Growing Pains & Small Victories

Remember these guys? Growing Pains. Oh, I loved it!

About two weeks ago, I spent an evening with some lovely poets I know up in Michigan. We talked about poetry, of course, but also about life. I was explaining to the poets that I’d just found out my waitressing job would no longer be waiting for me when I returned to North Carolina. How would I earn that average of $700 per month I’d been counting on? How would I replace the physical and social aspects that waitressing so readily offers to balance my writing life?

“Growing pains,” the poet said.

“Growing pains?”

“Yeah. Growing pains,” she said.” It sounds like life is happening to you whether you think you’re ready or not. But you are ready. You set these things in motion. Now they’re coming to fruition.”

“Oh,” I said.

She had a point. Poets always have a point (well, when they’re giving advice, at least). I knew losing my job was a possibility–after all, I don’t keep a very easy schedule and when push came to shove, I had to choose between the book tour and guaranteed work. There’s no way any business should make as many accommodations as my schedule demands. I’ve been self-employed for a little over 4 years, doing occasional waitress or teaching work. Now, officially, I am fully self-employed. After the initial growing pains, I have to say: It feels freaking awesome!

Now, dear readers, you know that I love waitressing. And I especially love it right here, in Mitchell and Yancey Counties, where I know 80% of the folks who walk in the door and I care about their lives and enjoy their company and delightful nuances. I also identify as a waitress or a member of the “food service community.” I’ve worked in food service for a combined total of about 8 years, from grill chef to waitress to barista to sandwich maker to pint pourer to truffle stocker. Of course, there were those nights my back hurt mopping or when the tips weren’t great or I screwed up an order or couldn’t seem to do anything fast enough. But those moments were few and far between what amounts to a boatload of dirty jokes behind the bar, late nights singing overloud to Metallica with the pie guys (while cleaning), making new friends, caring about people’s lives, and eating fantastic free food.

But since that news came my way and I’ve traveled back home to North Carolina to embrace the growing pains, the good news just keeps coming: I’ve been offered an honorarium to speak at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. Sure, that happens all the time in this world. People get honorariums to speak at colleges. That’s life, I guess. But to receive a message asking if such-and-such amount plus dinner would be an “acceptable honorarium” felt pretty great. Hey, I thought to myself, people see the immediate value in what I do. They’re aware of my skills and they are willing to pay for them. In the case of this honorarium, my skills will be “an evening with the author” that’s a campus-wide event.

After that, came a delightful phone conference with the founder of Words After War, a new literary non-profit that is very quickly hitting the high marks in the writing and veteran communities. I’ve been invited to teach a day-long workshop in New York City for the organization, culminating in a reading and author Q&A. Appropriately, it pays. Even more appropriately, the philosophy of this organization is absolutely something I can get behind and, in fact, is what I’ve been trying to find for quite some time.

And just today, an invite to be a presenter at the Great Plains Writers Conference came in for March 2014. Their theme this year is Coming Home: War, Healing, & American Culture. As with most conferences, details are sussed out later (after grant funding is secured), but I won’t be traveling there at a financial loss. Besides, if anyone believes in the power of those other “gains” that can’t be measured–connections, conversations, memorable moments, a shift in thinking–I do. I’m already counting the days until the conference.

Add to this an email from a new fan who has cited my book in her dissertation, a new review that was published last night, a request from Afghan Scene Magazine to reprint one of my stories (they’re an English language magazine in Afghanistan with 8,000 subscribers), a neighbor purchasing TEN COPIES of the book out of the back of my car (to give as gifts), and two new memoir students coming my way for monthly critiques and it sure feels like I’ll be able to make up that $700 per month. It won’t be easy, and it won’t always come all at once, but I certainly feel grateful for this recent blessing of events.

I understand that it’s a bit nontraditional to be so frank about money but I made a decision a long time ago to share things in my professional realm that were not only realistic, but that would inform others along the same path. I don’t identify as a role model, but I sure have benefitted from role models in my own life. However, the one thing that always seemed to be missing from those role models were the hard numbers and facts. Too many writers (and artists) were hush-hush about the financial realities of trying to live their dreams. I knew that if I was going to make a go at this writing life, I’d have to be very honest with myself about the highs, lows, risks, and victories. If I was being honest with myself, why would I keep that honesty from my readership? In that past, that has meant posts about income, rejections, uncertainty, and the hell of a broken heart. But it’s also included small victories, such as this next phase in The Writing Life. Here we go…!

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