I’ve been thinking a lot about my word of the year for 2016. It’s actually been a pretty tough process for me to come up with one this year. I think part of it is that I have no idea how this year is going to go and I don’t want to jinx it. I’ve got so much happening – four book releases (the first occurred on January 1) and attending four conferences, at least as of right now, plus my day job – that I’m just fastening my seat belt for adventure.
When I asked my Facebook friends for suggestions, one of them said “emerge,” which is cool because I had already been thinking along those lines, but this word is more elegant. And it fits nicely with my words for the last two years, “bloom” (2014) and “valiant” (2015).
And in so many ways, I do feel like the butterfly coming out of the chrysalis or the tender bud breaking through the frozen ground. After years of struggling, I’m finally getting the chance to get my stories out to readers and show my face to the world as a published author. And more than that, I’m beginning to emerge as a business owner and speaker. In baby steps, of course – we all know success usually doesn’t happen overnight, even if it appears to.
Goals for 2016:
Enjoy the whirlwind of releasing four books in under seven months.
Write at least one new book (two is my stretch goal).
Continue to market my books and learn about self-publishing.
Exercise on a regular basis and eat healthy.
Nourish my spirit.
Take time to have fun!
Notice that nowhere on there is a sales goal. Partly, that’s because in the end, sales are out of my hands. I could spend thousands in marketing and still have only a handful of people by the book. Or, I could do almost nothing become a bestseller. Sales are an odd thing. And the other part is that I really don’t care that much how much I sell. I want to break even, hell, I want to make millions, but I’m new and I know that’s not likely. They say most businesses don’t turn a profit for 3-5 years. So, I’m giving myself time to get established before I stress over sales numbers. That’s one of the beauties of being your own boss. It’s not like I’m going to get fired!
So, according to conventional wisdom, choosing my word means I should approach every decision this year from the mindset of “does this help me emerge?” I like that because it frames the year in endless possibility, in optimism that I haven’t felt much in the last few years. And it’s about time.
This is a different kind of post for the Spellbound Scribes, but it reflects what I’ve been thinking about lately, so you’ll have to bear with me.
I got my first gray hair when I was about 23 years old.
I started coloring my hair at 24.
Once when I was in my early 30s, I was getting my hair done, and the woman in the chair next to mine started talking to her stylist about “a friend” who plucked all her grays. My stylist looked at me through the mirror and said, “Don’t even think about it, sweetie. You’d be bald.”
That was over twenty years ago.
I let my hair go natural when I was thirty five and pregnant with my first child. FWIW, I didn’t want to expose the fetus to any potential toxins in the hair color. Two years later, when I was pregnant with my second child, I did color my hair. Twice. Because thirty six was too young to be invisible.
When I was in my early forties I gave up on coloring my hair for the second time. I was sick to death of trying to hide the roots and negotiating appointments with popular stylists and paying $150 every two months to look like myself.
Except, without hair color, the combination of mostly-gray hair, fair skin, and light blue eyes made me feel like a ghost.
I mean, it’s sort of a fact of life. Most middle-aged women tend to fly under the radar. As a whole, society values youth – an attitude so pervasive, I don’t feel like I need to justify or validate it. And, for all the progress towards equality women have made, men still hold the power cards. So what happens if you’re neither young nor particularly powerful?
No one really takes you seriously. No one pays much attention to you at all.
If you’ve got a minute, scroll through this slide show of Hollywood actresses who are between the ages of 50 – 60. They all look terrific, but only one – Jamie Leigh Curtis – has gray hair. Most of them have a sentence or two under their pictures, where the prevailing theme is, “but she looks so YOUNG!”
Because god forbid a woman in her 50’s actually look her age.
An actress in her 50’s may be beautiful, but she’s not likely to be cast as the movie’s love interest. Those roles go to actresses who are under 35 – regardless of how old the hero is. Check out this link for a look at the twenty-five largest age differences in movie couples. Or better yet, just ask Johnny Depp how old his costars are.
In the interest of bringing some actual science to the discussion, I found a paper from the journal Frontiers in Psychology that examines facial attractiveness as a perception of an individual’s value or worth. Their study sample was relatively small, only 60 people (30 men & 30 women) but their data supported their three hypotheses:
perceived facial attractiveness is lower in older than in younger women and men
age-related reduction in facial attractiveness is greater for women than men
One study with a small sample shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but if nothing else it makes me feel like I’m not completely crazy. There’s a reason women work so hard – sometimes pathologically so – to look young. And if aging is bad and gray hair is associated with aging, why would a woman decide to go gray?
“They” say gray hair is trendy these days. Here’s a link to an In-Style article with some pretty pictures of twenty-something girls who have “gone gray” (which means they bleached out their hair then put on a silver toner – though I’ll give Kate Moss partial credit as she’s actually old enough to have some gray hair). They look really pretty, but it’s not my mama’s gray hair.
I will say, though, that articles about celebrities who are aging gracefully generally feature women who are ten, fifteen, or twenty years older than I am. Seriously. Except for Jamie Leigh Curtis, no celebrity close to my age has gray hair.
Because yeah, a couple years ago I gave up on all-over color and went with chunky high- and low-lights to blend my almost-completely-white roots. And then about six months ago, when the time for my appointment came around, I sorta forgot to make it.
I can’t decide whether I’m old enough to have internalized the expectation of invisibility, or if the silver-white thing is more striking than it used to be, or if I just don’t give a damn.
The other day at work, I ran across someone I hadn’t seen in a while, and she greeted me with, “hey, it’s another silver fox!”
She’s about my age and her hair is lovely, a glossy, silver, shoulder-length bob. I said something lame about, “well, you got the silver right”, because it’s not in me to admit to being a fox. But maybe I am.
Or maybe there’s some secret bonus to aging that I have, as yet, not appreciated.
Sunday night we lost a great artist. The ripples that went around the world as people found out about David Bowie’s death built into a current that pulled so many of us down. It’s always a little strange when a celebrity dies, someone who you probably don’t even know, but their death touches you as much as losing a friend. Sunday I lost an idol I never got to meet.
I saw so many people openly express their grief, myself included, while others seemed to apologize for their feelings. Embarrassed for being sad over the death of someone they didn’t even know. I get it, it’s kinda of like heading off the teasing before anyone can say something to you like, “You’re a little too upset over this.”
But you know what? No, we aren’t.
I wrote about my experience of hearing the news and while I took the time to write that post, I of course was listening to the Starman, and totally broke down and cried. When I heard the news it was a gut punch. It stopped me in my tracks. I was speechless for a minute, but I didn’t cry. I thought, maybe I wouldn’t. When we heard the news about Robin Williams, I was sad, but didn’t cry until I watched Dead Poets’ Society later on. But writing out my thoughts about losing David Bowie, as brief as they were, I cried.
I was introduced to David Bowie at three-years-old when he was The Goblin King, like many my age. It was insta-love. And to this day, The Labyrinth is one of my favorite movies. I watch it unironically and with affection. Jareth was my first villain-crush. Every villain that touches me, reminds me of Jareth. I have dreamed of writing my own Jareth, but fear I won’t do him justice. But that sort of good-bad-guy love was shaped by this artist. No one else could have done for that role what David Bowie did.
I would come to love his music as I got older and his dark record, Outside, would help me through a tough time in junior high school. A record none of my friends enjoyed, but I did.
David Bowie helped me and influenced me. I am sad he is gone and no one will make me feel embarrassed for it. When an artist dies, it is no more sad than any other death, but we may feel it differently. We know no more art will come from them. We’ll have to cherish what they left behind. We have to accept the idea that something else that might’ve changed our lives, our perception, our own art, will never be.
Listening to Blackstar is difficult, but I’m doing it. It’s his farewell letter to us. I don’t know how he managed to create this, knowing the end was coming, but it is something to be appreciated.
Don’t ever let anyone make you feel badly over your feelings. So what if David Bowie didn’t know you – you knew him even if you never met him. He shaped you, just like any other artist that makes you think and feel.
I wrote this post yesterday, 1/13/16, before the news of Alan Rickman broke this morning. Everything I said above applies to this great man as well. I am crying with you. Alan Rickman was another amazing artist who touched me and so many other people. Another artist who portrayed villains and anti-heroes in a way that made you question which side you were supposed to be rooting for. He was a favorite and I am so very upset right now. This has been a hard, hard week for us.
General writing wisdom holds that writers need to read. It’s like cross-training for the brain, I guess, working muscles that support the muscles we use to write. New stories fill the well, give us new ideas, make us think about different ways of telling stories. And I’m totally behind that advice—I love reading, and I’ll probably be reading books long after I stop trying to write them.
The really ambitious wisdom-giver might also tell writers to read outside of their chosen genres: the sci-fi writer should read mysteries, for example, to give them new ideas of how to build suspense. Thriller writers should read romance to learn how to use emotional connection to enrich character development.
That’s all well and good. Grand, even.
But what happens when a little healthy cross-training becomes an obsession?
For the last six weeks, I have been reading almost exclusively Regency romances. And not, like, artistic, historically accurate Regency romances. We’re talking anachronistic, sex-with-strangers, totally trashy Regency romances. The kind with gorgeous, glistening men on the covers, or sometimes with lovely women in three-quarters profile looking wistfully out at the sea. The kind they sell in airports and at grocery stores. Those romances.
It started innocently enough. It was almost Christmas. There was an anthology of Christmas-themed Regency romances on sale on Amazon. I bought it. Some of the stories were good. Some of them were appallingly bad. One of them I couldn’t finish.
Somewhere around the third story, though, I was hooked. Right around that time, writer of extraordinary, artistic-contemporary-romance-erotica-all-around-badass writer Tiffany Reisz tweeted about a Christmas Regency romance she loves, one she said was filled with hate sex.
I couldn’t not buy that, now could I?
So I bought it, I read it, and by that time I was a goner. And I can’t tell you exactly why I’ve become so obsessed. Maybe it’s the simplicity of the stories, and the guarantee of a happy ending. Maybe it’s the escapism of a world where a prostitute can marry an earl and then be accepted by “society.” Maybe it’s my own need for low-pressure, commitment-free reading that asks no comparison to my own work. When I was a teen, I spent a month or so around finals reading Danielle Steel novels (I’m so ashamed), so apparently this is a lifelong pattern. With great stress comes the need for bad reads.
Christmas has come and gone, and I’m still reading the darn romances. I’m not using the added seasonal element to excuse myself anymore. I have better things I should be reading, friends’ books I should read, fantasy books I’ve been meaning to read. Hell, I have books own my own to read, edit, and even write.
But I’m not going to stop. I’m going to ride this rut until I crash. I spent months in 2015 not reading at all, simply because I didn’t have the mental energy to pick up a book or follow a plot, and I didn’t have the psychological energy to invest in anyone else’s troubles, fictional or otherwise. The fact that I’m reading now is a very good sign, regardless of what I’m needing. Writers and readers alike sometimes need the mental vacation that comes with consuming lighter media. There’s nothing wrong with that.
And who knows. Maybe I’m learning something, growing as a writer. If the general wisdom says it’s true, I can believe it, right?