“Tell me a story” is an invocation. A request for connection, and thus an opportunity for deeper understanding.Read More
In the nearly two years since I’ve been self-employed it’s safe to say I’ve made a ton of self-employed newbie mistakes. Getting up when I feel like it, working in my pajamas, peppering coffee dates and lunches throughout the week, running errands, reading as “research," working from places that are absolutely not conducive for working, the list goes on and on. I wouldn’t consider it wasted time, however, because I had to walk through each of those to see that they don’t work for me.
Today I am more disciplined about my writing than I’ve ever been before. Ask anyone who tries to schedule time with me: if it’s Monday through Friday between 9-6, the answer is probably no. For years I dreamed of breaking free of the constraints of “office life,” and now it’s exactly the structure that works best for me. Go figure.
One of the ways I’ve moved towards this kind of discipline is through a variation on a technique that I heard Jerry Seinfeld uses. His goal is to write each day. Each day that he writes, he marks an X on the calendar. The Xs start to accumulate and an internal momentum starts to build where he doesn’t want to “break the chain.” He keeps writing so he can keep marking Xs.
I write almost every day. Sometimes it’s a paid assignment, sometimes it’s just for me, and a lot of times it’s some of both. But in order to ensure that I write most days of the week, I’ve learned I can’t go into the day without at least an inkling of what it is I would like to write. So I’ve developed, as you can see in the photo, a highly technical Post-It system wherein I map out what it is I will write each day. (The colors mean nothing. I ran out of pink and moved to blue.)
Days without Post-Its don’t mean I’m not writing. Those spaces typically mean I plan to work multiple days on the Post-It preceding it. You’ll see, too, that I front-load my weeks. My brain is best at writing brand new material at the beginning of the week. I do better with editing, interview prep, research—anything that is less “creation” and more pre- or post-creation—at the end of the week. When I do what’s on the Post-It, it gets an X. I love drawing Xs.
Post-Its get moved around. Sometimes I’ll get rolling on something and don’t get to the next Post-It, so I move it to the next day or week. The stickies are there to help me, not beat me up. They’re Post-Its, for Pete’s sake. Not contracts with the Universe. Once the wall fills up, I take them all down, give myself a lil’ pat on the back, and keep moving.
In addition to helping me produce work more consistently, I had no idea this method would also help me with what was becoming one of my greatest writing handicaps: preciousness. Before this system, every word was so, so dear. Even when it wasn’t, it was. The pressure mounted and the work suffered. I suffered. Today I’m just doing what’s on the Post-It. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s the greatest freedom I’ve ever known in my writing.
It’s all a process anyway. What works today might not work six months from now. So I give myself a general framework to keep me on track, and then I start writing. I don’t yell at myself or freak out when things need to change.
For too long I subscribed to the oft-cited mythology that writing is painful, torturous, or at the very least, frustrating. That doesn’t work for me today. It’s a belief system that feels at once both divisive (as in there are those who can hack it and those who just can’t) and borderline abusive. Of course writing can be challenging. (That’s also what makes it fun…) Of course there is material that can sting. (Writers are humans, not robots.) But I write because I love it. I write because I never know where it’s going to take me so I always feel like I’m on the ride of my life. I write for the buried treasure beneath every X.
But wait! There’s more!
Good news for those of you outside the Nashville area interested in joining my upcoming writing workshop, April 11-May 30—I’ve added a video conferencing option! So, fear not, if you want to write with me and some of your soon-to-be Nashville-based friends, we can make that happen.
Interested in signing up? Reply to this email and we’ll get you taken care of.
AND THE BEST NEWS OF ALL . . .
Thanks to a generous contribution from a very thoughtful donor, I have TWO half-scholarships to offer for my writing workshop. That means the total cost of the 8-week workshop is only $150. If you’re interested in one of these awards, please email me a statement of need (no more than 300 words please) by Monday, April 3 at 5 p.m.
Hello, stranger! Ah, where to begin when we’ve been apart for so long? Part of me wants to fill you in on where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing (and maybe there’ll be some of that), but instead of looking back I think it makes more sense to look forward.
This isn’t the return of Aiming for Okay, at least not in its original form. It’s more of an arrival notice. A birth announcement of sorts for KateParrish.com.
One of the things I’m happiest to share here is that I’ll be leading an eight-week creative writing workshop in Nashville on Tuesday nights beginning April 11. Whether you’re new to writing, a recovering academic, a published author, or just lost and confused and don’t know which direction to move, this workshop is for you.
We’ll be generating new material each week (whether that’s towards an existing project or something entirely new is up to you), so that we never find ourselves too far away from a thought to return to. I would love to have you there.
If you’re interested in participating or would like more information, head here.
All skill levels, all genres welcome.
>> And please feel free to forward! <<
I’ve also added a list of publications and information on work for hire. If you’re looking for help writing a new bio, need some guidance in building out a digital content calendar, or have something else in mind, drop me a line and we’ll chat. (You can reply directly to this email or email me at KATE at AIMINGFOROKAY dot COM.)
So what will become of Aiming for Okay? It’s still there. I haven’t taken it away! The plan is to still post there now and again, but I don’t foresee returning to it on a weekly basis. One thing I'm continuing to learn is that there is an order to things, an overarching pace or rhythm. Taking a deep dive into my own psyche each week, hoping to make sense out of it, started to feel out of order. If there was no distance, how could there be any perspective? As a writer, sometimes the biggest challenge is to walk away from a piece or idea when not enough life has happened yet to complete it.
Here’re a few pieces, however, that I have completed and published since we last connected. There’s everything from shark attacks to trying to get pregnant, ancient art to voting with my mother, car accidents and speech writers, and even a little behind the scenes look into how I became a writer. It really is such a dream to hear other people’s stories—their passion and experience—and retell them to a new audience. Funny how when I listen, I’m the one that ends up feeling more understood.
I’d love to hear what’s going on with you. How are you? Where’ve you traveled? New babies, jobs or partners?
I don’t spend much time on social media these days, but I do share new stories and updates on Instagram (@parrishdontperish). Maybe I’ll see you there, too?
Talk again soon. Promise.
I had lunch with a close friend a few weeks ago. Outside of being women, we are about as far away from belonging to a marginalized group of individuals as we can get. We are both young, healthy, straight, white, have or are working towards advanced degrees, don’t worry about where we will sleep each night or if we will get to eat each day, and are gainfully employed in professions that fulfill us. We were born in America and raised in two-parent, middle class homes. Personal traumas and other disturbances aside, our lives have been simple with the hands we have been dealt. And because of this, there is for me a fear that, for lack of a better term, my good fortune will blind me to the pain of marginalized individuals and groups or that, at the very least, my desire to learn more or better understand perspectives outside my own will come across as disingenuous, contrived, or pitying. I worry at times my sheer existence on this planet is unintentionally offensive, elitist, or over privileged.
In a recent post, I shared about a campaign I initiated here in Nashville to collect tampons and pads for homeless women and women in transitional housing. Social media has fueled the majority of the campaign. On a post I was tagged in, an individual who I do not know asserted that the campaign was not inclusive of non-binary individuals. Despite feeling like a relatively in-the-know person most days, the term “non-binary” was one I did not know. Looking it up, I learned it means any gender that is not exclusively male or female. The commenter offered no suggestion or solution for how this population of individuals might be better included in the campaign. The goal of the comment seemed only to poke holes in something that was born out of a sincere desire to help others.
Days later, at lunch with my friend, I described what took place and how it had made me feel, which was mostly annoyed. Not annoyed because the person was offering up the perspective of a marginalized group, but annoyed because it felt like an attempt to shame me and the efforts of the campaign while also failing to offer a solution. I told my friend I didn’t know what non-binary meant until I looked it up. I said, while we’re at it, I’m also not sure what the I in LGBTQIA stands for or how the Q should be used in relation to the other letters in the acronym.
As someone who tries hard to be sensitive, to be educated, to begin to understand what I don’t understand as much as possible, I felt frustrated and afraid. That old adage, No good deed goes unpunished, played over and over in my mind. Was the campaign close-minded, unwelcoming, or insensitive? I didn’t think so, but was I allowed to say that as a non-marginalized person?
As I worked through all this in conversation with my friend, a woman approached our table. She calmly, kindly, and politely said, “I overheard your conversation and wanted to tell you the I stands for Intersex.” She explained a little more and offered a few details about herself that illuminated why she was knowledgeable about the topic. The whole exchange was maybe two minutes long but profoundly impactful. With her approach—non-aggressive, non-shaming, with an intent to educate and not embarrass—she taught me something new.
That interaction could have gone in a totally different direction. She could have easily sat there with her back to us, listening to two straight women talk about not understanding terminology unfamiliar to their everyday lives (and yet having a desire to better understand it) and absolutely skewered us, recounting in real-time on Twitter or Facebook what we were saying or in real life by confronting us. Instead, she chose to teach us something. It was beautiful.
I think about shame a lot. I think about how it is a tool to silence people, to coerce or manipulate people, and to keep people stuck in fear. I think mostly about how it is an ineffective tool for bringing about change; it is a mechanism for short-term gains, not long-term advancement.
Here’s the truth: I am terrified of people on the Internet. They can be cruel, unforgiving, and brutal. People will say things online they would never say to another human being’s face. For all the good the Internet has done in bringing people together, sharing ideas, and expanding worldviews and intellectual horizons, it has also taken town square shaming to epic proportions. It seems like not a day goes by where someone isn’t eaten alive online by unrelenting and ruthless media or commenters seemingly determined to shame people into another way of thinking. I’m terrified to share this post. I’m terrified of all the ways I may have inadvertently offended someone or exposed myself as someone who doesn’t know everything about everything. I am about as human as they come I’m afraid.
Shame is paralyzing. Shame is humiliating. Shame does not heal, educate, or encourage dialogue. The proliferation of shame as a tool for affecting change, especially online, worries and saddens me. What are we teaching people when we shame them? To continue to cling to false ideas, misconceptions, or in my case, a simple lack of knowledge, but now in the private recesses of their minds where they won’t be judged? What are we teaching people when we shame them but offer no alternative voice or solution, or offer that alternative voice or solution with a vitriolic delivery? What are we teaching people when we shame them after their best intentions come out sideways?
We don’t know what we don’t know. So what if before we launched an attack, sprayed harsh words, lobbed painful or contextually inaccurate comments, we looked for an opportunity to teach, to share, to offer up an idea in exchange for a mistake, confusion, or miscommunication? A true trade of one idea for another, an answer for a question, possibility for possibility? What if we allowed people to be human and loved them anyway? What change would be possible then?
For more LGBTQIA-related definitions, visit this helpful resource.
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