Perspective, Vulnerability, and Action Figures (or things that aren’t just about Lynda, you know)

Wow. Here I am, two months after the launch of EMU’s Debuts, bringing up the rear. As of today, we here at EMU’s Debuts have rolled through a complete rotation, in which each of us has written a Monday post on the topic of our choice, and each of us has also written a follow-up Wednesday post in response to one of our colleague’s Monday posts. Our rotation repeats after today. So here I am, bringing up the rear.

Coming full circle. Happy Completing-The-Rotation-Day, EMU’s Debuts and fans!

image: renjith krishnan

Okay, true confession time. What I am really doing is procrastinating. How does someone follow up a post like Lynda’s from earlier this week? She talked about vulnerability. She talked about shifting perspective. She talked about brushing yourself off and getting back to your feet and making your dreams come true!  Heck, I was so inspired just from reading it, I immediately queried six or eight agents right then and there!

Memo to self: try to get those emails back before they get read—or before Erin Murphy reads this blog post.

Okay, okay, I’m kidding here. Probably because Lynda said something that resonates so deeply it’s terrifying, and I’m trying to hold it at arms length by kidding around.

She said (deep breath!)…

we have to be vulnerable.  We HAVE to be VULNERABLE.

Yeah. Okay, so anyway, a priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar—

No, Jeannie, get a grip! Don’t blink. Don’t flinch. Say it, Jeannie.  We HAVE to be VULNERABLE.

Cracking yourself open--it doesn't get much more vulnerable than that!

Vulnerability—cracking yourself open, as Lynda so aptly put it—is at the heart of what we do if we write.

Is there a career path out there with a more cruel paradox than this?  First, take a person who lives mostly in her head because she’s always been a bit introverted—heck, she might even have been, just hypothetically, say, the fat kid with glasses in grade school which is why she fell in love with books in the first place—convince her to lay her heart open on paper, then have her send it out into the world of normal people, where it will be judged for its professional and economic value by people who aren’t particularly focused on sparing her feelings. Oh, and while you’re at it, why don’t we throw in the BONUS feature of extreme competition–only one in ten heart-spillings-on-paper (aka manuscripts) is going to meet with success!

Anyone puking in the toilet yet? Let’s face it. Vulnerability sucks.

And yet, Lynda is right, we HAVE to be vulnerable. So why would anybody do this—especially anybody who, as the fat kid with glasses, acquired enough humiliation in fifth grade alone to shred a life-time’s worth of self esteem?

That’s the question I’ve been contemplating since reading Lynda’s post on Monday. For me, I think the same experiences that drove me into my head as a kid, drove me back out as an adult, and as a writer. To me, being vulnerable is hard and scary, but it is also so, so, SO affirming.  Putting my heart and soul on the page and having a reader say, “wow, that’s just how I feel too!” makes me realize that even in the years I was in my head, I wasn’t alone. That the me that had to hide was a person of value, a person who has something to say, a person who (and here’s the biggie) can change the world, at least for one other fat kid with glasses out there who can find friends and solace and joy on the page.

I remember very well the moment when I had to decide what I was doing with my writing—was I going to just write as an outlet for myself, or was I going to reach for publication? My biggest fear in that moment was that the business of publishing would ruin the joy of writing. I wrote because it gave me joy, did I need more than that?

Weighing against that was the complete invisibility of my art if I didn’t put it out there.  I realized that if I was a painter, or a sculptor, or a potter, my art could hang on the wall or sit on the table and people would walk by and see it. I could sell it at a local craft fair and someone would enjoy it. But a manuscript? How else is anyone going to see that?

That was the moment of my perspective shift. And I don’t mean I wanted fame. I wanted to be heard—be understood, be ALIVE, and have the joy of my living reaffirmed in the world—that was what writing became about after that moment.

That was the shift in perspective that made the risk of vulnerability worth it.

Was it easy? Did it come with humiliations and stinging rejections? Were there times I wanted to be puking in the toilet?  I think we all know the answer to those questions. But if you have been following along here at EMU’s Debuts for the last few months, you also know about the sweet spot, the tears of joy, the relief, and the sheer joy that are part of the process too. Perspective is all about keeping the highs in mind when you meet the lows. Writing comes with both, if you keep at it.

And so, as we wrap up our first rotation here at EMU’s Debuts, Lynda made this brilliant observation:  “Maybe I need my own action figure.” I think everyone does who dares to put their vulnerability out there to create something beautiful.

EMU's Debuts ACTION FIGURES! Enlarged to show detail. Operators are standing by.

So here they are, coming soon to a retailer near you: The all new EMU’S DEBUTS ACTION FIGURES (you know you want them!):

The Lynda Mullaly Hunt, that comes with red knee-high boots, and a sports car (perfect for long drives to meet dream agents!)

The Cynthia Levinson, that comes with a tidy writing desk and fights for truth, justice, and civil rights. Comes with amazing civil rights marcher dolls that want their story told!

The Mike Jung, funny, happy, and (of course!) comes with a specially hinged jaw and a selection of shoes that fit within it!

The Michele Ray, that comes with a LOT of hats to wear, and cries when you squeeze it!

The Natalie Lorenzi, that comes with twenty-five admiring letters, and one very sweet spot!

The L.B. Schulman, that comes with so much empathy she only whispers her good news politely when you pull the cord!

The J. Anderson Coats, that comes with a flooded basement and a lot of common sense about what to say in public!

And the Jeannie Mobley, that comes with deeply buried insecurities, and a pretty bad joke about a priest, a rabbi, and a minister!

But all of them are writers, so they come with fear, determination, a variety of scars and bruises…

And best of all, a soon-to-be-published book. Because they dared to be vulnerable.

So go on. I dare you. And while you’re at it, give yourself a pat on the back and an action figure of your own. You deserve it.

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23 Comments

Filed under Celebrations, rejection and success, Writing, Writing and Life

23 responses to “Perspective, Vulnerability, and Action Figures (or things that aren’t just about Lynda, you know)

  1. Mike Jung

    Two things. 1. My action figure must come with a kung-fu grip. THIS IS A NON-NEGOTIABLE POINT. And 2. All goofiness aside, I’m so glad to be a part of this group. My fellow EMUs, you are all brave, vulnerable, thoughtful, honest, and absolutely glorious individuals – it’s a privilege and an honor to be traveling this road with you.

    Like

  2. Well, okay, Mike. Since you are the only guy in our group, we probably need you to have the kung-fu grip to defend our honor at some point along the way anyway.

    As for the rest of what you said–Ditto! Why else would I be memorializing you all in action figures!

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  3. L.B. Schulman

    I like this post, Jeannie. Very cool. It’s so much fun to be apart of this blog. You guys are da bomb. But I am afraid my doll might get broken easily, as I will probably be pulling the cord every few seconds, just to remind myself that it’s real.

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  4. Oooh, L.B! Tragic memory from my youth I hadn’t thought of for a LONGGG time!

    I got a baby doll for my fourth birthday that squirmed and cried when you pulled the cord. I LOVED that Doll, and sure enough, after a couple weeks, the ring broke off the string, the cord went deep inside the doll, and she never squirmed and cried again! My parents were no doubt very relieved. I was heart broken and pushed the doll away, but then I got to feeling so sorry for her because she was rejected about something that wasn’t her fault, that I took her back and she became my closest companion for a very long time.

    The moral of the story: I will make sure your doll has a very strong cord, but even if it breaks, we will still love you. 🙂

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  5. Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    Jeannie!!! I absolutely *love* your post (but feel a little guilty for dragging you into this!) I got such a kick out of the querying agents bit and your “procrastination techniques.” Also, love the super hero idea for each of us. (Mike definitely needs a kung-fu grip; although I confess to being a tad jealous.)

    Your post is genius, because you make us laugh but say things so poetically. Gems like, “…which is why she fell in love with books in the first place—convince her to lay her heart open on paper, then have her send it out into the world of normal people…” God, does that ever describe it! Hidden inside my MG are all of my fears, hurts, wishes, and ultimate triumphs. The events of the story are untrue, but the emotional ribbon that runs through it is my “heart open on the page.”

    Jeannie, this quote of yours was so poignant, I went back and read it a few times: “For me, I think the same experiences that drove me into my head as a kid, drove me back out as an adult, and as a writer…” God, that speaks for so many of us, doesn’t it? I would expound on this, but you said it better than I ever could.

    I say anyone honest enough to “put it on the page” should create their own utility belt. It must have a phone to receive news from Joan/Erin/other agent on contracts. An invisibility ray for when we all need a break from the…erm…process. One of those magic lassos for snagging good ideas. And a ray gun for eradicating the self-doubt monster. How about a winch for propelling the sides of formidable challenges? Oh, and the ability to fly. We should each have that, too.

    Oh, wait. We do.

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    • Drag, indeed, Lynda. I hope you are wracked with guilt 😉

      I really did spend two days drawing a complete blank about what I was going to say that was going to measure up to what you had to say. But once I started writing, I have to say it was a good meditation for me. So I guess you can stop with the wracking now. But only if your action figure will take my action figure in a ride in her sports car (top down).

      Like

      • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

        Phew! That’s a relief! 😉

        I would have never guessed that you were stumped by reading your post. Well done!

        Like

  6. Cynthia Levinson

    I love that the action figures are naked. Now, there’s exposure! I’m not so sure about the gender-neutral part, though (not to mention the hear/see/say nothing part).

    Somehow, I managed to delude everybody about the neatness of my desk. When I excavate my camera from beneath the drafts, books, bills, folders, and uncapped leaking pens, I’ll take a picture.

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    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Cynthia, I guess we have the same desk. 😉

      Like

    • Cynthia,

      I sent my kids scrounging in their rooms for real action figures that I could paste all your faces onto, but there just weren’t any to be found (what happens when the kids grow up on you!) Let’s just say the action figures are still “in development.” But whey they roll off the production line, they’re going to be huge!

      As for your desk, I’m looking forward to the picture, and am very encouraged to konw that mine isn’t the only desk like that!

      Like

  7. Ya know, if 1 in 10 manuscripts that are sent in, actually make it to publication, that wouldn’t be so bad! 😉 So I guess, we need to be able to be vulnerable when we are writing, but also remember to not take things personally (“It’s not personal, it’s just business) when our writing is being judged by others. I’ve gotten so used to the friendly, insular world of CHPerc that I wonder how I’ll react when I hear a “not-so-positive” comment about my writing! 😀

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  8. Hi Donna,
    Thanks for dropping by! Yes, I think the 1 in 10 comment was perhaps a little optimistic, but not I didn’t say 1 in 10 gets publshed, just that they meet with some success. I think we have to count “success” in more than just publication For example, I had one manuscript that made it all the way into an acquisition meeting before getting the axe, which of course was painful, but it was at least a little reaffirming too. It didn’t mean I was gonig to get published, but it did mean that at least one editor had liked it well enough to take it to her peers and try to talk them into picking it up. So that is a manuscript that met some success even though it didn’t get published. I think it is important to recognize every success you can get, because it can be a tough world out there for our tender little manuscripts! And in the mean time, having an insular world like the CHPerc is a good shot in the arm to keep you going when it gets too tough elsewhere!

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  9. J. Anderson Coats

    If Mike gets kung-fu grip, I want kung-fu grip too.

    At the very least, I’m going to need some red knee-high boots like Lynda’s to wade through my basement. And red underpants. For the sole reason that they’re RED UNDERPANTS.

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  10. Okay, okay. But if you get red underpants, you are going to have to trade in the flooded basement. Do you want those red underpants to be like the ones in your “Getting the Call” post? Those were totally hot!

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  11. Jeannie,
    At my “mature” age I’m still fearful of spilling myself on the page – like I’d have anything to lose at this point. Thanks for putting another beautiful face on vulnerability.
    Off to dream about my action figure.
    Jean

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  12. Maybe the fear is what makes it so raw and real when its on the page. If it was easy to put out there, it isn’t vulnerability, right?

    But don’t forget that I’ve met you, so this “mature” age stuff isn’t carrying much weight, Jean. As for your action figure, I’m concerned she’s going to reject ALL the clothes she’s provided.

    (Inside joke explanation for those of you who don’t know, Ms. Reidy is the author of the adorable picture book TOO PURPLEY! which involves a lot of rejected clothes!)

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  13. Wow. You guys amaze me every single post and every single comment. Jeannie, you made me cry with this one! (And it wasn’t the part about querying other agents–I already intercepted those emails with a “Nyah-nyah, she’s already mine!” email of my own.)

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  14. I’ve wanted my own action figure for a long time. I think it would need a teflon shield for warding off rejection, a steely gaze for staring down an uncertain future with optimism and attitude and, of course, washboard abs.

    Sidebar: I went to high school with Neal McDonough. When we did our high school version of the Wizard of Oz, I was the Scarecrow and he was the Lion. In the 90’s I was (slightly) traumatized by the thought of seeing his action figure for Star Trek (he didn’t get one, crisis averted). Now he’s sure to have one for his role in Captain America. Someone call a therapist.

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    • Those are excellent additions to the action figures, Jim! I think the real money is in figuring how to get those onto the real writers, though. Maybe we all need big robots/power suits like Iron Man, or like in the Metro series of Nintendo games.

      Can’t help you much with the Neal McDonough action figure issue, but maybe you could buy one when it comes out and dress it up as a lion. For old time’s sake.

      Thanks for your fun comments! (I think I should have pattented the writer action figure idea BEFORE I posted to our blog!)

      Like

  15. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Love, love your post, Jeannie.

    If Mike (and J.) each have a kung-fu grip, I’d like two, please. And can my red boots be Italian?

    Wait…would that mean I’d need to be more vulnerable than they are?

    Shoot. Let me think on this…

    😉

    Like

  16. Joann Collings

    You make writing noble and rewarding to the person willing to place their heart on the line (or on the page). Keep writing and sharing with all of us. It’s so motivating.

    Like

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