The Importance of Showing Up

So my wife Mary is a painter and this past weekend she had a booth at a Christmas Arts and Crafts show. She’d done the same show last year and had some success, but it’s a lot of work each year to get the paintings ready and set up the booth and transport everything to the venue, then spend the entire weekend manning it.

A little bit exhausting, actually. She wasn’t sure she wanted to do it again this year.

But in the end, she found some partners to join her, which eased the burden a bit. So she went ahead and decided to come back to the show for a second year. Can’t hurt to show up, right?

No, it can’t hurt. In fact, showing up is essential.

Booth

The full booth

We brought the paintings and some Christmas decorations, set up our booth. We showed up.

And you know what? It turned out to be a great weekend. Sure, she sold some paintings, but more important was connecting with people in the community with a burgeoning appreciation of Mary’s work. There was one woman in particular who had visited Mary’s booth last year. Back then, she’d thought and thought about buying a painting, but in the end decided not to.

When she got to the booth this year, she was so glad to find Mary again. “I thought about your art all year,” she said, going on to explain that she’d come to the show mostly with the hope Mary would have a booth again.

It was a great moment, a confidence-building moment. A moment she would’ve missed if she hadn’t shown up.

And, yes, this time the woman made sure to leave with a painting,

Still Life

Mary’s studio work

It’s hard to be an artist – painter, writer, whatever. We’re continually struggling with our confidence, constantly going through rejection. Sometimes we wonder why we do it. Sometimes we wonder if maybe we should stop.

This little post is a reminder to you (and myself!) to keep showing up, whatever that means to you, whether it’s continuing to submit to lit journals, agents, self-publishing another book, hitting another festival, whatever.

Keep showing up, because you never know when you’ll meet someone who’s spent a year thinking about your work. And you’ll only find out if you show up. Again and again.

Ballet shoes

 

earlan

These paintings by Earlan Gill

 

Some of Earlan’s paintings, some of Mary’s

 

 

 

 

 

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Take the stairs

Nice, France

Most people would just stay at this beach, I bet

Last fall I spent some time in Nice, France, a beautiful place. My wife’s a painter, so she desperately wanted to see the Musee Matisse while we were there. And I was certainly game – Henri Matisse was a brave and unique artist, a bold guy unafraid to try new things. My kind of dude.

We’re the type of people who walk in cities. I like the connection walking gives me to a place. So, sure, it would’ve been easier to grab a cab or figure out public transportation, but instead we decided the way to get to Matisse’s museum was to walk there.

The map told us our destination was northwest from our hotel in the Old Town. Basically up and to the left, in a big green area that signified a park. That’s really all we knew for sure, which was fine. I’m a discovery walker. Gets me in trouble sometimes.

NW from THIS hotel room, which probably deserves it's own blog post

NW from THIS hotel room, which probably deserves it’s own blog post

The river Paillon, which interestingly is underground for part of the journey, led us north. We knew eventually we’d have to turn west. Nice is extremely hilly, and I figured at some point we’d also have to go UP.

Really, though, I had no idea.

Following the map (and looking every bit the lost American tourist), I decided a road to our left would take us up and into the park. There was a blind curve and the road itself was really narrow. Worse, there was a suspicious guy that we THOUGHT might be following us.

We decided there must be another way.

Returning to follow the river, I noticed the map had a little squiggly line a little farther up that suggested some pedestrian stairs might take us in the direction of the park and the museum.

“Let’s take the stairs,” I suggested. Like I said, gets me in trouble.

Stairs in Nice

First look at the stairs

We were walking in a neighborhood that had gotten a little sketchy when the stairs suddenly appeared on our left. No sign naming them or indicating where they might lead. Nothing.

Just stairs.

I had utterly no idea how many stairs there might be before we reached the park. Or even if the stairs actually led to the park or museum AT ALL. (Well, sort of an idea. The map seemed to show the squiggly line stopped in the big green space. I think that’s something along the lines of what Columbus said to his crew, right?)

Even so, we went up, because sometimes you have to take a deep breath and march forward, even if you don’t know what’s waiting for you on the other side.

Sometimes you just have to take the stairs.

And we did. Up. And up and up and up.

I kid you not, a thousand stairs. More, even.

Little hidden views like this

Little hidden views like this

The stairs wound their way up the hill, bending to the left and back to the right. Amazingly, people lived along this strange, narrow staircase.

We passed homes – houses or condos or apartments, it was hard to tell. The inhabitants had chairs out on patios in front of little gardens. They didn’t look like expensive places – I mean, how could you even get furniture there – but we were high enough now the views were glorious.

We kept walking.

Eventually we came out onto a road. We were NOT in the park. This road, it went off and up to the right, down to the left.

We took a break. We were sweaty and hot and a little frustrated. We hadn’t seen a soul all that way up the stairs, which was starting to make me think the people of Nice weren’t dumb enough to actually use them. I took off my sweatshirt and packed it away in my backpack.

A woman came by, and we asked her about the museum. She didn’t speak English, but eventually understood what we wanted, and pointed across the street.

stairs more

That’s right, more stairs. I swear we were down where you see those little buildings when we started

To another set of stone stairs.

After the woman disappeared, there might’ve been some swearing on our part. I will neither confirm or deny.

How many more stairs could there be? We had no idea. The new stairs wound up the hill again, disappearing into its side.

We took a moment to get ready again before re-embarking. I noticed an old man leaning against his car a few meters away, staring at us with his arms folded across his chest and a bemused expression on his face.

Something about him made me realize how ridiculous our predicament was. I smiled, shrugging my shoulders and extending my hands out. I don’t speak much French, so all week I’d been using gestures to convey my state of mind. This one said, “What can you do, you know?”

The old man unclamped his arms and raised one hand to give us a thumbs up gesture. What it meant exactly, I’m not sure. Maybe, “Good luck, you stupid Americans.” Maybe, “Keep going. It’s worth it.” Probably both.

Sometimes all you need to keep going is for someone to give a thumbs up at the right moment.

Eventually, we reached the top of that second set of stairs. There was a sign for a monastery on a door. A locked door. I started to imagine having to go all the way down again.

monastery garden

Jardin du Monastère de Cimiez

But then several more steps appeared to the right, around a corner. We took them, popped through an opening and stepped into an immaculate garden.

We were on the grounds of the monastery, which was in the park we were heading for. It was amazing. I have dozens of photos of this place. Of olive groves and orange trees and flowers and I wish I could share them all. There were even swarms of gnats.

In this place, you could even fall in love with a swarm of gnats.

Still, we weren’t at the Musee Matisse yet. We followed the path through the monastery’s grounds into the rest of the park. Signs directed us toward the museum.

Yep. More stairs.There were more stairs. Of course. But these were wide and inviting, like a reward for that narrow, sweaty journey we had made already.

We meandered through a park that was essentially a big olive grove.

I remember being fascinated by the birds.

I remember passing a park bench where two elderly women were deep in conversation, their dogs at their sides. I remember imagining them as very old friends, women who had known each other since childhood.

My mind was doing that thing it does when it gets just the right level of exhausted and exhilarated and fascinated. Making stories.

Musee Matisse

Musee Matisse

Eventually we found the museum. It could’ve been closed. It might’ve taken us too long to get there. It wasn’t and it didn’t.

But if the museum had been closed, it actually would’ve been fine. We had seen so much getting there, indelible images, from olive trees to dogs to old friends to breathtaking views to that smiling old man with his thumb in the air.

The museum was the destination, but it had become the icing on the cake to the journey.

Because we had taken the stairs.

I’m a sports fan AND an arts fan. (Crazy, I know). The NFL playoffs started last weekend and, in one of the games, the Pittsburgh Steelers knocked out the Cincinnati Bengals in a particularly hard fought game.

In the locker room afterwards, Bengals receiver A.J. Green was interviewed. I can’t find the clip now, but in addition to saying the loss hurt, he explained to the reporter it had taken him and the team six months to get to that point, and that now they were going to have to go through all that again, just to get to the same spot. He was willing to do it, because he loves football, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t going to be difficult.

I identified with this. When a book fails (and…writers, sorry but odds are your book WILL fail – whether you don’t connect with an agent or a publisher or whether no one buys it or reads it…I mean, for your sake, I hope not, but it’s REALLY hard what we’re doing here).

Anyway, when a book fails, some well-meaning person will always say, “That’s okay, just write another one.”

And, true enough, that’s the thing to do. Get back on the horse, as they say. But, man, it’s like an NFL season, right? It’s six months (a year? multiple years?) of hard work to get back to that point where you already were. Six months of trying to be perfect with your story and make it the best it can be and critique and work and more work and revision and…you get the idea.

It’s taking the damn stairs.

And after all that work and time and sweat, you might get to the park and find the museum closed. Again.

The thing is, you have no idea as you’re taking that first step of so many. You do it blindly.

Not yet ripe orange in the monastery garden

Not yet ripe orange in the monastery garden

That’s why you have to pay attention on each step, because if you don’t focus on the hours at the museum, which are out of your control, and instead zero in on that not-quite-yet-ripe orange on that tree inches from you (that sentence you write at midnight one night that actually makes you tear up), on that smiling old man with his thumb up (your critique partner who tells you she loves your book), on those old friends and their dogs on the park bench (your characters – those fantastic people you created from nothing, IN YOUR HEAD), you’ll realize that you’ve already succeeded.

So when your hear those voices telling you you’re hot, you’re tired, you should turn around and go back down, because going down is easier, tell them to shut up.

Tell them you’re taking the stairs. And keep your eyes wide open the entire climb up.

 

 

 

Coffee House Reading: “The Pusher”

Coffee House

I’ve been invited to read my story “The Pusher” at the Bowen Center for the Arts in Dawsonville as part of the “Art of Food” Gallery Show. Below are the details to the “coffee house reading event” on Friday, September 14th.

Coffee House Readings
The Art of Food Gallery Show included writing for the first time at the Bowen Center for the Arts. The writers will present their works at a reading from 6 to 8 on September 14. Special coffees and desserts will be served and there will be music also between readings. Tonette Long, our writing jurist, will be present to discuss criteria for choosing the works.

There is no charge for this event. STEAMERS COFFEE is sponsoring this event! To allow us to provide enough refreshment, please call 706-216-2787 to reserve your spot. Call Tuesdays through Fridays 10 to 4. Sat. 12 to 4. (Bowen Center will be closed September 1)

Decatur Book Festival excitement!

Decatur, GAWe’re inside of a week until the Decatur Book Festival this Labor Day weekend in Decatur, GA. Annually just about my favorite event of the year and a perfect cap to the summer.

This year we’ve reserved a hotel room at the Decatur Conference Center, in the middle of all of the activity, for the whole weekend, so that I don’t have to do six hours of driving (just about an hour each way for each of the three days of the festival) and can really just enjoy myself.

I’m looking forward to listening to a lot of great writing talks, networking, spending time at the Atlanta Writers Club booth, everything.

I’ve looked over the agenda and it appears I’ll be splitting my time for a lot of the sessions between the Decatur High School and the First Baptist Church, unfortunately the two venues that are furthest away from each other.

But I’m so excited, I don’t really care about the walking, and anyway all of the events are really close together. Even from the high school to the church is probably only ten minutes. Hope it’s not too hot!

As things get even closer later in the week, I’ll probably post one more time, but in the meanwhile, here are some links if you’re thinking about attending the festival or if you’re just plain interested.

  • Friday Writers Conference – things kick off for me on Friday afternoon at the Writers Conference. This will be my second year at this part of the festival. I had a great time last year and learned a lot.
  • Saturday Session Schedule – I’ve filled up my Saturday schedule with some great sessions. I won’t name which I’m going to, but if you spot me making the trek from the high school up to the First Baptist Church, stop and say hello.
  • Saturday Night – I’m hoping to find a great spot for dinner. There’re so many wonderful restaurants in Decatur, and I’m familiar with most of them since I spend a lot of time there for Kyudo. My favorite is Leon’s Full Service, but I’m guessing it’s going to be mobbed. We’ll see. There’s an outside chance I’ll try to get tickets to Eddie’s Attic that night, if there are any left. Leaving that one sort of open.
  • Sunday – I’m thinking Saturday might be a late night, so I’ll probably start Sunday by sleeping in a little, then maybe grabbing brunch. I might try the new diner they’ve opened right across from Leon’s – The Decatur Diner – haven’t been there yet, so I can’t quite vouch for it, but I’ve been waiting to give it a try. Then, it’s on to more sessions!

Hope to see you there!

Fourth Annual Atlanta Writers Conference

AWC

Tonight I’m off to the first part of the Fourth Annual Atlanta Writers Conference, in the Westin Atlanta Airport. The event is run and hosted by the Atlanta Writers Club. If you’re a writer in the Atlanta area and not yet a member, I encourage you to join! The writers critique group I am part of is also an off shoot of this larger club, which hosts many fabulous events and talks throughout the year.

On Saturday, May 21, 2011 the Atlanta Writers Club will present its fourth annual Atlanta Writers Conference. The goal of this conference is to give you access to five top literary agents–and an editorial manager from an independent publisher–who will respond to your pitches, critique the work you submit in advance, and educate you about the current environment of the publishing industry and the likely trends for the near future. You could be offered a contract based on the materials you’ve submitted: several AWC members have signed with conference agents or continue to work with them preparing their books for representation. You might be asked to send additional pages or an entire manuscript for their review. You certainly will know more about how your work is perceived by industry professionals, and you’ll gain valuable experience interacting one-on-one with them.

For more information, scroll down on this page: AWC Events

Tonight’s event is a three hour workshop with guest agent Katherine Sands of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency titled The Reinvented Writer, followed by a social mixer for the club.

See everyone there!