Day Five: Are We Dead Yet?

Start at Day One here.

blog day 5

TUBE: Gloucester Road to Embankment. Embankment to Waterloo.
TRAIN: Waterloo to Alton.
TAXI: Alton to Chawton. Chawton to Alton.
TRAIN: Alton to Ashford. Ashford to Guildford. Guildford to Gomshall.
TAXI: … nonexistent at Gomshall.
TRAIN: Gomshall to Guildford. Guildford to Waterloo.
UBER: Waterloo to the hotel, as fast as you can, please.

 

A conversation with Rhett upon our return to the USA:

Rhett: So, you went to Jane Austen’s House Museum?
Me: Yes.
Rhett: That was fun?
Me: Yes!
Rhett: You saw a dead lady’s house–a dead lady who probably didn’t have a happy life and it was just the house and that was what you went to see?
Me: Yes! It was a blast, okay? We practiced calligraphy! And made lavender bags! And we SAW HER WRITING DESK!!
(Rhett dies of laughter because he is heartless and doesn’t get it, but you do, right?)

 

Pub, Alton. Let me say something about the pub across the street from Jane Austen’s House Museum. The place knows what’s up.

We didn’t go to the Jane Austen-themed tea room across the road. I read poor reviews online, and besides its name (Cassandra’s Cup), it didn’t really sound like anything was very Jane Austen-y. I don’t need a Darcy impersonator (or do I?), but if you’re going to have a Jane Austen-themed tea room, the least you can do is make a bit of an effort, right? “Emma’s match of scone and clotted cream.” “Fanny Price’s spooky tea” (weak tasting). Something.

So, we went to the pub instead AND IT WAS AMAZING. Imagine a super-old, classic English pub. Got it? Now fill it with female patrons over 50. Add the soundtrack to every Nancy Meyers movie ever, and you have yourself the best pub outside of London.

I guess I should say take this moment to point out that our waiter was almost cute and somewhere in his twenties. (Looking back, I bet he got amazing tips.) It’s important to note that I am not good at talking to people I find mildly attractive. (Exhibit A.) This is exacerbated by the fact that we are across the street from Jane Austen because honestly, was there ever a more perfect meet-cute moment?

Mom: What’s your soup of the day?
Almost-Cute Waiter: It’s roast vegetable.
Mom: What?
I have to take charge. He has to see that I’ll hear him even when my mom doesn’t.
Me: Root vegetable, Mom. He said root.
Waiter: No, roast. I said roast vegetable.
Me: Oh.

Mom and I break into giggles because it’s how we cope when one of us is an idiot. The waiter sort of slinks away, and magically another waiter has been assigned to us for the rest of the meal. I start feeling bad because obviously this dude thought we were super rude and we hurt his feelings. He’s probably trying not to cry. Look at him. He has to bite his lip when he pours the beer–he’s that overcome.

I start thinking about how this boy is probably super embarrassed because the girl he’s falling in love with made fun of him with her mother. The poor kid. I knew I had to do something. Anything!

Me: Hi, there. It’s me.
The one who you can’t stop thinking about.
Me: My mom and I were hoping you could call us a cab to get to the train station.
Waiter: Sure.
Gosh. Worse than I thought. He’s so… broken.
Me: Look, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.
Cute. He’s pretending not to know what I mean. Bless him and his almost-cute face.
Me: For the whole root/roast thing. I’m so sorry.
Waiter: Oh, well. Roast vegetables are roasted like you’d roast meat.

He pantomimes putting a roast in the oven, and my heart. just. drops.

Not only is the almost-cute boy (who should be lucky I ever LOOKED his way) not hurt by the roast/root saga, but he thinks I’m the kind of dumb person who doesn’t know what a roast vegetable is. That’s, like, beyond Lloyd Christmas dumb. Suddenly, I want to die.

Me: Right. I just couldn’t hear you correctly. I’m sorry. It’s my ears and I’m not used to your accent.
Waiter: Okay?
Come on. At least look like this breakup is hard on you too!
Me: We’ll just, uh, wait for the cab outside.

Mom and I finally get back on the train and go to Gomshall for the sole purpose of heading to nearby Shere to see the town where The Holiday was filmed. (I’m not proud.) We expected to take an Uber to Shere. We got off at Gomshall in the fading afternoon light and… uh, where are we?

In the middle of nowhere is where.

Exactly one other person gets off at Gomshall, a station without a conductor or a real station at all. It’s more like a block of concrete next to the train tracks. The other person is a red-haired teenager who must be laughing his rear off when these two American women frown and say, “I don’t see any Ubers nearby.”

I call the advertised cab company. “We can have someone there in about an hour and a half. Maybe two.” Click.

Me: Well, hey. Shere’s only a mile and a half. I bet we can walk it. Right, Mom? Mom?

We walk into the bustling downtown of Gomshall (two pubs), and I decide that we will not be walking to Shere. Light is fading. We don’t know exactly where we’re going. Oh, and the train back to the train back to our hotel only leaves once per hour. So, we do what we do best and eat.

Then, it’s time to walk back up the hill to the train station, and here’s where our overactive brains take a detour. Mom is worried about it being dark at the station, which makes me worried about it being dark at the train station. We try to time it so we won’t be staying at the creepy, almost abandoned train station in the middle of the woods for very long.

I get so scared of getting mugged that I steal a fork from the restaurant in case I need a weapon. (Current Hilary to past Hilary: Um, really? And also, why not a knife?)

When Mom and I make it to the train station without dying (by some miracle) there are two adult men waiting for the train. Were those our soon-to-be rapists? We were convinced they were. Mom takes short breaths. I grip the fork in my pocket and my eyes dart to follow their movements. If they want to charge, they’ll have to charge me head-on. And then,

the train arrives and we get on and they get on and we have zero problems whatsoever our entire way home.

Read about Day Six here.

Send in the Publishing Kit

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I am enough.

A few weeks ago, I totally thought I believed this about myself. I mean, hello, I’ll make a fart joke in some pretty inappropriate places. (Years ago at a funeral, guys. SORRY NOT ANYTHING BUT SORRY.) That kind of thing takes confidence.

But, I realized something the other day; when it comes to writing, I’m still petrified.

Something you need to know before we go back in time: My parents give cool gifts. They’re usually things that I’ve never thought to ask for, but they’re always a reflection on how much they know me. It’s all very Leslie Knope.

When I was ten or eleven, the amazing gift was a publishing kit.

I was supposed to write a story on this special paper, send it off to the company, and wait for it to come back as a book, with binding and everything. Totally awesome gift, right?

I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. At the time, I was living off the writing-glory fumes of a picture book, “Man in the Clouds,” that I had written at age seven. This felt like my chance to make a comeback.

I was so excited about it. I wrote fifteenish story options to consider for “publication.”

But… I never sent in that kit.

I felt like none of the stories were “good enough.” I felt like they were all unworthy, and I didn’t want to waste my super-cool gift on a story that wasn’t good enough.

And fifteen years later, it’s still unused.

How freaking sad is that? Sad enough that I might be crying a little bit right now.

I’m crying because here’s what I want to say to that kid: Little girl, you’re being dumb. How could you think that they’re not good enough?  I get that they might be Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter FanFiction (after all, Orlando Bloom’s portrayal of Legolas was the love of your life), but just go for it. Your dreams are good enough. You’re good enough.

This reminds me of My Mad Fat Diary. Have you seen My Mad Fat Diary? If not, put it at the top of the never-ending list of things to watch. At the end of season two, there’s this scene where Rae realizes that she would never say all the crap she says to herself now to a version of herself ten years ago. It’s profound and emotional and holy cow does it resonate. How I talk to the ten-year-old writing fanfic? That should be how I talk to myself now, right? So, why don’t I?

I found the publishing kit a couple of months ago, while cleaning. It was under my bed with other things I never use like old cello music. #humblebrag  And when I saw it, I thought, “Thank goodness I don’t do that anymore. Thank goodness I believe in myself now.”

But then, I realized that I’ve been leaving publishing kits unfinished my entire life. I’ve been saying things like “it’s not quite good enough,” “it’s not quite there,” “maybe the next story” for forever.

But a few times, I’ve been brave. There have been moments—incredible moments!—when I allowed myself to think my writing was enough, and amazing things happened: A VFW writing award at eight (yeah, I went there)! Teachers telling me I could be a writer! Two MFA acceptance letters! An interview for Conan! An interview with John Green! An associate producer! The FAC! This freaking blog!

Cool stuff happens when I say, “Look, self-doubt, I can’t play with you anymore. You’re pretty uncool, and I actually am good enough. Nice try.”

And the cool stuff is cool, even among the plethora of rejection letters. The cool stuff is worth the rejection. Heck, sometimes the cool stuff is the rejection.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that even when I haven’t read all that much lately, even when I didn’t write every day from age five, even when I am too dumb, too fat, too poor—I am enough. All that other crap is just crap trying to keep me down. No more. I’m going to let my light shine LIKE THE DEMIGOD FROM CAMP HALF-BLOOD THAT I AM!

(Warning: My confidence may have gone too far.)

(Confession: I once made a Facebook account for Perseus Jackson… Then I made him my Facebook boyfriend.)

It’s not just about saying that I believe in myself anymore. It’s about acting on it too.

So, in the next month-ish, I’m going to send this manuscript out: a real, all-or-nothing effort.

I might fall flat on my ass.

I will surely be rejected. Multiple times.

People might hate it and by some warped extension, think less of me.

BUT I’M DOING IT ANYWAY.

I know this might not sound like a lot. I’ve got friends who have been doing this (in full-force) for YEARS.

But I’m not going to let how it sounds belittle it in my mind. Not anymore.

I’m going for it, even when I don’t feel ready or smart or accomplished. And I guess I’m saying this because I hope you’re going for it too. Whatever your dream is. It’s time.

Fill the pages. Send in the publishing kit. Do it all over again. It’s enough.

(Editor’s Note (from Hilary, let’s get real): I almost didn’t publish this post because I thought it was choppy and confusing, and then I was like HILARY, YOU’RE DOING IT AGAIN!!!!)

Writing Me

I’ve been thinking lately. (This could be a bad sign.)

I’ve been thinking lately about writing. (Definitely a bad sign.)

And I’ve been thinking about my voice in writing. Wondering if I’ve found it, wondering if I’ve been looking for it the right way, and wondering if I’m telling the right stories about the right people in the right places.

I used to have this thought –and sometimes I still do—that I’d be an incredible writer once something either really great or really terrible or really unusual happened to me. I’ll be an incredible writer when I stumble on a new math theorem, and unlike most mathematicians, I’m hilarious and discovered a theorem at an incredibly young age. (This idea persisted for my sophomore year of high school when I thought being a mathematician was the best way to go about being a writer.) (Really.) Or I’ll be a great writer when everyone I know dies in a single plane crash, and it’s up to me to preserve the legacy of literally everyone I’ve ever met. Or I’ll be a great writer when my circumstances magically change to be a person on the fringe of society, some sort of misheard, misunderstood sub-group of the population that is desperate for an inspirational voice, and I’ll begrudgingly take on the role. They need me.

But I’ve been thinking lately that these scenarios might not be the best way to go about writing.

I’ve been thinking that even though I will never make (discover?) a math theorem or have a news-worthy tragedy happen or be anything other than a white, Christian, Midwesterner—even with all of that “boring” stuff—my story might just be worthy of telling.

My voice—this one I have right now at 24 that doesn’t know what in the hell it’s talking about—it might just have something to add to this world.

And this voice feels new and old at the same time. So much of my writing is an imitation of what other writers are doing. Heck, even this post was inspired but this kickass article. So much of my writing is trying to write the way I wish I thought and spoke instead of the way I do. It’s the poor Jonathon Safran Foer version of me. It’s the Rainbow Rowell version of me. (I like that version an awful lot.) So much of my writing is missing the version of me that’s just me.

I think I could be successful with these other versions. My writing would probably be cuter and funnier and have less Walmart involved.

But…

But the writing wouldn’t be me. It wouldn’t expand what we’re doing here, in this life business. What if I take a chance and say my voice is good enough?

I mean, maybe it’s not. Ha. I could fail terribly with my voice. My stories could be just as uninteresting as I fear they are.

But even if that’s the case, my voice, my life, my little view of the world, it deserves a shot. I get to be me and put me’s with me stories all over my writing because it’s mine. (Have I used “me” enough? No?)

I want to tell stories about youngest children growing up in Indiana and hating college and loving family and eating food and having jiggly bodies and laughing hysterically and crying over the stupid things. Because if I’m writing, what in the world am I doing not writing about the stupid things? I want to write only about the stupid things and imperfect people and little corners of my points of view.

In elementary school, I didn’t speak. Just for the first four years or so. But in the fourth grade, I remember getting actual friends for the first time in my life, and they would often repeat: “Hilary, I had no idea you were like this.” “This” often meant loud, funny, strong, or smart.

I feel like the same thing is happening with my writing, with my voice. All my life, I’ve seen it as this quiet, little thing that sort of got sad when I didn’t use it. I’ve underestimated it as something that needed an external push—most likely in the form of mass tragedy—to blossom, but maybe I have no idea it’s like “this”: it’s just as smart, quirky, weird, funny, dumb, pretty, average, crazy, and worthy of love as I am. I’ve been thinking about that lately.

Anger & How I’m Done With It

Can I tell you something honest? I was really angry yesterday.

You know those days when your heart just feels heavy? It was like I was anxious without being crazy active. I felt tired and sluggish and bleh without actually being sleep-deprived or hungry or any of the easy fixes. I was just mad at the world, and to be honest, I think it’s been building up for a while.

You see, I was supposed to come out to California and immediately shoot up in the world of screenwriting. The whole reason I chose to go for an MFA in Screenwriting and not a JD (shivers), was because I’m supposed to be really good and very successful at this. I’m one of the ones who is supposed to make it.

Yesterday, I was mad that I haven’t shot up. I haven’t made it as a writer yet. Heck. I was just mad about not having any time for writing, let alone not writing that stellar thing that’s going to change it all yet. I was mad about finances and being homesick and my job and everything that doesn’t seem to be the way I want it to be. And then. And then! I got really mad. I was mad at myself for being mad about things like finances. I was mad at myself for not having an inner joy. The cycle!

So I tried to work through this on my way home, and I got a bit better. I sort of turned the volume down on my anger.

But it wasn’t until this morning that I told anger to leave me the f— alone. The thing is, whether it’s for one day or years, I don’t want to be mad. Anger is exhausting. Guilt is crippling. That exhausted, bleh, muddled person? She’s not who I am.

This morning, I did something a little silly. I took the dog walking just before sunrise (during that great time of day where everything’s blue), and I picked up a rock. I imagined that all of my anger pooled down my arm and into that rock. I filled it up with anxiety and hate and guilt, so much guilt. And when I felt like those things weren’t in me anymore, but were instead heavy in my hand, I threw it. Hard.

And I said a prayer. (Multiple prayers were involved in this whole thing.) I reminded myself of who God is. I reminded myself of who I am.

I am vibrant. I am full of energy (and usually have a knee-tapping problem because of it). I am determined and persistent. I am fun and joyful. I am confident.

Most of all, I’m right where I need to be. I’ll get to where I want to be. I’m not worried about that now. I’m done with being angry at myself, for creating a cage of impossibilities. I’m me. I’m a laugher and a writer and a bad dancer and a talker. It’s time for those things. Now. Not when I’ve sold a screenplay. Now. It’s time to live the life I want before I get it.

Writing. That’s All.

Notebook

I think I’m going to start writing my first drafts by hand.

I know. I agree. It’s either insane or insanely hipster. I wouldn’t mind being one of those; I couldn’t stand the beards. (That’s why I pluck mine.)

It’s just… Emma Thompson writes her first drafts by hand.

I really like Emma Thompson. She’s often the screenwriter that Dad references in conversation with me. Nora Ephron is also in the rotation, but Dad believes Emma to have more sense. I think it’s the British thing.

But writing by hand. It just doesn’t seem smart. My penmanship is a little lacking, and by little, I mean that my penmanship would make Mimi weep. (Mimi is basically a calligrapher.)

I used to have nice handwriting. It’s kind of like how I used to have nice hair. They’ve gone away. (I suspect my years of rushing made them run off.) (Kind of like this blog post.) But now my handwriting is scratchy and unintelligible. It’s something between cursive and Klingon. I always want my hand to move faster. I’ve got to get the next sentence down before it goes away.

But maybe I should. If Emma writes by hand, should I? Should everyone? Let’s review the pros and cons.

Pro: I like crossing things out.

Con: My handwriting so bad I can’t read what to cross out.

Pro: Jotting it down. I love to jot. It’s such a happy thing. It also sounds a bit like an exercise move, falling between jogging and skipping. (Which I think is just skipping.) But jotting. That’s nice.

(I can’t tell if I meant nice about jotting or about the sip of tea I just had.)

(Starry Chai.)

(I’m trying.)

Con: Typing after I write. It just seems like such a waste of time.

Pro: Typing after I write. Another editing step. Huzzah. It just seems like such a time saver.

Con: The first draft existing on paper and the fears that come with it.

Fear 1. Someone will read my first drafts and realize that I cannot write. (This someone will be a writer who writes spectacular first drafts. I hate him already.)

Fear 2. I will never be published, but the collection of notebooks full of scratch marks will follow me from home to home to my cardboard box by the bay, and spectators will realize I am a hoarder and lunatic and will begin throwing me old bread.

Fear 3. My handwriting will be analyzed by future machines that can identify psychological disorders in one letter. (If alive, see Fear 2. If dead, my good name!)

Fear 4. My children will read the first drafts and believe that my handwriting directly correlates with my abilities as a mother.

Pro: I don’t need a computer for the first couple drafts.

Con: How will I casually do internet shopping while writing? (Oh… maybe this is a pro.)

Pro: Emma Thompson does it, and if you can’t get behind the sensibilities of Ms. Thompson, can you even believe in anything uh-tahl?

“Just write because you can dive in later… You’ve got to create your raw material first. Do the knitting… It’s spinning the wool… If you’ve got nothing to work on, then it’s neither bad nor good; it’s just nothing. So just write. It doesn’t matter what you write. It does not matter… Just drawing the chair up to the writing desk and writing. Writing. That’s all. It’s the only thing that works for me.”  –Emma Thompson

The Moments I Knew

I would say I’ve wanted to be a writer my entire life.

I have had many dreams outside of writing, but it was always “I’ll be a _____ and a writer.”  (Blanks include marine biologist, nautical archaeologist, several other things that end in -gist, mathematician (ha!), and museum curator.)

But writing. Writing was always there, and every once in a while I get a reminder that it’s what I’m supposed to do with my life. Like little whispers to my heart, those moments of peaceful certainty are enough to sustain me through every hard writing day, countless rejections, and each time I have to throw away a story out and start again. Those quiet moments mean a lot, and they don’t happen very often.

But I had one this weekend.

The first “writing aha” moment was when I was seven (?) and wrote my first two picture books. After showing them to my mom, she said, “You could be a writer.” Now, Mom tells me I can be anything (as most moms do), but this was different. I knew she meant it, and I knew I really could.

Others have come throughout the years. One when I was fifteen and wrote a very silly two-page story (that included an elephant stampede) that I’m still convinced is some of my best work. Another, when I filled out a Pepperdine application at 11:30 at night–this is equivalent to 3 am for most other people.

And another, when I read the Boston Jane book series. I’ve blogged about Boston Jane before, but this weekend, the series came back into my life in a very wonderful way.

I got to meet the author of Boston Jane, Jennifer L. Holm, at the LA Times Festival of Books. (Don’t worry. I’m sure to blog about this festival at least three more times because it was amazing.)

I was able to get my trilogy signed and meet Ms. Holm and her brother, Matt. (They write super cute graphic novels together.)

And I don’t think my interaction with her could have gone much worse.

Jennifer: “Hello!”

Me: “Hi.” (I handed her Boston Jane.) “This book series made me want to be a writer.”

Jennifer: “Aww. You’re going to make me cry.”

Me: “Me too.” (I proceeded to cry.) “I’m sorry I don’t have the original covers.”

Jennifer: “That’s okay. I like these ones better.”

(I laughed for a beat too long.)

Me: “May I have a picture?”

Jennifer: “Sure.”

(We took a picture.)

Me: “Thank you. Thank you. Have a good day! Thank you.”

I ran away.

I don’t often crash and burn in interactions, but when I do, tears are usually involved. I don’t want to say I scared Jennifer Holm, but I definitely didn’t give off a very “mentally stable” vibe. I mean, we exchanged many smiles, but I couldn’t remember how to form words. (Also, my hair was doing weird things.)

It was bad. I was running away thinking about how I didn’t say anything I wanted to, except that first line, and then I remembered I forgot my phone with the volunteer who took our picture and had to go back and get it. Perfect.

I did a fast-paced walk in the other direction. Then, I decided to look at my signed copies because that would make me feel better, and in the second book (my favorite one), she put a note (that I hadn’t seen her write through my tears). And I looked at that note and thought, “That’s true. I don’t know when or how or any of the specifics, but I believe that’s true.”

And there it was. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that I had an awkward interaction with one of my favorite authors. It didn’t matter that I am more than a little unsure of where I’ll be when school lets out. It matters that I will be a writer, and I know it.

Desktop

artist?

A conversation…
Me: Okay, so I’m a writer, right?
Ardmore (my alternate personality): Yes, that’s correct.
Me: But I have a hard time calling myself an “artist.”
Ardmore (who’s also my therapist): And why is that?
Me: Well, it sounds awfully pretentious. Imagine me going around talking about “my art.”
Ardmore: I don’t understand.
Me: Of course you don’t. Your name is Ardmore.
Ardmore: Haha. You kill me.
Me: If only I could.
Ardmore: I think we’re getting off topic.
Me: You always say that… Anyway, artists. Why is it that I can’t loop myself in that group?
Ardmore: What does that group look like?
Me: Well, when I think of artists, I think of people who don’t shower…
Ardmore: So far I don’t see why you wouldn’t fit in.
Me: Hilarious. I guess I’d say they are also pretty poor…
Ardmore: Again, you seem to fit in just fine.
Me: They also have a fantastic sense of style…
Ardmore: …
Me: Really?!
Ardmore: What?
Me: Never mind. I don’t know. I think it’s just that maybe I can’t stand this whole attitude of artists. “I feeeeeeel more than you do.” I think I feel a lot, but I think other people do too.
Ardmore: Trust me, you feel twice as much as most people.
Me: I guess I’m just uncomfortable with the word.
Ardmore: I think you need to let that go. Remember how you felt about the word “cuddle” up until the eighth grade?
Me (shivers): Yes.
Ardmore: Well, now, you like cuddling. You even like the word. You liked cuddling with me the other day didn’t you?
Me: Sure, I guess.
Ardmore: That’s what you need to do with “artist.” You like art. You do creative work. You are an artist.
Me: I am an artist?
Ardmore: We are an artist.
Me: Ardmore?
Ardmore: Yes.
Me: How do I get rid of you?
Ardmore: Aaaand it looks like we’re out of time.