I guess I’m too old to be a prodigy?

Or too young? I haven’t decided yet. It depends on whether my life’s goal was to be a piano virtuoso by the age of 5, or a marathon runner at 101. Either way, I’ve missed the prodigy category.

I’ve always enjoyed getting older. I hated any and all of the labels associated with young people. I hated not being able to reach some new pinnacle simply because I was too young or too short or too little or too inexperienced. I learned early on to forge my mom’s signature for all those permission slips that denied me a whole new world. [Okay, so technically I did it with her permission. Sort of? She would okay such and such, but forget to sign on the dotted line. So it was done with her blessing.]

But now? There are so many incredible stories about people who did things they shouldn’t be doing at whatever age they are. Who raps like Nicki Minaj? Not me, but apparently this eight-year-old can pull it off with the cutest British accent since these kiddos. I can barely manage the words to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. I blame Lewis Carroll.

I’m pretty sure half of my hobbies were begun in an attempt to be as good as whoever amazing I saw on YouTube. Who doesn’t want to be the next Greyson Chance, Susan Boyle, or (can’t believe I’m saying this) Justin Bieber? American Idol ended up being one big parade of people who were better at doing what I wanted to do. Even in the writing community, there can be the envy of someone publishing or making a best-seller list before turning 25. I can safely admit that, due to my own insecurities, writing has never been one of those only-doing-it-because-I-want-the-prize sort of goals. (It has also been a hobby that has been deeply hoarded to myself. It’s one thing to try to wrestle out a manageable version of some dead guy’s piano composition to the pleasure of my teacher and a room full of unknown students. It is completely different to try to share written portions of my heart with those who may critique it.)

But it’s weird now, to get older, and see the contests only available to those in high school or college or what else. I feel like I’ve never quite arrived at the age bracket where I’ll actually get the golden ticket, you know? Why didn’t an adult win a trip to the Chocolate Factory?

I’m pretty sure this entire thing stems from our innate selfishness. And yes I’m saying “we”, partly because I don’t want to be in this boat alone, and partly because you can’t deny this fact either: we always want what we can’t have.  And when we can’t have it: *poof* goes the self-assured person.

If I was writing simply for the sake of being a prodigy who was published before I was fifteen, I would be facing a lonely road devoid of fulfillment. Just because I missed a deadline. Time doesn’t stop just because we want it to. Even in our pursuit of whatever goal we have, someone beats us to it. What’s the deal with having a record if someone shatters it before you get your book deal out?

The point is that there is always someone to beat. Some record to catch, some timeline to meet,  some smiling Ronald McDonald saying that you must be this high to dive into Playland. We will never find satisfaction in trying to meet somebody else’s goal. We’ll be Proctruses, except we’ll be forcing ourselves to fit the wrong-sized frame. Quit trying to be someone else’s definition of a prodigy.  If you spend your life chasing somebody else’s dream you’re going to end up unhappy, too old to be a prodigy. You’ll be left with a handful of YouTube videos showing off your Justin Bieber hair, while your real dreams crumble on the shelf because they weren’t good enough for somebody else. You’re always going to be disappointed.

Please don’t think that I’m eschewing competitiveness or shoot-for-the-moon goals, because I’m not. But don’t try to measure up to someone else’s definition of success. It doesn’t matter if you’re 15 or 56. You have the ability to define yourself. Why on earth would you want to fit somebody else’s mold? Answer the question for yourself: what does success mean to you? Example: some people consider being a stay-at-home parent to be the ultimate job, while others will only be happy if they make it into this list.   If your goal is to get published before you are 25, great! Just don’t lose your love for writing in pursuit of making a deadline. Define yourself. And toss out the dictionary of public opinion while you’re at it.

And hey, after all is said and done, technically you can still be a prodigy. You may not be an extraordinarily talented young person, but at least you can be monstrous or abnormal.

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Tuesday Again!

Time for “Tell The Truth Tuesday”, late in this crazy sort of day…

1. Every time it’s Tuesday, I think of this:

2. I realized that I prefer visiting tourist-y towns by myself. It gives me more time to browse without interruption or obligation to be sociable or what else.

3. It doesn’t really matter that my car is ancient or highly unfashionable. I can still drive it like a boss.

4. I had sushi for the first time, in my limited food-allergy-sort-of-way, and discovered that raw octopus is my favorite.

5. I visited Denver for 3 days. I officially love Denver.

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What about you?

Road Trip Wednesday #168: True Love

This Week’s Topic is: It’s (the day before) Valentine’s Day! Let’s jumpstart the  lovefest by blogging about what you love most about writing (and/or reading)!

Wow, what a question. What do I love most? Beyond the warm fuzzies that come with reading a well-written sentence or the ego-trip that accompanies a a finished manuscript? Beyond the drive to do better and the sense of accomplishment when you do? Beyond my capricious need to do terrible things to my characters? Beyond the community and connection that comes with writing and reading and loving both?

My reasons are purely selfish. What I love most about writing and/or reading is the way if changes my world.

Reading taught me to dream in the infinite. It taught me that I can go anywhere and become anyone. It showed me how to hold on to my family, and how to let them go. It introduced me to new friends and new enemies and taught me how to tell the difference. It showed me that it’s okay to question, but it’s not okay to settle for less. It taught me to hope for more and plan for twice that. It made me cry, laugh, love more, and long for more. Reading showed me the limits of my world and threw open the doors to make it bigger. I read books that taught me about speaking the truth, without the trappings of obsessive love or physical beauty. I learned how to strike out on my own and make the right decisions regardless of familial ties or popular opinion. I learned that happily ever afters are possible, but that they don’t always come wrapped in neat Prince-Charming packaging. I read about broken people and broken things and the love and loss that makes them whole.

And then writing made it my own. Writing took everything that I ever loved about reading and showed me what I actually believed about all of it. Because if I truly believed that reading could change the landscape of my world, then I should be willing  to write like that. So I did. I wrote about myself, and my questions, and my ideal Mary Jane life. I wrote about the person I wanted to become and the person I currently was. And through writing, I answered myself. I answered my junior-high self with the perfect-family story that (eventually) showed me the imperfectness of my own family and how that was okay. I answered my freshman-year self with a fairy tale that reminded me that truly happy endings can’t be manufactured by a fairy godmother. I took my junior-year self and wrote out the confusion into a girl who took charge of her life and had the confidence I wished I had. And then I poured out every bit of senior-year and post-high school self and crammed it into a draft that wrung my heart out and asked me what I truly believed in anymore. The writing pulled everything out of me that I was unwilling to let go. And if I was able to write about and read about how brokenness could be made whole, then I knew that in real life, it was possible for me, too.

I love to read. I love to write. Reading feels like being a passenger to anywhere. Writing puts me in the driver’s seat, and the view is infinite.

“I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me.”  Anna Quindlen 

Tell The Truth Tuesday…

[…wherein I attempt to be honest, and usually end up being random.]

1. Usually I have trouble writing the new year on things for at least the first month. This year, my problem isn’t writing 2012 on everything instead of 2013. Nope. This year, I keep trying to write 2014.

2.  I’m going to Colorado, and I’m nervous and excited and most of all: happy that I don’t have to pay for gas. I’m such a cheapskate.

3. I actually found some decent things at Goodwill while shopping their $1.23 sale.

4.  I use sticky notes on my desk for my to-do lists. Usually I transfer them into Outlook when I have time. I currently have 18 sticky notes on my desk, and not enough time.

5. Sometimes I wish people would change, and sometimes I think that is the worse thing that could happen.

(Tumblr: this with reaction .gifs)

RTW #167: The Great Gatsby

Time for another Road Trip!
Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.
We’d love for you to participate! Just answer the prompt on your own blog and leave a link – or, if you prefer, you can include your answer in the comments.
[caution: I tried not to spoil the book, but quotes and character comments abound.]

I think I loved this book by the end of the first page. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel about life in the Roaring 20s, didn’t waste a moment in inviting me in with a depth of character understanding that was at odds with the shortness of the book.

There was so much to love about this book. It wasn’t a book that you could skim through; the writing is the sort to be read carefully, savored, and returned to over again. After I finished it, I read the beginning again; that first synopsis of Gatsby as told by the narrator after everything is over…and it felt like watching a movie where you know the ending and just want to save the characters from their eventual fate. At first reading, the beginning had been more poetic than applicable. Now: “When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. […] No–Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.”

The Great Gatsby is not a happy story. It is not a triumphant story. Rather, it is a clearly, elegantly told story of sad, beautiful people who each hold their own despair in life and who each pursue their own unhappy ends.

Daisy, who is conscious only of her own unhappiness, but too shallow to do more than acknowledge whatever moment she currently exists in, completely overwhelmed by those around her.

Tom, the hypocrite who lives to please himself and who cannot fathom others who redirect their allegiance from him.  King of the playground, king of the gridiron, king of his own moral code.

Jordan, capable only of surviving behind her shades of gray, described as “incurably dishonest”, yet attractive just the same.

Myrtle, dismissive of the hands that feed her.

And Gatsby. Jay Gatsby. The child who built his castles on the sand, and when the tide rolled in, tried to build them up again.

Maybe it is Nick, the narrator, and his way of so clearly describing the summer…but there is a creeping sense of dread through all of this. A foreboding, warning that underneath the glitter and cars and rendezvous over tea, this will not end happily. That these broken people will be just as broken at the end as they were at the beginning. The difference is the war-torn Nick, who in the end, visits with the man in the owl-eyed glasses and comes home a little less, empty despite the glitter and the glamour and all that Gatsby’s world could offer.

Yes, I loved this book. It’s the sort that carries over even into today’s age. It doesn’t matter whether or not we have a neighbor whose house glitters in the evenings. While Nick seems casually untouched by the swirl of the rich, in the end he sees: “I couldn’t forgive him or like him but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people[–]they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. . . . “  I think everyone has been astonished by the carelessness of someone else, no matter how much we wanted to see the best in them. We may be rooting for them to succeed, or trying to establish them in a better light…but in the end we shake hands with a child and leave angry with ourselves for caring in the first place.

I love how Nick describes the contradictions in Gatsby’s world. The carelessness of the rich, juxtaposed against the hopefulness that the wealth brought. The identity as an established man, built on the unending dreams of a child.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning—-

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Tell The Truth Tuesday…

1. My calendar says it’s Tuesday, but based on the number of people who have been in my office with requests for things they needed ten minutes ago…I’m definitely pegging this as Monday morning all over again.

2. I have had Imagine Dragons on repeat on my ipod for the last week and a half.

3. I was sort of rooting for both teams to win the Super Bowl this weekend? And yes, the commercials are my favorite part.

4. I got 1.5 advanced sudokus completed in class last night.

5. I am not vertically challenged, but I love wearing shoes that make me taller.

Check out my tumblr for Tell The Truth Tuesday…with .gifs!