sacrificing my work, and my happiness.

After guzzling half a liter of ice-cold water, I rubbed my mouth on my sleeve and then nuzzled my daughter’s head.  “I’m sorry I’ve been gone so much.  I’ll try harder.”

It took a few more passes for us to reassure one another that all was well, and then I changed the subject back to the contents of their day.  And as they unpacked their day like a woman unloads the contents of her purse, I tried to sort through my feelings.  Feeling guilty paralyzed me, and so I had to try to set that aside and think things through.  Had I been gone too much?  Maybe; maybe not.  Children can be self-absorbed.  So can I.  I never really grew up.  In some ways, I’m still a life coming into being, rather than a finished product.  And the thing is, I was profoundly unhappy when I was just a stay at home mom.  No offense to SAHMs (Hell, moms that don’t work get their own acronym just like some neighborhoods garner their own zip codes, so they must be doing something with all of their time, right?), but I lost my sense of self when I stopped working. 

I love being a mom.  But I didn’t love being just a mom.  I’m not much good at most things domestic, and I never felt comfortable with the other SAHMs.  I felt like the ugly swan around them, and deep down, I knew I didn’t belong.  As the days revolved and became years, I felt constrained and trapped and overwhelmed with the unchanging routine of it all.  I wasn’t very good at running a household and I never wanted to be.

Which is not to say I didn’t love being home with my children.  I did.  And they knew I loved them.  Maybe that’s why they didn’t mind when I disappeared for hours on my long runs—because when I got home, I brought my grinning self to the threshold and bestowed hugs and laughs and well-timed winks.  Running made happy, and being happy made me a better mom.   Within limits, running made me a better mom.

I guess it’s all about balance.  I’d never quite found it.  Every day I reached out and tried to hold onto something stable to find it, because I was always moving so damn fast.  But as a mom, I had to be my own doorframe.  I had to provide the ballast to keep the ship afloat, and to do that, I had to stand still, if only for a few moments at a time, or else I was going to run my family aground.  And ships, like families, get pretty messed up when that happens.




I Hear Him and I Surrender

This is an excerpt from my final chapter from I Run: Running from Hell with El

Many people have asked me, often with great exasperation, what I was running away from.  For years, friends told me to stop.  Over and over and over again, people told me to rest, to stand still, to stop.  But I was too scared.  I was scared of myself, of the demons that danced and pranced inside me.  I was scared of dying, perhaps by my own hand.  I was scared I’d end up in Hell.  I was scared of my past.  I was scared of facing my pain.  I was scared I wouldn’t survive whatever I saw when I finally faced it—all of it. 

And I’m still scared.  I’m fucking terrified.  Really, I am.  I’m at this crossroads, and I gotta decide which way to turn—which path to take.  If I keep running away from my pain, something really bad is going to happen to me.  I don’t know what that is, and in the past, I’d just keep running for miles and miles, one day, one horizon, one sunset fading into the next, until my legs could carry me no farther.  I’d follow one path, then turn down another one, hoping that I could drink in the adventure of it all and find my way back home someday.

I don’t like to give up.  It feels like surrender.  And surrendering means making myself vulnerable.  All my life, I’ve gritted my teeth and refused to stop moving.  God tried to get my attention more than ten years ago.  The seizures almost killed me.  And I heard Him loud and clear.  I had given up on Him and then, all of a sudden, well, I needed Him.  I realized how much I loved being alive, and every night before I fell asleep, I thanked Him for another day, and begged Him to let me see the morning light.

And yet I kept running away.  I waged war against myself; I plotted my own downfall; and I teetered on the edge of living and dying.  He was patient with me.  He gave me three beautiful children and they loved me.  Through them, I felt the first glint of self-love.  Because of them, I fought . . . I hung on.  I tried to find my way through the darkness inside; I tried to live a good life but I kept running away from my past.  I remained a stranger and too often, an enemy to myself and thus to Him.

The bus collided with our SUV and my life as I knew it ended.  I knew He kept me alive that night for a reason.  I felt His grace inside me as I screamed with a mother’s fierce love, “NO!! Don’t hurt my children!!”  For once, I stood still for a little while.  And I felt a pain unlike anything I had ever felt before.  I ran to Him; sobbing, I collapsed in front of a priest and confessed not just my sins, but the sins others had done to me.  I tried to find my way to Him through my childhood Catholic faith, but the church would not have me as I was—the Catholic church rejected my Protestant marriage.

I staggered and fled again. I was trying to find my way but I managed to get lost again.  I ran and I ran and I couldn’t stop running this time because I was running to stay alive.  You see, I was running back through my past.  I was running right through the gates of Hell and the only way to get through Hell is to keep moving until you’re safe again.

It took me two years of intense therapy to get out of there alive.

This year, for Lent, my therapist ordered me to stop hurting myself—to stop even wanting to hurt myself.  I couldn’t do this alone.  I needed God’s help.  He filled me with His light and I turned that light on the demons, real or metaphorical I do not know, that were lodged inside me.  I don’t care how this sounds.  All I know is that after two decades of wanting to hurt myself, of sometimes hurting myself, I stopped.  I didn’t overcome this on my own.  I worked hard that day to channel light and goodness and most of all, God’s will.  You see, He helped me do it.

Since this day, this miraculous day, I haven’t wanted to hurt myself.  And yet, I still wasn’t listening very well either.  And He kept trying to reach me.  He sent friends to talk to me, friends who told me they carried His message.  It’s true.  I sort of listened, but I also kept running, but slower.  Not as far.  And every so often, I would pause, look around, and listen.  I started to read the Bible again.  I started to listen when He talked to me, and I’ve been trying to figure out what He wants me to do.

Then He spoke to my friend. This is part of what He told her:

A: He says you are running from Him, too…and stop it sooner rather than later.

El: okay.

A: Run to Him, not away…Run to Him…

El: I hear Him. Chills are running up and down my spine.

A: Then listen…be kinder to yourself and trust Him to get you through the process. You cannot hear Him when you are constantly going 100 miles an hour.  And your body won’t hold out if you do not slow down. He will get your attention, and He will slow you down. It’s entirely your choice which way it goes.

El: Wow–is this Him or you–the tough love thing?

A: Him. I just type it.

El: man.

 A: Once He wants your attention, He will stop at nothing to get it but it is done out of LOVE—not sickness like all of the past people because he is not a people…He is God! And if He has to inflict pain to heal, He will do that—with love.

El: I hear.

A: It is easier if you surrender…but I know that is hard for you.

… … …

I do have a choice, apparently. I can listen to Him, or I can keep running.  If I keep running, and don’t listen, I’m going to get injured, again.  And it ain’t going to be pretty.  The thing is, some people I love very much depend on me.  And if I can’t get my shit together for myself, I can do it for them.

I wasn’t 100% sure what I was running to when I started writing this book, but now I know.  I knew I was running away from Hell but I didn’t quite grasp where I was supposed to go.  But now He has spoken and I’m listening.  No more running away.  My safety lies in Him and deep inside of me–that place we all have if we can get very, very still, and hear Him. I hear Him.  I’m on my way.  I’m on my way home.

 




A Laundry Mountain, Falling Leaves and the Synopsis

I learned a little about the way I write this last week.  I like juggling several projects at once right up until the irreversible moment when I hit terminal mental velocity.  Then I drop all the balls and hide under the mountain of laundry piled on my bed, whimpering. 

It turns out that I write query letters and synopses in a state of complete and utter distraction.  To get in the mood to write something technical, which a synopsis is, I went through the writer’s version of a baseball player stepping into the batter’s box.  Minus the loogies and the crotch grabs.

I skimmed books and websites to learn, sort of, what I needed to write.  Then I got scared and thought about outlining Alien Enlightenment, but I don’t outline anything.  So I researched angels and demons and time space continuums some more.  And I drank way, way too much coffee and ate a pumpkin scone or two.

Then I started reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly and told my closest friends and about a thousand other people that they really, really needed to read it too.  I even made a poster of the Teddy Roosevelt quote that inspired Daring Greatly.  The first poster I made sucked, so I created a second one.  Here it is:

I started the query letter.

• • •

A few more days passed.  Every once in a while, I walked past the computer, glared at the query letter, and typed out a sentence or two.  I ran many miles, celebrated a fifteenth Anniversary and whined, a lot.  My husband told me I was doing a marvelous job and no, Cutie you’re not fat several times.

I skimmed, in no particular order, pages from a few more books on writing and several websites.  I asked a few patient friends like Astrea Baldwin, Deb Bryan, Doug MacIlroy and August McLaughlin for tips, help and advice.  Yellow leaves fell outside my window and the weather turned cold after a front blew through.  I opened a document and titled it: Synopsis/Ripple/Farris.

Two more days passed.

I reorganized all of the books on my desk.  More yellow leaves tumbled and danced and skated as they spiraled to the Virginia clay.  I contemplated the seasons and tried to stop counting the acorns on the deck.

I folded the laundry, went for a run, and took a hot shower.  Then I wrote fifteen words.  Man I hope my husband isn’t still reading this because when he got home from work yesterday, I told him I had worked nonstop all day.  I spent a half-hour whining on Facebook:

Help! I must finish this synopsis but it is as boring as writing a freakin’ legal memorandum. Ack! Groan. Wail. Teeth gnash. Fingernail nibble. Nervous pacing.

I wrote another fifteen words, ate a bowl of Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal, counted twenty-seven yellow pen-oak leaves float past, and whined for thirteen minutes.  Just re-reading this makes me exhausted.  A gust of wind brought a bombardment of acorns against the rooftop of our Dutch Colonial. 

The laundry pile beckoned, but I resisted.  It was time.  My short, chubby fingers ran over the wireless iMac keyboard, lickety-split, staccato tapping echoing against a mosaic of alternative music.  Sentences split, fragmented, then wove together.

Eight hundred and thirty two words and a week after I started, and the first draft is done.  And now?  Now I fold laundry.




Unfiltered, Raw and Real

It’s been raining this morning since I woke up.  The house takes on a grayish tint without sunlight and I’m thinking about grabbing my red running jacket and heading out to run over tree roots and through mud and into puddles.  That will come later.  For now, I grab a sweatshirt, a thick black fleece one, and edit and write and think and create, hoping to sculpt some beauty out of the uncertain edges that make up my rainy morning.

I don’t write to anyone else’s requirements anymore, and I love that.  I love the freedom of crafting words according to my own artistic needs.  For far too many years, I wrote what and how and when I was told . . . by partner, court or client.

Please forgive me, kind friends who have bestowed lovely blogging awards on me, but I simply cannot spend time writing to spec, so to speak.  What I love most about this writing gig of mine is I can blaze my own trail.  I have total and complete artistic freedom, and this is more precious to me than almost anything else, save my family.

Artistic freedom is a beautiful and mighty thing.  I was thinking about this last night while talking to a dear, dear friend of mine.  You see, I will never work for anyone else again.  I’m going for it.  I’m all in, as far as my choice of vocation.  I am blessed to be doing for a living the one thing I love most: writing.

While I don’t write to spec, I love to riff off other writers, and my favorite source for improvisation material is my dear friend, Deborah Bryan.  A few weeks ago, I received her post, Let’s Get Real, in my in-box and I sat there, all hunched over my brand-new Macbook Pro, reading the results of five minutes of unfiltered, fearless, straight up “this is what I’m thinking and fuck it all I’m going to tell you what’s on my mind” writing.   And I grinned and howled and felt at home, as if she and I were sitting on her balcony drinking tea and watching the cars race past on the freeway overhead.

So here goes.

I know I write well.  Am I arrogant or just honest?  I suck at a lot of things and am average at best at many more.

For example, I strive to be a good mom.  In truth, I think I’m a mediocre mom, but that’s better than telling everyone who will listen that I’m a great mom and consistently proving otherwise.

I’m mad at Facebook.  My friends call Mark Zuckerberg something different.  They switch the “Z” with an “F” and I think it’s funny but then I feel guilty for calling him bad names even after I use his product all day, every day.  That said, he is trying to make page owners like me pay for what was once free.  My friend, D.Z., explained that he should be paying us, the content creators, for what we do.  We get Facebook users to linger more online, and the more our followers linger, the more likely they are to click on the paid advertising links.

I’m bored with this rant.

I’m hyper and unable to sit still.  I interrupt people too much; smile when I’m sad; giggle when I’m mad; and hate to wear dresses or uncomfortable shoes.  In fact, the real reason I’m a writer is so that I can wear athletic shorts and a t-shirt every day.

I love my hair.  It’s long and sort of dirty blond, not quite auburn, and not yet silver.  It makes me feel feminine and pretty, which is hard for me.  Usually, I don’t feel pretty or even feminine.  It isn’t safe to be soft and pretty.  It scares me.  And typing that makes me wanna cry . . . but I don’t cry much and I don’t feel like being sad today.

Loud noises give me a headache.  Violent TV shows give me nightmares.  Every time I see a gratuitously naked woman in a movie, the little child in me screams in pain and fury.  Shades of Grey’s success infuriates me.  What the hell is wrong with people anyway?  Why is this book popular?  The book celebrates abusive sex and the writing sucks.

This world we live in is so awful.  Damn it all.

But this world is beautiful too.  I hear the raindrops hitting the leaves in my backyard.  It’s raining harder and harder and not every drop makes the same noise as it hits the green and yellow leaves.  It doesn’t sound discordant, and I wonder how many raindrops it takes to create harmony.

I laugh too loud.  And so do my kids.  Sometimes I worry that they laugh too loud.  I worry that I laugh too loud and too much so that people will like me more.

I’m terrified to publish I Run because I’m going balls to the walls.

Did you know where the phrase “balls to the walls” originated?  It comes from the aviation world.  On an airplane, the handles controlling the throttle are often topped with ball-shaped grips, referred to by pilots as balls. Pushing the balls forward, close to the front wall of the cockpit increases the amount of fuel going to the engines and results in the highest possible speed.

In other words, balls to the walls means giving your maximum effort.  That’s the way I live and love and write.  Consequences be damned.

And that, my friends, is a wrap.  I’m going to write like this more often because it feels good.

I’m heading out for a run in a few minutes.  While I’m gone, please feel free to tell me something unfiltered about yourself in the comments below.

 




Guest Post: With God’s Love I’ll Be Okay

Most mornings start like this morning: I wake from dreams where I’m stuck in the past. In these dreams, I’m trying to run, talk, plead or beg my way out of a remembered time or place, real or symbolic, from childhood.  My childhood, as captured in my dreams, is a prison my mind, my past, and my family once put me in.  I try everything to escape, but the only way out of that hell is by turning my eyes to the morning light  . . .

To read the rest of today’s blog post, please go visit me at The Monster in Your Closet, where I’m guest posting for my dear friend Deb Bryan.
By the way, I’m really, really excited to be over at Deb’s virtual home. She’s like a sister to me. So really, please click HERE to read today’s blog post.

 




Dark Knight Lawsuits, Surveillance and Freedom

Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: David Levy

Survivors of the Aurora, Colorado “The Dark Knight Rises” theater shooting have filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Colorado against the theater owner.  In two lawsuits filed in federal court on September 21, 2012, the plaintiffs allege that the theater, Cinemark USA negligently failed to provide adequate security.  According to the plaintiffs, the theater should have taken more measures to prevent James Holmes from killing twelve people, and wounding fifty-eight others.

Here are some of the measures the theater should have taken, according to the plaintiffs:

Employ and have present security guards (including, but not limited to, off-duty law enforcement officers);

Provide reasonable protection against surreptitious, unauthorized entry into the theater;

Erect door entry security devices, one-way security doors, automatic locking doors, alarms, warning signals;

Develop and institute emergency or first-aid response and evacuation plans and procedures;

Train employees on the use of surveillance devices, monitors, cameras and human monitoring procedures.

There are a number of problems, both practical and philosophical, with the measures the plaintiffs would have the theater (and by extension, all theaters) follow.

First, it would cost a prohibitive amount of money for all American theaters to provide the heightened security as outlined above.  Theater owners would have to eat the increased costs or pass the costs down to consumers.  Ensuring perfect safety is, by its very nature, expensive.

Photo by: E. L. Farris
U. S. Supreme Court

Second, at what price comes freedom?  While some would argue that there is no price too great to pay to save a human life, I think that the increasing use of surveillance cameras poses an unfortunate and in some cases unacceptable threat to our freedom.  I don’t exactly know what the balance should be between security and freedom, and for sure, a theater is a public place where one should not have an expectation of privacy.  Like many Americans, I became more accepting after 9/11 of public surveillance.  After all, what we do in public is by definition not private.

And yet, part of me shivers at the implication of constant and ever-broadening spying on our everyday activities.  I imagine that more and more of my life will become recorded somewhere, by someone.  As our expectation of privacy erodes, what will replace it?  An all powerful government?

Third, will increased security stop a determined mass murderer?  Surveillance, awareness and security measures have increased over the past century.  So too have acts of private (as opposed to governmentally-sponsored) terrorism.  In a free society, sociopaths like James Holmes will find a way to kill innocent people.  Is the cost of saving lives worth the cost of depriving us of our expectation of privacy and even of our freedom?

After all, when the state records our every action, it also limits our freedom to act and derails the boundary that protects an individual’s freedom to act unimpeded by state action.  And would turning our country into a police state truly deter serial murderers?  Or would it merely give control of the weapons to a centralized dictator, who could kill the innocent with the legal sanction of the state?

What are your thoughts? Does increased surveillance curb our freedom, or merely decrease a criminal’s ability to murder innocent people?




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