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Networking lunch

“Do they really need to call it networking lunch? Can’t they just call it lunch, and take some of the pressure off?”
This was me, whining. I was going to a writers conference, which in itself was very exciting. I’d heard about it from my fabulous writing teacher, Kathryn Johnson (see this blog post for details of my writing journey, and my class with her). But the networking element in reference to the lunch session had me in a tizzy. A true fact about me is that I was not born with the gift of schmooze. And the notion of professional networking strikes me, in my weak moments, as nothing more than a popularity contest for grown-ups.

I don’t even have business cards to my name since my last teaching job ended. Which leaves me with the question, what do I include on a business card? “Sandra Falcón, Stay-at-home mother and writer?” “Pretty decent cook and baker?” “Once and future professor and linguist?” Do I include PhD even though my current writing has virtually nothing to do with my academic background? My mother’s response to this last one is an unequivocal YES. Why? “Sweetheart, because you can.” Hard to argue with that. Still, I was worried. What if I came on too strong? (People sometimes do.) What if I felt invisible? (I suppose people do this, too, sometimes.)

The morning portion of the conference did not disappoint. I met a lot of friendly people, the setting was excellent, the conference was running like a well-oiled machine, and the incidences of “networking” conversations that typically make me want to plug my fingers into my ears and go, “Laaaa la la la laaaaa,” were minimal. The day was off to a very good start.

Lunchtime came, and I quickly noticed in the buffet line that I was the only person who had put two wrap/sandwich halves on my plate. Then the woman behind me did the same, and I almost felt relieved, until she said, “I’m taking two, but that’s okay, because I’m not having any potato chips.” Precisely as I was piling the potato chips on my plate. Sh!t. What was I supposed to do, put something back? My seconds’ worth of hesitation was already holding up the line, and I was certain that others had noticed. Finally, I said an internal “Screw it,” and moved on, head held high … and resolved to eating very fast in order to cover up my blunder.

I entered the dining area, my loaded plate of food weighing me down a little–for what it’s worth, I had not taken any cookies or brownies for dessert, and I did eat all of my food. Looking at the tables filling up before me, I had brief visions of every teen angst movie that features a lunchroom scene involving some form (or various) of rejection.

Then I spotted a table that was half-empty except for a young African-American man … with his very appropriate single wrap half, and few potato chips. I made timid eye contact, took a deep breath, and made a beeline for a seat directly across from him. We first talked about the sessions that we had each attended in the morning. I’d been to the one on self-publishing a book; it was excellent, and my head was still spinning. He had been to a session on poetry.

He told me he’s a college student at a nearby University of Maryland campus. I went to ask him whether he raps, then quickly chided myself for stereotyping. Black college student who writes poetry, must be a rapper? So what if I was nervous–I knew I could do better. So instead, I asked him, “Have you always been a poet?” I could tell he liked the question. We each admired what the other was doing. I find poetry daunting, he said that writing a whole book sounded scary. He told me some of the things he knows about poetry. I shared how it had always been my dream to write stories. I was having a great time with my new poet friend.

Halfway into the lunch hour, we were joined by one of his professors. She had two long braids, and wore a large feather on one side of her head–she later confirmed her Native-American heritage. Had it not been for the Bluetooth device on the other side of her head, I could have sworn I had traveled back in time and was in the presence of a beautiful, regal tribe elder. The beautiful and regal part were nevertheless very real. To give you a bit more sense of her, she also told me that she has African, as well as four different European countries (“not by choice,” her words) in her ethnic background. And she has two children who are around my age. Before long, the professor and I were bonding. We covered the joys and exhaustions of raising a four-year-old, being home full-time in the early years of motherhood, teaching and experiences with students, writing practices that work for us given the various obligations of our respective schedules, and writing because it nourishes our souls and we can’t imagine not doing it.

Here are some highlights of the things she said. I am paraphrasing, but not a lot:
“I’ve trained myself to work on my writing at the end of the day, until I simply fall asleep. I’ve trained myself to do a lot of different things to accommodate my writing over the years.”
“My parents were undertakers. I saw a lot of carnage. So many Trayvon Martin’s before anyone ever cared about Trayvon Martin. My parents understood when my brother and I decided we didn’t want to go into the family business.”
“My first book was published in 2001.”
“I’ve decided to focus on the writing part for now, and not worry so constantly about getting it published. It’s too distracting right now.”
“This young man here is one of the best students in our Honors Program. He is an excellent poet. And a gifted rapper.”
“You have an author’s name! I can see it on the covers of books already.”

“You seem like a very devoted mother. Enjoying these early years at home with a child is a great privilege. I can tell you know.”

Eventually, we were of course joined on our side of the table by other conference attendees, and in hindsight I hope they didn’t feel ignored …  Can you imagine the irony? And before we knew it, the hour was over, and it was time to move on to our afternoon sessions. Lest you conclude that our networking lunch was just a touchy-feely exercise in mutual flattery with very little potential for business advancement (and if you do, hey that’s fine), I will tell you that our entire discussion did basically revolve around writing. I just really liked that it was also deeply grounded in kindness, and life. Stephen King says, “Life isn’t a support system for art; it’s the other way around.” By staying grounded in our lives, we had the kind of talk that transcended the perfunctory business/art stuff that can seem so tedious to me some folks. This was my kind of networking lunch!

I even learned, in a later conversation with a much larger group, that one of the characters in the professor’s new book is a Puerto Rican who is “really messed up.” What?! I know a lot about that! I could be her expert consultant on the subject of a Puerto Rican who’s ” really messed up!” Wait, could I put that on a business card … ?

The most basic definitions of network in the Oxford Online Dictionary are perfectly appropriate.
NOUN
1 An arrangement of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines
2 A group or system of interconnected people or things
VERB
2 (no object) Interact with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts

It’s when I think of it as a scenario where I am essentially competing to “sell a product” that the term becomes intimidating. Instead, I think that from now on I’m going to define networking as the simple quote below.

I mean, right? For all my whining, I think this was ultimately the approach I took going into this event. It did not lead me astray. Among the many, many highpoints throughout the conference, the networking lunch I had so dreaded turned out to be one of the great highlights. On my way out, I stopped by the buffet table and treated myself to a brownie. And when I’m done posting this, I will get to work on those business cards!

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Isn’t it ironic?

It was announced last week that Alanis Morissette’s 1990s album Jagged Little Pill is going to be made
into a Broadway musical. Ahhh, Alanis. I spent an abnormally large portion of my
twenties reveling in the shared anger and validation that I found in the songs
on this album. She had me at, Do
I stress you out?
Well over a decade later, many of the lines from these songs still resonate with me, as a wife, mom, writer, and occasional (frequent?) awkward type–I’ll elaborate on this later.

Another favorite line from that first song? Enough about you, let’s talk about life for
a while. The conflicts, the craziness, and the sound of pretenses falling, all
around.
I think about this often when I encounter the funny, bragger-superior types. Or folks obsessed with constant correctness. Yikes, how exhausting it must be. And yes, I think of my own pretenses, too. My biggest one? Probably that feeling fearful is a measure of my caring. There, I’ve said it. But I can hear the sound of it falling. One day at a time, man …

 

Wait until the dust
settles
.
 I thought in my
twenties that this line could be applied across the board. Turns out, it can’t be
applied to parenthood. When you are entrusted with the care of a
tirelessly-evolving young soul, the dust simply never settles. My child is
three. And I bet the dust will never settle even after he is old enough to be
out of the house. Because I doubt I will ever be done worrying and loving
him in a way that breaks my heart wide open, into thousands of little
pieces, every single day. That’s okay. I have no interest in this particular extraordinary
bit of dust ever settling.
I feel drunk but I’m
sober
. This basically speaks for itself.
I’m young and I’m
underpaid
.
Now. Is it sad that this line resonates as deeply with me at age
38 as it did when I was 24? Or is it funny? Maybe sad-funny?
From Oprah.com
I’m brave but I’m
chicken shit
. Again, speaks for itself. But I will say that I am becoming
more courageous over time. The evidence? People whose opinion I trust telling me so. And being
called a strong and opinionated woman with increasing frequency.
Whether folks meant the latter in a good way, I have my doubts (no, really). But I
count each time as a victory. And clichés notwithstanding, it is
true that we can’t really know how courageous we are unless we experience
being chicken crapola, too. I mean, right?
And all I really want is some peace, man.      Yes. Yes!
I never forgot it,
confusing as it was. No fun with no guilt feelings
.
It still is confusing.
It used to be because of wanting to be a good, always dutiful, girl. I’ve been mostly cured of that. Now it’s because of mommy guilt.
The common denominator is trying to navigate an independent identity regardless of where I am in my life and of how deeply I love those closest to me. Guilt is guilt, though. And utterly pointless 9.9 times out of 10.
I had one more stupid
question
.
          🙂
You ask how my day
was
.
     Sweet husband of mine.
And don’t be surprised
if I love you for all that you are
.      
 Same.

You are the bearer of unconditional things. To the precious three-year-old boy who made me a Mama.

Thanks for your
patience
.    
Beloved parents.
I believe the entire contents of the song Not the Doctor are best left unaddressed in the context of this blog post. I will
simply say that I was young, that’s all.
But nothing is more poignant and timeless than the song entitled Ironic. Again, not enough space in this blog post. But I have one real doozy that happened this week. I emailed a chapter of my novel to my writing teacher, the very morning of the class, fully indicating that I understood if she didn’t have time to read it or comment on it by the time we met in class that evening. She didn’t. But she was kind enough to give me several minutes’ worth of time at the end of class. Unfortunately, by that hour, my parking meter had expired, and I was consumed by anxiety over getting a parking ticket. I choked and blanked completely when my teacher asked me what questions I had for her. At one point (here is the awkwardness I promised), I  just stood up, mid-conversation, then sat back down, apologizing profusely the entire time. When I finally got to my car, there was no parking ticket. Thank you, God(dess)! And then, on the drive home–FLASH. Surprise! A speed camera. Son of a b!tch. For what it’s worth, I swear I am not a reckless driver, and that part of the city has no business being a 25 mph zone at nearly 10 o’clock at night.
A little too ironic, yeah I really do think.
Seeing Alanis Morissette evolve from twenty-something badass chick to an almost 40-year-old total mom of one only makes me love her more. The Broadway show is scheduled to open in 2014. I thought I was running out of excuses to visit New York City next year. Now I have a new one. Jagged Little Pill is the gift that keeps on giving!And what is all boils down to, is that no one’s really got it figured out just yet … Sing it, sister.

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Welcome to my First Post

This
maiden blog post is dedicated to my new friends and fellow extreme novelists. I
am rather self-conscious about taking up group time in class, and hopefully over the
course of the week this can also help in having others see what it’s been like
for one classmate. Someone may find something relatable. Here goes.
Thu 3 Oct 6:37AM. For the first few minutes I couldn’t find
my flash drive so that I could back up my document as I worked. “Oh well, guess
I can’t write if I can’t make back-ups of my work right away!” 1. I got over
it. 2. Just as I got over it, my flash drive made its appearance.
Okay. I just went over and made edits/revisions on the three
lines above. Sighs.
7:38AM. Done one hour so far, 837 words. Only took 2 minutes
out of the 60 minute writing period I wanted to spend this morning to write the
lines above. J  Next time I will only make these notes on
separate time, not my formal “writing” time. Otherwise I won’t do it. That’s a
promise. I am aiming for 1,000 words today, hopeful about hitting 1,000 with
the additional 30 minutes I plan to spend later today.
HUNGRY.
Note for next early morning writing sessions at home, make sure I have a
banana, or ask dear husband to start boiling me an egg if he comes downstairs
before me. Also ask him to close the basement door or not have NPR turned on so
loud down there. I suppose I could use my ipod. But then I wouldn’t hear my son
when he wakes up. Or these days, I wouldn’t hear him coughing…
Breakfast.
8:20AM Now I can think more clearly about the first 60
minutes. Report: only about one or two minutes of screen-staring. Not looking
back up to add or change stuff was exponentially harder. The key, for me I
think, is to train my eyes. Just
don’t let them wander up, man.
My biggest challenges are procrastinating, perfectionism,
and finding a balance with family time.
The themes that permeate my stories are my love of history
and of spirituality and the supernatural world, and the healing of
old—family—wounds. For this book, my history fixation is centered on New York
City immigrant history, Ellis Island, Lower East Side, all that fabulous fun
stuff, particularly as it pertains to women.
Another big theme that is both personal and an element in my
writing is identity in general. I wrote my dissertation ten years ago on
language and Puerto Rican identity, and the overall question remains a constant
for me. How do we construct and present our various identities or personas to
the world, whether it’s cultural heritage, gender roles, as wife and mother or
as a single person, etc.? I am, of course, in the throes of navigating this
very question constantly. In the 1990s it was student, single gal travelling
the world. Then it was newlywed college professor. Now it’s wife and mother. I
love it. And I intend to make that wife, mother, AND WRITER next. I constantly,
constantly vacillate between transparency / being an open book and fear of over
sharing, and between obsessive high achieving and expert half-assedness.  Writing holds the answer for me.
Here is a picture of all my things ready to go for last
night’s first class: Quarters for parking, my writing contract printed and
signed (with notes), and food. This was at noon yesterday. Don’t worry, I did
put the smoothie back in the fridge. I’ll let you all guess where this falls
between the high achieving and half-assedness … And we will see how this keeps
up as the next eight weeks progress.
5:07PM. 1300 words in today’s 90 minute exercise!
Not bad. Plus I (*think* I’ve) started a blog! Please feel
free to write comments—if this did, in fact work—and share how it is going for
you. Sending you productive creative vibes; happy writing, friends.
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