I recently came across an Instagram account called @nowhitesaviors, run by a collection of people from Uganda, Kenya, USA, and possibly more locales (some are anonymous). I spent the following two hours browsing their content and comments and going down the rabbit holes of articles they referenced, accounts they hope to educate for their wrongdoings, as well as accounts they support for their ethical storytelling and advocacy.Read More
A former student messaged me the other day asking: “Is your book out in the market yet?”
I last saw this student in early June, and yes, part of my explanation for leaving my teaching job was wanting to get my manuscript published. By then, I was carrying around a three-ring binder of what appeared to be a complete and printed manuscript (is any manuscript ever complete?). I can imagine some students thought I was a hop, skip, and jump away from the digital shelves of Amazon.
That dear student is not the only one who has asked me if bookstores now carry my narrative from Fiji, just two months after they watched me submit a second draft for grad school.
I interpret these as supportive and encouraging questions—from people who have been cheering me on through the gestation of this book. But these questions also relate to the self-study of the publishing world that has consumed the “gap year” I just began, an industry and a process that surprises me regularly in its opacity and complexity.
It’s as if I spent years learning to make cheese, and now that I’ve almost decided on my formula, I must learn about an entire industry that produces, packages, markets, and delivers my beloved cheese to consumers. And by “learn” I mean ask others who’ve done it before, scour the internet for sources, for people who can help me navigate this process. Because the process is not clear and not taught to writers.
The barrier of entry for hopeful writers requires knowledge, personal connections, time, and money. It appears, most unfortunately, that entry can also be afforded to some demographics over others, simply because publishing professionals are commonly white females. I doubt any two writers’ paths toward this knowledge are the same.
Most of us are outsiders looking in on the publishing industry. Perhaps you’re a reader, maybe you fancy yourself a potential writer, or you love a good bookstore for its free wifi and coffee shop vibes. I dare say, for most of us, the process of getting a book published appears simultaneously straightforward and mysterious. Ba da bing ba da boom...somehow.
These questions about my own book remind me of one of my own questions I still regret asking at the start of my MFAW. “What happens to our theses when we finish? Do they get published?” I was 30 years-old. I thought the fruit of my grad school labor went straight into the book machine after graduation. Over time I think I managed to gain back a little respect from that advisor, but on that same day I commenced my education of the publishing industry, mainly in relation to the writer’s experience.
Because, I soon learned, the sole objective of writing is not to be published.
There were many moments while at Goddard when the relationship between writing and publishing was identified to me, made distinct from each other. “Writing and publishing are separate things,” my first advisor mentioned casually in a keynote speech. That simple sentence was epiphanic to me. I scribbled it down on my notepad and reviewed it often to the same effect.
Many of my classmates had already submitted to journals and magazines and contests, all while completing our required work and sometimes holding full-time jobs unrelated to their writing lives. It was an outlet they pursued in overtime hours, often with little external or material compensation for days of hard work but a byline. Goddard College brought literary agents and publishing representatives to residency, to let us peek behind the curtain and glimpse how that publishing world worked. And they always made it sound like a foreign country with its own system of government and unique language you’re expected to learn on your own before you go. The manuscript, a hard-earned passport. The proposal, a complicated visa.
I could go on. I love a good analogy.
I would sit in those lectures and wonder: Does everyone else know there are five main publishing houses in America? Was I supposed to as an MFAW candidate? Is everyone else clear on the options of 1.) literary agents → editors → publishing houses or 2.) self-representation → editors → publishing houses or 3.) skipping the refinement process by professionals to self-publish at your own expense? How are we supposed to learn in advance of trial and error that book proposals are what they are, that they require chapter breakdowns and beta reader feedback and genre/demographic specification and competitive title analyses?
I continue to wonder today… How did people ever get books published before the internet? Am I such a millenial for asking that question?
It’s taken me the last two and a half years to better understand not just that publishing operates the way it does (and I’m still learning) but that publishing should not to be the destination. As writers, so much could be lost or overshadowed if getting published becomes the focal point of one’s tunnel vision. For both writers and those who know and love writers, publishing should not be considered the mark of success of a writer.
I’ve learned that publishing doesn’t pay much, unless your last name is King or Rowling or Cussler. It seems publishing is the commodification of writing, the business side of a creative format, inherently political, in addition to the major way in which writers can make a desired impact on their readers.
And for publishing professionals, books are investments, books are gambles.
As a writer, I find gratification in using words to assemble something that didn’t exist before. And when that assemblage feels like an apt translation of the blips and swirls in my mind, I am satiated as if departing a Michelin-starred restaurant.
And those blips and swirls don't feel trivial. They tend to focus on the things that keep me up at night. Getting them on paper is a success in and of itself.
And as a writer, I have to engage in trickery of the mind in order to produce the story in need of coming out, though it is insistent. It’s more akin to meditation or shedding the ego or staring into the gut of a flame to find its deep, dark core. Publishing is not the carrot at the end of that stick. It’s getting the story right, even though it’s rightness is as specific and elusive as a once-vivid dream.
“Success” can be seen from many perspectives: a writer’s, their readers, anyone invested in the numbers their writing generates (page views, clicks, followers, products sold, dollars earned), former teachers, fellow writers, family members and friends. I guess I’m trying to maintain focus on the only perspective that should matter to me.
As adults, we don’t often receive the constant validation that makes us feel confident we’re doing good work. Not like we used to as students with grades or percentages (my old students used to lament this silver lining from quantitative assessment, much to my surprise). Often that validation for adults comes in the form of job promotions, pay raises, awards (which could vary greatly depending on your profession). But do these always or often commend the work we are most proud of? Are third party “carrots” more effective than the ones we can create for ourselves?
In this “gap year” of mine, in which I do hope to finish my manuscript, find a literary agent, and make progress toward publishing, I also hope I can maintain a clarity of purpose. To define success in my own terms, through the satisfaction of making words mean something worth saying, worth changing, worth being.
Yes, a simple request for a status update sparks all this inside me every time. Feel free to ask...I appreciate the interest and support :)
But no, I haven’t been published yet, even though every Friday is “Submission Day!” and I have yet to send one query.
No, I haven’t gotten my book published yet because I don’t have an agent.
And no agent, sadly, because I’m deep in the weeds with a machete, shaving down my manuscript to its core. And I’m just starting to get the hang of this world.
I’ve only read the description of Shonda Rhimes’ recent memoir, but I’ve already subscribed to her decision-making philosophy in Year of Yes. Even though it sounded cheesy on the surface, the more I considered it in relation to my new "self-employed" and stationary existence, the less I could refute its premise for myself.
I’m not sure when to consider the official start to my year of opting in—yes to beer fest tickets, yes to Tuesday night trivia, yes to faculty readings all the way across town, yes to floating down the Colorado River, yes to (gulp) jogging again—but that start is solidly behind me, I know that.
Perhaps it started with a soft opening as I eased out of my job in mid-June and departed Spain. Perhaps this glorious gap year in my early-thirties started when I landed back stateside on June 23rd with my brother and his daughter after a successful camping trip around Iceland’s ring road. Or maybe the following weekend when Goddard’s Program Director handed me a Master’s degree and I bawled into the microphone about no longer being a teacher.
Yes, I think my new life started a month ago, on July 1st, when I officially closed out the three major experiences of my early adulthood: my 2.5-year stint in graduate school, my 7-year tenure at THINK Global School, and my 10-year lifestyle on the road.
In what felt like one swift Band-Aid tug—amidst what I tried to make a slow and smooth transition—I stopped becoming a nomadic educator and started the life of a stationary writer. It took me off-guard, that simultaneous and instantaneous change to my identity.
For so long, who I was had its feet planted in what I did. I changed homes every few months, always a stranger in a strange place. I surrounded myself with multicultural teenagers and progressive educators, represented my country without a choice through daily, poignant, critical discussions about world issues. I felt on the periphery of society with my finger on its pulse. I had my schedule dictated for me, a rolling stone on whom few could count (because of my schedule, not because of me...right?). I thought in academic years, not calendar years. I was a teacher at a traveling high school (Say what!? A traveling high school? I’ve never heard of that before!). At times, I worried that my job and my lifestyle made me interesting, not my mind or my heart or my words or ridiculous laugh.
And though I did make a conscious choice away from this life—wanting to command my identity entirely—I still knew it would be hard. A good hard. The kind that isn’t easy but is better in the long run. I do miss my students and my colleagues and my health insurance and my paycheck, but not surprisingly, I don’t miss that life. I’m just continuing to find its off-ramp bumpy and intriguing. I’m learning to redefine myself by the life I sculpt for myself.
For years, the transient life inspired states of mind and perspectives I thought should be discussed: What is home, really? To whom and where are we obliged as individuals? How do expiration dates affect relationships, friendships, personal investment and engagement, ambitions? What can we learn about being a part of a community by being a fly-on-the-wall to many? Ironically, I feel more primed, now that I’m stationary, to think about these questions. Perhaps it’s just because I now have the time. I’m in charge of my day. Perhaps my mind is slowing down from the constant high of figuring things out and being somewhere new that has opportunities and threats unknown around every corner.
And thinking about these big questions I am: through the third revision of my Fiji manuscript, through discussions with friends and Lyft drivers, hopefully through shorter writings in contests and literary journals and blog posts such as this one. Yes, I endeavor to get back to blogging.
I say yes to blogging again.
Working at THINK Global School already made upkeep on a blog seem like an unnecessary strain and a creative chore on top of an already-creatively exhausting job. I had too much to say and no time to say it. Adding onto that the constant reading and writing of an MFA made blogging nearly impossible beyond the two or three posts a year I pulled off since 2016; at least not to the level I grew to expect of myself as a “Master of Writing” in the making (picture me in superhero stance, a la Rhime's Amelia Shepherd character in Grey's Anatomy).
But now I have a new normal. I live in Denver, not anywhere else. I have trips planned to see friends and family, not major address changes or long-term explorations. I have a cell phone coming to me this week with a US phone number that isn’t likely to change for years (delete all the old numbers, folks!). I get to decide every morning whether today will be a hefty reading day of Pulitzer prize-winning books or if I’ll take a jog in a park and then write from the front patio before heading to a reading series. I have time to say yes to personal health above all else and time to focus on relationships with people, not with work.
It’s a privileged time I have this year, this "gap year" I saved up for, a misnomer for this break from working for others, more a chance to work for myself. I’ll likely never be able to lavish in this self-centered comfort again because I also want to say yes to some of those common American narrative elements, to respond (eventually) to those biological “Mom pangs” of the last few years, regardless of how many mothers and fathers attempt to convince me otherwise.
My new normal allows for the pursuit of thinkers that challenge me, expenditures of time that satiate me and align with my values, and—best of all—time to process the last 10 years of learning about the world from the world. But this new normal is still grounded in my oldest motivation: my desire to share what I’ve learned from a privileged life of options and experiences in order to impact and influence others, to transfer the experiential learning properties of world travel to armchair readers and get back that learning ten-fold. I’ll always say yes to that.
So, that was nearly 1,000 words to say, simply: I’m going to start blogging again, this time about being a writer in the world...just not all over the world. These blogs will be rough, short-ish (for me), and hopefully helpful to those of you who also write or travel or wonder what it’s like to stop being nomadic and start putting down roots in one place (yes, I was channeling The Real World just then).
Your comments, your book recommendations, and your encouragement to finish this darn manuscript are welcome.
My choice to stop traveling with TGS comes with a big implication: I will no longer be nomadic. Perhaps you might call it "settling down." I've always hated this concept because of what it implied: that I'm accepting a less desirable fate, pausing the whirlwind of my twenties and letting the dust settle in my thirties, that I'm hanging up my backpack and passport for good. I don't think any of these are the case.
Cover image by Ina B.Read More
So I read, adrenal fatigue appears to be a 21st century issue, in that the diminishment of real physical danger in our daily lives has manifested itself into a constant stress that treats all threats as equals. If this is the case, take me back to the days of subsistence farming, jumps in the swimming hole, and dinner by candlelight. I guess I want to be Amish! Or better yet, Fijian!
But obviously I've gained a tremendous amount from this active, dynamic life bouncing around the world. I'm trying to take it easy, give myself a break before Botswana amps up, but as my previous list indicates, I treat "breaks" like stolen time. I will fill the time I have, a compulsive little worker pumped with caffeine to complement a puny trickle of cortisol.
Parkinson's Law, they call it. Well, C.N. Parkinson has officially taken over my wet, hot, American summer break. And even if that means more of this compulsive, fight or flight mode, as long as I have a finished book by next February, I'm fine with that.Read More
I'm watching the Vancouver Marathon from my apartment window and giggling as seagulls drift by at eye-level. Canada represents my final destination of this academic year, and though it was an exciting year and an important one for my own growth, I am glad it's behind me.
Traveling with a math expert this year introduced me to the beauty of slow data. With every car ride or room change, she plugged miles traversed or beds switched into a spreadsheet. By the end of 220 days "on the road," she presented to us the impressive numbers of our #cdtravels:
- 110,745 kilometers of transit = 2.76 times around the world
- Total hours on planes, trains & automobiles (not layovers or wait time): 246 hours / 6 work weeks
- 50 beds roughly, averaging 4.4 nights per bed
If you're wondering why I spent the last year making an epic carbon footprint (not proud of that), take a peek at the TGS Changemaker Program and read my post on this curriculum development mission. If you're not sure how I went from travel media to writing curriculum documents for a high school, I understand your confusion. It surprised me, too. Here's something on my evolution.
Last year at this time, I was living in Florence, Italy with THINK Global School, plugging away at graduate school and enjoying as stable a lifestyle as I've achieved in the last decade. Between then and now, I changed jobs, visited ten countries, and wrote two years of projects with three colleagues.
Here's what it was like...Read More
Two months have passed, and I still don't know how I feel about America's new leadership, about the media outlets that edit and influence, about all the subsequent rhetoric and activism, about what constitutes a responsible citizen or, better yet, a content human being.
No answers came to me in that hiatus from informative networks for how I care to deal with differences of opinion that assume the guise—and sometimes form—of an attack. Walking away from a piece of writing seems to provide clarity of thought upon one's return, so why not this? In fact, I feel I distanced myself from dialogue to the point where I've lost sight of my convictions, especially as they continue to face the steady deluge of challenges brought on by world travel, by trying to be open to new and sometimes contradicting perspectives.Read More
On August 1st, I started my new job, and I could use your help, if you're interested.
After five years of living in thirteen countries, I'm saying goodbye to the Media Specialist position at THINK Global School. I'm 90% energized to move forward and 10% nostalgic for the sweetest job on the planet.
Featured photo courtesy of Liisa ToomusRead More
Together, we ignore the folk music that fills every conversation gap and develop our bitter coffee breath. Turtle-Neck nudges the stool where my feet rest and quickly apologies with a wave. I crack a full smile, eager to be acknowledged, quick to prove I’m open to chatter myself, though we exchange none. The Daydreamer folds his paper and stands to deliver 1 KM to the bar for his espresso before walking out the door. He waits a beat before turning right, then walks straight towards his car. I notice the others don’t question his departure. He backtracks to the edge of the patio and turns left to saunter by the rest of the shops on the ground floor, hands in pockets–breaking for oxygen, I imagine. The patio door swings open again, and the newest member lifts a cheek onto a stool, pulling his Marlboros from a pocket as first order of business.Read More
I continue to mull over my initial impressions of this city as they compare to my pre-conceptions without extensive research. How do I explain the feeling of dropping into a new city whose energy I don't know? What are the true risks to safety? Where's the highest concentration of lively people, impressive food, and gorgeous architecture? What does life feel like in this city, and how ever-present is the memory of its recent war?Read More
I keep erasing the opening sentence of this blog because I don't know who I'm addressing. You, my audience, are unknown to me, but I know I have something to tell you. I know it's time to update you on what has changed since I last applied the necessary time and effort on Nomadderwhere this summer, and now is as good a time as any, here in the Air France lounge at Washington Dulles airport. I have three more hours until my plane departs for Vermont.Read More
Each streak garnered the same reaction. The crowd grew, feed still with fingers pointing to the sky. And then a streak became a band, a dim bow across the sky above that slowly grew in intensity. We were babies bouncing under a green headband in the sky.Read More
To my knowledge, there is no perfect equation that all can use in order to strike that balance between experience and processing time. Homework, books, projects, trips, community building, sports, and other desires or pressures will tug at one’s attention and make it difficult to prioritize processing time for maximum personal benefit.
Over my years on the road, I have witnessed in people who prioritize - even slightly - the documentation of their experiences:
- more emotional stability
- more ease with forming concluding thoughts about a place or experience
- more clarity in drive or future path
It will take time to experiment with travel writing techniques in order to access inner thoughts, make the most meaning out of your world experiences, and utilize time most wisely for maximum gain. That time, however, will be fun and rewarding.Read More
I had heavenly expectations of the highland air. I thought it would be uncommonly sweet, a cold drink of water for my lungs. Instead, the air I invited in smelled like fresh biology, life and death but more of the former. Somewhere nearby, there was undoubtedly a cow sweating, a rooster breathing heavily, an earthworm realizing it could now slither back underground. From a 1st floor window, I sucked up all that biology in a moment of wonder and discovery, in the specialness of a start.Read More
When one has access to the world’s biggest showcase of artistic performances, one’s brain explodes as the prospect of selecting a few to attend. After many careful reviews of the 440-page catalogue, I landed on a visit to the Picasso/Lee Miller exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, a couple walks through St. Andrews Square and George Street, some free comedy in the wee hours of night in Old Town, and stayed close to the Edinburgh Book Festival, also the largest fest of its kind in the world.
It was the Book Fest that slapped some perspective into this dream world of creative indulgence.Read More
I started reading this book on my parents' couch and ended it while sipping a freddo latte and eavesdropping on a spirited conversation in Greek, having traversed the very globe whose projections I was studying. Upon flipping to the Acknowledgements page, I returned to the start, hoping that the book magically transformed into part 2 of itself. But alas, I am only left with a deeper admiration for cartography, a better understanding of the accessories of my life, and an awareness of the things that evoke my cherished memories and imagination.Read More
My hands smell of (free) salt and vinegar chips as I type away from within the Atlanta airport lounge. I am en route to Athens for the next three months, and I'm happy that my anxiety has finally converted itself into pure excitement.Read More
While in Miami on official TGS business, I joined my friend Nick on a road trip to visit his grandmother in Boca Raton. We felt like doing something adventurous on our weekend off, and when a spontaneous trip to Cuba didn’t pan out (due to their visa restrictions, not ours), I decided to tag along for his mini-family reunion. The point of the trip wasn’t to craft a story or film anything; we were there to visit a lovely woman and enjoy some peace and quiet pre-Costa Rica. However, when we embarked on an exploration of the neighborhood in a retro golf cart, the inspiration flowed.Read More
Sometimes when I'm home, I turn the camera on my family. They like to cheese it up in photos, but when their cheek muscles relax a bit and they get into their element, you can see the real smiles emerge.Read More
One of my favorite weekends involved a road trip to the Coromandel to celebrate Nick’s birthday at the newly-purchased home of Andrew McLean. We had a complete blast making music with melodeons and djembes, rebuilding bonfires on the beach, and eating crazy amounts of barbecued meats and veggies. I have never witnessed such a unified affinity for nature by a country. Through the channel of our local contact, it felt like we got a taste of this focus on the outdoors and the joys of sharing it with friends. I endeavor to adopt a little of this and take it with me wherever I go next.Read More