Advance or an In-Between?

writersadvanceThe writer’s advance. A concept beyond me. Why is it called an “advance” in the year 2013 when it really comes in the “in-between”?

Writing is not like any other profession I’ve ever had. I’ve been a movie candy girl, a flower deliverer, a legal secretary, a marketing director in law firms, an assistant in a psychiatrist’s office, a second grade teacher, a massage therapist, a health coach, and probably a number of other things I’ve left out. But every single one of those jobs came with regular pay checks that were delivered very near the time the work was completed.

Not writing. Even in the case of freelancing, rules vary. Some publications don’t pay until your article comes out and frequently you are writing several months prior to publication because of the time required to publish a magazine. This is getting slightly better with groups like Ebyline, but still there’s a long way to go towards closing the gap. Where this is most apparent, though, is the book advance.

The term “advance” stems from way back, I’m told, when deals were made at Parisian bars over a handshake after an idea was thrown out to an editor. The editor would then give the writer money (said advance) to write the book. Since he’d be busy writing, he’d need money to live.

In today’s market, though, it seems to me most manuscripts need to be pristine to ever get to the advance conversation. And to get a manuscript pristine takes hours and hours and hours of writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting…in my case, six years. Now my critique partner Darbie is reading Stephen King’s craft book where he says a first draft should take 3 months. (Whatever, Stephen. You clearly aren’t raising kids. Or going to the grocery store. Or ever leaving your chair to sleep.) Nevertheless, even if we go with that, that’s a first draft and that’s 3 months. What other job do you work at for 3 months (ah-hem, 6 years) and not get paid? Oh, and maybe never get paid?

Fact is I don’t know many writers in it for the money. If they are, they quickly leave when they figure out the “in-between” (um, maybe if you’re very lucky) thing because, in case you didn’t already know this, there’s usually a ton of work waiting after the advance, both in and out of the cave.

I’m pretty sure writers write because they have to. Because nothing gives them the same satisfaction as the idea that their book, their published book (story, article, research, poem), will be out there in the world for others to read.

Poets All

homesless2 (3)This week I met Johnny, a homeless twenty-something. His hair was curly and long, covered by a baseball cap. He wore glasses which struck me as odd, like a sign he hadn’t been homeless very long. The soles of his shoes were wearing thin, and he was unable to find a pair that fit right in the assorted shoes I was helping pass out to the homeless people in a local park. He had hiked a long way to get there.

But that didn’t seem to bother Johnny too much. He was actually more focused on offering his help to us. His friend approached us and asked if someone would pray for Johnny’s protection. Alliances form in the homeless community and apparently Johnny wasn’t in one. Johnny was quick to pipe up, “That’s nice, but there is someone who needs prayer much more than me. She’s dying of cancer. I can’t go see her because I’m on parole and can’t leave the area.”

Johnny’s friend went on to describe Johnny as a poet. Johnny looked down for a moment, then looked up at the sky and waved his hand across. He talked about the canvas of the world and how there was so much material for poetry. It made me think of a movie my husband and I just watched on Netflix called “Before Sunrise” about a young man and woman who meet on a train in Europe, and wind up spending one romantic evening together in Vienna. Unfortunately, both know that this will probably be their only night together. During that night, they run into a homeless man who offers to write them a poem for money. The poem brings out each of their true essences–he’s skeptical the guy just wrote it, she takes it for the beautiful creation it is.

Poetry is everywhere, in castles and in caves. It fills the cracks in between. We can choose to focus on it, or we can ignore it completely.

“In this media-drenched, data-rich, channel-surfing, computer-gaming age, we have lost the art of doing nothing, of shutting out the background noise and distractions, of slowing down and simply being alone with our thoughts.

Carl Honoré

I know I have. Johnny reminded me about that. And I’m going to argue that “doing nothing” is doing something really important.

April is poetry month, or so the Academy of American Poets tells me in my monthly newsletter. It’s a time I always think about poetry in all its shapes and forms. Like Johnny, I feel I am a poet in my core. When I see a duck fly across the sky at dusk, and hear it announce its passing, my mind composes Haiku. When I feel love so deeply I can’t put it into words in just one way, I think sonnet. When I think back about our first meeting, poetry and me, I think of the poem my step-dad had me memorize for money and rehearse at cocktail parties. (Though that in itself was more than obnoxious, the poem has never left me, and that’s a gift.) Here it is–just imagine me at age 7 in my party dress:


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling
True, I’m not a man this time around. But I’ll always be a poet, just like you.

The Ear Behind the Ear

intuition4 (3)Last week at my son’s orthodontist appointment, I ran into my banker’s wife, Eden, and her kids (not literally if you’re following my recent collision with an anxious mom in the school parking lot.) Eden had coordinated both kids for same time appointments (pure brilliance for sure) and that left us sitting in the nearby spectator section watching dental games and chatting over the sound of drills. You find your social time (and venue) where you can when you’re a mom.

When Eden’s youngest was done, she plopped into the conversation and announced, “Let’s play I Spy.” After about five minutes of spying drills, I needed a new game. I waited for my turn and said “I hear with my little ear…” She jerked her head around, looked up at me, and paused. Then with typical 8 year old flex, she started to play along. We listened to all the sounds  which were suddenly so much louder when we really paid attention.

I wondered how much I miss by rolling through my news feed and checking my emails in line at the grocery store. We live in a multitasking world, do we not? I remembered why I had studied martial arts for years (other than to sweat like a pig and collapse from exhaustion/pain at night.) It was to listen better. Not only to the sounds from the ear, but as Michael Bernard Beckwith says in Life Visioning, “the ear behind the ear.”

I love that. It makes me think back to an English assignment in Mrs. Farrar’s 8th grade class where I had to sit outside and write down everything I heard. I found a swamp out in back of my friend Laurie’s house where we loved to explore. I sat on a cement slab and absorbed myself in the orchestra of crickets, distant mowers, evening birds and quiet. I think that’s where I heard it very loudly, that quiet voice. It told me I was going to be a writer.

Each of us has it, this quiet voice. It has wisdom, and knowing, and our best intentions at heart always. It’s smarter than anything we seek outside of us. All we need to do is calm the monkey mind, listen, and it will whisper.

Finding Your Kumare

kumareWe watch lots of movies, both on the big screen and at home. Just this past weekend we watched “Admissions” with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd (not a fave with the teen boys) and “Olympus has Fallen” with Aaron Eckhart, Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, and Angela Bassett. (Two thumbs up on that one–Morgan makes a great Speaker of the House.) Those were our “big screens.” At home, we watched “Kumare,” which we streamed through my laptop off Gaiam TV. As a writer, I drink up story in all formats. As a student of life, the more the story makes me think and grow in some way, the better.

That’s what this documentary by Vikram Gandhi did. Made me think. It stuck with me in a way the other two commercial films didn’t. As the tagline says, it’s the true story of Vikram, born and raised in New Jersey, who puts on the accent and affect of a guru from India. He pulls together some doctrine out of his core beliefs that he calls Kumare. He makes up some yoga moves and gives names to exercises like the “blue light meditation.” His goal? Upset by all the false prophets he saw in India, then carried over to the USA, he wanted to explore how easy it would be to start a false religion, taking the “act as if” concept to a new level.

While it starts out an experiment, what we witness is Vikram really honing more clearly on his core identity. We watch as he becomes the guru who he is pretending to be, as he connects with his core disciples in a way he isn’t able to do as Vikram. During the course of the film, he becomes his alter ego, so much so that he is unable to unveil his true identity to his followers when he is supposed to. It takes him leaving them, spending some time depressed, then coming back to them later and spilling his experiment. He sets that part up by saying they need not look outside themselves to find the best part of who they are because their true guru is inside them waiting to be discovered.

A few of his followers were not amused and no longer talk to Vikram. The others, however, see the value he gave them under any guise–namely, confidence in their own ability to tap into their inner guru.

Who is your inner guru? What is the message you would share if you only had one? Why are you here on this planet? Thanks, Vikram, for encouraging me to think in a world that really enjoys a good follower.