Lessons from My Father

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgI could write for a hundred years, fill up every blank journal on my bookcase, and never run out of material about my family. And, probably, so could many of you.

The last few days, I have been sifting through memories of my father, who passed away suddenly last week. As I process his loss, I am also considering his legacy. I won’t get overly personal, but I want to share three lessons that guide me in business, and in life in general.

My father was not a writer, but like many writers I know, he had a day job in the oil industry that paid the bills, plus a second job in the family cattle business that was his true calling. He was hard-working and responsible in both, and when I took the leap into professional editing, his work and personal ethics gave me guidance.

Lesson #1 – Be professional.

Daddy loved his cows. He fed his Heifers, checked on them daily, and kept them healthy. He planted new grass in a fenced off field and waited until Christmas Day to let them feed on it, as a holiday present. He stayed up all night when a cow was calving. When he lost a herd in a flood during a hurricane, he was devastated. If our house got too noisy, he’d go off for some peace and quiet with his cattle. When he was sad or worried, he went to his pasture because “sometimes a man just needs to talk to a cow.”

But raising livestock was not a game, and when the time came, he loaded the cows into a trailer and off they went to the slaughterhouse. It wasn’t personal, it was business.

How is this a lesson for me? When I review a manuscript, I must put aside my personal feelings and remember that this writer—maybe a friend, maybe a stranger–is paying for  honesty and help, not sweet compliments or hand-holding. The author-editor relationship is a business arrangement between two professionals, and the only way it works is to keep it that way.

Lesson #2 –  Be a good boss.

Daddy’s first job was at a small town movie house called the Joy Theater. He was 12. When he was older, he was lied about his age and got a job as a roustabout on an oil rig. He worked in the oil industry for decades, finally as a workover supervisor. At his funeral, so many men introduced themselves as former oilmen, and I remember at least half a dozen said Daddy was the best boss they’d ever had. “He was tough but he was fair,” one man told me, with tears in his eyes. When your passing makes a former roustabout cry, you know you left a strong impression.

I am my own boss, so managing time and juggling jobs falls to me. If I can’t find balance in my home life and my professional life, both will suffer, and I’ll be a bad boss to myself. Sometimes it’s tough to say no to someone who asks for a too-fast turnover, but I have to be fair—to the work and to myself—so that the job is done well.

Lesson #3 – Make your deadlines.

Daddy was impressed when I started my own business, but I’m not sure he ever quite knew what it was—exactly—that I did. “You read books and people pay you?” he asked once, somewhat incredulously, and I answered, “Something like that.” He might not have understood the ins and outs of professional editing, but he got the gist: people sent me projects, I did them, and the people paid me. Every phone call, he wanted to know if I had jobs lined up. He was most happy when I told him I had projects queued for 6 or 9 or 12 months ahead.

One thing about my job never baffled him. When I reported that I’d stayed up late or missed an outing because I had a deadline, he didn’t say, “Poor you.” My father was early to every appointment and he always got work done on time. He never let his cows go hungry because he fiddled around instead of feeding them. He didn’t force a crew into overtime because the project  plan was sloppy. Being late was not an option for him, and it can’t be an option for me. When work is due, I get it there–on time.

I could tell you many other things about my father, but those are personal. Bits and pieces of him have always appeared in my stories, and that won’t change or be lost. He may be gone, but his legacy runs through me and my siblings, our cousins, and many friends. I hope you’ll find these lessons good guidance along your own path, whatever it may be.

From him to me, and now from me to you:

  1. Be professional.
  2. Be a good boss.
  3. Make your deadlines.

And, as lagniappe, a picture from his cattle pasture, because sometimes a person just needs to look at a cow.

cow

Humanities Are US

What are the humanities?

The humanities are language, literature, law, history, archeology, religion, ethics, art, heritage, traditions. The humanities make us feeling, thinking, creative, caring, compassionate human beings. Without the humanities, we become soulless creatures without a past or future.

The National Endowment for the Humanities is the government agency that spearheads projects to preserve and explore our national heritage.

Have you seen Ken Burns’ documentaries on The Civil War, Prohibition, the Roosevelts. Huey Long, the Dust Bowl, the National Parks, Baseball? Of his body of work so far–27 documentaries–15 have been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Do you know the Library of America, with support from the NEH, focuses on a writer of the week? This week’s writer is Ursula LeGuin.

Did you realize the NEH, since its inception 50 years ago, has published 7,000 books and, through its Chronicling America Project, catalogued and preserved over 63 million pages of historic newspapers?

This is the NEH’s mission statement:

Because democracy demands wisdom, NEH serves and strengthens our republic by promoting excellence in the humanities and conveying the lessons of history to all Americans. The Endowment accomplishes this mission by awarding grants for top-rated proposals examined by panels of independent, external reviewers. NEH grants typically go to cultural institutions, such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television, and radio stations, and to individual scholars.

“Because democracy demands wisdom”- can anyone argue with this statement?

The NEH needs support to continue its work to preserve America’s history. Please contact your legislators to express your appreciation for the NEH, and grab a poster below.

 

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I Heart the Arts

At the end of 2016, after the deaths of two writing colleagues, I wrote this:

Countries fall. Empires crumble. Buildings tumble down, and monuments wear away. People come, they go, they die. Only stories and dance and music and drama—only ART—remains in the world forever. Art is not required to be embodied by a physical thing. As long as we can move, sing, speak, act, and remember, we can pass along who we were, who we are, who we hope to be. Art is the ephemera that will last forever.

Art matters. Unfortunately, from time to time, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities come under attack for….well, simply existing. It is rumored that these agencies are about to be attacked again.

Today I will write about the NEA. Tomorrow, I will write about the NEH.

As an artist who has benefited from grant programming, of course I want to show my support and explain why arts, culture, and history matter to the world. I also run an arts-based business, so I have a very engaged and practical dog in this fight: I want to protect my livelihood. I want to save my job. Agencies like the Delaware Division of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts provide opportunities for artists and mentor the growth of young and emerging artists.

Here is the mission statement of the National Endowment for the Arts:

Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America.

And to learn about its history:

On September 29, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, creating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. To celebrate the agency’s 50th anniversary, we created this web section to highlight how the NEA has helped nurture the arts in the country and made it accessible to all Americans.

My own arts story is shared on the United States of Arts map. The red poster on my About page was created by the NEA to promote its 50th Anniversary celebration.

Please join me in supporting the National Endowment for the Arts. Contact your elected officials to let them know that art, history, and culture matter to you.

Yesterday, I went on a poster-making binge. If you’d like to save and share any of these posters to make your support public, please do:

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The Trouble with Being

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgMy last post of 2016 was about patience. This post is about another word: being.

You’ve seen the memes:

 Be the change. Be the ball. Just be.

The first – be the change – means embracing activism with action.  Be the change can mean marching on Washington on Saturday. Be the change can mean bringing your own cloth bags to the grocery store. Be the change can mean volunteering at a shelter or running in a charity 5K. Be the change can mean speaking up when a person is bullied about their race, religion, sexual orientation, or appearance. Be the change can mean adopting a rescue animal.

I get the concept of “be the change.” You, yourself, do something that exhibits how you want the world to act or be. Easy peasy.

“Be the ball” means action + desire. I don’t use a lot of sports metaphors, but I understand this one. If you want to be a champion swimmer, “be the ball” means practicing every day until you hit your best. Michael Phelps is the ball. For a wannabe writer, “be the ball” means writing without quitting, despite rejection, outside obstacles, and personal insecurities. JK Rowling is the ball.

“Be the ball” means doing the thing you love, embracing your desires, living the life you wish for. I understand this one, too.

Which brings us to “Just be.”

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“Just be” means to slow down. Listen. Feel. Observe. I think that’s what it means, anyway. To be honest, I’m not sure.

I practice being the change in my own relatively small ways, and I work hard at being the ball. But to just be—isn’t that, like, doing nothing?

“Just be” is difficult for people like me who long ago bought into the lure of multi-tasking. “Be the change” and “be the ball” are doing phrases. I can do things. Often, I can do three things at once. I can juggle, delegate, and prioritize. I know how to save time because….

 Time is precious! Don’t waste time! Time is of the essence! Time is fleeting!

These phrases are directly oppositional to the concept of taking time off, taking time for yourself, taking time to just be.

In writing, there’s a plot device called a ticking clock. It is used to give a character a deadline. A fictional ticking clock can mean a bomb will go off if it’s not diffused before the seconds wind down, or a loved one will die if not rescued before a hatch opens and they drop into the ocean.

Ticking clocks are useful in fiction because it ramps up the tension, adds stakes, etc. A ticking clock in real life means making deadlines. My job is ruled by deadlines, and it works, but it’s also tiring. One of my resolutions for 2017 is to do one thing at a time.

This is why “just be” sounds attractive–but despite my resolution, just “being” remains elusive.

So, my friends, how about some help? Who has this “just be” thing mastered? Would you share your wisdom on how to ignore the ticking clock and slow down, listen, feel, observe? I would be most grateful.

Sacred Writing Time Pledge, 2017

On New Year’s Day of 2012, I created the Sacred Writing Time Pledge. The Pledge was born in response to a writing group colleague who bemoaned her lack of organization, willpower, family cooperation, and other reasons (aka excuses) that prevented her from being the steady, daily, productive writer she wanted to be.

Writers write. Writers who get published complete work and submit that work to agents and editors, or they choose to self-publish. That’s how it works. The way to write for publication is to commit to it. That means nothing–and no one–stands in the way of your writing goals.

Don’t allow reasons (aka excuses) to gain power over you and undermine your goals. I’d like to invite my writing friends and colleagues to take the Sacred Writing Time Pledge for the first time, or renew from last year.

Note: In the past, the Sacred Writing Time Pledge included place for the writer to ask his/her family to sign, too, and back up the writer’s commitment. This year, I’ve simplified the form because you do not permission, approval, or backup to pursue your writing goals. Just do it.

The Sacred Writing Time Pledge, 2017

 I ____________ do solemnly swear to devote time each day to Sacred Writing Time. That means no one and nothing disturbs this time, including myself. I will work toward my writing goals and will accept nothing less than the best I expect of myself.

Signature _______________________________ (date) _______

Best of luck to all of you in your writing endeavors for 2017!

Ramona

2016, in Review

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgA few days ago, I wrote a year in review post. I listed my 2016 accomplishments (Masters Fellowship in Fiction!), raved over writing retreats (all 6 of them!), and boasted about organizing a literary reading series that placed poets and prose writers in historical sites (5 venues and 22 artists—argh!)

As always, I let the post rest overnight. After 10+ years as an editor and I-won’t-tell-how-many years as an author, I have learned the habit of patience. Never hit Send or Post or Submit until you’ve allowed the Whatever a rest. Continue reading

DDoA Fellowship Readings

On Saturday, I will give my final reading as a Delaware Division of the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship winner. This year, as the 2016 Masters Fellowship in Fiction recipient, I have had the pleasure of reading and writing at plantation homes, historic court houses, bookstores,  libraries, and museums, during workshops, residencies, and conferences, in art galleries and outdoors, and in bars, restaurants, hermitages and a convent, in all three counties and beyond. Continue reading